Tis’ the season for rockets red glare and fireworks bursting in air, but doesn’t it seem that adulthood just can’t compare with childhood memories of the Fourth. One such Independence Day featured an uncontrollable bout with laughter, vomit, and some innocent public urination.
Sure, we have supergreat fireworks displays, picnics galore, and beautiful summer nights, but there’s one thing we don’t have that first week of July. My family’s Fourth of July tradition: the county fair.
Now, don’t get it twisted. We’re not talking country fair, here. Our San Diego County Fair is set in the fancypants city of Del Mar at the same racetrack where Seabiscuit raced, built by a partnership that included Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, and Oliver Hardy. The racetrack sits right beside the ocean amid estates and country clubs. Sure, there’s a hog calling contest, but there’s also a zen garden. Yes, there are overalls, but they’re made by Jean Paul Gaultier. The carnies, well… no. The carnies are still pretty much the same.
Since I was small, my family has been going to the fair to celebrate the Fourth of July. It’s the closing day of the month-long fried food and shoddily-constructed ride extravaganza, and features the Navy band playing while a gigantic fireworks display explodes over the ocean; the water reflecting and doubling the beauty of the explosive pyrotechnics as the crowd stops to ooh and ahh collectively.
The summer I was 17, then a recent high school graduate and way-too-cool for parent time, a friend and I did the Fourth of July fair thing together. This friend was my humor soulmate. The girl could give me a look across a room and send me into a fit of giggles. One word from me could have her crying tears of laughter. We frequently angered other friends who didn’t get our jokes and left boys confused because we preferred to spend time together rather than being someone’s girlfriends.
So, it was 1989, and my hilarious friend and I were young and stupid and kicking around the county fair. I had seen the pre-bus accident Gloria Estefan play at the fair a few weeks before, and, naturally, I was all about shaking my body and doing that conga, so this was my second visit to the fair that year.
We did the usual fair stuff: petting livestock, listening to shouting men sales-pitching amazing knives, cutting up in a photo booth, and eating until we were close to bursting. These were the days before anyone had even conceived of deep frying an oreo, but mankind had already figured out how to deep fry a corn dog and strips of potato, so it was cool.
As we walked the midway, deciding between getting temporary tattoos, playing a ping pong ball in a goldfish bowl game we couldn’t win (and, frankly, didn’t want to; who wants to carry a fish around a fair?), and hitting the rides, one of us said something funny. I don’t remember what it was, and it may have been nothing at all, but it started us laughing like mad.
Maybe it was the smell of the cattle, maybe it was the roar of the brave people strapping themselves into rides that were held together with bubblegum and Band-Aids, maybe it was the bowling ball-size chunk of fried dough in our stomachs, but we couldn’t stop laughing. A fair high, I guess. We laughed and laughed, the joke long forgotten. She was bent over, holding her midsection, and I was struck with the hiccups, which also seemed hilarious. Suddenly, I didn’t feel well. At all. I told her “Stop! I’m going to throw up!” Through tears, she said “I’m not doing anything!” More laughing. More hiccups. More danger. Waves of nausea gripped me, but still I laughed.
It was only seconds between “Stop! I’m going to…” and the actual, um, event, certainly not enough time to reach one of the twenty fairground bathrooms, but it seemed like an eternity. Slo-mo was in full effect, like a Hollywood-style Vietnam flashback. With the next guffaw, I let fly a corndog, french fry, and bile nightmare. My friend was so shocked, that she laughed even harder. So hard, in fact, that she was braying.
I stood there for a second, looking at the mess at my feet and, as I reached up to wipe my mouth, she suddenly screamed “Oh, my god! I’m peeing!” While it’s certainly hilarious to dramatically say “I’m peeing” or “I’m dying” about something when not actually urinating or expiring, she wasn’t being dramatic. Her pants and shoes were wet, as was the dirt where she was standing.
The fireworks started. The Navy band played. The oohs and ahhs filled the air. And we stood there in puddles, laughing like crazy.
Time and geography have come between my humor soulmate and I, but hot summer nights filled with the sound of explosions, bright flashes of light, and the smell of sulfur still remind me of the time I was so tickled that I tossed my cookies. Or corndog.
There’s nothing more American than that.
Photo by: kevindooley