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If Wishes Were Buses…

Most of the things people leave behind on the bus are things they don’t want: empty bottles, grocery bags, pieces of paper. Once I found a small pile of bones left over from chicken wings carefully balanced on the edge of the window. I thought about sliding open the window and throwing them out but there are some things even I won’t pick up, and I didn’t want to risk throwing chicken wings into the windshield of an oncoming car. A bus driver once told me that she had a kid who threw a milkshake into the open sunroof of a car in the next lane which I thought took some amazing skill but was also a criminal waste of a milkshake, but that’s another story.

Just a few days ago I got on the bus and went straight to the back just as I always do, especially at this time of year because the motor is in the back and it’s the warmest place to sit. And I found this:


wishes1At first I thought it was a child’s school assignment. When I was in school we had to do things like this all the time because being able to cut pictures of stuff out of magazines and paste them to a piece of posterboard was a valuable skill that, like the quadratic formula, I have never once needed in my adult life. But then I looked at it more closely.


It looked like a shopping guide. Someone had been calculating and comparing prices. They wanted a cell phone, a bicycle, a small motorcycle, and a Nerf gun. I couldn’t tell whether the pictures really matched the exact items or if they were just guides.


What I really wanted to know, though, was, who were they? Who made this thing and left it behind? Was it a Christmas gift guide? Maybe it was and with the holidays over they didn’t need it anymore. That’s the best possibility. The worst possibility is they were a student and this was an assignment that they accidentally left behind. If that’s the case they probably ended up getting a F on it, although if they had turned it in the grade wouldn’t be much better. That’s some really sloppy work there. Don’t they teach kids the proper way to stick pictures to a piece of posterboard  anymore?


Think About It.

think1At first thinking outside the box was a good idea. For too long we’d been confined by the box and its six walls, each of uniform height and width and equidistant in all directions. The box had, in its time, been useful, but outside we found our possibilities expanded. We thought next to the box and on top of the box. A few brave souls tried thinking under the box but they found themselves back inside the box.

Thinking outside the box opened us up to new distances, broader horizons, a landscape we hadn’t imagined and which, unlike the inside of the box, was constantly changing.

think2And yet as time passed a sense of unease came over some of us. We sensed there was something more. We could turn to face one way and there would be no box. We could turn to face another way, and still another, and there was still no box. But when we turned again there was the box.

think3We began to ask ourselves, could we go far enough away that there would be no box? Do we need the box at all? And so we went in search of things that had no part of the box.


A Dream Within An Involuntary Succession Of Images Occurring During REM-Stage Sleep.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I had that dream again.

There are several sleep-related issues I’ve fortunately outgrown: sleeping with the light on, night terrors, and sleepwalking. At least it’s been several years since I sleepwalked and my wife no longer has to worry about me trying to take down the picture that hangs over her bed to get the computer disk out of the wall safe behind the picture, mainly because she moved the picture to another part of the bedroom but also because we don’t have a wall safe. And even if we did I’m not sure why I’d store computer disks in there.

One thing I haven’t outgrown though is the recurring dream, although I don’t have them nearly as often as I did when I was a kid. Psychologists might say this was me working through a particular issue or set of concerns, the same reason some children reread the same story. I think there’s a much simpler answer: I just hadn’t built up enough experiences yet so my brain regularly had to go into reruns. And I also think I prompted it. Even now I can do that sometimes: I’ll be in the midst of a really interesting dream, wake up, and then find that I can re-enter it, although usually at a later point, sort of like stepping out of a movie to go to the bathroom, but it doesn’t really matter because the move is Un Chien Andalou which would make just as much sense if you watched it backwards. And sometimes at night when I’d lie down to sleep I’d think, hey, that dream I had the other night was really fun, I’d like to dream that again, and my brain would oblige. Then halfway through it would turn that fun dream into a nightmare because that’s the sort of thing my brain thinks is hilarious. And I’d try to explain to my brain that that sort of thing is only funny if it happens to other people, then realize that I’m a truly horrible person and that my brain was just giving me what I deserved, but that’s another story.

Anyway I have this recurring dream. The alarm goes off. I get up, take the dogs out, take a shower. Sometimes I get all the way to work before the alarm really goes off. Since this is a dream my brain will skip over the boring parts and go for the really boring parts.

Here’s the odd thing: I’m always sound asleep when I have this dream so why do I wake up exhausted? Probably because that’s the sort of thing my brain thinks is hilarious.

Seeing Stars?

spaceHave you ever looked down and seen stars? Chances are you’re saying “No” unless you’ve been in space or simply extremely disoriented, probably due to some form of intoxication, and even then you weren’t technically looking down because, first of all, when you’re in space and loosed from the surly bonds of gravity “up” and “down” become meaningless and second, if you’re so intoxicated that you can’t tell up from down your feet should be firmly planted on the ground, unless you’re in a bed, and even then someone should make sure you stay on your side or stomach until you have been once again ensnared by the surly bonds of sobriety.

Let me start over.

I was standing at the corner waiting for the bus to arrive and I looked down and saw stars. Just off the edge of the sidewalk, in the curb, there was a rectangular object with stars on it. Now I’m not the sort of person who goes around picking up trash. Well, sometimes I am. If there’s a piece of paper or an empty can on the sidewalk and there’s a trash can nearby I’ll pick it up and throw it away. If someone’s left a half-finished cup of coffee on the bus bench I’ll move it. Once when I was on the bus a half-full bottle of something rolled from one end of the of the bus to the other for two miles before I finally picked it up and put it in the garbage bag behind the driver’s seat. Why no one else did is a mystery but I decided someone had to.

Anyway I couldn’t get over my curiosity about what this thing with the stars on it was. My best guess was that it was a poster of the stars or possibly even a Star Wars poster, and since it had been raining it was soaking wet and likely ruined but I still had to know. First I waited for a lull in the traffic because I didn’t want the anonymous strangers driving by to think I was the sort of person who picks up soaking wet trash. Then I picked it up and, well…I’m still not sure what it was. It was a multi-panel piece of cardboard with stars on one part of it.

And then I realized the bus was coming. The driver had very likely seen me and was thinking of me as the sort of person who picks up soaking wet trash. Or something. I don’t know what she thought. She smiled and said hello when I got on the bus and I realized that some guy picking up a mysterious object off the street was probably not the strangest thing she’d seen. In fact I’m pretty sure that for most bus drivers seeing strange things is common.

You Decide.

Back in the ’80’s when the ‘M’ in MTV still meant “music” they had an occasional feature called “Smash Or Trash?” They’d run a music video–remember those?–and ask viewers to call in and vote on whether it was “a smash” or “trash”. Local radio stations did it too. Memorable songs that I remember hearing for the first time as a “Smash or trash?” are Love Shack by The B-52s–smash, obviously, Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin–again, smash, and She Drives Me Crazy by Fine Young Cannibals. Yeah. Smash. In fact I can’t remember any that were “trash”.

Anyway, here’s your chance. Smash or trash?



Hey! Nice Hat!

heynicehatMy wife is trying to keep me from turning to a life of crime.

That’s actually the end of a long and winding train of thought so let me back up a few cars and start over instead of just giving you the caboose, especially since I notice most trains don’t even have cabooses anymore and anyway the proper plural is cabeese.

My wife knitted me an octopus hat. It’s a really nice hat and fits me perfectly which is one of the advantages of being married to a knitter. She’s also knitted me several pairs of socks and before this she knitted me a hat with police boxes and Daleks on it, and before that she knitted me a fish hat so one of these things is not like the other two, but that’s okay because my interests range from the sea to the stars. When she knitted me the fish hat some of her friends asked, “Will he wear it?” which just goes to show that they don’t know me whereas she does, although I think even she was kind of surprised by how often I wore the fish hat and sometimes she’d say, “Okay, I’m glad you like it, but you can take it off now. It’s August.” But that’s another story.

As I was walking along in my octopus hat it occurred to me I was at a real disadvantage if I wanted to commit a crime. I wasn’t thinking of any specific nefarious acts, or even any non-specific ones, so I’m not sure how the idea popped into my head, but you know how these things go. An idea pops up and then it links up to a couple of other ideas and then they get moving and pick up some extras and my octopus hat might as well be a conductor’s cap because we’ve got a full load of freight and we’ll be hauling all night until we’ve pulled into the yards just on the edge of Poughkeepsie.

You see how these things go. The point is if I committed a crime and there were any witnesses their interview with the police would go like this:

“What did he look like?”

“Well, average height, average build, pretty much average all around.”

“Anything distinguishing?”

“He had an octopus hat.”

“That’s all we need!”

And that got me thinking how when I was a kid and riding in the backseat of my mother’s car and a guy on a motorcycle pulled up next to us. He had a big bushy beard and wore a leather vest and had tattoos on his arms. My friend Troy who was riding along with us said, “He looks like a bad guy.”

My mother said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” which confused me because we weren’t talking about books and also how are you supposed to judge a book? Even if you’re not judging it by its cover you’re at least making a decision about whether or not you want to read it based on the title. It sounds nice in principle to withhold judgment about a book until you’ve finished it and I even once tried to live according to that but gave up when I realized I didn’t even have an Atari so reading the entire repair manual didn’t help me at all; besides I figured out by page two that the capacitor did it so that was not the big twist ending I think it was supposed to be.

Anyway I had this strange intuition that maybe this guy, even though he looked kind of scary, might not be a bad guy, or if he was he’d be a really dumb criminal because in those days he had enough distinguishing features that he’d be easy for the cops to find. Now of course the exact opposite is true.

“What did he look like?”

“He had a big, bushy beard, a leather vest, and tattoos up and down both arms.”

“So pretty much average all around.”

Since this train of thought is now running out of steam, or maybe coal which they use to fuel the fire, or maybe water which is what the fire turns into steam, or maybe we’re just pulling into the station, the big twist ending is that if I’m going to turn to a life of crime it’ll have to wait until at least August.

Bonus: The Fish Hat


Warm-Up Act.

Source: Google Maps

Source: Google Maps

In downtown Nashville, on Fourth Avenue, between the capitol building and the river, there used to be a couple of blocks of bus shelters. For every bus route this was the end of the line–or one of them, anyway. There was also a rectangular shed with maps of every bus route and schedules and a customer service/help/information window that was permanently closed.

The shelters have since been removed and the end of the line is now a covered bus depot and I kind of miss them. The depot is safer and depending on the weather I guess most people are happier to be under a roof, and depending on the weather they were a place where anyone walking from one part of downtown to another could stop. And even when I had to wait for the bus I wanted I could stand around and watch the other ones go by. At almost any time there were at least a couple of buses dropping off, picking up, or just waiting for their scheduled departure.

And then one night there was the singer.

It was one of the coldest nights of the year, which isn’t saying much because it was still January, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t get much colder in any other month, not even August. For once I hadn’t taken the bus downtown. My wife and I had parked a few blocks down the street because we were on our way to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center to see Garrison Keillor. This was not A Prairie Home Companion but just Keillor himself telling stories from his new book The Book Of Guys, but that’s another story. Or stories.

Anyway we were walking past the bus shelters and under one of them stood a tall black man. He wore a dark wool coat and a dark hat. He might have completely blended into the shadows if he hadn’t been belting out “Beautiful Dreamer” in a lovely, loud bass baritone.

I’m still not sure what he was doing there. I thought, and still think, he might have been an opera singer or a member of a chorus headed home from a rehearsal. The strange thing is there were no buses around. This would have been around 7:30 at night and while pretty late the buses run from 5:00am to 2:00am. Even at that time of night there should have been a couple of buses around.

Yes, that’s the strange thing. A man standing in the middle of an empty sidewalk singing to himself, and to us but only just because we happened to be passing by, doesn’t seem strange to me at all. We smiled at him and he smiled back, glad, I think, to have an audience.


Out Of Order.

There’s an extra second tacked on to the end of 2016 because after millenia of calendar-making and time-keeping we still have to make adjustments and anyway we’re using a solar calendar that’s adapted from a lunar calendar originally created by the Romans which they discovered was unreliable, for long-term record-keeping anyway, since the winter months would gradually shift into summer and vice versa.

The whole idea of calendars is pretty arbitrary anyway, our small attempt to bring some regulatory order to a universe which isn’t interested in our timetables. As a kid I thought it was strange that the new year fell right in the middle of winter when it seemed like it would make more sense to have it occur at a change of seasons, and a lot of other cultures thought the same thing. It seemed like a contradiction to start over right in the middle, but contradictions, like calendars, are completely artificial constructions that the universe isn’t interested in. We think of hot and cold or dark and light as opposites, but they’re really simply different coexisting and overlapping states, and when you get right down to it even anti-matter can be created from matter; it exists within matter. Some scientists think the pre-Big Bang universe contained 51% normal matter and 49% anti-matter and it was a collision of the two that started everything and spread everything that we are and can see all across space. If that’s true then it’s pretty amazing to think that not only are all the stars and planets merely 1% of all matter that once existed but that the proto-universe was so full that you never had to worry about the buffet running out of crab legs, but that’s another story.

I know this is all crowded with a lot of strange and seemingly unconnected ideas but the point is whether it’s arbitrary or not enough of us recognize the end of one year and the start of a new one that it influences our consciousness and is seen as both an end and a beginning, opposites colliding.


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