On Sundays I reflect.
I had a drink at dinner the other night with my friend Yoni. It was a Matcha Green Tea IPA. We were celebrating our friendship at a favorite fish restaurant of mine; Hooked in Beaver Creek.
Last night I attended HEATERZ in Denver, the biggest glass art show of the year. In the past the show has featured a cup or two each year from my memory. This year N8 had a pedestal with four fully worked collaborative cups and they were some of the coolest cups I’ve ever seen. I was able to secure his collaboration with Calm and I saw the mug made with Stephan Peirce also found a home. Aside from that, I saw the most impressive piece of glass art I have ever seen, a piece which fetched a ticket of almost a quarter million dollars.
This couldn’t be more of a contrast from when I was living on Yoni’s couch just a few years ago in NYC. Today I’m going to share some of the story that should illustrate why I was willing to take Yoni and his girlfriend skiing at Vail for his fourth and her first time ever on skis. It took them three hours to get down one run, and there are very few people in the world I would have the patience to deal with learning how to ski. Yoni is one of those people, because he was there for me when virtually nobody had the patience to deal with me.
I had lost my job around 2014. I got dumped by a girlfriend I was with for a few years, and my grandfather passed away. I believe my mother was diagnosed with cancer for the second or third time during this era as well and my world fell like it was completely turned upside down.
I had a flight to NYC for a friends wedding and decided there was no reason for me to take my return flight back to Indiana. After a night or two in a hotel my mom paid for so I could attend the wedding, I found myself trying to navigate NYC alone and without any money. It was definitely not my best plan.
So I made my way from downtown Brooklyn to Bushwick which somehow took me 2-3 hours, carrying everything I owned in a few backpacks. My college frat bros let me come spend two nights on the couch. They said “you can’t move in here and be the guy on the couch Belgrad”. I think their 500 square foot two bedroom one bathroom apartment was $2500 a month. I didn’t even have $100 to contribute.
One of those guys was the drummer from my college band. He took me to audition for his band the second day I was with him and I became the bassist in “Shackers”. I didn’t have my bass so I borrowed the guitarists. I couldn’t afford to contribute to the rehearsal space and I lived on $2 meatball sandwiches from subway a few blocks from our practice spot. The next day I missed my train on the LIRR to get to a glass studio two hours from Manhattan on Long Island by one second and had to wait an hour at the Jamaica train station. When I finally made it to Long Island I got a job blowing glass at a studio. I couldn’t afford the train to work and wasn’t sure how this would pan out but I knew my only other option was going home to my parents house in suburban chicago without access to a lathe or studio to blow glass in.
After two nights on my frat bros couch in Bushwick I had joined a band and had a job blowing glass. It seemed I could not leave NYC whether I wanted to or not.
Here is where Yoni comes in.
I sent messages to everyone I knew in NYC asking for a place to crash while I figured out my living situation. Most of them ignored me, and some let me know I could not live for free in their apartments. A few offered to meet up for a drink or a meal.
Yoni told me where to meet him after work, on a subway at Penn Station. I remember getting on the train and wanting to cry until I saw Yoni’s face and he took one of my bags for me to help me get to his apartment. He asked what I was doing and I told him I didn’t know. He assured me it would be ok.
I remember the first day in that apartment on 14th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. He introduced me to his roommate. They said I could crash there but explicitly told me I could not move in and be the guy on the couch for a year. A week later Yoni gave me a key to his apartment, some space in the closet, and access to his couch from 11PM to 6AM. At a time when I wasn’t sure how I would keep myself alive, Yoni was there for me.
For almost a year Yoni subsidized my life so that I could follow my American Dream. He provided me shelter and kept me fed, claiming that I was a net positive because I kept his apartment clean and helped with chores and errands he didn’t have time for. Every time Yoni ordered himself a meal, he ordered a meal for me. Every time he bought a drink at the bar for himself he also bought one for me. He bought my train tickets to save me money with a ten pack instead of paying a daily single ride premium.
And we had fun together.
I was close to giving up many times that year. It was the hardest year of my life. I was basically homeless, I was losing patches of my beard from stress, and most days I felt like crying most of the time. Yoni believed in me. He pushed me and provided the closest resemblance of stability in my life at a time when I had none.
He took me to Brazil on a two week vacation during that time, an experience I will never forget and never could have afforded. We laughed almost the entire time. Our lives were juxtaposed like beans and rice in the authentic Brazillian Feijoada. I was experiencing the ultimate freedom as a person and an artist, while Yoni plugged away at his job as a banker. I wore an orange speedo with a veggie vest, and Yoni a button down shirt and slacks. We could not have more contested each other’s existences and yet our trajectory overlapped during that era.
Yoni and I grew up together and always knew each other but became better friends later in life. We attended Indiana University together and our lives represent a kind of parallel. We are both the sons of clergy from the Chicago Suburbs who went to IU to follow the path laid out for us. Somehow in 2014 when we reconnected in NYC, we were at complete opposite ends of life’s spectrum and despite that came together.
Yoni never judged me or made me feel like less of a person in a city that was so completely enveloped in money and status, especially shortly after college when our peers were just joining the rat race. Yoni helped me see the value I brought that was separate from financial contributions. Together we navigated a time of transition and growth for both of us, and I know we are both better for the experience.
It brings me back to a concept of duality. There is very little grey area in my life which I see in black and white. My composition notebook pattern in glass depicts this. Yoni and I are like yin and yang. Our experience that year in New York would never have been the same without each other. The experience helped me to see value outside of society’s imposed capitalist value system.
So this week Yoni finally made the trip to Colorado where I was able to host him and take him skiing and show him my studio. Without Yoni’s support I would never have gotten to a point where I had a studio and a successful business. It was an ultimate privilege to share that with him after all he did for me. The trip was planned one day before his arrival, and I was able to drop everything to spend a few days with him. I had one demonstration at the studio for the staff of a local dispensary the night my friend arrived, but I think he fell asleep before I even got back to the studio to meet them after the dispensary closed. We got to ski Vail and Beaver Creek together, we ate at my favorite restaurants, and we sat around catching up and reminiscing on the good old days.
I typically make a trip to NYC for my birthday since I left the island years ago. Since the pandemic I have not been back, but next year it’s already on my agenda. Part of that trip is about making time to catch up with Yoni, and enjoy the city with him even if just for a quick minute. Historically Yoni has bought my airfare and hosted me in trade for a cup or cups. As an artist and entrepreneur it is near impossible to take a vacation. Yoni has never let that be an obstacle.
I am so grateful for the time I got to spend with my friend, and all that he has done to help me arrive at this moment. To one of the smartest, kindest, and hardworking people I’ve ever known, and the king of Whimsical Audio Interplay I say thank you immensely for everything. Our time together is nothing short of extraordinary!
Thanks for tuning in and enjoy your Sunday,
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