Sunday, August 17 2014
rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York
For some reason I was out of bed before 7:00am this morning, and the best thing to do at that hour is take a bath, something I'd been needing to do. Later I did some last-minute cleaning around the house so that it would be nice for our friends Susan and David, who'd be spending the night house sitting our critters while we were off in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Our friends Mark and Maresa had arranged with us a mini vegan beach vacation, something that Mark had insisted Asbury Park could provide.
Since it's been cool of late, I thought maybe David and Susan would want to have a fire, so I cleared all the ashes out of the woodstove for the first time since late April. I weighed these ashes and they came to 10.6 pounds, which corresponds to the burning of 0.21 cords of wood. But much of what has been burned since late April has been cardboard and paper, not wood. Here's the updated fuel consumption table:
|Number of days
|Est. firewood burnt
|Nov 14-Dec 19 2013
|Dec 20 2013-Jan 22 2014
|Jan 23 2014-Feb 19 2014
|Feb 20 2014-Mar 20 2014
|Apr 21 2014-Aug 16 2014
*Much of this was paper or cardboard burned to just get rid of it
We started driving at around 10:00am, switching drivers from me to Gretchen at the northmost service area on the Garden State Parkway. I went into the main foodcourt part of the service area with the idea of just getting a cup of coffee, but when I smelled the french fries, I had to get a thing of those as well. So while Gretchen waited "on line" at Dunkin Donuts for my coffee, I went to Burger King and was waited on by a young African American gentleman whose nametag read "Kervin." Because of the ongoing civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, I've been thinking a lot about white privilege and the plight of black men unable to find a way out of their bleak circumstances. I feel authentic white guilt about the role white privilege has played in my life; during my dissolute youth, had the police been paying anywhere near the amount of attention to me that they pay to young black men, it's likely I'd be in prison right now. Why had led Kervin to get a shitty job at a service area Burger King, and what other avenues (both legal and illegal) had been available to him? And is his job even shittier than it appears? Do fancy computer algorithms keep him guessing about what hours he will be expected to work, and does this prevent him from being able to prepare for the future or have any sort of functioning social life? Gretchen and I discussed all of this stuff as we continued southward down the Garden State Parkway, and we would use the name "Kervin" several more times, using his name as shorthand for people stuck in shitty jobs without the advantages that we'd obliviously be taking for granted if we were Republican douchebags.
We met up with Mark and Maresa at the Sunday Farmers' Market in Red Bank, a town to the north of Asbury Park. The Cinnamon Snail (the vegan food cart beloved by Gretchen and all New York City vegans) was there, which was the main reason we'd come. The line was shorter than it had been at the recent animal sanctuary festival, but it was still longer than the line in front of a food cart specializing in pulled pork nearby. And the people in that line were decidedly more photogenic.
The wait today was on the other side of the order, once it had been placed, and it was long enough for Gretchen and Mark to buy some pickels at another nearby food stand and then for Gretchen and Maresa to wander off for a fairly long time.
Gretchen always expresses amazement and disbelief when I do something unexpected like what I did today, which was to order the Seitan al Pastor, a sandwich that features pineapple. But the other stuff in it looked so good (particularly the batter-fried jalapeños and seitan), that I wanted to give it a try. It's a particularly messy sandwich to eat, and I would have been deeply miserable had anyone expected me to hand the droopy mess over to them so that they could "taste" it. (Jesus Christ I hate that!) But fortunately Gretchen had made everyone aware of how I am about that sort of thing. As for the pineapple, I could see what the Cinnamon Snail people were trying to do there, which was to cut the considerable (and unexpected) heat of the jalapeños. I wouldn't say it quite worked, but nevertheless I enjoyed my sandwich. Still, though I'd been able to lick them clean, my hands were somehow both sticky and greasy when Maresa's kid brother showed up later in the meal with his girlfriend. After being introduced, he put out his hand and I put out mine, nasty though it was. Though they look appropriate as a couple, Maresa is much younger than Mark (who is about 50). And Maresa's brother is seven years younger than her, which places him well down in the twenties. And his girlfriend wouldn't have been out of place in front of a lunchbox at a table in a high school cafeteria.
After walking around and looking at the other stands in the market (Gretchen was tempted by some enormous and extremely cheap tomatoes, but only ended up buying blueberries), we got back on the Garden State and drove down to Asbury Park.
About the only thing I know about Asbury Park is that Bruce Springsteen had an album with that place name in it. As we entered Asbury Park, we drove through several blocks of crumbling houses and past an auto repair place with the most marginal-looking non-crushed car I've ever seen awaiting repairs. (It had much more visible rust than paint and several windows had been repaired with plastic sheeting and duct tape.)
There is a complex of large buildings near the ocean called the Convention Hall, and though dilapidated and partly-abandoned, much of its original ornate features remain; they have a somewhat-simplified Beaux-Arts appearance. Parts of the structure, particularly where it straddles the boardwalk, feature plenty of small panes of glass set in complicated frameworks. The overall structure is so run-down that it's a little surprising to see so much intact glass.
Gretchen had reserved us two rooms in the tall, four-winged Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel. In front of the hotel, Gretchen and I turned over our car to the nice valet guys and then went up to our room on the sixth floor. Unfortunately, its view was to the northwest, away from the ocean. Otherwise it would have been much more expensive.
While Mark stayed back in the room, Gretchen, Maresa, and I walked across the boardwalk down to the beach and set up our towels and such so we could lie on the sand and sun ourselves. The beach wasn't especially crowded, and it was unusually clean. There wasn't so much as a candy wrapper blowing across the dough-colored sand. And, unlike in the Dominican Republic, the ocean wasn't constantly vomiting mats of algæl onto the beach (necessitating periodic crews equipped with trucks and rakes to haul it away). There were lifeguards posted at regular intervals and flags demarcated where swimming was allowed and where it was forbidden. Stray into the forbidden zone, and a lifeguard would blow a whistle. Gretchen immediately went for swim in the ocean, venturing further than any other swimmers then in the water. As for me, I experimentally waded out a short distance, but the water was a bit cold for me to want to get into it. It certainly didn't help that the air itself wasn't as hot and muggy as is normally the case at this time of ear. And Maresa never even set foot in the water.
Eventually we were joined by Mark, and after some further sunning, we eventually headed back to the hotel. Adjacent to the Convention Hall and the alley we needed to take to get back to our hotel is a fenced-in area full of dumpsters and parked vehicles (40.224545N, 73.998665W). It stinks up the entire area and is emblematic of an attitude that Mark identified as typical of planners in New Jersey. They needed to put their garbage somewhere, so they decided to put it in a place where everyone from the largest beachside hotel would have to walk past it on their way to the beach.
For dinner, the four of us walked the mile or so to Asbury Park's fairly-gentrified downtown to dine at a vegan restaurant called Goldie's. It's a hip, somewhat upscale place whose menu is gradually changes without ever fixing definitively on any particular cuisine, though of late it has been offering Mexican peasant food served in fussy tiny portions. I love Mexican food, but not served that way, so I was understandably nervous when the waitress delivered this news with the best possible spin she could. In general the other three at our table shared and I did not, though on some level it felt like the deliberateness of this treatment was the kind of indulgence one would extend to a spoiled child. My problem isn't really with sharing food per se, it's with sharing food that was never meant to be shared, such as sloppy sandwiches from the Cinnamon Snail. I was very pleased with the "tomato/green chile salsa" soup I ate all by myself, and indeed, it's rich, complicated flavor was perhaps the highlight of the meal. A salad that I didn't partake in underwhelmed the others, and the "little donkeys" (two tiny bean burritos served with safron rice and a trace amount of green hot sauce) seemed like some kind of $13 joke. They were bland and as bad as anything offered by Lucy's Tacos (the agreed-upon worst taco restaurant in the history of the Universe; read those Yelp reviews). The whole experience was disappointing, and I could tell I didn't get enough to eat because later when we stopped at an icecream place that offered vegan icecream, I ordered a big cone of mint chocolate chip. But at least the conversation was good. It also bears mentioning that Goldie's played an intriguing music selection that veered from electronic dance pop to alternative rock and back several times while somehow never playing any song that I had ever heard before.
After the icecream, the four of us wound up at the Silver Ball Museum, an arcade game museum stuffed to capacity with vintage games. You pay $10 and can stay as long as you want playing whatever games you want as many times as you like without having to drop a single quarter. Gretchen excitedly sat down in front of the Centipede console and proceeded to take several spots among the high scores, including second place. I had no idea she was so good at that game. Meanwhile, I spent most of my time playing a pin ball game I selected at random called Gottlieb Pin-Up, dating to 1975. It had the features I like in a pinball game: four flippers (for more interactivity) and a straightforward, addictive task, in this case ten tiles representing the pins of a bowling lane, all of which I was supposed to hit. I kept playing it over and over, honing my timing and basic knowledge of what happened when the various flippers hit the ball at various times. I was only able to hit all ten "pins" in two separate games, but after all the work of getting to the point where I could do that, actually doing it was enormously satisfying. Still, at times I felt a little sad and weak when a game was over and I'd go to hit the button to start the game all over again, even though it wasn't costing me anything other than time. I probably played more pinball tonight than I had in all the rest of my life put together.
While I played that game for a very long time, eventually I went around the museum playing other games and reading about them on the placards posted above them. I've always been interested in pinball as a pre-videogame form of entertainment. I love their electromechanical intelligence: the solenoids, rotary switches, state relays, and mechanical counter displays. Even games from the 1950s had to have this stuff, though in one from 1954 that I played, there was no numeric score; instead, a series of lights would switch on behind various pictures painted on a transparent panel.
The museum showcased pinball's ultimate tragic fate as it was gradually elbowed aside by increasingly-complicated videogames. To compete, pinball machines added more and more videogamelike features, culminating in an offering from 1999 called Revenge from Mars, a game whose back section included a video screen designed so that animations on it could interact with the physical ball. Perhaps the game's theme was a metaphor for videogames invading arcades and supplanting the pinball machines that used to live there.
The museum included a number of low-tech games such as one ("Skee Ball") where you try to bounce heavy fist-sized balls into various holes in an attempt to rack up a high score, and these were as fun in their own way as much more sophisticated games.
Somehow we stayed there until 12:30 am; I think the guy who runs the place kept it open longer than usual because we were having so much fun. And I've never had so much fun in a museum in my life.
Gretchen and me on the beach at Asbury Park. Gretchen is eating something delicious Maresa baked.
From left: me, Mark, and Maresa. Gretchen took the picture.
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