If there is an idiot born every minute, every five minutes one of them says, “Let’s go to Cozumel!” And then s/he does. There is something about awful tourist attractions and awful tourists causing them to fly together like rare earth magnets, perhaps even lacerating your fingers if each object is of a great enough mass, and you happen to carelessly put your hand between them. Of course, there must be some place in the world for the itinerant masses to go, when they decide it is indeed time to go somewhere. And hell, who am I to judge? We would all like to go some place warm in the winter (all of us in the Northern hemisphere, anyway). The water in Cozumel is insanely beautiful.
And yet, there reaches a critical mass of massy masses—so many overweight Americans bringing their vacation dollars to a particular place—that either through unwitting clodmanship or through straight-up rudeness they end up pushing other people off the crowded jewelry-salesperson strewn sidewalk directly into raw, Mexican traffic. This is not hyperbole; this actually happened. The fat, sunburnt, sunglassed, cruise ship of a woman who threw an elbow into my father’s chest did not even look back to see who or what she hit. She motored off on her flip-flops, just like any other hit-and-run, BMW-driving, American businessman after he knocks over an unmanned motor scooter in downtown Portland, Oregon (I just seem to witness the nicest people all the time, just in the act of living their lives).
How did we get to this point? Not to the point at which I have a thousand and one sob stories about the callousness of others; but to the point at which vacation destinations, through their own advertising and industry, become so beyond over-capacity with customers that they become less vacation factories than the Stanford Prison Experience™? Do we really not have enough third-world beaches we can harvest for the color of their water and sand? Why do they all seem to go to Cozumel? Do the red, white, and blue flip-flops, swim suits, and sun visors really have some sort of strong-attraction force, magnetically collecting into these conglomerated asteroid super-fields of holiday makers?
I admit that I am biased, being not one for crowds and certainly not one for large groups of fun-seekers. I don’t have to seek fun, and don’t always care for those who do. This is not to say that I am somehow more able to find fun than most people; rather, I have fun doing boring, mundane things. I’m always having fun. Exploring the nether regions of an underpass might as well be taking a hike, for me. Taking a hike, well, that’s a trip to the beach. And a trip to the beach… that’s my own personal roller coaster on the roof of a casino.
But I do like to see new places. And some places that are new to me, unfortunately, are old to the tourist trade. Key West, for example. Beautiful reef waters, within sight of the uninhabited Key West Wildlife Sanctuaries. The beautiful island architecture inspired and housed some famous American artists; best-known, of course, are Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. You can still visit Hemingway’s house, which is… right between the bar-strewn novelty T-shirt district of Duval Street and the cruise ship pier. I guess you can go if you want. Maybe I will not.
At some point, the aesthetic qualities of a place that attract artistry and travelers like myself—traveling for the sake of traveling rather than the destination—shrink in comparison to the mainstream economic-based motivators that draw the masses. New York is famously going through this problem now, as the artistic climate that has made New York what it is in the art world conspires to raise rents even in an economic downturn, chasing the artists themselves away. Until there are no artists left. It’s all part of the same cycle: attraction, and repulsion. And then what? I believe that gentrification is not a new phenomenon. It has been a problem ever since it because commonplace for people to move within a city. Times change, neighborhoods change, and people on the short end of the real estate stick end up moving to less than desirable places out of necessity. The cycle continues, life begets life, and the hipster chorus hits the high note as the credits roll. But, what perhaps seem un-cyclical is the extent to which these re-culturalizing forces are now becoming mono-cultural forces.
Certain places become miserable, all to their economic gain. While they rake in the dollars, I have a hard time believing that anyone really has a good time. They get drunk, yes. Spend money on stuff they don’t need. They buy antibiotics and painkillers over the counter; all of these are things we normally enjoy. But it is just so concentrated, so canned, and so monetized that it is really no more than a shadow of these fun things, now at twice the price. Will there be a tipping point at which Cozumel is no longer desirable, because it is notorious for being lousy with tourists and the hyenas who thrive upon their steaky wallets? I would have thought we reached that point long ago, but for some reason, people are still showing up. The mono-culture keeps paving, and people keep coming to park.
What is that we are trying to escape through travel, anyway? I mean “we” in the most populist sense—me, and those sorts of tourists and people whom I spend my life trying to avoid. I like to think there is a bit of capital-C Culture going on in where I choose to “tour”. A little bit of my high-falutin’ taste. But I like a dual-culture, if not more multiple than that. I like my small art galleries, but I like bars, too. Aren’t we all just trying to have fun? To see something different. To get drunk and stumble back to hotel. To eat some different food. And maybe take advantage of a beneficial currency exchange. A little warm weather. Maybe a sugar-coated moment of historical significance. Is this balance so much to ask? Is it so hard to find?
Cozumel, in trying to attract tourist dollars by promising just this sort of experience to so many people that it could never deliver on the promise, is really no different than any town in America. The mono-culture of economic expediency would extend itself everywhere, if it could Proof is in the billboards and signs on the sides of the Interstate. Thousands of towns, called out for their uniqueness. Redding. Amarillo. Lawrence. Elk Hart. Drink specials. Kids eat free. Free Wifi. The lowest prices on 1-40. The brithplace of a former Miss America. Memphis might not have the azure waters of Cozumel, but they get the scam. They know the hustle. People are passing by, thousands per day. They are going to spend money somewhere. Why not here? If you put up one sign, you might as well put up twenty. You tell a few tall tales. Then they might start to believe. Give it a couple years, hand out some bumper stickers, and before you know it, you have Wall-Drug—the Cozumel of the middle of nowhere. You get people to believe they’re having fun even though they’re not, and you have just created a tourist economy out of nowhere. And the mono-culture that is the mindless pursuit of capital flows.
The carnival of it all—that is, whatever that unnameable “fun” is that is sold to us for dollars on the penny—is not just in exotic destinations. Although some exotic destinations have some pretty great carnivals. But there are exotic destinations without carnivals, just as there are many carnivals in non-exotic locations. The carnival is everywhere. And so, it becomes that the carnival is only where someone has set up a sign. Wherever anyone sets up the economic tent. Some tents are bigger than others. Doesn’t mean the small ones aren’t tents. And all of a sudden, you aren’t having fun unless there’s a sign, a tent, and someone to take your money.
I wouldn’t suggest stopping at most of these tents any more than I would suggest going to Cozumel. The carnival ugliness is only so interesting in an academic sense, before it is just another freak show. And you have to watch out for those whom you’re gawking at. The anecdote about getting pushed into traffic wasn’t fiction. There are other ways they get at you, too. There’s evil in those crowds, just lingering underneath. A real mob is just below the skin of every good party. The truth about humanity is, that the distance separating a busy street and an orgy of beasts ripping each others’ limbs off and eating them, is about as long as the distance between a noun and a verb. Look into the eyes of a man who has had four daiquiris, and is about to buy jewelry for his wife. That is the seat of evil, my friends. As cold as a frozen drink, and the color of investment grade Tanzanite. Just before I went fully “small town Americana kitsch” on you, I thought I’d leave you with that.
But this is where we are, and this is how I somehow ended up in America, no different than other beasts of my species. More or less. The secret of vacationing, in my opinion, is to read all the billboards, but look for certain ones. You can’t avoid the tents, but you can choose. Don’t go for the biggest, the brightest, or the best deal. The signs you want are smaller, and probably a little broken, because the advertisers don’t have much money. For whatever reason they haven’t grasped the idea that to really make money you have to sell booze. Instead of foot-long daiquiris they’re selling culture, of all foolish commodities. And yet, their doors are still open. They are collecting nickels, but they’re collecting enough of them. That says something. And the something that it says is both what we’re looking for, and the subject of the next museum.
If you’ll follow me and try not to get separated from the group, Wednesday I’ll take you on a tour of the Museum of Small American Museums.
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“With the coming of ____ ________ began the part of my life you could call my life on the road.” And so begins the third sentence (with the pseudonym-dropping reference to the Beat scene excised) of the most over-gifted book in America besides the Bible, and the bane of everything creative in this land. You are going to have to excuse me while I vent a little bit about the state of literature in this country, as represented through a particular book that is in no way representative of literature in this country. Okay—so I’d be willing to concede that the book isn’t that bad, and like every so-so book that is wildly popular, there is probably a time and place for when it is exactly the right book. The right time and place for On the Road is when you are a fifteen year-old white male feeling unsure in the first year of high school. But that doesn’t change my criticism of the Beat Poets and a loathing for what they did to America: a white, phoning-it-in, irreversible, suburban coffee shop graft, perpetrated upon American literature.
What they did was create a gold road of unlimited devotion; they lionizied a cursory appreciation of the American literary canon, a lack of hard work, and generally unrestrained hippie optimism that is about as untenable to modern problems as Picasso is to the Internet. And it is not so much that they did, because that could be forgivable as no more than a symptom of their times. It could be a hindsighted mistake, a pathology we will no doubt suffer ourselves in spades come another forty years. But the problem is that we can’t seem to get over the Beats, even now. The continued celebration of this metaphysical pap is not necessarily because there is somewhere within it a canonical truth—it’s just that we have nothing better. We can’t talk about American poetry, let alone write it (at least if we are men), without somehow mentioning the Beats. We just haven’t grown up. We are still teens in high school. You can’t write about modern times in America without obliquely referencing the soaring, anti-America-The-Beautiful tones of Ginsberg. It’s inescapable, like crappy magazines in the doctor’s office. Sports players are male role models today not because they are good role models, but because without them our need for role models would lead us to bend down to politicians and… for fuck’s sake, business men. I remind you that Kerouac was a varsity athlete before picking up the pen.
More crucial to my own personal problems, is the fact that you cannot write about traveling across the American road without at least mentioning Kerouac, or taking two paragraphs to invectively disparage him, both being more than he deserves. This is what canon means to us, today. It’s what we hate, but talk about anyway. Even though the America Kerouac traveled is dead, it lives in the Interstate Highway System of our minds.
Dear readers, I now invite you to purge the Beat from your inner cloverleaf interchange. Expel it, with all the released kinetic force of a eighteen-car pile up caused by a drunk driver in a five-ton pickup jumping the median, soaring through the rusted and outdated guard rail, and landing on top of the busy, commuter-traffic filled, EZ-Pass only, HOV lanes below. The power of crushing metal compels you: exit now. Thank you. We have rubber-necked at the canon, smoking against the Jersey barrier. And now we can drive on.
Flying cars existed back in 1955 when On the Road was published. Huge vehicles, made in America by American Labor out of American Steel, would carry you across the country at incredible rates of speed. The pavement would zip by beneath the singing tires, as you climbed over top of mountains and raced across deserts. The miles per gallon were low, but the fuel was endless. There was nothing quicker than a car; it was the one-manned, streamlined, asphalt aeroplane, carrying newly individual, nucleated American Supermen faster than a speeding locomotive. Death by automobile accident was the heroes death, and the crushed frame beneath your twisted body was the shield your people would carry you home upon. The cars… had fucking fins.
Today, driving Route 66 means driving “Historic Route 66”, the heritage road celebrating unrestrained American road travel in the past tense. On its hallowed, pock-marked surface, just off the real highway, you can get good old American gas for about $3.00 a gallon, which will power the average sedan for a cost of about fifteen cents per mile. At that rate, it will cost you $367.20 to drive Route 66. It will cost you $435 to go across Interstate 80, which travels from San Francisco to New York. A single room at Motel 6 will run you a little less than $40 a night. Meals at Hometown Buffet will cost you… well, I have no idea, and I don’t want to know. Suffice it to say, if you have two or three people in the same car, it might be as cheap as flying. Naturally, there are other ways to do the road trip on the even-cheaper. But low-budget, American family-style travel is hardly budget at all. The only thing soaring, rocketing, and flying are various metaphors involving credit cards.
But we, (meaning us, not you; I have no idea how you choose to travel) are already on a road trip. We have gotten in the car against the wishes of our family who would prefer that we just fly, (even though they bought us our copy of the 40th Anniversary edition of On the Road some years before as a gift) we are out of cell phone reception, and the pavement is, along with the gas, evaporating away beneath us. What are we doing here?
We sure as hell don’t know Dean Moriarty. I know some people on Twitter, though. We didn’t so much hear that Dean was in Spanish Harlem, as see some Flickr pictures, and maybe click around in the Atlas Obscura. We might have killed entire hours wandering over the topology of Google Maps, with the Wikipedia layer turned on. I don’t know if this exactly prepped us for what we would never stoop to call “our life on the road”. It sure wasn’t as sexy as a couple of beatniks talking to each other on a dirty mattress, out of their minds on uppers. But all the same, this is how it happened to us, and here we are, rocketing towards points on the compass, leaving in our wake nothing more than a single geotagged post in each state if reception allows it, and at the same time moving away from all points on the compass at the exact same rate.
Because here is the thing about our new social understanding of speed. The faster the pace of history moves, the less distance you have to travel to go the same speed. Velocity is now 1 / Distance x Time. Entropy is our fuel additive. As a species, we’re slowing down. We’re asymptotically approaching zero no matter what we do. But along the curve of this simple, rational function, the individual can cover less ground in an atemporal universe and still be moving at the same rate. The calculus of a road trip is the inverse of every algebra example about road trips and distance that has ever been taught to you.
Flying, for whatever On-the-Road-given reason, is not an option for us. The future is not an option, either. Inevitability is the zeitgeist, and this zeitgeist is inevitable. There is no place to run towards, waving your arms and screaming for shelter. Your present is your future; you credit card limit just hasn’t been distributively absorbed by participating vendors yet. We are not driving towards anything. We’re simply driving away. And this is why we’re still behind the wheel. You could fly around the world in 48 hours, but then you’d have to do something else. If you drive across the country, you’ll kill at least ten times as much time and twice as much money waiting for the future to get here. That is a pretty good buy. The most anyone can ask for their money these days is that it take up more time than it would have taken this time last year. Now that is progress.
Modern vinyl-interiored mp3-capable automatic-transmissioned cars do fly a little. Living on the inside of a safety glass bubble, you are at least a few inches up off the ground. More if you’ve inflated your tires properly. Music sounds better played on certain cheap car speakers. It’s all about bass beating within a sedan-womb. Cheap food tastes better if you eat it while moving. I recommend corn nuts. Caffeine is more effective over fifty miles per hour, bringing the nerves and the brain up to speed, ideas slinging past like mile markers flitting by in the furthest reach of the headlights. I had at least ten ideas in the stretch of road between Nashville and Louisville. I was only able to remember six when I stopped to write them all down. When you are tired, a car seat is more comfortable that it would be ordinarily, when you are not tired. A parking lot with a public bathroom that has paper towels rather than just a hand dryer is about as much of a home as anyone with four wheels underneath them could want these days. You can take more luggage in the car than you could on the plane. But you don’t need to. The car is your luggage. Just throw your extra clothes in back. If your seats fold down, you can sleep in your suitcase. Is this American life? Who the hell knows anymore. If I did a keyword search, I’m sure I could find someone who has written a book or a song or a blog that could tell me for sure.
Modern tourism is just the process of living your life. You could live your life in one spot, or in many. Maybe. I’m not going to tell you anything definitively. There’s just too much at stake, and not enough payoff to start authoring platitudes just yet. I’m not saying I won’t write a book about it though. Or at least start to write it, before it mutates into something else. There are just too many books out there by this time to every write a single book on any single thing. Every book is now every other book, in a hyperlinked process of extension that so tritely networks together all of the things that we think about, in the way that every road trip ever taken is every bit of every other road trip. Driving towards, and driving away. If we’re six degrees of separation away from every other human on earth, you are no more than two from every other road trip on the North American continent. My life on the road, your life on the road. The biggest/fastest/best 3G network in America. Where’s the best hamburger in the United States? There’s not just a single app for that. There’s at least ten, and a couple of shows on the Food Network too.
If I was going to give advice about driving across the country, I’d tell you to not read On the Road, don’t eat a single hamburger, and whatever you do, do not to listen to the radio. Read the road signs instead. And I’ll tell you why.
Don’t tune in next week for: the Museum of Tourist Economies No More than 15 Miles from An Interstate Highway.
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When a reader of Marx is laid off from another crappy job at a poorly run business, we might expect him not to be surprised. It’s just one more aufhebung of the old alienation. Another kick in the pants from the capitalists. Yet again, the pain of surplus value being extracted, like a sambok to his special spaces. We passed tragedy, and then left the farce behind, long ago. After the farce came the parody; after that, the fart joke; surpassing that, history was an email forward; and I’m not sure what’s came next, but I believe we’re now somewhere in between novelty T-shirt and minstrel show.
But no matter how much he (or as the reader might be aware, I) might be fully conscious of class relations, being laid off is still, apart from being a monetary problem, a big old ideological mind fuck. I had agreed. I was working an hourly wage. I was doing the work my bosses didn’t do, because they were lazy, stupid, or simply not there. I wasn’t happy with it, and even though I might have written a thick volume on all the materialist contradictions of history at play, I showed up every day on time. I worked hard. I didn’t steal. Didn’t complain. I didn’t even unionize. I agreed to the capitalist mindset, in order to earn a buck. And it all fell through. Some sell-out.
Of course, maybe because I did all this, was the reason I lost. If I had joined a union trade, I could have kept my job (even though I might have lost my pension). Or on the other hand, maybe I didn’t buy into capitalism enough. My mini-American dream of slaving for a low-stress hourly wage without health care (my health is already fully secured by my partner’s union membership) so I could spend my real efforts on my own projects was still, just a dream. If I had tried to make my buck on the backs of other people, then I might have had a chance. I should have worked on commission. I should have been banking a percentage, rather than making things with my hands, of all bodily organs to exploit. I should have been a capitalist, not just a capitalist whore. It may be the oldest profession. But for all of that history, whoring has always revolved around getting fucked.
So what am I, the good, capitulated Marxist, to take from my second trip to the Oregon Department of Unemployment website? A good dose of shame. You were right, Marx! And you too Engels, to a lesser, more sociological extent! I never should have put down Das Kapital, and picked up my resume! I should have been punching scabs, not the clock!
Well, I suppose that is shame, and anger. But in addition: simple horror. It really is that bad. Playing by the rules gets you nowhere. It’s no longer a decision between liberal arts and hard science. Between the career path, and the artsy hike-through-Europe path. If I had accumulated the amount of credit card debt I collected in the process of finding and losing two jobs instead in the process of traveling and having fun, I’d be in the same more place but with much better stories. Let’s face it. Debt is looking like a pair of twins I accidentally fathered in college (I name them BA and MA), that I will be stuck with for a good thirty years, because they sure as shit aren’t going to find jobs right after college either.
There is one more thing that I have taken from this experiment. It is a nice, thick scar. Do you have a good flesh wound scar? I’m not talking about a neat surgery incision; I’m talking about a wound on the surface, that you can see, and you watch every day as it heals. There’s something about the process of a scar forming. At first, it is a wound, and it hurts. Just touching the swollen, red skin around your inadvertent orifice reminds you of the horror of looking down as the accident happened, and seeing your own blood, and maybe even some raw muscle exposed. But little by little, the pain fades, and it closes. You can touch it. Skin grows over top, and it is tender, white and puffy. It still hurts when you press on it. And yet, it is a pain you begin to relish. Like a loose tooth reversing its course, growing back into your jaw, you pick and twist at it, unable to leave it alone, feeling the steadily numbing pain fade back into the asymptotic reflex arc as the scar rejoins the rest of your flesh. You press harder, taunting it, willing it to hurt you more. Really? You’re healing? That’s all you’ve got?
In the end, you have a thin line, tracing the path of where your skin was cleaved. It is hard, like gristle, but made of you. It is part of you forever, even as it continues to fade. Whatever it was that cut you has made its mark. But that mark isn’t part of that damaging knife, edge, point, or flame. It is you, and now always will be.
As far as scars given at the end of capitalism’s danger go, mine is pretty light. I didn’t have my child’s leukemia treatment revoked by an insurance company. I wasn’t murdered by scabs and dropped down a West Virginian coal mine shaft. I wasn’t even conscripted to fight in a war. But I feel it all the same. It’s really nothing less than everything my college counselors, teachers, TV, and America ever taught me about working for a living, either implicitly or explicitly, being proved wrong. Sure, I was unlucky. I could have just as easily had jobs where I didn’t get laid off. But I didn’t. And I’ll tell you, it has nothing to do with luck; both times I was laid off, it was done by actual people, who made actual decisions. Or perhaps, didn’t make any decisions. Not out of random chance, but because they didn’t give a shit. They were idiots. And they were in charge. And I suffered for it. And this is the scar I will remember.
Yes, I am pissed, emotional, and angry. I don’t want to make this all about me, and we will get to the more interesting museums soon enough. But I must make this clear. I must show you these exhibits here, and tell you what they mean. I blame certain, specific people for doing this, and I believe I should. I could spell out the whole narrative (both of them) and then appeal for your judgment, to tell me I am either correct or I am not. But I won’t do this. It won’t change the results. If this was just an attempt to placate my sense of moral outrage, then I would. But the point is this: different people, in different situations, twice allowed their own personal laziness, and their own pursuit of short-term overhead reduction, and their own unwillingness to listen to advice or observations, and their own complete inability to make any sort of concrete plan, not only ruin their own businesses (both are in tatters currently), but destroy the livelihood of their hardest working employees. We worked hard, we took extra weight upon ourselves, and we listened to their idiotic speeches about “hard-times”, and “belt-tightening” and “urgency”. And for what? So they could hide from their problems for an extra few months. The surplus value they earned from our labor, in this case, was their freedom from everything: work, responsibility, planning, and care. I’m carrying all of that now. All the way to the unemployment line.
The alienation, in the end, was not so much the distance between the worker and the product of his labor. I cared about the product. I might have been the only one. My real disconnect was from the job. The commodity I had bought into, the hourly wage job, something so simple as obtaining a regular income, is now a lost dream, flitting away. I have seen the historical contradiction here, and it is the whole damn thing.
Why bother anymore? Really? I defy you to give me a good reason. Why wake up in the morning, and sleep at night? I like being awake at night, and sleeping through the morning. These are the hours of the unemployed. Why should I spent hours trying to find a job, when I can spend hours working on my own projects? Every hour spent fruitlessly is another hour closer to death. What is the benefit of pursuing “adulthood”? As far as I can tell, the only benefit of being “grown up” is I own more tools, and there are fewer people I feel obligated to be looking up towards as role models. I still don’t have any money, I still don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, and I still feel like I’ve failed some test I didn’t know I was taking. This is adult. This is maturity.
I’m not selling everything and moving to the Yukon (yet). Nor are we going to live in the car and mooch the library’s Wifi (at least not for more than a week or two every so often). What I’m trying to say, is that it’s not so much as I lost the job, as the job has lost me. The big, Titanic luxury ship of gainful employment has left me standing at the pier, as it steams into the sunset, no doubt on what will be a successful trip across the Atlantic Ocean. The idea of a job has alienated me so far, that I fell off. I sat in the dust, watching it keep going without me. And all I have left is the scar.
The compromise is over. Capitalism broke the agreement. From now on, I’m on my own. I’ll pay the bills, I just don’t know how. I’m going to work, but on what I need to work on, not for what some ass who just so happens to have bumbled his/her way into owning a failing company thinks is important. I’m going to have a really hard time of it, probably. But hey, as I’m finding out, that’s what “real life” is all about. It’s about getting angry, but about waking up the next morning, walking outside, and looking at the condition of the lawn. For the same reasons we climb mountains and go to the moon. Because it is there.
My fellow Americans: we have a good many things to do. We have to quit our jobs. We have to feed our families after we have quit our jobs. We have to put our pride in our fists, so that prevents against calluses as we begin to work. We have to work. The only question is, what are we going to work on? For this one, I have no answers. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that they know, either. Because they are just guessing, or trying to sell you something. I can only recommend one thing. Get really confused, and then go for a walk. You might not find what it is your are going to work on, but at least you’ll get some fucking exercise. We could all use it. Especially me.
But, before all of that: because I’m an American, the first thing I’m going to do when I’m disoriented, confused, and perhaps struggling with hand-eye coordination tasks and basic judgment, is get behind the wheel.
Tune in Wednesday for the “Museum of the Destruction of all Beat Poets.”
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I was laid off for the second time, roughly two weeks before Christmas.
I don’t celebrate Christmas, so that part was moot. But it seems to get a sympathetic look from strangers. On the other hand, I think it also distracts from the “second time” aspect, which to me was the important bit.
Getting laid off even from a job you dislike is nothing like quitting, so I had to find a way to quit something to make up for it. We (my partner M and myself) already had promised to be back on the East Coast for various family/holiday things, so we re-oriented our plans, argued on the phone with airlines, and drove across the continent. We called it the Minor American Cities Tour. We often give trips little names like that. To pretend they are more planned than they are, I suppose. We did the family stuff, and then we drove back to the West Coast.
In all of that driving, there was a lot of time to think. I had a big plan, in the weeks after being laid off. The plan was to write a series of ten intelligent, thought-provoking, wide-ranging essays, showcasing my skills as a writer. I would front the series with my resume and a thoughtful and honest cover letter asking for writing work, put it out there on the Internet, and then use the essays as the force to back it up. The punch behind the fist, so to speak. Except—more of a friendly, firm, “hire me please” handshake, I suppose. The plan had all the hallmarks of a New York Times article, and therefore, couldn’t fail.
Since that hour in the dark and snow on the freeway somewhere in the middle of the country when I came up with that plan, I’ve read two different resume/blogposts that had the same general idea, both of them written by people with a much fucking better resume than mine, getting way more retweet coverage than I could possible hope for. So I trashed that plan, deleted the cover letter I had already wrote, and in the remaining essays, started using the word “fuck” more often.
But the essays came out great.
I’m calling this series, The Museum of Small American Museums. I explain the concept in detail in the titular essay (I believe it’s number four), but basically, each essay is a “museum”, styled after the minor museums you see advertised along the highway in overly exuberant attempts to get you to stop and spend money in small American town X. Like anyone would ever stop their car for a museum!
Well, we did, and maybe you will too. Not for camp value, but to see what the hell an American citizen fills a museum with, given the chance. They aren’t handed the keys to the Met, for goodness sake. But they get a piece of donated property, a handful of volunteers, and a sign. If they’re really pushy with the change jar, maybe even some brochures.
These are not those museums. You will have to get out there on the roads between some of America’s lesser cities, if you want to see what it is that America wants to show you. I’m not doing your work for you. Like the kid in elementary school who wants to show you something behind the gym, what he wants to show you is not the same thing he would want to show you in front of the flagpole. If you want to see what he wants to show, you have to go behind the fucking gym.
These are my museums. These are ten small museums of America that I want you to see, for which I am making the fliers. We don’t have to go behind anything, you just have to come to my website. The first museum explains why the second occasion of being laid off really got to me. And the subject matter generally gets worse from there. But the writing gets better each time. With each essay, I get deeper into the really fucking weird shit that is going on around in this country, masquerading as “the unimportant”. In each new subject, I find more evidence that points to what is commonly referred to as the coming of the end of the world. It is not the end of the world, obviously. The common referrals are totally wrong. But it is evidence of something so different than what we know as normal, that if it ever got here all at once, it would seem just like the end of the world would, if it ever got here. My goal is to distribute this evidence, this difference, in a nice, thick, trickle. That way, we can release the pressure a bit, and maybe stop a massive American Seminal Emission Weirdness Event. No promises, though. I’m not a professional.
We’re going to do two of these museums a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. That will give us five weeks of essays. You can find them here on POSZU, or if you’d like an RSS feed of only this series and nothing else that will die when the series is over, you can use this one here. Well, that’s enough bullshitting. Let’s get started.
This way to the exhibits →
← Back to Lobby (Lobby RSS)
It only occurred to me afterward how odd a thing it really was to solicit material for a zine online.
In a time when any one person could easily start 5 different blogs using 5 different well-publicized, multi-functional platforms, why would anyone start a zine? Why would anyone want to photocopy some words onto paper, and hand them out, when they could syndicate them immediately to their network of interested people in a format everyone is already prepared to accept? And why would someone, upon deciding that they want to do such an odd thing, turn to the internet for help, whenever on the internet has already rejected the model, replacing it with all of the technology and all of those reasons that a zine seems archaic?
Here is a list of reasons why:
1. A zine can be made for about $15 in photocopies. This is less than the price of nearly any US steady internet connection. It also requires no subscription, no sign-up, no log-in.
2. You are not utilizing some company’s content management system in order to publish your work. It is never handled, stored, or transmitted by anyone other than yourself.
3. A zine is solid. It’s made of paper. It comes in weird shapes. With different materials. Maybe this doesn’t do anything for you. But it does for some people.
4. You could write a zine with a pencil, if you wanted to. A pencil needs no cadmium, no mercury, no fossil fuels. This is kind of interesting. In 50 years it could be really interesting.
5. A zine has no gimmick. It isn’t a themed blog, a link generator, a cleverly-named Tumblr, a pseudonymous tell-all, or a satirical characterization. Of course, it could be like anyone of these things if you wanted it to. But it’s gimmick is that it is a zine. Like what a blog used to be. You can’t say, “I’m starting a blog,” without someone saying, “what kind of blog?” But if you are making a zine, it could be just a zine.
6. There are some challenges, of the old school print variety. Layout. Typeface. Page thickness. Signatures. All of this could be easily handled by the famous, “slap it all together with a fucking stample” method, but it also doesn’t have to be. No WYSIWYG here. No browser rendering issues. It isn’t necessarily easier or harder than HTML. It’s most just different.
7. Everyone who contributes to a zine gets a copy. What do you get if you contribute to a blog? You get a RT? Great. Put that on your coffee table and impress your dinner guests.
8. Getting people to read a zine is hard. You have to force it into their hands, and make them sit still long enough to read it. You can’t just tweet a link and hope for the best. SEO becomes almost as exciting as flirting with someone. I like to hide zines on the shelves of legitimate bookstores. Maybe no one will see it for years. But I can be almost guaranteed that one day, someone will pull it down, say “what the hell is this?” and start flipping through it. That, my friends, is a “hit”.
9. You can trade zines for things. To some fools, they actually have real world value. I’ve traded zines for indie comics before. For stickers. For pizza! For a bus fare. You can’t trade a blog link for shit, except more links.
10. Your mother will think it’s cool that you were published in something made of paper. She’ll still think you’re weird, but she’ll get the zine much more than the blog. Unless she has a blog, and then, well, there’s only 9 reasons to make a zine.
11. But there’s one more. We make zines because we have a disturbingly strong, unstoppable need to publish things. In print, on the Internet, on bathroom walls. Because we can. This reason is best and most.
Don’t just take a typically blog-like “ten/eleven reasons to ____” list! Find out for yourself. I’m making a zine, here is how to help.
Posted: January 20th, 2011
Comments: 1 Comment
I have this problem, where I read something about zines, and I get this urge. Like a deep, unholy desire.
There’s something about publishing a zine. It feeds some deep depraved need that I have in the base of the spinal cord, . Just to make something, and get it out there.
M and I were traveling the country for about a month (we stood in over half the states in the nation over the course of that time) and we abandoned almost all the zines I had left over from other vicious attacks of this pub-lust. So now I’m empty-handed, and rather than cured, I’m ready to start again.
I have loads of time, but I’m also very busy with writing projects both for on and off-web. So I’m going to try an impromptu experiment. There’s really no gimmick to it. It’s just a zine, built from anyone who reads this. I’m going to put out the call, and see what we get back. It will either work, or not.
That’s it, that’s the call. Calling you. It’s a zine, that’s all there is to it. Don’t know what a zine is? Google it. Never read one? Go to a punk record store or indie art store in unnamed-city-near-you, or ask nice and I might send you something.
Define your own level of participation. This is what we need:
Writing. (WRITING! LOTS OF IT!) Any length. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, sass, whatever. Another language? Why the hell not?
Photos that will look good rendered into shitty black and white toner printing.
Art that will look good given same.
Easy. You can whip any one piece of that out in about half an hour. So you have no reason not to play along. Tell your friends.
Here are the only rules:
#: I’m not going to do it until I can get enough material for a reasonable 20 pages and it will be a maximum of 40 pages long. If for one reason or another either of these two constraints (demands!) aren’t met, we’ll discuss what to do.
&: I also will have a bit of editorial sway (my design sense is much more head-bashingly direct modernism rather than zine-ish Maximum Rock & Roll), though it will be way, way open to coercion by the revolutionary zine committee (i.e. opt-in email list).
@: Oh, and the product will never be seen on the Internet, unless the RZC can convince me why it should (it’s a zine, not a damn Tumblr).
%: And lastly, because there are too many rules already, it will be some sort of Creative Commons, and you’ll own your own shit forever and ever.
If you’re in it, you’ll get hard copies.
The goal is to get this printed in less than a month. If you want to be in it, let me know by a week from now. If you want something else, let me know that too.
This is the only other piece of pertinent info at this time:
Everything goes there. Fire away, suckas. Don’t disappoint.
ps. There will be more of an explanation about my hiatus with my official return from hiatus, which should be here some time next week. This is just a bit of craziness that leaked into my self imposed silence. So, I will say that I’m sorry for posting, rather than being sorry for not posting.
Posted: January 17th, 2011
Categories: Material Cargo
Comments: No Comments