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Cute Couples.

There are a couple of high school students on the bus I ride home from work, a boy and a girl. They always sit together. They seem nicely matched: they both wear rumpled dark hoodies, and he sits and draws in a sketchbook while she reads graphic novels. Sometimes they don’t even talk for the entire trip, but every day, when her stop comes up first, they share a quick kiss. I don’t stare, but it’s cute and I’m happy for them. And it brings back memories from high school—specifically Juliette, who was in my Latin class. She also rode the bus with me.

Normally riding the bus was an hour of unbearable misery, but when Juliette and I started sitting together things got a lot better. We chatted and laughed and generally had a good time.

To say that when it came to looks Juliette was out of my league would be a gross understatement. Forget leagues. Metaphorically she would have been a football pro while I, with my acne and awkwardness, was bottom rung of a Tuesday night bowling team. And I had already learned a lesson that Harvey Fierstein put so well when he said, “See, an ugly person who goes after a pretty person gets nothing but trouble. But a pretty person who goes after an ugly person gets at least cab-fare.” It was a school bus, though, so Juliette wasn’t expecting me to pay for the ride.

If you are or have been a teenager maybe you’ll understand this: knowing I had no chance with Juliette in a romantic sense took all the pressure off me. With her I was a witty, charming, suave gentleman, whereas with any girl I was actually interested in and thought I had a chance at dating I was Hedorah the Smog Monster. And it didn’t bother me that Juliette talked to me about the guys she dated–she was extremely selective, because she could be, but still managed to get stuck with some creeps, while I could talk to her about a bad breakup I was going through and share really bad song lyrics I’d written, but that’s another story.

Somehow Juliette and I always found ourselves sitting behind Kate and Brian, a pair who weren’t quite as mismatched but vehemently denied they were attracted to each other, creating a whole will-they-or-won’t-they vibe. And then, after a band trip, it became clear they did and, as it turned out, would continue to for some time.

That first day after the band trip we watched Kate and Brian hold hands, kiss, and swoon over each other. Then Juliette turned to me.

“I’m so glad they got together. Aren’t you?”

I preferred their sarcastic bickering, but, yeah, if they were happy then bully for them. Juliette went on.

“Of course you and I would never get together like that.” A smile played across her dewy lips and she gave me an intense stare. “Right? I mean, it could just never happen between us.” She put her hand up and played with her hair a bit.

“Right!” I said, maybe a little too vehemently. “Not us!” It would be, I knew, what Bloom County‘s Opus described as a Billy Joel-Christie Brinkley match, and look how that turned out.

As an aside, yes, some of the most poignant and useful relationship advice I’ve ever gotten has come from a gay playwright and a cartoon penguin.

Juliette and I continued to ride the bus together and continued to laugh and talk, but gradually we drifted apart. I started getting rides home with a friend who had a car and she, well, I don’t know. I wanted her to be happy. I still hope she is, but I knew even our friendship wouldn’t last. We had so little in common beyond riding on the bus together and, silly as it may sound, it was my senior year and I was saving myself for college, where I hoped I’d meet someone more like me.

There’s a saying that as you get older your greatest regrets aren’t the things you did but rather the things you didn’t do. While there are a few missed chances I regret I’m still glad Juliette and I never went beyond friendship even if the tension of possibility remained out there. Sometimes it’s better to just leave a good thing as it is.

That’s a bit of advice I learned from Hedorah the Smog Monster.


Feelin’ Good Is Good Enough For Me.

This picture is taken from Google Maps and, as you can see, it’s Farrell Parkway in Nashville, Tennessee—specifically the spot where it runs under a railroad and also I-65. It’s not the graffiti on the train car that interests me, though—it’s the lack of graffiti under the tracks.

When I was a student at the nearby John Overton High School this was “The Bridge”. The bus I rode took me and lots of my fellow students down this road way every day. At the time, though, it looked very different. At the time The Bridge was covered with elaborate graffiti. A lot of it, including a huge mural of Grecian columns, stayed there for years—maybe even decades, although it was kind of a rite of passage for Overton students to make their mark on the bridge. Well, it was for most students anyway.

One night when my parents were out of town I had a bunch of friends over. Because I was a geek this wasn’t a party—this was a bunch of guys spending most of the evening playing D&D, maybe watching a movie or two, and eating up pretty much every scrap of food in the house. And then around two a.m., bored and hopped up on sugar and caffeine, my friends decided to explore the basement and dug out half a dozen or so cans of spray paint that dated from the Eisenhower administration.

“Let’s go and paint the bridge!” one of my friends said. Everyone thought this was a great idea. Well, everyone except me. I knew my parents had asked the neighbors to keep an eye on the house and even though I was pretty sure the neighbors would all be asleep at that time I was still wary. So all my friends piled into a car and left me alone. I sulked around the house and listened to the radio, discovering Janis Joplin for the first time.

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…

When my friends got back they told me the ancient paint cans had been dry so we put them back where we found them. One of my friends spun an elaborate yarn about how they’d been caught by the cops and arrested, which I knew wasn’t true since they’d only been gone an hour, but it still sounded funny.

Sometimes the saying that as you get older your greatest regrets aren’t the things you did but rather the things you didn’t do is true. Even though the paint cans were dry I wish I’d gone with my friends. I wish I’d at least tried to leave my mark on The Bridge.

Since I still live in Nashville I’ve been over The Bridge regularly and I’ve noticed that for several years there’s been no graffiti at all, something confirmed by Google Maps. I guess painting The Bridge is no longer a rite of passage. I wonder what’s replaced it, and what, in a few years, some lonely kid who’s a student at Overton will look back on and regret not doing.

I’m Not The Man They Think I Am At Home.

There’s a saying you should strive to be the person your dog thinks you are. This is good advice and I think applies to cats as well since cats are excellent judges of character, as proven by the fact that if you put twenty people in a room and only one of them doesn’t like cats the cat will go right for that person, which also proves cats have a great sense of humor. This principle probably applies to other pets too, although I’m not sure what kind of person your fish or tarantula might think you are, and if you’re one of those people with a ferret as a pet you should strive to stay away from me because those things freak me out.

Anyway I do try to be the person our dogs think I am because they seem to think I’m a pretty good guy. Even our youngest and newest addition to the family thought so even before I knew his name, which is Sabik. I wasn’t familiar with that name and when I first heard it thought it might be from Star Trek, because I’m not only a huge geek but our dogs think I’m a huge geek, especially when I sing They Might Be Giants songs to them, but my wife explained that Sabik is a star in the constellation of Ophiuchus, in keeping with a stellar family tradition since his grandfather was named Sagan.

Sabik can be spotted in the evening sky even without a telescope.

And like his namesake Sagan was smart and had a quirky sense of humor. He liked to get in the bed. In fact he didn’t just like to get in the bed–he would get excited and run to the bed and fling himself onto it and then if I lay down he’d immediately curl up next to me because he could go from sixty to zero in 1.8 seconds. And then if I moved at all he’d let out a disgruntled moan that would last approximately six and a half minutes. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t really annoyed but only did that because it made me laugh, but that’s another story.

Sagan could have even hosted his own PBS show.

I don’t take it for granted that our dogs think I’m a pretty good guy and believe in taking care of them which includes preparing their food. My wife is usually the one who feeds them, but we have them on the aptly named BARF diet. That’s Bones And Raw Food, which means every few weeks I get to grind up a lot of chicken into the same kind of paste they use for making nuggets and also a lot of vegetables into the same kind of paste you might spoon into your smoothie to try and pass it off as healthy. We get the chicken from a dealer but I get the vegetables at the grocery and the purchase of mass quantities always seems to raise some eyebrows at the checkout even though I’m pretty sure they’ve seen stranger things. And sometimes my purchases raise questions, like the other day when I was buying a heap of kale and other leafy greens and assorted vegetables and a few assorted sundries the guy checking me out asked, “What are you going to do with all this?”

This seemed like an unusual question. What do most people do with food they buy? And yet I also thought it might sound goofy if I said it was going to be fed to some dogs, even if they are exceptional dogs.

“Well, this is my special superfood blend. I’m going to puree the kale and other greens with the ginger and vegetables, the sardines and skim milk are there to add protein, and the pink lemonade is just to give it all a little color and add some sweetness. Then I’ll pour the whole mixture into a hot tub and soak in it for twelve hours.”

And then I left so I have no idea what kind of person that guy thinks I am.

The Alchemist.

Source: Twitter

I have a theory about comedy troupes and other groups of comedians that there’s always one, and that person may not be the most popular member or the one audiences like best, who the others in the group look up to, the one who really makes the others laugh. It’s a pretty shaky theory and really I think in any group that holds together for a long time there’s got to be a lot of mutual respect, but when the members of The Kids In The Hall are interviewed four of them always have praise for Kevin McDonald, whose birthday is today. And the funny thing is he’s jokingly referred to himself as the one that audiences call “The Kid In The Hall we don’t like”.

I’m not trying to sow any enmity here even if I could by focusing on him, but the other members have described him as a natural comedic talent, and at least one of them has said they think McDonald wasn’t born but grown in a laboratory by some mad scientist trying to create the perfect comedian. Actually I think it’s the other way around: I think McDonald is the mad scientist who cooked up The Kids In The Hall, which is fitting since the others have said he’s also the nicest member of the group and the one who’s held them all together.

Last winter Kevin McDonald was in Nashville, not far from where I live, and offering a comedy class. Unfortunately it was right in the middle of a major snowstorm when we got several inches—or, for him, being a Canadian, a “light dusting”. I was stuck at home, and missing the chance to even meet him is something I still regret. If he ever comes back I don’t care what the weather is doing—I will find a way to get to him because, hey, I like the guy.


Beautiful Dreamer.

The one thing I’ve never been able to do on the bus is sleep. Well, technically there are a lot of things I’ve never been able to do on the bus: microwave fish, run even a one-star hotel, or star in a Broadway musical, but even when I was taking a Greyhound bus from Nashville to Evansville on a regular basis, a four-hour round trip that I sometimes made really late at night, I couldn’t sleep. Now I have no problem falling asleep. In fact I can relate to Kristine at Mum Revised who said, “Waking up is hard to do.” In fact it’s disturbing that I can sleep almost anywhere. I’ve been known to fall asleep in hard-backed chairs in noisy sports venues—not while anything was going on, but because nothing was going on. I can fall asleep so easily I used to be naïve enough that I envied insomniacs until I learned that some of my friends are insomniacs and I’ve seen how hard that can be for them. The stress of insomnia can get so bad you can lose sleep over it, but that’s another story.

The other day when I was on the bus there was a guy in the very back sound asleep. I’m surprised he wasn’t snoring. He was completely out of it and I wondered, what happens if the driver goes past his stop? Maybe he’d do what I’ve done sometimes in heavy rain and just ride the bus to the end of the line and then get off at the right stop on the way back. Then the driver stopped.

“Hey!” he yelled. A few people looked around. “This is your stop!” he yelled again.

Then he got up, walked to the back of the bus, and tapped the guy on the knee and said, “Come on, wakey wakey, this is your stop.”

The guy rolled over, slowly opened his eyes, stretched, yawned, and ambled off the bus.

I think the least he could have done is thank the driver for the wakeup call.

The Eyes Have It.

Most of the graffiti I look for is big and bold and colorful, the large exciting pieces that really stand out, but there’s something to be said for subtlety, even if it should be said quietly. During the 18th century when neoclassicism became all the rage the monuments and statues of ancient Greece and Rome were admired for their subtlety and restraint. What people didn’t realize at the time was that in their heyday Greek and Roman statues and monuments were painted with gaudy colors, making them a lot less subtle. Downtown Athens and Rome weren’t that different from, say, Times Square, Picadilly Circus, or the Las Vegas strip, but only in the daytime since neon lighting hadn’t been invented yet. The muted quality of classical statuary came from the fact that the paint had faded and flaked off or washed away.
To get back to my point about subtlety, though, I really get a kick out of finding something that was intentionally meant to be discreet, that could easily be overlooked. Sometimes it’s the small things that can make a surprising difference to the way we see the world around us, and when I find something interesting I want to yell, HEY, LOOK AT THIS THING!

Quietly, of course.

Moving Right Along.

Earlier this week I helped some coworkers move to new offices. I volunteered, although generally I seem to be the guy that friends call on when they need help moving, even though I don’t own a pickup truck or other vehicle with a lot of storage space and have the upper body strength of a salamander. My main qualification seems to be that when someone asks me, “Could you help me move?” I’m an agreeable guy and say “yes” and it’s usually not until I’m halfway down the stairs with a box of dishes that I think to stop and ask, “Hey, do I know you?” Whenever I help someone else move it always makes me think about how I’ve heard that wherever you are when you’re fifty is where you’re going to die. This may be one of those exaggerated claims that people pass around without any factual basis, like the claim that your hair and toenails grow after you die. They don’t—your body loses moisture after death causing your skin to shrink which makes your hair and nails appear to grow. And there’s also the claim that a lot of people were buried alive in the days before modern embalming techniques because claw marks have been found on the insides of coffins, but in fact almost anyone sealed into a coffin and buried would expire from a buildup of carbon dioxide before they could regain consciousness. There’s a comforting thought: even if your mortal coil did just get shoved in a box and covered with dirt without all your recyclables being removed first you’d be very unlikely to wake up. The claw marks on the insides of coffins are caused by the surprising amount of moving that corpses could do, even the ones that are well past fifty. Consider Jim Morrison, for instance, who’s been buried in Paris’s Pere Lachaise cemetery since 1971, and who still parties so hard the other corpses complain about it. Oscar Wilde’s corpse has even been heard to remark that the only thing worse than not being invited to Jim Morrison’s grave is being invited to Jim Morrison’s grave.

Aside from dwelling on happy thoughts about the lurking specter of the eternal footman holding my coat and snickering whenever I help someone move it makes me think about how little I’ve moved in my life. When I was four my parents moved from one part of Nashville to another part of Nashville, and luckily they thought to take me with them. Even though I went to college in another state and then, briefly, in another country, that wasn’t technically moving because I wasn’t taking up permanent residence there although my senior year I did rent a professor’s house and lived there with, depending on which time of the year it was, three, four, and approximately two-hundred and twenty-five other people. The professor had gone overseas to turn fifty but he was planning to come back just to beat the statistics. And then I came back to Nashville and moved in with my wife and got married and most days I go to work in an office that’s spitting distance from the hospital where I was born, which I can prove by the number of times they’ve asked me to stop spitting on the place, but that’s another story.

Anyway I haven’t turned fifty yet, although I am slowly moving in that direction in spite of some efforts to put the brakes on or even throw things into reverse, but the way things are going, and they’re actually going pretty well, it looks like I’ll be lucky enough to still be where I am now when I finally reach that milestone. And while that wasn’t planned it is convenient that I’m an organ donor and hope to pass on every part of me that can be used to someone else, and to make that as easy as possible the odds are when I finally go I’ll be within spitting distance of a hospital.

Hey You!

This picture has nothing to do with the story. It’s just funny to me to think these guys are undoing each others’ work.

In a common area of a college campus I saw something interesting: little plastic stands with a picture of Joey from Friends saying, “How you doin’?” I assume this is his catchphrase or maybe one of them because I’ve never watched Friends and in fact if you added up all the bits and pieces of the show I’ve happened to catch while flipping through channels or waiting for something else to come on they wouldn’t even add up to a full episode and I’m not even all that sure “Joey” is the character’s name, but that’s another story. Anyway the stands were on a table with a sign explaining that if you were sitting alone but open to a stranger starting a conversation with you the stand would be a signal. And I think this is a great idea. I don’t know how many students used them or even what they thought of them, and it does seem kind of weird to say, “I’m open to having random strangers come up and talk to me,” but then I’ve had some really interesting conversations with random strangers.

Anyway I was on the bus and it stopped at a red light right next to a restaurant that has an open patio and, this being spring, there were people sitting out on the patio. There was a couple and I thought the guy was looking in the direction of the bus so I waved.

Yeah, that sounds pretty goofy, but a sudden impulse seized me and I thought, why not?

He didn’t notice. I think he really wasn’t looking at the bus and then he turned away, but then he turned back so I waved again. And he waved back.

The light changed and the bus moved away, so I didn’t get a chance to act on my next sudden impulse which was to open the window and yell, “How’s that burger?” or “What are you drinking?” or maybe just “How you doin’?” Maybe that’s just as well and maybe it’s just as well that the circumstances that allowed me to wave in the first place are unlikely to coalesce ever again, but at least he was open to sharing a moment with a random stranger.

This video is just long enough that after watching it I’ve now seen approximately half an episode of Friends.

The Right Person.

It’s been a few years since I watched Saturday Night Live regularly so I missed the addition of Sasheer Zamata, whose birthday is today, to the cast back in 2014. And it was kind of a big deal. There hadn’t been a black woman in the case since 2007, and only five in the show’s entire history. That’s pretty striking for a show that’s been as culturally relevant as SNL, and I thought it was even more poignant when Zamata did a segment for a March episode of This American Life called “You’ll Understand When You’re Older” in which she talked to her mother about the civil rights movement. This is how Zamata describes what she learned about the civil rights movement growing up:

When I learned about the civil rights movement in school, I got a pretty truncated version of it. I remember learning about the Little Rock Nine. And I saw that famous picture of them entering Central High School surrounded by US soldiers. And then desegregation happened. And now we get to use the same bathrooms. That’s pretty much all I got.

That’s not far off from what I learned in school too, but the major difference is her mother was one of the first children to attend an integrated school. Her mother, for a long time, was the only black student in her classroom, and subjected to regular verbal and sometimes physical abuse, from students and teachers.

Zamata’s a comedian so she finds some humor in her conversation with her mother, but she’s also brutally honest about how far we’ve come in the pursuit of equality and how far we still have to go. For most performers joining the cast of SNL is the start of their career. Most performers need it, but she was already a successful comedian and performer. It seems like SNL needed her.

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