A Fair Day

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Unable to sleep – haven’t been this excited since before I found out Santa wasn’t real. I can even sense that Dad is getting excited about what he “affectionately” terms “Corn World.” We trundle out of the hotel and drive down the street to the Iowa State Fairgrounds, park in lot Pig 19, and hit the bricks to get to the fair. It’s already 90 degrees and it’s only 10am, so it’s gonna be a scorcher.

The fair exceeded my every expectation. The streets were thronging with people; we immediately found ourselves in the midst of free samples for the Meat Cookoff, people pushing pork, beef, elk, chicken, turkey, emu, and ostrich into our greedy hands. It’s odd when you finally taste something that’s “fresh” and compare it against what you’ve eaten your whole life up to that point, makes you feel like you’re some kind of mushroom, thriving on rotting matter up until the point your eyes are opened, so to speak. We wandered from there to go see the butter cow (that’s a cow made from 400 lbs. of butter) along with a whole Harry Potter montage (again, in butter). From there we happened across the Cow Tent, and checked out the Swine Tent and the Horse Tent. I was struck (and my parents were, too) by the number of young people there showing off their hogs and heifers, illustrating the vast differences between the culture of the midwest and the culture of the east coast, or at least the east coast as I experienced it.

We stopped to eat at a small joint – there’s food everywhere – and mom had a corn dog while dad and I had some kind of pulled pork sandwich, again on a potato roll. That still makes no sense to me. We watched a lumberjacking competition for a bit, staying out of the sun as much as we possibly could, then decided it was time for the coup de grace – a fried twinkie and some fried oreos.

Mom ordered the oreos, dad ordered the twinkie which came on a stick, satisfying our “we need to eat something ‘on a stick'” requirement for the fair. How to describe the taste … difficult. Your heart seized as you bit into the fried exterior, your brain screamed numbers and charts at you, listing your current cholesterol level, pulse rate, blood pressure while your lizard brain fought desperately against the tide of data, trying to enjoy itself. Down your esophogus it goes, sliding on corn oil, hitting your stomach with a faintly audible ‘splash’ – my stomach, personally, asked me politely what the fuck I thought I was doing. Then there was a great thirst, as if you had been face down in a salt lick, and only lemonade to drink. My body at this point checked out and told me I was an asshole and on my own. We had a little discussion, it crying with a black eye telling me it was tired of being abused, me holding it gently, telling it that this time would be different, that I was going to quit drinking if it just gave me a second chance, that if it only BEHAVED itself it wouldn’t make me hit it like that, with a hammer.

Overall, it tasted pretty good.

The battle with the fried things tapped the last of our reserve (as did the beating sun, merciless) and we got in the car and drove back to the hotel and took a nap for a bit. When we awoke it was Free Cocktail Hour, so we indulged and discussed again going to get a good ol’ corn fed steak. We drove through Des Moines. And drove. And drove. I don’t want to say there’s “nothing out here”, but it certainly felt like that, and helped explain to me the helpless look I would see in tourists eyes when they visited NYC – the pounding lights and din of cars, the people rushing to and fro, the constant and unceasing movement has to be completely overwhelming and terrifying. I was scared that there was no one on the streets, like maybe they had had a bomb threat and no one had told us.

After a bit we found a joint called Simon’s or something – I can’t remember – and we had our steaks and beer and all was right with the world. We smoked cigars and talked about where we would go next; I tried to convince dad to go to Nashville since it’s around the anniversary of Elvis’ death (I decided against Elvis’s, since the possessive of Jesus is Jesus’, and I figure it’s one and the same), and he convinced me not to follow RTE 20 and 50 by saying it would be like driving RTE 1 in NJ for 2,000 miles. So I’m gonna head to Omaha then to South Dakota tomorrow and see what happens.

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