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Midnight with My Diary and My Water Bottle

Midnight with My Diary and My Water Bottle
Taken at Goodale Park, June 2010, during Comfest, by Scott Robinson (1963-2013)

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Continued From Blog on LiveJournal

For entries prior to April 2010, please go to http://aspergerspoet.livejournal.com and read there. Nothing has changed about this blog except its hosting site.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hand and House News

Today marks my second day minus the wrist splint.  The doctor at the OSU Hand and Upper Extremity Center says that I should wean myself off of it, but I am so thankful that my hand is close to healed that I am going "cold turkey" away from it.  Not being to hold a pen, not being able to use silverware, and not being able to wear a glove on the cold days we have had recently (yes, even after the start of the vernal equinox)--none of this will I miss.  There is still some pain in my right wrist, when I try to bend my hand too far forward or backward, or to either side, but I think it will soon be gone.  I am able to keep it at bay with naproxen.

When I last blogged, I was in limbo about where I live.  In case you missed the last entry, I had just gotten my heat back after weeks of having to sleep in my clothes, wear layers of sweatshirts and jackets in the house, and place unreturned phone calls to the property manager.  (If there had been no forward motion about the dead furnace, I was going to print off a copy of Section 5321.04(6) of the Ohio Revised Code, which deals with landlord responsibilities, and enclose it with my next rent check.  That was when I learned that the landlord had washed his hands of the place by neglecting his property taxes.)  The property was on the verge of being sold at sheriff's auction when a new owner and property manager stepped up to the plate, bought the place, waterproofed the basement, and replaced the furnace.

About two weeks later, I played a voice mail message on my phone at work.  The new owner wanted to increase the rent to $1200 per month, which was a jump of 43% over what I had been paying in the 2½ years I have called this half double my home.  (I realize this is incomprehensible for any readers who live in New York, Boston, or the San Francisco Bay Area, but for under $700 per month, I was renting a three-bedroom half double.)  This near-doubling of the rent is especially insane in a neighborhood like this, where entire houses rent for around $1000 per month.

I had first dibs on the place at the new place, but I knew it was not realistic to think I could afford such an increase.  The new owner said I could stay until the end of June (I had been month-to-month since October), but I immediately got online and began to look for a new place.  I was also going around the SoHud neighborhood, notepad and Pilot EasyTouch ballpoint in hand, jotting down any phone number on FOR RENT signs I encountered.  The latter was not an easy task with a hand in a splint.  Looking over the pages in my notebook right now, I am surprised my penmanship came out as legibly as it did.

Mercifully, the search was a short one.  Walking toward High St. late one afternoon, I saw a sign in the front yard of a half double on E. Blake Ave.  I called the number on the sign, and made a date to meet the owner the next day after work.

And I liked what I saw.  It's only $20 a month more than what I am paying now, although it is two-bedroom, instead of three.  The floors are freshly varnished.  A washer and dryer combination is in the basement.  (I have been renting to own a set from Rent-A-Center.  There is a lot of truth to something FBI Agent Dale Cooper said in Twin Peaks: "Leasing may be the fast track to an appearance of affluence, but equity will keep you warm at night.")  Furnace and central air are brand new and flawless.  And the owner is current with property taxes and mortgage payments.  (He and his wife did live in my half of the duplex, but they've moved to a bigger place in Beechwold, since they plan on having children in the near future.)

The owner agreed to rent it to me after about 15 minutes of conversation, and he faxed me a lease the next day.  The big day will be April 1, when I meet him and he gives me the key.

Susie has been spending spring break with me, and has enjoyed everything except the weather.  I came close to blogging about my good fortune in finding affordable new living quarters as soon as I had sealed the deal, but I reined myself in so I could surprise Susie by pointing out the new place as we walked by it.  (She still has not seen the interior.  She will be returning to Florida late Sunday afternoon, and I do not get the key until Tuesday.)

The only planned "special" activity that Susie and I did was visiting COSI (the Center of Science and Industry) on Sunday afternoon.  While we were emailing and IMing back and forth about Susie's spring break visit, I mentioned the Sherlock Holmes exhibit at COSI, and both of us wanted to see it.  We were both underwhelmed.  My favorite part was the mock-up of the interior of 221B Baker St., and it was complete, right down to the Holmes mannequin in the window (to fool a criminal into thinking Holmes was actually there when he wasn't), to the "VR"--Victoria Regina--spelled out in bullet holes above the fireplace.  (When bored, Holmes would resort to either cocaine or indoor marksmanship.  I am not sure if he ever combined the two.)  Holmes' file of correspondence was where it was in the stories.  It was pinned to the fireplace mantle with a jackknife.  The exhibit was the first time I had ever seen original editions of The Strand magazine, where many of the short stories (and a serialized Hound of the Baskervilles) first appeared, and, almost as rare as a Gutenberg Bible or a Shakespeare First Folio was a copy of Beeton's Christmas Annual, where Holmes first debuted in A Study in Scarlet.

The exhibit was not worth the $56 I paid for two tickets.  As for the interactive part of the exhibit, the mystery-solving was on a par with "It was Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick."

I will have the façade of wealth throughout the month of April.  I have paid the April rent at my soon-to-be-former home, so during that month I will have two residences!  This is purely for practical reasons, so I can move over piecemeal, especially the more cumbersome job of moving the books and records.  (I had a modest assortment of LPs when I moved here in the fall of 2011, and that has quadrupled--at least!--and then there are all the 78s.  I have imposed a moratorium on buying books and records until the move has started, to lessen what needs to be moved.)  I will save the furniture until the very end, and will probably hire a professional mover for that.  (Moving books is the only time I will ever wish I had a Nook!)

This is a still from The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and what I envision every time I have to move.  This time, however, I am hoping to stay put for the foreseeable future.  (My new landlord seems more conscientious than my last one.)

Susie, a friend of hers, and I walked to dinner at the Blue Danube tonight.  We passed the new place en route, and were happy to see that the FOR RENT sign was gone from the front yard.  I am looking forward to the exchange next Tuesday (I give him a cashier's check, he gives me the key), although I wish the move was already behind me.  I'll feel much better once I am actually settled into the new place.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Typing Through My Tears

The title of the post is not literal, but it is true that typing this post is not coming as easily as it usually does.  I'm also using the keyboard here in lieu of being able to write diary entries, because holding a pen requires much effort and much patience for the time being.

Remember the fall on the ice that I casually mentioned in my last post?  I slipped and fell on a patch of ice, and put out my right hand to break my fall.  (I thought I was stepping into snow, unaware of the ice beneath it.  I suppose you could say I slipped on white ice.)  I underestimated the severity of the fall.  I kept thinking that it was just a bruise, and that it would improve.  I continued to think so--until earlier this week.  The pain in the wrist, whether I was moving it or not, kept getting worse, and was radiating into my fingers, particularly the index finger and the pinkie.  So, on Monday, I made an appointment with my general practitioner, and was fortunate enough to be able to get in to see her that afternoon.

She seemed quite concerned as she manipulated my hand, squeezed to see where pain was, etc.  She then wrote up an order for a wrist X ray, and emphasized to me not to put it off.  So, I went over to Doan Hall at the OSU Wexner Medical Center promptly the next morning.  (With a doctor's order, I was able to bypass the emergency room and go straight to Radiology.  Even on a Tuesday morning, I am sure the emergency room would be mobbed.)  The technician took four views of my right wrist, and told me she would send the images to my doctor at once.  I left and went to work.

Shortly before noon, my phone at work rang, and it was my doctor.  She had read the X rays, and she told me that she had been on the phone to the Hand and Upper Extremity Center, and she hoped I could get in immediately.  The hand clinic called me shortly thereafter, and in an hour or so I was on the bus en route to the clinic.

The doctor showed me the X rays of my wrist, and said that I had one, and possibly two, fractures in my wrist.  I wasn't sure what I was seeing.  I could see bones, but I wasn't sure what was the injury and what was the shadow in the pictures.  Dr. Ryan Klinefelter, the doctor, said the best course of action would be to immobilize the wrist.  He would splint the wrist, and I am coming back on the 25th for another X ray, and hopefully the splint will be gone.



Being a two-finger typist has never come in handy more than now.  I am a bit slower at the keyboard, and have difficulty manipulating a mouse (especially the one at work, which is external and on a cord), but I have not had to take any time off from work.  I do have to stop and take prescription painkillers (Naproxen and Tramadol) periodically during the day.  The splint (molded plastic; I wear a stockinette underneath it to prevent chafing) does leave my fingers free, although my thumb is extended at an angle.  I wear the splint 23½/7, taking it off only when I'm in the shower.

What I have not been able to do is write with a pen.  (I usually don't use pencils.  I'm fully in agreement with Pontius Pilate: "What I have written, stands." (John 19:22))  My diary entries usually average at least two pages, but the most I have been able to write at one time has been a fax cover sheet.  I have always taken pride in my penmanship.  It's almost classic D'Nealian script, but since I started wearing this splint, it looks more like diary entries I wrote when I was drunk (none of them since 1997, of course!), or like it came from a seismograph needle.  At one point this weekend, I jotted a phone number in my notebook, and just writing those seven digits took forever, and looking over the page, I can barely read what I wrote.

I thought about venturing to Studio 35 to catch Fritz the Nite Owl's 11:30 showing of The Goonies, but I was (am) not up to the walk back home, since the movie would end long after COTA had stopped running for the night.  Frankly, I hear the movie is a lot of fun, but it didn't sufficiently whet my interest to justify the walk back home with the temperature in the upper 30s.

Susie will be arriving here Saturday afternoon.  She's already making plans to see (and host at least one sleepover) with friends.  The only events we have scheduled have been a trip to see the Sherlock Holmes exhibit at COSI (the Center of Science and Industry) on Sunday, and a tour of Ohio State on Monday afternoon.  (Susie is also looking at New College of Florida in Sarasota; I very unselfishly hope that she chooses OSU.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Blogger Who Came Into the Cold

My horde of readers must be wondering what accounts for the latest silence in this blog.  The reason this time around is 100% unique, and without precedent in the years that I've taken to the Internet to vent my spleen.

Ever since the time of the first polar vortex to blast through Columbus, and until last Monday, my half-double was without a furnace.  In the 2½ years that I have lived here, the property management company has been very dependable and prompt with whatever problems that came up with this place.  So, when my furnace conked out soon after the new year, I took for granted that it would be up and running within days, and certainly ahead of the days when the mercury would remain below 0 for days.  (At first, my thought was that, like Archie Bunker, I had a "religious furnace; it never works on Sunday.")

I texted the property manager, and the company's HVAC guy came to look at the furnace.  The igniter had worked erratically for much of the fall, so he came fully prepared to fix that.  (This was a gravity furnace, about 20 years old, and had no pilot light.)  I was not a happy man when he told me that the furnace no longer worked, and needed to be replaced.

Worse than that, the manager told me that he could not tell me when this would come to pass.  The Band-Aid solution he offered was to lend me space heaters, and these presented problems all their own.  If I had the lights, TV, and space heater on simultaneously, the circuit breaker would trip.  (The switches on the box downstairs were unmarked.  When you live alone, this is a colossal pain.  If a circuit breaker tripped when Susie was living here, I could always flip the switch, and yell up the stairs, "Did the lights come back on?"  Now, it meant running up and down the basement stairs to see if I had made the right choice.)

Even with the space heaters, I could not wear short sleeves in the house, and walked around in a sweatshirt and often a down-filled work shirt.  This began to take an emotional toll as well.  My mood plummeted, as did my energy to do anything other than get myself to and from work every day.

Common depression symptoms are insomnia or hypersomnia--either not sleeping enough, or sleeping too much.  Since being under the covers was the only place I felt warm enough, there were many nights when I was in bed by 7:30 or 8.  Far from being restorative sleep, I would awaken in the morning feeling exhausted from the hard sleep.  (My dad described the condition as being "sleep drunk," and it is quite fitting.)

Soon, the property management company was not returning my phone calls.  I was debating whether to escrow my rent, or whether I should report the situation to Code Enforcement, but I was afraid of retaliation by the landlord and/or the management company.  Then, during the second week of February, I learned some news.  The property had been foreclosed, and was scheduled for sheriff's auction on the 28th.

I did not learn this from either my landlord or the property manager.  I learned it from a neighbor who works at a law firm downtown.  He had seen it in The Daily Reporter.  As soon as I could, I went to the Franklin County Sheriff's Website, and sure enough, there it was.  A day or two later, I looked up this property on the Franklin County Auditor's Website, and I almost choked on my Diet Pepsi.  There was a new owner listed, with an address on the outskirts of Pittsburgh.  A day or two later, I received a phone call from a person introducing himself as the new property manager.  The place has a new owner, and new property manager, and the entry for the sheriff's auction was withdrawn.

The first thing this new property manager did was hire a company to waterproof the basement and install a new sump pump.  This was good news, because it was getting to the point where I would start sneezing the minute I came downstairs to do laundry (or check the circuit breakers).  He then told me he would have a guy come and look at the furnace.

The new HVAC guy met me at my door after work a day or two later.  The minute he took the faceplate off the furnace, his jaw dropped open.  The furnace's exchanger was not working properly, and he said it may have been blowing carbon monoxide up into the house.  I thought that this may explain my overall lethargy, depression, and fatigue.  The levels were nowhere near fatal, because the rooms are so big and because, this being a house built in the 1920s, the rooms are not well insulated.

He shook his head as he looked at the furnace's electrical wiring.  Much of the insulation had been burned through, and some of the wires were wrapped in black electrical tape.  Apparently, I have dodged a bullet here.  He told me that he was very surprised that there had not been a fire or an explosion.

My mood improved over the weekend, and on Monday morning, as I was dressing for work, the HVAC guy called.  He was coming that day to install the furnace, and wanted to make sure I was leaving him a key.  That was great news to begin the day, so I was like a little kid on the last day of school throughout the work day.

And I was not disappointed!  On Monday, I stepped across the threshold of my abode, and a Glenn Frey song came to mind: "The Heat is On."  There was even a new thermostat, a white digital model about the size of a deck of cards, mounted on the dining room wall.  It was set at 65 degrees, but I moved it up a little to 72, and felt myself wanting to stay home for the first time in weeks.

On Friday, he is coming back, and this time to install central air.  This will be a first for this property.  Oddly enough, the place came with central heat, but no central air.  Even though I vowed that I would not complain about the heat this summer, even if it remains in the triple digits for weeks on end, this indeed was welcome news.  I bought a window unit last year, but it was only able to cool off one room at a time.

To supplement the torpor brought about by not having heat, I fell on ice last week and mildly injured my right wrist.  Of course, I am right-handed.  I put the hand out to break my fall, and was in immediate pain (although I knew I had not broken the hand or the wrist).  I had to stop diary-writing, which always makes me feel like I'm going through withdrawal.  I had been looking forward to christening the journal that I bought at the Barnes and Noble in Merritt Island when I went down there at Christmas.  My diary entries tend to be at least two pages long, and even something as simple as filling out a fax cover sheet was enough writing to cause my wrist to hurt.  So, I waited until I could write without pain (I was able to type, because the pain was not as bad) before I wrote the first words in the new journal.

So now, as of this Ash Wednesday, I have things I used to be able to take for granted in this house.  I have heat and a dry basement.  Just in time for the arrival of the vernal equinox.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

My First eBay Bidding War--Definitely Worth Recording

Susie went out this evening for dinner at The Spaghetti Warehouse, and then to the 11:30 showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Studio 35.  So, it's just the laptop, the blog, and me here right now.  (Susie flies back to Florida late Monday morning, but she has managed to see many of her good friends while she has been visiting here in Ohio.)

While I was in Florida, I ventured where I had never been--but in territory which is familiar to many people I know.  I found myself in a bidding war on eBay.

A day or two before Christmas (and going down to Florida to celebrate the holiday), I set my sights on a Lafayette RK-710 reel-to-reel tape recorder.  I picked the brains of my fellow members of the Reel-to-Reel Enthusiasts' group on Facebook, since I had never heard of Lafayette.  All reassured me that the Lafayette Radio Electronics Corporation was a reputable company.  So, I submitted a bid a dollar or two above the price listed in the posting.

To my surprise, eBay sent a notice to my email saying that someone had bid higher than I had.  I immediately jumped onto eBay and raised the price by a dollar.  It was after placing the bid that I realized that my "opponent" had only raised the stakes by about $0.11 or $0.12.  I raised it a dollar, and saw that bidding would close the next day around 8 p.m. EST.

Steph pointed out to me that I was the one who was driving up the price.  Apparently, the other bidder realized this as well, since he/she automatically set the account to raise the price a dollar each time I placed a bet.

I sat out the next 12 hours, although I set the alarm on my cell phone to go off five minutes before bidding closed.  Patiently, I watched the timer run down, and discovered that the other bidder had placed a $40 ceiling on automatically raising bids.  As time was down to about 15 seconds, I increased the bid by $0.50, and received the good news that the tape recorder was now mine.

A Facebook friend told me that there was another--far more universal--tactic for bidding on Facebook.  It is called "sniping," and it involved not driving up the price by matching and exceeding bids.  It involves sitting there quietly as the time runs out on bidding, and, as close to the last second as possible, putting in the highest bid.

The recorder came yesterday by FedEx Ground.  Susie was home to take it off the porch, which was a good thing, since there has been a rash of package thefts here in SoHud during the Christmas season.  She emailed me at work that the package was here, so I was on the edge of my seat the rest of the day, willing the clock to move more quickly to 5 p.m. so I could get home and try out the new machine.

My new toy, the four-track Lafayette RK-710 recorder.

Oddly enough, this would be the third reel-to-reel machine to be under my roof.  This past summer, I met my old friend Scott--we met in seventh grade at St. Mary's Middle School.  As the only non-Catholics in the class, we naturally gravitated toward each other.  In high school, we discovered a mutual fascination with radios and iron oxide tape, so we spent many hours immersed in tape, patchcords, and microphones.  
When Scott and his wife moved to a farm in Licking County, he decided to unload many of the possessions he no longer needed--a lesson I have yet to learn!  So, we met for brunch at the Blue Danube, and, after long conversation and the usual filling meal, he gave me two portable tape recorders, a Sony and a Penncrest, both of which were familiar to me from the afternoons and evenings we spent using them.

I wanted to buy yet another machine because neither portable machine could accommodate seven-inch reels.  Also, the motor on one machine seemed to be DOA, and the other did not record, at least not with the microphone that came with it.

The new Lafayette machine (pictured above) had one cosmetic flaw.  The tone and volume knobs are both missing, so I turn them with a small slothead screwdriver that fits just perfectly.  (The missing knobs did not concern me; I changed channels with a pair of pliers on the TV I had when I lived in Cincinnati.)  Also, the machine's 1 7/8 inches-per-second speed did not seem to work.

I tried some of the tapes that Scott had given me.  (Since he no longer had the equipment to play them, he gave me his reel-to-reel tapes as well.)  One was a three-inch reel of the audio of Star Trek's third-season episode "The Tholian Web" (Stardate 5693.2), and the sound quality and speed was erratic, which had me worried.  I had better results when I took a five-inch reel at random, and heard a crystal-clear recording of Side 2 of Pink Floyd's Animals.

My next concern was whether I had a two- or four-track machine.  When I lived in Cincinnati, I bought a Wollensak reel-to-reel recorder from my across-the-hall neighbors, who sold it to me one night when they were desperate for beer money.  (When you've got 'em by the addiction, their hearts and minds will follow.)  Soon afterwards, the College Conservatory of Music had its annual record sale.  At this sale, they featured commercially produced reel-to-reel tapes for $0.25 apiece.  I bought two operas, plus a recording of an Israeli string quartet.  (I had no idea what music was on the latter tape, since the liner notes and listings on the box were all in Hebrew.)

I came back to my apartment eager to try out my new treasures.  I threaded one of the opera tapes into the Wollensak and pressed the PLAY button, and was utterly crestfallen.  I had a two-track machine, and it was a four-track tape.  While playing side one, the machine played side two backwards at the same time!

This afternoon, while Susie was having lunch with her Coming of Age mentor, I went to Used Kids (where, as faithful readers of this blog will remember, I bought four milk crates of 78 RPM records for $20 in November).  The manager was nice enough to give me a piece of equipment I desperately needed and which did not come with the recorder--a seven-inch take-up reel.  I spent $3 on a four-track commercial reel-to-reel album, Tribute to the Big Bands under the Tape-Mates label (TMS-102).  It's a three-hour tape which includes all the big names of the Big Band era, such as Glen Miller, Artie Shaw, Les Brown and His Band of Renown, Duke Ellington, etc.  With trepidation, I put it in the Lafayette, and lo and behold, it played crisply, and only one side at a time.

My fascination with recording, and my tendency to want to hang onto things "in case I need them later" was the cause of an ongoing battle Steph and I had whenever we contemplated a move.  The Wollensak came with me in 1995 when I moved from Cincinnati to Columbus, although I kept the same spool of tape on the machine and never played it (and never found a microphone for it).  Steph kept urging me to get rid of it, but I was adamant that where I went, it went.  The conflict was similar to a friend of Steph's son, a teenager who refused to part with his Fisher Price farm set, which had been in a box collecting dust in the basement since he had been in grade school.  He balked at allowing his mother to give the set to Susie, who was a toddler at the time.

I have owned a variety of tape recorders since I received my first one as a gift on my eighth Christmas.  Most of them have been cassette recorders.  As is the case now, I did not collect eight-track tapes or recorders.  (Eight-track is the only medium that is explicitly unwelcome in my home.)  Tape fascinated me so much that I began avidly following Watergate once Alexander Butterfield disclosed the existence of Nixon's secret taping system.  I also looked forward to Mission: Impossible reruns so I could see the way that Dan Briggs and Jim Phelps retrieved the recordings that would explain their next assignments.

(I was quite happy when one technophile posted a YouTube video showing the different makes and models that Mission: Impossible employed in the series.)

Susie is not a fan of Big Band music, so while I was trying out the new (to me) tape that I had bought at Used Kids, she put on her earbuds and listened to music from her laptop.  I was in the dining room (which, among other things, is the place where I moor the Schwinn Meridian) with the tape recorder on a bookcase, and she was typing away at her TV Tropes and fan fiction pages, listening to the music she liked while I was listening to the various Big Band instrumental numbers, this time more to see how reliable the machine was, although I developed a liking for swing and Big Band music through my association with the old-time radio circuit.

Maybe I'm older than I realize.  Just after I won the bid for the Lafayette, I proudly posted a picture of it on my Facebook page.  One of my fellow bookstore co-workers, who is 20 or 21 at the oldest, posted, "What is that?"  He had no idea what it was, or what I did.  So, I explained, and then posted a link to Wikipedia's entry on reel-to-reel recording.

That way, I can tell myself I educated someone, as well as spending money on a new toy.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farewell to a Kidney Stone of a Year...

I am so happy to see that the balance of 2013 can now be measured in hours.  I will be going to a party in my neighborhood later on tonight, and seeing that ball drop on Times Square at the stroke of 12 midnight is going to feel like the front gate of a prison swinging all the way open.

I cannot take credit for the phrase "kidney stone of a year."  I first saw it in a Doonesbury cartoon where the characters were toasting the end of the 1970s, a "kidney stone of a decade," and "the worst of times."  In addition to a two-liter or two of Diet Pepsi, one of the items I am bringing to the party will be a 2013 calendar.

As soon after midnight as is feasible, I am going to be setting the calendar on fire.  The coming year of the common era 2014 will be a blank book with 365 pages--and I'm quoting an Internet meme that has been making the rounds on Facebook the last day or two.

The low highlights of 2013 that made this such a shitty year are (in roughly chronological order):


  • The death of my friend Scott on March 10.  Scotty was younger than I am (by about six weeks), and we spoke of many subjects--both personal and otherwise--during the many long evening walks that we took, often braving varieties of weather, and often venturing into neighborhoods that neither of us knew very well.  The final chapter of Scotty's life was this fall, in the Memorial Garden at the Unitarian Universalist Church, when we all took turns scattering his ashes among the greenery in the garden.  (This is the same garden where my mother's memorial service took place in 2008, although we did not scatter her ashes there.  Unlike Scotty, my mother had alienated so many people that she was seen out of this world mainly in the presence of strangers.)
  • The aortic aneurysm.  I have not reveled in the myth that I am immortal since I was a teenager, and I know that statistically there are more years behind me than there are ahead of me, but discovering in May that there was something wrong, something tangible, something visible on an X ray and a CT scan, drove the point home that yes, I am mortal.  As things stand now, the aneurysm is not getting any larger, and I don't need to have another CT scan until next November, but still there is a part of me that wonders if it will burst.  (The way of telling that an aortic aneurysm has burst is actually quite simple: If I wake up in the morning, it has not burst.)  Part of me is surprised that I have made it to 50, since I have never been a role model for self-care, with my earlier abuse of alcohol and my current caffeine overuse--plus the fact that I am overweight, with a cholesterol level that resembles a ZIP code.  I have already lived longer than Mozart, Jack Kerouac, and Jesus, so maybe I am more indestructible than I think.
  • Susie's moving to Florida in June.  That took quite a lot out of me emotionally--more than I thought it would.  Had Comfest not been the same weekend that she left, I am not sure I would not have crashed emotionally, to the point where I would have required hospitalization.  So much of my identity from 2011 has focused on being a single parent, and it was something where I had truly found my niche.  I earned high praise from Steph, and even from friends of hers who did not have much use for me personally.  I have managed to pick up my completely re-bachelored life in the intervening months, and while I have missed Susie, especially on those nights when the house is so quiet that I would have to make any noise to break the silence, I have made the adjustment.  I have always been adaptable to new situations, it's just that this one took longer.
  • The death of Russell Speidel.  The proprietor of Duttenhofer's Book Treasures died this summer of prostate cancer.  In addition to being a good neighbor, and the owner of the bookstore where I went for all my obscure titles, he was also a very good friend.  I was quite high maintenance at the time I lived next door to his store in Cincinnati--drinking too much, spending money foolishly, intermittently employed, and he often hired me to do small jobs for him, and lent me money when I was totally broke.  He was not a young man when he died, nor when I knew him, but he was one of those people I thought would always be around.  I am glad that he saw my transition from the heavy-drinking neighbor for whom employment was never a given to a father and steadily employed State employee.
When I set the pages of the 2013 calendar on fire soon after midnight, I will revel in the sight of the flames more than any pyromaniac.

I am upstairs in my office typing, with my beloved Alan Parsons Project blaring from the speakers on the desk and the bookcase.  Susie and her friends are seeing in the new year with mountains of junk food and hours' worth of DVDs.

Yes, you read that right.  Susie is here until next Monday.  On Christmas Eve, I took Southwest Airlines down to Florida to spend the Christmas holiday.  The presents were modest all around--I gave Susie three compact disks (two Beatles, one Elvis Presley), and she gave me Robert L. Short's The Parables of Peanuts.  The best gift was being able to see Susie, and knowing that she would be flying back to Ohio with me on the 28th.

She and I did the usual things that we did together in Ohio.  We went to a Goodwill store in Rockledge, hung out with our laptops in the Merritt Island Barnes and Noble, and had a meal at Steak 'n Shake.  After using so many hours of Barnes and Noble's free Wi-Fi, I broke down and bought a new journal.  The one I am using now has about 86 pages left, and I am going to fill them before I begin the new volume, even though a new year is the traditional time to begin a diary or christen the next volume of one.

Susie wasted no time in re-establishing contact with friends of hers.  Even before she left Florida, she had scheduled a lunch date with the woman who was her mentor during Coming of Age in church last year.  I had the pleasure of taking her and her friend Maya--they first met during children's theater at the Davis Center for the Performing Arts, and reunited at The Charles School, and picked up right where they had left off--to brunch at the Blue Danube.  As I knew she would, Maya fell in love with the place.

Susie and me after our breakfast repast at Roberto's Little Havana Restaurant in Cocoa Beach.

I will not be bidding an affectionate farewell to 2013.  This is one of the times when I can sympathize with Lucy Van Pelt, who complained that the previous year had disappointed her, and that she was going to write a letter of protest.  She stopped when Linus asked her, "Who's in charge of years?"

Before I go to the party, I might finish the novella I have been reading all week.  The title is The Bab Deception, by Bill Paxton (not the actor).  It's a Sherlock Holmes adventure that is decidedly not part of the Canon (the 56 short stories and four novels written by A. Conan Doyle).  This novella deals with an assassination that is pinned on members of the Baha'i faith.  At the beginning, Holmes and Watson have quite a discussion about astrology, Spiritualism, and even Wicca.

I am in the home stretch of the novella (about 76 pages altogether), and I would say that Holmes is Baha'i-curious at this point.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Information Wants To Be Free

I wonder how many times I have walked past the silver display box at the corner of E. Gay and N. Pearl Sts. without noticing it.  The clusters of plastic display boxes at sidewalk intersections are legion in downtown Columbus--glossy pamphlet-sized publications advertising apartments for rent, magazine-size lists of cars and trucks for sale--that I think it's understandable that I would not have seen it.

Until Wednesday, that is.  I was walking back to the William Green Building after lunch at Ringside, a small café in the alley behind the State Office Tower.  I was more observant than before, I suppose, when I saw the silver-painted box with the sign FREE BOOKS.

No clue as to how many of these are around Columbus, whether downtown or elsewhere.  This one is at the corner of E. Gay and N. Pearl Sts., just outside the ZenCha Tea Salon.

The books available consisted of many obscure titles, along with some slender Signet Classics and some theology books published by Catholic publishing houses.  The only book I took was John Updike's Memories of the Ford Administration.  I came away thinking what a welcome change of pace this was from all the other free reading material offered downtown, such as the free "newspapers" which are little more than pages and pages of ads and bands' self-promotion.

The title of this post comes from the credo of the Cyberpunk movement in computer hacking, hearkening back to the 1970s and 1980s, before computers were as ubiquitous as they are.  The mentality behind hacking was much more benign than the ugly turn it has taken in the last decade or so.  During the early hacking era, the purpose for hacking into a system was just to see if you could do it.  The hacker had no interest in stealing or altering data, other than leaving a caustic "I was here!" buried in a REM statement.

Whoever set up this box is going independent, because I have seen two or three Little Free Library boxes in the Clintonville area, working on the same principle.  (I am seriously considering setting one up in my front yard once spring comes and the weather is consistently warmer.)  Libraries are usually the first thing to fall to the budget axe in schools and city budgets--while politicians, parents, and school officials, in the same breath, wring their hands about the United States' falling behind in math, science, and literacy compared to the rest of the world.

The public library has long been "the people's university," and now thoughtful and proactive people are taking the message local, and hitting the streets, much the way the more aggressive politicians and evangelists have done.  Instead of the library being behind walls and doors, it is going to the people, as accessible as any free newspaper or ad cluster.

Indeed, the free book box reminded me of my days in Cincinnati in the mid-1980s, when I was working as a typesetter and proofreader for Homefinder, a biweekly journal of real estate listings.  I would spend four to five days per week as a Burroughs operator, occasionally setting copy for The Woman CPA, and then see the finished product on a rack at Fifth Third Bank when I went there to cash my paycheck.

Before the idea of the Little Free Library came to anyone's mind, I was taking advantage of several--intentional or not--precursors to it.  When I lived in the Boston area, bookstores were clustered over a four- or five-block radius in Cambridge, and when I was flush, I spent many a paycheck at them.  However, it did not take me long to notice that they did not keep all the books that people tried to sell to them, so I began to prowl the area around the Dumpsters, and there I found interesting (to me) books, all of them free and ripe for the picking.  I was able to build a small library piecemeal from these rejects--everything from classics to Peanuts to the outright lunatic (such as Hal Lindsey's Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth) that I would never have bought.  When book-picking behind Shambhala Bookstore on JFK Blvd., sometimes I would recover books worthy of the blog I Read Odd Books, such as Aleister Crowley's The Book of Lies or Leo Schaya's The Universal Meaning of the Kabbalah.  (The bookstore mainly sold products published by Shambhala Publications.)  In a Crimson article I wrote about the bookstores of Harvard Square in 1984, I used the word "occult" to describe Shambhala's wares, but now the word "occult" is one I try to avoid.  Occult simply means "unknown," and algebra and basic chemistry fall under that classification for me.

In the 1970s, the public library in Marietta had a cart in the foyer by the circulation desk, a paperback exchange and giveaway.  This was my first exposure to books I buy and see for sale at PulpFest, such as Pocket Books editions of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason and D.A. series.  (The Perry Mason books can be subtitled The Chronicles of Hamilton Burger, America's Most Incompetent Attorney.)  I also accumulated Dell paperbacks of Brett Halliday's Mike Shayne series, and the mysteries of Mignon G. Eberhart (who inspired Agatha Christie to produce the Miss Marple novels--suspense mysteries featuring a strong heroine).  I even came away with a Bantam paperback romance or two written by Barbara Cartland.

One of the Little Free Library sites here in the Clintonville area is in front of the Clintonville Resource Center, a choice location.  The Resource Center features a food pantry, so they are doing the joint task of feeding minds as well as bodies.  When I needed to go there to stock our larder, there was a small assortment of books available for the taking.  I would often get a young teen book for Susie, and try to circumnavigate around the copies of the Jehovah's Witnesses' The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life to find more secular classics.

As with any donation-based service, your mileage will vary as to the findings at these venues.  The choices will be feast or famine.  Some people will donate books just to get them off their hands, such as the quickly read and -forgotten bodice ripper or Harlequin Romance, while others will seek to expose passersby to the classics and immortal works, and stock their boxes with paperback classics.

I have yet to begin reading my copy of Memories of the Ford Administration, but my copy will hold my interest, even if the text will not.  (I have only read The Witches of Eastwick and the four Rabbit Angstrom novels--that is the whole of my John Updike experience.)  The previous owner has underlined it, written comments and personal reflections in the margins, and so reading these may be as much fun as the actual novel itself.  (This could be like the 1929 pocket diary that I found in a Cambridge bookstore in 1982.  Written in pencil, the entries read like this: "Cloudy and cold.  I worked for Mrs. Bass."  There was no name on the flyleaf, and no indication of where the diarist lived.  I eventually gave the little book to my dad, since he was born in 1929.  Dad said in a letter, "Thanks for the 1929 diary.  The poor guy really led an uneventful life!")  The former owner of the Updike book wrote in ink, so this person wanted his/her observations to stand for all time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"Said the Right-Wing skeleton, 'Forget about yr heart'"

The above is a line from Allen Ginsberg's collaboration with Philip Glass and Paul McCartney, "The Ballad of the Skeletons," but I can take it literally, at least for the next year.  I spent the first part of this morning at the Ross Heart Hospital.

I saw two cardiologists, which worried me at first.  It is always a little disconcerting to be seeing a doctor and for the doctor to call in another one and say, "You should see this."  I worried for nothing.  My heart muscle is in good shape, the aneurysm does not seem to have dilated any further, and all the cardiac function is as it should be.  I have another CT scan in December--a year from this week--but that seems to be all the proactive work that needs to be done.  Yes, my cholesterol level resembles a ZIP code.  Yes, heredity is not on my side when it comes to this (Dad died of congestive heart failure, his dad died of a heart attack at age 52), and I could stand to drop some weight, but my heart seems to be holding its own.

My grandfather's death was the beginning of my dad's break with Roman Catholicism, as I understand it.  Dad was a senior at the Catholic University of America in the fall of 1951 when his dad--two years older than I am now--died unexpectedly in Wheeling.  My grandmother had been fixing lunch in the kitchen while my grandfather was in the living room listening to the radio.  She heard a "thud" sound, and went into the living room and found him dead.  She sent my dad a telegram in Washington, and he was on the next train back to West Virginia.

His crisis of faith (at least with Catholicism) came because, until she died in 1965, his mother always worried about her husband's soul, since he was unable to receive the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church due to the suddenness of his death.  Dad questioned the value of a Church that could bring about such unnecessary worry to one of its own very faithful.

Work has resumed on my memoir re my friendship with Robert Lowry.  I began several years ago, and I have been within 20-30 pages of finishing for the past few years, but by now it doesn't flow in the same voice, and there are parts of it that need to come out and stay out.  So, the best thing to do, in my eyes, is to start from the ground up and rewrite.

Part of the lack of progress on this project comes from, I think, my taking Abilify, which is a drug that is supposed to supplement antidepressants that a person already uses (Lamictal, in my case).  After about a week or so on the drug, I noticed I was beginning to fidget even more than I usually do (which is saying quite a lot--I never sat "like a little statue" when I was younger, whether in school, church, or a concert), that I cannot sleep for more than four hours at a time (which leads to dozing off at all times and in all situations), and--worst of all--that what manual dexterity I have was suffering.  I cannot shuffle cards, I can barely manage to use silverware, and yet I can type 80+ words per minute using only two index fingers.  I noticed a sharp decline in my typing skills and accuracy.  As much as I pretty much loathe the computer culture (he wrote in his blog which is on the Internet), I was so thankful for computers and word processing these last weeks.  I was making one error after another, as if my fingers weren't going where my brain was directing them, and I shudder to think what a page from my Royal Skylark portable typewriter would look like if I was using it instead of a computer.

I saw my nurse practitioner Monday, and described these symptoms to her.  She agreed that the Abilify may be the culprit, so I stopped taking it.  Like other psychotropics, it will probably be a little while before it completely clears my system, but I have noticed I am not as fidgety as I was.  The restlessness first manifested itself on the bus trip to Washington last month, when I could not get comfortable, and could not sleep, no matter what position I assumed.  I also could not concentrate on the two books I had brought with me, The Girl on the Best-Seller List (Gold Medal Books S976) by Vin Packer--a thinly disguised treatment of Grace Metalious and the post-Peyton Place uproar; and William Harrington's Which the Justice, Which the Thief.  (They were in the backpack when I left, the first one since PulpFest last summer.)  Also, even though the Pennsylvania Turnpike is quite conducive to dozing, I was unable to sleep at all--the first time that has happened anywhere and at any time in the last two or three years.

The heavy reading I brought along on the Washington trip.  The cover art closely resembles the author photograph of Grace Metalious on the back dust jacket of Peyton Place, where she was called "America's Pandora in Blue Jeans."  As I learned from living 19 years in Marietta, the citizens of small-town America hate it when someone writes the truth about them.


We were pelted with more snow Monday night into Tuesday morning.  Oddly enough, it made walking much more easy than the trek from hell which I described in the weekend entry.  Good packed snow makes for a better walking surface than slick, bumpy ice.  The fact that I did not have a laptop causing me to list to one side probably helped as well.  The scene outside my front door looked beautiful enough that, despite the fact that I thought I would be running late, I went back inside and got the camera.

East Maynard Ave., December 10, 2013, about 7:15 a.m.  My only problem with this picture is the flash reflecting off of that sign across the street.  Sunrise was still a half hour away, so I decided the flash would be better.

There were nowhere near as many cancellations as there were when the first wave of snow hit last week.  Some churches and recreation centers cancelled evening services and activities, and two schools in counties other than Franklin County were under two-hour delays.

I am off work today.  I was not sure whether the appointment would lead to a cardiac catheterization, so I opted to write off the entire day.  (The procedure itself is brief, but the patient is pretty much wiped out for several hours afterwards.)

So, I'm going to try to keep walking more (although the snow hampers my progress, and makes walking even more aerobic than usual), and hope that this heart issue resolves itself.  (A friend gave me some not-so-pleasant advice about whether my aneurysm has burst: "If you wake up in the morning, it hasn't burst.")

But, if the doctors are correct, the aneurysm is not bursting for awhile, if ever.