Friday, June 30, 2006

Sunbathing... and "relaxing"

Today is my last day at the beach, and I seem to have made the most of it by sleeping much of it away. I had another run at A.C. yesterday, and got in late. And no, I wasn't gambling. There aren't any horse tracks on the beaches. I had really wanted to take some night shots of the boardwalks and the casinos. I was happy with the results, and one of these days I will have the knowledge and bandwidth resources to make this into the photo-blog that it should be.

I thought that I would spend the day at the beach. I trekked all of my stuff out, and got myself all set up. It was 11:30AM, cloudless and hot- what many would consider perfect beach weather. I lied down and tried to settle in. But I couldn't and I rarely can. Lying in the sun on the beach is the perfect day for many people, but not for me. I'm too restless, and being under the merciless glare of the midday sun is almost work. Sure, it's nice to hear and see the surf. But here at OC, you only get about 20 x 30 feet to swim in, if you need to cool off. So I felt rather confined to the sand itself. It seems such a strange pursuit- to slather spf 45 sunscreen on all the exposed parts of your body, and then deliberately subject yourself to the very thing you have tried to protect yourself from. Sure a nice even tan looks healthy, especially in the urban grit of home... but sunbathing puts the largest organ of your body at risk, and it can get awfully boring.

In truth, I prefer to actively explore my vacations anyway. The last thing I want to do when I drive hundreds of miles from my home is "relax". Relaxing is more comfortable, and more convenient where and when I know all the tricks. When I get wherever I'm spending my vacation, I want to get out and see everything I can. I will even drive an hour or two to see something unusual or promising. I'm most often exhausted when I return back to my home-base. But if all goes well, I bring back a head full of memories and discoveries, and a compact flash card with interesting images. As far as this Jersey trip is concerned, I did a fairly damn good job. See ya back in the burgh, or right here...

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The jewel of the Atlantic coast: Atlantic City

Today I drove to Atlantic City, with the intention of seeing the aquarium. It was the smallest one I've been in, but at $7 I didn't feel ripped off. I got to see turtles copulating. That's money's worth for ANYBODY, aged 9 to 99.

The boardwalk in AC is half Las Vegas, half Philly. There are the usual boardwalk tee-shirt shops and steak joints, but you can also get your needs met at one of the many massage parlors or palm reading shops. I swear that at $1-$5 admission, the palm readers are supplementing their offerings with other services. By the looks of the tarted-up tramps lounging about inside, you could probably get a pretty nice deal on a "happy ending". *DISCLAIMER: I really can't confirm any of these suppositions. * I was half-hoping I could find some beat-up attractions on the pier, but I didn't have any luck. It was the same factory-stamped, cookie-cutter rides as the other piers in New Jersey. The barkers at the game booths were a bit more aggresive, but other than that it was standard fare. We found a nice italian-style buffet, and had at it. I forgot just how good shore pizza was.

The casinos are encroaching on whatever old-style charm Atlantic City has left. The Trump Taj Mahal is completely obscene. It's probably one that "the Donald" would like back, what with 9-11 and all. If Al-Qaeda is hiding out on the beach, this is where we'd be likely to find them, knocking back a few shooters and peeping the showgirls.

The most offensive monstrosity along the beach is Bally's faux western stage set. It's like the most low-rent model train platform storefronts blown up to larger than life-size. The colors of the facade are garish and unnatural, and along with the blaring country tunes, would make the most iron stomachs a bit queasy. Maybe their strategy is that if they make their exteriors unbearable, than passersby will run for the bathrooms inside, and end up staying to throw a few bucks in the slot machines. Somewhere recently I read a foreigner's take on the US... that American refrigerators have no real food, but hundreds of condiments... the tactics the casinos use to draw customers somehow seem to naturally appeal to ketchup and mustard lovers.

Atlantic City is definitely worth seeing once. The disparity between the glistening new Vegas-style money pits and the substandard ghetto housing a few streets off the boardwalk tell the real story of the USA today. I'm just waiting for the barbed wire fences that will split these two demographics forever.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Tale of Three Beaches.

So far I have visited three different beaches on the NJ coast. I should not have been surprised to see these three resort towns appeal to three totally different demographics- Just as in any other class of consumerism, there are different products for each class. These are so readily distinguishable from one another that it is readily apparent on a superficial level within the first ten minutes at each location.

I've already touched a bit on Ocean City, NJ- America's Greatest Beach Resort (TM). This place appeals mostly to white, conservative card-carrying, conventional citizens of the American upper-middle class. This is the bourgeois beach, sans alcohol. There are rules for everything here, and to be accepted you need to follow them closely (in addition to the rules I mentioned in a previous post- even the ocean is marked off with flags between which, and only between which, you are permitted to swim). Don't try to have any other than vanilla fun here.

I found my way to two other resorts yesterday... Cape May and Wildwood. I'll take these in the order I visited them...

Cape May is (the self-proclaimed) America's Oldest Seaside Resort, and it is old money indeed. Posh, extravagant, monied... it is replete with stately old hotels, tree-lined narrow streets, and smart boutiques and "eateries". The architecture (much of it Victorian) is shockingly beautiful. This is the place that the upper-middle class comes to dream about what could be... while of course staying in one of the many Bed and Breakfasts or Hotels. With all this money comes tasteful (yet not necessarly discreet) opulence. It's definitely the beach to come to to view how the other half (of the top 5%) lives.

I finished my meanderings in Wildwood. Ah... Wildwood... ye are not how I had known thee. The last time I was in Wildwood was twenty years ago, and it has changed. It used to be a slightly more gritty OC, where the older teens would go to let off a bit of steam. Still there was plenty for the parents to occupy themselves with, and it still had the air of wholesome fun. Walking on the boardwalk in Wildwood now is like being on the midway of an urban county fair... there are plenty of storefronts offering hair weaves, manicures, henna tattoos and "wax hands"(?). There are gaudy "casinos" that offer games of chance with the opportunity to win a cruise (after spending about $50K). Food is limited to the greasiest of boardwalk fare... pizza, cheese steaks, curly fries, and spaghetti... and of course the whole panopoly of sweets one might expect to see the hoi polloi shove down their gullets. The t-shirt shops all have their crudest, most obnoxious mass-market designs pushed out in the stroller's face. And of course there are Morey's Piers, offering thrills to the young and the eternally young. The amusements get face lifts to jive with the latest trends in mainstream entertainment, but they essentially stay the same. Witness the zombie dark ride that now advertises itself as a "laser tag adventure". The animations don't react to being shot. They still simply pop out of the wall as they always have.

This is the working class resort. Things are rusting, the boardwalk boutique walking mall is boarded up, and there is little visible police presence. And they don't require beach tags to get near the ocean. It's democracy in its crudest form. Wildwood appeals to the shifting, volatile mob..."Come One, Come All"... and attracts a lowest common denominator that many more well-heeled Americans find distasteful. I was fascinated. I rode the zombie ride three times.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Rules from "America's Best Family Resort"

Ocean Cty, NJ is truly the Disney World of beach resorts- in fact, it won an award as the best family resort in the United States. A quick Google search will bring up about 5 million hits where that phrase is quoted. They are proud of this designation (from wherever it came) and they are serious here about insuring that it stays most amenable to families. This is truly amalgamated and clean, wholesome fun. But there are a couple things you should be aware of:

Rules. Rules. Rules. You must:

-Buy a beach tag to access the beach.
-Get off the beach between the hours of 10PM and 6AM (NO SUNSETS for you!).
-NOT throw frisbees or other projectiles while on the beach.
-Refrain from smoking cigarettes, except in designated areas along the boardwalk (designated by green paint demarcating "zones")
-NOT expect to find Chinese, Insian, Middle-Eastern , Thai, Vietnamese foods on the boardwalk. There is, however, plenty of food categorizable under the "White Trash" label.
-Run on the boardwalk in the "Runner's Lane" only.
-NOT go shoe-less on the boardwalk.
-Buy a membership card ($10) if you want to use the computers at the community library. (This I do for you, my friends)
-NOT use profanity within the city's public spaces.
-Remember that alcohol CAN NOT be purchased within the city limits.
-NOT bike on the boardwalk after 11 AM.
-Be Caucasian. (Not really, but it sure seems like an unwritten rule).

-Follow all county, state, and federal applicable laws where they apply. Because they do. And you will be drawn and quartered if you deviate.

This is amusement in today's America. Entertainment must be strictly regulated, encouraged in certain manners and during certain hours, and around certain people. Leave your id at home, because you won't be needing it here. Welcome!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ocean City, NJ

Tomorrow I make the long drive (six and a half hours) to Ocean City, NJ. This beach resort is family-oriented, which I guess is kinda appropriate since I'll be staying with my wife, my dad, his wife, my brother, his wife, and their kids (3). When I was a tyke, we'd visit this place every summer. I remember the magic of the boardwalk, the ocean, the sand, and the pier amusements. I remember big scary stuff washing up on the beach-- like a live adolescent tiger shark, and a humongous fish head severed from the rest of his body by god-knows what underwater behemoth.

If my family were sitting next to me right now, they would chime in with what they would no doubt think a funny and embarrassing moment of my pre-teen years. They would laughingly relate the story of how I (absent-mindedly, as if that weren't the perpetual state of a pre-teen) walked several blocks from our motel (The Impala), on to the boardwalk, and into the salt water taffy store... clothed only in my tighty-whiteys (and flip flops). What they'd fail to mention is that the underwear was actually gray, with a red band along the top (it was manufactured that way- I was not the slob I would later become). Hahahaha! Now wasn't that amusing?

Anyways... I hope I can find an internet cafe, and post regular updates during the next week. But if I don't... please don't stop coming to my blog. I swear (or threaten) that I will be back.

PS: By "family-oriented", I mean that the whole town is freakin' dry.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

What do I find funny?

So I'm out last night and sitting with a friend, and the question arises, "What do you find funny?" Possibly the most outstanding feature of the guy I'm sitting with is his wit. He is constantly ready with a witty retort. He's usually on his game. I don't think it's unfair to say that this guy knows "funny". Anyway, he decides to pull out one of the latest jokes he's heard. The delivery is good and keeps me engaged just enough to bring me to the end of the joke. The punchline comes, and he doesn't get a laugh from me. I can't fake it... it simply doesn't amuse me enough to get a visible reaction. So now I have to explain why. I've never liked canned jokes... usually just tune out after the first ten seconds. Can't remember them and don't try to. Does that mean I have no sense of humor? That's what we were trying to get at in our discussion.

If you know me (and you probably do if you are reading this at this early stage of my blogging), you would most likely not say that I am humorless. I'm sarcastic, caustic, direct, jaded... whatever... but I do laugh. And no, I'm not really into schadenfreude, despite my "germanity". Truly most of the stuff that people around me find hilarious confuses me. For instance, Saturday Night Live... I'm lucky if I crack a smile during the entire show. Adam Sandler movies (other than Punch-Drunk Love), Jim Carrey (yes, the fan of professional wrestling), the Austin Powers movies, Mel Brooks, Bill Murray (since Meatballs), Rush Limbaugh, PJ O'Rourke, every sitcom on television... JUST NOT FUNNY... none of it. Even Office Space, a film loved by friends with very similar sensibilities... I just don't understand. Do I have Aspberger Syndrome? Am I a chronic depressive?

No. Indeed I do find some things very, very funny. The Ali G show makes me smile until my face hurts. I found most of Mr. Show uproarious. Bill Hicks, David Cross, Doug Stanhope... they are irreverent, intelligent and genius. You want goofy humor... try Fishing with Gandhi. Or watch John Lurie's old IFC show, Fishing with John, for a mix of dry intelligence and lighthearted play. For political humor... The Onion, Jon Stewart or the Colbert report. Shit, once upon a time Michael Moore was even funny. If you don't believe me, watch the first season of the Awful Truth. Nothing better than seeing millionaire investment traders throw cream pies at homeless folks on the streets of Manhattan.

Maybe the common element is subtlety and multiple layers. Maybe I'm just pompous and mean. But I believe that humor needs to be transgressive, and to do that properly it has to defy conventions. Mainstream media humor goes for the amalgamation of the average American's humor. It's safe, banal and easily digestible. But it doesn't make me laugh. Anyway, let's change the subject... didya hear the one about...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Steven Soderbergh

Now here's an interesting fella. As a (very) young director, he made interesting independent films like Kafka, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and Schizopolis. For the serious film watcher, he was definitely one to track. These were intriguing and experimental works. And then Hollywood got him... what followed were big budget mainstream films... the likes of Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Full Frontal, and a remake of Tarkovsky's classic Solaris. By the time Ocean's 11 came out, I just simply didn't care what Soderbergh was up to. He was, to my mind, just one more talented auteur turned out and made into a hack by the Hollywood meat grinder. He was off my radar.

But something strange has happened, and Soderbergh has taken a 180 degree turn. He formed a partnership with Mark Cuban (owner of one or another NBA franchise) and a company called HDNet. He made a deal for a cycle of six films, each with small stories, filmed in back-asswards little towns throughout the American landscape, and using non-professional actors that already lived on location. Most unconventionally, the films would be released on the same day on DVD, on cable and in the movie theaters (Cuban's Landmark chain).

The first film, Bubble, was released in 2005. It was filmed in Parkersburg, WV and Belpre, OH- two little towns straddling the Ohio River. It is one of the most voyeuristic narrative films in recent memory, focusing on an unlikely friendship between two workers in a doll manufacturing plant. When a young woman joins the factory staff, jealousy and trouble ensues among the main players. Soderbergh takes his time with the story, and condescends neither to his n0n-professional staff, nor his audience. The extended shots of the doll factory, and the West Virginian landscape are subtly creepy, while at the same time sublime in their beauty. The actors were given free reign to find their ways between plot points, and the technique works in a natural way. In a way, Bubble recalls Godard's early films. And it requires a bit of patience on the viewer's part. But this work countervails the pap churned out by the corporate entertainment industry... the glitz, contrived twisty plots, melodramatic acting, sweeping slick soundtrack, MTV-style editing, and soundbyte dialogue.

Now I can once again look forward to the projects of an American director. This is an all too rare phenomenon in this viewer's experience.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Brain nutrition

So I was hanging out at my favorite coffeeshop and I ran into a friend, and we had a chat about dietary supplements. His ever-increasing regimen (he rattled off the names of 20-30 substances he takes every single day) has done wonders for his psyche and physical well-being. I don't want to breach any confidentialities, but let's just say that after three days of taking his supplements he woke up with a very physical manifestation of better health. Since that fateful morning, he's put in copious amounts of research through internet sites and the books he's subsequently ordered. When I asked him if this was a passing infatuation or a lifelong obsession, he confidently predicted that he will be using supplements for the rest of his life.

Now in my mid-thirties I find myself considering what possible steps I could take to feel better as I age. There are all the usual suspects... eliminate my glaring bad habit(s) , get regular exercise, eat breakfast, buy quality food and learn how to prepare it well, etc. But always, always is the temptation to look for a shortcut. Could I limp into better health simply by buying and taking pills regularly? Is this what modern technology has done for us? As my friend pointed out, all these chemicals already pre-exist in foods, but where and how much has been mitigated by over-processing and how much other unnecessary crap are we getting along with the vital nutrients? Simply put... how much FOOD is in our food? Do you trust the FDA? How about the corporations that manufacture our food and drugs?

I found out from my friend that there are actually co-ops that buy bulk quantities of these supplements. The pharmaceutical companies aren't trying that hard to make these available at an affordable price. But folks are resourceful.

While a bit more than merely intrigued, I couldn't really imagine me putting the time and effort into this as my friend has. So I asked him what supplements he thought he would pick if he was limited to just five. The following is his list:

R-Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Twinlab LPP Predigested Protein
Good ol' Vitamin C (he suggests 3 or more grams a day)

Round that out with a decent multivitamin... and better living through chemistry.

What do y'all think? Chime in by commenting...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What's the real story behind immigration?

I've been meaning to post a bit on this immigration flap that seems to have so entranced the nation lately. It's my intention to touch on political issues rarely, as I feel that political commentary requires a very nuanced and thorough approach, and many of my political positions are rather direct and simplistic. That being said, I do want to chime in on the issue of illegal immigration.

I think much of the public discourse on this topic does an end-run around a major dimension of this issue. To be sure, there are many who believe that a continual flow of border crossings from Mexico is going to change the cultural identity of the USA. But outside of several southwestern regions (and Florida), I don't think this is the main concern. Why does the US seem to have problems with the amount of illegal immigrants in-country? Is our land overpopulated? Do many of our citizens risk dying through lack of access to clean water and food? No, we have resources to support an expanding population. So what is the real threat? I believe that jobs are what people care about most. And unfortunately no one seem to suggest doing anything that truly addresses this concern.

Ever since white folks first came to the United States, all types of people have followed because they see the country as a beacon of economic opportunity. For as long as the USA has been a nation, immigration has been a source of strength. Immigrants have powered the growth of this country since before the American Revolution. Indeed many are still drawn by the perception of a place of infinite wealth. But today, the reality many face when they get here is a bit different.

Both large corporations and the upper-class seem to welcome illegal immigrants with open arms. We are told we need immigrants to clean our houses and pick our vegetables. As the president says, "Immigrants work the jobs that Americans don't want." Every time I hear someone say this I cringe and feel my temperature rise a degree. If the statement were true (an assumption that I doubt), it would only be so because the jobs in question fail to pay a living wage. And corporations will continue to expect the work to be done at an artificially low labor cost just as long as there is a pool of illegal immigrants to hire. Sure, corporations have been using the resource of illegal immigrants against working US citizens since the gilded age- but in the modern age we should know better than to merely accept this as a function of the "free market".

In an economy where corporations can hire illegal immigrants in order to devalue labor, there is NO "free market". Clearly the demand for underpaid labor far outstrips the American citizenry's willingness to supply this labor. So the cost of said labor should increase. But that won't happen as long as there is a ready supply of desperate workers just over the border, and living off the charts in the US itself.

There should be no mystery as to why there are so many illegal immigrants in our country. Just go out to the fields of California, to the nearby Walmart after-hours, to the hotels and motels at checkout times... hell, just look at the list of foreign nationals who die in Iraq trying to "earn" their citizenship. Would you want to work these jobs for pay that allows you to cram into a two-room apartment with three other families? Would you want to be at the mercy of harsh working conditions because you have no recourse to the protections that the twentieth century labor movement struggled so much to provide for you? No... you, in your privilege as an American citizen, would not accept the conditions nor the substandard pay.

Illegal immigration exists only because the corporations want it. If they didn't hire these people, then there would be no economic incentive for immigrants to come into the country illegally. The government should fine corporations (and individuals) exorbitantly for hiring illegal immigrants. Every American worker, both US citizen and legal immigrant, should enjoy the protections of our labor laws. And our corporate "citizens" should be made to pay a hefty price for breaking the law. To my mind, that is the only way to begin a remedy to this issue. Any talk about "temporary worker programs" or stricter border enforcement is simply smoke-and-mirrors. The point here is labor devaluation.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Werner Herzog

So I just finished watching Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man. I've been a fan of his work for a few years now. Past favorites have included features like Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo and Nosferatu. At times I've even tortured my friends with Even Dwarves Started Small- a wonderful film with an all little-people cast (dwarves AND midgets) that takes over an asylum to create anarchic mayhem. But other than the stellar Kinski- My Best Fiend, I haven't had much experience of his documentaries. Grizzly Man traces the exploits of one Timothy Treadwell, an amatuer naturalist who made it his mission to live with and study grizzlies. This is no National Geographic special. It has more to do with the obsessive and perhaps unnatural relationship between Treadwell and the animals. Herzog suggests that there is both beauty and folly in this pursuit. And he doesn't make the mistake of telling the viewer exactly how to feel about it all. Herzog does communicate directly the difference between his and his subject's philosophies, but he somehow avoids making any final judgements, and thus truly humanizes his material.

One thing that has evaded me is exactly what Herzog refers to when he talks about "ecstatic truth". To hear him speak, this is the ultimate purpose of his endeavors as a filmmaker. It is such a nebulous concept that I can only form shadows and impressions of what he might mean. And perhaps the point is that "ecstatic truth" cannot be analyzed, broken down, or put into words. Or perhaps it's mere German pretension. Either way I get more out of his films than pretension, and I sugget that with patience you might as well.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"The Kingdom"

So I finally got around to watching Lars Von Trier's "The Kingdom". This was a Danish television series in the 90's about the creepy happenings in a large hospital in Copenhagen. There is an American remake, but I have no interest in that...

I watched all 278 minutes of it in a marathon session last night. While it has more humor (dark, very dark) than I anticipated, it did have its unsettling moments and even a couple of startling surprises. The themes were well suited to my tastes... apparitions, bodies in jars, an adult birthing, Down's Syndrome-inflicted oracles, Swedeborgian spatial journeying, a secret society, and lots of atmospheric meanderings through eerily antiseptic institutional hallways... Particularly enjoyable is the photography- shot through sickly yellowish filters, with lost of off-putting vantage points...

And I have Season Two in my queue as well. If you can track this down...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Why "Serendipity"?

Why "Serendipity"? Webster's New World dictionary defines the word:

"an apparent aptitude for making fortunate discoveries accidentally"

This word sums up how many of the best things in my life came to be. Of course this begs the question, since I could have many subjective definitions for the word "accidentally". In turn there are infinite manifestations of "subjective". Does this answer any questions?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Greetings Folks

Hey there. You are looking at my site, and probably have no idea why you'd want to. That makes two of us. ALL I wanted to do was post a comment on John Morris' Digging Pitt blog... Y'see, I have some work in his flat file gallery in Pittsburgh, and I appreciate his efforts - so I wanna be y'know... like... value-added and blah blah blah... anyways... he requires a blogger account to post a comment and... here we go, yo.

But I just know I'm gonna have some crap I wanna lay on the virtual vacuum that just is not fair to saddle some other blogger with... so's I gotta have me own. Maybe as I learn this forum, and I eventually get a faster internet connection, I'll post some images. But for now, if you are interested you can simply go to the Digging Pitt website and check me out under the flat file. I have a few series of photos there.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

"Fannie Mae" Comment Dump.

This is the Fannie Mae dump for those who want to discuss the issue. While I have ABSOLUTELY no interest in discussing the foibles of this private corporation, I also don't want to engage in censorship. I've created this page to collect all of the extraneous comments that are posted elsewhere, but really belong here. Feel free to post a comment.