The Stairwell

In an earlier entry, I was mulling the possibility of abstaining from elevators, in an effort to get into better physical shape.  I have not made good on that, but that is mainly because I usually arrive at my building on just this side of on time, so I surrender to the most expeditious method of getting to the 10th floor, the elevator.

I have reached a kind of middle ground for the time being.  At least once a day, I am walking from the 10th floor to the first floor, touching the door to the stairwell exit, and then turning around and heading back up to 10.  A friend of mine in the other section, who is close to 60, does this twice a day.  He may be looking at a hip replacement in the not too distant future, but he manages this exercise, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

He invited me along, more or less facetiously.  He came by my pod and suggested I do the walk with him, and I think he was quite astonished when, as soon as I finished typing the order on my monitor and sent it on to the hearing officer, I said, “Bring it on!”

I posted a blog entry two years ago (or thereabouts) in which I described climbing to the 31st floor of the building with another co-worker, a man who spends his entire lunch hour in the gym either lifting weights or on the treadmill.  I made it to the top, although he (and I, I admit) thought at one point I was on the verge of a heart attack.  (The offices of the Industrial Commission are on the 30th floor, but the floor above is for the air conditioning and heating equipment, and the motors for the elevators.)

Even with my daily two-mile walks, tackling the climb to the top of the building is, I feel,  a little out of my reach at the present time.  Unlike many athletes, especially extreme athletics, I hold fast to the “listen to your body” mantra that we tell children during toilet training.  I know there is a grain of truth to the idea of no pain, no gain when exercising, but I have a very low pain threshold, and have a streak of hypochondria that I try–not always successfully–to keep at bay.

Of course, the downward trip is easier.  I have had some slight balance issues because of a series of ear infections when I was a child, so I err on the side of caution and hang onto both handrails, both on the upward and downward trips.  Paradoxically, when I made the climb to the top of the building, coming down was worse.  I had stressed my knees so much going up that I was afraid they would buckle while coming down, and that I would go ass over teakettle all the way to the nearest landing, if not all the way down to the first floor.  That was when I was holding onto both railings with white knuckles.

I am not obsessive-compulsive, but I never feel the trip down is complete until I touch the door on the first floor which is the exit from the stairway.  When I make my lunchtime walk, I don’t turn around and begin the southward lap until I’ve touched a telephone pole at the corner of Park St. and W. First Ave.  I guess a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder would be if I could not make the trip without touching every parking meter or every railing between the beginning and end of the trip.

The walk is getting very slightly easier every day.  I’ve only done it twice a day once, but I usually go sometime between 10:30 and 10:45, usually with the friend who invited me.  It’s the next task on my agenda once I’ve opened and distributed the morning mail, and after doing that, I’m back in my cage pod typing orders and/or transcribing doctors’ reports.  I’ve managed to make the round trip usually in six or seven minutes.  (I use the stopwatch function on my watch, and then try to jot down the total in my pocket notebook once I’m back at my desk.)  Yes, I stumble out of the stairwell sounding like a landed fish, and I am dabbing sweat from my forehead and the back of my neck, but I try to keep my eye on the big picture and realize that, ultimately, this will pay off.  There isn’t much to see in the stairwell except cinder blocks and the pipes from the ductwork, but it’s a truly utilitarian part of the building.

I don't think anybody would believe me if I said I did the stair-climbing so I could admire the scenery.

I don’t think anybody would believe me if I said I did the stair-climbing so I could admire the scenery.

I learned about overtaxing myself in 2010, when my gallbladder was removed.  Yes, the recovery time is a lot shorter than when it was about 30 years ago–I was home from the hospital that night.  But, I began to go a little stir crazy from the bed rest after only a day or two.  I didn’t leave the bed except for trips to the bathroom, which was at the opposite end of the hallway.  I had considered leaving the house, pretty much against medical advice, but there had been a snowstorm while I was abed, and I was scared to death of falling and opening everything up.  I jumped at the chance to go outside (and downtown) when Steph needed me to go down to our credit union and cash a check.  I was able to do this, but when I came home, I knew I had overdone it, and I was back in bed for the next two days.

Many (but not all) of my co-workers only see the stairwell during a fire drill or when the security guards come on the loudspeaker and tell us, “Proceed to your safe area!”  (Safe areas are three floors below your current floor.)  When I first became a floor warden, I wondered about whether it was a good idea to congregate in the stairwells, especially if there was a fire.  Stairwells full of smoke become enormous chimneys, especially if someone opens a door.  However, the William Green Building, as do many other high-rises, have blowers and fans in the stairwells which will keep air moving, which would keep the air breathable until everyone was able to escape.

Sometimes I think that my friend and I should never do the stairwell separately.  With my aneurysm and his hip, there is a possibility–however slight–of some type of medical emergency.  Cell service is not the most reliable in the stairwell.

When I learned that I had the aneurysm, I vowed that I would not let it turn me into an invalid.  I was not going to wrap myself in Styrofoam.  I did my best to keep calm and carry on, but at the same time I didn’t go to any lengths to be more physically active, other than my impromptu and untimed walks and trike rides.  (I was always the type of person who would think that watching reruns of The Jack LaLanne Show while eating a bowl of Cheetos and drinking a two-liter of Mountain Dew counted as exercise.)

I know that one day I will die, but it would be the supreme irony if that end was to come from physical over-exertion.

You Heard Wrong – I am Not an Exhibitionist

I am changing the signature line on my email to include the word (new to me until today) escribitionist.  According to Wikipedia, an escribitionist is a person who keeps a diary or journal by electronic means, instead of in pen and ink.  I fall into both categories–I have kept holographic diaries since I was 10½, and I first picked up the blog habit about eight years ago.

Apparently, this word is a melding of the word exhibitionist and the Spanish word escribir, which means “to write.”  I know that when you hear the word “exhibitionist,” the first image that comes to mind is the flasher in the dirty raincoat.

I remember in the fifth grade, whenever I mentioned the little blue book with the lock on its cover that my parents gave me for Christmas, I had to force myself to use the word journal, although I much preferred the word diary, and still do.  There were two reasons: The word “diary” sounded too close to the word “diarrhea,” and the other was because many of my peers associated them with girls.  In fifth grade, girls were still icky to many of us.

So many this portmanteau isn’t so far off the mark.  If any writer is honest, he/she has to be every bit an exhibitionist.  I do not mean someone who exposes genitals to women at bus stops or to children on playgrounds.  What is the most popular euphemism for genitalia?  “Private parts,” or “privates.”  A writer must be willing to expose the most private part–not genitalia, but the psyche, the mind.

For this, I have tried to take a cue from Robert Lowry.  Anyone who has spent any time with me, or has pored through years of entries in this blog in its various incarnations, should be familiar with the name.  He was a Cincinnati-born author who enjoyed some prominence in the post-World War II literary world.  His career crashed and burned permanently when his mental illness (which manifested itself at its most violent in anti-Semitism) and alcoholism interfered with his ability to write.  His career in ruins, he moved back to Cincinnati in 1962 and lived with his mother until she died in 1987.  He spent the next several years bouncing from one flophouse to another in downtown Cincinnati, and he was living in a tiny room at the Fort Washington Hotel when I met him in 1990.

In his entry in Who’s Who in America, he explained his technique:

A bullish, pound-it-out-and-let-the-pages-fall-where-they-may attitude at the typewriter has made me, starting at the age of seven, a successful writer.  You’ve got to wipe clean the entire slate of your mind in order to be able to tap your subconscious and your unconscious and let the dynamically important things in your life surface and take over.  There is no other way to write compelling, gripping, irresistible literature, be it novels, short stories, poems, book reviews, or essays.

Just as the Internet made it easier and much more cost-effective to display private parts (as in genitalia) all over the world, available at the click of a mouse, so has it been able to spread the display of once-private thoughts all over the world, readily available to anyone with a modem.  I am forever beating myself up when I am not sitting down with a pen and the latest thick volume of my diary, although, in my own defense, entries there have been more regular than on this blog–although, as you may have noticed, I have been writing here much more frequently than I have in months, if not years.

Pre-Internet, if you had a spouse or parents who respected your privacy, the diary was as secure as a bank vault to keep a record of what went on in both your head and in your day-to-day life.  Sometimes, it was the only place where a person (of any age) could vent.

When Susie was still in grade school, a young friend of hers, who was quite intelligent, always seemed to have a lot on her mind, and had a variety of problems at home, at school, and with her peers.  She was a frequent guest at our house, and during one visit, I remembered a scene in Henry Fool (1997).  Henry Fool is an untalented novelist, drifter, and criminal who befriends a socially retarded Queens sanitation worker, Simon Grim, when he moves into the Grims’ basement.

She had wandered into my study, and I was sitting at the desk, with the laptop in front of me.  She said she would like to write some day, so I rooted around in the desk drawer and found a blank composition book, and gave it and a ballpoint pen to her.

This is an excerpt from Hal Hartley’s script, when Henry Fool performs his biggest (if not only) mitzvah in the story:

Henry stands and grabs a notebook from off the mantelpiece. He tears out a few pages and shoves them in his pocket. He hands the now fresh writing tablet to Simon.

HENRY: Here. Take this. And…

He searches his pockets and finds a pencil.

HENRY: …this. Keep them with you at all times. You ever feel like you got something to say and you can’t get it out, stop and write it down. OK?

Simon hesitates, then accepts the gifts. Henry goes for another beer while his new friend studies the dozens of notebooks on the mantelpiece.

This must have had some effect.  This young woman is 21 years old now (four years older than Susie), and I see her on the bus periodically, and she always has her leather-bound journal with her.

The big difference between the handwritten diaries and the ones kept here online, is the intended audience.  always comes first in “diary.”  That was a popular mnemonic to prevent people from incorrectly writing the word “dairy.”  We bloggers know we are writing for an audience.  All of us love to think that our words are spreading worldwide and enthralling readers as fast as we can click the mouse, but most of us are realistic enough to know that is quite unlikely.

The diarist, on the other hand, wants what is written to remain private.  The typical picture of the girl’s diary is a book stashed underneath the mattress or the pillow in her bedroom.  Elsewhere in this blog, I have written about the immense feeling of betrayal I felt when I saw my mother reading my diary.  (I am pretty sure my father never did.  Beginning when I was 16, I was quite frank when I wrote about drinking, dabbling with drugs, and early sexual experiences, and he never took me to task about them.)

Some of the smaller, pocket-sized books that can be quite effective diaries, especially if you want to have the ability to write down your fleeting thoughts on the spot

Some of the smaller, pocket-sized books that can be quite effective diaries, especially if you want to have the ability to write down your fleeting thoughts on the spot.

If we are to use the word escribitionist to describe someone who keeps a diary by other means than paper and ink, I suppose that would include someone who types entries.  FBI agent Dale Cooper, the lead character in the ABC serial mystery Twin Peaks, introduced me to a new method of journal-keeping, the voice-recorded entry.  His microcassette recorder was practically an appendage, as he dutifully dictated his thoughts and his investigative findings to his unseen aide Diane.

Tonight, at least, I come to this topic with clean hands.  I managed to write in the longhand diary this afternoon, and, fueled by the open-faced meatloaf cooked so wonderfully by the Blue Danube Restaurant, I have been able to produce a blog entry.

Our Friend Ethyl

I’ve been a teetotaler since Susie was an infant, but that came after years of heavy (and probably problem) drinking.  I don’t think I was ever an alcoholic, and I say this because of the relative ease with which I quit once I made the decision I couldn’t be both a drinker and a parent.

OSU played the University of Cincinnati in football last night, and High St. was full of people afterwards, many of them drunk, loudly celebrating the victory.  Paradoxically, I saw as many U.C. shirts and spirit wear as I saw Buckeye clothes.  (I think this is mainly because Cincinnati is a mere two hours away via I-71, so it was easy for the away team’s fans to come to the game.)

It’s fun to wander the University area (just south of where I live) in the aftermath of a game.  I live far enough away from campus that the worst of the celebrations–the parties that leave empty beer cans and plastic Solo cups all over the yard, the remains of cornhole games, etc.–do not often affect me.

Watching people last night made me wonder what the attraction to alcohol and excessive drinking is in the first place.  Not everyone who drinks–not even everyone who drinks heavily on a regular basis–is an alcoholic, although there are some who are alcoholics from the first sip, as if it flips some switch in the brain.

As I said, for nearly 17 years, the strongest beverage I have had is Diet Pepsi (and I report, proudly, that I have not drunk anything carbonated since May!).  It seems that the culture of drinking, especially around college campuses, seems to be focused on excess as a goal, rather than as a byproduct of enjoying something to the point where you have no desire to stop.

When I was at O.U., several of the fraternities sponsored all-night parties (which usually commenced after the 2:30 closing time of the bars).  Some of them were Kegs and Eggs party, where they would serve breakfast for anyone still conscious.  Others demonstrated blatant truth in advertising: WE’RE NOT LEAVING UNTIL WE’RE HEAVING.  Only once have I ever drank to the point where I’ve gotten sick, and I did not plan for it.  I’ve thrown up numerous times in my life while I’ve had the flu, or as a side effect of medication or anesthesia, so the idea of getting sick as an attainable goal is 100% foreign to me.

Alcoholics Anonymous and several addiction-treatment facilities have shown a rather elitist bent when one of the symptoms of alcoholism they list includes “Drinking with a lower class of people.”  This is ironic, because when the pendulum swings in the other direction, CEOs and day laborers are often in the same A.A. meetings.

Both of my parents were alcoholics.  My mother barely drank until she and my father split (when I was 11), whereas my father had begun his drinking career in high school.  My mother’s parents subscribed wholeheartedly to all the teachings about demon rum and the road to hell, whereas my father came from an Appalachian working-class Catholic family, a culture not famous for teetotalers.  (My mother’s only brother, who was a journalist, Unitarian minister, teacher, and poet, developed life-threatening alcoholism.  He began drinking in the Army, and lost his pulpit and his family as a result.  He was sober the remaining 30+ years of his life.)

demonrum

My first major exposure to the bad effects of alcohol came in the form of a local street person named Pat in Marietta, who tottered around in a permanent daze day and night through the streets.  He was the first person who ever panhandled me.  (Rather than go through the “I’m with my family and our car broke down, I forgot my checkbook and my ATM card” fiction, his ploy was, “Gonna get me a hamburger.”  I began my no-money-to-panhandlers policy with him.)  He was pretty much Marietta’s Otis Campbell, with none of the traits that made the Andy Griffith character lovable.

One night, I was in the former parsonage at the Unitarian church in Marietta.  It was just past dark, and I was upstairs in the office typing the newsletter.  (The white house next to the church had not been a parsonage since World War II, and it housed the church’s offices.)  When I finished a page, I decided to go across the street to the Coke machine outside the pet store.  The front foyer’s lights were off, and I tripped over Pat, who was curled up unconscious on the floor.  I called the police, who hauled him away, although the officer’s kicking him in the side to wake him up was something I found unnecessary.

I cannot see what pleasure comes from drinking a bottle or two of Night Train or Thunderbird and then sleeping under a bush in the park.  I compare it to a group of drunks I saw on the Metro subway in Washington one summer.  Men and women in their late 20s, they all looked like pages from Dress for Success, and they were singing, laughing, and trying to chin up on the bar from which the straps hung.

Was this a nightly event in their lives?  I thought maybe they were aides on Capitol Hill celebrating the fact that Congress had begun one of its periodic recesses.  They may have been editors and writers of The New Republic, celebrating the fact that the latest issue was on its way to the printer.  Or they may have worked at one of the banks or law firms, and blowing off steam after nights of overtime working on a project.

Alcohol itself is pareve–it’s neither evil nor good, neither fish nor fowl.  I have chosen to abstain from it, because I know from past repeated experience that my drinking tends to veer out of control with very little effort.  When I was in Athens, and part of the time when I was in Cincinnati, drinking stopped only when the bars closed or when I was out of money.

Likewise, when I quit alcohol, my consumption of Diet Pepsi went through the roof–sometimes to the tune of two two-liters per day.  Eating without real hunger was the hardest thing to regulate, and to this day I am not totally successful with it.  It’s hard because, unlike heroin or alcohol, you cannot abstain from it completely.  Overeating requires plenty of self-discipline to control.

Although I no longer drink anything carbonated, I have become quite the consumer of bottled iced tea, especially Snapple.  Susie drinks unsweetened tea by the quart.  I’m too lazy and impatient to brew tea, so I buy bottles of it.  I never thought I liked tea until a friend had me over for dinner and served Pure Leaf green tea.  I took the first sip very tentatively, like it was medicine, and found I loved it.  On my way home, I bought some at Giant Eagle.

Maybe Oscar Wilde said it best: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Sore and Refreshed, All at the Same Time

I should have posted yesterday, since the two index fingers I use to type were the only parts of my body that weren’t sore when I tumbled into my place last night.  But, after a good night’s sleep, and a good walk to run some errands, I am headed into the blogosphere with both fingers a-blazin’.  The Dave Brubeck Trio and Gerry Mulligan’s “Mexican Jumping Bean” is playing right now, and that is good rapid-typing music.

I took part in the September Critical Mass ride last evening.  Critical Mass rides take place on the last Friday of each month, to promote bicycling as an alternative (and more environmentally friendly) mode of transportation, and to make motorists aware of the fact that, as time goes on, they will have to share the road with two-wheeled human-powered vehicles (or three-, in the case of your blogger).

This is where, I confess, I have had some issues with the hardcore militant biking community, not just in Columbus but online worldwide as well.  I have seen cyclists who treat the Olentangy Bike Trail and the streets of Columbus (the narrower, the better) as their own personal Tour de France.  On the one hand, they say that bicycles and cars should be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of safety.  I agree with the theory behind this.  But, were this put into practice the way the cyclists act, this means cars should be allowed to ignore traffic lights, ride against traffic, weave in and out of the lanes, straddle lanes, and go as fast as they can, speed limits be damned.  (In downtown Columbus, Jimmy John’s delivery people are the guiltiest of this.)

I calculate last night’s ride to be about 10 miles.  I have found Map My Ride to be a frustrating program to use, so I did not try to compute it exactly before I began typing.  I was in last month’s ride, which went north around the Ohio State campus and wound its way back through downtown and ended in parties at both Franklinton Cycle Works and 400 West Rich St.  This month’s ride went south– through German Village, Merion Village, and down through several blocks of Obetz.

On the west lawn of the Ohio Statehouse, preparing to launch the August Critical Mass ride.  (I did not bring my camera to yesterday's ride, so I'm using this pic.)

On the west lawn of the Ohio Statehouse, preparing to launch the August Critical Mass ride. (I did not bring my camera to yesterday’s ride, so I’m using this pic.)

My trike is, like me, built for comfort, not speed, so I was not really in the head of the ride the whole time.  During the beginning, I was pretty close to being a straggler.  The seat on the trike is not situated in such a way that standing up to pedal would increase speed.  It is much heavier than a regular bike–especially a racing bike, which usually has a magnesium frame–and has no gears.  I was able to catch up and hold my own whenever the ride went downhill, or stopped for red lights.

And we didn’t always stop for red lights, unless everyone was at the intersection at once.  I don’t know if the organizers cleared this with the Columbus Police beforehand, but it was the same dispensation that police give funeral processions.  Funeral processions are allowed to go through red lights so that everyone can stay together.

I burned God knows how many calories going up the slight incline of the bridge on S. High St. which goes over the railroad tracks and Capital Brass Foundry.  I am proud to say that, although I doubted that I would be able to, I did make it, and luxuriated in the breeze and motion on the down slope as we continued onto Groveport Rd.

There was only one brief moment of fear on the trip.  As we began the northward journey, we went through a nearly blind curve while going through an underpass.  I was looking forward to the underpass, for a few blessed seconds away from the sun.  I made a pretty wide arc while going around this curve, and saw a FedEx Ground truck in the other side, making its way around the curve, probably en route to the distribution center on Groveport Rd.  He was in the right lane, and we were in our right lane, but it was still a little startling.

As we came north through South Columbus, we did go through some narrow streets off the beaten path, and this caused me some worry, since it meant having to run over some gravel and broken glass.  (So far, I have had good luck with my tires, as long as I keep them inflated.  One day I ran over what I thought was a discarded cellophane wrapper, and it turned out to be a broken beer bottle.  My tires were no worse for it.)

We didn’t lack for variety of road surfaces.  Our northbound trip through German Village went over City Park Ave. and S. 3rd St., which meant brick streets.  Marietta has many brick streets, so they are not a novelty to me, but I am not used to going over them on the trike, where the shock of each bump bounces you around.

The ride had no official ending, but it pretty much dissolved on S. 4th St. at Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace and the Little Palace.  I have heard people sing the praises of Dirty Frank’s all over the Columbus Underground Website and all over Facebook, and thought about rewarding myself for surviving the long ride by trying it out, but there was too much of an early-evening crowd.

Although I had a bit of a second wind while heading back north on High St., I decided to lock up the trike in the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation garage and take the bus back home.  My mood was pretty good, and it kept my mind off the soreness in my legs.

Critical Mass is good for putting the active in activist.

Safety Redux

Maybe it was prescient of me to blog about safety last week.  Since posting that entry, we have had an active shooter drill at work, and last week a guy concealing a knife with a serrated blade was able to successfully get into the White House.  I am not sure if he knew President Obama and his family weren’t there, but he was able to actually get inside.

Recently, I was reading Noah Brooks’ Washington in Lincoln’s Time, and it was appalling that at the time of the Civil War and earlier, no one thought twice about people just strolling in and out of the White House.  Lincoln had complained about this throughout his Presidency, and the security was notoriously lax, considering that Washington bordered one hostile state (Virginia) and another (Maryland) that had come very close to seceding.  People came to the White House daily seeking government jobs, asking the President for passes to Richmond, or petitioning for pardons.  Lincoln was more irritated about how these people interfered with his work and what little down time he had with his family, but he did not worry about his personal safety–even though he kept a file in his desk which contained 80 letters threatening his life.   “If I were to guard against all danger, I should have to shut myself up in an iron box,” he told friends who tried to persuade him to take more precautions.

This has all changed, of course.  The closest anyone has come to a President at his residence was in November 1950, when two Puerto Rican nationalists tried to shoot their way into Blair House, where President Harry S Truman and his family lived during the extensive White House renovations.

I remember the security in the White House in the summer of 1973, when my dad and I toured Washington.  There were no metal detectors or body scans, and I don’t even think we were searched.  (I do remember that I was carrying a sports bag which contained my camera and tape recorder.)  I do remember that Secret Service agents–who dressed like Mormon missionaries–were very polite and friendly to the tourists who crossed their paths.

My friend John and I visited in 1982, the only other time I had been inside the White House.  He and I had hitchhiked from Marietta when he came to visit me from St. Louis.  The previous year, then-President Reagan was wounded in an assassination attempt, and the Secret Service had escalated security a bit.  John and I did not carry knapsacks (we had left them at the home on D St. NE where we were staying), but I had a portable tape recorder in my back pocket, and I remember an agent giving it a second or third glance as I walked by.

Those were also the days when through traffic went by on Pennsylvania Ave.  Bill Clinton put a stop to that, and made the street pedestrians-only, after Oklahoma City in 1995.

The active shooter drill at work was one that was much closer to me than any loon trying to get into the White House.  I am a floor warden on the 10th floor of the building where I work.  (Essentially, I’m a glorified “safety captain,” a title I proudly held in third grade.)  We had our annual training session a week prior to the active shooter drill, although we did not see the video we had seen in previous meetings, which is below:

So, last week, I was out of my seat making my way to the water cooler.  I had just begun to fill my large water cup when the director of security walked down the aisle outside the pods and blew a loud klaxon horn.  (Anyone who has ever been to a Blue Jackets game knows what I’m describing.  I have so far resisted the temptation to put one on my trike.)

During that drill, I was not wearing my floor warden hat.  If there had actually been a maniac roaming our floor with a gun, he would not have cared who was in his line of fire.  (I am using the male gender here because, as far as I know, there has never been a woman who has shot up a workplace.)  I could be the floor warden or Jesus Christ himself, and I would only be a target to him.

I put down my water cup and ran for the nearest office, which turned out to be the office of my supervisor.  Another co-worker ran in with me, and we closed and locked the door and pushed a chair against the door.  I did not lead very well by example; I was sitting directly in front of the door, and it is not thick enough to withstand gunfire.  The three of us sat there, much more at ease (I am sure) than if it had been the real thing.  Later on, we joked about calling up Donatos to have them deliver subs and a pizza to the office while we waited for the all clear.

By my watch, it took about 10 seconds to make the sprint from the water cooler to the office.  I even followed the “don’t carry anything with you” rule, and left my water cup (a souvenir of my recent overnight stay at Riverside Hospital) at the cooler.  (On a side note: I know I have railed about the stupidity of buying bottled water elsewhere in this blog.  However, the water in the fountains and sinks on the 10th floor tastes so vile that I gratefully cough up $2 every pay period for water that tastes cleaner.)

We all took a collective breath after hearing the all-clear.  We knew this had been a drill, and not the real thing, but it had all the trappings of reality.  During the second grade, I was at North Hills School in Marietta when the fire alarm sounded.  The teacher looked absolutely surprised, like the sound had come 100% out of the blue, and began herding all of us to the front lawn in front of the school.  I do not read people’s facial expressions and body language very well, but it still got through to me that the teachers had been caught off guard.  This began the rumor that there may have been a real fire.  (There wasn’t–a kid who was not the sharpest knife in the drawer had decided to play with the fire alarm on his way back from the boys’ room.)

Of course, many safety concerns exist now that were beyond comprehension when I was in school!

Of course, many safety concerns exist now that were beyond comprehension when I was in school!

There was a post-drill meeting in one of the conference rooms, and we received high praise for how quickly everyone got under cover and out of sight had there been a real shooter in the building.  (It is not an idle threat, either.  In November 1996, a claimant took three hostages in the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation office three floors above where I work.  It ended without any bloodshed, but no one laughs off the idea of a gunman loose in the building.)

Our chief of security showed us a video which said that the greatest threat to government workers is not from international terrorists, but from the home-grown variety, the “sovereign citizens” (many of them on the government teat for V.A. benefits, Medicare, and Social Security) who do not recognize any authority beyond that of the county sheriff (the posse comitatus zealots), and have often taken hostile measures against the “gub’mint”.

Since my job is part of state government, it is not too far-fetched to think that another scenario like the one in 1996 could happen again.  Not long after Oklahoma City, I was working as an appointment clerk for the IRS’ Columbus office at the John W. Bricker Federal Building, which is across High St. from where I now work.  I’m prone to a macabre sense of humor, and when a friend called and asked me how to find my building, I told him to look for the building with the abandoned Ryder truck sitting out front.

This is the video about the danger from sovereign citizens:

As Sgt. Phil Esterhaus used to say on Hill Street Blues: “Hey, let’s be careful out there!”

People’s Climate March – New York

It is a major sacrifice for me to be out of Columbus on an OSU football bye week–I usually want to revel in the comparative silence and sanity of campus those weekends.  However, this past weekend I jumped into a sea of humanity (400 thousand people was the estimated final count) marching through the West Side of Manhattan for the People’s Climate March.  Already, I am hearing that it was the largest environmental action in U.S. (and maybe world) history.  I am proud to have played a small role in it.  On a personal note, it was my first time in New York in nearly 20 years, and I could not think of a better reason for being there.

Since Bill McKibben and 350.org first announced the march in Rolling Stone last summer, I had debated whether or not to go, and when the Ohio Sierra Club announced that they had chartered buses for the event, there went my indecision.  I paid for a seat on the bus as soon as they were available.

Although I have participated in many demonstrations, marches, and workshops since I was 17 or 18 (my first one was an anti-draft conference at Wayne State University in Detroit in the winter of 1981), I have become increasingly skeptical–if not outright cynical–about the efficacy of marching en masse.  This has not stopped me from going to marches, especially when they involve a road trip.

I am not thinking so much that way, and maybe it’s the leftover adrenaline from last Sunday that has changed my mind.  Hardly a day goes by when I don’t receive an electronic petition in my email or my Facebook page.  Some are silly, some are for very good causes.  How much effect do they have?  It is good for people to write letters to the editor, post blog entries, and engage in debate on Websites.  (My deepest respect goes to the debaters on both sides of an issue who can carry on the discussion on sites like City-Data.com while maintaining civility. Reading any “debate” on Topix will destroy anyone’s faith in humanity.)  In the absence of a free press in the 1770s, various committees of correspondence carried forward the idea of independence from England as effectively as George Washington’s army.  After the Saturday Night Massacre in 1973, the most blatant sign that Richard Nixon had lost the faith of the American people was when Western Union began delivering pro-impeachment telegrams by the ream to members of Congress.

None of this has the same effect of seeing people massed together in one physical space, all for the same cause.  This was one of the few demonstrations, I am pleased to report, where I have seen the fewest of the various organizations of dubious credibility and sanity come to piggyback for their specific causes.  (You could not go to an anti-war or -nuclear demonstration in the ’80s without running into the odious Spartacist League and their various offshoots.)   Since it was New York, there were a few “9/11 was an inside job” clowns, and at the end of the march, there was an old man handing out badly printed flyers “proving” the existence of chemtrails.  I think many other organizations realized that their causes and goals would be moot without a livable planet on which to implement them.

I can see the Ohio Sierra Club members trying to one-better one another with stories about how bad the journey to and from New York was.  I rode with wonderful people–my friend Steve and his daughter Amelia.  (Amelia and I went to the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, D.C. in 2010.)  We met the buses at the Communication Workers of America’s union hall on East Broad St., and I was glad to see my friend Bob, who has been a driving force behind the efforts to ban fracking and injection wells in Coshocton County.

The buses were 2½ hours late in leaving Columbus.  This was the first problem.  There were two buses originating in Columbus, but a third coach joined us, carrying people from Antioch College in Yellow Springs.  The ride out of Ohio, and across the northern panhandle of West Virginia was uneventful.  The riders’ enthusiasm was dampened by the tardiness of the departure, and the worry that we would miss most of the march, which was supposed to step off from Central Park West at 11 a.m.

The first “rest stop” was at a closed gas station just outside Washington, Pa.  Most of the lights were off, and there wasn’t even a Coke machine outside for people to buy pop.  And the restrooms were locked.  Other than a chance to get off the bus and walk around (and for the smokers to satisfy their addiction), the stop was a waste.

I kept up an ongoing text exchange with my friend Ken, who lives in Bayside, Queens.  He and I met at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly at Bowdoin College in Maine back in 1982, and we have been through flood, fire, and famine together lo these many years.  We were trying to figure out where and when to meet.  We texted because, among its other faults, the bus had no plugs in the seats, which meant there was no way to keep phones charged.  I kept a wary eye on my Nook while I read The Sign of the Four, worried that it would run out of juice before we were even on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

At 8:04 a.m., I texted Ken: About 36 miles from Carlisle on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  He was not happy about this: You are east or west of Carlisle?  Carlisle is at least three hours away.  When we stopped for food and bathrooms at the Cumberland Valley Travel Plaza, I texted him: In Carlisle (Plainfield) now.  No outlet aboard bus. 😦  Sharing his worry about timely arrival, I texted him the cities’ names as we passed: 10:16 a.m.: Passing Hamburg exit; 10:36, Trexlertown; 11:19 a.m.: Jutland, N.J.; 12:29 p.m., Almost in the Holland Tunnel; 12:51 p.m.: West and Vestry.

The bus let us off at the corner of E. 86th St. and Central Park West, and we hoped it would undergo some much needed maintenance and repair.  Bob and I were sitting just across the aisle from the bus toilet, and it had clogged, and overflowed whenever someone flushed it.  I was hoping that the maintenance workers would pump it out and clean it.  The temperature in front of the bus was borderline Arctic, but for those of us in the back, it was in the low 90s, since we seemed to be sitting above the engine, and the air conditioning did not work in the back of the bus.

Ken and I exchanged another frantic round of texts before I finally decided to plant myself.  I told him I was sitting across from 211 Central Park West, and finally we were able to connect.  He enthusiastically joined Steve, Amelia, and me in the march.

It has been a long time since I have felt as exhilarated as I did on Sunday. The frustration about the bus’ lateness and overflowing toilet drifted away as soon as we joined the march (which, thankfully, did not step off until 1:30–not all lateness is evil).  People came by and shared apples from large bags, we heard music from all genres and traditions, and saw banners and memorabilia from many colleges and states.

I did have a moment of reflection and mourning as the procession passed The Dakota at 1 W. 72nd St.  It was the home of John Lennon, and also the place where he was murdered in December 1980.

I am standing in front of The Dakota, site of the murder of John Lennon, and the location for the filming of Rosemary's Baby (1968).

I am standing in front of The Dakota, site of the murder of John Lennon, and the location for the filming of Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

The march ended at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and there did not seem to be much post-march activity.  Some musicians, acrobats, and jugglers performed some impromptu gigs, but there was not a speakers’ platform.  Ken, Amelia, and I went for the food vendors’ carts.

We all parted company for awhile around 6 in the evening.  Like me, Amelia is subject to sensory overload when being around too many people for too long.  She headed back to 86th St. by way of 11th Ave.  Ken and I walked as far as Penn Station, so he could catch a train to his girlfriend’s apartment in the Bronx.  I made my leisurely way north by way of Eighth Ave. and Central Park West.  I made a vain search for bookstores and record stores along the way, but the only money I spent was at a Wendy’s, since the chicken gyro I bought from the vendor didn’t sustain me.

Amelia and I decompressed at the Starbucks on Columbus Ave. and W. 86th.  I had walked about 50 blocks (from 36th or 37th), and my feet and lower back were sending me not-so-subtle hints that I had overtaxed myself, between that walk and the march.  I had some green tea, a blueberry yogurt muffin, and one or two Naproxen tablets.  Until we could catch up with Steve and his friend Carolyn, Amelia and I planted ourselves at Starbucks.  While several people around us used laptops and iPhones, she and I sat across the table, her with a composition book and hard at work on a short story she was writing, and me with my diary and my vain attempts to set down my racing thoughts about the day and the journey.

We weren’t back in Columbus until nearly noon.  Far from functioning again, we finally sealed off the bathroom with heavy tape and posted an OUT OF ORDER sign on the door.  (We knew we were in trouble when we saw the giant plastic bag full of litter collected during the eastbound trip was right where we had left it.)

I had thought I would collapse the moment I unlocked my door, but I stayed up long enough to download the pictures I had taken, and to create a new Facebook album.  Once this was done, I climbed the steps and fell asleep upstairs, not even bothering to get undressed.

The heroine of Judy Blume’s teen novel It’s Not the End of the World graded each day after she wrote a terse entry about it in her journal.  If I had this practice, Sunday would definitely have been an A+ day.

Before pressing the keys that will make this entry available to the whole wide world, I will share this YouTube video, a recording of the live feed from 350.org.  As we despaired of reaching Manhattan in time to participate, several people were watching this on their phones.

http://youtu.be/mYcKCnILsSE

Secure in [Our] Persons, Houses, Papers, and Effects

From the get-go, I think I should say that this is not going to be an anti-NSA screed.  I think worry about excessive government surveillance has been the fear du jour that has replaced all the worry about alien abductions and cattle mutilations in the 1990s.  (In fact, last year, under the Freedom of Information Act, I wrote to several Federal agencies for any information they may have on me.  Instead of being relieved, I was insulted that there was none.)

The emphasis for this entry is about safety and security.  I was at a loss for any other way to title this entry, so I decided to lift a line from the Fourth Amendment.  Living close to Ohio State, the subject of being safe comes up quite often.  It has been on my mind since I went to WBNS, Channel 10‘s Website earlier this week and learned that a woman was raped in Taylor Towers on the campus.  The Facebook page for the SoHud Blockwatch often carries videos of people roaming around the neighborhood at all hours (particularly in the nighttime) looking into the windows of parked cars.  Less frequently, but just as unnerving, is the news about smash-and-grabs from these cars.

Worry about car safety is moot for me, of course, since I don’t drive.  However, I have had a trike stolen from my front yard.  At that time, I supposed that the front yard was an extension of my front yard, especially when “a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”  Castle and refuge, I take comfort in the idea.  Yet, it should not have to be a fortress.

In the last few years, I have been much more cautious.  I was mugged twice during the year we lived in Weinland Park.  The first attempt was at night, and the ending was rather ironic.  A low-flying airplane, on its way to or from Port Columbus, flew low enough with all its lights on for the two losers who attacked me thought it was a police helicopter.  The other time was in broad daylight.

Until these incidents, I would stroll anywhere, day or night, as if I was crossing my own living room.  I have worked many third-shift jobs, which often meant I was on my own about how to get home, since public transportation had stopped for the night, and I was often not flush for taxis.  When I worked at the Cincinnati post office, my quitting time during one stint was 3 a.m. unless there was overtime.  This would either mean I stayed at the main post office until the buses started running (a little after 5), or a two-mile walk through the West End, which was a dangerous neighborhood at any hour.  I made it home without incident every time.

Ironically, at the post office itself, many people worried about safety.  Carriers worried about safety while delivering their routes, mostly concerned about dogs, but sometimes worrying about attacks from beings who walked on two legs.  During orientation, the supervisors told carriers that if they ever felt they were in danger, they did not have to deliver.  One rookie asked, “How will we know if we’re in danger?”  I don’t think the supervisor’s reply was particularly helpful.  In fact, I thought it was quite condescending.  “If you turn the corner and you see this huge mob waving baseball bats and guns, and they’re all shouting, ‘Kill the mailman!’, don’t deliver there.”

And, in the mid-1990s, we had to worry about the violence in the post office as well.  Our supervisors and officials in the Postmaster General’s office kept trying to assure us we were worrying over nothing.  The fatality rates for convenience store clerks and taxi drivers were much higher than for postal workers.  What they neglected to mention was that a postal worker had a greater likelihood of dying at the hands of a fellow worker than any other job.

Maybe since reaching 50, I have finally shed the fantasy that I am indestructible and can indefinitely walk between the raindrops.  I managed to extend my adolescence well into my 30s, and with it came the feeling that I was indestructible.  Part of that feeling changed once I became a husband and father.  If something happened to me, I was no longer the only one affected.

I am no athlete–never have been, never will be.  But, as I age, I realize that I no longer have the recuperative powers that I had a child or as a young man.  An assault or an injury can have much longer-term consequences than when I was younger.  I learned this during the winter, when I finally ended my lifelong (50+ years) streak of never having broken a bone.

And I take precautions.  I always make sure the door is locked when I leave now.  When Susie and I lived in Weinland Park (Steph had moved to Florida by the time this happened), Susie was away at a Unitarian youth conference in Dayton, so I decided to play “weekend bachelor” and go to a concert in Clintonville.  I came home to find our Wii (which I seldom played) and both Susie’s and my laptops gone.  Susie was distraught, because the manuscripts of several short stories and poems were on her hard drive, along with her journal and several  ideas for future projects.

The only thing that prevented her from a complete meltdown was my news that I had, that morning, gotten the keys to our place on E. Maynard Ave., and on the first of October, we would be out of Weinland Park and living in a much safer neighborhood.

As a pre-teen, it was both a blessing and a curse that I grew up in a small city like Marietta.  Since my dad’s life revolved around going AWOL for many hours at a time to be at the apartment of the woman who would become my stepmother, I had way too much free time.  During the summer, under the guise of “camping out,” two other boys and I would often wander the city until they collapsed from exhaustion as the hour of dawn drew closer.  (I was already quite nocturnal, so I was usually very frustrated that they had succumbed to sleep.)

We never committed overt acts, such as vandalism or theft.  We usually avoided downtown, because that was where the police station was.  It speaks volumes about Marietta’s police force that we never saw a patrol car during those many summer hours.  Certainly no police officer asked us what three boys, all of them 12 years old, were doing out roaming the streets.

The closest thing to danger that we encountered was one night when we were sitting outside on the front stoop of Riddle’s, the venerable candy store and soda fountain near the Washington School playground.  We saw a guy stumbling around in sine curves on the sidewalk by the Christian Science church diagonally across from Riddle’s.  According to the clock in the candy store window, it was sometime around 2:30 a.m.  This is the place where I’m supposed to recite the familiar refrain, “It’s a wonder we didn’t get our fool selves killed.”  I guess clichés are true, or else they wouldn’t be clichés.

Those of us who are now parents look back fondly on the days when the threats to children were much more tangible.  I can remember mothers in the neighborhood forbidding the kids to go to the playground because there was a man hanging around who was “scaring” the kids there.  (I could not conceive of the concept of sexual molestation at that time, so I did not conjure the stereotypical image of the pervert in the dirty overcoat.)

The ubiquitous presence of the Internet presented dangers all its own.  The way I would approach the problem of a pre-teen or very young teenager engaging in sexually explicit conversations online is not to condemn or scold them for sexual experimentation or curiosity.  (If a teenager is not exploring sexuality in some way, I would question that teen’s normality.)  Rather, my opening line would be, “Do you know why we lock the front door every night?”  I would approach it from the standpoint of safety–of the teen, of the household.

Chris Hansen and NBC News tried to convince their viewers (and maybe convinced themselves) that they had public service in mind when they broadcast their series of To Catch a Predator episodes.  However, I think the overall reaction out there in TV land was amusement, watching the losers try to explain away why they were coming to a strange house for liaisons with teenagers of either sex.  There is an instinct in everyone going through a crisis that there be someone to point to and say, “Well, at least I’m not him (or her),” and television like this fulfilled that need.

During my summers of nocturnal activity, my friends and I often found our ways into others’ homes through one unguarded entrance: the telephone.  Caller ID has effectively killed the prank phone call, but harassment is alive and well via the router.  (We never crossed the line into explicitly obscene phone calls, or heavy breathing, when we called people.  And we were too sophisticated to call with the usual, “Hello, is your refrigerator running?” calls, or calling the tobacco store to ask if they had Sir Walter Raleigh in a can.  Ours were usually benign: “Hello?”  “Shut up!”  Or, calling late at night, we often amused ourselves by calling houses on the block, and be in stitches at the sight of a light coming on in a bedroom to answer the phone.)  When I was in sixth grade, I even considered writing a book of prank phone calls, rationalizing it by pointing out the abundance of books by Larry Wilde that contained jokes ridiculing Poles, Jews, lawyers, and WASPs.

Marietta after dark, to a pre-teen, was a Santa’s workshop chock full of attractive nuisances.  I am not sure how many could be prosecuted had we injured ourselves (“Fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise,” as Commander William Riker said), but we explored many roofs, fire escapes, garages, and junked cars during the wee hours of the night during that summer.

As for being secure in our papers, the instances that hit closest to home are when I have found that someone has been reading my diary.  I have no illusions that the blog is the same as a diary–a blog, by its very nature, is meant for public consumption.  Whatever faith and trust I had in my own mother disappeared forever when I was visiting her apartment in Athens (I must have been about 12 at the time), and was coming into the living room after a shower and found her very studiously going over the entries I had written there.  I learned after that never to have the diary visible when I visited her.  I would write in it at night, under the covers, almost like I was sneaking a look at a Penthouse I had stolen from someone’s trash.  I even considered going to the library and taking out a book to teach myself shorthand, but I realized this would be a waste of time, since my mother had worked as a secretary several times in her life, and when she was in high school, it was common for girls to learn shorthand while their male counterparts took metal shop and/or mechanical drafting.

It was not until I was on my own that I felt secure in my own house.  I had reason for fear, mostly from my parents–no one told me that the fear in the house could easily come from within.  I turned the anxiety inward, which was not healthy since many of my mental health issues are biological in nature, and it added much unneeded fuel to the fire.  At the same time, I projected the fear outward.  Lying in my bed at night, even after my mother had moved out and there was something very vaguely resembling quiet and shalom bayit, any noise late at night worried and scared me.

After reading a large book on the kidnapping of the Lindbergh child, and hearing all the news stories about the abduction of Patty Hearst, when I was about 13 I became obsessed with the fear of burglars and kidnappers.  My dad’s explanation that I was not the son of a rich or famous person did little to reassure me, and this was long before stranger abductions (not for ransom) began to appear in newspapers.  And he told me that if there ever was a burglar in the house, stay upstairs and make no sound whatsoever.

It’s late.  Do you know where your blogger is?

The Worry That Clouded My Whole Evening

This entry describes a worry, not a phobia.  A phobia is a fear so overwhelming it affects your ability to function.  The worry that dominated my late afternoon-early evening was like a cloud that followed me around all evening, but, immediately upon resolution, it went to the “look back on this and laugh” category.  That’s why I want to take to the blog and write about it while the memory and the feelings are still fresh on my mind.

This afternoon, I took the bus up to the Volunteers of America store on Indianola Ave.  (I showed my usual interest in OSU football by not getting out of bed until the first quarter of the game against Kent State was well under way.)  I got off the bus and was walking to the parking lot and my jaw dropped open.  Chained up in front of Moody Street Trains was a blue Schwinn Meridian adult tricycle, identical to mine.  I was tempted to stick around to talk to the owner when he/she came out, but I was in a hurry to get to the Volunteers store to look (in vain, as it turned out) for any decent under-priced LPs.

When I came back, the trike was gone.  I walked home (a little over two miles), but I took a very circuitous route.  I looked at a yard sale on Indianola near Arcadia Ave., but nothing there interested me.  I admit that a tall stack of 78s at the Goodwill store near me did tempt me, but not at $.99 apiece, especially when I launched my collection with a banker’s box full for $2 two years ago.

When I came home, the trike was not on my mind.  If you scroll back through this blog, you will remember that my first trike was a cherry red Schwinn Meridian, which was my birthday gift to myself in 2012.  Less than two months after I bought, I came from a sleep study to find that it was stolen.  (I had used a cable lock, which the thieves had neatly cut in two.)  Immediately, I was on Walmart’s Website ordering a new one, this one a bright blue, and within two weeks, I was tooling around on three wheels again, happy as could be.

The lesson I learned from this experience was not to lock up the trike outside.  So, the first rule would be that the new trike’s moorings would be in the dining room.  (I also bought a U-lock, which is much harder to break than a cable lock, for when I had to lock it outside.)

I was not home long.  I was on Facebook, and went through the small stack of mail my carrier left, and then I went out again, heading just south of campus.  (This took much longer than usual, because the campus area was swarming with people who had been at the game, and cars barely moved on High St.  People in varying stages of intoxication running in between cars did not make it a quicker journey, either.)

Normally, I would have made the trip on foot, but I wasn’t in the mood to have scarlet and gray-clad drunks getting in my face and shouting, “O-H!”, not being satisfied until I replied with “I-O!”  (I was very proud of Susie one time when someone shouted “O-H!” at her, and she shouted back, “Get a life!”)

When I returned from my errand, I almost immediately needed to head out once more, because I had promised to meet a friend in Olde Towne East at the Columbus Free Press‘ monthly Second Saturday Salon.  I wanted to see people there, and also wanted to see the movie Where Should the Birds Fly?, which would be showing after the meal.

While I was on the bus to Olde Towne East, the worry began to kick in with a vengeance.  Even though I had been home twice since seeing the blue Schwinn Meridian sitting by Moody Street Trains, I was gripped by this fear that mine had been stolen again.  I was almost tempted to text my friend and say I couldn’t meet her at the Salon, but I would have felt too foolish to try and explain why.

I enjoyed myself during the evening, although I had to keep reminding myself that I was worrying about nothing.  After all, would it not have been “conspicuous by its absence” when I walked in twice that afternoon?  I had spent much time at the laptop, which meant my back would have been to it the whole time I was at the keyboard, and if I swiveled my chair a degree or so, I saw the trike sitting there, but it just didn’t register with me.  Surely I must have walked past it when I went upstairs to get my shoes or go to the bathroom before I headed out to catch the bus on High St.

So, the other side of my brain argued, it’s one of those things you don’t consciously notice, by the mere virtue of the fact that you see it all the time.  I have a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s tavern license from New Salem, Illinois hanging on the wall to the immediate left of my desk (where I am now typing), but I could not recite any of its text from memory.  A conversation between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia” kept nagging at me:

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”

I engaged in some self-flagellation while the rational part of me took in the documentary and enjoyed the cuisine (chicken lasagna and Cajun beans and rice–I am capable of eating healthy food!).  When I first saw the blue Meridian near the Volunteers of America, shouldn’t I have looked at it a little more closely, and checked for the slight dent and scrapes of orange paint (a souvenir of a close encounter with a fire hydrant) that would distinguish the trike as mine.  The thought did not cross my mind at all.  I was too enthralled that someone in Columbus had the same trike I did.

I think you already know the rest of this story by now.  I came home just a little before 10, and I had the lights on within milliseconds of unlocking the front door.  While the key was still in the lock, I looked into the dining room, and there was the trike in all its glory.  I need to inflate its tires, and work out one of the dents in its wire cargo basket, but it was there.  Trike *is* in dining room.  Whew! I texted to my friend, who had been simultaneously sympathetic and amused about this whole plight throughout the evening.

After I shut off the downstairs lights and head upstairs to bed, I’ll probably curse the trike if I bump into it before I get on the steps.  How short-lived my gratitude can be!

My Schwinn Meridian, which led to so much nail-biting for me during the evening.

My Schwinn Meridian, which led to so much nail-biting for me during the evening.

Boycotting Elevators?

This entry will be more thinking aloud than making a declaration of intent, or a promise.   Also, my thoughts about boycotting elevators have nothing to do with any phobia or traumatic experiences related to them.

Nor have I committed to a masochistic “no pain, no gain” exercise regimen.  One of the purposes is to get in better shape, and to burn calories, but I am not one of those pain and adrenaline junkies whose workouts and exercise routines cause their bodies to sooner or later (often sooner) shut down from sheer overload.

Earlier in the blog, I posted about my adventure walking to the top floor of the William Green Building, the building where I spent up to 40 hours per week in service to the people of the Buckeye State.  I work on the 10th floor, and a co-worker (who religiously works out in the building’s gym every lunch period) and I made the trip all the way to the 31st floor.  I had to take a brief break (less than a minute) on one of the landings, because I was out of breath, but we did manage to touch the door on the 31st floor.  (The building has 30 floors, with the very top floor housing the air conditioning, ventilation, and electrical gear.  The executive offices of the Industrial Commission are on the 30th floor, an area we employees alternately call “Thirty” or “the Vatican.”)

I have not repeated this feat since then, and doing so has been on my “to-do” list for some time.  Whenever I bring up the suggestion to this co-worker, he tells me we will do it, but to wait until he has called to have paramedics and an ambulance ready.  (Since the knowledge of my aneurysm came to light, this has not been 100% a jest.)

My contemplated abstinence from elevators is health-related.  I have never been the type to exercise in a gym or a health club setting.  Occasionally, I flirt with the idea of buying a treadmill, but I know I lack the self-discipline to maintain any type of program on it.  (A woman I dated strongly advised against it, because her treadmill ended up being the most expensive clothes rack she ever owned.)  Also, the idea of exerting myself to a level of pain while going absolutely nowhere is way too symbolic of my own life.

This is not the first time I’ve steered clear of elevators.  When I began fall quarter 1986 at Ohio University, I occupied a fourth-floor single in Cady Hall on New South Green (the cluster of dormitories that look like brick renditions of the little houses you put on Monopoly properties).  My boycott of elevators for anything less than five flights began the day I moved in, and it assumed shades of the ridiculous.  I would load my belongings onto the elevator, push the button for “4”, and then run up the stairs to meet it.  This I repeated several times.

I do not think anybody was by the elevator on the fourth floor of Cady Hall when I proudly spent $10 at Alden Library’s discard sale, coming away with a complete set of the 1947 edition of the Encyclopædia Brittanica.  The staff at the library was kind enough to lend me a library cart to get this set of books down the hill to New South, and I daresay I burned some calories keeping a rein on the cart to prevent it from rolling all the way down the hill.  True to form, I put the two big boxes of books into the elevator, pressed the button for “4,” and trudged upstairs.

Growing up in Marietta, I did not encounter elevators daily.  Oddly enough, Americans travel over 1.25 billion miles in elevators per year, but in Marietta there were few buildings tall enough to justify having one, so there were times when I would loiter in buildings for the express purpose of riding up and down a few times.

The memorable elevators in Marietta include the one in the Dime Bank Building (pictured below) at Second and Putnam Sts., which, with eight stories, had the honor of being Marietta’s tallest building.  The elevator was memorable because it was a cage elevator, and because it required an operator.

Ohio_-_Marietta_-_Dime_Bank

I had a friend who delivered The Marietta Times in this building, so, when I tagged along, I had a legitimate reason to be in there, and to ride the building, since he had customers on almost every floor.  The first time or two, it was a little disquieting to see the operator let us in and slide the metal accordion door shut with a sound that reminded me of a closing prison cell door, based on what I had seen on TV.  However, I was fascinated as I stood behind that gate and watched the floors’ external doors go by as we went higher.  The operator did not push buttons; there was a device that resembled a ship’s telegraph, and he threw the lever to make the car move.

“My brother put his toe in there once when the elevator was moving,” my friend told the elderly man who was running the elevator one day.

“He’s lucky he didn’t break his foot,” I said.

The operator cackled.  “He’s lucky he didn’t get his leg torn off.”

I have no pretensions about my skills as a mechanic or an engineer, but I remember standing mesmerized when we were at the top of the building, looking down through the cage doors at the cables, the huge pulley at the top, and the even larger counterweight which moved up and down the wall.  I am sure this equipment was original equipment, there since the building opened in 1908.

One of the perks of being in the Audio-Visual Club at Marietta High School was that it provided a legitimate reason to ride the school’s elevator.  The building was four stories, and we needed the elevator to move projectors, TVs, and turntables from their berth in the library to the various classrooms where teachers had requested them.  The elevator worked with a key, and the school powers that be only distributed keys to teachers and to students who were on crutches, in wheelchairs, or otherwise disabled.  (The key was something of a joke–I learned early on that I could activate the elevator by using the small buckle on my watchband.)

The only elevator that I can say genuinely made me uncomfortable was the one in the late Charminel Tower, a decrepit 12-story apartment building that, until it was demolished in the late ’90s, stood near Grant Medical Center and the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.  (As I understand it, the name came from the builder’s family: His name was Charles, his wife’s name was Minnie, and their daughter’s name was Eleanor.)  In the summer of 1986, a friend lived there–partly because it was the only apartment he could find on short notice after his girlfriend threw him out, and partly because of the allure of living in a flophouse with the excitement of Grant Hospital’s helipad being just outside his window.

This was another human-operated elevator.  The human was an immense man who lived in a small room in the building’s lobby, which always smelled like dead cigars and malt liquor.  He kept his room wide open, so we could see his portable black and white TV, his cot, and the cable spool he used for a table.  The elevator made noises I have never heard outside The Addams Family, and swayed from side to side (I heard it bump the walls of the shaft more than once) at much greater speed than it did up and down.

I was happy to take the narrow stairs up to my friend’s apartment, but that was not a viable option for many of the residents.  Quite a few of them were elderly pensioners, not in the best of health, and I felt for the frail old men I would see climbing those steps, dragging oxygen tanks behind them.  The fire department told the owner many times that the stairways were far too narrow for them to be able to carry a stretcher downstairs.

Freight elevators intrigued me during the time that I worked at the main post office in Cincinnati.  These were large enough to accommodate a small Toyota, and several times a night I would ride them while bringing loads of mail from one floor to another.  When I am working my every-semester gig at the Columbus State bookstore, The Discovery Exchange (the DX), one of my favorite projects is shelving books that students have returned for buyback.  The carts are often quite heavy, and the building’s security officer told me that taking them up on the passenger elevator was a definite no-no.

I manage to convince at least one newbie per semester who rides this elevator for the first time that they had dodged a bullet, and congratulate them that, at least that time, they had ended their trip on the elevator alive.

The William Green Building’s elevator system is called Destination Dispatch.  Instead of pushing a button to call one, you go to a keypad and push the number on the screen for the floor you want.  For floors 1-12, the elevators are marked A through H, and the keypad will assign you an elevator that will go straight to your floor.  (Floors 14-30’s elevators are labelled I through P.  The 13th floor houses much of the air conditioning and climate control apparatus.  There are no offices there, a concession to the superstitious.)

I realized that I had no fear of elevators when I became a floor warden, responsible for getting the co-workers in my section to safety in the event of an emergency or disaster.  During our training, the subject of what to do if stuck in the elevator arose.

I didn’t say it aloud, but my thought was that I would stretch out on its floor and take a nap.  I’d set the alarm on my phone for 5 p.m. (the end of my workday), and only call for help if I needed to go to the bathroom.  If I happened to have a book with me, I might call if I finished the book before anyone noticed the elevator was stuck.

Literally Nothing to Do at Work Today, So I’m at Home, Catching Up on the Blog

I have a talent for inventing excuses to skip out of work early, but today I’m guilty with an explanation.  There is literally nothing for me to do today.  Our dictation system is down for maintenance, and there will be no ex parte orders for me to type, since the Hearing Officers are in an all-day conference.  So, I stayed for an hour and then my boot heels were a-wanderin’.

So, I left at the stroke of 9 with a clear conscience.  Usually, when I leave before 5 p.m., this Peanuts cartoon comes to mind:

shermyschool

I’m back at home, with the music going (Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” at present), sitting at my cluttered desk.  (I did think about cleaning off the surface of the desk from the clutter of bills, paperback books, pencils and pens, and empty Snapple bottles, but that may be a post-blog project.)

In this respect, I’m more like Sherlock Holmes, I suppose.  I’m on a Sherlock Holmes jag at the moment–I bought a Nook from a friend two weeks ago, and I christened it by downloading the entire Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes canon, all four novels, all 56 short stories.  But how do I resemble Sherlock Holmes?  Certainly not his pharmaceutical habits, nor his powers of observation and analysis, but:

a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece. 

(This is from “The Musgrave Ritual.”)

Since I last posted, I was very happy that Susie was here for a week-long visit.  Her composition class at Eastern Florida State College ended, and she had a brief hiatus before her senior year at Merritt Island High School began, so she flew here to see me (and some of her friends, of course.)  Just having her here was special enough, so we didn’t plan any special activities.

We did see a special guest and friend the day Susie arrived.  We had dinner with novelist and attorney Mike Nevins (biographer of Ellery Queen and Cornell Woolrich).  He was in town for PulpFest 2014, driving in from St. Louis.  We introduced him to the cuisine of the Blue Danube, and he imparted writing tips to Susie, and rebuffed Susie’s and my theory that Hamilton Burger (the prosecutor on Perry Mason) was the most incompetent attorney ever admitted to the American bar.  Mike reminded us that Burger only lost cases on Saturday nights.

As usual, I spent a little too much money at PulpFest.  One of my prize catches was William Bernard’s Jailbait (Popular Library 392), one of those lurid-covered novels that sold for $.25 and sold quite well in the 1950s as reactionary people wrung their hands about how comic books would herald the demise of American youth.  These were the works that gave paperbacks such a bad name for a long time.  (In The Boston Strangler (1968), two detectives discuss how many details of the murders they should release to the press.  One says, “People like to read about it,” and his captain replies, “Let them read paperbacks.”  And Gordon Lightfoot’s song “If You Could Read My Mind” contains the line, “Just like a paperback novel/The ones the drugstores sell.”)

Yet another semester rush has come and gone at the Columbus State bookstore, the Discovery Exchange (DX).  I was glad that it began once Susie returned to Florida, because then I wouldn’t have to juggle spending time with her with 12-hour work days.  I was in my element shelving books.  I admit I was a little less so when it came to assisting customers–customer service is not one of my talents.

I have not written much about the aneurysm of late, mainly because I can go days before I’m aware that I still have it.  However, one Sunday morning last month, I was in the shower when a bolt of pain shot through my rib cage on the left and all around the entire circumference of my chest.  Once I was dressed, I took the bus to Riverside Methodist Hospital (I didn’t think it justified calling the squad).  While I waited, my friend Chris texted me, asking if I was free for lunch.  I replied by telling her where I was headed, and why.  She very generously offered to meet me at Riverside, and stayed with me in the E.R. cubicle all the way up until I was admitted to the Observation Unit.

After X rays and an MRI, and keeping me hooked up to monitors, the verdict was no cardiac issue–although there was no consensus about what did cause the pain.  I saw a cardiologist at Ohio Cardiology Specialists later in the week.  Almost at once, I asked him if we could go ahead and operate on the aneurysm, because I was fed up with having to worry about it.  It is in no way dilated to the point where it poses a threat, but I learned that if it were to burst, I would likely be dead before anyone could call 911 and be en route to an emergency room.

The doctor minced no words: “No!  And any doctor who would do it should go to jail.”  The aneurysm is not at a danger point, and at this point surgery would be more dangerous than the aneurysm expanding.  He made an appointment for me to see him next February, which I’ve already logged on my phone’s calendar.  (The phone’s calendar, I’m sorry to say, seems to have taken the place of the appointment diaries I’ve used for years.  The red one I received from The New York Review of Books is mostly blank.)

So, I think we’re pretty much up to speed on what has happened since I last posted.  I won’t insult my readers’ intelligence by promising to be more faithful in writing in here; all I can say is that I won’t fight the urge when I think I need to post.