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Ghost Pub.

Harlaxton Manor, Lincolnshire. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Big Dave was a taxi driver who ferried students back and forth between Harlaxton Manor and the nearest town of Grantham. He called himself “Big Dave” because there was another driver with the same company named Dave, and also he took up most of the front seat, always wearing the same gray-green sweater that made him look like a big mossy boulder, which is why there were four of us—Regina, Liz, James, and me crammed into the back. We told Big Dave we’d been at The Gatehouse.
“Oldest pub in Grantham, you know” he said. “Used to be called The End Of The World back in the old days, back when most folk didn’t travel more than five miles from home. Back then the edge of town might as well be the end of the world, though if you traveled you might find a pub on an otherwise empty road. Most of those are gone, now. Ghost pubs, like the one I took some Americans to a few years back.”
“You took people to a ghost pub?” asked Liz.
“Well I didn’t know it then. They told me they wanted to go to a place I didn’t know, outside of town, but the fare was good and they were well-dressed so I said yes.”
I looked out at the shadowy pastureland rolling by.
“When we got there they was pretty upset,” Big Dave continued. “Insisted on getting out though it was just a dark, deserted building. I went in with them and looked around. Whole place was falling apart. I could see stars through the holes in the roof. They swore they’d been to the same place the night before and that it had been a bright, cheerful place. The driver who’d brought them was with a different company so no help there.” Big Dave sighed. The lights of Harlaxton village glowed ahead. “Well, I took ‘em back to The Gatehouse and they tipped well so that was all right. But the next night I was off and went out looking again. And I found it! Bright, cheerful place, full of people. Long bar, a Scottish band playing. I thought I’d found bloody Brigadoon.”
“Oh, come on,” said Regina.
“Truth!”
As he turned onto the mile-long drive at the end of which Harlaxton Manor glowed like a beacon, Big Dave glanced back at us.
“They’d given me the wrong address.”
We all laughed. Then, as he brought the car to a stop James said, “Hey, maybe you could take us there some night.”
“Sure,” said Big Dave, “if I could find it again!”
We could hear his deep, reverberating laughter as he drove away.

Source: Tenor

Let’s Pretend.

When I saw that a new documentary about Barney, the Purple Dinosaur that was described as exploring “the dark side” of the phenomenon my first thought was that there were previously unreported horrors behind the scenes—things I really didn’t want to contemplate since I assumed they’d make episodes of Law & Order: SVU, or the extremely dark, ludicrously funny Death To Smoochy look tame. It’s a relief it’s not that bad. The real dark side wasn’t Barney or the cast and crew. It mostly came from outside. Barney attracted a lot of anger. These were the early days of the internet, or at least early days of the internet becoming widespread, and some people remember Usenet groups devoted to horrific ways Barney should die. Some who participated say it was “just good fun,” but some of it spilled over into the real world. One Barney performer got death threats he says were “violent and explicit, death and dismemberment of my family.” That reminds me of the Kurt Vonnegut line, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

There’s a lot to delve into here. I was well into adulthood, even married, by the time Barney came along, and we’ve never had kids so I’ve never really thought much about Barney. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people who thought and wrote about doing horrible things to Barney were also adults with no children. One of the problems with almost any fandom is it’s going to have toxic elements and, yes, I would call people who devoted a lot of time to imagining doing horrible things to Barney fans, in the original sense of “fanatic”. Let me put it another way: almost everything that has its own following has positive fans who enjoy it, who get something good out of it and out of feeling they’re part of a likeminded community, but also its negative fans who are deeply knowledgeable about it but bring a lot of anger too. They range from the ones who want the fandom to be restricted to the few who know all the minutiae, or who are just like them, who respond angrily, even violently, to those they consider intruders, to the ones who just want to destroy the whole thing. And I admit I find a lot of this hard to understand, because I’ve never been a negative fan, even with things I loved dearly. Yet I also think Death To Smoochy, which is obviously a Barney-inspired parody that also skewers and roasts children’s entertainment, is hilarious, and I laughed when Charles Barkley beat up Barney in a basketball game on SNL.

Source: One SNL A Day

When I think about the aspects of the Barney phenomenon that were purely about raking in the money I can understand why some people would really hate Barney. In spite of never having been a parent I can sympathize with parents whose kids drove them crazy by playing Barney songs over and over and over. And yet I was one of those kids—my obsession just happened to be Star Wars, but that’s another story.

On the other side I know Barney taught kids about tolerance and understanding and being nice to each other. That was a genuine positive side to the Barney phenomenon. As adults it’s hard for many of us to not be cynical, to not see the marketing machinery behind the shiny curtain. I’m doing it myself, right now–I start to say something positive and immediately go, “Yes, but…” So let me come right out and say it: all that stuff about inclusion and kindness was just pretend. And we are what we pretend to be.   

You’ve Been Mooned.

Source: Wikipedia

Harvest moon-The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, occurring any time within two weeks of the event. It’s also known as the “barley moon” or “full corn moon” and is believed to have signaled the time for harvesting most fall crops. For 2022 the Harvest moon was on September 10th.

 

Hunter’s moon-The first full moon after the harvest moon and marks the beginning of the traditional hunting season in preparation for winter. For 2022 the hunter’s moon will be on October 9th.

 

Beaver moon-The first full moon of November, also known as a “frost moon” or “turkey moon”, the name derives from Native American and early European settlers using this time to trap beavers for their fur in preparation for winter.

 

The Long Night’s Moon-Also known as the “cold moon” this is the full moon closest to the winter solstice. For 2022 it will be on December 7th.

 

Wolf moon-The first, or only, full moon of January. It’s also known as the Hard moon, Severe moon, and Canada goose moon.

 

Blue moon-The second full moon in a month, or the third of four full moons in a season. The origin for this is unknown, although the moon can appear bluish at times, such as after a volcanic eruption or when viewed by Corey Hart.

 

Green moon-A rare occurrence when cirrus clouds cross the moon so it appears to have a cheesy smile.

 

Pink moon-The first full moon in April. The name derives from the fact that April is usually the time when the phlox flower, native to eastern North America, blooms.

 

Sturgeon moon-The first full moon in August. The name comes from Native Americans in the Great Lakes regions finding the fish easier to catch at this time of year.

 

New moon-A completely dark moon. The Romans originally used new moons to mark the beginning of each month. It was also a time when rent was traditionally due and also easily avoided since it was really dark out.

 

Gibbous moon-A three-quarter moon. The term is included in this list because “full” and “crescent” moons are pretty much self-explanatory and even “new” makes sense if you think about it but no one really knows what “gibbous” means since it never gets used for anything except the moon anymore.

 

Super moon-A full or new moon appearing when the moon is at or close to perigee—its closest approach to the Earth, which makes it the ideal time to blow up the moon.

Source: Make a gif

It’s About Time.

One of the things I never thought I’d miss about going back to the office is the commute and, as it turns out, it’s still something I don’t miss. Sure, I’m only going into the office one day a week, and the drive is only about twenty minutes, so it’s not exactly onerous. It just makes me very aware of time. At home my commute is, well, usually less than a minute. And time is much more flexible when I’m working at home. I’m not skipping out on work but at home if I take a slightly longer lunch it’s no problem to work a little longer in the afternoon to make up time. At work things are a little more rigid. I don’t see people mostly because I’m in a closed office, but if I’m here I’m here to work, which means answering questions. It’s a little harder to get a break because getting a break means I need to be away from my desk. The only way to do that is to get out of the office, and that usually means getting out of the building. I’m still trying to keep my distance from people so I take the stairs and, well, by the time I get down seven flights of stairs it’s pretty much time to head right back up.

Lunch is a little easier, although it’s limited to thirty minutes so, again, a good chunk of the time is taken up with just getting out of the building. It’s certainly better than a place I worked previously where management considered it generous to let us have ten minutes to warm up our food in the break room, and where a supervisor could ambush any of us at any time to let us know about a change in procedures because of course the best possible time and place to give someone complicated instructions is while they’re hungry and in a small room with a microwave running.

I’m also very conscious of the fact that winter is coming, which I don’t mind so much. I just need to practice getting my coat on while I’m walking so I save as much time as possible.

And there are definitely parts of it I like. I like the break in my routine, and the change of scenery. I just wish I had a little more time to enjoy it.

Anything’s Possible.

Art criticism, I think, came out of a feeling that works of art need to be explained. But in the back of my mind there’s always a competing feeling that if a work of art needs to be explained it—or rather the artist—has failed. If a work of art doesn’t speak for itself, well, what is it doing? And yet there are also a lot of ways to pick apart this notion. Art appreciation can help you spot things you might miss. It can help give you some idea of how much work really went into a work of art. With types of art that seem baffling—conceptual art, even abstract art—it can give you insights into maybe what the artist is trying to convey. It’s like it’s a language we have to learn and it can be fun to speak that language.

And I can pick apart that notion too. A guy once told me he studied film in college and it ruined every movie he watched, even the movies he loved that were the whole reason he wanted to study film in the first place. After academically dissecting movies he couldn’t watch anything without seeing how the angles and edits were being used, how every shot must have been set up, even choices the actors made when it came to line delivery.

Still I feel like there are some things that just speak for themselves, that don’t have to be analyzed, and yet they still have depths, they still say more than just what they say.

Number Eight.

Eight years ago, on September 23rd, 2014, I had my final round of chemotherapy. Eight is a funny number: it’s two fours, which are two twos, which are two ones. Maybe that’s why a lazy eight is used as the symbol for infinity. Upright it also resembles an hourglass but, while I continue to mark time since I was cancer free, I also need to look forward. It’s time to reflect on what I miss and what I don’t miss from my bout with the crab.

Lately I’ve been noticing the moon which is currently waning down to a slim crescent. It was in the same phase in late September 2014, which seems auspicious—one phase coming to an end and another about to begin. On that afternoon in June when I was first diagnosed with cancer and my wife and I rushed to the emergency room because they thought I also had a blood clot I ended up spending the night in a room in the lowest level of the hospital, a room without windows so I couldn’t see the sky or even the light shifting from day to night. Then they kept me in the hospital another night but moved me to a room in a completely different section, high up in a corner, where I at least had a window but, thanks to the oddities of hospital architecture, the only thing I had a view of was a brick wall. But I could walk to the end of the hall where there was a big window that looked down on a gas station, restaurants, a coffee shop, stores, and I could see people walking up and down the sidewalks. I didn’t think to look up, only down, wondering what was going to happen to me.

Chemotherapy followed a rigid schedule. My oncologist even said at the outset that no matter what happened we would plow ahead with the treatment. If a meteor hit the clinic she had a backup location. If some other unforeseen disaster happened she’d still find a way to proceed. One morning while I was waiting to go in for treatment a nurse came out and told me my white blood cell count had crashed and they thought they might have to pause until it went back up. My oncologist told them to go ahead. She couldn’t think of anything that would halt, delay, or change the plans that had been made. Somewhere, off in the distance, 2020 heard that and snickered, but that’s another story.

It was just three months but it felt like forever, probably because chemotherapy was such an unusual experience. It was lonely, too. Most of the time when I see chemotherapy portrayed in TV or in movies people sit in chairs next to each other while poison slowly drips into their veins. And most cancer clinics, I think, are like that: they pack people together like they’re on an airplane. My clinic had the real estate to give every patient an individual room, which was a mixed blessing. There were days I wanted to be by myself. There were days I would have liked some company. One of those days, in my first week of chemo, a guy with a guitar came around to sing songs for the patients. He came to my room and played “Edelweiss”. I asked if he knew anything more uptempo, so he played “Surrey With The Fringe On Top”. I started to ask if he knew anything from Sweeney Todd or if I was going to have to cut my own throat but instead I just politely said, “Thank you, I think I’d like to be alone now.”

I miss chatting with the nurses each morning as they stuck needles in me. I miss the mornings when I didn’t have chemo and I would stay in bed, one of our dogs curled up next to me. I don’t miss forcing myself to get up at nine because if I didn’t I’d stay in bed all day. I don’t miss the night sweats or waking up to soaked sheets. I don’t miss the brief bouts of nausea or the medication that took away the nausea and made me so ravenous I’d cook and devour stacks of French toast with Nutella and pecans, then have a midmorning snack of cheese and crackers and a couple of hot dogs and chips for lunch and fried chicken and mashed potatoes for supper followed by a root beer float and I really don’t miss gaining more than thirty pounds in less than two months.

And I don’t miss the rigid schedule of chemo. At the end of it was uncertainty. Technically the doctors wouldn’t give me the all-clear until December when they performed surgery to remove and check several of my lymph nodes, but they didn’t find anything. I’m also the one who had cancer so I get to set the date.

Uncertainty, I realized, was a gift. It was time unbound, the hourglass that fixed the movement broken.

Source: Mind Of Frames

Well, I’m Back.

More or less how I left it.

Going back to the office has been an interesting experience. My first day back was almost exactly two years and six months after the Friday that my boss told everyone “Take your computers home just in case…” Then on Saturday we got text messages telling us we’d be working from home until further notice. Well, further notice couldn’t be put off any longer. Parking turned out to be easier than I thought: I submitted our car’s make, model, and license plate and was told to scan my employee ID—the same one I used to use when boarding the bus—when I entered the parking garage. When I got to my desk it was piled up with some old mail and a lot of swag—t-shirts, masks, a few calendars that are now more than a year out of date, a coffee cup. All that reminded me of one of my first jobs when I worked in customer service for several trucking companies. The truckers carried a kind of credit card they could use to buy whatever they needed on the road and pick up their paychecks and if anything wrong they called, well, me, or one of the twenty or so other people in the little room where we sat at computers. Most of the time it was a minor thing that could be fixed easily, but once in a while a truck driver would get really, really, really angry. Angry enough that if they knew where to find us we might have needed to call security. Once we had to evacuate the building because of a bomb threat and, while there were a lot of companies that shared the building with us, I still wonder if we were the target. There were even some trucking companies all of us dreaded getting calls from because their drivers got lousy treatment and they took it out on us.

Sometimes the managers thought it would boost our spirits to get company gear: t-shirts, coffee cups, pens. One day a manager came around with bumper stickers with the company name and said, “Here, put these on your car!”

We all looked at him and finally someone said, “And what happens when a pissed off truck driver sees one of those on our bumper?”

They stuck to t-shirts and coffee cups after that.

We All Belong.

When I took my first art history class I was fascinated by all the -isms. The way it was taught gave me a pretty naïve initial impression since, after all, Impressionism was the first -ism that was covered in that class. Yes, Impressionism was preceded by Romanticism and Neo-Classicism, but we actually didn’t get to those until later, which just added to the confusion. And it didn’t help that in that first class I got a pocket-sized introduction that made it sound like the different -isms were distinct and separate: Impressionism was followed by Fauvism which was followed by Expressionism, although that mostly happened in Germany, which was then followed by Post-Impressionism and then Cubism happened and everything exploded. And along the way there were some one-person -isms like Seurat and his Pointillism.

It wasn’t until I was reading a biography of Picasso, while I was taking that first art history class, and he complained in a letter that one of his girlfriends had run off with “an Orphist”—Orphism hadn’t even come up yet and never would be covered in that class—that it dawned on me that a lot of these movements overlapped and really weren’t even all that strictly defined. Picasso is a good example. He’s filed under Cubism in most books but he joined the Surrealist movement.

And Surrealism is an even better, if weirder, example, since the group that first called themselves Surrealists tried to be an exclusive club with formal rules and yet they also included people like Hieronymus Bosch who’d been dead since the 16th century, and they tried to include Frida Kahlo who told them she wasn’t interested, she just wanted to do her own thing. The Surrealist group’s founder Andre Breton also kicked out pretty much everyone in the group at one point or another, including himself, probably, but it didn’t matter because the term “surrealism” quickly took on a life of its own.

Splitting up art into -isms is convenient for making art history into a narrative, even if it means putting artists who didn’t think of themselves as part of a certain group into one, and for those who did join a group it was, I think, mostly just about like-minded folks hanging out together so they could hang together in art galleries.

It’s really funny to me that someone who tags dumpsters with BRUX also came up with BRUXISM, which probably wasn’t intended to be the name of a movement. Maybe it’s just an expression of a personal philosophy, someone saying they’re an individual, they’re doing their own thing.

Just like everybody else.

Rule Follower.

 

 

 

 

I’m kind of a stickler for traffic rules: stop signs, speed limits, signaling, at least putting pants on before I get in the car even though we don’t have leather seats so I wouldn’t stick to them, wearing my seatbelt—you get the idea. Sometimes I know the rules don’t have to be strictly followed. There are times when I can see enough of an intersection from a distance that I know I don’t have to stop because there aren’t any cars coming the other way. I do it anyway because I worry that if I get in the habit of breezing through the intersection one of these days I won’t look when there is another car coming. I even have some history with this. Riding my bike as a kid I got in the habit of not stopping at intersections because there were so few cars around, and then I almost got hit by a driver who also didn’t stop.

In my neighborhood, and in neighborhoods generally, I’m especially careful about the speed limit and usually try to stay a mile or two under it because I never know when I’m going to go around a curve or over a hill and find someone walking along the street or a kid on their bike. Hitting someone can, at the very least, cause significant delays.

Most drivers who end up behind me don’t seem to have a problem with this, but the other day a guy was following me so closely I could see his nose hair in my rearview mirror. This was a case where “riding my bumper” wasn’t just an expression. I think he was making actual contact. When I stopped at a stop sign he revved his engine hard and I could see him waving his arms and yelling and then he just followed me through the intersection. A few times he swerved trying to get around me, on a two-lane street, but then had to get back in line because of cars coming the other way.

Here’s the deal: I try not to be judgmental. Maybe he was trying to get to a hospital or he had some other emergency and that’s why he was in such a hurry. Fortunately a turn was coming up and I hoped I could get out of his way. I put on my turn signal and stopped.

Here’s the other deal: he pulled around, blocking me so I couldn’t turn, and spent at least thirty seconds giving me the finger and screaming at me through the closed window of his car. Now I could be judgmental. If it had been a real emergency he wouldn’t have time for that. Or if it was a real emergency he was making it worse.

He then sped off, still in the wrong lane, and when he went over the hill was probably going fifty in a 25MPH zone.

I just hope he didn’t hit anyone.

Locked In.

I was strolling through Nashville’s Centennial Park and, when I crossed a small bridge that’s mostly just decorative, I looked down and saw this:

There were locks on the other side too and I don’t know why I didn’t take more pictures of them. Maybe it was because this really caught my attention:

 

And here’s where my inner art critic comes out because I thought whoever did this, and it may have been several people, was wonderful. It’s such a simple, brilliant idea, and I don’t know if the person or persons responsible meant it to have any deeper meaning but it seems like this was symbolic of someone letting go of something that was holding them back, something that had them metaphorically locked in. By taking an actual lock and leaving it behind they were metaphorically freeing themselves.

There’s a lot of cultural history in such an act. Writing down something you want to rid yourself of and burning the paper is a common practice, as is imbuing an object with the idea of something then destroying the object. And, you know, scapegoats were once actual goats. 

Not to get too far afield with this idea but it also reminded me of the cure for warts in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as described by Huck himself:

You take and split the bean, and cut the wart so as to get some blood, and then you put the blood on one piece of the bean and take and dig a hole and bury it ’bout midnight at the crossroads in the dark of the moon, and then you burn up the rest of the bean. You see that piece that’s got the blood on it will keep drawing and drawing, trying to fetch the other piece to it, and so that helps the blood to draw the wart, and pretty soon off she comes.

I don’t know if leaving a lock behind really did work for anyone who did it. I hope so. It sure made me happy.

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