Friday, July 25, 2003


When I lived in the Dallas area in the 70's we would get a day off from school each Fall to go to the "State Fair." In 1973, I was brand new to Texas. A "city boy" compared to my friends. I had never been to any "fair" much less one as grand as the "State Fair of Texas." At age 16, I went to experience "The Fair" for the first time, wide eyed with anticipation.

The State Fair of Texas is held at Fair Park. It's not a very pleasant area. Back then Fair Park was dirty and smelly...a combination that wasn't beneficially enhanced by the seasoning of thousands of people shuffling past "Big Tex" following the aromatic allure of cotton candy and corn dogs.

"The Fair" featured what you might expect: overpriced food items, livestock, rides and sideshows. There were even a few thinly veiled gambling operations. I remember putting down a quarter on the "orange" segment of a color wheel and losing my money because a live rat ran into the "blue" hole.
If the rat had scrambled for safety into the orange hole I would have made a dollar.

That part of "The Fair" was still relatively tame. You had to wander a bit to find fuller adventures. Away from midway music and flashing lights we found them.

The Freak Shows.

This part of "The Fair" was not disguised in any illusion of amusement. It was a place to gawk, giggle, and gasp.

It was sad and sick.

I remember paying a quarter to see a naked fat man lying on a table inside a plexiglass trailer. He had to be naked otherwise we might not have believed he was real. Mercifully he was lying face down, spread out like a pancake. His rear end was covered by a towel. They said he weighed 900 pounds. I remember it well...I wish I didn't.

My most vivid memory is of "Popeye." He wasn't a sailor and he didn't eat spinach.

Popeye was an older black man whose hard life was betrayed by his appearance. Toothless and leathery.

Popeye made a living by popping out his eyeball.

My friends and I dutifully paid the 50 cent rate to be escorted into an area out of public view to see Popeye perform.

There was little fan fare. He looked at us..looked around to make sure no one was getting a free peak at this ocular oddity, then he cupped his nicotine tainted fingers under his eye and "boink"! His eyeball fell into his hand.

In an instant it popped back into his eye socket.

It was sudden and startling.

I'm still not really certain what I saw that day. At the time I was sure it wasn't a glass eye. My friends and I swore we saw tendons and "goo" dragging out behind the slightly jaundiced unblinking globe, but I was 16.

Now I'm 46, but I'm not certain what I'm seeing today either.

This "fair" memory came back as I was looking at the plethora of pictures taken of the dead sons of Saddam Hussein. Our government is trying to convince the Iraqi people that the demise of these demons is not an illusion. To that end someone, presumably not a carnival mastermind, ordered that their bullet riddled remains be made "life like." Mortician magicians have transformed these corpses into something eerie and odd. Waxy and frightening.


I'm not sad these beasts are dead, but I want to look away...and I think I want my 50 cents back.