Discarded Purple Madness

Occasionally, as I’m out walking, I come across items people have misplaced or forgotten, which I chronicle in a series on my Instagram account (gmatt63) entitled Discarded Items. Typically, I’ll identify the item as “Discarded” then describe what it is, usually with a color, such as Discarded Green Shorts. On 15 September 2017, I first encountered what has become the most daunting discarded item of all, what I initially tagged as “Discarded Purple Warmup Top”, but, which I’ve since been labeling “Discarded Purple Hoodie”. The story unfolds, in pictures and with my original Instagram captions below. I am including alternate shots, when available, which don’t have captions.

15 September 2017, Discarded Purple Warmup Top, South Peachtree Creek PATH, Atlanta, GA.

My criteria for assessing a discarded item is that it must be totally unattended, with no one around who might be the owner. For instance, I noted a runner one morning stopping by a seat and taking a sip of water from a bottle that had been left there, with two others. I assumed, from this, the runner and a companion left them there for this purpose, so I could not classify them as discarded items.

15 September 2017, A first, ladies and gentlemen! A recurring discarded item. When I came back by, someone had moved the Discarded Purple Warmup Top. But, the mystery deepens, as you shall soon see.

15 September 2017, Behold, viewers, a second Discarded Purple Warmup Top in a different location, which appeared after I passed the first time. It would appear there’s a Serial Purple Warmup Top Discarder on the loose! Be vigilant.

17 September 2017, The saga of the Discarded Purple Warmup Top continues. Here, we can see it’s clearly a Discarded Purple Hoodie, which someone keeps moving but won’t take away. I am bound by honor not to disturb discarded items found in the wild.

After the above photo was taken, I witnessed a man skulking around the trail marker, like he was trying to read the information on it. I had a sense, however, he was eying the Discarded Purple Hoodie. If you’re behind this, sir, be assured, I saw you. I can’t remember exactly what you look like, but I saw you. Oh, yes, I did.

24 September 2017, The saga of the Discarded Purple Hoodie took a disturbing turn today, when someone moved it to the entrance of the trail.

While still hanging around, the Discarded Purple Hoodie was, nonetheless, moving in the right direction, that is, toward the dumpsters.

Of course, I haven’t been here every day, but every day I’ve been here, I’ve spotted it. It will settle somewhere, then next time I’m around, it’s in a new location.

26 September 2017, When I did not see the Discarded Purple Hoodie at the beginning of the trail, I thought the nightmare was over. It’s obvious now, someone is trying to drive me insane.

​​​Here’s a short video I made about the most recent sighting of the Discarded Purple Hoodie.

Eleven days, folks. That’s how long this item has been floating around the trail. The first one I noted disappeared quickly and hasn’t been back, but this one just keeps popping up. Maybe it’s trying to make it back to the woods. Who knows? I shall continue to document its progress as long as necessary.

Random Thoughts, 13 January 2017

Trees.
No one will ever write a definitive history about 2016. Those who lived it don’t want to remember and those who didn’t won’t believe it.

As intellectual as we pretend to be, at heart, all humans are animals and survival is our first priority.

Whenever I come home and find someone parked in one of my spaces, I worry someone has sold my house and taken my furniture.

We can’t rely on politicians to fix the political system. They benefit too much from it being broken.

Trust me, no one wants to know what’s involved in being a cereal sex offender.

If Salvador Dali had become murderous, would he have been considered a surreal killer?

Humans are believed to be the only species on the planet able to pull a quarter from someone’s ear.

The real tragedy of Joanie Loves Chachi is that its failure meant we would never get a Ralph Malph spinoff.

I don’t have anything against naked people; I just don’t want them running around my house if I don’t know them.

In 2017, everyone will appear in public as he or she looks first thing in the morning, for, at least, fifteen minutes.

Sometimes we like to shake things up at the library by playing Purple Haze.

I’m not one to leap out of bed, ready to take on the world. I prefer to ease into the day. It takes a while.

I wonder if any of my employers ever looked at my permanent record from high school.

Never underestimate the dark side of human nature.

Every sexual act is political.

Dead Parrots and Shows About Nothing 

Question MarkPython, Seinfeld, and Absurdity

People think of absurdity as someone acting irrationally, or strange things happening to an otherwise normal person, but often the heart of absurdity comes from people rationalizing behavior which defies explanation. My stock portfolio just tanked; now’s the perfect time to buy more! Whenever our instincts conflict with our intellects, we’re often at a loss to explain the discrepancy and grasp for whatever explanation seems to best suit the situation, regardless of how convoluted it may be. Writers such as Albert Camus have explored the absurdities of human behavior, the struggle to find meaning in an otherwise chaotic universe where events often seem random and arbitrary. For Camus, the ultimate absurdist act was suicide, particularly in reaction to the perceived meaningless of existence.

The human compulsion to create rules, only to search for ways to bend or break them provides endless examples of absurdist logic in action. While the tendency to make inexplicable decisions sometimes defies common sense, there is, often, a logic to absurdist reasoning, even if the reasons defy convention or otherwise seem contrived or arbitrary. A good source for examples of this is the Bible, in particular the book of Job in which Job must endure numerous hardships including physical maladies and the deaths of loved ones for no other reason than God has made a bet with Satan on how righteous Job is.

On the iconic television show Seinfeld, the absurdity sprang from the fact that the main characters knew their method of dealing with life often hurt them, but were unable or unwilling to change. Other commentators have pointed out how unlikable the characters were: Jerry the self-centered perfectionist; Elaine the insufferable intellectual snob; George the pathological liar; Kramer the bumbling n’er-do-well who often succeeds in spite of himself. What is most apparent about each of these characters is how often their problems are caused or escalated by their refusal to alter their behavior, even when that behavior was shown to have negative consequences. This was best highlighted in the episode entitled The Opposite, where George started doing the opposite of what his instincts told him, and soon found his dream job, an attractive girlfriend, and the success which had long eluded him.

A forerunner of the absurdity implicit in Seinfeld was the legendary British show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which introduced the antics of John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam to American audiences, and befuddled numerous Silent Generation parents. The absurdity of Python often derived from distinguished people doing silly things; proper British upper crust individuals acting like idiots. With Python, it was common to establish a theme early in the show which keeps recurring throughout, such as a segment on identifying trees that only seemed to highlight “the larch” or having characters randomly say, in utter confusion, “lemon curry?” Seinfeld also had such themes, such as when George gets in trouble for saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes. Jerry proposes replacing the phrase with, “You are so good looking,” establishing the running gag for that episode.

One of the most famous sketches on Monty Python was The Pet Shop or, as it’s better known, the dead parrot sketch. In it, John Cleese portrays a disgruntled customer returning to a pet shop with a parrot he purchased there which he’s discovered is dead. The outright absurdity of the customer trying to convince the shop keeper of the condition of the parrot is compounded by the revelation during the skit that the bird was apparently dead when sold to the customer. What is instantly recognizable is not only how ridiculous the situation is, but how true to life it is. Who among us has not had to deal with a know-it-all salesperson whose eye toward the next sale overrides his or her concern for customer satisfaction. Is Cleese’s indignation at being “had” any different than a shopper’s ire over being sold a substitute pair of shoes that do not fit properly or shoppers learning that the advertised deal which lured them into a store is not available and most likely never was?

What often made Seinfeld so interesting was how densely packed it could be. In the episode called The Pothole, each one of the main characters had storylines, and even Newman had a subplot related to the main action. Jerry accidently knocks his girlfriend’s toothbrush into the toilet, and she uses it before he has a chance to tell her; George loses a key chain given to him by his boss; Elaine tries to devise a way to order Chinese takeout despite living on the wrong side of the street; and Kramer adopts a highway. In this episode, the worst tendencies of each character were fully on display. How else could it end than in a fiery cataclysm?

For centuries, it has been the province of drama and literature to point out the foibles of human nature and thus hold a mirror up to the behavior of individuals with an eye toward instructing them in proper actions. The Greek tragedies were filled with the consequences of failing to heed the will of the gods, and medieval morality plays featured characters often led astray by their baser instincts. In Job, his three friends try to convince him his fortune will improve if he’ll only admit that he’s not as righteous as he claims, while Job protests that he’s done nothing wrong and the reader knows he’s telling the truth. Throughout, Job’s pronouncements have a decidedly sarcastic ring to them leading one to believe the writer’s intent was to be darkly humorous. If Job doesn’t represent the actual birth of absurdist literature, it’s certainly one if the earliest surviving examples of it.

Even the most absurd situations have a logic to them. In my sketch Got Your Goat, a man named Harold comes home to his high rise condo in Midtown Atlanta and asks his flustered wife, Agnes, where the goats are. After a bit of conversation back and forth Agnes confirms that Harold isn’t crazy, they really do have goats. While the surface situation is absurd, underlying it is the logical premise that Harold has a familiar ritual in his life which brings him solace and when it isn’t there, he doesn’t accept the loss easily or well. The sketch ends without a coherent resolution but with one which further deepens the absurdity.

Whether it’s the contrived silliness of Monty Python or the situational absurdity of Seinfeld, the humor presented resonates with audiences from one generation to the next. Perhaps the impact of Seinfeld was its instructive nature, displaying the petty and superficial actions of its characters as a mirror on the narcissistic and self-serving culture of the nineties as a warning against becoming too self-involved. As with previous generations, tracing back through the morality plays, the Greek tragedies, and the book of Job, it’s a lesson people need to be reminded of again and again.

Secrets, Lies, and Home Invasions 

 Non-descript row of houses

Travis Maudlin is a man of many quirks and peculiarities, much of which he keeps to himself, though some of his oddities can’t be so easily contained. On more than one occasion, his coworkers have noted his habit of muttering to himself under his breath; his almost pathological refusal to use anyone’s name in conversation; his notable discomfort whenever anyone gets closer than three or four feet from him, and his curious tendency to wear the same clothes over and over throughout the month, usually without washing them in between wearings. His colleagues in the technical support unit of the enterprise software division of Bickering Plummet Incorporated in Atlanta universally regard him as the quintessential loner, a “quiet man” who may one day snap and arrive at work in fatigues with something concealed under his jacket. They often express amazement at the fact that he is, in fact, married to a lovely, vivacious woman named Heidi, who, in all respects, is the total antithesis of her husband.

Those who refuse to scratch the surface of Travis’ demeanor have no idea of the dark and troubled man underneath. He, too, is surprised at his good fortune at winning a woman like Heidi, though he often regards their marriage as the proverbial double edged sword. Though she has always acted toward him with nothing but the utmost grace and charm, almost every aspect of her character seems designed to play upon his natural insecurities and paranoia. Again, he’s mostly able to keep the more undesirable of his tendencies to himself, but he cannot help but be totally unnerved by her superficial cheerfulness, her unflagging optimism, and her obsessive extroversion. There are no strangers around Heidi.

Perhaps his greatest fear is that he’ll return home one weekend and find that Heidi has invited one of those home improvement shows in to redesign a room for him. Nothing could be more galling to him than the thought of having a camera crew tramping around in his private life, cajoling Heidi to recount some lovable quirk or colorful tendency of his to win lovely prizes, while they systematically destroy some favorite refuge inside his castle, transforming it with a lousy paint job and cheap furnishings. He’ll hate the results but have to pretend he loves it because the cameras are rolling thus denying him expression of his true feelings about the indignity. This is not an irrational fear on his part, because Heidi is obsessed with the home improvement shows she sees on her favorite cable network, and spends far too much of her time watching them while Travis is at work.

This, my friends, is the painful reality of Travis Maudlin, and his life in the midst of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Careful readers will have already deduced that he is, in fact, who they believe him to be; he did do exactly what everyone remembers him as doing in much the manner that it has been recounted. What most don’t know is the sad tale underneath and that is the subject of this discourse, the forces that drove him to that tragic afternoon of September, 2005, to the pleasant neighborhood in Dunwoody where he shared a modest, but exceptionally comfortable home with Heidi, a dwelling which would forever after be inextricably linked with the While You Were Away Massacre.

 

Random Thoughts, 16 December 2015

The Vortex, Little Five Points

Exterior of The Vortex, Little Five Points, 12 December 2015

Creating a to do list is often one of the things I never have time to do.

I wonder if Rhonda ever got around to helping that guy.

If the grammar checker in Word is indicative of the current state of technology, we have nothing to fear from Skynet.

I must confess, I originally thought The Walking Dead was a dramatization of the adventures of Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia after their van broke down on tour.

I wonder if people are surprised by the ending of Death of a Salesman.

We should all strive to lead the kind of lives that would cause Westboro Baptist Church to want to protest at our funerals.

I sort of liked the maverick businessman presidential candidate the first time around, when we called him Ross Perot.

Cortana from Microsoft makes me very glad I don’t have pod bay doors that need opening,

Why is the Death Star the iconic image from Star Wars. Didn’t it get blown up?

Just think, if those people on the Titanic had guns, that iceberg never would have stood a chance.

Do people golf in the Gulf?

I have to believe that if Jim Morrison was alive today, he’d probably be wondering why someone buried him. 

Keeping an eye out for motorcyclists on the highway is a lot easier when they’re not zipping in and out of traffic at seventy or eighty miles an hour. 

I really hope no one steals my naked pictures from iCloud. The neighbors would be so embarrassed.

If the members of Aerosmith were to open a Chinese restaurant, would they call it Wok This Way?

Dunkirk Estates 

  
Howard stares out his upstairs window at his neighbor, Zack, washing his car. Zack is at least sixty-five or seventy, Howard guesses, since all he knows about Zack is that he’s retired, and is wearing no shirt as he applies wax to the car’s exterior and buffs it. Howard shakes his head as he dials a number on his phone. 

“That is not a good look for you,” he says aloud as he waits for the line to connect.

Judy’s voice comes from the other end of the line, and she sounds like she’s eating. “What’s up, Howie?”

“He’s at it again.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, it’s like the fourth time this week.”

“How clean can a car be?” Judy says through bites of food.

“What are you eating?”

“Leftover lasagna from the other night.”

Howard peers through the blinds again.

“I’ve got a theory about this guy,” he says. 

“Okay, shoot.”

“I think he’s a serial killer.”

“Oh get real. I met the guy. He’s a pleasant older gentleman. A little too talkative but nice.”

“The nice ones are the ones to watch out for. Gacy was in the Jaycees, you know.”

“All right, state your case.”

“Think about it. He’s always asking questions. Always poking around in other people’s business.”

“Yeah, so.”

“Byron, that guy on the residents council, says they refer to Zack as da news.”

“Hmm, he did seem a little obsessed with that woman in Unit 42 when I talked to him. But that could mean anything.”

Howard has been living in Dunkirk Estates ever since he and his wife divorced nearly four years ago. The split had been amicable, with no children to fight over, and they agreed to evenly divide the community property, including their home in Roswell. Dunkirk Estates is just along the outer edge of Interstate 285, which most Atlantans refer to as the Perimeter, as it surrounds the city, connecting every major highway through town, and Howard often noticed the complex as he was driving to work and inquired about it when he needed a new home. He purchased his unit from the original owner, one Betty McClosky, who had owned it since the 70s, making Howard only the second person to live there.

“This whole place is crawling with weirdos,” he said. “I told you about the crazy woman who steals people’s lawn ornaments, right?”

“Yeah, you mentioned it. Is she still on the loose?”

“Of course, what can they do? She’s a nuisance but relatively harmless. I kind of feel sorry for her with the way everyone acts toward her.”

“What did they do now?”

“Margo sent out one of her priority alerts, telling everyone to be on the lookout and call the local authorities if anyone sees her acting oddly,” he says. “Like the cops care that some stupid garden gnome went missing.” He moves from the window and sits at his computer desk. “Yesterday, Fred was out screaming at her like some lunatic. If the police had shown up they’d have carted him off for being nuts.”

“What prompted you to move in there anyway?”

“Price, for one,” Howard says. “I got it for a song from Ms. McClosky. Plus I can be on the road in any direction in a couple of minutes.”

“The joys of living at Spaghetti Junction,” Judy says, referring to the interchange from I-285 to I-85 which is less than a mile from Dunkirk.

Dunkirk Estates is a collection of townhouses built in the seventies with the original intent of being apartments. For some reason, the developers decided it was better to sell each unit once rather than have the continuous monthly income that comes with rentals, which is how the complex became condos instead. Each building consists of five units that share water and gas connections, making them shared expenses covered by the monthly residents’ fees. 

Howard’s is one of four two-bedroom units in his building, with the fifth being a three bedroom at one end of the building, that has a fireplace and slightly larger patio, and which gives each building an L-shape. Margo, his next door neighbor, owns the three bedroom, although she lives alone, and on the other side is Fred, who also owns the connecting townhouse to his, which he occasionally rents out. Because of this, there are usually only four or five people in the building, without any families. The end unit is owned by an East European couple who pretty much keep to themselves.

When Howard moved in, Fred was president of the residents’ council but at the next quarterly meeting, Margo staged a coup and had Fred booted from the board for alleged financial mismanagement and ever since, there’s been quite a bit of hostility between them. Living in the middle unit, Howard often finds himself caught up in their disputes as one or the other tries to recruit Howard to his or her side. Whenever the annual meeting rolls around, both are sure to knock on his door to solicit his vote. After attending his first and only annual meeting after he moved in, which devolved into a shouting match before the meeting had even been called to order, Howard opted out of going to anymore, and to avoid rankling either of his neighbors, he usually gives his proxy to Zack.

Judy is Howard’s former sister-in-law, who he barely knew while he was married, but ended up as his co-worker about nine months after his divorce was final. This mutual connection allowed them to strike up an acquaintance which blossomed into a cordial friendship and later an on again off again dating relationship. Judy is the polar opposite of Howard’s ex, who has given her blessing for the relationship. Judy is also divorced, and neither she nor Howard is in any hurry to take things to the next level.

A Streetcar Named Delusion 

Note: This article has been updated and expanded in my essay collection The Cheese Toast Project, available in print from online bookstores, and in print and Kindle at Amazon.

A Streetcar Named Desire is heralded as one of the greatest theatrical works of the twentieth century and is one of the best known and most performed works by Tennessee Williams. It sets up a classic confrontation, the flamboyant yet fragile Blanche DuBois versus the menacing and unpredictable Stanley Kowalski. The tension begins the moment Blanche enters the household and builds to it’s shattering climax with Blanche and Stanley’s final confrontation. The moment Blanche meets her brother-in-law, his fuse is lit, and the question becomes how long it will be before Stanley explodes. Caught between them is the hapless Stella, who tries her best to mediate between two very demanding antagonists without much success. The play also features a decisive shift in power as the first half largely belongs to Blanche, while the second part is clearly dominated by Stanley. While I have seen this play performed recently, this article is not intended as a review of a specific performance, rather an analysis of the play as a whole.

At its heart, Streetcar is a thinly veiled metaphor for the Civil War and Reconstruction. The generation of Southern writers who included Tennessee Williams, Margaret Mitchell and William Faulkner were the children and grandchildren of Confederate veterans, and no doubt grew up hearing horror stories of Northern aggression and the noble Southern gentry who made a valiant but ultimately doomed stand in the face of it. Stanley is the perfect stand-in for the unrefined, egalitarian North with its melting pot willing to assimilate just about anyone, while Blanche represents the genteel and pure-bred South, which existed more in myth than actuality. Everything about Blanche is phony, as was the myth of noble Southern gentry whose fortunes were built on the backs of the slaves and poor whites they exploited. It speaks to Williams’ skill as a playwright that neither character emerges as the hero of the piece. Blanche is portrayed as delusional and elitist, while Stanley is brutish and violent. Stella comes across as the tortured heroine, caught between the empty myth of the “old South” and the harsh reality of the modern industrial North now in control of the South’s destiny. That the play takes place in New Orleans, perhaps the most eclectic of old Southern cities, merely enhances the dichotomy of the two extremes.

In many respects, Stella and Blanche are two sides of the same coin, the only difference being that Stella has made compromises Blanche is unwilling or incapable of making. Stella seems the more realistic of the two sisters, seeing the future as grim but manageable with the right attitude, whereas Blanche is unwilling to accept anything but her version of reality. Ironically, it’s Blanche who has been treated to the harshest dose of reality, early on losing her husband to suicide, then having to care for the aging members of her family while watching the family’s fortunes evaporate due to mismanagement. Blanche’s delusions are rooted in the naive hope that a protector will arise to return her to the gentility she remembers from her youth, whereas Stella’s delusions are rooted in her acceptance of the notion that her fortunes are bound to those of her husband. Everything will be fine as long as she does what Stanley tells her. Until Blanche shows up calling into question the relationship Stella has with Stanley, it never occurs to Stella that anything’s wrong with her marriage. Blanche is the one to see how controlling Stanley can be and perhaps Blanche’s greatest frustration comes from being unable to convince Stella how oppressive this relationship may become.

The challenge of Streetcar is that there’s no one within the context of the story that the audience can champion. Blanche is self-centered and delusional, while Stanley is a narcissist, already showing signs of becoming an abusive spouse. Stella simply floats between the two, not knowing for certain which of the powerful presences she should placate. With the exception of Mitch, none of Stanley’s friends rise above the level of caricature, and the women surrounding Stella do little more than encourage her to stick by her violent and aggressive spouse. For her part, Stella transforms Stanley into her rugged protector, just as Blanche attempts to transform Mitch into the type of gallant Southern gentleman she thinks will save her. Neither is successful, but at least Stella is able to convince herself that Stanley’s failings are more a result of his situation rather than genuine character flaws. The reality is, Stanley needs Stella, and Stella needs Stanley, regardless of how unhealthy their symbiotic relationship may be in the long-run. Stella realizes, though, that as long as she remains within the boundaries set for her by her husband, things will work out for her, while Blanche is determined to push those boundaries, much to her detriment.

In all the productions I’ve seen, Stanley rarely comes across as likable. While he does have humorous moments, there’s a strong sense that the audience is laughing at his oafish ways rather than with him. The turning point comes when he strikes Stella. This is both the point at which Blanche is shown the dark side of Stella’s relationship with Stanley, and when the audience realizes how out of control Stanley can become when his authority is challenged. Obviously, we’re not seeing Stanley at his best, and Blanche certainly brings out the worst in him, but the violence is there to be mined. He didn’t suddenly turn into an arrogant jerk just because his sister-in-law paid a visit. Stella mentions that Stanley does not give her a regular allowance and generally handles all the bills, both classic traits of a spouse who contrives to make his partner totally dependent upon him. It’s clear from his first appearance in the play that he’s firmly in charge in his household. Somehow, though, Stella does not seem to mind, instead relinquishing all her autonomy. Like Blanche, she wants someone strong on whom she can depend to support her and make all the decisions, and Stanley is all too willing to fulfill this role. It’s entirely likely that their life together has been reasonably pleasant before Blanche shows up with the first real challenge to Stanley, and he doesn’t handle it well. Whether or not Blanche’s reemergence in Stella’s life will have any long-term impact is unknown, but given how she reacts to having Blanche around, it’s likely that Stella is ultimately glad her sister leaves at the end, regardless of how that comes about.

Much discussion has centered around Stanley and Blanche’s final showdown near the end of the play, and in many of the productions I’ve seen, it’s strongly implied, if not outright depicted that he rapes her. This seems largely dependent upon how the director and cast choose to interpret the scene, though whether or not Stanley actually forces himself on Blanche, it’s fairly clear that she does not submit to him out of a sense of mutual desire. By this point in the play, most of Blanche’s delusions have been shattered, and one could argue that Mitch’s rejection of her has as much, if not more impact on her mental state than anything Stanley does. The balance of power has shifted, and the last safe harbor Blanche was counting on, being with her sister, has not provided her with the solace she needed. Surrendering to Stanley is the final indignity, and a case could be made that Blanche has already gone off the deep end by this point, so nothing Stanley does can have much more of a detrimental effect on her. Stanley has stripped Blanche of all her pretensions, and thus destroyed the illusion which was the basis of her self image. She submits because she has nothing left to lose.

It is important to note, however, that even though Blanche seems defeated at the end, she does not appear to have completely abandoned the delusions she’s used to bolster her self-esteem throughout. Her final line, “I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers” sounds suspiciously like she believes the person to whom it’s said is genuinely doing her a favor. One can imagine Blanche convincing herself that the convalescent home where she’s being taken is some elegant chalet arranged for her by a mysterious benefactor, and once she’s had time to rest and recuperate, she may well be able to fool the staff into thinking she’s safe to release, allowing her to once again return to the belief that she’s in control. I strongly suspect the Kowalskis haven’t heard the last of Blanche DuBois.