"Said the Right-Wing skeleton, ‘Forget about yr heart’"

The above is a line from Allen Ginsberg’s collaboration with Philip Glass and Paul McCartney, “The Ballad of the Skeletons,” but I can take it literally, at least for the next year.  I spent the first part of this morning at the Ross Heart Hospital.

I saw two cardiologists, which worried me at first.  It is always a little disconcerting to be seeing a doctor and for the doctor to call in another one and say, “You should see this.”  I worried for nothing.  My heart muscle is in good shape, the aneurysm does not seem to have dilated any further, and all the cardiac function is as it should be.  I have another CT scan in December–a year from this week–but that seems to be all the proactive work that needs to be done.  Yes, my cholesterol level resembles a ZIP code.  Yes, heredity is not on my side when it comes to this (Dad died of congestive heart failure, his dad died of a heart attack at age 52), and I could stand to drop some weight, but my heart seems to be holding its own.

My grandfather’s death was the beginning of my dad’s break with Roman Catholicism, as I understand it.  Dad was a senior at the Catholic University of America in the fall of 1951 when his dad–two years older than I am now–died unexpectedly in Wheeling.  My grandmother had been fixing lunch in the kitchen while my grandfather was in the living room listening to the radio.  She heard a “thud” sound, and went into the living room and found him dead.  She sent my dad a telegram in Washington, and he was on the next train back to West Virginia.

His crisis of faith (at least with Catholicism) came because, until she died in 1965, his mother always worried about her husband’s soul, since he was unable to receive the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church due to the suddenness of his death.  Dad questioned the value of a Church that could bring about such unnecessary worry to one of its own very faithful.

Work has resumed on my memoir re my friendship with Robert Lowry.  I began several years ago, and I have been within 20-30 pages of finishing for the past few years, but by now it doesn’t flow in the same voice, and there are parts of it that need to come out and stay out.  So, the best thing to do, in my eyes, is to start from the ground up and rewrite.

Part of the lack of progress on this project comes from, I think, my taking Abilify, which is a drug that is supposed to supplement antidepressants that a person already uses (Lamictal, in my case).  After about a week or so on the drug, I noticed I was beginning to fidget even more than I usually do (which is saying quite a lot–I never sat “like a little statue” when I was younger, whether in school, church, or a concert), that I cannot sleep for more than four hours at a time (which leads to dozing off at all times and in all situations), and–worst of all–that what manual dexterity I have was suffering.  I cannot shuffle cards, I can barely manage to use silverware, and yet I can type 80+ words per minute using only two index fingers.  I noticed a sharp decline in my typing skills and accuracy.  As much as I pretty much loathe the computer culture (he wrote in his blog which is on the Internet), I was so thankful for computers and word processing these last weeks.  I was making one error after another, as if my fingers weren’t going where my brain was directing them, and I shudder to think what a page from my Royal Skylark portable typewriter would look like if I was using it instead of a computer.

I saw my nurse practitioner Monday, and described these symptoms to her.  She agreed that the Abilify may be the culprit, so I stopped taking it.  Like other psychotropics, it will probably be a little while before it completely clears my system, but I have noticed I am not as fidgety as I was.  The restlessness first manifested itself on the bus trip to Washington last month, when I could not get comfortable, and could not sleep, no matter what position I assumed.  I also could not concentrate on the two books I had brought with me, The Girl on the Best-Seller List (Gold Medal Books S976) by Vin Packer–a thinly disguised treatment of Grace Metalious and the post-Peyton Place uproar; and William Harrington’s Which the Justice, Which the Thief.  (They were in the backpack when I left, the first one since PulpFest last summer.)  Also, even though the Pennsylvania Turnpike is quite conducive to dozing, I was unable to sleep at all–the first time that has happened anywhere and at any time in the last two or three years.

The heavy reading I brought along on the Washington trip.  The cover art closely resembles the author photograph of Grace Metalious on the back dust jacket of Peyton Place, where she was called “America’s Pandora in Blue Jeans.”  As I learned from living 19 years in Marietta, the citizens of small-town America hate it when someone writes the truth about them.

We were pelted with more snow Monday night into Tuesday morning.  Oddly enough, it made walking much more easy than the trek from hell which I described in the weekend entry.  Good packed snow makes for a better walking surface than slick, bumpy ice.  The fact that I did not have a laptop causing me to list to one side probably helped as well.  The scene outside my front door looked beautiful enough that, despite the fact that I thought I would be running late, I went back inside and got the camera.

East Maynard Ave., December 10, 2013, about 7:15 a.m.  My only problem with this picture is the flash reflecting off of that sign across the street.  Sunrise was still a half hour away, so I decided the flash would be better.

There were nowhere near as many cancellations as there were when the first wave of snow hit last week.  Some churches and recreation centers cancelled evening services and activities, and two schools in counties other than Franklin County were under two-hour delays.

I am off work today.  I was not sure whether the appointment would lead to a cardiac catheterization, so I opted to write off the entire day.  (The procedure itself is brief, but the patient is pretty much wiped out for several hours afterwards.)

So, I’m going to try to keep walking more (although the snow hampers my progress, and makes walking even more aerobic than usual), and hope that this heart issue resolves itself.  (A friend gave me some not-so-pleasant advice about whether my aneurysm has burst: “If you wake up in the morning, it hasn’t burst.”)

But, if the doctors are correct, the aneurysm is not bursting for awhile, if ever.

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Squinting at the Light

I am the first one to realize how long I have had this blog on hiatus.  Over a month is very out of character for me.  I have no illusions that there are hordes of people who hang on every word I post here, the same way people crowded the docks of New York and Baltimore for new shipments of Dickens’ novels.  My blogging this afternoon is one of the positive signs that I’m emerging from a mental lethargy that has consumed me much of the summer.  For the past week, however, I feel like I’m emerging from the mental haze and back into life.  (Also, I’m doing a once-over-gently allusion to I Peter 2:9 here.)

The lack of blog entries is a sign of what I suspect may have been a serious bout of depression.  At no time was I suicidal, nor did I (or anyone else) think hospitalization would be necessary.  However, my inactivity and overall lack of energy and drive worried me.  One red flag was when I looked at the current volume of my diary.  It is a 200-page composition book, and I wrote in this volume for the first time on May 1.  Today is August 7, and I am only up to page 57.

Per my Casio Data Bank watch, it is now 2:26 in the afternoon, Eastern Daylight Savings Time.  I am not at work right now because my CPAP machine kept acting up, and it was nearly impossible for me to sleep.  I was finally dozing off into a restful state when my alarm sounded.  I had just enough strength to phone my supervisor and tell her I wouldn’t be coming in, and then fell back into bed… and was unable to sleep.  (This is due to a combination of the CPAP, which is in need of a new data card with new settings, and Nuvigil, the wakefulness drug I just started.  The Nuvigil may be working too well at the moment.  My body needs to get used to it.)

Getting out of the house and onto the trike worked pretty well for me.  A trike ride has yet to fail to rejuvenate me–I keep hoping I can get my psychiatrist to declare it medically necessary, so my insurance will pay for it.  I had a great ride to the Ohio State campus, and to Thompson Library, where I am sitting in the lab typing this.

A week from tomorrow, I will be on the road.  Susie has spent the summer in Florida with her mom, and I will be making my first journey to the Sunshine State on ther 15th.  On that night, I’m hopping a Greyhound to Orlando.  It’ll be a 22-hour trip, with an hour-long transfer in Atlanta.  I’ll spend two full days in Merritt Island, and on Sunday morning, Susie and I will fly back to Columbus via Southwest Airlines.  This will be the first time I’ve flown on an airplane since 1983, when I lived in Boston, and used airplanes semi-regularly to get to Ohio or to Washington, D.C.  I will have some pictures and blog entries from this trip.

A definite step in the right direction for me was my 26-hour road trip to Washington, D.C. the weekend before last.  A friend invited me on Facebook, and I accepted, and was surprised at how underwhelmed I was about the whole thing.  Usually a trip to Washington has me stoked with adrenaline from head to toe.

This was a rally to ban fracking, an issue which affects many natives of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and upstate New York.  In my childless days, I paid little attention to environmental issues, shrugging it off by saying, “The world can do what it wants after I’m dead,” but that whole picture changed once I became a parent.

The Stop the Frack Attack took place on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.  We left Columbus just after midnight from the Franklin University parking lot, and made it to Washington (by way of Interstates 68 and 70) just after 8 a.m.

I like schedules like this.  The rally itself didn’t start until 1:30, so I had plenty of time for walking around Washington.  Washington is a very pedestrian-friendly city, although it is tropical in the summer.  I had no plans to join any guided tours.  They always try to hurry you through too many sites in too little time.  The bus dropped us off at Union Station, and I got my backpack and began walking toward Chinatown.

I had an 11:30 lunch date with my friend Robert Nedelkoff, the man the British Museum and the Library of Congress consults for accuracy.  We had several emails flying back and forth between Columbus and Silver Spring about just where we were going to meet for lunch.  My first choice had been The Tombs, a bar and restaurant in Georgetown a block or two from the famous Exorcist stairs.  Looking at a map made me realize that Georgetown was a little too off track for going to the rally.  I would have had to inhale my lunch and then catch the Metro toward Capitol Hill.  So we agreed to meet at Tonic at Quigley’s Pharmacy in Foggy Bottom, where we had eaten before.

My walk through Chinatown was to look at Wok and Roll, the Chinese restaurant at 604 H St. NW.  Robert and I had eaten there before, but my interest is because, in 1864 and 1865, it was the Surratt boarding house, the meeting place for John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators as they plotted the abduction (and eventual assassination) of Abraham Lincoln.  For her hospitality, the owner of the boarding house, Mrs. Mary Surratt, was hanged in July 1865, the first woman executed by the Federal Government.

The William Petersen House, also known as The House Where Lincoln Died, 516 10th St. NW in Washington.  Visting this place and Ford’s Theater (even when I don’t have the time to go inside) is, in a way, my equivalent of visiting the Western Wall.

Robert had asked me when was the last time I visited D.C. as a tourist.  I couldn’t pin down the date, except that it had to be pre-1994, because when I visited JFK’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Jackie was still alive and not buried there.  In 2000, when my dad died, I sent his obituary to the alumni office at his alma mater, the Catholic University of America.  A woman called me to let me know they were going to say a Mass in his honor.  I wanted to go to it, but a day or two before the Mass took place, I awoke with a very bad case of the flu and walking pneumonia, and my travel was restricted to the bedroom and the bathroom.  Trips between the two felt like climbing Everest.

Ancestors on my mother’s side owned and operated coal mines in Noble County, Ohio, and my late uncle, Glenn McKee, often wrote in his poetry about the mine fires and the mined-out coal country of that part of Ohio.  I took comfort in the fact they were probably rolling in their graves if they knew I was headed to Washington to protest fracking.

The truly joyous event of the trip to Washington was reuniting with an old friend.  The name Bill McKibben is quite familiar to anyone in environmental circles.  He is the founder of 350.org, an organization dedicated to solving the climate and earth crisis.  He is also the author of The End of Nature and The Age of Missing Information.  (The latter is the only book of his I have read, I confess.)

Bill graduated from Harvard in 1982, three months before my arrival in Boston.  He had been president of The Harvard Crimson, which would become my employer and the focus of my life and activity.  After he graduated from Harvard, he worked at The New Yorker, writing many of its “Talk of the Town” columns.  Bill grew up in Lexington, Mass., just outside of Cambridge, and he would often stop in The Crimson‘s building on Plympton St. to visit when he was up from New York to visit his parents.

While he worked for The New Yorker, he volunteered as an advisor for the newspaper for an inner-city Manhattan high school.  When the paper folded, he came to Cambridge and asked me, and one or two others, to typeset the farewell issue.  (This was also the night of The Crimson‘s annual Alumni Dinner.  After the fête at the Sheraton Commander Hotel, I went to work on the copy.  A true Kodak moment: I was sitting at the CRTronic Linotype, my jacket draped over the back of the chair, my sleeves rolled up, the knot of my tie hanging down to mid-breastbone, and a can of Michelob at one hand and a can of Coke at the other.  And yet the finished product looked beautiful.)

I suspected Bill would be one of the speakers, because he is a superstar in the environmental movement.  The center of activity was a small dais on the West Capitol lawn, facing toward the Washington Monument (closed since the 2010 minor earthquake).  And I was not disappointed.  Bill was the third or fourth speaker.

I was able to shoot a video of Bill’s speech, and my batteries miraculously lasted long enough to get the entire thing.  I had the foresight to bring extra batteries for the camera, so I was able to shoot even more video and still pictures.

This is not my video of Bill McKibben, however I do make a Hitchcock-like appearance in front of the platform.

Once Bill stepped off the platform, I went to meet him.  “Hey, Bill.  It’s Paul Evans, from The Crimson!”  He laughed and hugged me, and said, “How are you doing, brother?”  I thought he would remember me, because we had some common ground, however slight, other than The Crimson.  His mother was born in Parkersburg, W.Va., as was I.  (Whenever I’m tempted to ridicule West Virginia–a very popular sport when I was growing up–I try to bear in mind that I was born in Parkersburg because “advanced” Marietta had no obstetrician/gynecologist in 1963.)

I handed the camera to someone nearby, and immortalized the moment.


Your intrepid diarist and Bill McKibben, July 28, 2012, West Lawn of the United States Capitol.

What truly inspired me was the undercurrent of happiness and positive focus that guided this demonstration.  I am not echoing the thoughts of New Age gurus who will happily collect your money and tell you that the victims of Hurricane Katrina should have thought more positively, and that six million Jews died under the Nazis because they chose to.  Hubert Humphrey spoke (somewhat naïvely) about “the politics of joy” at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago as police were breaking protestors’ skulls with clubs and arresting reporters, delegates, and protestors en masse.  At many peace march and political gatherings, I have often felt an undercurrent of hostility, of people who were itching for fights, and who delibertely tried to “sow dragons’ teeth,” which my English teacher Mrs. Curtis always warned us never to do.
I witnessed this when it came to a head in November 1982, when a march against the Ku Klux Klan in Washington degenerated into rock-throwing, tear gas, vandalism, and arrests.  I was on the receiving end of tear gas, and have chronicled the experience here, in an earlier entry in this blog.
After the speakers left the podium, everyone took to the streets from Capitol Hill.  There were about 5000 people, shouting and displaying every pun based on the word frack you can imagine (My personal favorite: GOD HATES FRACKS, a variation on the signs the Westboro Baptist Church alleged humans carry).  There was no parade permit, but the police stood by and watched.  Since we weren’t all mobbing the streets like the rejects from Attila the Hun’s army, they could relax.  We were a celebratory mob.  A young woman who was on the bus from Columbus periodically stepped out of the street and gave water bottles, sandwiches, and bread to homeless people sitting on benches nearby.
Only one time did I fear that the march would veer out of control.  We converged on the American Petroleum Institute on L St. NW, on a Saturday when the doors were locked and no one was at work, save for a lone unarmed security guard in the lobby, who probably earned minimum wage.  I’m sure all he wanted was to listen to the baseball game on the radio, but then here comes this mob that surrounds the entrance in a semi-circle, chanting, “The water!  The water!  The water’s on fire!” with the responding, “We don’t need no fracking, let the corporations burn!”  (This was a parody of “The Roof Is On Fire,” by Rockmaster Scott & the Dynamic Three, which I heard way too many times in the bars when I was at Ohio University.)  The energy level was so high that I was afraid at some point someone would toss a trash can or brick through the glass doors.  That would have been my cue to leave.  (To echo the words of Messrs. Lennon and McCartney, “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”)
The march ended at Franklin Square, at 14th and K Sts., NW.  Many of the people opted to jump into the fountain in the center of the park.  This was pure spontaneity, and I doubt anything on the march was choreographed or pre-arranged.  There was no street theater or political statement to it.  The temperature was around 85° F., with relative humidity hovering around 82% all day.  (This, by D.C. standards, is cool for summertime.)  Only a person extremely self-disciplined and -denying would not have been tempted to get in the fountain.  (I didn’t get in, but I stayed near the lip of the fountain and was “accidentally” splashed a few times.)

Franklin Square, Washington, D.C.  “Whose water?”  “OUR WATER!!”  A far cry from the way the park appeared in The Lost Symbol.

Our bus was back in Columbus by 2 a.m. Sunday morning.  I thought about sleeping on the way home, but I was keyed up from the experience, and didn’t even read while we came home along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I was content to look out the window.  Once home, despite my exhaustion, I was up until well past dawn loading pictures and video to my Facebook page.
And I dreaded that a crash was coming.  After an event that is so exhilarating it stokes the adrenaline, once the stimuli disappears, the letdown is bad, especially for someone with bipolar disorder.  I tried to keep in mind the Facebook maxim “Don’t cry because it’s over, laugh because it happened,” and I was fortunate enough to have a full load of work when I came to work the following Monday.
This was important, because as much as I dread typing certain doctors (one sounds like he dictates after happy hour, another one sounds like he moonlights as an auctioneer), it is good for me to be busy.  Over the last several years, I have noticed that boredom leads to severe depression for me.  This is the type of situation that made me understand Sherlock Holmes’ rationalization of his cocaine habit in The Sign of Four.  Presented with problems, work, or crime, Sherlock Holmes could leave his syringe alone.  When his mind was idle (“My mind rebels at stagnation,” he told Dr. Watson), that was when he would turn to cocaine.
That route has not tempted me, neither cocaine nor anything else.  Since Susie was an infant, I have not had any beverage stronger than Diet Pepsi, nor used any unprescribed drug.  So, bored as I was, I never considered relapsing.  (The hardcore Straight Edge people, however, would not consider me one of their own, because of my excessive caffeine consumption and the fact that I eat meat.)
I have to constantly guard, however, against my current rejuvenated feeling veering off into a manic episode.  I have been conscientious about taking my lithium twice daily, but it can only control mania or depression, not stop it.  Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, I probably cannot legally own a firearm, because I have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility in the past.
That’s probably a good thing.  Gun control pro and con has been all over the news this summer, because of the mass killing in Aurora, Colorado and this Sunday’s massacre in the Sikh temple just outside Milwaukee.  When Mitt Romney and President Obama take to the campaign trail after Labor Day, I am sure there will be plenty of idiots who want to get their names in the history books by killing them.
As a bipolar person, I understand that it would be stupidity for me to have a handgun in the house.  Not because Susie would find it and play with it–when she was in Florida last December, Steph took her to a firing range and let her target shoot, and the paper target now hangs on Susie’s bedroom wall.  Either end of the bipolar pendulum could spell disaster for me.  I would not use a gun on someone else, but in a moment of extreme mania I could find myself thinking how much fun it would be to shoot out street lights, or to see what would happen if I blew a hole in the living room ceiling.  And on the extreme depressive end of the scale… use your imagination, gentle reader.
As long as I’ve been typing this, I feel like I’ve gone a few laps on a treadmill.  Maybe it is a good sign that once I logged on here and began typing a blog entry, the struggle was not to produce the next word, but the biggest difficulty was stopping.