It just wouldn't be fair to miss the fair again with all its fare. It's almost a sin to miss out on the nostalgic delights the Park County Fair offers. It's a smorgasbord of sensory pleasures — the sights, sounds and smells. Who isn't taken back to a simpler time by the teasing smell of cotton candy, chili dogs and goat dung wafting from the 4-H pens?
Fairs, carnivals and Las Vegas are our brief flights from monotonous reality. Only on certain pre-destined occasions can one indulge to gross excess with none of the normal repercussions.
God in his mercy decreed Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, Labor Day and county fairs shall be exempt from caloric concerns. “And God said, ‘Let there be Corn Dogs.' And He saw that it was good.” (Genesis 50:27).
County fairs are also quite safe, but the fair's dysfunctional nephew, the carnival … now that's a greased pig of a different color.
Remember the movie “The Jerk,” where a naïve Navin Johnson suddenly realizes in his early 20s he's not black and his sharecropper family had adopted him? He hitchhikes to the city and lands a job as a carnival weight guesser. After a rough start, he nearly perfects his sales pitch, “Step right up folks; let the weight guesser guess your weight. Fool the guesser and win some crap.”
But the dark carnival underbelly snarls when Patty, the psycho, motorcycle stuntwoman, leads Navin back to her trailer and unconventionally guesses his weight. His innocence was lost that day; that trailer was a rockin' and his child-like squeal of, “Wow, this is just like a carnival ride!” reverberated throughout the grounds.
That classic movie, called by some “The greatest story ever told,” is one for another day. But I know from personal experience the shady side of carnivals. I went to my first one during my first summer in Cody at 16. My brother Jess and wife Marti were between homes, so lived in a big house on Alger Avenue with church friends, Larry and Lucille Moerike.
The Moerikes often took troubled youth into their home, and a wild young teen named Dave also resided there that summer. Dave and I had little in common, except we were both young and were made to go to church with the Moerikes. One Sunday afternoon, Dave invited me to walk to the carnival with him.
After quaffing a couple snow cones, we found ourselves sitting in a caged cubicle to be spun by hard-boiled carnies before rotating skyward like a ferris wheel. Noticing our brake was non-functional, Dave says to the operator with an air of arrogance, “Hey man, don't spin our cage; it's broke!” “Oh, you no want spin cage, huh? O-o-ookay…” this heavily-tattooed Spanish fellow said sarcastically as he spun the cage so long and hard, he probably has rotator cuff problems to this day.
During our third, torturous go-around — while dangling upside down at the top of the arc — Dave prepared me for battle. “You ready to fight when we get out of here?”
Fight? Me? Heck, I was just a sweet Pennsylvania boy that wanted to play baseball, drink A&W Root Beer, and maybe sneak a Playboy into Moerikes' house occasionally. I had never drank, smoked, or even had my weight guessed. I was a wiry rassler, but the closest thing to a real punch fight I'd been in was a slap-fight with my older sister, which I lost. And now I'm gonna stagger off this ride, probably vomit violently, and throw hands with hairy, sweaty older men, the likes of which I'd previously only seen in prison movies?
“Fight? Ummm; yeah … I guess …” I meekly replied to my new, hardened friend fresh from reform school. As predicted, I nearly fell on my face on the ramp, and finally steadied long enough to notice Dave and this spinner thug were nose-to-nose. I staggered towards them and two other irritable carnie goons stopped me. One jerked off his glasses, stared only inches from my eyes, and asked, “Is this the **!!* giving you all the !!**?” (a few more expletives I wasn't familiar with.)
Thankfully, the wrath was directed back at Dave, who was now threatening to round up “some of our buddies” to meet in City Park for a rumble. The carnies must have been on break, 'cause they enthusiastically agreed. Next thing I knew, I'm lagging behind a group of about 10 big Cody boys Dave had probably met “at camp,” walking towards about a dozen Hispanic fellows. It was West Side Story, but there was to be no dancing.
I was never so happy for a police presence in my life when they intervened and sent everyone packing. As I told Dave later, “Them cats was lucky. I was on the wrestling team in junior high.”
So this week, I'm fairly sure I'll make it to the fair. It's so much safer than the amusement parks of yesteryear. Heck, I might even get wild and have me some funnel cake.