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Not In Theaters.

It’s been a while since I was last in a movie theater and I’m not quite ready to go back to one just yet even though I’d really like to. It seems hard to justify going to a theater when I have an overabundance of movies (not to mention TV shows, documentaries, and, oh yeah, I’ve got a few books too) but I love the experience of going to the theater and sitting in the dark with strangers. There’s the smell of popcorn, having my ticket torn, the process of finding just the right seat. Things happen in movie theaters that could never happen at home, like the time I went to see Pulp Fiction and a couple behind me got into an argument about whether they’d seen Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta together on TV and it was so weird I thought it might actually be part of the movie. Or there was the time I went to see the 2011 film The Thing, which was a prequel to the 1982 film The Thing, which was described as a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World but was actually closer to the source material, the 1938 novella Who Goes There? written by John W. Campbell. Anyway the 2011 film ends with an exact recreation of the opening of the 1982 film and as the credits rolled and Ennio Morricone’s haunting score played all of us in the theater—all seven of us, since it was a box office dud—gathered in front of the screen and had an impromptu film discussion.

And when a friend started sending me terrible parody film posters from a Twitter account devoted solely to the worst of the worst it just made me want to go to a theater even more. Even the worst real movie couldn’t be as bad as any of these, right?  

Source: @AWFULfanPOSTERS

Source: @AWFULfanPOSTERS

Source: @AWFULfanPOSTERS

Source: @AWFULfanPOSTERS

Especially terrifying are the sequels that seem like they really could be made.

Source: @AWFULfanPOSTERS

And, you know, there are some I would actually like to see. Seriously. Sometimes what starts off as parody crosses over into something potentially good.

Source: @AWFULfanPOSTERS

And speaking of movies that should be real I think we can all agree that the only thing wrong with this reimagining of Calvin And Hobbes is that it isn’t a real full-length movie playing in theaters everywhere.

If You Can’t Find ‘Em Grind ‘Em.

Source: TYWKIWDBI

I’m not a fan of millennial-bashing or bashing any generation. Singling out a group of people who happened to be born within a certain time frame and assuming they all share similar characteristics seems singularly stupid to me which, I know, is totally something one of us Gen Xers would say.

Anyway I can’t drive a stick-shift. Well, I probably could but with a lot of trouble. Manual transmissions were still widely used when I came of age but never covered in my driver’s ed class and I was okay with that. I’m still okay with that. I still don’t get the appeal of driving a stick-shift vehicle. Almost everyone I’ve known who had one told me, “It gives me more control of the vehicle.” That’s the problem, as far as I’m concerned. I’m one of those people for whom a car is just a way to get from one place to another and while I enjoy the journey I want it to be as carefree and easy as possible. Starts and stops, turns, lane changes, and other drivers are all more than enough for me to concentrate on while I’m driving and even on long empty stretches there are things to think about like, am I going the right way? or would German vanity plates stretch halfway around the car?  I don’t need to have to worry about pushing in the clutch and shifting from second to third in the middle of highway traffic.

Same source but much more accurate.

A friend once did try to teach me to drive her stick-shift pickup truck. We were on some back roads early on a Thursday morning and she thought that would be a good time and place to teach me this important life skill that, honestly, I’ve never needed and probably never will. She was a good teacher too—patient and giving clear directions, but every time I tried to shift gears the engine made a noise like a chainsaw going through a full orchestra. I’d shut it off and restart, until the third try when it wouldn’t restart. We switched seats so she could take over and it still wouldn’t start. We waited a few minutes. Then we waited a few more minutes. Finally we gave up and walked to her house which, fortunately, wasn’t that far away. A few hours later her husband came home. He walked down to the pickup to see if he could figure out what the problem was and it started for him on the first try. There’s something to think about.

Truckin’ Like The Doo-Dah Man.

Ozone Falls

On our of first full day at Camp Ozone all campers were taken to see Ozone Falls, which was a nice little hike–less than a mile, and usually the counselors did it right after breakfast so all the kids would be worn out until lunch. I think they also did it early because seeing the falls was a pretty amazing thing and the counselors didn’t want to have to hear, “When are we going to see the falls?” every five minutes. It was my third summer so I was a Camp Ozone veteran who knew exactly what to expect and of course I’d been saying to the counselors, “When are we going to see the falls?” every five minutes since I arrived, but that’s another story.

The hike to the falls took us down the road and under an I-40 overpass. As we were walking a kid named Ken, an first-timer at Camp Ozone, glommed onto me and asked if I knew anything about trucks. I’m still not sure why he chose me. I’m pretty sure I didn’t look like the sort of kid who knew anything about trucks. Then again neither did Ken who, in his t-shirt and shorts, looked pretty much like me and all the other kids in our group. So I admitted I didn’t know anything about trucks except that they were big and had eighteen wheels.

“I know everything about trucks,” Ken went on. “I know every model. Do you know what the most expensive brand of truck is?”

Since it had already been established that I knew nothing about trucks I’m not sure how he thought I could name even a single brand, let alone know anything so specific, but Ken’s enthusiasm was making me interested in trucks so I played along.

“Peterbilt.”

I have no idea if this was true. This long before the internet, and even longer before the internet became available on devices most of us carry in our pockets, although Peterbilt doesn’t even make the Top 10 for most expensive semi-trucks, and the Wikipedia page just for semis is a very deep rabbit hole of information, which makes me wonder if Ken really knew as much as he claimed. Maybe he really did know a lot about trucks, though, which would have been impressive for a kid at the time.

For some reason Ken and I separated after that. It wasn’t personal. I liked him and, as I said, his enthusiasm for trucks appealed to me–any time I talk to someone who’s obsessed with a subject, especially if it’s something I’ve never thought about, I get interested. I may not share their passion but I still feel like they open up a whole new way of seeing the world. Anyway Ken and I were in separate cabins and, after the trip to the falls, our counselors took us in different directions. Camp also only lasted a week so any lasting friendships were rare.

It’s ironic to me that we now have the internet and that I can fact-check things Ken said, as best I remember them, but I’ve forgotten his last name so I can’t track him down. Even if I could I’m not sure I’d want to. I prefer to have Ken only in my memory, and to imagine he’s still somewhere out there truckin’ along.

Celebrating The Public.

Source: Nashville Scene

I love public art, especially large murals on buildings, and I feel very lucky that we seem to be in a time when those are very popular not just in Nashville but in cities everywhere. There are probably a lot of factors that have spurred the creation of murals everywhere but one thing I think has helped is a widespread desire for community, and public art is a great way to foster community. Murals on buildings that people drive or walk by are something we can all share. There’s also something very special about the fact that you don’t have to go to a museum or gallery to see them. You don’t even necessarily have to make a special trip just to see them. Often you find them on your way to somewhere else.

Source: Nashville Public Art

The murals I’m featuring here are the work of Nashville artist Charles Key. Unfortunately I didn’t take these pictures myself but I’ve seen his work around, but only in passing. Even though he has a very distinctive style, I didn’t realize I was seeing murals by the same artist.

Key was featured in a Nashville Scene article last month and his own thoughts on community, and especially the need for art in the neighborhood where he lives have stayed with me:


Why not shine light? My thing is I want to spark somebody, some little kid — spark their imagination. … Maybe I could keep somebody on the right path through this small gesture that I’m leaving in these communities.

Source: Tennessee Tribune

Summer Time.

So I found an Argiope aurantia in the yard and if you don’t know what that is you’re probably thinking I should hire whoever handles that sort of thing to get rid of it and if you do know what it is you’re almost certainly thinking I should hire whoever handles that sort of thing to get rid of it because you know it’s a great big spider. She wasn’t that big, though—it’s still early in the season, but it did remind me of the time when I was ten and found a fully grown one under the deck of my parents’ house. They’re quite beautiful with shiny black, white, yellow, and green bodies, and they build big circular webs with zigzag patterns. No one’s sure why they weave such obvious patterns into their webs—maybe it’s to warn birds away, or it’s for camouflage, or for some other reason.  They sit in the middle of their webs patiently waiting.

I’d visit the one under the deck three or four times a day sometimes and bring it prey which I know sounds pretty sadistic of me. At least I felt a little bit of guilt but it was also fascinating to watch. I’d catch a katydid, holding it by its leafy wings, and throw it into the web. The spider would rush over, bite the katydid once, injecting a toxic cocktail, and then start wrapping it. Some spiders wrap their prey in a single thread but an Argiope aurantia activates all its spinnerets at once producing a skein of silk that turns its catch into a mummy in seconds. Then it leaves its prey to sit and cook for a while because spiders invented ceviche long before humans did.

Sometimes when I came back later I’d find her sucking the juices from her wrapped meal. Then she’d pluck it loose from the web and let it drop to the ground. By nighttime the web would be gone. They eat part of their webs before going to sleep, recycling the protein, and producing a fresh, neat web the next day.

I spent the summer watching her grow bigger and bigger, but I tried not to get too attached. Even then I knew enough about biology to know that most spiders grow fast and put everything into producing children they won’t live to see. It’s sad but also beautiful.

I knew she was a she because the males are smaller and less distinctive. The males build a web near a female’s when it’s time to mate. I never did see her partner but one must have come around. By late August I could tell she was slowing down. She sometimes ignored the grasshoppers I threw into her web, conserving her energy while her internal organs slowly turned into eggs. The morning I found her in the upper part of her web next to what looked like a small mottled brown balloon I knew it was time. Summer at that age lasted forever and was also over in a blink.

Her children, if they survived the winter, had a tough time ahead of them, which is one of the sad facts of a spider’s life. They lay a thousand eggs or more as insurance because the world is a harsh place. Most won’t make it to adulthood.

The one I found in the garden earlier this week has been gone for a couple of days now. Her web is still there but it’s tattered. It’s unlikely she’s moved somewhere else. She picked a well-protected place. It just wasn’t protected enough, and there’s a long summer ahead of me.

Wear A Helmet. Seriously.

Less than a month before my eighth birthday I saw my friend Tony get hit by a car while riding his bike. He and I were going somewhere—he was going to ride and I was going to walk because I hadn’t learned to ride a bike yet. He sailed down the hill right, past the stop sign, into the intersection just as a car was coming. He should have stopped, but I’m pretty sure the driver was also speeding. The driver got out of the car and started screaming and a bunch of people came out of their houses and stood around, probably blocking traffic. Tony’s father came running and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. Maybe someone already had. An ambulance came and a woman in a white uniform got out and did something. I couldn’t see anything because of the protective ring of people around Tony.

I can place the year and even the date precisely because I stood there in shock for a very long time and then turned around and went home. That night I watched Steve Martin’s first TV special which, thanks to the internet, I know was shown on November 22nd, 1978. I was terrified Tony was going to die, or that he’d be permanently injured, but Steve Martin took my mind off that for a while. A few weeks later Tony was back at school. I’d picked out a toy truck that his mom took to him while he was in the hospital and I saw him playing with it at the bus stop.

Well, that’s not very funny, but this PSA from Denmark about the importance of wearing helmets is, so it can take your mind off that.

 

 

Sartor Restartus.

I may look like I don’t put a lot of thought into what I wear but that’s only because I don’t put a lot of thought into what I wear. As much as I’d like to say my slovenliness, at least around the house, is the result of a carefully studied sartorial choice, an affectation of looking disaffected, the truth is it’s usually the result of fumbling through drawers in the dark and pulling out whatever shirt is available before I throw on yesterday’s jeans. Although I do sometimes dress up, sort of, preferring a button-down paisley shirt and I at least put on today’s jeans, and sometimes I put on my red shoes and dance the blues.

Something else I never thought much about is the idea that agriculture started because early humans needed food, but prehistorian Ian Gilligan came up with the idea that people might first have started cultivating plants they needed to make clothing. As they migrated toward colder regions, or as temperatures dropped because of changes in the climate, which happened around ice ages, simple animal furs and skins weren’t enough. He distinguishes between two types of clothes:

Simple clothes made from thick furs were probably sufficient when hominins began to occupy northern Europe during colder glacial stages from half a million years ago. Complex clothes are closely fitted around the body and can have cylinders attached to enclose the limbs properly; additionally, they can have up to four or five layers.

One of the problems with studying clothing is that even the sturdiest woven cloth is fragile compared to tools and pottery, and at least as far back as the 18th century, if not farther, clothes were recycled into paper for books, so if you ever find a first edition of Pride And Prejudice you just might be holding some of Mr. Darcy’s underwear, but that’s another story, and also means that clothes have a short shelf life. This makes early fashion hard to study, but archaeologists have found prehistoric sewing needles, and there’s more evidence in lice. Clothing lice would only have evolved with, well, clothes, and genome research traces them back to about a hundred thousand years ago.

It’s an interesting thing to think about even as the world of haute couture is collapsing, at least from the perspective of the sort of people who actually think it’s wrong to wear white after Labor Day. My own feeling, and this is just a thought, is that agriculture for food and clothing might have evolved together. Cultivating any crop, whether it’s cotton or wheat, means a lot of time in the sun and early farmers would have wanted protection from the sun while they were sowing and reaping. But now that I’m thinking about why we wear clothes maybe I’ll put a little more thought into what I wear.

 

Crossing Over.

Source: Getty Images

There was a dead armadillo on the side of the road. They’re a fairly recent arrival here; I think we first started seeing them in Nashville around ten years ago, and while they’re cute they also carry leprosy and can tunnel under houses undermining the foundations so when you see an armadillo you really can say, “There goes the neighborhood,” but that’s another story.

I hate to see roadkill of any variety so I felt a little bit happy reading a recent article about overpasses and underpasses that provide a safe way for wildlife to safely cross roads. In one part of Montana they’ve reduced accidents caused by cars hitting animals by 90%, and some of them, like this one in Canada’s Banff national park, are really cool looking:

Source: Enjoy The Silence

Some also go under the road so that smaller animals like salamanders and even larger animals like alligators to go in search of food and mates safely. This isn’t just important because it decreases the amount of potential collisions for both animals and humans. It also allows groups of animals of the same species who might have been cut off from each other to interact and have offspring, reducing the amount of harmful inbreeding that can happen when animal groups are cut off from each other.

And, sure, there are some potential downsides. One that the New York Times article mentions is that people might get the idea that as long as they’re creating over- or underpasses they can expand the roads. It’s not hard to see why this is a problem. Anywhere cars go they bring pollution, whether it’s noise or exhaust or some asshole who has to throw half a milkshake out of the window as he goes by.

I can think of another possible problem: the overpasses could make elk, deer, moose, and other animals sitting ducks—not to mention ducks, which raises the question first asked by Chico Marx, “Viaduct? Vy not a chicken?” I think of that because of a distant relative I knew as Uncle Rupert who once brought venison to a family gathering and proudly told everyone that after years of trying to get a deer he finally figured out that if he held the gun while his brother Russel held the spotlight…If you aren’t familiar with this hunting technique it’s probably because it’s illegal, and is one of the reasons my grandfather said that between them Rupert and Russel had one full brain but that most of the time neither one used it. The following Thanksgiving Uncle Rupert outdid himself by bringing a pretty funny looking turkey that turned out to be an endangered osprey. “At least,” he told everyone proudly, “I didn’t need a spotlight to bring it down.”

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