“I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again, It’s the L.A. moment. It’s the L.A. moment.” Craig stated with enthusiasm.
He did indeed say it twice and probably has repeated that repeated phrase a million times- because it’s true.
Craig said it to me in an easy-going sort of way, looking over at Mike with a smile. The two of them had just spent the entire night painting the interior walls of Commonwealth Proper’s new showroom in DTLA.
The space used to be the backstage area of Al’s Bar, one-time hot spot to see artists like Beck, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Replacements. You can still see what used to be the stage in what is now a clothing shop next door. When I was there I could also see a white board with a sketch of the new floor plan and a list of all the construction still left to be completed before they open. It looks to be the kind of classy with an intentionally unfinished rough edge sort of place that I would expect from Commonwealth Proper.
Commonwealth Proper has matured since it started back in 2008. It has grown up in that there will now be 4 showrooms (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, LA), and matured in that the brand doesn’t have to try to be anything other than what it is. They have established themselves and are free to be whatever sort of menswear design shop they want to be.
And I kind of love what they have become. Commonwealth Proper has done this odd thing where they have learned the skill of bespoke tailoring appropriate for Wall Street and too good for Congress, while maintaining both a sense of humor and an edge.
I am not a floral corduroy jacket or full plaid suit wearing guy, I’m too physically large for that much pattern, but I love that Craig makes and wears those things. I love even more, and am the sort of guy, that would wear a fitted navy suit with the two Ron’s, Swanson and Burgundy, printed on the lining. I would wear that to death. If someone pitched that idea to me in advance I would snicker with self-righteous doubt, which of course shows how little I know and how skilled these guys are.
I rarely have a problem with sloth, though physical inactivity is occasionally an issue, but more I struggle with inability to give consistent attention. I am constantly engaged in this project or that, which is an issue when it is always this or that rather than this, all the way to completion, then that.
So, as at least two absolutely groundbreaking, world changing, writing projects sit mostly done on my hard drive, and as my olympian physique gets ever further away, what do I do? I paint and draw.
I have some projects in the works that I think are pretty exciting. Stay tuned (he says to himself and not necessarily the reader).
After driving through what feels like endless fields of well tended rural nothingness, Ann Arbor springs up out of nowhere and somehow feels like a real city. There are crowds on the sidewalks and construction everywhere. I chose the word surprising because Ann Arbor only has a population of around 120,000 people. And it isn’t a suburb of a metropolitan area, those 100 thousand people are the whole metropolitan area.
To give one an idea of how important the University of Michigan is to Ann Arbor one should know that the school has 45,000 students and approximately 25,000 employees. The University is the town.
It is by all measures, one of America’s top academic institutions with each and every department regularly ranked in the top 20, and most of those departments getting ranked in the top 5, but what the school is most known for is Final Fours. As in March Madness NCAA college basketball. The Wolverines aren’t the winningest basketball team in history but they are known to win, and they are famous for calling a timeout when they don’t have any left, and also famous for getting in trouble for paying those players what they are worth.
Sports are “worth” enough money to Michigan that the teams have their own separate campus. There are all the buildings full of students going to top ranked classes, then there are parking lots and actual train tracks, and then there are a separate group of very glossy and secure buildings housing weight rooms, practice facilities and arenas. I had the privilege of pressing my face up against the glass of one of those buildings so I could see a row of shiny basketball trophies with nets draped over them. Very tall healthy looking people were scanning their badges to get inside while I was gawking. The football team has collected more wins than any other college football team. This has also netted them a great number of awards and trophies, including three Heismans and 11 National Championships. But unlike Notre Dame or USC, Michigan keeps their awards behind glass. Michigan fans don’t appear to mind this separation as is evidenced in that this town of only 120,000 people fills up a stadium that seats 1000,000 people each and every time they play a football game.
Maybe all those people from a top ranked school simply appreciate what is hands down the best design in all of college sports- the wolverines football helmet.
I grew up in a place where none of us were catholic, no one was actually Irish, and we were nowhere near Indiana, yet everyone wore hats, t- shirts, and sweatshirts with the logo of Notre Dame. Make no mistake, the school is a serious academic institution, it is the kind of place where they require you to be smart before you go there to get educated, but really, the biggest reason why so many smart people want to go there, is football.
It is a private religious school with 12, 000 students, and from what I understand many of them play other school sponsored sports like softball and basketball, but in all of America I can find no other university that has full padded, full contact, intramural football, where non-Varsity kids can actually play the game and not just spectate. The sport is infused into the entire experience of the place, making Notre Dame the very definition of college football. It is one of the few places where a student can stroll across a picturesque quad, populated by kids who look studious, and walk right up to a world class stadium unimpeded. The stadium is built as part of the student’s life rather than a free standing football palace surrounded by parking lots built to accommodate tailgating alumni and other grown ups. Though there is also that. Consequentially the whole country feels the Fighting Irish belong to them. Rudy’s Dad never went there and he cried tears of joy just looking at the field. Ronald Reagan never went to Notre Dame but without their football team he might never have been president.
Condoleezza Rice did attend Notre Dame and as far as I know she never played the game, but it has been argued that she knows more about football than whomever might be serving as Secretary of State today… whenever today is right now, no matter who it is.
At Notre Dame even Jesus is signaling a touchdown (says ESPN, any and every time they broadcast from campus).
It is because Notre Dame is such a great school with such a great football program that I am at this moment with this sentence, petitioning the administration to replace the large murals in that golden dome building with the collected football artwork of J.C. Leyendecker. I don’t think Leyendecker is connected in any way to Notre Dame but who cares because the murals they have in there now are trash. Not trash in like they are poorly painted and I am talking trash about them, but trash in that in an effort to make an Italian guy look awesome they make a whole indigenous people look silly. It is bad enough to show the Taino Arowak people fawning over a guy who essentially destroyed them, but what really bugs me is that the dude on the far left is clearly wearing a hat made from an animal that never lived on “Hispaniola”.
I would suggest they move some of that wonderful artwork they have over by the weight room into the administration building- but that stuff isn’t just art- they are all trophies.
Oh. And they also have a church.
There is a scene in the new movie Jane and Emma where Emma, the wife of Joseph Smith, realizes, or learns, that her “friend” Jane, a free black woman, had moved away from the newly built city of Nauvoo Illinois, to escape racists. This scene isn’t simply meaningful in that it acknowledges racism in 1840’s America, but because of the way it acknowledges the racism that existed in that New Jerusalem destination of religious converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Jane, propelled by her religious convictions had walked 800 miles to get to Nauvoo only to find that Zion was, for the most part, still America.
But that was just one little scene in a movie that is about so much more. The plot of Jane and Emma takes place over the span of one fictionalized night in Emma’s home. Joseph, having just been publicly murdered by a mob is laid out under a sheet on a table and an understandably emotional Emma is trying to come to grips with her personal loss. Jane, unaware of Joseph’s death shows up on the doorstep having been drawn there by some lingering impression and compulsion she cannot explain. The two women spend the night watching out in fear that enemies will come in the night and steal the prophet’s body, and sub sequentially work through their relationship. I’m not sure how you make a movie that only covers one night in which (spoiler alert) nothing actually happens- yet they pulled it off.
Well, really, Danielle Deadwyler and Emily Gross, who play Jane and Emma, pull it off. Deadwyler took a character most people have never heard of and nailed it so hard that I left the theater telling my daughters, “Her! You be her! That is what we are all trying to grow up to be.” Gross took on the role of Emma, who has a problematic reputation within Mormonism, and left the viewer with a new level of understanding and compassion for this complex woman. That alone was worth admission.
But the greatest triumph of this movie was that the writers and producers created a product set in an 1840’s America city and church and let two women remain the driving forces and central characters. They were not secondary, they were not existing to support a man, they were themselves and the story stayed theirs the entire time. Joseph existed, Jane had a love interest, but they weren’t the point.
Mostly, Jane is the point.
Jane was a real person. She, like so many people around her, lived a hard life. What made Jane so remarkable was that despite the hardships, and so many of those hardships were manufactured and put upon her by those who shared her faith, was that she simply could not be crushed. She never stopped pushing forward for what she knew was true or right. She stuck with her faith even when it looked like they were all in the wrong. She stuck with the faith when the faith effectively rejected her. She was not there for them she was there for truth. And in the end, time has proven that she was in fact, right.
Current events have gotten me thinking. Or rather reflecting.
The most dangerous demographic in America are white, suburban, middle class, teenaged boys. A close second would be white, teenaged, farm boys in Southern Idaho- but they are mostly only dangerous to themselves, so the rest of the country need not concern themselves with young men attempting to water ski in the drainage canal next to a dirt road being pulled behind a pickup. Yes, that’s a thing.
Growing up I definitely thought the most dangerous demographic was black men in Compton. I didn’t really know any black men but there was Boyz ‘n the Hood, N.W.A., and pretty much any other late 80’s or early 90’s messaging, including the news, telling me so. Why would I think otherwise? I didn’t think the guys and I were dangerous, we were just normal. Maybe even a little sub-normal. Like not quite as cool or fun as normal since we did after all live in Utah and we all knew that Utah, while being great for skiing, was still mostly white, nerdy, and above all else- safe.
It wasn’t till I left the suburbs and subsequently really got to know some people who weren’t white, middle class, or from the suburbs, that I realized that what I saw or did growing up, was horrible.
To understand just how horrible let me qualify this by confessing that I myself have never tasted alcohol. Not a drop. I was a virgin when I got married, I never stole anything, and I never actually swung the bat. That last one always makes me cringe because it illustrates just the sort of faux moralistic chicken I was. While I never swung a bat at a mailbox I was present in a car when at least 250 mailboxes were destroyed by someone else. Not all in one night mind you, it took a lot of nights to run up that score. We also destroyed mailboxes with dry-ice bombs. We didn’t just destroy mailboxes but also trash cans, porch lights, garage doors, and if I remember right there was at least one windshield. But like I said, I never swung the bat. I only cheered. We were just having fun.
I never drank a beer, but a saw a lotta beer get drunk. I have been the guy who drives people home, who hoses someone down, but mostly just been the guy who everyone called a derogatory name for being too afraid, too weak, too uncool to have a beer. Or a Zima. Or a cigarette, or smoke cloves, or smoke weed, or hit acid, or snort coke, or do meth, or take steroids. But by the time I graduated high school I had been present when all of that was done. I was there, I saw what happened, I remember.
Just because I never had sex before marriage does not mean I am proud of my behavior back then. The guys I knew didn’t just talk about girls as objects, but we acted that way too. I blush when I remember the way we talked in middle school and am ashamed at many of the things we laughed about doing once we got just a little bit older. The stuff I knew about was legally consensual, but very little of it was respectful. While I declined when invited, by the girl, to a train, and I left the house before a planned rodeo (all the guys hide in a closet till a couple starts coupling on the bed, then everyone jumps out of the closet and times how long it takes the girl to buck the guy off) I still knew all the stories. Despite my non-participation I was still one of the guys. I was complicit. I had a number of girlfriends but was incapable of having actual relationships. This isn’t to say I didn’t ever talk to girls or treat them as people, but I didn’t know how to deal with girls as a whole person, both mind and body. In my mind they were one or the other. I knew what it was to be physical, but not intimate. I didn’t know how to do that. I was somehow incapable.
My church and parents taught me how and where to draw physical lines or boundaries, but that was just prevention of personal disaster, not appreciation of the other. Or respect. Or simple humanity. Again, Incapable.
It was more than that, it was a lot of things. We drove cars recklessly, we were hazed in football and even hazed in choir. We took our turns hazing others. We fought. fist fights, fights with baseball bats, fights with friends and fights with strangers. There was shoplifting candy and snacks from 7-11 or that time we took the neighborhood park’s volleyball net home with us. I never took those things, but I did trade a used pair of cleats for a pair of Ray Bans that I knew someone else had stolen. I existed in a place where right and wrong were distant points at far ends of a spectrum and the grey area in between was vast and mushy. It is like we knew some things would be wrong later, but for now they were just questionable, and what mattered in the end was how we viewed ourselves. And we were safe and good.
We didn’t think we were bad, definitely not dangerous. We were mostly bored and hormonal. We drifted crashed and slurred our way through adolescence protected by parent’s money and the benefit of the doubt. We got grounded and suspended and pulled over, but we were also listened too, believed, and excused. None of us went on to become anyone you have heard of, we weren’t in those circles, but we did become mid-level managers, cops, firemen, teachers and citizens.
Since those days I have met others who because of their skin, their neighborhood, and their budget received none of the grace I was granted. None of them committed even a fraction of what I did and they got expelled, arrested, and banished from the professional realm. On the occasions when I have shared with them, stories from my youth there is always a certain level of disbelief. Those stories don’t sound like me, or the kind of guy that I am now, nor does it sound like where I was from. Beyond that the stories of my teenage years sound impossible to most who didn’t grow up suburban as such things should have never been allowed. But they were. And they are. And because it is who and where I was and that I completely understand what I watched this week in the senate. I understand it and am horrified. Not horrified in that I fear my own history hurting me now but horrified in how much I recognize all of it. I was not in the D.C. burbs nor do I know any of those people and hence can make no claim of knowing what “really” happened, but it is all strikingly familiar. Except the stakes are so much higher than the little burb outside Salt Lake and the marginal levels to which my cohort have achieved. I am horrified because I have met and know kids who were so much better than me, and better than what I just saw in the senate, and those kids will never be nominated to the Supreme Court. Not only will they never get nominated but those doing the nominating are more likely to send these kids away.
For any one of these kids, the ones I knew, or know, in Philly, or Atlanta, or anywhere, they have to be near perfect from front to back. Beginning to end. They live with zero tolerance which means zero grace, zero room for growth or forgiveness.
But then people like Kavanaugh, or like me, can be angry, be indignant, and rail at the world demanding a blind eye regarding their own indiscretions while meting out Justice on others. To be in a position to decide what Justice is for others, and be so blind to the grace, forgiveness, and mercy you have yourself received, makes you dangerous.
And that is why we, people like me, are dangerous. It starts with well-funded boredom fueled by hyper sexual masculinity, and then our corruption starts to metastasize more and more every time we get laughter at our stories, or we don’t get expelled, and don’t get arrested. Then years go by, we grow up, and others forget what we did, and we forget we were ever wrong at all.
And in our amnesia, we legislate, enforce, and systematize inequity.
Race is not a thing. By that I mean it is not an event, an object, or even an adjective.
Race is a who.
Race is not the only thing a person “is”, but everyone has a race, and that race, because it is a social construct, affects how that person, all of us, interacts within a society. For most of America’s existence “race” or “race issues” really means things having to do with anyone who isn’t white. Otherwise those things are just plain old issues.
When the Declaration of Independence was written race was never mentioned but it wasn’t exactly ignored. White was assumed. So really, race wasn’t ignored, non-white people were ignored. The word race would only come up when “We the People” were being talked or written about in comparison to those who weren’t, or aren’t, considered white. So when it came to the constitution there was “we the people”, and then there were also Native Americans and those 3/5ths of persons held in servitude.
Remember that race is always a who.
Because race is a who, making something about, or not about race, is really making it about, or not about, a person.
Knowing this is important, mostly for white people as we are the ones who are less used to our race being spoken of explicitly. We are used to just being people, not white people. We need to realize that when we say “this isn’t about race”, what that translates to is, “this isn’t about you.” Which is ironic because most of the times I hear someone say “this isn’t about race”, or “don’t make this a race issue”, it is being said by a white person who is referencing something involving non-white people whom they have never met.
For example when someone says college admissions should ignore race, what that really means is colleges should ignore that there are people who aren’t white. When a black person is killed by a police officer and our response is, this has nothing to do with race. What is really being said is that said instance wasn’t about the black person- though that is who was shot.
This gets real tricky, or troubling, when it really is about them. Or… maybe it is very telling when we white people talk this way.
As in I, a white person, looks at a situation in which I am not directly involved, and say to the black people involved, “this isn’t about race”, which would mean “this isn’t about black people”- then who is left for it to be about? What we are inadvertently saying is that it is about us. About white people. And if we white people are the ones saying such things we should probably think a little bit more about how we are at the heart of all these race issues.
This is the part, or the point, where we get very defensive and start “No. That isn’t what I said or what I meant.”
But it is. We just don’t like to deal with that. Because any issue or instance where people are involved- is a race issue.
You cannot un-race a person. Maybe one day skin color won’t hold real relevance, but even when that day comes, we will all still have a skin color, we will have simply shifted who “we” includes and the ways in which we value each other.
A part of growth and maturation is the humble re-learning of things we already know. We understand that what goes up, must come down, yet throughout our mortality we continually toss things into the air hoping they will somehow take flight. Ideas, aspirations, children, all tossed up and most of them tumble back down with varying effect or consequence.
But sometimes things soar.
There have been times and occasions when I have thrown about the idea of committing myself to being an artist. In those moments, before the idea falls flat, I have looked at the careers and works of two artists whose work I have simply always liked- and who I have in many ways imitated. Those that soar.
One of them is Shepard Fairey.
Back when my wife and I were young, and broke, and had nothing on our walls that I hadn’t painted myself, I would troll the Obey Giant website waiting for Shepard’s flash sales but never bought anything. It is hard to justify buying art when the kid needs diapers.
So. Many. Diapers.
In 2007 I made my very first art purchase. It was just a print. The image consisted of two small African children rendered in gold, green, and orange, below the word “HOPE”. It was affordable, $15 0r $25 if I recall correctly, and all the proceeds went to Darfur. It was a perfect purchase. It looked how I liked, had a message I appreciated, with the bonus of potentially tangible aid to a cause.
A year or so later I saw another HOPE poster by the same artist. So did the whole world
My oldest daughter, who I thankfully caught when tossed in the air, recently reminded me that having a fandom isn’t considered cool. I asked her in all of her middle school expertise, if there were some things cool enough that fandom would be excusable. She could not think of any.
This was in my mind when I shook Shepard’s hand last Saturday.
Not that I have ever had any real cool to begin with, but I did my best to keep it in that moment. In every instance I’ve made the attempt to keep my cool when excitement was bubbling hot below the surface, the results have been stiff and awkward encounters. I was awkward and gawky. I tried not to be, as I was in this instance the guest of a guest, but “tried” almost by definition denotes failure.
Luckily the person whose guest I was initially, was, and is, cool enough that I didn’t ruin everything, but at the end of the day- I met my Luke Skywalker.
I also met, but mostly saw, a world, or crowd, not my own. I like that world, I just don’t know it. And in knowing I don’t know it, but finding myself there that night, I felt myself world adjacent. I was next to it, I saw it, but I was never really in it.
That is how worlds work.
You can know all sorts of things without them being a part of you. You can want to know everything, you can look, stare and gawk, but to enter, you need an invite. A host.
How does one find a host in a world they know nothing of? I’ve lucked my way into a few of those in the past. I crashed a party or strolled past the guards unannounced and stumbled into the lap of a host here and there. But gate crashing only gets you so far. It can get you in the room, but not really into the group. I get that. I get it. It is what it is.
It being what it is, is why I have decided that when I have a chance, when I am positioned to be one, I will look for people who need a host. I will be that. In the event that one is outside looking into wherever I am, I will open the door and my arms, and show them the ropes.
No one can welcome everyone, and if where you are is a place everyone wants to be, I get the need to screen. Or protect. Or just rest. But I am not there. I am just here. Just is the right adjective. I am only in this middle place that only some people want to be but aren’t, so I can afford the extra company. If you want into my world, the one I know, I can and hope to be that guy. HOPE. The print I bought had that word, along with the words “helping other people everywhere.”
I cannot expect entre’ into all the spaces and places and peoples at which I gaze. Nor do I deserve it. But if I, or maybe you, catch the eye of an outsider, they will forever remain outside till one of us lets them in. And who knows, maybe one day I, or one of you, will toss out an idea, and it will be one of those hosts who give it wings.
Also… Shepard Fairey, and his art, and his studio, and his friends, are freaking awesome and I don’t care what my middle school daughter thinks!
And also also… Justin Bua is on notice.
I drove past Gjusta twice without seeing it. There is no sign outside and you enter through the side lot.
It is worth finding.
Touting itself as a bakery, which is important as the most important element of a sandwich is the bread, but they do so much more.
They have cheese. And charcuterie. I love cheese and charcuterie.
I extra love fresh mixed ginger lemonade and they have it there.
But above all, what I love most, is a great environment and better company with which to share my meals. At Gjusta, you have to bring you own company, but they provide the rest.