Odd What Work Will Inspire

By “work” I mean my moonlighting at Columbus State’s Discovery Exchange this evening.  (Since this was a cost-savings day, the Industrial Commission was closed, and I slept until mid-morning, venturing out for a beard trim, and trips to Subway, the post office, and Kroger.)  Work at Columbus State’s bookstore began at 5:30, and I walked the nearly two miles from Weinland Park there.  The temperature has been above 40 degrees today, so I was quite comfortable in a hoodie for this walk.

The flow of customers is starting to pick up, and I understand it’ll be sheer chaos come Monday, the first day of classes for the winter quarter.  I’m finding Columbus State’s students to be much more likable than many of the students I met during my many seasonal stints at DuBois Book Store.  I think the difference is that the community college student has already experienced some responsibility and motivation in life.  Many of them are continuing their educations after raising children, many are taking night school or online classes while working 40 hours per week, and many are trying to get their GEDs.

My experience with students at the University of Cincinnati (and I played this observation to death, and not at all flatteringly, in my still-unpublished novella The Textbook Diaries) was that many of them were kids who enrolled in college because they learned that getting a job at Keller’s IGA or joining the Army actually involved work.  There was a bumper sticker popular at O.U. that said “College is a four-year party with a $20 thousand cover charge.”  There were more students living off campus than on, mostly with their parents.  It was easy to tell that some of them were just marking time before going to work for the family business.

It wasn’t until I worked at DuBois that I began to understand the meaning of the phrase “a sense of entitlement.”  When working customer service on the floor, I lost track of how many times someone would come in, thrust his/her class schedule into my face, and say, “Find my books for me.”  After the second or third time this happened, I politely but firmly explained how the shelves were laid out, where the course guides were located, and how to read the shelf cards to determine the required books for the courses.

While there were few customers on the second floor, in the textbook area, I took a cart loaded with buybacks so I could re-shelve them.  The books were on the cart in a pile, not organized in any way at all.  I took a pack of security strips (silver peel-off strips that resemble the gold strip that used to unwrap the cellophane on cigarette packs) and put them on the books, in inconspicuous places.  Then I’d walk around the textbook area and re-shelve the books in their proper places.  (Some were easier than others; the packets of software were the worst.  Some of the other buybacks were for popular subjects, so I’d walk by a shelf and see it crammed with the identical title, and I’d place it there.)

Once work ended and I came home, I had some chicken soup, and then came to the laptop and resumed the book cataloging project I started the other day and blogged about earlier this week.  I managed to do all the books in a milk crate, plus some of the volumes stacked outside it, and set aside three books that had no Library of Congress call numbers.  (Susie was in the other room working on her blog, and didn’t pay attention to her dad’s latest madness.  She’s long since gotten used to it.)

I don’t know whether I’ll buy a few rolls of the little library stickers and then try to organize all this once this endeavor is finished, but it is fun (mostly) to look at what I have and type it into the database.  Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library to Congress to replace the Library of Congress’ holdings.  (Most of the original Library of Congress was destroyed when the British burned Washington in 1814.  Jefferson was drowning in red ink–something he and I share, besides being Unitarian–and sold his personal library to pay off some of his many debts.  In reality, he used it to start a new collection of books.)  Jefferson’s intention was to organize his books based on Lord Bacon’s hierarchy of science, but he ended up shelving them by size.  (For more information, click here.)

Here is just a little of what I’m working with here:

Between Jobs at the Moment

…And I mean that quite literally.  That does not mean that my employment status has changed, folks.  I am still quite gainfully employed by the State of Ohio, and it looks like my job is secure, despite the imminent governorship of John Richard Kasich.  (The Industrial Commission is thinning its ranks by attrition, so it doesn’t seem like layoffs are going to be necessary.)

No, what I mean is that right now, I have left one job for the day (make that the rest of the year!) and have yet to report to the other one.  At 2:30, I took vacation leave and left work, since there was literally nothing to do.  I was so bored I enthusiastically did the file room inventory, which is a task I usually “forget” to do until the weekly reminder pops up on my calendar.  I even cleaned off much of the mountain of paper and trash that accumulates on any flat surface that I use as a workspace.  (I found things I thought I had lost, such as Xerox copies of my Ohio Writer article about Robert Lowry and a notarized copy of my mother’s death certificate.)

But revelry like this has an ending point, so, with my supervisor’s blessing, I left at 2:30 and am now at the main library, typing this entry at one of the computers on the third floor.  At 5:30, I’ll dash into the phone booth and emerge as Bookstore Man.  (Actually, I’ll walk the half mile plus to the Discovery Exchange a little after 5, and be there for the start of my shift at 5:30.)

Yesterday was my first day on the clock at the Discovery Exchange.  My supervisor, Stacey, is a long-time veteran of the bookstore, and I perused the employee handbook, which dealt with the usual–how to and how not to dress, promptness, calling off work, spotting shoplifters, how to deal with a robbery, sexual harassment, etc.  For the brief duration of my employment, I will have a small locker for my coat and my book bag.  (I added the key to my ring; it’s about the size of a diary key, so I figured that’d be the best way to prevent me from losing it.)

I will be working in the textbook section on the second floor.  In my last entry, I went on at length about my sudden fascination with organizing and cataloging my personal library (that’s a rather highfalutin term for the hodgepodge of books I own and have accumulated over the years).  I was quite favorably impressed with the way the textbooks are organized at the Discovery Exchange (or DX, as it is known on campus).  The books and course material are on tall shelves that take up much of one half of the second floor, arranged alphabetically by subject.  (I was a little confused about foreign languages, until I saw that each language had its own section.  There isn’t just a “Foreign Languages” section–there’s French, German, Spanish, etc.)  Once the shelves run out, the balance of the subjects are arrayed along the rear wall.  There are wrapped skids full of yet-to-be-inventoried-and-shelved books, and an area set aside for discontinued books.  I spent some time looking over the leisure reading books for sale, and also the office supplies (including parking-permit holders and Columbus State planners).  On the first floor, there is even a small area that resembles a convenience store, except that they don’t sell cigarettes, condoms, or alcohol.

Next Monday is the first day of classes, and I am sure it will be sheer chaos.  The student body is smaller than the University of Cincinnati’s, which is where I had most of my bookstore experience (working at DuBois Book Store).  I am anticipating a much easier time with the Columbus State students than I did with the U.C. ones, but the next week or two may prove me wrong.

Have to end this entry and post it before the library’s Firefox system glitches and loses it!

"Some People Read Automobile Books or Rifle Magazines"

The title of this post is a line from the 1968 movie The Boston Strangler.  Attorney John Bottomly (Henry Fonda), who has been questioning the alleged Boston Strangler (Tony Curtis) for hours at a time, unwinds after these long interrogations by burning the midnight oil, burying himself in his law books.  When his wife asks why he is reading law, he says this is his way of relaxing.  “Some people read automobile books or rifle magazines,” he says.

My level of energy and motivation has been almost non-existent.  I was able to feign enough energy and activity for my first day back to work since Wednesday, but pretty much ran out of energy as soon as I came home.  I said hi to Steph and Susie, checked to see if there was any mail for me (there wasn’t), and then went up to the master bedroom and fell asleep immediately.  I didn’t remove shoes, glasses, watch, or cell phone, just collapsed in a heap on the bed.

The energy level (either mental or physical) isn’t much higher now, but nevertheless I’m going to try to stay focused long enough to type out a blog entry.  (I have my ear buds in and am alternating between the B-52s and the Alan Parsons Project right now, with no clue as to what that does for/to creativity.)

So, since I read neither automobile books or rifle magazines (having never used either an automobile or a rifle in my 47 years on earth), what am I doing to unwind?  Yesterday, I had a somewhat sustained burst of activity (it may have been a manic episode) and I spent hours communing with BookDB2, a shareware program I downloaded earlier this month from Spacejock Software.  I’ve begun cataloging my “holdings” here.

I’ve made futile efforts at this in the past.  When I took a public speaking class at St. Mary’s Middle School in the eighth grade, I gave a presentation on my book collection, and I brought in a small red and black hardbound notebook in which I had listed every book I had on my shelf (or windowsill or tucked over my bedroom door).  There was no logic or order as to where they went on the shelf–Jim Bouton’s Ball Four could be side by side with Joseph Gallagher’s To Be a Catholic, and paperback classics of American literature jostled alongside Pocket Books editions of Erle Stanley Gardner.

Most recently, I seem to have caught the bug after the evening I spent volunteering at Sporeprint, helping to organize and catalog its lending library.  (I wrote about it in an earlier entry in this blog.)  Our goal was to shelve the books by Library of Congress Classification.  Many books published in the last decade print this information after the title page, but when confronted with a book that didn’t have this, another person looked up the appropriate call number from the Library of Congress’ online card catalog.

Steph and Susie, sitting at their respective laptops in the dining room, looked up from time to time to see me carrying armloads of books from the milk crate bookshelves here in the living room and stacking them on the floor around my worktable.  Once sitting at the laptop, I’d click on BookDB2 and begin entering the specifics about the book.  At first, I was content just to enter author and title information, and maybe date of copyright, but soon I decided to enter call numbers.  Just like at Sporeprint, I kept the Library of Congress’ page up, and often found myself looking up book titles so that it would retrieve the call numbers for me.

(We’ve all heard the myth that the Library of Congress has a copy of every single book published in the United States.  It is just that, a myth.  I have encountered two books in my own collection–and I am sure there are more–that the Library of Congress doesn’t possess.  One is Sam Hedrin’s novelization of Network, based on the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.  The other is Robert Lomas’ The Secrets of Freemasonry.)

To make the project even more interesting, I set up the main menu to sort by call number, so it fascinated me to see the titles arrange themselves by subject matter–which they definitely are not in at the present moment.  Once the project is finished, I may consider buying the little spine stickers, marking the books, and then trying to arrange them in some semblance of order.  At least in the main menu, the sacred books are organized together (right now The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton is on the same shelf as Stephen King and James A. Michener).

I plan to be a deliberate latecomer to the world of the Kindle.  I have seen more and more people on the bus with them, especially after work, but I still like my over-the-shoulder bag bursting with actual print, from library books to the composition book in which I write my diary.  I may be more tempted once the price drops, but until then, a Kindle is nowhere on the horizon.  That is probably why my all-time favorite Star Trek character, throughout all the various series, was Captain Kirk’s attorney Samuel T. Cogley in the original series first-season episode “Court Martial.”  He eschews the use of computers and tapes, saying, “I’ve got my own system!  Books, young man, books!”  He invites himself–along with his many books–to move into Kirk’s cabin and excitedly discourses on how much he loves books before planning Kirk’s case with him.

“This is where the law is!  Not in that
homogenized, pasteurized synthesizer!”
–Samuel T. Cogley (Elisha Cook) to
Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner)
in “Court Martial,” Stardate 2947.3

Christmas Day

After the gifts are exchanged, Christmas is a pretty dull day, unless you’re a sports fan.  (If you are, there’s no shortage of college and pro football games on TV to watch.)  I’m typing right now as a way to pass the time between now and 11:30, when Steve, Susie, and I go to see Santa Claus Conquers the Martians at the Grandview Theater.  (It’s the third installment of Nite Owl Theater‘s return; those of you in the Columbus area head to Grandview tonight!)

Susie fared quite well this Christmas–a generous assortment of clothes, books, gift cards, and videos.  (She was ecstatic to receive a DVD of Despicable Me, a movie that had her in stitches.  She was very thankful that it wasn’t Marmaduke, a movie she disliked when she saw it.)  She also doesn’t have to worry about running out of socks or underwear anytime soon.

I received two long-sleeved pullover shirts–much needed.  I ordered a jewelry box for Steph from Amazon.com, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when FedEx delivered it before Christmas.  She loved it; it’s now on her vanity awaiting her earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.  The slippers and perfume I bought Steph were local purchases, so they were under our Charlie Brown Christmas tree the entire time.

Susie absolutely loved the paperback Photonovel of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” a second-season episode of the original Star Trek.  (That was the first episode she ever saw, my way of gently introducing her to the wide world of the United Federation of Planets.)  I remember religiously buying Star Trek Photonovels (although Bantam Books always spelled it Fotonovel) at People’s News and Books in Marietta as they were published.  (Photonovels were the cusp between comic books and home video.  They were essentially comic books that used stills from movies or TV episodes in lieu of artists’ drawings.  I had almost forgotten about them until someone on the Star Trek Wiki mentioned them in passing.  I remember buying the first one, “The City on the Edge of Forever,” when it was issued, and being disappointed that the series stopped after only 12 installments.  (The last one I bought was the badly produced black and white edition of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at Million Year Picnic just off Harvard Square when I lived in Boston.)

I ventured outdoors to buy iced tea for Steph and some Diet Pepsi for myself, and the streets are almost deserted today.  I remember glancing south toward downtown, and, except for some cars passing back and forth on E. 5th Ave., you’d think that Civil Defense had ordered the evacuation of Columbus.  (I was going to buy Miracle Whip and milk at Kroger, but I’m glad I had the foresight to call ahead to see if they’d be open; they weren’t.)  I went to one of the little corner markets, but you need a bank loan to pay for anything other than pop in these stores, so the Miracle Whip and the milk can keep until tomorrow.)

A friend gave us a giant ham for Christmas, and we’ll be having soup with ham, and ham sandwiches, for quite awhile.  I was going out to buy Miracle Whip to go with the sandwiches, but the sticker shock made me decide that I can have ham sandwiches with mustard until tomorrow.

Merry Christmas!!

Christmas Eve 2010

Christmas Eve is the second day of my four-day hiatus from work.  (I took yesterday off, a “cost-savings day” decreed from on high, one of the 10 unpaid days dictated by our latest contract.  Having to take yesterday off so angered me that I could only sleep until 10:45 a.m.!)

Susie has already opened one of her gifts–the Super Mario Galaxy game for the Wii.  She’s christened it already, and plans to play it while waiting for Steph and me to wake up tomorrow morning.  (It wasn’t even my intention for her to open this gift.  When I handed her the package, I thought it was another gift, which she will open in the morning.  I ordered online from Amazon.com, and the gifts have been coming from Amazon, as well as distributors all over the country.  There is one present still at large, but we’ll be okay if it arrives before January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas.)

She and I went to the 5 p.m. Christmas Eve service at First UU this evening.  (There’s a later service, but we wanted to be home for a delicious ham, sweet potato, and green bean dinner.  Midnight Christmas services are definitely the creation of celibate clergy!)  Susie gave her friend a poster of Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd and gave a younger friend a journal and a set of pens.

I remember one Christmas Eve during my bachelorhood where I saw something that was rather poignant.  I was living in Cincinnati, and Christmas Eve was my one night off from the post office.  (I didn’t make any effort to make the trip to Marietta, because I had no desire to see my stepmother or -sisters, plus I had to be back on the West End toting barge and lifting mail on Christmas Night around 9 p.m.  Why didn’t I head to Athens to see my mother?  For the same reason John McCain doesn’t send Christmas cards to his captors at the Hanoi Hilton.)  I decided to explore the bars in Clifton, my neighborhood and still favorite Cincinnati neighborhood.

One of the bars I habituated was the Submarine Galley, located on the south end of Short Vine.  The beer was cheap and the jukebox had a very good selection.  (Also, I had been around a few galleys in my typesetting days.)  I went inside and the atmosphere was more somber than a Good Friday vigil.  The lights were turned down low, and the jukebox was dark.  The bartender had a boom box sitting on the shelf with all the liquor bottles, and it was playing Christmas carols.  There were only a dozen or so people in the bar, and they all looked like they were in there alone.  There was very little eye contact, and everybody seemed to be intently studying the drinks in front of them.  My mood was already low enough, and I didn’t want it dragged down any further.  (Irish wakes are much more cheerful, and those usually occur with an open casket in the room!)

I didn’t even stay for one drink, but went instead to Cory’s, a jazz bar a few blocks south (George Thorogood filmed the “I Drink Alone” video there), and enjoyed a wonderful performance by nonagenarian James “Pigmeat” Jarrett, a jazz pianist who had performed with Duke Ellington.  Some other friends of mine, who were far from, or estranged from, their families, were there, and we ended up closing the place up and having an after-hours party at their apartment in that warren of streets south of West McMillan.

I spent part of yesterday indulging myself.  My supervisor gave me a $25 Wal-Mart gift card.  Wal-Mart is not one of my favorite places, even less so during the Christmas holidays, but I went south to Great Southern and braved the hoards of shoppers.  My purchases were pretty utilitarian–blank DVDs and CDs, mostly.  I was proud to get a two-disk copy of Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal for $5 (I’ve never seen the second movie).  I considered buying a diver’s watch, but decided not to because the dial was as big around as a silver dollar and the case weighed about a ton.  I can’t swim a stroke, so don’t ask me the appeal of a diver’s watch!

Yesterday, I also ran a more essential errand.  I must truly be drifting into insanity, because I will be taking a temporary evenings-and-weekends job at the Discovery Exchange, which is the bookstore at Columbus State Community College.  I will be helping with the rush period, before the winter quarter begins on January 3.  I applied online early in November, and had almost forgotten about it before the bookstore manager called me and asked me to come in after work last week for an interview.  After she recommended me for hire, I filled out information online about my last few addresses (I had to plow through the last few volumes of diaries to get the dates I lived at certain places), my criminal background if any, etc.  Yesterday, I stopped by the Human Resources office and filled out a W-2, signed up for SERS (School Employees Retirement System), and completed an online I-9 (an Employment Eligibility Form).  The Department of Xenophobia Homeland Security, via the Ohio Department of Public Safety, provided an amusing two-page Terrorist Exclusion List, and I had to indicate whether I was a member of any of them.  (If I was, would I admit it on a form when applying for a job?  If I did, I doubt that the Keystone Kops in Homeland Security would bother to follow it up.)  It was gratifying to see Kahane Chai, the Kach Party, and the Real IRA on the list, since the conventional wisdom seems to be that terrorism is the sole province of the Islamic world.

Discovery Exchange, Columbus State Community
College (283 Cleveland Ave.)

I’ll be starting at the Discovery Exchange Monday night after work, I believe.  After I gave the H.R. office all my information, they submitted it online, and there was a notice in my email when I got back from Wal-Mart saying my new employee Novell account is open.  I sent an email to my supervisor-to-be asking where and when to report to work.  She apparently didn’t get the message, and the bookstore was closed today, so I anticipate a phone call from her Monday morning.  I’m going to work at the Industrial Commission Monday morning planning to race-walk the eight-tenths of a mile to the bookstore.

One of my few completed writing projects is a novella called The Textbook Diaries, which I based on my experiences working at Du Bois Book Store in Cincinnati.  I worked there at the beginning and conclusion of almost every academic quarter at the University of Cincinnati for most of the time I lived in the Queen City, sometimes when I was otherwise unemployed, sometimes when I was also working at the Cincinnati post office.  I met quite a few characters, made a few friends, and had a variety of bizarre experiences during these stints, and had enough to create a manuscript.  (Charles Bukowski had already skewered one of my other employers, the U.S. Postal Service, so I figured I had textbook stores to myself.)  I took some dramatic liberties with my life and situation, rearranged some incidents, and embellished others.  I flatter myself by saying the finished product is what George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying would look like written by Bukowski.

Here is part of the first page of the manuscript, resurrected from the still-unsorted boxes of my writings and notebooks.  (This will be your chance to see it before you have to pay admission to see it under glass.☺)

When I learned I was getting the job at the Discovery Exchange, I emailed my friend Robert in Silver Spring, and the title of the email was “Son of Textbook Diaries,” since I may have more material by the time my job ends.  (I remember a New Yorker cartoon I hung over my desk when I was a teenager.  It showed a woman and her friend looking through a doorway, where one of the women’s husband is sitting at a desk, industriously at work on a typewriter.  The wife says, “Harvey fictionalizes my every word and deed.”  Maybe that’s what I should do at this job!)

It’s after 11 p.m., and it will be Christmas in about 45 minutes.  I’ve been to two Christmas services this season, one more than usual.  Both of them, the Qabalah celebration and the one tonight, made me think of a quotation from a Unitarian Universalist minister, the Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed, whom I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in person here in Columbus.  Long before I met him, I was familiar with his words.  A friend from several UU youth conferences would always sign off her letters with his words, words with which I will conclude this entry tonight.

May we dedicate ourselves to the proposition that beneath all our diversity and behind all our differences there is a unity which makes us one and binds us forever together in spite of time, and death, and the space between the stars.  Let us pause in silent witness to that Unity.

Entry C

This is the 100th entry in this blog since I jumped ship from LiveJournal.  (The C in the title is the Roman numeral for 100.)  It’s a momentous occasion, much like when I was a kid, watching the odometer roll over at 10 thousand miles and seeing all those zeros appear.  I’ve been at a loss as to how I can mark this event.

I would have posted this centennial entry sooner, except for the fact that my mood’s stability has not been reliable from one moment to the next.  I suspect that my desperate overuse of ibuprofen last week has wreaked havoc on my lithium balance, so my body is not properly processing the 600 mg I take daily.  I haven’t been in a constant state of depression (I always picture that as being like Joe Btfsplk, the Li’l Abner character who constantly dressed in black and had a dark rain cloud above him at all times), but when I’m in a good mood about something, I fall from it twice as far as usual.  (It’s analogous to using sugar as a stimulant.  Yes, it will make you feel more awake, but once it wears off, you feel twice as wiped out as you did previously.)

Over the weekend, my mood was all over the map, but some of the reasons were legitimate.  On Saturday afternoon, Susie and I went to the Northside library.  She left before I did so she could play at the Weinland Park playground, and we agreed to meet at “the dollar store” at 3:15, so she could buy Christmas wrapping paper and some presents for her friends.

Cutting right to the chase, our scheduled meeting didn’t happen.  I left the library on time, and hurried to Family Dollar, a few blocks south.  I waited around for a decent interval, and bought a Diet Coke, so it wouldn’t look like I’d been loitering, and made it a point to sprint home via Weinland Park.  No one was there, so I headed home, getting worried.

Susie came in about 15 minutes after I arrived.  The thought, “Thank God she’s all right, I’m gonna kill her!” passed through my mind, but I didn’t have time to worry about it.  Steve was on his way by soon to pick me up so we could go to the Qabalah Christmas celebration, something I was afraid I was going to cancel if Susie was still at large.  (As it turned out, Susie and I got our wires crossed because she was at Dollar Tree, just across the street from the library, and I was at Family Dollar, a short walk away.  We forgot there was more than one “dollar store” near the library.)

The celebration was a blessed way to wind down from the worry and frustration regarding my miscommunication with Susie.  It was a ceremony that quite lent itself to turning inward, centering, and decompressing, and I needed it at that moment.  I know very little about mysticism, and it’s nothing that can be explained while standing on one foot.  The service was a Builders of the Adytum ceremony (adytum is Latin for “holy of holies”).  (Before I reveal my lack of knowledge any further, I’ll refer you to the Wikipedia entry on Hermetic Qabalah.  If nothing else, remember this spelling during those Scrabble games when you have a lone Q sitting on your tray and there’s no open U anywhere on the board.)

Monday night, I was saddened, not depressed.  I came home from a meeting and opened my Facebook page, and there was a note from a classmate.  “Paul, you need to check Dan’s page.”  I did this, and found out that my friend Dan Bush, with whom I reconnected (thanks to Facebook) a year ago, died this week in Tennessee.  His sister posted this news on his page.

I have heard no further details since that time, and several scenarios and possibilities are going through my mind.  Dan and I re-established contact in 2009, and he called me several times in the week that I was recuperating from my gallbladder surgery in February.  Additionally, we had communicated by email, Skype, and IM, and he was a frequent follower of this blog.

Dan and I were both active in the Audio-Visual Club at Marietta High School.  I joined because of a fascination with magnetic tape recording, and I knew A-V was the place for me when I sneaked a look at Playboy and found myself mooning over the stereo equipment advertised more than the centerfolds.  We were front and center doing lights for school assemblies and plays, and in our sophomore year, Dan and I were immortalized as we were setting the lights (I was setting lights before I was setting type!) for a community theater production of Man of La Mancha.  This picture appeared in the yearbook, I suspect, because the idea of me on a scaffold was appealing to quite a few people when I was in high school.  The picture appeared in the 1979 edition of the Orion, MHS’ yearbook, and, in Dan’s honor, I’ll post it here.  The picture is flipped, because I never have worn my watch on my right wrist, as it is in this picture.  (Yes, that beardless beanpole in the checked shirt is me!)

Many thanks to Robin Lynn Pyatt
Bellamy (Class of ’80) for scanning this
photo from the yearbook and emailing
it to me.
Four days off from work are coming, for the next two consecutive weeks.  I’ve ranted about the 10 mandatory days off (“cost-saving days”) demanded by our current union contract; December 23 and 30 are two of them.  The Agency will also be closed Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, since Christmas and New Year’s Day are both on Saturday this year.  We’ll open presents on Christmas morning, and that night Steve is taking us to the third episode of Nite Owl Theater‘s return, where Fritz will be showing (what else?) Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  (I remember when I was a teen my private way of celebrating Christmas, as I braced myself to pretend I could tolerate being with my family, was to watch the Pope’s midnight Mass from St. Peter’s in Rome.)
It’s just after 11 p.m., and I am making a trip to Kroger, since I’ve just realized we’re out of milk and eggs.  The walk isn’t a long one, and the temperature (per the Weather Channel icon at the bottom of my screen) is 30 degrees, so I won’t have to worry about getting too cold on the short trip.

Remembering the Night on the Christmas Set

“The Christmas Set” is a poem I wrote several years ago.  It still remains unpublished, and I may post it to Scribd if I can ever find a copy of it.  (One of my Facebook friends actually thinks I keep my notebooks, papers, and manuscripts in logical order.  How naïve is that?)  I wrote it to describe the last Christmas my mother, father, and I spent together.  This was in 1973, when I was 10.

I called it “The Christmas Set” because we were play-acting, and we were performing for an audience.  Our family custom had been to open gifts on Christmas Eve, because on Christmas morning when I was eight, I couldn’t restrain my enthusiasm and woke my parents at 4:30 a.m. to open presents.

The year of “The Christmas Set,” my parents had been at each other’s throats for most of the day, and this was so customary that I could usually pick up the latest issue of Mad, put a record (usually Dave Brubeck or the Beatles) on my mono phonograph, and retreat to my bedroom.  When I was younger, the sound would terrify me, and I was come into the room, tearful and white-faced.

One of my gifts that year was a new cassette recorder, a Superscope with a condenser microphone.  I was enthralled by this, because I did not know that you could record without having to hold a mike in your hand.  When my parents finally laid off the high-volume bickering long enough for us to gather around the tree, the tape recorder was in a big box marked PAUL–OPEN THIS FIRST!!  I did, and my mother’s plan was to christen it with a taped letter to her father (my grandfather) in Florida.  So, once the tape was rolling, we were a page straight out of Norman Rockwell, laughing and joking as we opened presents, including the clay ashtray I made for my mother and the paperweight I made for my dad (a painted rock with a velvet pad glued to the underside).  I remember getting three blank cassettes, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, the 1974 Information Please Almanac, and my first diary.  Mother pleasantly talked about how we were going to the midnight service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Dad talked about how our paperboy’s Irish setter had chased me when we stopped by his house to deliver his gift, and I talked about the Christmas program at school.  (We did not mention that when I came home from school, Mother was on her way to the hospital by ambulance after taking an overdose of pills with liquor.)

Mease Manor in Dunedin, Fla.  This is where my
maternal grandfather and his wife lived when
we mailed him the tape of our performance of
a lifetime–pretending to be a happy family.

I knew the tape in the machine was only 30 minutes per side, but I never wanted it to end, because once someone pushed the STOP button, the happy family, and all the shalom bayit, would be gone like a soap bubble.

Tonight, I did more in the way of Christmas activities than I have since the shopping season began.  (A caveat here: In my eyes, it is still Friday night, although my Emerson Research digital clock shows 2:34 a.m., Saturday morning, December 18.  I haven’t been to bed, and it’s still dark outside, so it’s Friday night.)  This was the end of school until after the first of the year, so Susie remained “sick” today, mainly because Dominion had early dismissal.  After work, I took the bus up to Walgreen near Graceland Shopping Center so I could pick up a photo print I had ordered online.  At Steph’s suggestion, I stopped in Dollar General and bought a three-foot artificial tree, a little taller than the scraggly little twig in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and brought it home.  I know it doesn’t compare to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s father going out in the Big Woods near Pepin, Wisconsin and felling the family tree.

We’re going to decorate it sometime tomorrow–when, I don’t know.  I’m going to a Qabalistic Christmas Ritual tomorrow afternoon at the Masonic temple in Westerville with my friend Steve.  (Once a typesetter, always a typesetter–I love spelling the word this way because it’s one of the few times I can use a Q without a U immediately after it.)  Later in the evening, I may be going to a concert at The Dude Locker on Hudson St.

I can heave a sigh of relief and say the Christmas shopping is over and done with, and I did not have to dive into the mosh pit that began in the stores on Black Friday and will continue until well past midnight Christmas morning.  After dinner, Steph and I exiled Susie to her bedroom, pulled up Amazon.com on Steph’s laptop, and bought Susie’s gifts online.  They will be arriving from different places, and I hope that all of them are in our mailbox by Christmas Eve.  If not, Susie will have something to look forward to in the days between Christmas and New Year’s.  After Steph went upstairs, I went online and ordered her gift, and now I am crossing my fingers and hoping it arrives by the 24th.  (When I worked at the Cincinnati post office, the December slogan was “We deliver for Yule.”  I hope that’s still true.  More importantly, I hope they deliver by Yule!)

Susie Soloed Tonight at Dominion’s Christmas Concert

Dominion’s three grades (sixth, seventh, and eighth) performed quite well, and the choice of music was quite eclectic, and there was enough mention of Christmas and the birth of Jesus to contradict anything you’ve heard about the mythical “war on Christmas.”  Despite having a sore throat, and missing school yesterday, Susie performed her solo of “This Christmas” excellently.  She was barely home from the show before compliments began popping up on her Facebook page.

The parents, in many cases, were another story…

When Susie was going to Dana Elementary, each class presented little Christmas skits, each lasting maybe five minutes at the longest.  Susie was in one of the lower grades, so her class’ play went close to the opening of the program.  I became quite irritated that the parents who came only seemed to listen and pay attention when their own children were onstage, and they jabbered all through the other performances, completely uncaring that other parents’ children were onstage and acting their little hearts out.  I was variously bored and amused by many of the other performances, but I did my best to respect the little thespians on the stage, and the feelings of the parents who had ventured out into the cold December night to hear them play.

I had the same experience tonight.  Since Steph was unable to come with me to the concert tonight, I brought along my trusty Kodak EasyShare camera and promised Steph I’d film the eighth-grade kids’ part of the concert, especially Susie’s solo.  (I couldn’t have recorded the entire concert, since the camera’s memory can accommodate only about 20 minutes of footage.)

I’m downloading the files to YouTube while I’m typing this entry, but I knew as I filmed it wouldn’t be professional quality at all.  One of these days I need to bite the bullet and get a tripod for this camera, because  you’ll be able to tell when my arm began to get tired, or when I had to shift the camera from one hand to the other.

Making matters worse was a woman sitting in front of me.  I sat in the center section, down toward the front, because the EasyShare’s zoom lens is not all that wonderful.  I was also afraid that if I sat too far back, all I’d film would be a stage full of silhouettes, and I’m not sure how sensitive the camera’s microphone is.

The woman in front of me was constantly rising up in her seat, shouting, “Sing it, honey!” to the stage–apparently one of her kids was in the choir–and I kept having to rise up higher in my seat so I would be filming the kids and not the back of her head.  Had I not been recording, I would have explained to her, most likely through gritted teeth, how people came to hear the kids, not her.  I’m sure her child was praying for a gigantic chasm to open in the stage floor and swallow him/her.  Mom obviously thought that middle-school Christmas concerts are supposed to be like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I wanted to add to the Christmas festivities by using this woman as a piñata.

There was a low rumble of chatter in pockets here and there behind me at some point during the entire performance.

The hour and a half before the concert had too much excitement for my liking.  Steph fixed a wonderful sloppy joe sauce for dinner, and I knew I would be home for a maximum of 20 minutes before Susie and I headed out to catch the COTA bus to Dominion.  Steph and Susie had both eaten by the time I arrived home, so I inhaled three sloppy joes and then Susie and I left to walk to the bus stop.  We lucked out, and a bus came up North 4th St. within five minutes.  (This was fortunate, since it was about 14º F. outside.)  We came aboard the bus, and before we had passed the first stop, Susie realized, to her horror, that she had forgotten the bag with her clothes for the performance.  I signaled for a stop, and told Susie to go ahead and ride the bus on up to Dominion.

I got off the bus and ran like mad back to the bus stop, because Susie said she may have left the bag there.  No bag, so I panicked.  There was one other possibility; the bag was on the kitchen floor.  I burst in through the back door (and probably shortened Steph’s life by about seven years), and almost collapsed from relief, because there was the bag with her concert clothes.  I turned right around and ran back to the bus stop, and was blessed by the sight of another bus coming north within minutes of my arrival.  Susie was frantically looking for me at the school–I heard from three of her friends, independently, that she was looking for me.  I handed off the bag of clothes to her, and she immediately dashed into a restroom to get out of her jeans and sweatshirt and into concert attire.

An emergency can drive you to unheard-of feats of strength and endurance.  We’ve all heard the story about the frail woman who was able to pull a car off her son when it pinned him.  My run to pick up Susie’s clothes was the most athletic activity I’ve performed in days, and I did it while in a bit of pain.  Saturday morning, I was coming home with my two-wheel grocery cart.  I was coming home after buying food, and I must not have been pulling the cart properly, or I was holding my spine in a bad position, because after I came home and filled the cupboards, pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, I turned to put the cart back in its kitchen corner and there was a stabbing pain down my lumbar spine.  I did some chores around the house during the afternoon, some of which involving lifting, and I made a bang-zoom run to the library to return and pick up materials.

By the end of the afternoon, I was in such pain that I was swallowing ibuprofen tablets five or six at a time.  I even went through some boxes I never completely unpacked after the move, searching in vain for any Darvocet left over from the gallbladder surgery last February.  A Facebook friend scolded me for the excessive ibuprofen, telling me that I was jeopardizing my stomach lining and gastrointestinal tract if I was taking that much at once.

Sunday morning, the pain wasn’t much better.  I didn’t get out of bed until noon, and Susie headed up to church on the bus solo.  The first real snow of the season fell Sunday morning after sunrise, and although the sidewalks were icy (it had rained before the temperature dropped and snow began falling), I felt I had been confined to quarters too long, so I got out of bed, showered, dressed, and went downtown to the Main Library.

Two pictures of our street, mid-morning Sunday.
(Photos by Steph.)

Just being out in the fresh air–cold as it was–was quite a balm.  I had loaded up with my weight’s worth of ibuprofen, and it was at least having a placebo effect.  My mood improved when I ran into my friend John at the public computers on the third floor.  After he was done online, we compared union steward woes (we were both union stewards at Medco Health, and I spelled him as recording secretary several times) over cheeseburgers and Chicken Nuggets at the McDonald’s near Franklin University.  (I loaded up on so much Diet Coke during the talk that my hands had an almost Parkinsonian tremble by the time we left.)

Susie “pitched through her tears” when she soloed tonight.  She had a sore throat Monday and stayed home from school, and when the alarm rang this morning, neither she, nor Steph, nor I knew whether she should come to school.  She still had the sore throat, but she had no fever and was not coughing.  If she took today off, that would be no solo tonight.  I finally told her to go to school.  If she felt too wretched to complete the day, she could call me at work and I’d come get her and take her home on COTA.  I told her she would never forgive herself if she stayed home and felt better during the day, thus ending her chance to sing tonight.

As you can see, it all worked out for the best.  She sang well, and so did her classmates.  I’m pretty jaded when it comes to Christmas programs, but I almost wish I had recorded the seventh grade choir’s rendition of “Sing We Now of Christmas.”  (This was the first time I had ever heard the song with English lyrics.  I knew the melody, because I had heard Jan Peerce sing “Noel Nouvelet” on Great Songs of Christmas, an album that gas stations used to give out in December when I was a kid.)  They did a great job with this carol, which I really enjoyed.  The song is quite repetitious, but it’s pretty enough that this doesn’t grate on your nerves.

The Dominion Ensemble Choir performed excellent renditions of very secular songs (such as Toto’s “Africa” and Van Halen’s “Jump”) sandwiched in between “Carol of the Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

A good concert, but it didn’t flow as well as one at Washington School when I was in grade school.  Between selections, teachers would read the Nativity story in different languages, with English last.  I remember one boy singing a solo of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” while wearing a sailor’s cap–this was while the Vietnam War was still happening, so it struck close to home to quite a few kids there.  And the show ended with Washington School’s orchestra playing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and making it sound like a dirge.

I may be posting my video footage of the concert in a day or two.  YouTube’s upload is quite slow.  I think a courtroom sketch artist could produce a finished product a lot faster than this.  I think a sculptor could.

Do Something About My Neighborhood–Just Not Yet

Last night, Susie and I were walking the few blocks from the Northside branch of the library back home.  Kitty-corner to the library is a Dollar Tree, with a Kroger across the street from it.  On our short walk home, Susie and I counted four shopping carts on the sidewalk, taken from Kroger’s lot and abandoned.

I was shaking my head and clucking my tongue about this, another new arrival in Weinland Park wringing his hands about the detritus in the neighborhood–the trash, the ditched shopping carts, etc.

And yes, I do want these to change, and I will lend a hand in whatever way I can.  But tonight I was grateful that the clean-up has yet to begin.

Our union handed out an early Christmas gift to each member today: a $50 gift card from Meijer.  I immediately emailed Steph with this news, and asked her to email me back a small shopping list.  She did.  Payday’s a week away, so it’s good to be able to stock up on groceries for free.  The only trouble is, the only Meijer store I could reach was over an hour away on the bus–way out in Gahanna, on the east side of Columbus.  (Any resemblance between that name and “Gehenna”, the Valley of the Son of Hinnom used as a metaphor for Hell in the Bible, is purely intentional, I’m sure.)

Distance or no, I realized that I needed to restock our larder.  I bought milk, cereal, bread, meat, pop, hot chocolate mix, and some things for Susie, and when I reached the self-checkout, the bill came to $50.12!  I have to hand it to Steph–she planned the list almost right down to the penny, except for the 12 pennies I had to pony up on my own!

Laden with Meijer plastic bags, I crossed the parking lot and waited less than 10 minutes before the westbound 95 arrived.  This is the bus that goes back and forth on Morse Rd., a trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat.  I had packed the bags myself, so I’m sure I probably didn’t distribute everything wisely.  (The loaves of bread I bought are all kinds of funny shapes.)  I managed to load everything on the bus, and it was a pretty uneventful ride west on Morse until I got off to transfer to the bus that goes south on Indianola.  The handle on one of the bags broke, and I barely managed to catch the gallon jug of milk before it hit the bus floor and possibly burst.  A teenage girl sitting in one of the seats in front of me helped me organize things enough to get them off the bus.

I had to make two trips to get everything onto the southbound bus, and I dreaded the two-block walk from where the bus let me off to my house.  I looked around and, sitting under the streetlight, there stood a shopping cart from Kroger, the same shopping cart I had derided in my walk with Susie last night.  I was overjoyed to see this.  I loaded all my bags, all of them bursting at the seams, into the cart and pushed it home.  I was afraid the entire time that I would be the one person a police officer would arrest as an example to people who habitually steal shopping carts.  I must have engaged my cloaking device somewhere along the way, because I made it without incident to my kitchen, heaved a huge sigh of relief, and then began unpacking everything I bought at Meijer.

Matinée Showing of HOWL This Afternoon

It is indeed rare when I go to a first-run movie, but when the Drexel Theater in Bexley posted a Facebook notice that they would screen Howl I knew I had to be front and center before it left Columbus.  (To those of you not familiar with Central Ohio geography, Bexley is east of downtown Columbus, the home of Capital University and  Trinity Lutheran Seminary.)

I had to keep reminding myself these were actors.  The movie dealt with the obscenity trial caused by City Lights’ publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, the fourth volume of its Pocket Poets series.  Scenes taking place in the San Francisco courtroom were color, whereas an extended interview with Ginsberg in his cluttered apartment (taking place two years after the verdict) was in black and white, as were the flashbacks of the incidents he described.  James Franco, the actor who played Ginsberg, did an excellent job, especially in the scenes depicting Howl‘s first public reading.  (These scenes were filmed in grainy black and white, as if someone had brought an eight-millimeter camera to the reading.)  I could have done without the surreal color animation interpreting the poem as it was read.

My late friend Adam Bradley was the person responsible for my interest in the primary Beat writers and poets, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.  (William Burroughs is another luminary among Beat writers, but his fascination with hallucinogenic drugs and guns turned me off his writings.)  I met Adam in the spring of 1986, when he was working on a doctorate in American literature at OSU.  He was focusing on Kerouac for his dissertation.

Adam, especially when he wasn’t medicated properly, was quite manic when he talked, and could discourse for hours on end without even stopping to take a breath.  Just so I could hold up my end in conversations, I began reading many of Kerouac’s novels (prior to meeting Adam, I had only read On the Road).  I wanted to be able to jump in at appropriate moments and say, “That’s true, but by the time he wrote The Dharma Bums, Kerouac was saying…”

I was disappointed that the movie made no mention of the poem that is Ginsberg’s masterpiece.  Its full title is Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg 1894-1956, a gut-wrenching memorial to his mother, who died in a Long Island mental hospital after years of insanity.  Ginsberg brought plenty of guilt to the poem, because he had signed the paperwork authorizing his mother’s lobotomy, and because he hadn’t been present during her final illness and death.

One night, Adam and I were sitting in his apartment in University Village, drinking 12-packs of Olympia (and then I’d run over to Rick’s Beverages and replenish the supply) and listening to Marianne Faithfull and Gerry Mulligan records.  When one LP ended, Adam said, “You gotta hear this!”  He put on a record of Ginsberg’s tearful, high-decibel reading of Kaddish, recorded in 1964 at Brandeis University.  Having grown up watching my mother’s descent into madness, prescription drug addiction, and alcoholism, the poem hit a nerve, and I made a tape of it that night after hearing the entire recording.  (The Brandeis recording is included in Ginsberg’s boxed set Holy Soul Jelly Roll.)

A sad footnote–both Adam and Ginsberg died in 1997, while Steph was pregnant with Susie.

I highly recommend Howl, although a person totally unfamiliar with either the poem or the subsequent obscenity trial will have a difficult time understanding what is happening.  When I came back from the movie, I took out my big copy of Howl, which contains annotations, pictures of the original drafts, contemporaneous correspondence, its legal history, and the poems (by Christopher Smart, St. John of the Cross, William Blake, and others) which inspired Ginsberg and his vision when he began the poem.

Looking over the pictures of the drafts, again I was thankful that the personal computer came only recently on the scene.  I’ve felt the same way when I’ve seen the many incarnations of James Joyce’s Ulysses that predate its publication.  You make a connection with Ginsberg seeing the words crossed out, or scribbled in the margin, or hovering between lines above penciled carets.  (I remember an article in Newsweek in the 1980s about the future of rare manuscripts.  The writer speculated if a floppy disk from Jimmy Carter’s word processor would eventually appear on the auction circuit.)

When I took out the book, I forgot that I saved a 2006 New York Times Book Review critiquing The Poem That Changed America: “Howl” Fifty Years Later, and put the clipping between the pages of the book.  A picture in the article jumped out at me.  It showed a table at the Virginia Military Institute, where buzz-cut, gray-uniformed cadets sat, each poring over a Pocket Poets edition of Howl.  The juxtaposition is glaring.  Presumably Howl was an assigned reading, but I have to wonder how it would have made it onto the reading list.  Howl grieves the destruction of lives, health, and sanity because of unfeeling conformity (symbolized by the “Moloch!” section in Part II), and many of these cadets were, undoubtedly, planning military careers, where their only chances for advancement lay in unquestioned, mindless obedience and unbending uniformity and regimentation.