Ce n’est pas une cave.

French parents have very different physical safety standards for their children than their American counterparts. Chloe and I learned this here last year when she had a nervous meltdown in the middle of the ropes course and had to be rescued by skilled climbers.

…Okay by one of my in-laws but whatever.  This post is not about physical danger. What I discovered today is that French parents also have very different emotional safety standards for their children.

We went back to the Adrenaline Adventure Park this year at Chloe’s request.  In celebration of … approaching nuclear annihilation? Humanity’s dark truth? Birth metaphors?…the park has added a new attraction.  It consists of a shipping container modified to somehow mimic the experience of spelunking.  Considering the story I’m about to unfold, I’m thinking that it’s been modified to mimic The Descent just a little too closely…but the actual witness to the heart of darkness still isn’t quite talking.  What I can tell you is there’s a black nylon curtain extending maybe three feet from the left container wall.  Under normal circumstances the curtain is drawn to meet a plywood sheet with two holes bored into it.  The holes, each maybe 2 feet in diameter, are dark and labelled Entrée and Sortie. 

Update: we went back and I paparazzied a photo. You would totally let a 7 year old crawl in here, right?

Chloe has a cousin who is four months younger than she is. To protect his public image we’ll call him M.  M finished the mind-blowingly dangerous “children’s” ropes course in about half the time it took Chloe.  My father-in-law, near the end of what must have been an hour of unscripted time with a seven year old, let M crawl into the Entrée of the spelunking experience. How long it took for things to get to where they were when my mother-in-law and I walked up can probably not be measured in Earth minutes.  M will have to surface that in therapy.  Or a long slow slide into alcoholism.

Anyway.  Who remembers the actor who played Robin Williams’ brother in Mrs. Doubtfire? This guy? There was another parent shadowing us at the park with three small girls and another guy.  They might have been a couple.  If they weren’t went they got there they probably are now, but I digress. Dude (we’ll just go ahead and call him Harvey) was a dead ringer for that actor, except Harvey’s maybe 20 pounds lighter and never without a lit cigarette dangling from his fingers because France.

As we approach yon shipping container, Harvey has pulled back the black curtain from the left side of the ride, is about five feet into it, and is yelling.  I can smell cigarette smoke and I’m intrigued because Disneyworld conditioning has taught me parents don’t pull back the theatrical fourth wall of amusement park rides lightly.  Or get to stay behind there unsupervised for any length of time.  Or smoke within 20 feet of anything that casts a shadow.  Harvey’s agitated, but not in a way that makes me worry yet that anyone’s really hurt.  I’m also taking my cue* from the fact my father-in-law is standing in front of the container looking concerned but way less agitated.

*Disclaimer: I’m also at a level of not giving a fuck that happens when you know you’re own kid is not involved.

A few seconds elapse and I realize Harvey is missing two of his children and the other guy.  He’s continued smoking and yelling, but he’s abandoned the curtain and now has his head in the Entrée while ignoring the third and smallest child.   I simultaneously glom onto three relevant facts:

1) M is nowhere to be seen.
2) He’s probably in the shipping container and
3) given the agitation levels that he’s probably stuck in it with Harvey’s older two girls.

I’m also starting to wonder what the hell it is they’ve done to a shipping container to make it count as an amusement park ride. There’s no evident electricity and they’re not handing out headlamps, which means whatever is going on is in the complete dark. From the extent to which Harvey’s yelling reverberates there’s definitely metal involved, but since the container’s metal that’s really not telling me much.  I’m dimly horrified, but M is tough, so I decide we can weather it until he gets himself out.

Another 2 minutes go by.  Harvey graduates to screaming, my mother-in-law is looking concerned, and my father-in-law has shifted into that Dad Catatonia Zone for men who have let a situation get out of hand and need to pretend someone else was at the helm when the important decision making occurred.  There’s a clanking.  A bang. Sort of a woosh…and than out feet first from the Sortie comes M.

He’s shivering.  Literally shivering.   My mother-in-law and I run to him and all he can say is “Cold. So Cold.” Its evident something severe has happened in the container but all we can think is to get him away from the exit so that he’s not in between Harvey and recovering his children.

The oldest of Harvey’s kids emerges. Her shirt is up over her head which I assume was not a planned part of the ride. It takes her a good deal of time to realize that whatever was happening in the shipping container is over, and that she has in fact lived to see the sun again.  She transitions from white-lipped terror to active sobbing while blocking the Sortie.

M, meanwhile, is shaking himself off and I realize that his face is streaked with tears.  M is- to borrow a phrase- Gangsta As Fuck, so I know that whatever was sufficient to make him cry was BAD.  It’s at this exact second that Chloe decides that what she really wants out of life is a taste whatever the hell M just tried in the shipping container.  Before I can stop her she’s crawled into the Entrée over everyone’s objections.  M grabs her by the leg to prevent her getting in but she’s much bigger than he is and he’s still weakened by terror and relief.

I take over from him by the Entrée and I’m thusly standing right there when the last of Harvey’s kids comes out of the Sortie. She’s young enough to have escaped psychic damage but Harvey is somehow not done hollaring.  Another 30 seconds go by and he finally shuts up and backs up slightly.  The reverberating echo stops. The silence that surrounds all of us has physical dimensions. I’m just about to exhale when- in a denouement worthy of an Almadovar film- the Sortie disgorges an ENTIRE FUCKING GROWN MAN.

The disappearance of Harvey’s adult companion is explained.

I’m startled but I’m no less than 12 inches from one of the most blatant metaphors I’ve ever witnessed live, so I’m also I’m laughing so hard I have to bend at a 90 degree angle sideways to not wet my pants.  I’m marveling that he got out of there without getting his shoulder caught.  I’m also trying to keep Chloe from getting any further into the Entrée than she needs to to realize it’s a Dark Ride and she shouldn’t get involved.

She realizes it.  We recover her without losing sight of her and walk away.

M has stopped shaking and I attempt to interrogate him about his encounter with the eschaton.

Me: What was up in there?
M: *shrugs* [CAUSE HE’S FRENCH]
Me: Did you cry?
M: *peculiar Gallic nasal sound that indicates ‘War is Hell’*
M: Oui.
Me: Why?
M: Cold. And Dark.
Me: Here, let me clean your face.
Chloe: Why are you spitting on M’s face?
Me: I’m attempting to erase the last traces of his fear.

So I don’t know what the hell Nietschean abysmal encounter they have in that container but it’s dark and apparently lures men into peculiar choices.  Maybe it’s just a small locked room and the hell unleashed there really was just other people. On the other hand, I have rarely laughed so hard. More notable, I have never seen my mother-in-law laugh that hard.

Maybe the real amusement is for the parents.

Maybe that’s been the secret all along.


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