Orientation at Highland Elementary

Yesterday was my orientation as a tutor for Columbus Reads.  The school that the Industrial Commission and the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has “adopted” is Highland Avenue Elementary, which is located pretty close to where we live.  Our house is in Franklinton, just west of downtown Columbus.  Since it flooded every year (pre-floodwall), it became known as The Bottoms.

On the other hand, Highland is on the “high land”, in a neighborhood called The Hilltop.  The school is just around the corner from a fire station, so hearing the sirens and the station loudspeaker adds a quaint ambience to the learning experience.

It’s going to be a challenge, especially for a rookie like myself.  A third of the student body does not speak English–they’re either Hispanic or Somali.  I have never taken a foreign language (a regret I’ve had since I graduated from high school), so I cannot help in the ESL program.

I had some excitement when I got home from work.  Steph is taking Susie, even as we speak (6:56 EDST, per my Casio Data Bank watch) to an audition for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at the Davis Center for the Performing Arts.  I knew I’d be on my own for dinner, and I started some of the chores on the list she left on the dining room table.  I had just gotten to the Franklinton library and was logging onto a computer when my cell phone rang.  It was Steph.  Just then she learned they needed a photo of Susie for the audition.  I ransacked a desk drawer or two and came up with one taken at Meijer’s when she was in kindergarten or the first grade, in between losing her baby teeth and the beginning of the permanent ones.  I am now at the Main Library, pounding this poor keyboard to burn off excess energy and consume the adrenaline that’s coursing through my system.

My friend Pat C. gave me a Palm III Palm Pilot yesterday.  He and I go back a ways–he read and stood up for both Steph and me at our wedding in 1996 (he was memorable for wearing a kilt), and I did the same when he married his wife Tanya the following year.  Tanya is a midwife, and was on hand at Grant Hospital for Susie’s birth (nine years ago as of 10/6), and the 36 God-awful hours of labor that preceded it.

I asked him if he had a PalmPilot he had outgrown and wanted to sell me.  He volunteers at a non-profit computer group called FreeGeeks, and he said I could have a Palm III if I wrote some ad copy for them.  So we met yesterday for lunch at McDonald’s, he gave me the Palm III (which is Amish compared to other Palms and BlackBerries, but it does all I’d ever need it for), and told me it needed batteries.  So, I stopped at Family Dollar and bought two AAA batteries.

And the damn thing seems to be DOA!  I E-mailed palmOne to see what repairing it would cost, and the conservative estimate was $169!  And I could buy a brand-new one for $99 plus shipping and handling.  I’m hoping that there’s some miracle I can pull off to get the Palm III working.  (I had a PalmPilot for awhile, but one of the kids in Steph’s children’s choir five-fingered it when we lived on Avondale Avenue.)  I know that PalmPilot has passed into the language, much like Xerox and Kleenex and Scotch tape, but the equipment I am describing was made by palmOne.

If anyone has a Palm they’re willing to part with cheap, please E-mail me!

Susie’s Adjusted Bedtime and Rising Time

Earlier in this blog, I lamented at length that Susie’s homework consumed so much of her after-school time that she was unable to have any playtime between coming home from school and going to bed.  After much thought, Steph has finally suggested–and we put into practice for the first time this morning–that Susie go to bed at 7:30 p.m. (it had been 8 p.m. in her room, and lights out at 8:30) and wake up at 5:30 a.m. to do her homework.  Steph is usually up at that hour anyway, regardless of when she sets the alarm, so she’s on hand to go over Susie’s homework with her and help with any questions.

Even when I go to bed at a decent hour, I’m never feeling refreshed.  Throughout most of my life, I’ve been able to survive on 4-5 hours of sleep a night.  I wouldn’t mind continuing that… if the 4-5 hours could be in a row.  I wake up on and off throughout the night, often without any stimuli to cause it.  (Charles M. Schulz once wrote that “Happiness is waking up, looking at the clock, and seeing you still have two hours left to sleep.”  It’s a mixed bag.)

Tomorrow morning, I’ll go to an orientation for Columbus Reads, a volunteer tutoring program to help elementary-school kids with reading.  We’re leaving the Industrial Commission about 9:45 and going to the school (Highland Elementary) by bus, and will be back around 11:30.  Once Susie started reading, there was no stopping her, so I hope I can help another young kid discover it as well.

My parents were too self-involved to ever really teach me how to read.  My dad would work at his typewriter on the kitchen table during the afternoon when I was 2-3 years old, and when he was done I’d get on the table and pound away at the keys at random.  One day, my mother went to take the typewriter off so she could set the table.  She looked on the page and saw I had typed “GULF,” “STOP,” “WOOSTER ST”, etc.  That’s when she realized that I could read.

My love of words stemmed from something totally different.  When I was in kindergarten or first grade, there was a massive mine explosion and cave-in somewhere in West Virginia or Kentucky.  I had never paid attention to the news before, but I turned up the radio whenever they mentioned this disaster, and followed it closely on TV (I’m old enough to remember The Huntley-Brinkley Report, believe it or not).  One night, I woke up from a nightmare saying, “I don’t want to be trapped in the ground!”

My parents were totally baffled by this.  Finally, my dad came up with the cause of all this.  “I think I know where this started,” he said.  “Last month, Paul and I went to a restaurant, and he wanted to work the cigarette machine for me, and I told him he couldn’t because he was a minor.”  This was the start of how words can sound alike, but be spelled differently and have totally different meanings.

The title character in the movie Henry Fool did it very well, too:

You see, Simon,
there are three kinds of “there.”
There’s there…
“There are the doughnuts.”
Then there’s their.
Which is the possessive.
“It is their doughnut.”
Then, finally… 
there’s they’re.
T-H-E-Y, apostrophe, R-E.
A contraction.
Meaning they’re.  
“They’re the doughnut people.”
Got it?

Sunday Afternoon

Part of the routine when Monica spends the night is that she comes to church with us the following morning.  Steph is in the choir, so she’s either on the chancel or in the choir loft during the service–which means I have to keep Susie (and today, Monica) reigned in.  The girls were, as usual, flesh-and-blood advertisements for retroactive vasectomy, but Susie had a brief moment in the spotlight.  All fourth-graders were invited to come down to the front so they could receive Bibles–it’s kind of a rite of passage.

I think the first Bible I ever received was The Children’s Bible, which a family friend, Eunice Hanson (“Aunt Eunice”) gave me for my fifth Christmas.  My copy disappeared eons ago, but I saw it in the library at First Congregational, and it was interesting to see it again.  I don’t know what their artists were thinking, but Jesus is very fair-skinned and blonde in all the New Testament pictures.  I’ve heard this edition referred to as the “Aryan Jesus” edition.  I have never–before or since–seen any sacred artwork where Jesus looks Scandinavian.

Through no fault of my own, I learned that Ohio State won the game yesterday against Penn.  I haven’t heard the news today, so I don’t know if there was campus-area rioting and widespread property damage or not.  I lived in the campus area when I first came to Columbus to live 11 years ago, and this was before football victories (or defeats–especially on Michigan weekend) led to dumpster fires, trash in the yards, public urination, open-container violations, etc.

And my hands aren’t totally clean on this issue, either.  I was a pretty heavy boozer until 1998, when Susie was an infant.  During the time I was at Ohio University in Athens, I did more drinking on Court Street than I did studying.  (I had even starting Court Street partying in high school–I’d hitchhike up to Athens, drink, and then pass out in a dorm janitor’s closet or someone’s couch.)

Was I an alcoholic?  I can’t answer that definitively, even after eight years since my last drink.  Where I differ from the majority of people who study addiction, or are discontinuing them, is that I have never embraced the “disease” concept of addiction.  It’s a slap in the face to people who suffer from real diseases–diabetes, cancer, AIDS–and minimizes them.

Secondly, it has been my experience (my own, and witnessing others’) that addiction is more a matter of self-control and will power than sickness.  I realize that this is a conservative right-wing position–which applies to everybody on earth except Rush Limbaugh–but I don’t shy away from it despite the guilt by association.  A stopped watch is still right twice a day.

Even Though He Wasn’t in a Dirty Raincoat…

…Susie’s school was visited by a sicko on Tuesday.  Thank God Susie was not aware of it until the next morning.  She catches a bus on Sullivant Avenue after school, which drops her off about a block from our place.  Steph and I found out about it while we were watching the 11 o’clock news.  We had heard ads about it all evening while we were watching Law and Order: Criminal Intent and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (ironic, that last one, n’est pas?).  We didn’t recognize what school it was, but when the story itself came on, I sat up bolt upright in bed and said, “That’s Burroughs!”  We channel-surfed to see if it would show up anywhere else, but had no luck.  (We did see follow-up–essentially a rehash of the same story–on the early, pre-Today and Good Morning, America news shows.

If I try to write down what happened, I will be owing the library for a new keyboard, since I’ll be pounding the keys even more staccato than I usually do.  (My late father always told me that I treated typewriters the way Mick Jagger treats stage guitars.)  So, I’ve cut and pasted an article from yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch so you can read the words of someone who speak more rationally and objectively than I can:

West Side school to add guards after girls report attack
2 sisters tell police they fought off man inside building
The Columbus Dispatch
Wednesday, September 20, 2006 12:51 AM
Security guards will be added to patrol an elementary school where two girls reported that a man lured them inside the building and attacked them yesterday afternoon, a school official said.


The girls, 7 and 8, escaped when one of them struck the man in the eye after he had pulled down her pants and hit her, they told authorities afterward.

Columbus police were interviewing the girls about the incident, which reportedly occurred after classes between 3:45 and 4 p.m. at Burroughs Elementary, 2585 Sullivant Ave., on the West Side.

Detectives were at Children’s Hospital last night, where the girls, who are sisters, were being examined. Investigators released no information about the case.

Meanwhile, their grandfather, who asked not to be identified, described what the girls had told relatives after their escape.

They were on the playground with a third sister, waiting to be picked up by their mother, when a man opened a rear door of the school and told them that the principal wanted to see them, the grandfather said.

Two of the girls went back inside the building but quickly became suspicious when he led them down a set of stairs, Columbus schools spokesman Mike Straughter said.

One of the girls screamed as the man pulled down her pants and hit her. Then the girls screamed louder and one of them struck him back. They escaped, and so did their attacker.

“Tough girls,” Straughter said. “The good thing was they knew to yell and scream.”

The attacker was described as white, in his 20s or 30s, with short brown hair with bangs, a mustache and a disabled hand. He was wearing a gray shirt, black jeans and brown shoes, police said.

The grandfather said he was enraged that the man, who wasn’t affiliated with the school, somehow got inside. His granddaughters, whom he described as “little tomboys” who know how to scrap, aren’t the type to make up stories, he said.

Straughter promised all Burroughs parents that security would be added around the school to make sure students are safe.

The doors of the school are unlocked for dismissal at 3:30 p.m. and locked again at 4 p.m., Straughter said. The building dismisses most students at 3:45 p.m., he said.


Last night was an absolute nightmare for Susie and the rest of the house.  She brought home a ton of homework–math, vocabulary, reading, etc.  She was a basket case by the end of the evening, because she had been working practically non-stop on homework since we cleared the dinner dishes, which left her no free time for anything.  I was jolted by how much work they sent home with her; I’m sure when she gets to law and/or medical school, the homework burden will be quite lighter.

The shrink appointment went okay.  My daily dosage of Lamictal will be increased to 300 mg per day when I next fill the prescription.  We’re guardedly optimistic about it.  (With Lamictal, you have to start at a small dosage and gradually ratchet it up.  Otherwise, you run the risk of a serious side effect, a disfiguring rash known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome.  Any medical condition named after two people is one you need to avoid.  Herr Doktor Asperger named the condition he researched “little professor syndrome”, it was named after him posthumously.)

I’m currently reading a true-crime book called Blind Faith, by Joe McGinniss, and enjoying it quite a bit.  I have to read it here and there–on the bus to and from work, during lunch, etc.–but I’m finding it fascinating.  I doubt it will even come close to what I consider the three undisputed giants of the true-crime genre: Joseph Wambaugh’s The Onion Field, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.

Library’s getting ready to close, so this is where your faithful diarist says, “And so to bed.”  (Steph is at choir practice, so I’m bachelor father for the evening.  Susie’s head has to hit the pillow at 8:30.)

Shrink Appointment Tomorrow

I’m leaving work at 1 p.m. tomorrow for an appointment with my new shrink, Dr. Schneir.  (The appointment itself isn’t until 3:15, but between waiving lunch and the crazy bus schedule, I’m leaving work 2.25 hours early.)

I watched the first quarter hour of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip last night.  I wanted to stay with it, but I was just too damn tired.  Steph taped it, but she watched it this morning and erased it.  One thing that did impress me was that after Judd Hirsch’s diatribe, there were several allusions to Network, Peter Finch’s last film (1975), a movie which came to be more prophetic than anyone realized at the time.  I’ve talked Steph into borrowing the DVD from the library.

I was so glad Hirsch blasted the “reality” shows that are all the rage now.  I am very surprised that, to date, no one has died on those shows.  Were it to happen, I’d wager that it would take place on The Amazing Race.  What’s funny is that 20 years ago, I turned in a short story at Ohio U. about a TV program where someone who has attempted suicide tells his life story, then the studio and home audiences vote on whether or not he should kill himself.  Enough “yes” votes, you get to watch the guy blow his brains out in living (so to speak) color.  People in the class shuddered when I passed around Xerox copies of that story.  I’m afraid someone’s going to retrieve their copy and try to sell it as a new reality show idea.

Early to Bed…

I think one of the first signs of maturity is when getting to sleep an extra hour sounds more appealing than getting to stay up an extra hour.  Stephanie called me at work and let me know that Susie had been invited to spend the night at her friend Monica’s house.  Steph eagerly accepted the invitation, and Susie was psyched about it as well.  (She had been disappointed because Steph and I had planned to go to dinner and a movie–a tossup between Hollywoodland and The Black Dahlia–but our babysitter thought we were scheduling her for tonight, not Friday night.)

Once we got Susie packed up and on her way to Monica’s house, we decided that we would order in from Grandma’s Pizza (we tried their chili and cheese pizza, which I highly recommend if you ever come Columbus way) and then watch a DVD of Million Dollar Baby.  But, both of us were so wiped out–Steph had been running hither and yon doing all kinds of errands, and I had my hands full at work most of yesterday–that after the pizza arrived, we ate it and then sacked out around 8:30 p.m.  I sat up and watched Dateline NBC (about “info”mercials and how deceptive many of them are, especially about weight loss), while Steph conked out almost right away.  We slept until around 7 this morning.  I finally hauled myself out of bed and into the shower, then walked about 3/4 of a mile to Tim Horton’s to pick up bagels and breakfast sandwiches.  Now, Steph is shopping at Wal-Mart, Susie is here at the library with me talking with her friends, and I’m typing this blog entry.

I ordered a DVD of the movie Henry Fool, which I already have on VHS.  It’s very crude and rough around the edges, but the story is close to my heart.  A Queens sanitation worker who lives a very dull existence with his nymphomaniac sister and clinically depressed mother is inspired to write an epical poem by a pseudo-intellectual drifter and criminal who rents their basement apartment.  Simon Grim, the sanitation worker, receives instant fame and recognition, while the poseur (Henry Fool) is on the run from his probation officer.

Speaking of DVDs, I received a five-disk set of 9/11 coverage from a woman in Owings Mills, MD.  (I traded her 15 blank DVDs for this set.)  I haven’t watched much of it yet–still on the first disk, which shows NY 1’s coverage from pre-second jet until about 10:45.  I always like collecting broadcasts of historic events; when WCET, the Cincinnati PBS station, ran uninterrupted the NBC coverage of John Kennedy’s assassination, I was sure to record it all.

Crisis Averted

Since the title of this blog is “Diary of a Clerk,” I guess it’s only right that occasionally I describe something that happened on the job.  My major task, for which the State of Ohio (under) pays me, is to transcribe the dictation of doctors who examine injured workers applying for permanent total disability.  Usually, it goes without any calamity–except that I go to any length to avoid transcribing the reports of a physiatrist from Cleveland.  Two-thirds of his dictation is “And, uh…”, and he often corrects himself and asks me to insert a sentence that he’s forgotten.  How transcriptionists managed in the pre-word processing days, I will never understand!

Anyhow, yesterday an occupational medicine physician dictated his report.  He and I get along fine, and his dictations are a pleasure to transcribe, usually.  He has interesting under-his-breath asides (which I don’t add to the report), and he’s clear and spells anything I might not know.  Tuesday, I downloaded his dictation and listened to about four minutes of it.  It was so damn distorted that I couldn’t understand any of it.  After several attempts, I gave up and phoned his office.  Luckily, he was in Dayton, so I only had to talk to his receptionist.  With a heavy heart, I asked her to tell him that he needed to redictate the whole thing.

Well, he took it in stride.  The new (old) report was in the queue when I logged on this morning, and I sailed through transcribing it.  No harm done.

The guy who lives a few doors north of me just got out of prison.  He had served a two-year sentence for torching the adult bookstore/nightclub where he used to work.  We’ve been writing intermittently, but I was still surprised when I came back from Family Dollar (buying cat litter) and saw him and a friend sitting on the porch.  He’s lost a lot of weight since I saw him last, and he was walking like an invalid, but it was good to see him.  He’s angry because the people who were housesitting his house (which is one of the nicest on our block, if not in all of Franklinton) let it go to wreck and ruin.  The place hasn’t been totalled, but the biggest problem has been fleas.  Apparently, these people let their dogs and cats run wild in the place.

There was a house like that in Marietta.  I heard this second hand when I was in high school, so I take it with a grain of salt.  A kid told me that his neighbors were thinking of buying a new house, but gave up the idea when they saw how much the previous owners had left the dog to its own devices.  “I mean,” the kid said, “this dog pisses on the walls, and shits down the furnace registers, and loves to eat my jacket and my leg!”

I’m a little selfish when I say I hope the house can be restored to its former glory.  My neighbor was famous for his pull-out-the-stops Christmas buffet parties, and the food went on for miles, and there was always good entertainment and lots of good people there.  (On her bedroom wall, Susie hung up a picture of her dancing with her host.)  One year, when my neighbor (he wasn’t my neighbor then, but I knew him through the Democratic Party and the Unitarian Church) was off his meds for bipolar disorder, he decorated his bathroom floor to ceiling with gay pornography.  Susie was about three at the time, and was not quite comfortable with using a strange bathroom on her own.  She was fascinated by the pictures.  “What’s that man doing, Daddy?”  (I quickly changed the subject, although I was thinking, “Uh, he fell down and his friend is pushing him to the doctor.”)

And I knew it wasn’t my place to ask him to take all that down just because my daughter would be there one night.  When I was at Ohio U., I didn’t take down the poster of Karl Marx that hung over my bed when friends of mine who loved Ayn Rand came to visit.

Tomorrow is payday, which means I’ll buy a money order for my shrink appointment on the 20th.  I’m splurging and getting a DVD of Henry Fool and a secondhand copy of William Peter Blatty’s Legion.  (I already have Henry Fool on VHS, but I get such a kick out of that movie–at least the literary and pseudo-intellectual sections) that I knew I have to have it on DVD.

Nice Walk with Susie

After lunch, Susie and I walked from our place to the CVS store in Franklinton Square (maybe about 3/4 of a mile altogether).  To hear Susie tell it, you’d think we had walked across Death Valley in our bare feet!  I was at CVS picking up a refill of my Peridex prescription.  (I must have been quite a sight walking out of there with a bottle in a paper bag!)  There was a sign by the cash register that CVS is hiring part-time.  Since we’re perpetually short on cash, when I got here to the library, I went to CVS’ Website and filled in all the pertinent information, including about 20 pages of “agree, strongly agree, strongly disagree, disagree” questions about work habits, personality, etc.  I tried to be as truthful as I could, but they never allow any space for explanation.  There wasn’t a “yes, but…” category.  It reminded me of the polygraph exam I had to take the first time I applied for work at Medco Health Solutions (it was called National Rx in those days).  I came away with a healthy respect for those machines!

When I was first wired up to it, I remember the operator giving me 10 cards with big numbers on them.  He told me to pick out a number and keep it in my mind.  He would ask me which number I chose, and I was to answer “no” to each one.  After all 10 numbers, he looked at the graph paper where all the pens had been (remember that polygraph is Greek for “much writing”) and he said, “You picked number 6, didn’t you?”  Yes, I had.

The Obligatory 9/11 Entry

A lot of LiveJournal blogs are going to be overloaded with 9/11 reminiscences and polemics this weekend, so I should probably get mine down.  I’m not 100% sure I’ll have access to a computer on Monday, the actual anniversary, so I’ll strike while the iron is hot.

Where were you when…?  I guess for my parents’ generation, it was …when Pearl Harbor was bombed, …when JFK was assassinated.  For me, it’s 9/11.  And I do remember precisely where I was.

At the time, I was working as a data entry operator at Medco Health Solutions, a sweatshoppish mail-order pharmacy located on the West Side of Columbus.  I arrived at work at 8, and was at my terminal typing prescription information.  By the first hour, I had heard some people talking about “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”  (I had headphones, but I never listened to the radio.  I played tapes, usually audiobooks, all day as I worked.)

Just after 9 a.m., the general manager of the place came on the loudspeaker and asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the World Trade Center.  I was wondering the whole time, Just what the hell is this about?  After the moment of silence was up, he went on to describe the hijackings, how the Twin Towers had been hit, at least one had collapsed, and planes were believed to be aimed at the Pentagon and the White House.

A deaf woman who sat right behind me was totally clueless.  She saw all the activity stop, and then saw the looks of horror on everyone’s faces.  She gave me a What is this? look.  I got out my notepad and ballpoint pen and jotted down what I had heard, and summarized it as best I could.

We were allowed to go home if we chose, which I did.  My main goal, besides wanting to be with Steph and Susie (who would turn 4 the following month), was to pop in a blank tape and start recording.  I recorded ABC News for the next six hours (now that Peter Jennings has passed away, I’m thankful I chose ABC).

To update my video library, I have traded 15 blank DVD disks to a woman in Owings Mills, MD, who will burn me five disks of coverage, starting from right after the first tower was hit.