A better version of this post is on The BEAST.
The naked old man on the dirt road in the middle of the Brushwood Folklore Center didn’t seem like he was going from one place to another. He and his shriveled up dick were just out there, on display for anyone driving around or whose eyes happened to wander around the huge open field where he was one of a very few people walking around. So we turned away from him and started to explore the layout of the festivities before setting up some kind of base camp.
We only got a few feet away from Old Naked Man #1 before passing a little shack. A man walked purposefully towards the car with his hand out, indicating that we should stop. He had something to tell us:
“You guys gotta slow down. See all this dust that’s blowing around? There’s little ones here, so be careful.”
Ian reflexively said OK, but a few seconds after continuing on our way – very slowly – it dawned on us that the Eternally Vigilant Enemy of Dust Clouds had some pretty fucked up priorities. There’s a brain-damaged exhibitionist not 50 feet away from “the little ones,” but he apparently thought driving 7 mph on a dirt road instead of 5 mph was the graver threat to the children’s well-being. It was a bad omen. In retrospect, we would probably have been better off if we had just turned around then and there.
After exploring a few of what turned out to be dead end roads, we set up our base of operations near an inexplicable pile of dirt. There was a gathering at a pavilion we wanted to check out, but other than that there wasn’t much action going on for X Day. Nothing was happening at the “Spirit Shrine.” Nothing was happening at the “Fire Shrine” or the “Ancestor’s Rape Shack” or the “Dipshit Roundhouse.” Nothing was happening pretty much anywhere else, so we trekked across the field towards the pavilion.
The Church of the SubGenius leadership was doing their free association spoken word thing at one end next to a “Bob” effigy hanging from a noose and a few propaganda signs. They relayed some interesting facts and insights about microbiology (according to Dr. Hal, microbial life under the surface of the Earth outweighs all above surface life, including oceanic life), advice on file-sharing (USENET!), and rants about numerology regarding the Church’s apocalyptic mythology.
There were maybe 40 people under the pavilion at a time and they regularly left and arrived in small groups. A couple people appeared to be in some kind of drug coma. Most of the rest sat on folding chairs and enjoyed the shade and weird-talk. There were a few topless women. Murphy aptly described most of the aged visible boobs as “You kinda want to suck on ‘em, but… not really.” At one point whoever was running the shop selling SubGenius products wanted to take a break and so it would have to briefly close. The panel started badgering the crowd to hurry up and buy something before everything was gone. There’s this odd duality in the way they practice their hucksterism. On the one hand, they’re doing a parody of religious tithing; but on the other they really do sincerely want your money. It was off-putting and funny at the same time.
We left just before the Bulldada Auction, thirsty and figuring that it would be just more of the same hokey snake-oil salesmanship. We had prepared poorly. We didn’t bring chairs and hardly any food or water. So we decided to go back to the ‘downtown’ of Sherman, NY, hoping to find some kind of restaurant which was open on the Fourth of July. We found one, ate, noticed how similar it was to a local amusement park’s setup of an Old West town, and returned to drive around again while documenting the scene via video camera.
The demographics were tough to pin down. Most people appeared to be just camping for Independence Day. A small contingent seemed to be there for X Day. Others looked like full-time modern hobos and vagabonds who drifted from one festival to another. But the “festival” wasn’t very festive. The magic buses were not very magical at all. One woman was pushing an old-fashioned lawn mower across her few square feet of a campsite. Our neighbors at the Inexplicable Pile of Dirt had a bunch of children, one of whom was named Random. They wore handmade clothes which made them look like they had been living on a desert island for years. Periodically they would wander off into the woods, probably to hunt for wild boar. It was just another day for the wandering folk. There were probably more exciting parties at Back to the Future fan clubs celebrating the 25th anniversary of that film’s release.
The sun set, and the most exciting thing to happen was a few UFO hoaxes floating up a few hundred feet before falling back to Earth. There was no music, no obvious gatherings, no nothing. So we left without even seeing the effigy burning of “Bob.” Maybe these old hippies are just operating on a different wavelength entirely and I just couldn’t meet them there. It’s very weird to me for someone to fixate on getting “back to nature” while sleeping in a tent next to their car in a field that’s only there because someone cleared the forest.
One last quick note on why this might have been so lame: In researching for this story, I heard a comment from one of the Church founders about how his business dropped by half after X Day 1998, which you might remember is when the aliens were first predicted to show up. The way I see it, the Church is so obviously fake that this should only improve their business. But the fact that it’s the opposite of that tells you something about the possibility of more people actually believing in a literal “Bob,” despite all the efforts made to inoculate themselves from people who take themselves and things in general too seriously. And that’s a lot more disturbing than one lame Fourth of July.