First-Place Winner

Illustration by Jason Stout

When we turned onto Highway 71, my grandfather said, "Eighty percent of feeling good is looking good. I should be a motivational speaker. What are you doing about your nose hairs? You need to clip your nose hairs."

I said, "I can't help this."

"You can help it. You need a trimmer. Your grandmother used to trim my nose hairs every morning."

"Your nose hairs are pretty long too. That one is curling."

"Did you not just hear what I said?"


In a town just before La Grange we stopped to get nose hair clippers or tweezers, against my protests. There was a very nice gas station that also sold scrapbooks and then next to it there was a small, run down gas station and my grandfather insisted on the latter, thinking that the prices would be lower there. When we walked into the small store connected to the gas station, there was a table of hunting knives right inside the door with a sign that said IT'S SUMMERTIME YOU GOTTA HAVE A KNIFE. It is true that my grandfather later had a knife on his person. The knife was purchased from this display. He never used the knife at any point.

While my grandfather was picking out the knife, I was looking at a picture of a beautiful girl standing next to a horse. This glamour-shot was taped to the counter next to the cash register and beside it were two black and white pictures of men with beards. Taped above all these photographs was a note that said DO NOT ACCEPT CHECKS FROM THESE FELONS.

My grandfather came to the register with the knife and said, "You carry tweezers?"

The man said, "No sir."

"What about nose hair trimmers? They're for my grandson."

"We have little scissors."

"That's fine."

I said, "That girl wrote a bad check?"

"She's running for county fair queen. These two wrote bad checks," the man said.

"You should move that picture so nobody thinks she wrote a bad check," I said.

"It's fine where it is."

"Did you hear him? Move that picture," my grandfather said.

Then my grandfather tore the picture off the counter himself and tried to stick it to the front of the register, but it fell off. He picked it up off the ground and put it in his pocket. The man behind the register stared at him. Then the man rang up the knife and the little scissors. My grandfather paid and neither one of them said anything and then we left.

In the car again, my grandfather pulled out the picture of the girl and looked at it while I drove. He held it up for me to see. "Nice set of wheels," he said.


"You know what I'm talking about? I'm talking about legs."


"I used to stare at your grandmother's legs for hours. Your grandmother never had to wear panty hose a day in her life."


I tried to look over at the picture as often as I could, but it was difficult with the highway driving. I kept driving onto the grooves in the shoulder, which made a disconcerting noise.

The girl in the picture had hair that put me in mind of a certain shampoo commercial that I sometimes taped and replayed when I was at home. I should also mention that the girl in the picture had an unusually large chin.

"I may introduce you."

"You don't know her."

"I'll get to know her."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

The prospect of this made me short of breath. I told my grandfather that the fair probably wasn't even going on at this time. He said he saw a billboard that said otherwise. He instructed me to drive directly to the fair. There were signs every few miles that pointed the way.

In the parking lot of the fair my grandfather insisted on trimming my nose hairs with the little scissors, which was a terrible experience. We sat in the car and he snipped, getting some of the tiny hairs on the seats. A few people walked by and looked inside the car at us.

When we got inside the fairgrounds my grandfather inquired with a young man who was part of the FFA program and he told us that the candidates for fair queen were not there during the day in any official capacity, although they might be walking around. He said that the fair queen would be named that night and that all the girls who were running for queen would be present. My grandfather thanked the young man and patted him on the head, an inappropriate gesture. The young man left quickly, fixing his hair as he went.

We walked around the grounds looking for the girl. We bought funnel cake and various other food items and after each purchase my grandfather showed the picture of the girl to the person who was selling the food. After that he began showing her picture to girls at the fair he thought might be around her age, though he mentioned that the age of a female is hard to guess and that he'd been wrong many times in the past and that it had cost him a great deal. When he asked the various girls if they had seen her they all said no. Each time he asked I stood a few feet away and pretended to be looking for someone and this seemed to work because they did not notice me. We walked for an hour and we didn't see the girl from the picture and I was secretly relieved.

My grandfather suggested that we might get a better vantage from the Ferris wheel and I consented. We had to buy some tickets from a booth and then we got in the line, which was short, and waited for our turn. Most of the other patrons of the Ferris wheel seemed to be very young couples.

We got on the Ferris wheel and lowered the bar and began to ride. "I wish you would've brought my binoculars," my grandfather said. "That was an oversight."

"I didn't know we would need them."

"I forgive you."

"I don't need you to forgive me."

"That her?"


I had answered without looking, but then I leaned over and saw that it was her, standing near a concession stand and wearing a sash. From this distance she looked perfect. Her chin was hardly noticeable. A feeling came over me like when I would breathe in freshly cut grass and get asthma.

I said, "I don't think that's her."

"That most certainly is her. Damn."

We had to crane our necks to see her now.

"Ask them to let us down," my grandfather said.


At this point he began to look down and yell at the man who was operating the Ferris wheel. The man looked up and then stopped the Ferris wheel, leaving us suspended about three quarters of the way up. My grandfather told the man to let us down. He told me to keep an eye on the girl. When the man ignored him my grandfather began to throw pennies at him. The man watched the pennies hit the ground and then he began to pick the pennies up and put them in his pockets.

"Do you hear me? Let us down, you son of a bitch. Those are my coins," my grandfather said.

"Is it an emergency? Are you dying?" the man said.

"No," I said.

"Then I can't help you. The Ferris wheel doesn't revolve around you two." A small crowd of onlookers had gathered beside the Ferris wheel.

"It is an emergency," my grandfather said.

The man turned the Ferris wheel back on and we waited to see if it would stop when we got to the bottom. It stopped and my grandfather immediately lifted the bar and walked off, without mentioning the coins or anything else to the man. He looked back and yelled at me to hurry. He had the picture out and he was holding it in front of him.

When he saw that she was no longer where we'd spotted her, my grandfather consulted the picture again and then began to shout the girl's name. Her name was Lori Joseph.

I said, "What are you doing? This is bad."

"No it isn't," he said.

He continued to shout her name. After a few more times, he quit. We went inside the covered area where the livestock show was being held. This was also adjacent to the arena where the ceremony for fair queen was to take place. The arena was empty at that time.

We walked up and down the rows of students with their animals. I kept my head down. The smell of manure and hay had something of a calming effect on my nerves. At the rear entrance of the covered area, my grandfather approached a woman in a booth.

"I'm looking for someone. Where do they make announcements?"

"We can do that," the woman said. "Who is it you're looking for, sir?"

"Lori Joseph."

"We know Lori," the woman said. "She's real sweet. Is she your granddaughter?"

"That's good. She's sweet. Did you hear that?"

"You must be very proud," the lady said.

"My wife was the sweetest woman I ever knew."

"That's nice. Let me make that announcement for you."

The woman made an announcement over the loudspeakers: "Lori Joseph, please come to the information booth under the tent. Your grandfather is waiting for you." She repeated the announcement twice. My hands were shaking in my pockets and I believe that this was visible through my pants.

When Lori Joseph showed up, she looked very tan.

"Both of my grandfathers are dead," she said.

"I'm very sorry for your loss," my grandfather said.

"Do I know you?"

"I myself lost my wife two years ago."

The woman from the booth said, "Sir, you told me that you were her grandfather. Lori, do you not know this man?"

"No," Lori said.

I had a sick feeling in my stomach.

"I want to introduce you to my grandson," said my grandfather.

"This is weird," Lori said.

I said, "I know." I smiled shyly.

"He's 22 years old," said my grandfather.

The lady from the booth said, "I'm going to have to ask the two of you to leave. This is not appropriate. Do you want me to call security?" It was unclear to whom this question was directed.

"We just wanted to say hello," my grandfather said.

"Well now you have."

"There's nothing illegal about saying hello to a pretty young lady at a livestock show. It's called the Constitution."

"Please sir. I don't want to call security. Frankly, I feel sorry for the two of you."

"I know, right?" said Lori Joseph.

We left the tent after that.

It was then that my grandfather mentioned something about kidnapping. I firmly believe that he was merely brainstorming. He talked about using cotton candy to hide his hunting knife and I told him that I thought that was a terrible idea.

We went to the arena, where there was now some kind of band performance going on. We sat in the bleachers.

"We should go," I said.

"We could have that woman make another announcement that Lori Joseph needs to meet somebody in the parking lot by the gray Maxima."


"That woman wouldn't do it."

"Let's go."

"Let's think about this for a minute."

"We need to go."

"I want to see if she wins."

"It's not for another two hours."

I got up to go and my grandfather followed. We went outside and headed towards the exit, taking a slightly longer route to avoid the Ferris wheel. We walked along the outskirts of the fair and then we came across another girl with a sash on, the first we'd seen besides Lori Joseph. The girl was lying on the grass with her palms on the ground like she was about to do a pushup. She was facing our direction. She had dark hair and her face had a sleepy look to it. Her chin was perfectly proportionate to the rest of her face. She turned red when she saw us approaching.

My grandfather spoke to her. "Are you okay, young lady?"

"I'm fine," she said.

"You want my grandson to help you up? This is him." "Hello. No."

"Should we wait here to make sure that you get up okay?"


"You sure?"

"I'm just doing something, okay?"


"What are you doing?" I asked. I had cotton mouth.

"I'm sucking water out of the sprinkler system. I used to do this when I was younger."

"I used to do that," I said. "You serious?" my grandfather said. He looked disappointed in me.

"Yes," I said.

"You should be getting ready for the ceremony, young lady," my grandfather said.

"I don't care about that crap," she said.

After that, I told her my name. We spoke for at least a quarter of an hour and she remained on the ground near the sprinkler during that time. My grandfather did not say another word until the very end, when he invited her to come with us to San Marcos to bring my Aunt Joyce some light bulbs, which had been the original intention of our trip. It is true that even then I knew that we would run into legal difficulties, but it is also true that I felt I would be able to explain everything. From her position on the ground, I was sure that she was looking directly into my nostrils, but I felt confident that there was nothing distracting to see there.

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