Note-Passing is Alive and Well

Your humble blogger has been away from Blogspot these past few days because of pressing business elsewhere.  Susie arrived home from Florida early Wednesday evening, and I feted her at our beloved Blue Danube Restaurant.  Both of us stayed up way too late.  She had a great time in Florida, and regaled me with stories of her visits to the Salvador Dali Museum and Weeki Wachee Preserve.

Then, I was a delegate to the 29th Biennial Convention of OCSEA (the Ohio Civil Service Employees’ Association) and AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees).  This took up my attention from Thursday morning until mid-Saturday afternoon.  I won’t bore my readers with gavel-to-gavel accounts of the general sessions, or the elections.  There is nothing to report on the travel front, since the convention was at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown, a mere block and a half from the William Green Building.  Representatives came from all over Ohio, from almost every agency.

The convention, and Susie’s month in Florida, made me realize how much instant communications have come to dominate us, and how we didn’t even miss them as recently as 25 years ago.  During the convention, many people had their cell phones out, texting to people not on the floor in Battelle Hall.  I sent several messages to an alternate delegate, keeping him abreast of the election and the floor fights.  When someone proposed rewording an article in the constitution, lo and behold, it was up on the big screen within a minute or so.  Delegates and others with loved ones on the East Coast kept news and weather Websites handy on their iPads to track Hurricane Irene as it roars northward.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden that “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”  Instant communication, beginning with the telephone, created a false sense of urgency that we will never overcome.  Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, and before then, you had to wait for news from relatives worldwide until the mail arrived.  I will grieve the death of the letter if it ever happens.  The voluminous post-Presidential correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson is invaluable and excellent reading–I’m surprised no one has made it into a two-character play.  What would have been lost if they had telephones?

Henry David Thoreau

I realized during the convention that note-passing, which many teachers saw as a grave sin, never really went away.  Instead of the surreptitiously folded piece of paper moving discreetly from hand to hand below the teacher’s line of vision, we’re now texting back and forth.  At the convention, we were seated by districts, so someone in District 6 (my district) could easily communicate with a friend across Battelle Hall by touching a few buttons on a cell phone and hitting SEND.

Earlier in this blog, I described the 1925 crash of the naval airship Shenandoah, and how my grandfather ran home to get his camera when he saw the ship was in imminent danger.  A co-worker mentioned that some kids today would ask, “Well, why didn’t he use the camera on his phone?”

I grudgingly use cell phones.  I am not sure I would if I didn’t have a daughter living with me.  My cell phones are usually a pretty sorry lot.  I buy pre-paid ones at Family Dollar and use them until they break.  My current one has no back.  The back of the phone disappeared at the party after the World Naked Bike Ride, and I’m sure it was stepped on within minutes.  So, I’m holding in the battery with a wide strip of Scotch tape, which I know is a Band-Aid measure.  (I was amused by Stephen King’s brief bio on his novel Cell: “Stephen King lives in Maine with his wife, the novelist Tabitha King.  He does not own a cell phone.”)

Susie is grateful, I think, to live in this era.  Near the last day of school in June, she was going on a field trip, and realized, after she arrived at school, that she had forgotten the permission slip that I signed and gave to her.  When I was in middle school, I would have just been shit out of luck.  No permission slip, no field trip.  But there was no problem, no crisis.  She called me at work, and the school secretary faxed me the permission slip, I signed it and filled in all the appropriate information, faxed it back, and she was able to go on the trip.

5.8, or "But Did Thee Feel the Earth Move?"

The two biggest events on my mind today are Susie’s imminent return to Columbus (her plane will be landing at Port Columbus at 6:35 p.m. tomorrow night), and the earthquake that briefly rattled us here in Columbus today. The “5.8” title I gave this entry refers to the Richter scale reading. The other title is a line from For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Hemingway, a post-coital question that has become a cliché for romance (and comedy) writers worldwide.
We did feel the earth move at work today. The day was a slow one, as it often seems to me when I’m transcribing my least favorite doctor. Just before 2 p.m., I was at my desk releasing a batch of ex parte orders I had typed earlier in the day, when I saw my computer monitor jiggle just a little bit. At first, I thought I was seeing things–my mind was on an appointment later that afternoon, and I can’t always trust my senses when I’m not sleeping well. I realized I wasn’t hallucinating when two ballpoint pens perched near the edge of my desk rolled off onto the plastic mat under my chair’s wheels. I jumped a little when they hit.
Two women who work in my area were giving each other What was that? looks, and one said, “Did you feel that?” The other said yes, although no one had any idea what “that” might be.
People in other sections of the 10th floor said they felt something as well. That was when the word earthquake began to travel from person to person–it was almost visible. The thought didn’t come to mind, even after I saw the pens fall from my desk to the floor. A new supervisor is moving into our department, and I thought that workers transporting furniture into what will be her office were rolling something heavy (like a credenza or a desk) over a bump in the carpet.
I collapsed my work-related screen and pulled up The Weather Channel’s Website. Even after typing in the ZIP code for my office building (43215), there was nothing about the earthquake, except in Tweets from readers (viewers?). There was a one-paragraph story about an earthquake in Virginia, however. I don’t have access to Twitter or Facebook at work, but I can post to Twitter by sending texts from my cell phone. So, once I learned about the Virginia earthquake, I texted, Think we got a piece of the earthquake that hit Virginia. Shook my monitor and knocked some pens on the floor. My Twitter posts simultaneously appear on my Facebook page, and within minutes my friend Ivan in Vermont emailed me that he had been at the library in Fair Haven and his table wobbled. Another friend posted House rolling here in Massachusetts.

This is my second earthquake. I experienced a similar one in the summer of 1980, during my first visit to Cincinnati (no idea it would be my home by the end of the decade!). I was staying at a friend’s house in College Hill, and mid-Sunday afternoon, I was riding a bike down his driveway and felt a small tremor, like an elevator stopping too abruptly. My friend’s neighbors came out of their houses, and the word “earthquake” came up almost right away. One of the people had a weather band on his radio, and sure enough, that’s what it was. I called Dad in Marietta, and he had felt it there as well.
The epicenter of this earthquake seems to be near Louisa, Virginia. This is a small town (pop. 1401), but I had heard of it. It is home to Twin Oaks Community, an intentional community that is still going strong, 44 years after its humble beginnings on a former tobacco farm. At loose ends as the end of high school neared, I wrote to Twin Oaks, contemplating going to live there, back in the long-ago days when I thought I could live communally. (I have nothing but respect for those who are able to do it, and who do; I just don’t think I’m wired that way psychologically).
Below is an unusual move for this blog. I started this entry by clicking the Blog this! post from WBNS-TV’s (Channel 10) Website, where the earthquake was the lead story. I wasn’t home at 6 p.m., so I watched the news from their site. So, I’ve written this entry around the link to the video of tonight’s news.
Since I sometimes allude to the music I’m playing while I type these entries, I want to go on record as saying that I don’t have Carole King’s album Tapestry ripped to this laptop, so therefore I was unable to commemorate the day by playing “I Feel the Earth Move.” (I’m actually listening to The Marcels’ cover of “Blue Moon,” from 1961.)

Quake Rattles Buildings In Central Ohio

This Entry Shouldn’t Be Happening

That is to say, it shouldn’t be happening at the present moment.  The clock on the computer says 3:41 a.m.  My cell phone is in agreement.  In just under four hours, I need to step out the door and make my way to the bus stop, and then put in eight hours at the Industrial Commission.

Yet here it is, with the hands of the clock nearing 4 a.m., and I am wide awake.  I did go to bed just before midnight, but did nothing but lie there in the dark for hours.  This is ironic, because with narcolepsy, it’s often a minute-to-minute struggle to prevent falling asleep, but try though I might, I couldn’t wind down enough.  When I was in a child, my bedroom was situated in such a way that the cars passing by on 7th St. cast moving shadows along the opposite wall from my bed.  It didn’t always work, but oftentimes that had a lulling effect on me, almost like counting sheep.

My current wakefulness may be because of a weekend of excess.  From the late 1970s until Susie’s birth in 1997, weekends of excess were not unusual for me.  This weekend, I overdid it on two things–walking and sleeping.  (There are worse things, I’m sure, but I am having a hard time understanding that at this precise moment.)

I’ve been overdoing it on the walking partly because I was making up for lost time.  It’s been too hot and too humid to walk for much of the summer, and the first day that the relative humidity was under 70%, I jumped at the chance, walking 5½ miles after work to Great Southern Shopping Center to pick up my new camera at Wal-Mart.  Re-embracing walking also came as an attempt (not always successful) to shake off a bout of depression that has gripped me for much of the summer.  One of the things I do when I’m on the “depressive” end of the bipolar pendulum is self-isolate.  I’m not financially secure enough for the luxury of total agoraphobia, so I have managed to get out of the house to get to and from work each day.  And at the end of the day, just doing that made me feel like I’ve donated a pint of blood.

I spent much of Friday night through Sunday morning pounding the pavement.  I was out walking into the wee hours of Saturday morning, tumbling into bed as it was getting close to dawn.  (Campus is quieter on weekend nights than it will be when OSU is in session, but there were still quite a few drunks out on High St.)

One thing I noticed while out walking around the bar patrons (and weaving through crowds of them on the sidewalks or at United Dairy Farmers) is the change in my attitude about seeing drinkers, and how radically it’s changed from when I first went off the sauce.  I made several halfhearted attempts to quit drinking after I left Athens in 1989, but they never lasted more than a few months at best.  I didn’t become a complete teetotaler until after Susie was born.  For the first year or so, every time I passed a bar, saw people have a glass of wine with dinner, or even take Holy Communion (when I’d go with Steph to an Episcopal service; Episcopalians, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians use wine, and not grape juice, for Communion), a jealousy I didn’t even know was there would surface.  Looking inside a bar made me feel like the diabetic kid with his nose pressed against the candy store window.  I don’t feel that way anymore.  And I haven’t developed the convert’s zeal that leads me to look down my nose at those who still imbibe.  (I guess I could classify myself as straight edge these days, but my excessive caffeine consumption and the fact that I am an unapologetic carnivore would bump me from that culture in some circles.)

I burned quite a few calories walking (about 320 per hour at the pace I walk), but unfortunately I was too exhausted to go to Grandview in the morning for the matinee showing of The Terror.  It would be weird to see Fritz the Nite Owl’s show by daylight, but this was the movie that Susie and I missed because the 5 bus, snagged in post-Comfest traffic, never came.

I wrote about retiring a pair of shoes and replacing them at Goodwill in my previous entry.  Saturday, Scott and I walked around the area north of Lane Ave. and west of High St., but stopped a little short of Clintonville itself.  My pedestrian urges were not 100% sated, so after he dropped me off at home, sometime around 11:30, I couldn’t concentrate on reading or writing, so I went out again.

Classes haven’t started at Ohio State, and the football season doesn’t start until September 3, so I wonder why the fires are already starting.  Friday night-Saturday morning, someone on E. 11th Ave. set an old love seat on fire and threw it into the yard.  Everyone seemed content to sit and watch it burn until the flames caused a wooden deck on the apartment next door to start smoldering.  (All the lights were off in that apartment, so either everyone had gone to bed or no one was home.)

Early Sunday morning, I saw some smoke and an orange glow in one of the alleys just south of Lane Ave.  I went over to see what was happening.  A dumpster was burning.  Three or four guys (and one woman) were standing in the alley; one had called 911, and the others were taking pictures of it with their iPhones.  I have a cheap Motorola cell phone that can take about 20 seconds of footage at a time, so I turned it on and shot some pictures of the blaze before the firefighters arrived:

My guess is that someone set this fire.  The young woman thought that it started when someone pitched a cigarette into the dumpster, but this had the earmarks of a deliberate fire.  On the other side of the alley, several people stood in their yards and doorways, clustered around holding beer bottles and cans, watching it like it was a movie.  I tried to keep my distance, before and after filming the above, mainly because I didn’t know if anything explosive was in the dumpster.  For all anyone knew, someone had discarded gasoline or aerosol cans in there.

I awoke late this morning with a bad pain in my left shin (and the right, but to a much lesser degree), and I knew that walk-a-thons like the ones of Friday and Saturday were out of the question.  I geared down my pace considerably for the one-mile walk to Family Dollar to buy some socks and underwear, and negated all my healthy walking with a too-big lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken on W. 5th Ave.  While I was at the main library later in the afternoon, I Twittered: Real dilemma on my hands here.  Should I ignore the pain in my shin and walk today, so I can work off the huge meal I ate at KFC?  A friend in San Francisco posted Listen to your shin, a reply that was “liked” by three people.  (My Twitter posts automatically appear on my Facebook page.)

And I did listen to my shin for most of the day, but I came home and napped for an hour or two (thereby missing an early Sunday night meeting I had planned to attend, and had entered onto my cell phone–which is my appointment diary these days).  When I awoke, the shin pain was bearable, but it was there.  So I walked to Kroger and bought some naproxen, which may keep the pain at bay enough for me to do some walking for recreation and exercise.

I have had my Windows Media Player on shuffle while I’ve been typing, although I limit to the songs I ranked as five-star songs–a potpourri that varies from classic to New Wave.  Considering my situation, it’s bizarre that Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” came up just now.  I guess it could have been worse; it could have been The Beatles’ “Good Night.”

Lazy Saturday: Missing Movie, Buying and Christening New (Old) Shoes

My job at the Discovery Exchange (Columbus State’s bookstore) is on hiatus until the day after Labor Day, so I’ve been enjoying this time off to the hilt, including a very open-ended Friday night bedtime.  The downside to this is that I’ve ended up sleeping through Saturday morning and early afternoon events that I’ve not wanted to miss.  But I am boasting a new–to me–pair of shoes.

Even though it was close to 5 a.m. when I tumbled into bed last night this morning, I fully intended to walk to Grandview this morning for the matinee re-showing of The Terror, starring Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff.  (Fritz the Nite Owl showed it at midnight the Saturday of Comfest, and Susie and I waited and waited for Bus 5 to take us to Grandview Ave., but it never came, hopelessly snarled in all the northbound traffic exiting Goodale Park.)

The show started at 11 a.m., so I planned to have pavement under me by 9:30.  My alarm went off at 8:45, I cursed it, shut it off, and promptly went back to sleep.  It was past noon when I finally got out of bed for good.  (I rationalized it by remembering my years of third-shift work, at The Crimson and at the Cincinnati post office, when 12 noon would be considered rising too early.)

I also took a pass on two chances to be civic-minded.  The Stand Up for Ohio Festival was at the Ohio State Fairgrounds today, easily within walking distance (for me), and my original plan was to go after the movie.  (The event featured the Ohio Players, Grand Funk Railroad, and Nikki Giovanni.)  I couldn’t summon the interest or mental energy to make my way there, despite being 100% on the same page with the goals of the organization–namely the repeal of Senate Bill 5, the bill which effectively ended collective bargaining for Ohio’s civil servants.

The same was true for the Weinland Park Festival.  Even though it was much closer, I declined to go to this as well.  In the year that I have lived here, I have fallen almost completely out of love with Weinland Park, and I would have felt hypocritical going to the Festival, as if my warm body being there indicated that I affirmed and took pride in being a resident.  At best, it would have been like going to the Thanksgiving dinner of relatives you loathe because they happen to set such a good table.

So what did you do, O blogger?  I went to the Goodwill in Baja Clintonville (by the Giant Eagle) to buy shoes, since there were holes in the soles of the pair I was wearing.  In my un- or underemployed days, I would have remedied this by filling the holes with newspaper and using the shoes until the soles started flapping.  But today, for a little over $7, I came away with a gray and white pair of Adidas tennis shoes, and a black T-shirt from Sloppy Joe’s in Key West.  (I have never been to Key West, nor to Florida, but I bought the shirt because of the picture of Hemingway on the front.  (Hemingway and friends habituated this bar until he moved from Key West in 1939.)

Once I put on the new shoes and pitched the ones I had been wearing, I broke them in by walking about three or four miles around Clintonville and the North Campus area.  (I remember when I was delivering newspapers on Knox St. in Marietta when I was in high school.  I overheard a little girl tell her mother, “I’m putting on my new shoes so I can break out in them!”  Art Linkletter was right.)

When I sign onto online chat boards, I’ve considered using Walkingman as my screen name, but I haven’t.  I would think people would associate it with the James Taylor album of that name–one of his least commercially successful and one of my least favorite.  A friend suggested Walkingdude, but I vetoed that right away.  I’ve never liked the word dude, and I think it sounds idiotic without the word ranch after it.  But the main reason is because this is one of the many nicknames Stephen King uses in The Stand for the demonic Randall Flagg, the novel’s mega-antagonist.

Jamey Sheridan as Randall Flagg in the ABC-TV miniseries of The Stand.

I thought of this while I was eating a quick meal in Subway this afternoon.  One of the books that came in at the library for me was Hardcases, which is Volume IV of Marvel Comics’ graphic novel adaptation of The Stand, and I was reading it while I ate.
More walking is on for tonight.  My friend Scott and I were going to go to the Eid ul-Fitr (end of Ramadan) celebration tonight at the Al-Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Hilliard, but then he remembered he promised to go to a bonfire at his brother’s house, so we’re walking after he comes back from the bonfire.

Meandered to St. Louis and Back

The last time I was in St. Louis was in June 1993.  I went with a Cincinnati friend who had an interview at St. Louis University Law School, so I came along to see my old friend John Bilgere.  We saw firsthand the Great Mississippi and Missouri Rivers Flood of 1993 during the trip, watching the Mississippi River running wild and viewing a completely flooded Laclede’s Landing from the observation deck in the Gateway Arch.

The most recent journey to St. Louis just ended.  Due to modem issues, I was unable to post contemporaneous entries, so now that I’m back at home, I can recount the highlights of the trip.  I took pictures (officially christening my new Kodak EasyShare C143), wrote diary entries, and jotted down notes throughout the entire time I was on the road.

I’ve logged literally tens of thousands of miles on Greyhound since I was a teenager, but this was my first trip anywhere on Megabus.  I have seen their brightly painted blue and yellow double-decker buses downtown and around the Ohio State campus, so I finally decided to try them for this long overdue trip–the first time I have seen John since 2001.

Megabus is not for the impatient traveler.  Besides the reduced price, I thought it would be fun to take a circuitous route to St. Louis.  I have hitchhiked there (from Marietta, in the summer of 1981), and once did a ride-share with someone going from Cincinnati to Kansas City, but otherwise have gone by Greyhound.  All involved straight shots down Interstate 70.

Not this time.  When Megabus emailed me my confirmation and my schedule, I saw that I would be going to St. Louis by way of Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Chicago.  Never take a child who says “Are we there yet?” on a Megabus.

I enjoyed the trip thoroughly.  This was the first time I had ever ridden in the upper deck of a double-decker, and I was amused that I, at 5’8¾”, was almost too tall to stand up straight in the aisle.  I felt like I was being carried in a sedan chair as the bus climbed north up High St. through the Short North and the Ohio State area, just as the bars and nightclubs were starting to get busy.

Megabus passengers, at least from what I’ve seen on this little safari, are much more polite than the ones I’ve experienced in my many trips on Greyhound.  If someone had an MP3 player, the volume was low.  Cell phone conversations were in stage whispers.  I was able to doze, write, and read without interruption.  This was a far cry from my 1987 bus trip to California, when four or five guys (whom I knew by sight from O.U.) weren’t happy that the bus was quiet, and decided to serenade everyone by loudly playing the theme from The Andy Griffith Show on their kazoos.

One way Megabus keeps their prices so low is that they have no physical ticket counter and no bus stations.  I picked up the bus Saturday night at the corner of N. High St. and Nationwide Blvd., and, as dawn was breaking, our bus came to a stop on S. Canal St. in downtown Chicago, near Union Station.  It was a warm morning, but I would have had to take shelter in Union Station itself had it been cold or rainy.

There was a billboard on the garage across the street.  Advertising deals on a new condominium  in downtown Chicago, it said, It would suck to miss this!  The same could be said for Megabus, especially if you’re between buses.

The layover was not a boring one.  As I stepped off the bus, I saw a police officer putting two sawhorses across Canal St. where it intersects Jackson Blvd., and saw people standing around on the sidewalk.  I explored the inside of Union Station for awhile, which didn’t take too long, since many areas were restricted to Amtrak ticket-holders only.

Once back outside, I saw that the street was blocked because of the third annual XSport Fitness Rock-N-Roll Mini-Marathon.  After hearing for years about the health-restoring power of running, whether jogging or all-out marathon racing, I become more and more committed to walking.  I took some pictures (both still and video) during the race, and I guess running is the origin of the expression “No pain, no gain.”  I watched the videos after I downloaded them onto the laptop, and almost everyone looks like they’re in agony.

Many people seem to be westbound this weekend.  When it was time to continue the trip, Megabus had two buses at the ready.  The Megabus coach was going straight to Kansas City, without taking on or dropping off any passengers anywhere else.  They called in a charter (not a Megabus) to take passengers who were going to St. Louis, and it was a direct trip south on Interstate 55, except for a lunch break in McLean, a village just outside the Bloomington-Normal city limits

Mike Nevins met me at Union Station on Market St. in St. Louis, when my bus arrived–on time.  He spoke about the condo where he will be living this fall.  (His wife died this spring, and he is moving from their house into a condominium that would accommodate a childless widower much more practically.)  Mike also presented me with a signed copy of Night and Fear, another posthumous collection of Cornell Woolrich’s short stories, which he edited and for which he wrote the introduction.  He gave me a brief tour of the Delmar Loop, which is “One of the 10 Great Streets in America,” according to a 2007 report by the American Planning Association.  I hadn’t been to the Delmar Loop since 1993, so it looked completely different than I remembered it.  (I was relieved to see that Vintage Vinyl, where I spent plenty of money on my 1993 trip–on everything from Dave Brubeck to Pink Floyd to Bach’s Mass in B Minor–is still alive and well.)

My friend John has changed significantly since I last saw him in 2001.  We met at a Unitarian youth conference, OPIK ’79, in August 1979 in Delton, Mich.  (OPIK–rhymes with topic–was an acronym for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky, the states where most of the attendees lived.  The reason the 1979 conference took place in Michigan is a long story I will not go into here.)  I was 16 years old and full of piss and vinegar, and grateful to be away from my father, stepmother, and stepsisters, and meeting entirely new (to me) people.  John and I picked each other, almost by default, in a workshop where you were supposed to pair off with someone you didn’t know previously.  And we’ve been friends since.

John developed multiple sclerosis last year, and initially it was the relapsing and remitting variety, but now it seems to be more degenerative.  He is in a wheelchair, and is living in a skilled care facility a few blocks south of the Delmar Loop.  We caught up on our lives in the last decade, although we have filled the gaps by phone calls and correspondence–both by U.S. Mail and email–throughout.  I knew about his deteriorating physical condition, and he knew about the end of my marriage and my new life as a single father.  The place where he lives is more hospital than apartment, and he is grateful for chances to go out to physical therapy, doctor appointments, and visits with his family.  It was a far cry from the spring of 1982, when he came to visit me in Marietta and spoke of wanting to see Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, who died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.  He had learned in school that Martha, thanks to the art of taxidermy, was at the Smithsonian Institution.

“Why don’t we go see her?” I asked.  I made a blizzard of phone calls, beginning with  friends at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Washington Office, and found some generous friends of friends² who let us sleep in the living room of their D St. NE rowhouse.  The next morning, we marched out to U.S. 50 on the outskirts of Parkersburg and put out our thumbs.  That night, John saw the Capitol dome for the first time.

Our last road trip was the last time I saw him, in November 2001.  He, Rich, and I went down to Hodgenville, Kentucky and saw the site where Abraham Lincoln was born at Sinking Spring Farm.  (John is like me: Both of us have been to where Lincoln was born, and where he was assassinated and the room where he died–he for the first time on our 1982 hitchhiking trip–but not to Springfield, where Lincoln is buried.)

I restrained myself and did not buy anything at Vintage Vinyl, mainly because I wasn’t sure how I’d transport LPs.  As much as I love them, they are clumsy and would not fit in my backpack.  I filled a few pages in my notebook with titles of albums that struck my fancy, and explored the Loop until I walked down to Skinker Blvd. and walked to the MetroLink stop there.  (The MetroLink, St. Louis’ light-rail system, was not there during my previous visit.)  I rode the train to Union Station, and found I had several hours to kill before the 1:15 a.m. departure of my Megabus to Columbus (again via Chicago).  I decided to walk toward the Gateway Arch.

Even as I walked easterly toward the Arch, I was wondering how foolhardy this was.  I was worried that downtown St. Louis would be deserted on a Sunday night, even a warm summer Sunday night, and walking alone with a knapsack would broadcast “out of towner” to any potential thief.  For a block or so down Market St., I felt like a big red neon arrow was following me, but it turned out downtown was anything but deserted.  I knew the Arch would not be open, and I have made two or three trips inside on its tram to the observation deck, but I wanted to see it at night and get a few pictures.

The second of Taylor Swift’s two Scottrade Center concerts was last night, and I had to thread my way through the blocks-long crowd of concertgoers who were leaving.  Most of them were teenage girls, and younger, accompanied by their parents or other adults.  I felt a lot better than I did during my 1992 trip, when I ran into the crowds leaving a Danzig concert at the American Theater.  I saw quite a few kids ask their friends or parents to photograph them by Taylor Swift’s trucks, which were all decorated with the artwork from her current album, Speak Now.

A very small portion of the post-Taylor Swift crowd as they left the Scottrade Center.  Many were behind me when I took this picture, and the crowd (and the cars) stretched far beyond my range of vision.

The Taylor Swift crowd was much better behaved than the crowd leaving Busch Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Colorado Rockies.  I’m glad there was enough down time between the two that the groups did not cross paths.

I slept most of the way northward on I-55 on the return trip.  I had seen the terrain during the trip the day before, and it was dark out, so there wasn’t much to see.  During my Chicago layover, I was amused by the juxtaposition between all the white- and blue-collar people pouring out of buses and Union Station to head to their jobs, and the excruciating, though comparatively carefree, hurrying and rushing of the runners on Sunday morning.

Once the bus was southbound on Interstate 65 toward Indianapolis, the driver got on the speaker and told us that we’d be heading straight to Columbus after Indianapolis, which meant a straight shot east on I-70.  I was pleased, because I knew that meant we’d pass through Henry County, where my stepmother’s parents lived after their retirement.  (During our visit in 1978, I decided to hike from their house in Spiceland to New Castle, nearly eight miles north on Indiana State Road 3.  I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic; I just wanted to get the hell away from everyone.)

The only diversion in the small town was watching teenage boys trying to puncture Spiceland’s water tower with their BB guns.  I guess we all need a Sisyphean task to make life truly worthwhile.  One time I actually heard a BB make contact with the water tower, and we all waited to hear the sound of water trickling.  (The BB bounced against the metal and flew off, of course, but what did we know of ballistics?)

I told John this story at another Unitarian youth conference, this one in Western Pennsylvania.  Years later, when he came to visit me in Columbus, he said he had a surprise for me.  It was a picture of the Spiceland water tower that he had taken on a previous journey on I-70!

Heading Into One of My Stephen King Bacchanalias

I can go for years without reading anything by or about Stephen King, and then, for no reason whatsoever, I’ll start immersing myself in his works–mostly the older stuff (1970s-1980s).  I think the newest of his novels I’ve read is Under the Dome, but I love to read and reread the novels and short stories I discovered in high school.  (Anyone who knows me at all will not be surprised to know that I am eagerly awaiting November 8, when his science fiction novel 11/22/63 appears.  Two of my interests–the John F. Kennedy assassination and Stephen King–will intersect in that book.)

Thunder crackles lightly outside right now, which is appropriate for the subject matter of this post.  I’m offsetting it with The Beach Boys, my two-record vinyl copy of Endless Summer.  (Right now, I’m typing with “Surfin’ USA” blasting from my turntable.)

Boredom at work was the impetus that launched my latest Stephen King binge.  When I have no doctors’ reports to transcribe, and have completed the stack of ex parte orders, I spend the rest of the day re-indexing the medical documents that both Injured Workers and employers submit.

How do I approach this task?  George Orwell described it eloquently in Chapter IV of 1984:

With the deep, unconscious sigh which not even the nearness of the telescreen could prevent him from uttering when his day’s work started, Winston pulled the speakwrite toward him, blew the dust from its mouthpiece, and put on his spectacles.  Then he unrolled and clipped together four small cylinders of paper which had already flopped out of the pneumatic tube on the right-hand side of his desk.

To alleviate the boredom, I looked through the extensive disk collection of a co-worker, a woman in Indexing.  (I have plenty of music disks, but wasn’t in the mood to listen to any music that day.)  To my delight, she had the Books on Tape edition of The Stand.  She had managed to put the complete reading on three MP3 disks.

I need to qualify my use of the word “complete” above.  When King first published The Stand in 1978, entire sections went by the wayside.  The editor was quite brutal with the blue pencil.  (As a character once said on Lou Grant about an editor: “With him, War and Peace becomes War and you don’t even bleed!”)  The original hardcover was 823 pages.  I read the book during high school, over most of an Easter weekend.  I thought initially that it was a run-of-the-mill science fiction novel, since the first section described an artificial influenza virus made by–who else?–the military.  The virus has a 99.4% mortality rate, and I followed the main characters, part of the 0.6% immune to the virus, trying to bury their dead and reestablish their lives with fellow survivors.  I followed intently as the survivors gravitated toward the Stand described in the title, as some follow the shadowy and faceless Antichrist figure Randall Flagg as he establishes a cruel law-and-order technology-efficient society in Las Vegas, punishing disobedience with (literal) crucifixion.  Some follow a centenarian African-American woman from Nebraska named Mother Abigail, and attempt to establish a democratic society in Boulder, and struggle with waste disposal, getting the electricity going again, etc.

Hardcover dust jacket of The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition (1990).

The version I listened to at work was the 1978 edition of The Stand.  Only Stephen King would have the chutzpah to take a book that many reviewers said was already too long, and in 1990 reissue it.  This time it was The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, with 329 additional pages.  I was living in Cincinnati when it came out, and decided to forego buying groceries to go down to B. Dalton downtown and buy it the week it appeared.  The added tonnage turned out to be quite valuable.  It filled in a lot of backstory, clarified questions that arose as a result of careless editing, and I enjoyed the book a lot more.

My apartment building manager, the myopic George Wagner, who would introduce me to the world of pulp conventions and the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, went a step further.  This epitomizes the person with way too much free time.  He sat down with the 1978 edition of The Stand and the hardcover edition, ballpoint pen in hand, and marked what had changed, and how.  (He later gave me this book as a birthday present, and it sits on my shelf between Signet paperbacks of the 1978 and 1990 editions, as a transition volume.)  “All new,” “mostly new,” “about 35 words missing here” dot the pages, along with brackets and parentheses representing where the text changed one edition to the next.

I ordered a DVD of The Stand miniseries from recently, and it came in the mail on Saturday, waiting for me when I came home from work at the bookstore.  This finally caused me to get off my ass and buy the appropriate cord to hook up my VCR/DVD to the TV.  I stayed up late Saturday night and watched the first two parts, “The Plague” and “The Dreams.”

I was quite happy when Recorded Books issued an unabridged reading of It, which is my all-time favorite Stephen King novel.  It is the story of a shape-shifting, child-killing monster that lives in the sewers and tunnels underneath a city in Maine.  The monster goes on a killing spree every 30 or 40 years and then goes dormant.  Seven outcast teenagers (a girl emotionally and physically–and possibly sexually–abused by her stepfather, a bookish Jewish boy, a stuttering aspiring writer whose brother was killed by this monster, and the only African-American kid in town are among the seven) come close to killing It in 1958, and make a pact to return to their city should It ever return.  In 1985, murders and disappearances happen again, and they come back to do battle.

It was another huge book (1142 pages), but I read it over the course of almost one day–“a day” being a 24-hour period.  I remember that it was the summer of 1987, and I was living in a furnished room above the Dairy Barn in Carthage (in the Mill Creek Valley, about six miles north of downtown Cincinnati) while working as a typesetter at Feicke Web.  I started reading about midnight one Friday night, propped up in bed with the fan and the radio going full blast, and by morning being unable to put the book down.

Here is just how much the book drew me in.  In mid-morning, I decided to escape the confines of my room (and the Carthage neighborhood–go to Google Maps and type in “6901 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH 45216” and you’ll completely understand!), so I took the 78 bus downtown and had an early lunch at the Frisch’s Big Boy on E. 6th St. downtown.  My nose remained buried in It as I worked my way through a few glasses of Diet Coke, some fries and a cheeseburger.

One of the forms the monster possessing the city of Derry, Maine assumes is the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, making him more attractive to naive children who love the circus.  After paying the bill and tipping the waitress, I made my way outside the restaurant–

–and damn near had a heart attack!  Standing on the sidewalk was a street person who dressed head to toe in a one-piece clown suit, a white hard hat, and basketball sneakers.  He carried a plastic Igloo in one hand.  Despite this gala attire, he never spoke or smiled.  (I asked the Westin Hotel’s barmaid about him once.  She said she had no problem with him.  He would come in, order a Coke, and sit by himself quietly drinking it, and then leave, and always left her a decent tip.)

Susie claims that the brief glimpse she saw of Stephen King’s It, the 1990 two-part miniseries, has given her an unshakable case of coulrophobia, an abnormal fear of clowns.  I was afraid this would poison her enjoyment of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, since Tim Curry portrayed Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror and Pennywise in It.  But when I took her to Studio 35 to see Rocky Horror, she loved every minute of it.

Susie and I plan to watch The Stand once she returns from Florida.  I was a teenager when I first discovered Stephen King, and picked up an abandoned copy of Carrie at the free book giveaway shelf at the Washington County Public Library.  I gloried in this Revenge of the Nerds on steroids, and rooted for the oppressed as she brought down the school building, and eventually the whole city, on her tormentors’ heads.  Several friends have told me it is not a good idea to show The Stand or Carrie to Susie when she’s 13.  I have never censored her reading, and never will.  These works of Stephen King’s qualify as literature–my grandchildren will be studying them.  University libraries include doctoral theses about King’s works.

My job is to keep Susie safe from the real horrors–of which there are many.  I won’t waste my energy shielding her from the ones that reside on paper and ink, and which will vanish with the STOP button or by returning the book to the shelf (which never happens in our house anyway!).

I Sought, and Eventually Found

Last Saturday night, I was in such a hurry to type up the blog entry about Pulpfest that I neglected to write about the very pleasant denouement of the whole day.  (I was racing the clock, making sure I finished and posted the entry before making the 3¼-mile walk to Grandview to see Teenagers From Outer Space.)  During the day I spent at Pulpfest, I successfully ended long searches for a book that I had lost (the Ace Giant Double Novel(s?) They Buried a Man and The Dark Place by Mildred Davis) and found a DVD of a made-for-TV movie I had seen in 1977 that had affected me deeply (Alan Alda in Kill Me If You Can, a biopic about Caryl Chessman).

Between coming home from Pulpfest and meeting Mike Nevins and Steve for dinner, another long search came to an end.  Propped against my front door was a package from Classic Vinyl in Gaithersburg, Md.  It was not a total surprise, since I had mailed payment for it at the end of the previous week, but seeing the package there was reassuring and made me feel rewarded for hard work and effort.

My parents played many classical music records when I was a child, especially in the house on Third St. in Marietta where I lived until I was six.  Part of my love for classical music came because my parents watched NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report every evening, instead of Walter Cronkite and The CBS Evening News.  (The Huntley-Brinkley Report‘s closing theme was the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.)

When I was an adult, my mother told me that she first began to suspect I had some type of clinical depression because, after school, I showed little interest in playing outside or watching TV.  “You’d just eat your snack, and then go up to your room and put on Vivaldi and stay there until dinnertime.”

Although I could identify my favorite Vivaldi composition if I heard it, I could not remember its title.  I do remember that, on Sunday mornings, while my mother slept in, my dad and I would remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8) by having pancakes or French toast instead of cold cereal, and by playing a record of Vivaldi’s Gloria.  But I loved one instrumental piece so much I took it from the record cabinet of my parents’ Magnavox console and kept it in my bedroom, where I could play it on my orange and white monaural General Electric phonograph.

My desire to find this recording began anew in December 2009, when the church featured the Gloria as part of the winter concert.  That triggered the memory of the instrumental piece I so loved, and I checked out a six-disk Vivaldi set by Deutsche Grammophon, and, after going through the entire recording, could not find it.

This did not deter me.  I could physically describe the album.  I knew it was from the Musical Heritage Society.  Its cover featured no graphics–just a list of the works on the album and the personnel.  It had blue letters against a white background.  The other side of the album cover was blank–just black, with nothing on it.

The piece’s being instrumental made it more difficult.  If a song’s title eluded me, I could always log onto and type whatever phrase I remembered into its search engine, and the song would pop up in front of me.

Besides remembering the album cover, I remembered that the bassoonist was named Anthony Checchia.  (I had a rudimentary knowledge of the instruments of the orchestra due to playing and replaying my Vanguard Everyman Classics record of Peter and the Wolf–incomparably narrated by Boris Karloff–until it was marred and scratched.)  Earlier this summer, I Googled his name, hoping to find the album, or at least something that would trigger a distant memory of the title of the piece.  Much to my delight, I found out Checchia is alive and well, artistic director of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.  (The album came out in the mid-1960s, so I was not taking for granted any of the performers were still alive.)  I emailed Checchia in Philadelphia and, to my delight, he replied a few days later.  He thought he knew the record I described, but was in Vermont overseeing the Marlboro Music Festival, and would not be able to go through his personal files until he returned to Philadelphia in September.

I went back to Classic Vinyl and Googled Vivaldi’s and Checchia’s names, and found an album that I thought may be the one I wanted.  I was wary, because it cost $26 (not including postage), and it may not be the right one.  Finally, after some emailed conversation with the owner of the site, I bit the bullet and mailed him the $26 money order.

I held my breath when I unpacked the record Saturday evening and put it on my turntable.  I put the tone arm to approximately where I remembered my favorite piece being, set it down…

…and it turned out I hit paydirt!  Indeed, it was the recording that I remembered.  I was 99.8% sure when I turned the album cover over and saw the black side, but I wasn’t sure until I heard my favorite Vivaldi piece for the first time in over 40 years.  (By the way, its title is “Concerto in G Minor for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Bassoon and Figured Bass, P. 403.”)

When in search of a book or music title, I will leave no turn unstoned stone unturned, and will make many people who know me get down on their knees and pray that I please find it, and soon, so they won’t have to hear about it anymore.  I have two friends who live quite some distance from me, and I have fired off many emails to them titled, “You Would Know This If Anyone Would…”  Robert Nedelkoff in Silver Spring is my Delphic oracle when it comes to matters literary, although his musical knowledge is quite encyclopedic as well.  (Robert is the only person–other than myself–who had heard of Lauran Paine, who was the most prolific author in history.  Paine had published 880 books, mostly Westerns, under 74 different pseudonyms, when People wrote about him in 1985, “Author Lauran Paine Rewrites the Record Books Every Time He Sits Down at the Typewriter.”)

My St. Louis friend John Bilgere, whom I met at a Unitarian youth conference in Michigan in 1979, has an encyclopedic knowledge of rock and pop music from the British Invasion until the end of the 1980s.  One day, bored at work, I had an earworm for a song from 1974 in my mind.  I emailed John:

In 1974, there was a one-hit wonder that I heard on the radio quite frequently.  I can’t give you the title or the artist, because the song was completely in Spanish, so I think the title probably was, too.

Any idea of who that might be, or what the song is?

And John did not disappoint!  A day or two later, I checked my incoming email box, and he had written:

The song which you speak of is possibly “Eres Tu” by the Mocedades (key of E flat).  Another one, which did not make many waves in the U.S., was “Jesuscristo” by Las Fresas Acidas (1972?).

I pulled up “Eres Tu” on YouTube, and John had been right.  My Spanish fluency consists of counting from 1 to 20, thanks to many afternoons watching Sesame Street until I was a teen, so I would not have been able to identify the song otherwise.

The pre-Internet days were much worse.  When my parents gave me a record player for my fourth Christmas, they also gave me an Apple single of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”  I was happy to receive this, along with The Archies’ “Bang-Shang-a-Lang” and Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days.”  There was another recording I wanted, but, since it was instrumental, I did not know its title.

I would not know its title until the summer of 1990.  That summer, I worked as a medical billing clerk for a company contracted by Christ Hospital, and we kept WRRM-FM (Warm 98) on the radio in the office.  One day, while typing the prices for rhythm strips and EKGs into the database, I heard the song that I had liked so much as a preschooler.  I heard it from the transistor radio of a teenage girl sunbathing in the next yard while I had been playing outside.  Warm 98, like many other stations, now posts its playlist on its Website, but this was several years before anyone had heard of the Internet.  I stopped what I was doing and called the station.  I didn’t get the DJ on the line, but I asked the receptionist who answered the phone, “What was that song you just played?”  She put me on hold, and she came back on the line in seconds.  The song was “The Horse,” by Cliff Nobles and Company.  I jotted that in my pocket notebook (I had started the habit of always having a notebook and pen handy my final months in Athens), and then began to plague record-store owners in Cincinnati with requests to find it for me.  Even PhonoLog‘s three-ring binder on the counter didn’t yield any results, and I was all prepared to pay for an ad in Goldmine.  Then, one day I lucked out.  In a St. Vincent de Paul (where I also bought most of my clothes), I found a Billboard compilation album from 1968 which featured “The Horse.”  (When “The Horse” was the number-one song, the number-two song was Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” maybe the only time when instrumentals held both number-one and number-two spots.)

Of course, my neighbors were not happy that I had this stroke of luck, and they prevailed upon me to use headphones for my many replayings of the song!

I like to think of myself as a generous type, so I now share with you the earworm of “The Horse.”