Flashbacks from Oregon: only the high points
Monkey Summer 2002
Preface: This piece started out as a bit of hangover literature and turned into a gonzo recollection of my recent trip out to Oregon. It's a little non-linear and will probably get broken up, hyperlinked to shit, and the pictures will be relavent and captioned at some point in time. For now it comes out in one big hot jet. Hey, this is outlandishjosh, not the friggin' New York Times, ok?
When I can focus I am capable of really great things. I just had a big dose of caffeine, iced espresso out of my little italian steam-cooker coffeepot with honey for sweetness because while I was away Frank doesn't buy groceries and we're out of sugar. Riding high, I feel really tapped in, like that kid KC at the Monkey Cabana who started doling out generous portions of child-wisdom. He was one of the highlights of my trip.
It was Sunday at the 2002 Oregon Country Fair, a sunny afternoon, and I was sitting in the shade at the Monkey Cabana with Mark, Shannon, Amon and Carley (a girl I met: dancer from the U of O with a marvelously hickish background). My Saturday night had been pretty rough, disproving my supposition that there are no bad times on ecstasy and re-learning that "The Most Important Thing is to Stop Struggling." To top it off, I'd had to work the 7am to 1pm breakfast shift at the Holy Cow, feeling really fragile in the face of cranky late-morning energy.
I prefer to work the order window at the Cow. It's kind of the vegan McDonalds, but that's only because it's popular and they've got the operation of the booth down to a science. They could franchise if they really wanted to; might be a good thing for this country. The front is nice because I don't have to chop veggies and the public gives me energy. I like to joke and flirt, and I generally dig the morning shift because it's a little bit peaceful. You can develop relationships with the customers in a way that the afternoon and evening rushes don't permit. The early-morning crowd is the best: a mix of sunny-faced early risers, salt of the earth family people, and night owls who've watched the sun rise and are trucking on through for some potatoes and tofu before crashing. They're good people -- easy going coffee and tea folk. The night prior, Friday, I'd been one of them: up all night having an amazing time, a veteran, soaring on acid, girl on my arm. Hit the sauna from 5:15am to 6:30 after she left -- a relaxing time, very nice family vibe -- and then caught 20 minutes of shut-eye in the crash tent at the booth before working. Saturday, that was a good morning. Long and tired, but beatific and hopeful as well.
Sunday was much harder. I was really worn out in spite of three hours sleep. All the entropy of the previous night had solidified as tension in my shoulders and a slow-brewing headache behind my eyes, and as the early-morning crowd thinned, the whiny demanding people started waking up. There's always a line, and people don't like that. They have too many options or not enough. Sour faces hit me especially hard. I felt like crying.
Eventually the shift ended and I felt a kind of liberation, a little of that old phoenix sensation, reborn from the ashes and all, so I went looking for my friends. The business of the day carried us all down to the Cabana, my simian comrades eating the Indian lunch from Golden Avatar and me picking at the leftovers. During the daylight hours children played with our little construction project. They found our powdered lemonade and tried to sell poorly-mixed cups of Country Time for $3 a pop. Kids are so enterprising. I told them it was a no-capitalism zone and they had to give it away, that they had to do what I said because I built the booth. They understood, but then wanted to know what they should do there if they weren't making money. At night we'd been telling corny jokes and dispensing advice, a stock and trade we want to develop as time goes on, so we told the young people that they should make with the sage council or the pull out the funny stuff.
This one peaceful-seeming kid stepped up, KC by name and a deep thinker at twelve years old. Once we got the advice train rolling, it was apparent that he was on a roll. I asked him what I should do with my life. He responded by asking me what I was into. When I told him, "My friends, theater, and community" his response after a meaningful pause was that I "should do community theater arts with your friends." He then started laying down an ethical groove, talking about how people should be more respectful of each other and let people do their thing. He suggested that there are a lot of folk who get their jollies by controlling others just for the power of being able to say "no" and that this wasn't such a good thing.
He talked about seeing one of his peers almost drown recently at the pool near his house and how they hadn't let any of the kids see the CPR. He talked about emailing the President and NASA, trying to get his point across. He talked about how it was sometimes hard for him to connect with the other kids, about his parents and how it was sometimes hard to relate to them. He told me, "sometimes when you think your going to get the greatest reward, you just end up getting into trouble. And sometimes, when you think you're going to get in trouble, you end up with the greatest reward," neatly summarizing a whole morning's contemplation of the previous night's fiasco. The conversation naturally drew to a close. He was 12 after all and our prospective topics were rather limited. I thanked him for his time, asked him to look for us next year and bit a fond fair well to KC. I couldn't help but wonder how adolescence would treat him. Trouble vs. the greatest reward. Pure genius. I sat in the grass and contemplated his brilliant rendering of my fitful evening prior.
Saturday night I'd had a string of expectations, a master plan that started with getting a henna tatoo and ended with having a great connecting talk with Luke and Mark in the wee hours of the morning. In-between I had planned to see the Midnight Show, cuddle with Carley, converse with my siser, run around, do yoga, and generally let the good times roll. But the Henna place closed before I could get there and we couldn't get good seats for the show. Strange distance sprung up between me and the girl and I quickly became too tired for running or yoga, realizing the folly of relying on a three-hour catnap and Yerba Mate to sustain my Saturday.
With everything slipping away from me I started clamping down, getting a bum attitude. In the end I couldn't begin to muster the free and easy energy that lets me connect to my friends. I tried to force it, some kind of desperation, one big score to get well before the end of things. I struck out big time, massive crapper. All there was to do was drop of the face of the earth and sleep a few fitful hours, then get up and go to work. First thing in the morning, searching for meaning in labor like a lush at the bar. Like I said, I felt like crying.
The saving grace was the kids. Watching babies in line while their parents fretted over breakfast kept me alive in the dark times. Children are hope made flesh, you know? Earlier in my vacation I was visiting with my father, who I only recently invited to this website (big step, he likes it), at his new home in gorgeous central Oregon. Shannon graciously lent me her truck and I made the drive over the Cascades a real treat, a lot of good CDs and a free-ramblin' feeling. As an added bonus I got to see my older half-sister and her family who were visiting at the same time. They live out in North Carolina: her and her husband and two boys, blond hellion nephews growing up on a farm with pigs and llamas outside Chapel Hill, tons of fun. We all convened in the juniper-scented high plains air for some barbecue and a little of that good old community feeling.
The neighborhood my dad and step-mom have settled in is one of those neo-western sub-sub-urban loops, officially outside of the city limits with big plots of land and a real sturdy rustic quality. People who are near (or in) retirement but still work hard congregate there, talking RVs and travel, freedom and family. It's one of the many current blends of the American Dream, and the kids really make it all worthwhile. The nephews never tire of being chased and drop unexpected youthful angel perspective when you're not looking. Jacob, the older one, showed me his screenplays: numbered plot-points, generally outlining stories of a scientific nature, robots and time travel and such. They always begin with "Jacob wakes up," and ending with "Jacob goes home." Beauty. Joe is a three-year-old philosopher king, still in love with the world without conditions. Inspiring, that.
It was a sweet couple of days out there. Easy living and more food than I could eat. But I had to go. Julia was coming into Portland and I was to pick her up from the airport the next morning. I took off in the mid afternoon, planning to drive north to the Columbia Gorge and then cut over on I-84, passing close to my childhood playground of Hood River (lived on a little commune there for a few years, a carefree naked boy) and cruising in to Portland to meet up with some old co-workers I've been meaning to renew the "In Real Life" connection with. We email and read eath other's websites, but there's something to be said for sitting down and breaking bread with a person. Shows you care.
I'd actually made one successful connection while visiting my Dad. One of my old .com pals Nick Rusnov is living in Bend, working a more regular job and loving the freedom that comes from having a few responsibilities. We ate at Shary's. He told me about geocaching and taking digital photos and we shit-talked Microsoft for a while. It was nice. Shortly thereafter I hit the road for Portland.
Back in New York (real-time editorial comment) I just watched this film called "Amateur," drinking water to level out the coffee. Actually, I picked it up in progress. I had to call Peter back. He had called me but my cell phone didn't ring, as it has an annoying habit of doing. Anyway, I went into Frank's room to use the landline and turned on IFC, which we get through our cable via the grace of God. It's strange: we don't pay for any cable at all, yet they wire us in all the major broadcast stations plus community cable plus a few other channels. IFC is channel 80. It's really great to have around, because you can just flip it on and at least catch something interesting.
The film had all this wonderful honest dialogue. It was a real surreal style, the kind of thing where everyone is saying exactly what they're feeling, like watching people on acid talk. Every word infused with meaning. In his book about the Hell's Angels, Hunter S Thompson called LSD "a surefire cure for boredom," mainly because it makes whatever you're experiencing full of meaning. Taking acid last weekend was the first time in a long while. The last time was in New York the day before my 20th birthday (strange how I seem to encounter drugs on or around my birthdays) and it was a very unpleasant time.
Julia and Frank had broken up days before and I was just starting to try and get together with Emily. Andrew, Jenny and Peter Meadows came along for the ride.
(Revelation! That explains why Frank hates Peter so much... he always maintained that he had a real good time on that trip. He went off on a long walk though the city with Emily, much to my consternation, and they both had fun times, but he must have been torn up inside at being unable to connect with Julia. Yeah.)
Anyway, we shouldn't have been doing acid. Sam, our sober roommate, kicked us out of the apartment because he had a test to take in the morning and wanted to pack. It was the end of the school year. I couldn't connect with anyone the whole night, least of all Emily. There were a few priceless moments, but for the most part I was fragmented and lonesome. I ended up walking around talking to myself in the early morning, just as Lower Manhattan was starting to kick into gear: the steets thick and turgid with ugly-faced, weary, driven people.
Those were rough times in College. I had a crush on Emily for a while, since I met her at the beginning of school actually. Even when I was with Amanda -- and I was in love with her -- I still wanted Emily. It was the ultimate example of incompatible fantasy and reality. Now, don't get me wrong, Emily is a really great girl and a shining example of humanity, but I have this bad habit with women of idealizing them in my brain and then being mightily out of step with reality should we actually attempt anything. It leads to unpleasantness. I worked up complex and baroque fantasies about being with her, and when we finally got together (she was a little attracted to me too, so it was inevitable that we'd try) it was no fun at all. We had a few hot minutes, but I don't really think we're compatible in that way. In spite of all the fantasy, it really wasn't meant to be. But we're still friends, and anyway she's in love with a German saxophone player. Really in love: I took some pictures of them together when I was visiting the Netherlands, where she goes to school, and you can see it in her eyes. I hope he loves her too. I don't know him well enough to tell.
Back to the travel narrative, already in progres..
The drive from Bend to Portland took me into new territory, roads I've never driven on before. I altered my course to avoid I-84 as I was enjoying the lack of traffic. I took a little-used highway spur that added 90 minutes but left me the only car on the road for hours, winding around the sturdy feminine folds of Central Oregon scrub land, voluptuous erosion patterns and snowcapped mountains in the distance. I'll need to revisit that country sometime soon. Once in the city I couldn't make the connection with my friends (poor planning, bad timing, the usual fuckups) but I had a pleasant beer at Dots cafe. I've been going there since I was 17: me and Luke drove up from Eugene wearing three-piece suits to stay for a couple days because that's what you can do for excitement when you're that age. I remember after my first semester in college, winter break, I went there with Luke and Mark and we caught up. It was one of the greatest nights of my life, as if the time apart had given us so much to share. After that as we grew up separated it became harder to reconnect in the old way. Still possible, but not quite as natural.
Dot's is a great place, though now it's 21 and over after 10pm. The first time I was there with Luke and his old portland middle-school friend we were horrible whiskey drunk, leering at all the girls and gorging ourselves on cheese fries, pure adolescent living-large fantasy: suits and ties and a bottle of Segrams 7-Crown. It's a hip place, and still a magnet for the beautiful people. Portland is a city with 10,001 fresh-faced alt-rockers and neo-tribals, all looking to get down, so that makes Dots an ok joint to hang in while you're looking for a place to crash. Without my co-worker connection, I turned to the House of Rock'n'Roll, where Luke had lived his last two years going to Reed College. They're good people there, pabst drinkers and connoisseurs of fried food and complex gag music. I stayed in Luke's old room, grateful for the friendship and hospitality. In the morning I woke before anyone else and went to pick up Julia. I left a note saying thanks. Rendezvous at the airport was flawless and driving south to Eugene with her was downright good: she fit right in to the Oregon scene.
After that bad acid trip on my 20th birthday I was afraid to go there again. I was afraid that there wasn't enough love in my being. I believed in love as a force, but didn't see it happening for me, thoght of myself as barren and/or unlovable. My latest trip was better, a reclamation. There were still difficult moments (too much insincerity for my taste) but it was fun and witty, and towards the end I made out with Carley for a while and spent some time just listening to her heart beat. That was really nice and simple, something to focus on without self-consciousness. I haven't done anything like that it a long time, and found it quite agreeable. The most wonderful thing about LSD is how it unhinges the thought process, cuts the break cables and blurs the lines. It's so fast; you do so much thinking that you can't help but learn or realize some things. Everything is endowed with meaning, and if you can keep your head in line and your attention focused on anything for more than 30 consucutive seconds you'll get some valuable perspective. I mean, really, I find it to be therapeutic. Lately, after that reclamation, I feel kind of good when I'm lonesome, because I get the feeling that the love is back.
Before Julia, myself and the Monkeys packed it out to the Country Fair we celebrated my Mother's birthday. She's popular with my friends, and so she had a few of her peers over and I invited the monkey family to descend on her house and eat salmon. It was a good evening, though I was a little low on energy. The adult women held court in their wooden chairs outside the house, drinking scotch and enjoying the air while I prepared the food and made sure everything was going ok. My mother and I are a lot alike and it was almost as much work keeping here from helping as it was managing the whole affair, but I think she had a good time.
Mothers are strange. Earlier in the trip, before going to see my father, I'd gone to my friend Chris's birthday party on the 4th of July. His mom was there as a surprise as well as some friends of his also from out of town. Kind of a rock'n'roll mom. It was a fun party excepting the Allee Brothers Independence Day Drama. Mark and his brother Ben always throw a 4th of July party and for some reason they couldn't officially combine both celebrations even though everyone is ostensibly friends. Things were complected for a while, but then we all got drunk enough and worked it all out by wrestling. Earlier in the day Chris's mom was breaking up the rumbles, but by nightfall things were well and rightly out of parental control. Chris played a one-man concert (he makes spooky industrial halloween music) in his living room and we watched the fireworks from the local minor-league baseball game, harassing yuppies and generally being a public nuisance. It was an all American celebration. I felt again that the tide is turning.
After the 4th I spent a few days carousing in Eugene, spending a lot of time up at the Monkey Palace (HQ for Monkey Summer 2002) and even getting a bit of work done on the sly. We finished leftover Independence Day kegs and drank bourbon and played pingpong. A great moment was jumping on the back yard trampoline watching my two best friends in the world do noisy drunken carpentry just before midnight. I realized that this was the life for me, but before that realization could really sink in and make me change my ways I was off in Shannon's truck to hit the next item on the schedule.
Digesting this most recent trip/vacation I've been thinking about some of the stuff I read in Stephen Gaskin's "Monday Night Class," ideas about energy and focus. Gaskin's an old hippie who gathered quite a following in San Francisco in the 60s and then transplanted the faithful to a farm (aka The Farm) in Tennessee. They exist today in communal style. He was supposed to be at the country fair to speak (there was a lot of speaking in honor of Ken Kesey's passing) but I don't think he made it. I saw some schedules with his name crossed out. He's really interesting to me because he's a total hippie, peace and love and all that jazz, but he's also really into principles and hard work and responsibility. He's not a wet blanket like religion or conservatives: he just wants people to get serious about life and do the right thing and have fun doing it.
After my trip back to Oregon my big realization was that it's time to stop dithering. I need to make some money, stop living hand to mouth, put some plans together and get on with the business of living. I need to travel outside of New York more, or else my time in New York will not be valuable as I will be too burned out to make it work. I need to start saving money, if only for a short while. I need to find a woman, not only because I'm lonely, but because having the right lady would give me both an ally, a partner, and a significant energy boost because I wouldn't spend all that time and energy looking. With these things, I might be better able to focus. It then follows that I might be better able to help others do the same, and as I've learned again and again, when we can focus we are capable of really great things.