Reaching for the Brass Ring

As I previously mentioned, my mother vsited for about a week. Among the many planned activities, I slipped in a visit to The Carousel at Bushnell Park in Hartford. She’d been wanting to see the Capitol building, and the park is right there.

It also happened to be the carousel’s 92nd birthday, so they had a mini-celebration by giving free rides. As the music started on the band organ, and I know this is crazy, I almost teared up. Here is a good site that has samples from the Wurlitzer 153 band organ that is part of the Hartford carousel. The tinny sounding music has an out of tune, eerie feel, and yet it easily summoned up nostalgia for me — like a cheap shot in a Lifetime, Television for Women movie. I also wish I had a picture of the Wuritzer that plays the music, but this will have to suffice. It’s a pretty amazing series of instruments — lots of pipes, drums, etc. I wish I could bring it to you, so you could hear the dissonant pinging, the low strikes on the drums, the slight whistles — it’s a mix of strange nostalgia and something stale that one does not quite understand how it has survived this long. And to see the instrument, it’s antiquey-looking — but intricate and beautiful as well.

As I mentioned before, it was the carousel’s birthday, and so they also had free cake for everyone. I, of course, can never pass up cake, so I waited in line for this yummy cake with the other Hartfordians — kids and adults. There were also quite a number of what seemed to be homeless people in line. Of course this makes sense, but there was a weird, multi-layered irony to it. It had a ring of Marie Antoinette’s alleged words, “Let them eat cake.” My friend Lara has more recently jokingly accused me of taking cake out of the mouths of the homeless. How is it that people come to be humiliated to the point where they stand in line for free cake because it is food? Let me add to this, and bear with me as I make my second point about the irony.

When we were on the carousel, I looked up for the brass rings — or the gold rings, as Holden Caulfield calls them — and I saw no brass rings. One hears about reaching for the brass ring on a carousel. Metaphorically, of course, it is meant to convey the idea of striving for something that seems just out of reach. It even has a sort of capitalist feel to it — that if you work really hard, strive to succeed, yes, you too can become rich, or in this case, grab the brass ring. I see this as the big lie of capitalism, because that belief system is not true. Timing, privilege, and access have a lot to do with whether or no one will succeed. Yes, hard work helps pave that way, but it is wrong to say that alone will bring success in the capitalist society in large part because a capitalist society relies on a large working class — a hard-working class. Keep ’em wanting more, and you’ll get more out of ’em. So here the carousel stands, the brass ring metaphor hanging in the air, and those who obviously have not benefitted from capitalism are waiting in line for cake.

On another note regarding the brass ring and Catcher in the Rye, I looked for the literal ring and didn’t see any. I have always been a bit confused about it and could never quite picture it. I know that expression comes from carousels, but I still can’t visualize it. Anyway, here’s an explanation of the term brass ring.

Finally, to round out our carousel experience, my mother and I spent two days in New York city. We strolled through Central Park, looking for The Central Park Carousel. Our rides on this carousel were $1.50 each, not a bad price for a lovely ride. The one had a Wurlitzer 150, and frankly it did not sound as out of tune. I think this one might have been a bit faster than the one in Hartford, but the one in Hartford had real horse hair tails.

Don’t worry. I don’t think I’ll become a carousel guru (or freak), but it was interesting to ride these two carousels. If you are around either of them, check them out.

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