Topanga Canyon is an intriguing blend of displaced hippies locked in a 1960s time warp, unfrocked television comedy writers, hug therapists, bisexual vegetarians, earth mothers, haiku poets and bearded people who live in the brush along the creek and eat dogs.
As a result, when its residents get together long enough to hold an annual fair, visitors from the outside rarely experience a sense of deja vu. Unless, of course, they have already been to a contest that features the tossing of dried horse manure.
I took a friend from Culver City to what is known as the Topanga Days celebration on a mountainside overlooking the San Fernando Valley. Culver City is about as far removed from Topanga as Nancy Reagan is from Madonna, both culturally and spiritually.
Old ladies in Culver City, for instance, knit and sip tea and wonder what became of Pat Boone. Old ladies in Topanga take lovers, ride motorcycles and get on down to new wave rock.
The friend's name is Mona. She is middle-aged and very proper and had never been to the canyon in her life, having heard from her elderly mother that women who value their virginity are often shanghaied and forced to entertain at the Elysium Fields nudist camp, which is not too far from the fair site.
There is nothing they like better at Elysium than a new virgin around the old camp fire.
Mona, however, was willing to overcome her apprehension long enough to see what the fair was all about. We arrived in time for the Horse Pucky Chuck.
When I say in time, by the way, I mean 36 minutes after the designated start, since the canyon operates on Topanga Standard Time. They have lost so many hours over the years by that measure that Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 28. It's just their way.
"What are they doing?" Mona wanted to know as the Pucky Chuck began.
I explained that they were throwing dried horsie do-do. It's an annual contest. They furnish the do-do, gloves are optional. The record toss is 150 feet.
"You're telling me," Mona said, "those people are throwing manure?"
"They have almost as much of that in the canyon as they have dogs, but throwing doggie-do seemed excessive to the fair committee."
"Oh, my God," Mona said.
Then we watched the Ladies' Shoe-Kicking Contest, which was held just before the annual Popcorn Punt. Mona said she didn't mind missing the final judging in the weed-arrangement competition. She wanted to see what Topanga women looked like.
"Just as I thought," she said, watching the shoes fly, "no bras."
"No bras?" I said. "I doubt if they're wearing any underwear at all."
Topanga women, like the canyon they inhabit, are different. Pants are not as important as principle,nor feminine guile as essential as honesty. They break life down to its basic elements. Feed the baby first.
That is not to say, however, they are unattractive. They are simply, well, natural , although they do occasionally adopt the cosmetic requirements of an age obsessed by a Revlon pathology.
I even saw one woman down at Joe Creek's Market who was wearing eye shadow. True, she was only wearing it on one eye, but that was because a goat had broken free and she was forced to abandon the eye shadow in favor of corralling the goat. Then she lost interest. Not in the goat, in the eye shadow. She loves the goat.
"I know him," Mona said pointing toward a balding man near the table where a vendor spun taffy dragons. It was one of a dozen or so booths, of which some sold Trans-Topanga Airline and Topanga Yacht Club T-shirts. I bought one that said the "Atchison, Topanga and the Santa Fe."
"That's a famous actor," I explained. "He's the honorary chairman of the fair."
His name is Herb Edelman and he is A Face You Would Recognize. Unfortunately, however, it isn't that easy to recall exactly why. You just know you've seen him.
For your edification, Herb's television credits include "The Good Guys" and "Big John, Little John," and his movie credits, "The Yakuza." He seemed somehow perfect for the Topanga Fair.
I fear, however, that Mona was not impressed with either Edelman or the fair. You have to possess a certain sense of whimsy to appreciate Topanga. You have to understand the unique value of self-satire. You have to have what a friend calls "a light behind your eyes."
Mona, alas, lacked the light and promised she would not return to another celebration in the canyon. But to hell with her. I wouldn't miss a Topanga fair for all the macrobiotic food in Fernwood.
I even stayed around for the Popcorn Punt, came back for the Mr. Legs Contest and watched the annual Topanga Parade two days later. It consisted of one urban guerrilla, a VW bus, two horses, a bulldozer and a three-wheeled motorbike pulling a plastic boat.
And it was exactly 36 minutes late.