Reminiscing about the county fairPublished 8:16am Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Column: Tales From Exit 22
A clergyman told me that the lucky people are those who know where they are going. He felt sorry for any pitiful fellow who wasn’t sure of his destination.
I’m guessing he wasn’t talking about the unfortunate souls lacking a GPS. I think he was talking about heaven and hell, but he could have been talking about the county fair.
Ray Bradbury wrote a short story, “The Happiness Machine,” in which a man sought to bring happiness to his small town. He tinkered for weeks, neglecting his family, before completing the machine.
His wife tried the contraption and the experience left her in tears. She saw beautiful things that weren’t real. She was saddened by the places she’d never see and things she’d never have. The man worked the machine so hard that it burst into flames. With its destruction came the realization that the man already had a happiness machine. It was all around him. It was just a matter of recognizing it.
The county fair is more than a competitive overeating event with wheelbarrows of greasy food and rides ranging from mildly irritating to stomach-churning torments that offer the opportunity to vomit for distance and accuracy (some fair-goers pay to see that.) The county fair is a happiness machine that provides the challenge of attempting to toss a basketball into a pop bottle.
The fair is the biggest thing since John discovered the Deere.
It offers crowds, lines and noise to people who live where they do in order to avoid crowds, lines and noise. Cool guys walk around with girlfriends carrying enormous stuffed animals. The fairest of the fair. Love is in the heart, and on the midway. All’s war in love and fair.
Folks reminisce about the year the cow got loose. You can smell the fair excitement. Livestock barns produce herbal odors that blend with the scent of deep-fried butter on-a-stick.
The fair is the home of foot-wide hotdogs so long they’re served on tripods. People sharing a thought bubble make for long lines to food. Not everyone can be the first hog to the trough. People stand on queue as if it were an assembly line of humans being built from cheese curds. Fair-goers haunted by the accusing stare of a corn dog make the grounds so crowded that there isn’t room to eat a footlong hot dog. You could walk for days at the fair and still gain weight. Antacid-on-a-stick might be a worthy investment.
Open for an hour, the fair looked as if it had been open for a year. A sea of fair-goers moved like snails with rheumatism. There were 4-H’ers, 3-H’ers, 2-H’ers and 1-H’ers. A mirage won a demolition derby when a Dodge forgot to dodge.
A vendor in the Rube Building asked me if I was afflicted with boring flooring. I grew up on linoleum floors. It’s impossible to match that excitement.
A young boy was riding a horse when its leg broke. A policeman had to shoot it. Everyone on the merry-go-round freaked out.
The haunted house was disappointing. The lights turned on and off. It was supposed to be the act of a ghost, but it wasn’t. The power company was doing it.
The fair harks back to a time when I heard things like, “Ask your mother for 50 cents to see the cow straddle the fence,” “I don’t think there is a bumper-goat ride,” “The Human Melonball is on at 3,” and “You don’t need to guess how much I weigh. I know.”
The woman had a mini-doughnut in one hand and a leash to a small dog in the other. I watched as the dog sniffed the trousers of a man standing on the fairgrounds. The canine slinked away. There was no tail wagging by the sad dog. The woman and the dog walked toward me. I greeted the woman, a stranger to me. The little dog sniffed my pant leg and then strained against the leash in an effort to move on. The woman apologized for the dog. She told me that her husband had died a year ago. Everyone knew that except his dog. She was unable to make the dog understand that its master had died. The dog sniffed trouser legs in a search for the man it would never find.
I hoped aloud that the woman didn’t find the dog’s search unpleasant. She didn’t. It brought her good memories.
I recalled Ella Fitzgerald singing a hymn, “Brighten the Corner Where You Are.”
The county fair brightens that corner.
Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.