July 13, 2012

Cooling Out: From Spare Change to No Change

Provincetown's "Fresh Sea Clams," 1940.

"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." -- Yogi

Summer's at last heating up and so it's time for the cool to get cool by the shore. This will be especially cool this year because, so we hear, the coolest president in history may cool out on Martha's Vineyard. How cool is that?

It's even cooler when you consider that the cool One is sure to take the last final shred of whatever may have once, long ago, been cool about the Vineyard and grind it into fishmeal. When that's done, the Vineyard will look and feel, at last, pretty much like Provincetown, but without the Gay Pride floats and speedos. People worry about the coming fall and the heating up of swine flu, but I don't worry about fevers when I see that the all-consuming chill of "cool" is likely to get us first.

Cool's a funny thing. Before it was cool to be cool, being cool was actually sorta cool. But now that being cool is as required as a tramp-stamp at age 14 in order to gain admittence to a U2 Concert, cool's just not cool. Once "cool" is codified it's kaput. And since cool's not cool, there is no way to really be cool. Once you have a bunch of media lapdogs actually lapping on the lap of the President of the United States, even media's uncool. That would be okay since nothing cool is cool forever. After all, the groove must move to keep from becoming a rut.

The problem is that the left-behind Culture of Cool has now infested the landscape like locusts on crack and is gnawing the cool out of the American earth. Cool comes from a random sense of motion whirled within a certain spirit of place. As Kerouac wrote, "Man, you gotta go." Once you kill that spirit with predictable motion, you don't have cool but kabuki. And moving in that dead dance you don't find hipsters, but cold corpses twitching in a jerking dance of post-mortum effects. You know, like pithed frogs or rappers.

I don't mind rappers since I know that, with time, they'll melt back into the landscape. What I do mind is how cool, when passing through a place, is starting to scour the landscape of classic American cool places cleaner than a drag-chained desert mesa. As some wise-guy observed, "Once the antique stores and the poodles show up the groove moves on." The problem is that the groove is running out of places to move to. I've come to believe that the lack of cool places is due to the consistent invasion of places that were once cool by progressives disguised as cleaned-up hippies with money still left on their VISA cards.

The always worthy Sippican Cottage had a meditation on the nature of change in summer places a couple of seasons back with No NIMBYS Need Apply in which he observes:

"Cape Cod, and Provincetown, are very much Not In My Back Yard Places now. It's hard to do much of anything building-wise. There is no more reactionary person than a wild-eyed progressive who has beaten the forces of the last reactionary, it appears."

This progressive mental disorder can be seen in Provincetown and any number of other places that once were cool and are now merely the haunt of the privileged pretenders to cool. Indeed, the current going price for a week in the hamlet of Provincetown seems to range from $5,500 per week for something that sleeps 8 to the more modest $650 a week for a cottage/closet sleeping two. For this, plus sundry other expenses, you get to party in the beach zone. It's a kind of Disneyland for adults and satisfies the new found need to be by the sea at least once a year to maintain your cool status. Once cheap, cool now costs lots of cold cash.

Getting in some rented beach time is important since most poor and middle class Americans now labor under America's new unwritten law that states: "Nobody with a net worth south of $30,000,000 is allowed to actually live by the ocean." (Unless grandfathered in by, well, your grandfather and you'd better be able to scrape up the jacked up property taxes too.)

The glutting of the "cool places" by the uncool cool-seekers, from the White House to the outhouse, is pretty much the state of the nation at the moment. It is important to "be cool." It is not important to live. By and large this compulsion for cool has gripped the soul of the nation and continues in an unstoppable way.

The cool parts of the cool cities are increasingly decooled by people with more money than style -- Soho, Venice, the Haight, to cite a few. Ditto the cool ways to live.

Long ago it was cool to live in a loft, and not one "designed" to be an "artiste's loft" either. Or at least it was thought to be so. I once lived (off and on) in an old cigar factory loft way below Soho in New York and it was, in its way, pretty cool. You threw down the keys and ran up a half-dozen flights of stairs. When the storms came the clang of metal shutters slamming into brick walls made you think you were sleeping inside of Big Ben. The kitchen was a small fridge and a hotplate. The bathroom door was a shower curtain. But if you wanted to you could make really big paintings and have really big parties and nobody knew you were there. It was cool.

Of course, it was very uncool to have to take a cab 16 blocks in the winter just get to the nearest laundromat with a stack of dirty clothes, but that's what you did. Now you can have the laundromat pick up the clothes and bring them back folded from the corner -- and you pay for that as well, and much more than a cool million plus for your loft. But that's okay because now, even though you are living like an "artist," you don't really produce anything that remotely resembles "art" to be cool. If you do have a gallery, you probably own it and fill it with your own personal selection of the kind of dumpster trash that passes for "art" in this mordant age. Creativity is no longer required to be cool. If the Beatles Anthem were written today it would be "All You Need is Cash," because cool, once generated from within by real talent, can now just be purchased.

Merely owning a loft-like space lets you (and more importantly everybody else) know you are "cool." This is essential since the greatest desire of modern American urban life is to "get cool and stay cool." The way you do that, as Sippican Cottege indicates, is by stopping anybody else from moving into the scene once you arrive. In this, a "reactionary" is a "progressive" who's been mugged by real-estate values, property taxes, and the fact that it is hard to get a reservation at the latest and coolest restaurant in the zone.

I once rented a three-bedroom house in Southport, Connecticut. Southport is a tiny and very rich community sandwiched between Westport (ex-Martha Stewart land) and Fairfield (commuting base at the time for many middle managers of New York City). The house was built by the father of my landlord and was a small masterpiece of New England homebuilding. It sat on three acres of lawn across from a school. Although close to the freeway it was still idyllic in almost every way as was the tiny little hamlet of Southport. For a number of years I was very happy there. It was pretty cool.

When, after a long time with the wolf at the door, the money arrived it was time to think about actually buying a home in the town. I was talking about this with my landlord one day when I ventured the opinion that the town would be "much better off if we could just stop all these new people from moving in. You know, cut off the building of new houses...."

My landlord fixed me with a gimlet eye and said, "My dad built over three hundred houses around here starting when he got back from the war. If he'd thought the way you do, you wouldn't be here."

I got the point. Since then, I've always looked at those who move into "the cool place" and want to shut the door after them as traitors to cool.

There's a lot of this sort of class treason going around these days. You see it in those who would like to close the door on development in the 3rd world lest more of that rotten life-denying planet wrecking CO2 be made. (And let's get some more bike lanes painted on the roads too!) You see it in the endless zoning laws and restrictions on building thrown up across the landscape until nothing can be built for less than what can be raised by a consortium of rich developers. You see it in the recent Federal decisions on "takings."

But mostly you see it in the endless desire to be seen and thought of as "cool;" a kind of new status point system in which one must live in the right place, with the right furniture, going to the right restaurants, wearing the right clothes, and most of all having the correct and approved opinions that, well, everybody else has (Don't they?).

Above all, to be cool you have to be against -- on a deep and fundamental level -- mankind itself while proclaiming that "ordinary people are the most important people that there are, but...." The only thing more important than people, you must believe, is "the planet." If you can pull all these things together, along with enough money to live in the cool zones, you too can be thought of by all the cool people around you as.... cool. Cool enough to drop ten grand on a Provincetown vacation home where the dunes are protected against everything except Speedos and random fornication.

And how cool is that?

Posted by Vanderleun at July 13, 2012 9:24 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

The cool parts of the cool cities are increasingly decooled by people with more money than style -- Soho, Venice, the Haight, to cite a few.

Santa Fe....

Oh, Christ, Gerard, you should see what they did to the dusty old Santa Fe of my youth.

On the bleached bones of the high-water-mark of the Spanish Empire, the Cool Ones erected an adobe theme park; but not real adobes anymore. I can't even smoke a cigar anymore in The Palace Restaurant. The dingy watering-hole where the old Patrones used to broker legislative power and favors is now a gay bar.

The locals have been taxed out, but can maybe get a job busing dishes or stuccoing the fake adobes.
I console myself with the knowledge that I will see it return to near ghost-town again in my lifetime.

That would be very cool.

Posted by: Gray at July 13, 2009 12:00 AM

Boy, have you hit the nail on the head...
Healdsburg, Ca.
Formerly agriculture country, briefly cool, then finally, antique stores and poodles.
I was spray-painting on boarded-up buildings (not because they were closed down, but because they were being renovated to house the next salon/restaurant/upscale clothing store) the phrase "Go back to Marin, go back to LA, back to SF, back to San Jose...Just go the fuck away."
Alas, the Volvos, Prius' and Subarus kept coming...

Posted by: Uncle Jefe at July 13, 2009 8:43 AM

Yep, that's exactly how the "cool" libs look at it: I've got mine, f*#@ you! Concerned about the "little guy"? Not on your life. Only about keeping him out of the lib's gated community and favorite restaurant. The most selfish bastard on the face of the earth is a liberal who's made it. But he's got the unmitigated gall to tell you he cares.

Posted by: waltj at July 13, 2009 8:55 AM

Gray said: "I console myself with the knowledge that I will see it return to near ghost-town again in my lifetime."

Hmm, I wonder if we know each other. I too am from that once wonderful town. Where a frito pie from the Woolworths was a treat. When what is now kitschy downtown galleries was the business center. Business men ate their sack lunches sitting on a bench on the plaza. Sears, Montgomery Wards, the old High School all sat in that 10 block square area.

Where the status of a politicians bar bill at The Bull Ring was shown by where his caricature sat on the walls. If you were current it sat near the bar, in arrears it sat in the men's bathroom. My friends mostly sat in the bathroom.

My hometown has been discovered three times in my lifetime.
1. Trust babies out of Chicago and NYC played at art and being hippy.
2. The new money came out of LA and SF.
3. The latest is the Dallas horsey set who built Las Camapanas that won't let the locals on the property unless they have invited work to do.

Santa Fe - where NIMBY was invented I think.

And don't you know? "It's every ones Fanta Se to live in Santa Fe!"

Posted by: Robohobo at July 13, 2009 10:25 AM

In terms of "place" you are spot on. The monied yups have pretty much taken over cool places.

But "Cool" for me has changed in meaning over the years. In the old days artists, musicians, mind expansion, lifestyle experimenters were cool to me. You know, being hip. Then came a time when political activism was cool. Cool for me now is someone who is genuinely themself, living with an open heart, spiritual awareness, and maybe an old-timey, earthy, connection to the history of a place. I know it's an subjective thing, this cool.

But when cool becomes contrived, it is NEVER cool.

I'm sure that is why almost everything about Obama grates on me.

Posted by: adagny at July 13, 2009 11:28 AM

Please let the cool people with money know that Michigan is more than willing to have them coolify its old gritty keeping it reeal industrial cities.

Posted by: Mikey NTH at July 13, 2009 12:12 PM

The sad thing is that Western Michigan is really nice.
The beaches are beautiful, a lot of the small towns along the coast are really nice, and the people are nice, too.
The Anti-industrial revolution has killed Michigan, just as it is killing Ohio. There is no road back, I'm afraid.
But Michigan has WINTER. Which might make it too cool for the cool ones. Heh, as they say in Knoxville.

Posted by: David at July 13, 2009 12:42 PM

""""Once you kill that spirit with predictable motion, you don't have cool but kabuki. And moving in that dead dance you don't find hipsters, but cold corpses twitching in a jerking dance of post-mortum effects."""""

For some reason, that brings to mind the 12-year slow-death-spiral of Michael Jackson. It's remarkable how different kinds of decay are still guided by the same underlying algorithm.

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at July 13, 2009 1:36 PM

""""Nobody with a net worth south of $30,000,000 is allowed to actually live by the ocean""""

I was in high school in the mid 60's when my Grampa died. He and Nana had retired on his Con Ed pension to a cottage in the the dingy little seaside town of Keansburg, NJ. It was splendid dingy for a kid, and we didn't need $30 million to be at ocean's edge. After the service, funeral, and Irish wake, we kids went out to the beach, and had footraces, and long-jumped, and tried to see who could toss a big chunk of driftwood the farthest. Inadvertently, we siblings and cousins were celebrating Grampa's life and honoring his death with ancient funeral games. It was a gorgeous, splendid day, and the first time I seriously tried whiskey, my Grampa's favorite. Nana was now free to become Keansburg's best female bowler and pool player, and have a blast by the sea -- on a Con Ed pension.

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at July 13, 2009 1:46 PM

Hummm... you're right, which was why I said "(Unless grandfathered in by, well, your grandfather and you'd better be able to scrape up the jacked up property taxes too.)"

Posted by: vanderleun at July 13, 2009 1:56 PM

The problem with "cool" towns like Westport, or Litchfield, or Ojai is that the people who move in aren't really moving in. They have their place in the city and this is just a place to impress their friends.

Pretty soon the housing prices go so far up the natives can't afford to stay in their hometowns anymore. Meryl Streep complained to the mayor of a Northwest Connecticut town where she had her weekend place that there should be a law that the townsfolk shouldn't shop on Saturday and Sunday. They were making it so crowded the weekenders couldn't get their shopping done.

In Kent they could hardly get enough people to run the volunteer fire department because most of the "residents" were back in the city all week. They didn't want to volunteer anyway--they weren't there to work, they were there to pose and posture. They sure know how to lead inauthentic lives in good clothes.

Posted by: Lucy at July 13, 2009 3:57 PM

There are beautiful places all over Michigan. And if you're looking for that country-living-within-the-city feel, Detroit now has plenty of wide open spaces. (I wish that was a joke.)

Posted by: Harry at July 13, 2009 4:29 PM

Savannah was a cool place growing up in the sixties. Isolated, indolent, Spanish moss-draped, with twin circulatory systems of saltmarsh creeks and Southern Gothic craziness. Now it's a freaking mob scene of tourists trying to find the pulse of the supposedly ubiquitous gay scene. I'll never move back.

Posted by: Velociman at July 13, 2009 6:37 PM

Hmm, I wonder if we know each other. I too am from that once wonderful town.

Hey, I wonder! I'm actually from, and still live in, Placitas. They did the same to this place. It's overwhelmingly wealthy, white, female and liberal now, but I live in the old village where it is still pretty insular and hispanic--it still counts to be "a local" here.

Where a frito pie from the Woolworths was a treat.

Oh, yeah! My dad usta get a 12 of Coors and a frito pie and I would get a little toy and a comic book there and we would spend the day splashing around in the Galisteo near the coke ovens at Waldo.

Where the status of a politicians bar bill at The Bull Ring was shown by where his caricature sat on the walls.

That was the bar I was talking about. It'll be back. I'm only 40; my little son is only 2. We can outlast them.

Sometimes,very late at night when the moon is up, after the boutiques and wine bars close, the old calaveras still come out in their severe black suits and bright dresses on the Santa Fe plaza.

Posted by: Gray at July 13, 2009 9:51 PM

First place I thought of was Sante Fe. Pre-Katrina French Quarter, too.

Posted by: Carl H at July 14, 2009 9:00 AM

Growing up for a time in Montana gave me a wealth of really cool places, which have since become way too cool for the peasant likes of me. Bozeman, Kalispell. The only cool place left is Great Falls, and no one hardly ever goes there anymore, since it isn't cool.

Posted by: Jewel at July 3, 2010 9:59 AM

I spent several years of my teens in that area of CT you wrote about in your post. As one of the sub-30k a year club it was very surreal. There are many things looking back that make my head spin but the one that has been front and center lately has been the sense of entitlement that the affluent have. Truly the same emotion springing from the same source as a 3rd generation welfare recipient. I bet if Ms. Streep had ever been confronted about the absolute foulness of her request she would be offended and clueless because of course of course she is a GOOD person, she just wants the community to accomodate her and the others like her....

Posted by: rsj at July 3, 2010 1:50 PM

You see it in the endless zoning laws and restrictions on building thrown up across the landscape until nothing can be built for less than what can be raised by a consortium of rich developers.

The supreme irony is that what is built on that land, by the consortium of rich developers, is built of cardboard and staples and frozen snot. You couldn't pay me to live in most of those McMansions.

Posted by: Ken at July 3, 2010 8:57 PM

Michigan cool is mainly on the west side - Traverse City, Petosky/Charlevoix. For the working locals "a veiw of the bay is half the pay" is a common saying.

Working class people would do better to migrate to the east side of the state. Pay is at least the same and cost of living is much less.

Posted by: Ralph at July 5, 2010 8:04 PM

Had a shipmate during my Navy career whom liked to wear his sunglasses inside the ship. Commanding Officer came to radio central one morning to check his messages. Our chief petty officer asked shipmate "hey, why do you always wear your sunglasses inside?" CO looked at chief and spoke for shipmate, saying, "because it is important to be cool." The good ship USS Charles F. Adams (DDG-2).
Long gone from fleet.

Posted by: Jim at July 3, 2011 1:46 AM

I guess you must be on vacation, too, Gerard.

Posted by: Jewel at July 13, 2012 2:13 PM

I grew up on Long Island during the fifties and sixties. Mostly farms, woods, Grumman and its suppliers. During the summers when I was 15 and 16, my friends and I would drive out east to the Hamptons and camp on the beach overnight. Yes, I said camp on the beach overnight along Dune Rd. There were large mansions along the ocean then but it was old money. The old money people treated the locals fairly and never tried to keep any of us out. Then the Hamptons became hip. Now you'd be arrested for even attempting to sleep on the beach overnight. All summer the "cool" set treks from NYC out east to party. No locals need apply.

Posted by: groman to at July 13, 2012 2:14 PM

You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye.

Posted by: BJM at July 13, 2012 10:35 PM

The concept of "cool" has always eluded me, and I have never spent much time or effort pursuing it. I have no interest in going to a particular restaurant, say, because it's "trendy", whatever that means. But if I hear the food is good, I'll give it a try. Same with a nightclub or vacation spot. "Cool" doesn't interest me. Good music and pleasant surroundings do. And if I have to pay more than I think it's worth, I'll find another place to go.

Posted by: waltj at July 13, 2012 11:27 PM