Amusement, Part 2: Sammy’s Assignment

 

Part 2: Sammy’s Assignment

 

Sammy awoke sometime later to find his head splitting, his business pass missing, and his wallet short ten bucks. As his vision slowly returned, he looked around to discover that he was alone. All the people with the annoying smiles must have already gone inside. In the wake of madness, he couldn’t help but feel vindicated by the peace. In the unusual silence he could almost hear his heart echoing.

Even though he tried to maintain his equilibrium as best as he could, his head throbbed so violently that it contorted his brain. Or, that’s how it felt at least. He stroked his temples to massage the pain away, but the world around him pulsated in a dizzying fashion and he wasn’t certain that he was actually touching his temples. Managing to stay balanced, he took a step forward, but barely. His body endured a slight tremor from a shock to his brain. It was a challenge to maintain straightness, but one he couldn’t let himself lose. His boss was still waiting for him. The pain from his injury would have to ride in the backseat. He carefully walked in a zigzag pattern down the ramps toward the parking lot exit.

Sammy approached the guard shack while the world around him did the cha-cha. His steps were uneven, but he managed to hobble to it. The doorframe appeared secure enough to hold his balance, so he rested his hands against it for a moment and looked inside the shack. Another parking attendant sat on the stool inside, reading a Happy Fun Land brochure. The new attendant looked up and smiled.

“Welcome to Happy Fun Land, kind and happy sir,” he cheered. “Hope you enjoy your stay.”

The new attendant’s smile did the wave for Sammy. He decided his ten bucks wasn’t worth it, so he continued toward the park’s entrance.

 

***

 

The welcome sign pulsated with brightly colored neon lights, highlighted with floodlights, strobe lights, and other ridiculously lascivious items. An array of cartoon character icons surrounded the welcome sign, each with hands outstretched toward the entering public. A huge three-dimensional display of a ceramic black and white cat loomed over the entrance, sporting a sly, whimsical smile and an upturned thumb toward its tight, wiry whiskers.

Sammy glanced at his watch as he approached the bold, flashing entrance to the Happy Fun Land theme park. He felt the heat rising under his collar as he realized he was now thirty minutes late, or forty minutes, or—he couldn’t actually tell what time it was thanks to the twisting of the hands before his warp-sensitive eyes, but he was certain his boss would chew him out over it regardless. Laying the metal rod against the parking attendant’s face seemed like a great idea after all. He made a mental note not to let a good opportunity pass him by in the future.

When he returned focus on the entrance, he found himself standing in front of a fuzzy turnstile where a three-foot tall admissions agent waited on a stool in his green and yellow striped Happy Fun Land uniform, collecting tickets for the admissions box. The collector’s tiny body stretched and wiggled through Sammy’s vision, and his chest puffed out with the confidence of a loon.

“I can’t let you in without a ticket, sir,” laughed the ticket collector. “Happy Fun Land doesn’t do charities.”

Sammy reached out and grabbed for the ticket collector’s stubby little shoulders.

“I am here on business, you pygmy,” he yelled. “I don’t take pleasure in places like this.”

The ticket collector gasped at Sammy’s brash statement. His compressed fingers covered his open mouth.

“That’s impossible. Everybody takes pleasure in Happy Fun Land.” He lowered his hand and flashed his jagged little teeth. “Anyway, you still have to show me your business pass. It’s our policy.”

The ticket collector tried to pry Sammy’s hands off his shoulders. But he was a split-second too late; Sammy picked him up and shoved him over the turnstile, flipping him to the ground. Sammy stepped over the top of the turnstile and tried to kick the collector as he hobbled on his way past. He’d question the professionalism in his actions later. This just felt right.

“Why don’t you exercise a little trust?” he said.

The ticket collector merely spluttered in his laughter, and soon his voice became drowned out by the sudden rush of ambient crowd chatter. Not a moment too soon, Sammy thought. His was the type of laughter that ushered in the final seconds of a time bomb.

Orderly slabs of concrete tiles slipped by under his polished loafers as he lumbered down the walk and fought to maintain his balance. When he gazed up from his feet, Sammy surveyed the land before him. The depths of the theme park opened and panned out from a narrow alley of souvenir shops to a vast collection of capitalists’ fantasies. Shops, restaurants, and various forms of kiosks were set up along the widened walkways. Branching concrete paths stretched off in a web of directions, leading to park attractions like cartoon-themed Ferris wheels, go-kart tracks, and roller coasters. Calliope music floated from one end of the passage to the other, dancing in circles around Sammy’s agitated ears. The scent of cotton candy assaulted his nostrils. Madness knew no boundaries. After hobbling a short distance down the walk, dodging massive crowds of irritatingly amused tourists, he stopped in front of an outdoor movie attraction starring the theme park’s playful mascot, Nippy the Cat.

As he stood behind a group of kids who were watching a Nippy the Cat cartoon on the big screen, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and swayed. These kids were the future of the company, and if this investment went through and his team got the marketing bid to promote both companies, these kids were also the future of Dinners and Waters. He studied them as closely as his unfocused vision allowed. They laughed from their bellies as the short and nimble Nippy pounced around on the tops of bald men’s heads at a barbershop and dodged the angry barber’s attacks of flying shaving cream. Sammy was not amused by what he was seeing. He was disappointed in the children for laughing at it. Each glob that missed Nippy went splat in the faces of each customer. The cartoon music, though deafening in its own right, was barely loud enough to drown out the raucous laughter of the children. Sammy removed his right hand from his pocket and used it to pick his teeth. Even with the psychedelic spinning that occurred in his mind, he was not impressed with what he saw on any front. This was the audience, and Nippy was the product. Unbelievable. He continued on.

Sammy wove through the large crowds, trying to reach his destination as fast as he could. The multitudes of colors in every display, every shop, and every ride spun around him like a pinwheel. People smiled as they let blue balloons, red balloons, and pretty much every color balloon float from their wrists. Other people laughed as they played with their fake cat ears, twitching the yellow fur, green fur, and every other color fur that matched the balloons. He pressed hard against his temples as he watched people wearing Hawaiian T-shirts and Kojak Advantage cameras walk by, tugging collars, snapping photos, racing for the mounted squirt guns at the edge of each path. This place was far too colorful for his suit and tie persona, certainly, and the spinning rainbows contributed to his headache. But like he had felt about the children, he wasn’t disappointed in these tourists for enjoying themselves. Sammy understood the occasional desire for color, and he wasn’t about to complain over their personal investments in balloons and multi-patterned shirts. His complaint was rooted in the typicality of it all. These people were doing exactly what Happy Fun Land had conditioned them to do, which was exactly what other theme parks all across the world had conditioned them to do. He had to block it all out. He stared at the ground until he could reach his destination.

He found his destination near the infamous Bueller Wheel, a fifty-foot tall musical annoyance featuring a stout, feathered character with long legs named Bueller Bird. The delight radiating from the prospective passengers waiting in line, each awestruck by the sheer size of the ride, crawled, then dashed onto Sammy’s nerves. He did his best to ignore them, but their “oohs” and their “ahs” pelted his ears relentlessly. He figured a hard focus on his destination was his only bet in combating their insensitivity. That, or a sudden mechanical failure on the ride, which he had no immediate control over.

His destination, which was an average-sized concrete building with a gift shop inside, danced like a palm tree before him. As he moved toward the interior, he felt himself casually floating from his neck. Almost there, he thought. Almost there.

The gift shop featured many types of trinkets and paraphernalia relating to the Wacky Fuzzies universe, from key chains to plastic bats. Sammy didn’t know much about the Wacky Fuzzies, only that Happy Fun Land was the world designed to bring them to life, and that he was disgusted by them. He sighed under his breath as he nearly collided with the inflated version of the company’s ridiculous propaganda, a tin foil helium balloon with a Nippy the Cat logo wearing sunglasses and a ridiculous smile. The kaleidoscopic colors of the cartoon images around him, like the green, the yellow, and the orange, nearly sickened him to the point of actual vomit. He clutched his stomach in an effort to hold on to his composure and his lunch.

Behind the gift shop stood a plastic door that led to a narrow hallway. Sammy felt relief as he entered the cold, whitewashed brick corridor, doubling as his own personal paradise. At the end of the corridor he found his true destination: a conference room connected to a locker room deep in the heart of masked despair. He entered the conference room to find his boss, Mr. Chip, a paunchy man with brilliant blond mustache and beady eyes, waiting joyfully at the head of a long table, pulsating like a bowl of gelatin. Sammy was surprised to see him alone.

“You’re late,” chimed the happy Mr. Chip.

“Sorry, sir,” Sammy said with reverence, “but I was attacked in the parking lot.”

“Well, that’s okay. Your tardiness is acceptable, but the others have already disbursed.”

“Excuse me? I’m sorry, but I thought we were having the conference here.”

“We had the conference a little while ago and it was a happy one. But you can still enjoy the fruits of the conference and be full of joy. We each have a separate job to do today.”

“But I thought we were just having a meeting.”

“Now, Samuel, that’s not happy talk. If you follow me, you’ll find your assignment.”

“Yes, sir.”

Sammy studied his boss’s face. He was confused by the upward curve of his mouth, and thought that maybe he too had been hit with a rod. Sammy followed him to the locker room.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said, “but you’re acting kind of strange. Is everything okay? You’re not usually smiling.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Samuel. Let’s just be the happy worker that you are today?”

Sammy slowly nodded. Something told him he would’ve been better off lying flat in the parking lot. But it was improper for him to dispute these circumstances any longer, so he continued onward into the locker room where the smell of poultry-scented stagnant water rushed up his nose. So much better than cotton candy.

“As you know,” continued Mr. Chip, “we have to make sure our investment is secure.”

Sammy nodded as he looked around the room, trying to figure out why his boss couldn’t just give him the assignment in the conference area. Lockers waved, benches throbbed, and random lights flickered around him. A few white towels lay crumpled on the benches. This was not the cold comfort of a mahogany table or leather chair. He didn’t think conducting the rest of this meeting in a locker room was even proficient. His boss stopped and turned to face him.

“The top guys thought it would be keen to witness our security first hand,” he said, clasping his hands together. “That’s why they set it up for us to do more than just meet in some old, boring and stuffy conference room where we would be grumpy and unhappy. We get to experience the joy of Happy Fun Land on a personal basis.”

“I’m not sure I follow. What’s wrong with a stuffy conference room? We’ve gotten a lot done in stuffy conference rooms. I like stuffy conference rooms.”

“We’ve decided it’s one thing to read numbers off a paper but another to watch the numbers made right before our happy eyes. This will allow us to make sure we’re investing in the right place.”

“Sir, I don’t want to sound unprofessional or anything, but riding rides and buying hot dogs from clowns is not something I’m ready to do. It requires something I haven’t had since I was in high school when the jocks displayed my underwear in the trophy case and laughed about it. I would prefer to read off the numbers from a sheet of paper in a conference room if you don’t mind.”

Mr. Chip paused. It took him only a few seconds to break the pause and smile.

“Now that’s not the happy attitude I want from you,” he said. “Smile and think of cream pies. This is Happy Fun Land, where all your frowns transform at the happy towns. You don’t have to ride rides or buy hot dogs. That’s been given to someone else. This is your assignment.”

He outstretched his hand and passed over a small sheet of paper. Sammy snatched it out of his hand.

“Have fun,” said Mr. Chip. “It’ll put a smile on that grumpy face.”

Sammy’s head did a few cartwheels as he tried to focus on the words written on the sheet of paper. He could make out most of them, but some swing danced with one another, so the words didn’t make a lot of sense. He rubbed his temples to try to stimulate coherence, but the intensity from his fingers caused the letters to do bigger flips before his eyes. He handed the paper back to his boss.

“Maybe you should just tell me what to do.”

“Is something wrong? I thought the instructions were clear.”

“I can’t see straight right now. I’ve got a splitting headache.”

“Is it because of the red crayon? I can write it in blue if you’d like.”

“Sir, it’s not the crayon. I just can’t read anything right now. The words look like streaks on paper to me.”

Mr. Chip put his hand on Sammy’s forehead. Sammy carefully took his wrist and brushed it aside.

“Sir, please don’t feel my head. It’s not a fever.”

“Well, don’t worry, Sammy. I’ve got the perfect thing to relieve that minor setback. It’s in my locker. Just give me a second.”

“You have a locker?”

“We all have lockers. The company gives it to us for being potential partners and shareholders in this place. It’s like we’re employees here. Isn’t that exciting?”

Mr. Chip swung his fist for emphasis. Sammy didn’t answer.

Mr. Chip walked with a spring in his step to a locker near the room’s entrance. On reaching it, he fiddled with the lock before it popped open. As the door clanged against the neighboring locker, he knelt down and rummaged through a bag he had resting on the floor.

Sammy swayed as he glanced at blue and purple spreadsheets hanging from the tight metal walls inside. He also saw some red and green floppy disks sitting on the top shelf. The colors swirled around like a bowl of fruit yogurt. The brightness of the hues disturbed his head even more. He pressed firmly against his temples, hoping to alleviate some of the pain. If there was a miracle cure awaiting him in that bag, he was certainly ready for it.

“Here you go, Samuel,” said Mr. Chip, as he flipped a colorful pill in the air and caught it with the back of his hand. The pill poised between his knuckles a few seconds before falling to the moist tiled floor.

“What are you doing?” Sammy asked.

“Just having some fun. After all, this is Happy Fun Land.”

Sammy shaded his eyes from the intense overhead light as the question why me? floated through his brain.

Mr. Chip plucked the pill off the floor and tried to balance it on his finger. It trembled for about two seconds before falling again.

“Okay,” he said, “maybe I’ll just keep this one.”

He picked the pill off the floor and popped it in his mouth. Sammy removed his hand from his eyes as his boss staggered, sucked his cheeks in, and rolled his eyes about.

“Okay,” he said, “the next one’s for you.”

Mr. Chip rocked to the side as he turned around to face his locker. His body convulsed into many forms as Sammy watched him bend down to reach in his bag. He returned a moment later with two different colored pills in hand. Mr. Chip curled his lips as he bounced his attention from one pill to the other. The confused look on his face suggested he didn’t understand what he was looking at.

“Okay,” he said, “I believe one of these is ibuprofen. Make sure you eat something before taking it.”

Sammy tried to focus on both pills. The colors merged together to form one superpill. He couldn’t understand why his boss had produced them both.

“Sir, are you sure this is the right thing? I know my head hurts and my eyes are playing tricks on me, but…”

“Sammy, come on. It’s me, your boss. You can trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong? This is like taking aspirin. Trust me, Sammy. Be happy.”

“Okay, but which one?”

Mr. Chip nudged the palm of his hand toward Sammy’s chin. It was open, like a display tray, beckoning Sammy to partake of the goods.

“Which one would you like?”

“The one that will get rid of my headache.”

Mr. Chip gestured forward again. The smile on his face was haunting. Sammy knew his boss well, and this man was not the man he knew.

“Exactly,” said Mr. Chip.

Yet, he was as aloof as ever, and the man who often told the marketing team at Dinners and Waters what to do in the most abstract of terms before any potential partner or client came through the door with a pitch was still the man standing before Sammy now. There was actually nothing particularly off-color about this situation in truth. It was certainly an original take on a usual Monday theme: managerial control. It had to be worth some trust. After all, if he didn’t exercise complete trust in Mr. Chip, he wouldn’t have agreed to meet at Happy Fun Land in the first place. The man deserved some credit.

Sammy looked long and hard at the pills. The colors of orange and white meant nothing to him since they were growing and shrinking before his eyes anyway. He took a wild guess and grabbed for the orange pill. He thought it was the orange pill. It seemed harmless enough. The pill was small, possibly easy to swallow without water, and it had some word written on it. He wasn’t sure what the word said, but it must’ve been some brand name, so it must’ve been like aspirin. Certainly, Mr. Chip wouldn’t lie to him. Without giving it another thought, he popped it in his mouth, closed his eyes, and swallowed hard. A moment passed.

“Wait,” said Mr. Chip, looking at the white pill, “I think you took the wrong one.”

Sammy froze. He felt the internal pain behind his ears slowly lifting away, as well as the rest of his head. The benches before him looked rather comfortable at this point, so he bent down to grab for the closest one. Grasping the firm wooden surface, he slipped down onto it, onto his belly, and rolled on his back. Above him, the ceiling faded in and out from solid light cyan to harsh mechanical blue tiles. He stared at Mr. Chip as his image blurred back into focus. His boss’s eyes and mouth contorted with delight, while his skin started to look hand-painted with a soft peach and his suit with a purple shade of black and dull white. Everything started to resemble a cartoon.

“What did you give me?” whispered Sammy.

“I think I gave you the happy pill,” said Mr. Chip. “I meant to give you the aspirin.”

“You gave me a choice of both. It was fifty-fifty. With all due respect, what did you expect would happen?”

“Now, Samuel, I sense that you are unhappy. What did I say about being unhappy?”

Sammy wasn’t sure what to do at this point. He knew there was a mission for him to undertake, but the bench was getting very comfortable, and the world was getting very animated. As he lay flat on his back, he felt all the pressure from the aches in his body lifting away. He knew if there were ever a great substitute for a massage, it was the comfort of a good hard wooden bench, pressed firmly against his back, his shoulders, and his neck. Within an instant he had forgotten that he was ever beaten with rebar. A part of him started to forget he was angry, too. But just a part.

“But it’s okay,” said Mr. Chip, as he slowly slipped in and out of his subconscious state, “I took the happy pill, too. They gave it to us at the door when we bought our ticket and said it was candy. It makes this place so much more delightful. By the way your locker is the one next to the showers. You’ll find your marketing material inside.”

After a moment the world morphed back into a state of normality, or into something similar. The ceiling once again hardened into a light cyan tile surface. And the locker room stopped throbbing. Sammy turned his head in time to watch Mr. Chip sliding down his locker door toward the firm tile floor. On touching the floor, his boss slipped off the door and fell backward on his bag.

Sammy rubbed his hands across his forehead while Mr. Chip multiplied and divided himself before his eyes. The thumping pain was nearly gone from his head. All he still needed was his singular vision. He slowly raised himself to a sitting position, careful not to let too much blood rush to his head. As he sat upright, he focused hard on his boss, waiting to see if he’d return to a single form. Because the multiple images continued to dance before him, he figured the safest thing for him was to close his eyes.

He stared in the face of purple darkness as he stood from the bench and outstretched his hands. He stumbled about the place, kicking benches here and there, and nearly tripped over his own feet as his fingers grazed the tile wall searching for his locker. The walls were smooth to his touch, but he knew there was more to find. He continued along the wall, slowly, feeling for any change in surface. Almost immediately he felt a change against his face. He backed his nose off the side of the locker and felt around for the front. He knew that he was looking for the far end, so he felt and felt his way down from one handle to the next, until he ran out of handles to touch. When he found himself clawing at the empty air, he assumed he was right there. He grabbed at the metal handle and tried to lift it. It was locked. He yanked harder, but it still wouldn’t budge. He carefully felt for the empty air again, this time coming in contact with a corner wall. He realized he wasn’t anywhere near the showers.

After more touching and feeling his way around the locker room, he came to what he assumed was his—the smell of the showers had gotten much stronger, and his locker was supposed to be next to them. Since he was on arrival, he figured his business associates knew to keep it unlocked. Sure enough, when he fidgeted with the handle, it popped open with ease. He took a moment to let the eminent dizziness of walking around pass him by. Then he opened the door to his immediate fate, hoping that it hadn’t originally belonged to Pandora.

Sammy reached inside the locker and felt something fuzzy on his fingers. The texture was like rubbing a shaggy carpet against his skin. What was this insanity? he wondered. He took both hands and grabbed hard at the carpet, forcing himself backward onto the tile floor, and getting doggie piled by his new fuzzy gizmo. Ignoring whatever pain he might’ve suffered from the fall, he felt around the carpet to discover a wide opening. He shoved his legs in and lifted the carpet around his body. Once he felt secure sandwiched within the fuzzy material, he stood and felt around his locker for more of it. His fingers discovered a bulbous shape covered in the same texture, so he pulled it out and popped it on his head. All of a sudden a rush of heat overwhelmed him, so he quickly felt for the shower room. On turning the tiled corner and encountering a shower knob, he twisted the knob to allow a stream of cold water to fall on his head.

 

Read Part 3

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The stuff that keeps me awake at night.

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