Next week I’ll be reporting to you from my mom’s house in Ashland, Oregon. For those of you who’ve never heard of the place, let me paint a pretty little picture.
Ashland from a distance it is a stunningly beautiful little town nestled in a valley. Large, eco-friendly homes dot the foothills, while down on Main Street, independent bookstores, expensive Italian restaurants and shops selling glass beads do brisk business. It is a town filled with coffee shops, with grocery stores selling extremely tasty and colorful produce and most of all with hippy types. Once, while reading my book on one of those coffee shop patios I was approached by a man who introduced himself as “Riversong” and proceeded to serenade me with a tin whistle. When he finished, he bowed slightly and continued to stand uncomfortably close to me, his loose moss-colored trouser crotch at eye level from my seated position.
I took this extended pause to mean I should now feel free to lavish him with praise. But I didn't like the song or the excessive squinty-eyed smugness. So instead I asked, “Is Riversong your birth name?” “You shouldn’t make assumptions, they bring people down,” he said, or something to that effect. Well you shouldn’t assume people want to hear the pennywhistle, I thought, but instead looked back to my book as Riversong huffily left the patio draging with him a woman wearing a pair of mesh butterfly wings.
I like Ashland. It is the opposite of the Netherlands. Nobody judges. Or at least they say they don’t. Which I think is kind of hilarious. Despite their many chakra openings, drum circles and Sufi dance parties, a lot of people here remain disturbingly humorless and stubbornly self-righteous about themselves. This becomes especially evident if you have an opinion about something that doesn’t quite “jive” with theirs. The hippyish guy in particular seems to have quite a hard time with real discussion. Especially the kind that exposes him not as an all-knowing tree wizard, but an undereducated American male.
For people who are so relaxed, who spend their days drinking coffee and smoking pot and their evenings drinking microbrews and smoking pot, you’d think they’d be mellow enough that it would be relatively difficult to get them worked up. But because these guys are not used to having to express a reason for any of their actions or explanation for their opinions beyond “Totally, I just go with it,” when pressed for answers, they will lash out like nobody’s business. And often what they end up saying can be pretty misogynistic for people who profess they are uber-liberal and accepting of all kinds of people. Last time I went home, I got suckered into a conversation with a 50-something freelance natural healer at a downtown bar patio which started friendly enough but ended after several minutes of senseless dialogue where the man realized I was not impressed with every word he said and ended up calling me a bitch with “a lot to learn.” It is slightly terrifying watching someone who for no discernable reason is boiling with rage attempt to maintain his cool, laid-back style. It’s kind of like the TV show "Grimm," where normal-looking people’s faces change in moments of duress to reveal they are actually rat-beasts. This time it was me who left in a huff, swearing off patios until the next morning’s coffee, when I watched a girl with antlers play a pan flute. Woo-woo! See you in Ashland, hippies!