You’d feel cheated if I got straight to the point, so let’s not kid ourselves.
I’ll give you a pretty clear picture of my age range when I tell you that I distinctly and vividly remember the high-water period of ‘zines. For those who fell on a different point on the timeline or had better things to do with their adolescence and young-adulthood, ‘zines were the turn-of-the-century incarnation of early print “pamphlets” (think Thomas Paine more than “Why You Need A Vasectomy”) and Soviet-era samizdat from a scant decade or two earlier). ‘zines were informal publications, nearly always self-produced with an often-deliberate rough-cut style to them, usually composites of cut-and-photocopied images, often handwritten but just as often done in weird typesettings, often free but just as often costing anywhere from a quarter to a dollar and found in a stack at the cash register of shops where you bought your obscure vinyl, occult supplies, bongs, belly-button piercings, or overpriced coffee.
Hopefully you can tell from this one paragraph that The Gutter is the kind of place you’d want to spend your time, maybe even bring up a kid or two, or just come in for our piping hot flapjacks and boxcutter fights in the parking lot. We’ll keep a milk crate warm for you.
‘Zines have a decidedly homebrew, guerilla aesthetic about them, which is sufficient in itself to explain why their style has since been thoroughly coopted by entities that are anything but those things and, coupled with the apparent aversion humans have developed to reading things written on physical objects, largely become obsolete (though in the Beforetimes shortly before COVID, I was frequently bemused and delighted to discover an occasional ‘zine while at a nerd convention of some kind or another, including an- I hope- deliberately awful 10-page ode to a young woman’s own bicycle that edged squarely into the erotic that was distributed in every stall of the women’s room at the convention center, apparently every day of the con).
End tangent #1. Begin tangent #2.
If you’ve been here awhile you’ve probably heard at least a little bit about my (and Brothermouth’s, though we did not live in the same house until later in life) travails in the public school system, so you know that I wasn’t homeschooled. Both of my parents were teachers, though, and due to teaching in the same public school system where a stolen taxi cab was blown up overnight and still burning in the schoolyard when I walked to school the following morning, they were pretty frustrated by the lack of outlets in their own schools for, y’know, all that REAL pedagogy they’d gone to college for. They were also informed by one of the numerous shrinks I went to at a very early age (no special reason, this was just a weirdly common thing that middle-class white parents did with their kids in droves in the 70s) that I had a very high IQ but also apparently had the disposition to get myself into a LOT of trouble if that wasn’t appropriately directed, which led to a lot of weird shit happening in my youth that I won’t get into today. But one non-weird (though sadly very rare these days) thing it did lead to was that my parents spent quite a lot of time on “enrichment” outside of school. Some of it was basically “more school somewhere else except you pay for it,” but some of it was legitimately unique opportunities to do things besides watch the burning hulks of cars, run away from other children screaming at you in foreign languages, and fall asleep in Social Studies.
Yes, all of this happened at the same time as Fathermouth being a frequently physically-abusive alcoholic and Mothermouth having random nervous breakdowns and regularly reminding me at young ages that she never wanted to be a wife or a mother. Life is a careless stew of good and terrible things (…like a ZINE, and I just BLEW YOUR MIND RIGHT NOW).
I had a lot of books growing up. My parents got the word out to friends and relatives that my pre-earning-years time was not to be wasted with gifts like toys or anything, so a lot of my enrichment included educational books that I read at home that often had various exercises or activities that you could either do with parental supervision (like build a rocket or something) or by yourself (like word problems with answers in the back or
recipes for pipe bombs art projects). This was one such book that I had for years that I still remember very well, which I was delighted to see was still in print:
My edition, which was probably the first one, had a rough white paper cover with black-and-white ink illustrations (I think they just colorized them later for the above edition) and looked almost self-published on a shoestring budget- like a ‘zine for educational enrichment.
Books like these had a very distinct style, which is why I mention them in the same breath as the latter-day samizdat I’d find in the “ugly silver jewelry store” that educated me about how drinking beer was depleting the woodland habitat of the reticulated something-or-other: a page or two of uploading dense material, a page or two of text-sparse or text-absent imagery or art, prose in a different form, etc. They knew how to maintain the attention of kids’ hyperactive brains, which was to avoid long stretches of sameness and mix up the tempo of information in unpredictable ways.
It was smart, and it worked, and I don’t see it employed very often in a lot of the mixed-media content I consume as an adult.
There! That’s the setup. We’re not stopping again until the end, so pee now.
The Inmate, creator of The Aslyum substack, which is mainly a pipeline to his long-lived website of the same name (which began life as “The Corporate Asylum” in a Dilbertian act of dissidence against corporate bullshit jobs in the late 90s), sent me this, his newly-published thing, last week:
I was made aware of The Inmate and his Asylum while stalking other Gutterballs- I read all your profiles at least two or three times, mainly to find source material for jokes about your mothers or STIs but sometimes to find new stacks you read that I don’t.
The Inmate’s book, I’m Nobody, Who Are You? Can We Save The World? plays exactly like content on The Asylum, albeit in a continuous digest of a little over 100 pages- and in a nutshell, it’s a ‘zine written by a 65-year old dad who renewed his interest in producing The Asylum during the height of COVID tyranny.
It’s a trail mix of full pages of memoir, parody, cartoons, and memes, with no particular organization or content strategy. It’s all over the place. A fair bit of the humor scans as “Dad jokes” to me (to be fair, The Inmate is a dad, and a full generation older than me), but it’s all charming, and the serious statements are just that.
In its serious moments, I’m Nobody is focused on civil disobedience- understanding what it is, its present context, and exhorting the reader to get you some, right now. It offers some general suggestions about what effective direct action- homeschool your kids, write a book, find ways to opt out of the system- but is as often focused on stirring a dissident mindset and taking heart and courage in understanding that you have millions of sympathetic allies in this cause around you. The theme of “I’m Nobody” is heavily utilized- The Inmate frequently reminds us of his small-potatoes, working-Joe nature and that most people reading his site or his book probably feel equally small and powerless- to reiterate the point of collective action, community building, and grassroots effort.
When I write about a book, I feel obliged to discuss what purpose the book serves and why you would or wouldn’t want to pay for it. I’m Nobody isn’t in the class of so-called “big guns” books published at the height of COVID tyranny like RFK, Berenson, or Miller- it isn’t jammed with dozens of meticulously-researched discussions of its topic, with helpful graphs and a professorial voice. It isn’t something to buy and hand your mom that watches CNN that thinks COVID is on groceries and 3000 people died on 1/6 and say “so there” but also hope she reads it and becomes aware of something she didn’t already know or didn’t want to accept. (page 21: “This book is not an attempt to persuade those who don’t think [that the vaccines are neither safe nor effective and that the 2020 election was fradulent].”)
It isn’t a book you buy as someone sympathetic to The Inmate’s vision to get information you haven’t already heard before, probably dozens or hundreds of times. If you’re already interested in this book, you’ve probably already consumed the “information” element of its contents many times over.
So what’s it for? It’s something you have on the coffee table or in the bathroom (no disrespect to The Inmate intended; bathroom reading is a diverse and not at all unimportant genre) or your nightstand when you want something you can pick up, read a few pages at a time, and put down without having to absorb it all at once. It’s a cool gift for a fellow-dissident friend that can relate to the material. It’s like reading a war journal by someone you never met that was in the same conflict as you; you mostly read it for the good feelings you have as you nod along in agreement and reinforce the neural pathways that got fired up as you lived through your particular shared-but-unshared moment of history’s hell.
Which is not without value when inspiration and assurance one is not crazy is thin on the ground.
I’m Nobody is available on Amazon (of all places), for $2.99 on Kindle, $7.99 paperback (which I received), and a $29.99 hardback edition. Get you one.
Wow, cross-promoting other substack authors AND emotionally-rich original content? The Gutter really is an example of just how great public television can be. We hate doing these telethons as much as you do, so by Baldr’s mercy, please save us. Please.
For those curious about the exploding taxi anecdote:
Like a lot of kids in urban public schools in those days, I walked to school and had to line up in the schoolyard with my class when a bell rang to let us inside at the start of the day. Public school's resemblance to prison structure is beyond uncanny.
The night before the morning in question, someone had apparently stolen a cab (most cab drivers in NYC are private individuals that buy very expensive "medallions" from the city that allow them to operate cabs, so cabs are often parked in someone's home driveway rather than at a cab company's garage), taken it for a joyride, and, as is often the case, decided to destroy the evidence. They drove it through a huge gap in the chainlink fence surrounding our schoolyard that had been there for years, torched it, and left it there. By the morning, the fire department was still milling around the smoldering wreck and bits had scattered all across the yard, so when kids arrived at school we were all lined up on the sidewalk and handball courts instead and gawked at this monument to urban life.
Interesting timing. I’m in my 50s, always wanted to write but never stuck with it due to the usual stupid reasons (I’ll embarrass myself if I put myself out there, maybe I suck…etc). Lately I feel the NEED to write, to communicate, almost like a religious calling. I have notebooks filled with observations about humans during the past 3 years, the govts, satirical drawings (I can not draw), mental health, quantum mechanics….and how all of this somehow ties together. My whole world is different now because I woke up -not to just the lies of the world but the lies in my personal life. I believe I was mentally ill in the sense that I operated completely from a bogus premise that I had no personal power. I allowed morons to call the shots and shape how I felt and most importantly, and this is key- I woke up to the fact that I was hurting myself out of habit. I was used to being hurt (abusive childhood too) and I subconsciously created situations in my life to continue the pain. I was pretty damn good at it too. Anyway, I’ve been wondering if maybe I should compile all the ideas and drawings and just put it out there somehow, but i haven’t been able to figure out what bizarre genre it belonged to. The whole theme of it is that I recognize mental illness in society because i recognized it in myself. Society on the whole behaved like I used to. Captured brain, not seeing things as they really are. Every day I think “maybe today I’ll get the guts to put myself out there…” but don’t because I say “I’m nobody! Can one person really change the world?” And I asked the universe to give me a sign if I should do it, and now I am reading this.