A few years ago, there was a popular podcast called S-Town. This was shortly after the success of Serial, which broke the mold for similarly formatted true-crime docuseries like Dirty John, Dr. Death, and Netflix’s Making a Murderer. S-Town was about a couple things, really. First, the protagonist: a colorful, idiosyncratic horologist named John B. McLemore. It was also a snapshot of Woodstock, Alabama, or as John B. McLemore liked to call it, “Shit Town.”
I dedicated an Instagram post to how much I enjoyed this series and one of my followers, “Ryan,” DM’d me. “Hey Bobby, glad you liked the show. You should come visit sometime. We have a really cool music scene down here, it’s not what you think!”
Turns out Ryan was not only a lifelong resident of S-Town, he was the sole neighbor who had access to the late John B. McLemore’s mysterious maze garden. As it goes in the story, before he died, our hero landscaped a hedge maze with 64 solutions. The current inhabitants of the McLemore estate were friendly with Ryan and allowed him to visit whenever he wished. I couldn’t believe it. Ryan laughed. About a half-hour later, he sent me a selfie of himself in the middle of the maze. “Told you!”
Speaking of the new homeowners, they were the Burt family, who – if you listened to the podcast – were also central figures to the storyline. For one, John B. McLemore suspected the son Kabram Burt of getting away with a murder (Ryan was friends with Kabram and even took his sister to prom). Secondly, Kabram’s father Kendall owned a lumber company called K3.
“Is it true?,” I asked Ryan, “K3 doesn’t stand for their family initials?”
With anyone else, I would’ve treaded lightly. Ryan and I had established a friendy banter, but I was perhaps too cavalier with how I dumped the next query on the table. “It’s KKK, right? Are they Klan?”
Ryan took a beat, then responded. “Look man, Los Angeles is a far cry from Woodstock, Alabama.” Even over text, I could feel the weight of that reply. The conversation was already getting long, so we traded a few more hopes for me to visit his town one day (I sincerely still plan on it). After that, I spoke with Ryan a couple more times before our exchange went where all tenuous online connections go. Frozen in time, somewhere deep in the inbox, to be excavated when life finds convenient and necessary.
The year was 2017 and Donald J. Trump had been in office for approximately a year at that point. Those first few months were as equally frightening as they were frustrating, and Americans were raw and exposed to a sensitive political climate. What I most remember was how exhausted I was. I wouldn’t say I’m a longtime activist, but I’d been engaged in left-leaning political causes since I could attend punk shows as a teenager. The brand I co-founded, The Hundreds, was a forum to express and fight for a lot of these opinions. We even co-produced a social justice festival around that time to raise awareness for issues we considered most dire and at risk. As the shock of Trump’s election transitioned to reluctant acceptance, I desperately sought solutions to heal a divided nation. My ego has always told me that there is a fix for every crisis, that justice prevails, to attack the problem from a different angle. Yet, no matter how I turned it, I couldn’t find a way out of this worsening nightmare.
Outside of marching in protests, donating to causes, and staying informed of daily disasters, we didn’t know much else we could do short of running for office. Many of us retreated to Twitter to establish solidarity, disseminate our truths, and change others’ minds. Much of that, however, came down to circulating Trump quotes and deriding the White House press secretary or unleashing our vitriol on the Covington boys. I did my best to stay away from Facebook, but once in a while, I’d find myself ensnared in a fight with some asshole I hadn’t seen since the third grade. In the first stage of Trump Era grief, I loathed and cried and complained. Then, I tried to understand the opposing view not just as a valiant gesture to reach across the aisle, but to make sense of this bizarre simulation we call Life. After a year of this, I was ashamed to admit that I had made no progress at all. I was no closer to empathizing with a devout Trump supporter as I was in getting them to exercise gender neutral pronouns. Debating politics with strangers on the Internet in non-sequitir paragraphs was inefficient, if not endless. Even if I did win an argument or humiliated someone online for their moronic beliefs, I rarely felt better. In fact, I felt much worse, not just about them and the state of the world, but about myself and the time wasted. And then there was the residual anger that lingered and polluted interactions with my loved ones for a time afterwards.
Los Angeles is a far cry from Woodstock, Alabama. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ryan’s statement. Yes, our neighborhoods are almost 2,000 miles apart. But, in some aspects, they might as well be 2,000 light years apart. Ryan’s reality is fixed in an entirely disparate set of cultural practices, social norms, and generational customs. How, over the course of an Instagram direct message, could I convince him to see things from my perspective? I’m a second-generation Korean-American, son of immigrants. I’m almost twice his age, have lived in Southern California my entire life, and get squeamish anytime I’m in a room with any racial majority. Of course, I still believe I am in the right to judge and abhor prejudice and hatred. But, was I really going to convince Ryan (someone whom I’ve never met or established a personal relationship with) to abandon his reality over a blind SMS thread? Of course not. That’d be like convincing a stranger to marry me by folding a marriage proposal in a bottle and hucking it into the ocean. If anything, our cursory exchange would cement him further to his beliefs.
I have a book club called Death Sentences and this month’s selection is “Why We’re Polarized” by Vox’s Ezra Klein. In it, Klein addresses why our differences are more pronounced and capitalized than ever: the changing demographics of the country, the social algorithms, the media business, partisandship over party, and politics as sport. One of the notes he finishes on is a suggestion, that if we are to concern ourselves with any sort of politics, it should be at the local level. There is very little we can change at the national level, with even less of a chance of accessing leadership. Meanwhile, our daily lives are most influenced by what happens in our city, county, and state. These are our people, our families, and homes. And that made me think about Woodstock, Alabama.
Our politics are very much dictated by geography. When it comes to worldview and philosophy, we are reflective – and a product – of our immediate communities and neighborhoods. I drove down to Huntington Beach this weekend to visit my parents. I drove through downtown HB, passed open restaurants and crowded beaches. It was a rarity to see a COVID mask on bros in American flag boardshorts and women guzzling hurricanes. As we exited the freeway back home in LA, joggers and bicyclists were covered and faceless. Just a mere forty minutes up the coast, and I entered a different reality with an entirely opposite set of rules and ethics. 2,000 miles away, Ryan was probably adhering to his own sense of right and wrong in the midst of a global pandemic. I doubt that I could go onto his profile and shame him into adopting my understanding of social distancing protocol, based on the news I’ve digested, the conversations I’ve shared, the education I’ve attained, in one of the largest cities in the world. And maybe I wasn’t meant to. The Internet, for all its awesomeness and effectiveness, is a hopeless place for meaningful discourse. They used to say to avoid politics and religion at the dinner table, and that’s in the confines of a warm home over a lovingly prepared meal, with people you’ve known and loved your entire life who share your experiences and culture. Now reduce that complex dialogue to comment slaps with strangers who live on the other side of the world. People whom you’ve never seen and never will, and all you’ll ever appreciate of their entirety as a human being is a square avatar.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t debate with people about politics. How are we to make progress if we don’t challenge people on their wrongs and convince them otherwise? But, we should be smart as to the proper venue to engage others (probably not social media), and realistic about end goals (it’s okay if we haven’t converted them, it should not deter our spirit). Which, is why my politics have taken a different trajectory over the last year – on a course that’s strategically personal, intimate, and offline. This isn’t far removed from how I invite people to discuss faith and religion as well as my life’s work. My business approach has always been to meet and make customers one at a time. I know how shallow and short-lived it can be to market to the masses. I’d rather plant the seeds deep with a patron, affording the time to listen and learn, even if it takes years. Having my mind changed before changing theirs. After 17 years, this is why we have such a thick and loyal base. It’s not that they agree with everything that we make and stand for. But, we share a respect and fellowship that’s come from accepting the other.
We are all such intrinsically different people with deeply entrenched belief systems. In fact, in most ways, this diversity is what makes our country so innovative and interesting and powerful. Of course, there are the uglier nuances that divide us on life and death matters. And yes, we now clutch these points as underpinnings of our core identity. But, it serves us to also brandish other facets of our identity that we share and love together – as workers, as students, as family people. As members of our community. As local citizens of our towns. Perhaps if we begin there, we’ll have better visibility on our collective standing as Americans.
We are only a couple months into the lockdown portion of the 2020 pandemic, but so much has already been profoundly affected, if not altered. I’m at once impressed by how quickly humankind adapted to drastically different and unnatural social norms. It’s a wonder that we have been so forgiving and malleable against an unbending storm. People are strong and beautiful in this way.
If anything, I’ve accepted that life now – more than ever – is about approaching and appreciating its fullness one day at a time. So, I treat my days not as paragraphs or even chapters, but full stories in themselves. I awaken painfully early, I lean into the mundane moments, I wrestle with sleep as it steals my last conscious moments in the evenings. I like to feel every corner of my emotions, I long to suffer and delight in their ephemeral residue. Speaking of longing, I have learned to befriend it. It’s the inertia that pulls me through.
I make the effort. I go to the beach when the window provides, I sift the grains of the sand through my fingers, I stay underwater a half-breath longer. If I have six seconds to spare, I offer it to a few sentences in a book I’m committed to. Yes, I will listen to your band. Yes, this is my new favorite song. I am clear and engaged and I don’t leave the days behind with many regrets anymore.
What is this pandemic if not a time to sit with ourselves? There is a drowning quiet and solitude. Even if we are living with others, this is a lonely time. I have confronted myself on more than one occasion. I’ve studied the mirror. Who is this man?
There are some nominal changes as I’ve entered a new decade. I’m finally starting to show my age after a lifetime of looking 12. My eyes, once puffy and swollen from the salt in the food or the tortured nights are now apparently cast this way forever and that’s okay. My skin is coarse and flecked. Not freckled, but spotted. I kiss my son’s smooth face, clear and pure of imperfections – the fountain of youth. When I smile, my crow’s feet branch halfway down my cheek and tug at my jowls (that part, I like).
Within. I am as impatient as ever, yet somehow oblivious to how long my stories unfurl. I have fewer friends now, but deeper conversations. I don’t chase as much anymore. I let the world come to me. I’ve accepted that I’ll never stop being passionate and zealous about the things and people I care about. I overstep those boundaries without apology. I love wastefully. I am less hopeful now, but more of a romantic. I believe that people can be better, no matter how much they betray me and break me time and again. This is what makes me weak and less than. I am ruled by betrayal.
These are the thoughts I carry with me as I walk back and forth and across. I have never heard myself so loudly. I am listening.
Meanwhile, locusts have been decimating the other side of the world. I’ve been quietly following this story the last couple months, just because it’s soooo Revelations. But, it’s actually turning out to be kind of a thing.
You can read about it here.
On another note, I was intrigued by this locust and the accompanying caption. Me, as an insect.
The desert locust undergoes physical changes as it transitions from its solitarious phase (left) to its gregarious phase (right).
“Was that life? Well then, once more!”
Lately, I’ve been deep-diving into scientific literature around entropy. In physics, entropy is defined as a “lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.” Kinda like how there is a natural trend for your house to be messy and cluttered, versus clean and organized. I know I’m not the only one who believes that the universe, and life itself, are unraveling. In some ways, I feel like it’s speeding UP, like the thinning of toilet paper as you get nearer to the end of the roll.
There is a new theory emerging that – somewhere out there – exists a reality with low entropy. In fact, a parallel universe exists that is moving backwards in time. This means that while entropy propels us into our future, we are simultaneously hurtling towards someone else’s past.
Have I thoroughly confused you yet? I’m probably doing a terrible job of explaining it.
Read the article for yourself HERE.
This art and essay are regarding a 1-of-1 T-shirt I designed for Keyla Marquez, who has curated different artists to interpret white T-shirts for charity this week.
It’s called The White T-Shirt Project. You can learn more about it here.
I already have everything I need. More importantly, I already have everyone I need.
If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that my cup is full. It’s been full. And yet, I’ve spent my life – and my life’s work – scouring the earth for more friends and followers and customers. I am addicted to people. I collect them like baseball cards. But, this pursuit for more – it’s endless and insatiable. It can be exhausting. And two months of isolation have reminded me that what already sits before me is infinite – my loving people, my loved work. They are oceans in themselves and it would take a thousand lifetimes to reach the bottom. Why distract myself with other books when I’ve yet to finish these?
When Keyla told me about this project, I was struck by her boldness and ambition. Here we are, staring into the face of an opaque global virus, and yet she felt compelled to incite positive action amongst a circle of artists. The ripples echo wide. It took just one person to organize an effort that will affect thousands, millions.
Each one reach one. When I talk about my work, I say, “It’s not for everyone. It’s for someone.” Even I forget that sometimes. I was never interested in winning over the world. It was about speaking with one person at a time. It wasn’t about being popular amongst many. It was about diving deep into a curated few.
So, there are two things going on here.
One, the recognition of beautiful relationships existing, instead of being enchanted by the social frontier. From now on, may we pause to live in the castles we’ve already built.
Two, the power of the individual cry. We are each potent in our capacity to inspire, mentor, and create significant change. Like Keyla.
You can bid on my T-shirt for the next week here: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Bobby-Hundreds/402261145058
This website is slowly just turning into an Itaewon Class fan page.
After Sinead O’Connor’s controversial SNL performance where she ripped the photo of the Pope, she next showed up at a Bob Dylan tribute. She got booed when she took the stage, so she cut her performance and shouted the song lyrics to WAR.
Then she was so overwhelmed when Kris Kristofferson embraced her afterwards, she threw up.
So brave and powerful. Good on Kris Kristofferson also. Here are the lyrics.
Until the philosophy,
Which holds one race superior
And another inferior,
Is finally and permanently
Discredited and abandoned,
Everywhere is war.
Until there is no longer first class
Or second class citizens of any nation.
Until the color of a man’s skin,
Is of no more significance than
The color of his eyes,
I’ve got to say “war”.
That until the basic human rights,
Are equally guaranteed to all,
Without regard to race,
I’ll say “war”
Until that day the dream of lasting peace,
World-citizenship and the rule of
International morality will remain
Just a fleeting illusion to be pursued,
But never obtained.
And everywhere is war.
Until the ignoble and unhappy regime
Which holds all of us through,
Child-abuse, yeah, child-abuse yeah,
Sub-human bondage has been toppled,
Everywhere is war.
War in the east,
War in the west,
War up north,
War down south,
There is war,
And the rumors of war.
Until that day,
There is no continent,
Which will know peace.
We find it necessary.
We know we will win.
We have confidence in the victory
Of good over evil
Fight the real enemy!
This is my favorite Sinead O’Connor song, “This is a Rebel Song.”
Yuval Noah Harari on Sam Harris.
Texting with my brothers. Zooming with old friends.
Itaewon Class on Netflix.
Opening windows to let the warm air in.
This month’s Death Sentences selection, Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein.
Listening to my children laugh with each other.
Dying and bleaching.
Social commerce and video games.
Reading Rilke like it’s the first time.
The Plot Against America on HBO.
It’s like the train just started moving again. With a jolt.
The world is coming alive, the colors incandescent.
Had so many promising meetings today, setting the tone for the next chapter of The Hundreds. Setting the pace for the others…
But, my starkest moment arrived earlier in the morning. I drew liberally. I listened to The Beatles at full volume. Alone in my office, at the end of the hall.
It’s May now.
The first iteration of Monologue – in the sense of photography, musings and poetry – was actually not The Hundreds’ blog, but my Tumblr, which I stopped updating almost 4 years ago to the day.
I transmitted from there between the years of 2011-2016. I shot this photo in 2012.
You can still read the entries here.
High school cliques in the ‘90s were fascinating because the youth were segmented along music tastes, interests, and attitudes. Subsequently, it was easier to identify people by their style of dress. You knew the ravers by their beaded bracelets and cartoon character necklaces. The skaters in their big colorful pants and bleached hair. There were the jocks in jerseys, the preps in plaid, the band geeks, the punks, the taggers… and I was the hummingbird, cross-pollinating. As a teenager, I was curious, if not obsessed, with teenage tribes (I dreamt of one day writing a book or movie about them). How friends would clump together and adopt badges and uniforms to express who they were… and who they were not. Why didn’t the b-boys play tennis? Why were there no gangbangers in theater groups or cheerleaders sporting mohawks? I was trying to explain this to my son this weekend while we watched the Travis Scott Fortnite concert together. “You know, you’re pretty lucky to grow up in this time, because kids who were into video games used to be considered nerds.” He was shocked. “Nerds? But, video games are the coolest thing! Everyone plays video games.” And he’s right. I mean, we were watching the biggest concert of the year on his Nintendo Switch.
These days, high school cliques are still very much a thing, but it’s gotten harder to tell who is who – not just ideology-wise, but by clothing. Maybe it’s due to the Internet or maybe people just aren’t as narrow-minded, but you can listen to whatever you want in 2020, without it pigeonholing you as belonging to a certain social group or lifestyle. You can be into social justice and MMA and cooking, and that’s totally acceptable. The fashion is just as universal, even across genders. You can dress like a hypebeast one day and an emo kid the next. Even better, just mix it all together, bending genres and crossing boundaries.
“Cliques” by The Hundreds and Puma is a discussion of high school cliques over the past couple generations. We modeled each sneaker and its corresponding outfit along three silos of ‘90s teenagers: “jocks,” “preps,” and an all-encompassing “party crew.” The fourth profile is the modern youth who is an aggregate of all subcultures and niche interests. He/she/they are a worldly figure, reflective of their ecosystems, openminded and inclusive. And beyond labels and classifications.
The Hundreds X Puma “Cliques” drops Thursday, April 30.