Fair. At Best.

Take a quick flip through the listings in the back of this paper (not now, genius, after you're done here) and you'll see we're in the thick of fair and festival season. Yes, from mid-August through

Aug 16, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Take a quick flip through the listings in the back of this paper (not now, genius, after you're done here) and you'll see we're in the thick of fair and festival season. Yes, from mid-August through late October, hundreds of churches, schools, municipalities, associations and organizations will set up the food stands, the rides and the games of chance so many of us turn to fill our gullets, empty our gullets and empty our wallets, respectively. It's the year's best opportunity to walk among the sweaty and step in things that are sticky. And if you love to swat and/or kill bees, so much the better.

Need help narrowing your event choices? Here are the ones I've inked in on my calendar for the upcoming weeks.

St. Mitzi's Church of the Sclerotic Aorta Connected to the Sacred Heart Carnival: One of the city's most popular church festivals. Go out and enjoy classic games like Whack-A-Moloch and Holy See Skee Ball (where players win and amass valuable Papal Indulgence Points). Or stop by the Guess Your Confession booth, where, for a dollar a pop, you can try to stump the amazing Father Langstrom, who will attempt, by just looking at you, to ascertain your transgression(s) ­ from masturbation to ass-coveting to being a Jew.

Summer Saturnalia: In 1982, local atheists began the Saturnalia as an "equal-time" response to events like the one above.

If you've never been, I guarantee this yearly celebration of humanity's collective march toward the lightless, soundless, godless void that is death closes summer on a real up note. Be sure to place a few bets at the wheel and dice games, but keep in mind that players forfeit their payouts if they violate the posted warning, "Absolutely no praying to win."

The Dark Ages Festival: In this re-creation of a typical hamlet of 10th Century Europe, actors portray the townsfolk. Visitors are invited to take part in the fun by dressing in rags and not washing for two years. (Get $2 off admission if you arrive at the gate with a festering sore or hosting a parasite.) Or come in present-day garb and be tied behind an ox, then dragged through the excrement-fouled streets as an "outlander." Authentic Dark Ages cuisine ranges from Spoiled Meat on a Stick to Spoiled Fruit on a Stick to I Haven't Had Anything on My Stick for Days.

Swiss Pride Days: Spanning the entire one block area of Little Switzerland ­ a rarely noticed neighborhood in the most antiseptic part of the city ­ this street fair celebrates all things Swiss. Hurry here if you crave hole-riddled cheese, competitive interest rates on passbook savings or an embroidered retelling of the years 1939-1945. Kids can get their cheeks painted "rosy" and they'll marvel at the original Swiss Army Knife, which, because of Swiss neutrality and non-aggression, hasn't a single blade. Braided yodelers stroll among the crowd, their high-pitched, undulating tones instantly reminding you of why you couldn't possibly live in an Alpine country.

The Institutional Chili Cook-off: Over 50 institutional kitchens ­ from hospitals to military messes, nursing homes to school cafeterias ­ compete to see who can cook up the bowl of chili that'll have tasters saying, "This is chili?"

The Bodine County Fair: This backcountry county fair might lack the glitz and glamour of the state fair, but it's hard to resist the simple pleasures ­ and local citizens ­ that pack the fairgrounds. Livestock competitions draw the biggest crowds, culminating with the blue ribbon for Best Four-legged Wife. One downer: Political correctness has arrived even at this distant outpost, and midway "freaks" are now limited to "human oddities" like The High School Boy Who Can Read at High School Level and Peculiar Ruth, the Woman Who's Never Shopped WalMart.

The Iotaville HazMat Festival: Iotaville, the state's largest repository of nuclear and toxic wastes, is proof that just because you don't grow pumpkins or produce honey or make quilts or do anything else that's countrified or Old World-y, you can still reap the cash bonanza that a themed town fair brings. This one features unique, fun foods (don't miss the Hawaiian Shaved Ice-otopes and the Giant Soft Pretzels Mutated From Normal Crispy Pretzels), clever crafts (lead-lined briefs and novelty T-shirts like, "Hey, three-eyes, what are you staring at?" and "My grandparents went to Iotaville and all I got was this lousy T-shirt silk-screened with irradiated ink.") and retail booths run by local merchants (the unusual animals at the Iotaville pet store, Mercuriosities, are a must-see). ©