A Saturday for the Books

Day One of spring quarter 2011 at Columbus State is Monday.  Usually, the Discovery Exchange closes at 2 p.m. on Saturday, but today it remained open until 4.  And yours truly was there from start to finish.

The alarm is never a pleasant sound to me, even less so on a day when I usually sleep late.  For one vain moment, I hoped that I just forgotten to disable the alarm when I went to bed last night, but as I reached to shut it off, reality returned to me.  This was a day I was working at the Columbus State bookstore, an eight-hour shift (8 a.m.-4 p.m.).

When I worked for the Cincinnati post office, I thought that it was a unique job; it was the only job I ever had where I switched back and forth between blue- and white-collar tasks so many times in a single shift.  Sorting letters was clerical (and, in fact, my title was “casual clerk” or “rescue clerk”), whereas tending letter-sorting machines was definitely labor-intensive work.  Sorting second- and third-class mail was quite aerobic.  I wasn’t putting letters into pigeonholes or casing them, I was throwing bundles of magazines or flyers into canvas hampers (like the ones hospitals use to collect soiled linen).

I wouldn’t have thought this possible when it came to bookstore work.  I was wrong.  A co-worker and I spent the first two hours of the work day bagging prepaid Web orders, so they would be ready when people came to pick them up.  I ate a nutritional breakfast of Diet Pepsi and M&Ms during this task.  The work was somewhat repetitive, but not as mind-numbing as an assembly-line job, where you can effectively zone out while your hands fit Part A into Slot B repetitively for years on end.  Bagging prepaid orders meant checking to make sure all the books before you matched the list, putting the books in the transparent bag, sealing it with a tape gun, and taping the recipient’s name and address on a hanging tag, visible when the cashier checks the shelf for it.

After that came the more physically demanding part of the job.  Many wooden pallets groaned under the weight of cartons of unpacked books.  Once I knew which books went on the shelves, and which were going back to the publishers and/or distributors, my task was set for the rest of the day.  I unloaded books at a rather brisk pace, stacked them on V-shaped dollies, and began filling gaps on the shelves with them.  I was never able to establish any real rhythm, which would have made the task go more smoothly, because I constantly had to stop what I was doing to answer customers’ questions.  (My new pet peeve is when they lead off with “Can I ask you a question?”  I used all my self-restraint–and for me, self-restraint happens about as often as Halley’s Comet–to keep from saying, “As long as it isn’t that one.”)

The Discovery Exchange, Columbus State Community College’s
bookstore, 283 Cleveland Ave.  Also accessible on the Web
at http://www.cscc.bkstr.com/.

Very few books are on the Discovery Exchange’s first floor.  There is a magazine rack in the small convenience store in the rear of the first floor (it’s much like any other convenience store, except that they don’t sell alcohol or cigarettes), but most of the books are on the second floor.  Because of the nature of the business, over 90% are textbooks, but on the other side of the second floor is a modest selection of leisure-reading.  The first floor features most of the “spirit gear”–Columbus State apparel, license-plate frames, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, etc.  The front windows advertise the variety of things available, besides books, such as clothing, graduation announcements, coffee, gifts, and others (I meant to jot down the list today, but reached into the breast pocket of my shirt only to find I left this morning minus my notebook).

As I wait for my post-work bus, and see the items advertised on the front window, I think of a small convenience store I went to when I lived on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston.  It wasn’t part of a chain, like 7-Eleven or The Store 24, so the owner could be creative with his signage.  I wish I had taken a picture of the sign, but I will remember it as long as I live.  When I rode toward my apartment at night, it would be over the front entrance, promising


Any competitor had his work cut out for him!

One of Those "Everything But the Kitchen Sink" Posts

Tonight is my night off from the Columbus State bookstore, since it’s only open until 6 on Fridays.  (My night shifts start at 5:30, so there is no sense in working for only half an hour.)  I enjoy the job at Columbus State, and my co-workers are good people, but I still felt great when all I had to do after work is come home via the local branch of the library (to pick up reserves).

Most nights this week, I’ve simply been too wiped out to sit down and type an entry once I’m home, and once Susie is in bed and Steph has retired to her bedroom for the night.  That is why the entry I’m writing at the moment will not hang together, subject-wise, and I doubt it’ll flow in any conventional sense.

Slowly, I am easing myself back into walking.  The bookstore job has entailed a lot of walking back and forth on the second floor, either shelving books, straightening out awkwardly placed volumes, or helping customers.  Although the vernal equinox was Sunday, temperatures in the 20s and 30s have made return appearances in Columbus this week, so I haven’t considered walking home after the bookstore job ends at 8 p.m.  (It ends at 9 p.m. as of Monday.)  I logged plenty of mileage on the floor, but I have only had two “real” walks since I last posted.

The first was on Saturday night.  The monthly “Return of Nite Owl Theater” was a week early, because Fritz the Nite Owl is at HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis this weekend.  I walked the three miles each way to the Grandview Theater and thoroughly enjoyed the 1962 black-and-white film Carnival of Souls, starring Candace Hilligoss.

I found the movie even more enjoyable when I realized that its director, Herk Harvey, filmed some of it in a place I have actually seen.  The abandoned amusement park where the heroine is trapped by disembodied souls cavorting about is the Saltair Pavilion, located just west of Salt Lake City.  I remember seeing it in 1987, as I was en route by Greyhound from Athens to San Francisco for spring break. It stood out in the midst of the Great Salt Lake on over a thousand pilings, and I remember seeing it from I-80 and wondering just what it was.  (A year later, I was walking down High St. here in Columbus when two young Mormon missionaries tried to proselytize me.  Both were Utah natives, so I got them off on a big tangent by describing the building and asking what it was.  We ended up talking about that, a welcome break from Mormon theology.)

This is from Cardcow.com.  A picture of Saltair in its heyday, and a post card
that gave me a laugh.

I walked very briskly home, because the temperature dropped 10 or 15 degrees during the movie, and I was a little underdressed for the weather.

The other walk was because of a fax machine error.  One of my co-workers tried over six times to fax paperwork to OPERS (the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, what we pay into in lieu of Social Security).  It went through our machine fine, but never seemed to arrive on the other end.  She was getting more and more frustrated, because the meter was running on the deadline for submitting this paperwork.  Finally, I told her I’d run it over to OPERS’ office on E. Town St.  It was exactly a mile each way from our office, and I needed to get some pavement under me, no matter how much I had been resisting it.  She was quite grateful.  She sealed it all in an envelope and gave it to me, and I left the office at 12:30.  (“Cue the theme from Rocky,” I told her on my way out.)

It was a good walk.  Despite being a little out of practice for me (I wish I had the mindset that I had when I posted all my entries and Tweets about always jonesing for a good long walk), I kept a pretty good pace and obeyed all the WALK-DON’T WALK signs, which is something totally out of character for me.  It was misting just a little, so I very conscientiously kept my co-worker’s envelope underneath my sweat jacket.  (I thought of my cousin Bob, describing to a desk sergeant how he knew that he had paid a speeding ticket: “It was drizzling rain, and I got into my car with that envelope, and I carried it upside down, so the rain wouldn’t blot the address, and I put it in that fine box by the Delaware County Bank.”)  I gave her envelope to the receptionist in PERS’ lobby, and when I asked for a receipt, she Xeroxed each page, date-stamped the front one, and handed them back to me.  I put them back in the envelope and returned to the office.

Some of our customers at the bookstore are people who, for whatever reason, dropped out of high school, and are at Columbus State to get their GEDs.  The GED books are in constant demand, and I am sure many of them are very diligent students.  (I considered dropping out of high school and going for the GED, but my dad insisted I get a job if I did that, and Ohio was 49th in employment at that time, and regular work was anathema to me at that period of my life.)  After he retired from Marietta College, Dad taught GED classes a night or two a week, and he told me that many of the students there were more conscientious than his college students.

What appalls me is how many people have no clue how to locate their books, or how to determine what books go with what courses.  The layout of the second floor shelves is pretty straightforward.  Subjects appear alphabetically, and the course numbers are numerical within those.  The free-standing bookshelves go from A through N.  N through the end of the alphabet (Veterinary Technology).  In the “teach a man to fish” spirit, I explain that when someone asks how to find a book.  On several occasions, I have had to pretty much lead the person to the book they want, and then point to the shelf tag to show them what books or materials go with the courses.

I had the same issues when I worked at DuBois Book Store in Cincinnati, situations which I satirized (quite mercilessly) in my as-yet-unpublished novella The Textbook Diaries.  My constant thought when these situations arose was, “If you need to be led by the hand to find your books, and cannot puzzle out an alphabetical shelving system and straightforward shelf tags, then maybe college isn’t for you.”  That thought even popped up once in awhile when I was in Harvard’s orbit.  Most of the people I met during my 18 months in Cambridge were bright, intelligent, and creative, but there were some whom you knew were only there because their parents could afford the tuition and promised generous contributions.

The One-Man Tag Team

Day three at the Discovery Exchange makes me feel better and better about redoing this job.  I won’t lie–working a second job, no matter how temporary, takes a lot out of me.  I’ve also been curbing my excessive caffeine consumption the last week or so, which means the end of the workday makes me feel a lot more exhausted than normal.  Yet, as I headed to bed tonight, I remembered my duty to my readership–analogous to Fritz the Nite Owl’s “14 viewers out there in the darkness”–so before I fall asleep, I’m at the keyboard typing up this blog entry.

Since my job at Columbus State’s bookstore began Monday night, my evening task has mostly been shelving new books, usually straight out of the delivery cartons, and last night this expanded.  An overloaded book cart, groaning under the weight of buybacks, materialized on the second floor last night, so I spent most of the evening putting them back where they belonged.  (Winter quarter at Columbus State is winding down, and spring quarter will soon be upon us, so there are deliveries galore.  When I worked at DuBois Book Store in Cincinnati, the arrival of a UPS or Roadway truck often resembled scenes in M*A*S*H when casualty-laden choppers and ambulances began arriving, a real all-hands-on-deck atmosphere.)

Tonight was a little different.  I’ve been beating myself up the past couple of weeks because I haven’t had the mental or physical energy to do any long walks lately.  Even the two blocks to Kroger has seemed to be like climbing Everest in flip-flops.  I felt a little better Monday and Tuesday nights, because the amount of territory I covered when shelving books meant I did a fair amount of walking on the second floor of the Discovery Exchange.

Partly because of brain wiring and chemistry, there is no logic to the way I shelved the books.  I pretty much shelved them in the order they sat on the cart, regardless of whether the textbooks were for subjects that were close to one another on our bookshelves.  (I also see myself doing this when I’m at the grocery store and working from a shopping list.  I will pick up items in the order they appear on the list.  Item #1 and Item #2 may be clear across the store from each other, but that is how I will get them.  Steph and I were married over a decade before she finally realized that the most expeditious thing to do was to organize the list so that all the meat products were clustered together, all the cereal, all the dairy, etc.)

Tonight I arrived when there was not much shelving.  The night supervisor gave me an assignment that didn’t require as much pedestrian activity, but it was a necessity I had noticed.  He gave me a pair of scissors and a thick stack of shelf tags.  On the shelf hangs a transparent plastic pocket for a tag.  The tag lists the title of the course, and below it is a list of all the required textbooks and materials.

A typical shelf tag, one of many I replaced tonight.

As I had been stacking books on Monday and Tuesday, I noticed that many of the shelf tags were too light, as if they had come from a printer low on ink or toner.  That was where my assignment for tonight came in.  Take out the old tag and replace it.  However, I was supposed to cut them to fit the little pouch.

I am not all that proficient with scissors.  I was one of the last kids in my kindergarten class to learn how to cut, and I still have never been able to do paper dolls or valentines.  During my typesetting years, I never mastered the art of cutting and pasting, or using an X-Acto knife.  (My supervisor at Feicke Web drafted me into cutting and pasting one evening when she was shorthanded with laying out the next issue of Homefinder.  I told her I was a typesetter, not layout, but she was desperate.  The finished product looked like I’d used either my teeth or a butter knife.)

Despite this, I was able to get through almost the entire stack of new shelf tags.  I started in Landscaping and worked my way around most of the subjects beginning with L and M.  It became the type of job that went so fast I flinched when I looked at my watch and saw how much time had elapsed.  The bookstore’s music comes from (I think) Sirius Radio, and we heard a succession of very good songs from the ’70s, which made the evening go faster.

Focusing on the music also made the tinnitus more bearable.  Right now, the only sound I can hear is the sound of my fingers on the keyboard, and the white noise of the laptop motor.  Since there are no louder sounds around me, that means the tinnitus is more noticeable.  This has made me think of Mission of Burma, a Boston group that was quite popular when I lived there.  I would see their names in The Boston Phoenix, I would typeset their concert reviews in The Crimson, and I would see ads for their concerts on telephone poles and fences all over the Boston University campus.  (They seemed to be the local band that had stepped in when Human Sexual Response disbanded in 1982, shortly before my arrival.)

Then, one day in 1983, suddenly Mission of Burma no longer around.  I soon learned that their founder, Roger Miller (not “King of the Road” Roger Miller), was dealing with severe tinnitus, and could no longer perform.  That was the first I had ever heard of this condition.  After reading about this in the newspaper, I remember looking the word up in a medical dictionary.  At the time, I assumed that only rock musicians, people who worked around heavy ordnance, or factory workers constantly exposed to loud machinery, were at risk for it.

I have learned something in 30 years.

My Day: Tinnitus and the Bookstore

I had my appointment with the otolaryngologist and audiologist at OSU this afternoon.  I met with two doctors, had a thorough hearing exam, and the diagnosis is tinnitus, a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears, ICD-9-CM code 399.30.  I have felt this since before Christmas, but thought that it was a byproduct of my annual bouts with coughs, sneezing, and runny nose, so I rode it out.  This time, it wasn’t going away.

The hearing check reminded me of the tests I had in first grade.  The equipment is more sophisticated, and the setting a lot more pleasant than the school nurse’s office, but it was essentially the same.  I held a clicker in my hand, and I was supposed to push it whenever I heard the tone in one side or the other of my headphones.  The tones varied in pitch and in volume, but I pushed the button whenever I heard one, or thought I did.

How did my tinnitus come about?  I have never had a job where I’ve been around constant high-decibel noise, such as operating a jackhammer, or playing in a heavy metal band, or working on the ground crew at an airport.  I shudder when I say this, but it’s a byproduct of aging (I will be 48 next month).  There has been nerve damage in my ears, and the affected nerves pick up sounds in the higher registers.  Since I am no longer hearing more high-pitched sounds, my brain is generating the non-stop, high-pitched whine to compensate for it.  (I realize I may have had this problem longer than I thought: When listening to any type of recording, whether it is music or voice, I always turn the treble as high as it will go, while keeping the bass level in the middle, at the very highest.  If I owned a more high-end stereo system–I almost typed “hi-fi,” betraying how old I really am!–I probably would have gone through tweeters by the dozen every year.)

What is to be done?  Apparently nothing, unless the whine intensifies to the point that it either prevents me from sleeping or awakens me during the night.  The doctor and the resident both suggested that I take melatonin, which would increase restfulness and lessen the effects of the tinnitus to the extent that I can sleep better.

In other news, tonight was my first night back at the Discovery Exchange, Columbus State’s bookstore.  I was home briefly between the doctor appointment and the job at the bookstore, and it was good to be back to work.  This is finals week at Columbus State.  On the second floor, which is where I work, cartons of incoming books tightly occupied every square inch of available floor space.  There were only two of us working, and not many customers, so I took a cart full of books and began shelving them.  It’s my first day back, so I need to relearn where many books go.  By the weekend, I’ll be able to glance at a book cover and better know where it belongs, from sheer repetition if nothing else.  Tonight, I focused mainly on titles I knew instantly, especially the basic English reference books such as The Blair Handbook.  It’s best to take the low-hanging fruit in the beginning.  The best way to find something is to stop looking for it.

Pleasurable Penance

I have redeemed myself (for now, anyway) as far as the Columbus Metropolitan Library is concerned.  I’ve been unable to check anything out these past few weeks, because my unpaid fine balance kept creeping higher and higher.  When it exceeds $10, the library suspends your borrowing privileges.  (I have kept mine at $9.99 for over a year, but my card went inactive when Susie lost a book borrowed on my card.  Yesterday, I went down to the main library to pay for the lost book, and the book jockey gave me some very good news.  Some anonymous Good Samaritan had found the book and had returned it.  I guess I’ll never know where he/she found it, but at least I don’t have to pay for replacing it.)

While lost, the meter kept running on the book’s fines.  So, after church today, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to read off my fines.  (I’m not 100% in the black, but my fine balance is below $10, so I can borrow again.)

You can read off your fines once or twice a year at the library, at a rate of $8 per hour.  Reading off the fines means sitting at a table and reading–no text-messaging, no computer.  I checked in at the desk at the Whetstone Library when it opened at 1, and the woman at the desk figured that 2½ hours would reduce my balance enough to where I could borrow again.  I pointed out where I’d be sitting, and went to the table to serve my “sentence.”

That’s why this entry has the title it does.  I have never considered reading to be work, and it was definitely never punishment.  If I’m eating alone, I have to be reading something, even if it’s the side panels of the cereal box.  (I think a byproduct of my Asperger’s syndrome is a strong tendency toward hyperlexia.  I may not retain all that I read, but I have to be engaging in the mechanism of reading, even if I’m only looking at words. (If I’m without a book at McDonald’s or somewhere else, I’ll read discarded copies of Sports Illustrated or The Buckeye Sports Bulletin, publications I would otherwise never peruse.)

I am glad there is no designated place at the library where people reading off their fines sit to do it.  Although I would gladly be doing it, I would be less than happy to be in a place that trumpeted, “Look, everybody!  This guy is in the hole with fines!”  It would feel like being in the penalty box during a hockey game, or like being in the stocks during the Puritan days in New England, except that at the library nobody can throw mud and rotten eggs at you.

Crazily, I came prepared in case there was nothing at the library that struck my fancy.  I brought along Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer’s 1310-page novel about the CIA, which I bought when I lived in Cincinnati (I left there in 1995), and have tried to read more than a dozen times, never getting past the first 10-15 pages.  At McDonald’s between church and Whetstone’s opening time, I conscientiously kept Harlot’s Ghost in my bag, wanting to save it for the library.  (I wrote in my diary instead–I didn’t want to run the risk of finishing all 1300-plus pages in the time it took to eat two McDoubles and drink two cups of lemonade.)

I never took Harlot’s Ghost out of my bag again.  Once at the library, I found an excellent book, Charles Lachman’s The Last Lincolns, about the direct descendants of Abraham Lincoln, starting with his four sons (only one of whom, Robert Todd Lincoln, lived to adulthood), and Robert’s children and grandchildren.  Abraham Lincoln has no direct descendants alive.  When his great-grandson Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith died in 1985, that was his final lineal descendant.

When the woman told me how long my “sentence” would be, I started the stopwatch on my watch, but I didn’t pay attention to it once I began reading.  I was a few pages into the book when I decided that I would christen my newly reactivated card by borrowing it.  (I did just that, along with a three-disk set of Bob Dylan’s Biograph, a boxed set I used to have on LP.  When I bought it, I turned off the phone, locked my apartment door, and listened to all 53 songs.)

The change to Eastern Daylight Savings Time came this morning.  I was awake for the change, because I wanted to make sure that my cell phone and my alarm clock made the adjustment (I have an Emerson Research SmartSet clock radio that adjusts itself automatically when you plug it in), and both of them.  It mattered because Susie and the rest of the Rising Voices choir would be singing at both services today, at 9:15 and 11 a.m.  Susie had to be there at 8:45 for rehearsal and warm-up, so we left the house just before 8 to catch the bus, so we could eat breakfast at church beforehand.

I stayed for the entire first service, and stayed at the second service long enough to film the kids.  (I shot a video of the kids at the 9:15 service, but started it about five seconds too late.  Although both performances were wonderful, the second one was the better of the two.)  They sang “What is Pink?”   (Susie is in the front row, wearing an orange shirt, and this is the link, for your viewing and musical enjoyment.)

I left after the girls (Rising Voices isn’t intentionally all-female; it’s an all-girls choir by default) sang.  Susie stayed behind to go to OWL class (an acronym for Our Whole Lives, the human sexuality curriculum), and I killed time at McDonald’s until the library opened.

Dominion Middle School’s second and final performance of Annie Jr. was fantastic on Friday night.  I took some pictures during the show with my new cell phone, the Motorola that arrived via FedEx on Thursday.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a USB cord with a Micro-B male terminal, so I can’t download them yet.  Stay tuned to this blog, and as soon as I find the right cord, I will share them with all you eager readers.

My Annual Cough

This is my last week of comparative luxury.  The seasonal job at Columbus State Community College’s bookstore begins Monday evening at 5:30, so from then until the 31st, 13-hour workdays will be the norm and not the exception.  I should probably savor what free time I have, but it’s hard to when my cough has come back, making its presence known whenever I take a deep breath.

The vernal equinox is the 20th, and I had been hoping that I would be spared the cough this year, but no such luck.  It started off as a mild tickling in the back of my throat, and now there’s a constant urge to cough nestled at the base of my tongue.  All I have to do is breathe normally and that’ll trigger it.

Susie and I are in the same boat, ear-wise, unfortunately.  She developed an earache that goes down the whole side of her face and even into her tooth.  Nevertheless, she took some ibuprofen and gave a splendid performance in Annie, Jr. tonight at Dominion Middle School.  (I didn’t go, because I was supposed to be at a late doctor’s appointment.  His office called to reschedule just as I was leaving work this afternoon.  But I’ll be there tomorrow night at 7 p.m. sharp.  Take note, those of you in the Columbus area!)  She went to bed tonight with some NyQuil, and hopefully that’ll clear it up.

On Monday, I leave work at 11 a.m. for an appointment with an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat guy) at OSU Medical Center.  Since before Christmas, I’ve had a non-stop rushing and ringing sound in my ears.  It feels like your ears do after someone has come up behind you and boxed them.  I was a little worried when the office called to reschedule, because they wanted an audiologist there, as well as the physician.

I complained to a friend of mine that I had such a backlog of work, I needed a periscope to see over everything.  I admit that sometime soon I’ll have to make an effort to clean up the papers that scatter my desk, but I’m actually spending most of my work hours transcribing, which means I haven’t had time to sort through what belongs there and what I should discard.  One of my un-favorite doctors dominated today’s work.  He dictates very rapidly, occasionally gasping for breath between paragraphs, and I have to take down what he’s saying, sort out his run-on sentences, and pause to look at various medical references (both online and in books) to make sure he said what he said.  I keep thinking to myself, For Christ’s sake, you’re a physician, not an auctioneer.

Some people have said I’m a little anal-retentive when it comes to transcribing the doctors’ reports, but this is one profession where it is a must, or should be a must.  So many medical terms sound alike (“atraumatic,” as opposed to “it was a traumatic event”), as do the names of many medications, that if I’m not 100% sure, I stop the recording and look up the term or drug name in question.  This is because someone’s health is at stake whenever you transcribe a report.  It’s not like a data entry job at Victoria’s Secret, where the worst that can happen is that a package addressed to Logan, Ohio may end up in Logan, Utah.

After about a week of going without, I have a cell phone yet again.  My LG cell phone fizzled unexpectedly Wednesday night.  I spent over an hour on the phone with Net10’s customer service people the next day (not including the time on hold–you can listen to most of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen during that), and finally they agreed to send me a new phone free of charge, and FedEx delivered a new Motorola cell phone, complete with camera, this morning.  I had to go to my email account and send a mass message to friends who have called me.  (I stored most of their numbers in the phone, and when the phone went belly-up, the memory was kaput as well.)

While Susie was onstage and Steph was in the audience tonight, I did something which probably helped neither my cough nor my ears.  They had eaten dinner before I came home (since they thought–as I did–that I wouldn’t be home), so I went out in the cold rain (temperature in the mid-30s tonight) and went to Wendy’s and brought back two Double Stacks for dinner.

More doctors’ reports await me when I walk into the office at 8 a.m.  They’re from a psychologist, so at least it’ll be interesting.  They’re long, but I always seem to whiz through psychological and psychiatric examinations.  Hearing about people’s backgrounds and family upbringings is more interesting than hearing about their spines and their problems walking.  (One claimant had a condition you’ll find most often in spelling bees: trichotillomania, a compulsion to pull out your own hair.)

Backhanded Honor

Last night, while Susie watched in bemusement, I scooted another milk cartonload of my books up to my worktable, opened BookDB2, and went to work cataloging.  (This project is going at the speed of Snoopy’s attempting to read one word per day of War and Peace, but it gives me something to do besides scroll through Facebook endlessly.)

I did hit a milestone last night.  I didn’t note the exact time, but I entered Book #200 at some point in the evening.  I hadn’t really been keeping track, but I did see the counter reach 200.  As usual, I had the Library of Congress’ catalog open in one window and OhioLINK’s in another, searching for call numbers.  (Most hardcover books published in the last 15-20 years include them just inside the title page, but most published before then don’t.  There’s never an always and always an exception, however.)

The book I entered was a paperback novel, This Man and This Woman.  It is significant because it is the only novel written by Jim Bishop.  (He published it in 1963 under the title Honeymoon Diary.)

Bishop was my first literary idol.  Here is his biography, from the St. Bonaventure University’s Jim Bishop Archives.  His claim to fame with me, however, is that his book The Day Lincoln Was Shot was the first “grownup” book that I read from beginning to end.  I checked it out of the Washington School library in Marietta when I was in fourth grade.

The cover of the edition of The Day Lincoln Was
Shot that captured my attention at age 10.

Part of the interest, I think, came from the fact that my parents had the Bantam paperback of his book The Day Kennedy Was Shot, which would be the first of many books on John F. Kennedy’s assassination that I would read over the years.

What intrigued me most was the way Bishop told the story, in both the book about Lincoln and the one about Kennedy.  The Day Lincoln Was Shot begins at 7 a.m. on April 14, 1865, as President Lincoln steps from his bedroom and goes to his office.  It ends just over 24 hours later, when the surgeon general declares him dead.  Each chapter of the book represents one hour of that day, and the titles are “7 a.m.,” “8 a.m.,” etc., along with two chapters of background.

Later that year, I tried my hand at a “The Day” manuscript, describing a day trip Dad and I took to Wheeling (I was 9½ at the time) one Sunday to see his brother and his family.  I came home with a bad case of gastrointestinal flu, diagnosed by a midnight visit to the emergency room once we were back in Marietta.

I went on to read The Day Kennedy Was Shot, as well as The Day Christ Died, both of which were told in the same hour-to-hour format.  The library did own a copy of Honeymoon Diary, and I read it, despite being turned off by the Harlequin Romance-ish title.

Bishop spoke at the annual Chamber of Commerce dinner in Marietta in 1979.  I hurried through delivering The Marietta Times and ran, my clothes still smudged with ink from newspapers, to the Hermann Fine Arts Center on the Marietta College campus, because I read a small item in the paper saying there would be a reception for him.  I managed to get close to him, and shake his hand.

Speaking with him was a delight.  He was pleased that I had read his “The Day” books, and we spoke about another book of his, The Murder Trial of Judge Peel.  He was surprised that I remembered a line from a 1973 column he wrote about the last words of some famous and infamous people.  The line quoted the final words of a criminal just before he died in the electric chair: “Dump my body on the D.A.’s doorstep.”  When he introduced me to his wife Kelly, I quoted his words about her in the dedication of The Day Kennedy Was Shot: “My wife, my assistant, my life.”

And I mentioned that I had read Honeymoon Diary.  His smile evaporated, and he shuddered a little.  “Oh, my God!” he whispered.  He patted my hand, as though offering condolences.  “I’m so sorry.”

How much he hated Honeymoon Diary didn’t register with me until the early 1980s, when I read his autobiography.  He mentions the book only once, describing it as “an ugly, gauche, tasteless work.”

In the end, I suppose I honored him by letting a work of his be the 200th book I entered.  He died in 1987, aged 78, though I still can imagine him thinking, “But why did it have to be that book?”

Senate Bill 5 Passes 17-16

I came straight from work tonight to the vigil/rally in the Statehouse Atrium this afternoon.  From the sound of the crowd gathered, I knew that the outcome was not good.  Senate Bill 5, which would forbid state workers from striking, and which greatly weakens collective bargaining, passed by a margin of 17-16.  The only heartening news is that several Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the bill.  I don’t see this happening in the Ohio House.

Above is some of the video footage which I took once I was in the Atrium.  I came in through the west doors and crossed the rotunda, the same rotunda where Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state 98 years to the day before I was born.  All I had to do was follow the sound of the crowd, magnified by the high marble walls and open spaces.

The Atrium was full of union workers–many teachers, state workers (such as myself), police officers, and firefighters.  Many unionists were private sector, such as IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and SEIU (Service Employees International Union).  I remember many anti-war demonstrations I attended in Washington during the Reagan Administration, where there was a strong union presence, especially the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and the Teamsters.

Joe Hill’s quote “Don’t mourn, organize!” became clichéd from overuse, when I’d see it everywhere from bumper stickers to placards to sidewalks.  However, the people I saw gathered this evening seemed to be taking that to heart.  Licking wounds and hand-wringing is a luxury union people do not have.

I’ve long ago lost count of how many political and social demonstrations I’ve attended in my lifetime.  I played hooky from high school one weekend in my senior year to hitchhike to Washington to protest U.S. policy in El Salvador, I went to Wayne State University to represent the Unitarian Church at an anti-draft conference, and the list is a long one.  In this case, the majority of the people there today were appearing for the sake of their livelihoods, especially the teachers.  I am a state worker, and the only time I feel my life is at risk is when the freight elevator makes a strange noise when I’m aboard.  However, my fellow state workers in the Division of Rehabilitation and Corrections were demonized by the proponents of this bill, and they risk their lives every day when they’re exposed to hostile, dangerous, and desperate inmates who literally have nothing more to lose.

There were also the usual crowd of people who appear at every rally, whether it’s protesting the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, to rallies against police brutality, to pro-choice.  Many are in their late teens and early 20s, and are zealously committed to the cause, carrying the most prominent placards, handing out flyers and the latest issue of Revolution (formerly known as Revolutionary Worker.)  I’m cynical and skeptical enough to take for granted that if I Googled their names in 15-20 years, at least three or four of them will have gone the David Horowitz route.

In the Statehouse Atrium, after word that Senate Bill 5 passed.

It was not easy finding the pictures to post to Facebook and to the blog, and I confess that I’ve watched less than two minutes of the 15-20 minutes’ worth of footage I shot in the Atrium late this afternoon.  When I look at the tiny monitor on my camera to look at either the still or the video pictures, everything looks like a flea circus, and I kick myself for the picture quality, or the lack of it.  I have to wait until I get home and load to see whether I’ve captured a diamond in the rough.

At least it’s better than dropping it off at the drugstore and waiting 3-4 days to learn.