Just back from a 6-day excursion to the family’s rented house in Sea Isle City, NJ – a charming little vacation town that exists on a series of islands bordered by the ocean on one side, and marshes & bays on the other. Where once stood one-story bungalows are now three-story vacation complexes – but the soft hiss of the ocean manages to keep the charm in place.

It’s a town of minigolf and arcades, seafood restaurants and tourist baubles. Thankfully, it remains mostly devoid of chain restaurants, since there’s at least 7 months of off-season. We just happened to visit on the very first week of the off-season, which meant that 90% of the island and adjoining attractions were closed already. We scrambled around to play pinball at as many arcades as possible during the final weekend of life, but by Monday, it was a frustrating trawl through a ghost town and a few 50% off tourist junk shops.

Still, it was a good trip. Ten years ago, I stumbled on a decaying town in an enormous march, took some photos with an oldschool film camera, and subsequently lost the roll of film. I’ve regretted this for a decade, but through the wonder of Google Maps, I was able to retrace my steps this year and find the town again, and I took the photo that had been lost – as well as a bunch of others. The street continued along a massive overpass and eventually plunged into the grassy marsh, but not before branching off into a series of docks which was a town unto itself. There was no way of telling how large the town was, but it seemed significant, just hovering in the fields of green and black. The existence of such a thing was maddeningly romantic.

Over the course of the few days, I played a number of pinball machines – Iron Man, Spider-Man (which is forgettable), Indiana Jones (which is great), Batman, Sopranos (also surprisingly good and a staple of most NJ arcades), Family Guy, Simpsons, and an especially incomprehensible Rollercoaster Tycoon machine (which has a Norfin Troll stuck in it), as well as a perplexing Wheel of Fortune pinball. One arcade had a machine that dispensed one of six random ball-headed Marvel figures for 75 cents each. I was after the Iron Man, but after two rounds of every character but Iron Man and a third Spider-Man (which I placed atop the machine for the next kid to get), I finally scored an Iron Man. I consider this a victory.

Lots of time watching TV on a set which fell apart in my hands on the first day, and would not accept the PS3 despite every indication that it would, and drawing Coptopus. The people at Mike’s Seafood on the dock began to recognize us (not to be confused with Dock Mike’s Pancake House) with every other eatery in town closed, and Uncle Oogie’s being populated by rude, coughing waitresses.

A walk on the beach yielded a stingray barb and countless tiny mollusks in tide pools doing gooey mollusk things.

Home now – will post pictures of the seaside marsh town. My fingers spent so much time away from the computer that they’re relearning how to type again.

I loaded up Google Earth to map out all of the places I’ve always wanted to go, and it was loaded with landmarks from Philly. Which was kinda depressing. I deleted them and decided to start over – but it kinda felt like a punch when the map zeroed in on my once-paid-for apartment. It is a time for new things. It has been for a very long time.

Making points of entry to islands in the middle of lakes, neighborhoods that exist between highway dividers, parking lots, trading posts and power line trails. Nowheres.

There’s a place near Poughkeepsie that trades NES games, so that’s Thursday’s destination. I placed a Hudson Valley Craigslist ad seeking out NES games, requesting a list and an e-mail. Five replies, but I was remiss to imagine that a single one would include anything resembling a list. I’m not inclined to reply to anyone requesting an immediate phone call or who has not actually read the very brief ad. I know this is something I’m asking for, but if I’m going to approach a stranger with money in my pocket, I’m not going to provide a list of my weaknesses.

I’m trying to understand why an amateurish, styleless artist on eLance who bid $300 more on a project than I did actually won the bid, and it’s only serving as more evidence that art success, while eventually driven by ideas and talent, is all about finding the right coincidence, and that can only be done with constant work. It’s exhausting to submit three or four new proposals every day, joining websites to find work because I have no self-marketing skills and I detest the gallery scene.

The universe may provide, but it’s taking its time.

I woke up on Friday and decided that I had nothing to lose. In any context. This also encapsulates the idea that anything I have is worth losing for a greater good, provided that this greater good provided a solid life experience. And the thing I’m losing isn’t Batman.

Like anyone looking for adventure and danger, I went on Craigslist.

CL has been a quiet theme in my life since February. We have a tenuous relationship at best. It often disappoints me, but drags me back in with promises of work, women and old video games – but we spend a lot of time apart. I’ve met a few awesome people from CL, one of them being one of my best friends in the world. Earlier in the week, I was poking around the Hudson Valley people ads and responded to one I liked, and made a friend. I’ve also found a job there. Have always come up empty on vintage video games.

So, when I saw an ad for 40 oldschool NES games, plus a system, two zappers, controllers and all of the wires for $150, I was kinda willing to travel as far as I needed to go. After getting a list of the games and the price was dropped to $110, I determined that the whole collection would fill in a few gaps in my collection of 200-ish games, and I didn’t know where Port Jervis was, but it sounded like a fair after-work destination. Of course, if you’re going to make a deal on Craigslist and meet in a parking lot in a town you’ve never been to before, you want to bring someone to at least witness your murder and get a license plate number.

I don’t have a lot of local friends ’cause I live in an area which caters to wealthy families and not 20-something art guys, so I called upon my new friend to adventure with me. I can’t find the ad, but I’m fairly sure it was seeking adventure. My kind of adventure isn’t so much skydiving and foreign travel as it is long car rides into weird parts of New York to see what’s going down.

I also have come to believe is very quickly disrupting the gap between who someone is online and who they are in real life. For some people, there might be no gap whatsoever, but there are plenty of people who consciously or subconsciously use this space to create the person they want to be, no matter how distanced it is from their actual meat-selves. Leaping facefirst into disappointment or a genuine connection is really, really important before too many illusions construct themselves. I’ve made that mistake a few too many times.

So, everything was organized and awesome. Weirdly ambiguous and circuitous Google Maps directions and $110 in hand, we met and set off for Port Wherever. All I knew was that it was over the Hudson, due west of me, and right on the edge of NJ. Great music the whole 80-minute drive with an awesome person in surprisingly calm rush hour traffic in beautiful weather. Somehow, this combination of four things make me feel like life is really happening.

We met the guy in a parking lot about 15 minutes late, due to a weirdly unlabeled road – a small, young guy covered in tattoos and piercings. As we talked he said that he was selling his Nintendo (obviously well-cared for, as most of the games still included instruction manuals) because he was turning his sun porch into a nursery for his forthcoming baby. I could have wept. It takes a real man to give up his Nintendo to take care of a baby that well. I know a few too many people who have just thrown a crib in the bathroom and hoped for the best. Well, not exactly – but effectively that.

Easy drive home, stop at a diner, a few minutes of Harley Davidson pinball, and it was pretty much the perfect day. Finding little bits of ‘life is okay’ in the rest of this stuff is pretty great.

Nothing to lose.

This past weekend, I took a 3.5 hour road trip to Orange, MA with my good friend Chase-Lyn – a beautiful French girl who has a Master’s degree in things I could never hope to understand, throws Pixies references into conversations and has a hilariously vulgar sense of humor. If that’s not a combination for an amazing weekend, I don’t know what could be.

We set off at around 6 AM from my town, and after an incredibly uneventful drive accompanied by an array of unfalteringly awesome music, we arrived in Orange, MA by 9:30 AM. I live in a really small town, but as you drive into Orange, and you’re 30 minutes from the nearest highway, and ‘Main Street’ becomes a dirt road with sharp drops on either side of it, you begin to wonder about your safety. It’s everything that my town was 20 years ago, so it weirdly felt like coming home. I’ll always be more comfortable in the woods.

The purpose of the journey was to learn about a more holistic approach to farming and growing food. While I’ve never been that deep into the ‘holistic’ thing, I’ve always had an interest in it. Something about really loving robots, plastic toys and red meat would just make holism feel forced, but I’ve also always wanted to start my own garden. I’ve made an effort to lose weight over the past few weeks, and it’s actually shown some genuine results, although small, and all of this has possibly been aided by a stomach virus, but having completely cut out processed foods, I feel much better than usual. I say this without trying to be preachy at all, because processed foods are scientifically engineered to be fucking delicious and satisfying on a weirdly emotional level. I’m just saying that this little blue line is saving my life. The orange dot represents going away for the weekend and eating Dunkin Donuts & Chinese food.

Actual proof of weight loss over the last 10 days! Thanks, Wii Fit.

That being said, food from your own garden is always the best. I was going to have a garden once, but now I’m just waiting for the next opportunity. Visiting Seeds of Solidarity’s free workshop day was inspiring. A lot of people are feeling the same way that I do about how quickly the whole human race is damning themselves every day with their neediness and arrogance. Don’t get me wrong – I know I’m part of the problem. Even filling up the car with gas to drive well over 300 miles round trip has a certain irony to it, but it is all done with the best of intentions. I still buy plastic toys and take long showers, but there’s an evolution going on, at least. It’s a strange line between hopefulness and hopelessness.

It rained all day, but it wasn’t unpleasant at all. Rain used to be unpleasant. Between workshops, there was a potluck lunch, with lots of homemade stuff which people brought from the local areas, which was very good. I ended up talking with a tall guy named Christian who was exploring the meaning of peace and community, and had just returned from a peacewalk along the east coast, which I presume is like the North American version of a walkabout and involves more highways.

We checked into a hotel nearby which seemed to be frequented by pairs of men, and a group of rowdy beer pong players who enjoyed yelling all night. All night.

The Athol of Mathachuthetts

Before turning in, we wandered over to Athol in search of food, because by 3 PM on Saturday in Orange, everything is closed. Everything, and we joked that we ended up in the Athol of Mathachuthetts. We weren’t that far off. We found a nice little Chinese food place, and then used her fancy GPS to get up to a billiards hall, about 15 miles away on narrow routes and weird roundabouts.

The billiards hall looked like it was shut down for good, except for the few glowing neon things inside. The decrepit pool trophies that decorated the enormous showcase windows didn’t do it any favors, either.

A loser of a winner's trophy.

We walked across town to find a restroom, still in the rain, and came across an elaborately ridiculous shop window talking about “Lakin’s Kids”, which sounded like it was a horrible disease. Like, one stop away from being a proud Thalidomide Baby. Chase-Lyn posed for this photo, as the heavily made-up shop owner stepped outside with a cellphone and a cigarette and seemed to want to shoo us away, so we skittered away quickly.

We are all Lakin's Kids.

Chase-Lyn played some crazy version of French pool that involved pushing the balls into the pockets with her hands when I wasn’t looking, and slapping the sides of the cue ball (and anything near it) with the side of the cue itself. At this point, I was cripplingly exhausted from driving and eating rich foods and being awake since 6 AM, so I was a grump. By the time we were done, it was raining harder, and it was dark. I can’t drive in the dark.

We started back to the hotel using the GPS, but it began to take us in some very strange directions. Back onto dirt roads with about 5 feet of visibility, or highways that were under construction, and just when we hit the absolute middle of nowhere, the GPS nightmarishly decided to completely cut out and refuse to reconnect. Fortunately, we’d just passed the farm again, so we followed some directions that had been printed out previously, dodging potholes that were made deeper by the rain, and white, hopping dots of frogs which were crossing the road in front of us.

I was asleep by 10 PM, just after narrowly avoiding death or injury, and a brain full of worms having sex and making soil to grow stuff in.

Back from a long weekend in Newmarket, NH [corrected] (by way of Hartford and Boston) to celebrate Free Comic Book Day with and old friend by visiting two really awesome comic shops, one mediocre shop, and not even getting into a fourth because of a mismanaged line situation and the rumored presence of artist Ed McGuinness and his depictions of gigantic, uniform, inflatable muscles. I spent way too much money on oldschool NES games, graphic novels and comic book appearance of MODOK (much of it in generous store credit, due to a full carload of undesired stuff brought to one shop), but I had a good weekend just ignoring all of my responsibilities, the madness of my family, and being about 250 miles away from the locus of things that make me unhappy so frequently.

I was also pleased to find out that the 2009 Corolla can get around 500 highway miles to one tank of gas. For as much trouble as that car has already brought upon me (two recalls and a busted roof), this revelation is at least a positive one. I’m barely a car person, so I’m still impressed that this big metal and plastic box does anything good at all.

I found a certain peace by being away from home and hanging out on a saltwater river, a renewed desire and endurance for writing, and a determination to take my life a little more seriously and save up some money after a steady influx of nerd debauchery.

This motivation was quickly torn down by my sister once again fumbling with the impossibly complex world of the washing machine and flooding not only the laundry room, but the adjacent room. Feeling that this would dry up and no one would notice, she decided to leave $800 worth of my collectible investments sitting in the puddle, which were subsequently stripped of any true resale value, should I need a spare kidney. While the contents are okay, you just can’t resell water damaged boxes for what a pristine item is worth. It seems that a simple, honest admission of guilt and quick action would have saved everything, but after 9 hours of soaking on a saturated rug, no manner of hair dryer can save peeling cardboard and bleeding ink.

I don’t play with the stock market. I play with high-end Iron Man statues, and fuck, I do it very well.

It’s never easy for me to gather enough momentum to feel a sense of real hope, rather than just pushing through to survive each day emotionally. There is no excelling, except in rare moments of isolation.

So, we actually reached escape velocity this weekend and left for Brattleboro, Vermont after dark on Friday night. It was snowing like mad to the south of us, but none of this weather was bold enough to touch us. I was grateful that something worked out for us, after the notoriously hideous luck that trailed me like a violent poltergeist all through last year.

We took my 2009 Corolla, armed with a variety of strategies to keep it from accelerating out of control should it decide to go rogue on us. With Eleasa’s confidence behind the wheel, it was a relatively quick 3-hour trip peppered liberally with loud gangsta rap and coffee and a small container of canteloupe. A strange little building in Massachusetts served as a rest stop along the way, with cold, empty parking lots winding around it, and a plethora of vending machines offering up ice cream and coffees (which were apparently far below substandard, but serviceable enough to keep our driver awake until we traversed the final leg of the trip). My eyes will not allow me to drive at night, and my stomach will not allow me to drink coffee with any regularity, so I feel like I’m missing out on some vital aspects of feeling alive. I used to dream of being a trucker, before I could drive, and these dreams have since become impossible for these two reasons.

Our hosts, Eleasa’s grandparents, live in a converted 1800s schoolhouse, with many of the wooden beams and structures still in place. Categories of books lined just about every wall in dark shelves. An entire wall of travel books greeted us at the entrance, followed by a low wall of cookbooks in the kitchen, and many books about boats and medical topics. Her grandmother, ‘Nona’, has spent a life freelance writing about food and travel, and has the evidence all around the amazingly adorned little house. This is a woman who is good friends with Lois Lowry and has hung out with the Carters. A small clock with visible gears chimed dull, atmospheric, ever so slightly uneven chimes every half hour. Spidery plants cast shadows from the front windows during daylight hours, and the stairs creaked wonderfully.

Her grandfather Herb, not biological, but through a third marriage, is a man in his late 80-somethings who still runs in 5k races and owns a 100-acre maple syrup farm in a portion of Vermont which is slightly more upstate. They are both amazing people, patient and happy, and they give me an entirely new perspective on aging, and finding joy and contentment.

Brattleboro is an old mill town, is featured prominently in an HP Lovecraft story, and houses the old Estey Organ factory. After an evening of drinking from a vast cabinet of interesting alcohols (which I abstained from), and sleeping until daylight was in full force the next day, we all headed out for a tour of the impossibly windy roads that comprise the town. The town is mixed with older structures, ski jumps and many bookstores – one with an Edward Gorey theme proudly displayed in their front window. Eleasa called me excitedly from across the street and told me that I had to come and see it right away, full of small skeletons and copies of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing signed by Steve Bissette. I bought a Paul Hornschemeier hardcover called ‘Mother Come Home’, and we stocked up on huge armloads of Indian food which I could not pronounce from a cash-only convenience store – some of which we used to tide us over until dinner, and the rest put into a box for Eleasa’s later enjoyment. I also bought the obligatory ‘maple’ product that everyone is compelled to return home from Vermont with – the object of choice being a small jar of maple mustard which I’ll need to work up the fortitude to try, though I assume it’s something akin to honey mustard. I also purchased a small shotglass for Shakti, who aspires to collect a shotglass from every state. This accompanies the one which I purchased from my stopover in Georgia on my way to Chicago this past summer.

We spent the evening at a small Yucatan restaurant, which was simple and delicious. Nona had actually spent a fair amount of time in Yucatan, and was pleased with the authenticity of the food.

When we got back, I was asked if I liked The New Yorker. Being a New Yorker, and something of an amateur intellectual, it’s one of my favorite magazines. I was despondent when our library cut off their subscription two years ago because they did not circulate amongst the general bottomfeeding redneckery of my town, despite the fact that I read it every day over lunch. I was given two years worth of New Yorkers which were headed towards the recycling – a good portion of the ones I had missed, and I read them excitedly under lamplight until midnight passed. I learned all about a neurological disorder which causes people to eat their own hands and pull apart their faces, and sabotage as much of their lives as possible (which I now want to paint, somehow), and understood a whole lot about some of the superficial, asinine awards given out in the art world. Having just submitted artwork to the 2010 Eustace Tilley contest, it felt like things had come in sync, somehow.

I enjoyed a tour of all of the artwork in the house, much of it by friends and family. I’m usually not a fan of ‘wall’ artwork, but this was a house filled with intelligently chosen, wonderful artworks from all genres – abstracts, illustrative prints, charcoal drawings. All of it said something, and expressed a deep personality. Maybe I was just especially receptive due to the warmth of the house, but I enjoyed it all tremendously. I came away inspired by the colors.

Eleasa expertly made us an elaborate breakfast on Sunday, and after much more reading of The New Yorker, I loaded them into the car, as well as out small amount of luggage, and new boxes of food, and shook hands and hugged goodbye. I was welcomed back anytime. In fact, they seemed to want me to come visit sooner rather than later. I’m so unaccustomed to welcoming grandparents, as I’ve spent a life with a couple who have palpitations should company even be suggested, and the delicate facade of normalcy and pristine cleanliness doesn’t have enough time to be woven.

It was a beautifully simple weekend, reading in the sunlight, being obligated to nothing, meeting incredible people and enjoying the company of a wonderful human tornado of a girl.

I am back home again, with a renewed sense that it is never too late, accompanied by sense of wanting everything to happen right away. I’ve waited long enough.