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Drive By.

Source: Whitney Museum

The bus was barreling toward the corner. So was I–toward the corner on the opposite side of the street. I got to my corner first and stood staring at the green light. Please change, please change, I repeated in my head. The light showed no signs of changing. Not that this is surprising. When have you ever seen a traffic light show any signs of changing? It just does, which reminds me of the joke, How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to really want to change. I looked over at the other corner at the WALK/DON’T WALK sign. Sometimes you can tell when the traffic light is about to change because the walk signal will start blinking. This one, however, was firmly on DON’T WALK, as were the signals on all four corners which isn’t surprising. Nashville is a city that treats pedestrians as an afterthought, if it thinks of them at all. As much as it annoys me when people step out into crosswalks and force moving cars to come to a stop I understand why they do it. If they didn’t they might never get across, but that’s another story.
Anyway the bus was speeding forward toward the green light and I started waving. It was a nice day and the driver had his window open. “Hey!” I yelled. This has worked before: I’ve managed to get the attention of bus drivers and they’ve stopped and given me a chance to cross the street. This driver, though, was happily oblivious. It’s not like it’s his job to keep an eye out for people who need a ride, right? And I have had bus drivers drive right by me even when I was standing at an appropriate bus stop because they had their eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead, and I guess I should be glad they were paying attention to where they were going, although there was also the time a bus driver went right by me because he was turned halfway around in his seat talking to a woman behind him.
And this driver sped right by me and I decided to take advantage of his open window and I yelled, “Thanks a lot, asshole!”
After the bus had passed I realized there were people standing on the opposite corner: a woman with a baby in a stroller, a whole gaggle of preschool children, a priest, a rabbi, and a minister, four old people who were the spitting images of my deceased paternal and maternal grandparents, and my second grade teacher, also deceased but still there on the corner. And if I didn’t feel bad enough about my outburst the sign changed to WALK and I had to pass by every one of them to get to the bus stop on the opposite corner.

Numbers Game.

The phone rang. My friends and I looked at each other and then I picked it up.


“Hi, this is Sheila in Murfreesboro. Did you know Nashville is a local call for us now?”

Let me back up and provide a bit of context. This was 1990 and some friends and I were hanging out at my house. Murfreesboro is about thirty-five miles southwest of Nashville, and even though both cities had the same area code, 615, if you were in Nashville and calling Murfreesboro or vice versa it was a long distance call. Except suddenly it wasn’t. I’m not sure what prompted the change, but it was welcomed by the few people I knew from Murfreesboro who felt their humble ‘Boro was overshadowed by Music City. Also if you think where you live has the world’s worst drivers let me assure you that’s only true if you live in Murfreesboro, but that’s another story.

“Uh, okay,” I said. “Do I know you?”

“Oh no!” Sheila laughed. “I just thought y’all would like to know that the phone company changed it so we can call each other now for free.”

“So you’re with the phone company?”

Sheila laughed again. “No, I’m just callin’ random people in Nashville to tell ‘em about the change. So how’s it going up there?”

At this point I was laughing and I told Sheila what the weather was like, then added, “But you probably already know that.” Then I passed the phone around and each of my friends took a turn chatting with Sheila. She seemed to be a nice person and I wish I could remember if we learned anything about her other than that she lived in Murfreesboro and really, really, really liked talking on the phone. Eventually she said, “Well, it’s been nice talking to y’all, and remember if you ever wanna call me it’s free now.” And then she hung up. I’m pretty sure none of us thought about calling her back and we hadn’t thought to ask for her number—this was also before caller ID—so even if we wanted to we couldn’t. If we could have, though, it was nice to know it wouldn’t be a long distance call.

I’m not sure what the person responsible for this graffiti was thinking but presumably it was the local area code, although the area that used to be exclusively 615 is now also served by 629 and, really, do area codes mean anything anymore now that we can carry our phones anywhere? Perhaps not although every time I get a call from a number I don’t recognize that’s within the 615 area code I always wonder if it will be Sheila.

Four And Aft.

It’s been nearly four years now since I finished chemotherapy. So far there’s no sign of it returning, which is good. I never want to go through any of that again, and I don’t take the fact that I’m healthier now lightly even though there were too many things I took lightly at the time, too many things I regret.

My last day of chemo, September 22nd, 2014. wasn’t the end of my cancer treatment—and technically it’s never-ending since I’ll need checkups and scans for the rest of my life, but it’s the anniversary I’ve chosen to mark because chemo was unlike any other part of the treatment, unlike anything I was prepared for. The first day I went in for chemo, in early July, I was terrified. What would it be like? What was the process? The clinic I went to put patients in individual rooms and as we passed by one with a bed I wondered, should there be straps? Will they knock me out, cut me open? Well, I thought, as we passed machines and bags of fluid and needles and nurses in crisp uniforms, it’s too late to ask now. I wanted to ask sooner but I also didn’t want to bother anyone, the same reason I put off going to the doctor about the pain in my leg that had been keeping me up nights for at least a couple of months, or why I didn’t even notice the swelling that was also a symptom of cancer, a symptom that, if I’d noticed it sooner, could have been treated with surgery. I could have skipped chemo entirely but I had to go through three rounds of getting toxins pumped into me because of the toxic combination of taking my health for granted and not wanting to worry anyone.

Last day. Don’t let the smile fool you.

When I was diagnosed my wife stepped up and took on a lot more responsibility than she should have, partly because she’s worked in the medical field and has a lot of experience and knowledge and partly because I acted like a complete jackass.

There’s a saying that tragedy plus time equals comedy. Most of us, I think, apply the word “tragedy” to epic events that affect large numbers of people, but tragedy can be quiet and personal too. Cancer was my tragedy and went into it joking. People would ask me about my diagnosis and I’d say, “It’s a funny story…” In the cancer clinic nurses would come in to give me injections and I’d ask, “What are today’s specials?” Or when one of my IV bags was empty I’d page them and ask for a refill. My second day of chemo I came in with the same IV from the day before, for convenience, and when they start giving me my cocktail—“Could I get three olives and a little paper umbrella?”—I got an intense burning in my arm and tolerated it for about twenty minutes. It wasn’t a macho I-can-take-this attitude. It was the I-don’t-want-to-bother-anyone attitude. When I finally told a nurse she had to consult another nurse who explained that irritation sometimes happens if they use the same vein two days in a row. It wasn’t anything to worry about but she had to remove the needle and stick another vein. In that first week I noticed my jeans were getting tight but I assumed that was normal and didn’t want to bother anyone with questions. It was my wife who noticed my right leg was swollen and told the doctors who believed it was probably just excess fluid but sent me in for an ultrasound anyway to rule out anything serious. When I started my second of three rounds of treatment I made jokes about losing my hair and chemo being boring because I didn’t want anyone to know how stressful it was to spend hours sitting alone with a needle in my arm. Sometimes I had to go to the bathroom, dragging my IV stand with me, and once wandered so far away from my room I couldn’t find my way back. A nurse recognized me and asked if I was lost. I laughed and said, “No, I’m taking the fifty-cent tour,” because I wouldn’t admit I was scared and confused. One morning when I was waiting to start treatment a nurse came out to tell me my white blood cell count had crashed and all I thought about was whether I’d still be able to go out to a baseball game while they checked with the doctor to find out if I could continue treatment with a compromised immune system. When I went out in the sun I developed a red, itchy rash and ignored it. My wife noticed and contacted the clinic to find out if sensitivity to sunlight was something to be worried about. It wasn’t, but my own lack of sensitivity was and resulted in a pattern I’d keep going through. It was a pattern of telling myself I didn’t want to bother anyone only to end up causing a lot of unnecessary trouble. It didn’t end when the chemo did either. I developed migraines which I tried to hide because I didn’t want to bother anyone. It turns out all I needed was medication but even at the time I asked myself, what if they’d been a symptom of something worse? And it’s taken me almost four years to understand just how deep, and dangerous, my denial was. It was rooted in a very firm delusion that if I pretended nothing was wrong nothing would be wrong, which, in hindsight, I know was making things worse. Contrary to the saying about tragedy, time, and comedy my cancer experience has gotten less funny as it’s slipped farther into the past.

The fourth anniversary may not have the same cachet as its odd neighbors but this one is still significant because I’m glad the cancer is gone, I’m glad it’s over because, in spite of the way I acted, it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t exciting, and most of the trouble I caused could have been avoided if I’d been more responsible, which is why, yes, I wish I could do it all over again.

Getting Back.

So even though I was called for jury duty I was ultimately not selected to serve. What I did do was spend the entire day in a courtroom with about fifty other people while lawyers questioned potential jurors, excusing one after another, never calling me. At one point a defense attorney asked the people in the jury box, “How many of you are familiar with Star Trek?” and they all looked baffled as though this was something they’d never heard of and I thought, oh please, if I’m ever charged with a crime please let there be at least one Trekkie in the jury. It was a pretty grueling process, or maybe it was oatmealing since it left me feeling pretty flat, or porridging since the jurors all seemed so thick, but that’s another story. Toward the end of the day, after more than five hours of questions and excuses, one of the clerks said, “Damn, I’ve never seen it go on this long!” Lucky us.
Getting to jury duty was easy–I went to where I normally work and caught a bus downtown. It was easy because I could catch any bus going downtown–they all go to the same bus depot. The buses departing the depot, on the other hand, all go in different directions so I had to catch the right one to get home. And normally that’s easy, but right now the Music City Central bus depot is being completely renovated and everything upstairs is completely shut down except for the donut shop because they have priorities.

Anyway this meant that the regular departure stations and times for the buses, especially the couple of buses that would get me home, are completely changed. I had to walk all around the block to try and figure out where to go. I couldn’t even get help at the temporary customer service kiosk which is designed with an oceanic theme even though Nashville is in the heart of a landlocked state.

At one point one of my buses stopped at a red light while I was standing on the corner. I waved to the driver and he shook his head because, you know, it’s not like bus drivers just go around picking up people.
I had no problem with doing my civic duty but once it was over it seemed like the difficulty getting out was just adding insult to jury.

Below The Surface.

There will be spoilers…

So Netflix has just dropped a new season of Bojack Horseman which surprised me since season 4 ended on an unusually happy note, at least for Bojack and some of his friends. Things had taken a downward turn for Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter, but then no one’s ever permanently happy, not even in the world of Lisa Hanawalt’s cleverly designed anthropomorphic animals. Now that the show is back I’m taking the opportunity to revisit and expand on a previous post I wrote about the role of art and art history plays in the show, usually quietly and in the background.

Or not so quietly.
Source: Daily Art Magazine

History and how it affects us is one of the strongest themes throughout the series but it became even more prominent as season 4 delved deeply into the history of Bojack’s mother. It’s a history that, sadly, he’ll never know, but it affected, and still affects, his relationship with her, including his discovery that he has a half-sister. The works of art that appear in the background are often visual puns, sometimes foreshadowing, sometimes providing insight into a character, but collectively underline the idea of history as jumbled. Rather than the Hegelian view of art history as a series of steps or, in works like Gombrich’s The Story Of Art, a progression from “primitive” to “advanced” history isn’t really linear. It’s cumulative. It’s more like a a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, but that’s another show.

Interestingly this seems to contradict something Diane says in the final episode of season 1. When Bojack asks her if he’s a good person “deep down,” she replies, “I don’t think I believe in deep down. I kinda think that all you are is just the things that you do.” But maybe that’s the point: if all we are is what we do then there is no hope for redemption, no chance for understanding. Our actions have to be put in context, don’t they? And some moments in the show can be peeled apart to reveal weirdly hilarious meta-contexts, such as when Wallace Shawn agrees to do a movie so he can keep buying Mark Rothko paintings. Early on in My Dinner With Andre he reflects that, “I grew up on the Upper East Side, and when I was 10 years old, I was rich! I was an aristocrat. Riding around in taxis, surrounded by comfort, and all I thought about was art and music. Now I’m 36, and all I think about is money!” Rothko’s work was also the subject of a lawsuit when, after his death, his financial advisor sold a large number of his paintings to a gallery at a greatly reduced price. And never mind that we’re talking about works of art recreated, sometimes re-envisioned, in an animated world.

Why, yes, that is a Klimt.
Source: Daily Art Magazine

To get back to the subject, though, Bojack Horseman reminds us how much we are the sum of not just our choices but the world we live in. There’s more to us than just what’s on the surface because, deep down, the past is always present.

Thanks to Daily Art Magazine which has a pretty comprehensive list of art from the series.

The Boss Would Like A Word With You.

Rough drafts of the saying “If you have time to lean you have time to clean”:

“If you have time to sleep you have time to sweep.”

“If you have time to flop you have time to mop.”

“If you have time for relieving you have time for receiving.”

“If you have time to sit back you have time to get on track.”

“If you have time to rust you have time to dust.”

“If you have time to cavort you have time to sort.”

“If you have time to stare at the walls you have time to make some calls.”

“If you have time to recline you have time to get back on the line.”

“If you have time to be urbane you have time to train.”

“If you have time to engage in oratory you have time to do inventory.”

“If you have time to contemplate your life choices you have time to pay some invoices.”

“If you have time to look up the history of the soda jerk you have time to go and get back to work.”

“If you have time to buy tickets to the theater you have time to clean the break room refrigerator.”

“If you have time for leisure you have time to measure and yes I am going to pronounce it that way.”

“If you have time to plan your vacation you have time to finish some last minute projects before your vacation.”

“If you have time to carouse you have time to something something plows.”

“If you have time to stand around the water cooler you have time to go and get my watch a new battery at the jeweler.”

“If you have time to lounge you have time to scrounge. Up some work. Go scrounge up some work. Get busy before I dock your pay for laughing at me.”

“I’m going to be in my office playing Minesweeper. Look busy in case anyone comes in and thinks you’re a-sleeper.”





Getting There.

When I got the notice to report for jury duty the first thing my wife asked was, “How will you get there?” which was better than the first thing I asked: “Will they give us legal pads?” because she’s more practical. But then it didn’t take much for me to figure out that I’d take the bus because the courthouse is somewhere downtown. Even though I’ve lived in Nashville most of my life I don’t know where a lot of things in the city are, a fact that was really brought home to me my freshman year in college in Indiana and a group of my friends suggested a day trip to Nashville and I said, “Sure, I’d really like to see it” and everyone stared at me. I assumed they meant Nashville, Indiana, which is where every person from Indiana I’ve ever met has assumed I’m talking about when I say I’m from Nashville. Anyway they meant Music City, which is a nickname for Nashville, Tennessee, not to be confused with Music City, Iowa, which, if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know is egregiously misnamed, but that’s another story. About midday while we were driving around downtown someone said, “We should get lunch,” and everyone agreed and looked at me, and I said, “Yeah, of course, I’m all for lunch, it’s the most important midday meal of the day,” and everyone kept staring at me because they expected me to know a place to go for lunch, but even though there were places I knew they were all in a completely different part of town, so we ended up going to Chinatown, which is not a specific neighborhood of Nashville the way it is in New York or San Francisco but a restaurant called Chinatown.
Anyway it occurred to me that I should do a test run and find out where exactly the courthouse I’m supposed to report to is, so I caught a bus downtown. And I had an advantage I didn’t have in college: Google Maps. According to it the building is just a five minute walk from the bus depot which is a terrible overestimate. The Justice A.A. Birch Building is a less than two minute walk and turned out to be pretty conspicuous.

I was able to make it down there, figure out where I was going, and get back all on my lunch break. And taking the bus is definitely the way to go because the parking downtown is terrible.
That’s something I’ve learned from having lived here most of my life.

Go Big.

Is it possible to convey just how big a really large work of art is or do you have to stand in front of it to really understand its size? One example that comes to my mind is Gericault’s Raft Of The Medusa, a painting I’d seen reproduced dozens of times, always on a small scale. I knew from what I’d read that it was a massive painting, but somehow I couldn’t wrap my head around just how big sixteen feet by twenty-three and a half feet really is until I was standing in front of it, and had to walk back and forth and crane my head way back just to take it all in. It’s not surprising that it took Gericault nine months to paint it–from November 1818 to July 1819. In fact it’s surprising he did it that quickly even though he didn’t leave his studio or work on anything else that entire time.

The only way I can think of to explain the difference between seeing a reproduction and seeing the real thing is with another completely different comparison. My whole life I’ve heard “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” and when people told me about going from Tennessee to a more arid climate they’d always say, “It’s true! The humidity really does make a difference!” And I believed them. I just couldn’t understand how much of a difference it made until I went to Palm Springs, California, in June, where the temperature went up to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit–that’s 40 degrees Celsius but with zero humidity it felt like 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Or at least it didn’t feel that hot. Here in Nashville when it gets that warm going outside is like swimming. Even if you don’t do the breaststroke down the sidewalk you’re still gonna get soaked. In Palm Springs it felt pleasant, even cool, until you dropped from dehydration.

What I’m getting at is that I don’t know if I can convey just how big this graffiti is, and its size is even more impressive considering that most graffiti by its very nature has to be done in a hurry. Maybe this will give a better idea of the scale.

I didn’t plan to wear a shirt that matched the paint. That was just a lucky coincidence.

Granted I’m not that tall–I stand just 5’6″, or about 1.68 meters if you want to get metric about it. I’m short enough that I look up to most people, but still that should give you some idea of how big this work is even if you’re not the one standing in front of it.


Who Am I To Judge?

So I’ve been called up for jury duty, or at least I have to report to the courthouse to be considered for jury duty, part of a great American tradition of allowing people to be judged by a group of their peers. I’m not sure I’d want to be judged by my peers, although, really, I’m not sure who my peers are exactly. When they made me they broke the mold, and I wish I hadn’t still been in it, but that’s another story. This is actually the second time I’ve been called up for jury duty. The first time I was able to get out of it with the excuse that I had cancer, although I was asked if I could postpone my cancer for a later date. This time, though, it’s federal jury duty, which is not only a whole different ballgame, it’s a different league. First they sent me a letter. Then they sent me an email to remind me I’d gotten the letter. Then one day I was in a coffee shop and a guy walked by me and said, “Hey, don’t forget to report for jury duty,” because they not only know where I live; they know where I hang out.
I know most people are annoyed whenever they get called up for jury duty which is another reason I’m not sure I’d want to be judged by my peers—it doesn’t seem to work on the defendant’s behalf if their fate is being decided by twelve people who’d rather be somewhere else—but I’m kind of looking forward to it. It’ll be a break from my usual routine, I’ll hopefully get to hang out with some interesting people, and maybe even get a part in Twelve Angry Men, but updated and more gender-neutral, so it’ll be Eleven Angry People and me over in the corner saying, “Sorry, I know I’ve got my notes here somewhere.” At least I can be sure that if I have to serve on a jury and we’re all sworn to secrecy about the case I won’t have any trouble keeping my mouth shut. Admittedly I have trouble keeping my mouth shut most of the time but there are things I just won’t talk about and other things I prefer to talk about and unless the case involves a priest, a minister, a rabbi, a pirate, a dog with his foot in a bandage, a horse, and a grasshopper all walking into a bar I’m very unlikely to even want to talk about it, let alone spill what the stenographer heard. A friend I worked with once complained that I never seemed to know any office gossip and I was a little offended that it didn’t occur to her that maybe I knew tons of office gossip. Maybe I was privy to a million little secrets whispered to me in the privy by people who mistook me for someone who cared. Maybe the reason no one ever heard any office gossip from me was because I don’t go around blabbing things told to me in confidence. That’s the thing about secrets: you never really know who’s good at keeping them until you tell one to someone who isn’t.
To get back to the subject of getting out of jury duty a guy I work with told me he’d been called up for jury duty six times, which makes me wonder if he pissed off some petty official in the justice system or if it was just random chance that his number came up so often. Or maybe there was something about his name that made someone think he’d be an excellent jurist or that just drew attention, a hypothesis I could test by creating an alter-ego named Horatio M. Worthyperson and seeing if he gets called up for jury duty. Anyway this guy I worked with told me he always took a book with him and never got picked to serve. “So they don’t want readers,” he said. I find it hard to believe he was the only person there passing the time with a book and I also know he’s a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft so I suspect it was what he was reading more than that he was reading that made the lawyers pass him over.
The fact that most people want to get out of jury duty seems to me to say something really positive about human nature: however much we judge each other on a daily basis most people, given the opportunity, would rather not be responsible for deciding another person’s fate. Or maybe that says something really terrible about human nature that most people, given the opportunity, would rather skip out on exonerating the innocent and holding the guilty accountable. Or maybe it says something entirely different about human nature—that we’re lazy, or, alternatively, that we want to be good citizens but realize the law is complicated and nuanced and worry that we’re not up to the challenge of treating a case as responsibly as it deserves. Or maybe it’s another possibility that I haven’t even thought of. Yeah, I can tell I’m gonna be really popular with my peers.


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