Mythology Comes Alive

My first exposure to the Sisyphus myth was a bronze pair of bookends that one of my dad’s colleagues had his book- and record-filled apartment in Marietta.  Until then, I thought Sisyphus was something you took care of with lots of penicillin and tetracycline.  My dad explained to me the myth surrounding this unfortunate monarch: To punish his chronic and almost constant deceit, the gods condemned him to spend eternity rolling an enormous boulder up a hill in the Underworld, only to have it roll back down as he neared the top.  Repeat throughout eternity.

I know that Albert Camus wrote a small book, The Myth of Sisyphus, which I have not read.  During a mythology class I took at Marietta High School, I concluded (to my teacher’s reluctant agreement) that the closest manifestation of the Sisyphus myth was Wile E. Coyote, and these frequently involved boulders!  (Anyone who watched The Six Million Dollar Man saw more laws of physics violated than in an eight-minute Road Runner cartoon, but Lee Majors did not bear out any significant mythology.)

Gentle readers, I bore out the myth of Sisyphus a day or two before the Washington trip, and I now understand it completely–although I did have a way out of it, unlike the poor bastard in the Underworld.

I left work early the day before my departure for Washington, and ventured to Used Kids Records on N. High St.  I was in a good mood, about leaving work early because there was nothing to do, because I would have some Interstate underneath me in about 24 hours, and that I was flush to buy some records at Used Kids.

Used Kids is located upstairs in the 1900 block of N. High St., and its black-painted walls house a very eclectic selection of recorded music, on all media that is currently available.  There are even commercially produced reel-to-reel tapes, as well as the God-awful eight-track tape.  The bulk of Used Kids’ inventory is vinyl.  There are also stereo components and speakers for sale.

But my eyes were all for the shellac.  They had a fairly substantial, but completely disorganized, collection of 78 RPM records, and I have become like a guided missile when it comes to stashes of 78 RPM records.  This is aided by the fact that several generous record store owners have given me their cache of unwanted 78s.

I asked the manager about the prices of the 78s.  I was going to buy one album full of records.  (A little explanation is necessary here: The maximum capacity of a 10-inch 78 RPM record was about three or four minutes’ running time.  A longer work, such as a symphony or opera, had to be spread out over several records.  If it was a single body, it came in an album with paper sleeves to hold each record.  This is why, even on a compact disk or on an LP, and even today, a single collection of music is called an album.)  The manager looked at me, and I suspect my reputation may have preceded me, because the vinyl peddlers in Columbus seem to have a relationship that is more cooperative than competitive.

He seemed to be deep in thought.  “Tell you what,” he said.  “I’ll let you have the whole lot for $20.”  That was music to my ears, if you’ll pardon the expression.  I said sure.  I went home to drop off my knapsack, and to put on a denim jacket, since it had gotten a little colder than when I had left work.  I came back, handed the cashier a $20 bill, and asked if I could bum their dolly.  My yield turned out to be four milk crates, all four of them bursting at the seams.  “Please tell me you have a freight elevator,” I said.  No, they did not.  With help, and also borrowing a frayed bungee cord, I was able to get this load all the way down the steep steps to High St.

Used Kids Records, myself, and the plethora of 78s which are now piled up on shelves, in crates, and desk surfaces in my half double.

I envisioned that the worst part of the experience was cataloging the whole acquisition on Discogs, between the tedium and the often snide comments that moderators and administrators make to those who are still learning the ropes.  I was wrong.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I realize now that what I should have done was, after paying the $20, was tell them to hold the records, and then got on the phone either to a friend with a car or to a taxi dispatcher.  But no, I had to try to get it all home myself.  As retro as I have become in the last few years (almost to the point of considering typing out this blog on my Royal Skylark, almost like a more orthodox diary, and scanning the entries to go up here), I came away with an appreciation for iPods that I did not have when I got out of bed that morning.

Shellac and Bakelite records are heavy!  When you multiply this by four crates, then the weight and the bulk are burdensome.  There was no way I could remind myself of the famous litany (often spoken in vain) when helping someone move.  “This isn’t heavy, it’s just bulky.”  In the case of the 78s, it was both.

I believe now that every sidewalk between N. High St. and E. Maynard Ave. is warped and uneven.  I was making very slow progress, less than a mile an hour, and trying without success to keep the stack of cartons from toppling at every small bump.  I think that even if I had run over an anthill or a crushed beer can on the sidewalk, the whole load was in danger of collapsing.  And if that happened, the records would shatter.  It would be like holding up and dropping a box full of china.

I made my laborious way east on E. 18th Ave., going north on Waldeck Ave. (a mistake; the street is more uphill than I remembered, although I had no trouble traversing it on my trike or on foot on many nights), and finally east on Lane.  After coming very close to spilling all the records–and having these nightmare visions of going through all the shrapnel that had been four crates full, and finding the remains of an Elvis Presley Sun 78–I took out the cell phone and called a cab.  The driver did not look happy about this, and I am sure the car was riding lower than usual once I loaded everything into the back seat and the trunk (I had to ride up front with him).

I walked like Quasimodo the rest of the day, and I had to look behind me to see whether or not I had a knife handle sticking out of the small of my back, but I gritted my teeth and said it was worth it.  So far, the most valuable record in there is Patti Page’s first recording of “Tennessee Waltz”, which originated as the B side of “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” (Mercury Records 5534).  I also acquired some unexpected LP vinyl treasures–all nine Beethoven symphonies, conducted by Arturo Toscanini, and a multi-record set of organ concerts by Albert Schweitzer, to benefit the people of Lambaréné and his medical mission there.

This is why I have never used the Sisyphus myth to describe my grappling with NaNoWriMo and all the many words and keystrokes that result from it.  (On that subject, I am down to less than 10 thousand words, about 3000 of them written today.)

Currently, I’m in Kafé Kerouac, and they will be closing soon, and I will venture out in the falling snow to get home to bed.  I have my headphones on, and the “Jewish Elvis,” Mr. Neil Leslie Diamond, is singing “Cherry Cherry,” my favorite song of his. 

Ditched Blog for NaNoWriMo

We are down to the final six days of NaNoWriMo–the authors’ form of PMS–and one sign that I have actually been at the keyboard grinding out the requisite number of words per day has been the neglect of this blog.  This month has been a fairly active one, and not exclusively at the keyboard.

No news is good news when it comes to cardiac news.  There is nothing to report on that front, except for the appointment (and possible cardiac catheterization) on the 11th, just over two weeks in the future.  The aneurysm remains at 4.5 centimeters, 1½ cm shy of how dilated it would be to require surgery.  My understanding is that if I wake up every day, that means it has not burst.

NaNoWriMo has not completely dominated my life this month.  The weekend after Veterans’ Day, I went on a truly quick trip to Washington, D.C.  It was a milestone because this was the first time I had gone as a tourist since about 1983.  Previous blog entries and my diaries bear me out when I say that all of the trips I have taken to Washington since that time have been politically-oriented: anti-war, pro-environmentalism,, etc.

I don’t know where I learned the phrase “bang-zoom,” but it is fitting for this trip.  I left by Greyhound Friday night (it was supposed to be at 9 p.m., but we didn’t pull out of the station on East Town Street until 10:30 or so), traveled by way of Pittsburgh, and arrived at Union Station in Washington just after 8:30.  My tour guide and boon companion on the trip, of course, was Robert Nedelkoff, who is well versed on D.C. history, although not a native, and literature, music, and other subjects as well.  When I arrived at Union Station, I texted him: Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed.  It is always good to make allusions like that to someone who is old or well read enough to actually understand them.

One of the stops would be Arlington National Cemetery, since the following Friday would be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it was “only fitting and proper” to visit his grave.  However, I did feel like I was visiting a grave while I was in Union Station, waiting for Robert to arrive on the Metro.

When I was in Washington in February, Robert and I took a tour of the Barnes and Noble, which was going to close in six to eight weeks.  I bought a journal for Susie and a paperback James Patterson novel (when in Rome… the Alex Cross series takes place in D.C.) for myself.  I went to the site where the former Barnes and Noble had been, hoping to get some satisfaction from seeing an empty storefront.  No such luck.  H&M, a Swedish clothing chain, has opened a store in its place, and there was a very rapid turnaround time between the two businesses.

My main reason for going to D.C. this weekend was to see the JFK exhibit at The Newseum, but I was disappointed with this.  Other than some contemporary hardware (such as the original yellow copy displayed in a Teletype machine from United Press International, the clothes Lee Harvey Oswald wore when arrested, and JFK’s personal Smith-Corona electric typewriter), there was nothing that I either could not access on YouTube or which I had not purchased as DVDs at the Cincinnati Nostalgia Convention.

Author James L. Swanson autographs the copy of End of Days that Robert bought for me.  This event was at Politics and Prose on Connecticut Ave. NW on Saturday night during my visit.

Maynard Ave.’s diarist in residence (left–on the level, complete with bubble in the middle) and Robert Nedelkoff, November 16, 2013, on the balcony of The Newseum.  The Capitol Building and the Canadian Embassy are in the background.

New to me was the International Spy Museum, which seemed to focus more than it should have on James Bond and the various villains and nemeses he has encountered, both through the Ian Fleming novels and the many movies since the 1950s.  This was understandable, it seems to me, since espionage is the type of business that, in order to be successful, leaves as little of a trail, paper or otherwise, as possible.  I was amused to see the gold-plated Royal manual typewriter on which Fleming wrote several of the Bond novels.  (My first exposure to Ian Fleming was, of course, my Little Golden Book copy of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car.)  I also took some pictures of different wire and reel-to-reel recorders to share with a reel-to-reel tape recorders enthusiasts’ group on Facebook.

Ford’s Theater’s exhibits seem to focus more on Lincoln’s career and Presidency more than the assassination.  New to me were swatches from the ropes used to execute the four conspirators in July 1865, and the padded hoods worn by the prisoners during their imprisonment.  (The wardens and jailers at Guantanamo took a page from Edwin M. Stanton’s playbook.  I don’t believe that Stanton was the Keyser Söze who manipulated the events leading up to Lincoln’s murder, but his treatment of the suspects once in custody was unconscionable.)  Some of the possessions that John Wilkes Booth had on his person when he was captured and killed–his wallet, small photographs of five women, and a diary–were also on display, with the diary opened to where 18 pages are missing.

Part of the exhibit at the Petersen House, across the street from the theater, includes a large tower representing every known book written by or about Lincoln.  The house itself is where Lincoln died, with several additions.  The silliest one included Lincoln in various contemporary media, including a cover of The Amazing Spider-Man where he shares the frame with Spider-Man and Captain America.  I was a little miffed they did not show a still from the Star Trek episode “The Savage Curtain” (Stardate 5906.4).  I was very glad they did not display anything from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

The crowning jewel of the trip was–aside from the excellent meatloaf at Jake’s American Grille on Connecticut Ave., NW–a visit to the Politics and Prose bookstore.  I heard James L. Swanson speak, promoting his new book, End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.  The new hook, these past few years, for Kennedy assassination books, has been the lone gunman theory, and Vincent Bugliosi’s doorstop Reclaiming History has been the most convincing.

I did get to the microphone to ask one question, dealing with the sudden estrangement between Marina Oswald and her benefactor and hostess, Ruth Paine, the Quaker woman who took Marina in rent-free and helped care for her two infant children when the Oswald marriage began to go on the rocks.

Swanson autographed End of Days for me, as well as the copy of the coffee-table book Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution I bought at Ford’s Theater.

I’m so surprised that I’m typing this at 6:37 a.m. on a Monday morning.  I am very slow to get out of bed in the morning, but I took a “nap” once I came home from Soulful Sundown, the monthly 5 p.m. service at the Unitarian church.  This nap lasted well past midnight.  I woke up, heated some Chef Boyardee lasagna, but decided not to try and sleep any more.  I went into my office, typed 1831 words of the NaNoWriMo project, and then decided to use the momentum I had started to write here in the blog.

Soon, it will be time to dive in the shower and then catch the bus, for another day of civil service.

Follow-Up to CT Scan; NaNoWriMo

I’m home from work today, because of the Veterans’ Day holiday.  When last we spoke, I was dreading an appointment at the Ross Heart Hospital, since it has been six months since I learned about my thoracic aortic aneurysm.  I had all kinds of worst-case scenarios playing in my head as I made my way to the Ohio State campus.

One of these days I’ll learn about the futility of worrying.  I had the CT scan.  The cardiovascular surgeon and the radiologist read it, and it turns out I don’t have to have a scan again until next year.  (I found it amusing that The New York Review of Books sent me a checkbook-sized datebook/appointment diary for 2014 as a gift for buying a subscription.  I christened it by turning straight to December 14 and writing, “CT scan, Ross Heart Hospital, 9 a.m.”  I still have not filled in the contact information in the front cover!)

The news is not all worry-free, however.  Dr. Whitson, the cardiovascular surgeon, mentioned that he was going to refer me to a cardiologist, because I told him about how I have pain that comes and goes in the left side of my chest, all the way up to my shoulder and sometimes into my humerus.  (None of these twinges have lasted long enough to justify a trip to the emergency room–especially when I’m paying off Riverside Methodist Hospital in $50 monthly installments for my trip last May, the parts that insurance would not cover.)  The pain lasts no more than four or five minutes, but during that time, it feels like that side of my chest is full of broken glass.

A day or two after the appointment, the cardiologist’s aide called me up and told me about the appointment on December 11 at 7:45 a.m.  She may have tipped her hand a little too much, since she mentioned the trip may involve a cardiac catheterization.  I had a co-worker once who hung a sign above her desk that said Eat a live toad before breakfast, and nothing worse can happen the rest of the day.  I guess the same is true for starting the day by having a needle jabbed up your groin.

I’m writing this in haste, because I need to leave the house not too long after 1 for my monthly appointment at Optima Behavioral Health Care, meeting with my nurse practitioner for medication monitoring.  This is a time-consuming event, not because of the appointment (which seldom lasts longer than 10 or 15 minutes), but because of the travel time involved, going way out to the borders of East Columbus, out by Mount Carmel East Hospital.  So my goal is to have this entry safely in cyberspace before I head out to the bus stop.

We’re in the 11th day of NaNoWriMo, the much-anticipated and -dreaded (by me, and by all other participants) monthly writing contest.  As of last night, I stand at 16,541 words, which is about one-third of the way there.  I took the laptop to Kafé Kerouac and wrote there two or three nights, but I also goofed off one or two nights, more out of depression than laziness.  I couldn’t seem to summon the energy to do anything more than watch DVDs of the third season of The O.C.

The subject I tackle this year is–NaNoWriMo.  I gave it a different name, 50 K in Thirty Days, and it is semi-autobiographical through several characters.  One character is a single father who is attempting to tackle the contest along with his teenage daughter.  (The major change from my situation is that the father is a widower, not separated, as I am.  Another is that his daughter is a lesbian, while Susie is bisexual.)

I go through the same scenario every night.  The first few pages are like torture, but then I gradually pick up speed.  NaNoWriMo keeps reminding its participants that the name of the game is quantity, not quality, so there are times when I write prose that I’ll marvel over, and there are times when I’m veering very close to word salad.  By the time I have reached my quota, there are times when I want to keep on going, but at the same time the mental and physical exhaustion have reached their peak.  I’m quite fond of a Louis L’Amour anecdote: “One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter–who was a child at the time–asked me, ‘Daddy, why are you writing so fast?’  And I replied, ‘Because I want to see how the story comes out.'”  That’s the way this project stands at the moment.  Ask me how this story will resolve itself, I cannot tell you.  (I am not a big fan of Louis L’Amour–the Old West has never held my interest, although I do respect the fact that the man meticulously did his homework when he wrote his books, consulting newspapers, letters, diaries, and memoirs of actual pioneers and cowboys.)

Ross Heart Hospital, on W. 10th Ave. in Columbus.

Just a Typical Fall Season–Cardiopulmonary Doctor and NaNoWriMo

We’re back to Eastern Standard Time here in Columbus.  The leaves are turning, and I habitually put on a denim jacket (and sometimes something heavier) when I venture outdoors.  I think I’ve retired the trike until next spring, so it will serve its secondary function–something in the dining room that I can run into while walking from the steps to the living room.

At the stroke of midnight, NaNoWriMo began.  As the hands of the clock neared midnight, I was sitting upstairs in my cleaner-than-usual study, Microsoft Word template onscreen, waiting for October to end and November to start.  (I admit I had jumped the gun a little by pulling up Word’s manuscript template, and filling in the variables at the top, such as my name, address, email address, etc.  But I did not do any work on the manuscript proper.)

This will be the third day of NaNoWriMo–the aspiring novelist’s PMS–the race to write 50 thousand words in 30 days.  As of right now, I have 4306 words under my belt.  I worked at home on Friday (not all of it just after the stroke of midnight), and had a long and rather aerobic session at Kafé Kerouac last night.  Susie was going to pass this year, but my first-day word count inspired her enough to jump back into the fray.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, here is a picture of the Lanier word processor former President Jimmy Carter used to write his memoir, Keeping Faith (1982).  When the machine glitched and he lost a chunk of the manuscript, it was newsworthy enough to make The New York Times.  (I have this on the brain because I am reading Charles Bracelin Flood’s Grant’s Final Victory, about Ulysses S. Grant’s race against certain death from throat cancer to finish his Personal Memoirs in 1885.)  

Work, planning the Christmas trip to Orlando to see Susie and Steph, and NaNoWriMo–not necessarily in that order–are what dominate the month of November for me.  Tomorrow, I will be focusing on something else I have mentioned in this blog.

Late tomorrow morning, I am checking in with Dr. Bryan Whitson at the Ross Heart Hospital.  It has been six months since the emergency room doctors at Riverside Methodist Hospital discovered my thoracic aortic aneurysm, so it’s time to check in to see whether it has dilated any further.  He is the same physician (a cardiovascular surgeon) who saw me in May when I first learned about the aortic aneurysm.  Before the appointment, I’ll be having a CT scan, and, based on that, we’ll see what will happen afterwards.  I think he will either decide on surgery (especially if it’s 6 cm or greater), or waiting another six months.  (One friend suggested it may not be a bad idea to take my toothbrush and some clean underwear along with me for the exam.)

The CT scan is not painful, although the feeling when they inject the dye is not pleasant.  It feels like they’ve shot boiling hot water into your veins, but the feeling lasts less than 10 seconds.  And I am not happy about the prospect of going under the knife again.  The first surgery I ever had was exciting, when I was five and having a tonsillectomy.  (The enticement of all the Popsicles and ice cream I could eat afterwards sold me, as it would any five-year-old, but the reality was far different!)  I have had three surgeries since then (plastic surgery, vasectomy, and cholecystectomy), and each one has become more and more of a burden.  I am saved the worry of telephone-number medical bills, because I am blessed with excellent health insurance, but the idleness that comprises so much of recovery is worse than the immediate post-surgical aftermath.

So, I have tomorrow off, but it’s hardly a vacation day.