The war has started. On the way to the supermarket, a firing-squad worth of shots ringing through the air, then, laughter. New Year’s Eve on our doorstep, and not a teenager without a handful of explosives.
Last year, I spent New Year’s Eve right in the heart of the battle. A night of poker and whiskey, then out into the Frankfurt night to giggle and drunkenly throw fireworks into the street (and at cars, and our friends). This year we have decided to flee to the south, where we will remain in hiding until the battle is over, the piles of red paper cartridges all swept up, the fireworks packed away safely for next year.
New Year’s tends to get me feeling apocalyptic. Ever since that mess in ’99, I guess, when everyone thought the world would end (or that at least all the computers would crash, which for a lot of people is the same thing) and my friend’s moms were stockpiling bottled water and canned food. When we all woke up to a completely normal 2000, feeling a bit silly about having believed it, even just a little bit, and fanatics tried to drum up suspense for the following year with the cry of: „The new milenium technically doesn’t start until 2001!“ But really, New Year’s Eve just hasn’t been as exciting since.
So, for this new year, I present you a new set of apocalyptic musings. It all started with wood. Just like every morning, afternoon, and evening, if I want to be warm, starts with wood. Getting the wood. (“Did we order enough for the whole winter?” “Does that stuff behind the kitchen belong to anyone?” “I saw a dumpster full of leftover wood today, want to go pick it up later?”) Chopping the wood. (They say that you are not a true Bauwägler until you have done two things: Drunkenly tripped over the wagon drawbar and hacked your hand with the axe while, also drunk, trying to chop wood in the middle of the night. Of course if you manage not to suffocate yourself with carbon monoxide the first night sleeping with the wood stove on, you get a few bonus points.) And, finally, coaxing the wood into flames. (“The fucking oven went out again!” “The wood is too wet!” “There’s fucking smoke everywhere!”)
Luckily, there’s wood everywhere, and you don’t even have to cut down any extra trees to get it because the ever-dependable excesses of capitalism makes sure that there is free, burnable material being thrown out all the time. There is newspaper in the recycling bin to get things started. There are thin wooden boxes behind the grocery store and at the farmer’s market for kindling. And there is construction site after construction site with container after container full of wood that they are going to have to pay to throw away. If all that stuff is going to get torched at the dump anyway, you might as well torch it in your cute little wood stove and make a warm winter night of it.
(I used to work to pay for heat. Hahahahaha. Now I just stay home and play with power tools and fire instead.)
Some people say, “Yeah, well, you’re putting a lot of Co2 into the atmosphere, heating with wood.” To which I have a sack full of retorts. But what’s the use? I do what I do because it feels right, not because it’s the all-seeing, all-powerful Righteous Answer to Everything. Our friendly neighbors (office workers who spend their smoking breaks cackling at us from the student center’s balcony) complain that the wood-stove smoke bothers them. It’s unsightly, and it smells. I say take a trip to the power plant supplying your home’s power and take a look at all the black, soul-less columns of reeking smoke your electricity puts into the air. Just because you don’t have to see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In fact, maybe it would be better if everyone did have to see it, because then maybe we would all be a little more concerned with the consequences of our standard of living.
There is no clean electricity, no electricity that is truly environmentally friendly, not really. (Hear me out, bike-generator owners and solar-panel lovers.) Most people think of, to take a common example, solar energy as being pretty clean. And I reckon it is cleaner than coal and nuclear. But consider this: How was the glass in the panel made? How was the metal holding the panels together made? Where did the metal come from? How was the metal taken from the ground? Processed? Transported to the solar-panel-making factory? How did the people who designed and built the solar panels get to work? Did any part of this process involve large machines? (Machines that were also made out of metal, that needed to be taken out of the ground by other machines, and more people who had to get to work somehow.) Did any of this involve oil? Or plastic? (In which case it did involve oil.) Did it involve electricity manufactured, not by happy hippy solar panels, but by the power plant down by the mines, the same ones spewing black muck into the sky (or leaving uncountable years of radioactive waste in its wake)?
The same questions could apply to „oil-less“ cars, energy-saver light bulbs, and those little stickers that cheerfully remind us to turn out the lights when we leave a room. Buying solar, buying hydro, powering your car with vegetable oil, none of this is going to make much of an environmental difference. These are phantom solutions; solutions that lead us to believe we’ve done our part when what we’ve really done is bought another heap of plastic and metal that will eventually need to be replaced by another, all of which will require mind-boggling amounts of pollution to manufacture.
What could help is never making another car. What could help is never making another straw or paper napkin or plastic bag (seriously, what the fuck? PURE, INSTANT WASTE). Recycling bottles isn’t going to help, recycling paper isn’t going to help, recycling plastic isn’t going to help. What could help is never making another bottle or can or not printing millions and millions of newspapers daily. Heating with wood won’t help, powering your computer with solar won’t help, living off the grid probably won’t even help (though it does wonders for your sanity, tell you what). What could help is having no electricity, no computers, no light bulbs.What could help is a much smaller ppopulation with a very, very different lifestyle. If we wanted to „save“ the planet, that is. And by „save“ I mean, „keep pleasant for human life.“ Because the planet doesn’t need us to save it. The planet probably doesn’t give a shit if the polar caps melt and the world becomes a desert or if another ice age is approaching. We’re the ones who give a shit about all that, because we’re the ones who need things like ozone and potable water to survive. The earth would probably be better off without us.
I’m not saying not to recycle or use solar energy or to leave the lights on when you leave the house (I say, do whatever your conscience tells you is responsible), and I’m not saying this to make anyone feel bad (though it all happens to make me feel terrible), but don’t fall prey to the belief that remembering to turn out the lights or recycling paper makes any of us environmental saints. The best thing you could possibly do with books like 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth is to use them to light your wood stove.
If the environmentalists are right, there are probably no small changes that could stop the polar caps from melting or the ozone from slowly disappearing, or cultural changes that could stop timber corporations from clear cutting forests and factories in China from making cheap, plastic shit. Seems that radical change is in order, and it seems like that’s just not going to happen.
I reckon that the change, this apocalyptic end that environmentalists whisper about, the revolution that radicals plan and pray for in secret meetings, the economic crash that has the bankers wringing their hands, I reckon it’s probably going to be forced on us all one way or another as our own system and environment buckle under the pressure of myths like the American dream, and come crashing down around us, long before we’ve tried to change, and whether we remembered to turn off the light in the living room or not. Hopefully, by then, we’ll all have already learned how to grow vegetables and skin deer.
So ends my yearly dose of apocalyptic musings. This is our final broadcast for 2008, cut, end transmission, see you in January.
Yours for the apocalypse,
Click Clack Gorilla
And all through the house, people were cooking knödel and seitan and vegan cookies and decorating the tree with emtpy beer cans and I’d be willing to bet that there is at least one mouse stirring, somewhere in the joker’s head statue above the entrance where they’ve made their scratchy, squeaky nest, and dreaming of all of the crumbs that we will leave behind after the feasting and the drinking and the ugliest-present secret santa.
Happy winter (the days are officially getting longer now, a whole minute every day), happy dumpster feista (if there is one time of year were mind-boggling heaps of food are thrown out and kept fresh and cold by the weather for days, it’s now), and may we all survive the torments of another holiday season and live to see another new year. Prost.
There was only one Saturday English class I ever taught where my student was more hungover than I was. Meet Mr. Appletree. Mr. Appletree loves accounting, his Cambodian mail-order bride, and their son, and he’s writing a science fiction novel about dragons. He has pale, pinkish skin, and I can always hear him coming a few minutes before he arrives because he’s always fifteen minutes late, and he always sprints up the stairs.
On that particular Saturday, he was already 30 miunutes late. I was disappointed to hear his footsteps echoing up the stairwell; after 45 minutes we’re allowed to go home (where we can spend the rest of the lesson’s allotted time getting paid to do the grocery shopping or finish reading that new book). But there he was, in all his plump, pink, number-crunching glory.
“Sorry I’m late,’ he panted, still out of breath from the stairs, “I was at a wedding reception last night until 6 am. Barely got any sleep. Had quite a lot to drink.”
Halfway into a listening exercise in Chapter 3, he fell asleep. I stifled my laughter and waited. It was another ten minutes before he woke up. He’d insisted on coming because if he’d canceled that morning, he still would have had to pay. At least if he showed up, still drunk or not, asleep or not, he could feel like he was getting something for his 42 euros a teaching hour.
For the rest of the Saturday (or Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or Thursday, or Friday) classes, the ones where I was too hungover/tired/demotivated/completely over it to bother planning a real lesson, I would use my favorite fall back: the agreeing and disagreeing worksheet.
The worksheet contains a list of supposedly contraversial statements like “the military should be abolished,” “abortion is immoral” (best to avoid that one), and “forcing animals to perform in the circus is wrong” and allows students to practice diplomatically expressing their opinions in English, just like they might someday need to in a business negotiation. (Just imagine it: I have uttered that sentence, out loud, in front of other people, in a sincere, and convicing tone. Feels like another life ago.)
Sometimes “diplomatic” turned into “screaming match,” for example when the woman from Croatia started screaming at the ex-army officer across the table because he says war is necessary, and she says well I’m getting pretty tired of dealing with it on my god damn doorstep. On the good days, though, it kept people talking for the entire hour and a half, without requiring much more from me than nods and grammatical corrections.
During Doctor Sweet’s third class, I pulled out my good old A and D–not out of disinterest, but because I’d been teaching a class of beginers the present tense all day, and I was in dire need of an adult-level conversation.
Meet Doctor Sweet. He has brilliantly blue eyes, three children, and works in insurance. Doctor Sweet doesn’t want to go through the book; he just wants to sit around chatting, practicing small talk and building up his confidence. Doctor Sweet didn’t even care when I was over an hour late to our first lesson. Just the kind of one-on-one lessons I like best.
We’d already gone through “football clubs should be government subsidized” (“I don’t suppose it really matters.”) and “in 25 years there will be an equal number of fathers taking paternity leave as mothers taking maternity leave” (“Probably. I would never take paternity leave, but it seems to be becoming more and more popular.”) when we came to one of my favorites: “Vegetarianism is unhealthy.”
This one caught his attention. “I know, it really is!” he said, his voice becoming more enthusiastic with every syllable. “They have proved that you can’t get all of the vitamins that you need if you don’t eat meat.”
“That’s interesting, because I’ve read the opposite,” I countered, leaning back in my chair, my hands folded on the table in front of me.
“No, no, it’s very bad for you. And there are these people,” he went on, leaning in towards me conspiratorially, his voice slightly lowered, “called vegans“–he emphasized the word vegan as if to say, they are monsters!, seven-headed monsters!, seven-headed, infant-murdering monsters!–”They don’t even eat cheese!”
He went on for a few more minutes, about the horrors of veganism’s malnurished, insane mutant zombie followers before I joined in again.
“You know,” I said, looking down at the table, pausing, then directly into his eyes, “I’m vegan.”
Silence. His cheeks flushed; he slid a few inches down into his chair. I stifled a laugh. This was the man who never showed a second of weekness. The manager of his department, high-paid, in-control, confident and charming, even in a second language. Sitting in a classroom, embarassed by some American with disheveled hair, two years younger than his oldest child.
“Oh.” He laughed. I smiled, raising my eyebrows expectantly. “Really. So what is it that you eat?”
This time I laughed. I’ve met a lot of meat eaters who can’t fathom that a vegan meal could possibly contain enough calories and vitamins to keep a person healthy, let alone enough flavor to keep her happy. Some people seem to think that rice and ketchup are animal products (true story), and that all vegans are militant, malnourished, closed-minded assholes who subsist on iceberg lettuce and twigs. I am happy to report that neither of these things are true.
“The same things you do, probably, just without the cheese and the meat and the fish.”
“Ok, well, what do you eat on an average day then?”
“Ok, well, for breakfast toast and a glass of juice, or maybe musli with soy milk. For lunch a sandwich–”
“But what do you put on the sandwich?”
“Oh I don’t know, roasted vegetables, maybe hummous, or grilled tofu or tomatoes and basil, things like that. Then maybe a salad or some french fries or a chocolate bar. For dinner I like to cook Indian or Asian, curries and stir fries and that sort of thing.”
He considered this for a moment. “And you don’t have an vitamin deficiencies?”
“No, not so far. I get my blood tested every so often, but I’m not missing anything. I’ve heard that there are some people whose bodies can’t absorb everything they need from plants, and if my body couldn’t handle it I would eat animal products again”–at this he looked relieved, as if he had just been contacted by alien life and had finally confirmed that they had come bearing peace–”I don’t think eating meat is wrong necessarily, I just don’t want to support the meat industry, and I figure, if I can live my life without having to take any other lives to do it, I should.”
“You’re very idealistic. I guess I’d just never met anyone who was vegan before. It doesn’t sound as bad as I thought.”
At the end of the our lessons, he took me out to lunch. “Let’s go to that vegan restaraunt you mentioned,” he suggested, “I want to see what it is you eat.”
At the restaraunt we spoke German for the first time–”Now it’s my turn to correct you!” he grinned–and he had his first vegan meal. I don’t think I taught him a damn thing about English in six months of lessons–his speaking skills were already near perfect–but the six months did amount to something: he discovered that every vegan isn’t fucking mental and I discovered that every insurance salesman isn’t fucking boring.
Well look at that. I’ve gone and ended this tale with a nicely packaged little feel-good moral. I promise it’ll never happen again. Next time I’ll tell the conservative insurance salesman that I eat out of the trash, and he’ll never speak to me again.
The baby I spent hours preening over, cooing over, editing and rewriting and rearranging until I got it just right. Retyping it from a print out after the first Seagate hard drive in my Apple laptop crashed. Fussing over ever word, like a parent over an infant, every sentence a finger nail, a toe, a new tooth.
When the second hard drive went down, I considered, in a moment that seemed to stretch out in slow motion into all eternity, into a long, agonized scream of anger and pain, that when they replaced the last crashed Seagate hard drive, they probably replaced it with another Seagate drive, and, that, oh fuck, oh fuck, OH FUCK, the external hard drive where I backed everything up died two weeks ago.
Ninety three pages! Taken before their time! This, fair readers is murder! Child murder! And the blood of the murdered infant remains on my hands as people ask me again and again, why didn’t you back it up somewhere else? And Apple (or should I be pointing at Seagate for the recall? Fuck it, both companies deserve to be fucked by tidal waves and tornadoes and low stock prices) leaves me here to clean up the mess alone, to pay for the new hard drive myself.
It wasn’t just the 93 pages. It was 15 pages of a travel zine about Holland and Ireland. It was 10 of a zine about my trip to America this summer. It was an almost-finished alternative travel guide zine for Germany, details meticulously researched, introduction finally finished after months of writer’s block. It was song lyrics and brainstorms and folders and folders full of half-started, half-finished ideas and drafts. Dear. Sweet. Jesus.
But if I think about all that, I will lose all motivation to ever bother leaving my bed again, so I’m just going to get it over with and file that information under ‘repressed traumatic events’ right now.
There remains a chance the size of my pinky finger that the data can be recovered by someone who will want an amount of money that I will propbably not be able to afford, or that the backup drive can at least be recovered by a magical chord that a computer-geek friend told me about a few days ago.
So if you have a moment, sacrafice the village virgin in the volcano tonight in the name of the technology gods. But be wary. Unlike the dumpster gods, who are kind and benevolent, who give food and life, the technology gods have been sent here to destroy us, to ease us into alienation by replacing the presence of our friends with the presence of moniters and myspace profiles, to make music expendable and worthless (a big shout out to mp3s!), to ruin our handwriting with keyboards and our grammar with instant messenger, to make us lazy and dependent, to force the most beautiful machine ever invented (the typewriter) into extinction, and to make sure that we can never have enough back up copies to escape their wrath, ever, should they one day decide to come for us.
I don’t know how to start the story because I’m not sure where it starts or where it ends. In media res: Me, right now, sitting in the vegan kitchen, next to the crackling wood stove.
Two days ago Workshop fired up the circle saw, and we sliced up all the junk wood we found laying around so it would be small enough to fit in the kitchen wood stove’s tiny door. Every couple of days I chop wood with an ax with an almost-broken handle. One day soon the head is going to split and go flying through Wolf’s window, or, if I get lucky, get stuck in a piece of wood. Every couple of days one of us goes dumpster diving, and afterwards we all stand around the table in the kitchen, giddy and stuffing our faces with donuts and five-grain nut bread smeared with the dairy products we avoid the rest of the week. Every day someone cooks a vokü and we sit around the bar drinking coffee and making plans. When I go to bed it’s warm, and I throw another log in the stove before falling asleep to another episode of the Simpsons, or maybe a radio play. When I wake up in the morning, it’s cold, and I can see my breath, and I’ve crawled between at least two of the six down blankets we have scattered around the bed. I open the shades and let the light and the air wake me up slowly. There’s no where I have to be, no appointments or steady job to be late for; every day is mine, and I spend every day reading and writing and cooking and building and exploring and biking and playing and scheming.
We’ve become good friends with the man who owns the little grocery store across the highway. He gives us all the vegetables that he’d otherwise throw away, gives us discounts on the vegetables we do buy, and lets me take all the wooden cartons home to use for kindling. I don’t recall ever shopping at a grocery store where the owner knew my name, and my lover, and that we cook for something like 20 people every day, students and friends and bands.
The first night I spent here I went dumpster diving, told Mars about the dumpster gods, drank red wine and washed the veggie-booty while he heated up the wood stove. The first day I spent here I cut vegetables outside the vegan kitchen. There was a concert that night, people to cook dinner for, five of us hanging out and preparing it.
The friend who’d come with me had slept in late, sent her at-the-time-lover to check on me. “How did she look?”
“Like she already lives here,” he told her. They laughed. I moved in officially seven, eight months later.
These are the snapshots and randomly selected details, here to fill out all the stories I haven’t yet figured out how to tell.
The gypsy thing started with a little blue wagon in Frankfurt. (“You live in a shoe!” a friend said when she saw the pictures.) I had a little tower with a lofted bed, an open-able roof, a little wood stove, and mice in the walls. Now I live in a big red ship, with an enormous wood stove, a couch and a coffee table, book shelves and shelves for the records and a couple of cabinets that I rescued from the trash and sanded and painted blue and the window next to the bed is always filled with the silhouettes of the maple leaves on the tree just outside. It’s all on wheels, and we could move it around with a tractor whenever if we felt like it.
Things are mostly “we” these days. I live and love and cook and cry and fight and yell and stomp and dance and piss and get ragingly, ragingly drunk with the thirteen-something people I live with here. Home sweet home. Our little squatted baby. Our smoky gypsy camp. The thorn in the university’s side. The Wagonplatz, and house in front of it. Home fucking sweet home. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve really, really felt that way. Now I gaze at my books—lined up by color on the built-in shelves—together again for the first time in three years. Now I’m fantasizing about the garden I’m going to plant in the front yard come spring.
Photos, except for the middle one, taken by T(H)Stewart.
Tuesday Scissors and I biked into the city. Tuesdays mean farmers’ markets, and farmers’ markets mean free food: fruit and vegetables too ugly too sell, leftovers we’d usually need to climb and dig to get to.
Backpacks full of apples, cauliflower, fennel, and salad, we locked up our bikes and took a walk through the circus that the city becomes every Christmas season. Mainz’s shopping district is a mess. Not a literal mess—you’d be hard pressed to find any actual trash—but a diagonal, triangonal, octagonal mess of alleys crossing pedestrian ways crossing side streets, winding in and out and around the usual European chain stores and their garbage cans. With Christmas on the horizon, the atmosphere teeters precariously between Charming Small European City and Consumer-Crazed Nightmare From Plastic-Santa-ed Golden-Ribbon-Topped Hell.
Scissors bought rat food (pets) and in order to avoid the Christmas market, we turned and walked past a crowded bus stop that was shipping people in and out of holiday cheer land. A few nondescript 14-year-olds yelled at us as we walked by. “Fucking punks!”
Is that an insult? Is it possible to feel insulted by the commentary of pubescent euro-trash-mullet-sporting teenagers in sweatpants?
Sciccors yelled some generic insult back at them, and we continued on our way.
“Fucking assholes.” We shook our heads. Scissors is tall—a good two heads taller than me— and his face is pierced a good ten, twenty times. But Tuesday we were winter incognito: bundled up, not a strand of my pink dreads or his radiation-green Mohawk visible beneath the layers of scarves and hoods and jackets. Well, ok, you could see one strand of his Mohawk. And all the piercings. “Imagine if I yelled at everyone who I thought I wouldn’t like?”
“Then we’d be yelling at people all day. Ah well. Fuck it.”
In one store—this junk ornament store that I can’t believe manages to stay in business—there was a display of magical beans outside. Each bean had a name on it, and, the packaging proudly proclaimed, when you planted the bean, it would grow into a plant with the bit with the name on it stuck somewhere where you could see it. Your special name plant. Great. So, under the power of the magic beans, we went inside tackyland to marvel at the extremes “sell-able” junk is capable of reaching. We were the only ones inside until, oh wait, oh goody goody, oh what a pleasant surprise, it’s the teenagers from the bus stop, who followed us all the way here just to continue to hassle us. Wow. I can’t wait to talk to them again. They were really awesome.
We left the store; they made menacing gestures in our direction. “What the hell do you want? We don’t want to fight you. YOU yelled at us. We just want to go on our way. Fuck. Off.”
They answered, something about wanting to fight, a your mom slash or two, something about wanting to “clear this up.” As if there was anything to clear up besides the question of why they had yelled at us in the first place, why they had thought it was necessary to follow us, and why we were wasting our breath talking to them now. We started to walk away; they yelled after us again. I may or may not have yelled something back that involved the words “pathetic” and “jack-off.” They threw a half-full MccyDeaths soda at us, missed, and we kept on walking.
“What the fuck is wrong with those people?”
“Frustrated teenagers. Probably need to get laid. Probably got an F in school today.”
“Fucking ridiculous. They followed us. I can’t believe they followed us. Gross.”
We headed into the Römer Passage—a little enclosed mall-esque shopping center—and headed up the escalator toward a big chain bookstore. I glanced behind us. “Umm, Scissors, those guys are still following us.”
We turned around just as they came up behind us on the escalator. There they were, practically stepping on the backs of my shoes, all six of them in all their frustrated glory: gelled Euro-mullets shining in the midafternoon sun, black fanny packs, baggy jogging pants, H&M printed sweatshirts, angry, insulted looks on their faces. I wondered, for a second, if they were well-liked at school, if this was the new face of popularity. But before I could even shudder at the thought, we’d gotten to the second floor, and they’d started in with their “do you want to fight why did you insult my moms I’m going to kick your ass if not today then the next time i see you mother fucker I’ll find you” spiel.
“Why don’t you leave us alone? YOU yelled at US. We don’t want to fight you, we don’t want to talk to you, we don’t want to have anything to do with you, and I didn’t call your god damn mom a whore. Just forget it. Leave. Us. Alone.”
But you called us sons of bitches! (No, I called you jack-offs. Because you got all stalker-creepy and followed us and wanted to fight us for no reason.) Yeah well, you’re just a bunch of fucking asocial punks, always getting drunk in front of the train station, mooching off of social welfare. (Umm, last I checked this was the mall, we’re sober, and neither of us are on welfare. And if we were, that would be a good reason to harass us? Wow, you guys really are awesome.)
I gave up; talking was futile. Nothing gets my panties in a bunch like people judging others because of the way they look. Get to know me and hate me and I’ll understand. Yell at me because you’ve made a snap judgment based on hairstyle and company, and well, I’m going to file you in the still-thin file of People I Hate and Would Very Much Like to Hit in the Face With a Broken Bottle. Jesus. Crust. “Fuck this. Scissors, let’s just fucking go.”
“Tell your fucking girlfriend that she shouldn’t open her mouth so wide. Tell her if she doesn’t shut the fuck up that we’re going to beat the shit out of her.” I couldn’t hear the rest, I was Away, and eventually a quiet duder who’d been standing in the back called off his friends, calmed them down, and led them back down the escalator. They left, and we retreated into the bookstore, a little pissed, a little confused, a little shaky. It’s a little disconcerting, being followed by people who want to smash your face in.
“Those fucking fuckers. I would have really liked to have just punched that dude in the gray shit in the face. I don’t give a shit if I have to take a few punches. But I’m pretty sure they would have kicked the shit out of you too, and then I would have felt guilty for having started it.”
“I thought people like that had bizarre codes of honor, like never hitting girls.”
“I don’t think those kids gave a shit. I think they would have beat the shit out of you too. Girl or not.”
“Well, at least they’re not sexist. Fuckers. Let’s just get out of here. I don’t feel like walking around any more.”
Terry Prachett is a god damn genius, and all this time I had no idea.
All those years I spent working at Waldenbooks—shunning his books because they were filed among so much other trashy fantasy and Star Wars/Trek fan fiction—when I could have been reading about Discworld and marveling at Prachett’s never-ending supply of wit. (The Mark Twain of our time! Social commentary so sharp your daddy could shave with it! And all packed into hilarious, page-turning, easy-to-digest little packages that read like trash—ie: page-turning—but that resonate like lit.)
And like other obscenely prolific and talented science fiction/fantasy writers before him (coughPKDick), Prachett’s written something like thirty books (at the very least). Do you know what that means?! That means that even when you’ve read a whole stack of his books, there will still be more! And he’s still alive! Which means that even after you’ve read everything he’s ever written (and read it all again), there will still be more! He averages two new books a year! Oh my god! (This is serious people. I only break out the exclamation points in the case of extreme emergency.)
So, in preparation for the long, cold winter months, I recommend that you go to the library immediately and take out every Prachett book they have. You can start anywhere in the series, but Small Gods and The Truth are especially fanfuckingtastic. It’s going to be a long winter this year, but at least you’ll have something to fight the stir-crazies.
Hitch hiking is fueled by coincidence. Thousands of random details from a few unrelated lives and one person, trying to get from one city to another, who connects them, ride for ride, into one trip. The old man on his way to get his shattered windshield fixed, only at that rest stop because of a wrong turn; the soldier on his way from visiting his elderly mother to the hospital where his son has just had a baby boy; and the graying Dutch couple on their way home from a week at a health spa in Bavaria. The mother and daughter on their way to Ikea, the businessman on his way to a meeting, the scout leader on his way home from an outing, and two artists late for their own exhibition.
If the tree hadn’t fallen on that windshield or that baby had been born a few days later, if that meeting had been postponed or those artists had been on time, none of that ride would have worked out just the way it did. Maybe you would have gotten there faster, maybe slower. Maybe you would have been stranded in Hunnsbrück, or maybe you would have decided to change your plans and go with that truck driver all the way to Paris. Maybe you would have met the love of your life and eloped; maybe you would have broken your arm jumping out of a moving car. Every trip is a new bouquet of chaotic details, every coincidence another chapter in the adventure. The first chapter in my coincidence was a funeral, though really, it goes back much further than that.
Meet Helena. Helena and I have know each other since way back in the day, when we did radio and went to college and lived together in a house with a horror-film basement and a this-isn’t-funny-anymore crazy landlady (who lived in a shack attached to the back of the house with her collection of rusty junk sculptures). It’s because of Helena (and the internet) that I, years later, visited Bart in Holland, and it was Bart who introduced me to Shireen in the Hague. Helena had met Bart in the States, but I had been out of town when they came through together. Shireen and Helena had never met but had heard all about each other. And, to complicate matters further, they all knew this dude from Canada who I’d also heard all about but never met. Fucking Canada.
So. Turn the page. Change the scenery. I live in Germany, Helena lives in the states. It’s a normal old Tuesday when Helena writes and says, “My Grandma died, I’m going to be in Holland Saturday,” and I write back to say “Well, I guess I’m going to get over my fear of hitch hiking alone.” For the first time ever, Helena, Bart, Shireen, Craig (the dude from Canada), and I were going to be in one room at the same time. As good a reason as any to risk kidnapping and(or) murder.
Hitch hiking seems to be one of those things that spawns more urban legend the less common it becomes. The beatniks and the 60s surrounded it with an aura of romance and adventure, while the media of the last twenty years has countered with their own aura of horror and paranoia. The woman who buys you lunch, the gas station employee who buys you coffee, and the kindly couple who save you from a wet, gloomy night and put you up in their mansion and feed you caviar: The romances that balance out the every-mother’s-nightmare stories about the naive girl who never arrived at her destination or the over-confident duder who arrived at his in ten pieces. I’m willing to believe that it’s all happened to someone, somewhere, but I’ve never been one to take propaganda for much more than stories meant to warn (and)or entertain.
Saturday morning I woke up real nervous. Stones-in-your stomach nervous. Step one: Buy pepper spray. But (oops!) it’s a national holiday and the pepper spray store isn’t open. Silly foreigner, 24-hour-shopping is for Americans. Step two: Take the train to a little village near Mainz and follow my instructions. “When you get off the train turn right. Follow the noise of the highway. Find a way across the highway. There’s the gas station.”
I followed the faint noise of traffic through a field, under an overpass, and past an orchard. The morning air was crisp and fresh, dew dotting the grass beside the footpath. I threw my backpack through a hole in the fence behind the gas station and climbed through after it. A stretch, a bewildered look from an employee standing nearby, and I started asking people if they were going my way, and if they could take me along.
The man with the broken windshield was the first to take me along. “You like to fly? I like to fly. Got a plane up in a little garage we’re going to pass. I’ll point it out to you. Used to hang glide all the time, before the divorce.” He let me out a half hour later at another rest stop and step by step I began inching my way toward the Hague, dodging creeps, eating bread and peanut butter out of my backpack and drinking one euro gas station coffee.
Some people gave me cigarettes and bought me coffee. Leo gave me red wine.
“I can’t take you far,” he’d said as he walked past, “but I can get you to another spot. I wish I could take you further, but my girlfriend’s making dinner, and she’ll kill me if I’m late.” I had been sitting in front of the gas station store for forty-five minutes. Too tired to bother asking every person who stopped to fill up, I’d planted myself with my sign and a snack and crossed my fingers.
“You know, I used to hitchhike a lot. The worst ride I ever got was this guy, dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and then drove off with my guitar,” he told me, pausing every few minutes to translate everything into Dutch for his five-year old son. He was charming, excited, and easily excitable. “I want to be in your book!” he screamed when I told him I was a writer. (Well, here you are Leo. Close enough, eh?) His son looked at me suspiciously, probably a little confused as to why his dad was giving a stranger a ride—those people his mother always tells him to stay away from.
“Well here we are. You’ll get picked up here within five minutes, I promise, it’s a great spot.” He had pulled over at an intersection next to the highway onramp, but in the dark there was no way anyone would be able to see my sign. Leo shoved a bottle of red wine packed in a fancy wooden box into my hands and drove off waving. I parked myself on the side of the road and started trying to wave down cars. One car stopped to yell at me, and the rest just whizzed by me and onto the highway. Thanks a lot, Leo. I think that’s about when it started to rain.
It’s also about when I heard yelling from the other side of the road. “Nikki! Nikki! Get back in the car! I found a better spot! Come on!” Leo. I ran across three lanes and hopped back in the backseat, relieved. Anywhere was better than here.
“So, Nikki, I noticed that you have boots on, and I thought well, fuck it, then there’s a better spot like 500 meters away, you’ll see, you’ll see.” Soon he was pulling over again. “See that field?” Field next to the highway. Check. “Just walk straight through that field, maybe 500 meters, and you’ll eventually come to the next gas station on the highway. I promise, just straight through that field and you’re there. Bye Nikki. Enjoy the wine.”
I got out of the car, waved, and headed into the grass. To my left, an irrigation ditch, to my right, highway. The further I walked, the longer the grass became, and I imagined I was on safari, trudging next to the amazon, glad that I only had imaginary crocodiles and snakes to worry about. That morning I’d been in Germany, at home, and now here I was in Somewhere, Holland, carrying a fancy bottle of wine, and walking through a field next to the highway in grass up to my waist. I laughed to myself. Sure beats the train.
The last people to pick me up were the artists from Utrecht, late for their own exhibit, going all the way to the Hague. Come in and see what we do!, they said when we arrived. We went inside a series of metal containers set up outside of a warehouse. “We were sponsored by Diesel to do this, and they wanted lifelike breasts that made noise when you touched them. So that’s what we made.” At the end of the last container were two counters fitted with large, soft breasts. “Go ahead, give one a squeeze.” I did. It squeaked. Modern art? Or something. Cough. Ehem. Whatever. Time to get the fuck out of here.
And when I got to Shireen’s about the artists and the exhibit, she was pretty sure she knew them. Talk about coincidence.
Today is Walrus Day. (Oh Happy Day!) Walrus Day is a holiday invented by a friend of a friend. And it’s purpose? On Walrus Day you do exactly what it is you’ve been wanting to do the whole year but haven’t gotten around to. Call in sick and lay in bed reading all day! Learn how to screen print! Eat pancakes until you explode! Have a spontaneous dance party! Excessively use exclamation points!
Of course, you could do all of these things any old day of the year, but the point is, most of us don’t. So there’s Walrus Day to give us the kick in the ass we need to get started right this very second. Today, the world is your walrus. I’m going to go get all the non-genetically modified seeds I can find, because I hear that shit is going to hit the fan next week, and I’d rather not have to loot the plant store after the end of the world.
If you’re not sure what to do with your walrus day, I’d recommend starting by watching this beautiful music video of one of my favorite people in the universe. Tata.