strange vacation

Last summer, after walking away from the Arcosanti workshop and a relationship turned bitter, I found myself traipsing rather aimlessly from city to city, casino to casino, motel to motel simply in search of something to occupy my time without costing too much (low-limit poker, at which I rate to come out a tiny bit ahead,) inexpensive lodgings with air conditioning and whatever else fortune might toss my way. I wound up spending time in Prescott, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, Oceanside, Reno, Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, with a finale in the Black Rock Desert at some overblown company picnic I couldn’t get away from soon enough, despite the presence of dear friends and fond memories. As Neil Young so poignantly sings, It’s easy to get buried in the past / When you try to make a good thing last….

It wasn’t a summer worth writing much about. I spent many hours at the $3/$6, $4/$8 and $8/$16 limit Hold’em tables, just about breaking even. I stared at the ceilings of many cheap Motel 6, &c rooms, wondering where to go next, following momentary whims and weather patterns and the occasional invitation, sometimes sleeping under the stars in Joshua Tree NP or some other place off the highway. I spent some hours pursuing random online research, beginning with an unfamiliar word or technical idea and often winding up in some ontological no-man’s-land, scratching my head over that proverbial left turn at Albuquerque. In honor of his recent passing, I read through the works of JG Ballard, whose words seemed to outline my day-to-day experiences and observations perfectly, his unique tongue the asonorous soundtrack to a mediocre waking nightmare. I had my classical guitar along for the ride, but rarely brought it out for air. I gained weight from long hours of sitting, a diet of junk food and the kind of neo-hyper-quasi-malt-liquor 28-Oz genocide beverages sold only in 7-Elevens in unseemly neighborhoods, and a nearly pathological avoidance of the outdoors, where the sun was waiting with a baseball bat and pepper spray. The creeping, narcotic effluvium of bad television oozed slowly in through my eyes and ears, carefully desensitizing entire regions of my brain to the “realities” of contemporary ultra-violence, incestuous ritual soap operas, Fox News and Adult Swim. I rather enjoyed all this as a sort of poor-man’s decadence, an escape from my own often overworking, over-imaginative mind.

I remained mostly in the desert, only rarely braving the high mountain tops and the ocean. I had allowed my flesh to become attuned to the desert climate, my desperate addiction to air-conditioned environments notwithstanding. The ocean, once my great expanse of solace and renewal, offered no comfort, nor did the overcrowded lakes at high altitudes; these felt like cardboard cut-out imitations of what I had once known, property values rising in inverse proportion to their actual worth as The Sprawl did its slow, inescapable dance of death over the rooftops and through the forests that separated these once beautiful regions from the metastasizing concrete oblivion of the cities of man, which reached out to them with furious tentacles of need, seeking nutrients and moisture.

This weekend I revisited that place, the air-conditioned motel room, not seeking a rendez-vous with the past, but hoping for temporary peace and a respite from the heat. Instead, I felt myself being sucked through a nozzle of inevitability, back to the doldrums of a slow suicide of alcoholism, malnutrition and indolence. I felt the great clocks all quickening, my will slowing to a standstill, my friends all fading into stylized digital impressions of themselves, the New Disease making its final bid for ownership of my body. The hum of the air conditioner over the brassy noise of the television passed on their orders to me from farther up the chain of command, the great chain of being, the food chain… Back on the chain gang, changing, changed.

Three youths, brown with sunburnt filth and diesel soot, held up a crude cardboard sign outside the gas station. “Spare change?”

Powersys 2.0 – the finishing details are endless…

Desulfators, catastrophic fuses, buss bars, oh my!


Eight months and fifteen thousand dollars later, I am still not finished.



Last night’s landmark (in lieu of project completion) was the final interconnection and torquing of the battery bank itself. With no charging in about a year and prolonged exposure to the elements, bank voltage was measured at 49.63V, the rough equivalent of 12.4V on a twelve-volt system. Which really ain’t too shabby, and utterly miraculous given the combination of neglect and rough-housing these things have endured since coming into my ownership. But that’s all I had to show for the effort: four significant digits. An electrochemical “Hello, world!” The first clumsily-uttered syllables of a precocious infant. Proof of life inside that unbelievably massive, toxic aquarium, the soft machine containing (at full charge) nearly one-quarter megawatt-hour. Antony & the Johnsons should sing a ballad in homage to this monstrosity.

Tonight, after escaping from the afternoon heat for many hours in the *other* container, I worked by flashlight, slowly pushing closer to completion. Whatever criticisms I may hurl at myself publicly, I am trying for the first time in my life to actually do everything right on this project. Every little step calls for introspection, “what-if” contingency anticipation, reconsideration of the previous three steps, and painfully cautious execution. Usually I just rush through things, after the motto, “We’ll fix it in the mix.” The stakes are too high now. There might be a caustic sink hole in the ground to show for miscalculation. Or permanent blindness. Or worse.

Tomorrow I’ll pull down the protective plywood sheets I put up this morning, connect the desulfators and then figure out what to do next.

The After(mam)math – photographic evidence

magic day

Yesterday was unseasonably cool and, in the morning, overcast with cumulus clouds, which blocked the sun occasionally, making it a perfect time to go out into the sculpture garden and get busy with some projects. The windmill’s tail needed to be re-mounted; the Tower needed to get its electric lighting started; ditto for the dome. I got all three done, plus a few sundry Tower modifications / repairs. On top of that, I got a good bit of maintenance inside the living area taken care of, and cleaned up the music room. Just the vacuuming took nearly an hour. The dust out here is brutal, and I don’t fight it very often, so when I do, it’s a real chore.

Windmill, repaired

While I was up on the top level of the Tower, I took a few photos of East Jesus below (click for larger image.) I got a little work done at dusk and will hopefully get more done soon, posting the evidence accordingly.

I haven’t tested it yet, but the dome should perform quite well as a counterpoise for the screwdriver antenna, and I got to thinking…. what if I set up the Mac as a sound capture / looper / processor / mixer and created live mashups of ham & swl radio signals, ergo Geodesic Dome As Radiophonic Musical Instrument? I was thinking of doing an extended work of sound art based on that idea anyway… whaddaya think?

Reminder: The Mammoth BBQ is Coming!

Captain USA on the 4th of July

Word arrived today that Captain USA will be performing his latest and most spectacular stunt to date – The Flaming Burro of Freedom – here in Slab City (at or near The Range) on Independence Day. Despite the punishing summer heat of the low desert, masses will assemble to witness this unique and daring celebration of freedom of expression. In his own words,

Hello Friends! I have finally found a place where I can truly champion freedom Like only Capt USA can. I want to invite everyone I know to share my joy in finding it. I don’t expect many to join me because it truly is Hells Anvil for heat but there is a crystal clear cool canal running nearby for swimming in during the hottest part of the day. The following correspondence is with a revered slab city artist responsible for creating East Jesus which, if you’ve been to Slab City, you know, speaks for itself in capturing the mysterious fringe of freedom that whispers to us all when society seems to mean everything but. <snip>

The complete exchange between Captain USA and myself can be read here.

it’s official


Your Invitation to Erect the Mammoth, Etc.

(redirects you to Facebook, where you’ll have to log in, sign in, whatever. sorry. not my idea.)

Please take a moment to read the East Jesus survival guide if you plan on camping out. Athankew.

cosmos & the mammoth

Greetings, sports fans.

It’s about 105F outside now, but I still stir from within the air-conditioned confines of the East Jesus nerve net / radio shack / promotions office, just to go and once again have a look at Cosmos – the mesmerizing, elegant sculpture by Royce Carlson, on display here until it finds a new, permanent home with someone wealthier than myself. If I had the twenty grand, I’d buy it outright. I will be very sad to see it go. Contact Royce directly at <> if you happen to be interested.

The piece already has a bit of history and infamy. It was on display at Burning Man in 2004, and appeared in the movie Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis. It’s long been my dream to take sneaky advantage of the fact that I have lots of space virtually for free, and there are lots of large sculptures out there whose storage fees are slowly draining the coffers of the artists. Technically, the Transit Antenna bus was the first artwork to be added to the collection from the outside, but that’s in a class of its own – artwork, mobile home, museum and monument to itself, installation and guest house…. Cosmos is a *sculpture*, period.

Over on the “dark side” of the sculpture garden, where a more chaotic, post-apocalyptic sensibility and stories of The Fall of Western Civilization told in a dozen assemblages made of junk reign supreme, Joe Holliday’s Mammoth saw its resurrection – at least the first phase of it. With a skeleton crew of helpers working in the afternoon heat, the parts were unloaded, concrete footings were poured and the armature was assembled, awaiting a larger gathering of participants to hoist it up into place and finish its skin. After some seeing and sawing about whether or not music and festivities in honor of Mammoth’s erection would take place here, it’s beginning to look once again as if some sort of festival will indeed happen. In any case, all signs point to at least a final assembly and upright-making on June 19th.

Like much of Holliday’s art – installations, graphics and sculpture – the Mammoth is raw, aggressive, and brilliant in its visionary scope. Joe begins with abstract, ontological ideas within a conceptual framework, incorporating process and discovery and the ever-present limitations of whatever material happens to be on hand in the realization and representation of the idea. Accordingly, finished works are challenging, richly textured, and reveal density and complexity to the diligent observer. These photos is no way do the Mammoth justice – they are shown solely for their documentary value, and in a kind of surreal contrast to the final, standing sculpture. Proof we did something this weekend.

Mammoth is to become a permanent installation of the East Jesus sculpture garden.

Cosmos (by Royce Carlson) in motion from chasterus on Vimeo.

meet Captain USA

Living in the middle of nowhere, between a live bombing range and one of the world’s most spectacularly surreal and barren man-made disasters turned wildlife sanctuary, ensconced in an art compound made principally of garbage, has its advantages. For one, the boring cookie-cutter mundanes you don’t really want to see (I mean, you moved out to the middle of nowhere for a reason, right?) think you’re a weirdo and go away. And then the poeple you do want to meet, greet and get drunk with on occasion think you’re a weirdo and say to themselves, “Wow! A WEIRDO! One of us! One of us!“ People who make big ridiculous things out of metal, shredded tires or styrofoam. People who pose naked with guns and people who set themselves on fire. In my three-and-a-half years here, I’ve been lucky enough to attract some very interesting folks, some of whom have eventually contributed to the general weirdness of East Jesus in very positive ways. Today I received a missive from a gentleman who goes by the stage name of Captain USA.

No, I had never heard of him before, either. Note well: that’s pronounced “Captain OO-sa.”

Indulge me in my initial skepticism for a moment: Sounds kinda hokey, right? Like a cross between a poor man’s Evel Knievel, some lost middle-aged biker dreaming of Captain America (the Easy Rider one,) and the guy who still hasn’t gotten around to scraping the “Pride In Proudness” stickers off his car that have been there since 9/11. Well, sort of, but not really. He’s in on the joke. He is a master of the fine art of Not Taking One’s Self Too Seriously. Captain USA is a backyard superhero. He sets himself on fire and then jumps off his garage roof into a kiddie pool. Then he does the same thing, only on a motorcycle. All this, and rightly so, in the name of Freedom. Good stuff, highly compelling:

Now here’s the fun part, for all you East Jesus / Slab City fans:

Hello Sir! I love your art garden at Slab city. Been there 3 times. Love the desert ducks and the art cars especially. I was with art car camp at burning man last year and have been gratefully learning more and more about the art car community ever since. I have a proposition for you that I think could be one of the super duperest art car projects everr!

My name is Jimmy from Georgia aka Capt USA. One of my favorite forms of expression is thrilling stunts I perform as Capt USA celebrating freedom on the 4th of July. Each year my stunts get bigger and better and this year will be my greatest to date. My Nissan Pathfinder has 235000 miles on it. Hauled a trailer all the way to Cabo and back down the hard road along the Sea of Cortez. I call her El Burro, hence the title of my new stunt and art car project…The Flaming Burro of Freedom.

I want to haul the Burro out to slab city on July 2 and start hot gluing roman candles and barrels of fun fire works along both sides of the exterior, spray paint it red white and blue. Then on the 4th spray the exterior with just enough gasoline to light it up and set all the fire works off at once while a stunt driver drives it and I ride El Burro on top in the Capt USA costume. Sounds crazy and dangerous. It is. But I have done this kind of thing many times. Check out my video. It will be amazing and no one will get hurt.

I’m reaching out to you for help. Slab City is a community and I don’t want to barge in with my vision. I was hoping the stunt could help contribute to the freedom celebration that will already be taking place. I am hoping for your blessing, advice, and help to create the Flaming Burro of Freedom. I was thinking that maybe in return I could give you El Burro. She could be cleaned up after the stunt and turned in to a whole new creation. She still runs. Iam using her today to install Satellite Dishes for DirecTV.

Anyway, I hope this letter finds you happy and well. And once again, I love your art.

Jimmy from Georgia

Thanks, Jimmy! You’ll be hearing from me real soon.

National “Do It Wrong” Day

Ev’ryone join m’ now in this, by declaration of my pre-10am drunk, *First Ever* DO IT WRONG DAY. Paint your shoes green. Walk around with your pants around your ankles calling for Mommy. Invest half your money in a stock or ETF you fully expect to fail. Listen to a creepy far-right AM talk radio show. Leave the engine running. Pee on the kitchen floor and ask a friend to clean up after you. Eat bacon raw. Overcook the sushi. Shake up a can of warm beer vigorously before drinking it. Call your mom and tell her you’re doing these things. And email me with a report. But don’t hurt anyone and don’t destroy the environment, OK?

Mammoth Erection CANCELLED

Don’t look at me. I read it somewhere on Facebook. Dated March oops May 28th. I’m puzzled. Oh, well. Royce is still bringing Cosmos out, though, and perhaps the Mammoth will make it out here another time.

Whatever the case may be, the installation of one (or two) sculptures fabricated in the outside world long before the inception of the East Jesus sculpture garden — whether or not they happen to be made of junk — is an auspicious occasion. And, I mean, it *is* hotter than a pistol out here in the summer…

That is all. As you were. Just wanted you to be the first to know.

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