Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Knowing the Fair

I have a horrible sense of direction. This Achilles heel has been documented by a series of very expensive tests. The day I went in for the evaluation of the tests I got lost trying to leave the office. So I went back to the test evaluator and asked what gives with my poor sense of direction. She told me the tests showed that I have poor “design memory.” Whatever.

That’s why I was so excited when someone asked me for directions last year at the State Fair and I knew that I knew.

I was standing in front of the Hall of State watching the Syncopated tap dancers and eating my Belgian Waffle and drinking my coffee. I’m sure I had a look of confidence and assuredness on my face. That must have been what drew the woman to ask me, “Pardon me, do you know much about the Fair?” Maybe it was the dusting of powdered sugar on my shirt front or the bits of whipped cream at the edges of my mouth that told the woman I “knew the Fair.”

Do I know the Fair? My people have been coming to the fair since the Centennial of 1936. Beaven and I both have a solid annual relationship with this event. We have a brick on the pavement with our name on it. He grew up in the surrounding neighborhood and knew where to climb over the fence to sneak into the fair without paying. It was the first place my parents let me loose without an adult. When Beaven worked at the TV station we usually had parking and entrance passes for more than one visit a year. My Daddy and I took my kids before they could walk. I took my grandkids before they could walk. I know the fair.

The lady wanted to know where to buy a corny dog. I started explaining how there are probably eight places to buy a corny dog and each location has its own merit, then realized this fine lady didn’t need the details, she needed to know the best of all eight places, the place I buy my own corny dogs. I pointed up to Big Tex and told her to go to Big Tex and when she was standing in front of him her back would be to the best place on the grounds to buy a corny dog.

It’s not just the kind of food or the place you buy it that’s magical; it’s also the technique, the way you eat it. Fair Food should be eaten with enthusiasm. Neatness counts against you. Neatness says you were able to take your mind off what Big Tex is saying long enough to pay attention to the little drip that fell from the corner of your mouth onto your shirt. It is my firm belief that Fair Food inoculates you from most of the common diseases the winter will bring. Once you get a good layer of root beer, mustard and catsup on your hands as a base coat; then add fluffs of cotton candy and snow cone juice plus a tufts of sheep wool and chicken feathers then top it all off with assorted sneezes, coughs and droolings from the kid in line ahead of you, then you’ve just taken in most of the germs you will be exposed to in the coming school year; maybe even your lifetime. And you know that at some point during the day you will lick your fingers but because it’s the Fair, God gives these germs a special dispensation and they don’t make you sick. Trust me on this one. My kids were never sick.


People overlook the quality of the food at the fair. It’s the equivalent cost of a really fine restaurant and, in it’s own way, is haute cuisine. I like to follow a set route each year and move with a vengeance that only Sherman marching across Georgia could match: We’ll start at the pizza stand by the parking lot and aim for the Museum of Natural History, eating our way across the Fair. I don’t usually stop until I’m about to throw up.I know the fair.

I used to go to the Natural History museum and visit the alligator but they got rid of him when he broke. This was my favorite part of the fair after the food and I’ve mourned his passing every year since. I dream that one day I’ll go to the museum and he’ll be there, newly resurrected. The alligator was in a dark room and had benches to sit on with a looped tape recording of nature sounds. Of all the chirps and tweets on that recording there was one certain bird whose call was magic to me. It had a way of making me feel safe and secure. My whole day, midway included, was put into a better perspective. The call of the Chuck Will’s Widow can make me feel like I’m sitting around the campfire after a day’s hiking. I can become totally at one with God’s creative genius. It’s that single note of purity and innocence in the midst of chaos and sham. That bird’s call can return me to the calm of the womb. Since very few people ever visited the alligator I could lie down on the bench in the dark and listen to the soothing nature sounds as long as I wanted. It made for a small spot of peace and quiet in the midst of the heat and noise.

I remember one year particularly, when the girls were in middle school. Middle school is a time when they liked to think they didn’t have parents; that they were dropped here from above or that they were adopted; that I wasn’t their real mother, Oprah was. My only role was to drive them to the fair and then disappear. I was thus gloriously alone that year and could do and eat whatever I pleased. I’m not sure of the exact details but I think it was probably my usual routine of a Belgian waffle with coffee, a corny dog and coke, a Rueben sandwich with extra sauerkraut and a root beer, a couple of tamales, cotton candy, nutty bar and Jack’s French fries. That took me about an hour and I felt the familiar combination of nausea and sleepy at the same time. I stopped at a park bench in the shade on the route to the alligator and lay down for a nap. What woke me was the sound of my daughter’s voice: “Is that Mom? Oh God, that’s so pathetic. Pretend we don’t know her.”

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