a series of intimate interviews and portraits
with the people who twirl signs outside of pawn shops
a series of intimate interviews and portraits
with the people who twirl signs outside of pawn shops
I was 22 and working at a coffee shop in Phoenix, living with my parents & trying to be a writer.
The customers at the coffee shop liked me. I had a good memory for details – not just coffee orders but food allergies and dog names and stuff like that.
One of the regulars was this guy named Arturo, a psychologist in his mid-fifties who was finishing up his first novel.
“What kind of stuff do you write?” he asked me one afternoon.
I said, shy, “Nothing really. Just like about life, I guess.”
“I see,” he said. “22 year-old girl stuff?” He started to laugh a little. “Boys, clothes, dating?”
I turned red, tried to laugh too. “Yeah, I mean. Pretty much.”
“Ah well, there’s room for that stuff too.” Hearty chuckle.
I made some non-committal laughing noises.
“I’d love to read your work sometime,” he said after a minute of that back and forth fake laughter. Then he ordered an oatmeal.
In a way it was a relief. Writing had started to feel like eating crackers with a dry mouth. I mean at best, my work was empty. At worst, it was bitter and hateful.
I went on a long walk around my neighborhood and while I was walking it hit me that I didn’t have to keep trying to be a writer. It was such a pure & exquisite moment – like my fist had been clenched to white knuckles for over a year and finally I was letting it open up and relax.
Anyway, a few months later Arturo went crazy and started living out of an ice cream truck.
From Murakami’s Norwegian Wood (two college boys talking to each other, 1968):
“ ‘What kind of authors do you like?’ I asked, speaking in respectful tones to this man two years my senior.
‘Balzac, Dante, Joseph Conrad, Dickens,’ he answered without hesitation.
‘Not exactly fashionable.’
‘That’s why I read them. If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That’s the world of hicks and slobs. Real people would be ashamed of themselves doing that. Haven’t you noticed, Watanabe? You and I are the only real ones in this dorm. The other guys are crap.’
This took me off guard. ‘How can you say that?’
‘’Cause it’s true. I know. I can see it. It’s like we have marks on our foreheads. And besides, we’ve both read The Great Gatsby.’”
What are you reading?
What are you listening to?
What are you watching?
How do you consume, and where, and why?
This is what i’ve been thinking about for a while now. It seems like the very act of reading is impressive to people these days – “You read books? a coworker asked me once over salads, to which I had no real response – so I guess I think of it more in terms of general media. Binge-worthy TV shows. Podcast culture. Drake. “Serial.” “Stranger Things.” “The Night Of.”
I’m reading another Murakami book right now – Sputnik Sweetheart – so clearly I’ve got Haruki on the brain. Whenever I read Murakami I have the tendency to dress like his characters, behave like them, eat like them, dream their kind of lucid, unsettling dreams.
Anyway, I sat outside today at lunch with my book and eavesdropped on girls from another company talking about podcasts, TV shows, and how much they *love* the Brentwood Farmer’s Market – the kind of aimless conversations I have with my own coworkers before I excuse myself from boredom. These girls were all slightly overweight, with faces buried under contoured makeup and the kind of voices and shoes that suggest they know they should be more confident than they actually are.
Yet another moment where I shore up my own rituals and habits – novel before me, phone stowed in another room, vintage sweater, clear skin, homemade organic salad – as proof of my own superiority. Which of course I need because in fact I sense deep down that I am a nothing. And that I even have to think of human beings in those terms…that’s where it all starts to eat itself. Is being aware, at least, a start? I want to grow, actually grow, not just hold a growth-shaped hole against other people to make myself feel better about my own addictions.
Structurally, that above paragraph is unrelated to the point I was trying to make about Murakami/reading/media consumption. But maybe the real point I’m trying to make is that I am feeling such tension between being irritated by everyone’s complacency and being compassionate. “Trying not to be a dick,” but also “kind of judgmental” maybe is the best phrasing.
Behold my brain, etc. Behold the mark on my forehead.
Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind. I’m in a corporate office. I need to get back to work.
I know this seems like an odd choice right off the bat, but think about it: he was handsome, rich, intelligent, totally ineffectual, really miserable – a regular West LA hipster, but sub beach for snow and sun for Danish bros rolling on ennui.
Ham and I have always had a ton in common – I too think Ophelia is clingy. I too am into skulls, especially for decorating. But I don’t know how to duel and I’m not that interested in learning, to be h with you.
2. Jack Kerouac.
Oh Jack. I tried so hard.
In the attempts to impress both you and a guy I liked in college, I rode trains all over the West Coast, scribbling notes in my journal and eating cheap food from jars. I stayed up night after night in the Observation Car reading On the Road for the whatevereenth time, taking notes in the margins, trying convince myself that I actually liked your work. I wore just a few pairs of clothes because caring about fashion was normcore, and I, like you, was made of stardust.
I planned to get one of your Belief & Technique for Modern Prose tips tattooed on my arm, but I hadn’t decided which – maybe “You’re a Genius all the time” or “Blow as deep as you want to Blow.” In typewriter-style letters.
I eventually wanderlusted all the way to the Middle East, where I scribbled in more notebooks, tried to stay hydrated, and got terribly homesick.
But Jack, it wasn’t for me. The clothes were ugly, the food was bland, and it just got boring, in the end, all that shifting around trying to be impressed by things that just really weren’t that cool.
3. DH Lawrence
I was looking to have sex in the woods with a silent stranger in an attempt to free myself from the shackles of industrialism, until I remembered that it’s way too late to escape consumer capital and clickbait is my master and also David Henry you seem to talk pretty big about what a woman’s orgasm feels like for someone who doesn’t have a clitoris.
4. Matt from Bio 101
Matt from Bio 101 is not an actual person, but rather a generic conglomerate of the Obscure Object of Desires we’ve all had in our lives. Matt from Bio 101 went out every night while I stayed in the library researching Beowulf. Matt from Bio 101 was at underground shows, warehouse raves, and depraved, hallucinogen-fueled house parties. He looked effortlessly cool. He lived in a dope house off campus with genderqueer shamans, and they made conceptual art and mixed ambient electronic hip-hop and rode fixed-gear bikes and had a house drawer stocked with prescription-grade opiates.
I knew that if Matt from Bio 101 thought I was cool I would be able to finally start living. Other people would look at my hair and want to be me.
Matt, however, really appreciated that I let him copy my lab results and distinctly did not find me, in my old navy capris, “suitable to party.”
5. My ex-boyfriend, lets call him Paul
Because he was an artist which sounded so rad and cool, because he would “lose himself in the ecstasy” of painting or drawing or making giant cigarettes out of plywood or whatever.
6. Don Draper
Only for a minute during Season 1.
Because I work in tech/media, I started 2016 inundated with press releases from hot new companies vying for my attention. I know how overwhelming it can be to decide how to spend your money as a means to fill your inner void, so I’ve made a list of my top 8 start-ups to watch in 2016. New year, new you, new products to love. Happy 2016!
Handcrafted in Portland, OR, Chilly Lube is the first love gel to give you and your partner that cold, dry feeling on wet hot nights. Chilly Lube is water based, free-range, and tested on non-GMO bunnies.
This cool Phoenix-based app lists what you’ve already done today so you don’t have to do it again, or pay attention to your own existence.
This fun, interactive game shows you photos of apples and Apples ™ and lets you guess which one is which! Think you can distinguish a Washington Honeycrisp from a Rose Gold iPhone 6s? An organic Fuji from an iPad mini? Bring your A-game watch your points stack up. For players 13+.
A Brooklyn-based snack startup founded by two working single moms who started making organic dried sushi leathers out of their mid-century-modern kitchens after their husbands decided to go on a Vipassana retreat in India and never came back. Pilot flavors are Kiwi California Roll-Ups, Peachy Eel Peelies, and Spicy Tuna Tummy Gummies (with Superfruit). Made with 60% real juice.
Are you passionate about food justice but don’t want to make any significant changes to your life? Download FarmSupport and send a farmer a sub-prime loan from your smartphone today.
6. Chili Loobe
Located two blocks north of Chilly Lube, Chili Loobe is a silicon-based sexual lubricant processed with flakes of Cuba’s finest habanero peppers, chunks of pungent Hudson River Valley garlic, and a dash of premium apple cider Newman’s Own Vinaigrette.
7. Unoriginal Digital
This radical new app only takes pictures of things that have been photographed over 1 billion times. Think the view from a plane window, jumping on the beach at sunset, and stars you make with your girlfriends’ hands/feet . With Unori, you’ll never miss a chance to convert real life experiences into one neat, shareable package you can enjoy forever.
8. AMOT LALOTH
This genius weight-loss tool helps you reach your health and fitness goals by channeling your mother’s favorite folk adage, “A Moment On The Lips, A Lifetime On The Hips.” AMOT LALOTH is a chip that is embedded into your cerebral cortex. Installations can be performed at Apple Stores or any place Apple products are sold.
Some of our favorite AMOT LALOTH features are:
Let me know in the comments below which products you’re most excited about for 2016! And as always, be well and drink better.
****Special thanks to Alec Emmons for the above logo designs, which are a tribute to his graphic genius and his commitment to consumerism. You’re one in a billion, Al.
Two years ago a guy named Hakan predicted my future.
We were in Goreme, Central Turkey, a region famous for its spindly rock structures that look straight out of The Lorax. For thousands of years, locals have lived in caves within these rock pillars – spaces that have been chiseled and remodeled into modern, eclectic, multi-bedroom homes.
Goreme is an incredibly popular tourist destination. Today, most of the cave homes have become boutique hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. Tourists are drawn to the bizarre landscape – described in brochures as a “fairyland” – and also to the hot air balloon tours that take place every morning at 5 AM.
Earlier that week I had taken a balloon tour myself – stood in a basket in the freezing pre-dawn watching that bizarre desert unfold below. I was sandwiched between an American family who spent the ride talking about their past vacations and a trio of Korean girls taking pictures, laughing.
I was traveling alone that summer and instead of draining my limited budget on accommodations I had decided to join the couchsurfing community- a sort of unbelievable space wherein strangers on the Internet offer up their homes as free accommodations to other strangers on the Internet, and because you are alone and broke and young and naive you actually do it.
Hakan was my host in Goreme. He had taken in hundreds of travelers, but I had a hard time believing his motives aligned with the couchsurfing community’s feel-good philosophy of cultural exchange. I think he mostly used it to meet women.
Hakan had a roommate, Atsuko, who worked as a Japanese translator for one of the balloon companies. She had come to Goreme on a vacation two years ago and simply decided she didn’t want to return home.
They lived in a cave house that was under construction, with a living room covered on two sides by a giant blue tarp that swelled and deflated like a lung. The plan was to finish the house and turn it into a high-end hotel, finally make some real cash. I liked this about Hakan and Atsuko: they were hustlers; they lived how they wanted.
I had thought that traveling alone around Turkey would reveal to me what I was supposed to be doing with my life, like a Magic 8 Ball meets a career aptitude test. Any day now I expected to wake up and shout “Yes! I do want to be a high school literature teacher!”
So far, there had been no time for epiphanies – I had to continuously secure food and lodging and once I did, someone always wanted to take me on a tour of the local caves. I found myself not on a spiritual quest but on International Cave Tour 2013. These were not caves with stalagmites and albino spiders. These were cave churches, with bits of paint left on the walls and a couple of dirt pits. The first two were interesting and the remaining four hundred were exactly the same.
I was broke and I was lonely. I spent my days hiking and eating apricots. A lot of apricots. I was growing increasingly bloated and beginning to feel like this trip was a huge mistake. I was tired of aimlessly walking around; I wanted purpose, I wanted something real to do.
The night Hakan read my fortune, he, Atsuko, and I were having dinner at a restaurant. Hakan said the manager “owed him a favor” and we went hoping to score some kind of discount.
We ate pottery kebaps, a local specialty served in sealed clay pots that had to be smashed open with the blunt end of a knife. The meat inside tasted like terra cotta.
After dinner, we ordered coffee. Turkish coffee is served in tiny, ornate cups about the size of a shot glass. It’s unfiltered, so the grounds settle at the bottom and if you’re not careful you’ll get them all over your teeth.
“Have you ever had your coffee grounds read?” Atsuko asked me.
“Um…no.” I said. “Is that…like, a thing?”
“Yes. It tells your future. Have Hakan do it. He’s very good.”
I glanced at Hakan.
On my second day in Goreme, Hakan and I climbed to the highest point in town to watch the sunset. I know it sounds romantic, but this was a pretty common thing to do – it’s not like Goreme had any nightlife.
We sat down on the cliff and dangled our feet over the edge. Hakan snuggled up and put his arm around my waist. I moved away. He tried again. I moved again.
“No thanks,” I said nervously. He dropped his arm without another word.
He didn’t try anything after that, but he also stopped being friendly. Don’t get me wrong, he was an exceptional host – he cooked great meals, helped me plan my itinerary, got me a discount on the balloon ride, and didn’t mind when I ate every single apricot in within a twenty-foot radius. But I wouldn’t describe us as “buddies.”
“Hakan?” I asked. “Would you?”
“Sure,” he said. “Hand me your cup.”
I slid my cup across the table. He turned the it over and let the grounds spill onto the saucer. His eyebrows shot up.
“Allah allah,” he whistled. “Your head is a mess.”
I laughed. Nervously. My head was totally a mess. Was it that obvious?
“You want many things, but it changes all the time. You are confused,” he said. He had a fairly thick accent and spoke in a rapid, high-pitched monotone, like he was reading something aloud to a class.
“You don’t think much about money or business. You just think about men.”
This was 100% true.
“That’s not true,” I protested, but he wasn’t listening. He studied the dregs in silence. Then he looked up.
“You should not take any drinks from a stranger.”
He turned the saucer towards me and used his pinkie to outline two brown blobs.
“This is a woman on some kind of chair, maybe a stool. And this figure is a man, leaning in to attack.”
My heart skipped a beat. This was the very scenario I had feared – my smiling face appearing on the news as another terrifying statistic. Single American female, kidnapped, raped, murdered. Tortured to death in warehouse somewhere in the Middle East. Cause of death: being too polite.
“How near in the future?” I gulped. “What kind of man? Does this mean tonight? Tomorrow? Next month?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “Just be careful. Use your brain.”
He poured the grounds back into the cup and looked at what remained.
“Okay. See here.” He motioned to two smudges on the inside rim of the cup. “You have a dolphin and a cobra.”
He outlined the shapes with his pinkie. They were elongated, murky. They did not look like dolphins or cobras to me.
“What do they mean?” I asked.
“Many things are out to hurt you. Many things are out to help you. But you will not know which is which.”
I thought about the men who would soon give me tea and cut off my head. “Oh god,” I whispered. The pottery kebap was heavy in my stomach.
“You can only follow your instinct and your head. Do not listen to your heart.” He pointed to a tiny smudge in between the dolphin and the cobra. “Here’s you. And here is the dolphin. It is leaping behind your back.”
“It’s leaping. Behind my back.”
“Yes. Leaping. It means many good things,” he said, “but you don’t see them.”
“You mean because they’ve passed?” I asked. I thought about the year before I graduated college – the friends I had, the awards I won, my perfect Medusa hair blowing in the wind.
“No. I mean they are behind you. You don’t see. You are looking forward at something you want that is running away from you. You don’t turn around to see the one who is waiting for you, full of love.”
Atsuko nodded, eyes wide, tipsy.
“Of course,” she said. “Of course. The dolphin is waiting.”
The candlelight illuminated her face, round and honest. I looked back and forth between the two of them, swallowed, said nothing. I was wrapped in a Turkish scarf and very far away from home, drinking wine with two indecipherable people, and truth seemed like something that waits in the dark for you to be quiet.
The dolphin is waiting.
I would have many more adventures that summer. Many did involve shady men who did not have my best interest at heart. I took Hakan’s advice. I accepted no drinks. By the time I left Tel Aviv, I didn’t want anything to do with strange men. They made me queasy.
I went home at the end of the summer.
I had taken this trip as a way of living out a deeply held and no longer valid 2belief that the most important parts of our personal development occur when we are alone and uncomfortable. I was interested, that summer, in disintegrating, in connecting with something beyond myself that would erase my own carefully constructed, liminal personhood.
Plus I had just read Wild.
So standing in the airport in Boston waiting for the flight that would take me to Phoenix, I felt like I had failed. I hadn’t decided what to do with my life. I hadn’t had any spiritual experiences. On the contrary, I was coming home with a terrible haircut (Salon Ashdod, “do whatever you want,” complete regret), 6-7 extra pounds on my stomach (apricots, kufte, alcohol), torn clothes, and no money.
They called my boarding zone. I texted my mom to let her know I was on my way.
And then I had it. My epiphany.
It wasn’t a single word from above whispering my professional destiny (MARRRRKETIIINGGG, LAAAAAAAW). It wasn’t even a concrete thought. It was just that all of a sudden I felt really stoked to go home.
Home – a place where people knew my name, spoke my language, could I.D. my body if ever I was served a fatal Moscow Mule. People who loved me, whom I loved, who would meet me for coffee and chat about anything – existential loneliness, fall fashion, cultural appropriation, scones.
Because I already had everything. Everything I could ever want. I had family, friends, a financial safety net, a healthy body – but also it was more, it was deeper, it was the unbelievable fact that I existed at all.
There. It was.
The dolphin is waiting.