Lileks: Even wretched heat can't wreck the wonders of the fair

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2013 - 10:15 AM
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Alicia Flores of Eau Claire, Wis., spent a lot of time under sprinkler systems that were provided for fairgoers to cope with State Fair heat Tuesday, when temperatures reached 97 degrees in Falcon Heights.

Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES • eflores@startribune.com,

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Every year, the price of things at the State Fair sneaks up a quarter or two, but the bottled-water hawkers outside the gates remain constant.

ICE COLD WATTAH, ONE DOLLAH. It’s as if they’re trapped by a near-rhyme. LIQUID NIFTY, ONE FIFTY doesn’t quite work. HYDRATION IS ESSENTIAL TO STAYIN’ ALIVE, ONE TWENTY FIVE — too much.

While it’s nice they’re holding the line, one can’t help but think they’re missing a business opportunity when it’s 97 degrees.

“Two dollah” rhymes as well, you know.

People would have paid it. The conditions at the fair this year have been cruel, and attendance has been consistent with a year in which anvils rained from the sky at unpredictable intervals. At least there are misting stations so you can moisten the grime, but this is possibly the first fair where attendance would spike if it started to snow.

But a few days ago, I found myself in the garden, eating a chili dog, listening to a deafening country-western act (I’ll tell you why she done you wrong: She was tired of the ringing in her ears), sweat dropping off my forehead on my chili dog just in case it wasn’t salty enough.

I thought: This is nothing I would choose to do on any other day.

Not this meal. Not this band. Not this place, which must be sponsored by 3M because everything has the gently sticky quality of a Post-it note.

And yet I am happy.

Back up a second. A story on hot weather in the paper generated the usual fractious twaddle in the comments: What, kids complaining about hot schools? I attended class in a brick-maker’s kiln when I was a kid. GROW UP. And that sort of thing.

One stood out. A commenter noted with approval the fair’s lower attendance numbers and said, in essence, good. Perhaps the fair will now be nudged on a path of permanent decline.

It’s standard Internet troll-cackle: All you people stop liking things I don’t. Here’s someone who would be happy if the fair ceased to exist, because the very idea of the thing somehow abrades their sensibilities. You don’t like it? Fine.

But here’s what I saw in the course of a day:

Trampoline artists wearing skis; 16 people attempting to karaoke “Moves Like Jagger” only to discover that there was no melody per se, but forging on like the Charge of the Light Brigade in search of the chorus; a freak-show fire-eater who had the expression you’d expect when your job requires you to stand in the sun when it’s 95 degrees and put a flaming wad down your throat; an enormous Fiberglas bull being dragged through the streets like an ancient god to which majorettes would be sacrificed (they stopped that in ’62).

Also, a working newspaper press from the days when that was the only way to get the latest info on Teddy Roosevelt’s escapades; a little girl coming out of the butterfly exhibit with an expression of wonder and joy, telling her mom that the butterfly sat on her finger. Did you see it, Mom? Did you?

The cynic says you can find butterflies for free in the park, and you don’t have to deal with 125,000 people walking around gnawing on turkey legs. Fine.

I also saw dog surgery. Cynic says: Were dogs doing surgery? No? Just an operation on a dog? I can walk into any vet’s office and see that. Granted. But dog surgery is one of those things you wouldn’t make a point of seeing, necessarily, but that’s the fair: something unusual and unexpected in a place where you can also sign up to win a water softener and get junk mail for the next 10 years.

Samuel Johnson said that a man who is tired of London is tired of life. He might agree that a man who is tired of the fair is tired of the London Broil they serve by the grandstand. But if that’s the case, move along to the Texas twisted potatoes, my good sir. It’s not that you can find everything at the fair somewhere else — it’s that everywhere else is here, for now. Everything we are, for better and for worse.

On the way out, they offer to stamp your skin for readmission. (It changes every day, so if you show up on Tuesday sporting Monday’s corn dog stamp, sorry Charlie.) The lady had the stamp out, but something in my staggering gait and drained face said no, I’m good, tank’s topped off. She didn’t offer to stamp.

I’d seen it all and done it all — well, almost everything. I heard someone say as I passed out the gate, “I want to check out that cheese on a stick.” It seemed like the most ordinary, banal thing the fair could offer, but I’d never checked out the cheese on a stick. One more thing to add to the list.

It runs 12 days. You might do it all if it ran for 40 — if you’re inclined to like the fair, that is. If not, today was a day like any other.

Hope you had a good time — and if you bought a bottle of water, hope it wasn’t more than a buck.

 

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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