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In pursuit of the prize at the county fair

L ast weekend I was sitting in my room attempting to throw a hand saw in the air and catch it without amputating more than two of my fingers, when my friend, neighbor and local third-grade student teacher, Kate, proposed an alternative activity (mainly because it was her hand saw, and she didn't want blood on it). "Let's go to the Albemarle County Fair," she said in a tone of voice with far more excitement than the idea warranted.

Kate and I jumped in the car and drove up Route 29 to an area of Albemarle County where the local smell is "manure" and the term "y'all" is used so often it's a common first name for children. "Y'all and Y'all Jr., get y'alls' butts down off that roof!"

I'm exaggerating - the people at the fair were nice, normal people. In fact one guy even offered us some of his popcorn. I think his name was Y'all Stevens.

Anyway, as we entered the fair Kate exclaimed, "Wow, the rides look fun!" with a twinkle in her eye that reminded me of a giddy young schoolgirl on heroin. Despite her excitement, I told her I would not get near the fair rides. I said, "Do you have any idea who those giant, wildly-swinging machines were put together by?" With that same twinkle in her eye, she said, "Drunk teen-agers. What's your point?" Did I mention that Kate works with young children?

Since I was trying to avoid getting within 800 yards of the rides, Kate and I checked out the games. Many of the games boasted that you win every time you play. In order to test this, I went up to a game where you toss a ball into a bucket. I hurled the ball into the head of the guy standing behind me. The person running the game then refused to give me a prize for that. I plan on suing him for false advertising.

At every fair or amusement park there are also plenty of games where you win none of the time. These just happen to be the games that men, who attempt to prove their masculinity to their girlfriends, choose to play approximately 3,287 times in order to win a big stuffed animal. They end up spending roughly $9,484 on a stuffed animal worth $20.

I cannot understand why women should be impressed that their boyfriend can toss a ring onto an empty beer bottle from five feet away. The odd thing is that no woman can understand it either. Guys, listen up. I just figured this out. Women don't actually care if you can knock over three bottles with a softball. All they care about is the stuffed animal. If you buy them a stuffed Winnie the Pooh the size of a car, they'll be just as happy.

The games that always get me are the basketball games. I'm only mediocre at shooting a basketball, but I always feel like I can make those long-distance shots when a giant stuffed mammal wearing a funny hat is on the line. Even though the game is rigged, I still think I can win. The ball is usually over-inflated so that it bounces into the stratosphere when it nears the rim. The rim is oval-shaped so that the ball won't go in even if you were standing on it. And the distance between the shooter and the rim is about the length of three Olympic-size swimming pools end to end. None of this stops me.

Generally, my first shot falls far too short because I forget I need to hurl the ball like a discus just to get it all the way to the basket. My second shot goes wide right simply because I'm not good enough to make my second shot. Then the third shot looks dead on but lightly hits the rim, at which point it fires off in the opposite direction (straight up) causing problems for satellites orbiting the earth.

But once we got past the games, Kate and I headed for the tent filled with prize-winning vegetables. This is where we learned an important lesson. Prize-winning vegetables on the first day of the fair are cool. Prize-winning vegetables on the last day of the fair are scary. The tent was full of prize-winning globs, formerly known as vegetables, covered in flies and ants. It looked like a scene out of the little-known horror movie, "Where Vegetables Come to Die."

Kate and I carefully looked over the incredibly well-grown globs. The most interesting category we saw was "oddball vegetable." The first place winner in this contest was a potato that for some unknown reason had grown in eighteen different directions at once. It looked more like a brown chewed-up Frisbee than a potato, and the scary thingwas that it got rewarded for this. I wonder if this potato talked trash to the other oddball vegetables. "You call yourselves freaks? Just because you have an extra stem you think you can compete with my hideousness? Think again!"

We also checked out the animal tent. It was an extravaganza of gorgeous farm animals forced to sit in cages no bigger than George Foreman grills while little kids poked and prodded them with a variety of objects. Some children simply poked with their fingers while the more creative kids used straws or even 'N Sync action figures. For some reason poking farm animals is a natural instinct for children. It's been scientifically proven that the first thought to go through the head of any kid when he sees a cute cuddly lamb or goat is, "I wonder what sound it would make if I poked it in the eye with Joey-the-action-figure's oddly shaped goatee."

Despite the various problems with the fair, the important thing is that I tried something new, and by doing so I was able to add one more thing to my list of stuff I don't want to try again.


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