“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.
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.
Five generations ago Charles and Louisa Booth lived in India. He was an English officer and she claimed to be a native of Manila. They met missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and joined them. In those days becoming Mormon meant moving to America and the Booths sold everything they owned, which by their account was a lot, and prepared to move.
They boarded a ship and sailed to San Francisco. Once there they traveled south and joined an oddly multi racial and multi national group of Mormons who had settled in San Bernardino. They thought this was the final stop but in 1857 when The United States declared war on the Mormons, Brigham Young called all the Saints to gather in Utah. The Booths sold everything again, and walked up through Las Vegas, to a place called Beaver.
Beaver has grown quite a bit since then and still, it can at best be described as a town.
I paid a visit to the San Bernardino historical Society to see if I could find any records of where exactly in town my great-great-great- grandparents lived. The didn’t know. All we found was a tax assessor’s record showing they paid taxes on a plot of land and one horse. I imagine it was a mangy flea-bitten horse.
By the time all those generations filtered down to me, there was, or isn’t, at least not than any of us are aware, any inheritance or property to pass along. They left all that in India. All that they left to their descendants, was the Mormonism.
And that amuses me just a little.
I find it funny because it isn’t a thing I can own and while I can in many ways inherit it, gaining it, my Mormonism, strictly that way would make it kind of worthless. Beliefs held simply because those before held the same, aren’t inherently valuable. Or true. Plenty of generations are gifted traditions that oppress or misguide, so to simply assume that those gifted me are better than the rest is at best- dangerous.
But I am still very much what they were. Five generations and I’m still Mormon.
Because I choose to be. I understand all the reasons one might not, and to be quite frank, I really dislike a lot of the reasons many choose to stay. No tradition remains unchanged over hundreds of years and despite the things I hold as truths, there is other junk in there too. I despise those things and I will work on those things and while I see those things- here I am.
Because I think I have found what the Booths found. They found it in India. I found it somewhere between third and fourth grade. And while I couldn’t find the place they lived exactly, there is a common ground.
Where you live plays a large part in what you experience. It isn’t the only thing, just a big thing. For example, I am solidly “middle aged”. I have lived in several cities and traveled all over the United States, and in all that time and in all of those places, I have attended exactly ZERO cars shows- till I moved to California.
I have now attended 2 in the proportionately short span of 2 years- because of where I am.
I am not a “car guy” as most would define it, yet I drive one every day. Roughly 100 miles on weekdays, Saturdays about the same, Sundays vary. My car works just fine, but I wouldn’t mind a better one. You see, Mine has crank windows and manual locks, which work just fine- but I can’t open the door for my wife from the outside of the car. It is a stick shift, which is no big deal, yet it makes the stop-and-go LA traffic that extra little bit taxing. But I can afford it and every time I turn the key, the engine starts.
All that being said, I think one would have to be blind or beastly not to appreciate a convertible Shelby Cobra upon meeting one. That car is what happens when design bridges the gap between engineering and art. I am in no position to act on my appreciation of this car, and had I the means, I’m not sure I would choose too. But this doesn’t change the fact that this car is hot.
If cars and money were both infinite resources and spending on a car had no bearing on any other aspect of my, or anyone else’s life or resources, I would probably still not get a Cobra. I’d probably just get a Jeep Wrangler- or maybe a remade version of the old Ford Bronco.
Because I like those. A lot. But you might not know that about me, my taste in cars, by looking at the car I own, or even if you sit in the office next to mine. Which is fine with me. I am not my taste in cars, nor does my taste really tell you anything important about me-
I have had, or heard, plenty of people where I live now, and to some extent where I grew up, who say differently. And they say, or said, it with conviction. In fact my boss once went on in some detail how diverse her staff was, in that she had one woman who drove a large SUV working right next to a convertible VW bug woman. Because those are vastly different cars, and hence, two very different college educated upper-middle class income white women.
I can only guess what kind of employee, or person, I am, because no one talks to me about my car. It isn’t worth talking about. It isn’t to be pitied like my old car, which communicated poverty loudly enough to have once inspired a church where I knew no one, to offer my family a free turkey one Thanksgiving. No, my current car is just nothing, and I am mostly okay with this.
The little argumentative voice inside my head says that any assumptions or judgement placed on me, on account of my car, says more about the other person than it does about me. So What should I care? I don’t really.
Except I live in California. In California my ambivalence about cars, or rather the comparatively low priority I place on cars, makes me unlike those who surround me. And because they surround me, they play a large role in my experience living here- no matter what I think about cars. They will judge my car, and me, and because there are so many of them, I cannot escape the consequences of the thoughts they may have about me.
I can deal with it. It wasn’t like this in Philly. I imagine even less so in New York. In those places I am sure people still judge and make assumptions, just on other things. Maybe my shoes. Perhaps my furniture. Or my hair. My race.
Skin color. Cars. What I think about either doesn’t really matter if it matters to everyone else around me.
Ten miles south of Las Vegas, in that stretch of nothingness between there and LA, is an art installation only planned to be there 2 years. It opened May 2016 and is now more than half way over.
It is worth a trip to nowhere.
It was built by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone with a commission from the Nevada Museum of Art. I like it more than I like Vegas.
Which isn’t saying much thanks to how I feel about Vegas, which was kind of the artist’s point.
The installation, called the Seven Magic Mountains, is a human construction in a completely unnatural place for no other reason than human entertainment.
It is a pile of rocks and I think it has ten times more meaning than Vegas.
While many know the tale of Icarus, the guy who flew with waxen wings, then traveled too close to the sun and fell, few realize that his father, Daedalus, made it through that flight just fine. In our focus on failure we forget that a guy crafted wings and successfully flew like a bird.
Sure one of the two who attempted it died (a full ½) but the one who lived, accomplished something so amazing and absurd, that he should be celebrated. Focusing on failure can be such a downer.
I have flown many times myself and no one considers it an accomplishment. So I’m pretty much the same as Daedalus. On the other hand my nephew has learned to be more than just a passenger, taking control of his own story, which my wife fears makes him destined to be Icarus. She protested us flying together and made me show her documentation of my life insurance policy before reluctantly consenting.
It is on odd thing for those of us accustomed to regimented boarding procedures that begin curb side, and march you to, and through, seat belt instructions, to just walk right up to a small tin can, then simply climb inside and fly. The process felt so… casual- but I was too excited for it to be just that.
This was a first for me. New ground.
Or new air.
I had never been so happy to be crammed into such a small place, overlapping the passenger next to me. He happened to be my father. I am used to sitting at a desk, or in traffic, and when my miniature mother took over the controls, despite us flying between two mountains and her not being able see over the dashboard, I was happy. I loved it. I understood how Icarus would want to climb higher and higher, I wanted my nephew to roll and loop, but I had been warned by that myth and I didn’t want to die.
So we flew straight and lived.
Thinking back on my little voyage and appreciating the value of humility in youth versus vain hubris, I wonder a little about Metion- Daedalus’s Dad. Had Deadalus never ventured out, pushing beyond and above his own father like his son Icarus did, no one would have ever flown at all. Where is that lesson taught?
Thus is the paradox of generations and family. Of innovation and respect. Of wisdom or adventure. How does one, or we, value both in these couplings or all in the big picture? Should we be conservative out of respect for the wisdom gained by our predecessors at the expense of progress toward things that could be better? Do we strive and push past the others that came before, risking separation when they are unable or unwilling to make the same trip? Where is the balance? Where is that myth?
Much like Sway, I do not have the answers.
What I do have is an offering for “The Trad”, mocker of my footwear and needler of my regular faux-pas, at the risk of Icarus-ish disrespect toward my parents, who are truly wiser than I… I have indeed flown past the footwear from whence I came- though my journey may admittedly not be complete. I am also much larger and younger than they which will be necessary in defending myself once they read this. Mom taught me the value of kicking shins when you can’t reach your opponent’s chin.
Which would hurt more were she not wearing socks and sandals.
The premise of the show is a guy, maybe two of them, who travel around eating at various locations. Anthony Bourdain, Guy Fieri, a sub plot in Master of None, or the main plot in The Trip, they are all the same show, and they are incredibly cliche’.
Just like me.
I suppose it is better to live those shows than CSI.
At the end of this week I will have been married for 17 years. Over that time I have come to believe that one key to a successful marriage is to simply choose the right partner- which I did.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of my marriage being ruled legal in the United States. Had I been born a generation earlier, “the right person” would have been illegal. I think it is important to know that these laws written to protect and uphold the sanctity of whiteness were racist in the most standard and traditional sense. There is not now, and never has been, a non-racist defense of those laws.
But that was then.
When my wife and I chose each other we knew what we were doing. We did not ignore nor were we ignorant of the racial ramifications of being together. Racial identity, self defined or otherwise, plays a role in who any of us become and we loved who we were. We still do.
These 50 years later, or 17 in my case, race in marriage still matters. It matters in my wife and I understanding each other, in how others react to us, and in how we as a whole do or do-not support others moving forward.
We do not advocate ignoring race but rather advocate for understanding it. In marriage, just like any life long decision, there are thing you should know- and some things you simply can’t prepare for. But you have to try.
There is a strange thing you notice if you spend some extra time looking at the lists of achievers or “firsts” in African- American history. They are spread out all over the place, both geographically and on the time line. Stranger yet is that there is quite often a huge gap between any given “first”, and the subsequent seconds or thirds. Why would you suppose that is?
For example the third black man to play professional baseball was Jackie Robinson. You read that right, he was third. The First was back in 1884 when Moses Fleetwood Walker took the field for the Toledo Blue Stockings. The second was Moses’s little brother Weldy. Jackie didn’t get to play till 1947, because in 1887 the league banned black players from the majors. I could reword that without changing any of the facts, by saying white people banned black players. The Walker brothers proved they could compete, but the white people got together and simply decided they weren’t allowed to.
The first black person to get into an American college was John Chavis who enrolled at Washington & Lee in 1794. This was not only long before the civil rights movement, but 69 years before the Emancipation Proclamation. Oddly enough, John Chavis starting college was also 29 years before the first black person to actually graduate college. That was Alexander Twighlight who graduated from Middlebury in 1823.
If there was a 29 year gap between a black person getting into college and another black person actually graduating, as well as a 60 year gap between the first group of black baseball players to make the majors and Jackie, my white American meritocracy minded brain might guess that this was because the first black people were given a shot before they were really ready. Maybe this group of people, for whatever reason (being held back by slavery or poverty or whatever) just weren’t ready to compete in American free markets. Maybe it just took them more time.
I remember learning something like that in history class related to reconstruction. I might have even heard something like that in church when I was little.
But then you see things like the picture of the Little Rock 9 being the first kids to integrate a school in Arkansas.
Or maybe if you look at how the ‘Ol Miss student body reacted when James Meredith was allowed to enroll.
Then maybe you start looking into the reactions of white people surrounding all sorts of African American 1sts whether it be in sports, college, politics, business, pretty much everything, and you start to realize something. The reasons why black people were not accomplishing things was because white people were very intentionally stopping them. Intentionally and very regularly violently. What was it like for Chavis in school or the Walkers playing ball?
What is most amazing, is that despite this, and I should say despite “us” they persist. There have always been black achievers and strivers and thinkers and all the while they have had to achieve and strive and think despite a nation of countrymen standing in opposition.