Monday, July 12, 2010

Coffee + Stranger #9 - Coffee with a PhD in Projects

Stranger #9, who I met at Sweet Adeline in Berkeley, is a man of many projects. He even described himself as being somewhat "obsessive compulsive about art projects" to the point where, at times, he's got a little too much going on at once. As a result, I'd like to introduce you to Damian Lanahan-Kalish (he's a-okay with my using his real name), project by project, be they current, defunct, completed, or floating somewhere within the depths of Damian's mind.

1) T-Shirts

There were several things I noticed about Damian's appearance: he was tall, thin, and sporting a moustache-goatee combo. I'd guess he was somewhere in his late 20's or early 30's with a mop of straight, brown hair that swung and parted with the occasional bob and twitch of his head. Like me, he had trouble sitting still - he often swiveled and bounced around in his seat while his hands jumped from one position to the next. His coffee cup, the surface of the table, and the blue plastic wrapper to his
New York Times were all thoroughly manhandled throughout our conversation.

But the very first thing I noticed about Damian was actually his t-shirt. It was your run-of-the-mill, plain, baby blue t-shirt, but there was a message in black marker scrawled across its front: "I'm a delicate little flower." Accompanying this message was a simple drawing of a small flower.

I made a mental note of asking Damian to explain this t-shirt to me, but as if reading my mind, he jumped right into an explanation within the first few minutes of our conversation. Apparently for about five straight years, Damian only wore these simple t-shirts, which he designed himself. He had a steady rotation going and all the t-shirts featured, in Damian's words, "self-deprecating or somewhat uncomfortable statements." The picture above features one of Damian's t-shirts and you can see a list of his statements by clicking below.

"I had to stop wearing them all the time," explained Damian when I asked what happened at the five-year mark of his t-shirt project. "I still wear them sometimes, but I got tired of explaining myself. I guess it was sort of a statement on fashion, but as you get older, you just don't want to talk to everyone anymore."

2) Blogging

To keep his many projects and ideas in order, Damian also writes a blog. Originally, the purpose of the blog was to write a post every week concerning a single project idea. Damian admitted that sometimes the projects he writes about never get off the ground, but he enjoys thinking up crazy ideas and imagining what they might look like in actuality. Examples include possibly rewriting the play 12 Angry Men with the entire cast dressed in Batman costumes or creating an animated film that revolves around characters that live in and around a decomposing whale carcass at the bottom of the ocean.

The blog's focus, however, may be changing direction. Damian's thinking of turning it into a forum to promote his friends' creative talents and projects, which brings us to the following:

3) Promoter / Event Organizer

Damian is also a big fan of throwing parties and sharing his friends' talents with the world. "I've been sort of a starving promoter for awhile," he said. "Well, I'm not actually starving, but I'm not making any money at it either."

Among other things, Damian has organized big kid proms and science fairs (see the poster to the left and read more info here), featuring art, bands, fashion, and fun. "The science fairs have been amazing," he said, but he's not going to put on any more proms. "Proms are kind of done now that McSweeney's is doing one in New York."

I have to admit that I'm down with the idea of science fairs. I picture mad scientist costumes, bubbly beakers, unsafe explosions, and overflowing volcanoes. Good times!

4) Cultures of Wonder

Speaking of volcanoes, Damian is also working on a pretty ambitious project that involves "huffing volcanic gas that puts you in a prolonged dream state." And, no, this doesn't involve Damian catching a flight to Iceland and climbing to the top of a smoking volcano with his mouth open. Instead, he and some friends are creating a fake natural history exhibit based upon a fictitious "lost tribe" known as the Thulus. The plan is to create an entire history for these people, including stuff about their mythology, religion, and customs. Although there's a Wiki that gets into the finer details, the Thulus are from an island in the North Atlantic (see the picture on the right) and their entire religion/belief system is, according to Damian, "based around the idea that dreams are of equal importance to waking life." The huffing of volcanic gas, then, is their way of getting all high and spiritual.

"Other artists are working on it," explained Damian, "but I came up with the original idea. Eventually I want to build a diorama showing somebody who's in the dream state and there's someone who tends to them, and they're in the volcanic haze, but they're wearing this old timey diving suit around their head, so they can have fresh air and give the person water."

Whoa. Heady stuff, right? Look for this project, entitled
Cultures of Wonder, to open at Oakland's LoBot Gallery sometime in the fall.

5) Acting / Sleepwalkers Theatre

When I asked Damian what he did for a living when he wasn't busy promoting, writing blogs, and dreaming up projects, he replied: "I'm really an actor."

An independent movie actually just premiered in which Damian plays a magician. The movie is called The Bigtop and you can check out a clip in the above video. Damian had never been paid so much to act in a movie, despite that he wasn't exactly sure why he was picked for the part. "I don't sing or dance," he told me, which is strange since he described the film as a
circus musical. "In fact, I'm tone deaf and I have no sense of rhythm. I've been in acting school and I've been in bands, so I know I can't sing. I spent the whole of acting school not being able to dance, so I'm not being modest." Even the movie's dance instructor agreed with Damian on this one: "He told me we're going to give you the easiest steps and cut away from you a lot."

Damian didn't tell me much about the plot of the movie (although he did sing me the chorus to one of the songs he performed: "You make me wanna go wiiiiillllllddddd, child!"), but he did give me this interesting tidbit - there's a real life tiger in this movie. I know, I know, that maybe doesn't sound THAT exciting, but Damian described the feline as a "bargain basement tiger with tiger handlers that were not that good."

I don't know about you, but when the DVD is released, I'm heading straight for the tiger bloopers!

But Damian's true love and calling is for his theater group: Sleepwalkers Theatre. He and a good friend founded the group a few years ago in San Francisco and they've been quite successful. When I asked Damian to tell me about an unusual role he took on for Sleepwalkers, he mentioned once playing the role of a "competitive eater." The role involved stuffing down actual spaghetti and hot dogs while on-stage.

"We're really trying to do theater for people who don't go to theater," he said. "It's theater with a lower case 't' and we try to keep it accessible for people who normally go see movies."

Their most successful play thus far was Zombie Town, which Damian described as a "documentary theater piece on zombies." Next up is the first play in an ambitious trilogy about the end of the world. When I mentioned that that sounded pretty cool because I love me some post-apocalyptical, Damian responded: "Yeah, everyone does. That's what we're banking on - everyone loves the apocalypse!"

6) Islamic Studies

To add to this brimming, melting pot of projects and ideas, Damian also has a brand spanking new interest. "I just took a class on Islam and I think I want to study Comparative Religion," he said. "So now I'm really into the Islamic world."

He's also hoping to visit Turkey sometime in the future: "I'm really interested in Turkey as a new power in the world." Second on his list of countries to visit? The in-the-same-region, but not-so-Islamic country of Greece. And why Greece? In addition to having a childhood obsession with all things Greek (including Alexander the Great), Damian looks fondly upon his days living in Queens, NY in a predominantly Greek neighborhood. "I ate Greek food every day and it's the best food on earth!" he said. Unfortunately, every time he mentions potentially visiting Greece to his girlfriend, she reminds him: "You know it's really expensive there."

Looks like we know who the voice of reason is in this relationship!

7) Nipple Hunter

During a lull in our conversation, Damian announced to me: "I used to call myself a nipple hunter."

I'll let your imagination run wild for a moment. I hope you come up with something strange and scandalous!

The truth of the matter? Damian used to work for a social networking site called Piczo. Apparently the site caters primarily to a teenage audience in the United Kingdom, and it was Damian's job to search people's pages and profiles for naughty photos, nasty cyber bullying, and other assorted tomfoolery. If Damian found a picture with an exposed nipple, for example, he'd delete the photo or even the offender's entire profile.

And, voila, nipple hunter!

8) Miscellaneous

I could go on. We're really only scratching the surface of Damian's many projects and exploits. I could write, for instance, about his food blog, his book of poetry, his rock and roll ambitions, or his brief foray into the world of online music reviews, but I'm hoping I've given you a tantalizing glimpse into Damian's wacky brain. I'm impressed by how much he's got going on - maybe he deserves an honorary PhD in Projects?

To wrap things up, I'll leave you with one last snippet from our conversation. I'm not exactly sure how we stumbled upon Maxim magazine as a topic of conversation, but considering we also spent a significant amount of time talking about Dennis Hopper, I can't say it was surprising:

"Maxim is the most disgusting magazine. It really is amazing," said Damian. "It's so misogynistic. It's all about how to lie to your girlfriend to get her to do things she doesn't want to do in bed. For a while, this is so weird, I was getting Maxim, for no reason, and OUT magazine. So I was convinced people thought I was a super in the closet jock because both magazines were out on my coffee table."


Anonymous said...

This shit's bananas!

Anonymous said...

Totally bananas!

Coffee with a Stranger said...

I was thinking more along the lines of mangoes, but I'll take bananas, too.

ellison said...

i was in turkey just recently.

greece is (once again) going to the dogs. i bet it aint so expensive any more ! (if you can get a non-striking public transport to take you around).

what's our deal with the nipples? akin to the ankle thing in saudi arabia if you ask me. ha!

i love when guys say "that's so misogynist".