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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.


Is there honor among thieves? That’s debatable–hey, we’re talking about thieves after all. Is there honor among taggers? It seems like it. Often in areas where I find a lot of graffiti it’s separated. No one paints over anyone else’s work. Well, there are exceptions to every rule.
This particular spot is in a graffiti gallery, a very popular spot where there’s some competition for space and where taggers sometimes even insult each other. That’s not pictured.
One of the frustrating things about not knowing the artists involved is I don’t really know whether they purposely created contrasting works here, and it does seem like it was intentional rather than accidental. One doesn’t completely cover up the other which you’d expect, and also the choice of sharply contrasting yellow and purple seems intentional–they’re complementary colors.
That reminds me of a joke. A guy is sitting at a bar and hears a voice say, “Hey, nice shirt.” He looks around but doesn’t see anyone. Then he hears another voice. “That’s a great tie too.”
He says to the bartender, “Hey, I keep hearing these voices say nice things.”
The bartender says, “Oh, yeah, that’s the peanuts. They’re complimentary.”

Bag ‘Em.

A few years ago I made a New Year’s resolution which may seem like a funny thing to bring up this late in the year, but how many of your resolutions do you remember and even if you do how many have you kept? This was my resolution: always use reusable bags when going to the grocery store. And I’ve done a pretty good job, keeping to it about a quarter, maybe as much of a third of the time and I always get a kick out of going into a grocery store with their competitors’ bags. To be clear I don’t live in one of the few areas of the United States where you now have to pay if you want to use the store’s plastic bags. In fact I’m pretty sure the people where I live will only give up plastic grocery bags when they’re pried from their cold, dead hands—which will be pretty easy given how slippery plastic bags are. Also I’m not sure how this applies to paper bags which they still have but which nobody seems to use anymore.

I also remember a time when grocery carts had numbers on the front and when you were done paying for your groceries the checkout person would write your cart’s number on the back of the receipt. You could then go out to your car, drive up to the front of the store, hold the receipt up to the window, and a couple of guys would load your groceries into your car for you. What made this even better was they once slipped up and gave us somebody else’s groceries and for a week we ate like kings, or at least like people who buy those shrimp cocktails in a jar which I thought were the epitome of haute cuisine at a time when I didn’t even know what haute, cuisine, or epitome meant. And not to sound snobbish but I’d rather have as few strangers as possible touching my groceries which is why whenever the person who bags my groceries asks if they can help me out I say “No, thanks” and when they say “Are you sure?” I have to point and yell “Is that the Hindenburg?” and then grab everything and run for the door and hopefully not have to tell my wife that I don’t know what happened to the mayonnaise, but that’s another story.

In fact whenever I can I use the self-checkout at the grocery store. Yes,  I worry it’s putting someone out of a job, although with every other item the machine stops and yells “Please wait for an attendant” possibly because it’s just not gauged to measure a single bulb of garlic, but there are times when the self-checkout is just faster and more convenient, and I don’t need some high school kid who’s just working there for the summer to drop that two-pound can of diced tomatoes on top of the eggs when I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself. And it brings back memories of when I was a kid and the grocery store we went to installed those new laser scanners and I thought those were so cool. The woman checking us out noticed me staring at it—not directly into the beam, but at the scanner itself—and she said, “Would you like to try it?” And I did and checking out groceries turned out to be even more boring than it looked.

Anyway the other day I was going through the checkout line with an actual person and as I started bagging them myself in my reusable bags she handed me a tiny little nylon bag. It was a miniature version of the reusable bags the store sells, but on the back it had printed, “Don’t forget your bags”. This as a little promotional reward they were doing for people who brought in reusable bags, although I thought they were aiming it at the wrong people. They should have given them to the people who are still using plastic bags and maybe changed the note to, “Start using reusable bags before we pry the plastic ones out of your cold, dead hands, which will be pretty easy…”

Although I do think it’s nice that they encouraged me to recycle by giving me something to throw away.

Pop Quiz: It’s Instrumental.

Match The Instrument To The Emotion It Best Expresses.

  1. World’s Smallest Violin
  2. World’s Smallest Tuba
  3. World’s Smallest Piano
  4. World’s Smallest Trumpet
  5. World’s Smallest Picolo
  6. World’s Smallest Viola
  7. World’s Smallest Drum
  8. World’s Smallest Triangle
  9. World’s Smallest Theremin
  1. Mock Jazziness
  2. Mock Heart Of Rock’n’Roll according to Huey Lewis
  3. Mock anti-climactic emphasis to a stirring opus
  4. Mock Jocularity
  5. Pretty much the same as a regular size one
  6. Mock Sympathy
  7. Mock Complex Range of Emotions
  8. Mocks Those Made-For-TV Movies Like Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus and Sharknado that are supposed to be hilariously over-the-top ironic but end up just being stupid
  9. Mocks Your Mock Sympathy

Scoring is of course completely arbitrary and meaningless and any wrong answers will be severely punished.


Numbers Game.

Also why does 2041 come between 2013 and 2014? Your math department could use some work,

Dear Nashville MTA,
I’ve been using you app for almost a year now and it’s pretty nice. I even wrote a glowing review about it back when I first started using it, which was about a year after it was released. Your PR department could use some work, you know. I really like being able to see that a bus that’s scheduled to arrive in five minutes is running late and won’t make until sometime next week. Since I move around to a lot of different stops–some bus drivers have even commented that they never pick me up in the same place, because I get bored waiting for the bus and now with the app I know exactly how much time I have to get to a different stop on the same route. Anyway the thing I’ve noticed is that in the app all stops are numbered but none of the stops themselves, not even the new fancy ones that y’all are so proud of, have numbers anywhere on them. Sure, I could look at the street signs to confirm that the “nearby stop” has a geographic location that matches where I am, but when the stop is in the middle of a block it can be hard to see the street names. And also I’m one of those people who doesn’t navigate particularly well by street names. I prefer landmarks and have even been complimented on the clarity of my directions, or at least I was before everybody started using map apps and GPS devices. Back in those days whenever someone asked me for directions it was a chance to repeat that old joke that Bob Hope told when he entertained the troops starting with the War of 1812 when he opened with, “Well, when I got into Mobile this morning I asked someone where the USO stage was and he said walk straight toward the stockade, turn left at the burning building, and keep going past the riot. You can’t miss it.” It was even better when the person who asked me for directions was traveling through an actual war zone, but that’s another story.
Anyway, can I get your number?


Ones That Got Away.

One of the most frustrating things for me as a graffiti collector is that so much of it gets away undocumented. It’s even harder when it’s something really amazing, something truly beautiful, that then disappears before I can get a picture of it. Yes, I have gotten some things. There was this:

This is what it looks like now:

It still annoys me that there are some truly spectacular examples of graffiti that were wiped out before I could capture them. You’ve probably heard the saying that writing about art is like dancing about architecture. There’s a lot of dispute about who first said that, although Quote Investigator has done a pretty good job of tracing it back—maybe—to Martin Mull. Every time I hear that I think I’d really like to see some dancing about architecture, so I’m going to write about art, and to make it even worse I’m going to write about art that no longer exists.

First there’s this spot near Powell and Armory Avenue in Nashville, where the road loops around. For a few months the word LOVE and an enormous heart was painted on the wall. The letters covered the wall which should give you some idea how big it was. In fact the whole thing was so huge you could see it from the I-65 overpass, and while I’m not often out that way every time I saw it I thought, I’ve really got to get a picture of that. The problem is every time either my wife was driving and there was no good angle for me to snap a picture or I was driving and, well, I like to keep at least one hand on the wheel. Last Friday as we were going that way I noticed the entire thing had been painted over with a drab gray.

Source: Google Maps. I don’t have any pictures of my own.

Nearby, on I-65 itself, or on the side really, there was a huge mural of tropical flowers. This is the one I think I will always regret the most. Anthuriums, orchids, hibiscus, and maybe even some that were purely fictional, in vermillion, lavender, aqua, and emerald jostled together on this wall under an on-ramp.

Source: Google Maps. Again no pictures of my own, but you can see where it was and how big it was.

It was beautiful and always made me happy. It brightened up the area, but someone, maybe some petty public worker, decided it needed to be wiped out. You can see where it’s been painted over and that might give you some idea how big it was.

And that’s the interesting thing. They were both large works in areas that are really difficult to get to—even dangerous. Whoever made them put a lot of work and thought into them. They gave these dull spots life and color. Now that they’re gone they remind me how ephemeral some things are.

A Brief History Of Not Enough Time.

This morning during our commute my wife and I listened to a report on the psychology of time and how leisure time used to be a symbol of status but now, at least in the United States and among certain groups, mainly celebrities and the wealthy who have enough money to buy celebrity, not having enough time to do everything is considered proof they’ve made it. Having fortyleven projects running at the same time and not enough time to do them all is the ultimate sign of success now. Someone whose passion is, say, music, after having put in the ten-thousand hours needed to master their craft, paid their dues, worked their way up from the bottom, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, broken out, broken through, and who are finally able to quit their old day job and take up several new jobs marketing their own brand of croquet equipment and designing a line of solar-powered footwear. Being successful used to mean you could take a little time to yourself and lounge on a beach somewhere, but really, who can blame celebrities for wanting to work on all kinds of projects when the other option is being chased around the beach by paparazzi? And while I’m inclined to say that “success” and “status” are nebulous concepts that should be defined by the individual and not by the society in which we live I know how society is. Any time I suggest that society gets huffy and yells, “You can’t tell me what to do!” What really interests me, though, is that it says something larger about us. Homo sapiens is a naturally multitasking species, and while multitasking is usually a way to get a lot of things done badly and in a half-assed way the truth is we’ve managed to do some pretty amazing things, mostly in a half-assed way, at least in the grand scheme of things. Compared to the entire history of the universe humans have been around such a short time that if all of time were measured as a roll of toilet paper the moment homo sapiens first appeared to the present day would barely be the last millimeter of the roll, although one of the biggest controversies in science today is whether the paper should be placed so it rolls from the top or the bottom. Sharks have been around approximately 450 million years. They’ve survived several mass extinctions, including the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, and yet haven’t even gotten close to discovering fire, although they are at a slight disadvantage being underwater most of the time. We humans have only been around approximately two-hundred thousand years. Seventy or so thousand years ago we were on the verge of extinction in central Africa then a large black box showed up and we started moving.We only began to form what we’d recognize as societies less than ten thousand years ago and written language a little over five thousand years ago. We’ve occupied every part of the planet, a feat only matched by bacteria and viruses, and only because they had a major head start but have still failed to advance beyond the discovery of energy drinks and with any luck we’ll stop using analog clocks by the end of the century because it makes no sense that the hour hand is the smaller one and the minute hand is the larger one.

At this point it’s probably pretty clear what I’m trying to say so I’ll just cut to the chase. And here’s an interesting thing about the expression “cut to the chase”: it dates back to at least 1929 and originated as a film direction to keep the story moving. The funny thing is I really thought it went back farther than that and that there was actually cutting, like with some kind of knife, but that’s another story. What I’m getting at is, we have done an enormous amount of work and there’s so much stuff I feel like I’m missing, so could everyone please just take a break for a while and stop making anything new until I can get caught up on all the books, movies, TV shows, music, and art that we’ve produced so far?

Das Bus.

Look carefully and you can see the water dripping. What kind of bonehead designs an emergency exit that leaks?

When I got the bus stop it was starting to rain, but this didn’t bother me because I had an umbrella. It was just a few drops, and the weather report had said there was a 50% chance of precipitation which always tickles me because that sounds like the weather reporters are really hedging their bets, but then someone always has to get pedantic and tell me that they’re 100% sure it will rain and that it’s expected to cover about 50% of the area which takes the fun out of it, but that’s another story.

I walked down the street to the next bus stop where there were some trees and a business with an awning that I could stand under if the rain got really bad, which it did. It started to really pour. It was like I was standing behind a waterfall and a woman who worked in the shop asked if I’d like to come in, which was nice because I was getting wet from the spray and I’m pretty sure the awning was eroding. And then the bus arrived and thankfully there was a stop sign there so I ran out into the rain and knocked on the door, then pounded on the door, then I had to run around to the front of the bus and jump up and down in front of the driver because he couldn’t hear anything over the rain and the way it was coming down I’m surprised he could see anything, but he opened the door and I ran in, swiped my bus pass, and went right to the back of the bus because I was cold and wet and the backseat sits right on the engine so it’s usually warm, and also there was no one back there. And then as everyone picked up their oars and started rowing and the bus lurched forward I realized the reason no one was in the back was because there was an emergency hatch in the roof and it was leaking. So I moved to a seat closer to the front which meant I had to help row, but I didn’t mind as long as we were going forward, or at least taking me closer to home, and it didn’t matter that I’d left my umbrella at the shop because this was umbrella-destroying rain. And I remembered that when I was a kid I thought humidity could never reach 100% because I thought 100% humidity was solid water, but then I learned that it was really just the maximum amount of water the atmosphere could hold, but maybe I’d been right all along because by now the bus driver was looking through a periscope and all the stop announcements were in German and I was seriously starting to wonder that I was going to have to leave through a torpedo tube.

And then, amazingly, by the time we got to the stop where I got off, the sun had come out and I wished I had my umbrella to protect me from the glare.


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