State: Fair-PartTwo

Leaving the 4-H building, The Muse and I saunter down the promenade, further into the fair. Except for the costumes people wear, which tend toward the ridiculous, we could be a Gilded Age couple in morning coat and pinafore, strolling any public thoroughfare. Where else do people walk like that, except at the fair? I’m in hiking boots and jeans, layered tee and long sleeves on top. The Muse sports a demure dark blue shell and sandals. We both wear hats against the sun. I spot one man wearing bright orange pumpkin-print pajama bottoms, and many wearing those goofy oversized to-the-knee basketball shorts. Most carry no protection against the fierce sun.

We pass by one rancher bucking alfalfa bales while wearing a starched snap button shirt, Wranglers, and boots. Not the sort of boots intended to walk around in, but those pointy-toed waddle boots cowboys ride horses in. At least a quarter of the people look kind of used up, as if the old windy weed farm took more out of them than it ever returned, like they don’t often splurge like this. Another quarter might have escaped from a trailer park somewhere, thirty year old grandmother nudging along her granddaughter's stroller, a genuine passel of extended family shuffling along in various stages of disrepair, tattoos everywhere.

I swear, the place looks like a grandfather convention. Everywhere but the midway, old men in mommy jeans or work pants work their canes and struggle gamely if lamely along. Some simply stake claim to a piece of shade and watch the parade while others work through the crowd, clogging the flow, but nobody seems to mind. Nobody seems in any hurry to get anywhere. No deadlines loom over these proceedings, and everyone shares that fascinated trance-like stare common to fair-goers everywhere. I’ve seen the same encompassing gazes at German Christkindlmarkts and Italian Natale markets, the universal human gawk.

Kids are everywhere, too, ant swarms of them, each demonstrating some form of willful mind of their own. Some sure seem overwhelmed by the proceedings, but the same could be said about many of the adults. Others swarm apparently independent of any form of adult supervision, bee-lining between bright and incredibly shiny attractions, slipping between clomping oldsters and stroller armadas, very few pouting or whining over anything, but it's early in the day yet. Everything doubtless still seems new. Adventure propells them forward.

We scan the landscape for food options. Neither of us feel quite hungry yet, but we don’t want to waste our appetites on something pedestrian or derivative. Fair food can be either distinctive or not. Turkey legs, for instance, typically smoked, sometimes bacon-wrapped, seem to have become the common currency at every ordinary block-off-Main-Street fair. They look like they’d be easy to eat, but they want three hands to pick through the sinewy meat, and a dental assistant to floss one out afterwards. Not a choice selection. Burgers one can find everywhere and should not be allowed at anyplace as special as a fair. We spot Mac and Cheese on a Stick. Stick food exemplifies fair fare. I hear they sell deep fried Gummy bears on a stick at the Tulsa fair, but we found none of those here.

This fair’s buildings properly carry the label palace. We pass by The Palace of Agriculture, a sprawling hewn stone warehouse of a building. Even the animal barns seem build to last, from native stone and fine wrought iron, lowly purpose but palatial presentation. The sun shifts to high noon extreme as I spot a twenty foot tall fiberglass holstein down near the end of the promenade. The Muse directs us toward it, and we find there free ice cream, a promotion from some ice cream company. We snag our waxed paper cups and wooden paddle spoons then find a place to sit in the shade of the Milk Producers’ Association palace. I might have enjoyed the taste and texture of that little paddle spoon more than I did the ice cream. The combination of the two evoked the fondest childhood memories. When did I last carve my way through one of these magical cups, first pulling that little tab on the lid before licking the underside clean? My throat lumps in nostalgic appreciation.

The Muse tries to goad me into milking a disinterested Guernsey, but I decline, though I knew I should have taken her up on the offer. I’m in look-see mode, not collecting hands-on experiences, though I could have just as easily collected a hands-on experience or two. We watch a small girl in a sun dress spook the milk cow into kicking over the milk bucket and a haughty tweeny fail to pull a drop of milk from those terrifying teats before deciding on an order of Rocky Mountain Oysters as our start on lunch.

Some song extolling the podunk lifestyle blares over the counter as we order. The food will be deep fried to order, so we’ll hang for a few there downwind of music and fryer neither of us favor but we both appreciate in this context. We visit an alien culture here, one The Muse more belongs to than I ever did. Though my home town sports an annual fair, I grew up a towny, which meant I wore the perennial Just Visiting sign. I was never once in the market for a tractor or combine, though I was always fascinated by those huge machines’ Rube Goldberg complexity. The Muse, though, grew up on a working farm, her family active participants in the farm and fair culture, not simply visitors like me. We’re both visitors now, though her roots extend back into authenticity while mine stretch no further than barely into a rather befuddled appreciation. I hold no credentials here.

The “oysters” taste delicious, chewy and fine! We share them as we enter the longhorn palace, irony entirely provided by the sort of synchronicity one can only graciously acknowledge as fair magic. Neither of us knows the first thing about ‘critters’, as The Muse refers to them, but we both love to gawk, marveling at how one might go about transporting a steer with headgear extending four feet beyond each ear. Watusi cattle from Africa carry what looks like a quarter of their body weight in ungainly horns. We’re fascinated by the mystery of these animals. (The Muse Googles to learn that these horns work as a kind of radiator, regulating body temperature in their native intemperate climate.)

We wander into the sheep and goat ‘palace’ to find a rude competition, goat udder judging. Goats waddle bow-legged on tethers behind their owners into a central pen where a young woman in jeans and a green cowgirl hat kneels to palpate each swollen udder before declaring one of the suffering animals champion. The contestants are then led back to individual pens, where we hope emergency milkmaids await to perform urgent extractions. “That’s cruel,” The Muse mumbles. I reply that nobody should mention this competition to Donald Trump.

The wind whips up at we leave the goat palace, sending dust swirling. I point to the Palace of Agriculture and we slip in a side door as the first raindrops pelt down. We find inside the kind of bazaar found only at fairs, and every fair has one. The one time of the year when the tire shop on the edge of town rents a booth and commences to conduct a free drawing for something almost nobody would ever use, like a free hubcap waxing. Not just the tire shop, every purveyor of everything you never heard of before has a booth offering free samples. The LDS church offers free tastes of your personal genealogical history and promises of a family that lasts forever, though about half of the people streaming by their booth look as if they’d ditch the family dogging along with them in a New York minute. This is not now nor was it ever New York.

The Muse carries no natural antibodies against these hawkers. Each casts an invisible but tangible line with a clever hook attached, and she rises to about half the bait while I stand defensively frozen nearby. She’s genuinely interested, as if she’s stumbled into the fountain of youth rather than just a mock up of a futuristic shower stall. I think that we could not possibly buy that shower stall anyway because it wouldn’t fit into either the shuttle bus or the zoom car for the ride back home, but she’s undeterred by such pedestrian realities as she eagerly soaks up the story, suds and all. I have become an extremely patient husband, able to stand at the rough equivalent of parade rest, safely out of the trampling flow of foot traffic, while The Muse fingers whatever’s caught her eye. There’s nothing here that could not star in any wee hours television commercial, and I rationalize that since neither of us stay up watching TV into the wee hours, where else could we possibly be exposed to these many marvels of ingenuity? I don’t understand what half of this stuff is supposed to do. I cannot even understand what these people say when they invite me into their boothy little lairs. The Muse enters. I hover. Patiently.

Fortunately for us, The Muse turns out to be more in catch and release mode than hook, line, and sinker, though we will return to this palace on our way toward the exit to snag two smallish items we decide we should not live without, though we could have lived without them. The Muse does ask for literature, a glossy catalogue we’ll have to cart around with us, but we leave the Palace of Agriculture otherwise unencumbered.

©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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