“The Road is Always Better Than the Inn”

Midway through the workload on Monday morning, as I was navigating the pile of ex parte orders and doctors’ dictations on my desk, I had an epiphany about walking.  I knew the time for long walks (indoors at least) is drawing short, since fall officially began at 4:22 a.m. on Wednesday, and cold weather loom ahead of us.

More specifically, this epiphany involved a specific place and time for said walk.  That very moment, I decided that on Saturday, I would walk the distance from Nelsonville, Ohio to Athens–about 12½ miles altogether–and go along the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.  The specific plans were easy: On Saturday morning, take the GoBus from downtown Columbus to the Hocking College campus, and then step onto the Bikeway and begin walking.  Once in Athens, stay in town for a few hours, and then catch the 5:30 p.m. bus back to Columbus.

So, I was planning a trip to Athens, as I have countless times before since high school.  This time, though, I would have the above Cervantes quote (from Don Quixote, of course) in mind.  There would be more road than Athens on this trip.

The only thing that would prevent the trip from happening was the weather, so I logged onto The Weather Channel’s site innumerable times between Monday afternoon and Friday, checking the Nelsonville forecast.  I finally bought my Columbus-to-Nelsonville and my Athens-to-Columbus tickets early Friday evening.

For those of you who are surprised by my use of the word epiphany, it has nothing to do with the Christian holiday.  This is purely a lower-case E meaning, “an experience of sudden and striking realization.”  I guess aha moment would be another word.  Even atheist Christopher Hitchens used the word, describing why he quit years of heavy smoking in 2008.  (It would have been much more worthwhile if he had experienced an epiphany about the sin of supporting the Iraq war.  There is more documentation for the Virgin Birth than there is of Saddam Hussein’s possessing weapons of mass destruction.)

The forecast said there was only a 20% chance of rain on Saturday, so, before the sun rose, I was downtown at the Greyhound station with my ticket in hand.  I had stripped the backpack to the bare necessities (a shirt, some fruit bars, my diary and pens, and aspirin) to lighten the weight, and realized, as the bus went down U.S. 33 and the usual stops in Lancaster and Logan, that the ride was the easy part of the trip.  I was heading on to Athens, but with nothing but my feet to convey me.

Part of the reason, on an unconscious level, for my wanting to take this walk came from church the previous Sunday.  Eric Meter, our associate minister, spoke at some length about Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  I had only recently learned about the existence of the Pacific Crest Trail, and decided that, if I ever had the leisure time or money for such a project, I would walk it rather than the Appalachian Trail, which has been trod and retrod ad nauseam.  I may have been making a mental note to go to the library’s Website to reserve Wild, and my mind, as it so often does, ran off into the ditch and I began to think of trails closer to home.

The Hockhocking Adena Bikepath.

The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.

The walk did not involve any extraneous or unnecessary steps.  The trail itself begins in downtown Nelsonville itself, but the GoBus stop is in a parking lot on the small campus of Hocking College.  (It was Hocking Technical College until 1991, and those of us at Ohio University less than kindly referred to it as Tinker Tech.)  I walked about a hundred feet, and came to Robbins Crossing, which was an entry onto the bikeway.  I did not want to waste time backtracking to the start of the trail at the Rocky Boots Outdoor Gear Store in downtown Nelsonville, only to have to turn around and go to Robbins Crossing again.

I confess that I have a horrible sense of direction.  I didn’t want to waste time walking in the wrong direction, so when a camouflage-clad guy driving an O.U. ROTC truck stopped at an intersection, I felt foolish as hell but I asked him, “Which way to Athens?”

I’m sure his military training never prepared him for a middle-aged guy with a backpack and gray beard appearing out of nowhere and asking where Athens was.  But, he very smoothly pointed eastward down the trail.  “Athens is that way,” he said.  I thanked him, but he still seemed a little perplexed as he drove away.

So, around 8:45, I made the first step onto the bikeway.  I had packed no water, and was not wearing boots, just tennis shoes that have definitely accompanied me on one too many walks.  (I made sure that I had my diary with me, but did not pack any water.  It speaks volumes about my priorities, n’est-ce pas?)

The time was early enough that I encountered very few runners or cyclists along the way.  All the ones I did see were kind and friendly, and we all exchanged greetings.  Totally exhilarating was seeing a family on the path which included a son in his early 20s who was riding a blue Schwinn Meridian, just like mine.  He was developmentally disabled, and I don’t think he could speak, but I told his mother that I had a Meridian and loved it, especially when grocery shopping.

I liked to think that my knowledge of Athens County is somewhat vast.  Besides the many years I spent in Athens, either as a student or visiting it, I made several trips to the Feed My Sheep food pantry in Mineral, in the western part of the county.  However, taking the bikeway was an experience that awakened me to a part of the county I did not know existed.  Dead leaves were under the soles of my feet at almost every step, but there was still enough foliage that there was some darkness along the way.  Although it never rained, there were gray clouds in the sky throughout the walk, and the sun’s light was barely visible behind them.

I saw several large rocks in the side of the hill, much like the ones I had seen on trips to Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave when I was younger.  It was quite moving when, at Mile 12, I saw the remains of a railroad bridge, marking the former presence of the Baltimore and Ohio rail line which had gone through Athens County well into the 1980s.

The railroad bridge at Mile 12.

The railroad bridge at Mile 12.

This is not to say that I could feel cut off from civilization during this trip.  Several bicyclists and runners came behind me or facing me, and their numbers increased as I neared Athens.  Except in a very few places, I could hear the sound of traffic, including sirens and truck brakes.  At one point, I could hear the sound of a man’s voice on a loudspeaker or public address system, probably announcing a Saturday morning sporting event.

The only landmarks of Nelsonville I saw were the buildings of Hocking College.  They were deserted, since it was Saturday morning.  I didn’t go into town itself, so I did not see the Stuart Opera House or Doctors Hospital Nelsonville.  (I am old enough that I still think of it as Mount St. Mary’s Hospital!)  As I first began walking, I tried to orient myself by looking for the Nelsonville Cross on the top of Kontner’s Hill, but could not find it above the treeline.  (The cross–“a tribute to God, a memorial to Betty”–has been there since 1973, when a widower named Walter Schwartz built it in honor of his wife.)

And there were people who lived out this way.  That would not be feasible for me, as a non-driver, even if the idea attracted me.  I saw a log cabin with all the comforts of home, including a satellite dish, out front, so I guessed the owner did not try for an aesthetic existence like Thoreau at Walden Pond.  All Thoreau deemed essential were his tools, the Bible, a copy of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and his journal–who could ask for more?  It’s doubtful the cabin-dweller I saw would strip his life to the bare bones like that.

I did not see any large animals on the walk.  There were birds, but no deer, and not even any raccoons or squirrels.  I did not go during hunting season, so I did not hear any gunfire, nor did I make a special effort to dress in clothes that would have made me stand out against the background.

The only time there was anything remotely dangerous was when the bikeway crossed State Route 682.  It does not see nearly as much traffic as U.S. 33, and nowhere near as much as an interstate, but there is a steady flow of traffic in both directions.  As I came to the intersection, I looked across 682 and saw three or four senior citizens (I know–I will be one in less than 15 years!) on bikes on one side, and I, the lone pedestrian, on the other.  We were at an impasse for several minutes, waiting for a driver on either side to be nice enough to let us cross.  Yes, pedestrians and bicyclists have the right of way on that road, but, as a famous driver’s ed cliché loves to point out, “The cemetery is full of people who were dead right.”  When traffic stopped in both directions and we all could cross, I felt like I was re-enacting the pivotal scene in Make Way for Ducklings.

I did not follow the bikeway to the end, since it would have meant almost totally going around the city of Athens and ending up east of the campus.  One of Susie’s friends raises goats on a farm, so I got a kick out of walking past the Armitage Farm and seeing two goats staring through the wire fence at me.  A handwritten wooden sign, possibly in a child’s hand, told me that I was meeting Ava, Lily, and Bailey (I’m not sure which two I saw), and that I was welcome to hang out with them–just that feeding them was a no-no.  (I wonder if you should always say their names in that order, just like Daniel 3 always mentions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in that order and no other.)

Ava, Lily, or Bailey (two of the three goats at Armitage Farm) wonder about the weird guy who just came off the bikeway and started taking pictures.

Ava, Lily, or Bailey (two of the three goats at Armitage Farm) wonder about the weird guy who just came off the bikeway and started taking pictures.

According to Google Maps, the Armitage Farm was over three miles by car from the west side of Athens, but almost exactly a mile by following the bikeway.  I turned from Armitage Rd. back to the bikeway, and then I was on Currier St., which at first seemed like totally foreign terrain for me.  I had been in this neighborhood many times before, but I had always come to it via the city, and never from the west.

The bikeway did not exist when I was a student at Ohio University.  Two friends and I kept making vague plans to do a walk from Athens to Nelsonville, and then have a friend meet us at Yankee Burger in Nelsonville (this restaurant is long gone).  This was in 1986 and 1987, and the only way to make the trip was to walk up U.S. 33 in the days before it bypassed downtown Nelsonville altogether.  The walk never materialized, because Saturday morning was the only convenient time to do it, and two of us were usually too hungover to contemplate walking anywhere beyond a source of caffeine.  I realize now, from the many bus and car trips I have taken on 33, that walking alongside it–even facing traffic–was a foolhardy experience.

I had walked 4¼ hours before I found myself standing at the corner of Currier St. and W. Central Ave. in Athens.  (The time stamp on my camera phone shows 12:52:14 p.m. as when I snapped the picture of the west side.)

Journey's end, 12:52:14 p.m., Athens, Ohio. Second Street is in the foreground, and Frank's Bait and Carry-Out (the Sprite sign) is at the end of Central Ave. The land of 45701 never looked so beautiful.

Journey’s end, 12:52:14 p.m., Athens, Ohio. Second Street is in the foreground, and Frank’s Bait and Carry-Out (the Sprite sign) is at the end of Central Ave. The land of 45701 never looked so beautiful.

I spoke some thoughts and impressions on the trip, using my digital Olympus VN-7100 recorder (also called Diane, like my earlier microcassette recorders, named after Dale Cooper’s unseen aide in Twin Peaks).  It’ll be awhile before I play the recordings back.  I’m afraid they’ll sound like the rantings of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979).

Even with that, they probably sound better than the “Travelling Tapes” I used to make when I was nine or 10.  I would describe things like “We’re going past an old Mail Pouch barn that’s falling apart.  And here’s another Mail Pouch barn, and this one has to be propped up by a stick.”  Instead of describing scenery, I usually included, “The dumb lady in the car in front of us wasn’t paying attention to the road, but was just fixing her hair.”  In one such travelogue, one that we mailed to my grandfather, I was all of eight years old, and somewhere on 33 (we were going to see my mother’s relatives in Logan), talking about being “way out in the open, far from Marietta!”

My exhilaration about having made this trip without any accident, tragedy, or disappointments far exceeds the pain that I’ve been experiencing in my foot ever since.  I walked around Athens for much of the day, but didn’t see anyone I knew.  I even went to Little Professor, the bookstore I loved to visit when I was a student there, and bought a copy (for $.99!), of Go Ask Alicethe “real diary” of a 15-year-old drug user.

Susie noticed I was limping when I met her in the McDonald’s near campus which has become our nocturnal base of operations.  Just for the record, I had invited her to come on this safari with me.  She replied by playing this for me:

Although the weekend has involved very little sleep, and more physical activity than normal, this was definitely time well spent.  I had thought about even going the extra distance and leaving my cell phone behind, but I realized that I would need it in case I had an emergency on the trail, or encountered someone else who needed help.  On my dictation, I made a snide comment about “Just watch.  This’ll be when the aneurysm decides it’s had enough.”

And, according to My Fitness Pal.com, I’ll drop over 25 pounds if I do this every day for the next five weeks.

I kept thinking about this audio clip, Jack Kerouac reading parts of On the Road and Visions of Cody.

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Defective Cable Box = Emergency?

I normally jump at any chance to leave work early, but when I did it yesterday, I felt a little guilty–mainly because, after years of very intermittent and spotty projects at work–I came back on Monday morning and found myself inundated by reports waiting to be transcribed, in addition to the steady flow of ex parte and other orders awaiting me.  It seemed to be that all the doctors had conspired to dictate their reports over the weekend.

Despite that, I left work at noon yesterday.  I considered telling my supervisor that I had left to “visit a sick friend,” but the reality is completely 21st century.  I was waiting for a technician from WOW! Internet to deliver a new cable box.  As usual, their customer service representative could only tell me “between 12:30 and 5 p.m.,” so I was resigned to wasting an entire afternoon.

The worst part of this was that they were replacing another defective cable box.  My original box–a silver Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300–had suddenly stopped most of its functions.  I could still watch TV programs, but could not pause them, or record them on the DVR.  So, about two weeks ago, another technician brought a new box, identical to the previous one, and the same problem came within 12 hours.

How I felt after leaving work early yesterday to meet the WOW! technician.

How I felt after leaving work early yesterday to meet the WOW! technician.

So far, the new box is holding together.  The technician came around 3:20, and installed it, and Susie and I were able to watch the season premiere of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit while, at the same time, I was recording Return to the Wild on WOSU.

Unlike my parents and grandparents, I never knew a world without television.  I was born in the spring of 1963.  General Hospital debuted four weeks before I was born.  Three weeks to the day before my birth, Pete Rose made his professional debut on Opening Day in Cincinnati.  When I was almost six months old, television changed forever when Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered in everyone’s living room.  Nine or 10 weeks before I was born, the short-lived TV series It’s a Man’s World was cancelled.  (The latter is significant because Marietta, Ohio was the basis for its setting, where some buddies attending college lived aboard a houseboat moored in the Ohio River.)

The first TV set I remember was a black and white Zenith that took up most of the coffee table in our living room.  As a toddler, I showed no interest in sports (which continues to this day) except for bowling, and I was particular excited by a forgettable game show called Reach for the Stars, which ran for about 12 weeks before NBC gave it the axe.

My parents did not really let the TV become a babysitter, but it was a way to keep me from being underfoot during my preschool years.  A milestone in my life was my fourth birthday, the first time my name was ever spoken on the air.  Luci Gasaway, the host of WBNS’ children’s show Luci’s Toyshop, said “Happy birthday!” to me.

The night Apollo 11 landed on the moon was the first time I was allowed to stay up late.  I didn’t really see that much.  On our set, we saw shadows moving about on the screen, with the caption FIRST LIVE PICTURES FROM MOON at the top of the screen.  This was way before the era of the VCR, so my parents aimed the camera at the TV screen and took pictures as they were broadcast.

When cable television became the fad nationwide, Marietta was far ahead of the curve.  The Mid-Ohio Valley was not conducive to receiving television signals by air.  We could pick up two Columbus stations, the Parkersburg station 12 miles away, and WTRF from Wheeling, and that was about it.  Cable was a necessity for any variety, so around 1968, the Ohio Valley Cable Corporation came and most people in the city limits were “on the cable.”  Devola and the little townships around Marietta were a little slower to come around.  (Maybe Marietta should have had a cable project analogous to Franklin Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration.)

Even though it was almost impossible for me to sit still as a child (the same is still true as a middle-aged man), I could sit, captivated, by the cable company’s weather channel.  It did not feature forecasts, or blurry satellite maps.  Instead, it was a row of dials about the size of the gauges on a car dashboard.  A tabletop camera moved from one end of the row to the other.  (To this day, I can still remember the order of the gauges.  From left to right: Time, relative humidity, barometer, wind direction, wind velocity, and rainfall.  The latter measured the cumulative prescription for the month.  During one month in 1974, there had been so much rain that the needle had gone all the way around the gauge.  I wrote in my diary that night, “The rain gauge on the weather channel went past the 0!”)

I did not get my own TV set until I was 17.  When my dad and stepmother married, my bedroom was an afterthought.  I slept on a couch in the basement, and the color TV there was the family’s.  After bedtime, I often stayed up–even on school nights–watching Nite Owl Theater, and on weekends continuing my habit of watching WSAZ’s All Night Theatre.

The first TV that was truly my own fell into my lap (not literally!) by accident.  A friend of mine had been unsuccessful in selling a black and white Admiral at her family’s yard sale.  She and I were watching 20/20 at her house, and she offered the TV to me.  Proudly, I lugged it home, and–since it would mean more hours of self-imposed exile from him, his wife, and her kids–my dad happily installed a cable tap in my room.

Television fell by the wayside for me during the 14 months I lived in Boston.  My housemates on Commonwealth Ave. did not have one, and my dad sent money so I could buy an inexpensive portable at RadioShack.  I watched it the least of the three of us, since I was usually at The Crimson from 6 p.m. until about 7 a.m. most days of the week.  The set was stolen six or seven weeks after I brought it to the apartment.

Ironically, two popular programs–St. Elsewhere and Cheers–were set in Boston and, had I watched, I would have seen many familiar sights and local allusions.  When I was in high school, the then-controversial drama James at 15 (later James at 16) took place in Boston.  When I moved to a small room at the YMCA in Cambridge, a shorter walk to The Crimson, I bought a black and white portable from a co-worker, and set it up on my desk in my room, visible from the bed.

I watched very little TV at Ohio University.  Like Marietta, cable was a necessity in Athens.  Most of the dorms were not wired for cable, and the cost of the service was beyond the reach of many students who did not get big checks from Mom and Dad.

I did not own a color TV until Steph and I were married.  During my five years in Cincinnati, my TV was a huge black and white Zenith that I had salvaged from a dump.  (All that was wrong with it was a missing channel selector.  I used a pair of pliers to change channels, but other than that I had no complaints.)  In 1995, when I was working for the Internal Revenue Service here in Columbus and the Federal Government shutdown took place.  As I was leaving the Federal Building, a reporter from WBNS, Mike Russell, interviewed me about the impending shutdown.  (“IRS employee Paul Evans left the Federal Building in downtown Columbus tonight not sure if he would have a job tomorrow.”)  My memorable line was, “None of us got into government service with dollar signs in our eyes.”

Russell asked if he could come to my place and videotape me watching the news about the shutdown.  I consented, and on the 11 o’clock news that night, Central Ohio learned I had a black and white TV.  With my brow knitted in concern, I watched Dan Rather speak of the fact that the Federal Government would have no authority to spend money after 12 midnight.

I have acquired more TVs than I have ever bought.  My current giant TV in the living room was left behind by the previous tenant on E. Maynard Ave., and I brought it with me here to Blake.  I have one in my bedroom (smaller, enough to fit on top of my dresser), but about the only time I turn it on is when I wake up in the morning and reach for the remote to check the temperature on The Weather Channel.

Whenever I’ve surfed through the “reality shows,” especially Survivor and Big Brother during the summer, I wonder if Elvis had been right when he changed channels with his .45.

Caveat Lector

I just reread the entry I posted late this afternoon, and then scrolled back to the one that preceded it. I realized then that I pretty much covered the same ground in both.

I will not delete either entry. Instead, I can chalk if up to not reviewing what I have already written, and a desire to share what occupies my mind. The same issues remain, whether I’ve blogged about them or not.

Excuse the brevity of this entry. I am typing this on my smartphone, which is quite a laborious process.

A good night to all.  I remain, obediently yours.,

Time to Slow Down a Little

I don’t mean slowing down when it comes to writing the blog–Lord knows I have done too much of that in the last year or so.  I mean that my days are finally not as hectic as they have been for much of the last month, which means I have time for more walking, writing, blogging, and doing nothing.

Mainly, this is because the fall semester rush at the Columbus State bookstore has ended until after the first of the year.  I worked from the third week of August until the Thursday after Labor Day, and the work varied from dull days with very few customers, to the inevitable scenario that plays out on the first day of class: A student has a 6 p.m. night class, and shows up at the bookstore at 5:55 to see what books they need.  And are pissed off when we’re out of them.

Susie collected her first real paycheck on the 30th of August.  She signed up for direct deposit, but the first paycheck is always paper, so we went to the Cashier’s Office and picked it up.  I asked if she was sure she wanted to cash it, instead of framing or mounting it.  Yes, she wanted to cash it.  I did take a picture of it to send to Steph before we went to the credit union.

I love the bookstore job, but I’m also thankful I don’t have it all year.  I realize that I’m a bit too misanthropic for a regular customer service job (one of the reasons I decided, after many years of considering it, that I would not be a good pastor).  I realized this when I jumped at the chance to stay at the bookstore two hours after closing time, so I could shelve the buybacks in peace.  There wasn’t total silence–the night supervisor took advantage of the lack of customers by cranking up Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on his computer.

Susie learned the joys of six- and seven-hour workdays, working in the retail part of the bookstore.  She and I both have the default job title “cashier,” but neither one of us got close to a cash register.  While I stocked books, Susie folded shirts, put merchandise on shelves, priced items, and helped customers.  The first day, she came home looking utterly exhausted.  I pretty much said, “Welcome to the world of work,” and thought that Upton Sinclair was writing a book about the Discovery Exchange that very minute.

Susie had to work until 10 p.m. several nights, and when she was impatient waiting for the bus, she ended up taking a taxi home.  I think it was then that she understood one of Archie Bunker’s common complaints: “Jeez!  Earnin’ a living is costing me money!”  My job at the bookstore ended on the 10th, and hers on the 11th, so she’s back to pounding the pavement Internet in search of sustained remunerative employment once again.

This has also been a recent time of going back to earlier habits and circumstances.  Currently, I am typing this at Ohio State’s William Oxley Thompson Library, partially because this is one of my sanctuaries here in Columbus, and also because my laptop is currently under the knife.  The fan either needs to be repaired or replaced.  I dropped it off Friday afternoon, and am still awaiting word on the cost.  So, when I had the sudden urge to blog today, I came here.

The absence of the laptop has had a positive effect.  I took my Royal Skylark portable manual typewriter out of mothballs, set it on the desk, and have written 11 pages (a Prologue and part of Chapter I) of the novel I began for NaNoWriMo in 2013 and have not touched since November 30 of that year.  Susie is not used to the sound of a typewriter in the house, it’s been so long since I’ve used one.  I grew up hearing it, and was typing almost before I knew how to write with a pencil.  I’m hoping that I can keep the momentum going, even after the laptop comes back.

One of my favorite episodes of Lou Grant, “Blackout,” features a reporter who refuses to start using the then-new VDTs installed in the newsroom.  He is shown industriously writing on a portable typewriter, and Lou berates him for using “that relic,” and asks him when he is going to start using a VDT (visual display terminal, considered futuristic in the late 1970s).  Later on, I came to be quite offended by the reporter’s reply, “I’m a writer, not a typesetter.”  Of course, later in the episode, when power goes out in much of Los Angeles, he is the only one who is still able to work.

Despite the very discursive way this blog has read since day one, spontaneous prose has never been something I’ve done.  One of the things I’ve “reverted” back to is setting up camp in a fast food restaurant for hours on end, subsisting on free refills of soda and tea.  This was my practice in the mid-1990s, when I lived on W. McMillan St. in Cincinnati, and I spent many of my waking hours at the Subway across the street from my apartment building, with my diary or several books on the bright yellow table in front of me.

Susie and I are doing the same thing at the McDonald’s on N. High St., by the OSU campus.  She’ll be there with her laptop and her ear buds, and at some point in the evening I’ll join her, again with my knapsack, books, and diary.

The major difference between my Subway experience and my current one with the Golden Arches is that they don’t allow us to run tabs.  (“He’s our Norm Peterson,” the people behind the counter said of me.)

This document is as historic as a Gutenberg Bible or a First Folio Shakespeare. It's a page from a 1994 notebook of mine, showing that I had paid my Cincinnati Subway tab in full.

This document is as historic as a Gutenberg Bible or a First Folio Shakespeare. It’s a page from a 1994 notebook of mine, showing that I had paid my Cincinnati Subway tab in full.

Since bringing the typewriter out of retirement, I’ve been thinking–for the first time in over 30 years–of a guy who habituated Harvard Square in 1982 and 1983, when I was typesetting The Harvard Crimson.  He would come by with a bridge table, an IBM Selectric typewriter, and a big stack of white typing paper.  He would plug the electric typewriter into a public outlet, roll in a sheet of paper, and begin typing whatever came to his mind.  Once he finished a double-spaced page, he would hang it with Scotch tape to the front of the table, so that people walking by could see whatever he had on his mind.  Sometimes he would let other people take turns at the keyboard.  (I seem to recall doing it only once, writing about my Crimson supervisor’s constant threats to quit unless we ditched the computerized typesetting and cold type and returned to flatbed presses and Linotype machines.)

I have contemplated doing this at McDonald’s.  I would be far from the most bizarre character that comes in there, especially in the night hours.  When Susie and I are there after midnight, which often happens on Friday and Saturday nights, the managers are grateful for at least two people who aren’t panhandling or sleeping.  Many LGBT (including several trans and genderfluid) teenagers congregate there.  They’ll usually take up a whole table playing Magic the Gathering, and this McDonald’s has been popular because of its proximity to Star House, a shelter in Weinland Park many of them call home.  (Susie and I seem to have taken a trans teenager under our wing.  They met when this person saw the bisexual pride sticker on Susie’s laptop lid and mistook it for a trans pride flag.)

Susie has threatened to pretend she doesn’t know me if I start bringing the typewriter in and cranking up to full speed, hanging the finished pages out for all to see, but I think she’ll get over it.  Harlan Ellison wrote one short story, “Hitler Painted Roses,” live on the air during the Pacifica Radio show Hour 25, and he wrote at least one other story in the display window of a bookstore.  I should probably promise her that I won’t imitate the late Stephen J. Cannell whenever I finish writing.

Just realized another reason why I love working on my typewriter.  Just now, I clicked the wrong tab by mistake and thought I had lost all my writing since I sat down and began typing this entry.

Much to my (and your)  relief, all is here, all is well.

Now, if I could only save my product to a Cloud, I would be very happy. (But wait: I don't have to worry about power failures or disk malfunctions with this, do I?)

Now, if I could only save my product to a Cloud, I would be very happy. (But wait: I don’t have to worry about power failures or disk malfunctions with this, do I?)

“I Wasted a Good Worry”

The title is a quotation from Franklin, friend of Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown in the Peanuts universe, who receives an A+ on a test after worrying incessantly about it beforehand.  In days past, I was in charge of hanging weekly quotations (known as the Wayside Pulpit) on the display board in front of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, and I tried to find quotations germane to current issues or news.  I wrote the above quotation at the top of the page in my diary for Sunday’s entry.

Susie was still asleep Sunday morning when I headed to Giant Eagle to buy some money orders.  I know that it is quicker to pay bills online, where you can do it without ever leaving home, but I have gotten in the habit of buying and mailing money orders, and I like doing it.  Also, the U.S. Postal Service needs as much mail volume and as much business as it can get, so I like to do my part.

After I go to Customer Care and buy the money orders (which are $.58 apiece–quite a good price), I go to a little table in the deli and fill them out, put them in envelopes, and then drop them in the mailbox by the store exit.  I had set aside a larger money order (over $300), because I had forgotten the payee’s name and address, so I decided to take it home, fill it out there, and then mail it later on.

When I came home and sat at my desk, I put the receipts for the money orders I had sent on one side, looked through my pockets, and could not find the most expensive one.

I ran went back to Giant Eagle (about a 15-minute walk from my place) as fast as I could.  I remember the bells of Holy Name Church, beckoning the faithful to Mass, striking as I left the house and headed back to the store.

I highly compliment the deli personnel at Giant Eagle, who donned rubber gloves and searched two wastebaskets to see if I had thrown the money order away by mistake.  There was nothing there.  At the customer care counter, the cashier remembered my purchasing all the money orders, and she and her manager were able to go through the transaction records and pull up the money order number.

The manager handed me a form I could use to apply for a refund.  The issuer was Western Union, so I went back to the same table, pen in hand, and filled out the form.  (Western Union’s main business these days is wire transfers and money orders.  They discontinued all telegrams and Mailgrams in 2006, since email had completely taken over the got-to-receive-it-now market.)  I enclosed the $15 fee, and mailed it to an address in Colorado, knowing that there would be nothing to do but wait, maybe for as long as a month.

Harpo Marx' telegram congratulating Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on winning the Democratic nomination for President in 1960.  When I hear "Western Union," I still think of telegrams first.

Harpo Marx’ telegram congratulating Senator John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on winning the Democratic nomination for President in 1960. When I hear “Western Union,” I still think of telegrams first.  (I have never seen the 1941 movie Western Union, however, nor the 1951 picture Overland Telegraph.)

By now, folks, you probably can guess where this is going.  I came home, resigned to the fact that payment to this particular person would have to wait until the refund arrived–assuming someone hadn’t found this blank money order, filled it out, and cashed it.

Sitting down at my desk, I pulled out my pocket notebook so I could flip through its pages and find a friend’s email address.  And…

Inside the front cover was the missing money order!  I alternated between relief and cursing myself for not taking the extra 15-20 seconds to go through the notebook and make sure the money order had not been hiding in there.

I will always be out the $15 processing fee, but I no longer have to worry about the fate of this money order.

Despite feeling completely silly about the whole thing, I feel relieved enough that I can share it here, and even more relieved that the whole experience had a happy ending.

Wide Awake Since 3 a.m., Maybe I Should Blog

Dawn will soon be breaking here in Columbus, and I have been awake since 3 a.m.–“the dark night of the soul,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald says in The Crack-Up.  I’ve sat in a booth at the McDonald’s on High St. and written a three-page diary entry, and did a C. Auguste Dupin-like wandering around the narrow streets east of N. High St.  So, now that I still have some energy, I will devote it to the blog.

Susie and I have become the first bi-generational employees at the Discovery Exchange (a.k.a. the DX, the Columbus State bookstore).  She has been on the job there in retail since before I began my latest rush gig.  (Classes for the fall semester began on August 31, and I started working the Tuesday before.)  When I come in at 5:30 p.m., Susie has already been there for 2½ hours, and usually stays for over two hours after the bookstore closes at 7:30.  She and I both have the default job title “cashier,” although neither of us has touched a cash register.

Jimmy Carter at his word processor writing his memoirs, Keeping Faith. His recent cancer diagnoses shamed me into getting back to the blog.

Jimmy Carter at his word processor (1981 or 1982) writing his memoir, Keeping Faith. His recent cancer diagnoses shamed me into getting back to the blog.

Faithful readers of the blog know that my job at the bookstore is seasonal, only at the beginning of each semester.  It had been my hope that Susie would be able to get a permanent job there, whether full- or part-time, once the rush ended.  I thought there was a good likelihood for this, since her supervisors have praised her hard work, but that is not going to come to pass.  Permanent part-time jobs at the bookstore go to work-study students, with the Federal government picking up the tabs for their wages.  So, as of the 11th, Susie will once again be out of work.

She and I have become fixtures at the McDonald’s near the Ohio State campus.  In a way, this hearkens back to my time in Cincinnati in the mid-1990s, when I spent many hours camped out in the Subway across the street from my apartment building on W. McMillan St.  There are substantial differences, though.  Neither of us have established the rapport and camaraderie I did with the Subway employees in Cincinnati, and McDonald’s does not let us run tabs.

Yet, Susie is a familiar site at the Golden Arches, with her laptop in front of her, surrounding by a scatter of books and notebooks.  When I’m with her, I have a book or my diary in front of me.  We take full advantage of the free refills, of course.  (I have been drinking sweet tea, since I am making yet another attempt to abstain from carbonated beverages.)  We also seem to be the most normal of the people who camp there–in some cases literally–for hours on end.

In addition to the panhandlers who prowl High St., there is a sizable contingent of teenagers from dark until well after midnight, seven days of each week.  A lot of them seem to be genderfluid.  (Full disclosure: I am still trying to understand that whole concept.  Susie has several friends who prefer the pronoun “they,” and I am still trying to unlearn how I learned gender differences as a toddler: “You’re a boy, you have a penis.  Jenny is a girl, she doesn’t.”)  Susie and I seem to have adopted a genderfluid person, aged 17, named Tyler, who is very conversant on 1970s and 1980s music, vintage computer games, and horror literature.  (They were very interested in the copy of Black Seas of Infinity: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft I had on the table.)  Tyler met Susie when she was at a table typing on her laptop, and Tyler thought the bisexual pride flag sticker on her laptop lid was a transgender pride flag.

Like many places that are open 24 hours a day, McDonald’s has many surveillance cameras.  They did not help much when someone stole Susie’s wallet.  There was footage of the actual theft, while Susie was in the women’s room, but neither the manager nor the police officer who looked at the video could identify the perpetrator.  (As is the case with a lost wallet, replacing all the ID cards is the biggest nuisance.  Susie only had about $10 in cash, but she had to go to the credit union to get a new debit card, and to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for a new state-issued ID.  I was more upset about the loss of the Subway rewards card I had lent her, which had over 600 points on it.)

It sounds like I am laying the groundwork for a tinfoil hat-type rant about the lack of privacy and how Big Brother is everywhere (and here I would insert a mention of the two-way telescreens in Orwell’s 1984), but I am not as obsessed with that as many people, on both the Left and the Right, seem to be.

To me, fear of surveillance is the moral panic of the decade, much like the loony reports of rampant child abuse in daycare centers during the 1980s (I highly recommend Richard Beck’s book We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s for an examination of this), the rumors of a vast Satanic underground network in the 1970s, and the fear of alien abductions and black helicopters in the 1990s.

I have actually taken offense at the fact that I am probably not under government scrutiny.  One Facebook poster pointed out that if the NSA is not investigating and spying on you, you’re not doing enough.  Every decade or so, I send a Freedom of Information Act request for anything they may have on me, and end up highly offended when the Attorney General’s office sends back a letter saying there is nothing.

And that is surprising.  When I applied for employment with the U.S. Postal Service, and later the IRS, I was afraid that a letter I wrote when I was 18 would surface.  I had written to Selective Service after I registered for the draft–and I let them know it was under protest, and in the letter I said that if I was drafted, I would give classified information to the Soviet Union and to Iran (This was in 1981, right after the Iranian hostage crisis ended, and when Ronald Reagan–he of the double-digit IQ–was talking of the “evil empire”).

And my ongoing games with Selective Service didn’t rate a file, either.  They instructed that I was to inform them of any change of address, so I began filing change of address cards whenever I left the house–to the store, to Burger King, to church–complete with the addresses of my various destinations, and then filing another card when I came home.  When I moved to Boston in 1982, I sent in a change of address listing an address that would have been midway in the Charles River, between Cambridge and Allston.

It ended when they sent me a letter care of my home address in Marietta.  To this day, I do not know its contents.  I wrote ADDRESSEE DECEASED–RETURN TO SENDER on the envelope, dropped it in the mailbox, and never heard from them again.  Their bureaucracy was too lazy or inefficient to request a death certificate or obituary to prove this.

I am not denying that surveillance exists.  It is, however, hypocritical that the same Republicans who were all for it after 9/11, when it was called the Patriot Act, and who vigorously supported the wiretaps and mail interceptions Richard Nixon authorized in 1971 against people who committed the heinous crime of opposing the Vietnam War, are now the shrillest voices against the NSA.  I have no right to be outraged if I get in trouble for something I have posted on Twitter or here in this blog.  It is accessible to anyone with a router, and that is its purpose and intent.  If, however, I get government attention as a result of a diary entry, or a snail-mail letter to a friend, then I have the problem.