Urban Pioneering

ALL over the damn papers. The campus cops finally found out people were living in those ducts under Red Square. What else is news? Various drifters and no-goods having been termites in the walls of academe for decades. I originally met Brad, my personal hero of Urban Pioneering, when we were both living in those monster catacomb tunnels down by the Intramural Gym. Drafty, but elegant on a Speerian sort of scale. I was waiting for my GI bill to kick in; Brad was just hanging loose and selling speed to examcrammers. We hit it right off once he found out I knew Hunter Thompson and I found out he was fucking nuts.We didn’t have espresso machines and stereos like the big-time squatters they just rousted. “Materialist wimps,” Brad said when I showed him the story. “But at least not dialectic,” I replied. Brad developed an annoying neo-commie rap right after he found a beret with Che Guevara pin in a house we were burglarizing and started wearing it around. Now it’s just part of his doped-out rap. It could be worse: some people take that Mickey Maoist crap seriously.

My feeling is: hey, it’s the nineties–bums have stereos and cappuccino. Back in the seventies we just slept in the tunnels, snoozed in the beanbag chairs and played surrealistic mind games with the headphones of the learning labs in the pre-Odegard Undergrad Library, swiped chow from fraternities and jimmied snack machines, got “sponsored in” at the IMA for showers, and picked up clothing from sprung lockers and HUB lost and found raids. In the winter the tunnels got a little bitter, so we spent more time in the saunas or just hanging out in hot showers. Brad really bitched about that one, “You can tell you need a revolution when the poor need saunas and jacuzzis to keep warm.”

“Not to mention having to clothe their naked bodies with tawdry, expensive logo sportswear,” I’d add.

“Exactly. Only in Capitalist nightmares do people wear their labels on the outside.”

Over the next ten years I ended up living in a lot of places Brad located, but probably none as cool as his first find–we had to split the tunnels during a periodic purge by Kampus Kops and spent several weeks (summer weeks, thank God) housekeeping in the floats that support the Evergreen Point Bridge. I used my ASUW card to borrow a canoe from the Kayak Club to get us out there and back, and it wasn’t bad living in a forty food concrete cube with no neighbors except some homosapiensphobic Canada geese. Except the echoes. Brad immediately went Gregorian Buddhist and starting some deep sonorous chanting exercises that made the whole place throb. I retaliated by shoplifting a recorder and blues harp and filled in the neglected high end of the clef for him–special attention to the shrieky little notes up on the pipe when your fingers don’t quite seal. Home sweet “Eraserhead” soundtrack, baby.

We did the obligatory time sleeping in a van on over by what’s now Gasworks Park, and living in some corporate yacht in Meydenbauer until we got surprised by some VP or Public Relations who stumbled aboard drunk to have some relations with his secretary. We tented out in Discovery Park, but got discovered. Same way with the bivvy sacks in the Arboretum. It was too wet there, anyway. Nice azaleas, though.

But we stayed longest in the mini-storage. In fact, it was there that Brad met Laurel and wedding bells (Oh, okay, a mutually destructive episodic shack-up) broke up the team. We’d been doing fine in the six by 15 little micro-garage we’d prepaid for a year after a good run of luck counterfeiting Grateful Dead tickets. We had to be “home” by ten at night because they locked the place up and let dogs loose on the grounds, but Brad said the curfew was good for us, a little maternalistic character support. It took some getting used to, since we’d been sleeping days under I-5 down by the Rainier Brewery and staying up all night tweaking in bowling alleys.

Sometimes when I do too much speed I can still hear a pin drop. But it worked. We had some nice old couches to crash on, a little “closet” for our clothes, and nice dry blankets. Only you had to keep turning the light on, since it automatically went off after 30 minutes. Brad had rigged the naked bulb with a nice pink silk shade he clouted from a boutique. It was quiet and homey, sort of like a monastic cell.

Then along came Laurel. Where she slept was like, around. Back when she had her looks and a lot less of that lip-nibbling psycho tension. She was street people, really. You know, oh so free and pure. Except she had a secret vice–an old Lincoln Continental with reverse-opening back doors and a Pepto-Bismol pink paint job Earl Scheib would have gagged at. She kept it in a rented storage compartment, just took it out for a spin on weekends sometimes. I spotted her first, kicking back on our couch noodling on my four stringed guitars. Here comes this floating street waif, sort of Orphan Annie meets Stevie Nicks, wafting into the place, disappears into a unit. I couldn’t believe it when she backed out in the Continental. I told Brad about it, he checked her out, and it was instantly the love of two predestined destinies. Hearts entwined and heading straight down the tubes.

So I ended up moving out, leaving Brad and Laurel together in Chez U Stor It. They had quite a honeymoon, not at all spoiled by the watch dogs, who had padded around silently when us guys were in there, but were driven to frenzied barking by the sounds and odors of conjugality. Just a couple of kids fucking their brains out to the baying of distant wolves. I parted company with the Honeymooners, a combination of respect for the institution (even of those who needed to be institutionalized) and wearying of Laurel’s constant and increasingly demonstrative threats to kill me. Without me around, Brad became the designated killee and Laurel settled into her long-term hobbies of witchcraft and gaining weight at a rate truly startling for a speedfreak.

The last time I saw Brad he and Laurel had become pretty square, really settled down to the picket fence bit. Brad’s joints were acting up a bit (needed more and more joints to quell them–not a problem in his book) and Laurel had reached Heffalump proportions and the disposition of a Tasmanian devil with PMS, making Brad’s normal type lodgings difficult to manage. She wanted stability, like women do, and since they’d both been classified as totally unqualified to do anything more than breathe, thus becoming eligible for $900 a month Social Security benefits, they could afford luxury, especially since Brad eked it out by dealing a little quality weed. “Chronically self-underemployed” he called it.

Their latest lovenest is a motel on Aurora North, where they’ve worked out everything with management, including distribution networks with the pimps that keep the hotel hopping on weekends. They’ve got a giant bed, reinforced to hold Laurel’s ponderous and increasingly inert bulk, a complicated mass of extension cords to feed their hotplates and toaster ovens and electric wok, an icechest easily refillable from the machine in the hallway, and even a lawn. Well, a clump of grass growing in a little tray for their cat. I don’t know why cats want lawns, but they sell them in pet stores. Cable TV, HBO, and unlimited hot water and towels. A tiny fan blows suspicious smoke out through a vent. “Until the Revolution comes,” Brad mutters, “The huddled masses will only have maid service once a week.”

So Brad has what amounts to a kitchen. It may be rudimentary, but not as downright rude we used to have back in our swinging singles days: well I remember heating up soup on an upended steam iron, then using it to press a foil-wrapped sandwich until the cheese melted. Now we go shopping together, leaving Laurel to watch the shopping networks and babble fruitlessly over ghastly revenges. In the past this consisted mostly of dumpster diving, shoplifting, and purloining pastries from motel lobbies and coffee houses. Now there are food stamps (an advantage of having a real address) and the Food Bank.

The Food Bank is a slacker’s dream. And very efficient, as Brad notes. You could rip off money from a real bank, but you’d end up spending it on food. If they only had Dope Banks. But it’s a sweet deal–you just show up and walk through and they give you free food. Not bad, even if all the signs are in Russian because that’s who goes to food banks. Russians know from standing in line for food: it’s a kind of cultural heritage like wearing dashikis or pounding Tequila.

Mostly the Ruskies at food banks are older (and just off the boatski) though we also know a lot of the younger breed of formerly soviet troublemakers. My neighbors at my current digs in Burien (batching it up under a pickup canopy in the backyard of an affluent but totally decadent FM disk jockey you all know about in exchange for rent in the form of freebase meth) all spoke English with Schwarzenegger accents, and are a damned fun bunch. They monopolized stealing from the Goodwill donation bins, claiming and selling all the stuff and pummeling anybody else who tries to make free with it, and initiated as few other sweet scams I have to admire, such as stealing cars and stripping them, buying back the stripped carcass from the insurance auction, then re-assembling a perfectly legal car. We drunk some vodka with those yahoos and did a little business, though generally they were too scary and nuts to be reliable comrades in crime. Not even actual Comrades anymore, anyway, Brad pointed out.

Anyway, we would hit the foodbank for all those donated and post-dated goodies. One time they were handing out some thawed and refrozen Kahlua cream pies and big bars of rolled sushi some catering service had dumped. Brad looked at the haul and said, “Until the revolution the poor will have to live on Kahlua cheesecake and sushi.” And nobody can call us wimps for eating it either–we’ve paid our dues in the social parasite game. Those pilgrims under Red Square (now back to being homeless due to the influence of government and education, you’ll notice) aren’t wimps for having their music and espresso, either. They’re just the latest in a line of post-modern pioneers, carving a home out of the new American wilderness and more power to them.

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