A SCENE FROM CAMILLE'S PARTY?: Cloud (background) photographed by Michael Manning. Assman (right) photographed by Joel Veak. "Jesus Guy" (left) photographed by Melissa Ostrow. Harmonix staff (center) photographed by Tanit Sakani
One year ago this week, I was milling around a Theater District bar during what marketing types like to call “a launch party,” an opening reception for a clothing store that was essentially a Hot Topic for fake gangstas. At some point during the night, the guy I was with came out of the bathroom, cracking up about a guy who’d just tipped the toilet attendant with a bumper sticker that stated I ♥ ASS. I don’t remember if I thought it was genuinely hilarious or stupid, but either way, I remember temporarily ditching my friend to find this dude: this was someone I should meet.
Turned out, he was a 28-year-old snowboarder who called himself Assman, a nickname he’d happily appropriated from Kramer. He was currently living in his parents’ suburban basement, trying to build up an independent company called Ass Industries whose signature product was a scented line of snowboard-wax pieces shaped like palm-size butts. Two weeks later, I was eating Mexican food with Assman, watching him explain to a bartender why his credit card said “Ass Industries,” and later riding with him in his Assmobile (a Jeep Cherokee marked with his signature stickers) en route to a Revere strip club where we would “critique ass” — all of which would be fodder for an article the following week.
I don’t tell you this to vaunt my lowbrow cred or pretend this required any sort of faux-gonzo bravery. Rather, I tell you because it illustrates why the paper you are currently reading is very different from, say, one of those tall, folded ones: I’m not only allowed to approach perfect strangers who call themselves Assman; I am, for better or worse, encouraged to do so. But aside from the novelty of this particular character and the fact that tracking down people like this is my job, the circumstances surrounding my introduction to Mr. Ass Wax speak to why I found this gnarly skate-rat entrepreneur worth documenting: urinal-side self-promotion is super-grassroots. See, if I’d gotten an e-mailed press release about Ass Industries, I probably would’ve deleted it; with the backing of a publicist, Assman just wouldn’t have had the same . . . charm.
What I’m trying to say is this: I’ve personally interpreted the goal of this alt-weekly as a mandate to hunt down the cultures, characters, atmospheres that develop sans communications firms. Like another set of people who distinguish themselves near toilets: the Best Thing Ever, an acoustic trio who last spring embarked on a 14-date “Bathroom Tour,” a string of performances quietly announced on a LiveJournal page and scheduled in restrooms from Portland, Maine, to Allston. Or an underground venue that was not long for this world: the legendary House of Suffering Succotash (a/k/a the HOSS), a rented Brighton house whose basement held nearly 80 live shows from local and touring bands in 11 months. Or a Cambridge company like Harmonix Music Systems, a video-game studio mostly staffed by local musicians, which nobody seemed to acknowledge until this past year, when Guitar Hero made it super-famous (and Viacom subsequently purchased the company). If you’re holding a gun to my head and demanding to know what exactly it is that I’m trying to do, it’s discovering cool shit that happens when no one else is looking.