Saturday, July 29, 2006

Greetings from Asbury Park
Asbury Park, New Jersey, has seen better days... but apparently things are looking up.

The town was once one of the shining stars of the Jersey shore, with amusement rides, a great boardwalk and a Victorian-era Casino building that extended over the beach and housed a skating rink, tunnel of love and authentic carousel, among other things. Then, for a variety of reasons (corrupt government, urban decay plus the usual yadda-yadda about people forsaking the shore for other more exotic locations (and The Mouse)), the attractions fell into disuse, the buildings were abandoned and started collapsing into themselves, becoming haunted shells of what they once were. (Weird NJ has a great, and more detailed, description of the fall of the amusement mecca)

Now, I've been going down to the Asbury Park boardwalk for several years to take photos of the ruins, or, as the graffiti says, "the debris by the sea." I, like every other New Jerseyan, have heard for years that one scheme or another was going to pull the city out of its doldrums and back to its former glory. The latest attempt is in building a series of luxury condos and renovating the boardwalk attractions. There's already a growing and enthusiastic gay community, the $500,000 condos are selling like crazy, and and many of the shuttered storefronts downtown are now the homes of cute cafes and interior design firms. In other words, this might actually work.

Still, though, I couldn't get the "eeries" out of my system. Every time I go onto that boardwalk, I get this sense of foreboding. The first time I went there to take photos, they all came out blurry. And I'd always take photos of the casino, with its windows blown out and trees growing through its roof. My mind raced with thoughts of what it must look like inside those crumbling walls.

Imagine my surprise when I went down earlier this year and found that the Casino was partially open. It has a new owner who has pledged to renovate it, and they'd opened up the walkway that goes through the building to link the Asbury Park boardwalk with the town of Ocean Grove to the south. Standing at the doorway, I saw that the floor was made of marble, and looking up, I noticed netting up above, hung to catch any falling plaster. And to either side, there were plywood construction barriers on which were hung artists' renderings of the new condos going up. This didn't feel like another attempt doomed to failure. It felt real: maybe Asbury Park is coming back.

As someone else started walking in, I decided to take the plunge. If anything went wrong -- or the building swallowed me up -- I wouldn't be alone. It was chilly inside the building, and I stopped at one of the drawings so I could gather my courage to go farther in. Turned out the other person was a tourist from Holland. He'd been in New York on business and wanted to see the Asbury Park that Bruce Springsteen sings about. I nodded, and as I looked outside and saw people on the boardwalk, enjoying hot dogs and ice cream from boardwalk stores that hadn't been open in years, I said, "It sure is something, isn't it?" Only thing was, he saw the decay where I saw the possibility.

Still, though, it will be some time before I can go into any of those buildings without getting the creeps.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lupita and Linda Blair and the Mother of All Hairballs

I went to Santa Fe about five years ago and stayed in this great B&B called La Tienda Inn . Great place – comfy, great atmosphere and friendly innkeepers. If you go to Santa Fe, be sure to check it out. When I checked in, I noticed this big cat walking around, and the innkeeper told me she was Lupita, she owned the place and once she planted herself on your lap, you were stuck for as long as she wanted to be there, which could mean a long wait. Later on, as I sat in the lounge, I could see her living up to her reputation on another guest’s lap. The guest, who clearly wasn’t a cat person, was visibly terrified at the prospect of trying to move her.

The next day, I figured I was acclimated to the altitude (7500 feet) and went out to Bandelier National Monument to do some hiking. I think I got a little stoned on the lack of oxygen, because by the time I got back, I was downright goofy. Lupita was waiting at the door of the little cottage I was staying in, so when I opened the door, I let her come in. She made herself at home on the bed, and we hung out to watch some TV. After a few hours, I figured it was time for her to go – I was ready to sleep, the innkeeper would be getting worried, and most importantly, there was no litter box in the room. However, Lupita had made up her mind to spend the night in my room.

That is, until something scary started to occur. I’d made a really BIG mistake by going hiking before I’d actually acclimated to the altitude, and it suddenly became very clear to me that I was about to get very sick. Again, I tried to get the cat out of the room, but she wouldn’t budge – a decision she came to regret. I ended up running to the bathroom to do the Linda Blair thing into the first plumbing fixture I could get to. When that first bout ended, I looked down to see the cat bolting for the door, which, of course, was closed. When I went to let her out, she had such a look of fear in her eyes! I can only imagine that she thought I’d hacked up the mother of all hairballs. She avoided me for the rest of the time I was at the inn.

I learned two things from this experience: wait at least 48 hours before you do anything remotely athletic when you’re dealing with altitude, and if you need to get rid of an obstinate cat, projectile vomiting works very well.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ya gotta wonder what the guy is thinking...

...and what the world is thinking of the rest of us.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Rock bands, etc.

Coco mentioned that Smoking Caldera sounds like a punk band. Reminds me of a time when some sort of strange substance was found on the ground, having fallen like rain in a town not far from here. The newspaper headline read: Mysterious Goo Found in S. Plainfield.

"Mysterious Goo." You don't see that phrase often, especially in a newspaper. Made me think: it's a pretty cool rap artist name. 'Cept you'd have to spell it:

Ms. Teary S. Gu
And somewhere in between would have to be some sort of unpronounceable symbol. Thoughts?

Monday, July 17, 2006

No matter where you go...

somebody wants to sell you a souvenir (and a Coke).

After walking just about all the way up Mt. Vesuvius, you're greeted by a handwritten sign -- in four languages, no less -- announcing that you're almost to the top, to the smoking caldera.

Interestingly enough, the word "souvenir" needs no translation.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Don R.'s video

Monday, July 10, 2006

From the doghouse to the penthouse

This is my buddy Pete (the dude on the right). He spent over two years at the animal shelter where I used to volunteer. Great dog, very quirky. Some kind of mix of mastiff and bulldog and probably something else -- we couldn't figure it out.

Anyway, Pete and I got to be pals because I was one of the few people who could walk him without getting dragged. He'd see me coming with the leash, and he'd start jumping up and down like a Jack Russell terrier, except Pete is close to 100 pounds. It was amazing. Pete was partial to women, and after a while, he'd even sit in my lap gently, not putting his full weight on me.

Anyway, Pete finally got adopted by a nice couple. The man looked about the way Pete would look if he were human -- tall and beefy -- and the woman was petite and fussed over him, just as he likes. So after spending over two years living in a trailer next to the municipal dump and the police shooting range, Pete is living the life of luxury. He has a summer home on the Jersey Shore, and a boat, among other things. Most importantly, he has a dad who understands him and knows how to treat him when he steals someone's steak. Yup, Pete has the good life. He deserves it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sometimes I feel like a goat in a tree

How I got here, I don’t know.
Why I’m here, I don’t know.
But I’m here, so may as well enjoy the view.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Happy Independence Day

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

-Benjamin Franklin