IP Men

I can still remember walking into the hotel restaurant where the dedication dinner for Chick-fil-A University Town Center was being held.

There was a person in a cow costume, and a ridiculous number of people crammed at dozens of round tables. The girl who I had met at orientation had carpooled with me and she chose a table that already had a handful of people at it.

It was there that I cracked a joke that didn’t land all that well. But within a few minutes the guy sitting across from me had worked the entire table and was the star of the show.

That was when I decided that I didn’t like this guy.

How do you even pronounce “Imon” anyhow?


Icebreakers

There were probably a hundred of us working at the store to compensate for the sure amount of people that would quit in due time. Of the people that worked there, a handful were cool, a lot of them were weird, and all of us were eclectic as heck.

There was the cute sassy girl working at the prep station, the mid twenties sleeve tattooed body builder singer guy who exuded coolness, and then there was this well mannered grand opening supervisor who always had a smile and a bowtie on.

I often got scheduled for closing shifts during which, my favorite pastime, was to ask my coworkers icebreaker questions while scrubbing the floors and cleaning the “ice dream” machine.

My go to series of questions was in this order:

1. If you were told by the doctor that you had a year to live and you had access to unlimited resources, what would you do?

2. Okay now let’s say you were just told you had a year to live and only had the resources you currently possess, what would you do?

3. Now why aren’t you doing any of that now?

Most people gave me the standard answers of: traveling, spending time with family, paying off the debts of families, buying houses for family, high risk and adrenaline pumping activities, telling crushes their feelings, telling friends and family they cared, etc.

I think most people thought the question was a little more than they had bandwidth for at 23:30 and would give me a quick answer and just be done.

But Imon (pronounced eye mon and not eee mon, eee man, or some other variation as I learned the hard way) literally stopped scrubbing the floor when I asked him the question and thought carefully about his response.

At that moment, I reneged on my previous decision that I didn’t like this guy.


Koobideh and Tea

Over the next few months, we’d bond over optimizing our closing techniques, gawking at cute new hires, and talking about life over our post close meals.

We loved to go to this one spot called Hen House Grill because it was open late and they served hot tea that warmed us up even as our sopping soapy floor water shoes chilled us to the bone. These meals would prove to be the catalyst for some stupidly deep conversations that we would have.

It sounds far fetched, but as a church kid and college student, I had never been a singular version of myself. There were always multiple versions of me that were catered to the audiences that I needed to perform for.

There was church paul, boyfriend paul, son paul, brother paul, christian friend paul, cursing paul, among many other compartamentalized versions of myself. I had never felt like I had the permission to just be all facets of myself with anybody. And to be quite frank, I wasn’t looking to change anything about myself because keeping everything neat and separated seemed to be working out just fine.

However, the conversations that Imon and I had were unlike any I had ever had before. We talked about everything and by everything I mean EVERY thing. There were no pretenses, assumptions, or judgements of any kind.

One particular night, I parked illegally at the apartment complex where Imon lived and we talked about how we thought porn was affecting our lives in a negative way. And the crazy part was, while I beat around the bush regarding the topic: Imon got straight to the point.

I had never experienced authenticity to this degree and quite frankly: I was inspired.


Reciprocity

Eventually we stopped working together, as we pursued different jobs, and I was deeply afraid that our friendship would cease to be as many friendships built upon convenience tend to do.

And yet, miraculously, we both made time to invest in the friendship.

We bonded over parallel hobbies, music, gaming, trying relationships that tested our sanity, and brief flings with our passions and dreams.

Imon is the one who introduced me to the concept of a collaborative Spotify playlist, a tool that I have used in trips and get togethers ever since.

There has been this harmonious give and take, in which we have learned to appreciate the other’s interests and hobbies even if it may not be a shared interest or hobby.

Even at our lowest points, we have been able to encourage each other with the truth that perfection is unattainable and that all we can do is our best, which is strangely, enough.


Part of the Problem

In 2015, when I came back from Mexico City for the first time, it was Imon who articulated for me what I felt deep in my being.

When I told him about what I saw in Mexico City, he told me that, “I want to help… but I can’t help but think that I’m part of the problem.”

I remember being super put off by his response because I thought, “You can’t just let thinking that you are part of the problem paralyze you from doing anything!”

But the truth of the matter was that Imon was more in touch with his emotions than I was.

It was the first time where I realized that I indeed was a part of the demand, and that is why Imon’s statement unnerved me so.

I would end up attempting to forget what I had seen in Mexico City for the next four years.


Uncomfortable

One year, we decided to go on a camping trip with the goals of creating and relaxing.

We had our respective dreams and passions regarding music and film, BUT because we had found great ways to justify not creating for fear of many different things, we had instead picked up photography as a surrogate hobby.

The trip was filled with DJ Khaled’s summer hit “I’m the One,” Coronas with lime, crash courses in exposure and iso, and of course a shower of bugs.

The story of the shower of bugs is actually hilarious and probably metaphorical, but it doesn’t serve a purpose in this current narrative so be sure to ask either one of us about it.

Long story short, because of this unforeseen bug problem, we spent one of the nights in my 2001 Honda Accord, on the cold ass leather seats, with not so much as a blanket to warm ourselves. It was cold, miserable, and uncomfortable. We both shared later that we kept waking up and wishing for the sun to peek above the mountains so that we could “wake up” and leave.

During that night, the camaraderie of knowing that we were suffering together gave the night less power over defining the whole trip. In fact, we laughed about how terrible that night was even as soon as the next day.

In our friendship, one thing we’ve struggled with is finding a way to manage this gnawing desire to create. We’ve tried just shoving it down and ignoring it or finding a less risky way to still flex our creative muscles. We’ve used the excuse of not having enough resources or experience and we’ve critiqued others’ mismanagement or poorly executed ideas until we were blue in the face.

But all of our attempts have led us to the same place of uncomfortability where we know that we could create something.. but we choose to sit in that uncomfortability indefinitely.


Molting

In the fall of 2019, we had both quit our jobs and were having brunch at El Torito. I jokingly said, “Hey you should come to Mexico City with me since you aren’t working right now.”

He responded, “Honestly man… I’m down…”

We quickly threw together a quick action plan of how to expedite his passport and his approximate timeline but then I was off on the first leg of my month of travel and I wondered if this reunion in CDMX would ever come to fruition.

Three weeks later, I ran down the steps of my hostel to the street below and flagged down the uber that Imon was in, and we embraced for the first time on foreign soil.

We learned a lot that trip. We spent hours at the community center teaching some classes, we captured b roll all over the city, plotted a way to climb the temple of the sun illegally (we did NOT by the way), ate sooo much food, and we spent time with the beneficiaries of El Pozo De Vida.

I am overcome with emotion as I write this because Imon (and a few years later Crystal) are two of my closest and dearest friends who for really no benefit to themselves decided to shell out resources and time to come and see a place that is so meaningful to me.

We had so many conversations in our “jail cell hostel” about how we could join in the fight against human trafficking and what we could do to bring awareness to the issue. In many ways, we began re-writing our own destinies and not allowing our own limitations and demons to hold us back.

We often joke that we are just hyper corrupt and fallible lizard brained individuals. Well if we were lizards: we had just started molting.

Imon has since: been in a Fight the New Drug Interview video with me, sat in Clubhouse rooms with me talking about mobilizing in the fight against human trafficking, and hearing me out when I’m at wit’s end about how big the problem of porn consumption is when it comes to the grooming of the next generation of sex buyers.


Excited Accountability

Last month, Imon and I met up to enjoy an evening of Dave and Busters and a tbd dinner. We played lots of arcade basketball, almost killed some people with the air hockey puck, and took a few Cactus Cooler shots at the bar.

Afterwards, due to the weather, we decided to go to BCD Tofu House to eat dinner. As we were eating, we once again discussed the topic of creativity. For the first time in a while, we were both financially stable enough to talk about pursuing our passions without breaking the bank. We shared once again how we loathed that we always found excuses to create.

Sure we were scared, but we just didn’t know how to start… or where to start.

We stumbled upon an idea that really combined the themes that have woven their way through the heart of our friendship: What if we just created for us?

What if we metaphorically threw caution to the wind and took an impromptu trip and edited a video just for kicks? What if we removed the fear of performing for an audience and just created for each other and shared with the world only if we were comfortable with what we made?

And so even though we had joked about hosting a podcast in the past, or recording a mixtape, or filming a short film, we decided to actually set out in 2022 with the goal of creating.

In just the last month, we’ve read books on creating, brainstormed together, stretched our brains, and cursed at the writer’s blocks that seem to stack on our desks… (we also randomly played trivia night at a brewery after our brainstorming session and came up with the name IP Men for our team name hence the title)

And yet, it has been an awesome and energizing type of uncomfortability. It differs from the “work is work” uncomfortability or the “my relationship is toxic” uncomfortability because for once, the discomfort comes from growth and the exploration of unknown territory rather than obligation, duty, and necessity.

I’m just grateful I get to creatively experiment with a friend who is basically my brother instead of doing it alone.


Flowers

A wise person once said, “give people flowers while they can still smell them.”

Imon, you have taught me so much over the years, and above all of the lessons, you have been authentic and available even in the craziest of times.

I am beyond blessed to call you a friend and it is an honor to get to do life with you. Thank you for being a genuine friend and a gracious brother. I am truly a better person because of you. Even if I was just to look at the blogposts I write, there has been a huge evolution in writing style, subject matter, and transparency that is traced back to you showing me what genuine friendship looks like. I am forever indebted my friend. (also Kristie, I’m not a threat, please still have me over. This is strictly bromance)

We always joke that we are collecting b-roll for the documentary about the musician and director duo that changed the world, and to be honest, stranger things have happened.

It’s weird to write about our friendship in such gory detail for unknown readers to experience, but I know for a fact that the lessons that we have learned corporately AND the lessons that you have taught me can encourage and uplift so many others.

So if you are reading this, and you’ve been scrolling tiktok and waiting to make that thing until you are a little older, have more experience, have more gear, are more qualified, or whatever, our question to you is:

Why not now?

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