Summers flee with a three fast blinks. June (blink) July (blink) August (blink) and you’re dumped on the doorsteps of autumn still wearing shorts and holding a cool drinking, shivering and wondering if it’s time for cocoa and soup and the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Or so it sometimes seems. Not this one. I can’t say it was an eternal expanse that made me wish the long heat cooled and the clement days returned, but it was long enough - and as I felt when we got back from vacation, I’d packed so much sun and water and joy into that Greek sojourn it felt as if I’d experienced an entire summer in a week.
And it’s not over! Three more weeks, technically. But no one buys that. Even those who say it don’t believe it. Summer is gone, and if it’s warm for the next month that’s Good Autumn. The switch is flipped on Labor Day, around 10 PM, when the party is over and the grill is cold and the sun goes down like a fist holding a tablecloth, taking every dish and glass and pitcher and watermelon rind with it.
Whatever I usually feel, or am supposed to feel, or used to feel, or told myself I used to feel, I don’t. The water feature is splashing, the crickets are singing, the night is warm enough to sit outside writing in shorts, so damn your eyes, Mr. Calendar! As they said in bad 19th century novels.
I have a column to do, so I will hand it off to what I wrote Saturday night. Ahem:
The Fair is over. Except it’s not. I’m writing this on the weekend, when the Fair is still a going concern, and I’m working on the last Fair video, the completely self-indulgent assembly of Fair shots that didn’t make it into anything else, set to predictable music I will have to write tomorrow and hope it matches. (I don’t cut to the music, but if the score fits and requires a few trims to emphasize a beat, I’ll tweak.)
I went to the Fair this evening. This was the Fair on Saturday:
I’ve never seen it so crowded. From the moment I walked in the gates I knew I was among a different tribe. When you show up two days before it opens and go there almost daily, it’s a different experience, and when you enjoy it during its quiet phases and languorous mid-week afternoons, that’s how you define it. When it’s a mob scene, when the lines at the Fresh French Fry stands are 30 deep, when you can’t dart around the slow-walkers because the streets are a solid mass, then you know it’s the Weekend Crowd, and they’re different. There’s a rowdy undercurrent. The Midway has a serrated edge. The people streaming out when you walk in look utterly drained.
My initial goal was to eat Fresh French Fries, because that’s an annual staple. They are the best you will ever have. The time between frier and your mouth is about a minute. The most popular stand is right by the new entrance, and it was as dense as the crowd at a train station when the Nazis were half a day away, so I went to the adjunct stand where the crowds would be thinner. I got my cup and took the secret passage to the back alley and ate my cup by the Dumpsters, watching a dad with a cute little toddler, content. This was the last trip of the year and it was good that it was a hard shoot. Made it easier to leave.
Shooting the video meant walking at a certain pace in a straight line, and that simply could not be done without hitting someone in the head with my elbow (my hands were raised with the camera over my head) or plowing into a stroller or getting behind a Wall of Nibbling Amblers who were working on turkey legs as they moved towards some destination as yet unknown. It was annoying, but no one’s under any obligation to get out of the way.
It would be nice if they could not spoil a shot by making a gooney face and shooting the middle finger. This happened at the end of a particularly good take, and I spun around, saw the kid who’d done it - gawky guy about two feet taller than me with two shorter kids.
“HEY,” I said. He kept walking. I saw the word Tiger on the back of his shirt. The trio got blocked by the crowd.
“HEY TIGER,” I said, and he turned around. “Did you try to get my attention for a reason?” I said. He looked down and grinned uncomfortably with an actual hint of shame, then rejoined his friends.
I don’t know what I thought would happen, but that was a reasonable outcome. Oh hey photobombing is funny! No.
Last week I think I mentioned some other epochal Fair Years - 1984, 1986, 1994, 2007. I could write my biography by those milestones.
2007: I had survived the purge at the paper, and was running a doomed hyperlocal website. It was doomed before I took it over - it was intended as a sort of Patch, with community blogs, but it was a ghost town. It also ran on Drupal and had narrow column widths that made embedding graphics almost pointless. I ended up writing the entire thing. When Fair time came I shot a video every day with a Flip camera, 480 resolution; I did all the graphics, and hosted it on a YouTube-type site that went away a few years ago. Management noticed and management liked. And thus my video career at the paper began.
1994. I was back in the Cities after the stint in DC. I’d been to the Fair once while I was away; it was bittersweet. To come back and wander the grounds and know I was home, well, the happiness bordered on delirium. Dorothy in her bed waking up: I’ll never leave again! Only needed Toto jumping up on the bed.
1986: Feature writer for City Pages, one of the town’s two free weeklies. Big thick journal; the “edgy” one, as compared to the Yuppie competitor, the Reader. I was sent to report on the State Fair, and I developed the template: amusement over its excesses combined with unabashed love. (When I went to the Pioneer Press, I did small daily Fair pieces as well.)
1984: The summer had ended with a crapload of unhappiness. I was unmoored from just about everything. The Valli restaurant had closed. I was out of college, out of the Daily, heading towards my mid-20s with no path, no handrails, no idea where this was all headed, and to compound the shite-storm I had been romantically dumped after a rocky summer that seems, in retrospect, to have last lasted forever - a trip out to New York, a mid-summer meeting in Wisconsin that ended so badly I had my first panic attack on a freeway. (I’d had my first panic attack in a movie theater a few months before when we went to see “Vertigo,” of all things.) I was a wreck. On the last day of the Fair there was a knock at my door; it was the ex-gf, wanting to make another go of it. Well. Heck. Gosh. We went to the Fair to celebrate. (Didn’t last, can’t blame her; I think I had perfected the trifecta of Aimlessness, Pretention, and Needliness. Line up, girls!)
I hadn’t been to the Fair before, I thought - except I had. There’s a buried memory of a trip to Minneapolis as a kid; we stayed at the Howard Johnson, we went to Southdale, and we went to the Fair. I remembered the statue of Fairchild the Mascot Gopher. I think I was seven. It would be decades before I realized I’d been here as a kid.
And I’m probably still here because of that trip so long ago. I walk into the Fair the first time every year, and I feel this great expansive emotion of return. Sunday afternoon I was kicking around Southdale, waiting for daughter to finish up a movie-and-post-movie-group-wander, and I stood on the balcony and looked down at the spot where my parents and aunt and uncle had their lunch in the new miracle of the enclosed shopping center. The wrinkle in time effect, if you know what I mean.
When I picked Daughter up outside she was sitting with a girl friend and THREE BOYS. I inquired as to their insidious intentions. Whether they were dangerous louts.
“Dad. They’re in orchestra.”
I love how that means they’re harmless.
Saturday at the Fair while I was filming I was stopped by a couple from Africa. Heavily accented English. Do I know where the bons are?
I gave them directions and they beamed and set off for the bons. It didn’t occur to me until now why they asked me, and not the teeming throngs.
Because I was alone. I’m usually alone at the Fair. But I never feel alone. I was shooting today and someone said JAMES! and I looked around, and there was a woman waving at me who made my mind click and clack like old relays: Mom of daughter’s friend, but who, which one? Turns out she was a reader, and just wanted to say how much she loved the work. (Hi, Patricia!) It made my day as it always does. I said thanks and held up the tripod and waded into the throng. Home again.
Got an elbow in the rib and someone stepped on my foot and I ran into someone on a scooter. But I got the shots. Eleven videos and three columns. Long live the Fair!
The weekly look at commercial images and logos and such from the middle of the previous century.
Really, who wouldn’t kill for a good relish reputation?
“Sweet Midget Gherkin” would make an excellent curse-phrase, really. “Chow Chow”? No idea. Wikipedia to the rescue, but conditionally: “Some[who?] believe that Chow-chow found its way to the Southern United States during the expulsion of the Acadian people from Nova Scotia and their settlement in Louisiana.”
It’s relish made from various vegetables.
This is an interesting illustration, for three reasons. The most obvious is the cat. That’s not what you want balancing on your knee when you’re drinking beer. He’s going to fall; claws will be deployed.
But it’s the chair that makes it Extra Modern - and unstable. Look at that surface. The legs of the butterfly chair slip into a crack, and over you go. But even more interesting are the weeds, which suggests people just let them come up and didn’t give much thought to poisoning them away for good. It was the preferred look. Or the ad was meant to appeal to men more interested in beer than a neat patio.
The family comes home from the hardware store. In related news: the whole family went to the hardware store.
A perfect mid-century image of the family, the home, the car, and the happiness such things provided. It’s by Steven Dohanos, who did over 125 Saturday Evening Post covers, and was a member of the “social realism” school. In authoritarian regimes that would have a different meaning. Wikipedia:
Social Realism, an international art movement, refers to the work of painters, printmakers, photographers and filmmakers who draw attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and who are critical of the social structures that maintain these conditions. While the movement's artistic styles vary from nation to nation, it almost always utilizes a form of descriptive or critical realism.
Not very critical here. The article notes that many social realism painters were socialists or Marxists, but it’s difficult to find either in this image. Which is why it is preferable to the more didactic paintings that had the whiff of the State.
The company’s scant history page notes: “In 1883, Benjamin Moore and his brother Robert opened Moore Brothers in Brooklyn, New York. True entrepreneurs, they started with $2,000 and one product, "Moore's Prepared Calsom Finish," which was sold exclusively through independent retailers.” About Mr. Moore - to say nothing of his brother - they say no more, so to speak.
This is something of mystery; Harmon and Orville did not appear in the actual BC strip, but Harmon appears in another ad for Corvette automobiles. It seems Hart created characters just for Dr. Pepper, and later used Harmon for car ads.
New forms and materials allow for new churches; here’s an example of how a glass company attempted to borrow, however carefully, some endorsement from a higher authority.
Would you think “church” if it wasn’t for pews and the wedding? The shape, perhaps; not particularly functional, except as an expression of upward aspirations.
Eddie Arnold for Canada Dry/ It won't steal appetites or sleep.
One of the actors named “Box Office Poison” in ’38, although, as Wikipedia points out, the company was rather august. He was the co-founder of something called the “I Am An American Foundation,” a notation that made a satisfying click! in my head. Years ago, before Garageband, I was playing around with a sound clip I got from some source long forgotten. Two very brief snippets from what might have been the work of the Foundation.
Kate Smith I'm not sure this was her finest line reading.
Lusty American Lungs. I'm not sure this is the best copy ever written.
Finally, because we like little chefs whose names are on their hats, and can’t resist the Cheapskate Scot whenever he appears:
That'll do it for today. I might pick up the work blog; might not. After all the Fair work I might take a day to regroup. But there's new Richie Rich, of course, this being Tuesday. See you around!