Susie Saw TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Last Night

 …and, although it took her awhile to come around, she found herself quite moved and impressed by it.  She told us this morning, as we were waiting for the bus to go to church, that she had some nightmares about the villain of the movie, Bob Ewell, and that she would have enjoyed playing Scout, the young heroine of the story, if she ever had the chance to be in a stage production of Mockingbird.  She said she would not have liked wearing the “ham” costume that the little girl wears toward the end, but she was highly amused by it.  Steph whetted Susie’s interest by opining that the little Alabama town where the movie is set (circa 1932) would probably resemble the Franklinton of that era.

Susie is often skeptical about the movies that I encourage.  A case in point was what we watched Friday night.  I borrowed a VHS tape of W.C. Fields’ You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, which also stars Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.  I have been a W.C. Fields fan since I was six or seven, when I heard a record of some of his comedy pieces.  I saw many of his movies as a teenagers, on the many Friday and Saturday nights I would stay up until dawn with the All Night Theatre broadcast on WSAZ-TV, Channel 3 out of Huntington, W.Va.  That was where I saw most of the movies, bookended by reruns of The Saint and Green Acres.  Susie said the only parts that held her interest were the ones with Charlie McCarthy.

Although I think he grew in his talent, when you watch Bergen in You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, it’s easy to see that ventriloquism was an entirely new field for him.  You don’t even have to watch that closely to see his lips moving whenever Charlie or Mortimer Snerd are speaking.  And the scenes where Bergen is romancing Constance Moore, in the presence of Charlie, are a little creepy.  That may be because I’m remembering Anthony Hopkins and Burgess Meredith in Magic, which I saw in the late ’70s.

I’m currently reading Joal Ryan’s book Former Child Stars, a book I had to order on Interlibrary Loan from the University of Utah Library.  It ought to be an America’s Most Wanted/Cops book tie-in.

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Laboring to Greet the New Year

We’re having a potluck on New Year’s Day starting at 1 p.m., so Steph, Susie, and I spent most of the day working on getting the house ready.  I’m proud to say that my office is cleaner than it has been in awhile.  I hate to have to spread newspapers on the floor in the back, but as Diana gets older and becomes less and less continent, it’s a necessity that I’ll have to perform.  I try to see the excavation of my desk, and putting notebooks, manuscripts, etc. in order as a baby step toward getting back to writing.  Lately I haven’t been shying away from even being near the typewriter lately, as has been the case.  I am proud to report that I wrote down some poetry ideas in my omnipresent Mead notepad during a break at work the other day.  I have yet to strike a key on the typewriter, but you gotta crawl before you can walk.

New Year’s Eve itself will be low-key.  During my bachelorhood, it was my favorite holiday, mainly because I would spend it in a bar, and secondary to the drinking was the possibility of having a meaningful one- or two-night romance.  The holiday still has not lost its allure for me–it still ranks as one of my favorites–but it changes its focus once you age, give up booze, and are in a monogamous relationship.  Steph’s choir friend and fellow knitter Joanna will pick us up after her concert at Trinity Episcopal Church downtown (Joanna sings in a women’s choir that is performing there), and we’ll all be at Pat and Tanya’s for games and good times.

Our Revels Are Ending

Christmas is behind us, and a game-playing night looms ahead for New Year’s Eve.  Pat and Tanya met us for the 5 p.m. Christmas Eve service at the Unitarian Church, and afterwards we all went back to their house so the kids could exchange gifts (Susie is quite happy with her new digital camera, although we have yet to buy batteries for it).  The high point of the evening was Pat’s incomparable split pea soup.  I only stopped eating it because my stomach was running out of room.

Christmas Day was quiet.  We ate homemade lasagna, played some board games, and watched TV, and generally stared at the ceiling all day.  It was not easy for me to return to work yesterday… I was dragging and dozing off from time to time, and it was not a simple matter to keep focused on the doctors’ tapes.

Later Christmas Eve was a little troubling.  We got home from Pat and Tanya’s house around 10, since their kids (Gianna and Sasha, 10 and 7 respectively) were starting to wilt.  Susie burst into tears when we got home, because there would be no visit from Santa for her in the morning.

Steph and I have been gently easing Christmas out of the picture, mostly with Susie’s understanding.  She, like us, is not a believer in the Virgin Birth or the theological meaning behind the holiday, but we have made December a month of celebration.  We lit the menorah for the first and final nights of Hanukkah (and exchanged gifts on both), and decided that last Saturday, the winter solstice, would be the big gift-giving day.

Susie had said she was fine with that.  The closest we came to a Christmas tree was decorating the plastic philodendron (Alice) with some of our kitschier baubles.  But she had a change of heart when she saw Gianna and Sasha eagerly awaiting Kris Kringle’s arrival in the morning.

Susie knows that Santa Claus is not a real being.  A kindergarten playmate broke this news to her, and Susie said that even though she knew it wasn’t true, she still would believe.  (Mark Twain’s definition of faith is “believing something you know ain’t true”, and I guess he’s right.)  So she still sent Santa letters, talked about his visits and his gifts, left him snacks (which yours truly ate, even the raw carrots for the reindeer), etc.

While Steph attempted to get Susie to bed and quieted down, I made an emergency dash to get some last-minute presents.  I found Susie’s stocking in the basement, and went to our 24-hour Marathon station and bought candy, Barbie doll knockoffs, a little Matchbox car, and I found a girlish blank journal (an old Hollie Hobbie journal I found in a junk store eons ago) in my office that I had wanted to give to her and had forgotten.  We hung the stocking with care, and Susie was delighted that Santa came after all.

Susie’s friend Tierney shared Christmas dinner with us, and we watched a disk of Droopy cartoons afterwards.  While Susie and I were walking down Cypress Avenue on Christmas afternoon, we saw three or four boys playing with a radio-controlled plastic helicopter, about the size of a Tonka truck.  I was quite amazed at its altitude.  Their navigation skills leave a little to be desired–I’m pretty sure by New Year’s that helicopter will take up permanent residence on somebody’s roof.

Definitely on the Mend

Going to the Franklinton library with Susie turned out to be a good idea after all.  It did wear me down enough that I slept like a baby.  I endured the finale of The Biggest Loser while Steph was watching it in bed, and then it was dreamland from then on–except for the brief awakenings several times during the night.  Steph also claims I’m snoring quite loudly–and quite often in her ear.  I hope that’s just a temporary byproduct of this (I hope) soon-to-be-gone bug.  I also ate quite late.  Steph was $80 richer in cash once her final lesson was over, so we ordered Pizza Hut and, with Susie’s help, ate an entire large Meat Lovers’ pizza.

Susie and I are having a Dad ‘n’ Daughter Dinner at Wendy’s tonight.  Steph is at Covenant Group at the Unitarian Church, and will be having dinner beforehand, so Susie and I are at the Hilltop Library right now.

I seem to have gotten my second wind where work is concerned.  I typed five specialists’ reports today.  All of them were orthopedists, but my two least favorite physicians were not among those with dictations in the queue.  The last hour or so of the day, I typed Statements of Fact and Lump Sum Advancements, and I had a disk of The Beatles’ Revolver going… but not through the earphones.  My ears had taken enough of a beating for one day.

We’re not going to do anything special for Christmas.  We have put up neither trees nor stockings, but we will exchange solstice gifts Saturday night.  On the 25th itself, we’re going to either a Chinese or kosher restaurant and then to a matinee movie.

One of the baby steps I am taking toward ending my writer’s block is that, before New Year’s Day, I want to make my office habitable.  Since I froze on National Novel-Writing Month in November, I’ve ventured into the office only to charge my cell phone or to put down fresh newspaper where Diana the springer spaniel has been relieving herself lately.  It didn’t dawn on me just how much the place has deteriorated until Susie was finished using about five World Book volumes she had borrowed from me for her homework.  They live in two plastic milk crates on one end of my desk (I bought the complete set–minus the volume for the letter I–at a library discard sale 2-3 years ago for about $5), and normally I would make sure the volumes went into the right place.  Instead, I just stacked them haphazardly on top of a boom box on my file cabinet.

I don’t aspire to make it museum-neat, so neat that it looks like something you’d see when standing on the other side of a red velvet cord, but I want it to be a place where I can work and spend a lot of time.  I am no neat freak–far from it–but there is a level of clutter in which I cannot work.  I’m sure the half-finished page in my typewriter is literally starting to gather dust.

As for the block, I haven’t abandoned hope.  I’m proud that I’m being more consistent about writing in here, and I have written in my handwritten diary three days in a row–sometimes twice in one day.  And I actually mailed a post card to an old friend from Ohio University this afternoon.  I still keep a spiral-bound notebook in the breast pocket of my shirt, complete with pen, but nothing other than phone numbers, shopping lists, etc. have gone into it for awhile.

This, too, shall pass.

Diarist Extraordinaire

A friend of mine recently sent me an E-mail about the death of Rev. Robert Shields, who–as far as can be determined–has the record for the longest and most extensive personal diary, at least in American history.  I first read about him in a “News of the Weird” column, and in a one-paragraph article about him, “The Story of His Life,” in Penthouse at some point in the 1990s.  (I know because I clipped out the Penthouse article and Scotch-taped it inside the back cover of the maroon ledger I used as a journal from November 1993-June 1995 in Cincinnati.)

Unfortunately, all the diaries I kept from January 1974 (when I was 10.5) until 1989 (age 25) disappeared when I kept them in a storage locker I didn’t pay for–mainly out of poverty.  (That storage locker company had pretty strict rules: No storage of animals or people, living or dead, is permitted was one of them.)

My first diary was one of those silly little blue books with a lock.  (The key disappeared, but if you have a bobby pin, you have a diary key.)  It was a Christmas 1973 gift, and I christened it a week later as my parents and I were en route from Richmond, Va. to Marietta after seeing my Aunt Jean and her family.  Aunt Jean’s husband, my uncle Roger, was severely ill with the congestive heart failure that would kill him 10 weeks later.  We made the trip to be with them.  I wrote for the first time in pencil in the car headed back to Ohio.  I even put a dateline, “Somewhere in Virginia,” at the top of the page.  (Sounds like a War Department telegram from the Civil War era, doesn’t it?)

The two Richmond trips we made during Uncle Roger’s illness would be the subject matter for my first long work, a 48-page single-spaced (typed) description of the two journeys.  Jack Kerouac would have been proud–I included every gas station stop, restroom break, Mail Pouch barn, and restaurant that crossed our paths between Marietta and Richmond (via U.S. 50 through West Virginia, the truly scenic way to get there.)

A milestone in my diary-writing was that in 1979 I stopped using pencils to write.  When people ask, I usually get Biblical and arrogant and say it’s because I’m like Pontius Pilate (“What I have written, I have written”, John 19:22).  The real reason was much simpler; I began to notice that pencilled entries would rub off on the facing page and would fade.

Here is the Wikipedia article about Shields.  There are some heights I never want to reach.  The lucky souls at Alden Library at Ohio University will ultimately get my diaries when I depart this life, but I doubt I could ever lay this tonnage on them:

Robert Shields (diarist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rev Robert Shields (born May 17, 1918 – died October 15, 2007) was a former Minister and high school English teacher from Dayton, Washington, USA, who, after his death, left behind a diary of 37.5 million words chronicling every 5 minutes of his life from 1972 until a stroke disabled him in 1997. Shields’s diary was longer than those kept by the journalist Edward Robb Ellis (21 million words), the poet Arthur Crew Inman (17 million words), and perhaps the most famous diarist of all, Samuel Pepys (1.25 million words).

Believing that discontinuing his diary would be like “turning off my life“,he spent four hours a day in the office on his back porch, in his underwear, recording his body temperature, blood pressure, medications, describing his urination, and slept for only two hours at a time so he could describe his dreams. It is believed that Shields suffered from hypergraphia. He once said “Maybe by looking into someone’s life at that depth, every minute of every day, they will find out something about all people.” He also left behind samples of his nose hair for future study.

Shield’s self-described “uninhibited”, “spontaneous” work was astonishing in its mundaneness, and now fills 94 cartons in the collections of Washington State University, to whom he donated the work in 1999. In a May 2000 interview he said “I’ve written 1200 poems and at least five of ’em are good.” He also claimed to have written the story base for Elvis Presley’s film Love Me Tender.

Excerpts

Under the terms of the donation of his diary to Washington State University, the diary may not be read or subjected to an exact word count for 50 years from his death. However, many excerpts have appeared, including the following:

July 25, 1993 
7 am: I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.
7.05 am: Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine. Used five sheets of paper.
April 18, 1994 
6:30-6:35: I put in the oven two Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese at 350°.
6:35-6:50: I was at the keyboard of the IBM Wheelwriter making entries for the diary.
6.50-7.30: I ate the Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese and Cornelia ate the other one. Grace decided she didn’t want one.
7.30-7.35: We changed the light over the back stoop since the bulb had burnt out.
August 13, 1995 
8.45 am: I shaved twice with the Gillette Sensor blade [and] shaved my neck behind both ears, and crossways of my cheeks, too. 

Diary from the Sickbed

I decided to tough it out and keep going to work, despite the cold and the congestion that began during the weekend (courtesy of Steph and Susie, of course.)  I made it through the day yesterday, although it was difficult to hide the fact from my co-workers.

I lasted four hours today.  My supervisor, who is susceptible to bugs from her grandkids, dropped some less-than-subtle hints that I should probably take the rest of the day off.  I logged into work at 6:56 a.m. and lasted until 11.  Despite our backlog in work and transcribing, I think she would have rolled out a red carpet and held the door open for me when I finally got the sense to head home.  What pushed me over the edge was sampling some Christmas cookies that one of the claims examiners had baked.  Her baking is delicious, and her cookies are wonderful, but it was more than my stomach could handle.  I was poised to head to the bathroom at any given moment.

So I got home around 11:30 and slept until past 4.  I’m at the Franklinton branch of the library right now, typing this blog/diary, when I probably should have stayed at home.  Steph has consecutive piano and voice lessons from 4:45 until 8:30, so she wants Susie and me out of her hair.  My thinking is that being outside and walking will wear me out enough that I’ll actually sleep tonight and not be up flying off the walls all night.

While I was getting ready to go to the library, Susie told me that she learned something bad at school today.  The three girls she thought were her best friends “have been backstabbing me since September!”  I’ve often thought that girls’ cruelty in social interactions was much worse than boys’, mainly because girls play it so much closer to the vest.  Boys usually make no secret about their hostility or dislike.

I wish I knew which was worse.

Easing Myself Back…

It’s been awhile since I last wrote in here, and I have been receiving E-mails (posted here and sent to me privately) from concerned people.  I appreciate all your thoughts and good wishes.  To express my gratitude, I’m going to try to eke out something productive here.

The bad news is that I ran out of steam and came nowhere near close to making NaNoWriMo’s “Novel in a Month” goal.  The first 7-10 days I was typing like a house afire, finding it very easy to meet my 7-10 pages per night.  Once I had made my quota, there were nights when I would sit at the typewriter and have kind of an “Aww!  Is that all for tonight?” attitude.  Then I kept slowing down and slowing down, where even typing one or two pages became a major effort.  I made the mistake of taking “a” night off to regroup.  That single night has been going on for a month now.  I haven’t touched the typewriter, and barely enter my office except to charge my cell phone or put down fresh newspaper for where Diana (our springer spaniel) has been doing her business.  (Diana is 12, and I think she’s not going to be continent for very much longer.)

Physically, I’ve been able to stay healthy, although emotionally it’s been quite another story.  I’m back to the state where getting out of bed is my biggest victory of the day.  I have been able (mostly) to go to work every day and get a fair amount done, but it’s like someone who has a severe case of the flu or pneumonia sucking it up, dragging themselves out of bed, and getting dressed and going to work, even when they shouldn’t.

Susie played a toucan in a Nativity play Tuesday night at St. Mary Magdalene.  She had a multicolored striped pullover shirt and a toucan nose, and her teacher let her use a Toucan Sam doll.  The next night was the Christmas concert, which took place at Bishop Ready (pronounced “Reedy”) High School.  Susie came home from school with a headache and a light fever, but by the time she got her second wind and decided to go to the concert, there was no practical way to get her there in time.  She was quite upset about this, but when her fever spiked later that night, she (grudgingly) saw the logic of staying home.

Two-thirds of our household (Steph and Susie) sang in the Winter Concert at the Unitarian Church last Sunday, and they both did wonderfully.  Susie is part of the “Peace Pals” children’s choir, and Steph is in the 11 a.m. adult choir.  I am hoping that a compact disk of the concert will be available, but I’ll be surprised if that comes out before Memorial Day.  We went to a reception after the concert and then to a party after that, so the minute I got home, I was asleep.  I dozed off during Cold Case, which is totally out of character for me.

Snow is falling outside this afternoon.  The TV stations have been broadcasting “severe winter storm warnings” since about Thursday, but I tend to take them with a grain of salt.  To hear them tell it, the Storm of the Century is around the corner every time the sun goes behind a cloud.

Here is (finally) some follow-up about the death of my fellow Industrial Commission employee Angie Farthing, who was murdered by a stalker last year.  This is the first time I have heard anything about it since shortly after the man was arrested.

Killer avoids death penalty
Under deal, man gets life for woman’s death

Saturday,  December 15, 2007 3:12 AM

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

<p>With his attorneys Diane M. Menashe and J. Scott Weisman at his side, Ryan K. Baker appears in a Franklin County courtroom. He was sentenced for torturing and killing Angela Farthing.</p>

TOM DODGE | DISPATCH

With his attorneys Diane M. Menashe and J. Scott Weisman at his side, Ryan K. Baker appears in a Franklin County courtroom. He was sentenced for torturing and killing Angela Farthing.

 

The father of a murdered woman refused to look at her killer yesterday before he unloaded his pain into the court record.

 

“He slaughtered her like she was an animal,” Harold L. Bell told the judge in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. “He did a terrible thing. My wife and I waited nine years to have that child. We named her Angela, which means little angel.”

On the other side, Ryan K. Baker seemed to be smirking throughout the hearing as he avoided the possibility of the death penalty under a deal with prosecutors. He knew he was going to prison for life after pleading guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary.

Baker, 30, said nothing in court.

Prosecutors say Baker had become obsessed with Angela Farthing, a 34-year-old mother and wife. Then, on Oct. 6, 2006, Baker walked over to her home, tortured her and killed her.

Farthing’s house on Vanderberg Avenue can be seen from the one where Baker used to live, at 770 Joyful St. in Franklin Township. Assistant County Prosecutor Doug Stead said that on the night of the murder, Baker waited for Bell to leave his daughter’s home, then he tortured Farthing for her ATM pin number.

Her husband was serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq at the time.

Baker bludgeoned Farthing with a rock and stabbed her with a knife while her 21-month-old son slept in an adjacent room, Stead said. Bell found his daughter dead in the living room the next day, hours before Baker was arrested in Licking County driving the dead woman’s pickup truck.

He had taken more than $700 from her account. Farthing was a state worker with the Industrial Commission of Ohio, friends said.

Prosecutors and the family dropped their pursuit of a death-penalty trial in exchange for Baker’s guilty plea, which he cannot appeal.

Defense attorneys Diane Menashe and J. Scott Weisman offered no excuses for their client’s behavior but asked Judge John F. Bender to accept a sentence of life in prison without parole. Prosecutors and the defense jointly recommended the sentence. Bender granted their wish.

“There is no punishment that can punish you, Mr. Baker, for the heinous act you have done,” Bender said. “I hope that each day of your life you rue the day you committed these acts and you beg God for forgiveness because there is no forgiveness in this court.”

Baker smiled again.

Before Bender handed down his sentence, Bell made clear that he felt the same way about the defendant.

“I hope he has a miserable life. He is a monster.”

bcadwallader@dispatch.com

 I can certainly understand what the father is saying.  I’m not sure I would be any different were it Susie who died.  But earlier this fall I was reading about the parole of Arthur Bremer, the kook who shot and paralyzed Governor George Wallace in 1972 during Wallace’s run for the Presidency.  Wallace lived another 20 years after the shooting, and was a paraplegic in nonstop pain for the rest of his life.  Yet, according to the Wikipedia article on Bremer:

Wallace forgave Bremer in August 1995 and wrote to him expressing the hope that the two could get to know each other better. Part of Wallace’s letter said “Dear Arthur, your shooting me in 1972 caused me a lot of discomfort and pain. I am a born-again Christian. I love you. I have asked our Heavenly Father to touch your heart, and I hope that you will ask him for forgiveness of your sin so you can go to heaven like I am going to heaven. I hope that we can get to know each other better. We have heard of each other a long time” and “Please let Jesus Christ be your savior”. Bremer did not reply. The former Alabama governor died on September 13, 1998.

I never cared much for George Wallace, at least during his heyday as Mr. Segregation Now & Segregation Forever, but his own sea change, and trying to be so kind to the man who brought him such endless suffering, made me rethink my feelings about that part of his life.