Pigs! Pigs! Pigs! They're Porkin It up!

And 26 other observations about the Orange County Fair

8. A sign taped to the window of the Australian Battered Potato stand reads—I swear—"A percentage of each sale goes to cancer research." Good try, I say, but heart research, Mr. Australian Battered Potato owner—how about going with heart research?

9. Children under 4, and many children over it, dance when they have sweet things in their mouths. Watch them. They'll be standing there, whining, "I'm hot" or, "My feet hurt," and then they're handed ice cream, cotton candy or a piece of funnel cake. Within seconds, they're rolling their shoulders around and moving their feet to an irresistible internal rhythm. Something feels good inside their bodies, and they're impelled to broadcast the news. William Wordsworth, the great English poet who happened to be an early strong supporter of the French Revolution and who came up with a famous line to describe the liberating energies of the time ("Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!"), also came up with a good line to describe the gestures of happy children. He called them "glad animal movements." It could be that glad animal movement —I'll go out on a limb here—is the origin of all dancing.

10. Overheard next to a barbecue stand, spoken by a fed-up wife pleading to her husband, who was evidently speaking to his broker ("It's down what? It's down what?") on his cell phone: "Not here, Glen! We're at the Fair!" My sentiments exactly. People shouldn't be allowed to talk on cell phones at the Fair. You can't help but look a little snotty talking into them, for one thing (and looking snotty is anti-Fair), and you can't Open Yourself to the Experience when you've got a finger in one ear and you're stooped over trying to hear what your broker is saying. Now, the Fair is by nature an anachronistic thing with a terminal Eisenhower administration vibe. The ideal Fair in the collective imagination is one in which people walk around in bobby socks and white dress shirts and it's Iowa and rural electrification is still so new that the lights on the Ferris wheel against the night sky are like (use Judy Garland voice here) something out of a dream. It is vital to the spirit of the Fair that its anachronistic qualities be preserved. Which is why they should have a bucket at the entrance where everybody has to dump their cell phones and why they should also get rid of those booths that try to make themselves look like legitimate little office fronts with the fancy counters and fake wood-grain backdrops and don't sell you good, old-fashioned American stuff (tennis shoes, canned pears, Australian Battered Potatoes), but rather sell services where you end up walking away with nothing but a credit-card receipt and a contract that some electronic something-or-other will start working when you get home. All that high-tech business is not legitimate Fair fare.

11. This is legitimate Fair fare: Black Jack, the 3,250-pound steer (height 6 feet 2 inches, length 11 feet, girth 11 feet), who, for a $1 fee, will let you see him stand there in his stall, chewing on straw or alfalfa or whatever it is steers chew on. The stall advertises him as being "10,000 hamburgers on the hoof," and I don't doubt it. My wife walked in and exclaimed, "He's as big as an SUV!" My 5-year-old son said he looked "like a wall." My 2-year-old son, with the alliterative directness that often arises from pure, virginal perception, announced, "He has horns." We marveled for a while in silence, and then we strolled down the road to scarf on huge, messy barbecued-beef sandwiches. Barbecue sandwiches have to be eaten quickly because the bread, I'm afraid, doesn't hold up against the sauce. As a result, bloating ensues, followed by that man-there's-grease-draining-down-my-throat sensation, followed by a desire for Alka-Seltzer and horizontality in a hammock with a thick pillow and a portable CD player spinning Eine Kleine Nachtmusik ($2 charge) at the Rest Center.

12. One morning, before the crowd thickened, I couldn't help but hear a Fair staff member yell out, without any sense that he was violating rules of Fair decorum, "Goddamnit! Son of a fucking bitch!" as he was transporting what appeared to be a two-gallon pot of beans, poorly secured with plastic wrap and rubber bands, from one Fair site to another in one of those little carts. The road was bumpy, and the beans were spilling over. He could have stopped his cart, re-secured the beans, and gone on his way, but I got the feeling that he felt diminished at having to transport food in the first place—he looked like he signed on with the idea of running the Kamikaze, not doing this woman's work—and wasn't going to give anybody, not least himself, the satisfaction of doing a good job. So he rumbled on—beans running copiously, miserably down the side of the pot—looking like a solid candidate for the Center for the Miserable (see No. 17).

13. At the Picture Palace, where you throw darts at balloons in the hopes of winning a poster ("Bust One You Win!"), I did well and was given the opportunity to choose among the following posters: Lakers Championship 2000 (Kobe with his legs wrapped around Shaq), Britney Spears (pre-breast growth—or job), the Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, Tupac ("Only God Can Judge Me"), Pokémon (Ash, pointing, with his mouth open), Eminem (zits, scowl), Korn on motorcycles, and a very great picture of either Carmen Electra or Shania Twain in a black leather mini-skirt and thigh-high boots inviting me, if I didn't mistake her body language, to have sex with her. Though I was prompted to stop at the Picture Palace because of Carmen/Shania, it was the Backstreet Boys poster I ended up taking away, partly because with Carmen/ Shania, I knew my wife would be disappointed in the obviousness of my fantasies and partly because I still can't get "I Want It That Way" out of my head. Their startling experiments with facial hair notwithstanding, their egregious contribution to the American popular myth of romance notwithstanding, their packaging notwithstanding, not to mention the considerable critical acumen of our own Rich Kane and Buddy Seigal, the Backstreet Boys made "I Want It That Way" into a really good song, and everybody knows it. I suspect that they'll be playing the Arlington Theater on the Summer Fair Concert Circuit in the year 2008, but that's okay. As Bob Dole used to say, "That's what this country is all about."

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