The Belfry

By Kayla Burchuk

Trying to interview the Belfry was like attempting to capture and pin down a rare bird specimen only to have it struggle and flap its colorful wings. The house, the random objects, and the people that create “The Belfry” resist interpretation. The residents of the Belfry have, over the past two years, included around twenty different Macalester students. This week, The Mac Weekly interviewed “the Belfry” as an entity rather than a group of individuals. Speaking as “The Belfry” in this interview are current residents Bobbi Gass (WGSS), Andrew Gramm (Studio Art) Jeremy Meckler (HMCS), Jane Robinson (Psychology), Max Cady (Psychology), Nick Coletto (Neuroscience). They are joined by Belfry alumni Peter Vallely (HMCS) and Kai Bosworth (Geography). Conflicts in pronoun usage and voice are intentional.The Mac Weekly: What is the Belfry?

The Belfry: It’s the downstairs part of 1509 Ashland. The Belfry is really just a vast and uncaring network of walls that we occupied and made into a bizarre social space. The walls don’t have to be a part of it necessarily. Nick doesn’t like walls. I think it’s an entity that survives without us quite well. It’s definitely quite alive. It has to eat. Often I feel like a figment of the Belfry’s imagination. Sometimes I feel like we were willed into being by this space. Are we rational actors or are we just part of the Belfry consciousness? .A conglomeration of factors came together to generate the Belfry. There’s been an inordinately huge number of residents in this house… pushing twenty, who have paid rent, at one point or another. Then we add a lot of people who lived here, too, like during the RNC, and Melanie [Raydo ’11] and Aaron [Rosenblum ’10] are special house guests. Melanie and Aaron and Nick Huelster ’11 slept over here quite a bit last year. They’re not special guests, special guests as in “SG.” “SG” is sexual guest [all laugh]. We use “SG” to refer to sexual guest and “G” to refer to guest, because there was one weekend where everybody had sexual guests.

TMW: How was the Belfry created?

TB: Sometimes we have bats. There was a time when Jason [Rodney ’10] , and me, you Shivaun [Watchorn ’10] were hanging out in the kitchen. .and I said, “Wait. Did any of you see a bat? .Yes that’s a bat!” .There was a real bat inside and then it perched in the room, which is outside of my first room, which is now Andrew’s room, which is now called the DQ. The bat perched on the ceiling . for like two hours and it didn’t move. I didn’t watch it, I just told stories to it. Andrew talked to it for a bit and then at some point because of the saying “bats in the belfry” we named the house the Belfry.

TMW: Give me a verbal tour of the space of the house. I enter through the kitchen. What do I see?

TB: You should have come through the front door. In the kitchen you’re welcomed by a lovely LifeSavers image of Barack Obama, with an American flag made of LifeSavers behind his head. There’s a lot of decorations and stuffed animals. There’s a lot of wall appendages. Having seven very different personalities in here has made this house extremely eclectic. I think having one monolithic personality. It’s like we’re one giant psychotic being. The house generates its own culture . different split personalities. Multiple personality disorder? Yeah. That pans out in having all kinds of weird shit being here all the time

TMW: How has living in this environment changed you?

TB: I feel like a piece of architecture. I’ve gotten much more comfortable in my lunacy and my general craziness. I have both a space to direct it to and always a lot of people to help me do that. You don’t have many situations that are so accommodating to this. This space is a really good outlet for lunacy and it cultivates it. It’s like every time you to push everybody just wants you to push a little harder. Especially because we lost out minds a while back [laughs]. Nick lost our minds a while back. We’re still looking for it. One of the fun things about this house it that it’s as crazy as the people who live in it fits really well. In the room downstairs someone who’s short and someone who’s taller than them can stand on opposite sides of the room and one of them is taller because the floor slants so much. That’s actually been a huge relief because I couldn’t live in the same house for two years, but having a really fractured structure. I don’t think I’ve arrived at the real house yet… At the same time, the craziness of the house is limited. It only goes so far. We’re really into the absurd. And can get dependant on each other.

TMW: Tell me about your Christmas ritual.

TB: Oh. Secret Santa. It all came out of sophomore year when I really hated the way Christmas was being ritualized and enacted in my own family and I wanted to do something that was fun for Christmas, but also cheap, because we’re all college students but still want to give things to each other. So I thought it would be really cool if we had a Secret Santa, but if everyone found all the gifts on Craigslist free, which turned out to be a lot harder than any of us anticipated. Some people got their gifts out of dumpsters and whatnot. It’s also been extremely spontaneous in the things that have been given and received. I think Sean Hickey ’10 has been the real all-star. He really topped himself this year when he got me 400 dentist smocks. That was the best. He happened upon a man who had a palate of dentist smocks. They were just delivered to his warehouse and he didn’t know what to do
with them. .That wasn’t just the attire for that party, but for two subsequent parties and actually every haircut that I give and every time that I take a bath.

TMW: Talk to me about some of the most epic parties you have had over the past two years.

TB: I think the smock party is one of my favorites following our Christmas party last year. Because it gave birth to the next party, too, the “Wrong Party”. Our best parties are when we can really open up the house, because there’s really two separate basements because there’s two staircases and then an upstairs that’s separated in half, so we basically have four quadrants, and when we can get a party that uses all four quadrants of the house it’s great.. For “The Wrong Party” the idea behind that is that we wanted people to come to this party and be like “Oh, man. I’ve come to the wrong party.” [Laughs]. .it happened because the three of us were really hung over and we had talked to Sean I think who said he had seen somebody walking through our hallway, and I had just shot-gunned a beer and I had ended up sticking a knife in hand at the party. He heard somebody walking through the halls of this party being like “I don’t know what’s up with this party. There are people in smocks everywhere, some kid just stabbed himself.” and it’s like “You’ve come to the wrong party.” .So we thought we’d play that up for the next party.

TMW: What constitutes a shitshow in the context of the Belfry?

TB: [All laugh] Any show at the Belfry would be shitshow anywhere else. Shit really hits the fan at The Belfry when shit literally hits the fan. Blood and nudity usually. There are a lot of people being tied up in our basement usually. Look at the last party, I was tied up with pink ribbons and wearing a diaper . and then I was tied up and Nick was pouring wine all over me. There’s a lot of violence sometimes. It’s violence inspired by love. There’s a lot of hitting and slapping and punching. Extreme friendship.

TMW: What role do altered states of consciousness play in the life of the Belfry?

TB: They happen often. They’re pretty much an integral part. [Laughs] Not everyone indulges, but everyone engages with people in altered consciousnesses and that creates new additions to the house. I think altered consciousnesses really make the consciousness of this house. I know I couldn’t understand it in quite the same way if I approached it, you know, straight ahead. I think there’s a certain degree where it has become inaccurate to refe
r to it as an altered consciousness because sometimes it would be more altered otherwise. [Laughs] It’s a place where any mental state is okay and any way of existing for like, how your thoughts and physical self are interacting with the world are entirely okay, regardless of what anyone would take or do. I feel like anyone entering the Belfry their consciousness will be altered whether they want it to or not. All altered consciousnesses are welcome. It’s a testament to the welcoming-ness of this space. I think people who are very sober usually feel out of place . not in terms of usage of things but just personality wise . I mean, you have to have sense of humor and be open to all the people here and all the personalities, because there are a lot of personalities and that can be overwhelming for folks who aren’t used to any kind of stimulation.

TMW: What do you think the Belfry “is” to outsiders?

TB: I have no idea. We’ve thrown parties on Facebook and just advertised “at The Belfry” and we’ve gotten over 200 people, so obviously people know what’s up. We’ve entered some sort of bizarre, legendary status, I think. At least I like to think that. When our new neighbors first moved in they came and they told us that they tell people that they live upstairs from the Belfry. It’s going to be carried on, too, because people are going to be moving in here who are at least as strange. Laura [Bush ’11] and Caitlin [Rinn Lauer ’11] and all the Wheeler [Street] kids . an unholy union in every sense. Our house is an open place, welcoming and friendly. If you need a couch to sleep on or some company, you can come here and find someone you know, waiting just for you.

What are other key elements of the Belfry’s philosophy?

Lots of touching. Opposites. Personal boundaries disregarded. Also, extreme exaggeration. Everything is like really tiny or like, extremely fucking enormous. I feel like enthusiasm about nearly everything is one of out qualities. Aggression, not like passive aggression . but like aggressive joy. I think it’s more “massive aggression” than “passive aggression” because everything is massive in that we are aggressive towards our own selves and towards other people in the space, is pretty monumental. Lots of touching.

TMW: Final comments? Is there anything about the Belfry the public should know/it would be appropriate for them to know?

TB: We don’t do crack. People think we all do crack all the time. Please, make that clear! Can that be the headline? “We don’t do crack.” It’s true; a lot of people think we do. Nobody’s really doing crack. We are not the same person. As much as we tend to conglomerate and focus on our similarities and being a collective, we all have different strengths and interests, personalities and states of consciousness. Its not always easy living here with so many people and the expectations of being a part of this idea of what this space is. The Belfry is not a static idea, we are all still negotiating what it means to be here, and be a part of here, every day.