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All's Fair At The County Fair
I still have my Van Halen mirror, although my wife strongly discourages me from hanging it on the wall. She doesn't forbid it, but when I mention it, she kind of shakes her head and lets out a little sigh that tells me, "Hang that thing on the wall at your own risk."
I won it at the fair when I was a teenager. In my case, it was the Fayette County Fair, in West Union, Iowa. I won it by knocking down a bunch of little bottles with a little ball, much to the dismay of the "carney," who was sure I couldn't do it and even taunted me as I prepared the throw.
Kind of a proud moment, actually. I was supposed to get three throws for a dollar, but I knocked the bottles down on my first try, then claimed the Van Halen mirror. The carney was a sore loser, and didn't let me throw my other two throws.
The mirror has a lion on it, beneath the colorful "Van Halen" logo. It was from the "Diver Down" tour, and I really doubt it is legitimate and actually sponsored by Van Halen. I'm guessing it's counterfeit and it violates some copyright laws.
No matter. I still have it. And as any fan of real rock and roll will tell you, even a counterfeit "Van Halen" mirror is much cooler than a real "Van Hagar" mirror. It's up, but kind of hidden in a place where my wife won't see it all the time. The Van Halen mirror is one of my finest county fair moments.
When I was much younger, like in single digits, I won a little blue stuffed puppy-dog. I had to squirt water from a high-pressure squirt gun into a clown's mouth, which somehow made a balloon on top of the clown's head blow up. The first shooter to make his clown's head-balloon explode won a prize. My prize was the little blue stuffed puppy-dog. I don't have it anymore, not sure what happened to it.
At that same fair, the carney at the spook house took my $20 bill and tried to keep my change. My guardian at the time caught him, and chewed him out publically so well that a crowd of people gathered and began calling for his head on a stick. It was the fair, after all, so if you're going to remove someone's head, you'll certainly put it on a stick. The spectacle resulted in my correct change being returned to me. I also received an apology, but I honestly couldn't understand a word the guy was saying.
Growing up where I did in northeast Iowa, the Fayette County Fair was about 20 miles away and the Buchanan County Fair was about 15 miles away, so my friends and I had the pleasure of attending both every summer. About half of my friends were farmers, so the fair was more meaningful to them, with livestock shows and 4H exhibits. For me, it was just a place to go have fun.
As teens, we didn't attend many shows. We would hit all the rides on the midway, eat a bunch of different fried food items on sticks, dive into a big pillow of cotton candy until we were completely sticky (a couple of my teenage friends were just naturally sticky, long before they ever had any cotton candy) -- then go try to win some prizes, taunting the carnies as much as we could.
Some of the carnies laughed along with us, others had no sense of humor. A close friend of mine actually had a carney threaten him with a very big knife once. He was so mad at us, he followed us around when he was done with his shift, and even followed us out into the parking lot when we left to get in our car.
If you haven't been threatened and followed around by a carney wielding a big knife, you haven't lived.
County fairs are all about living dangerously. Demolition derbies, squeaky tilt-o-whirls missing a few screws, and live rodeos are all included. If you really want to live on the edge, mess with the ladies in the "Bingo" tent. They'll put the fear into you.
I've noticed that a fashionable new event at many contemporary county fairs is called "mutton bustin'." That pretty much amounts to taking little kids (ages 3-7) and putting them on top a sheep that -- not unlike most of us -- isn't all that pleased to carry a strange child on its back.
Here in Iowa, we love our kids so much that we put them on top of angry sheep and tell them to "hang on."
The rides usually last eight seconds or less, and the kids usually wear helmets -- which is the truly American answer to everything. In most other places, people simply choose to not do things that might result in their heads getting bashed in. Here in America, we do them -- but we wear helmets, so that's OK.
Of course, the Wapello County Regional Fair has already passed us by, and the Jefferson County Fair was last week. The Davis County Fair, however, starts this week, featuring the music of Casey James and Blackjack Billy. Along with all the other standard fair fare, Davis County will also present a historical pageant, depicting the last 50 years at the fair, presented by the Davis County Players and Fine Arts Council. Included will be musical impersonations of some of the huge musical acts that have appeared at the Davis County Fair over the years, including Hank Williams, Jr., Foghat, Crystal Gayle, Eddie Rabbit and Barbara Mandrell.
Appanoose and Mahaska County will be having their fairs the following week -- with Mahaska County featuring Elvis tribute artist Don Martz.
The Van Buren County Fair will be July 17-22, while the Monroe County Fair will be July 26-29 -- and will feature the music of the Madpole Cats.
So there's plenty of opportunities left this summer to experience a county fair. Live dangerously. Enjoy some rides and entertainment, eat some really good food that's really bad for you, win some prizes and taunt some carnies.
Just leave those Bingo ladies alone. I'm warning you.