Meta-Judging at the County Fair

Once the boys’ wristbands were secured in a euvoluntary exchange at the ticket booth, I sat myself down in a sunny corner of the midway to do what I love most about going to the fair: judging.

The rabbits are particularly handsome this year, probably because of cooler weather. Lambs, goats, roosters, the same, but not the hens: they leave something to be desired. The pigs have a disease; the only ones here are to be auctioned off, and they cannot return to the farm. In the 4-H expo hall, someone has a strawberry-rhubarb jam that is out-of-this world. The County Fair is beautiful this way: so many blue ribbons heralding the arrival of the judging.

Judging isn’t easy; with each variety there are myriad criteria to good judging: tattoos, their placement, number, and artistic value; piercings, placement, number, and value; weight and muscle tone; t-shirt, advice and advertisement; children, harnessed, free, sugar-crazed, polite, excited, crying, laughing, bewildered, carried; facial expression, pleasant, unpleasant; teeth (one lovely Seneca Nation young lady was missing an incisor); skin color (the most magnificent African American man sauntered by, skin as black as India ink, tall, fat, the spitting image of Charles Mingus wearing whiskers in the style of a 17th Century Dutch pirate); hair, dyed, braided, combed, cut, dreadlocks, shaven, mohawk; clothing, tight, too tight, way too tight, loose-fitting, comfortable, too loose, whoa that’s awesome; comportment.


Now, comportment is a kind of sum-of-the-parts judgment, how a specimen might carry himself or herself. Audacious tattoos on the belly? Well, does she have the panache to pull it off while she licks cotton candy off her fingers, one-by-one? Lobes stretched? Indeed, but does his baby boy like to play with them while he argues with the carney about the circumference of the basketball rim?

As you can see, judging at the County Fair is not for the inexperienced or kind-hearted. We judge from experience, knowing that the deviation from appearance to lifestyle is minimal, almost background noise. Nevertheless, a good judge simplifies: I wonder if that person is happy? And, would I be happy as that person? The County Fair brings all kinds out into a common biosphere, surrounded by a fence and the bubble of the heavens. Here we all are. Are we eudaimoniac? I found myself envious of about a quarter of the specimens presenting themselves, and probably less happy than another quarter. That makes me as happy or happier than about half of the other specimens. Not a blue ribbon, but a respectable showing.

I was tired from judging after a while, and it is good for a judge, in order to recreate, to find the biggest, bestest, best-cooked bratwurst to be found east of Chicago, with a little hot mustard and (for this judge) a smidgen of ketchup, atop a healthy bed of sauerkraut within a sizable bun, with a pop. I’m not sure the exchange could be called euvoluntary because the price, at $7.50, was a steal. I settled into a bench under a shade, tucked into my bratwurst, and lifted my eyes, and behold! a judge.

It was too late for her: I had her espied, a half a league hence, from behind the mist of an exterior siding company’s expo booth, through a sea of people. She was not checking me out. Indeed, not, I was cramming my fat gob with a gigantic sausage. No, she was judging me. She wonders if I am happy. Could she be happy as me?

The boys were exhausted, and my tummy was full, so we departed the County Fair by way of the equestrian competition. Glorious creatures, horses and riders, and so I judge.

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