That’s a Scream

No, this entry is not a tribute to Edvard Munch’s world-famous painting.  I’m talking about screams, the sound.  It’s been on my mind lately.

What made me think of it was Friday night.  Twice during the summer, the Olympic Swim and Racquet Club features a movie night.  (As longtime readers of this blog know, Olympic has been a second home for Susie, and by extension, me, during the summer months this and last summer.)  I took Susie Friday to see Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which I was prepared to hate,  but found myself chuckling through several times.

The movie started around 9:30, once it was dark enough.  The big pool stayed open, minus the slide.  The diving pool and the kiddie pools were closed.  They projected the movie on a bed sheet hung on the back fence, which meant that people watching the movie had their backs to the pool.  At boring parts of the movie, many kids would slip away and take a dunk in the pool.  And I heard screams several times.  (There were lifeguards there, so I didn’t worry that there was any emergency happening.  Except for about five minutes, Susie was with me the whole time.  She did escape to take a dip once, but the movie kept her attention for most of the night.)

Hearing the kids’ screams of joy reminded me of a dilemma I faced several times while in college.  During orientation, you always heard about emergency situations, sexual assault, dating violence, etc.  The walls of the dorms were Kleenex-thin, and you heard things.  On an afternoon or evening, when studying, reading, or napping, it wasn’t unusual to hear a woman screaming.  And you went through the same quandary each time.  Is she being raped?  Is this some freshman down the hall being tickled by her boyfriend?  Are she and her friends watching Nightmare on Elm Street?  You felt like an idiot to call security or a resident assistant if it turned out to be anything but the first possibility.

I never did pick up the phone and call security, but I always feared that, in the following day or so, I’d pick up the college newspaper and read that there had been a rape or assault during the exact time I was hearing the screams.

That was different when I lived in Cincinnati.  About 6:30 one morning, I had just come off a double shift at the post office, and I had walked home from the West End.  It was two miles, but I was so eager to get out of the post office that I was too impatient to wait for the first bus of the morning.  As I was walking up Wheeler Street, I heard a woman screaming, and the sound came from one of the rowhouses just around the corner from W. McMillan Street, which was where my apartment was located.  I heard it once or twice, and then went to the pay phone by the bus stop.  (This was when cell phones were very much in their infancy.)  I called the police and described it, and tried to guess which rowhouse was the one where the sound originated.  I even told the 911 operator, "I don’t know, they may just be into rough stuff," but I told her I thought it was worth checking out.  Then, having done my Good Samaritan deed, I trundled up to my third-floor apartment and was asleep by the time the 911 operator was done speaking to the dispatcher.

When I was a kid, I remember my friends’ parents (and mine) telling us all that we weren’t to shout "Help!" when playing any kind of Army or cops-and-robbers games.  I thought it was stupid at the time, but I’ve had one of those Aha! moments where I understand completely.

Addendum to Maynard Festival

Earlier this month, Susie and I went to the Maynard Festival, a one-block street festival put on by the good people of Maynard Ave. United Methodist Church.  When I blogged about it, I wrote about Susie pitching in as poet-on-demand, writing quick poems so someone else could type them on a Hermes 8 manual typewriter and then give them to the person requesting them.

Here is a picture of Susie in action:

She’s on the right, in the red shirt.  My thanks to Nancy Kangis, who organized the poetry-on-demand table.  I lifted this from, as I did these words written by Susie:

for Jason

Let’s play scary words.
Mine are: filabuster, panache and mango.
Why are mangos scary?
A dog named Mango bit off my spleen
five years ago.

and also this one, for Shannon Zee:

Said the girl in the red shirt
under an umbrella. “My name doesn’t have a
Z in it.” Not Suzy, but Susie.
You spelled it wrong. No offense.

Michael Jackson – 30 –

For those of you without a journalism or printing background, – 30 – is what a writer typed at the end of a story, a fancy way of saying "THE END" or "FINIS."  (I think it originated because the old way of ending a story was to write XXX in big letters at the end, and XXX is the Roman numeral for 30.)

There is still plenty of debate about whether his cardiac arrest was caused by drugs.  If it was, I’m wondering whether it was an intentional or accidental overdose.

Some interviewee (I’ve lost track of them, there’s been so much on the news about Jackson since he died Thursday) took his "enablers" to task, the ones who always made sure he was well supplied with drugs and little boys, and who did nothing while he was racking up millions of dollars in debt buying artwork and antiques he would take home and never look at again.

I am not a fan of the 12-Step movement, and the word enabler has always raised red flags with me.  The classic enabler is the spouse who calls an employer to say that the wife/husband has the flu and won’t be in, when in reality he/she is sleeping off a hangover or still hasn’t come home from a binge the night before.

A friend of mine was once wringing her hands because her friends weren’t helping her raise money to pay off her credit card debts–debts which resembled the GNP of some small Central American nations.  I explained to her that would definitely be enabling her out-of-control spending.  If she needed chemotherapy, or a kidney transplant, or a ramp built on her house, yes, her friends would definitely take up the cause.

After his first brush with the law regarding possible sexual abuse charges, Jackson’s family and entourage should have explained to him that no, even if you never touched the kids, you cannot sleep in the same bed with pubescent boys.  (He could only continue to do so because he was Michael Jackson.  What if a CPA or a file clerk said, "Yes, underage boys sleep in my bed with me, but I don’t have sex with them?")

Jackson’s estate wouldn’t be seriously in the red if his friends hadn’t put the brakes on his enormous spending.  I bite my nails when I go to ABE Books and buy an out-of-print book–and my tastes don’t run to first editions and autographed books, usually!  I keep thinking of that video showing him in a London antique store, where any one of the pieces he bought cost more than what I earned last year.

A celebrity who was truly destroyed by enablers was Howard Hughes.  At the root of his craziness was probably obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Many people have it, but they usually can suck it up and overcome it out of sheer necessity.  (There was one writer–it may have been Cornell Woolrich–whose career was affected because of OCD.  When he sat down to write, his stack of paper had to be exactly parallel to the typewriter, his cigarettes had to be just diagonal to his desk lamp, he had to touch the platen of his typewriter number of times before putting in the first page, etc.)  Hughes, being the richest man in the world, could take the extra steps necessary to avoid contact.

 He was also a hoarder, to the extent that he was unable to part with anything of himself–including his hair and nails.  This is the cover of Time when he died:

What is most horrible was his band of flunkies who stayed with him (the Mormon Mafia), let him go for days barely eating, making sure he received all the prescription drugs he wanted, etc.  They were paid to do that, but when Hughes began to take baby steps toward re-emerging back into the world, what they did was truly reprehensible.

When he was in Nicaragua, Somoza, the president of Nicaragua, wanted to meet him.  Reluctantly, he agreed, and it took all day the day before the meeting to make Hughes presentable.  They had to cut his hair and beard, which hadn’t been touched for two years, chop his grossly long finger- and toenails, and finally get him to shower.

His meeting with Somoza went smoothly.  He shook hands with him, talked for hours, and was a good host all around.  Shortly afterwards, Hughes and his entourage moved to another hotel, I think in the Bahamas.  Usually, he was strapped to a stretcher and carried up the freight elevator to his new penthouse, but when they arrived, Hughes insisted on walking in the front door.  He strolled through the hotel lobby in his bathrobe, shook hands with an old lady who recognized him, and chatted with the desk clerks.  When he got to the room, he stood at the window to watch a helicopter land on the roof of a building across the way.  The Mormon Mafia wasn’t having any of that–they made sure he was soon back in a blacked-out room with his dope.  Since the TV reception there was bad, he couldn’t even keep up with the news, so they brought him movies which he watched round the clock.

So, if you ever become rich, watch out for enablers.  They killed Hughes, Elvis, and may have had a hand in the death of Michael Jackson.

Steph to Cincinnati, Susie and Me to the Maynard Festival

Quite literally.  Steph went to Cincinnati with a friend for the day (my guess is that they’re en route back to Columbus as I type), so Susie and I had a Dad ‘n’ Daughter Day.  We went to the library in the morning, came home and had lunch, and then went to the Maynard Festival, which I had seen advertised for the past 3-4 weeks.

As you may have guessed, the Maynard Festival was on E. Maynard Ave.  To be more specific, it was a block party hosted by the Maynard Ave. United Methodist Church.  The church is a few blocks south of us, so we had a nice walk.  It was set up in the church’s parking lot, and there wasn’t a huge amount of foot traffic, but there were booths with art, jewelry, and clothing for sale.  I was happy for the free lemonade and the $.50 hot dogs.

Susie was truly in her element at a table where a woman labored over a Hermes 8 manual typewriter.  They offered a challenge–write three random words on a piece of paper, and they’ll make a poem out of it.  One person would write it in longhand, and the woman with the typewriter would type it out and put it in a "Finished Poems" basket.

For example, Susie jotted down princess, frog, and sparkles, handed them the page, and the process went into action.  A little later, she was rewarded with:

The princess turned into
a frog with blue sparkles
who met a blue sparkly
mermaid and became best

–by Jackie

I had heard about cakewalks for years, usually in the expression, "This job was no cakewalk."  After hearing the word for a long time, I looked it up in the dictionary, and saw that it meant a dance contest where cakes were given as prizes.  In front of the church, they had a cakewalk.  There were cardboard color squares on the sidewalk, and people walked around them, and, when the music stopped, whoever was on a designated color won the cake.  Susie tried twice, and didn’t make it, although she enjoyed the water balloon toss afterwards.  (I’ve seen the same thing done with eggs–throw the balloon or egg back and forth, stepping back a little each time.  The last one to have an intact missile wins.)

The most bizarre thing about the cakewalk was the choice of music.  On the parking lot, there was a modest sound system playing different Christian rock music, as well as "Day by Day," from Godspell.  The two cakewalks I witnessed used Golden Earring’s "Twilight Zone," a song I liked (although I thought the video was quite creepy), and the J. Geils Band’s "Centerfold," which was one of my favorite songs.  Both of them seemed a little out of place for a church picnic.

Since I’ve begun typing, Steph has returned from Cincinnati.  I emerged from my dungeonlike basement with the laptop under my arm so I could see her.  Susie told her all about her work as a poet on demand, about the magician she watched, and the cakes that got away.

I had to move to Columbus to experience anything close to a small-town Saturday in the summer.

Living On Track

The only genuine downside to our commodious living quarters in Clintonville is that our sleep (or nighttime quiet) is shattered at least once a night–possibly more often than that–by the sound of trains barrelling down the Conrail tracks that are parallel to our street and only three or so blocks east of our house.

Steph is more bothered by this than I am.  If I’ve taken my Seroquel before retiring, I’m usually too tired to be awakened by anything short of the house burning down, but the trains hinder Steph’s initially falling asleep.  There are many nights when these engineers really love to press on the whistle, too–predawn hours be damned!  The first few times we heard this, we thought maybe there was a car or a person on the tracks, but it happens much too often for that to be the situation.

When I was a teenager delivering The Marietta Times along Front St., one of my customers was Sound Solutions, a stereo store at the corner of Front and Butler (I think it’s a Goodwill or Salvation Army now) Sts.  When I came in to deliver the newspaper, I remember one of the LPs that the owner played to test new sound systems.  (This was in the heyday of quadrophonic sound, which has gone the route of platform shoes and mirror balls.  I never understood why anyone liked quadrophonic sound; when I go to a symphony concert, I have no desire to sit with the orchestra.)  The LP was called The Power and the Majesty, and it featured train sounds.  One side was a thunder- and hailstorm, where you could actually hear hailstones and wind hitting the microphones, as well as wind chimes and patio furniture being blown around the yard.  The other side featured the sounds of train engines, each track faithfully listing what type of train it was, where it was recorded, etc.  I bought the record, even though my stereo was a cheapo from Sears.

I always loved train sounds, but that came to an end for awhile when I was at Ohio University.  My first dorm was Washington Hall, and the Chesapeake and Ohio tracks which bisected East and West Greens went by, practically by my window.  Bedtime every night was like waiting for the other shoe to drop–don’t get too comfy and settled in until the last train has passed for the night.

I have heard a story (probably apocryphal) about some students who decided to avenge all their sleepless nights.  They made a cloth dummy out of bedding and old clothes and propped it up on the track just as a train would be rounding the curve going through campus.  As with every other urban legend, there are varying accounts of the end result.  My guess is that if this happened, the train people had to come out with a lathe to straighten out the wheels.

But my love of trains returned.  The first time I rode a train (as opposed to a subway or commuter train) was in November 1983, when my friend Ken Katz and I rode from New Haven, Conn. to Penn Station in New York.  We had met in New Haven for the Harvard-Yale Game (this was during the time I was typesetting The Crimson), and we watched Harvard’s 16-7 victory over Yale.  We went to a party at The Yale Daily News and then caught the train back to New York.

And I liked trains so much that Steph and I took Amtrak to San Francisco for our honeymoon.  Columbus hasn’t had an Amtrak station since the ’70s, so our friend drove us to Cleveland, where we got on the Amtrak to Chicago, and then transferred to the California Zephyr for the trip out west.

The Conrail trains near us have made it harder for me to get to sleep, but they haven’t roused me from a sound sleep.  Last Saturday night, the hooligans attending our neighbor’s party made so much noise they drowned out the train whistles.