Happy Place/Sad Place

Bil Keane drew a Family Circus cartoon a long time ago which showed the mother and the children driving past a hospital.  One of the kids asked, “Mommy, is the hospital a happy place or a sad place?”  “Both,” she said.  On the one hand, she was remembering the birth of all four of her children, and on the other was the memory of her and Daddy at the bedside of a dying relative.

I am blogging from MCO, Orlando International Airport, waiting for my flight home to Columbus via Atlanta.  I am seeing friends and family reuniting, and some tears as people see off their beloved friends and family on outgoing flights.  I am feeling sad right now because my time with Susie (and Steph and Mike–and I say that without qualifying it at all) has ended.  They are back in Merritt Island, and I am in the limbo between visiting here and resuming my workaday life in Columbus.

The four of us sat around the house like deflated balloons following the return from Jungle Adventures.  Susie and I stayed on our laptops, while Steph and Mike made an early night of it.  Susie walked Rex the Jack Russell terrier, and I tagged along so I could go to Cumberland Farms on the corner and buy caffeine and sugar which did not affect me.

This morning and afternoon was almost traditional.  We went to the 11 a.m. worship service at First Unitarian in Orlando, after which we celebrated Sunday dinner by eating like Romans at the Mellow Mushroom in Winter Park.    (I am no restaurant critic, and I do like this restaurant, although I warn the reader that their appetizers are big enough to be meals in their own right.)

We spent much of the afternoon in Winter Park, at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the campus of Rollins College (alma mater of Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame).  I enjoyed the artwork on display, and was especially happy to see an original tintype of an 1861 Lincoln portrait by Mathew Brady.

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An 1861 portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Mathew Brady, exhibited at the Cornell Art Museum at Rollins College.

As much as I would like to linger here to spend more time with Susie, and to be free of the responsibilities of awakening in the morning at sunrise and making my way to my pod downtown, at the moment I am also impatient to be aboard the plane and headed toward Atlanta, and from there to Columbus.

Very seldom do I say that a period of time–even a 24-hour one–is perfect or idyllic, but I would say that about this trip (omitting the long layover in the Atlanta Greyhound station, which is an honorary circle of hell).  During the bus trip, I made quite a bit of progress reading Reclaiming History, which is the late Vincent Bugliosi’s magnum opus about the JFK assassination.  I read it on my Nook.  (As much as I extol the virtues of paper and ink books, the Nook came in handy when I want to carry a book as thick as Reclaiming History, along with A. Conan Doyle’s complete Sherlock Holmes canon (all four novels and 56 short stories.))

Boarding will begin soon.  The monitor above my gate entrance says that Atlanta temperature is 70 degrees and cloudy.  Per The Weather Channel, it is raining and 39 in Columbus.

And so to Columbus.

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This Christmas I Spend With You…

The above is the title of a lesser known Christmas song.  I remember Robert Goulet singing it on a Goodyear album, The Great Songs of Christmas, an album my parents picked up at a gas station during the holiday season.  It’s on my mind tonight, while I’m sitting here in Brevard County, Florida, once again across the table from Susie and her laptop, making a pitiful attempt to bring this blog up to date.

I began making plans for this trip the week that Susie returned to Florida in October, and my promptness bore fruit.  I was able to travel on Megabus from Columbus to Atlanta for $1, and from Atlanta to Titusville for about $17.  So, early on the morning of the 21st, I set out on this trip from downtown Columbus, endured 5½ hellish hours in the Atlanta bus station, and spent a long night on an almost non-stop journey (with a meal stop in Fortin, Georgia at around 3 a.m.) to Orlando.

I enjoyed the mundane things Susie and I did together–eating at Steak ‘n Shake, drinking tea at Barnes and Noble, walking the dog around the neighborhood.  I treated myself to the five-mile walk to Cocoa Village to buy records at Caroline’s House of Records.  I enjoyed every part of the walk, except that the bridge over the Indian River scares me to death.  The pedestrian walkway is quite narrow, and Floridians have an ongoing love affair with their accelerators.

Besides gift-giving, we observed the holiday at the 7:30 p.m. Christmas Eve service at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando.  The choir, readings, messages, and the overall service were moving and wonderful.  I could not believe I was standing out in a church courtyard on Christmas Eve in short sleeves holding a candle, although I hear the temperature in Columbus at that time was in the 40s–not balmy, but way above normal.

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The chancel of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando before the 7:30 p.m. Christmas Eve service.

Susie was encouraged by the many same-gender couples she saw at the service, and thinks that this church may be where she will be attending and participating.

My gift from everyone was an elaborate one.  Susie, Steph, and Mike played it very close to the vest until today.  It was a trip to Jungle Adventures, a Real Florida Animal Park in Christmas (Christmas, Fla., zip code 32709).  I had gotten little hints, such as a stuffed alligator toy, and an alligator Christmas ornament.  I spent the afternoon watching a man feed alligators, watching a baby alligator urinate on Susie when she handled it for a photo opp, and holding a ball python.

One of my co-workers kept her radio on Sirius XM’s Christmas music channel, and I was thoroughly weary of all the many renditions of different songs and carols.  One that always gave me pause was from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a very chipper song overall, until the line “Through the years/We all will be together/If the Fates allow.”  I didn’t think much of it as I was growing up, but that line stuck in my head.

So far, the Fates have allowed.  December was also the time for my annual CT scan, the annual check on what my thoracic aortic aneurysm is doing or not doing.  It has contracted, going from 4.2 to 3.9 cm, so I don’t need to pay another visit to the Ross Heart Hospital until next December (I’ve already made the appointment!).  The cardiologist says that if it continues to go down at that rate, my CT scans may switch to every other year instead of annually.  My goal is to not think about the aneurysm until Ross texts me with reminders that the appointment is close.  (Even as I write that, I think of the teacher who told his grade-school pupils to sit in total silence for five minutes and not think of white elephants.  They were thinking of nothing but during that whole period.)

All the walking, and being conscientious about logging calories (though not this Christmas week, I assure you!) has definitely made a difference.  I celebrated an unseasonably warm Saturday, the first Saturday of December, with another Nelsonville-to-Athens walk, and cut six minutes off my time, and was barely sore, and definitely not winded.  I noticed marked improvement in my lung capacity (which I never thought was an issue, since I have never been a smoker).

One casualty to report on this journey: My beloved black Eastpak knapsack, which has traveled with me on previous Florida jaunts, to Bay to Breakers last spring, and innumerable miles on my back through Columbus.  I ripped the zipper irreparably while trying to un-stick material.  So, I had to swing by Walmart and buy a new one.  It cost more than what I would have wanted to pay, and Walmart is a business I feel guilty patronizing, but I think my new pack is quite durable and will be with me many miles in the years to come.

It’s only 10:39 p.m., but it feels like it’s 1 or 2 a.m.  I’m flying back to Columbus tomorrow night, and Monday I will be back at work, dreading the backlog I will have to tackle.  (As I type that, I am hoping that the period between Christmas and New Year’s means less of an avalanche of undone work.  “By what we have done, and what we have left undone” is a phrase from Rite I of “A Penitential Order” in the Book of Common Prayer, but it hovers close in the mind of any conscientious bureaucrat.)

On the surface, an evening here has not been significantly different than one in Columbus.  I’m on my laptop and cell phone–probably far too much–and I make frequent forays out to buy munchies that are not good for me.  Here, I walk to the nearby Cumberland Farms store, where the cashiers seem to remember me from one visit to the next.

I titled this entry with the Robert Goulet Christmas song.  The final lyrics are a good way to close the entry, sandwiching my own immortal prose.

To mark this holiday
For my own
Note this Christmas I’m not alone