Monday, June 26, 2006

Vacation Proclamation

About a week ago, I received some welcoming news. I found out that my family had been granted vacation time this summer at my favorite place in the world; a very modest cottage on the east coast.

A bit of back-story is required. This house belongs to our distant cousins Uncle Frank and Aunt Gina. They have been planning to tear down the cottage and rebuild another for a couple of years now. It has been implied that once the house is torn down, our part of the family would no longer get vacation time there. This has been hinted at for one main reason.

A few years ago my mother and her siblings bought their own vacation home. Since we have our own resort now, we shouldn't take vacation time from Gina and Frank's family. There is a big problem however: I don't really care for the vacation home my family bought. I know I sound like a spoiled brat for saying this, but hear me out.

There are several reasons why I don't like it. For simplicity's sake, we’ll call Frank and Gina's place Utopia, and my family's place The Outhouse.

The Outhouse is in the middle of nowhere. It is bordered by nothing more than farms. They bought it cause it was a cheap waterfront property. However, the thrifty attitude was short-lived. You can't spend more than a weekend there because you would go insane. My family tried to curb this boredom by dumping money into it. The water that it is on is a shallow, stagnant creek. You cannot swim in it. You need an aquatic vehicle to take you out to the main water. They bought jet skis, a hot tub, a boat, canoes and a paddleboat. Now this may seem enticing, my mom has forbidden me from using most of these objects. Without the boat, we cannot go out into the open water to swim. The water vehicles are necessary to engage aquatic play. To do anything worthwhile is a trek, including going to the store (a 45 minute drive).

Lastly, the place does not have Internet. This normally would not matter for me at a vacation home, except that there is nothing to do there. Also, the only way I could see myself using this place would be as a writing seclusion. Unfortunately, most of my writing requires research on the Internet, so there is pretty much no reason for me to go there.

Utopia is almost the complete opposite of The Outhouse. It has none of the aforementioned amenities of The Outhouse, and this is a good thing. "Why," you ask? Because it doesn't need any of those silly frills.

The house is just a one-minute walk from the beach on the Atlantic Ocean. All you need to enjoy the water is a bathing suit and a boogie board. It is so blissfully simple. You barely need a car down at this place. Almost everything is in walking distance. There is a plethora of bars, restaurants and attractions, all within close proximity. Additionally, if you just want to relax and have a peaceful night at home, the house has a beautiful and quiet backyard. When we are down there, we spend more time in the backyard than in the house.

Utopia is so simplistic it is downright charming. The house has no washer/dryer, no dishwasher, and one of the two full bathrooms is on the outside of the house. When you are down there, you realize how meaningless some of the "modern conveniences" are. There is little need for a washer/dryer in a vacation home. We make of game of washing our own dishes. Few people will ever know the pleasure of watching a mother bird feed her babies and listening to the ocean breeze while taking a shower. When I'm at the house, I feel closer to the city life, to nature and to my family.

When I'm up there, I couldn't give a flying frock about not having Internet access. There is so much to do to keep myself occupied. Plus, there is an Internet cafe in walking distance.

But most importantly, it is where all my best childhood memories were made. It's the place where our family walnut tree is planted. It's the place where my late grandfather and I used catch crabs off the dock across the street. It's the place where he taught me how to solve crossword puzzles. The boardwalk is the place where I would play skeeball until the whole family was completely out of quarters. It was the last place my cousins got to spend time with their loving father, my Uncle Mark. He died of a heart attack a day after driving home. When I'm there, I feel closer to my Uncle Mark and my Poppop. It's the place where I walk the beach at night, and I feel a hint of the eternal peace that they now dwell in.

So back to last week's news. Up until last week, I was sure that last year was going to be our final year in Utopia. When I found out, I was very excited, but apprehensive. I was pretty sure I had found out too late. My boss told me that we had to request our summer vacation time several months in advance. Nevertheless, I requested a week off, and to my luck it was granted. As it turns out, no one else had asked for time off that week, so it was one of the few weeks in the summer that wasn't blacked out.

So here I am now, stocking up on sunscreen and bug spray. I've already started packing, even though the trip is weeks away. I'm excitedly counting down the days.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Miracle City, PART 1 OF 3

Up until last March, I had never been to New York City. This fact often amazes people when I tell them. "Oh really? That is surprising. You seem like someone who would fit right in there."

No, I had never been. New York was like this distant relative I had never visited, despite the relative bearing a striking resemblence. I never had a reason to travel to New York. I've been all over the States, visited Canada, seen London, Paris, Sicily and Rome. As a child I traveled with my family. In more recent years I would travel alone to visit friends. The bulk of my trips in my younger years centered around my mother's business travel. She had no business contacts in New York City. We have no family there. For the longest time, this city was a big void on my social map.

It wasn't until 4 years ago that I evolved a small social connection to the city. I met Oliver, who later became one of my best friends. His sister and brother-in-law live in New York. Finally, a string tied me to New York. It was last November that the string was pulled.

I was surfing the Internet at work one day. I entered a search for David Sedaris, one of my favorite writers and brother of Amy Sedaris, one of my favorite comedians. I stumbled upon The Steven Barclay Agency, which represents some of the finest American literary talents. The page for David Sedaris listed a plethora of upcoming tour dates, yet the closest appearance was in Wilmington, Delaware. The next closest appearance was in, you guessed it, The Big Apple. He was set to appear in New York's Town Hall on March 31, 2006. Coincidentally, I was also set to receive a hefty tax return. I now had the means and the motive to finally see the greatest city in the world. Now it was just a matter of time and planning.

The tickets had not gone on sale yet, but I knew they would go fast as soon as they became available. I emailed a few friends, including Oliver, proposing that we make a weekend of it. I warned them to buy tickets as soon as they could, and provided all the necessary information. Oliver was a definite go; he loves David Sedaris, and his sister would provide him a free place to stay. I also invited Jay, who lives in upstate New York. He was also a definite go, being that he loved the city. My other friends expressed initial interest, but they swayed toward the negative in the end. I bought two tickets (for myself and Jay) to the appearance as soon as they were available. This was in November of last year, a full 5 months before the event. Luckily, I had the holiday season and an upcoming wedding to keep myself occupied.
Over the next few months, I became increasingly excited. At first my thoughts were just consumed with the idea of seeing David Sedaris. Eventually the other factors of the trip crept into my thoughts. Not only would I be seeing my favorite writer, I would be going on trip with my best friend in the great city of New York.

I tried to quell this rising excitement, telling myself I didn't want to "jinx it." This has happened with many of my travel experiences. I have built up such a fantastic version of my forthcoming trip in my mind that nothing could possibly live up to it. I think this may have been why I was not overtly impressed with Rome (though my family's drunken lewdness may have played its part). I kept telling myself to not over do it this time, to kind of just let things happen and to be a sponge, rather than a critic, of the experience. I decided to leave myself mentally unprepared for all the glamour of the city. I knew, however, at the very least I would be hanging out with people I always have a good time with. That was the only emotional investment I knew wasn't in any way risky.

So time dwindled down, and the day of reckoning has arrived. March 31, 2006. I parked my car in Oliver's parent's driveway, where we departed at about 11 am. The first thing I did in the car was take a really stupid picture of myself.

Then, I took a picture of Oliver with my fat finger blocking the lens.

We made exceedingly good time, despite having stopped for lunch at Sbarro's and me buying sunglasses (which I lost less than 24 hours later). We listened to a mixed CD I had made the night before. It had all my favorite uplifting beats, which were not limited to Running with the Devil by Van Halen, Takin' Care of Business by BTO and The Only Living Boy in New York by Simon and Garfunkel. When that CD was done, we switched to the Rolling Stones, and then we eventually listened to Oliver's mixed CD of Ween songs.

We got in town around three o'clock via the Lincoln tunnel. Oliver dropped me off and I checked into the Ramada Plaza New Yorker, which is right across the street from Madison Square garden. Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be pleased to know that my hotel room number was 42. Well, technically it was 2942, but who's counting.

When I got into my hotel room I noticed two things. The first was that the room was so small the only way I could reach the window was by crawling over the bed. The second was that the bathroom door handle was broken. The inside doorknob would not turn, meaning it would lock me inside if I closed the door all the way. I realized that I would have to use the bathroom with the door open. At this point I thanked the Lord that at the last minute I told Jay he couldn't crash in my room.

I threw my bag into my cubby-sized hotel room and then did some lone-sightseeing. I had picked this hotel because of its close proximity to the theatre district and Times Square, so I decided to head there.

Years of TV and movie viewing had left me desensitized to the overwhelming number of advertisements in this area. The one thing I was not prepared for was the sea of humanity.

I had to struggle to take some more pictures because I felt like I was moving against the tide.

I looked at the advertisements for Cup O' Noodles and Budweiser, and sudddenly I realized I was famished.

I decided to head back to the hotel, grab some food, and get ready for the Sedaris event. There was a cozy little diner in the same building as my hotel. It was an old fashioned place that had tuna melt specials and nonstop cups of coffee. I don't drink coffee, but I thoroughly enjoyed my tuna melt.

As the waitress was delivering my second Diet Pepsi, a man the size of a small bulldozer walked past and sat in the booth behind me. He started talking on his cell phone and didn't stop for the duration of my time there. The man had a voice so deep and so phlegmy, it was a bit like listening to a tuba underwater. As he continued talking on his phone, his voice became more melodic. It reminded me of a Gregorian chant. It calmed me as I was turning the pages “The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” by Michael Chabon. I remembered how not less than an hour ago I felt like a human buoy in a sea of confusion. Now I felt a peaceful stillness. I paid my check and left a generous tip.

I went to my room, washed my face, changed my clothes, and left for Town Hall. I walked back towards Times Square and the theatre district. I felt more confident this time round. I knew I was ready for some fun.

Please stayed tuned for part 2...

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Death Becomes Him: A Review of Christopher Moore's "A Dirty Job"

Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
Year: 2006
Genre: Fiction
Where to buy: Barnes and Noble.
Retail Price: $23.95

Charlie Asher is a quiet, unassuming, 35-year-old, white, American worrywart. He’s about to have the best and worst day of his life. He is married to the love of his life who has recently made him a father. Even more recently, unfortunately, she has also made him a widower. Since the death of his wife, his life changed in ways that no one would ever think to imagine. It all starts when he finds his wife (apparently sleeping) in her hospital room with a tall black man in a green suit lurking over her body. When Charlie asks the man what he is doing there, the man simply replies, “You can see me?”

Charlie is baffled by this response, but quickly moves to the unusual stillness of his wife. Their newborn baby in is crying in her rigid arms. Charlie calls in the nurse, turns to look back at the man. The man, like Charlie’s wife’s life, has vanished as quickly as he came.

This is only the first of many strange occurrences that Charlie is about to encounter. Two weeks later, Charlie witnesses a complete stranger get run over by a bus. Seconds before, Charlie had seen the man at an ATM machine and noticed something very peculiar; the man’s umbrella is glowing bright red. As if experiences of two deaths are not insane enough, Charlie realizes one more oddity: Despite never meeting the man before, Charlie automatically knows the man’s full name: William Creek.

Throughout the remainder of the novel, Charlie learns, very slowly, that he has been drafted into a very morbid office. He is now a Death Merchant. He is responsible for collecting red-glowing soul vessels (inanimate objects that bear the souls of the recently deceased) and redistributing them to the public. Luckily, Charlie owns a second-hand thrift store. He also learns that he has been drafted into another unwanted area: the dating scene.

As weird as becoming a Death Merchant is, even stranger things start happening. Things that even other Death Merchants have not witnessed before. Dark voices loom in the sewers, and they seem to be growing louder. A mysterious blue-eyed woman starts hording soul vessels. It appears that something big and ominous is around the corner.

With all this talk of death, it’s hard to believe that this book will keep you in a fit of laughter. Christopher Moore handles the idea of death admirably, adding the genuine humor that comes to us in times of need. The book presents a plethora of unique characters, ranging from a 7-foot-black male named Minty Fresh to Charlie’s androgynous lesbian sister. The characters and the plot are equally far-fetched, but neither is forced nor artificial.

This book, however, is not without a few flaws. Only two really caught my eye. The first was the cover. I fear saying this may give away too much but, well, the cover gives away too much. The second flaw is that the climax of the book takes place within the last fifty pages. There is a big plot lull between Charlie’s coming-of-age-story-as- a-Death-Merchant and the book’s final discovery. But the lull is not with out its entertaining qualities.

This book works on many levels for many readers. Whether you are single, dealing with the death of a loved one, or you just want a good laugh, this book can help fill that void. It will give you many big laughs, a few small tears. Occasionally, it will even give you dating advice.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Daily Blurb (Supersized Edition)

Sometimes I often think about turning my life into some kind of social experiment.

For example, I often wonder if Scientologists are really out to get money. Something tells me that if I dressed up as a homeless person and showed up at their church, they would turn me away. Just to double prove my theory, I would tape a hundred dollar bill to my back to see if they change their minds.

Seriously though, I often think about engaging myself into human sociological experiments, not unlike ethnographies. If given the chance, I would investigate homegrown cultures. By homegrown I mean American subcultures. I would love to study the "Dupont Circle gay culture" in D.C., or the overwhelming Jewish culture in New York City. What interests me is that often with members of these groups is not just how they are different than me, but how incredibly similar they are. We might have the same tastes in foods or laugh at the same jokes. At the same time, I don't know half of their cultural history and will never taste the oppression they may have gone through.

When conducting a homegrown ethnography, there is always the stark contention between similarities and differences. This could potentially make the investigative process more challenging.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Photo Essay Problems

So this NYC photo essay I've been trying to churn out for the past two months is going to be very, very long. When I realized that it was going to be that long, I thought about doing it not as a blog entry, but as it's own website. I wanted it to look like a mix between my hypertext project and Slate's Interactive Essays. My plans seemed to grow wildly, like a thrash of English ivy. In fact, they grew so wildly that the actual writing of the essay became stifled.

Another obstacle also came into view. In order to accomplish this photo essay as a side project, I would need to use Flash. Not only do I not have this program, I have no idea how to use it. So my idea had to be trimmed back. I had to clear my mental palette to see what my original product looked like. I then realized that my product was sadly neglected. The writing of the essay had been all but abandoned.

So I've decided to again do it on this blog. However, I've decided to spread it over several blog entries, like a series. It will probably be about three entries. The first will be posted very soon.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Daily Blurb

This one is courtesy of some random chick on myspace who decided to send me a message for god knows what reason:

"you dont know me, but if you ever want to parade around in a moustache i think that would be awesome and i'd love to do it with you. "

Everybody knows I only wear my moustaches in private.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Summer Time, The Livin' Ain't Easy

This image has nothing to do with this post. Some guy had posted it on forum. His friend had it taped on the back of his bathroom door. It made me spit out my Mountain Dew.

A lot has been going on lately. I've got three people's birthdays to plan for (two best friends and my aunt). I helped my mom do some yardwork last weekend. I completely landscaped a large flower bed of hers, and it looks gorgeous. I will post some pics as soon as I get them. Also some trips to look forward to, planning to move near the end of the summer, and other miscellaneous crap.

My cat's eye looks a lot better, but it has not completely cleared up.

I may be writing a book review for the City Paper, we will see how that goes.

One area that has suffered lately is my reading habits. I used to read about a book every two weeks. About three weeks ago I picked up a book called The Darwin Conspiracy. I abandoned it after about twenty pages because it bored me to tears. I haven't really picked up anything else since then except for The Onion.

I have this habit of abandoning books if they don't keep me interested through the first two chapters. A lot of people might consider this a waste, like walking out of a movie. I have never walked out of a movie. The difference between a bad book and a bad movie is that the movie only takes away two hours of your life, while a bad book can rob you of whole weeks. Plus if I walk out of a movie, I can't walk back in a couple weeks later for free. I can always return to a bad book, and I have at certain times. I had an on-again-off-again relationship with Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I made myself keep reading it and to try to think it was good, because The New York Times told me so. I gave up halfway through the 550 page book. It took a week during my beach vacation to get only that far. I felt I'd been robbed of good beach reading.

Buying books can be a tricky business. If you buy a bad new book, you've wasted enough money that could have covered two movies. My only consolation is that someday someone will pay me to read these bad books and write even worse reviews.