I spent the 4th of July weekend down the shore.
An aside: For those who don't know, "down the shore" means at the beach in New Jersey. I know it doesn't make sense. I grew up saying it and I know it doesn't make sense. My friend Trevor used to try to put other prepositions in there. But "I'm going about the shore" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Anyway, I went down the shore. I sat on the beach. And I looked at girls. Well, women, at any rate. And they were in bikinis, for the most part. Luckily, most of them were not hideous in said bikinis. Luckily.
Another aside: my brother and I once decided we were going to found a new branch of local government: the aesthetics police. "I'm sorry sir, you're wearing a Speedo and you're not European. That's a ticket." "Ma'am, bright yellow rarely looks good on anyone and you weigh 300 lbs. That's a ticket." "I'm sorry miss, but that thong, well, next time shave. That's two tickets." You get the idea.
Anyway, I was sitting on the beach, looking at women in bikinis and it occurred to me that, for the most part, there's no real difference, except in the material, between a bikini and your average set of women's underwear. And yet the reaction to both is significantly different. For me, anyway.
Not that I don't appreciate a woman in a bikini. I do. However, you ask me if I'd rather see a bathing suit or lingerie, and, well, no brainer. Which, it occured to me, is weird. I mean, the same amount of skin is showing — I'm not talking about see-through underwear — sometimes less in a bathing suit.
The difference, therefore, is in the perception. I imagine if women wore polka-dot bikinis under their clothing on a regular basis, then men would have a very different reaction to the game of Twister.
Yet another aside: I saw a purity test years ago where one of the questions had to do with coed naked Twister. I always thought that would be fun, though as I age I also realize I wouldn't want another naked guy on a Twister board with me. I'm just saying.
Anyway, I started looking around, trying to see if there were other disconnects in our perceptions. Things that we look at every day — if there could be two basically similar concepts which we, as human beings, assess in two completely different ways. And then I thought maybe, if I could identify what, exactly, it was that produced this dichotomy, I might just gain a little more understanding of the human condition.
I remember in high school and college having trouble staying awake while reading for class. Even a good book. I think I got to page 9 of "The Plague." And I'm not anti-Camus. I paid attention in class when we discussed it, anyway. Meanwhile, you'd have trouble tearing me away from a book that I'm reading for fun.
I'm sure I'm not the only one. How many people either know people or were people who stayed up all night this past weekend to finish up the last in the Harry Potter series? I'll bet you if it were assigned reading for English class, it would have been a lot easier to put down. Again, perception.
Wow. A literary aside: This sucked - I was walking down Park avenue on Saturday on my way to work when I overhear a guy on a cell phone saying, "I don't want to ruin it for you." Thinking nothing of it, I kept walking, until I heard him say, "Well, [name redacted because I'm not a shithead] dies." I couldn't believe it. I turned around and said, "Hey, don't ruin it for me, either." He was taken aback, to say the least, but he did stop with the spoilers.
Another example that also came up the weekend I was down the shore was that of the "rebel flag" of the secessionist South. We saw some kids tying one to a car antenna, and all three of the people I was with were disgusted by it. Because we, up North, and probably liberals everywhere know that it's a symbol of hate. It represents slavery, the reason the Civil War was fought. Anyone flying the flag, of course, must hate black people, then. It's the American History version of the swastika.
Except, well, no. I mean, sure, some people fly it, of course, because of its racist symbolism, but that's mainly up North. I recently asked my roommate Erin about it, as she's from Texas. It's a big symbol down there, but it represents the secession, the old South, and states' rights. It's a symbol of pride in standing up to the tyranny of the North, and in the traditions of the South (segregation notwithstanding). The most telling fact is that there are black people in the South who fly the flag, or at least put it on a bumper sticker. Heck, there are at least nine states in which you can still get a license plate that incorporates the Southern battle flag, as it is generally recognized to be.
Southern aside: What made me realize the dichotomy was when I was watching a Lynyrd Skynyrd video of the song "Free Bird" last week and Johnny Van Zandt had the flag tied to his microphone stand.
According to Wikipedia (I know, not the best source, but often accurate): "While the Confederate flag is indeed used by some racist and White Supremacist groups, these are not the only ones to fly or support it. Many Southerners who support the Confederate flag see it as a heritage and historical symbol, representing pride and remembrance in their ancestors who survived years of war under terrible odds and sacrifice. ... Other groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans have actively protested the use of any Confederate flags by the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, stating that the hate groups are blemishing the memory of the ancestors of the SCV. One popular quote is "Heritage not hate". Some members of the SCV have even faced down Klansmen at their rallies and marches, to protest the inappropriate usage of these flags."
It's (say it with me now) all about perception.
Look, I know that this idea is a little disjointed. It's still disjointed in my head. Two things, nearly identical, separated only by perception. It's tough to wrap around. It's like the flip side of cognitive dissonance (in which the brain can justify two diametrically opposed ideas). I fully expect to get comments telling me that the writing was uneven. I'll deal with those.
I think it's an interesting concept to examine. There's no life lesson here, really, no deep meaning that I'm trying to impart, no kernel of wisdom. But if you want to come away with something more than a series of asides (all true, by the way), maybe look for it in your life. Figure out where your perception changes your attitude.
Glenside aside (last one, I promise): I had a friend once who refused to eat at a certain pizza place (Rizzo's in Glenside, Pa.) because he got sick after eating there once. He continued eating pizza, just not from there. In his mind, there wound up being a difference between the dough, sauce, and cheese from that one pizzeria and all of the others in the area. There wasn't. It took him years to go back and when he did, he was fine.
So, yeah, maybe examine your preconceived notions. Or don't. Not everyone has to be introspective all the time. But it'll give you something to do on the way home.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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7.25.07 @ 2:16p
Perception is in the eye, ear, nose.....of anyone caring to be paying the least attention. Take any 4 people, each from a different part of the country, with unique ethnic, demographic and (etc.) backgrounds and see how many perspectives you get. ie. -Our eastern pancake becomes: griddle cakes, flapjacks, stove cakes, high stack, flat waffle, and more. Just don't ask for a 'sloppy joe' in the South 'cause you'll get a hamburger bun covered with ground beef in bar-b-que sauce. (In the NE it's a multi-layered corned beef sandwich with coleslaw.) Enough said.
7.25.07 @ 2:21p
Actually, I'm a big fan of the southern sloppy joe. 'Course I also grew up eating hoagies.
What about perception of the same thing seen in two different ways? People often comment about Liberals being quick to kill babies but slow to kill criminals. Is this the same thing? Extenuating circumstances? Or just the paradox of the human mind?
7.25.07 @ 11:44p
The flipside of your perception is my presentation.
You might perceive the bikini as swimwear, and lingerie as an adjunct to foreplay. Or you might perceive a Confederate flag on a vehicle leading a KKK parade as a sign of racism, and a Confederate flag in an old Southern home near a former battleground converted to a museum as a symbol of the struggles of a nation tragically at war with itself.
Equally important, though, is how it is presented. You don't assume sexual intimacy with any random woman on a beach, and you don't assume a hateful attitude on the part of a historical society attempting to maintain accuracy. That's because we understand, perhaps instinctively, that the environment — the context — makes all the difference in the world.
7.30.07 @ 2:39p
I always kinda liked "Going ON the shore". I think I giggled for a while at that one.
7.31.07 @ 10:33a
I can explain the bikini/underwear dichotomy--it's because you know that unless a wave knocks a woman's top loose, you're not likely to ever see what's under the bikini, especially in a public setting. If you're seeing a woman in her underwear, chances are it's in an intimate situation. The sex region of your brain is savvy enough to know the difference.
I, too, struggled to stay awake during reading assignments for school. To this day I have never finished Machiavelli's The Prince...and it was assigned way back in 10th grade! I keep it in my nightstand as the ultimate insomnia cure.