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Edgar Degas: Portrait after a Costume Ball
(Portrait of Madame Dietz-Monnin)

"May we always remember."

Every exhibitor finally figures out their trade on the last night of the Fair. The five long days before were merely practice for this grand finale performance. By five pm, everyone's walking around like zombies, the unavoidable effect of back-to-back-to-back-to-back twelve-hour days standing on unforgiving concrete or sitting in equally torturous folding chairs. Each became a master of their wares by repetition. The come-on tried a dozen ways before finally settling on one that reliably worked. Still, more strolled by than lingered, but those who lingered on the Last_Night stayed a little longer. Everyone knows full well that this show's just about through, and most seem to want to savor its presence while that's still possible.

We've come to know those showing around us.
The caricature artist in an adjacent space produced the definitive portrait of The Muse as a candidate. In the booth next door, Michael offered each of us a small package of mints he'd been using to lure people into ordering a solar panel assessment. I was surprised at how intimate we'd become, telling stories between customers and shooting the shit through the more boring hours, of which there'd been plenty. The Muse reflected that she'd done well renting this space. She'd met many potential voters and even garnered a few strong supporters she'd likely have never otherwise met. Her booth placement had been a random draw yet perfect. The traffic was steady and generally attentive. We'd considered the booth a necessary hardship of her campaign and would leave it believing it had been an unanticipated blessing. We never would have suspected how significant this experience would have been had we not experienced it. Her opponent was missing. So much the worse for her campaign.

We'd had misgivings. How would we manage to keep the booth occupied? The exhibitor rules clearly stated that each booth had to be populated between eleven and eleven in twelve-hour shifts. The Muse created a schedule and asked her supporters to volunteer for three-hour shifts, and most of the slots were filled like this, but we quickly noticed that the booth worked best when The Muse was in residence. Nobody else can ever represent any candidate's interests. Nobody can introduce the candidate like the candidate can. Further, the candidate learns the depth of their dedication through numbing repetition. Did she want to get elected enough to stick out a few twelve-hour shifts? She apparently did.

By Sunday evening, though, impatience overtakes the booth. We're counting the hours, minutes, and seconds until we will be released. But we've also relaxed our standards. I turned to passing out stickers, a violation of exhibitor's rules as detailed in the voluminous exhibitor's handbook, which will soon become moot for me. I figure it's the Last_Night. What could they possibly do to us? The Muse suggests they could fine us for the cost of removing them should they end up where they don't belong. I'm undeterred. The security guard stops on his clockwork rounds to joke around with us. We're a ship of fools on a doomed mission. None of us will return here tomorrow except to fetch tables, chairs, and banners. We were family once but will soon be divorced forever.

It might be that we do everything so that we can experience another ending again, for these tend to be bittersweet and savory almost beyond belief. We cannot share these through superficial engagement. We must achieve some surprising degree of intimacy first. We must come to know the real people within ourselves and our neighbors. We should properly survive some tussle where our relationship threatened to slide sideways on us. We must find forgiveness and exhibit generosity in the face of this. In short, we must become like family over a few short days of intense engagement. We will not have noticed how the tendrils intertwined us there, but we will finally notice on that Last_Night that we'd become intertwined. It must have been magic how nothing all that special became such extraordinary memories. We depart our best selves. May we always remember.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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