Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fair Fatigue

As we drove home Monday from the East Idaho State Fair, my wife and I wished for something: A button on the radio that would let us bypass any Fair-related commercials for the next week, since we’ve already done our bit and taken our kids to Blackfoot. This desire is especially keen whenever one of Bish’s ads comes up. For those of you not familiar with Bish’s, it’s a local RV dealership that every year produces hillbilly-themed fair ads. Their current iteration runs about two minutes a pop – very, very long for a radio commercial. Sadists not living in the local area can hear it on the live Web stream of KLCE, a local radio station. I don’t advise it.

Yes, we went to the fair. First stop, the pig barn, where associated odors reminded me of the summer we spent with three pigs in our back yard because Mom caved in to Dad’s life-long aspiration to be a farmer. I hated those pigs, and enjoyed eating them when their time was come.

Then the horses, where our six-year-old daughter cast longing looks at all the manes and hooves, and got to pet a miniature pony named, uh, named . . . something cliché horseish, like Destiny or something like that. (I ever get a horse, its name is Bill. Even if it’s a mare. Good ol’ Bill.) I can’t remember. She (our daughter, since the antecedent is now long-buried) also got to spin wool into yarn, thanks to the local weaving guild, which set up a booth near the sheep pens. Her most vivid memory, however: Leaving behind somewhere at the fair an “Operation Lifesaver” bag containing a ring and a $2 pink pony set her Grampa Griffin bought. Trauma, trauma, trauma. She may indeed be scarred for life.

Health note: You may see people wandering the fairgrounds, chewing on enormous turkey legs. No matter how hungry you get or how good they look, DO NOT get one. No matter if you have a hidden desire to chew and rip grease like Charles Laughton imitating Henry the Eighth. DO NOT get one. They’re greasy, tough as leather and, how shall I say this, full of chewy tendons. I ate one. Gnawed on one. Never again. My souvenir from the fair is the gas from lunch. I was so ill I didn’t even get a tiger ear. Of course, the tiger ear line stretched back to Spain, so I probably didn’t miss much. (Note to future fair-goers: When you’re in the food area fighting the crowds, the one thing NOT to do if you want to get through the crowd is stop and wait for an opening. Openings never come. I got behind some folks like this as we were taking our kids to the petting zoo. Also, be on the lookout for a shortish, balding man holding an enormous bag of kettle corn. (a.k.a. Grandpa). Every time we stopped, he shoved the bag in our faces, urging more popcorn on us. I, of course, was too polite to refuse.)

We also got rained out – torrentially. Clouds burst at about 3 pm during the tiny tyke tractor races (photos and video to be posted soon), and did not let up even at 4, when we decided to flee.

Most amusing time: Watching fair goers, laden with food, desperately trying to sit on the bench snapped in half by a previous sittee, despite multiple warnings from people (like me) who sat nearby, desperately hoping for people to ignore our warnings so we could watch them fall into the detritus of French fries, melted ice cream, popcorn, and turkey-leg grease drippings awaiting them on the ground. Some people tried the counterbalance approach, trying to balance their weight sitting on either side of the spots where the bench plank was still attached to the table, but to no avail.

Then the commercial buildings. The Culligan Water fountain, where gleeful Culliganites still pass out the cardboard Indian headdresses. (Only Lexie wanted one this year). The, uh, I think it’s storm door booth where I always see one of my older brother’s childhood friends, hawking wares. The annual, reverent tip-toe around The Living Scriptures booth where the ideal is Death Before Eye Contact, lest they try to sucker you into buying their Mormon-themed DVD cartoons. (I’m LDS, so it’s not that I’m doctrinally opposed to what they sell; it’s just that they use religion to sell it. “You’re better off having your kids watch these movies than the stuff they make in Hollywood,” they say. Help.) And Operation Lifesaver, the education program meant to remind us all not to be killed by trains. The kids always get a coloring book. And that’s right next to the piano salesman and the three female teenagers who hang out at the booth playing every song they’ve ever learned at piano lessons. At least they’re better than the folks over at the karaoke booth near the food court, where their incessant off-key wailings annoy us while we eat. And the “Make A Fair Bear” booth with the machine spinning the cotton-fluff bear innards for everyone to see. That always is a bit unsettling.

The fair is oddly changed since I was a kid. The barnyard smells, of course, are still there. But no longer can you find the foam alligators on a wire, the ones you cleverly “walked” in front of you. Nor can you find the whistling bird whistles that burble and chirrup when you fill them with water. I miss them. They bring back memories of childhood when we went to the fair and didn’t do anything once we got there because it was too hot and Dad wouldn’t let us ride the rides. (That sounds familiar; I won’t let my kids ride the rides either. Too expensive. Besides, there are cows, horses and bunnies to be seen. For free.)

Somehow, I always resent that my extended Labor Day weekend ends with the fair. I’d rather go the Saturday previous, but the argument always is that on opening day it’ll be busiest. Then again, it’s always busy on Labor Day.

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