No Fair

Playwright and author of light prose, ROBERT FONTAINE lives in Springfield, Massachusetts.

I am given to understand that the dignified characters in charge of the forthcoming World’s Fair in New York City have loudly proclaimed that the fair will have no honkytonk, no strip-teasers, no razzledazzle and whoop-dee-do. One of the statements I read with a certain wince was to the effect that a husband will not have to leave his wife and children for ten minutes to see any of the features.

The assumption that everyone at the fair will have his wife and children with him can be overlooked. Even the notion that there is anything around today a man sees that his wife and children do not is subject for debate, but can be glossed over. To get to the heart of the matter, what the directors of the fair intend to do, apparently, is what every other fair in recent times has done — that is, to substitute tractors for mirth and electronic machines for good humor.

We live in a nation, if not a world, where the President rarely announces in his State of the Union Address that the amount of laughter and high spirits has increased, but rather that the outgo of ingots and the production of pig iron are rising. It is folly to measure a nation’s progress by the efficiency of its steel furnaces or the high caliber of its pesticides. To measure thus the state of a world is even more folly.

The directors of the World’s Fair have not, as I write this, said anything about what they will do, but if they follow the trend, the place will be cluttered with the latest color TV sets, the newest in prefabricated houses, the finest dynamos available, and, quite possibly, a machine that can take all the available statistics and come out with an answer to the effect that these are precisely the things the fair should have exhibited.

I have visited agricultural shows where I could not see the trees for the forest of machinery, and I have been at recent county fairs where the pumpkins and peach preserves were a small island darkly behind enormous reaping machines and station wagons. The crunch of gears is there, and the flickering of lights on thinking machines, but the singing and the gold are nowhere present. I have even attended flower shows where the poor blossoms were totally obscured by the violent scarlet of two-ton trucks on exhibit or by the screaming yellow of the latest plows.

I have nothing against commerce and industry; certainly they are a means to an end wherein productivity will be so great we shall all, in time, be able to sit down and talk to our psychiatrists in well-fed peace. And, in the end, I am sure that it is industry and commerce that pay the freight for these extravagant worldwide gestures, and so they have a certain dubious right to lay the tracks.

Just the same, when I think of fairs, world or otherwise, the memorable matters remaining in my heart are not the sights of radios, televisions, bombs, vastly clever machinery, or ranch-type homes that can be tossed up in two hours. What I remember lovingly is candied apples on a stick, cotton candy, enormous shining fruit, the man with two heads, and the petrified giant. What stirs me still is the recollection of the electric girl who gave you a shock if you touched her warm and lovely hand; of the hootchy-kootchy dancers, who were charming but much less reprehensible than my secretary at an office party; of bright, spinning wheels whereat, for a lowly dime, I might win an entire week’s supply of groceries or even a pink-shaded lamp whose base was a pink, nude lady (another still unravished bride of Time): and of the smells and noises and tastes that are to be found nowhere else on earth, but are mingled breathlessly at a fair.

A fair should be a place to laugh and to sing and to see strange sights. A fair should be a fairyland where everyone can enter and forget for a while that man is something less than the angels and somewhat less contented than the apes. A fair should change a man for a while. He should come out of it — with his wife and children, if need be — feeling exalted, filled with laughter, his eyes shining, and his arm around his wife. He should not emerge haggard and bored, his arms weighed down with pamphlets and brightly printed books of statistics.

I shall not have my dream, I am sure, but, please, can we not have some portion of an acre for pleasure? Let us give most of the area to business and commerce and industry and science. May we not have, perhaps, an obscure corner of merriment and sensuality, of foolishness and cotton candy, of dancing and pretty girls for us few, the poets?