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Special Delivery.

One of my first jobs out of college was in a library mailroom. It was a good job that combined plenty of exercise with a plethora of reading material—this was back in the day when bound and printed books were still a primary source of information. The one downside was that I had to deal with a building manager—this was an office building that housed lots of different companies. I’m being nice when I say the building manager was a bit of a jerk. The truth is he was a really big jerk. The first time we met he started, for no reason I’ve ever been able to figure out, telling me things about his girlfriend I didn’t want to know and which I did everything I could to block out. One of the work-related areas where we butted heads, though, was over a construction company that also had offices in the building and whose guys frequently blocked the loading dock so the company I worked for couldn’t get its deliveries in or out.

One day one of the construction guys asked me, “Why don’t you get a real job?” and ever since then I’ve been trying to figure out what a real job is. If he was an example then a real job is starting renovation projects then disappearing for months so they never get finished, but that’s another story.

Once when I was trying to get the building manager to get the construction guys to move he just blurted out, “You know what I’d like to be? A UPS delivery guy because they can park anywhere they want.” That was the kind of non sequitur that was typical of him and meant I had to go talk to the construction guys, if I could find them, myself.

All this came back to me one afternoon when I was on my way to the bus and had to maneuver around a delivery truck that was parked over the crosswalk.

This driver was not stopped at a light. This was where the vehicle was parked.

I don’t want to impugn the Mrs. Grissom’s Salads company or its line of quality luncheon substances, but their delivery drivers should know that at a busy intersection, especially one where cars regularly run red lights, a delivery truck driver shouldn’t make crossing even more difficult for pedestrians. Delivery truck drivers can’t just park anywhere they want, and ones who think they can should get a real job.

Avatar.

Furries are people who have anthropomorphic animal avatars. They draw or commission pictures of their avatars and many dress up as their avatars. Even in the weird wide universe of geekdom they’re sometimes mocked or regarded with suspicion which I don’t understand. I’m not going to stand in the way of anyone’s fursuit of happiness. There was even a really happy story back in March 2016 of Syrian refugees placed at a hotel that was also hosting a furry convention, bringing together two groups that are often subject to unreasonable prejudice.

Anyway I was listening to an interview with Lisa Hanawalt on the Bullseye podcast and was surprised to hear her describe herself as a “furry”. Hanawalt designed the anthropomorphic animal creatures for Bojack Horseman and also wrote a book called The Hot Dog Taste Test which I really, really, really recommend. It’s a collection of illustrated essays more or less connected to food and it’s smart and funny and while the picture of Hanawalt with her family watching Blade II dubbed in Spanish is fantastic, but that’s another story. What surprised me about her describing herself as a furry is in the book she draws herself pretty realistically, never as an animal, but then her drawings of herself and others are still, in the traditional sense of the word, avatars. They are representative, not necessarily idealized but not exactly warts and all either.

And that got me thinking about how we all have a version of ourselves in our imaginations that may or may not match up with how others see us. If we’re uncomfortable with ourselves it’s not necessarily about who we really are but because we don’t like that image of ourselves. Similarly if we’re unhappy with the world around us it’s because it doesn’t match what we want it to be. If we are happy with ourselves and the world around us it’s, hopefully, because how we imagine ourselves and the world matches the way we think it should be.

So what’s your avatar?

The Kids Will Be All Right.

When I say Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is one of the best films of the ‘80’s and even deserves a place among the best films of all time I’m not kidding. Sure, it got blasted by critics when it first came out, but so did Led Zeppelin’s debut album which is now considered a classic, and, sure, it’s got its weak spots, but so does Led Zeppelin’s debut album and for that matter so do a lot of great works of art. It may not be Citizen Kane but it would be ridiculous if it were because Citizen Kane had already been made almost half a century earlier. And Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has lasted, meeting one of the main criteria for a film to be considered classic. Mark Twain also described a classic as “a book which people praise but don’t read,” and the film is so dependent on sight gags and actors’ performances that if it were made into a book that book would be terrible and no one should read it.

Granted this is just my opinion and while most opinions should be taken with at least a grain of salt it’s up to you to decide just how big that grain should be, and I’ll sprinkle in some additional thoughts. At least three times a day I ask myself, what makes you think that? And the first time I saw Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure I said, wow, I know we’re going to see a lot more of Alex Winters, and maybe that other guy too. Keep in mind, though, that this was before Keanu Reeves was famous and was even before I was asked to play Keanu Reeves in a school talent show, back when I had more hair and less waist, but that’s another story. What I’m saying is that with opinions you should always season to taste, and a voice is telling me I’ve already hammered this point so hard it’s embedded in the wood and I should move on.

The critics who hated Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure were also, in my opinion, a bunch of old ugly dudes who missed that Bill and Ted aren’t as stupid as they seem–and maybe even smarter than they realize, like when Bill lets it slip he has “a slight Oedipal complex”, and while it’s lasted, I think it’s greatest impact was for people of a certain age at a certain time, which is ironic for a movie about time travel, but then films about the future have a lousy track record of actually predicting the future with the possible exception of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. And what made it great was not that the way it spoke to a rising generation but its message to the older generation: trust the kids and they will turn out all right. With the right guidance, in fact, they can be extraordinary, and can even make a better world where miniature golf scores are way down and bowling scores are way up. In retrospect it seems almost too perfect that Bill and Ted’s mentor from the future, Rufus, is played by George Carlin who, two decades earlier, embraced the youth culture that was being rejected even by some of his own generation.

Source: Gfycat

While that other well-known ’80’s time travel film, Back To The Future, also contained the warning that the future and even the present aren’t fixed, it looked to the past. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure looked to the future, keeping it largely unknowable, but placing the greatest burden not on the past but the present. Bill & Ted also fully embraced something Back To The Future only touched on: when you’ve got a time machine you’ve literally got all the time in the world, as the disappearance of Ted’s father’s keys in the first reel has a most excellent payoff in the final one.

Source: Bill & Ted

As much as I loved the first film I had low expectations a few years later when I went to the theater to see Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. It felt like the first film was so complete in itself that, in spite of the success, there couldn’t be a sequel. In the theater, though, I did get a brief reminder of what the first film meant to me. There was a group of kids in the front row and somehow before the movie started I got to talking with them found out it was the tenth birthday of one of them. I gave him a pair of sunglasses with glow in the dark frames. “Thanks!” he said. “That was really excellent of you,” his mother told me. I just said, “Party on, dudes,” and took a seat in the back row where the Bogus Journey, in spite of the Ingmar Bergman references and great use of the Vasquez Rocks, was most heinous and non-triumphant.

And now there’s a third film in the works, and I wonder what this future holds. I don’t ask why because it’s Hollywood, Jake, and sequels and franchises have been part of the game at least as far back as the 1930’s with setups like The Aldrich Family which spanned a total of eleven films.

What I’m wondering now is, have they gotten better? Have we? And by “we” I mean those of us who are like Bill and Ted: guys who’ve already started out pretty high up on the ladder and get an extra boost. The future, so far anyway, hasn’t turned out to be so excellent for many people. Those of us who saw ourselves in Bill and Ted had a chance to make the world better and we largely failed. And one of the biggest flaws of the first two is that women, whose historic roles have largely been sidelined or even ignored, get the same treatment from Bill and Ted–even the historic babes. Sure, Joan Of Arc takes over a Jazzercize class, but even the woman who manages their band turns out to be Rufus in disguise. Bill and Ted have been to the past and future and to Heaven and Hell and even defeated Death, and now is their chance to see history as much more complicated than the contributions of as many dudes, mostly white dudes, as can be stuffed into a phone booth. George Carlin is sadly gone but that means we are now Rufus, and we have a responsibility to extend the help we offer far beyond the Circle K parking lot. And some of us old ugly dudes need to be reminded that while we can still party on the first and most important thing we can do in both the present and future is to be excellent to each other.

Riding The Route: Number Seven.

Recently Nashville had a referendum on a new transit plan. I was, well, firmly ambivalent about it. There were a lot of potential benefits I could see but also some major downsides and problems just with the implementation and I was worried Nashville would end up like Cincinnati which started a subway then abandoned it. The referendum, and its failure, reminded me I need to resume my plan to ride every Nashville bus route and also inspired my choice of a route: lucky Number Seven. The Number Seven route goes to Green Hills which is one of the most congested areas of Nashville, mostly because there’s so much stuff there. There are actually two routes that go to Green Hills. The other is the Number Two, which runs roughly every forty-five minutes from 5:34am to 8:55am and then doesn’t restart until 2:15pm on weekdays only. The Number Seven runs roughly every twenty minutes on weekdays and every forty minutes on weekends.

Like all Nashville bus routes it starts from the downtown bus center.

It then winds through downtown and onto Broadway, which takes it by Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt Hospital. I hope I never get tired of making jokes about how you take the fork at the whisk.

Now this is where things start to go wrong: Hillsboro Village. It’s a small but charming little area near Vanderbilt full of stores and nice restaurants. The Belcourt Theater is there and the Fido Coffee Shop and The Pancake Pantry where people literally line up around the block waiting to get in. And cars are allowed to park on the street, reducing the number of lanes and making the whole thing a nightmare of stop and start traffic.

Several blocks after Hillsboro Village is the new challenge of crossing over I-440. Why is that a challenge? Because of all the cars trying to get off I-440 so they can go to Green Hills.

Parts of Green Hills are quite green and even a little hilly.

The bus then winds through the parking lot of Green Hills Mall, the last operating mall in the area and one of the main reasons for all the traffic.

Then it winds out and by Hillsboro High School where, many years ago, I took my first driver’s ed course, but that’s another story—and there was a lot less traffic then.

Then it’s a fifteen minute break at the last stop before the whole thing resumes.

The Portrait.

It’s pretty frustrating that Netflix has just announced a whole new cast of The Crown but is holding off on when the new season will be available—for now they’re just saying 2019—but it made me look back at my favorite episode so far—episode 1, season 9, the one called “Assassins”. I’ve read a little bit about art history—just a few dozen books or so, and taken some classes, but I’d never heard of Graham Sutherland, the artist who painted Churchill’s portrait, a portrait Churchill hated, and which was ultimately destroyed. When Churchill called it “a remarkable example of modern art” he meant that as an insult and the audience laughed.

The episode—spoiler alert—shows Mrs. Churchill burning the portrait herself in broad daylight, with Winston himself as a witness, which is what she claimed happened. It wasn’t until 2015 that it was finally revealed that the portrait, which was supposed to hang in Westminster Abbey, was kept in a cellar for years. Then, in the middle of the night, Mrs. Churchill’s secretary Grace Hamblin and her brother took the painting to the brother’s house and burned it there.

So the story as told in The Crown episode is sort of true and sort of not true. That’s interesting because, as Graham Sutherland himself said in 1944,

I feel that an artist’s business is to find an equivalent to the things which give him is idea, an equivalent which derives its life from being a ‘work of art’ rather than a ‘work of nature’…A metamorphosis has to take place.

Here’s a good example of that: Sutherland’s 1975 work Cathedral Of Rocks:

Source: Pinterest

And here’s a photo of the rocks which inspired that painting:

Source: Graham Sutherland : life, work and ideas by Rosalind Thuillier (The Lutterworth Press, 2015)

At the time Sutherland painted Churchill’s portrait he was highly respected in Britain but his reputation diminished, not so much over the portrait but because of his decision to live part of the year in the south of France, although he became highly respected—and well paid—in Italy, where they know a thing or two about painting. British critics raised their opinion of him a little when he started painting regularly in Wales, drawing inspiration from the landscape and painting pictures like the one above and his 1978 Thicket With Self Portrait. It’s good to see him get some attention again because his paintings are remarkable examples of modern art—and I mean that as a compliment.

Source: Elephant & Castle

 

The Beach Rules.

In order to enjoy the beach safely and responsibly please observe the following rules:

  1. Pets are allowed on the beach but please pick up after them.
  2. Children are allowed on the beach but please pick up after them.
  3. This is a public beach. Please dress appropriately. Yes, we’re talking to you. Really, those shoes with that shirt? Did you get dressed in the dark this morning or what?
  4. If caught in an undertow swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the current and can swim back safely.
  5. If caught in an overtow dive as deep as you can and swim parallel to the beach, if you remember where it is. This is a great chance to see how long you can hold your breath!
  6. If your car is towed call 251-555-3219.
  7. Don’t build a fire unless you’ve been in a horrific plane crash or fallen off a cruise and found yourself stranded alone on the beach. If that’s the case as soon as you start making a fire someone’s bound to show up and tell you you’re doing it wrong. Get a lift home from them.
  8. Feed the seagulls at your own risk. Every year dozens of tourists are carried away by flocks of seagulls.
  9. Do not linger under the palm trees. It makes the coconuts skittish.
  10. Solicitation is prohibited. So is selling anything. If someone approaches you and tries to interest you in a timeshare or beach property tell them you’re Canadian.
  11. There are lifeguards on duty but they can only run in slow motion. If you’re drowning try and prolong it as long as you can.
  12. If you find a lamp on the beach and rub it and a genie doesn’t come out take it home and try plugging it in.
  13. Do not get high on the beach. You might fall off.
  14. Do not taunt the seahorses. They may look cute, especially the babies, but the adults are very protective and, at up to six feet long and three-hundred pounds, can inflict a nasty bite.
  15. Do not drink the water.

Preacher Woman.

Source: Wikipedia

If, like me, you started watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? in its original run as a British program, which, on this side of the pond, ran on a fledgling comedy network that wasn’t up to making shows of its own yet, but that’s another story, you probably remember Sandi Toksvig, whose birthday is today. At least you should because she was brilliant. I remember that when the group improvised a gospel song she didn’t sing. She got down and preached, and not just to the choir.
Since then she’s taken over as host of QI, because she has that special gravitas that makes you feel like your IQ is going up just listening to her, was the host of The News Quiz and 1001 Things You Should Know, founded the Women’s Equality Party, co-hosts The Great British Bake Off, has written a slew of books for children and adults, and gave an amazing TED Talk, all of which makes me wonder where she finds the time, but of course she makes it look easy because she’s brilliant.
Preach on, Sandi Toksvig, preach on.

 

It Was A Thursday. I Can’t Get The Hang Of Thursdays.

“He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher…or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.”-Douglas Adams

Normally I’m suspicious of technology. Sure, I appreciate all that technology has given us: computers, cars, robots, coffee makers, digital watches, pasteurized cheese, nuclear bombs, flying cars, vacuum cleaners, cotton-polyester blend shirts—I could go on but I think you understand and we can agree that technology is not only just for solving problems; it also creates whole new problems we didn’t even think about when we were naked creatures squatting around campfires—which actually describes my Uncle Larry right now which is why advances in technology don’t bother him, but that’s another story.

Anyway I’ve had ups and downs with the Nashville MTA app, mostly ups because it’s usually accurate and it’s handy to know when the next bus is coming and on occasion when I’ve just missed the bus. In spite of the bus stops being numbered on the app but not having any corresponding numbers on the signs I’ve been able to figure out what stop is where. Sometimes it just baffles me, like when it tells me the schedule information for all buses is “N/A” and I wonder if it’s a holiday I didn’t know about and that the buses aren’t running, although one always turns up around the usual time.

The other day even though I got to the bus stop in plenty of time the app informed me that I’d just missed the bus and that it would be more than a half hour before another one came along. The timing was so close, in fact, that it seemed to suggest that if I squinted I’d be able to see the bus I’d just missed speeding away, but I wasn’t interested in looking. I decided to go with my backup plan of walking the extra half a mile or so to catch the express bus. It was a nice day and I was ambling along happily, listening to the first episode of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase , looking at dandelions, and reflecting on the legacy of Douglas Adams.

And as I was walking along, between bus stops, the bus sped right past me. It stopped at an intersection just ahead and I ran to try and catch it, but I wasn’t fast enough. I didn’t need to squint. I stood there and watched it speed away. And I wondered if the Nashville MTA app were designed by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation which, as fellow hitchhikers know, has only one profitable division: its complaints department.

 

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