Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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Joe's Neighborhood

Included in the price of the ticket


“Don’t stare,” our mothers instructed, as they pulled one arm away from whatever caught our fancy. This parental technique, always hopeful and always coming from a good place, was always a disaster since our remaining limbs and extended necks then swiveled in the other direction, away from our fast-walking, arm-yanking mothers, and our eyes were now riveted on the forbidden subject as we were dragged away, backpedaling. Hearing “don’t stare” from our mothers was like hearing the guy with the starter pistol yell “on your marks, get set… STARE!” Not exactly the result our parents intended.

This is why I love the Iowa State Fair.

The State Fair provides an open license to stare. No Iowa-nice here. You pay your money at the front gates, you buy anything you want on a stick, you stand amazed before a really large pig, and, yes, today only, you can stare. Unlimited staring. That’s the deal.

But I notice a lack of structure in this art of staring. There’s no framework in which to compete against others, to measure our self-worth, to develop a grading system. Sure, you throw a cow pie 10 yards, and you know your place in the world. Whereas if you stare at a young dad wiping cotton candy out of his hair, laughingly smeared there by the child astride his shoulders, what exactly is that worth?

Well, I have a proposal. In lieu of rules, regulations, administrative standards, appointment of political cronies and questions about transparency, how about seeing if you can find any of the following scenes at the Iowa State Fair. And, guess what? They all have worth.

CNA - Stop HIV Iowa


The relationship between a parent and child has so many bad moments. Especially in the melt-down nature of the fair, it’s easy to see an unloving scene in the dog days of August. But can you see a loving scene? Here’s an example. I don’t know these folks. I saw them the other day in a restaurant in The Hague. That’s his mom. When I asked for a picture, she leaned in, placed her hand gently on his chest and smiled. She didn’t say a word. But, I will swear that every bone in her body said, “This baby boy means more to me than life.” And, by the way, “this baby boy” needs to take that kind of love to the bank. Forever.


An honest look can be hard to find in all the swaggering and posing we do through life. The state fair is no exception, as we put on our East Side T-shirt in our north Ankeny ranch.

A sure bet for honesty can be found in the total absorption of children in a wondrous event. Mouth agape. Maybe even drooling. They don’t care. It is a pure moment. Uncluttered with lies. Oh, and bonus if you can catch an adult similarly engaged. A flyover by the Dutch Air Force caught these boys — young and old — in a rare moment of candor.


Humility is not a prized commodity in today’s world. So you might be driven into the livestock barns to find this one among the winners and losers of a recent competition. But nothing humbles like poverty. How we see it, who we blame, our own responsibility — it is just too daunting to contemplate for very long. That alone is humbling.

Here’s one for you, a father and two sons in Paris a couple of weeks ago. They’re living in a telephone booth. Work that around in your mouth. Were they hustling us? Maybe. A humbling moment? Under any version.


All sorts of bedlam can be seen at the fair. Kids running. Parents shouting. Rides whirling. Music blaring. Where is there peace in this uproar?

I saw her yesterday on the North Sea. She was pushing her walker on the boardwalk, surrounded by a typical August beach scene — surfers, kite flyers, shouting parents and children, zippy skateboarders and hordes of teenagers. She was dressed to the nines. White jacket, white skirt, pressed blouse, loosely tied scarf. Smiling. She made her way to a bench. Slowly got situated. And sat. And watched. Quietly. Peace amongst confusion.

So, stare away. I’m certainly going to. And if you see an old bald guy staring impolitely on the Grand Concourse catwalk in the waning days of the Iowa State Fair, please smile. That would be me. Don’t worry; assure your mom staring is included in the price of the ticket. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com. Joe can be reached by email at josephpweeg@gmail.com.

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