Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Labor Day comes around every year and our town throws its annual Italian Festival, which is the most exciting thing to hit the Scotch Plains-Fanwood area since Fanny Wood Day. There's no old ladies carrying an icon of a saint around town, no cannolis, and no plastic sheeting over the furniture, so I'm not really sure how they get away with calling it an "Italian" festival. It's really more like they picked up a chunk of Coney Island — and not the chunk with the beach or with Nathan's or with the freak show — and plopped it down in the back parking lot of a Catholic school. There were the luminescent kiddie rides — the roller coaster with an initial drop of about eight feet — and the spicy sausage stand, a house band, a carousel, and those games of skill where you spray a water gun into a clown's mouth and win a stuffed bootleg Bart Simpson or Stewie doll. (Am I the only one who thinks the San Gennaro Festival is getting too commercial? Like, every year, you've got to eat more zeppoli and buy more and more fifty-fifty tickets just to keep up with the Joneses.) Maybe I could muster some excitement if we lived way out in the boonies and this was the traveling carnival coming through town, but we actually already have a sort-of amusing amusement park that's like a five-minute drive — and they've got bumper cars! — so holding an ad hoc version of the same thing seems like a waste to me.

But Carolyn, Anne, and I went anyway because we'd already been to the diner — a.k.a. the thing there is to do in town — it was only eight at night, and maybe we'd get to see some people. We placed bets and registered our optimism: Anne thought we'd run into two people that we knew, Carolyn thought we'd run into one, and I'd be absolutely shocked if we ran into anybody. I was really only thinking about my peers from school, and in that respect, my wager was well placed, but it turns out that I have neighbors and I know other people who live and work in town and suffice it to say that I was off by three. The festival had this bizarre social structure that I don't think I've seen since those middle school dances where the boys were all on one side of the gym and the girls were all on the other side, and the middle was a no-mans land full of cooties and potential rumors where no one save the chaperones dared to tread.

You had your new parents carrying around wide-eyed toddlers up past their bedtimes, and scuzzy adults hanging out by the booze table (hilarious sight: some burnout kid who was like four feet tall and maybe fifteen at the oldest handing his fake ID to the cop watching over the beer stand), but mostly you could just walk around and pick out the seventh-grade cliques — the jocks, the alpha girls, the goth kids, the poor dweeb hanging off the festival fringes. Fine — I still stand off to the side, but at least it's been years since I've watched that sort of stratification from my perch. And wow, what sorts of clannish asses we must have been back before we grew up! I mean, not me... I was totally mature back in high school. I'm talking about all the rest of you.