Being the Cool Parent

Parents who host lose the most, read the signs and posters that I see at Kroger and Giant Eagle, especially near the beer and wine section.  Simply put, it means that if there’s underage drinking at your house, and you’ve given it your blessing (or, even worse, made the run to the liquor store for the teens), you are facing some steep legal penalties.

This concept was pretty foreign to a lot of kids (and parents) when I was in high school (I graduated in ’81).  If a parent heard that his/her teenager had been out drinking, the usual reaction was to shrug and say, "Well, thank God they weren’t doing drugs!"  (This laissez-faire attitude did not apply, however, if driving-under-the-influence charges figured anywhere in the picture.)

Earlier in this blog I described my adventures behind the scenes for school plays, working with lighting and sound.  Cast parties usually followed, and if the hosts’ parents weren’t around, it was often open season on the liquor cabinet, and usually a senior (the drinking age in Ohio was 18 for "3.2 beer" and 21 for everything else, but West Virginia was five minutes away via the Williamstown Bridge, and the drinking age there was 18 for everything) was more than happy to pass the hat for a trip to the store to buy more.

The cool parents were the ones who allowed parties involving alcohol to happen on their premises, either by going out of town for the weekend or by allowing it.

My dad was oblivious to the party-hosting laws.  He never let me host a party that involved alcohol, but one summer evening my oldest stepsister (who is six months older than I am) brought her best friend over for dinner.  We were about 15 then, I think.  We had Italian food, and topped off the meal with red wine.  The younger stepsisters (10 and 13) weren’t allowed to have the wine, and my stepmother was a teetotaler, but the older teens could drink it.  We didn’t get drunk, but we drank it.

I mentioned casually a few nights later about a party one of my classmates had thrown, with his parents’ blessing.  I said, "And his parents are in big trouble for providing the beer."  My dad looked at me like I had lost my mind.  "You mean I could’ve gotten in trouble for letting Sarah (my stepsister’s friend–not her real name) have wine the other night?"

I told him–and further research bears me out–"If her parents made an issue out of it, yes."  (They didn’t.)

When we brought home the Wii, I was afraid that our house would be the one that all the kids wanted to visit, but for the wrong reason.  Not because they want to see Susie, but because they want to play on the Wii.  When I was in elementary school, it was the kid who had the newest Hot Wheels set or the most extensive Matchbox collection.

My house became the spot to visit when I was 12 or 13, because I was almost completely unsupervised.  My dad was spending most of his time at my stepmother-to-be’s apartment, so I was living on pot pies and hot dogs–meals I could easily make myself.  He and my mother, I found out while snooping through the closets, had managed to amass a rather large collection of pornography, beyond the usual Playboy and Penthouse, so that was an additional drawing card.  (Peoples’ Books and News on Putnam St. in Marietta was the only store in Marietta that sold hard-core porn.  Many people in town called it the DBS–the Dirty Book Store.)  My friends and I looked through page after page of the magazines, but never touched the liquor cabinet (marked SIN BIN) in the kitchen.

When Steph, Susie, and I were living in Franklinton, we became the "cool parents" for an entirely different reason.  Beginning when Steph was working at Gladden Community House, word spread pretty quickly that our place was where you went if you were hungry, or if your mom’s boyfriend was putting the moves on you, or if your parents had left hours ago and not returned.  Many of Susie’s friends came over unannounced and ended up staying for dinner, or until the next morning.

And our house was a revelation to quite a few of the kids.  We weren’t/aren’t rich, and in those days I often rolled pennies to be able to go to the corner market and buy a 20-oz. bottle of pop, but the fact that Steph served meals that didn’t come out of the microwave, and which featured fruit and vegetables, was the dawning of a new world for them.  Many of the girls (they were Susie’s friends, so they were almost always female) were awe-struck at all the books in the house, many of them in the living room, but most of them in my office.  (There was an Eastern European rabbi who was killed when a tall bookshelf overloaded with Torah scrolls and volumes of Talmud commentary tipped over on him.  If I could choose the way I would depart this life…)  They had never seen that many books anywhere except in a library or at school.  They didn’t know that people could have that many.

Our lack of cable mystified them, and I have to confess that was more financial than ascetic.  I could understand their puzzlement, because when I was about kindergarten age, my dad and I visited the apartment of a colleague of his, a bachelor in his 60s.  The apartment was full of records (mostly classical) and books, and reproductions of illuminated manuscripts and great works of art hung on his wall, but there was no television.  He said the only time he wished he had a TV was to watch football games.

I had a neighbor in Somerville, Mass. who was similar.  He was a bachelor in his 50s, and he worked a blue-collar job, but was quite the autodidact.  (I used to bring him copies of The Crimson, so he didn’t have to go to Cambridge to get it.)  He had a radio, mainly to listen to Red Sox games, but no TV.  When he came home from work, he fixed himself some bacon and eggs, popped open a beer, and stretched out on his living room couch and read books.  (I used to kid him about his lack of a TV: "You’ve seen one, haven’t you?  Box with a screen?  Shows these moving pictures that talk?")

We were flattered and honored to be the place of refuge in Franklinton, but at the same time it was a little sad to be "cool" because we provided food and comfort.  Sometimes, in those cases, we wondered how many of the girls became friends of Susie’s so they could be closer to Steph and me.  (One girl, about 10, started calling me "Daddy."  I put a quick stop to that, telling her, "Only Susie can call me ‘Daddy.’"  I thought her stepfather was an idiot, but it still would have been wrong for her to call me that.)  Until the day we left Franklinton, I would walk down a street or come out of a corner store and kids I didn’t even know would say, "Hi, Susie’s Dad!"

I’ve been called a lot worse in my day.

WTB: A Brick

 All the recent news about the fires in the Marietta area (the fire at Marietta Wine Cellars has been ruled arson) made me think–as my mind makes its usual illogical leaps–of Cisler bricks, and late this afternoon I posted a Craigslist ad saying I wanted to buy a Cisler brick.  (I wasn’t even 100% sure what category this matched, so I chose "Antiques," for lack of anything better.)

The Cisler Brick Works provided many of the bricks for buildings at Marietta College, the post office, the public library, and what was Marietta Junior High School when I was there (it had been the high school, and is now Marietta Middle School).  When I lived on Seventh Street, there were several sections of the sidewalk that were paved with Cisler bricks, laid in a herringbone-type pattern, especially the stretch between Ephraim Cutler St. and Tupper St.

The Brick Works themselves were in what is now Frontier Shopping Center, and it was destroyed in a tornado at the turn of the (20th) century.  Even though the facility never reopened, and the disaster was 60-some years before I was born, I felt its influence.

Looming over Big Bear (now Giant Eagle), the first store in the strip of buildings that is Frontier Shopping Center, was the Cisler residence.  Even in the daytime it seemed a little forbidding, and if I was coming out of Big Bear at night, I hesitated a little before taking the shortcut–i.e., going up an embankment that would put me behind the house, and allow me to walk more diagonally toward our house.

At the bottom of the entry, I’ve posted a picture of the house.  It has been gentrified and restored quite a bit since I lived in Marietta, because at the time it was one of those houses you and your buddies would swear up and down was haunted.  At night, even when lights were on inside, the house was one to avoid.

But, it was not the house you’d sneak into after dark on a dare.  It was haunted, but by flesh and blood, not by a ghost.

Its sole resident when I lived in Marietta was Lillian Cisler, the daughter of founder Thomas Cisler.  She was a familiar sight in Marietta, walking very slowly, bent over slightly, and clad head to toe in black, from her hat down to her shoes.  Miss Cisler, I was told, was in mourning for her father, who had died in 1950.  (Her mother died in 1905, and Mr. Cisler apparently remained a widower the remaining 45 years of his life.)  There was another sister, Grace, who was born in 1905, and I’m wondering if the mother, Lillie Weiss Cisler, died in childbirth.

I don’t know if I ever spoke with Miss Cisler, but I heard stories about her.  One friend of mine claimed to have done some work for her (the idea of this particular person working made me doubt the veracity of his account) and claimed that she still set a place for him at the dinner table.  (The only place where I’ve ever seen that happen was at some Passover Seders I’ve attended, when they pour the cup for Elijah.)  He embellished the tale with hearing her play wall-shaking music on a pipe organ in the house.  I half expected to hear stories about meeting Lurch and Uncle Fester there.

Yet, another kid I knew was sympathetic, and piously quoted the lyrics to Johnny Cash’s "Man in Black" to understand why she dressed that way.

She finally died at the age of 91, in 1993.  I was living in Cincinnati and working for the post office there, and Dad sent me the obituary.  Her father’s birthday was April 29, he told me (as is mine).  He said I should have told her that, because she would have willed the house to me.  (My understanding is that she willed it to her church, St. Luke’s Lutheran.)

I went to and looked for their graves.  They are buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, and I was hoping their final resting place would be brick, but it isn’t.

Also included is a picture of a Cisler brick.

Late to Bed, Late to Rise

One milestone on the road to maturity and adulthood is when sleeping in becomes more attractive than staying up late.  Steph is at choir practice tonight, and once it’s over she joins several of her fellow singers for pizza in Worthington, so this is the night when she and I stay up the latest.  (Susie has been in bed since 9.)

Staying up late was a rare treat for me when I was a child.  I think the first time that I was allowed awake past my usual 8:30 bedtime was to see the fireworks on Independence Day 1969.  We drove to the Washington County Fairgrounds and sat in the infield bleachers sweating buckets and being eaten alive by mosquitos past the promised start time of 10 p.m.  The first rocket went up around 10:30.

The second time was later that month, when I was allowed to stay up to watch Neil Armstrong of Apollo XI step from the lunar module onto the surface of the moon.  (VCRs were still quite a ways in the future, so my parents took pictures of the TV screen, with headings such as FIRST LIVE PICTURES FROM MOON).

I didn’t have a set bedtime after my parents separated, once I was living alone with my dad and my mother was in Harding Hospital, a rich persons’ mental hospital in Worthington.  Mother was so cruelly restrictive that I don’t think Dad had the heart to deny me anything or set limits, plus he was away most evenings at my stepmother-to-be’s apartment that I would usually be in bed by the time he got home.

During junior high weekends, I usually gathered together bottles of pop and junk food and watched the All Night Theatre, broadcast from WSAZ-TV, Channel 3 in Huntington, W.Va., and became a fairly decent amateur critic of B movies.

Venturing out of doors after dark was something I rarely did, and almost never alone.  I have a totally out-of-context memory of a time when I was in pre-school, walking with my mother to our landlord’s house at night.  (The house where I lived until age six was behind our landlord’s house, so their back door faced our front, with a large yard in between.)  I remember laughing my head off because I was in my pajamas (I even remember they were yellow, zip-up, and had footies) and it was nighttime.  I even remember the moon behind the steeple of Christ United Methodist Church, less than a block away.

When I was 12, two boys and I camped out in one of our back yards fairly frequently in the summer.  Sleep rarely entered into this equation.  Once all the lights were out in our host’s house, we would tiptoe out and wander around Marietta.  I remember the three of us sitting on the steps under the light of Mills Hall, the math and physics classroom building at Marietta College, and talking (mostly misinformation about sex) for hours.  Another thing I remember is when we were walking in the neighborhood of Washington School, and we saw a very drunk guy hiccuping as he staggered down Fifth Street and rounded the corner onto Washington Street, in front of the First Church of Christ, Scientist.  The Pepsi-Cola clock in the window of Riddle’s Restaurant said 2:45.

That was usually the extent of our predawn forays, and we never stole or vandalized anything.  The closest we came to that was one night when we found several steel pipes lying in the street.  We picked them up and, with the dexterity and finesse of a discus thrower or a baton twirler, we threw them down the street, watching blue sparks shoot up from the brick streets each time a pipe struck them.  Several bedroom lights came on, so we disappeared before anyone could call the police.

I have had several third- and swing-shift jobs in my working life, most notably at The Harvard Crimson, the IRS, and the post office.  I sometimes felt resentment when I was on the bus, en route to these late-night jobs, knowing that others on the bus were headed to nightclubs, movies, and parties.  The payoff came when I was headed home from work, because most of the people on the bus were headed to work or school, and I was headed to bed.

Usually, both Steph and I are in bed before 10, and I’m grateful for it, and the Seroquel and Sinemet usually manage to knock me out, at least initially.  (Staying asleep is quite another matter.)  There are nights, though, when I don’t get to sleep right away, when I feel like the little kid excited at being out at night.  I’ll lie there in bed and hear the bus go by, or hear the music from the bar up the street, and feel the same way I did when I had an early bedtime in the summer, and could hear kids my age playing outside.

On another subject, I’m sorry to report that Susie did not get a role in Honk, Jr.  She is taking the news in stride, and is focusing her energy on the Spring Choir Concert at church.

News of Marietta Fires Dominates My Facebook Page

There were at least two major fires in my hometown of Marietta during the past 2-3 days, and all of my Facebook friends from Marietta posted details and pictures, as well as links to local newspapers and WTAP-TV, the station in nearby Parkersburg.

Checking Google Maps, I see that one of the destroyed buildings (190 Front St.) had formerly housed Sound Solutions, a stereo and audio equipment store.  In the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was on my newspaper route, and I often hung out there.  Seeing all the equipment on sale made me feel like the diabetic kid looking in the candy store window, since at that time I was thankful to have a nondescript stereo with AM/FM receiver from Sears.

The last time I crossed its threshold must have been in the late 1980s, when I was back in Marietta for a visit.  It housed a Goodwill store at that time, and I went in and bought some clothes and some books.  The building housed Marietta Wine Cellars until yesterday.  The fire also destroyed the adjacent business, Riverside Artists’ Gallery.

My Marietta history knowledge is a little foggy, but I believe this structure had originally been the St. Cloud Hotel.  While on my paper route, a guy from Sound Solutions asked me to go up into the building’s attic to help him find something, and we found guest registers, handbills, cash journals and ledgers, and Marietta newspapers dating from the early 1900s.

My parents never had to lecture me about playing with matches, and I never understood the fascination that some of my peers had with fire.  My first memory of a fire was when I was five or six, when Marietta College’s bookstore was torched.  My dad took me there often as a preschooler when he was buying books or office supplies, and the manager often let me play with the adding machine at the counter.  The building was a ramshackle wooden structure that was scheduled to be razed once the new bookstore was finished,  and the College never searched all that vigorously for the arsonist.

Dad and I visited the ruins of the building a day or so later.  All I remember were the burned books scattered all over the ground, and the scorched lumber and window frames everywhere.

While typing the above paragraphs about Sound Solutions, I had an epiphany of sorts.  This is the second time that a site (directly or indirectly) related to this business has been destroyed by fire.  In 1970, the Pinkerton Hotel, near the corner of Second and Putnam Sts. in Marietta, was destroyed.  I’m not sure what the cause was–I think it was defective wiring.  Once the destroyed stories of the building were removed, and the street level was structurally safe, Vere-Smith Audio opened in that storefront.  Two or three employees left Vere-Smith and formed Sound Solutions.

Fires can bring out the best and the worst in people.  In my "lazy bum" year of living at home (between graduating from high school and moving to Boston), I was riding to Athens one morning with a friend who lived in Marietta and worked in Athens three days a week.  We were just coming to where the skyline was coming into view, and there was a thick, single column of smoke rising lazily from the direction of Uptown.

My friend dropped me near College Gate and I went to Court St. to investigate.  As it turned out, Belks Department Store had burned the previous night, and it was still smoldering.  The store had been closed at the time, so there were no casualties.  It was across the street from the C.I., one of the most crowded meat-market bars on campus, and the fire had been a spectator sport that kept many people mesmerized long after the bar had closed for the night.

While talking to people who had been watching the fire all night, I heard quite a few stories, and one of them (quite possibly aprocryphal) will stay with me until the day I die.  A stereo store, Paul and Tony’s, was next door to Belks at that time.  When the fire erupted, no one knew whether their common wall would collapse or not.  Someone called an employee at Paul and Tony’s, and he ran over to the store in his pajamas and bathrobe and unlocked the place.  (I seem to remember Paul and Tony’s specialized in high-end equipment, like Fisher, Kenwood, and Bose.)  He had someone unlock a storage locker he had further down Court St., and then he began randomly handing components to people on the street, saying, "Go run this to my friend at such-and-such a place," and he kept doing this until either everything was out of the store or until the blaze was enough under control that he knew his store would not be endangered.  Whether he knew the person or not, or whether they were drunk or sober, he handed them equipment and told them where to take it.  When he did inventory: Everything present and accounted for.  One turntable was a little banged up because the person carrying it dropped it, but other than that, everything was there.

IN OTHER NEWS: I went to Mount Carmel West Hospital on Monday and had a chest X ray, to see if we can determine the cause of this cough, which only seems to be worsening, no matter how much Cipro or Hydromet I throw at it.  I was not wild about using codeine to combat it, because I remember growing a little too fond of it after my vasectomy, but it’s had no effect at all.  I have one refill for the Hydromet, but I’m not going to waste $10 on a medication that is not helping me.

To Washington and Back

In my last entry, I mentioned in passing that I’d be headed to Washington, D.C. on Friday night for a peace march, along with about 60 others.  I made the trip and came back to Columbus about 4:30 this morning, exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time.

Much of the action was concentrated in Lafayette Park, across from the White House.  Our bus arrived early in Washington (the driver let us off at the corner of 19th and L Sts. NW at 8:38 a.m.), so we could watch Lafayette Park fill up and come to life.  It was a beautiful morning in the District of Columbia, and it looked like the day they take the picture of the White House for the post cards and the National Park Service flyers.

We left Columbus Saturday morning just after midnight, and took Interstate 70 most of the way.  (When I rode to Washington with my dad when I was 10, we traveled from Marietta via U.S. 50 most of the way, which meant a lot of winding and narrow roads in the mountains of West Virginia.  It was the only time in my life I’ve experienced motion sickness.)  On this trip, there were minimal pit stops.  One was at a truck stop in Valley Grove, a little dot on the map just east of Wheeling.  (Besides the truck stop, its most thriving business seems to be Gumby’s Cigarette World.)  The other stop was in Breezewood, the crowning jewel of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

I combined activism with pleasure on this trip.  I was happy to meet and have lunch with my friend, historian and essayist Robert Nedelkoff (known in LiveJournalland as Hilligoss).  He was, for a long time, one of the best friends I had never met.  We are both interested in novelist Robert Lowry of Cincinnati–although Robert never knew Lowry personally, as I did–and emailed back and forth for several years, exchanging information and insights, until Robert came to Columbus on his way to see his father in Indiana.

Robert and I had lunch at Wok and Roll, a Chinese restaurant on H St. NW.  It doesn’t win any culinary prizes for Asian cuisine, but the restaurant is housed in the building that, during the Civil War, was the boardinghouse owned by Mary Surratt.  This was where John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators plotted the abduction (and, eventually, the assassination) of Abraham Lincoln.  Because of this, 13 weeks after the assassination, Mary Surratt became the first woman executed by the Federal Government.

After two hours in the restaurant, Robert took me to the Newseum, a museum dedicated to journalism throughout the ages, from the town crier to the Internet.  Some of the exhibits were quite thought-provoking: the remains of the TV antenna atop One World Trade Center, the office of Tim Russert, the door at the Watergate office building through which the burglars entered, the cabin of Ted Kaczynski, the reporters’ notebooks of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and many others.

Robert pleasantly surprised me by picking up the tab for both lunch and the Newseum.  He walked back to Lafayette Park with me, and left late in the afternoon to catch the subway back to his home in Maryland.

The march was more faction-ridden than I’ve seen in a long time.  The more militant pro-Palestinian groups and 9/11 conspiracy theorists far dominated the people who came simply to protest the war and show their unhappiness based on religious or moral grounds.  On Capitol Hill, there was a rally of Tea Klux Klan folks protesting the health care bill (which is supposed to come to a vote tonight), and I was worried that if they came down Pennsylvania Avenue, that would be when the oil would hit the water, but they never made it toward the White House.

Our bus picked us up in Farragut Square around 8, and I was home just before 5 a.m.  During the homebound journey, I actually managed to get some sleep–I fell asleep just after the bus crossed the West Virginia line, and didn’t wake up again until the bus stopped in Zanesville to drop off some people who had ridden with us to the march.

Wok and Roll, formerly Mary Surratt's boardinghouse

Wok and Roll Chinese restaurant, formerly the boardinghouse owned by Mary Surratt.


While Susie Auditions…

I’m at the main library, while Susie is at the Davis Center auditioning for Honk, Jr.  After Davis fell victim to the city’s budget axe, I never thought I’d be down here again for this purpose, but Davis is back on its feet and Honk, Jr. (based on "The Ugly Duckling") will debut in May.

Drama was one area where I was content to remain behind the scenes.  The only time I ever appeared in a play was in fourth grade, when I played Joseph in a Nativity play at Washington School in Marietta.  The work was pretty simple.  It meant sitting by the manger where Baby Jesus (played by a hidden light bulb and a rubber doll) lay.  All I had to do was sit there in my bathrobe and look pious.  I don’t even remember if I had any lines.  If I did, I’m sure Richard Dreyfuss had more lines in The Graduate than I did in that play.

But in high school, I discovered the joys of working behind the scenes, mainly running the spotlight and the light board for the Senior Class Plays (not just my own class) and the All-School Plays, rolling out such masterpieces as Oklahoma!, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and The Mouse That Roared.  Tech crew was practically a parallel universe, with its own jargon, worries, and schedule.  I viewed it as an extension of my fascination with any device that recorded or played back recordings, especially when we tested or placed microphones.  "Getting too much reverb on this mike," I’d say during a test.  "Bring ‘er down just a tad!"

And it was fun to stare at the school’s vertically mounted reel-to-reel machine and shout, in feigned awe, "Look at all that tape on the floor!" so I could see the panicked reaction of another technical person, while others onstage didn’t have the slightest idea what the hell there was to provoke such worry.

In my junior year, I was even called into service when I didn’t expect it.  During the fall of my junior year, The Flying Machine, a band from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, came to do a concert.  They opened with "Lonesome Loser," which was pretty popular at the time.  (I approved, since I liked the Little River Band.)  When the song ended, the lead singer pointed to the ceiling and said, "Can someone bring down these house lights, please?"

I counted to five, and no one did.  There’s no one back there on the board? I thought.  So I got out of my seat (close to the lip of the stage) and ran backstage and flipped the rheostat that began darkening the auditorium.  I went back to my seat for the rest of the show, and almost jumped out of my skin when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  It was the principal, asking me to bring up the house lights, which I did.

The closest I came to working with anyone famous was when Max Morath came to Marietta to do a ragtime piano concert.  I was totally ignorant of ragtime, but I had heard the name, since he had recorded public service announcements for the Library of Congress’ program of talking books for the blind.

My not-so-latent anarchist spirit splendidly rose to the occasion when a high school band, ignoring a direct order from the principal and assistant principal, included Pink Floyd’s "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II" in their repetoire.  I was expecting that electricity to the lights and mikes would immediately be cut off, but it didn’t happen.  I was in the audience with the spotlight, prepared to make a stand to defend it in the name of the First Amendment.

Hoping My Writer’s Block is Ending

Steph is teaching a piano lesson right now as I type.  She and her student practiced Bach’s "Minuet in G Major," which is a piece I’ve always loved.  (Just to show my age, I still think of it as "A Lover’s Concerto," a song recorded by The Toys when I was a preschooler, back when the earth’s surface was cooling.)

With the coming of the vernal equinox, I hope, will return some energy and desire to write.  I’ve been taking baby steps back into writing by posting more regularly to this blog, but that’s been about it.  I wrote in my diary during my three o’clock break this afternoon, and saw that the previous entry had been a week earlier.  Quite a far cry from when Steph claimed I was compulsive about it!

But this comes and goes in cycles, so I know that this, too, shall pass.

While I’m at the peace march Saturday in Washington, I hope to eat at Wok and Roll, a Chinese restaurant on H St., NW that had been Mary Surratt’s boarding house, the meeting place for the conspirators who carried out Lincoln’s assassination.  Maybe being there–a landmark in an event has inspired much fiction and non-fiction since 1865–will spur me on.

This Damn Cough

Grudgingly, I am thankful that this cough didn’t start in all its glory until after I was 100% healed from my surgery.  The small sutures in my right side from the gallbladder surgery haven’t been painful, but I would have been afraid–with every heavy cough–that I’d be on the verge of popping the stitches.  That being said, I have been plagued for the past 2+ weeks with a cough that has lingered on for days.

I left work an hour early and went to see my general practitioner in Beechwold for the second time about this cough.  Neither the antibiotics she had prescribed earlier, nor the additional prescriptions she phoned in to Target’s pharmacy, have had any effect.

She listened to my chest and we’re bringing out the big guns.  She prescribed Cipro (which is free at Giant Eagle’s pharmacy, I’m happy to report), an antibiotic which is used to knock out major germs, such as H1N1 and anthrax.  Then she wrote a prescription for Hydromet, which is a codeine-based cough syrup.

Because of my past issues with booze (I waffle back and forth on whether I was–am–an alcoholic), I was reluctant, but I am desperate to be rid of this cough, especially since I am going to Washington, D.C. Friday night for a peace march, and want to feel I have the energy to do it.  Doctors have reassured me, when prescribing opiate-based drugs, that if I take them as prescribed, they’re not likely to be triggers.  So far, that has been true.  I took Percocet the first few days after the cholecystectomy, and did not develop any desire to abuse it or seek more of it once my supply had been exhausted.

Pharmacy manufacturers seem to think that making a codeine-based cough syrup taste as vile as possible will deter addicts.  I have never understood this, because a hardcore addict will not care what his/her drug of choice tastes like, as long as it’s available and consumable.  When I lived in Cincinnati, I lived upstairs from a severe alcoholic in his late 50s, whose last sober breath was probably when I was in kindergarten.

About 3:30 a.m. one day, I came home from a night of working at the post office, and the emergency squad was sitting outside the front door of my apartment building, lights flashing.  Before I could ask any of the EMTs or police officers what was happening, they were bringing out my neighbor on a stretcher and loading him into the ambulance.  It turned out that there was no booze in the house, so he decided that he’d treat himself to a shot or two of Aqua Velva.

So, we’ll cross our fingers and see if the foul-tasting medicine works.

Intruder Alert

A few entries ago, I wrote about the noise in the predawn hours that roused both Steph and me from a sound sleep, shortened my life by about a decade… and turned out to be David the cat tipping over the big Rubbermaid container of cat food atop the refrigerator.

When Susie was an infant, we had an experience with a real intruder.  We laugh about it now, but at the time it was happening, it didn’t amuse us a bit.

During the predawn hours, Steph shook me awake and said, "There’s someone in here."  I opened my eyes and looked toward the bedroom door.  There was indeed a woman silhouetted in the doorway, backlit only by the window behind her.

"Who are you?" Steph asked.

"I’m Agnes… and I seem to be very lost," the woman said, quite apologetically.

Steph whispered to me to call the police, while she put on a robe and took Agnes, who was quite drunk, downstairs.  (She emailed some friends that day about the experience, saying that at first she thought it was me standing in the doorway.  This shocked her, because I am never awake before the alarm rings.  Then she glanced over and saw that I was in bed with her.  That was when she became genuinely scared.)

I called the police, keeping my voice at a whisper.  Then I put on a T-shirt and some pants and went downstairs.  Steph and Agnes were sitting in the living room, chatting about babies, feedings, and diapers.  Steph had given her a Coke, and they were gabbing like they were sorority sisters reunited.  (Steph had checked to make sure Susie was okay, and she was sound asleep in her crib in the next room.)

When the police came, they politely but firmly escorted Agnes from our apartment, and then said they would be back to take statements.  By then, it was almost dawn, and I called in to work and explained why I wouldn’t be there… and Agnes became a running joke in my workplace for days afterwards.

The police never came back.  They took Agnes home, but never came back to complete a report.  I had to take time off work a day or two later and file a complaint, only to be told their hands were tied unless I caught Agnes in the act of doing something else.

Most bizarre was Agnes saying that she walked into our place by mistake.  The apartment where we lived at that time was on the second floor of a duplex, and its entrance was up a flight of metal steps and did not face the street.  We were forever having to explain this to pizza delivery people and guests.  The apartment was difficult enough to find deliberately, so how could a very intoxicated woman stumble into it by accident?

My supervisor at The Harvard Crimson, Pat, had a million anecdotes about working there.  He told me that one summer night he was alone in the building, typing the annual course guide (The Confidential Guide to Courses at Harvard-Radcliffe, aka The Confi-Guide) on the Linotype machine.  All the lights were turned off in the basement, except for a single light bulb on the Linotype, so he could read the copy before him and see what he was doing on the keyboard.

About 3 a.m., Pat suddenly heard a clump-clump-clump sound on the stairs behind him.  He tensed up, and reached under the keyboard for a piece of pipe that he kept there.  The pipe was full of sand and closed off at both ends with electrical tape.  He got up from his stool, praying, Please, God, let there only be one of them.  Slowly, he made his way toward the stairs, holding the pipe out in front of him.  Finally, he groped along the wall for the light switch, flipped it on, and…

…Found out what the cause of the noise had been.  Earlier in the day, someone had left an empty Coke bottle at the top of the steps.  The building vibrated ever so slightly every time Pat had cast a line of type, and it had dropped into the galley tray.  Each time a slug dropped and the building shook, the Coke bottle moved about an eighth of an inch toward the top of the steps.  And, like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, one line too many, and the bottle rolled down the steps.

I had a similar experience many summers later.  Like Pat, I had been typing The Confi-Guide, only I was in a brightly lit room in the same basement, and I was using a Linotype of sorts… a CRTronic Linotype, one of the early photocomposition machines.  The Crimson only printed twice per week during the summer, so most of my nights were spent on the course guide.  At one point, I got up from the keyboard to go upstairs, probably to get a soft drink or go to the bathroom, or both.

The room where I worked was quite illuminated.  The next room, which housed the Goss Community printing press and the platemaker, was pitch black.  I walked into that total darkness and saw two people.  My eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, so involuntary I cried out.

Who had scared me?  A woman who had graduated that summer, who was back in Cambridge for the weekend, giving her high school classmate a guided tour of the building.  That’s to be expected about 3 a.m., isn’t it?  The classmate must have thought I was crazy, I gave him a hell of a first impression.  I was gracious to them, and gave them the $.10 tour of the typesetting facilities, but it was a minute or two before my heart began beating again.

Just Finished New Biography of John Cheever

I spend 3.5+ hours per day indexing at work these days, which means that I’m not transcribing.  I’ve resumed my practice of "reading" audiobooks when I’m indexing, and yesterday I finished Cheever: A Biography by Blake Bailey.  When I was one or two disks into it, I knew I was liking it, so I went to ABE Books’ Website and ordered a print copy.  It’s en route to me now from a bookstore in Florida, and I hope it arrives today.  His lifelong battle with alcoholism, coming to accept his bisexuality, and his emotionally abusive marriage kept me hooked from the get-go.

Oddly enough, I’ve never been a huge fan of John Cheever’s.  I read "The Fourth Alarm" as part of an American Lit class at Ohio U., and my reaction was pretty lukewarm.  I bought a secondhand copy of The Journals of John Cheever last year, and I have enjoyed what I’ve read in them, although I doubt it’s the type of book I’ll sit and read from beginning to end.

In junior high, I occasionally earned a little pocket money by running movie projectors at Marietta College for "Cinema 75," the Friday night movies in the auditorium of Thomas Hall (so named because the admission price was $.75).  One night, the movie that I showed was The Swimmer, starring Burt Lancaster and Janet Landgard, a 1968 movie based on what is considered to be Cheever’s best work ever.  I’ve seen it once or twice since then, and I can’t really say I like it, but the final scene where Ned, the protagonist, comes home to his abandoned house and its untended grounds, and then curls up in the fetal position and cries during the thunderstorm, is one that stays with you.

An aside: The projectionist job was one of those jobs I "fell into."  I had been the first to arrive for the Saturday night Cinema 75 showing and saw the dean of students at the rear of the auditorium with the two 16-mm projectors, looking very flustered.  I asked him what was the matter.  He said that the guy who usually ran the projector was out of town, and he had just learned this news.  The dean of students was supposed to be meeting his wife for dinner in less than half an hour.  "Do you know how to run a movie projector?" he asked me.  I told him I did not.  "Here’s how," he said.  He gave me the quick and dirty instruction on how to do it, how to thread the film, how to rewind it once it had run out, how to switch the sound from one projector to the next so it came through the ceiling speakers okay.  "Think you got it?" he said.  I told him I thought I could.  He glanced at his watch and said, "Good.  If I run, I can still meet my wife in time for dinner."  And I was left on my own to show the film (I even remember that it was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).

I remembered browsing through The Stories of John Cheever on the "Browsing" shelf at Dawes Memorial Library at Marietta College when it first came out, but never owned a copy until I lived in Cincinnati.

Having said all this, what’s odd is that I know where I was when I found out Cheever had died.  He died of renal cancer at his home in Ossining, N.Y. on June 18, 1982, a month after he turned 70.  I was at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine at the time–I arrived in Maine on the 18th, riding by Greyhound from Marietta.

Exactly two weeks later, I was still on the Bowdoin campus, after the Unitarian Universalist youth convocation Common Ground II had just concluded.  Some of us were staying in Brunswick overnight to see the Independence Day fireworks in nearby Bath.  About four of us were sitting in the foyer of one of the buildings, and there was some kind of private party in one of the big rooms.  A woman in her mid-20s, dressed in a semiformal gown, came out with a mixed drink in her hand.  She saw me, and said that she had to leave the party, and did I want her drink?  I said sure–Common Ground II had ended, so the prohibition against alcohol was no longer in effect.  As I was sipping the drink, I saw that week’s issue of Time on one of the corner tables, so I idly began glancing through it.  In the "Milestones" section was a two-sentence notice that Cheever had died, followed by "see BOOKS."

I don’t know if I’ll ever be a huge fan of his works.  The angst of the post-World War II suburban set doesn’t exactly whet my interest, but I did enjoy Falconer, which was as far away from the tennis courts, golf courses, and cocktail hours as you can get, spiritually and geographically.

The FedEx Ground truck arrived this morning and delivered Steph’s new laptop.  Maybe that’s a good omen.