Sound of the Siren

I just heard a fire engine or a squad car go by outside on this otherwise quiet night.  Susie is sound asleep in her bedroom, Steph has been at choir practice at the Unitarian Church and is now having pizza and wine with her fellow choristers, and the siren is the first noise I’ve heard from outside the house all evening.

We live close to a fire station, and are only a mile or so from Riverside Methodist Hospital, so sirens (along with the sounds of the trains) are pretty normal in this neighborhood.

The sounds of sirens only bothered me as a child, and then only at night.  During the day, they were quite exciting to hear.  I can remember the sound of fire engines or ambulances roaring by could cause people to drop what they were doing to rush out to the street and see what they could.  (I even remember one man who came rushing out of his house in a T-shirt, pants, and slippers, with shaving cream all over his face and a razor in his hand, just for a passing glimpse of whatever was happening.)  I enjoyed nursery school and kindergarten field trips to the fire station, and looked forward to the annual visits of firefighters to school during Fire Prevention Week in October (the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871).

But that all changed after dark, when I was in bed.  I had a hard enough time getting to sleep as it was, but the siren roaring by on Third Street would upset any equilibrium I had managed to achieve.  I think I outgrew it out of necessity, since our house was about equidistant between the fire station and Marietta Memorial Hospital.

I must have paid good attention during the Fire Prevention Week presentations, because I never developed anything that resembled pyromania.  Several kids I knew were absolutely fascinated by fire–more by setting them than seeing them.  I shared a fleeting interest in firecrackers and fireworks, and blew up my share of empty Coke cans and even a mailbox or two, but I drew the line at using firecrackers on small animals.  (Plutarch wrote, "It was the saying of Bion that though the boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.")

I came only marginally close to being injured by a firecracker, and then only indirectly.  It was on Independence Day 1979, and two friends and I were waywardly heading toward the Washington County Fairgrounds for the annual pyrotechnic display.  (We weren’t going to the fairgrounds themselves; we planned to watch the show from another location with a good view, such as the hospital parking lot or maybe Lookout Point on Harmar Hill.)

Going through an alley, we found a backyard party in progress.  Everyone there was at least 25 (we were 16), and I think we hung around in the vain hope someone would let us have beer.  There was, however, something much more fascinating than beer at the party.  A guy was in the middle of the yard shooting several bottle rockets in succession into the night sky, using an empty wine bottle as a launch pad.   I stepped close for a better look, and maybe hoping that he would yield his lighter to me for one rocket, and let me have the honor of shooting off one of them.  I was less than a foot away, and looking in the direction, when some clown at the party put a cherry bomb in the bottle.  There was an abrupt BANG! and the bottle seemed to be blown completely to smithereens.  Blue smoke hung in the air, and you could smell nothing but gunpowder in the yard.

It was a minute before it registered with me how close a call I had.  I had been standing less than a foot away, and I had been wearing sandals, yet–miraculously–I had avoided getting cut.  Shards of broken glass from that bottle must have been traveling at very high velocity, yet they managed to miss my feet altogether.

I never knew where to buy fireworks in Marietta, although kids I knew seemed to be able to buy them by the pound.  In the neighborhood where I lived until I was 13, police officers’ families always had them in plentiful supply.  (They would bring home confiscated fireworks and shoot them off for their children.)

That makes me wonder about the eventual fate of confiscated narcotics.

My DOA Printer Will Be Disposed Of Tonight, Very Unceremoniously

In our rare experiences with Freecycle Columbus, we usually have come away quite satisfied.  The exception is the printer I obtained last month from a woman on Alden Ave.  I was quite glad to have it when I brought it home–a handsome Dell Photo 324 which doubled as a photocopier and a scanner.

Except for one little problem.  Its LED screen constantly flashed "Paper Jam," even though there was no paper in it.  I posted a plea on Facebook for advice, and the replies varied from "Hit the RESET button" (which it didn’t have) to "Take a hammer to it," which became more tempting by the hour.

Steph bought me a new printer Friday at MicroCenter, when she and Susie also came home with the Wii.  I now own an HP Deskjet F4480.

When I summon the energy, I’ll take the Dell out to the trash can in the back and dump it in, and I will derive great satisfaction from the "Thud!" it will make.

The reason why this is blogworthy is because I have an aversion to throwing out equipment, no matter how little I used it.

In this office, for instance, I have the two manual typewriters I’ve written about before, the Royal Royalite and the Smith-Corona Galaxie XII.  Both still work, so I can rationalize that.  It’s easier to justify when I conveniently leave out the fact that I haven’t done any worthwhile writing with them (or any other writing instrument) for weeks.

There is also a key-wound Westclox Baby Ben alarm clock I bought for Susie in August at a Goodwill.  It keeps time, but the alarm doesn’t work.  Sometimes I remember to wind it.  This clock is in a room where I have a digital clock here on the desk, there is a time display at the bottom of my computer monitor, and I can look at either my watch or my cell phone if I need to know the time.

I’m not quite like the little old lady who dies one night, and then they find 30 years’ worth of newspapers in her house.

Steph’s classic example of my inability to let go of equipment is my (now departed) Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recorder.  I bought it in Cincinnati from a neighbor desperate for beer money one night.  It was of limited use without a microphone, and in those pre-Internet and pre-eBay days, finding a microphone would have been a very tedious and drawn-out experience.  I bought some commercially produced reel-to-reel tapes at a library discard sale, and found a problem.  The tapes were recorded on four-track equipment, and my machine was a mono two-track.  When I played side one, side two would play backwards at the same time.

Despite all this, the Wollensak came with me to Columbus.  I never hauled it out to use, and I never broke the seal on the one box of blank reel-to-reel tape I bought for it at Radio Shack.  Finally, at Steph’s insistence, I left it behind during one of our moves from one apartment to another.

A friend of our’s son had a similar situation when they moved.  He was about 15 when his parents divorced, and his mother was in the process of selling the house so she could move in with her boyfriend.  Her son’s jaw hit the floor when she saw she planned to discard his Fisher-Price farm.  He hadn’t played with it since he was six, but NO WAY was it going to the trash.  He was quite adamant about this.

It’s been about nine years since then, and he’s working on his master’s degree.  I’ve always meant to ask him if he still has the Fisher-Price farm.

On the medical front, I erred in my last entry.  I have a stye on my right eyelid, not pinkeye.  The good doctor prescribed an ointment for me, but the pharmacy didn’t have it, so I’ll pick it up tomorrow (I hope) after work.


Maybe I Should Have Been More Prudent…

…when I told people that I had made a full recovery from the surgery.  I say that because here I am, early Monday afternoon, home instead of at work.  I have been coughing like mad since Friday, and it looks like I’m developing pinkeye in my right eye.  Fortunately, I’ll be able to see my doctor today at 3:15 (better than paying the steep co-pays the urgent care places charge), and she’ll give me something–I hope–that will knock out this pinkeye.  I have never had it before, and I have not missed it.  Steph first noticed it, and until she said something, I just thought I had a very itchy eye.  The right eyelid is fire-engine red.

When I went to Target this weekend, I bought a DVD of the remake of IN COLD BLOOD.  This one aired on CBS as a miniseries in 1996, and starred Anthony Edwards and Eric Roberts.  It’s amazing that the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas has produced four movies to date.  Truman Capote said he was launching a new genre, the non-fiction novel (although many Clutter family members and residents of Holcomb, Kansas say there’s more novel than non-fiction in the book).

For me, the most chilling part of the movies I have seen about it is the scene immediately after the murders.  There was a teenage girl who was best friends with Nancy Clutter, the teenage daughter, one of the four who were murdered.  The girl always went over to the Clutters’ house on Sunday morning so she could ride to church with them.  No matter how many times I see it, the scene where she walks inside the house and is greeted with total silence is the most disturbing.  It is even more disturbing than when she finds the bodies.  When no one answers the doorbell, she reluctantly lets herself in, and the silence is complete.  No clock ticking, no phone ringing (the lines had been cut), no squirrel running across the roof.  The viewer has an omniscient eye, and we know what she’ll soon find.  (The murders themselves are shown in flashback later on.)

I haven’t watched this DVD yet, and I remember little of the miniseries when it ran, so I’m interested to see how it is, even though I know the story and know the ending.

Wii the People

Steph and Susie went to MicroCenter Friday night, ostensibly to buy me a new printer.  When they came home, they had the new printer, but there was more… a Nintendo Wii.  This was something we had considered for at least a year, and finally the set’s beckoning call was too great to ignore.

After the nightmare of unpacking it and setting it up, we christened it with Wii Bowling.  Bowling was the only sport that even remotely held my interest as a child (or afterwards), and the only sport I ever enjoyed playing, despite my poor showing.  (As a child, I would pick up a bowling ball with both hands, carefully set it down in front of the foul line, and push it off with both hands.  You could pick up a sandwich and a cup of coffee, plus read a section of the newspaper, by the time the ball made contact with the pins.)  Of the three of us, I won with 100 points, and managed to make the only strike in the game.

Steph and I went to the auction and dinner at church last night, so Susie had free reign to play the Mario Brothers games that came with the Wii.  While she was at church for youth group, I went to Target and bought Steph an early birthday present–a Band Hero Band Kit.  Setting up the drum and cymbal set was easy, as was assembling the guitar, but we were completely in the dark about how to play until we went through a step-by-step tutorial.  That game is one I will pretty much leave to Steph and Susie.  Unlike them, I have had absolutely no musical training.

I was favorably impressed by the graphics and the realism in the games.  We’re not planning on buying any of ther Grand Theft Auto games or their spinoffs, but they remind me of one of the earliest video game controversies, when I was in junior high.

The game in dispute at that time was something called Death Race. The player would sit down with a steering wheel and an accelerator, and the screen would be full of stick people running around.  Your car would appear on the screen, and the idea was to run down the stick people.  When you did, the machine would let out this horrible blood-curdling scream, and a little cross would pop up.  If there were two players, whoever had the most tombstones at the end of the game won.  The graphics were quite primitive, and the violence level was nothing compared to what would follow in the next three decades, but people were outraged enough that Death Race quickly disappeared from arcades, and functional game sets fetch a pretty penny on eBay and elsewhere.

Video games were never my strong suit.  I did quite well in pinball, back in the days when breaking 100 thousand points was spectacular, and heralded by a free game, lots of bells and fanfare, and every light on the machine illuminated.  I fared decently with the early Pong games (we had one hooked to our TV), but by the time of Pac-Man, Defender, Tempest, and Missile Command, I was spending too many quarters and earning too few points.

Eye-hand coordination is essential for success in video games, and mine is not that good.  (Even there, that’s not 100% true, since I am a very fast typist with only my index fingers.)

To further humble myself, I played Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader? with Steph and Susie tonight.  In my first game, I bombed out after the $2000 question, but in the second one, I was up to $100 thousand before I flunked out.  Steph, on the other hand, is smarter than a fifth-grader.

Things That Go “Bump” in the Night

There was a Peanuts cartoon where Snoopy said, "I’m not scared of things that go ‘bump’ in the night.  I’m scared of the things that go ‘ARRRGH!’"  Since I’ve been a nocturnal person for most of my life, the many sounds you hear at night don’t faze me all that much.

The other night, there was a "bump" in the night that brought both of us up from deep sleep.  Both Steph and I were planning to sleep late–I hadn’t yet returned to work after my cholecystectomy, and Steph didn’t have any students until early afternoon, so neither of us set an alarm.  The noise wasn’t really a bump, more of a muffled crash, and it brought both of us to full consciousness.

I had been hoping against hope that I had only dreamed it, and would soon be back to sleep.  But when Steph said, "Did you hear that?", I realized that it had been all too real.  I took a moment to disconnect myself from my C-PAP machine, gradually get myself out of bed, and put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.  Since I was freshly on the mend from surgery, this seemed to take as long as an astronaut suiting up for one of the moon shots.

Cell phone in hand, I ventured toward the steps downstairs.  I flipped the switch that lit up the living room, and then came downstairs.  The sudden flood of light didn’t seem to startle anyone or anything, so I began to relax a little.  I had nothing handy that could have served as a weapon.  (I won’t debate the Second Amendment here, except to say that with my bipolar disorder, it would be stupidity for me to have easy access to a firearm.  Either mood extreme could result in tragedy if I was in close proximity to a gun.)

I came downstairs and walked into the kitchen, and felt something crunch beneath my feet.  Turning on the light, I saw what the result of the noise was.  David, our tabby, had been on top of the refrigerator, and had knocked the Rubbermaid box that contained his food all the way to the kitchen floor.  There was cat food scattered all over the floor, and David was partaking of it like Robert Downey, Jr. locked in a pharmacy.

I scooped up some of the food, resealed the box as best I could, and replaced it at the top of the refrigerator.  Very relieved that there had been no intruder, I turned off lights and went back upstairs, reassured Steph that we had not been burglarized, and was soon asleep.

A very puzzled Susie woke us up a few hours later, wondering why there was cat food scattered all over the kitchen floor, but the container was sealed and atop the refrigerator.  I thought briefly about letting that remain a mystery, but I told her what had happened.  Heading her "to do" list that morning was finding a new location for the cat food.

Something I Don’t Remember, But Can Envision

Elsewhere in this blog I wrote about "flashbulb memories", where you remember very brief interludes of an experience, but not a linear, comprehensive memory.  Sometimes I wonder if this includes anecdotes I’ve heard related so many times that I’ve come to form a mental picture as a result.

The snow that still blankets Columbus brings one such instance to my consciousness.  Steph is teaching right now, and this is the ideal time for me to be typing here.

Until I was six, we lived in a wooden house at the top of an alley in Marietta.  If you went all the way down the alley, you’d be on brick-paved Wooster Street.  We lived behind a house on Third Street, so Third Street was our mailing address.

Since the alley was fairly steep, once the snow began falling, every kid in the neighborhood flocked there, sleds in hand, ready to go sledding all the way down to Wooster Street.  I was no exception, and one January when I was about five, I was dying to christen the sled that I had received for Christmas.

Unfortunately, the morning of the big snow I awoke with a bad case of the flu.  My fever was well over 100, if I ventured from my bed I had to carry a coffee can with me in case I threw up, no appetite whatsoever.

According to my mother, I sat at the kitchen window all morning, watching every kid in the neighborhood go sled-riding, "and you were the most pathetic sight in the world."  I’m sure I was.  I don’t remember the incident, but I’m sure I had the streak of self-punishment necessary to stay planted in front of that window, and not allow myself to be diverted by toys, books, or TV.


Only Three Minutes Late for Work Today

Hoping against hope, I called the Industrial Commission’s hotline as soon as the alarm went off this morning.  The recorded chipper voice said there were no incidents to report at this time.  So, even though Ohio State University cancelled classes, and the City of Columbus was on a two-hour delay, and Franklin County was under a Level Two snow emergency, that meant I was expected to be in my cubicle ready to work when the big hand reached 12 and the little hand was on 8.

Steph sent me off this morning with a big breakfast, although I burned most of it up traipsing down Indianola.  The snowdrifts on the sidewalk were even higher than they were earlier, and trying to get over and through them was an aerobic activity.  I had a horrid fear that maybe COTA had wised up and decided to cease operations for the day.  (It was a horrid fear because that meant I had gotten out of my warm bed and ventured into that snow for nothing.  Additionally, that would mean heading back the same way to get home.)

That meant I had mixed feelings when I looked north and saw the bus headed toward my stop.  I’d get to work… eventually.  The bus moved very slowly, and seemed to skid a bit every time it pulled over to a bus stop to let on passengers, but we made it downtown.  Since it was a Level Two snow emergency, the ride was free; the driver had put a bag over the coin slot and card reader.

Once I got to work, I saw there were more absences than people present.  I think many people decided to eat the Presidents’ Day pay rather than venture out into the weather.  I managed to stay busy with indexing and delivering dockets, but the overall quiet of the 10th floor was quite unnerving.

And Columbus Public is closed tomorrow as well.  There is supposed to be an additional inch of accumulation overnight.

Come the dawn, I will be heading downtown.

Not Counting on the State to Show Common Sense

The three-day weekend is winding down, and I have been looking out the window, seeing the snow falling almost non-stop since I got up this morning.  Ever since mid-afternoon, cancellations have crawled across the bottom of the TV screen (night school classes, church group meetings, workshops, etc.), and Columbus Public Schools have pulled the plug on classes for tomorrow.  Will the State of Ohio follow suit, so we don’t have to traipse out into the whiteout in the morning?

Highly doubtful.

The last time the State of Ohio shut down for a weather-related emergency was the 1978 blizzard.  I’m not even sure this qualifies as a blizzard, because the wind velocity is relatively low, despite the fact that the snow has continued to fall all day.

Again, had I not recently had surgery, I would be less worried about going to work tomorrow in the snowdrifts than I am tonight.  If the State decided to open for business despite the snowfall, I’d’ve just cursed someone under my breath, bundled up, and headed out.

Now, it’s a question of my own safety.  I ventured out of the house once today, walking about three blocks to the Weber Market, and I lost count of how many times I came close to falling.  When the snowplow goes down Indianola Ave., it blasts snow onto the sidewalks, which means there are drifts that are up to two feet high.  I had to lift my leg quite high up in the air to gain a foothold, and in doing that, came close to losing my balance.

The doctor didn’t give me a definite date as to when my incisions will be completely healed.  The small strips of gauze and tape that he put over them are still in place, and I’m to let them fall off on their own.  Until they do, I’m not going to consider these healed, and I’m walking around with care.

And again, the timing for this could not be worse.

Today is Presidents’ Day–a paid holiday for us State workers.  If you are absent the day before or the day after a paid holiday, you have to bring in a doctor’s note upon your return, to prove you weren’t just playing hooky.

Under normal circumstances, the bus stop is merely steps away from my front door.  Last Thursday, when I returned to work, the distance had never seemed more forbidding, more remote.  I will go out for the bus a few minutes earlier than normal (depending on whether I’m out of bed at a reasonable time), and if I miss it, there will be another one close behind.  I’m proud of my job with the State of Ohio (as much as I wring my hands about it in this blog and elsewhere), but it is not worth risking injury).


Note to Self: I am Not 19 Anymore

This point keeps getting driven home to me–with a vengeance–as I try to ease my way back into normal living and activity.  It’s been less than two weeks since I was in surgery, and I’m still expecting myself to do regular activities as if I hadn’t recently had an organ removed.  Full recovery will come, but not as fast as I think (hope) it will.  Maybe, when I was younger, I would have bounced back from this surgery much sooner, but it’s a moot point.  I’m not 19–I’m almost 47.

I’m typing this at the Whetstone Library.  Steph has scheduled lessons almost back to back from 10 a.m. until late afternoon, and I didn’t want to stay upstairs all day, confined like some demented relative, so I came here.  I was waiting for the bus, and a woman from our church (who is also our around-the-corner neighbor) gave me a ride.

Grocery shopping last night almost did me in.  Susie and I went to Kroger, and I should have swallowed my pride and used an electric scooter, and let Susie take the items from the shelf.  But I didn’t.  I was using the cart like a walker by the time I made it to the cashier, and I was so wiped out come bedtime I almost didn’t need to take anything to aid sleep.

Our tabby cat David has a new adversary, an enemy that will never yield its ground.  Steph has said that the house is so dry that she has had constant headaches, so while I was at Graceland Shopping Center last night I stopped in Target and bought her a humidifier.  The most cost-effective one was designed for a child’s room.  It’s blue and white and shaped like a penguin.

Just before bedtime last night, we set it up on the living room floor and David marched right up to it and stared it in the face.  He was even more confused when he felt the steam spray from the penguin’s mouth.  That must have led him to think the humidifier was actually alive.  When I came downstairs this morning, we moved the humidifier to the table in the front room, so it’s more at eye level, and Steph increased its steam output.  David has been a bit more cautious around his new housemate, but when he ventures to look close, he’s been getting a small jet of steam in his face. 


Back to Work… In Body, At Least

I’ve heard of people saying that, during their surgeries, they felt themselves leave their bodies and watch the operation from overhead.  That didn’t happen in my case, but it was almost how I felt during the work day today.

The day started on the wrong foot when I realized, as I trudged toward the bus stop, that I had forgotten my cell phone.  Even worse, I had forgotten to take my medication before I left.  Foremost on the list of morning medications is Nuvigil, the alertness medication that my sleep doc has prescribed for me.  (It works quite well at keeping me awake and alert.  I’m no longer drifting off to sleep at a moment’s notice, I often go the entire day without yawning.  And it doesn’t wire me up the way caffeine does.  Go to for more information.)  If I had the strength, and if the snowdrifts on Indianola weren’t so high, I’d’ve gone back to the house to retrieve them.

Once I was there, it was easy to fall back into the routine of distributing reports, typing Statements of Facts, and preparing ex parte orders.  However, I was doing it much more slowly, almost like there was a seven-second delay between my brain and the rest of my body.  Despite my lack of hunger, I ate the sandwiches and applesauce that Susie made for me while I was getting dressed.  A generous soul anonymously left a banana on my computer keyboard when I was delivering a report to another office.

I still wonder if the walk to  the credit union at lunchtime (just over a half-mile, according to Google Maps) would have been as difficult had there not been all the snow on the ground.  I usually have quite a wide and long stride, but I was taking very small steps as I walked, mainly because I dreaded slipping and falling.  Falling on the ice is never a pleasant experience, but when you’re worried about breaking open relatively fresh incisions, the problem is compounded.  Once I got back to the office, I felt like the entire walk had been uphill.