spanish pipedream

We’d taken a discount flight to Spain, which meant we’d landed at the discount airport. And discount airports always seem to be at least two hours away from the city they claim to be attached to. Barcelona my ass.

Our thumbs got us to a traffic circle got us on a whiskey truck heading to the city. There had been lewd gestures from cars, and we’d lost two hours somewhere beside that circle, but when we got dropped off right at the harbor it didn’t really matter. Barcelona! Barcelona Barcelona Barcelona! You handsome rake, you.

But when I tried to call the friend who lived nearby there was no answer. And no answer, and no answer, and still no answer after the tenth call and the third visit to the call shop. In between phone calls we napped on a wooden platform on the water, catching up on what we’d missed “sleeping” at an airport in Germany the night before. We needed a new plan. It would involved going back to the call shop, but this time when we left we had a list of squats in the area whose addresses we carefully plotted out on the free map we’d gotten from a tourist info stand. Backpacks slung over shoulders we stomped off into the heart of the city, eyeballing rooftops that we could sleep on if Plan B ended up turning into Plan C.

“I can’t bear the thought of talking to a stranger right now, do you think you could handle the talking?” I asked when we stood in front of the first front door. She could. She knocked on the door. A black-haired, black-clad man opened the door. She asked him if we could stay, explained. He said he needed to talk the rest of the residents first, to wait in the foyer while he asked. The house was all columns and dark wood and high ceilings atop intricate molding on stone walls. Gorgeous. He came back down the stairs and said the guest room was all ours.

We followed him up every flight of stairs to a room lined with mattresses and blankets and pillows folded neatly on each. We brushed our teeth and put on our pajamas and played truth or truth (the lazy man’s truth or dare) for the rest of the night, glad for squats and spontaneity and the trust and kindness of strangers, glad for the existence of a little pocket of culture where showing up at a strangers’ door and asking for a place to stay is considered normal behavior.

In the light of the morning the house seemed even more magnificent. We wandered downstairs, through the radical library, past the kitchen, and out the backdoor into warm sunlight, and we saw this:

It was the stuff my apocalyptic dreams are made of: half jungle, half garden, falling apart furniture scattered around places where people had sat drinking beer several nights before. And at the back of the garden, crumbling mosaic-tiled benches and walls, all the more elegant for their decay, beautiful in a way they never would have been in any other time or place.

Monday January 31st 2011, 5:01 pm 7 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,freegan,gorilla travel

this is a stick-up

While we’re on the subject of legality…

When I hear the phrase “armed robbery,” I imagine a group of masked bandits shouting their way out of bank with a bag full of bills in one hand and a semi-automatic rifle in the other. When I hear that someone has been convicted of armed robbery, I imagine that said person has been convicted of a pretty intense and ballsy crime. I imagine a person rolling into a store with pistols blazing, and then driving through a plate-glass window and on into the sunset. Well, that’s what I used to imagine anyway. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time a person I am acquainted with needed a pair of swimming goggles. Short on cash, said person went into a department store, took a pair of swimming goggles, and left without paying. A store detective noticed this, called the police, and followed the goggle thief through town. When the police arrived and confronted this person, they found the swimming goggles, as well as a Leatherman and a can of pepper spray. Although said person had not, say, threatened store employees with the pepper spray or the pocket knife or the tiny eye-glass screwdriver in the pocket knife (and although it is completely legal to carry pepper spray—as many people who have to walk through scary places at night do—and Leathermans), the police charged and convicted him/her of armed robbery.

Armed robbery sounds intense. Maybe even a little scary. Stealing a pair of goggles, on the other hand, just sounds kind of silly, and calling it armed robbery sounds even sillier. You spend your whole life thinking that people with convictions like armed robbery attached to their name have committed some sort of dramatic, life-endangering (to others) crime, and then you find out that the same charge is attached to piddley little things like shoplifting and POW suddenly the whole world turns upside down and you realize that all this talk about “justice” through the courst system is just so many more lines from the script of the theater of the absurd.

Whether or not you find theft of any magnitude a crime worthy of contempt, I think cases like this are an excellent reminder to think critically, whether of the court system that groups goggle theives and bank robbers in the same category or the body of media that uses the vocabulary of the latter without acknowledging (or explaining) the potential spectrum of meaning behind their jargon.

Photo (cc) flickr user shelmac

Friday January 28th 2011, 7:30 am 6 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies

legality in a dumpster

Kid in dumpster with mountain of food. Head of broccoli demands, “What are you doing in here?” Kid counters, “What are YOU doing in here?”

Burdens lift and scarcity is averted when the mountains of trash produced by this insane society become supplies and sustenance. Everything that sucks about capitalism is inverted when the dumpster diver scores. Poverty becomes abundance. Loss becomes gain. Despair becomes hope.

-CrimethInc’s “Recipes for Disaster”

Dumpster diving can be magical. It can divert trash from landfills. It can feed people who are poor and hungry. It can teach you a whole lot about scavenging and cooking (as you confront the question “what the hell am I going to do with 25 enormous bell peppers?”), about the place where you live and the values that a money economy insists we assume. And yet tragically—though predictably in the context—dumpster diving also tends to be considered illegal.

Lucky for most dumpster divers, little ever comes of the occasional confrontation with employees, apartment-building residents, security, and police. But on the odd occasion you could realistically find yourself facing a charge of theft or, depending on whether or not you had to climb something to get at the dumpster you emptied last week, trespassing or breaking and entering. You might remember the report on Indy Media about a Belgian dumpster diver arrested in the act or the tale of how I came across one of the people I live with being hassled by police for checking out the university trash corral after hours.

Some folks I talked to at a concert once told me this story about their confrontation with the law while dumpster diving, and as it illustrates the absurdity of dumpster diving’s illegal status quite nicely, I wanted to share it with you. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

So. Once upon a dumpster, some folks who we’ll call John, Jake, Jingelheimer, and Schmidt were driving around late one night in search of produce-filled dumpsters. One grocery store that they visited kept their dumpsters in a walled-in corral. Jingelheimer climbed over and started filling boxes with produce and handing them over the wall to her waiting companions. The car trunk was filling up, and feeling a bit euphoric, they weren’t quiet at all. A neighbor heard the commotion and called the police.

When the police arrived on the scene they didn’t find Jingelheimer—who had cleverly turned herself into an umbrella and remained invisible to the police’s flashlight-aided eyes—but they searched the car and checked the IDs of everyone else. When someone in the group pointed out the absurdity of the situation (how is taking something somebody didn’t want anymore anyway theft?), one of the police officers replied (I am not even kidding): “That’s not the point. If I took a shit in my garden, and you came in and stole my shit, it would still be theft.” And, in so doing, illustrated the dumpster divers’ point even more thoroughly than they.

The story, I am glad to tell you, ends happily. The police let the group and the vegetables go on their way, the grocery store never followed up on the case, and they all lived happily ever after in houses built of bell peppers. Unfortunately however, the controversy continues, and dumpster diving remains in the position of being “illegal but mostly tolerated.” But what is the greater crime? To remove and eat food from the trash, or to have put them in the trash in the first place?

Thursday January 27th 2011, 7:30 am 2 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,food,freegan

dumpster find of the week: trash bikes

This week’s dumpster find of the week is from a British fellow who works as an X-ray tech by day, but says that his true calling is “shade tree engineer.” His dumpster find comes from the trash of Virginia:

Here’s what he said about the picture: “Intrigued by your post about the tall bike, I hatched a plan to make one. Very cheaply. So these bikes were trash, found in a dumpster (admittedly not all in the same one). I was amazed how many dumpsters had bikes in them. My wife asked me to stop after bike number nine. 2 or 3 will be in the tall bike, the rest I’ll give away after a good clean and a squirt of oil.” His motto, he says, is “I can make that. Sure I could buy one, but where’s the fun in that?”

Dumpstered bikes are a double bonus. Not only can you avoid the whole money economy by getting them for free, you can then avoid the fossil-fuel industry when you ride them instead of taking the car.

Submissions for “dumpster find of the week”

I’m always looking for more submissions for dumpster show and tell. If you’ve got some sweet dumpster booty you’d like to share, then take some pictures and send ‘em to nicolettekyle (at) yahoo (dot) com with some words about where and how you found the stuff in the picture and what you’re going to do with it. And for safety’s sake, better put “dumpster find of the week” in the subject line.

Tell me a little bit about yourself if you’d like (I’ll keep things as anonymous or blatant as you indicate I should). Tell me about your first time diving, your favorite dumpster, or anything else that seems appropriate at the time. I’ll take your emails and your photos and turn them into a blog post that will show up here, one each Wednesday until one of us stops caring.

Submitting your photos and words to me indicates that you have legal rights to said pictures and words, and that you are giving me legal permission to post your pictures and quote your words on Click Clack Gorilla. If you don’t hear back from me within a week, it means the internet ate your mail and you should try again.

So in the words of the esteemed Dolly Freed: “It’s feasible. It’s easy. It can be done. It should be done. Do it.” Even if we all live too far apart to share our dumpster finds with each other, we can at least ogle each other’s pictures on the internet.

Wednesday January 26th 2011, 7:30 am 3 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,freegan

of oranges in a dumpster

Our latest adventure led us to oranges. Bag after bag after bag after bag. Sure, each one had one or two moldy little orbs. But each bag also had ten in the perfect condition to fill our mouths with vitamin C and cover our chins in juice.

I was slitting open net bags and separating the moldy from the edible when the Carpenter came into the kitchen. Slice open a bag, toss the squishy, moldy oranges into the compost bucket, toss the good ones into a plastic crate. I take a perverse joy in sorting dumpster booty, in adding bucket after bucket to the compost pile/chicken buffet, in placing produce in pretty, color-coded patterns. You could call me neurotic, and you’d be right. But beyong the obsessive compulsive side of my love of sorting dumpstered vegetables is a deep respect and love for the food that keeps me alive.

The Carpenter grabbed a bag of oranges and ripped it open as I tossed another orange into the compost bucket. “You know, you can’t put oranges on the compost.”

This was news to me. Disturbing news. Oranges, he said, were apparently treated so heavily with pesticides that they were technically considered Sondermüll (special trash that needs to be disposed of at a drop off point and cannot be mixed with the regular trash). I’ve scoured the internet for further information, but have come up empty handed, so if you’ve read about this as well, pretty please tell us all about it in the comments.

Despite the gaping hole in Google results on the subject, I don’t doubt the the Carpenter did hear or read about this somewhere, and I don’t doubt that oranges are sprayed with obscene amounts of pesticides. And contemplating the crate of oranges that I later turned into round after round of apple-orange-pepper-cucumber juice, I have to ask myself this: if our fruit is so poisonous that it is considered appropriately placed right between electronic equipment and rusty cans of turpentine and paint on the trash scale, do we really want to eat them?

Tuesday January 25th 2011, 7:30 am 11 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,food,freegan

recycling for the apocalypse: bike wheel chandelier

This is sort of weird and personal, but here goes: it gives me a rush to see commercial bric-a-brac in a down and dirty survival context. For example, when I see cardboard shacks in the Mexican colonias, I always feel a little rush when I see the word “Pringles,” or “THIS SIDE UP,” or “IBM.” It’s so…post apocalyptic. So that shelving unit in the chicken coop always gave me a small charge, and I get a rush from burning wooden crates with produce trademarks stamped on the ends.

You see, commercial products are constantly hyped, creating little “recognition centers” in our heads. So, when you walk down a busy street or store aisle familiar products seem to leap out at you screaming “Buy me!” But seeing the product in a ‘no bull’ context is like mental anti-toxin. You see the product leap out at you and think, “Our hogs like that!” You begin to feel layer upon layer of artificiality stripped away as you peer into dumpsters and use what you find.

-John Hoffman, “The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving”

Crazy guerrilla capitalist that he is, I have to give it to John Hoffman on this one. I, too, like to see objects re-used in bizarre ways, love the “we’re living amongst the ruins” aesthetic of building with “trash.” And so today I present to you the bike wheel chandelier that graces one of our Wagenplatz kitchens.

For those of you who find this hideous (and I can’t say I would have built it with quite the same trappings myself), just remember the basic principle behind building something like this is super easy, infinitely flexible, and completely free.

goodbye lazy dumpster

I have to admit it: I haven’t been dumpster diving for food in a long time. Winter showed up and signaled the end of my bike riding season. (I need a bike for hauling stuff with mountain bike tires. My tiny racing bike wheels suck on snow and ice.) Cold weather meant fewer folks willing to come along for the ride. And regular employment means I can buy food at the farmer’s market or sometimes even (gasp! can she really mean it?!!) inside of a grocery store.

Nope, I’m not 100% freegan. In fact, I’d have to say I’m not 100% anything. And as far as I’m concerned any dogma so strict it requires some sort of 100% participation or that speaks of “purity” is a dogma on its way to join the Third Reich.

Shopping at the grocery store means a short walk to a tiny store about the size of my wagon, with a man behind the counter who puts aside his older produce for the Beard and I. Once his lettuce starts getting wilty or he realizes he’s not going to be able to sell all of the mushrooms before they go bad, he packs them up in a bundle for us. He can’t stand to throw vegetables away that are still edible, he tells me as he hands me a garbage bag full of lettuce or a pile of Turkish flat breads. He knows we don’t have a lot of money, and as the Beard and I both occasionally cook for the vokü* in the house at the front of our Wagenplatz (aka shop to feed 20-40 people), we’re also good customers. I like him, and I like supporting his shop, just as I like supporting the farmer’s who have given me sack after sack of their unsellables over the years.

My capitalistic tendencies aside, I was getting to feeling a bit silly for not having dipped my ladle into the coffers of dumpster abundance in so long. Then the dumpster gods sent me six packages of raclette cheese via the dorm trash corral across the street, and I knew it was time. I gave myself a good hard kick in the ass, Peanut and I biked off into the sunset, and the booty was as glorious as ever.

The vegetables pictured above were about 1/3 of the bounty (there were more than a few meals between our dumpster run and this photograph). We also hauled home two enormous bags of baked goods that turned out to be full of coffee grounds and potting soil that employees had dumped into the bags to ruin the spoil. Other bits turned into the most delicious stuffed peppers I have ever wrapped my lips around and a pitcher of fresh-pressed juice that turned everyone who drank it into a superhero for ten minutes.

Mmmm. Stuffed peppers. All hail the mighty dumpster!

A juicer is a key tool for dumpster divers. Makes using up all the booty before it turns much more manageable. I got mine from e-bay for 3 Euros. Adding cucumber or bell peppers to the mix gives juices a nice fresh kick.

*Vokü is short for Volksküche or “people’s kitchen.” It’s a bit like Food Not Bombs, except it takes place indoors at a frequency determined by those available to cook for it. Vegan and vegetarian meals are sold for about 2 euros a plate. It you’re traveling through Germany on a tight budget, I’d recommend seeking them out. If you’re flat broke you can usually get a free meal in exchange for helping out.

Friday January 21st 2011, 7:30 am 1 Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,food,freegan

bring on the heat

I wrap cold fingers around a hot cup of tea in an attempt to convince myself that I don’t really need to light the wood stove in the kitchen. The weather has been warm for too long; I no longer regard the return of the cold with joyful acceptance, but weariness and a mild dread born of wood stove-lighting laziness. A few weeks of weather like the beginning of spring and I’m already going soft.

Finally, I admit to myself that I have at least a half day’s worth of internet work ahead of me (I only get a signal in the kitchen wagon), and light the stove with wood we scavenged from the construction site across the street last week. The foreman had been happy to give it to us. “Now we won’t have to move them around any more,” he told the Beard happily when he’d asked if we could have all the pallets that were laying around.

In teams of two we’d carried pallets across the street, piling them into skeletal towers next to the circle saw. They were too heavy to lift onto the saw table alone, so one person chain sawed them into smaller pieces while a second used the circle saw to hack them down to oven size. It never ceases to amaze me that you can even dumpster dive heat.

It’s dumpster find of the week and recycling for the apocalypse all in one. If you heat your home with wood, there is no end to free scraps you can get a hold of. Construction sites are full of pallets and old bits of lumber that make great kindling and foremen who’d be glad to have a smaller trash bill. After a big storm look around to see if any big trees have gone down on property whose owners would be happy to have you haul them away. And storm or no storm, people are constantly removing trees from their property, and most of them don’t have a need for the wood. Store it in yer pretty little shed for 2-3 years, and you’ll have all the free heating material you can handle.

Thursday January 20th 2011, 7:30 am 3 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,diy,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,freegan,wagenplatz

dumpster find of the week: wooden wine crates

One of my favorite things to find in the trash—and lucky for me I find them there quite often—are old wooden wine crates. Sturdy and pretty in that rustic country living sort of way that I like so much, wooden wine crates are one of those things that I find so versatile and useful that every time I discover one I find myself wondering why so many people throw them away. Then again, I wonder that about just about everything I find in the trash.

I’ve gotten them from the Sperrmuell, I’ve found them in the wood bin at the university’s big trash corral, I’ve found them next to apartment dumpsters, and they just keep coming.

My obsession with wine-crate furniture started when I was still living the apartment life. Having moved across the ocean by plane, I didn’t come to Germany with any furniture. The trash quickly provided everything I needed for that first apartment, including lots of wine crates that I used to create shelves like the ones that I have in my wagon today (above). That pretty sideboard behind the crate shelf is also from the trash, by the way, and you should see the beautiful companion peice to it that a friend of mine has in her wagon. Those were a refreshing change to the endless stream of Ikea furniture I usually find.

Wine-crate floor shelves can also, of course, very easily become wall shelves. All you have to do is screw them to the wall, as you can see here in the middle of this photo of our kitchen wagon. Sometimes the gap between the boards on what then becomes the bottom bit of shelf is problematic if you want to store small things on them, so I’ll usually use a piece of thin board from fruit crates or a piece of cardboard to close them up.

There is a lot of space under my bed for storage, but I don’t really like crawling around under there to get at it. So I put everything that lives down there on wheels so that I can grab and pull without the whole involved crawling and lifting process. This is one of them. It’s also handy, me being a laptop user, to have my printer on wheels to pull over to whatever spot I’m working from at the time.

Then we have the old standby: wine crates make excellent storage containers for wood and kindling and tools in Frankenshed. If it turns out that I need another crate inside, I just wipe one down and bring it in.

Last but not least, my favorite part about wooden furniture and accouterments: if worse comes to worse, if you lose your job and the entire industrial system collapses and you’re feeling a bit cold, you can always just saw ’em up and heat your house with ‘em.

What have you found in the trash recently?

I’m looking for more submissions for dumpster show and tell. Take a look in your local dumpster. Take a look around your place. Then take some pictures of your dumpster booty, and send ‘em to nicolettekyle (at) yahoo (dot) com with some words about where and how you found the stuff in the picture and what you’re going to do with it. And for safety’s sake, better put “dumpster find of the week” in the subject line.

Tell me a little bit about yourself if you’d like (I’ll keep things as anonymous or blatant as you indicate I should). Tell me about your first time diving, your favorite dumpster, or anything else that seems appropriate at the time. I’ll take your emails and your photos and turn them into a blog post that will show up here, one each Wednesday until one of us stops caring.

Submitting your photos and words to me indicates that you have legal rights to said pictures and words, and that you are giving me legal permission to post your pictures and quote your words on Click Clack Gorilla. If you don’t hear back from me within a week, it means the internet ate your mail and you should try again.

So in the words of the esteemed Dolly Freed: “It’s feasible. It’s easy. It can be done. It should be done. Do it.” Go dumpster diving and come home to your favorite gorillas to brag about it.

Wednesday January 19th 2011, 7:30 am Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,freegan

recycling for the apocalypse: sheds

The identity of an object is malleable.  When we throw an item away because it has outlived it’s function, we are often sending resources to an early death out of a lack of creativity—or sometimes because of a lack of space in which we can store old objects for the time when the form of their reincarnation becomes clear. Old clothing that could have been remade or used to patch other worn clothing, a table top that could become a wall (or firewood), or tins that you screw to the ceiling to protect it from the heat of the candles you use to light the room are just a few examples.

If you don’t have a big shed to store all the bits of furniture and building supplies you find in the trash, you’re not going to have them when you wake up one morning and realize you’d like to build a house/chicken coop/shed on a budget of nothing.  In this light hoarding isn’t always a negative character trait (have you seen that show?  jeebus).  In this light decluttering isn’t always the road to “living simply.”  But those are subjects for another day, one that includes many, many more words than I care to type right now.  Today I just want to ogle some sheds.

I heart sheds.  I heart sheds because I’m a hoarder.  And I’m a hoarder because I forage (in the garbage, in the woods, etc).  When you forage (as opposed to purchasing things at your local chain store), stock piling to some extent is essential.  Whereas you can walk into the building supply store anytime and find exactly what you need, you usually can’t just walk outside and find all the (dry) firewood and food you need (especially during the winter), let alone the building supplies you’d like (or clothes, or kitchen gadgets, etc).  There’s nothing that doesn’t end up in the trash eventually, but it doesn’t always land there on your schedule.  So when you find lumber or antique glass door handles or a bag full of screws, you need to take them, and you need to have a place to store them until the right project (or a neighbor in need) comes along.  And that’s where a good shed comes in handy. That is not to say that I think it’s a good idea to buy a McMansion so you can save everything that crosses your path. But there is a time and a place for hoarding.

This first shed was built out of an ancient pick-up truck cap and some scrap wood.  For the longest time I thought that the roof was an old row boat, but when I went to photograph it for this post, I realized I had been mistaken.  But using an old boat as a shed roof is just as inspired, just as gorgeously apocalyptic.  (I am such a sucker for the apocalyptic aesthetic.)  There’s one laying next to our living room trailer.  If only I hadn’t already built Frankenshed.

When I moved my wagon to its current resting place, my first project was to build a set of sheds for my firewood.  As luck would have it, several days before we had hauled two trailer loads of old wooden crates (tossed by the university anthropology department—one still contained a strange-looking tooth) back from the university trash corral.  I took them apart, gathered some pallets together, and Frankenshed was born:

Frankenshed’s pretty behind. Hats off to the anthro department, who I hope didn’t toss these crates in favor of things made of plastic.

The left shed from the inside.

While I’m on the subject of sheds, take a look at a few of the other variations some of my neighbors have constructed:

The big bit of Styrofoam on the top of this wood shed was carved out of a dumpster find as a birthday present for one of my neighbors. Behold, the sausage recliner!

Note the blue shopping cart chariot in front of this close-walled number. An easy-to-move chair for summer sitting, complete with cup holder, room for a case of beer, and a sunbrella that’s currently hibernating inside.

Behind this tiny shed you can see one of our outdoor showers.

This construction uses a metal container (the office of a plumbing company) as its back wall.

A very simple wood storage construction made of a scavenged metal shelving unit and an old car hood.

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