The Fair

Went to the Minnesota State Fair today. Minnesota’s State Fair is one of the largest in the country, perhaps the largest. Many people from out of state remark on it; they often know it by reputation and speak admiringly of it, while at the same time drawing you into the fact that their own state’s fair is paltry, as if the grandiloquence of Minnesota’s were at fault. As if it were using up all available fair magnitude. One time I was in Salem, Oregon, riding into downtown, where the Willamette River runs, and where the city hall (or is it the courthouse) looks like can of Pringles, and you find all the old buildings and a park with a statue. “There’s the State Fair,” said the driver, a Salem resident.

“Where? I don’t see it,” said I, and my fellow Minnesotan passenger. I saw a parking lot with a few outbuildings in it, the kind of trailers you usually see outside a construction site. There may have been a bouncy castle.

“Right there!”

The Oregonian admitted it was a pathetic state fair. They had gargantuan pumpkins but not much else worth seeing. He never went. He’d grown up in Minnesota.

Today was the last day of this year’s fair. I think that’s a fine time to go. It gives your experience an edge of relief, of opportunity not missed. You feel you have seized something that almost evaded you. This is true whether or not it would have passed unnoticed otherwise.

No matter when you go, getting in among the crowd—dense, dense, dense everywhere but around the farm equipment—normalizes you. It evens you out. Everyone benefits from feeling normal from time to time. This might be especially true of people who work in reclusive professions like writing.

The weather was very near perfect. No rain, very few clouds, unnoticeable breeze. The sun was at times punishing. But I’d noticed that morning during a bike ride that some trees were shedding leaves already, and the notion of summer parting saddened me, so I was glad to feel scorched at times. Soon enough squinting and sweating will be out, chattering and wincing in.

A baby alpaca is a coo-inducing specimen. It has the jowly, toothy mouth of a camel, the body of a bunny rabbit, the legs of a goat, and a hat of fuzzy hair that makes it looks like a lunatic televangelist—very disarming. Two alpacas were penned under the tent where sweaters and hats made from their wool was sold. A white coated one worked his head furiously inside a feed bag. The other parked with his legs under him, chewing something for minutes on end without ever taking up any hay or other edibles in his mouth. His eyes remained fix dead ahead, regardless of children’s attentions. A sign near him said alpacas make wonderful pets.

In case you didn’t know, the task of the fair-goer is not so much managing a day’s diet as plotting the weapons of his gastronomical suicide. I had decided a few days prior that I would push myself past the bodily inhibitions that year after year keep me from experiencing overwhelming regret. I knew I needed to shoot high just to clear the very low bar that is my tolerance for grease, sugar, and fat. We’ve all met the drinker who advertises at the wedding reception that she’s (it’s usually a she) had two glasses of wine and is hammered. I am that drinker when it comes to shit food. So sue me. Is it possible to be a healthy eater and not come off as self-righteous? It ought to be. Nevertheless, I understand that no one wants to hear about temperance at a State Fair. Some lifelong fair fans consider an inability to eat gluttonously a moral defect. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do agree that I ought to be able to let go. So I tried to rise to the challenge and indulge. The problem is, I just know I’ll feel ill and and want to leave—and I paid good money for admission.

The seed art exhibit was a highlight. No one could have foreseen that this year’s entrants take on Minnesota’s proposed constitutional amendment to be voted on in November—also known as the marriage amendment. Seeing those pieces was more riveting than a large Oregonian pumpkin.