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Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

It was raining. Maybe it was also pouring—I’ve never actually seen rain pour since “pour” is an intransitive verb and as far as I know rain doesn’t even have hands it could use to hold a container from which it could pour something, and what would it pour anyway?  I’m pretty sure the only reason anybody says rain is “pouring” is because of that old children’s song:

It’s raining, it’s pouring,

The old man is snoring.

So the “pouring” probably only got in there because it’s a convenient rhyme to go with “snoring”, and if the song left off there I’d be willing to let it go—it’s a nice image of an old man sleeping through the rain. Then it takes a sudden, weird, and very dark turn:

He bumped his head and he went to bed,

And he couldn’t get up in the morning.

What’s going on here? At best the old man has major depression that’s preventing him from getting out of bed, but it sounds more like he’s suffered a concussion and possibly even has a subdural hematoma. Either way why are we letting children just sing about it when somebody should be getting this old man some help? I mentioned this to a friend of mine who agreed it’s pretty terrible but added that it’s not as bad as the song about the old man who played two on your shoe, and three on your knee, and, um, six on your appendix and then goes,

With a nick nack paddy whack

Give a dog a bone,

This old man came rolling home.

My friend believes the old man gets punched hard enough to send him flying, but my counterargument is that we don’t know that’s why he goes rolling home—for all we know he’s a gymnast and likes to roll around, or he takes a bicycle or even a penny-farthing, because he’s a brave and hip old guy, and also a dog gets a bone, so there’s at least some karmic balance there. The fact that my friend assumes there’s violence involved makes me wonder if I should keep a closer eye on him. However we can agree that in the first song “pouring” and “snoring” don’t rhyme with “morning” and “bone” and “home” don’t rhyme and if you’ve ever seen Educating Rita you know the definition of assonance is “getting the rhyme wrong”, but that’s another story.

Where I was going with this before I got sidetracked by the horror of children’s songs is that it was raining as I left work and there was a bus right across the street. It was absolutely perfect timing, especially since it was a bus going my way. I’d driven to work that day but the parking garage was a few blocks away, and the bus would take me, if not right to it, then at least closer, and would get me out of the rain. So I ran across the street, to the bus, and, as I was getting on, bumped by head on the door frame.

It was the afternoon and I stayed awake and had no trouble getting up when the bus got to my stop.

Crossing Over.

Death is a popular subject in art, and I can think of at least a couple of reasons why this is so. The act of creating a work of art, whether it will ultimately live on after the artist or not, might prompt the artist to contemplate the ephemerality of existence. If you create something it’s both the summation of who you are at that point in your life and it also becomes part of you going forward. Another possibility, and one that could overlap with the first, is that death is such a big subject, one that everyone living will have to contend with sooner or later, that it’s an easy way to lend weight a work of art, especially if it’s not that good, which is why so many poems I wrote as a teenager were about death, but that’s another story. In the case of graffiti most artists, I think, expect their work to only be around a short time, and that too can prompt contemplation of the ephemerality of all things.

This particular graffiti, placed on a wall below a parking lot and just off a busy street makes me contemplate much more than death, though. For one thing it reminds me of The Epic of Gilgamesh. At its end Gilgamesh tells the boatman Urshanabi to look at the city walls he built. Those walls will be Gilgamesh’s legacy but, having completed his journey and having accepted his own mortality he knows the walls too will eventually crumble until there’s nothing left.

It also reminds me of the Spreuer Bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland, which I went to when I was a teenager. Built around 1400 the bridge was spruced up between 1626 and 1635 with a series of paintings in which death comes for everyone.

Source: Atlas Obscura

Death is sometimes described as a form of “crossing over”, going from one world to the next, so it seems especially fitting that reminders of death would decorate a bridge. Although now that I think about it decorating a parking lot with a reminder of death is pretty fitting too, since your mortal remains are going to be parked somewhere, even though they’ll eventually crumble until nothing’s left. Anyway I fortunately outgrew the bad teenage poetry phase, even while I was still a teenager, because the closer I get to death the more I’m reminded that there’s life to be lived.

 

 

Protecting Your Data.

Your privacy is very important to me. I want to assure you of that. With lots of discussions going on about privacy, security, data breaches, and the marketing of your information without your permission I want you to know that everything I know about you will be kept in the strictest confidence. We both know I have access to a great deal of extremely personal and even sensitive information, and I want you to have complete faith that your data are safe with me. In fact you should know by now that even though I have been gathering enormous quantities of information about you for years I have not and will not share it with anyone else. Some examples include the fact that you recently changed to a different shampoo that smells even weirder than the last one. You believe it’s better because it’s “organic” or something, or maybe they stopped making the old kind. I’m not sure, although I will continue to investigate this change every time you bend down. I will also not share your propensity for purchasing toys made of solid rubber, as well as fuzzy, squeaky toys with googly eyes and jazz hands. I will not share the number of times a week you have an extra glass of wine and spend the entire night curled up on the couch watching things that provoke a wide range of emotional reactions, and not just because I appreciate the number of times you allow me to join you. I will not share the number of times you purchase processed foods that are, according to the label, made with chicken, lamb, beef, or tripe. As they provide me with sustenance these purchases are appreciated, and I do not wish to bite the hand that feeds me either literally or metaphorically.

Having done some research on the issue of data mining I’ve concluded that there may be ways for third parties to acquire this information. Why anyone would have any interest in it still baffles me, but micro-marketing is a large and growing industry, and people are weird. Of course the only reason micro-marketing seems to exist is to assure people that they aren’t weird, or at least that their weirdness is okay, by offering them junk they don’t need. And if there’s a market for it they must not be as alone as they often feel. As you should know by now I’m also always available to help alleviate those feelings of loneliness, although this is getting off the subject.

There are also other, more specific data points about you that I have collected but will never sure. For instance I’ve seen you dance by yourself, at times when you think even I’m not watching. The less said about this the better.

The green spaces surrounding your residence are also overrun with vermin, including, but not necessarily limited to, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, moles, foxes, possums, and even the occasional skunk. Were I to choose to share this information I’m sure there are companies available that would be more than happy to market their services to you. However I feel very strongly that it is my responsibility to rid the area of these interlocutors even though their persistence is staggering. Birds remain particularly elusive thanks to their ability to fly.

I also feel it is within my purview to warn you of and guard against potential intruders, whether they be delivery people, joggers, or the occasional small child. You take a shockingly casual attitude toward protecting our shared residence and often, though I can’t understand why, even invite these potential threats to come in and partake of refreshment. Even more baffling to me is your insistence that I curb my enthusiasm when I’ve concluded that the visitors are not only welcome but friendly. Is it not their right to share some of the food you’ve shared with them if they wish to do so?

Also I will never reveal that you sometimes speak to me in an infantile manner. I admit I often find this enjoyable.

I believe I have made it abundantly clear that I not only respect your privacy but will keep the information I have gathered secure, although I might be tempted to share it if you don’t hand over that steak.

Sincerely,

The Dog

P.S. The cat doesn’t know anything.

Source: tenor

 

 

 

Have A Drink.

A taxi parked in front of a liquor store. I guess he’s the designated driver.

I have a thing about drinking and driving and that thing is that I don’t. There have been times when I probably could—the other night my wife and I met some friends after work and since I was driving I just had iced tea, and we ended up hanging out long enough that I could have had a beer and passed even the most sensitive breathalyzer, but hindsight never wears beer goggles. And it’s just a personal thing—most people, I assume, are responsible and know their limits, although my own wariness of mixing a drink and a drive mostly comes from a night that my wife and I were driving home. Well, she was driving and I was riding. It was a dark and stormy night and as we approached a hill we could see a car coming toward us. Then it swerved into our lane.

“He doesn’t see us,” my wife said.

She stopped. He swerved again and drove off the yard into someone’s front yard.

We got out and talked to him a bit. He was a young guy and he admitted he’d been drinking. He worked at a bar and had a few during his shift and probably a few more before he got in his car to drive to a friend’s house. He may have even been underage: in these parts you have to be twenty-one to drink alcohol but only eighteen to sell it, which is why whenever I buy beer at the grocery store I always head to the oldest-looking cashier I can find, but that’s another story.

It also came out in our brief conversation that my wife was right: he hadn’t seen us. He thought we’d come up behind him and only stopped to see if he was okay. He didn’t realize that, if we’d kept going, he would have hit us at full speed and the odds were pretty good I wouldn’t be around to tell you this story.

Anyway that’s why this ad campaign for the Nashville bus promoting a beer route tickles me so much. There are twenty small breweries in Nashville by my count, and eighteen of them listed on this bus tour promotion—and most of those are right on a bus route, although Yazoo, which is currently within walking distance of where I work, is moving to nearby Madison, Tennessee because it’s expanding.

Nashville’s buses are notoriously irregular and for some reason they haven’t put any of this information online—the local MTA ain’t exactly what I’d call tech savvy even though they’ve added wifi to pretty much all buses now. Also does it strike anyone else as weird that you have to be twenty-one to visit most brewery web sites? Check out the Jackalope Brewing site–because it’s got a cool story and they make really good beer, but it’s not like you’re going to drink any of it from the website. Or if you know a way to get beer through a website please share it because it’ll make my afternoon commute a lot more interesting. Anyway it’s just weird to me that you can pick up this flier advertising local breweries on a bus regardless of your age, but visiting the Black Abbey Brewery web site requires you to be at least twenty-one.

The important thing here, though is that the idea of letting someone else do the driving is something I’ll drink to.

I, For One, Welcome Our New Artistic Overlords.

Roald Dahl’s story The Great Automatic Grammatizator is about a young man who builds a machine that can write short stories. He then upgrades it to crank out novels which become bestsellers and he builds a whole business around licensing the names of well-known authors—he puts their names on the machine-produced books and they get a nice royalty check and never have to work again. The authors who hold out against the encroaching technology are put under increasing pressure and—spoiler alert—the story ends with the narrator’s haunting plea:

And all the time things get worse for those who hesitate to sign their names. This very moment, as I sit here listening to the crying of my nine starving children in the other room, I can feel my own hand creeping closer and closer to that golden contract that lies over on the other side of the desk. Give us strength, Oh Lord, to let our children starve.

It’s a literary version of the legend of John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man who went up against a steam-powered drilling machine, or that episode of The Office where Dwight goes up against the company’s sales website. And there are other, actual tales of humans against machines. Gary Kasparov was beaten at chess by Deep Blue, Watson did pretty well on Jeopardy!, and there’s a computer program called Sibelius that can not only notate but even compose music.

And there are lots of programs that can turn photos into paintings, and even programs that can match your face to a work of art. And there’s a new one, AI Portraits, that takes your picture and turns it into a painting in varying styles, and with varying degrees of success.

I love Goya’s work but I’m not sure I’d want my portrait painted by him, and this reminds me that when Picasso painted a portrait of his first wife Olga Khokhlova she insisted that he paint a realistic picture. She told him, “I want to recognize my face.”

Naturally when you get a new toy like this the first thing you want to do is break it. AI Portraits won’t accept pictures if it can’t find faces and it does terrible things to pet pictures.Its results with other pictures are a little more interesting.What really interests me, though, is the question of why we prefer—or at least think we prefer—a painting, a musical piece, or a story by a human hand over one done by a machine, if we can even tell the difference. And if we can’t tell the difference what does that say about us and our abilities? I think I prefer art made by a human being because there’s, well, a personal aspect to it. No matter how small or trivial a work of art made by a person is the sum of all they are at that point in their lives. There’s also a psychological drama to a person creating a work of art, or playing a game of chess, or driving steel, that a machine lacks. A machine doesn’t get distracted or unnerved. For the machine there are no stakes to winning or losing–there’s only winning or losing, and the machine doesn’t see either one as success or failure. It just starts over from the beginning. Then again maybe that’s just the way I’m wired.

Traveler’s Rest.

The design of benches at bus stops bugs me. I know I’m very lucky to be at most slightly inconvenienced by the design and that most of the time it doesn’t even affect me because I can stand, but maybe it helps if I speak up along with people for whom it is a problem, and most of those people are homeless. I know homelessness is a growing problem in many cities, and while I don’t have any answers I do know that making homeless people’s lives more difficult isn’t an answer, which is why the bars in the middle of bus benches that make it impossible for anyone to lie down bothers me. The half-benches in bus shelters are even worse because they only have enough space for two people at most so if you have three people who need to take a load off their feet someone’s outta luck. Even the design of the benches, cold perforated metal that I’m sure has been calculated to be just big enough for the average posterior, is unfriendly. It says, “You can sit here but don’t think about staying here.”
This is always on my mind whenever I’m at a bus stop but there are two things this past week that really kept me thinking about it. The first is Grace over at Ms. Graceful Not who navigates the world with more aplomb than her blog’s name would suggest, but that’s another story, who wrote about planning a long trip in a wheelchair. Another thing that’s always on my mind whenever I ride the bus is that in Nashville and other cities where public transportation is pretty much an afterthought people who depend on the bus are limited in where they can live and work. As someone I know said, “I would ride the bus if I didn’t have to walk three miles and cross an interstate to get to the nearest stop.”
And there are visually impaired people who ride the bus, which is part of why, whenever the bus comes to a stop, a cheerful recorded voice announces the route number. That’s great if you’re standing right there when it arrives but not much help if the bus has been idling for a while. Once I was at the downtown depot sitting on the bus and waiting to go when a guy with a red-tipped cane came up to the door and asked, “Which bus is this?”
“Which bus do you need?” the driver snapped because he hadn’t been taught that it’s bad manners to answer a question with a question and even worse manners to make someone else’s life difficult for no reason.
The guy turned and walked on. I slipped over to the other side of the bus and leaned out the window and told him it was the number seven.
“Okay, thanks,” he said and kept walking, and I still wonder if he wanted a different bus or he just decided to wait for the next number seven bus because the driver was an asshole.
Anyway the other thing this week that got me thinking about bus bench design this week is that a bus I was riding stopped at a red light where there was a bench and a guy sitting on it. The driver opened the doors. The guy didn’t get up and I thought, oh, he’s just sitting there. I often see people just sitting on bus benches; sometimes they’ll wave to the driver to keep going. If it’s a spot where several routes overlap maybe they’re waiting for a different bus or maybe they’re just taking a break from walking.
“Hey,” yelled the driver. “How you been doin’?”
The guy looked up. “Oh, I hadn’t seen you in a while. How are you?”
And they just started chatting. The driver asked the guy how his operation had gone and if he were feeling better. Then the light changed and the bus rolled on and I thought, hey, at least one bus driver gets it.

In Full Flower.

Source: Wikipedia

The first art history class I ever took, which I mainly took because I was interested in art but also because it was held at the same time as another class which had ended the semester before leaving me with an hour to fill in my schedule and which I thought would be an easy A, which it was, started with the Impressionists. I’m not sure why the teacher decided to skip right over approximately thirty-thousand years of global art history, or even just several thousand years of European art history, but, hey, if it ain’t Baroque don’t fix it, and if it ain’t Rococo your mind may be Roman, and something something Gothic, but that’s another story.

The teacher also had video quizzes we’d watch and we’d have to guess which artist painted what, and the video quizzes started with a group of Impressionists. Maybe that was because, in spite of a general similarity—the Impressionists were really the first artists to see the invention of photography, and most adopted looser brushwork, painted outside, and were interested in the effect of light—they were fairly easy to distinguish. We were even given some helpful mnemonics: Mary Cassatt mainly painted mothers and children, and Degas painted (and sculpted) ballet dancers and that’s all I can remember. Manet and Monet were easy to distinguish because one painted people in bars and one painted buildings and water lilies, and the only trouble there was remembering which was A and which was O. And it’s interesting to me that some artists are so distinctive you can tell their work right away. In some cases it’s their general style and in others it’s their specific subject matter, or maybe even both.

What got me thinking about this is one of the first graffiti pictures I took—a work I’d actually seen years earlier and helped give me the idea to start writing about graffiti:

And then there was this that I saw a few days ago:

The style and technique have evolved and changed slightly but it’s definitely the same artist. I can tell. I’ve studied art history.

Rejected Again.

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit our needs at this time.

Best,

Terry Wilkins, PLM Review

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your recent submission. This time we’ll have to give it a pass.

Regards,

Adrien Kösz, Catchall Quarterly

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thanks for the submission. It’s not quite what we’re looking for. Try reading some back issues.

Sincerely,

Finley Paldies, Rubbertree

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your submission. It’s a good idea but reads too much like a first draft. Thanks for considering us.

Best wishes,

Davis Evental, The Palanquin

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for submitting to the sixth annual Lawn Chair Short Story Contest. We’re pleased to announce you were one of the semifinalists and qualify for a discounted subscription. Click the link below for information on how to order.

Congratulations!

Editors-Lawn Chair

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your submission letter. I think you forgot to include the attachment.

Cordially,

Andy Kerrem, Happy Hour

Dear Mr. Waldrop

Thank you for your submission but this isn’t the sort of thing we publish. Perhaps you have us confused with another publication.

Sincerely,

Morgan Darrenton, Assistant Editor, The Huxley Biological Journal

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thanks for sending this. We all liked it a lot but I’m sorry it’s just not what we’re looking for. Good luck and thanks again!

-Evelyn Watkins, publisher, Bass Fisherman

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for the manuscript. It was only out of morbid curiosity that I opened this package. According to our records you have, so far, sent us The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald with all instances and variations of the word “young” replaced with the word “xeriscape”, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe with all instances of the word “boat” replaced by “badass motorcycle”, and what appears to be a “Mad Libs” version of William Blake’s The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell with all the blanks filled with a crudely handwritten “and Jerry Mathers as The Beaver”.

However your submission of Hamlet rewritten in contemporary speech with characters’ names randomly changed is, I believe, your crowning achievement. I only recognized the source material because it fell open to a random page where I read, “Hey, this is from that guy Yorick. I knew him, Dingo Jingleberries.”

Please stop sending things to me.

Daniel Lackham, Assistant Editor, Farrington Books

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your message. I think you sent it to the wrong address though.

Angela Stewart

Human Resources Department

Warrenton Finance

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