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Joy Ride.

It’s not every day that I see an abandoned golf cart just sitting right there by the bus stop. It’s just two, maybe three days a week. And also technically it’s not really a golf cart because it’s used by a maintenance crew or to carry around visitors to the university campus. And if you’re going to get really technical about it then it’s not really abandoned, but still every time I see it I think, well, how long is it going to be there and is there time for me to take it out for a spin? I wouldn’t drive it all the way home, or even that far away. I’d just like to go for a quick ride. Little carts like that are more fun to drive than regular cars for some reason. Maybe it’s because they make me feel like a kid again and actually had a motorized little car I could ride on and it had a top speed of sixty inches an hour. That didn’t matter. On Saturday mornings my friends and I could still imagine it was a magic dune buggy that took us on wacky adventures.

Somehow it was always easier to have fun with friends which is why it’s a good thing I’m always alone when I see that cart. If I were with friends I might be even more tempted to take it and, well, they just might encourage me and we would all take turns. Or maybe they’d stop me. Or try to stop me. That reminds me of the old saying about friends. A good friend is one who will bail you out of jail. A really good friend is one who’s sitting next to you in the cell saying, “Well, that was fun.”

 

The Threat.

Is graffiti dangerous? Does it pose a threat? Some people seem to think so, which is why it so often gets covered up or is in hidden areas. This particular piece, for instance, is in a largely abandoned industrial area—a place that’s been sitting empty so long it’s become kind of a graffiti gallery, and even getting to it requires slipping through a hole in a fence.

In the United States and many other countries freedom to speak, especially to criticize the government, is a cherished right. It’s not an absolute right—depending on what you say there may be consequences—but generally we don’t have to worry too much about what we say. At various times throughout history and even now in some countries that’s not true, and yet people in those places were, and are, sometimes willing to take the risk of speaking out even when the result is imprisonment, exile, or even execution.

Every artist who shares their work takes some risks, even if the only risks are ridicule or rejection. Having had my own ego bruised on occasion I don’t want to downplay those risks, but there’s something especially powerful about people willing to risk their freedom, maybe even their lives, to create and share a work of art with the world. Even if graffiti isn’t making an overtly political statement, even if it’s not speaking truth to power, it challenges conventions and laws. It’s art that won’t behave by confining itself to a gallery or private collection, and it dares to ask, even in a free society just how free are we?

Yeah, there is something threatening about that.

Anyway that reminds me of a joke: two Romanians are sitting in a bar. One says, “Fifty-four” and they both laugh. The other one says, “Eighteen” and that both laugh. The bartender says, “Okay guys, what’s with the numbers?”

One says, “Under Ceausescu we weren’t allowed to tell political jokes so we gave them all numbers. Then when we wanted to tell a political joke we’d just say one of the numbers.”

The bartender laughs and says, “Oh, I get it. Hey guys…forty-three.”

They stare at him blankly, then one says, “You know, it’s not so much the joke as it is the way you tell it…”

Fruits Of My Labor.

Rough Drafts Of The Expression “How Ya Like Them Apples?”

“Not bad for strawberries, eh?

“What did you expect from figs?”

“How do I know it’s a good rambutan?”

“No, it’s jackfruit.”

“Don’t see a lot of guavas, do you?”

“Well how do you eat starfruit?”

“Have a cherimoya for a change.”

“Orange you glad I didn’t say tomato?”

“All my dates have pits.”

“I don’t think that’s physically possible with a coconut.”

“Try blowing these raspberries.”

“Mango? More like you go!”

Cute Couples.

There are a couple of high school students on the bus I ride home from work, a boy and a girl. They always sit together. They seem nicely matched: they both wear rumpled dark hoodies, and he sits and draws in a sketchbook while she reads graphic novels. Sometimes they don’t even talk for the entire trip, but every day, when her stop comes up first, they share a quick kiss. I don’t stare, but it’s cute and I’m happy for them. And it brings back memories from high school—specifically Juliette, who was in my Latin class. She also rode the bus with me.

Normally riding the bus was an hour of unbearable misery, but when Juliette and I started sitting together things got a lot better. We chatted and laughed and generally had a good time.

To say that when it came to looks Juliette was out of my league would be a gross understatement. Forget leagues. Metaphorically she would have been a football pro while I, with my acne and awkwardness, was bottom rung of a Tuesday night bowling team. And I had already learned a lesson that Harvey Fierstein put so well when he said, “See, an ugly person who goes after a pretty person gets nothing but trouble. But a pretty person who goes after an ugly person gets at least cab-fare.” It was a school bus, though, so Juliette wasn’t expecting me to pay for the ride.

If you are or have been a teenager maybe you’ll understand this: knowing I had no chance with Juliette in a romantic sense took all the pressure off me. With her I was a witty, charming, suave gentleman, whereas with any girl I was actually interested in and thought I had a chance at dating I was Hedorah the Smog Monster. And it didn’t bother me that Juliette talked to me about the guys she dated–she was extremely selective, because she could be, but still managed to get stuck with some creeps, while I could talk to her about a bad breakup I was going through and share really bad song lyrics I’d written, but that’s another story.

Somehow Juliette and I always found ourselves sitting behind Kate and Brian, a pair who weren’t quite as mismatched but vehemently denied they were attracted to each other, creating a whole will-they-or-won’t-they vibe. And then, after a band trip, it became clear they did and, as it turned out, would continue to for some time.

That first day after the band trip we watched Kate and Brian hold hands, kiss, and swoon over each other. Then Juliette turned to me.

“I’m so glad they got together. Aren’t you?”

I preferred their sarcastic bickering, but, yeah, if they were happy then bully for them. Juliette went on.

“Of course you and I would never get together like that.” A smile played across her dewy lips and she gave me an intense stare. “Right? I mean, it could just never happen between us.” She put her hand up and played with her hair a bit.

“Right!” I said, maybe a little too vehemently. “Not us!” It would be, I knew, what Bloom County‘s Opus described as a Billy Joel-Christie Brinkley match, and look how that turned out.

As an aside, yes, some of the most poignant and useful relationship advice I’ve ever gotten has come from a gay playwright and a cartoon penguin.

Juliette and I continued to ride the bus together and continued to laugh and talk, but gradually we drifted apart. I started getting rides home with a friend who had a car and she, well, I don’t know. I wanted her to be happy. I still hope she is, but I knew even our friendship wouldn’t last. We had so little in common beyond riding on the bus together and, silly as it may sound, it was my senior year and I was saving myself for college, where I hoped I’d meet someone more like me.

There’s a saying that as you get older your greatest regrets aren’t the things you did but rather the things you didn’t do. While there are a few missed chances I regret I’m still glad Juliette and I never went beyond friendship even if the tension of possibility remained out there. Sometimes it’s better to just leave a good thing as it is.

That’s a bit of advice I learned from Hedorah the Smog Monster.

 

Feelin’ Good Is Good Enough For Me.

This picture is taken from Google Maps and, as you can see, it’s Farrell Parkway in Nashville, Tennessee—specifically the spot where it runs under a railroad and also I-65. It’s not the graffiti on the train car that interests me, though—it’s the lack of graffiti under the tracks.

When I was a student at the nearby John Overton High School this was “The Bridge”. The bus I rode took me and lots of my fellow students down this road way every day. At the time, though, it looked very different. At the time The Bridge was covered with elaborate graffiti. A lot of it, including a huge mural of Grecian columns, stayed there for years—maybe even decades, although it was kind of a rite of passage for Overton students to make their mark on the bridge. Well, it was for most students anyway.

One night when my parents were out of town I had a bunch of friends over. Because I was a geek this wasn’t a party—this was a bunch of guys spending most of the evening playing D&D, maybe watching a movie or two, and eating up pretty much every scrap of food in the house. And then around two a.m., bored and hopped up on sugar and caffeine, my friends decided to explore the basement and dug out half a dozen or so cans of spray paint that dated from the Eisenhower administration.

“Let’s go and paint the bridge!” one of my friends said. Everyone thought this was a great idea. Well, everyone except me. I knew my parents had asked the neighbors to keep an eye on the house and even though I was pretty sure the neighbors would all be asleep at that time I was still wary. So all my friends piled into a car and left me alone. I sulked around the house and listened to the radio, discovering Janis Joplin for the first time.

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…

When my friends got back they told me the ancient paint cans had been dry so we put them back where we found them. One of my friends spun an elaborate yarn about how they’d been caught by the cops and arrested, which I knew wasn’t true since they’d only been gone an hour, but it still sounded funny.

Sometimes the saying that as you get older your greatest regrets aren’t the things you did but rather the things you didn’t do is true. Even though the paint cans were dry I wish I’d gone with my friends. I wish I’d at least tried to leave my mark on The Bridge.

Since I still live in Nashville I’ve been over The Bridge regularly and I’ve noticed that for several years there’s been no graffiti at all, something confirmed by Google Maps. I guess painting The Bridge is no longer a rite of passage. I wonder what’s replaced it, and what, in a few years, some lonely kid who’s a student at Overton will look back on and regret not doing.

I’m Not The Man They Think I Am At Home.

There’s a saying you should strive to be the person your dog thinks you are. This is good advice and I think applies to cats as well since cats are excellent judges of character, as proven by the fact that if you put twenty people in a room and only one of them doesn’t like cats the cat will go right for that person, which also proves cats have a great sense of humor. This principle probably applies to other pets too, although I’m not sure what kind of person your fish or tarantula might think you are, and if you’re one of those people with a ferret as a pet you should strive to stay away from me because those things freak me out.

Anyway I do try to be the person our dogs think I am because they seem to think I’m a pretty good guy. Even our youngest and newest addition to the family thought so even before I knew his name, which is Sabik. I wasn’t familiar with that name and when I first heard it thought it might be from Star Trek, because I’m not only a huge geek but our dogs think I’m a huge geek, especially when I sing They Might Be Giants songs to them, but my wife explained that Sabik is a star in the constellation of Ophiuchus, in keeping with a stellar family tradition since his grandfather was named Sagan.

Sabik can be spotted in the evening sky even without a telescope.

And like his namesake Sagan was smart and had a quirky sense of humor. He liked to get in the bed. In fact he didn’t just like to get in the bed–he would get excited and run to the bed and fling himself onto it and then if I lay down he’d immediately curl up next to me because he could go from sixty to zero in 1.8 seconds. And then if I moved at all he’d let out a disgruntled moan that would last approximately six and a half minutes. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t really annoyed but only did that because it made me laugh, but that’s another story.

Sagan could have even hosted his own PBS show.

I don’t take it for granted that our dogs think I’m a pretty good guy and believe in taking care of them which includes preparing their food. My wife is usually the one who feeds them, but we have them on the aptly named BARF diet. That’s Bones And Raw Food, which means every few weeks I get to grind up a lot of chicken into the same kind of paste they use for making nuggets and also a lot of vegetables into the same kind of paste you might spoon into your smoothie to try and pass it off as healthy. We get the chicken from a dealer but I get the vegetables at the grocery and the purchase of mass quantities always seems to raise some eyebrows at the checkout even though I’m pretty sure they’ve seen stranger things. And sometimes my purchases raise questions, like the other day when I was buying a heap of kale and other leafy greens and assorted vegetables and a few assorted sundries the guy checking me out asked, “What are you going to do with all this?”

This seemed like an unusual question. What do most people do with food they buy? And yet I also thought it might sound goofy if I said it was going to be fed to some dogs, even if they are exceptional dogs.

“Well, this is my special superfood blend. I’m going to puree the kale and other greens with the ginger and vegetables, the sardines and skim milk are there to add protein, and the pink lemonade is just to give it all a little color and add some sweetness. Then I’ll pour the whole mixture into a hot tub and soak in it for twelve hours.”

And then I left so I have no idea what kind of person that guy thinks I am.

The Alchemist.

Source: Twitter

I have a theory about comedy troupes and other groups of comedians that there’s always one, and that person may not be the most popular member or the one audiences like best, who the others in the group look up to, the one who really makes the others laugh. It’s a pretty shaky theory and really I think in any group that holds together for a long time there’s got to be a lot of mutual respect, but when the members of The Kids In The Hall are interviewed four of them always have praise for Kevin McDonald, whose birthday is today. And the funny thing is he’s jokingly referred to himself as the one that audiences call “The Kid In The Hall we don’t like”.

I’m not trying to sow any enmity here even if I could by focusing on him, but the other members have described him as a natural comedic talent, and at least one of them has said they think McDonald wasn’t born but grown in a laboratory by some mad scientist trying to create the perfect comedian. Actually I think it’s the other way around: I think McDonald is the mad scientist who cooked up The Kids In The Hall, which is fitting since the others have said he’s also the nicest member of the group and the one who’s held them all together.

Last winter Kevin McDonald was in Nashville, not far from where I live, and offering a comedy class. Unfortunately it was right in the middle of a major snowstorm when we got several inches—or, for him, being a Canadian, a “light dusting”. I was stuck at home, and missing the chance to even meet him is something I still regret. If he ever comes back I don’t care what the weather is doing—I will find a way to get to him because, hey, I like the guy.

 

Beautiful Dreamer.

The one thing I’ve never been able to do on the bus is sleep. Well, technically there are a lot of things I’ve never been able to do on the bus: microwave fish, run even a one-star hotel, or star in a Broadway musical, but even when I was taking a Greyhound bus from Nashville to Evansville on a regular basis, a four-hour round trip that I sometimes made really late at night, I couldn’t sleep. Now I have no problem falling asleep. In fact I can relate to Kristine at Mum Revised who said, “Waking up is hard to do.” In fact it’s disturbing that I can sleep almost anywhere. I’ve been known to fall asleep in hard-backed chairs in noisy sports venues—not while anything was going on, but because nothing was going on. I can fall asleep so easily I used to be naïve enough that I envied insomniacs until I learned that some of my friends are insomniacs and I’ve seen how hard that can be for them. The stress of insomnia can get so bad you can lose sleep over it, but that’s another story.

The other day when I was on the bus there was a guy in the very back sound asleep. I’m surprised he wasn’t snoring. He was completely out of it and I wondered, what happens if the driver goes past his stop? Maybe he’d do what I’ve done sometimes in heavy rain and just ride the bus to the end of the line and then get off at the right stop on the way back. Then the driver stopped.

“Hey!” he yelled. A few people looked around. “This is your stop!” he yelled again.

Then he got up, walked to the back of the bus, and tapped the guy on the knee and said, “Come on, wakey wakey, this is your stop.”

The guy rolled over, slowly opened his eyes, stretched, yawned, and ambled off the bus.

I think the least he could have done is thank the driver for the wakeup call.

The Eyes Have It.

Most of the graffiti I look for is big and bold and colorful, the large exciting pieces that really stand out, but there’s something to be said for subtlety, even if it should be said quietly. During the 18th century when neoclassicism became all the rage the monuments and statues of ancient Greece and Rome were admired for their subtlety and restraint. What people didn’t realize at the time was that in their heyday Greek and Roman statues and monuments were painted with gaudy colors, making them a lot less subtle. Downtown Athens and Rome weren’t that different from, say, Times Square, Picadilly Circus, or the Las Vegas strip, but only in the daytime since neon lighting hadn’t been invented yet. The muted quality of classical statuary came from the fact that the paint had faded and flaked off or washed away.
To get back to my point about subtlety, though, I really get a kick out of finding something that was intentionally meant to be discreet, that could easily be overlooked. Sometimes it’s the small things that can make a surprising difference to the way we see the world around us, and when I find something interesting I want to yell, HEY, LOOK AT THIS THING!

Quietly, of course.

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