Scavenging with Jay and Ryanne

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Scavenging with Jay and Ryanne

Today on the program we’re scavenging in Amsterdam with Jay and Ryanne. Plus, a bonus appearance but the one and only Macdocman, as he discovers how the scavenger life works and marvels at the details.

Relevant Links for today’s scavenging adventure:

What Remains of You

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We moved into a new apartment last month, my partner and I, in a beautiful and lively neighborhood of Amsterdam. Strangely enough on our second day in the house, as we unpacked the massive pile of boxes, a loud discussion burst out in front of our building, which included a good amount of crying by at least one female. When I looked outside to see the source of the noise, two police cars had pulled up and officers slowly put on blue surgical gloves as they tried to calm down the young woman. They seemed in no hurry to enter the building, but when they finally did I could hear their footsteps just above my head. Within minutes they thumped down the stairs and were back outside. More civilians arrived, these men and women would also join the vigil outside. An hour or two went by. A city medical examiner arrived, solemnly greeted the people, and continued up the stairs, again the action going on just above our bedroom. Hours later, in the middle of the night, a large funeral car with a team of two formally dressed individuals is outside. I’m awoken from my brief sleep to the sound of thunderous footsteps and struggling in the narrow Dutch stairwell. I peer through the keyhole just as large objects thump against the door. 3 or 4 men are  struggling with a human body. The final piece of the story, the upstairs neighbor had passed away in his own bed.

19499706524_df2d03b34c_zFor the next week(s) as family members arrived and I listened to the faint sounds of suffering and commiserating, those famous topics of death and how quickly life can change or even end rattled around in my over active brain. Here’s a man who lived alone, older but not old, loved by friends and family, yet isolated in his home in many ways. It is a common reality, in both cities and rural areas. It happens.

Twice a week in this neighborhood they have large garbage night. All month, twice a week, I’ve watched as pieces of a man’s life are painstakingly carried out to the garbage pickup spot. Trash bags. Bits of furniture. Worn carpets. “Unfortunately, my father was a hoarder,” one of his children tells me as she passes me in the stairwell carrying more trash bags. I recognize her as the daughter who stood outside all those hours when the discovery was made. She tries to laugh about it, but the sorrow and pain leaks out as she gives up on a smile.

Each night after the trash is put out, things get quiet upstairs, as family members go home. Then another kind of ritual begins, they come by car, scooter, truck, bike and on foot, to sort through the garbage pile. These are the scavengers, professionals, amateurs, random passer-by’s that see these things and decide to take them home. I watch from my window as they each show up. They scour the piles, feeling the bags, finding sets of things, occasionally accidentally dropping something that makes an attention grabbing crash. Sometimes there are 4 people surrounding the pile yet no one looks at each other, they focus on the pile and the possibility of finding what is treasure to them. By morning there are mostly only scraps and shards of broken things left. Pieces of what were once a person’s life, are sorted and transported all over the city.

It has been one month since the death of the man upstairs. A truck came to take away whatever was deemed of value for the family. His children have worked themselves to exhaustion cleaning the place. There is no more noise upstairs. Soon the landlord will come and paint, renew, whatever is needed to prepare the place for new people. Within a month new human(s) will live their lives upstairs from me. Occasionally they might throw out a large piece of furniture. A scavenger will have it loaded into a van within minutes. Life just goes on.

Remembering Raja Oueis

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On February 11th, 2015 my friend Raja Oueis passed away at the age of 27. I was lucky enough to meet Raja at hacker camp (OHM) in 2013. We spent several happy days exploring that crazy carnival of creativity, an event that we always looked back on with fondness. Not long after we were able to meet again, in Amsterdam and at the Hacker congress in Hamburg. Each in person meeting would be a joyous occasion for eating, laughing, thinking out loud  and plotting future hanging out oppertunities. It seemed only right, I think for both of us, that we did meet and become friends. One of those classic cases of someone you feel like you always knew from the first moment you speak.

Sadly over the past year, as Raja fought a daunting battle against cancer, our communication would be limited to short conversations online. I convinced myself that there would be time, that despite everything, we would get to sit and talk and drink chai and discuss matters of the heart one last time. Just as it felt meant to be that we would become friends, naturally fate would allow us one more chance to talk til the wee hours of the morning. But time ran out on us. My ticket to Beirut reads March and Raja’s ticket to another dimension seems to have been set for February.

Thankfully, though it is hardly enough, during those happy days camping among some of the kindest and most creative people on the planet, we turned on a microphone and together with many friends and strangers, talked about what we were experiencing and why it was special to us. In this podcast I’ll revisit those moments with Raja. Though his voice is one of many in these recordings, his wonderful answers mean even more to me now. I wish we had left the recorder on for so many more hours and days. But thats not how it works, I suppose. Nevertheless, I consider myself lucky to have known him and I’m pleased to be able to share this little tiny piece of such a larger than life human being.

Having Seen Life Itself

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Having Seen Life Itself
Photo by Michael Stephens / Flickr

If there is one word to describe the tone of this website over the past 2 or 3 years I would choose the word “less”. Less writing. Less podcasts. Less photos. Less activity. Less experimentation. Without knowing exactly why or when it started, I seem to have gotten busy elsewhere. Offline life? Perhaps. Work life? Often. Somewhere along the line, my little corner of the internet that is now well over 13 years old, was no longer my obsession or even my canvas. And while that may be a good thing, to focus one’s energy elsewhere on new projects. It has also at times felt like an outlet that was missing from my life and my work. A void that would surely get filled somehow over time, but I do wonder if any of it matched the magic that once was right here in this space you are reading.

An unlikely source to trigger me back into writing: Roger Ebert. If you don’t know who that is, because of course I realize the world is larger than the United States or its sometimes global cultural tentacles, Ebert was a very prolific American film critic who reviewed films for the Chicago Sun-Times for an incredible number of years. In his career he saw and reviewed thousands upon thousands of films and got many accolades for his writing. He is credited for making cinema for accessible for regular people, and shedding light on emerging talent when others would not.