Susie Sees Her New Home–Inside and Out

Around dusk last night, Susie and I took the bus from our soon-to-be-ex neighborhood (Weinland Park) so I could give her a brief tour of the half-double in Old North Columbus (known more informally as Baja Clintonville).  I was racing the sunset, and only expected her to see the exterior.  I won’t have the keys in my possession until a week from tomorrow, and we don’t officially live there until October 1.

Our timing was excellent.  We got off the bus and were walking westward on East Maynard, and the first thing I noticed was that our half double was blazing with light.  I looked up and I saw Jerome, the leasing agent I’ve been emailing, speaking with, and meeting with since the word go, as he crossed the street from his truck, paintbrush in hand.  I was glad to see him, and asked if I could give Susie a brief tour of her new home.  He said sure, so we went in.

Normally, a house full of empty rooms doesn’t attract much interest, but Susie walked from room to room, quite enthralled.  The fact that it’s not in Weinland Park is 95% of the charm, to be sure, but she was already mentally planning where her bedroom furniture will go in the new place.  (She’s decided she doesn’t want to have the head of her bed under the windowsill, because she’s tired of hitting herself in the head upon awakening.)  She took over the master bedroom when Steph moved out, but I’m reclaiming it in this new place.  All of the rooms smell like fresh paint, and Jerome said the only major project remaining was to stain and varnish the floors.  (I like hardwood floors, especially since I don’t own a vacuum cleaner at present.  There was shag carpeting on the upper floors when I took the first tour of the place, but it’s gone now.  That was mainly because the previous tenants had a big dog they let run wild–which may be okay if you live out in the country, but not in a half double in the big city.  The shag carpeting smelled of dog urine, but when I came to hand over the check for the deposit, the carpet was gone and the second floor deodorized.)

Susie and I spent the next hour at Kafé Kerouac, using their computers.  I thought about writing a blog entry last night, but I was using a computer that dropped its Internet connection whenever somebody sneezed, and a machine that was very slow to respond to anything I typed.  I am a very fast typist, and using that computer last night reminded me of what I heard about Linotype operators back in the days of molten lead and hot type.  The mark of a good linotypist was that he would have to stop and wait for the machine to catch up to him.  For me it was just frustrating.

We walked south on Indianola most of the way home.  The evening was young, and students are starting to return to Ohio State for the fall quarter, so there were students wandering around with cases of beer.  It was barely 11 p.m., and already quite a few of them were under the influence.

We began to smell smoke around Indianola and E. 11th Ave.  At first, it was a sooty smell, like someone had been barbequing and had removed the food from the grill.  But the smell kept getting more intense the further south we walked,  and before long I suspected there was probably a fire somewhere nearby.  We were close enough to campus for me to think at first it was someone being careless with an impromptu bonfire or couch-burning, but as we walked further from campus, we began heading east toward our house.

It says a lot about Weinland Park and how unsafe we feel when I told Susie we should walk toward the fire.  I knew we would be safe there, because a fire would have police officers and firefighters everywhere, so nothing could happen to us.  We were walking past St. Sophia Orthodox Cathedral at Indianola and E. 9th Ave. when I looked east and saw a column of black smoke rising up against the night sky.  I knew the fire had to be pretty much under control, because I saw two fire engines leaving the scene at a rather leisurely pace.  As we walked, I saw a few embers of flames glowing here and there on the roof of a building, and I guessed right away where the building was.

There was a 1969 comedy movie called If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.  A similar phrase would be, “If it’s burning, this must be N. 5th St.”  (I’ve explained it before, but to avoid confusion: The numbered streets in Columbus are the exact opposite of Manhattan’s.  In Columbus, streets run north-south, avenues run east-west.)

And sure enough, a white frame duplex on N. 5th St. was on fire.  To my untrained eye, it looked like a total loss.  I’ve walked past it before, when headed toward OSU or anywhere else north of Weinland Park, and the doors were boarded up and the windows painted shut.  Whether this was arson or not, I have no idea.  Before I began typing this entry, I looked at The Columbus Dispatch‘s Website, and there was no story about it.  Fires on N. 5th St. no longer count as news.  My neighbor Rory’s blog hasn’t mentioned it yet, and he has had an ongoing series about Weinland Park fires.

Weinland Park’s official flag.    

Last night’s fire made me more thankful than ever that we will be leaving this dismal neighborhood.  During the year it has been home, I tried to reassure myself I was living there ahead of the curve.  (I have vague memories of when the Short North was a neighborhood no sane person would venture into after dark, and now it’s the trendiest neighborhood in Central Ohio.)  If anything, the neighborhood has deteriorated even further in the past year.  The drug peddling, the mugging, and the burglaries have become more brazen.

Susie wants out of Weinland Park as much as I do, and it is two weeks before we officially live in the ‘Ville again.  However, she did show a naivete about the neighborhood that almost made me laugh.  I went ahead and ordered two new laptops, and asked that they be shipped c/o a friend’s house–he works at home a lot, and his wife is usually home during the day.  I wondered about bringing them home to Weinland Park, and our neighbors seeing us bringing in new computers.  “We can do it while everyone is at work and school,” Susie suggested.

Work?  And school?  Weinland Park residents?

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Blogger… Testing, One, Two, Three…

I was relieved to read a Huffington Post story today which says that Blogger is once again up and running, after about 24 hours of downtime.  The timing was bad for me, because on and off last night, I tried to log in here and post something.  I alternated between frustration at not being able to post, and worry that what I’ve posted here previously had gone up in smoke.  I briefly flirted with the idea that this was no accident, some minimum-wage computer jockey hitting the wrong key.  A character in David Byrne’s True Stories said it best:

The Trilateral Commission and The Council on Foreign Relations.  Ever hear of them?  Well, neither did I until I noticed the Chain of Coincidence…  Do you run out of Kleenex, paper towels, and toilet paper at the same time?  You know it’s true!

I will be more convinced of conspiracy if Blogger crashes on May 31, the holy day of obligation for diarists, both Internet and pen-and-paper.  (On that day, in 1669, Samuel Pepys discontinued his famous journal, out of the mistaken fear he was going blind.)

I shudder at how the late Robert Shields would have reacted if he had used Blogger.  After all, he recorded every aspect of every moment of every day, spending hours per day at his IBM Wheelwriter.

This page from April 1994 represents one of the more fascinating days in the life of Robert Shields, former United Church of Christ minister, educator, poet, and compulsive diarist.

One of the things I wanted to write about was directly experiencing the less desirable side of this neighborhood.  Sunday afternoon, after church, I walked to the main library, a walk of about 2½ miles.  For some reason, the walk didn’t invigorate me or give me its usual second wind, so I took the bus home.  As I was walking up E. 7th Ave. toward the alley behind my house, I noticed about six or seven kids, both boys and girls, ranging in age from six to about 11, standing around talking, playing with a basketball, sitting on their bikes, etc.  Since the weather has warmed, this is not at all uncommon in this neighborhood, so I barely noticed it.

That changed when one of the littler boys, who I think was about seven, broke away from the pack and began following me up the alley.  I wasn’t sure what he wanted, but he kept drawing closer and closer to me as I walked.  (If we had been playing shadow tag, he would have tagged me several times over.)  Before I could ask what he was doing, he stepped up, balled his fist, and struck me on the thigh.  It didn’t hurt; and I would barely have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking at him.  Giggling, he turned around and ran like mad back to his friends.

My guess is that he was doing it on a dare.  He escaped too quickly, and I was in a bit of a hurry to get home because I needed to get to a bathroom, but I’ve played over possible reactions in my head endlessly since late Sunday afternoon.  I even posted a question about it on Yahoo! Answers.  The responses varied from “kick the kid up the shitter–he’ll respect you after that” to chasing after him.  Two possibilities tied for first with me.  I envisioned sitting him down and saying, “Now why did you do that?  Do you know me?  Have I ever hurt you or done anything bad to you?”  The other possibility was picking him up by the arms and legs and wordlessly dropping him in the nearest trash barrel and then going on my way.

Tuesday night, there was a fire–probably set–a block and a half away from our house.  I was finishing up dinner a little before 9:30.  (Steph and Susie ate earlier; I was at the Discovery Exchange until it closed at 8, and then came back to Weinland Park by bus.  Susie had choir rehearsal, but a fellow chorister’s dad drove her to and from practice.)   I was in the kitchen putting my dirty dishes in the sink when I began hearing one siren after another, in very rapid succession.  I looked out the window and saw that fire trucks were going by.  Not only were they going by, they were parking, all their lights flashing and revolving.  I stepped out onto the back porch and saw a thick black column of smoke coming from very nearby.

I put on my shoes and went out to see what was happening.  At first, there were thin clouds of smoke drifting through the alley, but the wind was blowing them away.  I wasn’t coughing or choking, but it was causing my eyes to water.

All I had to do was follow the sounds and the crowds, and the fire was in a vacant frame duplex at the corner of N. 5th St. and E. 7th Ave.  (Numbered streets in Columbus are the exact opposite of streets in Manhattan.  In Columbus, the streets are north-south and the avenues are east-west.)  Yet another fire on N. 5th St.  When I was first scouting out the neighborhood for rentals, I noticed there were several burned-out houses and properties in a two- or three-block length, all of them on 5th.  I went through the Ohio Web Library’s online newspaper index, and saw that the Columbus Fire Department suspected arson in almost every case.  This blog features pictures of several recent fires in the area, some of which I completely missed.

There are arsonists, and there are arsonists.  In the case of these properties, my prime suspects are always owners burning down their properties for the insurance once they started hemorrhaging money–which has not been unusual since the sub-prime mortgage crisis began in 2007.  (I wonder how one goes about hiring a professional arsonist.  My guess is that they don’t advertise on Craigslist.)  This type of arsonist is despicable, but I see him as more of an annoyance, until the houses around mine start going up in flames.

The type of arsonist that truly scares me is the bona fide pyromaniac.  This is the kind of person who gets a true psychological and/or sexual rush from setting or seeing fires.  If it’s flammable (inflammable–the two words mean the same thing), they’ll try to burn it.  Once the fire is going, they’ll sit back and watch it, like a teenager sneaking looks at online porn or hentai.  This is the type of arsonist who thinks with his glands.  He (statistically, they are almost all male) will set a fire, consequences be damned.  (The only literary portrayal of such a person that immediately comes to mind is the Trashcan Man in Stephen King’s The Stand.)

It is past 1 a.m. right now, and my next-door neighbors are going full blast.  To try and block out all the noise they’re making with the shouting back and forth (usually to people who are sitting/standing within millimeters of one another), I’ve put on my music.  Currently I’m playing “And He Shall Purify the Sons of Levi,” from Handel’s Messiah.  It reminds me of another hot night, during the summer of 1986.  My good friend, the late Adam Bradley, and I had been to a few bars and decided to enlighten and illuminate some of the people on the street.

We took our “mission” to some of the seedier parts of nocturnal Columbus.  As we drove past places like the New James Café (on S. High St., an all-night restaurant whose cheap but filling victuals I truly miss) or the now-departed (and unmissed) Earl’s Bar, we put his car tape deck up to maximum and would blast sacred music, all of it joyous.  We made one pass trailing Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and came back around with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” Vivaldi’s Gloria, and the old standby, “Hallelujah” from The Messiah–I wasn’t sure if they could Handel appreciate it.

The music on my laptop switched from “And He Shall Purify” to Parliament’s “Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker),” but I skipped to something else, feeling that hearing that will only make my neighbors rowdier.  The next song that popped up was The Iguanas’ “Boom Boom Boom,” which I once cynically described as Weinland Park’s national anthem. 

Franklinton Tragedy

Arson kills baby, 2 others

It strikes me as ironic that Scott and I would be making a journey to Franklinton last week.  Since moving from there in February 2009, I have made very few forays into that area.  It wasn’t avoidance or aversion, just no real need to visit.  And yet, while eating two apple pies and drinking some Diet Coke at the McDonald’s near the OSU campus, I divided my attention between my diary and this morning’s Columbus Dispatch.  The lead headline was the above story.

I wish I could say I was surprised the fire was in Franklinton.  Franklinton (also known as “The Bottoms” by its residents) doesn’t have a monopoly on arson, but when someone deliberately sets a fire there, the motive is usually more personal than a greedy landlord torching his own property because he has his eyes on a big insurance payout.

My thoughts immediately went back to the Wisconsin Ave. fire that took the lives of 19-year-old Mindy Hanners (a student of Steph’s at Gladden Community House) and her three children, who ranged in age from four years to two weeks.  It wasn’t until I went back to my old LiveJournal account to reread this entry that I realized the fire was four years ago this month.  I did not know the family that perished in this week’s blaze, but Deanna Perry, the 61-year-old woman who lived there, known to all as “Maw Maw”, opened her home to anyone who needed assistance.

The baby who died was the daughter of a troubled woman whom “Maw Maw” had hosted.  Mrs. Perry apparently had asked the mother to leave, because their relationship was fraying, but didn’t want the baby, who was ill, to be left without a place to lay her head.  The prevailing theory now is that someone was targeting the mother when they set the fire.

More and more, I am amazed by how people who possess the least are usually the most generous.  The house on N. Yale Ave. could hardly be commodious, and Deanna Perry was already living there with her husband, son, and grandson, yet she found room in her heart and her home for a woman and her baby who had nowhere else to turn.  (The husband and son had left the house for their jobs before the fire started, or else they could quite likely have died as well.)

The streets north of W. Broad are not as familiar to me as the ones to the south.  While we lived on West Park Ave., I made frequent trips to the Family Dollar store that sits at the corner of S. Yale and W. Broad, and the block between Broad and State Sts. featured several dilapidated houses, some of which were intermittently occupied, others which had long been abandoned.  Before I read the story thoroughly, I thought that the fire would have been in one of the S. Yale houses.  One house seemed to be okay structurally, but had a very high turnover of tenants.  I made almost nightly trips past it, especially if I had gotten off the bus on Broad St. and was walking home by way of Family Dollar, and it seemed like every other month there would be a new family there.  I’d see the clutter of Playskool toys in the patch of yard, I would see people sitting on the porch drinking malt liquor and smoking, I’d see the blue-white glow of the TV in the front room.  Then, after a few weeks, the house would be dark, there would be newspaper covering the windows, and the yard would be strewn with trash and debris.

Newspapers in the windows and darkness inside would become the norm for several weeks, but I’d never see a Realtor’s sign or a FOR RENT sign in the yard.  Then, one day I’d head over to Family Dollar to buy blank tapes or a new composition book to continue my diary, and the grass (more yellowed than green) would be cut, the newspapers would be gone, and a family would be in there.  I’d see furniture in the front room, and a jacket draped over a porch chair, or the front door open.  Then the cycle would repeat itself.

Franklinton residents seem to be focused on the proposal to convert the old Cooper Stadium, vacant since the Columbus Clippers moved to Huntington Park, into the Cooper Park Complex.  While passing through on the way to Central Point or Grove City, I see yard signs about it everywhere–even in the yards of the many abandoned properties.  Most of them say FOR Cooper Park Complex, and I guess it’ll be decided next month in the ballot box.  (One of the plans is for an automotive testing center and NASCAR racing, so the opponents cite environmental and noise issues.)  This tragedy will, maybe, divert their attention from the Cooper Park controversy and unite everyone in thinking of the three lives lost so needlessly this week.

I did not read of any funeral plans, but the memory of Mindy Hanners’ and children’s funerals, the standing-room-only show of support at Schoedinger’s Funeral Home’s Hilltop chapel, and the sealed coffin containing all four bodies, is still vivid in my mind.  We did not accompany them to the grave, but it seemed that most of Franklinton had come to pay their respects.  I suspect it’ll be the same for the victims of this disaster.