Saturday, February 25, 2017

Flipping Backward, Flipping Forward...Flipping Forget It

Last seen in Hamburg...
How much crazy, zany fun can actually be had flying from Japan to New Jersey and back? Enough for one blog post? Two, maybe, if the kids or the wife or the person in the next seat really goes off the deep end? Three if everyone goes long?

Besides one record-setting vomit exhibition there was little on either of our flights that would strike the passive passenger. BUT…to the ultra-observant there was enough for five blog posts. Yes, I am that perceptive.

I would have stopped at four, but United Airlines had to, on December 29th, put a copy of the January issue of Hemispheres, their in-flight magazine, in the seat pocket in front of me for my thirteen-hour journey back to Japan. Why can’t they just quit it with the fodder? Don’t they understand I can’t keep my derisive mouth shut?

In other words, this is all United’s fault.

As I explained in this post, I flip through magazines from back to front. So once again my juvenile amusement at United’s expense starts with the back cover and an ad for…I have no idea.

Welcome to your future outdoors, it says in big proud letters next to what looks like the base of a table lamp from the ‘80s, or a flimsy patio umbrella from China. Coming to CES January 2017. I don’t know what CES means, but if it’s in January this thing better be heated, whatever it is.

The inside of the back cover is another ad, this one for something called Smartwater which, according to the bottle, is ‘vapor distilled water’ with ‘electrolytes for taste’.

Brought to you by the cloudswe’re told.

Vapor-distilling, electrolyte-adding cumulonimbi? Wow. Those guys are the smart ones, not the water.

On United’s in-flight menu, Smartwater is listed under snacks. Which suggests someone in the layout and design department isn’t getting their electrolytes.

Reading this magazine is like listening to a Sean Spicer press briefing: so many questions, with no intelligible answers in sight.

A Man and His Thing
Whoops! Spoke too soon. A quick flip and I’m looking at a picture of the man responsible for that patio lamp umbrella base thing. He looks familiar. And I realize that I saw him a couple of hours ago the first time I opened this magazine (mainly in an effort to escape the parade of wildly violent movies on United’s entertainment system).

The gadget this guy is peddling is a solar-powered energy source made to ‘provide security, entertainment and connectivity to the smart home ecosystem.’ That part is fine, but then our man (Armen Gharabegian, who, as the CEO of a startup, is wearing the requisite I’m-just-a-regular-guy t-shirt and jeans) tells us, in reference to this solar lamp umbrella thing that (presumably) powers everything inside the house, that ‘It’s time to step outside.’

What, to install the thing?

I must be missing something, reading backwards through this magazine.

The front cover of this January Hemispheres is dominated by a sixty-foot top hat, all shiny and silver and looking a bit warped from the weather. On the sidewalk in front of this hat a man is taking a picture of two other people who are visibly excited. And why not? How often do you get to have your photo taken with a giant hat?

The rest of the people on the sidewalk, however, are either walking past and not looking at the hat or sitting on a bench and not looking at the hat, all as if to say ‘Oh puh-lease, sixty-foot hats are so2016.’

This hat-heavy front cover is the intro shot for United’s latest installment of their ‘Three Perfect Days’ travel and culture feature series. This month United takes us to Mexico City where, we are told as we marvel at the hat, ‘new cultural institutions sprout like weeds.’

I don’t know what Mexico does with their weeds, but I know what I do with mine.

Our mid-magazine tour of Cuidad de Mexico starts with this literary jalapeño: “Mexico City is a place defined by its muchness.” This may or may not be better than being defined by its weeds but either way muchness isn’t even a word, and if anyone is going to try to pass off making up words as literary prowess it is me.

To get a sense of the article I glance over the photographs (lazy, I know, but so is using words like ‘muchness’). And the sense I get is that people in ‘CDMX’ spend most of their time walking the streets, hanging out in cafes, and ignoring museums in favor of their smartphones. One of those museums, I discover, is housed in that 60-foot hat: the Museo Soumaya, also known as “billionaire Carlos Slim’s vanity project.”

Which adds support to the adage that money cannot buy taste. Or good decisions.

Back toward the front cover (flipping backwards again, can’t help it)

I find an ad touting the fastest elevator in the world, a piece of Japanese technology (Mitsubishi) in the tallest building in China (Shanghai Tower). Behind a smarmy white guy in a suit is a view of Shanghai from 552 meters up. It’s nice, in that the darkness hides most of the choking smog.

Leaning confidently and entirely unnaturally against the railing in front of the window, “Businessman, 39” tells us that he’s always in a hurry so how wonderful is it that he can be whisked in such smooth comfort up to the tower’s observation deck “with a few moments to spare.”

Wait a minute, Mr. B-39. If you’re in such a hurry what’s with the detour up Shanghai Tower? Flippin’ smug Gen-X’er.

The Table of Contents on the next page tells me that, in addition to Mexico City’s hat museums and weeds I’ve got two other features to enjoy. One is an interview with Norman Lear, pictured wearing a hat. The other is the story of how LeBron James is helping revitalizing his hometown of Cleveland by playing basketball for the Cavaliers while wearing a headband – a nice change from all the hats so I flip through to read more.

“I’m just a kid from Akron,” James is quoted in bold print, next to picture of him wearing no headwear of any kind. On the same page is this rundown of the LeBron James Family Foundation, started in 2003, James’s first year in the NBA:

What a good kid.
“The foundation begins each year with a class of third-graders, working with them on academic achievement and offering support all the way through high school graduation. James has been known to leave encouraging voicemails for students, participants often have their school supplies paid for, and parents can receive assistance toward completing their GEDs. The foundation now supports more than 1,100 students and their families, and, in late August, James announced that the LJFF, in partnership with the University of Akron, will pay for at least 1,100 four-year renewable scholarships for qualifying foundation participants to attend the university, at a cost of around $41.8 million.”

Not bad for a kid from Akron, hat or no hat. I’m inspired enough to read up on Norman Lear now, damn the wrinkled, undersized hat he’s got on. Instead I end up on page 12 and the Welcome Aboard message from United CEO Oscar Munoz.

The year was 1924…

 Just as forbidding storm clouds gathered with speed and force around the peak of Everest, observers glimpsed the famed British explorer George Mallory as he endeavored to become the first person to reach the summit.

The spirit of adventure! The intrepid leap forward and upward! This is life at its very finest!

He disappeared into the clouds, never to return.

For people who like to start reading magazines from the front, this feel-good message by Mr. CEO comes right about the time the speed and force of the plane makes it disappear into the clouds.

Just for this little stunt I’m going to take United up on their #Hemigram campaign by tweeting a picture of myself in front of Matsumoto Castle or maybe a plate of sushi and sending it in. Then when United retweets it I’m going to reply with a link to this post.

Not that I’m holding any sort of grudge here. United never fails to deliver a good dose of humor in the pages of their Hemispheres. The beauty of it is, it is all so unwitting that even if they read my reply tweet and see the utter deconstruction of their magazine they will not be able to avoid the same the next time I fly with them. I am simply that perceptive.

Artistic. Fashionable. Minty.
The problem is, very few people know of my superhuman perception. I think if I’m ever going to get anywhere I’m going to have to walk around with a 60-foot hat. I mean, that’s the essence of art, isn’t it? Do something that people will notice. Something that people will look at, and then they’ll start talking about whatever you do, no matter how idiotic. From there your celebrity is on cruise control.

To be sure, aesthetic appeal – what some might call beauty – rarely hurts when you are trying to get people’s attention. (I offer as Exhibit A former Spice Girl and current America’s Got Talent judge Mel B, pg. 32.) The thing is, aesthetic appeal and beauty are not only subjective, they are secondary in garnering the attention of the average person. Think of a train wreck.

This must be the psycho-mechanism that explains why

the curator of the ModeMuseum Provincie Antwerpen would want to dress like a mint cookie dipped in dark chocolate, or maybe tar. With a hairdo that reminds one of Andy Warhol in the rain. And an expression of methamphetamine-induced paranoia. Seriously, how does this work for people?

This one-page expose on curator Karen Van Godtsenhoven, by the way, is not about art but, amazingly, ‘the fashion scene in Antwerp.’ Yes, this Girl Scout Cookie from the tar pits is apparently some kind of fashionista. “I love oversized silhouettes because they give me freedom of movement,” she says without blinking. “And I prefer to wear materials such as velvet that are soft and hug the body.”

Girl Scout cookies can be so addictive. This one, however, is simply addicted.

And still, people are listening to her. Like people listen to Sean Spicer maybe but still, I'm thinking I should start dabbling in meth. Or Breitbart.

Not to poo-poo the visual arts across the board.

The new Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, Germany is striking for its creative glassy façade,
and the series of curves in its roofline that form points that jab at the sky, twenty-five (give or take) stories above the streets of harborside HafenCity. This silvery crown, sitting on a contrasting red brick base, makes this combination concert venue, hotel and residential complex look a lot like a chromatically-inverted Heat Miser.
Pictured (L to R): Elbphilharmonie, Heat Miser
That’s not a (complete) knock on the building. The Year Without a Santa Claus was always one of my favorite Christmas specials.

Another quick page-flip brings me to Sonoma County, California and two white people who, at least in one regard, are more Japanese than Japan. Kyle and Katina run a farm-to-table restaurant in the hoity-toity town of Healdsburg for people who want to say they’ve been to a farm-to-table restaurant. Their twist, however, might leave even soon-to-abdicate Emperor Akihito speechless.

They rotate their ultra-fresh menu every five days, celebrating each of the year’s 72 seasons in alignment with an ancient East Asian almanac that actually (and don’t tell Kyle and Katina this) was written up to make sure everyone in the village had a turn taking out the recyclables in each of the four regular seasons.

Beyond our visit to Healdsburg, United offers an indigestion-inducing smorgasbord of unwitting wit. Here are my 10 favorite nuggets:

1. The brave upcoming world of watching sports through a virtual reality helmet thing so you don’t have to pay exorbitant prices for beer and parking anymore
2. A piece on bartenders who like adding charcoal to their drinks, bolstering my earlier point
about the disconnect between aesthetically pleasing and unduly compelling

3. A baseball cap “clinically proven to regrow hair” (MSRP $799)

4. An ad featuring (a) two sterile beach lounge chairs under an ivory white beach umbrella, (b) a
luxurious (and sterile) pool area fenced neatly off from the ocean, and (c) the slogan “Life is an adventure #startliving”. My guess is they ran out of tweet space for #mygoddontgetanysandonyou

5. The Flexispot, a fixture for your desk that raises and lowers your PC, laptop, monitor and keyboard so you can sit and stand in turns throughout the day as you fuck around on facebook

6. An ad for something called a wurfboard which is to the Flexispot what a cover is to a smartphone: not necessary, but how uncool if you don’t have one, are you too poor or something?

7. An ad for “The King of Craft Soda” – a suspiciously self-ascribed title if you ask me

8. A short piece on “The rich and varied language of the Indian tumbler pigeon”

9. An astounding piece on a school in Iceland where you can learn about elves – and the equally-astounding revelation that people will shell out $55 to attend for one day

10. And a New York Times crossword puzzle that (god damn it) I will finish someday.
Answer to Question 4 on the Elf School Final Exam: "You can find them hiding behind rocks."

On the page facing the crossword

is an ad for Utah’s Red Mountain Resort. I am entirely uninterested in their world-class wellness programs and once-in-a-lifetime guided adventures. But the sight of two people hiking the path along the foot of an expanse of massive burnt-orange sandstone cliffs remind me that the world is a beautiful place and I need to get out into it more.

So I will pass on the “Must Have Products of 2017” featured on pages 64 & 65. I’ll pass on the tennis ball launcher that plays fetch with my dog so I don’t have to. I’ll pass on the treat-throwing machine with remote-access camera so I can check in with my pet whenever I like. And I will certainly pass on the doorknob thing for the back of my smartphone so I can take selfies with unwavering confidence.

But I may someday decide to go check out Mexico City.


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