|Johannes Kelpius, the "maddest of good men"|
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
One of my favorite titles. While "Embraceable You" or "These Boots Were Made for Walking" aren't of much use for further thought, the concept of the limits of what makes sense can be of daily use. If only to bypass understanding on the way to acceptance.
We recently took a short trip to Atlantic City, a place that lost its reason to exist after the craziness of the Prohibition era, and stayed, as usual, at the Borgata. Resorts have to be heavily used to generate a profit, and that means they are quickly physically degraded and in these dizzying times, look outdated in a few years too. Most hotels are sold at this point, exactly as planned by the original builders (too bad suburban developments can't be got rid of when they become more expensive to maintain than the revenue they generated in the first years of newness), and the deterioration is patched up by the second set of owners as minimally and cheaply as possible before the last slim profits are drained out and the project heads to the dumps. After 10 years, the Borgata underwent a subtle but thoroughgoing renovation, bucking the usual real-estate investment trend, and is still as attractive, pretty much, as ever.
The faux-Italianate design is paired with modern furniture and artwork, which works in not seeming yet another dive into nostalgia or over-stylish futurism alone. The limestone-looking columns and ceilings are surely some fake substitute material, but the marble floors are real enough (of course, I could be fooled) and close attention is paid to such high-wear areas as elevators and restrooms. Signage is actually updated -- something that often is neglected. Of course, too much was built and sits empty -- cashier booths replaced by machines and storefronts in dark corners that look permanently abandoned.
It's the stores and restaurants inside that seem such a jarring contradiction to your eyes, though: how do all the high-end crystal, jewelry and clothing stores jibe with the resort clientele, who don't look like resort clientele at all? Many families, even more very old and handicapped people, and, well, real slobs who dress far down from the U.S. mall standard. Flip-flops, tee shirts, dumb hats, shorts -- is this crowd really going to spend $80 and up on an entree or buy $5000 jewelry? The pizza place downstairs and the Starbucks always have lines, but the salespeople in the shiny places must be just short of falling over asleep. What in the world is the WalMart crowd doing here?
If you keep up with the damage being done to the developed world's over-financialized economy since it was completely freed from sensible restraint after the repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act (the unemployed and foreclosed-on thank you, Senator Phil Gramm), you have probably been amazed at the disastrous path taken by J.P. Morgan Chase megabank. They have paid an $80 million settlement for their credit card malpractices, a $920 million fine for admitted wrongdoing (and jaw-dropping incompetency) tied to the "London Whale" trading fiasco (which had already cost the bank $6 billion), and are facing a possible $11 billion settlement with the Justice Department right now for their malfeasance with mortgage-backed "securities" (there's a contradiction in terms).
Yet we know someone who has had a home mortgage with Chase for several years who was recently approached by them with an offer to reduce his interest rate to the current pretty low standard, with no closing costs. An offer that solely benefitted the customer, a.k.a. the usual victim! It took many e-mails, calls and much paperwork, but it was all done as promised and within a very reasonable time frame. The Chase people and their associated contractors made every effort to respond quickly and accurately, and even provided their superior's names and contact information if the mortgagee was unhappy with anything. How could this possibly be the same organization?
Individually, folks from New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey can be great -- lively, talented, with it, funny. They make you up your own game. That thought is hard to keep in mind on the highways into that vast metropolitan area, as drivers around you become deadly missiles obviously devoid of any good sense or manners at all. Crowding just drives people and animals crazy, I guess. The rich are self-centered and greedy beyond belief, and the rest seem crude, ignorant and predatory. People are like that everywhere, but the overcrowding raises the noise level beyond 10 far too often. After fighting to just get around (never mind finding a place to park!), every visit, you swear, is your last.
So we were invited to visit our neighbor's condo, which she bought this year in Ocean City, NJ, and where she's been happily staying for months. As we left Atlantic City for the day, we were pushed away from our exit onto the Parkway by a youthful moron driving video-game style, and had to double back and pay the tolls again. You're not leaving a good impression, New Jersey. We arrive in what looks like a very nice town, though -- much in contrast to A.C., obviously. Our neighbor has a fine location five blocks from the beach, which in itself was far superior to A.C.'s wretched, eroded one. Her family has vacationed there for many decades, and she knows it well.
She takes us on a short tour, and O.C. looks like it has what every town should have -- family-owned movie theaters, cafes and mom-and-pop lunch places, lots of nicely kept houses that don't betray their age at all. Seventeenth Street is her favorite, and we saw why, with a fascinating array of architecture ranging from three-story manses to narrow quaint cottages. One of the former was getting the finishing touches on a curved exterior stairway made of some beautiful wood. The street bends around, Old World style, and faces the bay on the back side, most houses having a boat dock or mooring. We didn't see one shabby area -- so is this a Disney Main Street without the sugary fakeness? In New Jersey?
I just don't know what to make of these contradictions. What makes sense? What works, maybe.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
A newspaper article and a disappointing can of paint prompted today's profound thought.
One of the few features of our local paper I enjoy are the restaurant reviews. Years ago there were great (almost New Yorker - quality) movie reviews, but the author died too young. And the fine political commentator (also female) left for bigger horizons -- or was sent packing by unhappy conservatives applying pressure. So we're left, as readers, only with that third tier of journalism, food and beverage. Could be worse: it could be the Washington Times.
Today's feature review was of a place of long standing, and revolving ownership, in Mechanicsburg borough. It has a nice location among old buildings and a strange dual character. One side, with a vaulted ceiling and large windows, has always been fine (well, varying over the years) dining, and the other side which looks out over a noisy parking lot full of pickup trucks, is a redneck smoking-allowed bar. And thereby is our tale.
Picture this: a group of librarians celebrating at said redneck bar -- how would that work out? When I was working part-time at the Mechanicsburg library (across the street), we somehow decided to do that for some occasion; whether anyone knew what the place was like (there aren't any other choices in town) I don't know. In any case, we tried to enjoy ourselves on this very rare outing, but it was impossible. The smoke was unbearable (the review mentioned its presence), the crowd really drunk really early, and the song of choice played at 180 decibels was "Red Neck Girl," which seemed to get them even more rowdy if that was even possible. I left early as any conversation or socializing was out of the question, and decided I would never, ever return.
Are there places in your own experience that proved that once was quite enough? I can think of many:
Route I-270 in Maryland. This stretch of highway is just hell. On wheels.
Gold's Gym. The day care inmates screaming in the snack/lounge area is just wrong. Wronger are the spaghetti-strap wifebeater shirts the meatheads all wear. Yuck.
Downtown Harrisburg on New Year's Eve. Twenty-two degrees and you're thinking more about pickpockets than getting buzzed.
OK, downtown Harrisburg, period.
Erie, Pennsylvania. Actually our state doesn't have one good city. Some small parts of Pittsburgh have their quirky charm, but it's not worth the confused drive to find them (check out a map of the greater city area).
Working with rednecks. They have this strange over-the-top self confidence combined with vast ignorance which is eerily schizophrenic. And they always go full speed or top volume on everything followed by longer periods of goofing off and jabbering about sports or NASCAR like a bunch of hens. They will keep every tool of yours they get their hands on.
Sun City Center, Florida, where I just spent two months. However, that's just the people. Without them it would be quite nice. The weather's great and the bay is so close the breezes are a delight. I do miss the palm trees and exquisitely blue sky.
...Meetings, Home Owners Associations, broadcast news and opinion, math classes and school assemblies, school cafeterias, commutes to work, having to be broke when young, a Barry Manilow song, a used car with six-digit mileage that leaves you stranded, getting the flu every year (sometimes twice) before those wonderful annual shots, losing all your keys through the hole in your pocket...done with all of those except for the damn HOA.
And what about that can of paint? This morning I walked down to Zach's house and had everything ready to start painting the concrete porch. The weather was absolutely perfect and there was nothing else on the schedule. OK, most people would not think of this as fun, but (as you would know from a post way back) I love a project of almost any kind and really enjoy painting. Upon opening the left-over half-gallon from last year, I discovered it was useless despite being stored well. With a car handy, could have solved that problem in 30 minutes, but our one vehicle was many miles away in Nancy's work parking lot. So while there are a lot of places I won't go again, the hardware store was one place I wanted to go but couldn't.
So I sat down on the steps of the (unpainted) porch and watched rednecks speeding by in pickup trucks, smoking, maybe going to a math class or a HOA meeting with Manilow crooning on the radio. Ironic.