is a cow giving birth, and my companions want to see it. I
don’t. I really, really, do not. But this is how the Altamont
Fair begins for me on this sunny Friday in August. I was lured
here by some odd interest, a longing for some missing piece
of my past, but what I’ve been promised so far is a very up-close-and-personal,
graphic demonstration of cow anatomy.
cow births take place on a seemingly regular schedule, conveniently
near the very entrance we’ve chosen to use. And as my companions
wander toward the birthing station, leaving me in the lurch,
whining like a child who wants cotton candy, I realize I have
no choice but to follow them.
sideways, making sure that if there is a cow exiting its mother
I will have a chance to avert my eyes.
all I see is glowing and cute.
calf already has made a clean escape and has taken residence
in a small pen, which, I am told, is affectionately called
a “cow condo.”
looks up exhausted, perhaps grateful for the accolades she
is receiving but perhaps a little bit embarrassed by the attention.
Luckily the cute calf is holed up in its hutch, unwilling
to entertain the crowd, so my companions are ready to move
away from the cow patties and sneeze-inducing straw.
be so quick to judge. I grew up on a farm—I just never got
used to it.
way to find some $5 lemonade, I hear: Itsthh oh, oh, oh,
only rock and roll! Followed by a deadly eerie warble—but
. . . I . . . like . . . it—pronounced as if it were being
read off of a cue card by some sort of gremlin hell-spawn.
through the screens of the beer garden expecting to see a
pair of drunken and drugged circus clowns trading lines on
a karaoke machine. But I am shocked and slightly disappointed
to see a man and his young son gleefully taking turns.
have changed since I was a young boy forced to visit multiple
fairs every summer. Things aren’t as shocking; there is less
mystery to the throw-a-dart-at-balloon-game when you know
it’s rigged to make sure you don’t win.
about then that we cross into carnie territory. Giant Spider-Man
dolls and other huggable toys line the walls of carnival games
run by men with stark, stern, occasionally toothless faces.
for it, but it doesn’t come. This evening the carnie folk
seem uninterested, unmotivated to harass me for my hard-earned
dollar. No one is shouting at me, “Hey chunky, try your luck!
What are you, scared?” I’m somehow offended that none of the
fair folk are even trying.
toward a water-squirting game. The carnie barely acknowledges
a jolt of hope—I have yet to visit the oddity barns, the ones
that are always chock-full of politicians and snake-oil salesman
ready to charm your wallet out of your pants.
are no real politicians. Instead, a booth representing Albany
for Obama draws my companion’s interest. My girlfriend buys
a bumper sticker for her car. Although she is a supporter,
this purchase is simply to anger her mother, a McCain supporter.
My mother hands over 10 dollars for an Obama shirt, so she
can anger her conservative neighbors in rural southern Albany
on to an ATV/scooter retailer. I eye a Vespa scooter and inquire
to be helped by a gritty mechanic type ready to do some fair
wheeling and dealing. Instead, a preadolescent girl approaches.
“Do you need help?” she asks.
much do the scooters cost?” I ask.
. . ,” the girl says, her finger to her chin, “they cost 200
laughs, excited that with my salary I might be able to afford
a Vespa, depending on the young girl’s mood.
it is time to cap the evening with fair food, the one reliable
thing about a fair. As we stand in line for barbecue chicken
and ribs, I wonder if it is me or the fair that has changed.
Could anything about a fair be as shocking, mysterious, and
amusing to me as it was when I was 12?
the musicians on the stage next to the food vendors start
to play. A woman with a huge voice belts out Michael Jackson’s
“Beat It,” followed by C&C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make
You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).” My companions are horrified.
Their tastes and ears are clearly offended. But I am grinning
ear to ear and bobbing my head.
time they begin “Billie Jean,” I realize that I got what I
came for. For the next 10 minutes, I am a kid again.