Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Train Pigeons.

The other day I read a story about London’s urban foxes and felt cheated. I spent a lot of time in London—although not nearly enough, which is oddly reassuring because as Samuel Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life,” but that’s another story. In all the time I spent in London—in all the time I spent in Britain, in fact—I never once saw a fox.

I did, however, see a lot of pigeons which, as someone who watched Mary Poppins about a dozen times before the age of eight and is still not tired of it because when you’re tired of Mary Poppins you’re tired of life, tickled me. I even bought the little cups of seed to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. I don’t know if this has changed but at the time the seed came in little plastic cups that you then returned to the vendor. And I was taking an empty cup back when a pigeon landed on my arm and looked at the cup and looked at me and I swear that bird was on the verge of speech.

And then there was one afternoon when I was standing in an underground station and a train pulled up and a couple of pigeons walked out.

Yes, they walked, and looked around like they were a couple of tourists. I even imagined them having a conversation.

“Are you sure Earl’s Court is where we wanted to get off?”

“I think so, Nigel. Mind the gap!”

Of course they were British pigeons, perhaps visiting London from Oldham or Kent. The idea of American pigeons in London would just be ridiculous.

I swear this really happened but the story has been a point of some contention between me and my wife because she doesn’t believe me. Even though other people have said they’ve seen the same thing—pigeons walking off trains—she doesn’t believe me. Why would I make up a story like that?

Admittedly I have been known to feather my stories with exaggerations, embellishments, and outright fabrications, but if I were going to make up a story like that it would have been more elaborate. At the very least they would have actually spoken.

And been American.

 

 

Nothing’s Sacred.

Several years ago I was at a science fiction convention and wandered into a room where an author I wanted to meet was supposed to speak, except he didn’t show up, so they had an alternate speaker who I thought was even better. It was the cartoonist and author Gahan Wilson, whose birthday is today.

I was already familiar with Wilson’s work because my parents occasionally had issues of The New Yorker lying around the house and I didn’t read the articles but I did look at the pictures, and my father also had a collection of Playboy issues and I didn’t read the articles there either but I did look at the pictures—and by “pictures” of course I mean Gahan Wilson’s cartoons.

Wilson started with a story about the origin of one of his most famous cartoons. National Lampoon was looking for cartoons with the caption, “Is nothing sacred?”

Wilson didn’t have a copy of the cartoon he drew. He just described it to us. At first there were a few chuckles through the audience, then more of us started giggling, and by the time he got to the punchline the whole room was laughing.

There’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words but Wilson effectively captured the picture in about a tenth that number. Even now I can’t say which is funnier: the picture itself or his telling. His telling had a bonus punchline: “National Lampoon thought it was too weird so Playboy bought it instead.”

He’d go on to have work published in National Lampoon with his long-running series Nuts, drawing on his childhood, but it’s still funny to me that they turned down such a brilliant cartoon. I guess they didn’t look at the picture.

The Day After.

Most people don’t think of the day after Valentine’s Day as anything special, unless they’re fans of St. Eusebius or a handful of other saints. Some of us don’t really think of Valentine’s Day itself as anything special, and in fact a couple of days before it my wife happened to say, “We haven’t got anything planned for that day, do we?” and I was so glad she said it because I didn’t have anything planned and if she’d been planning something special to celebrate the occasion I would have felt like a schmuck even though we’ve never celebrated it. It’s not like our anniversary which is much more personal and therefore much more special, but, on the other hand, stores don’t start stocking up on candy and hearts and flowers and cards and putting up big signs that say “Don’t forget YOUR ANNIVERSARY” the month before it happens.

I guess I’ve never thought of Valentine’s Day as particularly romantic because when I was a kid it wasn’t treated as a romantic occasion even though we did celebrate it if it happened to fall on a school day. In first through fifth grade I distinctly remember getting a pack of kids’ Valentine’s Day cards with a Star Wars theme or a superhero theme or maybe just some generic friendly theme. Every pack held thirty or forty cards, enough to give one to every one of my classmates, and the night before Valentine’s Day I’d dutifully write one out for every one of my classmates and the next day we’d exchange them. There wasn’t any love in the romantic sense being expressed; mostly it was just a way of saying, “Hey you, I know you.” One year, fourth grade, as a class project we each had to make a box that the other kids could drop our Valentine cards in. I’d just seen Disney’s Snow White so I based mine on the box the wicked queen tells the hunstman to put Snow White’s heart in, complete with a heart with a dagger through it, because nothing says “Valentine’s Day” like murder and the implication of cannibalism–in the Grimm version the huntsman brings the queen a deer’s heart and she, thinking it’s Snow White’s, eats it, but that’s another story. I wasn’t choosy about what the cards said but if there were some in the pack that had a somewhat personal message, like, “Hulk Never Smash You, Valentine!” I’d set those aside specifically for my friends, but I didn’t leave anybody in the class out—not even that one kid I barely knew even though we spent seven or eight hours a day together and who I’d once accidentally hit in the face during kickball, leading to a lot of crying and some bloodshed on both sides.

Everything changed in sixth grade.

Even looking back on it now from a great distance the sixth grade feels like a year of unrelenting bullying and harassment. Well, there was some relenting, but the budding hormones of adolescence and the fact that some kids were just assholes made it a pretty bad year. As a bit of a geek and an outsider I probably would have been a target anyway but I can almost pinpoint the moment that it started. I was reading Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and something confused me so I innocently asked a girl who was sitting across from me what a “period” was. Instead of answering me she just started giggling and ran around saying, “Chris doesn’t know what a period is!” And it became kind of a running joke. Some guys would taunt me with, “Hey Chris, do you know what a period is?” and I should have responded with “Yeah, it’s the dot at the end of a sentence, did you not know that?” or even “No, jackass, do you?” but those are the kinds of snappy comebacks you only think of after the statute of limitations has expired. Instead there was some crying and bloodshed on both sides.

I had friends so I wasn’t completely alone. I just spent a lot of time feeling like I was completely alone, especially when a particular group of bullies would surround me. They targeted my friends too sometimes but realizing that my friends and I were alone together would have been like thinking up a snappy comeback. My brain just couldn’t make those connections. All I could think of was how much I hated going to school each day.

The lowest point of the school year for me was the night before Valentine’s Day. I had the usual pack of forty cards. I picked out three and threw the rest away.

The next day I went to school with my three little cards. I was still taking my coat off when I heard a voice.

“Chris, this is for you.”

It was Danny, a kid I barely thought about, someone I’d never thought of as a friend exactly. I looked down at what he’d put in my hand. It was a card with Han Solo and Chewbacca that said, “Not even Darth Vader scares me with you around, Valentine!” He was gone before I could say anything and I was glad because I didn’t have anything for him. And that morning a dozen other kids whom I’d never considered friends–casual acquaintances at best–handed me Valentine’s Day cards. I felt like a schmuck, but the day after Valentine’s Day I felt a little better about going to school.

 

Valentine’s Day Quiz.

Because love is in the air and because I really love doing these things it’s time for another pop quiz. But first a quick word about romance novels: I found many of the titles on the Romance Writers Of America website, an organization that promotes and supports local libraries everywhere, and that is no joke. And neither are the titles.

Now without further ado, since it’s all much ado about nothing anyway, here’s your pop quiz. Winners will have the satisfaction of knowing they spend too much time on the internet.

Romance Novel or Clickbait Headline?

  1. What She Looks Like Now Is Crazy
  2. Never Say Goodbye
  3. The Trouble with Dukes
  4. She Had No Idea Why The Crowd Was Cheering
  5. Falling for the Highlander
  6. Seven Minutes in Heaven
  7. If She Only Knew
  8. Forgive My Fins
  9. What Could Possibly Happen?
  10. One Night with the Billionaire
  11. This Girl Didn’t Know What’s Inside Her
  12. Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas
  13. Think This Is Normal?
  14. This Will Shock You
  15. How to Bake a Perfect Life
  16. She Created A Life Hack
  17. Barefoot and Pregnant?
  18. Things You Should Never Apologize For
  19. The Daddy Makeover
  20. These Workers Just Want Money
  21. A Hunger Like No Other
  22. Great One-Liners
  23. What Happened Next Changed Everything
  24. The Danger of Desire
  25. The Castle in the Forest

Follow That Bus!

So I dropped my wife off at the airport and headed to work. Well, not directly to work. First I circled around the airport and made a short-term trip through long-term parking before I finally found my way out and even though I don’t often drive to or from the airport–the last time I made the trip solo was at least four years ago–I managed to turn in the right direction, unlike the last time when I turned the wrong direction and drove along for half an hour trying to figure out where I was going before I realized I didn’t know where I was going.

Let me pause here to explain that I’m one of those people who avoids driving on the interstate if I can. I prefer to take the long way around on mostly residential streets even though it’s supposedly slower although every time I have been on the interstate something’s happened to cause traffic to slow down to a crawl and everyone heads for the exits to take the long way around but that’s another story.

This was also the first time I’ve ever driven out through that area in the dark.

And as I was moving down Donelson Road toward Murfreesboro Pike I noticed a brightly lit bus stop in the middle of what appeared to be nowhere. As you can see from the picture made with the help of Google Maps it’s not really the middle of nowhere. There’s a small residential area and a Tennessee Department of Transportation office and something called Airport Liquors where after just a couple of drinks you’ll be flying. And as I was approaching that bus stop a bus went by, headed in the exact direction I needed to go. It distracted me so that I accidentally went right through the intersection, after a complete stop of course, and continued down Donelson and by the time I managed to turn around and head back in the right direction the bus was gone. But that was okay. I turned on to Murfreesboro Pike and headed in the right direction, except that after what seemed like three days but which was probably not more than ten minutes, I started feeling really unsure that I was headed in the right direction. After going under a few overpasses and over a few underpasses I started looking for the bus with the plan of following it. Then, as I was contemplating all this, I suddenly emerged from terra incognita to terra familiar, onto Broadway in the middle of downtown Nashville, and probably ahead of the bus which, as buses usually do, might have taken the long way around.

From there it should have been easy. I could have turned left and gotten to work easily but for some reason I kept going and within a couple of blocks went from knowing exactly where I was to not having a clue where I was. But then I just kept going and did find my way back to where I was going.

That’s the lesson here: if you’re lost and don’t know where you are keep going until you do. Or maybe it’s, if in doubt, follow a bus.

 

Tell It To My Heart.

Iconography works on a lot of levels. The stylized picture of a heart, for instance, typically means love.

Except when it doesn’t.

And it still bothers me that the stylized heart symbol doesn’t look like any heart that I’ve ever seen, and I’m speaking as someone who did a lot of dissecting as a kid. Even an unusual heart, like the one that belongs to amazing blogger Ann Koplow, doesn’t in any way resemble the popular symbol. It’s interesting that while hearts are, anatomically speaking, so important they’re not centrally placed nor are they symmetrical, unlike lungs, brains, or kidneys. It even seems strange to me that, given the critical role of the heart, most of us only have one, unless you happen to be a Time Lord.

Hearts are strange things. The Tin Woodman wanted one, Humbert Humbert died of a broken one, and even Shakespeare asked, “Where is fancy bred?” although some scholars think he might have been looking for an artisanal bakery, but that’s another story.

Because iconography works on so many levels it’s easy to manipulate, subvert, twist, fold, spindle, and mutilate an accepted symbol into something completely different—into its exact opposite.

Maybe that’s why I this so much.

And with Valentine’s Day coming up can you think of a better way to express your feelings, at least without resorting to a restraining order?

 

School Work.

It’s a living.

“School prepares you for going to work.”-statement made by at least three of my primary school teachers

“Compare and contrast.”-task on reading comprehension tests given to me by at least three of my primary school teachers

School-Get up at a specific time, get dressed, eat breakfast, get on the bus. Do this Monday through Friday from early morning to afternoon.

Work-Hit the snooze button on the alarm at least twice. Skip breakfast. Pour coffee into a travel mug and carry it with you to work.

Additional notes: Specifics vary widely from one job or place to another. Some people have flexible hours. Some work shifts that vary depending on whether that guy who just got hired a week ago unexpectedly walked out. Some people work the weekends, some people work entire days without stopping.

Some people take a bus but not necessarily a bus that will drop them right in front of their place of employment. Some take trains. Some drive alone. Some people travel all over the place. Some are part of a carpool which can either be fun or like the most miserable bus trip imaginable depending on what that one guy had for breakfast.

School-First thing upon arrival if you didn’t already meet up with a bunch of your friends on the bus now is the time you get together with them.

Work-Mutter obligatory greetings to various people whose names you may or may not remember. Engage in small talk at the coffee pot.

Additional notes: Specifics vary widely from one job or place to another. Some people don’t report daily to a specific office, travel, have different shifts, etc.

School-Gather in a classroom with a bunch of other people who are close to your age.

Work-Sit in a cubicle surrounded by people whose ages may be as little as a few months to several decades different from yours.

Additional notes: Specifics vary widely etc.

School-Agenda is set by a single person who is much older than you. Tasks are very specific and time frames are clearly set.

Work-Agenda may be set by someone who is significantly younger or older. Tasks and time frames aren’t always specific.

Additional notes: Specifics vary blah blah blah.

School-The daily schedule is highly organized. Classes usually last an hour. Each class is devoted to a topic—language, math, geography, science, etc. Specifics within these topics may be reviewed for several days or several weeks.

Work-You’re gonna do pretty much the same thing for eight hours a day.

Additional notes: Something something specifics.

School-Daily scheduled “recess” gives you a chance to get outside.

Work-You might be able to grab a few minutes for a breather depending on what you do but I’m not going to speculate on the specifics.

School-Have a regularly scheduled lunch in the cafeteria. If you’re lucky someone will start a food fight.

Work-Maybe grab a quick bite between meetings. If you’re lucky you won’t dump a big blob of marinara sauce on a highly visible part of your white shirt or blouse.

School-Significant failure may result in you being held back and having to repeat a year of lessons.

Work-Significant failure may result in you having to look for another job.

School-Sometimes if you don’t complete an assignment on time you get a failing grade. Sometimes you might be able to get an extension or do make-up work.

Work-If you don’t complete an assignment on time you’re probably gonna get fired. Specifics vary widely though, but your ability to stay focused and finished tasks can determine your career. For instance if you procrastinate a lot you should reconsider being a firefighter.

School-Many assignments can be completed with minimal effort and require little more than copying information from the out-of-date encyclopedias your parents keep as decoration.

Work-Specifics vary but odds are your boss isn’t going to be very impressed with a double-spaced hand-written report on the primary exports of Ceylon in 1968 even if you put it in a nice folder and padded it out with some maps you traced.

School-Getting out of taking the English test you didn’t study for might require Shakespearean-level acting to convince your parental unit(s) that you are sick.

Work-Pinching your nose while talking on the phone might be enough to convince your germophobic boss that you should stay home but that earnings report is still going to have to be turned in.

School-Do your work well and you’ll be allowed free time to pursue your own interests.

Work-Do your work well and you’ll be given a raise and a promotion and a lot more to do.

School-Rule-breaking will result in punishment. Serious enough infractions can result in suspension or, if bad enough, even expulsion, and that incident where you “accidentally” set the building on fire can have a serious impact on your plans to be a firefighter.

Work-You can lose your job for any number of reasons, specifics yadda yadda.

School-Snow days mean you can stay home, hang out with your friends, sleep in, and have fun. If you try to go in you’ll be the only one there and you’ll feel like an idiot.

Work-If you try to go in your dedication and persistence may be rewarded. Or you might end up stuck on the interstate or in a terrible accident. Or you might find you’re the only one who made it in. Pretty much whatever you do you’re going to feel like an idiot.

Conclusions: I forgot these were due. Can I turn them in tomorrow? I think the important lesson here is specifics vary.

Learning From History.

Source: Wikipedia

A few years ago I was having lunch with my parents and my father mentioned that in his college days he booked a lot of acts, including standup comedians, to come and perform on campus. I asked him which ones he remembered and started rattling off names of standup comics I knew from that time.

“How do you know all these names?” he asked.

It’s because I’ve always loved standup comedy and a lot of the comedians who’d been rising stars in my father’s time were shining even brighter by the time I came along. And also I’m a geek who’s studied the history of standup because, hey, comedy is a serious thing. I’ve delved deep into it and I’m familiar with performers from the button-down to the wild and crazy and some pretty obscure ones. In fact I’m more fascinated by the obscure in part because fame is such a capricious thing but I also feel a lot of them lay the groundwork for the success of others. Comedians riff off each other which is why the overlooked often deserve to be looked.

So how is it I’ve never heard of Irwin Corey until I learned of his passing? Or maybe he’s one I overlooked.

Corey lived to be 102. He called himself “the World’s Foremost Authority” as a joke but let’s face it: some of us study history but he’d lived through most of it. You don’t get to be that old without learning some pretty important things, such as how to tell the Grim Reaper he wants the house next door.

It’s impossible to learn from history without the means to preserve records of the past and fortunately there are plenty of records of Corey’s work. Now if you’ll excuse me I have some studying to do.

Hail and farewell Irwin Corey.

What It Was Was Some Kind Of Bowl.

Given recent events I thought I should offer up a revised version of an earlier post, What It Was Was Fantasy Football because I’m very environmentally conscious so I believe in recycling. In fact every year I go to the store on Superbowl Sunday when it’s really crowded and busy and say to the checkout person, “Wow, lotta people here. Is something happening today?”

Maybe one of these years someone will realize I’m making a joke, but that’s another story.

Starting Lineup

Offense

Nate Solder LT Festin

Joe Thuney LG King Meshugah

David Andrews C Dejah Thoris

Shaq Mason RG Thorin Oakenshield

Marcus Cannon RT Yog Sothoth

Julian Edelman WR Sandman

Chris Hogan WR Ningauble Of The Seven Eyes

Martellus Bennett TE Conan The Barbarian

Tom Brady QB Sir Gawain

LeGarrette Blount RB Hellboy

James Develin FB Namor Of Atlantis

Defense

Chris Long DE Balon Greyjoy

Alan Branch DT Mongo

Malcom Brown DT Xena, Warrior Princess

Trey Flowers DE Anita Blake

Elandon Roberts OLB The Red Queen

Dont’a Hightower ILB Lessa/Ramoth

Rob Ninkovich OLB Lord Voldemort

Malcolm Butler CB Atticus O’Sullivan

Patrick Chung SS Eeyore

Devin McCourty FS Rudy Ruettiger

Logan Ryan CB Number Six

Sun Gets In Your Eyes.

The sun, constellation Capricorn, and Mercury. Picture made with SkyView app for iPhone.

As the sun moves across the sky a terrible thing happens to drivers going down, or rather up, since they’re climbing a hill, a particular stretch of road. The sun’s position is such that it’s right there at the peak of the hill and it hits us right in the face, blinding us. It’s a temporary phenomenon. Even during the times of year when it’s in just the right position, or rather just the wrong position, it’s there less than an hour because, when you think about it, the sun moves pretty quickly, even relatively speaking, or rather the Earth moves pretty quickly, turning so the horizon rises up to meet the sun, but during that time it creates a dangerous condition. The builders of ancient monuments like the pyramids or Stonehenge thought about the positions of the sun and stars. The Mayan temple of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza has a famous “serpent” effect during the spring equinox, all developed because the position of the sun was important to people and they also had a lot of time on their hands because they weren’t driving anywhere. Whoever decided where the road should go didn’t seem to think about this, and they probably didn’t have much choice because roads go everywhere so it’s unavoidable that some of them are going to face straight into the sun.

Since my stop was coming up I had moved to a seat near the driver.

“That sun is brutal,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said, “and I’ve got a sun shade here, but it’s but it’s broken so I can’t pull it down.”

I’d noticed that. Bus drivers don’t have a sun shade like most cars but a fabric screen they can pull down part of the way to block the sun. When the sun is low enough, though, when it’s right in the middle of your field of vision, no shade helps.

“At least it’ll be behind me when I turn around and head back,” she said.

And I remembered something I learned as a kid, an Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face…

Obviously the Irish didn’t drive a lot.

What’s the best way to deal with sun right in your face? I can think of a couple of ideas: pull off the road, turn another way and go somewhere else for a bit until the sun is in a different part of the sky, and, if you’re riding a bus, don’t talk to the driver while they’re trying to concentrate on the road.

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