the turn of the screw

The fungus is gone, ripped out with a crowbar and a few power tools, burned, all the wood around it sprayed with gross chemical anti-fungus stuff that a friend had lying around from his own battle with what may or may not be the “common house sponge” (OF DOOM).


And oops, I didn’t take any after pictures. Now, where there was once a wasteland of spongey wood is a neat little hole that has convinced me that I really, really need to put another window in to let in more light.

I attacked the screws on Monday, having decided that I would insulate the walls from the outside, rather than risk destroying the beautiful wood lining the inside walls. I got a hammer and a screwdriver. Someone who I’d very much like to tap on the head with my crowbar had the brilliant idea to paint over all of the screws. So it went like this: tap tap tap (my hammer on the screwdriver on the head of the screw to get the paint out of the screw head) and tunk tunk tunk (my screwdriving gouging out the paint around the head). Grunt grunt grunt (as I tried to ease those rusty mother fuckers out of the wood). Some cooperated.

“I think Popeye must have put these screws in,” Rabbit grunted as he tried to free up some of the screws in the bottome row. I had only wanted to work on one small corner because I had figured it would go quickly, and I would be inspired by the success. Hahahahahahahahaha.

Five hours later, two days later, and I gave up and we ripped all the boards out with a crowbar, breaking most of them, saving a few that I’ll be able to sand down and reuse. After reaching frustration high-water within five minutes the day before I decided on a new tactic. Screaming and cursing at the screws and the boards as loud as I could. First important building lesson: screams and curses are just as important as a good hammer and crowbar.

Workshop and Garfield and Rabbit all gave me their leftover styrofoam so that I could start insulating until my freelancing money arrives in my account. I started with some of the crappier peices to practice, shoving them between the beams, saving the best stuff for the space around the bed. With styrofoam insulation it’s not so important how thick you layer it, but that you don’t leave any little holes for air to slip in or out of.


I started working figuring that I could get a few things done with what I had until I had the money to buy the rest. But everyday I find another peice of wood (yesterday the two-meter long corner beams that I need to replace on the back corners, which would have costed about 8 euros each). Rabbit and I went dumpster diving at the building supply store last week and carried off at least 100 euros worth of lumber, all stuff that I’ll be able to use to replace rotten support beams and to build a bed and shelves.

With each little step forward and each new trash find, I get more inspired. It’s hard not to feel badass with a power saw and a crowbar in your hands. It’s hard not to feel taken care of when you find exactly what you are looking for, without fail, in the trash two meters away from you house and a kind fellow-diver helps you load it onto the wheelbarrow so you can take it home. So now I have a new goal. May the money never show up and may I rennovate my entire house from the trash. Trash house, I’ll call her, when she’s finished and I christen her with a dumpstered bottle of champagne.

good riddance, hello rubbish

It’s happening again; the students are moving out, and throwing out. After two cups of coffee I decided to walk with the hand cart to the big trash depot. There was a large double-glassed window there I’d been eyeing for months. I wanted to put it in next to my bed, let more light into the wagon, and use the wood that I would cut out to put it in to patch up the hole I’d cut in the wall to get rid of the evil fungus.

Just outside the depot fence was a pile of random trash. Really good trash, trash with my name all over it. There was a brass electric fake-candle light fixture, which I ripped the wiring out of and which I plan to affix to the wall above my bed, with actual candles. There was a metal toaster, and some 12-volt lights that I took to give to one of my solar-powered friends. I went inside and loaded up the window and headed home.

My next stop was the student trash across the street. My first find was a little spoon with a dog engraved on the handle. Then a duvet cover with a matching pillow case in zebra print with pink backing. Next a Tupperware container with a post it note in English stuck to the lid “These should help get you through the next two weeks. You’ll be home (and missing Germany) before you know it! Love, Mom.” Inside were chocolate chip cookies, store-bought from the looks of them. I tossed them and took the Tupperware.

The rest of her kitchen had landed in the trash as well, and I took a deep white bowl, a bread knife, two cutting boards, powdered garlic, and a sauce pan, still full of the noodles that must have been this student’s last meal before heading to the plane.

I would say the dumpster gods are celebrating my housewarming, but the truth is that this stuff lands in the trash at the end of every single semester. There must be enough pots and pans in the world by now that we, the industrial nations, could simply stop producing them, right now, and still have more than enough to cook for the world several times over. This is a reoccurring fantasy of mine: a grinning politician or CEO in a suit in front of the press, neatly stacking the pile of papers in her hands, in his hands, and saying “Well, we stopped all production in the plastic industry today. With the oil shortage and the fact that we already have more than enough plastic circulating to last us all another thousand years, we didn’t see the need to continue business any longer.” A cheer goes up from the crowds, hats are thrown in to the air, people watching the press conference on their TVs at home give each other high fives and crack bottles of champagne.

Tuesday July 28th 2009, 7:00 am Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving

fungus and trash

Saturday morning I cooked breakfast for a band from Israel–pancakes and beans and curry fired potatoes and peas and garlic bread spread. Once they took off for their next show Rabbit and I sat in the garden drinking coffee, and we got to talking about wagon repair and I asked him a hundred questions about how he fixed various parts of his wagon, actually listening and absorbing information about building for the first time in my life.

The weather was pleasantly cool and sunny, so I decided that today I’d start taking things apart and went to Bean to ask her if I could borrow an electric screwdriver. “Sure,” she said, “But Rabbit has it right now. Oh and I have something to show you.” She pulled out a book titled Wood. “Maybe one of these is the fungus you found growing underneath that bench you ripped out on the wall.”

There were two that looked like the orange building-foam reminiscent fungi. It looked a little bit like two of the funguses pictured, and a little bit like none of them. “I think it must be that once,” I said, pointing to the first on the list.” According to the book I needed to call the “building police” (what the?) immediately. According to the book this was an aggressive, wood eating zombie monster. It could send little invisible arms meters off to gather the moisture it needs to survive. It could survive for years without eating, lying in wait like a tick for its moment to spring on its food (water) and start showing its orange sores again.

“Your wagon belongs to the fungus,” Bean said, “Better figure out how to make friends with it.”

I ran back to the wagon, grabbed a crowbar, and started ripping off all the boards carrying the orange splotches. With a borrowed circle saw Rabbit showed me how to make a cut in the board that would make them crow bar off in a straight line. He was convinced it was the less dangerous fungus pictured, and so was Bean. But I burned everything anyway, just to be sure.

Then I got paranoid, and started prying off various pieces of wood to check the innards for more spots. I found one bad beam, but no more fungus. I hope that it is gone, that it has been sent to feast on the table legs of my enemies, that it doesn’t come back and I don’t have to torch my entire wagon.

I have zero building experience. I feel the same way about building that I do about sewing. In theory, I’d really like to be an expert. But in reality I stick to the simple things like sewing on little patches and hanging shelves. I don’t have the patience needed for the more complex variations of either. But now the day has come where I either learn how to fix shit up, or I go back to working a 9-5 so I can pay someone else to be an expert for me.

I think you already know what I’ve chosen. If there is one thing I’ve learned from uncomfortable situations, it’s that I always come out of them knowing a lot of neat things I never knew before. I’ve not become an expert with a crowbar and three kinds of power saws. I’ve been ripping and cutting things out for two days now, and everyday I am left exhausted, my mind racing to process all of the new things I learned that day, imagining my wagon as it will be once I’m finally finished.

After ripping out the wall on the first day I had been pretty frustrated. Maybe I should have just bought something that wasn’t a fixer upper, I thought, imagining myself already moved into a pre-renovated circus wagon, imagining what happens to the couple in the movie The Money Pit. Then I shook the thought off, and the voice of reason entered on cue to remind me that things that were free always came in exchange for a little sweat, that learning how to build parts of my own house was an invaluable skill that I probably would have avoided forever if it hadn’t been for this wagon. I didn’t want to have to spend a lot of money on replacing all the wood I was ripping out, but getting supplies for free means waiting until they show up in the trash, and the exterior and the insulation are two things that can’t wait; they need to be finished by winter.

I decided to return some cans to Pfand Grocery, get some dinner, and sleep on it. I traded in three bags of cans for 7 euros, noodles, and canned artichoke hearts, corn, and white beans. On the way home I noticed an enormous Sperrmull pile and my heart jumped in my chest. It looked good, so good I had to look around to really be sure this wasn’t somebody’s move. Nope. No truck, no people anywhere, piles of stuff thrown haphazardly around in a way that normal people will only throw around trash. I dug in.

Two huge hiking backpacks, long rectangular window planters, a mosquito net for over the bed, mosquito nets made for sticking into windows, an enormous wooden cutting board, clothes pins, cloth bags, and holy shit a sturdy wooden bed frame! I must have looked like a mad man, running circles around the pile, trying to fit everything in the two hiking backpacks all at once, and greedily eyeing the wooden bed frame.

I carried what I could and convinced Bathrobe to drive Rabbit and I to the pile with his enormous old fire truck. I brought the electric screwdriver and took the bed apart so we could fit it into one of the truck’s compartments. Rabbit took a still-in-the-box work table/tool organizer, 40 euro price tag still on it, a speaker, and a massive built-into-a-nifty-wooden box drill thing. I took the bed and some other sturdy pieces of wood for building,—at least if I had to buy more wood for the outside of the wagon than I had expected, I had gotten the wood I’ll need to build the bed for free—a large bowl for washing dishes in, potting soil, a pair of sandals (just my size, something I’d almost considered buying in town a few days prior), a bag full of new bicycle parts (some things that will be very helpful at the tallbike workshop I’m giving in Koln in August), a bicycle helmet (fits my head perfectly), several cloth shopping bags (which I will use to screen print band merch), small wooden shelves (something that I’d also been picturing putting up just over my bed to lean pictures on), a door bolt, a glass pot lid (I had a pretty set of red soup pots and no lids, this lid fits them both), a wicker table, a mini grill, and a metal tin full of screws.

This is why I always have the feeling that the dumpster gods are watching out for me. The dumpster gods or the universe, something. Even if the fact is that so much trash is tossed every week that within a matter of time there is statistically nothing that won’t get thrown away, it still gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

I made dinner and ate it in my wagon, imagining paint onto the walls and a bed into the corner. And it occurred to me, since the wagon is so dark anyway, I could simply put a big-ish window on one of the walls and use the wood I’ll need to cut out to put it in to fill in the holes I made getting destroying herpes-fungus, eliminating the whole problem of needing to buy more wood. Then I turned my attention to the problem of the bed. I needed to build the frame low enough so that the window can still open, which means losing the space beneath it.

Bookshelves would look nice filling up the space between the floor and the bed, I thought, but then the space will be completely inaccessible for storage. I thought about attached a hinged flap on the outside to make the back part of the bed accessible from the outside. But flaps and claps are a bitch to keep water-tight, and I don’t want to keep things under my bed in the swampy state that herpes-fungus must love so much. Then I thought of the artists who recently built benches on wheels and placed them all over Mainz. That’s the answer, I thought, I can put the shelves on little wheels, use the door bolt I found today to secure them, and roll them out of my way when I want to get at the stuff under there.

Living in small spaces, living in a wagon, it’s been a much more spatially interesting decorating/furnishing situation. There isn’t a lot of room, so you have to figure out how to deal with balancing storage and living space without those bulky Swedish solutions for modern living. Things end up hanging from the ceiling, shelves become gods, and wheels are a hundred times better than sliced bread (which tastes just as good when eaten like an apple). There’s actually a lot of space to work with in a wagon, if you don’t try to decorate it like a room in a house. And if you decide to move, you don’t have to bother packing, you can just duct tape all the cabinets shut, hook your house up to a truck, and off you go.

Monday July 27th 2009, 12:26 pm 1 Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,diy,dumpster diving,trailer rennovation project,wagenplatz

wingnut dishwashers union

I hate it when bloggers cop out by posting lots of stupid youtube videos. But my love for Johnny Hobo’s music exceeds all shame.

“But if you don’t want to work, then that becomes your job. There’s a lot of overtime. There’s not many days off. I hope you know that I’m not trying to complain, it just gets hard to explain to people that I know or the kids that come to shows that I just don’t want to talk about the office today.”

High five hobo dishwasher wingnut, high five.

Video by the Sleeveless wonder. Here’s to weird coincidences.

Friday July 24th 2009, 1:04 pm 1 Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,music

wagon rennovation part the first

Yesterday I started to get things done, even though what I really should have been doing was resting and destressing in preparation for the last night of Marx in Soho at the house. But I was restless, so I ripped up carpeting and discovered a beautiful wooden floor beneath.

Then I took the handcart to the trash depot with a good feeling, and came back with this cabinet. (And a wooden chair.)

Welcome to my kitchen, cabinet. I’m going tp paint it and put a little sink inside. Then I can hide the dirty dishes beneath the flap until the mold and the fruit flies remind me that it exists at all.

It seems I’ve become like those people who have a baby and then turn their blog into a forum for thousands of pictures of its every step. Well, so be it. And in the meantime, you’ll get to learn lots of neat things about rennovating wagons.

Friday July 17th 2009, 12:23 pm 4 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,diy,dumpster diving,trailer rennovation project,wagenplatz

the wagon moves

Part One
We started to dig on Tuesday night. Dig dig dig, jack up the wagon, prop it up on a pile of stones, repeat. Dig dig dig, jack up the wagon, prop it up on a pile of stones, repeat. After three hours we had the wheels high enough to slip stones between the rubber and the soft earth beneath.

The underside of the wagon was coated in a film of old spider web and dead spiders. Rabbit propped up one wheel while Feet broke apart the little shed attached to the side. Then I took the jack and shimmied under the back axle on my back. I thought of every small space/gross bug scene from every Indiana Jones and horror film I’ve ever seen and groaned.

“Ignore them, they’re all dead,” Rabbit said. Right. Cobwebs and dead bugs, nothing more. I concentrated on the axel and learned how to use the jack to slowly ease the wheels out of the ground.

Beside us lay the corpses of a raven and a mouse, starting to smell, but not yet rotten. Beneath us were red ants that bit us, leaving huge red welts on Rabbit’s tattooed arms.

As it started to get dark it started to rain, then pour. Water rushed down the sides of the wagon onto our protruding legs and soaked upwards into tank tops and sweatshirts where we lay in the dirt with piles of stones, two hydrolic jacks.

In a few minutes we were soaked through and fled to the car. But the wheels were freed of their earth tomb, and better still, they were perfectly intact.

Part Two
That night I couldn’t sleep. Images of the wagon, of digging, of the building I would do once we got the thing home, if we got the thing home, raced through my head and my heart pounded. I fell asleep for a few hours, woke, lay awake until the sun rose, slept again, woke, slept again. At ten we threw some more tools in the car and headed back to continue digging. At 11 Truck would be there to haul her away.

We jacked the wheels up further, filling the holes beneath the wheels slowly up with stones and dirt. We smashed the concrete stair with a crowbar. We smashed in the fence, and I worried about bolts for the towing bar; the ones I’d brought along were all too short, and the original bolts were so rusty that they no longer fit into their slots.

We dug and fussed, and I frantically called Truck every few minutes to ask another last minute question. Can you bring bolts? Do you have a blinker for the back of the wagon? We have a steel rope, but it’s too short, what should we do? We forgot to bring a saw and there are some pine branches in the way.

Truck backed the enormous truck down the narrow garden road, and another aquaintence biked over with a chainsaw to take care of the branches. We secured the steel rope on the wagon’s front axel (the towing bar being inconveniently placed in the rear where we wouldn’t be able to reach it with the truck until we’d gotten the thing off of the garden plot and into the little road running through the garden settlement.

Slowly, very slowly, the wagon inched forward. For every foot of progress there was another reason to stop. The boards we’d put under one of the wheels had slid upwards and caught in the axel. The right front wheel wasn’t turned. We hadn’t managed to steer around the cement blocks framing a flower bed and needed to back up, rearrange the towing bar (which is connected to the steering mechanism) and try again.

We dug and jacked and shimmied and pushed until we came up against a fence post. We pushed the wagon sideways with one of the jacks, and finally just ripped the post out with the steel rope and the truck. The unmoveable wheel was stuck because of an old parking brake, rusted on. We smashed it around with a hammer and eventually it opened, and the wheel moved.

It had taken five hours, but at 3 we finally had her out of the garden and out on the street. I was eurphoric. Everything felt surreal. We’d gotten the wagon out. The wheels worked. We could drive it home.

“Oh my god, holy shit, look at it, it’s driving, we got it out, holy shit holy shit holy shit,” I gushed as Rabbit and I drove behind the truck and the wagon, blinkers on. The process had been surreal to begin with, and now I watched as my new house rolled through little towns, past businesses and over bridges.

There she is, parked, for now, in Mustache’s old spot, decorated with the tacky plastic flowers the previous owners left behind. The inside looks great, but there is a good deal of work still to be done: rotten boards to be replaced, wasp nests to be removed, insulation to be put in, an oven to de-rust and install.

And even more surreal than the digging and the moving, the spectacle of seeing my house drive down the highway, is this: besides the sweat and the gas money, I got her for free.

Thursday July 09th 2009, 12:58 pm 13 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,diy,trailer rennovation project,wagenplatz

fingers crossed, shovels ready

Today is the day. Tonight, once it’s cool enough to dare any sort of outdoor labor, we will drive to Rüsselsheim, and we will dig this wheel and it’s three brothers out of their 20-year-long resting place in the dirt. So, if you happen to think of it, around 18 here and high noon on America’s east coast, please visualize this wheel levitating, light as a feather. And while you’re at it, please imagine that the wheels haven’t completely disintegrated and can still make the 25 or so kilometers between it and it’s new home. That part comes tomorrow when, in exchange for some gas money and some sweat, a wagon all my own will be parked snugly in Mainz. !!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday July 07th 2009, 1:27 pm Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,diy,trailer rennovation project,wagenplatz

something wicked this way comes

That is, my birthday. For some reason we westerners get culturally smashed over the head from birth on that this day should be the most beautiful day of the year, the perfect day, joyous, that nothing on this day should go wrong, that you should be showered with love and affection and presents, live happily ever after, ride off into the sunset, etc, etc. And then one day you’re an adult and you’re birthday expectations have been artificially raised so high that there is no way they can lead to anything but trouble.

Wouldn’t it make more sense if birthdays were a day to celebrate mothers? Afterall, they’re the ones who not only went through the pain of birth on that day, but actually can still remember it. Though I suppose it is pretty neat to be able to say, “Well looks like I managed to make it through another year without getting killed!” Which really is quite a feat when you think about it.

Last year around this time I was in Colorado staying with Sleeveless. Fucking Colorado. It feels more like several lifetimes ago, and yesterday, and yet the calender is inisisting that an entire year has passed in the meantime.

And last year, as usual, my birthday turned out to defy all expectations, high or low, the birthday curse, the curse of placing any sort of special weight on one particular date that isn’t inherently signifigant in and of itself. The night before a few people got together to drink beer and whiskey, we yelled hurrah at midnight, nothing exploded, so far so good. The next day, the actual day of my birthday, I was suddenly told I had to leave a day earlier than expected so as to not miss my flight back east, I was sitting over a huge beautiful goodbye dinner and crying instead of eating, I was driving with a friend of a friend to Denver. I drank Budweisser with an exerberant, eccentric white-haired muscician named Ken, and then got propisitioned by the random (old) driver (could be my grandfather) friend of a friend because “you’ve probably never been offered a full body massage before” and “I just really want to do something special for you on your birthday” while trying to sleep on the roof of a community center in the middle of warehouses and slums in Denver. It all turned out all right in the end, but wow, didn’t see that one coming.

Now, with my birthday still a few weeks off, years of strange birthdays have me already anxiously wondering how to escape the birthday curse this year. If I avoid celebrating entirely will the universe find me and take out its birthday revenge twofold? And if I do celebrate, where will I end up this time?

My best birthday in recent years was the big 2-4 in North Carolina, and involved a costumed, drunken bike rampage, a ghetto blaster, and just one tape: Purple Rain. Long live Greensboro, North Carolina. At 25 there was a picnic on a river and a smaller bike gang, all of which ended with me falling asleep inside of a large corporate sculpture where a security guard later shooed me away with his flashlight. Twenty-six was the Denver, Colorado roof top fiasco. Now 27 is coming, marching slowly towards me with a devilish grin on its face, and I am nervous, unsure if I should embrace the approaching event or run for cover before it’s too late.

Monday July 06th 2009, 4:42 pm 1 Comment
Filed under: conspiracies

i am what i eat

In continuation of my (not so much) tradition (as sporadic and random) posting of dumpster diving pictures or videos every Saturday, a tribute to dumpster diving and The Mountain Goats, both of which I like very, very much.

Saturday July 04th 2009, 8:26 am Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,music

vine-ripened tomatoes

This article is fantastic. I will post the first paragraph here in order to hypnotize you into actually following the link and reading the rest.

Ubiquitous Matrix of Lies by Charles Eisenstein

“Let’s begin with beer. Near my home I drive past a billboard advertisement for Coors Light. The slogan is, “Coors rocks Harrisburg.” Now, does anybody actually believe that Coors does in fact “rock Harrisburg?” No. Does the Coors corporation itself believe it? No. Does anyone believe that Coors believes it? No. It is a lie, everyone knows it is a lie, and no one cares. Everyone automatically writes it off as an ad slogan, an image campaign.

“The next sign advertises Miller Beer with the phrase, “Fresh beer tastes better.” Does anyone actually think Miller is fresher than Budweiser, Coors, or Pabst? No. Does anyone at Miller Brewing think that? No. It is another obvious and unremarkable lie, beneath the threshold of most people’s awareness. But it contributes to a feeling of living in a phony world where words don’t matter and nothing is real.”

Read the article.

PS If you can follow the title back along my obscure and winding train of thought you win a prize!

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Wednesday July 01st 2009, 4:46 pm 1 Comment
Filed under: conspiracies