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Moot Court.

It happened again.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to be called up for jury duty every three years for the rest of my life. On the one hand it’s an annoyance. On the other hand I guess it could help me organize my time if there were something else in my life that needed to be taken care of on a triennial basis.
The last time I got called up it was kind of exciting because it was the first time I actually had to go, and I assumed, with a name close to the end of the alphabet, that I’d be excused early and could maybe spend a little time exploring downtown before I headed home. Nashville is a growing city but it’s not a big city and downtown, especially the riverfront, is compact enough that major points of interest are within easy walking distance of each other. And if nothing else I could grab a cup of coffee and hang out at the downtown library. Except it didn’t exactly work out that way. I was eventually excused but only after a grueling day of bored waiting. The only spark of excitement came when one of the defense attorneys asked the potential jurors if any of them watched Star Trek and I got kind of giddy at the thought that the case might actually involve debating the merits of Deep Space Nine versus Voyager.
Since my wife and I are both working from home right now this time getting jury duty presented some new questions. There was a possibility they’d hold the proceedings remotely, letting all of us go to court through Zoom. If they made me come in I’d have to figure out how to get there. I could drive but parking downtown is a nightmare. There’s a parking garage specifically for the courts but it tends to fill up and even if it doesn’t I’d have to figure out how to get my parking validated.
The best option, having thought about it, would be to take the bus. And I was looking forward to that. It would be a chance to sort of return to my old routine, with the extra bonus that I’d be riding the bus all the way downtown. I rode the bus to jury duty last time. The buses are still running and, while I’d want to be careful, it would be interesting to see what the new protocols are. Among other things I doubt they’re taking cash anymore–in fact the fare has gone up to two dollars, from $1.75, I guess so they don’t have to make change anymore. Also I thought, hey, it’ll be something I can write about, which, I confess, is a motive behind too many of my decisions, but that’s another story.
In the end, though, I didn’t have to go. I got another letter saying that under the circumstances I was excused, and I celebrated by grabbing a cup of coffee and spending a couple of hours Googling pictures of downtown Nashville.

Public And Private.

Source: Boston Globe

Public tributes to Chadwick Boseman, like the one in Graffiti Alley in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are a reminder that he was a public and very prominent figure. And yet he kept his cancer diagnosis private so that many of us who are fans were shocked by his death. I know some have criticized him for not speaking up, saying he missed an opportunity to educate the public about colorectal cancer and its changing demographics. It’s rising among younger people and Black people. I won’t repeat or even link to the critics but at the same time I will acknowledge them. He didn’t choose to get cancer, but he could choose how he responded to it. I don’t know why he chose not to talk about it but I know when I was diagnosed with cancer I didn’t want to talk about it, and didn’t tell anyone outside of a few people for three weeks. And when I did talk about it I joked about it because it was hard for me to admit even to myself, even after I’d started chemotherapy, that it was really happening.

There are a lot of reasons my own fight with cancer is different: I had a different, and much more treatable, cancer, and my own treatment was probably a lot easier than his. And yet I remember days when I didn’t even feel like getting out of bed. I was out of work for six months because my immune system crashed. He kept working, filming and co-producing Marshall, Black Panther, and two Avengers films. He was even confident he could finish Black Panther 2.

Also consider four major roles that help define his career, a career that was cut too short: Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and T’Challa, the Black Panther. There was some luck involved—in art and in life none of us can control everything—but he chose to portray four people, three real and one fictional, who are all legendary. He chose roles that contributed to discussions about race in the United States.

Respect his choices.

Hail and farewell Chadwick Boseman.

 

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.

Pedal To The Barrel.

Source: visitmusiccity.com

Starting in September Nashville will start allowing “transpotainment” vehicles, which were shut down in July, to roam the streets again, and I know enough to know that means the infamous pedal taverns that, for some reason, roam the streets around the neighborhood where I work. If you’re unfamiliar pedal taverns are sort of rolling bars, a contraption that looks more like a trolley where people sit along the sides and power the vehicle with their feet while drinking. And while for some reason I assumed pedal taverns would just serve beer they’re apparently fully loaded and, from what I’ve seen, the riders are too. Once when I was just out taking a break from work, ambling down a quiet alley, a pedal tavern came up behind me and all the guys on it—they were all guys—started yelling, “Uh oh! Stranger danger!” because I guess they thought I was some kind of threat even though I wasn’t the one pedaling around drunk at two in the afternoon. Another time my wife and I were in the car—she’d just picked me up at work and we were going somewhere–and we got stuck behind another pedal tavern, and I mean stuck. The tavern was trying to go uphill and the riders were having a little trouble with it.

Supposedly the person in charge of driving the pedal tavern—or rather steering since technically the riders provide the power—is supposed to stay sober, and I say supposedly because the only reason I can think of for them to find their way into the neighborhood around my office would be if the navigator was drunk. Downtown would be the natural environment for pedal taverns where the streets are already clogged with tourists and the streets are fairly level close to the waterfront. Around where I work it’s more hilly and the cars move faster. There also aren’t that many interesting landmarks around, although maybe I’m wrong for thinking most pedal taverners are tourists looking to take in the sights. Maybe they’re tired of the honky tonks and saloons of, well, downtown, and are looking to spread out while taking the honky tonk with them.

It’s not that I have a problem with consuming adult beverages. I like a drink as much as the next guy—if the next guy happens to be Dylan Thomas. I just think consumption should be savored, and that takes attention. You can roll out the barrel but do you really want to drink from it while it’s still rolling? Pedal taverns just seem like too many different things wrapped up together to be enjoyable. I can walk and chew gum at the same time but I prefer to do it after the gum has lost its flavor, which usually happens even before I stick it to the bedpost overnight, but that’s another story. A friend of mine took a walking tour of Scotland which included stops at distilleries for a tipple or two of their finest single malts along the way, but the important thing is she stopped before drinking. Imagine sampling whiskey while you were walking the rolling hills of thistle and heather. Even with only a bit of a buzz you’d forget whether you were on the high road or the low road and maybe if you were even in Scotland.

I don’t want to harsh anyone’s mellow, and I know people are looking to get out and do things. If you think transpotainment is entertainment that’s great. Pedal taverns have been shut down in Nashville for a staggering less than two months and I’m sure doing vodka shots on your stationary bike just isn’t the same. I just think taverns should stay where they belong.

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.

Dream Train.

There was a story on the news about a historic stretch of train tracks being restored but I can’t find it now. Maybe I dreamed it. I was dozing off on the couch with the news in the background. Every once in a while I take a short power nap in the afternoon after I leave work for the day, and it works. I’m alert for the rest of the day, although there’s not a lot going on these days, and I’m still able to sleep at night. It’s not like when I was in high school and I’d sometimes come home from school and take an afternoon nap and then I’d be up all night and a wreck the following day. Although one semester I couldn’t make it through the morning anyway. I had Mr. Blankley for algebra and he had all the energy of a concrete block. He never moved from behind his desk and would drawl, “Studentssss today we’re going to take a quizzz…” and that was it. I heard that half the parents fell asleep when they met him too, but that’s another story.

Anyway it would be kind of strange that I was dreaming about something as specific as train track restoration. Then again all my dreams lately seem to have been transportation-themed. I’ve dreamed I’ve been on buses and in cars, or just walking, going somewhere. Usually I dream I’m going to work. I’m not actually at work which is good. I have no idea how long these dreams last so it would be hard to figure out how to record them on my timesheet. And I might get in trouble for sleeping at work although work time is kind of flexible these days.

The stranger thing is that in all my transportation-themed dreams lately there are always obstacles. I take wrong turns, find locked doors, have to find another route. Something I’ve noticed about recurring dreams is that once I write about them they go away, though, and maybe the same thing will happen here. So watch this space. Next week I may write something about a recurring dream about Mr. Blankley. Or sooner. Believe me—I’ll write about that as soon as it happens. Or as soon as I wake up.

It’s About Time.

So far seven authors have joined the Future Library, a project started in 2014 by artist Katie Paterson. The idea is that manuscripts by Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell, Sjón, Elif Shafak, Han Kang, Karl Ove Knausgård, and, most recently, Ocean Vuong will, after a ceremony in the Nordmarka forest, be sealed in the Deichman public library in Oslo, Norway. And they’ll stay sealed there until 2114 when one thousand trees, specifically planted just for this project, will be cut down and turned into paper to print one hundred copies of each manuscript.

So each year brings us a little closer to the great unsealing.

This isn’t the first time manuscripts have deliberately been put away until a later date. At least some of Mark Twain’s autobiography was, at his request, published incrementally with the complete volume finally released in 2010. And supposedly the Greek writer Longus would put a finished work away for seven years. At the end of that time he’d pull it out and if he still thought it was good he’d publish it. A lot can happen in seven years–I should know; I’ve got short stories that took at least that long to finish, but those are other stories–but I guess it worked for him since people still read Daphnis And Chloe.

The Future Library project raises a lot of questions. What sort of world will be there to receive the manuscripts when they’re finally published? And I’m going to be optimistic and assume there will still be people around to read the books, and that books will still be printed and preserved in libraries. I know it seems really really optimistic to assume that, although I also assume the internet will still exist in some form even if blogs like this one have long since dissolved, or I will show you fear in a handful of electrons.

A century ago this year, this month, this very week, in fact, the United States passed a major landmark with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, with Tennessee becoming the 36th and final state needed to add the right of women to vote to the Constitution. The Hermitage Hotel, an important meeting place where legislators gathered, has changed in the intervening hundred years but still stands in downtown Nashville, its outward appearance not that much different than 1920.

Considering that it’s not hard to imagine that one woman’s idea of a future library, now less than ninety-six years away and counting, could still come to pass.   

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.

Off Schedule.

Source: Wikipedia

So I’ve been accumulating vacation time, which I know is a stupid thing to complain about, but if I take vacation right now where am I gonna go? After all these months I’m not used to having where I live, work, and play all be the same place, and it doesn’t help that I’m an hourly employee–limited to forty hours a week, and I’m still trying to stick to something close to the same schedule I used to work: Monday through Friday, signing in first thing in the morning, taking a break for lunch, and signing out in the afternoon. Some days I work a little later so I can sign out a little early on Friday, for whatever it’s worth. In fact it’s easier to work later than it was when I was going in to the office, since most days I was bound by the bus schedule. Once in a while my boss would come to me late in the afternoon and say, “I know you’re about to leave but could you stay a little later and take care of this urgent matter?” And I’d say yes, thinking I’d just leave early on Friday, so it was lucky that never happened on Friday. I’d also mentally go over the bus schedule and figure that, no matter how quickly I could take care of whatever last minute matter was handed to me, it would still push back the time I left by at least half an hour.
I’ve been doing the same thing for several months, but with summer’s end steadily approaching time has been on my mind, especially the words of the late great Dave Allen:

Source: AZQuotes

And it’s not just the hourly or even weekly schedule I think about. There’s an annual schedule to keep in mind. I work in academia and right now, for instance, it’s a bad time for me to take some of that vacation time I’ve accumulated because classes are getting ready to start and we have a lot that needs to be taken care of so everything will be ready to start in January. And January is a bad time to take time off because of everything that backed up during the winter break. Then things slip really quickly into spring which is a bad time to take any time off because students are rushing to finish up their end of year projects and professors are starting to get ready for the summer classes, and then we get into summer and our fiscal year ends in June, so one of the busiest times in my office is when most people are on vacation, and then there’s the fall which is a busy time because it’s when all the students come back and the whole thing starts up over again.
The routine is also just wearing me down. I know some people find routines helpful or even comforting, and I like predictability too, generally, but the lack of of variety, of even the simple surprises of not knowing what I’d encounter on any given day have been getting to me. It’s why it’s hard to take vacation time: vacations used to be my time to do something different. That got me thinking about the late great scientist and author Oliver Sacks who would eat the same thing every day–he would even have a week’s worth or more of containers of the granola he had for breakfast in his pantry at any given time, and he arranged his outfits in advance so he could just grab what he needed without having to think about it, saving his brain to think about other things. He also traveled and studied a lot of different subjects, so he lived a pretty varied life. Well, I can’t get out, but I did get one of these:


And I put it in a dark corner of the pantry so I never know what I’m going to grab on any given day.
Maybe next I should stop having breakfast at the same time every day.

Get In Front Of It.

Last week during my regular working hours–I want to say “at work” but after all these months I still feel like working at home is kind of a weird gray area–we had a lot of lengthy meetings about the protocols for returning to the office. Since I work on a college campus during normal times I regularly go to different buildings to meet with people in different departments, and sometimes when I take a break or go to lunch I might go hang out in an empty classroom. Or I might go to one of the campus art galleries.

When I’ll actually go back to work is still to be determined, but for the first time in months I’m starting to see it as a possibility. Once I go back to my actual office, in a building I don’t also call home, a lot of the venturing out I’m used to doing will probably be verboten. But if the art galleries are open it will be a chance to get out and stand in front of actual paintings. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several months thinking about a comment by the art critic Robert Hughes I read, well, several years ago:

Every time I lecture, there is always some Gatesian nerd out there in the audience who sticks up his hand and says, “Well, since we can perfectly reproduce an image on a high-fidelity television screen, why do you need to go and see the original?” And the answer is because paintings are things in the physical world, made out of colored mud smeared on a piece of cloth or a piece of board, with a stick with hairs on the end. They have a particular address to your body, and none of this comes across in the computer image

There are levels of detail in a real painting that, at least with our current technology, can’t be reproduced on a computer screen–textures where the paint is layered. As much as we may think of paintings as flat they’re really three-dimensional objects, and I’m looking forward to eventually getting out and seeing the originals.

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