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Culture Lust by Angela Carone

We've spent the week here at These Days immersed in all things Imperial Valley.  We did a live broadcast on Wednesday night from the California Mid-Winter Fair and Fiesta , which I've shortened in my brain to the Imperial Valley Fair.  As part of our coverage, KPBS Jacobs Fellow Nicole Lozare and I went out to the fair on Saturday to collect audio and take photographs. You can see a slideshow of our day here.

Nicole was on audio and I ran around with two cameras (and one heavy-a** lens).  We talked to the Jugless Jug Band, Washboard Willie, and spent a lot of time capturing the 4H competitions.  I loved every minute of it, all the while trying really hard to fit in and not seem  As I roamed the competition grounds, I acted unfazed and "whatever" when I stepped into pile after pile of pig and cow doodoo.  I was all "no biggie, just a little bull dung...seen it to actually STEPPING in it, but...I'm cool."  A woman saw me look at the bottom of my sneakers then eye the wash area where animals are hosed down.  I asked her, "Can I wash off my shoes over there?"  She surpressed a giggle and said, "You really just want to just walk around. It will dry and fall off throughout the day." This was an entirely new concept and hard for me to wrap my head around. "Seriously? Walk around with it on my shoes all day long?" I probably should have listened to this veteran fairgoer.  Instead, I marched over to the wash area and spent 15 minutes hosing down my shoes which were then squishy and wet all day long.  Unpleasant, to be sure, but more unpleasant than a day of doodoo shoes?  I just don't know.  

Here's the other clue Nicole and I were fish out of water.   Our trusted guide was the fair's publicist Bill Gay.  He walked us towards the animals, proudly telling us we'd see lamb, steer, and heifers in the barns.  At which point, Nicole turned to me and said, "What's a heifer again?"  I replied, "Ummm, I think it's a pig." Bill was sweet enough not to roll his eyes.

Though we gathered a lot of good tape and images, the day had its challenges.  It's hot out there in the desert, people.  Like my friend Tay says... hot, like hot.  It was also windy.  Windy, sandy, and hot.  Seven hours of running around in those conditions, you've got something to show for it. You're sweaty.  You have a fine grain of sand all over you and you smell...different.  When you leave a place like that, you feel like you've actually been somewhere. There's something exhilarating about that.

Despite the many stories we got, there were some that we missed and to be honest, those haunt me.  Duke Adams (right) is one of them.  Retired Elvis impersonator turned donut maker. He goes by Deputy Hounddog because back in 2005 he helped the Vegas police nab a thief who stole $300,000 in jewelry from the Elvis-a-Rama Museum. The thief approached Adams in a drug store, asking if he wanted to purchase some authentic Elvis jewelry.  Adams remembered the museum robbery and proceeded to set up a sting operation with the police.  They caught the thief the next day.  CNN interviewed Adams and dubbed him Deputy Hounddog.  The name stuck and Adams named his touring donut-making stand Deputy Hounddog's Mini-Donuts.  We were so tired by the time we met Adams, we couldn't manage another interview.  Instead, I ate six of the little deep-fried, sugar-coated goodies on the drive home.  All I have to show from my run-in with Deputy Hounddog is this picture and some additional fat cells. No tape.  

The other story I missed is less quirky than Duke Adams, but more compelling.  During one of the 4H competitions in which girls were showing their lamb, I noticed a young girl in the center whose lamb was not cooperating.  All the other contending lamb were lined up, their owners firmly holding the lamb heads against their legs to keep them still while the judge walked by.  But this particular lamb was bucking and pulling away.  The girl was struggling and embarrassed, since the competition was held in a large arena with a good size audience in the bleachers.  This girl's lamb wasn't even in line when the judge walked by, it was trying to escape through the fence.  When the competition was over and the kids and lamb filed out of the arena, I caught a glimpse of the girl's face.  It was red, and she was crying.  

When Gay Talese was on These Days , he talked about always pursuing the stories of the loser, like the Chinese girl he wrote about who missed a penalty kick during the women's soccer finals.  Talese talked about the drama of losing and how you can learn a lot about a subject based on how they make sense of loss.  He said loss can either build character or foster bitterness. The moment I saw that girl's face, I knew she was the story.  Here she had worked with this lamb, raised it, cared for it, named it, and it betrayed her at a crucial moment.  How did she feel about that?  Was she angry at the lamb? Would she ignore it now?  Was she going to use the winning money for her college education?  What would she do now?  Would she still compete in 4H?  Would she abandon this lamb and raise another to compete?  How would her family treat her that night?  Would someone give her advice on winning and losing?

When I saw the girl's face as she walked out, all I had was my camera.  Nicole was in another barn doing interviews and she had the recording equipment.  By the time Nicole returned, the girl had left. I fired off only one shot from behind.


Later, we talked to one of the winners of the heifer competition, a pretty young girl with straight white teeth and silky blond hair.  She was in the winner's circle so I snapped her picture.  She was so pretty and well-spoken, one got the sense the world would celebrate her wins for a long time to come. I couldn't help but consider how often stories like the girl and her losing lamb get drowned out by the winner's circle.  

aaryn b. from a parallel universe
March 07, 2008 at 04:22 PM
Laughter to tears over here. Angela: You and Culture Lust are hot, like hot.

Trisha from San Diego via Holtville
March 07, 2008 at 08:22 PM
Exactly why I stuck to steers and pigs. Lambs were no fun to raise. They always tried to strangle themselves and were just not the brightest animals in the "livestock" kingdom. Pigs were the best. They are smart and have wonderful personalities. The big downside was the poop. It is the most putrid of poop smells and lingers forever. Steers were hit and miss with personality but brought in the most money if you did well. Someday Angela, I'll bless you with my story of Mid Winter Fair disappointment and my great Cow Palace comeback. I'm sure you can hardly wait! LOL

March 10, 2008 at 12:03 PM
And just how did you miss a "county fair" experience growing up! Cows, Pigs, and Lambs....oh my!

March 11, 2008 at 02:38 AM
Ah, the little loser who got away. Your well written reflection reminded me of a "This American Life" intro and the photo spoke volumes. Sweet. . .

March 15, 2008 at 08:01 AM
most poignant account of a fair ever! would love to hear from the girl who lost. great photo

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