Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Appropriately Inappropriate.

It’s Uranus Day!

You might be thinking I just pulled that out of my ass but really it was on March 13th, 1781 that Sir William Herschel first observed an undiscovered planet beyond the orbit of Saturn. Finding Uranus was not easy. Herschel had to get up before the crack of dawn and look deeply into the nooks and crannies of the night sky. At first he thought what he’d spotted was a comet because the idea of another planet all the way up there seemed ridiculous. Other astronomers who probed the sky had seen Uranus and assumed it was a star or comet. It took almost two years of analysis and scrutiny before Herschel himself acknowledged that he’d discovered Uranus. The name for the new planet was also not accepted for almost seventy years because astronomers kept laughing every time someone asked if they’d been looking at Uranus, but it’s been the butt of jokes ever since.

And what better way to celebrate this day of Uranus than with a trip to historic Uranus, Missouri? If you want to know how to get to Uranus all you have to do is take the Herschel Highway. If you don’t get that joke find an astronomer or a thirteen-year old boy to explain it to you after they stop laughing.

 

Networking.

Why did someone put the sun symbol of the Zia people that’s used on New Mexico’s state flag on a utility box in Tennessee? Maybe they’re from New Mexico and wanted a little touch of home. Maybe they’re fans of Breaking Bad. Maybe they just like the symbol and wanted to brighten up the box a little. Maybe it’s a symbol of the Quartering of the Universe into Active and Passive Principles. Maybe they did it for the same reason Wallace Stevens put a jar on a hill in Tennessee, although he doesn’t really say why he did it, and he’s simply wrong when he says it was “Like nothing else in Tennessee” because we had jars long before some Yankee came tromping through here on his way to Key West and decided to litter, but that’s another story.

Maybe the answer is, all of the above.

Maybe the reason I like art, or one reason, is it fires off completely unexpected thoughts, like this: One summer I worked for a temp agency and got sent around to various job sites. At one place I put together the display stands you see in grocery stores. They’re also called “end caps”. The supervisor told us the stands we were putting together would be shipped out all over the country, and I thought it was interesting that something I helped make would be used by strangers so far away. I felt a sense of connection that made the mundane job and dealing with the supervisor who was a big jerk a little easier.

The utility box’s purpose is to create connections. It was made by someone in another place. Its placement changed the landscape. And then someone decided to paint the sun symbol on it, to change it from a standard, utilitarian object to something with deeper meaning–and larger connections.

 

March Is The Cruelest Month.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s almost that time of year again when we get to crank our clocks back an hour for the madness that is Daylight Saving Time. It’s not just the question of whether we’re springing back or falling forward that bothers me even though, to quote a much wiser man, time is not linear but “it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.” Or to quote an even wiser woman, the poet Brenda Hillman said,

space thought it up, as in: Let’s make

a baby space, and then

it missed.

And that makes at least as much sense as setting the clocks back an hour in early spring or late winter, whichever seems more appropriate on the given day at a time of year when one day it’s sunny and warm and the next day it’s sleeting and I swear I won’t be surprised if I go outside tomorrow and there’s fire and brimstone raining from the sky, and I’ll just say, well at least it’s better than trying to drive on ice, but that’s another story.

It’s not that I mind losing an hour of sleep and, after having gotten used to getting up after the dawn having to go back to getting up in the dark for a couple of weeks. It’s that I really, really, really mind losing an hour of sleep and having to go back to getting up in the dark for a couple of weeks. It seems like only a little over a month ago that we looked to a Pennsylvania groundhog to tell us whether we’d have an early spring or six more weeks of winter, mainly because it was only a little over a month ago, and the spring time change seems timed to fall exactly at the moment we’ve either forgotten it or that, either way, winter is coming to its end and then spring this shift that gives us at least a couple more weeks of winter whether we were supposed to get it or not. I suppose it could be worse. I’ve talked to World War II veterans who told me that when they were in boot camp they were on “Double Daylight Saving Time”, meaning that they were told they’d have to report for breakfast at six a.m. but it was really four a.m., and all because their platoon had been secretly taken over by the Nazis. Also there are parts of the United States that are exempt from Daylight Saving Time for various reasons. I’ve been told this usually applies to rural areas because farmers get up so early anyway it’s not fair to make them get up an hour earlier, especially at the very time of year when everything they planted in the fall is just starting to get up, and most crops are notoriously bad at telling time.

This morning my wife and I were on our way to work and, to quote another wise woman, she said, “Just think. This time next week we’ll be coming to work an hour earlier.” And it took me about four hours to process that because even without the time change it was just too early to process that level of information. And it doesn’t help that we live in an area that should be in the Eastern time zone but, if you look at a map, you’ll see that we’re in a weird little carved out spot of the Central time zone because originally this was a rural area and the farmers didn’t want to have to stay up until eleven p.m. to watch the news.

All that Daylight Saving Time really does is remind me just how arbitrary our means of measuring time are, but then I think it could be worse and that at least all we’re losing is an hour of sleep and don’t have to deal with some of the other crazy ideas that have been tried like Distance Savings, a Depression-era plan that attempted to save fuel by reducing the distance between all areas by one mile, or, from the 1890’s, Sesquennial Year Savings, when the entire month of March was skipped and then September was held twice. Actually that doesn’t sound so bad since March is when Daylight Saving Time starts.

Walk On Guy.

There’s a monthly flea market at the Nashville State Fairgrounds. I used to go regularly, almost every month, although it’s been several years since I went. I’ve got more than enough fleas, but that’s another story.

I first started going before I had a driver’s license so I’d take the bus. The one thing about being a regular bus rider is there’s a lot of walking involved. Even now when I only take the bus home from, and occasionally to, work I have to walk to the right stop to get on and then walk home from where I get off. And sometimes I walk in the general direction of home to a different stop, because I know the bus will catch up with me, or I walk in the direction of downtown, where the bus is coming from, in the hopes of catching it that much sooner, although it usually only seems to make the bus run late.

The flea market is on the fourth weekend of every month and I don’t remember whether it was an odd month with five weekends and I’d missed it or whether it was only the third weekend and I was early. Either way I rode the bus out to the fairgrounds, got out, walked up the hill, and found the place was deserted. This was pretty strange. The fairgrounds have become a money pit and the city’s been through some controversial efforts to shut the whole place down and hand it over to developers who want to build luxury condos, but still it’s pretty heavily used. In addition to the flea market and annual state fair there are all sorts of trade shows. Just this last weekend there was a reptile show at a time when most reptiles are still hibernating.

I went back to the bus stop to wait for the bus which, on a Saturday, was scheduled to come every forty minutes. And then, after I sat there for a few minutes, I started walking back toward downtown. Aside from one spot, under an overpass where cars come speeding around the corner, it was a pretty easy walk along sidewalks past small old homes on small lots, starter homes dating, I think, from World War II. The yards were nice and mostly well-tended but, oddly enough for a Saturday, I didn’t meet anyone else. Gradually I made my way through an area known as The Gulch, which, at the time, was an industrial wasteland. It’s now a hip urban area with restaurants and haute couture.

Without ever seeing or being passed by the return bus I made it back to the bus depot. I clocked the entire trip at just about forty-five minutes and, when I checked Google Maps, I was surprised to find that meant I’d been moving at a pretty good pace: a mile every fifteen minutes.

Since then I’ve mostly driven to the flea market which provides a very different perspective from walking, even from riding the bus. One of these weekends I keep thinking I’ll go back, that maybe I’ll even walk there.

Something To Say.

One of the things that intrigues me about graffiti is that there’s a person behind it. Even the small stuff, the messy scribbles that don’t look like much, was done by someone, a living person with something to say. The problem with the small messy scribbles isn’t so much what they say as how they say it. If you have something to say, I think, put some thought and effort into it. Communication works on multiple levels, even if it’s written communication, which is one reason there’s a longstanding internet joke that we need a special font for sarcasm, but that’s another story.

So anyway UH is a local tagger I’m very familiar with even though I have no idea who the person behind the tag is. The thing is most of the time I only see the small stuff–UH printed on a trash can or an iron railing. UH has always seemed to me kind of unambitious, though, limited to small tags, which is a statement in itself–as though the tag is a placeholder. Some people think it’s impolite but when we say “uh” in conversation it can operate as a way of keeping our brain’s verbal motor going and also as a placeholder, a way of indicating to another person, “Uh, I’ve got something to say, but, uh, I’m trying to find the words!” Even the most eloquent speaker must occasionally struggle for, uh, mouth talky sentence things.

And then I saw this:

As I said UH has always seemed unambitious, but I hope the picture gives some idea of the scale here. This is a pretty large work and impressively done too.

It’s a shame they’re already starting to fade. The stark black and white and the marbling, or perhaps “cracks”, give this the look of something sculpted, of letters, the most basic components of words, given solidity and weight. This UH says something.

 

 

 

Don’t Talk To The Furniture.

“Imagine what this would tell us if it could talk.”—Tour guide at every historic site ever

“As a bucket I was mostly used for transporting water in and out of the kitchen. Then I was put in a closet for a really long time. Don’t ask me how long. All I know is that once when I was still being used I was left outside by the well all night and a dog peed on me. It dried up before the next morning and I didn’t tell anyone when they came out to get more water. I had a long time to feel bad about that. Then again they were literally drinking from a hole in the ground.”

“Oh sure, I’ve seen lots of big historic events and have been used by famous people. All kinds of famous, historic people and big events. What? Be specific? Okay, sure. Uh, there was Genercaptain Marfel Smulanik. That was a famous historic person, right? Are you a famous historic person? Please say yes so I have something to tell the next group.”

“I am a table. You put things on me. If you need to have that explained to you you’re the one that belongs in a museum. Now move along. The group is leaving you behind.”

“Well, as you can see, I’m a painting. I’m on canvas and I’ve got a frame of some kind. I can’t tell you a lot more than that because I can’t actually see myself. Maybe if someone would hold a mirror up to me I’d have some idea what I look like. I’ve seen a lot of other paintings. I could tell you about those, but if I’m the one you’re really interested in you should have spent the eight bucks for the audio guide.”

“Rocks have a really short attention span so, yeah, I got that going for me.”

“I was assembled by master craftsmen in a major furniture studio in Regensbourg, Germany, in 1823 and brought to the United States by then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. I resided in his home and remained while he served as President and in Congress. I estimate that at auction I’d sell for around $30,000. No one’s looking! Now’s your chance to grab me and run!”

“You want the truth? I was made in an amateur woodshop in 1962 and artificially aged. Now that I’ve told you that I’ll probably be fired. That word has a different meaning for us. It’s a dirty little secret of the fake antiques world that when one of us is exposed we get thrown into an actual fire. Bet now you wish you hadn’t been so pushy.”

“I am a chair used by the court of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, a glorious time for France that included the elimination of feudalism, the building of the palace at Versailles, and expansion of colonial holdings in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Because I date from the 17th century a lot of people sat in me before the invention of modern toilet paper and now you need a sign and a velvet rope telling you to not touch me. What’s wrong with you?”

“I used to be in the lobby but then I got reupholstered about eight months ago and moved to the gift shop. Neat, huh?”

No, I’ve Never Won The Daytona 500.

These are the most common questions in response to my last name, Waldrop.

10. Are you related to that racecar driver?

9. Could you spell that?

8. So is it “trip” or “dorp”?

7. Are you related to that car dealer who used to be a racecar driver?

6. Is that Belgian or something?

5. Did you just say ‘D as in Deiter’?

4. Are you related to that 19th century German opera composer?

3. Do you know anyone else with that name?

2. Are you related to that racecar driver’s son?

1. Could you spell that again more slowly?

The Eyes Have It.

One Friday afternoon I left work early and went to get my eyes checked. It was just a routine checkup, or check in, or, just a chance for the ophthamologist to ask if my eyes were “Better like this or better like this?” I hadn’t been to have my eyes checked since, well, let’s just say it was an earlier decade and I didn’t have any problems, but my wife thought it would be a good idea to just let a doctor gaze into the abyss of my orbits and give me a chance to gaze back.

While I was waiting to be examined one of the doctor’s assistants came to me and said, “Um, sir, put your pants back on. We’re only going to look at your eyes and this is the waiting room.” And then another assistant came out and took me to a back room and put some eye drops in my eyes.

I don’t remember anything unusual about the amount of eye drops–although it had been so long and there had been so many advances in technology, such as the invention of the contact lens, in the intervening time that I wouldn’t have known if there was anything unusual. In retrospect though I think the assistant had a bit of a free hand with the eye drops. For hours afterward the whole world sparkled.

My wife drove me home and I kept saying, “Whoa! Look at the streetlights!” They were no longer just streetlights but stars surrounded by amber nebulae that shifted and spun as we moved, or as I blinked. Headlights of oncoming cars were brilliant white stars and the taillights of other cars were red eyes. We went out to dinner with friends and she had to take the decorative candle in the middle of the table away from me because I couldn’t stop looking at it.

It was like I’d taken a little trip to Colorado, but without the dry mouth and paranoia.

So a few years later when I went back for another checkup I was really excited, although a little concerned because it was an early morning appointment and I wondered what it would be like going back to work with pupils the size of golf balls.

I’d also taken the bus to my appointment and I hoped the trip back would be just as visually exciting as my earlier trip. It was a rainy day so all the cars had their lights on.

Except this time the assistant didn’t quite have such a free hand. The eye drops were wearing off before I even got out of the elevator and left the building.

At least this time I did remember to put my pants back on without being told.

 

Work In Progress.

One of the classical ideas about art is that it aims for eternity, that, against the backdrop of ephemeral nature, it remains unchanging, although technically that may be more of a Neoclassical 18th century revision of the classical view of art, especially considering that Plato had a rather low opinion of artists, but that’s another story.

Maybe I should start over.

Once I saw an artist working on a painting in a public space. I sat down and watched him for a while and then asked, “Do you mind me watching?”

“If I minded I wouldn’t be painting out here,” he replied.

It was fascinating watching a painting develop. It’s one of the reasons I think Bob Ross’s painting show was so popular. I’m sure there were plenty of others like me who weren’t really interested in painting ourselves but were just fascinated by how a few dabs of paint could create a vivid picture. Bob Ross’s gentle personality and “happy little clouds” were a bonus.

This background reminds me that any work of art is a work in progress, that however static a picture might seem, even if the artist is decomposing, the picture will change as it too decomposes. Van Gogh’s paintings were even more vivid in his lifetime, Edvard Munch used to put his paintings out in his yard when he was done with them—something that would make art preservationists tear their hair out—and even the classical sculptures that are so loved for their stark beauty and subtlety were once painted with gaudy colors.

What I’m taking the long way around to get to is that a few months ago when I met artist Billy Martinez working on a mural over on Elliston Place I assumed what I was seeing was a more or less finished work, but since then he’s come back and added to it. Here’s an earlier picture of Johnny Cash and Bettie Page:

Here they are now:

At the other end they’ve been joined by Dolly Parton, another iconic Nashville figure. At least a certain, er, feature suggests she’s Dolly Parton. Before she became famous she lived down the street from my parents and they still like to say, “We knew her before she got so big.”

And he’s added some interesting symbols in between. These seem to only be outlines and I plan to go back—especially since it’s just a hop, skip and a jump—maybe with another skip—from where I work to watch its growth.

The one thing that remains constant, even in the supposedly fixed world of a painting, is change.

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