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Moving Right Along.

Earlier this week I helped some coworkers move to new offices. I volunteered, although generally I seem to be the guy that friends call on when they need help moving, even though I don’t own a pickup truck or other vehicle with a lot of storage space and have the upper body strength of a salamander. My main qualification seems to be that when someone asks me, “Could you help me move?” I’m an agreeable guy and say “yes” and it’s usually not until I’m halfway down the stairs with a box of dishes that I think to stop and ask, “Hey, do I know you?” Whenever I help someone else move it always makes me think about how I’ve heard that wherever you are when you’re fifty is where you’re going to die. This may be one of those exaggerated claims that people pass around without any factual basis, like the claim that your hair and toenails grow after you die. They don’t—your body loses moisture after death causing your skin to shrink which makes your hair and nails appear to grow. And there’s also the claim that a lot of people were buried alive in the days before modern embalming techniques because claw marks have been found on the insides of coffins, but in fact almost anyone sealed into a coffin and buried would expire from a buildup of carbon dioxide before they could regain consciousness. There’s a comforting thought: even if your mortal coil did just get shoved in a box and covered with dirt without all your recyclables being removed first you’d be very unlikely to wake up. The claw marks on the insides of coffins are caused by the surprising amount of moving that corpses could do, even the ones that are well past fifty. Consider Jim Morrison, for instance, who’s been buried in Paris’s Pere Lachaise cemetery since 1971, and who still parties so hard the other corpses complain about it. Oscar Wilde’s corpse has even been heard to remark that the only thing worse than not being invited to Jim Morrison’s grave is being invited to Jim Morrison’s grave.

Aside from dwelling on happy thoughts about the lurking specter of the eternal footman holding my coat and snickering whenever I help someone move it makes me think about how little I’ve moved in my life. When I was four my parents moved from one part of Nashville to another part of Nashville, and luckily they thought to take me with them. Even though I went to college in another state and then, briefly, in another country, that wasn’t technically moving because I wasn’t taking up permanent residence there although my senior year I did rent a professor’s house and lived there with, depending on which time of the year it was, three, four, and approximately two-hundred and twenty-five other people. The professor had gone overseas to turn fifty but he was planning to come back just to beat the statistics. And then I came back to Nashville and moved in with my wife and got married and most days I go to work in an office that’s spitting distance from the hospital where I was born, which I can prove by the number of times they’ve asked me to stop spitting on the place, but that’s another story.

Anyway I haven’t turned fifty yet, although I am slowly moving in that direction in spite of some efforts to put the brakes on or even throw things into reverse, but the way things are going, and they’re actually going pretty well, it looks like I’ll be lucky enough to still be where I am now when I finally reach that milestone. And while that wasn’t planned it is convenient that I’m an organ donor and hope to pass on every part of me that can be used to someone else, and to make that as easy as possible the odds are when I finally go I’ll be within spitting distance of a hospital.

Hey You!

This picture has nothing to do with the story. It’s just funny to me to think these guys are undoing each others’ work.

In a common area of a college campus I saw something interesting: little plastic stands with a picture of Joey from Friends saying, “How you doin’?” I assume this is his catchphrase or maybe one of them because I’ve never watched Friends and in fact if you added up all the bits and pieces of the show I’ve happened to catch while flipping through channels or waiting for something else to come on they wouldn’t even add up to a full episode and I’m not even all that sure “Joey” is the character’s name, but that’s another story. Anyway the stands were on a table with a sign explaining that if you were sitting alone but open to a stranger starting a conversation with you the stand would be a signal. And I think this is a great idea. I don’t know how many students used them or even what they thought of them, and it does seem kind of weird to say, “I’m open to having random strangers come up and talk to me,” but then I’ve had some really interesting conversations with random strangers.

Anyway I was on the bus and it stopped at a red light right next to a restaurant that has an open patio and, this being spring, there were people sitting out on the patio. There was a couple and I thought the guy was looking in the direction of the bus so I waved.

Yeah, that sounds pretty goofy, but a sudden impulse seized me and I thought, why not?

He didn’t notice. I think he really wasn’t looking at the bus and then he turned away, but then he turned back so I waved again. And he waved back.

The light changed and the bus moved away, so I didn’t get a chance to act on my next sudden impulse which was to open the window and yell, “How’s that burger?” or “What are you drinking?” or maybe just “How you doin’?” Maybe that’s just as well and maybe it’s just as well that the circumstances that allowed me to wave in the first place are unlikely to coalesce ever again, but at least he was open to sharing a moment with a random stranger.

This video is just long enough that after watching it I’ve now seen approximately half an episode of Friends.

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.

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