Archive for June, 2013

Get Out of the Kitchen

Posted in Prose, Rant/ Rave with tags , , , , on June 29, 2013 by sethdellinger

In the few years since I’ve begun riding a bike for pleasure, I have found a curious thing to hold true: if you want to experience deafening, post-apocalypse-like solitude, there is no place quite like small town or suburban streets in the middle of summer.

Let me state this again: when it gets hot out, the streets of your local neighborhood are always empty.  Eerily so.

OK so, people don’t like the heat, so what?  That’s certainly fine with me.  Go wherever you want and like whatever you want; I’m always glad everyone doesn’t like the same stuff I like (you’d all be making me wait in line for shit)!  But as I was riding my bike around a sweltering small town today, glorying in the sweat on the inside of my cap and the buzzing of relentless insects and the lively way sound has of travelling through active, hot air, I couldn’t help but ponder the many conversations I’ve had with people about their aversion to heat.

I’m pretty into summer, and most people aren’t, so I’ve had lots of these conversations.

Very close to 100% of people give a form of this argument for an anti-summer stance:

At least in the winter, you can go somewhere and warm up, maybe throw a blanket over yourself.  In the summer, sometimes you just get real hot and there’s nothing you can do about it. Give me a blanket any day!

What a load of steaming bullshit.  It is certainly possible that you think that way, and if so, may I suggest that you’re a wanker?  You mean to tell me the foremost thing you base your human happiness on is your level of physical comfort in relation to the atmospheric temperature?  How dreadfully boring, how devoid of active thought or action, how painfully insipid of a way to think about your life.  So, more than anything, you just want to be comfortable, eh?

You know, in many instances, comfort is a synonym for complacency.  That means not giving a shit.

(I have a few readers in parts of the world that are not “four season” areas; this rant applies very little to them)

Curling up under a blanket, while certainly a nice escape from the death season which is Winter, is certainly no valid recompense for losing the ability to partake in just about any meaningful outdoor activity (please, if you’re contemplating commenting about snowboarding, making snowmen, snowball fights, etc, please read this old entry of mine, and then take a flying leap).  It is inherent in the very reasons you give for liking “cold over hot” that these activities revolve around escaping from life, withdrawing from action, focusing on comfort and the absence of the cold from your living room, rather than anything that is celebratory, life-affirming, or satisfying of your human curiosity.

I reject your argument about blankets, fireplaces, and Christmas.  It is invalid.  You don’t like cold more than you like heat.  You like comfort more than you like living.

I Never Knew Soap Made You Taller

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 27, 2013 by sethdellinger

I know advertising isn’t the Devil. By itself, removed from cultural context and its own long, insidious history, it is in fact a pretty good thing. It’s a solid economic model that performs well in a healthy Capitalist society, and it alone is responsible for the continuing existence of television, magazines, newspapers, and very close to everything else. Without advertising, our culture would look very different—in some ways for the better, but mostly to our detriment.

So, why do I still feel like advertising is the enemy? Why do I still feel like a mark when I chuckle at a TV commercial, make a mental note of an ad in a magazine, or slow my car to finish reading a billboard? Why do I feel like a complete fool when I finish a conversation with someone about “that commercial we just love!”?

It’s a fact that not all advertising is fear-based, but it’s certainly a fact that most of it is.  Granted, I can’t think of a (reasonable) explanation for how this adorable camel hump-day Geico commercial is trying to use my fear to get me to buy a product, but exceptions like this are few.  Long, long, long ago, the folks in charge of creating advertising realized the purchasing public responded with their wallets and pocketbooks the most when you scared the shit out of them.  And that is why I feel like a schmo for responding to their wiles.  I’ve let them scare me.

Here is a famous early print advertisement for Pears soap, from England, circa 1900:

464px-Pears_Soap_1900

Pears soap (which was named after its founder and had nothing to do with pears) was one of (if not THE, depending on who you ask) the first mass produced and mass marketed soaps, not to mention the world’s first registered brand, of any product.

So how did this early ad play on Britisher’s fears?  This ad, one of a series of similar paintings, depicts Britain’s upper-middle class at the time (a class that had only just started to exist).  Ads like this mostly ran in publications read by the lower classes (who were nonetheless, obviously, literate, and therefore upwardly mobile, meaning they had money to buy things).  By associating products with classes or lifestyles we could possibly (although rarely easily or practically) obtain, companies consistently prey on our fears that the lives we are living are not good enough, are not as good as everyone else’s.  The ultimate fear: we are not as good as everyone else.  But guess what?  Pears soap can help you get there!

If you don’t have a Swiffer, you’re wasting time.  If you don’t use Axe body spray, you aren’t sleeping with enough women.  If you don’t have Aflac, you will get hurt at work and not be able to pay your bills.  If you don’t use Purex, your clothes aren’t as bright as your neighbors’.

Often, the fear of inadequacy is not as blatantly stated in the ad’s content, but in the unrealistic idealized world created by them.  Watch this seemingly innocuous ad for Johnsonville Bratwurst, but watch it now as a skeptic.  How does the ad create, in a short space of time, an idealized world that the product’s target audience wishes they lived in, but which is an unrealistic world?  How does the ad play on a fear of inadequacy to sell its product?

This is just a short primer on the subject, which I intend to return to shortly.  I am far from the first person to make these observations; folks much smarter than I have written full books on the topic.  The rabbit hole, in fact, goes much deeper than this.  Does advertising, in fact, manipulate the wants and needs of the consumers so badly and on such a grand scale as to change our cultural desires and tastes to a point of unbalance (one can never write off the importance of personal responsibility in our choices, but did enough fear play a role in our nation’s current obesity epidemic, our dependence on credit, and even the recent housing bubble?  I think you can guess where I stand)?

I thought I’d get the conversation rolling.  Your thoughts are appreciated.

Pennsylvania’s Beginnings

Posted in Philly Journal with tags , , , , on June 26, 2013 by sethdellinger

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Pennsylvania. I think it is a freakin’ magnificent state. Does it have flaws? Yes, of course it does. It doesn’t stand out as a modern jewel of progressive liberalism, it doesn’t have any famous exports like potatoes or cheese, no glitzy seaside resorts, no Yellowstone or Yosemite. But, perhaps I am biased, but I still think it’s the greatest state in the Union.

All the specifics for why I think it is so great, I will save for another blog. Suffice to say, I think it’s great, which you may be able to tell by how often you may see me poking around the state’s history and culture. Its history, in particular, I find of special interest. Most people that live here don’t give a hoot about our state history, but I think an argument could be made for Pennsylvania being the most important as well as most interesting state in our nation’s history, and it is not just blind ethnocentrism to suggest that would also make this state one of the most important stops in world history.  Them’s no small shakes.

Ever since I moved into New Jersey, right across the state line from Philadelphia, I’ve been keenly aware that although our state as well as our nation began in that big city across the river, there was a blighted and forgotten city not far away known as Chester, Pennsylvania, where our state’s founder, William Penn, first stepped ashore onto his new land  (He’d been in the New World for awhile at that point, but mostly in New Jersey).  I knew there was a marker in that falling-apart city that commemorated his landing, and for a Pennsylvania-lover like me, it was a must-see.  But I kept putting it off.  Having been briefly and quickly through Chester a few times, I knew it was not prime real estate; it is in fact not much better than Camden, New Jersey, which I chronicled here and here.  Not that I’m afraid of a blighted city, it was more of there being not much else to do there.

Well, today I was on my way from one place to another that took me through Chester on a day when I had nothing else to do, so I hopped off the highway and set about finding the marker that denoted the very start of our colony.  And despite the fact that I was prepared for it to be in a slum, I was still shocked by the level of poverty going on there.  I only managed to snap one picture as I was driving around, before I found the marker.  This is that picture:

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It didn’t take me long to find the marker and the small “park” around it; its address is Penn and Front street, and if I have learned anything in my travels, it is how to find places in river towns with addresses on Front Streets (just drive toward the river, where you will find Front Street, then pick a direction.  If you chose wrong, you’ll know soon enough.  Then go the other way).  I was not surprised to find a tiny park in an unremembered industrial part of the broken-down city.  I was not surprised to be the only human being there for the approximately 45 minutes I stayed.  I was not surprised by the sense of sadness I had that the world has passed these memories by, coupled with a true happiness that such monuments still exist at all.  I was not surprised by the weight of time crushing me as I attempted to picture what the area must have looked like then, what these people were like, what they thought about this land and if William Penn could ever have envisioned me, standing in the exact same place he did, incredibly distant in the future.

Below is some video I took of the monument area, for any who are curious, and below that, some pictures.

The modest park as seen from the street; the marker is at the end of the brick walkway.

The modest park as seen from the street; the marker is at the end of the brick walkway.

At the entrance to the park, a placard about the historical role of Delaware County, PA.

At the entrance to the park, a placard about the historical role of Delaware County, PA.

The marker commemorating William Penn's first steps in Pennsylvania

The marker commemorating William Penn’s first steps in Pennsylvania

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From behind the marker, looking back at the street.

From behind the marker, looking back at the street.

I walked around the brick wall behind the marker and snapped this shot: a factory to my right, the Delaware River (upon which Penn would have sailed), and the Commodore Barry Bridge, which of course came hundreds of years later.

I walked around the brick wall behind the marker and snapped this shot: a factory to my right, the Delaware River (upon which Penn would have sailed), and the Commodore Barry Bridge, which of course came hundreds of years later.

Night

Posted in My Poetry with tags on June 22, 2013 by sethdellinger

Night doesn’t fall
it rises
out of low spots
tree trunks
drainage ditches
yellow curbs
and the tricycles
the neighbor kids
maroon in the center
of the sidewalk.

The Echo of an Axe

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , on June 18, 2013 by sethdellinger

There is, of course, no stronger force in the universe than the passage of time, regardless of what the scientists say.  Enough time, stacked up, has more power than the gravity of any star, more gusto than the hugest electromagnet.

I can’t stop buying old postcards at antique shops.  That may sound made up, but I’m serious (I’ve blogged about it before here.)  The more and more I look for them, the older ones I am capable of finding.  I’ve found a few from as far back as 1904, with messages written on them that sound like they could be from yesterday, but they’re from over a hundred years ago.  The person who wrote it is dead.  Their vacation, however marvelous, has been vacated from the scorecard of life.  Their fun in the sun is now just a scribble.  The postmarks have remained almost the same all this time, though.  That’s kind of amazing when you think about it.  One hundred years.  That’s a long time for anything to remain unchanged.

I write postcards to people, too.  Someday my vacations will be vacated by the steady march of inevitability, as well.  So it goes.

I like to buy vinyl records.  This is no secret.  For most of my time as a vinyl hobbyist, I’ve actually bought new music that is released on vinyl.  But recently, I’ve taken a shine to the older stuff.  When I pull that big black circle out of a deteriorating cardboard sleeve that smells of must, I imagine what it may have been through: maybe owned by ten different people, maybe just one who treasured it their whole life, maybe sold to three different used record stores, maybe a yard sale or two.  But what strikes me the most about these old records (I recently bought a record of Russian composer Dmitri Khachaturian’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra from 1942 for a buck from a Goodwill store) is how they seem to be stranded in time, holding their precious music in their grooves, waiting inert over the years for someone to pick them up, pull them out, and take the important final step of actually setting a needle down on them to unleash their precious cargo.  The music is always on there, but it can wait fifty years to be released.  It could wait longer if it had to.  I don’t understand where the music is when the needle isn’t down, but it’s there somewhere.  The record owns it, holds it tight to its chest.

If a historian or biographer were so inclined to write a book on my life and they chose to write about the period when I actually had love interests or “girlfriends”, one would find, I suspect, despite having had many trysts, you could narrow down my “major” love interests throughout my life to just three.  An argument could be made for a fourth, but you really don’t care about that.  I am now 35 years old, and all three of those major love interests have been over for a long time, and all-but forgotten, by myself and them too, I’m sure.  But somehow, the world conspired for two of them to get married last week.  The chances of it happening seem astronomical, and I’m sure they are.  I didn’t attend either wedding, though I was invited to both, but only because work and distance kept me away.  Too much time has passed for there to be any heartbreak involved for me in such ceremony.  But the way that such an event made me feel time was the real cruelty.  To make me go simultaneously back to both those relationships, and force my mind into tracing the arc of time from then to now…I have a great life, don’t get me wrong, but time is so long, it frightens me.  Like looking at the ocean from inside the basket of a very high hot air balloon.

I’m in my cardboard sleeve, holding my music close to my chest.

Hot Dog Soup

Posted in Rant/ Rave with tags , , , on June 16, 2013 by sethdellinger

About once a month, somebody “accuses” me of having an “opinion about everything”.  Some people actually find this to be a negative trait!  While I suppose having constant opinions coming out of one’s mouth might, over time, seem “negative” or “cynical”, what is the opposite?!  Certainly not “optimistic”, it’s just…unopinionated, which I can’t imagine is very different than uneducated.  Or at the very least, uninterested or lacking any substantial level of curiosity about the world around you.  And to me, a lack of curiosity is just about as unattractive of a personality trait as you can have.

“The blog”, as a general phenomenon is sadly going the way of the dodo.  The lion’s share of the content on the internet is now filtered through three or four different social network sites, with instant sharing, commenting, “liking”, where all the people you know are already congregated.  Taking the time to create and maintain your own blog, and then trying to convince everyone to leave the comforts of the social networking site to actually read your blog, is now more trouble than it’s worth for most people.  Myself included.  My blog output has been pathetic for over a year now.  But that might be partially because when I drop a blog bomb on you, like this or this, it goes largely unnoticed and uncommented on.  You people don’t deserve my blog.  Regardless, I mourn the end of the blog era, when, briefly, a bunch of everyday folks fancied themselves writers.  It was fun.  Now we’re all just statusers.

I’m scared by how fast technology is evolving.  I know, I know: what a very typical thing to say.  Everyone who has tons of opinions has that opinion.  But do you know about Moore’s law? If not, you should click on that link and read that article.  Moore’s Law is not a theory anymore; this is how the world is working now, and it is truly ghastly imagining what things will be like even five years from now.  Microchips in our brains is not a joke anymore.  I dare say it is something that will be happening soon.  And hey, look, I’m not afraid of change.  I’m afraid of change happening faster than we can adapt to it or control it.  There were thousands of years from when we invented the wheel to when we came up with the car.  It’s been 80 years since we invented television, and now we’re about to control them by waving our hands in the air.  And that progress is only going to keep speeding up, according to Moore’s Law.

I’d eat Hot Dog Soup, if it existed.

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