By Missak Artinian
Since moving to Glendale, one of my chief goals has been to make some new Armenian friends. But where, I wondered, did the young Armenian-Americans of Glendale congregate? Word on the street was anywhere that served hookah.
A quick google search brought up a huge list of lounges, and since I didn’t feel like driving too far, I picked the closest one to my apartment. Before leaving, I slung my laptop bag across my shoulder because I figured it would look really awkward just sitting at the hookah lounge all by myself. At least with my laptop, I could pretend to be working on something important and look less like a loser.
I sat alone in a corner table, surrounded by people who kind of looked like me. The waiter handed me a hookah menu with an overwhelming amount of flavor choices. I went with watermelon because it seemed healthier than the white gummi bear option. This wasn’t my first experience smoking hookah, mind you, but it was my first experience smoking hookah to the tune of contemporary gems like I Don’t Fuck With You and I’m In Love with The Coco.
After about an hour of abusing my lungs and accomplishing absolutely nothing on my laptop, I asked for the check, when, suddenly, an angel walked in. She joined her friends at the table across from mine. The waiter came with the check and I was like, “On second thought, I’ll have another beer.” I couldn’t leave yet. Not without talking to the alluring mystery girl first.
Carefully observing my surroundings, I noticed that even though the Armenian customers were separated by table, they were all connected in some way through school or work or something. Literally everyone in that hookah lounge was part of a greater social circle, everyone except me. But I was no stranger to being an outsider, and if I really wanted to enter their social circle, I had a few tricks up my sleeve.
My ticket in was these two guys playing a card game. I approached them and asked if I could show them something cool. They looked at me skeptically, but they agreed and handed me the deck of cards. I performed a few card tricks for them, and by the end of the third one, a mind-reading trick, one of them uttered the magic word: “Bro.” And just like that, I was accepted into the family.
By the end of the night, I had navigated my way through the social web until I was sitting at the table with the angel, whose name was not Arpineh, but let’s pretend it was.
“The hookah here sucks,” she said to the girl sitting next to her, who looked like her name could be Anoush or maybe even Hasmik. “You should try Vartan’s hookah. It’s literally the sickest. He makes like, the sickest hookah.”
In my mind, I was thinking, Really? That’s all it takes to impress you? A dude who knows how to stuff a bowl with tobacco? Okay, Missak. You got this. Just be confident.
“So you come here often?” I asked Arpineh, which, in retrospect, is a terrible way to start a conversation, but that’s what you get when you spend most of your youth learning how to do stupid card tricks instead of learning how to talk to girls.
“I noticed a lot of people know each other here. You all meet at AYF or something?”
“Oh, I see.” Come on, Missak. You’re losing her. Quick. Come up with something clever. “Do you like cheese?”
“I have a boyfriend.”
NOOOOOOO! Really, Missak? Cheese? That’s the best you could do? That’s your romantic tour de force? Cheese?
“Let me guess. His name is Vartan.”
She nodded her head.
“Just curious. His hookah, how sick is it, really?”
I was a little restless when I left the hookah lounge that night, so I went to the only diner intended for the insomniacs of Glendale: Conrads. There in a corner booth, I sat staring at a blank document on my laptop for about an hour when someone approached my table.
“Hey,” I said, snapping out of my daydream. She was pretty, about my age, wearing a black t-shirt and gray sweatpants that seemed a little wide for her thin frame. Her forehead was covered by bangs similar to Anna Karina from Vivre sa vie and her eyes were framed by thick-framed glasses.
“I didn’t mean to bother you, but I feel like I recognize you from somewhere.”
“Really?” I said, thinking maybe she was confusing me with one of my celebrity doppelgangers. Such as Ryan Gosling or Channing Tatum.
“Are you the guy who wrote that article about A Douchebag from Glendale?”
“Whoa. You read that?”
“It was on my feed.”
“How’d you know it was me?”
“Don’t judge. But I kind of Facebook stalked you.”
“You know, I really think that’s an exclusively female privilege.”
“What? Being a creeper?”
“Without being creepy.”
She smiled, which I interpreted as a good sign, though I had to stop myself from getting too excited because I have a handicap when it comes to reading signs. That I’m actually able to obey any traffic law at all is a miracle.
“Are you Armenian?” I asked.
“What makes you think that?”
She was wearing one of those evil eye bracelets, which is based on a superstition that I believe was created by old Armenian ladies to make pinching the butts of little children socially acceptable.
“You’re an observant one.”
“Not really. This is Glendale. I had a one-in-three chance.”
“What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Missak.”
“Did you want to maybe have a seat?”
“You seem like you’re in the middle of something.”
I looked at the blank document on my laptop. Closed the lid.
“It can wait.”
She sat down across from me.
“So what brings you to Conrads, besides boosting my ego?” I asked in a cheeky tone.
“Don’t flatter yourself. I was studying.”
“That’s cool. Is that the kind of law you want to practice?”
“Not sure yet. Still figuring it out. What about you?”
“I’m done with school.”
“I mean what are you doing here, besides staring at your laptop?”
“Oh. Nothing. Just thinking.”
“I don’t know. Before moving out here, I was kind of excited about the idea of being surrounded by Armenians, you know? But the more I stay here, the more I’m starting to think I don’t have much in common with my own people.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, before I came here, I was at this hookah lounge and I was talking to this Armenian girl whose boyfriend makes like the sickest hookah. You don’t even understand how sick, okay? It’s literally the sickest.”
“Oh, God,” Michelle said, chuckling. “That accent brings me back to high school.”
“Did you go to high school here?”
“What was it like?”
“Ever see Mean Girls? Imagine that movie, but with the Kardashians.”
“I have stories.”
“No. I’m not good at telling stories.”
“Come on. You can’t just tease me like that.”
“Fine. But only if you promise you won’t write about it.”
“That’s a promise I can’t keep.”
“Then no deal.”
“Okay, I promise.”
“Now you’re lying.”
“Says the aspiring lawyer.”
She flipped the bird, a playful jest, I think, which I interpreted as a good sign, though I had to stop myself from getting too excited for reasons I explained earlier in respect to signs.
“If you think about it, no one ever really questions that stereotype,” she said.
“Yeah. It’s weird. Why is saying ‘all lawyers are liars’ less offensive than saying ‘all Irish people are heavy drinkers’ or ‘all girls are bad at sports?’”
“I guess because those stereotypes are about race and gender.”
“Yeah, but why do we make that distinction?”
“I don’t think saying ‘all lawyers are liars’ is as offensive as saying ‘all Muslims are extremists’ or ‘all Mexicans are lazy.’”
“You’re talking about the content. I’m talking about the logic behind the content.”
“It’s like this. If I said ‘all Armenians are reckless drivers,’ you would say that’s offensive, right?”
“Not really. That one’s actually on point.”
“I’m being serious.”
“Okay, sorry. It’s offensive.”
“But if I said ‘all blondes are dumb,’ would you think that’s equally offensive?”
“What I’m saying is they should be because we’re not asking enough out of ourselves if we think simplistically in those terms, no matter what those terms may be.”
She was right. I began to think about Arpineh from the hookah lounge and how I didn’t know anything about her. What does she study? What is her family like? Is she happy? I didn’t consider what her goals and dreams are or whether she had her own set of problems. She could be an incredibly complex human being, yet I had reduced her to an accent and painted her as an ethnic stereotype.
“What’s wrong?” Michelle asked.
“Nothing,” I said, snapping out of my daydream. “I just had never thought of it like that before. I actually do it all the time.”
“We all do it. I’m sure if you met me back in high school, I would have told you all Turks are bad.”
“Before my great grandmother passed away, I asked her if she hated the Turks for killing her family during the Genocide. And what she said really stuck with me. She said, ‘Look, my child. There are bad Turks and there are good Turks. There are bad Armenians and there are good Armenians.’”
“Wow. What an amazing woman.”
“Bro, you don’t even know. She was literally, like the sickest, okay?”
We laughed. It was starting to get late, and we decided to call it a night. I walked Michelle to her car, which, for the record, was not a white Bimmer.
“Hey,” I said, before she closed her car’s door. “I want to ask you something.”
“Do you like cheese?”
“I love cheese.”
I smiled back nervously, contemplating whether or not I should reveal that I’m actually lactose intolerant. But it was a beautiful night in Glendale, and I didn’t want to ruin the mood.