Memory of a Free FestivalBy Brian Roberts
Something peculiar about the sand on the beach of Florence, Oregon makes a steady midwinter rain seem not bone-chillingly cold, but rather warm and relaxing, when one is experiencing the after-affects of having ingested a quarter pound of psylocibic mushrooms. If one were to bank on this observation, to turn it into some sort of platitude, one might find it to be erroneous, and wish that one had brought more than a swimming suit and towel on the adventure. Indeed, midwinter might seem like a curious time for a trip to the beach in the first place--but perhaps the reader fails to take into account the desperate measures to which first-year dormrats are willing to go, the lengths to which they are likely to transgress upon common sense and decency, when they are too young to entertain themselves by collectively taking up a weekend residence at some university area drinking establishment.
Seamus and Moon Unit* were pretty certain that the beach was the proper place to eat our fun stuff and go bonkers. "The beach it's pretty chill, brah," Moon-Unit assured me as he twisted a strand of hair in his fingers and bobbed it absentmindedly against his thumb. A habit of his. Concern tugged at my eyebrows as I protested: "If it's chilly won't that cause us to have a bad trip?" "Moon Unit means that the scene will be mellow and nobody will bother us," Seamus clarified as he handed me his specially engineered toilet paper roll and a bong, stepping away from the window. He has a way of clearing the air.
So we went west, the three of us, in my miraculously-still-functional-after-all-its-abuses blue Chevy Sprint. The definition of ordinary, that car-aside from the fact that someone had stolen the blade of one windshield wiper, and rather than replacing it I had simply left its arm turned upwards to wave when the other one was wiping. We found some bagels at a convenience store conveniently located on what seemed to be the edge of something or other, and we stuffed our fungus into them as we pretended to appreciate the Jerry Garcia/David Grisman bootleg Moon-Unit had brought along. Here we were trying to celebrate our youth by listening to a poor recording of tired old men perform stripped down versions of used-up songs: an omen, perhaps. We were trying to live an ideal, to be doing the thing that people who were us would do, to peek over into that alternate universe in which people never have to question their identities and mimic our mirror-selves' movements, but we were hitting the note a bit flat somehow, and I think we knew it then. Or maybe it was just me.
This trip west had begun in Tennessee, really, over a year prior, when I read my roommate's copy of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I was attending a school far smaller than UO, one with puritanically gender-segregated dormitories and church-attendance requirements. That book's admonition to "live your own movie" seemed to shatter all my previous horizons, leaving a Day-Glo sunset in their wake. It was like an oracle had told me, "have fun at all costs, or be dead to yourself." I wanted every moment to be exactly the moment it was born to be; I wanted every place I went to be the ultimate scene. I thought that if Ken Kesey with his traveling bus of Pranksters had recreated and redefined the epitome of beyond-trendy bohemia that comes to mind when one thinks of Hemingway's clique of expatriates in Paris, then such was a potential feat for anyone who has that thing Hunter S. Thompson calls "true American grit." And I thought that if I went to Kesey's alma mater I might stock up on that kind of grit. But instead of living my own movie I find myself, with increasing frequency, asking the following question: Just who the hell is really in charge of this half-ass production? Whose postmodern-by-default, conscious-of-itself-as-a-narrative, desperate-for-a-plot vacation slide show is this movie I'm living?
A spirit of optimism, of revelry however subdued, hung over the Blue Abomination as it perused the parking areas next to a range of Florence's sand dunes, our stoned faces peering out its windows, hoping to see the ocean. Between the three of us we determined that there was probably water on the other side of those dunes, that we had probably been searching for beach, on the beach itself, for upwards of half an hour. I don't know why we were surprised, upon finally exiting our clam-baked vehicle, to find we had the place to ourselves.
We spent the morning in a huddle atop the highest dune as the wind caused eddies of powdery sand to pummel the fortress we had constructed with our coats. Expectant of "monster visuals", we were almost disappointed that the day's most fearsome apparition was an attractive thirtyish Gor-Tex-clad maiden out for a brisk walk with her benign-if-gargantuan, fluffy-white canine companion, some thirty feet below us on the shoreline.
The three of us exchanged glances indicative that none of us had been cognizant of the physical world for an indeterminate unit of time leading up to that interruption. "This is like... we're communing with our spirits, ya know, and they're like, One, or something... we're a holy trinity... I mean, whatever," was Moon-Unit's summary of the collective trance we weren't yet coming out of. I looked at him quizzically, my agnostic soul unwilling to refer to itself, until again Seamus introduced common language: "Dude, whuddup with the guitar and bongos?" So we passed two instruments between three people, exchanging them every few minutes, trying not to try to allow the moment to express itself through the medium of our three bodies, anxiously if euphorically striving to be effortless, to be doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing.
When the sun finally dipped low enough within the scheme of clouds that had all day obscured it, there seemed to be a tunnel of sky-cotton candy paved with hues of orange and purple the likes of which our eyes had never before had the fortune to know. We were drawn toward it; we bounded down that dune jubilant as chimps on cocaine. As we reached the surf three gulls alighted and flew straight into that tunnel of clouds toward the sun. I don't need to tell you what those birds really were according to Moon-Unit; more surprisingly, Seamus and I both seemed to go for it. For another hour we ran exultant along the shore, fully believing that we were being chased by the foam that flooded in toward us with the tide.
Driving home in the dark and the rain with only one headlight and one windshield wiper, I was relieved that the whole thing had managed to make some kind of sense, that the trip had seemed to tell some kind of story. Still, I wasn't satisfied. I wanted an experience I wouldn't have to justify with an explanation. When we passed a bicyclist whom we almost hadn't seen after rounding a corner, I think we all glimpsed ourselves in an alternate reality in which we'd been driving another foot closer to the white line and plowed the guy over, the arm of our dysfunctional and pointing-toward-the-sky-like-a-Norse-figurehead windshield wiper goring him like a matador. A communal shudder. I wondered if that would have been a fitting ending.
And we kept it up after that, for a while. I feigned a tranquil poise in the various nirvanas of psychedelia. Spencer's Butte, The Country Fair, The Rainbow Gathering. Yet the entire time, as much as I said to myself, "this is beautiful, this is exactly why people are alive," something kept throwing out hints that I was only tripping through this scene, to come out the other side and find another one. The same something that told me I had damn near impaled a bicyclist on Highway 126.
And now the various scenes, the assorted attitudes, the sundry schools of entertainment and appearance, the numinous circles of influence that compose this thing we call the University of Oregon has become the tunnel through which I trip, in varying degrees of sobriety. I guess I'm supposed to be able to say something about it when, and if, I find myself on the other side. To talk about it, I'll meet Seamus and Moon Unit in some university area drinking establishment tonight, now that we're all of age, to belly up to the bar and get stupid. That's what we're supposed to be doing, right?
Bryan Roberts, a senior majoring in English, is a featured columnist for the Oregon Commentator