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no room for hipsters

the occupation of Ashley and Levon

Category Archives: environmental justice

My brother gave me a 55 gallon drum last summer.  He made an excellent compost bin with one, it hangs sideways between two posts and spins so you don’t have to stir, then dumps right into a wheel barrel.  I’m making a rain barrel out of mine.  To do that, it took me a year to break down and install gutters.  That’s what I did this past weekend.  Today I’m building an outdoor kitchen sink to run from the back side of the barrel.  It’s similar to what some friends have in Mexico.

So far this spring, my house projects have mostly involved twisting the monkey off my back: the utility company.  We’ve put up a laundry line, built window screens, hung screen doors, and now we’ve got this waterworks system.  The utility meter reader guy came by Friday while I was on the ladder.  I said, “Suck it, man.”

No, of course I didn’t.

We’ve spent $551 since June of last year on utilities.  It’s depressing how many CDs one has to sell to come up with that number (I don’t think I ever have).  Cutting wastewater will help the cost.  It’s really the ugliest one, tucked in there on top of the water bill.  They charge you to bring it, charge you to take it.  No matter if you drank some or poured it on a flower.

Last winter we were very cold, and in the summer we lit the house with lightning bugs.  We’re working on improvements.  On Grace Acres Farm in Virginia, transitioning from Harlem, every morning we opened the chicken coup, fed the goats, watered the cows, and tended the large garden.  My in-laws were on a motorcycle trip cross-country and knew Ashley and I could use a farmhouse in our life.  After the inner city lollypop adventure.

I found Rebekah’s copy of Thoreau’s Walden and came to his illustration of the Indian basket maker.  It resonated. Thoreau says, and I paraphrase:

“the Indian basket maker, who believed that crafting beautiful baskets was his greatest life ambition, decided that if he could not sell enough baskets to make a living, he would busy himself by creating a different style of living that did not require he sell as many of them.”

In the basement of the house at Grace Acres I recorded “New York City Spanks Levon Walker.”  It was very fresh on my mind.  Maybe I’ve sold 100.  It was on iTunes for a year and actually lost money.  I was very disappointed with that.

There is always the problem of sustenance when you busy yourself with making something, and less with the selling.  Songwriting is my craft, and I get a little sad when I have a new one and think forward to the people in a bar who I’m going to scream it into their collars.

If it made any sense, I’d live on this little piece of land and work the ground.  In the evenings, I’d sing to it.  In the mornings I’d write my blogs, or maybe a novel.  Ashley could paint what she wants.  Our kid could run around the yard and I’d have a camera nearby for when he/she did something astonishing.

To complete this utopia, I’d likely go away to work as a longshoreman in the South or on journalistic assignment to the U.S. border of Mexico.  Then we’d have the cash on hand to pay for government deficit spending, student debt, insurance, and other pretty little baskets like Netflix.

I was finished there for the day, but now I’m not.  My trouble with sales needs working out.

Trade can be a genuine exchange like buying tomatoes and eggs at the farmers market.  Or it is like buying a product in its devised cycle from a manufacturer who has already planned a replacement, and buying it with a credit card to get the bonus points, and maybe tacking on a few more large ticket items to jump into a higher rebate category.  I get the sweats about discussing my AT&T contract.  The bank wants to start a “relationship.”  They used to call consumption the “con” and it would kill you.

At one time I listened to Zig Ziglar incessantly.  I was in financial services sales then and I needed a motivational talk for every appointment.  Ziglar says, in so many words, that the salesman is the catalyst for the american way.  He said this a long time ago, way before credit crisis was the american way, and he also talked as much about integrity as he did sales.  I’m a Zig Ziglar fan, but somewhere I became extremely bitter towards selling.  Probably all the stood up appointments, cancelled contracts, and pressure during the banking crisis to sell our way out of ruin (due to previous overselling).  I starved in my suit and tie, it didn’t seem so scary to hang it up.  I have tomatoes now, too.

I sold less than 100 CDs in a year because I feel so dumb asking for money for them.  People have to insist, and insist at least twice.  Am I fast talking someone’s inheritance into my IRA plan?  No.  Those CDs carry lifeblood.  To say that they go for 5 bucks feels a little ridiculous, it’s more than a money issue.  I’ve given away well over 1000.  They are the manifestation of my gift, and a gift is not for sale.  Well maybe it has to be, but I’m very bashful about it.  It’s my paradox, and I’m going to start writing pop songs.  Those can be for sale, but not very good at sales and that’s why I grow tomatoes.

That was my explanation behind the 2010 EP “Not sure how I’ll eat but I’m not picking peaches.”  My new one is underway, “Hope for the things seen and unseen.”   It has my best songs ever written and I’ll slip you one soon.


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I waited until I heard the birds to get up.  This is the part where I write out everything wrestling in my mind and then either hit publish or delete.  On the file cabinet across the room is a completed packet to give DHS and sign up for Tenn Care.  We’ve already met and are finely qualified.  I wish we weren’t.

So before taking the family’s next step on welfare, I’m asking a good question:  “If I turn this in, what am I doing?”

It’s a complicated argument and a morning’s blog entry won’t get everything right.  The DHS packet is already completed for a few reasons.  For one, my child has never decided that struggling for an ideal is something they’re interested in.  Secondly, health care is messed up and anyone trying to pay on their own can’t do it.  Society’s problem, and mine too.

Two weeks ago we sold our car for principled reasons.  If we didn’t do that “pre parent,” we never would try.  Now there is some cash in the asset column and we could use it.

The DHS question becomes one of ethics and strategy.  Options:

a. Take the welfare, invest the car money in business and work hard to get off the welfare.  One day pay it back.

b. Pay some medical expenses in cash and borrow the rest.  Remain independent from assistance.  Cover future health care with our continued artist incomes as they are.

c. Seek an employer that provides benefits.  Probably buy another car.

The options have complications, but lets not blog too far.  Instead, I give you possible responses to my  future child:

a. Honey, when we started out we needed some help.  But one day Daddy made a hit record and Mommy sold a painting to MoMA.  We started a trust fund for other starving artists who wanted families.

b. Well son, just as you came into this world, your mother and I decided to reduce our dependance on foreign oil with its dire toll on the environment, while at the same moment we proved that expensive social programs are unnecessary if everyone would take responsibility for themselves.    And health care, don’t get me started on health care.


We pause here because it started to rain. I looked up to see the umbrella and Ashley’s rain jacket lying by the door.  Hopping on my bike and sprinting for Belle Morris Elementary on this foggy, rainy morning, I was reminded that some choices, like being intentionally car-less, require a fresh assertion of values.

And suddenly I was hit by a Honda Civic.  It pulled out and didn’t see me.  My handlebars wadded up and the chain was knocked loose.  Otherwise, the front side panel is a bruise of a landing and not a bloody one.  The umbrella was in the right lane of N. Broadway and I was sure it would be my only casualty.  But I saved it.  The guy felt awful.  I told him I was trying to take my wife her umbrella where she was a crossing guard.  He was near tears.  I offered that he could drive me to the school and he’d be doing me a favor, we’d call it even.

“Are you sure?  What about your bike?”

I inspected my bike and chained it to the stop sign (just before the antique shop by Fellini Kroger).  I could fix it.  My knee was sore but not bleeding.  There was no need to play any cards this morning, I just needed the ride.

He had a car seat in the back and a Bible in the passenger seat.  We sat there until he could dart the car back onto Broadway.

He said, “You know I always try to be careful and considerate.  That’s what I get for being late… I just dropped off my kid and was rushing to work.  I didn’t even see you.”

The irony of everything I’ve just been thinking about: children, work, not having a car, Ashley’s part time job, people needing to catch a break.  An unfinished blog at home which I was supposed to finish so that I’d discover what to do.

I don’t know.

Another story about how dangerous it is for me that Ashley is a crossing guard…

Last Thursday I was walking with her to school in the afternoon when an elderly man was sitting on a porch and murmured to us about something. There are crazies around here and we didn’t understand a word he said. After walking on I asked myself, what was the hurry; he’d seemingly been on his own porch.  I told Ashley I’d meet her later, we both thought I should go back and check on him.  He mumbled that he couldn’t walk and that he needed his dog to be brought in.

A chihuahua was leashed to a chair in the lawn beside the house and I guessed it looked harmless.  As I reached for the leash, it bit me twice on the wrist.  Still, I brought the dog to the man and realized that my initial instinct had been correct.  He was probably 80, but he was pissed drunk.  Urine all over his jeans.  He said he’d broken a rib and had been lying on the porch all morning.  I breathed sadly, but knew I had to lift him, no matter how disgusting.  By the time I’d helped him into his dark, vomitous house and moved enough greasy paper plates with stale chicken so that he could fall on the couch, I headed for the door.  The chihuahua was still on the leash and I hung it from a pile of unmemorable junk sitting in my guess of what was a chair.

“He’s a mean little sucker.”

“Have a nice day.”

I’d forgotten about the biting until I walked out into the bright sun and it had already began to swell.  Instead of walking to the school, I went to the CVS Pharmacy on the provincial nearby corner.  I asked the pharmacist,

“What do you recommend for a dog bite?”

“Did you know the dog?”

“No, it was just over there.”

“Go to the doctor.  Now.”

“I don’t have health insurance.”

“I’m sorry, but dog mouths are filthy and he could have rabies.  Seriously, go to the doctor.”

I looked at the swelling and remembered the soiled house.  I thought about our upcoming medical bills.  Then I walked over to the antiseptic cream and she yelled after me that it wouldn’t do it any good.  It would make me feel better, like I’d done something.  Like give a guy a freakin’ break.

I was furious for the rest of the day.  I kept the bite clean and maybe it’s fine, that was last week.  Everybody gets a little jittery when they’re going to be parents.  Right now, I feel like I must have got hit by a car this morning.

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We sold the dryer a while back to raise capital, before the NYC spanking debacle.  And since then we only do laundry on sunny days.  The free standing rack we got at IKEA can’t always hold the weight when a sunny day coincides with the initiative to tackle the laundry heap.  Usually we have to peel it like an onion for three sunny days.  The answer: a laundry line.

Today’s blog will be a “how-to” on building your own laundry line.  Why would you want one? (According to Project Laundry List) 10. Save money, 9. Clothes last longer (where do you think lint comes from?), 8. Pleasant scent, 7. Saves Energy, Preserves Environment, Reduces pollution, 6. Healthy work, 5. Sunshine treatment (sunlight bleaches and disenfects), 4. Replace another appliance, 3. Avoid a fire, 2. It is fun! 1. It is truly patriotic (demonstrates that small steps make a difference, you don’t have to wait for government action)

So here we go.   Two 12′ 4×4″s will give you a 6′ high line if you cut 3′ for your cross piece and leave enough to sink.  In the tennessee red clay, I gave myself two feet and cut off the rest.

Screw the two pieces together and dig some holes.  Mix your concrete according to instructions.

This big iron noodle is for feeding coal into the old fashioned furnaces from around here.  I’ve never figured out to do with one now, but it busts up the limestone in the clay, very neatly.

Wait for the posts to set.  Maybe you have time to watch this music video, it’s about a girl who makes it rain every time she puts out her clothes to dry:

Then you hang your lines.  Use i-hooks for the best look.  To save a few bucks, drill holes and tie off (tape the rope to a screwdriver and pull it through).  There are pulleys too, if you want to pretend you’re hanging your drawers between buildings.

You can tell I’ve got some sag on the first time.  That denim is heavy.

I’m working on a song called “Laundry Line.”   It talks about when we should and shouldn’t bring up difficult matters in situations.  If you want to be transparent, there are places to hang a laundry line and others that you shouldn’t.  But on this particular corner, my shorts are blowing in the wind.

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[ from a. addair who is listening to Keb’ Mo’ (Keb’ Mo’) ]

Some things I’ve been reading about :

“Many animals appear to have an instinctive aversion to genetically modified organisms (GMOs)…a farmer named Bill Lashmet performed a feeding experiment with his cows.  He filled one trough with fifty pounds of genetically modified Bt corn (a corn that has been altered to make its own bacterial toxin)  and the other trough with natural shelled corn.  He watched as every single one of his cows sniffed the Bt corn, withdrew, and then moved on to the natural corn, which they devoured.”

“It is because of the known risks and all the uncertainty that some countries have banned the growing and selling of genetically engineered foods.  Many residents of these countries are highly suspicious of GMOs and are especially watching American children to see if there are any long-term effects.  The children of North America have now become the world’s lab animals on whom to study the long-term effects of eating GM products.”

“[Professor Michael Pollan] likens consumer choices to pulling single threads out of a garment.  We pull a thread from the garment when we refuse to purchase eggs or meat from birds who were raised in confinement, whose beaks were clipped so they could never once taste their natural diet of worms and insects.  We pull out a thread when we refuse to bring home a hormone-fattened turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.  We pull a thread when we refuse to buy meat or dairy products from  cows who were never allowed to chew grass, or breathe fresh air, or feel the sun warm their backs.”

“What you can do:  Demand Labeling…The United States is one of the only industrial nations in the world that doesn’t demand that genetically altered foods be labeled.”

“What you can do:  Focus on Grocers…Even if the government isn’t responsive to consumers’ demands, grocery stores have to be, since we can now take our business elsewhere.”

excerpts taken from Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall

I hesitate to share what I’ve been reading because 1. this is old news to many 2. its offensive to others.  But I decided to click “publish” because 1. reminders are helpful and 2. I’m interested in exploring why concepts in ecology are perceived as combative.


from Harvest for Hope. caption reads: "Topo, an adult male chimpanzee living at a sanctuary in Bend, Oregon, invariably selects organic vegetables and fruits when allowed to choose. Here he eats the organic lettuce and ignores the other.



I think this is a matter of political marketing.  We’re trained to camp at one of two ends of a spectrum, effectively making us inept problem-solvers.

The way I see it, eating should have nothing to do with whether you’re a democrat or republican.  Food is such a basic need that it seems we should at least agree to put our power plays away while we make certain we can feed our bodies with whole, healthy, toxin-free food, if only to be able to fight another day.

Controversy is okay, but we should talk about it with an understanding of where our human institutions fit into a much larger picture.  We made them up, they will not be around forever, and they aren’t worth defending to the point of cruelty and exploitation.

When it comes to the health of our environment (and consequently our health) the issues are just too basic to subject to our silly little games.

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Lets all be pluralists and turn off the TV

we’ll seek the common good, embrace diversity

there’s more than one way to see, there’s mine and yours

through the eyes of me

Lets all be moderate and make a bubble bath

we’ll keep it cool enough that nobody gets mad

and keep your hands where I can see em

don’t touch my freedom

Let’s be conservative and have a casserol

by default it is a dish we all should know

I didn’t change it and you can’t blame me

it was always the recipe

Lets all be liberal and hope it goes away

we’re all intelligent enough to work and play

use your mental faculties

and make the check out to me

Lets be libertarian and get out of the way

your dog pooped in my yard but thats for you to say

I’d like for you to come and clean it

or say you’re sorry and mean it

Lets all stand in the middle and try to find the center

we’ll call it middleism and anyone can enter

look to the right and left twice and cross the street

you’re on the other side and that’s all that it means

did you go somewhere?

words and music by Levon Walker

written: Dec 2009 VA Beach, VA

recorded: June 2010 Grandmother’s Hill Tazewell, VA

filmed: April 2011 Knoxville, TN

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[ from a. addair who is listening to Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama (There Will Be a Light) ]

something should wear this crown. acrylic and charcoal on canvas

A few months ago I heard about a man (Slobodchikoff) who was trying to understand what prairie dogs are talking about as they chirp to one another from their burrow holes.  The study recorded prairie dog calls as hawks, humans, and dogs passed through a village.  The sound clips were then taken to a lab and analyzed, Slobodchikoff and his students found that the frequencies were different in each of the calls.

just trying to figure somethin' out here

Here’s an excerpt from an NPR article about the study:

“He found, to his delight, that the calls broke down into groups based on the color of the volunteer’s shirt. ‘I was astounded,’says Slobodchikoff. But what astounded him even more, was that further analysis revealed that the calls also clustered based on other characteristics, like the height of the human. ‘Essentially they were saying, ‘Here comes the tall human in the blue,’ versus, ‘Here comes the short human in the yellow,’ ‘says Slobodchikoff.”                         –Produced by Radiolab’s Soren Wheeler and NPR’s Jessica Goldstein and Maggie Starbard

it's better not to rush

The different realities that can exist in shared place and time makes me feel wobbly and wide-eyed.  Grateful and bewildered.  Our way is not the only way.

There is more, thank goodness.

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[ from a. addair who is listening to Ryan Adams (Love is Hell) ]

I’ve recently read that “democracy is not merely a set system of government, something done to us or for us”, rather,  “it is the way we interact and experience democratic principles” (Frances Moore Lappe).  I agree and am encouraged to write a letter.

I’m fairly new in my role of adult democratic citizen and so I’m finding that I need to write a pre-letter to organize my thoughts:

I’ve been working as an elementary school crossing guard for the past few months.  At first, I found it tedious, sitting at an intersection busy with cars but  few pedestrians.  When I say few I mean that an average of 9 people cross over a two-hour period. And its the two-hour period that I take issue with.

Please excuse the following exhaustive details, but know that they are relevant:

I started the job showing up at the aforementioned intersection from 7-8 am and then from 2:30-3:30 pm because these were the times given to me by the officer in charge.  Soon after the crossing guard, posted a half block down from my post, informed me that actually the times were 7-8 am and 2-3 pm.  Seeing that somewhere along the line there was a miscommunication and noticing the severe lack of students during much of the alloted time, I thought it best to ask the school for clarification.  At the office I was told that the school doors open at 7:15 am with the bell ringing at 7:45 am, and school dismisses at 2:45 pm with all students gone by 3 pm, at the latest.  She suggested that I be there “a bit before and after” the times stated above.  This made good sense and so I proceeded arriving and departing in this fashion, confident that the job was getting done.

as much of the uniform as i'm going to let you see

Once my routine was recognized by my fellow crossing guard, the supervisor was promptly notified; and I, in turn, was notified that the hours were indeed 7-8 am and 2-3 pm.

Did I understand and was I able to keep these hours?

I answered in the affirmative and felt a frothing sense of anger the rest of the day.

It took me an afternoon and part of the evening to understand why I felt so affronted but finally came to the conclusion that I deeply resented being subjected to an inefficient and chaffing bureaucratic schedule.  Both for the sake of my own wasted resources and the collective’s.

Why did I have to stand on the corner (in cold rain at the worst of it) during times (most extremely 50 minutes in the afternoon) when there was no conceivable chance of a school child passing by  because they are not yet released from the building (two children cross after school, the first arriving at approx. 2:50, the other at 2:55)?  I resent that I my job performance is based on the letter of the guidelines rather than the comprehensive question of objective.

work table

I understand that my mismanaged hour or so and my discomfort and frustration are minor in the grand scheme of things.  But I also understand that the wide world is made up of lots of small things.  And that these small things matter and form the broad attitudes, values, and infrastructures of our culture.  In a globally interconnected era, our cultures affect every other organism on the planet.

This local example of frustrating bureaucracy ripples out and is representative of the way we tend to handle larger scale issues.

And so I’m thinking that probably it is my responsibility  to write (a version of) this letter to the police boss.

I hate to ruffle any feathers, my comfort-loving self telling me to just quit or learn to live with it.  These may be my options, but not before I at least do my job in this living democracy to say, “This doesn’t make sense to me, can we talk about it?”

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