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Businesses, Bible Quizzes, Buzzes: A Wildly Wide-ranging Chat with Katie Union

Katie Union

(Part 1)

by Deuce of Clubs

(November 2011 / June 2012)


Katie Union recently told me that she has diagnosed herself with "entrepreneurial Tourette's—I can't stop. It's fun."

Katie is, among other things, an illustrator, designer, web developer, musician, and soon-to-be t-shirt company operator.

I don't know many people who are good at entrepreneurship. I don't even know why our word for it is borrowed from French but the concepts of the entrepreneur are more foreign to me than the word. I'd like to be have more of a business sense and thought maybe Katie could help me out.

Few things in my view are more important than a sense of humor, and Katie, besides being smart, is goofy and fun (on Twitter, Katie announced, "Had a dream that I was helping develop and test kid-friendly flamethrowers. There was also a make-your-own-lightning kit with the tagline `zap all your friends!'").

There's virtually no chance someone with dreams such as that can't be worth talking to at length.

Coincidentally, I had a dream the morning I was to chat with Katie. I almost always wake up with a song in my head from a dream and the song playing in my dream when I woke up—this is true—was the O'Jays song "Money."

Katie contacted me a few years ago via one of the social networks after reading about the Mojave Phone Booth and eventually wrote a guest post here at Deuce of Clubs that I really liked.

Katie has been been focused on business since childhood. Some kids paste their heads on the covers of Cosmopolitan or Sports Illustrated. Katie told me she pasted her head on the cover of Inc. magazine

That's the kind of person from whom I, having zero business acumen, could learn something about business. And that's what I'd planned to concentrate on in this conversation but you don't know where the things will take you when you talk to Katie. I haven't noted every place in the interview where there was laughter, because that gets obnoxious, but I will tell you that after we were through, my belly felt as though I'd done about a thousand sit-ups, just from all the laughing.



Doc: This'll be kind of funny, because one thing about interviewing you is that you'll publicly be saying that you're making a film about The Booth—I interviewed John Putch seven years ago, who also was making a movie about the booth, and I was going to try to have my book done when his film came out, and I'm only just now starting my second draft. Maybe this will be good to hold my feet to the fire.

Katie Union: We can say that the book is paving the way for the movie. It'll happen.

I am oddly fascinated by your long-standing business . . . what would you call it? Business drive? I read somewhere that you started out with a flock of sheep.

I did. I'm trying to think where to start with that one. I guess I was—you know I was home-schooled, right?


Which doesn't really relate to much of anything, except why my entire life has been so open to pursuing the most random things and being completely supported in that. I must have been about fifteen when I really got into it, but when I was nine years old, I used to volunteer at the community library. I think I really drove the librarians there crazy, but there was this little old Canadian lady who taught knitting lessons every Thursday. So until I was about twelve, I went to these knitting lessons, and she was just awesome! Then I, you know, turned thirteen and got "too cool for knitting" for a period of time but when I turned fifteen I started thinking about her. She was so old when I was little that I was wondering whether she was still alive. So I went back to that library—I hadn't been there in quite a while—to see if she was still there, and she was. Then she got me super into knitting all this crazy, custom stuff and I got into really good fibers and textiles and stuff. Then I convinced my parents that I should have a flock of sheep, so I could knit and weave. It kind of went from there.

What? It's a horse.

Wait . . . does your family have a farm?

They have land. They actually have only five acres but on either side it has five acres of open land and then we're surrounded by state land. So it's kind of positioned so that neighbors mind their own business and they're pretty lax about laws and stuff.

I wish that were the case here. But I thought it was going to be that you had a farm, and already had the sheep, and they just gave you some.

Nope. My grandpa has a farm, so when I started outgrowing our yard, I took them over to my grandpa's farm. That's where I wound up with carpal tunnel, actually—I was knitting and spinning and weaving and I was bartering online with all these farmers all over America for different things. I really destroyed my hands because I was knitting four pairs of socks a day. I was a knitting fiend. I did not stop. I could walk and knit, I would drive and knit. I was a big dork. I sold off my flock when I went to art school in Detroit. I had to change directions. Okay, it's really not fun to go out in the dead of winter and feed those things!

Your business interest goes back even further, because you said—and this is what triggered this interview—you said that when you were a little kid, you would paste your own photo on the cover of Inc. magazine. Not the tattoo one (although I guess I'd need to point that out only if this were a radio interview).

Yeah, not Ink, the tattoo one. The tattoo one's good, too, but my childhood self wasn't into that. Yeah, I was obsessed. My dad's a business owner and so that mentality has always been what I grew up around. So, to me, when I was a little kid, I mean, I don't even know what to compare it to, really. It was just really the coolest thing. I didn't really pay attention to rock stars, like normal little kids would be singing in the mirror into hair brushes or whatever. I was like, "I'm gonna pretend to be a businessperson!" Which is hilarious, because I don't even own a suit!

Did your dad draw you into his business or talk to you about it when you were a kid?

He always involved me in what he was doing. It was really cool. I remember when I was six or seven, he quit his full-time job and really got going, and I remember sitting in the garage with him, I don't even know how many envelopes we filled, but he sent out a mass letter to everyone he knew in the industry. I was sitting there licking envelopes and sealing them—and that was back when you actually licked stamps, still. So I just remember licking and sticking hundreds of stamps, just sitting there with my dad, like, "This is the dream!" [Laughs]

He must have thought you were the greatest kid in the world! "Let's play with envelopes today! YAAAAAAY!"

Oh, man. You don't even know. I also built a cardboard box hospital that I went and gave flyers to the neighbors about.


I was a weird kid. I was the biggest dork.

Wait. You built a cardboard box hospital.


And the flyers were about . . . ?

I went and let all the neighbors know that I had an emergency clinic in the basement. Which is weird, because I can't deal with people being in pain. I faint.

How old were you?

I was probably seven, eight. I . . . was odd. I was very odd.

I read in another place where you said, "Growing up, I always wanted to be either a midwife or Nancy Drew. I even called the local police department to see if they had any mysteries I could solve."

I did.

Did they humor you?

They were nice. It was a very small-town police department. They, obviously, realized I was being very sincere. They told me that they were already overstaffed.

They were on top of it.

Yep. "We're on top of it. We've got it under control." But they were very nice. I thought that was cool. They didn't make me feel stupid about it.

They didn't give you any mysteries, though?

No. No mysteries. But I was convinced that our neighbors were villains. (I'm sure they were completely fine.)

You might have busted a meth lab.

You never know.

How old were you, then?

That was probably more like nine, ten.

Another thing you said on Twitter was that you'd thought you were going to make your millions by cutting pencils into mini-pencils and selling them for the same price as normal pencils.

I thought that was SUCH a good idea! Like, how is that not a good idea?

Well, if nobody knew about pencils—

If nobody knew about pencils, it'd be a great idea! "Everybody, I'm gonna brainwash you, so I can sell you mini-pencils." I thought maybe I'd corner the golf industry, I don't know. They're boring.

It should work, by all rights.

I'm still slightly tempted to try it—not actually to make millions, but just as an experiment, to see what would happen.

You could do it if you customized them, maybe.

I don't think you'd even need to customize 'em. You could say, here's a hundred mini-pencils, for a buck. Depending on what the need is, some people are going to buy the mini-pencils.

Well, I like G2 pens and they make a mini-pen that I prefer but they're hard to find. I probably pay about the same price, and get half the ink. But they're handy for back pockets of jeans, so they don't break.

I would not dare put an ink pen in a pocket.

I've had no bad luck with that, so far.

I would have horrible luck with that.

What are some of the other things you've done?

It's been all over the board. I've taught music lessons. I've done a lot of freelance writing. I actually paid for my first year in school by writing.

What kinds of things did you write for?

Mainly for a handbag designer out of Paris that launched a boutique in Hong Kong. To promote it, they used their website to teach girls in mainland China to speak English. So I was writing very simple articles about fashion, with vocabulary lists. It was pretty weird.

Pretty interesting.

I've done henna tattoos for a while, body art.

How'd you learn to do that?

Well, I was unemployed.

Unemployment is always a good method.

Yeah. "I was unemployed." I had just moved out of Detroit and gotten a place at home and I didn't really have a lot of freelance stuff going on, didn't have a business idea at the moment, and didn't have a job. "Okay, I just signed a lease, I need to find something to do." There was an ad on Craigslist that day by someone who was looking for someone to do henna at the Renaissance Festival. So I got in touch
The Empty Vessels - Waiting to Exhale

The Empty Vessels, Waiting to Exhale
EP illustration and design by Katie Union

with them and said, "I've never done henna but I went to art school." And he was like, "Okay, you're hired!" So they taught me the ropes and then after Ren Fest was over I just kept doing it for local events and salons and stuff. I also did recording stuff for this lady who was making exercise motivational audio tapes. There've been a lot of really odd little gigs, but I'd say the main ones are web development, writing, illustration—that's kind of my thing. With some turn-offs—geekier stuff on the side.

You seem really good at scrambling.

What? Like, going ninety miles an hour, trying to keep up?

No, I just mean finding ways to earn.

Mm-hmm. I think it's part of being Irish.


That was more tongue-in-cheek, but when you're part of an entrepreneurial family, you have your good times and your not-so-good times. You learn to roll with the punches and you just learn to completely adapt to whatever your situation is and go, okay, how am I going to take the situation and make it reasonably profitable?

I wish I had more of that. I only have a tiny bit of Irish.

Irish, Scottish, Cherokee—so we drink and do business.

And now you're getting into the t-shirt business.

Yeah. I'm really stoked about it. A print shop was going out of business locally and I was already looking to get going on launching a clothing line. I already had designs in place. I was planning on using a screen printer and debating how to do that without having to have 200 of each shirt done before I knew how it would do. So I got a call from the guy I used to have print my stuff and he was like, "Just so you know, I'm moving out of state, I'm selling everything, I'll cut you a deal, if you want it." He gave me an incredible deal on some really high-end equipment and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of blank shirts. I just got all of that about two weeks ago and I've turned my bedroom into a darkroom. I had to. I don't have anyplace else. You have to expose those screens and you have to keep them in absolute darkness. You have to let them dry in pitch black for about 24 hours before you expose them. So I blacked out my room. I covered anything that might be a light leak with black felt and put in darkroom bulbs, and it's really weird right now. It's driving me insane. I'm feeling a little bit daunted by it. But I'm really excited. I have proven to myself that I was able to figure out how to screen print this week. I think it's just having that many blank shirts sitting there staring at me. I feel a little bit like, "Oh, my word. . . ."

I would feel daunted by the whole thing. Just the phrase "I'm launching a clothing line"—I can say the phrase but I don't know what would be the steps. I'd have to have a brand, I'd have to get the word out, I'd have to have some kind of distribution, I mean, the whole thing . . . groan. I don't have the entrepreneurial drive . . . I wish I did. But I don't.

It would be nice not to be entrepreneurial, I think.


Well . . . I cannot wrap my head around the idea of having a job. I've tried it. And I just can't do it. I can work eighteen hours a day, if I'm self-employed, and be happy as a clam. But having a job is my worst nightmare.

I think that's the sane attitude, frankly.

I think it's healthy, but at the same time, there have definitely been times where I probably should have just gotten a job and stuck it out for a little bit. And I just wouldn't. It wasn't because I wanted to sit around, but I just couldn't do it.

You can get a job where you don't have to do that much and you can think, and that way, you can be plotting and planning out your own thing, like Einstein in the Swiss patent office.

Yeah. Yeah, I did like bartending, because I'm basically getting paid to talk ideas with random people. So that was cool.

People have told me I should bartend, but I don't know how to mix drinks. How did you learn to bartend?

It was another of those things that I didn't know how to do and I got hired and I just sort of . . . it was a fake-it-till-you-make-it deal.

That's a talent—being able to get hired.

It's weird. It's really weird. It really is like an odd talent. I could always get the job, whether I knew how to do it or not. I got hired as a circulation manager at this magazine when I was eighteen. The art director quit and somehow I convinced them to give me her job. I was eighteen! And they gave me her job. It was crazy. But it was really scary. "Hey, just got the job!" And then after that fifteen minutes of awesome, it's like, okay, I need to go figure out how to do the job.

"I know she can get the job—but can she do the job?" —Mr. Waturi

But bartending was just lots of reading and a lot of the time, when someone would order something, I'd be like, "Man, I haven't made that in forever! It sounds so good! What do you normally make it with?"

Basically, you have people skills.

I'm good at talking, I'm good at figuring out what mood people are in, I'm good at working with that.

It's surprising how many people have none of that. That can work, too, sometimes. A lot of people I've known in the tech industry have none of that but they're great at just living inside the program that they're coding.

That's absolutely fascinating to me. I'd say most of my friends are ubernerds and it's almost like a sick fascination, just watching people get completely enchanted with whatever their nerdy-code-computer thing is that they're working on at the moment.

You did mention you were doing "mem/nanotech stuff."

Oh. Ah. Microelectromechanical systems. [Laughs]

Speaking of nerds talking nerd stuff.

"Monster with Non-Optional Bad Breath" by Katie Union
("A digital monster, inspired by my strange little dog.
Sketched by hand, Photoshopped and Illustrator’d into submission."

It gets worse. A MEMS chip is like a tiny, tiny, tiny sensor-computer. You could fit it on a grain of rice. They're really small. That is the sensor in your iPhone that tells which way it's leaning. Motion, temperature. Have you heard of Spy Flies? That's the technology that they're putting on these bugs, to monitor everything. So they're merging with a company in Mexico. I'm developing their launch and promotional strategy to translate the nerdspeak on nanotechnology and MEMS into a consumer-understandable form.

So you're developing a marketing strategy?

It's sort of a combo marketing strategy and coming up with prototype examples.

How are you at paperwork? Does it put you out at all? Eventually, if you have a successful business, that means dealing with a lot of government paperwork and all that kind of crap. Are you okay with that?

I am horrible at paperwork. I am actually horrible at paperwork. If I have to ship anything, I usually try to find someone else to fill out the form for me.

Me, too.

Seriously, it's awful. I see a form and I get the chills.

That's my problem. Paper just saps my will. I have files full of ideas but I realize that to do so many of them, I'd have to go asking some stupid bureaucrat for a permit. It saps my will.

It's really disheartening.

Yeah! It is. If I could just do what I want to do, without hurting anybody, and people want to voluntarily exchange with me, and I with them, it would be great. Instead, there's always this unwanted third party—government—that demands to be part of the exchange, and . . . it just saps my will.

The way I handle it, which is a terrible way to handle it, is to ignore it until I can't continue to ignore it. So I do whatever's in my head and then deal with whatever paperwork is necessary. For the clothing line, though, I am doing my paperwork ahead of time.

You'll have to get a "tax license," to do business, won't you?

It's different in Michigan. They're pretty loose. You just have to get a Tax ID number, but you don't have to get a license. Michigan is really small-business friendly, compared to—I can't imagine trying to run a small business in California. It sounds horrible.

Yeah. Anytime you have anyone do any work for you, whether an employee or a contractor or whatever, you have to file paperwork, and get their immigration status, and blah, blah, blah.

It's not like that here. They even made it so you can now bake goods and sell them out of your kitchen. You don't need a license.

That's great.

That's one cool thing the recession has brought about. They need to accommodate people. Michigan fell apart, so a lot of people are trying to adapt, and for that many people just trying to make it work, they just couldn't maintain the strict laws they had before.

So, this is a result of the economy? It wasn't that way before? I didn't realize that.

Yep. It changed with the economy. I mean, they were comparatively relaxed before. But they got way, way more easy to deal with because of the recession.

Plus, it costs so much to enforce it. And when you don't have as much coming in—

Exactly. Yeah. They even closed down rest areas at random for a couple of months at a time because they couldn't afford to keep them open. That's how bad Michigan's gotten.

They do that here in Arizona, too. But part of the reason is that they always close down things that they think people will care about, to alarm the populace. They'll close parks, or they'll say, "OOOOH, WE CAN'T HAVE FIREFIGHTERS OR TEACHERS." They'll never get rid of people who do jobs such as code enforcement. They never get rid of their employees who go around sticking their noses where they don't belong. No one would care. What if they threatened, "We're not gonna have meter maids anymore!" Everyone would go, "YAY!"

"The people who drive you clinically insane or make your life miserable? We're gettin' rid of 'em!" And everyone rejoiced!

So, you haven't been on the cover of Inc.yet—but you've been in Inc.


Was being in Inc. all you would have hoped, as a child, it would be?

You know, it was more like getting closure on something. [Laughs]

Like a Peggy Lee experience? "Is That All There Is?"

A Peggy Lee experience! It was just one of those things that I had pushed so far back in my memory and hadn't really thought about it. And then I just started laughing when I remembered it.

I've never heard of anything like that—a kid who wanted to be on the cover of Inc.


So funny.



I was positive I could not be the only person in the world who did that.

You may very well not be, but you know, as a kid, all I thought about was being a baseball player. I didn't put my photo on a magazine but if I had, that's what it would have been. I never would have thought of Inc. magazine.

Well . . . .

I mean, it makes sense, in that your father is an entrepreneur.

Yeah, in context, it's not that . . . well, I guess it's still pretty out there. I was going to say, within context, it's not that out there, but, no. It is. But I'm sure that it occurred to me to do that because I was really into ballet. I was really bad at it, but I was really into it. So you know, when you're little you can get those novelty baseball cards with your picture on it, or whatever. I'm sure it was somehow inspired by something like that. "Oh, well, they want to be a baseball player, so they get to be on a pretend baseball card. I want to be a businessperson, so I'm gonna be on a pretend magazine!" I'm sure it was something to do with that chain of thought.

It's always interesting to me what kids think about what they want to do someday, because it seems like I'm always meeting people who became what they wanted to be. As a kid, I never wanted to be anything, other than a baseball player, and I knew that was really unlikely. So I never wanted to become anything. I guess that's why I never really became anything.

Oh, no!

I'm just kind of floating out there in the ether.

This is why we need to have second childhoods.

I must be still in mine. But when people would say, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" I never had an answer.

My problem was that my answer was different every single time anyone asked me. It always either had something to do with being on stage or running a business. Ballet dancer, rock star . . . I thought it would be cool to be a mad scientist, I really did, I was pretty in love with that idea for a while. I really wanted to wear a lab coat and dye my hair green. For a while, I wanted to be a nurse, but I have this thing: I faint. I don't like seeing people in pain. I really don't handle it well. So that was out.

This might be a good segue into talking about how you have ended up on stage, as a performer.

Where do you want to start with that?

We could start with your falling-asleep-onstage episode.

We can start with that. I've had a lot of awkward stage experiences, so it's not like—

Actually, our exchange on Twitter about that—maybe I'll just drop that into the interview.

I really like the format you use on your articles, just like that you would do something like that, just drop in "this is what happened on Twitter." It's funny. It just feels very real. I like it.


Fainting on Stage: A Twitter Exchange (August, 2011)

@MojaveFoneBooth: I hope you'll be updating during your recording process (if possible).
Katie Union: Yes! Cell reception provided, i will be. I need it to keep morale up, I get awful recording anxiety.
@MojaveFoneBooth: That surprises me, a little. Are you generally an anxious type? You seem so laid-black, in an energetic sort of way.
@katieunion: That's what's weird, I'm really chilled I even fell asleep on stage once. I think recording is different bc it's so permanent.
@MojaveFoneBooth: On STAGE?? Were you, um...altered?
@katieunion: lol, it was one of the only shows I've ever played completely unaltered. There were almost 300 people there too. #SmacksForehead
@MojaveFoneBooth: This seems like interview material, but I have to ask right now: were you sitting down, at least?
@katieunion: Hahaha I was standing! And I didn't tip over.
@MojaveFoneBooth: I can't even picture how that could be! You are the Chill Champion.
@katieunion: Hahaha it was pretty grand. If I wasn't avoiding my ex like the plague I'd ask him for the video footage.
@MojaveFoneBooth: THERE IS VIDEO FOOTAGE??!?!??!ZOMG?!?!??!??? Surely there is some intermediary, some go-between...Mafia gangsters manage it somehow! WANT
@MojaveFoneBooth: (What I mean to say, of course, is, sincerely sorry to hear about you and your ex.) <:subliminal suggestion: getthetapegetthetapegetthetape>
@katieunion: Hahahahahaha. it's somewhere in Albuquerque. (glad to be rid of him.) I could potentially enlist his mother to pay his wife to find it.


Did I tell you how I wound up playing ukulele in the first place?

You got sick, right?

I had pneumonia really bad. I was really sick. Altogether I was in bed for about three months. I mean, I was really, really sick. I could walk about ten feet! I had folding chairs set up throughout my apartment so I could sit down and take breaks to get across the place. I did not think I was going to make it through that one. I was also lying in bed drinking champagne and smoking cigarettes, so that didn't really help much of anything.

I hear cigarettes are great for lung ailments.

You know, I quit three months ago, finally. It's so weird. It took two months before I had control of my voice again. I turned into, like, a teenaged boy. It was a disaster. I'd be singing and all of a sudden my voice would just be like, "WooOOOooo-oooo!" It was crazy. But I do feel a lot better. I didn't realize I'd had constant chest pain until I stopped smoking and I was like, "Wow, I feel so much better! I didn't really realize they were telling the truth when they said I was destroying my lungs!" Anyway, I was super-super sick and one of my friends stopped by to check on me. He was a nuclear physicist. I was hallucinating about ukuleles. He came back a week later with a ukulele for me, as a joke.

I had a gabled ceiling in my room, so I pasted all the chord charts to the ceiling, and I wound up being stuck in bed so long that I learned how to play it. I had never actually sung in public—I was in musicals and stuff, but never a solo vocal performance, until I started playing a ukulele. Then it was like, well, I'm playing a ukulele—I can't really not sing—that'd be weird. And then about two months after I was out of bed and just started to recuperate, I met my now-former bandmate. Three weeks later, we had finished recording our first album. It was crazy. Less then two months later, we were on tour. It just happened. It was probably one of the most serendipitous chains of events that has ever happened in my life.

You had been hallucinating about ukuleles? Had you ever had a desire for a ukulele?

Not specifically. I always thought they were funny, but. . . .

Where do you suppose that came from?

It could have been anything. My best guess is, I love old movies, and I have no clue what movies I was watching while I was sick, but I probably watched South Pacific, or something. That's the only thing I can think of. I'm sure I was watching a musical of some kind from that era, like 40s or 50s, and was probably just was like, "Oh, I need to do that." That's how it happened.

So you hallucinate about ukuleles, you mention it to a nuclear physicist, and the next thing you know, you're on tour.

Uh-huh. Yep. Changed my life forever. Ya gotta watch what ya say to those nuclear physicists!

How did you know the nuclear physicist?

Ah, that's where it gets weirder.

Hard to believe.

Yeah . . . have you heard of Quiz Bowl?


Quiz Bowl. Or have you heard of Bible Quizzing?

Oh! We used to do—well, no. I grew up in churches, and we used to do bible drills, like at camp. You mean like that?

No. No. You have three or four people on a team, and you memorize a book of the Bible—verbatim—and then you compete against two other teams. And it's a room with nine chairs, in front of everyone, and each chair has a sensor in it, and they will start reading off a question, and as soon as you have the most vague idea of what they might possibly be asking, you jump up and start quoting.

Each chair has a fence around it?


Did you say that each chair has a fence around it?

A sensor. Wait, did you think fence? [Laughs] No. There was one really silly kid that no one will ever forget, but no. It was sensors. So that's Bible Quizzing. I did that for about three years, I think. I knew him from that.

You did it for three years. What do you mean?

When I was in junior high and high school, I was in Bible Quizzing shows.

Understand that . . . I don't know what you mean, here. When you say you were in Bible Quizzing, what does that mean? You did it every day?

You have a team, you compete once a month, you practice once a week, you go to regional and national tournaments. It's kind of like being in a Biblical chess club on steroids. It's like the nerdiest thing I could possibly tell you. One time I heard a kid quote the entire book of John—backwards. Just for the fun of it. Just for the fun of it. Word. For. Word. Backwards.

Holy smokes.

This is where the nerds of the nerds go. So that's where I met him.

When I was a kid I had to memorize James, but that's about as far as it went.

I think I did Hebrews, First and Second Peter, John, part of Corinthians. I had weird dreams for a long time.

Think how weird they would've been if you'd have memorized Revelation.

Well, that's what they were doing when I quit! I was like, I don't know if I want this. . . .

Wow. So, three years doing that. That's really interesting. I mean—

Well, and then, after I quit, I actually coached.

How do you coach someone to memorize? Isn't that pretty much solo?

You test them, you make them recite, you read it at them and make them say it back, you drill them with the questions, you make them practice jumping faster. It's pretty intense.

Oh! So the seat you're sitting on has a sensor, and as soon as you get up—

Yeah, so you had to physically jump out of your chair—

—so the light goes on based on who jumped up first.

Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Okay. Wow. I've never heard of this. Is it a new thing?

It's been around for probably fifteen years. It's an international thing.

All we had was Bible drill, where they would call out a verse, and the first person who could find the verse and read it got a point. That's about as far as we got. We were remedial.

That sounds much more relaxing. It sounds so nice.

But we did have to jump up! Eh. We were backwoods folks, and backwards in our ways.

So backwards you didn't get to jump out of chairs. It was crazy. A couple of times I got skinned knees from jumping out of chairs. It was like really bad rugburn. You should look on YouTube. Just look for Bible Quizzing on YouTube.

This is absolutely in no way a knock, because I love homeschooling, but: is Bible Quizzing kind of a homeschool thing?

No. Most of the kids were, um . . . normal . . . people. [Laughs] Most of the kids were some of those dumb-ass public schoolers. You can quote me on both, and say, "Pick which one offends you least, crowd!" There were, I'd say, three other homeschoolers. Everyone else was either private school or public.

Is it prevalent in a certain denomination, or denominations?

It's pretty non-denominational. I mean, looking at it from my perspective now, I think it's actually ridiculous, now. "Hey Christians, way to go! If you want to make everyone think you're absolutely out of your minds, just keep doing that, okay?" I'm a Christian, that's no secret, but I think 99.9% of the things they—especially evangelical and non-denominational churches—do . . . its' just insane. It's like, are you trying to tell the world you smoke crack? How is this making it appealing? You guys make it nauseating. I could go on a huge, long soapbox about that, but it turns my stomach. So, anyway, yeah.

This all just makes me flash back on childhood.

People who aren't in the church to begin with—doing crazy things like that doesn't make it appeal more, and I can guarantee you that, even though it might make some of the loonies hang out more often, for the most part, it's going to make people who are semi-sane go, "I think I'm gonna go find something else to do with my time."

Oh, I don't know. How would you not want to recite the Book of John backwards from memory?

It is pretty fun. [Laughs]

I'm laughing so hard, my belly hurts.

Don't hurt yourself!

I am, as you probably know from my Twitter feed, an ex-Christian. I was forced to go to church my entire childhood, so I have strange memories that all that stuff connects with.

I am so thankful that it wasn't the forced thing, for me. If I had been forced, there is no way—NO way—I would continue to go at this point.

It's not a good practice.

I got booted out of church for the first time when I was fourteen, so that was a factor.

That must be a story, right?

So, this was a very conservative church. Very orthodox, very uptight, stick-up-your-ass kind of church.

What denomination?

[Denomination redacted]

Is that different from [Denomination redacted]?


More sticky?

Very sticky. I was quoting Monty Python in the sanctuary—you know, in Holy Grail, where the monks are smacking their heads?—a couple of my friends and I were doing that with VHS cases and we were just dying. We were laughing so hard. The pastor's son walks in—and that moron could hardly speak Latin—he goes and tells his dad that I'm doing "Satanic incantations" in the sanctuary, and getting the other kids to do it. So, they politely asked my parents to leave me home, and my parents were like, "No, we're out, sorry, bye."

Am I to understand that you know Latin?

Not as well as my siblings do. My Latin is kind of fuzzy. But not as bad as the pastor's kid's was. My little sister spews Latin. It's driving me up one wall and down the other. I'm much better at reading it.

Did you study Greek or Hebrew?

Tiny, tiny bit of Greek, when I was really little. No Hebrew. I speak German.


Ein bischen. My grammar is tragic. But my vocabulary is pretty out of this world. But my grammar really makes up for any goodness I might have in my vocabulary.

I heard that as, "My grandma is tragic."

My grandma's a riot!

I haven't been awake that long today.

I forgot, it's early there.

Well, eleven a.m., anyhow.

It's fun to finally talk to you. I don't even know how long we've been communicating back and forth, but it's fun to finally talk to you.

Likewise. I'm trying to remember—did you friend me on Facebook?

I think so. At that point, I didn't normally just add random people on Facebook. On a whim one night when I was bartending, I got home at four in the morning from work and, for whatever reason, the only thing in my head was, "I wonder if it's possible to call a phone booth?" So I was Googling it and wound up on your site and it was light outside by the time I went to bed. I was reading about how you could call the phone booth and then I was like, that's really fascinating. I'm going to add him on Facebook, because that's just way too cool.

I'm glad you did. I get the biggest kick out of you.

Thank you. I'm glad I did, too. It's mutual.

And now you're going to make a Booth movie.

I am, and it's going to be ridiculay! [Laughs]

I'm so ashamed

You should be!

I know. I really thought that I would have the book out by the time the first booth movie came out. I think it came out in 2005 or 2006. That's crazy. I just have these issues. I think part of it is the paper thing. I've got over 5,000 web pages. I don't have a problem writing. But if it's printed, it's a problem.

Proofreading, and committing to the final, bound copy—that's as scary as all get-out.

Yeah. Because you can't change it, then.

You can't un-say something. I don't know about you, but for as much as I'm blah-blah-blah online, "Hey, everybody, what's up?" I actually am very private about a lot of my life, when it comes to online whatever. I have a million things that I'd love to put in a book but to me it's terrifying, because once I say that, I can't unprint it. It's not like deleting a blog post. That's permanently in a book. I understand that fear. That's what's holding me back from starting. Which is stupid.

How do we get past that?

Drop acid and think about nothing but that. Acid trip and meditate. Just be like, "Okay, I'm gonna process this, and figure out why I'm having such a hard time with it."

You should come to the desert and we should drop acid.

Oh, my word.

That's how we should inaugurate the booth project.

Yes! Yes. I completely agree. I think that would be very appropriate.

I actually am going to do that, to get out of my slough that I fell into after I finished the first draft. Well, we're going to do acid, but I also need to do some salvia sessions, because those have been really helpful in the past.

Really? You know, I've only done salvia once, and it was such a strange, weird experience. I was not prepared for it. I did not have the right attitude going into it. The next I knew, everyone that I had smoked it with and I—we didn't have a sitter—the next thing we knew, we had drawn dozens of pictures of foxes. I have no clue what happened. No. Clue.

I am in no way mystical, but salvia's one of the ones that you really have to have respect for.

Yeah. Exactly.

Most people who do salvia expecting it to be recreational, they don't like it.

The head shops label it as some sort of funtime thing . . . sheesh! That's sick! Someone really is a douchebag!

It's the single most powerful naturally occurring hallucinogen yet known. Not to be taken lightly.

You can take acid and be like, "Ha ha, this is gonna be crazy!" and okay, that works. You can't really do that with mushrooms—at least , not in my experience—and you definitely can't do that with salvia.

Yeah, you cannot control mushrooms. With salvia, there were times where, for example, if I decided to record myself, then that would kind of keep me tethered—so you're tripping, but you know you're tripping. But then there were times where you don't know you're tripping. You're just tripping. That's when things can get scary. Those are the good trips. The ones I remember most, the ones that helped me, are the ones where, basically, I went to hell.

With salvia?


That's what I've heard, since then, having paid attention. Why did I feel so destroyed after that? Having read a lot since then, that's what I've heard, too, is that it's meant to mimic death, to take you to that very edge, where you're just going to let loose of anything that doesn't matter and think about what counts.

The very first time I took it, it took me to what I took to be hell. It wasn't flames or anything, but it was as if you were at the end of existence, and there was just laughter—


—laughter at your expense. It had all been a lie, and this was how it was going to be for eternity.

Oh, my. I don't know if I would ever be okay again, after that.

It was truly disturbing. But the thing is, a few months later, I had the same experience on another salvia trip. Only this time, I was at peace with it. You know how it is when you have hallucinatory experiences and can't really convey them? But it really did help me.

Just that deep sense of knowing and processing that there's no way you could explain to anyone.

Yeah. I think it was good for kind of taking care of some of my "upbringing hangover," as far as religion goes.


Because when that's pounded into your head from birth, there are just things in your head that are just there—and it's hard to get rid of them.

You're just so tied into it. You get so locked into it that it's as real and tangible and there as, like, "Yes, I do have a left arm." You can't just decide not to believe it's there, it's so ingrained into you. Now for me, I think the only—right next to salvia, and this is definitely one that I would never, ever, ever do again, ever—but have you ever heard of DOI.

Yes, but I haven't done it.

Don't do it. Just don't do it. Because we used to drop acid after every show. That was our thing. Every show.

Never before?

Once or twice, but it got a little weird. But this one time, I drank two cups of mushroom tea, because I thought I was just about to go on and I got delayed by about an hour. There was this checkered floor and they turned on strobe lights and a disco ball. So that was insane. But after this one show, it was like our favorite show of the year, and for whatever reason, we couldn't get any acid. It wasn't like "Where's my acid??" It was like, "Oh, no, our tradition!" So one of our friends said, "I have DOI." We were like, "Ehhhhh, that sounds shady. What is it?" He was like, "It's this research chemical." We're like, "That sounds really shady." I said, "Let me look it up on Erowid." So I pull it out and look it up on my phone.

Love Erowid.

Me, too. I couldn't live without it. But I was really upset with it after this time! This was when I was still on probation, so it's like, okay, they can't test me for this. They say it's very similar to acid. Okay. We'll try it. So we take it, three of us—my bandmate, my ex-, and I. We didn't feel anything for hours. We thought, "Well, that was a waste of money." Then, all of a sudden, everything turned into a kaleidoscope. Everything. It wasn't like you looked in the distance and the trees were doing the kaleidoscope thing. It was like nothing existed anymore. Everything was a kaleidoscope. My hair, my arms, were part of the kaleidoscope. It started pouring. It was late October in Northern Michigan, and we were lying in a ditch, in the woods, giggling, for eighteen hours straight. EIGHTEEN HOURS. We had very open and calm conversations about how we were never going to be okay again, so how were we going to handle the rest of our lives? We did not think we were coming back. It was like, we're not gonna come down. There was no break, no nothing. It just kept getting more and more intense. I mean, I didn't feel like I fully stopped tripping for, like, four days.

But don't you feel that, in some way, at least, that it was a valuable experience? Having felt what that feels like?

I do, in a sense. Being pushed to the point where you accept insanity and go, "Okay. This is the worst thing I can imagine happening to me. Knowing that I'm insane for the rest of my life. But we're just gonna work with it, and we're gonna keep goin', so come on." So whenever anything horribly can't-do-anything-about-it happens, I just think about that, and I'm like, "Okay. What're we doin'?"

There you go.

That does help. At the same time, there is no amount of money in the world you could pay me to make me do that again. I was so tired. I don't think I had any serotonin in my body for two weeks! We were just sad. I remember all of us, a week later, sitting on this really big tree stump together, silently, and my ex- just goes, "I'm sooooo sad." [Laughs] We're all like, "Yyyyyeah!" We just started crying. These are two guys that you'd never see cry. We all just started crying, like, "This is horrible!"

The experiences can be terrifying but, having experienced them, survived them, and carrying with you the feeling of what that's like . . . I find that the "worst" experiences are the ones that end up meaning the most to me.

Yeah. I had a trip right before I went west in July. I shroomed one night and then I shroomed the next day and then I dropped acid. So it was some really heaving tripping for everyone who was there. The first night, those mushrooms hit everyone so much harder than we expected. No one saw that coming. We were all in pretty rough shape. It was kind of scary. It took everyone to a pretty dark place. By the end of the weekend, it was almost just this amazing purge of anything awful that was getting at you, or whatever. Just by the end of the weekend it was a complete attitude-mentality adjustment. It was really cool. I mean, it was rough. It was probably the most miserable . . . it was horrible laughing that hard for eighteen hours. But for being a legit, not just physically laughing but in an "Uhh!" washed-out state, it was pretty cool.

It's a good ab workout.

Oh, man. My ribs hurt for days. Days and days and days. My face. It was just awful.

My ribs hurt just from this conversation.

Yeah, my face hurts from laughing.

I don't know a lot of Christians who trip.

Me, either! I wish more did.

I think they all should.

I think everyone should. I really do. There are a couple people at my church who either do, or have begged me to, like, "introduce" them.

I can't talk about drugs, though, without sounding like a hippie. That's my problem. I'm so not, but—

I always come off that way. I get a lot of the hippie jokes. The thing is, if you love tripping, and then you see tie-dye, well, you can't help feeling a little bit happy when you see tie-dye, even if you're not a dirty hippie! [Laughs] I don't know what else to say about that.


(To be continued)


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