Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

In The Madding Crowd.

Sometimes when I pass by the various apartment buildings that have started to dominate Nashville now that so many people are moving in I wonder what it would be like to live in one, especially if it’s one along a bus route because, hey, as long as I’m imagining I can also imagine I’m pragmatic and somewhat civic-minded. It’s not that I want to move, although my wife has said that if we win the lottery we’re moving out of Nashville and away from the crowds. If that happens I hope to travel frequently so I won’t care where we call home, except on its birthday when I’ll call it “Jimmykins”, but that’s another story.

There’s one I pass by regularly that has patios built facing the sidewalk which I think is a really cool thing. I like the idea of being so close to passers-by, of having interactions with them, or at least being part of the comings-and-goings. So far I haven’t had interactions with any of the people who live in these places although a large chocolate Labrador retriever has popped his head up over the edge to watch me. I’ve said “Hi!” to him and, true to his breed, he’s wagged his tail and is probably wondering why I don’t stop and give him something to retrieve, but I’m not usually carrying a Labrador.

Recently I noticed that one of these places was empty so I stopped for a better look, and somehow I never realized before just how tiny the patios are. They’re designed so anyone who sits on one would have to sit sideways. They’re not welcoming, they don’t really create a sense of community. And that’s the down side of the population boom. There’s been so much attention given to building for numbers that people are being forgotten. It’s all pragmatics and I couldn’t imagine living there.

 

Accidents Happen.

I have mixed feelings about the concept of “found art”, which probably undermines my ability to be a critic since criticism should, by its very nature, stake out a strong position. At least that’s what I think although I have mixed feelings about that too, though, since art appreciation is subjective. Basically the only thing I feel really strongly about is ambiguity, but only if that’s okay with you.

Maybe I should start over.

I once talked to an artist whose works were pieces of tree trunks placed on concrete pedestals outside. He described it as a unification of the natural and artificial, and added that he always placed them outside to allow people to consider the contrast between what had been grown and what had been made in a natural space. Like a lot of conceptual art what it lacked in aesthetics it tried to make up for with philosophy.

I got what he was going for but I still couldn’t get past the fact that they were blocks of wood on concrete and I really just didn’t like them. It’s fine for a work of art to be philosophically challenging but if the audience doesn’t like it they’re probably not going to bother to try and understand the ideas it’s trying to express.

“Found art” is also almost always ephemeral. Take, for instance, Damien Hirst’s 2001 installation at London’s Eyestorm gallery that consisted of wadded papers, half-full ashtrays, half-full coffee cups, and empty beer bottles. It wasn’t meant to be a lasting work of art and fittingly the gallery’s janitor swept it up and threw it away, although I guess it’s not that ephemeral if people are still talking about it, even if the person talking about it is just me. Although that’s not the only time a janitor has “cleaned up” a work of “art”. Not by a long shot. It happens all the time.

Anyway I don’t really like “found art”, especially when it’s not even a case where someone was really trying to create art. The plastic sheet holder stuck to a lamppost that developed unusual colors or the sticker that somebody dropped in a parking lot weren’t meant to be art but I feel like they became art. Sometimes accidents change the world in ways that make it a little more interesting, a little more philosophically challenging, and I like it.

Gumming Up The Works.

So I was in the elevator pretending I was alone when the guy next to me offered me a rectangle of gum. Technically he offered me a “stick of gum”, but I think the flat rectangle that gum usually comes in stretches the definition of “stick”. I took it even though I don’t like gum because I felt guilty about having spent several seconds of the elevator ride pretending he didn’t exist. And I was pleasantly surprised to see it was an old-fashioned brand of gum, one of the ones I remember from childhood, and not one of the more recent, modern brands of gum that come in black packages and have commercials that associate gum-chewing with free-falling in interiors designed by H.R. Giger and other surreally dangerous activities. It’s strange to me to see so much gum and even candy advertising aimed at adults, treating it as something risky when everybody knows the most dangerous thing you can do with gum is fall asleep with it in your mouth causing it to become animate and crawl into your hair, second only to swallowing it because it will stay in your stomach for seven years unless removed by Donald Pleasance and Raquel Welch.

Anyway I swallowed the gum after it had lost its flavor which, with any gum, takes about thirty seconds. That’s also what I always did as a kid because I never had the foresight to save the wrapper so I could dispose of it cleanly. And it brought back a lot of memories. I’ve never liked gum but when I was a kid I always took it anyway whenever it was offered, mostly because I was polite and didn’t think I should say no to grownups, and even though I’d been warned never to take candy from strangers I wasn’t being offered candy. I was being offered gum which technically isn’t even really food. At best it’s an artist’s medium like paint or clay or dirty laundry—in other words things that you should never put in your mouth. That’s how I treated gum when I was a kid, anyway. When I didn’t swallow it, mainly because I found someone else’s gum on the ground of course I picked it up because it could be molded, stretched, and shaped. There’s a now infamous bit of family lore about the time I stretched strands and strands of gum across the back of my mother’s car because I imagined I was building spider webs and she was too busy driving to notice what I was doing.

Maybe I only remember that because the story’s been repeated so many times but I also remember that whole day building gum webs on trees and bushes and under the neighbor’s deck and in an art gallery where one sold for five figures. How I managed to find so much gum on the ground is still a mystery and maybe it’s all been exaggerated in my memory because when I was a kid time seemed to stretch out so much longer. An hour could last as much as three days. There are probably genuine psychological reasons for this. When we’re young every experience is not only new but we have so little in the way of other experiences we can relate it to so it’s a lot to take in. That flood of information can be overwhelming and make it seem like time is moving more slowly, especially to a developing brain. And I find I miss that feeling. Is there any way of getting it back, and does it require interiors designed by H.R. Giger?

Where’d You Come From?

Most of the time I’m alone at the bus stop, and I’m okay with that. I don’t mind company, and I even tell myself I’d be fine with the company but, well, my brain is a puzzle of contradictions. Let me illustrate that: I know a lot of people aren’t comfortable with small talk, but I kind of enjoy it myself. At least I feel uncomfortable sitting next to complete strangers in complete silence and feel like I should say something. There’s also a guy I see at the bus stop once every three or four months and he’s seen me often enough that the last time we were sharing the bench he apparently felt like he should say something and while I did my best to hold up at least half the conversation I felt like I had a mouthful of alum. So I feel uncomfortable not talking and I feel uncomfortable talking and really what I want to do is bombard people with questions like “Who are you? What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not riding the bus? Can I write down your life story and publish it on my blog?”

Back when I was in college I had a button I always wore that said “What’s this cat’s story?” that I found in a box at a music store and it seemed to help break the ice because anytime someone would ask me about it I’d turn it around and use it as an excuse to ask their story.

Anyway lately there seem to be a lot of people at the bus stop. It’s a wide range of people too: young, old, men, women–suddenly everyone is taking the bus. I’ve gone from being alone to being one of the crowd. At least I no longer feel uncomfortable about making the bus driver stop just to pick me up, but that’s another story. Now I feel uncomfortable because I’m surrounded by all these cats and all I want to know is their stories.

Halfway There.

In my first college philosophy class I learned what I thought was Zeno’s Arrow Paradox. At least this is the way the professor put it: the distance between a fired arrow and its target can be divided in half, and that distance can be divided in half, and so on, and if you can keep dividing the distance by half it becomes infinite so the arrow never reaches the target. I pointed out that this distance that was allegedly infinite could only be divided because it as a whole, empirically measurable distance, which I thought was kinda stupidly obvious and something that, in 2500 hundred years of philosophy must have already been addressed, but the professor ignored me and went on to Plato. This left me confused and deeply resentful of philosophy even though I came out of the class with a B-, even though on my final exam I defined a paradox as a couple of Ph.D.s, but that’s another story.

And now according to Wikipedia the professor had it completely muddled and the arrow paradox really refers to time and what he was describing was Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox which is illustrated with this:

Suppose Homer wishes to walk to the end of a path. Before he can get there, he must get halfway there. Before he can get halfway there, he must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a quarter, he must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on.

However I’ve already addressed that point which, philosophically speaking, is an example of putting Descartes before the horse.

Needless to say if the purpose of art—or even one purpose of art—is to make you think what the tag ZENO lacks in aesthetic appeal it more than makes up for in concept, especially since my thinking also took a flying leap in a completely different direction about the outsider nature of graffiti and how “Zeno” sounds like the prefix xeno- which comes from the Greek for “foreigner” or “stranger”, although anyone who’s seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding knows that Greeks pronounce the word “ekseno”.

And most English speakers seem to know the prefix xeno- from the word xenophobia, which is unfortunate because the Greek ξένος can also be translated “guest”, which I think is a good point to stop because I’m not even halfway to any kind of conclusion here.

The Case Of The Missing Case.

Source: Wikipedia.

Found in the private papers of Dr. John Watson, London (1855-1930), under the heading “Sherlock Holmes & The Unsolvable Case”:

Even a detective with the sagacity of my friend Sherlock Holmes must, on occasion, decline a request, but this particular instance was so extraordinary that I feel compelled to put it to paper. At the time we happened to be at our Baker Street residence, I feeling the need to see my old friend in spite of the complete marital bliss which I’d enjoyed for some time. Holmes was in a restive mood this evening and kept returning to the spirit case and gasogene he kept in the corner but libations, his cigars, cocaine, laudanum, opium, ether, mescaline, isoamyl nitrite, tincture of cannabis, a bottle of pills containing acetylsalicylic acid, as well as a handful of betel nuts that had been the gift of a client who’d returned from the Far East, held little interest for him. Turning from these dalliances he would then march across the room, arms crossed, head on his chest, his usual manner when considering a problem. But at this time, of course, the problem was the absence of a problem, one which even Holmes, with all his perspicacity, could not resolve.
I was on the point of taking my leave when Mrs. Hudson showed in a young urchin bearing a note. Holmes immediately stepped forward and took it, his dark eyes darting over the paper. Then, with no hesitation, even with an apparent lack of awareness of the rest of us in the room, he dashed down the stairs. I gave our young Hermes a penny and offered a few words to placate Mrs. Hudson’s concerns about mud on the rug before I followed.
It was only once we were in a hansom cab racing towards London’s banking district that Holmes spoke.
“The note was from Inspector Lestrade, Watson,” he said in a voice that any other might have taken for calm and measured but which I recognized as positively ebullient. “There has been a robbery of a London bank and he needs my assistance.”
A simple robbery hardly seemed to demand the genius of Sherlock Holmes, but when the Inspector showed us the scene the reason became clear.
“The walls, which are completely undamaged, are over a foot thick, comprised of large stone bricks,” he said. “As you can see the door was bolted from the outside. There is no way in from above or below, and yet the thief was able to make off with a case containing ten thousand pounds’ worth of gold bullion.” Lestrade’s sallow rat face looked very grave in the flickering gaslight. “I don’t like to admit that this case is quite beyond any of us, Holmes,” he said quietly. Then, raising his voice, he added, “Also all twenty guards are still present and their whereabouts completely accounted for. None of them are suspects.”
Holmes cleared his throat. “Yes, Inspector, and I can also tell that you’ve been here yourself at least twenty-four hours.”
“I should think that would be obvious,” Lestrade replied, “since it’s been raining nonstop almost the whole day and my clothes are completely dry.”
Holmes raised his finger and seemed about to speak then abruptly turned to the room. He walked in a full circle, examined the walls closely, and looked at both the ceiling and floor.
“Well, Inspector, this is certainly a most curious case, and I wish you the best of luck with it.”
Lestrade sputtered. “Surely you’ll assist us!” But Holmes only shook his head.
“If only I could, Inspector. However I have promised my services to the Atkinson brothers in Trincomalee, and I must make immediate arrangements to leave. There are, of course, other private inspectors in London who I’m sure could help you with this case. Perhaps my brother Mycroft, or that fellow Entwistle.”
“Holmes,” said Lestrade in an almost inaudible growl. “Isn’t Entwistle that buffoon you said once put his lips to a violin and tried to play it as though it were a trumpet?”
“This is no time to discuss music, Inspector. Come, Watson, I’ll need your assistance in my travel arrangements.” With that he turned and stepped hurriedly from the room, and I followed, throwing a meager apology to the Inspector.
An hour later we were on the other side of London in a pub below street level dining on questionable oysters and a slightly less questionable dark Irish beer. It wasn’t until Holmes had filled his pipe that I spoke.
“Holmes, are you sure you shouldn’t have taken that case?”
He drew deeply and sent an azure cloud into the air above our heads.
“A man must know his limits, Watson. Never exceeding them is a true key to success.”
An epiphany struck me.
“This is rather like that case with the King of Bohemia, eh what?”
“Don’t test my limits, Watson.”

Getting Around.

Whenever I travel I always find how other places emphasize public transportation. Or don’t. In Chicago, for instance, I noticed that buses ran frequently. Every minute on every street there was a bus going by, sometimes more than one. I was standing at the edge of Millennium Park looking one way when I saw an “L” train pass between two buildings.

“I wish I’d gotten a picture of that” I said to a friend who was with me.

“Wait a minute,” he said. I did and in about a minute another one went by.

Sure, Chicago is a much bigger city than Nashville, but it’s still amazing to me that where I live the minimum time between buses on any route is fifteen minutes, and some routes run as little as twice a day.

Chicago’s profusion of transportation can, however, cause some confusion. I was sitting in O’Hare Airport which is larger than Nashville’s airport, and which supposedly has a monorail system. According to Wikipedia it’s 2.7 miles long, which is longer than some Nashville bus routes, and moves along at up to fifty miles an hour. Needless to say this sounds like a fun ride. I’ve also ridden the monorails in Dallas and Atlanta airports and wanted to add O’Hare to my collection. Once I had a long enough layover in Atlanta that I rode the monorail so many times people started asking me for directions, but that’s another story.

I say it supposedly has a monorail because I thought I walked from one end of O’Hare to the other and covered every terminal and never found the monorail entrance. If I were one of those people with a goal of walking ten thousand steps a day I’d be able to take a week off. I did find a very nice older woman at an information desk. She had an airport uniform although with her white hair in a bun and half-moon spectacles on a chain she looked more like the archetypal librarian. When I asked her where the monorail was she asked, “Do you mean the trains to downtown?”

“Er, yeah,” I stuttered. I thought the word monorail was pretty clear, and I had a sudden attack of shyness that prevented me from saying what I meant, which was, “No, I mean the O’Hare monorail which I want to ride back and forth because I’ve got some time to kill and I’m a goofy tourist.”

She took out a map and asked where I was going. At this point I felt I was too deeply committed so I blurted out “the Museum of Science And Industry” which I’ve been to once but that was more than twenty-five years ago and I’m a goofy tourist who digs that sort of thing. She then gave me detailed but simple instructions that even I could have followed. She then pointed to the exit and said, “Just go right through those doors and if there’s not a bus there already one will be along in a minute.” I thanked her and she said, “Oh, thank you. I love giving directions and helping people but so few stop and ask for help anymore. There’s so much to see here and I’m sure people miss most of it.”

I then left and tried to discreetly disappear into the crowd so she wouldn’t notice that, instead of leaving the airport, I was turning toward the terminal where my gate was. And I had to hurry because I’d shrunk to just six inches tall. I’ve saved the map, though. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Chicago but it should still be helpful, and if it isn’t I know where to go for directions.

 

Bright Knight.

 

Source: SpongeBob Wiki

There were nearly twenty of us packed into a a small hotel room, crowded around a television set. All of us held our breath. The drama unfolding on screen had us tightly gripped. There was deathly silence and then Batman said, “Some days you just can’t rid of a bomb!”

The room exploded with laughter and cheers.

This was of course the 1966 movie Batman with Adam West and Burt Ward, even more atrociously over the top than the TV series, although it lacked the BIFF!s and ZOCK!s the TV version splayed across the screen.

When I first started watching the Batman TV series as a kid, catching daily after-school reruns, I took it very seriously–too seriously, really. I had a very stunted sense of irony so I thought Batman and Robin really were climbing up walls, and I wasn’t educated enough for the celebrity cameos to mean anything to me.

As I got older I started to see the Batman TV series as idiotic, a show for toddlers that still insulted the intelligence of its target audience, not realizing that I still had a stunted sense of irony.

And then as I got older and better educated and read things like Susan Sontag’s Notes On Camp, I started to appreciate the 1960’s Batman, and especially how smart, funny, and even underappreciated Adam West really was. He was a leading man whose deadpan delivery could make almost anything funny, and heightened the humor of funny lines. By the time he and Burt Ward lent their voices to an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, playing younger, fitter versions of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (normally voiced by Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway), well, that was a celebrity cameo that I didn’t just appreciate. It had me literally rolling on the floor laughing.

Hail and farewell, Adam West.

 

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