To successfully execute the slacker lifestyle it is imperative that one keep busy. Being a slacker is humiliating enough but an inert slacker is a waste of good space.
So, with my arrival in Portland, Oregon, my $33 a month rent and my meager unemployment withdrawal I was ready to dive right into the shallow end of the pool. But, what to do, what to do?
I don’t recall how the idea became a call to action. It might have come about as the result of some altered state or we were just nutty enough in our natural condition to have thought it a great plan. The only thing I remember is we three house-mates, Tom, Craig and me, outlining our apparel schematic (“burlap potato sacks would work”, “maybe some real large wire ties?”) and then going on a mini scavenger hunt for the proper pieces.
We had decided to transform ourselves into laurel bushes.
(This space put on hold while the reader attempts to process the reason why young adults might consider dressing up as vegetation…)
Quickly we realized that this couldn’t be a project for just the three of us and we would have to enlist other folks from the house to act as dressers since in our final condition we would have limited use of our arms and legs. So, the ladies from the house cut out holes for our head and arms from the big potato sacks we got and then began to prune branches…lots and lots of branches from the huge installation of laurel bushes we had in the backyard.
Next, each branch had to be painstakingly attached to the burlap with the wire ties until the branches completely obscured out bodies. This took scads of branches and careful positioning and I’d estimate that we stood there being worked on for at least 2 hours, or until we’d reached the maximum discomfort level.
From inside the creation you could barely see through the branches, taking small steps like you were wearing a very snug pencil dress, and grabbing a hold of anything was limited to the extension of your wrist through the foliage. It looked terrific, especially if you didn’t study the base too closely, possibly noticing the thin outline of sneakers at the bottom.
It didn’t take botany 101 to know that this costume, detached from it’s host life form, had a shelf life of a few hours before we were ready for the house compost heap so we had to get downtown and into maximum viability mode as soon as possible. But how? I came up with the mass transit idea because we had to remain standing and what better place to do that than on a bus?
It took one step onto the bus to realize that there were going to be situations we couldn’t anticipate. Portable vegetation was a skill none of us had any experience with.
As an impatient driver and antsy group of riders looked on, one by one our branches got snagged on the hand railing and we had to slowly untangle ourselves before we could get to the top of the steps (God forbid there should be people on the bus with some place to go). Even after struggling to get the change into the fare box we managed to take a couple of unintentional swipes at our fellow travelers, leaving a trail of debris along the aisle way.
But, for the sake of art…
Getting off the bus was considerably easier and we started walking around the city, letting the situation dictate what we’d do and where we’d do it. The public library grounds were, as it turned out, the perfect venue for our tomfoolery since the existing shrubbery looked very similar to us and so we would ‘plant’ ourselves in different formations. If we held our place for a bit, the foot traffic would changeover, never having seen us move into formation in the first place. For those folks, we were just your garden variety laurel bush.
Since no one started the day expecting to see animated laurel bushes, our quick and clever reformation behind their backs was rather inexplicable. One woman seated at a park bench reading a book hadn’t noticed that we’d formed a ‘hedge’ to the right rear of the bench. Distracted by the rustling leaves, she looked up to see the hedge for the first time and, thinking nothing of it, went back to her book. We quietly shifted the hedge in unison to the left side of her bench, rustled some leaves, and this time she looked a bit disoriented with the unusual growth patterns of the shrubbery.
For others we would set up the hedge and then murmur appropriate one-liners to passersby. Eventually, all of the subtlety of our performance leaked out as an ever growing audience put us in the spotlight and others of our kind, those with too much time on their hands, began to follow the show around town, and then the press showed up…
The Oregonian sent out a photographer (actual press photo in the upper right) and a reporter to interview the ‘traveling wiltburys’. We were cruising up and down streets, kibitzing with our entourage and answering questions from the reporter. At one point we dropped into a hotel bar called, helpfully enough, The Woods, and spent some time waxing poetic about our long lost friends and relatives, now converted into shellacked tree trunk tables.
That was 1976 and news didn’t travel with gazellian speed nor was there an insatiable hunger for non-news of any sort or worth. I imagine that same stunt in that same city today might have gotten us on CNN, Reuters, the AP, attention from Hollywood producers, a book deal, a documentary and a trip to Chicago to be on Oprah, or at the very least, New York’s Maury. That’s because our distraction starved culture always needs the next curiosity and we were that for an afternoon.
But back then, at the end of our water-starved lifespan, we were just three insaniacs having found something interesting to do on a nice day in Slackersville.