Columns » Bob Lancaster

Blue meat at the fair

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I decided to go all out in the ribbon competition at the county fair this year. In recent years I’ve been limited by chronic fatigue syndrome, which has as its main symptom that you want to just lie around watching TV all the time and gradually lose all interest in any kind of exertion, and as a result my lone fair involvement was allowing the slow boy who lives down the street here to enter Florence in the swine judging. The boy isn’t much of a pig handler, to tell you the truth. You have to let a sow know who’s boss, especially a high-strung one like Florence, and discipline just isn’t in this boy’s makeup or character. He coddles her so of course she won’t strut her stuff for the swine judge.

Every time she’s been entered, the swine judge has given her bad marks for posture, carriage, pride and purposefulness, and she’s graded out at the very bottom of the competition. No blue ribbon for Florence, or red ribbon for second, or white one for third, or yellow one to tie around the old oak tree.

I thought it was foolish to judge a hog on its purposefulness, or lack thereof, and that first year the judge and I went round and round on that point, the upshot of our little contretemps being that one of us (as I recall it was not him) challenged the other to fisticuffs or a duel, but then someone called the law and nothing came of our disagreement. I still think it’s a ridiculous judging criterion — how can anyone presume to read purposefulness in a hog’s demeanor, or claim to know, as this fool does, when the animal is skylarking when it should be “keeping its eyes on the prize”? — but they didn’t invite me aboard as a swine judge, lacking as I do their precious “credentials.”

So anyway I’m giving Lightning a break this year and will be putting Florence through her judging-ring paces myself this week, and there may be a good stiff paddle-whack or two on one of those future hams if she starts clowning around or lollygagging. She’s been a good hog, by and large, but she’s just not much of a competitor, and I just don’t have it in me, with this chronic fatigue and all, to start the whole training process over again with a new hog.

So Florence is entered for the ninth time. But just in case, I’ve signed on as co-sponsor of two show chickens, a rabbit, a rhea and a La Mancha goat. I don’t even know what a rhea is but I’ve got a piece of the bastard. Being a co-sponsor means you put up the front-end money, and somebody else does the training and the showing, and you split the prize money. I think they give both of you a ribbon if your chicken or rabbit or rhea or goat wins. I took a course that would have qualified me to show the goat, and I passed the written part with flying colors, but even with that my grade averaged out as a D-plus, so I’m disqualified from handling and have to stay in the background as a co-sponsor. The co-sponsor gets his name in the paper too, but it sure is small type.

You can enter crafts at the fair without having to prove that you did the work yourself. Oh, there’s an oath, but it’s one of those Jones v. Clinton type oaths that nobody even bothers to wink at, so I was thinking, remembering the Gertrude Stein quote that a fair ribbon is a fair ribbon is a fair ribbon, that I could bolster my fair ribbon collection considerably by entering the home-economics competition and enlisting surrogates to do the actual needlework, piemaking, home canning, and the like. There are distaff residents of the Pine Knot Nursing Home who have great expertise in these domestic arts, and who need something to do, and who will work cheap — even cheaper if you’ll see that their names get in the paper as “assistants” or “contributors.”

I got one of them to home-can me some road kill, thinking the novelty of the entry would surely win me the top prize in the preserved-meats category. Well, it didn’t. But only because I couldn’t tell the judges exactly what kind of meat it was. It was possum or armadillo or small dog or possibly nutria but there were some shrewd judges in this category and I knew if labeled it wrong they’d put THAT in the paper and probably have me put in jail.

In my defense, I did harvest the road kill, so the entry wasn’t a complete fraud. The species-anonymous meat was a mighty pretty shade of blue, too, and I took some consolation from that.

There’s still embroidery at the fair — pillow cases out the wazoo — but the hot decorative-application competition this year was in the relatively new category of metalworking — specifically, making Jesus fish to go on a car. These are either stainless or chrome, and they come in an impressive piscatorial array, from Jesus crappie to Jesus gar. Intriguing. I may have to sell Florence so I can buy me one of them kits.

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