Latest Posts

Interplanetary Bowling.

bowling1Every painting has a story behind it. Most just aren’t recorded. I know the story behind this one, that I’ve had for nearly thirty years now, because I was there when it was made. This wasn’t just luck. It was made for me.

I was at a science fiction and gaming convention in southern Indiana. Things like games and costumes get a lot of attention but if you’ve never been to one you might not know they also sometimes have an art room. Artists would bring various works or paint them right there at the convention. I sat and watched one artist paint a ringed planet and a distant star for half an hour and finally asked him, “Do you mind being watched?”

“If I minded being watched I wouldn’t be painting out here,” he replied.

The last night of the convention there was always an art auction and I’d bid on a few things, never winning because I was easily outbid. An older guy who knew me was sitting behind me. Finally he leaned forward and said, “Chris, would you like a painting?”

“Sure,” I said. That was why I’d been bidding.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said, and left.

The guy knew me because he knew almost everybody. He was one of the convention organizers. And yet I really didn’t give what he’d said any further thought until the next morning when I was on my way to breakfast and he grabbed me.

“Come on, they’re in the art room,” he said.

What was in the art room? Since it was the last day as far as I knew everything was being packed up, but one of the artists was in there sitting at a table painting the nebula you see in the picture. A couple of the other artists were watching him.

“Hey,” one of them said, “can I add something?”

The painting was passed on to the other artist, and then a third one decided to add something. And then they all signed it, which generated a lot of excitement and envy.

I didn’t realize it but this was the first time these three artists, who were well-known in science fiction circles and in high demand for book covers and other custom work, had ever collaborated on anything. It was also the first time anyone knew of that multiple artists had ever collaborated on a single work at a convention. This generated a lot of interest and a lot of envy. I was getting offers on the painting even before I left the room.

All these years later it’s not that valuable. The next year, and in the years that followed, it became a tradition at the convention for several artists—sometimes as many as five or six—to collaborate on a single painting that would then be auctioned off for charity. That made my little painting a lot less unique and less valuable. I still like it. It has a couple of subtle details that make me laugh.

bowling2It’s those details that made me think it needed something else. The story behind it is interesting, but it needed another story.

“Space Pin”

The TMA-114s were designed for speed and efficiency, not maneuverability, with a curved design pared down to the very basics. The base held the highly compact sulfur compound that propelled the ships at high speed, and also earned them the nickname “silent but deadly”. The bulging middle was all storage space, well-protected and reinforced, while the narrow neck held all the control systems. At the rounded top sat the single occupant’s quarters and the instrument panel, both of which the engineers had argued against. They were certain, in that special way only engineers, gods of their technical domains, could be, that there was no need. It was a straight shot from the mining fields of Ceti Alpha V to the freight yards just outside the star’s gravity well, and a computer could handle the minor adjustments needed to keep each ship on course. But delendium is unstable stuff even under ideal circumstances, and even though it cut into their bottom line the bigwigs insisted on a human presence in each ship.

Captain Walker had made so many runs she only had to look at the clock to know where the ship was. On the starboard side a few asteroid fragments of Ceti Alpha VI hung lazily against the Kraken Nebula. On the port was the planet’s former moon, now a minor planet spinning in a tight elliptical orbit. The three craters on its far side were mysterious in their depth and regularity but had never garnered any real scientific interest. Shippers had nicknamed it Sixteen Tonner, from an old Tellurian ballad. She leaned back in the seat and had started to drift off when the klaxon sounded.

“Malfunction,” she thought. The ships were aging and small things went wrong all the time, usually in the kitchen or sleeper, but on one trip the entire navigation system had fizzled. The engineers assured her this was not a problem since there was no reason she’d ever need it.

She was checking the overhead panel when she saw Sixteen Tonner pass in front of the window, moving at an impossible speed. Impossible. She checked the scanner but it only confirmed what she’d just seen. The moon was moving upward relative to her ship, and moving fast, as though being lifted by some invisible hand. She expanded the display and watched, fascinated. The only thing she could think that could cause that sort of movement was a black hole, but there was no radiation, and nothing else in the system was affected. It had already climbed high above the ecliptic plane and was moving backward. Then suddenly it dropped and changed direction. She drew a line with her finger. If it stayed on its present course it would hit the ship. And her. And enough delendium, the scientists said, to punch a hole in the fabric of space.

She opened the mic. “Shipyard, I have an emergency. Please respond stat.”

Static. She couldn’t tell if they were receiving or if she’d be able to get their reply if they did. No one ever thought to check the com array because no one ever needed it.

Sixteen Tonner was accelerating now, fixed on its collision course.

Walker flipped through the screens, looking for manual control, and trying to remember the training from more than five years ago, training that hadn’t been very thorough because of the engineers’ assurances that no one would ever need it. She tapped the screen and waited. And then heard one of the neck jets fire. She tapped again, starting a second one and pushing up the level. Slowly the course changed. She went back to the display and watched as Sixteen Tonner glided by, just kilometers away, spinning so fast those three craters looked like black stripes.

She switched back to auto and let the system self-correct the course. Periodically she’d go back and look at the display, watching how, against all laws of physics, Sixteen Tonner simply slid back into its orbit.

She planned to have a long talk with the engineers when she got the freight yards.

Deep in the Kraken Nebula an energy surge welled up and rippled through the background of space. Had any instrument picked it up it might have interpreted it as a voice speaking a single word.

Gutter.

The Kindness of Strangers.

strangers

“Hey, how was the movie?”

I’d just stepped into the elevator and there was a woman already in there, slightly shorter than me with streaked hair and glasses with thick black plastic frames. There was something vaguely familiar about her but I work in a building where a lot of businesses and people come and go. And I’m sorry to say I don’t make a note of who’s coming and going unless I actually work with them.

So my brain was whirring with activity. Movie? What movie? There were a million little me’s running around pulling papers from filing cabinets screaming, “Everybody, boss needs information STAT!” Except over in one corner a group was arguing that I really should upgrade to a paperless system and another group was arguing that there’s no way my brain could be that organized and this was all an elaborate metaphor anyway. Oh yeah, I’d been to see a movie the previous Saturday.

“It was great,” I said, adding that it was at the Belcourt Theater.

“No,” she said, “about a month ago. When I saw you at the mall.”

More rushing around pulling files, except now the group that had been arguing for digitizing everything picked up a snack machine and threw it through a window. And that’s when I remembered where I’d seen this woman before. Or at least the last non-work place where I’d seen her. About a month earlier at the mall. And I didn’t remember her so much as the intense sense of awkwardness I’d felt.

At the time I still didn’t have a driver’s license. I didn’t get one until I was thirty-seven but that’s another long and complicated story. If I wanted to go see a movie my options were to hitch a ride with someone else or take the bus. Mostly I took the bus, but this meant a lot of planning. Most of the time it meant a trip all the way to the downtown bus depot for at least one transfer, all of which could take up to an hour. Because it was usually Saturday, a day when bus service is cut in half, I’d have to set out early and I’d arrive early for the movie, so I’d wander the mall or the various nearby stores. Going to see a movie would involve up to four hours of either riding or standing around waiting. It was while I was waiting that I ran into this woman who, for some reason, recognized me from the building where we both worked–on different floors and for completely different places.

“Hey, how’s it going?” she’d said. And while there was a large group in my brain that wanted me to say, “Who the hell are you?” but they were shouted down by the group that instead made me say, “Great! How are you?” I’m still half-convinced she didn’t really recognize me. A lot of people tell me I look like someone they know and we just happened to work in the same building because everybody in Nashville either has or will work in my building. But we still chatted politely although I was overwhelmed by an awkward feeling. I was embarrassed that I was dependent on riding the bus to get where I wanted to go. It hit me that riding the bus limited where I could go, what I could do. It made me dependent on someone else’s schedule.

I didn’t–and still don’t–look down on anyone who rides the bus. I still ride the bus regularly, although now it’s more a matter of choice than necessity. At that time though a lot of those me’s turned out to be right. An upgrade was needed.

Also I’m sure some of them escaped and that’s why strangers think they’ve met me before.

 

If We Spirits Have Offended…

Back in April I shared this. It’s a former fast food restaurant that shut down a couple of months earlier and became a kind of gallery of graffiti. That’s one of the things I liked about it. It also seemed to attract some pretty good graffiti—the artists really put some thought and work into their designs rather than just scribbling tags. There was even some strong use of color against the restaurant’s black and white exterior.

This is what it looks like now.

gone

Maybe it’s just me but it seems harsh and unnecessary to have covered up the graffiti. What harm was it doing? What damage did it cause? Well obviously somebody was bothered by it but who? Or should that be ‘whom’? I can’t remember how that applies to the dative case.

Anyway there is a fairly nice Italian restaurant on the other side of the street from it and I suppose some of the patrons might have been offended by the graffiti, but the side that faces this place is the restaurant bar and the most offensive thing there is the limited selection of craft and local beers, but that’s another story. And I can’t imagine the power lunch crowd looking up from their martinis to even notice the ramshackle burger shack across the street, let alone being offended by it.

Is there anything even offensive in the words themselves? It’s hard to say because everything is potentially offensive to someone. Some people get their knickers in a twist over the word “semprini” while others are upset by words like “knickers” or “twist” and, let’s face it, everything is potentially a euphemism. As Melanie Safka sings,

Freud’s mystic world of meaning needn’t have us mystified.

It’s really very simple what the psyche tries to hide:

A thing is a phallic symbol if it’s longer than it’s wide

As the id goes marching on.

Glory glory psychotherapy, glory glory sexuality,

Glory glory now we can be free as the id goes marching on.

And yet it’s not like someone painted cod and cabbages,

And there’s considerable construction on the block where the hash slingers used to abide. It seems unlikely that it’ll be long before the former patty pantry will be knocked down in favor of something else, possibly residential since the area is saturated with vendors of victuals.

Maybe the person who decided to cancel the composition wasn’t really upset, but if they did take offense could they give it back?

Source: gocomics.com

Source: gocomics.com

Seen any graffiti? Send your pictures to freethinkers@nerosoft.com. Or don’t. Either way I won’t be offended.

Everybody Wave!

tourbus

In my younger days I would sometimes stick my tongue out at people in passing cars. And my wife would say, “Stop that!” She had a point. It had been cute when I was four, not so much at the age of forty. Actually it may not have been that cute even when I was four although I do have an early childhood memory of my father was stopped at a red light and I stuck my tongue out at a couple of teenage guys in the car next to us. They laughed and stuck their tongues out at me which just encouraged me.

Anyway the other day I was walking along and one of Nashville’s many tour buses went by. This has become a booming industry even though most of the tours, as far as I can tell, are free–they say, “Hop on or hop off anytime you like,” and I will take one of these tours one of these days but that will be another story.

As the bus went by I waved to the passengers. Sticking my tongue out at them would be rude and juvenile and I think being rude and juvenile should be reserved for the locals. Visitors to Music City deserve to be treated kindly, especially since they might be someone I know. The brain behind the blog Rubber Shoes In Hell was in Nashville recently, along with her body and her husband who I assume also brought both his brain and body, although a couple of disembodied brains floating around the streets of Nashville would be quite a sight.

I was a little disappointed that of the tourists on the bus only one waved back–an older guy sitting at the very back who gave me a dull, tight-lipped look and a perfunctory wave–saying, I think, “Yeah, we see you.” And I wanted to say, hey, lighten up. You’re touring the city, taking in the sights, having a good time. The very least you could do is smile.

I was seriously tempted to stick my tongue out at him, but I think it’ll be a few years before I can get away with that again.

I really do think it’ll be cute when I’m eighty.

Source: Wikipedia

 

Press On.

press1Technically this isn’t graffiti but it is the sort of thing that leaves me wondering what the difference is between graffiti and, well, this sort of thing, which I’m pretty sure is a commissioned mural. At first I thought it was to mark a parking space for someone who’s a little too much of a fan of the Tennessee Titans, but it’s on the side of the Corner Bar on Elliston Place. This particular stretch is heavily graffitied—in fact I’d guess at least a third of the graffiti I’ve featured has come from around just one block of Elliston Place, and it was partly the inspiration for starting this whole series of graffiti-themed posts in the first place.

Anyway I’m including it because it does at least seem to be done in the style of graffiti and the artist may have started by doing graffiti. There is precedent for this. Some graffiti artists get hired to do “legitimate” work because somebody saw their tag and liked the look of it. But as the old saying goes the one who picks the piper calls the tune, but probably the piper was picked because their playing was preferred. And if you have a bunch and they’re all drunk then you have your pick of pickled pipers, but that’s another story.

What piques my interest here is that, as I said, whoever commissioned the painting is obviously a big fan of the Tennessee Titans. And that’s okay, although I’m not sure this particular use was licensed or approved by the Titans organization. (I’ve asked. I’ll let you know if I get an answer.) Sports teams, corporations, and other entities can be very sensitive about how their logos, trademarks, mascots, and other paraphernalia are represented.

And for me personally I try to avoid wearing clothing with obvious corporate logos, mascots, or paraphernalia. Sure there are things I’m a fan of and I will wear, say, a Doctor Who t-shirt, but always with a tiny twinge of regret. If they want to run a commercial or put an ad in a magazine or on a billboard they have to pay for it. Why do I have to pay for the privilege of advertising for them? I feel the same when I mention a business–even a local one, like, say, a bar.

press2

press3Aside from all that I like some of the fun touches the artist added. I like to think these were creative additions that weren’t specifically paid for. And the painted button is very provocative..

 

 

 

 

Seen any graffiti? Send your pictures to freethinkers@nerosoft.com. No pressure.

The Naming Of Names.

garden

And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

Genesis 2:19 (King James Version)

God: Hey Adam, come over here. I’ve got a job for you.

Adam: What is it?

God: I thought it would be fun if you named the animals.

Adam: Sure. There aren’t a lot of them, are there?

God: No, this’ll be easy. Shouldn’t take more than…well, anyway, let’s get started with this little guy.

Adam: Let me think. I guess I’ll call it a ‘mouse’.

God: I like that. Here’s another one.

Adam: Well that looks just like a bigger mouse.

God: No, totally different animals, trust me.

Adam: Fine. I’ll call that a ‘rat’.

God: And here’s the next one.

Adam: Wait, are you messing with me here? That’s just a rat with a bushy tail.

God: No, really, no joke, this is a whole other animal.

Adam: Fine. Let’s just call it a ‘squirrel’.

God: Great. Let’s keep going. Here’s something  a little different.

Adam: Interesting. I guess ‘lizard’.

God: Cool. And how about this one?

Adam: That’s just a lizard without legs.

God: No it’s not!

Adam: Yes it is! Fine, you want a name for it? I’ll call it a ‘snake’ since I guess ‘we need a lizard without legs for some reason’ is too long.

God: Yeah, not one of my better ideas.

Snake: (muttering) I’ll get you for that.

Adam: I’ll call that next thing a ‘bird’.

God: Are you sure you want to be so general?

Adam: What do you mean?

God: Well, what are you going to call this thing?

Adam: Well, I guess that’s also a bird.

God: Yeah, but don’t you think you should give them different names, to sort of tell them apart?

Adam: I don’t know. How many are there?

God: (thoughtfully) Yeah, Darwin kinda has that same question. Leads to all kinds of stuff.

Adam: What?

God: Sorry, getting ahead of myself here. Let’s keep going.

[Several hours later]

Adam: I thought you said there weren’t going to be that many.

God: Well from my perspective it doesn’t seem like all that many. I mean, consider yourself lucky you’re just dealing with one planet.

Adam: One what?

God: Never mind. Let’s switch gears a little bit and I’ll bring up some aquatic life. Here, here’s something you’ll like.

Adam: Okay, well, I guess I’ll call that a ‘fish’.

God: That’s a good general term…

Adam: Are you kidding me? Is this birds all over again?

God: Well…we can come back to that. Here’s something really different.

Adam: GOD! WHAT IS THAT?

God: Hey, hey, hey, watch how you’re using my name. Don’t make me lay down some ground rules.

Adam: It’s just that’s…that’s not like anything I’ve seen so far. It’s…how am I even going to get along with that?

God: Good point. You know what? You’re probably not gonna run into any of these. So just give it a nice quick name and we’ll move on.

Adam: Sure, okay. Wow. A nice quick name. I guess I’ll call it a ‘squid’.

God: Great. Okay, let’s get back to land animals. Let’s look at some that might be useful to you.

Adam: Great, I could use some help around here.

God: What about that thing you called ‘dog’?

Adam: Well, it’s nice and all, but what I could really use is an extra pair of hands.

God: Oh, we’ll get to that. Here’s a nifty little number I think you’ll like.

Adam: Well I wouldn’t call it ‘little’. It makes an interesting noise. I guess I’ll call it a ‘cow’. Hey, what are the dangly things around its hind legs?

God: Oh, those dispense a high-protein beverage called ‘milk’.

Adam: Doesn’t sound particularly appetizing.

God: Your kids are gonna love it.

Adam: My what?

God: Anyhoo, here’s another.

Adam: That looks like a fat hairless dog someone punched in the face.

God: Come on, lighten up. You’re gonna love this creature.

Adam: Yeah? What does it do?

God: Um, well, it eats a lot and spends a lot of time rolling around in its own filth.

Adam: Yeah, great job there. A dirty, disgusting animal. It deserves a blunt, brutal name, something like ‘pig’.

God: That’s it. You don’t like it? Fine. I forbid you to eat bacon.

Adam: What’s that?

God: Your kids are gonna love it. Or grandkids. Somewhere down the line. Speaking of that I think it’s about time we got you some help around here. And I have a sudden craving for ribs.

Facing It.

Sometimes words fail me. When that happens I turn to the words of others. They can provide peace, thoughtful reflection, or a window into the experiences of people who are unlike me. That’s why, following recent events, I’ve been rereading some of the poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa.

We are from very different backgrounds. I’m a white guy who was brought up in and have spent my entire life living in some level of middle class suburbs. Other than college in Indiana and a brief study overseas I’ve spent my time in Tennessee.

He’s an African American man born to a poor family in the deep South—Bogalusa, Louisiana. He’s from an earlier generation and served in the Army in Vietnam. His birth name is James William Brown. He changed his name to that of his Trinidadian grandfather. He writes about a wide range of subjects, including race.

I didn’t start reading his poetry because we come from different backgrounds. I started reading his poetry because a friend who’d read some poems of mine said, “You write like him.” And when I read his poem Blackberries I felt that way too. With a dog of my own I’d been in those places he describes. But then our experiences diverge. He describes feelings I’ve felt but in a situation I’ve never experienced—a situation he might have experienced several times.

No single person represents an entire group. No matter how we join together, or join others together, we’re still individuals. But a single person can articulate the feelings and experiences of a group.

With that in mind I re-read Facing It. History can alter context, and recent events have left me feeling that this is more than a poem about a veteran’s feelings as he stands before the Vietnam Memorial. An African American man standing before a black wall, seeing his own reflection as he reads names of those who lost their lives—this speaks to me of something I haven’t yet experienced but something I too have to face.

Facing It

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn’t,
dammit: No tears.
I’m stone. I’m flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap’s white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet’s image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I’m a window.
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.

Audio of Yusef Komunyakaa reading Facing It:

Listening In.

busstopYou never know whom you’re going to sit next to at a bus stop.
He was skinny but had full, round cheeks that were burned red. Scraggly straw-colored hair curled out from under the tan cap he wore, as though the wisps were growing up around it, or escaping. There were holes in his shirt and his thin arms were tanned with red spots.
“I just spent thirty days in jail!” he yelled at me after I’d sat down. I wondered if maybe I should have walked to the next bus stop but according to the schedule the next one would be along any minute now. I didn’t want to risk being between stops. This bus stop was also in front of a bank. A security guard stood in front of the door. I looked out at the traffic.
“Drunk and disorderly!” he yelled. “That’s why they arrested me!”
Thirty days for a D&D seemed a bit extreme. I thought the usual sentence was a night in the drunk tank.
“I fought off eight of ’em when they tried to take me in!”
This information shed some light on why he’d been held so long, although it still seemed extreme.
“I told them they was a bunch of communist shit-troopers when they was takin’ me in!”
I turned my head away so he wouldn’t see me smiling and filed away “communist shit-trooper” for future use. Where was the bus?
“Hey man, you like music?!?”
This was said at the same full volume as the other information he’d imparted and in spite of myself I turned.
“Sure.”
He had a CD player in his hand.
“I’m listening to the fine music of Styx! You know Styx?”
“Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.”
He grinned. His teeth were almost as tan as his arms. “Yeah, man! Fine music! This is one thing I can keep when they put me in jail again! You wanna buy some drugs?”
The abrupt shift threw me. I quickly shook my head and leaned forward to look past him, willing the bus to appear.
“You wanna buy drugs,” he continued at full volume, “you just go two blocks over down that way!” He motioned to the street behind the bank. “You turn right and they’re there. They’ll ask for four hundred. You say you’ll only pay twenty-five. You agree to four hundred they’ll know you’re an undercover cop.”
This isn’t information I think I’ll ever use but I filed it away as the bus pulled up. As I took my seat I looked at the man still sitting at the bus stop, and I wondered what the security guard standing behind him thought of all this, if he’d even been listening. Even though the man shouted every sentence maybe the guard tuned him out.
I remembered this encounter when I read about the FBI placing hidden microphones in and around the Oakland, California courthouse, including at bus shelters. It’s a potential violation of the Fourth Amendment–essentially treating anyone in the vicinity as a suspect, if not a criminal. Not all of us speak at full volume even when we aren’t passing secrets. Such blanket surveillance also raises practical questions. Who goes through the information collected, who decides what’s relevant? And where is it all being filed away?