04.06.09

Life With the Anarchists

Evan Wright, the author of the bestseller Generation Kill, takes us into the lives of punk rock-loving, runaway teenagers in L.A. in this exclusive excerpt from his new book. Pull Quote: “I’m not really an anarchist,” a fourteen-year-old runaway whispers. “I’m just looking for a place to stay until I find my sugar daddy.”

The L.A. co-op is a ramshackle stucco house in a suburban section of Inglewood, under the landing path of jets flying into LAX. A “Free Mumia” banner is draped across the backyard fence. There are car seats on the lawn. Inside, more car seats serve as living room furniture. Posters tacked up in the kitchen depict small, furry animals being tortured in scientific labs. A chunk of uneaten vegan casserole sweats in a pan on the stove. The four full-time residents are all vegans.

Read an interview with Hella Nation author Evan Wright.

A harried-looking twenty-year-old named Kendra is the only co-op member home when the Eugene anarchists show up. Kendra and her three housemates are helping to organize Solidarity Fest, the festival of punk bands and political workshops [another anarchist named]Panic has come to California to attend. It is scheduled to begin tomorrow at a community center north of downtown Los Angeles.

In the living room of the anarchist co-op, Siren reunites with her ex-boyfriend Austin. The reunion appears to be a shaky one. Austin, a skinny sixteen-year-old, dressed all in black, kneels on the floor plugging wires into a guitar amp.

In happier times, Austin and Siren sang together in his band and carried protest signs that read “You’re Eating Kak Burgers” outside a local McDonald’s. (Siren explains that “kak” means “vomit,” “penis,” or “come,” depending on the context.) But today their reunion is strained. Siren sits in a chair made from a car seat across from him and smiles. He avoids eye contact with her.

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Hella Nation. By Evan Wright. 352 pages. Putnam. $25.95. ()

“What are you doing for the holidays?” Siren asks.

“Dose on acid to write songs for my band,” Austin mumbles. “Fry some more on Christmas. Go to San Diego on New Year’s and fuck shit up.”

As the sun sets, a cluster of punks from Phoenix arrive in two beat-up vans. Among them is a fourteen-year-old girl who ran away from her home in Texas. She says her parents had her under virtual house arrest. She escaped by propping the automatic garage door open with a paint can and wiggling out after her parents had gone to sleep. “I’m not really an anarchist,” she whispers. “I’m just looking for a place to stay until I find my sugar daddy.”

She surveys the scene. “This is just so hella California.”

“Hella fucked,” Siren adds, walking away from her ex-boyfriend Austin.

I join Wingnut outside when a gangly boy comes up the driveway with a guitar and a backpack slung over his shoulder. His name is “Sorrow,” and he is sixteen years old. He rode a freight train into L.A. two days ago. He has walked approximately forty miles across the city looking for the co-op. He did not realize how big a city Los Angeles was.

“I’m not really an anarchist,” a fourteen-year-old runaway whispers. “I’m just looking for a place to stay until I find my sugar daddy.”

Sorrow came to L.A. from the Minnehaha Free State, an organized blockade of a highway expansion across sacred Native American grounds in Minnesota. Like Wingnut, he has battled federal law enforcement agents from atop a monopod and lived in a tree. Unlike Wingnut, Sorrow identifies himself as a “nonviolent anarchist.”

Sorrow, whose mother passed away when he was very young, was raised on a farm by foster parents. He wandered from home when he was fourteen and has been living the life of a drifter-activist ever since.

Wingnut offers Sorrow a rollie, and the two join a circle of young punks sitting outside the house on the bare dirt (where a lawn used to be). Wingnut begins to tell the young punks about the Unabomber Manifesto and the need to take up armed resistance against the state.

Wingnut’s and Sorrow’s paths have been crossing a great deal recently. They have both spent time in Eugene together and at the tree sit in the nearby forest. They both smashed windows at the WTO protests in Seattle. Meeting again in L.A., they resume a long-running argument. While Sorrow believes in the right to destroy property for political protest, he calls taking up arms a “horrible thing.” He adds, “The Unabomber just killed people. It was wrong.”

Wingnut counters, “If you don’t riot, you don’t have the right to complain.”

Sorrow retorts, “The Unabomber didn’t riot. He just killed people.”

Wingnut asks, “If people broke into your house and were raping your mother, would you fight back by any means necessary? What about Mother Earth?”

“You can’t win against the U.S. Army,” says Sorrow.

“A single Molotov can take out twenty-five soldiers,” says Wingnut.

“They have nuclear bombs,” says Sorrow.

“I’d rather die standing than on my knees.” Wingnut launches into his favorite parable, about militiamen defeating the much more powerful British army in the American Revolution.

The punk boys seated nearby side with Wingnut. One of them says, “A violent struggle must be fought.”

“You’re mowing me down,” Sorrow says to the group.

“You’re talking until I’m blue in the face,” Wingnut says, causing the punk boys to laugh. One of them, who looks like a young Johnny Rotten, sneers at Sorrow. It’s a schoolyard look of contempt—pacifists are wusses. Sorrow takes his guitar and leaves.

Wingnut pulls out his knife and sharpens it.

Excerpt from “Wingnut’s Last Day On Earth,” pages 96 – 99. Reprinted from HELLA NATION: Looking for Happy Meals in Kandahar, Rocking the Side Pipe, Wignut’s War Against the Gap, and Other Adventures with the Totally Lost Tribes of America by Evan Wright by arrangement with G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2009 by Evan Wright.

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Evan Wright is the bestselling author of Generation Kill , recently an HBO miniseries, for which he served as a writer and consulting producer. A contributing editor to Vanity Fair, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. He is the recipient of two National Magazine Awards, and for Generation Kill he received a Los Angeles Times Book Award, a PEN Literary Award, a J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, and a General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., Award.