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Something To Say.

If this spot looks familiar it’s because it’s been featured here before. It’s a fast food place that’s been defunct for over a year now which I’m kind of sad about because the place is so close to where I work and it was inexpensive and it wasn’t bad as far as fast food goes. And fast food goes pretty far because no matter where you go you can find it and the way you feel after eating it seems to last forever, but that’s another story.

And it’s been one of my favorite spots for graffiti because it’s so close and it once sported some very dramatic and colorful graffiti, then that got painted over, and, while it’s less dramatic, it looks like some new artists have reclaimed the spot.

I like the building too. Fast food places have been coming up with creative ways to draw our eyes ever since the first golden arches went up, and the use of a strong black-and-white checkerboard pattern is very distinctive. The expanses of flat empty space also provide a good canvas, which may be why this spot has been so popular.

Since I started spotting graffiti I’ve noticed an interesting thing. Taggers don’t cover up each other’s works. They don’t cover up murals that adorn some buildings in the area. And they don’t tag buildings that are in use.

There could be a lot of reasons for that. Maybe it’s a stretch to say that taggers respect property—I know some would disagree, but they’re only treating empty, unused buildings as canvases. They have something to say and they won’t be silenced but they’re selective about where they say it.

Don’t Take Rides.

It was a Saturday. I was taking the bus somewhere, possibly to a movie or just gadding about. There had obviously been a wreck on the interstate because the main road was bumper-to-bumper with people trying to get somewhere, or just gadding about. On Saturdays only half as many buses run as on weekdays and the sudden surge of traffic had already put it well behind schedule, meaning I’d been standing on the side of the road for half an hour. And then a car pulled up next to me and stopped. The tinted window rolled down.

“Chris! What are you doing out here?”

It was my sister-in-law. In a weird coincidence she’d been on her way somewhere–she’s not usually one for gadding about–and the stop-and-go traffic had brought her to a halt right next to me. And maybe it was because I’d just been standing out in the sun inhaling auto fumes for so long that I didn’t hesitate. I climbed right into her car and closed the door. I gabbled away about how I’d been waiting for the bus, it looked like it was never going to come, had there been a wreck on the interstate? And I was so glad to her for offering me a ride.

It was only after she’d dropped me off at an intersection a couple of miles down the road, where two bus routes intersected, basically doubling my chances of catching a bus even on a day when the wait times were twice as long, that I realized she’d never really offered me a ride. It was sort of okay because she was headed to that intersection. Just beyond it was an interstate on-ramp that she was hoping would get her past the accident and back up to speed, but she still had to pause to drop me off. And I felt guilty about it although I’ve never thought to apologize and it’s been so many years now she’s probably forgotten about it entirely.

Anyway “don’t take rides from strangers” is a good rule of thumb, unless you’re hitchhiking in which case you use your thumb, but that’s another story. Another good rule, though, might be that you shouldn’t take rides from people you know either–at least not unless they explicitly offer a ride.


Call To Action.

When it comes to art I’m a classicist at heart. I believe art should reflect the beauty that’s within us, focus on and raise up what’s best in human nature, and that it should be edifying. And, reflecting those classical Lain roots, in edifying it should also be an edifice—a structure meant to last, because it’s ideas are meant to be eternal.

So why graffiti? Because I’m also a modernist at heart. I believe art should challenge our preconceived notions, force us to think about things in a new way. Reality ain’t always pretty so art shouldn’t always be either. We live in a cold, indifferent universe that’s always changing.

The classicist believes everything is a remix. The modernist wants to make something new.

And that’s a belief that appears to have a longer lineage than the classical notions. The epic hero Gilgamesh goes on a quest for immortality and ultimately learns that nothing lasts forever.

He’s told this by a man whose wisdom comes from immortality which makes it even more ironic that his message is, “Nothing lasts forever.”

The Epic of Gilgamesh itself was lost, literally buried for thousands of years, before its rediscovery, but that’s another story.

That’s why this quick scribble on a trash can—how’s that for poignant?—got my attention.

Everything about it, from the aesthetics to the message, is modern, but it’s also a call to action. Strive to be remembered.

And I took this picture six months ago. That’s not a long time but the neighborhood around it has undergone some major changes in that time with old edifices being torn down, new ones built, and some being renovated.

It’s also a call to action, to do something great. Even if you aren’t remembered, the message seems to say, do something that will be. And that’s raising up what’s best in our nature.


As a child of the ‘80’s—well, technically I was born in the ‘70’s but came of age in the ‘80’s—I remember the comedy boom of that era when almost every bar or nightclub had regular standup comedy, comedy clubs popped up all over the place, and you could go see a movie of a famous comedian’s standup act and before it started in between the trailers there’d be an ad for a local comedy club that included a few comedy bits.

And then the boom exploded. Most of the clubs closed and while standup continues to thrive on television and the internet live comedy is no longer as ubiquitous as it was.

A side effect of that, although I think the internet has helped, is that comedy has spread out.  Since the boom we’ve seen at least a couple of new generations of comics who are more diverse, including Andi Osho, whose birthday is today. Being British with Nigerian parents she might not have gotten much attention in the ’80’s–even with the boom standup was still largely a guys’ club–but now I think of her as representative of how standup has gone global.

And she’s just hilarious.


If You Didn’t Need Medication Before You Will Now.

Thank you for calling the automated pharmacy refill service. You may use this service at any time to refill your prescriptions. This includes times when the pharmacy is closed. Were you aware that you can now use the automated pharmacy refill service to refill your prescriptions?

If you were not press ‘1’ now.

If you were press ‘2’ now.

If you would like to move on to the next option press ‘3’ or remain on the line.

You have selected ‘3’. If this is correct press ‘1’ now. If it is not press ‘2’ to return to the main menu.

Thank you. You have selected ‘1’. You will move on to the next option in just a moment.

Is this a medical emergency? If it is press ‘1’ then hang up and dial 9-1-1 for emergency medical assistance now.

If it is not a medical emergency press ‘2’ to move on to the next menu option.

You have selected ‘2’. Are you sure this is not a medical emergency? If you are not press ‘1’ now for a list of situations that might require emergency medical attention. If any of these apply you should hang up and dial 9-1-1 for emergency medical assistance.

If you are sure this is not a medical emergency press ‘2’ now.

You have selected ‘2’ indicating that this is not a medical emergency. Please be aware that we cannot be held responsible if you are experiencing a medical emergency and insist on trying to refill your prescription instead of seeking medical assistance.

If you are on a specialty medication or there is another reason you may need to speak to a pharmacist please call during regular business hours. If you would like to know what the regular business hours for this pharmacy are press ‘1’ now. If you would like to move on to the next menu option press ‘2’ now.

You have selected ‘2’. Are you sure you know what the pharmacy hours are? If you do press ‘1’ now. If you’re not sure and would like to go ahead and hear them press ‘2’ now.

You have selected ‘1’. We will not be responsible if you try to pick up your prescription in the middle of the night because you don’t know what regular business hours are.

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Thank you. This prescription has no refills. Would you like us to contact your doctor? If yes press ‘1’. If not press ‘2’ then hang up and call your doctor.

You have selected ‘1’. We will contact your doctor for you.

Do you have any other prescription refill requests? If yes press ‘1’. If no press ‘2’.

You have selected ‘2’. Please be aware that if you are mistaken you’ll have to listen to this entire message again.

Would you like to leave a message for the pharmacist? If yes press ‘1’. If no press ‘2’.

You have selected ‘2’. Would you like to leave a message explaining why you don’t want to talk to the pharmacist, even to just say hello? Sometimes a little personal message can really brighten the pharmacist’s day. If yes press ‘1’. If no press ‘2’.

You have selected ‘2’. Because the pharmacist is a professional this lack of concern on your part will not be taken personally. However if you call back within the next half hour to refill another prescription your call may be routed to this message in Albanian.

We will process your prescription refill request. If you would like to take a short customer survey please remain on the line.

If you are using a rotary phone please hang up and call from another phone or remain on the line. If you are calling during regular business hours someone will be with you after the short customer survey.

Holy Mackerel.

I used to walk to Centennial Park at least two times a week, sometimes more depending on how work was going. My job isn’t stressful but sometimes I still need to get out and clear my head. This seems to be especially true in winter, but when the shock of cold air hits me my head clears up pretty quickly and I don’t need to go far. For some reason I’ve also found myself drawn in the opposite direction most of the time, toward the city’s urban heart instead of away from it, instead of to this small oasis of nature in the middle of the urban sprawl.

I felt that way today too. I felt like I needed to stick to concrete, to wander between buildings and construction and the destruction of old neighborhoods. So naturally I headed in the exact opposite direction.

I took some bread from my lunchwith me too. Back when I went to Centennial Park regularly I’d sometimes feed the ducks, but only in winter, because in the summer the ducks don’t want old bread when they’ve got other stuff to feed on. And even in the winter they can be finicky which is fine because I’ve learned that bread is bad for ducks. The ducks weren’t out either. They were sticking to their island in the middle of the lake.

Still I tossed the remains of my lunch into the water and enjoyed the frenzy that followed. The ducks may not need any handouts but I assume pickings are slim under the surface at this time of year. And then I turned back to work, my head a lot clearer from a moment of nature bread in tooth and claw.

A Little Less Conversation.

I like to talk to people. Yes, I’m one of those who’ll happily engage in small talk with just about anyone, although most of the time I have a problem starting conversations with strangers. I get that small talk bothers a lot of people and I respect that. The last thing I want to do is impose on someone who’d rather be alone with their own thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with silence. There are a couple of guys I see regularly on the bus who always sit together. Sometimes they’re talking; sometimes they’ll have extensive discussions that draw in three or four other regular riders, the conversation only dropping off as everybody gets dropped off at their regular stops. And sometimes these two guys just sit together, side by side, one with a thick book, the other with a newspaper, in total silence.

I always feel a little awkward when I’m the only rider on the bus. Does the driver want to talk? How do I know? If the driver’s been laughing and talking with other riders who then got off that’s a pretty good sign that, yes, the driver does want to talk, that they’re one of those drivers who really likes to talk. Most of the time if they’re that type they’ll start up the conversation with me which takes some of the pressure off, but until that happens I’m not sure. Bus drivers run the spectrum. Some want to talk, some want to be left alone, and some are okay with talking but have trouble starting conversations.

There were only three of us on the bus: the driver, an older guy dressed in jeans and a ragged flannel shirt, and me. There’d also been a teenage boy, but he’d gotten off at the last stop.

“Did you have a good day, Jim?” the driver asked loudly.

The older guy didn’t respond. He just sat in his seat staring at his hands.

I’m not sure how long the silence went on but then the driver said, “I guess it’s a ‘don’t talk to Cathy’ kind of day.”

She chuckled, and I said, “Maybe he didn’t hear you.”

The driver didn’t say anything. I felt really awkward, like I’d accidentally intruded on a private conversation. Either that or for some reason the driver thought I was Jim.


Space To Fill.

This is a Google Maps shot of an apartment building on Hayes Street, a few blocks over from where I work. As you can see it’s from May 2016.

Here’s the same place now. There’s a lot of construction going on. They’re starting with the parking garage because that was probably easiest to tear down and next they’ll tear down the apartment building, probably so they can put up a much larger and more expensive apartment building with little or no room for parking because with all the new apartment buildings going up around the city parking spaces have always been an afterthought, but that’s another story.

And I was intrigued to see this:

It’s not the best or most interesting graffiti I’ve ever seen, but I wondered how long it’s been there. Was it hidden at the back of the parking garage back when people were still in residence or did someone put it there some time after the space was cleared?

Either way it filled an empty space and there’s been a flurry of new graffiti ever since the construction started.

The funny thing is as I was walking around the site I found a guy spray-painting a tarp covering one of the fences on the opposite side. He was covering up some graffiti.

“This is the third time they’ve sent me out here to paint over something,” he said.

I decided not to tell him I find the graffiti in the area interesting. I just said that at least it gave him something to do. He laughed.

“Yeah. Every time they put somethin’ up I get to come out here and cover it up.”

And every time he covers it up he creates an empty space for them to put up something new.

Fender Bender.

As soon as I started driving it was inevitable that I’d have an automobile accident. Well, maybe not inevitable, but highly likely. I think it is possible to drive and never be involved in an automobile accident but statistically the odds of it never happening are the same as being attacked by a shark, hit by lightning, and winning the lottery all on the same day. Since I got my license fairly late in life—at the age of thirty-six to be exact, something which, around here, is about as unusual as being attacked by a shark, hit by lightning, and winning the lottery all on the same day—I managed to avoid being in an accident while I was behind the wheel as a teenager, unlike all my friends who, within a year of getting their licenses when they were sixteen, all had at least one accident, especially my friend Martin who was pretty much an existential threat whenever he was operating a vehicle. Martin managed to total one car less than a month after he got his license and then had seven or eight minor bumps and dents over the next year, mostly as a result of driving over sidewalks. Martin had a strange belief that he could drive on anything that was concrete—sidewalks, patios, porches. Actually I’m not sure if this is something he really believed or if he just wasn’t paying attention. Once when I was riding with him he said, “You know, I don’t know how I manage to get into so many accidents.” I looked over and he had his hands behind his head and his eyes closed and was steering with his knees. He was also speeding because no matter where Martin was going he was in a hurry to get there. Normally I don’t think anyone should exceed the legal speed limit but in Martin’s case everyone was better off if he sped so he’d spend as little time as possible getting where he was going.

That’s when I said, “You can let me off here, I’ll walk the rest of the way home.” And then a few minutes later a nice cop pulled over and picked me up for walking along the interstate, but that’s another story.

With that experience behind me you’d think I’d be an extremely careful and considerate driver, and I am most of the time, but of course all it takes is being a bonehead one time.

I really should have clarified at the beginning that I wasn’t just involved in an accident. I caused it. And I would have mentioned that but I was in a hurry to get on with the story, so bear with me while I back up a bit since I was backing up at the time. I in a hurry to get home even though I really didn’t need to be, and backing out of a parking space. And in my defense I was being extremely careful to check behind me to make sure I didn’t back into anyone—so careful, in fact, that I didn’t realize until I heard the sound that I was scraping the side of the car directly to my left.

Luckily the owners of that vehicle happened to be walking across the parking lot at that very moment because I really couldn’t live with the guilt of leaving the scene of the crime and there are half a dozen places around that parking lot and if they hadn’t shown up I’d be walking into every one and yelling, “Hey, does anybody around here drive a big gray SUV sort of thing?”

That was my plan, anyway, since I was completely  flustered, flummoxed, and discombobulated.

And they were very nice about it and listened patiently while I gave them my name, license, phone number, mother’s maiden name, first pet’s name, the street where I grew up, how I met my wife, a coupon for a free burrito, my favorite color, and then proceeded to demonstrate that I wasn’t intoxicated by walking a straight line then taking a piece of chalk and playing hopscotch and wondered aloud about the phrase “pure as the driven snow” because snow that cars have driven through is always filthy. By that time I’m pretty sure they did think I was on something and I would have understood completely if they’d quietly backed away and forgotten about the whole incident.

In fact I did think they’d forgotten the whole thing because that was more than two months ago, but relatively speaking that’s a pretty short time. An accident can happen in seconds but dealing with the aftereffects takes a lot longer, and I’m pretty sure the insurance company will make sure I remember it for the rest of my life. Even if I never have another accident I’ll still have to pay a higher rate so each bill might as well have HEY, REMEMBER WHAT YOU DID? stamped on it in big red letters.

There have been predictions that someday accidents will be eliminated, or at least dramatically lessened, because we’ll have self-driving cars, removing all human error. I’m a little skeptical but it is still possible that in the future, maybe even in the very near future, we’ll have much safer vehicles. I really look forward to that and I’m eager to get there, but not in too much of a hurry, and I hope the people who design self-driving cars have their eyes open and aren’t steering with their knees.

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