Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Where’d You Come From?

Most of the time I’m alone at the bus stop, and I’m okay with that. I don’t mind company, and I even tell myself I’d be fine with the company but, well, my brain is a puzzle of contradictions. Let me illustrate that: I know a lot of people aren’t comfortable with small talk, but I kind of enjoy it myself. At least I feel uncomfortable sitting next to complete strangers in complete silence and feel like I should say something. There’s also a guy I see at the bus stop once every three or four months and he’s seen me often enough that the last time we were sharing the bench he apparently felt like he should say something and while I did my best to hold up at least half the conversation I felt like I had a mouthful of alum. So I feel uncomfortable not talking and I feel uncomfortable talking and really what I want to do is bombard people with questions like “Who are you? What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not riding the bus? Can I write down your life story and publish it on my blog?”

Back when I was in college I had a button I always wore that said “What’s this cat’s story?” that I found in a box at a music store and it seemed to help break the ice because anytime someone would ask me about it I’d turn it around and use it as an excuse to ask their story.

Anyway lately there seem to be a lot of people at the bus stop. It’s a wide range of people too: young, old, men, women–suddenly everyone is taking the bus. I’ve gone from being alone to being one of the crowd. At least I no longer feel uncomfortable about making the bus driver stop just to pick me up, but that’s another story. Now I feel uncomfortable because I’m surrounded by all these cats and all I want to know is their stories.

Halfway There.

In my first college philosophy class I learned what I thought was Zeno’s Arrow Paradox. At least this is the way the professor put it: the distance between a fired arrow and its target can be divided in half, and that distance can be divided in half, and so on, and if you can keep dividing the distance by half it becomes infinite so the arrow never reaches the target. I pointed out that this distance that was allegedly infinite could only be divided because it as a whole, empirically measurable distance, which I thought was kinda stupidly obvious and something that, in 2500 hundred years of philosophy must have already been addressed, but the professor ignored me and went on to Plato. This left me confused and deeply resentful of philosophy even though I came out of the class with a B-, even though on my final exam I defined a paradox as a couple of Ph.D.s, but that’s another story.

And now according to Wikipedia the professor had it completely muddled and the arrow paradox really refers to time and what he was describing was Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox which is illustrated with this:

Suppose Homer wishes to walk to the end of a path. Before he can get there, he must get halfway there. Before he can get halfway there, he must get a quarter of the way there. Before traveling a quarter, he must travel one-eighth; before an eighth, one-sixteenth; and so on.

However I’ve already addressed that point which, philosophically speaking, is an example of putting Descartes before the horse.

Needless to say if the purpose of art—or even one purpose of art—is to make you think what the tag ZENO lacks in aesthetic appeal it more than makes up for in concept, especially since my thinking also took a flying leap in a completely different direction about the outsider nature of graffiti and how “Zeno” sounds like the prefix xeno- which comes from the Greek for “foreigner” or “stranger”, although anyone who’s seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding knows that Greeks pronounce the word “ekseno”.

And most English speakers seem to know the prefix xeno- from the word xenophobia, which is unfortunate because the Greek ξένος can also be translated “guest”, which I think is a good point to stop because I’m not even halfway to any kind of conclusion here.

The Case Of The Missing Case.

Source: Wikipedia.

Found in the private papers of Dr. John Watson, London (1855-1930), under the heading “Sherlock Holmes & The Unsolvable Case”:

Even a detective with the sagacity of my friend Sherlock Holmes must, on occasion, decline a request, but this particular instance was so extraordinary that I feel compelled to put it to paper. At the time we happened to be at our Baker Street residence, I feeling the need to see my old friend in spite of the complete marital bliss which I’d enjoyed for some time. Holmes was in a restive mood this evening and kept returning to the spirit case and gasogene he kept in the corner but libations, his cigars, cocaine, laudanum, opium, ether, mescaline, isoamyl nitrite, tincture of cannabis, a bottle of pills containing acetylsalicylic acid, as well as a handful of betel nuts that had been the gift of a client who’d returned from the Far East, held little interest for him. Turning from these dalliances he would then march across the room, arms crossed, head on his chest, his usual manner when considering a problem. But at this time, of course, the problem was the absence of a problem, one which even Holmes, with all his perspicacity, could not resolve.
I was on the point of taking my leave when Mrs. Hudson showed in a young urchin bearing a note. Holmes immediately stepped forward and took it, his dark eyes darting over the paper. Then, with no hesitation, even with an apparent lack of awareness of the rest of us in the room, he dashed down the stairs. I gave our young Hermes a penny and offered a few words to placate Mrs. Hudson’s concerns about mud on the rug before I followed.
It was only once we were in a hansom cab racing towards London’s banking district that Holmes spoke.
“The note was from Inspector Lestrade, Watson,” he said in a voice that any other might have taken for calm and measured but which I recognized as positively ebullient. “There has been a robbery of a London bank and he needs my assistance.”
A simple robbery hardly seemed to demand the genius of Sherlock Holmes, but when the Inspector showed us the scene the reason became clear.
“The walls, which are completely undamaged, are over a foot thick, comprised of large stone bricks,” he said. “As you can see the door was bolted from the outside. There is no way in from above or below, and yet the thief was able to make off with a case containing ten thousand pounds’ worth of gold bullion.” Lestrade’s sallow rat face looked very grave in the flickering gaslight. “I don’t like to admit that this case is quite beyond any of us, Holmes,” he said quietly. Then, raising his voice, he added, “Also all twenty guards are still present and their whereabouts completely accounted for. None of them are suspects.”
Holmes cleared his throat. “Yes, Inspector, and I can also tell that you’ve been here yourself at least twenty-four hours.”
“I should think that would be obvious,” Lestrade replied, “since it’s been raining nonstop almost the whole day and my clothes are completely dry.”
Holmes raised his finger and seemed about to speak then abruptly turned to the room. He walked in a full circle, examined the walls closely, and looked at both the ceiling and floor.
“Well, Inspector, this is certainly a most curious case, and I wish you the best of luck with it.”
Lestrade sputtered. “Surely you’ll assist us!” But Holmes only shook his head.
“If only I could, Inspector. However I have promised my services to the Atkinson brothers in Trincomalee, and I must make immediate arrangements to leave. There are, of course, other private inspectors in London who I’m sure could help you with this case. Perhaps my brother Mycroft, or that fellow Entwistle.”
“Holmes,” said Lestrade in an almost inaudible growl. “Isn’t Entwistle that buffoon you said once put his lips to a violin and tried to play it as though it were a trumpet?”
“This is no time to discuss music, Inspector. Come, Watson, I’ll need your assistance in my travel arrangements.” With that he turned and stepped hurriedly from the room, and I followed, throwing a meager apology to the Inspector.
An hour later we were on the other side of London in a pub below street level dining on questionable oysters and a slightly less questionable dark Irish beer. It wasn’t until Holmes had filled his pipe that I spoke.
“Holmes, are you sure you shouldn’t have taken that case?”
He drew deeply and sent an azure cloud into the air above our heads.
“A man must know his limits, Watson. Never exceeding them is a true key to success.”
An epiphany struck me.
“This is rather like that case with the King of Bohemia, eh what?”
“Don’t test my limits, Watson.”

Getting Around.

Whenever I travel I always find how other places emphasize public transportation. Or don’t. In Chicago, for instance, I noticed that buses ran frequently. Every minute on every street there was a bus going by, sometimes more than one. I was standing at the edge of Millennium Park looking one way when I saw an “L” train pass between two buildings.

“I wish I’d gotten a picture of that” I said to a friend who was with me.

“Wait a minute,” he said. I did and in about a minute another one went by.

Sure, Chicago is a much bigger city than Nashville, but it’s still amazing to me that where I live the minimum time between buses on any route is fifteen minutes, and some routes run as little as twice a day.

Chicago’s profusion of transportation can, however, cause some confusion. I was sitting in O’Hare Airport which is larger than Nashville’s airport, and which supposedly has a monorail system. According to Wikipedia it’s 2.7 miles long, which is longer than some Nashville bus routes, and moves along at up to fifty miles an hour. Needless to say this sounds like a fun ride. I’ve also ridden the monorails in Dallas and Atlanta airports and wanted to add O’Hare to my collection. Once I had a long enough layover in Atlanta that I rode the monorail so many times people started asking me for directions, but that’s another story.

I say it supposedly has a monorail because I thought I walked from one end of O’Hare to the other and covered every terminal and never found the monorail entrance. If I were one of those people with a goal of walking ten thousand steps a day I’d be able to take a week off. I did find a very nice older woman at an information desk. She had an airport uniform although with her white hair in a bun and half-moon spectacles on a chain she looked more like the archetypal librarian. When I asked her where the monorail was she asked, “Do you mean the trains to downtown?”

“Er, yeah,” I stuttered. I thought the word monorail was pretty clear, and I had a sudden attack of shyness that prevented me from saying what I meant, which was, “No, I mean the O’Hare monorail which I want to ride back and forth because I’ve got some time to kill and I’m a goofy tourist.”

She took out a map and asked where I was going. At this point I felt I was too deeply committed so I blurted out “the Museum of Science And Industry” which I’ve been to once but that was more than twenty-five years ago and I’m a goofy tourist who digs that sort of thing. She then gave me detailed but simple instructions that even I could have followed. She then pointed to the exit and said, “Just go right through those doors and if there’s not a bus there already one will be along in a minute.” I thanked her and she said, “Oh, thank you. I love giving directions and helping people but so few stop and ask for help anymore. There’s so much to see here and I’m sure people miss most of it.”

I then left and tried to discreetly disappear into the crowd so she wouldn’t notice that, instead of leaving the airport, I was turning toward the terminal where my gate was. And I had to hurry because I’d shrunk to just six inches tall. I’ve saved the map, though. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Chicago but it should still be helpful, and if it isn’t I know where to go for directions.

 

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.

%d bloggers like this: