Eugene, Oregon is an interesting place. Home of Ken Kesey, the Merry Prankster himself, Eugene has long been Mecca for people with alternative ideas and hippie sensibilities. Many of the hippies who relocated there in the ’60s and ’70s are now homeless and live around the campus of the University of Oregon. When I was in school, the most famous homeless hippie of all was the Man Who Ate Barbie Doll Heads.
I first met Barbie Head Man at the Oregon Country Fair, a three-day barter, craft, and music event held just outside Eugene every summer. This is a place where time stands still; the people you see attending today look just like the people who attended 40 years ago when it began. Heavy on hair, light on deodorant. Acres of tie dye.
I hate dust. The Oregon Country Fair, with its 45,000 attendees traipsing through woods, involves a lot of dust. So when a group of women dressed as faeries tripped lightly by with spray bottles of water and asked if I wanted a spritz, I welcomed the gesture. What I didn’t know is that these faeries treated their water with tabs of acid, and that potent LSD can be absorbed through the skin. Needless to say, it was an interesting day. I experienced the best burrito of my life, appreciated jazz for the first and only time, and met the Barbie Head Man.
Barbie Man always wore a sarong and had a rope necklace on which he tied Barbie heads. This made a lot of sense to me that day at the Country Fair; I saw it as something akin to a candy necklace—when the mood strikes you just bite one off. Apparently, the mood struck often and he routinely had to go to the emergency room to have the heads removed as they could not make it past his stomach. His abdomen was fiercely distended that day at the fair. I think he'd been on a bender.
Barbie Doll Man was a gentle soul, a lunatic to be sure, but not one of those stark raving mad homeless guys who runs around swinging a waddy and yelling obscenities. When you gave him a buck every now and then you knew he was far more likely to spend it in the doll section of Goodwill than in the malt liquor section at 7-11.
My senior year, Barbie Doll Man was killed by a city bus. Legend had it that one of his prized Barbie heads rolled into the street and he couldn’t bear to watch her get squished so he ran out after her. I’m not sure exactly how it went down, but I knew the corner of 13th and Alder would never be the same again.
Thanks to writer Sarah Frances of Plot This, who recently posted an eerie set of photos of mangled Barbies she’d discovered around her yard, including the photo on this post. This exquisitely bizarre photo took me right back to Eugene, circa 1987. I suppose you could legitimately call it an acid flashback. Unintentionally imbibed, of course.
For an interesting ode to the Barbie Doll Man of Eugene, check out this short bit on the Future Tense Books website.
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