This is One of Those Memorable Birthdays

I started my life on April 29, 1963 at a hospital (St. Joseph’s in Parkersburg, W.Va.).  I turned 47 today, and I started this birthday in a hospital.  From 10:30 last night to mid-afternoon today, I was at the hospital while the doctors, nurses, and technicians were trying to figure out the cause of my chest pain and shortness of breath (It said “SOB” on my chart, and I’m sure many people who have met me over the years will second that!).

The chest tightness and shortness of breath happened during my last hour and a half at work, but I managed to conceal it from my co-workers.  When I left work, I debated heading straight for the hospital, but I’ve had these symptoms before, and they’ve always quickly passed, so I decided to let it ride for awhile.

I let it ride until about 10:30, when the pain, the shortness of breath, and the tightness were all impossible to ignore.  I called Pat, and he took me over to Riverside Methodist Hospital, site of Steph’s 1999 heart procedure.  Fortunately, it was a pretty quiet night in the E.R., so they took me back almost right away.

Pat stayed with me until I was assigned to a room.  The nurses drew blood, I had two enzyme series, and the nurse kept giving me nitroglycerin tablets to lessen the pain in my chest.  The tablets did bring down the pain, but the flush of heat and the shortness of breath almost cancelled any benefit.  It’s probably the closest a male can come to hot flashes.

The E.R. doc who came in took down the pertinent information I gave him, and his grimness made me worry. “I’m not liking what you’re telling me,” he said.  He specifically asked about family history of heart disease, and  I told him my father and his father both died of heart attacks, and the doctor was especially concerned that my grandfather had died at 52, a comparatively young age.

The nurse added morphine to my IV, as an added measure for pain reduction, and told me in the morning they’d be giving me a stress test.  I should have been happy they weren’t ordering a cardiac catheterization.  Steph has had several, but even without her first-hand knowledge, I can’t imagine having a needle jabbed up your groin is all that pleasant.

The hospital gave me two birthday presents (not counting the morphine!).  One was a very nice bracelet, and the other was a Mylar balloon that said Happy Birthday!.  This is a picture of the bracelet:

I decided that whenever I received a hospital bracelet, I’d staple it to a page in my diary.  This current volume has more than its share, in between my CT scan in December, the chest X ray at Mount Carmel West Hospital, the gallbladder surgery, and now this.

The CT scan was better than the one I had in December, especially since it didn’t entail drinking any barium beforehand.  I still rolled my eyes when I was lying on that moving table listening to the machine tell me, “Take a deep breath.  Now hold it.”  I was thinking all the while, If I could do that, I wouldn’t be here.


Pat left once I was settled, after calling Steph to let her know my situation.  I was in and out of sleep until morning.  I think I fell asleep to the National Weather Service radar.

There was lots of waiting before the stress test, which was fine with me, because I’ve had them before, and they aren’t pleasant, especially for a non-athlete like myself.  In the meantime, a technician injected me with a radioactive isotope (good thing my days of fathering children are long over!) and I had a gamma camera scan, which took awhile.  I was able to lie still during it; I was so exhausted that I must have gone to sleep during it.

And then it was time for the stress test.  I had to stay on the treadmill, at (allegedly) a walking pace, until my heart rate was 150 beats per minute.  This took about 10 minutes, with the treadmill’s speed and incline steadily increasing.  I wasn’t supposed to run, just take long strides.  All the while, I kept thinking of the closing credits of The Jetsons, with hapless George Jetson trapped on the dog-walker and shouting, “Jane!  Stop this crazy thing!”  The nurse and the technician kept telling me how well I was doing, but I thought I was going to collapse at any second.  I was so exhausted I definitely did fall asleep during the second gamma camera scan.

The doctor finally discharged me in mid-afternoon.  Nothing wrong with my heart and lungs, but they were still clueless as to the cause of the pain.  He wrote me a Vicodin prescription for the pain, so I’m ready in case it returns.  The ultimate diagnosis was Chest pain–pleural.

So, I’ve been in bed most of the evening since I returned home.  (I came home via the Goodwill thrift store, where I treated myself to a new–to me–pair of tennis shoes and a T-shirt advertising The Florentine, an Italian restaurant that truly made living on the West Side more pleasant.)  Susie visited me with her present and a cake, but mostly I was in and out of sleep.  I do plan on working in the morning, although I will bring Vicodin along with me just in case the pain returns.

I chuckled when I thought about being in Lafayette Park in Washington last month, taking my dose of codeine-laden cough medicine by drinking it straight out of the bottle.  I was worried a police officer would see it and arrest me.  (My psychologist pointed out that I was hardly the first person to take opiates in Lafayette Park.)

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"You Up for a Road Trip?" Now What Do You Think?

Mid-morning yesterday, my friend Pat called and said, “Did you check Facebook?”  I hadn’t, since I had just gotten out of bed.  His phone (and Facebook) message were quite welcome: He was going to see Adrian Belew at the Fairfield Community Arts Center, on the outskirts of Cincinnati.  Did I want to come?

Naturally, the answer was yes.  I am always up for a road trip, and I had never seen Belew in concert before.  (I had many chances when I lived in Cincinnati.  I lived less than three blocks from a bar/jazz club named Cory’s (now the Mad Frog), and Belew’s name was frequently on the marquee, along with local jazz and blues legends H-Bomb Ferguson, Pigmeat Jarrett, and the Warsaw Falcons.  I never made it to a performance there, except one Christmas Eve I went to see Pigmeat Jarrett (a pianist who had performed with Duke Ellington) in concert, and enjoyed it quite a bit.

The setting for last night’s performance was much more genteel and sleek than Cory’s (George Thorogood filmed the “I Drink Alone” video at Cory’s in the 1980s).  The event was a fundraiser for Sojourner Recovery Services, an agency that helps individuals and families with substance abuse issues (which made me wonder why they had a cash bar at intermission), and there was a long table with Belew-autographed items (guitars, record albums, etc.).  The Fairfield Community Arts Center is a new building, and the interior is almost immaculate.

Fairfield Community Center
There were two events last night, and it was easy to tell who was there for which.  Besides Belew, there was a Mother-Son Dance.  (The whole idea just made me shudder, the same way listening to Donny and Marie Osmond sing love duets used to.)  The information on the City of Fairfield’s Website said it was for “moms, aunts, grandmothers, and caregivers” to “enjoy a special evening with their little boy (ages 3-15).”  There was a ’50s sock hop theme.  (I wondered if there would be a showing of Douglas Campbell in Oedipus Rex at midnight.)

It would be a little misleading to say that Adrian Belew performed solo last night.  He’s fully at home in the 21st century, running his guitar through an iBook and his main backup was a Tenori-on, an electronic musical and composing instrument from Yamaha.  He encouraged give-and-take with the audience.  Many people asked him about his work with Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and King Crimson.

Adrian Belew and me, Fairfield, Ohio

I spoke with him briefly after the concert, and told him that I will always regret never seeing him during my Cincinnati years (although I was guilty with an excuse: I worked third shift much of the time).  During the show, he wore a high school band leader’s cap to hide his balding pate.  Belew laughed heartedly when and I suggested afterwards that H-Bomb Ferguson should have bequeathed his wig collection to him when he died.

This is a picture of H-Bomb Ferguson
in one of his more conservative wigs.

I was glad that Pat invited me.  He was the person who introduced me to the music of Allan Holdsworth (whom we’ve now seen twice, in Columbus and Cleveland).
I nodded off a few times on the trip down I-71.  My sleep cycle has been seriously disrupted because of a faux pas I made the other day.  I am almost always in a hurry to get out the front door in the morning to catch my bus to work.  I grabbed the morning medications and put them in the breast pocket of my shirt as I was running out the door, intending to take them once I got to work.  I forgot them.
Come evening, I felt the meds in my pocket and decided I’d better take them.  The problem is, one of them was Nuvigil, which I take to enhance alertness.  (It is not a stimulant, the way caffeine is.  Steph and I were both worried that it would trigger mania in me, but that hasn’t happened.)
So, I took Nuvigil in the evening, and my sleep was very minimal.  I meant to go to church this morning, but I didn’t even get out of bed until 2 in the afternoon.
Driving down I-71, once we went past Wilmington, both of us were glancing to our left, to the northbound part of the interstate.  We wanted to see if a certain property (which we call Triple-K Ranch), was still there.  In the many trips back and forth between Columbus and Cincinnati I’ve made in the last 25 years, my stomach turned whenever I drove past a property in Warren County.  Its most prominent feature was a Confederate flag painted on its roof, along with a big wooden cross in the yard facing the highway.
We went by, and saw that the cross was still there, as was a flagpole with a flag so shabby we couldn’t tell what it had been–American, Confederate, or some neo-Nazi banner.  What we did notice was that the barn was gone.  We don’t know what happened to it, but it was gone.  And good riddance to it.  [CORRECTION, 5/9/10: The barn is still there.  Several outbuildings hid it from Pat’s and my sights when we were en route south on I-71.]
This guy is too left-wing for the Tea Party crowd,
so Glenn Beck hasn’t been spotted here.

I am logging off and headed to bed.  I took medication before I sat down to finish this entry (I typed some of it before Susie and I went to see Death at a Funeral, and I resumed later on).  I definitely did not take Nuvigil just now–quite the opposite.

Searching the Deep Web

Last year, the State Library of Ohio offered a one-day workshop about online research resources easily available to any Ohioan with a modem.  For me, this was like giving a teenager a wheelbarrow full of arcade tokens.  Pre-Internet, I often read reference books for fun, and having literally thousands of resources a mere mouse-click away was the dawning of a new world.  I can spend entire evenings doing nothing but going from one site to another typing in queries that sprang from nowhere.

I doubt many of you loyal readers would share my enthusiasm.  Understand, however, that I am the person who was ecstatic when he bought an Oxford English Dictionary for $1.00 at a church flea market.  In Athens, I used the last $10 in my wallet to buy a complete set of the 1947 Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and was touched when one of the book jockeys let me borrow a cart to haul my new treasure the quarter mile downhill to my room on New South Green.  (At that time, the library carts at Alden Library were named after American warships.  I think they let me use the USS Vincennes.)

This week, while trying to find the whereabouts of an old co-worker, I discovered Pipl.com.  I spent the next several hours typing in the names of neighbors, people I was in LRY with (Liberal Religious Youth, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s national youth group from 1954 until 1982), and classmates from kindergarten through college.  It wasn’t because of pure research, or burning desires to reconnect.  I’m nosy, end of statement.

I lost track of how many times I typed http://www.pipl.com in the last 24 hours, but I have had a “morning after” feeling about it today, even as I keep looking people up as I think of them.

I am doing it out of nosiness.  In several cases, I have been deeply saddened by what I’ve discovered.  A close friend of my Cincinnati years, very intelligent and personable, has been in and out of the legal system there for the last decade for offenses ranging from DWI to burglary.  I knew he saw a counselor often, and took antidepressants, but I was saddened to see what had happened to him.  I thought of the bitter irony in his pleading not guilty by reason of insanity to at least one of the charges.

This site (and others like it) trouble me as well.  They are a stalker’s dream come true.  Anyone who has made significant mistakes in the past should pray day and night that a potential employer doesn’t get curious and decide to consult these databases.  If the employer doesn’t check, there’s always the possible that a vengeful ex-spouse or -crime partner would use it for blackmail.  (One site, ZabaSearch, makes no pretense of merely helping people reunite with scattered relatives.  Next to the information, you click a link marked GET THE DIRT!)

This is my dilemma about the Sex Offenders’ Registry.  My hatred of pedophiles and child abusers borders on the pathological, based almost entirely on my own background as a survivor.  When we lived in Franklinton, it seemed that notices about registered sex offenders living in our area arrived in our mailbox every 10 days, on average.  I was not happy about their living so close to my elementary school-aged daughter, but neither was I headed over to their houses with a can of gasoline and a torch.

Seeing Registered Sex Offender at the top of one of one of the notices is such a red flag that few people bother to read the information about the person’s offense.  If the person is a pedophile, I want him nowhere near my house, daughter, or family.  Even a charge like “indecent exposure” is vague.  The person’s offense could have truly horrible, like exposing himself to schoolchildren.  It could also mean that he or she had participated in a Naked Mile-type event in college, and he had been in a place where the police and courts were less tolerant than their counterparts elsewhere.  It could even be something as innocuous and harmless as public urination.  (And if that was strictly enforced, about half of Red, White, and Boom!’s attendees, and two thirds of Comfest’s, would be on the Registry.)

One of my faults character traits is a strong tendency toward Schadenfreude–taking pleasure in others’ misfortunes, especially those of people who have wronged or hurt me.  I’ve found that searching on Pipl.com has encouraged this, especially when I focus on former school bullies or former friends with whom I have fallen out acrimoniously.  When I found out that a high school adversary, a guy who always shouted, “Faggot!” and “Loser!” at me whenever we crossed paths, was in prison for raping two teenage boys, it was one of those times when you’re willing to think that the Universe does have a driving sense of justice.

There is a flip side of that.  I wanted to re-establish contact with a couple I knew in Cincinnati.  When I lived there, they were so much in love that they seemed joined at the lips, and they were starry-eyed about their future and the family they planned to have.  I used Pipl.com to find their address, and also to find the date of their marriage, so I could send an anniversary card.  My jaw dropped when I learned they had divorced, very acrimoniously, soon after the birth of their child.  The divorce involved many accusations of mental (and physical) cruelty, alcohol abuse, adultery, and abandonment.

I checked my own name, naturally.  I saw a short paragraph in Reader’s Digest once that said that when given a pen to try, 94% (thereabouts) of all people will sign their name.  The same is true with a search engine like this.  A minor Christian self-help guru wrote a book in the ’80s called What You Think of Me is None of My Business, which is definitely not something I believe.

I was a bit disappointed at the paucity of records.  It listed my Facebook page, the URLs to my blogs (here and on LiveJournal), my job at the Industrial Commission, and my Classmates.com, and some questions I’d asked on Usenet groups years ago when we had our first Internet account.

Amazing, too, was what didn’t appear.  There was no record of my night in the Athens County Jail for public intoxication, although, as a minor misdemeanor, it may have been expunged.  Also, Athens County Municipal Court’s online records only go back as far as 1992.  Other than my Classmates.com entry about being at Ohio University, no objective records of my life in Athens popped up.

The same was true of the 18 months I lived in Boston.  This was due, I think, to the fact that I never signed a lease or had utilities in my name.  I either sublet, couch-surfed (it would be an anachronism to use the term Kato Kaelining for the early 1980s), or lived at the YMCA.  Pipl.com would not have access to The Crimson‘s payroll records.

When I applied for a job at the main post office in Cincinnati, I knew there would be a background check.  This worried me, even during my first weeks on the job and two years later, when I left the USPS to work for the Internal Revenue Service in Kentucky.  When I was 18, I registered for the draft, very much under protest.  When Selective Service’s letter came back acknowledging my registration, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote them a respectfully worded letter.  In it, I politely informed them that were I to be drafted, I would give classified information to the USSR and Iran whenever the chance arose.  (I realize now that, at 18, I worried for no reason.  My draft classification would have been in the “If the Soviet Army is about to kick in the Oval Office door, we might consider drafting you” range.)  Fueled by Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” I did not make Selective Service’s job easy.  I sent in a change-of-address card from Boston, listing my new residence as 600 Plympton St. in Cambridge, an address which is somewhere in the middle of the Charles River.  While back to Marietta during Harvard’s spring break, a letter from Selective Service arrived.  I never opened it, merely drew an arrow to my name, wrote DECEASED — RETURN TO SENDER on the front of it, and dropped it in the mailbox.

Would these ghosts from my past rise up when the Human Resources Department did its check?  As it turned out, the answer was no.  It makes me question just how thorough government background checks and/or record-keeping really are.

My favorite current TV show is Criminal Minds, and Technical Analyst Penelope Garcia always makes me chuckle.  However, it makes me uneasy when the BAU searches for a suspect, or a missing person, and Garcia clicks away at one (or more than one) computer keyboard at manic speed, watches the monitors come to life around her, and can tell the agents that yes, their missing person had lived at that address until he was evicted, he was employed at the local market until he was fired for coming to work drunk, he last made a call on his cell phone yesterday to a motel in the next town, and he seems to enjoy collecting antique adding machines (based on his eBay purchases and credit card records from antique shows).

Right to privacy rings in the back of my head like a litany.  On Law and Order, District Attorney Arthur Branch (played by former Senator Fred Dalton Thompson (R-Tenn.)) says that he opposes Roe v. Wade.  He doesn’t oppose it on moral or religious grounds, but because it is “judicial hocus-pocus.”  It is based “on a legal fiction, better known as the right to privacy.”  I can, take a leisurely approach to this, since my record and my past don’t hold much that could do more than embarrass me.  I can say, “Follow me around, I promise you you’ll be bored,” as Gary Hart did, and soon came to regret.

Going through these various sites had the feeling of a guilty pleasure, like the character in Larry Groce’s song “Junk Food Junkie,” who eats vegetarian, all-natural health food by day and gorges himself on junk food by night.  I do not identify as a libertarian at all politically.  Anarchist author Chaz Bufe’s definition seems to be the most accurate: “A member of the Libertarian Party, an altruistic person who works to ensure that all other persons have exactly (and only) the amount of liberty that their money can buy.”  After seeing what is potentially available to anyone with a modem (and even more if they have a PayPal account or a credit card), the idea of limited government involvement in day-to-day lives sounds more attractive.

I have to confess that, while writing this blog tonight, I added the free service Dirtsearch.org to my Google Chrome browser.  Their slogan, which is available on T-shirts, is Are You Dirty?  It is the first Website of this type that gives this activity an almost pornographic sense.

Long gone are the days when the geographic cure could actually help.  Americans have always enjoyed watching Westerns in the movie theaters and on TV.  In truth, how many of the men and women who settled in the American West (or came here from elsewhere) were people who had done something very bad, either in the eyes of the law or their neighbors, and had genuinely reformed and was sorry about what had happened?  People like this would be persona non grata in their communities, sometimes dangerously so.  Leaving all behind to relocate in the frontier, or across a less-than-friendly ocean, gave them the chance to start anew, in a place where people would accept them at face value, and base their opinions on how the person acted, worked, and contributed in their young society.

That would be impossible today.

Time For Annual Eye Exam and I’m Dragging My Feet

The State of Ohio provides excellent vision plans for its employees, which includes one eye exam per year.  My year is over, and then some.  By my count, I’ve already postponed the appointment twice.  The most recent postponement was during work today.

I am not dreading the eye exam, although it’s a given that my eyes have changed since last year, and he’ll be prescribing new lenses.  I didn’t even need them until I was in my 20s, unlike so many people who were wearing glasses in kindergarten and even nursery school.

I felt so grown-up and so responsible when I bought my first pair of glasses.  I was 20 and living in Boston.  Lack of sleep, coupled with hours and hours in front of a computer screen (my beloved CRTronic Linotype at The Harvard Crimson) under glaring fluorescent lights all combined to weaken my eyes a bit.  I didn’t have insurance when I lived in Boston, so I asked Mel Dorfman, the ageless, erudite, and often irascible bibliophile and jazz clarinetist who sold books on street corners in Harvard Square, where he got his glasses.  During our conversations, I often saw his eyes look at me through black-rimmed thick lenses.  (When I say “thick,” I don’t mean Coke bottles.  I mean airplane windows.)

He told me the name of his optometrist, and one afternoon I made an appointment in his small (and slightly shabby) office on a back street just off Central Square.  (It was quite a contrast from the chic and upscale shop For Eyes on JFK St., which looked more like an Aveda salon.)  I read the eye chart slides, tried various lenses, and he gave me the news that yes, I needed glasses.  They’d be ready in a week.

Proudly, I marched into his office with cash in hand a week later and put on my new glasses.  Many people at work didn’t recognize me, but all could tell that this was my first pair of glasses.  I confess that I was even thinking of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, released the previous summer.  Early in that movie, Admiral Kirk receives a 19th-century pair of spectacles as a birthday present from Dr. McCoy.

Many people who wore glasses told me that you’re not completely used to glasses until you no longer see the frames in your peripheral vision.  I never got to that point with my first pair.

About three or four weeks after I bought the glasses, I was running down Plympton St., the street where The Crimson‘s headquarters have been since 1914.  I seem to remember I was late to meet someone at the Starr Book Shop, the cluttered used bookstore that was heavy on dust and soot but usually lacking in chairs and stools.  I ran past The Crimson (see picture below) and then, almost too late, saw that the workers who were repairing Adams House had strung a rope across the street.  I began to slow down, but the street has a slight incline as it goes southward toward Mount Auburn Ave. and eventually the Charles River, so my knees buckled under me.  The glasses flew off, and as I was stumbling forward, I stepped on them.

The Harvard Crimson

I took them to For Eyes, and the technician there told me that they were salvageable.  The frames were too damaged, but the lenses were just about intact, so they transferred the lenses into new frames, and I was back in business.

My eyes seemed to have improved, because after I left Boston and went to school in Athens, I don’t remember needing them as much.  When they disappeared, I didn’t miss them, and thought that my eyes were completely back to normal.

This turned out not to be the case.  Two years later, many people were noticing that I was squinting like a mole to read anything in the distance, and often I would see blurred silhouettes instead of people, which meant that I was frequently calling people by the wrong names.

I was lackadaisical as ever about changing this, until one afternoon I was taking a woman to lunch at Wendy’s on Court St.  We were in line to order, and I asked her what the prices were on some of the new items displayed on the boards above the cash registers.  Without a word, she took me by the wrist and led me out of the restaurant, like a mother who’s found her grade-school child shoplifting.

She marched me to the optometry shop next door and said, “Can you squeeze him in right now?”  The woman at the front desk was a little baffled, but said yes.  My friend stayed in the waiting room while I went through all the examinations, and barely managed to refrain from saying, “Told ya so!” when I told her that yes, I needed glasses.  I knew then that I would probably never be without corrective lenses again.  I don’t know how long I would have put off this inevitable task, but I’m glad she physically hauled me over to the eye doctor’s.  I did feel like a five-year-old being taken to the pediatrician, and half expected her to promise me an ice cream cone if I cooperated with the doctor.

Eye injuries scare me.  While I was living in Cincinnati, I rubbed my eye so hard that I managed to scratch my cornea in three places.  I finally went to the emergency room at Deaconess Hospital.  (According to The News Record, U.C.’s newspaper, that E.R. is no more.)  The hospital was less than a quarter mile from my apartment, but all I could see were blurry lights and shapes moving around.  It was like looking through a window smeared with Vaseline.  I managed to weave and dodge my way through freezing rain, and also make sure I wouldn’t be hit by the drunken motorists who were mistaking Clifton Ave. for a raceway.

The doctor in the E.R. looked grim when he examined my eye, and I was afraid for a moment that I’d lose the vision.  (As a kid, I loved seeing Moshe Dayan, the leader of the Israel Defence Forces, on the TV news because of his black eye patch.  Despite this, I had no desire to need a patch of my own.)  He said no.  Apparently an eyelash or a cinder had gotten in between the eyelid and the cornea, and when I rubbed it, it was like scratching glass with a file.  I was to keep it bandaged for 24 hours, and then it would probably heal on its own.

The next 24 hours, I was in almost total darkness.  I seem to recall sleeping as much as I could.  The uninjured eye stayed shut sympathetically, so I was pretty much blind.  I remember lying in bed listening to the radio most of the time.  Once unbandaged, bright lights, or light from the TV screen, stung my eyes.  The eye is mostly salt water, and putting salt in an open wound makes the pain worse.

One of our neighbors in Marietta had been doing yard work one day, and while he was trimming, a piece of holly fell straight down into his eye.  I’m sure this was what it felt like.

In the last few years, my eyes have served me well, despite my lack of proper sleep.  The only exception has been an on-again, off-again issue with myokymia.  This condition causes involuntary twitching and trembling of my right eyelid.  I’m no ophthalmologist, but reading between the lines of what the doctor told me, I think it came about from a combination of stress, fatigue, and excessive caffeine consumption.  It was probably also a side effect of lithium.  (I hadn’t heard of myokymia, and the doctor had to jot it down for me, but I heaved a sigh of relief.  Steph and I were both afraid it was Bell’s palsy.)  For more information, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myokymia.

Just before I turned 40, I received the grim news that I needed bifocals.  I was not happy about this news, nor was I surprised by it.  Even as a kid, I suspected I would one day need glasses, since both of my parents wore them.  I was, however, surprised by how many people associated bifocals with aging.  The youngest person I knew with bifocals with in the fourth grade.

When you get bifocals, there should be a mandatory training course, like when you get a new prosthesis or electric wheelchair.  Instead, the optometrist hands them to you, collects your money, and out you go, on your own.  The first few days you feel like you’re about nine feet tall, because you haven’t learned how to properly aim and focus your eyes.  As I was learning my way, everything looked like it would if you’re looking through the wrong end of binoculars.  The headaches are bad as well.

Before someone asks… No, I have not and will not consider contact lenses.  I can barely manage to give myself eye drops, so contacts would be impossible.  I don’t think the Creator intended our eyes to have things put in them.

Sigh.  I probably will see the eye doctor before Memorial Day.  Cost is not the issue.  With my vision plan, glasses and office visits total less than $50 out of pocket.  It’s just procrastination on my part.  As it is, I’m leaving work at midday tomorrow for other errands.  (I have to go to ODOT–the Ohio Department of Transportation–and get a new state ID.  It expires on the 29th.  I need to get my hair cut, pick up some prescriptions, and pay my cell phone bill.)  I can legitimately claim I’m overbooked.

And I’m under-rested.  I just glanced at the Draft saved at line at the bottom of the blog text field, and it’s 2:10 a.m.  If I had any sense, I’d follow the lead of Samuel Pepys, the premier diarist, and say “And so to bed.”

A Phrase I’d Totally Forgotten

While re-reading yesterday’s post about the puerile prolonged conflict between my mother and our neighbors, I realize that there was a phrase that precisely described my mother’s mad scheme.  I hadn’t heard the noun spite fence for years, and I can’t remember where I’d heard it.  But that is what my mother built.  I wonder if the fence company’s records recorded that as the job description.

Good Fences = Good Neighbors?

“Good fences make good neighbors” is a line from “Mending Wall,” a Robert Frost poem.  I must confess that I don’t know the rest of it.  I suppose I could Google it or look in Wikipedia, but the hour grows late, and my nerves are frayed from some Internet issues earlier tonight.

I think of the above line because I came home from work a few days ago and there was a section missing from the chain-link fence that separates our back parking area (can’t rightly call it a yard) from the next door neighbor’s house.  (They’ve been gone for some time, leaving behind mountains of trash and the remains of a Foos-Ball machine in their yard.)  Because of this, I thought of an incident when good fences definitely did not make good neighbors.  They had the opposite effect.

When I was nine, two women moved into the house next to ours on Seventh St. in Marietta.  One was a widow in her early 60s, the other was her unmarried daughter.  (I thought of them both as “the old ladies” at the time, but now I realize that the daughter must have been the age I am now.)  I don’t recall them getting off on the wrong foot with anyone, but when summer rolled around, the trouble began.

The boy whose back yard abutted ours and I would play baseball in the very small, very narrow yards.  Both of us had mothers who were overprotective to the point of psychosis, so we both knew better than to ask them if we could walk the half mile to Washington School’s playground, where there would be more space and probably kids who could join us.  They told us these wild stories about a man who was on the playground “scaring” little children.  He and I had also heard stories at school about “Paul Revere the Midnight Queer,” who loved staring at kids for hours as they played in the parks and playgrounds.  (I believe that he is Marietta’s equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot: Everyone knew someone who had seen him, but there was no first-hand evidence of his existence.)

And now, back to our story… as the announcers on radio soap operas would say.  In such a small yard, the ball was always going to go astray, and the first time it landed in their yard, I nonchalantly strolled in there and got it.  The older woman came out and yelled at me about it, and I was properly contrite as I retreated.

At first, both women were grudgingly willing to throw back the ball if it landed in their yard, but being on the other side of the shrubs that separated their yard from ours was like boldly marching across the 38th Parallel. They soon informed us (and our parents) that any balls that went into their yard would be gone forever.

My mother was furious about this, and railed about it, very high decibel, to my dad, to her friends, to anyone who would listen.  My mother went nuclear when she looked out the side window and there was a black and red NO TRESPASSING in the window that faced our house.  She said much of this in my presence, and even if I wasn’t in the room, I didn’t have to hold a glass to the wall to hear what she was saying.

(The sign now reminds me of a verse of “This Land is Your Land” that you don’t often hear:


As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.


Who knew our music teachers were teaching us such socialist propaganda?)


This led my friend and me to do something that was clearly wrong.  I think we thought we’d be okay because neither his parents nor mine had a kind word for these women.  One summer afternoon, we sat down with a pad of paper, a bag of rubber bands, and some rocks.  We wrote nasty–but not threatening–notes (such as “You bingbat (sic),” “Leave Ohio,” etc.  We would then wrap the notes around a rock with a rubber band and toss them into their yard, just like characters in adventure cartoons.


Whether they liked the women or not, our parents did not approve.  He was grounded, I had to write and hand-deliver a letter of apology, and the atmosphere in the house was Arctic for the next several days.  (It usually was, when my parents weren’t screaming at each other, but it’s far different when it’s directed at you.)


During the fall and winter months, we didn’t see them, they didn’t see us.  It was getting too chilly to play outside, and that fall I was constantly ill, starting with several bouts of flu and culminating in chicken pox.  I didn’t see much of my friend, either.  (“Friend” is the default term here.  I don’t think we really liked each other, but he was the only boy my age in the neighborhood, and we were the prisoners of our mothers’ paranoia.  It was more a marriage of convenience than a friendship.)


When the warm weather returned, Mother freaked out when she looked into the back yard and saw a chain-link fence under construction.  (The fence was purely symbolic on the women’s part, since it was lower than the hedge that separated our two yards.  I think the point was that now we couldn’t go into their yard after stray balls, even if we wanted to do it.)  Mother was especially incensed about upward-pointing sharp spikes at the top of the fist.  In her mind, she had staged several scenarios of how I (or other children in the neighborhood) would be impaled on these.


I don’t know if I knew the word hypocrisy at that time, although parents and parochial schools are the two best places to see it in action.  The previous summer, remember, my friend and I had gotten in trouble for throwing those nasty notes into the women’s yard.  As the fence neared completion, my friend’s mother had posted three signs on the rear of their garage, facing the women’s yard.  One said Love Thy Neighbor in a heavy Black Letter font you see on Bibles and newspaper mastheads.  Another said Children at Play, and the third said Sure, We’ll Take Criticism… If You’ll Take Ours!  On Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, she would seethe as she saw the two of them, dressed in their churchgoing clothes and carrying their Holy Bibles, walking to services at the church in the next block.


My mother’s recourse was much more expensive.  The above signs probably came from Woolworth’s, and probably cost a total of $2.  Mother, on the other hand, wanted a higher fence, right next to the women’s, and the fence builders would weave long plastic strips through the links.  The idea sounds idiotic as I type it today, but that night I crowed in my diary: “We’re having a fence built that’s higher than Fathead Jackson’s [not their real name]!!”  My dad was too much of a dishrag to tell her that this was not only a childish, but expensive, project.  I never thought of what a waste of money it was to carry on this war of the yards.  I just remember at one point lying back in a lounge chair with a tall glass of iced Kool-Aid in my hand, leisurely watching the workmen construct the fence.  No doubt they thought this a fool’s errand, but it was one that would earn them some money.


We moved away from there when I was 13.  Mother had left about six weeks after our fence was ready, leaving by way of the mental hospital and then several different jobs, cities, and schools over the years.  During the time I was on my own, which was most of the time, I had found other interests, some licit, some not.  The older of the two women died about 14 years ago at 80.  (I checked the Social Security Death Index  before I started typing this.)  The younger one still lives in the house.


If you’ve read the pre-April 2010 entries of this blog on LiveJournal, at http://aspergerspoet.livejournal.com, you’ll see we had our share of neighbor problems when we lived in Franklinton.  We’ve been fortunate here.  The neighbor on the other side of the duplex has only seriously grated on our nerves once.  During the Christmas season, he favored us with endless repetitions of “Carol of the Bells” on his electric guitar.







Those That Have One Coat…

Several of my coworkers are still scrambling to organize the paperwork and get their return in the mail by midnight.  The inbreeds from the Tea Party movement are rallying on the State House steps even as I type right now.  When I worked at IRS Service Center in Covington, Kentucky, and at the main post office in Cincinnati, April 15 was the day I dreaded.  (I didn’t need to; I was working inside, and they usually provided free doughnuts, coffee, and punch to the workers.)

A lot has gone through my mind since we returned from Mineral on Monday.  Those of us who have two coats gave to those who had none.  Yet my experience has been that many people who do not have two coats still go ahead and give.  It is ironic that the more one has, the less willing he/she is to part with it.

When Susie was about three, we took her to an Easter egg hunt at a church near where we lived at the time.  Although she was one of the youngest children there, she had a knack for spotting one egg after another.  I wondered, after a minute, why she only had one or two eggs in her basket.  I watched her, and soon learned why.  She would find an egg, and would give it to another child.  I finally persuaded her to keep at least a few for herself, and it took a bit of convincing before she agreed not to return home empty-handed.

Panhandlers frequented most of the main streets in Clifton, the neighborhood in Cincinnati where I lived from 1990 until 1995.  They were quite a nuisance, especially when they set up shop by ATMs and pay phones.  I made it a point to never make eye contact or acknowledge them.

One night, a bearded street person in his mid-60s came up to me and actually clutched my sleeve.  “Young man, do you have money for dinner?”  They always needed it for a cup of coffee, or bus fare, or for a meal–never to buy booze.  That was how cynical I was.

“No, I don’t,” I said, using a tone that telegraphed to him the matter was not open for discussion.

“Well, for God’s sake, get yourself something!” he said, stuffing a five-dollar bill in the breast pocket of my shirt.  Before I could fully comprehend what had just happened, he disappeared in the other direction.

Even in less constructive circumstances, those with very little will be very generous.  Washington Park is in Over-the-Rhine, the Cincinnati neighborhood just north of downtown.  Many homeless people spend the days (and nights) there, and complaints about open containers, trash, and panhandling in Washington Park took up miles of column inches in the Cincinnati newspapers, and still do.

However, whenever one of the alcoholic street people managed to collect enough money from day labor jobs or panhandling to buy a bottle of Night Train or Wild Irish Rose, he would go right away to Bang’s Market and get it.  He then would not retreat to the privacy of a men’s room stall or an alley to slam it down.  He would let the word out that there was a bottle, and it would go around until all were sated.

When I was between steady jobs, I often took light industrial or clerical jobs through temporary agencies.  At one construction site, a lunch wagon (“roach coach”) came around at lunchtime.  That particular day, I had no money except for bus fare back home, so I was hanging back and distancing myself from everyone when the wagon came around.  One of my co-workers, another temp, went and bought me a roll and a Coke, even though I doubt he had much more cash to his name than I did.

I lived in the Columbus YMCA whenever I was taking a hiatus from Ohio University.  It was not the place to form lasting friendships, but it was cheap, furnished, close to downtown, and required no lease.  About all I did there was pick up my mail and sleep.  Nonetheless, people I never knew were quite generous and helpful to all of us.  Someone had a nice pair of dress boots, but either did not like them or they didn’t fit him.  They would leave the boots by the windowsill next to the Coke machine and the pay phone.  Often, I would be in my room watching TV when someone would knock on the door and wordlessly hand me a bag of vending-machine sandwiches one of the downtown churches gave out.

Undoubtedly, the food boxes we hand out at Mineral are shared far beyond the homes of the people who received them.

Long Weekend For Me, But Not R & R

I started my Monday morning at the pulmonologist.  He was a decent guy, and his pre-examination questionnaire was very thorough (What previous jobs have you held?  Postal clerk, typesetter, church secretary, parking lot attendant.  Have you traveled outside the Midwest in the past year?  Yes.  If so, where? Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.), along with the requisite medical history.  By the time I entered his exam room, I was sure that he would be able to determine the cause of this cough, and why it’s lingered so long.

No such luck.  He had read the chest X ray from Mount Carmel West, and he listened to my chest and lungs.  (“Take a very deep breath,” he instructed.  If I could do that, I wouldn’t be in his office.)  He was at a complete loss as to the cause of it, but he wrote me a prescription for a different antibiotic (I dropped it off for filling at Giant Eagle last night, but haven’t gone down to pay for it yet), and he wants to see me again in three weeks.

I went from the doctor’s office to the Feed My Sheep food pantry in western Athens County with Jacques Angelino and his mom (she’s 96 years old and will probably live to bury all of us), along with a 19-year-old woman named Lindsey, who has frequently made the Monday journey to work at the pantry.  I hadn’t expected to be going again until Memorial Day.  Late in ’09, I had told Jacques I’d go during the Presidents’ Day holiday, but that didn’t happen because there was about two feet of snow on the ground that day and I was still healing from my gallbladder surgery.

Feed My Sheep is housed in the Faith Believers’ Ministry Full Gospel Church on State Route 356, and Ray Ogburn, the pastor, was happy to see us, as he always is.  Athens County is still the most impoverished county in Ohio, and Mineral (along with the rest of Waterloo Township) is the poorest of the poor.

Lindsey, Jacques, and I immediately went to work in the storage room filling boxes with food items and the children’s books Lindsey brought.  We try to work fast, and Jacques tries his damnedest to make sure that every square millimeter of the box is full before we send it out for distribution.

The food is often airborne while we load the boxes, and if you’re thinking of the food fight scene in National Lampoon’s Animal House, forget it.  “Need some peanut butter for these!” one of us would say, and tossing it (underhand) is the best way to deliver it.  The same was true with tuna melt, pasta, boxes of Hi-C, and any other food that was at hand.

Although the pantry is only open two hours every Monday, the cars line up well before 1 p.m., almost like waiting on line for Rolling Stones concerts in the pre-Internet days.  We stock 15 boxes at a time (the most we can fit on the storeroom table at once), and then pray over them before they go out to the people–maybe that’s the extra ingredient.

Ray tells us that we handed out about 60 boxes of food, which is heavy traffic.  I wasn’t keeping track; I was too busy trying to keep up with Jacques and Lindsey.  They do this weekly–I do it weakly.

Jacques makes the trip down there weekly (150 miles round trip), and the other six days he is on the phone or meeting with people in person trying to interest people in contributing food, school supplies, and clothes to the shelter or (even better) to come in person and lighten the load.  If anyone asks him, “Why are you doing this?”, his reply is “Why aren’t you?”

I am not a Christian by faith or profession, although that is my heritage.  Nevertheless, whenever I go down to Mineral to help put together the food boxes and send them on their way, I’m reminded of a photograph I saw in a Catholic newspaper ages ago.  The picture showed a statue of Jesus with outstretched arms (this is a Jesus that the people from Westboro Baptist Church have never heard of), but vandals had chopped off the hands.  Someone painted NOW YOU MUST BE MY HANDS on the base of the statue.

I was home by 6 and ate some very good chili that Steph had made.  I stayed up way too late wandering around Second Life, not interacting much with anyone there, but just exploring the terrain.  I was appalled when I glanced at my watch and saw that it was way past midnight when I finally decided to go downstairs and take my Seroquel and Sinemet.

In my last blog entry, I wrote about Second Life and how fascinating it is, and at the same time I was ridiculing the urban legends about Dungeons and Dungeons that otherwise intelligent people were accepting as fact in the 1980s.  Today, I remembered a conversation I overheard while I was still in Cincinnati.

I was in U.C.’s main library one afternoon reading at an out-of-the-way study desk, and I overhead two male graduate students who were chatting.  One was speaking, matter-of-factly and without resentment, about a woman who had recently moved in with him and his wife.  (I think the woman was his wife’s sister, or ex-roommate.)  The grad student talked about how this woman hardly ever came out of her room, and was making no efforts to find work or enroll in school.  She spent her waking hours, he said, playing a multi-user dimension (MUD) computer game based on The Dragonriders of Pern, the multi-volumed fantasy series by Anne McCaffrey.  The other grad student listened to this in bafflement, but the man telling the story didn’t seem to feel put upon.  Even if I didn’t feel like this person was abusing my hospitality and generosity, I would still be wondering about such a degree of withdrawal that one can only interact electronically with fantasy.

I wonder if I crossed paths with her on Second Life.

Faith Believers’ Ministry in Mineral, Ohio,
on scenic Mud Lick Run.  Ray Ogburn is
on the left in white shirt, Jacques in green 
shirt.
The pantry is open, and the distribution is in full
swing.  This is the only pantry in Athens
County that never runs out of food.
Unable to give a 360-degree picture of the storage room,
but this is one corner of food that will go into the boxes.
Lindsey is quite happy with the finished product and
the fruits of our labor.

Needing to Stay Grounded in This World

It’s been around since 2003, but I learned of virtual world Second Life’s existence only in the last two weeks.  One of Steph’s friends told her about it two or three years ago, and it pretty much remained in the back of her mind until one night when she was bored at the computer.  She went to http://www.secondlife.com and began exploring.  I watched enough of it over her shoulder and it whetted my interest, whereas Kingdoms of Camelot and Farmville made me wonder, “Just what is the fascination here?”

So, less than a week later, with Steph’s help, I logged on to Second Life and created my own avatar.  (I am not going to disclose the names of either of our characters, because they’re on Second Life, and the whole point is that this is reality and they are citizens of Second Life, and never the twain shall meet.)  The graphics and characters are a lot more realistic and solid than many I’ve seen.  (What little I’ve seen of The Sims reminds me of an animated cartoon more than anything true to life.)

We’ve explored several areas, both separately and together, and I can understand the allure.  I posted on my Facebook Wall that I was “venturing into the unknown… I’m trying Second Life for the first time.”  One friend replied: “If you’re like most I know into Second Life, allow me to say it’s been nice knowin’ ya.”  I dismissed this as silly when he first posted it, and then I looked back on this weekend.  I haven’t posted in the blog, I haven’t written in the diary, and the only books I’ve read are audiobooks at work while I index or work on something other than dictation.  (The last one, just for the record, was Ayn Rand and the World She Made, by Anne C. Heller.)


The tag line for the ’70s Marvel Comic Howard the Duck was “Trapped in a world he never made!!”, which describes many of us, if not all of us.  No one can say that about Second Life.  I’ve actually danced there, and I swam several laps in a pool last night, neither of which I can do in reality.  Steph and I were on Second Life visiting a nightclub whose owner’s rippling chest protruded from a white shirt buttoned only at the navel, with long white flowing hair down to the middle of his back, his arms bulging with six-pack abs.  As the owner of this sophisticated strip club, he was in charge of the pole dancers and strippers.  Both of us are convinced that the avatar’s creator is a fat, balding guy in his late 50s with hair on his back, dressed in a stained T-shirt and torn carpet slippers, with take-out and fast-food trash surrounding his computer and cluttering the bedroom in the house he shares with his mother.


When Steph and I maneuvered our characters into the club, I went up to the bar and realized I didn’t have to be a teetotaler in Second Life.  So I had a couple beers, and didn’t end up in the drunk tank, or making a complete ass of myself.


Dungeons and Dragons was first starting to be popular when I was in high school, and I gave it a fair trial.  I was never as obsessed as some kids (universally male in my high school), who would go immediately to bed on Friday after school so they could stay up all weekend playing.  I played one extended session at a friend’s house, and was glad to have had the experience, but never played again.  Until I graduated, I saw guys in the cafeteria, or in the library, with Gary Gygax’ many D&D reference books piled around them, meticulously designing his next dungeon or campaign on graph paper with pencil and calculator.


(Not even I was immune to its reach.  I had to give a how-to speech in a public-speaking class, so I demonstrated how to play backgammon.  I laid out the components for the game–board, doubling cube, and “six-sided dice.”  D&D was the only place, other than the geometry class I dozed through, where I ever heard the word dodecahedron used.)


Some parents were leery of D&D and its popularity.  One reason was because it siphoned off energy formerly devoted to classwork.  Also, the “steam tunnel incident” at Michigan State University generated very negative publicity for the game, almost none of it factually based.  (A 16-year-old child prodigy, James Dallas Egbert III, had gone missing from the campus.  He was a full-time student there, and had occasionally played Dungeons and Dragons.  He had gone into the campus’ underground steam tunnels to commit suicide by ODing, and a private investigator hypothesized he had gone nuts or gotten disoriented while playing D&D in the steam tunnels.  Long story short, he had drifted from friend’s house to friend’s house until he made his way to Louisiana, where the detective found him working as a laborer.  He had a drug problem, he found it hard to make friends at college because he was so much younger, he was clashing with his parents about his sexuality, he was clinically depressed, and his parents were riding him about keeping up academically.  D&D was a non-issue in his story.  Tragically, he took his own life a year later.)  Some parents may also have thought that Rona Jaffe’s idiotic novel Mazes and Monsters was non-fiction.

For years, I could always ridicule D&D players from my high school with a clear conscience.  (At a party one night several years ago, someone asked me, “Did you play Dungeons and Dragons in high school?”, to which my smug reply was, “No, I had a life.”)  Now, I can see the emotional satisfaction and release that it could bring.  The nerd wedded to his multi-function calculator can command armies and slaughter sadistic deities while in the game, even though in the real world the jocks and bullies would give him wedgies or shove his head in the toilet and flush it whenever they got the chance.

Since there are virtual worlds out there, I’m wondering what bearing behavior there would have on reality.  I was looking at this video on YouTube from The CBS Morning News: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruMi3MAGkvc about sex there.  There are women earning real money (as well as Linden dollars, the Second Life currency) as prostitutes, but since no real in-person sexual act is paid for, it’s totally legal.  (I think that’s the same law that would apply to phone sex for money.)  But does that mean that a sexual tryst, or  even an ongoing affair, on Second Life by a married person wouldn’t be adulterous?  I imagine Second Life chat logs have appeared in evidence in divorce courts.  The chance to have multiple sexual partners in a universe where AIDS doesn’t exist must be quite a temptation.

Since the hysteria about role-playing games fizzled out in the ’80s, I don’t find it surprising that no one has sounded the alarm or mounted a campaign against The Sims and Second Life (or their many counterparts).  These games and virtual worlds are pareve–neither meat nor dairy, neither evil nor good on their faces.  They can be beneficial or they can be harmful.  A scalpel in the hand of Jack the Ripper cut a path of gory death and misery through the Whitechapel section of London in 1888, whereas a scalpel in the hand of Dr. Bruce Lytle in Cleveland may have saved Steph’s life.

Now I’m Famous For My Cough?

My appointment with the pulmonologist is Monday, and I’m starting to act like a little kid counting down the days and hours until Christmas Day.  (I have never felt that way about going to the doctor.  And I saw quite a bit of my pediatrician as a child.  I was sick so often as a child that I named my doll Jones, after my pediatrician.)

I was in my cubicle working this afternoon, mostly on Statements of Fact and ex parte orders, and I heard someone come up from the mail room with some files.  A supervisor said, “Oh, those go to Paul.”  I heard him say, “He’s the guy with the cough, isn’t he?”

Steph has been at choir practice tonight, and that is always followed by pizza and wine at a restaurant in Worthington.  Quite a few times tonight, I’ve picked up my tape recorder to try to start a taped letter to a friend of mine, but never got past the first minute or two.  I had to keep shutting off the mike to cough, and it’s hard to draw enough breath to speak for any length of time.

All my visits to the pediatrician as a child have had one benefit, and that is that I am not squeamish about needles.  I don’t like them, but I am able to get shots and have my blood drawn without panicking.  (A co-worker of mine is absolutely terrified of them, which I find amusing, because he’s an ex-Marine.  Mr. Lean, Mean Fighting Machine cannot stand to have his blood drawn.)  The aforementioned pediatrician was very quick with the syringe (which I called the “shot pencil”), and generous with penicillin and gamma globulin for most childhood ailments.

My friend Robert sent me a link to eBay: A Royal portable manual typewriter signed by J.D. Salinger is on sale.  The minimum price is $500.