Life Harvester 30: Elon Musk Meth Conspiracy, Ask A Shmuck, Marc & Olivia's Bidet, Free Palestine, Texan Summer Jams
Life Harvester is written by Colin Hagendorf. This is the email version of a print publication available for low-cost individual subscription via Paypal or on Patreon. Life Harvester subscriptions are free to prisoners. If you know an incarcerated person who would like to receive a newsletter every month, get in touch with me directly and I’ll take care of it.
HEY THERE, JUNEBUG, YOU SURE LOOK GOOD
Seems like I’ve imposed yet another transphobic deadline on myself, a transexual, and instead of spending the beginning of this Pride month flirting and relaxing, I’m frantically putting together another fucking issue of my fanzine. What is this, conversion therapy? Kiese Laymon says that when he’s trying to get through writer’s block, he begins by describing the block. “Once it’s described, I decide what I need to go through it. Then you have to turn around and describe the feeling of running through it. We’re writers. We don’t run through anything without describing what we ran through.”
The other day I ran down a steep hill through a bunch of stinging nettles trying to get to some water to swim in. It was well worth it. Once my itchy, burning knees hit the cold creek the nettles were a distant memory and nothing else mattered. Besides, this hot forest femme I know told me nettles are good for your skin. As I was packing up my towel and book, I realized my hasty plan may have been flawed–there was no water to dip in at the top of the hill. Then on the walk back to my car, a cool rain fell, right on time.
My writer’s block is that I don’t want to write. I want to swim in a creek. I want to walk in the woods with my dog. I want to flirt with a hot person who I know likes me back. How can I describe the shape of that? Besides, one can’t run through that kind of block on the page. The shape of my writer’s block is the boundless expanse of life outside, in my bed, in the car–anywhere but at my desk. Happy birthday to three of my favorites to ever hold a pen: Mel Brooks, Lydia Lunch, and Fetty Wap.
ELON MUSK METH CONSPIRACY
An anonymous tipster slid in my DMs recently and asked me to pass on this very plausible conspiracy theory to the Life Harv readership:
Ok so Elon Musk's brother is always flying around in his private jet, stopping at airports for 20 mins and then leaving. This is true. You can find the nerds who track the flights on Twitter. Elon does this too but to a lesser extent. And I have heard from a semi-reliable source that Grimes has been drugged by Elon and that's why she's gone so off the deep end. So basically the theory is that Elon gets his money from being part of a Mexican-US cartel that is importing meth. And that all the people connected to him are high as fuck — Dave Chappelle, Kanye, Grimes — all these people who have "gone crazy" are really just meth addicts on some high quality celebrity meth.
ASK A SHMUCK
I’ve been in prison for the last 9 years. People keep coming out to me. I have no idea why they feel the need to discuss this issue with me, because I really don’t care. I’m straight and I can’t figure out why people choose me to talk to about this. Please advise.
—Confused Hearing Another Person’s Sexuality
I want to start by saying I’ve never been to prison. I have friends and family who’ve spent time inside and I used to teach math classes to men who had just been released as part of a GED program. I’ll never understand what it’s like unless I get locked up myself.
But one thing I do know about, intimately, is hiding my queerness as a shameful secret in a world of men. If you’ve read this column before, you know I’m a trans woman who came out late in life. I spent so many years holding it in, unable to acknowledge it even to myself. And once I was able to admit it to myself, the next step was to start telling others, which was terrifying! The fear of rejection, or facing social consequences was so intense, but the pressure building up inside me to share my truth with another person was equally intense. I had to speak myself into existence by telling someone else who I was. The people that I chose weren’t necessarily other queers, though some inevitably were. What they shared was that they were people who I trusted most deeply, who held me down and who I had held down, who I knew would ride for me no matter what.
I can only imagine the fear of reprisal is even greater in prison, and so the degree of trust these people have for you must be monumental. This is a complement, CHAPS, a reflection of your character. It’s a beautiful thing that within the confines of an incarcerated life, these other people can see you as a safe person and trusted confidante.
I reached out to a friend who did 5 years for manslaughter and has done a lot of work reflecting on his time, to double check my answer, and he had this to say, “I actually had a long time friend from the gangs recently come out to me as a cross-dresser, and perhaps trans, and I felt so deeply honored. Huge amounts of trust are needed in these hyper-masculine environments. This guy must be very approachable and feel very safe.”
Xoxo, Shabby the Shmuck
GRILLO & OLIVIA’S BIDET
Long time readers may recall that in issue 3, I reviewed my friend Marc Grillo’s couch. The piece was more about the comfort and ease of our friendship than a couch. On this visit, there were two big differences in the apartment: Grillo’s girlfriend Olivia has moved in, and they’ve installed a top of the line bidet. Of the former fact, I’ll say this: Casa Grillo desperately needed a feminine touch and Olivia has great taste. She brazenly subway surfs between tacky and cute in the most dangerous way. Imagine if Fran Fine wore a cornicello. If you have the privilege of knowing her, I hope you’re grateful. But this review is about the bidet.
I haven’t always been a bidet lover. The first time I saw a bidet was in my early-20s in Paris in a shitty little room in Montmartre that my girlfriend and I had rented for €8 a night. She was in art school and interested in the Bohemians. I was interested in the fact that I could buy booze at the épicerie down the block and codeine at the pharmacie on the corner. I spent the week in our room drinking wine and promethazine, eating very little, pissing and puking bile into the bidet, much to the chagrin of my date, who wanted to use it for its stated purpose.
Years later, my friends Mya and Noah got a bidet toilet seat at their apartment. Noah was insistent that I try it, but I was skeptical. It seemed fancy and I was young enough that I still subscribed to the decidedly bourgeois moral framework that asceticism was somehow superior to having a clean asshole. But the second that cold water splashed my tiny tuchus, I understood that the #NewWorldInMyHeart wasn’t some austere, nearly-primitive commune like my anti-Civ sisters had been advocating for, but a society in which all people could have a bidet if they wanted one.
It wasn’t long before I purchased a booty bath for my own home. I got the simplest bidet imaginable, because what more does my humble bum need than a little spritz of cold water? For years I’ve been happy with it. But Marc has never shied away from indulgence, and so when he and Olivia decided to outfit their home throne with a shit shvitz, they spared no expense.
My first impression of Marc and Olivia’s Toto Washlet was that it looked like more bidet than I needed, and frankly, it is. But I have to admit, I was impressed by some of its myriad features, most of which I never really figured out how to use. The biggest perk was the heated seat. Even in the midst of an unseasonably hot spring afternoon, it felt nice to sit my clammy can on that warm plastic. The warm water, however, I wasn’t so fond of. Call me a heathen if you must, but I find the ice cold spray absolutely invigorating. The air-dry was great, though, gentle as the soft breath of a lover about to eat the booty.
At the end of the day, I can’t say I’d spent the money on a Toto Washlet. These things are like, almost $500, I think. But I’m a simple bitch who needs a simple schvitz, and my $40 no-name bidet attachment is more than up to the task. But if you’ve got money to spare and and want to pamper your derriere (sorry I wrote that), I wouldn’t begrudge you this big ticket item.
FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA, PALESTINE WILL BE FREE
Not to put too fine a point on it, but in this moment, it feels important to emphasize that my Jewishness has always been anti-zionist. It was only in recent years that I learned about the artist Gustav Metzger, (the namesake of Becca’s basset hound Gus), who was rendered nation-less as a child by the Holocaust. His Auto-Destructive Art is rooted (pun intended) in this statelessness, and his conception of Jews as an inherently stateless people is one that I’ve always resonated strongly with. The project of Israel, the creation of a Jewish “homeland,” is fundamentally at odds with this conception.
Here in Pittsburgh, there’s been an anti-semitic smear campaign against a bagel store owned by a Jewish lesbian. Someone’s been posting fliers all over town suggesting that because the owners of shop are vocally in support of Palestinian liberation and critical of Israeli apartheid, their business is advocating for “the murder of Jews.” This is upsetting for a number of reasons, but I find I’m most offended by the notion that there has ever been or could ever be a consensus on anything among Jewish people. We literally have a document called the Mishneh Torah (“the Torah reviewed”)–in which 12th century rabbinical scholar Maimonedes lays out his interpretation of the Talmud–that has been the source of inter-textual arguments among rabbis that have spanned centuries. Setting aside some of the objectively more substantive critiques (Israel’s lack of value as anything but a colonial project, the eugenics that undergird so much of the nation’s citizenship policy) the notion that our people’s culture can’t accommodate a little inter-community squabbling is deeply offensive to me.
I’ll leave you with a few words my friend Aiyana shared recently that succinctly express everything I could hope to: “In spite of a profound appreciation for the often-Zionist Jews who risked their lives to fight the Nazis, I’ve never wavered in my stance as an anti-Zionist or in my firm belief that Israel does not represent the diaspora and does not represent Judaism. I believe that Zionism is a betrayal of Jewish values.... As Jews, one of our primary tasks is to learn and tell our story of oppression, just as we do for pretty much every holiday. Our story is repeated and passed down through generations not just for our own self-knowledge, survival, and preservation, but so that we can resist oppression in all its forms, and for others—not just ourselves.”
I began writing this piece a couple weeks ago, when every other tweet or instagram story I saw was an infographic about the Ramadan attack on Al Aqsa mosque by the Jerusalem police or the IDF siege of Sheikh Jarrah. But after a hastily brokered peace that left Palestine no better off and let Israel off the hook for blatant war crimes, no one seems to be talking about it anymore. But the situation is no less urgent, and it won’t be until Palestine is free.
We all have a duty to work for a better world, but for my fellow Chosen People, the obligation is especially acute. If we aren’t vocal in our opposition, how can we expect others to be? If we take the responsibility of tikkun olamseriously, that it is our mandate from G*d to fix the world, how can we rationalize an apartheid being upheld, a genocide being committed, on our behalf? We may not free Palestine in our lifetimes, but we must never stop fighting. As the third generation Mishneh sage Rabbi Tarfon said in the oft-quoted second chapter, sixteenth verse of the Talmud, “it is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:16)
TEXAN SUMMER JAMS
Over the course of this past miserable winter, Arak Avakian and Mose Brown, two members of the Archie and Jughead of Austin hardcore bands (Glue & Institute), released solo cassettes, sharing the proceeds with Club A Kitchen, a mutual aid effort undertaken by a bunch of cute NYC anarchists. I’ve been listening to both on repeat since they came out in October, but they feel like they’ve really locked into place now that the weather is warm. Let me tell you about them.
Arak James Hack the Planet into World Pieces Glue Records 002. The first time I spoke to Arak Avakian was in the backyard of an Austin punk bar after a show some New York friends had played down the street. He photobombed a picture of Rancid Dave and I, and then introduced himself. When he walked away I turned to Dave, “you know that guy? I’ve wanted to become his friend since I moved here. He’s got such a New York face.” Dave looked at me confused. “You know, like the shape of his nose and his thick eyebrows? Like, he wouldn’t look out of place as a member of Anthrax.” Getting to know him over the years has been a delight. The man is a true freak, and wrote my favorite riff in the last decade of punk (Institute’s “Shangri-La”).
Hack the Planet... sees Avakian nodding to his Texan roots. This is pure giddy-up music. The cassette opens with what might be my favorite track, the twangy speak-sung “A Cheap Place to Live.” Not a lot of people could earnestly deliver the phrase “a poor man’s mind in a mayonnaise malaise” without sounding foolish, but Arak pulls it off. The rest of the tape is phenomenal dirtbag country.
From “Cheap Place,” Avakian makes his way through a maudlin ballad about being a Southerner in New York City (“Whistle with an Accent”), a honky tonk bop about a loveless relationship (“Heartlessly Wasted”), a junk food-based utopian vision in the vein of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” (“Candy Bar”), and back to the down-home country wisdom of “Cheap Place to Live” (title track “Hack the Planet”), before closing with a nod to his Baptist childhood–12 tracks of acapella harmonizing on classic hymn “Never Grow Old.”
I don’t really know the first fucking thing about country music, so maybe there’s a bunch of obvious references I’m missing, but what I can say for certain is that Arak is a gem and this record is adorable. Listen to this record when your apartment is too hot to move and you’re laying on your couch with a fan blowing straight on your sweaty face and your beverage of choice within reach.
Peace de Resistance Hedgemakers Glue Records 003.I don’t remember getting to know Mose, but I briefly lived down the street from his parents and one time his dad was just BLASTING Faith No More while doing yardwork, which is clearly fuckin sick. And the last time he stayed at my house in Pittsburgh, driving Margaret on Pharmakon tour, I told him I was trying to go through a disco phase and he played me “Ladybug” by Bumblebee Unlimited for the first time. It’s a perfect song and you should take a few minutes to listen to it RIGHT now.
Peace de Resistance is far from disco, though. Like Avakian’s solo effort, Brown spent a portion of his pandemic undertaking a perfect genre experiment. Although unlike his friend and bandmate, who looked to their shared Texas origins for inspiration, Brown set his sights across the globe, recording a pitch perfect Zamrock EP.
From the impeccable opening riff on “Peaceful Dance,” Hedgmakers hits its stride and keeps on strutting. Never too fast, never too slow, but always keeping it moving. I know that on “What’s It For?” he slowly enunciates every syllable of the word “masturbator,” and that the chorus of “Pickin on a Scab in L.A.” is simply that. I can barely understand a word Brown is saying, so I couldn’t tell you what any of these songs are about. What I can tell you is that for Peace de Resistance, Brown hasn’t adjusted his sneering vocal delivery from the singing he’s known for in Institute, though it sounds completely different laying evenly in the mix with a warm, fuzzy rhythm guitar that you could easily convince me had been sampled from Amanaz’s 1975 Africa LP rather than recorded by a friend of mine in Brooklyn last year.
While Hack the Planet… is music for a hot, lazy afternoon, Peace de Resistance sounds like a balmy summer night. The kind of night where you have a couple of options but haven’t decided what your plans are yet; where even though we’re all getting old and you don’t quite feel young, there’s an echo of the vastness of youth, a sense of boundless possibility. This is music to blast from the boombox duct taped to your handlebars while riding your bike through the city and all the lights turn green right when you get to them.