Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

There’s Something About Mercury.

Mercury, Venus, and Mars in Virgo. Picture made with the SkyView app.

I’ve only been able to see Mercury, a smudged disk, a few times. There are trees in my neighborhood and it sticks close to the horizon, and close to the sun, so it’s usually only visible at dawn or sunset. And that’s how the innermost planet earned its name. In mythology Mercury stuck close to, and sometimes tormented Apollo, but he was also elusive and a trickster. According to one legend Mercury, or Hermes as he was known to the Greeks, stole Apollo’s cattle and delivered them as a gift to Zeus, saying it was an offering to “the twelve gods of Olympos.”

“By my count there are only eleven gods of Olympos,” replied Zeus. “Who’s the twelfth?”

“At your service,” said Mercury.

You’ve gotta love a guy like that.

He had a dark side too. Hera was jealous of Zeus’s lover Io and turned her into a cow, which I still think is unfair. She was always going after Zeus’s lovers when the problem was, you know, Zeus. And knowing that turning a young girl into a cow would do udderly nothing to stop Zeus Hera also set the thousand-eyed monster Argus to watch over Io, even though it would have made more sense to, you know, set the thousand-eyed monster to watch over Zeus. That still didn’t stop him; he just sent Hermes to take care of the problem, and Hermes gleefully went along because he liked the chaos and disruption . Hermes played his pan pipes for Argus until the monster fell asleep and closed all thousand of his eyes. Here’s a really cool sculpture of Mercury about to slay Argus by Bertel Thorvaldsen.

Source: Thorvaldsen Museum

I love how he’s got his pipes in one hand and is slowly drawing out the sword with the other, careful not to wake the sleeper. Art and death go hand in hand, literally. It’s why I keep an eye out for Mercury.

 

Worse Things Happen At Sea.

The ferry from Calais to Dover was quiet; the English Channel was mostly smooth and the occasional whitecap seemed to pop up only to salute the few clouds in the powder blue sky. The sun, not quite to the yardarm yet, was bright but not overbearing, giving just the right amount of warmth to make standing on a ship’s deck in early November pleasant. At the time England and France seemed closer than they had since, well, 1066, with construction of the Chunnel going on and international relations mostly friendly
We weren’t too far out and I was watching the coast of France disappear when an older man in a black pea coat and a cap came up and stood next to me. We looked at each other and nodded, and then I made some comment about how quickly you can lose sight of land at sea. Just a few miles out and all trace of land can disappear.
“That’s why the sea keeps its secrets,” he said. “The sea knows that things that happen out of sight of land will never be fully understood.”
I shifted uneasily and looked around to make sure there were witnesses if he decided to jump or throw me overboard, but instead he just looked at me and smiled.
“Lots of mysteries of the sea, you know, like the Mary Celeste. You’re American, but you’ve heard of it, eh?”
Heard of it, and I knew it was some sort of ghost ship, that it had been found drifting, with all passengers mysteriously missing.
“Aye,” he said, “you’ve got the heart of it, but there’s more to it than that. It was an American ship, did you know that?”
I didn’t, nor did I know the rest of what he shared with me: that it had left New York City in November 1872, and in early December was found drifting between the Azores and Portugal. The ship’s cargo and passengers’ personal possessions were all there, but there was no sign of the passengers.
“No one knows what became of them,” he said, “but one thing we can be sure of: they were taken by the sea, and only the sea knows what became of them.” I felt a chill as a breeze blew across us from the west. Then he turned and said, “Ah, the duty free shop’s open.”
It was a rather anticlimactic end to an interesting encounter, but I took a seat on the deck and kept watching the sea.
When I got back to school I went to the library and looked up the Mary Celeste, wondering how much more there was to the story. And the truth is there isn’t much more to the story itself, as least as far as the facts are concerned. There was some water in the hold and that might have caused the captain to think they were sinking. The lifeboat was missing and all the passengers and crew may have intended to temporarily abandon the ship. That was uncommon but not unheard of at the time. Sea travel was dangerous. There was no GPS, not even radio. Ships on the sea were on their own. The captain and crew were experienced, but things happen. The Mary Celeste wasn’t the only case of a deserted ship–there’s even been at least one in modern times, but a perfect storm of events, from the captain who discovered it going to court for a higher salvage fee than what he was offered to a judge who was determined to pin blame on someone, gave it special publicity. It inspired a short story by a then young Arthur Conan Doyle, and it soon became encrusted with rumors, speculations, and wild theories. It’s even been associated with the Bermuda Triangle even though its course was never that far south.
On the ferry I was thinking about the Mary Celeste and other mysteries of the sea when a sudden crack of thunder made me nearly fall over. I stood up and ran to the railing and looked out. The dark clouds of a storm were moving in from the west, darkening the sky. I’m very much a skeptic, and I don’t believe there’s any supernatural explanation for the Mary Celeste or other mysteries of the sea. We may never know exactly what happened, but there’s a logical explanation out there somewhere. Still the sea does guard its secrets, jealously, and I’m just cautious enough that I’ll only talk about the Mary Celeste, or the sea’s other mysteries, when I’m well away from the water.

 

In The Eye.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about eyes in art and only realized afterward that I’d missed an opportunity to talk about my favorite Edgar Allan Poe story, the one that was my first introduction to Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart. My first encounter with it was the animated film narrated by James Mason, which I saw on TV, and it terrified me. I also loved it and went to the library and checked out a book of Poe’s stories the next day, so don’t let anyone tell you TV is a bad influence, kids, especially if they’re the sort of people who think you shouldn’t be reading stories about death and murder and drug use and incest—which is exactly what you’ll find in Poe’s works.

The title of The Tell-Tale Heart is, of course, misleading. Only the nameless narrator hears the heart so it doesn’t really give anything away, but I’m getting ahead of the story. One of Poe’s main sources for The Tell-Tale Heart was Daniel Webster’s prosecution of John Francis Knapp, who was one of the killers of a wealthy man. In a courtroom speech Webster dramatically described the murder:

The face of the innocent sleeper was turned from the murderer, and the beams of the moon, resting on the gray locks of his aged temple, showed him where to strike. The fatal blow is given, and the victim passes, without a struggle or a motion, from the repose of sleep to the repose of death!

Webster then goes on at length about how a guilty conscience can’t stay quiet, inspiring Poe’s denouement, although Knapp was driven by greed while Poe’s narrator is driven by something else. He displaces his own internal torment onto an old man whom he lives with, and, in spite of the story’s emphasis on sound, what first sets off the narrator is what he sees:

I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

And he looks in on the old man sleeping night after night, but each time the eye is closed. It’s only on the eighth night that the old man wakes up and sits up in bed, “listening; –just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.” This is incredibly creepy. Deathwatch beetles, which chew through wood and can damage houses, communicate with a distinct six to eight clicks, and in folklore they’re harbingers of death. Some scholars think what the narrator may be hearing is actually a booklouse which keeps up a longer, steadier beat, but then we’re also talking about a guy who, right from the beginning, tells us, “I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.” Just before the murder he hears the old man’s heart beating, “a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton,” which suggests maybe the old man was more hard-hearted than the narrator’s willing to let on, and he hears the beating get steadily louder. I think Poe makes it pretty clear that the only thing we can be sure of is that we can’t be sure of anything the narrator says. I’m not sure I even trust his confession.

It’s a fun story that starts quietly and builds to a devastatingly loud end, which is why it’s even better read out loud. Once on a Boy Scout camping trip I read it to my fellow Scouts around the campfire, but don’t let anyone tell you I’m a bad influence. Everyone really enjoyed it, even Blake who got so scared he shit himself, and people came over from other campsites to see what all the screaming was about. I really put my heart into it.

Off The Menu.

Welcome To Long Pig Barbecue! We’re that little place off the beaten path, way up here where we look out for each other. That’s why we say the hills have eyes.

We stick to the old ways and treat all our customers like they’re one of us because there’s a little of you in all of us. It’s why we’re known as a place where people keep coming back up.

Come on in, sit down, and let us take care of you. At Long Pig Barbecue our motto is by the people, for the people, of the people.

And when it’s time for you to foot the bill don’t forget to tip your waiter or they might give you the finger.

Appetizers

All Ears

Crisp, crunchy, deep-fried goodness, a big plate of these treats is sure to satisfy the whole table.

Butter Fingers

We’re not stingy with the butter and these are slow-cooked so the meat falls right off the bone.

Entrees

Baby Back Ribs

Fresh and tender, but ask your server about the rack size. You might want to order a double.

All Hands

Popular with the kids! Served fried or grilled, and either way they’re finger-lickin’ good.

Well-armed

Baked to a nice crisp and also served in a special novelty dish to tickle your funny bone.

Tongue-tied

You won’t know what to say when this mouth-watering platter is placed in front of you.

Cold Shoulder

Great during the summer months you won’t be able to turn away from this dish.

Cold Feet

Another summer specialty that’s sure to keep you on your toes.

Bleeding Heart

Served up hot and rare and swimming in its own juices people get choked up over this dish.

Combo Meals (2-4 People)

Double Header

Two heads are better than one, and this big platter is bound to please all palates.

Foot in Mouth

One of our signature dishes for couples, people can’t stop talking about it.

Feast For The Eyes

When we say the eyes have it we mean you’ll love this specialty platter that you have to see to believe.

Arm and a Leg (Market price)

A great combo meal for those dining jointly.

Desserts-Sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Humble Pie

Spotted Dick

 

Where Was Everybody?

Source: filmaffinity.com

A coworker came in the other morning and said, “I can’t believe how fast I got here today. There was absolutely no traffic on the road. I hardly even saw any cars on my way in. Is something going on?”

I’d heard on the news earlier that a car on the interstate had burst into flames. Miraculously no one was hurt but the accident was bad enough that emergency crews had closed all lanes for a while and she had been lucky enough to time her commute just when they’d reopened.

“I’m so glad there’s a logical explanation,” she said. “It was so weird, like something out of The Twilight Zone.”

“It’s funny you should say that,” I said, feeling a fire spark in my brain. “The first episode of The Twilight Zone was called ‘Where Is Everybody?’ and is about an astronaut who returns to Earth and finds the whole place deserted.”

She chuckled and said, “That’s interesting.”

The fire in my head was building.

“It premiered in 1959 and starred Earl Holliman. You might remember Holliman from his role as the ship’s cook in Forbidden Planet.”

She chuckled and said, “Only you would know that,” not realizing this was fanning the flames.

“I’ve always wondered why a ship that’s capable of interstellar travel with a crew that spends most of its time in hibernation needs a cook, but I do love the scenes with Holliman and Robby The Robot.”

“I haven’t seen Forbidden Planet.”

“Oh, you should!” I’m pretty sure my eyes were glowing at this point and I could feel smoke coming out of my ears. “It stars a young Leslie Nielsen. This was years before he did Airplane!

“I love Airplane!

And with that I had to run to the kitchen and run cold water over my head.

Sometimes I just shouldn’t be around people.

A Werewolf Problem In Central Park.

Source: Untapped Cities

While reintroducing wolves in many areas has been controversial the introduction of wolves into New York City wasn’t controversial at all, since it took care of a much more serious problem. The Mayor Ed Koch Wolf Foundation, which has a new monument to the decision to release wolves in New York City parks, explains the history:

In the late 1970s, New York Mayor Edward I. Koch launched an unprecedented campaign against subway graffiti. The city employed new guardians to patrol its vast train yards—wolves. Captured from upstate New York and set loose in various borough depots, the wolves successfully kept taggers at bay until anti-graffiti technology eliminated the need for the animals.

It goes on to explain that the wolves then migrated underground and survive in tunnels, although I think this had absolutely nothing to do with graffiti, which the wolves did nothing to prevent, and it was really an excuse to distract people from the problem of alligators in the sewers.

Why wolves? For that matter, where wolves? “There! There wolf! There castle!” as Marty Feldman said, but that’s another story.

Lycanthropy has long been a subject of fascination. There’s also ursanthropy–transformation into a bear–which isn’t as well known, although the term “berserk” can trace its etymology back to an Icelandic term for warriors who wore bearskins in the belief they would impart the bear’s power. And that’s really useful if you want to go into battle and eat a ton of salmon and blueberries. Maybe that’s why werewolves are more famous: bears hibernate through the winter, but wolves are on the prowl all year long, and lycanthropes can be out even when there’s not a full moon.

Now I’m not saying there are werewolves among New York City’s wolves. I’m also not not saying there are werewolves among New York City’s wolves. New York City is a big place that’s seen a lot of history, and if you can’t find werewolves there you can’t find ’em anywhere. And if wolves, or werewolves, can make it in New York City they can make it anywhere.

Honestly I’m surprised New York’s werewolf population, or just its wolf population, hasn’t become a bigger tourist attraction. As the monument reminds us tourists have a real way of attracting wolves.

Anyway there’s something to look out for if you’re ever in New York. Just don’t go looking after dark.

 

 

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