County fair culture — part two

August 29, 2009


Dear friends in England:

As previously promised, I have done more documentation on the woodsy American hayseed-fests known collectively as “county fairs” in an attempt to share genuine New World “culture” with our overseas cousins.

This is an undercover operation in which I indulge every year, walking among the native cornfed clodhoppers of the rustic Midwest. There is a dual purpose: For me, to gorge on deep-fried Wisconsin cheese curds, sausages, and frozen bananas. For my hot wife (above), to pet various mammals of the “cute” variety (ponies, pygmy goats, the odd unsuspecting floppy-eared bunny rabbit).


The key is to use tremendous quantities of sanitary antibacterial lotion so as not to contract some nasty bumpkin disease like salmonella, E. coli, or typhoid fever. Also, to avoid stepping in steaming hot pavement pies, if you know what I mean. The shit is everywhere. I worry that I breathe in an awful lot of latent particulate that’s just floating around in the air. It gets there when the farmers clean their animals like so:


By the way, don’t become to attached to ol’ Bessy up there. She was being washed outside the fair auction house Saturday afternoon just before she was led inside to be sold by the quarter to the highest bidder. I’m sure she’ll make some tasty steak or rump roast.

This beauty, however, is sure to make some excellent pie. Or 40 pies. Whatever. It is the prize-winner for Largest Pumpkin at 434 pounds (197 kg). The girl only weighs 60 kg.


I didn’t really touch on judging in my former post re county fairs. One of the main components of said yokel affairs is the submission of and professional evaluation of best local-grown fruit and vegetable specimens, animals, pies and other baked goods, paintings and drawings, photography, flower arrangements, pencil collections, LEGO creations, canned jams, your mom, hand-made furniture, bee hives, milk samples….

Yes, there are blue ribbons. I even spotted an elaborate and disproportionately grandiose trophy — three and a half feet tall and gold-embossed — for the Best In Show winner of the Sweet Corn category. Here are some award-winning cabbages and onions:


What is a little more difficult to capture on film (lol, nobody uses film anymore) is the size of the whole occasion. Imagine 100,000 people over the course of six days milling around a mile-long loop crammed with food vendors, toothless carnies, salesmen hawking everything from gutters to leathercrafts to new cars, tractors of all sizes on display, barns full of the aforementioned poopmongers, cheap portable ferris wheels and tilt-a-whirls and funhouses, political parties, charities, a bloodmobile, and a stadium blaring with the sounds of either A) despicable country music or B) the roar of suped-up engines.


On the sixth day, the grounds are littered with the mashed remnants of french fries, stale vomit, copious pig urine, drunk carnies, toilet paper, lost flip-flops, tears, and the tracts of both office-seekers and quack religious cults (that last one was all kinds of redundant. Sorry). Alone on a park bench, Funny-O the Clown is crying; the last of the animals are being led off to the slaughterhouse while the 12-year-old homesteader girls who raised them weep; and the clean-up crews have lost all hope and turned sullen.

But little girls like this one are still having a blast:


Yes, my wife called me a pedophile for snapping that last photo.

There might be a couple more pics coming if she decides we need to head back to the fairgrounds tonight for one last frenzied romp to see the animals and take one last shot at further clogging our already grease-engorged guts.

Dear England: This is our “culture” (*shudder*)

August 8, 2009


Dear friends in England:

You have had many questions about the redneck American carnivals known as county fairs. These are not — I repeat not — like Scarborough Fair. I’ve tried explaining to some of you what we here in the States consider “culture,” and you’ve reacted with all the appropriate disgust. But more than not you’ve reacted with dumbfounded disbelief that such a thing could exist.

Let me try to give you the run-down, so you can understand our yokel ways.

County fairs are a uniquely Midwestern institution wherein city folk travel to small towns and brave the overpowering smell of feces to watch bumpkins in bib overalls show off prize farm animals. Fairs are typically divided into five distinct areas: First, there are the animal barns, where after petting said cute beasts the highest bidders are able to purchase them for slaughter.


My wife was particularly fond of this litter of piglets, and was worried for the runt of the litter, which she was afraid was not receiving enough of its mother’s milk. Lisa also was overheard remarking, “Wow, look at the size of that horse wiener,” on more than one occasion. She made me traipse twice through a petting zoo where we fed carrot sticks to deer, red kangaroos, pygmy goats, a water buffalo, and a bearded pig.

The second area of a county fair holds the carnival rides and booths, which are typically dangerous, nauseating, and staffed by toothless vagrants. We don’t frequent these. At all. Ugh. Dirty.

Our primary goal when visiting the fair is to run rampant through the third area: The food booths. Imagine a magical street where any food you can imagine can be deep fried and coated with magical sugar for outlandish prices. We’re talking deep-fried vegetables, deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried rice, donuts, french fries, deep-fried cheese on a stick, deep-fried cheesecake, corndogs, funnel cakes (deep-fried dough), elephant ears (more deep-fried dough), deep-fried steak on a stick, deep-fried chicken in a pita,deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried potato chips….

This is me eating a deep-fried Milky Way bar, which was like a sickeningly sweet fudge pastry and made me want to simultaneously vomit and run in circles for an hour.


The fourth area are open-air barns that serve two purposes: A) to show off artistic works being judged, and B) for local vendors to hawk their crap — everything from massages to tires to political ideals to cutlery.

The fifth and final area is the stadium, where there are not only musical acts (mostly country music bull) but also big attractions such as horse races, demolition derbies, and tractor pulls. The later, dear Brits, are very loud demonstrations of horsepower where over-beefed engines are forced to strain through mud whilst dragging weights.

Summer is fair season, and in the backwoods towns of Ohio each county holds its own. If our arteries can withstand the increased oil instake, we’ll be hitting up at least one more fair this summer — with pictures to follow. I’ll try to give you more hillbillyisms ASAP.

How much does a senior cost?

July 13, 2009


The wife didn’t think this wording was nearly as funny as I did. She wouldn’t let me ask the server for pricing on the first senior.

At the zoo, I’m a little kid again

May 25, 2009


FROM JASON’S SAFARI — Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo. I do believe it’s true.

The monkeys stand for honesty,
Giraffes are insincere,
And the elephants are kindly but
They’re dumb.
Orangutans are skeptical
Of changes in their cages,
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.

Zebras are reactionaries,
Antelopes are missionaries,
Pigeons plot in secrecy,
And hamsters turn on frequently.
What a gas! you gotta come and see
At the zoo.

A favorite song.


I’m a sucker for the zoo, but I have a tendency to lecture.

“That’s not a monkey, Kim,” I corrected my sister-in-law today at the Cleveland MetroParks Zoo as she marveled at an orangutan. “Monkeys have prehensile tails, while apes are adapted to living on the ground rather than in trees and typically have legs and backs longer than their legs. Apes are universally more intelligent than monkeys, able to use very basic symbolic language and even devise tools.”

I got an icy look.

I can’t help it. I grew up on National Geographic World magazine, watching lots of the society’s television specials (narrated by B.J. Honneycut from M*A*S*H). My grandmother bought me ZooBooks — which I fawned over for years — and family trips to the zoo were common when I was young.


My wife and I have made a hobby of zoo-hopping, too. We frequent the Cleveland zoo about twice a year, and also hit up the Columbus, Toledo, Fort Wayne, and Indianapolis zoos. I’m looking to add Cincinnati, Akron, and Pittsburgh to the regional ones we hit pretty soon.

When we get inside, I become a dweeb. One of my earliest memories is visiting the Philadelphia Zoo (all I can remember is one particular goat), and elementary school trips always seemed to land me at Ross Park Zoo in New York. When my family moved to Watertown, N.Y., there was a (small-ish) zoo in the city park about 10 blocks from my house.

I’ve paid attention during every visit. I know things. And I can’t shut up about the polar bears, the dwarf crocodiles, red pandas, wallabies, fennec foxes, agouti, eastern hellbenders, Australian lungfish, marmosets….


It was packed as Memorial Day crowds surged in, and we were on a schedule because my brother-in-law-to-be had to pull a late-night shift. So we zipped by quite a few of the attractions, while other exhibits were closed (the entire pachyderm building!) for reconstruction. No elephants and hippos today, friends.

The wife wouldn’t even let me tour the animatronic dinosaur walk. I was upset.

Oh well. There will be a next time, as Cleveland is 25 minutes away. And if just the wife and I hoof it alone, there will be time for more zoo picture-taking — a hobby I’ve indulged in for about five years now.

There was still time today to learn a thing or two, though.

Things I learned today at the zoo:

  • The Masai giraffe is the world’s largest land mammal, and can run at speeds in excess of 35 mph.
  • The zoo’s Iranian leopard was a performer for Jack Hannah and appeared many times as a cub on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with David Letterman.
  • Andean condors are the world’s longest-lived birds, sometimes surviving up to 50 years.
  • There are fewer than 3,000 black rhinoceroses in the wild.
  • Western lowland gorillas are afraid to cross even the shallowest streams, and so their territories are typically carved more by geography than anything.
  • Brazilian ocelots can be tamed, but have a sticky, extremely smelly urine that makes keeping them as pets extremely difficult.

Oh, the pains I suffer for love

May 20, 2009

FROM JASON’S ETERNAL MAN-IRE — I will premise this by saying that my wife is the smartest, most beautiful woman I have ever met. And that I am deeply afraid of her wrath.

As much as I love her, she does crazy things. They range from batty to full-fledged insane:

She buys pasta sauce based on how pretty the label is.

She will frequently grab the remote, insist on watching a certain show, and then proceed to drift out of the room 10 minutes later. But don’t try changing the channel. She’s still watching that dreadful interior design show on HGTV.

She bellows Britney Spears songs in the shower at 6 a.m.

Rather than use the phone to hold a comprehensive two-minute conversation, she’ll drag me into an hour-long texting fest. It’s not efficient.

She likes to deliver orders to me by talking to our dogs: “Macy, does Daddy know it’s his turn to clean the toilet?”

Her idea of good money management: Constant trips to Dairy Queen to spend $7 on ice cream cones instead of buying a half-gallon at the grocery store for $3.50.

If it isn’t HGTV, it’s a horrendous Bravo reality show. Or worse — The Style Network.

She makes up “cute” names for neighborhood animals, along with elaborate backstories: “That cat running through the field back there is named Mr. WhiteyPinks III. He is going on a trip to see his friend Rufus over at the brown house down the street for a tea party.”

Have you heard the Nannerpuss song? Because I have. On a loop. Since it started airing. Three months ago.

Two words: Speed walking.

“Cleaning” apparently means moving my papers, games, pens, and books into new, arbitrary piles where I can’t find them.

My primary function: bodyguard. Because in any public or private place, she believes she is in danger of being raped, no matter how many potential witnesses are nearby. That makes for a lot of protective trips by her side to the mall.

Putting clothing on animals is not amusing. Except to her.

Neighbors are not meant to be watched, but she keeps a vigilant eye on their every move. The comings and goings of each neighborhood car are carefully documented, as are the dates and times of various lawn-mowings up and down the street. And should a police car arrive at any house within sight, her body goes into spasms of voyeuristic curiosity.

There are pink curtains in my kitchen. Pink. Curtains.

Good-bye Fruity Pebbles, hello Raisin Bran Crunch

March 1, 2009

FROM JASON’S CERAMIC BOWL — Count Chocula is a hack. Cap’n Crunch is all washed up. Lucky the Leprechaun is clearly a pedophile. And I’m pretty sure Tony the Tiger is dead.

The best cereal in the world doesn’t have a mascot. It has two scoops and a delicious, sugary coating that ensures crunchiness.

Now, I don’t often endorse commercial products, or even really care about them. But in-between keystrokes, I’m scooping oversized spoons of Raisin Bran Crunch into my mouth. I can’t stop. This is my third bowl. I am in love.

Where has this cereal been all my life? Think of all those years I wasted, suffering through soggy regular Raisin Bran as a teenager, pouring lumps of sugar into the bowl to try to offset the weak wheat flavor that no sun-ripened grapes could ever mask.

This is how I know I am an adult: when I was a child, cereal served as just a vehicle for enough sugar to fuel my hyperactivity and ensure early onset diabetes. I wanted puffed rice saturated in corn syrup, then coated with rainbow-hued dyes:

I wanted loops of something that was probably fried corn dipped in three unique artificial flavors that tasted really nothing at all like cherry, orange, and lemon:

I wanted what ostensibly were marshmallows cut to look like clovers, clowns, robots, Pac-Man, vampire bats, balloons, or ghosts:

I wanted crushed cornmeal seeped in brown sugar- and honey-flavoring and treated to keep away the Soggies during sea-faring missions:

These days, I’m looking for an actual meal. No more Crunchberries. No more Cookie Crisp. No more Honeycomb, Marshmallow Crispies, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal, Smurfberries, Frankenberries, Honey Smacks, C-P30’s, Urkel-O’s, Cocoa Krispies, or Apple Jacks.

As an adult, it’s all about getting bran that tastes decent and has a satisfying crunch, sun-dried fruit, and some granola clusters. I salute you, Raisin Bran Crunch.

Everybody dies eventually

January 1, 2009

FROM JASON’S PROGNOSTICATION — No, it’s not the title of a new James Bond movie. Just a simple statement of fact: Whether you’re Bernie Mack, Paul Newman, Elvis, or Jesus, everybody dies eventually.

You will too, someday, and so will I. So it goes.

That’s why my wife and I have had clear consciences for the past five years now playing a game that has disgusted our family and shocked our friends: Each New Year’s Eve, we make our Death Lists.

Last year, I called Arthur C. Clarke and Charlton Heston out of a Dead Pool of 10 names. This year I’m hoping to do better than 20 percent, and we’ve expanded our pools:

1. Patrick Swayze — The Swayze was diagnosed last January with pancreatic cancer, the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related fatalities in the US (33,370 deaths in 2007). Most people diagnosed with the disease do not live a year –and some doctors say cancer of the pancreas has the shortest average survival time of all cancer types.

2. Fidel Castro — The Cuban dictator hasn’t actually been in power since transferring authority to his brother in 2006. The 82-year-old has been in poor health for more than a decade, and is rumored to have undergone several intense surgeries in the past few years, including one for “acute intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding.”

3. Kirk Douglas — The screen legend and father of Michael Douglas is 92, but he’s looked 132 since appearing in Greedy in 1994. He suffered a stroke two years later.

4. Nancy Reagan — The former First Lady is 87 and is a breast cancer survivor. She is one of just six surviving First Ladies. Though not life-threatening, she did suffer two falls in 2008, the later in October resulting in hospitalization for a fractured pelvis and sacrum.

5. Ed McMahon — He survived a 2002 battle with toxic mold, but the 85-year-old former Tonight Show co-host isn’t looking so good these days. It was reported last spring that he’d broken his neck.

6. Billy Graham — America’s most celebrated televangelist (con artist) is 90 years old and has retired from his Bible-thumping crusades due to frail health. He survived a bout in 2007 with intestinal bleeding and later in the year was not healthy enough to attend Lady Bird Johnson’s funeral.

7. Zsa Zsa Gabor — The Hungarian film star, now 91, suffered a massive stroke in 2005 and a leg infection in 2007.

8. Nelson Mandela — The first democratically-elected president of South Africa is 90. He was diagnosed in 2001 with prostate cancer and he was accidentally announced dead in 2003 when a pre-written obituary was posted to CNN’s website.

9. Walter Cronkite — “The most trusted man in America” is 92, but he’s still extremely active and outspoken in regard to journalistic ethics (blasting Fox News, in particular). In my opinion, he’ll probably outlast everyone else on this list.

10. Betty Ford — Like Nancy Reagan, the former First Lady, now 90, is also a breast cancer survivor and has the distinction of being the oldest living former White House resident. She fought blood clots in 2006 and 2007.

11. George Steinbrenner — The 78-year-old Yankees ballclub owner fainted in 2003, leading then to speculation about his declining health.

12. Les Paul — The guitar legend is 93. After a heart attack and bypass surgery in the 70s, and has since been the victim of stroke and severe arthritis.

13. Christopher Lee — The man who was both Count Dracula and Count Dooku is 86, and he’s starting to look undead. He’s a wildcard on this list.

14. Jack Klugman — At 86, Quincy is ailing. He lost a vocal cord to cancer in the late 80s. He remarried early this year and seems fine… but I have a gut feeling.

15. Ted Kennedy — The senator has battled alcoholism, a blocked artery, and earlier this year was diagnosed with a brain tumor. His illnesses manifested again in September as seizures. Most news reports have him as a walking corpse, with surgeries only able to extend his life a matter of months.

16. Nate Dogg — Hip hopper Nathaniel Dwayne Hale is only 39, but I think he won’t be Regulating much longer after suffering two strokes in the past year. Word is that he is on a breathing machine.

17. Dear Abby — Pauline Phillips, the longtime feel-good quackery columnist, has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease more than a decade.

18. Jerry Lewis — What isn’t wrong with him? He’s looked ready to pass during any of his last 20 telethons. He’s wrestled with prostate cancer, diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, and has had two heart attacks.

19. James Garner — The original Maverick, now 80, had quintupple bypass surgery in 1988 and a stroke last May.

20. Amy Winehouse — Clarification: I wouldn’t know who this was if it weren’t for the wife’s terrible taste in music. At 25, she’s younger than me, but I’m voting her Most Likely to Overdose on Something You Normally Wouldn’t Huff.