business in the front, party in the back
When I cut off my dreads, there were pieces of black fuzz still stuck to the tips. Things I had been carrying around with me for the last year.
I picked it out with oily fingers, bit by bit, and washed it hard, marveling at the way the back of my head feels, now that I can really grab a hold of it. I am lighter.
Now I find myself with the exact same haircut I had last year at this time, just before the short hair and the pink lion’s mane. (“Business in the front, party in the back!”) And yet everything is different.
This time last year I had no wagon of my own, had no job in Frankfurt, had no job at all. I wasn’t married, the band had never played a concert, and I had no idea when I would see America again.
It was warm there was beer and malt to be drunk and there were oranges to be dumpstered. There still are.
people of westerwald!
This week I brought a copy of the (almost mastered) Black Diamond Express Train to Hell demo CD along for the driver with whom I get to and from work twice a week.
He slid it into the car stereo and slide guitar and banjo and cajon started coming out of the speakers. (On car radios the bass just completely disappears on this mix.) Then the singing starts, and Driver Man says, “Is that your voice?” He sounds astonished.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I tell him.
“Wow, I never would have guessed it,” he tells me back.
“Why is that exactly?” I ask him. This is not the first time someone has said this to me. Usually it’s “You don’t look like you can sing like that!” To which I always ask how exactly people who sing look? I am still awaiting some sort of reply. Driver Man had one for me.
“Well, you hear music like this, and you immediately think of a woman with long, curly blond hair wearing a cowboy hat and holding a guitar. And you don’t look like that at all.” I had to laugh. No, no I don’t.
All that is to say that we are playing another show this weekend, one that fell onto our laps all of a sudden. It is in Elkenroth in Westerwald, at Cafe Kunterbunt, the ex-bakery house whose address I don’t know. It’s a small town, so I assume that if you live there, you probably already know what I’m talking about. And if you don’t live there, you can probably just follow the music to the hoard of out-of-place-looking punks.
all hail ye, mighty eyjafjallajokull
I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you: for the last week Eyjafjallajokull the Friendly Icelandic Volcano has been spewing 14-kilometer columns of ash into the air. The ash created clouds that in turn smoked all of Europe’s airplanes right out of the sky.
The skies were blue, not tic-tac-toed with plane-exhaust lines, they were empty, and they were quiet. And I secretly wished it would go on forever, despite the fun and exciting plans it would displace, wished that it would smoke on and on and on until the entire airline industry went out of business.
Imagine wars with no bomber planes! Imagine the skies with no jumbo jets! Imagine all the communities surrounding airports that would finally have peace and quiet! Imagine the reduction in CO2 emissions! Imagine taking three-week-long boat trips in order to get to other continents!
Instead, the flying bans were lifted yesterday and the sky is once again streaked with puffy white lines. I was disappointed. This probably makes me some sort of Luddite.
Then a delightfully apocalyptic article on a website called The Times Online bolstered my end-time reverie with the headline “This is just the beginning, warn scientists.”
Apparently Eyjafjallajokull has a history of, once it gets started spewing smoke, doing so intermittently for several years afterward. Not to mention the way the eruptions have upset the neighboring volcano Katla.
Katla’s eruptions, according to the article, have “a far greater potential for disrupting travel and the climate.” Maybe there is still some small chance that the airplane industry will go down in a ball of volcanic flame, making the whole transition period that will come after the inevitable oil crash that much easier.
So if you live near Eyjafjallajokull, please keep an eye on the local virgin maidens. We can’t afford to have somebody pacifying the mountain with a sacrifice just when nature is so close to accomplishing what decades of activism have failed to achieve.
building project number three: stairs
Oh, how the spring air and the change of place has motivated me!
building a mini-porch and stairs (picture one)
I started with a heavy wooden bit (already assembled) that the guys at the plumbing company at the front of our property had put out with the trash.
Problem number one: only one angle bracket left from the bag full I’d found in the trash last summer, but need at least four. Solution number one: take apart some metal bits meant to use to hang long narrow flower pots from apartment balcony windows (those are the green things visible at the bottom of the picture). Found in on “big trash day” in the next neighborhood over.
head, shoulders, legs, and supports, legs and supports (picture two)
The wood I needed for the mini-terrace supports/legs came from a haul dumpster dived at the building supply store at the beginning of last fall. The thinner pieces of wood running diagonally from leg to leg (to make things a bit more stable) used to be a bed that, yes, also came from the trash.
Actually, everything I can see in the picture below is from the trash: the blue hand cart (upper middle), the wood behind it, the jigsaw lying on the ground (left), and technically speaking, the whole wagon itself…
trash genius (picture three)
I didn’t have anymore grommets, so I used my favorite free fallback: the beer cap. I pried nine of them out of the house garden where party-goers and vokü-eaters have tread hundreds of them into the dirt over the years.
Though it hardly makes me one, I always feel like a god damn genius when I can figure out a way to use something I already have to make something I need and/or to avoid purchasing something. Below is a close-up of one of the flower-pot holder angle-brackets with beer-cap grommets.
wherein i don’t actually bother figuring out how to build stairs and find myself suddenly finished (picture four)
Confession: I totally cheated on building the stairs. I already had these little wooden stairs (a gift from a friend who didn’t need them anymore). They were wobbly and falling apart, so I reinforced them and screwed them onto the porch, and wa-LA. A mini-porch is born, and it has passed the three-jump test.
Next up in the building project series: removing the ceiling boards/insulating the ceiling, painting the walls, sanding down the floor, and fucking moving in!!!! The end is neigh. Or if not the end, the part where I can finally put my stuff between these four walls.
victory is (briefly) mine
Some little steps in the building process seem so huge that they catapult me into motion for days, sometimes weeks afterward.
Yesterday we took one of those steps. I finished securing that last pesky corner beam, and we moved my wagon.
It didn’t have far to go, but the amount of effort that it took to move the fucking thing certainly made it feel like it because I had to be difficult and insist that we turn the wagon around so that my door would be facing pretty green bushes (instead of a wood shed and the scrap metal heap) once it was parked in its new spot.
After much pulling (with the tractor), pushing (with our hands), and the almost-hitting-of-trees and other wagons, we deiced to drive the wagon out onto the street to turn it around at the next intersection. A student on his way to class stopped to take a picture. It is an incredibly bizarre sight, watching your house roll down the road.
After the move (taken from the same spot):
This morning I spent two hours jacking the wagon up and then propping it up on logs and stones that I collected from around the platz. Now even the water scale says that everything is even. The back tires hang half a foot from the ground, and the precarious corners (the ones where I replaced beams and probably generally fucked up the support system of the entire structure) are supported on two massive logs that I hope will prevent any further disaster.
Now the weather is tank-top perfect, and I am going to spend the afternoon finishing up the garden beds and fixing my bike.
dumpster find of the season
As last fall was on its way out, the bulbs that bore these tulips were on their way into the grocery store dumpster. And I wonder, had they made it to the dump, would they have sprouted there among the garbage? I like to imagine they would have, although the reality is probably that the winter’s trash would have encased them deep in a humid, plastic tomb.
fame, glory, etc
Yesterday there was an article about me in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on the first page of the Rhein-Main section. Probably already available in your neighbor’s trash, should you like to take a look.
I don’t think I would like being famous very much. I can barely handle the disturbingly enormous picture of me that accompanies the article. Goodbye any very small chance at anonymity I still had left. Whoops.
people of cologne! people of mühlheim (am ruhr)!
We are coming to your city to play for you! Lalalalalalala!
Black Diamond Express Train to Hell
Pretty much everything that could possibly go wrong at the last minute did. Our dobro player is at home in bed with his face rotting off because of an infection that could blind him if he doesn’t take care of it. The CD artwork came back fucked and needed to be reinvented with stuff we already had around late last night. And the master still isn’t finished.
But we are coming to sing for you all the same! We have new scavenged, limited-edition art! We have a half-mastered CD that sounds pretty damn decent all the same! In a completely different way than expected, it will all work out and we will sing canons in the car and make up funny songs about ourselves on the ukulele.
So come see us play this weekend. The Cologne show is even free of charge.
PASTOR CASTOR FESTIVAL (vorstadtprinzessin, köln-kalk, friday, april 16, we’re playing at 9 pm sharp, festival starts at 6 pm)
AZ-MÜLLERHAUS (mühlheim, saturday, april 17, 19 o’CLOCK!)
the gorilla garden
My friend’s mother is an avid gardener and my patron saint of seeds. She filled bags with willow tree branches (put them in water and they will grow roots, she said), three kinds of mint, tarragon, loveage (in German liebstöckel or Maggikraut), strawberries, and garlic.
“This line of garden is 23 years old,” she told me as she shoveled plants into plastic bags. “I started planting it just before my son was born, and have saved a few cloves for replanting every year since.”
Then she started pulling out envelopes and old baby food jars filled with seeds, filling an entire box with extras—ten different kinds of basil, two hot chilies, six varieties of pumpkin, edible climbing flowers, black beans, and Lima beans—all the while giving me little growing tips.
“Garlic doesn’t like a lot of compost. And loveage and tarragon get along, but don’t grow well with others, so keep them separate. The mint you won’t be able to get rid of once you plant it.” I’d been to the garden store for spinach, savoy cabbage, tomatoes and sage marked “does not contain genetically modified material.” It was late March—no time like the present to plant.
That was how my gardening rituals began. Now I find myself in March again (can it really be April already??) planting again, thrilling at the thought of watching the tiny green sprouts emerge in the greenhouse.
I learned through trial and error mostly, and I killed a lot of plants in the process (wrong soil, too much sun, too little sun, etc, etc). But I managed to help a lot more grow, and in exchange they fed me things like zucchini and spinach. A zine called The Ghetto Garden also helped a lot, and I’ll gladly send you a copy of if you send me a few euros.
Last year at this time I promised a diy gardening guide ala gorilla. Better late then never, eh?
There are a lot of people with gardens and hoards of seeds. Find them and trade with them. Ask them as many questions as they can handle. Make sure to ask them about seed saving. Once you get your own plants going you can collect seeds at the end of each season and will never have to spend money on another seed packet for the rest of your life.
If you do buy some seeds, make sure that they aren’t genetically modified. There hasn’t been anywhere near enough research to prove to my satisfaction that gen-modified plants are safe for consumption. And seriously, what is the point? I don’t need a mutant super plant in my backyard. The ecosystem probably doesn’t need a mutant super plant either. Planting gen-modified seeds in your garden will help them spread, and spreading gen-modified plants around to reproduce is a stupid fucking idea.
That first year my neighbor bought potting soil, and I filled some little plastic containers with dirt and stuck a few seeds in each and put them in the greenhouse around March. Otherwise I would have had to wait for (or had all my plants killed by) the last frost that arrived sometime in the middle of April. You don’t need to bother with a greenhouse, but it gives your plants a nice head start on growing enormous.
I happen to have a little ancient greenhouse right next to my wagon. But if you do not, greenhouses are really easy to build. All you need is some sort of open-topped box (old bookshelves or boxes of any kind, for example) and an old window.
If you can’t find any old windows, consider using the glass from old picture frames, bits of Plexiglas, or clear plastic wrap. This isn’t a project that should cost you anything as these are all items readily available in other people’s trash.
Fill the box with dirt, and place the window on top of the box (make sure you have enough to cover the entire opening). If you want to get fancy you can affix the window onto the box with a hinge for easy watering-can access, but just setting the window on top of the box is fine. Old cabinets with glass doors are super easy to convert. Lay them on their backs, fill with dirt, plant seeds, close doors, water regularly, watch your seeds turn into little plants. The sun heats up the ground in the box, and the glass traps the heat. Frost plant massacre: averted.
Watching seeds become little plants and then, really, really big plants is still as magical as it was when you learned about it in the first grade. (We put plastic wrap windows in school-lunch milk cartons and then watched our seeds sprout under the earth through the window.) This year I used earth from the garden to plant in the greenhouse, and now there are a lot of weeds growing along side my seedlings. I hope when the time comes I’ll be able to tell the difference between them.
If you’re really lucky, you won’t need to lift a finger to have a bed ready—although it’s always really good for your plants to mix some fresh compost into the soil each season—and you can plant your garden directly in the ground. But maybe you live somewhere with poor soil, previous locations of gas stations, toxic dumping grounds, Superfund sites, etc. (They are closer than you think. I grew up right next to a Superfund toxic waste site. I like to imagine that this has resulted in some sort of superpower mutation that I just haven’t noticed yet. But, as usual, the joke’s probably on me.)
Because of the gas station that once graced our land, I planted in boxes the first year. These I got from several sources, pre-built. First a trip to a construction site down the street resulted in four 2×1.5 (that’s meters) wooden boxes. Then, in a frenzy of neurotic rearranging in our wagon, I replaced two large wooden bookshelves (which I’d lugged over from the university trash depot a few months before) with some other trash furniture, and now the black beans and peas are growing in their over-turned shelves. The last two beds I built when I was moving some wood leftover from the winter to a different shed and when I couldn’t move the last handful of logs by myself, I formed them into little squares, and filled them with dirt.
Some of your seeds will be hardy, and you’ll be able to plant them directly in the ground. But if you’re growing things that aren’t originally from your climate, you’ll need to start them in the greenhouse and move them outside once the danger of frost has past.
some random plant things i learned in the last year
Tomatoes are the princesses of the vegetable garden. Fuckers need tons of water and can’t even stand up by themselves (in the wild, they grew vine-like along the ground). They smell amazing, but this year I’ve decided not to grow so many of them because my stomach no longer likes their acidy innards.
Tomatoes originated in South America and were brought to Europe by one colonizer or another. And get this, the Latin name of tomato is lycopersicum, which means “wolf-peach.” Sexy.
Snails really like to eat cabbages of all sorts. To deal with the snails, I build beer traps. Bury a little bowl in the ground so that its rim is level with the earth. Fill the bowl with beer, preferably a flat floater than nobody wants to drink anymore. Snails love beer, and because they love beer, they will dive into your bowl and drown. Your bowl will look pretty gross after a few months of this, but your cabbages will remain whole.
You may think that you’ve killed all of the garlic from your friend’s mom’s special family heirloom strain. But if you leave all the wilted plants in the ground, each one will come back the following year, one for each clove of the garlic bulb that has been quietly waiting underground all winter.
Last year I grew savoy cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes, spinach, hot chilies, pumpkins, and a number of herbs. This year I’m leaving out the tomatoes and pumpkins almost entirely; repeating everything except the savoy cabbage; trying out cucumbers, chard, carrots, and leeks; and planting even more herbs (basil, parsley, and a bunch of other things I don’t know the names of in English). My new wagon spot will mean more room for garden beds, and there will even be a few flowers in the mix (marigolds to keep critters away, poppies, sunflowers, and some other pretty things I dumpstered/picked up seeds for at the flea market).
Do you have a garden? Do you have any helpful little plant tips? I sure could use them. Leave them in the comments.
john hoffman on dumpster diving and the underground economy
I don’t know that Hoffman’s economic analysis would hold up in a court of law, but I’d rather we dissembled those anyway. So here is a very long quote from The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving:
“It’s a great feeling to have somebody hand you CASH MONEY for an item you found in the trash. I rarely become as excited about my paycheck as I become over a few bucks from dumpster loot. It’s like a created that handful of cash.
“Best of all, when I receive cash it is untaxed. The underground economy triumphs again. Being ‘junk’ or ‘secondhand,’ the items are sold for less than merchandise at the retail outlet. This contributes to driving all prices down, and allows people on the economic edge to acquire otherwise unobtainable goods.
“Best of all, this allows people on the fringe of society to continue leading unconventional lives. When I sell an old pair of gym shoes for 50 cents, some mega-corporation suffers. The tax collecting retail whores suffer. The coercive tax-collecting apparatus suffers. And, perhaps, some radical has shoes to carry on his good works. I hope and will it to be so. …
“This is another reason I donate unsaleable items to my local Goodwill. I’m not interested in charity for pathetic parasites. I see organizations of this nature as radically subversive. Think about it: as long as anybody can obtain clothes for a buck and books for a dime, they can avoid working a dehumanizing slave job to obtain their basic needs. Thus, they pay less taxes. The government pushes harder to collect more taxes, radicalizing even more people. Far be it from me to provoke government coercion, even by a letter to the editor or a nod of consent. However, when I read that the government has committed yet another coercive act, I nod and say, ‘Good! Good!’ Things do not change until a general level of discontent is achieved.
“In our overly-regulated and coercive society, the majority of businesses are simply fronts for the government. When you shop at K-Mart, for example, you are supporting a multi-billion dollar entity that jumps through hoops for the government. If the government demanded all persons buying books show proper ID, K-Mart would slavishly obey the edict. Don’t pity the ‘poor businessman.’ He’s a whore for the government. You may as well be shopping at the IRS Store, Inc., instead of IGA, KFC, L.L. Bean, 7-11, whatever.”
I wish that corporations were still (were they ever?) whores for the government. Seems to be the other way around these days, eh? Hard to say which way ’round is worse.