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The Phenomenology of Funnel Cake

I want to talk now about remembering the funnel cake. Actually, I want to talk about something more than a funnel cake because who remembers a plain old funnel cake? I mean, seriously. How many funnel cakes in world history have been deep fried, consumed, and forgotten? A lot! That’s how many. Innumerable memories of funnel cakes have vanished in our collective swamp of memorial oblivion. People remember their rides on the ferris wheel, the merry-go-round, and a bunch of other carnival pleasures but press them for a memory of a funnel cake and you’re likely to receive some blank stares. Oh sure, they’ve had their fair share of funnel cakes; they know what they are. But ask them to describe the specifics of a particular experience with a funnel cake and those funnel cakes? They are gone, baby. Gone.

But this funnel cake was different and I’m not sure why. Do you have memories like that? Memories derived from experiences that stand out as they’re happening and you pay special attention to them because you know that this—this will be a memory. What’s the source of this standing out? It’s not as if it was an especially great funnel cake. It was—as they all are—crazy delicious, but that’s not what I’m talking about at all. I’m talking about the funnel cake, not as an isolated noun, but as a form of funnel caking occurrence. The way it funnel caked. A thing that happened set apart and above the things that usually happen, the things we often forget.

There is of course the context inside of which the funnel cake becomes the funnel cake: the carnival. The carnival, as you know, is a chaotic (anxiety producing) production of random forms and noisy colors. There’s lots of red! and blue! and yellow things! and little kids yelling or crying or drinking excessive root beers or looking at you strangely like they see dead people and you’re dead, which is dislocating. Greasy haired slicksters taunt you into throwing ping pong balls in goldfish bowls or plastic rings around soda bottles; they question your manhood with a single sneer. Was that a wild boar? A wild boar weaved its way through a crowd of Miller swilled men and motorcycle women. Or maybe it didn’t. The great fact is that it could’ve been a wild boar; it could’ve been anything. And it’s here—in the unreal midst of the way anything goes at the carnival, the rigged games, dizzying rides, dirty kids, loud music, brashly juxtaposed color, and hordes of drunken poor people­—here, at the carnival, where the funnel cake finds its place, its meaning in our cultural code, its essential funnel cakeitude. Add powdered sugar. Boom.

But here we have merely discovered the funnel cake’s essence in the funnel cake’s context. However, we are nowhere nearer the source of what made this funnel cake, the one I’m writing about, more than a plain-old-funnel-cake-at-the-carnival—indeed, a funnel cake that stands out and shines forth, worthy of vivid memory. Phenomenology’s hard.

Perhaps, though, the plain old funnel cake’s relational dependence upon context could serve as a clue toward discerning the power of this particular funnel cake, shared with Gwen at the carnival when the sun was just releasing its grasp on the day and the declining light ripped through her hair like a 1000 golden promises that shimmered underwater and I, absorbed in the activity of seeing her, forgot I was a man with a name and a funnel cake. Do you ever disappear like that? Like there’s no such thing as a you at all or, if there is, “you” are everything, all at once, together. Like, the world just then is one big explosion, a fountain, an eruption into which the past (and the future too) pours and it includes—is supported by—everything everywhere ever and this thing, this whole big thing, of which you’re usually just a tiny part is all here now, just now, and you are somehow a representation of the whole ball of wax. You are IT, you know? And it’s YOU, you feel me? Seamlessly. Can you imagine? Me and Gwen sharing a funnel cake at the carnival, more than me and Gwen sharing a funnel cake at the carnival, but a moment by moment exploding expression of the infinite bones of all that was, is, and ever will be, happening, issing, funnel caking.

All that to say: The power of the memory of that particular funnel cake undoubtedly occurs in relation to sharing it with Gwen. Gwen makes everything better. Gwen makes everything better. I will never forget that funnel cake.