Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Punctuate The Positive.

Review Of Punctuation Marks

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Period -This simple dot was the first punctuation mark invented. It was created accidentally by medieval monks who tapped their pens on the parchment when afflicted with writer’s block, then eventually gave up. In British grammar this punctuation mark is known as the “full stop” because the British still communicate by telegram.

,

Comma-A dot with a tail dangling below the line of text the comma is used to divide sentence clauses, items in lists, and occasionally exhausted boxers.

:

Colon-Two vertical dots. The colon is the punctuation mark commonly used to both divide and indicate connections between two items or clauses, as in the case of analogies, and is also the punctuation mark most likely to invade an undeveloped territory and claim its resources.

;

Semicolon-A dot placed vertically over a comma. The semicolon is frequently used to divide sentences of clauses of the same or similar value. Although serving a slightly lesser function than the colon the semicolon prefers fair trade practices, and both punctuation marks should be checked regularly in texts aged fifty years and older.

?

Question mark-A curved line with a straight section pointing downward over a period the question mark indicates an interrogative even in the absence of words such as “Why?” or “Where?” An upside down and backward-facing question mark is placed at the beginning of interrogatives in Spanish because it’s a polite language that doesn’t want to spring a question on you when you’re not expecting it.

!

Exclamation point-This straight line over a period is used to indicate excitement, surprise, or emphasis. In British grammar this punctuation mark is known as “the boingy dance stick”.

or

Quotation marks-Essentially commas, but placed at the top of the text line, quotation marks may be either straight or inverted to indicate speech or conversation within a text. In British grammar only one quotation mark is used at the beginning and end of a statement, but in American grammar two quotation marks placed together are used, because Americans are twice as loud.

( )

Parentheses-Curved lines used to close off a section of text. The beginning of the parenthetical is indicated by a line curving outward to the left while the closure is indicated by a line curving outward to the right. Text within parentheses should be treated carefully and may be poisonous.

[ ]

Square brackets-parenthesis made of straight lines, also known as hard brackets or crotchets, square brackets are used in mathematical equations and parentheticals inserted by a computer.

{ }

Curly brackets-also known as moustache brackets these are for parentheticals written in cursive.

#

Pound sign-While traceable back to Roman times for a measure of weight this became a popular symbol for the British pound in the 19th century, although some computer keyboards recognized Shift-3 as £. Now popularly known as a “hashtag” it’s served with eggs and bacon.

&

Ampersand-This punctuation mark is used as a substitute by people who are too lazy to write out the word “and” but still have the energy to say “ampersand”.

*

Asterisk-This star-shaped punctuation mark is commonly used to draw attention to a footnote.

Dagger-This punctuation mark is for secondary footnotes and used to stab people who don’t read the first footnote.

Ü

Umlaut-Two dots placed vertically over a letter, the letter U in this example. The umlaut is the only punctuation mark that does not have a grammatical or phonic use; its sole function is to indicate Scandinavian death metal.

 

 

Getting Elevated.

Even though I ride in elevators almost every day I still like them. The elevator is a wonderful piece of technology. For those in Britain it’s called a “lift”, which seems weird to me. If you’re in an elevator going down in Britain is it called a “lower”? And it would have been weird if Roald Dahl had written a book called Charlie And The Great Glass Lift—it would have sounded like a heist committed by glaziers, but that’s another story.

It does bother me that most of the elevators I ride in now are the ones with four solid metal walls. I like elevators with a window that looks out onto the world. That’s probably because when I was a kid my father would sometimes take the family out to dinner with business clients and then we’d go to the Sheraton hotel, back then called the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, in downtown Nashville. It had a revolving restaurant—which is still there, and looks like a flying saucer landed on top of the building, although the restaurant doesn’t revolve anymore. Watching the skyline change was interesting but what I really liked was the Sheraton was one of those hotels that had elevators with curved windows that faced the interior of the building, and I’d stand there and watch in amazement as we zoomed up from the lobby to the top floor.

Recently the maintenance guys in the building where I work have shut down one of the elevators for, I hope, some good reason, so the two that remain in operation get pretty crowded. I find myself talking to a lot more people now, and I recently discovered that the ride from my floor to the lobby is just long enough to tell Steven Wright’s elevator joke:

I got into an elevator at work and this man followed in after me… I pushed “1” and he just stood there… I said, “Hi, where you going?” He said, “Phoenix.” So I pushed Phoenix. A few seconds later the doors opened, two tumbleweeds blew in.

And it even leaves a little extra time for people to laugh uncomfortably and move away from me.

Then the other morning a woman got into the elevator with me and as she did her phone suddenly said, “Turn left. Your destination will be on your left.”

We laughed and I said, “I hope you put in the right directions and this is where you’re going.” It didn’t occur to me to ask if by any chance she might be on her way to Phoenix.

 

Hooked On A Feeling.

Not everybody likes art. Let me back up and rephrase that: not everyone’s interested in art. And that’s okay. Nobody’s interested in everything. I find all kinds of things fascinating—sometimes things I didn’t even think about will interest me, and I’ve gotten drawn into long conversations with people about their hobbies, but even I have things that just can’t hold my attention, as my college economics professor learned, but that’s another story. So not everybody’s interested in art but I think almost all people appreciate having it around. Imagine if hotel rooms, lobbies, or other spaces were just blank. It’d be pretty dull. It might even be unnerving. You might not realize what it is that’s missing, just that there’s something that’s not quite right. Or maybe hotels just hang up pictures to distract you from the bedbugs.

Anyway this is what got me thinking about that:

It also got me thinking about when I was younger and had this idea that the way to define “good” art was that it inspired some kind of emotional reaction, and let me add that this was years, maybe even a decade, before I first read Aristotle, although he limited the emotions he thought art should inspire to pity and terror, and I eventually realized that, hey, pretty much all art inspires some kind of emotion. Even if you stand in front of it and say, “Well that sucks” that’s still an emotional reaction, one that might even be strong enough to distract you from the bedbugs.

Here’s a wider view of that graffiti:

I like the words–I especially like the way the artist has used cursive and the way the artist has made a U that kind of looks like a Y, and the possibility that the artist is asking, “Why feel it?” But it’s that figure on the left that makes it something even more. Here’s a closer look:

That the figure is headless suggests mindlessness, disappearance, invisibility–but it also invites us to put ourselves in the position of the art. Instead of looking at me, it might say, put yourself in my place. What do you see? What do you feel?

It’s Hard Out There.

It started a few years ago when breweries in the United States began to offer “hard cider” or, as it’s known in the rest of the world, “cider”. It caught on. People liked having an alcoholic fruit beverage made with a fruit other than grapes, and the convenience of having alcohol in their apple juice without having to go to prison or add their own alcohol since the combination of apple juice and vodka has the taste, smell, and many other attributes of butane. Soon pear cider followed, and although cider from other pomaceous fruits hasn’t caught on yet someone out there is cultivating medlars right now.

What did follow was “hard” versions of other beverages. “Hard lemonade” was soon offered, and then “hard orange soda”, quickly followed by “hard grape soda”, which caused red wine producers around the world to say, “Why didn’t we think of that?” until they tried it and realized they hadn’t tried it because it was terrible. There was “hard ginger ale”, and “hard iced tea” for people who wanted all the Southern charm of a mint julep without the mint or the julep or anything else except the alcohol. There was “hard cream soda” and “hard fruit punch” for people who wanted to combine all the joys of childhood nostalgia with a DUI. At some point someone started making “hard root beer”, or, as it’s known in the rest of the world, “what is wrong with you?”

Source: gifimage

Maybe it started earlier than that. The flavors of amaretto and Irish cream had been added to coffee for decades by people who wanted to combine the taste of liqueurs with being able to stay jittery all night. In the early ‘90’s a brewery west of the Rockies started making a beverage called “Zima”. It was very popular with a previously untapped demographic, guys who wore turtlenecks all the time, even though it was really just a combination of Sprite and vodka and had all the taste, smell, and many other attributes of sparkling butane. In chain restaurants glazes and barbecue sauces infused with bourbon and other whiskies became a staple and were slathered on steak, chicken, fish, and pork, which meant some nine-year olds who ordered the all-you-can-eat rib platter were able to combine all the joys of childhood with a DUI without the nostalgia.

As history has shown there is no idea so terrible that it can’t be made worse by marketing. Not content with “hard” sodas, teas, juices, sparkling waters, and milk, as well as milk substitutes made from soy, almonds, oats, rice, and eggplant, the industry started offering “hard” versions of other items. Salad dressings, pretzels, breads, peanut butter, mashed potatoes, garden gnomes, and pies had new labels indicating proof. “Hard cheese” took on a whole new meaning. Candy bars couldn’t be purchased without ID. Editorials suggested the Eighteenth Amendment hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.

Still the trend continued. It wasn’t until one morning in the shower when we opened a bottle of shampoo and were hit by the fragrance of aquavit that we looked at our shelves and admitted we had a problem.

 

Back Of The Bus.

I was stopped behind a school bus. It’s amazing how quickly the summer has flown by. School is already starting again which means the buses are rolling and kids are out walking. While I was behind the school bus one of the kids in the back looked out the window at me and for a moment I thought he was Chucky, who always sat in the back. Chucky was a short, scrawny blonde kid, a sixth-grader which meant he was a couple of years older than me. In spite of his stature Chucky was the biggest kid on the bus. He sat alone in the back seat, or rather stretched out across it, and kept up a running commentary through the whole ride. No matter where you sat on the bus you could hear Chucky. There were the anecdotes, like the time he referred to a teacher by her first name, “Irma”, and when another teacher said, “Oh, you’re on a first-name basis now?” he replied, “No, we’re really on a first-syllable basis. I call her Ir.” There were the stupid jokes: “You know what I’d do with a million dollars? I’d buy a new butt. Mine has a crack in it.” And there was the occasional question like, “Hey, when’re we gonna stop for ice cream?” and that got us all chanting “ICE CREAM ICE CREAM ICE CREAM” until the driver stopped and yelled at us to be quiet. Chucky complained about being grounded for a bad grade, about the math teacher with the hairy lip, about the kid who threw up in the middle of the hallway, and how many people walked through it without noticing. When we had a substitute bus driver who got lost Chucky said, “She got her license out of a Cracker Jack box.” When that same substitute bus driver got stuck on a hill because she couldn’t figure out the gears and put the parking brake on, then took it off so the bus started slowly rolling backwards, Chucky said, “We’ve secretly replaced your regular bus driver with Folger’s crystals.” Chucky was old enough and smart enough that he probably could have helped her out, but that would have meant leaving his seat in the back.
Not everyone was a fan of Chucky, though. Once, early in the school year, another sixth-grader named Jim decided he wanted to sit in the back seat. I’m not sure what made him want to challenge Chucky’s claim to the throne, or at least the closest thing the bus had to one. Jim was a nice guy but quiet, and if he’d taken up the backseat it would have changed the whole tone of the ride home. He’d gotten to the bus first but Chucky wasn’t giving up his seat without a fight, which would have been terrible in the tight quarters of the back of the bus if their fight hadn’t been so ridiculous. With their eyes closed they threw light punches at each others’ stomachs, grunting, until the bus driver came and broke it up. Chucky was restored to his place at the back and Jim was forced to sit at the front. In spite of keeping his position Chucky was strangely subdued that afternoon. There were no jokes, no comments about that weird looking little house we always passed, no requests to stop and get a Coke.
The next day the old Chucky was back as though nothing had happened–and, really, nothing had happened. Childhood events that seem enormous in the moment have a way of dissipating just as quickly, and the bus that I was behind rolled on, carrying that kid who’d glanced back at me away.

Here’s Looking At You.

Source: The Verge

Art isn’t necessarily something you hang on your wall. Or something you see in a gallery or a sculpture garden, or performed on a stage or projected on a screen and, yeah, one of my pet obsessions is trying to figure out a comprehensive definition of art. The best I’ve come up with so far is “anything people make or do” but that includes a lot of things that even I wouldn’t consider art, and, as you can tell, my own definition of art is pretty broad. I felt like I should include “do” not only because art includes live theater but also performance pieces like, say, Joseph Beuys’s “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare”, in which the artist carried a dead hare around a gallery and talked to it.

Of course Beuys was a known artist and announced what he was doing and did his performance in an art gallery, but I think the definition of “art” could be stretched even further to things like flash mobs, which easily fall under the much broader art concept of “happenings” first coined by the artist Allan Kaprow—four years after Beuys carried a hare around a gallery. An event doesn’t have to be announced to be a work of art, although that makes it harder to define “art”.

Anyway this has all been running through my head, and boy are its feet tired, ever since I read about a guy with a TV on his head leaving old TVs on peoples’ porches in Virginia. He must have known he’d be caught on video doing it, which may be part of the point he was trying to make, if he was trying to make a point. Maybe it was a statement about obsolescence, disposability, and surveillance. Who watches the watchers, and when we look into our TVs do our TVs look back into us? It wasn’t that long ago that our devices didn’t record what we watched, unless you were a Nielsen family, and even then, especially in the early days, those who collected the ratings had to rely on the honesty of the participants. Now practically every device we own collects data on our habits and we’re not always aware that our data are being collected or by whom or for what purpose.

Of course the guy responsible may not have thought of putting TVs on porches as a work of art. It may have just been an elaborate prank without any intended deeper meanings, but does that make a difference? And, hey, who are we to split hares?

When Life Gives You Lemonade.

Although summer’s heat isn’t diminished in the dog days the season is definitely winding down. The mornings are darker, and the sunsets sooner, which reminds me of when I was a kid. My room was at the back of the house and our house sat on the edge of a hill so that looking out was like looking down into a bowl. And some evenings or late afternoons throughout the year I’d watch the sunset, and watch how the sun moved to the south—meaning it didn’t really always set in the west, and I realized adults lied to me, but that’s another story.

Something else that took me back to childhood is the other day my wife and I were on our way home and passed a couple of kids with a lemonade stand in their front yard. We didn’t stop—I don’t think either of us had change and I’m not sure the kids could take a credit card unless we bought a lot of lemonade—but there were some people there so I hoped the young entrepreneurs were doing well. At the very least they were smart enough to stake out a corner lot, although they were probably lucky that it was just where they happen to live. It would be really embarrassing for a new startup to be shut down early by a guy yelling at the owners to get out of his yard, which I understand has happened to a lot of juice companies. In fact when I was four some older kids on the next street set up a stand selling Kool-Aid for a dollar a cup, which meant they only had to sell one to repay all their investors, but the operation was shut down because of lousy marketing. If they’d promoted it as an artisanal flavored water made in small batches by a fair-trade company, well, they still would have failed because this was the seventies, but at least they could have said they were decades ahead of their time.

What I also remembered was a few years later when my friend Troy and I decided to set up a lemonade stand in my front yard. I’m not sure why we thought this was a good idea, and the only reason we even got the idea was probably because the front yard lemonade stand is a classic piece of Americana even though lemons are native to southeast Asia and lemonade originated in India—although that could just as easily be part of its Americanness, a country that’s one big melting pitcher.

It was probably boredom more than anything else that inspired Troy and me. We weren’t all that interested in sales or even crafting our product, which I’m pretty sure was made from a powdered mix that had never been near a lemon. I’m not even sure we got the right mix, just that we got some powder that smelled lemony and mixed it with water, and it’s probably just as well we didn’t sell any because we didn’t have the insurance to cover the possibility of someone drinking laundry detergent. Our stand consisted of a dilapidated card table that I’m surprised could hold up the plastic cups, let alone the pitcher of lemonade, and a few years later it did collapse under the weight of a game of gin rummy.

We stood next to our stand in the front yard for hours, or maybe half hours, or maybe half an hour, before realizing that running a lemonade stand was even more boring than just sitting around being bored so we used the lemonade to water the maple tree in the front yard, and it only occurs to me now, writing this, that putting our stand in my yard was a lousy idea because I lived on a cul-de-sac and Troy lived on a corner.

At this point I feel there should be some wrap-up, some lesson learned, or mission accomplished, or deed done—something other than poisoning a maple tree which was hardy enough that it not only survived but turned the laundry detergent into a pest repellent. There’s really nothing to be said about our ersatz Norman Rockwell moment, though;  it was just something that we came up with on our own and did to spend a little time before we moved onto something else, which is what summer is for.

 

Park It.

Source: Google Maps

Nashville’s Hillsboro Village is, depending on how you count it, a one or two block stretch of densely crowded shops, including, among other things, the historic Villager Tavern, which is now a friendly and welcoming place but for decades was perhaps the deepest dive bar in the southeast. It was a place where dark creatures in flannel and leather leaned over glasses smelling of turpentine, muttering secrets in prehistoric tongues, recoiling in horror from the light when one among them would strike a sulfur match and set fire to a thick, tarry cheroot and exhale clouds of smoke indistinguishable from the haze of disintegrated dreams that filled the tavern’s dry, fetid air. So anyway now it’s pretty much a family place—if your family is over twenty-one, and if not there are plenty of other options, including Fido’s, the coffee shop that makes a pretty good red velvet cake, or the Pancake Pantry, where people literally line up down the street waiting to get in.

Anyway I had an appointment at noon on the other side of Hillsboro Village. And that seemed easy enough. I knew to catch the #7, a route I’ve ridden all the way to its terminus and back, that would come by around 11:30, although in retrospect that was cutting it a bit close, and if there’s one thing I hate it’s even the possibility of being late. It’s just one of my quirks. I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “fashionably late”. Invite me to a party and you’ll probably see me drive by your house five or six times because I’ve gotten there unfashionably early and I don’t want to come in before you’ve even had a chance to get out of bed, but that’s another story.

The bus was a few minutes late and I was already sweating bullets, and not just because it’s August and around these parts the air has somehow figured out how to have 300% humidity. I was terrified of being late, but we were speeding along our merry way. Then we hit Hillsboro Village.

Back when it was a quiet little neighborhood there was nothing wrong with parking on the street. Now, though—and you can even see this in the satellite image—cars are allowed to park along a two-block stretch of 21st Avenue that passes through, and they’re not allowed to park on the street on any approaching block, which creates a funnel of crawling traffic. And buses, by their nature, have to stick to the right-hand lane, so the driver, approaching this passage, had to wait for a lull in the traffic to pull in, further slowing our progress.

One of many things that’s predicted in the future of self-driving cars is that parking will no longer be a problem. Some claim that your self-driving car will simply drop you off and circle around the block as you do your business then pick you up when you’re ready to go. The potential fuel costs and increased carbon footprint of this notwithstanding I’d hate to run down my self-driving car because it didn’t recognize me.

Anyway all this just illustrates an annoying problem of city planning, especially as cities, and the neighborhoods within them, change and grow. Parking is always an afterthought.

I was three minutes late for my appointment, by the way.

 

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