The Anarchist Knitting Circle

Mike Benham is a young man searching for community. And searching. And searching.

In late 2002, Benham and two friends identified the closest uninhabited island to the United States -- a place called Samana Cay, in the Bahamas -- and embarked on a scouting expedition. After a hair-raising skiff ride over 10-foot swells, with a boatman they suspected was a "not very nice drug-runner," Benham and company landed on Samana Cay only to discover a desolate place blanketed with "sharp bushes" and mosquitoes.

"It was immediately apparent that the island was in no way ideal," Benham deadpanned on his Web site.

In lieu of founding his island community, Benham embarked on a three-month Kerouacian journey across the United States, armed with a tape recorder and notepad. Among other things, he hitchhiked to Los Angeles, lived in a squatter building in Gainesville, Fla., and had a run-in with the police after riding the rails through the South. Along the way, he taped interviews with people he met about their philosophy of life. When he returned to the Bay Area, he created an eloquent, touching CD about his adventure, in the style of National Public Radio's documentary show This American Life.

But the "community" he had expected to connect with around the country had eluded him. Benham felt a bit lonely.

"Even though I met wonderful people," says Benham on his CD, "my transience forces the relationships I build to be shallow on some level."

Benham is a quiet and serious person, though he doesn't take himself too seriously. He carries a scary-looking hunting knife for protection while hitchhiking, but admits he's unlikely to ever use it.

"You have to actually be able to stab someone if you have a knife, and not just brandish it," he says. "But I'm not ready to stab someone. So I'm thinking of switching to mace."

Lately Benham has thought about putting together a cookbook comprised of favorite recipes from his Hayes Valley neighbors.

Such a homey idea comes at a time when Benham is on the brink of homelessness. The money he squirreled away during his high-flying days as a computer programmer has nearly run out, leaving him facing a rent crisis. When his cash is gone, Benham says calmly, he plans to squat -- "or sleep on people's roofs."

And even if he doesn't have a kitchen, someone will. And someone else will have a warm place to gather. And everybody has at least two favorite recipes.

"Then you can take that one step further and have a potluck," says Benham.

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