Thursday, May 31, 2001

Yo Mama Is A SUV

When I was six I knew that I would never lack a home. I could stay at my parents until I finished college. After that, I could always sleep in my spaceship, if necessary.

As I grew older, I came to realize that I was being silly. It didn't have to be a spaceship. It only had to be an all-terrain ground vehicle with a self-contained ecology. The ecology would include me of course. It would have a fully automated hydroponics system that would not only grow my food for me, but prepare it and serve it to me. If it weren't also a spaceship, that would be OK. It could be a time machine, for instance.

I pictured the thing being only half as long as the average camper.

My design didn't even call for a convenient door, because there would generally be no reason to leave the contraption. I imagined that I would have a television screen with which to communicate to the outside world. I could manipulate external objects with robot arms. Somehow all the books I might want to read would fit in the on-board computer.

My seat would recline to a bed. When I needed exercise I could pull a lever (all the best inventions were controlled by levers and large impressive dials in those days) and suitable exercising devices would appear at my hands and feet.

Eventually, I began to sense a crucial flaw in the design: there was no passenger seat. I came to realize that there must not only be a passenger seat, but there must be no levers between it and me. So I was finally led to appreciate the idea of a camper with a separate space for a bed.

Campers, and their latest incarnations, the SUVs, are not just alternative homes that can ease the suffering of the houseless, they are also archetypes. The security they represent is the security of the womb. I am sure that this is why so many American guys feel they have to have an SUV. They miss their mothers, in a physical way.

Clearly though, the homeless have especially good reasons to appreciate the camper. Lets say you live in Lynnwood, in a house, and the backwards government of Lynnwood criminalizes people who live in houses. Well, then, you're stuck. But now, suppose you live in Lynnwood in a camper, and the backwards government of Lynnwood criminalizes people who live in campers. Then you can drive to Bothell and wait for them to be backwards. Bothell is prettier anyway.

Lynnwood's stated problem with the camper-endowed and other such homeless, is that they often relieve themselves in bushes. This doesn't prevent everybody in Lynnwood from owning campers and/or SUVs and polluting the air I breathe by driving them unnecessarily to and from work. Taking a daily crap in the air is still OK for Lynnwood, Everett, and Mark Sidran. Just keep it off the rhododendron roots.

Then there are people like Dave, whose real name is also fake. Dave is an old friend of mine who once made the mistake of morally opposing a war while people with guns were transporting him to it. They put him in the brig. After that his life sort of went downhill.

What makes Dave interesting, besides being a man of convictions, is that he is a whiz at creating shelter in deep forest, but his livelihood (recycling the cast-off toys of the middle and upper classes) depends on living in the city. So he would be a perfect candidate for a camper, except he can't drive.

But Dave shares the dream we all have for that mobile womb. He just has had scale his dream back to more of a rickshaw-like vehicle. He would build a home on wheels which he could physically pull from parking space to parking space as needed.

Such dreams are so powerful that they consume men like Dave, so that they spend years fretting over blue prints of the perfect home away from mother, and never demand more from society than that their dreams should be possible.

Thursday, May 17, 2001

Those Colorful Natives

Lets talk about the alternatively homed!

What I have in mind here is a romp through the world of the alternatively homed, sort of like the way that guy with the deep voice on Nature romps through 20 species on hour showing you all the exciting ways they all have adapted to their little niches. Or big niches, as the case may be. Or think of this as a sketch for a National Geographic special, "Lost Tribes of the Suburban-ghetti", or something like that.

Adaptation is the key concept here. Why is it, I'm wondering, that we admire so much the way that indigenous people like the Inuit, the Australian Aborigines, the Hopi, the Dayaks, the Bush People of Africa, the Maori, the Swedes, all used to build their huts, igloos, lean-tos or whatever, praising it as proof of Man's adaptability in the face of harsh Nature, but when someone does it down the street they're seen as outlaws?

Am I the only guy in this city who's seen the "Gods Must Be Crazy?"

What does the attraction of Survivor mean if the same people who make it number one in the ratings also spit on the real thing when they see it? Maybe it's the same thrill that white Americans got watching Red Dawn. They spent years preaching freedom while snuffing it out everywhere in the world it appeared. Then they used the magic of cinema to identify themselves as the "real" freedom fighters. Look at me, I can be a guerrilla warrior too, for seven dollars, four at matinee.

Or, hey, I can be Kevin Costner and live in a teepee. For the price of the video I can learn to spell it tipi and impress my PC friends.

Meanwhile there are a hundred men, women and children right here in this city who are surviving in tents because they have to. They aren't doing it to identify with the oppressed, they are the oppressed. How about celebrating their successes at survival now, instead of waiting for the National Geographic special, or the Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts version? How about it?

But I digress. I was going to talk about other alternative homenesses. Not just communal tenting.

The road nomad. This is usually someone with at least four wheels, horses being out of fashion and motorcycles providing little shelter. As I learned personally years ago, even a car that doesn't run can provide decent shelter if it is fortuitously parked.

My Home Was a '69 Rambler

Opus 7, Verse 2

My home was a '69 Rambler

In a warm garage it was parked

My home was a '69 Rambler

As I already have remarked.

[Oh Rambler, Oh Rambler, Bring back my Rambler to me, etc.]

If the garage is right, who needs the car? I am thinking now of an actual person, a legally blind old man whose name wasn't Angus but should have been, who would have been home in the Highlands with Lassie, a serviceable knife, and someone else's flock.

Angus found himself an aging benefactor, some old woman, who rented him an unused one-car garage for ten dollars a month "for storage". Angus then stored himself. He paid his rent by clearing the neighborhood of aluminum cans every day. The earnings provided him enough extra money that he could spend his spare time in dignity drinking coffee at a 24-hour establishment as an honored customer, where he buried himself in books hour after hour, until his benefactor died.

Thanks to my ranting I've run out of space. But I'll get back to this. More "Lives of the Alternatively Homed," later.

Thursday, May 3, 2001

Electric Juju Miracle Man

"He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher," Walt Whitman said. Walter, like Emily Dickinson, had a knack for saying things in a way designed to raise eyebrows on a dead man.

What teacher? I was lucky in school in that I was never assigned poetry by either Emily or Walt. So when I see that word "teacher", I don't think of some high school English teacher. Instead, I think of Walter himself in his own natural teachy-ness, being as Zen as he ever could be. (As in If you meet the Buddha on the Road, kill him.)

If it weren't for a sprinkling of quotes like that, you could definitely get the idea that Walt Whitman was deeper into himself than Donald Trump. In fact Walt was a whiz at selling himself.

"Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, /When I give I give myself." After reading that, don't you feel guilty for not giving Walter more of your time?

He sang the body electric. Now you have to put that into its historical context. Back in Walt's day electricity wasn't the thing more common in households than bleach. In Walt's day, electricity was almost synonymous with juju.

Walt said, "Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle." Translation -- "I got juju."

Walt said, "The whole theory of the universe is directed unerringly to one single individual." Translation -- "The juju stops here."

Walt wrote, "This is no book; who touches this touches a man." Translation -- "I got juju to spare, some of it's spilled into these poems."

My own favorite Whitman sample: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes)." Translation -- "I am mass juju, I cast juju shadow."

Speaking of selling and persuasion, experts agree that there are six basic factors that influence humans to comply with requests or give in to sales pitches. These are reciprocation, consistency, social validation, liking, authority, and scarcity. I could illustrate the use of these six factors with any successful advertising campaign, but this column isn't about Madison Avenue. So instead I will show you how to use these factors to sell NIMBYs on Tent City.

To the friendly, caring, people of Seattle:

You have probably heard many appeals on behalf of Tent City [social validation], but have you heard of the great benefits that Tent City has to offer to your community?

Yes, there is only one Tent City in Seattle [scarcity], and it can be yours! The homeless people who make up Seattle's Tent City are the cream of the crop [scarcity], the hardest working 2 percent.

Listen to what Dave, a good-looking well-groomed white [liking] policeman [authority] has to say about Tent City's homeless people. "I encounter homeless people everywhere. But nowhere have I found more cheerful [liking] and energetic homeless people than at Tent City. And they are so clean!" [liking]

Cynthia R., a happy, smiling, independently wealthy [social validation, liking, authority] housewife, is typical of many who have been fortunate to live next door to Tent City. She says, "Those homeless men were great! The way they scared off prowlers, my! We had almost no crime in our neighborhood the weeks they were here. And they were so sober, what a good example to our children. If only we could repay them!" [reciprocation]

Seattle has so far provided Tent City with 17 sites in one year. [consistency] That shows just how popular Tent City has been. [social validation] Now isn't it time you invited Tent City to live next door to you?

Give yourself mass juju!