In August of 1996, eight months after Dayton, I went to the United States of America.
In my old homeland, SFRY (Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia) as well as in the new BH (Bosnia and Herzegovina), I hadn´t worked at all. But then, just ten days after arriving in the USA, I landed a job at my first big corporation full of capitalist pigs. It was called Corporation of Hilton.
There I met fine little capitalist screws who worked hard and made the big capito-fascist machine grind everything that stood in its way. Nice, hardworking people all of them, coming from Guatemala, Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Mexico, The Philippines, Somalia, Ethiopia, Vietnam (the Vietnamese, twenty-five years after the war, still went by northern and southern, with northerners being these wild ruthless unemotional communist bastards, while the southerners were quiet and polite and were getting screwed all the time. Americans had been fucking with their heads for years, from Saigon all the way to refugee camps, so it became part of their DNA), Honduras, China, Korea (they weren´t divided into northern and southern Koreans, possibly because I´d never met a single northerner) and myself, from B and H.
When I was a kid I was told the army would make a man out of me and after finishing high school I joined the army because in SFRY you had two options: to join the army or to join the army and so I picked one of these two, of course there was always a third option, to go see a psychiatrist, but fucking around with psychiatrists could take as long as fucking with the military and the outcome was uncertain because psychiatrists could be crazier than patients, a guy we all agreed was a moron was proclaimed fit for the army by his psychiatrist of whom he told us: motherfucker that guy needs help, but what the fuck am I talking about, yeah right, YNA (Yugoslav National Army) USA, in the army I learned how to be a man, although according to my mum that was how one became a thief but what did she know, the military taught me how to tell a lie, how to get away, how to fuck things up, how not to do what they told me, so that even today I doubt that Rage Against the Machine were army brats and had their lyrics written by colonels and majors, since the style of generals is more serious shit and way more expensive and the Wall Street doesn´t have that kind of cash, long story short I was the right guy for capitalism.
While everybody else worked hard, I worked hard to dodge work and even harder to collect my pay check every Friday and deposit money into an account while I only spent the tips I earned, up to this day I have no idea why I did that, and I looked down on those capitalist bastards who were growing fat on expensive food served by hardworking immigrant hands from the far south of that enormous continent, who belonged to a race I hadn´t heard of before my coming to the USA and then read about in a job questionnaire that I also filled out for the first time in my life.
There is a lot of nonsense in that questionnaire, but I still remember two things.
If I had a chance to steal would I steal? Answers, YES and NO.
And number two. Very dear to me. So much that whenever I got bored I went and filled out job questionnaires. It´s the part where they ask you about race. They list all the races and you need to tick the box next to the one you belong to. I´ll mention only two because they are relevant to my story, the second being my greatest hit of all times.
White (but Hispanic origin)
I couldn´t believe as I read that. I thought it couldn´t be what I thought it was but rather something I was clueless about. Until it dawned on me (it dawns on me a lot). I turned to a young lady who worked in human resources and was sitting not far from me, like a schoolteacher making sure I didn´t cheat on my test, discreetly keeping busy while I stupidly didn´t get how busy she was.
Excuse me miss, can you help me?
I don´t get this part right there.
This one, White and White (but Hispanic origin).
What is that you don't understand?
I don´t know what box to tick.
She was looking at a thirty-three-year-old white man (or Caucasian as it sometimes said) sculpted by a war diet, with flat, concrete-solid abdomen that could carry any weight regardless of sexual orientation.
What do you mean…? You are white.
I know, but I don’t know which white. White only or white with brackets?
Sir… Those are Hispanics.
From Central and South America.
Right! Mexicans and such.
So, I´m the one without the brackets. Thank you very much.
You're very welcome sir.
And so I ticked the box next to the correct white and completed the job application. But then something dawned on me again. As I was handing my application to the young lady without brackets I asked her another question.
Excuse me, can I ask you something?
What box do Italian tick?
Italians, you know Italians?
Yes sir, I know Italians.
They are not on the list.
This list of races, you´re missing Italians.
What do you mean we're missing Italians?
Well you have us white and these white with brackets, but you miss Italians and their brackets.
At thirty-three I could fuck a wall and call it sweet names like oh darling, but the look I got was just too much. She couldn’t believe anyone would mess with these things, in America it´s risky business. She must have thought I was an idiot.
Sir, I don't understand you?
Well if Hispano whites have brackets, then Italians should have brackets of their own, since they too are a bit more...what is the word...tanned. You know what I mean.
No sir, I don't know what you mean?
I mean it’s not okay that we can all tick our boxes except the Italians. They are a great European nation. After all, you were named after one of them. By mistake though, but nevertheless.
Sir, Italians are white.
I know but…right...Italians are white?
And Spanish are…?
They are white too but Hispanic origin.
I see....Oh well, never mind. Have a nice day.
And so this is how I spent my days in the USA, daily clashing with the class enemy and penetrating deep into the capitalist fabric, I carried out quick and unexpected sabotage actions that left the enemy in shock for days.
And then, quite by chance, wandering deep behind enemy lines, I found myself on Height & Ashbury Street, a former hippie pilgrimage where one finds traces of them in dried and still visible streams of urine that marked the free territory of Jefferson Airplane, the Greatful Dead, whose houses still stand, and Janis, Hendrix, Morrison, whose graves and ashes are far away but the spirit remains as if the sixties were yet to be played.
That spirit couldn't be driven away by corporate phalanxes of McDonalds, Diesel, Virgin Records, Benetton, armed to the teeth. In vain the death squads of Tommy Hilfiger marched in their threatening uniforms, in vain the hooligans of Armani and Calvin Klein charged like vandals, freedom has managed to survive.
The new `67 was in full bloom and not only that, in fact it held hands with ´77 that came to her aid. Former enemies lived in the symbiosis of Never Mind The Woodstock. Their dogs with un-cropped ears and tails shat freely, dog shit marking the free territory that I inhaled in deep breaths. And I knew it. I. A lone saboteur fighting for freedom, I found my long lost comrades. And the revolution was about to start.
As I took my first step over the shit, tears hit my eyelashes. At the very entrance to the free territory, to my left, I was greeted by a beautiful revolutionary mural so vividly coloured that I could hear it welcoming me. In the multitude of characters, I recognised the Argentinian Maradona had tattooed on his left (or right?) shoulder when he started to miss his penalty kicks as well (thinking, I guess, that the tattoo would drive the British away from the Falkland Islands, but tattoos don't even scare mosquitoes) and above the mural stood the words which I looked at with awe. Anarcho book store!
And then it hit me. I grasped the truth. I am no revolutionary. I am a small capitalist screw and serve as a slave while the fascists conquer this little free world we have left.
I am a disgrace.
I stood in front of the wall. And I remembered Lorca. And his great words before he was cut down by a platoon of Spanish fascists.
"Are you really going to shoot me on such a beautiful day?"
And then I knew why the Spanish were white with a bracket. Damn them!
But the day was sunny and beautiful. And I was standing alone in front of the wall. But there was no one to shoot me.
The disgrace of the revolution.
I wasn’t even good enough for a fascist bullet.
And so I, corporation scum, penitently entered the Anarcho book store. The first real free territory in my life.
The bookstore was the size of a dining room and living room of a socialist apartment in the country in which I was Tito´s Pioneer and Youth. The walls were covered with shelves from which books of revolution, freedom and defiance stared at me. I had read quite a few in my pure socialist youth when I dreamed of a revolution but had nowhere to carry it out because it had already been done and over with. And it made no more sense to bring it on. I couldn’t even wear Che Guevara T-shirt. What would be the point, next to all those great men watching me from the classroom walls. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Tito. Che was good for nothing.
There were two armchairs and a wooden chair in the bookstore. The armchairs were occupied by two middle-aged anarchists, reclining on the shabby cushions while studying subversive literature.
Each for himself.
No one even looked at me as I entered. Freedom. I walked past a wooden chair and stopped at random in front of a row of books. My nose was gathering stale dust and mildew in which I could smell the revolutionary sweat left behind by many fearless anti-capitalist fighters. I flipped through the books for an hour, looking at stains and marks that years of tough struggle left on the pages.
My shame grew more and more. I wasn’t even worthy of a wooden chair but would have loved to sit down. Height & Ashbury finds itself on one of San Francisco’s many hills and I climbed it on foot.
Never in my life had I fallen so low. I hit rock bottom. I felt like kneeling right there in that room full of freedom, mildew and dust, between all those books about struggle and hope, between the inscription "Better sleep than work for the capitalists," which I didn´t get really, because without work I would have nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat, right there between the adds posted on a board by free people "room for rent wanted, guitarist wanted, union inviting to an open meeting", and it wasn't that remaining crumb of dignity that stopped me, but fatigue. Plus, I was hungry. With McDonalds around the corner.
I was disgusted by myself at the thought of leaving this place to go to that fascist canteen and thus humiliating my comrades. But what could I do. I didn´t have enough money for anything else.
I was looking for a way out and all I could think of was to buy a book and thus help the fight and take a small part of it with me, because it reminded me of my revolutionary high school days when, after a good jerk-off, I played good music and imagined I was CheGuevara, about to enter Havana. Bolivia never appealed to me.
And then the book showed itself to me. Live from Death Row. It was written by that black guy who got spotted by the Rage Against the Machine after they pulled it off with that Indian guy who God knows what happened to, since no-one talks about him anymore, while the black guy was waiting for the death sentence for something he didn't do. The Cops claimed he had killed one of their own in the late 1960s, and he claimed he hadn’t and provided all the evidence, yet he still got convicted and then the Rage Against stood by him and many more followed their gesture, but the writer still ended up all alone in his death cell (by the way, I´ve never figured out how we stand by someone when that someone always gets fucked on their own?).
I took the book and was on my way to the checkout. And that´s when I noticed him. He was sitting in a high chair by the window right next to the front door, behind a massive counter with stuff scattered all over it and in the middle of it all stood a cash register, resembling the one from the grocery shop in my building back in the early 1970s, where I went to buy rum bars.
He was slightly over twenty. Good looking. Cold. Dignified. He was wearing a T-shirt that made it clear capitalism was fucked and a pair of jeans that said nothing. His hair was tied in a ponytail with several menacing anti-globalist locks sticking out, casting a shadow over his mysterious face.
And then I noticed something else and froze. In his hand he held a Subway sandwich, which he casually brought to his mouth moving the hand lightly and bit off a large piece with his healthy teeth. He looked at me over his sandwich. I was staring at the sandwich.
The Subway sandwich was huge and cost over five dollars. It was advertised under the slogan ´Put the foot in your mouth´. That´s how big it was. And I hadn´t tried one yet. I had often wondered who could afford a five-or-so-dollar sandwich?
The chewing mouth said nothing. I, little capitalist screw, put the book on the counter and said.
I´d like to buy this book.
He lazily grabbed the book with his right hand fingers, turned it, looked at the price, typed on the cash register and said.
Thirteen bucks and fifty-two cents.
At that moment I, the young high school anarchist came out of somewhere, laid back and cool as after a jerk-off, fearless and upright like Che in the newspaper supplement as he spread the revolution across Angola, years before he was fucked over by malarial mosquitoes in the Bolivian forests and handed over to the CIA.
The book costs twelve bucks.
Indifferently as if he couldn't be bothered to give a fuck and still chewing, the young anarchist said.
In America we pay tax.
He took another bite. He couldn´t care less. But I cared.
What tax? We anarchists do not pay taxes to the fascist state!
And that's where chewing stopped. He shifted food to the right side of his mouth but said nothing. I had his attention finally.
The book costs twelve bucks.
Yeah. That's the price. But tax is not included.
What tax? We pay no tax.
Are you Russian?
Russian my ass, what the fuck man.
I'm not Russian. Here´s twelve dollars. That's how much this book costs.
Man, you don't get it, you have to pay tax.
I´m not paying taxes to the capitalist state! I am an anarchist! That's why I'm here. To buy a book from the comrades and support the revolution!
His mouthful was stuck in the same place making his saliva flow faster. He sipped it. He forgot to chew.
I give you twelve bucks, you give me the book and it´s on to the final victory!
Man, I can't give you the book until you pay for it.
I´m giving you the money.
That's not the price.
O Man! You get the money, I get the book, screw the state! The fight goes on!
I could see a piece of ham and some tomato skin sticking out of his mouth. Saliva spilled over his lower lip. It sprayed towards me when he spoke.
Are you Russian?
Enough with the Russians, what the fuck just give me the book.
Hello! Do you pay taxes to the state?
The tomato disappeared, but the ham was still there.
When you get paid, do you pay taxes to the state?
I don't work.
What do you mean you don´t work? Then what are you doing here?
For free? You´re not getting paid?
Yeah man, I'm a volunteer.
Then where did you get the sandwich?
Tomato skin was sticking out again.
What do you mean…?
What´s with the sandwich?
I… Are you Russian?
Whoa man, enough with the Russian, what´s with the sandwich if you don´t have a job?
He sucked it all back in and closed his mouth. All that remained of the cool, dignified anarchist was the swelling on his right cheek. It´s good, the Subway sandwich. Compact. Takes a lot of saliva to melt it.
How come you bought that sandwich?
I didn't buy it…
Then where did you get the sandwich?
My girlfriend gave me…
Where did she get it from?
She bought it.
Where did she get the money?
So your girlfriend works while you sit on your butt and get bored and charge me thirteen bucks and fifty-two cents for a book that costs twelve?
It was only then that I noticed the subversives were staring at me from their armchairs. Quite indiscreetly. Eyes flashing about while still pretending to read.
I was getting hungrier and more nervous and I was getting pissed with myself and the anarchy and the revolutionary subway.
Look buddy, here´s twelve bucks so give me the book and I´m outta here!
Man if you don't pay tax I will have to pay.
Neither you nor I will pay! Take the money and don't type the bill. Who will know?
I can't do it like that.
Motherfucker! I was just messing around and look now! Is he fucking with me?
Don´t bull me.
No man, I don't bull you. That's how it is.
Listen to me… Are you an anarchist?
I´m an anarchist! Are we comrades?
We want to destroy the state because every state, regardless of the system, is a fascist creation built when organised and political crime team up in order to dominate the citizens and make profit off someone else's work while paying them minimal wages, enslaving them with taxes, denying them what´s theirs by introducing property rights or simply by taking what was earned by honest work and giving it away to suckers and lazy bastards who keep the state asshole warm!
The ham gave way. It melted into a mush with the rest of the sandwich but the tomato skin was still holding up. It was as solid as greenhouse nylon.
Do we get each other?
I have to see with boss…
Come on! This guy´s fucking with me!
So you have a boss as well, you fucker! What Anarcho book store has a boss?!
He almost fled to the corner of the room and it was only then that I noticed the three steps over there, as he disappeared behind a curtain.
I turned to the anarchists in the armchairs. Nothing. Still reading.
And then they came out from behind the curtain. He and a little man. Baldish. Unshaven. Smiling. He spoke.
We don't buy it.
I didn't get the guy.
You don´t buy what?
You know what.
He was smiling. He knew something I didn´t.
You lost me, man, what?
C'mon man… You are a cop.
Oh for fuck sake! I couldn't believe it. That was it. I signaled to the kid, dropped fifteen dollars next to the book and told him to charge me for everything.
He came closer, still with his mouth full. He put the sandwich down by the cash register and typed. The little unshaven man kept smiling from the top of the stairs.
Here it is.
He handed me the book and the change.
And then it hit me again.
What is this?
The book… and the change.
What about a bag?
As I´m writing this, I keep wondering how long that tomato skin lasted. He could spit it all out like saliva, only the skin would stick. It stuck out like a toothpick.
A bag, man. Where´s the bag to put the book in?
Are you Russian?
Enough already with the Russian, what the fuck! Give me a bag.
I don't have it.
What do you mean you don´t have a bag?
He sucked the skin back in and shrugged his shoulders.
My man. Let me ask you something. Explain it to me. I don´t get it. I am from afar. Would you?
At Barnes & Noble (corporate bookstores with clean armchairs, comfortable chairs, decent coffee) I can get this same book and it costs the same plus taxes as well, but I come over here, climb the hill in this heat so I don't buy it from the capitalists but from my revolutionary comrades and here you sit, unkind, chewing on your six-dollar-sandwich and barely talking to me, charging me taxes and not giving me a bag, while folks over there are friendly, don't chew, smile, smell good, charge the same and offer you a bag!
He looked at me as if I had a bomb.
Man, my friend, please explain to me what´s with the bag.