dumpster find of the week: wheelbarrow, boots, squirrel

In an obvious move, Click Clack Gorilla begins collecting children’s things from the all-giving trash.

Wednesday August 31st 2011, 8:54 am 10 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,freegan

second blight, second nature

First the spaghetti squash went, shriveling into a ghastly shadow of their former selves, and the tomatoes quickly followed. Was it the rain? Insects? Mold? Despair? Suicide?

For anyone interested in helping me diagnose my plants, it happened like this: one morning I woke up and found all of the plants had wilted. There were brown blotches on the stems, and the fruits had turned hard and brown.

Just as the tomatoes went, I started reading Michael Pollan’s book about gardening: Second Nature. I wasn’t expecting it to be a page-turner—who expects any book about gardening to be a page turner?—but it really was. More than a gardening manual (though you might pick up a tip or two of you’re paying careful attention), it is a philosophical workbook for those interested in tending vegetables, lawn, or forest.

With a section devoted to each season, Pollan examines questions about morality, metaphor, and culture as they relate to gardening. Fascinating questions, and I dare say, rather important. Between the questions about the appropriate level of intervention in a garden (or a park or a preserved forest) and musings on the stories trees have to tell us is the notion that humans should stop considering themselves as opposed to nature, as outside of it. Because, as Pollan often points out, if we are to find a way to preserve human life on this planet, we are going to need to develop an entirely new relationship to it, to learn to see ourselves as part of it and it as a part of us.

Second Nature is a book of questions and interesting conversation starters. Even if—or perhaps especially because—his style of gardening is so different than mine. For example, in a discussion of weeds, Pollan’s list of adversaries mirrors almost exactly the list of plants I’d like to meet in the surrounding land. Though he at first attempts to let weeds live alongside what he’s planted, when he comes to the conclusion that it is his responsibility to get rid of the weeds (in order to enrich the lives of the plants he has planted) he does so without ever even briefly mentioning (noticing?) how useful the plants he’s decided to oust can be.

Later in the book, he plants an “ornamental herb garden” whose contents I see as anything but ornamental. And yet it does not seem to occur to him that he can actually use the plants whose appearance and scent so please him. But this is an intelligent man we are talking about, so maybe he (or his editor) just didn’t feel like talking about harvesting rosemary and sage.

But reading Second Nature remained exciting, providing me with questions to chew on while I’m ripping the corpses of my tomatoes and squash out of my own small garden bed and hope for what will inevitably be a completely different season next year.

This post was a part of the Garden Life Series at No Ordinary Homestead.

Monday August 29th 2011, 8:38 am 11 Comments
Filed under: books,conspiracies,daily life,wagenplatz

still lives

I once got into an argument with a newspaper photographer about the photos on my blog (and the photos he had taken for a newspaper article about me). He said my blog was a like a still life painting: no people, no movement, no life. He had a point there, though my choice to leave people out of it is because a lot of people don’t feel like having their faces plastered all over the internet. The same photographer also said that people who live in communes are just asking to be photographed and plastered all over the media, that that is part of why they do it. Ummm. Right. *Shakes head.* Irritating as the man was, I had to think of him as I was taking photos this morning.

It’s been a long minute since I’ve given you a view into some daily Wagenplatz life. And since I know that the Wagentplatz concept is the reason that many of you come a’visiting, I procured a few new still lives while the water for the dishes was heating up.


My kitchen set-up, the way it looks when I’m about to do the dishes. I can’t wait to get a stove that doesn’t run on electricity.


Very little has survived in my garden this year. But these flowers–whose name I have no idea how to spell in German, a fact that is preventing me from finding out the name in English for you, but they are edible flowers that taste a lot like horseradish–have flourished, hopping the garden fence and spreading out into the flower-bed-that-didn’t-sprout-even-though-we-planted-it-twice.


The outcast chicken. It was sick, so the other chickens (as chickens will do, beastly hierarchical beings that they are) started picking on it, pecking it at, not letting it into the coop at night, and not letting it anywhere near the food. It’s come to realize that humans are nicer than other chickens, and spends a lot of time creeping closer and closer to the inside of my trailer via my tiny veranda.


Some velvety purple flowers that appeared in the grass one day, and are slowly climbing my tallbike.


Five of the seven not-so-small anymore baby chickens. If only I had remembered to take photos of them while they were still small and cute. They have already become ornary and fond of fighting.

Friday August 26th 2011, 1:36 pm 9 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,wagenplatz

next stop: the forest kindergarten, the gingerbread house, and the squatted tennis court

I started the week with photos from a squatted school in Cologne where we played during the last Black Diamond tour. And today the frieght rolls on with more photos of some of the inspiring places where we rested our heads and sang our songs this June…

After a watermelon-filled, sunny breakfast in Cologne, we piled back into the bus and headed to Leipzig where we spent the night at the “Forest Kindergarten” where we played music for and with the presiding kittens the following morning.

The concept of a forest Kindergarten is that the kids spend as much time as possible outside. Brilliant. As were the two Bauwägen that they had on site:

The following day found us in Berlin at a Wagenplatz so green and quiet you’d never know you were in the country’s capital city. But, cough cough, I forget to take pictures of the place, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Did you know that there are about twenty-something Wagenplätze in Berlin? Fuck yeah.

On our way back West we spent a night at a campground very close to a town whose name translates into something like “Stupidville.” Oh how sad we were that Stupidville wasn’t quite on our way. Because we all really wanted to camp there and take hundreds of ridiculous photos. To this day we still wonder what the reisdents of Stupidville call themselves. Stupidians? Or just plain Stupid? The potential for horrific jokes is beautifully endless.

But alas! After a night’s pause we rocketed into Amsterdam, Holland for two performances: an afternoon live on the radio (as the tour progressed, I got worse and worse at remembering to take photos) at the public library and an evening at the Occii, an charming once-squatted alternative venue that has just been restored to look like the gingerbread house it apparently was in a past life:

After the show two French fellows making a documentary about independent politically radical music interviewed me, so maybe, just maybe, you will someday be able to see what I look like at 2 am, covered in sweat, and cracked out on the sugar cubes I was downing in order to stay awake.

Last (of the gigs in Holland) but the farthest from least was the squatted tennis court I refered to in last week’s post about pallet-built furniture. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: it was the kind of place that when you visit, immediately spawns fantasties about staying forever. Imagine the Waganplätze that you could build on nine (roughly, I didn’t count exactly) empty tennis courts!

But Wagenplatz culture never really took off in Holland the way it did in Germany, perhaps because of the ease of squatting actual houses (that is, until recently, when the government forced a squatting ban through that has been responsible for ending one beautiful house project after another since it went into effect). At the tennis court, there is just one Bauwagen (being stored there), a lived-in truck, a huge club house housing three people, and a whole lot of trees and birds you won’t find inside the city it skirts. Absolute fucking heaven. If it were any closer, I would have moved in already.

In the photos you can see the clubhouse, the greenhouse (which is part of what used to be the clubhouse cafeteria), and the truck-inhabitants and pallet-furniture-builders (swirled into anonmynity) enjoying the fruits of their labor.

all aboard the black diamond express train to hell

So I’ve decided not to tell you anymore stories about the Black Diamond tour because they all amount to the same thing: the shows were awesome, our hosts were gracious, we hung out with a ton of awesome folks, and I spent most of the time puking behind the van. So if it’s stories of shenanigans you want, you’ll have to ask someone else. Because the more I think about tour, the more I just kind of never ever want to tour again. We need to play a show during which I’m not nauseous real soon. Otherwise I will associate touring with feeling like roadkill for the rest of my life.

In place of tour stories, have a look at a few of the inspiring places where we played. Things started out normally enough: an intimate little show at a lovely pub called Brückenkopf in Hanau and a very large, complete-with-fog-machines-on-stage show at the Euro Folk Fest in Ingelheim. The food was amazing, the crowd was receptive, and a good time was had by all. In both places. The photo below is from Ingelheim where I laughed every time the fog machine came on. Seriously, a fog machine? Sheesh.

But the third night found us on more familiar ground: playing an early Sunday show at a squatted school in Cologne. Unfortunately, I’m a little foggy on the details, but I do know that it wasn’t squatted very long ago (one year-ish perhaps?), that there was a threatened eviction, and that the group involved in squatting came to some sort of agreement with the city to keep it for another six months. Where they currently are on that time line, I have no idea.

The sheer mass of the building is impressive, especially when you find enormous murals and paintings in almost every room, and contemplate how much work went into putting them there–and all without any certainty that this building will remain in the groups’ hands for much longer.

and eleven makes six

I suppose time has always moved at this pace, but with something to measure it by, it always appears to have sped up behind my back. The end of another school year, the celebration of another birthday, the day that marks your six-year anniversary in a country you landed in—in fact, stayed in—completely by accident.

I made the decision to come to Germany on a whim. Instead of moving to the Marshall Islands to teach English after graduating from college (as I occasionally envisioned in the hazy daydreams between thesis drafts), I took a 9-5 proofreading at a local custom publishing company. But once I had paid off my college loans, I started looking for jobs abroad once again. It was a complete coincidence, a joke really, that landed me an au pair in Frankfurt am Main. (You can, by the way, read all about the year I spent au pairing in an already very long, but still incomplete series by clicking here.)

Yet, six years later, here I am: still in Germany, living in a 60-year-old wooden caravan in an intentional community, the co-editor and writer of an ex-pat website, married, a bun in the oven, and no immediate prospect of returning to the States (as in, for good) on the horizon. Even if there are other dimensions out there, parallel universes where other Nikkis are living out the consequences of different strings of decisions, I am still glad to say that I get to live this one. It’s a good thing too—I never was very good at stomaching regret.

An anniversary of this kind is as good reason as any to get philosophical (and thanks to Resident on Earth’s post on the same that finally jump started me into actually writing all this down), and the aforementioned bun has—while making me think more concretely about the future than I might have been—been sending me into fits of nostalgia. Food nostalgia.

I’ve been craving boxed macaroni and cheese and Wheat Thins and my mother’s cooking. I would empty my entire bank account in order to be able to eat just one Doughboy from Esperanto’s in Saratoga. Or one of their veggie burritos with heaps of salsa from the little salsa bar next to the condiments. Or a dish from any of the other fine culinary establishments there (can you hear the drool dripping onto my keyboard?). These are all things I haven’t particularly thought about or missed in years—six years to be exact—but whose absence has been registering as a saddening presence during the past few weeks.

When people ask me what I miss about the United States, my first answer is always “the people.” Not the people in general, cod knows there are more than enough people in America who I can’t stand/scare the shit out of me, but specific people whose friendships I no longer get to enjoy in person. My second answer is always, “and the used book stores.” And that is sometimes followed closely by a “and the second hand shops.” (Oxfam can’t hold a candle to Goodwill and Salvation Army.) And now I can add, “the food.”

These aren’t things I dwell on much, and when the bun’s presence stops sending urgent cravings to my brain, you won’t find me philosophizing. But the cravings and the nostalgia have spurned me to contemplate the ways in which this “foreign” place has become so completely my home, and the ways in which I still attempt to straddle the two countries, perhaps unwilling to accept my permanence here completely. Have I truly arrived in this place?

Germany is great, but as I tell those who ask, “It’s as great an any other country, and it’s as shitty as any other country. I just happen to be very happy here right now, and I don’t have the energy to move.” But it is more than that. I’m in love with the public transportation. I like the bread. The food is cheap. The place I live is sweet. People don’t call me crazy for using a bicycle or my feet as forms of transportation. I can find common political ground with your average person-on-the-street. I enjoy speaking German. I have a bank account, a government insurance plan, and a library card. And there are castles, everywhere.

I can imagine moving back to America, though when I start to think about what that would entail—no public transport, even more fucked up laws, right wing insanity en mass, a shitty economy, and a far lower job market value as an English speaker—I fall into a panic. And it turns out there are only two habits that keep me straddling the two countries: I still have an American bank account (and credit card) and I buy all my books used on half.com or amazon.com and either pick them up or have my mom bring them over when she visits. The former is a convenience, and the latter a product of my obsession with reading and the extreme lack of interesting English-language material in the Mainz public library (“The libraries” should be added to that list of things I miss while we’re at it).

At first the thought bothered me. “Am I refusing to fully live in the present, in this place, because I refuse to find other avenues, expensive though they may be, to get a hold of books?” For several days I wasn’t sure. Then I wrote the thought down and found that the question seemed absurd on paper. Exploiting the option to get cheap, inspiring reading material does not me a nostalgia-infested expat make. No, now I am sure of it: I have arrived, though I may be the last one to have noticed.

Thursday August 18th 2011, 8:04 pm 8 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany

pallet construction projects

Pallets. They’re everywhere. In Germany at least, some of them have Pfand on them (that is, a deposit that you get back when you return them), but all the ones not tied up in Pfand end up in the trash. I’ve used them to build sheds, and I especially like to chop them up into kindling, but making really sweet furniture out of them never even occurred to me.

One of our stops on the Black Diamond tour was an absolutely delicious (gorgeous! let me stay here forever!) squatted tennis court. On the edge of the city but completely surrounded by trees and inhabited by birds, the inhabitants have fixed up the old clubhouse and made it into a pretty little home.

We played outside between an old Russian car (see photo above) and a bonfire whose smoke almost caused a calamity during Silver Dagger when I was certain that the pinnacle of my punk rock career had finally come and I would throw up on an audience–which I miraculously managed to avoid, by the way–to folks sitting on pallet furniture. I don’t know how exactly they were built, so I don’t have any specific how-tos for you, but I took a bunch of pictures hoping that, if any of you were interested in creating your own, you’d be able to figure it out from the visuals.

The morning following the show I watched a fellow work on putting together another bench-table set from across my regurgitations, but I admit it: I was too bleary to take in any of the construction details. That turned out to be one of the worst days in recent record (even though the show we played that evening with Blackbird Raum in Recklinghausen was pretty awesome), the day when I finally gave up on wearing a seat belt and rode the highways from the bed in the back of the van, coddling the pot in which I had decided to keep my head. You know, now that I think of it, that pretty much sums up the whole Black Diamond tour for me: shows awesome, Nikki puking behind the van. Maybe I don’t need to tell you any more tour stories after all…

But vomit aside, if any of you end up building something like this (or have already), share the pictures with us, purdy please with a pallet on top. I for one would love to see what else can be done with them.

This post was a part of Frugal Tuesday Tip at Learning the Frugal Life.

Monday August 15th 2011, 8:30 am 3 Comments
Filed under: black diamond express train to hell,conspiracies,diy,freegan

nutshell book reviews

I feel like this should be a time of getting things done. Of finishing things that I won’t have much time for once the Peanut arrives in 3-D. And instead I’m laying in bed, my creativity squashed by physical misery, watching the rain outside of the window like a cat. So the obvious task to tackle was the reading of all the books on my to-read shelf. And because I’m a book geek and because a number of you showed interest when I posted the last “year in books” post, I thought I’d give you a run down of the fodder keeping my synapses firing in these slow, rainy months. Perhaps you have read some of the same and can offer me your thoughts in the comments. Someone has to help me keep this brain from turning itself off completely. Otherwise both it and this blog are going to dissolve into mush.

My mission started with Volume Three of The Collected Short Stories of Philip K. Dick. Wow. Wow. Did I say “wow”? I’ve read almost all of Dick’s novels, but had, until very recently, never delved into his short stories. (For those of you unfamiliar with his work, he writes science fiction with a very critical-of-the-status-quo bent.) If you could say I admired him before, now you could say that I’ve sold him my soul. Short story writing was clearly his forte. And to think I’d ignored this part of his work until now! And all because I don’t like how, once I’ve finally fallen under the spell of a short story, it’s already over and generally avoid them. (This from a writer and reader of blogs. Ha!)

Simultaneously I attempted to read A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen, a task at which I failed miserably. I like Jensen’s work and agree with much of what he has to say, but I find that I currently cannot handle that which is devoid of hope. And if anything makes me feel hopeless it is reading about the downward spiral of environmental devastion being wrought on the world this very second, which is kind of what all of his books are about. I feel nauseaus often enough lately as it is.

Instead I’ve been delving into novels, the first significant pause in a long period of nonfiction-based reading and ode to my desire to escpae the dreary present. I’ve read Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas (captivating and full of interesting questions), listened to I, Robot by Isaac Asimov and Eragon by Christopher Poalini (Asimov was alright, Poalini was irritating), and re-read Coraline by Neil Gaimon (charmingly grotesque). I then moved on to Pippi Langstocking by Astrid Lindgren (fantastic anarchistic children’s books) and Native Son by Richard Wright (a captivating story and a disturbing reminder of how fucked up the racism of the mid 21st century was). And now? Now I am anxiously sitting by the mailbox, waiting for several boxes of books that will make the task of finishing the to-read shelf futile, but even more fun.

What are you reading?

Friday August 12th 2011, 8:34 am 6 Comments
Filed under: books,conspiracies

and then there were none

And just like that, my entire spaghetti squash crop died. About a month ago they were exhibiting a preference to world domination, climbing fences and strangling the beans. A few weeks ago I noticed that some of the leaves were dotted with a chalky white substance. And yesterday they were dead, every last plant, stalks brown and withered, a big hole in the garden where their overbearing vines had lain. The few leaves still visible are completely covered in chalky white.

So what the fuck? Did all the rain cause the leaves to mold? Has anyone else had squash plants go down to whitening leaves? And will the orphaned fruits rippen to edibility as well on my counter as they would have on the vine? Or will this be just another summer in Germany without my favorite squash? RIP spaghetti squash, RIP.

Thursday August 11th 2011, 11:20 am 7 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,freegan

dumpster find of the week: the knives

The best knives in my possession all came from somewhere in Asia (numbers one, two, and four from left to right), via the trash across the street. But the trash across the street has slowed down in recent months. Mabye it’s all the rain or all the heat (or the fact that the smell of hot rotting garbages makes me vomit and I’d rather avoid it than dig in it) or the fact that useful trash there was at its most abundant when people were moving out en mass so that rennovations on one of the student housing units could start. But in its hayday, I found all of these knives among the refuse there, and took them home to lovingly slice my vegetables. I especially enjoy how scary I look when holding the cleaver, though I have to admit, I feel pretty ridiculous slicing vegetables with it.

Still looking for reader submissions…

Found anything good in the trash…lately or ever? Send me a picture and a story (nicolettekyle AT yahoo DOT com), and I’ll share your glory with the rest of Click Clack Gorilla.

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Wednesday August 10th 2011, 9:04 am 4 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,dumpster finds,freegan