It’s calling everyone: food at the county fair

Published 9:40 am Wednesday, August 5, 2009

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The corn dogs are barking.

A keen listener can hear arteries harden.

There’s something in the air in the late summer. It’s the fragrance of anticipation — county fair air.

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It’s time to polish the chickens.

I am a local yokel at a fair. I have spent money trying to toss a basketball into a milk jar at the fair. We yokels go to the fair to watch the city folks stare at the livestock.

I see fellow yokels wearing the trademark splashes of mustard and ketchup on their clothing. Food is the motivation that brings much of the teeming throng to the fair. We scrutinize food vendors as a 4-H judge observes pigs. Cuisine advertised as “famous” tempts us. A wise shopper is able to pick up a year’s worth of cholesterol in a single day at the fair. People who would not turn down a mini-doughnut cover the fairgrounds. The fair is something we pay to get into and then we have to eat our way out. It’s a place we go to eat the foods we’ve been warned about.

Most county fairs have hypnotists. The job of the hypnotist is not only to entertain, but also to convince those under his influence that anything deep-fried on a stick is good for them. I ate toast and oatmeal on a stick to prepare for the fair. The stick provided needed fiber.

There is a yuck factor to certain foods that guarantees their popularity. People will eat almost anything on a stick as long as it is deep-fried. The stick helps folks defend their foodstuffs from predators.

The sounds of the fair are mesmerizing. “Drop that funnel cake! I’m from the health police!” “Don’t eat any food you find on the ground!” “A goat ate my cotton candy!”

Various colors of cotton candy, spun from 60 percent polyester, is ubiquitous. Dedicated hand shakers take a break at the fair. It’s not for fear of catching the H1N1 flu, it’s because of fingers that have reached maximum stickiness due to cotton candy consumption. Shake hands with a cotton candy eater and you might find yourself with a constant companion until you are able to free your hand from his.

Fair-goers drink coffee on a stick to stay alert while smelling the animal droppings and gathering giveaway ink pens and refrigerator magnets. The midway is where parents allow their children to go on frightening rides operated by people that the children would not be allowed to talk to at any other time. We sample an assortment of rides until we become violently ill. Midway maladies cause malaise and mayhem. Some folks buy amusement ride tickets as gifts for people they don’t like.

I participated in the fair’s tractor pull once, but not as a driver. According to a post on FitnessAbout, before the use of hydraulic weight sleds, tractors pulled sleds that had weight added to before each pull. Those tractors were working machines. “Pull on Sunday, plow on Monday” was a popular phrase. Tractor breakdowns were never good, but were especially bad when they happened at play. Fellows like me gathered near a scale. Pull officials weighed each of us and pinned cards indicating our weights to our shirts just as our teachers once pinned notes for us to take home to our mothers. When instructed, we stepped onto the sled. I attempted to be an innocent bystander, but I ended up being dead weight. I brought experience to the job.

I see changes coming to the fair. We will no longer see events that declare the last one to cut off a toe the winner of the lumberjack competition. Carnival rides can be dangerous, so one day, they will be replaced by Wii carnival rides. The chainsaw artist will begin doing origami. The poultry barn will become free-range. There will be “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” sculptures. Santa Claus will make frequent appearances at fairs as retailers try to get a jump on the season. We’ll look on in terror as a woman bites the ears off a chocolate bunny left over from Easter.

Everyone should cavort at a county fair. As the song, “County Fair Love” by Four Shadow, says, “And I’ve got it bad for you, you know I do. Every time our eyes meet, my heart takes a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. It’s not the corn dogs I ate, for three meals a day, that gave me this funny feeling. It’s far more serious than that. It’s county fair love.”

That county fair love may be for cheese curds.

I heard of a man who once went nearly two hours without eating at the fair, but I believe that story to be apocryphal.

We eat until the Tilt-A-Whirl tilts.

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear Wednesday and Sunday.