For as long as anyone can remember, the students of Reed College have celebrated the end of the school year with an infamous three-day party known as Renn Fayre. A kaleidoscopic carnival of the absurd, where gardens of pinwheels bloom on the lush green grass amid human chess games and a bug-eating contest, the festival gives intense scholars a chance to release a year's worth of pent-up frustration in a Bacchanalian blowout of mind-bending proportions.
This year, however, an unwelcome interloper has elbowed its way onto the guest list. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reason to believe there may be (gasp!) illicit drug use at Reed. As a result of this shocking intelligence, the FBI has launched an investigation into Renn Fayre and is expected to send undercover agents onto the campus this weekend.
According to a memo written by Reed's acting president, Peter Steinberger, the Regional Organized Crime Narcotics Agency has "developed concerns about the possession and use of illegal drugs on the Reed campus" and informed the college that "law enforcement may be present during the Renn Fayre weekend."
Confirmation of the FBI's interest in Renn Fayre (which had been rumored for several weeks) has stirred a mixture of disbelief, resentment and confusion among the private college's 1,350 students.
"It's really a mystery," says junior John Saller, 21, a math major more comfortable with dihedral polytopes than the national War on Drugs. "I think they're going to be really disappointed when they get here and see a bunch of dorky college students."
Some students suspect the probe was spurred by a recent guest editorial in The Oregonian, penned by Reed junior Peter Zuckerman, in which he deplored Reedies' daredevil nonchalance toward illicit drug use. But Reed officials say the feds' interest began before the article was published. (An FBI spokeswoman couldn't confirm or deny the agency's interest in the event.)
Either way, the legendary decadence of Renn Fayres past--such as the infamous "drug piñata," in which a hapless papier-mâché donkey containing loose joints and hits of blotter acid was enthusiastically disemboweled on the steps of the student union--seems a far cry from this weekend's planned activities. Recent festivals have emphasized more wholesome pursuits, such as a giant Jenga game, a pirate ship plowing the swampy waters of the Reed Canyon, and a bug-eating competition, in which contestants vie to consume ever larger and less-appetizing insects, culminating in the fearsome Madagascar hissing cockroach.
"There's been a strong movement to make sure that Renn Fayre is healthy, safe and fun for all community members," says Saller, one of the event's organizers.
Nonetheless, there is drug use at Renn Fayre--a point most students will reluctantly concede. "Different people celebrate in different ways," one student shrugs. But whether federal agents will indeed find what they're looking for--high-level narcotics cartels cunningly disguised as seminars on hermeneutics--remains open to question.
They won't get much help from administrators. "I want to assure you that we will do nothing intentional to hinder, frustrate, interfere with or otherwise undermine your investigation," Steinberger wrote to the FBI in a confidential memo obtained by WW. "But I hope you will understand when I say that, at the same time, we will be unable actively to be a co-participant in any investigation you undertake. In terms of both our resources and our traditions, we are just not well-suited to do the kinds of things you would like us to do."
Meanwhile, students are planning to welcome FBI agents to campus in their own inimitable way. Law-enforcement officers will be supplied with free beer if they furnish proof of identification. Reedies in suits and sunglasses will be sitting on benches peeking through holes in newspapers. A set of giant plastic letters on the wall of the student union that currently spell the words "Maury's Gun Rack" may be rearranged to suggest "Ask my guru, narc."
"We will give them a warm welcome, and I mean that sincerely," says Saller, who really does mean it sincerely. "I hope they have a really good time while they're here."