These anarchists mean business

A tall man breaks the sunlight washing through the door of the Cass Corridor underground book and magazine store. The elderly African-American is mumbling and seems out of place among the anarchist shirts, thumping punk music and lefty literature lining the walls.

“Hi Peetey, how’re you doing?” says Dave Kujawa, a young white guy with pierced chin, nose and ears who looks somehow businesslike in a baseball cap and cutoff corduroys.

“Short sleeves,” says Peetey, pointing with excited eyes to his blue-flowered Hawaiian shirt, which covers a long-sleeved jersey. He is sweating. “Short sleeves.”

“Yeah, I see that,” Kujawa, co-owner of Idle Kids bookstore, says in an affectionate, knowing way.

“Short sleeves,” says Peetey as he turns and makes his way back onto Second Street.

Kujawa and Peetey, one of the corridor’s less fortunate, make strange buddies. But maybe that’s me. The punk rockers I hung with in high school were angry, moshing, trouble-seeking miscreants. I loved them all, save one guy who popped the heads off dolls and such. Still, they were not what I would call friendly.

Kujawa, on the other hand, couldn’t be sweeter. He watches over his independent music, book and zine shop with a quiet sense of control, crooning to his kitties, Gorgeous and Fatso, as he greets shoppers and occasional visitors like Peetey.

Located in the basement of the house that served as a late-1960s hangout for the MC5, Idle Kids sits beneath a head shop and gift store. You could easily drive by and miss it, if not for the oasis of electric-green grass and flowers adorning the lot in front.

Though a mere five months old, Idle Kids has quickly integrated itself into the burgeoning community. It claims the area’s biggest collection of underground zines — pamphlets, basically, put together with paper and pen and photocopied, filled with everything from feminist rants to revolutionary polemics to poetry.

I bought one for a dollar that tells me all the herbs and vitamins I should take to cure female ills. Not that I have any.

But let’s rewind.

As I drive up on a spectacular Friday afternoon, Kujawa and Idle Kids co-owner Jason Lockwood are sitting on the front steps of the building. They seem to be frivolously passing the time. But you need only come close to this group to realize they are far from your mother’s punks.

Idle Kids is a misnomer. These fervent revolutionaries are proof that punk rock’s mantra of anarchy, peace and freedom is alive and well in the heart of the D.

I sit with them: Kujawa, 24, Lockwood, 28, and store volunteers Michael Ketelhut, Jesi Kowal and Jessika Musinski. They are abuzz with their plans to save the neighborhood, Detroit and the world from lecherous capitalists, general ignorance and apathy.

“We’re fighting against corporate takeovers, fighting against globalization. It’s almost a state of emergency now,” says Lockwood. His shirt proclaims “Unity Crew Detroit,” a movement aimed at ending division between the city’s various scenes: punk rock, hard core, hip hop, indie rock, and on and on. Idle Kids handles the bookings for Unity Crew “to kicking ass get it going again,” Lockwood says, setting up gigs and making sure bands get paid. But that’s not all.

Idle Kids is about education and activism, they tell me.

“We’re trying to teach people how powerful the dollar is,” says Kujawa. “If you use your dollar for an independent business, that’s a vote you take away from corporate America.”

The group is organizing a cleanup of nearby parks. Kujawa says he wants to start a “supervised park time,” so moms can leave their kids with the punk rockers and not worry.

They have so much going on, I can’t keep up.

Kujawa says he and Lockwood opened Idle Kids because there was nowhere in Detroit where people could get alternative, underground literature, music, bike fix-it kits, skateboards and all the other interesting this and that in the shop.

“It was a statement of hope we could add to this area,” he says of the corridor, an area undergoing curious changes.

“I think the Cass Corridor has a lot of heart, a lot of voice,” says Lockwood.

“It’s for kids who aren’t into the whole ’70s revival thing,” says Ketelhut. “Not that I don’t dig it, I do.”

The store will promote anything as long as it’s not racist, he says Lockwood.

“We don’t want any hopeless voices distracting people or discouraging people, or making them feel unwelcome.”

Opinions are flying so fast, I’m not sure who said that last bit, but it sounds good so I write it down. We sit and talk in the hot sun, smoking cigarettes. I’m getting lethargic; their energy is endless.

We go inside. I’ve been in once before but on close inspection, I am shocked at the selection: everything from Richard Wright to Kafka, Vonnegut and Sinclair. Shelves are lined with vegan and vegetarian literature and anti-auto manifestos. They’ve got a book on Bust, a fabulous New York feminist magazine, anarchist literature and the popular “Days of War, Nights of Love,” a blueprint for peaceful revolution and rebellion against the forces that be. And there’s a selection of books on how the media hypnotize us.

In the back — yes, there’s a little reading room with a couch and mellow lights — Idle Kids keeps its collection of underground and alternative magazines. I could stay for hours. When Musinski announces she’s leaving, I take the hint.

Before I go, we talk about punk rock and why it’s so political. Lockwood says he was an outcast growing up, with a hard home life. “Skateboarding and punk-rock music saved my life,” he says.

“Youth is looking for something to put energy into. … We want kids to have an outlet, and for people to have a place where they can read and learn and expand their thinking.”

I drive home down Cass Avenue, past people walking quickly toward what might be the beginning of a Friday-night high, past men sitting on the sidewalk drinking 40s in the intoxicating light of the fading sun. I see a young woman jogging up the street, in full sports-store running regalia: puffy shiny blue shorts, blue-and-white sports bra and smart blue running shoes. She matches. Her hair bobs back and forth in a ponytail as she passes folks at a corner liquor store.

And I think to myself, Ahhhh, Detroit. Gotta love it.

Idle Kids is located at 4470 Second Ave., Detroit. Call 313-832-7730.

Lisa M. Collins is a staff writer for Metro Times. E-mail comments to [email protected]
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