Keaton Kustler-Klein has become something of an unofficial mascot here at the Phoenix offices. A few months ago, someone sent around a MySpace link to wallets an Arlington girl had been making out of Phoenix covers: using clear duct-tape, she twisted our Spring Preview cover into a plastic-wrapped accessory case, turned a pic of an original Air Jordan (from a story on local sneaker culture that I wrote) into a billfold, and shaped Morrissey’s mug into a moneybag. We could tell that she was young — even though her MySpace profile fibs that she’s 31, nobody who can legally vote signs off with four consecutive :D emoticons. But we couldn’t tell she was that young. So young that the Arlington High School freshman should technically still be in eighth grade. So young that her main source of revenue is babysitting. So young that we had to reschedule a Friday-afternoon meeting for a time when her mom would be home to chaperone.
“Let me show you the first one I made, a/k/a ‘My Pride and Joy,’” says Keaton while seated at her kitchen table this past Sunday evening. Earlier this year, she mulled over the idea of making wallets, but thought using regular duct-tape was cliché, a “generic” attempt at being cool, a fashion-accent for posers — “like black Converse.” When she saw an emo band she loved in the Phoenix, Panic! at the Disco, she had a eureka moment: clear duct-tape!
Keaton continued taping up covers. A couple months ago, she even made a four-sided duct-tape purse with a hemp-rope shoulder strap out of the Phoenix’s The Best issue. Then she started making non-Phoenix wallets for bands, using photos of Morningwood and Damone.
“Two weeks ago, I went down to Damone’s free Newbury Comics show to deliver [Noelle’s, Damone’s lead singer] wallet and now I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I met them? They’re in Ellegirl.’” Keaton says Noelle offered her cash, but she wanted merch instead. “It’s cool to have money, but once it’s spent, it’s not like, ‘so-and-so gave me this one dollar bill! So-and-so gave me this twenty!’ ” she says. “No, it’s, ‘so-and-so gave me this T-shirt!’ That’s like, whoa!”
She also mixed the two: re-purposing the Phoenix’s “Med School Drug Pushers” cover, which featured brightly colored pills, into a gift for the dance-punk foursome Action Action because they have a song called “Drug Like.”
“She hasn’t ever made her mother one,” her mom says, standing over us, hands on her hips. “I’m like the shoemaker mom with no shoes. I’m the walletmaker’s mother with no wallet.”
“I tried to get into the Pink Spiders show in Allston a few weeks ago,” says Keaton, ignoring her mother. “They wouldn’t let us in because we weren’t 18, but we hung out with them for a while, gave them each their own special wallet.”
“She twisted my arm to go to Pink Spiders,” adds her mom. “I said, ‘Only if you save your babysitting money and take a cab home.’”
“I did. It was so worth it,” Keaton says wistfully.
“Why don’t you tell her —”
“Mom!”, Keaton cries, “You’re totally stealing my interview!”
Keaton estimates that she’s gone through 30 rolls of clear duct-tape since she started making wallets. That’s a lot when each one runs between five and seven dollars a pop. (She can’t find a retailer who will sell her an entire case.) She has improved her techniques, but they’re “highly secret.” She may only be a freshman in high-school, but she’s already figured out the art of PR management: “If you leak it out and anyone copies it, I’ll come after you with sticky scissors and wallets.”
Keaton would like to see some things come out of her ingenuity. “Lots of band shirts. An article in AP Magazine, that would be cool. Free concerts wherever I go. A hot band guy that’s not, like, 40, being like, ‘Hey!’,” she says winking. “Nah, I don’t know. For somebody to be like, ‘I saw you in the Phoenix. Wanna sign my Phoenix?’ That would be mad cool.”
On the Web
Keaton Kuster-Klein: myspace.com/keatonkeatonkeaton