A week or two ago, I got wind of a local show by a Chattanooga band called Strung Like a Horse. I’d like to see more live music but have weird anxieties about going to a show and being the creepy loner sitting in a corner creepily listening to the music. Or, if I feel like I can get past that anxiety, I have venue anxiety. Like: What if I don’t know what the dress code is or what if the venue turns out to cater to some demographic that I’m just really super far from fitting into, making me feel like a sore thumb, etc. Every once in a while, I manage to transcend my stupid little anxieties and go out into public. I did so to see the Strung Like a Horse show, and it was neat.

The venue was The International, which I hadn’t heard of much less been to. It’s a spacious venue with a small bar at the center, some lounge areas, and some open space in front of the small main stage. It was neither upscale nor seedy, so pretty comfortable venue-wise for me once I got past the bouncer and stopped feeling like a trespasser.

A nice little jazz/latin sort of band opened. I didn’t catch their name, but I liked their set. Then Strung Like a Horse came out, and the real fun began. The lead singer sports sort of a scraggly rattail and wore a suit with tails and with the coat’s sleeves ripped off. He played guitar and mandolin and was joined by a drummer, a fiddler, a banjo player, and an upright bass player. They were high energy and twangy and looked like they were having a lot of fun, which in turn made the show fun for me. I’m not good at counting heads, but I’d say there were maybe 100 people in front of the stage. Maybe it was 200. So, a nice crowd but nothing too overwhelming for your anxious sort who doesn’t love crowds any more than he loves feeling like a fish out of water.

Strung Like a Horse bill themselves as a gypsy punk grass band, and that feels about right to me. I’m pretty keen on all those things, so I really enjoyed the show and would surely go see another (if I could get past venue/crowd/etc. anxiety).

If the band sounds at all appealing, you can listen to them on rdio, and they have a few videos as well. Or go see a show if they hit your area.

I did a pretty poor job of taking photos, but here’s what I got:


I was looking back at the photos on my phone today and found these among the most recent. I have no idea what they are or how I accidentally took them. Some of them’re about as visually striking as ones I take on purpose.

For a couple of years now, we’ve made pizza and watched a movie together as a family on Friday nights. My wife is usually the pizza chef, but sometimes I blunder my way through it too. Here’s a quick set of photos from a recent effort. We usually have bacon on hand because that’s what our daughter likes, and using the bacon grease to oil the iron skillets is a nice touch. It was only in the last year or so that we started using skillets instead of other types of pans, and I don’t think we’ll ever go back.

wpid-wp-1440170713928.jpgWhen my daughter was very young, she liked to grab my ears. I wasn’t able easily to locate the photo, but there’s a nice picture of the two of us from years back in which we’re walking around at the zoo. Well, I’m walking, and she’s on my shoulders, holding on by my ears. At about that time, she developed the occasional habit of rubbing my earlobes, which I suppose are soft.

I am a man who has little trouble growing hair, and my eyebrows can grow to be quite impressive if I don’t keep them in check. A few years ago, my wife let it be known that she preferred when I kept them a bit shorter, so I started getting them trimmed when I got a haircut. I sort of like when they grow a bit longer because it’s silly, but my wife is the one who most often has to look at my face, so I’ve happily deferred to her preference.

My daughter’s fondness for my ears has in recent years been joined by a fondness for my big spidery eyebrows. It started when she began getting allergy shots. For kids new to allergy shots, parents are encouraged to sort of kneel down in front of the kid for some reason, and the kid is encouraged to exhale while the injection is occurring. This arrangement gave my daughter a recurring opportunity to take note of my eyebrows, which I’ll confess I may have waggled at her a few times for comic effect to try to help take her mind off the odious shots. After a time or two of this, she began pinching my eyebrows a bit, and a new weird habit was born.

My wife and daughter have now expressed opposite preferences with respect to my eyebrows, which puts me in a bit of a tough spot. When I go for a haircut, whose preference do I honor? That of my wife who has to look at me or that of my poor daughter who I force to get bi-weekly injections and whose chief solace is this weird eyebrow ritual?

A few months ago, I made a deal with them. If the person cutting my hair mentions my eyebrows and asks if I want them trimmed, I say yes. If the he or she does not mention my eyebrows, I don’t mention them either, and they continue to grow. It’s been a couple of months since my last haircut, and my eyebrows are becoming very impressive (they’d be more so if they weren’t so light), the longest hairs an inch-and-a-half or so by my quick informal measurement. Just the other day, my daughter conceded that they had probably grown very nearly enough and added that once she could stretch them down to touch the tip of my nose, it’d probably be time to give them a bit of a trim.

There are a couple of quarries in Knoxville that you can swim in. Well, I don’t swim in them because though I can swim, I don’t love doing it and I sink like a stone if I stop. The quarry at Fort Dickerson is reportedly 350 deep, and that’s a little farther than I’m eager to sink should I run out of steam. In any case, it’s really a beautiful quarry, with aqua water and a pleasant enough walk from the parking area to the water. We went a few weeks ago and I caught some minnows and dropped a fishing line in near the shore to see if I could find any fish, but I caught nothing. It was a nice outing nonetheless.


In Asheville there’s a cool little indie bookstore called Malaprop’s that I make a point of stopping by any time I’m in town. Almost every time I stop by, there’s some kind of event going on — an author reading, story time and face-painting for kids, that sort of thing. Yesterday my family and I went to Malaprop’s and discovered that we had just missed a book signing by the author of a book we had just recently purchased for the kids.

As I was browsing books, I found a shelf containing books wrapped in brown paper written on in black marker. A nearby sign revealed that the idea — dubbed “Blind Date with a Bookseller” — was that you’d buy a book on the vague, un-spoilerish recommendation of a staffer without knowing in advance what the book was. I loved the idea!

Of the half dozen or so different book descriptions on the shelf, the one pictured appealed to me the most, so I bought it. My wife was nervous that it might turn out to be one I had already read. I was a little nervous about the possibility too, but the little thrill of coming across this opportunity buying a surprise book outweighed the small risk. The store clerk assured us that if I had in fact read the book, I could return it for store credit. When I ripped into it, I discovered that it was in fact a book I already owned and had recently read, but that didn’t diminish my pleasure by very much at all. In fact, it was kind of fun to have myself sort of typecast as a reader interested in the sorts of things listed on the wrapper.

I won’t reveal what the book was, lest I spoil it for some reader who happens by Malaprop’s and decides to pick up a mystery book — which, if you are a reader in the Asheville area, you should!

Years ago, my wife and I said sort of idly that if our state ever allowed civil unions for same-sex couples, we’d get a divorce and get a civil union instead, as sort of a show of solidarity or a recognition that our union with its privileged title of “marriage” wasn’t more meaningful than the type of union we imagined gay couples might one day be afforded was. I’m not sure how seriously we meant it. We didn’t say it in jest, but it’s not something we ever dwelled on, and our backwards state never got around to allowing civil unions much less actual marriage for gay couples.

So I’m really glad that our prospective gesture has now been rendered moot by the Supreme Court’s decision to rule in favor of same-sex marriage. My gladness isn’t selfish, of course. It just seems so much better to grant equal and full rights than to quibble over terminology and afford gay couples an essentially second-place civil right.

This also of course is the first step down a much-anticipated slippery slope that will allow me to eventually marry my goldfish. Goldie and I couldn’t be happier.

A few days ago, I wrote briefly about the work of a few artists whose representation of the human form sort of dazzles me. I knew there was one I was forgetting, and now I’ve gone and found her. Lola Dupre makes these really often disturbing collages of people. I’m not sure that, given a ream of yellow construction paper and a ream of black, I could make a convincing smiley face, so what she does with shading and texture to make these distorted people really amazes me. I can’t look away.

I’ve come across a few artists lately whose work to represent the human form really amazes me. I remember drawing a few sketches of human faces as a teenager that were nowhere near even vaguely realistic (in spite of my best attempts) but that didn’t embarrass me utterly (at the time, I was sort of proud of a couple of them in spite of their vaulted foreheads, their ridiculous chins, their pencil-carven noses, their ashen complexions). What these artists do to capture the human form (or face) is astonishing.

First up, Jason Thielke:

He shows more absence in this piece than presence. With circles and arcs, a few curves, and some white space, he creates an image of a woman transported. I’m no art expert, but the impression I receive from his work is that he’s something like the love child of a draftsman and a spirograph enthusiast. I marvel at every piece, cannot conceive of how he does it.

Second up, Mark Khaisman:

He makes his art by layering packing tape over backlit acrylic sheets. He creates curve and gesture, light and shadow — with tape. There’s a degree to which the majesty of the human mind gets some credit for the impressions his art leaves, but I am so very taken with how he can bluntly apply his simple materials to goad the gullible mind into seeing what he would have us see.

Up next, Lui Ferreyra:

Ferreyra, like the prior two artists, uses geometry and shading to capture form and somehow attitude or mood. He seems to have several modes of work. Here I’ve chosen my favorite, the geometric, but he also has remarkable pieces that resemble the painting books we received as children in which by applying water to inked areas on a page we seemed to paint a picture and pieces that are more like simple line art.

And finally Egon Schiele:

Schiele is apparently famous and nearly 100 years dead and I am a philistine for not having known his work before. The pieces I’ve looked at have been disproportionate and raw and grotesque, very human for all their muddled monstrosity. Leaping 75sh years past Schiele’s death, it’s hard not to see echoes of his work in the old MTV cartoon Aeon Flux, his ragged post-WWI dystopian horror reflected in that jittery dystopian futurescape.

On the recommendation of a coworker, I’ve begun reading Lloyd Alexanders’s The Chronicles of Prydain book series to my kids. I hadn’t know about this series, though I had known the second book’s title The Black Cauldron from a video game I had played in my own childhood. The video game apparently was commissioned by Disney, who made a movie version of the Newberry award-winning book. Well, I was apparently basically illiterate as a child (or more likely, my small-town library didn’t have these books, though my mother in perhaps her most formative and best parenting moves made sure I had frequent and mostly unfettered access to the library), but somehow we managed to score the video game to play on our Tandy 1000 computer. This computer had 640k of memory. That is kilobytes, not megabytes or gigabytes, mind you.

Beginning to read the series with my kids has helped me recall the videogame, and I’ve found some YouTube videos of a play-through! I remember toiling away at this game and being so proud when I could play it through at last. We had the Tandy but didn’t have any other actual cool gaming system until much later (my sister’s Nintendo, which she bought during college and brought home over the summer; to be fair, we did have a Texas Instruments gaming console with lame versions of various games, but it was hardly cool [though still, in retrospect, it was still a good bit more than most in my podunk town had, so in a way maybe my parents were pioneers]).

Looking at the game now, I think it’s sort of ridiculously low-fidelity. It’s tempting to quip that Minecraft has just barely surpassed the graphics quality of this nearly 30-year-old video game, but Minecraft is really quite a bit more complex in spite of its low-fi graphics. My kids could basically program a game these days of similar complexity to The Black Cauldron using Scratch.

Watching some of the video play-through has filled me with nostalgia. How vividly I remember some of these screens and the trials of trying to get past them!

Here’s the first video in the series, in case this was, against most odds, a part of your childhood too:

Other games from this era that we played were King’s Quest IV and Police Quest. I also played a whole lot of Earl Weaver Baseball, under which in certain circumstances (I forget specifics) you could hit a home run over the backstop.

This was in the days in which we used DOS with the ubiquitous C:\> prompt and our calendars and document management were handled by a program called Deskmate that looked like this (credit):