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

August 8, 2009

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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.

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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.

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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.


At the zoo, I’m a little kid again

May 25, 2009

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

Pre-election pandering in Ohio is out of control and just plain stupid

October 11, 2008

FROM JASON’S STATE — In Ohio right now, everything is politics.

Being a battleground state isn’t easy. Just ask the guy who was run off the road Wednesday on a highway near my house.

The man was forced off the pavement by a crazed Obama fan because he had a “Nobama” bumper sticker, according to a police report. It doesn’t help that the alleged offender appeared to be Arab and was screaming and throwing unidentified objects from his window.

Add to the problem crazy stumping by every imaginable political talking head as they criss-cross the state. In my job as a newspaper reporter this election season, I’ve written lots of stories about “star” visits to my 800,000-population (158,000 registered voters) area. Ohio has 20 Electoral College votes and is polling three points in the blue.

Newt Gingrich told me Democrats are bad at economics.

Adrian Fenty, mayor of Washington, D.C., told me they can rescue the economy.

Caroline Kennedy compared Barack Obama to her father.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Academy Award-nominated actress Rosie Perez told me the large local Puerto Rican population could win Ohio for Obama.

Obama’s chief medical issues advisor, Dora Hughes, advocated universal health care, while U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) told me John McCain’s $5,000 tax credit will fix the health insurance crisis.

Hillary Clinton has spoken twice within eight miles of my humble abode. Obama has swung through once.

McCain and his lipstick-laden pit bull, Gov. Sarah Palin, town-halled it up this week just 10 miles southeast of me.

Gangs of roving voting registrars have been patrolling sidewalks every weekend for a month, trying to drive up participation on both sides of the fence. Obama’s student-heavy grassroots push was balanced by GOP blue hairs knocking door-to-door to encourage absentee balloting. All that madness ended Monday as the voter registration deadline passed.

Now we’ve entered the most wonderful phase of any dirty election: Sign-stealing. Those suckers have already started mysteriously disappearing from yards overnight. It’s been coupled in isolated cases (one of which I’ve seen documentation, the others rumored) with absentee voter card thefts from mailboxes.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten a few nasty calls from old white people today who are angry that local college students from out of state have been lining up for early balloting here. One woman told me it’s fraud for college students to vote, and they shouldn’t have representation no matter what taxes they pay.

She told me — in her most patriotic tone — that it doesn’t matter if the Supreme Court’s ruled in favor of a student’s right to vote in the state where he or she attends school. They’re “dirty little hippies supporting that black Obama,” and I’m biased to say otherwise, she told me.

Have you ever noticed that Republicans eagerly support wars to “defend our freedoms” but are equally eager to attempt to deny a woman’s freedom to choose, a gay person’s civil freedoms, a student’s freedom to vote, an immigrant’s freedom to come to America, a non-English-speaking person’s freedom to abstain from English, and a black person’s freedom to… um… be black?

That observation aside, I’m really starting to tire of all the “celebrity” political visits. Honestly, if you haven’t by this time researched and decided which presidential candidate to support, you should have “idiot” tattooed on your forehead.

With roughly three weeks to go, if you’re a so-called “undecided,” then you are probably either mentally challenged, criminally ignorant, the product of rampant Deliverance-style incest, have an advanced case of Alzheimer’s disease, or are suffering from cripplingly explosive amnesia.

If you are basing your presidential vote on television ad spots, what you heard from your brother-in-law, a gut feeling, the candidates’ favorite colors, looks, skin color, Fox News reports, or who has boobies, then you should be slapped with the moron stick and forced to wear a T-shirt that reads, “I am bad and should feel bad.”