Yesterday, I spent five hours volunteering at my friend Christina's church fundraiser. Every year they put on a big carnival to raise money and this year she was in charge of "the fish booth," which meant she had to find people to help her man it, and she got me and Jessica to come help out for the afternoon. Basically, kids could buy eleven ping pong balls for a dollar and there were a bunch of fish bowls in the middle of the booth and if you got a ping pong ball into a fish bowl, then you got to take home a fish (and if you got eleven ping pong balls in eleven fish bowls, then you got to take home eleven fish) (and so on).
Christina and Jessica were in charge of bagging the goldfish, while I was in charge of selling the ping pong balls. There were several kids working the booth with us, but I'm pretty sure Christina, Jessica, and I did all of the real work. I like kids and all, but they were kind of being worthless helpers. There was this one girl, Kelly, who, like, literally just stood there all day. Like, I would be yelling (all carnival barkery) "we've got homeless fish here! fish need a home!" and then a dozen families would come over and I'd sell them a bunch of balls and they'd throw their balls and miss most of them but get some of them and then I'd be crawling on my hands and knees picking up ping pong balls and yelling back to the fish baggers "we need three fish for the girl in purple! we need two fish for the tall guy! (etc.)" and then I'd look at Kelly and she would literally just be standing there staring off at the Ferris Wheel, longingly. But, okay, it wasn't JUST me doing all of the work--there were some other kids helping out a lot too, but I was really freaking annoyed with Kelly and I wanted to give her a hard time on my blog, since I couldn't give her a hard time in real life. (And I totally changed her name, it wasn't really Kelly, I picked a fake name in case she ever self-googled her own real name with the phrase "fish booth," because she was probably, like, 9, and I don't want to really be mean to a 9-year-old. I don't roll like that.
Throughout the day, I would occasionally try throwing ping pong balls myself and I never made it. Lots and lots of other people (like, almost everyone) were making their ping pong shots and getting goldfish (we had TWENTY-FIVE HUNDRED in the tank), but I could not, for the life of me, get a damn ping pong ball into a fucking fish bowl. It just wasn't happening for me. I guess I'm really bad at sports. (What am I saying "I guess" for, when I totally know it to be true?)
Anyway, my favorite moment came towards the end of the day. There was this girl, she must have been about seven years old (though I'm really bad at telling peoples ages, so she could have been twelve for all I know--but I think she was more like seven or eight) and she was wearing a shirt with a pink star puffy painted on it, so for the purposes of this story we'll call her Star. So Star bought eleven ping pong balls and she started throwing 'em at the fish bowls. And she missed and she missed and she missed and she missed. Eleven times. (Most people--me excluded--got at least one of their eleven balls in.) So then Star looked in her little pink wallet. Even though she saw that there weren't very many more dollar bills in there, she really wanted a goldfish, so she considered for a beat and then she handed me another dollar, and then I handed her eleven more balls and she started throwing. And she missed and she missed and she missed and she missed. Over and over and over again. And with each ball that she threw and missed, her spirits went down notch by notch. When she was down to four balls, she looked at me and said "I'm not gonna get a goldfish, am I?" And I was like, "don't be down, you might still make it," and she just looked crestfallen and she said, "no, I'm not." And then she threw the ball and missed and then she picked up the next ball and said, "I'm not going to make it," and I said, "don't say that, you gotta have hope," and then she threw the ball and she missed, and you could just see her spirit breaking, and I kept telling her, "you're gonna get a goldfish, I can feel it," and then she threw her second to last ball and she missed again, and she looked at me, her eyes big and sad and said "I don't know," and I told her, again, "don't lose hope," and she swung her arm and the ball flew through the air in this arc and then it started to descend toward the table with the fish bowls and it landed with a bounce against the lip of one of the bowls and then it ricocheted to another bowl and then bounced up and back down towards another and it started to look like it was going to go in and this whole moment was totally going in slow motion and then and then and then...it hit the lip of the other bowl and bounced down to the ground. Star didn't get her fish and she was out of money and it was over. Her dreams of winning a fucking goldfish (how much is it to ask?) had been dashed and you could just tell she was distraught about the whole thing. So then I was like, "hey Star--watch this." And then I picked up a ping pong ball from the ground and even though I hadn't made a single shot I'd thrown all I day, I threw the ping ball ball and suddenly PLOP, it went into one of the bowls and I looked back at Star and said "it looks like you won!" And her whole face lit up and she ran to get her fish.
I know that from the way I went on and on and on about that fish story, you'd think this was, like, Requim for a Fish, when it's really just a simple little story, but it felt nice to bend the rules for star and help her believe in the carnival again.