I had been informed by sources that it was true, but I didn't believe them. Had to walk down to the end of the midway to see for myself. Alas, the rumors were true: The bad painting of Tom Selleck no longer graces one of the rides. You might know what I mean: The ride, called MAGNUM, had a picture of Selleck that looks like someone was working from a police sketch, based on a description of someone who was mugged by Magnum P.I. in a dark alley. For years he loomed large at the end of the midway, his cap perched on top of an improbably high stack of Magnum Hair, big eyes boring into your soul: I challenge your preconceptions of the star of a discontinued crime drama! Now he's gone, replaced by pictures of women in bikinis.

Don't say nothing changes at the fair.

Everything changes. Every second is different than the last, because you can't duplicate the crowds (where are these people the rest of the year?), the smells (grease, garbage, manure, sugar), the weather (hellish and sticky, followed by cold pelting rain), the sounds (screams from the midway, the cang-cang of the trolley bell, muffled bandshell music, clopping horse hooves) in the exact same combination. There are infinite versions of the fair; in a sense, you can do the exact same things you did last year and it's still entirely different.

Don't buy it, do you?

Nah. I understand. There's that moment when you first walk through the gates, and you're happy to be back -- but it's exactly as you left it. You wonder if you're wearing the same shirt. You are. There's a ketchup stain already. What year is this? Summer went fast. The year went fast. Life went fast. But surely there's something new? Yes.

The Miracle of Birth Center now has a Sad Realities of Middle Age annex, where animals just sit around and wonder what happened.

The Horticulture Building has been painted; looks lovely. Inside, all of the prize-winning apples are new. Unless they are wax replicas, and they keep them in the basement. Or the fair never closes, the government has been using mind-control beams to make us think 25 years have passed, and it's actually 1985. Which would be OK, because that means "Miami Vice" is on tonight.

By the way, am I the only guy who's considered entering a bag of apples from the grocery store and seeing if they win anything?

The midway feels different. The big ride by the entrance no longer has those enormous Xena-the-Warrior-Princess faces with stupid grins. There's a roller-coaster where the pathetic freak show used to be -- no loss, but it's still sad to see the tradition expire. Of course, when people with pink hair and full-body tattoos can be found in your audience, it's hard to compete. The games of skill look the same, and you can still win a stuffed animal the size of a Volkswagen Beetle to carry around all day in the pounding sun, but now there's one that will take the stuffed animal off your hands if you pop three balloons.

Almost 47 percent of the area to the north of the main gate is now devoted to selling water softeners, which is great if your water is so hard you need a chisel to get the tap running, and have been knocked unconscious recently when you stepped into the shower.

New food: There's a booth by Horticulture that sells fresh plump fruit. Injected with cheese and wrapped in bacon and fried in butter, you say? No. Just ... fruit. At the fair. Fruit. I'm amazed they can get it through the gate without being attacked by grease antibodies.

The mysterious State Fair rash comes in hives form this year. Some say it's just a reaction to the dust kicked up, and it's no big deal, and it only comes up to your knees and it's gone by Christmas and anyway you're wearing long pants before that, so chill.

Oh, there's more -- but you'll have to see it for yourself. You are going, aren't you? There's a corn dog with your name on it. Unless it's "Herbert." Someone ate that one.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/blogs/lileks.