Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

A Place For My Stuff.

A few weeks ago a coworker asked me if we could trade work cubicles. The coworker who asked if we could trade spaces is in a small, cramped cubicle and because she does a lot of printing she’s in there with at least three different printers. But I have, or rather had, a pretty large cubicle that, in spite of being away for almost all of the last three years, I’m still pretty attached to. It has, or rather had, more than two decades of accumulated stuff, including pictures, frisbees, a Dalek, a Mark Twain statue, books, fun quotes I’d printed and stuck to the walls, the obligatory Far Side cartoons also stuck to the walls, and various other bits of detritus.

So I had to stop and think very carefully for about thirty seconds before I said, “Sure, of course!” As long as I have a place for my stuff, since I’m gradually reintegrating back into office life, I’m fine with downsizing. Or rather I was fine with downsizing.

While doing some preparing to move my boss sent me a message that said, in essence, “Everything you have in the office needs to go.”

That was a shock. I felt a little relief that it wasn’t just me. Downsizing is happening all over the office as some people have settled in to working exclusively from home. Another coworker permanently telecommutes from Cleveland. And it’s not even Cleveland, Tennessee. She’s in Ohio, on the edge of Lake Erie.

Even before the pandemic my job had become more about pushing electrons than papers but there were still advantages to having my own space in the office. When people dropped by, especially new people, they got an idea of who I am. We might connect over some shared interests outside of work.

Some people are comfortable doing all their work from home. They should absolutely be allowed to keep doing that. I’m not one of them, though. I miss face-to-face interactions, even if they’re still conducted with masks and social distancing. Someone might see the King Kong poster in my office and say, “Hey, that’s my favorite movie,” and, for me, that helped make our work-related interactions a little easier.

So did feeling like my work cubicle was a little bit of home-away-from-home. I have a home workspace but it’s also where I like to do non-work stuff—writing and reading and other creating. I never realized before that having some of home at work made it easier to keep work life and home life separate. Now it feels like there’s too much overlap.

For three years people I work with and I talked about what it would be like when we came back. Now I feel like there is no going back. There’s home, there’s work, and there’s the extra effort of keeping them apart.

What Dreams May Come.

Stilton cheese. Source: Wikipedia

So the other night I had a really weird, really vivid dream. Among other things I dreamed I was lying in a hospital bed waiting for some treatment and watching a movie. I remember a scene in the movie where a guy goes to see a play, so I was dreaming I was watching something in which someone is watching something and if the Alice In Wonderland reference weren’t so obvious I’d be tempted to say it was almost like going down a rabbit hole. I told a friend of mine the next morning and the first thing he asked was, “Are you being paid to eat Stilton?”

This was a reference to something we talked about a couple of months ago. I don’t remember which one of us heard about it first but the website sleepjunkie had a study and was looking for “a team of five ‘dairy dreamers’ to experiment on the impact that eating cheese really has on our sleep quality, energy levels and whether it increases the likelihood of nightmares”. And they offered to pay each volunteer $1000 which, seriously, sounds like a dream job to me.

My friend thought of Stilton cheese because there’s a long anecdotal history of that cheese causing especially weird dreams and that’s what we both thought of when we heard about the study. I wonder if any blue cheese could cause weird dreams, though–maybe the mold that makes the cheese blue stirs up something in our guts that intensifies our nighttime experiences. The fact that food can have an effect on dreams is something people have known about and talked about probably as long as we’ve been having dreams.

The funny thing is I didn’t have any cheese that night. A couple of hours before I went to bed I had a piece of banana bread and a small glass of skim milk. Is that what did it? Who knows? That’s the problem with the sleep study. One of the problems, anyway. Dreams are very subjective and most get forgotten by the time we wake up, or soon after.

Another problem is there are so many things that can influence dreams. I used to have night terrors which are as fun as they sound. It’s been about fifteen years since I last had one. Why’d they stop? Why did I have them in the first place?

No one’s even sure why we dream. One idea is that they’re our brain’s way of processing memories, shifting them to long-term storage. For Freud and Jung they were wish fulfillment and a way of dealing with anxieties, or causing anxiety.

Maybe dreams are just something that happens. We give them whatever purpose we need them to have. And I told my friend the cheese-and-dreams study should have stuck with brie or camembert because there couldn’t be any hard conclusions.

Get Lucky.

Source: Wikipedia. I’ve found a lot of four-leaf clovers but never thought to take a picture.

I never had any luck with four-leaf clovers. At least not that I know of, although I have found four-leaf clovers. One early spring, as fifth grade was winding down and I think our teachers were tired of trying to keep us occupied, when it was finally sunny, when the mornings were cold but the afternoons were warm enough that we could go out without our winter coats as long as we did a lot of running around, we were released to the playground. I’d heard somewhere that when wild onions pop up that means the last frost has passed. That’s not really true, I’ve noticed, but it’s still a sign that spring is springing. The clumps of wild onions on the playground also meant the grass hadn’t gotten high enough for the lawnmowers to start running yet so it was easy to find whole clusters of clover spreading across the ground. Maybe that’s why a group of us stopped running around and settled down to hunt for four-leaf clovers. And we each found some. They’re supposed to be rare, which is one of the reasons they’re considered lucky, but they weren’t that hard to find. A couple of my friends each found a five-leaf clover, which I guess is supposed to be twenty-percent luckier although I’m not entirely sure of the math when it comes to clovers, and someone else found a six-leaf clover, and then someone found a seven-leaf clover and an eight-leaf clover.

There was nothing else special about the day, though, and nothing exceptional followed. I think I did all right on a math test the next day in spite of getting tripped up on what one hundred divided by five was. I kept some of the four-leaf clovers I found and pressed them in books, but the only result was that a few months, or, in some cases, a few years later, I’d pick up those same books again and find a dried four-leaf clover I’d forgotten about somewhere in the pages.

Four-leaf clovers are a symbol of Ireland, although they seem to get confused with shamrocks, which get further confused by the fact that no one seems to agree on what exactly a shamrock is, except that it’s more of a sham than a rock. One kid told me the clovers I’d picked weren’t really clover but pigweed, but when I looked it up “pigweed” referred to an entirely different plant that doesn’t look anything like a clover. That’s common names for you.

I’ve also found that four-leaf clovers, and clover in general, have some folklore attached that goes well beyond just luck. In northern Italy there’s a belief that if a traveler falls asleep on his back by a certain stream a white dove will drop a four-leaf clover on his chest and if the traveler wakes before the clover fades he’ll gain the power of invisibility. It’s much more likely that a dove flying over is going to drop something else on you and you’ll be lucky if you’ve got a spare shirt. There’s also a belief that if you eat a four-leaf clover and slip another one in someone else’s food so they eat it you’ll fall in love with each other, which seems like a terrible way to win someone over. And there’s a belief that a single clover—it doesn’t even have to have four leaves—in a walking stick will make the traveler lucky. Maybe the weirdest one is a belief that a four-leaf clover can prevent, or cure, a condition called “the purples”, spotting caused by bleeding under the skin. A few years later I’d wish four-leaf clovers could cure the pimples, but that’s another story.

Clover was just one of the grasses that popped up on the playground. I already mentioned wild onions, but there were also dandelions and henbit and that weird weed that sends up tall stalks topped with a seed head. My friends and I would twist the stalk around on itself then pull it so the seed head would pop off, hopefully in the direction of a teacher who wasn’t looking.

They were all just common weeds but they were a sign that winter was finally over, spring was happening, and summer was just ahead. They were all lucky in their own way.

Strangers On This Road We Are On.

The vending machine in the building where I work hasn’t been restocked, perhaps not even touched, in three years. It’s on the second floor, just off the parking garage–the first six floors, half the building, are devoted to parking–next to the maintenance office. The room it’s in is dark most of the time. I’m not sure anyone goes in there anymore. Anyone but me. I went in to see if anything had changed. The vending machine used to be a place where I’d run into strangers who also worked in the building. Even if we didn’t say anything to each other at least we had the need for a cheap snack, and an excuse to step away from our desks, in common.

Then there was the time I made an even deeper connection with some of the strangers in the building. One day there was a note on the vending machine:

“Please stock some brownies. Thank you!”

For some reason this seemed like an opportunity. I grabbed a post-it note and added a message of my own.

“NO! TARZAN NO NEED BROWNIES!”

The next day there was a new note.

“Don’t eat the brownies then Tarzan.”

Oh, it was on now. I added a response.

“Tarzan have poor impulse control. Too many brownies make vine break.”

Different handwriting and a different color of ink told me a new voice had entered.

“Jane agrees. Tarzan doesn’t need the love handles.”

More voices–or rather different handwriting–joined the conversation.

“Cheetah suggest counseling for Tarzan. Worked for elephant.”

“Elephant fall off wagon. Crash heard throughout jungle.”

In the middle of the week was a test of the building fire alarm. Everyone who worked there gathered in the parking garage next door. And as we all stood around in our little groups I looked around. This was an office building. People from at least half a dozen companies, and at least three more departments within the place I worked for, were there. And among them were Jane, Cheetah, Elephant.

They were complete strangers but, without getting overly dramatic about it, I felt connected to them. I thought about yelling out, “Hey, I’m Tarzan!” but I was afraid of ruining the magic.

Back at my desk I wrote another note.

“Tarzan thank Cheetah. Will look into therapy. Perhaps have deeper unresolved issues.”

That afternoon a co-worker asked me, “Are you Tarzan?”

“Yes,” I said, a little sheepishly.

“Well I’d stay out of the break room. The delivery guy is pissed.”

From down the hall I could hear boxes being slammed around and someone muttering.

After he left all our notes were gone. There were no brownies but I still had the memories of our conversation.

 

Please Tip Your Waiter.

The Month of March As A Restaurant Menu

Appetizers

Shrimp cocktail

Simple, classic elegance, half a dozen chilled shrimp served with cocktail sauce and lemon.

Fried green tomatoes

A historic Southern classic since 1991, cornbread fried and served with our house remoulade.

A kick in the nuts

Customers have expressed confusion about this so we want to be clear there are no nuts—no pecans, no walnuts, no hazelnuts–or nut-adjacent items like peanuts, cashews, sesame seeds, or anything else you find in fancy nut mix. This is an actual kick in the family jewels delivered by one of our chefs who, if you’re lucky, will be wearing Crocs.

Spring rolls

Rice-paper wrapped spring rolls, your choice of shrimp of vegetarian, with cucumber, bean sprouts, and cilantro. With plum sauce for dipping.

Roast chicken

An entire chicken stuffed with mushrooms, croutons, capers, and gorgonzola with a wine-reduction sauce. For some people this is an appetizer. Don’t judge.

Salads

House salad

Iceberg lettuce with cucumber, radishes, chopped tomato, and our house vinaigrette.

Big bowl of broken glass

Served with our house dressing which in this case is literally pieces of the building we knocked off with a hammer and threw in there.

Entrees

Prime rib

Either eight or twelve ounces, grilled to your specifications, served with two sides and you may or may not be stabbed in the hand by your waiter.

Linguini with clams in either red or white—oh, wait, we just became one of those sushi places where the sushi goes by on a little conveyor belt. We hope you enjoy our new direction.

Burgers and Sandwiches because we’ve turned back into the place we were when you came in.

House burger

Your choice of ground beef, turkey, or black bean. Served with fries and your server will scream non-stop for five minutes.

Box of crayons between two slices of bread

The crayons are all orange so if you want the chef will melt them and you can pretend it’s the world’s worst grilled cheese.

Desserts

Brick

We stole a bunch of these from a construction site. Served on an elegant dish.

Chocolate cake

Our own special recipe made with swirled dark and white chocolate, available with or without macadamia nuts, raspberry sauce, and whipped cream.

Raw oysters

The chef may stick a few of these in the chocolate cake if you’re wondering why it’s in the desserts.

Beverages

We have a wide variety of craft beers on tap, bottled, and in cans, as well as a range of specialty cocktails.

Iced tea is available sweet or unsweet.

Still and sparkling water is available, as are soft drinks.

Someone dressed as the Kool-Aid Man may pour a pitcher of Mountain Dew Code Red over you as he runs through the restaurant singing Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate In A Buffalo Herd”.

Thank you for visiting the month of March—where anything can happen!

He’s Got My Number.

The line of storms that crossed the country this weekend mostly missed us. We had some heavy rain, a lot of wind, and a lot of branches down in the yard but I just assumed the worst of it had passed by all of Nashville. Then, in the afternoon, with the sun already coming out, I went on an errand and realized how lucky we’d been. Just a few blocks from the house I had to back up and take a different route because a road was completely blocked by a fallen tree. It was the only one I saw across a road but there were a lot of trees and large branches down everywhere else.

Then in the evening I called a local restaurant. The guy who answered sounded really cheerful but when I told him I wanted to place a takeout order he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, our power has been out most of the day. It just came back on but we’re still getting things up and going.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay!” I said.

We ended up having about a five minute conversation, longer than I think I’ve ever been on the phone with anyone at a restaurant, and I got reassured that all the staff were okay too and they hoped to be back to normal the next day. He seemed grateful to talk to someone, or maybe he was just glad I wasn’t a jerk about it. Why would I be? Well, I remembered something that happened when I worked in customer service. All of us sat at phones and computers in a single large room on the first floor of an office building. One day there was a bomb threat and we had to evacuate.

I was one of the lucky few taken to a remote location where our phones were redirected and I got to answer them with, “I’m sorry, our system is currently down. Could you please call back in a couple of hours?” I’m not sure why we had to use a cover story since I think “WE HAD TO LEAVE BECAUSE OF A BOMB THREAT” would have gotten a lot more sympathy but I didn’t make management decisions.

One guy called and before I could finish saying “Hello” he started telling me all his information. I stopped him and gave him the cover story. There was a pause. Then he said, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to cancel all our business with you!” and he hung up.

I was quick enough to get down his information and a sales team was dispatched to placate him, which he didn’t deserve, but that was another management decision.

It only occurs to me now that the restaurant I called has caller ID, since everybody has that now, and if I’d been rude they could easily block my number. But it had been a difficult day. I didn’t need to be a jerk about it.

The Calm After The Storm.

For the past year or so I’ve noticed Radnor Lake seems to be getting lower. It’s an artificial lake, dug in the first decade of the 20th century to provide water for the railyards. There are approximately ten miles of underground pipe between it and downtown Nashville. Or were. It’s been a long time since it was needed and I don’t think anyone really knows how much of it is still intact. The lake and the wilderness around it used to be just for the railroad company owners. Then it was threatened with commercial development and a bunch of people got together and turned into a park for everyone. That could change at any time, though. I know there are a lot of developers who’d love some lakefront property and the only thing holding them back is knowing there’d be enough pushback that it wouldn’t be profitable.

The spillway is a big concrete wall at the southern end of the lake. At its northern end it’s fed by Otter Creek and at its southern end it feeds back into Otter Creek. Or does when it’s full. Sometimes the spillway is a waterfall and the creek runs like rapids, which must be great for the few otters that are still around. They were mostly wiped out when the lake was dug. Most of the times I’ve been to Radnor over the past year, though, the spillway is dry and the creek is only a trickle, if that. Up at the northern end I’ve also noticed that there are places where the shoreline has extended, land rising up from what used to be underwater.

The bridge over the spillway is metal and wood. It’s solid but if a lot of people are on it at the same time, or if you stomp hard enough, it wobbles slightly. Someday it will fall. Or it’ll have to be removed. Maybe it will be replaced. Maybe it won’t. That all depends on what people decide. All this seems very sad but I was still happy to see that someone carved NAMASTE into the handrail at the center of the bridge. It’s rusting and allowing rust to seep in under the paint, accelerating the decay of the bridge. The decay would happen anyway.

I used to take yoga classes and the instructor would say “Namaste”, which is a greeting, at the beginning of each class and also at the end. Every hello is only a prelude to a good-bye. Everything, even a lake, has its time, and nothing lasts forever.

Thanks For Stopping.

The street in front of the building where I work is one-way which should make it safer, or at least easier, for pedestrians, but it’s really a crossing nightmare. I always look both ways before crossing which is just a good habit any time you cross any street but there’s also the occasional driver who will get confused and end up driving the wrong way. Or there’s the occasional delivery truck with a driver who’s too lazy to circle around the very small block and who barrels the wrong way down the street.

There have been a lot of efforts to make crossing the street safer. There have been crossing guards posted there, but only during special events because the cost and trouble of having a person there all the time is just too prohibitive. And most drivers and pedestrians seem to be smart about how they handle it, although I’ve seen a few cars accelerate when they see pedestrians in the crosswalk, and I’ve seen a few pedestrians step right off the sidewalk without looking to see if there’s any traffic coming. All of which tends to undermine my faith in humanity.

Another safety method that’s been added to try and protect pedestrians is the poles in the road. In Britain those are called bollards, although “bollard” to me sounds like a past-tense verb a delivery driver might use, as in “I really bollard through that intersection.”

There used to be six poles. Now there are three and three stubs. Drivers drove right over three of the poles, knocking them down. That probably did some damage to their cars and hopefully there were no pedestrians around at the time.

I’ve crossed that street more times than I can count and have never had a problem until the other day when I tripped over one of the stubs. It was the one right next to the sidewalk. I let out a stream of curses and it took me a minute to get up. Later I’d find I’d skinned one of my knees, through my jeans, and my elbow, tearing my shirt. At least it was close to the end of the day. And an approaching car stopped while I got up. A young woman who’d just crossed the street ahead of me turned and came back to make sure I was all right and could get up.

The sudden kindness of strangers in that intersection did a little bit to restore my faith in humanity.

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