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Dirty Fruit

Dirty Fruit

Illustration by Dani Katz

I tear myself away from Rant, Chuck Palahniuk’s delightfully demented saga of a time-traveling troublemaker who kicks off an epidemic of his own superstrain of rabies through tiny traces of his saliva, to go to MOCA’s Public Fruit Jam with three friends. The jam-making session, hosted by the art group Fallen Fruit in honor of Edible Estates’ new book Attack on the Front Lawn, is supposed to be at MOCA’s West Hollywood annex. But we wander the ever-empty, quiet, creepy halls of the Pacific Design Center, wondering if we got our dates wrong. There are no signs of life, or fruit, anywhere. Then we exit out the back and spot the Jam: two long tables with big bowls of fruit, a blender and a hot plate perched in front of the little MOCA galley.

Illustration by Dani Katz

(Click to enlarge)

Two guys in jump suits, Fallen Fruit founders David Burns and Matias Viegener, man the table, instructing a handful of participants on which fruit needs what sort of jam prep. Burns wears protective headgear.

“Is your hardhat coming in handy?” I ask.

“It did this morning when we were picking blood oranges,” he replies.

Next thing you know, I’m straddling an aluminum stool and pulling pits out of fresh-picked loquats. Seated across the table is an effeminate man wearing a navy blue, poncholike sweater with turquoise sleeves poking out over his wrists. As I dig my own unwashed fingers into the sticky meat of the loquats, I count no less than seven warts on his hand, the same hand that fondles the flesh of a freshly peeled orange. I am reminded of Rant’s killer strain of rabies, and consider the hot plate upon which so much filthy public fruit is being reduced to bacteria-laden preserves, wondering if it can generate enough heat to kill off the various strains of plagues and viruses lurking in the vicinity. I decide that, while the Public Fruit Jam is a delightful way to galvanize community, there’s no way I’m eating any of that jam. I don’t care how good those big bowls of graham crackers look, wedged between jars of organic peanut butter and cream cheese. Turns out, the man behind the warts and inside the poncho is the event’s speaker and guest of honor, the innovator of the “Edible Estate,” Fritz Haeg.

Haeg talks about his geodesic dome, his travels and his vision for “a capitalist commune,” comprising itinerant, independent property owners who hate the system but still exist within it.

I’m intrigued. These days, it seems everyone’s talking about slipping away to rural communes filled with like-minded intellectual artist-types.

“Will your capitalist commune be self-sustaining?” I ask, digging my thumb into the center of a pudgy, yellow loquat.

“I can’t really imagine that,” he says, leaving me to wonder if his imagination is broken, and bursting any notions I’d entertained about insinuating myself into his club.

Soon enough, we’re surrounded by beautiful people wearing dark-rimmed plastic glasses, skinny jeans and avant-garde footwear, all wanting to get their grimy, unwashed hands on some public fruit. Vicki, my new favorite friend and author of The Threesome Handbook, ponders the hacked-up, dried-out orange she holds, unsure of the difference between the zest and the pith.

Before we can taste our hard work (as if!), we gather in the cozy confines of the museum bookstore for the reading. About 50 hipster/artists types are perched on stools, sprawled across the staircase and leaning against bookshelves stuffed tight with contemporary art stuff. Haeg, of the bald pate, the turquoise sleeves with holes for his thumbs and the skin — um, varietals — introduces the Fallen Fruit boys, who give us the lowdown on “public fruit” (fruit growing in or over public space), and the work they’re doing to engender community on the Eastside — public fruit mapping, tours, and jams like today’s, which bring together people who might otherwise never interact.

Haeg reads from his new book about the potential of the front lawn and the satisfaction that comes from transforming one into “an edible estate” (read: vegetable garden). A handful of others read excerpts from the book, as well as blog entries from a local man who has successfully turned his front lawn into a wellspring of produce. It’s all very civilized and encouraging, seeing so many fellow city dwellers interested in growing their own food.

We leave MOCA with a sticky mason jar full of fresh orange jam. Misha, unfazed by the human papillomavirus, the filth-encrusted fingernails and pathogens, licks the outside of the jar as we take the long way around the museum to the car.