Sunday, September 4, 2016

I decided to take yesterday off from being a writer. Instead, I canned tomatoes and went to the demolition derby at the Harmony Fair. I have not attended the derby for 15 years or so, though I have often listened to it from inside the Exhibition Hall, where I've usually been stationed. But because this may be our last Harmony Fair, Tom and I decided that we should take in the spectacle.

The fair is always packed on derby day. We threaded our way through the folding chairs and the bodies draped on the dry hillside and found a patch of grass. The day was hot and bright, an afternoon for sunscreen and a big hat, though almost everyone except for me seemed content to fry. First, we watched the pretty car contest, which is judged via audience applause. The winner was a minivan painted with "Save the Boobies" and breast cancer emblems and had a cardboard marriage proposal illegibly affixed to its hood. Next was the ugly car contest, won by a Plymouth Satellite-like 70s sedan painted mud-yellow and decorated with purple polka-dots. Everyone cheered for that one, so Stan the announcer declared that the victor had been chosen "Anonymously." It took me a beat or so to realize that he meant "Unanimously."

Then the derby proper began. We watched two heats, each of which happened to feature one of my former students. The pit is gravel, so in addition to hunks of loose metal and engine fires and such, there are also flying rocks and a whole lot of dust. Also, during the second heat, there were hornets, whose nest had been disturbed by a flailing tire. What with all this chaotic mashing and destruction, the event pulses with danger for both the crowd and the drivers, but it happens so quickly and is so bizarrely toy-like that it's hard to detach a sense of terror from a sense of comic wonder.

I felt sentimental when my former student won the second heat. I remember attending a  facsimile demolition derby that he and my older son had devised when they were in first grade. A corner of the classroom was roped off with plastic chain. Parents and classmates sat safely on their tiny chairs, while the boys in the pit made car noises and crashed their Matchboxes into Lego barriers. As in real life, it was difficult to tell what was going on.

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