Monday, March 31, 2008

In Memorium

I was saddened today to hear of the death of Dith Pran, the New York Times photojournalist whose escape from his native Cambodia was portrayed in the movie The Killing Fields. He was 65 and suffered from pancreatic cancer.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dith a few years ago, when he was reporting on an open house at the Edison Labs in West Orange. His kindness and the lightness of his presence struck me, especially given the sheer horror of inhumanity he'd witnessed and been victim to during the Khmer occupation of Cambodia. He had every reason to be angry and bitter, but he just didn't seem to be the type to waste his energy on resentment.

Apparently that was just the way he lived life. In an obituary today, his friend and fellow journalist Sidney Schanberg said, "His gift was his ability to handle extreme situations and never lose his balance. He didn't let horror change him. He kept looking for the good in people." And he spent much of his free time working to convince people not to let the horrors happen to anyone else, ever again. (The Times ran an informative obit in today's paper, which you can read here.)

It's funny - for some reason he came to mind the other day, and I recalled that he'd mentioned we might run into each other again sometime, maybe in the park near my home, where he liked to take pictures. I wish we had.

May he rest peacefully.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

ce n'est pas une maison de deux familles

Somewhere in downtown New York. I wish I could remember where. Broadway, I think?

Ya gotta wonder what happened here. Product of a family dispute? A bad divorce settlement?

Or perhaps Rene Magritte is having some fun with us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Peep? Peep?

Okay - I'll admit it. I'm a fan of Marshmallow Peeps. You know -- those marshmallow treats shaped like little chicks. Well, not eating them -- they're too sugary. But the concept of them.

Of course, when I was a kid, they were one of the staples in the Easter basket, along with the jelly beans and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs. Inevitably, the plastic Easter basket grass would become stuck to the Peeps scar where they'd been separated and raw marshmallow remained. And it goes without saying that they were stale five minutes after the Easter bunny left them.

At that time, naturally, there were only yellow Peeps (as it should be). With line extensions, Peeps are now a multitude of spring colors that honorable chicks would never choose for themselves. A few years ago, Target had the exclusive on red Peeps. And now, Peeps products are available nearly year round. You can find Valentine's hearts and Christmas trees, gingerbread men and snowmen. There are now even Peeps cats and ghosts for Halloween. Imagine that in your treat bag.

Fueled perhaps by nostalgia, the internet is rife with websites with alternative uses for Peeps. Some are purely food related. My mom, not the most whimsical person in the world, surprised us a few years ago by using Peeps as marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes for Easter.

Others are more artistic -- like the "Peeps show" strip club. Yet more are focused on making a statement -- like the Peeps Stations of the Cross, which I can only imagine was a protest against the commercialization of the holiest day on the Christian calendar. (Easter bunny: harmless childhood icon, or godless infidel?)

A few years ago, I decided to use Peeps to make a statement about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Here's a small part of the photo montage:

(Warning: children and those with weak hearts should go no further)

Before the carnage.

Just a brief exposure can be extremely deleterious (microwave: one minute on high)

The aftermath.

A sad commentary on the power of atomic energy, perhaps, but also yummy when combined with chocolate-covered graham crackers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


So after all this time of photographing the remnants of Asbury Park past, I've been afforded the opportunity of sharing my stuff with the public. My fellow blogger at Under The Sun Furnishings is displaying a couple of my Casino photos along with one from Convention Hall and another of the departed "This too shall pass" wall. Check 'em out if you're in the neighborhood. (Support your local artist, and all that.) Pretty cool stuff, if I do say so myself.

Was down there Saturday, in the wind and rain. What a trip. Stopped by the boardwalk first, to find it was both spooky and active. Workers were busily continuing the demolition work on the concession buildings, yet the fog and rain made the entire scene eerie. You literally couldn't see more than about 20 feet beyond. About equidistant from the Casino and Convention Hall, I jumped out of the car to see if I could get some photos from the boardwalk. Couldn't see either building, and the beach beyond the railing was a blanket of fog. I could just barely hear the ocean roar above the wind and rain. Scary stuff. Would have been really cool to get some pics of the Casino in that weather, but I was a little afraid for my camera and even more freaked about the fog inside the building. Spoooooky!

On a trip up Asbury Ave, I found the Metropolitan torn down in earnest. All that stood at that point was the newer, Howard Johnson-looking addition and a fireplace from the original part. Through the chain link fence, and especially in the driving rain, the scene looked like Dresden after the bombing. I mean, that day, the world outside looked like one of those black and white war documentaries. I half expected to see some bombed-out refugees picking through the rubble. If my car weren't red, I'd have been convinced I'd stepped into 1942.

I stopped the car next to the fence and put on the hazard blinkers so I could jump out for a few snaps, and as I did, I saw an older gentleman across the street in his car. He made some random comment about these crazy girls taking pictures of wrecks, or something like that. Hey, but the photos look like Dresden after the bombing! Well, with a '60's era high rise in the background. In any case, you've gotta get it while you can. Tomorrow it won't be there. Literally.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

More open doors ...

With so many distractions this week, I never did get back to the rest of last Sunday.

Took the long way home from Asbury Park, up the coast to Sandy Hook. The last time I was there, you'll recall, I saw a host of open doors, open gates, entries to places I wasn't supposed to go. This time, when I drove down Officers' Row, all of the front doors were secured. However, when I drove on the service road behind the homes, I saw a young couple coming down the stairs from the back entrance of one of the houses. I'd have thought they were just walking down from looking through the window in the door, but the young man was clearly pulling the door shut behind him.

Now here's a possibility, I thought. The couple looked a little surprised, and maybe worried, that someone had seen them leaving the house, so I kept driving slowly, pulling into the driveway of the house two doors down. I made a point to look as if I was interested only in looking at the disintegrating curtains in the windows of the next house over. Then I slowly walked over to the open door house.

To me, the appeal of the closed houses is more about the mystery of the lives that inhabited them than actually seeing the construction or the layout. One of the houses has already been turned into a museum, so I know what the first and second floors look like. I wonder more about the scraps of things people forgot to take with them when they moved out, why they forgot to take the curtains down, and about the faces that peered back at themselves in those bathroom mirrors.

I really have to get over the creepies I feel every time I go someplace old and decayed. They were starting to come on even as I was looking into the bathroom window of the next-door house, imagining that I'd suddenly see a face looking out of the medicine cabinet mirror. Walking up the back stairs of the open house, the pit of my stomach ground just as it did when I skydived. What am I walking into?

Peering in through the back door window, I saw falling-down peeling paint, cellar door ajar and the hint of a really bad yellow vinyl-covered stool. From a visit to the museum house, I knew the kitchen was to the right. I noticed that the door was unlatched, and when I pushed it a little, it cracked open.

I still couldn't go in. The door opened easily, but I couldn't take that first step in. Instead, I gently pulled the knob toward me to close the door. It still wouldn't fully nest back into the door jamb, having expanded in the salt air. Maybe it was trying to make me think twice about passing up the opportunity. Who knows.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Four bucks a pound, Tony: Asbury Park, part three

Lots of stories came out of this visit to New Jersey's least-used boardwalk.

On the drive down on Sunday, I considered grabbing some lunch at the boardwalk restaurant right next to the Casino. Last time I was there, the place was basically empty, and the menu looked decent, but I'd stopped at the Windmill for a hot dog on the way down. Imagine my surprise this time to find that not only was the restaurant gone, so was most of the building. I didn't expect that, nor had I heard it was in the plans. A similar concession building a little farther down is in the process of being torn down, too.

If you've watched The Sopranos, you know the ones I mean. They're squat, basically nondescript brick buildings with wide windows facing the boardwalk. Some used to have second floor balconies that jutted over the entryways to the stores. In fact, one of those balconies featured large in one of Tony's dreams, where Sal 'Big Pussy' Bompensiero appeared as a talking fish packed in ice along with other fishes that were, uh, sleeping. The balconies were pulled down a few years ago, along with a footbridge that traversed the boardwalk. In any case, it kinda sucks that the buildings are being demolished. They're unremarkable by architectural standards, but at least there were some shopkeepers making a go of it. They build things quickly these days, but I doubt they'll get new buildings up in time for the start of the season at the end of May. Where will one get a hot dog or a slice of pizza?

Looking at the developer's website, it appears they're big builders of those higher-end malls you see at tourist destinations. Banana Republic and its brethren, as if I have to go down the shore for that. I hope it doesn't come to pass that way. I'd rather have a ton of cutesy-named boutiques than a monster Gap (I admit I shop there, but they're so ubiquitous that if there's a mall in Hell, you know there's gotta be a Gap in it).

In any case, work continues at a snail's pace at the Casino. There's a new green metal roof on the Carousel House; it looks so authentic that it took me a good minute to notice it was new. Inside the Casino, my camera finally cooperated to give me a shot of the House interior, still far from finished, but coming along. The heavy construction equipment is gone, so maybe they're getting ready for the finer work.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Shellpile Under the Sun .... Asbury Park, part two

Yesterday I had the rather pleasing experience of meeting a fellow blogger who'd posted a quick note on one of my other Asbury Park posts. The proprietor of Under the Sun Furnishings had left a quick hello with a suggestion to visit, and given that I was in town, I stopped by.

Turned out her place is in the Shoppes at the Arcade on Cookman Avenue, right across from Flying Saucers, the place where I found the Two Guys memorabilia back in December. There's some pretty neat stuff in that building, if you're into unique and/or vintage items. Good vibe.

I found a cool reproduction print of one of those vintage "Greetings from Asbury Park" postcards, which will go very nicely with some of the black and white prints I've done of boardwalk architecture. Pretty soon I'm going to need to rethink my hangings -- my 'gallery' hallway is pretty much covered now.

In any case, how cool is it to meet a fellow blogger? I have to admit I felt a little weird asking, "hey, did you post a comment on my blog? I'm Shellpile!" Kinda reminded me of my Uncle Floyd Show-watching days in high school, when someone would stop me in the hall to ask if I was the one who kept getting pictures on the wall (long story for another time). I don't advertise this site, beyond a few friends and acquaintances, so whenever someone stumbles on it and admits to it, I'm relieved if they're normal. Thankfully, it was the case this time.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Kitty's back in town... (ooh, what can I do?)

Today's Asbury Park trip had more than the usual purpose. First, there was a cat show to check out at the Convention Center. Second, I wanted to stop by a shop whose proprietor had left a comment on one of my AP posts. Given how friendly the shop owners tend to be in town, I figured I'd check it out.

The cat show was what cat shows usually are: weird. As a rule, I find the concept of breeding to be a bit much, given how many really great strays there are out there, prime for adoption. That's not to say that I don't appreciate a great feline, regardless of pedigree, and I know several very nice people who have purebred companions. But hey, if you want to pay $700 for a cat, I know plenty of shelters that would be happy to oblige you.

To their credit, the show organizers held a pet food drive, had some adoptable strays and held a non-breed-specific household cat competition. And, of course, there were the crazy cat ladies. 'Nuff said. I stayed about 90 minutes, enjoying the kitties.

(At this point I should say something about the vintage Convention Center, but that's for another time.)

As I headed south on the boardwalk, I saw a sign for the AP Boardwalk Rockin' Cats. Now, I've seen a stray or two there on my visits, and there's a Cat Crossing sign across the street from the old Howard Johnson's restaurant, but I didn't know they had organized friends. I didn't realize there were so many as to warrant a fan club of protectors.

The development company that's building condos and renovating the Casino apparently has a soft heart. They've made some space available to the organization at their offices on the boardwalk about a half block from the sign. I expected that their showroom might have a couple of crates, kind of like the adoption centers at PetSmart, and as I neared their building, I saw about a dozen people standing in the middle of the boardwalk, looking up to the second floor.

Looking back down at us: a host of cats, orange, black, white, brown, striped. I guess that's where they're living while they wait for homes. You'll see them in the picture above, if you study it carefully. (Click on it to enlarge for a better view.)

I'll tell you: I'm tempted, though it would break my 'one lap, one cat' rule. How cool would it be to have an orange cat named Sandy? Or a mackerel tabby named Madam Marie? Or maybe a tortoiseshell called Rosalita ("... jump a little lighter..."). Stay tuned.