0 for 2 in Movie Choices

The death and tragedy from the fire I described in my last entry cast a cloud over the evening alone that Steph and I had planned.  (Watch a couple DVDs, have a pizza delivered, and so on, and so on.)  Susie was at a Hallowe’en party, and was going out for food with Lizz, her favorite babysitter, afterwards.

If the evening wasn’t gloomy enough, Steph didn’t like my choice of DVD.  Even though she likes Bruce Willis (for reasons known but to God), she refused to watch Sin City past the first 20 minutes.  Her movie of choice was The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp.  Both of us lost patience with its slow pace.  (I rented Sin City because its creator, Frank Miller, wrote and drew several Batman “Dark Knight” graphic novels, which I am now reading.)

So we watched 1 vs. 100, and hoped the whole time Susie didn’t watch TV all evening, at least during the news.

A note to all readers: We’ve decided to bite the bullet and get Internet access at home.  I mailed a money order for three months’ service to Copper.net, a server in Mount Vernon, OH.  We may have service at home in about a week.  What does this mean to me? you ask.  It means that I can post to this blog much more often!!

I don’t deceive myself into thinking this blog gets as many hits per day as The Drudge Report, but I do not have the severe allergy to truth that Matt Drudge has, and that is an advantage.

Advertisements

And Yet Another Senseless Tragedy

 Just as I am beginning to recover from the shock of the murder of Angie Farthing, my fellow Industrial Commission employee, we are hit with yet another tragedy in our orbit.  I came to work yesterday morning, and when I took my 10:00-10:15 break, enjoying my fourth can of Diet Coke since the workday began, my co-worker Pam Taylor came into the breakroom and said, “Did you hear about the fire on Wisconsin Avenue?”  Wisconsin Avenue is just on the other side of West Broad Street from our section of Franklinton, and maybe a half mile–if that–from our half-double.

I told her no.  I was too soundly asleep in the early morning (out of character for me) to have heard any of the fire engines, and I hadn’t looked at the news before I left.  All Pam told me was that it was a big fire, and several people had died.  (Pam’s ex-mother-in-law lives in the Franklinton area.)

I didn’t realize just how close to home this hit until after work.  I was standing in line at a check-cashing joint, waiting to pay the electric bill, when Steph called me on my cell phone.  She was in tears, because one of the victims was 19-year-old Mindy, whom Steph knew from the “Becoming Women” (both an adjective and a gerund!) group she ran at Gladden Community House, the settlement house where Steph used to work.  Mindy and her three children–the youngest just two weeks old–perished from smoke inhalation and the fire.

The fire happened because Columbia Gas had turned off their heat for non-payment.  It’s been a cold autumn, and Mindy had a new baby, but that didn’t make any never-mind.  To keep warm, they had space heaters in the bedroom, and that was what caused the fire.

One of the people who survived was Mindy’s 10-year-old sister Maggie, who is a friend of Susie’s.  When they lived across the street from us, Maggie was a frequent playmate of Susie’s, and often came over for dinner.  The Red Cross has housed the surviving family members in a motel for the present.

FOUR KILLED IN FIRE
‘She loved her babies’
Mother, 19, and her three young children die when electrical fire engulfs Franklinton home
Saturday, October 28, 2006
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

ERIC ALBRECHT
A Red Cross worker keeps the rain off a survivor of a fatal fire in Franklinton. A fire battalion chief said an overheated extension cord caused the blaze.

For those who made it out alive, the first warnings came as a whiff of smoke and a newborn’s cry.

In the minutes that followed, the survivors said yesterday, there were calls for help, pounding on the floor above, and smoke that rolled through the Franklinton house from front to back in the pre-dawn.

And behind the closed door of the front upstairs bedroom, where the trapped young mother died with her three children, there was the heat, driven by a fire so intense that witnesses likened it to a blowtorch.

Later, Paul S. Sadler stood in the rain at the corner of Wisconsin and Cable avenues. He gestured to the people around him, clutching coffees and one another and huddled under American Red Cross blankets.

“This is all my family,” he said. “Until today, I had eight kids and 16 grandchildren. I just lost four.”

The 5:32 a.m. fire at 115 Wisconsin Ave. claimed the lives of Sadler’s 19-year-old daughter, Mindy Hanners. Also killed were her three children: Katelynn Hanners, 4; Austin Hanners, 1, and Nevaeh Hanners, whose name is “Heaven” spelled backward and who would have turned 2 weeks old today.

All died in the roughly 12-by-14-foot bedroom they shared. Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Doug Smith said Mindy Hanners was found on the floor between a bed and a front window. The children were still in their beds, he said.

Autopsies were begun yesterday and will continue this weekend.

Six other residents escaped. They are Sadler; his wife, Kathy Hanners; a grandchild, 10-year-old Margaret Sadler; Mindy Hanners’ brothers, Justin Sadler, 16, and Josh Sadler, 17; and Vicki Crocker, a family friend that the boys know as “Aunt Vicki.”

The fire was an accident. Smith said an overheated extension cord leading to an electric space heater inside Mindy Hanners’ bedroom was to blame. The cord ran out of the room and down the stairs to an outlet in the living room.

The age of the houses in Franklinton, central Ohio’s original settlement, has made the neighborhood prone to deadly fires.

“A lot of the houses are more than 100 years old,” Smith said. “The wiring is old and there aren’t fire stops in the walls, so fires spread quickly.”

Firefighters found one smoke detector in the basement, but the battery was dead.

Dana Rose, city code-enforcement manager, said landlords must install detectors on every occupied level of a structure. The tenants must maintain them.

The Sadler-Hanners family rented the home at 115 Wisconsin Ave. A message left for the owner, listed in Franklin County auditor’s records as Joseph Alaura, 42, of Cardington, was not returned yesterday. The two-story, 1,490-square-foot home was built in 1902, records show.

It was Kathy Hanners who awoke about 5:20 a.m. and roused her husband.

“My wife said she thought she heard the baby cry,” Sadler, 50, said.

The couple smelled smoke in their first-floor bedroom. Then they heard banging on the ceiling and calls for help, relative Ashley Bibb said she was told.

“It was Mindy screaming, ‘Help me, Mom, I can’t get ’em out!’ ” Bibb said.

“I went into the living room, and I seen the smoke on the stairway,” Sadler said.

Others in the house awoke. Justin Sadler said Crocker had opened her own second-floor bedroom door to a wall of smoke and crawled to safety.

Justin was asleep in a secondfloor back bedroom when his fan began blowing smoke in his face.

“I couldn’t breathe,” he said. He said he ran out onto the front porch, then darted inside again to wake Margaret in her first-floor rear bedroom.

His father was upstairs, trying to break down Mindy’s door.

“Me and my son were both trying and it wouldn’t budge,” Sadler said. “I couldn’t help my babies.

“The fire was too much.”

The first fire crews to arrive went straight for Mindy’s bedroom. Firefighters Keith Graney and Chris Kennedy were hurt trying to get inside the room.

“The superheated air came out and got them,” Smith said.

Both men were taken to Ohio State University Medical Center. Kennedy was treated for firstdegree burns to his face and released. Graney was being treated for second-degree burns to his back and neck.

Neighbors Brian Church and Shaunda Tibulski heard the screams and saw firefighters on the porch roof break out one of the bedroom windows.

“It looked like somebody was on the inside with a blowtorch,” Church said.

Relatives said Mindy Hanners was a devoted young mother who tried to provide for the children always at her side. Wendy Adkins said the family had gone Thursday to have Nevaeh’s photos taken at Meijer.

“She was a great mom,” said Tibulski, whose sister has a baby with Josh Sadler. She said Mindy Hanners had just stopped by to show off Nevaeh.

“The only thing she was short of was money and a father, a father figure for the kids,” Church, 22, said. “Other than that, she was good to go.”

Birth records show that Harry Gillespie is the father of Austin and Nevaeh Hanners. Katelynn’s father is not listed in records, but the Sadler brothers said Gillespie fathered all three.

He lived with Hanners and the children but wasn’t home when the fire broke out. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

Paul Sadler said his family did not have their gas heat turned on when they moved in this June because it was summer and their appliances didn’t require gas. He said he asked his wife Thursday night to remind him to start service before colder weather arrived.

Sadler said he always made sure to turn off the space heaters downstairs before he went to bed.

“I don’t like those things, and I would never leave them on.”

If he’d known the upstairs heater was still on, he would have gone up to turn it off.

“My daughter and her babies would still be here,” he said.

“She loved her babies with all her heart,” he said. “They loved each other.”

Dispatch reporter John Futty contributed to this story.

tdecker@dispatch.com 

I’m getting to the point where I’m scared to pick up a newspaper or switch on the news, because it seems that when I do, a tragedy is hitting close to home.  “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind.  And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls,” said John Donne, “it tolls for thee.”

In a Star Trek episode called “The Immunity Syndrome,” Dr. McCoy said to Spock, “‘Suffer the deaths of thy neighbors?’  You wouldn’t wish that on us, would you?”  Spock replied, “It would have rendered your history a little less bloody.”

True, true.

Feast or Famine

As cliched as it is, that is the perfect way to describe the workload today at the Industrial Commission.  Either we’re flooded with work, or else we sit around on our hands all day doing nothing.  I can’t complain; I was pretty busy in the morning.  I transcribed my least favorite physician, a Dr. Marblemouth in Cleveland, and typed a few Statements of Fact.  My co-word processor didn’t arrive until after 2, so I worked on her lump-sum advancements.  (This isn’t as exciting as it sounds, believe me!)

I even looked forward to batching, my least favorite task.  Batching means taking packets of original dockets and making sure they’re in good enough condition to be scanned.  If not, I have to Xerox them.  That’s never very much fun.  Hospitals used to love using pink onionskin forms, and these things have been around so long they look like the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I made the mistake of putting one through the automatic document feeder on the machine–it, of course, tore it to shreds.  So I had to do some emergency surgery with Scotch tape before it was workable.

I’m splurging and ordering something from Amazon.com for the first time in eons.  It’s a two-disk DVD of Se7en, the monumental suspense film starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.  I ordered the New Line Platimum edition, which has many behind-the-scenes anecdotes and pictures–including how the directors went about creating the many bizarre handwritten notebooks that are found in the serial killer’s apartment.  I’m sending Amazon.com a money order, so I expect the package to be in my mailbox in about 10 days.

Se7en is one of my favorite movies.  It’s not for the faint of heart, but the gore and gruesome scenes are not as overused as they are in any of the CSI shows.  (CSI makes me nostalgic for Quincy: That was about a coroner, and yet you never once saw a corpse in the picture.)

I’m at the Franklinton library.  Susie needed a red wig for a Hallowe’en skit she’s doing at school tomorrow.  I learned this interesting fact at dinner, so we came here via Family Dollar, where we bought an Ariel wig for her.  (Family Dollar is where we buy pet food, and where I buy the composition books that I use for diaries.)  Looking at that wig, I wonder: Does the Little Mermaid also wear an algebra?  (Get it?)

Neglecting This Diary

I see it’s been almost a week since I last wrote in here.  If it’s any consolation, I’ve been neglecting my composition-book diary as well.  It’s a cold and gray Sunday afternoon, and I’m at the main branch of the library, typing away at a computer on the third floor.

Last Thursday, I went again to Highland Avenue Elementary School for my second tutoring session.  I had two entirely new kids.  One was a little girl named Khadija, who barely spoke English.  I think that I was accidentally assigned an ESL student.  (I never took a foreign language in high school; if I had anything to do over again in high school, that would be what I’d rectify).  Khadija also had a tendency toward echolalia.  She repeated–almost verbatim–everything I said, whether I was reading from the story (Jack and Jill) or not.  I said, “Hang on a second here,” rather sotto voce, and she repeated that, almost perfectly.  The only initiative I saw was when she pointed to my State of Ohio ID, which hung around my neck.  She pointed to the picture on it and said, “Teacher!”

My other new kid was named Haley.  Offhand, I could not see why she needed 1:1 tutoring with reading.  She held her own quite well, and initiated more conversation.  My guess is that the teachers were/are having trouble with her extreme distractability.  Often, she seemed to be eavesdropping on the sessions that were going on at other tables, rather than narrowing in on what she and I were doing.  (I was diagnosed ADHD when I was her age, although the term was “hyperkinetic” in the late ’60s, when I entered kindergarten.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I see that much of it was Asperger’s syndrome behavior.)

I saw my shrink last Wednesday, taking the long trek to Mount Carmel East Hospital.  I enjoyed the 15-20 minutes we spent talking.  He’s put me on BuSpar, another antidepressant.  (He has floated the possibility of Lithium, but I want to stay away from that.  Friends who have taken that told me how zombified they were afterwards, and how hungover they felt after it wore off.)

For the first five days I’m on BuSpar, I’m taking half a tablet.  Cutting a pill in half with precision is something only a jeweler or diamond-cutter could do.  But, I’m sucking it up.  In the bowl where we keep vitamins, dietary supplements, and prescriptions, I keep a small cheese knife.  I use it to cut the BuSpar pills in half.  During my typesetting days, I often accumulated X-Acto knives; now that I finally have a use for one, they’ve all vanished.

I’m currently reading A Vast Conspiracy, by Jeffrey Toobin.  I enjoyed The Run of His Life, which dealt with the O.J. Simpson trial, and loved it.  A Vast Conspiracy is about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal which led to Clinton’s impeachment and almost cost him his Presidency.  The book is pure pleasure, and there’s hardly anyone–on the Right or the Left–whose behavior was admirable during that whole time.

Although I haven’t seen him in 20 years, I have met Jeff Toobin.  During my 18 months as a typesetter for The Harvard Crimson, alumnis from the paper would often pop in and say hello if they were in Cambridge for any reason.  Jeff came in just before Thanksgiving 1982, when the paper’s new editorial board was named.  He had been sports editor of The Crimson, and had graduated that spring.  I came to the paper just after Labor Day, so he and I just missed each other.  The guy who succeeded him as sports editor got very drunk on Scorpion Bowls, a mixed drink served at the Hong Kong Restaurant on Mass. Ave., after learning of his appointment.  Said Scorpion Bowls did not stay in his stomach long, and soon ended up on Jeff Toobin’s jacket.  (Picture Linda Blair in The Exorcist).

Jeff took this in semi-stride, which is more than I would have done.  (The only person who’s barfed on me and lived to tell about it was Susie.)  Two or so weeks after this incident, he sent the new sports editor–whose name I will not mention in this blog–a congratulatory letter.  He would be an asset to The Crimson‘s sports page, and would be an excellent editor.  After signing it, he added: “P.S.–The cost of dry-cleaning my jacket was $25.  You can mail me a check c/o the above address.”

Hooky

I’m playing hooky from work today.  Steph and I met with Dennis Mahoney, who writes for the Faith & Values page of The Columbus Dispatch, about the whole business with our erstwhile church.  He came to our house, stayed for half an hour, and had his microcassette recorder and his notebook out the whole time.  He’s done more digging than we have, and has talked to both sides, so I’m sure that the article he prints (if it makes it into the paper) will be balanced and fair to all concerned.

Steph went to get a blood draw this morning, so I’m getting a note from her doctor to bring to work–that way this will count as “sick leave.”  The downside is that if your sick leave balance is <40 hours, you’re paid only 70%.  I’m sure there’s a good reason for it, to keep people from developing the “earn and burn” habit with leave, but it’s a nuisance.

Susie had yet another disappointment, as if this past weekend wasn’t shitty enough.  She and I planned to go to a Writing Cafe late yesterday afternoon at Thurber House.  We took the bus to Thurber House, and it was locked up with all lights out.  Susie was both fit to be tied and in tears.  I tried Thurber, and got nothing but their voice mail, but to brighten Susie’s mood, I took her to United Dairy Farmers for a milkshake, and we ordered in a pizza later on.  Both of these (although I think the milkshake was more helpful) kept her from being too angry and/or upset.  (That’s where she can teach me; I’m still working on grudges from before kindergarten.)

Susie went to school this morning with her cello in tow.  When she has to transport her cello from one place to another, that’s when she says she wants to give it up and play the violin.  However, she was miserable with the violin, so she’s going to stick with cello.  We’ll just buy her a shoulder strap so the cello isn’t as unmanageable.

A Reunion With Greatness

I went to Thurber House this past Thursday night and saw one of my favorite teachers for the first time in over 15 years.  His name is Jack Matthews, and he taught creative writing at Ohio University.  I usually don’t read the Weekender section of The Columbus Dispatch, but something made me go to it that afternoon.  I wore my ATHENS, OHIO sweatshirt, so I’d be sure I’d stand out, and went to Thurber House just before 7.

Jack is 82 now, but you’d never know it by seeing or hearing him.  He spoke mostly about his adventures in book collecting, and spoke briefly of his post-college work as a private detective (which he says is more like being a paid witness than anything you’ll ever see on television).  I brought along the three books of his I own, Dubious Persuasions, Storyhood as We Know it, and my all-time favorite, Beyond the Bridge.

Beyond the Bridge is about a man who was presumed to have died when the Silver Bridge collapsed in 1967.  The Silver Bridge connected Kennewa, Ohio with Point Pleasant, W.Va., and just before Christmas in ’67, it collapsed because it was overloaded with Christmas shoppers and people coming to and from work.  About 30 people were killed.

The hero of Beyond the Bridge is a man who just missed being on the Silver Bridge before it collapsed.  He takes this as an opportunity to jettison his old life completely and start over with a blank slate.  He’s a rich, college-educated man with a wife and family, but when the story opens (the story is his diary), it is five months after the catastrophe and he is washing dishes in a diner in a small West Virginia town.  He is sure his life insurance policy will support the family he is abandoning.

The premise has led me to wonder about people never found after 9/11.  It seems far-fetched, but I am sure some of the people whose bodies were never found may still be alive, but used the tragedy to leave their current lives and situations and start over.  (There was a Law and Order episode where a man killed his wife early that morning, and when the Twin Towers fell, he sneaked over to Ground Zero and dumped in his wife’s body, figuring she would be counted as a casualty.)

Jack recognized me, and we brought each other up to speed about my post-Athens life (we had written a few letters back and forth to each other since I left O.U.), and I met a young couple who both teach in the English Department at O.U.  They were both very fine people, and I hope I see them again.

In other news, Susie found out that she’ll be playing a platypus in Marsupial Sue.  She has had a rough weekend, beginning with the news that she couldn’t spend the night at her friend’s house.  The friend’s idiot father loves to show his daughter (who is not quite nine) porno movies, and I’m sure that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Susie got a double whammy from this because her friend and her mother were going to take her to the Quarterhorse Congress as a belated birthday gift.  A man who shows pornography to his grade school-aged child is doing it for one reason–desensitizing her for what he plans to do to her next.

I love the writing of Andrew Vachss, but I’m beginning to wonder if I live in the setting of a Burke novel!

Columbus Day Errands

Autumn is the best time to be a civil servant, because several government holidays happen during autumn. Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, and Thanksgiving–all within eight weeks. This Monday, it was Columbus Day, and I had a semi-eventful one.

The first task was to bring Susie her cello at school. She didn’t know until she got to school that she had a lesson, so I took her cello on the school bus (not heavy, just very unwieldy) and dropped it off at the office. I then walked the two or three blocks to the Hilltop Library and–drum roll–read off the rest of my fines! I read A Rose for Mary and Jimmy Breslin’s newest, The Church That Forgot Christ.

I went to a meeting of gifted children’s parents just off East Fifth Ave. after dinner, where I listened to Dr. Gene Harris. She’s the superintendent of the Columbus Public Schools, and she vigorously defended the later start to the school day, saying that overall tension in the schools has abated since the kids are sleeping an additional hour. She also came out vigorously opposed to Issue 3, which would permit slot machines in places where gambling is already going on legally, such as racetracks. The argument is that all of the money will go toward education and college scholarships. I’m leaning toward voting for it–the libertarian in me says that people have a right to waste their money any way they want to; the Quaker in me is very troubled by the concept of unearned wealth.

Yesterday, Steph and Susie had a not-so-nice encounter with the pit bull who lives around the corner, and its equally insane owners. They claimed that Diana, our 12-year-old springer spaniel, antagonizes their pit bull. (The worst Diana could do is lick someone to death.) In front of Susie, these inbreeds threatened to shoot Diana. We called the police, and an officer came over and we filed a menacing complaint. (I’m sure it’ll have the same effect as a restraining order–just a piece of paper.) The officer may have talked some sense into them, since Steph and Susie passed to and from Susie’s bus stop without incident today.

This got me to wondering whether these people have something on their property that makes them paranoid. I suggested to the officer that maybe they’re running a meth lab. “Unfortunately,” I said, “there’s no way to know where a meth lab is until it blows up.” “Yes there is,” he replied. “Just look for a heavy smell of cat piss.” On Avondale Ave., we had neighbors who were into the recreational use of oxycodone–which was known as “hillbilly heroin” at the pharmacy where I used to work–but I’m sure somebody in our neighborhood is making meth.

I christened my reactivated library card by borrowing Andrew Vachss’ newest, Mask Market.  I’m also reserving Totally MAD, which is a collection of the first 300 or so issues of Mad magazine on CD-ROM.  (I loved Mad when I was a preteen, but I won’t buy it now.  All of the artists and writers–“the usual gang of idiots”–who made it great have retired or died: Don Martin, Antonio Prohias, Dave Berg, Sergio Aragones, Mort Drucker.)

Yet More Tragedy Has Indirectly Crossed My Path

I am in the Media Center at the Main Library downtown, in a room where the air conditioning seems to have conked out.  It almost makes me nostalgic for the days at Medco Health, where they always thought that a room was too warm if you couldn’t hang meat in it.

Susie is with her mother and some of her friends at The Sanctuary Tea Room in Grove City, the grand finale to her birthday weekend.  It’s a very genteel affair, and I think that it’s supposed to be an afternoon with “the girls,” so I’m here at the library.

Susie and I had a good day at the library yesterday.  We both read 1.5 hours ($12) off our fines, which means I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Then we turned on the 6 o’clock news on Channel 4, and I had a jolt.  The newscaster was describing a home invasion that ended in murder.  I hate to say it, but I was only half paying attention, since this is hardly news anymore.  I sat bolt upright in the chair when they showed the face of the victim.

She was Angie Farthing, who worked at the Industrial Commission, just like I do.  She was on a different floor than I was, and I doubt we exchanged more than a dozen words in the two years I’ve been there.  I mostly saw her in the morning, if I took the Sullivant Avenue bus to work.  I wondered why she was so chatty with the drivers, and I see that her father is a retired COTA driver.

Here is the story from today’s Columbus Dispatch:

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP
Soldier’s wife found dead; infant son safe
Sunday, October 08, 2006
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Harold Bell was dropping off milk for his 21-month-old grandson yesterday morning.

When he didn’t see his daughter’s truck in the driveway, Bell figured she wasn’t home.

Then he pushed open the front door of the Franklin Township home on Vanderberg Avenue and discovered his daughter’s body.

“She was my only child,” said Bell, a retired Central Ohio Transit Authority driver who turns 67 today.

Bell raced through the home and found his grandson, Jarreth Farthing, unharmed.

Franklin County deputy sheriffs are investigating the homicide of Angela Farthing, 34. Investigators would not say how Farthing died or reveal details of her death. But they said they have a man in custody. “We have a guy who took her truck,” Chief Deputy Steve Martin said. Martin said the man, whom he would not identify, would be charged with stealing the vehicle, which was crashed in Licking County.

Farthing’s husband, William, is an Army staff sergeant serving in Iraq. He was notified of his wife’s death last night, Bell said.

“He is in Baghdad and they are flying him home,” Bell said.

Bell says the man in custody rented a room in a house across the street.

“I met him twice,” Bell said. “He wanted to be friends with my daughter. I told her to beware of him.”

Bell said he had visited his daughter and grandson Friday night.

Helen Black, a neighbor, said Farthing had lived next door for more than a year.

“She had a little one and we would see her in the yard,” Black said. “She was very friendly.”

Mrs. Black and her husband, William, said they did not see or hear anything happen to Farthing. But Bell knocked on their door yesterday asking for help.

“He said ‘Please call 911 my daughter has been murdered,’ ” Mrs. Black said.

tdoulin@dispatch.com 

Even though I didn’t know Angie, it comes as quite a blow to me.  Tomorrow is one of those government-only holidays, and I’m sure that Tuesday morning will be a grim one at work.

Channel 4 said that her husband, who is in Iraq, was notified by E-mail.  I know that soldiers probably have little, if any access to phones, but that still strikes me as callous.  I’ve heard another report that the Red Cross was notified first, and they would let him know.

My Two New Charges

Last Thursday was my first time as a reading tutor at Highland Avenue Elementary School on the Hilltop.  Just like a field trip in the old days, a yellow school bus picked us all up in front of the building (the William Green Building) where we work and took us to the school.  All that was missing was the endless renditions of “One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

Tutoring my two kids is hard.  All of the sessions took place in one classroom, at the top of several flights of heart attack-provoking staircases, and with each session going full blast at the same time, it wasn’t easy to keep focused on my kids.

Both are kindergarteners.  The first one was a blonde, curly-haired little girl named Shayla.  She’s having difficulty recognizing her own name in print, although she could read “Jack and Jill” back to me.  (My guess is that’s memorization after hearing it so often.)  She doesn’t yet grasp the concept of rhyming.  The hardest thing is that she speaks so quietly I have to put my ear in her face to hear anything, especially with the noise level in the room.  (I’ve always tried to imagine the “blab schools” that Abraham Lincoln went to as a boy, in his <1 year of formal schooling.  That was when all the kids said their lessons aloud so the teacher knew they were working.  What I experienced Thursday was a good approximation!)

The other kid was much more outgoing, and much more audible.  His name is Johnny, and he picked up on reading and recognizing his name much more quickly.  When we talked about “Jack and Jill,” one of the questions I was to ask him was to remember a time when he fell and hurt himself, and he told me all about when he was learning to ride his bike and all the spills he took.  (I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 17, and I haven’t tried in over 20 years.)  He says he wants to be Batman when he grows up.  (An admirable goal–Batman is the only superhero who became one solely by his own effort.  He didn’t find a magic ring, he wasn’t from another planet, he wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider.  He used no outside resources, unless you count his oodles and oodles of inherited wealth.)

We’re not going to be at Highland next Thursday.  The classrooms are being moved and shuffled, so they’ll be moving books and furniture and other paraphernalia down to a classroom in the basement (yay!).  So, on the 12th, we’ll be there again.

IX and XI

Susie turned nine yesterday (at 1:13 p.m., to be exact), and she was swamped with birthday presents.  Yet another lunchbox, tons of books (a coffee-table book about Elvis Presley, a new biography of Helen Keller, the new Captain Underpants graphic novel), some clothes, and some money (which is long gone already).

She’s the youngest person in her class, as a result of being skipped ahead from second to third grade just after Christmas break last year.  Yesterday, a boy in her class turned 11, and Steph was bringing in a cake for both of their birthdays.  Instead of those silly numeral candles you see atop most birthday cakes, Steph used M & Ms to decorate the cake in Roman numerals.  Nine is IX, and 11 is XI, so all you had to do was look at the cake from another angle to see which birthday was being celebrated.

We served her favorite meal–spaghetti with meat sauce and lots of parmesan cheese (“shaky cheese,” as she calls it), and she conked out around 9:30.  I just picked her up from the Davis Center for the Performing Arts, where she was in her acting class.  They’re producing a play they wrote, Marsupial Sue.  Susie wants to be the platypus.

Unfortunately, she did not get a part in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  At first I thought that learning the news would be a pretty sucky birthday present, but the festivities of the day offset this disappointment quite well.

Before I logged onto this blog, I checked my Yahoo! account for mail.  Once again, I was inundated with the usual scams.  The people who put these scams on the ‘Net keep changing E-mail addresses, so these don’t go into the Spam folders.

I was here at the library while Susie was in her acting class, and I was browsing through a book called Hoaxes and Scams: A Compendium of Deceptions, Ruses and Swindles.  One of them, the Spanish Prisoner, is the forerunner of the Nigerian prince scam.  Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Spanish Prisoner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

The Spanish Prisoner is a confidence game dating back to 1588 [1]. In its original form, the confidence artist tells his victim (the mark) that he is in correspondence with a wealthy person of high estate who has been imprisoned in Spain (originally by King Philip II) under a false identity. The alleged prisoner cannot reveal his identity without serious repercussions, and is relying on the confidence artist to raise money to secure his release. The confidence artist offers to let the mark supply some of the money, with a promise that he will be rewarded generously when the prisoner returns both financially and by being married to the prisoner’s beautiful daughter. However, once the mark has turned over his money, he learns that further difficulties have arisen, requiring more money, until the mark is cleaned out and the game ends.

Key features of the Spanish Prisoner are the emphasis on secrecy and the trust the confidence artist is placing in the mark not to reveal the prisoner’s identity or situation. The confidence artist will often claim to have chosen the mark carefully based on his reputation for honesty and straight dealing, and may appear to structure the deal so that the confidence artist’s ultimate share of the reward will be distributed voluntarily by the mark.

Modern variants of the Spanish Prisoner include the advance fee fraud, in which a valuable item must be ransomed from a warehouse, crooked customs agent, or lost baggage facility before the authorities or thieves recognize its value, and the Nigerian money transfer fraud – another type of advance fee fraud – in which a self-proclaimed relative of a deposed African dictator offers to transfer millions of ill-gotten dollars into the bank account of the mark in return for small initial payments to cover bribes and other expenses.

The film The Spanish Prisoner, written and directed by David Mamet, includes such a confidence trick as part of the plot, as does his other film about con men, House of Games.

Arthur Train’s story “The Spanish Prisoner” [2] was published in the March, 1910 issue of The Cosmopolitan Magazine.

One of the reasons it was interesting to find this book is that I think I know who formerly owned it.  I was flipping through the book, and under the entry for Ponzi, Charles (as in “Ponzi scheme”), I saw something scrawled in the margin.  An arrow pointed to a paragraph describing how Ponzi bought huge batches of international postal-union reply coupons and sell them in the U.S. at a 50% profit.  At the top of the page, in uneven printing, it said, “Error!  Ponzi couldn’t make a profit.  Gov’t red tape forbade purchasing coupons in large amounts.  He kept up the pretense he could buy them to keep the money coming in.”

The handwriting looks mysteriously like that of George Wagner, now aged 65, who managed the apartment building (the elegantly ratty Burwood on W. McMillan Street) where I lived from 1993 until 1995.  He is a fanatic about Old-Time Radio (I kinda caught the bug from him), and has an encyclopedic knowledge of true crime, secret societies, the occult, unexplained phenomena, etc.  During the ’50s and ’60s he was a frequent contributor to Fate magazine.

George also likes to correct or supplement the texts of his books.  He gave me a true-crime book in which the author mentions “The Supreme Court plans to debate this issue in 1-2 years,” and George wrote, “Decided 7-2 on (date).”  His magnum opus, which he gave me one Christmas, was the hardcover edition of Stephen King’s The Stand.  As many of you know, King published it originally in 1985.  The book was a huge one then, and this was after substantial editing, both by King and his publisher.  In 1991, King reissued the book, and put back in everything that had been on the cutting-room floor.  Only Stephen King could have enough of an ego to reissue a book that was probably already too long, make it at least a third longer, and expect it to be a bestseller.  (It was, and I must admit I like the reissued version better.)  George sat down with the originally released edition, pen in hand.  He indicated in the margins whether such and such an event was in the original, or if the date had been changed, etc.  (“Not in original,” “this scene ended here,” “1985 should be 1990,” etc.)

I haven’t seen George in over two years, and I’m sorry about that.  I haven’t been to Cincinnati since the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in 2004, and he is not big on returning phone calls or letters.  He has had some issues with his eyesight lately, I think he has macular degeneration.  He and I are kindred spirits: His apartment is more terminally cluttered than any space I stake out, we read reference books for fun, we both store arcane and totally useless knowledge, the list goes on.

I’m going to write him a letter this weekend and enclose a Xerox of the page about Ponzi.