Midnight at Conrads

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.

“Sometimes.”

“I noticed a lot of people know each other here. You all meet at AYF or something?”

“No.”

“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?”

“The sickest.”

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.

“Hi.”

“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?”

“Your bracelet.”

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.”

“True.”

“What’s your name?”

“Michelle.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Missak.”

“I know.”

“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.”

“For what?”

“Criminal procedure.”

“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.”

“About?”

“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?”

“Yeah.”

“What was it like?”

“Ever see Mean Girls? Imagine that movie, but with the Kardashians.”

“Sounds awful.”

“I have stories.”

“Tell me.”

“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.

“About lawyers?”

“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.”

“What logic?”

“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?”

“Probably not.”

“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.”

“What changed?”

“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.”

“Shoot.”

“Do you like cheese?”

She smiled.

“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.

100 Years Later

By Melissa Lake

There is absolutely no rebuttal in saying that the Armenian Genocide was a horrific and senseless display of human cruelty and indifference. It is a large, unsightly stain upon the history of the world. I’m certain that if it were scientifically possible, most people would have it so that such an immense human tragedy had never happened.

However, while some may think it callous to say so, it would be historically and culturally ignorant to not take into consideration the few positive outcomes that resulted from the Armenian Genocide.

Armenians today could be described as a diaspora culture. Our ethnic heritage may have its roots placed in a small area in the west of Europe but the branches of our cultural tree have grown far and wide across the globe. A culture once fenced in and limited to a specific geographical region of the world has both developed and evolved, changing and morphing into something much different from what it began, as well as much different from other branches on the same familial tree.

Armenians are a people united in origin and fundamental cultural and dogmatic practices and yet it seems almost as if that is where our unity ends. The mass displacement of Armenians during the years preceding and during the genocide caused an irreparable cultural tear from traditional practices that we can easily see the effects of today. Armenians raised generationally in Syria, or Istanbul, or on the East Coast of the United States, while sharing some lasting and vital cultural characteristics, could be labeled as their own unique subcultures, somewhat similar but still astoundingly different.

I first realized this when I dated an Armenian who had grown up in New York City. At a young age, he had been adopted from Armenia. Both his parents were Armenian, so he spent the entirety of his young adult life immersed in his personal sect of Armenian culture- a small diaspora located in the New York/New Jersey area. So much of his appeal to me was a chance to connect with someone with a similar cultural background- to be able to share common beliefs and ideals and family lifestyles. But the more time I spent with him, the more acutely aware I became of the dissimilarity we shared culturally. His family life was much more reserved and conservative, full of professionals who behaved, well, professionally. And my family life was far different. The Armenians I grew up with were carefree, eccentric and astoundingly loud. So when I tried to joke with him about how the most cheetah print and stripper heels I’ve ever seen in my life were at the Armenian church on Easter Sunday, he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. And it was then that I realized exactly how much our culture has changed. The diaspora I grew up in, a large community of mostly Turkish and Syrian Armenians, was bound to be immensely different than others across the world. So much of our cultural traditions had adapted and grew with our change of scenery so that now, intermingled with our traditional beliefs and practices, are customs native to the places Armenians have found themselves. So my reality was that my culture was as much Turkish as it was Armenian, regardless of the fact that my mother and my family had spent their whole lives immersed in “Armenian” culture.

Many see this as a terrible tragedy, as an egregious calamitous aftermath of a horrific event. Yet it seems that the people who see it this way are also those that believe that change is terrifying. Cultural evolution, especially from a biological and historical context, is not only intrinsically necessary but humanitarianly beneficial. Culture changes with the evolution of time. The fact that Armenians as a people were able to experience such an immense tragedy and still maintain a base foundational cultural identity is less of an unfortunate loss and more of a remarkable achievement.

For a people who were ignored for much of history, Armenians across the world have been gaining renown and spreading Armenian awareness with their success, all while breathing new life into Armenian cultural identity. And still all Armenians share the cultural pain of our genocide. For such an immense act of human injustice, the Armenian Genocide is in all likelihood one of the largest sources for encouragement on Armenian communal gathering today. To say it is culturally irrelevant or unimportant would be to disregard what Armenian culture has become. Through such immense hardship and strife, Armenians have endured, and this shared strength and pride and yet also immense sadness has woven itself into a key block in the foundation of Armenian culture.

So through all of the varying differences Armenians culturally share today we are bonded together foundationally by our shared history and our distant past. Where we may lead different lifestyles and have different beliefs, as a culture we are bonded by what we were and what we’ve endured but also by what we may become. As the 100 year anniversary of the genocide looms ever closer, Armenians have become more active in their communities than ever and slowly but surely gaps that have existed between varying diasporas are narrowing. For a country that once struggled to maintain its cultural identity in the midst of war and systematic annihilation, it has flourished and grown into something even greater than what it began.

These Miraculous Hands

By Natalie Kamajian (Guest Contributor)

natalie

These miracle hands that breathe life into inanimate cloth // these hands that warm my soul // the hands that live by an imperfect perfection. Love. These seamstress hands that speak the language of Art // that root me on this earth // that have affirmed me with ancestry, with stories and with belonging. The seeds that have rooted me in place // Armenian hands that I call home // I hear each and every work of art underneath her soft wrinkles, I visualize the generations of women that have come before me, their stories floating through each movement as I watch her work. She breathes. Two miraculous hands snip and align; pin and shift. Patience and fearlessness leave me awed. Wisdom // Knowledge // Dignity. She speaks in libraries without saying a word. Hold up. Redefinition of Power. Maybe if I watch her long enough, my hands, too, will learn to speak.

Natalie Kamajian works at a community and economic development organization designing innovative solutions to responsibly revitalize low-income, urban areas around Los Angeles. After living in Հայաստան for a year she unearthed, as Charlemagne once put it, “her second soul.” She is an inbetweener: never here nor there, never making sense and never wanting to and liking it that way. Natalie loves to write but she feels life moves too fast, its moments too precious sometimes to do anything other than live it. Lover of lavender ice cream, homemade halva and handmade soaps; Gardening’s worst gardener and biggest fan; and best friend to both the young & elderly but not really the folks in between causing all the trouble. She practices traditional Armenian ethnographic folk dancing and will revel at any chance to do a mean Մշո Խըռ to some live dhol and zurna. She will gladly bring out her inner թագուհի when necessary and believes that only when she contradicts herself, is she able to seek truth.