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I Came, I Thaw, I Conquered.

So far this winter I haven’t had a cold, or at least nothing more significant than the sniffles that come from being out in the cold and stepping into a warm building which always seems to cause my nose to run. I’m not sure why this is. Even when it’s been really cold outside it hasn’t, as far as I know, been cold enough to freeze my sinuses, and even if it were I don’t think the temperature change is enough to cause such immediate thawing. If it takes the microwave at least five minutes just to get the frost off a small chicken breast I have no idea why the linings of my nasal passages, which should be a pretty stable ninety-eight and a half degrees Fahrenheit most of the time, can go from solid to liquid before I even have a chance to shut the door that divides the indoors from the outdoors. Some might think I’m inviting disaster by bragging that I haven’t been afflicted by the rhinovirus, or even the elephantvirus, the zebravirus, or the aardvarkvirus. That last one combines sniffling and sneezing with uncontrollable laughing because it’s the only known virus that has bunny ears, a pig’s nose, and a big floppy tail, but that’s another story. I’m not worried that talking about it will cause me to fall under the influenza, mostly because I’ve never been really superstitious, knock on wood, but also because I got a flu shot at the start of the season and I think my odds are pretty good even though the flu vaccine isn’t always one-hundred percent effective. It’s like the fall TV lineup: even with the best possible combination of what’s expected to work a few people are still going to get sick, but that’s another story. And I realize I’ve slipped from the common cold to the common flu even though they’re two entirely different beasts and could easily be distinguished at a distance if you could see them without a microscope. The common cold worries me even less because I have this completely unscientific idea that the reason I get at least one every year is because it’s always mutating and therefore one step ahead of my immune system, but this year maybe it’s gone into reruns and I’ve been able to head it off with some nasal streaming. And also at any sign of a cold I’ve started taking vitamin C even though I’ve never been superstitious, and I’m not sure why vitamin C, which is supposed to prevent the common scurvy, is always the treatment for a cold, although I think it has something to do with helping your nose thaw faster.

Weirdness Drives Me.

When it’s cold outside, and lately it’s been really, really, really cold outside, I like to sit at the back of the bus. Actually even when it’s warm outside I like to sit near the back of the bus, just because I’m weird like that, but when it’s cold sometimes I can find the seat at the very back of the bus that’s right over the engine so it’s nice and warm. That’s a good thing because I’ve usually been standing at the bus stop for a while, not to mention the three block walk to the stop. It’s also a bad thing because I know that getting all warmed up and sweaty is going to make the walk home from the bus stop worse than it would be if I sat in the chilly midsection of the bus, but better to be warm now and cold later than cold now and even colder later. And no matter where I sit as the bus gets closer to my stepping off stop I work my way up to the front. I always like to thank the driver and wish them a nice evening as I disembark because I think driving the bus is mostly a thankless job, unlike driving an electric streetcar which is a tankless job, and, yes, I really did go well out of my way just to make that pun because I’m weird like that.
Anyway the other day when I got on the bus there was already some guy sitting at the very back of the bus. He was sitting on one side, and it was kind of nice to know I’m not the only one who’s weird like that. When I sat down on the other side, though, I realized he was sitting on the engine side, so I made sure to give him a cold look. He stepped off only a couple of stops ahead of me but I still slipped over to his side and then had to rush to the front of the bus when we reached my stop. I was determined to get as warm as I could in the few minutes we had because, well, I’m weird like that.


Sic Transit.

One of the functions of art in the classical tradition is to capture the ephemeral, to make it permanent, to capture what’s fleeting and make it permanent. From the moment we’re born we start dying, but art can stop that, freeze what melts away. That’s just one idea of what art is supposed to do, but it’s a widespread idea and one that’s lasted and influenced art for thousands of years. Even as so many works have disappeared that idea has held one. Maybe that’s why, of all the graffiti I’ve collected, of all the graffiti I’ve seen, even of all the art I’ve seen, this is one of my favorite works.

It’s simple but well made, with details added by the artist and details added by the artist and details added by chance, by the wall that served as its canvas. The figures are skeletal but the gold suggests an Egyptian pharaoh’s sarcophagus: a lasting monument to a short life. I don’t know how long it had been there when I found it, when I took this picture, but the paint was starting to peel in some places, a natural underlining that nothing lasts forever.

And that, too, is a function of art: to remind us that nothing lasts forever.


The Law Of Averages.

The most popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, according to the Institute For The Study Of Stuff That Happens Annually, or at least that’s what I read in their bimonthly report last week. It’s also the most broken resolution, or at least would be if those people who still think it’s worthwhile to make resolutions bothered to remember them beyond mid-January. The only resolutions I remember are ones I made and then broke a long time ago, like my resolution to make notes of things so I wouldn’t forget them, and I even went to the extra effort of writing it down, but then I forgot where I wrote it down. And I’d think losing weight in the middle of winter would be an easy thing to do because I have a theory that in cold weather your body burns calories just to keep warm. After all it’s called “burning calories”. And consider this: have you ever seen a fat Canadian? Maybe you have, but there are also a lot of skinny Canadians, even though their national food is fried potatoes and cheese slathered with gravy, but that’s another story.
This year I’m doing something a little different and making a completely different resolution to get fat. In spite of the cold weather I suspect this’ll be an easier resolution to stick to, although I’m not doing it because it’s easy. If anything I see it as a challenge, and I do love a challenge, especially if it involves poutine, but the main thing is I’m looking to make a major change. Currently I’m not really skinny, but I’m not really fat either. I’m about average, and I’ve realized that pretty much sums up everything about me. If I ever commit a crime I imagine the description the eyewitnesses give the police will go something like this:

Police: What was his build?
Eyewitnesses: About average.
Police: How about height?
Eyewitnesses: About average.
Police: And his general appearance?
Eyewitnesses: That was average too.
Police: Okay, so we’ve got to put out an APB for someone who looks like everybody else.

Or maybe the police will say, “This guy’ll be easy to find. Anyone that average is some kind of freak.”

There’s nothing good about being average. There’s nothing bad about it either, though, which is part of the problem. Average people never accomplish anything, and they’re never anything major, except for Major Major in Catch-22, and Joseph Heller says, “people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.”

The other thing is, as I was contemplating this resolution, I remembered an article I read many years ago when the internet was still young and I was too, sort of, in an average way. It was by a self-described fat guy and he was making a case that being fat really has its advantages. It was easier for him because he was a guy and, let’s face it, from Henry VIII to John Belushi society has celebrated fat guys, although I hope we’re now moving toward a world where everybody, regardless of gender, can be accepted and even celebrated for who they are. Anyway, because this was before blogs and comment sections I sent the guy an email directly and told him I really liked his article and asked if he’d ever heard Allan Sherman’s “Hail To Thee, Fat Person.” He replied, which was a really exciting thing to me because he was a published author, a group I desperately wanted to be part of, and he was reading my words. He said he hadn’t heard Allen Sherman’s bit but that he’d look it up and signed off with, “Rock on, sexy fat brother!”
And I thought about replying to him and letting him know I wasn’t really fat but I didn’t. I felt like we’d had a moment, albeit electronically. I felt guilty about being mistaken for something I wasn’t but I also felt accepted, like I belonged. Even if it was only in someone else’s imagination I was still part of a group that was cool.
So now I want to do something to really be part of a group, and I invite everybody like me to join in. Come on, fellow average people, let’s do this!

A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose.

There’s a longstanding misconception in standup comedy that women aren’t funny. It still hangs around a few dark corners and I’m not sure why because as long as there have been women there have been funny women, and even in standup’s earliest days, when the prejudice was most prominent, there were a few real women who could be at least as funny as, if not funnier than, their male counterparts. And there was at least one fictional one: Sally Rogers, part of the trio of writers for the fictional Alan Brady Show, which was the backdrop of the real Dick Van Dyke Show. Let me make that a little clearer: at a time when it was popularly believed women weren’t funny a woman played the role of a TV comedy writer. And that woman was, of course, Rose Marie.

It’s probably too much of a stretch but I like to think Rose Marie’s very funny, and also very charming, portrayal of Sally Rogers, helped pave the way for other women, including cast member Mary Tyler Moore who was just as funny and who’d go on to be a fictional TV news show producer at a time when it was still widely believed that was a job a woman couldn’t do. Unfortunately we also lost Moore in 2017.

Of course it was an occasional joke on The Dick Van Dyke Show that Sally’s co-workers didn’t see her as a woman. This is emphasized in a season one episode, “Sally Is A Girl”, in which Rob, Buddy, and Mel get together a poker game. They won’t let Laura play because they all insist they don’t play poker with women, but are happy to have Sally join. After all she bowls, drinks brandy, and smokes cigars just like the guys. At least this was supposed to be a joke. Even as a kid, watching daily reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show, I thought Sally was great as she was, and, in an earlier episode, “Sally And The Lab Technician”, while Rob and Laura worry she’s not being feminine enough it was no surprise to me that Sally’s date, Thomas, thinks she’s great. It’s telling that the writers and producers thought this would be a surprise, and reflects just how deeply rooted sexism was at the time. Now we can, or at least should, accept that Sally could be both one of the guys and one of the gals and that all she really had to be was happy with who she was, although there’s still progress to be made.

My real subject, though, is Rose Marie, who brought Sally to life, and who was just as sharp and fearless as the characters she played. This fearlessness went all the way back to when she first sang on stage at the age of three and almost immediately became a star. In her autobiography Hold The Roses she shares stories of other showbiz stars she met, including, early in her career, Al Jolson.

“Oh, Mr. Jolson, you were so great, you made me cry!”

He looked at me and said, “You were great too, ya little runt.”

Nice man! However every time we would appear together at benefits, like the Milk Fund at Madison Square Garden, he would spot me with my father, come over and say, “Hi, ya little runt. You gonna go out and kill the people?”

I would look up at him and say, “I hope so.”

No need to hope, Rose Marie. You killed ’em. You were smart, talented, and, most of all, funny. Hail and farewell.

Bustin’ Loos.

It was an early morning in late December. I was in Heathrow Airport, leaving London for the last time–so far, anyway. Someday I shall go back. I’d been out late the night before saying goodbye to some favorite spots, including the fountain in Trafalgar Square where, the previous New Year’s Eve, Big Dave the taxi driver had gone for a swim.
“Wasn’t the water cold?” I asked him.
“Nay,” he said. “I kept my clothes on. And I was really drunk.”
When I stopped laughing I asked, “Weren’t you really cold when you got out and walked home?”
“Nay, not until I woke up the next morning and my clothes was still soaking wet.”
My final farewell to London was bittersweet: sweet because I had two lumps in my morning tea, and bitter because I had two pints of ale at the hotel bar before I left for the airport. Then I had a few more at the airport. It’s not that I’m afraid of flying. At the time I was more afraid of not being able to find a decent pint of Guinness on the American side of the pond, although what I’m really afraid of on airplanes is what the Brits charmingly call “the loo”, a term I’d learned shortly after my arrival when a friend asked a bartender where the bathroom was and he replied, “Why? Do you want to want to take a bath?” but that’s another story. No matter the airline, no matter the design of the plane for that matter, whether it’s a loo, a head, a john, a toilet, a throne, a potty, a water closet, or a bathroom, it’s a room with the dimensions of the monolith in 2001. And I like to sit by the window on planes, which often means squeezing by two other people.
So naturally before boarding I took care of business and before the doors even closed a flight attendant came by and asked if I’d like a drink.
It’s been a long time since I’ve flown British Air–although last year I was looking for a flight to Chicago and they were offering a really great deal, but the layover in Kuala Lumpur would have cut too much into my schedule. I’m sure like many airlines they’ve made significant cutbacks in the last quarter century, but at the time free drinks were offered from one end of the plane to the other. I would say they were de rigeur, but that’s only true if you’re flying Air France. So of course I gratefully accepted a whiskey. And two more since the flight was delayed. Then, once we got up in the air, lunch was served, and lunch included a half bottle of wine. Per person. Even then I didn’t care for fortified grape juice, but I was young and would rather decline two German verbs than a drink. Then I had a small bottle of Cointreau with coffee for dessert, and washed that down with a whiskey.
We were just beginning our descent, six or seven hours later, when I finally regained consciousness. Amazingly I’d made the entire trip without once having to squeeze past the people in the seats next to me. I felt fine. Then we landed and began the slow disembarkation. The same flight attendant I’d seen when boarding smiled at me.
“Have a nice holiday! Don’t drink too much!”
I thanked him as hastily and politely as I could and ran for the airport, suddenly in need of a good old fashioned bathroom, not because I needed a bath but because I was in danger of soaking my clothes.


Binging On Art.

These ruins are to the future what the past is to us

–Carolyn Forché, The Angel of History

The following contains spoilers.

For many of us the holidays are a time for binge-watching, and if you didn’t catch it when it was released in September you may have been binging the fourth season of Bojack Horseman. If you’re a Netflix subscriber and if you like that sort of thing–I get that emotionally difficult sarcastic animated comedies about anthropomorphized animals with a lot of inside jokes about celebrity culture aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s for those who like their tea dark and bitter.

I only just started watching Bojack Horseman a few months ago and immediately noticed something. The Warhol-esque horseshoes on his bedroom wall, first seen in the opening sequence, didn’t seem all that striking, since parodies of Warhol were a cliché even when Warhol was still alive.

Then there was the painting in Bojack’s office where he and Diane start on the book about him.

Source: The Sartler

Cute, I thought. Someone’s a fan of David Hockney. I recognized the painting referenced but didn’t get the full significance until I went back and looked up the original–the title is Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures).

And then there was the Matisse in Bojack’s living room.

Source: The Sartler

And the Keith Haring paintings in a ’90’s flashback.

Source: The Movie Goer

And Basquiat paintings in the office of Bojack’s former friend and mentor Herb Kazazz. The ’90’s were a peak time for both Haring and Basquait.

Source: Imgur

In the present day, when Bojack returns to the office after Herb’s funeral, the paintings are still there, although one is damaged and one almost completely destroyed–a comment on how Basquiat’s reputation fell. Perhaps it’s also a comment on how, when their relationship ended, Herb sealed off this part of his life.

Source: Imgur

Other bloggers beat me to this a long time ago, compiling several of the references up through season 3, and not every episode has an art reference, but it’s interesting to me how expansive they are. The references range from classical–I’m guessing Bojack’s tile portrait is a nod to ancient Rome:

Source: The Sartler

To high modernism and contemporary. There’s even a bit of graffiti:

Source: YouTube

Sometimes what’s in the background is clever misdirection. In a season 3 episode Mr. Peanutbutter, voiced by Paul F. Thompkins, waits in a dressing room for news about his brother’s surgery. His brother, by the way, is voiced by Weird Al Yankovic, which is a deep inside reference in itself. On the wall of the dressing room are posters for Old Yeller and Where The Red Fern Grows. These turn out to not be the somber portents they would appear to be.

In the next episode, though, there is very heavy foreshadowing when Bojack’s former co-star turned pop singer Sara Lynn has a painting of Ophelia by John Everett Millais over her bed. A Chagall painting in her living room is subtler but still significant. Chagall’s first wife Bella died suddenly from an untreated infection. The striking thing is, unlike other works that appear in the series, these paintings aren’t parodied but are recreated.

Source: Cultura Colectiva

The show cleverly uses art history to comment on the present, the past, but is the future inevitable? It’s heartbreaking when, following her death, Bojack says, “This didn’t have to happen.” Even though he’s right we see again and again how the past is prologue. Bojack Horseman can be hard to watch because, for a satirical cartoon, it’s shockingly real. Mistakes are cumulative. The characters grow, change, and even die.And for the ones who go on it’s a struggle. As Diane says,

It’s not about being happy, that is the thing. I’m just trying to get through each day. I can’t keep asking myself ‘Am I happy?’ It just makes me more miserable. I don’t know If I believe in it, real lasting happiness, All those perky, well-adjusted people you see in movies and TV shows ? I don’t think they exist.

The nods to art history aren’t just foreshadowing or clever visual puns. Taken together they’re a reminder that we live in a period of cultural confluence. The past doesn’t just inform the present. The past is still very much with us. Why does the Botticelli in the restaurant Bojack bought on a whim have an elephant’s head? The simple answer is it’s because the restaurant is called Elefante; the subtler answer is that, according to legend, elephants never forget.

Source: BuzzFeed

Flashbacks are regular in Bojack Horseman: we get scenes from the ’70’s, ’80’s, ’90’s, and an ultra-specific series of flashbacks to 2007. Each major character has a dark and complicated history, except possibly Mr. Peanutbutter whose cheerful disposition masks, or maybe comes from, a nihilistic outlook on life:

The universe is a cruel, uncaring void. The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. It’s to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go binge watch season four, and after that take a shower so I won’t know if I’m crying or not.


Make A Wish.

What’s your wish for this holiday season?

I was inspired to ask that question by the mural on the side of a building, one which I really like because it only seems simple. The seeds blowing away mark the passing of time and the end of life that naturally comes with winter, but they also represent renewal and therefore hope. The seeds also become origami cranes. Birds fly south for the winter and will return when the seeds are sprouting. The fact that they’re origami cranes represents, I think, the transformative power of art, and there’s also a Japanese tradition that if one folds one thousand paper cranes one’s wish will come true. This tradition has been popularized by the life of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who developed leukemia after being exposed to radiation from the Hiroshima bombing and started folding paper cranes while fighting the disease. And, on that same subject please read this over at Rubber Shoes In Hell about a child who transformed lives and how you can help others.

The mural also inspired me to ask, has any work of art ever really changed the world? That’s not an easy question and takes me back to high school when I thought about joining the debate team because some of my friends were on it. The teacher who headed the team gave me this practice question: Is the pen mightier than the sword? And that sent me spinning down a mental rabbit hole. The power of the pen, in the sense of communication, can command, organize, and even inspire swords, in the sense of military weaponry. An army marches on its stomach but the orders have to come in writing. On the other hand if we’re talking about literal pens and swords, well, I still think it depends on whether the person with the pen is small and quick or maybe able to sneak up behind the person with the sword, or maybe if one person has only one sword and the other has a shitload of pens, and finally, flop sweat pouring off of me, I asked, just how abstract is this question supposed to be? And I got sent to the principal’s office for saying “shitload” but that’s another story.

Can a work of art change the world? I guess it depends. One of the most transformative events in human history is the development of written language. It allowed us to store and pass on more information than the memory could hold. It allowed that information to be passed not only from one person to another but across generations. And it’s no accident that the greatest advances in technology and the most significant changes to what we call civilization really began with the invention of the printing press which allowed for the mass production of the written word. Can the mass-produced book, though, the mere written word, be considered a work of art? So my wish is that you’d please tell me just how abstract this question is supposed to be.

And also that all your wishes this year come true.


Classic Christmas Quiz.

Source: Wikipedia

All of us are getting older whether we like it or not. Or so I’ve been told. Personally I’m not convinced that I’m getting older, although, to steal a line from Tom Lehrer, it is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age he’d been dead for twelve years, but that’s another story.

One of the keys to staying young is to keep the mind active, or so I’ve been told, and one way to keep the mind active is to take a skeptical attitude to every silly notion you’re told. Another way is with puzzles, toys, and games. My mother-in-law, for instance, regularly does crossword puzzles and other games, and has given me quite a few books of crosswords and other puzzles which have kept my mind active, especially when I have to use my mind to figure out where I put them.

The Christmas season is also traditionally a time for toys and classic movies, so here’s a little mental activity: classic toy or character from L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories?

1. Tik-Tok

2. Stretch Armstrong

3. Slinky

4. Yo-Yo

5. Jellia Jamb

6. Tik-Tok

7. Mr. Potatohead

8. Weebles

9. Patchwork Girl

10. Colorforms

11. Jinjur

12. Kalidahs

13. Frisbee

14. Hammer-Head

15. Jack Pumpkinhead

16. Aibo

17. Gumby

18. Polychrome

19. Mombi

20. Creepy Crawlers

21. Kabumpo

22. Hungry Hungry Hippos

23. Toto

24. Triops

25. Mannheim Steamroller


22-25: You’re incredibly mentally active and also spend too much time playing with toys. How old are you?

18-21: Christmas is still your favorite holiday and the time of year when you make the whole family watch The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz.

15-17: You’re a master of crossword puzzles.

12-14: You know without checking how old L. Frank Baum was when he was your age.

6-11: You’re mildly amused by toys and think Oz is in the southern hemisphere.

1-5: You were banished from the growups’ table for playing with your food.


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