December 2008


Dunes and fences

If you’re truly looking to get away from it all, there might not be a better place than the beach and boardwalk of Ocean City, New Jersey on a December weekday. In the off-season, Ocean City is as abandoned and bereft as it is busy and bustling in the summer. If you’re truly looking to get away from it all, what better place to go do nothing than a place where there is, truth be told, nothing to do?

Whale mural

It was J’s idea to go boardwalking in December. As a boy growing up in Pittsburgh, J went to Ocean City with his family every summer, and he hadn’t been back since several summers ago, when his family had an impromptu reunion there. J had gone with his then-wife, so returning to the scene of so many family memories with me in December was a kind of purification: a chance to exorcise whatever ghosts still linger in a place that was once both familiar and familial.

I’d never been to Ocean City in any season, on- or off-, but I know the allure of boardwalking. It’s been three years since I explored Coney Island in October, and what I said about Coney Island then applies to Ocean City now:

Off-season Coney Island on a gray afternoon is a perfect place for contemplation, your imagination sparked by the picture of how the place must look in summertime with people thronging its sand and boardwalk, or how it might have looked decades ago when folks now dead brought their friends, sweethearts, and children to enjoy an escape from the city.

Wonderland

During the first day of our three-day getaway, J kept remarking about (and we both kept photographing) the empty expanse of boardwalk–all those trees!–that lay so patiently while the overcast sky spit incessant rain upon us. It was drizzling when a friend and I had walked at Coney Island, and it drizzled for most of the time J and I were in Ocean City, as if the off-season is when land, sea, and sky make an uneasy truce by outright erasing the oft-blurry lines of demarcation between them. J has a childhood’s worth of memories of the Ocean City boardwalk thronged with people; I’ve seen it only in the depopulating drizzle of December. And yet, as I said of Coney Island in October, I might like Ocean City better in its winter quiet than in its summer heyday.

$5 or less

Even as a child, I wondered what amusement parks were like after dark, after the gates had closed and after the lights and rides were turned off. What does a fun and festive place look like after everyone’s gone home? If you visit Ocean City the week before Christmas, you get a sense of how a tourist town survives after the tourists have left: the souvenir shops are closed, the rides are stopped, and the arcades are quiet. A skeleton crew of workers staffs the handful of stores and restaurants that are open all year, but they cater to locals, not tourists, so they aren’t concerned with keeping up the sham of summer appearances.

The afternoon we checked into our hotel, for instance, the desk clerk warned us that if we planned to eat out, we’d best do so before 8:00pm, when most of the restaurants closed. Sure enough, later that night when we walked downtown after dinner, away from the beach and in the presumed heart of the residential business district, the place was almost entirely depopulated, only a couple of kids riding their bikes down the center of the abandoned streets while loudspeaker Christmas carols echoed off incongruously empty sidewalks. “Jesus is the reason for the season,” more than a handful of church-issued placards reminded us from closed shop-windows and well-tended residential lawns…but what reason is there in a season when even Jesus has, apparently, left the building?

Discounted tickets!!!!

Jesus might indeed be the reason for the Christmas season, but in the off-season, tourist towns offer their own rewards. If you can do without souvenirs, carnival rides, and arcade games–and if you’re not easily bored with boardwalking–a town like Ocean City is perfectly charming in the off-season, albeit in its own drizzly-December way. An empty beach off-season–like one’s own heart during the quiet days after Christmas chaos has calmed–is a perfect place to center, to silence, and to savor: a get-away that truly involves getting away, even from excitement, entertainment, and allure.

The images illustrating today’s post all come from Day One of our Ocean City adventure. If you’re so inclined, you can also view photo sets of Day Two and Day Three. Enjoy, and have a safe and happy New Year.

Why did the chicken cross the road...

Somehow, this picture of the proverbial chicken crossing the road, which I blogged in February, strikes me as being the quintessential WTF moment here at Hoarded Ordinaries this past year. In a world where beer is Buddhist-flavored and even fences wear glasses, why not ponder the eternal question about pedestrian poultry?

Got glasses?

This past Saturday marked my fifth blogiversary: yes, it’s been five years since I posted my first tentative blog entry on December 27, 2003. On (or soon after) past blogiversaries, I’ve compiled a post that looks back on the previous year’s bloggish goodness: an annual excuse for me to re-visit my own archive. For my first few blogiversary posts, I chose my favorite five or so posts to link to, but last year I chose to link to a whole slew of posts in a variety of categories, figuring readers could pick and choose their own favorites. So in the spirit of last year’s blogiversary post, here is a montage of the past year.

Be a good sport

It’s a simple fact I’m well aware of: I like to watch sports, and most of my readers do not. When I go to sporting events, I take lots of pictures, which leaves me with a bloggish conundrum: should I force these photos on readers who probably don’t care, or should I leave them to gather digital-dust on my hard-drive?

Nobody can guard KG

This past year, I’ve settled on a kind of compromise: talking about sports on-blog is perfectly fine as long as the sport at hand is somehow a metaphor for something else. So what you’ll find under the “Good sports” category here at Hoarded Ordinaries isn’t your usual sports-bar conversation; instead, you’ll hear what I’d like to think is a slightly more highbrow view of basketball, hockey, and the like.

Thus in “Emotions,” I argued that watching a good game is as cathartic as watching a good drama. In “Fighting words,” I compared a red-blooded hockey fight to the controversy surrounding Barack Obama’s public distancing of himself from his then-pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In “Girls who wear glasses,” I described the hockey film “Slap-Shot” as a metaphor for working class responses to economic emasculation. And in “Up against it,” “Where happy endings happen,” and “Unimaginable,” I used images from my favorite sport (basketball) to illustrate how our daily lives are really just a game.

Zen and the Art of Graffiti

The categories of “Zen” and “Graffiti” might not seem to go together…but since I almost always take a stroll down Central Square’s graffiti-rich Modica Way on my way to the Cambridge Zen Center, my posts about Zen tend to be illustrated with pictures of graffiti and my posts about graffiti tend to carry more than a touch of Zen.

Mixed messages

My first attempt to link the phenomena of meditation and street art was “Random,” where I suggest the lawless nature of graffiti makes it as unpredictable as the spontaneous thoughts that pop into mind while you meditate. In “Art,” I explore the classic question of whether graffiti qualifies as highbrow culture, and in “Not-quite-busted,” I describe my experience photographing Modica Way on a morning when one Cambridge cop was looking for breakfast. This theme of police on patrol influenced “On the beat,” where I compare meditation to the act of reconnoitering a familiar neighborhood, and both “While you can” and “Scrambling” admit how difficult it can be to find the time to pay mindful attention when the rest of life is tugging at one’s sleeve. Somehow, amidst life’s clutter and color, we find time to do the things we simply can’t live without.

Light and dark; life and death

Some five years after this bloggish experiment began, I still am obsessed by many of the same themes that captivated me early on. One of my first posts, for instance, focused on particular quality of late afternoon light as it illuminates winter skies, and this early fascination with light and shadow hasn’t diminished. In “Eclipsed,” I describe how I mostly missed a lunar eclipse only to revel in the shadows cast by low-angled light the next morning. In “Made in the shade,” I began collecting a new phenomenon: twiggy shadows I dubbed “shade trees” and which I blogged again (just recently) in “All clear.” And in “Alien oddity,” “Take me to your heater,” and “Straight from the (Holy) Mothership,” I continued to collect the weird window reflections I call “alien eyes.”

Alien eyes

Like sports, shadows are often metaphoric. Whenever I write about light, I have in mind the idea that light is finite and thus can be spent. In my mind, light is always a symbol of time, time always calls to mind time’s passage, and an awareness of time’s passage always points toward impermanence. So to my way of seeing, light is like life and shadow like death, with both light and shadow reminding us to pay attention, for these pyrotechnics won’t last forever.

With all this in mind, in “Memento mori” I described the unsettling sensation of stumbling on a grave with my (sur)name on it, and in “Not the rainbow bridge,” I talked about learning to live with an aging (but not yet dying) dog. And in “Without ceasing,” I return to the theme of impermanence–illustrated with images of light and shadow–in response to a fatal MBTA trolley accident that happened not far from J’s house this past May.

The art of blogging, or the blogging of art

Crouching Spider with Bay Bridge

Lest you think street art is the only “art” I partake in these days, I did manage to blog several otherwise artsy things this past year. In “Tableau,” I described the accidental (but nevertheless artful) juxtaposition of unrelated artworks at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. In “We meet again,” I had another accidental art encounter, this time with a monumental metal spider along the San Francisco waterfront. And in “I’m feeling…,” I used the occasion of an apt Photo Friday theme as an excuse to blog several encounters with Boston artist Bren Bataclan, with whose paths my own repeatedly cross.

If blogging is itself an art, then I’ve had some stuff to say about that this year, too. In “The wheres and the whys,” I explore (again!) the question of why I blog about the places I find myself. In “Just a note,” I announced the desire to return to more frequent blogging (conveniently timed for November’s National Blog Posting Month), and in “The art of inside,” I gave a status update on how that more frequent blogging was working for me. (In a word, I like to blog often if not early, at least when my schedule allows it.)

State of the nation

Obama and McCain

I seldom blog about politics per se…but inspired (I think) by this year’s historic Presidential election, I did (briefly) crawl out of my patriotic shell this past November. In “Here’s hoping,” I described the scene at my neighborhood polling place on Election Day, and in “The mornings after,” I described what it’s like (after the fact) to live in New Hampshire during a Presidential campaign. In “Passing the Bataan,” I used the occasion of Veteran’s Day to post (and of course ponder) some images from a Navy amphibious assault ship J and I had toured last summer.

And in a year when the U.S. economy has been direly hurting, its seems that frugality is finally stylish. By way of determining, then, that I am (at long last) a trend-setter, take a second look at “Economic stimulus,” “Not a thing to wear,” and “Food,” all of which insist that contentment and self-worth aren’t things you buy but attitudes you can (cheaply) cultivate.

So that is Hoarded Ordinaries past year in a nutshell: heaven knows what blog-fodder 2009 will bring.

If your mouse isn’t worn out from all the clicking, you can check out past years’ blogiversary retrospectives here (2007), here (2006), here (2005), and here (2004). Enjoy!

Shade tree

I just now submitted the very last batch of grades for fall semester, which means I have a respite from teaching until after the New Year, when the next round of online classes begins, setting the whole cycle in motion once again. But right now and for the next week, I’m all clear from teaching and grading: the closest thing to a sabbatical my year-round, multi-institutional teaching schedule ever allows.

Empty bar in afternoon light

I’m looking forward to writing more substantial posts again: anything more than the short picture-posts I’ve been slapping up these past few busy weeks. But anything so ambitious will wait until tomorrow, or the day after, or the day after that. In the immediate Now, doing anything offline sounds better than spending a single minute more in front of my laptop trying to say Anything Meaningful. Perhaps that’s why this image of an empty, afternoon-sunlit bar is one of my favorite images from yesterday’s Christmas walk in Boston’s South End, the glint of liquor bottles hinting toward a bright country beyond my gradebook.

Christmas eave

Forget about Santa Claus and his flying sleigh–the real risk looming overhead tonight comes in the form of icy eaves giving way to gravity. (Compare today’s Christmas eave with last year’s.) Thanks to this weekend’s snowstorm, we’ll definitely have a white Christmas here in Newton…but thanks to today’s rain, our white Christmas will also be wet, icicle-fringed, and often icy underfoot. Watch your step while you make merry, and have a safe and happy holiday.

Caution - drive slowly

In the trenches

These are the days when smart dog-walkers choose the road more traveled, the path trampled by previous walkers being the best route through knee-high snow. Otherwise, your best bet is to stick to plowed sidewalks, lest you be tempted by the primrose path of street-walking.

Plowed sidewalk

A sight no one wants to see

It’s a sight no one playing on or rooting for either team wants to see: a lone hockey player lying face-down, unmoving, long after play has continued down ice. At yesterday’s Boston Bruins game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Patrice Bergeron collided with opposing defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and lay on the ice for a heart-stopping handful of minutes while fans and players alike were silenced, holding our collective breath while watching for any sign of movement.

With a little help from his team

During that heart-stopping handful of minutes we all watched Bergeron’s lifeless body, I flashed through other heart-stopping Boston sports moments: the face-first slam against the boards that took Bergeron out for an entire season last October, for example, or the heartbreaking moment in 1995, when Travis Roy was paralyzed from the neck down only 11 seconds into his Boston University hockey career. Outside hockey, there’s the image of Celtics captain Reggie Lewis collapsing during an off-season basketball practice in 1993, dead from a sudden heart-attack at the age of 27. Sports fans thrill at the sight of honed bodies performing at their best; we don’t expect the young and strong to fall victim to the random vicissitudes of injury or accident.

Travis Roy (just like Superman!) went on to establish a charitable foundation for victims of spinal cord injuries, there is an inner-city track and athletic complex commemorating Reggie Lewis, and Patrice Bergeron eventually regained consciousness, slowly regained his feet, and skated off the ice with the help of a handful of teammates. There is, in other words, hope after any one of us–young or old, strong or weak, in shape or out–suffers injury or accident. In Zen, we say “fall down six times, get up seven”: it’s not about never failing, but always getting up to try again, and again, and again…somehow. You can’t keep a tough player down, especially if he has an entire team of friends helping him to his feet again, and that applies both on and off the ice, in hockey and beyond.

Snowy table, 2008

This morning in Newton, I had to snap the requisite backyard shot to show how much snow we got in last night’s storm: 11 inches as of this morning, and another couple of inches since. It continued to snow throughout the day, and our next storm is forecast to begin tomorrow morning, bringing more wet snow and freezing rain to top our tables.

More than anything, I wanted to share this morning’s backyard snow shot to compare it to the almost identical one I shot this time last year: the lawn furniture is new, but the snowy scene is pretty much the same. Although I haven’t yet gotten a chance to take many shots of this year’s snowfall, the images I shot last year look eerily familiar. Can you say “same as it ever was“?

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