The Zipper Situation (A Story)

Hastings is this lovely little riverside town in Minnesota, a bit south of St. Paul. It’s the kind of place that looks like an HO scale train set blown up to real size. You wouldn’t be completely startled to buy an ice cream from Jimmy Stewart at one of the antique stores. I used to live there, in an apartment above an auto parts store, under the highway 61 bridge with a Bob Dylan poster on the inside of my bedroom door.

On the weekends in the summers, local classic car motorheads would roll into town and pop the hoods on their ’57 Chevy Belairs and ’67 Mustangs and ’44 Chryslers and show off all the chrome in the world. There would inevitably be a cart vending mini donuts. This was the place, if ever there was one, for a traveling carnival to come into town and setup the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Zipper and the Octopus and the Scrambler right along the river bank.

Now me, I love carnivals. I love the smell, the sound, the rides, the games. I always have done. And also, I’ve always had a cast iron stomach. I don’t get queasy. You can spin me, flip me, drop me, twirl me, accelerate and decelerate me until my eyes are dangling from my optic nerves and I will just smile and say “please sir, may I have some more”. At least, that’s how I’ve always seen myself. I’ve never feared a death-defying experience.

All this said, one night there was a carnival and all I had to do was descend the stairs from my apartment, walk under the bridge, hang a left at the Mississippi, and there it was. Couldn’t miss it. What’s even better, I had my son with me and he was at the prime carnival age, 10 years old. Promising doesn’t even begin to cover it.

First stop at any carnival, of course, is the ticket booth. You need to buy your tickets before you choose your rides, and this we did, and began scanning the insanity on offer. There was a Tilt-A-Whirl, there was a carousel, there was a Scrambler, there were bumper cars, there was that one ride where you stand against the wall and get spun around really fast and the centripetal force pins you against the wall and your feet leave the ground. And in the middle was the King of the Beasts… The Zipper.


The Zipper is, if you’re unfamiliar, a simple concept. You and a friend are seated in a small metal car, side by side. The car is capable of freely rotating 360 degrees forward or backward. This car is one of several that are attached to a large rotating arm of sorts that itself spins. To make it all the more fun, the cars also are moving along the rotating arm on a sort of track. It’s quite lovely to behold. It is also the ride to end all carnival rides, as far as I am concerned. When I was myself a child, and my brother and I had a chance to ride The Zipper, we always took it. There was no better way to guarantee vertigo and insanity.

On this particular Hastings afternoon, seeing the chance to introduce my son to The Wondrous Zipper, I went giddy. It’s amazing, I said. You’ll love this thing, I said. Holy crap they have a Zipper!, I said. And we got on.

Seconds into the ride the self-discovery began. We started moving and my stomach lurched along with the gears and chains. I gripped the metal bar in front of me. We swung, then flipped, then spun, and for the first time I could remember on an amusement park or carnival ride, I felt nauseous. I glanced to my left. My son was laughing and screaming and seemingly having a great time. I was feeling the color drain from my face and breakfast threatening a second coming. What the hell was going on here? I’m Ryan Sutter of Cast Iron Stomach Fame. I don’t get pukey on rides. This wasn’t right.

Fortunately, I have had some training in Buddhist meditation. I often rely on what I have learned when faced with situations in which my mind and body are not responding to a situation in the way I would prefer. I slowed down time and thought about the situation.

Fact. I like Zipper rides.

Fact. I don’t like being nauseous.

Fact. I don’t get nauseous on Zipper rides.

Fact. I am nauseous on the Zipper ride.

Conclusion: I am doing something different.

I observed myself. Posture? Rigid. Muscles? Tense. I observed my son. Posture? Floppy. Muscles? Basically present. I observed myself. Attitude? Resistant. Outlook? Grim. I observed my son. Attitude? Squirrelly. Outlook? Squee.


I see.

Oh well then.

The problem wasn’t The Zipper. The problem was that I was fighting it. I was willing my body to be still while it was being flipped and flopped and looped and flung through the air by a metal deathtrap constructed by carnies when God was a lad instead of just accepting that it was highly likely I would survive and being shaken (not stirred) could be a perfectly valid experience to go along with.

I relaxed. I let go. I gave in to The Zipper.

Immediately the nausea subsided. Immediately fun returned to the experience. Immediately.

The entire ride lasted all of a minute. My argument with the ride and subsequent spiritual epiphany lasted probably 20 seconds. However, despite the brevity of the duration, The Zipper Situation has remained lodged in my mind. I’ve replayed those seconds hundreds of times. Especially when I find myself under stress. When things are happening and I find myself resisting them despite the fact that I put myself in the situation and can no longer control the environment. I get stressed, I get tired, I find myself in a white-knuckle grip on the handlebars of life and I think… Wait a sec. Look at yourself. Breathe. Are you creating your own nausea by resisting That Which Cannot Be Resisted? Could you have fun if you just rode the fucking ride?

And usually, the answer is yes.