Wednesday, July 29, 2009

THE END ... (of ACT 1)


Here is the route of the Hoboxia Expedition to date:

A list of stops where something I remember happened:

Write with your vote of where you think, of the places listed, if any, Hobox should call home. If you guess correctly, you win a prize!

As the journey ends, or let's say, enters a new phase, I look back wistfully. I am grateful to all the people who extended kindnesses to my boy and me, and we're happy to have made fascinating new friends.


The book underwent many important mutations, it's about halfway there, and better than ever I think. The story has been with me for a long time, in one form or another, since Trigonometry class, which I failed as a consequence of doodling and scribbling the characters and plot instead of doing whatever the hell trigonometry was. The project has tried to break out in several forms since then, but never really found itself a medium it liked until now.


At last count, I've taken 14,441 photos on the trip. Most of those out-of-focus attempts to get it right, coming mostly from shooting in dark art museums. I went a little art museum crazy.

To see my first creative project, something I call Sgulpture, born out of my orgy of museum activity, check out :


I want to thank those of you who followed the adventure, whether faithfully or sporadically, and those visitors who just poked in for a moment. The blog definitely helped me be creative and go for some photos and visits that I may not have otherwise.

Many projects have spun out of the Hoboxia experience, including of course a book about the trip itself, though those will all take a while to develop. Publishers, get in touch.

And I would absolutely love to keep rolling with Hobox, ideally taking the tour to Europe, so if anyone knows of any sponsors out there, I was thinking of doing a critical thinking through art teaching tour so if you're a non-profit organization with some money you need to spend, get in touch!

Love to all of you and may your own adventures reward you with less stuff and more happiness.

The King of Hoboxia, Solomon,
and his trusted servant, Fink

And now, we bring you the conclusion of AmericaNerd(cue historical documentary music) ...

August 13, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the day when the Apollo 11 astronauts, in compliance with the Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law (created for them and repealed in 1991), were released from quarantine after their incredible return from walking on our moon.

The following month the public rained down excitement and ticker tape on them like Christmas fallout in a New York City parade while the world watched, wondering what the United States could pull off next.

JFK challenged us to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and two Presidents and a cultural divide later, it was achieved. The country went on to do big things and its cultural imperialism continues to grow to this day stronger than any empire in history, but the moon hangs there, unvisited since 1972. And who cares? Why the future of course! (*cue bouncy transition music)

My journey through America's past has me thinking a great deal about whether or not the form of government cobbled together by the Founding upstarts is in fact anything special for the future of the way humans organize, whether the system is something that transcends its own provincial purposes, whether the United States is just another Empire, or if something has really happened here ...

(preceding photos from various D.C. museums, the Bush one from the Cryptology Museum run by the NSA)

An auspicious event I attended. This guy is a big hero of mine. I got to be there, after meeting the Director of the American Philosophical Society who told me about this event at Drexel University, the day the city of Philadelphia declared June 8th to be Thomas Paine day. Paine was a loosely credited supporting character to the Founding Father pantheon, but whose words, published and distributed widely throughout the colonies in the pamphlets Common Sense and The American Crisis literally stirred the passions of the colonists to see and feel the necessity of Revolution.

Paine has a small alley named after him and an urban plaza downtown and that's it (though there is a great Lipchitz sculpture in the plaza). No Monument here, or in D.C. No state or city. One of the reasons is that when he moved back to Europe, he wrote a document called The Age of Reason that was not entirely pious. Something he wrote along those lines before he got famous he sent to Ben Franklin, Mr. America. Franklin replied that it was a bad idea to make a convincing atheist argument because ...

"...think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security."

I'm pretty sure Franklin knew this could see print, and he certainly knew his work was immortal, so there it is, the purpose of religion by Founding Father #1. But let's not go there now ... moving along ...

This docent introduced us to the chamber where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and then later in 1787, presided over by Washington, who sat at that desk in the back, the new government ratified the Constitution of the United States of America. This was the moment where my AmericaNerd™ core was activated. The palpable joy and pride this National Park employee expressed for the underlying principles of the document actually brought tears to my eyes. Most everyone in this room in 1787 were slaveholders. I was already optimistic.

A view from outside. This was the most ambitious building of the colonial era, it took 21 years to complete, construction overseen by Madison.

These days it's visually flanked by insurers and one of the smaller buildings in town.

I spent a long time in Philadelphia, both on the AmericaNerd trail and just because I liked it. It definitely has the feel of big-stuff-happened-here history, at least in this neighborhood.

This is a working replica of the plate used to print the first broadsheets of the Constitution which was sent around to spread the word that US was born.

I visited the City Tavern where all the big boys would hang and talk about Revolution and Law and Women over ale. They didn't have a Thomas Paine flavor, but I tried the Thomas Jefferson. Not terrible at all. I asked what of the building was original and they said ...

So after Charlottesville, Richmond, Jamestown, D.C. and Philadelphia, I headed out of the country to watch the amazing Zidane (the head-butt guy from the world cup) play in Toronto with his friends against a Canadian All-Star team. This obviously put aside the AmericaNerd project temporarily, EXCEPT, by the time I left Canada, I couldn't help thinking ... WHY did we let England keep Canada?!

They aren't really doing anything with it, so if anyone is up for an invasion, count me in. That land will be highly valuable in a few generations when the ice caps are completely gone. And they have no guns.

I had originally planned to go all the way to Halifax, if not Newfoundland, but the 30% additional gas cost AND the fact that I couldn't use my phone-based GPS made it impossible, so I parachuted back into the states after Montreal, and headed down the great state of New York, where I quickly found my way back into the AmericaNerd fabric.

The boy above was one of many dozens re-enactors living out the Encampment at Fort Ticonderoga during the French & Indian War, specifically a 1755 battle. Here are some more shots from that incredible visit ...

This smart young fellow is on the original Common where four colonists died in the first battle of the Revolutionary War at Concord after some mysterious shooter opened fire, now known as The Shot Heard Round the World. Later, up the street in Lexington, we killed 8 of theirs, then on their retreat back to Boston, we sort of tore them apart, and the war was on ...

or as this burial monument, situated about a hundred feet behind where our man is resting, more eloquently and emphatically puts it ...

There was a lot of great drama in this acre of land. This plaque was a surprising and great touch. It reads, "House of Jonathan Harrington who, wounded on the Common April 19, 1775, dragged himself to the door and died at his wife's feet."

With that, I have to back up before I jump ahead to Lincoln's America.

I made a stop before I got to Canada. I had a place I had planned on visiting before I ever got on the road in the first place.

If being a Thomas Paine enthusiast is rare, the next guy I was on the trail of as a big fan is outright dangerous. On my way to Canada from D.C. I took a turn into a National Park entrance, winding through a beautiful mountain pass, trees throwing breathing shadows across the road. After a mile or so, I assumed I had made the wrong turn since I was looking for a town, or a city, I had no idea really how big the place was, perhaps it was a tree fort now. I was looking for Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. And then it appeared, a nineteenth century town stretching from the hills to the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, where the nation's primary arsenal used to stand. Thomas Jefferson visited in 1783 with his daughter a few years before Washington came up with the idea of making the site the U.S. Armory and Arsenal and called it "perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature." There's no connection between my love of Arsenal, the football team, and this visit (well now there is) but I was there because of someone else's interest in the actual arsenal.

On October 16, 1859, John Brown led a party of 21 men into the night across railroad tracks that stretched over the rivers and ran alongside the arsenal. He had no trouble taking the lightly guarded facility, but ended up being captured trying to hold it. He was hanged December 2. Before he was executed, Victor Hugo write an open letter trying to get a pardon for John Brown, which included this line:

Let America know and ponder on this: there is something more frightening than Cain killing Abel, and that is Washington killing Spartacus.

Henry David Thoreau spoke publicly in his defense in October and the speech was repeated many times until Brown's execution:

Some eighteen hundred years ago Christ was crucified; this morning, perchance, Captain Brown was hung. These are the two ends of a chain which is not without its links. He is not Old Brown any longer; he is an angel of light. I see now that it was necessary that the bravest and humanest man in all the country should be hung.

Abraham Lincoln called John Brown a misguided fanatic but he was running for President.

So who was John Brown?

He was a superhero. He took up arms to stop the spread of slavery into the frontier in Kansas, and at Harper's Ferry, he planned to arm the slaves in Virginia to cut the economic heart out of the South, which if he had succeeded would have been the beginning and end of what became the Civil War. Now am I supporting armed insurrection? No. Am I supporting armed resistance to slavery? Fuck yes. It's exactly what this country was built on and that was 'only' economic slavery. A year and a half later, it became federal law to shed blood for the Union.

Frederick Douglass, (the only male on the wall in the museum of the National Women's Party btw) who knew John Brown well and who tried to convince Brown to give up on the Harper's Ferry plan, wrote after the Civil War:

"Did John Brown fail? John Brown began the war that ended American slavery and made this a free Republic. His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light; his was as the burning sun. I could live for the slave; John Brown could die for him."

Ok, so Harper's Ferry was a big day. Then Canada. Now we're back in upstate New York, where I visited the John Brown farm, the place where his wife and daughters lived and where he's buried.

So then the Civil War ends and yay no more slavery and everyone is happy and free in America at last!

The nineteenth century was not that kind alas, to science and the humanities, though it seemed like it was.

(picture from the Natural History Museum in New York)

The Gilded Age was about Progress. Towards what we still don't know. (John D. Rockfeller and PT Barnum pictured here from the National Portrait Gallery)

Wealth and development and commerce and dealmaking and growth and resources and wealth and wealth and wealth.

And power. But this time, unlike the power of the monarch as the head of a state, it was power to create a new world. That's a big difference, and almost one worth getting behind, except for one thing. "All men are created equal." Ignoring the sexist grammar for a moment, and that's hard to do I'll admit, it's one hell of a statement for a political organization to be based on. Regardless of what it doesn't say about ability or the variability of individual biological abilities, when a Man of Progress builds a new world, that concept is usually not foremost in his mind. And what ends up happening inevitably is a replay of the beginning of civilization, powerful, accumulating city planners who turn back into heads of state.

So what happened to Jefferson's agrarian paradise?

The same thing that enabled this.


Which is to say, nothing, just the continuation of tool-making, which we've been doing for some time now.

But what we call technology (and second wave feminism) has turned the middle class of the country into a population of kickballers.

I spent an enormous amount of time exploring cities from the inside out and what I saw over and over was a massive urban poor black population radiating out to a kickball playing white middle class in bigger cities or donut eating white lower middle class in smaller cities ending in a factory farm or wasteland until another city popped up.

The exceptions were "college towns" or the highly dense metropolis. Then there was Toronto, the most diverse place I've ever even dreamed of .. I actually did a visual morphology count of people walking by in a couple different neighborhoods and I couldn't establish a dominant trend.

So I return to the all men are created equal, the desire to create a new world, and the promise of America and I'm left thinking let's finish this fucking thing. Let's stop living separately in our little impenetrable cultures, let's stop assuming there is such a thing as the Other, let's stop thinking of money as an end in itself (if not stop thinking of money at all), let's give up on race completely, regardless of whether certain populations can digest certain enzymes better, just sleep with those populations then you can too, and above all other things, even though they are the most fun thing in the world: STOP CARS.


Monday, June 29, 2009

FINDING SPACE (not elbow room)

Well, it's finally happened. A snap I took whose location is a total mystery to me. This image is typical of what's become my front yard in the morning, behind some Target, or like-minded commercial behemoth.

In related news, my cop alarm clock count is up to four now, all very different experiences, but all leading to an 'ok you're free to go'. Never a pleasant phrase to hear before coffee.

One of those experiences was totally my bad, meaning I should have known someone would descend on me because I pulled off an exit called Secret Naval Priority Clearance Nuclear Headquarters Washington DC, or something like that. I found a great dark lot (try finding darkness in a city, seriously it's an interesting challenge), went to sleep at midnight or so, and woke to blasting white lights in my face at 2. This one was scary (#2) because they were really angry and had an enormous amount of power considering where I was. I of course assumed I was about to be whisked off to an underground bunker in Tangiers and then beaten to death until I admitted I was smuggling Uranium 328357 from Mars. In a few minutes ... "Ok, start your engine. You're free to go. This ain't a good place to pull over."

Up the street a bit, I visited another Top Secret facility, but this time as a tourist. I went into the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center museum and it was essentially a kids romp through posters and gee gaws in a one small building. I asked if this was it and they told me, after 911, no one can go in to the real area. I said COME ON! They said LIKE, I KNOW! And then, while sizing up my sneaking-in options, I spotted a NASA employee looking fellow who was dragging a group of young folks out of an auditorium. I accosted him and said, hey man, how do I get into the better neighborhood, I'm a writer you know. And he said, cool man, they would totally let you in if you make an appointment, etc. Then I asked, what's up with all these kids.

And he said, this is a science club from an Albany High School (where I am now kind of) and they were about to take a tour of the facility. I said, heeeeey, and he said, I'll ask. So I joined the tour!

Here's one of the students trying to pick up a dime without sliding while wearing astronaut gloves. The kids were mostly disinterested, but I think it was due to the long bus ride and crap weather.

The building we went to was the world's largest clean room, where the Hubble Telescope was tested, part of exact copy pictured here for trial repairs or work.

The most interesting item for me on the tour was this satellite, created by Al Gore when he was Vice and expected to launch during his presidency. Funding was cut and it sits here still until next month when Obama's new funding finally puts it in orbit. It's function - climate observation.