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All You Need To Know.

Sometimes people say to me, “I like art but I don’t understand it.” I understand what they mean. I also don’t understand what they mean.

Art criticism isn’t as hard as a lot of art critics seem to want to make it out to be. The only thing anyone really has to ask themselves when considering a work of art is, Do I like it? And if you can give a lengthy, detailed answer explaining why then congratulations—you’ve got all it takes to be an art critic, because a critic is just somebody whose opinion is longer than anybody else’s.

I think I first realized this many years ago in college when a famous and highly respected art critic came to judge student works. He was so famous I can’t remember his name now, but it doesn’t matter because you probably wouldn’t recognize it anyway. How many art critics can you name? I read a lot of art criticism and history and I can only name about half a dozen and at least two of those are dead but that’s another story.

When the famous and highly respected art critic came to judge the students’ works he explained his method for deciding what was good and what wasn’t.

“Some mornings I want orange juice and some mornings I want tomato juice,” he said. “If I feel like orange juice and you give me tomato juice, even if it’s the world’s best tomato juice, I’m not going to like it.” This was a pretty brave admission from a critic, and probably more than he meant to say—that his judgments were subjective and fallible and likely to change, even from one day to the next. And he’d probably not be too pleased with me interpreting his words that way but, hey, he’s the one who said it. And I don’t feel bad about interpreting him that way because he looked at my friend’s painting and said, “This is pineapple juice. I hate pineapple juice.”

And then he moved on without saying anything else, which I think was unfair of him. He could have offered more and I’d even say that as a critic he should have offered more. The only critic who should be allowed such a terse opinion would be a dead critic and maybe not even then.

There’s a needle somewhere in this verbal haystack and it’s that I like the above picture but I don’t know what to say about it except that to me it’s pineapple juice and I always like pineapple juice.

Remedies To Remember.

Starve a fever, feed a cold.

Ice on a sprain, heat on a strain.

Peroxide on a cut, petroleum jelly on a burn.

Pressure for a bruise, rest for a cramp.

Cooling for sunburn, warming for chilblains.

Sleep for a migraine, exercise for a hangover.

Cayenne oil for soreness, alfalfa juice for swelling.

Breathe deeply with a charley horse, hold your breath with hiccups.

Chicken soup for the flu, broth for the catarrh.

Moisture for itching, wicking for sweating.

Honey for a sore throat, preparations of sulfur for the croup.

Suction for snakebite, ointment for scabies.

Tilt back with a nosebleed, recline with vertigo.

Aspirin for warts, retinoid for carbuncles.

Garlic for gangrene, citrus rind for halitosis.

Warm milk for night terrors, pectin for nervous philtrum.

Poultices for dislocated lobe, molasses for irritable toenail.

Bacon grease for fiddler’s elbow, brandy for well digger’s ass.

Quicklime for a shallow grave, formic acid for badger infestation.

Sticks and stones, rubber and glue.

Bungle in the jungle, that’s all right with me.

 

Dream Ride.

So I’ve been battling a cold: runny nose, sore throat, and feeling like I’d just like to crawl into bed and sleep for three or four days. Or rather that’s what I should do, but life goes on, even when it’s being invaded by a virus. When I was a kid colds seemed to have a perverse way of hitting me on days when I wanted to go to school, when there was a special event or a friend’s birthday happening. And in the morning I’d wake up with a sore throat and I’d sneak to the bathroom and practice saying “I feel fine” to make sure I sounded fine. And then I’d get panicky and not say anything except “I feel fine!” I’d be on the school bus and my friend John would sit down next to me.
“Hey, Chris, have you got an extra pencil?”
“I feel fine!”
As an adult I have even more responsibilities and there’s no way I can let even a cold get in the way. I have to get by on tea and cough medicine and various remedies and I have to get sleep when I can, which reminds me that I’ve never slept on a bus. Sure, the list of other things I haven’t done on the bus is almost infinite, but it’s kind of weird that I’ve never slept on a bus, not even on long bus trips from one city to another. That’s weird because on road trips in cars I never have any trouble going right to sleep as soon as we get on the highway and get going, which tends to upset people if I’m the one driving, but that’s another story. On buses I’m just always worried that if I fall asleep I’ll miss my stop and end up at the end of the line or, worse, in a weird repair depot or wherever it is they take buses to refuel them or do repairs, or just shut them down for the night. I can be a pretty heavy sleeper so there’s no telling what I might miss.
Once riding home from work I sat down across from a guy who was slumped back against his seat with his mouth open. He even snored a little, deep in Morpheus’s embrace. Lucky guy, I thought, but then I wondered where he was going. I assumed he’d ride the bus all the way to the end of the line, but you know what they say about assumptions: they’re like armpits. Everybody’s got a couple and some of them stink. We were several miles from the end of the line when suddenly he woke up, looked around, and pulled the stop cord. The bell dinged, the driver stopped, and the guy got off and walked away. I wish I could do that even when I don’t have a cold.

 

See The Elephant.

The Curious Nashville podcast probes local history and answers peoples’ questions about various oddities around the history, and in December they did an episode that, among other things, answered the question of why there’s a giant pink elephant in a parking lot on Charlotte Avenue. And, as you can probably guess, I was annoyed. I’ve seen the giant pink elephant for years. I pass by it on a regular basis. Normally it wears a giant pair of glasses. Right now it has no glasses and has a giant marquee on its side. A couple of years ago they took off the glasses to repaint the elephant and it was not only an even more vivid shade of pink—leaning more towards magenta than salmon—but it looked creepy because they painted the eyes the same color. Around Valentine’s Day they put big hearts on the “lenses” of the glasses, and, as you can probably guess, I’m annoyed that I didn’t get a picture of that. I’m annoyed that having thought to myself hundreds, possibly even thousands of times, that I should stop and take a picture of the giant pink elephant while it was sunny, bright, and warm, I’ve put it off and had to take the picture above in the rain.
What really annoys me, though, is the reason I kept putting off taking a picture of the giant elephant. I was waiting for my blogging career to take off. I was waiting to become so successful and well known I could call up the car dealer that has the pink elephant in their parking lot and I could say, “Hi, I’m Christopher Waldrop, no doubt you’ve heard of me,” and even if they hadn’t I could say, “Well, I’ve got a fantastically successful blog and I’d like to write something about your giant pink elephant that could reach hundreds, possibly even thousands, of readers.” And I’d even suggest perhaps a small fee, and when we agreed on a price I could ask, “So can I give you that in cash?” but that’s another story.
The Curious Nashville podcast, however, beat me to the punch, got the scoop, fished the pond, threw in the towel, jumped the gun, cut me off at the pass, and also did a story about the big pink elephant. It reminded me that during the California gold rush of the mid-19th century the phrase “seeing the elephant”, to mean having extraordinary experiences but at extraordinary cost, came into currency as prospectors, settlers, and others who headed west to build new lives sometimes gave up everything they’d built to go see traveling exhibits that included elephants. The phrase “seeing the elephant” came to have a strangely positive connotation as many people who saw the elephant said the losses were worth it.
Anyway none of this would stop me from doing my own story, but it did make me think, what am I waiting for? What’s stopping me? Nothing, really, except my own hesitancy, so maybe I should go ahead and write something about it. And maybe I will. After all I saw the elephant.

 

Stopping And Starting.

So I caught an early morning bus and thought, hey, I’ll get to work early and be able to leave early. And the bus sped through the pre-dawn light, but then stopped to pick someone up. I couldn’t complain. That’s what buses do, and if the bus didn’t stop to pick up someone else it might not have picked up me either, and then I’d be really late getting to work. Then the driver started up again and rolled on to the next stop a couple of blocks ahead. There was no one there but the driver stopped anyway. Then went to the next stop and stopped there too even though there was no one to pick up. And I get it. Buses are supposed to run on a schedule. It’s the nature of public transportation, especially in a city like Nashville, which doesn’t have a lot of public transportation but is spread out. Most people drive their own cars, and pretty much have to. I once asked a friend if she ever took the bus and she said, “Well, I would if I didn’t have to walk three miles along busy roads with no sidewalks.” And even if she could get to the nearest bus stop that particular route only runs once every two hours so missing one could wreck her schedule for the day.
So I really appreciate it that some drivers are considerate enough to want to keep to the schedule. Not everyone does. Once I was on a bus that stopped for about fifteen minutes at a stop. I guess the driver had gotten more ahead of his schedule than he meant to. While we were sitting a guy in front of me started fuming. He didn’t step up and say anything to the driver; he just sat in his seat muttering, “Why have we stopped? Why aren’t we going anywhere?” Then he pulled out his phone and called the MTA customer service. I’m not sure what he thought they were going to do. Maybe he thought they’d send a message through to the dispatcher who’d radio the driver to say, “Get moving!” but by the time that was all done we’d be moving again. At one point when he was talking to customer service he said, “I work for the MTA!” Well, I thought, then he should know that buses are supposed to stay on a schedule.
Anyway I couldn’t be too annoyed when I ended up being a little late getting to work.

Drawing A Line.

Sometimes the simplest art can have the most profound implications. Take this graffiti, for instance. Or leave it.

Either way it’s still just simple lines that could represent almost anything: a horizon, the stock market, a cardiogram on the fritz, a nervous rainbow, a shoreline, a trail, wrinkles, a wrinkle in time, the threads of time, the unraveling of an idea, or the raveling of one. I often hear about things unraveling but I’d rather do some raveling. That’s just the way I am—I’ve always been a ravel rouser, but that’s another story. The lines could be borders or boundaries which are, after all, just lines on a map. Consider this amazing map of Australia’s railroads:

Source: tywkiwdbi

It’s amazing to me there’s a railroad to Tasmania since Tasmania is an island. I assume it’s reached by a viaduct, but viaduct? Why not a goose? That’s a question I’ll leave to someone else.

Australia’s rail lines really aren’t that straight even though geometry tells us the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and yet space is curved, which means if you set out from any point and travel long enough you’ll eventually come back to where you started. I’m sure I’m circling a point right now but since I didn’t start from one it doesn’t look like I’m going anywhere.

 

No Day.

There’s a running joke in places that only occasionally get snow that local meteorologists will sometimes forecast an impending blizzard when stores are overstocked on bread, eggs, milk, and toilet paper, because the mere mention of the word “snow” will send hordes to the groceries to stock up on these necessities. This is, of course, because the only way to get through the forty-eight hours, at most, that the roads will be impassable is with French toast served on a soft bed of two-ply.
I was reminded of this recently when we had a few bouts of relatively warm rainy days followed by dry, sunny, extremely cold days and lots of people commented that it was lucky the rain and cold hadn’t coincided because if they had we’d have had snow. And that reminded me of a time back when I was in eighth grade and over at a friend’s house one Sunday night. It started to snow, and snow heavily. We both got really excited because this snow seemed certain to cancel school so we’d have at least a three day weekend, even though having Monday off is the worst way to have a three-day weekend because all it really does is push the misery of starting the week into Tuesday, so you can’t really enjoy Sunday or the Monday off. The ideal three-day weekend starts on Friday, although now that I think about it the worst kind of three-day weekend really would be to have Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday off, but that’s another story. My friend lived at the bottom of a hill and he and I watched cars slide and skid up and down the road, probably either going to or returning from the nearest grocery and loaded up with the essentials. When it was time to go I trudged home through Lapland, and I stayed up late because the snow was falling hot and heavy, or rather freezing and heavy, and there was no way there’d be school in the morning.
There was school in the morning.
I had to get up at the usual time. There was still snow on the grass and piled into drifts under trees but the streets were warm enough to be completely clear. I was somehow half-conscious and furious at the same time as I worked through a breakfast of French toast on damp toilet paper. I’m not sure why I was so upset. Whatever homework I’d gotten over the weekend was done, there were no tests, and eighth grade wasn’t the best year of my school career but it wasn’t the worst either. I just felt I’d been promised something only to have it yanked away from me, but on the bright side, I thought, it couldn’t get any worse.
It got worse.
I was in math class, around 9:30 in the morning, when it started snowing again. It wasn’t just snowing, either. This was a freak blizzard. Whorls and swirls of snow in clumps the size of my fist thumped the windows, taunting me. Under normal conditions I could walk home from school but even if we could get the doors open in the face of the avalanche there’d be no walking home in this. So I got ready to walk home. I didn’t care that I’d likely be found like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining, my frozen body somewhere in the woods halfway between school and home. My grandfather would tell stories of having to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school, and if he’d done it I figured so could I, and in fact there was a large hill between my house and the school that rose up sharply on one side and then descended just as sharply on the other, so going uphill both ways didn’t seem that ridiculous. And yet the school day dragged on as usual while the storm outside raged. There were no preparations for departure, no buses lining up to take those unlucky enough to live beyond walking distance. We weren’t, as had happened in previous years when rising snow shortened the school day, huddled into a single room to keep warm and watch TV and, if it came to it, resort to cannibalism like the Donner Party.
In fact by noon the snow came to an end. The clouds parted and the sun came out, and when it was time to go home, at the usual time, I slogged trough mud, not snow. How had they known? What miracle allowed the meteorologists to see that this would not last? The only thing I can figure is the grocery stores were running low on bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper.

In Memory.

Every once in a while I get lucky and ride one of the buses with the small plaque to the memory of Rosa Parks over the seats on the left side at the front of the bus. I wish it were larger, and I wish it could somehow make clear that anyone who rides the bus can sit wherever they want. Rosa Parks played a large part in making that happen.

Recently, though, I read an article about the movement for women’s suffrage and how much women of color, especially in the 19th century, were a part of it—a part that’s largely been erased from the history of the movement. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825 – February 22, 1911) was a writer, journalist, teacher, abolitionist, and suffragist. In May 1866 she delivered a speech to the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention in New York City and cited, among other things, her treatment on public transportation. Here’s part of her speech:

You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man’s hand against me. Let me go to-morrow morning and take my seat in one of your street cars-I do not know that they will do it in New York, but they will in Philadelphia-and the conductor will put up his hand and stop the car rather than let me ride.

Going from Washington to Baltimore this Spring, they put me in the smoking car. Aye, in the capital of the nation, where the black man consecrated himself to the nation’s defence, faithful when the white man was faithless, they put me in the smoking car! They did it once; but the next time they tried it, they failed; for I would not go in. I felt the fight in me; but I don’t want to have to fight all the time. Today I am puzzled where to make my home. I would like to make it in Philadelphia, near my own friends and relations. But if I want to ride in the streets of Philadelphia, they send me to ride on the platform with the driver. Have women nothing to do with this? Not long since, a colored woman took her seat in an Eleventh Street car in Philadelphia, and the conductor stopped the car, and told the rest of the passengers to get out, and left the car with her in it alone, when they took it back to the station. One day I took my seat in a car, and the conductor came to me and told me to take another seat. I just screamed “murder.” The man said if I was black I ought to behave myself. I knew that if he was white he was not behaving himself. Are there not wrongs to be righted?

You can read the entire speech at Black Past, and note that she shared a stage with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Harper was speaking out eighty-nine years before Rosa Parks took a stand by remaining seated, which adds depth and context to the history of the civil rights movement, which is something to consider even now, when there are still wrongs to be righted.

Love Bug.

The El Paso Zoo has come up with a novel way to celebrate Valentine’s Day: they’ll name a cockroach after your ex and then feed it to a meerkat on February 14th. I don’t have any exes, not even in Texas, I’d like to dememorialize in such a special way, but I’m tempted to do it just to feed a meerkat. Or maybe I’ll send in my own name, as a way of apologizing to a coworker. Several years ago I put a rubber cockroach in her jar of paper clips. About an hour later the entire office heard, “OH SHIT!” followed by “CHRIS!!!”

Sometimes my reputation precedes me and sometimes it skitters along behind me, and that’s not a bug—it’s a feature!

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