“Bite of Broadview” signs are popping up in my neighborhood. They sadden me partly because this particular event used to be called “Christ the King Harvest Festival” and the whole “Bite of” thing is so played and partly because I won’t be going. As I gotten older I’ve contracted a condition called Tofts. It flares up with certain predictable triggers: in crowds, around noise, near parades, trying to find a place to park and at the movies when people talk to each other as though they are sitting in front of their television. TOFTS. It stands for Too Old for This Shit. Its only treatment is to immediately leave the trigger source.
I have looked forward to the “Christ the King Harvest Festival” every year for 25 years. It’s always the third weekend in September. Christ the King is a big Catholic church in Broadview, just north of my Crown Hill neighborhood. I was raised in minimalist (ok, constipated) Protestant churches so it always amazes me what a big-ass affair a wealthy Catholic church can put on. Christ the King Harvest Festival had the usual booths of crafters (one of them dedicated to arty rosaries), and food tents, outdoor barbeque, bake sales, and in later years, a coffee bar.
What set it apart from anything the Protestants ever did –besides rosaries–were the rides. They actually brought in a carousel, Ferris wheel, roller coaster, bumper cars, a crazy house, swings and mild rides for little children. Once you reached the carnival area, there was carnival food: elephant ears, cotton candy and popcorn. I always walked around and marveled at the rides. They were clearly from a different era, old and worn and funky. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn I rode one of these exact rides in the 1960s in Olympia or in the 1950s when there were rides across the street from Bellevue Square.
It was a sensory experience, the Harvest Festival: the smell of popcorn and coffee, the screams coming from the roller coaster, the sight of nuns in habits amongst the grilled corn and face painting. I loved it until two years ago when they brought in a stage, a band and Amplified Sound. It was no longer a sensory experience. It became a Single Sense Experience that was overwhelming even with ear plugs in my ears. I lasted all of a minute and a half before I left. TOFTS.
The Foss Home does an annual farmers’ market at the end of the summer so it’s actually a harvest festival, too. At my first visit several years ago I won a beautiful hand-blown glass vase with my guess that it held 750 Starbursts. 750 Starbursts were the last thing I needed in my house but I was thrilled to have won the beautiful vase. I managed to hold onto the candies until Halloween when I dumped them on my students and the Trick or Treaters.
My friend Kay and I go every year to the Foss Home Farmer’s Market. We buy fruits and vegetables. We take one (at least) of everything that’s free whether we want it or not. Kay chats with vendors. I enter every contest for anything except tickets to sports events. It’s small and fun. But last year there was a stage and a band and someone saying “Testing” into a microphone with an amplification which could be heard in the next county. I couldn’t believe it. The Foss Home is a residential facility for the elderly: is this what they wanted? Why weren’t they too old for this shit? I was out of there before the band got to their first bridge.
My friend Nancy and I visited Seattle Tilth’s Harvest Festival. I parked in front of Nancy’s house and we made the short walk to the Good Shepherd Center, Tilth’s home. Two blocks away I wanted to turn around and go back. I could already hear the band.
“I know you don’t know this but it’s Nirvana,” Nancy said to me.
I know very little but I think she meant that the unholy outpouring from behind all the amps and speakers was a cover of a Nirvana song.
“It’s not Nirvana,” I said. “It’s hell.”
I left Nancy to walk to the far edges of the festival. It was 87 degrees and the sun was in my face. In the surreal atmosphere the vendors seemed like pimps in the Tenderloin, attempting to entice me to their booths as I searched for shade and quiet. After twenty minutes I found Nancy.
“I want to go home.”
“OK,” she said.
Nancy really is a lovely person. She has a husband who responds exactly as I do to noise and to crowds who seem to be making a frenetic attempt to convince themselves they are having fun. She also knows me quite well so my request was no surprise.
Most of my friends would not have been surprised. They often end a description of an event they particularly enjoyed by saying, “You would have hated it.”
My friends are similarly unfazed by my restaurant behavior: Before we’re even seated, I ask for the music to be turned down. After once such request, the waitperson looked at me uncomprehendingly.
“Is it too loud?” she asked.
“Can’t you tell?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I just tune it out.”
I entered Bartell Drugs one Sunday morning, after a lovely quiet walk, to be met with a blast of whiny sounds coming through some lousy amplification system. The clerk on duty claimed to not know how to turn down the “music.”
“We can’t adjust it from here,” she said.
“You’re kidding,” I said. “How do you concentrate?”
“Oh, I just tune it out.”
This begs the question: if it must be tuned out, why is it on at all?
My worst experience along these lines (not counting the Neighbors From Hell who I sold my house to get away from) involved 1) the invasion of my own home and 2) the element of surprise. I was reading under the lilacs on the afternoon of the summer solstice three years ago when my ears were assaulted by a whiny distorted sound that crescendoed, and then receded over and over. The whiny sound was followed by other timbres, other rhythms, similarly distorted. I got up to investigate.
I followed thumps and blares to a house two and a half blocks away where to my dismay I learned that a “music festival” was going on until ten o’clock that night. The current performers were students and amateurs but the professionals, which I took to mean the Greatest Decibels, were coming on at 7:00. I asked the impresario why he hadn’t let anyone know about his Amplified Sound Fest.
“I told everyone in the block,” he said.
“When it’s this loud, you need to let people within a four block radius know,” I said.
“You aren’t into music?” he asked.
I looked at him. I looked at the ground. I looked at him and took a deep breath.
“Yeah, that’s it,” I said. “I’m not into music.”
I sighed, took my TOFTS, and went home to close the windows.