stranger with caddy
“But aren’t you scared?” It’s what they all want to know when they pick me up hitchhiking alone, and a conversation I would have in every car I got into that day.
“No.” I shrugged as I ran one finger down the seam of my sleeping bag. “Actually, I get the feeling that the people I ask for rides are more scared of me than I am of them. Especially women. I think women get hit especially hard with the ‘never pick up hitchhikers’ conditioning. Even more so than men. I don’t ask women driving alone for rides at all anymore.” (Sorry to the few guardian angel ladies who have approached me themselves and saved my ass on several occasions. To the rest of you, the ladies, and the gents while we’re at it, who were driving directly to my destination with an empty car and told me “No, sorry, I can’t, for security reasons,” a hearty fuck you to you all.)
I think of Carrot saying she’s not afraid of strangers. Strangers are just people. People that you know, and that I haven’t met yet. I think of parents telling children to never talk to strangers. When exactly does someone stop being a stranger and start being “someone you know”?
There are people I see every day who I know less than I know some of the people I’ve ridden with. Trapped in a car together with nothing but bad radio and hours of highway in front of you, you talk, and most people don’t bother pretending when they know they’ll never see you again.
If I can tell you where someone is from, what they do, where they stand in politics, what they ate for dinner last night, their favorite drugs to take when they were younger, and what their children’s favorite animals are, are they still complete strangers? The people I see every day but don’t know so well are just as likely to be secret violent rapist psychos as the driver who has picked up a hitch hiker. They’re also just as likely to be really interesting, caring people who wouldn’t harm a fly, let along some stranger they’ve picked up at a gas station.
There is one question they never ask: “What’s your name?” Perhaps it’s an unspoken taboo. Perhaps its just more interesting to hear about what someone does with their time than to memorize which few syllables they answer to when you know you’re only going to know each other for a few hours anyway. Exactly two drivers have asked me what my name is, and it made me nervous—like in those fantasy novels where giving out your name means giving someone complete power over you.
That day had started with a trucker in blue overalls and a long blond pony tail hauling house-sized cement blocks. Followed by a quiet man on his way to the consulate in Bonn to pick up a visa for his boss so he could work in Iran the following week. And then the two punks who’d driven three hours just to pick up a couch.
“So where are you headed?” I’d given a vague direction when I’d approached them about a ride. If you ask drivers a question that they can say yes to, you’ve already got one foot in their car.
“Well, it’s kind of embarrassing, because it’s probably the most cliche hitchhiking destination of all time, but what the hell. Final destination: Amsterdam.”
We all chuckled, and they, assuming I was another pothead on a pilgrimage to the promised land, told me about the marijuana museum there. That in the first room there was an enormous bong that a museum employee would pack for you to smoke before you viewed the exhibits. A lot of people are drawn to Holland because of its lax drug laws, thus making it the cliche tourist destination that it is.
This gorilla, however, is drawn to Holland by the thought of seeing dear old friends and eating at squatted restaurants (the pirate bar! delicious! go there right now!). The drug laws are little more than an interesting footnote, and a pain in the ass when it comes to hitchhiking back across the border—drivers seem to assume a ragged vagabond like yourself must be carrying something that will be illegal in Germany and dish out plentiful helpings of the cold shoulder.
The trip took eight rides and eight hours, and at four o’clock I was standing outside of a metro station on the outskirts of A-dam, eyeballing the nyc-style electronic gates guarding the station entrance from those without tickets. The clear plastic doors were almost two meters high—no one but the most olympiadic of “schwarzfahrer”* could make it over the top. So I fed a machine 2,60 euros and it spat out a ticket, bringing my total travel costs, including the coffee I’d drank around lunchtime, from Mainz to Amsterdam to 4,60 euros. Europe on a shoestring, a thumb, and one cup of coffee.
*Literally “black rider.” Though I would prefer that this meant I had a nazgul to ride around on, the term refers to people who ride public transportation without a ticket.
the tyranny of an object, he thought. it doesn’t know i exist.
And on the first day, there was kipple, and there was nothing more that anyone could do about it.
It is the trash that creeps into abandoned buildings: empty bottles and rubble, crumpled magazines and cracked plastic buckets. It is the junk that creeps into your home and your drawers and the bottom of your purse. It is small plastic toys Made in China, and it is plastic bags. The corpses of lighters and faded blue shirts crumpled and dried into landscapes on cracked concrete. It is The Unexplainable Abandoned Single Shoe.
Kipple is the word that Philip K. Dick gave the concept in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but it has existed forever. Chaos, breaking through into the “order” of civilization. Kipple, chaos as expressed in the age of hyper-consumerism.
Every now and again I am overcome by it. I feel so out of control of everything that I become paralyzed by my relative helplessness. I feel listless and unmotivated. Why bother to do anything in the face of such a force? Then I sit, for a day or for a few, drooling in front of rented movies, looking into worlds where everything is orderly, scripted, with a neat beginning and ending. And I slowly remember how ugly those worlds can be. Plastic. Lacking nourishment.
So I remember to let the chaos back in, to accept it. To let go, just a little bit more, of the obsession with control and order we are all socialized with, in varying degrees. Accepting it, becoming it living with it and through it.
The natural* world is chaotic and unpredictable, and its chaos is beautiful, its chaos is life. Neatly planted fields of corn, city blocks, and painfully geometrical buildings are symptoms of the desire to enforce order, to make things neat and clean and easy to swallow. Which tends to mean sterile and covered-in-concrete. Which tends to result in a pattern of domination.
Civilization has been an epic conquest against the wild and chaotic. Clear-cut, pave, tame, and replace it all with a constructed order. The battle continues, but can never be won. Every building will one day crumble. Every sidewalk destroyed by the weeds that grow fat in the cracks. Every city will wilt back into desert or savanna or marsh or forest, taken back by the forces of chaos we will never completely defeat.
*I fucking hate using this term, but for a lack of a better one I’ll use it, as I’m sure you all more or less know that in saying this I am saying “everything,” and more specifically, things not covered in concrete. I hate the term because it acts as if everything that gets filed under nature these days—trees, and forests and non-human animals, for example—can be separated from everything that humans are up to. It’s all one big heap, and it would probably be really good for environmental policy if we stopped talking about these concepts as if they were different universes.
as it were
In the future, those yellow and white boards will be dark purple. In the past, they were my neighbor’s ceiling. They made an ugly, annoyingly cheerful ceiling, so when he got a job he decided to replace them. As he took them down, I put them right back up. Once something of ours finally lands in the trash, it deserves to be thrown away. Until then ceilings become walls become trim. Bookshelves become flower beds become chicken coops. Sheets become curtains become bridal gowns…
The other two sides (not shown because I’m currently pretending that they don’t exist) are still open, their corner beams mockingly rotten. The upside is, three packs of silicone and one 2 meter-long beam are looking like the last things I’m going to need to buy. The slower I am, the more time I’ve had to find what I need. The more I learn, the better I am at building solutions out of the scavenged materials I’ve dumpstered. I can no longer say I’ve never built anything, that I don’t even know how.
I can imagine being finished now, and the image becomes clearer and clearer every day. Every night before I go to sleep I lay in bed picturing the details–the insulated walls, the siding, the wood stove, the bookshelves, the fold-out table, the wicker chair. The same images, every night, again and again and again. On the nights when motivation is low I force myself to imagine it in even more detail: cutting and fitting Styrofoam into the walls, screwing each individual board onto the frame, filling the bookshelves book by book. I draw pictures, I write lists, again and again and again and again.
The red fold-out table! The windowsill for potted herbs to grow in the summer! The secret box under the floor to store the wood for heating! The bookshelf on wheels beneath the bed! The nightstand and the electrical sockets and the shelf for cassettes! The dark purple siding and the black trim!
Visualization is where I dip my ladle into the well. To people who would understand what I meant I might call it magic, but with the right vocabulary even a no-nonsense person would know what I meant, would know that it works and how it’s gotten me to this spot where I’m standing today. If you know what you want and if you concentrate on it, in every free minute, with every free brain cell, in excruciating detail, again and again, you’ll probably end up getting it. Go ahead, call me a stupid hippy, I don’t mind.
we intend to live in peace
Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness is a little collective that distributes lots of zines for free on the internet. Including Steampunk Magazine, The Super Happy Anarcho Fun Pages, and the ominously bizarre Yuppies With Spears. Gift economy, stories, political theory, hilarious comics! Go to their website and start reading already.
For those too lazy to make the long trip to another website, I will re-post one article that I found on their blog this morning, a delightful “letter” written by an anonymous someone or other. So get yer toast and yer coffee ready for a Sunday morning read:
We Intend to Live in Peace
To The Governments & People of Earth:
We claim the right to exist, and we will defend it.
We do not seek to overthrow anything. We do not seek to control anything. We merely wish to be left alone.
All we ever wanted was to live in peace with our friends and neighbors. For a long, long time we bore insults to our liberty; we took blows, we did what we could to avoid injury and we worked through the system to get the offenses to stop. That has now changed.
We no longer see any benefit in working through the world’s systems. At some point, working within a system becomes cowardly and intolerable; for many of us, that point has arrived. Regardless of the parties in power, their governments have continued to restrict, restrain and punish us. We hereby reject them all. We hereby withdraw from them all. We hold the ruling states of this world and all that appertains to them to be self-serving and opposed to humanity and our living homeworld.
We now withdraw our obedience and reclaim the right to strike back when struck. We will not initiate force, but we do reserve the right to answer it. We did not choose this – it was forced upon us.
==== To The Governments of Earth: ====
You are building cages for all that is beautiful about being alive. In the name of protection, you have intruded into all areas of human life, far exceeding the reach of any Caesar. You claim ultimate control of our persons and our decisions, of our travels and even our identities. You claim ownership of humanity far beyond the dreams of any Emperor of any previous era.
Understand clearly: We reject authority and we reject your legitimacy. We do not believe that you have any right to do the things you do. You have massive power, but no right to impose it upon us and no legitimacy. We have forsaken you. We are no longer your citizens or your subjects. Your systems are inherently toxic to life on Earth, even if all their operators are not.
We are not merely angry young people. We are fathers and mothers; aunts, uncles and grandparents; we are business owners and trusted employees; we are mechanics and engineers and farmers. We are nurses and accountants and students and executives.
We are on every continent.
This is not a burst of outrage; this is a sober declaration that we no longer accept unearned suffering as our role in life.
For long decades we sat quietly, hoping that things would turn around. We took no actions; we suffered along with everyone else. But after having our limits pushed back again and again, we have given up on your systems. If our fellow inhabitants of this planet wish to accept your rule, they are free to do so. We will not try to stop them. We, however, will no longer accept your constraints upon us.
From now on, when you hurt us, we will bite back. If you leave us alone we will leave you alone and you can continue to rule your subjects. We are happy to live quietly.
But if you come after us, there will be consequences. You caused this because of your fetish for control and power. The chief men and women among you are pathologically driven to control everyone and everything that moves upon this planet. You have made yourselves the judge of every human activity. No god-king of the ancient world ever had the power that your systems do.
You have created a world where only the neutered are safe and where only outlaws are free.
==== To The People of Earth: ====
We seek nothing from you. We do not want to rule you and we do not want to control you.
All we wish is to live on Earth in peace. As always, we will be helpful neighbors and generous acquaintances. We will remain honest business partners and trustworthy employees. We will continue to be loving parents and respectful children.
We will not, however, be sacrificial animals. We reject the idea that others have a right to our lives. We will not demand anything from you, and we will no longer acquiesce to any demands upon us. We have left that game. We reject all obligations to any person or organization beyond honesty, fair dealing and a respect for life.
We are not demanding that you agree with us. All we ask is that you do not try to stop us. Continue to play the game if you wish; we will not try to disrupt it. We have merely walked away from it.
We wish you peace.
==== To Those Who Will Condemn Us: ====
We will ignore you.
We would stand openly before all mankind if it were not suicidal. Perhaps some day we will have to accept slaughter for our crime of independence, but not yet.
Your criticism and your malice are much deeper than mere disagreements of strategy or philosophy. You do not oppose our philosophy, you oppose our existence. Our presence in the world means that your precious ideals are false. Some of you would rather kill us than face the loss of your ideologies, just as those like you have either hated or killed every sufficiently independent human.
You present yourselves to the world as compassionate, tolerant and enlightened, but we know that your smooth words are costumes. Oh yes, we know you, servant of the state; don’t forget, we were raised with you. We played with you in the schoolyard, we sat next to you in the classroom. Some of us studied at the same elite universities. We watched as you had your first tastes of power. We were the boys and girls standing next to you.
Some of us were your first victims. We are not fooled by your carefully crafted public image.
==== What We Believe ====
#1: Many humans resent the responsibilities that are implied by consciousness. We accept those responsibilities and we embrace consciousness. Rather than letting things happen to us (avoiding consciousness), we accept consciousness and choose to act in our own interest. We do not seek the refuge of blaming others, neither do we take refuge in crowds. We are willing to act on our personal judgment, and we are willing to accept the consequences thereof.
#2: We believe in negative rights for all: That all humans should be free to do whatever they wish, as long as they do not intrude upon others; that no man has a right to the life, liberty or personal property of another; that we oppose aggression, fraud and coercion.
#3: We do not believe that our way of life, or any other, will make life perfect or trouble-free. We expect crime and disagreements and ugliness, and we are prepared to deal with them. We do not seek a strongman to step in and solve problems for us. We agree to see to them ourselves.
#4: We believe in free and unhindered interaction. So long as interactions are voluntary and honest, no other party has a right to intervene – before, during or after.
#5: We believe that all individuals should keep their agreements.
#6: We believe that some humans are dangerous dysfunctional and that they must be faced and dealt with. We accept the fact that this is a difficult area of life.
#7: We believe that humans can self-organize effectively. We expect them to cooperate. We reject impositions of hierarchy and organization.
#8: We believe that all humans are to be held as equals in all matters regarding justice.
#9: We believe that the more a person cares about right and wrong, the more of a threat that person is perceived to be by governments.
#10: We believe that there are only two true classes of human beings: Those who wish to exercise power upon others – either directly or through intermediaries – and those who have no such desires.
#11: Large organizations and centralization are inherently anti-human. They must rely upon rules rather than principles, treating humans within the organization as obedient tools.
#12: We believe that the continuation of this inhuman society can only result in the extinction of the human race. Our rejection of this society is therefor an act of self-preservation.
==== Our Plans: ====
We are building our own society. We will supplement traditional tools with networking, cryptography, and anonymous messaging.
Our society will not be centrally controlled. It will rely solely on voluntary arrangements. We welcome others to join us. We are looking for people who are independent creators of life-affirming values, people who act more than talk, and people who re-affirm their place in this world in nuturing, self-fulfilling ways.
We will develop our own methods of dealing with injustice, built on the principles of negative rights, restitution, integrity and equal justice.
We do not forbid anyone from having one foot in each realm – ours and the old realm – although we demand that they do no damage to our realm. We are fully opposed to any use of our realm to facilitate crime in the old realm, such as the hiding of criminal proceeds.
We expect to be loudly condemned, libeled and slandered by the authorities of the old regime. We expect them to defend their power and their image of legitimacy with all means available to them. We expect that many gullible and servile people will believe these lies, at least at first.
We will consider traps laid for us to be criminal offences.
Any who wish to join us are encouraged to distribute this declaration, to act in furtherance of our new society, to voluntarily expand activities which will open up space for others to step away from the control of the current regime and to communicate and cooperate with other members of the new society.
Free, unashamed people cannot be ruled.
no sticks, just carrots
Fall is here. Because the wood for the wood stoves was delivered. Because I made the first soup of the season, and it had two pumpkins from my garden in it. Never mind that the leaves have started to fall, that the air is as crisp as their brown corpses beneath my feet.
Whenever The Red Planet is away, I become a dumpster diving machine. Bereft of nights cuddled together in bed, bereft of the temptation to entwine in a nest of blankets and pillows to watch children’s television shows on dvd, my gaze turns to food, and my feet to the pedals, catapulting me into the night.
2 500g bags o’ green beans
1 large cauliflower head
1 bunch pink roses
1 bunch celery
1 savoy cabbage
1 750g loaf sunflower seed bread
2 packages chives
1 package seedless red grapes
1 package mushrooms
5 2 KILO BAGS OF CARROTS
Please excuse the brevity of this blog. I’ve got to go make carrot juice.
in the land of the blind the dumpster diver is king
Last night there was a rainbow around the moon. Not a “I’m too drunk to see straight” rainbow or a “well, I guess the pills just started working” rainbow. A rainbow in a ring around the moon.
In the starless sky the moon was the only spotlight, a surreal plate of stage light among black clouds. And just around the plate was the rainbow, three colors, a rainbow ring around the fucking moon! I gaped. Top Hat walked by. “Can you see it too?” He could. We gaped together. I had just come home with an excellent dumpster bounty. A dumpster moon. I grinned.
The door to the dumpster cage at my favorite super market had been unlocked, and I had gone back a second time with a bigger bag, there was so much good-looking produce. And bread! Oh sweet bread! How I have longed for bread through the hot months when we avoid the dumpsters, the hot months when produce melts into dumpster juice within minutes of hitting the can! The time of the bottomless salad bowl with a side of garlic bread is here.
I decided to take a tally, and pictures, to astound myself, and you. Further evidence that the wastefulness of western “civilization” is way out of hand. But you already knew that.
Those pictures warm my heart as their contents fill my belly. The contents of the bread basket* totaled, if we had bought them, would have cost 29,76 euro. Want to come over for breakfast tomorrow? Otherwise the chickens will be one the ones enjoying the expensive organic rye bread.
*The baked goods (and their prices):
17 Kaiserbrötchen (3,40 euro)
2 Farmerbrötchen (1,30)
750 gram Bergbauernbrot (2,29)
750 g Vollkornbatzen (1,99)
500 g Bio Roggenbrot (1,99)
1 Kornquarkstange + 1 Finnenbrötchen (1,29)
750 g Roggenmisch-/Hausbrot (0,99)
3 500 g Bio Mehrkornbrot (1,99 each)
500 g Topfenkornbrot (2,29)
4 Toskanisches Brötchen (1,40)
2 Croissant (1,60)
2 Amerikaner (1,80)
2 Laugenbrötchen (1,20)
1 Mohnbrötchen (0,45)
**The veggies (and where they came from):
3 350g packages mushrooms (Germany)
2 500g packages organic green grapes (Italy)
1 yellow bell pepper
1/2 pineapple, plastic-wrapped
1 kilo yellow plums (Italy)
1 bag celery (Germany)
1 head cabbage
500g organic red plums
1 kilo peaches (Spain)
1/2 bag Brussel’s sprouts (Holland)
1 box organic alfalfa sprouts
2 packages pre-cut greek salad mix–olives, feta, onions, peppers (2,49 each)
150g field lettuce (Germany)
the quest stands upon the edge of a knife
Tuesday the pressure rose, not just coming from my own head anymore, but from the rising pressure in the air, the dark clouds, in the wind threatening rain.
I stared up for a long time, a hammer in the hand at my side, trying to read the sky. Would it rain and force me inside? Would it rain and ruin the new coat of stain? The sky here likes to bluff, and I still can’t accurately read its ticks. All day the sky threatened and teased. Better work faster, winter is coming, and fall. Soon it’ll be raining everyday. The wind jostled walnuts from the branches above. With each gust they hailed down around me, some cracking open on my work table as they fell. Better be ready, in a second you’re going to have to sprint to get all the power tools inside before they are soaked. But it didn’t rain.
When I finally got the rotten right corner beams out and replaced, everything started to move in fast forward. I insulated the rest of the right side, put up the rest of the sanded siding with Red, and put on another coat of protective stain, finishing just as it became too dark to see what I had done.
I had been just before the point of ultimate despair, towel throwing, ready to give up. I had woken up in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned, churning the darkest bits of pessimism back up to the surface. Building has drowned out time for writing, time for anything at all, except it’s own never-ending abyss of “to-do.” I’ll never finish before winter, I thought, what’s the point. I’ll just stay in bed until spring comes again, think about it again then.
I tried to visualize getting up in the morning and unpacking the tools. The images were heavy and terrible, loaded with dread. I pictured the scene again and again, I would get up, and I would violently rip the last piece of rotten beam out with my bare hands. I would cut the replacement beams to size, and put them in. I replayed the scene, forcing myself to visualize success not failure, until I fell asleep.
When I woke up I didn’t feel better, but I wrote a list: 1. Get birth certificate translated. 2. Replace corner beams.
At the end of the day I bought a Schwarzbier (black beer), took out a big red pencil, and crossed number two off, three times, four times, triumphant.