Costumes, Crowding, Gunshots

Until I was eating my bagel and green tea at Whit’s Frozen Custard and Coffee House this morning, I did not know that the Athens Block Party (read: Halloween in Athens) ended with gunfire.  By the time this happened, I had already left Court St. and was en route, on foot, to the friends’ house where I was staying.  There were so many sirens during the night (from ambulances) that, by 2 a.m., that was pretty much white noise to me, and I didn’t give them a second thought.

As of right now (10:43 a.m. EDST), this is the most recent information I have:  http://woub.org/2014/10/26/gunshots-fired-during-halloween-block-party

There were the usual array of costumes, ranging from homemade garden-variety vampires, zombies, Raggedy Anns and Andys, devils, pregnant nuns, etc.  What amused me greatly were the totally vain efforts of people who dressed as a group–the Scooby-Doo characters, a six-pack, Thing 1 and Thing 2–to stay together and not be separated in the crowd.  This was even worse when each person wore a single letter on their shirts, meant to spell out a word or phrase, and ended up driven apart by the crowd.

The abundance of people dressed in EMT and law enforcement uniforms caused some confusion.  The Athens Police Department was out in force, as well as officers borrowed from other police departments, the Athens County Sheriff’s Department, and O.U. Security.  It surprised me that they were not more strict in discouraging–if not forbidding–revelers from dressing this way.  They did issue guidelines suggesting that costumes not include props that could be mistaken as weapons (although I saw many plastic Ninja swords, and the Ghostbusters’ apparatus looked like rifles).

I only saw one arrest, a very intoxicated and weepy young woman whom police were leading to the temporary booking station.  This station was in a tent at the corner of N. Court and Washington Sts., very close to the Athens County Sheriff’s office.  When I did hear sirens, and they were legion throughout the night, they were from emergency vehicles.

The weekend taught me that I am more fearful (maybe wary would be a better word) of crowds than I once was.  I managed to escape trampling, or backing into a lit cigarette, or encountering drunks whose intoxication turned violent.

I remember kicking aside at least one Jack Daniel’s bottle, but that was the only glass that I saw on Court St.  The police explicitly forbade glass on the street, which was a very good idea.  (I had thought about buying a bottle of Gold Leaf tea to keep myself hydrated, but at first glance it does look like a bottle of booze.  If I carried it in a brown paper bag, I would be asking for trouble.)  Comfest is even more explicit about it: “Don’t be a glasshole.”

The only easy way to navigate from one block to another was to go through the alleys that run perpendicular to the main streets.  Even this was an iffy business, because many other people had the same idea.  I even saw people sitting on the ground in the alleys, with their backs against the buildings, because they were dizzy from all the adrenaline and the booze, or just to be able to stop walking for a minute.  It was a fairly warm night for late October–I was perfectly comfortable in a long-sleeved T-shirt–but I even saw six or seven women walking barefoot, which is something I would never do on Court St. on a regular weekend night.  I shuddered when I saw two barefoot women, carrying shoes that looked very uncomfortable, walking up one of the alleys.  It did not rain last night, yet there were quite a few puddles in the alleyways and parking lots.  I doubt they were able to dodge all of them successfully.  (As to what these puddles were, use your imagination.)

I did not get any decent pictures last night, with either my phone or my Kodak digital camera.  So, I am using this picture from 2009, taken from The Athens News' Website.  (I was a part-time typesetter for this paper in the 1980s.)

I did not get any decent pictures last night, with either my phone or my Kodak digital camera. So, I am using this picture from 2009, taken from The Athens News‘ Website. (I was a part-time typesetter for this paper in the 1980s.)

I have done my part for Athens commerce.  Whit’s has been my blogging headquarters during this journey, and I made my obligatory visit to Haffa’s Records, but all I bought was a CD of Kraftwerk’s Tour de France.  I’ll listen to it once I get back to Columbus.  When I was camped out at Brenen’s Coffee Café in the afternoon (before a dinner date), I wished that I had listened to this disk, because that God-awful song “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor was playing there.

Whit’s is in a location that has housed many businesses lo these many years.  It was a jewelry store when I was coming here in high school and during my first year or so at O.U.  It then became a Kinko’s Copies, a business that bled many students white by selling the spiral-bound packets of readings that professors required for their classes.  I am sure it has been many things in the interim, but Whit’s has been here for at least the last three or four years.

Many buildings that were houses of worship have become businesses or apartment buildings since I left Athens.  One houses ARTS/West, which I passed several times when going to and from the home on the west side of town where I was staying.  The former Christian Science church is an apartment building, and there were many people, none of them close to sober, on its porch and in its parking lot, which does not jibe at all with the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy.

I was surprised that the police did not forbid backpacks or over-the-shoulder bags, as many races and street gatherings have done since the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.  My black Eastpak is my portable office, but there was no way I would be carrying a laptop around on Court St. in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd.  The laptop usually stays at home, but it goes in the knapsack when I am traveling.  The pack also contains such essentials of life as my medication (for hypertension, cholesterol, and bipolar disorder), my journal, my Nook (I read about two chapters of The Sign of the Four on the trip down State Route 33), and my current paper-and-ink book (still plodding my way erratically through Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge).  I had the foresight to leave it at my friends’ house before venturing out.

Halloween is the only time I have ever seen mounted police in Athens, although they are a fairly common sight on High St. on weekend nights, especially after the Buckeyes score a particularly lopsided victory.  The OSU-Michigan game will be November 29th, and it will be in Columbus, so if there is a Wolverine defeat, I am sure that riot gear, paddywagons, and mounted police will be the order of the day (or night).

The people in the apartments and lofts above Court St. and elsewhere managed to keep their parties contained.  I saw MUST BE 21 TO DRINK signs on many doors, although I don’t know how strictly the hosts enforced this.  When I was at O.U., your party was a flop unless the guests left by paddywagon or ambulance.  There were a few cries of “Show your tits!”, which is usually common at Mardi Gras or on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield.  Most importantly, I did not see or hear of anyone throwing full cans of beer into the crowd, which has happened at parties (not necessarily at Halloween) in the past.

In less than an hour, I will be northbound on 33, headed back to Columbus.  My ticket is in my wallet, and I will soon pack up this laptop and walk over to the new Baker Center to catch the bus on Oxbow Trail.  (One of my unrealized dreams is to walk from Athens to Nelsonville, which is 13½ miles.  It’s on my to-do list for next spring, when the warm weather returns.)

P.S.: I wanted to title this entry “Our Revels Now Are Ended,” but I have this nagging feeling that someone thought of that line before me.

The next blog entry will be from Columbus.

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Calmest Before the Strorm

This is the first time I’ve blogged since I returned from Florida, and this entry is not in Columbus either!  Currently, I’m sitting in Whit’s Frozen Custard and Coffee House at the corner of Court and Union Sts. in Uptown Athens, Ohio.

For those of you familiar with Athens lore, that means one thing: I am here for Halloween.  This will be the first Halloween in Athens I have seen since 1988, and it is the first one where I will not be under the influence.  I have been a teetotaler since Susie was an infant, and I am not bowing to the “when in Rome…” attitude about drunkenness that will be prevalent tonight.

Early Saturday morning in Athens, Ohio.  It will look radically different 12 hours from now.

Early Saturday morning in Athens, Ohio. It will look radically different 12 hours from now.

The bacchanalia always takes place the Saturday before Halloween, when over 30 thousand costumed revelers, most of them in altered states of consciousness, will descend upon Court St.  I will not be in costume, unless you count a black long-sleeved Kraftwerk T-shirt as a costume, and I will be observing the people having fun and being arrested.  Most arrests come from open container violations, public urination, and vandalism.

This is my first time here since Susie and I took the tour in June.  It’s hard for me to see how quiet and shuttered Athens is early on a Saturday morning (the above picture shows the intersection of Court and Union).  Very few places were open, although I had some banana bread and green tea at the Starbucks at Baker Center II (the one formerly on Union St. will always be “Baker Center” to me).  I thought about blogging from there, but non-students need to jump through too many hoops to access their Wi-Fi.  I’ve made my leisurely way up Court St., reading the headlines from today’s New York Times and Columbus Dispatch in the window of Little Professor Book Store, and looking at the windows of the still-closed stores.

I cannot say my too-long love affair with alcohol began here in Athens.  I did hitchhike here a few times to drink underage, since I was too well known in Marietta, and bartenders here in Athens were not very conscientious about checking IDs.  The first time I was really drunk was at a cast party my sophomore year of high school.  It was on a Friday night, and the following morning, as I was delivering newspapers, I carried my first hangover like a badge of honor, and managed to work it into every conversation I had that day.

This is one school Susie is seriously considering, although she learned earlier this week that Stetson University has accepted her, and has offered her a $25 thousand scholarship.  She has never developed a liking for alcohol, although she has had glasses of wine with dinner with her mother.  When I was here, my focus was anywhere but academic.  I divided my time between the bars on Court St. and working on a meandering, too-word heavy novel that I had begun when I lived in Boston.  It had already filled one box of typing paper and was well into another, with no signs of completion.  Class was something I managed whenever I had the energy to get out of bed.

It is rare for me to see Saturday morning in Athens.  It is disquieting that I cannot venture more than a two- or three-block radius without seeing some place where I drank, or where I slept on someone’s floor after a night of excess.  The cars and the foot traffic had not begun in earnest when I got off the GoBus and began wandering up Court this morning.  It reminds me a little of Edward Hopper’s painting “Early Sunday Morning.”

Except that early Sunday morning here in the land of 45701 will look more like post-Katrina New Orleans.

Walking in Cocoa Beach

From the moment I landed in Orlando on Friday, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to log the two miles of daily walking which I have been doing so conscientiously since late spring.  I didn’t do much on Friday, and I walked, at a much more leisurely pace, when I was in DeLand on Saturday.

I more than made up for any slack yesterday in Cocoa Beach.  Susie and I went there so that she could go to a rehearsal at Surfside Players.  (She is running the sound board for their performance of Wait Until Dark, which debuts Friday night.)  When Mike and Steph drove us there, the plan was that I would camp out with my laptop and my book at Juice N Java until the rehearsal was over.

The best laid plans, etc.  Juice N Java closed at 2 p.m., and there were no other places conducive to prolonged sitting and reading.  There is a Subway on S. Atlantic Ave. (the northbound lane of the legendary A1A), but it did not have Wi-Fi.

That meant I pretty much walked around the A1A area for two or three hours, and around 4 text messages between Susie and me started flying back and forth.  They had done a complete run of the play, but the director wanted to rehash all the missed cues and technical difficulties, so it would run later than they thought.

My hopes were briefly lifted and quickly dashed when I saw that Cocoa Beach Community Church had a thrift store, but it was closed on Sunday.  (Most of the churches are very close to A1A, and they make an interesting juxtaposition to all the bars, surf shops, tattoo parlors, and boat rental places.  Oddly enough, Brevard County only has two synagogues, and they are both in Melbourne.)

Any worries that I was not doing my fair share of walking went out the window when I heard that news.  I stuck mostly to A1A (northbound on Atlantic, southbound on Orlando), and kept walking mainly because very few of the shops that were open interested me.

Cocoa Beach is quite different from DeLand.  Cocoa Beach caters mostly to the more leisure- and activity-oriented crowd.  I saw many people with classic Coppertone tans carrying surfboards, on their way to and from the beach.  The stores that were open carried surfing gear, as well as beer, electronic cigarettes, and swimwear.  Ron Jon still dominates the water sports scene, but I was happy to see that many other smaller surf supply stores seem to be staying open and attracting loyal customers of their own.

One of the businesses I passed on Atlantic Ave.  They did not think very carefully about what the business' initials would be!

One of the businesses I passed on Atlantic Ave. They did not think very carefully about what the business’ initials would be!

When I walk, I usually try to be carrying as little as I can.  Yesterday was an exception.  I had an almost full backpack with me, containing the laptop, my journal, and my hardcover of Bleeding Edge (and, except for The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon does not write short books!), so my shoulders got as much of a workout as my legs.  Steph and Mike had been shopping in Viera, but they picked me up once they were back in Cocoa Beach.  I barely moved for hours once we were back in Merritt Island.

The only other walking I had done since arriving here Friday had been very short walks (less than 10 minutes) to Cumberland Farms, the nearest convenience store.

I will be back in Columbus early this evening.  Susie and I had breakfast together at the McDonald’s across the street from her high school, and once she crossed the street to start the school day, I walked the two miles to Starbucks, where I have been typing this entry.  The Cocoa Beach Shuttle will pick me up at 1:15, which will give me plenty of time to catch my 4:55 flight to Columbus.

Until Steph moved down here, and Susie came down to visit–and then eventually to stay–I never had any desire to visit Florida.  It was the numero uno location for spring break when I was at O.U., while I elected to do things like ride Greyhound cross country to San Francisco.  I thought of it as a land of retirees and political Neanderthals (although I was a fan of Lawton Chiles and do admire Bob Graham).  I did not expect to be as taken with DeLand as I was.  (I wasted no time in “liking” the businesses there where I spent money.)

So, another Florida sojourn will soon end.  If this has been like previous years, I will probably be back for Christmas, and bring Susie back for the balance of her winter break.

And so to Ohio.

An Addition to My Short List

Except for the nearly two years I lived in Boston in the early 1980s, I have lived in Ohio my entire life.  (I was born in Parkersburg, W.Va., but that was only because my mother’s OB-GYN had privileges at St. Joseph’s Hospital and not Marietta Memorial.)  Occasionally, I do contemplate where I would go should I decide to pack up and leave Ohio.

This is not likely to happen anytime soon.  I learned last spring how much of a nightmare it is to move a half mile, let alone God knows how many states away.  While packing and unpacking, I learned that George Carlin was spot on:

Actually this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That’s all, a little place for my stuff. That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there. That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get . . . more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.

But were I to take that giant leap and leave Ohio, close to the top of my list of where to relocate is DeLand, Fla.  Susie took her tour of Stetson University yesterday, and neither Steph, nor Mike, nor I went with her.  (From what she told us later, the tour was a bit of a waste.  It was Saturday morning, so many of the buildings were locked.  A funny result of this was when the guide went to show off a typical Stetson dorm room.  He unlocked it, and behold!  There was a young woman still asleep in the room, who screamed at everyone to get the hell out.)

A postcard (I'm guessing from about 1920) of downtown DeLand, Fla.  Architecturally, very little has changed.

A postcard (I’m guessing from about 1920) of downtown DeLand, Fla. Architecturally, very little has changed.

I was not upset about not going along on the tour.  The main reason I accompanied Susie on the O.U.  tour was for nostalgia, and I came along on the OSU tour more out of curiosity.  (As I expected, the tour guide emphasized the athletic and recreational facilities more than the academic ones.)

It did not take long to fall in love with DeLand.  We had breakfast at Mr. Bill’s (without Susie; she ate a breakfast sandwich from the McDonald’s drive-through before she began her tour), and I went on a solo tour of the record and bookstores along N. Woodland Blvd.  (I ended up plunking down about $31 for records at Groovy Records–all of it vinyl, except for a DVD of A Clockwork Orange (1971).)

The owner at Groovy Records managed to juggle quite a few tasks at once.  He showed me how the records were organized, answered questions I had, and gave an old man a lesson (I think the very first one) on an electronic keyboard.  I was immediately attracted to an Akai upright reel-to-reel deck, but I did not have $1300 burning a hole in my wallet.  It may be my gift to myself when my tax refund comes next winter, but who can say?  “How did you like the store?” he asked me.  I told him I had bought over $30 worth of records, and he looked genuinely surprised and pleased, and shook my hand.

Comic books and gaming seem to be quite popular in DeLand, since I saw stores devoted to both (and some overlap).  As a kid and a teenager, my comic book reading was pretty much limited to Dennis the Menace, Everything’s Archie, and even Casper the Friendly Ghost, so I am not well versed in superhero lore.  My prized find was a 1985 aerogramme honoring Mark Twain and Halley’s comet.  (I had used several of them for correspondence when they were first issued, mailing letters to friends in Japan and Israel, and kicked myself for never saving any of them.)

I had mediocre luck at The Muse Bookshop.  It sells antiquarian books, and I made a search for any hardcover Robert Lowry novels (and came up empty).  In the drama section, I looked for a New Directions first edition of Tennessee Williams’ 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, for which Lowry did the front cover and the layout.  The only book I bought was Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries And Letters Of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1929–1932, which covered the period of the kidnapping and murder of her first child.

I was going to skip Backhome Antiques altogether, until Mike told me they had two old gramophones for sale, and he also saw some 78s.  I had no plan to buy a gramophone.  Even if I was willing to pay what they charged, I would have no affordable way to ship it back to Ohio.  On the way back to the room with the 78s, I saw two old five-year diaries for sale.  There was writing, a small cursive hand, on almost every page of both volumes, and had the diarist written in English, I probably would have bought them.  Each diary sold for about $20.

The 78s were $3 apiece.  I checked the entire stack to see if there were any rare ones–a Sun Elvis or anything by Robert Johnson, but that went nowhere.  I ended up buying a record of Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra performing “Happy Days Are Here Again” (Domino 4483-A).

By the time we left DeLand, I was completely in love with the place.  I was talking to the owner of Carasells Collectibles, and I mentioned to him that DeLand reminded me of Athens, Ohio (which is definitely a compliment).  He said that he had heard that before–and it was either Athens, Ohio or Athens, Georgia.  (DeLand is known as the Athens of Florida, and it has an Athens Theater, so this is not too far off the mark.)

Steph and Mike gave us a thorough tour of Volusia County, Florida, including a very odd town named Cassadaga.  This is home to many Spiritualist meetings and groups, and I saw more places that offered past life regressions, Tarot card readings, palm readings, and interpretations of horoscopes than I did gas stations or fast-food restaurants.  I was glad to see houses whose owners allow their commodious front yards to be used as public park space, and I even saw one where horses grazed in the front yard (within the city limits!).  I did not even see any houses of worship for the mainline Christian denominations.  (I don’t think the Christians have been hounded out of Cassadaga.  Any Christian in the U.S. who claims to be “persecuted” needs to spend a month as the personal guest of ISIS to learn the true meaning of the term.)

Because of the proliferation of unorthodox (to most residents of Murrica anyway) religious beliefs, I was not surprised to see that they are also tolerant of other minorities.  A faded and somewhat tattered Pride flag hung from the second story of one of the houses.

Two motels in New Smyrna Beach displayed “American-owned” on their marquees, which was a not-so-subtle dig at the fact that so many chain motels in the U.S. are owned and managed by Indian (Hindu) people.  If the motel is clean, the beds are comfortable, and it comes with a functioning air conditioner and Wi-Fi, it could be Martian-owned, for all the difference it would make.

Susie and I are keeping holy the Sabbath at Barnes and Noble on E. Merritt Island Causeway, camped out in the café.  We had breakfast at Steak ‘n Shake, and I have been contending with a rather slow and recalcitrant Wi-Fi here, so this blog entry has taken longer than usual to type up and post.

All of us were pretty depleted by the time we returned to Merritt Island.  I have been sleeping on an inflatable mattress in the living room, but I have been too exhausted to notice that it was deflating little by little throughout the night.  I was flat on the floor when I awakened a little before dawn.  When we came home from the Volusia County road trip, I had a piece of leftover chicken and sat at the kitchen table writing in my diary, and then collapsed a little after 10.

It is a little ironic that we’re sitting in Barnes and Noble, since I have a Nook in my knapsack.  (The knapsack contains all the essentials: my copy of Bleeding Edge, my journal, a notebook or two, and the laptop.)  I bought one from a friend for $45, but all I have downloaded to it is A. Conan Doyle’s complete Sherlock Holmes oeuvre, all 56 short stories and all four novels.  (I already owned a hardcover of the Pynchon novel.)

While we were driving the 76 or so miles from Merritt Island (my first time on I-95 since I lived in Boston), we heard several radio ads for legalization of medical marijuana.  They were all from John Morgan (1-800-MORGANLAW), and sponsored by United For Care.  Since so many retirees come here, many of them have various health problems, and pain could easily be alleviated by medical marijuana.  (Full disclosure: I was the marijuana equivalent of a social drinker–I never had my own stash, and the only times I ever smoked it were when I was at a party and someone had a joint going around, and I would take a hit or two to be polite.)  I’m sure that some aging hippies have gravitated here–most likely in DeLand–who have been smoking it since Woodstock, but the focus in these ads was on the alleviation of pain without becoming overly dependent on–or addicted to–prescription medications that cost a fortune for un- or under-insured people.)

On this trip, I have learned that Florida is more of a land of contrasts and contradictions than I ever thought before.

I *Can* Keep a Secret

Susie turned 17 last Monday, and I spoke to her on the phone, mailed her a new knapsack, and dropped some vague hints about how she would be getting another gift later this week.

The gift was me.  I suggested coming down to the Space Coast in Florida about six weeks ago, but Steph and I did not start making definite plans until I had actually gone to Southwest Airlines’ Website and bought the tickets for my flight.  I elected to go down this weekend–Columbus Day weekend–rather than on the date of her birthday itself because Monday is a holiday for government employees, and I would not have to use as much paid leave.

Keeping secrets has not always been a talent of mine.  With age comes some modicum of self-restraint (which usually happens with me about as often as Halley’s Comet), and the ability to put the brakes on some impulses.  Steph and I vowed that we would keep my imminent arrival a secret from Susie, so that it was a genuine surprise.

So, she went to school this morning, and I caught a 7 a.m. flight from Port Columbus, and went through a cloudy sky on a bumpy flight that put me down at Orlando International Airport (MCH) almost exactly two hours later.  I was too wound up the previous evening to sleep, even after I had finished packing, so I am now starting to feel the effects of that (it’s 6:14 p.m. right now, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to hit the right keys here).  My friend Deb generously offered to drive me to the airport, so she picked me up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 and I was all checked in, with my suitcase en route down the conveyor belt, by a little after 5.

I did steal a little sleep while we were in the air.  The view outside my window (mostly to the east) either blinded me with sunlight, or showed nothing but white clouds, almost as smooth as a just-opened box of vanilla ice cream.  I had brought along only one book in addition to my diary, and this was the hardcover of Thomas Pynchon’s newest novel, Bleeding Edge.  It interested me enough to engage me for the first three or four chapters, but I did find myself asleep with my head against the Plexiglas more than once.  The sleep was too short to be refreshing, and I think only adrenaline and the anticipation of seeing Susie for the first time since August were all that was fueling me.

The trip was one hour and 52 minutes, and we landed in Orlando at 10 a.m. on the dot.  By 10:20 or so, I was aboard the Cocoa Beach Shuttle on my way 46 miles to the west to where Steph, Susie, and Mike live on Merritt Island.

After lunch at the Olive Garden, Steph and I sat in the Starbucks on Crockett Blvd., where Steph and her women’s writing group was meeting.  I caught up on email and made some Facebook posts, mindful to not mention that I was in Florida, in case Susie was on her Nook and would learn of my whereabouts.

And it was a joyous reunion.  Susie got off the bus from school some time after 3 and came to Starbucks, and ran over to hug me when she saw me sitting at my laptop.

She came proudly bearing gifts.  In her backpack, she had a brand new copy of Volume I of The Titan Lantern, which is the new literary magazine of Eastern Florida State College.  There, on pp. 7-8, was her short story “A Funeral For a Girl We Barely Knew.”  She took several writing classes at EFCS (née Brevard Community College), and had mentioned publication in a Facebook post almost a year ago.  The magazine and the publication finally came to pass, and she brought home her first copy today.

Susie proudly displaying the fruits of her labor, a two-page story in the premiere issue of The Titan Lantern.

Susie proudly displaying the fruits of her labor, a two-page story in the premiere issue of The Titan Lantern.

I remembered the day The St. Anthony Messenger mailed me a $35 check for my poem “I Want to Live Above the Catholic Bookstore,” and shared in her pride.  Three copies were in the mail several months later, but the check was long spent the following day.

One of the things that makes our visits special, whether she is coming to Columbus or I am coming to Florida, is that our time together is spontaneous.  We don’t over-plan with too many activities in too many different directions.  This afternoon, Susie and I visited two different thrift stores in the vicinity of Starbucks (and came away mostly empty-handed–one of the stores looked like the setting for the season debut of Hoarders), and now we’re at Barnes and Noble, and I am drinking yet another cup of green tea in the vague hope I can stay conscious a while longer.

We are going to be on a grownup mission tomorrow.  Susie will be graduating in May, and she has applied to Stetson University in DeLand.  We will be touring the campus tomorrow, much the same way we toured the Ohio University campus in June, when she was in Columbus in the interim period between the end of her junior year and the start of her classes at EFSC.  She had arranged the tour last month, and did not know I would be tagging along until this afternoon.  (I am interested in seeing the campus, but I checked the YPMobile app on my phone, and saw there are three record stores within walking distance.)  That will be the next project after going to the campus.  On Monday, Susie forwarded to me the email from Ohio University saying they had received her application (immediately after I paid $45 for the application fee).

Susie is applying to several colleges, in Florida, Ohio, and elsewhere, taking the steps toward adulthood.  My fervent hope is that she does not follow my lead.  I think I would have extended my adolescence well into my 30s even if I had never taken a sip of alcohol in my life, and whenever I have an extended period of time when I don’t have to be at work, I am content to be on the mañana plan.  This never extended to being lazy about finding work, or working when I was employed.  The idea of any type of plan was foreign to me, since I was pretty much taking life as it came, and acting based on the situations before me at that time.

Susie saw that not all of her peers are jumping into the post-school world of adult responsibilities.  Many of the seniors who graduated last May went straight into jobs, or began families, or enlisted in the service.  Susie met peers who are taking their time.  At the mall, Susie ran into a female couple from her high school.  They had graduated not three weeks before, and had just celebrated three years together.  Susie asked them, “Well, how are you handling adulthood?”  One of them answered, “We just spent $200 on Pokémon cards!”

And me?  After I tour the Stetson campus with Susie, I’m going to buy records and books.

Preparing for the Worst

I was never a Boy Scout, but I know that their number-one maxim is “Be prepared.”  (Tom Lehrer recorded a satirical song by that title, poking fun at the squeaky-clean image the Boy Scouts always tried to project.)  When I was a teenager, those of us too corrupt or anarchistic for Scouting also repeated the “be prepared” mantra.  It usually meant carrying a condom (usually purchased on the sly from a gas station vending machine) in the wallet, in the unlikely event of a sexual encounter.  (And it was a very good thing that sex seldom came to pass–condoms from gas station men’s rooms probably caused more pregnancies than most fertility drugs.)

This week, the focus on preparedness has been so intense that an actual emergency would almost be an anticlimax.  There have been emergency evacuation drills all week, two or three floors per day.  (To try to have this drill all at once would produce mass chaos in a 30-floor building.)  The notice for our floor popped up on my online calendar, so I know when it will be, although I think the element of surprise would really show the level of readiness for an event like that.

When it happened yesterday, it had the desired effect, including the surprise.  Two of my co-workers and I were doing our 10:30 trip down and up the stairs from the tenth to the first floor of the building.  We were on the downward trip, when the alarms began to sound.  The strobe lights above the alarm speakers began to blink.  Most worrisome, and what made me think that maybe this was the real thing, was that the blowers came on, which would be used to try to draw smoke from the stairway.

The three of us kept going, thinking that the stairway would be full of people in minutes.  (My colleague who is in dire need of a hip replacement was leading the way, so we were descending a little more slowly than usual.)  That didn’t happen, so we joined the crowd milling around in the front lobby.  (One of the people there was my supervisor, who had just come back in from smoking.  The security guards had roped off the entrance to the elevators, so there was nothing to do but wait.)

The irony was that I had texted her from the stairwell saying that we were waylaid because of the drill, and would be back on the tenth floor as soon as we could.  She saw me in person before she could read the text.

All the way through high school, we usually thought of fire drills as welcome and entertaining diversions from the drudgery of the classroom and schoolwork.  In Marietta, we were hardly in Tornado Alley (parts of Texas, Oklahoma, or Kansas), but they were always a possibility.  No one dismissed the possibility after the April 1974 tornado that demolished most of Xenia, three hours away.  What resonates with me from my elementary school stint as “safety captain” for my classroom is that for years, I could never remember whether to open or shut all the windows in a tornado.  I even posted the question last year to a meteorology Website, and also to a storm chasers’ site.  The general consensus was to leave them alone.  In a tornado, they’re the least of your worries.

The workers in my building will become numb to the education of these evacuation drills before long.  By the time Security has begun having extraterrestrial invasion drills, we’ll probably have cried wolf so many times that no one will raise an eyebrow when the real thing happens.

The precautions even extend to one of my more mundane daily chores, which is going across the street to the post office to pick up what mail there is in the department’s P.O. box.  I am glad to have that task, because it gives me a little time away from my desk and out of the building.

To get in the post office, which is on the first floor of the John W. Bricker Federal Building (the location of my office when I worked for the IRS) involves going through a metal detector and presenting an ID to the guard.  Before going through the metal detector, I have to remove my belt, watch, items in my pocket, and the lanyard around my neck (for my work ID) and put them in a gray tub, where it goes through an X ray machine.  (It’s similar to the pre-boarding procedure at an airport, except that–so far–you get to keep your shoes on.)

I learned a long time ago to prepare for this.  When I go to the post office, I leave everything except my work ID, my wallet, and the key to the box.  (The latter is supposed to hang on a push-pin on the wall of my pod, but more than once it has traveled to Olde North with me.)

And the security precautions are not finished when I return to my building with mail, if there is any.  Before I can return to the office, my next stop is the first of the two basement floors, where a security officer will put the envelopes through the X ray machine, and then stamp them safe for me.

I question the effectiveness of this.  The X ray machine will only find metal or solid objects, and if anyone is mailing anything dangerous in a standard letter envelope, it would most likely be anthrax or something poisonous, like what happened in the aftermath of 9/11.  The machine could not detect something like that.

An anthrax-laden letter to the New York Post, mailed in 2001

An anthrax-laden letter to the New York Post, mailed in 2001

Most, if not all, of the elementary schools I attended displayed the yellow and black FALLOUT SHELTER signs in the hallways.  It did not help me sleep better at night when my dad explained to me what fallout was.  It added another “what if” scenario that would bother me.

My parochial school (St. Mary’s Middle School in Marietta), where I spent seventh and eighth grades, had a plan in effect for nuclear attack.  The school was in the floors above what was then the Knights of Columbus hall on Scammel St., and in the basement there was a Geiger counter.  (I never saw it, but I have wondered if it also contained cots and food as well.)

Survivalism may have been a good idea before it was co-opted by the racist lunatics and the people who think the gub’mint is coming for their guns, but I never invested much effort or interest in the idea.  My preparedness comes from locking my doors at night, and taking part in Blockwatch meetings and events to the extent that I am able.

I Dream of Sleep

On Friday morning, I went to the OSU Sleep Clinic (part of the Ross Heart Hospital) for the latest round of finding out why my sleep has been so lousy these past few months (if not years).  This wasn’t my first time at the rodeo–I have a diagnosis of sleep apnea, and have had sleep studies in the past, but I have never been able to use a C-PAP.

Yes, they’re uncomfortable.  My problem came from obsessing about them when I did use them.  Did I fill the reservoir full enough?  Was the seal on my mask secure enough that it was not leaking air?  Since I thrash around so much in bed, would I pull it off the night table and ruin it?

Although it has not happened in months, this has occurred at work--complete with the sound effect.  (I love the onomatopoeia used to recreate snoring.)

Although it has not happened in months, this has occurred at work–complete with the sound effect. (I love the onomatopoeia used to recreate snoring.)

Before the exam, I filled out a three- or four-page questionnaire about my sleep habits, my health history, etc.  The two doctors who spoke with me said, in addition to sleep apnea, I have hypersomnia and possibly cataplexy as well.

The important thing, though, is not that you fall asleep too often, or how long you remain asleep.  It’s the quality of the sleep.  The best analogy I can provide is that falling asleep should be like scuba diving.  You don’t jump in and go straight to the bottom, and you don’t sprint up to the top when you want to surface again.

If I sat still and relaxed in a quiet room, I would bet 10 to 1 that I would be asleep in less than five minutes.  The sleep is not refreshing or restorative, either.  I have slept past my stops on the bus many times.  What I found most disturbing was that I can fall asleep and go straight into REM sleep, and with this comes dreaming.

This resulted once in a truly frightening moment.  I was in such a state that the dream I was having actually overlaid what was happening at the moment.  If you’ve ever seen one of those really thick medical reference books, you’ll remember that they have a section of transparent plates showing the different systems of the body.  Flip one plate, it will show the skeletal system.  Another one will show the circulatory system, and so on.  This was how the dream was for me.  I immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was hallucinating.  My pediatrician had prescribed thioridazine (which was withdrawn by the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. in 2007) for me when I was in first grade, and I began to wonder if my parents had never told me that I had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.  My bipolar disorder is mostly under control, and the mood swings have occurred less often than they have in years, so the idea that I may have schizophrenia scared me half to death.  In context, it was a relief to know that it was the symptom of a sleep disorder.

Steph and I have joked that my snoring is so bad that we have to sleep separately–with her in Florida.  I denied for years that I snored, until I awoke one morning to find my girlfriend at the time holding my microcassette recorder.  “I want to play you something,” she said.  She rewound the tape and hit PLAY, and there it was: me, snoring.  It sounded like a chicken bone stuck in the garbage disposal.

As a teenager, I may have caused some of this on my own.  Especially on weekends, I tried to avoid sleep as much as possible, mainly because the late-night hours were the only time I could truly have solitude and “me time” to my heart’s content.  My parents learned the hard way that trying to pin me down to a bedtime was a losing battle.  Starting in about eighth grade, I was usually awake almost entire weekends.  I would read, listen to music, watch TV, or write.  To make this possible, I had squirreled away milk money to buy No-Doz at the local pharmacy (and occasionally shoplifted it as well).  I would not be focused enough to do homework, but would usually be able to read at least two books.

I also became an armchair critic of B-movies, courtesy of WSAZ-TV’s All Night Theater and the venerable Fritz the Nite Owl on Channel 10.  There were also many nights when I would still have the TV on after the station had played the national anthem and gone dark for the night.

Working third-shift jobs was a way to channel this constructively.  I worked the graveyard shift typesetting The Harvard Crimson, as a rescue clerk at the Cincinnati post office, and as a data transcriber at the IRS in Covington, Ky.  (In the latter two jobs, there was a 10% bonus for working third shift.)

So a fresh sleep study is in the works.  I’m spending the day before Thanksgiving at the sleep lab at OSU East.  (And my immediate worry is that it is at the beginning of the home stretch of NaNoWriMo!  Glad my priorities are focused where they should be.)  I guess I have to learn to perform before an audience.  It won’t be easily to fall asleep knowing there are a few video cameras immortalizing the proceedings, and, even though I have been through sleep studies in the past, I can never get used to the idea that I’ll be able to doze off with wires and leads all over me.  (I had a taste of this in August, during the night I spent under observation at Riverside Methodist Hospital.)

I didn't see this book at PulpFest, but it does describe many of my nights.  Maybe Night Without Enough Sleep would be more fitting.

I didn’t see this book at PulpFest, but it does describe many of my nights. Maybe Night Without Enough Sleep would be more fitting.

Right now, it is near 2 a.m.  The bars will be closing soon.  I cannot honestly say that I miss that milieu, but the streets tonight are quiet.  I haven’t even heard any sirens.  The Buckeyes’ football game was in Maryland, so there aren’t as many people wandering around the campus area and our neighborhood (which is to the immediate north) in various states of inebriation.  It is Saturday night-Sunday morning, so many people are still awake.

And I am among them.