Beneath posters emblazoned with the smiling faces of Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Rep. Joseph Fisher, Arlington County Board-hopeful John Milliken and others, a smaller sign advertised: "Clown Faces -- 50 cents." And beneath that, a little girl sat in a folding chair, head back, as a man in the Arlington County Democrats' booth painted a frown over her grin.
Scenes like this one -- incongruous yet familiar -- were commonplace at last weekend's Arlington County Fair. The multi-faced event, held in the cavernous Thomas Jefferson Community Center, had something to attract a sampling of every sort of county inhabitant -- politician and voter, child and parent.
Such as the moment a lanky young man in a strinkingly evil Darth Vadar costume paraded among the booths, playing Pied Piper to a throng of kids yelling, "Get him! Get him!"
Or the response to a question about the whereabouts of Fisher and Milliken.
"Last time I saw them they were over at Spiderman booth," said one campaign worker.
Meanwhile, the loudspeaker system paged a wandering husband: "Your wife is lost and will meet you at the information booth."
It was likely any other American fair, minus the livestock. Some booths were set up to hawk causes, such as the Equal Rights Amendment. Others advertised services, like the Arlington Animal Welfare League or Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's Environmental Noise Display.
One of the favorite public-service demonstrations was staged by the Arlington Police SWAT team, which stimulated a successful hostage rescue mission from the roof of the center as the crowd watched from below.
The display of prize-winniing handicrafts, bedecked with their blue, gold and red ribbons, seemed endless. Afghans, wall hangings, sweaters, flower arrangements, needlepoint and dolls were testimony to how some Arlingtonians spend their free time.
Homegrown vegetables, canned and fresh, took up about as much space as all the other categories combined. Big, bulbous tomatoes, elongated zucchini, petite carrots and red peppers showed off the city farmers' skills.
When they weren't sampling the award-winning Mother's Macaroons ("best cookie at the fair"), signing ballot petitions or buying homemade crafts, fairgoers drifted outside to take in the events of the center's. Community Day.
Fascinated kids yelled, "bon voyage!" as their comrades embarded on hot-air balloon rides. They crowded together in silent awe to catch the stars of the snake show. Toddlers painted at easels while grownups silkscreened their own bumper stickers.
The level of enthusiasm was high. The fair and Community Day saw residents of Arlington and other area having fun on a sunny summer weekend. For some, it was a time for showing off their hobbies; for others, it was a time for admiring the fruits of those hobbies.
Bert Lightner of Alexandria, a part-time magician who works for C&P Telephone Co., fasicinated both kids and adults as he turned Mexican centavos into quarters and balloons into animals.
"When I can make half of what I make for C&P doing magic shows," Lightner said, "I'll become a fulltime magician."