Wednesday, August 15, 2007

flaying the beach

I'm easily embarrassed. I'm not only embarrassed when I say the wrong thing or feel conspicuous, but can cringe just as easily at the shaming, real or imagined, of other people, even complete strangers. So it has taken me a while to get used to Katy lugging around a camera approximately the size of our dog wherever we go. This becomes particularly troublesome (to me only, as Katy is much more well-adjusted about this sort of thing) when we are near the beach, such as the local land of the lotus eaters. Once, on the Santa Monica Promenade, as Katy was photographing some neon, a woman looked at us, shook her head, and said, "more idiots."

This kind of response is actually not what I am afraid of. What embarrasses me the most is the idea that we're being taken for tourists casually and without comment. There is a kind of basic condescension towards visitors that makes me automatically indignant when I feel we don't fit in. There's a great passage in V., which I'm too lazy to look up now, where Pynchon talks about how tourists are only interested in the surface of a place, seeking to get a quick feel for the locale and then on to the next topographical experience. I suppose most of my embarrassment comes from an assumption that other people are assuming that I don't care about where I am that much. Yes, I realize this is very, very silly.

The thing is, I shouldn't be ashamed of my status as a visiting outsider. I should be proud. I can't count the number of times I've tried to look at a familiar landscape with new eyes; every time I visit my parents I try to force my eyes into an alien configuration so I can see my old neighborhood as a stranger would. So what I am bringing to, say, Manhattan Beach is a heroic perspective, a fresh outlook, beautiful misunderstandings and a ludicrous fascination with even the most mundane details. I, unlike a local, am taking nothing for granted. And my wife is recording this heroic exploration in great detail, to forever mark this place and time as ours. I should be planting a flag. A small flag with my name and address, asking people to please, walk down my street, write down what they see, and send it to me. It's the least they can do in return.

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