The Owl Returns

Last night, I made my first decent walk (a total of almost 6½ miles) to the Grandview Theater and back, and this was a walk with a definite goal in mind.  I wanted to be front and center for the return of Nite Owl Theater to Columbus.  Unfortunately, it’s not returning to the airwaves, especially not to Channel 10 (WBNS-TV), but the Owl is among us once again.

For those of you not familiar with Columbus TV, I am speaking of longtime TV and radio icon Frederick C. (“Fritz the Nite Owl”) Peerenboom, aged 75.  This article fills in much of the biographical details, but you had to have been a nocturnally inclined person growing up in the late ’70s around in the Columbus, Ohio television market to fully appreciate Fritz.  His unmistakable trademark are the “owl glasses,” recycled from a pair of the big-lensed Christian Dior spectacles popular (especially with women) in the mid- to late 1970s.

I first discovered him when staying up all night with friends (or alone) when he would host double-featured Chiller Theater after the 11 o’clock news on Channel 10.  The more pedestrian movies appeared on The New Armchair Theater during the week, and Nite Owl Theater ran Saturday night from midnight until nearly 6 a.m.  (At that time, however, my weekend overnight loyalties were with Huntington’s WSAZ-TV, and its much blander All Night Theater, which showed scratchy B movies sandwiched in between reruns of Green Acres and The Saint.)

During my eighth-grade year, I took pride in my “clandestine” nocturnal activities.  My sleeping quarters were quite the afterthought after my dad married my stepmother in 1976, and we moved (with her three daughters) into the house behind Mound Cemetery.  I slept in a couch on the basement, with a small area cleared away for my living quarters.  It also housed the color TV, so after everyone else went to bed, it was me and Fritz the Nite Owl.  That fall, Channel 10 had changed the late-night format (this was pre-Arsenio Hall and -David Letterman, and they elected not to run The CBS Late Movie), so Nite Owl Theater was a weeknight show as well.

Last night, a cameraman put his lens and a boom microphone in my face and asked me about my first experience with Fritz.  I mentioned how I’d watch the show late into the night, even on school nights, and I surprised him by remembering the first film I watched.  It was Last Train from Gun Hill, with Kirk Douglas, Earl Holliman, and Carolyn Jones.  (I was never a big Western fan, but Fritz made me like them more than I had before.)  The interview is part of a documentary about Fritz’ career, which should be released sometime next year.  I’ll keep everyone posted–especially if my cameo appearance remains in the final cut!  (I even remember the first movie I watched on WSAZ’s All Night Theater.  It was a forgettable picture called Three Guns for Texas.)

My only disappointment was that the new Nite Owl Theater did not use the opening I best remembered.  That featured the 1976 Columbus skyline (back when the LeVeque Tower was the tallest building in Columbus) at sunset.  The sun set in rhythm with the song “South Philly Willy” by New York Mary, followed by a full moon rising over WBNS’ transmitter.  Fritz would host the show from a mock-up of Channel 10’s tower, complete with the warning light blinking behind him.

Since he was supposed to be hosting the show from the tower, this led to his nightly farewell: “See you tomorrow night, same time, same tower,” followed by a picture of Channel 10’s tower.  There would be a loud “click-click,” like someone turning off a light, and the moon would vanish.  Oftentimes, I would watch the show to catch his commercial-break commentaries, or his two-minute asides midway through the picture.

Last night was the first time I had ever seen him in person, although I had written him from Marietta, and received handwritten replies (one letter was written on the back of a TelePrompTer sheet) which answered my many obscure questions and commented on the movies I asked him to show.  (I specifically remember asking him to show Ice Station Zebra, the 1968 Cold War (no pun intended) thriller that Howard Hughes watched over 150 times during his years of complete seclusion, so many times that his aides could recite the entire soundtrack from memory by the time he died in 1976.  I said “I’m curious to see what Howard Hughes saw in it,” to which Fritz replied “Maybe he dug snow!”)

This being Hallowe’en Eve, the featured movie was Night of the Living Dead, George Romero’s classic low-budget film about hordes of zombies invading the Pittsburgh suburbs.  I had seen it quite a few times before–the first time being at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, Mass., but the commercial break commentary from Fritz and the vintage commercials (Arrid Extra Dry, Polaroid’s SX-70 Land camera, Alka-Seltzer, and Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia) really made it fun to watch.  Fritz claimed he received his first standing ovation last night when he strolled out in front of the screen before the film actually rolled, although I find this hard to believe.  (Last night’s show was posted online at this site sometime during the night, so you can see the movie and all the ephemera associated with it–including Coca-Cola’s Bicentennial-era “Look up, America!  See what we’ve got!” commercials.)

Watching Night of the Living Dead last night made me aware of something that had slipped under my radar previously.  The phrase “those things” came up so frequently in the dialogue that I was waiting for its next occurrence more than enjoying the movie.  It was almost like constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It’s like listening to records of Richard Pryor’s stand-up routines or watching Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, when after five minutes or so all you hear is “blah blah blah–motherfucker–blah blah blah–motherfucker” and nothing else.  The characters were constantly talking about escaping “those things,” or what “those things” would do next, or how to scare away “those things.”

Fritz signed autographs in the lobby after the show, and I got one for myself, and one for Susie.  He signed Susie’s “Ya shoulda been here!”, a situation I may rectify next month when he shows Plan Nine from Outer Space, and she definitely will be with me Christmas night, when the feature is (of course) Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  (There will be free Nite Owl Theater shows the last Saturday of every month at the Grandview Theater, 1247 Grandview Ave., 12 midnight.)

Advertising his recently cancelled FM jazz
radio program with a vintage Nite Owl Theater
publicity shot from circa 1978.

Still nocturnal after all these years.  At last, I
meet Fritz the Nite Owl.

Grayer and older, but the baritone voice is the
same as ever, and the witticism and wisdom
hasn’t changed a bit.

I am now more sure than ever that a friend of mine erred one summer night when we were watching Nite Owl Theater in Marietta.  We were alone in my house–a common event that summer, since I was usually left alone while Dad slept at his wife-to-be’s apartment–watching the Saturday all-night edition of the show.  It was a war movie (I’d give you the title if my 1976 diary wasn’t long gone), and my friend kept saying, “We’re probably the only ones watching this.”
Definitely not true.  I am sure of that now.
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Dateline: Weinland Park

I almost said this was from my new “20,” but many of my readers may have come of age in the post-CB radio era, and never heard C.W. McCall’s one-hit wonder “Convoy.”  (A “20” is a location, in CB jargon.)  Anyway, this is the first time I’ve had the energy and the solitude necessary to type this, my first blog entry from our new home in Weinland Park.  (That’s the name of the neighborhood, as well as the city park.  We’re most definitely not living in the park itself!)

Weinland Park is the neighborhood bordered by E. 5th Ave. to the south, N. High St. to the west, E. 11th Ave. to the north, and the Conrail tracks to the east.  The statistics for this section of town are grim, but I know many people who remember when the Short North, which is probably the trendiest neighborhood in Columbus, was a neighborhood no sane person would venture into after dark.  Neither Olde Towne East nor German Village were always the yuppie paradises they are now.  Weinland Park has a long way to go, but it’s quite suitable to our–my–needs.

The arrow on this Google Map does not represent
our house.  This is the Weinland Park neighborhood,
with the A indicating (I think) the Godman Guild.

It is just north of Italian Village, and it is a nice walk, and not an overly long one, to the OSU campus.  At the same time, it’s not so close to OSU that we will have to deal with the rioting, empty beer cans, open containers, and public urination that come after every Buckeyes football game, whether won or lost.  We are in a half double, and the layout is quite similar to the Clintonville place we just vacated.

Most importantly, the rent is quite affordable.  High school home economics teachers used to tell kids that rent should never consume more than 25% of your income, and in the last decade or so, I have wondered whether or not that was realistic.  For the first time since I’ve lived on my own, I think that I’m actually going to be doing that.  In the next few months, Steph and Susie will be moving out, once our divorce is final.  Neither Steph nor I know how much I will pay in child support, but living here, I can realistically expect to maintain this half double as my bachelor quarters without breaking my bank.

Friday was the day of the big move.  Steph, Susie, and I spent much of the week packing, weeding out, and moving everything down to the first floor of the old place.  Steph went to Cincinnati for the weekend that afternoon, and I made the big move from Clintonville to Weinland Park during the evening.  My friend John brought his pickup truck, and in quite a few back-breaking relays, we moved the furniture.  Steve and his daughter Amelia (my companion on the “One Nation Working Together” Washington trip earlier this month) did quite well transporting my books and the other contents of my office.  We started around 6 p.m., and it was after 2 a.m. Saturday before I was able to say, “That’s a wrap.  Cut and print.”  Susie had made and collapsed into her new bedroom while John, Amelia, Steve, and I were still moving items.

As I observed on Twitter, any friend can help you move.  True friends will help you move bodies and books.

Soon after everyone departed, I fell asleep in my new bedroom.  I was so tired I fell asleep fully clothed (including shoes, watch, and glasses) on the mattress, and I was too wiped out to put sheets on the mattress.  It wasn’t until morning that I realized that the smoke detector in my bedroom is defective–it chirps about every 30-45 seconds.  I tried installing a new battery, which did no good.  I even called the fire department to ask their advice–they told me to speak to my landlord, which I did (via voice mail).  I was too tired for it to disturb me.  I think that Friday night-Saturday morning, I could easily have slept on a bed of nails, the way that Zen Buddhists have mastered.

My sleep was not long, because I had to be awake for the guy from WOW Internet and Cable to come and install the cable.  Steph crossed the threshold this morning when she came back from Cincinnati, and we’ve been unpacking and sending things to their appropriate rooms.

We don’t plan to do much entertaining, so the front room (the living room) has become my office, and the middle (dining) room is where Steph and Susie have set up their laptops, and where the TV and Wii reside.  Steph’s and my bedrooms are in the same locations as they were in Clintonville.  She has the master bedroom, and I have the middle one.  Susie’s back bedroom is flooded with light in the afternoons, and she has the most closet space.  (We estimated the house to be just post-World War II, which means the two bigger bedrooms have very narrow closets.)

Susie was quite ingenious.  Her closet includes steps to the attic, and the attic is permanently off limits.  At the top of the steps, there is a hatch that is closed up with a combination lock.  Since Susie’s dresser was falling apart, we left it behind, and Susie has used the steps to the attic in lieu of shelves.  She’s stacked her pullover shirts, underwear, socks, etc. on the steps as she would lay them out in drawers.

Another drawing card for me is the proximity to Sporeprint Infoshop.  (I’ve shared the link and sung its praises before, but I’m doing it again.)  Sporeprint events, such as the Really, Really Free Market and Food Not Bombs were what attracted me to the Weinland Park area initially.  I walked past Sporeprint’s E. 5th Ave. headquarters this afternoon, headed home after errands to Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, and someone there invited me inside.  I came home laden with bread, pastries, eggs, and a cherry pie.  And all I did was make contact and say hi.  I have long wanted to volunteer with Sporeprint, and I can do it, now that I’m closer.  It’s also a shorter walk home from any activities that occur at the Awarehouse, the bike repair bay/party hall in the alley behind E. 5th Ave.

I’m typing this at the worktable in the living room/office.  Both Steph and Susie are asleep in their rooms, and since I’m going to be working tomorrow, I should follow their lead.  The office is not set up yet–I still have several crates and boxes to unload, but photographs will be forthcoming once I’m finished.

This malfunctioning fire alarm causes me to be grateful for having narcolepsy.  Since I fall asleep easily, whether I want to or not, I should be able to sleep through having that thing going off all night.

Interesting acoustic counterpoint here.  I hear a long train on the Conrail tracks to the east of my house, and while I’m typing, I’m listening to Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” coming from the laptop.  The sounds aren’t all that compatible.

Thanks for the MRIs; Confessions of a Guinea Pig

This afternoon I turned the tables on the medical profession and Ohio State University Medical Center.  I went in and spent an hour with my head in the MRI machine, and they paid me.  I didn’t have to produce my insurance card, didn’t have a medical bracelet to staple to a page in my diary.  Instead, after I filled out the paperwork, the technician handed me a $20 bill.

Awhile back, I added my name to an email alert list for people willing to be test subjects for medical and drug studies, as long as I was paid for the time and effort.  Last week, I received an email from the OSU Medical Center, asking if I’d be willing to participate in a study of noninvasive MRI cardiac imaging.  I emailed back and told her I was.  I told her I’d had MRI studies before.  (My psychiatrist had ordered one in 2000, checking to see if I had Parkinson’s.  I didn’t–my guess is he was noticing some odd Asperger’s mannerisms I wasn’t even aware I did.)

So I reported to the Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza on Kenny Rd. at 4 this afternoon, filled out the paperwork, and eventually found myself lying on the moving table in my shorts and shirt, with suction-cup leads on my chest and a camera-electromagnet across my chest, sliding head first into the white-lined MRI.  (The only way to describe it is that it feels like they’re sticking your head in a dryer.)

Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza

The hardest part was lying still, especially when my nose began to itch.  The machine is quite loud when they’re actually taking the images.  It feels like someone is banging on the sides of the machine with a hammer or a closed fist.  The technician gave me headphones, and when I wasn’t listening to the director telling me what to expect and asking me questions, I listened to WOSU-FM.  (There was a microphone inside the MRI, so I could communicate with the operator.)  Fortunately, I am not claustrophobic, because OSU only has closed MRIs.  (The only open MRI facility I’ve seen in Columbus is at the Broad Street Imaging Center in Olde Towne East.) 
One of the future studies will involve being injected with a dye, and I’ll get $40, instead of $20.  That should be in about three weeks.
I first served as a “guinea pig” in Boston in the summer of 1983.  With The Crimson only publishing twice weekly, and work on The Confidential Guide to Courses at Harvard-Radcliffe pouring in erratically, I needed some extra folding money.  I signed up for a study (Friday afternoon to early Saturday evening) for three consecutive weekends testing Propranalol, a hypertension drug that was then newly on the market.  I reported to a house in Jamaica Plain where I was with about 30 other men, staying in a dorm-type setup (four to a room, bunk beds), and awakened every few hours for blood draws, blood pressure, etc.  And of course, even for that short a period of time shut in together, everyone gets on one another’s nerves.  I often retreated to the laundry room to read, write in my journal, etc.  They paid small increments at the end of the first two studies–after your last blood draw, they’d hand you a check on the way out.  The third check was the big one, and they ended up paying us $200 more than the ad in The Boston Globe quoted!
The oddest study I ever did was in the summer of 1987.  I was on summer break from Ohio University, and working a summer job as a typesetter for Homefinder magazine, which meant I spent two or three days typing away at the Feicke Printing Company’s ugly old building on Iowa Ave. in Cincinnati, and the rest of the time fretting about how the meager paycheck would last.  Christ Hospital advertised they needed test animals participants for a study of the Coxsackie A virus, a strain that could cause mouth blisters, pinkeye, rashes, and upper respiratory infections.  I passed the initial screening, and spent a week shut in the basement floor of the nurses’ dorm at Christ Hospital with other men, most of them unemployed or homeless.  (Fortunately, the study was on a week when I didn’t have to work.)  I read, watched lots of movies–the nurse running the study, who vacillated between Nurse Ratched and loving den mother, had to impose a rule that we could only watch porn movies at night, since nurses were in and out of our section during the day.  (One guy had brought his impressive collection of Swedish Erotica tapes.)
The odd thing about this study was that we had to save our Kleenex.  For this purpose, we had to carry pillowcase-sized Ziploc bags at all times, and eventually we would turn these in so the nurses and technicians could weigh them to see just how runny our noses were.  I lucked out; I learned later I had been given a placebo (they gave us the virus by nose drops).  Other guys were using so much Kleenex they were using their tissue bags as throw pillows and bolsters.
Later that summer, I was part of a Rhiniovirus study.  I caught enough colds for free in my lifetime that I jumped at the chance to get paid for it.  This time, I did develop the sniffles and a low-grade fever, but not as badly as some guys did.  The pay for this was enough to be spending money (includes books and new glasses) at O.U. for most of fall quarter.
Christ Hospital reran the study later after realizing they needed to separate their subjects better.  It turned out that the results were fatally flawed because when everyone was shut in together in such close quarters, we were all cross-infecting one another.  When they did the study again, they took an entire wing of a hotel and put everyone in solitary confinement (which, truthfully, I would have preferred.)  The only time they interacted was during meals, when everyone would sit in the doorways of their rooms.  That must be what being a sequestered juror is like.
I need to send this blog entry out into the world.  Tomorrow’s moving day, and I have to close up my office and get it ready.  I’m meeting the landlord at 4 p.m. for the key to our new quarters near Weinland Park.
The next entry I post will be after the move is completed and I’ve managed to sleep afterwards!

Franklinton Tragedy

Arson kills baby, 2 others

It strikes me as ironic that Scott and I would be making a journey to Franklinton last week.  Since moving from there in February 2009, I have made very few forays into that area.  It wasn’t avoidance or aversion, just no real need to visit.  And yet, while eating two apple pies and drinking some Diet Coke at the McDonald’s near the OSU campus, I divided my attention between my diary and this morning’s Columbus Dispatch.  The lead headline was the above story.

I wish I could say I was surprised the fire was in Franklinton.  Franklinton (also known as “The Bottoms” by its residents) doesn’t have a monopoly on arson, but when someone deliberately sets a fire there, the motive is usually more personal than a greedy landlord torching his own property because he has his eyes on a big insurance payout.

My thoughts immediately went back to the Wisconsin Ave. fire that took the lives of 19-year-old Mindy Hanners (a student of Steph’s at Gladden Community House) and her three children, who ranged in age from four years to two weeks.  It wasn’t until I went back to my old LiveJournal account to reread this entry that I realized the fire was four years ago this month.  I did not know the family that perished in this week’s blaze, but Deanna Perry, the 61-year-old woman who lived there, known to all as “Maw Maw”, opened her home to anyone who needed assistance.

The baby who died was the daughter of a troubled woman whom “Maw Maw” had hosted.  Mrs. Perry apparently had asked the mother to leave, because their relationship was fraying, but didn’t want the baby, who was ill, to be left without a place to lay her head.  The prevailing theory now is that someone was targeting the mother when they set the fire.

More and more, I am amazed by how people who possess the least are usually the most generous.  The house on N. Yale Ave. could hardly be commodious, and Deanna Perry was already living there with her husband, son, and grandson, yet she found room in her heart and her home for a woman and her baby who had nowhere else to turn.  (The husband and son had left the house for their jobs before the fire started, or else they could quite likely have died as well.)

The streets north of W. Broad are not as familiar to me as the ones to the south.  While we lived on West Park Ave., I made frequent trips to the Family Dollar store that sits at the corner of S. Yale and W. Broad, and the block between Broad and State Sts. featured several dilapidated houses, some of which were intermittently occupied, others which had long been abandoned.  Before I read the story thoroughly, I thought that the fire would have been in one of the S. Yale houses.  One house seemed to be okay structurally, but had a very high turnover of tenants.  I made almost nightly trips past it, especially if I had gotten off the bus on Broad St. and was walking home by way of Family Dollar, and it seemed like every other month there would be a new family there.  I’d see the clutter of Playskool toys in the patch of yard, I would see people sitting on the porch drinking malt liquor and smoking, I’d see the blue-white glow of the TV in the front room.  Then, after a few weeks, the house would be dark, there would be newspaper covering the windows, and the yard would be strewn with trash and debris.

Newspapers in the windows and darkness inside would become the norm for several weeks, but I’d never see a Realtor’s sign or a FOR RENT sign in the yard.  Then, one day I’d head over to Family Dollar to buy blank tapes or a new composition book to continue my diary, and the grass (more yellowed than green) would be cut, the newspapers would be gone, and a family would be in there.  I’d see furniture in the front room, and a jacket draped over a porch chair, or the front door open.  Then the cycle would repeat itself.

Franklinton residents seem to be focused on the proposal to convert the old Cooper Stadium, vacant since the Columbus Clippers moved to Huntington Park, into the Cooper Park Complex.  While passing through on the way to Central Point or Grove City, I see yard signs about it everywhere–even in the yards of the many abandoned properties.  Most of them say FOR Cooper Park Complex, and I guess it’ll be decided next month in the ballot box.  (One of the plans is for an automotive testing center and NASCAR racing, so the opponents cite environmental and noise issues.)  This tragedy will, maybe, divert their attention from the Cooper Park controversy and unite everyone in thinking of the three lives lost so needlessly this week.

I did not read of any funeral plans, but the memory of Mindy Hanners’ and children’s funerals, the standing-room-only show of support at Schoedinger’s Funeral Home’s Hilltop chapel, and the sealed coffin containing all four bodies, is still vivid in my mind.  We did not accompany them to the grave, but it seemed that most of Franklinton had come to pay their respects.  I suspect it’ll be the same for the victims of this disaster.

Can You Track My Bus Travels?

I am quite reluctant to blog about this topic, because whenever I think about it, I sound like I’ve joined the black helicopter and tin foil hat lunatics found both on the Left and the Right.  Yet, it’s something that comes to my mind almost every time I ride public transportation, which is at least twice daily.

You’ve gleaned from my moniker, aspergerspoet, that I have Asperger’s syndrome, which means I am on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum.  In the eyes of COTA, the Central Ohio Transit Authority, this qualifies me as handicapped.  One of the benefits I reap from this is that I am allowed to use a Key Card when travelling on the bus.  The Key Card allows me to pay half fare when riding the bus.  All I needed was for my physician to certify me, and then I went in, had the below card produced, and I was all set to ride the bus at half what I had been paying.

Using it is quite simple.  When I board the bus, I swipe this card through the slot, and follow it up with my monthly bus pass or, if I don’t have the pass with me, the right amount of currency.

I do wonder, however, if that means there is a record somewhere of every bus trip I take when I use my Key Card.  The average COTA rider pays his/her fare anonymously; there is no record of boarding or of exiting the bus.  Even someone with a bus pass can stay untracked, since you usually buy them at the COTA office or at the grocery store, pay cash, and get the next card in the stack.

But those of us with Key Cards swipe them each time we board, and the bus has to at least acknowledge that the card is valid.  It probably ends there, but there’s a part of me that wonders if having a Key Card is analogous to a gimmick Bil Keane uses in his Family Circus Sunday panels sometimes.  In those, he shows the roundabouts paths one or all of the kids in the story may take in the house, neighborhood, or school, by showing a black dotted line following the kid from point A to point B, with certain landmarks designated.

I have seen enough episodes of Law and Order to wonder if maybe I should be thankful for such a tracking system, if indeed it existed.  A staple of the original show was that Act I always featured a credible suspect who ended up being a complete red herring.  The detectives cleared more than one suspect by running a transit card and showing the person was clear in another borough, or on the other end of Manhattan, at the time a murder was happening.  So maybe such a tracking system could help me keep my freedom in some extreme situation in the future.

I’m typing this at the end of a long day.  The work is truly accumulating around me at the job, and I only came home an hour ago.  Susie had choir practice tonight at church, while I was at the monthly Bible study in another room.  So, it’s highly likely I will be asleep on this side of midnight.  I’m typing this while I’m listening to the first disk of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.  I thought about listening to the entire album tonight, but I doubt I’ll make it through.  (I may save the other disk for work tomorrow.)

Nil per os; Susie and Matthew Morrison; Plywood

How celebrate Columbus Day?  I’m probably not alone in this, but I’ll kick off the day with a fasting blood draw.  I think it’s time that I have my blood sugar checked, because in the past six to eight weeks I’ve noticed that I’m almost constantly thirsty, and often find myself making mad dashes to the bathroom.  It is now just 11 p.m., and I had my last non-water at 9 p.m.

The title is Latin for “nothing by mouth,” a medical direction for patients (usually written on charts and hospital bracelets as “NPO”).  I never took a Latin class, despite two years at a Catholic middle school.  However, my dad was an English professor, and he grew up Catholic pre-Vatican II and attended the Catholic University of America, so he was fluent in Latin.  I picked up enough Latin by sheer osmosis that I had a very easy time learning pharmacy shorthand when I worked at Medco Health.  When my fellow trainees were sweating blood over the difference between bid, tid, and qid, (twice, three times, and four times per day, respectively), I just told them to remember bicycle, tricycle, quartet, and it would be easy.

I’m usually pretty good at gleaning a word’s meaning from looking at its Latin roots, although I have been off base from time to time.  (My biggest faux pas was that for years I thought a pedophile was somebody with a foot fetish.)

After they draw the pipette of blood, I’m meeting Jacques at church, and he, his almost-centenarian mom, and I will be headed to Mineral and the Feed My Sheep Food Pantry.  (I try to go whenever I have a Monday off from work.)  It’ll be good to be down there putting together food packages.  We’re not quite halfway through the month, so I don’t know if there will be a mob scene on hand or not.  Ray Ogburn, the director of the pantry, is rightfully proud of the fact that his pantry has never run out of food.  The quality of the food varies–it depends on what people donate, and what Ray can buy from the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.

I took Susie to a political rally at the back of the new Ohio Union last night.  As much as I would like to think she was eager to see our incumbent U.S. Representative Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Columbus) and Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher (currently running for the U.S. Senate), the truth is that the drawing card was Matthew Morrison, who plays Will Schuester on Glee.  She waited patiently (barely) through the speeches by Fisher, Kilroy, and lieutenant governor candidate Yvette McGee Brown until Morrison came onto the podium, and her eyes were out on springs the entire time he was speaking.  Once the rally ended, she joined the throngs (I almost typed “thongs”–do Freudian slips extend to the keyboard?) flocking around Morrison.  I spoke briefly with Fisher, since he was at Oberlin at the same time as a dear friend of mine who died in 1997.  Susie asked for my notepad and my pen, and, after almost being smothered by the crowd, she emerged a little later, victoriously waving the pad.  “I got it!  I got it!” she said, bouncing up and down.  I looked at the book.  Sure enough, Morrison had scrawled his name onto the page.

I scanned the page before I tore it out of the notebook for her, so
Susie could share it with her Facebook friends.

Susie has added it to her autograph collection (which includes autographs by Jim Davis, Lemony Snicket, and Emma Watson).  The only political signature she has is John Glenn’s, which I got for her when I attended a Democratic rally at the Holiday Inn in Worthington last month.  (Senator Glenn also signed an autograph for me, replacing the one I lost.  He signed that one in 1974, when he came to Marietta to dedicate the Ohio River Museum.)
Susie also managed to shake Morrison’s hand, and she gleefully proudly shared the news with her friends at church this morning.  The other day, I was rereading XXXIII Celebrities, an autobiographical chapbook by Robert Lowry, the Cincinnati-born novelist I befriended the last few years of his life in the 1990s.  He wrote of the famous people whom he had met (Babe Ruth held the four-year-old Lowry in his arms in 1923; Lowry rejected a story by Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin scolding him for a Time review he wrote).  If I ever wrote of such a thing, I’d have to write about the only celebrity who has ever kissed me.
It wasn’t Julia Roberts.  It wasn’t Madonna.  It wasn’t Jennifer Aniston.
It was–of all people–David Susskind.
During the summer of 1983, a skeleton crew stayed on at The Harvard Crimson to put out the summer edition of the newspaper (twice daily in the summer, instead of five days per week) and produce The Confidential Guide to Courses at Harvard-Radcliffe.  I sublet an apartment near the Tufts campus and spent almost every waking hour on Plympton St.  One day, I came up from The Shop, deserting my CRTronic Linotype long enough to get a Coke or go to the bathroom, and there was a man in his early 60s sitting in one of the swivel chairs by the rows of overworked typewriters.  The semicircle of Crimson personnel followed every word with rapt attention.  He spoke of his plans to travel to the Soviet Union to interview Yuri Andropov, and when he mentioned the coup he scored with his 1960 interview of Khrushchev, I knew this was David Susskind.  Susskind spoke of the gifts that Soviet citizens wanted most from the United States: toiletries, long-playing records, and–this surprised me–feminine hygiene products (pads and tampons), since Soviet women usually resorted to using newspaper.
When he stood up to go, I put out my hand to introduce myself.  (I didn’t tell him that I knew of him primarily from voice impressionist David Frye’s albums Radio Free Nixon and I am the President.)  He didn’t even see my proffered hand, but instead took my elbows, bent over, and kissed both cheeks.  I’m proud to say I accepted it much more graciously than Archie Bunker did with Sammy Davis Jr.:
We are currently in search of new living quarters.  As much as we love Clintonville, we feel we need to move to a place where rent is less expensive.  The reason is because wherever we move will become bachelor quarters for me (although I’ll technically be a grass widower, not a bachelor) once the divorce is final, and we want it to be affordable enough for someone who will be making child support payments.
Scotty and I looked at some places in Franklinton, the neighborhood just west of downtown Columbus where we once lived, yesterday.  (If you read my pre-February 2009 posts here, you’ll read a chronicle of our Franklinton life.)  The neighborhood seems to have borne the brunt of the tanking economy.  Houses fully occupied are sitting vacant, many of them are boarded up.  If I was in the plywood supply business, I would have a net worth in the seven figures just from Franklinton alone.  We looked at one house and were just appalled by the state of disrepair.  (The landlord told me on the phone: “It’s unlocked, just let yourself in!” when I tried to arrange a time to meet him.)  The gutters were shredded and hanging off the edge of the roof, every upper floor ceiling bore massive water stains, the tub needed to be totally replaced–it was way beyond re-glazing.  My guess is that the landlord was deliberately keeping the place unlocked, hoping that a homeless person will pass out in there with a lit cigarette and he can reap beaucoup insurance dollars afterwards.  (I doubt professional arsonists advertise on Craigslist, so I doubt the landlord would ever go that route.)

A Possible Rhino Compilation: Morbid Pop Hits

At the library the other day, I picked up the CD of Billboard Pop Hits 1968 that came in for me.  I reserved it to hear Mason Williams’ instrumental “Classical Gas,” which I heard for the first time in ages on a classic-rock stream from AOL Radio.  (The last time I heard “Classical Gas” was in the ’70s.  It was the background music for ads for Classic Shoe Store in Dunbar, W.Va. on TV.)

I was between disks of Faye Kellerman’s The Ritual Bath when I brought in the Billboard CD.  I was enjoying it, and then the third cut on the album came.  It was Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” a song so sickeningly sweet it’ll send even a non-diabetic into insulin shock.  The protagonist is mourning his wife Honey, and the lyrics are beyond maudlin.  The way he describes her (“She was always young at heart/Kinda dumb and kinda smart and I loved her so.”)  What I never understood is why Honey seemed to cry so much… over a late movie, over wrecking the car, and he even “caught her cryin’ needlessly” when the husband came home.  Of course, Honey dies.  He talks about not being at home when “the angels came,” which always conjured up images of a band of Hell’s Angels coming in and dragging her away.

Hearing “Honey” reminded me of my pre-adolescence, when there seemed to be a tragedy-related song on the Top 10 almost every week.  In fifth grade, while riding the school bus, the driver would often play the radio, and that spring the popular hit was Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun.”  (Its original French title was “Le Moribond,” which gives you some idea of what it’s all about.)  The song is a dying young man’s farewells to his friends and family, each verse getting more vapid than the one preceding it.  I was an adult before I learned the reason why.  The English lyrics were written by Rod McKuen, a poet who, I am sorry to admit, shares my birthday.

I could always make an exception for Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods’ “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero,” because it bore a blatant anti-war message.  I used to think it took place during the Vietnam War, but I’ve realized lately it takes place during the Civil War (“The soldier-blues fell in behind”).  Billy’s fiancée begs him not to enlist, not to be a hero.  He dies in action, and she receives a letter saying he had been a hero, and she should be proud.  The last line of the song: “I heard she threw that letter away.”

My dad used to take me for walks along the banks of the Ohio River in Marietta when I was little, along Greene Street, and looming over that body of water was the Williamstown Bridge.  I never feared the bridge when we would cross it to get to and from West Virginia, but two things made me tremble at the sight of it.

The Williamstown Bridge of my youth.  It has since
been demolished and replaced, although the same
piers are still in use.  This image came from CardCow.

One was remembering the news about the collapse of the Silver Bridge near Point Pleasant, W.Va. in December 1967.  When you’re a child, bridges were secure and would not disappear out from under you, the way the Silver Bridge had, laden with cars and trucks headed to and from work and Christmas shopping.  The other disquieting trigger was Bobbie Gentry’s country ballad “Ode to Billie Joe,” where a young woman in the Mississippi Delta is appalled by her family’s blasé reaction to the news that “today Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”  Often, the Ohio River was the color of coffee or hot chocolate, so I shuddered during the final line, where the heroine of the song describes picking flowers on Choctaw Ridge to “drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

When I was in middle school, I often spent my meager allowance on K-Tel and Ronco compilation albums.  This was my introduction to gems like “Run, Joey, Run,” by David Geddes–young man gets his girlfriend in the family way, her dad is after him with a gun, the girlfriend steps in front of him just as Daddy fires, dies in his arms.  Geddes had one other popular hit, equally soap-operatic.  It was called “The Last Game of the Season (Blind Man in the Bleachers),” and it dealt with a blind man who goes to every football game and listens to the announcer, hoping that his son, who has warmed the bench all season, will get in to play.  The last game of the season the blind man isn’t there, the home team is being slaughtered, and at halftime, the blind man’s son hangs up the phone and insists that he has to play in the second half.  Thanks to the son, the team shellacs the opposing team.  Coach wonders why did the young man play so well?  “Well, you knew my dad was blind, tonight he passed away.  It’s the first time that my father’s seen me play.”

The deceased-love theme continued (I think I blame it partially on Love Story, where a female protagonist dies of an unspecified progressive disease that involves no wasting, loss of hair, incontinence, blood transfusions, sponge baths, or dementia) with Austin Roberts’ “Rocky.”  Young couple fall in love, get married, buy a house, and have a baby daughter.  Soon after the daughter turns one, the narrator is happy with his life, “’til the day they told me that she didn’t have long to live.”

There are many more, but I think you get the picture.  It was almost a relief when I learned that Sha Na Na member Henry Gross’ scenery-chewing song “Shannon” was about an Irish setter, not a deceased lover.  (There is a story–an untrue one–that Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” is about a runaway dog.  When the legend becomes fact, print the legend, I suppose, according to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.)

In case you’re wondering, I’ve been alternating between the Alan Parsons Project and the Moody Blues while I’ve been typing this entry.  I wrote down several titles when the idea for this entry came to me, but I remember the songs vividly enough I didn’t need to stream them before I started typing.

Susie Turned 13 at 13:13

Today is Susie’s 13th birthday, but being a stickler for accuracy, I didn’t consider her to have become a teenager until 1:13 p.m., which is the actual time of her birth.  (I do the same thing for myself.  My time of birth was 12:34 in the afternoon.  Very easy to remember: one two three four.)  I’ve neither lived in Europe nor served in the military, so the 13:13 idea didn’t spring to mind right away; I think of it as 1:13 p.m.

My urge to chronicle manifested itself at Susie’s birth.  Steph delivered Susie by Cesarean section after 38 hours of labor at Grant Hospital.  Her midwife Tanya (Susie’s godmother, and a dear friend of ours since before the birth) and I were at Steph’s head during most of the delivery, and Steph’s belly was hidden from view by a sterile shield and screen.  When the doctor actually delivered Susie, Tanya grabbed the single-use camera from the shirt pocket of my scrubs, leaned over the screen, and snapped the picture–Susie in full scream, still connected by umbilical cord.

I grabbed the camera from Tanya, and turned around to the wall clock and took a picture of it.  However, easily the most memorable picture is when I am holding Susie, who has been cleaned off and wrapped in blankets, in front of Steph.  At the time the picture was taken, Steph was asking, “Have they cut me open yet?  Have they cut me open?”  I was answering the question by holding the newborn Susie in front of her.

Thirteen is a milestone year, like those that are multiples of 5 or 10.  If we were Jewish, Susie would have been bat mitzvah a year already–considered adult in the Jewish community.  The beginning of the years that end with -teen are significant, and she’s gotten hers off to a good start.  She and Steph baked and frosted a cake, and Susie’s best friend G is here.  I’m typing this entry while they’re in the next room playing Mario Party 8 on the Wii.  They’re going to watch Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince later on tonight.

Steph has been the smart one.  She’s exhausted, and has an early day tomorrow, so she’s opted to hit the sack early.  One of the advantages of our sleeping separately is that I can retire at whatever hour I choose and not have to worry about waking her.

Susie and I went to see Easy A at Studio 35 last week.  Tomorrow night, we’re going there for a free showing of The Bicycle Thief.  The British Film Institute says it’s one of 50 films that you should see before you turn 14.  I’m 33 years late, and Susie will make it with a year to spare.  I posted a notice about it on Facebook, and one person had a very astute observation.  If this is a film you should see pre-age 14, why is its only showing at 9:30 p.m. on a school night?  I also doubt it ever appeared on The CBS Children’s Film Festival.  (Whenever I tuned into that on Saturday, they always seemed to be showing The Red Balloon.)

The birthday girl, in a picture taken last summer.
She’s holding the infant daughter of her first babysitter.

Cold, Wet, and Gray Outside

Very erratic sleep schedule this weekend, which means I’m now waking up (it’s after 8 p.m.) after a four- or five-hour nap.  I thought the best thing to do would be to share some of the D.C. pictures with my faithful readership.  My actual thoughts from Friday night to Sunday morning are available in the scanned handwritten pages that I’ve already posted.  That always reads better than recapitulating the experience later.

I was in bed a little after 4 a.m., after arriving back from the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington. I took the time to scan the pages from my union diary where I wrote my thoughts as they came to me, but didn’t post them (backdated) into the blog until this afternoon.  This morning, between awakening and leaving with Susie for church, I posted my pictures to my Facebook account.

Amelia Houser and I at the Communication Workers of
America’s union hall on East Broad St., just before
boarding one of two Washington-bound chartered buses.

The above picture reminds me of something Travis McGee, the hero of 21 novels by John D. MacDonald, said in A Tan and Sandy Silence that, if he carried a placard, it would read:

UP WITH LIFE.  STAMP OUT ALL SMALL AND LARGE INDIGNITIES.  LEAVE EVERYONE ALONE TO MAKE IT WITHOUT PRESSURE.  DOWN WITH HURTING. LOWER THE STANDARD OF LIVING.  DO WITHOUT PLASTICS.  SMASH THE SERVO-MECHANISMS.  STOP GRABBING.  SNIFF THE BREEZE AND LOVE THE KIDS.  LOVE ALL LOVE.  HATE ALL HATE.

We could not have asked for better weather, especially when I was giving Amelia, who has never been to Washington before, a good workout as we walked up and down the National Mall.  One Nation Working Together was not a march per se; the publicity was a little misleading in that respect.  It was more a rally, taking place at a fixed place.

And what better fixed place?  This is how the Lincoln
Memorial looked a little after 10 a.m.  I took this just
after Amelia and I crossed the Memorial Bridge from
the Pentagon’s parking lot in Virginia.

We didn’t go inside anywhere, but I did show Amelia the significant landmarks within visual range of the Mall, such as the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, the White House, the National World War II Memorial, some of the visible spires of the Smithsonian, etc.
The Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial looked sparkling, which isn’t always the case.  I remember making a trip in high school and finding that it was drained, and that had been in May.  Sometimes in the summer that is common.  During the Poor People’s Campaign in the spring and summer of 1968, when Resurrection City stood on the Mall, the pool was emptied several times because residents were using it to clean clothes and wash dishes.
Amelia was happy to touch the Washington Monument, even
though we arrived too late to go inside.

This is the scene in the early afternoon.

Happy for a brief respite from the crowd, Amelia and I
went to Tonic at Quigley’s Pharmacy on G St., NW, in
the heart of the George Washington University community.
My friend Robert Nedelkoff took us to lunch–a very good
lunch!  It’s always good to see Robert.

After the repast at Tonic.  Robert, as usual, looks like
he stepped out of the St. John’s Bay catalog, and I resemble
an outtake from America’s Most Wanted.
Bidding a reluctant farewell to the Lincoln Memorial.
I took this picture after Amelia and I walked back over
the Memorial Bridge (on the left) into Virginia, where
our charter bus awaited.

Our Revels Are Ended…

When I was in elementary school, I knew a girl whose favorite car-trip activity was to hold a pad of paper in her lap and loosely clutch a pen in her hand, its point barely touching the paper.  She loved to make her own little seismograph chart as the car moved (rumble strips were loads of fun, I’m sure).

I played that game without meaning to while writing my “blog in the field” in the pocket diary that I packed at the last minute.  Here is my last entry, written when our bus crossed back to the Buckeye State from Wheeling.