Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Das Bus.

Look carefully and you can see the water dripping. What kind of bonehead designs an emergency exit that leaks?

When I got the bus stop it was starting to rain, but this didn’t bother me because I had an umbrella. It was just a few drops, and the weather report had said there was a 50% chance of precipitation which always tickles me because that sounds like the weather reporters are really hedging their bets, but then someone always has to get pedantic and tell me that they’re 100% sure it will rain and that it’s expected to cover about 50% of the area which takes the fun out of it, but that’s another story.

I walked down the street to the next bus stop where there were some trees and a business with an awning that I could stand under if the rain got really bad, which it did. It started to really pour. It was like I was standing behind a waterfall and a woman who worked in the shop asked if I’d like to come in, which was nice because I was getting wet from the spray and I’m pretty sure the awning was eroding. And then the bus arrived and thankfully there was a stop sign there so I ran out into the rain and knocked on the door, then pounded on the door, then I had to run around to the front of the bus and jump up and down in front of the driver because he couldn’t hear anything over the rain and the way it was coming down I’m surprised he could see anything, but he opened the door and I ran in, swiped my bus pass, and went right to the back of the bus because I was cold and wet and the backseat sits right on the engine so it’s usually warm, and also there was no one back there. And then as everyone picked up their oars and started rowing and the bus lurched forward I realized the reason no one was in the back was because there was an emergency hatch in the roof and it was leaking. So I moved to a seat closer to the front which meant I had to help row, but I didn’t mind as long as we were going forward, or at least taking me closer to home, and it didn’t matter that I’d left my umbrella at the shop because this was umbrella-destroying rain. And I remembered that when I was a kid I thought humidity could never reach 100% because I thought 100% humidity was solid water, but then I learned that it was really just the maximum amount of water the atmosphere could hold, but maybe I’d been right all along because by now the bus driver was looking through a periscope and all the stop announcements were in German and I was seriously starting to wonder that I was going to have to leave through a torpedo tube.

And then, amazingly, by the time we got to the stop where I got off, the sun had come out and I wished I had my umbrella to protect me from the glare.

 

Outlaw Art.

Why is graffiti illegal?

Well, I can think of a lot of reasons, and even some really good reasons why it should be, but I also think there should be exceptions, allowances, variations, accommodations, accessions, codicils, deviations, aberrations, and maybe even some digressions allowed.

Most of my thinking about graffiti as art is shaped by the fact that quite a bit of it is art, even if only in the sense that images and/or words painted on a flat surface is a form of art, but I’m also influenced by a short documentary I saw as a kid about graffiti artists in New York. And these truly were artists. There have been a few graffiti artists who’ve become internationally famous—Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat are, I think, the two most prominent examples—but the artists featured in the documentary were still, mostly, working on the streets. And yet the exposure they were getting and their dedication was enough that they were given studio spaces and materials where they could work legally. They were in a catch-22, though: they had to be known on the streets, they had to break the law and risk being arrested, to become well-known enough to be treated as bona fide artists.

And to make it even more complicated there’s another layer: I think some artists want to break the law, they want to be troublemakers and not do what’s expected.

I have trouble fitting those artists into my larger framework because even though I think they deserve to be included in the exceptions at the same time if an exception is made for them then that undermines their outlaw status, doesn’t it?

There are no easy answers here so I’ll just say that it’s really interesting to me that this particular artist has been putting up these metal images of Steve Martin for years now–the bandana is a new variation.

Previously:

And it’s even more interesting that this particular piece is placed just a block away from the historic Exit/In where Steve Martin used to perform before he became famous. He even mentions the place in his autobiography Born Standing Up:

One night at the Exit/In I took the crowd down the street to a McDonald’s and ordered three hundred hamburgers to go, then quickly changed it to one bag of fries.

Is there a law against that?

People In Brick Houses Shouldn’t Throw Bricks.

The Real Story Of The Three Little Pigs

“Listen, I’ve come up with a plan. You know that guy who’s always bugging us? I know I’m tired of him always coming around and I know you two must be too, so I’ve figured out a way to take care of him.”

“You mean we’re gonna get him locked up?”

“No. We need something permanent. You know he’s been locked up before and in three or six months he’s out again, coming around and annoying everybody. The plan I have is to take him out for good.”

“You mean—“

“No!”

“Yes. That’s exactly what I mean. The guy’s a menace, a real menace, and it’s time we stepped up and took some real action to get rid of the son of a bitch.”

“That’s funny.”

“What?”

“Son of a bitch. Because he’s a—“

“All right! Enough kidding around! We need to get serious. Now here’s my plan. Mike, you need to build a house out of straw.”

“Why do I need to build a house out of straw? What’s wrong with the place where we live now?”

“Shut up! This is all part of a bigger plan. We can’t just take him out somewhere and rub him out. That would look bad. There’d be too many questions. It doesn’t matter that no one likes him. People would still be suspicious. And he wouldn’t fall for it. We have to be careful here. All right, Jeff, you need to build a house out of sticks.”

“Why sticks?”

“Because I’ve only got enough straw for one house, okay? And we’ve got sticks all over the place.”

“Why not build two places out of sticks then?”

“Because I’ve already got the straw! And here’s what we do. Mike, you wait in your straw house until he comes around.”

“How do we know he’ll come around?”

“He always does, doesn’t he? And when he comes around you knock the house down.”

“After I’ve gone to all the trouble to build it?”

“Yes! And then you act like he did it. Act all scared and run to Jeff’s stick house.”

“Yeah, I learned how to make a pretty good lean-to out of sticks when I was a kid.”

“I don’t care! Then when he comes around to Jeff’s stick house you knock it down too.”

“Sticks are heavy! What if they fall on us?”

“Use little sticks!”

“It’s not gonna be big enough for both of us if I use little sticks. Are you really sure you’ve thought this through?”

“It doesn’t have to be that big! Look, just hide behind it and kick it down from the outside. This doesn’t have to be that difficult. Now after you kick it down you run here, okay?”

“And we act scared.”

“Now you’re getting it. When you get here come in and lock the door. Then when Wolf comes knocking we’ll tell him the door is stuck or something and the only way in is through the chimney.”

“What about the windows?”

“Shut up! He won’t ask about the windows and if he does we’ll say they’re swelled shut or something. We’ll just keep telling him the only way in is to climb up on the roof and come in through the chimney. Eventually he’ll go up there and come down the chimney. We’ll have a nice big fire going.”

“What? Come on, Kevin, this is pretty serious, even for him. When you said you had a plan we thought maybe you’d make him move away or something. We didn’t think you meant—“

“How else did you think we were gonna get rid of him? Come on, the guy’s a huge hassle and he’s always going to be one. Jeff, remember that time he ‘borrowed’ your lawnmower?”

“Well you told him he could.”

“Shut up! I just told him where it was.”

“You know, I’m getting pretty tired of you telling us to—“

And Mike, remember the time you found him sleeping in your bed?”

“Well you let him in the house and then you went off and left him there alone.”

“Yeah, I had to go to court, remember? For that traffic thing where they said I was responsible but we all know the light was yellow when I went through the intersection. I was trying to be nice and just told him to make himself comfortable. I didn’t tell him he could sleep in your bed. He did that all on his own. The guy’s a menace. He bothers everybody, and he’s nothing but trouble. Don’t you agree we did something? Come on, guys, we’ve got a huge problem and we need to fix it once and for all.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

“Me too.”

EPILOGUE

“Hey, guys, thanks for having me over. Kinda warm for a fire, though, ain’t it?”

“We just thought it would be fun to fire up the grill.”

“Sure, sure, always a good way to make something tasty.” Wolf sniffed the air. “It’s really nice of you to invite me over for lunch. Speaking of that something smells pretty good there. What is it we’re having?”

Jeff and Mike exchanged looks.

“Ham.”

Coming To America.

Modern standup comedy originated in the United States but does that automatically mean that the U.S. produces the best standup? Comedy is such a subjective thing I’m not even sure that can be gauged. That’s what I thought about when I heard a This American Life story about French comedian Gad Elmaleh, whose birthday is today.

Elmaleh is incredibly famous in France. He plays to huge screaming crowds and has enjoyed great success and he’s left it all behind to come to America and do standup comedy in English. Why? This is how he explains it:

Because if you’re a great soccer player in America, you want to be with the Real de Madrid. You want to be with Barcelona. You want to be with Bayern de Munich. You want to be with Arsenal.

And it makes sense. My first thought on hearing that was that he was looking for an audience that understands and respects what he does. Standup comedy is still very new in France–what Elmaleh does is considered groundbreaking there. And then I realized there was something much subtler in his explanation. He’s got fame and respect in France. Doing standup in America isn’t necessarily going to earn him bigger audiences but, like an American soccer player joining Arsenal, he’s facing more competition, higher standards, and harsher critics. He had to get rid of most of his act because it just doesn’t work for American audiences. He’s not just learning how to work in a different language. He’s having to learn to do standup comedy all over again.

He hasn’t come to the United States in search of an audience. He’s come in search of a challenge. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that desire for a challenge is very common among standup comedians–that might be true of standup comedians no matter where they’re from. It just might be the one thing about comedy that’s universal.

Rights And Responsibilities.

Technically I’ve never been kicked off the bus. Like any rider I’m responsible for sticking to various rules: I’m not allowed to smoke on the bus (even if I smoked),

or play loud music (I prefer using earbuds to listen to podcasts),

or eat or drink,

although there seems to be quite a bit of flexibility on this last one, judging by the number of empty bottles, snack wrappers, packages, and other detritus I find on the bus. Once I sat down in the back and found a little pile of chicken bones resting on the windowsill, but that’s another story.

I say I’ve technically never been kicked off the bus because I was once ordered off the bus by a driver, but so were all the other riders. And this was not one of the usual situations. There was no emergency or anything wrong with the bus. Sometimes I have had to leave a bus because it broke down and we were all allowed to get on the next bus to come along and continue on our journey.

No, on this particular occasion the reason we were all thrown off the bus is because the driver would go about two blocks then pull over in the middle of the block and get out his cell phone. Bus drivers are supposed to keep their cell phones in a metal box at the front of the bus that blocks cell signals, but he was ignoring that rule. He also glanced at his cell phone while driving, ignoring the road ahead.

Someone finally complained about him pulling over. Instead of doing what he was supposed to he made us all get off the bus, which we did. The next bus wasn’t far behind, and in fact once we’d all flagged it down and boarded it went past him. I don’t know how long he stayed there playing with his cell phone.

In retrospect I wish we’d all gotten out our cell phones–which riders are allowed to use–and reported him. Just because he had a uniform and the keys to the bus, just because he was in a position of authority, doesn’t mean we had to do whatever he said. We had a right to expect a driver who would carry us safely, who would obey the rules. And since he wouldn’t do that we should have done what we could to hold him responsible.

 

Self-Made Stand-Up.

Source: WorldCat

A few years ago Charlie Murphy did a gig at Zanies Comedy Club in Nashville and I wanted to go. I don’t remember why I didn’t—it might have been that I was out of town, or it might have been that I only read about it after he’d come and gone. That still happens to me. I’ll pick up last week’s copy of The Nashville Scene and read about some event and think, hey, I’d like to go to that, oh, wait, it was yesterday, but that’s another story.

This was a few years after Chappelle’s Show and especially the Rick James episode made Charlie Murphy famous, and I wanted to see him do standup because as funny as I thought he was on the show I wanted to get past that. I wanted to know what else Charlie Murphy could do.

What else he could do included writing a memoir, The Making Of A Stand-Up Guy, that opens with this haunting statement:

Anyone who has given up will

never know just how close they

came to winning the game

And then in his introduction he talks about the challenges that came with his own fame, and says,

In order to steer clear of trouble in these new situations, I had to learn to ask myself, What would Rick James do? Then, if I knew what was good for me, I would just do the opposite.

Having a famous brother he must have also gotten some sense of both the benefits and pitfalls of fame, but he was determined to make his own way. And that’s what strikes me about Charlie Murphy: having a famous brother might have been a gateway to comedy, but he didn’t start doing stand-up until he was forty-two, and he was determined to make his own way. He was determined to find his own voice. In 2011, five years after the end of Chappelle’s Show and still working hard as a stand-up comic, Murphy did an interview for The Breakfast Club podcast. He talked about being booed recently at a small venue and said,

Every comedian does get booed and whenever it happens, you know, it’s your fault. Okay, you can never blame it on the audience. It’s your fault because as a comedian you’re supposed to be able to read what the situation is. And sometimes when you get booed even though it’s your fault that’s as far as it goes because you didn’t read it. It doesn’t mean that you wasn’t funny, it means that you didn’t read the situation and come with the right medication for the situation.

Unfortunately there was no medication that could beat back the leukemia that claimed his life at the age of fifty-seven, just fifteen years after he started in stand-up comedy, and I think about how I came so close to seeing him live.

Hail and farewell Charlie Murphy.

Art Is Therapy.

A college friend of mine majored in art therapy. Her dream was to be a full-time artist, but, as we all know, that would be an extremely difficult path with almost no chance of success, so she chose art therapy as a viable career option that she hoped would still allow her time to work on her own art. Just once I’d like to hear someone say, “You should take some art or photography classes, just in case that whole corporate accounting thing doesn’t work out,” but that’s another story.

While part of studying art therapy was psychology and even some medical training there were also art classes and critiques of her work. She had a painting of fish in a pond that was really amazing, with the water mostly transparent but just enough of a reflection of trees and sky that you could see it. I’d never before appreciated that while it can be difficult for a painter to capture what we can see it’s even tougher to capture what we can’t see. It’s one thing to capture bright colors and bold textures, but conveying a smooth, transparent surface is a whole other level.

A major art critic came to campus to look at students’ works and before he went in he made a short speech.

“Some mornings I want tomato juice for breakfast,” he said. “Some mornings I want orange juice. If you give me tomato juice on a morning when I want orange juice I won’t like it. It doesn’t matter if it’s good tomato juice. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best tomato juice in the world. I still won’t like it because what I want is orange juice.”

This was a very revealing statement to me. Of course art criticism is personal. It doesn’t matter how much you know about art. A critic who admits that their views are subjective, who is aware of their biases, is, in my admittedly biased opinion, the best kind of critic.

He looked at my friend’s painting and said, “Some people here are giving me tomato juice and some people are giving me orange juice. This is pineapple juice. It never matters how good it is. I hate pineapple juice.”

A critic who admits that their views are subjective and doesn’t care is, in my completely objective opinion, the worst kind of critic.

And even though it wasn’t directed at me I felt angry about what he’d said. I took it personally.

Because I liked the painting his comments were an indirect swipe at my judgment.

Several of us got together later to console my friend, but she didn’t need consoling. She was channeling her frustration into a whole new work, a weird sculpture built out of yarn and strips of copper. She called it Superman On LSD In The Middle of Mardi Gras.

If there hadn’t been a personal connection, if I hadn’t known her or how she was feeling when she made it, I might have seen it as tomato juice—and I hate tomato juice. Instead I looked at it fully aware that I couldn’t be objective but that was okay. I liked it. It made me happy, and that was therapeutic.

How ya like them pineapples?

The Emperor Of Ice Cream.

Spring is officially here. Summer may even be officially here, a lot earlier than usual, and I’m not just saying that because it’s been warm enough that I can go out in my bare feet. What really sealed the season for me was the first appearance of the ice cream truck in my neighborhood which I normally associate with summer but, hey, if the ice cream truck is going to come around this early then maybe it’s a spring thing too, and maybe that’s better because I’m always willing to spring for some ice cream. Yes I can go to the store and buy ice cream anytime, but there’s something special about getting it from the ice cream truck. I distinctly remember the first time I got ice cream from an ice cream truck, although technically it wasn’t ice cream. The truck came up our street, which was a cul-de-sac that had kids in more than half the houses, which so we were the proverbial fish in a barrel. In fact we were better than the proverbial fish in a barrel because the fish will keep swimming around whereas we were hooked as soon as the truck blaring “Do Your Ears Hang Low” or maybe something by Edvard Grieg came rolling up to us and we ran out into the street and didn’t care that we had bare feet because we all went barefoot so much we had feet like Hobbits, but that’s another story. I was still too young to read and my mother came out with me because I was also too young to have money, and I looked carefully at all the options, and when it was my turn I pointed to a picture of a big-nosed red and blue troll wearing a crown, because if there’s one thing kids love it’s the Troll King from Peer Gynt, and I said, “I want that kind please.” And an older kid sighed and said, “Duh, that’s a snow cone,” because older kids are jerks. So I didn’t actually get ice cream, I got a snow cone, which was the most disappointing experience of my life up to that point. Admittedly I was four so I hadn’t had a lot of disappointments, but if you’ve ever had a snow cone from an ice cream truck you know it’s basically just ice chips and colored water, although it did come in a neat little paper cone that had a picture of the Troll King on it that I enjoyed looking at until it dissolved and I was left with a runny mess of slightly sticky red and blue water.

And then I got older and could go to the ice cream truck by myself and use my own money, which was cool because I’m pretty sure that was the first time I could buy something by myself without my parents standing over me, and I’d always get a strawberry ice cream bar that I’m pretty sure had a picture of Solveig on its wrapper. It was also really interesting to me because I heard that in exotic places like New York you could call and order exotic foods like pizza and somebody would deliver it right to your home. We couldn’t get that, or maybe we just didn’t, but the ice cream truck was the next best thing. In fact it was even better because it was ice cream and you didn’t have to call anyone.

One day when a younger cousin from another state was staying with us the ice cream truck rolled up to the cul-de-sac and we went out to get ice cream. And my cousin said, “This is the same ice cream truck that comes to our house. He drives all around the world every day.”

I sighed and said, “No he doesn’t. There are different ice cream trucks in different places and no one can drive all around the world.” And then I told him there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny and that if his baby teeth didn’t fall out fast enough the Tooth Fairy would come into his room in the middle of the night with a pair of rusty pliers because, duh, older kids are jerks.

I feel really bad about that now and I feel like I’ve gotten some karmic comeuppance because when I heard the ice cream truck a few days ago I went springing after it but could only make it so far because I was in my bare feet and my feet, like the rest of me, have really gone soft. And there are no kids that I know on the street so the ice cream truck doesn’t stick around. So what I’m saying is, can I borrow anyone’s kids? I promise not to destroy their childish innocence even if they believe the same ice cream truck travels the world, but I will tell them the bitter truth if they ask for a snow cone.

 

Coke Heads.

This picture of several Doctor Pepper knockoffs is making the rounds of the web and is unattributed, although this particular version is pulled from BoingBoing.
Notably absent is Mr. Pibb although if you’ve tried the current version, Pibb Xtra, you know that leaving it out is an act of mercy because it is to Mr. Pibb what New Coke was to Coke, but only if New Coke had also been flavored with lemon, durian, and Borax.
New Coke was of course prompted by the devastating Cola Wars of the 1980’s, a conflict which had been brewing since the very early days when both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola contained real cocaine and people were slipping on banana peels everywhere, prompting the very first anti-littering campaign and the slogan “Keep America Beautiful”, followed by the very first anti-loitering campaign and the slogan “Keep America Beautiful–Stay At Home”, but that’s another story.
Too often overlooked are some of the other great soft drink conflicts of the 20th Century, so here they are.
Lest we forget.

Pepsi Challenge 1975-1984

The Great Bare Knuckle Root Beer Brawl Of ’29

The Tang Altercation 1969-1973

The Nehi Conflict 1950-1954

The Great Fresca Fracas 1991

The Ascent Of Mountain Dew 1953

The Moxie Square-Off 1949-1951

Sun Drop v. RC Cola (Supreme Court Case, 1954)

The Shasta-Fanta Scrimmage 1984-1985

The Cheerwine And Big Red Ruckus (limited to Shakey’s Pizza parlors in the Midwest) 1973-1982

The Sarsaparilla Shoot-Out of Aught Seven

The Donnybrook of Shloer 1916-ongoing

Someone Else’s Two Cents.

Back in the old days when I first started riding buses you had to pay with exact change, which I thought was a terrible idea because it’s hard sometimes to have exact change, and also the bus driver really had to pay attention to make sure you were putting in the right amount of change, and bus drivers have enough on their minds with just driving the bus. Although it was kind of fun that time I dumped the exact change, all in pennies, into the fare collector. And there were a few times that someone got on and didn’t have exact change and would plead with other passengers and ask if anyone could break a five and I always felt guilty because if I had any change at all it was only exactly as much as I needed to get wherever I was going which I carefully sorted out before I left, but that’s another story.

Now you don’t have to have exact change. If you pay too much the driver can give you a card with your change on it that you can use for your next ride. You can’t really get any money back, you just get credit that you can only use on the bus. Back in the old days I remember getting gift certificates for bookstores and other places I liked and if I didn’t spend the full amount they’d give me exact change. Now you get a gift card and if you don’t use the exact amount then you end up paying them. Or you throw away the card with some unused money still on it, which is why I seem to find change cards all the time on the bus.

Needless to say I think it’s a terrible idea but I can’t think of what the alternative would be, although I’m more confused about how someone ended up with exactly two cents left on a card when all bus fares end in either five or zero. The fare collector doesn’t even take anything smaller than a nickel anymore. So obviously throwing away that fare card was a great idea.

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