I could do without the county fair. I don’t like crowds. I’d rather not stand in line for pricey food known to cause obesity and heart attacks. I don’t care for the “Twirling Tots” act on center stage advertising just how little talent exists at the local dance school, and I think Mutts Gone Nutts just another variety of animal cruelty. Feed the beast or don’t. MUST it jump through a hoop to be offered a treat? And, even with the fancy foot-pedal hand-wash option, Don’s Johns are just a crude line-up overhung by foul odors.
But Saturday was different. Somehow I managed to leave the fairgrounds with a semblance of harmony. Here’s why.
- My seven-year-old son wanted to ride The Tornado, a four-seater swing that lifts riders off the ground at a tilt and sends them spinning on a wide arc over the midway. How I dreaded the nausea to come! Quite a ways back in line I spotted one of my son’s good friends and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be more fun if they rode this thing together?’ But as I looked around at all the teens hanging out with each other, I realized my son wouldn’t always want his old man around. This was my time. As the chairs rose up off the fairgrounds and began to tilt and spin, a huge smile spread across his face, aimed right at me. His first big kid ride. I got to share it with him.
- I can’t begin to guess why one observation sparks a universe of character and conflict for me while hundreds of others do not. The prevalence on Saturday of young Central Americans hired to strap customers in and pull the levers on rides until everyone screamed at the thrill, the panic, the fear, provided one such observation. I’m working on a story now that features a migrant who endures months in sweaty flophouses, close calls with corrupt cops, and run-ins with narcotraficos who bury his unlucky confederates in mass graves or boil them down to human stew in vats of acid, just to try his luck in El Norte. Imagine crossing miles of desert under the scorching sun to reach a land of such excess, a land of twirling tots, funnel cakes, and outdoor toilets equipped with sinks! Imagine paying $5,000 for a life-or-death adventure to come strap people onto $3 amusements meant to inspire fear. This is the stuff of fiction. This is the heart of conflict.
- For two whole dollars we got 10 chances to land a ping pong ball in a wide-mouthed jar. I didn’t even know what the prize was when we started. I never thought we’d win, and winning didn’t matter: the game seemed entertaining enough. Then my son got one in… In return for his trouble he was handed a plastic bag with a goldfish in it. We took him home and set him up in a nice new bowl with some gravel and a clay adornment: “No fishing”. Until a better name comes along, we’re calling him Baby Fishmouth.
It turns out there are many fine things about the county fair. Even if you don’t like the crowds, you can still come away a winner.