Russell Speidel (1936-2013)

During the blog’s hiatus this summer, I learned that Russell J. Speidel, who owned Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures when I lived in Cincinnati, died July 16, at the age of 77.  I had wanted to forgo posting a tribute to him here until after a memorial service.  However, I learned this week that his husband has decided there will not be a memorial service–neither he nor Russ wanted one.

When I was finally flush enough to afford a Clifton Heights apartment, proximity to Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures (and, I admit, to the bars) was my primary consideration.  I had fallen in love with Duttenhofer’s the first time I visited it in the mid-1980s, when I was living in a rented room above a Dairy Barn in Hartwell and working too few hours at Feicke Web.  Russ was behind the glass counter, very helpful and knowledgeable about anything in print, and the store looked much more pleasant than the intimidating Acres of Books on Main St.  I learned later that he had been an attorney and a judge in Clermont County, and when he left the legal profession, he took a job as a cashier for Stanley Duttenhofer, the store’s founder and original owner, and bought the store when Stan decided to retire.

He knew me as a customer until I moved to a small apartment above the Christian Science Reading Room on W. McMillan St. in 1990.  I saw them then almost daily, stopping in to buy the newspaper, chat with him, browse, and occasionally buy, books.  The mailbox in my apartment vestibule was small, so I put a tag on its door: CARRIER: Leave packages @ Duttenhofer’s!  When my job situation was precarious, and I was too poor to afford a phone, he let me use the store’s number on job applications.

(I must admit I abused this last favor a little.  When I came in to buy the newspaper one morning, he crossly passed along a message: “Joe says he can’t meet you at Murphy’s Pub until 11:30,” and pointedly informed me that the store was not my answering service.  Phone service was the first thing I bought when I received my first paycheck from the U.S. Postal Service in May 1992!)

Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures, June 2013.  Photo by Stephanie Mesler.

I often told people (and I think Russell would have agreed with me) that we had somewhat of a Dennis the Menace-Mr. Wilson relationship.  “Don’t you have a home?” was his greeting to me on more than one occasion.  (“Yes I do.  It’s on West McMillan, and it has lots of books in it,” I’d reply.)  Nevertheless, he often bought books from me that had no value or interest, just so I would have some pocket money when payday was still a week in the future.  He gave me an autographed copy of Lawrence Welk’s autobiography, Wunnerful! Wunnerful! because of his intense dislike of Lawrence Welk.  I also inherited much of his true crime books, after a leaking urinal dripped down on that section and ruined most of them.

I paid back in any way I could.  During my last years in Cincinnati, he often forgot to return the discount book cart to the inside of the store when he locked up for the night.  This was the cart that featured books he was selling for $.50 to $1.  There were no Gutenberg Bibles or First Folio Shakespeare volumes on the cart, but I knew that he would not want them stolen–otherwise they would have been in the FREE box.  I would roll the cart into the vestibule of my building, where it would not be so publicly displayed.

I also remember alerting him to some young scam artists in our neighborhood.  These were two little boys, whom I often saw out running the streets as late as 10 p.m. on school nights.  I was helping Russ out one Sunday morning, selling newspapers to pedestrians and drivers, wearing my black New York Times apron.  A man told me there were two little boys who had tried to sell him The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Sunday paper for a dollar.  When he pointed them out to me, I shadowed them for a few blocks, and found that they were putting $1.50 in a vend box and taking out the entire stack of papers and reselling them.  I told Russ, but he would never tell me if he told the police or not.

(These same kids worked another scam.  One night I was coming out of Subway, and they offered to sell me, for $.50, a catalog of night school classes, courses on everything from flirting to bookbinding to bartending.  The kid’s finger was covering the word FREE in the upper right-hand corner of the page.) 

The highest praise he ever gave me was when I visited Cincinnati several years after my move to Columbus.  Since that time, he had discontinued his Sunday hours, but I was not aware of this.  I went to the store, and the door was unlocked.  The lights were all out, except the emergency lights in the back of the room.  That was when I saw the sign in the window saying “Closed Sunday.”

I went to the nearest pay phone and called him at home.  I told him his store’s front door was wide open.  “You’re kidding!” he whispered, sounding totally stunned.  I reassured him that I was dead serious–I was using a pay phone where I could keep an eye on the store.  He said he had left his cigarettes there the night before, and had gone back to get them, and must have forgotten to re-lock the door.

I told him I would stay at the store until he could come to lock it.  “Paul,” he said, “What would I do without you?”

Rest in peace, Russell Speidel.

An interior shot of Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures, taken by me in 2012.

Now, Let’s Get This Goddamn Plane Airborne

My traveling by plane happens about as often as seeing a kid from Weinland Park with his pants pulled up, but so I could maximize the time I spend with Susie in Florida this weekend, I will, in a little over an hour, be a passenger on AirTran, and at 2:32 p.m., I will be landing in the Sunshine State.  I’m taking advantage of Port Columbus’ free Wi-Fi to type this entry before boarding begins.

This will be my second time in Florida.  Until Susie began spending her summers (and eventually moved there permanently this past summer), the only places in Florida I had any desire to visit were Fort Jefferson (on the Dry Tortugas) and Key West, particularly Ernest Hemingway’s house and Sloppy Joe’s, the bar he made famous.  (It depresses me to see fraternity and sorority folk coming back from spring break wearing Sloppy Joe’s T-shirts displaying Hemingway’s face.)

There is, although remote, a Merritt Island connection to the title of this post.  Merritt Island is the home town of White House photographer Cecil Stoughton, who took this picture aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963, as Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office as the 36th President of the United States, two hours after John Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas.  As soon as LBJ ended the oath with, “So help me God,” he turned to his aide and issued his first Presidential order, which is the title of this post.  (I think everyone was glad that someone had shut off the Dictaphone recording the audio before he said this!)

Merritt Island native Cecil Stoughton took this picture of Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, Texas.  A Dictaphone captured the audio.  (The microphone is visible in front of Judge Sarah Hughes.)

Merritt Island’s other famous resident was Zora Neal Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God.  (I have to admit I have never read that, or any of her works, although it seems that high school kids have it on their reading lists more often than when I was in school.)

I think that my neighbors and co-workers think Susie and I have joined the ranks of the jet-setters.  In February and June, respectively, Susie traveled to Costa Rica and Romania.  I have been to Washington this year (for the Forward on Climate Change march), and I was in St. Louis last weekend.  My most-traveled year, however, is undisputably 1983.  I was living in Boston, during the time I was typesetting The Harvard Crimson, and made several trips back to Ohio, and at least two to Washington, D.C.  My furthest trip that year was a Greyhound trip from Boston to Los Angeles.  I was going to the 1983 Continental Conference of Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) at de Benneville Pines, in the San Bernardino Mountains.  (It’s located at a dot on the map called Angelus Oaks.)  The trip was over 2900 miles.

I remember when Susie sounded most boastful of her journey.  This spring, she was walking barefoot in the hallway on the second floor of our place.  (All the floors are hardwood, since the previous tenants’ dog had ruined all the carpeting by doing his business all over them.)  I was getting ready for work when I heard Susie cry out in pain.  She had a splinter in the sole of her foot.  It did not look like something easily removable by tweezers, so I took her to an urgent care in Victorian Village.  We were the first ones in after they opened, which meant no wait.  As the nurse was taking down Susie’s information, one of the questions was, “Have you traveled out of the country in the last six months?”  Susie sounded very proud to say, “Costa Rica.”  Steph took her to the doctor before school started in Florida, and I’m sure the question arose again.  Now Susie can say, “Costa Rica and Romania.”  She may even include Poland and Finland, since that was where she changed planes en route.

Speaking of planes, my cell phone calendar (which has now become my appointment diary and address book) just beeped, so I will be heading to AirTran’s gate to await the boarding.

Back in Familiar Surrounding

I’m back in my study in Olde North Columbus.  The laptop is on my desk, and I’m typing this while I blare the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Jazz: Red, Hot and Cool.  After the weekend working at the bookstore, and then making the very roundabout journey to St. Louis and back, it felt even more odd to walk into work this morning than it usually does after a three-day weekend.

I was home by 5 p.m. yesterday afternoon.  I wasn’t exhausted, because I had managed to sleep for most of the Chicago-to-Columbus leg of the trip, but I was quite frustrated, an emotion that I have never handled well.  The Wi-Fi worked less than 90 minutes of the entire journey, and the driver home stopped the bus once or twice because of strange noises he claims he heard the engine make.
The icing on the cake was when we came back to Columbus.  I planned to get off the bus at the OSU Student Union, which is closer to my house than the stop by Nationwide Insurance downtown.  The driver did not know where to drop us off, so we circled the block while some students gave the guy directions.
I cannot say I ate healthily on the trip.  The first rest stop was in St. Paul, Indiana, at Love’s Travel Stop.  (Considering the odd routes on Megabus, it wouldn’t have been impossible for a trip to St. Louis from Columbus to go by way of St. Paul, Minnesota!)  From Chicago to St. Louis, we stopped at the Dixie Travel Plaza in McLean, Ill.
I can say with pride that I managed to do everything on my St. Louis to-do list.  For the first time since 1993, I took the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch, and took some pictures, both to the east (toward Illinois) and the west (at St. Louis itself).  I am glad that I made a reservation online beforehand.  Since this was the last “summer vacation” weekend, the Arch was packed.
The Gateway Arch, photographed from the end of Market St.

I would not recommend a visit to the Arch for anyone with claustrophobic or acrophobic tendencies (acrophobia is the fear of heights).  The claustrophobia would kick in while riding the tram to the observation deck.  The cars in the tram are quite tiny, not much bigger than the handicapped stall in a restroom.  They seat five passengers.  The tram’s actual motion is not bad; the car adjusts itself so that you are never upside down or tilted sideways, much like the seats on a Ferris wheel.

And why would it bother a person with acrophobia?  Being 320 feet in the air does that to a person, I suppose.  (I am not really afraid of heights.  If I have a secure foothold, I can stay in an elevated place indefinitely.  Whenever I get on a ladder to change a light bulb, however, I can’t get down quickly enough!)

I reunited with my friend Alex for the first time in 30+ years.  He travels quite frequently for his job (both in the U.S. and overseas), so it was fortunate that he was in St. Louis at the same time I was, and that we were able to see John.  We had a good visit, reminiscing about common friends in various Unitarian youth groups, mostly in the Midwest.

My literary needs were neglected on the first leg of the trip, from Columbus to Chicago, since the little personal lights on the bus didn’t work, so I was unable to read.  (I am rereading Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, plus I also brought along two or three Hard Case Crime novels my friend Robert Nedelkoff gave me.)

I made up for not having access to the printed word after my visit with John and Alex at John’s extended-care facility.  I saw my friend, author Mike Nevins (who publishes as Francis M. Nevins, Jr.), for the first time in over a year.  I met Mike at an Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati several years ago, and immediately won him over when I told him (truthfully) that I had read Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die, the only biography that will ever be written of Cornell Woolrich, the author of “Rear Window” and The Bride Wore Black, among many other works.  Mike accomplished the impossible: writing the life story of a man who had no life.  (After the collapse of his brief and unconsummated marriage, Woolrich was an agoraphobe living in a Harlem residential hotel with his mother.)

Mike and I had dinner at Mi Ranchito, a Mexican restaurant he likes, and I ate quite well.  We had an interesting discussion when I mentioned Elliott Roosevelt, FDR’s son, had been the commanding officer of Robert Lowry, the novelist from Cincinnati whom I befriended in the early 1990s.  I said that I found it ironic that Elliott Roosevelt had also been a novelist after World War II, writing a series of mystery novels starring Eleanor, his First Lady mother.  Mike scoffed at this, telling me that Elliott Roosevelt used a stable of ghost writers.  (Many people have claimed the same thing about Margaret Truman.  On the short list of suspects was Marietta native William Harrington, best known for Which the Justice, Which the Thief.)

A pilgrimage to Vintage Vinyl proved fruitful, as it always does, but I was quite fortunate this time.  In the $2.99 bin, I found a record, The Voices of the 20th Century (Coral CRL-57308), narrated by Henry Fonda.  My dad found this album for me at a yard sale when I was a teenager, and it disappeared when I left Athens in 1989.  The record was quite a find.  It featured a recording of Edwin Booth reading from Act I of Othello, some test records made by Thomas Edison, and even P.T. Barnum.  Even when I learned of GEMM and, I could not search for this, because I had forgotten the title, even though I knew the cover.  So I felt very happy to see it in the cheap bin.

Alex was quite amused when John and I told him about our hitchhiking journey to Washington, DC from Marietta in the spring of 1982.  (I retired from hitchhiking after I left Athens.  In high school, I received all kinds of dire predictions from my peers: “Paul, you’re gonna get your head blown off,” and “Paul, someone’s gonna do that Deliverance thing to you and then cut your throat.”)  We also described our trip into Illinois Caverns near Waterloo, where they let us in despite not having hard hats or heavy boots.  The ranger told us to “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time.”

We did bring a compass into the cavern, which was a total waste.  The rocks were so ferrous that the needle was swinging all over the place, not pointing north at all.  John’s friend, who guided this expedition, said that he had taken walkie-talkies down on an earlier trip, but the rock and the depth of the cavern rendered them useless.

I will leave you with this view from the Arch of downtown St. Louis.
With the Old Courthouse in the center, here is a westward-looking view from the observation deck of the Gateway Arch.  This is downtown St. Louis.


The bus made a stop at a Love’s/McDonald’s/Subway in St. Paul, Ind.  (As odd as Megabus’ routes are, it is not inconceivable to think I’d be going to St. Louis by way of St. Paul, Minn.).  I’m sated (Quarter Pounder with cheese and two apple pies) and, unfortunately, wide awake.  Still no personal lights on the bus, and dawn is two hours away, so I’m blogging again.  I was quite proud of the fact that I managed to post my entry at 11:59, so I did manage to post an August entry in here.

Currently en route to Indianapolis.  The Cincinnati leg of the journey included two stops in the city itself.  One was at the corner of Fourth and Race, and the other was on W. University Ave. on the University of Cincinnati campus.  It was quite fascinating to pass through Over the Rhine, the neighborhood just north of downtown Cincinnati, which was an impoverished, crime-ridden ghetto during the late 1980s to mid-1990s, when I was living and working in the Queen City.

Now the word is gentrification.  I am all for making the neighborhood safer, and for making it attractive for people who work downtown to want to live there, especially if they can save some fuel money by walking to work.  The question remains: Will this come at too high a cost for longtime residents to be able to afford to live there?

Many of the landmarks I recognized during the time I lived in Cincinnati are gone.  This means quite a few of the actual buildings are gone, many of them now serve different purposes.  As the bus went north on Vine St., I saw the building that housed a dive bar called the Bank Café is now a restaurant.  During my many journeys northbound on Vine St., I passed (but never entered) a store named Glossinger’s.  Its Pepsi sign, hanging over the sidewalk, advertised:

WINE          BEER       CIGARS
Also gone were many of the storefront churches that clustered, sometimes several to a block, in Over the Rhine.  I particularly noticed the absence of one such place, where a wooden folding chair always sat in the front window.  Above the chair was a sign that said, “This seat reserved for you!”, above an arrow pointing to the sign.
A sad commentary was a little store at Vine and Liberty that had a Realtor’s sign in its window, but it was too obvious that the place was closed, and had been for some time.  A sign reading THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRONAGE still hung above the door.  When I had lived in Cincinnati, it was a place to buy money orders, cash checks, and send or receive Western Union funds.
For personal reasons, I grieved the loss of the St. Francis Bookshop, across Vine St. from St. Francis Seraph Church.  The Saint Anthony Messenger paid me $35 for a poem I mailed them in 1996.  It was called “I Want to Live Above the Catholic Bookstore,” and I had written it on the spur of the moment, when I walked past the St. Francis Bookshop one day and saw a FOR RENT sign in the window above the store.  (Sadly, now there is one in the store window itself.)  I took out my small pocket diary and ballpoint pen, and wrote the whole poem in less than five minutes, right there on Vine St., using a newspaper vending box for a desk.  It took me another year and a half–by which time I had moved to Columbus–to type up the poem and mail it to The Saint Anthony Messenger.
As the bus reached the top of the hill at Calhoun St., I saw the outline of St. George’s Church, and I still need to remind myself that both steeples are gone forever.  Above is a video clip from WLWT-TV, Channel 5, showing the 2008 fire that destroyed both steeples.
At this very moment (4:38 a.m.), we are sitting in downtown Indianapolis, discharging and taking on passengers.  The only prominent landmark I could see was the headquarters of Eli Lilly and Company.  The only businesses that seem to be open are bail bond offices.  Haven’t seen an all-night diner, or even a convenience store.
There were more nightclubs and late-night restaurants open in downtown Cincinnati than I remembered during the years I lived there.  They seemed to be full, and many people were walking from club to club.  (I saw two young women in dresses who were carrying what looked like very uncomfortable dress shoes, walking barefoot up W. 4th St. and crossing Race.)
We are now heading out of downtown Indianapolis.  Still no sign of life other than the bail bondsmen, many of whose offices are brilliantly lit and staffed.  I guess there are enough people being arrested that it is worth staying open 24/7.