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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For entries prior to April 2010, please go to and read there. Nothing has changed about this blog except its hosting site.

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.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Winter is icumen in/Lhude sing goddamm

Ezra Pound's parody "Ancient Music" seems so appropriate today, even though the winter solstice is still two weeks away--and I've used it before, back when this blog was still on LiveJournal.  The first wave fell yesterday, and we had a small respite from additional snowfall today.  This is, I understand, the calm before the storm.  According to the meteorologists I've seen on TV and online, Columbus is due to get slammed again tomorrow.

I took what turned out to be a minor fall Friday morning when I was walking out of my place to the bus stop, thinking the front walk was just wet, not icy.  In the end, I hurt nothing but my pride, but it was painful enough for me to call off from work, down some Naproxen, and sleep for much of the morning.  When I got out of bed, I was not walking like an old lady, like I was immediately after the fall, but I was walking more slowly than usual.

The juxtaposition was not lost on me.  On Tuesday, the mercury climbed into the 60s, so I rode the trike to work.  It took about 45 minutes, and I felt invigorated when I made it downtown.  (A trike ride, even when I undertake it reluctantly, does improve my mood and my overall spirit.  I have often wondered if my mental health insurance will reimburse me for it.  Futile, I know.)

I didn't ride home until Wednesday night, because I had to head home early to meet the guys from Beavis & Butt-head Appliances, Inc., who were delivering my new washer and dryer.  (I live diagonally across from a Laundromat, but with my own equipment, I have the freedom to do my laundry at 2 a.m. in my bathrobe, if I so choose, or not to take it immediately out of the dryer.)  All they would promise was that the appliances would be at my place between 4 and 6 p.m., which entailed leaving work early, all so those these two could arrive at 6:30.  I could not christen my new machines until the following night, because the dryer did not come with a vent hose.

The trike spent Tuesday night in the BWC garage, and then on Wednesday, I rode it home.  I knew the weather was going to change, and if I didn't ride it home Wednesday, the bike would spend all winter in the garage.

And Thursday morning, I attempted to walk to work.  I got about two-thirds of the way before it began raining too hard for me to continue.  I rode a bus for the final mile, and then worked until 5, hearing more and more ominous stories about the storm.

What is remarkable is that I managed to do a fair amount of walking today without falling.  Since I have accepted the fact--kicking and screaming--that I am middle-aged, I also know that part of this involves the fact that falls can be much more dangerous and have much more negative long-term effects than they did when I was younger.  Today, I vowed not to confine myself to quarters, so I loaded up my black over-the-shoulder bag with the laptop, two books, my journal, and the typescript of a long untouched manuscript that I am rewriting, and went to Kafé Kerouac, a walk of 0.8 miles.  Never has it seemed so long, so difficult.  The ice was melting in some places, but the bulk of the trip was on slick and bumpy ice surfaces.  Even though I was wearing tennis shoes, I felt myself about to slip several times when I put the soles of my feet on the ground.  (I am sure that if I had been wearing dress shoes, I would definitely have fallen.)

Adding to my worries was what would happen if I did fall.  Hurting myself would be bad enough, but I was mortally afraid of landing on the laptop and ruining it as well.  There were points along the journey when I was hanging onto street signs, shrubs, and garbage cans just to keep stable.

I did get a fair amount of work done while I was at Kafé Kerouac.  I finished the first chapter of the manuscript, and read a chapter of Grant's Final Victory, the story of the last year of Ulysses S. Grant's life, his sudden poverty, and the writing of his Personal Memoirs.

Earlier this week, I came home from work and found a large, but light-as-a-feather, parcel sitting on my front porch.  This was major good news, since lately my letter carrier seems to deliver mail only when the mood strikes him.  Inside, mummified in plenty of bubble wrap and balled-up newspapers, was a Simplex toy typewriter.  Novelist Robert Lowry died on December 5, 1994, 19 years ago Thursday.  He began writing at the age of seven, when he asked Santa Claus for a typewriter, and found it under the tree that Christmas.

The Simplex, which I bought on eBay, was the vintage of the model he received.  There is one key, and the operator turns a big rubber wheel to the desired character, and presses the big key so that it prints on the paper below.  (This machine is non-functional, and has not been inked in decades.  I have no plans to try to get it to work; it's in my office as a conversation piece, and as an inspiration.)

The Practical Simplex Typewriter Number 300.  The keys in the front are painted, and not functional, just like the black keys on Schroeder's toy piano in the Peanuts comics.

Online, I was kidding Susie that this was the original laptop.  Later that night, I was reading a clipping that I tucked inside the front cover of Jimmy Carter's White House Diary.  It was a 1981 New York Times article about Carter's upcoming memoirs.  It made the newspapers when the former President hit a wrong function key and lost two or three days' worth of work.  More interesting was the description of the machine itself, back in the day when the masses did not know much (if anything) about word processing and computers:

The Lanier machine, which sells for about $12,000, takes up about the same amount of desk space as an electric typewriter but is taller by a foot or more because of the cathode-ray display screen.  The operator works at an electronic keyboard that returns the carriage automatically and also hyphenates and numbers pages.  Removable magnetic disks store up to 30 pages of typed information.
(I displayed a picture of President Carter's Lanier "No Problem" word processor in an entry last month.)

Word is that we're supposed to get pelted with even more snow and cold temperatures tomorrow.  I am not planning to go to church in the morning, so I plan to hibernate at least through the morning hours.  A good friend lured me out for dinner tonight, since I had recovered mentally and physically from the walk to and from Kafé Kerouac, but she had a car, so that involved almost no walking.  However, packed snow is much better for walking than ice is, so I may venture out to see what Columbus looks like under this second round of snow.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo - 30 -

Yet another National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to an end, and both Susie and I (in Florida and Columbus, respectively) are trying to recover.

I am skeptical (at best) about the effectiveness of Twelve-Step programs, but the "one day at a time" concept does have its uses, and NaNoWriMo bears out its usefulness.  Every evening (mostly evenings, sometimes afternoons), I sat down and faced the laptop like it was some type of adversary.  When I logged onto Microsoft Office and pulled up my manuscript, I did it with an emotion akin to dread.

Trying to write a certain number of words per day (1667 per day is necessary to produce 50 thousand words in 30 days) is a lot like visiting a nudist colony: The first few minutes are the hardest.  I know that when I began typing, that magic number of 1667 seemed so far away.

But, as the session progressed, I usually was able to get into the activity, and when I saw I had made my quota for the night, I almost had a feeling of disappointment--"You mean I have to stop now?"  Of course, I didn't, but I wanted material to fill the next night's session, and not have to scramble.

The manuscript now sits on my hard drive and on my Microsoft SkyDrive.  I am following the advice of Stephen King, and I am letting the project "marinate" until after the first of the year.  NaNoWriMo is not ashamed to say that the goal is quantity, not quality, so I am sure I overran the manuscript with verbiage and asides that will have to go.  Some word-padding techniques can stay.  (For example, I did not use contractions, except in dialogue.)  Truthfully, I have no qualms about not touching it until January.  I am sure I am going to look back over it and wonder what the hell was I doing writing such-and-such?  (Susie has read excerpts of it, and so far I have received her seal of approval.)

Another thing her project and my project have in common is that they are both incomplete.  As you may recall, I decided to make NaNoWriMo the subject of this year's manuscript.  Thus, I began with a brief prologue, and each chapter afterwards represented one day in the contest: "Day the First," "Day the Second," et cetera.  I stopped at Chapter V, "Day the Fifth," so once this book comes out of lockdown, I have 25 more chapters to write.  Susie says she is two chapters away from those beautiful words THE END.  (I will end it, as a tribute to my former typesetting days, with - 30 -, which I have often thought should be my epitaph--my name, and underneath it, - 30 -, carved on my tombstone.)

I took a page from Jim Bishop when I used these chapter titles.  In his books The Day Lincoln Was Shot and The Day Christ Died, he broke down the book into hours--each chapter represented one hour of the day he covered.  In his one and only novel, Honeymoon Diary (I met him in 1979, and he said, "Oh, Jesus!" when I told him I had read it), the titles were "The First Day," "The Second Day," all the way up to "The Thirtieth Day."

Sleep has been the biggest casualty of NaNoWriMo, although my sleep patterns have been erratic for years.  I can't lay the blame solely at the feet of this contest.  I am constantly dozing off on buses, or anywhere that I lack new stimuli.  And, as before, I can doze off straight into REM sleep, which means falling asleep and straight into dreaming.  Unless I have specific plans, on weekends I do not set an alarm.  (Even on Sunday; if I am awake in time to catch the bus and go to church, I will; otherwise, I take it as a sign and I'm content to "worship in bed.")  So, every weekday morning, there is this Dagwood Bumstead scramble to get out of bed, into the shower, dressed, and out the door in time to catch the bus in time.  But, these past few weekends, I am wide awake before dawn, unable to get back to sleep.  Yes, I'll toss and turn a while, but it's a losing battle to try to get back to sleep.  And this is after not retiring until 2 or 3 a.m.

I took it easy the rest of yesterday, after submitting my manuscript to, where their template verified that I had enough words.  Yesterday was the Ohio State-Michigan game, and I was thankful it was in Ann Arbor, since the presence of drunken idiots would have been even greater had the game taken place at the 'Shoe.  So, I thought it prudent to stay indoors, where I watched some DVDs of Homicide: Life on the Street and read.  (I kept my computer use to a minimum, since I had enough of my keyboard to last me awhile.)

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided for the first time since 1868, and this will not happen again until 2070 (Susie will probably be experiencing this).  The coincidence that Black Friday occurred on a sacred holiday did not deter the shoppers.  We here in Columbus did not experience the brawling, gunfire, and stabbings that some communities had.  I, for one, kinda sorta boycotted the whole thing.  I went to two record stores, Spoonful Records and Records Per Minute (RPM), and bought some albums there--I kept my money local, and supported friends of mine.  The haul was not overwhelming, since I didn't buy any new material.  I stuck to the dollar bins, where I could find much of the music of my teen years.  (As if my weirdo credentials weren't already well established by high school, my favorite groups in high school were The Alan Parsons Project and Seals and Crofts!)

"Buy nothing day" was so much easier in the years when I was usually stone broke.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mythology Comes Alive

My first exposure to the Sisyphus myth was a bronze pair of bookends that one of my dad's colleagues had his book- and record-filled apartment in Marietta.  Until then, I thought Sisyphus was something you took care of with lots of penicillin and tetracycline.  My dad explained to me the myth surrounding this unfortunate monarch: To punish his chronic and almost constant deceit, the gods condemned him to spend eternity rolling an enormous boulder up a hill in the Underworld, only to have it roll back down as he neared the top.  Repeat throughout eternity.

I know that Albert Camus wrote a small book, The Myth of Sisyphus, which I have not read.  During a mythology class I took at Marietta High School, I concluded (to my teacher's reluctant agreement) that the closest manifestation of the Sisyphus myth was Wile E. Coyote, and these frequently involved boulders!  (Anyone who watched The Six Million Dollar Man saw more laws of physics violated than in an eight-minute Road Runner cartoon, but Lee Majors did not bear out any significant mythology.)

Gentle readers, I bore out the myth of Sisyphus a day or two before the Washington trip, and I now understand it completely--although I did have a way out of it, unlike the poor bastard in the Underworld.

I left work early the day before my departure for Washington, and ventured to Used Kids Records on N. High St.  I was in a good mood, about leaving work early because there was nothing to do, because I would have some Interstate underneath me in about 24 hours, and that I was flush to buy some records at Used Kids.

Used Kids is located upstairs in the 1900 block of N. High St., and its black-painted walls house a very eclectic selection of recorded music, on all media that is currently available.  There are even commercially produced reel-to-reel tapes, as well as the God-awful eight-track tape.  The bulk of Used Kids' inventory is vinyl.  There are also stereo components and speakers for sale.

But my eyes were all for the shellac.  They had a fairly substantial, but completely disorganized, collection of 78 RPM records, and I have become like a guided missile when it comes to stashes of 78 RPM records.  This is aided by the fact that several generous record store owners have given me their cache of unwanted 78s.

I asked the manager about the prices of the 78s.  I was going to buy one album full of records.  (A little explanation is necessary here: The maximum capacity of a 10-inch 78 RPM record was about three or four minutes' running time.  A longer work, such as a symphony or opera, had to be spread out over several records.  If it was a single body, it came in an album with paper sleeves to hold each record.  This is why, even on a compact disk or on an LP, and even today, a single collection of music is called an album.)  The manager looked at me, and I suspect my reputation may have preceded me, because the vinyl peddlers in Columbus seem to have a relationship that is more cooperative than competitive.

He seemed to be deep in thought.  "Tell you what," he said.  "I'll let you have the whole lot for $20."  That was music to my ears, if you'll pardon the expression.  I said sure.  I went home to drop off my knapsack, and to put on a denim jacket, since it had gotten a little colder than when I had left work.  I came back, handed the cashier a $20 bill, and asked if I could bum their dolly.  My yield turned out to be four milk crates, all four of them bursting at the seams.  "Please tell me you have a freight elevator," I said.  No, they did not.  With help, and also borrowing a frayed bungee cord, I was able to get this load all the way down the steep steps to High St.

Used Kids Records, myself, and the plethora of 78s which are now piled up on shelves, in crates, and desk surfaces in my half double.

I envisioned that the worst part of the experience was cataloging the whole acquisition on Discogs, between the tedium and the often snide comments that moderators and administrators make to those who are still learning the ropes.  I was wrong.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I realize now that what I should have done was, after paying the $20, was tell them to hold the records, and then got on the phone either to a friend with a car or to a taxi dispatcher.  But no, I had to try to get it all home myself.  As retro as I have become in the last few years (almost to the point of considering typing out this blog on my Royal Skylark, almost like a more orthodox diary, and scanning the entries to go up here), I came away with an appreciation for iPods that I did not have when I got out of bed that morning.

Shellac and Bakelite records are heavy!  When you multiply this by four crates, then the weight and the bulk are burdensome.  There was no way I could remind myself of the famous litany (often spoken in vain) when helping someone move.  "This isn't heavy, it's just bulky."  In the case of the 78s, it was both.

I believe now that every sidewalk between N. High St. and E. Maynard Ave. is warped and uneven.  I was making very slow progress, less than a mile an hour, and trying without success to keep the stack of cartons from toppling at every small bump.  I think that even if I had run over an anthill or a crushed beer can on the sidewalk, the whole load was in danger of collapsing.  And if that happened, the records would shatter.  It would be like holding up and dropping a box full of china.

I made my laborious way east on E. 18th Ave., going north on Waldeck Ave. (a mistake; the street is more uphill than I remembered, although I had no trouble traversing it on my trike or on foot on many nights), and finally east on Lane.  After coming very close to spilling all the records--and having these nightmare visions of going through all the shrapnel that had been four crates full, and finding the remains of an Elvis Presley Sun 78--I took out the cell phone and called a cab.  The driver did not look happy about this, and I am sure the car was riding lower than usual once I loaded everything into the back seat and the trunk (I had to ride up front with him).

I walked like Quasimodo the rest of the day, and I had to look behind me to see whether or not I had a knife handle sticking out of the small of my back, but I gritted my teeth and said it was worth it.  So far, the most valuable record in there is Patti Page's first recording of "Tennessee Waltz", which originated as the B side of "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" (Mercury Records 5534).  I also acquired some unexpected LP vinyl treasures--all nine Beethoven symphonies, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, and a multi-record set of organ concerts by Albert Schweitzer, to benefit the people of Lambaréné and his medical mission there.

This is why I have never used the Sisyphus myth to describe my grappling with NaNoWriMo and all the many words and keystrokes that result from it.  (On that subject, I am down to less than 10 thousand words, about 3000 of them written today.)

Currently, I'm in Kafé Kerouac, and they will be closing soon, and I will venture out in the falling snow to get home to bed.  I have my headphones on, and the "Jewish Elvis," Mr. Neil Leslie Diamond, is singing "Cherry Cherry," my favorite song of his. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Ditched Blog for NaNoWriMo

We are down to the final six days of NaNoWriMo--the authors' form of PMS--and one sign that I have actually been at the keyboard grinding out the requisite number of words per day has been the neglect of this blog.  This month has been a fairly active one, and not exclusively at the keyboard.

No news is good news when it comes to cardiac news.  There is nothing to report on that front, except for the appointment (and possible cardiac catheterization) on the 11th, just over two weeks in the future.  The aneurysm remains at 4.5 centimeters, 1½ cm shy of how dilated it would be to require surgery.  My understanding is that if I wake up every day, that means it has not burst.

NaNoWriMo has not completely dominated my life this month.  The weekend after Veterans' Day, I went on a truly quick trip to Washington, D.C.  It was a milestone because this was the first time I had gone as a tourist since about 1983.  Previous blog entries and my diaries bear me out when I say that all of the trips I have taken to Washington since that time have been politically-oriented: anti-war, pro-environmentalism,, etc.

I don't know where I learned the phrase "bang-zoom," but it is fitting for this trip.  I left by Greyhound Friday night (it was supposed to be at 9 p.m., but we didn't pull out of the station on East Town Street until 10:30 or so), traveled by way of Pittsburgh, and arrived at Union Station in Washington just after 8:30.  My tour guide and boon companion on the trip, of course, was Robert Nedelkoff, who is well versed on D.C. history, although not a native, and literature, music, and other subjects as well.  When I arrived at Union Station, I texted him: Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed.  It is always good to make allusions like that to someone who is old or well read enough to actually understand them.

One of the stops would be Arlington National Cemetery, since the following Friday would be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it was "only fitting and proper" to visit his grave.  However, I did feel like I was visiting a grave while I was in Union Station, waiting for Robert to arrive on the Metro.

When I was in Washington in February, Robert and I took a tour of the Barnes and Noble, which was going to close in six to eight weeks.  I bought a journal for Susie and a paperback James Patterson novel (when in Rome... the Alex Cross series takes place in D.C.) for myself.  I went to the site where the former Barnes and Noble had been, hoping to get some satisfaction from seeing an empty storefront.  No such luck.  H&M, a Swedish clothing chain, has opened a store in its place, and there was a very rapid turnaround time between the two businesses.

My main reason for going to D.C. this weekend was to see the JFK exhibit at The Newseum, but I was disappointed with this.  Other than some contemporary hardware (such as the original yellow copy displayed in a Teletype machine from United Press International, the clothes Lee Harvey Oswald wore when arrested, and JFK's personal Smith-Corona electric typewriter), there was nothing that I either could not access on YouTube or which I had not purchased as DVDs at the Cincinnati Nostalgia Convention.
Author James L. Swanson autographs the copy of End of Days that Robert bought for me.  This event was at Politics and Prose on Connecticut Ave. NW on Saturday night during my visit.

Maynard Ave.'s diarist in residence (left--on the level, complete with bubble in the middle) and Robert Nedelkoff, November 16, 2013, on the balcony of The Newseum.  The Capitol Building and the Canadian Embassy are in the background.

New to me was the International Spy Museum, which seemed to focus more than it should have on James Bond and the various villains and nemeses he has encountered, both through the Ian Fleming novels and the many movies since the 1950s.  This was understandable, it seems to me, since espionage is the type of business that, in order to be successful, leaves as little of a trail, paper or otherwise, as possible.  I was amused to see the gold-plated Royal manual typewriter on which Fleming wrote several of the Bond novels.  (My first exposure to Ian Fleming was, of course, my Little Golden Book copy of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car.)  I also took some pictures of different wire and reel-to-reel recorders to share with a reel-to-reel tape recorders enthusiasts' group on Facebook.

Ford's Theater's exhibits seem to focus more on Lincoln's career and Presidency more than the assassination.  New to me were swatches from the ropes used to execute the four conspirators in July 1865, and the padded hoods worn by the prisoners during their imprisonment.  (The wardens and jailers at Guantanamo took a page from Edwin M. Stanton's playbook.  I don't believe that Stanton was the Keyser Söze who manipulated the events leading up to Lincoln's murder, but his treatment of the suspects once in custody was unconscionable.)  Some of the possessions that John Wilkes Booth had on his person when he was captured and killed--his wallet, small photographs of five women, and a diary--were also on display, with the diary opened to where 18 pages are missing.

Part of the exhibit at the Petersen House, across the street from the theater, includes a large tower representing every known book written by or about Lincoln.  The house itself is where Lincoln died, with several additions.  The silliest one included Lincoln in various contemporary media, including a cover of The Amazing Spider-Man where he shares the frame with Spider-Man and Captain America.  I was a little miffed they did not show a still from the Star Trek episode "The Savage Curtain" (Stardate 5906.4).  I was very glad they did not display anything from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

The crowning jewel of the trip was--aside from the excellent meatloaf at Jake's American Grille on Connecticut Ave., NW--a visit to the Politics and Prose bookstore.  I heard James L. Swanson speak, promoting his new book, End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.  The new hook, these past few years, for Kennedy assassination books, has been the lone gunman theory, and Vincent Bugliosi's doorstop Reclaiming History has been the most convincing.

I did get to the microphone to ask one question, dealing with the sudden estrangement between Marina Oswald and her benefactor and hostess, Ruth Paine, the Quaker woman who took Marina in rent-free and helped care for her two infant children when the Oswald marriage began to go on the rocks.

Swanson autographed End of Days for me, as well as the copy of the coffee-table book Lincoln's Assassins: Their Trial and Execution I bought at Ford's Theater.

I'm so surprised that I'm typing this at 6:37 a.m. on a Monday morning.  I am very slow to get out of bed in the morning, but I took a "nap" once I came home from Soulful Sundown, the monthly 5 p.m. service at the Unitarian church.  This nap lasted well past midnight.  I woke up, heated some Chef Boyardee lasagna, but decided not to try and sleep any more.  I went into my office, typed 1831 words of the NaNoWriMo project, and then decided to use the momentum I had started to write here in the blog.

Soon, it will be time to dive in the shower and then catch the bus, for another day of civil service.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Follow-Up to CT Scan; NaNoWriMo

I'm home from work today, because of the Veterans' Day holiday.  When last we spoke, I was dreading an appointment at the Ross Heart Hospital, since it has been six months since I learned about my thoracic aortic aneurysm.  I had all kinds of worst-case scenarios playing in my head as I made my way to the Ohio State campus.

One of these days I'll learn about the futility of worrying.  I had the CT scan.  The cardiovascular surgeon and the radiologist read it, and it turns out I don't have to have a scan again until next year.  (I found it amusing that The New York Review of Books sent me a checkbook-sized datebook/appointment diary for 2014 as a gift for buying a subscription.  I christened it by turning straight to December 14 and writing, "CT scan, Ross Heart Hospital, 9 a.m."  I still have not filled in the contact information in the front cover!)

The news is not all worry-free, however.  Dr. Whitson, the cardiovascular surgeon, mentioned that he was going to refer me to a cardiologist, because I told him about how I have pain that comes and goes in the left side of my chest, all the way up to my shoulder and sometimes into my humerus.  (None of these twinges have lasted long enough to justify a trip to the emergency room--especially when I'm paying off Riverside Methodist Hospital in $50 monthly installments for my trip last May, the parts that insurance would not cover.)  The pain lasts no more than four or five minutes, but during that time, it feels like that side of my chest is full of broken glass.

A day or two after the appointment, the cardiologist's aide called me up and told me about the appointment on December 11 at 7:45 a.m.  She may have tipped her hand a little too much, since she mentioned the trip may involve a cardiac catheterization.  I had a co-worker once who hung a sign above her desk that said Eat a live toad before breakfast, and nothing worse can happen the rest of the day.  I guess the same is true for starting the day by having a needle jabbed up your groin.

I'm writing this in haste, because I need to leave the house not too long after 1 for my monthly appointment at Optima Behavioral Health Care, meeting with my nurse practitioner for medication monitoring.  This is a time-consuming event, not because of the appointment (which seldom lasts longer than 10 or 15 minutes), but because of the travel time involved, going way out to the borders of East Columbus, out by Mount Carmel East Hospital.  So my goal is to have this entry safely in cyberspace before I head out to the bus stop.

We're in the 11th day of NaNoWriMo, the much-anticipated and -dreaded (by me, and by all other participants) monthly writing contest.  As of last night, I stand at 16,541 words, which is about one-third of the way there.  I took the laptop to Kafé Kerouac and wrote there two or three nights, but I also goofed off one or two nights, more out of depression than laziness.  I couldn't seem to summon the energy to do anything more than watch DVDs of the third season of The O.C.

The subject I tackle this year is--NaNoWriMo.  I gave it a different name, 50 K in Thirty Days, and it is semi-autobiographical through several characters.  One character is a single father who is attempting to tackle the contest along with his teenage daughter.  (The major change from my situation is that the father is a widower, not separated, as I am.  Another is that his daughter is a lesbian, while Susie is bisexual.)

I go through the same scenario every night.  The first few pages are like torture, but then I gradually pick up speed.  NaNoWriMo keeps reminding its participants that the name of the game is quantity, not quality, so there are times when I write prose that I'll marvel over, and there are times when I'm veering very close to word salad.  By the time I have reached my quota, there are times when I want to keep on going, but at the same time the mental and physical exhaustion have reached their peak.  I'm quite fond of a Louis L'Amour anecdote: "One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter--who was a child at the time--asked me, 'Daddy, why are you writing so fast?'  And I replied, 'Because I want to see how the story comes out.'"  That's the way this project stands at the moment.  Ask me how this story will resolve itself, I cannot tell you.  (I am not a big fan of Louis L'Amour--the Old West has never held my interest, although I do respect the fact that the man meticulously did his homework when he wrote his books, consulting newspapers, letters, diaries, and memoirs of actual pioneers and cowboys.)

Ross Heart Hospital, on W. 10th Ave. in Columbus.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Just a Typical Fall Season--Cardiopulmonary Doctor and NaNoWriMo

We're back to Eastern Standard Time here in Columbus.  The leaves are turning, and I habitually put on a denim jacket (and sometimes something heavier) when I venture outdoors.  I think I've retired the trike until next spring, so it will serve its secondary function--something in the dining room that I can run into while walking from the steps to the living room.

At the stroke of midnight, NaNoWriMo began.  As the hands of the clock neared midnight, I was sitting upstairs in my cleaner-than-usual study, Microsoft Word template onscreen, waiting for October to end and November to start.  (I admit I had jumped the gun a little by pulling up Word's manuscript template, and filling in the variables at the top, such as my name, address, email address, etc.  But I did not do any work on the manuscript proper.)

This will be the third day of NaNoWriMo--the aspiring novelist's PMS--the race to write 50 thousand words in 30 days.  As of right now, I have 4306 words under my belt.  I worked at home on Friday (not all of it just after the stroke of midnight), and had a long and rather aerobic session at Kafé Kerouac last night.  Susie was going to pass this year, but my first-day word count inspired her enough to jump back into the fray.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, here is a picture of the Lanier word processor former President Jimmy Carter used to write his memoir, Keeping Faith (1982).  When the machine glitched and he lost a chunk of the manuscript, it was newsworthy enough to make The New York Times.  (I have this on the brain because I am reading Charles Bracelin Flood's Grant's Final Victory, about Ulysses S. Grant's race against certain death from throat cancer to finish his Personal Memoirs in 1885.) 
Work, planning the Christmas trip to Orlando to see Susie and Steph, and NaNoWriMo--not necessarily in that order--are what dominate the month of November for me.  Tomorrow, I will be focusing on something else I have mentioned in this blog.

Late tomorrow morning, I am checking in with Dr. Bryan Whitson at the Ross Heart Hospital.  It has been six months since the emergency room doctors at Riverside Methodist Hospital discovered my thoracic aortic aneurysm, so it's time to check in to see whether it has dilated any further.  He is the same physician (a cardiovascular surgeon) who saw me in May when I first learned about the aortic aneurysm.  Before the appointment, I'll be having a CT scan, and, based on that, we'll see what will happen afterwards.  I think he will either decide on surgery (especially if it's 6 cm or greater), or waiting another six months.  (One friend suggested it may not be a bad idea to take my toothbrush and some clean underwear along with me for the exam.)

The CT scan is not painful, although the feeling when they inject the dye is not pleasant.  It feels like they've shot boiling hot water into your veins, but the feeling lasts less than 10 seconds.  And I am not happy about the prospect of going under the knife again.  The first surgery I ever had was exciting, when I was five and having a tonsillectomy.  (The enticement of all the Popsicles and ice cream I could eat afterwards sold me, as it would any five-year-old, but the reality was far different!)  I have had three surgeries since then (plastic surgery, vasectomy, and cholecystectomy), and each one has become more and more of a burden.  I am saved the worry of telephone-number medical bills, because I am blessed with excellent health insurance, but the idleness that comprises so much of recovery is worse than the immediate post-surgical aftermath.

So, I have tomorrow off, but it's hardly a vacation day.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quick Supplement to the October 6 Entry

When I posted on Susie's 16th birthday (October 6), I mentioned that I had sent another gift to her, but I could not divulge it, because it had gone astray in the mail stream.  (Someone in the Columbus post office probably threw it in the wrong tub, which meant it went on the wrong flight, and ended up in Honolulu instead of Florida.)

The USPS people in Hawaii were able to right its course, so Susie received her gift, albeit a little later than I hoped.  There were two gifts in the padded envelope.  One was a spiral Beatles notebook (which Susie says will either be her next journal or an idea notebook).  The other was a black T-shirt from Records Per Minute, one of the many eclectic record stores (very minimal inventory of compact disks and cassette tapes) that I haunt, and to which I have brought Susie.

I gave Susie the notebook on the left.  All four of these choices are available from The Fab Four Store.

I was briefly tempted to buy one for myself, so as to continue my own diary, but I am using a large bound legal ledger right now.  I told myself that once I turned 50, I would use these books as diaries, instead of the Dollar Store composition books I've used for the past decade or so.

I am home from Fritz the Nite Owl's showing of Halloween (1978).  Hate to cut it short, but it is past 3:30 in the morning, and the caffeine I had at Studio 35 has long ago worn off.  I realized that I had been quite unfair to my readers, leaving you dangling about what Susie received for her birthday.  So, now that we're all breathing again, I will post this entry and crawl toward the bed.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Vinyl, Bubbles, Urban Beachcombing, CARRIE

The now-ended Federal Government shutdown did not affect me this time, since I now work for the State of Ohio, but I did sit out one day of it.  Last Monday was Columbus Day, one of those holidays that Federal workers--but not many other people--get to take.  (State workers have the same holidays as Federal workers, except for unannounced Federal holidays, such as the death of Gerald Ford in late 2006.)  I took full advantage by sleeping in for three days in a row, prowling record stores, and acquiring more furniture.  Most welcome was a cabinet (given to me by a friend; she had foraged it from curbside in Dublin, but had never used it) to house the latest additions to the vinyl collection.

Ah, yes!  My collection of 78s seems to have stagnated at this point, but I am at least 100 albums richer when it comes to 33s.  A fellow student at St. Mary's Middle School (I was there for seventh and eighth grade; when I was in eighth grade, he was in fifth) has been a Facebook friend for some time, and noted my frequent posts about my never-ending hunt for vinyl.  He messaged me privately, saying that he was going to get rid of much of his vinyl collection, did I want them?  I was floored and moved at the same time.  We had not seen each other since 1977, and we were not especially close at St. Mary's, but he was willing to drive from Carroll to Olde North to leave me the vinyl he had collected since junior high.  Only through social media is such a thing possible.

You can't bold or italic on Facebook, but I would have set my "Hell yes!" in 24-point bold were it possible.  So, late last week, I came home from work, and lo and behold there were between 100 and 150 albums sitting on my porch.  I apparently have become more anal-retentive (or more conscientious--this can be spun more than one way, I suppose), because I hefted the stack of them upstairs to my study, logged onto my account, and began cataloging my acquisitions.

I witnessed something interesting late Sunday afternoon, as I was waiting at the corner of S. Grant and Oak Sts.  I was in a good mood, because I had come from the library's Bag Sale (a grocery bag full of books for $5), and I held a grocery bag that was close to overflowing).  I happened to see soap bubbles, some the size of volleyballs, drifting across Oak St.  I turned around, and there was a heavily bearded man, in a purple dress shirt and black pants, standing in a parking lot and blowing these enormous bubbles.  He had a large white bucket full of soap, and he did not say a word, but he blew bubbles so large that one driver on S. Grant slammed on his brakes when he saw it floating across the street.  I have not blown bubbles since I was a child, except maybe to teach it to Susie when she was a toddler, but I truly enjoyed watching this.

Thursday night, I went to the first showing of the remake of Carrie at the Gateway Film Center.  Carrie was the first Stephen King novel I ever read, although I was an adult before I saw the 1976 movie with Sissy Spacek and John Travolta.  I was pleased to see that this remake was more faithful to the novel, while including some of the scenes from the first movie that were not in the book.  (I am not sure how the 1976 movie did not get an X rating, since there was full frontal nudity during the opening credits.)

What did I think?  I agreed with the reviewer from The San José Mercury News who said the movie's biggest fault was the downplaying of Carrie's bullying.  The movie made it seem like the bulk of Carrie's suffering came from her fanatical mother, who seemed to think anything that brought pleasure was sinful.  I was glad that the movie emphasized how social media has made bullying even worse.  When 17-year-old Carrie has her menarche (first menstrual period) in the gym shower, not only do the other girls throw tampons and sanitary napkins at her, one of the girls films it with her camera phone, and within days the video is all over YouTube.

As one who was not popular in high school, and on the receiving end of plenty of bullying and ridicule, there is a large part of me that was rooting for Carrie after she laid waste to her school (and fellow prom-goers) after her very public humiliation.  I think of it as the ultimate Revenge of the Nerds.  The Carrie White character is also the ultimate fish out of water.  Many TV series deal with people who are adapting to new and totally alien surroundings--shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and even The O.C.--yet you come away thinking that there is no safe place for Carrie, not at home, not at school, not in the small Maine city where she lives.

I heard the name Stephen King again this morning.  At 12 midnight on November 1, NaNoWriMo (a portmanteau of the phrase National Novel-Writing Month) begins, and now that I'm experiencing the empty nest syndrome, I have no excuse not to become one with my laptop and try to write 50 thousand words between then and 11:59:59 p.m. on the 30th.  I braved the cold rain to go to a workshop at the Bexley Public Library on preparing for NaNoWriMo.  The leader was Jody Casella, who writes children's and young adult fiction (author of Thin Space).  She emphasized the acronym BIC as the #1 must for NaNoWriMo.  (It's not the ballpoint pen or BIC America speakers, it stands for Butt In Chair.)  For advice, inspiration, or a how-to for writing effectively, Casella recommended over a dozen books, and one of them was Stephen King's On Writing.

A Wang word processor from the early 1980s, similar to the model formerly used by Stephen King.

I am not sure if Susie is going to attempt NaNoWriMo this year.  She has mentioned her plot idea in a Facebook post, but whether she will find the time between schoolwork and her mom's rule that she needs to be offline by 10:30 p.m. on school nights, is unclear to me.

For my part, I have heard that it takes two weeks to develop a habit.  This is often a truism, when it comes to something like remembering to turn on the porch light at night (which I do every night of the year except trick-or-treat night) or shutting off the computer before leaving the house.  NaNoWriMo seems to be the exception to that in my case.  Susie and I were both poised at our respective keyboards starting at 11:55 on the night of October 31 in 2011, and at midnight we were like thoroughbreds charging out of the gate at Churchill Downs.  That year, I did manage to "win" NaNoWriMo, but my experience has been that I will write like a house afire for about two weeks, easily getting in the 1667 words per day necessary to come up with 50 thousand by the end of the month, and then I'll start slowing down and slowing down, and by the 12th or 13th of the month, I'll have ground down to a halt.

Earlier in this entry (which has strayed all over the landscape, I admit), I mentioned Federal holidays.  NaNoWriMo comes at a good time for me, because I have two holidays in November, Veterans' Day and Thanksgiving.  November is also a choice month because the weather is generally pretty crummy, and more people are inclined to want to stay where it's warm and with a roof over his/her head (especially days like today).  It's also a palatable alternative for literate people during the height of college football season.  (Why anyone who has learned to walk upright would love football is totally past my understanding.)  I think there had been one attempt to move it back to September or October, but this would have inconvenienced Jewish participants, because the month would likely include the High Holidays.

The Columbus Marathon is tomorrow.  The closest I have ever come is walking in the 5K marathon at The Charles School last spring.  There is no way I would ever run a marathon (I don't run because I don't have the stamina.  Why don't I have the stamina?  Because I don't run), but I think walking one (or at least a half marathon) is a possibility.  I keep reminding myself of my favorite line of dialogue in W.C. Fields' movie The Bank Dick (1940):

EGBERT SOUSÉ (played by Fields): My uncle, a balloon ascenionist, Effingham Hoofnagle, took a chance.  He was three miles and a half up in the air.  He jumped out of the basket of the balloon and took a chance of alighting on a load of hay.
OG OGGILBY (played by Grady Sutton): Golly!  Did he make it?
EGBERT SOUSÉ: Uh... no.  He didn't.  Had he been a younger man, he probably would have made it.  That's the point.  Don't wait too long in life.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sweet Sixteen for Susie

With my penchant for precision, I waited until exactly 1:13 p.m., when Susie was born, before calling to wish her a happy birthday.  (She didn't hear the message.  Her voice mailbox has been full for quite some time, because we forgot the passcode, and her phone was on vibrate.  We IMd on Gmail a few minutes later, however.)

Susie's birth time is easy to remember.  It's 13:13, in European or military time.  Mine is also simple--12:34 p.m.  One two three four.  My obsession with detail even revealed itself at Susie's birth.  Susie was delivered, after some 36 hours of labor, by Caesarean section, at Grant Medical Center.  When she finally made her debut, I was behind the sterile screen with Steph, so I could not see the actual event.  Our midwife took the single-use camera out of the breast pocket of my scrubs, and took the picture.  Susie still had the umbilical cord connected to her, and the nurses had yet to clean her.  I grabbed the camera back from the midwife, turned around and took a picture of the wall clock.

I was on last week to order Susie's gifts.  They were DVDs of the fifth and sixth seasons of House, and a copy of Chris Baty's book No Plot? No Problem!, which is Holy Writ for anyone who participates in NaNoWriMo.  (This is October, and November, the month for National Novel-Writing Month, is looming on the horizon.  Susie and I "won" NaNoWriMo in 2011, and since I'm doing the empty-nest thing, I guess I cannot plead too many distractions when I undertake it this year.)  I am not sure if Susie will try her hand at NaNoWriMo this year, but November is the perfect month for it.  It's so literate people can have something to do during college football season.

Right now, I am unable to write about another one of Susie's gifts.  I approach this with some reluctance because, as a former employee of the U.S. Postal Service, I am sensitive to criticism about it.  On Tuesday, I sent her a parcel via Priority Mail.  Included in the price is a tracking number, so your package leaves a trail beginning at the post office counter (in this case, at the Christopher Columbus station downtown, 43215) and ending up at its destination--which would be Merritt Island, Florida 32952.  I set up an alert so that the site would email Steph and me with each point in the package's journey.

On Thursday, the email notified us that the package had arrived--not at the sort facility in Orlando, but in Honolulu.  I was an expediter's assistant when I worked at the main post office in Cincinnati, so my guess is that someone in Columbus threw this package into the wrong tub, which meant it went out on the wrong flight.  We were in limbo until this morning, when I opened my email and saw that the package had made it to the sort facility in Orlando.  Unless someone drops the ball there, Susie should receive it tomorrow.  (I won't disclose the contents, because Susie reads this blog.)

The government shutdown continues.  It brings back memories of 1995, when another shutdown occurred.  At the time, I was working for the Internal Revenue Service here in Columbus as an appointment clerk, and for that entire week, the atmosphere at work felt like a prisoner on Death Row waiting for a phone call from the governor.  On November 13 at midnight, Congress' continuing resolution would expire.  I was on the phone to taxpayers and their representatives, telling them that I was cancelling appointments--no auditors would be there.  Our supervisor told us to report for work the next morning.

Outside the Federal Building, Mike Russell of WBNS-TV (Channel 10) interviewed me.  The only quote from that interview aired was my saying, "None of us got into government service with dollar signs in our eyes."  I stand by that statement.  Anyone who enters government service at any level for financial gain is a fool.  Russell wanted to film more at my place on Highland St., so I came home and told Steph, "We're having company."  "Who?"  "Channel 10."  Russell and a film crew arrived, and took some reaction shots of me watching Dan Rather on The CBS Evening News--on my black and white portable.  He showed me talking about living from one paycheck to the next, and how I would feel the loss of even one day's wages.  (Compare this to an elderly woman who worked at the Industrial Commission when I arrived in 2004.  She had been there since World War II--hired when most men were in the service--and when she retired, supervisors found several uncashed paychecks in her desk.  If my paycheck is short $50, I feel its loss!)

We also came in the next morning, although the government officially closed for business at midnight.  I called a few more accountants and taxpayers and told them about the cancellations.  Finally, around 10 a.m., I left to get a Coke, and when I came back, my supervisor said, "Paul, sign your furlough letter and go home," handing me the letter and a pen.  I signed it, put on my jacket, and headed for the door.  The telephone on my desk rang.  Just on instinct, I turned and reached for the receiver.  Then, I just shrugged my shoulders and walked out, and headed home.

The shutdown ended on the 19th of November.  I remember a video clip of Bob Dole (R-Kansas) saying, "If the government shuts down, his [President Clinton's] fingerprints will be all over it."  We see how well that worked during the 1996 elections.  Clinton was re-elected with 379 electoral votes, and he carried 31 states and the District of Columbia.

This weekend has not been totally boring.  I did some major cleaning in my study (the living room is next, since it's turned into an Oscar Madison-type bachelor pad, which, even in my re-bachelor state, I'm not liking) and discovered a small pocket diary that I bought on eBay earlier this year.  It covers only the month of January 1887, and, because of its age and fragility, I will leave it blank.  It is also the only time I have ever seen an entire appointment book that covered only one month.  (I have seen five-year diaries--although I never used them--and appointment books where the whole week appears on two pages.)

I wonder if the Rhode Island Underwriters Association gave their clients a new diary every month, as a perk for buying a policy.

I left work early and went to a rummage sale at a friend's house on N. 4th St.  Most of the selection was women's clothing, which, of course, did not interest me.  I did buy $6 worth of records, including The Rock 'N' Roll Era--1963 (the year of my birth), a Time-Life compilation.  I was a little dismayed it did not contain "I Will Follow Him," by Little Peggy Marsh, which was the #1 hit the week I was born.

(The week Susie was born, the #1 hit was Elton John's "Candle in the Wind/Something About the Way You Look Tonight."  I believe it was the recording of the version of "Candle in the Wind" that Sir Elton John sang at Princess Diana's funeral that summer.)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Russell Speidel (1936-2013)

During the blog's hiatus this summer, I learned that Russell J. Speidel, who owned Duttenhofer's Book Treasures when I lived in Cincinnati, died July 16, at the age of 77.  I had wanted to forgo posting a tribute to him here until after a memorial service.  However, I learned this week that his husband has decided there will not be a memorial service--neither he nor Russ wanted one.

When I was finally flush enough to afford a Clifton Heights apartment, proximity to Duttenhofer's Book Treasures (and, I admit, to the bars) was my primary consideration.  I had fallen in love with Duttenhofer's the first time I visited it in the mid-1980s, when I was living in a rented room above a Dairy Barn in Hartwell and working too few hours at Feicke Web.  Russ was behind the glass counter, very helpful and knowledgeable about anything in print, and the store looked much more pleasant than the intimidating Acres of Books on Main St.  I learned later that he had been an attorney and a judge in Clermont County, and when he left the legal profession, he took a job as a cashier for Stanley Duttenhofer, the store's founder and original owner, and bought the store when Stan decided to retire.

He knew me as a customer until I moved to a small apartment above the Christian Science Reading Room on W. McMillan St. in 1990.  I saw them then almost daily, stopping in to buy the newspaper, chat with him, browse, and occasionally buy, books.  The mailbox in my apartment vestibule was small, so I put a tag on its door: CARRIER: Leave packages @ Duttenhofer's!  When my job situation was precarious, and I was too poor to afford a phone, he let me use the store's number on job applications.

(I must admit I abused this last favor a little.  When I came in to buy the newspaper one morning, he crossly passed along a message: "Joe says he can't meet you at Murphy's Pub until 11:30," and pointedly informed me that the store was not my answering service.  Phone service was the first thing I bought when I received my first paycheck from the U.S. Postal Service in May 1992!)

Duttenhofer's Book Treasures, June 2013.  Photo by Stephanie Mesler.

I often told people (and I think Russell would have agreed with me) that we had somewhat of a Dennis the Menace-Mr. Wilson relationship.  "Don't you have a home?" was his greeting to me on more than one occasion.  ("Yes I do.  It's on West McMillan, and it has lots of books in it," I'd reply.)  Nevertheless, he often bought books from me that had no value or interest, just so I would have some pocket money when payday was still a week in the future.  He gave me an autographed copy of Lawrence Welk's autobiography, Wunnerful! Wunnerful! because of his intense dislike of Lawrence Welk.  I also inherited much of his true crime books, after a leaking urinal dripped down on that section and ruined most of them.

I paid back in any way I could.  During my last years in Cincinnati, he often forgot to return the discount book cart to the inside of the store when he locked up for the night.  This was the cart that featured books he was selling for $.50 to $1.  There were no Gutenberg Bibles or First Folio Shakespeare volumes on the cart, but I knew that he would not want them stolen--otherwise they would have been in the FREE box.  I would roll the cart into the vestibule of my building, where it would not be so publicly displayed.

I also remember alerting him to some young scam artists in our neighborhood.  These were two little boys, whom I often saw out running the streets as late as 10 p.m. on school nights.  I was helping Russ out one Sunday morning, selling newspapers to pedestrians and drivers, wearing my black New York Times apron.  A man told me there were two little boys who had tried to sell him The Cincinnati Enquirer's Sunday paper for a dollar.  When he pointed them out to me, I shadowed them for a few blocks, and found that they were putting $1.50 in a vend box and taking out the entire stack of papers and reselling them.  I told Russ, but he would never tell me if he told the police or not.

(These same kids worked another scam.  One night I was coming out of Subway, and they offered to sell me, for $.50, a catalog of night school classes, courses on everything from flirting to bookbinding to bartending.  The kid's finger was covering the word FREE in the upper right-hand corner of the page.) 

The highest praise he ever gave me was when I visited Cincinnati several years after my move to Columbus.  Since that time, he had discontinued his Sunday hours, but I was not aware of this.  I went to the store, and the door was unlocked.  The lights were all out, except the emergency lights in the back of the room.  That was when I saw the sign in the window saying "Closed Sunday."

I went to the nearest pay phone and called him at home.  I told him his store's front door was wide open.  "You're kidding!" he whispered, sounding totally stunned.  I reassured him that I was dead serious--I was using a pay phone where I could keep an eye on the store.  He said he had left his cigarettes there the night before, and had gone back to get them, and must have forgotten to re-lock the door.

I told him I would stay at the store until he could come to lock it.  "Paul," he said, "What would I do without you?"

Rest in peace, Russell Speidel.

An interior shot of Duttenhofer's Book Treasures, taken by me in 2012.