Norman liked roller-coasters. Did I say liked? He loved roller-coasters, beyond loved, he was obsessed. Roller-coasters were a fixation, an addiction, he was compelled to repeat the experience. In winter he’d work two jobs so that he could take the entire “season” off, traveling around the country to ride the biggest, fastest roller-coasters in America, especially the old style wooden roller-coasters.
He wrote reviews, essays and historical pieces for the ‘coaster magazines, he’d been to college, he could write, and yes, there is a vital subculture of roller-coaster fanatics. He didn’t care for modern amusement parks, Disneyland was interesting but not his style. He loved the atmosphere of old school amusement parks, the carnies, the gaudy signage, the weight-guessers, the junk food, the excited laughter of children, and all of the rides, the whole disreputable outsider-ness of it.
He would spend the majority of the day repeatedly riding the roller-coaster, making notes in between, resting in the shade planning the road trip to the next park, the next ‘coaster. I couldn’t understand it myself, and Norman couldn’t understand my aversion to it. To me amusement parks are as though someone had my arm twisted up behind my back and was forcing hilarity on me. For me it was like watching gamblers in Vegas, I could see only sadness; for Norman it was heaven.
It was as though he came alive in the milieu of amusement parks, quite literally, since his typical visage, between his natural aspect and the constant self-sedation, was as one near death, or recently brought back from death. I cannot imagine that there is another like him, nor ever has been, not in the details, and probably not in the sharp contrasts presented by his many facets, some admirable in the extreme and almost saintly, some that society considers unseemly, pathological, illegal, or even disgusting.