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Looking In.

Octopus at the Dauphin Island Estuarium.

When I was four my family took a trip to Maine with an uncle, aunt, and cousins. We stayed in a cabin on Green Lake and fished and picked blueberries and did other various Maine things, including slipping briefly into Canada, but what I remember most vividly is an aquarium we visited one day. There was a touch tank where a woman talked about the various animals and I was the only one who’d hold a sea cucumber, and there was a tank full of live scallops. Another woman put a starfish in the tank to show us how scallops, when threatened, can actually swim away. We stopped at another roadside aquarium that was much smaller—I only remember the touch tank, which I think was in the main lobby, but it was still a neat place.

I’ve become kind of a connoisseur of aquaria over the years. If we go somewhere and there’s an aquarium I’ll visit it. Sometimes I’ll even wander into pet stores just to look at the fish, although I’ve learned the hard way that a home aquarium is a lot of work. It’s said that watching fish in an aquarium is very relaxing and you need it if you have to do all the maintenance, but that’s another story.

Here are some of the aquaria I’ve visited over the years:

-Really spectacular and one I highly recommend. My wife and I went several years ago on a trip to Atlanta and the main thing I remember is one of the first exhibits we came to was a tank where you could pet stingrays, which is always fun. It has multi-level tanks and also tunnels that take you completely under the water.

The Oklahoma Aquarium-If you look at a map and notice that Oklahoma is pretty far from any ocean shoreline you won’t be surprised that the Oklahoma Aquarium is small and, while it has a few nice exhibits, including some cool ones of jellyfish, it’s not that great. At one time they had an octopus. When I went it had died and they had it preserved under a glass dome which seemed like a terrible thing to do to such a noble creature. If you’re in Tulsa and looking for something to do go to the zoo.   

The Florida Aquarium-Another spectacular and highly recommended one. I went there with my parents a few years ago and one of the best parts was a large horseshoe crab exhibit, and we just happened to be there for horseshoe crab mating season. There was also a large Pacific octopus that, being nocturnal, seemed to be asleep and completely bunched up against the glass, but it was still a thrill to be so close to such a noble creature.

The Tennessee Aquarium-In spite of the fact that Tennessee is also deeply landlocked this aquarium in Chattanooga is absolutely magnificent and well worth the visit. There were amazing exhibits of seahorses and leafy sea dragons, and one tank with several cuttlefish. The cuttlefish appeared to be asleep but, hey, I have a thing for cephalopods, obviously, and it was really interesting to be so close to them.

The Aquarium Of The Pacific-Located in Long Beach, California, this one’s not one of the bigger aquaria I’ve visited, and, unlike others, was specifically focused only on animals of the Pacific, but I’ve been there twice and still feel like I didn’t see everything. It has some enormous multi-level tanks and great exhibits, including grass eels. There’s also an outdoor area with touch tanks that have anemones in them. I asked the woman there if the anemones really were safe to touch. She could have been sarcastic but instead just laughed nicely and said, “Go ahead and try!” They were lovely and soft, and it may have just been my imagination that I felt a bit of a tingling.

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island-This one was surprisingly small for an aquarium located so close to the ocean, but still a nice way to spend a couple of hours. There was a small live octopus in one tank when we were there, and I could have watched it for at least a couple of hours. It was very active and looking for a way out.

Newport Aquarium-Located on the Kentucky/Ohio border this is another one that proves you can be completely landlocked and still have an amazing aquarium. The Newport Aquarium remains one of my favorites because it has the most brilliant pairing of exhibits ever. As you walk through you’ll come to the otter exhibit, a large room made of faux rock with an opaque glass ceiling and, of course, otters hopping and swimming in their pool which is set up high so you can look them in the eye. It’s bright and loud and everything echoes and the otters make everyone scream with delight so you can get overloaded. But then you walk into the jellyfish room which is lit only by the light from the tanks. The walls and floor are covered with burgundy fabric and there are soft seats where you can sit and just watch the jellyfish glide back and forth.

The Dauphin Island Estuarium-This is another little one set on the edge of the sea, but they have a stingray and shark petting tank—and I recommend sticking around for feeding time. It has a wonderful river exhibit with several kinds of turtles and a large tank with grouper and other sizable fish, and seahorses and, the last time I was there, a live octopus, and she was just magnificent. Sadly octopuses don’t live very long, even under the best conditions, and a woman who worked there told me they only have one if local fishermen bring one in. Most are so stressed from being caught they don’t survive, but this one was in fine shape and I watched her change color from cream to purple to pale orange. They also have a touch tank with horseshoe crabs and if you’re lucky you’ll be there during mating season.  

Tag, You’re It!

I took this picture on November 6th, 2021:And then I took this picture on March 15th, 2022. Same spot, but someone had added, or, depending on how you look at it, tried to cover, what had been there.


And then there was this, which I took a picture of a couple of weeks ago.

The addition of “Your move!” is a nice touch. The funny thing about this is, in all my years of looking at graffiti, I’ve noticed that even most taggers–the ones who just put up a name without doing more elaborate pieces–have a certain amount of respect for each other and even public art. They mostly go for blank spaces like empty walls, light poles, occasionally even sidewalks.

Here, though, are a couple of artists going back and forth. It’s not just a static work. It’s a work in progress.

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.

Source: See Rock

There’s a house being built behind us. There was a house there—a perfectly good house, but someone must have decided it wasn’t good enough because they bought the property and had the house bulldozed. Now they’re building a bigger one that, unlike the old one that had reddish brick, will be completely white with black trim. It’s a trend that started about a decade ago, I think, when my wife and I were on our way to work and noticed that a house we passed on our way to work each day was being demolished. Then a new all-white, black-trim one that was at least twice as big was built in the same spot, and sat empty for at least two years. During that time I guess it attracted the attention of other house flippers, since it wasn’t attracting any buyers, and they wanted to get in on the business of not selling houses so others like it started going up.

I really don’t mind the changing look of the neighborhood, but what I do mind is that, because the house behind us is going to be so much bigger than the one that used to be on the same lot, they’re cutting down a lot of the trees that used to be between us and the previous house. What I hope they realize is that, even though we have a fence in the back, technically our property line extends fifty feet past the fence, which means some of those woods are ours. It’s none of my business if they cut down every tree on their lot. For all I care they can dig up the entire yard, cover it with cement, and paint it green. But I like the modicum of privacy that our trees offer.

They also, once, offered some protection.

One Saturday, not long after my wife and I first married, I kept hearing a strange twanging sound every time I went out into the backyard. I could hear rustling in the trees too. I couldn’t figure out what it was but it also didn’t bother me much until the afternoon when an arrow landed in the ground a few feet from me. It was a hunting arrow and had hit the ground with enough force that I was only a couple of feet from an arrow in my foot.

My wife and I decided to drive around the block to check on our neighbors who had their name nicely printed on their mailbox. And they had a SEE ROCK CITY birdhouse in their yard.

Instead of knocking we went home, looked up the last name in the phone book—this was when you could still do that—and called. A nice guy answered. I like to think he was the one who picked out the birdhouse. He said he wasn’t the one shooting arrows but he knew who was responsible, and he was very sorry, and he said he’d put a stop to it right away.

I never heard another twang after that, but I did save the arrow just in case.

I don’t know when anyone will move into the new house, and I doubt they’ll be the types to practice archery in the backyard, but when they do I might just send over a SEE ROCK CITY birdhouse. So they have a reason to keep at least one tree.

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:

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.


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.

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