Mythology Comes Alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Death is the Only Excuse!"

I first heard this line over the P.A. system in high school, when a teacher was announcing an after-school club’s meeting where attendance was mandatory.  I did not care for it much at the time, but I’m finding it applicable to my current situation–my delinquency in posting to this blog.

My longtime friend Scott Robinson died unexpectedly last month, aged 49.  He had been a friend since shortly after my 1995 move to Columbus.  We knew each other mainly through Unitarian Universalism, and various political and social activities and organizations.  (I mention him several times in this blog, particularly our long walks.)  He died early on a Sunday morning, and I went to a packed memorial service for him at church the following Thursday.  (Scott took the picture of me that is at the title page of this blog.)

His death triggered a heavy, but barely functional depression.  I was able to keep going to work, although I’m sure my production was sub-par; I am not looking forward to my next quarterly evaluation.  After coming home from work daily, about all I wanted to do was sleep, so while Susie and I spent evenings in the living room, either watching DVDs of House or while she was online with her friends, I often slept for much of the evening stretched out (as best I could) on the love seat.

The downward spiral stopped because of something you would not associate with curing (or at least arresting) depression.  Even though it was the first day of the vernal equinox here in Columbus, the mercury was below freezing, and the heavy winds made it feel even colder.  Our furnace picked that night to conk out on us.  I had it up to 85 degrees at one point, and the furnace made all the knocking and whooshing sounds, but there was no heat coming up from the registers.  So, Susie and I sat around in sweatshirts and coats, and she kept a space heater close to her.  With my fingers turning blue and bent from the cold (okay, this is a little hyperbolic), I texted the property manager, and we made plans about his going in to look at the furnace.  All the while, I was hoping that the problem was relatively simple.  I was simultaneously expecting and hoping that the property manager would give me hell for calling him in to relight the pilot light.

As it turned out, this furnace uses no pilot light.  The manager said the furnace had a bad igniter, but he repaired it and we once again had heat.

I think the reason my depression lifted was because, once the furnace stopped working, I knew that it was from no ineptitude of my own.  Too many times in the past, if I came home to a house where the electricity didn’t work or there was no heat, it would be because I had neglected to pay a bill, and the service was discontinued.  This time, I knew I was solvent with rent, that my payments to Columbia Gas were current, and so the lack of heat’s cause was mechanical, not financial.

Susie is not looking forward to the end of spring break Monday.  She is back from a week in Florida with Steph, where they went clothes-shopping, and visited the zoo and bookstores.  Sometime in May, her drama class at The Charles School is performing Twelfth Night, so three afternoons a week she is at rehearsal.

During her week in Florida, I “indulged” in a “wild bachelor weekend.”  The definition of “wild weekend” varies as you get older, or when you discard various pharmacological forms of entertainment.  When Susie was a toddler, she and Steph went for a week to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.  I had used up all my paid leave because of Steph’s first heart surgery and recovery, so I stayed behind in Columbus.  My “wild weekend” involved ordering in from Donato’s and watching all three Godfather movies in a row.

So, what did I do this time, besides neglect the blog?  I laid out my fledgling collection of 78 RPM records on the living room floor and love seat, and did something a little OCD.  I made sure that Vocalion records were in Vocalion sleeves, that RCA Victor records were in RCA Victor sleeves, etc.  I had my laptop switched on, and the had the Online 78 RPM Discographical Project on the screen, but I didn’t check my collection against this vast and exhaustive database.  In the case of my Columbia LPs, there were more records than sleeves, so–against the advice of the owner and proprietor of Vintage Fountain Pens here in town (also a vinyl salesman)–I put them in the binder albums that a record store owner gave me.

Just your typical Saturday night in my house when Susie is out of town–sorting out 78 RPM albums and putting them in the proper sleeves.

 Not the most fascinating way to spend the weekend, but the solitude made it easier.  Laying the records on the floor when there were two of us in the house risked someone stepping on them (I confess I lost two records this way.  It may be sour grapes, but judging from the titles, they probably sounded better being stepped on than played), so this was a project best done alone.

Once the weather is consistently in the 60s, trike rides are going to be the norm, and not the exception.  Even after a decent night’s sleep, I am very slow in getting out of bed in the morning (a lifelong habit), so I really need to pre-plan when I would ride the trike in to work.  I restarted taking lithium this winter, but have stopped because it’s causing me to gain too much weight, and regular trike rides should help bring down the excess poundage.

On the 29th of this month, I turn 50 years old.  I received an AARP card in the mail earlier this week, amist the other unasked-for mail, such as the MicroCenter catalog and an invitation to join AAA (as a non-driver, I have no need for it).

A Record Yard Sale Acquisition

The yard sale signs are ubiquitous all over Olde North, and will be as long as the weather is pleasant enough for people to sit outside and wait for customers.  In this neighborhood, yard sales and the Clintonville Farmers’ Market are Saturday traditions, as much as football will be in the fall.  This past Saturday, I woke up around 10:45 and headed outside on the trike.

The logistics of the beginning and end of a trike ride are a bit frustrating.  Since the theft of the red Meridian, I have kept the new one in my dining room, so getting it outside means rolling it through the living room, out the front door, and down the porch steps.  Nuisance, yes.  But much less of a pain than shelling out another $300 to replace a stolen bike.

(As of this moment, I will be writing against a deadline.  After typing the above paragraph, I took a melatonin tablet and washed it down with a cup of Sierra Mist.  In about a half hour, I will definitely begin winding down.  A friend suggested it as a way to combat my insomnia, so when I went to Kroger last night to plunk down another $.88 for a jug of distilled water, I bought a bottle.  And now back to our story.)

I pedaled to a yard sale in a half double on Olentangy St.  All of the wares were inside, except for some unwieldy things (such as a stationary bike and a rowing machine), and they were bringing out more and more stuff all the time.  Apparently, the occupant on the other side of the half double had died, and the owner wanted to sell the contents of both halves, and then sell the property.

At first I thought I was going to come away empty-handed.  There were plenty of tools, and a tall stack of hymnals and Bibles.  I was briefly tempted by a Burroughs Portable adding machine, one of the old mechanical desktops with 72 keys and a crank.  If it had been a typewriter, I would have bought it right away, but I am not proficient with numbers at all (I use the calculator on my cell phone to figure tips!), so I would have been spending $10 for a doorstop.  Even if I knew it worked, I was not sure where to find ribbons for it.  (I have an Internet source for typewriter ribbons; I have never needed to ask him whether he stocks adding machine ribbons.)

I bought two breast-pocket notebooks for $.50.  I can never have enough notebooks, but they were pretty nondescript, and nothing I would boast about on Notebook Stories.  They were wrapped together with rubber bands along with two or three scratch pads from Whetstone Gardens and Care Center, and with a paperback anthology of poetry called Poems to Cherish.

A woman in her late 60s was sitting inside, and she pointed out a box of dishes on sale for $2.  Susie and I have yet to host a big dinner party, but be that as it may, having extra dishes in the cupboard is probably a good idea.  As the woman was meticulously wrapping each piece in newspaper, I asked if there were any records for sale.

She gave me this Well, why didn’t you say so? look, and asked one of the men running the yard sale to take me down to the basement.  We went through the kitchen and passed the dining room, which I guess they were using as a staging and sorting area.  He pointed underneath a shelf of paint cans to a box that looked like it was starting to ripple from moisture and age, almost like he was going to levitate it.

I glanced inside and saw the box was full of 78 RPM records, the ones made of shellac and Bakelite.  “Two bucks, and they’re yours,” he said.  I said yes immediately, although I wasn’t sure if I had a 78 speed on my Crosley phonograph.  (The orange and white monaural phonograph I had as an elementary school kid featured 16 RPM as a speed.  As far as I know, only talking books for the blind were recorded that slowly.)

The woman called downstairs and said, “Your dishes are ready!”  The man who showed me the records brightened up, and pointed to another box.  “Ten dollars, and it’s all yours–the dishes, the records, and another box of dishes.”

I told them I would have to come back.  I had bought breakfast earlier that day, but I had used my debit card, so I had no cash on me.  I asked them to hold all this, I would go to an ATM and get some money, and then buy it.  I did this, and, however awkwardly, we loaded these three boxes into the basket of my trike.

I barely had the trike above walking speed the whole way home.  I had to use a little more energy to pedal, with such a heavy and unwieldy load in the back.  Each crack in the sidewalk, or bump, or heavy landing from a curb, made me shudder and wait for the sound of something shattering.  (This was similar to my return journey from San Francisco by Greyhound in 1987.  In Ciudad Juarez, I bought a fifth of Dos Gusanos tequila for about $.85.  Once back on the bus, I wrapped it in two or three shirts in my backpack, and then sweat blood each time the bus hit a bump.)

Once home, I checked to make sure nothing was damaged.  Dishes and records were, unlike my nerves, all intact.  It was then I noticed that the dishes from the basement were wrapped in newspapers from about 1947.  (The Columbus Dispatch looked Linotyped until the early 1990s, but the papers were so yellow and brittle, I knew these were nothing recent.)  I still haven’t removed them from the box, because my focus has been on the records.

I am still in the process of sorting them out and researching them.  It’s a mixed batch of popular music (of the 1920s and 1930s), country music (which was then called “hillbilly” music), hymns, Christmas music, and music combined with spoken word comedy.  There are titles such as “Cottonwood Reel,” “The Engineer’s Hand Was on the Throttle,” and “I Get the Blues When It Rains.”  I have found one with the title “A Rovin’ Little Darkey”, backed with “The Year of Jubilo.”  I haven’t thoroughly looked over every title.  I began entering them onto my Library DB database, but the project is not finished yet.  I am even considering trying to keep the records in the right sleeves.  Put Conqueror records in Conqueror sleeves, Vocalion in Vocalion, etc.  I am doing this with an eye for eBay, and I’ve know I either have some diamonds in the rough, or I spent $2 on a box of skeet-shooting targets.

Almost as soon as I was back from the yard sale, I took this picture so I could boast of my wares on Facebook.

I think I am going to concede victory to the melatonin.  It is close to midnight.  My insomnia was so bad Monday night that I was unable to go into work Tuesday morning, but after I hung up from calling my supervisor, I could not get back to sleep.  And yesterday, I made it in to work, but my head throbbed, I felt like I was detached from my body and everything around me, and there seemed to be a seven-second delay between my brain and limbs.  (I did not feel like I had left my body and was drifting above everything–a friend of mine said he experienced this when he was having heart surgery, actually looking down at his own operation–but I did not feel “real”.)

This Saturday, I am going to continue this trend by buying more new “old” stuff at PulpFest.

A True Risk-Taker: Opening a Record Store in Downtown Columbus

Early yesterday afternoon, Susie and I ventured downtown for the grand opening of Spoonful Records at 116 E. Long St. (around the corner from the A.T.&T. building).  As part of molding Susie into a well rounded and erudite individual, I have insisted that she know what long-playing records were are, and that she know about such things as phonographs, turntables, etc.  I have taken her to record stores in Columbus and Cincinnati, and made a point of buying LPs whenever we’ve gone to the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention.

With the economy in free-fall, and downtown Columbus businesses dwindling almost daily, starting a business–any business–requires a leap of faith that I cannot even comprehend.  So, I was quite surprised to see that a new record store would be opening in downtown Columbus.

I first noticed it when I was walking up E. Long St., en route from work at lunchtime to the credit union to cash a check.  A long-abandoned former furniture store suddenly had butcher paper over the windows, and an OPENING SOON! sign hung in the windows, along with the name and telephone number of the business soon to open–Spoonful Records.

Yesterday was the big day.  I had spoken to the owner, Brett Ruland, on the phone earlier in the week, and it turned out we had some mutual friends and acquaintances through the used-LP grapevine.  He worked part-time at Lost Weekend, a record store a few blocks from my house, and had seen Susie and me in there.

Susie bought Everything’s Archie, the Archies album which premiered “Sugar, Sugar,” their most popular hit.  (She searched for but couldn’t find any Archie comics for sale.)  She was impressed by the spiral-bound sketchbooks and journals for sale, with covers made from LPs.

Susie fell in love, however, with the two pinball machines in the back.  (She was discouraged by her lackluster performance on Bally Wizard, but did quite well once she tried the other Bally machine, Four Million B.C.)  I had to remind her that 20 or 30 thousand for a pinball game was quite a respectable score when I was a teenager, and if she broke 100 thousand, the machine would either reset and she would lose all her points, or it would go totally nuts with all kinds of alarms and lights.  Once she learned how to work flippers and the fine art of gently jostling the machine (I have to explain the concept of “tilting” to her, but I’m happy she didn’t learn it the hard way) to guide the ball, she spent a lot of time at Four Million B.C., and beat the high score by a very decent margin.  “Damn!  I gotta start practicing!” the previous record-holder said when I told him.

Susie poses between games of Four Million B.C.
Several record stores opened and closed during the first 20 years of my life in Marietta.  I received my first phonograph–a portable orange and white plastic General Electric–for Christmas when I was about four, and bought a cheap stereo from Sears with newspaper-route money when I was 15.  At the time, the best places to buy records were at Hart’s Department Store or the Marietta College bookstore.  (There was a store called Scents ‘n’ Sounds in downtown Marietta, but my parents didn’t let me go there because–they said–it was also a head shop.)  In high school, Side One Records and Tapes opened, and I remember that was where I bought Q: Are We Not Men?  A: We are Devo, the only Devo album I ever owned.
One of my many country-mouse-becomes-city-mouse moments when I moved to Boston was turning to the Yellow Pages and seeing columns and columns of record store entries.  At that time, however, I relied exclusively on my tape recorder for music, since I had left my turntable in Ohio.  This limited my choices of things I could buy.  (I remember the first album I bought in Boston–on cassette–was Toto IV, because I had become quite fond of the song “Africa.”)  I was surprised to see the price for which 78 RPM records sold in Boston.  On one of my trips home, I brought back a stack of 78s that an old lady had given me when she paid me to clean out her attic.  (Her husband had died and she didn’t want to stay alone in a 10-room house.  She was moving to a condo, and she hired me to clean out her attic.  I had right of salvage for anything other than family personal effects–letters, albums, etc.)  They didn’t fetch much, but it was a little extra folding money for me.
I have long supported the merger of bookstores and record stores.  Spoonful had a few books for sale, and record stores in Cincinnati included rock memoirs along with some token Bukowski books and Beat authors, and shrink-wrapped editions of The Andy Warhol Diaries and Madonna’s Sex, but that was about it.  My ideal was Rooks and Becords, a store on Polk St. in San Francisco which I visited on my cross-country Greyhound trip in 1987.  I marveled at how well the two co-existed.  I bought books and I bought records, and gingerly transported them in my knapsack on the return trip to Ohio.  Half-Price Books has made the effort as well, but with the corporate look of the place comes a lack of intimacy.
Spoonful will be featuring listening stations, much like the record stores of New York (and other cities, I’m sure).  They’re not ready yet, but Brett holds out hope, as evidenced by this picture:
I’m sure Brett will have to post step-by-step instructions
once his equipment is ready to use.  Some of us
still remember how to do it; it’s like riding a bicycle.
I don’t remember ever being in a record store that had the small listening booths.  I remember a passing reference to them in William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice, and I saw allusions to them here and there in New Yorker anthologies, but I had never seen one.  The closest I’ve come is using the wall-mounted CD players at Used Kids Records on High Street, but standing there just isn’t the same.  (These players were in Used Kids’ newer location, opened after the fire in 2001 which destroyed their old location, along with some 70 thousand albums.  Lost forever was one of the best collections of spoken-word albums I had ever seen.  I had bought a record of Howard Hughes’ 1972 telephone press conference there.)
So, we have a new record store in downtown Columbus, and another one has opened in Clintonville, just south of W. North Broadway.  It’s called Dreadful Sounds, and it specializes in punk and metal.  I have yet to visit it, but I have passed it on the bus and on foot.  I learned about it from Columbus DIY’s Message Board, and plan to stop in soon to pay my respects.
Vinyl may be coming back into fashion.  My hope is that people won’t look at me quite so funny when I speak of my love for typewriters.