Thursday, June 26, 2014

A long late afternoon that deserves more

In which we visit the street fair, same as it ever was. 

Readers reader, tonight I wish two things: to know where you are, and that this was a poem about the street fair. If you are from here these things won't surprise you, they will be as familiar as the scent of an elephant ear on a warm summer afternoon. If you are from afar you will feel as if you fell into an alternate reality where elephant ears are not on real elephants, but are shaped from dough and fried and coated in sugar. And smell like heaven. This you fly over, friends friend from afar, this proof that your America is not as homogenized as you fear. Here on this little city street, traffic stopped for the night, filled with the booths of the traveling carnies, rough-edged people in black logo shirts that say 'Poor John's' in unintentional description, people with tired eyes and hands that look empty without a cigarette. Changing money for basketballs or darts or candy apples with practiced, hollow friendliness. Among the carnies scattered the local stalls, the Evangelical Lutherans with their corn-dogs and COLD POP, the Shriners with those elephant ears, the high school cheerleaders selling raffle tickets and painting butterflies on little girls' faces.  The air holds not only the invitation of the fried and the buttered, the battered and the sugared, but the midway music where the bass dropped out long ago and beats like a collective heart. All the people. Here the obese in motor wheelchairs or in line for Italian sausage sandwiches, the real people you read about in online reports and see on the evening news as grave warnings. Here the babies in strollers pushed by parents young enough to be at the cheerleader booth. But are not. Here the young boys still in baseball uniforms, bright t-shirts with numbers, and dirty gray pants, in threes and fours, caps on backwards. Here the bright and shining teenagers, the ones who will go to college in the fall, the grandchildren of the planning committee that walks through the crowd in bright red jackets with nametags. The guy just off the golf course. Gray-haired lady with a clipboard. The young families who come for just one ride on the carousel and a snow cone, and that's it, sweetie, we have to get you home for your swim meet tomorrow. The people with their dogs. The late afternoon sun cuts between the courthouse and the government building, everything illuminated, or hidden in sharp shadow. On the courthouse lawn a real band sets up, six old guys who, in a little while, will play the hell out of their horns and guitars and shock the senior citizens in camp chairs and on the bleachers with their throw-back rock-and-roll, they'll beg everyone to dance but only the little kids will. Their music will drift over the crowd and mix with the midway bass and the shouted invitation of the carnies, the crying, tired little kids and the laughing teenagers, the creak of the rides and the last light of the evening. Welcome to Columbia City, persons of the world.

Not quite the same. But you get the idea.

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis / Meet me at the fair / Don't tell me the lights are shining / Any place but there

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