Peaceably to Assemble…

Last Friday, I walked past the Convention Center en route home from work.  This past weekend, it hosted Ohayocon ’11, a convention celebrating Japanese pop culture (anime, manga, etc.).  A co-worker was waiting at the bus stop when I told him I was going to hoof it home, and he walked with me for a few blocks, until I turned east on E. Goodale by the Church of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral.  We passed by quite a few people who were at Ohayocon (many of them Anglos) and they were all dressed in many different shades of bizarre.  (I always got a crack out of going past the Convention Center during Marcon–Multiple Alternative Realities Convention–when I saw Darth Vaders, Klingons, and C-3POs standing outside smoking.)

Bizarre as the costumes and hairstyles of the people from Ohayocon were, I’m glad that no one seemed to be hassling them or giving them a second glance.  There are usually no shortage of people who think the First Amendment’s “right of the people peaceably to assemble” only applies to their particular group, party, religion, or political philosophy.
Unless there is an out-of-the-building errand, I spend my lunch hours in the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation library on the third-floor mezzanine of the William Green Building where I work.  I either sit inside and read The Wall Street Journal or The Dispatch, or else I’ll sit at the little table outside the doors and read, write in my diary, or doze.  Two years ago this week, I was sitting at the table with my journal, and I heard a middle-aged guy on a cell phone, pacing the floor and obviously looking not very happy.  I heard his end of the conversation (whether I wanted to or not, and he wasn’t make any effort to conceal it), and found that he was on the phone to the Holiday Inn in Worthington.  He was complaining because the Holiday Inn was hosting the Winter Wickedness Perversion Fest.
He was an ordained minister, he said (at least twice), and kept asking if they would have hosted “the Kyoo [sic] Klux Klan” if they were wanting to hold an event.  He talked about how he was going to boycott the hotel in the future (an empty threat if you live in Central Ohio) and urge other people to do the same.  I felt sorry for the minimum-wage desk clerk unfortunate enough to have caught this call.
The fact that he mentioned that he was an ordained minister two or three times, and spoke loudly enough to be heard by the whole mezzanine made me wonder how much time he spent meditating on Matthew 6:1: “Be careful not to make a show of your religion before men; if you do, no reward awaits you in your Father’s house in heaven.”
The Winter Wickedness Perversion Fest was a gathering of people who realized that sex was for something other than procreation, and have quite varied ways of expressing sexuality.  I don’t personally know the man who was so irate about the hotel’s hosting this, but I played amateur psychiatrist and wondered if his displeasure boiled down to “and damn it, they didn’t invite me!”  (After all, if you need to locate a militant anti-gay rights crusader, the first place to look is usually in a Roadside Rest or public park men’s room.  And it requires a computer to chronicle all the Republican and fundamentalist Christian leaders who are serial adulterers and divorced multiple times.)
I’ve seen protests over movies.  The Colony Theater in Marietta, for many years, showed soft-core porn movies on Friday and Saturday nights, and when I was in high school, they inaugurated this with a showing of Oh! Calcutta!, wanting to launch the porn showing with an artistic bent, I suppose.  Naturally, a large contingent of religious fundamentalists were protesting, one guy bringing his German shepherd, carrying a sign that said, “I wouldn’t take a dog to see this movie!”  What I didn’t see was anyone pointing loaded weapons at them and forcing them to see the movie.  This was a precursor to the people who would protest The Last Temptation of Christ, mostly people who lacked the insight or literacy to actually read the novel or see the movie, and understand that it was/is a highly moral movie.  French fundamentalists showed their love of Jesus and his message in 1988 by throwing Molotov cocktails into a Paris movie house during a showing, injuring 13 people and severely burning four of them.  Who would Jesus bomb?
I’ve struggled with the issue myself.  In November 1982, I took my first vacation since moving to Boston, since The Crimson was on hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I took a Greyhound down to Washington, D.C. and stayed in the youth hostel on Eye St., NW.  I made my usual pilgrimages–Ford’s Theater, the house where Lincoln died, the graves of JFK and RFK, the Smithsonian, etc.  The hostel was in Franklin Square at that time, and I began seeing “DEATH TO THE KLAN” posters on walls, fences, and trash cans all over the District.  I gleaned from what I heard on the street and what appeared in The Washington Post there was supposed to be a Ku Klux Klan rally that Saturday.  (In case the person mentioned in the fourth paragraph reads this blog: Please note the pronunciation of the first word in their name!)
I went to be a part of the protest, although I didn’t go there with “death to the Klan” in mind.  Unlike the majority of the protesters, I never questioned the Klan’s right to be there and to march.  As despicable as they were, the law that allowed Vietnam War protests and the March on Washington to take place covered them as well.  I would be there to let them know what I thought of them.  (The march was the brainchild of pro-Soviet Trotskyist loudmouths known as the Sparticist League, a self-styled “revolutionary communist” group.) I was troubled when I saw one guy yammering on about how he was going to get a Klansman’s head stuffed and hung in his recreation room.
Since the Klan never appeared, the crowd who had arrived there loaded for bear, and spoiling for a fight, went wild, breaking shop windows around Lafayette Square and the White House, and charged across Pennsylvania Ave. into Lafayette Square.  Pennsylvania Ave. was still open to through traffic at that time; this changed after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.  I saw a man driving a car which contained his wife and two young children.  They were in Washington as tourists, and wondered just what the hell they had stumbled into.  The man turned his car from 17th St. NW onto Pennsylvania, near the Old Executive Office Building, and I saw a man very deliberately march over to their car and put his fist through their back window.
Crossing over into Lafayette Park, the protesters rioters went after the police, who had lined the streets with sawhorses and dressed in full riot gear.  I was not going to pick up any type of projectile, but I was barely in the park when I felt something whoosh past my right ear.  I realized just how bad the situation was when I noticed it was a chunk of cement the size of a softball.  Had it been one millimeter in the other direction, I would have been the recipient of some massive brain damage.
But I didn’t have the time to contemplate that, because the wind shifted and a massive cloud of tear gas blew right into my face.  For a second, it felt like my face was on fire.  My dad told me about basic training when he was in the Army, when he and his fellow privates were confined in a Quonset hut that was flooded with tear gas, before they were allowed to put on their gas masks.  Tear gas is made from the active ingredient in onions, and my first instinct was to wipe my eyes.  Two women pushed me onto a bench and made me sit on my hands until my eyes stopped burning.  They told me I’d be rubbing it into my eyes deeper.
The Sparticists (their official name is the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist)) who were so eager to organize a riot against the KKK were too young to remember that it was not so long ago that membership in their organization meant no driver’s license, no government employment, no veteran’s benefits (even if honorably discharged), no bonding for jobs (which meant not even work flipping burgers, because you need to be bonded if you’re handling customers’ money), and other prohibitions.  Communist organizations were so heavily infiltrated by the FBI that several cities had cells comprised totally of agents!  (The running joke among leftists was, “How can you tell the FBI informant at a Communist Party meeting?  He’s the only one who ever pays dues.”)
I have zero interest in football, college or professional.  That doesn’t mean that I want the pre- and post-game craziness around High St. that happens on Saturdays all fall to stop.  I know better than to venture into that section of town after a game, especially if the Buckeyes were victorious, but I would never deny them the right to gather to celebrate a victory.  (During the 1970s, Columbus police dealt much more harshly with protesters against the Vietnam War than they did with football revelers, and the post-game crowds usually caused much more property damage.)

Took My First Decent Walk This Afternoon

The longest walks I’ve taken so far this year have been the hop-skip-and-a-jump trips to Kroger (10-15 minutes long) and back, and I’ve been using the cold weather as my reason to hold off on putting any serious pavement under my feet.  Hopefully, I’m snapping out of that, even though March and the vernal equinox are still a ways away.

I walked home from work this afternoon.  The temperature has hovered around freezing all day (according to The Weather Channel, it’s now 33º outside), and I don’t think I ever saw the sun all day, but when 5 p.m. rolled around, I began the northbound walk up High St.  I kept at a pretty good clip, and managed to cover 1.8 miles in 32 minutes–not quite 4 mph.  I didn’t feel as refreshed as I have in walks past, didn’t feel like I could go another 1.8 miles with no effort, but I’m glad to have done it.

My after-work walk is a good warm-up for what is becoming my last-Saturday-of-the-month tradition, the trek to Grandview for the monthly return of Nite Owl Theater.  This Saturday, the movie is House on Haunted Hill, a 1959 picture starring Vincent Price.  The walk is just over three miles, and I’ll be leaving the house around 11 in order to make the midnight showing.  Once the picture ends, I’ll be making the reverse journey home, which means I probably won’t be in bed until about 3 a.m. at the earliest.

One of the things I managed to do to shorten the walk was to stay on the opposite side of the street from Abbott’s Antique Paper and Emporium.  Even though I had little more than pocket lint on me, had I gone there, I would have fallen in love with their inventory, as I always do.  I’ve long gotten over drooling over the ’70s-era pinball machine, but the racks and racks of framed magazine covers, extant issues of Life, Collier’s, and Look, and framed ads for Coca-Cola and other artistically rendered products, have tempted me.  One Comfest I bought a complete New York Post of December 9, 1980 with the giant headline JOHN LENNON SHOT DEAD, and have considered framing it and hanging it up ever since.  I need to find glass that will slow down the yellowing process, since direct exposure to sunlight wreaks havoc on the cheap paper on which newspapers are printed.

My friend and O.U. classmate Ivan received some happy news from me earlier this month.  His former apartment building (at the corner of N. 4th St. and E. 8th Ave.) was demolished.  I got my digital camera and took some brief footage of some of the demolition.  The building was marginal to start with.  Ivan’s basement apartment had bars on the window, and there was often gang graffiti decorating both the interior and exterior of the place.  If the front door was locked, no one thought twice about just kicking it in.  Ivan said that he went into the utility room to do his laundry one day and two or three guys were sitting in there, nonchalantly loading guns.

Campus Partners and the city are going to put 10 houses on the site where the two apartments were located.  They’re going to be built pretty close together, five on N. 4th and five on Hamlet St.  (Ivan and I had christened his building “Charminel North,” named after Charminel Towers, the decrepit apartment building near the main library which was evacuated and eventually demolished in the 1990s.)

Above is the footage that I took of the destruction of Ivan’s erstwhile residence.

I Should Know Soon if "The Authorities" Snoop in My Email

People who belong in padded cells have long believed that the CIA, FBI, or any other agency of so-called “intelligence” have special bureaus and agents who exist for the sole purpose of invading their privacy–wiretapping their phones, opening their snail mail, reading their emails, etc.  (This type of thinking has often led me to believe that paranoia is a manifestation of narcissism.  My dad told me that a paranoid person is someone watching a football game on TV who thinks the players in the huddle are talking about him.)

Well, if anyone is reading my email, I’ll know about it really soon.  I’ve exchanged some in the last week that you could construe as cryptic.

First, a little background.  If you read the fourth paragraph of this entry, from the time when LiveJournal hosted this blog, you’ll read about when I purchased Penguin, the dehumidifier, at Target, when Steph complained of how dry the bedroom was.  It was obviously designed for a child’s room, but it was cheaper than the “adult” models.  (The other choice of children’s model was an elephant, and the last Republican I would have voted for was assassinated in 1865.)  Here’s a picture of Penguin:

Christmas night, my friend Steve’s stepdaughter Ramona (Susie’s first babysitter) posted on Facebook that she had tipped over her dehumidifier and broken it.  I replied to her one-to-one by offering to loan her Penguin.  Steve, Susie, and I were going to see Santa Claus Conquers the Martians with Fritz the Nite Owl that night, so I told her I’d send Penguin back with him after the movie.  She was open to this, and thanked me effusively.

Ramona and her baby daughter went back to Kentucky soon after New Year’s, so I emailed Steve to ask him to send Penguin home with Susie after choir practice, on one of the nights I was working at Columbus State’s bookstore and wouldn’t be with her.  Sure, no problem, he said.  She caught a ride with the mom of one of her fellow Rising Voices.

When I opened the bag, Penguin didn’t have a head–like Wednesday Addams’ Marie Antoinette doll.  This was important, because the steam came from a little hole in his beak.  (Our dear, departed feline David could stare Penguin down indefinitely–you almost wanted to cue up Hugo Montenegro’s theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly when you saw this–but he would be laid low whenever Penguin blasted a little steam in his face.)

I emailed Steve, saying that “I looked in the bag Susie brought home, and all that was there was Penguin’s body.  Would you look around your car and see if his head is still in there?”

He replied that Penguin’s body was intact when he returned Susie’s bag to her.  Maybe the head was in the other car she rode in that night.

So, Saturday before church, I emailed the mother who drove Susie home from choir practice that night.  She’s a good friend, and I was happy she was willing to drive out of her way to get Susie home safely.  So I knew I could trust her when I asked her to check her car to see if there was a disembodied head loose in her car anywhere.  If so, could she bring it back to us?  We had the rest of the body at our house.

After church yesterday, the mother reassured Susie that yes, she would bring Penguin’s head to choir practice tomorrow.  (On a silver platter?  See Matthew 14:6-11.)

How many Keystone Kops with far too much free time have been wearing down shoe leather and going without donuts trying to figure out who “Penguin” represents?  Has to be a code word for a yet-undiscovered murder victim, doesn’t it?

P.S.–Abstained from food and drink (except water) since 9 p.m. last night and went to the doc this morning for the blood draw.  They filled up a test tube and dispatched it to Riverside Hospital’s lab.  Now I wait for a phone call from my doctor once the results return.

Where, Oh Where, Has My Energy Gone?

I felt awake enough when the alarm on my cell phone went off around 8:50.  It’s not that I bounded out of bed, rarin’ to go and greet the coming day.  (I’ve never been like that!)  Rather, I resisted the temptation to hit snooze and roll over and steal another five minutes under the covers before getting in the shower and dressed for church.

And who could have blamed me if I decided to pass on going to church?  When I looked at the Weather Channel icon in the corner of my laptop screen, it showed 6º F. outside.  But, just before 10 a.m. Susie and I trundled to the bus stop on High St.  It was cold, but the sun was shining and there was no wind, so it was bearable.  I even had to remind myself to put on my gloves!

There was nothing to deplete my physical or mental energy during or after the service.  Last week required emotional and cerebral energy, because during coffee hour in Fellowship Hall, the young people of the church (Susie included) danced in a flash mob in honor of Dr. King’s birthday.  (They danced to DJ Casper’s “Cha Cha Slide.”)  It was exhilarating to watch, even though I knew about it beforehand, both from Susie and from the Religious Education Director’s parents’ blog.

Susie’s wearing the yellow shirt.  Stationary pictures
don’t do a flash mob justice, but my Kodak Easy Share
is not that wonderful for motion pictures.

Once the pandemonium around the flash mob subsided last week, I sent Susie home alone on the bus so I could hear a talk by my friend Don Rice, “Art with an Attitude.”  He was displaying part of his massive collection of underground and alternative newspapers and publications of both the Left and Right, when the radical politics of the 1960s and 1970s coincided with cost-effective and less labor-intensive methods of printing.  He hung mounted and framed front pages from many magazines, and displayed a potpourri of newspapers, pamphlets, and journals from all political persuasions.
Don Rice

Don didn’t display any publications from the Flat Earth
Society, but he did present a cross-section, everything
from the
High I.Q. Bulletin to The Objectivist, the Holy
Writ of Randroids worldwide.
Don cleverly published a digest of readings from the ultra-
Left and -Right literature printed by small presses in the U.S.
He called it
The Agitator, and it is visible at the top left, near
an issue of Gerald L.K. Smith’s
The Cross and the Flag.
Some of the magazine covers Don displayed.  (Didn’t know how to
eliminate the reflection and the glare from the sun outside.)

I came home from last Sunday feeling fairly energetic, maybe because I knew that I didn’t have work the next day, and my time was my own until 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Compare that to today.  Susie and I rode home on the bus after the service, and she went to her computer and started writing, chatting online with her friends, updating Facebook, etc.  I stretched out on a futon in the dining room, a few feet away from where Susie was, and I didn’t even make a pretense of reading or watching some of the TV shows stacked up on the DVR.  I pulled a cover up over myself and slept for the next two hours.  And I still don’t feel that restored.  I need to muster up some energy to make the trip to Kroger to buy bread and milk.

I am debating about using some sick leave tomorrow morning to go to my doctor’s office and getting the fasting blood glucose test she’s been wanting me to have since fall.  I Twittered about it before starting this blog entry, and said that I’ve been procrastinating about it because I’m dreading what the result will be.  A very astute high school classmate of mine quickly pointed out that what she may find won’t change what I do or don’t have.  Which means I probably will go, if not tomorrow, than sometime this week.

There’s a chance (a pretty good one) that it may be tied into my overall lack of energy.  My eating habits are atrocious, and I need to lose about 40 pounds (my BMI is 31.7, which is in the “obese” range).  I almost always feel the need to drink something, and my energy seems very low.  I know enough to realize that these may be symptoms of diabetes.

When I was living in Cincinnati in the early 1990s, I remember writing the usual news-filled letter to my dad about my seasonal hiatus from the post office, people I knew and lived near, etc.  Almost as an afterthought, I said, “It seems that I’m always thirsty, no matter how much water I drink, and I almost constantly have to urinate, and I’m always exhausted, regardless of how much sleep I get.”  (During the time I was laid off from the post office, I never slept better, because I could go to bed when I wanted and sleep as long as I wanted.)  I told him about riding the bus downtown one day, and the urge to urinate was so sudden and so intense that I got off the bus and made a mad dash into a bar to use the men’s room.  As a P.S. to the letter he sent me in reply, he said, “The thirst-urination thing could be a blood sugar problem.  You may want to go to the next free screening offered by the Red Cross.”  I didn’t; I waited until my annual post office physical, which revealed everything to be fine.  (My guess is the symptoms came from my excessive caffeine consumption.)

One thing I realize is that in delaying the test, I am mimicking what my dad (probably) did the last few years of his life.  He had an aversion to doctors coming anywhere near him.  While he was in a coma from the heart attack from which he died, Steph and I went into his ICU room.  There was no sheet or blanket covering his feet, and I was horrified to see long, curling, uncut toenails.  He resembled those drawings of Howard Hughes during the last 10-15 years of his life, when he lived in total seclusion and complete neglect.  (I thought Steph was going to lose her lunch when she saw that.)  Reading between the lines, I suspect that my dad had diabetes, or thought he did, and wouldn’t go to the doctor for treatment.  He knew that diabetics are more prone to infection than non-diabetics, from simple daily activities such as shaving (which he hadn’t done since 1975; he grew a beard when he and my mother divorced), cutting your nails, or even a simple skinned knee.

The temperature is just in the double digits right now, according to the bottom of my screen.  I should probably take advantage of this brief heat wave to go to Kroger.

Another Reason January 22 is Significant

This is the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, legalizing abortion nationwide.  However, for me, January 22 is significant for another reason.  On the same day as the decision, Lyndon Johnson died in Texas.  The Court’s ruling on abortion dominated the news for the first part of the half hour, and then the focus shifted abruptly.

Here is an excerpt from The CBS Evening News that night.

Parent-Sanctioned Bullying

On the first Friday of every month, First UU here in Columbus features a potluck and social evening known–appropriately enough–as First Friday.  There is a meal, followed by several different activities (board games, workshops, speakers, or a movie).  On the first Friday of January, I made one of my rare appearances at First Friday.

The featured film was Bullied, produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center, about anti-gay bullying in a public school in Minnesota.  The young man who was on the receiving end of the bullying took the school district to court because the principal and other school officials turned a blind eye to his numerous complaints and pleas for help.

As someone who was bullied from kindergarten through senior high school, I applaud any anti-bullying actions that schools may take.  On the other hand, I think I’m enough of a realist to know that anti-bullying rules and measures are about as realistic and enforceable as anti-thunderstorm edicts.  Bullying is by no means confined to the schoolyard, and very few studies or memoirs dealing with the subject mention bullying that is encouraged by parents or adults in authority.

When I was 11, a little boy (pre-kindergarten) who lived next door befriended a boy his age (we’ll call him Mick–only because I’m listening to the Stones’ Some Girls as I type this) who lived a block or two away from where we did.  All of us (adults and children) took an instant dislike to him.  He was dirty, we heard he had a pretty foul mouth (which he learned at the knee of his mother), and the house where he lived with his mother and three siblings was somewhat ramshackle.  I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, but my dad fueled our dislike for the kid by telling me that he had seen Mick throwing rocks at the letter carrier one day.  (Not even in kindergarten, and he had already committed a Federal offense: assaulting a Federal employee while in the performance of his job duties.)

The parents were all a united front: This kid, and his equally reprobate siblings, were trouble.  I can’t even think of anything they did that led us to believe that.  What we did know was that the mother didn’t work (“She gets a check” was what one of them told me when I asked what Mom did for a living), and the father had been killed in Vietnam.  The mom seemed to have an endless parade of boyfriends who came over, and all the kids were in fear of them.  (“I’ll tell Bill!” was the ultimate threat I heard one sibling use on the other.)

A side effect of bullying is that a kid (or adult) who is bullied will all too often relish the chance to be the bully, when that opportunity arises.  On Facebook, I mentioned I was reading Dave Cullen’s Columbine, and I quoted a line from W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939”:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

The “evil” that I did was subtly encouraged by parents who turned a blind eye to what we did.  No one egged us on, but neither were we taken to task about it.  Being the oldest of the other kids, I was a de facto leader. Mick and his siblings usually traveled in a pack from their house to ours, and they rode Big Wheels.

For the benefit of my younger readers, too young to remember Big Wheels, I offer you the following visual aid:

Mick was the youngest of the kids, at about five.  He had a brother, Kevin, who was maybe about eight, and a sister who was nine but looked much younger.  As I said, they moved in packs, all of them riding Big Wheels.  Before long, all of the older kids in our neighborhood (and our parents) could sense their imminent arrival.  It was like Radar O’Reilly on M*A*S*H‘s ability to know choppers bearing wounded were en route before anyone else.

We were on hand to greet them.  Something the commercial neglected to show was how fast someone could U-turn a Big Wheel.  Parents would sit on their front porch and see the same scenario played out several times a morning that summer.  There would be the roar of Big Wheels, and when it got closer, my friend John and I would come running out with baseball bats, croquet mallets, or tomato stakes, making these hellacious “battle cries” as we did it.  The invading force would very quickly reverse direction and head back home.

Fortunately, none of us ever actually struck one of the kids with these weapons.  As an adult, I often wonder what would have happened with (or to) our parents had we actually connected with the bats, stakes, or mallets that we waved at these kids.  Yes, these kids were a pain in the ass, and no one liked them.  (They certainly didn’t win any friends when they peeled all the bark off a crabapple tree “to keep away vampires.”)  But never did a parent sit us down and tell us that baseball bats were not toys, and if we actually decked one of them, it wouldn’t be play, it was called assault and battery.

I am realistic and honest enough with myself to realize that the only reason I never hit one of them wasn’t my inherent virtue, it was the fact that they could pedal faster than I could run.  I had plenty of anger inside me, and by age 11 I was a virtual storage battery of anger.  I could only constructively vent in my diary, but that wasn’t enough for me.  I do not relate the above anecdote out of pride–far from it.  However I was able to do it, I was able to channel my anger into constructive channels.  It would be untrue to say that I’ve discharged it entirely.  (I still bear grudges from nursery school.)  But Mick has not.  Whenever I’ve subscribed to The Marietta Times, either by U.S. Mail or online, his name featured prominently in The Docket, the column devoted to arrests, court appearances, and sentencing.  Usually, it was (is) alcohol-related, some of it petty misdemeanors such as possession of an open container of alcohol, or as serious as OMVI or criminal assault.  I often wonder how much our pre-teen brand of vigilantism contributed to this.

We were kids, yes, I know.  At the same time, the parents who should have told us that what we were doing was wrong, no matter how wrong these kids were, stood by and did nothing.  Maybe what we (I) did comes across as petty to the average reader of this blog.  (I’m reminded of a story, probably apocryphal, about Martin Luther’s days as a monk, pre-95 Theses.  The story says that young Luther would stay in the confessional for hours, reeling off the most petty or idiotic of sins–inattentive during Mass, desiring to sleep instead of pray, taking an extra portion at meals–and finally his confessor threw up his hands.  “For God’s sake, man!” he cried.  “Sleep with a man’s wife, steal some money, kill someone!  Then come back and confess to me!”)  But I’m laying it bare as a way of reminding myself, and anyone else who reads this blog, Qui tacit consentit–He who remains silent, consents.  So my purpose in writing this down for public consumption is as an indictment to the parents who watched with amusement as we went after other kids with baseball bats.  Susie is not a bully, and doesn’t have it in her to hurt anyone, so I have never, thankfully, been placed in that position.

Speaking of Susie, I will veer off this depressing topic by sharing with you some of the pictures she took yesterday.  Yesterday was a snow day for Columbus Public Schools (but not for State workers–the last time that happened was the 1978 blizzard), so Susie took my camera and took pictures around the neighborhood, including the playground at nearby Weinland Park Elementary School.

 Our back yard.  The footprints to the gate are
courtesy of me, as I trudged off to work.
 E. 7th Street, looking west.

One Holiday and a Funeral

On Monday, I was off work because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.  However, instead of sleeping until I finally decided to haul myself out of bed, I went to the funeral of Jean Bradley, aged 85, the mother of my friend Adam Bradley, who passed away in June 1997.  I learned about her passing during church Sunday, and immediately made plans to go to her memorial service, which was held at the church Monday morning.

My first order of business was to call my friend Tom in Marietta, because he had been close to Jean (closer than I was since Adam died).  Tom, in fact, had been with me the May 1986 night when I had met Adam on High St.  Tom and I had gone to a late movie at Ohio State University that evening, and went from bar to bar along High until closing time, and were walking to our respective apartments (I lived downtown, he lived in German Village at the time).  Adam was walking behind us, plugged into something I had said, and replied to it.  We ended up sitting on the front steps of an apartment building talking and debating until almost dawn.

Jean had been ill for some time, in and out of hospitals after a series of minor strokes.  She never completely recovered from Adam’s death, although she channeled her grief into advocacy for the mentally ill.  Adam battled a plethora of mental-health issues for much of his adult life, and was such a regular at emergency rooms and urgent-care clinics that it was hard for many medical professionals to take him seriously.

But activism was already in Jean’s blood.  She worked phone banks and door-to-door canvasses endlessly for Democratic candidates on all levels, spearheaded literacy programs in Franklin County, and used her job at Job and Family Services to connect people to jobs all over Ohio.

I was sitting at the memorial service with Dave Wilkin, who was a longtime friend of Adam’s and a classmate of Adam’s younger sister Lisa.  (Dave was the video photographer at my wedding, and lives in Grandview.)  As the service got under way, both Dave and I glanced toward the rear doors of the Worship Center, wondering when Tom would arrive, taking it for granted that he would be late.  (Thinking Tom will be late for something is like assuming Benedict XVI’s successor will be Catholic.)

Rev. Mark Belletini, the senior minister at First UU, led the service along with Rabbi Lenny Sarko of Congregation Am Brit, a new Reform synagogue in Dublin.  Sure enough, as people took the microphone to reminisce about Jean, I turned toward the back of the Worship Center and there was Tom.  He was sitting down, but he looked like he was out of his breath.  (It was just like my mother’s memorial service in the church’s Scatter Garden in the fall of 2008.  Mark was just drawing breath to start the service when I glanced down W. Weisheimer Road and saw Tom’s pickup truck screeching around the corner and driving like mad toward the church’s parking lot.  “Mark,” I whispered, “hang on for just a second.”)

After a reception in Fellowship Hall, I rode with Dave to Green Lawn Cemetery on the West Side.  (I rode with Dave because Tom had too many of his personal belongings piled up onto the passenger seat of his pickup truck, which is 100% in character for him.)  We arrived first, before any of the other mourners (including Jean’s surviving children, Lisa and Seth, and their spouses).  Instead of paying our respects at the graves of George H.W. Bush’s grandfather, Eddie Rickenbacker, or James Rhodes, we drove around the cemetery trying to find Jean’s grave.  Dave drove while I craned my neck looking for tombstones with Stars of David or Hebrew epitaphs.  Finally, a worker driving a steam shovel was able to tell us where, and he led us (including Tom, who had followed closely behind us in his tailgate-less white pickup) to the spot, where we were the first to arrive.

I was honored to be one of Jean’s pallbearers, although I was pressed into service at the very last minute.  The funeral director directed everyone as they slid Jean’s coffin out of the hearse, and as he reached for the rail, Dick Dawson, our church’s chaplain, made eye contact with me and gestured for me to come over and help.  I have only been a pallbearer on one other occasion, when my dad died in 2000.  At the time, I was just getting over a minor coronary event (essentially, a small heart attack), and my stepmother was worried that I was physically not up to doing it.  I told her that I probably shouldn’t, but I’d regret it the rest of my life if I didn’t.

The burial service definitely has a way of shocking a mourner into understanding that their beloved has died.  I had been at this very cemetery on a very hot June day in 1997, when we laid Adam to rest, so I knew to expect this particular practice, but it still has a very sobering effect.  (“Sobering” was a word a friend of mine used to describe the rows and rows of white crosses on the Normandy beach when he visited Europe.  I never understood how much that word covered until Monday.)  Once the coffin was lowered into the ground, the rabbi instructed each of us to take a turn scattering a shovelful of dirt onto the lid.  This was, he explained, a way of reminding everyone that death is very real.  “I can’t believe he/she is dead” is something we all hear at viewings, funerals, and burials.  When you hold a shovel in your hand, and scatter it onto the lid of a box containing the remains of someone you know… you believe it after that, no question.

Dave, Tom, and I also made a stop at Adam’s nearby grave, the first time I had visited it since he died.  (I had made another attempt to find it years earlier, but had come to Green Lawn when there was no one at the office to tell me the location of the grave.)  Adam is buried next to his brother Darrow, who died at age two.

After everyone had dispersed (Lisa and her husband were catching a flight back to New York, and Seth and his wife were staying in town overnight), Tom said, “You guys hungry?”  After some debate, we agreed to go to the China Buffet on N. High St.  (There was a bit of debate–as there always is with Tom.  He was holding out for the MCL Cafeteria in Upper Arlington, but Dave and I pointed out that, being under 85 and not part of the blue-rinse crowd, we wouldn’t be welcome there.)

That was still part of our way of honoring Jean.  It brought three friends together who don’t see one another all that often, and we feted ourselves for hours, as all of us had done with Adam, right in that very restaurant.  I devoured several plates of food and God knows how many cups of Diet Pepsi, and we stayed until the hostess rolled us because it was time for the dinner hour to begin.

I was glad to be able to finally see Adam’s grave, a simple headstone with his full name, the dates of his birth and death, and a simple Star of David.  He died while Steph was pregnant with Susie, and I still feel the loss even now.  I have his one posthumously published book, Seeking Love and Death: Poems, as well as a trade paperback of The Complete Poetry of John Milton which he gave me on my 32nd birthday in 1995.

Earlier in 1995, he gave me a journal, which he inscribed inside the front cover.  On my many visits to him when I lived in Cincinnati, he often saw me sitting at the table or in a restaurant or bar booth with the diary open and a pen in my hand, and as a belated Christmas gift, he presented me with a notebook to be used once my current volume was finished.  I have scanned the inscription inside the front cover, as well as the front cover, and am displaying it below:

During the final season of NYPD Blue, an episode called “The Vision Thing” ran.  It was the most thought-provoking episode I had seen, especially the scene when world-weary and jaded detective Andy Sipowicz holds a locker-room conversation with the shade of his friend and partner Bobby Simone, who had died tragically of a heart infection (over five episodes!) at the start of the sixth season.

Above is a YouTube clip of the conversation between Andy and Bobby’s spirit.  As I watched that, I asked myself, Who would I want to return to me like that, if such a thing were possible?  (I leave questions about the afterlife to people with far more leisure time than I have.)  It didn’t take me long to decide that it would be Adam.  It would not be my father–the longer since he died, the more I realize what a bastard he truly was.  Robert Lowry would be a close second, although I am sure he would have carried all his bitterness to the grave with him.

Bookstore Gig Over for Now

Columbus State’s winter quarter is now in full swing, so I’m finished working at the Discovery Exchange for now.  Moonlighting is always something that I regret until the paycheck comes, so I have mixed emotions about it.  Yes, I will miss the additional cash, but at the same time, leaving home at 7:30 a.m. and not returning home until after 9 p.m. is draining.  During my “day job” at the Industrial Commission, I’d use breaks and lunchtime to sneak naps in the BWC Library, like a kid sneaking cigarettes.

I came to work this morning with a serious sleep deficit.  The woman who heads the Columbus Radical Mental Health Collective I attend on Monday nights–except for these last two Mondays, of course–is moving to San Francisco, and I went to a farewell party in her honor.  I stayed out later than I should, and once I got home and into bed, I slept intermittently until the alarm went off about 6:50 a.m.

Even though it meant the paycheck would be a little smaller than I expected, I was ecstatic to learn the bookstore closed at 2 p.m. today.  (I thought it would be 4 or 5.)  There were many more customers, all of them in a hurry to purchase books before the Tuesday deadline for returning books at a full refund.  (The bookstore, and the entire Columbus State campus, is closed Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday.)  Many of them expected extraordinary feats from those of us who worked on the second floor.  These included, but were not limited to:

  1. Knowing by heart every single book required for every single class offered at Columbus State.
  2. Being able to procure used textbooks out of nowhere, especially in cases where classes are using textbooks published for the first time this year.  (If I had the power to conjure things from nowhere, I would not use it on textbooks.)
  3. Knowing what the instructor meant about using this book instead of that one.
  4. Knowing what class they are taking, regardless of how paltry the information they give us is.  (I had one character come in and ask me to help him find the book for his “Level 7 class.”  Level 7 of what, genius?)

Once 2 o’clock came, I clocked out for the last time, and will email Stacey, my supervisor, and let her know I’m ready, willing, and available to work at the beginning of the spring quarter, which begins on March 28.  I headed for the main library and treated myself to a purchase at The Library Store, a paperback copy of The Presidential Transcripts, feeding my avid interest in Watergate which began while it was still occurring.  (Nixon’s edited transcripts of his tapes hit close to home for me, since he released them on my 11th birthday.)

The paperback cart outside The Library Store featured several copies–and editions–of Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, a book still respected and relevant today.  It is hard to believe this is the work of an itinerant laborer and longshoreman in California who never went to school a day in his life.  It is a study of fanaticism, and its message is one we need to look at more and more.  Hoffer said that whatever the fanatic’s cause–Communism, Christianity, Nazism, or Islam–all fanatics share a belief that their own lives are empty and worthless, and are willing to cast it aside, perhaps literally, in pursuit of a higher ideal or goal.  It is people who are without purpose who are ripe for the picking for any cause.  (People living in dire poverty are seldom likely to take up a cause, since feeding themselves and survival are their causes.  They have an immediate and tangible cause.)

So where is the best place to find converts?  In the opposite camp.  The fanatic is always willing to cast himself aside for a higher cause, no matter what it is.  Saul of Tarsus took pleasure in persecuting the ragtag Christian community (although they were called Nazarenes at that time), but after his psychotic break on the road to Damascus, he became a zealot for the cause, but his ego would not permit him to be a humble foot soldier in the fledgling Christian community.  When Whittaker Chambers, who fancied himself the most devoted Communist since Lenin, became disillusioned with the Party, he jumped feet-first into the anti-communist movement, and made history as a witness in the Alger Hiss trial (where both sides provided overly generous helpings of perjury).  A recent telling example is Larry Trapp, who was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska.  He conducted a campaign of mail and telephone harassment of the cantor of the Reform synagogue in town, and the cantor replied with kindness and politely, but firmly, confronted him about what he was doing.  Not only did Trapp renounce the KKK, he eventually converted to the Jewish faith.  (The story is summarized here quite well.)

I used to keep a handwritten quotation of Hoffer’s next to my desk at O.U.  John D. MacDonald used it as an epigraph for his final Travis McGee novel, The Lonely Silver Rain.  I wrote it down on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall, as a way to keep myself focused:

Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self.  The passionate state of mind is an expression of inner dissatisfaction.

 My hope, probably a vain one, is that I can sleep late and cut seriously into my sleep deficit this Monday, when I’ll have the day off from the Industrial Commission.  Susie has the day off from school, and I’m hoping that she’ll sleep in as well.

I did not buy a new copy of The True Believer.  I have owned several editions over the years, but the one that is most important to me is a Harper and Brothers hardcover with a gray cover and deckle-edged pages, copyright 1951.  It belonged to my uncle, Glenn McKee, my mother’s older brother.  He had been a journalist, an administrator for the State of Maine, a teacher, a Unitarian Universalist minister, and, in his retirement, a poet.  (Except for when I was a toddler, I had seen him in person only once, when he gave a poetry reading at Larry’s Bar in 1996.  We corresponded until his death from then on.)  The book arrived in late January 2003, along with a poem, “Rebirth Announcement,” in which he announced the “rebirth” of the cancer that would kill him a year later at the age of 76.  (His obituary, his first posthumous publication, mentioned “a long and vainglorious battle with cancer.”)  In addition to the poem, he tucked a note inside the front cover:

Jan. 28, 2003 Dear Nephew Paul: Seems to me that you are the perfect next-owner of this work!  Love, Uncle Glenn

Inside the front cover, there is also the rubber stamp From the books of Glenn L. McKee.

Sleep won’t be open-ended for me tonight, since Susie and I are going to church in the morning.  We don’t have to be out the door until a little before 10 a.m., but I’ve never been one to awaken all at once, so it requires a little prep time before I’m out of bed and on the move.

The Snow Was Not What I Envisioned

Yesterday afternoon, a Weather Channel alert about heavy snowfall popped into my email box, forecasting accumulation of three to five inches.  Later reports, both from The Weather Channel and our local meteorologists, made it sound like the snow would begin falling mid-afternoon, and would continue without ceasing for most of the night.  I am always up for a good snowstorm, so my reaction to this was more anticipation than dread or worry.

Hence my disappointment.  My pod is on the 10th floor of the William Green Building, and my window faces west, which means I usually have a front-row seat at any incoming storms.  Yes, there was a time or two when I would look up from the computer monitor and it would be white enough outside that I could not see the main post office or ODOT (the Ohio Department of Transportation) off in the distance.  Most of the time, when it did snow, it was light.

I came home from the Columbus State bookstore tonight (Saturday will be my last day there, at least until spring quarter starts at the end of March), and Steph was watching a DVR recording of today’s Young and the Restless.  At the bottom of the screen were dozens of cancellation notices.  Many school systems (not Columbus) were dismissing kids early, and churches were cancelling evening services and programs, night school classes weren’t meeting.  All this for what can’t even rightly be called a dusting.  The temperature never got above the low 20s today, and I didn’t enjoy the walk on E. 5th Ave. from the Cleveland Ave. bus stop, but this is hardly Storm of the Century.

Even with enough advanced warning, it seems many people downplay the inconvenience of a good snowfall.  I remember the first New England snowstorm I experienced, while I was living in Boston.  I woke up very early on Saturday morning so I could head to Cambridge and typeset The Harbus News, the weekly newspaper of the Harvard Business School.  I had been vaguely aware that snow was falling when I went to bed the night before, but I gasped when I stepped outside and saw there was whiteness as far as the eye can see.  At the time I lived on Commonwealth Ave., just up from the Boston University campus.

The surface lines of the T (Boston’s subway system, short for MBTA–Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) were not running, and I stood there with my jaw dropping open when I saw how careless drivers were being.  Since I’m almost always up for a decent walk, I trudged east toward Kenmore Square, where I could catch the subway.  (That night, after The Harbus was finished, I sat in The Crimson‘s deserted newsroom and typed a letter to my dad.  I remember writing, “It was crazy this morning!  I must have seen a dozen accidents on my way in to work.  You’d think New Englanders would know how to drive in the snow!”)

Hearing the forecasts made me think of a paperback I read in the 1980s.  It was a novel by George Stone called Blizzard, and it was about meteorological warfare.  The tag line was “What if it doesn’t stop?”  A weather-controlling weapon gets loose and a huge snowstorm buries most of the eastern U.S., including New York and Washington, D.C.  The book itself wasn’t all that wonderful, but what was fascinating was how each chapter started with the current time, temperature, snowfall, and forecast.  The first chapters, the weather statistics are relatively benign.  America is hoping for a white Christmas, and it looks like they may get it. The later chapters talk about snowfall of four to eight feet with drifts to 10 stories, and each forecast is the same: “Snow ending tonight.  Clear and cold tomorrow.”

Before Susie got up this morning, I crawled to the laptop and pulled up Channel 10’s Website to see if school was cancelled.  There were cancellations, but they were mostly in Washington County and Athens County, so Susie headed off to catch the school bus while I got back in bed for another hour of sleep.  There was no wind rattling my windows, and there was some additional snow on the ground, but the wetness and the slush from earlier this week was gone.

Last night’s radar on WBNS-TV.

I took a break from typing this, and went to the window and looked out.  All is quiet on the weather front, and it looks like we won’t be buried in any more than an inch–if that–of snow tonight.

Tucson Tragedy Was Work’s Backdrop This Weekend

Blogging here headed my “to-do” list for this weekend’s activities, but I fully anticipated writing a mundane “working on weekends is a pain in the ass” screed and nothing more.  Events proved otherwise.

On the first floor of the Discovery Exchange is a flat-screen TV.  It is always tuned to CNN with the volume muted.  I work on the second floor, but there is a railing overlooking the wall with the flat-screen.  Each time I passed it, while helping customers or walking to the staircase to the first floor, I’d give CNN a cursory glance.

Mid-afternoon, I saw the headline ARIZONA CONGRESSWOMAN SHOT, and soon the face of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) appeared.  Since there were no closed captions, I had almost no clue as to what had happened.  From bits and pieces flashed onto the screen, I learned that she was one of 19 people shot today in a Tucson shopping center.

Once I saw this headline, I frequently drifted toward the railing so I could watch the screen.  CNN immediately cancelled all its other programming so it could focus exclusively on the shooting.  At another glance, the news was that Rep. Giffords was dead.  With no captions, and single-sentence bits of information flashing under the screen, it was hard to glean what was happening.  A Tucson station, KGUN-TV, kept flashing pictures of emergency personnel rolling stretchers toward ambulances, milling crowds, and police barricades, scenes which have become tragically recognizable these past few years.

CNN admitted that they were receiving conflicting reports about whether or not Giffords had died.  Instantly, I thought about the Spring 1981 afternoon Ronald Reagan was shot, and the networks kept receiving differing accounts about whether press secretary Jim Brady, shot in the head, had succumbed.  ABC News’ anchor, the late Frank Reynolds, finally hit the roof.  He turned off camera and shouted, “Let’s get it nailed down, somebody!  Let’s find out!  Let’s get it straight so we can report this thing accurately!”  I am sure Wolf Blitzer was thinking the same thing.

My only surprise is that it took this long for this to happen.  I am also surprised that it didn’t happen to a higher level government official.  (Giffords has survived surgery, and is still in very critical condition, but the surgeon sounded optimistic.  Or at least as optimistic as possible about someone who has suffered a bullet to the brain.)  The only incumbent U.S. Representative assassinated was Leo Ryan (D-Calif.), who was murdered in Guyana by people from Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in 1978.

I’ve been clicking back and forth between the blog and various news sites, and the information about the killer, and Rep. Giffords’ condition, has been coming in fits and starts.  The chair of the Brain Injury Association of America has said that she is in for a prolonged recovery, and there will inevitably be some permanent damage.  The killer had posted several free-association (that’s the kindest word I can use) videos on YouTube about how “I can’t trust the government”, and ridiculing the voters in his district, among other things.

American assassins seldom seem to have a truly political agenda.  Most of them are acting on personal demons.  (John Hinckley actually voted for Reagan, but thought that he could “win the love” of Jodie Foster by killing Reagan.  Arthur Bremer just wanted to be “somebody,” so he shot and crippled George Wallace after stalking Richard Nixon in the U.S. and Canada, intending to assassinate him.)

Keith Olbermann has called for an end to gun-related analogies in political rhetoric from both Left and Right, and I think the man has a point.  In this commentary, he has cited many of the politicians and rhetoricians of the Left and the Right who have done this, and has apologized for the times when he has crossed the line.  I think there is a lot more going in the mind of the person who decided to shoot Giffords and all the others yesterday, and ultimately he must own what he did, so whether human sewage like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh heavily influenced his thinking and his action is a question that will remain unanswered for months.

I have little hope that the bigots who see anti-U.S. terror plots behind every Muslim will speak out against this act of domestic terrorism.  Many still believe that we are above all this.  I remember the day of the Oklahoma City bombing, an event that affected me much more strongly than 9/11 did, because I was a Federal employee at the time.  Until Timothy McVeigh was charged, speculation ran rampant that it was the work of Middle Eastern terrorists, the same cell that had bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.  I was one of the few people who suspected that the perpetrator was American.  I lived in Cincinnati at the time, and was going to Columbus for the day to interview for a job with the Department of Agriculture.  As I was getting dressed and packing my over-the-shoulder bag for the trip, the disk jockey on the radio was talking about “on this day in history,” and he mentioned Lexington and Concord, and then mentioned the gory end to the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco.  When I heard about Oklahoma City over lunch with my friend Ivan and his stepson, mentally I made the connection right away.

The 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is later this month, and the pro-life and -choice letters are, I’m sure, clogging the Letters to the Editors pages and Websites of many newspapers in the country.  (I stepped away from the debate when Susie was an infant.  It may sound callous, but since the day of my vasectomy, it has ceased to be an issue that affects me personally.)  I have a Seamless Garment attitude about the whole abortion issue, but only Libertarian friends of mine understand my anti-abortion/pro-choice stance.  (A union official handled the issue best.  He was speaking at a rally, and someone asked him, “What do you think about Roe v. Wade?”  Without skipping a beat, he said, “If the water is above my waist, I’d rather row than wade.”)

The “pro-lifers” de-legitimized the whole argument about the right to life with the slew of abortion clinic arsons, bombings, and murders that began in the late 1970s.  That is when I began making the distinction between being “pro-birth” and being “pro-life.”  Many of the victims had nothing to do with abortions themselves; they were janitors or security guards who worked in the building.  Anti-abortion violence was why I never seriously tried to get a job with the University of Cincinnati during the six years I lived in the Blue Chip City.  At that time, U.C.’s civil service and human resources offices were in a multi-storied block of ugly near the Cincinnati Zoo at 3333 Vine Street, known around U.C. as “Thirty-three Thirty-three.”  Unfortunately, there was a women’s clinic in the same building, and they did provide abortions.  I’d pass the building on my way to work, and see the giant photos of aborted fetuses, BABY KILLERS → (pointing to the building), and the angriest and most rabid faces I have ever seen.  I genuinely feared I would be in 3333 Vine St. taking a civil service examination, or interviewing for a job, when the clinic would be bombed.

Many anti-abortion people I knew, however, were as appalled by clinic bombings and killings as I was.  One was a Christian pacifist who gained my eternal respect when he would silently stand across the street from armed forces recruiting centers with a sign that said, “REAL CHRISTIANS DON’T ENLIST,” and he and I became friendly.  But at pro-choice rallies, we were on opposite sides of the street and the issue… and once the demonstration ran out of steam, we’d go split a pitcher of beer or two.

This was on my mind when I was working my graveyard shift job at the Cincinnati post office.  I was processing letters mailed by Cincinnati Right to Life.  Its return address featured three small pictures–a fetus, a very elderly woman, and a child who was clearly developmentally disabled.  Had Ted Bundy’s face been on  this envelope, I would truly believed they believed in the right to life.  Period.

It is odd that the same party and the same people who spread the deceit about “death panels” would host a Website featuring the faces of politicians they oppose with cross-hairs superimposed on their faces.

My biggest fear is that this is not over.