Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

It’s No Accident.

There’s a funny story about Jackson Pollock and a critic who called his paintings “accidental”. Pollock picked up a paintbrush, flicked a blob of paint across the room where it hit the doorknob, and said, “There’s the door. Don’t let it accidentally hit you in the ass on your way out.”

It’s probably not true, or at least embellished, but I like it because it speaks to how Pollock’s paintings really aren’t as accidental as they seem. For the 2000 film Pollock starring Ed Harris art students were able to faithfully recreate several of Pollock’s paintings, and Pollock himself was very careful about detail. He didn’t just throw paint at a canvas. Well, he did, but with a pretty good idea of where it would land. There’s also a funny line from an episode of Frasier where Niles explains that he was at an art opening and accidentally flicked a canape onto a painting and now has to pay to have it restored, adding, “How he could notice a fleck of foie gras on a Jackson Pollock is beyond me,” but that’s another story.

One of the things that fascinates me about what look like scribbled tags, stuff that somebody just dashed off without any thought, is how, when I look closely, I see a lot of detail that appears to be anything but accidental, and when I see the same tag multiple times–usually in different places–I’m sometimes surprised by how a seemingly random scribble can be repeated.

There are a few subtle differences but it’s pretty cool how similar these two are.

Aesop’s Prequels.

The Fox Tries Some Grapes

The Stag offered the Fox a bunch of grapes.

“Hey, I’m really full and don’t want these. You want some?”

“No thanks,” said the Fox. “I really don’t like grapes.”

“Come on!” snorted the Stag. “What do you mean you don’t like grapes? Everybody likes grapes.”

“Well I don’t,” said the Fox. “So clearly not everybody likes grapes.”

The Stag threw the grapes down. “Look, I was just trying to be nice. You don’t have to be a jerk about it. You say you don’t like grapes, fine, don’t eat the damn grapes then.”

“Fine!” yelled the Fox. He bit off a few grapes and chewed them up. His mouth puckered at how sour they were but he forced himself to smile anyway.

“Good, aren’t they?” said the Stag.

The Fox nodded, suppressing the urge to spit chewed up grapes in the Stag’s face.

Moral: Sometimes you just have to eat the grapes.

The Grasshopper & The Ant

The Grasshopper was a hard worker who diligently prepared for the future. From morning to night the Grasshopper collected food and cleaned house. One day, carrying home a heavy parcel, the Grasshopper bumped into the Ant who dropped its load of seeds wrapped in a leaf.

“I’m sorry,” said the Grasshopper, putting down her own parcel and helping the Ant gather the seeds.

“I don’t have time for this,” muttered the Ant.

The Grasshopper placed more seeds on the Ant’s leaf.

“It must have been hard work collecting these. Why don’t you take a minute to rest?”

“No time to rest,” said the Ant, collecting the rest of the seeds. “We have a saying: If you rest it’s the death of the nest.”

The Grasshopper held up a seed. “You really should take a break once in a while.”

“No breaks,” said the Ant, snatching the seed and wrapping it up with the others in the leaf. “We’re born, we work, we die.”

After the Ant left the Grasshopper sat and thought for a long time. Finally she stood up.

“I’m never going to be like that.” She turned toward home. “And I really need a drink.”

Moral: What are you busting your ass for if you’re not going to enjoy life once in a while?

The Tortoise & Friends.

The Hedgehog looked to the Rat who looked to the Goose who looked to the Tortoise.

“So,” said the Hedgehog, “we’re all agreed. We’re sick of his bragging, we’re sick of hearing about how fast he is, and we’ve got to take him down. We just need to decide who’s going to run the race.”

The animals all looked at each other.

“Well,” said the Rat, “there’s only one of us who hasn’t raced the Hare and lost.”

“Fine,” said the Tortoise. “I’ll do it. I just have one question. Who’s gonna slip him the sleeping pill?”

Moral: Fill in your own answer here.

Walking In History.

One hundred years and one week ago the deadliest train crash in U.S. history occurreed here in Nashville at a now mostly forgotten spot called Dutchman’s Curve. Officially the death toll is 101, although historians think that’s low, and since most of the victims–68 in the official count–were African-American there probably were many who weren’t counted, or who died later. Most of the victims were African-American because they were forced to ride in old, dilapidated train cars–many from the Confederate era, part of the history of oppression that didn’t end with the Civil War, and that, in many ways, still hasn’t ended. There’s a historical marker for Dutchman’s Curve on White Bridge Road–an ironic name, considering the tragedy. Local author and historian Betsy Thorpe has written about the tragedy in her book The Day The Whistles Cried.

At the time it happened the tragedy was overshadowed by World War I, but the centenary was marked by speeches and walking tours. Decades ago the path of White Bridge Road was altered slightly, and a new, higher, wider bridge was built. The old bridge is gone but has been replaced by a footbridge. Nearby, next to a transformer station, is the Richland Park Greenway. People can walk by Dutchman’s Curve today. History and nature are preserved side by side.

The new White Bridge can be seen from the old one.



It Comes And Goes.

Source: Google Maps

If you were traveling west along I-440 through Nashville, approaching the West End exit, you might notice this colorful mural on the side of a gas station and mini-mart. In fact the exit ramp that will take you east on West End runs right by it. It’s difficult to get a picture from a moving car, which is why I turned to Google for this particular view. You might stop here if you were on your way to the Parthenon, or anywhere in the midtown area, although you wouldn’t see the mural from the front of the building.

And now it’s difficult to see anyway. The gas station has closed, after competing for years with another one on the same block, that’s a little farther down and not quite as colorful. Large honeysuckle bushes have grown up in front of it, obscuring the view from the road.

The plans for the spot are immaterial. What matters is it’s a piece of public art that, for a few years, tried to attract customers and provided a bright spot for people just passing by. Places like this will appear, be noticed, and then be forgotten once they’re gone, like the travelers who pass by.




Seeing Stars.

Stargazing is as much a part of a fun summer evening as running around in dewy grass barefoot, catching lightning bugs, and seeing how many bottle rockets tied together will still fly and how many will just fall over and explode on the ground. Here are some fun facts about prominent stars in summer constellations.

Sirius in the constellation Canis Major is the brightest star in the night sky. For the ancient Egyptians the rising of Sirius marked the beginning of the flooding of the Nile, and for the ancient Greeks it marked the beginning of the “dog days” of summer.

Mizar and Alcor are two stars that form the handle of the Big Dipper. Mizar is the brighter of the two and the stars are so close together that in ancient times being able to differentiate them was used as an eye test by insomniac ophthalmologists.

Capella in the constellation Auriga is so bright it can often be seen at night.

Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor is, because its location appears almost fixed, is sometimes called the “north star” and also the “pole star” when it worked with Milton Berle.

Pollux and Castor are the two primary star in the constellation Gemini and have recently filed for separation.

Spica in the constellation Virgo is a binary star. Its primary star is a blue giant while the secondary one wishes you’d notice it’s been on a diet.

Regulus in the constellation Leo is made entirely out of jellybeans.

Vega in the constellation Lyra enjoys sushi, long walks on the beach, and books about endocrinology.

Altair in the constellation Aquila is really sorry about the incident with the chafing dish but you shouldn’t bring it up unless you want to hear a twenty minute bit about why it’s called a “chafing dish” that’s really not as funny as Altair seems to think it is.

Sabik is part of a binary star system in the constellation Ophiuchus and is an extremely good boy.

Algol in the constellation Perseus is rarely visible because it keeps setting off the motion-activated light on your neighbor’s porch before it realizes it has the wrong house.

Arcturus in the constellation Boötes wishes you’d stop asking about the oregano.

Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus is a red giant and once shot a man in Memphis just to watch him die.

Antares in the constellation Scorpius wants to know what you’re looking at. You wanna make something of it? Well? Do you?

Deneb in the constellation Cygnus denies ever meeting Lando Calrissian.

Jupiter is not a star but a planet that in the western part of the northern hemisphere can be seen rising in the southwest each evening because it’s drunk.

When You’ve Gotta Go…

Once in an English pub I asked the bartender where the bathroom was and he sarcastically replied, “Why? Do you need to take a bath?” And I was quick enough to snap, “Well I just might, but in the meantime can you direct me to the loo?” I was reminded of that when I was passing through Music City Central, the downtown bus depot, which is currently being renovated and part of that is they’ve shut down the loos, the heads, the johns, the throne rooms, and also the bathrooms with plans to make them nicer. I can understand that. Although I’d only been through the men’s room–or “the gent’s” as that English publican might say–it wasn’t much more than a narrow corridor with openings at either end that didn’t leave much in the way of privacy which must have been tough for anyone with a shy bladder or the “rari nantes in gurgite vasto” from Virgil’s Aeneid. Still there’s gotta be something. One of the nicer features of the depot is a donut and coffee shop, but what are riders supposed to do when they need to get rid of that coffee? Back when all the buses gathered on 4th Avenue TPAC was just a block away, or, for anyone who wanted something more elegant, they could go to the Hermitage where the loo is a bona fide tourist destination, but that’s another story.

href=””> Should I stay or should I go now?[/

I’m not worried about the drivers since they can stop almost anywhere. It’s not like the bus is going to go off and leave without them. For a while the regular driver on my route would always stop at a McDonald’s and chat with people at the register and get a 99 ounce drink, even if she was running late–and she was always running late–and you don’t take in that much liquid unless you’re really confident that you’ll be able to get to a place where you can recycle it.
Anyway I’m kind of curious to see what the renovated restrooms will be like. Maybe they’ll even put in something where you could take a bath.

In Depth.

Illuminated manuscripts, especially Medieval works that were written by hand, are always noted for their illustrations and especially the marginalia, those little pictures and abstract designs that form a border around the main text. In a class on medieval literature one of my professors pointed out that the marginalia often illustrate or even supplement the writing, even when the pictures are completely abstract, like the interwoven Celtic designs that appear in some texts. A line that disappears behind a line of a different color, for instance, suggests the movement of the story as well as a transition: just because one line disappears out of sight doesn’t mean it’s out of mind. Parallel or interwoven lines, on the other hand, may suggest similar stories, such as that of Tristan and Isolde which mirrors and foreshadows the tragedy of Launcelot, Guinevere, and King Arthur in Mallory’s Morte D’Arthur.
Or at least that’s what a lot of modern scholars believe. Since the original illustrators of works like Mallory’s or the Book Of Kells are long gone–or if they’re still around they’re really, really, really old–no one’s able to ask them, and most of the artists who did the work of copying and illuminating manuscripts are anonymous. In the case of works like Beowulf or Sir Gawain & The Green Knight, for that matter, even the authors are anonymous. But there are cases where the correlation between the border designs and the stories seems pretty closely tied.
Anyway I thought about all that when I found this particular work which is really interesting because of its contrast between abstraction and depth, placing different parts in front of each other, and those striking red triangles at either end suggest looking to both the past and future. It doesn’t represent anything recognizable and yet still seems to tell a story–at least that’s what I believe. I assume and hope the artist is still around–this is a pretty recent work, but I have no idea who the artist is or anything about them–whether they’re young or really, really, really old.

Perfect Strangers.

There was a young woman standing at the bus stop. She had a sequined scarf around her neck and a white blouse and a batik skirt that looked like it was made of crepe paper, and on her arms she wore these rainbow knitted sleeves, all of which seemed like it would be miserable in 85-degree weather–regardless of whether it’s Celsius or Fahrenheit–but still I thought, hey, whatever makes you comfortable. She looked, in short, like a typical bus rider because she didn’t look like anybody else and the one thing I’ve noticed in decades of bus-riding is that there is no stereotypical bus rider. If I see a bus rider who looks kind of like someone I saw yesterday it’s because they’re the same person. Anyway I had my earbuds in which meant I was giving off the universal “Leave me alone” signal which is fine when I’m alone at a bus stop but makes me feel uncomfortable when someone else is around. No matter who else is at the bus stop I always have this strong desire to strike up a conversation but I have no idea how. A few times I’ve thought about saying, “Hey, I write this eclectic blog where I sometimes tell stories about riding the bus. What’s your story?” Yet I feel like that would impolite and while I’m on the subject I have this theory about politeness that it’s the way we deal with strangers, and I even once had a broad sweeping cultural idea that the English, who are renowned for their reserve, are so polite because they haven’t been invaded since 1066 so everyone is a stranger, whereas the allegedly rude French never meet a stranger because they’ve invaded or just treated as a geographic throughway since before they had the gall to call themselves Gauls, but that’s another story.
The bus was running late and I finally pulled the earbuds out of my ears and tried to strike up a conversation by saying, “The bus should be here any second now,” which, in terms of lousy opening lines, is second only to “Hot enough for ya?”
And the young woman snapped, “I know!” A bit rudely, really. I felt like a schmuck, but then I feel like that a lot so I’m no stranger to it.

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