I Came *That* Close (Hands 1/8″ Apart)

The idea that, at any moment, your life could come to an abrupt conclusion or irreversible change has been beaten to death by theologians, inspirational authors, Chinese fortune cookie writers, and mystics since the dawn of time. It’s a subject that I try to avoid in any type of writing.

But there’s never an always, and always an exception. I came close to rounding out my lunch hour (and my immediate future) in the emergency room yesterday.

Payday Fridays involve walking from my office building to the credit union, and then running different errands. Yesterday, I had completed the circuit by going to the post office across from my office building to buy and mail some money orders, and was coming out the door and walking toward the corner of Spring and High. (The Federal Building is on the northeast corner of the intersection, the William Green Building–where I work–is on the northwest.) I waited at the corner for the light to change so I could cross High Street.

I heard two or three car horns honking–not just honk, but the long protracted sound when the driver puts all his/her weight on it to my left. Just then I saw a black SUV (I think–I’m crummy with car models, but it resembled a Brinks truck) with a woman busily and animatedly jabbering away on her cell phone and barreling through the intersection, running the red light and heading northward toward Nationwide Insurance and the Short North.

I was close enough to have caught the wind from her passage. A guy stopped at the light and I exchanged “What the hell?” glances. It had happened too fast even for my adrenaline to kick in, so I didn’t tense up or instantly get a dry mouth. (It does worry me that the prospect of instant death didn’t even rattle me that much.)

If I had taken one or two more steps forward, I would have been hit, and I doubt this woman would even have known she had done it. And I wonder just how injured I would have been. Since it all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to tense up, and that causes the bulk of the injuries. (I used to love those safety flyers from the Red Cross that tell you: “If you find yourself about to fall, try to relax.” Very easier said than done.) My grandfather said that one time he saw a very drunk man stagger out of a bar in Wheeling, right into the path of an oncoming streetcar. The streetcar stopped, but not before it hit the guy and knocked him a few feet in the air. The guy landed on his back, lay in the street for a second, and then got up, shook his fist at the conductor, and went on his drunken way. If he had been sober, he probably would have been killed.

This was also one of the rare occasions when I did everything according to Hoyle when it came to the rules of the road. During my 18 months in Boston, I quickly learned that crosswalks were just decoration, and crossing any street involved daily playing out Frogger, an arcade game that was popular at the time. I quickly developed the practice of strolling across the busiest street at any point convenient to me. Soon I was able to stroll through four lanes of traffic as if I was crossing my own living room. (I never did try a stunt that friends in Marietta and I used to do out of boredom during heavy traffic–get halfway across the street and then pretend to lose a contact lens, amusing ourselves as all the drivers sat fuming while we crawled around in the crosswalk.)

But yesterday, I waited for the WALK/DON’T WALK light to change in my favor. I had my MP3 player with me, but it was in my pocket, as were my ear buds.

It wasn’t until later, back at my desk and transcribing again, that I realized what could have happened. I’m not the type that dwells on worst-case scenarios daily. I have quoted Lincoln’s thoughts on this earlier in the blog: “If I am killed, I can die but once; but to live in constant dread of it, is to die over and over again.”

Nevertheless, I am reminded of a piece that ran in Mad magazine late in 1973, showing sheet music covers with appropriate photographs.  This was their suggested graphic for “What a Difference a Day Makes”:

My New (Old) Toy

Friday night, Steph, Susie, and I went to Target and bought many much-needed items for our new abode, focusing primarily on kitchenware and furnishings.  (The new place needed them, and we had two shopping carts’ full of stuff.  I’m truly astonished that we didn’t break the cab’s axles on the trip home.)

Before I met Steph and Susie in Housewares, I made my cursory visit to Electronics.  I saw that the Crosley Rochester CR-66 phonograph I’ve been eyeing lustily for at least two years was on sale for <$100.  I know that money could have been better spent, but Steph was in agreement, and soon it joined the load of merchandise that we bought.  (I’ve not been subtle about wanting a phonograph–it’s been #1 on my want list the last several birthdays and Christmases.)

It is now at home, and it looks like a 1950s model, when LPs first came into their own.  The only anachronistic touch is the CD drawer in the front, an FM radio dial, and a cassette deck in the side.  (There’s also a female jack for running an MP3 player or some other hardware.)  The radio works wonderfully, without any fiddling with the antenna.  Steph christened it yesterday by listening to A Prairie Home Companion on WCBE-FM, a station which would never stay locked in on her boombox.

I have yet to play a record on it.  During one of my many moves, I entrusted my vinyl collection to a co-worker for safekeeping, and he and I have yet to connect to retrieve them.  I’m enthusiastic about being able to hear several Dave Brubeck albums that he has never seen fit to release on CD.  The first album I’ll play will be Compadres, an album that the Dave Brubeck Trio recorded with Gerry Mulligan in (I think) Mexico City.

This is one of those times when I wish I had kept a big stack of 78s I used to own.  When I was a teen, an old lady in Marietta hired me to clean out her attic.  Her husband had just passed away, and she was moving to a smaller apartment–she didn’t see any point in staying in such a big house alone.  I had carte blanche to keep anything I found, other than family heirlooms such as photograph albums, letters, etc.  I had no use for the dressmaker’s dummy or all the clothes and the World War I uniform, and all I came away with was a stack of 78 RPM records.  They hefted like a stack of dinner plates–in those days, records were made of Bakelite coated in glass.  I never played them much, since they were murder on my needle.

This is a picture of the new addition to our household:

The first record player that I remember, other than my plastic orange and white General Electric portable mono phonograph, was my parents’ big Magnavox console.  There were sliding doors on the top.  On the right was the turntable and the radio tuner, and on the left was a compartment to keep records.  When Dad would play Dave Brubeck’s Greatest Hits, nothing could entertain me more than sitting on the floor with my ear against one speaker during "Unsquare Dance," when the beat moved from channel to channel.

Steph Twittered last night that she was knitting and listening to Prairie Home Companion.  I have yet to play a tape or a disk in my new machine, although I am truly impressed by the FM reception.

Pat and I are at Panera while our kids are in Sunday school.  I went to the 9 a.m. service to hear a friend of ours solo, and now he and I are across from each other at the table, each engrossed in a laptop.  The casual observer might think we were married.  Steph did more walking in the last 48-72 hours than she has pre-surgery, so her knees and back were hurting her too much to get out of bed this morning.

Tae Kwon Doing the Night Away

I’m at the Whetstone library while Susie is next door at the Recreation Center in her twice-weekly tae kwon do class.  Since we’re going to Giant Eagle to buy groceries after class, I decided not to bring my laptop along, so I’m racing the clock typing this entry on one of the library’s computers.

I did very little writing last night.  I know it’s a poor workman who blames his tools, but it looks like my beloved war-horse, the $.80 Royal Royalite, is in need of a new ribbon.  I usually used typewriter ribbons up until they look like Swiss cheese, but this one has faded, probably from lack of use.  I was about three pages into a new project, and then I finally realized I’d have to use the laptop until I replaced the ribbon.  In between projects at work, I emailed a guy in New Jersey who has an online business selling typewriter ribbons for all makes and models.  He hadn’t replied by the time I left work at 4.

I did about a page–starting the project over again from scratch–on the laptop before my conscience got the better of me for banishing myself to the basement to write and ignoring Susie (Steph was at a Religious Education curriculum meeting at church), so I came upstairs and played a game of chess with her.  I won, but it was a Bataan Death March of a game.  I think I need to bum the copy of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess I gave her several years ago and try some of the lessons in the back.

For us non-cable subscribers, Fox28 discontinued its analog signal Tuesday at 11:59 p.m.  Much to our surprise, the earth was still turning, the sun still came up, and all major structures in downtown Columbus remained standing.  The other major TV stations in the Columbus market are sticking with their analog signals until June, when the all-digital conversion is really supposed to happen.

Except for Family Guy, we don’t watch much from Channel 28.  It’s the station where you can see Fox News, which is to journalism what Jeffrey Dahmer was to vegetarianism.  I can stream Family Guy episodes from Hulu.com, so no big loss.

That means I won’t resort to a tactic we used in Marietta when I was in junior high.  At our house, if you stood at the kitchen sink, you’d be looking across Cutler St. where it dead-ends.  Directly in the line of vision was the home of an old lady who spent most of her evenings in front of her big color TV set (she usually watched The 700 Club and The PTL Club–and this was in the ’70s, when PTL stood for "Praise the Lord," and not "Pass the loot," or, more accurately, "Part thy legs.").  One night, Dad was doing dishes, and she happened to have a Cincinnati Reds baseball game on the screen.  Dad was listening to the game on the radio in the kitchen, and watching out the window on her screen.  He actually sent me over to ask her, very politely, if she could remove a plant from her window sill, because it was blocking his view of the game.  She was very nice and was glad to do it.  She never started closing her drapes.

Steph and I enjoyed Law and Order last night.  Central to the story was a group preparing for the imminent Rapture (best defined as the day when the world flushes its toilet) and a computer business which will release pre-composed email messages to "damned" loved ones left behind after the faithful are spirited up to Heaven.  The biggest irony in the episode was everybody talking about wanting to see Jesus.  It’s ironic because one of the stars, Jeremy Sisto, who plays Detective Cyrus Lupo, played the title role in the 1999 made-for-TV movie Jesus, a two-parter that was actually pretty good, and was much better than the snuff film/religious porn that alleged human being Mel Gibson sold as The Passion of the Christ.

Goodwill and Giant Eagle… and Another Moving Tip

When Steph posted in her blog this morning, she listed all the things that she learned from this move.  There was something she forgot to include, so I’ll do it here:

Take out all compact disks from your boombox before you move it.  I am still setting up my office, and I’m still in awe of the fact that I’ve collected enough books to sustain a small-town public library.  Once I plugged in my Philips Magnavox boombox, I decided to play some music, and I heard some rattling around.  When I opened the CD drawer, there was only one disk in there, and I realized that I heard something rattling around.  Two of the three disks I had in the machine had fallen inside, out of reach.  I texted Pat during work today, asking if he’d bring over a small Allen wrench, so I can get the damn cabinet open and retrieve the lost disks.  (It’s imperative, too–one of them is a library CD.)

Yesterday was Presidents’ Day, and during the morning Susie and I went to Goodwill to buy kitchen cannisters (for storage of sugar, flour, brown sugar, etc.), and then across the street to Giant Eagle for groceries.  I should have brought the two-wheel cart along, and after walking a very short distance trying to juggle all my purchases (the cannisters, not individually wrapped in newspapers, were in a cardboard box the Goodwill cashier gave me), I sat down by the sidewalk and sent Susie ahead to get the cart.  I never realized until then just how uneven and cracked the sidewalks along Kelso are.

Steph just got back from choir practice, and this is a tableau in our first floor area that Norman Rockwell would never conceive possible.  Susie is watching a DVD of The Addams Family (the TV series, with Carolyn Jones and John Astin), Steph is playing Scrabble online via Facebook, Susie is waiting for her nails to dry, and I’m on the laptop blogging away.  I’m waiting for SVU to come on.

It’s not much, but it’s better than what I’ve been producing.  I cranked out 2.5 pages of fiction after work and before Steph left for choir.  To keep the distraction at a minimum, I used the typewriter and not the laptop–can’t surf the ‘Net or keep abreast of Facebook with a manual typewriter.  I don’t know how much will end up on the cutting room floor or in the trash, but there are several double-spaced paragraphs of prose that didn’t exist when I came in the door after work at 4:30.

After work, while walking to the bus stop, I came very close to doing something you see in the comic strips.  I had an idea for a poem, and while I was walking, I was jotting it down.  I had my breast-pocket notebook in my left hand and I was writing with my ballpoint, and came within millimeters of a head-on collision with a lamppost.  If I’d been listening to the MP3 player, I would certainly have been one with that lamppost, complete with a BOING! you would have heard in Bexley.

We’re Breathing Again… and Loving Our New Home

Friday was the day that Steph and I expected would be a nightmare without end.  That was the day that the actual move would happen, using professional movers.  In ’00, we had a bad experience when we moved from Baja Clintonville to South High Street.  The movers seemed to travel the 8.5 miles from one place to the other via Pittsburgh.

Not the case on Friday.  We hired Integrity Moving, and the job was completed, including putting the furniture in the right rooms, in about 90 minutes.  They even gave Steph a ride from the house in Franklinton to our new place, so it saved her the cost of a taxi.  (She stayed to direct traffic and to make sure the movers didn’t lollygag around like we’ve experienced in the past.  I had to go to the bank and run other errands early Friday morning.)

To show our appreciation, here is Integrity Moving’s URL: http://www.integritymovingllc.com.

We were in a celebratory mood, so we took Pat, Tanya, and their kids out to dinner at Ichiban Japanese Steak House (a haven for carnivores and pyromaniacs), and Steph and I have both been dropping off to sleep with little effort, mainly because we aren’t waiting for the other shoe to drop from our reprobate neighbors, and plus the move and worrying about all its accompanying logistics have exhausted us.

Also, there is no TV in the bedroom.  We have yet to obtain any digital converters for the house, and a frequent bone of contention at bedtime has been keeping the TV on vs. turning it off at night.  It helps lull Steph to sleep, it kept me awake.  So there is no picture tube in the bedroom, and both of us are sleeping better because of it.

I spent several hours last night unpacking boxes of books for my new basement/office.  There are several small puddles of undetermined origin that were there when I made my first walk-through as a tenant.  My guess is that it’s a result of all the warm temperatures last week.  We went from 5+ inches of ice on the ground to temperatures in the mid-50s almost overnight, and that water has to go somewhere.  I don’t worry about the basement flooding, because Clintonville is pretty high up, but the water is a bit annoying.  I have put all my bookcases on empty milk crates, and posted an ad on the Columbus Freecycle’s site asking if anyone has a Shop-Vac they’re willing to unload.  I did a little bit of work on the office this morning, between the time Steph and Susie left for church and the time I walked down to High St. to catch the bus to join them there.  I took advantage of having the house to myself by cranking up Wings’ "Live and Let Die" as high as I could stand it.  (Note that it was not the Guns N’ Roses version.)

Steph is knitting afghans for rural Athens County people, and Susie and I are at the library.  Heading home via the Clintonville Market (the co-op we have now joined).

How Tired Was Your Intrepid Diarist Last Night? He Was So Tired…

…that there was a thunder- and lightning storm during the wee hours of the night, and I have no recollection of it whatsoever.  There had been some brief squalls of heavy wind during the early evening (just as Tom and I finished offloading the last of our paraphernalia from the bed of his pickup), but by the night hours it didn’t seem to be much more than just some sprinkles, with occasional gusts, but nothing to make you worry.  As I said in my previous entry, I fell asleep about 10:30, and I thought I slept clear through until morning.

Steph wasn’t here when I typed that.  Now she informs me that yes, I did wake up.  We both did, thanks to the storm.  It wasn’t as severe as the one late last summer that left about half of Franklin County without electricity for a week, but there were still tree limbs and other debris scattered around when I went out to catch the Indianola bus this morning.  Steph’s alarm clock was blinking, so I set it for her before I left.  (My alarm clock is one I salvaged from my mother’s apartment after she shook off her mortal coil.  It automatically sets itself when you plug it in, so it was displaying the proper time in the morning.)  I use the cell phone alarm to wake me up, and its battery was totally charged, so that meant I was up for work and out the door in time.

Christening the New Digs

Tonight will be the third night that Steph, Susie, and I have been in residence at our new, commodious house in Clintonville.  I’m typing in the front room while Steph and Susie go to Target with Pat to buy cookware–his and Tanya’s housewarming gift to us.  The house is still in considerable disarray, but once we’re organized and "visitor friendly," I will be posting pictures in my blog and on Facebook, so stay tuned.

The past few days have been sheer insanity.  The big, final move will be tomorrow morning, all the stuff we couldn’t take in a pickup truck or friends’ vehicles–the piano, a big dresser in the master bedroom, etc.  The pound of flesh we need to pay the movers will be considerably less than we dreaded expected, because my old friend Tom from Marietta (I’ve known him on and off since 1977, when we met at the public library in Marietta), after several days of being uncertain about whether he’d come, arrived about 1 a.m. Tuesday morning from Marietta with his pickup truck.  From about 1:30 until dawn, he and I were constantly running boxes back and forth between Franklinton and Clintonville (nine miles), and until about 7:30 last night, that was pretty much what I was doing, with very minimal sleep.  (In order to "unwind," I went to work on Wednesday.)  Long and short, the movers will not have to deal with boxes–just big pieces of furniture.

I was humbled and baffled by how much my office held.  I stopped keeping track of how many boxes (milk crate bookcases, among other things) I had managed to put in a comparatively small room.  I have a Fibber McGee style of storage and decorating, so my office was the single worst room to pack.  My new office is the basement of this house, and I’ll be sharing it with the furnace, the litter box, and (after tomorrow) a washer and dryer.  There are also some puddles on the floor, so I’m stringing extension cords through the ceiling rafters.  How I’m going to lay the place out is very much on the drawing board.  I’m trying to initiate a regular writing regimen, so once I have my physical setting to my liking, production can begin.

The worst casualty this move has inflicted has been my sleep.  At first, I was sweating blood about how much the move was going to cost–I was afraid I’d be saying sayonara to the bulk of my paycheck.  Then, once Tom and his truck arrived, I functioned almost purely on adrenaline.  I had a good head of steam and surprised myself by how much physical effort I was able to exert.  Tom was a dynamo–he singlehandedly moved the dining room table, which is not only heavy, but awkward, to move.  I fell asleep right after Criminal Minds ended (I knew it’d be impossible to stay up for Law and Order–and awoke at 5:15, but all day I felt draggy, detached, and felt like I was swimming upstream against a heavy tide just in walking from one part of the office to another.

For the Want of a Switch…

Yesterday, Susie and I spent most of the evening at the Franklinton library, our soon-to-be-erstwhile neighborhood library, while Steph was at Women’s Chorus rehearsal.  I had my beloved laptop with me, and there was a 45- to 60-minute wait for the computers, so I plugged into a floor outlet (and saw, to my dismay, that the laptop battery was down to about 5% power!) and booted up.

No matter what I did, I couldn’t get my Wi-Fi to come on.  That meant no connecting to the library’s server.  I did two futile system restores, thinking that I had typed some command by accident the last time I had been logged onto the laptop.

When a public computer became available, I logged onto Dell’s Website and got the phone number for their Technical Support people–I’d have to jump to jump through some voice-mail hoops, but eventually I would be talking to flesh and blood.  When I got home, I called the 800 number, and explained the situation.

And I was greatly humbled (a poetic way of saying I felt like an idiot–and should go with the feeling!)  There is a slide switch on the bottom right of the Inspiron, and that switch turned Wi-Fi on and off.  As I was putting it in, or taking it out of, my over-the-shoulder bag, I must have slipped that switch into the Wi-Fi off position.  It reminded me of a cartoon I saw in a Mad magazine wanna-be publication in middle school (something like Cracked or Sick), where a man takes a home TV repair course, inspects his set from all angles top to bottom, and is despairing because it won’t work.  His son stands there next to him, holds up the cord, and says, "Why don’t you plug it in?"

The production foreman at The Crimson had been there for nearly two decades when I first started working as a typesetter in the fall of 1982.  Cold type and computerized typesetting was just coming into its own at that time.  We were in the cusp between casting lines in molten lead and the advent of desktop publishing.  The computer I used was a CRTronic Linotype, much like (but not identical to) the model in this picture:

The machines were used, with very little rest, in a cinderblock basement room (known as The Shop), and frequently would conk out or overheat.  The foreman vowed at least weekly that he would quit unless The Crimson went back to Linotype machines and flatbed presses.  (I learned later that just a few months prior to my arrival in Cambridge, the typesetting was done with punched paper tape, which was an all-around headache.)

Normally, I would say that made me love my $.80 Royal Royalite portable manual typewriter more than I thought.  But using it isn’t an option right now–we’re in the midst of packing, and all the empty milk crates that held our massive VHS tape library (ruthlessly pared down–I dread the loss of some irreplacable material) went into my office, so I can pack up my books, diaries, notebooks, files, etc.  I’d have to run a massive obstacle course to be able to reach my desk.  I think the next time the Royalite gets any use will be in our new place.  (Another step toward living there–we had the electric service scheduled.  So "Let there be light!" will be more than a Bible verse come the 13th.)

The Move is Definite–Keys on My Ring

Susie and I went to a morning workshop at church yesterday, and, after it ended, I met our new landlord in the parking lot.  There was a very brief ceremony–I reached into my wallet and pulled out a money order for the February rent, and he handed me two keys, freshly cut at Ace Hardware.  Steph, Susie, and I are now–however briefly–legally living in two places, a sign of look-at-me American affluence.  As she describes in her blog, we will be making the actual move to our new place in Clintonville on Friday the 13th, so I can take advantage of a four-day weekend.  (I’m taking leave on the 13th, and the 16th is Presidents’ Day weekend.)  We’ve begun packing–friends have come to the house with carloads of boxes of various sizes and shapes.  I try to bring home what I can from work, but half of the boxes are marked "State Property" and can’t leave the building, and there are limits to how many I can take on the bus.  I was at Family Dollar yesterday, in a futile attempt to buy rock salt, and was so disappointed about their not having any that I forgot to ask for boxes.

I don’t anticipate my office being that hard to pack up.  As you may remember from the pictures I posted in here last summer, most of my books are in milk-crate bookshelves, so all I have to do is carry them.  My bookcases are plastic and can come apart.  The giant desk, I am leaving behind.  Moving it to the office in the first place nearly resulted in slipped disks and hernias–it was kind of like a ship in a bottle.  Steph is giving me her desk and file cabinet.  I am both dreading and looking forward to emptying the drawers.  (Last year, I acquired the habit of idly pitching empty pill bottles into one drawer as I finished them.  The casual observer glancing at the drawer would think I was a combination of Elvis and Robert Downey, Jr.)  I once had a typical bohemian makeshift desk–an old door that I put across two sawhorses, but when I got into my full Pete Townshend typing mode, the door bounced as much as a diving board.

My new office will be in the basement, so I’m literally turning into an underground writer.  The less external stimuli I have, the more productive I think I can be.  There are windows at eye level, but I seem to remember they’re pretty grimy, so I won’t be as prone to daydream.

Steph is at church, knitting afghans for Appalachian families.  Susie and I are at the Whetstone Library–a friend of ours is taking her to the Ohio State women’s basketball game at the Schottenstein Arena (tipoff time is at 4).

Any of my loyal readership in the Columbus area willing to lend a hand with the use of a pickup truck to help move boxes to the new place?  That’ll be less we’d have to pay the professional movers.