Destin Silver | email@example.com | November 8, 2018
Edward Shturman is not in his usual lunch spot, outside at the nest of tables by the Bay Trail. He must have forgotten to tell me what today’s plan was. Standing around in the atrium, I finally see Shturman walking hectically with his friend down the hall, mouth moving miles a minute. We greet each other per usual – we say hi, he just starts talking, and I follow.
Shturman approaches a random group eating lunch, and discusses something incoherent, before leaving, announcing theatrically that they (Shturman and his associate) are “off to make money, off to business.”
Shturman decides where to sit for lunch: inside by a window facing the slough with his appointed Director of Marketing, d.tech sophomore Mia Giordano. They discuss updating their conservative news website, ourfreewrite.com. After, their task is getting business cards, on the off chance they meet important people at an upcoming political gala being held in November.
“So, business cards for billionaires,” I say.
“No, we’re not billionaires. Yet.” Shturman clarifies.
“Well, I mean, for them, if you’re handing it out to them,” I attempt to salvage. Giordano tactfully changes the subject.
Giordano and Shturman officially met around the time d.tech moved to the new campus. Shturman and his friends were shopping for NRA hats on the internet, which caught Giordano’s attention because she had a cap of her own at home. Shturman cautiously questioned her, skeptical as to why she would have an NRA hat in the first place, to which she responded, “Why not?” They developed a camaraderie over their far-right views, and Shturman quickly asked Giordano to be a part of his team. With the advantage of her mother being a player in the conservative political realm in California, and having connections to the billionaires they will meet in November, Giordano was a valuable addition to his entourage.
As the two continue discussing business cards overlooking the slough, I’m reminded of Patrick Bateman from the 2000 movie American Psycho. Before Bateman’s first psychotic outbreak, he seeks approval from his coworkers by proudly showing off his business card as a display of his good taste. Shturman is equally focused on what kind of cardstock his team will use.
“Do you want premium cardstock paper? Very expensive paper? Good, premium paper? Or do we want the bulk order from VistaPrint or something?” Shturman asks.
“For that, I want good paper,” Giordano replies.
Shturman begins to explain how they want to be perceived with these business cards, but Giordano quickly interjects. “We can do [a] bulk order if we’re just handing them out to random people, but these are, like, important people we’ll be talking to.”
There is a lull in conversation as they continue looking at business card designs on their Chromebooks.
“Have you guys seen American Psycho?” I interject.
Shturman replies, “No, are you saying we look like them?”
Shturman is a 10th grader at d.tech who is arguably the most controversial character on campus. He is a right-wing political activist, or as he frames it, the school’s provocateur.
“He’s a free spirit,” says 12th grade English and Model UN teacher, Rachel Siegman. He’s “unapologetically himself.” He aims to “invoke thought,” by joking about things that shouldn’t be joked about, according to the liberals. Things like the NRA, his love for Trump, and censorship are all fair game. Like d.tech, Shturman is not for the faint of heart.
We first meet outside on the terrace. Shturman is wearing Cole Haan shoes, black jeans, a red synthetic fiber henley, black hoodie, and Prada aviator shades, which he famously wears indoors. He seems eager to have someone write about him, and suggests I write the equivalent of a promotion for his business, Alpine, in the form of an article.
Alpine is Shturman’s business venture that goes into the education field to sponsor programs, like curricula or organizations that teach people skills such as coding. Our interview quickly moves from a dialogue to a monologue, as he describes his journey from politically apathetic to conservative: “So, I got into it right after graduating eighth grade, which was two summers ago. So, I was introduced to it by my grandmother,” who showed him a talk by Ben Shapiro (a conservative “political pundit,” author, and lawyer), which he found hilarious. This changed Shturman’s political views and led him down a path of consuming more works from “political pundits,” as well as conservative memes on Instagram.
The group he sits with at lunch is all boys and prone to shenanigans. I watch as one member eats Cup Noodles out of the container with his bare hand, and another guy carries an army backpack with a Gadsden flag patch (the yellow flag that has a snake and says “don’t tread on me”) on top. A couple guys are putting a banana into each other’s bags and trying to swing their bags so it flies back out. Shturman makes it clear he doesn’t want to be associated with the background noise of his lunch group’s activities.
Unlike them, he writes news articles for fun on his website, Our Free Write, targeted towards conservative readers. He considers himself an intellectual. And a future political star. In fact, when I first met Shturman, he suggested I do “a series” about him.
Shturman sees himself as battling a leftist Bay Area army. His hero Ben Shapiro pens in his book, How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them: 11 Rules for Winning the Argument, “The left no longer makes arguments about policies’ effectiveness. Their only argument is character assassination.” Shturman’s defense of his identity takes a toll on his peace of mind, but for now, he’s a character at d.tech that’ll keep on kicking.
He has a mind palace, a mnemonic technique employed by ancient Greeks to remember important information, because paper was too expensive to use and produce. Sherlock Holmes is his primary influence in its origin, explaining how “[Sherlock] has this mind palace where he stores information for later and he has an incredibly retentive memory. I’ve sorta built my own, and it’s crazy because I don’t really believe in really spiritual BS like that, but it actually works.” While Sherlock Holmes from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books never developed such a concept, Edward is evidently an avid fan of the BBC television series about the same character.
The Big Meeting
Shturman tells me about a meeting he secured for his business venture on Friday, focused on working with another entrepreneur. The entrepreneur’s company is called CodeIt, and they teach coding classes for kids across the Bay Area. He also tells me that we will be in the Oracle conference building across the street, but doesn’t bother to explain how he managed to claim the room.
After school that day, Shturman leads me and his middleman, Rohan Kumar, another sophomore at d.tech, across the street to the Oracle cafe to wait for one of Shturman’s other teammates. This time, Shturman is dressed for success, wearing a polo shirt, v-neck sweater, what I hope to be a different pair of black jeans, sneakers, and a patriotic pair of calf-length socks displaying an American flag on each leg.
He tries to order a panini, but at this time of the day, they’re all sold out. He settles for a prepackaged sandwich that the cashier offers to heat up on the panini press. When paying, he does not forget to inform me that he’s paying with a 20 dollar bill, but he does forget to pick up his 14 dollars in change. I considered mentioning to him that he hasn’t grabbed his change yet, but I am curious to see how long it will take for him to notice. It takes him nearly ten minutes.
The table we sit at is damp from the previous diner’s drink. An Oracle employee two tables away keeps glancing up from his book to glare at us. Is he onto us, d.tech students who aren’t supposed to be in the building? The backpacks would give us away, but there are other employees with backpacks that look the same age as us. Is he envious of the sandwiches we bought? There were four more on the counter when Shturman and I bought them. Was he confused about how we got hot sandwiches? I’m sure that the person working the counter could grill a packaged sandwich like a panini for that guy like he did for us. Kumar wants a drink but has no money, and Shturman is happy to buy one for him, and reminds me to take note of that specific moment of magnanimity.
We march to the Oracle conference building after we finish eating, as Shturman practically skips, evidently proud to have secured such a professional meeting environment for the mystery guest. After taking a few steps inside, Shturman is halted by a lady standing by the front desk, who states that any events with d.tech students at the Oracle buildings must first be approved by Hanan Holloway, Director of Business Operations for d.tech, who will request the space for the event. As Shturman is politely shooed off, I can see the looks on his friends’ faces. They are mildly disappointed, but not surprised.
Shturman decides that the next best course of action is to go back to school and borrow a breakout room for the meeting. The mystery man is running late, so Shturman takes the extra time to get ready. He dances up and down the halls to Russian pop music playing from his phone, and applies a Dolce & Gabbana cologne called The One onto his wrists and neck. He searches for his hair brush to comb his hair, but does not find it in his backpack.
Finally, the long-awaited contact arrives. To my disappointment, it isn’t a professional startup hotshot, or even an adult. It’s a high school sophomore, named Arnav Gattani, who had to take a forty minute Uber ride all the way from Milpitas, as he’s not old enough to drive yet.
Gattani seems amazed by the d.tech campus. Shturman, ever eager to take the stage, begins the business meeting by giving his guest a full tour of the near-empty building. He strolls through the halls, explaining how d.tech works and the intricacies of how exactly a school ends up on Oracle’s campus. The group soon settles in a breakout room on the second floor, and Shturman and Gattani brainstorm how they can benefit each other’s companies. Shturman’s solution is for Gattani’s nonprofit to charge the underserved communities for the coding classes they were teaching people for free, while Gattani wants to use the d.tech classrooms on weekends for his own classes. Although business jargon, it is clear that Gattani isn’t excited about how things are turning out. After about an hour of talking, it doesn’t seem like the two have become best friends, but they do agree to keep in touch.
The meeting having concluded around 7 o’clock, it is time to go home. We all say our goodbyes and shake hands, and when I walk up to the curb to wait for my Lyft, Gattani follows. He needs a ride to the Caltrain station, too. I ask him what he thinks about Shturman. Gattani says, “He’s cool, sticks to his morals. I mean, maybe a bit too strong, comes off strong. I like that he actually wants to make stuff a reality.”
In only two days, Shturman’s big moment to “make stuff a reality” may come. At the political gala, he will present his ideas to the conference, in hopes that he will build a network with the supposed “billionaires”. Yeah, it’s true that he isn’t technically an invited guest (he’s a plus one to Giordano and her mother – Giordano’s mother is the actual ticket holder.) That said, he will make the most of it, schmoozing with the affluent conservative men he’s determined to be like.
But for now, waiting for his ride to grandma’s house, he’s still a sophomore, hoping to distance himself from his lunch crew as an intellectual.