The Talking Stick 



Mrs. G. recently talked to an old college friend, a fellow University of Oregon Duck. When Mrs. G's friend graduated, she never left Eugene. She was captivated by the sleepy, liberal, creative little city that smells of reefer, ylang ylang smothered sweat and a yeasty brewery. Her friend teaches modern dance for pleasure and waits tables for cash. Eugene is in this woman's blood.


Mrs. G. loved her time in Eugene, but she never intended to stay. Her sophomore year, she unfastened the top button of her oxford cloth shirt and had a brief affair with hippiedom. She quit shaving, tie dyed nearly all of her white cotton clothing and pretended to like Greek Retsina wine even though she actually thought it tasted like full strength Pine-Sol. She would gag it down to appear sophisticated when she rapped with other intellectuals and purported to absolutely know George Eliot was not a man. I mean, who didn't know that. And yes, of course, she venerated Samual Becket. Waiting for Godot...what the FRICK? a masterpiece! In 365 days, she had barely choked down four cubes of tofu. She refused to shove her white ass into a dashiki. She slunk off campus to eat bacon in shame.


Mrs. G. was a bogus hippie, a less than so so wannabe.


The defining moment that laid bare her Bohemian pretense took place at a cast party off campus. The party was thrown by a graduate student, and Mrs. G. remembers the thrill of entering what at the time felt dangerously like adult territory. The party took place in a rickety, white bungalow with red Christmas lights around the front door and a Jamaican flag in the window. Mrs. G. poured herself a plastic cup of Retsina and drummed her fingers to Bob Marley. She be jammin'.


Maybe an hour into the party, the host, Leo, suggested that everyone gather around the room and sit in a circle to talk, really talk. Mrs. G. struck a serious pose (chin leaning on hand, knitted eyebrows) and took her place on the hardwood floor. Leo asked his guests to share their future dreams, their, Mrs. G. can hardly bear to write this, castles in the air. When you have a room of young, eager theater students, they will throw down to discuss their favorite subject: themselves. But Leo, a cool cat to be sure, had a solid plan to keep the conversation on track. From behind his back he pulled out a talking stick.


For anyone who grew up east of Oregon, a talking stick is simply a stick often decorated with beads and feathers that were probably purchased at Michaels. The deal with a talking stick is that you can only talk when the talking stick is in your hands. Get it? Talking. Stick. A Native American Tradition, the talking stick was originally used by some tribes in council meetings to keep the chief from being interrupted.


It was not lost on Mrs. G. that there was not a chief in this group of privileged, pale faced kids, nary a Native American to be found. She was embarrassed to be part of this scene. She was concerned about being smited by a Native American god. This was her first encounter with a talking stick. Her only prior experience with any stick involved daring her grandmother to "make her" rake the leaves and being soundly whipped with one in the backyard.



There is no way to put this kindly—Mrs. G. thought the talking stick was a crock, a deep dished crock. She struggled to keep her eye rolling and snorting in check. She left the party before Leo blessed the crowd with a smudge stick.


Mrs. G. suspects that we've all had moments in our lives, snapshot crossroads when we know full well it's time to quit faking, time to shake our heads and say, "Uh uh...I think I'll pass."


The talking stick was a line she could not cross. It was just too much.


Two days later, she shaved her legs and, determined to have no reliable, bankable skill set, changed her major from theater to English.

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Reader Comments (29)

Miss G. did not follow in her Mom's foot steps walking like a Duck for her.. and talking sticks ?please ... oh, the things we thought and the things we did when young.. the not shaving thing never worked for me either

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren @Junking in Georgia

You did wear Birks though, right? Right? And Guatamalan fabric? Please?

I always thought the Native Amer wannabes were a crock too. (My fav...women who eat the placenta. Or even just bring it home from the hospital to plant under a rosebush)

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteredj

ohhhhh, Mrs. G, you ARE hilarious. just what my dusty crusty mind needed today! Thanks for the memories and the conversation - you can hold the talking stick anytime for me. I admit to it all AND snorting my coffee with the visual of you "jammin".

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSkeeter

OMG, this is so funny.
You were obviously wise beyond your years!

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen@IslandRoar

You still be jammin'. And it says something about theater majors when you change your major to English to become marketable.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermiddle-aged-woman

I'm just a tad older than this. My idealist notions were wrecked on the reefs of artists' lofts in SoHo, in filthy off-off Broadway dives in the East Village. We didn't go in for fake Native-American stuff, we went in for fake lesbo-punk-boho -- but it's all the same thing. The downtrodden gypsy artist bullshits the young girls from Ohio so he can embezzle the rent money.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterg

I was a fake "granola" for a summer. I went bra-less, makeup-less, and made hundreds of friendship bracelets while working on a floating salmon factory in Alaska. Hung around on the deck of the boat and watched people smoke hand rolled cigarettes and get drunk on Rainier beer. Lots of fun. But then the rough, tax-evading, eskimo boyfriend I was entertaining that summer suggested that he come visit me in the fall at Brigham Young University. Eeeek! I about died thinking about what my friends at BYU would think of him. I had to face the fact that I'm a true goody-two-shoes. I forbade him from ever setting foot in the state of Utah. When I returned to school in the fall I lost all the granola trappings except the Birkenstocks. Gotta keep the comfy shoes...

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjenny

Ah, Eugene, my home town. I remember it when Willamette Street was the "main drag" and Vally River Mall hadn't even been dreamed up. ! I'll be visiting there in March. I wonder if the Saturday market is still goiong strong.

Ok, I'm passing the talking stick to the next commenter, HAHAHAHA


January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDarla

Darla, you must remember Pietro's Pizza, if you remember "dragging the gut."

Don't we all wish for our daughters to figure this out a little sooner than we did? Or is it a rite of passage as we figure out what is genuine and what is contrived?

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy Jo

Lighted window decorations are an ideal way to brighten up your windows and walls.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristmas Lights

Ah, Mrs. G, we are kindred spirits. I turned down a dreamcatcher for the same reason. Bogus BS.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGreen Girl in Wisconsin

Mrs. G., I, too, made the transition from theatre major to English major. Bless my little 18-year-old, naive heart - I knew, somehow, that I was too normal to hang with the all-black-wearing, chain-smoking drama kids. I think they were my school's equivalent of your talking stick crowd. But it's funny what flavors we try as we're figuring out who we are and who we want to be.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCha Cha

Oh the stories I hear about Eugene. Makes me want to visit again just to see the setting for so many hippie related stories.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBailey

While I was see-sawing back and forth between English and Sociology majors, I had this sign on my dorm room door (compliments of the campus newspaper)
"Ducks: mere animal quackers. Eat 'em up, Huskies!"

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkcinnova

PS: That was about the time I was experiment with Clove cigarettes. I quickly discovered that I was not a smoker, not even one of fragrant Cloves.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkcinnova


Trigger happy fingers today.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkcinnova

Well, I grew up in NYC and ended up in Eugene a few years ago for hubby's MFA. We sell at Saturday Market and love the laid back vibe here. I love my Birks more than I ever thought I could love any shoe, even though I always swore I would never own a pair.

But if you passed me a talking stick I, too, would laugh my arse off. There's nothing worse than a phony.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersarah

This is even richer in Austin, where it continues.... to see the wannabes in their get-ups saunter down the Drag after their save the crawdad meeting or their BMW's. Nothing against get-ups or BMW's, I just love how oblivious they seem to the irony.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfarmgirl

I attended my high school reunion in Eugene last I wish I had had a "talking stick." Never heard so much "I, I, I." Poseurs fifty years ago, phonies now. I remember Pietro's, and Abby's on West 6th, and dragging the gut between the A & W on one end and whatever that drive-in was on the other. I'm so glad at least some of us grew up.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternan_nc

Good old U of O. We used to root for you in Pullman whenever you played the Huskies. Go Cougs. Considering I was a Home Ec major at WSU, I was probably the last person you'd expect to see enjoying the hippie lifestyle. However, my attempt at trying to be what I wasn't was probably during the Jesus movement in the early 70s. God Spell had just come out and everyone had a "I Found It" bumper sticker on their car. While I was a goody-goody, church going girl, I tried to get myself all worked up. I never fit in. Believing wasn't the issue, it was just the frenzy that kids would get in. I was told that if I didn't speak in tongues I wasn't a true believer. BS! It took awhile, but I figured it was just the latest bandwagon for folks to jump on. I ended up being right about some of it, and months later those same kids were back to smoking and drinking like they had done before. Me, I'm still boring, and I still hold a very skeptical view of over-the-top religious fanatics.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSharonB in WA

My "talking stick" was gemstones and crystals. It was all over the day a very upset girl jumped up to me and informed me that it was a terrible, horrible day to wear the moonstone that was on my necklace. She warned me that very bad things were going to happen to me that day if I continued to wear it.

She was a very nice person who I'd met several times before, so I really didn't want to laugh in her face. I just had to tell her nicely that I thanked her for her concern but I did not believe in that.

She took it pretty well, but definitely avoided my company after that.....just fine by me.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterem

Ha ha!! I think we all have those moments, usually between 19 and 21, when we don't know who we are so we "wear the part" to see if it fits...

I thought I wanted to be a rich and powerful career driven finance person, so I bought suits and wore them to work, tried befriending the power brokers in my sphere, getting into their clubs and committees, etc. Then one day I took a hard look at the folks I was trying to emulate, who I wanted to be like, and I realized they were all assholes who cheated on their spouses and practiced situational ethics, and I realized that I would be a better person if I spent my life digging ditches or mopping floors, if I just focused on my character and integrity.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRenee in Seattle

Mrs. G, a fellow Duck has this to say about Eugene:

it's like Disneyland. Everything is 3/4 size and, eventually, you have to leave.

(Unless you are Frog. According the the Oregon Supreme Court, he can stay as long as he likes.

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersungmanitu

Hmmm. How about this--I knew I was working at the wrong architecture firm during the last presidential campaign when my boss kept referring to Hilary Clinton as "that c**t".

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersungmanitu

No dreamcatchers here, LOL!

My own moment - I work with horses and over the years have gone to a number of "natural hosremanship" type clinics & seminars. Lots of good stuff to be learned at these, but some people take it WAY too far, in my opinion.

My personal WTF? moment was when a very earnest young lady stood up in front of us at one of these touchy-feely "get inside your horse's brain" events and assured us that "It doesn't matter if you NEVER RIDE your horse - you must work on UNDERSTANDING your horse. You must become AS ONE with your horse. RIDING your horse isn't important! I have horses I am working with that I am NEVER going to ride!"

I was outta there. I wanted to RIDE my horse. Silly old me, putting my desires before those of my horse!

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbas

I loved the posers in college because I at least got to try things I wouldn't have tried otherwise and hey, they were kids. :-) However, about ten years ago, when I was living with my ex and we were expecting our son, I was surrounded by so many posers I could still puke just remembering them now. We had a weekly get-together at our house; attendees included an astrologer, a massage therapist, an interior decorator, a house painter who refused to vaccinate his kids (and then took them to Thailand), a shrink (my ex), an ayurvedic doctor and a handful of other alterna-types (we were in Laguna Beach, which is largely that way). We didn't have a talking stick, but we all sat in a circle and took turns whining about everything. I remember feeling like I was on a different planet, and I was kind of baffled by how (beyond) seriously everyone took themselves. And yes, smudging was occasionally involved. Of course.

There was something really pampered and self-indulgent and holier-than-thou about the whole thing and it was too, too much for me. Too much preaching. The mention of someone's child nursing until age seven was met with murmurs of approval and the astrologer was deeply offended when I politely turned down the offer of a reading for my unborn baby because I didn't believe in astrology. (He eventually did a reading at my ex's request; that reading is in the kiddo's baby box and I keep it solely to remind me of this surreal phase in my life.) I didn't want to spend a lot of time at baby massage and sign language seminars* and I was under pressure from my ex and a lot of "the group" to attend the Landmark Forum (which is based on est).

I felt like Alice in New Age land.

I should mention that I am certainly not against trying new things. I just can't deal with people who act like it's the ONLY way to be and disdain others who don't agree.

* And of course there's nothing wrong with baby massage and sign language seminars, unless you think I'm hopeless and can't be friends with me when I decide not to attend. ;^)

January 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

My BS-meter moment came much later, when I was working for the president of a small college who loved to hear himself slaver endlessly about the latest craze in business management. He would gather the entire staff of more than 100 to natter on about how brilliant he was to understand the cutting-edge ideas he'd picked up at his neighborhood Barnes and Noble. At one event, he managed to use the word "paradigm" roughly 1,000 times. I was twisting in agony. Finally, a young staffer leaned over to me and asked, "What IS a paradigm?" and I burst out, "TWENTY CENTS!" Luckily, he had no idea where the voice came from.

January 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

I flitted in and out of the Kansas ska scene during college (that's right, I said Kansas ska scene - hush). Also various hip-hop crowds, punk/emo peoples . . . I guess a lot of mine centered around music. I could just never stop liking stuff I wasn't supposed to like, enough to fully fit with these groups.

Then there were the various sorority types and now the mommy groups. I don't fit. Never all the way, at least. I'm cool with it, mostly. :) I feel like I fit here at the Women's Colony!

January 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterA Different Ashley

OK, everybody talkin' shit about Eugene needs to stop right now. because it's the most awesome place ever.

I rolled into Eugene 24 years ago next month, from a childhood in Iowa. Following a boy, me 21 years old, my dear infant daughter in tow. (Who is named SAGE, by the way. Named in Wyoming, by non-hippie parents.)

Eugene allowed me to try out my hippie soul during my years at U of O, loved me when I didn't shave, and accepted me when I did. Eugene supported me through my bachelors in Sociology with minors in Women's Studies and English Literature. Eugene gave me a job when I finished my master's in Labor Relations. Eugene still loves me even though I now wear business suits.

Eugene has poseurs and wanna-bes and pretension. But, so does everywhere. Eugene has acceptance and great local restaurants and groceries. Eugene has the Saturday Market STILL! I can be on the beach in one hour from my home. I can downhill ski in the Cascades and be home by dinnertime.

I'm sorry someone handed you a talking stick, Mrs G. I'm sorry someone else feels you have to leave Eugene to grow up. I guess if you all had stayed we'd be too crowded.


January 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercheryl

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