Friday, July 30, 2010

Islam is not your enemy

 (Islamophobia Watch) -- Those behind a sign posted in front of their northwest Gainesville church, proclaiming in red letters "Islam is of the devil," say it's a way to express their religious beliefs and is a message of "a great act of love."

(CNN) -- In protest of what it calls a religion "of the devil," a nondenominational church in Gainesville, Florida, plans to host an "International Burn a Quran Day" on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.  The Dove World Outreach Center says it is hosting the event to remember 9/11 victims and take a stand against Islam... --Read the whole sorry story here.
Ah, Florida!  How I so very much regret that, on the one occasion in which I visited your state, I had no time at all to visit charming Gainesville.  I'd love to say that I might someday come, but, honestly, chances are slim.

Nothing disgusts me more than the kind of bigotry displayed by the Dove World Outreach Center.  I've ended decade-old friendships rather than tell a person twice that I don't care to hear any anti-Muslim bigotry.

Are there Tea Party people out there who will condemn this idiocy?  How about Sister Sarah?  Or Rush? How about Drum Major Newt?  Or that up-and-comer Eric Cantor?

I'm not holding my breath...

If there are any Tea Party people who have open minds, I tell you now that Islam is not your enemy.  If you hold the view that Islam is dedicated to destroying your way of life, such fears can easily be dispelled.  

Take a look at Burkina Faso in western sub-Saharan Africa.  The population of 15 to 16 million is some 60% Muslim, 20% Catholic, and 20% other, according to Wikipedia.  It is one of the poorest countries in Africa, with very few resources.

But, you know what?  Muslims and Christians live side by side without any "clash of faiths" bullsh*t messing things up.

My wife, Maty, as I have mentioned many times on this blog, lived in Burkina Faso for most of her life.  She is a practicing Muslim.  But she attended a Catholic school in Ouagadougou.

One of the biggest events in Maty's lifetime was when Pope John Paul II came to Ouagadougou in late January of 1990.  Schools and work places were shut down.  People lined the streets all along the route to the football stadium, which they packed to capacity and beyond, to pay their respects to the leader of more than a billion Christians.  This, in a country that is 60% Muslim.

So, you see, Tea Party people, Muslims and Christians live side by side peaceably.  They even go so far as to respect and honor each other!  It is possible!  You see?  Just like they do in Turkey and Greece and Senegal and Iran and Pakistan

Anyone who tells you that Islam is your enemy is either an ignoramus or is trying to distract you from something else.

Islam is not your enemy.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wherefore this penchant for self-destruction?

Laissez le bon temps rouler
Has there ever been a time in your life when you confused recklessness with passion? Have you ever mistaken Devil-Be-Damned abandon with lust for life?  Have you ever justified self-destructive behavior with some variation of the phrase "I'm being true to myself," or, "I won't be compromised" or "I live life to the fullest?"

I certainly have.  Nor can I say that I regret it.  All part of the tapestry, eh?

The world is full of prominent examples of people who spurn restraint, who hasten and invite death every day of their lives:  Glenn Beck or Timothy Treadwell or Shane MacGowan, for example.  The range of behavior is vast:  everything from inciting hatred, to standing face to face with grizzly bears, to drinking oneself to death. 

Glenn, Timothy, and Shane:  clowns to some; heroes to others
But why do people behave in this manner?  What demons possess them?  There are as many reasons as there are people, I imagine.

In my own case, my first self-destructive period (drinking, drug use, promiscuity) occurred during my late teens and early-to-mid-twenties, when I was attending college. I was too young to know any better, frankly.  And reckless behavior was a way to pretend that I didn't care that I didn't have a girlfriend.  (Which is not to say I didn't have girls, mind you.  Lots of those.) When I graduated and moved to Portland, I put away childish things... for a time.

My second period of self-destructive behavior occurred a few years after my divorce, when I began to believe that I might not find a life partner.  Loneliness, and fear of loneliness reared up and I fell back to the behavior that I had learned in college:  I pretended not to care that I was alone.  That period ended when I found Maty.  (And, even then, it took some arm-twisting on her part.)  

If we assume that everyone has this propensity to some degree, what does it indicate?  It seems to run against the grain of nature, doesn't it?  Or has this behavioral bent always been with us?

And why does society ascribe a tragi-romantic virtue to people who behave in this manner?  Why do we admire them?  And what is it that causes us, from time to time, to tell ourselves "If I continue down this path, it will surely lead to my destruction," just before we shrug and plunge right in?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Una pequeña victoria

¡Victoria!... por el momento...
Hoy, un juez federal dictaminó que partes del ley infame de Arizona, SB1070, se adelantan a jurisdicción federal y por lo tanto, no debe ser aplicadas.

Juez Susan Bolton era muy especifica cuando ella bloqueó las partes del ley más polémicas.  Es una decisión hábilmente redactada.  Es obvio que la jueza demostró moderación.  (¡Claro, los conservadores van a llorer al cielo!  ¿Pero, qué se puede hacer?)

Parece que el Departamento de Justicia, bajo Abogado General Holder, ha demostrado gran habilidad con sensibilidad política.  Los federales no trataron anular la ley completamente, lo que puede significar solo una cosa.  La administración de Obama planifica ir a la Corte Suprema.  (¡Bienvenido, Justicia Kagan!)

La decisión es, en efecto, un retraso.  Tal vez, la administración desea que, con el paso de tiempo, congresistas, ambos republicanos y democratos, serán obligados actuar.  Después de todo, la cuestión de inmigración crecerá en el conocimiento de la publica.  Eventualmente, los cobardes en el congreso entenderán que ellos deben actuar si ellos quieren sus trabajos.  (¡Ojala que ellos se preocupen tanto por los trabajos del resto de nosotros!)

Cuando esa pasa, el Presidente presidirá sobre un gran debate que se librará en el congreso, como ese de la reforma de las políticas de salud.  Parece que eso es su estilo.

Pero, por lo menos, la decisión de hoy es una victoria pequeña para nosotros que apoyan los derechos por los inmigrantes.  ¡Vamos a ver lo que pasará con la Corte Suprema!

(Perdóneme por favor para mi español malo.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Oregon agnostic

I believe that the search for Truth (or God, or Whatever-You-Choose-to-Call-It) is similar to a calculus expression.  That is, let Absolute Truth =  ∞; and let X = Human Comprehension.   The search for Truth might be expressed thusly:

lim {X -> ∞} f(x) = X/∞ = 0

Or, to put it another way:  Truth is incomprehensible to the human mind.  It is beyond our capacity to understand.  The best we can do is approach It, just as X approaches ∞. And no matter how close we get, we remain infinitely far away.

Such belief, of course, requires a degree of faith.  More faith, in fact, than is required to derive a literal interpretation of scripture.  By acknowledging that Truth is unknown and ultimately unknowable, one must accept that, at any moment in the journey through life, a sudden epiphany may render ridiculous all of one's previous assumptions and tenets.  Enlightenment is never absolute. 

So, regardless of the method we use to approach the Truth, be it Hindu mysticism, Buddhist tranquility, or strict adherence to the rigid dogma of the Children of Abraham, (any of which is as valid a method as any other) we cannot arrive at the Destination.

This, I suppose, is why I find objectionable so much of what passes for religion in the world.  Bible-thumping hypocrites, jihad warriors waving the Koran, and the brutal descendants of fanatic Simon Zealotes all seem to believe they have arrived at Truth.  They've stopped looking for It.  Instead, they try to compel others to believe as they do.     

Well, as a scion of this little corner of humanity's domain, where religion is largely viewed as a private matter, I reject all that.

I'm an Oregon agnostic, seeking with the full knowledge that I will never arrive.  Forty-eight years into it, and I'm still looking.

How about you, dear reader?  How does it seem to you?  I'm listening.

Note to Anonymous poster: The f(x) of my equation is X/∞ . X does not approach 0, it approaches infinity. And anything divided by infinity = 0, which is the point I was trying to make with this post.

Monday, July 26, 2010

You ain't got money, you ain't got sh*t

Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America - middle-class America - whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America - narrow-interest America - whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a president. --Presidential candidate John Edwards 2004
There you go, people.  That's the truth in America.  (Never mind the short-comings of the messenger.  They're irrelevant.)

The "Reagan Revolution" is bearing its rotten fruit.  Ever since the old Prunehead successfully hood-winked people into believing that the ultra-rich were heroes rather than robber barons, this nation has been transformed into a plutocracy, an oligarchy.  In this neo-feudal system, ultra-rich individuals indenture the lower classes, skimming the cream off the milk pail of their labor.

George W. Bush is the epitome, the crowning achievement, of this system.  He is a man who was presented with opportunities that only a very few elites are ever afforded, simply by virtue of his family name.  He failed miserably at everything he ever did in his life, and, as a result of those failures, was promoted upward, until he eventually sat, like a drooling idiot monkey, at the desk in the Oval Office.

Or consider Oregon's former Senator Gordon Smith, who made a fortune producing frozen vegetables in eastern Oregon.  He made this fortune while paying his (mostly Latino) workers less than minimum wage with no benefits of any kind.  Smith is so steeped in the plutocratic doctrine that he, no doubt, can see nothing wrong with the arrangement.  "What do these people want from me?" one can imagine him musing.  "I let them eat freely from the leavings of my table."

An old friend of mine who sells cars for a living told me a couple stories that succinctly portray aspects of the economic conditions brought about by the conservative "philosophy" of dismantling public projects, of relieving the "haves" of their civic responsibility with regressive tax cuts. 

The first story involved a wealthy man and his 15 year old daughter.  (My friend described the man as a "multimillionaire.")  The man brought the girl in to my friend's dealership to buy her a brand, spanking new vehicle for her 16th birthday.  My friend showed them around and they came to settle on a vehicle that was listed at around $30K.  But there was a problem:  the girl was unhappy with the wheels on the car.  She wanted 17" wheels rather than the 16" wheels with which the care was equipped.  My friend described the ensuing negotiation between father and daughter as a "hissy fit."  Father and daughter left the lot squabbling.

Later, my friend got a call from the father.  "What can you do to get me the 17" wheels?" the man inquired.  "That's the only way this deal is going to happen."  So, my friend went to work locating some 17" wheels and arranging to have them shipped to the lot, there to be mounted on the car.  This arrangement added some cost to the vehicle, naturally, but the father seemed unperturbed.  What was a few hundred dollars if it meant he could stop the tragic flow of his precious daughter's tears?

The second story involved a young, single mother freshly graduated from college with a Bachelor's degree in English.  This woman had employment as a teacher and was hoping to buy some reliable transportation for herself and her young child.  My friend and she reviewed her financial situation to determine how much car she could afford.  My friend learned that the woman had nearly $60K debt in student loans.  He estimated that servicing the loans would require payments of some $500 per month, effectively for the woman's entire working life.  He described it as "indentured servitude."  It's unclear whether or not the woman was able to arrange financing for her nondescript, middle-of-the-road vehicle.

And there you have it:  neo-feudalism.  On the one hand, we have a girl who, we must imagine, has never had to work for anything in her life, who believes that she is entitled to every luxury the world has to offer.  On the other, we have a mother, burdened by debt she incurred trying to make her way in the world, who will spend her lifetime servicing debt, paying money to the usurers.

This, of course, is the natural result of the Reagan Revolution.  Wealth collects at the top.  The so-called "American Dream" is a myth, a mirage that is perpetuated to keep the hoi polloi deluded into thinking that they, too, can be at the top.  And the corporate media, controlled by the mega-rich, plays its part by pitting the lower classes against each other along ethnic and religious lines.

In America, there's only one thing that counts for sh*t.  And that's money.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

SoML: The Thunderhead Motel (Pt. III)

Note: This is the third episode of a fictional story. Future episodes will appear on this blog under the label "The Sons of Magda Lane." No set schedule, just as it occurs to me. Feedback is welcome.

Read Part II here

"He's out there.  I feel him watching us.  Like tiny needles prickling the back of my neck."  Whistler Lane reclined in the cheap plastic lounge chair next to the pool, his right foot resting on his left knee, forming a figure-four.  His guitar lay across his lap.  He was shirtless and barefoot, thin as a lodge pole.  His long dark hair was pulled back, tied at the nape of his neck.  The tresses fell low, between his shoulder blades.  The cuffs of his khaki trousers were pulled halfway up his shins, exposing his slender, hairless calves.  He strummed the guitar once, frowned, twisted at a tuning peg, plucking the string as he turned.  His eyebrows crowded down on the bridge of his long, sharp nose as he dialed in on the pitch.

"Could be," Stone Gray said.  "Doesn't matter, anyway."  Stone wore tight black swimming briefs, a towel around his neck.  His bushy beard and crazy, kinky hair, black as midnight, hid the workings of his face.  But his eyes were gray and hard; hard as steel, hard as the muscles in his bulky torso, in his arms and legs.  He stood at one end of the pool, and dipped a toe into the water.  His eyes scanned the busy street beyond the motor entry to the Thunderhead Motel, past the neon sign announcing "No Vacancy."

The mid-morning sun only just peeked over the eave of the motel's southern wing to strike the surface of the water, drawing dazzling yellow shapes, rectangles and polygons, that danced on the blue-painted bottom of the pool.

All around was a great bustle.  It was the usual arrangement:  the entire motel was reserved exclusively for Magda and Family for as long as they stayed in Portland.  It was where they always stayed when they came to the City of Roses.  The crew had pulled in the moving vans and were unloading equipment, hauling it into the rooms.  Every door was open. The load-in was in full swing, and the center area formed by the motel's three wings (north, south, and east) was filled with banging and bustling and shouted orders.

"You say it doesn't matter," Whistler said.  He strummed the guitar again, letting the chord resonate.  He nodded to himself, then shot a glance at Stone's broad back.  "I wish I could afford to believe that."  He paused, musing for a moment.  His eyes lost focus, as if he were seeing through the shadowy veils of memory to a midnight snowstorm in the mountains.  He spoke.   "I saw shadows that night.  Dancing against the flames.  They seemed like naked children, frolicking in the snow."

Stone did not turn.  "Tricks of the light.  Nothing more," he grumbled.

Whistler shrugged.  "I didn't feel like waiting to be sure."  Then he grinned, jocular.  "Neither did you.  Neither did brave Stone Gray, huffing and puffing through the snow, hellbent for the highway."

Stone grunted, took the towel from around his neck and threw it, striking Whistler in the face.  They laughed.

"Careful!  You're going to ruin me!"  The voice bellowed out across the expanse of the motel parking lot.  Beren Angel, owner and proprietor of the Thunderhead, was striding across the blacktop.  His red face was square and severe, with a broad jaw and cheeks like slabs of stone.  His close-cropped hair was fine and fair.  He strode as if on military parade, his arms cocked at his sides, swinging back and forth in cadence with his footsteps.  "Look at that!  God!  What are you doing?"  He pointed at the balcony of the north wing.

Whistler craned his neck around to where Beren pointed.  Two of the crew, shirtless, dread-locked, jangling silver and turquoise jewelry from earlobes and nostrils, were struggling with a multi-course pedal harp.  The  body of the instrument was polished, dark mahogany.  The neck was so long that the crew had to tilt the instrument to the diagonal to get through the door frame.

"Easy, Beren," Whistler said.  "A few nicks in the door jamb won't hurt anything.  It's the harp that might get damaged."

Beren leaned on the black cathedral fence that skirted the pool patio.  "Every time you show up here, my blood pressure goes through the roof."

Whistler grinned.  Stone snorted, turned and dove into the pool.  Despite his blocky broad form, he cut into the water with barely a ripple. 

"You think it's funny?" Beren demanded.  "You know how much money this costs me?  Every day you're here is another day that I don't have any paying guests."

"Don't pretend that you don't benefit from our --arrangement," Whistler said.  He strummed on the guitar, idly.

Beren shook his head.  "Benefit?  Your mother's voodoo tricks are fine for children and fools that don't know any better.  For me, it's all smoke and mirrors.  I don't know why I put up with it."

"You put up with it because she demands that you do," Whistler said.  His tone was harsh and imperious.  "You do it because when she pulls your string, you dance.  Just like all the rest of us."

Beren's jaw clenched, but he kept his eyes on the upper balcony, where the two crewmen had managed to wrestle the harp inside the room.  Stone's head emerged from beneath the water at the far end of the pool; his hair was matted down; silver beads dotted his beard.

"And here's our noble brother," said Whistler, sunnily.

Regal Lane appeared from one of the ground floor doors.  He was broad-shouldered and tall, with a narrow waist and long legs.  His jacket and trousers were black leather.  A silver chain with long round links ran through his belt loops. He had a shock of wiry red hair that stood up off his head like a sheaf of grain.  Mutton chop sideburns ran down his jaw, halfway to the point of his prominent, round chin.  His mouth was broad and straight and somber.  Although he was a few years younger than Whistler, his eyes sagged at the corners, like those of a sad old man clinging to hope in spite of everything.  When he saw Whistler and Beren, he stopped dead, his arms cocked at his sides.  He hesitated, then started to turn around.

"Take it easy, take it easy," Beren scoffed.  "I was just leaving."  He turned and walked back in the direction of the motel office.  He hunched his shoulders as he walked.

Whistler waited until Beren disappeared into the office, then turned to his brother.  "What is it about him that bothers you?" he asked.

Regal's face darkened.  "Nothing.  It's nothing," he said.  Then, "I'm on my way to town.  She wants me to look at a tour bus."  He started away with long, swift strides.

Whistler, strumming the guitar, called after him.  "Whatever it is that you're hiding is going to come out eventually.  Wouldn't you feel better just telling me about it now?"

Regal  stopped, mid-stride, then turned slowly to face his brother.  He pursed his lips; his eyes were troubled.  Whistler waited.

After a moment, Regal came to a decision.  "Yesterday," he said.  "I was at Waterfront Park.  Tara Colds was there."

Stone paused in the act of pushing back into the middle of the pool.  Whistler leaned forward, laying the guitar on an empty lounge chair next to him.  "You're sure?" he asked, urgently.

Regal shrugged, reluctantly opened the gate in the waist-high fence, and walked across the white concrete to stand before his brother.  Stone swam to the corner nearest them; he rested his elbows on the rim of the pool.

"She was pedaling a rickshaw," Regal said.  "Riding tourists up and down the waterfront."

"Are you sure it was she?" Whistler asked.  "Did she see you?" 

"I'm sure," Regal said, irritated.  He scowled.  "If she saw me, she gave no indication.  There were a great many people on the promenade." 

"She saw you," Stone murmured.  "She sees everything."

"I need to know how it was," Whistler urged.  "Every detail.  How did she seem to you?"

"As I said, she was pedaling a rickshaw.  There were two people in the seats.  A well-dressed man and a young woman, a girl, really.  She had her hand on his arm.  He was older.  He had an air of importance."

"And what of Tara?  How did she seem to you?"

Regal considered.  "She wore a plain, short-skirted dress.  Sunglasses.  She was all smiles and laughter."

Whistler looked at Stone.  "What did I tell you?  He's here.  What more evidence do you need?"

Stone glowered, but said nothing.

Whistler turned back to Regal.  "I assume you've told mother..."

Regal shrugged.  "She already knew.  She asked me about it as soon as I got back."

Whistler winced.  "So that's why she was gone this morning.  Off to confer with the other Families."  He pinched his lower lip.  "Whatever Stormy has been stirring up since Old Man Grissom's --accident --is about to become apparent.  In any case, we'll learn more when mother gets back."

Stone grimaced when Whistler pronounced the name, Grissom.  "She'll be here soon," he said.  "Vinnie left to get her a while ago."

Whistler leaned back, frowning.  "He has his eyes on us, we can be sure of that.  Whatever he's plotting, he won't want us screwing it up for him."

"Your mother might have other ideas," Stone said.

Regal twisted the toe of his boot on the cement, looking down.  "Anyway, I'm on my way.  I'll be back later this afternoon."  He turned and left the pool patio, walking out toward the busy street.  Traffic was running thick and fast.

Whistler leaned back, pulled up a knee and rested his arm:  wrist limp, the hand dangling.  Stone pushed himself backward, floated, face-up in the water.

A sudden squeal of tires, a shriek of brakes lifted them both out of their reveries.  Whistler shot his glance toward the motor entry of the motel.  He saw Regal spring back with eye-puzzling quickness, arms raised, toes pointed, like a matador avoiding the charge of the bull.  A black sedan lurched in off the street, jumped the curb and swept by him.  No more than a hand's span separated Regal from the streaking black menace.

Whistler leaped to his feet and ran.  But quick as he was, Stone was ahead of him.  Stone exploded out of the water with a sudden burst of strength, and hurdled the short fence.  His bare feet slapped the pavement, leaving wet footprints to mark his path.

The sedan shrieked to a halt, then backed up and zoomed away.  Tinted windows hid the driver.  By the time they reached the curb, the car was lost in the traffic on the street.

Regal stood stroking his jaw, frowning.  Then, it was the three of them, gathered like mourners at a wake, musing silently.  Behind them, some of the crew had stopped their activities and were gathering on the balconies, pointing, talking excitedly.  Beren Angel stood in the office door, a look of outrage splashed across his craggy features.

"What do they call it, Stone?" Whistler asked suddenly.  "In baseball, when the pitcher throws a pitch high and inside, at the chin of the batter?"

Stone stood dripping.  He shot an irritated glance at Whistler.  "You mean a brushback?" he asked.

"Exactly!" Whistler exclaimed.  "A brushback.  That's what it is!"

To be continued...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A few summer pix

Mean ol' Mount Hood

Last week, perennial Multnomah County Sheriff candidate Andre Danielson and I went tramping around on the knees of Hood the Heartless.  Specifically, we hiked up around Lost Lake.

Uprooted tree
I'm trying to convince my fastidious and largely unadventurous (but still adorable) wife to go camping, and so Andre and I took a drive up there to scout the place out.  Now that I have a method for powering the Amazing Snore Machine in the outdoors (see "Breaking Camp" in Pt. IV of the OCF 2010 series), I'm all enthused about going back to nature.

So, today, since my creative juices are rather depleted, I thought I'd just post a few photos of the beautiful sites.  Enjoy!

Lost Lake flora
Home to woodpeckers
Northern shore
Andre and the cedars

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Peace from P-town, Summer 2010

Having a snooze at Portland's Own Waterfront "Open-Air" Hotel
The conservatives are thrashing pitifully, right now, wrestling with their racist demons, but, you know, I'm just not in much of a mood for ridiculing people.  The itch that ridicule scratches is poison oak of the soul.  Admittedly, there are times when one simply must scratch.  But scratching only leads to inflammation.  Today, I'll just express a sincere wish for success to the non-racists in the Tea Party.  I'm afraid I hold out small hope that they can succeed.

Hemlock up at Lost Lake
The Oregon Country Fair gifted me with a decidedly more serene demeanor.  (The Fair can do that.)  Immersing oneself in hippie culture is the opposite of indulging in ridicule.  It is the aloe balm to heal ridicule's scratching.  Hippie culture encourages expressions of creativity, individuality, and, yes, love.  Ridicule is anger finding vent.

Sandal-tanned feet:  a sure sign that summer has finally arrived
The creative well is run rather dry at the moment.  I've been putting out a lot of material lately.  My usual filler in times like these is politics.  But I simply cannot bring myself to dive back into all of that negativity.  And so, I'm reduced to writing these meandering nothings that I'm actually a bit embarrassed about.  But in order to write, you must write.  So I write.

Lost Lake sky
This post reminds me of a joke Ed Knoph told during our drive down to the Fair.  It went like this:

A farmer had a field near a stream, where lived a cow.

One day, the cow spent two hours scratching herself on a fence post.

The next day, she waded in the stream, eating water weeds.

The day after that, the cow wandered up to the woods at the back of the field.

The day after that, she laid in the grass all day.

Shall I go on?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Les femmes de la route

Remember that night in Stockholm
When, boldly you held my gaze
Brazen and lovely,
Deliciously lusty,
But the train swept me off on my way?

Remember those days spent in Prague
When I moped after you like a child
When Catholic creed
Kept you deaf to my need
But your kindly rebuke was quite mild?

Remember our time on La Rambla
When we never were sure of the line?
So we dined at Quatre Gats
And we put away that
And had us a wonderful time!

Monday, July 19, 2010

SoML: Chasing the storm (Pt. II)

Note: At long last, this is the second episode of a fictional story I've been stewing for a good, long while. Future episodes will appear on this blog under the label "The Sons of Magda Lane." No set schedule, just as it occurs to me. Feedback is welcome.

Read Part I here

"God, you've killed me!"  The words chased Vinnie as he sped blindly down the path along the east side of the river.  As fast as he ran, they kept pace, echoing in the blank, red space behind his eyes.   

Vinnie's breath came in great, lunging gasps.  He fled mindlessly, swept forward by the horror of the vision he had left behind.

The young woman lying, just as he had left her, flat on her back, her head raised to examine the wreckage of her body, the blood running freely out from beneath her onto the sun-scorched pavement at the intersection that came off the bridge.  Her face bore an expression of deep, confounding hurt, as if she had been betrayed by an old, dear friend.  "God, you've killed me!" she wailed.

A few minutes earlier, she had been a beautiful young woman with a pearly smile and skin the color of  fresh milk.  Her eyes flashed from shadow under the wide brim of her flower-adorned hat.  She smiled at Vinnie as he waited the light, tapping his fingers on the wheel, impatiently, muttering under his breath.  Despite his sour mood, he shot back a carnivorous grin as if to say  "Careful, girl!  I'm a wolf!"

And then, he had seen the low, black sedan slide past, from right to left on the street before him.  The driver leaned back in his seat, relaxed, confident, one hand toying with the steering wheel, the other dangling out the window, palm open and facing the wind.  The long, hollow cheeks, the sharp chin, the slender neck, and the jet black, lanky straight hair that gathered about the shoulders were as familiar to Vinnie as his own two hands.  Stormy!

Vinnie had not seen his older brother for nearly two years.  Stormcloud Lane had disappeared in the late fall of 2008.  Disappeared suddenly, without warning.  Even Magda herself had not known where he had gone.  Or pretended not to know.  One could never be sure, with Magda.  Whistler may have known something, too, but when Vinnie asked him about it, Whistler's face turned to cold ash.  "Let it lie, man," he had said.  "Stormy'll be back someday.  But right now, just let it lie.  Let it lie."

And there was Vinnie, waiting at the light so he could drive across the Hawthorne Bridge to collect his mother, pluck her out of whichever of her numberless schemes she was embroiled in:  scheming, fascinating, mystic Magda Lane.  Vinnie was totake her to the run-down motel on 82nd Street where the family had set up headquarters for the stay in Portland.

Small wonder, then, that the pretty girl with the milky skin evaporated from Vinnie's mind as he saw his idolized older brother passing before him.  Driving by, lazily, as if he, Vinnie, did not exist.  Small wonder that, when the light turned green, Vinnie stomped on the gas pedal and cut across two lanes to make the left and follow the black sedan.

He felt the surge as the passing gear engaged, the tires shrieked and the car lurched.  His eyes were already scanning the street ahead of him, looking for the sedan, so he did not see the girl taking her long loping steps across the street.  Then she was bent over the hood of the car, her hat flying up and over the windshield, her arms stretched out, hands grasping.  Her eyes went wide with horror; her lips formed an astonished "O."  Vinnie's foot was on the brake, his shoulders pushed back into the seat.  Somewhere in his mind, a child bade him farewell and fled his soul, forever.  Then, the girl was flying away, rising into the air seeming to spring backward like a startled frog. 

The car shrieked to a halt and Vinnie exploded out the door.  "Jesus!  Jesus!" he roared.  He ran ahead toward the girl, where she lay.  Then, he could not speak.

She was on her back.  Her mouth worked for a moment.  Her eyes flitted onto him, then back at her body, lying perfectly straight, hands at her sides, feet together.  Her midsection appeared sunken, like the dusty, dead pit above a collapsed cavern.  "God," she wailed, "you've killed me!"

Vinnie had stood stone still for an instant.  Someone nearby screamed.  He heard car doors opening behind him.  And then he ran.  First, he ran to the left, away from the river.  And then, blind with terror, seized by a panicked, insane notion, he spun around and ran back toward the river.

And so he ran.  He reached the river and turned left, southward, sprinting along the black-topped bicycle path.  The day was hot and there were few people.  But Vinnie saw no one and nothing as he ran.

In time, though he was young, and lithe, his heart and lungs could give no more without rest, and he slowed.  As his body relented, his mind began to wrest control from the panic.

I must hide! he thought.  His breath came in ragged gasps.  I need time to think!

The path ran along the river for miles, Vinnie knew.  Eventually, it would come to the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.  But it was too far.  He couldn't stay on the path that long.

Sweat ran down into his eyes.  He wiped at it angrily with his sleeve.  Stop! he told himself.  Stop for a minute!

Warehouses stood to his left, the Willamette River slid northward to his right.  No one was on the path; he was alone for the moment.  As he gasped for air, he listened.  No sirens, no shouts.  Only the hiss of traffic on the overpass above him.  Only the gentle lap of waves against the shore.

He was crying, then.  Crying for fear, the way he would cry as a child, with his face buried in Magda's breast.  What have I done?  What have I done?  Mama, Mama save me!

The girl's face, the hurt in her voice, as if she were a a schoolgirl treated cruelly by her best friend, assailed him as he stood in the middle of the path, blubbering.  He doubled over, wracked with sobs.  He didn't notice the figure who approached from his left.

Her walk was like the prowl of a lioness on the hunt.  Her shoulders and hips swayed; her mane of auburn hair brushed her shoulders.  Her eyelids hung low over her eyes.  Tiny creases at their corners deepened as she regarded the boy before her.

She walked to within arm's length of Vinnie, then stood at his side, arms folded across her middle, waiting for him to notice her.

He jumped when he saw her, his arms rising to cover his face.  Then he saw that she was regarding him with a patient, amused expression.  No pity, but maybe a hint of compassion in the clear, gray eyes.  She was older than he, by a decade or so:  in the early bloom of adulthood.  One corner of her full-lipped mouth was pulled back in a sardonic smile.

Vinnie calmed, lowered his arms.  He squinted at her.  "Tara?  Is that you?"

"It's me, kid," she said.  "I've been waiting for ya.  Come with me."

"But how...?  But, Mother is waiting and I..."

"Come on, kid," she said.  She stepped close, wrapped herself around his arm and pulled him gently in the direction of the warehouses standing off behind her, quiet and dark as mausoleums.  "The world is full of mystery.  I'll handle your mother."

To be continued...

Friday, July 16, 2010

OCF 2010: Journey home (Pt. IV)

Another tomorrow in the brief dusty march completed.  A sojourn through the hippie duality of hedonism and social awareness:  Oregon Country Fair, 2010.  

Sunday morning came, and it was time to go home.  I was ready.  I missed my African girl.

Breakfast crew at Blazing Salads
Breaking camp
That morning I asserted my S.O.P. status (see Part I) and was absolved of perimeter duty.

When I told Ed, the night before, that I was going to sleep in, he looked askance at me.  "It's an unwritten law that the people that work are the only ones that get shoe-horned in for next year," he warned.

"C'est la vie, Ed," I replied.  "Whatever will be, will be."

He looked disappointed, but, you know, as much as I love the Fair, I'm not sure I want to commit an entire week of precious vacation time on it every single year.  I'd told Mark Freeman as much. 

I walked in to the Fair at about 7am and moseyed up to Watergate to say "hi" to Mark and some of the other crew, then went down and got eggs and bacon from Get Fried Rice.  I was disappointed with breakfast;  I found it bland.  The best breakfast that I encountered at the Fair came from Blazing Salads.  They had a bowl of granola and oatmeal, with lots of fresh fruit (blueberries, raspberries, cherries, apricots) all sliced up in it, the whole thing covered in yogurt.  Delicious!  (Also, potent!  Ahem.)  And the wonderful folks at Blazing Salads even indulged me by sparing the bananas when they dished me up!

Karen, the can-do woman
Working up to escape velocity

I strolled back to camp and slowly began packing up:  Guitar, lantern, flashlight, extra food, paper towels, dirty clothes, battery...  Ah, yes!  The battery.  A heavy, monstrous thing, about two-thirds the size of a car battery, that would push 2 Amps for up to 30 hours.  I used it to power the Amazing Snore Machine and it worked like a charm, running out of juice just as I awoke on Sunday morning.  Four nights of apnea-free sleep on a single charge!  (Gratitude to my darling wife, who found the battery store and dragged me to it.)

I finally broke down my tent and hauled everything out to the grass in Far Side meadow.  But Fair bureaucracy still had one obstacle to place in my path before I left.

We were informed that, due to the agreement Fair had made with ODOT (refer to Part I), no one would be allowed to drive his motor vehicle in to Far Side to load up until 6pm.  I took the news with resignation and with no real worry.  If there is any one trait that all hippies have in common, it is an innate ability, driven (I believe) by psychological need, to overcome, out-maneuver, and work around regulations of any kind.  I just had to sit back and watch it work.

There is none better at finding a way to get things done than my Fair friend, Karen.  (Oddly enough, I've known Karen for 7 years and I don't think I've ever learned her last name.)  When she learned the bad news about car access she got things moving.  She sent her husband, Tim, up to the gate by the highway to talk to the gate-keeper, while she started lobbying Mark Freeman to find a solution.  She had everything humming along nicely when Tim returned with the news that the gatekeeper had relented and would allow us to drive in.

Clockwork, I tell you.

Pokin' along on the dusty road
Long dusty journey
I still had to walk to Outta Site parking lot, but that was no big deal.  If the bureaucracy had yielded, three miles of walking in the hot sun would be a breeze.  Besides, I had to walk through the Fair one last time, to get to my car, and that is always a good thing to do.

As I wandered down the Magic 8, I took a good long while to savor everything the Fair has to offer:  the smells of food and Nag Champra and patchouli and ganja, the streaming music that came first from one direction and then another and then sometimes would meld in some magical spot, blissfully confusing your ears.  And, of course, the sights.

Village Restaurant, with delightful barrista

Fair face
Vegetable people
Dade:  "Mind if I take your picture?"  Top Hat:  "So long as you don't mind if we look damn sexy while you do."
Do you like my hat, sir?
Stone Age Smurf hunter-gatherers
By the time I got to my car, I was hot, tired, and happy.  I got in, started the air-conditioning, drove back to the Far Side and loaded up my gear.  Then I went around and said goodbye to all my crew mates.  Another good year, all.

On the drive home, I putt-putted along in the slow lane, content to drive at the pace of the vehicle in front of me.  I was unflappable, peaceful, content.  After a time, I got home.  And then I got unloaded.  And then I shaved and took a long shower.  And then I waited for my African girl to get home from work, so I could tell her all about it.

This concludes the OCF 2010 series.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

OCF 2010: So, how was the Fair? (Pt. III)

Another tomorrow in the brief dusty march completed.  A sojourn through the hippie duality of hedonism and social awareness:  Oregon Country Fair, 2010.  

Enough preamble, what?  Let's talk about the Fair experience this year.

Main Stage


The Fair is always full of great music, whether it is a name band on Main Stage (this year's ensemble included The Gourds and Portland's own Tap Water) or a roving minstrel playing along the path in the Magic 8.  This year, I saw very little music, but there are two performances that stand out in my memories.  

Young rappers
The first of these, was an impromptu rap performed by three young men in the area just off Main Stage.  One of them laid down a fantastic rhythm while the other two traded raps.  The performance was as live as it gets, totally unrehearsed, made up as they went along, and they never lost beat nor faltered as they commented on the Fair, on passers-by, on the weather, on societal issues, and hippie-dippy love.

Eventually, they attracted the attention of a stunning young woman with clear, mocha skin, and an unruly blonde-brown afro in a revealing skintight dress.  She boldly stood directly in front of them, one hip slung to the side, admiring their skill.

Thought I, "This will cause them to hiccup."  But they kept rolling.  They even incorporated their new admirer into their rap:

"I like the way that you wear your dress, and, and, and,
I like the way it makes my head a mess, and, and, and..."

The woman smiled, an honest, closed-lip smile.  I got the feeling that, while she was definitely impressed, the lads were going to have to work harder than that.

Plea to the Four Winds
The other musical performance that stuck with me was the Native American prayer dance I witnessed on Sunday, as I was leaving.  A Native American shaman blessed the Fair with a peace and harmony dance.  His face was painted black and white; he waved an eagle feather to the Four Winds.  The drum circle behind him cried out their haunting prayers in warbling coyote voices, while the dead, relentless beat pushed on.  It was a stirring experience.

"Man, why can't it just be this way all the time, man?  'Cause, ya know, man, it's love, man.  Ya know, if people would just love each other, man..."
Servant of Love in the Hippie-dippy Love Cocoon

Saturday evening, I ventured out of camp and into the Fair.  In an astonishing display of initiative (all things considered) I managed to time my entry at the top of the "Magic Eight" such that I arrived in the wake of the Sweep.  Very dusty, it was, but the crowd was as thin as it would ever be.

My objective was to grab a bowl of Stir Fried chicken yakisoba, take a look around, then head back to camp and relax.  I got my heaping bowl of yakisoba with the tender, slow-cooked chicken (delicious!) and looked around for a place to eat.

At a nearby table, sat two men.  One appeared to be what one imagines when one thinks of the South Valley country hippie:  a weather-worn fellow, with long iron-gray hair pulled back in a ponytail underneath a mangled straw hat.  He wore khaki shorts, sandals, and a bright tie-dyed tee-shirt, splotched with red, blue, yellow and green.  His face was well-wrinkled and tan, making it difficult to estimate his age.  He could have been 45 or he could have been 65.

Seated across from him was another man.  This fellow was perhaps in his late 40s or early 50s.  His sole vestment was a pair of cut-off shorts.  He was in excellent physical condition, as I could plainly see.  His skin, from the top of his bald pate to the tops of his feet, was evenly browned in a healthy tan.  He was barefoot, with one foot tucked up under his rump.  His hands were folded on his knee.

"You fellas mind if I join you?"  I asked, with a smile.

"Well, I'd mind if you didn't!" responded the country hippie, with a broad, sincere grin.

"I'm Dade," I said, extending my hand.

"I'm Charley," replied the country hippie.

We shook.

Charley's companion looked my way and smiled a beatific smile.  His pupils were as wide as saucers.  Aha! thought I.  This fellow has recently embarked on the Long Solemn Dream.

Charley saw my yakisoba and excused himself to go get a bowl of his own, leaving me and the dream voyager alone at the table.

"You know," says he, "as a first-time Fair-goer, it feels good to be home."

Here we go, thought I.  I said, "What do you mean?"

"When you see love like this, you just know it is true and right," he said.  He was wrapped up tight in the hippie-dippy love cocoon. "Why can't people see it?  Why can't it be like this everywhere?"  He winced gently, thinking of all the unenlightened souls who are screwing up the world.

"First-time Fair-goer, right?" I asked.

He nodded.

"Well, I'm not trying to bring you down or anything, but I've been coming to this party for twenty years now.  One thing I've learned is that behind this veneer of social responsibility and all the peace, love, dope window-dressing, people are still people.  The good and the bad."

He looked at me with serene befuddlement, as if I were a speckled toad hopping across his picnic blanket.   But only for a moment.  I saw his eyes grow wider and more solemn as he sank even further into the Long Solemn Dream.  He blessed me with a tolerant smile.  "I choose to hang on to the love, brother," he said.

"Fair enough," I said, only vaguely aware of my own pun.  I finished my yakisoba and stood up to go wander.  I gave him a smile.  "Anyway, have a good Fair.  What was your name again?"

"My name is--"  He thought for a moment, then in a surge of enlightenment answered "--Servant of Love."  His passive, love-bombed, fully-dilated eyes met my own in peaceful defiance.  He rested his chin on his folded hands which, in turn, rested on his drawn up knee.

"Is that what you want me to call you?" I asked.

He shrugged.

"We'll talk again in 10 years," I said.  I gave him a wave, and set off to find some music.

I'm not smirking, you understand.  I've been there.  When one is in the grip of the Long Solemn Dream anything seems possible: our most cherished hopes about God and humanity and the benevolence of existence. That feeling, the one that comes with belief in a Universal Good, might even linger for a while, afterward.  But the human spirit is a sieve.  Eventually, it all leaks out and leaves you tired and dusty.

An ent at the Country Fair
Starry night on the Far Side

There is no surer sign of the passage of time than that on Saturday night, in lieu of attending the Midnight Show, in which all performers in the Fair take the stage for brief encore performances, the Watergate crew chose to pull lawn chairs out into the grass of Far Side field and admire the stars.

A dozen or so of us sat and star-gazed and relearned our constellations:  Big and Little Dippers, the North Star.  Myk Walker pointed out Scorpio.  Talk was subdued, but meaningful.  Kids were running all around us with glow-sticks.  Mark Greinke was tossing a glowing Frisbee around.  Someone nearby was projecting a laser light show onto the trees at the edge of the field. 

There was a time, not so long ago, when our camp would have been empty, everyone having gone in to the Fair to see the Midnight Show, and would remain empty until nearly dawn, when straggling, loaded hippies would creep back to their tents to catch a few minutes of sleep before Sunday morning shift began. 

And I guess maybe it means I'm settling in to middle age, but I didn't miss the heavy drinking and partying and staying up all night.  I found that I much preferred the stars.

To be continued...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

OCF 2010: Working at the Fair (Pt. II)

Another tomorrow in the brief dusty march completed.  A sojourn through the hippie duality of hedonism and social awareness:  Oregon Country Fair, 2010.  Read Part I here.

Being part of a working crew at the Oregon Country Fair comes with both privileges and responsibilities.

The privileges are obvious.  Working crew get to stay past the Sweep and enjoy the Fair after the general public has gone home.  Working crew generally camp at the various campgrounds on the periphery of the fairgrounds.  After completing a shift, working crew are awarded Fair "scrip:"  vouchers redeemable at the various food vendors in the Fair.

The responsibilities are that each member of a working crew must work during the Fair and must behave according to Fair decorum.  (Trust me, people, it's minimal.)

Watergate crew, assembled for deployment, 5:30am
Perimeter security

I'm part of Watergate crew, which is responsible for maintaining fairground perimeter security from 6am to 10am on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings.  We are also obligated to help with Sweep on Thursday and Friday evenings.

Perimeter security involves sitting in a camping chair at some point on the fairground perimeter and guarding against people trying to sneak into the Fair from the surrounding fields and woods.  Each point on the perimeter has a name:  Chickadee Gate, the Y, Big Chair.

Big Chair is a mosquito-infested patch of ground that sits on the western bank of the Long Tom River, right at the edge of a mown field.  The landowner rents out plots for outside campers (campers who are not part of the Fair).  The site is so-named because, years ago, there was a tall, lifeguard chair that sat at the edge of the trees, made out of fence posts and odd planks of lumber.  The chair has long since rotted away, but the post has kept its name over the years.

Big Chair, back in 2003
Every time I've sat Big Chair, I've caught people trying to sneak into the Fair.  Every single time.

They use various techniques.  One time (was it 2004?) a pretty young hippie girl came and sat down with Ed and I as we were guarding the perimeter.  She initiated some friendly banter, told us about her recent experience at the Rainbow Family gathering and then innocently asked if she could have a peek in the Fair.  "Sorry, sister," I said.  "Even if you got past us, there are two more checkpoints you'd have to pass."  She looked a little hurt.

Another time, four young men with long tangled hair and lanky, thin torsos tried to rush past me.  They were walking very fast with long, purposeful strides.  They waved at me as they passed.  I could see that they didn't have wristbands, but they were moving full tilt for the path.

I said, "You guys aren't going to make me get out of my chair, are you?"

One of them hesitated, then stopped.   And then they all stopped.  Their shoulders slumped and they turned around and headed back the way they came.  "Sorry, guys," I called after them.  "Better luck next time."

Although I didn't sit Big Chair this year, others in my crew did, and they had an appalling tale.  Apparently, some attractive young hippie women were camped nearby.  Every morning they would rise and make a plea to be allowed entry.  Of course, they didn't prevail.  But they began to find creative ways to entice compliance.

The black waters of the Long Tom
On Sunday morning, the last day of the Fair, they thought that a little dip in the Long Tom River, in full view of the two security crew, might provide visual appeal and thus soften resolve.  So, they disrobed and jumped into the Long Tom, whose waters consist of farm run-off and cow manure.  Ed was one of the security personnel on-hand, and he tried to convince them that they were risking their health, but perhaps they deemed that the risk was worth free entry into the Fair.  Alas, their ploy didn't work.  I just hope they didn't get sick.

Muster of the Sweep, Thursday night
The Sweep

Anyone who has attended the Fair knows Sweep.  It occurs at the end of the day when Fair security assembles at the top of the Magic 8 and forms a line and sweeps down through the fairgrounds.  Fair-goers that brandish the all-important identification bracelet are allowed past the cordon.  Those without are swept out the Fair entrance.

There can be hard feelings when people are informed that they must leave.  But resistance is useless.  Fair crew are effective in passively persuading people to comply.  When a person protests, that person is surrounded by security staff who simply stand in the way and refuse to allow the person to go further into the Fair.  Eventually, the person gets frustrated, turns around, and heads for the exits.  Sometimes they cuss at you first, though.

The Sweep is what lends the Fair its mystique, I think.  When I was a Fair tourist, before I became part of a crew, I was convinced that the bacchanalia and good-natured hedonism must surely be taken to a whole new level after hours, when the public was gone.  But that's not really the way it is.

Nighttime at the Fair
After the Sweep, the Fair goes on as it has during the day (which is to say, there is a lot of excellent live music, great food, nudity, arts and crafts, and dope-smoking.  It's just that it is less crowded.  (Veteran Fair Folk will wait out the hot, dusty day in their campsites, then enter the Fair right behind the Sweep, when the evening starts to cool and the crowds are thinnest.)

For crazy party people, the new "scene" seems to be the off-site campgrounds that surround the Fair.  Rumors swirled about a place called Darling camp, which is one of the off-site campgrounds.  According to the "in" crowd, that was where the "real" party was raging.  Enjoy, party people!

Light of late afternoon striking the canopy
Camp life

The best part of the Fair, of course, is the people.  Oregon Country Fair is one of the best places on the entire Pacific coast for people-watching.  It's easy to make friends, to strike up conversations.  Fair decorum urges that everyone put on their friendliest faces, that everyone be receptive to everyone else.  That's my favorite part:  encountering people along the way, whom you don't know from Adam, smiling at them, striking up a conversation, talking, sharing, laughing.  That vibe is the heart of the Fair.  And even though the Fair has grown (and become corrupted by growth), that essence of openness and friendliness is still alive.

Watergate crew this year consisted of some 2 dozen people, including S.O.P.s (please see Part I) and children.  We're located in the trees that border an open field known as Far Side.  Some of my crew have been part of the Fair since the late 80s.  As one might expect, there are rivalries and disputes within the crew.  This year was especially challenging because our crew had been allocated only 2 on-site parking permits instead of the usual 5.  Any time a society, even a micro-society like our Fair crew, goes from a condition of resource plenitude to resource scarcity, frictions will arise.  But my crew is blessed to have an imperturbable leader in Mark Freeman, whose calm demeanor keeps a damper on things.

And, I must say, there are many people in my crew whom I greatly enjoy.  John Eliot and I talked for hours about movies, books, God, and philosophy.  (But, tell me, John, does the coin have any say?)  Ed Knoph is an astute observer of humanity, fully steeped in knowledge of Carlos Castaneda and Mesoamerican shamanism.  The Nixons, Rick and Tracy, and their two sons, Cole and Luka, are charismatic and positive.  Jim and Susie Dailey always set up a nice, communal area that provides a point of congregation.  And there are few people I know who can approach Dave Zimmerman when it comes to constructing a well-organized, functional campsite.

Camp-mate Tracy Kloster, sporting the tee-shirt she created as a tribute to her father
One of the best camp experiences I had this year was playing guitar with young Nick Eliot.  Nick is 15 now, but when I first joined Watergate crew, he was only 8 years old.  Back in 2003, I had brought my guitar (of course) and I played in camp.  Nick really seemed to enjoy it and he eventually started playing himself.  Over the years, I've watched him develop, and he's become a really good guitar player.  This year, Nick and I sat down together and worked out a few tunes.  I haven't been playing much in recent years, but when Nick and I played, I found his enthusiasm contagious.  It was the most fun I've had playing guitar in a good long while.

Oncar (seated at left) and his marimba band
Oncar's marimba band performed their annual concert for Far Side again.  Oncar is another of the Fair's Very Important Persons.  He leads the crew that is camped next to us.

An important thing to note, I believe, is that, despite the public perception, the Oregon Country Fair is not a crazy, drug-infested orgy.  Yes, there is drinking.  Yes, there is drug-use.  Yes, there is nudity.  And, yes, there is a lot of ganja smoking.  But folks, it is no more than what you would find at any other campsite in America.  And that's the truth, so far as I can discern it.

The only real distinction that I can make between the Oregon Country Fair and any other fair is that people are encouraged to make spectacles of themselves.  It's the costumes and the personae that people adapt specifically for the Fair that give it flavor.  But I'll write more about that later.

To be continued...

Monday, July 12, 2010

OCF 2010: Headlong into the bureaucracy (Pt. I)

Another tomorrow in the brief dusty march completed.  A sojourn through the hippie duality of hedonism and social awareness:  Oregon Country Fair, 2010.

Ed Knoph, a potential sorcerer and a friend of several years, came by the house on Tuesday night, and we loaded up my little errand-running city car so that we could get an early start on Wednesday morning.  This year, my fifth (non-consecutive) year as "official" Fair Staff, I was granted:
  • an Outta Site parking permit which meant that I could drive my car this year (a first);

  • a Significant Other Pass (S.O.P.)!  An S.O.P. is a plum.  It means that one is not recognized by Fair bureaucracy as working staff, but rather as the life partner of a working member of staff.  According to the law of the Fair as written, S.O.P.s are not required to work unless they so desire.
Ed and I were on the road out of Portland by 9am.  Leaving at that relatively early hour, we were afforded a leisurely pace, which is good.  The logistics of the Oregon Country Fair necessitate an enormous organizational structure.  The system seems to operate on the very brink of anarchy and collapse at all times.  So, it is good to approach the entrance to the labyrinth with as much saintly resignation as one can muster.  There will certainly be hassles. But, believe it or not, the system somehow works.  (Perhaps that's true of all bureaucracies.  I don't know...) 

Fair Admissions
Ed and I arrived at Fair Admissions sometime around noon.  Our names were located on the appropriate lists so that we could be awarded our identification bracelets.  One hurdle out of the way!

Next, we queued up for our parking permit.  Since it was still early, our wait was not long.

When we got to registration table, we were met by the old country hippie in charge of issuing parking permits.  A nice enough fellow.  By the lines on his face, I judged him to be in his late 50s.  He had a railroad cap on his head; his mostly-white-with-a-tinge-of-rusty-brown hair was pulled back in a pony tail.  He wore John Lennon wire-frames on the bridge of his bulbous nose.  His skin was a pinkish-red "farmer's tan."  He informed me that since I was designated an S.O.P., I was ineligible for a parking permit.

"Maybe the permit is listed in Ed's name" I said, hopefully.

He looked through the file again.  "Yeah, here it is," he said after a minute.  "Ed Knoph.  See the 'OS' by his name?  That means he's got an Outta Site pass."

"But wait!" said another bureaucrat, pointing at a different list.  "Look here!  According to this list, Ed Knoph has the initials 'FS.'  He's part of Far Side camp and doesn't get a permit."

Bureaucratic snafu!  The lists did not match!  We had arrived at a dead-end in the maze. 

All present were stymied.  Someone suggested that I call my crew leader.  Which I did.  But Mark didn't pick up.  I left a voice message on his cell.

Lost in the system
 Ed and I decided to unpack our camping chairs and take a seat in the shade of some nearby trees to await word from Mark. We sat and watched Fair Folk arriving in their hundreds.

My cell phone rang.  It was Mark.  "Hang tight," said he.  "I've been detained at work, but I'll be there as soon as I can."  (Mark lives and works in nearby Florence.)  Ed and I were reassured.  Mark Freeman is an expert at negotiating the Fair bureaucracy

It was roasting hot, and dusty, and muggy, but I was content enough, sitting in the shade.  People passed by, friendly and happy.  The Fair does that to them.

Oso came by, at one point.  Oso is a gruff, grizzly hippie, at least six and a half feet tall, shaped like a mountain.  He's got waist-length white hair.  He usually wears coveralls, with no shirt underneath.  He is a Very Important Person in the Fair hierarchy.

"Is that Oso?" I called as he went by.

He stormed past without looking.  "Oso died," he said.

"I know your nephew," I said.

He climbed into the driver's seat of his gas-powered Gator.  "'zat right?" he asked.

"Isaac," I said.

"That's one of 'em," he said.  Then he drove off.  No softening of that sour, angry visage.  I won't begrudge him his gruffness.  Any bureaucrat of significance must find some way to keep the petitioners at bay.

Ancient Greek patriarch, Pan, hangin' at Admissions
An hour went by, and Mark had not arrived.  As the sun declined to the west, our patch of shade grew smaller and more confining, like a shrinking spot of high ground in a flash flood.  "Try him again," said Ed.

Still no answer.  "You know, I wonder if we could just buy a permit?" Ed mused.

"Let's try," I said.

So, we approached the registration table again and asked, "Can we just buy a parking permit?"

"Sure," said the Fair official.  "Ten bucks."

Ed and I looked at each other.  "Guess we should have asked sooner," I said.

We had only just purchased our parking permit, affixed it to the inside of the windshield, and set off for our campsite when we saw Mark Freeman hustling toward Admissions, coming to our rescue.  "Too late, Mark," I said, grinning.

He looked exasperated.  Already.  The Fair was just getting started.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  Mark Freeman has the patience of a saint.

Ed and I drove to Far Side campground, which is about a 2 mile drive from Admissions.  There we were told by the gatekeepers that, due to some problems that had occurred the previous year, the Fair had come to an agreement with Oregon Department of Transportation.  This agreement meant that we could only drive in as far as the first fence, but under no circumstances could we drive all the way in to the camp site.  That meant we would have to haul our gear on foot for a good half-mile.

Long Tom all choked up
 Which we did.  It took us about 4 trips back and forth between the two of us.  It was close to 100o F, and the air was still and close.  Dust rose with every step.  We got our gear unloaded and piled into a flat patch under the trees in the camping area assigned to our crew.  Then we huffed it back out to the car and drove another 2 miles to the Outta Site parking field, where we parked the car for the weekend.  We then walked through the fairgrounds back to Far Side campground and finally set up our camp.

Look closely!  Can you see Ed in the Dragon's eye?
We got settled and sat down to relax just as dusk deepened into night.  I was exhausted, dirty, and sweaty.  But I'd run the bureaucratic gauntlet and come out the other side:  into the Fair.  Good times to come...
To be continued...