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Riding The Route: #25

“This is the opportunists’ route,” the bus driver told me when I said something about being the only passenger. “We might pick up one or two more people, but they mostly want another bus. They just see this one and get on not knowing where it goes but it connects to so many others.” And he had a point: the number 25 route has stops that are transfer points with bus numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 52, 55, and 93. “I don’t mind ridin’ alone,” he went on, “but there are too many turns!” Again, good point. A lot of buses travel a more or less straight path but there were a lot of places where the number 25 seemed like it turned every other block, winding through an area of Nashville known as “The Gulch”.

This route could also be called “the hospital route” since it takes riders by Meharry Medical Group, the St. Thomas Hospital Complex, the TriStar Centennial Hospital Complex, and within a block of Vanderbilt Hospital.

It also goes near a Krispy Kreme, if you want to get a doughnut on your way out of the hospital. Or in.

It then veers off through the historic Edgehill neighborhood, the one long straight stretch. Look out for the famous polar bears, originally there to advertise Polar Bear Frozen Custard shops. The bears are still there but the custard shops, unfortunately, aren’t.

Then it’s past Fort Negley and Greer Stadium, former home of the Nashville Sounds.

Along the way it goes through some nice neighborhoods, including past the Pruitt branch of the Nashville Public Library, which is in a former firehouse.

Then things take a really weird turn and the bus goes into the MTA garage on Nestor Street, next to a disused stretch of train track where some old rail cars are slowly rusting away.

And then it’s through Riverfront Park with some interesting public sculpture and some interesting party pedal cars.

Also there’s a Rolling Stones exhibit at the Musician’s Hall Of Fame here in Nashville, but that’s another story.

Four other people got on as we made the loop, and everybody had the same question: “You goin’ downtown?”

The driver always had the same answer: “Eventually.”

And eventually we did return to the Music City Central bus station. The number 25 arrives at and departs from the lower level, and as I was climbing the stairs to catch my next bus I turned around and looked back. The driver was already pulling out, this time alone.

Go Figure.

One of the oldest themes in art is the human figure, or at least one common subset of variations of it. Most works of art history that follow the standard Hegelian model of a linear progression start with a work like the Venus of Willendorf and trace its evolution up through Picasso’s Le Demoiselles D’Avignon and maybe even later. There are many reasons for art’s interest in the human figure including the fact that all art is inherently self-reflective. That is, whatever an artist creates is in essence a self-portrait. Whatever the intended message is the work itself tells us who the artist is.

I’m being deliberately high-falutin’ here to heighten the hilarious impact of this:

What does this tell us about the artist? I’m not sure, although it does make me think about the tension between high and low art, and the tension between art that’s designed to hide the ugly realities of our bodies and art that exposes, even elevates and celebrates, those ugly realities. Consider Jonathan Swift’s poem The Lady’s Dressing Room and the line, “Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.” Then consider Frida Kahlo’s painting Henry Ford Hospital that deliberately, brutally expresses her feelings about a miscarriage with both the reality and symbols.

Let’s come back to the work at hand because there’s a lot going on here. And by “here” of course I mean my head where it’s like I’m on a fun ride going “Whee! Farts! Whee! Meta-textual analysis!” Anyway context is also very important here.

The placement of the work so centrally on a former fast food place, I think elevates it, although you’re probably thinking, “Such low criticism from a critic who sounds pretty high.”

 

The Party’s Over. [Part 1 of 2]

“You’re coming to my party, Chris.”

It wasn’t a request. For Dale it was simply a statement of fact, made while we were sitting in his bedroom. Actually he was half lying on his bed and I was sunk into the beanbag chair next to the stereo. He was throwing a party to mark the end of our eighth grade year, the end of junior high, the end of our time at MacMurray school, and he’d decided I was coming. I wasn’t so sure. The one thing I was sure of that Dale and I had been growing apart for years even though Dale had been one of my oldest friends. Our parents went to the same church, our mothers were close friends, and our birthdays were only a few months apart, so of course we bonded. We grew up together. At Dale’s tenth birthday party, the same one where I broke my front tooth but that’s another story, I tried nachos for the first time, although back then our idea of “nachos” was a corn chip with a slice of pasteurized processed cheese and a little bit of onion. Dale and I went to summer camp together. When we weren’t at camp we spent a lot of days walking to the video game arcade. That was when Dale lived near enough that we could walk to each others’ houses, which only lasted a couple of years. His family moved at least three times, but when he lived farther away we still saw each other at least three times a week. Our parents got together most Friday or Saturday nights. There was also church and its youth group, and we joined the Scouts together. We played on the same soccer team for three years. He was team captain and lead goal scorer and I was, well, there. Even though Dale loved horror films and I hated them—they’ve since grown on me—so we watched horror films. And Dale convinced me to sneak out late at night, which wasn’t hard because I wasn’t going to get a lot of sleep after watching The Beast Within, and we ran around the neighborhood filling mailboxes with shaving cream. And I’ve never forgotten the day we were home alone and decided to kill time making prank calls, asking people if their refrigerators were running. Then Dale dialed a random number and asked to speak to Jim. “This is Jim,” the guy on the other end of the line replied. Dale started laughing and looked at me and mouthed Oh shit. “Hang up!” I hissed. Dale said, “Hey Jim, it’s Dale, how’s it going?”

“Dale who?”

“Aw, come on, you know, it’s me. How’ve you been?”

Jim paused and then carefully said, “Well, all right, I guess, how about you?”

And the conversation went on for about fifteen minutes with Dale reminiscing about how they went fishing and their trip to Chattanooga and Jim trying to remember whether he’d ever been to Chattanooga.

During the summer between fifth and sixth grade Dale’s mother had to go into the hospital. Cancer, which she’d been dealing with for years, had come back and was much worse. Dale came and stayed with us. At first I was excited about this; to me it was like an extended sleepover. I didn’t think about what Dale was going through, and it frustrated me that he wanted to spend hours on the phone with Keith, another friend of his who lived next door to him. Keith was an athlete and a football fan, like Dale. It didn’t occur to me that, given the emotional stress of his mother’s illness, Dale would rather be at home.

When she got worse he did go home. When she died he and I didn’t talk about it, not until his next birthday when I was one of a half dozen guys he invited for a sleepover. We had pizza and watched movies and played games, then, late, things got quiet and one of the other kids asked Dale if he missed his mother. He talked quietly about how hard it had been, how the last time he talked to her she was unconscious, that the last thing he’d said was “I love you.”

I didn’t say anything but just listened, deeply aware that Dale, a few months younger than me, was years older.

As we went into sixth, seventh, and eighth grade we saw less of each other. Dale dropped out of the Scouts and his father moved the family to another part of town. There was also a growing schism in the church and his father was on one side while my parents were on the other. There were still occasional get-togethers but it had all changed. Dale and I went to the same school but we were in separate classes and moved in different circles. Most days he wore the usual cool kids’ uniform of a pale blue or white Oxford shirt and jeans. Most days I wore plaid shirts and corduroy slacks, the usual uniform of a kid who wants his ass kicked. When Dale and I were together we had less to talk about. Mostly he tried to convince me I should get my hair feathered and listen to Journey, and I was more interested in reruns of Star Trek.

When he invited me to his farewell to junior high party—not that it had a name or a theme because it was too cool to be anything but a party—I assumed it was out of pity, or maybe just habit for him. None of my other friends from school were invited but a lot of kids I didn’t like were. So I came up with a brilliant plan for getting out of it: I wouldn’t tell my parents about the party, which might have worked if Dale’s stepmother hadn’t asked my parents to help chaperone, and my parents of course thought, hey, what fourteen year-old shy geek wouldn’t want to go to a party full of jocks and cool kids with his parents?

 

Special Delivery.

One of my first jobs out of college was in a library mailroom. It was a good job that combined plenty of exercise with a plethora of reading material—this was back in the day when bound and printed books were still a primary source of information. The one downside was that I had to deal with a building manager—this was an office building that housed lots of different companies. I’m being nice when I say the building manager was a bit of a jerk. The truth is he was a really big jerk. The first time we met he started, for no reason I’ve ever been able to figure out, telling me things about his girlfriend I didn’t want to know and which I did everything I could to block out. One of the work-related areas where we butted heads, though, was over a construction company that also had offices in the building and whose guys frequently blocked the loading dock so the company I worked for couldn’t get its deliveries in or out.

One day one of the construction guys asked me, “Why don’t you get a real job?” and ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out what a real job is. If he was an example then a real job is starting renovation projects then disappearing for months so they never get finished, but that’s another story.

Once when I was trying to get the building manager to get the construction guys to move he just blurted out, “You know what I’d like to be? A UPS delivery guy because they can park anywhere they want.” That was the kind of non sequitur that was typical of him and meant I had to go talk to the construction guys, if I could find them, myself.

All this came back to me one afternoon when I was on my way to the bus and had to maneuver around a delivery truck that was parked over the crosswalk.

This driver was not stopped at a light. This was where the vehicle was parked.

I don’t want to impugn the Mrs. Grissom’s Salads company or its line of quality luncheon substances, but their delivery drivers should know that at a busy intersection, especially one where cars regularly run red lights, a delivery truck driver shouldn’t make crossing even more difficult for pedestrians. Delivery truck drivers can’t just park anywhere they want, and ones who think they can should get a real job.

Avatar.

Furries are people who have anthropomorphic animal avatars. They draw or commission pictures of their avatars and many dress up as their avatars. Even in the weird wide universe of geekdom they’re sometimes mocked or regarded with suspicion which I don’t understand. I’m not going to stand in the way of anyone’s fursuit of happiness. There was even a really happy story back in March 2016 of Syrian refugees placed at a hotel that was also hosting a furry convention, bringing together two groups that are often subject to unreasonable prejudice.

Anyway I was listening to an interview with Lisa Hanawalt on the Bullseye podcast and was surprised to hear her describe herself as a “furry”. Hanawalt designed the anthropomorphic animal creatures for Bojack Horseman and also wrote a book called The Hot Dog Taste Test which I really, really, really recommend. It’s a collection of illustrated essays more or less connected to food and it’s smart and funny and while the picture of Hanawalt with her family watching Blade II dubbed in Spanish is fantastic, but that’s another story. What surprised me about her describing herself as a furry is in the book she draws herself pretty realistically, never as an animal, but then her drawings of herself and others are still, in the traditional sense of the word, avatars. They are representative, not necessarily idealized but not exactly warts and all either.

And that got me thinking about how we all have a version of ourselves in our imaginations that may or may not match up with how others see us. If we’re uncomfortable with ourselves it’s not necessarily about who we really are but because we don’t like that image of ourselves. Similarly if we’re unhappy with the world around us it’s because it doesn’t match what we want it to be. If we are happy with ourselves and the world around us it’s, hopefully, because how we imagine ourselves and the world matches the way we think it should be.

So what’s your avatar?

The Kids Will Be All Right.

When I say Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is one of the best films of the ‘80’s and even deserves a place among the best films of all time I’m not kidding. Sure, it got blasted by critics when it first came out, but so did Led Zeppelin’s debut album which is now considered a classic, and, sure, it’s got its weak spots, but so does Led Zeppelin’s debut album and for that matter so do a lot of great works of art. It may not be Citizen Kane but it would be ridiculous if it were because Citizen Kane had already been made almost half a century earlier. And Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has lasted, meeting one of the main criteria for a film to be considered classic. Mark Twain also described a classic as “a book which people praise but don’t read,” and the film is so dependent on sight gags and actors’ performances that if it were made into a book that book would be terrible and no one should read it.

Granted this is just my opinion and while most opinions should be taken with at least a grain of salt it’s up to you to decide just how big that grain should be, and I’ll sprinkle in some additional thoughts. At least three times a day I ask myself, what makes you think that? And the first time I saw Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure I said, wow, I know we’re going to see a lot more of Alex Winters, and maybe that other guy too. Keep in mind, though, that this was before Keanu Reeves was famous and was even before I was asked to play Keanu Reeves in a school talent show, back when I had more hair and less waist, but that’s another story. What I’m saying is that with opinions you should always season to taste, and a voice is telling me I’ve already hammered this point so hard it’s embedded in the wood and I should move on.

The critics who hated Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure were also, in my opinion, a bunch of old ugly dudes who missed that Bill and Ted aren’t as stupid as they seem–and maybe even smarter than they realize, like when Bill lets it slip he has “a slight Oedipal complex”, and while it’s lasted, I think it’s greatest impact was for people of a certain age at a certain time, which is ironic for a movie about time travel, but then films about the future have a lousy track record of actually predicting the future with the possible exception of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. And what made it great was not that the way it spoke to a rising generation but its message to the older generation: trust the kids and they will turn out all right. With the right guidance, in fact, they can be extraordinary, and can even make a better world where miniature golf scores are way down and bowling scores are way up. In retrospect it seems almost too perfect that Bill and Ted’s mentor from the future, Rufus, is played by George Carlin who, two decades earlier, embraced the youth culture that was being rejected even by some of his own generation.

Source: Gfycat

While that other well-known ’80’s time travel film, Back To The Future, also contained the warning that the future and even the present aren’t fixed, it looked to the past. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure looked to the future, keeping it largely unknowable, but placing the greatest burden not on the past but the present. Bill & Ted also fully embraced something Back To The Future only touched on: when you’ve got a time machine you’ve literally got all the time in the world, as the disappearance of Ted’s father’s keys in the first reel has a most excellent payoff in the final one.

Source: Bill & Ted

As much as I loved the first film I had low expectations a few years later when I went to the theater to see Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. It felt like the first film was so complete in itself that, in spite of the success, there couldn’t be a sequel. In the theater, though, I did get a brief reminder of what the first film meant to me. There was a group of kids in the front row and somehow before the movie started I got to talking with them found out it was the tenth birthday of one of them. I gave him a pair of sunglasses with glow in the dark frames. “Thanks!” he said. “That was really excellent of you,” his mother told me. I just said, “Party on, dudes,” and took a seat in the back row where the Bogus Journey, in spite of the Ingmar Bergman references and great use of the Vasquez Rocks, was most heinous and non-triumphant.

And now there’s a third film in the works, and I wonder what this future holds. I don’t ask why because it’s Hollywood, Jake, and sequels and franchises have been part of the game at least as far back as the 1930’s with setups like The Aldrich Family which spanned a total of eleven films.

What I’m wondering now is, have they gotten better? Have we? And by “we” I mean those of us who are like Bill and Ted: guys who’ve already started out pretty high up on the ladder and get an extra boost. The future, so far anyway, hasn’t turned out to be so excellent for many people. Those of us who saw ourselves in Bill and Ted had a chance to make the world better and we largely failed. And one of the biggest flaws of the first two is that women, whose historic roles have largely been sidelined or even ignored, get the same treatment from Bill and Ted–even the historic babes. Sure, Joan Of Arc takes over a Jazzercize class, but even the woman who manages their band turns out to be Rufus in disguise. Bill and Ted have been to the past and future and to Heaven and Hell and even defeated Death, and now is their chance to see history as much more complicated than the contributions of as many dudes, mostly white dudes, as can be stuffed into a phone booth. George Carlin is sadly gone but that means we are now Rufus, and we have a responsibility to extend the help we offer far beyond the Circle K parking lot. And some of us old ugly dudes need to be reminded that while we can still party on the first and most important thing we can do in both the present and future is to be excellent to each other.

Riding The Route: Number Seven.

Recently Nashville had a referendum on a new transit plan. I was, well, firmly ambivalent about it. There were a lot of potential benefits I could see but also some major downsides and problems just with the implementation and I was worried Nashville would end up like Cincinnati which started a subway then abandoned it. The referendum, and its failure, reminded me I need to resume my plan to ride every Nashville bus route and also inspired my choice of a route: lucky Number Seven. The Number Seven route goes to Green Hills which is one of the most congested areas of Nashville, mostly because there’s so much stuff there. There are actually two routes that go to Green Hills. The other is the Number Two, which runs roughly every forty-five minutes from 5:34am to 8:55am and then doesn’t restart until 2:15pm on weekdays only. The Number Seven runs roughly every twenty minutes on weekdays and every forty minutes on weekends.

Like all Nashville bus routes it starts from the downtown bus center.

It then winds through downtown and onto Broadway, which takes it by Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt Hospital. I hope I never get tired of making jokes about how you take the fork at the whisk.

Now this is where things start to go wrong: Hillsboro Village. It’s a small but charming little area near Vanderbilt full of stores and nice restaurants. The Belcourt Theater is there and the Fido Coffee Shop and The Pancake Pantry where people literally line up around the block waiting to get in. And cars are allowed to park on the street, reducing the number of lanes and making the whole thing a nightmare of stop and start traffic.

Several blocks after Hillsboro Village is the new challenge of crossing over I-440. Why is that a challenge? Because of all the cars trying to get off I-440 so they can go to Green Hills.

Parts of Green Hills are quite green and even a little hilly.

The bus then winds through the parking lot of Green Hills Mall, the last operating mall in the area and one of the main reasons for all the traffic.

Then it winds out and by Hillsboro High School where, many years ago, I took my first driver’s ed course, but that’s another story—and there was a lot less traffic then.

Then it’s a fifteen minute break at the last stop before the whole thing resumes.

The Portrait.

It’s pretty frustrating that Netflix has just announced a whole new cast of The Crown but is holding off on when the new season will be available—for now they’re just saying 2019—but it made me look back at my favorite episode so far—episode 1, season 9, the one called “Assassins”. I’ve read a little bit about art history—just a few dozen books or so, and taken some classes, but I’d never heard of Graham Sutherland, the artist who painted Churchill’s portrait, a portrait Churchill hated, and which was ultimately destroyed. When Churchill called it “a remarkable example of modern art” he meant that as an insult and the audience laughed.

The episode—spoiler alert—shows Mrs. Churchill burning the portrait herself in broad daylight, with Winston himself as a witness, which is what she claimed happened. It wasn’t until 2015 that it was finally revealed that the portrait, which was supposed to hang in Westminster Abbey, was kept in a cellar for years. Then, in the middle of the night, Mrs. Churchill’s secretary Grace Hamblin and her brother took the painting to the brother’s house and burned it there.

So the story as told in The Crown episode is sort of true and sort of not true. That’s interesting because, as Graham Sutherland himself said in 1944,

I feel that an artist’s business is to find an equivalent to the things which give him is idea, an equivalent which derives its life from being a ‘work of art’ rather than a ‘work of nature’…A metamorphosis has to take place.

Here’s a good example of that: Sutherland’s 1975 work Cathedral Of Rocks:

Source: Pinterest

And here’s a photo of the rocks which inspired that painting:

Source: Graham Sutherland : life, work and ideas by Rosalind Thuillier (The Lutterworth Press, 2015)

At the time Sutherland painted Churchill’s portrait he was highly respected in Britain but his reputation diminished, not so much over the portrait but because of his decision to live part of the year in the south of France, although he became highly respected—and well paid—in Italy, where they know a thing or two about painting. British critics raised their opinion of him a little when he started painting regularly in Wales, drawing inspiration from the landscape and painting pictures like the one above and his 1978 Thicket With Self Portrait. It’s good to see him get some attention again because his paintings are remarkable examples of modern art—and I mean that as a compliment.

Source: Elephant & Castle

 

The Beach Rules.

In order to enjoy the beach safely and responsibly please observe the following rules:

  1. Pets are allowed on the beach but please pick up after them.
  2. Children are allowed on the beach but please pick up after them.
  3. This is a public beach. Please dress appropriately. Yes, we’re talking to you. Really, those shoes with that shirt? Did you get dressed in the dark this morning or what?
  4. If caught in an undertow swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the current and can swim back safely.
  5. If caught in an overtow dive as deep as you can and swim parallel to the beach, if you remember where it is. This is a great chance to see how long you can hold your breath!
  6. If your car is towed call 251-555-3219.
  7. Don’t build a fire unless you’ve been in a horrific plane crash or fallen off a cruise and found yourself stranded alone on the beach. If that’s the case as soon as you start making a fire someone’s bound to show up and tell you you’re doing it wrong. Get a lift home from them.
  8. Feed the seagulls at your own risk. Every year dozens of tourists are carried away by flocks of seagulls.
  9. Do not linger under the palm trees. It makes the coconuts skittish.
  10. Solicitation is prohibited. So is selling anything. If someone approaches you and tries to interest you in a timeshare or beach property tell them you’re Canadian.
  11. There are lifeguards on duty but they can only run in slow motion. If you’re drowning try and prolong it as long as you can.
  12. If you find a lamp on the beach and rub it and a genie doesn’t come out take it home and try plugging it in.
  13. Do not get high on the beach. You might fall off.
  14. Do not taunt the seahorses. They may look cute, especially the babies, but the adults are very protective and, at up to six feet long and three-hundred pounds, can inflict a nasty bite.
  15. Do not drink the water.

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