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Big Love on Staten Island


The open-door policy is beginning to wear on him too. “I’d like to make it smaller by getting rid of some people,” he says, in what could easily be construed as an oblique reference to Ian. “That’s what makes me the radical of the group.”

There are only four rules at Ganas: (1) no violence to people or things, (2) no free rides, (3) no illegality, and (4) bring complaints about the community to Planning.

The “no illegality” rule is generally interpreted to mean “no drugs on the premises.” But that doesn’t mean the place is a haven for straight-edgers. One night I’m watching The Daily Show with two guys named Adam and Matt when suddenly Matt steps out the back door—“to smoke,” he says with meaningful emphasis.

Every culture spawns its own counterculture, and the Treehouse is Ganas’s local outlet of subversion.

He retreats to a dark nook between two buildings, where he sparks up a funny-looking cigarette and passes it to a couple of people who materialize out of nowhere. I don’t know what we’re smoking, but it sure smells like weed to me.

“This ain’t Ganas,” Matt says by way of explanation. “We’re over the state line.”

“Yeah, this is the Treehouse,” says someone else, taking a hit. “We’re off Ganas property.”

The Treehouse, whose porch is decorated with chained-up stuffed animals and overflowing ashtrays, is a proto-commune that’s taken root in the house next door to Ganas. Eight dissidents rent the place, trying to make a home that’s freakier than the mother ship—they don’t care if you get high, and they don’t come down on you if you’re drinking. There are no big group dinners here, no organized cleaning schedule, and no early-morning meetings. But in the dormlike basement TV room—where the door is always open—there is a big bag of community tobacco and a rolling machine. It’s like a flashback to how Ganas got going back in the seventies, when the original founders of Ganas got drunk one night and realized that what they had together was like a family, or a marriage. They became the first core group. Perhaps every commune begins by collectivizing the means of intoxication?

A Treehouse guy mentions they’re having a Halloween party that weekend, and the next day everybody at Ganas is buzzing about it. Ganasians of all ages show up at the Treehouse party dressed as rock stars, witches, and naughty fairy-tale characters. People are smoking and drinking and dancing to MP3s sucked down from the file-sharing service LimeWire in real time. Every culture spawns its own counterculture, and the Treehouse is Ganas’s local outlet of subversion.

Bok Choy, a recent college grad who is visiting from Twin Oaks, Ganas’s sister community in rural Virginia, is trying to get things started with some hot boy-on-boy action. She plants herself between two costumed guys and giggles her way through a plea for them to kiss—just once! It will be like Jake and Heath in Brokeback Mountain. The guys aren’t so sure. Adam, a refugee from Cleveland with a devilish smile, looks like he might do it—he’s in that early-twenties phase where he thinks every day in New York is like a week, and he wants to try everything. Mark, a pedicab driver who claims he’s on the verge of a deal with MTV to do his own show where he’ll “go places and do stuff,” says no way. “I don’t make out with guys.” Then he spends five minutes asking Bok Choy over and over if it’s “really true that chicks want to see guys making out.” (“It’s hot!” she insists.)

Many of the younger Ganasians divide their time between Ganas’s protective plenitude and the Treehouse’s late-night social life. Of course, owing to the early-morning nature of Planning, the biggest partyers have the least amount of input into the social machinery that runs Ganas. “The one and only time I went to Planning it was because Bok Choy and I stayed up all night drinking and we stumbled in before bed one morning,” Adam says, tipping a beer bottle to his lips.

Despite the cultural divide, Ganas remains an inspiration for many Treehouse kids. “We’d really like to buy this house together and do more things as a group,” pines Treehouse resident Kate, the D.J. at the party. “It would be nice to have regular dinners—or even just regular house meetings.” A woman next to her lights a cigarette and nods. “I’m living here for now, but I keep hoping that I’ll be invited to move into Ganas,” she says.

Two months after the party, Ian’s girlfriend and her son are checking out rooms at Ganas, trying to decide which ones they like best. Ian won’t be leaving—instead, his girlfriend will be joining the community on Ganas’s terms, just like any other new resident. “She changed her mind,” Ian says, his voice free from its old strain. “Honestly, I never thought it would happen, but she’s selling her place.”


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