Even those who know me well might not know that I like what some people might call “tacky.”
Even those who know me well might not know that I like what some people might call “tacky.” You might say I have an itch for kitsch. Kitsch as a noun is defined as an object that’s gaudy or overly sentimental, designed for popular appeal. As an adjective, the German word kitsch means tawdry, tacky, or sentimental.
For instance, my daughter who came by her own love of kitsch honestly (in other words she inherited it from her father) and knows of my love for the tawdry took me to visit Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan in Brandon, Iowa. It weighs half a ton and can hold 528 eggs (44 dozen) or 352 (1/2 pound) pork chops. Perfectly gaudy.
I’d make a side trip to visit the world’s largest ball of foil to be honest with you. South of the Border, that kitschy place at the North Carolina/South Carolina state line on I-95 calls like a Siren song irresistibly to me every time the giant sombrero appears on the horizon. I agree that “you’re always a wiener at Pedro’s” as one of their most famous signs declares, a giant hotdog spotlighting the somewhat nonpolitically correct mimicking of how a Mexican might pronounce “winner” in English.
Maybe that’s the reason I love kitsch. It can be edgy, if not trashy, and at the borderline (if not over it) of political correctness.
But my love of kitsch also comes honestly from my father who made sure we missed few wax museums and other kitschy attractions. One particularly vivid memory is the Blue Hole, a large, deep blue-hued, fresh water pond located in Castalia, Erie County, Ohio that was once a tourist attraction and now is closed to the public. I remember Dad telling us that “the Blue Hole’s bottom has never been discovered” like it was one of those actual holes to China that we could dig if we just kept digging I was told about by Dad. The Blue Hole was on the edge of being scary, that big, cold, blue, watery hole with no end.
A part of the Blue Hole’s attraction — it’s mystery — lied in its kitschy bottomlessness. But even today, now thanks to the internet, I’ve learned the Blue Hole’s bottom has been found, the Blue Hole’s mystery endures. Maybe it was closed to the public because it actually offers a direct route to China like one of those pneumatic tube bank conveying systems?
Maybe that’s how aliens get here using similar “worm-hole” pneumatic-like tubes to travel hundreds of light years instantaneously. So Roswell, New Mexico and its gift of garish alien attractions that will scratch anyone’s kitsch-itch is on my bucket list.
Loving kitsch means loving the fall season and all the state and local fairs and carnivals — with all their kitschiness — that comes with autumn. They call to me like Pedro does.
Who can resist sideshows, tilt-a- whirls, French fries with vinegar, fresh squeezed lemonade, caramel apples, and elephant ears? Who doesn’t have enough love left to hug another stuffed teddy bear won by popping three balloons with darts or picking the winning rubber ducky swimming in an artificial stream?
And the Rotor. The Rotor was a carnival ride that spun you so fast that you stuck to the wall and then the floor dropped away and the only thing keeping you from falling 10 feet to the lowered floor was the same mysterious G-force that may have brought the aliens to Roswell.
Agricultural fairs are all about the biggest of this and the best of that, enough to scratch any kitsch-itch. The biggest pumpkins and the heaviest sows and the showiest chickens and the cutest lambs — the best tasting pies and the clearest honey and prettiest flower arrangements.
Incomprehensibly, my wife can and does resist the Siren song of kitsch. She doesn’t believe she’s a wiener at Pedro’s and declines my offer to stop “for a bathroom break” even though there’s a shop selling a “world of hats.”
“A whole world,” I plead, … “A smash hit!”… “You can count all your sheep at Pedro’s!” All to no avail.
And likewise festivals, fairs, and carnivals just don’t float her boat. That’s probably because she has better sense than I to subject herself to sideshow hawkers, rides that turn one’s stomach, and stuffing herself with fried cheese curd and cotton candy.
But I’m enthralled with the enigma of tattooed ride operators and side show hawkers at fairs. The mystery of their lives, the freedom that comes with being a Carney, and to be surrounded by kitsch 24-7 — they enthrall me.
Maybe I should have run off with the circus when running off was still possible. But I traded the circus for a life with less kitsch, one with more certainty but also one with less bottomlessness — less mystery and tackiness. So much for being a wiener.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.