It's On Us by Jahan Sharif


Lightning flickers in the distance, lighting up the sky like a shock of grey in an old man’s afro. The monitor tells me that the constellation of stars I’m trying to place is called Wichita, Kansas. Who chooses to live in Wichita? I think to myself. The Koch Brothers, I remember. I wonder what that’s like.

I refocus my attention on the passing storm, it’s huge. It’s well past midnight, and I’m tired, but I feel like there’s a metaphor here-- somewhere in the clouds. I’m searching for it, but I don’t find it. I look at the storm again, its expanse practically swallowing this state’s largest city. I close one eye, and try to pinch the city away between my fingers. I almost do. Lightning strikes again, almost cuing the hum of the engines to intensify as we climb. “Your Coke, brother.” 

The flight attendant is standing in the aisle holding my beverage over my seat-mate. “Thanks.” I reply. “What would you like for dinner?” he asks. “I’ll have the noodles.” I say, taking a sip of my drink. The tall, Black flight attendant, with his dreads pulled back into a neat pony, hands me a small container of soba noodles with chicken breast. “Enjoy.” 

delta noodles.jpg

I fumble with the seal, trying to find a graceful way in. I turn it around, and notice the outside flap says, “It’s on us.” I pause for a moment to think about what exactly they mean by it’s on us? I’m in a coach seat two rows behind first class. And the only difference between my coach seat and the ones 20 rows behind me (aside from mine being double the price-- I didn’t pay for it) is early boarding, this “free” dinner, and a few extra inches of knee room. Meanwhile, the seats in first class look like international business class suites. 

Words are powerful, because they are the tools of manipulation and persuasion. Remember when a “flight upgrade” meant you were being “bumped up” to “first class”? Your loyalty to the airline, rewarded with some time spent in that upper class lifestyle. At least in those days, you legitimately did get a different experience. Today, airlines are still giving out “upgrades” to Comfort+, but what do you get? Free food and overhead bin access. And we take it with a smile, because at least we’re not in the “main cabin”. 

Paying more for what we used to get for free is a scam; even if we might feel like it’s a good value. And we’re getting scammed everywhere. “Think tanks” dupe us into believing whatever is in their benefactors’ best interests, and then those same capitalists exploit our ignorance for profit. 

Our lackadaisical and egotistical thinking is lubricating our self-destruction. And we will continue to be powerless in any effort to combat this exploitation if we remain ignorant to our own contributions to the problems. 

The irony is that they told us exactly where the responsibility for change lies. They wrote it right on their packaging: It’s On Us.

The skies over Wichita, KS, USA
August 2019

The Unintended Consequences of Buying a Rolex by Jahan Sharif

A typical weekend at Maru— neighbors, caffeine, and puppies.

A typical weekend at Maru— neighbors, caffeine, and puppies.

So I'm sitting there, at Maru, telling a friend of mine about why I bought my watch. We got onto the topic because we were discussing the frustrations we have that come from dealing with the assumptions people make about you because of your appearance or presentation. I assure you, I am not rich; but, I wear a Rolex. 

I don't know where my interest in luxury fashion came from, as nobody in my family or immediate circle growing up had a particular affinity for luxury, and they certainly placed no importance on fashion! But for reasons that are not important now, what could have been a passing impulse turned into a legitimate pursuit to try to understand why certain things justified higher prices.

At 11 years old, I made my first luxury purchase— a wallet from the Versace outlet at Woodbury Commons, in New Jersey. It was an unremarkable brown leather bifold with the only exterior branding being a tiny metal Medusa head. I don't know why I chose it, but I remember being certain that it was what I wanted. I had with me about $200-- roughly my entire net worth-- which I had saved up from the previous few birthdays and Christmases. The wallet cost about $190 with tax.

Every hour, a coach-sized shuttle bus from New York City brings foreign tourists to the mall. So, I wasn't surprised when the salesperson didn't react to me, a random young kid, buying a Versace wallet in cash. The reaction came from my dad who was, in hindsight very reasonably, a little shocked and confused as to why I was buying a luxury anything! Never mind that I had nothing to put in my new wallet, I loved it and I was happy to own it. 

Eventually, I did have money and cards to put in it, and it served me well for almost six years, which is when I upgraded to a Prada.

This is the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí walking his anteater in Paris. At first, this is what I felt like wearing my Rolex.

This is the Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí walking his anteater in Paris. At first, this is what I felt like wearing my Rolex.

But this story isn't about a wallet, it's about a watch. And, my move to watches happened after luxury clothes became somewhat less novel. (It might be the "perfect" t-shirt, but it's still a t-shirt.) Watches had a different appeal to me, because with cellphones around they serve almost no essential purpose. So why are they still important? Status, sentimentality, and fashion aside there is something to be said for an object that is almost entirely made by hand and can perform a specific set of functions perfectly... for forever. Other than a house, do you own anything that you can reasonably expect to outlast you? 

It took me about six years to save for an entry level luxury watch ($5,000-$8,500). And after a lot of research, I settled on the Rolex Explorer (ref. 214270). It is the great-great-great-great-grandchild of the Rolex that Sir Edmund Hillary wore as he, along with his expedition parter Tenzing Norgay, became the first people to successfully summit Mount Everest in 1953. (You can learn more about it here.) 

But, just because I knew which watch I wanted to buy, doesn't mean that I could just walk into a store and pick one up. The watch is made in very limited quantities, because it's not that popular. The Explorer is intended for people who know its history, or for whatever reason, understand why this simple piece that can only tell time, is special. It took me a full year to track one down, and when I finally had it in my hands, I hesitated.

Me, the precious Lucy, and my watch.

Me, the precious Lucy, and my watch.

How could I, a then-26 year old with barely a job let alone job security, really justify a purchase that took me almost six years to save for? Then my mom, who was with me, reminded me of something: Trump's recent election. And I quote, "The man has bankrupted everything he's ever touched. Who knows what's going to happen to the value of your cash in a few years. You'll always be able to sell a Rolex." That insight, along with a special zero interest holiday financing offer, allowed me to walk confidently out of the store with the most gratifying purchase I've ever made.

That was about two years ago, and it turns out that that purchase was also one of my most important. Los Angeles is a notoriously lonely city. It is really hard— like really hard— to meet people here. There’s no central district, no mechanism that forces people to be aware of each other (like New York City’s subway), and it’s very segregated. In many ways, LA is like a collection of gated communities— you can’t get inside if you don’t already know someone. But there are a few places where you can meet random people and hope for the best: Cafes and Uber Pools. The challenge is finding that little piece of common ground that can be used to justify starting a conversation.

I speak and write often about my favorite coffee shop in Los Angeles, Maru. Yes, it has the best coffee in LA. Yes, they have the best staff in LA. Yes, they have the best location in LA. But Maru is important to me, because it was the gateway into what has become my vibrant, loving, and supportive community of neighbors and friends in this city. And it all started one typical Spring day in 2017, when I interrupted an elegant man minding his business, to let him know that we were wearing the same watch.

Los Angeles, California, USA
February 2019

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