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Free Parking.

It’s been a week now since I slipped into the parking garage without scanning my ID. For a long time I had a problem, as a matter of principle, with having to pay for parking, but when I thought about it I realized that I have many other options: riding the bus, carpooling. I could even walk. According to Google Maps the walk would be just under seven miles which, at my usual walking pace, would get me there at under an hour and a half. I might even go faster since I’d be really motivated to get past the stretches with no sidewalks and very little shoulder where the speed limit is 40MPH, which means most cars zip by at around fifty. Biking is also an option, though I’d have a lot of hills to go over and I’d still have to worry about traffic, though, funny enough, Google shows a route for both walking and biking that goes through a local park, so not only would that keep me away from traffic but I could begin and end each day with a nice trip through the woods.

Between wanting to sleep late, though, and wanting to get home at the end of the day—unless I have errands which could be difficult if I were walking or biking—driving is the best option. And I recognize that being able to park is a privilege, so, as a matter of principle, I’m fine paying for it. Besides six dollars a day to park when I only go in to the office a couple of times a week isn’t selling my soul to the company store.

And last week there was some construction work being done on the parking garage. It all seemed to be on the outside and on the roof—cars were still allowed to park, but I had to go the long way around because the alternate entrance was the only one that was open. For some reason they had also taken out the card scanner at the other entrance. The other entrance is usually where I exit—the geography of parking garages baffles me and I can never figure out why I can go in at the entrance at one end of the building, circle around the floors, then, on my way out, end up at the entrance at the other end—so I know there’s usually a card scanner there. With no card scanner there they were offering free parking.

I did think about asking someone whether the parking that day really was free, but I’d already been all the way around the block to get to the entrance and none of the construction guys looked like they were in the mood to answer questions. Also I figure if it does turn out I made a mistake it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

As a matter of principle.

Put A Pinwheel In It.

My wife has tried several things to keep squirrels and chipmunks out of her flowers. She’s put wire mesh around the pots but that obscures the flowers, makes it hard to water them, and also the squirrels and chipmunks just climb over it. She’s tried traps but we’re both squeamish and don’t really want to kill them so we end up with a live squirrel or chipmunk in a humane trap and, well, what are we supposed to do with it then? No matter where we release them they’re just going to come back. At least once a year one of our neighbors finds a garter snake in her garden and she gets me to come over and remove it, which I’m happy to do because I like snakes, and even though I release it at the very back of our yard I’m pretty sure it just goes back to my neighbor’s garden.

We won’t use poison because that could harm the dogs and also, again, we don’t want to kill the little beasts, just keep them out of the flowers. She tried fox urine and all that did was get the dogs excited and do a little watering of the flowers of their own.

The latest thing she’s tried is pinwheels. Supposedly the movement and sound will frighten away small animals, which sounds plausible but it doesn’t work. The bright side is I like seeing the pinwheels out there among the flowers. They’re fun to watch, they don’t need to be watered, the squirrels and chipmunks leave them alone.

And they remind me of the British comedian Jasper Carrott’s mole story.

 

Summer Things.

It’s strange what we remember, and how distant memories can surprise us. A friend said something to me the other day and immediately reminded me of when I was eleven and found The Thing. It looked like a cross between an avocado and a pine cone, crosshatched with deep grooves and covered with the soft gray-green fur of an unripe peach, so of course I picked it up and took it home where it went into my collection that included a dead June bug, dried staghorn lichen, smoky quartz crystals, and other oddities. The Thing was the only item I couldn’t identify. I could have asked someone, or even just looked around the place where I found it for some clue to its identity, but I liked the mystery; it was earthy yet otherworldly.

Besides I’d found it in the grass outside the pool we went to. I’m not sure why I even saw it since most days when we went to the pool I was either too interested in getting into the water or too tired from a day spent in the water to notice anything else.

We went to a place called The Dolphin Club which seemed odd because there are no dolphins in Tennessee, but maybe The Catfish Club was already taken, The Bass Club would have sounded too much like a music place, and The Crappie Club just wouldn’t sound right. It wasn’t really a “club” either, but a big plus-sign shaped pool surrounded by concrete and a fence with a single cinderblock building that housed the office and changing rooms. Nearby there were a couple of crumbling tennis courts, a few trees, and a rock wall that ran along the road, but beyond that nothing but empty fields. It seemed like we spent most of the hottest days of summer there, maybe because there wasn’t much else to do. I was even on the swim team. I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to join the swim team, or even wanting to join the swim team. It was just something that happened and I went along because there wasn’t much else to do, though it meant getting up early and, instead of easing into the pool, jumping right in to chilly water, twisting my body around as bubbles floated up around me. I always had this image being transformed into a humpback whale, even though you’re even less likely to find those in Tennessee than dolphins.

The strange thing about me being on the swim team is that, even though I liked to swim, I wasn’t that strong of a swimmer. I couldn’t dive worth a damn either, only do a full-body flop off the starting blocks. But The Dolphin Club, cheap and a little rundown and out in the middle of nowhere, wasn’t as choosy as some of our competitors, bigger places that really were clubs, with indoor pools, hot tubs, and racquetball courts. I was also the only kid at The Dolphin Club who’d mastered the butterfly stroke. I was last in every competition but at least I had perfect form.

Then there was the swim team’s Fourth of July party, the only time I got to swim after dark, when underwater lights came on, the pool glowed aqua, and the sun overhead was replaced by stars, perhaps even the moon. As July drifted into the dog days of August and pool attendance dropped off the lifeguards would relax and we could throw the lounge chairs into the deep end, swim down, and stretch out in them as long as we could hold our breath. By summer’s end I could go from one end of the pool to the other without surfacing.

So with not a lot going on I forgot about The Thing. Except for the quartz crystals which I moved to my room the other specimens were thrown out into the yard. The Thing, for some reason, stayed on a shelf in the basement where I’d pass by it occasionally and wonder what it was before I turned away to something more important, like peeling a golf ball to find out what was inside. Its mystery would only be solved three years later when my parents planted a magnolia tree in the front yard. In the spring it produced creamy white blooms that dropped away, turning to leather, and at the start of summer the branches were covered with Things, each one studded with crimson seeds.

The Route Of The Problem.

It’s been more than four years since I last rode the bus. If I’d known the last time that it would be the last time I’d have treated it as a special occasion, maybe ridden it all the way to the end of the line and back around. That also would have made getting off at my stop easier since I wouldn’t have to cross the street. I used to disembark next to a major shopping center which isn’t exactly pedestrian-friendly since the planners obviously assumed everyone would just drive there. And they’re right–every time I drive by there I don’t see anyone walking. When I’d get off the bus there to make the trek home I was almost always alone, and always on the wrong side of the street. There is a light with a crossing signal but it only stays red for about ten seconds which isn’t much time to cross a four-lane road.

Recently I was at work and had to go pick up a prescription, so I thought, well, why not take the bus? The pharmacy is only about a twenty minute walk for me but the heat wave and the threat of storms and also the idea of revisiting an old routine all made the bus seem like a good idea. And with four routes converging on this one stop I figured it would look like this:

Source: Tumblr

In fact I’d been at the stop less than a minute before a bus drove up. I hopped on without checking to see what route it was. All I wanted was to go straight down the street for about ten blocks, and three of the routes listed would have done that. I’d picked the one that went two blocks then took a left turn and would go from there to parts unknown. Or rather parts not only known but far away from where I wanted to go. It’s not a route I know well but I know it’s long. I briefly wondered how long I should stay on to avoid looking like a schmuck but decided to risk it and pressed the stop button. The driver gave me a funny look that seemed to say, “Next time stick around a little longer”.

On my walk back a bus went by that would have dropped me right in front of my office, saving me several minutes, but I’d decided the next time I ride the bus I will stick around longer. I’ll make it a special occasion. Also it would have dropped me on the wrong side of the street.

Someone To Watch Over Me.

Over at Mydangblog Suzanne Craig-Whytock has written a few times about her miniature room which always reminds me of William Blake:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour…

He also said, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom” which seems to contradict the lines from Auguries of Innocence, but I can accept that poets have wide-ranging and even malleable opinions. I also can’t think of William Blake without remembering the time one of my English professors showed the class slides of some Blake prints and a girl next to me kept whispering, “He’s insane…he’s insane…” It’s completely unrelated but I read somewhere that Saint-Saëns whispered the same thing at the premiere of Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps. Even more unrelated the first time Allen Ginsberg read Howl at a gallery in San Francisco and said the line “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” the poet Frank O’Hara was in the audience and whispered “Good lord, do you think he means us?”

I’ve gotten excessive with the quotes there even though I really wanted to talk about Headquarters Coffee Shop, a tiny little place on Nashville’s Charlotte Avenue. The space is so small I think it was once an alley that simply got absorbed into a building, but that building is more than a century old so I don’t know if there are any records. If you’re ever there and waiting to order you might look over at the brick wall and see this:

Click to embiggen.

I love that they’ve taken a hole in the wall—which is what some people might also call Headquarters—and turned it into a little space. It even changes. Here it is a few months ago:

The last time I was there I was working on a short story about a little girl who finds a door to Fairyland but isn’t allowed to in even though she offers up her mother’s iPad and even her baby sister for payment. It was really crowded inside so I went to the back patio.

While I was out there writing I felt like something was looking down from the old window above me. Finally I went to check it out and saw this:

That’s very different thing than what’s inside but I can accept that Headquarters may be small but it has wide-ranging and even malleable opinions. And excellent iced coffee. Make mine a large—I’m feeling excessive.

Light ‘Em Up!

Fourth of July celebrations around the United States usually mean dazzling displays of pyrotechnics, but they can cause a lot of problems, including fires. There are plenty of alternatives like movies in the park, so here’s a pop quiz: Fireworks or Buddy Cop film?

1. Hot Fuzz

2. Point Break

3. Bad Boys

4. Turner And Hooch

5. Tuggy Huggy

6. A Gnome Named Gnorm

7. Sky Monster

8. Three Minute Blaze Of Glory

9. Lethal Weapon

10. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!

11. Furious Flamingo

12. Terms Of Endearment

13. Sixteen Blocks

14. Emoji Spinners

15. Ground Bloom Flower Brick

16. Men In Black

17. Buffy The Vampire Slayer

18. Dragnet

19. Penguin Mama

20. The Glimmer Man

21. Croc Rock

22. Midnight Run

23. Killer Chihuahua

24. Osmosis Jones

25. Demon Escape

26. Bottle Rocket

27. Roman Candle

28. Blue Streak

29. Heart Condition

30. Donkey Balls

Scoring:
More than 25–You’re a Hollywood special effects technician with a business card that says “I blow shit up for a living.” You burned down your high school.
15-24–For reasons only you can explain you double majored in film studies and chemistry and still have most of your fingers. You burned down your parents’ garage.
10-14–You like movies and always find the best parking spot for your local Fourth Of July celebration. You once burned off your eyebrows while grilling hot dogs.
5-9–You watch your local Fourth Of July celebration on the morning news on the fifth of July. You burn yourself on the stove every time you cook.
1-4–You once burned yourself with a glow stick.

All fireworks are currently commercially available and trademarked by their respective manufacturers.

Answer Key:

Buddy cop film: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 28, 29
Fireworks: 5, 7, 8, 11, 14, 15, 19, 21, 23, 25, 26, 27, 30
Should be both: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 25, 30

Turn And Face The Strange.

Even though I’ve said many times that taggers prefer to work on blank canvases and usually show respect for each other’s work by not painting over what someone else has already done I know there are exceptions. I’ve seen exceptions. This one just happened to be really eye-catching and, I thought, pretty funny and clever too.

Any picture of a fish also reminds me of my college friend Katherine who was an art student and painted what I thought was an amazing picture of goldfish in a pond. She added dabs of white and very pale yellow to show light reflecting off the surface of the water and somehow managed to give the whole picture a genuine sense of depth. It was really well done trompe l’oeil. Then some highly regarded art critic visited the campus. He went around the gallery making comments about different student artworks. When he got to Katherine’s he said,  “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. Then he paused and added, “This is pineapple juice. I hate pineapple juice.”

Katherine shrugged it off with her usual “Opinions are like armpits; everybody’s got a couple and some stink.” I, on the other hand, was annoyed with more than just his criticism of what I thought was a good painting. Judgments about art, I thought, should be fixed, based in solid reasoning, not just feelings. I didn’t know what that reasoning should be, exactly, but I felt there must be other, better critics out there who’d figured it out.

Now that I’m older—I try not to think about how much older, but that’s another story—I feel very differently about what that art critic said. Part of it, anyway. Art criticism is subjective. There are artists I used to not care for whose work I really like, or at least appreciate, now, and there are some I used to really like who don’t move me like they used to.

And also Katherine’s painting was pineapple juice. I happen to love pineapple juice. I hope I always will.

The Troubled Troubadour.

It’s been a few months since I’ve walked the Richland Park Greenway Trail, a nice loop that’s just under three miles and is great for strolling. There are a couple of bridges that cross over a large creek, and although it’s paved and mostly adjacent to a golf course there are places where woods rise up on both sides and there are patches of flowers, tall weeds with tricorn leaves, and spiraling vines reaching up to grasp the sun.

It was really a last minute decision on my part to go for a walk, once I realized I had a few free hours and I decided to take the chance to get out of the house even though it was already after ten o’clock in the morning and the temperature had been at more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit—that’s about 27 Celsius—since before dawn and was already above 90F/32C by the time I parked. Still I thought I could walk briskly and be back on my way home before the sun reached its zenith, humming “Mad Dogs And Englishmen”—the Noel Coward song, not the Joe Cocker live album.

And then it hit me. There was some business I needed to take care of and the faster I walked the more urgent it became. Everyone who’s been on a road trip has either asked or been asked, “Well, why didn’t you go before we left?” And if you’ve been the one who’s being asked you know the answer is, Because I didn’t need to before we left. As spontaneous as the walk had been I’d prepared myself in every possible way I could for the walk—I’d put on a hat, slathered on some sunscreen, and filled my water bottle, all while singing Tom Lehrer’s “Be Prepared”. What was happening below my duodenum, however, was not something I could have prepared for, and for the first time ever it occurred to me that facilities are sparsely located along the path because the powers in charge don’t want to break up the scenery any more than it’s already been broken up by pavement, fencing, power lines, and so on.

There was a place to go right at the beginning of the trail but, again, when I was there I didn’t need it, and now that I did need it I considered turning around and going back but I was about halfway between the start of the trail and a place where I could find relief. So that prompted me to break into Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”, my feet keeping up the tempo.

The midway facilities are there more for the golfers than the walkers so I had to go off the trail and cross an open field, but there was relief in sight. And with that I joyfully broke into the great lines of John Fogerty:

I hear hurricanes a-blowin’

I know the end is comin’ soon

I fear rivers over flowin’

I hear the voice of rage and ruin

Don’t go around tonight

Well it’s bound to take your life

There’s a bathroom on the right…

The Last Word.

It’s funny to me when people say “Welp.” What they mean is “Well”, usually as in something like, “Well, that’s it then” but the letter P at the end just emphasizes the finality. In linguistics P is a voiceless bilabial plosive—related to B, which is a voiced bilabial plosive. The letter L, on the other hand, is a voiced alveolar lateral approximant, and you’d think linguists could come up with a shorter term and you’d be right. I remember from college linguistics class that L and R are the liquid consonants. I like that term. I do wish the letter R could also get in there but calling them the lurid consonants would have an entirely different meaning.

I like this graffiti too. It’s bright and sharp. Because it’s only visible along a stretch of Interstate 40 just past Charlotte Pike the simplicity is nice. Only passengers are likely to see it as the cars they’re in speed by.

Here’s the graffiti that used to be in the same spot. I took this picture a little over two years ago but it stayed there for a lot longer. I looked it up in Google Maps and the earlier graffit was still there as recently as October 2023. I don’t know if it’s the same artist painting over their work. If it is their style seems to have evolved—it’s stronger now, more confident, but I don’t think it’s the last thing they have to say.

A Simple Plan.

Source: WPLN’s Curious Nashville

In the summer of 1984, when we were between eighth and ninth grade, my friend John came up with a simple plan. John was, and still is, a smart guy—he’s a lawyer in Atlanta now, and using his powers for good, but his scheme forty years ago was a little more shady. He told me his parents were buying him a season pass to Opryland and that our friend Jeff’s parents were buying him one too and I’d better get one or I’d be left out while they were off riding the Tin Lizzies and the Screamin’ Delta Demon.

Opryland was Nashville’s country music-themed amusement park, Disneyworld as reimagined by the producers of Hee Haw. The Tin Lizzies were Model T’s that could be driven around a track, the Screamin’ Delta Demon, a later addition, put riders in in scaly green cars that slid down a tube, there was an antique carousel, boats that meandered around the Cumberland River on a track, and a few roller coasters. It was a fun place and my family would go at least once every summer—usually only once because the admission price was pretty expensive and also there was an additional charge for parking because of course the owners wanted to bilk the tourists and the locals alike. If we didn’t go by the middle of June I’d start getting anxious. Opryland was only open eight months of the year and I worried we’d miss it. My favorite ride was the Tennessee Waltz, a swing ride. I’ve never liked roller coasters—I thought about going on the Wabash Cannonball which had a full loop but always chickened out—but the Tennessee Waltz which lifted all of us riders several feet in the air in bucket seats and spun us around over spiked fencing was exhilarating to me. I always made sure to ride it at least once during the day and once after dark when it lit up with red and white lights. There was also a train that went all around the park, and the Skyride, boxes suspended from cables that carried riders high up and from one section to another. There a long stretch of game booths with giant stuffed animals as prizes. All of it was pretty standard amusement park stuff but to a young child it was magical; I remember being surprised by music literally in the air, thanks to speakers placed behind bushes along walkways, and people dressed up as musical instruments walking through the park. It was even more amazing they didn’t pass out in the heat. Even as I got older it was still fun to go and ride the rides. It was a shock when it was abruptly closed in 1997. The park was still profitable but the owners didn’t think it was profitable enough so they tore it down and put up a mall, which was definitely a downgrade even if parking was now free.

John didn’t tell me about his scheme. By letting me believe he and Jeff had already been promised season passes he was evoking an honest performance from me. There was a small risk that Jeff and I might compare notes but John was clever enough to talk to me while Jeff was away visiting his grandparents. If the plan had worked by the time Jeff got back John and I would have season passes and Jeff’s parents would, well, they probably wouldn’t have bought him a season pass since he’d just gotten an Atari console for Christmas, but maybe he could have joined us a few times. What John didn’t count on was that it was a large enough financial commitment that our parents would talk to each other. He also might have stretched it a bit too far when he said both his sisters were also getting season passes. There was also the question of who’d be driving us. John and Jeff both lived within easy walking distance of my house; Opryland was about a half hour drive. Food was also not included in season passes and it wasn’t as though we could slip through the gates with sack lunches. Like all simple plans John’s idea, under scrutiny, became entirely too complicated.

Although we live in different cities now and haven’t seen each other in a really long time John and I have stayed in touch, and he recently told me he might bring his family to Nashville some time this summer. I hope we can get together, maybe have a meal or two, even find something to do as a group. Something simple.