“I thought you’d be dead by now.”

I heard one village elder say that to another as they stood in the shade of an oak tree at a county fair.

I’ve worked at many fairs and I’ve never once said that. I say things like this at a fair: “Thanks for coming to the fair.” “I hope you’re having fun.” “What’s the best thing you’ve eaten (or seen) at the fair?”

The weather is beautiful some fair days and airless on other fair days, but they’re all good. What can I say for sure about fairs? People like noise. No one will like you if you wash your feet in the public drinking fountain. Cars trade more paint in the parking lot than in the demolition derby. Kids are action figures reeking of cotton candy. You can wear anything to a fair. A fashion show, it’s not.

This particular fair had been quite a clambake despite the dearth of clams. I’d had an amazing day. The weather had been incredibly kind. I like a day at a fair when the heat and humidity don’t make me feel as tacky as some of the prizes on the midway. Nice weather is subjective and at a fair it’s as irregular as the winner of the hot dog eating contest.

A woman wearing a T-shirt promoting a school tried to walk by me on her way out of the fairgrounds. “I hope you’re having a great day,” I said.

Friendly comments often lead to nice visits. This one could have gone better. She wasn’t having a great day.

Maybe she felt she’d unfairly lost the bread and butter pickle competition. Being deprived of a purple ribbon that was rightfully hers had left her in a foul mood. She didn’t look like a pickle person, if someone could look like a pickle person. She commenced to complain about the food she’d eaten at the nine stands where she’d consumed food. She followed that with complaints about the parking and the entertainment. She insisted that the parking should be closer and the entertainment should be more entertaining. She even complained about the hot weather. Hot weather is expected. The dates of most fairs aren’t typically during a time when furnaces are operating. I listened, because she hadn’t given me a chance not to. I knew the fair board had a guy who was in charge of the weather. He obviously hadn’t been doing his job.

Reality hadn’t matched her expectations. Welcome to life. The fair gave what it had.

As she lengthened her list of complaints, I hoped she wouldn’t spend so much time complaining that she’d miss the opportunity to have fun. Life is like owning a Corvette. It’s more fun if you drive it. The woman complained as if she were in a contest and she might win a prize — maybe a Corvette.

If you hit a wall, you should try to bounce off it, but she went on. It was an unprecedented uproar. Apparently, she’d deemed me as someone worthy to hear and understand her message. I wanted to skedaddle, but I hadn’t familiarized myself with the emergency exits and she needed help carrying her complaint-filled luggage. All lives are stressful. There are people who aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy about something. I didn’t know what was going on in her life. Perhaps she was typically a happy camper.

I did the crime. I initiated the conversation. Now I had to do the time and listen to her. I adopted what I considered a caring posture. I looked her in the eyes and listened with both ears. I thought she might want me to assure her that she was the victim of a wicked conspiracy cooked up by fair officials, but she gave no pause for me to wedge in a word. It was as if an insect had flown into my ear. It wasn’t the pinnacle of my fair career. I was clinging to a life raft after a shipwreck.

Constructive suggestions are helpful, but chronic complaining can be like swatting at a mosquito and hitting yourself in the nose.

I recall a day when I was a baseball-playing boy who wanted to be doing what a baseball-playing boy wants to be doing. The problem was that it was raining hard. I whined about the precipitation. My grandmother said, “The best thing to do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”

Sometimes the best thing to do when people complain is to let them complain.

Al Batt is a writer, speaker, storyteller and humorist from rural Hartland, Minnesota. He can be reached at snoeowl@aol.com.

Jeffrey Jackson is the managing editor of the Owatonna People's Press. He can be reached at 507-444-2371 or via email at jjackson@owatonna.com

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