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Book Report: Author takes the words right out of my mouth

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Last month, I nearly went berserk reading the endless paeans to the Minnesota State Fair in both Twin Cities' newspapers.

Day after day, as the world was collapsing around us, the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press both trotted out stories about such goodies as batter-fried lutefisk on a stick and how seed artists were there to immortalize young couples who got married behind the swine barn.

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Enough, I say.

So it was with great pleasure I received a book on the day after the fair closed: "A Porch Sofa Almanac" (University of Minnesota Press, $16.95 paper) by Peter Smith. He's the fellow who you might have heard on Minnesota Radio's Morning Edition with Cathy Wurzer. On that show, he reads cunning little essays about being a Minnesotan. Often times he hits the nail with deadly accuracy.

His new book is a collection of such essays, including one entitled "Start the State Fair Without Me:"

"You reach a point in a day at the State Fair when your senses kick into overdrive and everything comes rushing at you like one of those 'our hero is going crazy now' montages in a Hitchcock film. For me, that point is about fifteen feet inside the front gate.

"There's the crowd, to begin with -- the way it mills and churns and wanders aimlessly. There's always someone in front of you, always someone coming at you. Young people. Old people. Toddlers on leashes. All of them vacant eyed, shuffling along, as if they were on psychotropic medication in a big, outdoor locked ward. The only ones who don't appear to be overmedicated are the young and hormonal, but they don't seem to be able to walk without desperately holding onto one another and pausing to demonstrate their affection every few feet.

"There is the noise. The carnival rides roaring past. People screaming. The 'yowsa-yowsa' of the barkers. Oompah bands. Barbershop quartets. High school marching bands. TV stations. Hip-hop radio stations. And the sound from whatever is going on at the grandstand spilling out over absolutely everything.

"There are cheap gizmos and whatchamacallits for sale -- devices designed to solve problems and alleviate conditions on the more depressing periphery of life. Carbuncle creams. Wrinkle steamers. Knee and back braces; that kind of stuff.

"There's that oily patina your skin acquires as you lurch, addle-brained, past all those deep fryers. Suddenly you, too, are emitting that State Fair smell -- part cotton candy and part corn dog with a hint of lunch counter and farm animal manure -- from every pore.

"On the positive side, you can't beat the people watching. It's just that the whole time you're watching people, people will probably be watching you. Sitting on a curb near the carousel one year, I suddenly realized a five-year-old was observing me as if I were a great ape in a cage. I remember it vividly. He was studying me. His snow-cone was melting over his knuckles. It was grape.

"So with all due respect, no State Fair for me this year. Maybe next year. You go ahead. Have a great time. I'll just stay home and -- you know -- wash the car...mow the lawn...putter...all by myself..."

I doff my pronto pup to you, Peter Smith.

A pastor named Dr. Gene W. Laramy, thinks that everyone over 18 years old should prepare for their eventual deaths, whenever they might occur. Now he's written a "how-to" book on the subject, not on "how to" die, but "how to" make sure it goes smoothly when that time comes. He describes it as a "tool kit" and provides forms and outlines suggestions for complex subjects, like living wills and euthanasia.

And he's come up with a fine title, "It's Never Too Early, But it Can Be Too Late!" (Two Harbors Press, $14.95)

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

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