THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO RECREATIONAL TRAVEL AND OTHER UNNATURAL ACTS PART III by Spencer O’Connor

What Utah is to dry, Oregon is to wet. All of the water that was on its way somewhere else from Utah ended up here. Presumably that explains why everything I saw in Oregon, including many of the people, was green. I cannot emphasize enough that in Oregon you should never lie down for a nap on the north side of anything. Moss grows amazingly fast here and is far more painful to remove than you might imagine.
Most of the industry of Oregon, aside from the manufacture and sale of anti-fungal agents, is based on timber. If you have a job in Oregon, there’s a high probability you either plant, cut, haul or chain yourself to trees. Surprisingly, the logging trucks hauling their trees to market don’t just dominate the roads during business hours. Many loggers appear not to own a second vehicle, making certain destinations — such as the Wal-Mart parking lot or a drive-in movie — a potentially unpleasant experience for those whose transportation is more modestly proportioned. Student driving areas should especially be avoided, since children tend to forget things like, for example, one who forgot to unhitch from his Douglas fir before practicing his parallel parking.
A warning here about approaching a logging truck: The drivers appear to suffer from a strange myopia which renders them unable to see a center stripe from only a few feet away, while still able to recognize — and possibly aim for — an Audubon Society or Sierra Club bumper sticker from beyond the horizon.
Given the abundance of water, it’s not surprising that fishing is very important in Oregon. Everyone I saw either was fishing, had just been, or was just going — except for the loggers, who hate fishing because they find it difficult to terrorize motorists when they’re only driving a boat.
Aside from the loggers, I found Oregon to be a wonderful state. Its geography ranges from tall mountains in the north to tall mountains in the south, broken by scenic, fertile river valleys where they’re hiding their water from Utah. The scenery on the coast appeared to be quite spectacular, or at least what I could see of it through the picture windows of numerous slow-moving Winnebagoes. For this reason I suggest that you schedule your coastal visit during a time when the RV traffic is less dense. Autumn is usually good, since Medicare deductibles have been met and many are having their cataracts done. One especially neat thing about driving on the coast: you always know which direction you’re going. If the ocean’s on your right, you’re heading south. If it’s on your left, you’re going north. If the ocean’s on both your left and right you need to concentrate more on your driving.
Moving inland, the traveler might feel the urge to visit Crater Lake National Park. While the park is certainly popular, it’s highly overrated. You can recreate the visual experience by adding One Thousand Flushes to your toilet and staring at it through the wrong end of your binoculars. For variety you can even change the look by adding marine mammals, boats, or Ken and Barbie, none of which is available at Crater Lake. The highlight of the visit was taking the rim drive around the lake, where I had the opportunity to see the identical view from hundreds of different vantage points while being harassed by belligerent tourists and pushy chipmunks. All this while, by simply driving a few hours east, one could be just as bored without any of the hassle. I’m referring to the wheat country.
Eastern Oregon is officially designated as semi-arid. Unofficially, it’s barren. It’s the only known region in the U.S. totally incapable of producing a scenic postcard. Burns, a town located midway between Burns Ranch and Burns Junction, is the major population center of this region and is known as the “Surplus Wheat Capital of the World.” Every hill, valley and manhole cover for hundreds of miles was covered in wheat. Residents here have been known to travel hundreds of miles to see a parking lot. The only area more monotonously brown was southeastern Oregon. While this area is populated by tens of thousands of sheep, I’m relatively certain that even they wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t followed someone.
Any devotee of the arts should plan to conclude their visit to Oregon with a stop at the annual Shakespearian Festival in Ashland. Festival organizers told me that they were continually overwhelmed by the success of the event. Many of the townspeople are less enthusiastic, however, and impatiently await something new and fresh from the pen of the Bard.
Rating ***

CAMPFIRE NOTES # 3
ELLEN

“Men are essentially insensitive, uncompromising, oversexed fascist dictators.” My immediate reaction to Ellen’s statement was that it’d be difficult to find common ground upon which to nurture our budding relationship. Also, it seemed unlikely that I’d scored a home-cooked meal and companion for the night.
She was, of course, essentially accurate in her assessment of the male of the species, but the fact that we agreed on the issue somehow didn’t seem to improve my chances in regard to bed and board. Additionally, I took exception to one of her charges. Stubborn, insensitive and dictatorial is one thing, but over-sexed seemed a little harsh. How, after all, does one actually define over-sexed? More than twice a week? More than twice an hour? More than is absolutely necessary? It would seem to me that one woman’s idea of overage would be another woman’s notion of underage. At the very least, it’s certainly a lot more complicated than the seat up/seat down thing.
I met Ellen at a nude beach outside Portland, Oregon. I was immediately attracted to her because she had a beach umbrella, and I had a critical area of my anatomy that had passed medium and was fast-approaching well-done. Our introduction was a little rocky, as she responded to my initial greeting by securing mace, pepper spray and a whistle from her tote bag. Once I explained my predicament to her, however, she seemed sympathetic, although the wisdom of hindsight now leads me to believe that “pleased” might more aptly describe her attitude. She did, in any event, allow me to share her haven until such time as imminent (and permanent) danger to the aforementioned area had passed.
Ellen, as the reader may now have surmised, was a feminist. Now despite my genetic insensitivity and inbred male bias, I have no problem whatsoever with a woman’s desire to be liberated. I’d even be willing to help with the emancipation. I’ve always had a secret desire to liberate something. It would seem to me to be some sort of pinnacle of human achievement to be asked, “What have you been up to?”, and to be able to reply, “Oh, I freed the slaves.”, or, “I freed the Phillippines.”, or even, “I freed Willy.” I did free the family dog once. Briefly. He apparently failed to grasp the philosophical magnitude of my gesture and, in return for two squares a day and a warm place to sleep, opted to remain in self-imposed bondage until his untimely and tragic demise some twelve tortured years later. His definition of freedom was obviously something less than its purist form, including as it did, room service and a daily de-ticking. Which suggests that perhaps a major roadblock to future liberations is the absence of a good working definition of what liberation entails. Specifically, it seems to me that the notion of liberation from something also necessitates liberation to something, and this is the part where the devil is in the details. For instance, modern appliances freed women from the shackles of the house so that they could wear pantyhose all day while being sexually harassed at the office. Or Patrick Henry. If he’d suspected liberation might someday lead to the 1040 form, he might have chosen death. So personal fantasies aside, unless there’s a way to escape responsibility for the to part without diminishing praise for the from part, I’ll pass for the time being. My guess is that if two and a half centuries worth of politicians haven’t yet come up with a foolproof plan to escape accountability, such a thing just doesn’t exist.
Ellen was an artist, and she finally got around to inviting me up to see her etchings. While I was fairly sure her invitation was limited to just that, her intentions hardly mattered given the sensitive nature of my condition. I accepted her offer with the understanding that we stop at a pharmacy along the way so that I could buy sunburn lotion and a sort of sling of yet-to-be-determined style.
After walking — she forcefully, I gingerly — back to the parking lot, I followed her to where a lady pharmacist of her acquaintance worked. Following Ellen’s explanation of my predicament — and considerable shared merriment — her friend suggested feminine hygiene pads hooked to a garter belt as the best available solution. Thus bedecked beneath my warm-ups, I followed Ellen to her studio.
Now I an not, admittedly, a student of the visual arts. My personal preference has always drifted in the general direction of ducks on a marsh. I had, of course, seen a fair amount of the modern genre, but always with the notion that each was just a fad, a hiatus, as it were, before the next school of great duck painters came along. This, apparently, isn’t the case. Ellen patiently explained to me that modern impressionistic art had not yet reached its zenith, that the best was yet to come. I allowed as how I could certainly see room for improvement.
The problem, she decided, was that I simply didn’t understand the medium. With this hypothesis in mind, she directed me to a particular painting of hers which was to serve as the inspiration for my enlightenment. The work appeared to me, in my ignorance, to be a random assortment of shapes and hues, not unlike the affect that was once achieved on the roof of my van when I’d left it parked overnight beneath a mulberry tree full of nesting crows. She looked perplexed, suggesting to me that either she was put off by my analogy or was considering the possibility that I had stumbled on a revolutionary new medium of my own.
“The difference,” she said patiently, “is that you’ll learn something from my painting.”
“I learned something from the crows. I no longer park under mulberry trees.”
To her credit, she remained patient and explained to me how each splotch, or shape if you prefer, on her painting represented a figure or an idea and in combination comprised a theme. And I must admit that as long as she stood there and explained each splotch, the thing did seem to make sense. The problem came when she left to answer the phone. At first I only confused the burning cities with the poisoned watermelons. This obviously wasn’t critical, as it involved only location and didn’t alter the central theme. But when I realized that I couldn’t remember whether it was the people who had all been harpooned and the whales were starving or vice versa, then the whole concept fell apart and I was hopelessly lost. Fortunately, the phone call had been from a government agency and confirmed their intention to purchase the work. I was thus able to appropriately praise the genius and insight of the work without fear of walking out of the studio with it in my possession. I expressed regret at having a pressing engagement, thanked Ellen profusely for sharing with me both her art and her umbrella, and departed much eased in both body and spirit.
That night by the campfire, I mulled over the day’s events, perplexed that some great underlying truth was eluding me. It was bothersome, certainly, that understanding between two people could be compromised so much by such a simple thing as images on a canvass. And yet, too, we had found common ground in a most unexpected place. So until that day when I and the Ellens of the world will each be able to see beauty more through the other’s eyes, I have at least learned that a feminine hygiene pad, while not necessarily a thing of beauty, can be a joy forever.