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The International Writers Magazine
:Hacktreks in a New York State Of Mind

orth American culture with Clive Branson
America is a bit of a paradox. The most materialistic society whose constitution actually enshrines the pursuit of happiness as a human right. Yet, a land that contains more murder and psychiatry than any other.

New York City is where an hour is 40 minutes. A city with no boundaries. Its iconoclastic raw beauty and ubiquitous magnetism have stirred the very embodiment of all ambition, aspiration and desire, but I wouldn’t want to grow old in New York - that happens too quickly, for there is little time to stop, no room to breathe, no excuse for innocence.

New York City is a woman in transition who wears dark mascara, a beauty spot and a grey coat concealing all truth. She buys a sterilized hype to shoot-up a sex machine drug. We enjoy her strength and character; her unexpected warmth, her unabashed vulgarity. Or is it her fleshy sexuality? She’s on a diet of amphetamines and held together by velcro. We’re mesmerized by her horror and ecstasy. Her Monroe breasts that squeeze into a limo that turns out to be a hearse. She’s an enigma who plays with life at high speed risk.

© Brooklyn Bridge Clive Branson 2003

© Manhattan Clive Branson 2003

I drove south from Tupper Lake, New York State, into an interminable arena of pine and lakes (a region that covers an expanse of 6.1 million acres). Now people may like pine, rock and water, but then, people like watching lawn bowling and clothes in a dry spin. After eight hours, its tenacity tends to lose its charm. The demography modulated radically, like driving over a giant’s curled up body. The Adirondack Mountains ascended up to 1,500 feet above sea level, then dropped dramatically like a Canadian dollar.

Claustrophobic, oven-baked cabin colonies and Ma & Pa restaurants dotted the side of the highway. The restaurants were generally similar and listless. Linoleum-tiled floors, a lazy ceiling fan, neon signs blinking or burnt out, and a checkered-patterned plastic tablecloth that the bottom of my drinking glass got stuck to. A waitress whose name was one of Hazel, Ruth or Marg, would serve me. What was more interesting than the food was a couple one table over. A middle-aged man wearing a CAT baseball cap and an adolescent girl, whom he didn’t seem to know very well but was taking her somewhere.

Mysticboats © Clive Branson 2003
It was when I reached Lake George (noted for the largest body of water within northern New York), that my journey of tranquility was shaken into stark reality. Even in early September, the place was still reeling in summer consumerism. Actually, frenzy came to mind. A town transformed into a Jerry Springer hallucination. An ersatz haven: souvenir shops, T-shirt vendors and fast-food grease parlours, littered the resort. Horrid fat tourists with screaming t-shirts, screaming kids and blaring ghettoblasters.

People of enormous girth perambulating about no faster than the flow of Heinz ketchup with this smug attitude that it is normal to be the size of the U.S. deficit.
Teenagers and bikers smeared the scene like a bad fart, scratching their zits, sharing bad breath, bad food, bad grammar and bad odours. It reminded me of the cast of Married With Children, The Simpsons and Happy Days combined. But for a kid, this was probably better (and cheaper) than summer camp or Disneyland.
The lake would have been nice had it not been for the congested flotilla of speedboats, jet skiers and tourist crafts. It was a bad play on water. Even the landmark, Fort George, was a hemorrhage of rapacious commercialism: profiteers bastardizing an historical site into Coney Island, tramped on by the Nike-soled. On the other hand, at least people were encouraged to take in a piece of their own history rather than remove it altogether, even if it means re-inventing and mass-producing it. In America, they cherish their past, particularly when you can make a buck from it.

I passed through, imagining the nightmare it must be at the height of the season and was left with a sickened view of humanity. Getting off the beaten track and continuing via Route 372, the scene changed to a series of small-towns, each with a veritable charm comparable to a carbon-copy of a Norman Rockwell painting. Most of the towns in these parts seemed locked in a Tai-Chi, soporific life of their own. Strong, russet-coloured brick masonry and white Georgian pillared homes, lattice-windowed stores and the invariable square commemorating an historical figure - its association, a frail fragment of the town’s historic mark.
While large cities may personify independence, it is the small towns that epitomize a longing for simplicity, values and innocence. Norman Rockwell said that he painted not so much of what he saw, but of what he wanted to see. These towns seemed to embellish his ideals. The towns gave the impression of travelling in a time warp and I was in Mayberry expecting to see Opie appear around the corner with his catch from a nearby stream.
© Clive Branson May 2004

See also The French

Clive is an Creative Director in advertsing living in Ottawa and former Parson School of Design Photography Grad. This is first of a series of pieces and images for Hackwriters

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