Today’s Minnesota State Fair midway is a pale imitation of the midways of my youth. In vain does one look for a live barker enticing Midwest innocents to plumb the mysteries of the girlie show or brave the terrors of the freak show, promising to let everyone in on a child’s ticket “for the next 15 minutes only.”
So it had been many years since I’d ventured onto the southwest corner of the fairgrounds when, on a recent State Fair outing with my brother Paul, I let him convince me to take a walk on the not-so-wild side.
We knew we’d see no girlie shows. There was something billed as a freak show, but the recorded pitch didn’t grab us. It looked as though our midway jaunt would be uneventful. Then, just as we approached the first Ferris wheel, a live voice cut through the cotton-candied air: “Hey, big guy! Over here!”
Since either of us would qualify as big, both our heads turned. The voice came from a guy holding a basketball and standing in front of a basket that looked to be at least 11 feet off the ground, a good foot higher than regulation. The hoop, on the other hand, was considerably smaller than official size. It seemed little larger than the ball.
“Two shots for two bucks,” said the guy. “Make ’em both and pick your prize.”
I turned to move on, but Paul caught me up short: “I’ll pay for you to try it.”
I’m no novice with a basketball, but the odds of this shot looked slim, indeed. Still, it wouldn’t cost me anything, so why not?
Paul forked over the money and I took the ball. Bouncing it twice, I let fly. The ball hung against the Minnesota sky and dropped. Swish. The proprietor handed it back to me. “Not bad, tall man,” he said. “Let’s see you do it again.” Two more bounces and . . . nothing but net.
Without a word, I turned to go. “What about your prize?” asked Paul.
I looked at the guy holding the ball, who suddenly was strangely silent.
“Give it to a kid,” I said.
Dave Healy has been going to the Minnesota State Fair for more than 50 years, during which time he has consumed 972 mini donuts and 1,467 cheese curds.