Welcome to Christiania
By Fred Leebron
These people who think they are something, they are really not. They come and go wrapped like gypsies at a carnival, sounding like artists, smelling of mildew. I can't take them anymore.
Yesterday I sat in the bakery, eating bread. Everyone kept coming in: Jens and Vincent and Carla and Flavia and people whose names I didn't even know. Their pants had pockets on the thighs and shins and buttocks. Their skirts swished over flowered longjohns. I couldn't take it, so I left.
On Pusher Street all the tables were taken. It felt awful to stand there without a table to protect me. And it was too warm to peddle in the Common Kitchen, so I didn't try to sell anything. I went home and fell asleep.
I am sick today. Sick with paranoia. When I get like this, I usually take a whore and feel better. But not today. Today I will lie in bed and think until I can think no more. Let me tell you what I think.
I think I am nothing. I think if I let them, my own hands would strangle me. Sometimes when I pick my nose my fingers stiffen and plunge further up, bleeding me until I stop them, stop myself.
I am here not because I want to be, but because I have to be. Don't get me wrong. This place is no prison.
It is a . . .
Sometimes I am coherent. I can think like a rock, I think so clearly. But mostly, oh, it's the paranoia. Every time I feel on the verge of a deep revelation, I fall into it. It swallows me like a mud pit. I am choked and can say nothing.
Unlike all the other pushers, I have no dog. I am my own dog.
Maybe I should say how I got into this . . . If I can get it out, then maybe I can get out.
I was looking around. The world is not the place it used to be. I have read books that say the world is the most incredible place ever. Well, it's not. Nothing there is incredible. Everything there has happened, and nothing is left.
So I was looking around, looking for it. The usual places: the Andes, Ledakh, Katmandhu, Tibet, the Bush. I couldn't find anything. Nothing.
I was in Copenhagen, on my way to the Faero Islands, and a ruby-haired wench selling jewelry on the Stroeget told me about this place. I came.
In the beginning, it was incredible. You walked the streets of Copenhagen, dulled by gray buildings, bakeries wrapped in glass and steel, supermarkets beneath flat white-trimmed sale signs, clothing stores thronged with wool-coated hangers; and suddenly you stepped through a gate, and you were here. Christiania. It was like going back in time and going forward, too, at once.
I cannot describe it, except . . .
No, description requires too much revelation, and I am falling into it, falling back into myself struggling in the mud pit. I will try later, all at once, without waiting, without leading up to it.
I cannot stand it here any longer. The people are in a socializing frenzy, asking each other to dinner or tea. I did not come here for company. I came here for solitude. We should live in separate caves and meet only at restricted times—not for dinner and never over tea.
We all live here to be different. Some of us are more different than others. Otto says it cannot go on like this. He occupies the hammock in front of the Grocer's. In the winter he has only his long beard and tweed overcoat to keep him warm. He will not come live with me. I have not asked him, because I know he will refuse. He is so big and full of paranoia. I love him.
When I worked at the bakery he loved me, too. I gave him fresh bread for free. The work was hard, though, from two in the morning until ten at night. No one wanted to have fun. They only wanted to make money. Money, money, money. We were supposed to be a collective. Christiania was supposed to be a commune. None of it happened.
Oh yes. We all made the same money at the bakery. We overcharged and cut costs whenever possible. It made me a little sick, but the people made me sicker. Everyone wanted to make the bread "really nice," make it look good, so it would sell well. The pastries would be sprayed with swirls of chocolate and vanilla, topped with strawberry caps and pineapple rings. The french bread would rise an arm's length and look as golden as sunstruck sand. It would all taste like cardboard. They only thought of selling. Baker whores.
I quit and went to see the Big Man. The Big Man has office hours at Woodstock every afternoon from two to four. He is a shriveled worm of a man, obscured by german shepherds and doberman pinschers.
I waited my turn. It was in the summer and the stench of piss was foul. Loud music rang in my ears, and by the time I got introduced, I could not hear myself think.
"Let me see your hands," the Big Man said.
I laid them on the table like pieces of ivory. The dogs ignored me.
"You can always tell a man by his hands," the Big Man said. "Where are you from?"
I told him.
"If you are caught the worst thing will be some days in jail and then deportation. Scare you?"
I shook my head, but it did. I had been here for a year, and hadn't left Christiania once. I didn't know whether I could live outside it. But I shook my head.
He told me something about how much I should sell, and that he would keep his eye on me. He did not scare me. There are only a thousand of us living here, no escape from anybody's eyes. The favorite pastime is gossip. At the bakery, after money, it was all I ever heard of conversation.
So I've been pushing for another two years...But here, what is time? Old Otto doesn't even know how long he's been here.
Today is like any other day. The tourists are every- where. Old people out for a stroll, high school expeditions, undercover policemen. They treat us like an open-air museum.
But we are more like a town after a bomb has dropped. Most of our buildings lie in ruins. All of us suffer weird traumas. We have no lights for the nighttime.
In the winter bonfires burn on our streets.
Our violent fields heave in fruitless humps.
The main throughway is a broken road of bottlecaps and cobblestone.
Piles of trash are heaped everywhere.
Incidentally, my mother died when I was two. My father drank himself silly in bars. I left home at sixteen. It is easy to make it around the world without money. Many people are willing to exploit you. I lived with a painter for several years, whose main objective was to wrestle with the snake in my pants.
I searched for places as bleak and as full of possibilities as the night. Katmandhu was full of chickens. I got lice in Ledahk.
All the women wearing mittens All the men without socks . . .
Only Christiania held me, swallowed me like my own revelation. Drugs helped. I did lots of them, all kinds. Never was an addict. Could stop any time for however long I felt like it.
The Big Man likes me.
"I trust you," he said the other day.
"I sell well," I said.
I am charmed by his mangy appearance. He wears a 1940's black, pin-striped suit and purple socks. His shoes are beat-up loafers missing the tassels. Shirtless and with silver wings of hair growing on the sides of his head, the Big Man does not aspire to anything but money. But he does not live here, either. He lives in a whale of a house in the city. I have eaten dinner there twice—Pusher of the Month honors.
The Big Man likes Otto, too. They enjoy sharing lunch and a chillum. Sometimes I watch. The Big Man grunts. Otto talks in sentence fragments, mostly nouns.
"Disgust Sin Devil The Fun Is," Otto says.
The Big Man nods. Maybe they are talking code. Otto is so big he can talk anything.
I love you, Otto.
Love is like a sailboat full of wind, cutting across the sea, soaring to the stars. But as soon as it lifts off the water, it bellyflops down. That is what love is like.
We are sitting on a picnic table outside of Moonfisher. Otto is explaining life.
"Christ Sins Thorns In My Side," he says. "Jews Man Lifeboats." His voice rings like a gravel pit.
Won't you hold me, Otto. Please?
The Irish priest is here again. I see him running past the Grocer's, being chased by his flock. Even the Irish live here. They own farms and grow potatoes that look like bull's testicles.
"Repent!" the priest shouts out of breath as he runs, not daring to turn. The sun makes his black frock sheer, and I can see the nipples of his breasts.
"Fuck you!" the Irish scream. The men wear beards and the women have licorice hair. Every month the priest returns to claim his flock, and every month they drive him back into Copenhagen. But he never gives up. Some day, I think, he will inspire a crucifixion.
There is too much religion in the world. Personally, I aspire to internal spirituality. Nothing, nobody, outside of me matters. Except Otto. Otto is as religious as I get. His aviator cap is like a halo and his tweed overcoat is the vestment of a new savior. But there is too much talk about religion and not enough talk about faith. I, too, am full of anecdotes but without one developed plot.
Everyone wants to know what it is like to live in anarchy. Let me tell you, it's no big deal. We all have daily routines, postures, objectives that supercede idealized anarchy. And the power-grabbers make sure that there is more "we rule" than self-rule.
I am generalizing. Sorry. I realize this place has its virtues. Otto could not exist anywhere else. You cannot go howling sentence fragments all day out in the real world without somebody arresting you. But in here you can.
And me, could I exist elsewhere? Probably not. Like I said, the real world is not the place it used to be. But in here, in Christiania, it is strange enough. Too much happens—that's true. And often people here subsist on an incredible self-love. They feed on their egoism like desperate wolves caught in a trap feed on themselves. But Christiania is where I live. It is a comet in the sky, falling fast. It is like eating too much candy. It is drugs and farms and pastel colors til you puke.
It is the child of civilization.
Today, the Uro came. There were sixteen of them, marching in rows of four. They kept in step. I was watching from the secret alcove with a couple other pushers. We were laughing and ordering all the dogs to attack, but they ignored us.
We stopped talking when we saw Otto. He was making for the Uro like a drunk polar bear.
"Good Christ Jesus Praised Be Uro Lord Vice," Otto roared.
I tried to shut my eyes but couldn't.
"Clay Dung Human Crap Uro Smells Of—" But their clubs knee-jerked from their sides, and Otto subsided to a growl. When they were finished the mouth of his silver beard had turned purple.
The Uro slinked off like bad children. I rushed out to Otto, crumbs of hash trailing in the cobblestone.
He was laughing, his teeth smeared vermillion and his lips like raw meat. I tried to clean him up. He bellowed something unintelligible.
I was crying. My tears made his nose run. The other pushers giggled. It began to snow. I was making a mess of everything and people were laughing at me.
I am hiding now in one of the abandoned munitions dumps, my knees drawn up to my chest, warming myself in the dark.
No one will come look for me. No one cares about me.
I want to be alone.
I need to be loved. What does it feel like?
You can cry so loudly that no one will hear you. Or you can whisper so softly that the whole world will come to comfort you.
Otto lies in the Health House, breathing like a gravel pit. Many people attend him. The Big Man nervously twirls his gold watch. I know it. I see so well in the dark.
I would masturbate if I could. To be so fully alone like this, the goose pimples rising up and down my arms. It makes me hard.
I am almost happy.
I sat with Otto in the Common Kitchen today. He scared all my clients away, but I did not mind. We had our own table with a lit candle stuck in a wine bottle. Some- times I held Otto's hand without him noticing.
It is a hand like a shell on a beach, cracked but smooth. I took it to my ear and the roar of the ocean washed over me. Otto was cursing.
I dropped the hand and it swatted me on the breast, chucked my chin, then swiped my beer. Otto is a devil.
I hang out in the bakery to keep warm.
The Baker Whores are busy. Christmas is coming. Jens speculates that they can make a lot of money. When he is not looking, I steal a ten crown coin from the box. Then, as he goes to deliver bread at the Grocer's, I give him the coin and ask him to buy me a pack of cigarettes. He says, okay.
The bell rings at the shop window. No one else here; I have to answer it. One of the bikers wants something. His arms are lined with graying tattoos, and his thick waist is ringed by a leather strap studded with metal balls.
"A berliner," he says.
I give it to him.
"Five crowns," I whisper.
He gives me five crowns. He is a member of the big gang. They never used to pay, but now they occupy a house in Christiania, and are trying to be responsible. They look like they're in pain.
Jens comes back with my cigarettes, and I excuse myself.
The Full Moon party yesterday at Arne's was awful. Everyone wore a costume but me. I went for the booze. Otto stumbled in later, wearing his aviator cap. He looked himself and everyone comforted him. He roared his regrets that he could not come, even though he was already there. They all laughed and started plying him with Full Moon Punch—a biodynamic cocktail containing homemade alcohol.
Half the people were dressed like David Bowie, smoking clove cigarettes. No one talked to me. I hung on the fringe of the circle surrounding Otto, and drank the punch from a styrofoam cup.
Some of the Baker Whores did start to approach me, but I sneered at them. They're looking for more people to work the Christmas Market. Not me.
After midnight, in the spirit of things, another pusher offered me a bargain on mushrooms and I accepted.
I ate them right there. Soon my gut began to roar and heat rushed to my face. I thanked the pusher and slipped out for a walk.
I stumbled out to the ruins and listened to the Greenlanders standing around an open fire, passing whiskey. They are pathetic people with faces like walruses, and I like them a lot. But they smell of piss. I can stand them only in the outdoors.
They had a chillum and I ingratiated myself by filling a round. They continued to ignore me, which was reassuring. Some of them fondled loose branches as if they were weapons, but they were not violent. Besides, I am my own dog.
They talked dialect and I stared at the flames. Crack- lings popping over our heads felt like fireworks. In the distance we heard the idle din of the party.
I reached for a new sensation. I reached out to touch a walrus' cheek, and that started the fight. I got a kick in the stomach, and as I lay there looking at the night a pack of bikers drinking in the fields swooped down to kick the shit out of the Greenlanders.
Before I could get up I passed out. The next thing I know was a biker dragging me away before the Uro came. He said one of the Greenlanders was dead.
The ice ridges of the fields ripped open my back. The biker said I was leaving a trail of blood, and he cursed me.
Lights filled the field and he dropped me. I fell into my darkness.
I am lying in a city hospital bed, letting my stitches rest. A policeman occupies a nearby chair. When I go to the toilet, he goes, too.
They found several hundred grams of hash while undressing me. I am to be deported as soon as I can be transported. I get to choose which border. They have no knowledge of my homeland, because I ditched my pass- port and I refuse to speak.
The ceiling is false cork and white. Counting all the pockmarks is like trying to count the stars. The ceiling has twelve different subsections over each bed. Each subsection contains hundreds of pockmarks. Each pockmark is one more hole in the universe.
They say I am malnourished. It is all the Full Moon Punch going to my liver, never stopping at my stomach to fill it up.
I have lain here too long without visitors. All civilized people have visitors.
"Do you play cards?" I ask the policeman.
"Don't tempt me." He sneers through a mound of facial hair.
"May I borrow your newspaper?"
"You're tempting me." He rises from his chair. Already I can feel his club working up and down my legs, sweat pouring from his brow, a tight smile on his beard.
"Go ahead," I say. A warm chord runs through me. I will piss myself if he does.
But a group of policemen enter the ward. They are grinning. One waves a small packet. Terrible news. They have unearthed my passport.
I belong to an important country. I have a passport like a credit card. All the other countries accept it.
I am in Hamburg in the Hafenviertel. Hamburg is a nice place once you get beyond the train station. Mau- rice, a vagabond from France, cuts my hair. I have already shaved three times today. My train leaves in four hours for Copenhagen.
"Don't lose my identity," I urge Maurice as he clips away.
He shrugs. "Isn't that the purpose?"
I ask him to come with me. He refuses. Sometimes the whores from the Rapierbahn come down and give him a free one. Hamburg makes him very happy, he says.
"Except the train station," I laugh.
"The train station," Maurice looks at me gravely, "is the best part."
He takes me to the Hauptbahnhof. We descend secret stairways to a murky canal. Beneath the tracks, old men are racing swans. Their feathers gleam through the sludge.
"Care to bet," an Englishman asks.
"Never gamble," I say. I place five marks on number nine, Riding Hood.
Riding Hood wins. I give it all to Maurice. We dash back up the stairs and I make the moving train.
How many times have I sat on a train approaching a border, queasy and tense with the fear of being detected? This time, however, I am my own illegal baggage. I do not want to go to jail, but I cannot be away from Christiania. So I take this risk. They need only to computer-check me to find out.
First the Germans. They look at me and see my pass- port and nod and grimace and generally act like idiots. But the walkie-talkies hooked on their belts remain unused.
Here come the Danes. They are big boys in their black winter coats. Why do so many Danes wear beards? Maybe they are trying to hide something from themselves.
I feel myself giving way. I want to shout, Take me, take me, just let's get it over with. My tongue flaps inside my mouth, my asshole puckers out to kiss the seat cushion.
The hairy Dane fondles my passport. His bulk fills the compartment door, and I have no place to flee.
Then I think of Otto. This always brings me calm. My hands rest on my knees, seeping sweat. The scarf around my neck weighs like a sacred cloak. Otto has come to me, to save me. My head is as light as a snowflake, and flurries off my shoulder to the window, to regard the Danish countryside in all its boring splendor.
The fucking Dane stamps my passport. I am free, free forever, free until caught again, free as no man can be, free like the snow in the air.
I am in Denmark.