Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Falling With Style.

The swimming pool had two diving boards over the deep end. There was the low diving board that hung about three feet above the water. The only difference between jumping from the low diving board and jumping from the edge of the pool was that the low diving board put you a little farther out over the water. And it was kind of springy so you could bounce at the end of the board and it would propel you upward slightly. I liked to jump from the low board into the deep end and swim all the way to the bottom, twelve feet down, and look up. The watery surface overhead was like a shimmering screen, and the sun was like a sapphire. Then I’d have to come up. Or, on slow days when the pool wasn’t crowded, I could jump off the low board and swim all the way across the pool without surfacing. The first time I did that it was exhilarating. I felt like I’d really accomplished something, and what I accomplished was nearly hyperventilating at the edge of the pool because I was breathing so hard, which reminds me of the time I was at my grandparents’ house and my grandmother picked up the phone. She listened for a moment then said to my grandfather, “All I hear is heavy breathing.” My grandfather grabbed the phone and began sternly lecturing the person at the other end about decorum. Then he got quiet and listened and said to my grandmother, “Jim’s car broke down and he just pushed it two miles uphill to the service station.”

Anyway the high diving board, twelve feet high if I remember correctly although it seemed like it loomed a hundred feet overhead. It might as well have been that high. I wasn’t going up there. Well, I did. After all it was there, a mountain to be climbed, or rather a ladder to be climbed and jumped off of. I told myself that I was interested in swimming, not airing, and that if I really wanted to drop twelve feet I could by going from the surface of the pool to the bottom. It drew me, though. I had mastered everything else at the pool—not that there was much to master. After swimming from one end of the pool to the other without taking a breath about the only other thing that was left was talking the guy who ran the concession stand into letting me have a full cup of orange soda without ice so I got more orange soda and spent about half an hour sitting in a beach chair feeling bloated and miserable, but that’s another story.

The same summer I made the first swim from one end of the pool to the other I made up my mind I was going to jump from the high dive. The worst that could happen, I figured, was that I’d fall in the water.

It was about that time, on a slow, hot afternoon when there was hardly anyone around, when even the lifeguard was barely paying attention, that another kid walked out to the end of the high dive, bounced a couple of times, lost his balance, and fell sideways. He landed flat on his back on the concrete below. I didn’t see it happen. I just saw him stretched out as though sleeping, and the emergency team with the stretcher that took him away. He survived, and word got around that he recovered, but he never came back to the pool.

Later that summer, on a busy day when the pool was crowded, I got in line with all the other swimmers who were going off the high dive. I climbed the ladder, walked onto the board, and gripped the handrails. The handrails ended about halfway. Beyond them was just the board and open air. I stood up there holding the handrails for what seemed like an hour, then climbed back down. No one laughed or made fun of me. The next person in line, an older guy, just nodded at me, climbed the ladder, and did a spectacular dive off the board.

The next summer I watched a couple of my friends go off the high dive. Sometimes we’d do synchronized jumps, me going off the low dive and, of course, hitting the water much sooner, or I’d wait and try to time it so we’d hit the water at the same time. And finally one day I decided I was going to do it. I climbed the ladder. I gripped the handrails as I walked out toward the end of the board, then let go. I didn’t bounce and I walked slowly, and when I got to the end of the board I jumped, feet first. It wasn’t an impressive dive, or even a dive really, but I plunged into the water. That was all I wanted—to make that leap.

Twenty-six years ago, on June 27th, 1993 I married my wife. It wasn’t as frightening, probably because the justice of the peace who performed the ceremony looked so much like John Cleese that my only regret is that when he read the vows I didn’t say, “What was the thing in the middle?” It was really her by my side that assured me, though, and every day I look forward to a new leap.

Wallet? You’ll Love It!

One day I was sitting on the bus, absorbed in a podcast as usual. I barely even noticed that the bus had stopped to let some people off. Then it started rolling again. Then from behind me a guy started yelling, “Hey! Wait! Stop!” I thought maybe he’d fallen asleep and almost missed his stop, or had just been so absorbed in something he was listening to he forgot where he wanted to get off. Then he ran to the front of the bus holding a small purse. The driver let him out and the guy yelled, “Hey ma’am!” He ran to a woman walking up the sidewalk and handed her the purse, then ran back to the bus and got back on.
“She does that all the time,” said the driver. “Most of the time I just keep it up here and give it to her when she gets back on.”
I laughed at how bus drivers get to know certain people, and also wondered how many purses that woman lost and if she’d memorized all her credit card numbers, and wondered if I’d chase someone down the street to return a purse, then went back to listening to my podcast.
I was reminded of that incident when I heard about a scientific study to find out whether people around the world would return a lost wallet if they found one. And the good news is they will. Some researchers were surprised by that, and even more surprising to them was that the larger the amount of money in the wallet–some wallets had no money, some had about $13 in local currency, and others had about $100–the more likely people were to return it with the money in it.
Is that really surprising, though? The fake wallets were made to look like they belonged to tourists, and a lot of us who’ve traveled can relate to the experience of losing something so vital as a wallet and money in a strange place. And a lot of locals want tourists to leave with a good impression of a place. What does it say about us though that anyone finds the results surprising? People have a tendency to live up to expectations. For instance most people expect me to be completely oblivious.

A Matter Of Time.

There are certain areas, not just in Nashville but anywhere there are people, where it just seems that anything that sits still long enough will get graffitied. It’s as though it grows up from the ground, or precipitates out of the air, although I know there’s a person, or persons, behind every work of art. And it takes time to make anything, and usually a lot of time to make something complex and large, which is why this really intrigued me.

Whoever made this must have spent a lot of time on it, and it required a lot of planning—like bringing a ladder, or maybe if it was made by several people someone got up on somebody else’s shoulders, or maybe it was just one really tall person. I even considered the possibility that it was a commissioned mural since it’s in the Nations neighborhood which has a lot of public art, but it’s also one of those areas where anything that’s around long enough gets graffitied. Well, almost everything. I’ve noticed that in spite of graffiti’s association with crime and shady characters most artists respect public murals. This particular piece also popped up in my Instagram feed of Nashville graffiti, and RASMO is a local tag. This respect for murals is, in a way, a break with graffiti’s early history. The word “graffiti” comes from the Italian graffio, “to scratch”, because tourists—originally ancient Greeks, I think, so I’m not sure why the Italians get the blame—would go to monuments like the pyramids and scratch their names and maybe a message like, “cool ‘ramid, would visit again” into the rocks.

It was difficult to get a single good shot of it in part because of the pole in front of it, but also because there was a pickup truck with a boat parked in front of it so I couldn’t really back up enough to get a good view. A funny thing happened while I was there. A guy in a blue Ford Fairlane convertible—an early model with fins–stopped and asked if I needed any help. “No, I’m just taking some pictures,” I said. He waved and drove off, and I watched him go, thinking that he, or at least his car, was from another time.

Let’s Meet!

Tips For A Successful Meeting from How To Succeed At 7 Highly Effective Top Level Managerial Habits (Gale & Hoover, 2015)

-Create a detailed meeting agenda. Send it out at least one day in advance of the meeting.

-Expect everyone to arrive on time.

-Remain focused on the agenda topics.

-Use a timer to keep the group focused on agenda items for the appropriate amount of time.

-Assign a note taker, preferably someone who can write.

-Prepare a seating chart based on astrological signs.

-Avoid distractions by making everyone wear a blindfold.

-Have an orchestra ready to play off anyone who goes on too long.

-Fire tranquilizer darts at anyone who whispers.

-Limit the scope of the meeting.

-Use paper for handouts and copies, not Silly Putty™.

-Require that all responses be phrased in the form of a question.

-Don’t tell Kevin about the meeting.

-Command people’s attention by making presentations in Sumerian.

-No one can speak without holding the bicycle pump that for your own personal reasons you call “Jimmykins”.

-It wouldn’t kill you to put out some chips or something, would it?

-Before moving on to the next item on the agenda remind everyone that the universe is expanding and that all matter will eventually dissipate, leaving a cold, empty void.

-Tell me more about your mother.

-Take that finger out of your ear.

-Take that finger out of the ear of the person next to you.

-Avoid negativity. Begin all suggestions with, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one…”

-Whatever happened to clipart? It’s like that stuff was on everything in the ‘90’s.

-No one knows why the one chair is painted yellow.

-Have some card tricks ready in case people get restless.

-Conclude meetings with a dramatic flourish. Take off your mask and yell “It was me all along!”

-Set a time for the next meeting. Aim for consensus by suggesting never.

Feeling Cross.

When you press the page button for an elevator it lights up. At least that seems to be the case for every elevator I encounter now–I have ridden in a few that had a simple black button, but those were old, rickety elevators and you could tell they were coming because you could see the weights and chains moving through the wire cage of the elevator shaft, and you could hear the elevator groan, as though it were saying, “I’m cooooming…” One thing that hasn’t changed is that elevators seem to hang out on whatever the last floor was that they went to, which makes sense to me. I guess even elevators deserve an occasional break from going up and down all the time. What doesn’ make sense to me is when I’ve pressed the page button and it’s lit up and I’m standing there waiting and some schmuck walks up and presses it again. Maybe he–it’s always a he–thinks that’ll make the elevator arrive faster, or maybe he thinks I didn’t press it correctly the first time. Maybe he’s just angry with me for thinking he’s a schmuck, but I really didn’t think that until after he pressed the button.
Anyway I had a lot of time to think about this the other day when I was waiting for the light to change and the WALK sign to come on so I could cross the street. There was already a guy standing on the corner when I got there and I didn’t want him to think I was a schmuck so I didn’t push the walk signal button. It doesn’t light up when you push it but I assumed he’d already pushed it since he was standing on the corner and, I assumed, also waiting to cross the street. Also I just assume that regardless of whether I push the walk signal button the WALK signal is going to come on when the light changes and that the button is just there to give people waiting to cross the street something to do. Well, you know what they say: when you assume something you end up standing on the corner while the schmuck who was there when you arrived looks at his watch and starts walking up the street without crossing it. I could have run across the street in spite of the DON’T WALK sign–I’m not morally opposed to jaywalking and have in fact done it in multiple cities, states, and countries–but I also knew that if I got hit by a car the driver would be correct in saying he had the right of way. Also if there was a WALK sign and I got hit by a car the driver would still be correct in saying that because, let’s face it, the multi-ton wheeled hunk of metal always has the right of way over the hundred-and-forty pound sack of meat and bone regardless of what the law says. So I pressed the walk signal button and stood there through another round of light changes, wondering the whole time why the WALK sign doesn’t come on automatically. It’s not like it does anywhere so why does it get a break?

In The Details.

When I took the picture I thought it said NIT, and that was funny to me—I had this whole essay about nitpicking and attention to detail planned out—but then when I got home and looked at it on my computer I realized it said NITE. And that’s okay. The artist who created this still paid a lot of attention to details, from the interesting color pattern to the odd design of the E which is placed off to the right, cleverly changing NIT to NITE.

And by a funny coincidence I just read an article by New York Times critic Jason Farago about his decision to spend half an hour with Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the MoMA, before it closed for the summer for an expansion project. Starry Night is one of Van Gogh’s most popular works—one that’s become as ubiquitous as the Mona Lisa or, well, it’s hard to think of another painting that’s appeared on everything from coffee mugs to pens to t-shirts and just about any other swag you can think of, and inspiring countless copies and even animated versions. Maybe that’s why people who see it at the MoMA take so many selfies with it or pictures of it. When Farago decided to spend half an hour in front of it he picked the worst possible time, from 5:30 to 6:00 on a Friday afternoon, and he was understandably distracted by fellow visitors and their screens and had a hard time focusing on the painting itself. This is my second-favorite of his observations:

5:46 p.m. It’s a little calmer now. Smart teenager to my left tells her friend: “This was my favorite painting when I was, like, 13.” Friend responds with a weary postmodern admission that would make Jean Baudrillard proud: “I know this is the real painting, but it’s like I can’t see it.”

My favorite observation, though, is one he makes a few minutes later:

5:55 p.m. Move to the extreme right side. Only from this angle can I see van Gogh’s impasto; never had I seen the thick, canary-yellow lines in the hollow of the crescent moon.

I’ve never seen Starry Night in person but this does remind me of the experience of seeing other paintings in person that I previously only knew from books. To really appreciate any painting you have to see it alive and up close, although also with the understanding that paintings change over time. Van Gogh’s paintings are praised now for their slightly muted colors but were originally much brighter–dust and the breakdown of chemicals have changed the look of his paint.

What would I see if I looked at Starry Night? I’ve always thought it’s a beautiful painting but I also know Van Gogh painted it while in an asylum after the famous ear-cutting incident. Hannah Gadsby in her show Nanette had a brilliant takedown of an audience member who tried to tell her Van Gogh wouldn’t have been a great painter if he’d been medicated. Spoiler alert: he was medicated. Maybe that’s why sometimes when I look at it, albeit in reproductions, those swirling lines don’t look beautiful; they look terrifying, like worms consuming the universe. It’s what happens when I look at the details too closely. And then I step back and it becomes beautiful again. It’s all in how you look at it.

Source: Wikipedia


Message In A Bottle.

Every summer my family went to Florida for two weeks. My grandfather left my mother his house down there so we always had a place to stay. The average age of everyone who lived on the block was a hundred and five so there weren’t a lot of kids for me to hang out with. The year I was eight we left the day after school let out so I’d miss the start of summer with my friends in Nashville. Maybe that was what gave me the idea to put a letter in a bottle. Or maybe I just got the idea from something I read or saw. The message in a bottle, or even just the floating message, has been around for thousands of years, a floating idea. I’m not sure where I picked it up; probably from cartoons or comics where someone stranded on an island writes “Send help!” on a piece of paper, puts it in a bottle, and throws it out to sea. I always wondered about that. Where’d they get the paper and ink? For that matter where’d they get the bottles? I’d heard about milkmen who’d leave glass bottles of milk on the doorstep and even though there weren’t any in my neighborhood, and it would be a few years before there’d be Dead Milkmen, I heard there were still places where people got their milk delivered. I thought maybe that’s where lonely island castaways got the bottles. So each day they’d put a plea for rescue in one bottle and a note that said “No more cheese!” in the other. And there were even more questions. How’d they seal the bottles? And how would they make sure the bottles would make it past the waves and not just be washed back up on the shore? And perhaps most puzzling, how would anyone who found a bottle with a message in it know where it came from? If you’re stranded on a desert island chances are you don’t know where it is and if the milkman hasn’t offered to give you a lift he’s probably too surly to give directions too, or maybe no castaways ever got up early enough to meet the milkman on his rounds, which is understandable since living on a desert island must be pretty exhausting.

Anyway I got this idea that it would be fun to put a message in a bottle and see where it went. I wrote a note asking whoever found it to write to me and tell me where they found it and about themselves. I included my home address in Nashville which I thought might make whoever found it wonder how it got from a landlocked state to the sea. I also didn’t know anything about ocean currents so it never occurred to me that since we were in St. Petersburg where the beach faces west right into the Gulf of Mexico it was unlikely the bottle would go somewhere really distant like New Zealand or Poughkeepsie, but I still hoped it would find its way to a distant shore and be picked up by someone interesting and we’d become steady penpals and maybe someday meet and have a series of wacky adventures. Or at least exchange postcards.

My father gave me an empty plastic Coke bottle, and even though I had some qualms about throwing trash into the sea I thought a plastic bottle would be better than a plastic one since it would float better and be less likely to break. We always went to a stretch of beach known as Treasure Island which is less of an island and more of an overgrown sandbar. I walked down to the John’s Pass Bridge and threw it into the water. And then as I was walking back to the spot my parents had staked out on the beach I saw a kid carrying a plastic Coke bottle and I was annoyed not just that my message had been found so soon and so close to where I’d sent it on its way but he looked a lot like me, only a few years younger, and I was hoping for someone, well, not like me—someone whose perspective on the world would be different. Then the kid poured water out of the bottle into a moat of a sandcastle he’d built and I realized it wasn’t the one I’d released, so my bottle, and its note were waiting to be picked up.

It never was picked up, or if it was whoever found it didn’t answer the message. Even though plastic lasts a really long time it still breaks down, gets broken up, sinks. In the end it’s just an idea I had that’s still out there floating.

A Little Cheese With Your Dog?

So my wife sent me out to pick up some wine while she went to a dog training class, and while I was in the store a young man came in and asked if they had any Moet & Chandon and I said, “Oh, yeah, she keeps it in a pretty little cabinet. Let them eat cake, she says, just like Marie Antoinette,” and everyone just stared at me and I invited everyone to come home with me just so I could yell at them to get off my lawn, but that’s another story. At least it all came together in this pop quiz: Dog breed or wine?

  1. Marsanne
  2. Spitz
  3. Griffon Nivernais
  4. Bandolino
  5. Pomeranian
  6. Malbec
  7. Maltese
  8. Dolcetto
  9. Mad Dog
  10. Amontillado
  11. Keeshond
  12. Frascati
  13. Xoloitzcuintli
  14. Muscat
  15. Sauterns
  16. Schnauzer
  17. Gewürztraminer
  18. Lambrusco
  19. Weimaraner
  20. Briard
  21. Traminer
  22. Vizsla
  23. Borzoi
  24. Syrah
  25. Courgette


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