National Geographic : 2009 Jul
• she says. A er ten minutes you come down nice and dry, and also the food has settled in your stomach, and you re ready for seconds. , the one that we Midwesterners are loath to cop to is number three, the mingling and jostling, a pleasure that Google and Face- book can t provide. American life tends more and more to put you in front of a computer screen in a cubicle, then into a car and head you toward home in the suburbs, where you drive directly into the garage and step into your kitchen without brushing elbows with anybody. People seem to want this, as opposed to urban tumult and squalor. But we have needs we can t admit, and one is to be in a scrum of thinly clad corpulence milling in brilliant sun in front of the deep-fried-ice-cream stand and feel the brush of wings, hip bumps, hands touching your arm ("Oh, excuse me!"), the heat of humanity with its many smells (citrus deodorant, sweat and musk, bouquet of beer, hair oil, stale cigar, methane), the solid, big-rump bodies of Brueghel peasants all around you like dogs in a pack, and you--- yes, elegant you of the re ned taste and the com- mitment to the arts---are one of these dogs. All your life you dreamed of attaining swanhood or equinity, but your fellow dogs know better. ey sni you and turn away, satis ed. Some state fairs are roomier, some gaudier, but there is a great sameness to them, just as there is a similarity among Catholic churches. No state fair can be called trendy, luxurious, dreamy---none of that. Nothing that is farm ori- ented or pigcentric is even remotely upscale. Wealth and social status aren t so evident at the fair. e tattooed carnies who run the rides have a certain hauteur, and of course if you re on horseback, you re aristocracy, but otherwise not. ere is no rst-class line, no concierge section roped o in the barns. e wine selection is white, red, pink, and zzy. Nobody aunts his money. e state fair, at heart, is an agricultural expo, and farming isn t about getting rich, and farmers discuss annual income less than they practice nude meditation on beaches. Farming is about work and about there being a Right Way and a Wrong Way to do it. You sit in the bleachers by the show ring and see this by the way the young women and men lead their immaculate cows clockwise around the grumpy, baggy-pants judge in the center. ey walk at the cow s le shoulder, hand on the halter, and keep the ani- mal s head up, always presenting a clear pro le to the judge s gaze, and when he motions them to get in line, the exhibitors stand facing their cows and keep them squared away. You and I may have no relatives le in farm- ing, and our memory of the farm, if we have any, may be faint, but the livestock judging is meaningful to us---husbandry is what we do, even if we call it education or health care or management. Sport is a seductive metaphor (life as a game in which we gain victory through hard work, discipline, and visualizing success), but the older metaphor of farming (life as hard labor that is subject to weather and quirks of blind fate and may return no reward whatso- ever and don t be surprised) is still in our blood, especially those of us raised on holy scripture. e young men and women leading cows around the show ring are relatives of Abraham and Job and the faithful father of the prodigal son. ey subscribe to the Love y Neighbor doctrine. ey know about late-summer hailstorms. You could learn something from these people. on the fairgrounds, and a per- son just suddenly gets sick of it all. You ve spent hours gratifying yourself on deep-fried cheese curds, deep-fried ice cream, testing one sau- sage against another, washing them down with authentic American sarsaparilla, sampling your child s onion rings, postponing the honey sun- dae for later, and now it is later, and the horti- culture building and the honey-sundae booth are four blocks and a river of humanity away. You and the child stand at the entrance to the midway, barkers barking at you to try the ring- toss, shoot a basketball, squirt the water in the clown s mouth and see the ponies run, win the teddy bear, but you don t want to win a big blue plush teddy bear. You have no use for one what- soever. ere is enough inertia in your life as THE YOUNG PEOPLE LEADING COWS AROUND THE SHOW RING ARE RELATIVES OF ABRAHAM AND JOB. YOU COULD LEARN SOMETHING FROM THEM.