On the day before the Fourth of July, I meet Alexis Johnson and her boyfriend, Matt Wubbolt, in the parking lot of a photography studio in Scranton, Pennsylvania. While many people are likely celebrating the holiday weekend on a boat, at a barbecue or with a beer in hand, reveling in the favorable forecast and series of fireworks displays, Alexis is focusing her pride elsewhere. The 33-year-old plans to use her independence to replicate the downward spiral of an addict in a carefully thought-out photo shoot with Lisa Petz.
“It seems almost every day I see people dying of overdoses on the news,” Alexis says.
“I’m outraged. I want other people to be outraged. People need to visualize what an overdose looks like, not just see words across a TV screen or a headline in the newspaper. Just talking about it isn’t helping. Maybe being able to see that extreme horror of how it goes down will wake people up and encourage young people to not pick up that first drug or drink.”
Alexis is all but familiar with the unnerving epidemic of drug-related deaths in the United States. Since 2010, she lost eight of her closest friends to overdoses. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in 2014 — the most recent year for which data is available — prescription painkillers and heroin alone were responsible for 28,847 deaths. That’s a rate that has tripled since 2000.
We walk three flights of steps to Lisa’s studio as Alexis expresses gratitude for not being one of the many who succumb to addiction. She has spent the past 15 years shifting back and forth between sobriety and abusing heroin, crack, ecstasy, cocaine, alcohol and “just about every painkiller you can think of,” she says. What started as an eagerness to fit into the party-culture with her sorority sisters at Penn State University instantly expanded into a habit that plagued the shit out of her self-restraint and lead to seven overdoses between 2010 to 2015.
I watch Matt apprehend the vulnerable side of the “strong and beautiful” woman he has been dating for two months as makeup artist, Mel Gonzalez, cosmetically applies busted veins on her right arm to imitate the injection of heroin. He has only heard stories of Alexis’ past. I ask if he looks at her differently after seeing her this way. He says yes.
“To relive the lowest part of your life all over again to try to help people — that’s bravery. That’s strength. I’m proud of her and I love her more right now,” he says. “Watching what she actually went through just opens my eyes. Beneath the makeup and the beautiful hair, there can be a powerful struggle that people don’t see.”
Alexis wants people to look at the stereotype of an addict differently. She’s passionate about having her hair, makeup and outfit on fleek as the shoot begins.
“I want people to see that addiction can affect anybody,” she says. “It could be your son or daughter, your brother or sister, your friend, your doctor, your child’s teacher. Sometimes it’s the people who appear to have it all who are really dying on the inside. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. People discriminate against people with addiction. The stereotype needs to be smashed. An addict doesn’t always look like the homeless man underneath the bridge. I hid my addiction very well.”
Mel finishes Alexis’ makeup for a scene where she pretends to snort cocaine. We discuss how Alexis camouflaged her struggles.
“If people don’t want to look like themselves, they can hide it,” Mel says. “Makeup is a very powerful tool. It an be used to enhance beauty. It can be used to mask pain, struggles and addiction.”
The conversation slows down as the scenes get more graphic. The element of reality appears to be daunting everyone’s mind. Alexis lays on the floor. Lisa places rose petals around her lifeless body. Bags of powder, a spoon and needle symbolically gesture the tragic loss of a beautiful human life. Once Lisa gets the shots she needs, Matt helps Alexis up from the floor. Tears start swelling her eyes.
“It disgusts me that my dad had to find me like this,” she says. “Nobody should ever have to find someone looking like this. Somewhere this is happening to someone right now. It breaks my heart.
Alexis wipes the tears from her face. Her appreciation for life is reinforced.
“I’m alive,” she reminds herself out loud. “It’s a miracle.”
These Brooklyn Roommates Started a Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Museum in their Hallway
Bert and Ernie may appear to be the epitome of roommate goals, but their moment was outdone the day best friends Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen turned their apartment’s hallway into a museum tributing Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
Sorry, Bert. Sorry, Ernie.
To this day, their has never been an incident like Tonya and Nancy’s in the history of sports. On January 6, 1994, Nancy Kerrigan was attacked with a baton to the knee — the day before a championship that would decide who qualified to move on to the Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. It turned out the assaulter was hired by Jeff Gillooly, the ex-husband of her opponent, Tonya Harding.
Though Tonya claims her innocence in the premeditation of the violent attack, the court of public opinion has been questioning her involvement for more than 20 years — solidifying the scandal’s impression on popular culture.
Matt and Viviana told Better than the Weekend the idea of curating a museum centered around Tonya and Nancy started as a joke.
“We had just watched a documentary called The Price of Gold,” Matt said.
“We both had a memory of what had happened, but both remember Nancy Kerrigan portrayed by the media as this ice princess and Tonya as this white trash,” Viviana added.
The documentary featured interviews with Tonya, portraying the skater as a sympathetic, working-class girl with an alcoholic mother, strong work ethic and record-breaking talent.
After watching the doc, their perspective of the incident changed and they were reminded Tonya and Nancy were fascinating aside from the scandal.
“We wanted to highlight them as strong female athletes, because when it comes down to it, that’s what they are,” Viviana said.
The project started with a Kickstarter asking for $75 to help them blow up pictures of the Olympians. But then people started reaching out with artifacts and fan art.
More than 20 artifacts were collected for the exhibit, including scoring sheets from the arena where Nancy was attacked, signed head shots of the skaters purchased on eBay and a TV Guide featuring an interview with Nancy that was signed by the interviewer. There’s even decoupaged Wheaties boxes with Tonya plastered on them, which were supposed to be sold but were never released due to the incident.
Matt and Viviana welcomed more than 1,000 spectators into their apartment between 2015 to 2017 to witness the unique exhibit before moving the project to a storefront deemed the THNK1994 Museum.
What started out as a joke evolved into a full-time career path of turning tabloid stories into works of art.
“We try to focus on exhibits that look at women who are really confident and torn down about that and celebrate them while also giving a platform to LGBT artists,” Viviana said.
The THNK1994 Museum has also featured exhibits on the Olsen twins hiding from the paparazzi, Nicole Richie’s 2007 Memorial Day BBQ, Kim Cattrall, and The Real Housewives pointing fingers.
General admission to the Brooklyn museum is $6 per person, $3 for students. Year-long memberships start at only $30.
Matt says it’s necessary for the besties to show the world that just because something seems funny and absurd doesn’t mean it can’t be taken seriously.
Amen to that!
Why Camp No Counselors Founder Adam Tichauer Is the Godfather of Adulting
Adam Tichauer is the dude who will make you want to adult today.
Remember that wholesome face in case you ever see him out in public. If you happen to, you need to buy him a drink and shake his hand. Here’s why. He’s the founder of Camp No Counselors, a sleep-away camp for grown-ups, which turned a nostalgic adolescent experience into perhaps the most genius startup operation of the decade. Just imagine a remote place in the mountains where sex, bottomless booze, sports, lip-sync battles and late-night partying is not only welcomed, it’s celebrated with a fucking high-five and chest bump. Sounds like heaven, right?
In just three years, Camp No Counselors has seen breakneck success at such a remarkable rate that Adam boldly turned down an investment offer from Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank.” Almost 10,000 adults experienced Adam’s wonderland of epic fun at more than 40 camps across the USA and Canada — including Better than the Weekend’s staff — and business is only expanding. Camp No Counselors’s recently rang in 2018 with its first-ever New Year’s Eve warm-weather getaway camp in Malibu, complete with a wine-tasting safari ride, surf lessons, goat yoga, and a ton of liquor, duh!
Adam told Better than the Weekend his legendary creation happened by accident. It was 2013 and the then 30-year-old was running a music tech company in New York. When the grind consumed him to the point where he realized he hadn’t connected with some of his closest friends in months, he decided to do something gnarly about it.
“I found myself working on July 4th weekend. The Fourth of July is about getting out of the city and barbecuing and having some beers with your friends and just forgetting about work, but I was doing the exact opposite,” Adam said. “So, for the next long weekend, which was Labor Day weekend, I wanted to organize some kind of event where we would get out of the city and I would see my friends and we would barbecue and have some beers and forget about work.”
Adam figured out the perfect outlet to let off some steam — summer camp! Growing up, camp was the time of year he’d look forward to the most. So, he called around and found a camp only a few hours north of Manhattan that would allow him and his closest friends to stay and experience the same fun he had at camp as a kid, with a lot more freedom! The weekend was such a success, that his friends, and there friends, and there friends’ friends, had a winter camp at a ski lodge in Vermont.
“Some fairly influential people in the tech world were there and they asked, ‘Hey, this was the best weekend of our lives. Can you organize one of these in the summer for me and my friends?'” Adam said. “That’s when the lightbulb went off. If cutting-edge people want me to organize one of these for them and their influential friends, then maybe this is a service people really need and they would pay for and value.”
And people are valuing the lively separation from reality — but you’ll never know what they’re escaping. The only rule that stands strong is to not talk about what you do for a living. (So no need for a disguise.)
“As a thirty-something, you meet someone at a bar and you say, ‘What do you do?’ And then you think, ‘Okay, I get you. I know who you are because of what you do’,” Adam noted. “I found when you remove your work identity, you are able to become whoever you want to become, and then you can make friends based on your interests like when you were a kid — not your preconceived notion of what an investment banker likes to do on his free time. As a kid, you didn’t do anything for a living, except have fun and make friends based on similar interests.”
I know, that quote has me thinking Adam Tichauer 2020, too.
Disconnecting from who you are is perhaps more important now than ever.
“Back in the day, when you didn’t have the newspaper in front of you, you didn’t think about what was going on in the world. When you weren’t at work, you didn’t have to think about work,” Adam said. “Now, we’re getting constant real-time notifications of what’s going on in the world, or e-mails from your boss, even if it’s after work hours. There’s very few times you can shut that off and just have space and not have to worry about what real-time, negative notifications are coming through your phone next.”
Thank God, whoever he or she may be, for the godfather of adulting.
Registration for this year’s camps is now open. Just click right here and thank us later!
We’ll see you there! (We just won’t tell you what we do. Too many cups of beer to chug and flip!)
Let’s help the Scranton PA Fire Dept. build state’s first fallen firefighter memorial
While Americans are divided about whether or not the government should build a wall around the Mexican border, because, you know, “Americans are dreamers, too,” Scranton, Pennsylvania firefighters seem to have their priorities in check. The brave first responders of the Scranton Fire Department are working overtime to help construct the first-ever memorial in the state of Pennsylvania to honor the professional firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty.
They recently stopped by Better than the Weekend HQ for a livestreamed interview to share how everyone can help their mission, proving instantly why they’re more than just people who fight fires. They’re also heroes.
Here’s the link (right here) to help out in any way you can. Now share this with everyone you know to help this project reach fruition.
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