Kinetic Essays Index

Hellholes: Theory and Practice


"Hold your fire, I'm coming out of the bathroom!"

"Are those blueberries or mold?"
"Isn't that the eternal question, really."

"Come to think of it, the fire marshal is always sticking his nose in my business!"

By my thirteenth year, I knew that I would never, ever, ever, ever succumb to the claims of "Domestic Life." Meaning that, I had no intention of becoming a hostage in my own home. For the sane and solvent citizens of this great country, home is often a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, insulated from the world with oak furniture and wall-to-wall carpeting. Domestication, for these feng shui masters, is somehow intimately connected to The Meaning of Life. Home decor is a reflection of our inward decency. And boredom, I suppose, is but the unrippling pond of inner tranquility. But after years of Southern Living, Family Ties, Martha Stewart, and stupid advice from other parents, I eventually came to think of domestication as "the lifestyle of Common Sense," something I really wanted no part of. I was young, wild, and invincible— I didn't want to retreat from Life. I didn't want to be sensible. I didn't want what they wanted, least of all their narrow-gate hopes for life and modern maturity.

Instead, I wanted my home to be a cauldron of experiences; part laboratory, part Neverland, replete with dear carcasses, Halloween costumes, booby-traps, and perpetual-motion machines. A proper home, I felt, should be an incubator for bad ideas, your own private hellhole, a brash and standing mockery of the "facts of life." Unfortunately, when the biological-clock struck twenty, I lost most of my sympathizers to a strange sleeping sickness that turned Life into a chore, virtually overnight. It appeared that, sometime between the voting age and the drinking age, the Experimental Spirit dies in the greater share of us, mercilessly bludgeoned to death by the Reality Principle. With this spirit snuffed, the home is annexed by the great matrix of Necessity. The floorplan of which, I imagine, looks something like this:

Table 1.A.

Kitchen = Food and Water
Bathroom = Hygiene
Bedroom = Sleep and Copulation (or "Fornication")
Living Room = Television Set and Ceramic Cats

Normally, the post-collegiate public is quick to dismiss my plans and protests. They chalk them up as squeaky teen-angst ('White-Suburban-Rage'), glib rhetoric from the failing counterculture, Fight Club cultural-wake, or simply a matter of Denial, a Peter-Pannish case of arrested development. And, to some extent, there is little I can say against Domesticity without sounding glib. It's all been said before, in every possible way. I am only one of a restless million that would love to see Martha Stewart's head on a sterling silver platter. So, sparing you the diatribe, I'll pretend we're of the same mind, and switch the channel to:

As such, the remainder of this essay will be what our middle-school English teachers called "expository" rather than "persuasive" prose. I won't try to convince you that Domestication is a feedbag existence, an "air-conditioned nightmare," a long and costly funeral march toward Death and Taxes. No, I want to be objective, using the empirically-derived equations above (See Table 1.A) to negate, invert, and pervert the laws of Domestic Life. Here's how it breaks down. Each room serves as an "experimental chamber" for its respective domain. The bathroom, for instance, houses all the crazy hygienic experiments involving, among other things: Colgate, plungers, athlete's foot, handlebar moustaches, pubic pigtails, our body the temple, Icy Hot, privacy, freestyle plumbing, cleanliness vs. filth, fingernail clippers, and— last but not least— piss and shit. With this operating procedure, science can optimize the misuse of the Family Home, finding wild and undreamt applications of kitchen faucets, armchairs, Christmas ornaments, and electric juicers. Donut juice, plastic juice, loofa juice. The possibilities are endless.

II. The First Experiment

The first experiment— the "Total Negation"— began in my freshmen year, around the time of the "Reading Break." Restless with dormitory life, I gave my mattress to a suitemate, moved all my worldly possessions into the suite storage-closet, and otherwise disavowed any claims on my luxurious triple-dorm-room. For the first three weeks, I actually slept in the four-by-five storage-closet, folding myself up in my dirty laundry, and awaking the next morning with severe neckcramps. Seeking out other accomodation, I would sleep in study lounges, laundromats, courtyard cemeteries, ivy patches, unheated classrooms, in the dormrooms of friends and well-wishers, trying desperately to promote sleep to veritable experience. Word spread on campus, until most freshmen knew of the apocryphal "Boy-who-slept-in-the-closet." When I claimed the mythology, students were often surprised, having always assumed it was merely the outgrowth of another circulating urban legend. Girls, in particular, always took pity on me, inviting me over, sharing Jiffy-Pop and hot cocoa during late-nite Paul Newmann flicks, never once believing that I had actually done this on my own volition. They chose, instead, to follow the rumor that I had been thrown out into the cold by callous roommates, a rumor started by my roommates themselves. At bottom, I had negated the claims of homelife by negating the home itself; using dispossession and inconvenience to wipe my slate clean, and purge the body of the need for minor-comforts and simple pleasures. Now, I was ready to track the outside in. All I needed was a space for experimentation.

III. The Second Experiment

As if reading my mind, the University of Virginia offered me an "involuntary year sabbatical," hoping that I could perhaps grow more on my own, during a rigorous period of independent study. Only the letter called it "academic suspension," which, if you ask me, hardly sounds like an honor. Meanwhile, a hundred miles north, my friend Joey also received a "sabbatical" for his stellar academic performance. And yet another friend, Sean, opted to forgo his first-year altogether and delve straight into the featherweight responsibilities of "life on academic suspension." Without so much as a glance at the lease, we moved into an old Civil War hospital at 309 North Street, Portsmouth, Virginia, 23904; a large barren apartment inhabited by the souls of the Confederate Dead. Before long, the street-address alone became shorthand for an entire lifestyle, a handy abbreviation for excess, squallor, laughter, ginger beer, pirates, masturbation, and some of the prettier flowers of exaggerated Being. We were not, initially, working according to any scientific method. The whole thing just kind of grew in organically, blowing our deposit in the grandest style imaginable:

Junk and jetsam piled ceiling-high. Streetlamps propped against crumpled car-fenders. Hundreds of reddish-greenish-bluish "moldgardens" growing in bottles and tupperware, scattered throughout the residence. A hallway shooting gallery of air-guns and aluminum arrows, dangerously ricocheting off cans and windowpanes. Burlap and theatrical castle facades lining the halls and walls, with bad pornography being trampled under foot. Nicolas, the mutant kitty, plopping twice his weight in catshit all over the apartment floor (which we diligently covered in kitty litter, and left for the vultures). The household Television Set, screen included, painted a vibrant Yves Klein-blue, before it could turn the household to stone. The closet was padded and converted into my personal sensory deprivation chamber; and Sean's bedroom, into a very makeshift darkroom. Garbage duties were flatly ignored, until the entire kitchen-corner rivaled the dumpster below. Summer temperatures hovered around 115 farhenheit, melting cassettes and much of our photographic evidence. Toilets surrounded a kitchen table full of toys and ancient chinese food. There were elaborate funerals for dead-kittens, and blitzkrieg attacks on roach farms. Swords inexplicably fell from the sky, with life-size scarecrow-marionettes looking on with a smile. New Years decorations layered over Christmas Decorations layered over Halloween decorations layered over antebellum grime. Unchecked growth. Nasty habits. Pell-mell aesthetics.

Our apartment was a stronghold in the battle of the Snobs versus the Slobs. Snobs are the people that take domestication to its final, neurotic conclusion. They rope off their dining rooms for public display, argue endlessly over the finer points of lawncare, police zoning laws and property value, have "libraries" without any books and books they would never read, nitpick at restaurants as a public demonstration of their refinement, and otherwise shield their children from the corruptions of the Slob Gospel. The Snob dreamhouse is filled with "nice things" that cannot, under any circumstances, be touched by human hands. They are objects of luxury— by definition, waste in its most glitzy and conspicuous forms. Trophies of a truly "disposable income." This is nightmarish to Slobs like me, whose grungy humanism demands a relentless use and misuse of the world around us, for both public welfare and private amusement. Within our walls, we resurrected waste and redeemed the wasteland. We gave broken streetlamps, abandoned toilets, and telephone parts a new hope in our "House for the Homeless." Less cleanliness and more godliness. New life through duct tape. I wanted my living space to be traumatic, a living situation iffy enough to radically change any visitor that stepped, leftfoot first, through our frontdoor. I wanted visitors to suspect that, maybe-maybe-maybe, the laws of Nature bent within our walls. Our landlady did not share my enthusiasm:

"Dear Joseph Moser, Sean Johnson, and Brandon Joyce, It seems that my verbal message last week was not heard— now hear this: Your apartment is filthy! I may remind that your lease requires you to maintain your residence in a sanitary condition. You are in violation of that provision... Though the timely payment of your rent is commendable, the condition of your residence is... deplorable. I trust you will act immediately on this demand,
Sincerely, Rosemary S. Dorrow"

This letter— one of many— was framed and hung prominently in the common room, where it was visible to all, including Rosemary S. Dorrow herself. Other letters followed, accusing us (falsely) of shooting cats and (factually) of atrocious bathroom habits. Our bathroom habits, though none of her business, were not the kind of details you would share at a family Christmas dinner. Once, after unclogging the showerdrain with high-power Drano, Joey keenly observed that hair was only half of the plumbing problem. And because of the rank Brie-odor and consistency of the drainage, a new houserule was born— "Please no masturbating in the shower, no exceptions. In case of masturbation, please bring a tissue to your room and conduct your business there."

At 309 North, masturbation was not a release for the sexually hopeless, but a deeply metaphorical ritual. It was negation of Family Life and sexual repression, a closed loop of fulfillment and gratification, a narcissistic romance, and, above all, a Declaration of Independence. Techniques were heavily discussed over dinner, in mixed company, lyricizing the differences between "Lube" and "Au Natural," left hand versus right, "cupping" versus backhand versus the All-American Standard Grip. Masturbation, taken to this umpteenth degree, was really a gesture and attitude toward Common Sense. The word and sentiment I think I'm groping for here is "autonomy." Yes, the private home, in order to be an experimental space, must fly autonomy on its flagpole. And this is what we three ding-a-lings thought we were doing, for the first time on our own. One misstep at a time.

We decked the halls with sublime objects, what-the-fuck objects, surrealist objects, conversation pieces, objects to be destroyed, momento moris, gifts of the magi. We were placing obstacles in the path of least resistance. The masterpiece, beyond a doubt, was the living room ball-pit, of the sort found in Chucky Cheeses worldwide. We collected the balls over a month, by skimming from area fastfood chains, in the dead of night. With garbage bags stuffed in our backpockets, we'd leap the iron-fences, dive below the surface, and fill the bags to our heart's content. The result: thirty bags, thousands of plastic balls, and a rainbow of color and fun. It was the cherry on top; the best we could offer the world before 309 North disbanded that September, leaving behind a trail of memories and mysterious carpet-stains...

A Habitat for Inhumanity—

"The hour stands still but time does not."
As time progresses, and as my graduating class undersigns themselves into higher rent and longer hours, my living accommodations just grow curioser and curioser— basements, couches, holier-than-hellholes, auberges de jeunesse, great tales of domestic uncanniness, and ofcourse my new home— an empty pantry in the capital of the Confederacy. This is my little rabbithole— fifteen square feet for forty dollars a month. Is this the solution to Necessity? Does this world have any limitations whatsoever? A house overfull with dumpstered toys, cuisine, and female undergarments. Heavyweight trannie hookers strutting my street corner, offering handjobs and he-pussy to the Richmond bluecollar. A state-certified madhouse nextdoor, whose looney-toon tenants cheerfully sweep the grass, giggle, and peddle their daily cigarette rations to my housemates. In the midnight hour, drunken rats merrily sing and circle-dance in my common room, playing mousetrap limbo until the morning light. And snuggled tight, I fall asleep under the fairyglow of Christmas lights and the best of all possible circumstances. Yes, life is beautiful, but I am still in search of souls in search of something else, a living space that will be a cultural epicenter unto itself, a jagged laceration in the space-time continuum. One day— one day— I will find that auspicious constellation of individuals who, having lost all tolerance for common sense, might help me finally feel at home in the universe.

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