Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The County Fair.

As American as an eagle eating an apple pie, the county fair has long been a staple of the rural dweller. The annual haaj takes place in the usual fashion--once landed in the sea of semi-orderly dirt parking lots, we follow the wafting smells of manure and sweet fried things. Folks in cowboys boots and bedazzled jeans fall into step with us on our trek to the almighty gates where some geriatric Kiwanis member, adorned in all their polyester glory,  smiles, whisps away a day's income, stamps out hands (and for the kids, two), and then smiles again.

The gates would seem to suggest some unparallelled heaven awaiting on the other side. I use the term "heaven" here subjectively.

In an instant, the children multiply exponentially and vanish into the shiny, blingy, plastic ambiance. The smarter of the parents tether their children with ropes or leashes. I prefer the sleeker, more effective mode of child-homing known as the wallet.

The wallet contains many features. It offers the promise of greasy treats and raffles and cotton candy. Guaranteed the younglings will not journey out too far from pocket.

The fair itinerary appears to follow some collective modus operandi. Animals first, then food, then rides. Elephant ears are frowned upon in the petting zoo by all but the goats. We arrive as a herd at the barn doors and are ushered in two by two where we are lead through a series of gates and chutes and aisles.  The moo's and baaah's of the animals as they watch us go by compliment the "ooh" and "awww" from the people viewers quite well, though in this perspective, it is not quite certain who is really the observed.

I have never really gotten the hang of the stall walk, that shuffle, shuffle, stop we all do. This usually leads to a bit of awkward bumping into folks and apologizing.  I always end up bumping into an old friend accidentally and we smile and ask how the kids are and then politely depart never having remembered eachother's names.

We all breathe gratefully at the barn door. The sweltering scent of poultry or livestock isn't the most pleasant--especially on the fifth day of the fair. The kids jump and giggle, elbow-deep in cow/horse/goat/pig hair, dander, and filth and are immediately famished.

I do not understand why the desire to eat coincides with carnival rides. To me it seems a bit counterproductive. Nevertheless, the ride tickets and the deep-fried chili-dogs are neighbors.

All of the rides move in a circular fashion is nothing new. Carnivals have been inducing nausea to countless thrill-seekers for over a century. The differences between each ticket-sucking beast is purely nuance.
Here are my favorite rides I noticed at the fair:
1) The Tip-Top (2 tickets). This device resembles a rusted cake with Easter-egg accents. The Easter eggs tip ever so slightly while they spin, swivel AND gyrate.
2)The Sizzler (3 tickets). This one, though it only spins with two moveable axes, comes with the velocity needed for those cool emo haircuts those kids used to wear. It also is a wonderful source for irrepairable neck damage.
3)Round Up (3 tickets). This is the ride where you are strapped to the wall and thanks to centrifugal force, you and your stomach contents are completely flattened.
4)The Tornado (3 tickets). This one is cyclical hell without a foothold. Not that I was witness, but I'm guessing that this ride comes with the widest projectile rate.
5) The Ferris Wheel (3 tickets). If it weren't for my latent trust issues with carnival ride operators, I might have taken this one. Well, that and the fact that the fella usually says "don't rock the seat" every time he buckles you into a seat that rocks. I just don't get it.
6)The funhouse (2 tickets). I can only imagine what has taken place in the funhouse after hours.

The odd thing about the fair is that you return home exhausted, penniless, and stomach content-less. The only token of the fair is a smeared stamp that was previously a cow and now has morphed into some twisted Rorschach and one lonely ticket.

The fair has no use for one single ticket. No. They come in sets of two or three or more.  The single ticket simply goes unnoticed and unnused and sits in your pocket as a reminder that simply one ticket is no good until it ends up a purple grub in your dryer's lint catcher.

But the lasting impressions on the children's faces make up for everything. They fill their Monday's with stories about eating the most cotton candy and other stories about the bright blue stain on the car's carpet. These are lasting....until next fair.

Photos smuggled from Oregon History Project and Reverbnation.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Let's talk about poop: This is why I can't socialize with real writers.

Being around artist-type people terrifies me. I get sweaty-lipped and tend to stammer. This weekend, at the Mazama Festival of Books, I did just that among some of the most brilliant current writers.

This was the Book Fest's second year. After being present for the first, I can tell you that this festival is growing and getting better every year. The minds brought together to discuss the world as seen through today's artistic lens were nothing less than magical.

Mazama is a small town tucked tightly in the bosom of the Cascades. The view of  mountains' cleavage from the valley floor is enough to leave your jaw collecting pine needles on the ground. This glorious sight provided the backdrop for the audible feast provided by an armful of bookwriters.

While taking notes for each session, I realized that I had written "BUY THIS BOOK!!!" next to each author's credits. From discovering identity through travel to finding oneself in confronting violent death, these authors offered their audience more than just a snippet of their works: They offered us glimpses into their psyches and souls and craft.

The artists spoke with tongues attached to well-oiled mindmachines. Each word resonated. But again, these are published writers. They have reached the shiny polished pinacle with their names embossed on the glossy covers of tomes and chapbooks alike. I want a glistening tongue attached to a keen machine mind like theirs.

For now, I just listen.

But as I listened to one of the sessions (from a perch far in the back), a woman came up and rubbed my head then apologised quickly. "I'm so sorry," she said. "You probably don't like that."

"I love it, actually. I shaved my head to become vulnerable, and as it turns out, people are far more gentle that I give them credit for. It is myself who is the harshest, so please, pet me. I really love the intimate affection of connection."

This is what I have rewritten as a response. I really said something like, "uh, that's all right. It feels nice."

If James Joyce were listening, he would have beaten me with Dubliners for my flaccid use of "nice."

During the social hours, I stammered at some brilliant people. "So what do you write?" I was asked.

"Y'see I haven't published anything in years because all that I've done is talk about the toilet habits of children while more or less avoiding my deep-seated personal issues and now I'm just trying to make sense of my seemingly shit-filled existence with real introspection, substance, and empathy. I strive to acheive ultimate vulnerability and thereby flourish in a world that doesn't beg the question, 'number one, or number two?'"

This is what I wanted to say, oh yes. But I really said, "Oh, I've written a novel and a screenplay and a bunch of short stories, but mostly I blog on the internet about being a mom. It's mostly toilet humor."

Image provided by 

Toilet humor? Yes. That's what I whiddled my writing down to. Poop. At this point the writer's gaze would lift to the crowd around, looking for an opportunity to exit the conversation.

Standing alone within a writhing and bubbling milieu I so wished was mine, I made a vow: No more toilet humor. No more stories that involve the gory details of a mother. I would write beautiful prose...or at least I would write until I got there.

Twelve hours into our book-filled day, I scooped my chitchattering imps into the car. We sighed a collective thanks-- thanks for the beautifully dynamic day, thanks for the brilliant gift of art, thanks for the other children who played so well in spite of the erudite cultural aura hovering just above the valley floor. We listened to the calm the evening gave us. This lasted for a miraculous 45 seconds before-

"I took a poop in the outhouse today. It smelled really good. And the water was still blue!"

My son smiled reverently.

Mark Twain said "Write what you know."

I guess my muses won't be like this forever. What I know will grow soon enough. Until then, there will be toilet talk and all the rest that comes with parenting.