Milestones: What’s so fair about it?

I was going to write a real column this week, honest. I was also going to fix the leak in the bathtub, catch up with some work from the office, maybe start Chapter 6 of my Henderson novel (working title for that chapter is “What if Yount and Wester Had a Baby? Who Would Be the First Victim, Clem or Eric?”). Yeah, I had big plans.

Here’s what happened: The little Gloriosus convinced Mrs. Gloriosus to go to the fair. She then informed me we would be going. What the hell, I thought. It’s not like the leaky faucet costs money or anything. Not in Henderson.

Going to the State Fair is like commuting to your own mugging. First, there’s the hour and 45 minutes in the car. This is a trip that consists of one hour of driving and 45 minutes of sitting on Capital Boulevard and looking at the taillights of the car in front of you. That is usually the point where I start wondering aloud how people can live like that every day; it generally involves a lot of speculation as to the species of their mothers.

My daughter told me to turn the radio on.

Once you get off the Indianapolis Beltway at Wade Avenue, the real fun begins. Make sure you select the lane you want to be in the first time because the state troopers have set up cones to make sure that you can’t ever change lanes again. They don’t really give any hints. You just have to feel it.

This year we forgot the stroller, so we decided to go ahead and pay for parking to save ourselves the long walk with the whining children. The first lot was full, but the second lot, by the grace of the great gods of parking, admitted us poor supplicants.

“That’ll be $10,” the girl said, pointing to the distant spot on the horizon where I was supposed to park.

“I’m not sure I have enough gas to get there,” I said.

“It’s not that far,” she replied, deadpan. Clearly I was not the first to make that joke.

“Could you at least hold a gun to my head?” But, alas, she was already on her way to stick up the next car.

A short trek through the Sinai brought us to the admission booths. How is it that children magically become adults at 12 when in restaurants, movie theaters, the State Fair, airports, sporting events and train stations, but when you’re applying for college grants, they’re not really adults until they’re 23? After walking through the entrance to the State Fair (Gate 9, if you’re interested), I was out $28 without the first inkling of fun.

It’s only after you squeeze through the birth canal of the gate that you get your first real whiff of the State Fair universe. There’s nothing like the smell of fresh funnel cake, turkey leg, corn dog, soggy ice cream cone, putrefying Port-a-Potties and pizza to reach out and smack your olfactory sense around. I’m still trying to get the smell of deep-fried, hand-tossed, hydrogenated, dipped-in-chocolate, smothered-in-suet, twirled-in-corn-syrupy goodness out of my hair.

Talk about your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

You know, they say Americans are getting fatter as a people. No kidding. It isn’t that more people are attending the fair year after year; it’s just that they take up more volume. Apparently, getting fatter plaques up the modesty circuits of the brain, because every year the fair is held during warm weather, it comes to resemble some kind of bizarre cleavage exhibition. Ever see Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex”? Those things DO travel in pairs. Sometimes more than one pair per person.

Oh, and it’s not just breasts, either. There’s butt cleavage, too, front butt and the old-fashioned rear-end variety. There’s also chin cleavage, thigh cleavage, and let’s not forget man-cleavage. Shouldn’t muscle shirts display muscles? It used to be easier not to look, but now everyone is covered in writing and jewelry and riveted through like a pair of Levi’s sewn out of sheet metal. I can’t help but look. It’s like a human bug zapper.

And those are just the people with teeth. That’s right, Henderson. There are significant populations of people who have teeth all over North Carolina.

I don’t have an ending for this rant, so I’ll tell you a story:

I met a man by the Submarine-Go-Round. (It’s a submarine-looking thing that goes up in the air. Go figure.) He was holding on to an empty, two-seater stroller. I was holding a pocketbook and a Cuddle E. Bear or some such thing, so I think he identified me as a kindred spirit.

“You got somebody up there?” he asked, gesturing with his head toward the ride.

“My wife and son,” I said, holding up the purse and teddy bear. “I don’t go on those things. They make me nauseous.”

“I got three myself,” he said. “Damn, man, kids are expensive.”

“They sure are,” I said, hoping to fit in. “I’ve got three too.”

“My first one is …” he said, “You know, from when I was younger. You know how that is, when you think you’re in love. I pay child support on her. She costs me $410 a month, but that ain’t nothing compared to how much they cost when they live with you.”

I should have said I had four children, I thought.

“Mine’s $400,” I said, feeling inadequate.

He nodded knowingly. Ritual greetings exchanged, we now identified each other as members of the same tribe. All we needed to do after that was determine who ranked higher on the totem pole of paternal challenges.

“And they got smart mouths, too,” he said. I couldn’t see his eyes behind his sunglasses, but I imagined a manic gleam behind them, the kind I get when I contemplate infanticide.

“Just you wait,” I said. “My daughter’s 16. Wait until your kids discover dating.”

Ha, I thought. I have him now. Veteran-soldier-in-the-dating-war dad vs. neophyte dad. If I could work into the conversation that the battleground was Vance County, it would be a slam-dunk.

“Mine’s 17,” he said. I felt inadequate again. “Let me tell you about dating.”

He took his hand off the stroller and made a gesture with it. I don’t know what the gesture meant, but if I were 17, I probably wouldn’t ask his daughter out on account of it. “She’s going to join the Air Force or go to college. I told her that if she goes to college, I’ll give her half of what I pay in child support now.”

“Should be enough to pay for a day at the fair,” I said.

We laughed. The ride came to a stop.

“Nice talking to you,” he said as he plunked his little ones into the stroller and waded into the field of swollen, cloven, bloated, gelatinous flesh.

This is the end of the column. I’m cracking a beer and quoting Charles Bukowski: “It’s amazing the suffering people go through for children.”