The white felt head of a snow tiger bobs up and down on the black vinyl dashboard of Dylan Haley’s 1987 Volvo. An unsigned San Francisco folk/rock band, Dame Satan, plays on his Sony. He picked up the CD a few months ago at a Spaceland show.
“I don’t think there is anything individual about me,” the 34-year-old announces as he cruises north on the 101, returning home to Silver Lake from San Pedro, where he purchased some used car parts at a salvage yard and snacked on a couple of fish tacos while he waited.
“I’m like every other person like me,” he continues, taking his hand off the steering wheel for one brief moment to turn down the music. “I’m a typical graphic designer. I guess I could be in a band —I don’t know — what else do people do? I feel I am a total prototype, like: skateboarder/graphic designer, doing a T-shirt company, [riding a] fixed-gear bicycle, Silver Lake. . . . . You know what I mean?”
Haley, who has an assortment of tattoos on his arms, is wearing a green American Apparel hoodie, slip-on Vans with palm trees, and one of his own T-shirt designs.
“When I filled out my Friendster profile a few years ago,” Haley says, “it was totally pathetic. ‘Favorite TV Show: Simpsons,Sopranos. Favorite Books: Catcher in the Rye, Vonnegut. Favorite Movie: Mulholland Drive, La Dolce Vita.’ It was like everyone else’s. So many people put Mulholland Drive.”
Haley, who has thick brown hair and an athletic build, thanks to a rabid obsession with riding his bike almost everywhere he goes, including the monthly Midnight Riders eastside tours, believes he could insert just about any of his friends’ pictures into his online profile and it would still apply.
“I used to go out of my way to put something unique,” he says, adjusting his visor to block the afternoon sun.
“But, if I’m really honest, it’s not too spectacular. Favorite music: The White Stripes, Elliott Smith, Dr. Dre. It’s the same shit everyone else listens to. I even put up the same jokes as everyone else. Age: 85. Did you know everyone fills out the form incorrectly in the same way?”
Where else have you lived?
“The East Village, Williamsburg, I grew up in Berkeley. I couldn’t survive anywhere else but one of these neighborhoods. It’s embarrassing.”
You think you’re a product of your environment?
But, your environment has always been fringe, left-wing, bohemian, American environments?
“Yes. When I grew up in Berkeley I was totally a product of that city. I hung out on Telegraph Avenue, I went with everything that city was supposed to represent. I wonder what kind of person I would be if I were from someplace else.
“I mean, my father is a lawyer, and I guess I did take a different path. I didn’t go to law school. Instead I went to art school. I just feel like there are people thinking the same thing I am thinking, like it’s a mold for thinking.”
You believe you even have the exact same thoughts as other people like you?
Well, what do ‘people like you’ want?
“I don’t know. That’s the problem.”
Do you have any goals?
“That’s the thing, I do, but they’re real vague. I would like to make money — and I would like to make money doing things I like to do. But, I think I would settle for a lot less than what most Americans would. My time, or how I spend my time, is more of a priority.”
What is it exactly about the way you spend your time that is so important to you? That you can feel the wind in your hair?
Haley, who also designs beautiful Web sites that have high-tech/lo-fi graphics and could be described as edgy, fresh or postmodern, has had serious 9-to-5 jobs in the past, or rather 10 to 6. Until recently he designed graphics for the clothing line C&C California, and a few years before that was headhunted for a high-profile Web design job in New York.
“I got a big salary,” he says, pulling off his sweat shirt.
“I was like, ‘This is gonna be different. I’m gonna stick with the winners. I’m gonna wear my slacks and collar shirts.’ I even went out and bought two really expensive design books,” he chuckles. “But the problem was, it was like 900 degrees and I’d be dripping with sweat. By the second day I was wearing my flip-flops and wife beater, and by the third day, I was in the back of the class with the shit-talkers, just like in high school. It couldn’t be any other way.”
What do you mean ‘the back of the class’? How did that translate on the job?
“We would take three-hour lunches and talk shit about the other people who worked there. I would leave the very minute it was time to go home; everyone else would stay late. I don’t know what they were doing.”
When he worked at C&C he remembers that when his co-workers heard he was from Berkeley, they said, “Figures.”
“I don’t like the idea of being different. I mean, I didn’t like that they thought I was some weirdo. Like, I’m from Berkeley and that’s some weird place and there’s something wrong with the way I have chosen to live my life.”
Haley says he doesn’t read the L.A. or N.Y. Times, or Adbusters, or any of the glossy Condé Nast or gossip rags. He has a subscription to The New Yorker and listens to KABC talk radio. He doesn’t listen to NPR, but does listen to This American Life on his Apple computer.
He likes the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, the films of Godard, surrealist painters and the skater Mark Gonzales.
“That’s another thing, I feel like all of a sudden everyone is an ex-skateboarder,” he says, matter-of-factly.
“In one way, I covet the idea of being special, but in another way, I want the same things everyone else wants. I struggle with this,” he says in a pure tone that indicates he’s not struggling too hard.
So, you’re special just like every other special person?
Like every other outsider, there’s no place for you?
“Exactly. In some ways it’s an asset and in others it is a liability.”
Haley believes the very idea that he started his own T-shirt line is predictable. It’s the kind of thing people like him do.
The line, Dr. HotDog, which sells at Aero & Co. on Third Street, and officially launches next month at the Pool Trade Show in Vegas (an apparel show that was conceived in 2000 as an alternative to the “mainstream market trade shows”), is described on the Chocosho.com Web site, where the shirts also sell, as “all about being rad and kool and groovy.”
Haley elaborates that the concept behind his designs are “a spoof on low culture.”
The one he is wearing now has a drawing of King Tut’s head and the word “Lover” written in an Old English typeface. There’s one that says “100% Rad,” and another, with a drawing of Darth Vader, called “Who’s Your Daddy?” Haley says that one is in reference to those guys who have a Darth Vader sticker on their cars, or cobweb tattoos on their elbows. They all have the snarkiness of Wacky Packs for big kids, or pop-culture commentary doodled on an angst-y teenager’s Pee-Chee folder.
“[They’re] silly and hand-drawn,” says Haley, who also enjoyed the drawings in Kurt Cobain’s diary published a few years back. “Like, in reaction to all the superclean graphics, everyone is into drawings right now, and so am I.”
Does that depress you?
“No. I just think, if this were a board game, there would be a character like me. Like, there are hundreds of thousands of people like me.”