Sometimes I see the annual Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, Oregon the same way I see Facebook: The product we are being sold is us. No one pays the people at the OCF to dress up, or down, and parade around the country fair, but we pay to go to see these unpaid masses. We gawk, chuckle, pretend we are not looking at the nude women, move out of the way of the various parades, wax sarcastic, rinse, repeat.
“The Oregon Country Fair creates events and experiences that nourish the spirit, explore living artfully and authentically on earth, and transform culture in magical, joyous and healthy ways.” So it is described on their website. When I was a couple decades younger, this deciphered into a hedonistic free-for-all for me—and perhaps a few thousand other people. In 1998, the District Attorney sent a letter stating the open drug use was just too open and they were going to inject the fair with undercover cops. If open drug use continued, then there were laws that would allow seizure of the property. In no time the fair became kid-friendly. Necessity is a mutha.
But still I attend, every year. I am not prone to playing extensively with my brain chemistry any more (except by watching esoteric Asian and East German cinema). It takes too long to remember to stop playing with my brain chemistry, so it is better to just not start—though being altered sure makes the larger crowds easier to handle.
Different people accompany me every year, it seems. This year I had to go a couple of days to accommodate variety of fair experience desired by those in my various parties. I feel a bit like some sort of proton with all these electrons whizzing maniacally around me; some stick close while others fly off to orbit other protons. It is an organic sequence that I don’t monitor too closely. Somehow by the end of the day, I seem to be able to find my car in the big hay field and to have all the people I came with. Such is the nature of the beast.
And the fair is a beast. Thousands of people, unencumbered by their usual propriety, wander and preen about in various costumes—and less. The fair is a couple of wooded dirt road loops spiked with cul-de-sacs containing stages and presentations of an earthy, artsy vibe. The air is ripe with music, noise, catcalls, and laughter. It is usually hot, so volunteers are walking about with misters cooling the masses with fine water droplets, whether they want them or not. And . . . there are stilts. So many of the costumes seem to involve stilts. Three people were dressed as (not with) giant noses, perched five feet in the air upon stilts. They would stop and sneeze and from the giant nostrils would drop giant green socks—emulating snot. Then they would sniff and suck the socks back up. I personally see this as the very definition of kid friendly.
In the course of losing and gaining electrons, I found myself alone, wandering aimlessly among the bare breasts and fairy wings. I’ve been in this part of Oregon for most of my life, so I always run into someone I know. As I was chatting it up with a rather scantily dressed forest nymph, she offered me a cookie. Even though I know this person in the real world to be a responsible adult, I still declined. “I’m sorry. I can’t eat sugar.”
“No worries. It’s sweetened with pear juice. Here, just take half,” she insisted.
As I munched it, she beamed, proudly stating, “It’s organic and gluten free!”
“Splendid,” I mumbled with my mouth full, wiping the crumbs from my hands, and reaching for the other half.
“Oh, by the way, there is another ingredient I may have forgotten to mention…” I retracted my hand like the cookie had just bared its fangs. With that, she smiled, patted my hand, and wished me a happy fair. While fleeing into the crowd, she reassuringly called out, “But it really is gluten free….”
My colon thanks you. My mind, however, might not be as grateful.
Eating a loaded cookie isn’t such a big deal in and of itself, but it felt like I was violating some sort of unspoken rule. I’m big on unspoken rules. Coming to a movie theater is rife with unspoken rules: you’re in a cinema to spend a couple hours having an emotional reaction to a movie with strangers and you don’t talk, text, phone, touch yourself or others in an impure manner, etc. You watch the damn movie and are considerate of the other guests. Since the DA threatened the country fair, there is an unspoken rule that we keep it clean for the civilians. Leave the bong at home and drink beer with your lunch in the hay field (Which ain’t legal but no one loses sleep over it). Yes, the fair has changed. A lot. But it is still the fair. Yes, more people. Yes, more restrained and commercial. Yes, it is not the old fair. But it is still the fair and those of us who know better shouldn’t be wandering around glassy-eyed grabbing people by the lapels and asking them if they have seen God. (I wasn’t the one doing the asking.) Not completely my fault I was in violation of the unspoken rule, granted, but anyone who’s attended the fair in the ‘80s knows not to trust any cookies offered by someone—no matter how motherly—in a fairy costume.
That being said, I’m no stranger to “other ingredients”, but we’re talking decades since they had altered my brain chemistry. So, here I was, away from my party, dosed with god-knows-what, and surrounded by enough people to get my paranoia frisky. Time to find a quiet place to wait this out, thinks me. In about five minutes I was under a tree in the quietest part of the fair.
Maybe there was nothing in the cookie, after all. Ha, ha. Very funny. Got me. Good on you…OH SWEET SALTED MONKEY BALLS! THE TREES ARE EATING THE SKY!
Okay, not that bad but it hit hard and fast and I congratulated myself for getting some place where I could stare into space and not be conspicuous. However, as luck would have it one of my customers spotted me and decided to come over to chat. Awkward…. He was nice and having a good day, but all I could put together was, “I’m tripping balls right now and need to go.” He was still talking when I stood and did what might be loosely referred to as walking. At least that’s how I remember it. So maybe I said nothing and just thought I did. But I was adrift and hours to go before I would collide with my errant electrons.
The phrase “sea of humanity” applies well to the Oregon Country Fair. With the state of mind that was thrust upon me I was swimming with the dolphins in this ocean of people and it seemed, frankly, not the worst way to blow an afternoon. I flowed with the currents of bodies, occasionally eddying out to chat to someone strumming a guitar or hawking beads. I avoided people I knew since I didn’t want to explain why my eyes looked like something from a cartoon. Yet I had wonderful, meaningful conversations with strangers—or so it seemed.
Eventually one of my electrons reattached to me. “Oh, hello. You’re back.”
“Yeah, that’s the fourth time you’ve said that.”
“Oh, hello. You’re back.”
“And that would be the fifth. What is wrong with you?” Then she looked into my eyes. “Oh, man. You’re stoned!”
“I am not—on purpose, anyway.”
Food and coffee seemed to be what was necessary now. When we got to the front of the line and I ordered, I seemed to find it necessary to repeatedly inform the young woman taking my order that she had the most beautiful smile I’d seen that day. My electron elbowed me, telling me I was getting creepy and to leave the poor girl alone. I was undeterred but was eventually distracted by the ravenous hunger I didn’t realize I was harboring until the food was in my hands. It wasn’t in my hands very long. Pro tip: Be creepy for fast food service.
The sun was making for the hills, thus it was time to head for the car. The drum brigade and stilted dancers by the exit added another hour for the “cookie” to wear off so by the time we got to the car, I was back to my old self. Damnit. The damnit comes from embarrassment more than anything. As the years creep by we remember some things with more fondness than accuracy. Being high was fun as a kid; but as an adult, I felt a little silly. The day before I went to the fair with a friend who does no drugs. Ever. We watched the Flamenco dancing and belly dancing and looked at the costumes and ate the food. I watched a group of teenaged kids pass around a pint of Seagram’s and realized that was me at that age and was glad I was no longer that publically douche-y. Alas, on this day I was just as obviously altered. And it was more like food poisoning (too easy, I know…) in that the effects of the cookie would come in waves. I would feel fine then a giant carrot with a sombrero would step in front of me and start reciting Herman Melville in a fake Mexican accent. Move your stalk, Ishmael, and a whale is not a damn fish! (Actually, that wasn’t a hallucination. That really happened. Never mind…) Then the mental spasm would pass and I would live in hope another wasn’t coming.
Next year’s fair will be upon us once we have dispensed with another Oregon winter and the spring flowers have broken through the earth. I will once again be a willing and complicit accomplice to the disconnection from the real world, albeit for just a couple afternoons. Unlikely as it is that I will be eating anything hallucinogenically augmented—I intend to ask—it is even less likely I will be in anything but my nondescript uniform of anonymity. I will buy my ticket for the show, supporting the efforts of those more outlandish and less reserved. It is, after all, really their fair. I’m just a spectator.
Oh, and the Oregon Country Fair does have a Facebook page.