He is working his way through the women in his rotating case.
Some have already had their likenesses, twice-life-sized, carved into butter. Others are yet just photos stapled to great plastic-wrapped blocks of the stuff, their forms yet to emerge.
Jason notices they don’t have teeth. Between their lips are perfect upper-row mouthguard formations.
It’s not a serial killer’s elaborate den, or that X-Files episode with the gargoyles, but a promotion for the dairy industry at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul. It is serious business. The official contest rules even provide a phone number for a “State Princess Consultant.”
“You’ve got the face to be State Princess Consultant someday,” the mean farm girls used to taunt.
But fuck, is it eerie. All these people standing around, watching the butter-busts turn. Apologies that I didn’t get a photo over the shoulders of people slurping a soft-serve cones while gawking, fully occupying all senses with different variations on milkfat.
As displays of civic pride goes, your state fair is the bloated, thundering oaf of the family. This oaf is also the uncle that everyone loves to visit. He welcomes all. He makes an ass of himself in the act of flattering himself. He has a Sky Glider, and if you ride the Sky Glider at the right time, you may catch a tiny amount of the Steely Dan concert at the Grandstand (1).
That isn’t to say that the Minnesota State Fair is grotesque. It’s quite charming. It’s just bigger and smells more like fries than most public gatherings. While the Dairy Building seems blissfully lacking in self-awareness—jam down some ice cream while witnessing a mass disposal of butter in the name of sculpture—the Horticulture Building has a more reflective feel. Here, the art is not a bland celebration of milk-fed lasses, but an outlet for at least a few bean- or corn-dwelling folks’ political wit. A creepy scarecrow of Michele Bachmann holds a sign: “Help Wanted: Fact Checker.” Another work, modeled on the old “Test Your Strength” game, asks “Can You Top Newt.” At each “strength” marker is a quote of one of New Gingrich’s whopper public statements. (“People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz,” and so on up the ladder of might.)
But it all ties back to food, and again, sometimes you wonder if the food is trying to flatter itself or not. Not that you need good presentation to help you understand chocolate-covered Belgian waffles on a stick with a stripe of whipped cream on top, or a bucket from Fresh French Fries. And not that you would even try something called “Chai on a Stick.” Those fairground portable-food-stand contraptions have always looked a little bit ominous to me, and fairground rides have always looked like out-of-work pinball-machine designers taking their revenge. The Midway rides here include “Techno Power” and “Rave,” the themes and machinery alike just asking for unmerciful aging.
Here, at least, the food stands usually don’t look like something just thoughtlessly towed in at a music festival or street fair, and they often outdo the generic offerings with things like fried baloney sandwiches. A food booth called “Poncho Dogs” offers some wordplay potential for your inner 12-year-old. Granted, for some of us there’s nothing “inner” about it, and this review says they make good corn dogs. The ice-cream stand in the Dairy building, near the Princess-heads, serves an awesome malt. The spectacle belies the deep-fried, milk-thickened, instinctual goodness.
The term “Swine Barn” on the fair map belies how hard it is to be cynical when you’re petting a five-day-old piglet. When a bunch of them are crowded around their mother’s teats, it sort of looks like an electric football game. Anxious, shaking, and really hungry creatures. (Granted, this isn’t at the Swine Barn, but at the Miracle of Birth building.) It’s always fun to cherry-pick and loathe and sneer in the face of spectacle, but you’ve got to admit in the end that excess has its moments.
(1) My friend and I were seriously thinking about going to the Steely Dan show but decided the tickets were too expensive. For the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed telling people I was planning to see Steely Dan, and watching the instant, unguarded reactions. It’s invariably either “oh, cool!” or a facial twist of pure revulsion, not much middle ground. The sheer divisiveness only makes Steely Dan better for me.