In a dim and crowded Greenwich Village wine bar I arrive late and flustered to meet Brendan Boston, a Harlem-based set designer whose work has taken him around the country and world. Ever since I saw his designs in person for Chris Gethard’s show Career Suicide, and listened to how nonchalantly he described sourcing all its eclectic furniture in New Jersey, I’ve considered him famous. He amiably waves off my tardiness and sips his wine, like he’s glad to be out here, now, but was also going to be out on this Friday regardless. He mercifully ignores my struggle to get adjusted with a coat and two bags on the high bar stool, and I resolve to replicate his cool.
So what does one gift the birthday Aries with boundless creative firepower, not to mention someone who self-identifies as a “master manipulator” when it comes to juggling budgets, design visions, and an ever-expanding cast of creative personalities? Light bulbs, it turns out, which are incidentally the best symbol for the trailblazing herald of the new astrological year.
- “My mom always sends me these black T-shirts from Walmart, which just come in packs. I could use more of those. I have all these shirts I never wear, probably because these are my uniform.”
As Ina Garten, (who has nothing to do with this, but also a little to do with everything), might say: “how easy is that?”
- So in addition to Walmart tees, I ask, is there anything else wearable?
As Brendan is from Chicago, and Aries’ official color is red, this might be the most obnoxious but also possibly on-point scarf for him.
3.. Since he works professionally in theater, getting him show tickets might be dicey, but is there something he wants to see as a spectacle-loving fire sign?
“Oh fuck no,” he says. “It’s work, and that’s research. My ideal birthday evening would just be going to a restaurant that I didn’t have to pick or plan for, but I still wound up liking, with a group. Or a dive bar even, where everyone just has enough space to hang out.”
- Passive aggressive, or aggressive? I have to ask anyone ruled by Mars.
“Passive aggressive.” No problem.
- “Generally, I like gifts I can use. Like light bulbs. Light bulbs would be a great gift. Or like, a backpack. A wineglass. I just want to be able to use it.”
- “I hate gift cards. But I do have a wish list on Amazon. The only thing in it right now,” (he checks on his phone), “is this Mophie Battery. You can charge it anywhere.” (he scrolls for a while). “Yeah, that’s it. The Mophie.”
- “A magazine subscription to The New Yorker. It’s something I can carry around, read on the train.”
But what about that notoriously short Aries attention span? What about film or TV?
“Why would you get me that?” he asks. “I can stream everything.” He then adds, “I love Reese Witherspoon though.”
He can stream Big Little Lies any day, but also watch with his favorite fellow Aries.
- “One year my sister got me the self-titled Beyoncé record for my record player – that was a great gift. Beyoncé and a bottle of red wine. It was perfect. Even just a bottle of red wine.”
- Fire planet Martians supposedly prize experience gifts, especially of the thrill-seeking variety. I list three options for him: bungee jumping, hang gliding, or car racing.
“Uh, car racing? I don’t love heights. But not go-carts, that’s dumb. Real cars.”
Real cars are necessary for the thrill.
“I would also do a yacht race,” he adds. “I’d take it.”
- I ask if he’d like nice luggage to mix hi-lo with the Walmart tees for his travels, or to throw in the galley of his yacht during the race. He nods. “I would use that.”
This option is waterproof and apparently “no-nonsense.”
- Aries typically enjoy some kind of almost punishing physical workout to help burn through the boundless energy of the zodiac cycle’s first sign.
“I love a crazy vigorous workout. I reset. But only when it’s intense. With working out I’m all or nothing.” He pauses. “I guess I’m like that in other areas too.”
I ask if he’s competitive. “Mentally. I kind of hated sports, because they weren’t my rules.”
Of the entire zodiac, Aries is the most open to a fitness-centric gift (second-most is Virgo). Since Aries at least claim to only be in competition against themselves, this individual stats tracker might appeal.
- I ask if he’s an impulse shopper, as the Greek god of war would prefer to spend first, think later.
“Yes. I recently almost bought a Levi’s trucker jacket, like a black denim one. I was very proud of myself when I put it on hold. I did get a Patagonia jacket though. It was way more than I wanted to spend, but it’s quality.”
You can help him build an adventure-ready all or nothing Patagonia wardrobe with a casual vest.
- Finally, a sketchbook is a practical way he can translate his many designs and ideas into reality, or at least trap them all in one place. “That will get used. But good paper, you know. Not some last minute shit from Jo-Ann Fabric.”
While we conclude on an ambiguous note about his faith in astrology, he sips his wine and shrugs. “I definitely believe in the matrix a little bit. And if I believe in the matrix, even just a little… like sure, astrology’s not that far out.”
I’ll take it.