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.

A Douchebag from Glendale

By Missak Artinian

I have come to learn that being Armenian in a small suburb of Virginia (where I was born and raised) and being Armenian in Glendale, California (where I recently moved) is a vastly different experience. Here’s what I mean. Back home, when someone asked me about my ancestry and I said Armenian, I was automatically associated with mystery and intrigue. Here in Glendale, when someone asks me about my ancestry and I say Armenian, I am automatically associated with car insurance fraud.

Being Armenian in a small town had some advantages because it gave me the opportunity to set a precedent. How a stranger would perceive Armenians as a whole rested on the content of my character, for better or for worse. As the only Armenian within at least a 30-mile radius, I had a responsibility to make good first impressions with strangers because, unfortunately, in a world where people so easily make broad generalizations of any given race, ethnicity, or religion based on the actions of a few individuals, it’s especially important for those of us who belong in an ethnic minority to project a positive image.

For some residents of Glendale, however, the damage may already be done.

Take Diana, for example, an attractive Israeli girl who sells lotion at one of those kiosks in Glendale Galleria. A few weeks ago, she approached me as I was walking back to work, and asked if I had a girlfriend. Misinterpreting her icebreaker sales tactic for romantic interest (she must see something she likes, I reasoned), I was drawn into her net as an unwary sailor is lured unto rocks by a siren’s song.

She proceeded to sensually caress my wrist and compliment my complexion, which, according to her, would look even more radiant if only I were to purchase a four hundred dollar beauty package. Upon hearing this price, the expression on my face probably suggested, How reasonable! But in my mind, I was really thinking, where can I get me some of your crack?

Before I could come up with an excuse to escape her web, she gripped my shoulders, leaned forward, peered deeply into my eyes, and whispered, “But for you, I will sell for three hundred.” Moments like these don’t happen often, but when they do, I can’t help but think, Missak, you still got it.

Flattered as I was by Diana’s generous discount, I had to pass, as I was unable to convince myself that magic exfoliating potions and serums were a better value proposition than, say, a ton of cheese from Trader Joe’s. So predictably, the chemistry between us fizzled, but to repay her for boosting my self-esteem, I offered to buy the cheapest product she had (a bar of mud soap, twenty dollars). When I handed her my credit card, she noticed my last name, and said, “Oh.”

“What?” I said.

“You are Armenian.”

“That’s very perceptive.”

“Your people, you need to open your mind,” she exclaimed, as she tapped my forehead with her index finger. “Open.”

“Open my mind, or open my wallet?” I snapped back, grinning.

She laughed, and we made a connection then and there that was pure and genuine, though admittedly, I tend to embellish my memories as delusional people do, so maybe not.

What struck me the most about the transaction was the look on her face when she saw the –ian at the end of my last name. In her defense, I am ethnically ambiguous, which can be advantageous during job interviews and an inconvenience during TSA screenings. Nonetheless, it was that look on Diana’s face that left a lasting impression, a look that suggested; if only you were wearing a gold chain, I wouldn’t have wasted my time. Not that I blame the poor girl. Her job is to sell snake oil in a mall heavily patronized by Armenians – a group of people, mind you, who have mastered the art of selling snake oil!

A few weeks later, I met a young professional by the name of Thomas at Broadway Bar in Downtown, Los Angeles. We spoke for a few minutes, and during our conversation, I mentioned that I had recently moved to Glendale from the D.C. metro area.

“Why Glendale?” he asked.

“Close to my new job, mainly.”

“Careful, man. Lots of douchebags there.”

“Really? What do you mean?” I asked, though I had an idea of where this conversation was heading. Keep in mind that I introduced myself as Mike (my nickname), so as far as he was concerned, he was talking to some white guy.

“Armenians. Armenians everywhere.”

“That’s what I heard.”

“They drive Benzes and Bimmers like they got money, right? But actually, what they do is they pretend their kids are retarded so they get extra money out the government.”

“No way. That’s terrible.”

“Yeah, man. They’re just milking the system.”

By the end of Thomas’ tirade, I was sad. I was sad because I knew there was truth in what he was saying, that in this world, there are bad Armenians who do bad things. But more than sadness, I felt disappointment. Mainly in Thomas, whose apparent intelligence could not save him from falling prey to the trappings of prejudice. Before saying farewell, I offered him another round on me, and though he may never realize it, he unwittingly clinked glasses with a douchebag from Glendale.

On the drive back home (after sobering up, to be clear), I wondered why I didn’t school Thomas? Surely any self-respecting Armenian would’ve opted for a more confrontational approach, perhaps with a few obscenities mixed in for good measure. But that I said nothing and did nothing was concerning to me. Why did I conceal my identity? Why did I fail to defend my people? And most perplexingly, why did I buy him a drink?

“Because you’re a self-hating Armenian,” my shoulder devil whispered into my ear.

“That’s not true,” my shoulder angel jumped in, defending me. “Missak may hate himself, but not because he’s Armenian.

My shoulder angel had a point. I genuinely do believe that being Armenian has its positives. Let me count the ways:

1.

1

2.

2

3.

3

But growing up Armenian in a town where I felt like the only Missak in the world sucked. Because there’s no way you can ever be cool in school when your name alludes to male genitalia. That just doesn’t happen, not in a world teeming with Brians, Davids, and Matts. I sometimes wonder where some of my classmates are today, the creative geniuses who came up with increasingly clever ways to make fun of me by calling me names like Meat-sack and No-sack. I can imagine them working at some shady ad agency, coining product names like:

4

and

5

Like many first-generation Americans, I struggled with the same issues that are common in immigrant stories. Toula’s struggle to fit in with her American classmates in My Big Fat Greek Wedding comes to mind; or Woody Allen’s existential crisis when he attempts to give Catholicism a try in Hannah and her Sisters, shaming his proud Jewish parents. Even stories about Chinese moms and their assimilated daughters (see everything ever written by Amy Tan) were oddly relatable, even though I have no ovaries and I’m about as Asian as Frank Underwood is kind.

Like many of these characters, I spent most of my formative years being pulled in two directions, with my Armenian identity on one side and my American identity on the other. No matter how hard I tried to find the right balance between appeasing the expectations of my traditional Armenian family and assimilating to the culture of the country in which I was born, I always felt like I was stuck between two worlds.

And now that I live in Glendale, do I feel less like an outsider? Nope. And you know what? That’s okay. To be an outsider is to experience the world as a critic and an admirer. Glendale has its issues (I’m looking at you, you aggressive drivers), but it also has a lot of beauty. And whether people like Thomas agree with me or not, a lot of that beauty is due to the city’s decidedly Armenian identity.

The tri-colored Armenian flag is as ubiquitous here as rain is in Seattle. The Armenian alphabet is displayed practically on every deli, grocery store, and small business. The music is audible on the street, inside my car, from my balcony. The language is spoken in the unlikeliest of places, like the Wholefoods where a group of older Armenian women congregate outside during lunchtime and speak of politics in boisterous shrills. Hell, the view outside my office window features a large building with letters that read USArmenia, which serves as a daily reminder that I’m far from the small town whose identity was as uncertain as mine.

It is this celebration of identity, I think, that unites the Armenians of Glendale, and indeed, Armenians all around the world. They are a people who will show their friends the tiny country of Armenia on a map, will educate random strangers that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, will speak out in class when their history books gloss over or skip the Armenian Genocide, and will protest Turkey’s ongoing denial of the systematic attempt to eradicate the Armenian culture, religion, and people from the face of the Earth.

Armenians are a people whose voices cannot be silenced, because for a small ethnic group that so narrowly escaped complete annihilation, to be silent is to dishonor the survivors, their enduring spirits, without whom, these very words would cease to exist.

A Broken Culture

By Melissa Lake

I think one of the saddest travesties of our generation is the push for the decimation of individual culture. We are the generation that saw bhindis and belly skirts as fashion forward- as long as they adorned the bodies of skinny white women. We consider ourselves so receptive and accepting- as we assimilate all of these beautiful aspects of foreign culture into our own without any personal regard or sense of respect toward the people we steal it from. And it’s sadly not a one-sided affair.

Women and men of color- or of any foreign ethnicity- are too quick to abandon aspects of their culture that have permeated through generations. We are so quick to “white-wash” ourselves, to fit into a culture where when a white girl wears a sari it’s seen as “boho-chic” and when a brown girl wears one it’s “you’re in America now, it’s time to act like it”. We pick and choose what to like about a culture to fulfill our own selfish desires. We are selectively racist and electively ignorant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard boys tell me how much they “love Armenian girls” and subsequently not even be able to so much as point out the general area Armenia is on a map or tell me a single fact about my culture. These boys praise themselves for being culturally liberal and morally righteous for being generous enough to be interested in a not-so-standard ideal of beauty (a foreign culture in this instance) when in reality they’re just trying to sleep with an exotic-looking girl. And I wish I could say Armenians are innocent to this tragedy, the forced “white-washing”, but we are just as guilty as anyone else.

I grew up around Armenian boys who proudly swore that they would “never date an Armenian girl”. Boys who fought so hard to lose their culture, to entirely disregard their ethnic identity, rather than realize they lived in a society that encouraged them to forget their heritage. I am so sick and tired of hearing my ethnicity being used as a sexual trademark. I am so sick of people telling me that they are or are not attracted to an entire race of people because it is or is not socially lauded to desire girls from that race. My ethnicity doesn’t make me special or more or less desirable. My ethnicity doesn’t make me “sexy” or “beautiful” or “slutty” or “trashy” or “shallow”. My ethnicity makes me Armenian and it’s me and my choices that make me everything else.