My life among the rats
Watching television while growing up, the common trope of the male mid-life crisis typically involved some combination of cars and women.
A mid-30s or 40s man disenfranchised with his station in life seeks comfort in the trappings of a splashy red sports car or women half his age in a misguided attempt to reclaim some aspect of his long abandoned youth.
My mid-life crisis is much more boring.
For starters, it's not so much a crisis as it is an embrace of hobbies I previously thought were either beyond my reach or I was too embarrassed to admit to others that I was passionate about.
Second, sports cars and women are so passé. I'm an absolute dingus when it comes to automobiles, and the hobby holds no interest to me. I'll take my boring, efficient Prius over a sleek convertible, thank you very much. And as a happily married man, I'll do the single men of Marion County a favor and take myself off the board as a potential rival.
No, my newfound hobbies at the wizened age of 36 are ones that would have gotten me laughed off the football team in high school and relegated to social exile. I speak of nerdly exploits — role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and cosplaying at the Renaissance Faire, things that I was curious about as a youth, but would have never embraced for fear of how it would be perceived among my circle of adolescent friends.
The latter of which is where I have spent the past two weekends, garbed in friars robes and volunteering with a troupe of travelling entertainers at the Canterbury Renaissance Faire in Silverton.
Even as I write this, my ankles are still caked with the built up dirt from tromping around the woodland glade, and my hair twisted and crimped from intricate braids, courtesy of Brenda the Braider, the Faire's on-site hair specialist.
The Canterbury Faire has been held in several locations in Silverton for more than 10 years, and for the past half-decade or so, I've been attending with my family.
But my wife and son flew the coop two weeks ago, taking a road trip to visit her parents in Idaho while I stayed to defend the home front and publish the newspaper.
Their vacation just so happened to coincide with the dates of the Canterbury Faire, which is always held the last two weekends in July. In their absence, I opted to volunteer my services to The Rat Catchers, a popular entertainment group that is a mainstay at the Faire each year.
Now, as much as I enjoy going Renaissance Faires, they are admittedly often short on entertainment for young ones. The majority of the tents at the Faire are shops selling costuming items — trinkets, clothes, ornaments and baubles. They are beautifully crafted, but not exactly a thrilling draw for children.
The Rat Catchers help fill this merriment void by selling licenses to kids (and adults) to catch rats throughout the Faire. Members of the Rat Catchers Guild take turns putting on rubber masks and tails and scamper throughout the grounds, goading children into chasing them.
It's an ingenious idea that keeps the kids entertained throughout the day, collecting ribbons that the rats tie to their bracelet licenses and comparing with each other how many they've caught. The children are kept busy and go home tired and happy while mom and dad are given a bit of free time to shop or stop for a pint of ale.
While the Rat Catchers are primarily composed of four families and their children who have been attending Faires for several decades, they are gracious enough to welcome volunteer rodents like myself and happily took me into their troupe.
In the evenings, we set up our camp in the trees behind the Faire with the rest of the entertainers and shopkeepers, making our licenses to hand out to the kids. During the Faire, we took turns running the booth. Some sold licenses, others played the role of rats and some stayed in as plague doctors, handing out candy cures to children who became "infected" with plague ribbons.
At the end of the day, the exhausted kids would return to our tent to receive a necklace with the Rat Catchers logo stamped into it — a token of their achievement to take home with them.
It was as much fun as I've had in a long time. The Rat Catchers are one of the most popular booths at the Faire, and it was an absolute pleasure to help take part in the entertainment.
Each evening, we'd come back to the campsite sweaty and sore, doff our costumes and prepare for the next day. We parted ways on Sunday and vowed to meet again at the next Faire — the Shrewsbury Renaissance Faire in Kings Valley on Sept. 14-15.
As far as mid-life crises go, this is about as wholesome and fun as one could go, and I couldn't be happier. And if you make your way south for Shrewsbury, seek out the Rat Catchers tent. You — and your kids — will not be disappointed.
Phil Hawkins is the editor
of the Woodburn Independent.
He can be reached at:
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