Braving the Hail to Buy New Shoes for Susie

I’m sitting in the living room with Steph.  She’s knitting, I’m typing.  We’re both facing the TV (a TV with a screen full of static, since the dishwasher is running).  The 6 o’clock news just ended, and the national news (ABC’s World News Tonight) is just about to come on.

After church today, I took Susie to the Target store in Graceland.  Just after Sunday school, she discovered a big crack in the sole of her sneaker.  Steph and I decided at that moment that she needed to be properly shod, so Steph went home on Project Mainstream and I took Susie a mile or so north to Graceland Shopping Center to buy shoes.  We were pelted by hail while standing at the northbound bus stop.  The hailstones were small–I wasn’t sure whether it was sleet or hail, but it stung enough that I decided it was hail.  My glasses aren’t scratched or anything (good thing, too, since I just got new bifocals Thursday), but it was painful to be out there.

Susie found shoes she liked, although Steph’s jaw hit the floor when she saw that Susie wore a size 8 1/2 shoe, but Susie is comfortable in them, so all is well.

When I was out in the hail, I couldn’t appreciate the sound of the storm.  It made me think of one side of an album I had in the late ’70s, The Power and the Majesty, which was mostly a recording of train engines.  One side was a hailstorm, complete with wind chimes and the sounds of garden furniture blowing around the yard.  It was the type of album that audiophiles loved.  I was introduced to it by hearing it at a stereo store that was on my newspaper route.  My own "system" was a very simple stereo I bought at Sears, and couldn’t hold a candle to the Space Age components that I saw for sale, but it was still a fun album to play.

I looked for The Power and the Majesty at Memory Lane and Lost Weekend, two record stores that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time.  My friend John, who worked with me at Medco, treated me to a small spree of record-buying.  When my stereo gave up the ghost several years ago, he agreed to store my records for me.  They disappeared when his house was burglarized.  It was above and beyond the call, but he said he felt partly responsible for the loss, and would give me a hand in getting started on a new collection, so that I could put my new Crosley turntable to use.  (Until yesterday, we’ve only used the radio.)

Susie and I came home with quite a few albums.  I was glad to find a Disneyland Records recording of Tubby the Tuba, read by Annette Funicello.  It was the same record that I had as a child, so I was willing to fork over $2 for it.  Memory Lane, located on the Hilltop on West Broad Street, had an impressive inventory of jazz LPs.  I bought a Dave Brubeck Quartet album that has yet to be released as a CD: Anything Goes! The Dave Brubeck Quartet Plays Cole Porter, which features an excellent rendition of "Love for Sale."  (However, they did not have the one album I specifically sought: Compadres, which is the Dave Brubeck Trio playing with Gerry Mulligan in Mexico.)

While I’ve been typing, the news featured a mass murder at a nursing home in Carthage, N.C.  They said that was the first mass shooting at a nursing home.  It reminded me of another nursing home tragedy, one in Marietta, Ohio.  It was the Harmar House fire of January 1970, in which over 20 elderly people were killed, mostly because of smoke inhalation.  It was serious enough to be mentioned on The Huntley-Brinkley Report and The New York Times.  I didn’t witness it, because we lived in town and Harmar House was on Harmar Hill, the highest part of Marietta, but we did hear all the sirens and wondered what was happening.  My dad heard it on the car radio, when WMOA-AM, whose headquarters were a block or two away, broadcast the news of the fire.

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Ohio Jobless Rate Highest in Quarter Century

I’ll be turning 46 in just over a month, so I probably should refrain from terms like "quarter century" and "half century."  (I’m 45 now, but I console myself with the knowledge that’s only 7 Celsius.)  I saw this statistic while I was downtown yesterday during lunchtime, on the electric wraparound sign on the facade of The Columbus Dispatch‘s building.

Again, it’s set me to wondering about how (or if) I should be pursuing part-time employment.  I’m at the Whetstone Library right now, and there are notices about job-hunting workshops posted conspicuously in several places here.  If this new contract between management and labor at work goes through, I will be losing 3.076 hours from each paycheck for the next two years to cover those 10 unpaid days I’ve blogged about before.  (There will be 10 days off during per year during the next two years, but the logistics of when those happen haven’t been finalized.)

I keep telling myself I should be thankful that I still have a job.  I get updates for job openings from Monster.com regularly in my email, but they’re either full time or way off bus routes.  (Even if the economy were stable, I wouldn’t consider leaving employment with the State of Ohio.  I still have two laptop computers to pay off through payroll deductions.)

When I was delivering newspapers in Marietta at the age of 15, one of my favorite customers was a fellow named Merle, a World War II veteran and retired factory worker who had grown up in the Marietta area.  He was quite well versed in Washington County history, and he was a bit of a closet Unitarian, so our conversations were enjoyable.

He told me about striking out on his own after graduating from high school, pre-war but when the Depression was at its worst.  He went for a laborer’s job somewhere in the county, and when it was his turn to be interviewed, the man behind the table said, "Are you married, young man?"

"Hell, no, I’m not married," said Merle.  "I just got out of high school."

The man pointed out the window, at a block-long line of waiting men.  "Well, you see those men?  All of them are married, most of ’em have families, and I only have one job opening, and they all want it."

The last time that I was truly unemployed was in November of 1994.  I was hired for another seasonal term at the Cincinnati post office, resigned from that to go to the IRS, and have been employed non-stop since then, except for the half week in the fall of 1995 when the Federal government shut down.

Colleges’ Self-Promotions During Televised Sports

March Madness has affected all those around me, while I am happily dodging between the raindrops and turning a blind, indifferent eye to all the charts, projections, arguments, and predictions that seem to come from every co-worker, television set, Webpage, radio, and casual conversation.

Since my mind tends to stray off on parenthetical tangents, I’m reminded of the ads that used to run (and may still run) during coverage of college football on autumn Saturday afternoons.  When I was typesetting The Harvard Crimson, one of the ways I earned a little extra cash was by spending Saturday mornings setting the type for The Harbus News, which was the weekly journal of the Harvard Business School.  The biggest challenge for that project was staying awake.  I considered becoming a Roman Catholic priest longer than I ever considered a business career.  (I’m serious–for two weeks in seventh grade, I thought about becoming a Catholic priest.  That ended when I looked up the word celibate in the dictionary.  I had thought it meant being in a perpetual state of celebration.)

To keep from falling asleep while working on The Harbus News, I often turned on the black-and-white television set in The Shop, more or less for noise than for anything else.  (The Shop was where the paper was typeset, laid out, and printed.)  That meant that on Saturday afternoon, I only had sports to listen to.)

During halftime, before broadcasting the halftime shows or analyzing how the games were progressing up to that point, colleges would run little two- or three-minute commercials about themselves, talking about their programs, campuses, and alumni.  One that will stay with me as long as I live is the one from the University of Alabama.  The president of the college was sitting in his office, talking about the University of Alabama’s fine academic record, fields of study, and opportunities for scholarship.  He ended his little speech by saying, "At the University of Alabama, we want our students to be as good at this [holding up a thick book] as they are at this [holding up a football]."  (All I knew was that they were the Crimson Tide, and I only knew that from the song "Deacon Blues," by Steely Dan.)

How could other schools use that ending?  Ohio University’s football team was so bad that getting to the 20-yard line was considered victory.  Should the president have said "We want our students to be as good at this [holding up a football] as they are at this [holding up a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and/or a joint]"?

Ohio State’s own Jim Tressel could do the same thing, holding up a football and a set of mug shots.

Our Wi-Fi at home seems to be on strike, so I’m posting this at the Whetstone Library.  I was next door at the recreation center to pay for Susie’s registration in three classes (homeschool gym, homeschool art, and homeschool self-defense.)  Steph is teaching piano and voice most of the night, and I need to burn off the calories from a wonderful tuna casserole Steph made, so I’m typing away here.

I started to watch a DVD of National Treasure II: Book of Secrets during her earlier lesson, before dinner.  Steph watched the first one with me and didn’t want to see the second one, so I was watching it in my basement study, on the laptop.  I didn’t get through the many previews and promos that preceded the start of the movie itself.  I have always been interested in Lincoln’s assassination, and this movie deals with that, when missing pages from the diary of John Wilkes Booth are discovered.  (That’s a pic of it below, opened to where 18 pages were torn out.  Who removed them, and why, has been debated since the trial of Booth’s accomplice, John Surratt, in 1867.)

I went to a general body meeting of our local this afternoon;  no one is happy about the new contract, myself included.  As recording secretary, I’m thankful that I was able to keep my pen moving; it kept me from snapping it between my fingers.  (I left my notebook at work, otherwise I would comment about the highlights of the contract and what all we are losing in the first two years of the contract.  They say we’ll get it all back in year three.  And I’ll respect you in the morning, too.)

To Athens County Today, But Not to Athens

I have been to Athens, Ohio literally thousands of times in the 46 years (as of next month) that I have lived. That includes living there while "studying" at O.U.

But today was the first time I have set foot in Athens County without paying a visit to 45701land, and I enjoyed every minute of it, and didn’t miss Athens for a minute.

Pat and I drove down to the Feed My Sheep food pantry in the tiny village of Mineral, Ohio this morning. Pat’s son and daughter (ages eight and 11, respectively) also came, and Steph and Susie rode down separately with some other friends. For the last year or so, we had been hearing about it from Jacques, a man who, like all of us, is a member of First UU here in Columbus. Since his retirement, he goes down every Monday to help with stocking Feed My Sheep’s food pantry and helping to distribute full boxes to clients who are allowed to come by once a month to pick up food.

The pantry is located in a small church on St. Rt. 356, the Faith Believers’ Ministry, and they work very well with limited resources. The food pantry was floor to ceiling with food donations, and on first glance, it looks like their larders are well stocked, but once clients come in and start taking out the full boxes, you can watch the inventory go down. I packed boxes, stocked shelves, helped hand out boxes of food, and felt quite energized–physically, emotionally, and spiritually–from the experience.

I doubt that those of us of First UU and those of Faith Believers’ Ministry could be further apart theologically or socially, but that didn’t even enter into the equation today. Athens County is now the poorest county in Ohio, and many of the ones there who do have jobs have to car- and vanpool to Columbus or to Parkersburg for work that may not even exist in 90 days. There are not a lot of jobs to be had in Athens County, and even O.U., the county’s biggest employer by far, has been laying off.

Below is an article that ran in The Columbus Dispatch just before Christmas in ’07:

Worlds apart, churches share goal – Columbus, rural congregations unite to feed the poor

Columbus Dispatch, The (OH) – Friday, December 21, 2007
Author: Alan Johnson ; THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
They are so different — the tiny country church in the hills of Athens County and the big-city church that proudly calls itself a voice of liberal religion.

The entire congregation of the Faith Believers Ministry of Mineral, all 15 members, would fit in one pew of the 700-member First Unitarian Universalist Church on Weisheimer Road on the North Side.

They don’t share the same beliefs or speak the same theological language. But they are bound together by a common spiritual desire to feed the hungry and help the poor.

About 200 times in the past four years or so, Jacques Angelino has made the 90-minute trek to deliver food, clothes, toys, and school and baby supplies donated by his church in Columbus to the modest country church on Rt. 356, about 12 miles west of Athens.

Were it not for Angelino and the generosity of Unitarian Universalist churchgoers, the Feed My Sheep Food Pantry operated by Faith Believers Ministry would have closed, leaving 250 to 300 families hungry, said the Rev. Ray Ogburn Jr., pastor at the Mineral church.

"If you’ve got Jesus in your heart, you want to do the best you can do to feed the people," Ogburn said. "Right now we’re having a hard time doing that."

"We’re dealing with the issues of eating and having clothes against the cold," said the Rev. Mark Belletini, senior minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church. "That’s something that unites everybody."

This week, Angelino loaded his Toyota Corolla with 60 small hams, clothing, toys, blankets and baby supplies and delivered them to Ogburn’s church.

As economic conditions worsen in Appalachian Ohio, the need increases, Ogburn said. The church will give out as many as 110 Christmas food boxes, compared with 87 last year.

"It’s continually getting worse," he said. "If it wasn’t for Jacques’ church, we wouldn’t be able to stay open. They’ve brought so much I couldn’t begin to count it."

Back in Columbus, Belletini has watched the donations pile up in a hallway outside the church sanctuary.

"I know people here are tremendously generous. It gets almost to the place where you can’t even pass in the hallway because of all the things stacked there."

Before school began in the fall, the Unitarian Universalist Church sent down 150 backpacks loaded with school supplies.

Ogburn recently opened his mailbox and found a $200 check from a stranger in Galena. That doesn’t happen very often, he said.

"But somewhere, somehow they were in touch with the man upstairs," he said.

Angelino, a former teacher and nurse, has made helping Ogburn’s flock his personal mission.

"I truly believe it’s a moral imperative as a human to try to make sure that everybody has a chance to have a decent life," he said. "Those of us who’ve been blessed have a responsibility to others."

Donations for the Faith Believers Ministry can be directed to Ogburn at 740-664-3200 or to the Unitarian Universalist Church at 614-267-4946.

ajohnson@dispatch.com
 

Somebody once asked Jacques why he did this every week, and he said, "Why aren’t you?"  There is a story–possibly apocryphal–about the night that Henry David Thoreau was locked up for refusing to pay a poll tax (because it would helped to fund the Mexican War).  Ralph Waldo Emerson came to his cell and said, "Henry, what are you doing in there?"  Thoreau, without skipping a beat, said, "Ralph, what are you doing out there?"

It has baffled (and troubled) me that many of the churches that seem to be the furthest from liberal religion are doing more of the work of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and comforting the downtrodden than many of the liberal and progressive churches.  When we lived in Franklinton, many of Susie’s friends hung out at a place on W. Broad St. called Jericho Lighthouse Ministries.  It was totally free, supported 100% by donations, and it gave kids a safe place to hang out.  The director, an ex-con who had been locked up on drug charges,  provided pool tables, dart boards, board games, and snacks (Hot Pockets, microwave tacos, Big K soda, etc.), and they did have a ministry there, with concerts, 12-Step meetings, etc.  The theology was 180 degrees away from mine–he had books by Pat Robertson and the little comics by Christian cartoonist and hatemonger Jack T. Chick–but he was keeping kids out of trouble and off the street.
 
I took a picture on our arrival of the sign on the side of St. Rt. 356 that said MINERAL.  Above it, someone had written "MISRABLE" (sic).  I took the picture with my cell phone, and I don’t have the hardware to download it.  (The picture quality isn’t that stellar, either.)  Jacques took some pictures, which I may be able to post in this blog at a later date.

For those who want to help this ministry, send contributions to:

Feed My Sheep Food Pantry
Faith Believers’ Ministry
8137 St. Rt. 356
New Marshfield, OH  45766-9413

(The church is in Mineral, but since Mineral has no post office, New Marshfield is the town you use.)

Pat, the kids, and I took the scenic route.  We left U.S. 33 just past Logan and went through Union Furnace, and within seconds we were in and out of Vinton County.  Mineral has three churches (including Faith Believers’) on that one stretch of 356.

After each box of food on the table was stuffed to the rim (we made sure every square millimeter of every box was full of food), everyone laid their hands on the boxes and prayed over it before it was brought out to the small sanctuary for distribution.  I think that made it go a little further in everyone’s hearts when they brought it home.

Rural poverty affects people much more acutely than in the big cities.  In Columbus, there are many churches that offer free lunches and dinners, and usually people can get food from more than one pantry.  All of them are within walking distance, and the bus system is thorough enough that a person can usually get things home that way.  I remember that when I was broke and jobless in Cincinnati, I ate many an evening meal at St. Francis Seraph’s free dinners in Over the Rhine.

Athens County is very spread out, and if you don’t have a reliable vehicle, the resources are very hard to reach, and it is almost impossible to transport food and personal hygiene objects home.  So Feed My Sheep is literally a lifeline and a lifesaver to many of the people in Athens County who live far from the comparatively plentiful resources available in larger cities.

Bachelor Dad Today

I’m at the Whetstone Library with Susie, since she’s going to the "Passport to Egypt" show that’s starting at 2 p.m.  I’m doing the bachelor father thing today since Steph is in Cleveland–for the first time since she was discharged from the Cleveland Clinic last summer.  (It’s not for anything medical.  She teaches in the Relgious Education program at First UU, and there’s a conference of R.E. folks at one of the churches in Cleveland, so she’s overcome her squeamishness about Cleveland and headed up there.  I was still in bed when her ride picked her up at 7 a.m.)

I’ve already got dinner started (Steph cooked a chicken yesterday; before Susie and I left the house, I put it in the Crock-Pot and turned it on LOW), and did two loads of laundry.  While the first load was going, I looked at the Job Notifications that Monster.com sent me, none of which were anything I could do, in a practical sense.

Sometimes I feel as if I shouldn’t even be pursuing part-time work.  The endless "At least you still have a job" refrain plays in my mind over and over, and I wonder if I’m gobbling too many of the goodies in the bowl if I take on a second job.  My job isn’t endangered, although I don’t relish the possibility of 10 unpaid days per year over the next three years (which will happen if the union contract currently on the table passes), but at least the State of Ohio is not doing massive layoffs, nor has the possibility even been spoken aloud.

It’s like the mixed feelings I had about a friend’s independently wealthy co-worker.  She inherited a comfortable sum of money when she turned 21–not in the Bill Gates or Donald Trump category, but enough to live reasonably well for life.  Yet, she still pursued a regular 40-hour-per-week job.  Part of me admires her for being conscientious enough to feel she had to work for a living, but another part of me wondered if she was taking a job away from someone who truly needed it from a financial and survival standpoint.

Pre-Haircut and -Chinese Buffet

I did my payday circuit of the credit union and the post office during lunch today, and I’m happy to report that there were no close encounters with death while crossing High St. or any other street in Columbus.

Susie’s and my thoughts are focusing on the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, which will be held April 24-25 at the Lexington Hotel in Cincinnati.  I’ve blogged about it before, so I won’t spill a lot of ink (or whatever the cyberspace equivalent is) talking about it.  As a public service, I’ll post the publicity for it here:

Please note the change in location.  Since this publicity was mailed out, the Cincinnati North Hotel closed its doors for good.  The convention is being held at the Lexington Hotel, 30 Tri-County Pkwy., Cincinnati.

Here is another blogger’s take on the convention and all the fun it provides:

http://booksteveslibrary.blogspot.com/2009/02/23rd-annual-old-time-radio-and.html

I was pretty busy at work today–managed to transcribe two reports dictated by a psychologist in Akron.  He’s a good guy, and his dictations are always coherent and usually quite interesting.  I also spent some time sweating blood over corrections that a doctor in Celina faxed back to me.  After dictating his stuff, I think back to Watergate when, on my 11th birthday, Nixon released 1200+ pages of edited transcripts of his White House tapes.  The transcripts caused an uproar because "(expletive deleted)" and "(inaudible)" and "(unintelligible)" seemed to show up several times per page.  I don’t sneer at that as much as I used to, because this one doctor talks at lightning speed and mumbles, so much that even when I slow the playback speed down to minimum, I often have to type boldfaced question marks when I’m typing up what he has dictated.  One thing I’ve learned is that with medical transcription, you don’t guess if you’re not sure.  Even one letter or syllable misunderstood can change a patient’s whole course of treatment.

And People *Still* Want to Work for the State!

Twice in the last week, I have heard from (or about) people interested in working for the State of Ohio.  Even after the news that we’re supposed to eat two weeks’ pay during the life of the next contract, there are folks out there so desperate for seemingly stable employment that they want to work for the State of Ohio.

One is a guy who works the night shift at the little market/convenience store a couple blocks north from our house.  I’m there frequently, buying Ben and Jerry’s and Diet Coke.  Unlike most people who shed their work IDs and name badges the instant they get home, I’m often in the habit of forgetting I have it on, and find myself unclipping my badge from my shirt as I’m getting undressed to go to bed.  The cashier noticed my badge, and started asking about getting a state job.  So, I sent him the URL for beginning the Bataan Death March of Ohio civil service.  (Just in case someone who reads this blog wants to know, here is where it all starts: http://www.careers.ohio.gov.  It’s pretty straightforward from there.

The other person who asked is a piano student of Steph’s.  I haven’t met her–I’m usually in self-imposed exile in my basement office or at the library when Steph has her lessons, so Steph gave me the student’s email address, and I sent her the above link from work.

I was able to obtain Federal employment in the 1990s, before the Internet, when applying for Federal service involved lots of mailing, lots of waiting, and sheer luck to learn of openings.  That was when typing and crafting a perfect SF-171 was considered as much an art form as Shakespeare’s sonnets or painting "Starry Night."  Now, http://www.usajobs.gov makes it much more easy in terms of one-stop shopping.

Applying for and working for the government is one reason why I am so amused by the paranoids among us who think the government is an omnipresent Big Brother privy to every secret and every misdeed, done or undone.  The whole time I was applying for work with the Federal government, I passed many sleepless nights worrying that they would find a letter I sent Selective Service when I was 18, right after I registered for the draft.  In this letter, I said if I was ever drafted, I’d give classified information to the USSR.  I was sure that letter would come back to haunt me, and I’m sure it’s on file somewhere, but I never heard word one about it.

I’m at Panera, after seeing Susie off for the 9 a.m. service and her Our Whole Lives class at church.  I’m going to go to the 11 a.m. service, so I’m blogging and Twittering in the meantime.  Steph’s birthday is today, but we celebrated last week.  She and the Columbus Women’s Chorus are singing at the Governor’s Mansion later this afternoon–she should carry a tin cup and wear a sign that says, "ALMS FOR STATE WORKER’S FAMILY."  I’m typing while listening to Everything Must Go, a 2003 Steely Dan album which is really not grabbing me.  Messrs. Fagen and Becker usually turn anything they touch to gold.

How Long Can I Dodge the Bullet?

Both Steph and Susie were sick this weekend. Susie had fifth disease which is, according to an online medical dictionary from the National Institute of Health, an acute eruptive disease especially of children that is caused by a parvovirus (species B19 virus of the genus Erythrovirus), that is first manifested by a blotchy red rash on the cheeks followed by a maculopapular rash on the extremities, and that is usually accompanied by fever and malaise — called also erythema infectiosum. Just as she was returning to the land of the living, Steph began getting dizzy and was constantly complaining that her head felt "swimmy." She didn’t want to eat much, and it wasn’t because she thought she couldn’t hold down her food. She just didn’t have any appetite.

We found out why on Saturday night. She took her temperature, and it was hovering around 104. I ended up going to church solo–Susie was still not 100% back to normal, and Steph was barely able to get out of bed. She spent most of Sunday afternoon and evening wrapped from head to toe in blankets, and I think she would have been shivering if the house was on fire.  I took Monday off from work, making sure that Susie got off to home school on time, and I began to fear the worst when I started dozing off whenever I sat down for more than 2-3 minutes.  There were some parts of the morning when Steph and I were both asleep on the couch.

They’re both recovered, and I’ve been back to work since Tuesday, although I’ve had varying degrees of energy.  Yesterday, no matter how much Diet Pepsi I drank, I couldn’t feel 100% awake, and it was a major effort to strike the right keys while I was transcribing.  Today, I was able to type with near perfect accuracy while my mind was elsewhere and my eyes went nowhere near the keyboard.

Another physical issue that has been getting on my nerves lately has been a recurrence of myokymia, an involuntary trembling of my right eyelid.  I had it about 2.5 years ago, and the eye doctor who examined me said it was probably a side effect of taking lithium.  (I didn’t tell him about my caffeine consumption–I’m sure that’s a factor as well.)  The myokymia is spreading to the part of the forehead immediately above my right eye.  It’s not constant, but when it’s there, I feel it.

I hadn’t even heard the word myokymia until I found out I had it, so I looked in my handy-dandy Merck Manual at home.  (I bought a copy for a quarter at a library discard sale a few years ago.  I dated a hypochondriac about 25 years ago, and wish I owned it then–it would serve the same purpose as Penthouse Forum.)  A lot of it was in medicalese that made you think you had one foot in the grave.

I’m trying not to act like there’s some other shoe about to drop.  My mother loved to tell a story about February 1970, which was just before I turned seven, when the whole household passed around a flu virus.  It had started early in the month, when my mother noticed that, after dinner, my dad was sitting in the living room with his coat on, only to find out he was running a fever.  At the end of that week, just as Dad was recovering, I came home from school and got sick.  (She loved to emphasize the fact that "you came in the back door, walked right past the bathroom, right past the wastebasket, and ‘vominated’ [my word for it] all over the kitchen floor."  And she got sick just as soon as I was nursed back to health.

Since I don’t get sick that often, when I do, it’s going to be bad.