Continuing education at the county fair

Did you know that a funnel cake is not shaped like a funnel? That it's made from strands of fried dough woven into a plate-sized platform for holding other sweet stuff? You did?

I have to go to the fair more often.

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Everyone, including me, knows that "county fair" is a trope for frying all manner of food to render a near-food product people eat in massive amounts. Everyone knows that "bacon" is to a county fair as "performance-enhancing drugs" are to a track-and-field competition. But, like a track meet, until you go to a county fair, you can't possibly understand the breathtaking skill some people have with a deep-fat fryer and a reverence for the marriage of bacon and anything else.

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I got educated Friday at the Orange County Fair, and boy are my jaws tired. Nothing piques the appetite like the combo-aroma of cooking grease and cow manure. Nothing piques the appetite like walking round what seems like half of Costa Mesa for seven hours petting ruminants, listening to pitches for mink oil pet shampoo and the most fabulous knives for all your eviscerating needs, marveling at the Peking Acrobats resolute in their quaint name and costumes, witnessing people succumb to Mark Yuzuik, "the official hypnotist of the Orange County Fair," and hoping it's fake despite all appearances to the contrary.

OCFair-stiltwalker3-July19-.jpgI got educated at the OC Fair, and boy are my ears tired. Did you know that cattle and oxen are the same thing, except that the latter were consigned early in life to being yoked together in service of human hauling needs? That they may be of either gender and that these 3,000-pound beasts couldn't bite you even if they wanted to (they don't) because they have no upper front teeth? You did?

I am way too urban.

Roberta Harvey can do something about that. She narrates the milking demonstrations several times a day, courtesy Chino's Marquez Dairy and Centennial Farm, the year-round operation on fairground property whose mission is to get you kids to understand that food does not come from Vons! It comes from animals and plants that you must know and nurture, because even if you want to eat deep-fried cheeseburgers for the rest of your life they, too, start out as something agricultural.

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A Holstein cow, Harvey wants you to know, can produce 12 gallons of milk a day (those pikers, the Jerseys, manage maybe 10), drinks as many as 35 gallons of water to do it, and eats maybe 100 pounds of grain, hay and silage. Cows must be milked at least twice a day at regular intervals because a full udder is not their friend. How would you like it if, after consuming a six-pack of beer, you were unable to relieve yourself until someone hooked you up a machine?

Sometimes, before animals serve as either staff or dinner, we like them to entertain us. At the All-Alaskan Racing Pigs event, whose competitors hail from Oregon, the racers are 3 months old and about 22 pounds. When Ham Solo, Luke Skyporker and Chew Bacon reach the weight of a beefy (sorry ... porky) NFL quarterback, their names define their fate. But on this day, said Johnny the announcer, "You're gonna see pigs fly."

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Even the way too urban can get over it if they want to. A tour of the fair's livestock barns confirm that not all teenagers are welded to their smartphones; some are members of Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H who, in the course of a year, spend more time with their animals than a Kardashian in front of a mirror. One fair visitor walked past two girls grooming their charges for the sales auction Saturday and commented, "Look, chickens getting a blow..." then paused, noting the youngsters in his midst, "... dry."

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Some nature-loving fair exhibitors prefer flora to fauna, and just as no baby is ugly to its mother, no piece of produce is a freak to its cultivator. The Garden & Floral Pavilion is to Centennial Farm as a sideshow is to a midway. You can't not look. I have no idea what the standards are by which competitors are measured, but sign me up as a judge.

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You don't have to visit any of the self-help/do-gooder booths--and by my observation, plenty of people don't; the Angels booster booth was host only to a couple of staffers who were deprived of a TV on a night the team was playing the division leader. Ditto for the OC GOP, AA and Overeaters Anonymous booths, although there was a guy at the Democrats' booth, but that's probably because it was next to a lemonade-and-chocolate-covered bacon dispensary.

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You don't have to ride the deep-fried Oreo-tossing Spinning Coaster to have fun at the fair; you don't have to eat the bacon-flavored cotton candy; you don't have to try the body-jiggling weight-loss machine; your grade-schooler needn't be subjected to the Mesozoic role-modeling at the magic show where the 6-year-old boy gets to play the magician, the 6-year-old girl his assistant ... but why not? This is the fair, folks, this ain't real life.

That would be the commute home, late at night on the 405 north, when CalTrans closes the freeway at 11:15 for no apparent reason and with no advance warning to fairgoers from the basin, the Valley, the 'Bu, who, unfamiliar with Orange County, are glad they ate a cinnamon roll (hold the fry) at 10:45 because by the time they got home to Santa Monica in the wee hours, it was almost time for breakfast.

You knew that, right?

Photos by Ellen Alperstein


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