Day 102 -- Monday, August 10

More stops today in my Big, Goofy Statue pilgrimage. In Alexandria, I checked out Big Ole, a giant viking. He's the tallest of the icons I've encountered here in the Land O' Lakes. Ole bears a striking resemblance to that character from the old Marvel comic books, Thor.

Next stop was the Paul Bunyan Amusement Park in Brainerd. In the parking lot of this establishment, a well-sculpted Babe the Blue Ox greets visitors upon their arrival. Just inside the park, the biggest Paul Bunyan yet awaits. This one is robotic, operated by a man in a booth like the Wizard of Oz. When parents bring their kids into the park, they give the names of their progeny to an attendant at the ticket booth who passes the info on to the man who serves as the voice of Paul. The parents then make a point of pausing for awhile at the statue, giving Paul the chance to say something like "Well, there are my good buddies, Timmy and Nettie. Thanks for stopping by today. Hope you have a great time in my park." The kids are excited, the parents pleased and they all wander off to get dizzy and nauseous on the rides.

Actually, I'm overstating the case a bit. Most of the rides in the park are kiddie rides. There are, however, a couple that are sick-making. Unfortunately, I rode one of these. Though I managed to keep my wits (and lunch) about me, it took me quite some time to recover.

My equilibrium has always been a bit screwy. When I was a kid, I often struggled with carsickness. Amusement parks have always played havoc with my innards. Growing up, I swallowed more Dramamine tablets than multi-vitamins; I wish I'd had one today.

In fact, this same bent for dizziness, some years ago, brought to an end what was once a promising career in the ballet. In college, I took Ballet I twice but whenever we began working on pirouettes, I was done for. Every time I attempted this rather basic maneuver, my head began to spin, followed shortly thereafter by my stomach. And so it was that, with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat, I said goodbye to the world of tights and tutus that I had come to love so dearly. Some things are just not meant to be. After that disappointment, though, I just couldn't face my family and friends. I could see the pity in their eyes and I couldn't take that. I joined the Coast Guard, was injured during war games and hospitalized for nine months, having to endure an emergency amputation of my left buttock. During those long weeks of recuperation, a certain nurse gave me some extra special attention and care. She refused to let me give in to the depression and self-pity that threatened to overtake me. The day I left the hospital, I asked that wonderful woman to be my wife. She said yes, and she's still my very special Florence Nightingale these 35 years later. She still manages to chase away my blues with her lovely smile or a favorite knock-knock joke. So, Casey, if you can find the time, I'd be mighty appreciative if you could play Debbie Boone's You Light Up My Life for my beautiful wife, Joetta.


Emil Swarsky.

Muncie, Indiana.

Continue on the American Odyssey.
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