Each ticket costs two euros. You can buy eight tickets for ten euros. So, knowing that the summer was ahead, knowing how the girls love a good turn on a merry-go-round, fully believing that we’d absolutely use all these rides on this carousel at some point over the summer, I went for the deal. Eight white, plastic, rectangular tickets slipped toward me through the half-moon opening in the Plexiglas window. Two of them then immediately dispensed to Short-pants and Buddy-roo, who’d waited (relatively) patiently while I made the transaction.
“Hold on to the ticket until the man comes to take it from you,” I said. “And don’t lose it,” I added, injecting a little menace into their amusement. (In my defense, it is all too easy for a five-year old to manage to lose a ticket in the span of ten feet and twenty seconds.)
The children scrambled on to the carousel. When it was nearly full, and there were no other apparent riders-in-waiting, the man came out of his little ticket-selling booth and maneuvered his way around the horses, ponies and carriages, collecting a plastic token from each excited child.
I stood aside, admiring my daughters and their whole-bodied joy as the creaky, century-old menagerie began to spin around and around, eventually gaining speed. The calliope tooted and chugged like a little engine that could. At each pass, I waved to the girls like it was the first time I’d ever seen them go by.
When it slowed to a stop, a chorus of cries and pleas. “Again! Can’t we go again?” I succumbed with a firm, “just one more ride,” and they scrambled back on to the platform, rushing to select a different horse, a more coveted one, one with a pink saddle or a golden mane. (Actually, Buddy-roo chose a pink-colored pig.)
After two dizzying rides, and despite their desperate requests for another turn, I took their hands in mine and dragged them home. Later, I pulled the remaining tickets out of my pocket and put them on the shelf by the door, in a little basket that is the depository of paper clips, metro tickets, coins of minimal value, grocery receipts and other little pieces of nothing that get picked up during the day and that seem, when we clean out our pockets, too precious to discard.
That was a few months ago.
On Saturday – in a proud non-dementia moment – I rifled through that little basket and extracted the remaining unused carousel tokens as we set off to do some errands. Knowing there was a reward for good behavior, the girls dutifully followed me to the dry cleaner, the photo shop and the pharmacy, discussing all the while which animal they would mount once we arrived at the menagerie.
Since I’d broadcast the fact that I’d actually remembered to bring those leftover tickets, the girls thrust their greedy palms toward me the moment the carousel was in view. I produced the two little plastic rectangular tickets. “Hold on to them until the man comes to take them,” I yelled out after them. And then because I really can’t help myself, “hold on to your ticket!”
They ran – cheering in unison – to find a horse to ride. When the ticket-selling man left his little booth and stepped on to the platform, circling the carousel to collect the tickets that he recycles day after day, selling and retrieving them, Buddy-roo pressed her white plastic ticket into his hand.
“Non,” he grunted, “Ce ne marche plus.” It’s no longer valid.
Buddy-roo turned to me, her eyes in a wide panic. I stepped up to argue with the man, protesting that I’d bought them here, on this very carousel. In fact, he was the ticket vendor who’d sold them to me.
“Mais oui,” he said, holding up a handful of red plastic tickets. He explained that the carousel has changed management for the season, and they no longer honor the white tickets. Even though the same name (of the menagerie) is written on the tickets. Even though they’re identical except for the color. Even though I protested that I purchased them less than three months ago. Even though both my daughters were on the verge of tears, he shook his head without any apparent remorse.
I had no choice. You cannot vote with your feet when your children are tearfully clutching the reigns of a brightly painted wooden horse (or pig). I followed him back to the booth. “How much?” I asked.
“Two euros each. Or eight for ten euros.” He smiled, showing the gap where his teeth were missing. I pushed a crisp 10-euro note through the hole in the window and watched him count out the bright red tickets and pass them back to me.