Tom Spurgeon (1968-2019)

Tom Spurgeon died this week. 

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by Michael Netzer

The brain and voice behind The Comics Reporter, an online publication about everything and anything comics-related with an incredibly-unique perspective and approach to writing about the medium (not the genre, the medium), I’m way more gutted than I thought I would be about this. I didn’t know Tom, he followed me on Twitter but that’s about it. I know other people who knew him and high-praised his work and advocacy for serious critical appreciation of comics.

He was a fan, an interviewer, a writer and contributor, historian and archivist, and critic. I don’t think I could ever really cover all the work he did for comics and in comics in a way that hasn’t already been done. In a way, he was someone that I looked up when I was trying to write about comics and literature in my own voice that didn’t sound amateur, didn’t sound like ad copy or press releases, but at the same time not sound too cruel, to sarcastic, too mean in trying to be funny. His voice was smart but kind and I only regret that I never got to meet him in person because from his writing and what people have said of him, he sounds like he was an incredible figure.

Too often we think of criticism and critical writing as a field or world separate form the fiction and other material it writes about and approaches. Critics of writing are writers, sure, but there’s not “writers” like the writers of fiction or other works that GET criticized. It’s a line of battle between the two, except here, it didn’t feel like it. Tom didn’t feel like (in his writing and and approach to writing about comics) like he felt that there were two separate worlds here. It was one world here, about a particular and unique medium of storytelling that had so much potential.

I’ve fallen out of making comics and almost entirely out of reading them, so this feels incredibly sad to me as I’ve been trying to get back into reading more comics again, and possibly even writing about them again, which is an idea I tread with very soft feet. It can be hard to want to express how you feel in a way that doesn’t feel like it demeans a genre that yes, historically wasn’t really treated as serious literature for a long time. On the other hand though, it can also feel like a disservice to simply not approach it critically, because critical approaches are actually good, they help to foster growth and community when done well.

Tom’s work and advocacy for that, for the history and the role and the medium of comics, did that.

We lost a great writer, critic, and advocate, not just for comics, but for writing about mediums and literature in general, and it sucks. So let’s take this as an important moment to appreciate those who do the work of bringing you good work, of sharing good work, of teaching us how to critically approach the work we love and the mediums of storytelling and writing we love.

“So I will throw Veteran’s Day over my shoulder”

Today wold have been Kurt Vonnegut’s birthday. It’s also Veteran’s Day in the US, the holiday we once called Armistice Day, which is what I prefer. I always think about what Vonnegut wrote in Breakfast of Champions about the holiday, which was his birthday, about the importance of how we celebrate it now and the importance of how that distinction means very different things.

Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers and I’ve tried incredibly hard to take his lessons to heart about not just writing, but about kindness, humor, and humanity. So I will throw Veteran’s Day over my shoulder too, because I want to fight to preserve the sacred things.

Happy Armistice Day, everyone.

"Suicide in the Trenches" by Siegfried Sassoon 

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

This Is Tradition

We watched MIDSOMMAR recently, and I was blown away.

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I was floored at the director’s previous work, Hereditary, so of course I was anticipating this because I’m a sucker for these A24 and A24-esque artsy weird horror movies. The colors and tones and slow wash into an almost unbearable brightness throughout the film is fascinating, as are a lot of the interwoven themes of grief, mourning, and sense of needing an identity and place.

A lot of the writing about this film I’ve seen (in terms of reviews) use phrases labeling this film as some kind of vacation-gone-wrong movie, which is barely even touching the surface, if not outright a totally-wrong way to think about this film. It so greatly made me think about the movie as a deep thought about the topic at large (I’m not gonna get into plot points or anything not because of “spoilers” but because I feel like you should experience it and watch it) that’s “disguised” in a horror movie. However, it also doesn’t feel like it’s trying to “elevate” horror because this idea of “folk horror” that this film is seen as is following a path laid down by movies like The Wicker Man, where the uncontrollable power of nature and the discomfort we can sometimes feel around those who are still living in a relationship with that nature instead of trying to move beyond it into more so-called civilized places like cities is writ large on the screen.

This upcoming week we’re seeing The Lighthouse (from the director of The Witch, which I liked) and then Halloween III: Season of the Witch (a classic as far as I’m concerned), because as I wrote about recently at Patreon, movies are awesome and I love going to the movies any chance I get (also I feel that some films are made to be seen on the big screen and you should appreciate that).

Anyway I highly recommend this movie which I feel needs another watch to be able to fully absorb so much of the symbolism and visuals, because gross weird scary and uncomfortable stuff is good and you should watch more of it.

We’ve also watched this month, off the top of my head;

  • The first three Scream movies – You know what? that first one is a good horror movie despite the self-aware and self-consciously sarcastic meta elements.
  • The Invitation – Spoiled for me last year or so but I ended up enthralled by how awkward and horrifying it turned out, a real interesting film that I appreciated.
  • Beyond The Gates – Seen it before but enjoy it immensely, a low-fi indie horror involving nostalgia and VHS love and a missing father. Also Barbara Crampton is in it!
  • The Void – Another rewatch (let’s be honest most of these are rewatches) that is actually a good eldritch horror movie. As the kids say, “mood.” Very gross, great physical effects.
  • Psycho – I haven’t watched this in a million years and it’s still great (I think Rear Window is my favorite Hitchcock overall though). We mostly watched it because we also saw…
  • Re-Animator – Also haven’t seen this in forever but it’s still amazing. Also, as Chontel pointed out, it rips the score to Psycho off quite a bit! Speaking of Barbara Crampton…

There have been more in there, because we try to watch a lot of horror movies in October, but they’re not coming to mind right now.

The fiction of NO GRAVE BUT THE FIELDS is moving along, and my Patreon continues with essays about going to the movies, boots, new fiction, and writing advice. Sign up, help me pay for cat food and coffee and rent!

Nothing I’m working on right now outside of Patreon is immediately for anyone to read because teaching is eating a lot of time, but that’s OK, honestly, and I’m trying to be OK with it. It’s a struggle because the online writer model is one that urges us to write a lot to keep above the imaginary surface of Internet visibility, and I also come from a tradition of loving writers who always wrote and published a lot of stuff but it’s just not possible so…yeah. Lotta inner brain circles with that one.

That’s it from me, ghouls and goblins. Happy Halloween!

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“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

 

Introducing “NO GRAVE BUT THE FIELDS”

I have a new fiction project going on, the weekly fantasy story “No Grave But The Fields”, which you can follow along at here!

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The one in the scarf and tunic, a boy, the old man realized, held an old crude knife, probably a kitchen tool, like a warrior’s sword in his arms, an approximation of a swordsman at the ready, and he softened his face. “I won’t hurt you, boy,” he said, leaving the food and moving back towards his spot by the fire, and motioning with his head to his sword against the log. “See? It’s over there,” he continued, and then sat back. “Stay if you want,” he said, and went back to simply watching the fire, ignoring the boy and, he realized, the girl, as they dug into a spot on the other side of the fire and watched him warily, eating the food quickly.

I’ll be posting a “chapter” (an entry, really) a week every week between now and when it’s done. If you’re not on Tumblr to subscribe, there’s an RSS link at the site, and you can follow along when I notify people on social media (Twitter, Facebook) or just check in every week at the link.

I hope everyone enjoys it, I worked really hard on this piece and I’m quite proud of it. Enjoy!

‘Tis The Spookiest 2019 Season!

So I don’t have time this year to write special for Halloween like I usually try to do, but since it’s the spooky season, I figured I’d remind you of my other already-done spooky/horror work;

The Amazon and Magcloud stuff is for sale (because I gotta make money), but everything else is free. Of course, if you like my work you can always support it by subscribing to my Patreon for more fiction, nonfiction, writing advice, and even the horror RPG I wrote called TOMBSTONE TITANS. 

Enjoy, and happy Halloween!

Eagles & Princes & Yellow Pages

Fall is approaching. Time to dig in with horror movies and funky-weird goth punk music.

“He made me important.” – Robert De Loungville, Rise of a Merchant Prince 

I snatched up some Raymond Feist novels form my brother to re-read. I’ve been so immersed in work recently and besides the crime fiction I have around (I’ve been doing a bit of an incompletely and unofficial Elmore Leonard re-read as I worked on something about him for The Means At Hand) that I wanted something comforting, and Rise of a Merchant Prince was one of those re-reads. The pages are slowly yellowing, the paperback still in good shape, but definitely showing its age and its use from re-reads.

This scene, where (spoilers I guess) drill sergeant of the Crimson Eagles, “Bobby” De Loungville, lies dying in his protege Eric’s arms in an ice cave on a foreign continent, his lungs pierced by a broken rib. All the character can do is declare the importance of their leader, who lies burned and injured himself, the man who started the Crimson Eagles army, Calis the half-elf. It’s a bit meant to illustrate the character Calis as being vital to the mission and to the overall story of the books, but also, to me, what makes it so emotional is that it’s an illustration of the importance he had to these other characters. It’s an expression by De Loungville about just what Calis means to him. He raised him up from lowly soldier about to be hung into a man with responsibilities, with duties, with others who looked up to him for guidance. De Loungville was living before, but now, he had a life.

It’s an incredible way to express platonic adoration and relationships, in that small way that we never expect to hit us so hard when we read about relationships between men. It’s an honest admission of the root of friendship, devotion, and love, and it’s so painful to watch someone dying (even in fiction) thinking only of someone else, the man who means everything to him, because he gave his life purpose.

I love this scene. It makes me tear up every time.

I’ve been finding a lot of good nonfiction to read online actually, which feels rare;

I’m sure there’s lots of good nonfiction out there, it might just honestly be I’m tired of the same six or so I re-read a lot because I teach them. This latest batch is refreshing and I might incorporate them into what I assign.

The piece I mentioned above about Elmore Leonard went up at The Means At Hand and I’m proud of how it came out, and I’m also excited about both what I’m working on for Patreon as well as a possible other fiction thing. More on that as I get closer to an idea of where it’s going.

I’m trying to get writing done even with a bunch of teaching and grading, but I’m trying had to keep the balance as well as maintain some personal sense and personal space for movies and time with my loved ones. I keep meaning to do a list of all the movies we’ve been watching and rewatching, but I’m trying to watch more movies and less TV so we’ll see how that goes.

Kim Shattuck of the Muffs passed away and in a just and righteous world, the Muffs could have been and should have been bigger than Green Day.

So I guess it’s National Poetry Day, whatever that means, go read some poetry. That’s it for now kids, I’ll be seeing you around.

“A sword rang as it was drawn. ‘Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.'” – JRR Tolkien

 

Livin’ In The City

One of my favorite places for us to go on dates sometimes is the Museum of the City of New York.

We went recently to see a few exhibits, in particular one on Jackie Robinson’s rookie year, his career and relationship with his teammates, and his relationship with LIFE Magazine. There’s also some great exhibits on organized labor, Pride, and the Village Voice (plus a few ongoing exhibits about the development of New York City) makes this museum always a moving experience to willingly immerse yourself in. I like museums in general because they’re wonderful places to go and discover things (I was so delighted to discover exhibits on video games at the Museum of the Moving Image, including full arcade cabinets), but MCNY in particular constantly feels like it’s full of things about my hometown I never thought about too much and exposes me to the bits of it that make me feel like a better person from it.

 

Later on we also went to the Queens Night Market, which is one of my favorite places to go since everything at this amazing food thing is only $5 or $6 at the most so for twenty bucks you can eat Bangladeshi curry, Portuguese blood sausages, Filipino noodles, and Jamaican chicken. Then you just come back next week for more from different places, and that’s what helps make this so amazing.

We’ve been going there for a while and it’s always good. I in general love my home borough of Queens and its diversity so much, I love food, and I love trying new foods I normally don’t encounter in my day-to-day life so this is place is, to me, an encapsulation of my hometown and home borough.

 

The museum and the Night Market are always great go-to date ideas for us, and every time we go to either of them I feel incredibly lucky to be able to live in NYC and have these things out there at my disposal to be able to enjoy when I want. But at the same time, it’s that time of year when I think long and hard about where I live and what’s going on in this town in terms of just not being good for people who want to have homes and permanence in their lives in terms of where they live.

That article circulating about the writer who completely blew her advance (of course she moved to Brooklyn from somewhere else), not to mention NYU giving Hashtag Resistance-type-slash-grifter Lauren Duca a class she completely fucking blows and then thinks nothing of it (while I scrape together a living teaching across multiple schools) just really drive home how predatory living in this city can be and how it’s aimed purposely at keeping a particular economic hard line in place to maintain a division in place as if it’s some sort of legitimate thing you have to get over like a mountain to have “made it” and if you can’t, you don’t deserve the happiness and security it guarantees.

It’s hard for me to really express the full spectrum of this because it’s just…a lot, right? There’s a lot and it’s hard to explain if you’re not from here and that’s a stupid way to frame it but basically as much as I love being from here and my roots are incredibly deep in New York as a grandchild of immigrants and refugees, as a child of middle-ish/working-class parents who encouraged me to take advantage of the city around me…it’s hard to live here sometimes in a way that fully-gives in to the criticisms from people who aren’t from here and can’t see what can make it so fascinating and fulfilling at times.

Anyway, union now, union forever.

I’m mostly just tired from the start of a busy semester (six full classes, all writing-heavy with a full day of workshopping too) that began earlier than usual as well as the writing schedule that Patreon has put on me, which I’m trying hard to keep up with (the new fiction series is short not-really-but-sorta interconnected vignettes called I HAD TO BURN THEM BEFORE THEY BURNED ME, and I’ve been writing about meal boxes, Jawbreaker, FOMO, and I also released the RPG that I created called Tombstone Titans, so go check all that out and help me afford coffee and toilet paper).

Also, I’m reading ROAD DOGS by Elmore Leonard, and enjoying it greatly. I’ll probably write about it for The Means At Hand, especially maybe in light of my recent reread of Leonard’s DJIBOUTI, which I’ve read three times mostly to be able to grapple with the framing and structure (but I’ll get to that fully later on and let you know). Anyway, you can’t go wrong with a good Leonard novel and a meat loaf sandwich with a cup of coffee during your lunch break.

“Fuck what they say, it doesn’t matter anyway, only in the grave are you alone”

Stay mean, be kind, and listen to more punk rock.

The Elders Help The Saplings Grow

We played a few rounds of Photosythesis on Labor Day with a friend over some drinks and chili, which felt like a good way to have a low-key holiday celebration. I’ve never played this game before, neither had Chontel, but our friend had and ran us through it.

It’s a fun game about growing a forest and gaining sunlight as a resource to grow trees and cycle through their life cycle enough times to gain points. It’s competitive and strategic but doesnt feel as aggressively so as other games might because you’re not playing any kind of character, you’re a type of tree, literally.

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I’m enjoying board games (and games in general) as a fun way to spend time with a group of people and kill an evening. Trivia, mysteries, strategy, the rise in their popularity from a very niche subculture thing to again being in a popular consciousness as alternatives for socializing that don’t involve drinking or going out (party games) has made staying in OK again and when you’re tired and not interested in spending money going out, they feel like a worthwhile investment.

What I liked about this game in particular is that it’s reflective of something interesting overall from indie game development, which is that while it’s a strategy game it’s not a war game, which means that any elements that someone might find discomfort in (so many strategy board games are war and colonizing ones) are stripped away as you literally play as a tree spreading across the board, blocking other species of trees so soak up enough sun to spawn seeds to grow more trees or make existing trees bigger and more mature. What might have been a side-effect of limitations of resrouces to lead to certain types of independent video and board games being done in the way they were during creation due to resource issues forces creativity that bucks against the traditional models of gameplay both dititally and physically, and now that people recognize how important that diversity can be in fostering healthy play and healthy industries, you see a lot more of it. Who wants to play a game where you’re a tree? It sound boring compared to conquering nations or engaging in battle with pieces against another player square by square, or hoarding resources in an extended metaphor for some real-life historical event.

But it’s not.

Once you get the hang of it rounds move pretty well. We did two games, each being almost twenty turns (three cycles with six rotations per cycle) in a few hours. Even the first game where we were learning how to play was fun and not boring, and up to four people can play (I’m interested in how a two-person game might go and populate the board). We’ve played board games that allow more than two players (versus something like say, Stratego or chees) and other party games before (Mario Kart and Mario Party are popular at our place), but deliberately having “game nights” with board games is relatively new and interesting to us.

I grew up playing checkers, chess, Monopoly, and other board games with my parents and brother. We’d sometimes do family Scrabble night (not as much as I got older and became a surly teen), and I remember my dad playing Stratego with my brother and I. Then somehow card games became my obsession and I learned how to play poker and solitaire, and I’d play five-card stud with my grandfather. It’s so weird to look back (and laugh) because I never realized how much games were a part of my life in some background way, even if they weren’t just video games.

 

Nowadays we played a round of Bears Vs Babies recently (which is weird and fun), Betrayal At House On the Hill is on my shelves (which I love) along with perpetual party favorite Cards Against Humanity, and Level 7: Escape (which I didn’t really like but maybe might go back to). We really love playing Mysterium (which I’ve played in board gaming stores/public play spaces) when we can (which involves solving a murder mystery by interpreting dream clues) and you can’t go wrong with trivia games (where I can try to show off how much completely useless knowledge I’ve absorbed into my weird brain) like the very hard horror movie edition of Trivial Pursuit.

Fall and winter are coming up and I’m trying to not go out and spend money to get ready for some travel next year, so I’m looking forward to more game nights with people I care about to socialize while still staying inside, because deep down I know I’m a homebody, and kind of always has been. Let’s see how many of the scenarios in Betrayal At House On the Hill I can get through. There’s quite a few.

Flamecon 2019 & Rolling For Patience

We went to Flamecon this past weekend. Well, we went on one of the two days, the first on Saturday. It was interesting.

I’ve sort of given up on a lot of cons, for a variety of reasons. I’m tall and sorta wide, so in walking through something or down an alley, I tend to take up a lot of space, and as I’ve gotten older I’m more and more aware of not just the space I take up, but also the space around me and sphere around myself that sets the limit of how comfortable or uncomfortable I am. I’m admittedly a very easily-annoyed person, I can be aggravated quickly by little things in public, and I have my complicated relationship with fandom of nerd stuff in general, so of course a place like a convention is somewhere that I feel tested.

Flamecon was definitely a place to test that.

It’s a fun little convention. First off, it was in a hotel instead of a convention space, clearly-run with plenty of signs and volunteers to keep things organized and moving between several floors, using the ballroom and conference halls for presentations (we saw two really interesting ones on queer horror comics and on gender fluidity in early newspaper comics) and an artists’ hall that had a really nice and varied collection of people tabling selling books, ‘zines, art, comics, and crafts like patches and stickers and even tote bags with art.

We got some great books, including ADVANCED DEATH SAVES, an anthology (we actually got a few anthologies!) featuring buddies Ken Lowery, Chris Brown, Andrew Weiss, Dave Lartigue, and more great stories (You can get it on Comixology and Stacked Deck Press check it out and the previous one, DEATH SAVES, for fun stories about RPG games and characters!) as well as some art, zines, and more. If I buy books and cons, they tend to be places where I like to explore and take some chances on stuff as well as probe for old stuff, (in particular finding the old American attempt to bring Masamune Shirow’s APPLESEED to the US in English serialized as well as older GRENDEL comics, which wasn’t really an option at this one but whatever), so it’s nice to find a good mix of surprises.

It’s a smaller convention that strives for inclusiveness and openness and there were a lot of teenagers and people in cosplay, and it’s a con that’s been going on for a bit now and is clearly growing, evident in how a few times I definitely had to step aside out of the aisles because I couldn’t move through them without literally pushing my way through the crowd, which I don’t really want to do at a place like this. Chontel and I have this conversation on and off about how in places like conventions, fandoms tend to have an issues when it comes to younger fans about how to move and be in public spaces, which I really think we need to expand on in nerdy fandom consciousness. As excited as we can be to be in these space spaces where everyone is into what we’re into and we can talk about it and share our loves of it, there are levels of social niceties that seem to be thrown out (or at least temporarily discarded) in favor of the immersion into this world.  I’ve written about cons and how wild-west they can be for people (and not for the better)  before, but it really should be a point worth repeating that we need to remember it’s a public space and the rules about personal bubbles and moving through public space with limited size still apply (the clear growth that Flamecon is going through is obvious in how there probably could have been been bigger alleys for the artists’ rows but they needed to fit as many people as they could within comfortable safety parameters).

I don’t know, it might just be because I’m old and grouchy and I get tired easily and my feet hurt because I’ve got a bad leg and I “kids these days” a lot, but I need people to move. I need kids to not stand and hang out in the middle of the aisles of conventions, as exciting as the conversation is in front of the table you want to get to. Circle back, they’re not going anywhere all weekend.

Anyway, compared to New York Comic-Con, Flamecon was a delight though in terms of space and size and attitude. The last NYCC I went to I couldn’t even stop at a table in artists’ alley the crowd was so huge and oppressive, I felt constantly-stuck in a flowing sea of people in too-big costumes. Unlike Special Edition (which I enjoyed), Flamecon feels like it’s definitely here to stay in the long run of conventions, so I’m excited to actually maybe go again next year.

Boardwalk Empires

I traveled a bit a few weeks ago. We went to the Jersey Shore, or we rather, as I was informed, we were “down on the Shore.” IMG_0726

I’ve been in New Jersey before (I have family in Jersey and in Pennsylvania), but I’d never been that far down into South Jersey, my only experience with this part of the state being reruns of reality TV and pop culture jokes/references…as well as reading the news in a post-hurricane Sandy East Coast watching first weather, then a fire, destroy huge chunks of the waterfront.

My wife is from New Jersey, and joked about it as “her homeland” in the way that she’s heard my family talk about where we’re from in Europe. It made me think a lot about homes, about the idea of a “homeland,” about a place where you’re from with its own culture and unique identity, and as much as we as Americans (and New Yorkers especially) tend to mock New Jersey, it (like so many places in the US) really does have its own unique culture that’s a lot more complex, I feel, than just tanning and corndogs and obnoxiously-bad club music for homophobic shitheads with bad hair. And that culture, despite how it looks, reflects (at least to me) an odd relationship where people who recognize growing up in toxic places nonetheless feel some level of nostalgia because there have been bright spots in there that have brought legitimate joy. IMG_0727

There’s a lot of toxicity, let’s get that off the bat, because that’s probably the best way to describe it. Not trashiness or just bigotry, but toxicity, because it’s a constant slow-seeping feeling that gets more and more obvious the longer you’re there. The amount of pretty-awful racist and hurtful novelty t-shirts was wild, and what was even wilder was seeing them on sale side-by-side with cheesy “I’m with him/He’s with me” shirts appealing to the June Gay Pride market also on the boardwalk and beach, two sides of the coin both feeding into capitalism, trying hard to catch and claim every single form of tourist dollar in any way, shape, or form.

It makes sense as places like Seaside try to continue rebuilding post-Hurricane Sandy, and you can see the newly-reformed and re-planted dunes created artificially to help shore up and restore the natural order and structure of the beach, and you see just how new the boards of the walkway are underneath you, how new so many buildings are, and the one taco place is a Brooklyn-transplant joint with bagged pork skins passed off as chicaronnes taking up space that could be served by an actually-good restaurant but hey, that’s how money works and gentrification, right? Even on the Shore. Try to hustle, try to make money and rebuild your life, better your life, stay alive, stay afloat. Not everyone can make it onto a cooking/travel cable TV show as a “local favorite,” so of course seasonal places pull out every trick in the book to try and pull in as many tourist dollars as possible. Capitalism is probably the one idealism that rises above all the “Punisher skull/Blue Lives Matter VS Rainbow Pride flag superimposed over a TV show superhero screen print” battles that seem to be raging on the front of the shirts worn by summer Shore temporary inhabitants.

It feels very wild and surreal to be a part of and even passively see.

At the same time though, I can understand the appeal even if, and especially if, you’re not the type to spend your days in squalor only go to out and party like it’s an approximation of 2005 in a European rave somewhere in a Cold War warehouse. We found the types of older Formica-top places I loved serving fried and raw seafood and drinks in the hard scratchy plastic diner cups that look cloudy but are just old with use and having seen a lot of ice cubes crackling against the inside of the cup. the drinks were cold and the boardwalk food…

…man, I love trash vacation food.

I finally had fried pickles and good fried Oreos, actually good stuff. Do you know what a really good fried pickle tastes like? It’s perfect. Somehow, the heat of the fried batter mixes with the sourness of a dill pickle to make something that almost but not quite tastes sweet, that really-fine line I’m constantly looking for with some foods, because the older I’ve gotten, the less I like “sweet” sweet stuff, although I ended up making an exception as we left the Shore, because we ended up stopping at an original Stewart’s for a Taylor Ham and cheese on a roll and a float, which on a 90-plus degree day, was absolutely perfect right before hitting the road back to civilization.

No, it’s not an Old-World European capital, or an obscure foreign tourist-friendly but not tourist-overwhelmed destination. Yes, it very much feels like and looks like the cliche of reality TV and every joke New Yorkers make about people from southern New Jersey.

So?

Every place is a homeland for someone, regardless of how they feel about it, about what sort of relationship they have with it. Ultimately, the conversations we need to have are not about who comes from what place or how faraway it is, but what we took from it that shaped us and what we left behind that we knew was wrong, was toxic, was not needed to grow as a person. Yeah, in comparison to where my family is originally from, New Jersey isn’t quite as exotic, but it’s a place that has just as many less-than-desirable traits and problems and social/cultural baggage I don’t care for and actively push back against.

Any place I’ve never been is a new adventure for me, because any place that offers something new to see, to eat, to interact with and mark down as another edge of the map that I can confirm exists and is full of actual people, that it’s a place where people go and enjoy themselves and take a weekend or a week during the summer. It’s what we did, its what others do, it’s what I like to do, and it’s what I feel I could definitely do again.

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