Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Being There.

Some friends and I were walking through Gorky Park, the actual park, not the 1983 film, although it is interesting to me that one of my favorite comedians, Alexei Sayle, has a small role in the film. He gets shot in the head and because the special effects technicians got a little overzealous when they shot the shooting he was left temporarily deaf. While he was sitting around the set recovering Lee Marvin sat down and talked to him for about half an hour and all Sayle, who was understandably starstruck, could do was smile and nod politely.

My friends and I had just been to a Marc Chagall exhibit at a Moscow museum which, at the time, was a pretty big deal. This was 1991, the Soviet Union had collapsed less than a week earlier, and Chagall’s paintings were being shown in his native Russia for the first time since he left in 1923. It was striking to me that even though Chagall himself wouldn’t live to see it his paintings had outlasted the Soviet Union. And even though I really loved the Chagall  paintings I’d seen in books this was the first time I’d ever seen his pictures in person. No matter how good a reproduction may be it can never capture the feeling of being in front of an original painting, seeing its size, the brushstrokes, and the colors unfiltered.

Because it was snowing and because we were in a park we decided to build a snowman, although we didn’t pretend he was Parson Brown, but if we had and he’d asked, “Are you married?” we would have said, “Holy crap, it’s a talking snowman!” but that’s another story. Since we didn’t have coal or carrots we used kopecks for the eyes and nose and mouth. Some Russian kids gave us weird looks. As we walked away I looked back and saw them examining the snowman. I figured they’d take the kopecks but they didn’t touch it.

On the metro going back to the hotel we sat across from a boy who might have been seven or eight.

“Would you like a piece of candy?” one of my friends asked. He gave her a blank look. She held out a lollipop from her candy stash. He took it and politely muttered “Спасибо.” He then took out a red plastic pencil case and put the lollipop in it, keeping his head down. The rest of the trip he kept moving around the lollipop and his pencils, a smile pushing out at the corners of his mouth.

Every once in a while I think about that kid and how he must be grown now, and I wonder if any memory of us has melted away, like the lollipop and the snowman, or if he remembers that, if he feels lucky to have been there.

Keep It On Ice.

While it’s a myth that no two snowflakes are alike snowflakes still come in a dazzling array of forms.

Ice is just ice. It’s solid water. It’s not going out of its way to be special.

 

If you fall in snow it gently cushions you.

If you fall on ice it will do as much as it can to break every one of your bones.

 

Snow floats and gently coats the world as it falls.

Ice just falls. It sticks, seeps into nooks and crannies, and pushes everything aside. Ice lets you know it’s arrived.

 

Most snowflakes form around dust particles.

Ice doesn’t need help from anyone.

 

A typical snowflake has roughly 180 billion molecules of water.

Ice consumes all. It has no limits. Do not mock ice.

 

Snow forms drifts that you can see.

Ice forms invisible patches. Ice doesn’t need to be seen and wants you to know that.

 

Lie down in snow and move your arms and legs out from your body. You’ll form a snow angel.

Lie down on ice. It will make you cold. Ice is going to do its own thing and doesn’t care what you want.

 

Snow is ideal for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding.

Ice is ideal for skating and hockey. Blades and bloodshed are how ice rolls.

The largest recorded snowfall in the United States in a twenty-four hour period was in April 1921 in Silver Lake, Colorado. It snowed 75.8 inches.

Ice is a really big fan of Ethel Merman.

 

Light snow is often called “powder”.

Ice doesn’t need any silly nicknames except in drinks consumed by grim men in dark bars, and even then it’s only known as “the rocks”.

 

All snowflakes are six-sided.

Ice only has one side: ice.

 

Snow is a good insulator and can be used to build shelters.

Ice wants you to die.

 

Some people have chionophobia which means “fear of snow”.

Everyone fears ice. Ice wants it that way and ice gets what it wants.

 

There are records of snowflakes as big as fifteen inches.

Ice will cover a whole lake if it wants to. You got a problem with that? Ice wants you to come out here and jump up and down and say that.

 

Snowball fights are a fun way to enjoy the winter outdoors with your friends.

Ice ball fights are how wars get started.

 

Snow only forms under very special atmospheric conditions.

Ice is just cold. If you need this explained to you again ice will cut you.

 

Winter snowfall provides more than three-fourths of the water that supports the climate of western North America.

Ice has been implicated in international money laundering.

 

Large accumulations of snow on mountains can result in avalanches.

Ice is directly responsible for avalanches. It taunts the snow into just giving up.

 

Scientists have found layers of snow at the polar regions that go back thousands of years.

Ice advises you to just keep moving and don’t ask what happened here unless you want to end up like Sonny Corleone.

 

Frosty The Snowman is a magical character brought to life by children and forced to leave town after an altercation with the police.

Ice runs this town. You cross ice and ice will put you in a woodchipper.

 

When snow melts it turns into fluffy kittens.

When ice melts it makes everything around it cold. Ice wants you to know that you will pay.

It’s Always Brillig Somewhere.

So my wife gave me a literary tea collection because, well, I’m a bit of a reader, and by “bit of a reader” I mean I always have at least five or six books stacked up on my bedside table and a long list of books I wish I could get to, but that’s another story. Anyway I noticed a theme running through the collection.

This one might make me go blind.

This one might make me go bald.

This one might make me go bearded.

This one I can only drink when it’s brillig.

You may have noticed something else they all have in common, something which reminds me of Henry Ford’s statement, “You can have it in any color you like as long as it’s black.” He was referring, of course, to the Model Tea.

Little Things Get Big.

Source: Village Voice

Sometimes all it takes is one little thing. Back in 2012 comedian Josh Gondelman, whose birthday is today, co-created the Twitter account @SeinfeldToday which has spawned dozens of imitators. This is not to say that he stopped there, of course. He performs regularly. One of his life performances was featured on the Bullseye With Jesse Thorn podcast as part of the End of Year 2017 Comedy Special. He has a story about how he had what may be the most memorable wedding reception ever, and that’s all I’m gonna say.
And these are only steps in a career that’s been steadily rising. He’s had articles published in McSweeney’s and other publications,  and since 2014 he’s been a writer for John Oliver Tonight.
Yeah, I guess now that I think about it that’s a lot of little things adding up to a lot.

Ich Bin Kein Berliner.

I wear sneakers most of the time. They’re comfortable, they go with almost everything, and while I used to only wear plain white sneakers in the past few years I’ve started branching out into more striking grays and browns.


Yeah, fashion may not exactly be my thing, although I do have the snazzy red pair for when I want to dance the blues, and I also tend to go for what I can find on sale because I walk a lot and a pair is going to last me six months at the most.
Still I’m kind of tempted by a new Adidas sneaker made in collaboration with Berlin’s transit authority BVG, or at least I would be if they were available anywhere near me. They’re being sold exclusively in only two Berlin stores, they’re limited to a run of 500 pairs, only two shops in Berlin will be selling them, and, while I dig the design that’s based on the Berlin transit upholstery even though it’s meant to discourage graffiti–actually it looks more like a “we can’t beat ‘em so let’s join ‘em” design to me, but that’s another story, I couldn’t take advantage of the footwear’s primary feature.

The sneaker’s tongue will include a feature that’s arguably more striking—a fabric version of the annual BVG season ticket. That means the wearer gets free travel on subways, trams, buses, and ferries anywhere within Berlin public transit zones A and B— which cover almost all of the city—from January 31st to the end of the year.

That’s financially a pretty cool deal and it’s fantastic that Berlin is encouraging the use of public transit, even if only five-hundred people will get the golden ticket. I’m jealous, and also jealous that Berliners don’t just have buses but also subways, trams, and ferries, proving that sneakers really do go with everything.

Pardon My French.

When I was young one of the most popularly quoted lines among my peers was “Hell is other people” from Sarte’s No Exit. In college it was posted on the door of every dorm room, or at least every third dorm room, or maybe it was just a few on every floor and it just seemed like it was everywhere.


The problem is it was almost always misquoted, or rather misunderstood. Sure, Sarte wrote in French, and the play was originally called Huis Clos, so, yeah, anyone who said “Hell is other people” was, strictly speaking, quoting a translation of the original, but the important thing is that Sarte was one of the major figures of the Existentialist movement, and even though one of his characters says, “Hell is other people,” or something like it, the author of Being And Nothingness believed that it is our perceptions that shape the world. If Sarte knew how many kids were going around saying “Hell is other people” it would probably make him say, “Merde.”


A character from the TV show Justified put it much more succinctly: “If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. If you run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”

I Came, I Thaw, I Conquered.

So far this winter I haven’t had a cold, or at least nothing more significant than the sniffles that come from being out in the cold and stepping into a warm building which always seems to cause my nose to run. I’m not sure why this is. Even when it’s been really cold outside it hasn’t, as far as I know, been cold enough to freeze my sinuses, and even if it were I don’t think the temperature change is enough to cause such immediate thawing. If it takes the microwave at least five minutes just to get the frost off a small chicken breast I have no idea why the linings of my nasal passages, which should be a pretty stable ninety-eight and a half degrees Fahrenheit most of the time, can go from solid to liquid before I even have a chance to shut the door that divides the indoors from the outdoors. Some might think I’m inviting disaster by bragging that I haven’t been afflicted by the rhinovirus, or even the elephantvirus, the zebravirus, or the aardvarkvirus. That last one combines sniffling and sneezing with uncontrollable laughing because it’s the only known virus that has bunny ears, a pig’s nose, and a big floppy tail, but that’s another story. I’m not worried that talking about it will cause me to fall under the influenza, mostly because I’ve never been really superstitious, knock on wood, but also because I got a flu shot at the start of the season and I think my odds are pretty good even though the flu vaccine isn’t always one-hundred percent effective. It’s like the fall TV lineup: even with the best possible combination of what’s expected to work a few people are still going to get sick, but that’s another story. And I realize I’ve slipped from the common cold to the common flu even though they’re two entirely different beasts and could easily be distinguished at a distance if you could see them without a microscope. The common cold worries me even less because I have this completely unscientific idea that the reason I get at least one every year is because it’s always mutating and therefore one step ahead of my immune system, but this year maybe it’s gone into reruns and I’ve been able to head it off with some nasal streaming. And also at any sign of a cold I’ve started taking vitamin C even though I’ve never been superstitious, and I’m not sure why vitamin C, which is supposed to prevent the common scurvy, is always the treatment for a cold, although I think it has something to do with helping your nose thaw faster.

Weirdness Drives Me.

When it’s cold outside, and lately it’s been really, really, really cold outside, I like to sit at the back of the bus. Actually even when it’s warm outside I like to sit near the back of the bus, just because I’m weird like that, but when it’s cold sometimes I can find the seat at the very back of the bus that’s right over the engine so it’s nice and warm. That’s a good thing because I’ve usually been standing at the bus stop for a while, not to mention the three block walk to the stop. It’s also a bad thing because I know that getting all warmed up and sweaty is going to make the walk home from the bus stop worse than it would be if I sat in the chilly midsection of the bus, but better to be warm now and cold later than cold now and even colder later. And no matter where I sit as the bus gets closer to my stepping off stop I work my way up to the front. I always like to thank the driver and wish them a nice evening as I disembark because I think driving the bus is mostly a thankless job, unlike driving an electric streetcar which is a tankless job, and, yes, I really did go well out of my way just to make that pun because I’m weird like that.
Anyway the other day when I got on the bus there was already some guy sitting at the very back of the bus. He was sitting on one side, and it was kind of nice to know I’m not the only one who’s weird like that. When I sat down on the other side, though, I realized he was sitting on the engine side, so I made sure to give him a cold look. He stepped off only a couple of stops ahead of me but I still slipped over to his side and then had to rush to the front of the bus when we reached my stop. I was determined to get as warm as I could in the few minutes we had because, well, I’m weird like that.

 

Sic Transit.

One of the functions of art in the classical tradition is to capture the ephemeral, to make it permanent, to capture what’s fleeting and make it permanent. From the moment we’re born we start dying, but art can stop that, freeze what melts away. That’s just one idea of what art is supposed to do, but it’s a widespread idea and one that’s lasted and influenced art for thousands of years. Even as so many works have disappeared that idea has held one. Maybe that’s why, of all the graffiti I’ve collected, of all the graffiti I’ve seen, even of all the art I’ve seen, this is one of my favorite works.

It’s simple but well made, with details added by the artist and details added by the artist and details added by chance, by the wall that served as its canvas. The figures are skeletal but the gold suggests an Egyptian pharaoh’s sarcophagus: a lasting monument to a short life. I don’t know how long it had been there when I found it, when I took this picture, but the paint was starting to peel in some places, a natural underlining that nothing lasts forever.

And that, too, is a function of art: to remind us that nothing lasts forever.

 

The Law Of Averages.

The most popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, according to the Institute For The Study Of Stuff That Happens Annually, or at least that’s what I read in their bimonthly report last week. It’s also the most broken resolution, or at least would be if those people who still think it’s worthwhile to make resolutions bothered to remember them beyond mid-January. The only resolutions I remember are ones I made and then broke a long time ago, like my resolution to make notes of things so I wouldn’t forget them, and I even went to the extra effort of writing it down, but then I forgot where I wrote it down. And I’d think losing weight in the middle of winter would be an easy thing to do because I have a theory that in cold weather your body burns calories just to keep warm. After all it’s called “burning calories”. And consider this: have you ever seen a fat Canadian? Maybe you have, but there are also a lot of skinny Canadians, even though their national food is fried potatoes and cheese slathered with gravy, but that’s another story.
This year I’m doing something a little different and making a completely different resolution to get fat. In spite of the cold weather I suspect this’ll be an easier resolution to stick to, although I’m not doing it because it’s easy. If anything I see it as a challenge, and I do love a challenge, especially if it involves poutine, but the main thing is I’m looking to make a major change. Currently I’m not really skinny, but I’m not really fat either. I’m about average, and I’ve realized that pretty much sums up everything about me. If I ever commit a crime I imagine the description the eyewitnesses give the police will go something like this:

Police: What was his build?
Eyewitnesses: About average.
Police: How about height?
Eyewitnesses: About average.
Police: And his general appearance?
Eyewitnesses: That was average too.
Police: Okay, so we’ve got to put out an APB for someone who looks like everybody else.

Or maybe the police will say, “This guy’ll be easy to find. Anyone that average is some kind of freak.”

There’s nothing good about being average. There’s nothing bad about it either, though, which is part of the problem. Average people never accomplish anything, and they’re never anything major, except for Major Major in Catch-22, and Joseph Heller says, “people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.”

The other thing is, as I was contemplating this resolution, I remembered an article I read many years ago when the internet was still young and I was too, sort of, in an average way. It was by a self-described fat guy and he was making a case that being fat really has its advantages. It was easier for him because he was a guy and, let’s face it, from Henry VIII to John Belushi society has celebrated fat guys, although I hope we’re now moving toward a world where everybody, regardless of gender, can be accepted and even celebrated for who they are. Anyway, because this was before blogs and comment sections I sent the guy an email directly and told him I really liked his article and asked if he’d ever heard Allan Sherman’s “Hail To Thee, Fat Person.” He replied, which was a really exciting thing to me because he was a published author, a group I desperately wanted to be part of, and he was reading my words. He said he hadn’t heard Allen Sherman’s bit but that he’d look it up and signed off with, “Rock on, sexy fat brother!”
And I thought about replying to him and letting him know I wasn’t really fat but I didn’t. I felt like we’d had a moment, albeit electronically. I felt guilty about being mistaken for something I wasn’t but I also felt accepted, like I belonged. Even if it was only in someone else’s imagination I was still part of a group that was cool.
So now I want to do something to really be part of a group, and I invite everybody like me to join in. Come on, fellow average people, let’s do this!

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