The tourists and the sign-flying bums are back in Ashland again. Fuck. Like the morels, they’re a sign of spring. Unlike the morels, they’re impossible to miss and you can’t eat them. Well, some of the Donner Party might have a different take on that.

I shoudn’t even be writing about this. Not cannibalism, but signs of spring. This town spends entirely too much time running its damn mouth about banalities like changes of the seasons. I get it. Spring is coming. You can shut up about it already because you’ve spent the whole afternoon returning to that monologue like a dog to its vomit.

One might think that by drawing tourists from the length of the West Coast Ashland would have a tourist base representative of the West Coast. It’s a nice idea, but if wishes were horses I’d be upstaging that city manager in Dixon, Illinois.

First of all, they’re tourists. That explains a lot. Second, they’re theater nerds. That doesn’t explain as much, but it does explain some of the subtle cultural oddities of the cohort.

Let’s face it: tourists are losers. Not all of them, but more than enough of them are. An examination of the shops in downtown Ashland indicates that their customers have too much time and disposable income on their hands but not enough places to waste their money. They have all the purpose and dignity of mall walkers, except that they spent hundreds of dollars to get up here from the Bay Area. At least the sad cases pacing the linoleum halls on the south side of Toledo every Sunday morning didn’t come in from out of town for the pleasure. My parents and I did, but we were just passing through on our way to Chicago. “First prize: one week in Toledo. Second prize: two weeks.” Wandering around downtown Ashland all afternoon from crypto-Buddhist schlock peddler to gem shop to art gallery to crypto-Buddhist schlock peddler is a symptom of scrambled brains. If not, it’s a little foretaste of hell.

Now, regarding the transients, at least they’re in it for the money. They like themselves some positive cash flow, and if they couldn’t find it in Ashland they’d leave town. They’re doing what Americans call “working for a living.”

I’m not kidding about that. If being a fraud like Joel Osteen is work, play-acting impoverishment all afternoon is work. Osteen misrepresents the Bible and every remotely sound theological tradition derived from it, while the sign-flying bums misrepresent their socioeconomic status and employability. It’s the difference between “God repays your tithes and offerings tenfold” and “car broke down no gas every bit helps God bless.” Both of these are strategic lies told for financial gain; the differences involve the size of the gain and whether the liar in question is appealing to his donor’s altruism or his avarice. These are merely lines of work, kind of like the sale of used cars or real estate. Nay, very much like the sale of used cars and real estate. It may be seedy work, but it’s work, and they’re making a living, or they wouldn’t be in town.

Is there a bit of play thrown in for good measure? But of course. We Americans are a rather polished nation of salesmen, which is really quite revolting, and good Shakespeare buffs that they are, Ashlanders surely recognize that all the world’s a stage. These-here folk know that there’s money in acting. Greg Lemhouse may put on a different sort of act from Eric Navickas, but like so many of their townspeople, these are not the most genuine or aboveboard of gentlemen.

Can Lt. (Ret.) Lemhouse be called an officer and a gentleman? Well, he isn’t exactly what the producers have in mind, or what the US Army or the Medford Police have in mind, for that matter. Can he be called a goody-two-shoes who doesn’t mind stalking a bitch? Apparently so; keep an eye on the Mail-Tribune for details. He has also had the honor of serving on the city council with the hairball who set fire to the trash cans at the Expo.

Now, those are some fine chaps.

This month the Sneak Preview, Ashland’s horrid free business circular, has a lengthy piece about the homeless problem. The length wouldn’t be a problem if the piece weren’t so badly written. The Sneak Preview is an idiosyncratic Ashland thing, but it’s actually fairly easy to describe for out-of-towners. It’s more or less an adaptation of a big-city free weekly tabloid, the kind with twenty pages of seedy sex ads in the back, but less raunchy and written by a sophomoric flak from the Chamber of Commerce. Farmer Uncle considers it a worthy town institution. Fuck my life. Curtis Hayden is an incredibly shitty writer, and the Sneak Preview is a mercenary rag dressed up as a cute compilation of village gossip. It figures that Ashlanders would find such mental rot resonant.

Maybe I shouldn’t be quite so hard on that piece of shit. The homelessness article was actually pretty good, aside from its childish tone and scatterbrained writing style. I figure that if Terri de Silva describes the Plaza sign-fliers as a bunch of hardcore delinquents and recommends “absolutely” not feeding them, they’re probably hard-core delinquents who oughtn’t be fed.

Without the alms for the poor, the sign-fliers probably go back to Santa Cruz and resume bathing in the ocean for that salty dog smell. Kind of a snarky thing to say, I know, but it damn well applies to some of them.

Don’t worry. Exclusionary zone or not, like Kid Rock on the shore of that north country lake, they’ll be here all summer long.

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