The Orange County Fair provides heaping-big laughs for most folks in the Weekly offices. Editorial meetings seethe with cynicism, cackles pouring forth as our editors twirl their handlebar mustaches and contemplate the plethora of really, really mean things that could be written about the rubes showing off their prized giant squash and chortling at the pig races.

But not I! The fair makes me somehow feel sweetly protective of all of rubedom, like a sweet momma cow licking the schmutz from her sweet, slimy, schmutzig calf. I love the people selling fried lard on a stick, the hucksters looking to relieve you of the money weighing you down on the midway (three tries for $5), and the ladies who enter the table-setting competitions. Especially the ladies who enter the table-setting competitions. I love them all.

Now, there are actual visual-arts competitions at the fair, too, and we'll get to them. (We'll also get to the Singing Tykes and the vomitous rides!) But can we spare a few words for the ladies of the table-setting competition? Now, these ladies think of themes for their little tables, then develop a menu for the theme, then concoct place settings and centerpieces for their themes. For instance, say a lady's theme was about frogs—as is the theme of the fair itself this year! She might have a menu (denoted by a menu card, not actual food) that begins with Lily Pad Greens and moves on to Frogs' Legs With Hoppy Sauce, crowned by some kind of dessert that alliterates with “Jumping” or “Ribbit.” Then there are the judges' comments, which always remind the entrants to iron their linens and make sure the tablecloths are even on all sides. They also cluck frequently that the glass goes directly over the knife. This seems a very bad place to put the glass, to me, as the knife is the longest flatware item and leaves the least room for said vessel, which nestles much better in the pocket above the spoon. But when it comes to table setting, the rules were apparently handed down on Mt. Sinai. This year, there were such entries as “Lunch at the 19th Hole,” which featured a hideous golf table cloth and a menu of salad greens and potato wedges and a club sandwich and pie for assholes. There was also a very lovely table laid in blue glassware with a stunning centerpiece (which was considered to be too high by the persnickety judges) and a table with a darling Alice in Wonderland theme. The table settings can be found in the Arts and Crafts building along with some very pretty afghans and spare toilet-paper-roll covers shaped like dolls.

Now! In the VizArts building, there are visual arts. These are generally quite bad. But lo and behold, good though they aren't, they also bring out in me a soothing, protective, clucky hum. Or maybe that's the sugar coma from my cotton candy dipped in caramel sauce. Still. I see paintings of lily pads and leopards and Thomas Kinkade™-style Paintings of Light™, and I'm not offended. I see a painting of a tyke playing with oranges (the ungainly lad looks like Hitler), and I don't gag. I see a painting of a tiny, blond-ringleted girl in a frock on a snowy street holding a kitten in her lap, titled Rebecca's New Friend, and I am still not horrified. My lips do not curl into a sneer. I do not let fly with a piercing cackle. I do not projectile vomit. All I think is, “Isn't that nice that they've decided to paint.”

There are even some good paintings. Pamela M. Godby offers up an electric-blue Elvis, long and flat and moody like a Modigliani. Jacquelyn Long's 2 1⁄2 Kids—which won the red ribbon—is astoundingly and gorgeously unfairlike, its sullen, unhappy children and their slouching socks and Army-issue square eyeglasses depicted in thick brown strokes of glum.

Meanwhile, Nancy Vanderpool's amazing Untitled 1 is a big, creepy lady with a shadowed forehead (either Nancy messed up and didn't cover it well or the subject was going for hair plugs), grotesque fake eyelashes, and a nose and saggy throat like a man's. It's unclear whether the portrait is of a very unhandsome woman whom Nancy bravely did not prettify or of a very unhandsome transexual. Untitled 1 received no ribbons.

Emigdio Vasquez is featured at the fair this year, with his beautiful photorealist scenes of Chicano life. There's Mike's Poolhall, with greased-back, widow's-peaked Zoot Suiters leaning into the painter's vantage point. There's Los Piscadores, with guys picking oranges. There's La Calle Cuatro, with three guys walking away from the viewer, down a street that looks like Broadway in Santa Ana. Vasquez has been painting the OC streets for decades; he's very '70s Freeway Mural/Free to Be You and Me. He's a pro who is unabashedly leftist and proud. He's a legend. Walking by La Calle Cuatro, an old white man said with old-man shock, “Seventy-five hundred dollars! Whoa!” His old lady replied, “He must have a gallery!”

Go to the fair. See the cute animal photos (the one of the baby koala made me kiss my son and say, “Ooooh, you're my little koala baby!” He likes that). See Randy Au's ceramics and the creepy shot of the little girl under a white fur rug. Her finger is even in her mouth. Be nice. Love the people. Have some deep-fried corn.

See local artists at the Orange County Fair 2002, Costa Mesa Fairgrounds, Visual Arts Building, 88 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-FAIR. Open Mon.-Thurs., noon-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. $7; seniors, $6; kids 6-12, $3; kids under 5, free. Through Sun.

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