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When You’re A Stranger.

The other day the podcast I was listening to finished just as the bus arrived, so, instead of starting another, which I think is an unfriendly way of shutting out the strangers around me, I decided to read a book, which is a completely different unfriendly way of shutting out strangers. Then I overheard a woman with a baby in a stroller asking for directions and I realized she would be getting off at my stop. She’d have a bit of a hike getting to the store she was headed to, but I gave her directions. I felt bad for her too that she’d have to make the walk, pushing a stroller, along a sidewalk and across a large parking lot on such a hot, sunny day, although that was probably better than rain or cold or snow or fog or fish falling from the sky, which could happen.
Anyway when we got off the bus I pointed in the direction she wanted to go and even though we were both going the same direction part of the way I was prepared to walk by myself but she fell in step with me and started chattering away.
“Thank you so much for helping me. I’m a nanny and this is my first week with this family and they couldn’t let me have the car today so I had to take the bus.”
What kind of family hires a nanny but makes her use the bus? I thought. Then I yelled at myself for judging the family when I really don’t know what their circumstances are, that maybe for them a nanny is a necessity because they work very difficult jobs just to get by, and then a third voice added that it was a good thing I didn’t say anything bad about that family out loud because it might encourage her to say something negative about them which would be a terrible thing just in her first week. And even if she didn’t say anything negative I didn’t want to badmouth the family right there in front of their offspring. It also occurred to me that maybe she was being so talkative because she was nervous about sharing a sidewalk with strangers and, let’s face it, I’m a pretty strange guy, and also things were getting pretty crowded. With the voices on my head there were at least five of us on the sidewalk. So instead I just said, “Well, I hope things get better and good luck!” Or maybe that was one of the other voices talking.

Also not related to anything but something something another story, so this is for Memorial Day.

A Place To Park.

If you’re a driver you’ve gotta park somewhere, which is why it bothers me that parking garages are usually dull and dismal places. I suppose for cars they’re the equivalent of a hotel room—not really your destination, but rather a stopping place to rest your head and store your stuff. Although I realize there may be people who enjoy hotel rooms, who look forward to them as part of the travel experience. There may even be people who plan their vacation around a specific hotel rather than the things they can do in the surrounding area. If you’re one of those people, great, no judgment—even if your possible existence did get me completely off what I was trying to say, which is that even if a hotel room is part of the journey rather than the destination there is some effort in making them comfortable and making them look nice. Is it too much to ask the same of parking garages?

That’s why this sidewalk-level entrance to a parking garage on Nashville’s West End caught my attention:

And it’s a lucky thing too because if I hadn’t been walking I might never have noticed what’s in the parking garage.

This is not the first time I’ve found public art decorating a parking garage, but, unlike the previous one just off Elliston Place, this one included these great statements by artist Brian Tull, who’s responsible for quite a bit of public art around Nashville. And these murals, like the vehicles that park in front of them, can transport you–even if only metaphorically.

I just hope these paintings don’t make whatever you’re driving feel insecure.

It’s All In The Timing.

Llama art buses. Click the picture to check ’em out.

If I’m late–I would say “running late” but if I were running I might not be late–and see the bus in the distance I take the advice of The 2,000 Year Old Man and never run for a bus. Unless it’s close and I think I can make it, which happened to me the other day. The bus was at the stop. The light was red. I was about five hundred feet away, and I always ran in the five-hundred yard dash when we had the end of year Field Day at school. Also I always came in third the one time there were only two other kids in the event, and five-hundred feet is a third of five-hundred yards, so I was feeling lucky. I was only feeling lucky, though. The bus drove off right as I got to the stop. I chased after it. I yelled and even hit the side of the bus, hoping to get the attention of the driver, or at least someone who might tell the driver to stop. It kept going and all I could do was stand there and seethe. On the bright side the bus that runs every fifteen minutes took more than half an hour to arrive.
What made this even more annoying is that the Nashville MTA bus schedule app no longer works. Well, it still works–it’s still available, and you can see what times the buses are supposed to arrive, but the part that tells you when a bus will arrive just says “N/A” which makes it a passive-aggressive app, but that’s another story.
Then just as it was approaching a young man crossed the street and stood next to me.
“Looks like I timed that perfectly,” he said.
I could have glared at him but, well, it’s not his fault.
The next day I was running ahead of schedule because I was running. I didn’t want to miss the bus again so I left a little early. Still I got to the stop just ahead of the bus, and when I got there that same guy was standing there waiting.
“Man, I’ve been waiting forever for the bus today!” he said.
I didn’t say anything. I was quietly appreciating my own perfect timing.



In Harm’s Way.

Is art ever dangerous? There are plenty of examples throughout history, right up to the present, of those who tried to limit various forms of expression, but only things which threatened their own power. Is their ever a case when we could say a work of art, by itself, actually hurt someone? Well, if a large statue fell on you that could cause some damage. Generally, though, suppressing expression seems to do more harm than allowing it. As John Milton argued in his 1644 Plea for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing,

Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.

What got me thinking about that is seeing graffiti on the back of interstate signs. It’s surprising and raises all kinds of questions like, how did they get up there? When did they do it? What prompted the artists responsible to pick that particular spot where it’s often kind of hard to see? Chances are if you do see it at all you’ll see it from the other lane or maybe in your rearview mirror. Interestingly they often seem to use block letters. Is that a purely aesthetic choice or is there something restrictive about the signs that makes block letters easier?

Here’s also an example of a group that tagged the front of a sign:

The pictures I’ve taken weren’t easy to get, and I wish they were higher quality. They were all taken while my wife was driving–for obvious reasons I’m not taking my hands off the wheel to take a picture. At least I hope the reasons are obvious. There are also a lot of examples I missed just because I don’t have my phone out all the time even when I’m not driving, and at highway speeds some of them tended to surprise me.

And that got me thinking about whether this really is dangerous art. I’ve been to some risky places to get pictures of graffiti, but never any place really dangerous, and I’ve never put anyone else in harm’s way. In a car traveling at high speed, though, any little distraction can throw off a driver. I wonder if the artists who created these works were risking more than just their own lives. Freedom of expression is a wonderful thing but it’s also a powerful thing and power should be used responsibly. Don’t drop a sculpture on someone.

Riddle Rough Drafts.

What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, three legs in the evening, and when would be the ideal time for it to get health insurance?

A box without hinges, key, or a lid, but you followed the directions when you were putting it together. Did you save the receipt?

A train traveling at forty-five miles an hour leaves Vancouver heading east at 4:45am. A train traveling at thirty miles an hour leaves Poughkeepsie traveling northwest at 1:05pm. Explain to me again why this is so much better than flying.

You have two and a half bottles of conditioner and three quarters of a bottle of shampoo you swiped from a hotel. How many times do you have to travel before you have an even number of both?

On Monday there are five coffee cups in the office break room sink. On Tuesday there are four coffee cups in the office break room sink. On Wednesday there are eight coffee cups in the break room sink. Is anyone going to ask Kevin to just rinse one cup if he’s drinking that much coffee?

As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives. Each wife had seven sacks, each sack had seven cats, each cat had seven kits, and what are the odds I turned around and went back when I saw what kind of people lived there?

You have three glasses of milk and three bowls of pudding. You drink one of the glasses of milk and, oh, wait, are you lactose intolerant?

What has no beginning, end, or middle and is circular and, oh, I just gave away the answer there, didn’t I?

A father and son are in a terrible accident. The father is killed and the son is rushed to a doctor. The doctor says, “I can’t operate on him, I’m a psychiatrist!”

Which came first, the chicken or the egg, and is putting mayonnaise on a chicken sandwich a double insult?

You’re faced with two guardians. One always tells the truth, the other always lies. Which one do you ask a question since they’re both major assholes?

There are four days that start with the letter ‘T’: Tuesday, Thursday, and I’ll tell you the other two tomorrow and yesterday.

Death Of A Clown.

Source: Inquisitr

I don’t know where to begin with Tim Conway. Maybe that’s because I feel like I grew up with him, whether it was watching reruns of McHale’s Navy in the afternoons after school or watching first-runs of The Carol Burnett Show in the evenings where my favorite thing was seeing Conway break up the cast, especially Harvey Corman who, to me when I was a kid, had a kind of sinister quality. Seeing Tim Conway make Corman laugh, now that I think about it, was an early lesson for me in how comedy could make something scary safe, could rob it of its power.

Tim Conway also seemed like a big kid fumbling around among the adults, making a mess of things but, like any kid, able to get away with it because of his naiveté. Even when he played adult characters, like Mr. Tudball, the overbearing boss, he seemed like an overgrown child, just barely able to hold up the pretense of being mature, and his old man character who provided another early lesson: we end life much the same way we begin it, helplessly shuffling along, just trying to get by.

There was also something about that face of his. Tim Conway was a natural born clown, someone who seemed almost like he wasn’t born but produced in a laboratory for comedy. It made everything he did funny. I had an aunt who took me to see his films with Don Knotts: The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, and Private Eyes. None of them were that great, but everything Tim Conway said and did made me laugh. Some comedians take on dramatic roles and earn high praise for being able to play it straight. Tim Conway never did, possibly because he never wanted to, but also because I’m pretty sure he could do Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech and it would be hilarious.

It’s even funnier, though, that in one of his last roles, reuniting with Ernest Borgnine who played the aged superhero Mermaid Man on Spongebob Squarepants, Conway was the voice of Barnacle Boy, Mermaid Man’s sidekick, and in a great reversal, the straight man. Mermaid Man was always the joke, bumbling around, in need of help, and Barnacle Boy was the competent one, occasionally calling Mermaid Man “you old coot!” And yet, true to most of the roles he played, Conway was still a child, or at least younger than his companion. In one episode Barnacle Boy even becomes a villain simply because he’s tired of always getting the child’s meal at the Krusty Krab.

Even in old age he was young, kept that way by the innocence of laughter.

Hail and farewell Tim Conway.

Office Space.

A few years ago my office IT department traded out my old standing computer and replaced it with a laptop. It’s been really great—among other things I can take it to meetings and actually get things done which doesn’t always happen in meetings, but that’s another story. And, I said to my boss, on nice days I could take it outside and sit in the grass and work.

She sighed. “Please don’t.”

She had a point: there’s still a lot to be said for the collaborative nature of the cubicled space we call “the office”, including the ability of coworkers to find me and ask me questions I may even be able to answer. That personal connection, being able to interact face to face and not just through whatever they’re calling video chatting now, is valuable. It’s why my position keeps me mostly bound to a desk in a specific place and so I can only stare out the window—although first I have to get up and cross the room because my cubicle doesn’t have windows, only Windows—and envy the people who are using parking spaces as makeshift offices.

Admittedly no one’s doing that in my area yet, but it’s an idea that’s caught on in San Francisco and now spread to France, and how it skipped over North America entirely is beyond me, although it may be that what those two places have in common is that office space is very expensive and parking spaces are cheap and people are really good at working out workarounds. Some are using free wifi provided by businesses—which makes perfect sense to me. Even though when I take a break from work and go outside I’m getting away from screens I know a few good places to stand if I want to borrow a free signal so I can look up something I really need to know at the moment, like the scientific name for the golden jellyfish found in a lake in Palau. Don’t judge me—I need obscure facts like the Mastigias papua needs algae.

Anyway using parking spaces as office spaces is a great idea; as some of the people who are doing it acknowledge it gives them easy access to delivery services, transportation—why leave the office to catch a bus when one’s going to stop right next to you?—and it creates a sense of community.

Of course I have a feeling someone’s going to want to use a parking space to, you know, park their car, and that’s probably going to lead to the connection of someone’s fist to someone else’s face.

In Depth.

The artistic tradition of trompe l’oeill—fooling the eye—goes back at least as far as ancient Greece, which had stories of competing painters who tried to paint the most realistic pictures. The painter Zeuxis produced a picture of grapes that was so realistic birds flew down to peck at it, which isn’t a big deal because birds are idiots, andhe was outdone by his rival Parrhasius whose painting of curtains was so realistic Zeuxis tried to pull them back, hence the expression “it’s curtains for you”. It also may be why Plato wanted to kick artists out of his ideal society. He saw artists imitating reality as a threat to understanding what was really real, which makes me wonder if Plato knew what was really going on.

The Greeks understood perspective but much of what they’d learned was lost during the Dark Ages, then recovered in the Renaissance which saw the rise of increasingly detailed paintings. Many Dutch artists, including Vermeer, are known for their highly realistic paintings, although there’s some controversy over whether Vermeer and other artists used a camera obscura, essentially copying images projected onto the canvas. It’s an interesting question but one I think is ultimately unanswerable until we develop time travel. And whether artists from the 17th century or other periods used a camera obscura or other means of reproducing images their technique is still pretty impressive. And it reminds me that in the 19th century some French sculptors were accused of surmoulage, the practice of simply using casts from bodies–a charge that haunted Rodin and that he tried to avoid by making statues larger than life, but that’s another story.

Anyway I realize the graffiti above isn’t really an example of trompe l’oeill art, but it is very cleverly done and appears to have depth. It even looks like it might move right out of the wall.

Something New, Something Blue.

It was twenty years ago today…well, not today, really, but never pass up a chance to quote The Beatles, even though it’s now been much more than twenty years since Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, and even when that album was released those uniforms looked like they must have been from before World War I and probably from when Gilbert and Sullivan’s Major General really was modern, but maybe Sgt. Pepper had long since retired, having been unable to get a promotion, and organized a band as a hobby.
Anyway it was in 1999 that my wife and I bought a new blue Honda CR-V. Technically the color was listed as “twilight obsidian blue sparkle sepulchral radiant crepuscular welkin” because car makers name car colors by throwing a thesaurus into a blender. We got the car at the same time we got a new dog, a Dalmatian puppy named Baxter, who was the perfect dog at the perfect time. My wife had gotten her first three Dalmatians before we even met–and in a convoluted way it was because she had Dalmatians that we met. By 1999 we’d been married a few years and were down to one dog who was as sweet as ever but also partly blind and deaf. Baxter, a funny little puppy with one blue eye and one brown eye, was just old enough to be up and bumbling around with the rest of his litter when we went to see him and, if you know dogs, you know how this sometimes happens: he chose us. Between that first visit and the day we took him home we went to look for a new car, and we were supposed to get a green–let’s leave the other adjectives out–Honda but instead ended up with a blue one.
We lost Baxter much too soon to cancer. The Honda, on the other hand, just kept going. Eventually my wife bought a van to drive to dog shows, both for size and just the convenience of having a single vehicle that would be dedicated to canine transport, and the CR-V became my go-to vehicle for going after I finally got around to getting a license, but that’s another story. For years there was a picture of Baxter in the right rear window that I only took out when the sun caused it to fade. One day I was stopped at a red light and a guy standing on the corner yelled something at me. I rolled down the window which is usually a bad idea when someone on a street corner is yelling at you, especially when he bears a strong resemblance to Howard Morris, but I’m an outgoing kind of guy and I thought maybe he had something important, or at least interesting, to say.
“You have Dalmatians?” he yelled.
I was in the lane closest to the corner which, in retrospect, makes rolling the window down, even partially, an even worse idea, but he leaned over so he didn’t have to yell as loud.
“I had a Dalmatian when I was a kid. Best dog ever. They’re wonderful, aren’t they?”
Yes, I agreed. Then the light changed. I waved at him and said, “Thank you!”
He waved back and yelled, “You have a good day now!”
I had trouble focusing on the road. There was something in my eye.
Anyway when the fuel line on the CR-V went my wife and I independently concluded it was time for a new car. It had been twenty years, after all, and I’ve heard at least three stories that end with “So I had to get a new car” that started with “First I tried replacing the fuel line.”
Because the original worked so well, and in fact it was exactly twenty years to the day that we walked back into the same dealership, we decided to go with the CR-V, although a much more recent model that, in spite of the name, resembles the old one in much the same way a Dalmatian resembles Howard Morris, but it seems to be a good car and hopefully will last as well as the old one.
One thing the new car has in common with the old one: it’s the same shade of blue.

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