The Circle Again
In the fall, I returned to San Francisco for the sixth time.
I had spent the previous seven months working nearly every hour of every day on a derelict sailboat that I had recently acquired -- pausing only to check the trash for leftover french fries at the Sea Breeze restaurant around lunch. I sanded, painted, and scraped. I fiberglassed, caulked, and poisoned myself with epoxy. I cursed dry-rot as my sworn enemy, and found a friend in fungus-hunting epoxy. I went to sleep with a sunburnt face and woke up with sawdust in my hair. I dangled from the tops of the masts, varnished relentlessly, and sewed with vigor. I tempted fate with propane, and was involved in at least one Kerosene siphoning incident gone wrong. I felt strong at the end of the day with engine grease on my hands and dirt on my face.
At the end of all that I took an impossible single-handed sailing trip to Mexico and back with no engine. There were times when I sailed through sunny days with bare feet and fair winds -- feeling lucky to be alive with the sun's hand on my face; times when I sailed into mean swell as cold as the night -- gripping the tiller with white knuckles and hoping against the overwhelming power of the ocean that I would once again be able to sigh relief with the morning light; and times when I floated for hours and hours in dead calm -- feeling totally isolated in this sad and lonely world.
On the way back up the California coast, I ran into winter storms that met me with 18 to 22ft swell. I dropped my anchor in Morro Bay, secured the boat as best I could, threw a few of my belongings in a backpack, and rowed to shore -- finally broken by the sea. I walked out to highway 1, stood on the on-ramp, and thought about how the warm asphalt felt like home through the soles of my shoes.
I caught a ride with a guy in a Winnebago who declared that he was going to give up on California, as if it were a lover that had betrayed him after all this time. He showed me excited pictures about the land that he was going to buy in Thailand, and we talked all about our lives and how each of us was doing on our search for meaning in the world.
Eventually he dropped me off and I caught a ride with a runaway kid who's car was full of clothes, books, and boxes. He told me that he had been living in San Diego and had been going to school there. "Actually, on my way to class today I realized that I didn't want to go. Then I realized that I had never wanted to go, and that I was tired of living such a boring life based on other people's expectations and routines! So I put all my stuff in this car, skipped my midterm, and started driving towards Santa Cruz." He had been living with his affluent parents, reasoned that they never really knew him anyway, and left them a short note explaining that he was leaving for good. When he saw me standing on the highway, he had customarily driven past, then realized that he wanted to pick up a hitchhiker and always had. So this time, trying to realize self-directed control over his life, he stopped. Eventually he also decided that he'd take me all the way to San Francisco, so we talked for hours on the road and he'd ask me great questions like "Wait, now what's a 'collective'?" and "I've been wondering if it's possible to travel and experience the world without staying in hotels and spending money on transportation?"
When we got to San Francisco I told him how excited I was for him, wished him luck, and started off in search of familiar faces.
There's Very Little Geography In A Place
Returning is always a little sad. All the things that I usually remember about a place have changed in subtle or striking ways. Certain people might be gone, and things have inevitably changed in a way that is inconsistent with nostalgia. For a long time I avoided returning all together, now I just make a conscious effort to treat returning as a new experience rather than a continuation of an old one. When combined with the curse of traveling -- where you end up knowing and loving people in many different places and are always missing someone or something somewhere -- the whole thing can be hard. So with all of this in my heart, I returned to San Francisco with the intentional idea that I was stepping into something new.
I stayed at Station 40 for a few days, and ran into all of the usual suspects there. I told stories about sailing towards the horizon, eating raw fish, and looking out on the ocean with bleary eyes. I learned about what had been happening there, and started thinking about where I wanted to stay and what I wanted to do.
One day I bumped into Jason on 16th street. I'd first met Jason in the spring of 2002. Ever since meeting him, we had occasionally seen each-other and talked about the things that we were looking for and running from in ourselves. Jason is the kind of profound maniac who is able to constantly recognize and challenge all his assumptions, motivations, and foundations of thought. For him, there are no answers, no truths, no ideas that can't be torn down and forgotten at a moment's notice. He is not just intensely aware of his surroundings, but is also aware of his perceptions of those surroundings and how those perceptions are conceived. Once at a birthday party of his, the music was lowered so that everyone could tell their favorite Jason story. Everybody had one. "Sometimes when we take the bus together, Jason will help mothers lift their baby strollers up the steps. Looking down at the stroller, he can never see it, but the mothers always have an expression of terror on their faces when this bearded maniac steps in to carry their baby up the steps." Jason would only smile calmly, nod, and comment "Yes, yes, Jesus had the same problem..."
We talked a little about where we had both been, as well as what our individual plans were for our time in San Francisco. Jason and his friend Marie had both given up on paying rent years prior, and for the first time since returning I began to consider squatting instead of renting. I was looking for stability, which seems inconsistent with squatting at first glance, but I realized that by squatting I could ground the stability that I was looking for in the city itself, rather than in a house or a room. I began to think of squatting as a way to live in the context of a community, but without all of the routine that usually begins to kill me. Maybe squatting would be the way to blur the line between stability and excitement that I'd been searching for all this time.
Before I left to go sailing, I was plotting the places that I went and the routes that I took on a map of the city. The familiar patterns that emerged were almost sickening, and at times I found myself almost wishing that I'd fall off my bike on my way from one place to another -- so that I'd at least get that shocking taste of blood in my mouth. By squatting, though, you can't rely on familiar places and familiar routines. When looking for a squat, you have to take the streets that you wouldn't ordinarily take, often through areas where you'd never ordinarily travel. You have to go slow and really look at the things around you.
I began to concentrate on letting excitement and adventure exist in my life during a period of stability, rather than just resigning myself to routine.
My friends Jesse and Pablo were planning on trying to live in the park -- hiding in the bushes from the rain and the police. I suggested that we attempt to find a squat instead. Pablo and Jesse are both pretty intrepid, or at least always willing to break out of that old comfortable logic and into something new. So sure enough, that very night we grabbed a pry-bar and some bolt cutters, got on our bikes, and rode two blocks down Capp Street. In the middle of the third block, Pablo said "Hey, this one looks empty." Sure enough, no furniture was visible through the second-story window, and there was a small collection of junk mail in the mailbox. The second floor window was the only window, though, and the whole front of the house was well lit by an unfortunately placed street lamp. We could see that if we got into the courtyard of the neighboring community center, we could easily access a subtle side window on the second story. That gate was locked too, though, and was absolutely not climbable. We stood around ruminating about how we might be able to get into the courtyard when a small group of men walked right past us, unlocked the gate, and went inside. We looked at each other and followed in unison. "Are you guys here for the Thai Chi class?" they asked. "Right, the Thai Chi class..." we responded. Once we were in the gate, though, we didn't seem any better off. Naturally, the Thai Chi instructors would probably not have been amenable to us pulling out our crowbar, scaling the wall of the neighboring house, and breaking our way in. "Maybe one of us could lie in the bushes until the class is over and everyone leaves" suggested Jesse. "Are you volunteering?" asked Pablo. It started to rain slightly, and everyone shivered at the thought of silently lying there in the mist as the night grew colder.
We ended up leaving and continuing our search down the street -- riding slowly through the rain and feeling the night air chill our exposed fingers wrapped around the handlebars of our bikes. The wind left that nice sharp feeling on my cheeks, but I thought about how nice it would be to lay down inside. Eventually we came to an apartment building that looked empty, and it had a padlock on the garage door. We reasoned that if we clipped the padlock, we might be able to get into the building through the garage.
Just as we were about to clip the lock, a protest in honor of the presidential election results came clambering down the street with drums, bull-horns, trumpets, and... a large contingent of police in tow. We couldn't believe our bad luck, and stood amidst the burning effigies with our crowbar -- whistling innocently. Friends would come up to us and ask "Hey, you guys came out for this huh?" "Well, not really..." we'd respond uncomfortably. Finally, the crowd dispersed, the cops trickled away, and we got back to our task at hand. It was the first time that I clipped a padlock to get into a building -- sparks flew and the cracking sound of that masterlock giving way echoed down the street.
We opened the big garage door, closed it behind us, and turned on the light. To our chagrin, the whole place was full of new construction materials, along with all kinds of appliances like new refrigerators and washing machines. Worse, there was no way to enter the apartment from the garage. It was a dry spot, but we imagined sleeping on the cement floor only to be woken up and caught by construction workers who had come to install a new refrigerator at 7am. The thought wasn't appealing, and we were ready to abandon the place, when we heard a car pull into the driveway. We looked at each-other in surprise, and then we all frantically got on our bikes inside the garage -- ready to ride straight out the door yelling squatter war-cries the moment it opened. We held onto our handlebars with white knuckles for a few minutes before the car pulled out of the driveway and motored off. "Well, squatting sure is exciting..." Pablo commented as we let ourselves out and headed back down the street.
By this time the Thai Chi class was over, so we decided to try going back to the house we had originally seen, getting into the back yard of a neighboring apartment building, and climbing over the fences of back yards until we got into the courtyard of the community center. From there, we would be able to pry open a window on the side of the abandoned house without being seen.
We slipped into a neighboring apartment building by following someone coming home for the night. I started to climb the chain-link fence at the back of the building, but it was really tall and built without a cross-bar at the top. So the higher I got, the more the whole thing would wobble back and forth -- loudly. There I was, wobbling uncontrollably back and forth on this fence -- sometimes almost upside down --- when I looked behind me to see two brothers silently staring at me through an open window with puzzled expressions on their faces. Pablo, worrying about his legal status, looked up at the window, then over at Jesse "I think I'm going to go wait back on the street, because, you know, I'm an immigrant and all." I smiled sheepishly at the guys in the window, and managed to pull myself up over the remaining bit of the fence. Jesse was awkwardly left alone at the bottom of the fence, silently waiting for me to return along with the two guys staring out their window. I made my way two fences over before I came to a yard with at least six dogs in it -- all of which were not happy to see me. They started to make a real racket. I couldn't imagine dropping myself into a melee of bared teeth and escaping in a satisfactory way, so I gave up and headed back.
By this time it was almost 2am. It was still raining slightly, and we still didn't have a place to sleep for the night. We stood in front of our unoccupied house, looking at it longingly. "Give me the crowbar," sighed Jesse. He took a few determined steps toward the house, climbed up to the second story, and started working on the front window. Pablo and I would whistle whenever anyone came down the sidewalk, and Jesse would do his best to make it look like he was just sitting casually on the roof of his house. Eventually he got the window open and climbed inside. A minute later the front door opened and Jesse emerged with a big smile on his face. "Welcome home..."
The place turned out to be really nice, and we stayed there for many months with our friends Marie and Jason. For comfort and security reasons, we usually all slept in the back room together, and it was like a slumber party every night. After dark we'd play big games of mafia with friends, or just lay awake in our sleeping bags, looking at the dim ceiling, talking into the early hours of the morning.
Before Marie and Jason moved in, they had gotten caught at their longtime squat in Potrero Hill. There, a neighbor had seen Jason one day and yelled "Hey! What are you doing?" Jason ignored him and continued unlocking the front door. "Hey! What the fuck do you think you're doing?!" yelled the neighbor again. Jason looked up. "You don't live there!" the neighbor continued, just as Jason opened the door. Jason, faced with the absurdity of the situation -- obviously he did live there -- was at a loss for words, and he closed the door behind him. A few days later, the police showed up there. They pounded on the front door and peered through the windows, yelling "Hey! Come out of there! We know you're in there!" Marie and Jason were pretty hidden at the time, and decided to try waiting it out. The cops kept yelling, getting more and more belligerent, until Jason heard them radioing for a K9 unit. At that, our squatter friends decided that it wasn't worth getting mauled, gave up, and started to leave. As they walked out of the closet that they were hiding in, the cops saw them through the window and really started going ape-shit. "HEY HEY HEY! We fucking see you! Come out NOW!" Jason walked over to the door and yelled "Alright, I'm slowly opening the door..." As soon as he turned the nob, they pounded the door in and tackled him. He sighed on the floor through bruised ribs.
The San Francisco police department rarely makes arrests for squatting. After pulling you out of the place you live with either violence or the threat of violence, they will eventually say that they're not going to arrest you -- because, you know, they're really nice guys. The lecture that one of the cops was giving Marie and Jason was a little confused, since he started out by saying that they were so young to be squatting. He looked at Marie with fake compassion on his face, "And you, only twenty three..." Marie is the kind of person who seems shy, but is actually just fearless in a totally calm and composed way. She looked up "I'm not twenty three!" The cop was not expecting that kind of interruption to his patronizing sermon. "Wait, how old are you?" he asked as he held Marie's California ID. "Figure it out!" Marie responded. When he finished doing the math and realized that she was actually 30, he changed his tune and started talking about how they were too old to be squatting. So according to the SFPD, the socially acceptable age window for squatting is 24 to 29. When the cops had asked earlier whether either of them had been arrested before, Marie had said "Just for protest stuff..." So then the cop who was lecturing them said "Well, you guys better be careful, because if you get arrested on a felony charge -- and breaking and entering could qualify -- then you won't be able to vote anymore." Jason, who was more inclined to just let them get the lecture over with, remained silent. But he could see that Marie was almost visibly shaking as she held her response in. Finally she shouted back "I don't vote!" The cop frowned "Hey, Harry, did you hear this? She'll protest, but she doesn't vote..." As if he was staring at a prime example of American Apathetic Youth.
This is all to say that Marie and Jason were somewhat paranoid about being seen by neighbors as they entered or left our new squat. So they'd often wake up before sunrise, and the rest of us would watch with bleary eyes as they got their stuff together and walked out into the cold morning. The thought of leaving that early seemed so unpleasant, and once I asked "Hey, where do you guys go so early in the morning?" "Oh, I don't know," Jason responded, "sometimes we just walk around, or ride our bikes."
Eventually, they started sleeping in with us. The house had been for sale, but the new owners had never moved in. As a result, all the neighbors assumed that we were the new owners. They'd seen the 'For Sale' sign go up, come down, and then we appeared. So we'd sit outside changing the locks in broad daylight, and the neighbors would smile and wave. We spent a lot of time wondering who the new owner really was, and imagined him carrying his new bride across the threshold -- only to finally discover us sitting on the toilet or washing our dirty feet in the bathtub. Every night, I'd go to sleep chuckling, wondering if the next morning would be the one where I'd wake up with groggy eyes and see some shocked family silently staring at us with open mouths -- their U-Haul truck still running on idle outside.
Jesse and I spent a lot of late nights walking home together. Over the course of those months, we walked with our heads bent low through the rain, sighed deep on clear nights, and moved eerily through the fog. We were even shot at once. Through it all, we discovered some of the many mysteries of Capp Street.
A major institution of those few blocks was the Capp Street couch. Sometimes it moved a block up, sometimes a block down, but it was always there. Sometimes the pillows will disappear, but they would always return. It wallowed alone through the rain, and enjoyed company in nice weather. I never understood why Sunset Scavenger didn't take it away -- maybe they knew it was a part of the community.
One night I was walking by the couch on the way home, and there was a guy setting a tarp up next to it for the night. The only thing unusual was that he had six pallets of eggs stacked next to him. He probably had 900 eggs there. I walked a little further down, and there was another guy setting up for the night with maybe 300 eggs. I kept looking back and forth between the stacks of eggs, wondering where they came from and what these guys intended to do with them. How could you possibly cook that many eggs?
The next morning I walked back down the street. Both guys were gone, and so were their pallets, but there were close to a thousand broken eggs on the sidewalk and all over the street -- scattered across the entire block. It was as if they had been silently waiting for the break of dawn to mark some kind of crazed egg fight, and then they'd left as silently as they'd come.
Another time when Jesse and I were walking past the couch in the morning, a car full of six highschool-aged kids pulled up to a stop in the middle of the street -- literally straddling the yellow dividing line. They all opened the doors, got out, and walked away. They left the doors open, the car running, and the keys in the ignition. We looked at the open car, and back at the kids. They just walked casually down the street and out of sight.
An Inadvertent Zine
Eventually our happy home on Capp Street was closed up. In the end, it finished with a whimper rather than a bang. Every moment of our experience there was colored by the constant thought of "what if we are discoveredright now?" -- which made coming home to find Jason passed out in front of the toilet even more entertaining than usual. But as it happened, Marie and Jason just showed up one day to find the locks changed. Sometimes I ride my bike by there now, and I frown at the sight of lights and furniture in the window. The only consolation is that the back room probably still smells like us.
Suddenly without a place to live, we spent a few nights looking for something new. Jesse and I had a false start at the house directly across the street from where we'd been squatting, which we'd always planned on defaulting to should the occasion arise. I boosted him up to a small open window, and he got half way in before getting stuck. I tried to stifle my laughter and look casual standing on the open sidewalk, despite Jesse's legs flailing wildly in the air above me for a good five minutes. It turns out that there had been broken glass directly under the window, so not only was he stuck -- but he couldn't put his hands on the floor to help himself in.
That place didn't seem quite right, and we weren't sure whether there was active construction happening there or not. In the process, though, we discovered a boarded up place on 19th and South Van Ness.
There was a large wall in front of the place on South Van Ness, and the door to it was actually screwed shut. So Marie, Jason, and I spent a few days casually walking up, removing one of the screws, and walking off. Eventually we got them all out, and finally went in one night. Once we got inside, we discovered that the place had been squatted before. There were syringes, dirty blankets, jars of urine, and piles of trash everywhere. It was pretty interesting to look through the artifacts of who had been there before, trying to discover who they were, what they had been like, and why they'd left. We found a few of the pages of a girl's diary, covered with candle wax and drops of dried heroine.
The girl walked down the street again, taking the same path that she takes every day, she walks she closes her eyes, calculating her steps
I see the girl, so much older than her years, a vacant sadness in her eyes
The stale stench of urine overwhelms my senses
When will this ever stop, I can already feel the streets changing me. I have become calloused and bitter, and I trust no one, they say I don't belong here. I'm far too pretty to sit on the concrete sidewalk reeking of urine, they say you have so much talent sister, you have so much potential, you're gonna make it someday. And I think to myself, Julianna, what the hell are you doing, trading the chance for thousands of people to hear you sing, throwing away all these wonderful opportunities that have basically been given to you on a silver platter? For what - a hit of crack and a shot of heroin, fucking junkie. I know that I'm not living in God's will right now, I've basically disrespected everything I ever believed in, the only thing that I have not done is compromise myself trading my body for a quick fix. I figure if that every happens, there is no hope for me, so that last thread of self worth I will cling to for dear life. It's hard being in a city where I have no friends. If I wasn't with Mikey I think I'd either flip out, or take a bus back to Tucson. I miss everyone - Edward, Keith, Ryan, even my family and it sux that me and Charlotte aren't kickin it. I really need a girl friend. I enjoy Nicole's company, but because I use, I feel like I have to hide shit from her, and I guess she's mad at me. I have no idea why. It's hard for me to be Mike's girlfriend. Everyday I have to worry - oh God did he go to jail, did he get jumped? Sometimes I just sit by the window and stare out the gate for hours just waiting, listening for any sound that he might be home, it's enough to drive me crazy. I love him but I am not happy with the way he hustles, it's not right, ripping off innocent people so he can make the buck. I was so pissed at him this morning, last night I played my ass off to the point where my voice was harsh and cracking and I made a decent amount of money with which I got both of us well, and also bought some smoke. Last time I talked to him, was early this morning, around 6am he couldn't sleep so I asked if he would go to the store to get me some food. It's now 11:30 at night the next day and I haven't seen him since he took all of my money, even the change, and my wake-up which really pissed me off. He could have left one fucking dollar for me to get some food, but I was sick all day and hungry. Sure that something bad had happened to Mike, finally after waiting all day for him to come home, wanting to get well, I figured that I needed to go hustle and cop myself, while I was out a bunch of people said they saw Mike all day out on the streets selling so I'm really fucking upset with him. He had no right to take all of my money and he better get me fucking back next time I see him. I think I might have to play on the streets again tonight, I really don't want to, but I can't depend on anyone for shit.
Squatters Of Incredible Intelligence
The place that we all moved into on South Van Ness was not nearly as luxurious as the place on Capp Street, but it was still pretty accommodating. There was no water or electricity, but there was a little more space to spread out. We would also hang out there during non-sleeping hours a little more often, since the threat of discovery was almost non-existent. The weather started to improve, and in a way everything was looking up.
I made an emotional map of the United States, plotting all of the most meaningful moments of my life that I could remember over a geographical landscape. It made me think about all of those moments again, and I realized that while I've had a lot of them -- spread out across the entire US -- they've all occurred over short periods of time, eclipsed by a penumbra of routine and instinctive/unconscious decisions.
I started thinking about trying to account for my time in more intentional ways, and about ways that I could do that without making the process of intentionality a routine that would just subvert itself with banality. It's still unclear how to make that happen, but it seems like it is at least necessary to combine making specific day-to-day plans with keeping my eyes open for the potential of spontaneity.
Falling in love with someone during a time when we were both somewhat homeless was pretty nice. The limited set of possibilities was, in some ways, enriching. Whatever temptation that might have existed to hang around each-other's houses was impossible. If we were going to make out, it had to be on a park bench under the stars on a cold night, or briefly in the closet during Food Not Bombs. Our conversations happened under the eerie glow of streetlights and on midnight bikerides through empty streets. It was so much harder for status quo or routine to find a way in.
At one point Pablo, Jesse, and I decided to check out the potential for another squat in the Richmond. We rode our bikes out there late one night, locked them on a nearby side street, and walked casually by the front of the building while discussing how we might get inside. The place was one building away from the corner, so we decided that we could probably get in through the back by climbing behind the building directly on the corner. Jesse and I made our way in that direction while Pablo kept lookout. The courtyard behind the building that we wanted to access was a 10 foot drop down a dividing wall, and we wondered about how much noise the jump would make. We also imagined the comical situation of jumping down, not being able to get into the building for some reason, and then not being able to climb back out. Eventually we decided that it might just be best to come back the following night with a length of rope.
As we were leaving we walked back by the front of the building, and I cavalierly suggested "Hey, why don't we just go in through the front windows again?" -- conjuring memories of Jesse's blatant frontside entry on Capp Street. It was 2am, the whole street was dark, and nobody was around. We boosted Pablo up to the window, but he couldn't get it open with his hands. So we lowered him down, got the crowbar out of the bag, and boosted him back up. As Jesse went to hand up the crowbar, he dropped it and it clanged incredibly loudly on the sidewalk. We quickly dropped Pablo back down and tried to look casual through stifled laughter. Finally we boosted him back up, handed off the crowbar without incident, and watched him wiggle for a few seconds before he disappeared over the ledge and landed inside with a thump.
The place was a large five unit apartment building, and for some reason it had been unoccupied for about ten years. We spent half an hour checking out all the apartments. The possibilities were endless. We could all move into one apartment, sleep in a different apartment every night, or each take our own apartment -- occasionally inviting each-other over for dinner. It was late, though, so we all settled down into one of the front rooms to sleep. Just then, a bunch of flashlight beams started shining in through the windows. We all sighed. I peaked out the window, and sure enough there were six cops gawking up at the building from the sidewalk.
We belly-crawled away from the window and into the stairwell, then went up onto the roof. We sat shivering in the cold on the roof, listening in utter silence through the access door, wondering to ourselves if they would get inside or just go away. After a painful half hour, we finally heard them come in the front door. We ran and jumped across to the roof of the neighboring building, then clambered down the fire escape on the back side of it. We emerged onto a side street, and smiled at the success of our dashing rooftop escape.
"Alright, let's just disappear into the park here," Pablo said. "We're home free!" I countered. "If they catch us outside now, how could they prove it was us? Let's at least get our bikes and ride down to Claire and Crystal's house." "No, that's just dumb," replied Pablo. "Well, wait here then," I responded. I went and unlocked everyone's bikes, then brought them back to where Pablo and Jesse were waiting. Somehow, my stupidity spread to Jesse. "Well, if we're going to ride to Crystal and Claire's, I'm interested in riding by the front of the place to see what's going on." "Sure," I agreed, "let's just ride down the bike lane on the way there." Pablo shook his head and laughed, "You guys are idiots, I'll met you at 6th and Fulton."
So Jesse and I took the bike lane in front of the place we had just escaped from. There were four police cars out front, and right as we rode by two cops came out the door. Jesse and I smiled at each-other and whispered "Suckers!" under our breath. Fifteen seconds later, one of the cop cars zoomed up behind us and pulled us over.
I still felt confident, but just as the boot of the first cop to step out of the car hit the pavement, it occurred to me "Oh my god we're fucking idiots -- we returned to the scene of the crime!" The cop walked casually up to us. "Say, were you guys in that place back there?" "Uhm, place? What place?" "Don't know anything about it, huh? Well see that's strange, because you two match the description that we received exactly." Description? "So we're sorry if this is a mistake, but we'll just have to detain you here for a minute until we get the witness to come and ID you." Witness? "Oh, and would you mind lifting up your shoe? Well, isn't that interesting -- those are the exact tread marks that I found on the roof." I sighed inside again. Tread marks? We're fucking idiots!
Eventually the witness did come, and sure enough she recognized Jesse. They looked through all our stuff, confiscated two screwdrivers from me, and announced that they'd be letting us off with a warning. "See, we're actually pretty nice, huh?" We hesitated. "Say we're nice!" "Right, uhm, you guys are really nice people, thanks a lot." "So we want you to stop throwing shit at us during protests. In fact, we want to see some pro-police rallies." Again, confused hesitation on our part. "We said we want to see pro-police rallies!" "Uhm, right... pro-police rallies, we'll start organizing that just as soon as you guys turn us loose here." "Alright then, you're free to go."
Pablo was waiting for us. "I told you you guys were idiots."
Gutter Punk Crew
One night when we were staying at our place on South Van Ness, a large band of kids calling themselves "Gutter Punk Crew" broke in through the window. In many ways, I think that they were as surprised by the encounter as we were. Jason talked with them about our reservations around living with travelers who aren't as invested in a space and are more careless about it getting busted, as well as our general desire to live with people that we know and trust. He even gave them a very detailed list of other places that they could try opening, along with specific notes and instructions about how to gain entry. We didn't make them leave that night because it was raining, but we didn't expect to see them after the next morning. Little did we know that this was the beginning of a long and painful relationship with GPC.
Night after night, they continued to break in. Dealing with them was pretty difficult, because it was clearly an amoebic group. There were different people there every time, and if we made progress talking with one or two people on one occasion, they might not be there at all the next time. Often it seemed like many of the people who came in had just met each-other that day.
Dealing with them was also difficult because they were usually shit-faced drunk. On one such occasion, they finally admitted that they liked to break into our place because it was close to a certain store that sold really cheap beer late at night. Of course, when they bought their 48-pack, they wanted to go to the closest place where they could drink it.
Once when I wanted to talk with a couple about them staying there, they looked at me blankly and responded "You're talking to the wrong people, the leaders are down the hall." I hesitated. "The leaders?" "Right, the people who make the decisions." I couldn't believe it. Explicitly authoritarian... gutter punks? I didn't know what to say. "Uhm, right, well, then I guess I'm interested in talking with you as individuals, not as members of a group." "Listen to what we're saying -- you're wasting your time, the leaders are down the hall." I sighed. "Well, I guess I'd just encourage you to get in touch with your individuality, then." The woman I was talking with looked confused "Oh, believe me I am! I'm a full-on anarchist!" Her claim seemed pretty funny in that context, and she saw me smiling. "It's just that... we're forced to be a part of a group for protection in this city." The implication being that groups required leaders.
For a while there was a tacit arrangement that when they did stay there, they had to at least leave when we did so that we could lock the door. Once when Yann was going to be the last one out, he stopped by the door and was trying to get everyone else to go. Eventually Yann noticed that there was a kid standing there with his pants down, masturbating. Yann gave him a surprised look, and the kid responded "Give me a second."
I finally gave up when I came home one night and found some guy sleeping in my bed. I thought about waking him up or sleeping on the floor, but balked at both and just laid down next to him on the mattress. After a few minutes he started to murmur in his sleep, then the murmuring got louder, then he started screaming -- an incredibly loud blood curdling scream. He was asleep, but the screaming didn't stop. I waited for a few minutes, but he just kept going. I expected someone else to come running in to find out what was wrong, but nobody came. Then he started twitching and jerking around while he was screaming. Eventually, I shook him awake with some difficulty and said "Hey man, you're screaming in your sleep and it's making it difficult for me to fall asleep. Would you mind sleeping somewhere else?" He looked at me with strange eyes, hesitated for half a second, then gave a startling yell: "I don't scream in my sleep!"
I got up and went to Jason's room. I discovered that he wasn't there, and realized that I would probably not be able to sleep easy knowing that I was alone in a house with a bunch of semi-hostile gutter punks and a near-psychotic kid sleeping in my bed.
I grabbed my stuff, shook my head, and walked out into the night.