Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

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.

 

Tunnel Vision.

The line between public art and graffiti would seem to be solid—after all, one is sanctioned and generally approved and the other is illegal and generally considered a violation. But I think there are some holes in that line. Both are art and both are, mostly, public. And it’s my blog and if I wanna talk about public art in my weekly post on the subject of graffiti who’s gonna stop me?

Anyway in Chicago’s Millenium Park there’s the statue Cloud Gate, also appropriately nicknamed “the bean”, although it looks much less bean-like once you get into it and even in it, which can be fun and disorienting, unless you don’t like crowds.

And if you’re okay with crowds it’s fun to get up close to it and see yourself reflected in it, the distortion of the landscape becoming less intense the closer you get because the closer you get the more you see yourself–which would seem to be the idea. It’s all about the surface.

And that schmuck in the middle.

What really intrigued me, though, was the approach to the bean. I was walking along North Michigan Avenue toward it and then noticed stairs leading down under the street, which of course I had to take because, hey, who was gonna stop me? A short pedestrian tunnel leads under the street and at the entrance is decorated with a mural.

In shadow, only reflecting hints of light, it’s only there for those adventurous enough to stay away from the crowds, to go underneath the main road. Meaning, if there is any, is not obvious. You bring yourself to it but what it gives back is not clear.

Or, as John Ashbery said in Self-Portrait In A Convex Mirror,

Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted,

Desolate, reluctant as any landscape

To yield what are laws of perspective

After all only to the painter’s deep

Mistrust, a weak instrument though

Necessary.

Fixing A Hole.

Source: fromoldbooks.org

Lately I’ve been seeing articles in praise of boredom. Psychologists, or maybe psychiatrists, or maybe people who aren’t really psychologists but play them on TV, have defended boredom as a useful feeling; they decry our society as overstimulated, inundated with content, too plugged-in, turned-on, wired, hyped up, and it’s turning our mental health into detrimental health and making prone to writing adjective and hyphenated-laden run-on sentences with terrible puns in them. Boredom has gotten a bad rap because it’s seen as unproductive. It even prompted managers and supervisors to come up with phrases like “If you have time to lean you have time to clean” which, by the way, is what Marie Antoinette really said that prompted the French Revolution. And I don’t want to condone violence but I have to admit that I have a little bit of sympathy for anyone who’d want to cut the head off of someone who said that seriously.

Boredom is quickly becoming the new hip thing we should all be trying. There’s even at least one academic journal devoted to the study of boredom, although it’s telling that most scholars only subscribe for the annual swimsuit issue.

Subjecting ourselves to constant stimuli, the pro-boredom argument goes, is bad because our ancient ancestors had plenty of time to be bored. I’m not so sure that’s true. Most of their time, after all, was devoted to finding food and shelter and not being killed by large animals, so it’s not really fair to say they ever had time to be bored because they didn’t spend a lot of time sitting around watching movies, and what they did have was all on Betamax. People have always had a plethora of things to focus their attention on even if now some of us are lucky enough that what we focus our attention on isn’t a matter of life and death. Basically I’m preparing myself for the inevitable anti-boredom backlash that some psychologists, psychiatrists, and assorted celebrities are going to start promoting to make things interesting. And given the way trends go some people will inevitably take it too far, setting up devices in their homes that’ll shoot poison darts at them at random intervals to make sure they never lose focus. Actually I guess Inspector Clouseau already had that very same idea, but how many of us can afford to have a karate expert hide in our home to attack us on a regular basis? And even if we could he’d still have a lot of down time and, hey, if he’s got time to lean he’s got time to clean.

Why do we call it “boredom” anyway? Why does what bores us get its own special domain, and why’d we choose the word “bore” which also means “to drill a hole”? Actually to quote the Oxford English Dictionary it’s “to pierce by means of a rotatory movement like that of an auger or gimlet”. Boring produces a hole and boredom is a kind of mental hole we fall into when we aren’t sure what to do. At least that’s how I think of boredom. I can’t remember the last time I was truly bored, although that might be because it just wasn’t interesting enough for me to make a note of it. There’s also probably a connection to dentistry because I know from experience that sitting around waiting for the dentist is both boring and stressful at the same time, especially when I know the dentist is going to come at me with a drill to bore holes in my teeth and all I really want is a gimlet made with vodka, thanks.

The point is that boredom, like all feelings, can be either useful or harmful depending on how we treat it. As Shakespeare said, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. That line is from Hamlet and is one of the lines that makes it into almost every production even though most cut out at least a couple of hours’ worth of material from the play because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of stuff in it you could sleep through without missing anything, but that’s another story. Anyway I know this is a short conclusion, but I don’t want to risk boring you. Just in case, though, I’m going to carry on about boredom for another twelve-thousand words. Feel free to go on, though, because if you’ve got time to read you’ve got time to do something else that may or may not rhyme with “read”.

 

 

Pop Quiz: Summer Reading.

There’s a story that Salman Rushdie was once asked by some friends what Hamlet would have been called if it were a Robert Ludlum novel. Rushdie immediately came up with The Elsinore Vacillation. He then turned Macbeth into The Dunsinane Reforestation, The Merchant of Venice into The Rialto Sanction and Othello became The Kerchief Implication.

 

 

 

 

That inspired this less than erudite pop quiz: Robert Ludlum novel or episode of The Big Bang Theory?

  1. The Barbarian Sublimation
  2. The Hades Factor
  3. The Holcroft Covenant
  4. The Luminous Fish Effect
  5. The Shiksa Indeterminacy
  6. The Matarese Circle
  7. The Tangerine Factor
  8. The Sigma Protocol
  9. The Lazarus Vendetta
  10. The Griffin Equivalency
  11. The Financial Permeability
  12. The Arctic Event
  13. The Van Allen Belts
  14. The Dumpling Paradox
  15. The White Asparagus Triangulation
  16. The Scorpio Illusion
  17. The Icarus Agenda
  18. The Codpiece Topology
  19. The Killer Robot Instability
  20. The Cornhusker Vortex
  21. The Aquitaine Progression
  22. The Bus Pants Utilization
  23. The Thespian Catalyst
  24. The Apocalypse Watch
  25. The Pirate Solution

Scoring:

23-25: You used to use your tablet for reading. Now you mostly use it for watching TV.

20-23: You’ve watched all the Jason Bourne movies.

15-20: You plan to spend your summer vacation reading but mostly just watch TV.

10-15: And so the bartender tells Shakespeare, “You can’t come in here. You’re bard!”

5-10: Hello fellow English major.

1-5: So you got the Shakespeare jokes but are wondering about this “Big Bang Theory” and who this Ludlum guy is.

On The Road Again.

The last time I rode a Greyhound bus was in 2000. I recently took one to Cincinnati. It would have been cheaper to fly, but since there are no direct flights from Nashville to Cincinnati the flight would have meant stopovers in Dallas, Honolulu, and Poughkeepsie, and while I didn’t mind that my wife thought it wasn’t such a great idea. I was also looking forward to seeing what had changed.

The first change, of course, was the Greyhound station itself. The old one was dull, gray, and dingy, and filled with an assortment of drifters, grifters, and sifters. The new one, in an entirely different location, is a much brighter shade of gray and seemed to have picked up a higher class of clientele. The old black and white TV sets firmly attached to chairs that cost you a quarter for five minutes of viewing were gone, replaced with plugs for charging whatever devices you happen to be carrying. I couldn’t use any, though, because there was no sitting room. My bus was scheduled to leave at 5:05 am. I got there at 4:15, hoping to beat the crowd, not realizing that the crowd had been there since at least the day before and taken up almost all available space. Maybe recent events in the airline industry have prompted more people to stay grounded.

In the old days there’d be an announcement of departures over a crackly intercom. This time a driver stood at one of the terminal doors and, in a clear voice loud enough to be heard by everyone,  announced, “ALL THOSE DEPARTING FOR MEMPHIS, ST. LOUIS, KANSAS CITY, AND ON PLEASE LINE UP HERE!”

Needless to say this was not my bus. My bus, it turned out, was leaving from the terminal next to it, the one where the driver walked in, looked around and mumbled something to the people closest to him before leaving again. I had to ask around a bit to confirm that it really was the bus to Cincinnati because the LED sign on the front of the bus said HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

I’m not making that up. It was part of Greyhound’s War on Some Late May Holiday.

In the old days whenever I’d take a Greyhound bus there were usually a lot of seats available. This time when I stepped onto the bus every seat was taken except one. In the very back. Next to the bathroom. A woman sat in the window seat on the far right. Next to her, in the middle seat, was a man holding a baby with his legs spread so far apart his knee was in the aisle.

The only open seat was to the left of him.

I tried to make myself as small as possible and we both might have been more comfortable if he’d put his knees together. Instead he decided to complain bitterly about the bus being too crowded. And I realized that f-bombs, unlike other forms of munition, lose their strength when you drop one every other word, but that’s another story.

The woman leaned across him and smiled at me. “Excuse me sir, could you move to another seat?”

“I would if there were one.”

It was true and also resulted in the man dropping several more f-bombs, none of which, surprisingly, were directed at me. Then we got a lucky break: a bus company representative came on and offered travel vouchers to anyone who’d take a later bus. I might have taken the offer but my diaphragm was compressed by my fellow passenger’s lower thigh. Several people did, though, and I was able to squeeze out and grab a window seat.

The bus finally got underway a little after six and I settled back with approximately two days of podcasts I’d downloaded in preparation for a long trip.

The bus stopped at Louisville en route to Cincinnati. In the old days I only had to get off the bus at my final destination. Disembarkation is now mandatory at every stop, so I got to look around the Louisville station and get yelled at for taking pictures of the cop and his sniffer dog.

The Louisville station, by the way, has been updated like the Nashville one, and, in addition to a bright gray color and lack of dinginess, also boasts a gift shop and game room.

Then it was back on the bus and I was fortunately able to snag another window seat. The rest of the trip was blissfully uneventful and, possibly because the driver exceeded the speed limit a few times, we arrived in Cincinnati on time.

The Cincinnati Greyhound station has not been updated, and I’m pretty sure they even still had some of those chairs with the TVs. Next time I may opt for the flight with the stopovers, even if it does mean going to Poughkeepsie.

For Your Eyes Only.

When I was five I went through a phase of drawing one particular kind of picture over and over again: a long line that curved all around the page, punctuated with blobs. Don’t ask me what I was trying to represent or what I thought it meant because I have no clue. It was just an idea I had in my head that I had to get down. Another kid saw me making one of these drawings at school and said it was ugly. The teacher overheard this and told me I shouldn’t care what anyone else thought, that I should draw what made me happy.

And that’s a nice idea but it’s not really that simple, is it? Unless you’re making something that you’re never planning to show to anyone the idea is going to be in your head that you hope other people like it. You may even make compromises, or at least decisions based on what you think other people will like, what you think they want. The romantic notion of the misunderstood artist who is only truly appreciated after laboring in obscurity for a long time is a popular one but it very rarely works that way. Most artists who eventually become successful get a lucky break. They get someone who likes what they’re doing and who has enough sway to convince a lot more people to like what they’re doing, or they get enough exposure that they find an audience.

Or sometimes they change what they’re doing.

When Picasso showed his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to a bunch of his friends they laughed and said it was ugly. He put it away for twenty years. I guess he liked it too much to destroy it, but it took a really long time for it to be considered a landmark of modern art.

Source: Wikipedia

And while the are a lot of Picasso’s works I do like I think his friends were right about Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It’s really ugly.

I didn’t stop drawing those kinds of pictures because that kid said one was ugly. I stopped drawing those kinds of pictures because I got bored with drawing the same kind of picture over and over. But I’d never had any interest in showing them to anyone else, they weren’t for anyone else, so it didn’t matter. His criticism still stuck with me, though. I didn’t like being told my picture was ugly. Maybe I quit drawing those kinds of pictures because being happy was making me bitter and resentful.

Have you ever made something that no one else liked but that made you happy?

 

Learning To Fly.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. I guess I should really say “pilot”. I’m not really a captain of anything. It’s not like I own this plane and I can’t order anybody to walk the plank or swab the decks. I think there’s someone that comes in and vacuums the carpets and empties the trash, and we don’t really have a plank. I guess I could make you slide down that inflatable emergency ramp or maybe walk out on the wing, but that’s a pretty long drop even when we’re on the ground. I’m not going to open the door while we’re in flight, at least not once we really get up there, because that could get really bad from what I’ve seen in movies and on TV. What I’m saying is I’m not going to throw anybody out while we’re in flight, but don’t push me because I will land this plane and drop you out no matter where we are.

I’m also going to be upfront with you and say this is my first flight. Like, ever. So I’d suggest you keep your seatbelts on the entire time. There’s supposed to be a button that makes that seatbelt light come on, but you would not believe how many buttons there are up here. Also a bunch of gauges, meters, dials, and these big levers. I thought by now they’d have some of this stuff digitized. My mother’s old Camaro had a digital display and it was from, like, the eighties, you know? I’d invite everybody to come up and take a look at this but we’re on a schedule and once the flight starts I’d feel better if everybody stayed seated. If anybody has any helpful tips on these gauges and things though just tweet me. I’ll try and check my feed once we get up there. No promises, though, because I’m going to need my phone to navigate too.

Oh, hey, I just found the button for the seatbelt sign. And there’s one for no smoking too. Are there any flights you can still smoke on or have they just not taken that out yet? I’m not sure what the rule is on vaping either. Let’s just be on the safe side and don’t do it, okay?

Our flight will also be taking a little longer than usual because we’ll be following the interstates. Sorry about that. Like I said we haven’t quite got the navigation part up and running yet. It’s still in development, but we should have it working soon. And we’re gonna be seriously blowing through some speed limits because we’ll be up in the air and you may not know this but planes move really fast. Keep an eye out the windows, though, and if you see any police planes coming up next to us tweet me or yell at one of the flight attendants. This is weird but planes don’t have rearview mirrors so if there’s anybody coming I won’t know until they almost pass us. That seems kind of weird. I hope I don’t, I don’t know, back over a flock of bald eagles or something. That would be pretty embarrassing.

Anyway in a few minutes the flight attendants will be walking you through the emergency measures, and I know how everybody is about those. Please, seriously, pay attention for once because if this thing goes down it’s going down hard, you know? Those little oxygen masks might save your life if we have a fire or something. But, and don’t tell anyone I said this, you can leave your drink tray down the entire time. You just might want to put it back up when we land to make it easier to get out.

Okay, we’re just about to take off here. According to my phone here it’s rainy and seventy-two degrees at our destination. I don’t know how far anybody has to walk once we get there but I hope you have umbrellas. Wait, lost the directions. Okay, there they are. And I just saw some of your tweets. Come on, people, let’s try to stay positive. You know what they say about how you’re safer in the air than you are on the ground. That’s probably because there’s so much less you can run into on the ground.

And thanks for trying our new flight sharing app. I hope you’re as stoked about our new startup as I am. All right, let’s make it happen, cap’n!

 

Joy Ride.

It’s not every day that I see an abandoned golf cart just sitting right there by the bus stop. It’s just two, maybe three days a week. And also technically it’s not really a golf cart because it’s used by a maintenance crew or to carry around visitors to the university campus. And if you’re going to get really technical about it then it’s not really abandoned, but still every time I see it I think, well, how long is it going to be there and is there time for me to take it out for a spin? I wouldn’t drive it all the way home, or even that far away. I’d just like to go for a quick ride. Little carts like that are more fun to drive than regular cars for some reason. Maybe it’s because they make me feel like a kid again and actually had a motorized little car I could ride on and it had a top speed of sixty inches an hour. That didn’t matter. On Saturday mornings my friends and I could still imagine it was a magic dune buggy that took us on wacky adventures.

Somehow it was always easier to have fun with friends which is why it’s a good thing I’m always alone when I see that cart. If I were with friends I might be even more tempted to take it and, well, they just might encourage me and we would all take turns. Or maybe they’d stop me. Or try to stop me. That reminds me of the old saying about friends. A good friend is one who will bail you out of jail. A really good friend is one who’s sitting next to you in the cell saying, “Well, that was fun.”

 

The Threat.

Is graffiti dangerous? Does it pose a threat? Some people seem to think so, which is why it so often gets covered up or is in hidden areas. This particular piece, for instance, is in a largely abandoned industrial area—a place that’s been sitting empty so long it’s become kind of a graffiti gallery, and even getting to it requires slipping through a hole in a fence.

In the United States and many other countries freedom to speak, especially to criticize the government, is a cherished right. It’s not an absolute right—depending on what you say there may be consequences—but generally we don’t have to worry too much about what we say. At various times throughout history and even now in some countries that’s not true, and yet people in those places were, and are, sometimes willing to take the risk of speaking out even when the result is imprisonment, exile, or even execution.

Every artist who shares their work takes some risks, even if the only risks are ridicule or rejection. Having had my own ego bruised on occasion I don’t want to downplay those risks, but there’s something especially powerful about people willing to risk their freedom, maybe even their lives, to create and share a work of art with the world. Even if graffiti isn’t making an overtly political statement, even if it’s not speaking truth to power, it challenges conventions and laws. It’s art that won’t behave by confining itself to a gallery or private collection, and it dares to ask, even in a free society just how free are we?

Yeah, there is something threatening about that.

Anyway that reminds me of a joke: two Romanians are sitting in a bar. One says, “Fifty-four” and they both laugh. The other one says, “Eighteen” and that both laugh. The bartender says, “Okay guys, what’s with the numbers?”

One says, “Under Ceausescu we weren’t allowed to tell political jokes so we gave them all numbers. Then when we wanted to tell a political joke we’d just say one of the numbers.”

The bartender laughs and says, “Oh, I get it. Hey guys…forty-three.”

They stare at him blankly, then one says, “You know, it’s not so much the joke as it is the way you tell it…”

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