I Don’t Know Whether This is Funny or Tragic

After Law and Order: Special Victims Unit ended, I watched the 11 o’clock news on Channel 4.  There had been teasers about this story during the commercial breaks of my shows, and at first I reacted the same way I would to a story in “News of the Weird.”  I was still shaking my head and laughing about this story.  But when I went to The Dispatch‘s Website just now and pulled up the story, it stops being funny or ironic.  A woman had been dead–apparently from natural causes–in her house for over a year, while thieves gradually picked the place bare.  Finally, one of the Good Samaritan thieves had the sense to let the neighbor know.

Woman’s decomposing body found under trash in home
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

She watched with disgust as burglars again ransacked her next-door neighbor’s house. Jackie Lindsay had complained to police before, after seeing thieves carry off furniture, framed pictures and anything else they could take from 578 S. Bulen Ave. on the Near East Side.

“Last Saturday, I saw a guy take out a chair over his head. He had some other things in his hand,” Lindsay said. “It was 8:30 a.m.”

The two-story wood-frame house, long left open, was filled with trash, had no electricity and was an easy target for thieves. The longtime homeowner, Joyce Maitland, hadn’t been seen for months.

But yesterday afternoon, one of those hoodlums came to Lindsay’s door and asked her to call police.

Visibly shaken, he told her that he had discovered a body buried in the debris.

“I told him, ‘I hope that haunts you until the day that you die,’ ” Lindsay said last night. The thief then fled.

Three times before, as far back as summer, Columbus police officers had gone to the Bulen Avenue house. Sometimes, it was because people were ransacking the home. At least once, they were told a body was somewhere inside.

But they never found it.

“If you would see the house, you would probably understand it,” homicide detective Pat Dorn said. “You can’t take a step without stepping on 6 inches of trash.”

The corpse was buried in trash and so badly decomposed that police stopped short of saying for certain whether it was a man or woman, pending an autopsy today.

But the assumption was that the body was that of Maitland, 68.

There were no obvious signs of foul play, but an autopsy is needed to pin down how she died, Dorn said.

Neighbors told police they hadn’t seen Maitland in months. Some thought she had moved away.

“Her mail was stopped over a year ago,” Dorn said.

A son who arrived at the home yesterday afternoon told police that Maitland was estranged from her children. They hadn’t talked for about a year.

“They argued over the cleanliness of the house, her living habits,” Dorn said.

The son, reached at a neighbor’s home, refused to comment.

Maitland, a retired registered nurse, spent months at a time away from home, caring for relatives in Brooklyn, N.Y., Lindsay said.

“She was a little on the strange side. Once you started talking to her, she would talk you to death,” Lindsay said. “I think it was because she lived alone.”

tdecker@dispatch.com 

mmarx@dispatch.com 

That is a grim and tragic way to end one’s days.  In the fall of 1985, I was living in the Y in downtown Columbus, working part-time as a typesetter for the late unlamented Ye Olde Typesetters IV (don’t ask–I’m as baffled now as when I first heard the name) and a series of temp jobs.  I was a childless bachelor in those days, and I was out and about when I wasn’t working–libraries, bars, bookstores, fast-food restaurants, etc.  My room at the YMCA was little more than a place to store my belongings and sleep.

There was an older man who lived down the hall from me.  He had lived there since World War II, when he had come to Columbus to work as an engineer for Battelle, or some other place that was doing war work.  He made quite a bit of money, but he decided to live frugally and simply, and lived in the same room 1942 or 1943 until 1985.

He died in his sleep one Wednesday night, but nobody thought to check on him until the following Sunday, and by that time you knew about his condition just by taking a whiff down that hallway.  Several other Y residents–independently of one another–had come to the front desk and said, “The guy hasn’t come out to eat or pee in three days.  You’d better check on him.”  And nobody did, until the smell was so foul that people were starting to complain.

I had quite a workout today during my lunch break.  Steph and Susie and I had lunch at Au Bon Pain downtown, which entailed a zigzag fast walk from the William Green Building to the restaurant, which is on the southeast corner of the State House lawn, next to Trinity Episcopal Church.  I had a good chicken and dumplings soup meal with sourdough bread, but burned most of it up in the mad run back to work afterwards.

We received a thank-you card from one of the couples who came to our Thanksgiving fete on Thursday.  I am sure I would have fared better in the Trivial Pursuit game if it had covered more material from a longer period of time.  Steph’s rationale for letting me be my own team is that, “Paul has Asperger’s syndrome.  He remembers everything he’s ever read.”  (The latter is not true, and it’s never been.)  This type of buildup made my poor performance sting all the more.  I suppose I should be flattered by what Steph said, but part of me wonders if it’s the equivalent of “— is Black, so he’s very good at basketball and tap dancing.”

Maybe I’m getting more hypersensitive as I age.

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Tuesday Night at the Library

It’s really an incentive for Susie to get all her homework done, and for me not to drag my feet while washing the dishes.  While Steph teaches her piano and/or voice lessons, Susie and I vamoose and come to the library.  Steph isn’t feeling too well tonight, so she’s hitting the sack early.  Nevertheless, Susie and I are here at the library.  She’s in the kids’ section, and I’m banging away at the keyboard.

My lunch break was rather hectic today.  I made a mad dash to the Revol cell phone store to pay the bill.  I thought I’d save time by riding the bus the three or so blocks, but I stood at the bus stop for 10-15 minutes (I only have 45 minutes for lunch) before one came.  While I was riding, Steph texted me and said she was on S. 3rd St., across from Trinity Church, waiting for her bus back home.  I went over and talked with her for a few minutes, and rode one stop with her to the Revol store.  We have cellular service for another month, but we’re $101.51 poorer as a result.

So my lunch was delayed, and not the most nutritious.  During my 3 o’clock break, I got a cheeseburger from McDonald’s and inhaled it, since I only had 15 minutes altogether.

They just announced the library will be closing soon, and I need to get Susie to bed at a decent hour, so I’ll sign this off.  I’m looking forward to seeing Bernadette Peters on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit later on tonight.  She is still the only person I could think of to be in a live-action Betty Boop movie.  (Betty Boop was Susie’s first cartoon heroine, and that was because I picked up a VHS tape of black and white Betty Boop cartoons at the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention when she was a pre-schooler.)

I Had to Work Friday, Damn It!

I must report that I had an excellent Thanksgiving fete on Thursday evening–there were the three of us (Susie, Steph, and myself) and two couples.  We ate around 5, and played the 20th Anniversary Edition of Trivial Pursuit.  (I was appalled at how poorly I did.  The questions in that edition refer completely to news, sports, literature, etc. from the past 20 years.  This was about the time I stopped listening to the radio, and when I began turning my attention to classical literature, which I had paid lip service to forever but never actually buckled down and read.)

Friday was a work day for us Staties, and I never fully understand just how damn inconvenient that can be.  Friday was also payday.  Steph’s standard practice on payday is to go to the credit union and withdraw cash for groceries, bills, etc.  That was thwarted right away–the credit union was closed.  (So was the gas company, when I called to let them know I’d be paying the bill Monday instead of yesterday.)  Susie had been on break from school since Wednesday, and all I had off was Thursday.  We managed to get enough carrying-around cash from the ATM, but its withdrawals were limited.

This is the first time I’ve written in here since very early Thursday morning.  Frank, who was one of our Thanksgiving guests, was asking Susie if she had a blog yet.  She doesn’t, and we won’t let her get one, even on the kid-friendly sites, because of the pervs that cruise the kids’ sites.  One time in the early ’80s, several friends and I got into a big debate over what was the difference between a diary and a journal.

I always used the two interchangably, but there is a distinction between a diary, a journal, and a blog.  Nothing in a blog is intended to be private; it’s all for public consumption and feedback.  A high-school student in California got a rather drastic lesson about that earlier this fall.  (I’m relying on memory for this, so I’m not 100% sure of where this was.)  The Secret Service came and paid her a visit because, according to them, she had, in her blog, threatened to kill President Bush.  I was hoping that The Smoking Gun would publish the entry in question, but it didn’t.  The young woman was not prosecuted or even fined in the end.  In the final analysis, I think they realized that she was not threatening to assassinate the President; she was merely saying that she hoped somebody else would.  And that is 100% legal, like it or not.

Steph and I are going to watch Serpico this evening.  I haven’t seen that in ages; I was a teen when I saw it on TV.  After the debacle about revealing the sex offender at the church we were attending, and the response we got from all quarters about it, I can understand, relate to, and respect Frank Serpico much more than ever before.

It took us several nights, but we watched the DVD of Secret Window, starring Johnny Depp.  It was based on a novella by Stephen King which I had almost forgotten.  It was a creepy tale, all about plagiarism, stalking, and schizophrenia.

I’m at the library right now, and I’m bringing home a compact disk that may get me thrown out of the house on my ear by my wife, the voice teacher.  The disk is called Golden Throats: The Great Celebrity Sing-Off, and features such great music as “It Ain’t Me, Babe” sung by Sebastian Cabot; “House of the Rising Sun” sung by Andy Griffith, Leonard Nimoy’s rendition of “If I Had a Hammer,” and the classic William Shatner rendition of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

JFK RIP

I know that it’s officially not November 22–we are an hour into Thanksgiving morning–but the day cannot pass without acknowledging the 43rd anniversary of John Kennedy’s assassination.  I have no memories of the day that JFK was shot, since I was just shy of seven months old at the time.

But it has interested and fascinated me.  I’ve waded through many books, seen miles of video tape, watched many documentaries, etc.  All I can say is that we will never know the full truth, except that the Warren Commission’s conclusion–which they arrived at beforehand and worked backwards from–that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin is totally off base.

Then who did do it?  Who was responsible?  I don’t know.  I doubt we ever will.  There is, however, in my learned opinion, a three-way tie for most idiotic solutions.

(1)  The Secret Service agent driving the limousine turned around and shot Kennedy in the face.  (There is actually a loon named William Cooper, author of a conspiracy-theory book called Behold a Pale Horse, who has advocated this theory, claiming that the Zapruder film shows this.)

(2) There were assassins hiding in the sewers along the parade route, shooting at Kennedy from the storm grating on Elm St.

(3)  A Secret Service agent accidentally killed JFK when his gun discharged.  (The agent in question sued the author of Mortal Error, Bonar Menninger, over this and won.)

But, as Richard Belzer says, we shouldn’t criticize the Dallas police too much.  After all, look how fast they caught Jack Ruby!

We’re going to be serving two couples for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow (this) afternoon, late.  Susie wants to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, so we’ll do that in the morning.  (Steph is a good friend of the wife of Jon Woods, the director of Ohio State’s band.  OSU–“The Best Damn Band in the Land”–will be there.)

My most vivid memory of watching the Macy’s parade was when I was about Susie’s age.  It was sleeting in New York that day, and the camera was following one of the floats.  There were raindrops all over the camera lens.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, a giant hand appeared in the foreground and wiped off the lens with a cloth.

Another reason I’m typing this late is because of a cough that’s been keeping me up.  I finally got dressed and went to the all-night Marathon station/convenience store at Sullivant and Central and bought a roll of Hall’s Mentho-Lyptus.  (Ice Blue, which’ll clear up your sinuses in nothing flat!)  Steph warned me not to awaken her when I returned, and since our bedroom door creaks like an Addams Family sound effect, I may sleep on the office floor.

The creaking door is a price to be paid in a house such as this.  Growing up in Marietta, Ohio, I quickly developed a weakness for older houses.  Anything built after World War I is too modern for me!

Right Church, Wrong Pew

Nothing really to report about seeing the doctor.  He was running behind schedule, so there was little more than his writing me a prescription for more BuSpar, and making another appointment in mid-December.

While I was riding the eastbound 10 bus, I glanced out the window and I saw a guy named Buddy, a longtime fellow bus passenger.  He’s in his early 60s, a retired tool and die maker who worked at the Delphi plant–and managed to get out with his pension intact!  (He remembers when I used to carry Susie around on my shoulders; that was a long time ago!)

He had made a logical conclusion about me, but it turned out to be totally incorrect.  He always saw me with Susie–on the bus, in town, etc.  One day, while I was riding the bus home, I glanced at my watch and said, “I’m meeting Steph for dinner at 6.”

He asked me who Steph was.  I told him she was (is) my wife.

He raised his eyebrows at this.  “Man, I always thought you were a widower.”

That knocked me for a loop, but once he explained it, I could see where he drew his conclusion.  He grew up in an age where the father took a less hands-on role in being with and raising children–especially girls.  He had never met Steph (although he did shortly thereafter).  He knew I was not divorced, or else I would not still be wearing a wedding ring.  He had seen me with Susie quite a bit, so he concluded (logically, but erroneously) that I was widowed.

Entry on the Run

Since I’m playing hooky from work today, I’m writing a brief entry before I go out and catch the bus to Mount Carmel East and my appointment with the psychiatrist.  I am proud that I did some planning ahead.  On my previous visits, I’d think of all the questions I needed to ask as I was en route back from the appointment.  But today, as I thought of things I needed to ask, I jotted them down in my notebook, and I’ll refer to them as I talk to him.

I walked Susie to her bus stop this morning.  The bridge on her cello keeps popping off with minimal bowing, so it’s being repaired.  That means no lesson for her today.

Steph’s second piano student of the day is downstairs.  He’s a retired COTA bus driver, and he composes on guitar.  I was surprised that he recognized “MacArthur Park” when I made a snide reference to it.  He even remembered that it was originally recorded by the late Richard Harris (Dumbeldore in every Harry Potter movie except the most recent).  I like the song, even if Dave Barry said it was the worst song ever recorded.  I liked it even before Donna Summer recorded that God-awful disco version in the ’70s.

After all, how could you go wrong with poetry like this:

Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead
As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed
In love’s hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

Emerson, Whitman, and Goethe, move over!

I’ve got to leave the keyboard and go out to West Broad Street and catch a bus, so (hopefully) I’ll type another entry when I take Susie to the library tonight.  (She has no school tomorrow, and Steph has lessons all evening.)

Apologies for Not Posting Here

It was a hectic weekend, and I was one of the minority who had zero interest in the Ohio State-Michigan game last weekend.  I live in Columbus, but never attended OSU, and Steph went to graduate school at the University of Michigan.  Add to that, I have zero interest in football.  (Whenever someone asks me which team I like, or whether I watched this or that game, I usually say something like, “I don’t watch much football.  I can never remember how many innings there are.”)

My back is pretty much normal again.  I’m keeping the Flexiril and the hydrocodone around in case it flares up again.  I’m taking tomorrow off from work to see my shrink, Dr. Schneir.  I’m glad to have some decompression time on the long bus ride all the way to the east end of Columbus, on Mount Carmel East’s campus.

Early Saturday afternoon was a good time to go shopping.  Susie and I went to Aldi on the far west side of Columbus, and we were in and out in just about 10 minutes.  Taking the bus back, I am glad that Susie was 100% absorbed in her book during the bus trip.  In the lane next to our bus, there was a big fat guy driving an SUV.  His pants were down around his ankle, and he had one hand on the steering wheel.  Three guesses where the other one was!

Steph will be the temporary choir director at West Park United Methodist Church beginning next Sunday.  (That’s the church we’ve been attending.  Its major asset is that it’s 1.5 blocks from our place.)  The old lady who is the normal choir director will be spending the winter with her daughter and her son-in-law in Denver.

OSU’s victory seems to have come with minimal destruction to the campus area.  However, even early Sunday afternoon, you could tell that the revels were far from ended.  I had lunch at the McDonald’s on High Street, not too far from the campus.  I waited a good 15-20 minutes before I could order, and then another 5-10 before I could get my food.  The place was a mob scene.  Most of them were OSU fans who were probably still drunk or battling hangovers.  If there were Wolverine fans there, they were incognito.  (Stephanie told me that the people in Ann Arbor love this contest, too, but they manage to be enthusiastic about it without turning into complete lunatics.)

I sat by the window and munched my burger while re-reading Blue Belle, which is probably my second favorite Andrew Vachss novel.  There was only one other reader (other than people who were greedily devouring The Dispatch‘s Sports page) in that crowded place.  It was a guy with long, stringy brown hair and untended, chest-length beard wearing a toboggan and a plaid work shirt, perusing a well worn Bible and jotting in a small notebook in front of him.

I wish that an old Marietta friend could have seen that.  Ever since this guy “found the Lord,” he’s become convinced the ACLU exists only to destroy the free expression of religion.  I take him with a ton of salt–his theology makes Jonathan Edwards (of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” fame) look like a Unitarian.  He has often said that “if the ACLU has its way, it’ll be illegal for you to sit under a tree reading the Bible.”  The punch line is that this guy would cheerfully abolish my right to sit under the adjacent tree reading Hustler.  I won’t say what that makes him, but here’s a hint: It rhymes with trip-a-crit.

More Shayla News

My little charge Shayla met with me today.  I was met at the door of Highland Elementary by Dick S., who oversees the Columbus Reads program, and he asked me if I still wanted to work with Shayla.  I told him that yes, I did.  He seemed relieved to hear this, since she’s already gone through four tutors since the program was launched this year.  I cannot claim to be a saint with anyone who tries my patience–adult or child–but I’m hoping that I can keep working with Shayla.  I was very upfront about why I want to work with her, because they suspect she has Asperger’s syndrome, and I know that I do.  Alcoholics Anonymous’ basic premise is that only an alcoholic can understand another alcoholic, and I think that this may be the case with Asperger’s.

If Shayla does have Asperger’s, one thing that will run her in the ditch is having a different tutor every time she turns around.  A trait of Asperger’s syndrome is craving routine.  She will apply herself more once she has established that the same person will be looking across the desk from her.

It was very hard to keep her on task today.  The common thread in the reading work the school’s been giving her seems to be animals.  There was a little book about farm animals.  (You may remember that the book we read last week was Click, Clack, Moo!, a book about cows, typewriters, and collective bargaining.)  There was also a kids’ book (whose title escapes me) about how a little boy is a zookeeper, because of the plethora of stuffed animals he has in his bed with him.  She kept trying to draw my attention to the paintings of her fellow kindergarteners that hung on the walls in our corridor.  She got up twice, once to get a drink of water and the second time to go to the bathroom.  (You think theremight be a connection here, folks?)

There are hopeful signs, though.  First of all, when all the kids came into the room to be assigned to their tutors, I was sitting with several of my fellow tutors–many of them from either the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation or (like me) the Industrial Commission.

Shayla picked me out right away and began waving to me and smiling.  I was sure to make eye contact and wave back, to let her know I remembered her as well.

There is also a contingent of tutors from Upper Arlington Lutheran Church; their biggest logistical problem is whether they can count on a school bus to transport them from Upper Arlington to the Hilltop.  They’re doing this for the first time this year, and they seem to be enjoying it.

Speaking of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, Tom Noe, who used investments from rare coins to line the pockets of Governor Taft and his other GOP buddies, was found guilty in Toledo.  He is looking at least 10 years in prison.  How much time will he get altogether, I don’t know.

But I’m willing to bet his parole officer hasn’t even been born yet.

Another Day, Another $ .35

This is one of those workdays where anything out of the ordinary, even a trash fire in the restroom, would be welcome in order to break the monotony.  I’m proud to report that my lower back is almost totally pain-free.  I did take a Flexiril with my breakfast, and I took both it and the hydrocodone with me when I left for work, but I didn’t need either one.  I’m going to take the Flexiril until it runs out, although its only side effect seems to be causing a detached and dizzy sort of feeling.

I spent most of the day transcribing.  Both of the dictations I got were from Dr. Brown, the psychiatrist.  I’ve written elsewhere in this blog that the psychiatric evaluations are the ones I find most fascinating.  And the ones I got today both interested and depressed me at the same time.  This is a switch from the latter part of last week, when my co-pilot wished she had brought her daughter’s GameBoy to work with her.  I was tempted to do the online crossword puzzle, but with my luck, a supervisor would materialize behind me as soon as I let my guard down.

Susie was home sick again today.  She was a little bummed because she had to miss an art class, which intrigues me.  Her artwork is not gallery quality–far from it.  (I can’t manage better than very crude stick people.)  Yet she loves drawing her dolls and friends, and trying to create her own comic book.  It’s the polar opposite of me.  If I can’t be Michelangelo the first time I sit down with paintbrush in hand, then it’s abort mission for me.  And I completely dry up idea-wise if I’m not Tolstoy whenever I sit down at a typewriter (or computer) keyboard.

I’m not quite in for the night.  As soon as Steph’s voice/piano student leaves, I’ll be headed over to United Dairy Farmers to pick up a jug of skim milk.  As long as I’m back in time for Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, I won’t complain too much.  Richard Belzer is my favorite actor on the show (originally his character, John Munch, was on Homicide: Life on the Street), but the one I’ve come to like more is Ice-T.  I don’t like rap, and while I have no special love in my heart for police, I did not like his recording a song called “Cop Killer.”  But I gained respect for him when I learned how he got his moniker.  (Besides knowing that Tracy Morrow, his birth name, isn’t very good for a rapper.)  He was honoring the writer Robert Beck, who wrote under the pen name Iceberg Slim.

And now I will close up this entry and go get milk.

Fashion Emergency

I’m the last person on earth who would have a fashion emergency, and yet I had one today.

When Steph and Susie came back from church (I took a powder from it) yesterday, Steph called up to me here in the office that the two of them “came bearing gifts.”  I went down to see what it was.  Susie brought me a small plate of homemade goodies left over from the Fellowship Hour, and Steph held up a pair of black dress shoes.  I tried them on and they seemed fine.  I was going to restrict this pair’s use to church and formal occasions only, but this morning I was kind of in a rush to finish breakfast and run out to the bus stop.  This was the first pair of shoes I saw, so I put them on and went for the bus, and made it.

While I was walking to the elevator in the William Green Building, I became aware of a flap, flap, flap sound that seemed to follow me wherever I went.  It sounded a lot like how you walk if you’re wearing shower thongs on your feet.  To my horror, I saw that the heel, and most of the sole, had detached.  (No wonder these shoes were freebies!)

I tried to tape the heel on with packing tape, and hoped that my pant cuff would hide it.  No such luck.  So, I took 90 minutes of leave time and went home so I could consign the above-mentioned shoes to the Dumpster in our alley and shod myself in more reliable shoes, namely my tennis shoes.

The back is much better.  I’m still keeping up with the muscle relaxant, but I didn’t use any Vicodin (hydrocodone).  I’m keeping the bottle handy if any pain recurs.  Truthfully, I’m trying to reserve it only for total emergencies.  I think I have either an addictive personality or an addictive mindset, because I remember I was enjoying the codeine that my urologist prescribed after my vasectomy in 1998.  Since I didn’t want to be an honest-to-God junkie, I got creative.  Have a splinter under my fingernail?  Take Tylenol III for the pain.  Bumped my head on a table while I was picking something up?  A Tylenol III’l take care of that.

So I do have to be careful.  And in my darker moods and deeper depressions, I ask Steph to hide Ambien and any other potent painkillers.