Supermen, stuffed pink monkeys and plenty of other plush carnival prizes were strung up for the games yesterday afternoon when I stopped by the Genesee County Fair to get a preview of the festivities to come.
But the day belonged to the animals — bleating, sleeping, flirting, grooming, chewing, spitting, spatting, stinking, yet so lovable, animals. Plus the kids with water bottles who darted in and out of the stalls squirting at each other and squealing (not much unlike the goats, in fact) with glee.
As soon as I passed through the admissions gate, I heard the roosters. There must have been a hundred or so. Cackling, hooting and cock-a-doodle-doing and packed together in steel cages stacked one on top of another. Despite their close quarters they kept a proud chest high as they strutted, kicked up dust and barked at the rows upon rows of bunnies and fat rabbits that were as silent and immobile as the roosters were raucous and loud.
All of the game carts were shuttered, the rides were grounded, and the taffy girl wasn't pulling much of anything yet. A few families meandered through the midway. A couple dozen folks occupied the bleachers to spectate during some sort of sheep contest. But the animals seemed to outnumber the humans.
I couldn't quite gauge the emotion in this lady to my right here. At first she seemed sad, then flirty, then resigned, a little bit lethargic, all without doing any more than what you see her doing right here. Maybe she wanted someone to switch up the music — the speaker was set in front of her, sounding something jovial and bouncy, and she seemed anything but. A little while later, when I passed by again, she had the same expression on her face, though the tongue kept slipping out and tasting the air as a fellow bearing a set of clippers shaved the backs of her ears.
It didn't take long for this city boy to get over some of the more pungent, sour stinks emanating from the pens — was it the pheasants, I can't say — and soon enough I felt like a Saint Francis waiting for pigeons to land on my hands so we could converse and know the meaning of creaturely love.
Ah, the hogs. They had to be my favorite of the fair animals. They were most certainly the only ones there who, once alerted to the presence of myself and my camera, willingly sought out the lens. Like this starlet up above here who wanted to touch snouts with me, I'm sure. Or this one below who I'm sure hid a heart of love beneath that gruff, sleepy front he put up for the camera. If you look closely, you can see he wants to smile.
Then, of course, there were the goats.
Some had ears, some didn't. Some had horns, some didn't. Some couldn't keep their mouths shut for a second, bleating at kin and human baby alike. This one here was sounding the alarm for a few minutes straight. Maybe she was impatient to get out and strut her stuff, who knows.
Others were shuffled out of the pens, lifted up by strangers and cautiously pet by the trembling hands of little kids who went wide-eyed with joy at the touch of fur to skin.
Many of the sheep seemed content just to get some down time. Dressed to impress, they reclined in sackcloth coats, elastic sweaters and even tee-shirts. It must have been hard work getting paraded out in front of the gawking, bleacher-seated spectators while strangers grabbed at your sensitive places in front of all your friends and relations. But they bore it in style, those woolen ladies of the grange. Their randy goat brethren, however, typically got a laugh out of the whole show.
I have to admit. It wasn't easy to leave. I've never been much of an animal person. But there was something in the way the cows hid behind the fence slats only after I aimed the camera at them, something in those snouty grunts of the hogs and the knowing sneers of the goats, as if all of us — the animals, the frightened-yet-elated babies and the awkward photo-journalist — all of us shared something that never had to be spoken because it was already known. A sort of complicity, though none of us were guilty. A shared involvement in the silly, imbalanced joke of life that was had at all of our expense.
So I tell you. If you can get that much out of one brief visit to the fair, in the middle of the day, when the fried dough hadn't even been fried yet — then it's worth the $5 per carload.