The other day, while in a Hoboken café that will go nameless, I felt a suffocating sense of boredom. Granted, the day before I experienced bohemian nirvana at a Greenwich Village café frequented by artists, writers, and intellectuals. But now I was back in dodge. As tumbleweeds of alienation rolled by, I glanced around at the bougy, Stepford Wife sub-urban types, the phalanx of laptop jockeys (who all look like the same person), and registered a palpable sense of enuii, lassitude, and constriction—an absence of personality that philosopher Christopher Lasch referred to as the “minimal self.”
Needing escape, but not up for a trip to Gotham, I hopped the mechanical snake known as the Light Rail to Jersey City. Movement! Adventure! Life! Freedom! The bracing view of Manhattan lifted my spirits as the electric train ride lent a John Ford movie feel to the moment. Embarking on my own frontier journey, I set out boldly in search of community, connection, and an interesting conversation to warm my soul in this strange, coldly marketized Age of Trump.
Luckily, I found it, at the aesthetic wonder of the Warehouse Café in Jersey City’s Powerhouse Arts District. Power, baby, that’s what I’m talking! Rescue me Steve Fulop! They have fascinating, offbeat art works on display here like an old-fashioned theater lamp; a framed, oversized “Paris Review” cover; and a digitized portrait of a naked person. Oh la la. Once, they even had a provocative piece that was critical of Guantanamo Bay.
While such cutting-edge works are de rigueur in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side, what a marvel to discover such a hip and progressive space on the Jersey side of the Hudson. Sorry, Hoboken, you’re so not there yet. Joking around with the nice, smart, friendly baristas, they laughed at my “Escape from Hoboken” story and reinforced my critique of the boring, Disneyfied monoculture aspect of Hoboken….despite its aesthetic look and charm. They made me feel like part of a community.
Do not despair though. We can always make things better. Professor John is on the case! Thinking, wondering, naming the problems, exploring ideas for repair: even here, via the magic of writing. In my work as an educator and talk show host, I take on what I call the Boring Industrial Complex, a toxic blend of bad education, formulaic movies and TV shows, and endless work days that are destroying American community and civic life, reducing people to what Eric Fromm (in his classic 1955 book The Sane Society) called “automatons.”
I go deeper into these issues in my recent book, my first novel, titled How America was Saved: the Dream Becomes a Reality. It’s my utopian antidote to the current grim Trumpian dystopia. So is my new one-man show, TBA, which I’m readying for a spring debut. Meanwhile, if you’d like to help me take the boring out of Hoboken, and America, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay strong.