Friday, June 1, 2018

Spring Fling

When I was in elementary school (1967-1975), the Friday before the Victoria Day long weekend was Sports Day, an event that kicked off with a decorated bicycle parade, followed by a sprint, a sack race and an egg-on-the-spoon race for those in the younger grades and more team-oriented activities for those in Grades 4-7. We bought five-cent tickets from an onsite kiosk and exchanged them for pop, hotdogs and chips. Sports Day ended at noon, but because both my parents were away at work, I spent what remained of the day at the house of a friend's whose mother worked from home.

Somewhere between then and now it was decided that the Friday before the long weekend was interfering with families wanting to escape the city early, so Sports Day was moved to the following weekend. But by then Sports Day was deemed too exclusive, too competitive, which is fine -- not everyone can run, jump in a sack or walk slowly and carefully enough to keep an egg on a spoon from falling.

Because of this exclusivity, my neighbourhood elementary school came up with a fair -- the Spring Fling -- which takes place on a Thursday after school hours between 4pm-8pm.

Unlike Sports Day, the Spring Fling is located throughout the school. The gym is reserved for those in the younger grades (and their parents) who are still learning how to learn, while the adjacent outdoor plaza is a mix of food sales, games of chance and sales of "gently used" clothing. Inside the plaza doors are tables crammed with hampers and their bid sheets, while the eastern plaza functions as a place to eat and listen to "live" music, in this case a band of young vibraphonists.

When I arrived I was greeted by my nine-year-old friend Olive, who lives at the end of my block. Olive had won a cake and offered to share some of it with me. Even in its half eaten state, the cake was huge -- a dense sprawling thing topped with moss green icing, parts of which had been smeared away. Olive handed me a plastic knife and I cut a piece just big enough to keep her from feeling insulted.

On my way back I stopped to watch the Spring Fling's biggest spectacle -- the dunk tank. A source of humiliation in my era, the line-up for those willing to be dunked was twice as long as those paying for the chance to dunk someone. Part of me thinks this inversion, like the de-emphasis on Sports Day's exclusivity and competition, is a measure of how far we have come, while another wonders if the Fling's market-like atmosphere, with its prize cakes and dunkings, is only a reorientation of activities that many of us thought to be limiting.

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