A DOA Literary Experiment

Over our lunch at Wok and Roll (formerly the boarding house of Mary E. Surratt) in Washington, D.C. last spring, my friend Robert Nedelkoff said that he had Googled my name and found a Usenet post (circa 1996 or 1997) in which I asked, “Are there any newsgroups where one can post diary/journal entries?”  Since you can’t copyright an idea, I’m not going to wring my hands about all the wealth that could’ve been mine.

Recently, I heard somebody say that most bloggers blog about… blogging.  While I enjoy keeping this record up to date, and welcoming the incoming comments of everyone who reads it, my first love as far as record-keeping is concerned is my diary.  Late in the afternoon, Susie and I walked up to Olympic Swim and Racquet, and I was grateful when everyone flocked around the diving platform, because it gave me some time to commune with my composition book and my ballpoint pen.  (I am down to the last 13 pages in this particular volume.  Once I finish it, my journal continues in the volume pictured below.)
Maybe I should start using blank books that
would look better in museum display cases.

Elsewhere in this blog (and its predecessor on LiveJournal), I have sung the praises of the late Reverend Robert Shields, a retired United Church of Christ minister and teacher who kept a diary of everything he did from the moment he awakened (indicated as “GOD–Genesis of the Day”) until he finally fell asleep.  This included everything he ate, bought, excreted, thought, read, or saw, complete with sales slips, business cards, and other evidence.  He kept a whole arsenal of IBM Wheelwriters on his back porch office, in case he ran out of ribbon or one of them broke down, and the diary kept him, not vice versa.  This dominated his life until a stroke partially paralyzed him in 1997.  He passed away in 2007.
In the same league, although I don’t think he suffered from the hypergraphia that dominated Shields’ life, was former U.S. Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida).  He was briefly on Al Gore’s short list for Vice Presidential candidates in the ’00 campaign, but his penchant for writing down everything in his life in small spiral-bound notepads soon became a running joke and a late-night TV punch line.  This article in the St. Petersburg Times covers Senator Graham’s extensive note-taking and need to chronicle.  When this 2003 article appeared, Graham had already filled 4000 notebooks.  When the North Carolina Paper Company discontinued this particular size (about the size of a deck of playing cards), he bought the company’s leftover inventory of them.
Lord knows I am envious of men like Shields and Graham, and hypergraphia is one psychological condition I wish I could develop.  As I sweat blood over a single short story–which I think may be ready to try on some unsuspecting magazine editor later this week–and have to force myself to the keyboard to work on my novel, Graham and Shields cannot shut off the flow.
So, one day in June, I decided to chronicle one day the way that Graham and Shields had done.  Sometime in May, I bought a green Mead spiral memo book, which I had carried in my over-the-shoulder bag without ever marking in it.  Very early one morning, I decided to put it to use.  Here is how I grandiosely marked the cover:

The “Genesis of the Day” that day was about 2:30 a.m.  The smoke detector had beeped at 30-second intervals, which meant the nine-volt battery was on its last legs.  Once I went downstairs and tended to that, I was just too wide awake to sleep.  I logged onto my laptop and read a Slate article about Graham from 2003, and that was when I decided to do it.

I won’t share the entire day with you, but here are some of the early notations from the morning, many of them made on the fly.
B/R is bathroom.  I wasn’t going to elaborate on that.  The 6:45
notation alludes to my returning the Bible to my shelf.  I had
plumbed its pages for a verse to use as an epigraph for something
I was outlining at the time.

I tried like mad to keep a record of everyone who
boarded and disembarked from the bus between
Clintonville and downtown.  I listed the male (♂)
and female (♀) symbols as a shorthand in lieu
of writing out the words.  S/B is southbound.

And that was how I filled up two thirds of that memo book.  At work, I had to make the notations somewhat furtively, like a spy sticking microfilm into his pocket, but I managed to do it.  That night, there was a Homeschool Dance and Luau at Whetstone Recreation Center, and I managed to drive Susie nuts (though I neglected to write that down) as I noted each intersection we crossed when walking to Wendy’s for dinner–since we arrived early at the dance.
So I managed to maintain this record for 24 hours, and it exhausted me.  Even as I left the William Green Building for the night at 5 p.m., I was chronicling like mad:
At the dance itself, Pat saw me writing and wondered if I was covering the dance.  Yes, but not for any journalistic media.  (He and his family came to the dance as well.  My head ached too much to go in the gym with all the loud music.  I’m just thankful there wasn’t a ’70s theme, which would have meant mirror balls and strobe lights.  I am not epileptic, but strobe lights, especially when reflected numerous times, wear me out.)
So, I’ve returned to sanity with my diary-keeping.  As the kids and parents clustered around the dive tower tonight at Olympic, I managed to write about the day, how I awakened fully intending to go to church, but the sound of the thunderstorm and wind outside made me decide to go back to bed for a few more hours.  I wrote about Sporeprint and the work they do, pretty much the same way I did here in the blog.  (Writing at poolside has such a John Cheever-esque ring to it.)
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in “The Crack-Up” that “In the real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning.”  I just heard my watch beep the hour, and when I glance down at the lower left-hand corner of the laptop screen, it says 3:03.  The digital clock sitting nearby is in agreement.  My friend Steve is driving Susie to Girlz Rhythm and Rock Camp in Lockbourne, and we’re leaving at 9 a.m.  I tried, unsuccessfully, to get the whole day off work, but couldn’t.  So once we drop Susie off, we’re turning right back around and heading back to Columbus, where the rest of my day (until 5 p.m.) belongs to the good people of the state of With God, All Things Are Possible.
And look how well I’m resting up for this busy day ahead.  I have many concerns on my mind right now–which I don’t want to publicize at this time–and they’ve kept sleep at bay for much of this weekend.
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A Group That is Doing the Heavy Lifting

When it comes to the work of social justice, many left-identifying people (including, I’m sorry to say, many Unitarian Universalists) resemble teenaged boys and sex: The ones who are talking about it the most, are doing it the least.  Somewhat by accident today, I saw the work of some people who are not afraid to get some dirt under their fingernails when it comes to helping where it is needed.

I was taking the southbound Indianola bus downtown late this morning when I glanced east on E. 5th Ave. and saw a generously laden table and clothes rack sitting in front of the Sporeprint Infoshop at 172 E. 5th.  (I have fond memories of that block, since it was the launching site of last month’s World Naked Bike Ride.)  The signs over the tables said this was the REALLY, REALLY FREE MARKET.  I now have a much-underlined and -HiLited International Publishers pamphlet copy of The Communist Manifesto and a shirt or two.

The Sporeprint Infoshop hosts the Really, Really Free Market the last Sunday of every month from 12-5.  There are clothes, books, toys, and food.  Four days a week (see the above link for the specific times), Sporeprint opens its common area to all comers, complete with computers (Internet access) and a lending library.  Those with meagre (or no) funds can use the computers to search for jobs online, work on resumés, or look for social service agencies’ contact information.

I had an interesting conversation with a man named Noel, who also came to get some books and some clothes.  The attitude at Sporeprint, we agreed, was different from many of the “do-gooders”, professional or otherwise.  There is no sense that these are wealthy people throwing a crumb or two they wouldn’t miss.  Sporeprint (and the Third Hand Bicycle Cooperative next door) are probably struggling to keep their lights on and their spaces rented.  Many of the people working there are students, many are un- and underemployed.  Children came during the time I was there, as did a woman easily in her late 80s, and we all felt like we were in friends’ living rooms.

Food Not Bombs operates from Sporeprint, serving vegetarian and vegan meals every Sunday from 5-7 p.m.  (Much of this food comes from the two Arawak City Gardens on N. 4th St. and N. 5th St.)

Local information from Food Not Bombs.  If you are not in
need of their services, please spread the word to someone who is.

Though small, the library has a very catholic (lower-case c) selection of books, from classics to textbooks to political culture.  There’s a spinner nearby stocking many ‘zines (self-published magazines and journals), which was truly a pleasure to behold.  I was afraid that the ‘zine and the broadsheet had been crushed under the wheels of the Internet.

The people at Sporeprint have taken their time, pooled their resources, and come together with a project and a place that is doing the work many people support in theory.  (Since becoming a union steward, my favorite children’s book has become The Little Red Hen.  I hear a resounding “I will!” from Sporeprint and Food Not Bombs when the hen asks, “Who will help me plant the grain?  Who will help me harvest the wheat?”)

Movies al Fresco

Susie and I went to the Olympic Swim and Racquet Club last night for movie night.  (I had forgotten about it, until my friend Pat mentioned it to me over lunch yesterday.)  They never seem to know the name of the movie that far in advance.  Pat told me he had just learned the picture was going to be Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.  I am not a big fan of fantasy-adventure films, so I looked it up on The Internet Movie Database once I got back to the office.  It sounded like something Susie would enjoy, since she could easily sit and watch each of the Harry Potter movies one after the other.

Olympic shows outdoor movies 3-4 times during the summer, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to going to a drive-in.  (Yes, folks–I am 47 years old, and I have never been to a drive-in movie.)  Since I’ve never had a driver’s license, I can’t initiate a trip to one.  My first exposure to the concept was watching the opening and closing credits of The Flintstones, and passing the Riverside Drive-In on St. Rt. 7 heading out of Marietta toward Belpre or Parkersburg when I was younger.

Since the movie ads were usually opposite the funnies, I perused them in between glimpses of “Peanuts,” “Blondie,” and “The Family Circus.”  That was when I realized there were certain movies that never seemed to appear anywhere but the drive-ins.  The title that jumped out at me particularly was Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.  That’s the type of title that you don’t easily forget.  Just how much it stayed with me became evident when I bought a VHS copy of it at one of the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Conventions in Cincinnati, along with a tape of Little Lulu cartoons and an equally memorable cinema classic called Robot Holocaust.

The Riverside Drive-In usually featured such fare, and the newspaper was the only way to know what was playing.  It seemed like no matter what time of day or night we passed it, the marquee usually read

ENTER ON CO RDS
3 & 10
with no signage or advertising telling you what was playing.  (Usually, however, it was such fare as The Gumball Rally or They Call Me Trinity, or whatever Porky’s precursor they could get away with.)
Drive-ins posed a logistical question that puzzles me to this day.  What if you live near one, and they’re showing an R- or X-rated movie?  When I was in eighth grade, our class took a day/night trip to Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh to see the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  (Our music teacher was/is a true musical genius whom I never appreciated at the time.  Rather than playing us scratchy Beethoven records on a boxy classroom mono phonograph, he chartered a bus and took us to hear Beethoven performed under the baton of André Previn.)  That night, all of us tired and cranky, we headed back to Marietta on I-70.  I remember passing a drive-in, and getting maybe a 10-second look at what was on the screen.
“Oooh-la-la, looky what they’re doing!” I ogled to my seatmate, gesturing out the window.  (I seem to remember it was a Western–probably The Outlaw Josey Wales or a revival of The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing.  Nothing pornographic.)  He gave a cursory glance out the window, considered the source, and rolled his eyes.  (This particular classmate took a very jaundiced view of his classmates’ obsessions with sex and fixations on the sex goddesses of the day, such as Farrah Fawcett-Majors and Lynda Carter.  He–along with rest of us–took for granted this was because he had a vocation to the priesthood.  As it turned out, he was gay.)
So, if you lived near a drive-in, and you constantly had to keep your kids away from the windows because they’ve scheduled a Linda Lovelace film festival, would the courts just say, “If you don’t like it, move!”  (Granted, it’s not like they’re living near a nuclear waste dump.)
In the past, Susie used the movie nights at Olympic as an excuse to swim after dark.  Olympic keeps the big pool open, and shows the movie on a bed sheet stretched across the rear fence.  Susie was in and out of the water for the first 20 minutes, and then was hooked on the movie from then on.  I watched with one eye and started to read (my latest attempt!) Norman Mailer’s doorstop about the CIA, Harlot’s Ghost with the other, but I came away making a mental note to give myself a refresher course in Greek mythology.  I think I’d start by seeing if I still have my dad’s old hardover of Bulfinch’s The Age of Fable.
I’m glad Susie became fascinated by the movie, because the lifeguards cleared the pool when heat lightning appeared.  I didn’t even realize it at first.  The sky was clear, and the moon was almost bright enough to read by, but when I glanced up, I did see flashes here and there.  There was never any thunder, and Susie and I walked back home afterwards without any precipitation.
Outdoor movies continue tonight.  Susie and I are going to pack a small picnic and see The Wizard of Oz at Whetstone Park tonight at dusk, a movie she never tires of seeing.  (I had never seen it in a theater until I took her when she was three or four.  I had only seen it on TV.)  She is so fascinated by the movie that she even watched while I tested the urban legend about whether Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is deliberately synchronized to the movie, as described in this Wikipedia entry.  (It isn’t, except when all the clocks and chimes go off at the beginning of “Time” is when Miss Gulch/The Wicked Witch of the West makes her first appearance.)
And, as I type, Susie is out with her godmother Anne seeing Marmaduke.  A very cinematic weekend for her, leading up to her being at camp all next week.

A True Risk-Taker: Opening a Record Store in Downtown Columbus

Early yesterday afternoon, Susie and I ventured downtown for the grand opening of Spoonful Records at 116 E. Long St. (around the corner from the A.T.&T. building).  As part of molding Susie into a well rounded and erudite individual, I have insisted that she know what long-playing records were are, and that she know about such things as phonographs, turntables, etc.  I have taken her to record stores in Columbus and Cincinnati, and made a point of buying LPs whenever we’ve gone to the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention.

With the economy in free-fall, and downtown Columbus businesses dwindling almost daily, starting a business–any business–requires a leap of faith that I cannot even comprehend.  So, I was quite surprised to see that a new record store would be opening in downtown Columbus.

I first noticed it when I was walking up E. Long St., en route from work at lunchtime to the credit union to cash a check.  A long-abandoned former furniture store suddenly had butcher paper over the windows, and an OPENING SOON! sign hung in the windows, along with the name and telephone number of the business soon to open–Spoonful Records.

Yesterday was the big day.  I had spoken to the owner, Brett Ruland, on the phone earlier in the week, and it turned out we had some mutual friends and acquaintances through the used-LP grapevine.  He worked part-time at Lost Weekend, a record store a few blocks from my house, and had seen Susie and me in there.

Susie bought Everything’s Archie, the Archies album which premiered “Sugar, Sugar,” their most popular hit.  (She searched for but couldn’t find any Archie comics for sale.)  She was impressed by the spiral-bound sketchbooks and journals for sale, with covers made from LPs.

Susie fell in love, however, with the two pinball machines in the back.  (She was discouraged by her lackluster performance on Bally Wizard, but did quite well once she tried the other Bally machine, Four Million B.C.)  I had to remind her that 20 or 30 thousand for a pinball game was quite a respectable score when I was a teenager, and if she broke 100 thousand, the machine would either reset and she would lose all her points, or it would go totally nuts with all kinds of alarms and lights.  Once she learned how to work flippers and the fine art of gently jostling the machine (I have to explain the concept of “tilting” to her, but I’m happy she didn’t learn it the hard way) to guide the ball, she spent a lot of time at Four Million B.C., and beat the high score by a very decent margin.  “Damn!  I gotta start practicing!” the previous record-holder said when I told him.

Susie poses between games of Four Million B.C.
Several record stores opened and closed during the first 20 years of my life in Marietta.  I received my first phonograph–a portable orange and white plastic General Electric–for Christmas when I was about four, and bought a cheap stereo from Sears with newspaper-route money when I was 15.  At the time, the best places to buy records were at Hart’s Department Store or the Marietta College bookstore.  (There was a store called Scents ‘n’ Sounds in downtown Marietta, but my parents didn’t let me go there because–they said–it was also a head shop.)  In high school, Side One Records and Tapes opened, and I remember that was where I bought Q: Are We Not Men?  A: We are Devo, the only Devo album I ever owned.
One of my many country-mouse-becomes-city-mouse moments when I moved to Boston was turning to the Yellow Pages and seeing columns and columns of record store entries.  At that time, however, I relied exclusively on my tape recorder for music, since I had left my turntable in Ohio.  This limited my choices of things I could buy.  (I remember the first album I bought in Boston–on cassette–was Toto IV, because I had become quite fond of the song “Africa.”)  I was surprised to see the price for which 78 RPM records sold in Boston.  On one of my trips home, I brought back a stack of 78s that an old lady had given me when she paid me to clean out her attic.  (Her husband had died and she didn’t want to stay alone in a 10-room house.  She was moving to a condo, and she hired me to clean out her attic.  I had right of salvage for anything other than family personal effects–letters, albums, etc.)  They didn’t fetch much, but it was a little extra folding money for me.
I have long supported the merger of bookstores and record stores.  Spoonful had a few books for sale, and record stores in Cincinnati included rock memoirs along with some token Bukowski books and Beat authors, and shrink-wrapped editions of The Andy Warhol Diaries and Madonna’s Sex, but that was about it.  My ideal was Rooks and Becords, a store on Polk St. in San Francisco which I visited on my cross-country Greyhound trip in 1987.  I marveled at how well the two co-existed.  I bought books and I bought records, and gingerly transported them in my knapsack on the return trip to Ohio.  Half-Price Books has made the effort as well, but with the corporate look of the place comes a lack of intimacy.
Spoonful will be featuring listening stations, much like the record stores of New York (and other cities, I’m sure).  They’re not ready yet, but Brett holds out hope, as evidenced by this picture:
I’m sure Brett will have to post step-by-step instructions
once his equipment is ready to use.  Some of us
still remember how to do it; it’s like riding a bicycle.
I don’t remember ever being in a record store that had the small listening booths.  I remember a passing reference to them in William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice, and I saw allusions to them here and there in New Yorker anthologies, but I had never seen one.  The closest I’ve come is using the wall-mounted CD players at Used Kids Records on High Street, but standing there just isn’t the same.  (These players were in Used Kids’ newer location, opened after the fire in 2001 which destroyed their old location, along with some 70 thousand albums.  Lost forever was one of the best collections of spoken-word albums I had ever seen.  I had bought a record of Howard Hughes’ 1972 telephone press conference there.)
So, we have a new record store in downtown Columbus, and another one has opened in Clintonville, just south of W. North Broadway.  It’s called Dreadful Sounds, and it specializes in punk and metal.  I have yet to visit it, but I have passed it on the bus and on foot.  I learned about it from Columbus DIY’s Message Board, and plan to stop in soon to pay my respects.
Vinyl may be coming back into fashion.  My hope is that people won’t look at me quite so funny when I speak of my love for typewriters.

Street of Many Contrasts

It’s a muggy Friday night, and gnats circle in the air all over Clintonville, so I’m settled in–probably for the rest of the night.  I had to run an errand on High Street earlier in the evening, before the sun set, so I walked down one of the narrow streets that leads down to High Street.  I’ve noticed it on my many journeys up and down the street, especially since the warm weather settled in for the duration, and more people are outside.

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood…

One of my neighbors is promising a mega yard sale tomorrow, but she and her husband have already begun setting out some of the merchandise on the porch and the yard.  Never one to pass up a good yard sale, I ventured over for a look.  I plunked down a quarter for a respectably frayed Warner paperback of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and a dollar for a khaki guayabera jacket.  (It’s far too miserable to wear the jacket now, but it’s incentive for me to lose the bay window I have at waist level.  It zips up, but just barely.  If I can lose some of my girth, it’ll be quite comfortable.)  Not that anyone’s asked, but a guayabera–which is politically incorrectly nicknamed the “Mexican wedding shirt”–is a work shirt that features four front pockets.  There are two breast pockets, and underneath them, above the shirttails, are two more corresponding pockets.  (You might say the guayabera is the shirt equivalent of cargo pants.)  I’ve had guayabera shirts in the past, and with all the crap I carry with me at all times–keys, notebooks, glasses case, pens and pencils, digital camera (very recently!), cell phone, microcassette recorder–I put them to use.  This shirt is an invention that ranks up there with movable type and bifocals.

A professional and competitive powerlifter–a woman who was a friend of mine at O.U. and with whom I stayed in touch sporadically once we left Athens–lives a block or so from the house where I bought the book and the shirt.  Her whole life revolves around physical fitness and exercise.  On the rare occasions I see her, she’s usually headed to or from the gym or her job as a physical therapist.

And then you have her neighbors.  Immediately next door is a household that is singlehandedly keeping the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and/or Philip Morris in business.  I’m not sure who all lives there–I usually see three or four women in their late 20s or early 30s out on the porch.  Whether they’re sisters, girlfriends, friends, or some combination thereof, I do not know.  What I do know is that I have never seen any of these women without cigarettes.  When no one is out on the porch, there are at least two ashtrays on the table, all of them crammed to overflowing with cigarette butts.

I realized that smoking wasn’t just something that equated with entertaining guests.  I know there are some people like that, who only smoke with certain friends, or when drinking, etc.  (My late uncle Paul was quite odd in this respect: When the pro football season began, he began smoking heavily, whether he was watching a game or not.  However, as soon as the Super Bowl post-game shows ended, he put away cigarettes and didn’t touch them until the season began again.)  One morning, I was headed to Tim Horton to buy bagels and breakfast sandwiches, and one of the women came out to get the morning newspaper.  She was in slippers and a grey nightdress, and there was a cigarette in her hand.

Next to them is someone else committed to gradual suicide.  Whatever hour of the day or night I pass, the man is sitting in a plastic chair in the front yard, wearing the same shirt and shorts, and there is always a 1.75-liter bottle of Popov vodka sitting on the ground in front of him.  He sits out there taking generous dollops of it with a red plastic Solo cup.  Maybe he has been drinking this heavily for a long time, and finally decided to stop hiding it, or maybe he’s hit some kind of bottom so he no longer cares.  He must be an experienced drinker, because of the tolerance it takes to drink that much 80-proof vodka a day.  Maybe it’s because you can’t legally buy Everclear in Ohio.  (It is not illegal to possess it, however.  I knew many Cincinnati neighbors who went over to Kentucky to get it.)  I have seen that he delivers The Bag on weekends, so I understand what’s led him to drinking!

A casual pedestrian on this street will see many flags flying, regardless of the time of year.  There are quite a few American flags, of course.  The house where I bought the book and the jacket flew an O.U. flag and an American flag.  (The only American flag I own is the one that draped my dad’s coffin, and it is still in its triangular zippered American Legion case, along with the spent cartridges from his rifle salute.)  There is one house on the street where you can find one of three flags displayed: a U.S. flag, a Pittsburgh Penguins flag, or a Culpeper Minutemen “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.  (I wonder if the owner knows the Culpeper Minutemen organized to defend a group spearheaded by a bunch of Quakers, Deists, and Unitarians.  Also, the Committee on Safety pulled the plug on the Minutemen in January 1776.)

Continuing on this vexillological note for a moment (anything that makes you sprint for the nearest dictionary is purely coincidental intentional), a woman a few doors down from the patriot-Penguins fan-Don’t Tread on Me fan flies small respectably faded banners featuring the symbols of the world’s major religions–the Star of David, the Crescent and Star, the Om, the Buddhist Wheel of Righteousness, the cross, the pentacle.  (I have offered to find her a Unitarian Universalist Flaming Chalice, and when I do, I will donate it.)  In the same vein, a family further down the street flies flags featuring the word peace written in several languages–Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, English, Cyrillic.  Someone in the same block always displays an Israeli flag.

Interspersed among all these are Blue Jackets banners (Ironically, their slogan is “Carry the flag!”), Columbus Crew banners, and Scarlet and Gray will be impossible to avoid once the football season begins.  (I remember a duplex in Franklinton where a Michigan flag hung on one side and an OSU banner on the other.  I guess they came to some kind of truce about that.)

Susie and I are going to go to the opening of a new record store downtown tomorrow morning.  Yes, folks, a store that sells vinyl, as in LPs, is opening for business, and in a brick and mortar store, not online.  For those of you interested, it’s called Spoonful Records, and it’s at 116 E. Long St., in the site of an old furniture store around the corner from the AT&T building on N. Fourth St.  If you go, mention this blog!

Cracks in the Block

Thursday night, I regaled my Facebook friends with an ongoing account of my successful attempt to try and overcome both the hypersomnia and the writing block that has caused me some distress of late.  In May, I began a short story, and shortly after reaching the 1000-word mark, I said to myself, “I’ll pick it up again tomorrow,” and didn’t.  One of the characters in Bugsy Malone, Jr., a play I saw way too many times when Susie acted in it, sang a song that laments, “Tomorrow never comes!”  Annoying as the song was, it had the ring of truth when it comes to writing and me.

So, Thursday, I resolved that tomorrow had come.  There was no burning bush, no real epiphany.  I was at work, typing a stack of ex parte orders, and just as I released them to the hearing officer, I said, “I’m going to finish this story tonight, damn it!”  After work, I came home and cooked an elegant meal for Steph and Susie (Kraft macaroni and cheese, with Pop-Tarts for dessert), and then put my laptop into my over-the-shoulder bag and headed to Kafé Kerouac on North High Street (here is their link).  I made a brief stop at the OSU Library, but there is no Wi-Fi access for non-OSU staff or students, so I went north.

One of the few things I remember from my basic chemistry class at Marietta High School was the principle of potential versus kinetic energy.  A boulder at the top of a big hill has potential energy, but once you start rolling it down the hill, it has kinetic energy.  I had potential energy as I slogged through the process of logging on, “ping”-ing off Kafé Kerouac’s Wi-Fi, and making cursory checks of my email and my Facebook account.

Finally, I bit the bullet and signed onto Microsoft Office.  I had to sit down and scroll through what I had already written, and take some notes.  I had forgotten characters’ names, the name of the small city where I set the story, etc.  Finally, when I established continuity, I paged through the notes I had taken for the scenes yet to be written, cracked open a Diet Coke, and began to write.

The first few lines and paragraphs were sheer hell to write.  But once I got past them, and began to establish some momentum, I found myself eager to keep going.  In many ways, writing a short story is much more difficult than a novel.  A short story has a definite ceiling for word count–9000 words is generally the maximum, then you cross over into novella.  A novel, however, has no limit.  The writer can keep adding more and more, and the pages just keep stacking up.

I was a little bothered by how much I had to backtrack to maintain continuity for a work that would eventually top out at 5704 words.  Especially when I am such a stickler for continuity in television programs, other works of fiction, etc.  (My antennae go up when I watch an early M*A*S*H episode when Hawkeye Pierce concludes a letter to his father by sending greetings to “Mom and Sis,” whereas it’s established for most of the series that Hawkeye is an only child, and his father has been a widower since Hawkeye was 10.  Likewise, as much as I love Stephen King’s massive novel It, I can go straight to where Richie, one of the “Losers’ Club” who fights Pennywise, attends Methodist Youth Fellowship faithfully every week, but several hundred pages later, he says he’s Catholic.  Another Loser, Beverly Marsh, lives with her stepfather, but later on King mentions she inherited her artistic ability and hair color from him.)

Whenever I hit a thousand-work mark, I notified people via Twitter (and, by extension, Facebook).  I had to resist the urge to rest from it, and risk losing all the headway I had gained.  I left Kafé Kerouac a little after 12, so I could catch the last northbound High Street bus.  Susie was long since asleep, and Steph was in front of her laptop, communing with her retinue in Second Life–where she spends virtually every waking hour of late.  I knew the alarm would ring at 6:45, so I could be out on Indianola at 7:30 to catch the bus, but I knew that if I quit now, it would be another long stretch before I typed a word.  I took the laptop upstairs and plugged it back in, and finally, just before 4 a.m., I typed that beautiful indication:

– 30 –
at the bottom, and sat back with a sigh.  (- 30 – is a printers’ equivalent of THE END.  At one time, the end of an article or manuscript was represented by “XXX”.  XXX is the Roman numeral for 30, so that’s how it changed.)
I know the story is not ready to go out yet.  I need to go through and edit it, and resist the urge to fall madly in love with my own prose, as I am wont to do.  (I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook that it was time for the blue pencil, and maybe a scythe.)
There wasn’t total spontaneous prose, like Kerouac advocated when he wrote On the Road and many of his later books.  I was quick to backspace and edit whenever I thought I needed to.
The original manuscipt of On the Road, typed in three
weeks on a scroll of Teletype paper, fueled by massive
doses of amphetamines, black coffee, and pea soup.
The story takes place after the funeral of a beloved high school teacher, and my hero (close to my age, 47) and his wife meet up with my protagonist’s semi-romantic interest at the gravesite.  (“Semi-romantic is not meant to be facetious–romantic, not romantic is quite fluid in junior and senior high school.)  There is no rekindled romance, no Same Time Next Year arrangement.  The essence of the story is some legend tripping the major characters do as a result of this reunion.  (Look that phrase up yourself, Caped Crusaders.)
I went to bed at 4:15 Friday morning, and slept until 7, barely made it to work on time.  I was so wiped out that I left work at 3 p.m. and came home and went straight to sleep.  I’m off work Monday (cost-savings day), but I’ll be going down to Mineral with Jacques.

Independence Day Long Weekend Almost Over

And how did I spend most of it?  I slept.  I wish I could say it was cleansing and restorative sleep, but I slept mostly to escape.  Worries about finances (or the lack thereof) and debts (of which there are many) have kept me from focusing on anything else.  I haven’t written in my diary, haven’t typed a word of the short story I meant to finish in May, and can’t stay on task with much.  So I took to my bed.

On Sunday, I did stir enough to take Susie to the Doo Dah Parade, an annual Short North tradition that combines the nationalism inherent in Independence Day with political and social satire.  Everyone threw dignity and caution to the winds and marched in the parade in various costumes.  Susie was bored waiting for the parade to start (it was late getting going), but perked up a bit when she saw one of her friends, and they took part in an (attempted) mass jump-rope.

Susie is on the end, dressed in red top and shorts.

After the parade, we picked up a late lunch at Subway in Graceland Shopping Center and brought it home.  I ate my meatball sub and drank my Sprite, and then slept until almost midnight.  There is no pattern or duration to how much I slept this weekend–I didn’t log it, because I didn’t think I would be doing so much of it.  The snoring must be under control, because when I collapsed so early Friday night, Steph thought I had been out all night.  This morning–very early–I made a trip to White Castle for Steph and me.
To counterbalance this rather dismal entry, here are some more pics from the parade:
Susie, surrounded by soap bubbles.

I wanted to get the whole car and float,  but this
was what I thought was most worth recording for
posterity.  My ultimate dream: President Obama
appoints Andrew Vachss U.S. Ambassador to
the Vatican.

The Marching Fidels, a staple of the Doo Dah Parade
since its beginning.

This picture should appear in the dictionary by
the definition of ubiquitous.
Fresh from a dip in the Gulf of Mexico.

Much more appealing McDonald’s ad than
the ones featuring the Hamburglar and
Mayor McCheese that I remember from
childhood.

I pose with two escaped serial killers.

Closest I’ve Come to Imitating the Late Hunter S. Thompson

The hands of the clock near 2 a.m., I have to be at my desk at work at 8, and yet I am sitting at the laptop, typing this blog.  One eye is on the screen, the other is on a bottle of hydrocodone I filled at Walgreen in the evening.  Soon I can take another dose.  The back of my mouth and the hinges of my jaw hurt like mad right now, since I spent about two and a half hours in the dentist’s chair after work today (I know it’s after midnight, but in my mind it’s still Thursday night).

So how do I resemble the inimitable and invulnerable (or so we thought for years) Hunter S. Thompson?  I’m writing with an eye toward taking narcotics.  (I don’t smoke, I don’t own a muster of peacocks, I no longer drink–and never cared for Wild Turkey when I did, I hate guns, and I look idiotic in sunglasses, so the good Doctor of Journalism hasn’t been my role model.)  But I’m sitting here with a bottle of Sierra Mist and the hydrocodone bottle flanking the keyboard, waiting until I can take another two pills.  I am always conscientious about waiting the prescribed period of time between doses whenever I use prescription narcotics.

After going nuclear yesterday about terrible customer service I’ve experienced earlier in the day, and rehashing bad experiences from the past, wouldn’t you know someone throws me a curve!  I scheduled my July 1 appointment around Memorial Day, and when the dentist’s receptionist left voice mail messages reminding me the date was coming up, I called after hours on Wednesday and said I had to cancel the appointment.  Due to my financial condition, I would have to cancel the appointment.

SEMI-TANGENT ALERT: A major symptom of depression is neglect of personal hygiene.  Remedies are usually easy when the depression lifts–a shower and some clean clothes, and you’re ready to face the world.  Dental hygiene is different.  Undoing the damage from inattention to your teeth is expensive and can’t be solved all at once.  When I decided to finally do something about repairing the years of damage caused by my neglect, inattention, and apathy, the biggest roadblocks for me were pain and expense, in that order.  Until I saw an ad during the local news portion of Good Morning America last year, I did not know there was such a thing as gentle dentistry or sedation dentistry.  I “auditioned” two or three dentists before making my first appointment for dental work.

And here’s the curve which balances the horror stories I described in my last entry.  I came back from my 10 a.m. break, and there was a message from my dentist’s receptionist.  The doctor was willing to work out a $15-per-month payment plan with me for what my insurance doesn’t cover, and the appointment was still mine if I wanted it.  I called and said I’d be there after work.

(Since I’m complimenting him so effusively, I don’t think he’ll mind my posting his name.  He is Joshua Clark, DDS, and his practice is High Street Dental.  You can find his Website here, and if you schedule an appointment, mention this blog.)

My previous experience, a deep cleaning, was a good one.  I won’t lie and say it was fun, but Dr. Clark and his assistants and hygienists eased me considerably through the process.  Before the appointment started, Dr. Clark asked me if I had ever used nitrous oxide before.

I laid my cards on the table.  I have undergone general anesthesia three times (tonsillectomy, plastic surgery, and gallbladder removal), so I’m sure I’ve used it legitimately.  I told him that I have used it recreationally.

TANGENT ALERT:  Once was shortly after I moved to Boston.  When I lived in Boston U.’s student ghetto, I was coming home from work one night and there was a party in full swing in one of the houses around the corner from my apartment on Commonwealth Ave.  I merged into the crowd and was soon part of the revelry.  Besides two kegs of beer, the centerpiece of the living room was a tall metal cylinder.  The hosts had attached a long rubber hose to the nozzle, and people would insert the hose into their mouths, and the person controlling the flow would adjust the gauge as people gestured, usually by making an up-up-up motion with their flat palms.  I took my turn, and felt the room spin round and round.  I staggered back from the tank, and I remember someone catching me under the armpits and seating me in a chair before I fell.  (I did learn from watching a woman taking her turn at the cylinder that it’s prudent to go to the bathroom beforehand.)

That was my introduction to nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, chemical formula N2O.  One of the people who lived in the house was an anesthesiology student at Tufts Medical Center, and he “borrowed” one of the tanks for the party.  I had known about laughing gas, because I knew some kids at Marietta High School who loved to use whippits, but I had never tried them at that time.

My other prolonged experience was about a decade later.  I was visiting a friend in St. Louis for Thanksgiving, and wondered why his best friend and the best friend’s girlfriend seemed to buy Reddi-wip five or six cans at a time.  I was naïve enough to think they just loved pumpkin pie.  It was Thanksgiving, after all.  But that didn’t explain why they would let them soak in a kitchen sink full of hot water for several hours.

My friend’s friend was an able tutor.  Put the nozzle in your mouth, spray while inhaling, and keep spraying until your lungs were full.  The whipped cream was now a useless glob at the bottom of the can.  Reddi-wip (sometimes called “giggle cream”) uses nitrous oxide as a propellant, I learned.  I did as instructed, and all of us were in a living room with deep shag carpeting.  I remember noticing that my vision cleared up totally to 20/20 for that minute.  There was a lifting feeling, almost like I was straying from my body for a minute, and I lay back on the floor, keeping a firm grip on the shag carpeting, like I was hanging on during a fast ride.  There was total silence in the room.  I looked around, and everyone was lying on the floor, unmoving, intent on the ceiling, each in his/her own thoughts, and loving it.  It was over a minute before I felt like I was coming back to myself.  No hangover, no craving for seconds, and it would clear my system in minutes.

BACK ON POINT AT LAST: Dr. Clark fed me an almost continuous supply of nitrous oxide through a rubber nasal mask during the procedure.  He used a long Q-Tip to apply a topical gel, and during the procedure this evening I was totally oblivious to the fact that he had injected my gums with Novocaine.  At worst, it felt like he had nicked a canker sore.  My shut-eye last night was minimal, so I was soon fast asleep, but I was “with it” enough to respond to requests like “Tilt your head back, please” or “Open a little wider, please.”  He pulled several wisdom teeth, did a thorough cleaning, and when he was finished, switched the nitrous to pure oxygen to bring me around.

My tongue and lips felt very thick, and I was slurring my words.  This wasn’t because of the nitrous, but because I had two big pieces of gauze in my mouth.  Both Dr. Clark and the receptionist assured me my lips and tongue looked normal, which was good news.  I felt like I was wearing those brightly colored wax lips that kids used to like to wear on Hallowe’en when I was in grade school.

Nitrous’ effects clear when you walk out into fresh air, so I was able to walk to the nearby Kroger to pay my electric bill and buy my July bus pass.  (As you’ll recall from my previous entry, Fringe Benefits Management Company’s people are too busy playing Farmville and Sudoku online all day to call me to ask why my bus pass came back to them, and ask if there was another address they should use.)  Steph could see the residual effects of the nitrous oxide in the way I almost drifted into the front room when I came home.

More importantly, she was quite pleased with Dr. Clark’s handiwork.  Two or three appointments, and the work will be completed.