The man who brought the world the rainbow-colored life-size wax cast of a human hand is looking for a new challenge. And right now, the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair is his laboratory.
"There's only so many things you can do with five fingers," Chris Loggie is saying, as he stands near the midway under a blue and white sign that reads, "Wax World--The Wax Hand People." And, he laments, he's seen them all. The peace sign, the okay sign, the sign for "I love you," the forefinger-and-pinkie-finger combination that means either "Go, Texas Longhorns!" or "Go, Satan!"
Such is the lot of the 36-year-old entrepreneur, who for the second year has set up shop at the Gaithersburg fairgrounds with his brother and sister-in-law and their children to offer wax casts of fairgoers' hands at prices that start at $6.
You never know what you're going to find at the fair, a quintessential summer diversion that around Washington flourishes during a season stretching from the Loudoun County Fair in early August to the Virginia State Fair the last week of September. About 30,000 people a day have been drawn to the 1999 Montgomery County fair, which runs through Saturday. The sheep is the featured animal this year, and such breeds as Dorset, Hampshire, Suffolk and Corriedale are on display in pens and being put through their paces in the show arena by young 4-H Club members.
But beyond the livestock displays is what might be called "quirky Americana." In Gaithersburg, fairgoers can cheer on racing pigs, fill up on funnel cakes, sniff the pungent odors of the swine pens, watch a man use a chain saw to carve a turtle out of a tree stump, pan for gold in a bath tub and scramble themselves silly on the Zipper.
Wax World is firmly in this tradition.
The process is simple: After you've chilled your hand for a few minutes in cold water and then formed it into the gesture you want immortalized, your arm is guided by a blue-aproned employee into a tank of special, paraffin-based wax. Depending on air temperature there are seven to nine more dips into the 130-degree liquid, which feels very warm but not dangerously so.
After the final dip, the dull, back edge of a butter knife is rocked across the wrist and the sleeve of waste material removed and thrown back into the molten wax tank. The waxy hand is then plunged into cold water, cooling and hardening the material before the mold is pulled off like a glove, leaving you with a large wax cast of your hand.
Why would anyone want a large wax cast of his hand? One might as well ask why anyone would pay money to use a mallet to launch rubber frogs toward floating plastic lily pads in the hopes of winning a stuffed Pokemon doll.
Customers can pick from among a half-dozen colors for the final coat, or splurge on the rainbow, which, as the name implies, features parallel lines of color across the hand.
"I'm the inventor of the rainbow," Loggie says. "I'm proud of that."
"I'm also the only wax operator who can do four hands," adds the Damascus resident. Four separate hands--thumbs linked forming one giant fist--is to hand waxers what the triple somersault is to circus aerialists.
The tall, bearded Loggie, his salt and pepper hair held in a ponytail with a leather and brass strap, says he apprenticed with a Baltimore hand waxer for two years before branching out on his own three years ago. His brother Thomas, 49, an Army retiree from Gaithersburg, signed on soon after. Thomas's wife, Linda, 48, is a paralegal by day but helps out at night and on weekends. Siblings Marji, 18, Jon, 17, and Micah, 15, also assist. ("I think Micah has the potential to be a top-notch wax man," Chris confides.) They do about eight fairs a season but are looking to expand.
As darkness starts to fall and the explosions from the Hollywood Stunt Car Show boom from the grandstand, a fairgoer walks up to Wax World. A finger has broken off a wax hand he purchased earlier in the day. Can it be fixed? he asks.
"That's the best part of wax," Linda says. "We can fix anything."
The Loggies turn down requests for "odd body parts," Thomas says. Nor do they do one gesture familiar to any driver who's cut off another car on the Beltway.
"I don't do it," Chris says. "I used to do it right before the fair closed, at around 11:30. I figured that any kid who was up that late, his parents had to know what sort of stuff he was up to." But the fair organizers specifically asked that wax middle fingers not be among the souvenirs of the 1999 fair.
Most everything else Chris says he's done. But then a couple wanders up with their toddler daughter. Can Wax World, they ask, do a complicated triple-hand arrangement: parents' hands, fingers knitted together, with daughter's tiny hand resting on top?
These are the sort of patrons Chris Loggie loves, those who push the paraffin envelope. He uses clothesline to bind together the arms of Eric Neville, 30, and his very pregnant wife Traci, 31. The binding keeps the Germantown couple's hands from separating during the 10-minute process. They chill their hands in the water tank, clasp them, then dip their arms together into the wax. Kristina, almost 3, is right behind them. After the final dip, the youngster is instructed to place her wax-covered hand on top of her parents' and press firmly.
This is the critical moment. Kristina must apply the correct amount of pressure. She must stay still as the three hands are then plunged into the cooling bath. Finally, all three must carefully remove their flesh hands, taking care not to crack the cold wax carapace.
They do it. It's perfect. When trimmed with scissors and dipped in a rainbow of colors it becomes a keepsake of the year Kristina went to the fair, the year her hand was that small, the year before her little brother or sister was born.
Loggie surveys his work. "It's been a while since I've seen a first. But this is a first," he says. "I'm just amazed at it. . . . That made my night, that's for sure."