i had a great father-daughter sunday at the state fair. we ate, we watched, we shopped, we ate, we won fabulous prizes, we rode, we admired, we ate, and we walked. but my teenagers are getting older. standing in line at ye old mill,
for example, esperanza had no difficulty distinguishing the smooching
from the non-smooching boats before the riders were even seated.
when she talked about visiting the old mill with her boyfriend (still a hypothetical
boyfriend, i hope), i thought, "hmmm. that would be okay, i guess, so long as my large non-hypothetical
son is seated between them." then i hustled her off to the miracle of birth center
for a farmland scared-straight lesson. not really, of course. i'm actually glad that both my teenagers have good memories of the fair and happy that the old mill is still around for them.
the minnesota state fair and ye old mill are immortalized in f. scott fitzgerald's a night at the fair
(1928). it is the story of an angsty fifteen year-old in short pants named basil, his so-called pals riply and elwood, and the "mysterious girls" they meet at the fair. for those who have taken the mill's red boats and for those who know teenagers, the passages below might convince you that little has changed in the past eighty years:I. The couple ahead reached the entrance to the Old Mill and waited for them. It was an off hour, and half a dozen scows bumped in the wooden offing, swayed by the mild tide of the artificial river. Elwood and his girl got into the front seat and he promptly put his arm around her. Basil helped the other girl into the rear seat, but, dispirited, he offered no resistance when Riply wedged in and sat down between.
They floated off, immediately entering upon a long echoing darkness. Somewhere far ahead a group in another boat were singing, their voices now remote and romantic, now nearer and yet more mysterious, as the canal doubled back and the boats passed close to each other with an invisible veil between.
The three boys yelled and called, Basil attempting by his vociferousness and variety to outdo Riply in the girl's eyes, but after a few moments there was no sound except his own voice and the continual bump-bump of the boat against the wooden sides, and he knew without looking that Riply had put his arm about the girl's shoulder.
They slid into a red glow--a stage set of hell, with grinning demons and lurid paper fires--he made out that Elwood and his girl sat cheek to cheek--then again into the darkness, with the gently lapping water and the passing of the singing boat now near, now far away. For a while Basil pretended that he was interested in this other boat, calling to them, commenting on their proximity. Then he discovered that the scow could be rocked and took to this poor amusement until Elwood Leaming turned around indignantly and cried:
"Hey! What are you trying to do?"
They came out finally to the entrance and the two couples broke apart. Basil jumped miserably ashore.
"Give us some more tickets," Riply cried. "We want to go around again."
"Not me," said Basil with elaborate indifference. "I have to go home."
Riply began to laugh in derision and triumph. The girl laughed too.
"Well, so long, little boy," Riply cried hilariously.
"Oh, shut up! So long, Elwood."
"So long, Basil."
The boat was already starting off; arms settled again about the girls' shoulders.
"So long, little boy!"
"So long, you big cow!" Basil cried. "Where'd you get the pants? Where'd you get the pants?"
But the boat had already disappeared into the dark mouth of the tunnel, leaving the echo of Riply's taunting laughter behind.
II. Mysterious girls, young and reckless, would glide with them through the enchanted darkness of the Old Mill, but because of the stupidity, selfishness and dishonesty of a clerk in a clothing store he would not be there. In a day or so the fair would be over--forever--those girls, of all living girls the most intangible, the most desirable, that sister, said to be nicest of all--would be lost out of his life. They would ride off in Blatz Wildcats into the moonlight without Basil having kissed them. No, all his life--though he would lose the clerk his position: "You see now what your act did to me"--he would look back with infinite regret upon that irretrievable hour. Like most of us, he was unable to perceive that he would have any desires in the future equivalent to those that possessed him now.
well, i guess that gender expectations have changed a bit, and the cars have changed as well -- i'd kill for a "blatz wildcat." plus, the story's opening line about a "well-bridged river" might also seem a bit outdated:
III. The two cities were separated only by a thin well-bridged river; their tails curling over the banks met and mingled, and at the juncture, under the jealous eye of each, lay, every fall, the State Fair. Because of this advantageous position, and because of the agricultural eminence of the state, the fair was one of the most magnificent in America. There were immense exhibits of grain, livestock and farming machinery; there were horse races and automobile races and, lately, aeroplanes that really left the ground; there was a tumultuous Midway with Coney Island thrillers to whirl you through space, and a whining, tinkling hoochie-coochie show.