Portraits by David Joyce
I don’t know which surprised me more, discovering the Eugene Airport’s famous flying folks in the bottom of the Hult Center on Friday or seeing my friend Anthony’s reaction to them.
We were headed to the Jacobs Gallery when I popped my head into The Studio, which was packed with dapper, slightly tipsy grown-ups huddled around long tables. One glimpse at the peculiar table settings, and I too was drawn like a magnet.
“It’s the flying people!” I gushed. “Aren’t they wonderful? Aren’t they hilarious? Aren’t they priceless?”
The 130-ish cutouts have lined a wall of the airport since 1989, and are now being sold off and replaced with sturdier prints. They’re the creative spawn of David Joyce, who invited 1980’s Eugeneans to pose like Superman on a mattress in his studio. Ever since, the decreasingly fashionable but eternally lovable figures have been adored by all who lay eyes on them. Well, except maybe Anthony.
Anthony is a Pennsylvania man, accent and all, and he was not buying into the hysteria.
“They’re a little… tacky,” he said. Or at least I think that’s the word he used. It also could have been “corny,” “kitschy” or “godawful.” His mouth said one of those words, and his eyes said the rest.
I was utterly perplexed by his response. It was like having someone tell you that they hate your miniature pony. Who hates miniature ponies!?
Perhaps I’d lost touch with the outside world, like one of the “locals” you laugh at in those annoying romantic comedies where the city slicker gets stuck in Nowheresville. Do the flying people fit between wife carrying and Gospodor’s monument, as weird regional things that everyone else thinks is laughably ridiculous?
“You look like him,” said Anthony, holding up a cutout of a gent with black frames goofily mugging for the camera. Well, that confirmed it. (If you don’t get the joke, just refresh this page a couple times)
The monochrome figures, set against the vacuum of the black table cloth, suddenly looked as though they were falling rather than flying. Their outstretched fingers were now grasping at thin air, and they seemed to call, “Help us, Jordan! Save us from our big hair and our tall white gym socks!”
All I could do was give them a sad shake of my head and push up my spectacles to show them that I, too, was doomed. That’s when I caught a glimpse of a glittering headpiece through my newly centered goggles.
It was a former SLUG Queen (an Old Queen to be precise), and though I didn’t know which Queen I’d caught sight of, she was my sliming beacon of hope.
Perhaps, in my mind, the Queen was a symbol of my town’s self aware pride of its corny, kitschy god-awfulness. Or perhaps she enabled me to slip back into the comfort of joyful obliviousness to the tackiness of sequins or ugliness of Birkenstocks-with-socks.
In any case, Anthony’s home state is the land of Punxsutawney Phil, symbol of the most ridiculous small town tradition ever. If Phil and Queen Holly GoSlugly were in a fight, I’d put my money on the gastropod.