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This Content From 2003 (or earlier) see index

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Ren Fayre: Bugs, Drugs, Neitzche

Saturday Sun
Waking up is hard to do, especially after a day of ren fayring it up. But the sun is shining on no unceartan terms and you know the crushing hangover will get better after advil and some coffee and a little walking around. Still, it's slow going the morning after kickoff. Everyone is feeling a little raw around the edges, not in foul spirits per se but definitely not in the mood to be fucked with.

I'm feeling pretty bad when consciousness arrives unannounced. Kind of hard to coordinate movement and the head is pounding and I really wish I could go back to sleep for another 12 hours. But that's not going to happen. I watch Rachel go off to take a shower and contemplate momentarily the depths of my own depravity. I decide that there's not point in feeling really guilty about things since A) I always thought her boyfriend was a little bit of a dick and B) it's not as though she didn't have an equal hand in things. Still, I try to be a moral guy as much as possible, and hooking up with boyfriended girls just isn't good policy. Breathe in, breathe out, and get on with the weekend.

Mark Inspects his Handiwork
Mark stands proud by the wreckage of the Chunk Tower from the day prior. The hot pink wig really makes the scene, I think.

Mark is up and about and motivating me to get coffee. We're going down to Pho Hung, the local Vietnameese joint for the best damn iced espresso with condensed milk this side of the Mississippi. There's actually a sizable Vietnameese population there in Portland, and Pho -- lucsious and salty/spicy meat and seafood soups -- is one blessing of that particular trick of immigration. It's a short walk from the house of rock and roll, and I've already downed some pain killers. When we get there mark hurries forward to open the door for an older Vietnameese man, just the kind of guy he is, always making an effort.

With a few ounces of caffiene under my belt I start to feel a bit better about the world. I start to feel hungry. Over at Reed I know the great Meat Smoke is just getting ready to start. This is the one of the few really Rennisance aspect left to ren fayre: cooking gigantic hunks of animal and serving them feast style. Of course these days there are just as many vegetarian options for feasting as well, but I've got fresh salmon and juicy roast beef on my mind. It takes a while to get everyone together, but eventually we all pile into the back of Kevin's truck (we peer pressure him into driving, as no one wants the responsibility of being the one to drive back) and we make our slovenly way to campus, doing our best to freak any mundanes we encounter along the way.

Meat Smoke Feast
Upon our arrival, we briefly inspect the wreckage of the Chunk Tower and then make for the Feast Line. Mark gives me my "Ren Fayre souvineer," a little green plastic figure of a wolly mammoth, something to remember the day by. I keep it, have it still. The line for food is long, stretching more than halfway around the central square of campus: we've taken too long putting ourselves back together and now we're near the end of things for eating. Doesn't really phase anyone too much though. For those so inclined the beer garden is open, and the Ren Fayre Karma Patrol is liberally working the area.

Karma Patrol is probably one of the better instistutions of Ren Fayre. It's a cadre of dedicated souls that go around making sure everyone is going to be OK. At almost any hour you can find them offering mini bagles and water to anyone in need of stomache-liner and rehydration, but Saturday morning is really their moment to shine. They give out Tang. Whether you've been up all night in an Acid frenzy or just drunk off your ass, nothing hits the spot the morning after like a cup of slightly watered down Tang dispensed from the backpack cannister of a well intentioned sophomore.

In addition to picking up some good orange-flavored vibes from the kind karma kids, those of us standing in line also get treated to various appatizers the Meat Smoke crew brings around. These range from chocolate-covered strawberries to teaser tastes of salmon. One of my favorite things is that they bring around the head of the salmon on a stick with the salmon samples, so you can give thanks and appreciation to the fish you happen to be eating. That's my kind of meat-eating: aware and appreciative.

The good feelings are running strong, but my jaw still hurts from where I fell last night, so I decide to go get an ice pack from the Whitebird medical tent. Whitebird is a great team of hippy doctors who do frist-aid for minor injuries, take care of over-indulgers, dispense asprin if you need, and handle people who end up on really bad trips. They've been a fixture at the Oregon Country Fair for years, and they run a low-cost clinic in Eugene for those without insurance. They're always a bit tired, at worst slightly condescending (understandably so, given the state of most of their patrons), but good people all around. Last year I fucked my shoulder up pretty good slamdancing in the Student Union and they were kind enough to tell me it wasn't broken and give me an icepack. In this case I knew I just had a bruise, and I wanted the cool relief of the ice again.

Reedy Construction
The Reedy-Construction Crew, making Art for the rest of us to enjoy liberally. You'll note the blatantly leftist slogans such as "atheism" grafittied on their backs. Liberals.

Back in line, there's also some Art happening in the central lawn: some Reedies in Tyvek painting suits complete with gloves and goggles are tearing apart some painos and other furnishings with various tools and non-tools. Not a word is spoken among the workers. A sign proclaims "Phase II: Dereconstruction." Later on, they will begin putting the constituant parts of together in new and strange configurations and the sign will read, "Phase III: Redeconstruction" (get it: Reedy-construction, haw haw haw). Other fun things happen as well. A guy with an Andy Worhol vibe and a day-glo suit hands out felt scraps that are cut to look like little red ghost faces, some scurvy bastards drive through in a van turned into a pirate ship, the sun starts to break through the clouds and the hangover starts to clear. All this makes the wait in line much more tolerable.

The beer garden is open as well, and most of my friends are taking shifts in line to go have a cold one in the Saturday sun. Still feeling the vestages of last night, I decline from partaking. Over the past two years living in New York, my alcohol consumption, while still prolific at times, has not kept pace with that of many of my West coast crew. I've started feeling hangovers much more heavily and for much longer as of late, the body begining to age already, and so I've become more moderate in my consumption. After a night of out and out drunkenness I'm loath to get back on the same train again so soon.

As we inch forward towards the food and my physical and mental state continues to improve, I begin to feel a little justified in my choice. Luke wasn't feeling so hot and beer in the early afternoon doesn't seem to be helping him out much. Some of the others sneak their way into line up ahead to get quicker access to the meat. I take some kind of imagined ethical stand and retain my place further back in line, playing by the rules, the honerable way, I like to think. The other night we heard Flink, a well known Reedy, pronounce, "this year I'm part of the problem, not part of the solution." Last time around he'd been in charge of policing the Beer Garden which was under scrutiny from the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission, aka facist bastards), and he was forced to be a bit of a party-pooper. This year he was simply there for the good time. But how much rule-breaking, and which rules, constitutes fun? This dichotomy of "part of the problem/part of the solution" would end up coloring a good portion of the days experience.

Mark rocks the chopper
Mark rocks a Chunk Chopper. This trike was one of the most liable to flip on you and drop you on your butt. We had to effect in-flight repairs on more than one occasion.

Eventually I get to eat, relaxing in the beer garden with a cup of cream porter to go with my beef, sitting in the sun, enjoying the good life. Plans are being hatched for the days activities. Saturday is the most event-full day of Ren Fayre in terms of stated and scheduled goings-ons. There's music to hear, the bug eating contest to watch, and then the insanity that will accompany nightfall but for now we're happy to eat good food, drink a good beer. I get restless in short order, not wanting to simply hang around and get drunk in the afternoon, so I take off on a little trip around campus.

Chunk 666 leaves crusers and choppers of all discription around campus for Ren Fayre. Problem is that they're almost all gimp bikes, the ones with poor welds or mis-aligned wheels that the Chunkers don't want to keep for themselves. It takes a little looking to find one worth riding, but I get there and make a few circuits around the campus before it's time for the Bug Eating to begin.

The Bug Eating Contest
This is one of the events that makes Ren Fayre faimous. Highly intelligent college students, many from wealthy backgrounds, munch on insects for fun and noteriety. Not all participants are Reedies, however. Last year our friend Nick ate some roaches (and puked). A few years ago our buddypal Abe was a legend for eating a leech that was so starved it attached itself to the inside of his mouth before he could swallow it. He pried it off with his tongue and bit it in half, or so the tale goes. In any case, this is one of the main events, one that everyone will talk about, if not actually attend.

Reedy Construction
Reedy Construction
Reedy Construction
Barf, Love, and a Scorpion-Eating Champion. Scenes from the 2002 Bug-Eating contest. I really wish I'd had my camera set to high-rez for this part of the coverage.

The premise of the affair is that people eat bugs for money, but long ago this degenerated from "I'll pay someone $5.00 to eat this cricket" to "I'll eat 10 mealworms for the right to eat that hissing cockroach." The contest is about fame, not fortune, about getting up and being a insect-chewing rockstar in front of your peers.

This year is no dissapointment. We see the whole spectrum: worms, grubs, beetle pupae and crickets. Some professors get into the action, earning a hearty round of applause (and complementary short of Jagermeister). I got the impression that a couple of them were first-timers at Reed. What a welcome. We get to see a couple people chicken out, some vomit as usual, and at one point the crowd chants the MC into eating a bug of her own. It's good old fashioned all american fun.

The final round is enough to give me the shivers though. Traditionally the biggest, baddest bug present at the contest is the Madagascar hissing cockroach, a huge and ornery creature that can be heard hissing it's last as it enters the lucky(?) competitor's mouth. The crowd will hiss in anticipation of it's annoucement, building the expectation while the MC prepares to open up the next container. The hissing roach is a fitting coup de grace, but this year the bug eating organizers have an even more potent trump card. They got a scorpion.

Now, I'm a low-grade arachnaphobe, so the idea of even handling a scorpion, let along putting one in my mouth is enough to make me seriously nervous. The fact that it's been de-stingered doesn't help. It's just fucking creepy. When the scorpion is announced, a kind of hush falls over the crowd. This is some serious bug-eating shit. After a surprisingly short wait, a lone champion emerges from the masses, a plainly dressed fellow, awfully responsible looking for a Reedy. He's well known though: goes by the name of Austin. Displaying the fearlessness of a true scientist (I would find out later that his major had something to do with biology) he calmly took the scorpion by the tail and lowered it into his mouth to wild applause. It took five bites. First one claw, then the other, then two for the thorax and finally the last bit of tail, and the scorpion was no more. Another mighty cheer rose from the crowd, our collective fears of creepy-crawly things exorcised by vicarious consumption. Catharsis passed, I remarked to myself, recalling the words of an allied commander upon the liberation of Paris, "any guy up there who doesn't get laid tonight is a sissy."

The Rest of the Sun
After the bug-eating, the next thing happening is music. The Bonobo Project is playing, a hard-rocking all-instrumental metal band, reminiscent of The Fucking Champs. I have time to grab a quick beer and slam down a Red Bull during the sound check. It's pure rock what they do, cinematic stuff, at times earsplitting but all the rockers are there at the front, pumping their fists in time with the beat and whooping it up in grand fashion. There's even a bit of a circle pit for a while, though the late-afternoon crowd is a bit thin to sustain that sort of action for long.

Biker Chris
Chris came out and biked about with us also. I got some fiendish-looking photos of this wildman. You'd never guess he's married just by looking at him, but the lucky bastard surely is.

They close a white-hot 35-minute set with what I consider to be their seminal tune, "These Boots Have Lasers." I keep asking for a CD, and when I get one I'll publish an Mp3 sample if the band permits. It's a masterwork of heavy metal art rock and skate-punk sunset adolescent whistfullness, build on a solid core of hard driving car-chase riffs, punctuated by furious rhythm breaks and overlayed by powerful and somehow slightly sad lead-guitar extensions. Frankly, it's the kind of tune that reminds me of the saying "all art aspires to music." Truly inspiring.

With a ringing head buzzed up from thrashing about and drinking Red Bull, I decide that now is the time to really get out and run a little bit. I convince Mark, Kevin and Chris that it's Chunk-hawg riding time, and we set about finding/fixing up a fleet of worthy steeds to carry us around the campus in the fading afternoon light. It's hard work, adjusting wheels and tightening bolts with only the most (leatherman) primitive of tools, but we eventually get it together to ramble the front lawn of the Campus in some style.

It's a beautiful early evening, popping wheelies and falling on our asses, wandering the wide grassy lawns and concrete footpaths of the college, making friends with the colorful people of Reed and inspecting various preparatons for the night's coming festivities. It's going to be a fun one, we all know it, so we're taking our time and buckling our brains tight for the rolicking boisterous Ren Fayre night.

Next Installment: Saturday Night

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Trips

Trips in Space and Time 8/02/03

Big Wheels in Berkeley
I scored a set of west-coast wheels today at the Ashby BART station flea market. It's a very tall schwinn road bike, black, deceptively heavy but smooth-riding. Thirty-five dollars to boot. I oiled and cleaned the works, dialed in the bakes and took it out for a shake-down cruise immediately. Nice riding on a beautiful saturday, realizing how out of shape I am as I wheezed my way though the hilly area behind the Berkeley campus.

After about an hour I started to get the swing of it. Made some minor mechanical adjustments (including a free wheel truing at the bike collective on Shattuck), drank a few liters of water and started finding my groove, cruising up and around and ending up with a beautiful view of the whole bay. The roads here are not kind to the speed inclined -- too many stop signs and crosswalks and lights -- but it was good to get out and proj for a while. This changes my summer dramatically.

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