Notes From Hairenik

I love hats. I’ve been collecting them for years of all shapes and sizes, Borsalinos and wool caps by Kangol (back when they were still made in Great Britain). The coolest Kangols had a built-in ear flap that folded out to protect against the extreme cold, which I used rarely fearing I’d look ridiculous. In the last several years I started purchasing baseball caps for the summer, usually without team logos, although I found a replica of a hat that used to be worn by a Black team called the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the 1920s in Marshalls of all places -- there’s a large white C printed just above the visor which is essentially why I bought it. And two weeks ago in front of “Kino Rassia,” a fantastic building that looks like the mysterious ship from the early Alien movies located south of Republic Square—originally a two-screen movie theater that’s been converted into a giant department store—I acquired a rip-off Burberry cap for 2,000 dram. They sell all sorts of counterfeit caps by Gucci, Nike, Adidas and other brands, even sunglasses, all for cheap.

But at 5 Tigran Mets Street, a two-minute’s walk down from Republic Square, just past the Hanrapetutyan Street intersection, on the left is a tiny hat store, and the space is shared with a watchmaker. The proprietor Jirayr tells me he’s the last hatter of Yerevan, no one else in the entire city is in the business of making hats. He was featured in a short film that appeared in YouTube recently.

I’ve been meaning to venture in there for years but kept postponing my visit. But the other day as my head was about to sizzle under the 100 degree F sun I decided to pop in to see what summer cotton caps he had on display. I found him behind the sewing machine as he was stitching a plaid cap. He took one look at me and got up from his table immediately. I asked what he had to offer, something light in color, like off white or beige. He had two styles--with or without a button on the top center of the cap. I didn’t want the newsboy style had so he showed me several other hats, all more or less one size with no way of adjusting the rim tighter. I quickly noticed that all of them were dirty, and I surmised they were because his hands were probably oily from the sewing machine lubricant, or else judging from his thick wide framed glasses he simply didn’t see the dust that gathered, or else he didn’t care that much.

“Check these out,” he starts to boast as he flipped through the pile. “What do you think, huh? No one makes caps like these any more. You know what people are doing? They’re buying my hats, they sew tags and brand name decals inside and sell them for 2000 dram down the street.”

“Oh, that’s impressive. So how much do you sell them for here?”

“What, these?” He patted the pile of filthy hats. “These are 1000 dram, and [pointing to the button hats] those are 1500.”

He continued on about being the sole hatter left and having the best caps anywhere in the city, handmade and sturdy, while he opened an old green safe from Soviet times, filled with even more stained hats. I didn’t see a single relatively clean cap anywhere. He crushed a white one in his hand to demonstrate how durable they were.

“You can fold it up and put it in your pocket, later take it out and wear it again, never loses shape.”

“Can I put it in the washing machine?”

“What do you think I’m telling ya? Look at this,” he said as he rumpled it again then let it fall on the table. Indeed, the visor didn’t appear to have been creased or damaged in any way.

I told him I would make change and return later in the day, since I only had a 10,000 dram note on me. Then he told me if I left I shouldn’t come back since I wouldn’t find anything better, which I thought was an odd thing to say. But hey, the guy is proud, he must be in his 80s, he’s had his fill of bullshit over the years.

I relent and ask if he can make change. “What’s the problem?” he said and removed some cash from his shirt pocket. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. “Here’s one, two, three…” when he stopped at eight I told him that was enough. Then he chooses what must have been the most problematic cap to clean, sporting a line he drew with a blue ballpoint on the right side, assumingly to indicate where to sew the seam. I didn’t make any fuss, I thanked him and left in a hurry, sorry I entered in the first place.

Later when I took the crushed hat out of the scrunched cellophane shopping bag I noticed some red streaks on the top of it. Turns out it had been turned inside out and the coated red lettering used to identify the supermarket wore off onto the hat. 

Quite honestly, I really don’t care if the marks and blotches can be cleaned, at least I can say that I supported him, that I visited the little hat store I’ve been meaning to go to for a dozen years. Jirayr had some really good-looking winter wool caps on display on the walls as well, but I’m going to wait until it gets cooler before I return to try some on.

Jirayr’s tiny store is difficult to notice, so take a leisurely stroll down the street. It’s sandwiched between a clothing store and an electronics repair shop, both equally easy to miss. Here’s hoping you get the stains out.

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May 17, 2014

Today I came to some realizations about life, bittersweet yet somehow comforting at the same time. I now understand that no matter what good intentions you may have in your actions or deeds, no matter what kind of person you are — whether you are true to your word, you are honest with yourself and others, and you live by an ethic of morality and selflessness — you are never going to please everyone, even those who you think are closest to you.

They may feel let down at times for your mistakes or things that happened in life that veered out of control due to paradoxical circumstances you never intended to find yourself in. But if they can’t get over those hiccups and forgive you for your shortcomings then it’s really time to discover how your relationship is to flourish, or else wither.

During the last year I’ve made a lot of deep, introspective decisions in the way I want to live my personal life, not just for my own sake but more importantly for my sons’ well being. I continually yearn for the state of contentment and inner peace that I thought I had attained, as it’s always so hard to guard, to keep close to me. The way to maintain it is undeniably through the disciplines of meditation and prayer, vigilance and perseverance. Despite the strides I’ve made in keeping my emotions in check, to be true to my word, to not take things so personally, I still stumble along my path. But I keep going forward, I never retrace my steps to figure out what I tripped on, unlike how I had done for so long in my past. And I can’t be held back by people who want me to remain where I slipped and agonize over it, with tears of despair and dread dampening the lifeless red clay soil of spent misfortune.

We make mistakes, things happen that we don’t expect. We move on. We make due with the circumstances, we learn from where we erred, and we strive to be better people. There’s really no alternative in order to live a meaningful, honest life, one that is fruitful and thrives on unquenchable ambition to be stronger, exceptional. Keep a-goin’.

Photos from my archives.


April 24, 2014

My grandmother, Clara Movsesian Russian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, was born in a small village just outside of Kharpert (now Elazig) called Yegheki in 1914. In this photo taken in 2011 she sits with her great-grandson, gazing at him in wonder. She does this because the Ottoman menace that intended to eradicate the minority populations of Anatolia was an utter failure. She will be 100 years old this October, and she's in near-perfect health, as she suffers from vision and hearing problems now. But she has the best memory of anyone I know.

April 24 for me is a celebration of life, and my two boys remind me how precious life is every morning. I thank my beautiful, sacred grandmother for the nurturing she has given me in my 42 years and the love she radiates to my children.

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This year I decided to take Areg with me to the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial. It was his first time there, and although he had to be carried part of the way he didn't complain once during the entire walk up and down the hill. I told him that we were going there to remember the Armenian families, and my grandmother, who I don't think he recalls. For now in Areg's life, April 24 is about living, enjoying a sunny afternoon together with age-old friends as we walk together, for the common goal of united remembrance. As he gets older, he'll learn more about the tragedy and horror associated with that date. But while he learns more about the past, I hope he never fails to love life and all it brings.

Armenians are survivors.

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April 20, 2014


April 4, 2014
It's hard to believe that three years has passed since my first son Areg's birth. Time flies very quickly, and he's shot up in no time. He is fluent in English and Armenian (as fluent as you can be at that age) and can sing cartoon songs in Russian. He knows is ABCs and can count to 100. He is reasoning, debating, even contradicting me when I think something is humorous (It's not funny, daddy. No, it's not funny). And he's just hilarious, we have nothing but fun together. There's not a day that goes my when I am not thankful for being a dad.

Here's some random pictures of Areg, from the day he was born to just yesterday (wearing the traditional Armenian hat).

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February 21, 2014

I'm pleased to announce that my TEDx talk, "Never Letting Life Go," has finally come online.

Apart from being a father and beating the illness that I describe, this TEDx talk is one of my life’s greatest achievements. Thanks again to TEDxYerevan curator Kristine Sargsyan for valuing my story and her devotion. I’m still amazed by how enthusiastically it was received, the experience was truly humbling. My hope is that anyone viewing this talk will appreciate it.

In the talk I discuss how I overcame the most traumatic experience of my life and moved on, hoping that I would inspire others to conquer whatever personal challenges they face rather than giving in or believing that nothing can be done to reverse their misfortune. I'm thankful that I put that period of hell behind me at long last, I hardly ever think about it any more, and this talk as well as my two boys certainly helped with that. The memories haunted me for years, and now there all but gone from the top of my mind. With every day that goes by, every morning when I look upon my children's beaming faces, I feel more grateful for what I have now.

I want to again thank my fellow TEDx speakers for the inspiration they bestowed unto me. They are all super intelligent, kind and make lasting impressions--I have certainly learned a lot from them. I strongly encourage all readers of this post to watch their TEDx talks; they are all very insightful and persuade you to examine circumstances of life from various perspectives. I am proud to know them.

Please share your thoughts about the talk and tell others about it if you feel so inclined. Thanks!

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January 3, 2014
Another year has passed like a fleeting moment in time. The older I get the quicker the years seem to fly by. Apparently I’m not alone, friends have complained the same to me.

Last year was laden with the typical highs and lows that life offers us. I am thankful for the birth of my healthy, rotund as a compact, naked turkey ready for the oven second son Shant, who is another sweet joy in my life. Back in September I was honored to give a TED talk in Yerevan, one of the most monumental endeavors of my life, third to being a father and actually recovering from the sickness I discussed during the talk, which incidentally was warmly received much to my delighted surprise.

I have many wishes for the new year, not only for myself but everyone around me, for the entire world.

1. Live a healthy and happy life. This sounds like a cliché. Who doesn’t want to be content and well? It’s something we take for granted, though. Those of us who are less fortunate may have difficulty raising their heads above the water, while others are too caught up in the frantic pace of their daily lives that they forget to appreciate what they have. No matter where someone is in his existence, wish them peace, and in turn be happy that you did. We as human beings need to feel empathy towards one another in order to grow and survive.

2. Stop taking things personally. Earlier this year I read a book by Don Miguel Ángel Ruiz called The Four Agreements, perhaps it can be labeled with a “self help” title but actually it is written in a way to simply make you realize things you do every day without fathoming how damaging they are when they constrain you from achieving. Ruiz encourages readers to prevent letting others get to them, no matter what they say or do. When you convince yourself that it’s not worth taking seriously, or to empathize and try to imagine what the person you are in contact with might be going through deep down, you conserve energy for what you need to accomplish. You cease being offended and ignore impulses that you have been slighted in some way. You walk away, dissolving the conflict in your mind and pushing away the negative thoughts that may have germinated in the conflict waiting to happen. This method is extremely challenging; deflecting bullshit demands patience and practice.

3. Taking the previous step further, stay away from energy sapping people or situations. It’s best to avoid contact with others that you feel have been tapping into your valuable emotional resources. Sometimes it’s really hard trying to come to understandings with those who are close to you, whether they are dear friends, family members or co-workers. But if the possibility exists short of separating from your spouse, give the relationship a time-out.

4. Get out of situations where you are unhappy. I know from personal experience that it is pointless to stay in a place or a relationship where you are miserable. Follow happiness, even if it means taking a huge risk or a significant pay cut. It’s not worth your nerves or your sanity to remain disappointed or unchallenged.

5. Do your best. This might seem like another standard cliché, but it will always hold true. Designate something in the day for which you’ll do your best to achieve -- I usually choose being a good father. You don’t have to do or be your best in everything obviously, it’s impossible. So long as you give it your all for something that’s important to you on a daily basis, whether it’s a specific work-related task or more personal in nature, that’s more than enough.

6. Give yourself a break. No matter how relaxed and ecstatic you want to be in your life, something discouraging or unnerving might come your way and set you back. I’ve had to deal with some rather surprising and frustrating episodes during the last two months, and I felt myself slipping away from my sustained level of contentment. But I always caught up again. If you focus and never stop loving life you will always reach happiness.

This list will get longer as the year progresses, and it should. To dwell in happiness you need to continuously identify what will sustain it and the steps that must be taken when you lose your footing. That’s what makes life so wonderful.

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