What the Hell Am I Doing Here?: By Abram Shalom Himelstein, 128 pgs. By Sean Carswell

Jun 05, 2007

          Abram Shalom Himelstein, one of the authors of Tales of Punk Rock Nothing, had a girlfriend who cheated on him. For the next few days, all he could think was, “She cheated on me.” He wished he had a t-shirt that said this so everyone would understand why his mind wasn’t fully focused on the tasks at hand. This led to an idea: he’d buy white t-shirts and fabric pens, tell his “she cheated on me” story to different groups, and have them make their own t-shirts advertising their deepest feelings. Himelstein photographed the shirts and the people wearing them. He collected about a hundred or so photos. The result was What the Hell Am I Doing Here? It’s a touching photo essay of ordinary people at racetracks, in bars, in restaurants, in schools, and around their neighborhoods showing what’s on their mind. The slogans run from the funny (one woman made a shirt that said, “Can I PLEASE have a decent bowel movement today?!!”) to the hopeful (a neighborhood kid with “The next NBA MVP” written on his shirt) to the succinct (a young woman with a “Fuck Men” shirt) to the heartbroken (“He already has a girlfriend and it ain’t me”) to the goofy (“Smirk is a Jerk”). Reading the slogans is little like reading poems. You start to wonder about the interpretations (when she says “fuck men,” what exactly does she mean?), you wonder about the lives of other people (what’s up with the girl in the “Trainwreck” shirt?), and you realize how rarely we make any real connections with the people around us. It’s a simple concept, but something to keep you scratching your head. What the Hell Am I Doing Here? is something that belongs on toilet tanks everywhere. –Sean (Garrett County, 828 Royal St. #248, New Orleans, LA 70116)