As three of the last four posts on this site have been about the upcoming Ypsilanti Democratic primary, I though that it was time for something a little different. Here, with that in mind, is an exit interview with local video artist Vinnie Massimino. If he looks familiar, it might be because, until about a year or so ago, he was the fellow who made you all of your delicious coffee drinks at Beezy’s.
MARK: Do you know where you’re going to?
VINNIE: Belleville (temporarily), Detroit (in late September). If opportunities at MOCAD, and in Detroit, don’t work out, New York after… I still like the idea of moving recklessly to Berlin. Supposedly, that city is as cheap as Ypsilanti to live in.
MARK: Do you like the things that life is showing you?
VINNIE: Yes! Life is going well. Consistently, I’ve been taking more risks over the last six months and reaping the rewards. I left the comfort of Beezy’s and have done my best to travel and do more interesting things, despite my status as an underemployed artist (et cetera). I was offered a gig performing with the Joshua Light Show this upcoming September at NYU (with Lou Reed and others), and that would not have happened if I would have continued existing as a barista in Ypsi. Every week something new happens and I’m consistently amazed at what I’m doing.
MARK: I’ve exhausted by Diana Ross-inspired questions….
VINNIE: Diana Ross, wow, what a crooner.
MARK: I actually do have one more question from Ms. Ross… “Why must we separate, my love?”
VINNIE: My theory on Ypsilanti, at least in progress, is that Ypsilanti is a wonderful city to settle down in. Ypsi has a small-town feel with enough big city amenities to make the city pleasurable if you’re looking for consistent experiences without having to leave the city limits. This is especially true, if you have a family or have limited fun/free time. Or, you don’t like to get out much.
There is a steady selection of bars, a small and somewhat diverse selection of restaurants, interesting things to do, et al. And, much to the chagrin of haters, Ypsi is like Brooklyn to Ann Arbor’s Manhattan. Do you need an expensive steak or seafood place? More variety? Ritz? Glamour? Ride a bike, take the bus or drive a few miles west. Ann Arbor! So many options! Right next door!
But, Ypsilanti isn’t diverse enough for someone who wants new adventures regularly or places to explore. There is only so much to do without getting bored (and yes, I know the same applies to other cities, but we’re not talking about other cities). And I’m not a boring person, so I can’t stand finding myself bored.
I don’t want to settle down right now, or, probably ever.
For me, I need to move to feel great change. I know many artists and musicians who travel, perform in other cities, et cetera, but there’s a difference between living in a city and traveling. When I’m traveling, I tend to only do fun things. When I live somewhere, I have to wake up and face the creeping banality of reality like everyone else. I attended university in Ypsilanti, and I read somewhere you’re not supposed to stay in the same city that you attended school in. Force change, even if its uncomfortable.
Comfort is the enemy of progress. Ypsilanti is very comfortable.
At the same time, I’ve had an ugly number of people tell me to, “get out of Ypsilanti before it sucks you in.” That is another question, however.
MARK: Where were you before you came to Ypsi?
VINNIE: I lived in Flint for about one year.
MARK: But you grew up in Michigan?
VINNIE: I was born in Flint, lived there for the first five years of my life and then was transplanted into Otter Lake, MI.
Otter Lake was something of a mind-fuck growing up: a former resort community where the economy dried up and the result was an extensive amount of low-income people. Fun fact: Otter Lake is home to the cleanest water in the state! The former for-rent vacation cabins become long-term personal homes and, despite the number of smiling faces, the whole place reeks of small town charm. (Minorities not welcome.)
Because of the cheap land, the Massiminos were one of the first in an influx of factory families buying healthy amounts of land for cheap over the next decade, mostly from Saginaw, Oakland County and Flint. I grew up with some people from a similar mindset, feeling alien – from urban backgrounds and adapting to the small town values and people. Both of my parents became something like community leaders, coaching soccer and getting involved in the schools, et cetera. My brother and I were absolute oddities and it didn’t occur to me that I may have been lynched if it weren’t for popularity of my mom!
In jest, of course. The school district was lovely and some of my favorite people were my teachers. I’ve always been an eccentric and just happened to learn early on to make good with popular-types and friends with good people. Middle school, post-puberty is where I began flourishing. I had a good number of friends, and I stay in touch with the few who also moved away for more diverse pastures. Unfortunately, as situations often are, I can only really stay in regular touch with my friends who also moved, and stayed, away.
Polarizing is the best way to describe it. Contact with former-friends becomes strange when they discuss having children (at nineteen), dropping out of college and ‘hoping’ for something better. Conversely, living on no-money, not wanting to settle down and being flown to New York for freelance work just doesn’t make any sense to a lot of people.
So, Michigan: yes. M!ch!gan, Michigan! I’ve continually said yes to Michigan and loved how different a one-hour drive (from Otter Lake to Flint, or Flint to Ypsilanti) can make one state feel.
MARK: So, after high school, you moved to Flint for a while, and then came to Ypsi to attend EMU?
VINNIE: After high school graduation I faced the realization that I didn’t have the money to become a world travel or follow gentlemanly pursuits, so instead I spent nearly every weekend in Ypsilanti working on a movie called Stairclimbing with my friends (who evolved into the SONS OF DADS).
I began travelling to Ypsilanti during 2004 and, to echo a statement from earlier, when I travel I only tend to do “fun” things. Spending one weekend per month visiting a friend who was attending EMU, I loved Ypsilanti and the levels of excitement it presented. Ypsilanti felt adult – I had freedom from oppression! Relatively speaking, I did what I wanted, when I wanted! Growing up with a overly-shielding father, in a small town where the excitement is small, I went to Ypsilanti and found so many wonders!
And then, Ann Arbor, which felt wonderful. I wanted to be a journalist and University of Michigan had (somewhat recently, at the time) completely dropped their journalism program. (Uninformed, I was never told you didn’t have to use your field of study, per se, the idea is to gain a liberal arts degree, et cetera). So, I planned to attend Eastern for journalism. I wanted to attend NYU for film school and then realized the expense of living in New York/tuition rates, so that idea was no more. EMU was a safety net. I chose EMU and for where I am now, I really cannot complain. I dropped journalism quickly and then received a wonderful communications, rhetoric-focused education.
However, at the last minute, for a variety of reasons, Flint seemed like a fun idea. I lived with my brother and his girlfriend and wasn’t charged rent. I acted as an indentured servant, of sorts, cleaning their spacious apartment and enjoying the odd feel of the city. I did not want to go to college yet, but realized that to for myself to succeed I should at least get the basics out of the way. For a very low tuition, I attended community college and then drafted out a five-year vision. Flint worked for the year I lived there and then I moved to Ypsilanti to finish school.
And then I became myself.
MARK: Care to share the five year vision?
VINNIE: The five-year vision was something as follows:
- Travel regularly
- Have a Bachelor’s degree
- Receive acclaim and/or make money off of short films/videos
- Make a Baroque Pop album with the production style of The Cure’s Pornography
- Enjoy what you’re doing
Four out of five isn’t terrible! I still would like to make the great-American baroque pop masterpiece, but for now I’m far too focused on other work to care. And also, I admit that there may have been other, more extravagant goals, but fairly, I don’t remember them.
MARK: So, as you know, due to some strange circumstances, I ended up on a date with you and your girlfriend a few weeks ago. As we sat there, romantically ensconced in the booth at the 8 Ball, I didn’t get the sense that you were planning to pack up and leave town. When did the idea first occur to you?
VINNIE: Ha! The situation was only the more romantic with you playing ‘the dad.’
The question of moving has been prominent since day-once in Ypsilanti. I had a conversation with a friend recently where they described myself as someone who, “always has one foot out the door.” I couldn’t help but agree. I’ve never liked the idea of settling down, so the question of, “when?” has always been greater.
To begin, I never planned to live in Ypsilanti more than four years.
I built up a solid friend basis in Ypsilanti as soon as I arrived. The small acclaim we received with our work as SONS OF DADS steadily grew and then burst. SOD was contracted in 2009 to make a television series for unnamed parties and we thought, “Oh, perhaps this will work!” Michigan, at that point in time, seemed infinite. Then, throughout the course of the show (three-to-four months of work), we received no rewards – we never got paid, all promises by the producer fell through and then we received the blame for her incompetence! We often fronted our own money and used our own gear and I felt cheated. The whole thing was sorted out later with the other parties, but it left a bad taste in our collective mouth.
Three of the members – Byron, Posky and myself – made a short film about our feelings at the time. I watched it for the first time in a year the other day. (As did Posky, who texted me with saying, “I watched reflections too. Mind fuck.”)
The television series brought out our collective and individual strengths and weaknesses. Although a few more short films were produced, I would say that programme was the end of regular SOD productions and marking the beginning of VOSKY, the collaborative name used with my friend Matt Posky. (And, another shameless plug – that television series did produce one of my personal favorites – Bathroom Reviews.)
So, after that – mid 2009 – we realized there wasn’t a scene for underground comedy or even a real infrastructure for the kind of entertainment we wanted to produce. You need to move to NYC for underground comedy, LA for Hollywood (the usual). I was in the direct middle of my college education and then, that fall, three of my good friends moved. Posky and I began visiting NYC with regularity (every three or four months at most) and the air was ready for change. We kept pushing and pushing – Byron was excited for the MI Film Grants under Granholm – there was optimism! And nothing happened from that.
Shadow Art Fair 2011 was sort of the end of the first VOSKY-era – a twelve-hour celebration of our accomplishments. Two months later, Posky moved. As did my other best-friend, Brett (who makes most of the music for my short films). One friend, Matt, just moved back to Michigan. Byron moved to Portland, Oregon last month.
All of my major collaborators moved, yet, I didn’t see the sense in myself moving at the moment. I chose a few more months of Beezy’s, made another five year plan and then pursued MOCAD. The MOCAD thing then led to an offer to work with the Joshua Light Show, a professional job and a fondness for Detroit. I try my best to make very calculated decisions about all aspects of my life, and I know that if I would have moved to NYC to pursue comedy writing, I wouldn’t enjoy Detroit, have any of my new friendships or have an apprenticeship with Joshua White.
At the same time, I will never know. I could also be dead.
MARK: It’s nice that you think I looked like your dad that night at the 8 Ball. I kept thinking that, from the perspective of the other folks in the bar, I looked like a creepy older dude auditioning a young couple for some kind of debauched weekend of swinging.
VINNIE: What better way to start out a weekend of three-way sexual encounters than an interview with prospective partners at the 8 Ball on a Thursday evening? I like the idea of you being my father too, this being the woman I’ve been dating, and then we’re both going to give her (and each other) the deed. Family!
Kissin’ cousins and such.
MARK: So, as you have friends here, and enjoy traveling, I imagine you’ll be back on occasion, right?
VINNIE: As long as I have friends in the community and Beezy’s, Corner Brewery and the Ugly Mug all remain open, I will visit the city with enough regularity. For as much as I’ve said about Ypsilanti in the past (whether it be in private or at my SAF stand-up set), I really do like the city. For me, it was just time to leave.
I’ve had more people tell me in private to “get out.”
“Get out of Ypsilanti. Don’t waste your potential here; Don’t look back,” et cetera.
I did it! Hooray for me?! But I’m at peace with Ypsilanti as an idea. Ypsilanti is perfect for settling down. I just don’t think most people in my situation are. Or, at the very least, most people I’ve known from being ‘around’ for five years, are.
I grew very tired of hearing these (mostly) mid-twenties people complaining so often about how they don’t know what they’re doing. Neither do I! Do I want to stay in Detroit, or New York, or anywhere forever? Of course not. I’m very much into the idea of moving, or doing new stuff all the time. Travel, adventures, doing what I want and enjoying life. In theory, most of these people probably like that “free spirited” idea also, but what are they really doing to better themselves?
Stop bitching about your café job, stop complaining about the fact that you moved back to Ypsilanti from New York City or Europe or some other fantastical place. If you don’t really like it, move (on). I did. I can understand feeling lost or confused, but if you are so, just move away. Take an extended leave of absence – from what I gather, it’s not like Ypsilanti is really going to change very much whenever you decide to come back.
The other day, my girlfriend and I went to dinner at [popular Ann Arbor vegetarian restaurant] and a long time friend was our server. She was so excited to hate on Ypsilanti – how “awful” it was living there. She was so excited to live in Dearborn. (And a forty minute commute each way, every day. Exciting?) “Friend” grew so bitter, so so bitter, had this hatred for Ypsilanti and moved to her mom’s house. Salvation!?
How many people do you know that the following statement describes?
You moved to Ypsilanti for cheapness/school, drink coffee at the Ugly Mug (if you’re old: when it was red and you could smoke), drink at (The Elbow Room/Woodruff’s), worked at (local restaurant/VG Kids briefly) and enjoyed your youth! You may have finished your degree, but settled into how cheap the city is and continued working at local business.
(Paradox: you must work to have money, but your job isn’t relevant for a ‘real’ job. So, finding a job after a certain point becomes hard, so you keep working at your underpaid local job and move nowhere).
But then you grew up. You either keep living the life and not complain publicly or, you do what I did, and become a relative recluse for months at a time. You date/fuck enough people in town that you/they start sleeping with other people everyone else knows, so there’s gossip! You become bitter because you may still be in love with said person, or bitter because you’re now in your mid-twenties (thirties, whatever) and you’re still doing the same bullshit you’ve been doing.
There are so many variables to this whole mess, but I just described half of the people I know.
All of these people have one thing in common: they’re settling. Settling is okay. Settling is fine. Everyone settles somewhere in their lives, but I think a good majority of these people don’t realize it. Then, one day, they have to confront the fact that they’ve settled into making lower-tax-bracket money, doing the same things they’ve been doing for years. Two choices: change or be fine with that. I wasn’t fine with that, I grew tired and the situation exacerbated itself every time I heard a friend say something similar.
So I moved.
The other half of the people I know are settled and loving it. Jobs, kids, whatever you like, Ypsilanti is the perfect mix of ridiculous and sane for a healthy upbringing. (Notes Mark Maynard’s recent posts on Mike Eller.) How can such a ridiculous conservative exist? Especially here? Because they do exist! At the same time, you have very insane liberals on the other end. All in one very American, wonderful city. You (Mark Maynard) settled in Ypsilanti and have made a life and minor-celebrity of it. Personal hero (Bee Roll) lived all over the United States and found Ypsilanti to be what she exactly wants. I find that so great! Ben Miller at the Library is the best example of someone who lives and breathes Ypsi. (And the list of people could go on and on).
So will I be back? Of course, if the city will have me. I have no regrets for pissing off/polarizing the audience (at the Shadow Art Fair) with my dark humor and journal entries from the midst of unemployment. I may have been the catalyst to make people think about what they’re doing with themselves, but I doubt it.
In closing, with a similar sentiment from Facebook, “After a five year of residency, I’ve moved from Ypsilanti. Thank-you all for such a lovely period of my life! College, growing up, barista jobs, drunk walks terrorizing the streets, existential crises, the best times and often the worst – living. Ypsilanti! The city that has crafted this young adult with so much care and ferocity! You’re all wonderful, but now I must m o v e o n to other adventures!”
In short, everything I just said could be summed up with New Order’s “Thieves Like Us.”
I was going to ask him to elaborate on this deep, personal connection he feels with Spies Like Us, but that’s where thge operator cut in and asked to me put in another nickle.
[note: For more of my exit interviews, just click here.]