Evasion - continued from previous page
I know there was a lot uproar when you wrote about what you called the 'girlfriend scam'.
You know, it's always hard to know how big a rumor actually is in relation to how often you have to answer for it. In other words, there was a time when the biggest dirt anyone could dig up on me was that there was some two page Evasion supplement of which I made about 20 copies which sorta concluded by saying 'what I'm doing now is this thing called the girlfriend scam. I've been living here for three months and she hasn't asked for rent yet,' which is totally consistent with the type of humor I used in Evasion. But the fact that I referred to something as the 'girlfriend scam' in a very tongue-in-cheek way seemed to come back to haunt me for years afterwards. It was this rumor that just spiraled to the point where I think most people just thought I had written a zine just on how to scam girls into paying your rent. What was most interesting, there was a time for a couple years when I had to answer for the 'girlfriend scam' all the time. I'm still friends with the girl I lived with. There was no exploitation going on. I paid my rent through food and other things that in monetary value more than eclipsed what I would have paid in rent.
Then let's talk about some of the columns and writing that came after the book. It seemed as if you began to focus more on stirring shit up and making a lot of accusations and severing ties with other people who had visible personalities in the hardcore scene. Does any of this feel like it was the result of ego?
It always bothered me that I felt that people who found themselves within visible positions in subcultures lost a lot of their fire, they lost their edge, and they were dulled by having this social incentive to get along with everybody. This tempered their criticisms and tempered their opinions, and this made me sick. I remember being in high school and thinking if I ever got into a position where I had an audience, I was not going to be one of those people that was pacified by the social aspect of the scene.
I remember what was probably the moment where I surrendered all investment in the political hardcore scene. I tagged along on this tour called the Total Liberation Tour in the summer of 2004. It had political hardcore bands, vegan hardcore bands, and speakers. It was a really great idea. It epitomized the aspect of hardcore that I valued most at the time. I remember being at the show in Indianapolis, and there was a guy onstage who I had known since before he knew anybody else in the scene. I knew him well enough to know he was a really big talker that liked to impress people with his hollow boasting. I remember seeing this guy giving a workshop on how to carry out ALF actions, and knowing for an absolute fact that this guy had never done a thing in his life activist-wise for animals, had never lifted a finger to do anything other than promote his own name in the scene. He was on stage acting as though he knew how to carry out ALF actions, speaking on how to carry out various sabotage actions, and the whole audience eating it up and giving him a huge round of applause afterwards, because he was in a band. And I remember thinking, if I'm part of a scene that can be this easily fooled, I'm done. I don't want anything to do with this anymore. And it was very soon after that, a month later, that I wrote a column for HeartattaCk, calling out people exactly like him: people that tried to cultivate an image of being these radical eco-warriors but who had never done anything other than buy records and sit around on message boards gossiping all day. That column was my attempt to sort of burn bridges and say, if you are going to take things that I care about and make an image out of them to further your own social status, don't come anywhere near me cause we're not friends. So if it came off as ego, maybe it was fighting fire with fire, because I felt that I was trying to fight against these scene-climbers that were motivated by ego and the desire to make names for themselves by being in bands and perpetuating a totally fraudulent image that wasn't who they were.
Having unfashionable opinions in those circles is like a social death sentence, and since I was never socially invested in those circles anyway, it gave me a lot of freedom to say exactly what was on my mind. All I had to do was use a line like 'girlfriend scam' or call out Against Me! or something. I was saying things like, you know, talking about white privilege all day doesn't make you radical, it just means that you want to cultivate the appearance of being radical. When the book came out I was thrust into what was primarily an anarchist-based scene where it didn't matter what you did, it only mattered what you said, it only mattered that you used the right language. I just didn't identify with the critique-junkie anarchists. It was, essentially, a subculture of people who were all talk, and that was in total opposition to what Evasion was about, which was action-based, which was if you're not putting this stuff into action, it doesn't mean anything.
One thing I've gotten from your writing and talking to you is the idea of constantly trying to push boundaries, to go bigger, to look for new ways to get or accomplish something. What do you think are people's hinderances from this, what is it that leads people to look at the scams you wrote about in Evasion as a checklist, but then to stop there rather than taking that mentality and those methods and expanding upon them in their own ways?
That's the thing about Evasion is by the time it came out, I was already on to the next thing. By the time the writing saw print, I was already three steps ahead. I think it would really surprise people, and that was stuff that I never wrote about.
I think these radical subcultural ghettoes discourage people from looking outside of themselves, or rather, discourage anyone in the scene from looking outside of the scene for influences. I think in these scenes, people are surrounded by an unambitious crowd, and everyone's too concerned looking to their left and looking to their right before deciding what they want to do. In effect, I think these scenes enforce mediocrity.
You read Cometbus, you read Scam, nothing will ever take away the role those zines played in my life, but that's like entry-level stuff. I was reading true crime books, I was reading books about people that took things to the extreme, who exercised more ingenuity to get what they wanted out of life. Now it just happened that the subjects I was reading, what they wanted most of the time was money, which was not what I was going for.
I was fortunate enough to meet the guy that invented the scam that funded many punk tours and lifestyles up until the early or mid-90's, which was the salt water coke machine scam. Where you would squirt salt water into the coke machine dollar slot, and it would spit out all its change and sometimes you would get about $50. I met this guy and I asked him the story behind it and he said, and I don't know if this is embellished, but he said he was on the roof of some building on the boardwalk, this is like Coney Island, in New York, and a giant wave came in and struck a coke machine and when the water receded, he had noticed all the coke machines had spit out all of their money. So he kidnapped a coke machine and performed experiments on it, and basically reverse-engineered the machine and came up with it being the salt water that did it. That set off a wave of salt watering coke machines around the country and got a lot of punk kids a lot of money. And then it became obsolete. It got to be so widespread that coke actually installed these salt water shields over the dollar slot of every machine that prevented the water from getting to the crucial circuitry. So he kidnapped another machine and took it to his basement and performed experiments on it and figured out that if you punch out the little backlit square that said 50 cents, if you punched it out and squirt salt water directly into that hole, you could circumvent the guard and actually still get the same effect.
I just don't see a lot of innovation like this going on. I still meet people that are doing the same things, and it's cool if you're just outta high school and haven't really thought about this before, but I feel like people should look at it the same way I look at writing, which is to flagrantly rip off other people's ideas until you develop your own identity, and in the course of being a copycat, you will develop your own identity. When I sat down to write Evasion, I was going to flagrantly rip off Scam and Cometbus, and hope that in the process I would develop my own voice as a writer, which I think is what happened. And you can do that with lifestyles.
In the time since the book came out, have you heard of anyone who came into these ideas through the book, but who eventually went bigger than the scams that you were writing about at the time?
I definitely met a lot of people that took things a lot further than I was. Like people who were running massive shoplifting rings and making a lot of money and taking that and buying property with it. Though, I think when people are just getting into these ideas, that's the stage when they're really more likely to come up to you and credit you. And there gets to be a point where, because punk emphasizes autonomy, you want to kill your teacher, so to speak. I think that's where a lot of the backlash came from. So I feel like the people that did take it far were already so separated from being the type of person that would want to give me feedback, so I really didn't meet a lot of those people.
Who or what are the things that have inspired you?
I'm always really inspired by people who are willing to risk bringing either adverse social or adverse personal consequences to act in a way that's consistent with their beliefs, people that are willing to risk prison for what they believe in, who are willing to risk losing friends to act in accordance with their principles. You see that so rarely. I don't think someone's core principles or values are exhibited by what they say, but only spoken through their actions. I really only respect people that I see dong things that risk having personal or social consequences for them, that's the mark of someone that's truly sincere. So I'm inspired by the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front, by the founder of WikiLeaks, he knows he's got a target on his head and they're going to put him in prison one way or another, and he's going for it. There's a fairly decent list of people who were coming out of the vegan straightedge scene that had actually put their beliefs into action in a way that was more than just a lifestylist way. You had people who have gone to prison for burning down fur-feed factories, you had people who had liberated mink from farms and so forth. There's a guy who is still a fugitive named Andreas San Diego, he's accused of bombing a pharmaceutical company. I mean, these were people that I felt were putting their beliefs and politics into action.
Can you explain why it seemed there was such an abrupt ending to the columns and your writings?
By every measure I disappeared. I've never talked about why that happened. This is the first interview I've done in six years. I felt like the mystique around Evasion had reached such a level of absurdity that the rumors and the mythology and the gossip was now in the driver's seat. It had gotten bigger than me and it didn't feel like I was steering what was becoming of Evasion anymore. I just remember things getting really crazy. I remember the book came out in 2001. By 2003 things were so crazy that I was having people stealing my trash and making zines about what they found in my trash. Evasion was at the mercy of this hype machine. The same thing with my personal identity. I felt like I was losing control of my identity, that no one could look at me as anything other than 'the Evasion kid,' and I didn't want that to define me. It happened countless times, where I'd meet somebody and they'd want to pick my brain, and they would find out that I wasn't the person they thought I was. I had what I thought was a very dynamic life. I was never just dumpster diving and hitchhiking and shoplifting, that was only a selective account of my life, but Evasion and the stuff I wrote about was never more than a pinhole view of my life. I started to step back and think, all the hype around what was just me in my bedroom, writing the kinda zine I wished I'd had in high school, turned into this. I felt like the message of Evasion had gotten totally lost in all the hype, that's what ultimately led me to close the door on Evasion for a while.
In late 2004, early 2005, I had almost finished the second Evasion book, and I was terrified that this book wouldn't be read by anyone with fresh eyes, that this book that I had spent two and a half years of my life writing would get published and get funneled right into the same subcultural gutter. I wanted to be sure that when I gave this book to an audience, it was an audience that could look at it objectively and judge it objectively based on its content. I wanted to have it published on the furthest possible thing from Crimethinc. I had to wait until the timing was right, so I just vanished. I disappeared. I stopped doing the HeartattaCk column. I sent them a one line email saying don't expect to hear from me again. I stopped doing mailorder. I cut off all communication with Crimethinc. I did the most complete break that you possibly could with something that, at least on a public level, made up most of my identity.
And something really interesting happens when you're so invested in an identity that you just walk away from; your friendships start to become more genuine, they start to become more diverse. I can say that less than 10 percent of the people I consider friends or interact with now even know that I wrote a book.
Having had literally years go by now, given the chance, is there anything in the past you would've done differently?
As much as I was very autonomous and not very interested in punk circles, I still didn't stray too far outside of them either. I eventually realized you should never put faith in any subculture. You can put faith in individuals, you can put faith in yourself. But I feel like music scenes attract very insincere people. I think I didn't come to that realization until a much later age than most people do. And I will never devalue what hardcore was to me, and what it still is to me, and what it is to a lot of people. I'm not turning my back on the scene, but I do think that it tends to attract the people who want to cultivate the image of being radical but who are not actually radical and don't live radical lifestyles. That's a hard thing to admit. That's a really hard thing to admit.
In terms of my life, I would have escalated my tactics a lot. I would have challenged myself a lot more. There were definitely long stretches of my life where I felt like I had become too comfortable with my own checklist. By the time the book came out, I was starting to push myself a lot more in new directions, though that's not to say there weren't blocks of my life where I feel like I stagnated. I would have forced myself to escalate my tactics sooner and more often.
I think I would have been a little bit less of a lone cowboy and plugged myself into different circles that I shunned because we didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things. I think one of my biggest regrets is not being more socially versatile. I didn't identify with other people I knew that were squatting, or who were hopping freight trains. I didn't identify with most punk kids, frankly. I think my personality type has just always drawn a lot of lines in the sand and anyone that wasn't on my side, I just wasn't going to be friends with. I would've been more versatile in that sense, where I could hang out with those people and just find the common ground. I stand by everything I ever wrote, but I do think that I could have not carried that attitude over into my one on one interactions with people.
I need to embed my writing with a very strong message that you don't get to delude yourself into thinking you're radical because you don't have a job. It's what you do that doesn't make for sexy stories that matters. That's the biggest message that got lost. I'm gonna give a much fiercer effort to make people realize that it's your obligation to use a militantly unemployed lifestyle for the greater good. That's a mistake that I'm not going to make the next time around.
I'm going to go out of my way to make sure that my Evasion life and my real life don't overlap at all. I probably won't even tell most of my friends that I wrote a book. Because I don't want to slip back into the same mode of having a persona I'm not in control of. I think that's how I can put this book out and stay healthy and stay grounded and stay true to who I am and not just who people think I am.
How do the principles you were writing about in the book factor into your life now? What roles do they play?
In many ways I'm still that 18 year old that gets giggly when I'm in a situation I somehow maneuvered my way into. At one time, that was strictly criminal, it's a lot more diverse now. The superficial aspects of the book don't define me, but the guiding principles of the book definitely define me, those have never changed. I set out at age 18 to spend the rest of my life doing everything I did for the purpose of having a good story to tell, and I've never strayed from that in the 15 years since I made that commitment.
The tactics I'm using now have changed radically. But everything I do still feels like a scam, it still feels like a hustle, like I'm getting away with something, even if it's in a totally different realm. And when I talk about the high that comes with getting away with something, it's not the high that comes with breaking a law, it's the high that comes from being in complete control of my time and not answering to a boss.
I still travel incessantly. I'm still seeking novelty in all forms. All these years later, I'm still trying to figure out how to push the boundaries. I'm living in a fairly long-established all-vegan squat. By every other measure, it's a normal household. It's all still a complete hustle, but I'm still pulling it off and having a lot of fun. I'm still vegan. I'm still straight edge.
The other night I was at a potluck at someone's house, and I saw a copy of Evasion on the bookshelf. I hadn't even seen a copy of the book in quite a while. And I was looking around the room, and there were professors from the local university, there was a local hip hop artist, there was a punk kid with face tattoos. I remember just looking around the room and thinking how interesting it was that I had this entire secret history that none of these people even knew about, that made up a huge chunk of my life and nobody had any idea. And I like being able to move between the two worlds without those worlds overlapping.
And just about a year ago, I had dusted off that book that was about 90 percent done. I realized I had slowly lost touch with certain circles of people, to where I didn't know if Evasion still had an audience. I didn't know if it was still read. So I began to ask people, is Evasion still viable? Does it still have an audience? Is there still a scene around this? And the answers I got were that things had changed a lot. And I started to wonder if maybe the time was right for me to put that book out. So I began to do some re-writes and some editing, and finish the last chapter. It started to take shape and I'm inching my way toward releasing it.
If there was one idea or challenge you could set forth for people, what would that be?
If I could've summed up the entire message of Evasion in one sentence, there's a line written in the book that says, life serves the risk-taker. And that's what I want to put forth to everybody. You're not going to achieve big unless you dream big and act big. Those are the only people that live lives worth living. It's not enough to have read all the right books, all that matters is what you do with those politics in the real world. Life is just the bat of an eye in the bigger picture, so if you don't live it militantly, it's not worth living.
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