Don’t Know My Own Strength

In less than two hours, it will be October 2011.  Indeed a red-letter day for Susie and me, since we will officially be in residence in Old North Columbus (informally known as Baja Clintonville).  As I was there today, I saw all the external signs that the place is indeed our new residence.  (You’d think that the three new keys on my ring would be assurance enough for me, but I still seek other evidence as well.)  There was a change-of-address acknowledgement from the U.S. Postal Service, a notice from the credit union letting me know my change of address went through okay, and a letter to Susie from her grandfather in Wisconsin.

The first piece of mail addressed to me at the new place came from my ex-employer.

 The books came over on Tuesday night.  My friend John, who labored with me in the purgatory known as Medco Health, helped me transport two pickup truck loads of books from Weinland Park to Old North.  (We stopped at Tee Jaye’s for a late meal in between runs.)  Wherever my books are, that is home for me.  So, one whole corner of the living room contained stacks and stacks of milk crates.

Today marked the arrival of the furniture.  In the previous entry, I included a plug for the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio, and thanks to them, we have furniture in the new place.  My associate pastor Eric met me at their headquarters on S. Yale Ave., not too far from my old house in Franklinton, and I went through the warehouse picking out dressers, mattresses, box springs, a love seat, and a La-Z-Boy.  Susie and I have identical desks–heavy oak desks that were once in dormitories.

Two thirds of the way through the selection process, the warehouse foreman casually mentioned that it was curbside delivery.  The truck driver and his assistant would not carry the furniture inside the house.  That was totally on me.

I was happy to pay the $55 delivery fee, so I didn’t fume too much about their not bringing it into the house.  The title of this entry came from my realization that, although it wouldn’t be pleasant, I could indeed haul everything inside.  It took the better part of two hours, and I had to resort to such creative tactics such as pushing the dresser end over end, and singlehandedly moving Susie’s dresser up the stairs.  (Gravity was not my friend during that experience, and I am still marveling over the fact it did not shift and come down on top of me.)  During the time I was moving the mattresses upstairs, I came away convinced they were alive.

Common sense prevailed enough to keep me from being completely foolhardy with the furniture moving.  There is a large TV sitting on top of the refrigerator, but under no circumstances will I bring that down by myself.  The desks are so heavy that tonight they are sitting on my new front porch.

Tonight was Community Presentation Night at The Graham School, where Susie is a freshman.  Each class presented its Septemberim projects, including Susie’s “Writing for the Internet” class.  (During the first month of school, the students spent entire days in a single class of their choosing.)  Of course, Susie’s blog was among the many displayed in the classroom.  (The teacher arrayed laptops around the room, each open to the home pages of the students’ blogs.)

This indeed has been one of those overloaded days.  I came in to work for two hours before I headed over to the Furniture Bank, and that was the slowest moving part of the day.  There were no doctors’ reports awaiting dictation when I logged on at 8 a.m., but the rest of the day went manic really quickly.  I filled out two pages of paperwork before I went to the warehouse to select furniture.  As soon as the furniture guys left (around 12:45 to 1 p.m.), I immediately went to work getting the furniture indoors.  It looked like a cross between an eviction and a yard sale when the truck left, so I moved everything out of the yard and either onto the porch (the desks) or into the house (everything else).  As soon as I finished that, I headed straight to Columbus State to get my paycheck, and then to the credit union to cash it.  (It wasn’t until I was back downtown and walking from Rhodes Hall to the credit union that I realized that I had done the entire furniture-moving project on an empty stomach!  Next stop was Subway.)

Susie has a slight cold, but she’s soldiering on with school, and her enthusiasm about the new house is keeping the symptoms at bay.  I think that all the heavy lifting (literally!) gave my immune system a boost.  I’m one of those people who doesn’t get sick easily, but when it happens, I make up for all my health all at once and get dreadfully ill, with a vengeance.

As long as I get sick once this move is finished, and not during, I won’t complain too excessively.

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What Hath God Wrought?

I guess the first words Samuel Finley Morse sent by telegraph are an appropriate way to christen my new computer.  After the theft earlier this month, I spent much time on the phone and online with Purchasing Power, a union benefits which enables me to buy computers through payroll deduction.  (Thirty-nine payments, and this baby–and the computer I bought for Susie–will be ours free and clear.)

So, this is the first blog entry on my spankin’ brand new Hewlett Packard Pavilion dv7.  The two computers (along with the various accessories and program disks) have been arriving all week, but tonight I finally cut the boxes open and set up both machines.

My new machine.

This afternoon, the leasing agent gave me the keys (all three of them) to our new half double on Maynard Ave.  Officially, Susie and I will be in residence Saturday, although we’re going to begin moving in piecemeal during the week.  (I am leaving most, if not all, of the furniture behind.  One of the reasons I’m leaving Weinland Park is to get away from the two-legged pests around me.  It would be counterproductive to take six-legged ones with me.  Thanks to the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio, I’ll be able to start over from the ground up with new furnishings in our new place.)  Susie was happy as ever when she came home this afternoon (from a Unitarian Universalist Youth Conference in Kirtland, Ohio) and walked through the house the second time.  The floors smelled of fresh varnish, and all the keys worked.

Susie and I are “in exile” this week.  Last Sunday afternoon, I was jumped and robbed on E. 6th Ave. while walking to Kroger, after cutting across Weinland Park Elementary School’s playground.  If I wasn’t already vacating the neighborhood, I think I would be much more traumatized by the event, especially if I had the feeling that there was no escape.  The kid that ran up behind me and sent me sprawling across the sidewalk didn’t cause any physical damage, other than some pulled muscles in my shins and two skinned knees.  A bizarre byproduct of the mugging was that I am so grateful that I use a debit card much more often now.  If this had happened anytime before this spring, I would have cashed my paycheck on payday and carried one or two weeks’ worth of wages around in cash in my wallet.  So, as it was, this thug came away with $7 in cash, but I still had money available, even with payday almost a week away.  So, we’ve been staying with Pat and his family until we officially move into our place in the Old North.

I spent much of this weekend working.  The fall quarter started at Columbus State Community College, so I worked eight hours yesterday and four hours today.  The four hours today were much more boring.  I was operating at a serious sleep deficit, because Pat, his daughter, and some of his friends and I went to see Metropolis at the Grandview Theater.  It was the first time I had seen Fritz Lang’s dystopian 1927 movie, and it was Fritz the Nite Owl’s September offering.  The show started at 11, with the latest episodes of Aidan 5 and Metropolis-related music videos.  I wasn’t in bed until nearly 4 a.m., and out of bed again a little after 7:15.  I ran outside after showering and dressing, and barely made it to work on time.  As Messrs. Lennon and McCartney would say, I made the bus in seconds flat.

So what was the high point of the work day?  Nationwide Insurance’s world headquarters looms to the east of the Discovery Exchange, and I watched workers on a scaffold (like high-rise window-washers use) install a letter t at the top floor of One Nationwide Plaza.  They’ve already installed Nationwide’s trademarks and the letters N and a.  Looking out the windows facing west, I could watch the workers as they set the t in place.

Even a four-hour work day, on very little sleep, seems to drag on forever.  It was a little more bearable because there were two overflowing carts loaded with returned books, so I disappeared into the shelves and put the books back where they belonged.  I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t at church, but this is the only Sunday of the quarter that the bookstore is open, and every little bit of extra cash comes in handy.  It was both a blessing and a curse that I had something to look forward to–Susie’s return from the conference, and getting the keys to our new abode.

Amazing that I’m able to hit the right keys, and so post a blog entry that looks like passable English.  I am still learning this keyboard–it doesn’t quite feel right to me yet, although I know I am going to spend many quality hours with it in time to come (especially if I make another quixotic attempt at National Novel Writing Month come November).  Add to that the fact that I am quite exhausted, and I’m surprised this post doesn’t resemble a spilled type tray.

Another milestone of the weekend: I made a pot of chicken soup for dinner tonight, a very generous portion that served all six of us, with ginormous portions left over.  Tanya walked me through the procedure step by step, and I ate two whole bowls of it, and everyone was sated.  I received a lot of compliments.  Next week, I’m learning split pea soup.

Susie Sees Her New Home–Inside and Out

Around dusk last night, Susie and I took the bus from our soon-to-be-ex neighborhood (Weinland Park) so I could give her a brief tour of the half-double in Old North Columbus (known more informally as Baja Clintonville).  I was racing the sunset, and only expected her to see the exterior.  I won’t have the keys in my possession until a week from tomorrow, and we don’t officially live there until October 1.

Our timing was excellent.  We got off the bus and were walking westward on East Maynard, and the first thing I noticed was that our half double was blazing with light.  I looked up and I saw Jerome, the leasing agent I’ve been emailing, speaking with, and meeting with since the word go, as he crossed the street from his truck, paintbrush in hand.  I was glad to see him, and asked if I could give Susie a brief tour of her new home.  He said sure, so we went in.

Normally, a house full of empty rooms doesn’t attract much interest, but Susie walked from room to room, quite enthralled.  The fact that it’s not in Weinland Park is 95% of the charm, to be sure, but she was already mentally planning where her bedroom furniture will go in the new place.  (She’s decided she doesn’t want to have the head of her bed under the windowsill, because she’s tired of hitting herself in the head upon awakening.)  She took over the master bedroom when Steph moved out, but I’m reclaiming it in this new place.  All of the rooms smell like fresh paint, and Jerome said the only major project remaining was to stain and varnish the floors.  (I like hardwood floors, especially since I don’t own a vacuum cleaner at present.  There was shag carpeting on the upper floors when I took the first tour of the place, but it’s gone now.  That was mainly because the previous tenants had a big dog they let run wild–which may be okay if you live out in the country, but not in a half double in the big city.  The shag carpeting smelled of dog urine, but when I came to hand over the check for the deposit, the carpet was gone and the second floor deodorized.)

Susie and I spent the next hour at Kafé Kerouac, using their computers.  I thought about writing a blog entry last night, but I was using a computer that dropped its Internet connection whenever somebody sneezed, and a machine that was very slow to respond to anything I typed.  I am a very fast typist, and using that computer last night reminded me of what I heard about Linotype operators back in the days of molten lead and hot type.  The mark of a good linotypist was that he would have to stop and wait for the machine to catch up to him.  For me it was just frustrating.

We walked south on Indianola most of the way home.  The evening was young, and students are starting to return to Ohio State for the fall quarter, so there were students wandering around with cases of beer.  It was barely 11 p.m., and already quite a few of them were under the influence.

We began to smell smoke around Indianola and E. 11th Ave.  At first, it was a sooty smell, like someone had been barbequing and had removed the food from the grill.  But the smell kept getting more intense the further south we walked,  and before long I suspected there was probably a fire somewhere nearby.  We were close enough to campus for me to think at first it was someone being careless with an impromptu bonfire or couch-burning, but as we walked further from campus, we began heading east toward our house.

It says a lot about Weinland Park and how unsafe we feel when I told Susie we should walk toward the fire.  I knew we would be safe there, because a fire would have police officers and firefighters everywhere, so nothing could happen to us.  We were walking past St. Sophia Orthodox Cathedral at Indianola and E. 9th Ave. when I looked east and saw a column of black smoke rising up against the night sky.  I knew the fire had to be pretty much under control, because I saw two fire engines leaving the scene at a rather leisurely pace.  As we walked, I saw a few embers of flames glowing here and there on the roof of a building, and I guessed right away where the building was.

There was a 1969 comedy movie called If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.  A similar phrase would be, “If it’s burning, this must be N. 5th St.”  (I’ve explained it before, but to avoid confusion: The numbered streets in Columbus are the exact opposite of Manhattan’s.  In Columbus, streets run north-south, avenues run east-west.)

And sure enough, a white frame duplex on N. 5th St. was on fire.  To my untrained eye, it looked like a total loss.  I’ve walked past it before, when headed toward OSU or anywhere else north of Weinland Park, and the doors were boarded up and the windows painted shut.  Whether this was arson or not, I have no idea.  Before I began typing this entry, I looked at The Columbus Dispatch‘s Website, and there was no story about it.  Fires on N. 5th St. no longer count as news.  My neighbor Rory’s blog hasn’t mentioned it yet, and he has had an ongoing series about Weinland Park fires.

Weinland Park’s official flag.    

Last night’s fire made me more thankful than ever that we will be leaving this dismal neighborhood.  During the year it has been home, I tried to reassure myself I was living there ahead of the curve.  (I have vague memories of when the Short North was a neighborhood no sane person would venture into after dark, and now it’s the trendiest neighborhood in Central Ohio.)  If anything, the neighborhood has deteriorated even further in the past year.  The drug peddling, the mugging, and the burglaries have become more brazen.

Susie wants out of Weinland Park as much as I do, and it is two weeks before we officially live in the ‘Ville again.  However, she did show a naivete about the neighborhood that almost made me laugh.  I went ahead and ordered two new laptops, and asked that they be shipped c/o a friend’s house–he works at home a lot, and his wife is usually home during the day.  I wondered about bringing them home to Weinland Park, and our neighbors seeing us bringing in new computers.  “We can do it while everyone is at work and school,” Susie suggested.

Work?  And school?  Weinland Park residents?

A Memorable 9/11 for Susie and Me

In perusing the blogosphere and Facebook posts today, it would almost seem like self-indulgent sacrilege to post anything other than reflections and reminiscences about the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Maybe, like me, you are 9/11’d out.  I do not downplay the horror, bloodshed, and tragedy, but I write of personal matters today because it may be a little while before I will have access to a computer for blogging purposes.

Why?  Both Susie’s and my laptop computers, as well as our Wii console, were stolen last night/early this morning.  I am just thankful that Susie was not in town when it happened.  She was at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Dayton, at youth chaplain training.  It may be fortunate that I was not at home.  I was at a concert at the Dude Locker in Clintonville, and discovered my back door ajar and both computers missing upon my return.  (It shows how little I use the Wii–Susie noticed it was gone; I didn’t.)

The event finalized any lingering doubts that I have had about getting the hell out of Weinland Park.  I moved there last year with the same high hopes and enthusiasm as I did when we lived in Franklinton, eager to do good and go a step beyond the people who were full of solutions about a blighted area, retreating at 5 p.m. to the safety of Worthington or New Albany.  Now I see it’s an area where the children are out of control and where the civic leaders who see it as the next Olde Towne East seem to think of mugging, burglary, and drug pushing as performance art.

Happily, I can report that our exodus from Weinland Park is a fait accompli.  Soon after Susie came home from Dayton, I met a leasing agent and handed over a cashier’s check.  As of October 1, Susie and I will be returning to the ‘Ville (Clintonville).  I found a three-bedroom half double in Baja Clintonville, around the corner from the Maynard Avenue United Methodist Church.  The price is affordable, and the landlord has been hard at work on improvements in the week or two since I first looked at the place.  The previous tenants were two graduate students who liked to party and who must have thought it was bad karma to housebreak their dog, so the leasing agent, I think, was happy to be renting to a single parent and teenage daughter.

Aerial photograph of the general area where Susie and I will live.

The news about the burglary was pretty upsetting to Susie, so I was glad that I was able to offset with the news that our time in Weinland Park is very brief.  I think she had begun to despair of our ever getting out of there, and I admit that I was mysterious about the fact I was meeting with a rental agent this afternoon.

We don’t have the keys yet.  The owner still wants to do a little more work, but he will hand me the keys on the 25th (two weeks from today), and that is when the move-in process begins.  Since my soon-to-be-ex-landlord was not all that conscientious about keeping vermin at bay (the two- and six-legged variety), Susie and I will not be moving as much.  The biggest pain, as always, will be books.  (I have three milk cartons consisting of diaries alone.  You can imagine what the rest of the library is like!)

I am hoping the computers are insured.  I am buying them through a purchasing plan my union sponsors, and theft should be covered under that.  If not, back to the drawing board and start buying another computer.  This is the one time in my life I’ve been thankful for a dry spell, writing-wise.  I have to admit there is not much writing that was lost on my laptop.  I wrote The Sad Hospital on a typewriter, and my memoir about Robert Lowry (which has been in the home stretch for over a year and a half, “in measurable distance of its end,” to quote the telescreen announcer in 1984) exists in several incarnations, including a hard copy I printed out and an optical disk.  Susie, I am afraid, has lost several poems, stories, and projects with the theft of her machine.

Mixed Feelings About a Street Shrine

Columbus police fatally shot a 21-year-old man a month ago, about a hundred yards from where I live.  I was not home when this happened, and thankfully Susie was in Florida when it happened.  Apparently, the police came to serve arrest warrants on the guy, and he bolted from the house on N. 5th where they found him, and ran out to N. 4th, shooting at the police on the way.  They fired back at him, and he was dead at the scene.  Most troubling, this happened around dinnertime, when N. 4th St. is quite busy.  Across the street, elementary school-aged children were on the field at Weinland Park Elementary School, with football and cheerleading practices.

A picture of Weinland Park (with Weinland Park Elementary School in the background) that Steph took in November.

On my way home from work the next day, I glanced out the bus window and I saw an impromptu shrine at the site where he died.  Mylar balloons and flowers clustered around a foam rubber cross, and people had left cards and small stuffed animals.  (My first experience with these little street shrines was in Cincinnati, where I would occasionally see them set up at the site of fatal car accidents.)
I confess to some ambivalence when seeing this shrine–now dismantled, since the guy’s burial.  My first feelings were in no way charitable.  Why is anyone honoring this guy? I wondered.  According to the newspaper, his resumé included outstanding warrants for receiving stolen property, aggravated robbery, and illegally possessing a firearm.  The police were not coming to get him because of too many jaywalking tickets.  He pulled his weapon on the officers first.  This was not a case of a trigger-happy officer who fires on someone, only to find out the person had been reaching into his pocket for a cell phone or a pack of cigarettes.  Nor was this a young man in the wrong place at the wrong time while on his way to visit his bedridden grandfather.  (I thought of an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street when Detective Frank Pemberton sees graffiti memorializing a thug who had died in an exchange of gunfire with police.  Pemberton looks at the graffiti with contempt, and proceeds to spit on the dead criminal’s name.)
But equally disturbing were some of the comments posted on the TV news Websites.  I looked at the video clips of the news coverage, and almost all of them thanked the police for saving the taxpayers money on trial and prison expenses.  The most brutal comment was “Cleanup on Aisle 5!!”  My normal reaction is to scroll past wisdom like this and say, “What an asshole!”, but I was caught up short by the first thought that ran through my head when I saw the shrine.
It takes effort, but I have to remember that this young man was someone’s son, maybe someone’s father.  I even try to remember John Donne’s words:
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

And that includes the death of this young man, or even the death of Osama bin Laden.
My feelings for police have been lukewarm at best for most of my adult life.  I never considered becoming a police officer, mainly because part of the job involved carrying a weapon.  (The only law enforcement job I ever seriously considered was Postal Inspector, but that too involves carrying a gun.  Weapons are deal-breakers for me, job-wise.)  As a teenager, I compiled a rather impressive portfolio of status offenses, but I was only arrested when I was in my 20s, arrested for disorderly conduct in Athens while I was a student at O.U.  When I appeared in Athens Municipal Court, I pleaded no contest.  I was quite under the influence when arrested that night.
That didn’t elevate my esteem of police, but I never embraced blind hatred of them.  When I lived in Cincinnati and habituated the Subway on West McMillan, the people behind the counter often played a compact disk of anarchist punk band Chumbawamba’s 1992 album Shhh, an album I enjoyed (and recently downloaded from Amazon.com) immensely.  One of the songs was “Happiness is Just a Chant Away.”  The last half of the song parodies the Hare Krishna mantra with the words “Harry Roberts, Harry Roberts, Roberts Roberts, Harry Harry.”  Harry Roberts was a British career criminal who killed three police officers, and soccer hooligans and rioters are fond of chanting his name, along with a charming little song “Harry Roberts is our friend, is our friend, is our friend.  Harry Roberts is our friend, he kills coppers,” sung to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down.”
Discussion about Weinland Park crime seems to bring out the opposite of “the better angels of our nature” cited by Lincoln.  In this entry, which I posted in May, I described when a child, aged six or seven at the most, walked up to me for no reason and hit me with a closed fist, running away giggling to his friends who watched him from a street corner.  I described the incident on a message board on Columbus Underground, and I was appalled when one reader suggested I start carrying pepper spray or a Taser, and if it happens again, use them on the kid.  The debate about whether or not it was appropriate to Taser a six-year-old went on for days.
In this morning’s Columbus Dispatch, I read an article about the 1996 murder of the owner of the D&J Carryout, an eyesore and blight to Weinland Park located on the corner of N. 4th St. and E. 8th Ave.  The current owners have learned nothing from this legacy.  They allow the place to be used for drug deals, kids are loitering on its stoop each hour it’s open, and the owners turn a blind eye to the kids who attack pedestrians for their money and cell phones.  This Google Maps picture (enter “1395 N. 4th St., Columbus, Ohio 43201” in the search engine) accurately depicts the intersection, although the apartment building on the northwest corner has been razed since this was taken.  Do a 360-degree turnaround on the picture and see the disrepair of the buildings and properties.
I barely knew that the previous owner of the D&J was murdered.  When the murder happened in January 1996, Steph and I were living in a furnished one-bedroom apartment on Highland Ave., just south of the OSU campus, and planning our wedding.  (These were rather cramped quarters, since I rented the place fully intending it to be a bachelor apartment.)  I had no reason to be on that corner.  I came away much more informed once I finished reading this article.  Yet one of the comments posted on The Dispatch‘s Website doesn’t mention the senselessness of the murder, or the fact that it left a family without a husband and father.  All it said was, “He was probably another Muslim terrorist who could not speak English and paid no taxes.”  (The murdered owner of the D&J, Dib Yasin, was Palestinian, born in Jerusalem.)
Below is a video that I took last December, when the apartment building in the Google Maps shot was beginning to come down:
I guess gone are the days when tragedy brings out our nobler instincts.  I have lived almost a year in Weinland Park.  I was attracted at first by its cheap rent, and its proximity to the Really, Really Free Market and the Sporeprint Infoshop.  Careful readers of this blog will also recall that when Steph and I first realized ’tis time to part, we originally planned that Steph would have custody of Susie.  Now that I am raising Susie on my own, the urge to vamoose from this area takes precedence over many other things.  Gandhi often said the only tyrant before whom he bowed down was the “still small voice within me.”  The still small voice within me is saying to try and leave this neighborhood as soon as possible.