Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

It’s All Pipes.

I love learning new things but sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The other day I learned that there’s something called the Mariko Aoki phenomenon and it’s when you go into a bookstore and feel the need to make a beeline for the bathroom. This is not a new idea–people have kept reading material in the throne room for, well, at least a few hundred years, although it probably doesn’t predate the invention of movable type and mass production of printed materials that made books cheaper and more widely available. Outhouses also have a reputation for being a place for doing some quiet cogitating–in fact an English professor told me one of James Boswell’s diaries was found in an old London lavatory that had been sealed up for more than a century. Fortunately Boswell left while it was still in service so he wasn’t found in there with it. And while the invention of toilet paper may not have been directly inspired by the Sears catalog the original wish book was commonly kept in johns where it wasn’t just used for reading.

And, yes, there was a whole Seinfeld episode about this, and, of course, it revolved around George. And also there’s a whole wild history of what people did before paper became widely available.

The connection between reading and, well, taking care of other business may be what causes the Mariko Aoki phenomenon. At least that’s what I think. People’s brains start to associate one with the other and, well, what happens in the tubes that carry our thoughts around affects the larger tubes down in the boiler room.

This is not an issue for me, maybe because I don’t normally read with my pants down. But just thinking about it, well, that can cause things to start happening, and that’s where the problem happened. I learned about the Mariko Aoki phenomenon while listening to Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! on the radio in the car. Normally I listen to Wait! Wait! at home, except for the time we went to see it live here in Nashville and I knew more about Vincent Price than Vince Gill, but that’s another story. It happened to be on during a long drive. And Peter Sagal and crew went into so much detail about the phenomenon I, well, let’s just say I started to have a little phenomenon of my own going on and I had to get home really quickly.

And that’s all I really want to say about it now because I have to go.

So This Happened…

I won the DarkWinter Literary Magazine First Anniversary Contest which I’m really grateful for and I’m taking a moment to brag a bit and have a celebratory root beer float. This is not my first publication—I had a poem published in DarkWinter Lit previously and it’s a magazine I really enjoy, with great writing, so I hope to have more there in the future. I’m also still so proud to have been included in the Static Dreams anthology, and I’ve had work published elsewhere. I’m saying this at least partly because I had some old friends congratulate me on winning the contest by saying “It must be great to finally be published!”

Of course there’s more to the story. There’s always more to every story. If you’ve seen The Graduate you know that—mild spoiler alert—at the end Ben and Elaine sit at the back of the bus with looks on their faces that clearly say, “Well, what happens now?”

That’s the funny thing about being a writer, or in any artistic profession. I guess it extends even to most professions. It’s impossible to sit still. Although for artistic professions it’s not so much “What happens now?” as it is “What do I do now?”

Also I got the word that I’d won on Friday afternoon but the announcement wasn’t made until Monday. While I was keeping it a secret a friend of mine shared a story of a mermaid statue that’s causing a stir in an Italian town for being “too provocative.”

I said, “Where are her cranial fins? Or her gills? It’s like the artists have never seen a real mermaid!”

My friend shot back, “What do you know about mermaids?”

All I could do was sit there with a look on my face that clearly said, Just you wait… And immediately after that I was watching TV and a trailer for the new live action The Little Mermaid came on.

That’s not relevant to anything I’ve been talking about but it is a funny story and it’s important to never pass up a chance to share one of those.

What is relevant is that it’s a success like this that pushes me forward, that makes me want to do whatever comes next, and whatever comes after that. Billie Jean King said, “Pressure is a privilege,” and it’s times like this that I understand what she meant.

But first I’m going to finish my root beer float.

Source: The Guardian. This is the Italian mermaid that doesn’t look anything like a real mermaid.

The Crown.

March 18, 978-Well, this is really exciting. Lots of people are gathered here for the coronation of the new king. He’s only twelve years old so this might be a little scary for him but everyone’s really in a happy mood and ready for the coronation of Aethelred The Unready. We’ve been waiting for, uh, about three hours, but I’m sure he’ll be out any minute now.

December 25, 1066-Wow, is this a big day for all of us, but I guess you could say it’s an especially big day for William, who’s about to be crowned king. I know he’s chuffed, as they say around here. Lucky for him he won that battle at Hastings, am I right? It would be terrible to lose when your last name is “The Conqueror”. And, even more exciting, it’s all happening on Christmas day. Doesn’t get any better than that. Hey, they’ve brought in some of those unicorns! Tapestry makers, are you getting this?

April 9, 1413-That was quite a coronation, wasn’t it? Pretty short, too. I guess our new king Henry V isn’t one for making speeches.

July 6, 1483-It’s a somber occasion, but, sad as that business with the princes is, I think we can all look forward to our new king serving the nation well and all of us moving forward together. I’m sure he’ll have a good reign, a proper burial, and no one in the future will ever have a bad word to say about Richard III.

October 30, 1485-Now that’s what I call a coronation! That was some serious pomp and circumstance there, wasn’t it? Such a huge celebration with feasting, dancing, speeches, music. I tell you, just from that alone there’s no chance we’ll ever have another Henry as well-known or widely talked about as our new King Henry VII.

February 20, 1547-He comes to the throne in sad and difficult circumstances but I think we can all look forward to a long and happy reign under Edward VI. There’s his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, and his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. I’m sure we won’t be hearing much from them with Edward taking charge. Wait, who’s that? Does the king have a twin brother? Never mind, it’s just some pauper.

November 17, 1558-Well, this is really something. Never mind that little nine-day kerfuffle we had back in July. Here’s wishing our new Queen Elizabeth the best of luck. Something tells me she won’t last long.

January 1, 1651-I don’t know about anybody else but I certainly feel restored! Charlie, Charlie, he’s our…anyway, pour me another quart of ale. I’m about to head out for the theater.

September 22, 1761-Whoo hoo, we’ve got colonies all over the place and the sun will never set on this empire, am I right, folks? Things are looking especially great on the other side of the pond—I’m sure it’s smooth sailing for all of us all under our wise and benevolent King George III. Let’s get crazy, everybody!

June 28, 1838-Now this is really something. It’s been a couple of centuries since we had a queen and now, here she is, Queen Victoria. She’s, you know, a little different. I hope she has a good reign but, you know, a lot of things are changing, with trains and other modern innovations. Who knows? I’d bet we see the end of the monarchy soon.

January 20, 1936-It’s not, strictly speaking, official yet, but I’m sure we can look forward to a long, uneventful reign under our new King Edward VIII.

June 2, 1953-I don’t know about anyone else but I’m pretty chuffed, as they say around here, to have another Queen Elizabeth on the throne. Her reign should be pretty quiet. I mean, who pays much attention to the monarchy these days?

Source: The Mighty Nerd

Let Summer Commence.

The student have graduated and left for the summer, marking the end of another year. Most college and university graduations happen sooner than high school so the ceremonies always take me by surprise. Growing up I thought of the end of school coinciding with the beginning of summer, which always meant mid to late May, although I had cousins in New England who weren’t released until June. I thought it was because the snow would shut down their schools so regularly, but that wasn’t the case. New Englanders, after all, are used to dealing with snow. In my cousins’ case it was just that their fall classes didn’t start until after Labor Day, whereas here they started in August, maybe because most schools had more reliable air conditioning than some homes.

Then there was the year I was in seventh grade and we had so much snow it shut down the whole city for weeks—Nashville, of course, not being used to dealing with snow. The school I went to for seventh and eighth grade was close enough that I could walk to it, and frequently walked home, but the snow meant the kids who relied on busing couldn’t make it in, so they just shut down everything.

The freeze lasted so long that the school board, which normally just tacked extra days onto the school year to make up for whatever we’d missed, decided that instead we should make up the loss by spending an extra half hour at school each day for about three weeks at the end of the spring semester. So we sat around doing nothing, but at least it meant our summer break wouldn’t be postponed.

College graduations, of course, are different, which may be why they come sooner. For most students they don’t just mean the end of school; they’re the beginning of adulthood. It’s a very different transition from all the ones that came before.

Congratulations, classes of 2023, wherever you may be graduating from, and good luck.


Every spring Venus flytraps show up in garden centers and next to checkouts. Sometimes there’ll be a pitcher plant—one of the North American Sarracenia varieties, not the South American Heliamphora or the Asian Nepenthes, or the Australian Cephalotus, although those are pretty cool too.

I always wonder if I should rescue one of those plants but I’ve had experience growing them. At one point I had a collection of more than a hundred different carnivorous plants. It also included sundews, butterworts, and bladderworts, which you’ll almost never find in your garden variety garden center. Some were really easy to grow. As popular as Venus flytraps are, though, they weren’t among the easy ones. Venus flytraps like it sunny, humid, and very wet. Their water also has to be very pure. Because they suck up so much water any chemicals tend to build up. I could provide the water and the humidity, but short of sticking the plants on the roof of our house I couldn’t give them the all-day sun they needed.

A few rows down from the Venus flytraps I found some succulents for sale, including lithops—the living stone plants. I’ve tried growing those too. Also not an easy plant. Lithops like it sunny and extremely dry. Most come from places where the annual rainfall is less than thirteen inches per year. Short of sticking them next to a dehumidifier under a sun lamp there was no way I could give them the conditions they needed.

For some people the challenge of growing these plants at home is part of the fun. I knew a guy who grew Darlingtonia, another kind of pitcher plant I forgot to mention earlier, which is found in the Pacific Northwest. It grows in places where cold water flows over its roots. He built an elaborate system with a cooler and plastic tubing and added a regular supply of ice.

That someone would go to those lengths always makes me think of an idea that every unusual plant grower I’ve ever known has thought: these plants evolved to grow in very special environments. Maybe they also figured out a way to trick humans into recreating those environments so they could thrive far from their place of origin.

Some humans, anyway. After most of my collection was wiped out by a double attack of whiteflies and aphids I lost interest in growing the plants. The challenge was too much for me.

Here’s The Kicker.

There’s now a soccer league, or, as the rest of the world calls it, football, in Japan for players who are over eighty. This is such a brilliant idea, although I think it’s diminished slightly by the fact that most of the octogenarian players are former professionals who’ve been out of the game for a few decades. It’s great that they’re still around and still able to get out on the pitch but I feel like players who’ve had glory days should, especially by the time they’ve passed threescore and twenty, step aside and let non-pros have a chance at making a goal or two. Maybe there are some players who’ve reached that age who were never that great at soccer in their youth but feel they have a better chance at competing against peers who haven’t had a couple of hip replacements. Maybe there are players who didn’t really have an interest in soccer when they were young but got pushed out onto the field by their parents and played miserably, without even really knowing what they were doing, would like another chance at the game late in life, having developed an appreciation for it in the intervening decades.

Yes, I am talking about myself, even though I’ve still got a few intervening decades before I reach my eighties. I didn’t really want to play soccer, but my parents told me to at least try it. So in the fall of third grade, after I went home from school each day, I’d go to another school for an hour or so of soccer practice. Then on Saturday mornings, instead of sleeping late and watching cartoons, I’d get up early and go run around a field for a couple of hours, which wasn’t that much fun in shorts, and in my case it was mostly just standing around because I didn’t have much idea what was going on. I have a vague idea that our team wasn’t very good and that we lost most of our games, but because I didn’t really know what was going on I was just waiting for the final whistle when we’d shake hands with the opposing team and then we’d all get hot chocolate.

By the third year I actually got a little better, but it was also my last year, and I was still easily distracted. The games started later so I was more alert on the field but we’d also moved to a different field that was next to a wooded area that looked swampy. Whenever there was any downtime—when we weren’t practicing kicking goals or doing laps around the field—I’d look longingly at the swamp and think I’d much rather be exploring it. But at least some of the time I was actually engaged in the game, even if I still hadn’t entirely figured out what was going on.

One Saturday morning, before a game was about to start, I was standing off to the side. A few guys on my team were kicking a ball around. I tried to get involved but they were top players and, while I don’t think they told me to go away, they weren’t interested in me joining them either. So I shrugged and walked away.

At that point a really old man—I think he was someone’s grandfather, or maybe great grandfather, who was an occasional presence at games—walked over to me and just started yelling at me. He told me I needed to pay attention, be aggressive, get out there and work or I’d never be any good as a player. He told me I was useless, that what I was doing was terrible, that it was important to focus, give it my all, and work for the team.

Even in sixth grade this kind of dressing down, especially by an adult, should have sent me off sobbing to hide in the backseat of my parents’ car, but it was so weird that this complete stranger focused on me I was certain he had me confused with somebody else. I knew I wasn’t much of a player but I also knew I really didn’t care enough for this warped version of a pep talk from a guy who, judging by the thickness of his glasses and the cloudiness of his eyes, could have easily been talking to one of the goalposts, to affect me.

It also helped that someone from my team, a tall, redhaired kid named Chuck who, like me, was a low-ranking player but still better than I was, came over and said, “Hey, Chris, come kick the ball around with us!” He was with a group that wasn’t that good but was just killing time before the game started, but that didn’t matter. Just like that I was released from the baleful rantings of a complete stranger and welcomed into a group that I’d never really felt I was part of.

Those two moments—one bizarre and, in retrospect, really awful, and one really great and uplifting—are my most vivid memories of childhood soccer.

I wouldn’t mind reliving that second moment. As for the first, I think that old guy needed a team of his own. Whatever the source of his bitterness was he didn’t need to be directing it at a random twelve-year old on a chilly spring morning. Soccer is, to most of the world, the beautiful game, because it’s open to everyone.

Linked Out.

This weekend I took another walk around the Richland Park Greenway Trail and, knowing what to expect this time, I stopped to watch the players on the McCabe Golf Course. The trail goes all around the golf course, which seems like an odd choice for a walking trail, although I guess maintaining a wooded area provides a buffer for the surrounding houses so they’re less likely to get hit by stray golf balls.

My freshman year of high school my parents decided I should take part in some school sport and, not having played anything else aside from a brief baseball career in first grade, I went for the golf team. I don’t remember how I found the golf coach but I do remember that he was approximately eight feet tall and bore a striking resemblance to Boris Karloff. But he gave me a short reassuring speech about how the golf team had enough players already but that if I didn’t mind riding in the back of the truck I could come along on Wednesday’s practice.

Wednesday I dragged my bag of golf clubs to school and confirmed with the coach that we’d meet up in the lobby after the last class. When I got to the lobby it was empty. I went out to the parking lot and looked around. There were a few compacts in the parking lot—for some reason none of the school’s principals drove full size cars. After waiting in the lobby for another fifteen minutes I checked the other two parking lots, which were empty.

The next day I dropped by the golf coach’s classroom.

“Well, where were you?” he yelled at me. “We waited and waited for you, Derek even went to the lobby and looked for you!”

With the benefit of a few decades of hindsight I realize this was bullshit. They forgot I was coming and left me stuck at school without a way home.

The next Wednesday was a repeat.

The third Wednesday I rode in the back of the truck for what seemed like an hour and a half—Google Maps tells me it’s about twenty minutes from my school to McCabe—but at least it was a sunny day and pretty warm even for September.

At the course I realized the other guys had fancy padded golf bags with shiny new clubs. I had a hand-me-down set in a peeling leather bag. They were also dressed like, well, golfers—green and red Izod shirts, blinding white slacks, yellow visors, shoes with spikes. I was still wearing my school clothes: button down shirt, jeans, sneakers.

In unison they stepped up to the tees and made perfect swings. I stepped up, selected a club, put my head down, concentrated.

“Hit the ball, Chris! Play fast, you’ve gotta play fast!” the coach yelled at me.

I jerked and hit the ball and it went an impressive six feet.

The rest of the practice went downhill, even when we were going uphill. Surprisingly the other guys were nice—or maybe they just felt sorry for me, and a few times they gave me tips or offered to let me try one of their clubs before the coach came and yelled at us for not going fast enough. I’ve never thought of golf as a speed game but the coach had his own idea of how to spoil a good walk.

I never returned to the golf team after that, and, in fact, forgot they even existed until my senior year when my friend Travis joked that he was going to try out to be a cheerleader. There was a hierarchy of cheerleaders with the best ones cheering for the football team, the second string working basketball, then baseball, and so on down the line.

When I asked Travis how the tryouts had gone he said “I’m a golf team cheerleader!” And I thought, hey, maybe I should join the team again.

Source: makeagif

You’ve Got Books!

Rhino Books. Nashville.

Let me just say up front that I hate the movie You’ve Got Mail. I love Nora Ephron, and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are a great couple, but, as someone who loves books, and especially bookstores, I despise You’ve Got Mail. It’s not just that it’s a plodding, predictable film that, in spite of all the talent involved, has all the charm of a wet sack of month-old bananas. When it was released Melville House Books–full disclosure: I wrote some articles from a librarian’s perspective for them–had a profile of a real life independent bookstore owner who was driven out of business when a Barnes & Noble moved into her neighborhood. Then, in a twist very much like You’ve Got Mail, she got a job with B&N. And in a twist very much unlike the movie it was an awful experience. The higher-ups had no interest in the community and pushed store policies that left no room for creativity. The people selling books might as well have been slinging frozen burgers–all of which was as predictable as You’ve Got Mail‘s saccharine ending.

Now, almost a quarter of a century later, I’m surprised to learn that Barnes & Noble bookstores–specifically the brick & mortar stores–are not only still around but that they’re experiencing a bit of a renaissance thanks to their new chief executive, James Daunt. Daunt has a long history of running independent bookstores and, well, turning them into successful chains, so he seems like an obvious choice to take over one of the last big book retailers. He also knows selling books isn’t like selling anything else. He says, “These big retailer bookstores have failed to hang on to their customers because they weren’t friendly, they didn’t have the right books and they weren’t engaged.” He even welcomes people who just come in to look around, treating the bookstore as a special place: “There’s no expectation that you are buying anything. It’s a happy place – you come in, you browse.” And he adds, “Reading – and coming to bookstores – is a habit, not a fad.”

It sounds like he’s read the criticism of Barnes & Noble and actually thought about it. His strategy is to let each store be independent–encouraging them to be part of the local community.

In some places that might work. Will it work in Nashville, though? This city already has several independent bookstores. For new releases you can go to Parnassus, The Bookshop, or Fairytales Bookstore. If you want used books you can go to McKay’s, which is a megastore that devotes most of its space to books but also has movies, musical instruments, videogames, toys…

Or for just books there’s Rhino Books which, like any good bookstore, has its own cat, and whoever’s behind the counter can guide you through the sections. I went in there once and asked if they had anything by S.J. Perelman. The guy frowned and said, “I think so,” then went off on a rant about how it was a shame no one reads him or Thurber or Dorothy Parker anymore. Imagine getting that at a big chain store.  It’s also a few doors down from an amazing independent coffee shop.

What I’m getting at is that the new Barnes & Noble’s sales strategy sounds great for places that don’t have any other options but, given the choice, I’ll stick with bookstores that really are independent. And also You’ve Got Mail is one of the worst movies ever.



Nothing To Sneeze At.

In the past allergy season didn’t bother me. I feel guilty for saying that and perhaps I should clarify that I felt bad for my friends who coughed and had runny eyes and noses, even though it gave me the opportunity to call them up sometimes and ask if their nose was running so I could say “Well, you better go catch it!” and then I’d hang up as if they didn’t know it was me. And now I’m paying for that, although if there’s allergy karma it’s doing the equivalent of giving me the finger as it drives by. I wake up with a stuffed up nose and I have a few bouts of coughing through the day, all of which I’m pretty sure is because I’m allergic to something in the air right now.

Allergies are a weird thing anyway. I’m not treating them lightly because when I look at labels on various foods and see warnings about nuts, peanuts, or eggs it’s a somber reminder that for me they’re innocuous ingredients but for some people they can literally be deadly. One of my wife’s friends has trouble with food that’s been cooked near shrimp. A shot of epinephrine can prevent anaphylactic shock but imagine having to keep one handy all the time in case of accidental exposure to something most people take for granted. And all because some people have immune systems that overreact to something in the environment that should be harmless.

I’m not putting down the immune system. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s just that sometimes I think we should be able to communicate with our body, tell it to calm down when it’s fired up about something it should just let go. I have regular checkups with my doctor. Why can’t my major bodily systems arrange to have regular checkups with me?

“All right, digestive system, take a seat. First of all I want to thank you for all the wonderful work you’ve been doing. I also want to apologize. I know I should have been sending you a lot more fiber. I’m going to work on sending you a lot more bananas and cabbage, though not at the same time, and a lot less pizza and coffee. Thanks, and keep up the good work. Take some of that pink stuff on your way out, and could you send in the circulatory system next?”

It would be so easy, and I bet some of the underappreciated organs, like the pancreas, would appreciate the individual note of congratulations. Around allergy season, though, might not be the best time to meet with the immune system.

“Immy, you know you’re very special to me. You’ve always been close to my heart. And everything else, really, which is what makes you so vital. I appreciate everything you do, really. That stomach flu that moved in downstairs? I’m so glad you stepped up to take care of it. But we need to talk.”

At this point I would bring up pictures of pollen, pet dander, and, I don’t know, dust mites, maybe, and say, “These are not your enemies. Look, they’re just passing through. The respiratory system has them covered. Literally. With mucus. You don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. Capisce? Have some chicken soup on the way out.”

I know it can never be that easy. If it were a whole spectrum of immune system conditions, not to mention other systemic issues, could be wiped out, or at least dealt with a lot more easily. And I wouldn’t spend so much time trying to catch my nose.

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