Body Language at the Fair


Body language tells stories at county fairs. It can be gleaned from a distance in silence that engulfs the din of tractor pulls, polka bands, ballgames and the Tilt-a-Whirl.
The reigning demolition derby champ at the county fair had a win-streak five years running. He needed just one more title to become the first ever with six consecutive championships in the same station wagon.
The final two cars in that competition were driven by the champ and a rookie with obnoxious swagger. The champ’s rear bumper had lambasted the front fender of the rookie’s Chevy Caprice, seemingly stunning it into a backward limp. The champ went for the kill. But the rookie suddenly shifted gears, mounted a charge and spun a U-turn that sprayed mud onto the champ’s lap through the glassless windshield. The Caprice trunk rammed the champ’s radiator, steam and fluid shot everywhere and the engine quit. The champ tried to restart it within the official 30-second time limit, but it wouldn’t go.
Between the roar of the rookie’s ancient engine cutting celebration donuts in the mud, and cloud formations rising from the champ’s hood, spectators could barely see the champ much less hear him. But after a pause from behind the vapor, his helmet flew through the open windshield and rolled to a stop in a tire rut.
Everyone sensed the champ’s disappointment.
The Firefighter Hose-Down is one of the showcase events at the fair. The competition takes place between two twelve-foot poles with a cable strung from one to the other. An empty half-barrel of beer attached to a pulley runs along the cable. Teams face each other, firehoses at the ready, and blast water streams at the barrel. The first team to hose the barrel to the opposing team’s end wins the contest.
Every volunteer fire department from the region is invited. Though participants may live in different towns, many of the contestants are co-workers at area employers during the regular week. It results in some fierce competition and bragging rights in the work place. Yet, they never lose sight of why they volunteer.
In the heat of battle a few years back, the hoses for both teams abruptly shut off even though neither had budged the half-barrel very far. Team members on both sides flew into reverse and the contest seemed to have shifted to re-spooling hoses and stowing them in their firetrucks. For the moment, the competition had ended and without a peep of displeasure from the crowd. They knew what happened just by observing. The firefighters had been called to an actual emergency and every one of them was on the same team from that point forward.
These popular event headliners aren’t the only ones whose body language gets blabby from time to time. Fair-goers and behind-the-scenes workers exude stories of their own merely by how they comport themselves.
A chubby, baby-faced boy about twelve years old stood in the center of the farming compound. He wore a smudged t-shirt, baggy, low-riding jeans and held a half-sandwich in one hand. He might have looked lost. But when someone approached him, he reached for the notepad in his back pocket and grabbed the pencil behind his ear with the fluidity of experience.
He jogged a few hand gestures to a distant barn and the person nodded. After they parted, he scribbled a note on his pad.
This yard honcho spent the next half hour in the hub of this same activity, revolving toward whoever’s voice spun him around. He was one of those people whose sixth-grade class photo would look just like him thirty years later. And he was probably destined for a career in air-traffic control, head coaching or something especially dignified—farming. Once the onslaught was over, he gave his belt a hitch with the confidence of someone who always knew what to do next. Then he finally took a bite of his half-sandwich.
Over at the Fastball Game, a blowhard jock put on a bungling act for his first of three pitches. As if throwing with his weaker arm, he trickled the ball off his fingers. It hit the side netting and never reached the squatting catcher stenciled on the tarp behind home plate at the end of the cage.
High school buddies shook their heads and their girlfriends laughed. The carney crossed his arms and sat on his stool. Seventy-five miles per hour wins a poster; seventy-nine wins a fuzzy animal. Pretty easy considering major leaguers throw high-ninety heat or better. Plus, his gal deserved more than the giant inflatable hammer he already won her at Balloon Darts.
The Big-League wannabe peered jokingly home and shook off a sign from the painted catcher. The catcher’s stoic eyes penetrated back. The wind-up and the pitch—forty-eight miles per hour. The baffled wannabe frowned at the radar gun and ignored teasing from behind.
He fired the third ball: fifty-two miles per hour… slower than the rush of his blood. He glared at the stationary catcher with the permanent stare from behind the bars of its mask. Then he forked out another ticket for three more tries at dishing a dose of his reality.
After a fifty-four mile per hour attempt, the tug from his girlfriend said, “Let’s just go.” But he ripped his arm free to kill the catcher with his next pitch at 56 miles per hour. Then, in his final fury, the radar registered nothing when the ball bounced in front of home plate, thumped off the unflinching catcher and dribbled away.
Everyone turned in the wannabe’s wake as he stormed through his entourage. After that tantrum, bystanders half expected to see the catcher cock its mask from its chin and spit to the side.
Body language requires no side-show ticket. It’s just an inherent little extra in the main attractions worth watching at the fair.


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