Craig RIP

My friend Scott G. called me at work yesterday with news I was expecting, but not so soon.  On Sunday night, my neighbor (and our mutual friend) Craig–who was released from prison this fall–died of AIDS.  He had been HIV-positive for 12+ years, but developed full-blown AIDS while in prison.  (He was in there for aggravated arson, after he burned down the strip club where he had worked.)

It is a little sobering when I’ve walked past his house.  His Christmas tree is still lit, and electric candles still burn in each window.  The memorial service will be at the Unitarian Church after the first of the year.

Susie was especially saddened.  She had written to him in prison, and she fondly remembers the Christmas banquet at his house when she danced with him–a moment that, thank God, was immortalized in a picture she plans to hang in her bedroom.

Steph’s jaw is much better.  It’s aching, but the pain is nowhere near what she experienced last week.

My current composition book diary is down to the final five pages.  The new composition book awaits my pen and purple prose here in my office.  But I keep thinking of the diary of Philip Hone, who was the mayor of New York briefly in the 1820s.  On April 30, 1851, he wrote:

This volume of my journal, which has only four vacant leaves to be completed, has been suspended during nearly the whole month by continued unmitigated illness.  Tomorrow will be the first of May.  Volume 29 lies ready on my desk.  Shall it go on?

Six days later, he was dead.

And so to CSI:New York.


One of Susie’s favorite jokes came from Playhouse Disney awhile back.  “When is the best time to go to the dentist?”  “Tooth-hurty.”  That’s a joke that heads the list of “So funny I forgot to laugh,” but Steph is laughing at it even less since early Thursday morning.

That was when a tooth in her right lower jaw began hurting with a vengeance.  She needs a root canal in that tooth, but the oral surgeon who would perform it wanted us to pony up $600 upfront (and this is with insurance!).  Since I have frequently found myself rolling pennies to buy Diet Coke, you know how likely being able to pay for root canal would be.

Steph had headaches all week.  They were annoying, but manageable.  They weren’t anything like the migraine bouts I had as a teenager and as a young adult.  (If you want to simulate a migraine headache, take a huge bite of ice cream and swallow it.  Imagine that brain freeze lasting for days.)

Thursday morning, Steph woke up in pain that was driving her crazy.  It worsened during the day, although she had a brief respite from it by swallowing about half a drugstore full of Vicodin.  (Are you listening, Mr. Limbaugh?  Oxycodone and Vicodin are not recreational drugs.)

I left work early on Thursday and took all of Friday off so that she could go to the dentist.  He pulled the offending tooth and gave her some antibiotics.  The pain is still there, but OxyContin and regular aspirin seem to keep the pain at bay.  She had to keep a wad of gauze in her mouth most of the afternoon, but it was better than the pain.

I’m a stage father-to-be yet again.  On Tuesday night, I took Susie to audition for Kabuki Sleeping Beauty at the Davis Fine Arts Center.  The director seems to want the kids to experience what adult actors on Broadway go through–she hasn’t called to say yes or no one way or the other.  I thought Susie did a good job.  I half paid attention to her during the audition.  I alternated between watching her and roughing out the first drafts of some poems.  I also read some of Gravity’s Rainbow.  (I’m at the beginning of one of my periodic Thomas Pynchon binges, possibly because he’s rolled out his first book in about a decade, Against the Day.)

Last night, Susie and I went to the Davis to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I can truly learn from Susie.  She auditioned for the play and did not get in.  I would be so bitter about that I wouldn’t want to go to the play.  I probably would consign my Chronicles of Narnia boxed set to the basement.  But she wanted to see it, and to root for the people who did get in.

I am sorry to report no new Shayla news.  I got caught up in a project at work Thursday morning, and even though I worked on it with one eye on my watch, I got down to the lobby of the building too late.  I saw no school bus in front, and then I glanced down Spring St. just in time to see it round the corner.  I’m afraid Shayla will think I’ve bailed on her, just as her other tutors have.  I’m sending her a kids’ Christmas card c/o her kindergarten class next week.  I won’t see her until 1/11, so I think I’d better let her know she’s on my mind.

Steph and I are watching Prairie Home Companion on DVD tonight.  Due to this whole tooth business, my total shut-eye hours since Wednesday can be counted on one hand, so I hope I can stay awake for it.

Nitpicking & Skating Mishap

Susie’s had a rough week.  On Sunday, she went to a birthday/skating party at a roller rink way out on Refugee Rd. (the name of the rink is United Skates of America–get it?) and she was limping when she got home.  She had lost her footing while on the skates and landed on her butt.  I doubt she truly injured anything but her pride, but she was complaining of a backache, and she seemed to be in pain when she walked.

I gave her a single Flexeril tablet, left over from my back problem earlier this fall.  It was a 10mg tablet which I probably should have cut in two, but I gave it to her around 7:30 and by 8 she was in dreamland.  She woke up the next day, and the pain had lessened, but it wasn’t gone altogether.  I’m sorry I gave her the Flexeril, because she felt draggy and hungover all day.

Steph was literally picking nits last night and this morning.  I was supposed to meet them at Saturday’s in Consumer Square after work, so we could all get haircuts.  But when I arrived there, Steph told me they wouldn’t cut Susie’s hair because she had nits (lice eggs) in it.  She thinks she may have gotten it from a kid on the school bus.  I’ve lived in Franklinton long enough to know that nits and lice have nothing to do with hygiene or the lack thereof, but Steph still bought lice-killing shampoo and rinses at the barber supply store in the shopping center, and was up at dawn to treat Susie’s hair.  I moved her mattress out onto the back balcony to air out, and I sprayed her room, her stuffed toys, the rug, etc.  I also moved the top bunk mattress to the bottom, so she can sleep on it tonight.

When I took her for her haircut at Campus Cuts, I let her go first, and spent the first five minutes praying that the nits were gone or, failing that, that the haircutter wouldn’t see them.  So, when I saw that Susie was actually getting her hair cut, I was so relieved.  Steph was worried, so I texted her: Susie’s haircut in progress, which was welcome news to her.  Tasha, the woman who cut Susie’s hair, liked Susie and vice versa, so I’m going to keep bringing her there.  (She gave Susie a lollipop and a bracelet, so I tipped her quite well, as I did the woman who cut my hair.)

New Dispatch from the Shayla Wars

I apologize to all my readers (both of you) for my laxity in writing here in the past week.  I’ve made it to work daily, and I have been able to keep up the handwritten diary, but I did let this one slip.  Susie and I are just back from a late lunch at the Blue Danube Restaurant, just north of the OSU campus, and both of us had long overdue haircuts (and a beard trim in the case of yours truly).

I went to Highland Elementary on Thursday, and Dick, the coordinator of Columbus Reads, told me confidentially that Shayla was unmanageable on Tuesday.  She had thrown her books and pencils at the tutor and stormed out of the gym (which is where Tuesday tutoring takes place) and spent the rest of the morning stomping back and forth in the hallway.

I thanked him for forewarning me, and asked him (kind of) in jest whether I could borrow a tranquilizer gun, like they use at the zoo when an animal goes berserk.  He told me I might need it before the time was up.

And sure enough, the first 5-10 minutes of our allotted half hour was a struggle.  First of all, she was AWOL and no one knew where she was until a teacher found her wandering around on the second floor.  The teacher brought Shayla back to her kindergarten room, where the teacher was trying to lead some type of group activity.  Shayla never wants to participate in them, so she found a wooden puzzle and started to work it.

She curled up into a fetal position on the floor when I told her it was time to come learn with me.  She went quite rigid when I tried to touch her.  I am afraid of setting a precedent, but I made it a point for her to see that I had kept my promise and had brought her the notebook I promised.  That helped wind her down.  It also gave me some leverage–I kept telling her she could have the notebook, but only when our lesson was done.

So she was able to keep on task, although she kept asking me for the notebook every other minute, and I told her I’d give it to her when the time was up.  She gets really enthusiastic whenever the conversation turns to animals, so I made sure she noticed the animals that were in the story.  She got up and acted out what the animals did and said, and it was hard to bring her back to the little desk in the hallway, but I could.

Her kindergarten teacher gave me a little background.  Her father is mentally retarded, and her mother is barely out of her teens and works at Taco Bell.  (I couldn’t relate to a parent being that young; I was 34 when Susie, my one and only child, was born.  I didn’t read too much into working at Taco Bell; I’ve known a Ph.D. or two who worked fast food.)  “And they hate me,” said the teacher with a laugh.  My guess is that the teacher keeps pushing Shayla and motivating her.

Which is what I’d like to do.  I’m worried about the coming month.  I’ll see Shayla again next Thursday, and then not until January 11th, with Christmas break, etc.  It’s not a Helen Keller-Annie Sullivan situation, but I like to think I’m making some headway with her.

“We Think She Might Be Intelligent!”

I didn’t post the latest in my adventures with kindergartner Shayla.  Dick, the man who is in charge of the Columbus Reads program, told me privately that several tutors have come to him and said, “If I have to work with Shayla, I’m quitting the program!”  Apparently, I’m in their good graces for longevity, if nothing else.

She and I had a hard time getting started on Thursday.  We have our own table in the hallway, because it minimizes the distractions that come with 20-odd tutoring sessions all going at once.  Staying on task is an issue both for Shayla and me, so it’s a godsend that we’re able to be out in the hall.  She was pretty sullen and uncooperative when her teacher brought her from the kindergarten room–she balked at helping us move chairs to our table.  But, after a few minutes, she opened up and became more receptive and friendly.  I think what she craves most is consistency, and she’s beginning to understand that I want to be with her for the long haul.

This week we read Papa’s Spaghetti.  It’s one of those stories where one thing builds on another, like the song “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” or “The Green Grass Grows All Around.”  She perked up when we were talking about food, especially since Thanksgiving has just come and gone.  I mentioned to her that I might be making dinner that night (since Steph had choir practice), and she was shocked, “You mean you don’t have a wife?”

I told her yes, I do, and I showed her my wedding ring.  She pointed to the ring and then to my watch.  “Jewelry!” she said, clapping her hands.

She asked me at one point, “Where’s your book?”  I pointed to the books in her reading folder.  “No!  No!” she said, quite visibly frustrated.  She put her hands in the air and pantomimed flipping a page over.  I knew then that she meant my notepad.

“It’s here,” I said, pulling it out of my pants pocket.  “See?”

She wanted it, but I wouldn’t let her have it, because too many phone numbers, Websites, etc., are jotted in it.  “But I took the pencil and wrote on one page, in printed letters, “Bring Shayla a notebook next week!!”

Her moods can go all over the map in a matter of seconds.  When the session was over, she walked back to her classroom holding my hand, but then she got rather bossy and unpleasant when I had forgotten to bring the little Xeroxed storybooks each child gets to keep after the session.

As I was leaving, her kindergarten teacher took me aside and said, “You’ve been doing a good job with her.  You know, we think she might be intelligent.”  I was thinking, Well, duh!, but instead I showed some very out-of-character restraint and diplomacy.  “I have no doubt of it,” I told the teacher.