Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 28, 2000

Mary Ann Fitzmorris / L’Observateur / October 28, 2000

Today is the first day of my recovery from the annual three-day extravaganza known as the school fair. As I lay in the hammock waiting for the swelling inmy ankles to subside, my thoughts wandered to a conversation I had with my brother, who was visiting from another school.

“Wow!” he began. “This is something! How much do you guys take in from an event like this?” His eyes widened as I told him. He panted, “Amazing! How do you do it?” I explained that success in these matters is a fairly simple formula. It begins with very, very loud music. This is extremely effective in rousing everyone in the vicinity. Musical vibrations can make it hard to sleep, and even hard to think, but when the decibel levels make it impossible to hear the television the neighbors have no choice but to surrender and come out.

This loud music works for fair workers, too, since the little beneficiaries of such hoopla always come to solicit more tickets. Under the loud music the child is usually saying, “Daddy said I could get more tickets; is that all right?” Mom, noncommittal, shrugs and the child runs off.

Amidst the deafening music she might also be saying, “Mommy, I’m just going off for awhile with that man with the long greasy hair and all those tattoos, OK?” This is just one of the pitfalls of being a very, very dependable slave, which is the second essential part of the equation for success in a school fair. On this matter I am somewhat of an expert, having spent the last five years as a very, very dependable slave. (Also known as booth chairpeople.)Booth chairpeople could not accomplish their herculean tasks without the assistance of many other like-minded masochists. My spouse and I have truly loyal friends who spend the entire weekend in the cubicle with us, and I don’t think it has anything to with the ice chests of mind altering libations we keep in the rear of the booth.

No, these people are all motivated by a sense of giving, a sense of commitment and no sense at all of how to say “no.” Someone should come up with a self-help program for chronic volunteers. But not until I give up the booth.

A detox plan for volunteering fools could help me…and countless others. It could help the man whose hands began to throb when a hot grill he was holding burned right through the glove. He dunked them in ice water and kept going.

It could help the guy who twisted his knee moving a smoker the size of a car. He hobbled around the rest of the weekend.It could help a pal who sliced her finger, gushing blood. She quit working only because she felt her bleeding might discourage sales of the food.

It could help the friend who burned up her food processor chopping cole slaw. She tossed the smoking machine into the garbage and moved to the industrial equipment in the school cafeteria. I watched her enter a semi-hypnotic state as her eyes fixed on the huge spinning disk. She reminded me of Lucy in the chocolate factory trying to catch all the chopped cabbage before in went back through. Good thing those big blades were well hidden.

While such dedicated workers are essential to these affairs, the bottom line rests on very, very tireless patrons. They are the third necessary ingredient for success, but only if they are accompanied by very, very spineless “providers.” And they always are.While at a ticket booth for the third time after putting my foot down, I heard a nice old Grandpa yelling after some tireless patrons, “Now that’s it! Don’t you come back for any more! I mean it this time! That’s my last two hundred dollars!” The little patrons snatched the tickets and left poor Grandpa in their dust. When I returned to the booth two of our workers were writing checks for their tireless fairgoers. No wonder the fair bosses nixed my pay-once bracelet idea. They’d have to be more expensive than diamond bracelets!Besides, we’d have no extra souvenirs, like all the unused tickets in their pockets in the next day’s laundry!

MARY ANN FITZMORRIS, a southeast Louisiana columnist, writes this column every Saturday for L’Observateur.

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