Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

An Outing to the Country


The country fair in Clinton, La., was either a vegetable and fruit market or a delightful display of artisan wares by country folk, we decided, as we drove up Plank Road from Baton Rouge on a crisp blue flower-scented mild day of humbling blessedness. Few cars were on the road this early on Sunday morning, but the parking lots of the many churches on the way were full. I don't think I have ever seen so many Baptist churches alongside one road as I saw this morning, and I marveled at their robust architecture and wealth, even as I wondered what could be in the mind of the preacher who advertised a sermon on the subject of, "Don't be boastful in anything except in the cross." I was certainly humbled by the dazzling air and myriad shades of tender green as flat country turned into hills just over the Comite River, but I couldn't for the world of me see what "boasting in the cross" on such a fine day might mean. I realize that the cross has become a kind of fine test for today's Christian, a creature trained like a drug dog to sniff anything at cross-purposes, so to speak, but do they have to bring it up on such a glorious day? Isn't it enough that, rising from the swamp like airplane-impaling stakes and dominating the Baton Rouge skyline, are three white crosses taller than McDonald's arches? That's un-American, if you ask me. Anyway, we perished these thoughts and pushed on toward Clinton through piney, hilly country smelling fresh and bright like the first day of creation, and got to Clinton early enough to catch some of the merchants still setting up on the main street. There were no vegetables and few crafted items, except some tin boxes with fake fur glued to the lids and a few lumber scrap tables (one of which we bought for $20), but there was a lot of interesting junk, including some used books for one dollar a book. I bought a first-edition of a Kay Boyle novel printed in 1944 during the War, warning that its "bulk is less because government regulations prohibit use of heavier paper," and The Private Dining Room and Other New Verses by Ogden Nash, where, upon opening at random, I found the following: "Ah, if the passage of time were backward, and last night/I'd been a child again I'd be fragrant with orange juice,/Instead of reeking of pinch-bottle foreign juice," a sentiment that made us feel grateful for our recent decision to give up alcohol in any form, including foreign liqueurs. At the same time, there was a certain nostalgia emanating from Nash's childhood that also made us wonder why there were no serious craftspeople here, why no sculptures made from tree-mushrooms or dolls woven out of moss. And where had the vegetables gone? Carping aside, it was still a bedazzling buzzing air, and pink children were hunting Easter eggs watched over by wooden bunnies. We had ourselves a spicy sausage po-boy with mayo and finely chopped onions, and nearly drove into Mississippi, until we remembered that they have even more churches there, and it is hunting season for something or other. It always is in our benighted region.

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