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Drying Out.

Most of Tennessee, most of the southeastern United States, I think, has been experiencing a drought. I’m not kidding when say I hear about floods or massive hurricanes affecting other areas right now and wish there were an easy way to move that water away from places where it’s doing damage and put it where it’s needed—but spread it out enough that it doesn’t do damage here either. A flood or hurricane is terrible but fast, even if the consequences are long-lasting. A drought is a tragedy in slow motion.

There’s a shopping center next to where I get off the bus and lately the sprinklers have been running when I disembark. For a while I could make the joke that I sometimes make about certain neighbors: “I know it’s going to rain. The people down the street are running their sprinklers.” Maybe there’s a house like that in every neighborhood, a house where, if you didn’t know better, you’d swear their sprinklers are able to magically conjure up rain. Although they’re not nearly as bad as the people next door to them whose automatic sprinkler system only seems to come on when it rains, but that’s another story.

As it became clearer we were having a drought, though, I stopped joking about the sprinklers running. And then I started wondering if it was a waste of water, although green grass helps prevent erosion. Xeriscaping is fine in arid regions, but in places where dryness is unusual it can cause problems when the rains finally come.

And the running sprinklers cause problems too—for me, anyway. One day a bus driver nicely stopped far enough from the sidewalk that, he pointed out, I wouldn’t have to step right into the spray. That was fine but I still had to get to the sidewalk anyway. And other drivers haven’t been so considerate. But a bright side of the weather is the humidity is low and my legs were dry by the time I got home.

The Eyes Have It.

There is so much that could be said about the use of eyes in art that I don’t know where to begin. In fact I’ve put off writing some pictures I’ve taken of graffiti with eyes because I don’t know where to begin, because there is so much that can be said about eyes in art going back at least as far as ancient Egypt and the Eye of Horus, which was used a ts a protective symbol, both worn and placed on the bow of ships to serve as a lookout. There’s the fact that in most sculptures of people or animals the eyes are left blank, although there are exceptions. The most famous one might be the Colossus of Constantine which has carved out irises and pupils. Constantine is probably meant to be looking heavenward but to me he looks more like he’s rolling his eyes, which might be why his head goes flying around during the opening credits of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian, but that’s another story.

In painting there’s the Mona Lisa, and in several of Monet’s paintings people look directly out at the viewer, which was considered controversial at the time. And I can see why. There’s something a little unnerving about a painting, even one that’s not necessarily trompe l’oeil, staring back at you because you know it will never blink. If it does, though, well, that could mean trouble. Or it could mean you’re in a Scooby Doo cartoon and there’s someone behind the painting watching you through the eye holes. And that reminds me that in many cultures there’s the “evil eye”, with various charms against it. If you’ve read Carlos Collodi’s Pinocchio, and not just watched the Disney cartoon version, you know that when Gepetto starts carving Pinocchio the puppet’s eyes immediately glare at him. I’m not sure why he doesn’t stop carving right then and throw the wood in the fire–although it would have made the story a lot shorter.

Anyway most of us take in art by looking at it. Not all art is visual, and even though touching most paintings is verboten—unless you’re looking for an excuse to get thrown out of a museum—I wish we could. A lot of paintings have thick layers of paint and being able to touch those would add a whole new level of understanding. That’s even more true of sculpture. The artist Sylvia Hyman made ceramic works that look so much like paper people are surprised when they touch them, which usually isn’t allowed because they’re so fragile.

I’m getting off the subject of eyes, maybe because there’s so much to say about it, or maybe because it unnerves me. When we look into a painted eye the painted eye looks back into us.

Passing The Test.

To: All Employees, Braeburn Building

From: Building Management

Subject: Emergency Drill.

Hello Everyone,

First of all we’d like to thank you for your understanding while participating in the emergency drill earlier this week. This is our first test of the emergency notification system or ENS, which is required annually, since we began managing the building seventeen months ago. We know there were some mistakes made and we’d like to address some of those now. We’d also like to offer assurance that we are reviewing the procedures and will be making adjustments based on both our own conclusions and feedback from you. We’ve already received a great deal of constructive feedback from you as well as from the police and fire departments and we really appreciate it.

First of all we’d like to defend the decision not to inform building employees that we would be conducting a test of the building’s ENS. We felt that it would be a more effective test if people were not given advance warning. This decision is currently under review. Going forward, however, it will always be our policy to notify the police and fire departments in advance that we’ll be conducting a test. On the bright side we found that if there had been a real emergency we can count on first responders to get here within minutes.

We also made several changes to our plans before conducting the test. For example it was suggested that someone from building management run down the hallway of each floor screaming unintelligibly just before or during the activation of the emergency notification system. We didn’t want to cause too much alarm by having the person scream something specific and we can all agree that this was the right decision. Abandoning this plan before we conducted the test, we can all agree, was also the right decision.

We apologize to employees who work on the 9th Floor that Kevin was not informed that we decided not to implement this part of the test.

Second, it is standard procedure for the elevators to shut down automatically when the ENS is activated. We apologize to those who were in the elevators at the time and will be making adjustments to make sure the elevators don’t stop between floors, and that the doors open.

Third, and speaking of doors, we are very glad to see that almost everyone used the stairwells and proceeded to the emergency exits at the ground floor, as instructed. We apologize for the fact that the emergency exits were locked. In our defense the building goes on automatic lockdown between 7:00PM and 7:00AM for security reasons.

The ENS was activated at 8:30AM, but after careful review we realized Kevin had failed to adjust the building clocks correctly, due to confusion over time zones and Daylight Savings Time. Since we’d received several complaints about the building not being open or going into lockdown at odd hours we should have noticed this sooner. We promise this will be fixed immediately even if we have to work overtime.

You can take some comfort in knowing that in the future all tests of the ENS will be conducted between 7:00AM and 7:00PM, so if the alarm goes off outside of those hours it’s probably a real emergency. Ha ha.

Finally there’s been a lot of confusion and misinformation about the wasps. We’d like to make it absolutely clearly that we were testing the ENS and that there was no emergency prior to that. The accidental release of the wasps at the same time was purely coincidental. Fun fact: the wasps are not native to this area but in Japan are known as “the yak-killer wasp”. We’ve consulted local naturalists who assure us the wasps will “probably” not survive the winter and are not an environmental threat unless a queen was also released. We’re checking on that, how they were brought into the country, and why Kevin had them at work.

As an added act of good faith and retribution on our parts we’ll be giving each floor a tin of butter, cheese, and caramel flavored popcorn, as well as sending around a collection of get well cards for those employees who sustained injuries during the test of the ENS but which, for legal reasons, we can’t currently acknowledge had anything to do with the test.

Please feel free to sign the cards and enjoy the popcorn which will be delivered to you by Kevin.

Thank you again for your understanding and acting appropriately during the test of the ENS.

-Braeburn Building Management

What’s It Worth?

There are boxes at the front of the buses now. They’re little rectangular boxes at the front window, next to the fare collection box, and they have a digital screen that says “Coming in 2020!” although really they’re already here. What they portend, though, is what’s coming in 2020, and I have a pretty good idea what it is, and I have an even better idea that I don’t like it.
I like paying cash for things. Not everything–I’m not going to walk around with a briefcase full of bills like a guy in an old gangster movie, but for a lot of things, especially small purchases, I opt for paper over plastic. I’m not averse to using a card. When I was in college there was a bank right across the street from the campus and, like most of my fellow students, I went and opened an account and I thought it was really cool that a few days later they mailed me a card and a letter with my PIN so I could go to the ATM that was conveniently located in front of the bank and get money whenever I wanted it. And I could then use this money to pay for stuff. I also remember when stores had signs up that said they wouldn’t accept credit cards for purchases under a certain amount–I think it was usually $10–because they didn’t want the hassle and added charges for such a small amount.
The times they have a-changed. The other day I went into a coffee shop and, while I realize you can now easily spend $10 or more on a single cup of coffee, I was just getting a simple cup of joe to go that was two bucks, and as I started to pay for it the barista said, “We don’t accept cash.”
Now I don’t want to sound paranoid but I’m going to sound paranoid. Part of why I like paying with cash is that’s a personal transaction that’s not being processed, fed into a database, connected to my other purchases, compared to similar demographic data, and ultimately used to try to produce highly targeted advertising to get me to buy more stuff. And that’s, as far as I know, the least nefarious use of my purchasing history, but it still bothers me. It’s why I have qualms about using services like Uber and Lyft instead of a taxi. Granted I have friends who’ve driven for both Uber and Lyft, and part of the appeal was that it was easy to get into it to earn some extra cash, but the drivers for those services are earning less now than they used to even as the companies themselves go up in value. The value of those companies has also always been based less on the actual fees they get for rides and more on the rider data they collect. And while you can pay for a cab ride with a credit card I think–it’s been a long time since I took a taxi anywhere–you can still pay with cash. Parking meters are being phased out too and replaced with parking lots that require a credit card, and while it’s nice to not have to feed the meter every hour or so my experience has been that I pay a lot more for the convenience, as well as sharing my license plate number which is another data point.
Granted I see very few people paying for bus rides with cash anymore. Part of this may be the convenience of not having to carry, or worry about, change. The fare for a single ride in Nashville is now $2, although it used to be $1.70 and if you put two bucks into the fare collector you’d have to ask the driver for a change card, which you could then use to pay for future bus rides and nothing else. I never knew why you had to ask for a change card; the machine should have generated one automatically, but maybe most people just didn’t care. I’d often find seats littered with five and ten cent change cards. And a nickel has been the minimum you could drop in for I don’t know how long, probably because of the time I paid my entire bus fare in pennies, but that’s another story.
Now, if the buses are going to stop taking cash and requiring people to use credit and debit cards I think it’s fair to ask, what’s that going to cost us?


Art Therapy.

It’s fun for me to take some graffiti and relate it to some aspect of art history even if, and sometimes especially if, any connection between the two is a real stretch or simply nonexistent since most, or even all, art comes from a mental leap. This time, though, I want to get more personal. I’m still contemplating my five-year cancerversary—and I know that’s a word I just made up, and I know that since “annus” is the Latin for “year” and “versus” is the Latin for “turn” and that therefore “anniversary” means “turning of the year” and cogito ergo something or other the word should be “annicancer” but that doesn’t roll off the tongue like “cancerversary” and this entire paragraph has gotten away from me and I should start over.

Back in June 2014 when I got the cancer diagnosis I spent two nights in the hospital. The second night I was taken up to a private room, and while the window basically looked out at a brick wall because it was in a wing that was a fairly recent addition I could walk down the hall to a window that looked down at a stretch of 21st Avenue I knew well. I sat at that window for a long time wondering what was ahead of me, looking down at places that held so many happy memories for me, and wished I could be down there. Really I wished I could be anywhere other than a hospital room, but there was something especially frustrating about being so close to places I’d not only much rather be but that I could imagine so clearly.

One of those places was the Sportsman’s Grille where I’d had a few beers. Really I’d had more than a few beers there–in college I did this Dylan Thomas impersonation. I’d imitate his voice and recite “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and guzzle an entire pitcher of Gerst beer in between lines and sometimes, in another imitation of Dylan Thomas, do that three or four times in one night, which would amuse my English major friends and horrify my pre-med friends, but that’s another story.

The Sportsman’s Grille also had an upstairs pool room and it was the only place I knew–and still know–in Nashville that had a snooker table, which is larger than the standard table used for 8 and 9-ball. And I love snooker. It’s so unbelievably complicated it’s best played sober, although I think the reason it’s unbelievably complicated is because whoever wrote the rules had to be drunk at the time.

Anyway the Sportsman’s Grille was brightly lit that night and as I sat at the window, almost certain I could hear the click of billiard balls and maybe even a voice slurring, “Though wise men at their end know dark is right…”

The Sportsman’s Grille in that location is closed now, and the building is currently empty. There’s a billboard over it and someone, or, from the look of it, a couple of someones, added their own tags to the back of the billboard. They’re stark and simple although really well done, and I can’t explain why but it makes me happy to see them up there. I’m sure there’s a reason but I can’t quite make the leap.


Going Number Two.

Stickers have been going up on signs on bus stops around the city. Apparently the Number 2 route isn’t the only one going down, and that’s a sad thing. Since riding the bus for me is a convenience it’s easy for me to complain, but what about the people who depend on the bus to get around? Whenever I see a route being eliminated I remember the Number 13 route that I once accidentally got on, back when the buses didn’t have signs with their route number and bus drivers sometimes forgot what route they were on. The Number 13 went down Murphy Road, an side street that curves around through the Sylvan Park neighborhood. Along it you’ll find a vegan bakery, a bagel place, an organic grocery, and the McCabe golf course where, in high school, I made a dismal attempt at joining the golf team, but that’s another story.
I still wonder who rode the Number 13–that one day I accidentally got on the bus was packed–and how they had to change their schedules. Parts of the Number 13 overlap with another route, and getting from that other route to Murphy Road is walkable, for those who can walk a mile or more.
The Number 2 partly overlaps with the Number 7, which I rode as part of my plan to ride every one of Nashville’s bus routes–so far I’ve fallen short, and yet it still bothers me that there’s now at least one less route to ride. The Number 7 goes through the heart of Hillsboro Village, an area that gets so much traffic it could use more buses, not less. The Number 2 goes around a side street, past the entrance to the area’s YMCA. Hey, don’t people who ride the bus also go to the gym? If you look at the schedule you’ll see it’s kind of an odd route that starts running at 5:34 in the morning then stops at 9:28, and only starts up again at 2:15 in the afternoon and stops at 6:49, so it’s mainly aimed at people who work the day shift.
I hope the people who used to ride it can walk.

Play On, MacDuff.

So I happened to be passing by and noticed that someone had stuck a bunch of mostly red plastic cups in a fence, and of course I had to stop and take pictures of it because I’m weird, although probably not as weird as someone who’d stick a bunch of mostly red plastic cups in a fence and not even try to put them in some kind of order or pattern. Or maybe the original person did make some kind of pattern, reminiscent of the Lite Brite toy many of us had as kids, and then someone else came along and rearranged the cups so it was just random and looked stupid, also reminiscent of the Lite Brite toy many of us had as a kid, and it would be even more reminiscent of the Lite Brite I had as a kid if one of my friends had come by and rearranged it to say DICKS.

Some might think it’s a stretch to call this art—and some might think this is a terrible waste of red plastic cups which are more often a common symbol for “YES I AM DRINKING CHEAP ALCOHOL”, but that’s another story. Consider, though, that toys have an aesthetic design which isn’t usually thought of as art for the same reason that most other mass-produced objects aren’t thought of as art.

Speaking of toys and art consider this:

Source: MOMA.orgThat’s The Palace At 4 AM, a 1932 sculpture by Alberto Giacometti. It looks like a pared-down dollhouse, doesn’t it? It also kind of reminds me of the Scottish play, specifically Act V, scene 1, but that may be getting too high-falutin’ for, um, play. Giacometti even made some other sculptures that were meant to be played with as toys, but because they were made out of plaster and fairly fragile and because Giacometti went on to become a famous sculptor whose works are now worth millions those “toys” can’t be touched anymore, which ruins the purpose.

Also consider that all art—and all science, too, since science also requires creativity—begins with play. Art and science begin with us learning to play with the world around us, because play is a way of shaping the world and understanding its rules and limits. And that’s why I’ll leave you with this final thought from none other than Captain James T. Kirk:

“The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”

Dear Emily.

Source: Emily Dickinson Museum

Dear Emily,

I went out with someone and we had a great time. I thought we had a great time, anyway: we had a nice dinner, we laughed a lot. We played miniature golf. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. I didn’t even know there were still courses around but he suggested it and I was enthusiastic. He seemed a little competitive about it but I was okay with that. Mostly we just had a lot of fun. The evening ended nicely, and I was certain we’d see each other again. Now, though, he won’t return my calls, texts, or emails. None of my friends can find any hint that I might have done anything wrong. If I did something wrong how am I supposed to know if he won’t answer?

-Ghosted In Gainesville

Dear Ghosted,

A narrow Fellow in the Grass

Occasionally rides –

You may have met him? Did you not

His notice instant is –


The Grass divides as with a Comb,

A spotted Shaft is seen,

And then it closes at your Feet

And opens further on –


He likes a Boggy Acre –

A Floor too cool for Corn –

But when a Boy and Barefoot

I more than once at Noon


Have passed I thought a Whip Lash

Unbraiding in the Sun

When stooping to secure it

It wrinkled And was gone –


Several of Nature’s People

I know, and they know me

I feel for them a transport

Of Cordiality


But never met this Fellow

Attended or alone

Without a tighter Breathing

And Zero at the Bone.


Dear Emily,

I have a coworker who’s needlessly critical. It’s nothing to do with work that she’s critical of. She criticizes my hair, the outfits I choose to wear to work. I brought in a jar I made in a pottery class and put it on the main table for pencils and pens. She didn’t know it was mine but loudly said it didn’t fit with the office “look” and put it on a shelf in the storage room. She does this to other people too. It’s not something the managers or HR can or should respond to but is there a way to deal with this?

-Fed Up In Phoenix

Dear Phoenix,

A Man may make a Remark –

In itself – a quiet thing

That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark

In dormant nature – lain –


Let us divide – with skill –

Let us discourse – with care –

Powder exists in Charcoal –

Before it exists in Fire –


Dear Emily,

Our child’s teacher is terrible. He assigns much more homework than I think is appropriate (our child is in third grade), and one afternoon when I took my child back after school to pick up a book I found the previous day’s homework in the trashcan unmarked, like he didn’t even look at it. From what our child has said he’s also unnecessarily harsh and leaves them in the classroom unsupervised a lot. We’re going to move our child to another class but would it be overreaching to report some of this to the school board too?

-Educating In Edmonton

Dear Educating,

There’s a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –


Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –

We can find no scar,

But internal difference –

Where the Meanings, are –


None may teach it – Any –

‘Tis the seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –


When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

Dear Emily,

I’ve been struggling for several years as a writer. I’ve had some encouraging results, but mostly I just seem to be hitting a wall. It also occurs to me that I’m never going to be able to make a living at writing; at best it’ll be a major hobby. That leaves me feeling frustrated and sad. Should I just quit trying and move on with my life, to see if focusing on my day job really makes me happier?

-Pondering In Poughkeepsie

Dear Pondering,

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

And who am I kidding? If you like it keep doing it. Writing isn’t a bad hobby and it’s cheaper than tropical fish and safer than skydiving. Who knows? You might get lucky and someday smartass high schoolers will go around singing your poems to the tune of “The Yellow Rose Of Texas”.


Front To Back.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Chucky, the kid who sat at the back of the school bus, and it got me thinking about the city buses I ride where I usually sit at the back. It’s where the engine is so in the winter it’s the warmest seat on the bus which is great, and in the summer it’s the warmest seat in the bus which isn’t so great, but I can sit off to the side. I’m not sure why I always go to the back of the bus. Unlike Chucky, who drew attention to himself by sitting at the back, I do it to be small and unobtrusive. I don’t go dancing down the aisle greeting everyone, although that would be kind of fun to do and get some laughs. And I go to the back to leave seats for other people at the front of the bus. The wheelchair seating is at the front of the bus, and there’s more space for people with kids in strollers up at the front too.
Something I really hadn’t thought about, though, is that, unlike school buses, city buses don’t have an emergency door in the back. I’ve also heard stories of kids who had a tradition of opening the emergency door at the back of the bus and jumping out, which makes me feel like I missed out. We never even practiced going out of the emergency door. My school thought it was good enough to show us a filmstrip about how to get out of the bus in the event of an emergency so if we’d ever needed to get out we might have been stuck there waiting for the beep so we could advance to the next frame, but that’s another story.
What I realized is that, while the city bus does have a side door halfway down the bus, there are also emergency “doors” in the ceiling, one at the front and one at the back, and it’s one of those things that’s strangely unnerving. Sitting in the back does suddenly seem like a better idea, even if it’s in the hot seat, because the back of the bus is elevated, so those like me who are short in stature will have an easier time reaching the ceiling. Supposedly there’s an emergency door in the ceiling of elevators and that’s always bothered me because, first of all, I’ve never seen one, and, second, I’ve never been in an elevator where I could reach the ceiling. That also means that tall people need to sit closer to the front of the bus, and it makes me wonder if there’s a certain height requirement for bus drivers. Sure, they need to be able to reach the pedals, but the seats are adjustable, so has anyone stopped to think about whether the driver could reach the ceiling? And I wonder what kind of emergency would block both bus doors forcing us to go out onto the roof. Whatever it is would probably have the bus surrounded so I hope it’s something like water and not lava or acid or raw sewage. I do, however, feel strangely reassured that the bus company has never given us instructions on how to use the emergency escape hatches via a filmstrip so if there’s an emergency we won’t stand around waiting for the beep.

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