Saturday, October 25, 2008

My State Fair is Better than Yours

Before last week, I had been to one state fair in my life: the Minnesota State Fair, of which, with it's busts of pageant girls carved out of butter and the cheese curds and the absolutely everything on a stick, I'm a big fan.   So, I wasn't sure if the North Carolina State Fair had a chance. Certainly, the abundance of McCain and Dole buttons and stickers that was evident just on the walk through the parking lot to the fair didn't bode well.  Nor did the high cost of everything -- $5 for a ferris wheel ride?  In fact, it took me a little while to let my judgmental fair guard down.  

True, we were greeted at the entry way by the Weinermobile.

And, yes, there were the old men beating little kids at the classic game of who can get the bear up the ladder the fastest.  

But then we came across  "Tiny Tina: The World's Smallest Woman Alive," who was advertised to be 29 inches, wear a size two shoe, and to hail from Haiti.  "She's here, she's real, and she's alive," the booming male voice kept repeating.  I had no idea that freak shows were here and real and alive and was further saddened by the fact that the 29-inch woman was the biggest bargain at the fair -- a mere fifty cents.  

But Tiny Tina was soon trumped by the "Museum of World Oddities: Nature's Mistakes." This exhibit advertised all kinds of "freaks," including Three-Eyed Bill, Horrifying Man, Mule-Face Woman, Frog Girl, Two-Headed Baby and Elephant Skin Baby.  Just seeing the signs made me feel icky.

"Nature's Mistakes" was the low point of the fair -- that and the $3.50 price for an ear of corn.  

But then, once the sun went down, and Tiny Tina was replaced by exhibits of baby pigs and giant pumpkins, I made a little space for the possibility that there were good things at the North Carolina State Fair.

Like the BMX bike show.  I had never seen one in person, and maybe because we were seated in the second row and I was worried about the bikers hurting themselves, I felt obliged to scream so loud and often that I made myself hoarse.  I can't even get myself up on a curb on my bike, let alone get up a ramp, let alone do a full flip while on bike off of ramp.

And as I finally gave into a $3.00 ear of roasted corn (you just had to look for the competitive prices), I also settled on some if-not-now-then-when food: fried mac and cheese, apple fries, a turkey leg, fried pecan pie, hot apple cider and some good old fashioned kettle corn.  

(Although the turkey leg took me back to the Renaissance Fair that my friend and I went to in high school (shhh), it was both really tasty and really disgusting.)

Along with fair food indigestion, I couldn't stomach throwing away money on a game that I would probably lose (like those "skill" games involving basketballs and fishing poles).  But, I decided that I wouldn't leave the fair without trying my hand at the guess-my-age/weight/birthday month game.   If the man or woman running the game guesses your age within two years, your weight within seven pounds, or your birthday month within two months, you lose.  If he or she is wrong, you get to pick a prize.  

Although it's a pretty sure bet that when I get carded for alcohol, the response of the person doing the carding is some variation of "you look like you're 12" (not helped by the usual barrette in my hair and a Snuffleupagus t-shirt), I've never had the opportunity to actually win something by looking like I'm not old enough to be doing whatever it is I'm doing.   (And by "win," I mean pay $3 for a stuffed lion that sheds.)  So, I plotted carefully.  We walked by man after man after woman after man who were mc-ing the game.  It couldn't be a woman, we decided; she might catch on.  But a man on the youngish side?  That just might do.

After a couple laps around the midway, I found my guy.  Willie hid so that he wouldn't give anything away.  I wasn't wearing anything too unusual for me -- barrette, bright green jacket, bright orange scarf, Wonder Woman t-shirt costume, high tops -- but I girl-ied up my act.  I smiled and tilted my head and asked the man if he wanted my money.  The guy wasn't stupid.  He could see right through my Wonder Woman t-shirt costume act.  But I waited in anticipation for him to be way off with my age.

"28," he said.  (Okay, so at 32, he wan't far off.  At all.)  But, I had WON.  I jumped and cheered and screamed.  "You dress like a little girl," he said lightheartedly,  "You should dress your age."  Not if I want to win, buddy, not if I want to win.

Long after the man was onto guessing someone else's weight, I was beaming at my choice of prizes.  For $3, they really weren't that great.  But the stuffed flammable lion who sheds?  Priceless.

I thought that was it, and that the fair had redeemed itself, and just as we were licking the fried pecan pie off of our fingers and thinking about the exit gate, my cousin, who had showed up after the BMX bike show, suggested that I shoot my first gun.  After all, would it be the North Carolina State Fair if I didn't?

So, we lined up at the turkey shoot, and my cousin and his wife assured me that anyone above the age of 12 could participate.  Given that I dress like a little girl, this wasn't especially comforting.

When it came time for us to head into the turkey shoot cage, we were asked if anyone there had never shot a gun before.  My hand was the only one up, so a nice young lady came over and showed me what to do: put on your sound-proof earphones attached to a string, put on your goggles attached to a string, raise your gun attached to the counter like so, put the thingy in the thingy, click back and shoot!  I did and it was loud and I screamed.  I had no idea if we were actually shooting at turkeys or not, and, for better or worse, I didn't hit anything.  

By the time we left, full bag of kettle corn and shedding lion in tow, we were tired and it was dark and cold.  We didn't stay for the fireworks.  And we hadn't seen any pageant busts made of butter.  But I had done the North Carolina State Fair and had a flammable stuffed toy and a paper target with no holes in it to prove it.


evandebacle said...

This lives with David Foster Wallace's Illinois State Fair piece in the pantheon of fair writing.

Naomi Jane said...

You are TOO kind, Evan. I'm not familiar with David Foster Wallace's piece -- I will definitely have to check it out.

Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

I have the great honor (honour, we're in London?) of reading your piece simultaneously with Katie next to me. She can vouch for the fact that I laughed out loud at "Not if I want to win, buddy, not if I want to win." Ahhhh, good stuff. It's making me want fried food. I don't think they have anything american-fair like here, probably village fete instead (and they pronouce it "fate"). Prizes for growing the largest vegetables and baking the best something or other, I think. I haven't been to a state fair, but I HAVE been to the Kitsap County fair, I think. The animals make me said, but the demolition derby (while maybe disturbing) is also quite fun. And I've been to the Stampede in Greeley. I think we've opened up a whole new reason for road trips and writing assignments. It's ALWAYS a good day when we're greeted with a new post. Thank you, Naomi Jane! GOOD STUFF. Perpetually great stuff.

Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

PS: Katie's right, the pictures are a spectacular touch too. Always good to see the green jacket, orange scarf, etc. (Especially for the sartorial interest of a WT like fact, the AA blue cardigan is in my sights like a shooter at an NC state fair!) :-)

evandebacle said...

Click on "Ticket to the Fair." The video link is only part of the story, but I think it's the part about the baton twirling contest, which is, of course, amazing.