Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In Which I Observe My Surroundings

Since we moved to Oregon everyone's been telling me, in reference to restaurants, stores, coffee shops, attitudes, hairstyles, and cars, "That's so Eugene." I never have any idea what they mean. Do they mean that something is local? Distinctive? Trendy?

In my quest to understand the essence of Eugene, I have made the following observations:

  • While walking down the street one frequently overhears something like the following: "They had a baby girl but they're raising her gender neutral." (How does one do this?) 
  • There is a fair here--the Oregon Country Fair, held every July--in which visitors are politely requested to cover their genitals before 5 p.m. Please note that paint counts as a covering. 
  • At the Saturday farmer's market, vendors dressed as Pilgrims (probably not intentionally--they're just wearing a lot of blankets, which seems Pilgrim-y) sell hemp onesies, ugly scarves, and stale bread. 
  • Every fall the city crowns a Slug Queen. (I think Slug stands for something, or perhaps it's just in reference to all the slugs littering the sidewalks here.) Apparently this is an honor. 
All of these things are, irrefutably, so Eugene. And here's just one more story that, I think, neatly illustrates the culture in this city. (Or possibly throughout the Northwest? I'll need to continue my research.)

There's a woman I work with who is just the most lovely, tender-hearted person in creation. She's soft-spoken, gentle, and unfailingly generous. She's the sort of person who can always be counted on, who, you sense, would maintain her calm in the worst kind of crisis. She's the sort of person who strips away all your illusions about what a lovely person you are, because she's just so good. 

For the past week or so she's been growing one of those little ducks in a jar full of water on her desk. You know those things? It's a little pellet, and you drop it in water and after 48 hours the pellet turns into a slimy, dense heap of duck. Or T-Rex. Or Christmas tree. Whatever. The duck (I named it Butch) has grown to its full size, and it was sitting out on a little plate. I went to look at it today, and we both sort of tilted our heads as we looked at it.

"Don't you just want to rip its little head off?" she asked. 

I stared. "No, not really. No," I said. 

"I'm used to dead animals," she shrugged. "My husband owns a fish hatchery, and he's just got a menagerie of carcasses in his freezer. I told him to throw me in there when I die, but to make sure to pose me nicely."

"Pose you nicely," I repeated. 

"Yes. We found a dog on the road once that was just about gone, so we took it home and called the vet. It died before we could get it there, though, so we brought it back to the freezer and posed it nicely."

"You don't freeze a carcass," said I. "I think you're supposed to bury it or incinerate it or something."

"But the owners might have been looking for it. And they did come around just a few days later, and it was good for them to see their dog. It was posed so nicely, they said." 

I must have been giving her quite a look because she laughed and patted my arm and said "It's not that weird around here. Trust me." And I thought, You are so Eugene. 

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