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Drawing A Line.

Sometimes the simplest art can have the most profound implications. Take this graffiti, for instance. Or leave it.

Either way it’s still just simple lines that could represent almost anything: a horizon, the stock market, a cardiogram on the fritz, a nervous rainbow, a shoreline, a trail, wrinkles, a wrinkle in time, the threads of time, the unraveling of an idea, or the raveling of one. I often hear about things unraveling but I’d rather do some raveling. That’s just the way I am—I’ve always been a ravel rouser, but that’s another story. The lines could be borders or boundaries which are, after all, just lines on a map. Consider this amazing map of Australia’s railroads:

Source: tywkiwdbi

It’s amazing to me there’s a railroad to Tasmania since Tasmania is an island. I assume it’s reached by a viaduct, but viaduct? Why not a goose? That’s a question I’ll leave to someone else.

Australia’s rail lines really aren’t that straight even though geometry tells us the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and yet space is curved, which means if you set out from any point and travel long enough you’ll eventually come back to where you started. I’m sure I’m circling a point right now but since I didn’t start from one it doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere.

 

No Day.

There’s a running joke in places that only occasionally get snow that local meteorologists will sometimes forecast an impending blizzard when stores are overstocked on bread, eggs, milk, and toilet paper, because the mere mention of the word “snow” will send hordes to the groceries to stock up on these necessities. This is, of course, because the only way to get through the forty-eight hours, at most, that the roads will be impassable is with French toast served on a soft bed of two-ply.
I was reminded of this recently when we had a few bouts of relatively warm rainy days followed by dry, sunny, extremely cold days and lots of people commented that it was lucky the rain and cold hadn’t coincided because if they had we’d have had snow. And that reminded me of a time back when I was in eighth grade and over at a friend’s house one Sunday night. It started to snow, and snow heavily. We both got really excited because this snow seemed certain to cancel school so we’d have at least a three day weekend, even though having Monday off is the worst way to have a three-day weekend because all it really does is push the misery of starting the week into Tuesday, so you can’t really enjoy Sunday or the Monday off. The ideal three-day weekend starts on Friday, although now that I think about it the worst kind of three-day weekend really would be to have Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday off, but that’s another story. My friend lived at the bottom of a hill and he and I watched cars slide and skid up and down the road, probably either going to or returning from the nearest grocery and loaded up with the essentials. When it was time to go I trudged home through Lapland, and I stayed up late because the snow was falling hot and heavy, or rather freezing and heavy, and there was no way there’d be school in the morning.
There was school in the morning.
I had to get up at the usual time. There was still snow on the grass and piled into drifts under trees but the streets were warm enough to be completely clear. I was somehow half-conscious and furious at the same time as I worked through a breakfast of French toast on damp toilet paper. I’m not sure why I was so upset. Whatever homework I’d gotten over the weekend was done, there were no tests, and eighth grade wasn’t the best year of my school career but it wasn’t the worst either. I just felt I’d been promised something only to have it yanked away from me, but on the bright side, I thought, it couldn’t get any worse.
It got worse.
I was in math class, around 9:30 in the morning, when it started snowing again. It wasn’t just snowing, either. This was a freak blizzard. Whorls and swirls of snow in clumps the size of my fist thumped the windows, taunting me. Under normal conditions I could walk home from school but even if we could get the doors open in the face of the avalanche there’d be no walking home in this. So I got ready to walk home. I didn’t care that I’d likely be found like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining, my frozen body somewhere in the woods halfway between school and home. My grandfather would tell stories of having to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school, and if he’d done it I figured so could I, and in fact there was a large hill between my house and the school that rose up sharply on one side and then descended just as sharply on the other, so going uphill both ways didn’t seem that ridiculous. And yet the school day dragged on as usual while the storm outside raged. There were no preparations for departure, no buses lining up to take those unlucky enough to live beyond walking distance. We weren’t, as had happened in previous years when rising snow shortened the school day, huddled into a single room to keep warm and watch TV and, if it came to it, resort to cannibalism like the Donner Party.
In fact by noon the snow came to an end. The clouds parted and the sun came out, and when it was time to go home, at the usual time, I slogged trough mud, not snow. How had they known? What miracle allowed the meteorologists to see that this would not last? The only thing I can figure is the grocery stores were running low on bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper.

In Memory.

Every once in a while I get lucky and ride one of the buses with the small plaque to the memory of Rosa Parks over the seats on the left side at the front of the bus. I wish it were larger, and I wish it could somehow make clear that anyone who rides the bus can sit wherever they want. Rosa Parks played a large part in making that happen.

Recently, though, I read an article about the movement for women’s suffrage and how much women of color, especially in the 19th century, were a part of it—a part that’s largely been erased from the history of the movement. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was a writer, journalist, teacher, abolitionist, and suffragist. In May 1866 she delivered a speech to the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention in New York City and cited, among other things, her treatment on public transportation. Here’s part of her speech:

You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me. Let me go to-morrow morning and take my seat in one of your street cars-I do not know that they will do it in New York, but they will in Philadelphia-and the conductor will put up his hand and stop the car rather than let me ride.

Going from Washington to Baltimore this Spring, they put me in the smoking car. Aye, in the capital of the nation, where the black man consecrated himself to the nation’s defence, faithful when the white man was faithless, they put me in the smoking car! They did it once; but the next time they tried it, they failed; for I would not go in. I felt the fight in me; but I don’t want to have to fight all the time. Today I am puzzled where to make my home. I would like to make it in Philadelphia, near my own friends and relations. But if I want to ride in the streets of Philadelphia, they send me to ride on the platform with the driver. Have women nothing to do with this? Not long since, a colored woman took her seat in an Eleventh Street car in Philadelphia, and the conductor stopped the car, and told the rest of the passengers to get out, and left the car with her in it alone, when they took it back to the station. One day I took my seat in a car, and the conductor came to me and told me to take another seat. I just screamed “murder.” The man said if I was black I ought to behave myself. I knew that if he was white he was not behaving himself. Are there not wrongs to be righted?

You can read the entire speech at Black Past, and note that she shared a stage with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Harper was speaking out eighty-nine years before Rosa Parks took a stand by remaining seated, which adds depth and context to the history of the civil rights movement, which is something to consider even now, when there are still wrongs to be righted.

Love Bug.

The El Paso Zoo has come up with a novel way to celebrate Valentine’s Day: they’ll name a cockroach after your ex and then feed it to a meerkat on February 14th. I don’t have any exes, not even in Texas, I’d like to dememorialize in such a special way, but I’m tempted to do it just to feed a meerkat. Or maybe I’ll send in my own name, as a way of apologizing to a coworker. Several years ago I put a rubber cockroach in her jar of paper clips. About an hour later the entire office heard, “OH SHIT!” followed by “CHRIS!!!”

Sometimes my reputation precedes me and sometimes it skitters along behind me, and that’s not a bug—it’s a feature!

Ain’t I A Pair?

So the time has finally come for me to buy some new jeans. This is something I’ve been putting off for some time, maybe because I was expecting the trend of ripped jeans that was so big in the ‘80’s to come back into style, although even back then I was never exactly fashionable. In fact when the jeans I wore every day to high school finally did rip at the knees, which didn’t take long because that was also the era of the stonewashed look which was brutal on fabric, I decided to look hip by sewing up the holes with bright green thread and I started an exciting new fashion trend that absolutely no one else picked up. And if I really wanted to be fashionable I’d probably stop wearing jeans and treating every day at work like it’s casual day, but I’ve never been comfortable in slacks, only in denim, really, even though the name sounds like it’s supposed to suggest comfort as well as a certain panache, a je ne sais quoi, a joi de vivre, a sacre bleu, a passe le moutard, a serge de Nîmes, mais c’est une autre histoire. I used to work with a guy who wore shorts all the time, no matter what the weather was like. The temperature could dip well into the negatives and he’d come in wearing a heavy coat but basically bare from his knees to his ankles. He explained that he only felt comfortable in shorts and even though I wasn’t exactly the same way I felt we were sartorially related. We both shared the principle that comfort matters because you don’t look good if you don’t feel good, clothes make the man, clothing is the suit of armor in which we battle the world, a stitch in time is a physics problem, you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a wolf in sheep’s clothing but you can pick your friends and you can have your cake and, as my grandmother used to say, that bright green thread will never be seen from a trotting horse. I also have a pair of black jeans I wear on more formal occasions, and even a pair of beige jeans which may not be slacks but who’s going to look closely enough to know the difference ?
And I hate to throw away a pair of jeans. It just seems environmentally irresponsible, although denim is cotton so it’s biodegradable. At least some of my shirts have the possibility of a second life. A friend told me that when it was time to retire one of my paisley shirts she wanted to use it in a quilt, and just the thought makes me feel warm. Certain items of clothing just stick with me, and I also know it’s time to wash them when they start sticking to me, but that’s another story. Every time I get rid of an old pair of jeans I feel there should be a certain ceremony, a time to say, goodbye, mon frere et pair, you served the lower half of my body well.
Actually I’m really just stalling, or rather avoiding the stall—which is what the changing room in stores should really be called. I know it’s possible to buy clothing online but I still prefer to do it the old fashioned way, pulling things off a rack and trying them on, because my body changes and what fit me a year ago won’t necessarily fit me now, at least when it comes to the waistline. I’m not getting any taller or shorter, although it’s frustrating to me that I’m below average height and that makes it difficult to find any pants that don’t go down below my feet. I also get unnerved in changing rooms because I always worry the mirror is two-way and while I doubt anyone would want to watch me what if they are? I know it’s not really going to be that bad and that I shouldn’t get so worked up, but worrying this much isn’t something I can just overcome. It’s part of me, it’s who I am. It’s in my jeans.

It’s The Law!

Source: From Old Books

Murphy’s Law: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

Goodhart’s Law: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Amara’s Law: We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Allen’s Law: The only rule that has no exceptions is the rule that there’s an exception to every rule.

Cheops Law: Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget.

Letterman’s Law: Three out of four people make up 75% of the population.

Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Peter Principle: In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

Finagle’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment.

Gibson’s Law: For every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD.

Brooks’s Law: Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.

Hickam’s Dictum: A man can have as many diseases as he damn well pleases.

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Hobson’s Choice: A choice of taking what is available or nothing at all

Muphry’s Law: If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.

Gall’s Law: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.

Segal’s Law: A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.

Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Brandolini’s Law: The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

Cole’s Law: Shredded cabbage with salad dressing.

Source: Giphy

 

Chance Encounters.

One of the downsides of riding the bus is I’m on someone else’s schedule. If I’m not at a stop at a specific time, or at least close enough that the driver can see me waving, the bus ain’t gonna wait around for me, especially in Nashville where the minimum wait time between buses is at least fifteen minutes and usually more. A little over a year ago when I was in Chicago I happened to notice that buses went by about every five minutes and there was the El that went by almost as frequently and I thought, what magical place is this? but that’s another story. Most of the time time isn’t a problem–I know when to leave work, and about when the bus will arrive–but then I have chance encounters with people on the street that make me wish I had a little more flexibility. For a long time there was a guy who stood on the corner across from where I work selling The Contributor, which is a newspaper written by and about people who are homeless in Nashville. It’s a way for them to earn money and find some support. I always felt guilty having to hurry by this guy and if I had a dollar I would stop and buy a paper from him, but mostly our interactions were limited to, “Hey, how’s it going?” He’d found a really good corner to sell newspapers, right at the intersection of two major streets, and close to a cluster of fast food places. A couple of them gave him free food in exchange for telling people how they helped him or giving out coupons with the newspapers. Sometimes he’d tell me he had a new issue and if I didn’t have a dollar I say, “I’ll get it tomorrow,” and the next day I’d make sure to have a dollar. After a few times he learned to trust me. And one day he stopped me and said, “Hey, I’ve got a new issue and this one’s really special. If you haven’t got a dollar today take it now and you can pay me tomorrow.” I said sure, and then he showed me that he’d written the front page article. It was all about how he’d finally saved enough to marry his girlfriend. There was a even a large picture of the two of them, he in a suit and she in a wedding dress. I read the article on the bus. They were planning to move back to his home state, temporarily at least, so he could take care of some legal issues he’d left behind when he became homeless. I really made sure to have a dollar for him the next day, and to congratulate him; I already felt like I’d missed a chance to get to know him, and I didn’t want any lingering debts. He disappeared not long after that, and I still wonder sometimes what’s become of him.
I was reminded of him when I had a very different encounter last week. I was standing on a different corner, waiting for the light to change, and I had three or four library books in my arms because I was researching something and I still like to use old fashioned books to do at least some of my investigating. And a guy came up to me, in jeans and a denim jacket and a woven cap, and he said, “Hey, are you a perpetual student like me?” I just stammered out a yes, and before I could say anything else he walked away, and even though he was going a different direction I thought about following him. I wanted to say, “Hey, what did you mean by that? And could you please tell me everything about you?”
Instead, when the light changed, I crossed the other street and went on to the bus stop. I still regret not following him even though it would have meant being late getting home. How do you prepare for such an unexpected encounter?

It’s Bowl Time.

Once again it’s Superbowl Sunday. As always I hope the best team wins but this year my money is definitely on my fantasy football league even if the regular team sounds a little familiar.

Offense

Andrew Whitworth LT Festin
Rodger Saffold LG Jareth The Goblin King
John Sullivan C Dejah Thoris
Austin Blythe RG Tom Servo
Rob Havenstein RT Yog Sothoth
Robert Woods WR Sandman
Cooper Cupp WR Ningauble Of The Seven Eyes
Brandin Cooks WR Namor Of Atlantis
Tyler Higbee TE Conan The Barbarian
Jared Goff QB Sir Gawain
Todd Gurley RB Hellboy
Brandin Cooks WR Namor Of Atlantis

Defense

Michael Brockers DE Balon Greyjoy
Ndamukong Suh NT Mongo
Aaron Donald DT Xena, Warrior Princess
Matt Longacre WILL Dorothy Gale
Samson Ebukam OLB The Red Queen
Cory Littleton ILB Lessa/Ramoth
Mark Barron ILB Daenerys Targaryen
Marcus Peters LCB Cerebus the Aardvark
Sam Shields RCB Eeyore
John Johnson III SS Rudy Ruettiger
Lamarcus Joyner FS Gimli

Failure To Launch.

Source: Nevada Museum Of Art

One night in mid-April 1981 I was out in my backyard and looked up and could see a small bright dot moving across the sky just overhead. It was the Space Shuttle Columbia on its first flight. It was staggering to think that it was in orbit, a tiny object above the atmosphere, but it could still be seen. It made all of space seem within reach.
I was reminded of that when I heard that the artist Trevor Paglan designed a completely nonfunctional satellite called “Orbital Reflector” that was then launched into orbit by Space X on December 3rd, 2018. Its long mylar blade was supposed to be inflated so it would reflect sunlight, making it visible from Earth, but that part of the project was put on hold by the U.S. government shutdown. Without government approval the reflector part still remains on hold. It’s not what the artist intended but it’s a fitting metaphor for the aspirations and failures of humanity. Also sometime in March it will fall back to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere, whether its reflector is deployed or not, and that’s a fitting metaphor too. All of human history, and prehistory, wouldn’t add up to a single tick of the cosmic clock. Paglan’s work is also intended to challenge ideas of who owns space, and what it’s meant to be used for–or not used for, since his satellite is purely aesthetic.
And I can think of a lot of reasons why this is a really intriguing work of art, an interesting and challenging idea, but I can think of more reasons why it’s a really bad idea. Even within its short lifespan it’s junking up space around the Earth. The reason its final deployment was delayed by the shutdown, the reason the position of any satellite has to be carefully planned, is there’s a lot of stuff floating around the Earth, and that stuff is moving at really high speeds. It turns out nature doesn’t abhor a vacuum–only dogs don’t want the carpet cleaned, but that’s another story–and objects in orbit aren’t subject to terrestrial inertia. At those speeds collisions can be spectacular.
Even with its blade unfurled the Orbital Reflector would hardly be the only artificial object visible from the ground. Stand in the right place at the right time, and in an area away from enough light pollution, and you can see the International Space Station and other satellites–in particular the sixty-six Iridium satellites that are known to flare and disappear in a few seconds. They’re commercial satellites, providing communication services, which, if you see space as something that connects us all–we all look up at the same stars, watch the same Sun, Moon, and planets move through the sky and the exploration of space is a collective project–seems like a more fitting, and functional, metaphor.

 

 

He Kicked The Bucket.

Source: IMDB

Walter, you are just an echo of a world I knew so long ago.
-The Kinks, Do You Remember Walter?

My parents were telling me about an art exhibit of life size sculptures they’d been to.

“It reminded me of Bucket Of Blood,” said my mother.

My father explained that A Bucket Of Blood was a movie they’d been to see when they were still dating, then he asked me if I’d seen it.

“Seen it?” I almost shouted. “I’ve got it on DVD!”

My father rolled his eyes and said, “I should have known.” I’m still not sure why he was surprised. The fact that my parents were going to Roger Corman movies long before I was born explains a lot about who I am. Maybe it even explains why, long before I first saw it, I was strangely drawn to its star, Dick Miller. Maybe it’s why there was always something familiar about him. When I saw him as Murray Futterman in Gremlins or a gun shop owner in The Terminator or proprietor of a roadside restaurant in The Twilight Zone: The Movie, or a guy who eats flowers in the original Little Shop Of Horrors—I honestly can’t say which of those I saw first, and when he popped up in an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation—my reaction was always, hey, it’s…that guy! From…that thing! And I’m not the only one. A 2014 documentary about Miller’s life and career is called, fittingly enough, That Guy Dick Miller.
Maybe I recognized him because I’d seen him in something else. He built a career on cameos. After serving in the Navy in World War II he earned a Ph.D. in psychology—making him Doctor Dick Miller—then moved from New York to California to write screenplays. He went straight to Roger Corman who said he had plenty of screenplays but needed actors, so Dick Miller became an actor, appearing in several Corman films. One of his most memorable roles is as a vacuum cleaner salesman in 1957’s Not Of This Earth. Corman wanted the salesman to wear a suit and bow tie, but Miller came to the set in a black cashmere jacket and a black shirt, saying, “this is the way I dressed when I sold pots and pans in the Bronx…You think a guy goes to college to sell vacuums?” He played the role as a fast-talking hipster who says, “Crazy, man” when invited in, providing the film some much needed comedy.
Then he got a large, although not quite leading, role in the 1958 film War Of The Satellites, and would get his most memorable role in A Bucket Of Blood. Miller played Walter Paisley, a busboy in a coffee shop who longs to be like the poets and artists who hang out there. Mentally challenged and lacking any real talent Walter has an inspiration when he accidentally kills his landlady’s cat and molds clay around the body. He quickly moves on to people, turning corpses into sculptures that the critics love—until they find out what’s underneath. It sounds grim, and it is, although the story rocks along at a speedy pace and the total runtime is just a little over an hour, and even finds time for a subplot about heroin dealing that helps provide Paisley with a couple of models. Yet Miller made Walter Paisley a sympathetic character, playing him with a wide-eyed innocence reminiscent of Lenny in Of Mice And Men, and, like Lenny, he doesn’t fully understand the implications of his actions, which heightens the tragedy. The film was shot in five days on a very low budget, and critics noticed, but they were positive toward Miller. A review in Variety said “his ability to sustain a sense of poignancy…is responsible in large part for the film’s appeal,” and the CEA Film Report called the part of Walter Paisley “cleverly played”.
Miller stuck around for a small part in Corman’s record setting Little Shop Of Horrors, shot on the same sets and using most of the same cast, in just two days, but his career had peaked. He’d accumulate over a hundred screen credits in his career but until That Guy Dick Miller he’d never land another leading role. Instead he took small parts, and, in a kind of inside joke, played several characters named Walter Paisley. A Bucket Of Blood would go on to be remade as a made-for-TV movie on Showtime in 1995, and as a stage musical. Dick Miller, like some critics, regretted that Corman had been too focused on time and budget to make a better film, but remained proud of it, saying in 1998, “I believe A Bucket Of Blood is truly the cult film of all cult films…Very, very few films are in every film museum in the world. A Bucket Of Blood is.” That’s likely because the copyright lapsed and the film is now essentially in the public domain, but I think critics and scholars recognize that, like Walter Paisley’s sculptures, there’s something substantial under the film’s outer shell.
If you’ve never heard of Dick Miller, if you see a picture of him and, like me say, “Hey, it’s…that guy,” or if you don’t recognize him at all that’s sad, but it’s also at least partly his own fault. He was well liked and respected by directors and other actors. Some actors, on their days off, would come to the set just to watch him work. And yet he never pursued bigger roles. He took the saying that there are no small parts too much to heart. The film industry is full of actors with ambition but no talent. Dick Miller was the opposite. That Guy Dick Miller unfortunately doesn’t explore this in detail but does sum it up in its final moments when Miller looks straight into the camera and says he hopes people enjoy the film, it will probably be his last one. Then his wife hands him the phone and he says, “Hello?…Yeah, I’m available.”
Dick Miller, born December 25th, 1928, died January 31st, 2019, was the exact opposite of Walter Paisley: he took statues and gave them life, covered them with flesh and blood. He was the character actor of character actors. And as I think about his career I think about the saying that a great actor knows to leave the audience wanting more. Dick Miller was a very great actor.

 

 

 

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