Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Getting Back.

So even though I was called for jury duty I was ultimately not selected to serve. What I did do was spend the entire day in a courtroom with about fifty other people while lawyers questioned potential jurors, excusing one after another, never calling me. At one point a defense attorney asked the people in the jury box, “How many of you are familiar with Star Trek?” and they all looked baffled as though this was something they’d never heard of and I thought, oh please, if I’m ever charged with a crime please let there be at least one Trekkie in the jury. It was a pretty grueling process, or maybe it was oatmealing since it left me feeling pretty flat, or porridging since the jurors all seemed so thick, but that’s another story. Toward the end of the day, after more than five hours of questions and excuses, one of the clerks said, “Damn, I’ve never seen it go on this long!” Lucky us.
Getting to jury duty was easy–I went to where I normally work and caught a bus downtown. It was easy because I could catch any bus going downtown–they all go to the same bus depot. The buses departing the depot, on the other hand, all go in different directions so I had to catch the right one to get home. And normally that’s easy, but right now the Music City Central bus depot is being completely renovated and everything upstairs is completely shut down except for the donut shop because they have priorities.

Anyway this meant that the regular departure stations and times for the buses, especially the couple of buses that would get me home, are completely changed. I had to walk all around the block to try and figure out where to go. I couldn’t even get help at the temporary customer service kiosk which is designed with an oceanic theme even though Nashville is in the heart of a landlocked state.

At one point one of my buses stopped at a red light while I was standing on the corner. I waved to the driver and he shook his head because, you know, it’s not like bus drivers just go around picking up people.
I had no problem with doing my civic duty but once it was over it seemed like the difficulty getting out was just adding insult to jury.

Below The Surface.

There will be spoilers…

So Netflix has just dropped a new season of Bojack Horseman which surprised me since season 4 ended on an unusually happy note, at least for Bojack and some of his friends. Things had taken a downward turn for Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter, but then no one’s ever permanently happy, not even in the world of Lisa Hanawalt’s cleverly designed anthropomorphic animals. Now that the show is back I’m taking the opportunity to revisit and expand on a previous post I wrote about the role of art and art history plays in the show, usually quietly and in the background.

Or not so quietly.
Source: Daily Art Magazine

History and how it affects us is one of the strongest themes throughout the series but it became even more prominent as season 4 delved deeply into the history of Bojack’s mother. It’s a history that, sadly, he’ll never know, but it affected, and still affects, his relationship with her, including his discovery that he has a half-sister. The works of art that appear in the background are often visual puns, sometimes foreshadowing, sometimes providing insight into a character, but collectively underline the idea of history as jumbled. Rather than the Hegelian view of art history as a series of steps or, in works like Gombrich’s The Story Of Art, a progression from “primitive” to “advanced” history isn’t really linear. It’s cumulative. It’s more like a a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, but that’s another show.

Interestingly this seems to contradict something Diane says in the final episode of season 1. When Bojack asks her if he’s a good person “deep down,” she replies, “I don’t think I believe in deep down. I kinda think that all you are is just the things that you do.” But maybe that’s the point: if all we are is what we do then there is no hope for redemption, no chance for understanding. Our actions have to be put in context, don’t they? And some moments in the show can be peeled apart to reveal weirdly hilarious meta-contexts, such as when Wallace Shawn agrees to do a movie so he can keep buying Mark Rothko paintings. Early on in My Dinner With Andre he reflects that, “I grew up on the Upper East Side, and when I was 10 years old, I was rich! I was an aristocrat. Riding around in taxis, surrounded by comfort, and all I thought about was art and music. Now I’m 36, and all I think about is money!” Rothko’s work was also the subject of a lawsuit when, after his death, his financial advisor sold a large number of his paintings to a gallery at a greatly reduced price. And never mind that we’re talking about works of art recreated, sometimes re-envisioned, in an animated world.

Why, yes, that is a Klimt.
Source: Daily Art Magazine

To get back to the subject, though, Bojack Horseman reminds us how much we are the sum of not just our choices but the world we live in. There’s more to us than just what’s on the surface because, deep down, the past is always present.

Thanks to Daily Art Magazine which has a pretty comprehensive list of art from the series.

The Boss Would Like A Word With You.

Rough drafts of the saying “If you have time to lean you have time to clean”:

“If you have time to sleep you have time to sweep.”

“If you have time to flop you have time to mop.”

“If you have time for relieving you have time for receiving.”

“If you have time to sit back you have time to get on track.”

“If you have time to rust you have time to dust.”

“If you have time to cavort you have time to sort.”

“If you have time to stare at the walls you have time to make some calls.”

“If you have time to recline you have time to get back on the line.”

“If you have time to be urbane you have time to train.”

“If you have time to engage in oratory you have time to do inventory.”

“If you have time to contemplate your life choices you have time to pay some invoices.”

“If you have time to look up the history of the soda jerk you have time to go and get back to work.”

“If you have time to buy tickets to the theater you have time to clean the break room refrigerator.”

“If you have time for leisure you have time to measure and yes I am going to pronounce it that way.”

“If you have time to plan your vacation you have time to finish some last minute projects before your vacation.”

“If you have time to carouse you have time to something something plows.”

“If you have time to stand around the water cooler you have time to go and get my watch a new battery at the jeweler.”

“If you have time to lounge you have time to scrounge. Up some work. Go scrounge up some work. Get busy before I dock your pay for laughing at me.”

“I’m going to be in my office playing Minesweeper. Look busy in case anyone comes in and thinks you’re a-sleeper.”





Getting There.

When I got the notice to report for jury duty the first thing my wife asked was, “How will you get there?” which was better than the first thing I asked: “Will they give us legal pads?” because she’s more practical. But then it didn’t take much for me to figure out that I’d take the bus because the courthouse is somewhere downtown. Even though I’ve lived in Nashville most of my life I don’t know where a lot of things in the city are, a fact that was really brought home to me my freshman year in college in Indiana and a group of my friends suggested a day trip to Nashville and I said, “Sure, I’d really like to see it” and everyone stared at me. I assumed they meant Nashville, Indiana, which is where every person from Indiana I’ve ever met has assumed I’m talking about when I say I’m from Nashville. Anyway they meant Music City, which is a nickname for Nashville, Tennessee, not to be confused with Music City, Iowa, which, if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know is egregiously misnamed, but that’s another story. About midday while we were driving around downtown someone said, “We should get lunch,” and everyone agreed and looked at me, and I said, “Yeah, of course, I’m all for lunch, it’s the most important midday meal of the day,” and everyone kept staring at me because they expected me to know a place to go for lunch, but even though there were places I knew they were all in a completely different part of town, so we ended up going to Chinatown, which is not a specific neighborhood of Nashville the way it is in New York or San Francisco but a restaurant called Chinatown.
Anyway it occurred to me that I should do a test run and find out where exactly the courthouse I’m supposed to report to is, so I caught a bus downtown. And I had an advantage I didn’t have in college: Google Maps. According to it the building is just a five minute walk from the bus depot which is a terrible overestimate. The Justice A.A. Birch Building is a less than two minute walk and turned out to be pretty conspicuous.

I was able to make it down there, figure out where I was going, and get back all on my lunch break. And taking the bus is definitely the way to go because the parking downtown is terrible.
That’s something I’ve learned from having lived here most of my life.

Go Big.

Is it possible to convey just how big a really large work of art is or do you have to stand in front of it to really understand its size? One example that comes to my mind is Gericault’s Raft Of The Medusa, a painting I’d seen reproduced dozens of times, always on a small scale. I knew from what I’d read that it was a massive painting, but somehow I couldn’t wrap my head around just how big sixteen feet by twenty-three and a half feet really is until I was standing in front of it, and had to walk back and forth and crane my head way back just to take it all in. It’s not surprising that it took Gericault nine months to paint it–from November 1818 to July 1819. In fact it’s surprising he did it that quickly even though he didn’t leave his studio or work on anything else that entire time.

The only way I can think of to explain the difference between seeing a reproduction and seeing the real thing is with another completely different comparison. My whole life I’ve heard “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” and when people told me about going from Tennessee to a more arid climate they’d always say, “It’s true! The humidity really does make a difference!” And I believed them. I just couldn’t understand how much of a difference it made until I went to Palm Springs, California, in June, where the temperature went up to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit–that’s 40 degrees Celsius but with zero humidity it felt like 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Or at least it didn’t feel that hot. Here in Nashville when it gets that warm going outside is like swimming. Even if you don’t do the breaststroke down the sidewalk you’re still gonna get soaked. In Palm Springs it felt pleasant, even cool, until you dropped from dehydration.

What I’m getting at is that I don’t know if I can convey just how big this graffiti is, and its size is even more impressive considering that most graffiti by its very nature has to be done in a hurry. Maybe this will give a better idea of the scale.

I didn’t plan to wear a shirt that matched the paint. That was just a lucky coincidence.

Granted I’m not that tall–I stand just 5’6″, or about 1.68 meters if you want to get metric about it. I’m short enough that I look up to most people, but still that should give you some idea of how big this work is even if you’re not the one standing in front of it.


Who Am I To Judge?

So I’ve been called up for jury duty, or at least I have to report to the courthouse to be considered for jury duty, part of a great American tradition of allowing people to be judged by a group of their peers. I’m not sure I’d want to be judged by my peers, although, really, I’m not sure who my peers are exactly. When they made me they broke the mold, and I wish I hadn’t still been in it, but that’s another story. This is actually the second time I’ve been called up for jury duty. The first time I was able to get out of it with the excuse that I had cancer, although I was asked if I could postpone my cancer for a later date. This time, though, it’s federal jury duty, which is not only a whole different ballgame, it’s a different league. First they sent me a letter. Then they sent me an email to remind me I’d gotten the letter. Then one day I was in a coffee shop and a guy walked by me and said, “Hey, don’t forget to report for jury duty,” because they not only know where I live; they know where I hang out.
I know most people are annoyed whenever they get called up for jury duty which is another reason I’m not sure I’d want to be judged by my peers—it doesn’t seem to work on the defendant’s behalf if their fate is being decided by twelve people who’d rather be somewhere else—but I’m kind of looking forward to it. It’ll be a break from my usual routine, I’ll hopefully get to hang out with some interesting people, and maybe even get a part in Twelve Angry Men, but updated and more gender-neutral, so it’ll be Eleven Angry People and me over in the corner saying, “Sorry, I know I’ve got my notes here somewhere.” At least I can be sure that if I have to serve on a jury and we’re all sworn to secrecy about the case I won’t have any trouble keeping my mouth shut. Admittedly I have trouble keeping my mouth shut most of the time but there are things I just won’t talk about and other things I prefer to talk about and unless the case involves a priest, a minister, a rabbi, a pirate, a dog with his foot in a bandage, a horse, and a grasshopper all walking into a bar I’m very unlikely to even want to talk about it, let alone spill what the stenographer heard. A friend I worked with once complained that I never seemed to know any office gossip and I was a little offended that it didn’t occur to her that maybe I knew tons of office gossip. Maybe I was privy to a million little secrets whispered to me in the privy by people who mistook me for someone who cared. Maybe the reason no one ever heard any office gossip from me was because I don’t go around blabbing things told to me in confidence. That’s the thing about secrets: you never really know who’s good at keeping them until you tell one to someone who isn’t.
To get back to the subject of getting out of jury duty a guy I work with told me he’d been called up for jury duty six times, which makes me wonder if he pissed off some petty official in the justice system or if it was just random chance that his number came up so often. Or maybe there was something about his name that made someone think he’d be an excellent jurist or that just drew attention, a hypothesis I could test by creating an alter-ego named Horatio M. Worthyperson and seeing if he gets called up for jury duty. Anyway this guy I worked with told me he always took a book with him and never got picked to serve. “So they don’t want readers,” he said. I find it hard to believe he was the only person there passing the time with a book and I also know he’s a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft so I suspect it was what he was reading more than that he was reading that made the lawyers pass him over.
The fact that most people want to get out of jury duty seems to me to say something really positive about human nature: however much we judge each other on a daily basis most people, given the opportunity, would rather not be responsible for deciding another person’s fate. Or maybe that says something really terrible about human nature that most people, given the opportunity, would rather skip out on exonerating the innocent and holding the guilty accountable. Or maybe it says something entirely different about human nature—that we’re lazy, or, alternatively, that we want to be good citizens but realize the law is complicated and nuanced and worry that we’re not up to the challenge of treating a case as responsibly as it deserves. Or maybe it’s another possibility that I haven’t even thought of. Yeah, I can tell I’m gonna be really popular with my peers.


When Is A Door Not A Door?

I’m not sure how long exactly the bus had been stopped. It probably wasn’t more than a few minutes but I was lost in my usual afternoon commute reverie, probably listening to Jackie Kashian’s Dork Forest podcast and thinking that one of my life goals is to be a guest on it someday. Sometimes I’ll zone out so completely on the bus that when I finally snap to I’ll look around and say, Hey, I’m almost home, or, on occasion, This doesn’t look familiar at all, am I on the right bus? What brought me out of my delirium was the driver pulling the door shut. He sat down then got up and pushed it open and pulled it shut again. From what I gathered there was something wrong with the door mechanism so it wouldn’t close completely. And I realized something I should have noticed a long time ago: the doors on the bus are now completely automated. For the doors in the back this makes sense, but the doors in the front used to be operated by a hand-pulled lever. I remember the time I was on a school bus and trying to sit back with my Walkman and zone out to a mixtape but some jerk in the back thought it was funny to throw books at me. So I threw one back and the driver stopped the bus and came to yell at me. I said, Screw this, went up to the front of the bus, and pulled the door lever myself—it gave me a powerful feeling to take an action normally reserved only for the driver. And I needed that powerful feeling because I had a pretty long walk home, but that’s another story.
With all the changes to buses getting rid of the simple hand-cranked door opener seems pretty boneheaded. Not all upgrades are improvements which is why some don’t last. If you’re of a certain age you may remember talking cars–and I don’t mean Kit from Knight Rider, although if you’re old enough to remember that you may also remember that some car models would tell you “Door is ajar” when the door was open. Or sometimes when it wasn’t open. Talking technology has its advantages but potential downsides too.

Source: XKCD

I went on a test drive with a friend in a car that insisted on telling us “Door is ajar”. I don’t remember what kind of car it was, just that it was well out of the price range of a guy who had to use a rope to keep the trunk shut of his current ride shut, but somehow we talked the dealer into letting us take it for a spin, maybe because it was early Wednesday morning in early summer and he was bored and knew he wasn’t going to sell anything anyway. While we were tooling around we stopped at a mini-mart to get some drinks. When we got in and closed the doors the car said, “Door is ajar.”
He opened his door and shut it.
“Door is ajar.”
He opened and shut his door harder this time.
“Door is ajar.”
He opened his door and slammed it.
“Watch it,” I said. “Prettyto look at, nice to hold, but if it breaks consider it sold.”
He glared at me. Then we drove back to the dealership with the car still occasionally telling us, “Door is ajar.”
When we got back we made sure to leave before the dealer could close the door.

Believe In Art.

So the Pope looks up and says, “Uh, Michelangelo, when I asked you to paint the ceiling I meant beige.”

Religion and art have been so deeply entwined throughout history that it’s hard to separate the two. Even religious traditions with a strict prohibition against the worship of idols have incorporated works of art into regular practice–the use of icons in Christian Orthodoxy, for instance.

I’m not a particularly religious person myself but there is a lot of great art inspired by and celebrating religion. And for some the two may not be so separate; there are plenty of artists for whom art is their religion, and arguably all art expresses a belief in something, even if that belief is just that they can make a quick buck off of it. The confluence of art and religion, needless to say, is a really big subject, one that can fill several books, and in fact has. And I just realized while writing this that the proliferation of -isms in early 20th century art was comparable to a set of religious schisms even though Cubists and Orphists didn’t go out and kill each other, but that’s another story.

I also think of being an artist as a calling–not that different from preaching a particular faith. The artist and the priest may have different ways of getting their message out but they both have a message. At its best religious art celebrates whatever belief gets the artist out of bed in the morning and can inspire even those of us who don’t share the artist’s faith. You don’t need religion to be a good person, and, as recent revelations about the Catholic Church remind us, religious people aren’t necessarily good, although I do believe that all well-done art–religious or secular–makes us better people. As Joseph Brodsky said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “On the whole, every new aesthetic reality makes man’s ethical reality more precise. For aesthetics is the mother of ethics.”

Now if you’re wondering why I’m talking about religious art it’s because I assume the graffiti above is religious in nature, representing Buddhism’s red lotus of love and compassion. According to legend wherever the Buddha stepped a lotus blossomed. And there’s something very powerful about an artist who’s trespassing and making their art illicitly asking for love and compassion.

At least that’s what I believe. Maybe there isn’t any religious intent here, but consider the work in context.


Not Far From The Tree.

It’s not quite Fall in the northern hemisphere but already the days are noticeably shorter. The mating calls of the crickets, cicadas, and katydids are louder with the fierce urgency of the late season. The sky is more blue, the mornings are more crisp, or that just might be the drugs kicking in. Soon it will be harvest season. All these combined to prompt the following pop quiz: Apple variety of classic American burlesque performer?

1. Granny Smith

2. Lily St. Cyr

3. Beverly Hills

4. Birgit Bonnier

5. Mamie Van Doren

6. Royal Gala

7. D’Arcy Spice

8. Sally Rand

9. Carolina Red June

10. Chesty Morgan

11. Gypsy Rose Lee

12. Pacific Rose

13. Paula Red

14. Pink Lady

15. Yakety Sax

16. Ginger Gold

17. Golden Delicious

18. Ann Corio

19. Honeycrisp

20. Honey West

21. Kerry Pippin

22. Jayne Mansfield

23. Fanny Brice

24. Al Lewis

25. Roxbury Russet

1-5: Like the crickets, cicadas, and katydids your mating calls are louder at this time of year.

6-10: Cider? You hardly knew her!

10-15: Your tassels are showing.

15-20: You really like them apples.

20-25: You’ve spent more time in burlesque clubs than Morey Amsterdam.

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