A Comparison of All Elements Summer, 2005
Atlantic City, our New Dreamland.
We were awed, simply put. One dollar. One dollar was all it cost. To be plucked from Chinatown in Philadelphia and dropped down the rabbithole by the hand of God. Atlantic City. The blinking lights, oxygenated atmosphere, all-welcoming smiles, the bountiful loopholes, unused opportunities— for sure, all that could be said of the American Marketplace could go double for Atlantic City. Gambling after all is only the dynamic of shopping intensified; a dynamic that shortcuts around use value, even around intangibles, a straight into pure exchange. And as in the “field of shopping,” the economic— the gambling— aspect of Atlantic City was lost on me. Money is the Dream of Other People. To bring non-economic, anti-economic, trans-economic worldviews to Atlantic City will end in either disgust or wonder. For me, I’d have to say it was the latter.
We unloaded at Showboat and collected our all-but-one-dollar refund for travel expenses. We felt the possibilities immediately, somewhere in our inner ear. Willie Hoffman’s Birthday Party had provided impetus for the trip. Lucy had called and invited along a whole gang. And now this whole gang was moving through their new environment, mesmerized by the carpet and psycho-engineered lighting and bas-reliefs and an entire aviary of elderly gambling addicts.
A heavenly beeping monotone rang throughout the casinos, the sound of all the one-armed-bandits in concert— the same sound, I presume, that the brain makes when we all die. It is perhaps my favorite sound, a ring engineered to trip the “excitement receptors” in the brain and make them fire wildly. Before every three machines sat a Q-tip headed old lady, card in slot, behavioristically conditioned to press a giant yellow button every time she lost—which was, statistically, more than the times she won… A truckstop postcard come to life.
We snuck into the French Quarter Buffet, by making a fake pass for the bathroom. Like university dining halls, there is always a solution— a sufficient compromise. This place was a little trickier. The seating system was somewhat complicated, but it was obvious that patrons paid by the table. We knew as long as we stayed on our feet, no evil would befall us. No one could destroy us. After enjoying a meal on our feet, we figured we had nothing to lose and we took a table— for the utensils if nothing else. That very instant, our peace was broken by our waiter, the spitting image of Joe Piscopo.
He asked what was “going on.” Somewhat awkwardly, I told him “we’re done with these” and tried to hand him the dirty dishes from the table.
“No, you didn’t pay for this table. I know. This isn’t your table.” Mock-confidently, I pretended not to hear him. “Yeah— all these can go.” He threw us out, but not without letting us know, metalinguistically, that he was on our team. This metalanguage basically consisted of him not calling casino security. Nevertheless, we fled with the hint and went to absorb even more— more giant rhinestone swans, more Men-In-Black slot-machine/videogame hybrids, more authentic napolitano restaurants. Plenitude itself.
Outside, along the boardwalk, was beautiful in its own right. A magical mix of Jersey and Virginia Beach. Our appreciation of this phenomenon was comparable to the appreciation I’ve been adopting, for some time, toward the whole of the United States. This attitude is neither naive enjoyment nor ironic, sheathed contempt. We’ve transcended both of these, into a new (more sophisticated, I think) form of affirmation. Confident that a special angle, special eye, special mode of consciousness, can pass through walls and wholly rewrite the meaning of its surroundings.
Atlantic City is a member of a class, whose complexity invites multiple levels of appreciation. The fact that our appreciation only concurs with most others’ does not mean it is any less appreciative. The contrary is true. Atlantic City can never disappoint us. It will never ruin our lives. You will will never see us lined up at the Credit Application Office, wrestling off our wedding rings for collateral. We can enter and exit, at will, to laugh and stagger, at a city-sized, goldleaved reductio ad absurdum. And for only one dollar.
II. The Science of the Will.
The South Philadelphia Athenaeum, again, proudly presented its summer season of lectures. With Lex Kravitz speaking on the neuroscience of Addiction and Reward. A lecture on motivation given directly after our return from the seedy experiment of Atlantic City itself. Lex even demonstrated electrical current by running 120 volts through an unprepared Brandon— and later through a Jonny. We then raised the ohms by linking hands and praying for the chastity of the Nation’s Youth. The neuron explained, electrically— dendrites, action potential, and so on. Then into the whole medicine cabinet of electrochemicals— norepinephren, potassium, seratonin, glutamate, and volumes and volumes about dopamine. And, finally, how pharmacology and addiction and everyday motivation are closely interrelated— analogues of each other.
It offered a perfect picture to order my previously scattered understandings and folk-psychological hunches. But I still translate science back into technology— where even behavior itself, in this instance, is a form of technology. I was blown away by how the third-person object of study, Man, can in the end utilize these descriptions for first-person purposes. Even realizing something as fluffy as the fact that these chemicals— dopamine, seratonin, glutamate, amphetamine— all represent a poetic class of descriptions for the inner and outer world, in the same way that Shelley might describe the “yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red” of autumn. Even to recognize the human will among these neurological terms— the waking nightmare of reductionists— became an obvious step to me. This interplay of mind and metabolism, that could be watched from the other side of the glass.
III. Mountain Don’t and the Muscle Factory.
Mountain Dew has launched— and hopefully grounded— their new extreme energy drink; provisionally dubbed Variant No. 516 Mountain Dew X— also known by the name it gained around the Athenaeum, Mountain Don’t. In celebration, they sponsored a Muscle Factory show at Silk City, and gave away the promotional silver cans by the case. Muscle Factory— brainchild of Darren Finizio, is a rockpopsynth concept band where people pump real iron and sculpt abs on stage. Along with Tom, their usual beefcake buddy, Jonny and I and others, lined up with Mountain Dew gear on and sweated our way to victory for two unbroken hours. But I don’t know. We had arrived early. Danced. Poured Mountain Dew all over ourselves. Made jogging outfits in preparation— and it all collapsed.
Minutes before showtime, I felt out of sorts. The Mountain Don’t— the absinthe of energy drinks— had backfired. Critical and unpredictable effects on your subconscious. Strange depressive waves. I slammed three 14oz cannisters in twenty minutes and found myself immobile on the sidewalk outside, wearing a Mountain Dew diaper. I felt good once we started though, inspired by Darren’s pronouncements. “Bigger is better.”
And after all was sung and pumped, we drove away with a crate of Mountain Dew and Mountain Don’t. Literally 500 cans, two carloads. Still unaware of the dangers of this green potion. I do understand now, though, the unplumbed possibilities of promotion. We now know that, given our combined force and output, we could have every event and project down to the last, sponsored by some half-cocked promotional gig. Ideally, I would want to find promotional opportunities where we could be earnest, a two-way street. Wild Stallion has been notified of our interest. Dr. Pepper, as well. Perhaps Rite-Aid, in prise of their interntionally-priced interntional aisle. Just as good would be sponsorship by namebrands that are anything but extreme— Ben Gay, Subaru, the University of Pennsyvania— or events where the sponsorship becomes the central experiment of the evening.
The Mountain Don’t created an atmosphere of overwhelming doubt. That stuff is liquid kryptonite, something to be feared, and something that I now believe adversely effects the testicles. Jonny, Rich, and I made our way to West Philadelphia, to the “Baltimore house,” where the Schopenhauerian veil finally dropped. Jonny and I sat in the living room, trying to tie together the last scraps of Hope… Nothing. All was bleak. Rich found us easily, by following the path of least resistance. We all decided to go home, to admit defeat.
However, on the way there, we ran across a football game at the University of Pennsylvania stadium— at 3 o’clock in the morning. “Must be a scrimmage,” I thought. On closer inspection, we realized that there was snow on the ground, in July. And closer still, we realized it was a movie shoot, which made circumstances sensible once again. Perhaps we could be one of the thousand extras, sitting in the stands— why not. We asked one of the patrols. “Absolutely not. They got things just as they need’em.”
“What do you mean? What about all those people…” I swerved around mid-sentence, only then to notice that the stadium was filled with fake people. Thousands of mannequin torsos, decked belt-up in Seventies garb. Needless to say, that moment was frightening; a tidal wave of hyperreality. All our previous suffering— all the Mountain Don’t— had merely been in anticipation of that snap-to moment. Perhaps Schopenhauer was right. Our world is a flimsy mock-up, a representation, behind which snarls a blind, monstrous Will. Only at rare moments do we see through, to the essential horror of things. To the starkly inhuman. The second I looked over those glued-on beards and into those unseeing sexdoll eyes, I got the shiver. The way Schopenhauer felt on most days, I imagine.
The Athenaeum meets the Bolshoi