The Weekly Essay

It’s Another Story.

Feeling Catty.

Animals pop up regularly in Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. There are rats in The Pit And The Pendulum, the orangutan in The Murders In The Rue Morgue, a gold bug in, well, The Gold Bug and deathwatch beetles in The Tell-Tale Heart, and a horse in Metzengerstein. Poe’s famous raven was, in an early draft, an owl, and in The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether there’s a woman who thinks she’s a “chicken-cock” and I never want to see that on a KFC menu, but that’s another story.

And then there’s The Black Cat. It’s the first Poe story I ever read, and I distinctly remember sitting in the school library giggling like a fiend not because it was funny–it’s not–but because it was just so over the top gory and horrifying I couldn’t believe it.

It’s the ultimate Poe story, really, drawing not just on animals but other themes from his work: someone sealed in a wall, as well as a narrator who tries to shut off his violent impulses, repressing them until they erupt. There’s no moral, no message, no point really. The narrator barely makes an attempt to justify his actions and clearly feels no remorse, because, as Stephen Peithman says in The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, “the narrator sees everything in terms of black or white There is no middle ground.” He’s done evil things and therefore can’t see himself as anything but an evil person.

Maybe there is something to it, though. At the beginning of the story the narrator and his wife have acquired “birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat”. The cat’s name is Pluto and the narrator says he’s “sagacious to an astonishing degree”. Poe almost always uses the word “sagacious” ironically but here it seems to be sincere. Pluto’s a smart cat and his reward for it is the narrator cuts out one of his eyes then hangs him. The narrator’s house burns and even though the cat itself was cut down and thrown through the house’s window during the fire an after-image of a hanged cat is left imprinted on the wall.

Or is it? Supposedly others see it but we’re not exactly dealing with a guy whose word can be trusted here.

He and his wife get another cat–this one also missing an eye, and also black, but with a white mark on its chest. And the mark changes.

The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees — degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful — it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name — and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared — it was now, I say, the image of a hideous — of a ghastly thing — of the GALLOWS ! — oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime — of Agony and of Death !

I’ll let you look up a picture of a gallows if you want but let’s just say it seems a little too specific and elaborate to be a mark you’d see in an animal’s fur. It seems pretty obvious the narrator is projecting.

Or maybe that’s just what Poe wants us to see. Or what I think Poe wants us to see. Who can really say? When I was in fifth grade–just a few years before I read The Black Cat for the first time a kid brought a Ouija board to school. On a bright sunny fall day we convinced ourselves we were communicating with the spirits of the dead. There was a fence behind the school and woods beyond it, and that afternoon we all saw a face in a distant tree. One girl even said it winked at her, and I’m giggling like a fiend here because to this day I firmly believe we were only seeing what we wanted to see.

One Star Review.

This place is, like, really really off the beaten track. We wouldn’t have even found it if we hadn’t shut off the GPS. We started out on I-10 but it was late afternoon and truckers were going by us in the fast lane like they’d lost their minds. We got off at an exit, I don’t remember which one, and just started driving until it got dark. We were driving slow along this back road and could smell some kind of plant, or maybe it was churros or something. And we heard an old church bell off in the distance.

This place was really brightly lit and it looked nice so we thought it would be a good place to stop. Even after we saw the big gold Mercedes Benz up on blocks out front. We just thought that was funny. It didn’t seem like your usual B&B but that’s what we liked about it. There was a woman standing right out in front and we both thought, places like this can be really great or they can be terrible. Or kind of meh.  

The front room was pretty nice too. They had, like, a ton of Tiffany lamps all around. All done up in what I guess would be 1920s style. The woman who met us at the door lit a candle and showed us to a room, which I especially thought was nice, very atmospheric, and there must have been some kind of party going on because we could hear voices down the hall saying “welcome, welcome.”

Here’s where things got kind of freaky. The room was nice, with Shaker style furniture, but there were mirrors on the ceiling. I swear, mirrors! On the ceiling! What was that about? And you know how hotels always used to have a Bible in the table next to the bed? Some still do but this place had The Magus by John Fowles. Maybe an English major or somebody stayed there last?

Our room had a nice window that looked out over the courtyard and there were a bunch of shirtless young guys out there dancing. Some guy in robes and a pointy hat like Gandalf I guess was playing a guitar out there and that’s what they were dancing to. Not that I’m complaining but they were kind of sweaty. It wasn’t loud but I wondered if they would keep going all night.

We were still looking at the room when the woman who checked us in said, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device,” and, wow, I got chills, but we just laughed it off. We figured it was, like the theme of the room or the place. Creepy but you go with it, you know?

They were still serving dinner so we went down. This guy in a navy double-breasted suit and a cap came over and asked if he could get us anything to drink. I asked for some wine and he said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” Well, I don’t know what that meant because I asked for the 2014 Merlot they had on the list. I guess they were out of it because they brought a couple of glasses of some rosé chardonnay, but they poured it over ice. I was like, what is this, 1976?

Then I guess there was some kind of special event because we were invited into another room in the back. This part…I don’t really want to talk about it. It was dark and I think they let a live pig or something loose in the room. They had given us these knives and there was a lot of screaming. We ran for the door and got out of there fast.

We went back to the front room and there was this, like, statue in there. We thought it was just a statue but it turns out it was a robot. It came on and said, “Good night, we are programmed to receive.” Then it sighed and said something about the diodes down its left side hurting and how it had a brain the size of a planet. It told us we could check out any time but we couldn’t leave which could make anybody paranoid if you think about it.

Well, we got out of there and I didn’t think anything about it until I just got the credit card statement and we’re still being charged! I’m writing this while I’m on hold trying to get it taken off our bill.

All this because we took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  

A Foot To Stand On

My feet are filthy. That’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s happened because this summer I’ve spent more time without wearing shoes than at any time in my life since I was a kid, and while I haven’t really been slacking in personal hygiene my usual morning ablutions just aren’t enough to ablate the accumulated ungular grime. In truth I did notice how sullied my hooves have become before my wife threatened to ban me from the bedroom, or at least the bed, but I really didn’t think it was that big a deal until my wife threatened to ban me from the bedroom, or at least the bed. What’s weird is my right foot is dirtier than my left foot, so maybe we could reach a compromise with me keeping my right foot on the floor and my left foot in the bed, and it would be easy since I sleep on the left side of the bed anyway. I’d just have to sleep on my back, although I tend to snore when I do that which can also get me banned from the bedroom, and anyway it’s hard to sleep or do anything else in bed with one foot on the floor, as anyone in a Hollywood Hays Code film can tell you, but that’s another story. Anyway all this may or may not confirm what I’ve believed my whole life: my left foot is my favorite foot. If I’m asked to put my best foot forward it’s always my left foot, even if I can’t dance to it.

Anyway this has provoked flashbacks to the summer between second and third grade when my right foot betrayed me. It might argue that I betrayed it, but that’s such a right foot thing to say. It was like most summers in that as soon as school let out the first thing I did was take my shoes and socks off and go running outside, never to return to the campus, at least until fall, or so I thought until I came home from the bus stop and my mother had to drive me back to school to pick up my shoes and socks that I’d left by the classroom door.

After that summer really started. I’d get up and go from when I woke up in the morning until I came in for the last time at night without putting my feet in any canvas confinement. I didn’t think about the hard concrete steps of our porch until the night I stubbed my right big toe on one.

The nighttime stars weren’t the only ones I saw.

My toe swelled up like a giant purple slug, pulsing with pain, and the nail, pushed back from whence it had grown, turned crimson. I iced it and kept off of it and let it sleep in the bed rather than the floor and it mostly recovered, but that was my introduction to what’s known as an ingrown toenail. And an infected one at that. On the doctor’s orders I spent about a week with my foot in a tub of warm salt water and eventually, with some judicious trimming and a high protein diet, my nail grew back out and I could walk free again.

And that was the end of it. All was forgiven. Hey, accidents happen, especially to feet, and even if I play favorites with my feet I couldn’t get upright without both of them. I ran free once again.

Then about a month later, just as summer was coming to an end and I was coming home I stubbed my toe again.

Is It Street Legal?

Car painted by Kyle Bryce Monteiro. Source: Instagram (user @kbmerone)

Art critics, art historians, and even artists have a lot of terms for art—terms for types of art, for techniques, and so on—so it’s funny to me whenever I think of the line attributed to various people “Writing about art is like dancing about architecture.” Actually I would like to see dancing about architecture; it would be more interesting than most of what I’ve read about architecture, but that’s another story. And I get it. If I use the term “landscape” it’s probably going to conjure up a very different image, or set of images, in your mind than what I’m thinking of, but that’s the beauty of language, and art, and the language we use to talk about art. It’s not a failing of language that it doesn’t capture “the real thing”; it’s what gives language its flexibility, and the flexibility makes it useful. Art is a form of language, and vice versa, and everything exists in and is shaped by context. Artists are inspired by each other and do similar things, but those inspirations are also a jumping-off point for doing their own thing, just as we all use the same words in conversation but with our own individual perspective.

What powered this particular train of thought was the term “graffiti” and how it’s evolved over time—from a term that referred to messages ancient Greek tourists scratched into monuments that said things like, “cool pyramids, would recommend” to painted works, and from there the terminology starts to get really fuzzy. For some people “graffiti” is illegal, a form of vandalism, no matter how well done it is. And then there are commissioned and approved works of art that look like graffiti—murals that use bubble or jagged letters, for instance. And I know some people call that “street art”. Or they use the term “street art” to refer to the illegal stuff and “graffiti” to refer to the approved works. It all gets really confusing and I’m not gonna tell anyone how they should or shouldn’t use the terms because I’m still wondering why there’s no graffiti in American Graffiti.

And I didn’t just randomly start thinking about the term “graffiti”. What started me on that was the car that graffiti artist Kyle Bryce Monteiro painted to look like a cartoon car. It’s really cool and obviously thought-provoking.

Just don’t get me started on the etymology of the term cartoon.

All Together Now.

An Irish pub in Spain is banning the classic singalong song “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond to keep its patrons safer…A photo posted by the pub’s owner Linda Carroll showed the sign explaining the decision: “Due to COVID-19 ‘Sweet Caroline’ is banned. There will be no: touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you.”

-delish.com, August 4, 2020

COVID-19 Karaoke Playlist:

Human Touch (Bruce Springsteen)-NO

Invisible Touch (Genesis)-NO

Sometimes When We Touch (Dan Hill)-NO

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams)-YES

Touch And Go (The Cars)-NO

Just A Touch (R.E.M.)-NO

Alone (Heart)-YES

Always On My Mind (Willie Nelson/Pet Shop Boys)-YES

Touch Me In The Morning (Diana Ross)-NO

Stand Back (Stevie Nicks)-YES

You Touch My Heart (Phil Collins)-NO

Might As Well Be On Mars (Alice Cooper)-YES

Out Of Touch (Hall And Oates)-YES

Stay Away (Nirvana)-YES

Lean On Me (Bill Withers)-NO

Miss Your Touch (Cassie Ventura)-YES

Can’t Touch This (MC Hammer)-YES

I Want To Hold Your Hand (The Beatles)-NO

Touch Too Much (AC/DC)-NO

Get Down On It (Kool And The Gang)-NO

Black Dog (Led Zeppelin)-NO

I Ran (Flock Of Seagulls)-YES

With Or Without You (U2)-NO. Or YES.

Hold Her In Your Hand (The Bee Gees)-NO

Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)-YES

Don’t Stand So Close To Me (The Police)-YES. WHY ISN’T THIS AT THE TOP OF OUR LIST?

Gimme Some Money (Spinal Tap)-NO

Don’t Come Around Here No More (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers)-YES

Isolation (John Lennon)-YES

I Drink Alone (George Thorogood And The Destroyers)-YES

Dancing With Myself (Billy Idol)-YES

Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones)-NO

Piano Man (Billy Joel)-ONLY IF THE BAR IS AT 25% CAPACITY

I Am A Rock (Simon And Garfunkel)-YES

Lola (The Kinks)-NO

One More Minute (Weird Al Yankovic)-YES

Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)-NO

Green Onions (Booker T & The MGs)-UH HOW DO YOU SING THAT?

Keep Your Hands To Yourself (The Georgia Satellites)-YES

All By Myself (Eric Carmen)-YES, SERIOUSLY THIS SHOULD BE AT THE TOP OF OUR LIST.

Sunday Morning Coming Down (Johnny Cash)-YES

I Think We’re Alone Now (Tiffany)-MAYBE

Roam (The B-52’s)-NO

Let’s Stay Together (Al Green)-NO

Addicted To Love (Robert Palmer)-NO

The French Inhaler (Warren Zevon)-WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Somebody To Love (Queen)-NO

I Touch Myself (The Divinyls)-YES

Close To You (The Carpenters)-NO

So Far Away (Carole King)-YES

Stand By Me (Ben E. King)-YES IF YOU KEEP SIX FEET AWAY

Sharp Dressed Man (ZZ Top)-WHY IS HE NOT WEARING PANTS?

You Are Not Alone (The Eagles)-NO

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida-NO ONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S ABOUT AND IT FRIGHTENS CHILDREN SO YES.

The Parting Glass (Traditional)-I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE?

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (Allan Sherman)-NOW YOU’RE JUST MESSING WITH ME.

Ye Newe Renaissance Faire.

Hi everyone. Thanks for accepting the invitation to the planning meeting for this year’s Renaissance Fair. So. I know it’s strange that we’re going ahead with this, but I have some ideas about how we can make it work. We won’t be using the site, of course, but I think the virtual experience we’re offering will be just as rewarding for our guests as the real thing.

First, some of you may remember my assistant from previous years, whom we all know as Lord Sudsbury.

No, I’m not going to call you that, Kevin. We agreed on Lord Sudsbury, remember? We did not agree on “Sir Osis Of Liver”.  

All right, first of all we’ll have performances by our favorite pike-wielding minstrels. Yes, I’m talking about the Britannia Spears. They’ll help us kick things off at ten in the morning and they’ll perform until eleven. They’ve been staying at least a furlong from each other but they’ve been practicing over Zoom and I think they sound great.

I’m really excited that Leanna will be returning. Although she won’t be able to have her usual crafts booth she will be doing a pottery demonstration from ten to eleven in the morning, and another one from two to three in the afternoon. We’ll also have links to her Etsy page on the site and in the video demonstration.

We’ll have another performance by the Spears from eleven to twelve and a separate room where we’ve got a local university professor to give a talk on castle building and a demonstration on how you can build your own from cardboard boxes. So that’ll be fun for the kids. And also…Lord Sudsbury, please don’t interrupt. Seriously, Kevin, we don’t need to know how many toilet paper tubes you’ve saved.

We’ll be taking the usual break for lunch from twelve to one and have an arrangement with Green Door to deliver hot turkey legs for people who’ve ordered them, and we also have a vegan and Tofurky option for the vegetarians and vegans out there, as well as curly fries and a selection of cakes from our regular bakery partner Where Is Fancy Bread.

From one to two in the afternoon Toby and Andrew will show off their storytelling skills. They’ve got an all new fairy tale for us and instead of their usual tip jar they’ll have their Venmo number in their PowerPoint slide show.

Yes, Lord Sudsbury, thank you for reminding me about that. We’re still working on technical issues but we hope to have a virtual version of the traditional Soak-A-Bloke with Lord Sudsbury in the dunking tank.

Kevin, this year could you please not come out in the Klingon outfit?

Yeah, today is a good day for someone to die.

No, Lord Sudsbury, we will not be having a mead drinking competition, even if you are already way ahead.

Anyway we’ll have more performances by the Britannia Spears and I’m especially excited that Anna and Mark have found space on a local farm and have gotten the video equipment to give us their usual jousting demonstration.

Kevin, I’m not going to ask you again. Either pull up your stockings or pull down your tunic. No one wants to see your lance.

Yeah, don’t kid yourself. That’s not a codpiece. It’s barely a minnow.

Where was I? Oh yes, since we can’t have our candlelight dance in the evening we’re going to have a special streaming of The Adventures Of Robin Hood, the 1938 film with Douglas Fairbanks.

What’s that, Lord Sudsbury? You made alternate arrangements? Kevin, that is not what we agreed on.

Excuse me, everyone, I have to make a correction. We’ll have a special streaming of the 1993 Mel Brooks film Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

And finally I have a special addendum: a demonstration featuring Lord Sudsbury of what it means to have someone drawn and quartered.

The End Of The Line.

This weekend I took a trip out to the end of a bus line. That wasn’t why I went. The end of the #5 bus line, all the way at the far end of the Belle Meade area, is also a recycling center with big bins for people to drop off their cardboard, paper, plastic, and glass. We have curbside recycling that picks up once a month and takes cardboard, paper, and plastic, but not glass. So I’ve been setting bottles and jars aside for months and we had a pretty big glass buildup in the basement, which sounds like an odd euphemism—“I’ll be in the bathroom for a while; I’ve got, uh, a pretty big glass buildup in the basement”—but that’s another story.

Anyway as I said it’s also the end of the #5 bus route, and a place where people who are so inclined could park their cars and take the bus the rest of the way to work. I don’t know how many people are so inclined. I’ve never seen any cars parked there, but then I’ve only been there on the weekends. I’ve never deliberately ridden the #5 bus route. I have gotten on accidentally. It goes down Nashville’s West End, right in front of the building where I work, in fact, and because West End is a major street the #3 bus also runs part of the way along the same route until they get to White Bridge Road. Then the #3 turns right and the #5 keeps going straight. Back when Nashville’s buses were lower tech they didn’t have signs on the front that told you where they were going, and since few routes overlapped that wasn’t a problem, but one day I caught a bus in front of my building and asked the driver if he’d be going down White Bridge Road.

“Oh yeah, hop on!”

So I did.

A few blocks later he said, “Oh, wait, this bus goes out to Belle Meade.”

I don’t know why he got confused. Maybe he had a buildup of glass in his basement. It was a good thing he remembered when he did, though. The #5 route goes down Highway 70, and there are long stretches that aren’t particularly pedestrian friendly. There are the expansive homes of Belle Meade and their more expansive lawns, and as you approach a slow but steady hill a rocky cliff rises up on one side. Just past the crest of that hill there’s occasionally a small fruit and vegetable stand, which is funny to me and also kind of odd because it’s a terrible place to stop so I wonder how they ever do any business. And once you come down the hill there’s a lot of open green space on one side and apartments on the other, before you reach a shopping center with grocery stores and restaurants and, lately, a guy standing on the corner holding a big sign that says, “REPENT NOW!” And it’s kind of odd to me that he’s working that spot because, although there are sidewalks and a lot of businesses, it’s still not a pedestrian friendly area, and if, say, you want to get groceries after you’ve had Thai food for lunch you have to get in your car because even though the two places are just across the street from each other that street is six lanes of heavy traffic. And beyond that is more green space, some churches, and another shopping center that used to be anchored by the Bellevue Mall, which has since been torn down. Bellevue, by the way, is Belle Meade’s poor step-sibling. And finally after all that is the recycling center and bus stop, tucked away down a side street that overlooks a soccer field.

Yeah, now that I think about it I can understand why, with all that stuff in the way, the bus driver temporarily forgot where he was going.

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