Thoughts & Stories of Mike Straight #79

    It all started when my sister Eleanor decided to split town... She got the wild notion that it was a much better idea to spend the winter living on a beach in Hawaii than in a squat in Philly. While I didn't want to see her go, I couldn't really argue with her - so she gave me they squat keys and told me to let good people move in... Well, good people or our friends. See, her squat, WASTELAND, is two blocks away from my house, RANDOM, and we have pretty good relations with our neighbors, so I wanted to make sure that good people moved into the place where she put so much work into.
     Then, for various reasons, a bunch of my old friends decided to come back to Philly for the winter. First it was Sherman who left Berlin, and then Danny also came back from Germany. Sissy decided to blow off the Canadian winter and enjoy the warm half-winter here, and Pigpen one day wandered back into town. Dave Salad was the last to show up, giving up his room at the Kopi to return to his hometown. As my couches started to fill, I handed them the keys to Wasteland so they could all have a little space of their own. Now, in case you have never had a group of friends live in a squat  near your house in the winter, let me assure you that they will visit often. But in this case it was perfect, because in all honesty I really love their company. I must admit I like taking the role of  "Doc," having the modern equivalent of the Palace Flophousers being over everyday.
    This winter was a hard winter for all of us - we joked about the 'winter of our discontent' - as in some ways we all were kinda lost - back to Philly, 'cause...well...where else is there to go?  West Philly is kinda like that, a place at the end of the line. So there we were, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking cup after cup of coffee, trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our lives. We were all either unemployed or working shit jobs - scraping by, just barely making it through the winter days. I was going through a breakup with my partner of 3 1/2 years, and at the tail end of a year and a half of depression. Actually, none of us were doing all that well - Sissy had grown bitter and Sherman was pretty solemn - Tina, the beloved matriarch, had become a recluse, fearing everything of Philly outside the house, while even Pigpen wasn't his normal Leprechaun self. It was kinda a dark time - we would complain, and then laugh, letting our conversations go from urban theory to Steinbeck books to rating the cheap beers sold at the Moon Deli - and some time in the misery I realized that while we had nearly nothing, we did have something....ourselves. It was the first time in a long while where I had a clear group of close friends...and in a lot of ways it felt good.  To have a gang...a crue where we had little, except one another. We were a family who stuck together, whether that meant going on Trader Joes dumpster runs, or pulling our resources together. I thought about what brought us together;  we were friends who had all met at different times and different places. But the one thing which all of us held in common was a connection to the network of punk. Punk really is a network, both of ideas and geography. One that binds across class, ethnicity, language and nationality. Whether it is the ideals of how we live our lives or the connections we have created - punk is right there, like a guideline.
    My whole life is affected by my involvement in this counterculture, and I thought about this network one morning while reading my mail. I got a letter from Molly (a columnist for the other anarcho-punk fanzine with a large circulation in the US) wishing me good luck on my next European trip. She told me that when I get to the First Floor Left of the Kopi I should say hello to the "wacky Americans" who live there. I started laughing, 'cause just then a hungover Dave Salad climbed out of the basement and I told him that Molly said I should say 'Hello' to him when I got to Berlin. I have to write back Molly to say that the "wacky Americans" have moved their operations to West Philly, and are passing out on my floor. Sometimes this network amazes me with it's extent in both time and space. I think I have seen a lot of failure in the last two years of my life - plans not working out, dreams falling apart etc... But one thing I feel I can always count on are the people I know... and really that is all that I can count on. It is nice realizing that there is an international community that will reach out a hand if I need it. We've fostered a community where there does tend to be a fair bit of depression and hard times, but where groups of friends tend to stick together (even when in different cities) to help you out.  This all connects into the larger Network, where you can be supported by total strangers, like last month when a house of total strangers in Little Rock put me and my traveling companions up when we acted on a dubious rumor and showed up there around midnight one Wednesday. Just knowing that you can go almost anywhere in North America, even Europe, and find someone who can help you out with food/place to stay/good advice. Or that people from anywhere can show up at your house one day, and find at least a warm place to have a cup of joe, maybe a warm couch, and directions to a dumpster/flophouse/show/whatever.  This is fucking impressive, and once you really look at it and see how rare and improbable it is, it makes it seem a bit more worthwhile being a "punk."  Sometimes I really hate seeing how certain activist circles have a patronizing/negative tone towards the Punk or krusty lifestyle. I think a lot of people feel that this is a phase, something one should "grow out of," instead of a committed lifestyle of resistance. But I have always seen my Anarko-punk lifestyle as trying to create some way of living which is different...something that was oppositional to the life which was expected of me. I have talked before in this zine about growing up as a white trash kid searching for something different from the narrow life I was taught...how I desperately wanted something more.  That's what punk gave me...something more. In all the ways I cannot put into words. While it is a "style," it is so much more. It is a way of being, my own  raison d'etre (Ok, maybe that is too dramatic...but still...) This is my culture, the one I identify with, a way of life I have chosen where, in all seriousness, I couldn't come back from. This is what we have - the community, the support of one another.
    Back to the story of Me and Das Wastelanders - Eventually all the negativity started to melt... Right around that time we decided the a road trip was in order - so me and Pigpen fixed the van and we all headed off to New Orleans...warm air, po'boys, junkstores on the side of the road, Waffle Houses, and the Miller lady. During that trip everything in my mind got better... I stopped fretting about how life could or should be and started focusing on the beauty of what life is. I started to really notice how good the first coffee of the day tasted, how fuckin' amazing a joke or a smile could be. I stopped concentrating on the negative and looked for the good. I learned to fall in love again...I learned to love life again. I remembered these emotions, and they were back. I stopped feeling that I was a failure and instead realized that I was an important person...one that has something to give to the world. We're all this way when we let ourselves know it. I started smiling a lot... Started being excited when I first woke up... Fuck, I was excited about life.  Because it was mine. I started rebelieving the slogan of an old band I was in...I started believing that Freedom Was Mine.
    Because it is. It really fuckin' is. I may be too crazy, I may be too romantic... but I'm alive. This is my life. This is your life. These are our lives, and we must embrace them. Yeah we lived in a fucked up society, one with values oppositional to our own. It's so easy to fall into isolation - isolation is a norm in American society. Competition, and the isolation it feeds, is so fuckin prevalent....but we don't have to accept it. We don't. This column is a story, a story of my friends and how they...unwittingly and unknowingly, pulled me from a depression that had taken over my life. I have nothing in my life except the connections I have built with others. I don't think we can really have anything more.

Endnotes-
    1) I always seem to say  the wrong things at the wrong time...jokes at serious meetings, heavy discussions at parties...I am bad at departmentalizing I guess. The other night was one of those nights...  I was at the Catbox, I was having a nice time, and we were hanging out having a couple of  beers. A friend of mine made some comment about being "anti-PC", how he likes to offend people 'cause it "makes them think about their own views," even if this is opinions that are truly counter to his own. He was talking about this and I went off on him. "Why" I asked, "Why do you want to make someone uncomfortable. Fuck, I am totally sick of people who know better, saying things for shock value. It is not funny and it is not cool. You say you want people to reexamine their beliefs by being Anti-PC - well fuck, every time I visit my relatives I hear racism, and every time I walk down the street I see sexism - I think I am exposed to enough fuckin shit that I find offensive. I listen to talk radio every day and I get offended - so why now should I have to listen to you saying your stupid shit. You being offensive seems like such a waste of time and energy. Why?  Fuck you spending time making fun of the 100 people in this town who you consider "too PC" when there are a million people in this town who are really fucked up.." Yeah, I totally went off.  But I get so annoyed at this Anti-PC trend, because it seems so stupid to me. Fuckin stupid and silly. A waste of time. Why waste your time poking fun at those who are trying something else, just because they might be a little to extreme for your tastes...Fuck get a clue...
    Of course it made the conversation in the room stop. "Fuck," I thought, "I did it again, too heavy of a conversation...he's going to take this like I hate him, when I only disagreed.  But it passed.  Conversation started again, various subjects are thrown around. Then a half an hour later he says to me " Thank you." I'm kinda dumbfounded, but he continues: "No one has put it so bluntly...You've change my opinion. Maybe I am going about things the wrong way. I'm glad you were straight up." I was kinda amazed myself, and I must say it is good to see change through dialogue...and in the end I am glad that I didn't just shut up. The moral of the story: We can change things in our daily lives, in our everyday.
    2) Punk knitting - Ok, on the "new punk trends department" I must say knitting is a big one. First I saw Harmony in Portland doing it, and she got Tina hooked. Then I was at a conference in Richmond last summer and during a workshop this women next to me pulled out her needles. Hmmm. It's everywhere. Wilder sews at the Wooden Shoe and then at the kitchen table while I am reading the paper...she gets in "Knitting talks" with Erin.  Hmmm, yeah, I think we are seeing a nationwide punk trend. Yep, and where do you read about this first? Here at "On Top: Dumpster Fashion" edition of Slug and Lettuce. But yeah, I can totally see this taking off - I mean it is the logical conclusion to the patch fascination of krusty fashion. Imagine the possibilities - sweaters with squatting symbols knit in, knit caps with "Discharge" on the brim... Really, the possibilities are endless.  Now the strange (or not so strange) thing about this trend is how sharply it falls along gender lines.
    I have yet to see a male knitter - is it too feminine in this male-dominated scene, or am I just missing them? Maybe. Maybe boys are doing it in the van during the long tours... Hmmm, I could see FROM ASHES RISE all sewing across the midwest.  Hmmm. Actually, Wilder says she saw a male Krusty knitter at last year's Pointless Fest, so there has been a sighting. Now in case you are wondering about me; it doesn't really appeal to me - really I am a rotten sewer to begin with and I already have enough vices of things I do with my hands;  I don't need another, but I must say it's a way more beneficial nervous habit then...let's say..smoking. Imagine walking outside of show and between bands all the punks got out their needle and yarn... Yeah, it could happen.
    3) Wow, I must say Philly has finally produced a band dark, fast, and heavy enough to be on par with Montreal Krust. I am talking about ENDLESS NIGHTMARE,  who I must say were smokin' last night. Now if you got Bad Dude Sean to scream French in between songs and DisNed wearing a bulletbelt and Dread wig...it would almost be like being back on Rue Iberville...
    4) In case you don't know, CLEAR CHANNEL really sucks...and we've got the puppet show to prove it.
    5) Oh, as a correction for the last column - the bitter, quick-witted, entertaining, and oh so sarcastic Canadian with weird hair, who does my proofreading is named Sissy, not Silly (he's pretty grumpy about this typo as, somehow, having the name Sissy is cool, while Silly is not (Weird Winterpeggers).  So in the spirit of passing the blame, it was likely Tina who changed names to irritate the innocent, and certainly her who gave the wrong French translation in the Inepsy review (Funny Quebecoise).