Still Alive










Photos by James Nord

Trench coats courtesy of J. Lindeberg

Style by me



Zaqistan is located in the most hostile, unforgiving environment than anyone could have the misfortune to experience. It makes Skull Valley look like a water park. In essence, there is no reason to ever go there, yet somehow Zaqistan survives in the unrelenting heat of an alkaline desert, thriving in the absurdity of its existence.

If I was to offer one thing to say about Zaqistan to potential visitors, it would be this—don’t go. It’s a fucked up place. African Bushmen would describe Zaqistan as an impossible environment to scrape a meager existence from; ancient Greeks would have attributed the barren flats to a vengeful Hades. But if you are masochistic enough to visit this merciless land, you’ll definitely have an experience. 

As far as I know, the first step to visiting Zaqistan is letting two kids from New Orleans, one from Chicago and another from New York sleep on your floor in Salt Lake City. Then you watch one of them meticulously create a piñata costume as he tells you about his homeland.


From what I’ve gathered, renowned global explorer Zaq Landsberg founded Zaqistan in 2006. He’d fallen into a little (not much) money and decided on a whim to purchase approximately two acres of the old Bonneville Sea bed on Ebay for $600 dollars. When prodded, Zaq gave his reasoning for the acquisition as, “Getting a little piece of the American West before it was gone.” Judging by Zaqistan’s incredibly remote location, that’s not going to be a problem anytime soon. Its original embassy was located in Argentina, but for a while it was located in an art gallery in Manhattan, a stone throw away from the United Nations building. Although there are a number of people who have dual citizenship with Zaqistan, for the vast majority of the time the official population is zero. Nobody lives there, and nobody blames them.

 Resting as the only independent nation within the contiguous United States (outside of Native Reservations), Zaqistan is ridiculous, just like this sentence. Although the land does appear to be unsustainable for any form of life, extremophiles like sagebrush and rattlesnakes live there in abundance out of sheer absurdity.

Cubans often use their Zaqistani passports to appear as tourists, as the passports look so legit and Zaqistan is so obscure that cops are dumb enough to believe them. My passport should be arriving in the mail any day now. I’m planning on using to pick up on easily confused girls.



Like all proud nations, Zaqistan has a number of monuments that highlight its history and achievements. Most impressive of all is the Triumphant Arch, which stands out against the nothingness with a brilliance of sheer existence. The robots tend to be a popular tourist attraction for the younger generation, and the Zaqistani flag is a prominent fixture visible from every border. There’s also a lot of sagebrush.


The Zaqistani national pastime includes shooting guns at bottles, drinking an irresponsible amount of alcohol, setting off fireworks and fashion photography. It’s a formidable place. Crime levels are low in Zaqistan based on liberal socialist laws and the utter lack of anyone. Health care is free if you bring a first aid kit.

If you’re trying to find Zaqistan in person, it’s suggested you know how to operate a compass, as the obscure directions you will receive by email include geographical coordinates that aren’t going to help. The compass is there to provide a fleeting feeling of hope. The dusty roads leading into the nation are convoluted and lacking signs, so it’s better to show up before dusk. 

Since phone service is does not exist in Zaqistan, contact with the outside world is scarce. If you end up getting a flat tire in the land and your spare also happens to be flat, you’re fucked without ingenuity. Zaqistan runs on ingenuity. It’s their main import and export. They import and export a lot of it.

The capitol Zaqopolis can be difficult to navigate for first timers, but once one learns to use The Zaqopolis as a central landmark it becomes almost impossible to get lost. What appears to be a monkey bar dome adorned with loose camouflaged netting and a number of female mannequin legs take on a special significance when you realize it marks the only shade for fifty miles. Indeed, it is the cultural hub of Zaqistan during the day, and the majority of political decisions take place under its cover. Cover is something highly valued in Zaqistan, as finding a shady spot of repose is the only way anyone can survive in its unceasing heat. Survival in Zaqistan is important. Surviving in Zaqistan is difficult.



If you are capable of living long enough to see the sites, there are a number of breathtaking postcard-worthy landmarks to visit. The Guardians of Zaqistan stand vigilant over the land at times when it’s deserted, protecting the small nation from would-be intruders. Towering over the landscape is Mt. Insurmountable, the highest point in Zaqistan. Anyone daring enough to risk ascending the summit is guaranteed to be rewarded with unrivaled view of all of Zaqistan.

If you travel to Zaqistan with someone unfamiliar with the concept of “roughing it,” expect them to yell at you for hours at a time as you drink 40s of Mickeys and stumble around in the darkness. Don’t panic; it won’t help. Instead you should focus on finding the gold skulls of long deceased animals that mark the cryptic trail to Zaqistan, and if all else fails, try to hear the gunshots being fired into the night sky. You won’t hear them mostly because the deadening effect of the dried seabed eliminates all forms of echolocation, but it’s nice to have a false sense of hope. If your companion has given up his false sense of hope in exchange for a true sense of doom, explain that nothing has killed you yet, and at the very least death comes quickly in Zaqistan, which means you won’t suffer for long. If your companion explains that the duration of suffering is less important than the magnitude of suffering, continue drinking. More than anything, it’s important to maintain a loose form of consciousness at all times, as hyper-awareness is problematic in irrational scenarios. You probably already have your hands full; there’s no need to make things more complicated by recognizing how close you are to death. Denial is key to sensibility in Zaqistan.


After your stay in Zaqistan, it is recommended you stop by the closest cowboy bar, a quaint little joint near a lone gas station in a town famous for refusing to die. Get a hamburger. Also get a shot and a beer. Congratulations! Somehow, against the odds, you survived to tell the tale, and now you can talk about something with bizarre authority, where every answer you offer can only be met with more questions. Zaqistan builds character, which you already must have had if you went there in the first place, and are now following in the footsteps of giants like Professor Wexler, world explorer.

 “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. I fucked up and chose the one to Zaqistan.”


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An Old Conversation with Jim

This is another flashback pulled directly out of the archives. I generally avoid looking at my old writing due to the desire to keep looking forward, but every now and again I’ll find myself peering into old files, somewhat bemused and otherwise terrified by past moments in my life. I think the biggest issue I actually have with them is the clearcut reality that I’ve only progressed so far. Such is life I guess.

This is about Jim, a mentor of mine who lives in a trailer park in Santa Barbara. We met years ago when I first moved down there, me struggling to finish my thesis paper and him somewhat delighted to have someone pose him questions. Every time I visit that terrible little beach town, I take the time to visit him in hope he’ll impart some form of wisdom on me. I really look up to him. He’s pretty much the smartest person I’ve ever met, and to have him consider me a friend is an honor. Anyway, I wrote this write before I went to Cuba, when I was befuddled as fuck, shattered from the binge writing I had to do at Coachella and randomly spending all my time sitting on a beach with a clipboard. [SPOILER ALERT: I don't come across as very well emotionally adjusted.]

Beach Office circa 2012

Beach Office circa 2012

As I wrote by hand back in Santa Barbara, Jim says I seem lonely. He knows the look cause he’s been there before. He says it with conviction. I believe him. He looks lonely

Jim! A genuine gem of an individual if you can stand him, poet/philosopher/mathematician/intellectual that always seems to be struggling to make sense of everything. He has all the hallmarks of a madman. As we were discussing the process of tilling his rented garden bed years ago, remarking how fertile the climate appeared to be for artichokes, he broke down to me the mathematical problem that had been haunting him for years. A boat left one side of a river with a current and headed for the other side. Because of the current, the pilot constantly would have to correct his aim so that he would be not dragged too far askew, but as he adjusted, the current would counter his adjustment and force the pilot to adjust some more. According to physics, every boat would always end up parallel to the dock by the time they finished crossing. There are some problems with this, including the physics would have to hold up regardless of the speed of the current, which would mean the boat would end up parallel even if the river moved only an inch a millennia. In other words, the problems that existed with the physics were due to it’s being dead wrong in reality. Physics told Jim the boat would be parallel while It was in the same vein as Xeno, who had come up with any number (something like 7) solid mathematical conundrums, each one ridiculous when it came to anybody who had to worry about making rent, fucking, or developing one’s soul. It was like an early version of Lewis Caroll’s book on logic, where he broke down the concept of logic while simultaneously writing Alice in Wonderland.

The point was, Jim struck me as a sane man trying to make sense of an insane world, which as far as I can tell from the few post-Freudian psychoanalysis books I’ve read, is impossible. Good fucking luck Jim. Still, he seemed like he had a far better grip on the situation than I had, especially when I vaguely attempted to act like I had a grip at all. I envied him only so much.

From what I gathered based on his rather esoteric explanations, a man who had spent his life dealing with the same problems I was dealing with was concerning himself with something worthless, unless of course he budged a notion of understanding forward, even if by just a little bit. Was I capable of doing that? I felt the answer lied in the analogy of beating your head against a wall. If you’re not capable of stopping or breaking through, hopefully you’ll leave a mark saying you were there.

Years later, all I can confirm is a bruised forehead. 

Beard of Solitude | Sobriety’s No Friend to Me

Beard of Solitude | Sobriety’s No Friend to Me

This was seriously the only productive thing I did last summer


Fashion week is pretty ridiculous for a myriad of reasons, but one thing  that’s easy to get a kick out of is what people wear to the events. Imagine: you’re going to an exclusive party for people who celebrate the art of appearance, and if you’re the type of person who cares about that kind of thing, your own appearance is pretty important. So when I see a guy confidently walking into a room while wearing something as absurd as Google Glass, I obviously have no other choice but to try to figure what the fuck the guy is thinking.

Mike Abu: Can I ask you a couple questions?

Google Glasses: Sure.

MA: How does it feel to be the only person wearing Google Glasses?

GG: Um, it’s kind of awkward. It’s interesting because people come up to me and ask me questions about it. It’s a good way to network.

MA: That’s why you’re wearing them?

GG: I can also take pictures whenever I feel like by winking.

MA: Have you ever thought about using a camera like a normal person?

GG: [pause] You hate Google Glass, don’t you?

MA: I’m just confused why anybody would want to wear them.

GG: It’s still a prototype. Obviously they’re still bulky and aren’t fashionable, but they’re coming out with a new model that looks more like glasses.

MA: Do you think Google took into consideration what the glasses looked like on a real human being when designing them?

GG: The things is, they’re working on the software development to make sure people can makes apps on them and that stuff, so once they’ve figured that out, they can focus more on the design.

MA: So do you think the glasses look like they do because Google is filled with nerds who don’t know any better?

GG: I don’t think that’s the case. It’s more about the technology that’s in it. You can only make a chip so small and put it all together, right? But they have this girl who’s into fashion, and she did the best she could to make them look as fashionable as possible.

MA: Wait, do you work for Google?

GG: No, I have a startup. I’m launching an app called Shoptsy next week where you can shop for products that you see on Instagram.

MA: Can you use it on Google Glass?

GG: [pause] Eventually.

MA: Can you give us a wink?

GG: Certainly.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn


But don’t just fuck anything. Wear yellow robot rings and go to church. When they ask you if they can say a prayer for you, tell them no. Then watch a motorcycle accident, but one where everybody is okay. Carry baseballs. Kiss girls you don’t care about and don’t call the ones you do. Nap in hammocks and find no home. Be who you thought you were to be and nothing of the above.

Henry Miller stopped editing. I wish he would edit me. What should I keep, Henry Miller, which of these words?

“None of them,” he would reply. “Rip them up and throw your manuscripts into the wind! Leave each sentence cast molded like Pompeii. Cast the city in an iconoclastic flow! Take no prisoners, and be stark raving mad in lunatic jubilation, a professional psychologist turned psycho-killer. Be yourself,” he’d say emphatically, like he knew shit from shit.

The levels of things that have happened and will occur are not for the weak of heart. Nick knows. We are not weak of heart. We are alive, gushing, like Aztecs or maybe Mayans, biting their tongues out of insatiable appetites, never afraid, eating the hearts of our enemies, feeling the twitch of fresh muscle tissue pulsate against our taste buds, clump clump, the hearts of the unforgiven. We feast like pilgrims. We gush like Aztecs.

We die like warriors.

“What is the Klingon word for loneliness?” Nick asks in a fit of madness, laughing hysterically to himself like he alone knows. There is a look in his eye that makes me want to attack him with the closest weapon, possibly this pizza tray, or maybe fists.

“There is none.”

We are alone, and in that we have each other. Nick is worried that there is a Klingon word for loneliness. He says he knows it. “Graaradack.” He’s worried he might be misquoted. I have no such qualms.

We are homeless. We live in New York City and we don’t know why. Nick wants to be here, and I want to know find Henry Miller, dead, somewhere unknown, a question for Wikipedia or someone with an English degree. I said Montreal, but all signs point to New Orleans. Are we French or just stuck in the Bastille? Where is my Robespierre? Off with their heads.

Nick talks to pretty girls, pretty girls that I point out to him. He is a miraculous conversationalist. The words that come out of his mouth blow my mind, they’re that good. He could talk to anyone, just like Mr. Ed. It is his downfall. There’s nothing worse than being charming. It’s nothing but a crutch. It is our downfall.

Worst of all, it’s sometimes effective. The operative sometimes is operative.

Nick has gone to purchase cocaine but I refuse to move. I have nowhere to go, and no reason to leave. Did you know I write pedantic, like a backwards clock that keeps ticking for no reason? My voice is deadpan and my sentiment scorches anyone in contact. My voice is incoherent, but I scream and I scream anyways, like a tree in a forest. I am not afraid, I am petrified.

I plug in my phone but there doesn’t seem to be a reason to do so—nobody is calling me.

The North Pole, Amongst Other Things

Rich is awake, and so am I, though our motives for being awake are clearly different. He spends his time working on a campaign for Coco Channel. I spend it studying the difference between the two north poles, magnetic and geographical. From what I’ve come to learn, reaching the North Pole was a wildly political endeavor historically, and one that involved sabotaging the careers of fellow explorers in the name of personal glory. I also learned that the position of the magnetic north pole is moving faster and faster, from a rate of 9 km per year in the 70s to 30 something as of 2014. In fact, the magnetic north pole is about to leave Canada, on a march towards Siberia. The Russians are probably pleased about this.

In 2007, Russia planted a flag on the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, presumably at what we would accept to be the geographical North Pole. At the time, I remember thinking how weird that was, but after watching a documentary that included the notion of the race to put an American flag on the sea ice that floated above the pole, I’m less sure. After all, we didn’t think twice about jamming a flag into the moon. I wonder if America might someday claim the moon as ours, purely based on that flag? Talk about a sphere of influence, sterile or otherwise.

From what I’ve been able to ascertain, there is little proof that Santa Claus actually lives in the North Pole. This hasn’t dissuaded the Canadian government from making the zip code of the pole (which they assume to run) from H0H 0H0, a clever pun on the whole “ho ho ho” phrase. Here in America, we’re busy debating on if Santa was white, which apparently he was, even if he was Turkish. Are Turkish people white? Perhaps. Either way, very few if any Turkish people currently maintain residence in the North Pole, making the concept of a white-Turkish-Santa residing in the H0H 0H0 zip code problematic. I seem to be in the minority of people caring about this.

Islam, or rather, Sufism has a strong tie to the North Pole. Apparently a northern mountain, more north than north, involves some vague pilgrimage towards enlightenment that may or may not remind me of Dante’s provocative vision of Hell. But I don’t know about that.

Rich knows someone who either turned down an opportunity to do computer coding in Antarctica, or perhaps knew better than to accept such a job opportunity. I know nothing about that either. I know Werner Herzog did a documentary there, and one that was far more boring that Grizzly Man. I remember watching Grizzly Man while I was living with Rory in San Francisco and working as a traveling whipped cream salesmen. I remember a lot of things.

Rich wants to know what I’m working on. I tell Rich. Rich doesn’t respond. He’s busy writing about emerging trends and ecommerce. Earlier I showed him video of a homeless guy getting bludgeoned to death at a Fullerton transit center. Kelly Thomas. I wonder what he knew about? Perhaps he knew all about aurora borealis and why blue and ultraviolet are the rarest version? Did he know it had to do with the excitement of certain atoms in relation to solar wind? I’ll probably never know. At this point, it’s par for the course.


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