'I've got a very important question for you about your monkey," said a man with a bushy gray beard, his protruding tummy held in by a bright red shirt and rainbow suspenders. "Does she have a belly button?"
The girl at the front of the "Balloonies" line answered in the affirmative, as she watched him make a simian out of yellow latex.
"Good answer," said the man, who perched in a chair on the corner of 6th Avenue S. and Marie Avenue in South St. Paul, furiously twisting the tube until it resembled Curious George. "That way, if she snacks on some celery, she has a place to put the ranch dip."
Catty-corner to the balloon man, an assemblage of trucks doled out pickles on sticks, ice cream in five cone sizes and fried cheese curds, the nuggets' squishy, squeaky consistency softened by a vat of hot oil and a skin of puffed batter. Ranch dip not necessary.
The Kaposia Days festival commemorates the settling of South St. Paul by the Kaposia Indians. The 2012 installment, the 36th annual, brought hundreds of locals to the town's Central Square, around which teens ignored their parents, vendors peddled clocks and French fries, ponies walked in circles and babies raced.
On 6th Avenue, three dumpling-shaped infants sat on a blue mat and eyed a row of stuffed neon fishies at the other end. The tykes crouched patiently as the fiddle-heavy tune "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" blasted from speakers overhead. When the DJ switched to the Contours' "Do You Love Me," it was the signal to start the race.
But the toddlers remained still, waiting for some internal cue like the one that tells iPods to die or cats to feign interest. A cue that can be neither controlled nor predicted.
The crowd cheered, the parents called, but ultimately, it was the promise of a cellphone to play with that lured the winning baby five or six strides toward the finish line.
There were no hard feelings among the losers. "He's happy just to be able to compete," said 8-month-old Dylan's Great Aunt Debbie.
The race now run, rain-swelled clouds rolled in over the square, and families took refuge in the bingo tent. The DJ kept spinning, but his repertoire was just a faint hum under calls of "N 31."