Riding High (On Sugar) At the County Fair

What a delicious time of year this is for someone who wants to be nine years old again. Soon you’ll be able to find pumpkin-everything and apple-everything-else wherever you look, not to mention the fourteen-pound bags of Halloween candy you’ll be able to buy at will in any store that sells anything. But the greatest orgy of sugar with which you can pleasure your palate in late summer and early fall can be found at the State Fair.

You’ll find any cookie or candy bar you can think of at the fair, and chances are, they’ll be fried up in delicious dough. You want that dough by itself? Throw some sugar or cinnamon or maple syrup or candied fruit on that shit. Oh, you just want an apple? Not without a coating of candy or caramel. It is, in fact, a misdemeanor in most states to attend a fair, festival, or carnival without gaining five to thirty pounds (don’t look that up). So being the obedient, law-abiding citizen that I am, I went to my local state fair last week and did not hesitate to spend two hundred and sixty dollars on sweets and treats the moment I walked through the turnstile. It was, friends, perhaps the most glorious moment of my life.

When I awoke from my sugar coma eighty-four minutes later, it was nighttime, and a beautiful scene. Men, women, and children of various shapes and sizes meandered about the filthy fairgrounds; the smells of freshly popped popcorn and freshly dropped manure commingled inside my nose; off in the distance, a pompous bullhorn personality counted down to the start of the piglet race. And up above, cast against the blackness of the night sky, were the bright, twirling, spinning lights of the carnival rides. ‘Twas a sight to behold.

I started riding rides when I was young. The Pirate Ship. The Teacups. The Ferris Wheel. The Chair Swing. When I was an adolescent, my thirst for danger swelled, and I began combing the globe (and by “the globe” I mean “the tri-state area”) for the craziest roller coasters I could find. But somewhere between the ages of 25 and 30, I found that I no longer pined for the sensation of my internal organs salsa dancing in my throat, and I decided to call it quits on the thrill rides. Now I get palpitations just thinking about any ride that has the word “Demon” or “Lightning” or “Boomerang” or “Pantsshitter” in the title. But there was something about waking up in a colorful daze that made me a bit nostalgic.

That’s right—I wanted to go on one of the kiddie rides.

My name is not Chester

I looked to and fro and absorbed the endless possibilities. I wanted something that dangerously high and frighteningly fast (but, like, not too high and not too fast).I had no interest in any situation that would wrench my old-man back or compact my elderly rib cage or toss the countless carbs my stomach had just ingested out into the world for all to see and smell. So I found the perfect middle ground: A kiddie coaster that traveled eleven miles per hour in a big, gradual circle and went up and down a little in one spot. It was called the Cream Corn Drizzle or something.

So I hopped in line with a smile planted on my face and diabetes settling into my bloodstream. In front of me, a mother with high-waisted jeans held hands with her two adorable boys in matching Paw Patrol tees. To my left, a balding man in his twenties held his terrified-looking, stringy-haired daughter. Behind me, a curly-haired little blond girl in a Minecraft shirt looked up at me and said, “HEY WHY ARE YOU IN LINE THIS RIDE IS FOR LITTLE KIDS WEIRDO MOM WHY IS THAT MAN WEARING A CABBAGE PATCH KIDS SHIRT?”

I smiled at the curly-haired little blond girl, looked up at her mother, who was clenching her daughter’s shoulder with one hand and holding her keys between her knuckles with the other, and said, “They’re cute at this age, aren’t they?”

The mom glared at me, pulled her kid up against her hip, and said, “Why ARE you here? This ride is for little kids, Chester.”

My name isn’t Chester. Still, I shrugged and responded, “Just trying to enjoy the fair, same as everybody else.”

“Come on, honey, let’s come back later.” The mom pulled her little blond brat out of line and crept away with her eyes planted on me until they exited the fairgrounds.

As the line itself shrank, the gaps between me and the other ride-goers grew. So did the number of concerned looks aimed in my direction. But I was not offended. In fact, I celebrated the increased distance I’d been granted by expelling gas freely and practicing my air-tennis strokes (like air guitar but with a tennis racket; my air-backhand has really been coming along). Finally, I got to the end of the line, and a teenager with knobby elbows and an underthick mustache laughed at me and said, “You can’t ride this.”

“Why not?” I said. “My tax dollars pay for this county fair. I paid my admission price like everyone else here. I waited in line with the other kids—”

“You’re not a kid.”

“—and I brought you a packet of Starburst candies. Now why would I not be allowed to ride on the Cream Corn Drizzle? WHY, I ask you?”

“Because, freak—aside from the fact that you are clearly a thirty-year-old—”

“I’m forty, but how nice of you!”

“—whatever, freak. Aside from that, you are way too tall.”

He pointed at a wooden cutout of a cartoon corn kernel named Colonel Corn (which I thought was pretty creative). Somehow this anthropomorphized assault on dental hygiene had grown hands, and it was using those hands to hold up an extended measuring stick and mark out a maximum height of forty-eight inches.

Nothing shrinks faster than broken pride

I stood next to Colonel Corn, and there were at least twenty inches between the top of the measuring stick and the top of my stupid head. So I started to bend my knee a little.

“No,” said the kid with knobby elbows as he chewed on one of the Starbursts I’d given him.

I tilted my chin down a bit.

“Nope,” he said.

I started to lean backwards, not unlike a limbo participant.

“Not gonna work, freak,” the kid said.

Ignoring him, I continued to lean back. As I did, I felt my back begin to stretch and my knees begin to creek. Before I knew it, my arms were flailing, my ankles were shaking, and my back was covered in dried manure.

I looked up, and they were all laughing at me. All of them. Moms with high-waisted jeans. Little boys with Paw Patrol shirts. Teenagers with underthick mustaches. I think the winner of the piglet race even came over and squealed with joy at my agony.

I stood up slowly, looked around in a fog of heartbreak, and began to sob. I cried because I was humiliated. I cried because I was filthy. I cried because my Cabbage Patch Kids t-shirt had a hole in it now. But mostly I cried because my latest attempt to re-live my youth, like all the tries before—the Choco Taco, the cannonball, the Little League tryout, and now the kiddie ride—had come crashing down before me. And that just made them laugh even harder.

Maybe I should wake up, give up, grow up, and stop trying to live on Cloud 9, I thought to myself. Maybe I should just act my age, be a responsible grown-up, go to work, pay my bills, and stop trying to re-live the simple joys of my childhood innocence.  

Then, as I skulked away from the latest ruthless group of onlookers that was trying to shame me back to the cold, cruel reality that is the world in 2021, I looked up at the night sky, grinned, and said to myself, “Nah. School starts next week.”

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