I couldn’t find my way out of the fucking shopping mall, the exits had been closed, there was no way out, any minute security guards would come up behind me to drag me away and I would die here, in a tiny windowless room in the basement of hell.
I like to delude myself into believing that malls are an American phenomenon, that they don’t exist in jolly old Europe. But just like McUgly and Starfucks, they are here, they are everywhere, they are even popular, with a distrurbing number of people. The smell of fast food, the crowds of people gathered here together to push each other out of the way of That Hot New Thing they want to buy, the stale hot air–it makes me nauseous. But there was the sign for the train station, there was the exit, the door, I went through it, there was air, sunlight, space, I was Out and Away.
I didn’t know where the Autonomes Zentrum actually was. Tallbike and I had meant to come together, but it hadn’t worked out and I hadn’t bothered with directions more detailed than “go to Mülheim.” Look left, look right, nothing but some trees, a post office, and some houses over a big road off over there. A guy sat on the sidewalk with piles of records beside him. He had a beard and round gold-rimmed glasses and looked like the kind of guy who would know where the AZ was. He did.
“Sure I can give you directions,” he told me, relaxed, “But why don’t you sit down first while I finish this cigarette.”
I didn’t want to sit down. I wanted to get away from the train station and the copy shop. I wanted to see the AZ. I wanted some water, some lunch, and some beer. But since I didn’t know how to get to the AZ I sat down anyway, and Bearded Record Guy gingerly took each record out of the canvas bags he had with him to show me. He was on his way to a friend’s house to make some mix tapes. “You ever heard of *insert band name here*?” Nope. No, haven’t heard of that one either. Nope, nope, nope, nope, not that one either. No, don’t roll your fucking eyes. What do I listen to? Oh I don’t know, umm, yeah, well, lots of stuff. Right now a lot of hardcore and some doom and old time country. Haven’t heard of the three bands I manage to remember that I like? Oh well, I guess you better keep name dropping then, nope, haven’t heard of that one either…
Why does almost every “we just met so let’s name drop bands we like” conversation end up feeling like a god damn pissing contest? Why does every “we just met so let’s name drop bands we like” conversation leave me feeling like a complete fucking idiot? Oh right, probably because quite often these conversations are pissing contests, probably because I am terrible at remembering names–band names and people names alike–and probably because the person I’m talking with always ends up saying something like “I can’t believe you haven’t heard of *insert random band name here*” and/or rolling their eyes and/or not understanding why when they ask me to list a few bands I like my mind goes completely blank and all I can manage are a hanful of stutters and shrugs. I used to do college radio. If there is one thing college radio is good for, it’s developing a fine-tuned hatred for music snobbery and band name dropping. Then again, snobbery is always fucking stupid, so there.
Finally Bearded Record Man gave up and gave me directions, and I walked off to the AZ and zinefest aka glory glory hallelujah just look at all these zines. (!!!)
The AZ Mülheim was a riding center once upon a time, the locals told me. People strutted around on their ponies in the hall where we moved the zine market when it started to rain, horses were bought and sold and combed and fed in the rooms where we ate breakfast and drank beer and learned how to bind books. From the outside the building is big and brick, graffiti- and ivy-covered and my-kind-of charming. From the inside it’s cozy as well, with lots of big spaces for concerts and pub nights, and even more little spaces for lectures and meetings and sleeping and cooking and freeboxes and an internet cafe.
There were ten, fifteen distros/stands/zine writers with boxes full of fresh-off-the-photocopier creations set up in the courtyard (pre-rain) trading and selling and chatting. The zine writers with music projects played, there was a lecture about the history of zines given by a man from the German Youth Archive (which I didn’t attend because it makes me feelpretty sad when living, breathing, beautiful things get intellectualized/lecturarized/power point presentationed before their Time). I missed the book binding workshop to man the distro (now featuring fancy cut up cardboard boxes and dumpster puke-green curtain/tablecloth!) but intend to kidnap someone from NC to teach me that this summer anyway. There was cheap vegan food (mmmm) and a table with typewriters and scissors and glue for creating a page for this year’s zinefest zine. There were people skateboarding around the hall, people dancing, people talking, and Bearded Record Guy even showed up to say hello and act kind of creepy.
By the end of the night I was burnt out, happy, over- whelmed, and in need of a long sleep and a long time for processing everything I’d seen and heard and read in the past six hours. I had a huge pile of traded zines to read and no ear-plugs to block out the techno/dance music thumping away at the bar downstairs. But I feel asleep all the same, visions of photocopied print and typewriter-witten pages whirling through my head.
Sunday was three servings of a delicious breakfast, was adding a page to the zinefest zine, was quiet and relaxed, and we dragged sofas into the courtyard for a reading, and, excepting the woman who arrived with an aloof hipster posse and read from an actually published book, got me interested in a few publications I had been too overwhelmed to notice the night before (Sofakartoffel, for one, if you ever see her stuff, it’s grand and in English and aestetically pleasing to boot). Panzer Fee (pictured) recited a few poems, two boys played accoustic guitars, I read nyc from my zine, and a handful of others read from theirs (whose names I can’t remember because my brain is made of Swiss cheese). Slowly groups of people trickled off to Home and Tallbike and I slung on our backpacks and headed for the train, a box full of photocopied treasure to page through on the way back to Mainz.
“Excuse me, but do you happen to be going to Köln?”
“No, Mülheim. Why, you guys have a group ticket?”
“Yeah. But Mülheim shouldn’t be a problem, same direction.” I had just walked into the Koblenz train station, sheet wrinkles still printed on my face, disgruntled at my excess of luggage and lack of coffee.
“Well, I’d love to ride on your ticket, but I don’t have any money, I can’t pay you anything.”
“Isn’t there an ATM around here?”
“I don’t have an ATM card, and there’s no money in the bank anyway. See, I don’t have any money at all.”
“Well.” He turned his away. I looked at him, waiting for a more definite answer. He gazed pointedly off into the distance. “I guess that’s a no then?” He still wouldn’t look at me. Must have offended his fine capitalist sensibilites. I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and walked to the ticket machine to find out what train I needed to take. I typed in “Mühlheim” and got three different “Mühlheim (Main)”s, but no “Mühlheim (Rohr)”s. Crap. Had Mühlheim disapparated? Had I forgotten how to spell? (Yep.) Lame Miser Dude had said that the Köln train was the same direction, and so had my road atlas, so I went to the track, found some kind yuppie women with an extra spot on their group ticket and hoped that Lame Miser Dude would walk by so that I could give him a pointed, spiteful look that said “Look, there are lots of really nice people in this world and YOU ARE NOT ONE OF THEM.”
(Marauder’s Guide Note: See, there are these tickets in Germany called “Schöne Wochenende Tickets” that cost 35 euros for up to five people to anywhere (and back) on Saturdays and Sundays. So if you’re broke, you can walk through the train and ask people if they have a group ticket, and if they do, if you can ride along on their ticket. Train hopping of sorts, but less exciting, less dangerous, and 99% certain to get you excatly where you’re going exactly when you’re going there.)
The signs at each station said our train was heading to Dinslaken, Holland. “I could just keep on riding, and I’d end up in Holland,” I thought, grinning. Tempting. In Holland there were friends and beautiful squats and beaches and vegan pirates. But in Mülheim there was zinefest, and new friends, and vegan food, and maybe, just maybe, there would be a few pirates there too.
I got off in Düsselsdorf and, after 15 frustrating minutes, tricked the ticket computer into telling me how to get to Mülheim (by learning how to spell it correctly, oops). It was only 20 minutes away now, the computer said. There’s a big soccer match today, the crowds on the platform said. Sure you can ride with us, a balding, white-capped man and his two sons said. We crammed ourselves between the hoardes of soccer fans and empty beer cans and chugged off. (Marauder’s Guide Note: If you don’t like loud drunken holligans, I would recommend avoiding all trains and train stations near stadiums on game days. Then again, lots of people=lots of people with group tickets, even if most of them are drunk morons.)
“What is that wooden box for?” White-Capped Man couldn’t stop staring at it. “It’s just so strange to see someone carrying an old wooden box here on the train. I’m really curious.”
How to explain zines, zinefest, and the old wooden distro box I’d found in the trash to a person who’s probably never heard the words zine distro? Translate it into language he has heard, I thought. “Well, see, I’m a journalist, and I am going to a meeting of journalists. We all like to publish things independently, and I use the box to display my publications.” He nodded, genuine interest in his eyes as he spoke.
“So it’s like a filing system?”
“Yeah, sort of. A lot of people have been giving me strange looks today because of that stupid box. And then I went and leaned on it and the one end broke off. It’s kind of annoying to lug it around, but I think it’s kind of charming, so there it is.”
In Mülheim I took my box and my bags, thanked White-Capped Man, nodded at his kind-of-embarrassed-about-this-strange-beggar-person-riding-with-us, and fell out of the train and onto the platform. Hello, Mülheim. Hello, Nikki! Welcome to the Mülheim Hauptbahnhof, the attached American-style shopping mall, and the most expensive copy shop you’ve ever had the honor of copying your zines in because Local Copy Man won’t let you copy anything with “so much black” and because you are a chronic, incurable procrastinator.
I think what happened in the copy shop can best be described through the letter now serving as page one of my latest zine, Gefunden.
“Dear Readers. Once upon a time there was a page here. But on a last-minute copy-liberation mission I was forced to leave it behind as Pfand while I “went to the ATM to get some cash.” Rest in peace pages 1 and 42. If you would like to know what they said, you can probably find them (and a charming wooden box) in the Mülheim copy shop dumpster tonight. xxo ClickClackGorilla.”
Apocalypse Books is zine/used book distro in Germany that focuses on diy how to (zines for the apocalypse!), travel stories, squatting (and sneaking), and sticking it to The Man. This is our catalogue. UPDATE: I am no longer running this distro, so consider this an exhibit in the museum of things past and passed. We had a good run.
The Art and Science of Billboard Improvement
At Daggers Drawn
Autonome – Decentralized Resistance in Cold War Germany 1968-1990 Part One
Autonome – Decentralized Resistance in Cold War Germany 1968-1990 Part Two
Autonomia – A History of the Italian Ultra Left of the 1970s
Barefoot and in the Kitchen of Our Own Accord 1
Barefoot and in the Kitchen of Our Own Accord 2
Big Hands 4
Big Hands 5 1/2
Big Hands 6
Brew Not Bombs Baltimore BIY Brew It Yourself
Burning the Anarchist Bible
Click Clack Gorilla 1
A Chorus of Verses
Cracking the System
GM Crop Decontamination
Dirt and Cheese 1
Dirt and Cheese 2
DIY Guide II (CrimethInc)
Do or Die
Down With Empire, Up With Spring – Part II The Four Tasks
Dwelling Portably May 1999
Dwelling Portably September 2002
Fences and Windows
Fertility Awareness for Non-Invasive Birth Control
The Ghetto Garden
Health and Safety at Militant Actions
Infiltration – Secret Stations, Exploring Subway and LRT Tunnels
Infiltration – Under Construction, The Sheppard Subway and Festival Hall
Infiltration – Paris Catacombs, Italian Subways, Scottish Rail Tunnels
Intellectual Property Is Theft
In the Hall of the Mountain King
(Anti) Sex Tips for Teens
The Nighttime Gardener’s Guide
Oragnic Gardening: A DIY Guide
Piece Now, Peace Later
Please Don’t Feed the Bears – A Vegan Cookzine
Primitive Semi-Permanent Shelters
The Revolutionary Pleasure of Thinking for Yourself
The Road to Either Or
Rough Guide to Bike Maintenance
Said the Pot to the Kettle
Steam Punk Magazine 1
Steam Punk Magazine 2
The Super Happy Anarcho Fun Pages 1-12
Survival Without Rent
This Time We Fight Back 1
Towards a Less Fucked Up World – Sobriety and the Anarchist Struggle
The Underbelly of the Sun
Walking the Edge of Insanity
White Shark Tales
If you want to submit your zine or book for distribution, trade zines, order zines, or buy me a beer, contact me in the comments here (that’ll get my your email address for further scheming). It should roughly fit into the distro description above or just be completely, irrististably fucking awesome. I prefer piracy, that is, getting one copy from you, and copying as needed for future distribution because it’s easier for me and, in the end, means more people get to read the sweet stuff that you wrote about that time in that place doing that stuff and the way I see it, that’s the whole point. So. Until then.
The word Gleisersatzverkehr is an important word to know in German. It means “hahaha, your train isn’t coming and this trip is going to take a lot longer than you thought.”
No internet the night before had meant no train schedule, but when I arrived at the station the first thing I saw was the train heading to Worms. Worms was on the way to Mannheim and so was I, so on I got and off we chugged.
The car was mostly empty, just me and two women with bright purple scarfs wrapped around their heads. I couldn’t see them but I could hear them. According to her, Woman on the Right was a prophet, “But I’m not a god, I’m not a god,” she said firmly. “It came to me in a dream.” I wished for a working tape recorder, (You hear that dumpster gods?) or at least for a pen. I settled for memory, which, against all odds, managed to record at least those two sentences. Prophet indeed. At least, I thought, if a conductor comes to check tickets, the prophet can perform a miracle and I can escape to freedom. Stranger things have happened.
Actually, I wasn’t really on my way to Mannheim. I was on my way to Esslingen via Mannheim, where I could trade in my train seat for a seat in a green (former) police van. I sat in the park while I waited for the Gunmob to show up, attempting to read Despite Everything, but mostly just staring into space and trying to avoid looking at the teenagers dry humping on a bench across the grass. Meanwhile, the Gunmob was breaking into the courtyard where their van had been trapped by their landlords. Stupid landlords.
A few hours and sandwiches later we were all in the van, buzzing down the highway past fields and more fields until finally we wound down a steep mountain road and into little orange-roofed Esslingen, where Tragedy, Gunmob, Cluster Bomb Unit, and Murder Disco X would be playing that evening at Komma, a much-bigger-than-I’m-used-to rock-ish venue sandwiched between a canal and half-timber houses.
Vegan Wonderland sold seitan sandwiches and potato salad, which like everything they make, is delicious but never quite enough to fill you up. The courtyard filled with brightly colored hair, spikes, and white-on-black-screen-printed t-shirts eating seitan, drinking beer.
Big stages in large, half-filled rooms make punk rock unsympathetic and sad. Maybe I would have liked Murder Disco X–hardcore/punk from Württemburg, Germany–in a smaller room, on a smaller stage, but maybe not. But the crowd was still too shy and sober, and the room reminded me of the hipster indie rock concerts I’d gone to in college, everyone standing as far away from the stage as possible, arm folded across chests, carefully nodding along to the music. When Cluster Bomb Unit–more local-ish hardcore/punk–came on the crowd was getting more excited, and the band mirrored it back in their own performance. The tiny singer lady was wearing a Daniel Johnston t-shirt, which made me smile, and the big bear guitar man had dreadlocks from another dimension, which also made me smile. But like I always say: pretty good bands can mirror back an excited crowd’s energy, but really great bands bring their own and shoot it out into the crown like fireworks. Next up was Gunmob (pictured below)–crust from Mannheim–who in my personal and very biased opinion were the best of the openers. (You should go to their website and have a listen right now. And while you’re at it, you should also listen to Planks, Slump, and BSON which involve a lot of the same people and are all really good.)
At long last Tragedy came on–hardcore legends that they are, the reason 200 people were standing together in a rock venue in Bavaria on a Sunday night. The room filled, people danced and shouted and moshed and shook their fists in the air. It was loud and laser-crowd-fireworks energetic, and they were even smart enough to only play a few of their newer songs. It wasn’t The Best Concert Of All Time, but it sure was fun and after the show I found seven buttons and ten cents on the floor.
I took the season’s first outdoor shower this week. In “the pirate’s life for me” I might have mislead you into believing that we have no showers at all where I live, just champagne and bathtubs and dirt under our finger nails. We have those things too. But in the spring- time, we can stop showering at the gym and start showering outside, if you like that sort of thing. Showering, I mean.
Showering outside is one of those things that sounds like nothing special, or that maybe even sounds a little unpleasant. But then you actually do it and the birds are singing and the leaves on the maple tree above you are bright green and you sit outside in the sun to dry, and it just feels so good.
It goes something like this. Take a wooden pallet for the floor, build some walls out of some other stuff you found in the trash, and hang up a watering can and a curtain if you’re shy. Then you can heat up some water, put it in the watering can, and there’s your shower. Last year one of the showers (I think we have three) had a regular shower spout that you could attach the hose too. Those were the coldest showers I’ve ever taken. I didn’t shower much that summer.
I’ve heard a lot of fancy stories about fancy solar showers. Black bags that you hang up in trees a few hours pre-shower to warm up in the sun. Then, BAM, open the valve and warm shower. But fancy solar contraptions always seem to cost a lot of money–part of the whole “green consumer trend” whose ultimate goal is not sustainable living, but higher sales figures–and people throw away watering cans and pallets and old curtains all the time.
We become conscious of our bodies during puberty and learn that we smell bad, learn that if we buy shampoo and soap and perfume and lotions and makeup and mouth wash, if we primp and brush and wash enough, then people will like us, that we won’t have to feel embarrassed. So we learn to feel embarr- assed in the first place, and we read mag- azines devoted to teaching us how to cover up our smells and our hair and our flaws. They should be teaching us how to love our smells and our hair, that we have no flaws, that people smell like people for a reason, that people have hair for a reason.
I stopped wearing deodorant four years ago. The next year I stopped shaving my armpits. Then I stopped showering regularly, and now I don’t even shave my legs (that was some seriously deep conditioning and it was really hard to get rid of, tell you what). Now I don’t even use laundry detergent. You’re probably going to laugh and point and call me a dirty hippy (yeah, you were probably already doing that), but I use “wash nuts”–put six nut shells in a bag in the washing machine and your clothes come out smelling like absolutely nothing at all. I don’t want to smell like somebody else’s idea of pleasant. I want to smell like me, and I don’t really care if you like it. Actually, I do because smells are there to attract and repel us, so if you don’t like they way I smell, you probably wouldn’t have liked me anyway.
When I think about the people who shower every single day (and the fact that I used to be one of them), my mouth drops open. Where did I find the time? How many gallons of water was I washing down the drain every week? How many gallons of chemical soap shampoo shit did I rub into my pores? Wasn’t my skin all dry and itchy all the time? (Oh, yeah, I bought lotions to take care of that.) I must have smelled awful. Of course now, that is what other people are saying about me.
Love of my life, farmer of the century, song-writer extraordinaire! Katey Sleeveless, get your ass back to Europe so we can get on with the end of the world already!
(That’s my way of saying, look at this new Katey Sleeveless video. Then you should probably go to her website and figure out how to buy her album, or just listen to her songs a million times for free on MurdochSpace because they are AWESOME.) If you pay close attention, you might see me, people I write about, and places I may or may night live. If someone had video taped all of our recent hitch hiking/traveling/concert playing adventures and made it into a three minute video, this would be it. Actually, this is it. Woweezowee.
“I feel like riding bikes. Anybody want to go for a bike ride?”
“You’re always so hyperactive after you eat,” Scissors said. He and Karlsson had spent the day cleaning up the place, and Garfield had made a big dinner–vegetable casserole, salad, soy chunks, and sorbet.
“I was thinking about a bike ride too,” Garfield said, rolling a cigarette. We got our hoodies and we got our bikes and we headed toward the farm fields just outside of the university campus. On the way out we passed the university trash depot (where the big trash lives). Sitting on the grass between a hand cart and a university security car sat Top Hat.
We stopped and pedaled back. Turned out, Top Hat had been on his way out of the trash depot with a cart of some junk electronics for one of his steam-punk, mad-scientist inventions and some paranoid university employee had seen him and called the police. When he got to the road a security guard was waiting to tell him that the police were on their way. Garfield biked back home to get tobacco, and I waited with Top Hat for The Man, who showed up five minutes later, two in their green and white patrol car, one in brown, one in blue.
“Someone saw him carrying some stuff out of the trash depot and called me,” the security guard explained.
“Where’s the stuff?” Officer Blue wanted to know.
“He put it back.”
“And what about her?” he asked, pointing at me.
“Nothing. She’s not involved.”
“What do you mean nothing?”
“I was biking past,” I cut in. “He’s a friend of mine and I stopped to see what was going on and to keep him company.”
Officer Brown and Top Hat walked back toward the entrance to the trash depot to do some sort of police crime scene shit. Officer Blue was still looking at me. “To keep him company?” He sounded kind of incredulous. Like keeping someone company while waiting for the police was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard. “Well, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You don’t need to hear what happens here.”
“Excuse me?” And by “excuse me” I meant, “So you don’t want any witnesses in case you decide to kick his ass?” And “You’ve got to be kidding me.” And “What is it you are trying to hide WILSON.” Because Wilson was Officer Blue’s name. It said so right on his shirt.
“Please move away.” He repeated. I wrinkled my eye brows. “But they both just left. There’s nothing to hear.”
He looked over his shoulder. “Well, alright then,” he said, and followed Top Hat and Officer Brown across the parking lot. Rage was already swelling up in my stomach and exploding through every cell in my body until I felt like I was going to throw up. That’s just how people on uniform-fueled power trips make me feel, even the smaller uniform-fueled power trips. History has proven over and over and over and over and over and over again that all most police ever do is intimidate and harass and suppress people, and every interaction I’ve ever had with them–except for the friendly Irish cop in the sketchy park in Dublin who left us all bewildered and confused and saying things like “I’ve never actually liked a cop before.”– has ended with the lesson, don’t trust the police, ever. And yet somehow they still manage to run the whole “friend and helper” PR line with a straight face. I’m not sure what’s worse: that they pretend to be good and helpful or that most people believe them.
I shook my head as he walked away. I guess I looked pretty pissed off. I guess Security Guard felt kind of guilty about all of it. He looked at me apologetically. “I would have just let him go, but they insisted that I call the police. The guy who called was really insistent. I would have just let him go. I mean, he put the stuff back.”
“What he take anyway? It was probably just trash, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter. This is private property. There’s a fence.”
“Oh, I understand the law. It just makes this all a little absurd.”
He didn’t answer. Instead he took out his cell phone to call his sweetheart, who he told in broken English that he was going to be late.
They came back to write down names and addresses, and Officer Blue got back in his car to call in the info, or whatever it is that police officers do in their cars after they’ve taken your information. He came back, and two overweight white guys showed up. One was The Caller. He’d brought a friend, too, but Officer Blue didn’t ask his friend to leave. They took a few more notes and came to some sort of conclusion, and Officer Brown looked over at me. “Do you live over at the wagenplatz too?”
“I’m not sure how that’s relevant.”
“Well, we’re going to take him with us, maybe you could take the handcart?”
“Wait, where are you taking him?”
“Just over to the wagenplatz to take a look at his ID.”
“Alright, yeah, we’ll take the cart.”
“I’ll walk the bikes,” Garfield offered, and we started off, the green and white car passing us with Top Hat in the back.
“So are the police actually allowed on the property?” When it comes down to details, I have a pathetically hazy grasp of the law.
“Well, they’re allowed to come to the door, but they aren’t allowed inside without a warrant.”
“Yeah, but what is the door at our place? The house door? Top Hat’s door?”
“Top Hat’s door.”
The police were gone by the time we arrived. Everyone had come creeping out of their wagons to find out what had happened, and we all stood around outside telling “that time the cops showed up” stories, which turned into “that time that crazy guy showed up” stories, which somehow turned into a conversation about infinity, the size of the universe, and whether or not humankind’s ultimate goal should be to populate the solar system.
Time has slowed again, gone back to the way it was when we were kids, when days last for centuries. It bends and stretches, and I live sixteen lives before I find myself in bed again. When I wake up in the morning and open the door, eveything smells warm and green and alive, like jungle.
Now that it’s really spring I’m always outside. All of a sudden I have freckles and am very, very tan. It reminds me of when I first started spending time here and life was too good for work, so I kept calling in sick and they fired me. And when I came in to return my books the secretary said “Well, you’re very tan, from WHERE EVER YOU WERE,” spiteful, as if i had been calling out sick from a tropical island while they busted their asses under fluorescent lights. I wanted to scream WELL IF YOU DIDNT SPEND ALL YOUR TIME IN THIS AWFUL OFFICE/IN FRONT OF THE TELEVISION THIS WOULD BE WHAT YOU LOOKED LIKE TOO and I WAS NOWHERE I WAS HOME THIS IS JUST WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE WHEN YOU MOSTLY LIVE OUTSIDE. And of course also, FUCK YOU. Instead I think I just smirked. Afterall, she’s still sitting behind the desk, and I’m sitting on a mattress beneath a maple tree eating cherry tomato salad.
At first when the weather started to get warm, it felt wrong, surreal, like some sort of joke. Weather isn’t this pleasant, I would think, on the way to the kitchen in the morning. Weather is bitter and cold and creul. We’ve been captured by giant scientists and put in a biodome, to see how we react to warmth and light. Any minute now they’ll finish their experiment, and it will start snowing again.
But it didn’t. Instead it got warmer. Instead the trees began to fill out and bloom. Instead the sprouts started to come up in the green house, and I stopped lighting the woodstove. And today I took the rest of the wood back out to the shed and packed away my winter coat.
On Friday, hungover from another great (grand! lovely! dance-filled! sweat-filled!) La Casa Fantom concert, we dragged mattresses out into the garden and laid in the shade listening to books on tape, talking, and grazing on the leftovers from breakfast. Then we rode the tractor over to the university trash depot (aka where the big, awesome trash lives) and picked up some chairs, two sinks, a ladder, a cake form, a first aid kit, and a big wooden armoir (doorless). If you’ve never ridden on a trailer on the back of a tractor with five of your friends in the springtime, well, I would recommend it to you, but since most of you probably don’t have the oppurtunity to go out for daily tractor joyrides, I’ll just say this: “Punks on tractors!” (to quote the wise words of Katey Sleeveless).
At some point after this the weekend started. People celebrated Jesus’ death/rebirth/whatever. The supermarkets were closed, and their dumpsters were full. We grilled homemade seitan and zucchini and rode bikes to fleamarkets and ate ice cream and dumpstered fruit salad, and my winter depression thawed into euphoria.
It has recently come to my attention that some of you, beloved readers, are kind of confused about my life. “So you actually live in a cardboard box?” “Who the hell are all these people you keep talking about?” “If you don’t work, what is it you actually do all day?” “Are there people who actually listen to Brittney Spears?” “Do you ever shower?” “Could you please start?” Relevant and irrelevant, these are the questions I’ve been hearing lately, and I thought I should skip the whole I’m-going-to-try-to-make-this-all-purdy writer shit and just tell you what’s what and where’s where and who’s who.
So, first thing’s first. You see that picture to the left? That is the pirate flag atop what I refer to as “the battle tower.” Last summer while I was greyhounding around America, a couple of people back home got bored (and probably drunk), made a big pile of scrap wood, and nailed it into a two-story tower. At the bottom of the battle tower is the little herb garden you will probably hear a whole lot about in the coming months. I’m (re)learning how to garden, when to plant, hoping that I can learn how not to kill plants in my care. “Are you watching the plants grow?” That’s another question I’ve been hearing a lot lately. Well I’m not. I’m talking to them and they told me that in a couple of months they are going to feed me delicious things like sage tea and garlic sandwiches.
The spice garden is important because we almost never find spices in the dumpster, and if I’m ever going to manage to quit money com- pletely, I’m going to need at least an acre of garlic. And while we’re in the kitchen, well, next to it, let me tell you about die Hölle (that spells “hell” in English). Die Hölle is the vegan kitchen, home to the dumpster diving crusties who are always 1. cooking 2. eating 3. talking about cooking 4. talking about eating 5. on their way to get free food 5. talking about get- ting free food. We have a gas stove and oven, couches, cabinets, a table, a tape deck, wine-case shelves, and as many mismatched plates, glasses, mugs, and lid-less pots and pans as the trash gods have gandered (aka a whole lot). We even have a fridge, but we only use that when it starts getting really, really hot outside. What we don’t have is running water. Instead, a big plastic canister we fill up at the faucet at the front of the wagenplatz and a big metal bowl for doing the dishes.
Total, we’re a community of about fifteen people, soon to be seventeen. We have individual wagons where we all sleep/live. We have three community kitchens for cooking (Hölle, Punker, Luxus). We have a guest wagon and an “action” wagon (like demo action, not action action). We have a movie wagon with an enormous tv and an even more enormous pile of dumpstered movies, and a table for playing boring games like Risk and awesome games like Boggle. We have a whole bunch of little green corners that become outside living rooms the moment spring shows so much as a toe. And we have our dear (once) squatted house for voküs, concerts, exhibits, meetings, and whatever else we can think of in the meantime. Which should answer your question about what it is I do all day long. Move into a wooden wagon in the university part of town with a bunch of chaotic crusty hippy/punk/freaks trying to run a venue together, and you’ll never reach the end of a to-do list ever again. (Probably because you didn’t write one in the first place! Ba-da-bing!)
Once upon a time in the 80s, Haus Mainusch was squatted for two weeks. Now it’s (theoretically) (possibly even technically) “legal” and we pay for water, trash, and electricity and the university that owns the land doesn’t send in the cops with the tear gas and the teenage mutant ninja turtle armor and the rubber clubs. “We” is who- ever feels like organizing stuff at the house (excepting all racist, nationalist, chauv- enistic thugs, those people can go fuck themselves) and all the people who live in the wagenplatz on the property behind the house. There is a “black and red” political pub night Tues- days. There is a punker pub night Fridays. There is a vokü every weekday during the university semester starting at noon. And in between and on top of and next to all that are concerts, par- ties, exhibits, film nights, and a gaggle of spontaneous bonfires and grill nights in the garden out back.
So on an average day, Frankensteined together from hundreds of days that all manage to be pretty different, I wake up, round about 9 (or 10, or 11, or whenever I’m finished sleeping). Get dressed. Walk over to die Hölle and put on a pot of coffee or tea. If it’s warm outside, like it is now, join Workshop at the table in front of the movie wagon to drink coffee and tea as the rest of the wagenplatz slowly wakes up and comes by with more coffee and tea to sit around together in the sun bullshitting, making plans, enjoying the sunshine. If it’s wintertime, we drink coffee inside, complain about the weather in sixteen hoodies, and chop some more wood for the woodstove. Our wood is either 1. bought from a man and his son who deliver it to us in the fall for about 50 euros the meter 2. scavenged from the trash and the forest–there is no end to places where you can get free wood, mostly from people who just want to get it off their hands or 3. bought in the form of pressed sawdust (mollies) from the German version of Home Depot. We have an electric circle saw to chop the meter-long peices down to stump-sized peices and lumberjack arms and lumberjack axes for hacking the stumps into the oven-sized peices that crackle in our woodstoves.
If it’s a vokü day (I cook Wednesdays), I’m up at 9 to walk to the tiny grocery store on the other side of the highway. The owner has become a good friend, and whenever we come over to buy noodles and oil and spices, he gives us all the vegetables we can carry. “It would be such a shame to have to throw it away,” he says. “Tell the others I say hello,” he says. “Take the wooden produce boxes with you for kindling,” he says. We really like the Gemüsemann. He saves us the trouble of having to actually climb into the dumpster. By 10 am I’m wired on coffee and chopping vegetables with whoever is around to help that morning, cooking for an average of 30 people. By noon everything is ready, salad and a main course and usually even a dessert, and people start showing up to eat. The next three to five hours go by in a blur of serving plates, washing plates, and desperately throwing together new creations at the last minute on the days when we run out of food and the hungry people keep coming. Then it’s another hour or so of washing dishes, washing the floor, and straightening out the house before I fall into a zombie-like coma in front of an episode of The Simpsons.
If it’s not a vokü day maybe I stay in reading and writing letters. Maybe I spend the day writing blogs and emails and working on whatever writing projects are currently burning a hole in my type- writer. Maybe we repaint something in the house. Maybe we load up all the scrap metal we’ve been saving and take it over to the scrap yard to sell. Maybe I talk to the manager over at the construction site down the street and he says I can take all their scrap wood and we ride the tractor over and a nice truck driver helps us get it back to the house with his little fold-up fork lift. Maybe I go over the the big university “special” trash area and find a working tv/stereo/dresser/ thousands of old pictures of students/shelves/windows/bicycles/paint/surf board/chair/sofa/tea pot. If it’s Tues- day or Saturday maybe a couple of us bike into town and ask for leftovers at the produce market. Maybe I plant a garden. Maybe I rake some leaves. Maybe some people get together and build a fence or a terrace or a tower. Maybe I just sit outside all day long in the sun reading, talking, drinking beer mixed with lemonade.
Nights in the winter there are usually a handful of people in the movie wagon playing games or Nintendo or watching movies. When it’s warmer there is almost always a group of people sitting around a fire outside. Or maybe everyone just disappears into their own wagons to read and sleep and read and write and play and dance. When die Hölle cupboards start looking empty we round up a small posse to go dumpster diving. If there’s a concert there is beer to be sold and music to be danced to and empty bottles and plates to clean up. I rarely leave the wagenplatz because everything I could imagine wanting to do is already here, just a couple of meters away from my house.
As for so-called “hygiene” (a highly over-rated concept), there is the university sports complex for showering, or friends’ apartments where utilities are included in the rent. Now that I have short hair I shower about once a month because I like the way that people smell when they smell like people and I hate the smell of most perfumes and deoderants and soaps. (I stopped wearing deoderant about the same time I stopped shaving my armpits.) We have a washing machine in the bathroom wagon (two toilets, two sinks, some urinals, faucet for filling up the water containers we keep in the kitchens). The house has running water in the kitchen for the quick desperate winter hair wash. Several people have outdoor showers that can be connected to the hose or that are watering-can run. Scattered around are old scavenged bathtubs that can be filled, heated with a small fire underneath, and set up somewhere outside in the sun. I’ve heard magical stories of house festivals where five or six bathtubs were set up in a circle outside around a bonfire, filled with people drinking champagne from fancy glasses.
Technically my income lies canyons below the poverty line. But as long as I have delicious things to eat all day long, a really comfortable bed, a place to access the internet (damn you computer dependency! damn you to hell!), and bathtubs to drink champagne in, well I’m not really sure that the word “poverty” is still relevant. As sick as I find it, it’s my “priviledge” to live in a grostesquely wasteful society full of rich idiots who throw perfectly good things away because the economy needs disposable products and disposable incomes in order to survive. And it is our priviledge to not even have to fight other poor people in the dumpsters to feed ourselves. To have parents who give us kind words, old bedsheets, and seeds to plant our gardens. But as the lovely and inspiring leafnest put it in a recent post about privilege,
“i think privilege is a really important thing to realize, to talk about, & most importantly, TO USE. use that fucking privilege, folks! wield it like the magical sword of power it is! use it to defeat the foes that the swordless people can’t get close to. although the phrase “use it or lose it” doesn’t really apply, something like, “use it or be an asshole” seems to nicely. privilege is a really important tool to have in the activist toolbox.
but i guess maybe more & more privilege seems like a private thing. like something you personally need to deal with & then use. it just seems silly to accuse people of privilege or act like you know anything about their life or assume they’re not already wielding that privilege sword in their activism. sometimes privilege seems like a black hole we’re all pulling each other into. because as long as we’re talking we don’t have to be acting. “
So there you have it. My life in a couple of nutshells, a few thoughts about “privilege,” and the answers to most of your questions. Why people listen to top-40 radio pop music, however, will remain a mystery for the remainder of time.