Going the Extra Mile (Luis Insists on Hardcover)

“What would I be without everybody? Without my customers?

-Luis Orlando Beltran

I did the whole thing backwards. I could’ve picked a simple task, a task that required no money at all, and compensated the commissioned party with the full funds granted for this project as a means of valuing their labor. Instead, I went about it in a much clumsier way. I used it as a reason to hang out with Luis, the affable shopkeeper of my neighborhood thrift store, and decided to figure out exactly what I would pay him for…after the fact.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the month of April, I walked the two blocks from my apartment in Ridgewood, Queens (a quiet residential nook of New York City) to Celene’s Thrift Shop—a clothing, housewares, and bric and brac store no bigger than a corner bodega—with my recorder in hand, and met with Luis to capture his ebullient philosophies on life. We knew the outcome would be some kind of “booklet,” as we called it, and when I tried (multiple times) to explain the part about paying him a hundred bucks, he waved the idea away with his hand and said, “No, no, no.” I tucked the topic away for a later day.

His automatic resistance to the money has to do with the fact that Luis is a man of God. Devoted to his church, Luis organizes bible retreats, goes on missionary trips, translates his pastor’s sermons into Spanish at Sunday service, and recently gave a motivational speech on the lesser known Christian disciple Barnabas, known as the “son of encouragement.” While I live a fairly secular existence and tread lightly with religion, I nonetheless feel warmed by Luis’ customary send off: God bless you, honey. That’s because he really means it. 

His store, named after his wife of 44 years, is 182 square feet of fastidiously organized and artfully displayed secondhand items. One wall is devoted entirely to mugs and glasses, another to perfectly folded pairs of pants, each of which is labeled with handwritten tags denoting their size. Somehow, in this tiny shop are also records, gowns, candles, figurines, bedsheets, shoes, games, greeting cards, jewelry, coffee makers, DVD players, and a glass case full of perfumes, all arranged according to category, and often, by color. Luis accepts item donations, and therefore provides not one but two services: a place to acquire new things, and a place to let go of old things. I bring him my things not just because it’s a convenient way to get rid of them, but because I know his shop will consider them treasures, house them affectionately, and foster them until they find a new home. And so the shop exists as a kind of undeclared community general store, where each one of us that comes in is, to some degree, inadvertently exchanging goods with our neighbors by way of Luis’s stewardship. The effect is a feeling of generous flow, an abundance as reliable as the tides. You can pop in on any given day to see if he might have a clipboard, or a suitcase to sell you, because there is a legitimate chance that he does. This, combined with his infectious energy and genuine extroversion, makes Luis, in my estimation, the most popular guy on the block.

“Hiya, Bec!” Luis greeted me upon arrival for our first recorded interview. It was a seasonable Spring day, and I watched as he set up a cup of coffee, a bag of cookies, two oranges, and a knife on three plastic-upholstered dining room chairs he was selling out front. We settled into the spread and I joked that we were a living advertisement for the furniture. Not long after, a man walking by politely interrupted our conversation:

Customer: Hey, how much are these chairs?

Luis: These chairs? Will be fifty for three of them. And $25 for this table— $75.

Customer: Can I take a picture of this chair? I’m so sorry.

Becca: No worries. 

Luis: Not a problem.

Becca: We were just saying, we’re an advertisement. [Laughter]

Customer: I’ll be back. I live around here. I bought stuff from you a couple of times. Remember the cage? 

Luis: Yes. 

Customer: Well I’m gonna come back. I’m gonna see, I like them, that’s a good price. 

Luis: Alright, brother.

Customer: It matches my table, too. 

Luis: It matches your table?!

Customer: Yeah it matches my table too.

Luis: Ay, let’s do it man. 

Day 1: Luis, the chairs, and the oranges. The chairs were sold while we sat on them. 2021, Ridgewood, Queens, USA. Photos by Becca Kauffman.

Over the course of our time together, especially since we were meeting outside, I came to expect these interruptions. The frequent “Good morning” from a passerby, and Luis’s “Buenos dias!” or “Good morning! How are you?” back. The shop sits at a residential intersection, so cars sometimes whizzed by with greetings like, “AY, LUIEEEE!” flying out of an open window. “AY!” Luis would shout back, explaining to me with a grin, “That’s my buddy.”

The chairs sold later that day, purchased by another, more swift-acting customer. So for our second meeting, Luis set up a fold-out card table on the sidewalk next to his minivan, with an overturned milk crate and a stool for us to sit on. This time, there was an additional cup of coffee—for me (“My wife makes me coffee every morning,” he said appreciatively), and again, two oranges and a knife. He peeled one for each of us as he told me about his life. He talked about moving to Brooklyn from his rural town in El Salvador when he was twelve, and learning English from his aunt and uncle’s Engelbert Humperdinck records. He told me about the impact that his first job in New York had on him, learning how to sort and package fruit for produce displays at a local grocery store. He described how his family taught him to dust, sweep, and mop, and tasked him with cleaning their apartment on Kosciuszko Street from top to bottom every day, the summer before he started school in the USA. 

He also told me about his struggles with substance abuse, his failed Western Union franchise due to a bad contract and a bad cocaine habit, the day he spent in jail because of a misunderstanding, and how he eventually bottomed out and found his way to God as a means of survival.

I arrived at our sixth meeting with the proof of our book, a condensed and edited selection of his most compelling stories culled from hours of recordings. We sat down once again next to his minivan and together, read through what we had made. Luis seemed to delight in hearing his words read aloud to him, exclaiming, “True! So true,” after each story. He persisted in his resistance to the one hundred dollar financial support from school, and, as a person deeply energized by hard work and a big project, he wondered aloud how we could make it better. “Let’s do it the best we can,” he said, leaning in to ask: “Can we do hardcover?”


Becca Kauffman: So here’s what I’m thinking. Here’s a pen, you can mark it up however you want if you have any edits to make.

Luis Beltrán: Ok. I like this, this is nice.

Becca: So this is a really big version, but I’m imagining it will be about five inches by four inches, sort of like a photograph size. So you can hold it in your hand, and that way it will be thicker, too. But the text will still be big enough that you can read it. “Inside Celene’s: Store Stories” is a working title. I just chose it because it’s kind of what we’re talking about.

Luis: Right.

Becca: But I’m open to any ideas. It’s just the starting point.

Luis: I like that. I like that. It goes together, cause it catches the attention. Stories? Stories? What’s in there?

Becca: Yeah, so now we open up and find out what’s inside… So this is the same writing I gave you a copy of last week, but I just formatted it. I put this big text at the top, the quote, that sort of gets you started. And then here’s all the nitty gritty details of what you’ve said. So there’s ten of these. They’re kind of like chapters. We can read it together if you want. I can read it out loud, or you can read it out loud. 

Luis: You can read it out loud. Go ahead. 

Becca: Okay. Great. So: [Reading aloud]

“It’s amazing how this little place keeps you on your feet.

I love what I do. I’m here seven in the morning, eight in the morning. And I know what I got to do. One thing I gotta say is that I’m not tired of doing it. And health wise, God gives me the strength to carry on. And I’m going to do it until… I don’t know what’s gonna happen… It’s a fountain of energy. Yeah, in a different way I found my match. I’m the manager. I clean the toilets, I sweep, I mop, I organize, I take, I put away.

After we take everything out and we clean inside, I like to sweep even though it’s clean. And I mop. Clean and mop… Sometime during the day, I like to do it once. Like it bothers me I haven’t done that… When it’s the time, it’s the time. There’s a time for everything, like I said. So when it’s, Oh okay, everything was cleaned. It’s amazing how this little place keeps you on your feet. I got a lot of work to do. So that’s how it is.”

Luis: Yeah, that’s nice. It sounds better when you say it.

Becca: I disagree. I like it when YOU say it! But I think it’s an interesting experience to read what you said out loud on paper.

Luis: Because you’re a storyteller.

Becca: So are you!

Luis: But it sounds… No, I like to hear it.

Becca: So here’s the next quote: [Reading aloud]

“Whatever they give me, whatever life gives me, I take care of it.

I was twelve when I started doing produce, because my brother-in-law was a project manager for this Jewish chain of supermarket.”

Luis: That’s produce. Produce manager.

Becca: Ohhh, yeah. That makes sense. Here, cross it out and write “produce.” That’s helpful, thank you. [Reading aloud]

“…It was called Royal Farms in Brooklyn. We had like twenty two stores. In September, after school, my brother-in-law used to take me to work at the basement of that store. And he taught me how to select oranges from apples and all that and wrapped up, put six, six apples in a tray, wrap it up, put a price and all that. So I was like in heaven. So I worked. And through the years, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, eighteen, nineteen, I knew that trade. So every summer, I used to come to the company and they started giving me jobs. And I was a full time, I was a part time, and I was a manager. Managing became also part of that responsibility of leadership, so to speak, because then you have to do what you have to do to manage. Right. So like freshness, cleanliness, and all that. All those things that I learned, got me, I mean, to be the person I am, I think. Humbly I say it. Because I think those are the little qualities that you pick up in life that you bring with you in those years. And that’s how I, I don’t know, whatever they give me, whatever life gives me I take care of it. Because it’s an opportunity to me to do well, for me to serve the community, to serve somebody else. And so you see, it depends on what you got. If you got lemons, you got to learn how to do lemonade. Right? That’s how it is. That’s how I did it, I guess.”

Luis: [Starts to laugh] That’s the story. I can’t believe it, I’m thrilled. I’m hearing things that I, that we said.

Becca: Yeah! Do you remember them? Do they sound familiar? 

Luis: Yes, now it’s coming back to me.

Becca: Here’s photographs of where we were sitting, with you peeling the oranges. 

Luis: You’re not there, though!

Becca: I know. You know what we need to do? We need to get a photograph of the two of us. 

Luis: Yes. 

Day 2: The oranges become a ritual. Sidewalk talk in front of the shop next to Luis’ minivan, on his 11am break 2021, Ridgewood, Queens, USA. Photos by Becca Kauffman.

Becca: Thank you for reminding me of that. Okay, now we’ve got: [Reading aloud]

“People are searching for something. Same thing here! Searching for something.…You listen, people come in need of something.

In church, there’s a principle that when someone comes near, for the first time, second time, we have to pay attention to that person. We have to, “Hi, how you doing today?” We have to like, “Hey, I see you again. Thanks for coming.” Because people are searching for something. Same thing here! It still has the same meaning. 

I was in church when I opened this [shop] up. So the first thing I said to the pastor was, this space was a blessing, because it was a blessing. I said to myself, I want this place to be a blessing for people. I want this place to be, they could find something that they are looking for and need. And I said to him, “Do not let me get a hold of items. Do not let me get a hold on this. Let me be free to give it if they need it.” And it has happened. And people have come, people have come, and they come only to say hello, because of the relationship that we already had. I have had people coming back into the neighborhood [to visit] from LA, from Miami. And they come and say hello. “Hello Louie, I thought about you, I was in the neighborhood. And I came to say hello.” I say, “Thank you, thank you thank you.” And they do, they do, they come. Well, and this place, I have had people that come in, and they step in, and I say, “Hi, good morning, good afternoon. How you doing?” And they will start talking about different things. And we wind up healing the soul. Like I say, you listen, people come in need of something. And that’s when the Holy Spirit, I believe, Spirit touches you, and then you touch that person, and that person feels, Wow, I’m glad I came in, I don’t know how I got here—these are the words that they say-—I don’t know how I got here, but I’m happy that I came here, because I found…whatever, you know? They do that.”

Luis: True, true. I’m glad you put that in there. True story.

Becca: Yeah, that was a special one.

Luis: I’m here to say, Yes, it was true. You putting me way up there in my thoughts. This is not only—I’m glad you did this. I’m very glad. Because— 

Passerby: Morning.

Luis: [To passerby] Good morning. [Back to me] I’m thinking about— I never thought I was gonna do this. The story of my last years. I’m not ready to go, but, this is something that I’m gonna leave behind. It’s great. It’s great, the thought of it. I want you to be there when you have to read it.

Becca: Oh my gosh, should we have a reading at the store?

Luis: Yeah! Okay keep on going, I don’t want to take your time. 

Becca: Okay. [Reading aloud]

“Go the extra mile.

Through this place, I have had people that, they feel good. They come back. Some people, they come in and we sit down inside, we have coffee and we talk about religion, we talk about this. I’ve had people come with problems and they pour themselves out in tears. And sometimes I gone through the same things and I could share something with them. Last week it happened. And they come back and they call me later on, they say, “Luis, thank you for the comfort. For the comforting.” I say, “Don’t worry about it.” The idea of this place, like I said, I pray everyday, and when I pray, I say, Lord, find, get me people that I could talk to. Send me somebody in need, please. And He does. And He has also sent me people for my need. Because I also receive. I do not only give, I receive. Affection; I receive a word of encouragement. I receive, when I’m down, I’m struggling, my mind, I got too much work to do. And I have had people come and offer their help for free to do something for me, because it’s all a mess and all that. He listened to me. He knew me, he knew that I was bothered. So, you know, it’s like, it’s life. To me it’s God. To me it’s, I’m not the person I used to be. I’m a different person. You know, I stopped doing a lot of things that were not good to me or to the society. Change. We all change. Sooner or later, we all change. And the best that we could do is share that warmness, that careness, that ear, lending ear. Or, Listen, I’m looking for this bed frame that was there, and I want it, and let go, to not be greedy. I’m going to sell it to you. Listen, I’ll bring it to you in my car. You want it? It’s yours. Sure. For free? Yes. Take it. Take it, don’t worry about it, we take it in your car. Go the extra mile, go the extra mile. You never know when it’s going to be somebody coming for you for the extra mile.”

Luis: Nice. I remember that. I remember that story. It’s true.

Customer: [to Luis] How’s business today? 

Luis: [to customer] Good! You the first customer that I greet with my smile. Bless your heart. Whatever you want— that smile pays for everything. 

Customer: [Laughs]

Luis: [to customer] Stop smiling, otherwise you take everything!

Becca: Okay, so here’s a photograph. You, gesturing, which is something you do, I’ve noticed. So on to the next story. This is one of my favorites. “There’s time for everything.”

Luis: Yes. A wise man said. Solomon.

Becca:  [Reading aloud]

“If I was a guy [who] did not care much for anything, would I be here sitting with you? Telling you all this stuff?”

Luis: [Laughs] Come on! [Laughs]

Becca: [Continuing]

“…Where I’ve made time to sit down? Is my life more like—I say to myself, right?— is my life more like, doing this business and all that? I try to live a life that is not too rush-y, because there’s time for everything. Sometimes I do get into the rumble, you know, and I rush, because I have to. But I realize that there’s time for everything. There’s time to cry. There’s time to laugh. There’s time to rest. There’s time to sleep.”

Luis: Mm, nice. Nice. It is. That’s a quote from the Bible. 

Becca: Really? 

Luis: Yes. Solomon, King Solomon. Ecclesiastes is a book in the Bible. And he says that there is time for everything in life and that nothing in life is new. Whatever has been, it’s always been. It’s like a cycle. You know? There’s nothing new in this world. Everything has been already done. In our lifetime, fire has always been fire. The rays of the sun, they always been there from the beginning, and they still are. Imagine, without a sun?

Becca: We wouldn’t survive.

Luis: We wouldn’t survive. And the distance is just right… I went to [a bible retreat in the country recently]. And I started walking in the open space, the birds. Not cement. But trees. No buildings, but grass. And I started to say, Wow, that peace, that complete peace—and I needed that peace—but at the same time, I feel lonely. Like I felt like I left everything behind. I missed this [gestures to the shop]. I don’t know, I missed communicating… My people, my customers, my helper [Ana Yris]. I said, Oh my god, what am I doing here? [laughs]. I feel lonely. But I didn’t know that my mind was taking other kind of oxygen. Not this oxygen. Nothing like this. 

Becca: Yeah, I feel like being in nature has a tendency to do that. Because all of the stimuli of city life goes away and suddenly you’re like, What am I left with? Who am I without other people around?

Luis: I felt lonely. And I miss my wife. And I miss everything about New York. Oh my God, if I stay here, by myself, I’ll die. [Laughs] And that’s why, you see those people in the country? They live at their own pace, they got their own things. But not us. And what would I be without everybody? Without my customers? I felt like completely detached. Separate.

Luis arranges his research materials for his speech on Barnabas at the bible retreat. Photo by Becca Kauffman.
Close up of Luis’ research materials2021, Ridgewood, Queens, USA. Photo by Becca Kauffman.

Luis: Have you told anybody else the story yet? You know, opinion-wise. 

Becca: I showed my mom. I sent this to her last night. She loves it. She loves your stories. And oh, she actually had a different idea for the title. She suggested calling it, “Going the Extra Mile.”

Luis: That’s an option. 

Becca: Because that’s a quote from one of the stories.

Luis: Yes. Well, we haven’t finished yet.

Becca: Okay. [Reading aloud]

“How do you know what you want? The need of other people is a start.

How do you know what you want? The need of other people, is one point, it’s a start, in this business, I understand. Or let’s go back forty years ago, people come in and say listen, I need this kind of oranges, size big or small, with seeds, without seeds, and you go and find it. Because your knowledge knows that the oranges, which one has seeds, which ones don’t have seeds. Because life teaches you a lot of things. So, I was an expert in fruit and vegetables. So how do I know? Because the need of other, the need of other is what I want. What I really, really want?—is different than in the business world. For example, there was a lady that is in the neighborhood. She wants earrings that have a little cross. And I had them, [but] I sold them all. I went to find them yesterday and there was none. But she asked me for it. And that’s my need. That’s what I need. I want to get those earrings for that lady. And I will not rest until I find it.”

Luis: She came.

Becca: Yeah?

Luis: She came and asked me, a young girl. And I’m gonna go to get them in Manhattan.

Becca: Yeah, that’s the next part! [Reading aloud]

“Even if I have to go Manhattan. [Both laugh]… And I want to see that. That’s all it takes. I want to do it, I want to have it.

It’s like a winning step up the ladder. You did that. Then after that? I don’t forget what I said. It’s done. The satisfaction is that few seconds of happiness of the person, that, Thank you, you know, or, Here, an extra dollar. I don’t need it, but she wants to compensate what I did. And I’ll take it.”

Luis: Life always gives you compensation. You never know when. For your good deeds. For that extra mile. That happens to everybody. Sometimes we don’t see it.

Luis looking at the front cover of the proof. 2021, Ridgewood, Queens, USA. Photo by Becca Kauffman.

Becca: Final chapter. [Reading aloud]

“I see it as a gift.

I’m surprised that for ten years I’ve been doing this. And I’m still going with it. I’m still happy to do it. What else would I be doing? You know? And every morning is different. Somebody comes in with different things, even though it’s the same but it’s different, a gift, that they give me. I see it as a gift, you know? I see it as a blessing.”

Luis: It is.

Becca: [Showing the book’s last picture] I thought it was nice to end with the open door to the store.

Luis: Yes. And the blessing. That makes sense. Yes. 

Entrance to Luis’ store, with Ana Yris, Luis’ helper, organizing new arrivals. The blessing is above the door. 2021, Ridgewood, Queens, USA. Photo by Becca Kauffman.

Becca: And then this would be the back cover. I wrote “Established 2011,” because you said you’d had the shop for ten years, but is that the right year?

Luis: I was gonna look for that. [Opens his wallet and unfolds a piece of paper] This is the certificate.

Becca: What! You carry this in your wallet? So cool.

Luis: Because when you go into business, some people, they ask you for the certificate. It’s a copy. And here, we have the date.

Becca: Which is… August 4, 2011.

Luis: So 2011 to 21. It is ten years.

Becca: So August 4th of this year is your ten year anniversary. Maybe that’s when the block party should happen!

Luis: Yes! So, very, very nice. I love it. I really, really love it. I’m so happy. I’m very, I’m very happy.  

Becca: Well, it’s all you, you know, it’s your story. 

Luis: I wouldn’t have done it without you.

Becca: It’s a good collaboration.

Luis: Yes, it is. It sounds so good. And so true. How can we make it better?

Becca: Okay, that’s the question. So now comes strategy about how the actual book will look. I think we have to think about, who do you want to share these stories with? And how can we make it accessible for those people?

Luis: Can we make copies? 

Becca: Yeah, absolutely. 

Luis: Can we make it like a real… 

Becca: …book?

Luis: Book? 

Becca: Yeah. 

Luis: In like, hardcover? …Give me an estimate. Let’s do it the best we can.

Becca: Okay. So we have $100 to spend. This project, we call it the $100 Commission. The idea is that my institution gives me $100 to fund a project with somebody else. So I have this one hundred dollars to spend. 

Luis: Yes.

Becca: So it’s like, I’m an artist, but right now I’m kind of wearing the hat of a bookmaker or a publisher: I want to make a book. 

Luis: Okay.

Becca: And I want you and your stories to provide the content for that book. 

Luis: Okay.

Becca: So in a way, it’s like I’m commissioning you to share your stories, so that we can make this book together. And we can use the $100 for publishing materials to print it out. I can find out how much it will cost to do a hardcover. And to do color.

Luis: Yes.

Becca: If there was anything left over, I would give it to you, donate it to the shop. 

Luis: No. Let’s do something nice. Don’t worry about the price. Just find out. You know, give me the expense details. 

Becca: Well, I don’t want you to pay for this. 

Luis: But I do, I want to, because I want not only… I love the story, I love the point. For me, it’s very important. So that we could make a nice, real book. So that I could give it to my kids. 

Becca: Okay. 

Luis: Alright. And also, I want you to present, because at one point, you’re going to present this to the school, right? 

Becca: I will. 

Luis: Well what do you want to do with it?

Becca: My wish is that other customers who come into your store could also obtain a copy. 

Luis: Okay. 

Becca: So whether that means it’s available for free, and you throw it in with, you know, a purchase over $20, or maybe there’s some kind of cool little display, like a stand, that we could put the books on. And you could have a place in your store so that when people come in, and they’re like, “This is such a great shop, what’s the story here?,” you’re like: “Buy my book.”

Luis: [Laughs, applauds] That’s beautiful. Good idea, yes!

Becca: So in that case, especially if it’s a really nice object, then maybe you do sell them for a little bit of money. If we end up investing a little bit more in the quality of the book itself, it will make more sense to charge a couple dollars for it. What do you think?

Luis: Don’t worry about it, that’s not an issue, because I want… You see, there are people that come and are very interested and they love my shop. And it wouldn’t be fair for me to charge them for a book. I will give them with all my heart. You know?

Becca: Yeah.

Luis: “I’m glad you love my shop, I’m glad you love this store. This is us,” you know? And that book will travel and travel. Just the fact that we have a story about this, that’s my goal. And whatever it takes to make it a better story, we can work on it. If you have the time.

Becca: I do. In terms of the style of the book and how we present it, I want to design it around how you envision the exchange that you would have between someone who walks into the shop and loves it and wants to know more. Like, what kind of book would you feel comfortable saying, “Here, take this with you?” Do you have a picture of how big it is, what color it is, if it’s on display somewhere? And is this title something you feel like represents you and the store and how you want to be seen?

Luis: Okay. Is this gonna be like the front? No, that’s not going to be the—

Becca: This is a draft. It could be anything on the front. 

Luis: We got to find something else. And the name, I like this name because it was first but I love your mother’s idea too. 

Becca: “Going the Extra Mile?”

Luis: Yeah. Because it is an effort being accomplished. And you know what, it comes in a time of need, of the times that we are living. You know, it’s a business, but at the same time we are helping the community, right? We doing it for the community. And going the extra mile is helping people. Going the extra mile is providing for people. And the colors [points to the blue and yellow Celene’s Thrift sign on the building]. I would like to use those colors.

Becca: Oooh! Okay. 

Luis: Because it has to go all according to the store… My son-in-law, he has a printer. We could get him involved. He prints t-shirts and hats.

Becca: Good to know for your ten year anniversary.

Luis: Yes! T-shirts. 

Becca: I would definitely buy one of those.

Luis: Ten years anniversary and—

Becca: Ooh, a big sign!

Luis: A big sign! Now you got me going with this.

Becca: It’s good to think ahead. I mean, August isn’t even that far away. We could make these books before then, and make sure to have them there for your ten year anniversary. Maybe that’s the premiere of the book.

Luis: Everything. It comes along!

Becca: So it could be important to note on the back, like, “In honor of the ten year anniversary of Celene’s Thrift shop, this collection of stories.” And maybe that’s part of the reason why we publish it?

Luis: No, well, I’m doing this because I want you to, for your school, for your project. 

Becca: But MY project is to facilitate and support YOUR project! [Both laugh] It would be perfect if there’s a ten year anniversary party, and then this book just fits right into that.

Luis: It would. We’re gonna do that. We’re gonna celebrate. We’re gonna put balloons, we’re gonna do something for everybody. We gotta announce it before. We could, you know, play some music. Celebrate. Make a celebration. I don’t see why not. 

Becca: How many copies do you think? I can price stuff out, but I was hoping like, fifty? 

Luis: Yes. Something like that.

Becca: Think that’s enough? We could always reprint it if it’s popular and they sell out and we want to keep going.

Luis: Let’s start with fifty. I want to take the funding. I want to fund it. I want to pay for it.

Becca: Noooo!

Luis: Yes. Because I love the story. It’s all about us. And it’s about you. But I want you to have some, and I want to have some. It’s not fair, that you, you came up with the idea, and I love the story, and everything is being created. And I want to fund it. 

Becca: That’s very generous. 

Luis: A hundred dollars isn’t gonna do. 

Becca: Well, I know.

Luis: You know that!

Becca: I’m going to do as much as I can to fit it into a hundred dollar budget. I’m gonna do the best I can. And then yeah, I’ll let you know. I’ll ask around this week.

Luis: Ask around, take your time, and work on it, and let’s make something very nice. Okay?

Becca: Okay. Cool. Thank you!

Luis: Thank you, Becca. 

Becca: It’s been so fun. 

Luis: Oh, yes, it has. I’m happy.

Me and Luis on the morning of this interview 2021, Ridgewood, Queens, USA. Photo by Ana Yris.

Becca Kauffman (she/they) is an artist living a block away from Celene’s Thrift shop in Ridgewood, Queens. They are a first year in PSU’s Art and Social Practice MFA program currently investigating the voice as an artful and multifaceted communication device.

Luis Orlando Beltran (he/him) was born in El Salvador, Central America and moved to the United States in 1969. He went to high school in Brooklyn. He’s never written a book before, but has a lot of stories. He has worked as a produce manager, a vacuum and encyclopedia salesman, a chauffeur, a check-cashing clerk and franchise owner, and now runs his own thrift shop, where this story begins. 

The Social Forms of Art (SoFA) Journal is a publication dedicated to supporting, documenting and contextualising social forms of art and its related fields and disciplines. Each issue of the Journal takes an eclectic look at the ways in which artists are engaging with communities, institutions and the public. The Journal supports and discusses projects that offer critique, commentary and context for a field that is active and expanding.

Created within the Portland State University Art & Social Practice Masters In Fine Arts. Program, SoFA Journal is now fully online.

Conversations on Everything is an expanding collection of interviews produced as part of SoFA Journal. Through the potent format of casual interviews as artistic research, insight is harvested from artists, curators, people of other fields and everyday humans. These conversations study social forms of art as a field that lives between and within both art and life.

SoFA Journal
c/o PSU Art & Social Practice
PO Box 751
Portland, OR 97207