I was just talking to a friend about comment sections. Ours, in particular. It seems like a hundred years ago, but was really only 4 or 5, when anonymous trolls insulted me each and every week.
My god, did I hate that shit.
It’s easy to say, “Don’t take it personally,” but I most certainly did. Rob must have gotten tired of my complaints, because I couldn’t let it go.
These days, we moderate, and it’s a bit of a wasteland down there. Not much going on. Tumbleweeds drifting across the information superhighway. Tarantulas creeping along the asphalt, as there’s no one else around.
Except for Stan.
Every now and again, Stan Banos, who’s been reading for ages, will pop up with a comment to keep me in check. He was there back when it was crowded, and he’s there now that it’s chill.
I appreciate his feedback, as he is intelligent, and has a different perspective than I do, so that makes for good dialogue.
If I’m being honest, I even inserted a clause in last week’s column with him in mind, and he took the bait. As I was gushing about how much fun I had in NYC, LA and Chicago, I thought it important to mention that I had not visited places where life is hard.
Places lacking the glamour of a gleaming art museum, or a cool bar with expensive drinks. After-parties are great, of course, but I’m at least smart enough to know when I’m experiencing privilege.
Sure enough, Stan chimed in to stress that life is insanely difficult for a large swath of this country, and things just don’t seem to get better. We all know there are millions of people living rough, and I acknowledged that as well, but Stan stood up and said, don’t pretend it isn’t happening.
So in Stan’s honor, I was glad to look at “Lost Coast,” a new release by our friends at TBW Books, from artist Curran Hatleberg. It investigates a culture in California, in the far North, that most of us don’t get to see, and it’s not exactly pretty.
I’ve written about books like this before, so I won’t claim that it’s insanely original. But it feels authentic, and hit me hard just now, as we’re all anxiously awaiting the results of an election that is increasingly driven by race and class.
There is no introduction on this one, and only the end-note-thank-you’s ground this as taking place in Humboldt County. (Famous for its insanely strong weed. Or so I’m told.)
A CA license plate tips us off before that, and an image with a pile of logs in front of a shipping port hints that it’s up North, but we’re not sure until the end.
I wrote last week that I had not dropped in on homeless encampments along the railroad tracks, and sure enough, some of the people photographed here look like that might be their next stop.
Even though I’ve seen worlds like this before, what really interested me were the subtle details. A father and son peering in the window of a motorbike store. You can’t see their faces, and I guess we don’t even know if they’re related, but the implied narrative screams yearning to me.
We see pit bulls, sure, but also a man attempting to cut a watermelon on a piece of cardboard, just outside the boundary of a gas station.
Another gas station, replete with no loitering sign, features a group of people doing just that.
A man with a reconstructed nose makes me think of meth and coke, hard drugs that will warp your face and ruin your life. A burned up trailer reinforces that read, suggesting a meth lab fire.
Yet one house has pink trim and a satellite dish, and another has a perfect pink rose bush outside in the yard. Even in difficult lives, people still crave beauty and a sense of normalcy.
A man has his head shaved, while showing off a hairy back, and the next picture features a bearded dude drinking Olympia, (the World’s worst beer,) while he plays with a ball made of aluminum foil.
Kids run around barefoot, a creepy-looking guy fills a gas can at yet another gas station, and a front yard barbecue looks fun, I suppose, if the pit bulls leave you alone.
I have no idea if Stan will like this book, or appreciate that I keep him in mind sometimes when I’m writing. It’s hard to remember what goes on outside your own world, I suppose, and that’s why I love this job so much.
No matter how stressed you might be, it’s important to be cognizant that even in a rich country like ours, there are too many people suffering deprivation. That’s why some will occasionally turn to a savior who promises to make it better by himself.
By next week, we’ll find out if he gets the chance.
Bottom Line: A well-crafted, taut look at hard living on the Lost Coast