a riotous disarray

Mack - the author of the book, Evasion.

winter 2010/2011

[  introduction ]

{ Outside the snow fell. It was nearly 5am. We had just finished the interview. Standing up, he said, 'I think I know this place in this building...' }

The late 90's and early 2000's diy punk scene seemed to exist on scams and secrets passed between forever-young kids with dirty clothes and squeaky bikes. Amongst my friends, there was an unspoken determination that adventure took precedent over jobs, and in hindsight, the afternoons spent on the river in hand-built rafts and the photocopied zines carried on cross-country train-hopping trips were the spoils of our starry-eyed oaths to get around the traditional work-economy in any way possible.

It's hard to recollect the significance of this era for us without speaking of other people whose direction overlapped in places with ours .

One afternoon, a friend passed along a copy of a zine he had picked up. It was called Evasion, and it was a [very thick, very wordy] account of a hardcore kid hopping trains, shoplifting food, and sneaking into concerts. In short, it was proof to us that our band-of-thieves network of friends stretched out further than our city. It made me feel that ours was a militant movement stretching to all corners of the country. Excitement dripped from the pages of that zine. And we treated it as a dare to go even bigger!

{ We shuffled down the hallway, flanked by doors on either side. Fluorescent lights throwing their glow on a corridor empty at this late hour. 'I think it's this door over here,' he said. We tried it. Locked.}

Around this same time, another publication from the hardcore scene - Inside Front - arose in the form of a book called, Days Of War, Nights Of Love, a sorta modern take on anarchist ideas, and dare I say, giving it a much-needed kick in the ass. That publisher, Crimethinc, then followed that up by publishing Evasion in book form. And with that, our scene that existed on scams passed around amongst friends began seeing a new wave of energy surging into its midst. And at once, it was exciting, though if we would've taken a breath, we should've seen that our days were numbered.

But every wave has its backlash.

The sustainability of a lifestyle of low-end scams and dumpstering one's necessities is based on staying two steps ahead of those corporations whose lackeys were catching on to our tricks. As refreshing as it was to see these new books have such a large impact on people across the country - and possibly even further - part of me couldn't help but feel that they were partially responsible for commodifying a way of living that I felt an affinity to. What seemed to follow throughout the scene was an era containing a volatile combination of adopting new ideas to their extreme, short-sightedness, righteousness, an unfortunate influx of celebrity, gossip-mongering and arrogance that the subculture had at least superficially claimed to have sworn off, and ultimately, a whole lot of cynicism. Before long, Evasion and Crimethinc became the whipping posts for any ire directed at situationist-style activism or any semblance of drop-out culture, and it soon seemed that more focus was being spent tearing apart the negatives rather than acknowledging anything of significance and moving on.

{ And then the giving way of a door that pushed open. We moved it slowly and looked inside. The cafeteria was immaculate. The dimmed after-hours lighting reflected on orderly and thoroughly restocked counters and displays of chips, juices, energy bars, and snacks. We stepped inside, ignoring the overhead security cameras.}

Over the ensuing years, the Evasion columns became more vitriolic and less fun. A reflection of the cynicism becoming all-too-present within activism at the time. And then, the columns disappeared altogether. Rumors of a second Evasion book faded over time.

It may have tread on territory that wasn't completely original, and maybe in all of its pages of 'lefthanding' groceries, impersonating company employees to get crates of juice, and redundant vegan straight edge hardcore band references, there is no formula of an anarchist utopia [though what else is to be expected from a punk zine?], but for what it was, it went bigger than most of the other zines and books breaching the same subjects. And here is where the entertainment and challenge presented by the book lay.

{ To this day, I couldn't tell you if that pre-jadedness era of zines and travel and these stumbled-upon accounts of the endless possibilities was as romantic as the distance paints it, but what I can say is that dreaming up the next big idea with an armload of free Odwalla drinks has never ceased to put a smile on my face. And as we left the building and walked out into the snowy streets on this late night, I could only smile and hope that that 'youthful idealism' would continue to have this much of an impact well into another decade. }

Today, it seems harder and harder to find friends from those days who are still involved in any type of activism. And I wonder if there are still kids out there to whom finding the loopholes around selling ones self to the wage economy is as meaningful and as fun - fuck, is as unquestionably urgent and cathartic - as it was for us... and for some of us still is.

It was with these questions of the elusive history of the subcultural terra incognita of the intentionally- and gainfully-unemployed that I set out to track down the writer of Evasion - who goes simply by the name Mack.


[  interview ]

Mack: Let's start at the end, and then go back to the beginning. I think we should start this conversation with how I have literally not had a full conversation about Evasion in about 6 years.

So before Evasion became a book, it was a zine. I'm interested in hearing if you had any goals originally when you wrote the zine, did you have anything you were hoping to accomplish?

I wrote Evasion for who I was when I was 17 years old. I wanted to write something I'd wished I'd had when I graduated high school. I knew I wanted to circumvent college and circumvent having to get a job, and just go straight for maximum optimal experiences all the time. I wanted to extend my youth indefinitely. There were zines that came close, like, obviously, Scam zine was the biggest influence, as well as Cometbus. But I felt that, in certain ways, they were a little out of sync with my identity. I felt like Cometbus was a tad too cynical and Scam was a tad too drunk. I wanted a zine that was all-action, no filler, and absolutely unapologetically criminal and militant. I wanted a zine that said, I'm not going to ever work again and I don't care what you think about it, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

I wrote the Evasion zine, which eventually became about 40 percent of the book, in the spring of 99. At the time, I was 21. This was a period in my life when I decided the social scene I had back home wasn't for me and I decided I was gonna go on this epic hitchhiking trip by myself and move to a new town by myself and write the zine. I hitchhiked down the West Coast to San Diego, and then took a bus to Tucson, Arizona, where I knew absolutely no one. I pulled off a rather lucrative little scam of sorts and got myself a month-to-month studio apartment right next to the university campus where I holed up for several months.

At that point I had no formal training as a writer, I had never written anything in my life. So I went to Barnes and Noble and got three books, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Well by Zinsser, and How To Write by Richard Rhodes. I devoured those three books, I read them all several times. I also had several issues of Cometbus and Scam #3, which had just come out. Between those five blocks of paper, I was able to pull off some very passable writing. I wanted the thickest, most militantly punk zine ever written, that's what I set out to do. And in about May of 1999 it was finished and I hit the road again.

So when I first sat down to write the original zine, it was written for kids who were exactly where I was when I was graduating high school, who knew what they wanted to do but didn't know how to make it work. It wasn't written for cynical hipsters or people who had been in the scene for years and years.

How was it originally distributed?

I did all the layout in a Kinko's in Little Rock, Arkansas. I slept inside of a movie theatre behind the screen at night, and the days, I was in Kinko's all day. I remember at one point during the final stages of the layout I spent 24 straight hours in a Kinko's, which I was really proud of at the time. Doing the layout was my entire life for like three weeks.

I finally got a master copy together, I think it was in late June of 99, and I made 10 copies of it. I gave a couple to people I met inside the Wild Oats, and to a handful of other people I met around town. It might have taken me a week to give out those 10 copies. I didn't have the confidence to actually mail my zine to HeartattaCk or Maximum RockNRoll. I felt like, why the hell would anybody want to read what I had to write. Over the next six months, I might have given out maybe, maybe, another 50 copies around the country. But by the time the end of 99 came around, the Evasion zine was a closed door. I had moved on. I was proud of it, I hadn't forgotten about it, but I wasn't reproducing it anymore.

And how did that lead to Evasion being made into a book?

By the time the end of 99 came around, I had moved on. I was no longer reproducing the zine.

It was about a year and a half after I made those first 10 copies, about the fall of 2000, I checked my email and it was as if somebody had flipped a switch. I had like a dozen emails from people all around the world saying they'd gotten the zine. I was totally baffled as to what was going on. I eventually pieced together that someone from the band Zegota had picked up one of those 10 copies in Little Rock, had stolen it from someone's bathroom, and had made thousands of copies and distributed them all over their tour.

Eventually I remember getting an email from Crimethinc, and them saying, 'We like your writing. We're willing to take a chance on you. We want Evasion to be the follow-up to Days Of War, Nights Of Love'.

I spent the first month after I got this offer holed up in the basement writing this book. I was living with a girl, but all of this was foreign to her; my lifestyle, the zine. I felt like the environment just wasn't working out. So I put everything I could into my backpack. I remember I had a backpack filled to the seams and a paperbag with every piece of paper I had up to that point, thousands of pages of notes, journals, every scrap of layout. And I remember standing at a bus stop in Long Beach, California with the rain pouring down onto this bag of notes knowing that I had to find somewhere to write this book. So I caught a bus to the Metrolink, which I took down to San Diego. I caught a bus to La Jolla, I went to the UC campus, I threw all my notes and everything into a locker at the arts school and threw a padlock on it. I roamed campus for a few weeks, found an abandoned broom closet, moved in, and spent the next three months living in an abandoned broom closet while working on the book. So most of the Evasion book was written in the UC San Diego library. I was spending like 12 hours a day, going through like 32 ounces of coffee, bleeding out of my eyes to write this book. It was a real struggle because I had to think about if my locker was found out, I would lose everything. So I was spending like every third day backing everything up at Kinko's, mailing it to friends around the country. I had backup copies of the book planted all over campus in case something went wrong with the originals. It was a very sparse existence. I spent most of my time in the library or in the broom closet, or sleeping in various 24 hour lounges around campus. It was great, I have really good memories about that time.

But eventually, it was like early June of 2001, I remember sending a one-line email to Crimethinc saying the book's done, let's get together and edit this thing. So I hitchhiked with two friends to Olympia. We had a very strict deadline for this book. It was, in part, due to the fact that that the publisher was getting school credit at Evergreen for the book and he had to meet the semester deadline. And Earth Crisis was playing their last show at Hellfest and I had to get to that, so we each had our own deadlines. It was just ruthless, I remember sleepless nights. And we hacked through it and whittled it down to something that was passable. I think of the new material for the book, it should have been cut down by at least another 20 percent. It was too verbose. I was trying too hard to meet the word quota and focusing on quantity over quality. I cut a lot of it out for the second printing, but not as much as I should have. In the end it was rushed.

So a problem that I had with the book was that I felt like Evasion was commodifying a lifestyle that I felt a part of, like it was taking something that wasn't extremely popular at the time and representing it in an over-the-top excessively romantic kinda way.

Never in my life had anyone put me under scrutiny, because nobody had any reason to care about me. I was never part of the scene. I was very quiet, I was very socially awkward, I was very withdrawn. Let me tell you how absurd it all seemed from where I stood. I was this lone vegan straightedge punk kid that knew nobody. I was never plugged into social circles. My window to it was lyric sheets and zines. A lot of what I was doing, I didn't know if there was anyone else doing it. Like, you would read Scam or Cometbus and they're traveling to these little punk enclaves like Philadelphia or Portland. I was always interested in going to the small towns that no one talked about, where there wasn't a punk population. Places like Fargo, North Dakota or Hastings, Nebraska. Those were my favorite towns. I had spent two years photocopying the zine. It never got any reviews. The audience was 100% people who I met, people who picked me up hitchhiking, or kids I met outside of Whole Foods, or those people who photocopied it and handed it to people they knew. It was totally DIY for so long, and my heart was totally in the culture of it. At that point, nobody in the punk scene did books. Maybe the Burn Collector book came out first, but it was uncommon for punks to put out books at that point. As soon as the book comes out, all of a sudden the quote/unquote Evasion Kid, which was an identity I never signed up for, finds himself under a magnifying glass. Now everybody wants to know my opinion on white privilege, and everybody wants to know my opinion on feminist politics. I was accused of trivializing poverty, of not acknowledging class privilege, of not acknowledging that my poverty was self-imposed. And that's where the whole disconnect between the Evasion zine and the Evasion book. It was a photocopied zine, no different than any other photocopied zine that ever came out, it was just a little bit thicker and it happened to circulate a lot more, but nobody is holding every other zine that came out to the standard of 'you must include a class analysis in your writing.' It was a personal narrative, that's it. It never occurred to me that I might have an influence. I felt like I didn't know that by releasing the book I took on the burden of making sure everybody didn't apply the things I wrote about in a really destructive way. I was outside of these circles, so I didn't take into account that I could have embedded my writing with a greater emphasis that this is not a blueprint for hedonism. I never wanted anyone to hitchhike and dumpster dive and shoplift and feel good about themselves for doing it. If you're not taking that time, that freedom that you're creating for yourself and trying to make the world a better place with it, then I don't have any more respect for you than the 9 to 5 wage slave that's treating their life like it's disposable.

Evasion Interview continues here.

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the interviews:

John Girgus Aberdeen interview
Neil Robinson interview
Pleasant Gehman interview
Godfrey Reggio interview
Mack Evasion interview

A Riotous Disarray Drugs And Daydreams