I hate the fair.
There. I said it. The fair is filled with boorish slobs, the entertainment is garish and banal, the animals are stupid as the dullards who gawk at them with dull eyes set in their greasy mugs and the rides are creaky nausea machines that were probably “inspected” by some guy who held out his hand for a couple of twenties before he stamped OK on the safety certificate. I hate it.
I’m talking about the Wisconsin State Fair. Ours is awesome and I love it.
Actually, I don’t know about the Wisconsin version; I’m just assuming the worst because it can’t possibly be better. That goes for Iowa, too. I imagine the Rhode Island State Fair isn’t exactly world-class, given the state’s tiny size; you only get four mini donuts in a bag and they don’t hand out free yardsticks, just foot-long rulers, and people have to bend down to use them as walking canes.
I mean, our state fair is the best state fair, right?
Not according to Country Living, which numbered us among the top five, but only for our educational exhibits. It mentioned the Miracle of Birth Center — or “Slimy Piglet Extrusion Room.” When you think about it, “miracle” might not be the best term. “Rote event necessary for the propagation of the species” is more like it. When horses start giving birth to baby pegasuses that stand on two legs and sing prophecies in Aramaic, we can talk miracles.
Texas got the magazine’s nod for best midway: 76 rides. I’m sure they have side-by-side quadruple Ferris wheels that make our modest single-wheel look all precious and dinky. And no doubt they have one of those slingshot rides so powerful the thing riders remember most is “the startled expression of the International Space Station scientists as they looked out the window and saw us waving.”
Feh. If you feel a twinge of jealousy, think about it. What do rides do? They go up and around, or they go around in a lateral fashion. Having 76 rides is utter overkill. You can ride every ride on our midway in a night and leave with a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment; if you tried this in Texas, your blood would pool to one side of your body for days.
Alaska, if you can believe this, has the biggest produce. Let me state for the record that I am fully willing to concede “Most Substantial Carrot” to Alaska’s fair. We have the bounty of our fecund state arrayed in modest amounts in the Horticulture Building, where people can stare at apples and pretend they know what they’re looking for. (Note: They are all ceramic replicas; have been for years.)
New York’s state fair gets a top-five nod for “Best Wines,” because apparently the experience of a fair is grounded in swirling grape liquids around and saying “top note of tannin, nice finish of leather and graphite, hints of drywall” so everyone will be impressed by your command of the lingo. You know what we have? Mini Donut Beer. I have no desire to try it, and I am unaccountably happy it exists.
Anyway, I’ll admit that other state fairs may have an aspect that exceeds our version, but taken as a whole, surely we’re the best. Who else has new flavors of StarTribune lip balm every year? This year’s flavor is mini donut. It beat out “Sticky Child Face” and “Poultry Barn,” which tested poorly.
Speaking of the poultry barn: due to bird flu concerns, it will be less populated this year. Not entirely a bad thing; the cacophonous din in the barn, the shrieks and screams and bwawks and squawks bleated out without meaning or purpose — well, surely this is how the comments sections of the Internet would look to a slightly more advanced species than our own. Which reminds me: Instead of chickens, this year’s poultry barn will have anonymous antisocial Internet commenters in cages, yelling and screaming at each other. Not technically chickens, but close.
Sorry, I’m rambling. Easy to lose focus when the subject’s the fair. I grew up two blocks from the North Dakota version; I remember sitting on the front steps at twilight and hearing the joyful noise that poured into the sky from the midway, seeing the lights glow over the tops of the trees. The sound of people terrified into ecstatic shouts of delight, a sound of surprise and relief, delicious fear and exultant survival. You never heard that anywhere else.
You never smelled the scents of a fair anywhere else, either. At Grandparents’ farm you got your barn aroma. At Woolworth’s lunch counter, you got your fried meat and tubers. But add them together with sweat and sugar and sawdust and smoke; add the exhaust of the tractors, the ancient musty undertone of the ancient concrete exhibit buildings. Nothing else smells like the fair, because the fair is everything, from the new grass on the first day to the street plop from a horse. Texas, Iowa, Idaho, Kentucky: they’re all the same, in a way. But only one of them is yours.
Mine is the Minnesota State Fair, because this is where I chose to live, and this is the place that manages the impossible: makes me feel young again at the very time of the year when the season of green crests the hill and heads down into the barren valley. Also because it has the grace to change and stay the same, like the face of a beloved.
Also because it’s the best there is. Can’t prove it. Don’t have to. You know I’m right.