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July 08, 2005

Something I've been meaning to write for a while

In the late 1970s my friend Bill Stack was volunteering sporadically with the Buffalo Cooperative Community Council, a loose federation of food co-ops and affiliated worker-owned businesses, to promote a People's Yellow Pages project. The PYP would have been a directory of local NGOs and community resources. It never got off the ground, perhaps because Bill - even when he wasn't having psychotic episodes - was not exactly the most detail-oriented person in the world. Let's just say his follow-through wasn't stellar.

But he introduced me to the Co-op Council folks, one of whom, Suzanne, became an on-again, off-again girlfriend. Back then I thought food co-ops were the height of coolth. During the period when Suzanne and I were figuring out which one of us was going to bring up the whole boyfriend-girlfriend issue first, she asked me if I'd like to go with her to a weekend-long meeting of co-ops in the Jamestown region.

This sounds like something a sane person would gnaw off a limb to escape, but this conference involved camping in the woods on a farm in the Alleghenies. With Suzanne. I was 17. Suzanne was an older woman of 27. I was like so in.

We hitchhiked about 60 miles to a farm outside the town of Conewango, and spent the next few days hanging out with a bunch of hippies in the woods, picking blackberries for pancakes, building a sweatlodge and using it, telling jokes until late at night. A baby girl was stung on the finger by a bee: I picked a plantain leaf, mashed it, and put it on as a poultice. She stopped crying. The goats got into the hay barn. We had to chase them out. The thing I remember most clearly about that weekend - aside from sexual tension between Suzanne and me - was the second person I met at the farm, an old friend of Suzanne's from Jamestown, a blond hippie with a big red beard. He handed me a sandwich. It was about four inches thick. Half that thickness was two slices of coarse whole wheat bread. There was an inch of tofu in the middle, slathered with half-inch layers of miso. The guy with the red beard was Jorn. He was in charge of soy products.

By the time the next summer rolled around, Suzanne and I had hooked, and then broken, up. Bill nearly burned down the apartment we shared while imagining that he was living in Fahrenheit 451, long before the invention of the term "web log" allowed the creation of blog memes. He went to jail, and then to the psychiatric ward, and then to his mother's basement. I moved into the Cold Spring Warehouse, a big, ridiculous, ungainly, Yippie collective house in a largely African-American neighborhood in Buffalo. The Warehouse had started out as a squat: the owner found our Fearless Leader Joe living there one day and - rather than go through the expense and hassle of kicking him out - agreed to rent the building to him for like 300 bucks a month. The building was three floors with storefronts on the bottom, living quarters for about ten people on the second floor, and a large dance hall up top: maybe about 5000 square feet. Suzanne was living there with the man she'd left me to go back to. Jorn had moved in as well. We ate lentil soup, read Fifth Estate and Yipster Times and Open Road and other anarchist newspapers. Bobby Faust, an amazing artist and musician who was also about 33 inches tall, would come by every so often with enough acid for everyone. You have not lived until you've sat on a moldy couch, tripping your brain off, while a dwarf riffs collaborative improvisational poetry based on your every uttered word.

Bobby drove us all to a Patti Smith concert on campus one night. Only a few of us had tickets. The rest of us skulked around the outside of the building. Suzanne's friend Cindee and I were at a back door when a security guard came out to smoke a cigarette. He disappeared around the corner just as the door was about to latch shut: I caught the handle just in time. Our friend Brian was overjoyed to see we'd made it in, and jammed a finger into my mouth. Said finger had two hits of blotter attached. Thanks Brian.

An hour after the concert ended we loaded into Bobby's van and headed for a comedy club. You have not lived until you've sat in a moldy van, tripping your brain off, while a dwarf riffs collaborative improvisational poetry driving you to see a bunch of ventriloquist acts. Ten hours later we decided that our hangovers could best be remedied through eating large amounts of ice cream. Jorn, who hadn't gone along the night before that I recall, handed me a one dollar food stamp. I looked at it, shrugged. "No, look at the eyes on the tallest guy in the engraving." I did. The engraver, perhaps as a counterfeiting trap, had given Hamilton cockeyed eyes. I laughed myself off my chair.

The warehouse was one of those kind of places where nothing happened, and it did so with great intensity. We held concerts in the third floor, benefits for Chilean refugees and to end apartheid. Sometimes the manager of the North Buffalo Food Coop would practice there with his band. His was music none of us were ready for. He moved to New York City and became slightly less obscure. Suzanne got involved with Brian, which prompted the abusive man for whom she'd left me to 1) explode, 2) threaten everyone in the house, and 3) leave forever.

I had nothing to live for back then, so his threats against me - and they were explicit - didn't freak me out much. I was the designated bouncer for Warehouse events. A thug would show up from the neighborhood, decide he was going to get him some hippie chick action, and I would walk up to him all friendly-like and shield my housemates from him with the aid of my Intense Vulnerability. The thugs expected a direct challenge, and didn't quite know what to make of soft-spoken redirection. about this time the cops started parking in the lot across the street, watching the Warehouse through binoculars. Suzanne and I walked out one day to confront them, and I grabbed onto the window as they were going to drive off. "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about," they reassured me. They didn't come back.

We wanted to come up with an alpahbetic equivalent for the Warehouse's phone number for use on posters, like (716) WRE-HOSE or some such. The number was 835-2497. We ran through the possibilities. Nothing worked. We were about to give up. Then Jorn said "The First Letters Combined Give Warehouse Phone."

Jorn left town not long after that. I moved out of the Warehouse, briefly reunited with Suzanne some months later, and then rebrokeup again - but on much better terms the second time. Bill Stack descended into a pit of paranoid schizophrenia for the next twenty years. Brian got arrested in San Francisco for possession of LSD. I moved to California. In 1990 another roommate from the Warehouse years visited me in Oakland, went back to Buffalo, and gave Bill Stack my phone number. Bill called. delight at his call turned in rather short order to despair at his condition, and then despair turned to impatience. I was abrupt with him the last time he called. Four years later I heard he'd died, his body found in a dumpster at a waste transfer station in Niagara Falls. There was no foul play, aside from that Bill had done to himself: dumpsters were where he liked to sleep when he was living on the streets. He'd probably died of hypothermia or heart failure where he slept.

I think of Bill's People's Yellow Pages idea now and then. It's too bad Bill didn't live to see the Web. the PYP would have been perfect for the Web. It's too bad Bill wasn't around when Jorn invented the term "web log." Bill's blog would have been sporadic, occasionally unintelligible, and often brilliant.

But I can read Jorn's web log. That's something.

Posted by Chris Clarke at July 8, 2005 02:40 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:
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Comments

Another great story, Chris. Wow. What happened to Suzanne?

Posted by: beth at July 8, 2005 09:17 PM
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"You have not lived until you've sat in a moldy van, tripping your brain off, while a dwarf riffs collaborative improvisational poetry driving you to see a bunch of ventriloquist acts."

I beg to differ. You haven't lived until you've either:

1) Climbed the gorges of Ithaca, sans gear, after touching tongue to paper.

2) Sung "Castles Made of Sand" to a hungry mountain lion intent upon eating your intestines.

3) Jumped into an unknown, log-choked river while blindfolded and then floated off into who knows what.

But I'll admit that the dwarf thing does have a certain flair.

Posted by: tost at July 8, 2005 10:02 PM
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Beth, I lost touch with Suzanne after our last few friendly visits in 1984. We went swimming in Buffalo Creek that summer near my dad's place, after a storm that had swollen the creek up to Colorado River proportions. I miss her.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at July 9, 2005 08:22 AM
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I was about to ask "What happened to Bobby Faust?" but then I did a Google search. Assuming there aren't that many people with this name, the guy's all over the web.

Some of his (?) art here: http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Palms/2852/pics.htm

Picture of him (?) (on the cross) here: http://www.filmthreat.com/Reviews.asp?Id=7485

Posted by: Hank Fox at July 9, 2005 09:29 AM
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Okay, duh , NOW I realize that Faust's name is a link.

Posted by: Hank Fox at July 9, 2005 09:41 AM
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man you have lived.

Posted by: susurra at July 9, 2005 12:19 PM
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Hi, kids...Crap, I don't know where to start...
OK, hows this; you haven't lived till you've died...
Try this; a 4way hit of windowpane, @ night, just before you go to bed...that will change your point of perspective...and then cue up Jefferson Airplane,
"Don't You Want Someone to Love". Then follow it up
with,"White Rabbit". Then throw the radio in the tub...hell of a buzz...it Will take you there...

Love and Light,

Crystal Dave (The Wizard of Wyrd)

P.S. Is there anybody in there?; just nod if you can hear me...

Posted by: Crystal Dave at July 12, 2005 06:08 AM
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Hi, kids...Crap, I don't know where to start...
OK, hows this; you haven't lived till you've died...
Try this; a 4way hit of windowpane, @ night, just before you go to bed...that will change your point of perspective...and then cue up Jefferson Airplane,
"Don't You Want Someone to Love". Then follow it up
with,"White Rabbit". Then throw the radio in the tub...hell of a buzz...it Will take you there...

Love and Light,

Crystal Dave (The Wizard of Wyrd)

P.S. Is there anybody in there?; just nod if you c

Posted by: Crystal Dave at July 12, 2005 06:10 AM
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Hi, kids...Crap, I don't know where to start...
OK, hows this; you haven't lived till you've died...
Try this; a 4way hit of windowpane, @ night, just before you go to bed...that will change your point of perspective...and then cue up Jefferson Airplane,
"Don't You Want Someone to Love". Then follow it up
with,"White Rabbit". Then throw the radio in the tub...hell of a buzz...it Will take you there...

Love and Light,

Crystal Dave (The Wizard of Wyrd)

P.S. Is there anybody in there?; just nod if you c

Posted by: Crystal Dave at July 12, 2005 06:13 AM
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...sorry about the double post...damn,I just learned how to drive this thing...fuck me, I'm old; damn it, I get alot of mileage out of that...fuck the fucking fuckerers! (God, I hope you bastard are cool...)

Love and Light,

Crystal Dave (The Wizard of Wyrd)

P.S Flame me; like I care...

Whatever...

Posted by: Crystal Dave at July 12, 2005 06:29 AM
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