Ribbon quest 

I promised to report back to you on my annual blue-ribbon quest at the county fair, and it went about as expected, about as usual, and I'll start my usual loser plaint, my chronic loser whine, by saying these latter-day county-fair contest judges are no better than NFL replacement referees.

They're so conventional-minded it's just pitiful.

Consider the pie-judging, for example. They'll hardly even look at a home-baked pie any more that's not a plain old unimaginative fruit pie, apple or cherry. If it's not a pie that a boxcar hobo might've stolen off your window sill back in the Great Depression, these judges aren't interested in it.

They might give a passing glance to an exceptional Karo-nut — usually called a pecan pie in the less civilized climes — but they'll venture no further into pie diversity than that. A coconut cream pie, or an egg custard like the ones that have brightened lives at Franke's Cafeterias for more than 80 years, would get no more than an arched eyebrow from them.

Too non-traditional, they'd say.

They'd bestow a ribbon on one of those little two-bite boiled-in-oil apple "pie" dollops at McDonalds before they'd give it to one with a peanut butter or banana or catfish middle.

So you can imagine the reception they gave my dingleberry pie. It's an acquired taste, yes. It requires a strong stomach and judges who don't have hair-trigger gag reflexes. But the same could be said of a pie filled with shoo-flies or rhubarb, of blood pudding or jugged hare.

These county-fair judges moved discreetly past the dingleberry pie as they would've a mangy dog or a plate of mountain oysters. One of them told me I should be ashamed for having conceived so offensive a concoction, much less for having submitted it for the consideration of decent respectable people like themselves. Sigh. Their loss, is all I know to say.

The arts-and-crafts judging was no better. Submit a needlework sampler and these prigs will want it to say "Home Sweet Home" or John 3:16 or have some quotation from Emerson or Benjamin Franklin. They'll not give ribbon consideration to a Jed Clampitt testimonial to the yumminess of leftover possum innards. They don't want a sampler that quotes Rooster Cogburn saying, "Fill your hand, you son-of-a-bitch." They don't want one that says "What do Nixon, Cheney, Morris, Armey, and Little Bitty Shriveled Up Limbaugh have in common?"

Same story with the fine-arts exhibits. Submit a seriously-meant painting and they'll want it to feature either a covered bridge or a wishing well entwined with hollyhocks and ivy boughs. It has to be in the style of Grandma Moses or Thomas Kinkade or it doesn't have a snowball's chance of taking home blue. Safe sofa art for a doublewide parlor wall gives you a big leg up. A cousin of mine won one year for his rendering of a totally unscary tornado, like something that might've come up out of a rubbed lamp.

My canvas this year was a homage to Rothko, to that bold orange number of his that's being acquired by Crystal Bridges, only his work is an assortment of geometrical shapes filled with vivid colors, while mine is an assortment of geometrical shapes filled with Natural State art materials collectible from the underbrush outside of Crystal Bridges.

Mine features a big square filled with dead ticks, artistically arranged. Atop the tick square is a smaller rectangle filled with dead fire ants, artistically arranged.  And beneath the tick square is another rectangle into which maybe a thousand dog-peter gnats have been mounted.

All these artistic critters were carefully collected over the summer, then flash frozen, to be eventually patterned out and hot-glued onto the canvas, with a heavy coat of clear varnish to make sure that none of the varmints revived to slog away retaliatively to bite or sting an unsuspecting fair-goer or to form a cloud to fly in heavy orbits around the unsuspecting fair-goer's genitalia.

That is my idea of some fine art, but the fair judges have a different esthetic. They look at the thing and see ticks. Ah, well, the critics didn't appreciate Moe Nay either. Or Van Go.

It was bad enough they said my pickles would never amount to anything other than perhaps as emergency dildos. Or that they said my scrapbook design had to have been plagiarized from a Bulgarian. Biggest disappointment, though, was their utter contempt for my livestock.

They said my goats slouched. They said my show chickens lollygagged. They said my show rabbits were obviously only interested in becoming porn stars. They were most critical of my star ewe Ophelia. They said she just wasn't sheepish enough. And it's true — Ophelia is not sheepish. You seldom see an angry sheep, but she is one angry sheep. All the time bleating — and it's not some meek bleat of despair at her mutton fate. It's a coarse, defiant Medean cry that moderately disturbs humans but will cause a concupiscent Limbaugh ram's doodles to draw up almost to the point of inversion in the wink of an eye.

Ophelia's lament is a hell of a lot spookier than Cousin David's tornado.


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