excerpt > Fred Leebron > WelcometoChristiania
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 everywhere. 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.
“That, too.”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. . .
Fred Leebron has published several novels and numerous short stories, and has received both a Pushcart Prize and an O. Henry Award; he is also co-editor of Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology and co-author of Creating Fiction: A Writer’s Companion. He directs writing programs in Charlotte, Roanoke, Europe, Latin America, and Gettysburg. Learn more about Welcome to Christiania here.
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