Fair muddling

To Pennsylvania, friedwise

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS Tell you what I'm not eating this week: I'm not eating funnel cake, Amish whoopie pies, fried pickles, or fried macaroni and cheese. I'm not eating Running Deer potato pancakes, Grotto's pizza, May's barbecue, Mootz's fudge, Hewlett's hot sausages, Bowman's French fries, Cain's chicken and waffles, Top-of-the-Beef's pit-roasted sandwich, or fire-roasted sweet corn. I'm not washing all these things down with three different colors of birch beer.

The river crested at 32.75 feet and the Bloomsburg Fair was cancelled. First time ever, 156 years. We cooked for two days until we had filled Hedgehog's mom's freezer with frozen lasagne and wedding soup, and then we got the hell out of Dodge while the gettin' was half decent. There was a couple-hour window of opportunity between the interstate being reopened and all the surface streets being closed on account of barns and tool sheds floating down them.

We splashed right through that window to Ohio, to my nephew's wedding and to C. Staples, the last-standing of Youngstown's locally famous fried barbecued chicken joints. Where, craving smoke, I got ribs on the side; but the ribs weren't true barbecue either. They were just ribs. And barbecue sauce.

Hedgehog failed to see the humor in this.

"You have to grow up with it, I guess," I said, glorying in my sauce-soaked white bread. It's a good sauce, sweet and strangely gritty, but Hedgehog couldn't keep her head in the game. She kept going on line and looking at pictures of her hometown's washed-away bridges and half-underwater homes. The whole time we were in Ohio she'd be eating chickens with one hand and

Twittering and Facing Book with the other.

I said, "Okay. Maybe we should go back, see if there's anything we can do to help ..."

Of course, at that time they hadn't officially cancelled the fair yet, so we were planning to go back anyway, eventually, the last week of the month.

That's this week! And the only reason I even know what I'm missing in Central Pennsylvania, friedwise and otherwise, is because all year this year, probably since before I met Hedgehog, she's been telling me about the fair the fair the fair. Even her friends in New Orleans, New Jersey and New York were talking about it. The fair! They were going. They had been. They all had favorite stands and strategies: what to eat first. What to save room for ...

Argh, talk about wait till next year!

Anyway, it took us a few days back in the state-of-emergencied disaster area to find anyone to help. First we joined a mud-out crew and went around with shiny donated shovels and brand new five-gallon buckets looking for work, but the only useful thing I did that day was help carry a soggy box spring to the curb.

See, the thing about God- and neighbor-fearing people, it turns out, is that no matter how sunk they are, they would rather help than be helped. Everyone wants to volunteer — and no one needs anything. Their whole first floor and basement are in pieces on the curb, yet they feel pretty lucky, somehow, and at any rate don't need sandwiches.

We soon realized the only way to be truly useful to these strong, good people was to accept their help. And then was the chicken farmer in national disaster area heaven, going from church to church to fire department trying to look pathetic and eating their bean soup, corn chowder, and chopped ham sandwiches before they went to waste.

On the third day we had the advantage of actually being muddy and exhausted for one of these meals, on account of our friend Sue's brother had gotten soggy up to his kitchen cabinets — the up-high ones. When we left there, the curbside pile of drywall, soggy insulation, cracked linoleum, etc., was almost as high as the roof.

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