Stories from the 1981 Tennessee State Fair
By Spalding Gray


PT - 5


September 19.  Randy told me I should have seen Midnight Madness. It was very wild. He said Emmett the Alligator Man got so drunk that Priscilla had to take him back and give him a cold shower and then when he got up on the stage, finally, people could perceive he was drunk. They were beginning to heckle him when he said, "I could have been your brother and I could have been your sister." He had never said "sister" before, Randy said, and that kind of threw everyone off: "You ain't no sister of mine, man!" I told Randy about the Schlitz poster and he said, "Man, you're sick. You're like a friend of mine that keeps his toenail clippings in a vault." He said, "Throw that thing out." I said, "Mo, I've got to save it," and I put it in my suitcase.

I went over to the Men's Room to brush my teeth. I had a big tube of Crest one of those giant family-size tubes and I realized that no one else was brushing his teeth. All the carnies were in there and they were dashing water on their faces, and the entire floor was covered with toilet paper, mud, and old beer cans. I felt like a foolish bourgeois brushing my teeth.

Back at the truck for breakfast, I heard a terrific roaring sound on the racetrack of the carnival grounds, and I went off to the quarter-mile track, and lo and behold they were driving semitrailer trucks with no mufflers around the carnival track, and people were sitting there watching them. The trucks had chrome pipes, and I had to stick my fingers in my ears. The people were just sitting with their eyes wide and their mouths open watching these semitrailer trucks. I left and went to the agriculture barn, which I was very happy to find, because it was such a relief from the fairgrounds. It was gentle and the people were nice. The children showed their Guernsey cows and Swiss browns. They walked them around and straightened out their spines, and then the cow would have to take a big shit, and it would arch its spine and the kid would wait for it to finish and then smooth its spine down again. The woman next to me said her cow won a blue ribbon for giving 18,000 pounds of milk in one year they measure it in pounds then the lovely judge came out in his jacket and crew-cut with a microphone and said, "Well, I'm going to have to give it to this cow. She's not much when she's movin' but when she stands still, she's all cow." And they gave her the blue ribbon. No one applauded. It was real easy-going. There was no feeling of competition. People talked among themselves and ate picnic lunches. It was beautiful.


After this I walked down to the midway again and ran into Randy, and we decided to see which shows were making money. The one that was really cleaning up was the rope ladder: two rope ladders go up a fifteen-foot-long inclined plane about four feet off the ground, five feet finally at the end and at the top are big, overstuffed jungle animals that you can win if you ring the bell. Everyone was trying to run up it. They got three-quarters of the way and began to wobble then fell on a big, blown-up air-raft, but the woman who ran the show could run right up it like a monkey. One of the carnies came over and said to us, "Hey, it took her three days to learn how to do that. She worked three days running up it and now she's the only one that can do it." no one else made it all the way. Everyone was paying a dollar and trying three or four times because it looked so easy, but the woman was the only one who ever made it to the top.


To be Continued


Special Thank to Kathleen Russo, the Estate of Spalding Gray and official website of Spalding Gray

All stories are re-printed with the permission of the Estate of Spalding Gray

All stories are copyrighted Spalding Gray & Spalding Gray Estate and posted here with their expressed permission,


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