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The Age of Amy:
Behind the Fun Zone

Chapter 1

The Lake

Fred was afraid of water. Even boating over a surface as smooth as glass, his fear of capsizing kept him on edge. There wasn't a ripple in the calm waters of Summit Lake, yet he gripped the sides of our paddle boat firmly with both hands.
   "Maybe we should put on these life jackets, Amy," said Fred, as we pedaled leisurely to the middle of the tranquil lake.
   "Relax," I said. "This boat's as sound as the Queen Mary. Still, you do know how to swim, don't you?"
   "What am I, an infant?" Fred looked down into the cold, dark, and very deep water. "Of course I can s-swim."
   Fred was also terrified of snakes, fearful of spiders, and afraid of heights. Odd, because his ancestors were known for performing fearless acts of bravery. His father rescued a family of five from a burning building just before it collapsed; his grandfather dove into an icy river to save a drowning baby; his great-grandfather fought for the European Resistance in World War II. For sure, Fred wasn't living up to those proud standards, but he was the kindest, sincerest, and most trustworthy person I ever met.
   Fred was my close high school friend. I should be calling him my boyfriend, but I hate using that word. The mere sound of it suggests that your friend is just a "boy," and therefore something less than manly. Partner is a popular substitute. Some women like to use the term significant other, but that's just plain silly.
   There was another reason why boyfriend didn't fit Fred's description. For sure, a 16-year-old girl like me couldn't ask for a more devoted pal, but he was a little funny when it came to intimacy. A girl likes to be romanced by a boy before she considers him a true soulmate. Fred was like Pinocchio, the little wooden boy who only becomes real after demonstrating his love for Geppetto. Fred had to prove himself worthy of my affections before being a real companion to me.
   Poor little woodenhead. All he needed was a cricket on his shoulder to give him self-confidence, and directions to find the courage of his forefathers.
   "Shouldn't we head back now?" said Fred, reading his waterproof wristwatch. "We only rented this boat for an hour, and we've been out here forty-five minutes already."
   "Ol' Gus won't mind if we come in a little late," I said. "He's been renting boats out here for thirty years, and he doesn't quite have all his marbles. If it becomes an issue, we'll just tell him that your watch stopped,"
   "We won't do any such thing!" demanded Fred. "We'll pay whatever overtime we owe him."
   That was another thing about Fred. He had a deep sense of ethics. I respected that. He never demanded that I adopt his principles, and I, in turn, never forced him to bow to my will. Girls my age don't know the importance of give-and-take in a relationship. I see a lot of them treating their boyfriends like pets, parading them around like trained monkeys.
   Not like that's anything new. Women have been manipulating men since before the invention of the wheel. We take advantage of their natural animal urges to get them to do whatever we want. Teenage boys are particularly vulnerable. Their raging hormones kick in well before they are capable of rational thought.
   Fred and I were different. Our friendship was more like a partnership. We shared equally in everything we did, splitting gas money, breaking cookies into equal halves. My mom says that relationships only work if you treat them like a business: be fair, open, and above board, and you'll reap great dividends of happiness. I always wondered if that was true. Now I was giving it a trial run.
   Summit Lake was nestled high in the hills above Shankstonville, the farming community where Fred and I lived. Savoring the fresh air and the scent of pine needles offered townsfolk a welcome break from pig farming and crop dusting.
   The lake's historic past was legendary. For thousands of years it was home to wild animals and native Americans. All of that changed in the 1920s, when the automobile made its natural splendor accessible to everyone.
   It was the age of the Model T and Babe Ruth. Checkered blankets and wicker baskets, bulging with egg salad sandwiches and watermelon dotted the shoreline. Women sat daintily in the shade in long dresses. Men faced off in a fierce game of tug-of-war. Children fell to their knees in laughter at the finish of a 3-legged race.
   Warm summer evenings found families huddled around campfires, telling ghost stories and roasting marshmallows. For teenagers, clever enough to elude their elders, there were plenty of hideaways to engage in a little late-night smooching.
   The romance of that age of innocence still lingered in the air, like the sweet perfume of a long-lost love.
   "If only these shores could talk," I said. "Think of all the promises of love this place has seen."
   "And the scandals," said Fred. "There's a famous one from the '30s. Some poor chump found his true love making out with his best friend behind a tree. The next morning the couple was found floating face down in the lake."
   "Actually, I was picturing lazy afternoons, and young lovers canoeing on the lake-the girl under a parasol, while her sweetheart sings love songs on his ukulele."
   Fred chuckled. "Ukulele?"
   "Don't laugh. I think it's romantic. Doesn't the idea stir some passion in you, even a little bit?"
   "I suppose. But I don't think singing songs gets you the girl, these days."
   "Ever try it?"
   Fred quickly changed the subject. "There it is!"
   He pointed to a relic from the lake's golden age. On a narrow strip of land, jutting out into the water, was the jewel of Summit Lake: the Fun Zone!
   Sadly, the old amusement park had long since lost its sparkle. Condemned read the sign on the chain link fence surrounding the once popular playground.
   The rides and attractions that thrilled Jazz Age guests were still there, though severely weather-beaten. A rickety Ferris wheel and a termite-infested wooden coaster stood like ruins of an ancient civilization. The old carousel was almost completely consumed by creeping vines.
   The park had been closed for nearly five decades. Lack of interest, and the Interstate had lured people to more exciting destinations. Soaring maintenance costs and ride safety issues eventually forced the Fun Zone into bankruptcy, leaving the vintage amusement park to die a slow death.
   Fred and I pedaled over to get a closer look.
   I shaded my eyes and imagined a moonlit summer's night eighty years in the past: men in top hats and women in corsets eating hot dogs on a bench; youngsters testing their driving skills on the bumper cars; the screams of brave men riding the Loop-de-Loop for the first time.
   Now, only ghosts walked the park's crumbling boardwalk. Rusty swings squealed in the night, rocked by the prairie wind. Night owls pierced the darkness in tattered sideshow tents, in search of field mice and rats.
   The only structure to have survived the elements was the 100-year-old lighthouse. Removed from the cliffs above San Francisco Bay, it had been reassembled, brick by brick, at the tip of the Fun Zone cape. Having once guided tall ships through treacherous waters, it now warned rowboat captains and fishermen to steer clear of the jagged rocks below it. Although its brilliant lantern hadn't burned in ages, it stood proudly as a reminder of that carefree era.

-- End of Excerpt --

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