I had heard about Crass as being a political force to be reckoned with–they formed an anarchist commune that worked with other artists and on behalf of political causes. So why not start with a CD that says on the cover: “Suggested Retail Price $4.98.”
So I bought this CD before hearing anything else by them. It’s a live recording from 5.2.1984, and it’s a noisy muddled mess. You can hear occasional words in the noise (although most of the clearest things are soundbites from the likes of Thatcher and other politicians). These surround the songs which are mostly just noisy distorted guitars (more because of the sound quality of the recording I believe).
I’ve obviously never seen Crass, but this bootleg suggests that they were a visceral force (there’s so much screaming!). There are a few moments of clarity where you can hear their anti-establishment lyrics, but for the most part this is a terrible place to discover Crass.
I suppose if you know the band, it’s a worthy addition, but I have to assume the proper albums sound better and make more of an impact.
[READ: Week of July 9, 2010] Letters of Insurgents [Sophia’s Fifth Letter]
This week’s reading comes from Sophia. Her letter was nearly 80 pages long, so we get her POV exclusively.
Sophia’s tone has changed yet again. This time, it’s summed up when she dismisses Yarostan’s comparison of her life in the garage (and more about that soon) with his experiences during Magarna:
The only similarity between your experiences during the Magarna uprising and my experiences in the garage is that they both began at the same time. But I’ll let you be the judge of the similarities and the differences; you’ve scolded me enough for my comparisons and contrasts (338).
Sophia opens with two surprises: she was just in jail and Tina has left their house. [The way it’s worded: she is “no longer with us” (331) was rather a tease.]
Sophia was arrested for “assault and battery” (we read last time that she had slapped the teacher who said that she was a danger). [I have to admit that for the first time, I am having a hard time keeping track of what is “present” in the story. After this week, I find it even harder, since we get so much information about Sophia’s past. I wish I had been keeping a timeline of all of her jobs.
She was dragged away in the middle of the night and, since she assumed it was no big deal, she didn’t wake Sabina or even leave her a note. The details of her proceedings from one office to another were fascinating, especially the lengthy steps they took to obfuscate what was going on for her.
Eventually she was allowed to make a phone call. She called Sabina, and since this is a time before answering machines, she never gets through to her. She had no idea how long she’d have to wait for her trial, but she was luckily arraigned the next morning. She demanded one more phone call to her “lawyer” and finally got through to Sabina. Of course, she didn’t have any details about her case, so Sabina said they would just try to find her at the courthouse.
The trial was a simple one: she was found guilty of slapping the other teacher (for which he was super thrilled) but her whole punishment was a nominal fee (for which he was decidedly not) .
Then we learn more about Tina. She didn’t tell anyone she was leaving (which, because of their odd, detached familiar relationship, they have no communication with each other about anything). Tina had decided to move into Ted Nasibu’s house. Tina explained (yelled) that she had felt like a prisoner living with Sabina and Sophia all these years and it was time for her to move on.
Sophia then flashes back to her life in that garage. This whole section made for very exciting reading. There is so much tension and fighting and stress.
She was immediately afraid of Ted. She was convinced that Ted was watching her while she slept in Tina’s room. Sophia decided to try to bond with Tissie (this is the morning after Tissie took her to the bar and Sophia had her “trick”). So, while she, Ted and Tissie were eating breakfast she informed the room that she “enjoyed” her evening. This horrifies (and alienates) Tissie and leaves Ted nonplussed but not creeped out (as Sophia had hoped).
We learn a lot about each of the residents of this garage: Jose, Ted, Seth, Vic, Sabina, Tessie and Tina. We also learn that there is tremendous hostility among some of the residents, but that most are paired into couples.
Seth and Vic (we ultimately learn) are together, and they are the toughest two of the bunch. Seth is a heroin dealer and is very hostile. Vic is sort of his thug. Sabina doesn’t like Jose, and indeed, Jose does not like Sabina.
But it’s this Ted thing that has Sophia really spooked. And she eventually gets to talk to Sabina about it. Ted is the guy from reform school that Ron said was a genius (the car thief). He is a very gentle soul and would never hurt anyone, it’s not in his makeup (although Sabina thinks that he would have her killed if it came to that–he just couldn’t do it himself).
After much back and forth, Sabina tells her to lighten up and not worry about Ted. Sophia leans in and kisses her cheek, just as Tissie walks into the room. She immediately concludes that the two are “together,” and storms out.
[This letter evinces more hastily drawn conclusions than I’ve seen in a long time].
They shrug off Tissie, and Sabina gives Sophia a history of the garage. It had been Ron and Ted’s idea. They rented it from the former owners. The original five were supposed to be Ted, Ron, Sabina, Jose and Sophia. (Tissie was Ted’s girl at the time).
Sabina then offers to show Sophia the bar (where Sophia had been picked up) in a more proper light. Sophia goes as she is (no fancy dress). Sabina is grabbed by a man who calls her by name. She tells him to back off, that she’s got business to attend. Sophia looks astonished, so Sabina explains:
He’s an official in one of the international corporations. When he snaps his fingers, people all over the world respond like caged rats responding to an experimenter’s stimulus. See the girl he’s with at the bar? She used to be lower than the lowest rat in his cages. She was the slave of every two-bit pimp on her street and if she’d wound up in the garbage dump no one would have missed her. And look at her now! She’s on her ninth or tenth drink and probably on her finish dessert and he’s ordering another round. The price of food and drinks here is over a hundred times the cost. And you know what? She’ll go to the john after a while, slip out the back and go home. Eventually he’ll turn to someone else and start all over again. He’s Mister International. But here it’s we who snap our fingers and he who jumps. One of us always goes in the end, but first we soak him to the limit. And everything we get out of him stays right here: it’s all ours. This is anti-imperialism in practice, Sophia. This is class war. And we’re winning (355).
Sophia seems to disapprove, so Sabina gives two of the best quotes of the letter: “A person freely creates her own life, but in circumstances not of her own choosing” (352). Sophia accused her of being cynical, and she replies, “The cynicism is part of the world I was born into, the world I’m trying to get out of” (352).
As the night ends, Sabina explained that there were basically no rules in their house. Sophia could have Sabina’s friendship or not. If she needed anything Sabina would provide it. If she wanted to earn it herself, Sabina would show her how. In short, “Everything was allowed, no holds were barred” (356).
The next day, Tissie suggested that Seth could get Sophia heroin, which she refused. But she decided she needed to get on someone’s good side and she chose Jose. When she first got there, he had offered to show her around the garage and instruct her in a few things. So, Sophia asked him if she could take him up on his offer. He completely misconstrues what she means and takes her outside to say that he never offered to do anything with her. [Again, like in most dramas, so much could be avoided if people would just say, I’m sorry that’s not what I meant].
She tries to explain, but he interrupts and says that he used to dream about her (without having met her) because if Ron was wiling to kill himself over her she must have been some piece of ass. They have a semantic discussion about the phrase “piece of ass.” Jose says
“He told me you were sensitive about the names we give to–er, broads, chicks, you know–”
“Try women,” I suggested.
“That’s what it says on shithouses! Is that better?” he asked.
Sophia realizes that she liked him. A lot. But he concludes by telling her to just stay out of his way, because she’s clearly trouble after what she did to Ron.
The next day, Tina surprises Sophia by asking if she is her mother. People had always said Sophia was Ron’s girl, and since Tina was Ron’s daughter, she tried to put two and two together. But Sophia was furious that people suspected that she was a runaway mother.
Sophia tells her no, but she uses this as an opportunity to bond. Eventually, she asks Tina to show her how to use the machines in the garage. And soon, “The seven-year old teacher and her twenty-three year old student became inseparable” (360). Slowly Sophia learned as much as she could. She even learned that there were lofts above the grange where the “artists” went and no one was allowed to go unless she or he was an artist, too.
And then she learned some horrible truths.
She learned that Ted was not spying at her at night but was in fact spying on Tina. She was freaked about this (as was I!) and felt she needed to get the hell out of there.
It’s at this point in the story where I had to say, Wha? Okay so, we learned that Yarostan married Mirna when she was, I believe 15. Wow. We learn that Yara has a “lover” (whatever that means) at age 11. And now we learn that Ted is “coupling” in some capacity with a 7-year-old. What the hell is going on here?
So Sophia is freaked out and she wants out of there. She calls Alec (who was not on a date this evening) and he was thrilled (and a little annoyed) to hear from her after three weeks. He and Minnie had contacted her mother (“My what?”) who knew nothing about her whereabouts. And they were really concerned about her.
She invited him to the garage for Sunday breakfast, hoping that her two worlds could collide and she could figure out what was what.
Alec arrives and there is as much hostility as you can imagine from this group. Tissie assumes that Alec is short for Alexandra (because she thinks that Sophia ia a lesbian, remember). Vic assumes he’s a cop. Alec just can’t take it, “What the hell you get into, Sophie? A Whorehouse?” (364).
And Sophia is convinced: “Alec’s words were like gusts of air from the world I’d come from. Gusts of foul air. Farts. Alec and I had never talked about prostitutes, but I’m sure he’d have set forth the standard “radical” views of them: guiltless victims of a predatory society, exploited by the bourgeoisie like the rest of the working class, basically proletarian–until the day when he finds his girlfriend among the sluts in a whorehouse” (364).
After some shouting, she’s able to bring him around [see, communication…good]. She informs him of all the garage work she’s been doing and how she had been apprenticing for even more work. He was impressed and he asked if this was some kind of school. She says yes, but not exactly:
It was founded by street people, lumpen, whatever you choose to call them, professional hustlers, prostitutes, dope dealers, pimps and thieves–the works They pay for it by stealing and hustling and they run it themselves. They’re the freest people I’ve known” (365).
Alec concludes, “Jesus, this place is great!”
Ted gets in his face [again, why jump to the hostility?) and asks, “What’s great here, mister? The heroin? The prostitution?” (366). And then he held Tina tightly and kept repeating (in Sophia’s head) “her and me” “her and me.” And the thought of them together made Sophia pass out.
End of flashback.
When Sophia and Sabina returned home from jail, there was a letter waiting from her college. She knew she was fired, but when she went in to the president, she didn’t expect there to be a psychiatrist there. They back and forth about her “file.” And by the end of their meeting, she has lit her file on fire and watched it burn.
But what about Tina and Ted? She had tried to block out all of that horrors in the garage, but when Tina said she was going back to Ted, it all came flooding back.
We resume from when Sophia had passed out. Alec and the others are in the kitchen with her. As soon as she comes to, Alec begins the inquisition, asking if she’s a whore, if she’s on heroin. He says he’s sorry he came.
Sophia apologizes for the drama and says that they should just go to his place now. He balks, says there’s no way he’d bring her to his house in her state. And he says that this little stunt of running to the garage is typical of her crazy behavior in the face of troubles. Jose jumps into the fray and they almost come to blows. But Sophia yells at them and tells Alec he’s being very rude to his host. And Alec apologizes.
Sabina walks in and starts up more trouble. When they talk about work, Alec says he works in a factory. Sabina responds:
“Prostitute!” Sabina responded. “You sell yourself during six of your seven living days. Do you think any of us does that? I sell myself for half an hour, and at night! All I lose is a little of my sleep. I don’t sell one second of my living day. Prostitute! You sell all there is to you, every living day, six days a week, during your living day (379).
Alec actually thinks about what she says. And we’ll see that it had quite an impact on him.
But for Sophia, nothing was resolved, and she decided to avoid Tina because of Ted. She also learned from Debbie Matthews about what happened to Lem. And she learned tha the Magarna uprising had been put down.
Finally, Tina confronts Sophia about Ted. Tina reveals that Ted kissed her on the lips and she invites Sophia to do the same. [She’s SEVEN!]
Several days later, Tissie runs to Sophia looking for help. She’s freaked out and scared. Sophia climbs into bed with her and tries to comfort her. She wakes up soon after, naked and with Tissie on top of her. Tissie believed that Sophia was a lesbian, like her “sister.” Indirectly we learn that Sabina had been sleeping with Tissie:
“Be like your sister, honey! Show some feeling! Don’t leave me like this!”
Not Sabina! my insides cried out. A cold shiver ran down my back. I felt like vomiting, as if to expel that thought from my system (383).
Sabina had stolen Tissie from Ted, which is why Ted hated Sabina so much. But Sophia is horrified at the thought of an encounter with Tissie. And whether this is homophobia or just disgust at a heroin addict is not entirely clear, but Sophia is proving to be far more prudish than we realized.
And, if this is some sort of homophobic attitude, it’s very surprising. Given the statement earlier when the school lumped communists and homosexuals together (as the people who took over the paper). I would think she’d be open-minded, but at the very least she should be supportive.
Sophia does regret the way she acted, especially that she called Tissie a “beast.”
But when she gets back to Tina’s room, she finds Ted in bed with her and she freaks out on him, tearing at his eyes. She was naked and raving and dragged Tina from the room (who was yelling at Sophia to stop). She wound up lying on the carpet screaming. Jose came running out, slapped her face and accused her of molesting Tina. [Again, this group couldn’t jump to the wrong conclusions faster if they tried].
But rather than running away, Sophia defiantly marched into Jose’s room and proceeded to have sex with him all night long. And as the night wound on, she proudly became “Jose’s woman.” And for quite some time after that she followed Jose around, giving herself up to him completely.
Then one day Alec called and said that her old friends were really intrigued by the school. Sophia said they could visit only if he quit his job. A week later Alec, Minnie, Daman and Hugh visited. And, as with the previous encounter, it was nothing but hostility and misunderstanding. Alec proudly announced that he had quit his job, but he received no congratulations. Minnie was accused of being a cop. And Hugh was accused of being a judge (when he asked about the garage’s financing).
Alec said that he wanted Sophia back, but she proclaimed that she was Jose’s woman. Alec balked saying that that’s not her, she’s not someone’s property. They yelled at each other for some time. And then Sophia asked Jose to kick him out. But Jose said they never kick anyone out of the house. It’s principle. So Alec stayed for several weeks. He learned in the garage and he and Sophia tried to keep their distance.
Sometime later, Minnie and the others returned and there was yet another blowout. Finally, it was Hugh’s turn to speak. Up to this point, Hugh had been the wishy-washy editor who wanted every side of a story published. But he speaks up, despite the threats and the hostility, and really makes his case:
“What I’ve seen here confirms everything I’ve been told. Your establishment is as great an exploiter of this community as all the institutions you so eloquently condemn. And in many ways it’s worse. Under the guise of being an integral part of the rising community, you are in fact leeches on that community, you push it back down, sucking its strength out of it. You are incapacitating that community precisely at the moment when it is trying to raise itself up with its own strength. That fellow over there” (he pointed to Seth) “is known to your neighbors as one of the biggest heroin dealers in the entire area. The one behind him has a somewhat more modest reputation for similar accomplishments. You and your friend — I forget her name — are known locally as the regional Cleopatras” (399).
Of course, Seth pulls out a gun, there is screaming and gnashing of teeth. Sophia jumps in front of the gun, pleading them not to shoot Hugh. And the visitors agree to leave. But Sophia, seeing Hugh as a beacon of light is smitten once again. And she asks Hugh to carry her out of the building. Alec followed her trying to comfort her, but she’s still angry with him.
Finally, she returns to Luisa’s house. Ad Luisa, showing the first real humanity in the entire letter, welcomes her back with no questions. Sophia returns to her old room and Luisa tends to her for several days. They warm to each other, they joke with each other. Luisa even seems happy, and she is even prettily dressed. (They joke about “walking the streets together”).
And then Luisa asks Sophia about Alec (who came to see Luisa when Sophia was missing). They disagree violently over whether Alec is nice or a fascist. Luisa seems to think he’s a charming young man, but Sophia never wants to see him again.
During this time, Sophia has been pining for Hugh. She spends a week waiting for Hugh to call on her. She even went to his place (he had given her the address) but no one lived there anymore. He had left.
When she returned home she learned that Luisa had been having an affair with Alec. (He’s in the house right now!). Of course, Sophie overreacts and flees the building, never to return.
She sleeps on a bus bench rather than in her house. Finally, she consents to try the “Project House” that was full of street people. And when she opens the door, there’s Hugh. He fled his apartment just to avoid her. He just doesn’t want to get tangled up with her. He tells her:
I’ve known you to be sincere — once, perhaps twice. Always quick-witted, at times even brilliant. Brave, even heroic. A rare companion. But please believe me when I tell you I don’t need you, Sophie. My new friends don’t need you. What you carry inside you, what surrounds you, whether you intend it or not, is all the rot we’ve started to shed.” (409).
Sophia ends the letter by apologizing for everything she said and revealed, but she ends most pointedly with:
I can’t keep myself from repeating one of my confessions. I love you, Yarostan. I’ll never stop loving you. If I’ve loved Luisa less than she deserved, it’s because I’ve never forgiven her for taking me with her on that ocean voyage to this desert. But I’m not flying to you. I’m staying here. Not because I’m afraid I’d bring all my rot; I don’t believe I carry only rot. But because I love you too, Mirna, for everything you’ve been to him. And I love you, Yara, for being what you are, and you too, Jasna, for being exactly what you’ve been (410).
I was really enjoying the narrative of this story quite a lot. I wondered how what seemed like such an intellectual exercise could be sustained, and Perlman managed it pretty well. I was delighted that the ideas were presented with such convincing arguments that I never knew exactly whose side to believe.
But I found something bothersome. Certainly the youth of all of the girls in relationships was a concern (I know, I’m as prudish as Sophia, but come on). But then, to get Tina involved was just too much. So I was pleased that Sophia was disturbed by it too. (And, of course, pissed at Sabina for not caring–again that whole non-relative thing has gone too far).
But then Sophia overreacts to so many situations (from Tissie to Alec) that it’s hard not to think she’s overreacting to Tina as well (she was already wrong about Ted from the get go). So, I’m just disturbed by the goings on in this house. (To say nothing of the fact that Sophia is proud that they are funding themselves through drug dealing and prostitution). I may be too middle class for this book after all.