When I returned to the Anarchist’s Pad I found a long-haired dark-skinned man sitting in the kitchen. He introduced himself as a Peruvian named Shaman, “From the Jungle” he added in English.
He pointed to a small painting on the kitchen wall of child-like depictions of trees, monkeys, a river and the words, Shaman From the Jungle.
He was an artist, he explained, and he was living in the Canary Islands where he made a living selling bracelets, necklaces and paintings to tourists. He was just visiting Lisbon for the weekend. He pointed around the room and indicated a few more of his masterpieces. Paz y Amor, some peace signs, and a few hearts scattered around the stovetop.
I noticed that almost all the kitchen was covered in various drawings and slogans. Peace and love was a prominent theme in all tongues, as was the mandatory stoner mushroom, the hippy Om symbol, and a dozen or so half-baked pseudo-deep ideas:
Humans are the only species to have invented a language of symbols and then forgotten that they did.
“You want to write something?” he asked in Spanish.
“On the wall? No,” I said, “I’ll write something later.”
“Come outside and I’ll show you the rest of my drawings.”
He led me outside and I saw the back yard for the first time. It was divided into three sections: a small garden on the left, a grassy area crammed full of tents and a 30-foot long makeshift tarpaulin tent on the right.
Shaman From the Jungle showed me a few more of his massive finger paintings and we went inside the tent. There were a few mattresses on the ground, a seating area with a coffee table and a few guitars, and in the back a large table around which a dozen people were seated.
I was greeted in French, Spanish and English and introduced all around the table. Nine of the diners were Erasmus exchange students from Germany, Belgium, France and Holland. There were two unemployed German punker girls who explained that they had hitchhiked all the way from Frankfurt. At the head of the table was my host, the Anarchist.
Dinner was on the table and wine was served. I opened a bottle of California wine I had brought as a gift and we started making small chat. Spanish was the common language, but I watched with amazement as my host danced effortlessly between fluent English, Spanish and French. Glass after glass was filled and I started to thoroughly enjoy myself.
I couldn’t contain my curiosity about my host. I made my way over to The Anarchist and struck up a conversation. We dove directly into a discussion about politics and philosophy, which I quickly realized explained a lot about The Anarchist’s interpretation of the CouchSurfing website. He was far more intelligent than his dreadlocked style suggested and his political views on anarchy were well-developed and supported with quotations, examples and figures. He explained that he was an engineer and was currently working on his PhD. He had been hosting CouchSurfers for two years.
“Do you always have this many guests?” I asked.
“No, this is pretty much the maximum I ever have at one time. But I always have at least a couple.”
“How many have you had in total?”
“600 more or less. How many are you guys? A dozen? Yeah, I should be at 605 or so.”
“Jesus, that’s crazy! Do you just open your doors to anyone?”
“Yep. A lot of CouchSurfers want you to make your Couch Requests personal, but I don’t give a shit. I welcome anyone. I am actually running a mathematical experiment.”
“What kind of experiment?” I asked.
“I am testing a theory of mine. I call it controlled anarchy.” He seemed to enjoy these enigmatic answers.
“Well, I think anarchy works if you control a few variables. It only breaks down when people lack the essentials: food, shelter, and a clean toilet. Here, I provide all those basic necessities for free and then allow everyone to do whatever they want.”
“Whatever they want?”
“What if someone did something crazy, like took a crap on your carpet?”
“It would bother the other guests and eventually someone would clean up the mess. It may take a day or two, but the problem solves itself without the need for rules. So I record each person’s behavior and incorporate it into my experimental data: Do they contribute to the system or are they freeloaders? Are they an overall positive or negative impact on the anarchic system? Et cetera”
The side conversations stopped and the rest of the guests were all listening in. I tried to switch back to Spanish for their benefit, but he continued in English. He started tracing out bell curves in the air with his finger and explaining the statistical conclusions he had drawn so far from his experiment. I grew more curious with each answer.
“And how do you afford to feed all 600 of your guests, if I may ask?”
“Well, about half of my guests contribute something and half don’t. They either bring food or help me cook up communal dinners for everyone. I cover the rest out of my own pocket. I also use dumpster diving.”
I had never heard of the term dumpster diving, and apparently neither had anyone else. The Frenchmen looked to the Belgian in hope of a translation, but he just shrugged his shoulders. He looked to The Anarchist and asked, “What is dumpster diving?”
The Anarchist wiped his face with his hand and swallowed a mouthful of chicken before answering.
“Well, when supermarkets close at night, they have to throw away all the food that is good enough to eat, but not good enough to sell: bread can’t be sold the next day, nor can dented cans, certain meats and vegetables. So I go to the dumpsters after closing time, open up the plastic bags, take out what I need and then re-tie the bags and but them back in the dumpster. It really cuts down the cost of cooking.”
The French girl was confused. “An’ zis food zat we eat zis night, it is from zis ‘dumpster diving’?”
“Yes. Well, most of it is.”
The French girl put down her fork. We all inspected the food on our plates.
“Don’t worry!” he laughed, “It’s safe! Everything is wrapped in plastic bags. It’s completely hygenic. And anyways, the veggies were grown right here in my garden.”The conversation died out with our appetites and The Anarchist went back to sucking the meat off his chicken bones. The Belgian placed his folded napkin on the table and stood to excuse himself.
“Where is the toilet?”
The Anarchist looked up from his chicken bones and pointed across the yard. “Go piss on the compost pile.” He smiled at the rest of us and said, “Compost is wonderful. It really helps the veggies grow. Come on, eat up your veggies! These onions are grown in the piss of a hundred CouchSurfers! Are you going to finish your chicken? So much food in the world is wasted…”