Disaster zone DIY

Davis’ Mick Mucus applies the punk ethic to relief efforts in his native Peru

Davis punker Mick Mucus (left) hooked up with Burners Without Borders to help rebuild quake-ravaged Pisco, Peru.

Davis punker Mick Mucus (left) hooked up with Burners Without Borders to help rebuild quake-ravaged Pisco, Peru.

Photo Courtesy Of MICK MUCUS

Mick Mucus is a 36-year-old vegetarian who listens to talk radio and hates Led Zeppelin. He has a pet chicken and taught his roommate’s dog to talk. He delivers pizza, and he says he’ll host his radio show on KDVS until they kick him out.

He grew up in Concord, Calif., moved to Davis in 1995 and never left. Last year, he helped create the Sacramento Pyrate Punx, local chapter 017, part of a worldwide network of friends who book punk bands for underground shows—it’s like the Elks lodge, but with more energy.

He got his name from playing in the ’80s punk band Anal Mucus, obviously.

But before the talking dog, the Pyrate Punx and the, um, Mucus, he was born Michel Pin in Peru, where he lived until he was 5 years old. He considers himself half-Peruvian, half-Californian, and makes a point to visit his parents and relatives in Lima, Peru, every two years.

Last summer, on August 15, an earthquake struck Peru a couple hundred miles south of the capital city. It registered a 7.9 on the Richter scale—more powerful than the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the 7.7 shaker that caused the collapse of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

The coastal city of Pisco, Peru, was reduced to a pile of rubble.

At the end of August, the Peruvian government reported the quake had killed more than 500 people and left 1,366 injured. Some 60,519 homes and 14 hospitals crumbled to the ground, and another 14,553 homes and 103 hospitals were damaged, according to the country’s National Institute of Civil Defense.

The earthquake barely shook Lima, where only one death was reported. Mucus’ family was safe. But while other tourists were petting alpacas and sipping Pisco sours, Mucus decided to do what he could to help.

He hooked up with Burners Without Borders, a nonprofit group that formed at the end of 2005’s Burning Man festival, where a few participants decided to head out to Hurricane Katrina disaster areas and help rebuild cities. The effort came out of “a spontaneous, collective instinct to meet gaping needs where existing societal systems were clearly failing,” according to www.burnerswithoutborders.org. Since its formation, the volunteer group gained recognition for its efforts in raising funds and providing assistance to various disaster-stricken regions, such as the Fernley, Nev., levee break and flood earlier this month.

Armed with sunscreen and bug spray, Mucus, his two sisters, niece and nephew spent Christmas week in Pisco knocking down walls and clearing the rubble. They worked 16-hour days and slept on mattresses on the floor of a house with 20 other Burners volunteers.

“We just got back from Pisco and the place is a fucking nightmare,” he wrote in a letter to friends. “Most people are living in tents on their properties or in tents in huge refugee camps. Four months after the quake, the hospital has to keep people in tents and running water is nonexistent in the waiting-room bathrooms.”

Those who could afford it have moved away, leaving a devastated city of impoverished residents, many of whom are children or the elderly, Mucus explained.

“I tried to brace myself for it, you know, but I couldn’t really imagine what it was going to be like,” he said. “Then I got there and it was overwhelming, but we went right to work, so we didn’t have too much time to dwell on it, until we went to sleep that night. … Then it was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m in a disaster zone.’ It’s kind of scary. It’s hard to sleep there a little bit until you get used to it.”

Mucus returned again to Peru earlier this month and spent four more days in Pisco working alongside the Burners and volunteers from other groups.

“I was there for a total of 11 days working, but there were a lot of people who were there for months,” Mucus said. “Those people are heroes, man, and I have never, ever met a hero in my life until I met them.”

This month, the Burners are taking over the rebuilding phase from Hands On Network, a volunteer group that focused primarily on initial rubble removal.

To address immediate sanitation needs, the Burners designed a sustainable cement plumbing system that incorporates a sink, shower and toilet. In other words, it’s a bathroom that the Pisquenos can eventually rebuild their homes around, said Burners director Carmen Mauk, the organization’s only paid employee. She said the plan is to build at least one plumbing structure each day through June, if they have the resources.

The Burners also prepared six proposals describing the needs of demolished schools and an orphanage to compete for funding.

“It’s an incredible organization,” Mucus said. “They’re not punk rockers, but they kind of have that ethic. … It’s like, you’re expected to take initiative for yourself, for any ideas that you come up with—a kind of do-it-yourself attitude.”

It goes without saying that taking initiative is a principle Mucus lives his life by. It’s what led him to Pisco and, now back in Davis, it’s what will keep him going. There are punk shows to put on and pizzas to be delivered.

Oh, and if you were wondering, yeah, his mom calls him Mick Mucus, too.