Wednesday, November 28, 2018

COLUMN: Fair Pt. 2

Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. David Beckham. That Ken guy who won a bunch of money on Jeopardy. Scoot over, because I'm about to join you in the hallowed halls of immortal greatness.

As readers of last week's column know, I recently attended the Mississippi Valley Fair for the first time in, oh, about 25 years. The sights, the sounds, and especially the smells of that place will stick with me for a while (even though I've showered, like, 20 times since then, I swear.) But as any professional fair-goer knows, the REAL thrill of the fair isn't in the rides or on the stage. It's the cutthroat competition.

You haven't fully experienced a county fair unless you've wandered through its exhibition halls to see the myriad of competitions raging on. It's all there: the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the greatest floral centerpieces in all of Scott County. You think winning a boxing match or a car race is tough? Try growing the best beet in east central Iowa, losers.

By the time I made it there, some of the biggest battles had already been waged. Blue ribbons adorned everything from green beans to quilts to model cars. And suddenly, right then and there in the middle of the exhibition hall, I had a flashback.

It was me back in grade school -- and one drawer of my dresser was filled to the brim with shiny blue ribbons and pins. Some were from activity fairs at school that I earned basically by showing up. Some were my late grandfather's photography awards. More still came from my great-grandmother's fair wins. All told, there were probably two dozen ribbons of various colors, sizes, and statures. And sometimes, when I was alone in my room and feeling extra important, I would take every one of those ribbons, pin them to my shirt, and play a little game that I liked to call "I Am The Greatest Person Who Ever Lived Ever."

The gameplay was simple: I would walk around my room with my amazing technicolor dreamshirt, and all of my stuffed animals would be really, really impressed by my many ribbon-winning accomplishments. A few of the luckier ones might even get my autograph.

Forty years later, I am mature, grounded, and fully self-aware that a meaningful and happy life can be had without ribbons or recognition. And as I wandered around the exhibition hall staring at all those blue ribbons, only one thought crossed my mind:

I WANT THEM. I WANT ALL OF THEM. Sure, you don't need ribbons for your life to have meaning. BUT I BET THEY'D HELP. And I bet two dozen of them would look JUST as good pinned to my shirt as they did when I was 8. My cats would be SUPER impressed.

So that's it, then. I have almost one full year until the next fair. That's plenty of time to learn how to bake, sew, pickle, quilt, craft, draw, farm, and paint my way to greatness. My goal is simple: WIN ALL THE RIBBONS NEXT YEAR. ALL OF THEM.

Sure, there are a few hurdles I'll need to overcome between now and then. I'm not quite sure what those hurdles ARE, because I didn't bother looking at the rules. I suppose I could do research, but that comes awfully close to real journalism, which I try to avoid in this column whenever possible. I do know that if I really want to win ALL the ribbons, I'll have to somehow pass myself off in certain categories as being both over 65 AND under 14 years of age, which is admittedly a challenge. But by then, I figure a convincing costume should be no problem, since I'll be a master sewer and craftsman by that point. I also might have to move to Iowa, but one doesn't become The Greatest Person Who Ever Lived Ever without the occasional sacrifice.

Some categories might be tough to win. I saw one where you apparently make dresses for little girls. I don't know the first thing about dressmaking OR little girls, and I'm pretty sure asking random children on the street to try on dresses is generally frowned upon by society. I also can't practice growing blue ribbon vegetables in the winter unless I install an elaborate grow light set-up in the basement, and nothing spoils the winter holidays quite like a SWAT team descending on your house. Of course, it might be worth it to see their faces when they bust through my basement door to find a secret grow lab full of radishes, corn, and green beans.

I'll also need to carefully study the difference between good things and bad things, because at the fair, I often couldn't tell the difference. At one point, I got to witness blue, silver, and red ribbon bales of hay. Sincere apologies to all you professional hay balers out there, but to MY untrained eye, every single bale looked identical. Frankly, I think the whole category might have been a sham, because when I was there, they were using the blue ribbon hay bales as free food for the blue ribbon goats.

Which reminds me, I need to go buy some goats. I've only got a year to get them trained up. If a tap-dancing goat isn't deserving of a blue ribbon, I don't know what is. Plus, even if I fail and I don't become The Greatest Person Who Ever Lived Ever, I'll still have a yard full of goats, and that's a pretty decent consolation prize.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have things to pickle. Greatness calls.

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