RenFest III: Labor Day Weekend Strikes Back

Tue Sep 4th, 2001 04:12:32 PM EST

Diary Entry 38
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In this installement: dust, dirt, smoke, heat, cold, sunburn, sore muscles and feet, chapped lips, car accidents, broken sabres, lack of sleep; cats, tails, tight bodices, bonfires, camaraderie, excitement, fencing lessons, improv, honey sticks, hugs, finger-lickin' goodness; and more! See also weekend 1 and weekend 2.

This was the big three-day weekend at the Michigan Renaissance Festival, covering Saturday, Sunday, and the Monday of Labor Day, Sept. 1-3. This one has to paced out slowly for survival. It's an extra night with less sleep, an extra day standing up and walking, running, fencing, shouting, hawking. Though only half again as long as an ordinary weekend, it is twice as hard. But this year there were some consolations.

It was cold and still outside on Saturday morning, so I wore my fencing warmups over my clothes as I drove to campus to pick up the others to help with that day's bunny fencing. Along the way I stopped at a Quality Dairy convenience store to buy cider (mmm!) and donuts for breakfast. Pickup was accomplished in record time and we were on I-69 heading east before 8:00. All three of my passengers were new to fencing, but enthusiastic enough to come out and help up fund-raise at RenFest. Rebecca had been to a RenFest once or twice and Mike had never been to one, but Ryan was a real find: he was (and is) a Rennie with several years experience under his belt.

The new decree for this weekend was that everyone working at the bunny fencing booths must be dressed in period clothes. Until now, fencing whites with tennis shoes had been considered good enough. This meant that we all had to scramble to bring enough clothing for everyone, including period shoes. Dale brought out his entire wardrobe and other members of Ring of Steel and Knights of Iron (Dale's new stunt team organization) provided costume pieces, too. I was put in charge of dressing everyone and keeping track of costumes. This turned out to be easy: I handed out pants and shirts and wrote down who took what.

After dressing people we proceeded into the grounds and set up the bunny fencing booths. Hauling the huge, rickety wooden box of equipment from the south booth to the north booth is the worst part. Other than that, we just had to hang up jackets, put out gloves and sabres, and set up the signs, and we were good to go. The festival opens at 10:00, but few patrons actually get all the way back to the bunny booths before 10:30 or 11:00, so the first hour is always slow, so I immediately put a bunch of fencers on break to wander the grounds. I'm not really in charge—that's Eric from Ring of Steel—but I know what I'm doing and I take responsibility for my actions, so it works out okay in the end.

Ryan turned out to be very good at running the bunny fencing. Within an hour he was better than me at hawking, with better accent to boot. He did a very good job at adjudicating the bouts, too. Rebecca looked good in her costume and I assume did a good job, though I didn't see much of her during the day, and the same goes for Mike.

By mid-morning, it was already warming up for a hot day. And, lucky me, I ended up working at the north booth all day, which didn't have a tent covering it. This became hellish in short order. I was glad that I had my cavalier's hat with a wide 4-inch or so brim. Beyond this, there had been no rain in several days, which meant that there was an incredible amount of dust being kicked up all over. After a few hours at the festival we were all coated in it, inside and out, head to toe. And it seemed to me like this was the big weekend for smokers, too. For some reason smokers like to stand right next to the bunny booths. There wasn't much wind, so the fumes stuck around. Ack! Go away, you assholes, I'm trying to breathe in here. Except I can't say that because they're potential customers.

Chris Barbeau, maestro of Ring of Steel, showed up on Saturday. In the morning he seemed to be in a bad mood. ``So how's life going, Chris?'' ``It would be better if I wasn't here.'' Throughout the rest of the weekend he appeared a little happier. I still haven't been paid for the gloves I bought, but it sounds like I will be this upcoming weekend.

The State News, Michigan State University's student newspaper, sent a reporter and photographer to the festival today to do an article on bunny fencing at RenFest. Mandy, the reporter, watched bunny fencing for a long while and interviewed both our customers and workers. The photographer took shots from several angles. Then I helped our reporter to find and interview Dale and other interesting personalities on the grounds. From the website, it looks like the article didn't make it for today, but I'm going to keep watching for later this week.

This was the first day that I'd had insoles in my boots. I think they might have helped a little—at least I'm not getting blisters anymore—but I wonder whether I should have bought the athletic shoe insoles ($20) instead of the boot insoles ($6). After all, I do athletics (fencing) in my boots.

The RenFest's owner wants us to change the name of bunny fencing (balloon fencing) to something else. Dale's suggestion is ``pop the rubber with your 36-incher.'' Somehow I don't think that would fly too well.

The day was not very eventful. We did good business at the bunny sites. I broke one of Doug McLaren's sabre blades in a demo and promised to replace it. The goth lesbians actually talked to me. They wanted to bunny fence, but only if we'd let them, in their words, ``fight dirty.'' I said ``hell no'' to that (in better accent and G rated) and they went away. And we left incredibly early, by 8:00, just putting up a note to Dale by the trailer, and I was home by 10:00 or so. The ride home went quickly, since everyone in the car was excited and enthusiastic about the day's activities, to the extent that I almost missed an exit because I didn't expect it to come up as soon as it did.

The car's brakes had sounded horrible all day, so I had my dad take a listen when I got home. He didn't even get the car out of the driveway before he told me that he'd have to have the car for a day to check it out. So I moved all of my gear to the other car and called it a night.

On Sunday morning I drove out to Haslett to pick up Ryan. I was early, so I stopped at a Quality Dairy to get some breakfast. As I walked up to the counter and paid, something seemed wrong. I walked out to the car and got in before I realized what it was: during my transaction with the cashier, she could see my watch the whole time. Not period! And then I remembered that I wasn't at the festival yet.

I picked up Ryan, then headed to the festival, arriving about 8:45. Brandon, our other MSU fencer for the day, arrived, and I helped him to pick out garb. We set up the bunny sites and waited for customers to arrive.

Around 10:30 or so I was at the south bunny arena when Azalea (a RoS member or ``Ringer'') approached me and offered me a honey stick. Honey sticks are thin tubes of flavored honey, about 6 inches long. She had a collection of them tucked into the cleavage of her bodice. I accepted and took one. She then informed me that usually she required gentlemen to remove them with their teeth, and I replied that I would, the next time. She started to snuggle up to me a bit while I was sitting on a corner of the bunny railing. I didn't mind, but this was surprising. Azalea hadn't ever shown interest in me before, and wasn't she still dating Jeff from RoS/Knights of Iron? We started to talk. She asked a question that seemed rather pointed, ``I'm 19. How old are you?'' ``I'm 22.'' Hmm.

I gave Ryan a sabre lesson during the morning lull. He was an excellent student, picking up my instructions more quickly than I remember doing so myself. Maybe this is because he has previous martial arts experience (karate or some such). I think he will be a good fencer if he keeps at it. I just wish I were a better instructor; of course, if I keep at it another 10 years or so myself then such things will come, I guess.

Azalea and I kept up our light flirtation the whole day. The weekend's theme was ``Italian Masquerade'' and in honor of this she wore a cat mask, so we made little cat jokes to each other. We become comfortable and managed to entertain other people, too, by bringing it to a more dramatic level (though not a higher level in other ways) and doing a good job of improv. Just standing in line to buy lunch, we had a conversation with a pair of patrons that amused everyone. It's good to remember that it's a show and that your main job is keep other people entertained, not yourself; if you just amuse yourself and other cast members, it's ``actorbation,'' not theater. After lunch, we sat in the children's dell for a while—our feet were sore from so much standing—and she scratched my beard as I rubbed her neck, which is very sensitive.

The parade today came right by the south bunny fencing booth. (There seems to be a different parade route every day. I am pretty sure this is a blunder, not intentional.) As Queen Elizabeth (Caroline) passed by, I was directing a bout between a child and her father. I was unsure what to do—should I have them halt and all go to their knees; should I have them turn toward her and bow; should I ignore her (unthinkable!). As I thought, the Queen turned toward the fencers and shouted, ``Smite him harder!'' and there was suddenly no need to make a decision at all. (I later related this incident to Keith, the Queen's guard, and he didn't remember it, so it's possible that someone else said this and I just thought it was the Queen.)

I ran into Audrey today, babysitting for the Queen and some of the court.

I attended the ``chess match'' in the afternoon, in which Robin Hood's band goes up against the Sheriff of Nottingham in a game of live-action battle chess. This is a good show, especially when compared to last year's chess match, which was different every day and often rather lame. The last fight is a fantastic combat between Robin (Dr. Todd) and the Sheriff (Dale), in which the Sheriff is surely going to win, and then Robin, and then the Sheriff, and so on. In this fight they change both weapons and fighting styles three or four times. The final sequence is sport fencing style fighting with rapiers. As Dale came out of the fight and strode in my direction, I yelled at him the wonderfully ironic comment, ``Where'd you learn to fence, Sheriff!'' Oh that was a great line. But in character he just glared at me and delivered one of his standard heckling responses. Hee hee.

I gave a new sabre blade to Doug to replace the one I'd broke.

After the festival was over, we'd cleaned up, and we'd been in the pub for a suitable amount of time, Ryan and I joined a group that was headed to the campground where lots of the RenFesties were staying. Admittedly a good part of the reasoning here, for me, was that Azalea was going too, but it sounded like a fun idea anyway. We stopped at Jeff's house along the way, then drove over to a group of fast food restaurants. I bought some dinner at Arby's and walked back to the car.

This is when the accident happened. As we were leaving, I began to back out. The car ahead of me, driven by Azalea, began to back out as I was in the middle of it, so I stopped and waited. She backed enough to start moving forward again—and kept going, and the right rear corner of her car impacted on the rear of the left side of my car.

I put the car into park and jumped out to survey the damage. There was a small dent and a paint chip. Shit. Everyone in the other cars in the procession—mostly my friends—came and took a look. Keith presented the options succintly: ``Either it's a accident, and we can call the police and they'll come and file an accident report, and there'll be a high deductible, or it happened in the parking lot and no one knows who hit it and it's a comprehensive claim with a low deductible.'' I thought for a moment. It was 10:00 already, calling the cops would delay us a lot, and they'd probably just laugh when they saw the extent of the damage. And then Azalea came over, held me, looked in my eyes, apologized profusely, and asked me to forgive her. I announced, ``It happened in the parking lot.'' We drove on and I tried to forget about it for a while.

At the campground, there was a big bonfire, surrounded on all sides by RenFesties in mundane clothes. I ate my sub sandwich and fries and drank my pop, then sat down beside Azalea. We cuddled a bit. She gave someone a backrub (Keith?). Everyone talked, stories of the day were told, beer was drunk. It was a good time. About 11:30, with an effort, I pulled myself away and drove home. I dropped Ryan off in Haslett and got home about 1:00 am. There were two phone messages for me, but I ignored them—it was just too late.

In the morning I was back up at 6:30. I drove to MSU to pick up Katie, then to Haslett to get Ryan, and arrived at the festival about 8:45. Eric R., Elise, and Brandon showed up separately, and I helped them to get attired.

Spoke to Doug McLaren a while today. He was wearing a kilt today along with a Celtic-style doublet, lent to him by Dale, which looked good on him. He told me a story of his day, where he was approached by a pair of attractive young ladies, a blonde and a brunette. The blonde asked him if he had a match. ``No, I gave up smoking years ago.'' She asked if he wanted one. ``No thanks, I don't want to start again.'' She explained: ``No, I mean, are you looking for a wife,'' and so on. The brunette, of course, was the one for whom she was seeking a husband. I guess you'd have to have been there. Doug also asked me about the ``young lady'' I'd been with yesterday: ``Susan [his girlfriend] said you and she'd been close when you gave me the sabre blade yesterday, but I guess I was too interested in the new blade to pay attention.'' Sheesh.

We tried adding a new bit to the bunny fencing today. Whenever we gave a ``Swordsman of the Realm'' prize certificate to a child, we added in the phrase ``suitable for presentation to the Queen'' or similar. I wanted to see whether any of the certificates would make their way over to Caroline (Queen Elizabeth). Indeed, two of them did, as she told me after-hours. I guess people really do pay attention sometimes. Keith told me that I should have warned them in advance, but I guess Caroline handled everything gracefully. She's a professional and very good at what she does.

Sun, dust, and smoke were oppressive today. My lips and throat were dry and sore. Heat and lack of sleep made me lethargic. Worst, many of the caches of water scattered backstage across the festival, of size good enough for 2-day weekends, emptied before the day was half over. We had to scrounge up water wherever we could find it. I was again grateful for my hat to help ward off heat and sunburn.

Azalea and I continued to hang out. She continued with the cat theme, with a soft cloth mask under the leather to make it easier to wear. She had to adjust it more often, though, because of slippage between the layers. She has a nice face, with a scattering of freckles, which I personally find attractive, so it's too bad when she hides it behind the mask, but it's still a good bit. She's thinking about different ways to extend the cat theme by adding a tail to her costume. Maybe for next weekend?

I'm doing much better with women lately than I'm accustomed. These days I'm not being ignored. Whether there's something that's changed about me or it's just a coincidence, I'm getting attention. I like that. I hope this trend continues after I move to California.

The day finally drew to a close, and Ryan and I headed home. Dinner was at McDonald's (ugh) because Qdoba was closed due to Labor Day. We ran into more RenFesties there—one working behind the counter, one also a customer.

When I got home, about 10:30, I had to show the dented car to my parents. Argggh!

Three weekends done, two to go, two that I won't be around to attend. Time is flying. I hope I stay in control.

Last updated 03 Apr 2004 21:17. Copyright © 2004 Ben Pfaff.
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