The Green Alternative
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Fawn Wulf -- the chosen one, heir apparent of the commune her father founded in the late 196os -- is up to her boots in goat dung.
Mucking out barn stalls, Fawn and six others whack and poke at the matted stuff with pitchforks. Now and then, they hit eye-scalding pockets of ammonia.
"This is disgusting," Fawn says.
Yet, here in the barn, she looks oddly glamorous even in farm duds. Wearing thick eyeliner and streaked blond hair -- and a blue flannel shirt and jeans that match her blue eyes -- she looks like she could have wandered into Kurt Cobain's entourage in the days of grunge.
The crew props a plank against the back of a pickup. Fawn watches as one of them prepares to roll a wheelbarrow full of manure up the plank, one of the mundane chores of life on a commune. She offers some advice on not spilling the load. He ignores her. The truck springs bounce as he runs the wheelbarrow up the ramp, almost tipping over.
"Laaaaaazy," Fawn admonishes him. She makes animal noises deep in her throat: "GRRRRR."
Fawn, 29, may be the emerging young leader of this alternative lifestyle, but she also carries around the ulcer-inducing ambition of a junior VP in a Fortune 500 company. Whether spreading her late father's gospel or fretting over the commune's grocery bills, Fawn is an accomplished multitasker: earth mother, femme fatale and chief executive officer of an idealistic and surprisingly lucrative enterprise. It even comes with a catchy manifesto: "Stop Bitching. Start a Revolution."
Every weekend, like road-hardened Bible salesmen, members of the commune hit the streets around Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia or other major cities with a mission: to sell T-shirts, bumper stickers and other merchandise emblazoned with the slogan. They work the crowds at rock concerts and protest marches, peddling their CDs and magazines. They work the phones, cold-calling tattoo parlors, head shops, alternative bookstores and New Age boutiques. They sell, and they sell, and they sell: their way of life, their faith, their ideas for changing the world.
It's been good to them, this slogan. Sales of the shirts with the phrase -- splashed across women's spaghetti-strap tank tops (available in pink, red or nude) or men's XXL T-shirts (choose black with white lettering or black lettering on "sand") -- help pay the mortgage on an $880,000, 220-acre ranch with breathtaking views of the Monongahela National Forest's mountains. The group of 24 people, including four children, has lived under one roof at the Zendik Arts Farm -- named for Fawn's father, Wulf Zendik -- since its move from North Carolina in September 2004. Then there are the 50 goats, 13 horses, three cows, 17 dogs, 15 cats, five peacocks, two cockatiels and a misogynistic parrot named Zugar.
But the slogan troubles them, too. For a time, the Zendiks dropped it. But their public begged for its return, Fawn says, so they brought it back.
They sometimes wonder: Is it too slick, too gimmicky for an artists' commune that rails against mainstream culture and commercialism? Has the financial stability bestowed by those five words infected them with unhealthy bourgeois values? Or has it simply allowed them to keep their ideals alive and disseminate them more efficiently?