Saturday, September 30, 2006

Urban Camping

I had told myself that it would "be like camping, but with a better shelter than a tent and just for a little while. I'm sure I'll have that electricity hooked up soon enough anyway". Yea 2 weeks later, we'll see about that. It has been good, but just for incite here's some of the everyday issues I have gotten myself into with my urban camping situation.

When you do not have electricity it seems like civilization is all around you, but you are still a neanderthall waiting for that extra, power. (I'm joking) Things like oh say, meals and more importantly morning coffee plus keeping anything preserved so having ice around are an issue. Keeping my phone charged, my battery charger and inverter charged too, so I can have some music and company, plus my indispensable chordless drill batteries charged are all new considerations lately and additions on my To-DO list. Keeping warm has not been too much of an issue, yet.

I like hanging out on my porch and seeing when the neighbors are coming and going, but reading by candlelight is a drag. When it get's dark is when I have to shift into my camping mode most. Reading for example only serves to make me tired, so at night I have begun to incessantly rewrite my to do list and make notes about the particulars about each item on the list mostly as an exercise to do with myself in the evenings. This I can manage by candlelight.

It is important when in this situation to stay focused and motivated to move on and not settle on just getting by, so I have been trying to deal with my compliance with DTE regulations, but when they leave notes like the most recent that reads "Meter can is required to be no more than 42 inches to the center of meter can, please correct" you have to wonder if you will ever understand what they mean and want from you beside a monthly payment. We just want hot things and light. Needless to say I have been eating out and hanging out quite a bit outside of the Upsidedownhouse lately.

Electricity is something I have lived without before, aside from camping. Travelling in Hawaii I stayed in a treehouse part of the time and the rest made a shelter out of wood, tarps and corrugated metal. Just like now I still had access here and there though. Once I lived out of my car in SanFrancisco, mostly around Golden Gate Park and travelling throughout the country too gave me a taste of roughing it. I've slept in ditches out under the stars and with all the mosquitoes too and it's moments like those that you realized how ridiculous anti-civilization theorists can get. Fuck that, I want to be able to play my records! I also ate food out of the garbage that others might have munched on and really appreciated the opportunites I did have to the airwaves, even if I were limited to a few moments on my car stereo that could not be driven because I was out of gas and money, but the point is we take a lot for granted when our experiences are limited and right now things for me are not hard.

Maybe folks do need to know what it would be like to live on the streets before they really get involved with control of their own lives and helping others, rather than throw money at some huge institution (who in all likelihood has some people making a lot of money from their efforts to "help the homeless")and go on with their own "business"? I'm not going to ever be a part of making a decision like that though. A poet friend of mine who is a little crazy actually told me last week that he wishes he could flip the script on the rich and that would be their chance to rehabilitate, they would have to live on the street. Yea, I think that was a movie once, but he would not have seen it.

Let me be clear. I'm not even slightly making some pretense that my going without is akin to what people who legitamately have no electricity go through to get ready for their day or tuck the kids in for bed at night, but I think even with electricity all around me; it not at the flick of a switch is something most of the people I know should experience, often.

I think I wanted to go through this to better inform my relationship to such a huge system of power before I just plug in. I desire a more meaningful and instructive experience when I am officically connected into it. And when I am on the grid my plan is to immediately begin to try and get off of relying on it. I am already working on that too, with a bike powered alternator and battery system, which I think I have mentioned before and plans for a greenhouse and solar set up later on down the road.

Remember when a huge portion of the country including Detroit was blacked-out? That was a great day for me. Everyone hanging around outside, meeting new neighbors, bonfires and cooking on grills, but it is important to keep in mind how it effects our hospitals, the elderly, transportation and all those who are shocked when they do not have what they so rely on, or shocked because they do not have the experience of mutual aid in commuities they are apart of and feel abandoned or have to rely on the state. I'm sure the people of Cuba who experience roling blackouts often totally feel the same. yea right. Just to mention with the benefits of community support so too come responibilites. Yea, yea. going off on tangents and whatever. I can do that here though.

Did I mention I do not have any plumbing either. I am often filling up water jugs for cleaning up, and buy 3 gallons of water at a time for drinking (which I conserve) from a local "canteen". It's amazing how much water I use to wash a spoon. Relieving myself is another issue and mostly involves my yard and taking advantage of using others facilities when I am out. In the end I do not plan on pissing and shitting in clean drinking water coming from a toilet and want to combine my food scraps with my own wastes and make compost. Our current system is about as wasteful as it gets, and I guess that goes as much for the war as the sewers.

I realize I am mostly relying on others who are hooked up to the water and electrical system, and my closest friends, but I sleep there every night and wonder if I smell too often. Washing down (with soap) using cold water has been a harrowing experience and again really makes you appreciate things like a hot shower when you have been working with cement, caulk, dirt and who knows what all day. They are real experiences, but they are also what they are and that is to say mine is not an extreme situation.

I don't feel like I have truly done justice to this issue with this piece, but I need to get back to the house and do some work. So, I look foward to soon have recorded music for my listening pleasures at the flick of a switch, but still I am a little weary of which way is better and I think already I look forward to the city of Detroit going camping someday. I don't see why we can not dream of things like that cooperating and sharing all that we bring to the situation, material objects and ideas alike, when we live in such a nightmare.

To the next industrial revolution, maybe this time we will get it right and remember to consider nature in our plans an designs, otherwise it will no doubt deal with us in a way equally as inconsiderate.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Victory Dance(s)

I have to admit that I came home just before 10 on Friday night and danced with my own shadow, cast onto what will be my living room ceiling some day, in all its cracked and recently scraped glory. While I lit the candles and turned on a radio powered by a battery inverter, borrowed from a friend, I noticed the large shadow overhead right about the time that “cold sweat” by James Brown came over our airwaves by way of CJAM in Windsor. It was my first Friday night in my house and it felt like the moment called for a victory dance.

I discovered some time ago that if you want to be free there are two very essential things you must have, one is music and the other is the willingness to move your body and dance. Without them all the struggle and hardships we try to overcome will no doubt get the best of you. And as it turns out Friday night was not the only night I had the opportunity to dance this weekend, thanks to the Trumbull.

Earlier on Friday I went to hear the host of Democracy Now, Amy Goodman speak at WSU. I’ll admit something else now too, I am a radio news addict. Most of it I would agree with Amy in that it trades challenging and critical news for access to those with power and a position, (“the access of/to evil”) to then pretty much promote government propaganda, but I still want to hear what is being put out there. The program she hosts stands far apart from all that. Democracy Now is celebrating 10 years of radical journalism, “radical” in that it actually does the job it should, covering news from ground zero and not allowing everyday people’s voices to be silenced. So, I paid my $12 dollars and got to hear some stories that I don’t find in the corporate media too often, if ever.

I listen to the show on DET almost daily at 11 am and sometimes I think she is my anti-hero, because of the hope she offers by taking such an uncompromising stand. After the talk I stood by the door and must have repeated this phrase, with minor variations, “Hi, check out a copy of Critical Moment, it’s free” at least 40 times. Handing out papers is not my favorite thing to do, but I’m sure I handed out over 80 papers and most of those people had never even heard of it, even though they were at an event that was all about supporting independent local media. If you don’t read Critical Moment you should. I will have to put up a link to it here now having said that.

I saved the last paper for Amy Goodman who was busy singing autographs, so I just slipped one under a bouquet on the table with a little note on it for her, expressing my appreciation. I was feeling pretty good by the time I got home to my dark and damp house that I just spent my first week in, hence the victory dance. It was back to work last week. Took a new job too, which I have to get started on right away preparing and repairing 30 windows on an old apartment building and then installing new storms. I bid it for $450 only because they are really amazing people and if I could I would do it for free or a work trade with them I certainly would. They just adopted 5 kids who were their neighbors after their Mom died, who they had also been helping care for. I’ve been there, not the adopting kids part, but caring for someone in your community who is definitely going to die soon, and that is both a wonderful and very painful experience, so these folks are pretty much saints in my book. Yea, that was an aside, but they deserve it.

Last week, as I am fond of saying I did my least favorite thing when it comes to doing what I do, roofing. It’s brutal and no fun. Actually it is fun sometimes. I like the view, and the climbing, sometimes, but it is dangerous and really hard work. The upside was I got some practice laying bricks and flashing the base of a chimney this week, which is something I have to do on the upsidedown house soon, at least I hope it’s soon, otherwise there will be a wood stove just sitting in my house not being used. Aside from working and getting supplies, plus just settling into my new life, I did get some gardening in and made time to hang out this week too. The shelves are up, and the space I am staying in looks nice. All for now, off to see THE WAR TAPES, there will be more soon, maybe even some interesting video that was shot at the workday yesterday by my wonderful best friend and lover.

Monday, September 18, 2006

the High Life

There's too much to try and account all in one post, but since I am not likely to have the time to write about all that has happened, here's a shoutout to this past week and weekend, then my real post.

It was an emotional affair. What would the Jesus say? "Goddamn". Not in that offensive to Christians sorta way, but more like "holy fuck and wow!". Long talks about love, walks in our city fields, friends and community stepping up, surprises about the farm that really should not have been a surprise, the innocence and frailty of my nephew missing those who love him but are not around often enough, one very grand sunset that seemed to say 'this way to heaven-here is the hole in the atmosphere to escape the earth', and of course moving out of my old place and the goodbyes.

Moved a piano along with all my stuff into one room of the house, and it went pretty well I have to say. Took about 10 people 4 hours and cost me $50 for the 14 ft. truck, and $40 for lunch for some of the helpers and it was so worth it. Upon completion, at first it was like "what are all my things doing in this place?" You have to just take my word for it, the UpsideDownHouse is still very much in, let's just say a raw state and not really a space most people would want to move a piano into yet. That's where I am though, and to some extent who I am, and it's already coming together as far as the possibility of even finding some of my things. Tonight will be my first night staying there.

Still no electricity, running water, heat, back door, etc etc. , but there is a space carved out in the middle of the room where all my things are that doesn't seem all that bad and I am making progress on the room upstairs I am claiming as mine. It's looking pretty fucking awesome too. More on that later when I have pictures developed. Now for the real post.

It was the "High Life". Not a time for drug indulgences, but feeling elevated, if not often elated. It came to me that it really does feel like the end of an era for me, and that is how I think I want to recall that time.

From the nook in my attic room.

I watch kids on bikes who I imagine battle the midnight homeless and crack junkies in the trash for control of the alley culture. I can rarely pick out what they are saying in Spanish even though they are loud and a little too confident. I can also look down into my wild garden now and smirk, then as I have done for so many years look up at the "Organic Grdening for the Revolution" stencil I recut and sprayed onto a board out there; sorta proud to have brought this back to Detroit by way of a Nashville artist. But as the day fades with the sun setting behind my view of Holy Redeemer, having swept and cleared out my things best I can from this dusty attic in SouthWest, regardless of how wonderful it is, it is also time to say goodbye.

I spent over a year cleaning up, organizing and constructing this space. I actually had peace here, but it was never mine.

This is the 12th time I have moved in my adult life. When I moved back home I initially lived on 2nd at Canfield and it was not really gentrified yet, then a brief stay at 4th street as my girlfriend and I went through the final death throes of our terminal relationship, then after crashing in the theatre at the Trumbullplex I became a full fledged member with my own room and everything! It was during that time that I was got reaquainted with the city, and by the time I moved back home (for real), to SW Detroit, just a few blocks from where I was born and both sides of my family all had lived as I grew up, I definitely felt The D in my blood.

When two of us from the Plex moved out, we were fortunate to to have a new place to rent in a second flr. flat that was handed down to activists over the years with cheap rent and a landlord that really just didn't want to be bothered too much, which was fine with most of us because we really did not want a land lord. Soon I got antsy though in my finished room with just two of us and the cats and began to desire more space, more people and cheaper rent and I only had to look up.

The attic was completely out of the question for most, but I set my sites on it and said "fuck it". At first you could not even get to it, with the stairwell covered in serious amounts of debris, which was behind a door which was behind a curtain which was on the backl porch which was riciculously heaped up with stuff not really relevant enought to make it into the house from the previous tenants. I had a vision though, $100 a month rent.

The attic was storage for many activists treasures and junk for probably over 25 years, and when I got there it was also covered in serious amounts of fine black dust and bits of the old wood shingle roof that had all been dumped down into the attic when the roof was redone, rather than haul it away. Day by day and week after week I sorted and bagged and got rid of all the nastiness and began to see how this might actually happen, some day. It took so long I can not even remember for sure, but I know it took over a year. Now it's a large attic seperated in two by some walls I built and a door. One side has been drywalled and finished and the other (mine)the drywall is up but not yet mudded, sanded and painted.

It was a lot of work and I reused an incredible amount of odd materials that have been laying around up there and in the basement for who knows how many years, and of course there were many people who helped, especially the roomates, but for the most part it was a beast that I conquered, and I can see now that I was preparing for the UpsideDownHouse.

Why, or was it really worth it you might ask? Well, I did pay myself with minor treasures uncovered. A First pressing this, a Japanese print that, old Soviet propaganda poster, but I made sure not to get greedy and pillage the whole collection. I'm sure afterall that the owner (who still believes just two people live there)and her deceased mother would not appreciate that all too much, but I feel like if I had not done something, more than what I had found that was already destroyed would have been. So, yes I did reward myself beyond $100/mo. rent for a few years that allowed me to travel for months on end, and hell yea it was worth it.

Yea, in the end I worked my ass off there and I probably made out like a bandit with forgotten tools and cool little things that left with me, but I think most would sooner toss that all out in our cheap buy it new CONsumer CULTure rather than save it and see the beauty that is still present within, even if it's a little water damaged or bent.

I made a nice space up there and I left it better than it was before, plus I planted some trees, made new gardens, befriended the old and young, sane and probably insane and continued to grow while there.

Thinking back now,I learned I want to always try to prepare for new challenges by way of the challenges I currently choose to take on. I am sad to leave this-I gave my heart over to this place, it's how i did it. It was not merely a space in a house with a history, in a hood I felt connected to by proximity to my families old stomping grounds, but despite the fact we did not all own the house I feel like I still made it into a home. And that is what matters the most now.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

move day approaching

Lately I have been repairing windows and only had to buy a few panes, the rest I found. The guys at Deb's Linoleum on the SW side, which I frequent often, were happy to try and cut the used glass for me for no charge. It is necessary to bar my windows on the first floor right now, even though the neighbors are including me in their efforts to look out for one another, so I put the call out there and a friend came through with 4 security bars. It's so nice to take those boards off the windows. If anyone has anymore security bars I can have let me know.

So, what else? Oh yea, there's this guy named ()*!&#$%&^()(%@%$!!! and if you see him anywhere near a roof, have him arrested. I have been trying to fix the areas he did not finish from a couple of years ago or I don't know, maybe he thought he was finished, but damn he really gives new definition to the phrase winging it. Actually, that would have been cool if he intentionally was thinking of trying to put wings on the roof. Yea, looks like a few years ago it was recovered (resheeted) with OSB plywood and reshingled. I think it will last a year or two, but I am not done with the repairs yet, so who knows what else I will uncover that might change my mind. Dropped $100 on roofing supplies, but reused a bunch of shingles for my ridge, and found nails. I might eventually try to experiment with cutting up old tires as shingles since there are so many around the UpsideDownHouse. It's not my idea and has been tried before.

The house has been coming along, still no electricity, but made another appointment for DTE to come out, hopefully soon. Regardless, it's time for me to make my move, so this Saturday I am getting a U-Haul and moving I don't know how many boxes of books and papers, lots of vinyl records, a couch, quite a bit of art and supplies, and of course lots more tools, and a piano into this shell of a house and just store it all in one room while I hole up in an upstairs room that is in decent shape.

We'll see how much I can get done this week, but if you are in the area and reading this, AND if you like pizza and beer, please come help me this Saturday Sept 16th at 10 am. The more hands will make this virtually painless, maybe even a good time in the end!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

end of the world as we know it

Waiting for the storm, resting.

My thoughts are running down and over onto each other like the large drops running down a windshield during a downpour, creating that melting effect. The world outside drips into a hallucinogenic puddle. There's nothing for keeping everything whole, together and protected, except windshield wipers that only provide for an instance of seperation and clarity. In those instances I try to write what I see, even if it's just a trickle that comes out onto a page.

What I really like about being outside with the thunder rumbles is waiting to feel it. It moves into me and shakes me momentarily. It's not a pure moment with the traffic, planes, birds, squirrels and crickets heard (and of course the city's ever present sounds of sirens), but I still feel the thunder. I anticipate a good one to grab me soon. I have never smoked cigarettes, but this is what I imagine it's like and good for; that aniticipation and moment of having something pleasing inside you.

Pulling up after work I notice that gallon of paint behind me on the floor board came open and flooded my back seat. I decided in that instance I would like a beer, but first I must at least begin to deal with my most recent catastrophe. Luckily it only destroyed my plans drawn out on poster sized paper for a pedal powered washing machine, compost toilet and fun stuff like that, great. The can was sitting on top of all that folded up paper. After scooping it out with the drawings the rest will just leave a stain and a smell to go with the smell of the 1/2 gallon of goat's milk I spilled a few days ago that I've been driving around with.

I go up up to the counter afterwards, 6 pack in hand, perhaps a look on my face somewhere between haggard and grim, and my man at the counter looks me in the eye and I swear begins to sing, "it's the end of the world as we know it." I move on from the paint incident and begin to seriously contemplate this.

It's a catchy enough song, but why? Why not? Could just be in his head? Can he tell there's something up with me from my face and what I have in hand? The daily (certain to be depresing)radio news is not on in the store to bring this on...

As I begin to walk, I think maybe it is because he sells alcohol, cigarettes, pop and lottery tickets all day long, day after day, in a city in a country of people who do the same thing. Could that have something to do with what makes him sing aloud songs like this? But, I realize finally that the end of the world as we know it should not necessarily conjure up negative feelings, like my visualizing total annhilation. I think maybe for me it is more important that it means visualizing change. Point. It starts by changing our minds, like how we react to something and what we think about it and then after that, there's the work to do.

I think many North Americans change their minds a lot, especially through drug use. No, really I think it's healthy to consider changing the reasons why we do drink and smoke so much, and where the end of the world as we know it might just fit in to all that. To be honest about it there's no doubt a very negative reason behind all this ending the world as we know it business. The list of what is wrong is as long as wide and it feels petty to just list off a few things on the list like genocide, the continued existence of slavery, prisons, torture, sexual assault, depression. But, with racism, sexism, and stuff like that in the air we breathe, a country I live in starting wars throughout it's existence, and so much more on this list (we won't really go into) still we must not only try to get by, but struggle against what we do know is on the list, and FOR something with hope and vision, otherwise all of humanity is doomed. I truly believe we are at that point.

While I'm at it I might as well mention I think it is inevitable for us to fail as long as we seperate ourselves from what is good for the earth, but to the extent our species perishes, or the least fortunate and priveleged are assured to lead miserable lives and deaths...that I do not believe is inevitable.

In taking on this house and with so many more days to look forward to, of cuts and eyes full of dirt, on the edges of what I can get away with, wondering what I am doing to my body and if it is worth it, this place I am trying to create along with so many other things- I hope I can offer up something informative, hopeful, inspiring and if not, humorous.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Now U can post comments

I have a tech guy. He is also a friend who I have been paying to help me on my house. Before we did not know that there is a setting to allow for all to post comments. It seemed odd that you had to first create a blog to comment on this blog, silly us, what did we know. Now that is figured out feel free to respond, and I particularly would like to hear from anyone who has embarked on a similar type of adventure and if in the end, or at any point along the way they wished they had done something very differently. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

how i got my garbage can

About a week ago I noticed that there are 4 city garbage cans sitting on the curb about 4 blocks from the UpsidedownHouse in front of an abandoned lot, amidst piles of garbage, and it doesn't look like anyone is coming for them anytime soon. I think, "those things are $40 new, there's my can just sitting there waiting for me to take it to it's new home".

I swing by one day to see if they're still there and there's a few guys burning some of the trash around, or from within, the cans in a small white plastic bucket. Why? If they are trying to burn what's in them to make it easier to take them away that makes no sense, better to just light a bonfire right there on the side of the road. And it's not cold out.

After work a few days ago I swing by the house to check in and drop some things off and remember about my garbage can waiting for me, so I hop in the car and sure enough they are all still there. This is the first time I actually got out and now I can see that they have a bunch of fairly heavy auto junk in them. That's not really so surprising since for about a mile radius of where I stood the area is filled with tires, bumpers from stripped cars, car parts and all sorts of items that people are dumping around here.

My first attempt to get it back to the house was just plain stupid. I'm standing on the back bumper of my beat down Honda trying to pull it up to me and then over the hatch and get on the roof of the car. No way. I'm falling over and it's falling down, and no one is in sight, thankfully. Next try. I know, I'll go up the front and just wheel it up over the front bumper, onto the hood and onto the top of the car. No problem, so I'm in, take off and the can goes flying off the back, spilling out trash. Mind you, this is after a long day of work.

Yea, I should have thought about what happens when you leave something on your car and take off. Take 3. I grab a strap out of my collection of ropes, bungies and stuff out of the car and hurriedly wrap it around the handle after it's back up top. Still no one around yet, you gotta love Detroit in moments like this for how empty it is at times. SO, I slam one end of the strap into the car door after I get in and put my left hand on one of the wheels and somehow with my right get it into the first couple of gears. Finally we're off and finallly there are some cars behind me and in front at the stop sign ahead. SO, what am I paying attention to at this point. The heavy can on top of the car barely held in place with my hand, the stop sign or the cars waiting at it?

I stop too suddenly and the can goes flying forward plus swinging out, because it is attached to a strap on my side of the car. In the next instance it comes flying back in an almost graceful arc right back into the side of my car. I'm still looking at the guys in the truck and notice the whole time they just stared. Not even a laugh.

I get out to survey the damage. More oily trash on the ground, and I've had enough. The cars go by, I go home and decide to walk back for the can. It was only a few blocks by that time and now I have a garbage can and saved $40. I think I should paint it like the earth, or maybe like my Red Honda, what do you think?