On the two-hour ride to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, I told my brother that corndogs were invented there and they’d once made a movie about the event. I didn’t even know if any of that shit was true but I had told work, Facebook, my probation officer, and Ruthless Reviews that I was going to the Fair this summer, and so, instead of Adventureland, the vaunted theme park a mere three miles from the fairgrounds, I talked my brother and his kids into the state’s annual agricultural showcase. I needed to keep them interested.
My PO told me when he slid the travel chit across his desk that, along with abstaining from the use of drugs and alcohol, I may end up spending a lot of money, and he knew what he was talking about. What was once an all-inclusive bargain has given way to more gaudy commercialism and an opportunity to nickel and dime city slickers at every turn. I doubt Judy Garland and Clark Gable had to pay $2.50 a head just to get inside the “Snake House” or drop a dollar per person to watch a cow take a bath back when they were in Iowa making that movie. Even the carnies have come up with a new scam. Have you ever heard this one? You’re walking through the midway, a big stupid grin on your face, shrewdly making eye contact with every carnival barker you see, when one drops a dart or a baseball on the ground in your path. He purports that it was an accident and, just because he dropped a dart, somehow the carny code mandates he must give you a free throw. So you pop a balloon and the idea is that you’ll be so fired up by your accomplishment you’ll spend $5 for three more darts. Fortunately, my brother was there to talk me out of emptying my wallet trying to win a Jay-Z mirror.
Beside my commitment to half-known Facebook friends, my other (true) motive for paying all that money to drive, park, and get into the Iowa State Fair was of course food. At our ages, rusted-out carnival rides no longer grab our attention. Even when the cars have that sparkly paint that’s always been so cool ever since I was a kid. Matter fact, I toyed with the idea of just listing an inventory of things I ate at the state fair and turning it in to Erich but I figured I’d just report a partial list of what ultimately cost me over $80 (no shit) and get on with it. Within a 6 hour period I ate, amongst other things: Teriyaki chicken on a stick, a turkey leg, fried Oreos, two sour licorice whips with a soft gooey center flavored to compliment the main licorice flavor, pretzel rods dipped in caramel, Nitro ice cream, part of my nephew’s Octo-dog, part of my niece’s cheese fries, and a Twinkie Log. Which is a frozen Twinkie dipped in white chocolate and rolled in cashews. Also, I took home some tiger fudge. Everything was probably so expensive because it was ethanol-based.
Aside from the food and leering pedocarnies there were really three other things going on at the fair (since we missed the previous days’ Vanilla Ice concert!) and those would be tractors, overpriced and under-maintained rides, and farm animals. Oh, and a Boys Like Girls concert on Friday night. Inexplicably, the fair organizers booked a band that, just by showing up, would be placed in grave danger of being called “fags.”
The tractor show had the usual disappointing Purple Tractor! and a “Transformer Tractor” that didn’t transform. We tried to steer my nephew away from the rides as long as we could, so we spent an alarming amount of our day looking at farm animals. Reading the hourly schedule of farm animal events for any given afternoon at the Fair, the uninitiated is reminded that this whole thing is one big celebration of agrarian accomplishments and values straight out of a Wendell Berry poem, where barefoot, wheatgrass-chewing kids pile into the family truckster once a year and try to sell their prized steer that, to me, looks just like any of the four fucking million other head of cattle lethargically mooing at one another down row upon shitty row. Where you’re at there are probably tall buildings and things to do but here in Iowa people will drop $10 every day to see a different kind of cow-milking strategy.
And those dudes off the farm did not seem to take kindly to us city folk. Us hip Vanilla Ice fans. As I walked through the pens, obviously looking only for deformed animals, every John Boy and Bubba laid out on a bale of hay gave me the stinkeye like I was finna grab one of their sheep and run. If I was presumptuous enough to actually stand and look at a cud-smacking bovine for too long my Boston Celtics jersey quickly gave me away as an elitist whose only motive was to take pictures of big piles of manure with my Blackberry. They knew I had no interest in buying one of their increasingly sexy lambs, or stapling a blue ribbon to some nappy pony with distinct virtues apparently not clear to the untrained eye.
I started to worry that only animals hoping for a prize would be displayed, but for all the showcase swine and beasts there were also some fucked up animals meshed amongst the studs. A bunch of goats with chopped off horns and concave legs. A duck with a Donald Trump haircut who turned shamefully away when we walked by. Tomacco addicted sheep. And finally, a 1,400 pound hog with a goddam set of balls that looked like Billy Corgan spooning Jean Luc Picard somewhere deep under the monster’s great belly.
About the only other possible free shit was these random rural games played at intervals throughout the fairgrounds – cow pie bingo, rooster calls, and fucking..I don’t know..wife-beating contests? I couldn’t help but be waylaid that producing the 14th best Pickling Cucumber in Iowa is something to hang your hat on. I sort of felt like I could just pick one up from the store and get a prize if the winner’s list runs so deep. I asked myself several times during the day’s festivities, “How is this a Blue State?”
Finally, after seeing enough chickens to last a lifetime, we took my nephew over to the rides. He got to choose three, because we needed money to get home, and I was going on one of them with him. In a surprising display of judiciousness on the part of the sex offenders maintaining the equipment, the boy was prevented from getting on any of the bigger, faster ones because of his size.
We had to stick with the little stuff.
Preston first went for the lame looking haunted house where he and another kid, who wished he was at Adventureland, too, rode a little train through some darkened particle board. They came off it like Bart and Lisa in The Simpsons except our carny didn’t apologize.
Then we did The Gravitron together which is by far the best carnival ride in America, just updated with an Eminem jam instead of Def Leppard. I don’t know if it’s my advancing age though or the 2,000 grams of sugar I ingested earlier that afternoon but there was one scary moment during the ride where I feared my Twinkie Log wouldn’t get the chance to become a proper Dookie Log.
And I can’t even remember the last ride he went on but I’m pretty sure it was terrible and not worth the five bucks his dad paid.
As our day started to wrap up and we were herded out the Fair like broke ass cattle, I considered that everybody around me, all these new friends we’d made that day – the carnies, hot tub salesmen, cowpokes, midway barkers, pork queens, turd-farmers, and all the other unsuspecting rubes of Bartertown – these people’s votes are going to count more than yours in deciding our next President.
Also…don’t take a 5-year-old kid to the State Fair unless he has a lot of money on him.