I attended the Big Time Wrestling event at Talbot Rink, a fund-raiser for the Gloucester Police Relief Association, a recent Friday night.
My phone said it was 90 degrees, but it felt something like 120. People used paper plates and fish tub covers as fans waving them in back and forth motions in front of their faces. Breathing felt like an act done through a straw. No air.
Yet, people cheered and booed and cheered in excitement, high-fiving the wrestlers as they entered the ring for their battle. There were 2-, four- and 6-year-olds bopping around, holding onto the hand of their mother or father, peering only through the eye holes of their mask. Some little ones wore championship wrestling belts that were bigger than they were.
I could feel the sweat dripping slowly down the front of me, the back of me, and in the creases behind my knee caps. But my grandfather and I brought my cousin Ian to the event. He’d been anticipating our outing all week.
We’d frozen three water bottles in the freezer before we left that night. They were nice and cold, but gone within minutes. I dug out two dollar bills, took some more from my grandfather and headed to the vending machine for three waters.
I hopped in line behind a man holding a toddler. He was wearing an oversized navy blue T-shirt and holding out his dollar bills in front of him like a statue. The girl in front of him must have been seven or eight. She had on hiking sandals and a pair of workout sweat shorts and she sported a pony tail held loosely with a bright blue scrunchy.
She fed her money into the machine, squinted through her oval glasses at the slit into which she slid the bill, and seconds later the money came right out, hitting her in the face. She put it in again. The machine spit it back at her. In, out. In, out. In, out.
Each time the money reappeared she’d look around first at the buttons of the machine, then at the contents, then at the people around her. Her face asked the questions, “What do I do now?” The man in front of me didn’t utter any advice. He didn’t move – he just watched her.
Puzzled, the girl hopped out of line, tried the adjacent machine — and started the same dance with that one. The man and toddler made their successful water transaction and walked away. I hopped out of line to help the girl.
I grabbed the bill and flattened it on the corner of the machine. “It’s so hot, maybe the money’s too sweaty,” I laughed, trying to ease her fluster. But then I looked — Ah-ha! She had been feeding a $5 bill into a $1 machine.
“Take this $5 bill and run over to that lady right there,” I said, pointing to the woman at the concession table. “Ask her for change and she will give you back five $1 bills, ok?”
She blankly looked up at me over the tops of her glasses before rushing off to the concession. I got my waters from the machine while she got her $1 bills. She hastily returned as if on a mission.
She stood in front of the machine containing only Powerade, because now a woman was getting water out of the one beside it. She fed $2 in and then looked at me for guidance.
“Now what?” she said. “Now you press the letter and number next to the drink that you want.”
“But there’s no water in here,” she yelled, and tilted her head up at me. I laughed and pressed the change button. Eight quarters shot out.
We shuffled to the machine containing only water. “How much does it cost for just one?” she asked.
“It’s $1.25,” I said, “One dollar and one quarter,” I said slowly. I felt like I had this past school year during our lesson on money at my job in a first-grade classroom. It was a feeling I liked — a feeling I missed, though I hadn’t realized until that moment that I had missed it.
She put the money in and then looked at me. “A3” I said, pointing to the keypad. Her first water came out from the vending machine. She needed another one. She slid in the two $1 bills before I had time to tell her to just use one bill and one leftover quarter.
“Now don’t forget your change OK? You’re going to have three quarters come out right here,” I told her, pointing to the change compartment. I walked back to my seat with my three waters for Ian, my grandfather, and I.
“What took you so long?” my grandfather asked. I chirped on and on about how, if we can’t count on each other for help, then who could we count on? But my frustration toward the man who had done nothing quickly turned to inspiration.
I took out my I-phone, opened up the “notes” section and typed this story to share from the bleachers.
Emily daSilva is a Gloucester resident, a Gloucester High School and Endicott College graduate, and a former intern and occasional correspondent with the Gloucester Daily TImes.