The Biggest Thrill Of Them All—Clark Humphrey
He didn’t mean to be born with this “gift.”
He’d never consciously learned it.
He didn’t know how to teach it to others; it was just so instinctual.
And he sure didn’t know what to do with it.
It was always getting him in trouble with his younger sister. It was completely understandable that Jan would be upset at Mitch always being their parents’ favorite. But then Mitch would turn on the charm, make his puppy-dog eyes at them, and sister became as spellbound as mom and dad. They all liked Mitch, really. He always made them feel good about themselves.
Like this last time, at the multi-family BBQ organized by the people at his mom’s work.
Jan had prepared this big fancy dance skit for the talent-show portion of the day. She’d worked on it for weeks. Really hard. She’d even put together a special costume for it, based on pieces she’d borrowed from all her friends.
But on the day of the event, everything went wrong. The iPod she had for playing the music track ran out of power. The park had only one real flat clearing, and it was a ways away from the picnic tables; by the time Jan got enough people to get over there to see her act, a steady drizzle had started up.
Mitch came to the rescue. He pleaded and persuaded enough grownups to remain standing in the rain, and to stop talking to each other, long enough for Jan to finish.
When it was all over, it was Mitch who clapped the hardest and loudest. Afterwards, the adults admired Mitch’s act of support for Jan more than Jan’s performance itself. It was Mitch over whom all the moms gushed. It was Mitch around whom the older girls trailed.
And, later that night at home, it was Mitch who took Jan aside, after she’d not talked to him the whole drive home. He assured her she had been the real star that day. He kept telling her this until she smiled.
The next morning, Mitch sat by himself in his room. He pondered what would become of him, with his unasked-for gift.
His imminent adolescence, he predicted, would not be traumatic, not like it was for a lot of kids. He’d be able to get any girl he wanted. Give her a smooth line, an inviting grin, and a sincere eye. Make her feel comfortable and safe. Afterwards, let her down gently; convince her she deserved better than him.
That would be all wrong, he decided. Using people like that would be abusing them, and it would also be abusing his “gift.” He wouldn’t do that.
He also wouldn’t take up any profession where he’d be tempted to abuse his power. He wouldn’t be a preacher, a politician, a talk-radio host, or a salesman.
He would only use his ability to bend other people’s emotions as benignly as possible. For entertainment, maybe.
Three days later, while he was on a bus heading back home from Northgate, it came to him.
He would design the world’s greatest theme park.
It would be the perfect, total, immersive entertainment experience.
Every big and little aspect of this experience would build upon every other aspect. The look of the buildings. The music, both live and piped-in. The flavors of the concession-stand foods. The smells, piped-in if necessary.
The rides and other attractions in the park would invite guests in with color, glitter, and the promise of ecstatic fun. The guests would be treated to carefully devised thrills, scares, and minor physical jostlings; then they’d be gently brought back to “earth.”
The whole place would be arranged so that guests would arrive and immediately feel welcomed into a temporary “home,” where the cares of the “real” world would quickly fade from memory. They’d be greeted by colorful facades, pleasant walkways, and the sounds of people just like them having the most fun they’d ever had. Every aspect would be so thoroughly designed and managed, that guests wouldn’t even mind waiting in lines for rides. The whole visit, from entrance to exit, would be timed and paced for the fullest emotional gamut, from laughter to tears and back again. And it would probably be domed for year-round, all-weather operation.
To accomplish this, Mitch would enough about the different necessary disciplines (architecture, crowd control, graphic design, color theory, game theory, story craft, even mass psychology). He’d still hire experts in those fields, but he’d know enough to lead these experts in their duties, in creating the greatest in-person entertainment experience the world had ever seen.
Mitch saw his future self negotiating deals with local politicians, landowners, suppliers, and employees. In every instance, he would use his charm and his understated control of any social situation. In every instance, he would win the other people over to his side.
Mitch spent most of his summer on the idea. He drew successively bigger, more detailed drawings of the place. By his fourth drawing, he was using the biggest size paper he could get at the art supply store, and had switched from crayons to color pencils.
Before he showed his work to anyone, even mom and dad, he showed it to Jan. He invited her into his room, where the drawing-in-progress covered most of the real estate atop his bed. The drawing’s main figure was a detailed map of the theme park, including the locations of its concourses, its food courts, its performance stages, its various rides, its exits, and its one entrance. Around the outside of the paper, Mitch had begun rough sketches of each ride and other attraction.
Jan stood silently as Mitch narrated his scenario of an average family’s day at the park. Coming off of the highway and into the color coded parking lots, where they and other families strode with anticipation toward the entrance. Then at the silent turn of a turnstile, they’re in. Everything is comforting and exciting all at once. Placing a finger down on the map, Mitch showed Jan how this family would go from one great time to the next; from thrills to chills to joys. Yes, there was a big roller coaster. And a gondola ride and a splash slide and everything. But there were smaller rides leading up to them, stimulating the family members, step by fun step, toward the biggest and most fun rides of them all.
Mitch invited Jan to trace her own finger across the map, in exactly the order and directions Mitch had done.
Instead, Jan traced her finger in the opposite direction, counter clockwise. And she didn’t stop to pretend to ride the smaller rides first; she went straight for the big roller coaster.
“No,” Mitch said. He reached toward Jan’s arm to try to stop her in her “path.” “That’s not how you do it.”
Jan pulled her arm away from his. “If I was at this theme park, then I’d go on only the rides I wanted to go on. I’d have my own fun in my own way. So would everybody else. You can’t make people do or feel everything in only the way YOU want them to.”
Mitch stared at Jan, and realized she was right.
After that, Mitch never got around to finishing the big drawing.
Two days later, though, he decided he’d become a movie director.