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Rides, games and a farewell to your spouse, just in case

Going to a summer fair wedged between two mass shootings.

The Northbrook Days Festival, a mid-summer carnival, is usually held at the little park in the center of my northwest suburban town, the funnel cake stands and Tilt-a-Whirl set up among the oak trees.

There are rides, live music, games, a beer tent. It’s fun.

But this year the festival was abruptly moved from its usual location for the past 95 years to the parking lot at Northbrook Court, at the edge of town. All our neighbors were abuzz about it. The Park District said something about soil conditions, but that seemed dubious; the scuttlebutt was, there were conflicts among various officials: the Civic Foundation, the Park District, the Village. Rumors flew.

My initial inclination was to simply not go. Our boys are grown and gone, and while my wife and I like to stroll over — we live a couple blocks away from the park— hopping in the car was something else entirely. What fun would it be to stand around a concrete parking lot next to the shuttered Macy’s? I assumed few would go.

But curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see for myself and suggested heading over.

We arrived at twilight Saturday, bought our traditional Boy Scout lemonades, explored, shared a tasty chicken and rice dish from a Wheeling place called Siri, ran into parents of our boys’ friends we hadn’t seen since the last carnival. Hands were shaken, hugs and updates exchanged.

There was a decent turnout. And a comforting number of police officers, armed and ready, natural given the 20 people slaughtered that morning at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. It can happen anywhere at any time. My wife had been worried enough to tell me that she loves me just before we left for the fair, in case we were killed at another mass shooting. I found that overly dramatic. Our nation already had its gun massacre for the day, so we’d probably be safe until tomorrow.

That was true, but just barely. Another shooting came early Sunday morning: Nine dead in Dayton, Ohio. Five hours later and a state away.

So lucky us. The hand of fate, or if you prefer the random insanity of America’s fixation on guns, passed over Northbrook Days. We shared a hot dog, put down $10 for a ticket to try our luck at the raffle — support important community organizations and maybe win a fabulous prize.

A carnival worker standing next to prizes, including inflatable assault rifles.
The inflatable assault rifles also came in an American flag motif, just to drive the point home.
Photo by Neil Steinberg

Nobody had gunned us down yet, so heck, maybe this was our Lucky Day. We browsed the police department booth, which, as always, had some first-rate swag, like keychains with flashlights. My wife took a chip clip. I snagged a blue clear plastic 6-inch ruler that read “Measure up — Be a friend—not a Bully.” Idly wondering why “friend” is lowercase while “Bully” is capitalized — almost an unconscious diminishment of the quality they’re trying to promote. That’s probably reading too much into it. At least they’re making an effort, though it’ll take a lot of little rulers to counterbalance our big ruler, our Bully-in-Chief, stoking the hatred that at least partially encourages these killings.

Plus a gun culture as American as apple pie. It was my wife who noticed the inflatable assault rifles. Slung over the shoulders of kids, who won them at the ring toss and at the test-your-strength. The blow-up AK-47s came in camouflage green and, for you fans of irony, red white and blue, with stars, like an American flag. You couldn’t make a thing like that up. It would look trite in fiction.

Nothing more need be said. I liked toy guns, too, when I was a boy. But then boys weren’t being massacred in mass shootings every day. And our national policy shouldn’t be set to satisfy the fantasies of 9-year-olds. Now, slaughter is so common that it hardly merits comment. “Thoughts and prayers” is a bad joke. I don’t understand how politicians can even go through the motions.

But then I don’t understand a lot about this, except for the fact that our leaders are cowards, bought off by the gun industry and mumbling inanities instead of instilling a few commonsense policies that might reduce, though not eliminate, these killings. Change is possible. But not enough Americans have been killed yet for us to even contemplate that, obviously. Maybe someday.