Columns » Bob Lancaster

Fair play

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Our county fair starts today — a relic, hanging on — and here are some preliminary anticipatory notes.

If it doesn't cool off at least a little, I might not even go.

I'll not enter the poetry contest again and risk another fourth-place finish  behind two Ninth Grade girls and a cornfed local yokel whose announced aspiration is to be the Arkansas Ruben Dario.

I'm guessing Betty White and Warren Buffet still ride the rides, but the thrill is gone for ol' moi — grounded since the 19th century, it seems like — and I'll just watch from a safe distance with my blue pop and cotton candy and corndog.

I'm torn whether to enter a landscape "painting" of mine in the fine arts category as a kind of homage to my agricultural roots. It's a painting without paint — rather with several thousand dried black-eyed peas glued to the canvas in artistic imitation of the grainfield in Andrew Wyeth's famous painting titled Christina's World. In my picture, the old house and outbuildings, and Christina herself, are also black-eyed peas, cleverly clustered and individually bleached to run the brown hue gamut from umber to wheat.

I'm not saying the art judges at our fair don't know their stuff, but I'm afraid it'd be like the poetry, with my witty, cosmpolitan Christina's Pea World earning only an honorable mention ribbon behind some goitered charismatic's paint-by-numbers Jesus at the Well and a grade-schooler's crayoned Nemo torn raggedly out of a coloring book. Just about all my major artistic initiatives end up in that same crapper.

Not a pretty sight, an old-timer with hairless shins and thin black socks out there chasing the greased pig with the one-gallused barefoot lads and the scrap-iron tomboys — so I reckon with regret I'll let go of that long-time attraction, too. Maybe they don't even have the greased-pig chase anymore. Maybe it's been a decade or three. That sort of variable reality zoom is one of the few consolations.

Nor will I invest another substantial portion of the family fortune in trying to nab a stuffed tiger or rhinestone cigarette lighter with the miniature crane in the glass box. (Losses in that whoremonger, I've found out the hard way, are not tax-deductible.)

Perspective now is through the Vaseline, like Barbara Walters, and participation in the few instances when it does occur edges toward farce.

My only critter entries this time are a show goat and a performing white leghorn hen that does circus-type acrobatic tricks. Mostly they're rope tricks, and they aren't all that impressive. I did my best to teach this bird how to play tic-tack-toe like the famous IQ Zoo chicken, not expecting great things from her, just hoping she'd learn to play well enough to beat the rubes who attend the county fair here, but she never got the hang of it. Half the time, she can't even beat me.

The billy goat is of the breed that have long, melancholy Don Quixote faces. I saw this movie about an Arkansas man who could knock a goat unconscious just by staring at it, but you can't do that with mine. You could stare at this cuss a week and he'd just stare back, all the time doing that munching thing that goats do, and wearing a sardonic expression that shows he's thinking, "What are you looking at, Fatty?" or "See something you like, Jack, throw a tin can at it."

He knows full well my name's not Jack, but that's a goat for you.

I entered the goat not because I think he might win me any ribbons — Lord knows at this stage I don't need more fair ribbons — but because I didn't have a ribbon-worthy pig or emu or bull yearling to enter. (Lonzo and Oscar, alas! Miss you guys.)  And because our livestock exhibition has become almost as pitiful a feature as the old Pine Bluff zoo when they'd got down to a single mangy geezer coyote that they called a red wolf in hopes of attracting one or two visitors a year.

I prefer to think that coyote ended up like Kafka's hunger artist — neglected so long that people finally forgot about him, his cage rotted away and he wandered off, his descendants now in the eighth or tenth generation still haunting the same sullen edge-of-town frowse, subsisting on snatched voodoo cats.

In better times our fair looked and sounded and smelled like Noah's Ark. Just about everybody I knew had a beast in it, or a relative who had one, a 4-H Club or FFA member, and the mamas and grannies of all those future homemakers and future farmers entered home-made quilts or blackberry preserves or fancy needlework, and the disabled vets their leather belts and wallets.

Now it's very quiet out there in the blind dark behind the bright lights and carillion music of the midway,  with hardly a bleat or moo or oink or bray or cock-a-doodle-do. The only mating calls are of the adolescent human variety. You don't have to be particularly careful about where you step. Some of the children hereabout are so far removed from traditional farmlife that they've taken to entering chia.

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