Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Playing Around.

I’ve been playing Artle almost as long as I’ve been playing Wordle and Worldle and there are probably at least a dozen other -dle games out there I could get hooked but I’ve decided to limit myself to those three. 
Artle is the hardest of the three. For one thing it’s usually pretty easy to figure out a word if you guess enough letters correctly, and while Worldle throws in the occasional obscure island most countries and territories have recognizable boundaries. But Artle requires a pretty good knowledge of art history—and so far artists have ranged from the Renaissance almost to the present—and you only get four tries.

I lose about half the time. It’s a game where you either know the answer or you don’t. And recently I knew it.

Miro is one of those idiosyncratic artists who’s instantly recognizable—he doesn’t fit into any specific movement. He was a member of the Surrealists but he really did his own thing.

Looking at the other three clues really showed something I think about a lot when playing Artle. Even the most recognizable, distinctive artists go through different phases, trying different styles. Here was the second picture:

That’s another one I would have recognized as a Miro right away, which is lucky because the third clue would have completely stumped me if it had been the first one:

Sure, it’s a Miro—the caption says so—but I wouldn’t have guessed it was one of his. In fact I can think of at least three other artists I would have guessed first.

And the last one, well, I might have said Miro but it also reminded me of a couple of other artists. It’s funny because Artle usually seems to start with more obscure, early works, and then finish with something famous. This time it seemed to go in no real order so if I hadn’t gotten it first I wouldn’t get it at all.

If I Lived There…

The pizza I’d come to pick up wasn’t ready so I went for a walk along White Bridge Road, which is part of an unusual neighborhood for Nashville. It’s a major thoroughfare with shopping centers and restaurants ranging from Turkish to Thai, and a sushi place where the sushi goes around tables on a conveyor belt and you grab plates of what you want as they pass by, which is almost entertaining enough to distract from the fact that the sushi isn’t that good. 

Most—but not all—of the commercial places are on the east side of the street. On the west side there are business blocks next to blocks of homes, and behind the businesses there are homes. People live within walking distance of bubble tea shops, pet food places, mattress stores, a psychic. There used to be a Chinese restaurant and tiki bar in a tall triangular building with bright red tiles on its sloping sides. It’s gone now, but it’s been replaced by apartments.

White Bridge Road is four lanes of high-speed traffic and yet because it’s so close to where people live I regularly see people, sometimes groups, crossing it, usually families with kids, or sometimes just kids. It’s not like the high density neighborhoods of New York or Chicago where bodegas and delis sit next to apartment buildings. It’s not sprawling, even if it’s  sprawlish, which makes it an okay place to walk.

It’s unusual because most of Nashville is built with cars in mind. One of the reasons we have such lousy public transportation is city planners and politicians assume everyone has a car, and, mostly, they’re right. A friend of mine has said to me several times, “I’d love to take the bus to work if I didn’t have to walk five miles across two interstates to get to the closest stop.” And that closest stop is one where, if you miss the bus, it’s a two hour wait for the next one, assuming the driver even stops. But White Bridge Road has bus benches, or at least bus signs, at almost every corner, and buses that run about every twenty minutes. For a while my wife had morning appointments at a place near it and she’d drop me off at a stop where I sat next to a guy who was a dead ringer for Robert Frost. We’d chat a bit. I learned he was a scholar of French literature, and he was impressed I could recite a bit of Baudelaire from memory.

When the bus arrived we never got a chance to sit together because so many seats were taken we’d have to split up.

I thought about all this as I ambled down the road, so lost in thought that when I remembered why I was there in the first place by the time I got back to pick up my pizza it was not only ready but cold.

Castle Building.

 

Source: Reddit’s oddly satisfying thread

A friend sent me a short video of someone making drip sand castles from Reddit’s oddly satisfying thread and asked, “Did you ever do this at the beach?”

Yes, yes I did, and it’s funny it came up just now because it’s been a while since I’ve been to the beach but we have some gardening sand in the backyard, in a bag, that we bought, oh, a few years ago for some gardening project that’s forgotten now. And I’d been eyeing it and thinking it would be fun to reenact a small part of my youth and make some drip sand castles somewhere in the backyard. And then I could let the dogs run through them.

Even though sand castles are most popular at the beach because, well, that’s where you have a pretty much unlimited quantity of sand, technically you could build sand castles anywhere. It’s just that some places you have to bring your own sand. And drip sand castles are especially fun because they don’t require a lot of skill and there’s also a certain amount of randomness to them that you don’t get by filling buckets with sand and building straighter structures.

Don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the artistry of really elaborate sand castles, or even sand sculptures, and building one that looks, well, like a castle is fun too, but I really love how a drip sand castle manages to straddle the line between something made and something grown. They’re reminiscent of the architecture of Antoni Gaudi.

And sand castles are, by nature, very ephemeral. At best they’ll last as long as a summer day at the beach, or at least until the tide comes in, or until some jerk comes along and kicks them over.

Not a drip sand castle but damn if it isn’t impressive. Source: kezj.com

Then there was the time I lay down on the beach and started building a drip sand castle and without even thinking about it I’d built a massive multi-turreted structure that was at least three feet tall and about four feet across…and I’d built it over my legs. There was no way to get up and move without destroying most of what I’d built. But I was okay with that. Being destroyed is what sand castles are made for.

Sleeper.

Caledonian Sleeper train. Source: Wikipedia

So a guy got on an overnight train from Glasgow to London, went to bed, and woke up the next morning in Glasgow. It sounds like a joke or even like he just really overslept, which could also be a joke, and the Scottish city does, I think, have it’s own peculiar sense of humor. Craig Ferguson, doing a standup routine, once said, “Pardon me if I’m meringue, as we say in Glasgow…” He paused and there was dead silence so he added, “No one from Glasgow in the audience, then,” and went on.

It turns out train lines across Britain were shut down by extreme heat—something they’ve never had to deal with in history, which is a sobering reminder of the problems caused by climate change, and just how quickly it’s occurring. Thirty years ago when I rode the British rails regularly pretty much the only thing that could stop the trains was leaves on the tracks.

I never did ride a sleeper train, though, much as I wanted to. I did take a very long trip from Grantham, Lincolnshire, all the way to Swansea, in Wales. I asked the man at the ticket office if there was an overnight train. He just chuckled and said, “We don’t do that.” It was an odd response and I’ve always wondered if he misunderstood what I was asking. Or maybe that was just his way of telling me there weren’t enough people going from the upper northeast of Britain all the way to the lower southwest of Wales to make an overnight service necessary. An overnight train would have been nice since I arrived at my destination half an hour late, but that’s another story. In fact there are only two sleeper trains in Britain: the Caledonian Sleeper, that goes north to south from Inverness to London, and the Night Riveria, which goes west to east from London to Penzance, making it very popular with pirates.

Night Riviera route. Source: Wikipedia

Most of the time I didn’t sleep on trains. Pretty much any time I travel solo I don’t sleep much—I get too excited, but I’d been up late the night before and I also knew at least the first leg of the journey pretty well so I allowed myself to be lulled to sleep by the steady green monotony of the English countryside.

Then some time later I woke up in an unfamiliar train station—unfamiliar even though it was steely gray and had multiple lines and looked like pretty much every other major train station—and everyone was leaving. I asked the last person to go by, an older, white-haired woman, “Which station is this?” She didn’t answer me. Through the window I watched her walk to the exit then stop, turn, and go the other way. A second later she was by my seat. “Birmingham!” she said, smiling, and then she was gone before I could even thank her.

It was a small act of kindness but all these years later I still appreciate it. It occurred to me a few minutes later that, having studied the map, I knew my final destination, Swansea, was literally the end of the line. If I’d slept all the way there a conductor would have come around and told me to get out. Birmingham just happened to be a major city on the route so it wasn’t strange that it was almost everyone got off. And a few minutes later new people boarded and the train was on its way again.

Then, on my return journey, the train was stopped for a couple of hours by leaves on the tracks.

It Takes Balls.

A friend of mine is in a bocce league. He’s in another state so I can’t join his league—you could even say he’s out of my league—but there is an Italian restaurant near me that has a bocce court and I keep meaning to ask if they have regular games because it seems like it would be fun, although the rules are completely bonkers. I’ve tried reading the Wikipedia article on bocce at least three times now and I still haven’t quite made sense of it. In terms of rules it seems akin to curling although I think it’s also related to the broader category of lawn games that include croquet and even golf. Billiards also seems to be descended from lawn games—let’s face it, golf is basically pool but with a single, smaller ball, and a single pocket that’s much farther away—and pays homage to its grassy roots with a table covered with green felt.

In the category of things I didn’t really think about until I started thinking about them is how many games employ a ball of some sort which suggests that almost all have a common origin. The skill of throwing a ball or hitting a ball with a stick must have been useful to early humans. It was a good way to practice hunting skills.

Just as important, though, or perhaps even more important, sports could also provide a form of bonding. Any group activity with a set of clearly defined rules can bring people together. Unfortunately games can also be divisive, but, while there are serious matters we have to deal with, games aren’t a matter of life and death.

Sometimes games can even be divisive when you don’t expect it, like the time I was watching a 9-ball match on TV and my wife sat down to watch it with me. She said, “So it’s called 9-ball because they have to sink nine balls.”

“Right,” I said, “and in numerical order. There’s also a game called 7-ball that uses seven balls.”

“So 8-ball uses eight balls then?”

“No, 8-ball has fifteen balls.”

“I give up.”

To be fair she does understand curling a lot better than I do.

A Foot To Stand On.

How is that I have athlete’s foot when I’ve never been an athlete? Although it may not actually be athlete’s foot. According to all the sources I’ve checked the symptoms of athlete’s foot include itching, which I’ve got, and also an itchy, scaly rash, which, I’m happy to say, I don’t have. There also used to be a commercial for an athlete’s foot medication that showed a guy’s foot bursting into flame which, so far, is a symptom I’ve been able to avoid.

There is redness and cracking of the skin, but that could just be from the itching which causes me to scratch, especially between the toes, and there’s a deliciously terrible thrill in scratching there where the skin is papery and sensitive. In spite of being so ordinary scratching is one of our deepest and darkest pleasures; it tears the skin, causing pain, but releases a flood of pleasurable endorphins at the same time.

The intensity of it has me contemplating the  complicated, contradictory nature of a simple itch, so strong I feel like I could run sandpaper between my toes, drawing blood, pushing the itch from a minor annoyance, a discomfort, over into actual pain. Part of me thinks it would be worth it, but then I think of the downsides: blood between my toes, pus seeping, the risk of an infection. I like my feet, although they’re far from perfect. The back soles are heavily callused, and the nail of my right big toe is discolored with dirt that forward growth hasn’t managed to push out, and that the long, narrow file that folds out from the clippers can’t entirely scrape out from underneath. It’s too plain for a podiatrist’s intervention but more than a pedicure could handle, and really only keeps me from wearing open-toed shoes even in summer’s record-breaking heat.

When I was a kid running barefoot all the time meant it was inevitable I’d pick up something, but it was worth the risk, and at least it was only a fungus and not worms. There was a bottle of emerald liquid in a semi-transparent bottle, kept, along with all other pharmaceuticals, in the cabinet under the sink–symptomatic of a simpler time when nine-year olds could be trusted to self-medicate.  When my feet itched all it took was a couple of splashes. There’d be a chemical chill and in seconds all irritation would be washed away.

I could have gone to the drugstore, looked for the same thing or its contemporary equivalent, which seemed a better alternative to continuing to dig my nails into the tender skin between the toes and potentially ruining another pair of socks. But I thought I’d sussed out the main ingredient of that old elixir and pulled a bottle of rubbing alcohol out of the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. It wasn’t green but the antiseptic properties of isopropyl seemed like they’d be more than enough to send the source of my inflammation down the drain.

I popped open the cap, applied a few splashes, and with a pale blue whoosh the entire bathroom went up in flames.

Island Life.

“If Once You Have Slept On An Island” by James Wyeth.

Last week a coworker moved to Cleveland, which would be a heck of a commute if it were Cleveland, Tennessee, but, no, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, which I’ve visited and thought was a pretty cool town. I visited the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I got to walk around the Botanical Garden while it was still under construction because I wandered in while the building crew was all out on a lunch break. It didn’t look like much at the time–there was a lot of plastic sheeting and plants in pots, but I’m sure it’s much nicer that they’ve finished it. Anyway I wished my coworker well and said “Don’t get lost backstage!” but that’s another story. And while I enjoyed my time in Cleveland I was there in the summer, and, nice as it was, I’m not sure it’s a place I’d want to live. I’ve checked the winter weather in Cleveland and I’m not sure I’d want to even visit in January or February.

The same day that we had a video farewell for the coworker headed to The Forest City a friend sent me an article about an island for sale. Most islands are out of my price range–I’ve checked–but this one seems like a bargain at just $339,000, which is actually doable based on the offers my wife and I have gotten for our house. It has a really nice four bedroom home already built on it and, being on an island, of course it has a spectacular view of the water. The downsides include the fact that Ducks Ledges Island island is only 1.5 acres, there’s no heat or running water, and, well, it’s an island on the ocean which means in a few years it’s likely going to be underwater. Literally. The home is built to withstand flooding but I’m not sure I’d want to stick around and find out how much flooding it can take.

It’s also in Maine. I’d mostly put this in the positive category. There are nice people in Maine, there’s a lot of fun stuff to do there, a lot of interesting wildlife–quite a bit of which shows up on the island–but it’s an area where the weather can get more than a little rough. The owner requires anyone interested to spend a night on the island, which sounds more like a setup for a Scooby Doo mystery than a real estate transaction, but it makes sense. The owner is saying caveat emptor up front and giving potential buyers a chance to suss out the caveats. I’d recommend staying overnight in the winter for anyone planning a permanent residence, but it sounds like even the current owner doesn’t stay there all year.

Also I suspect that if there’s no running water or heat the wifi is probably spotty at best which would make telecommuting difficult, so I’ll just stick closer to where there’s ice cream.

Ducks Ledges Island. Source: Insider

From The Sky.

The James Webb Space Telescope is big in the news right now but, in a funny coincidence, we had something fall from the sky in our backyard recently. At first I didn’t know what it was and I saw it coming from a long way away, drifting up over the house like a mutant cloud, dark but with hints of light, trailing a narrow black tail.

Then it came down in the driveway and I could see it had once been a balloon–a giant 2, I think, that had popped open somewhere up in the air before it came down to rest, still exhaling some of its precious helium–but not enough for me to suck in and make my voice sound funny. Why a 2? That’s a mystery in itself. A black number birthday would most likely be one that ended with a zero–forty being the big one, but it’s all downhill from there. Maybe it was for a goth kid’s 12th birthday.

Balloon escapes seem to happen all the time. There’s a party supply store I drive by occasionally and I’ve seen people struggling to get clusters of balloons into their cars and I’d like to help but even if it weren’t weird to have a stranger come up and offer to hold your balloons what could I do? There’s no easy way to manage a bundle of plastic or mylar sacks filled with lighter than air gas and, now that I think about it, I guess “balloons” is a better name because it would sound even worse to have a stranger come up and offer to hold your lighter than air sacks, but that’s another story.

I know some kids love to get balloons and then let go of them–go to any theme park on any day and you’re bound to see at least one balloon flying over the crowd–but I was a kid who held onto balloons and would take them home. I loved the film The Red Balloon which teachers at school or adults at church would have us watch on rainy days when we couldn’t go outside. I didn’t care that my balloons didn’t follow me. I was happy to fall asleep watching my balloon bob around on the ceiling, only to wake up to it wrinkled and sad on the floor.

The only time I let a balloon go was when I tied a note to the string with my name and a little bit about me–I don’t remember what, exactly, and my address. “Please write back to me,” I wrote, with the urgency of an eight-year old. Then I let it go and watched it soar up and up and up until I couldn’t see it, and I imagined it sailing across states, maybe across the ocean, landing in the hands of another kid like me but different enough that we could share the strangeness of our lives.

No one ever wrote. But I did have a large black 2 come down in the driveway, and I shared it with a friend who texted back, “Are you wearing Crocs?”

I’ve learned to take the strangeness where I can find it.

Size Matters.

Asteroid 7335 (1989 JA), which made its closest pass by the Earth on May 27, 2022, has been described as being “the size of 350 giraffes”.

 

Asteroid 2017 VL2 which came within 70,000 miles of Earth on November 9, 2017, has been described as being “the size of a whale”.

 

Asteroid 2022 EB5 which landed in the North Atlantic between Norway and Iceland on March 14, 2022, has been described being “half the size of a giraffe”. And also “the size of a grand piano”.

 

Asteroid 2021 GT2, which, at its closest, was 2.2 million miles from Earth, has been described as being “the size of three blue whales”.

 

Asteroid 2022 KP3 passed by Earth at a distance of a little over eight hundred thousand miles the week of June 1st and was described as “the size of an average male giraffe”.

 

Asteroid 2022 NF, which passed just 56,000 miles from the Earth on July 7th was described as being “the size of a bus”.

 

Asteroid 2019 NW5, which will make its closest pass of around 3.5 million miles on July 18, 2022, has been described as “bigger than the Statue of Liberty”. And also “airliner-sized”. And “bus-sized”.

 

Asteroid 418135 (2008 AG33) at its closest was about two million miles form Earth on April 28th, 2022 was described as “the size of two Empire State Buildings”.

 

Asteroid 7335 (1989 JA) which passed the Earth at a distance of about four million miles on May 27, 2022 was described as being “the size of a small island”.

 

Asteroid 7482 (1994 PC1) which passed by Earth at a little less than two million miles on January, 18, 2022, was described as being “four times the size of the Eiffel Tower”.

 

Asteroid 2020 QG which came within just 1,830 miles of Earth on August 16, 2022, was described as “car-sized”.

 

Asteroid 2007 UY1 which passed Earth at around 3.3 million miles on February 8, 2022, was described as being “the size of the London Eye” and also “football-field sized”.

 

Asteroid 469219 (2016 HO3), also known as Kamoʻoalewa, discovered in 2016 at the University of Hawaii, remains at least 9.1 million miles from Earth as it orbits the Sun and has been described as “comparable in size to the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy or the Cinderella Castle in Disney World”.

 

The asteroid that hit the Earth, creating the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatán Peninsula, and wiped out the dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago, has been described as “mountain-sized” and also “the size of San Francisco”.

And finally…

“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”–Douglas Adams

 

%d bloggers like this: