Ren Fayre: Bugs, Drugs, Neitzche
It begins with the thesis parade. Reed is a serious undergraduate college, and at the conclusion of anyone's academic career they must, no exceptions, write a thesis. This is not for honors, extra credit, or special academic recognition. This is what you do with your senior year, after coping for three years with 100-500page/week reading loads, passing stringent qualifying exams, and still managing a full course schedule. Let's just say it, it's a helluva lot harder to get through than the place where I went to school: the freshman dropout rate is above 30%.
Reed is probably also the most intense private party school in the nation, making it the epitome of the work hard play hard attitude that pervades much of the current american intelligentsia. If the thesis is the logical pinnacle of Work, then the Ren Faye is it's dutiful counter-part in Play.
|Luke was dressed to kill and drinking a Pabst at 11:30am Friday morning. Costumes are encouraged.
My friend Mark calls it the Punk Rock Country Fair, which is somewhat apt, though I think an oversimplification, one that belies the multiple permutations of geek, hip-hop, and neo-hippieness that also flavor the affair. Whatever you want to call it, it's a three day party celebrating the end of an onerous academic regimen, it's pretty out of control, and it's something I've been invited to as a guest of my Reedie friend Luke for the past two years.
Let the Desctruction Commence!
The thesis parade quickly becomes the thesis bonfire. After winding their way around the campus making noise and proving to the world they're still alice, each (hopefully) graduating senior tosses a copy of their thesis into a communal pyre in front of the Library. They don't know what the grade is yet, but the work's been done and a copy is in a professor's hands. Another copy will be hardbound and stored in the thesis tower of the Reed College Library for future generations to peruse. A third copy is now ceremonially burning.
There's lots of cheap champaigne being sprayed at the dramatic conclusion to this parade, and people are generally getting lit up and doing crazy things, milling about the library, hugging, kissing, making speeches, the crowd directing it's attention to this and that, the marching band leading a charge to the other end of campus. Eventually, this part of the event runs its course and people begin milling about the front lawn, where at least one gigantic wooden structure has been erected overnight.
|I like riding the CHUNK 666 bikes around. They're wicked-wild low riders.
This structure is the work of Chunk 666, a radical band of anarchist bike mechanics who create strange low-riding chopped bicycle hawgs and then ride them around, sometimes on fire, for a good time. Each year they build something on the front lawn the night before Ren Fayre. Their work is called the "chunk tower." This year the structure was a 20 foot high pyramid. Shortly it will be destroyed.
First the crowd begins crowding around the structure, and the people at the top throw eggs or rotten vegetables to keep them at bay. But soon the people become restless and begint to assault the tower in earnest. This is Mark's favorite event, so he brought up helmets, shields, rope and crowbar from California. The point is, at some point everyone starts attacking the tower. It's traditional. There's always some dude who's tripping way too early on the scene who runs up to you and asks you in a real anxious tone, "are you tearing it down?" It's ok, pay him no mind. You are, but he'll get into it.
The strategy to taking down this year's chunk tower was to get a hole in the pyramid's plywood outer wall, lash a rope around one of the main supports, line up some voulenteers, and give it the old heave-ho. They have a lot of people up on top who throw shit at you and shoot roman candles in your direction so you'd better watch out. Mark and I rushed up and stripped a big hunk of the wall off to use as a shield while we battered a hole in the side of the tower.
Successful at that and so far unscathed by the falling missiles from above, Mark tied on the rope at I protected our heads by holding up the plywood wall section. In short order we'd tied a line to one of the 8 main supports of the tower and gotten a gang of onlookers to help us pull. Fireworks were going off all around, we were yelling "heave" and the crowd was going wild.
It went on like this. Individual chunkers would leave the tower and attack the sieging people with rotten strawberries or headlocks, a lot more fireworks were fired, lighter fluid was momentarily tendered, but things never got out of hand and as the tower inevitably came down section by section we cleared the debris and turned spiky-nail-sided planks into the ground to prevent people puncturing their feet. It was an orgy of entropy, one peppered by people walking up to you with tequila shots and cans of Pabst to refresh your energy, a conquest who's culmination attracted a final mighty cheer from the crowd as the tower fell and action de-centralized as a drum-circle took over the aural atmosphere. The task now was to kill time before the beer garden opened.
On to Part Two: Fiday Night