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Theater and dance at every turn 

Following the Cirque du Soleil concept, the performance at the State Fair actually begins before you even reach the main gate. A male dance troupe, uniformly costumed in gray shirts, black pants, buzz haircuts, helmets--and utility belts tricked out with revolvers, handcuffs and walkie-talkies--are seen performing at each gate. Milking that "audience participation" thing for all it's worth, they're placed in such a way that the crowds have no choice but to enter the performance space and interact with them to get inside.

We can't say much for the set, a grid of insufficiently industrial orange and yellow cones, or the uncredited choreography that demonstrates the risks of deliberately limiting dance movement to one part of the body. At first the upper-body arm movements are interesting, but expressions clearly based on cheerleading and robotics render even the crispest delineations of space mundane in short order. Clearly there's nowhere near enough invention here to sustain a 15-hour performance.

While the occasionally improvised interactions with nearby moving vehicles kept things going for a while, ultimately we just had to move on. Recommendation: walk on by.

***

Live entertainment surrounds you at these things, and the agricultural theme sometimes plays out in novel and unexpected ways. At one tent, dozens of fairgoers, their heads bent while filling out contest forms, jammed the tables surrounding a new flesh-toned Hummer H2. From our vantage point they looked like piglets, desperately scrambling to get to momma sow for milk.

***

The pig motif continued in the mercantile building, as vendors Estelle and William Wood from Greensboro manned a display for Neese's Liver Pudding. As I walked up, a young mother was giving a baby his first taste of souse. The look of betrayal, if not fear, on the child's face had mom quickly swipe a napkin from the table and remove the offending cold cut as it was being ejected from the unconvinced young consumer's mouth. Neese's wares were displayed in a refrigerated case. Though most of the names I recognized from a childhood in North Carolina, there was one I hadn't seen before: Neese's C-Loaf. I looked closer. After the first ingredient (pork stomachs), I stopped reading.

The self-selected social stratification continued. Women and men of a certain age picked up tooth-picked chunks of gray liver pudding and gelatinous souse, served on captain's wafers ("Goo-ood," a portly ex-military grinned). The younger demographic avoided the dark green stand. "Teenagers hesitate," admitted Ms. Wood. "The boys are braver than the girls."

At first I admire the fact that they're not selling the product at the fair--just distributing free samples to ultimately drive up business.

Then I think of the consequences of fairgoers, carrying around thousands of one-pound bricks of liver mush and--shudder--scrapple. In unrefrigerated bags. On a hot day at the fair.

On amusement rides. Into rest rooms. On the long trip home. And then opening them when they got there.

Yep, those marketing boys know exactly what they're doing, all right...

***

Snapshots from the Kerr Scott Building: Bronzed shoes--even a bronzed baby pacifier--immortalized forever by the "Senti-Metal" process. Lifts. Anti-Fogger. Amazing knives. Art markers that never run out, with a patented ink made of vinegar and vegetable oil. The entire Bible--on videotape. Wonders never cease: At the "Rhythm Touch" booth, an athletic young man sits staring at his hand, his mouth wide open, as it involuntarily trembles while being partially electrocuted through the magic of "electronic muscle stimulation." Now, regularly, the electrified pads sell for $340, but at the fair, the salesman confides, $195 will turn the trick.

No doubt.

***

And why did they put The Orbiter--a big, noisy cyclotron of a ride--in the middle of the outdoor contract sales? The last thing a salesperson for big ticket items like hot tubs, pre-built sheds and tractors needs while trying to have a confidential discussion with a potential client straight off the farm is J.Lo's "I'm Real" belching out at maximum volume from an industrial sound system, and the terrified screams of other, far more satisfied customers. Breaks the concentration in a major way.

The Orbiter is an upgrade from the venerable Scrambler of yore, a rotating, spider-like contraption whose individual arms swing horizontally out at the ends. The whole affair resembles a centrifuge whose individual components look as though they're about to be launched into the displays of aluminum siding, lawn mowers and redwood spas surrounding it. Bad for business. One salesperson flinches when an Orbiter emits a particularly lusty yell.

On the ride itself, two science geeks from "The North Carolina School of Science and God-damned Mathematics" carefully prop their handheld horizontal and vertical accelerometers--one from Pasco Scientific, the other clearly homebrew--on the restraining bar in front of them. After staggering off, they check results: 67 degrees horizontal at full tilt, with a maximum vertical acceleration of 3.6 G's.

By way of comparison, astronauts on the Space Shuttle experience a mere 3 G's when taking off.

***

A crowd has gathered for John Holt's one-man show in the corner of the Commercial Building by the time I get there. It's terms I think are more than fair. The show's free: you don't buy a ticket to see it. When it's done, one of two things happens. If you're convinced, you pay--and take home a new (and yet improved) Swift Clean micro-fiber cleaning system to usher in an era of chemical-free cleaning in your own house.

If you're not, you grin and walk on to the next attraction.

Oh, the show's good, all right. Holt doesn't eat if it isn't.

On a brightly lit wooden and tiled set, Holt keeps the patter going as he prestidigitates with a purple plastic mop; making hypnotic swiping movements on a surface marred by crayon marks and boots. The mop's his dance partner as he shuffles and demonstrates with a few gentle passes how grease and grime lift away, with the application of a fine mist of water and a swipe of the magic cloth. The secret's in the microfibers, he says, one-tenth the thinness of human hair and hypo-allergenic--"Every hospital room in Sweden is mopped with microfibers!" he informs us.

Holt with a mop is like Astaire with Rogers, gliding across the floor, hip to the jive--including his own. He pauses from the kitchen choreography to diss the competition. Holding up a bottle of Mr. Clean, he jibes, "On the back it says don't breathe the harmful fumes. On the front it says enjoy the fresh lemon scent. See what I mean? You don't need this stuff," as he artfully tosses it into the corner trash bin.

A woman in a wheelchair asks a question about a mop she bought from him last year. Satisfied customer. A plant? Don't think so... Meanwhile, Holt's assistant gradually upgrades three matrons from the starter kit to the deluxe. It's really up-close magic, except he's sliding words around, and not walnut shells, to part the customers from their hard-earned cash. "You know you're going to order it," he reasonable observes. "Why not do it here and now while it's cheaper?"

They pay. The deluxe mops go home. And Holt and company have clearly earned every dollar they've made.

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