Thursday, August 25, 2011

Abercrombie & Fitch, And Abs

News item: Abercrombie & Fitch has offered to pay Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino of the “Jersey Shore” reality show to not wear its merchandise. Sorrentino is said to be highly insulted by the offer from the racy teen retailer.

I have never watched “Jersey Shore” on MTV. From what I have read, that is a wise decision for anyone hoping to not destroy any more brain cells than necessary. At my age, I figure I don’t have a lot of margin for error. Speaking of age, I have resigned myself to accepting the senior discount at movie theatres, though I’m drawing the line at joining AARP or getting the early-bird special at Luby’s. As of a few days ago, I am now closer to 60 than 50, though I have no plans to rush it.

Anyway, apparently Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is fond of showing off his stomach muscles, which from the photo I saw in the Wall Street Journal are tight enough to bounce a nickel off. I believe the term is “six-pack abs.” Like most American men, though I am nowhere near obese, the only time “six pack” is said in direct association with my abs is when I bring home some brewskis from the grocery store. The work required to have abs like Mr. “The Situation” is far more than I’m willing to undertake. Even if I did, I am too modest to walk around in public with my shirt pulled up. For that, my unadoring public is grateful, I’m sure.

Apparently, A&F feels that Mr. “The Situation” is not a great role model for its brand. It issued a statement saying, “We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans," the statement read. In the interest of research I read a synopsis of Season 4, Episode 3 in an online post from the WSJ.

I quote: “Brittany comes out of Mike’s room and wants to know what’s keeping him. So this leaves Snooki to panic to JWOWW about Jionni breaking up with her. JWOWW counsels Snooki, saying she won’t lose Jionni over this whole Mike thing. Snooki seems genuinely upset. So is Mike just claiming they got together because he got burned? Or did Snooki give in? We’ll never know!”

Hoo boy. Thank the Lord for C-Span.

My only encounter with A&F came last year, when our daughter attended a Justin Bieber concert in Houston, accompanied by my Beautiful Mystery Companion while I watched a football game in the hotel room 20 stories above. The next day we went to the Galleria. They wandered off while I sat on a bench and read a book, there being pretty much nothing in the Galleria that I’m interested in spending too much money to purchase. (Actually, my wife feels the same way. We were indulging the new teen for her birthday.)

I looked up from the book and saw this impossibly sculpted young man, maybe 18, shirtless and talking to some teen girls outside a mall store. “That boy needs to put his shirt on,” I thought and went back to reading. Later I noticed yet another shirtless male. This one might have owned an eight-pack of rippled muscles. His stomach looked like a series of West Texas mesas turned on its side.

The womenfolk returned to the bench. “Did you see those boys just walking around without shirts?” I asked. “What’s up with that?” They, of course, rolled their eyes and explained the boys were male models for A&F, one of its edgy marketing devices. “They just pay those kids to stand around without shirts and look good?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes, and they sure look good!” both replied. I was rather shocked.

I don’t know how much A&F is offering to “The Situation” to not wear its line of clothes. This is likely just another edgy marketing ploy, since A&F carries a shirt called “The Fitchuation,” and another that just says, “GTL.” That stands for gym, tan and laundry, which apparently take up a lot of the “Jersey Shore” cast’s time.

Regardless, here’s my offer. I’m willing to not wear A&F’s line of clothing for, let’s say, $9. That’s enough to buy me a six pack of a decent micro-brewed beer, including sales tax. Further, I promise to never go shirtless in the mall. That alone ought to be worth the money.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

For Forks, 'Twilight' A Temporary Boon

FORKS AND LA PUSH, WASHINGTON — Lovers of the “Twilight” series of books and subsequent movies will recognize that dateline. Author Stephanie Meyers set her highly popular teen vampire/werewolf series in the town of Forks and along the Pacific Coast beach near La Push. We’re here on a side trip at Abbie’s request. Our 13-year-old daughter is a huge fan of the series. I can survive just fine without watching a vampire movie or reading a similarly themed novel, but that’s just me. We all have our passions.

We wind our way through the Olympic National Park, past the stunningly clear Crescent Lake, through the forest of massive Douglas firs for about two hours, from our cottage on Discovery Bay near Port Townsend. A handcrafted wooden sign welcomes us to Forks, the raised carving showing inside a circle a logging truck, tree, mountains, and a fish swimming in the nearby Pacific. No vampires on the sign though there is a symbol of one on the outhouse downtown.

Forks is a town of about 3,500 folks who mainly work in logging. It’s home to a large number of Native Americans and mobile homes, has an unemployment rate of about 12 percent and, to be frank, is one of the least picturesque places we visited in Washington. A sad little town, is what I kept thinking as we drove around snapping photos at Forks High School, where Bella met Edward, or the Cullen family home (which in real life is a charming bed-and-breakfast), and the modest but neatly kept home where Bella lives. Edward turns out to be a vampire with a James Dean hairdo, though one with benign intentions — for a bloodsucker. (My wife and I did see “Twilight,” the first movie, with Abbie.)

The “Twilight” boom seems to be piddling out in Forks, though plenty of Twilight merchandise is on sale, and signs abound. “Dazzled by Twilight” had several customers when we visited on a weekday morning, but not much merchandise was moving in the shopworn store. The guided tours have been discontinued. It looks as if the Twilight movies have done about all they will do for this rain-soaked town, which gets more than 70-plus inches annually. Please God, send some of that to Texas. Just saying.

Down the road to the southwest about 15 miles from Forks is La Push, home to the Quileute tribe and First Beach, where Bella meets up with Jacob Black, a childhood friend. From him she learns the history of the Cullen family. Long story short, Edward is a member of the “cold ones,” aka a vampire. In a following book, Jacob finds out he is actually a werewolf. Man, I hate when that happens. Talk about bad-hair days.

First Beach is located down the road from Second Beach, both hanging off the Pacific edge of Washington. The sand is gray and gritty, the beach ringed with trees and branches too large to be classified as mere driftwood. The forest comes right up to the edge of the beach, where the dead trees have piled up. Large rock islands jut out of the ocean a few hundred yards offshore. On this day, the sky is cloudless, the weather a San Diego-like 70 degrees. But it is easy to imagine this beach as an autumn storm sweeps in, wind howling, werewolves and vampires doing battle — the modern movie version, with impossibly great looks but in need of orthodontic care. It is just as easy to imagine Edward and Bella living in Forks under leaden skies and a forest canopy, not much to do except take an occasional bite out of a luscious neck.

One sticking point: the films — three so far — were not filmed in Forks, or First Beach for that matter. According to the Internet Movie Database (, Oregon and British Columbia provided the bulk of the locations. That is not unusual. Think of all the Texas cowboy movies filmed in Arizona, for example. The difference, which I find fascinating, is that the good folks of Forks actually designated sites throughout the town as places where the characters lived, so that tourists could visit — and not one scene of the movie was filmed there.

It’s not a secret. Anyone with Internet access can quickly find that out. An enterprising chamber-of-commerce fellow enlisted fellow townspeople to scout locations where the movies could have been shot. Signs were posted. So we have joined thousands before us, wandering around Forks snapping photos of homes, the high school, hospital, police station, etc., places that weren’t actually used in the movie — but serve as stand-ins for those making the pilgrimage.

To her credit, Stephanie Meyers came to Forks a few years after her first novel and returned for a day in her honor last year. Daughter Abbie says the book accurately describes the town and area. You can’t blame the good folks of Forks for trying to cash in on their town’s unexpected fame in a vampire series. Right now, I might even welcome a vampire, as long as he brought some rain along.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Taking A Hike On Hurricane Ridge

HURRICANE RIDGE, WASHINGTON — A cartoonishly cute furry animal the size of a morbidly obese housecat sits perched on a moss-splattered rock outcropping near the crest of Hurricane Hill in the Olympic mountains. Minutes before, we stopped on the trail to catch our breath — my bride and I both feeling the effects of thin air — and read a sign describing the cute critters. This particular species is called the Olympic marmot. It has kinfolk across the continent, including the woodchuck and even squirrels. The Olympic marmot, which is a darn fine name, is a protected species because numbers are dwindling — possibly because of an influx of coyotes.

Moments after reading the sign we spotted one in real life, as if he had been hired to hang out close to the display. He gamboled about in the prairie that improbably grows here just below the tree line. As we walked along the crest, Rocky (as I silently named him) sunned himself on the rock, nonchalantly staring at me. I walked close enough to capture a National Geographic-style photo with a telephoto lens.

About this time a very nervous deer skittered out from a grove of trees and also came close to us and the half-dozen other folks scattered on the ridge. She kept a wary eye on a small group of mountain goats grazing nearby — two pairs of adult couples, two kiddoes. The goats charmed us, until two guys from the area also up on the ridge warned us to watch out. A nearby resident and hiking aficionado was killed last fall by an aggressive mountain goat on an adjacent trail. He was gored to death. The goats are acting rather territorial, and the deer is spooked enough to get closer to us than one usually experiences. We keep our walking sticks at the ready. I am prepared to sacrifice my telephoto lens as a bludgeon if necessary. It wasn’t. The goats moved on, and the deer finally calmed down.

I have published news items at least three times in my newspaper career about folks getting trampled by deer they thought were tame. None were killed, but flying hooves in panic mode injured all. So I was watching that deer and counseling my Beautiful Mystery Companion to do the same. My words of warning rang hollow, however, when we hiked back down to the visitor’s center. A deer came out of the pasture and walked down the parking lot, ending up on the sidewalk as if it were a two-legged pedestrian. I shot a photo of this deer, maybe 30 feet away at the time, walking down the sidewalk as if it were headed to the snack bar for lunch.

The hike up to the top of Hurricane Hill and back is a bit over three miles, a distance at which initially we scoffed since we both walk that far daily here in Texas — albeit before sunrise during the dog days. But the elevation rise of 500-plus feet after starting at about a mile high sent our lungs into hyper-drive. This “hill” tops out at 5,767 feet, which in Texas would be defined as a nice-sized mountain.

Oh, the scenery. This is seriously one of the prettiest places on the planet, especially to lovers of trees, mountains, blue sky, rapidly changing cloud formations, wildlife, the smell of unsullied air. Back at the visitor’s center, we sat outside and ate homemade turkey sandwiches with chips on the side. That ranks as one of the best meals I’ve eaten in years, gazing out as my BMC sang out, the “purple mountain majesties, across the fruited plain.” She’s a nerd like me.

The lone deer skirted close, maybe looking for a handout. At the next table a ranger who specializes in educational talks, described how global warming is affecting the park: snow melt, animal behavior and their habitats. The young woman was earnest and articulate, and I hope at least a few of the dozen folks listening paid attention. She is preaching to the choir as far as we’re concerned. Anybody who doesn’t accept the fact that the earth is getting warmer is both anti-science and hasn’t stepped outside this summer.

Sorry, had to preach a bit. I have fallen in love with this place and don’t want to see it change. My affection likely will remain an occasional dalliance, but this piece of America has captured my heart. Besides, those marmots are adorable. I love those little guys.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stepping On Snow In Late July

DISCOVERY BAY, WASHINGTON — The tide rides in twice each day, slides out twice as well. On this day, first high tide was at 1:17 a.m., an event I missed. By then the sleepy waters of Discovery Bay covered the crunchy layer of shellfish and the cedar-shingle-covered sand. It lapped close to the wiry grass. By 8:56 a.m. the tide had receded out nearly to the white buoy placed to mark the lowest edge, a linear distance of about 45 feet and a height difference of more than nine feet. By 5:29 p.m. the tide was at its highest level of the day at 8.1 feet, and by 9:24 p.m. had receded again, but only to 6.5 feet.

Be patient. I’ll get over my nerdiness in a moment. It’s a deeply ingrained trait.

We have neither wireless internet nor cable television in our lovely cottage on the bay. My bride is fine with that, being naturally opposed to the wired world. Her new husband and our daughter — hers from the get-go, mine officially since mid-June — are having withdrawal symptoms. We keep scamming wifi off the landlord’s line by perching ourselves just outside his back door, or using my iPhone to acquire in painfully slow fashion a connection to the online world.

In defense, I get online to fulfill minor work obligations, reply to emails and knock out a couple editorials, as well as this piece. I can live without the news while vacationing in paradise. The 13-year-old, however, believes we have brought her to this place as a form of punishment: no malls, no wifi, no television. Access to Facebook is sparse. I hope her friends survive not learning her status for hours at a time. It’s iffy.

I head out for a walk along the beach. A family of sea otters lives behind a row of pilings placed to keep the hillside from eroding further. They venture out each day to gambol about in the bay. One fellow suns himself on a small floating dock; others appear briefly before diving back down for a breakfast treat. Herons line the shore like sentries, moving systematically as we approach on a morning walk, keeping their distance as ducks and seagulls fly overhead, squawking. To the south, the tallest mountains of the Olympic range still have snow above the treeline. We can see the peaks to the south across the bay depending on the cloud cover.

I never tire of watching the light change over Discovery Bay from early morning through the day, unto dusk. Fog floats across the water some mornings, returning as the sun sinks. My wife saw the eagle that lives here the other day. I’m still looking as I trudge down the beach, early morning or as dusk falls. Light reigns in these parts, at times sunglasses bright, and minutes later turning the world into a miasma of gray.

The other night we sat outside as darkness crept in, warming ourselves by a firepit. On July 28, we Texas refugees built a fire and reveled in the fact we could do so. A fire wasn’t exactly needed to stay warm. Just the fact we could build one without being arrested for violating a burn ban — or not being adjudged insane for wanting to do so — was simply lovely. Earlier that day we had hiked along Hurricane Ridge and walked across giant snowpiles that obscured the trail.

Snowpiles! Just three days before August begins! It simply doesn’t have to get any better than this.

Like all vacations, this one must end eventually. But for now, I’m sipping coffee on the deck while wearing a light jacket, keeping an eye out for the eagle. The clouds are rolling in over the mountains once again. It might rain. I hope so.

(Still more to come.)