I was working on a song with a line about the world being upside down and kept picturing an actual room turned on its side. It hit me that I was picturing a fun house at an amusement park I went to when I was a kid.
Delta Village. In Tallulah, Louisiana.
There was an advertisement for Delta Village on TV with a jingle. Some high voices sang “Del-tah Village …” Then a deep bass singer added “in Tah-LOO-lah.”
By the time someone’s heroic mom volunteered to drive a bunch of us to it, a fervid curiosity had grown among all the kids.
So we drove over the bridge to Tallulah. In my memory’s eye, I see the flatness of the Delta stretching out around us as we approached the park’s gate. I was too young to really register coherent geographical details.
But there we were in Delta Village! There was the old timey building with the bell on the roof! There was the old timey miniature train!
Just being there was a thing in itself — to be running around inside of a commercial. We were “in” Delta Village. Like stepping into the TV.
I could only recall a few flashes of detail, but then I found this blog entry: http://andspeakingofwhich.blogspot.com/2012/03/delta-village_10.html
Yes! There was a cowboy shoot-out! Yes! There was a boat ride with simulated explosions in the water when lugubrious pirate dummies shot canons at us! Yes! There was a super slide. We rode down on burlap sacks. Sort of stop and start because the dinted surface wasn’t so slick.
I do have a vivid memory of the “Native American” trick rider. Chief Running Wind, according to the blog. Shirtless with leather pants and long black pigtails, he flipped over the saddle and bounced off the ground then threw his moccasined feet high in the air as he galloped past us. Just when we were getting caught up in the spell of the Magic Indian, his secret ways living on the land before Pale Face arrived, Chief Running Wind’s wig started slipping off his head. Instantly, enchantment turned into the malicious joy of watching this guy try to do tricks without losing his wig. By the end, he didn’t worry about it as it hung to the side of his head. But I can still see his annoyed expression when he was walking off. Now I so recognize that look of failure and disgust: “These assholes making me wear this stupid costume and pretend to be an Indian. Where did I go wrong in life to end up as Chief Running Wind in Tallulah, Louisiana.”
(I see a version of that look in the mirror most days.)
My main memory from that day is the magic show because they pulled my older brother Mark on stage as a volunteer. The magician’s schtick was to get angry when Mark didn’t follow instructions. He whipped off his cap and flogged my brother. “Did I TELL ya to let go of the scarf yet?!?” Whack, whack, whack! The audience roared as Mark shielded himself from the blows.
Then the show became all about waiting for the next moment this would happen. Mark was smiling, so I was mostly not too worried. But he started looking a little panicked and trapped up there as things progressed.
The big final trick involved an electric chair, which to my young eyes looked like the real thing they’d use to execute a criminal. Perfectly rectangular components. Wide, flat arm rests and perfectly vertical back. All black except for the shiny metal plates for the criminal’s wrists and butt. I was, of course, too young to know that it was unlikely that the State killed vicious murders by shocking their asses.
The gimmick with the chair was a pseudo-scientific demonstration of the properties of electricity. According to the magician, if you sat down on the chair and made full contact with the metal plates, you wouldn’t get shocked. Science, you know. You make yourself a “conductor,” so the volts run THROUGH you.
Remember, this was Tallulah, Louisiana and most of us were kids. Wasn’t like some physicist in the crowd was gonna shout “Now … hold on.”
“Here,” said the magician, “My lovely assistant will sit in the chair and prove it.”
Was she “lovely,” by the way? I remember she had on a sparkly dress that seemed just skimpy enough for me to wonder if I was old enough to be watching.
Anyway … look how her hair was standing up! Wow!
Next she held out a quarter. Perhaps we doubted that thousands of volts of electricity were flowing through her body.
“Now, young man, I want you to take the quarter from … NOT YET! NOT YET!” Whack, whack, whack!
The audiences roars.
“Now … go ahead and take the quarter. Yes, now. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!” Whack, whack, whack!
Mark reaches for the quarter and … BUZZZZZZ!!!!
Mark was jumping around waving his singed hand.
Now here I was convinced that whatever the gimmick was, they had really shocked my brother. I mean, I was old enough to know that magicians just tricked the audience. That it wasn’t “magic.” But I had also known enough mildly sadistic uncles and cousins who might hurt you just for fun, and I had a gut sense that no one at Delta Village had a problem with giving children mild shocks for entertainment purposes.
So now it was Mark’s turn to sit in the chair. In spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence we had all witnessed, he looked wary. He lowered his ass slowly, slowly … then chickened out. But the magician berated him until he finally dropped into the chair.
Mark flew straight up into the air, arms and legs flailing.
More than 50 years later, I swear that I saw arcs of lighting stretching from the chair to Mark’s butt.
As young as I was, I thought, “This was no magic trick. It’s just a joke where we all watch them shock some poor kid!”
But, yes, Delta Village had a fun house tilted to its side. The blog calls it a “gravity house.”
The effect was a little paltry. The rooms weren’t furnished. What you want is an actual room, like a living room with a sofa, wing chairs, a coffee table and TV cabinet tilted so that you feel drunk trying to walk through it. You want to feel like reality is off in some surreal way. But at Delta Village, the house just had big empty rooms.
They should have called it The Incredible Tilted Dance Studio!!!
Didn’t matter. I remember feeling giddy clinging to the rail. Just the idea of a tilted room. “The room is sideways! The room is sideways!” I didn’t want to leave.
And I guess that’s what I was going for in the song I was writing. The joy you feel realizing that the reason things are weird is because reality is tilted.