Brickquest ’16

I should be writing on the tragic summer we have been having–the slaughter in the Orlando LGBT dance club, the uncalled-for police killings in Louisiana and Minnesota, the murder of police officers in Dallas–but I decided that I would give my readers a rather self-indulgent respite from all the tragedy that has dominated the Facebook pages and other social media this month and last.  (Undoubtedly, I will write about these at some point in the near future, but I am waiting for another shoe to drop.  I am afraid yet another tragedy is about to happen.)

Last Saturday, I made another of my now-legendary walks down the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.  In the past, these have been for the traditional “because it’s there” reason.  But last week, I was a man on a mission.  I was going to come back from Athens with bricks.

This spring, I learned from reading The Athens News online that Cady Hall, as well as Foster and Brough Houses, would be demolished.  These were three dormitories on the New South Green at Ohio University.  I had lived in all three of them at one time or another.  (My second quarter at O.U., I lived in Foster House.  It was rare for a freshman to live in a single room, but the director of housing permitted it because I was a freshman at 21, and older than my fellow dormmates would be had I lived in a freshman dorm.)

 

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Cady Hall is on the left, Foster House in the middle, and Brough House on the right, connected by an above-ground walkway.

The buildings were not architectural jewels, and were not aesthetically pleasing.  Their allure was that they were the only three dorms that were exclusively single rooms.  They were small rooms, and in my more cynical moments I described them as resembling a cell in a minimum-security prison, especially because of the stucco cinderblock walls.  Many students coveted them because they had individual cable taps in each room, as well as for the chance to live without roommates.

I was not happy at the news that these dorms would be demolished.  I didn’t know what O.U.’s timetable would be, until a Facebook friend mentioned that the demolition had begun.  I had been ready for another walk, so I decided that this time, my project would be to bring back a brick.

My significant other, Laurie, drove me to Nelsonville, as she has the last two times I’ve made this journey.  After some bison burgers at the Boot Factory Grill, I stepped off at the beginning of the trail, and got off at Currier St. on the West End.  Laurie and I met for tea and banana splits at Whit’s Frozen Custard.  Then it was off in search of bricks.

I would normally be amused at someone grieving over a building, but my throat caught as we drove down S. Green Dr.  Sure enough, Cady and Foster were still standing, but they were gutted.  Brough House (I just learned, while researching this blog entry, that I had been pronouncing its name wrong all these years.  The correct pronunciation is bruff.  I, and everyone else I knew, always pronounced it to rhyme with show.) was a pile of rubble.

Although I never graduated from O.U. (or anywhere), it does have a special place in my heart.  If it were logistically practical, I would like to end a walk in time to hear Cutler Hall’s chimes play “Alma Mater, Ohio” at 9 a.m. and noon.  I am always touched to hear that (and I text, read, or talk on my cell phone during the national anthem with impunity), and miss hearing it.

The workers had erected a chain link fence around the whole complex, but there were wide gaps that were not chained.  They had, I suppose, in their eyes, done enough to cover their liability.  While Laurie waited in a nearby parking lot (she said she would, if asked by O.U. Security, “disavow any knowledge of [my] actions,” in Mission: Impossible parlance), I slipped through a gap between two sections of fence and came away with a chunk of three or four bricks cemented together.  I came out of the fence waving this chunk over my head like a gladiator brandishing his opponent’s head.

Despite the blandness of the architecture (some people called New South Green the Monopoly board), I was proud to live in these three buildings.  Nowhere was this more evident than when I wrote letters from Athens, and on the return addresses, I used the full names of the buildings–John F. Cady Hall, Israel M. Foster House, and John Brough House.  (Cady was a longtime history professor at O.U.; Foster was a Republican Congressman representing Ohio from 1919 to 1925; and Brough was, for just over a year and a half, the 26th Governor of Ohio.)

There is some precedent in my brick quest.  Earlier in this blog, I wrote about my long search for a Cisler brick, from the long-gone Marietta brickyard.  As much as I ridicule and speak ill of Marietta, I would not rest until I owed a Cisler brick.  Finally, a former classmate, probably tired of my bombarding Marietta High School alumni Facebook pages with requests, boxed up two of them and mailed them to me.  One is in my dining room, the other on my desk at work.

My guess is that O.U. knew that many other people would probably want bricks from these dorms, and that was why they were lax in securing the foundation.  Cady and Foster will probably be gone before the fall semester begins, so I am sure there will be many more brickcombers (maybe one day that word will be in the OED!) who will be coming away from Athens with–literally–a piece of their college memories.

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Brough House, July 2, 2016

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Ride of Silence

I seem to have one of the few adult tricycles in Columbus.  Elsewhere, they are not so unusual.  (A friend who has traveled and taught all over the world said she often saw them in The Netherlands and in Israel, especially in the bigger cities.)  Despite that, I hauled myself and the three wheels of my Schwinn Meridian to City Hall two weeks ago to take part in the annual Ride of Silence, which honors bicyclists injured or killed in accidents with cars.

The ride launched from the east side of City Hall, sent off to the sound of “Amazing Grace,” on bagpipes, after reading the names of bicyclists who died or suffered major injuries when riding with cars.  (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) always comes to my mind whenever I hear “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes–it’s like hearing the “William Tell Overture” and thinking of the Lone Ranger.)

This is something that could only happen to me: In a ride dedicated to bicycle safety, I had my first accident.  I had not gone far in the ride, when I took my hands off the handlebar to aim the camera on my phone.  The handlebars and front wheel made a 45-degree turn, and the trike tipped over.  I spilled out of the saddle and landed hard on my right knee.

The only real casualty was my pride, except that my right knee still has a bad bruise.  The first few days, I could not bend the knee without pain, which made climbing stairs an ordeal.  Standing up and taking the first few steps caused pain, but I was able to walk once I cleared that hurdle–although I logged “only” seven or eight miles those days.

This is the perfect time to promote the fine work of Paradise Garage at 921 N. High St.  I adhered to the adage that when the horse throws you, get right back on.  Unfortunately, the trike handled very sluggishly, and it took all my energy just to pedal it a short distance.  With much effort, I managed to get to the Short North (the ride was long gone by then), and to Paradise Garage.  They realigned the trike, inflated the tires, and straightened out a bent fender, and it rode smoothly afterwards.  Their work was so swift and efficient, and reasonably priced, that I was able to jump back into the Ride of Silence as it came south on High St.

August Critical Mass

Another biking event, the Critical Mass Ride, prepares to launch from the west side of the State House.  (No pictures of the Ride of Silence, since I wiped out so early!)

This was not my first cycle accident.  I did not learn to ride a bike until I was 17, and on one of my first trips out on my own, I was riding on the sidewalk and hit my neighbor’s front steps.  This sent me over the handlebars and into a rose bush.  I tore my clothes and had various scratches from thorns, but I was too grateful I didn’t injure my eyes to dwell on my pain.

There will come a time, I am sure, that bicycles and other human-propelled vehicles, will be much more common on city streets.  They may even become more the rule than the exception.  I am not sure whether that will mean increased, or decreased, fatalities and injuries.  More bikes on the road increases the likelihood of more accidents, but if drivers–especially the conscientious ones–are more aware that they are sharing the road, it will be safer all around.

Both sides need to respect the power of the automobile.  A car outweighs a bicycle by about three tons, and can accelerate much more quickly, and travel at a greater velocity, than a bike.  A driver should not be behind a wheel when fueled by anger, booze, narcotics, or ego.  Bicyclists should never forget this, and “drive defensively” is a mantra a bicyclist should heed even more than someone driving a car.  (I always heard that defensive driving means assuming everyone else on the road is drunk.)

Unfortunately, at next year’s Ride of Silence, there will be new names.

From Corral G to CMH

Bay to Breakers is well known and respected in the world of competitive runners, and either a joy or a curse for people who live in San Francisco.  On a national level, though, not many people seem to know about it.  I took an uncharacteristic look at the Sports page of The Columbus Dispatch‘s Monday edition, and there was no mention of it, not even a one- or two-paragraph mention.

I waited in Corral G for the air horn signaling that it was time to take off.  Corral G the corral for walkers, and it’s the penultimate corral–the last one is Corral H, which is reserved for families.  Now that I’m a veteran of two Bay to Breakers race, and one Capital City Half Marathon, I am beginning to see that walkers are pretty much second-class citizens in the world of competitive running.  This is most evident in the media coverage.  I DVR’d WBNS’ coverage of the Half Marathon, and sure enough, they pretty much closed up shop after runners began crossing the finish line.  Reporters were stationed at various points along the 13.1 miles, but they were long gone before we were anywhere close.  (To their credit, volunteers along the route did stay to root for us, and to give us cups of water and Gatorade.)

At Bay to Breakers, from my perch embedded in Coral G, I could see that the serious racers–as well as the ones who were there for the Mardi Gras and party aspect–seemed to think of the walkers as the tagalong younger siblings who’d go away if you’d give them a quarter.

I know that the walkers can’t be released with the other runners, especially the seeded runners and Corral A, but it was a good 45 minutes before they moved Corral G up to the line, by which time runners were already crossing the finish line at the Great Highway.  (Isaac Mukundi of Grand Prairie, Tex., won with a time of 35:23.)  This year was better than last year, when we waited at least an hour before we were able to start pounding asphalt.  That meant that we were still standing there with people through tortillas at us while the runners were already finished.

My overall time was 2:34:20, which was an improvement of 10 minutes from last year.  I was in no pain when I was finished.  Indeed, according to my Fitbit, I accumulated a total of 21 miles of walking the entire day, beginning with my walk down to the Embarcadero in the morning, and my walk back from the Great Highway.  I averaged about a 21-minute mile, but I did much better on the Hayes Hill Challenge than I expected.  The hill has an 11% grade, and I scaled it in 12:49.61, not an easy task because many of my fellow walkers were dodging and weaving the drunks around the house parties.

The after-party was still full of energy, unlike last year’s in The Panhandle, where it had pretty much lost its momentum by the time the walkers had made it back.  The party concentrated this year around Mile 4, on either side of John F. Kennedy St. in Golden Gate Park, and featured a much broader area than The Panhandle, so people could relax, hang out, and have fun.

I had the sense to walk back to North Beach–a long walk, even if you haven’t already walked 7½ miles and then some–by another route than Russian Hill.  Hayes Hill has a steep grade, but the 27% grade of Russian Hill is much worse, especially when going down, where you’re fighting gravity the whole way to keep your legs from collapsing.

When Bay to Breakers posts the results on the Website, they should specify walkers versus runners.  Comparing a walker’s pace to a runner’s makes the walker look like a complete invalid.

Bay to Breakers specifies a walker’s corral, whereas the Capital City Half Marathon application asks your estimated finish time.  I decided to err on the side of caution and say four hours.  I think they should specify walkers’ corrals.  (I surprised myself by finishing in 3:23:51.)

The trip home was uneventful, which was great, since departure could have been disastrous.  I rode to the airport in the Supershuttle, with a driver who drove with recklessness that surpassed Steve McQueen’s in Bullitt (1968), where the chase scene took place in Russian Hill.  While on the ride, I realized my Fitbit was not on my wrist.  I went through my phone and found a picture of me in the Green Tortoise’s lobby just before I left–I was wearing it in that shot.  I was about to phone the hostel to ask them to mail it to me if they found it, but when I opened the door to the shuttle at Southwest’s drop-off point, I found the Fitbit on the floor.

After booking my suitcase, I went to my wallet and could not find my debit card.  I was about to call the Telhio Credit Union when I had the sense to look in another part of my wallet–there it was, in a different pocket than where I usually keep it.

As Commander William Riker says, “Fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise.”

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A scene repeated with each gate.  Impatient runners wait for the air horn and the splitting of the tape.

 

Race Eve

This evening, there has been a No Wi-Fi Pre-Party Hour here at the Green Tortoise, before many (if not most) of the guests here tumble out for a pub crawl.  So, I’m doing teetotaler things, like writing in my blog and letting my dinner from Tony’s Cable Car Restaurant settle.  Probably having such a heavy meal on the eve of Bay to Breakers wasn’t the brightest thing I’ve ever done–I’m just hoping it won’t come back and haunt me while I’m hitting the bricks tomorrow.

There are memes all over Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr about how you should stay in touch with people, let them know you love them, etc., because you can’t take for granted that you’ll get another chance to do it.  It’s very trite, and its endless repetition has made me dread seeing it in my newsfeed, but I have learned during this journey that, like many a cliché, there is more than a grain of truth to it.

I spent the afternoon with my friend Gerry Nicosia, author of the definitive Kerouac biography Memory Babe, in Berkeley this afternoon.  Before coming out West, I suggested to him that we try to meet up with Richard Castile, who lived in a retirement home in Mill Valley.  (I had known Dick since 1979, mostly as a pen pal.  He was an advisor to Bay Area youth in Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), the Unitarian Universalist youth organization that was the focus of my adolescence and early adulthood.  We met at General Assembly 1980, which was in Albuquerque, N.M.  Gerry gave a poetry reading at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco, where Dick was a member, and they learned that they had me in common.

Dick and I lost touch when he moved to Stockton to live with his son’s family, and I lost the address.  Gerry had offhandedly mentioned that Dick had moved back to Mill Valley, so I suggested that the three of us try and get together.

Gerry’s voice mail this morning brought news that I did not want to hear–Dick died three months ago, aged 84.  I doubly kicked myself because I learned last year, when I was in the Bay Area for Bay to Breakers, that Dick had moved back to Mill Valley.  Gerry suggested we visit him, but I didn’t feel right about just showing up uninvited.

Dick taught high school history in the San Francisco schools, but he had a year-long hospitalization after being marooned in Donner Summit during a blizzard.  This meant he had to retire from teaching, after many extensive surgeries and therapies.  He always seemed frail to me, but his energy was boundless.  Besides being an advisor to LRYers, he was very active in the Unitarian church in San Francisco, and served on the Board of Directors for the World Affairs Council of Northern California.  He mentored generations of students, and, despite never marrying, adopted a teenage son.

The last time I saw him was when Steph and I visited San Francisco for our honeymoon.  We had a long meal at a restaurant at Giardelli Square, and Steph was fascinated by him and his many travels.

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Gerry and I had a good lunch in Berkeley, and we tried to find parking places and navigate the chaos around the U.C. Berkeley campus–on graduation day!  That meant we had to cut our time at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Ave. much too abbreviated.  He marveled at how much walking I have been doing, both in San Francisco and in Ohio–I’ve filled him in by letter about my extensive walking in Columbus and my walks to Athens.  He said it looks like it has been getting me in shape.

I’ve asked myself if this devotion to walking–for longer distances, trying for shorter durations–has meant that I have become what I never wanted to be: an athlete.

I have written in prior entries about my lack of athletic prowess, and how I have never had any interest in any sports at any level.  For a long time, it was impossible for me to grasp that my peers were doing athletic activities voluntarily.  (I remember one Saturday morning when I was about 11, and a friend and I were hanging around the playground of Washington School, the elementary school I intermittently attended, and I saw guys, some of whom I knew, walking into the gym.  There was some kind of basketball clinic that morning.  They were going to something like a phys. ed. class without having to?)

One of the few things my parents did right was not to force me into trying out for athletics.  I saw a lot of my friends who did tee-ball and Little League, but I never considered participating.  As I grow older, I often wonder how many children were forced, and how many did it without really wanting to so they could please their parents.

When I go to my Friday night yoga session in Worthington, I have a 20-minute walk from the bus stop to where the class takes place.  My walk takes me past a park where I have seen boys as young as 10 or 11 playing and practicing lacrosse.  I usually associate that with fraternity guys, the Ivy League, and excessive drinking and violent partying, so I found it unusual that kids that young would be playing it.

At one job I had, a woman who worked there proudly wore a pin all summer.  The pin was large, and it featured a color picture of her son, who was probably about nine, in a baseball uniform.  Two things jumped out at me at once: One was that the bat almost looked bigger than he was, since he was a small and rather scrawny kid.  The other was the expression on his face.  He was not smiling, and he looked like he really didn’t want to be there.

Walking will probably be the extent of my athletic prowess, and many people have complimented and marveled at my speed and my stamina.  And I have begun seeking out events such as the Half Marathon just so I can pay money  to walk a distance I have walked many times for free–and without as many people.  (Bay to Breakers’ allure is all the craziness and an excuse to go to San Francisco, as much as the walk itself.  After 5½ years of living in Cincinnati, hills aren’t a novelty to me, and Hayes Hill is an incline that I think will be easier this year, since yoga has improved my lung capacity.)

So, if I’m paying to walk, and have started to accumulate bibs, T-shirts, and medals, maybe I have ventured into that unknown territory I have never sought to explore.

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Here is a picture I took last year.

 

Bozos on This Bus

I never developed any enthusiasm for The Firesign Theatre, but quite often I have invoked the title of their fourth album, I Think We’re All Bozos on This Bus.  I think it quite often when I ride COTA in Columbus, and the title was ringing in my head as I was travelling across country this week to San Francisco.

I am typing this in the ballroom of the Green Tortoise Hostel in San Francisco’s North Beach.  The time is just before 10 a.m. Pacific Daylight Saving Time, and I arrived here in the city by the bay just before 7 a.m. today.  I’m early arriving at the hostel, so I had breakfast, and I’m blogging here while waiting for my room and my key to be available.

Last year, I came out here for Bay to Breakers, the 7½-mile footrace from The Embarcadero to the Great Highway, run annually since 1912.  I had such a blast that I decided that I will make this an annual event.  (Last year was even more unique in that I flew out here, and then took a bus trip to Titusville, Fla. so I could be in Brevard County to see Susie graduate from high school.)

I am a long-time veteran of Greyhound travel, and I think that if they had anything analogous to frequent-flyer miles, I’d never have to pay for it again.  This trip was no exception–when I announced my plans to friends, jaws dropped over, heads shook, they made the latest of many doubts about my mental stability.

The trip began Tuesday night at 11:20 from the Greyhound station in Columbus, and ended this morning at the station on Folsom St. here in San Francisco.  I changed buses in Denver, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

The bozos on the bus came to the surface as we were crossing Kansas.  The trip from Columbus to Kansas City was uneventful.  I was disappointed that it was too foggy in St. Louis for me to see my beloved Gateway Arch, especially since its other name, the Gateway to the West, would be especially appropriate.

Once we crossed into the Sunflower State, that was when things began to be… noteworthy.  I have crossed Kansas before, but I was totally in awe of the section I saw, so atypical of the prairie, very high skies, and desolation I had experienced in previous journeys, and what usually comes to mind when someone says “Kansas.”  (On the other hand, having grown up in the Allegheny Plateau in Southeast Ohio, I wondered why so many people think Ohio is flat.)  The area was hilly, and rich with vegetation.  I texted my friend John in Madison, Wisc., who has traveled with me many times by bus and by thumb, and who was Google Maps before there was such a thing.  Totally taken aback, I texted him: Leaving Junction City.  Can’t remember Kansas being this hilly and un-prairielike.  He told me I was in the Flint Hills region of eastern Kansas, known for its cattle ranching, and an area quite unlike the rest of the Kansas grasslands.  (I have not read William Least Heat-Moon, but I understand he wrote quite extensively about the region in PrairyErth.)

My awe about this soon took a back seat to the wildlife riding with me.  There was a kid of about 19 on the bus with his girlfriend, and dressed like some of the white gangsta wannabes I saw when we lived in Franklinton–baseball cap turned sideways, the nightgown-sized T-shirt, the pants tailored for clowns, and a skateboard.  He went back into the bathroom, and after about a minute we could all smell cigarette smoke.  (Smoking has been 100% forbidden on buses for at least a decade, although I remember when it was permitted in the last three rows of the bus, although they did not allow cigars or pipes.)  The driver wasted no time in pulling over, and telling the kid he would be getting off at the next exit, which happened to be Enterprise (pop. 855).  The kid tried, in vain, to stay on the bus, but the driver would not budge.  He pulled over the bus, and I saw the kid hop onto his skateboard and roll away, leaving his girlfriend whimpering in the seat they had shared.  (The postscript to this story is that he managed to hitch a ride almost immediately, and reached Denver ahead of us, where he met his girlfriend when we arrived.  Commander William Riker has said that “fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise,” and I guess this proves that.)

There was a food and rest stop in Salina, and a woman on the bus apparently did not learn from the lesson of the smoker who could not wait 30 to 45 minutes for the rest stop.  A new driver took the wheel at Salina, and the woman–who had boarded at Pittsburgh and was riding all the way to Riverside, Calif.–was so bold (or stupid) as to roll a blunt right in front of the new driver, while the driver was reviewing all the logs and paperwork before getting behind the wheel.  So, we were minus another passenger when we pulled out of Salina and headed westward.

We were an hour late getting into Denver, and I worried that this would throw off the rest of my schedule, but I worried for no reason.  The new bus managed to make it to Las Vegas on time, and I surprised myself after dawn by spending my time with my nose against the window, totally awed by the rock formations, plant life, and high canyon walls that flanked I-70 at that point.  (My first trip across the semi-arid land in New Mexico in 1980 put to rest my pre-conceived notion that the desert was just one huge sandbox, but I was not ready for what I saw as I crossed southern Utah.)  I took many pictures, and posted them to Facebook in real time.  Friends in St. George and Salt Lake City told me that this was part of the allure of living there.

Las Vegas was every bit as dismal as I expected.  When the first thing you see is a man in an underpass, wrapped in a filthy sleeping bag like a mummy, you understand the nickname “Lost Wages.”  Even the hotels and casinos I passed had a sad look about them.  (I’m not enough of a New Ager to say they exuded bad vibes or had a negative aura, but they broadcast “Stay away!” to me.)  During his four years of self-imposed exile in the penthouse of the Desert Inn, Howard Hughes wrote in a memo to Robert Maheu, his majordomo and chief cook and bottle-washer, “I like to think of Las Vegas in terms of a well-dressed man in a dinner jacket and a beautifully jeweled and furred female getting out of an expensive car.”  No question he never ventured outside his penthouse when he thought that, and managed to turn the city into his own personal Monopoly board.

I did not gamble in Las Vegas, because within 20 minutes of my arrival, I was in line for the bus to Los Angeles, and I was blessed with my own seat all the way to Anaheim.  We made stops in Barstow (which made me recall the opening lines of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which may be the “Call me Ishmael” of 20th-century American literature) and in San Bernardino (which I heard a woman on the bus call “San Bernaghetto”), and I fell in love with Riverside, especially its theaters, churches, restaurants, and clubs as our bus moved down Mission Inn Ave.  I want to come back and explore it more some day.

Going from Anaheim to L.A. drove home the point that Southern California is no place for a non-driver.  Even after 10 p.m. on a weeknight, the 91 Freeway was moving slower than a funeral procession, with vehicles very close together moving a few feet, stopping for several minutes, and moving again.  I thought at first there was an accident or an event getting out, but it seems to be typical for the Los Angeles area regardless of the time of day.

I slept most of the way up I-5 from L.A. to about Livermore, except for some parfait at a rest stop in Avenal.  I watched out the window more than I read for most of the trip, because the trip left I-70 at Beaver, Utah and took I-15 all the way to Los Angeles, which was unfamiliar terrain to me.

Arriving here in San Francisco just after 7 a.m., I immediately walked up to the Green Tortoise here in North Beach, happy to be walking again after sitting almost non-stop since Tuesday night.  There will be much more to blog about between now and my flight out of San Francisco on Monday afternoon, so stay tuned.

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Your celebrity blogger, Green Tortoise Hostel, North Beach, San Francisco

 

Hitting the Streets

My 53rd birthday was Friday, and I honored it by venturing into unfamiliar terrain for me.  Before heading to work on Friday, I actually set my DVR to record a sporting event–probably the first and last time this will happen.  I set it to record WBNS’ coverage of the Capital City Half Marathon on Saturday morning.

Why?

Because I was one of the people participating in this event.  It has been a springtime event here in Columbus since 2004, and I had never acknowledged its existence, except to curse it while it delayed and rerouted buses well into the afternoon.  I have been walking more and more in the last two years, often doing it during the early afternoon on weekdays in lieu of eating lunch, and since the weather is mostly better (although, this being Ohio, it is quite erratic at times), I’ve been walking more than I have been riding the bus.

One of the reasons I signed up for the Half Marathon was to mentally prepare for Zappos.com Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, which is two weeks from today.  I had such a good time last year that I decided to make it an annual event, both for the trip to San Francisco and for the 7.46-mile journey from The Embarcadero to the Great Highway and all the festivities and celebration that accompanies it.  (It’s much more sensible, and less dangerous, than running with the bulls in Pamplona, which has been on my bucket list since I read The Sun Also Rises in high school.)

The two events are quite dissimilar–in distance, in terrain, and in atmosphere.  Bay to Breakers’ reputation has been for its party atmosphere, involving costumed and naked runners, massive alcohol consumption, and an after-party which necessitates having fleets of paddywagons and ambulances at the ready.  Every year, the organizers have vowed that there would be crackdowns on the open containers, the littering, and the public urination, while at the same time realizing it’s as realistic as issuing an edict banning thunderstorms.  Serious runners participate, but the majority of the people who will be in the Bay City’s event on the 15th are there for the revelry.

The Capital City Half Marathon, on the other hand, is quite different.  It is an event honored by serious runners worldwide–people come from all 50 states and from outside the USA.  I was one of the most bizarrely dressed people to participate.  I was in jeans, a black hoodie (The Weather Channel predicted a high of 60 degrees) that read TIMES NEW ROMAN, and gray tennis shoes that looked like they came from Goodwill for $3.50 (which they did).

The Thursday before the race, I went to the Columbus Convention Center (my bad-weather site for walking), weaving my way through the participants and exhibitors at the Health and Fitness Expo to pick up my race packet.  It contained my T-shirt, my bib (I proudly wore #7489), and an event guide that was about 90% ads.  It reminded me of my trip to Fort Mason in San Francisco last year to pick up the same material, except the Fort Mason location was much bigger, and the salespeople were much more aggressive in pitching their wares (shoes, shirts, Fitbits, energy drinks, etc.).

I knew that I would be banished to Corral J, the furthest back from the starting line at the corner of S. Front and W. Town Sts.  The event assigns runners based on anticipated finish times, with the fastest ones being in Corral A, and the release times are staggered.  There would be too much of a free-for-all if everyone exited at once, and walkers and slower runners would not fare well in the stampede.  (Bay to Breakers has a designated “Walkers’ Corral,” Corral G.)

At the Half Marathon, Corral J was over three blocks south of the starting line, and the loudspeakers did not carry sound well enough to hear what was happening at the front.  The only way we knew when corrals were released was when we moved forward toward the starting line after corrals in front of us were off and running.

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The race is officially under way, and those of us in Corral J are still a good three blocks south of the starting line.

Per the results emailed to me late yesterday afternoon, I crossed under the starting banner at 8:29:07 a.m., almost a half hour after the first starting gun.  When you first begin, you think that the walking is a cinch–one foot in front of the other, repeat as necessary.  Nothing simpler!  The previous week, I did my first Nelsonville-to-Athens walk of this calendar year, on the first weekend, which is less than a mile shorter of the Half Marathon, so I passed under the banner, stepped on the rubber pad, and then the chip began clocking me.  (The timing chip was on the back of the paper bib bearing my bib number and corral assignment, and it activated the timer when I crossed the starting line, and timing would stop when I crossed the finish line.  This article explains it in more detail.)

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The course of the Capital City Half Marathon.  The green runner silhouette represents the starting line.

The first two miles or so were familiar terrain–part of the course I walk every lunchtime up Front Street.  It was not under the third mile that we first saw “refueling stations,” places where people (often schools, informal running clubs, or church groups) were giving out free cups of water and Gatorade.

I pleasantly surprised myself when I was keeping abreast of my time. I started the stopwatch of my trusty Casio Super Illuminator as soon as I stepped onto the rubber pad, and did a small double-take when it neared the one-hour mark.  Almost exactly as I reached one hour, I passed the four-mile mark, while I was on the Olentangy Freeway crossing Woody Hayes Dr.

The eastbound leg down E. Lane Ave. was familiar turf to me, especially as we came closer to High St.  (When I visited my mother in Columbus while in high school, I mentioned to her that one of my friends lived on E. Lane Ave. near campus, and she told me that it was an area “with all these cruddy bars and porno theaters.”  This may have been in the waning years of The World Theater at 2159 N. High St.  It later became the Roxy, where I would see The Song Remains the Same (1976).  Hearing about all the cruddy bars and porno theaters made me want to visit E. Lane Ave. all the more.)

The southward stretch of High St. was familiar turf.  I frequently spend hours on end at the McDonald’s, and often eat at either Subway or Qdoba in the same block, although I don’t log as many consecutive hours anywhere as I did at the Subway in Cincinnati in the early to mid-’90s.)  I even felt a little rebellious running in the middle of High St. on a Saturday morning.

Friends and family stood at nearly every block holding up signs while cheering on family members participating.  The onlookers thinned by the time we were well into the race–indeed, I suspect many of the faster runners had already completed the race.  No one was there for me, although I did hear “Go, Times New Roman!” from two or three people.

The race made the rubble that had been the Northside branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library seem beautiful, since it was at Mile 6, which was pretty much the halfway point of the race.  (The real figure is 6.55, half of 13.1, but there was no marker for that.)  As long-time readers of this blog will remember, my memories of the year I lived in Weinland Park are not fond ones, but one sign of the transformation was the remodeled Kroger, which replaced the much derided Kroghetto.  (I did not recognize the produce section of the new Kroger without a cloud of gnats hovering above it.)

When we reached Mile 8, turning onto S. 4th St., I again checked my stopwatch.  I was amazed that I was still maintaining a 4 mph pace.  I was a little sore, but I was breathing well and my body was sending me no signals to slow down or (God forbid!) to stop.

The route became more intricate, with turns occurring every few blocks, instead of miles, once it came through German Village.  Columbus is not hilly, in the way San Francisco or Cincinnati is, but I welcomed any downward incline, no matter how slight.  As we were going south on S. 3rd St., we heard the bells of St. Mary Catholic Church chiming 11 a.m. (a few minutes early).  I said to the woman next to me, “Send not for whom the bell tolls…” and she said, “Don’t say that!  It won’t toll for us until we cross the finish line.”  I felt emboldened when we came into the double digits–the marker for Mile 10.  For anyone in a half marathon, whether running, walking, or participating in a wheelchair, that is like watching all the zeroes roll over on a car’s odometer.  Only 2.1 miles to go, and that is the longest part of the race.

I began to think there may be an end to this madness when I turned off of Deshler Ave. and began going north on S. High St.  The sight of the skyline buoyed my mood, and it cancelled any negative feelings I experienced as a light rain began to fall.  None of had the spring in the step that we had at 8:30, and some had dropped out at the five-kilometer mark, but we received much encouragement as we kept going.

I crossed the line at 11:52:57 a.m., and my official time was 3:23:51.  I was very pleasantly surprised to see that I had finished in less than 3½ hours.  Indeed, I was worried that I could not finish in four hours.  I knew I was a little under 4 mph when I hit the 12-mile mark, but I knew that, barring a fall or the aneurysm deciding at that minute to burst, I would be finishing before four hours had elapsed.  (The officials would begin closing up shop after four hours.)  According to my Fitbit, I reached 10 thousand steps at 9:21 a.m., when I was 72 minutes into the event.

Once I came home, I barely moved the rest of the afternoon.  As far as my breathing was concerned, I was feeling fine.  The many Friday evening yoga classes at The Dharma House in Worthington are showing results, and this was after my thinking that my breathing didn’t need improvement, since I have never been a smoker and have never had a chronic lung condition such as asthma.

I felt more pain in my legs after this event than after my three previous walks from Nelsonville to Athens.  The last one, which I did last weekend, was longer than the previous two.  I began at Rocky Boots, instead of at Robbins Crossing on the Hocking College campus, which added over a mile to the route.  (Laurie, my significant other–more about her in an entry in the near future–drove me down to Nelsonville, instead of my taking the GoBus to the Hocking College campus.  She drove ahead to Athens and met me there.  This walk, which was 12.8 miles,  took over four hours.)  I think the reason why I was in so much pain this time was because I had maintained a faster pace than normal–keeping a pace of over four miles an hour over 13 miles is not easy, whereas with the Adena-Hockhocking Bike Path, I walked at a leisurely pace, stopping to enjoy the scenery, check out train trestles and bodies of water that were new to me, and pay my respects to the goats at the fence of the Good Earth Farm.

Indeed, I was not out of energy by the time I crossed the line on S. High St. by what had been Lazarus Department Stores.  Only chafing prevented me from going another mile.  During Sunday, walking has been more painful, but that is because the callus layer and the dead skin on the soles of my feet came off while I was in the shower, and has exposed two or three spots of raw skin, and putting any weight on them is painful.  I’ve experienced this many times before, and will again, so I still plan to walk at lunchtime, and I will proudly display my finishers’ medal to my co-workers (a very heavy piece of bling) and wear my T-shirt.

And I’m already checking the Nelsonville weather forecast to see if the weather will make a walk next weekend feasible…

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Those of us who walked the whole 13.1 miles all looked like Napoleon’s army retreating from Moscow by the time we crossed the line, but the medal and the sight of a camera rejuvenated us, if only for a moment.

Burnout

I titled my last entry “January Ends Tomorrow,” and I could title this one “March Ends Tomorrow.”  However, I think the common thread running through much of my work (and off-work) time lately has been burnout.

Recently, I posted on a depression support page about burnout, especially as it relates to my job.  I mentioned that I really had no reason to feel it–the work is not mentally exhausting, I am earning that ever-elusive living wage, the insurance benefits are second to none, and I like my co-workers, as much as they can get on my nerves.  However, every morning is an internal battle to summon the mental energy to get outside and catch my bus to work.

The burnout is not the “compassion fatigue” that many people in the high-stress helping and healing professions–such as nurses, social workers, and teachers–experience.  Nor is it from overworking at tasks that are physically tasking.

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A very wise meme that has appeared on my Facebook feed lately.

At the same time, I am not seeking another job, either in my department or elsewhere with the State of Ohio.  I won’t say it’s “the hell I know,” because the job is not unpleasant.  I have a perilously low tolerance for boredom, because it leads to depression, and the job can often be dull.

The punch line here is that I genuinely like to work.  Some people who have not seen me since I was a young teenager may be rolling eyes while reading the previous sentence, but once I got my first “real” job (typesetting The Harvard Crimson), I jumped into the working world with both feet.  I took pride in the fact that I worked a 21½-hour shift to set the fall literary supplement in time for printing Sunday night, and my supervisor had to put her foot down at one point and restrict the number of hours I signed up to work.  (There were several factors in play there–need of money in a very expensive city, and the fact that The Crimson was pretty much my community and surrogate family.  At the time I was learning about families of choice versus families dictated by DNA.)  I mastered the CRTronic Linotype to the point that I eventually wrote a manual for it used by my successors.  At the same time, I was romanticizing and basking in the heavy caffeine consumption, poor sleep, and multiple hours I was working.  I would have treated a heart attack, ulcer, or stroke (even at the age of 20!) as a badge of honor.

When I became an honorary editor of The Crimson in 1983, I received a gift, a book called The Art of Fine Words: Offerings in Honor of Arthur H. Hopkins, dedicated to a man who served as The Crimson‘s printer and Linotypist  for over 35 years.  One writer wrote that one telltale way The Crimson was in crisis mode was when Hopkins would stop doing everyone’s job and focus on his own.  This is similar to a passage in John Updike’s 1971 novel Rabbit Redux, describing one of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom’s fellow employees at the print shop where he works.  This employee’s sole responsibility was proofreading and hand-setting a German language magazine.  “[He] had been likable in that he had done something scrupulously that others could not do at all.”  When my mental energy is at its peak, I have this type of mentality.

And even now, when it’s on the wane, it comes through, sometimes to the point of being a nuisance to others.  One of my responsibilities is typing ex parte orders for the Industrial Commission’s attorneys, and I have engaged in lengthy email disputes with attorneys over whether to italicize a word, citation formats, etc.  Even though the prevailing wisdom is to do it their way, and any mistake is on them, it is hard for me to go through with something I know is incorrect.  I know it’s not a hill I want to die on, but the feeling nags at me.

The common thread running through much of my working life has been that I seek jobs that I can leave behind.  A doctor, an attorney, or a student always have the lingering feeling that there is something more they can be doing.  A doctor always has more charts to update, or medical journals to study.  A lawyer can never be too prepared for an upcoming case or brief.  The specter of an upcoming exam or quiz always lingers in the mind of the conscientious student I never was.

It has been a long time since I have had a genuinely bad day at work, but I am thankful that when I leave at 5 p.m., I do not need or have to even think of the place until 8 a.m. the following day.  The walk from the bus stop home usually goes a long way toward decompressing me, but since I am living alone, I can vent in ways that will not upset or scare anyone else.  (This rarely happens.)

One of the few times I agreed with Archie Bunker on All in the Family was in an episode called “Archie and the Kiss,” when Archie came home from work and slammed the door behind him.  His son-in-law Mike complained about it, and Archie said:

“Listen, Meathead, when I come home from a hard day’s work, that means I been working hard all day.  Why?  To make money to buy things, like a house.

“And on that house is a door, which I also bought.  Why?  So when I come home from a hard day’s work, I got something to slam!”

This overall feeling of ennui (and caffard) has extended into other portions of my life.  Tonight, before sitting down to type this blog entry, I paced around and avoided this laptop like a junior high kid getting up the nerve to call to ask for a date.  I bought a new Jensen turntable, and from the moment I ordered it online until it was in my hands, I was impatient, like a kid on Christmas Eve.  I set it up, and it occupies a prominent place in a corner of the living room, and yet I’ve played less than two hours of music on it.  Of course, it’s surrounded by compact disks and records I don’t play.

The fact that I haven’t written in, or even looked at, this blog in eight weeks is another symptom.  I picked up and tried to resume the novel I began for NaNoWriMo, 50K in Thirty Days, but my momentum ran out after about two days, even as I tried to remember the words of a journalism professor at Ohio University, who counseled me to “write a few pages every day, and before you know it you’ll have a finished book.”  Also, I have gone from being a person very conscientious about writing in my diary to someone who takes the composition book out of the backpack maybe weekly.

The biggest contradiction here is that my personal life is on the upswing.  I have been spending time with a woman who has been making me very happy, and we have spent many days and nights together, as well as enjoyed planned and spontaneous road trips (to Cleveland and to Marietta, for example).  I will truly worry when my overall lassitude crosses over into the relationship.  The loved ones of people with depression tend to take it as a personal reflection of them, which is not the case.  They are no more to blame for it than they would be for their loved one having a physical illness (unless the person caught something contagious from them).

I managed to make it through a blog entry, so apparently this hasn’t been all-consuming.  You take your small victories where you can.

January Ends Tomorrow

I have, as is my unfortunate pattern, been lax in maintaining this blog, so I’m writing tonight, since I’m fresh out of excuses why I shouldn’t.  The first month of 2016 is at an end as of tomorrow, and it’s been a pretty good one thus far for me.

My annual aneurysm check was in mid-December, and the cardiologist was quite pleased.  The bulge in my thoracic aorta has actually contracted.  Had it dilated any further, this would have warranted additional monitoring, but he told me that if it continues to get smaller.  It is now at 3.9 cm, which is 0.3 less than it was in December of 2014.  If it continues this way, I can go for monitoring every two years instead of annually.

Those birthdays that end with 0 are the ones where you start thinking about mortality, and having a condition like an aneurysm–even though it doesn’t seem to be life-threatening at the moment–helps to drive home the point that I statistically have more years behind me than I do ahead of me.  (Many of the relatives on my mother’s side of the family lived very long lives, but what they experienced during those many years made me realize that it’s the quality of the years, not the number of years, that make the difference.)

I know that I can take some credit for the improvement in the aneurysm.  I have been trying to monitor and log my calorie intake on My Fitness Pal, and I am piling on the walking miles daily.  (Even when the temperature has dipped into the teens, which has been rarely thus far in ’16, I’ve been walking outside.  The Convention Center is undergoing major repairs at the moment, and walking around sawhorses, dropcloths, power tool cords, and lumber is a pain.)

Almost two weeks ago, I bought a Fitbit Flex at Target, and, except for when I’ve been in the shower, it has been on my right wrist constantly, counting the number of steps I take, and even how much (or little, as is usually the case with me) I sleep.  I am still getting accustomed to wearing it, even though I habitually wore at least one bracelet on my right wrist for most of my teens.  Based on my height and weight, the Fitbit recommends 10 thousand steps daily and I have reached that goal every day except once.  On Thursday, I learned that I earned the Penguin March Badge for having logged 70 miles.  (This award’s name comes from the distance of the March of the Penguins, walked by emperor pigeons to their breeding grounds.  I could make an editorial comment here about the lengths to which males will go to get sex, but I’m reining myself in for once.)

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My Fitbit Flex

 

Long ago, I stopped wondering about what would happen if I died.  This was because I realized that plenty would happen–it’s just that none of it would involve me.

I don’t consider myself a morbid person, but one thing the aneurysm did teach me was to no longer take for granted that I am youthful and will always emerge unscathed from any physical or emotional crisis I might experience.  I think back to when I slipped on the ice and waited two weeks before I accepted the fact that the wrist might be broken, and not just bruised.  When I reread A. Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, for the first time since high school, I paid closer attention to the character Jefferson Hope because he, like I, had an aortic aneurysm.  (Conan Doyle, a physician, described it as a ticking time bomb that could explode at any moment, and, in true late 19th-century dramatic fashion, it did just that.)

I try to steer away from reading mortality into any anomaly that I find in my body.  Middle age is the time when physicians start telling you to look for all the dangers–that mole that is changing shape and color, that twinge in the left side of the chest that is becoming more than a mere annoyance, getting up from the toilet and seeing a bowl full of blood–and it is key (I keep telling myself) to stop expecting them.

This is a far cry from the immortality that all of us took for granted as children and teenagers.  When we look back on it, the familiar refrain of “It’s a wonder we didn’t get our damn fool selves killed” is the first thing to spring to mind.

“But the Game Never Ends When Your Whole World Depends on the Turn of a Friendly Card”

Along with the recent deaths of Natalie Cole, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman, the topic that seemed to be trending the most on Facebook and Twitter last week was the Powerball.  The prize climbed all the way to $1.2 billion, the highest ever.  My fellow workers talked about it endlessly, and they finally got around to suggesting that I buy a ticket.

I have never been a gambler.  With my previous abuse of alcohol, and my current ongoing overconsumption of caffeine, gambling is a switch that I am very wary of throwing.  There is also a genetic component to it–both my parents were alcoholics, and my mother was addicted to pain medication for much of the last 40 years of her life.

I yielded to temptation and bought a single ticket in the little store in the Nationwide Atrium where I buy Snapple and fruit or yogurt before starting the work day.  One of my fellow employees was sure that I would be the legendary person who never plays the lottery, buys a single ticket, and wins big.

Indeed, it was the first lottery ticket I had bought since Susie was an infant.  I had bought one shortly after my 18th birthday, more because I now could than out of any desire to win.

On one occasion, I returned from lunch and someone (to this day I do not know who) left a lottery scratch-off card and a quarter on my keyboard.  (I didn’t win.)

Like anyone else, I fantasized about what I would do with an uncountably high bank balance.  My job with the State of Ohio (and my seasonal job at the Columbus State bookstore) provides me with a decent living.  I am not wealthy, but neither am I sweating blood from one week to the next wondering how I am going to pay rent or keep the electricity and gas turned on here.  That said, I knew that, if nothing else, I was buying a ticket to participate in the biggest lottery drawing in American history.  And there was no way to win without buying a ticket.

As it says on Comedy Central‘s joke-sharing Website:

John, who was in financial difficulty, walked into a church and started to pray. “Listen, God,” John said. “I know I haven’t been perfect but I really need to win the lottery. I don’t have a lot of money. Please help me out.” He left the church, a week went by, and he hadn’t won the lottery, so he walked into a synagogue. “Come on, God,” he said. “I really need this money. My mom needs surgery and I have bills to pay. Please let me win the lottery.” He left the synagogue, a week went by, and he didn’t win the lottery. So, he went to a mosque and started to pray again. “You’re starting to disappoint me, God,” he said. “I’ve prayed and prayed. If you just let me win the lottery, I’ll be a better person. I don’t have to win the jackpot, just enough to get me out of debt. I’ll give some to charity, even. Just let me win the lottery.” John thought this did it, so he got up and walked outside.

The clouds opened up and a booming voice said, “John, buy a fucking lottery ticket.”

I have always been pretty much a small-L libertarian on the subject of gambling–your money, you can waste it any way you see fit.  That being said, I am well aware of the negative results that gambling brings in its wake.  A dear friend of mine from Ohio University, with whom I have remained in constant contact in the nearly 30 years since we left Athens in separate directions, constantly worries about her brother-in-law’s endless gambling, where sprees at the casino take priority over household expenses, including his daughter’s upcoming bat mitzvah and plans for college.  I told her the gambler’s credo: He is sure that he can pay for all this once he gets the next big win, which is always just around the corner.

And even if that big win came, it would only be a harbinger of an even bigger win.  The title of this entry is a line from the title cut of The Alan Parsons Project’s 1980 album The Turn of a Friendly Card, the second half of which deals with the “unsmiling faces in fetters and chains on a wheel in perpetual motion.”  When I lived in Cincinnati, almost daily my bus took me through Over the Rhine, which was the city’s urban core and ghetto.  Almost every corner store sold “dream books” to help predict lottery numbers, and they sold as well as cigarettes, wine, and malt liquor.  (If I was gifted with the power to predict lottery winning numbers, I would not be as benevolent–I would hoard that talent exclusively for my own advantage.  As a popular Internet meme says, “You don’t see faith healers working in hospitals for the same reason you don’t see psychics winning the lottery.”)

I was 11 when the Ohio Lottery started in 1974, with a game called Buckeye 300.  The billboards were all over the place: “What if you won?”  I was too young to play, but I saw the tickets on sale at the grocery store and any other place where my dad bought cigarettes or candy.

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One of the very first Ohio Lottery tickets.  Saw it on sale on eBay from a guy in Akron.

When I was living in the Columbus YMCA in 1986, I semi-regularly went to the Saturday night bingo games in the hot basement of the school across from Holy Family Catholic Church.  The only time I won was for about $40, but I rationalized it by knowing that my money was going to support the church’s clothes bank, food pantry, and soup kitchen.

In high school, two or three friends of mine, realizing we had little prowess at chess, became fascinated by backgammon.  (Until then, I thought the elongated triangles on the back of cardboard checkerboards were just decoration.)  We even devised ways to roll when dice weren’t available–using the stopwatches on the digital watches we wore, we would use the hundredths-of-a-second counters to determine dice rolls.  Later on, when I began criss-crossing the country going from one Unitarian Universalist youth event to another, I found many backgammon players in the groups.  To this day, I occasionally receive good-natured grief about the time I shook my cup of Coca-Cola and threw it all over the board, thinking it was a dice cup.

We all bought our own backgammon sets, and these including a doubling cube, used by gamblers to increase the stakes when playing for money.  None of us had any money, and we didn’t want to play for the lint in our pockets, so we kept upping the ante with more and more idiotic stakes.  The loser had to come to school Monday carrying a set of golf clubs.  (The worst that happened to me was having to come to school in a coat and tie, carrying a brick.)

The closest I ever came to a gambling binge was during my 1987 spring break trip to San Francisco, which meant crossing Nevada.  In the Silver State, there were one-armed bandits in every convenience store, newspaper kiosk, and mom-and-pop store where the Greyhound stopped.  I spent about $.50 at every machine I saw (when in Rome), and was about $2 ahead by the time the bus crossed the California state line.

When I was working at Medco Health Solutions, I was a steward and recording secretary for the union, and I ran unsuccessfully to go as a delegate to a union convention in Pahrump, Nev., an hour from Las Vegas.  Steph and I sat down and agreed on some ground rules regarding gambling if I was going to go.  We agreed to a $20 limit, period.  If I won a six-digit prize, or whether I didn’t win a cent, that was it.  I would keep an extra $20 bill folded in my wallet set aside for gambling, and when that was gone, so was the gambling.

Maybe there was some divine sign that I was not meant to be a gambler.  The day I bought the ticket for the paltry $98 million prize, I went to the ATM machine in Three Nationwide Plaza to withdraw cash for the ticket.  I got the cash, and bought the ticket.  Later that night, I realized I had left the card in the ATM machine.  So, I had to spend Saturday morning going to my credit union’s branch in Grove City to apply for a new card, which, after over a week, has yet to arrive in the mail.  The inconvenience of daily lunchtime trips to the credit union to withdraw walking-around cash, and the impatience of waiting for the new card to arrive (equally frustrating because Monday there will be no mail delivery, because of the Martin Luther King holiday), and the inability to order anything online, never would have come to pass if I had opted against buying the ticket.

George Orwell died in 1950, but in the pages of his novels, he has proved himself to be as much a prophet as any we read about in Sunday school.  In 1984, he has very eloquently described the people who clogged the cash register lines for this (and every) Powerball drawing:

The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. There was a whole tribe of men who made their living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and lucky amulets. Winston had nothing to do with the Lottery, which was managed by the Ministry of Plenty, but he was aware (indeed everyone in the party was aware) that the prizes were largely imaginary. Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being nonexistent persons.

Three Days In…

I have yet to go to work this year (that will change as of tomorrow, when my alarm sounds at 6:45 a.m.).  So, for three consecutive days, I have slept late, walked, written in my diary, read, and treated myself to USA Network’s Law and Order: Special Victims Unit marathon.  I could get used to this, but I have work to do, which was not finished as of 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve, so I’ll be back in my cubicle working at the stroke of 8 tomorrow morning.

I saw in the New Year–2016, or MMXVI–at the new Pirate House.  (I have celebrated the change of the year with the wonderful hosts of the Pirate House for years, but they’re in a new location now.  This was my first visit to their quarters in Merion Village.)  As always, the company and conversation were first-class.  It was surreal to watch people playing Jenga, with the structure getting quite tall, while Metropolis (1927) played on a nearby TV with the volume muted.

We only watched Times Square coverage long enough to count down to the ball dropping.  Everyone promptly turned away from the screen at midnight for rounds of toasting, hugging, and kissing.

I am proud to report that I have done a fair amount of walking so far this year.  Since the weather has been so erratic here in Central Ohio, even since the coming of the winter solstice, I checked The Weather Channel’s site to see what the weather is in Nelsonville, to see if I can squeeze in another walk to Athens.  (I marked the first weekend in December with such a walk, and managed to shave 10-15 minutes off my overall time.)

I am savoring the unscheduled time of January as much as I can.  The spring semester at Columbus State Community College will soon be underway, which means that from the 12th of this month until about the first week of February, I will be working evenings and weekends at the bookstore, often coming home too exhausted to do much, and not needing a dose of melatonin to fall asleep.

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I should probably be thankful that my daily routine is nowhere near as overloaded. I have never been a fan of Richard Nixon’s, but this page from his daily schedule makes me further question the sanity of anyone who wants to be President.

When I came home from Florida last week, I had (still have) a mystery greeting me.  In the mail that accumulated during my week in the Sunshine State, there was a package from a bookseller in Toledo.  Inside was a hardcover copy of Lily White, a novel by Susan Isaacs.  This was a book I had not ordered, nor is Isaacs a writer I have ever read.  Inside the front cover, there was no invoice, which means whoever sent it my way intended it to be a gift.

(I was not wary enough to hesitate when I saw the book, because I am expecting a book I ordered through AbeBooks, and thought maybe it had come early, despite the avalanche of holiday mail.)

I remember hearing some interesting things in passing during a New Year’s Eve party celebrating 1982 into 1983.  I think it was what inspired me to try and keep a breast-pocket notebook and a ballpoint pen on my person at all times–not knowing at that time that former Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.) had long ago beaten me to the punch.

The party was at a house in Rocky River, and I went with three friends (two female, one male) whom I had met during various Ohio-Meadville District Unitarian youth conferences.  One of the women–my date for the evening–had literary aspirations, as did do I, so we tried to keep an ear out for interesting dialogue and incidents.  The party was chock full of story material.  Parents were nowhere in sight, and I, at 19, was probably the oldest person there.  Our host was doing a Risky Business (1983) a full eight months before the movie debuted.

My date and I happened to hear a serious conversation between a guy and a girl.  They were at the end of an upstairs hallway, in the relative privacy of the area by the linen closet and the bathroom door.  “I’m really starting to like you,” the guy said.  He sounded almost regretful, “and it’s really bothering me.”

I never met my fellow party-goers before that night, and probably never crossed paths with any of them again, but it did not take long to discover there were some long brewing enmities in the gathering.  One kid, about 16, glanced toward the driveway and his face just brightened.  “Great!” he shouted gleefully.  “Rudy’s here!  I’m going to go beat the shit out of him!”  This did not come to pass, as far as I remember, because when my date and I went out to the back yard for some privacy, Rudy was out there with some of his friends, and there was not a mark on him.

The one that had both of us laughing came from an overheard exchange: “Tim’s here.”  “Who’s Tim?”  “Oh, Tim is my 14-year-old brother,” a guy piped up.  “He’s a penis.”

Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary, defined a year as “a period of 365 disappointments.”  Even though it’ll be 366 in this case, so far I am not complaining.  (I can’t even invoke Rent‘s 525,600 minutes from “Seasons of Love,” because this year it’s 527,040 minutes.)