The Hidden Shame of the Bouncy Castle

I have this love/hate thing going when it comes to Bouncy Castles. When I say “Bouncy Castles,” I’m referring to those inflatable cages that you often see at carnivals and street fairs, where kids take off their shoes and jump around like crazy inside. When I was a kid myself, I was simultaneously terrified and enthralled by them, but never set foot inside of one. Possibly because wherever we were, a bouncy castle cost extra dough, which we did not have at our disposal.

I recall going to a street fair in my grandparents’ neighborhood when I was maybe six years old, getting on line for the Bouncy Castle, then being turned away at the gate because I didn’t have the necessary tickets for admission. All I could do was watch the other kids bounce around inside like maniacs and envy their fun. Throughout my childhood, Bouncy Castles remained this distant, unattainable mystery, like the light across the bay at Daisy’s mansion, if it were made of reinforced rubber.

Now that I’m a dad, I often find myself at places that have Bouncy Castles accompanied by a child who desperately wants to play in them. More often than not, I’ll spring for a Bouncy Castle visit, while also anticipating horror. Because kids are always completely oblivious to the pain of others, but even more so in the confines of a Bouncy Castle. When my daughter goes to one of these things, I see her leap into the air, looking like she’s having more fun than anyone’s ever had in the history of time, and seeing that kind of pure childlike joy almost distracts from the fear that she will collide with another kid mid-air and break her neck.

Case in point: We went to a fair this weekend that I think was for wool? I remember lots of sheep and llamas trudging around, and ladies in waitress-y glasses with t-shirts that said KEEP CALM AND CARRY YARN. In any case, there was a kids’ section and this kids’ section had a bouncy castle. A little girl who was at least two years younger than my daughter hopped once, landed in a trench between bouncy chambers, and lay there like a turtle on its back. Meanwhile, my daughter bounced obliviously three centimeters to her right, while I screamed WATCH OUT FOR THE LITTLE GIRL! YOU’RE GOING TO CRUSH HER SKULL! Little girl’s parents nowhere to be found. Fun!

And then something caught my eye that I kind of wish hadn’t. This Bouncy Castle was done with a full castle motif. The walls were made to look vaguely like brick, the opening to get in had a curved archway, and the “ramparts” on each side were “guarded” by a pair of goofy looking knights. One of them had a decided “Lenny from Of Mice and Men” quality to him. But whoever painted this figure decided to strip him of his dignity even further.

Yup, full suit of armor apart from one very sensitive spot, a spot they made sure to paint the exact same color as his face, so we have to assume that this soldier is defending the castle commando style. Except not really, because they made the poor bastard Ken-doll smooth. Since he will never know the pleasures of the flesh, this eunuch has decided to vent his frustrations in the service of the king, beheading invaders and infidels with his sword, when all he really wants is a codpiece, so no one will have to know his secret shame.

Even more bizarre: I have to be the first person who’s ever noticed this. Because if even one panicky parent had, you know they would’ve screamed I CAN SEE HIS AREA! and this oversight would’ve been remedied in some fashion. Either they would’ve painted his junk silver to approximate the rest of his uniform, or they would’ve just taken the thing out of commission altogether. But no, judging from the style of the artwork, this thing has been in service at least since the mid-1970s, and NOT ONE PERSON thought Good Soldier Schweik need some goddamn pants until it caught my eye.

This is my curse: To notice weird/disturbing things that no one else does, then pay that sadness forward. I’m living in my own twisted remake of The Dead Zone.

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