Susie Debuts at a Poetry Slam

Without a doubt, Susie was the youngest reader at last Wednesday’s poetry slam at Kafé Kerouac, but she stole the show.  (I’ve always avoided slams and poetry groups.  The reason is because hearing them go on about their poetry is like listening to teenage boys talking about sex: The ones who are talking about it the most are doing it the least.)

Susie made quite a hit with “My Poetry: The Musical!”, where she states that her (autobiographical) poetry would make quite a good musical–why should Dr. Seuss and Seussical the Musical have the monopoly on it, after all?

I mean, picture this:
a musical about
a bisexual girl
who writes poems
about suicide and how annoying her life is.
And somehow, fairies work their way in.

The emcee of the event led everyone in an a Capella rendition of “The Greatest Love of All” after Susie came down from the microphone and the small dais in the front of the room.

(Caveat lector: When I loaded this video to Facebook, I was able to successfully rotate it so that you would not have to turn your head sideways to view it.  I did not have the same success when loading this to Blogspot.  I will tell you, however, that Susie’s poetry debut is worth the sore neck.  07/10/2011)

I had to do a little on-the-scene adjusting of the lens and the settings on my DXG digital camera, so I apologize for the picture quality of the first 30-45 of the video.  Fortunately I was sitting close to a speaker, so the audio is pretty crisp.  (The microphone on this camera is not all that sensitive.) 

The Kafé Kerouac poetry slam imposes a draconian penalty when a person does not put a cell phone on “vibrate.”  Whenever mine has gone off during a meeting or a church service, usually I feel like there’s a big red neon arrow pointing straight at me, and that’s usually punishment enough.  However, in this forum, everyone suffers as a result.  The emcee pulled out his well thumbed copy of a novel, Daddy Long Stroke, written by Cairo, had an audience member choose a page at random, and read a two- or three-page passage from it.  Daddy Long Stroke seems to be the literary equivalent of a blaxploitation movie.  I remember how awed I was when I ordered a Grove Press paperback copy of My Secret Life, the anonymous memoirs of a well-to-do Victorian man named Walter who lived for nothing but sex.  I was disappointed about how boring it was after the first few chapters–so repetitious.

Just in case you plan to defy the cell-phone-on-vibrate taboo, here is a video of the reading from Daddy Long Stroke:

We have definitely come a long way from when Walt Whitman lost his Interior Department paper-pushing job in the 1860s because of Leaves of Grass, or when Charles Bukowski’s poetry and writing constantly jeopardized his job as a third-shift mail sorter at the Los Angeles post office!

The first edition title page of Leaves of Grass.

Now that her first-time anxiety is behind her, Susie is looking for more places to read her poetry.  The next place may be the Rumba Café on Summit Ave.  (I saw a small notice about it in this week’s The Other Paper, and am trying to remember to clip it out to show her.)

At some point, I’m going to play Susie the compact disk of Allen Ginsberg reading his epic poem “Kaddish to Naomi Ginsberg 1894-1956,” the long poem he wrote in memory of his insane mother Naomi, who died in a Long Island asylum.  I have a boxed set of Ginsberg’s readings, Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems and Songs 1949-1993, and it includes his emotionally wrenching 1964 Brandeis University reading of “Kaddish,” which I first heard on an LP in Adam Bradley’s Stinchcomb Ave. apartment one night as both of us stayed up until dawn, making quick work of a 24-pack of Olympia.  “Kaddish” is a bare-bones presentation of poetry as autobiography and lament.

My Annual Cough

This is my last week of comparative luxury.  The seasonal job at Columbus State Community College’s bookstore begins Monday evening at 5:30, so from then until the 31st, 13-hour workdays will be the norm and not the exception.  I should probably savor what free time I have, but it’s hard to when my cough has come back, making its presence known whenever I take a deep breath.

The vernal equinox is the 20th, and I had been hoping that I would be spared the cough this year, but no such luck.  It started off as a mild tickling in the back of my throat, and now there’s a constant urge to cough nestled at the base of my tongue.  All I have to do is breathe normally and that’ll trigger it.

Susie and I are in the same boat, ear-wise, unfortunately.  She developed an earache that goes down the whole side of her face and even into her tooth.  Nevertheless, she took some ibuprofen and gave a splendid performance in Annie, Jr. tonight at Dominion Middle School.  (I didn’t go, because I was supposed to be at a late doctor’s appointment.  His office called to reschedule just as I was leaving work this afternoon.  But I’ll be there tomorrow night at 7 p.m. sharp.  Take note, those of you in the Columbus area!)  She went to bed tonight with some NyQuil, and hopefully that’ll clear it up.

On Monday, I leave work at 11 a.m. for an appointment with an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat guy) at OSU Medical Center.  Since before Christmas, I’ve had a non-stop rushing and ringing sound in my ears.  It feels like your ears do after someone has come up behind you and boxed them.  I was a little worried when the office called to reschedule, because they wanted an audiologist there, as well as the physician.

I complained to a friend of mine that I had such a backlog of work, I needed a periscope to see over everything.  I admit that sometime soon I’ll have to make an effort to clean up the papers that scatter my desk, but I’m actually spending most of my work hours transcribing, which means I haven’t had time to sort through what belongs there and what I should discard.  One of my un-favorite doctors dominated today’s work.  He dictates very rapidly, occasionally gasping for breath between paragraphs, and I have to take down what he’s saying, sort out his run-on sentences, and pause to look at various medical references (both online and in books) to make sure he said what he said.  I keep thinking to myself, For Christ’s sake, you’re a physician, not an auctioneer.

Some people have said I’m a little anal-retentive when it comes to transcribing the doctors’ reports, but this is one profession where it is a must, or should be a must.  So many medical terms sound alike (“atraumatic,” as opposed to “it was a traumatic event”), as do the names of many medications, that if I’m not 100% sure, I stop the recording and look up the term or drug name in question.  This is because someone’s health is at stake whenever you transcribe a report.  It’s not like a data entry job at Victoria’s Secret, where the worst that can happen is that a package addressed to Logan, Ohio may end up in Logan, Utah.

After about a week of going without, I have a cell phone yet again.  My LG cell phone fizzled unexpectedly Wednesday night.  I spent over an hour on the phone with Net10’s customer service people the next day (not including the time on hold–you can listen to most of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen during that), and finally they agreed to send me a new phone free of charge, and FedEx delivered a new Motorola cell phone, complete with camera, this morning.  I had to go to my email account and send a mass message to friends who have called me.  (I stored most of their numbers in the phone, and when the phone went belly-up, the memory was kaput as well.)

While Susie was onstage and Steph was in the audience tonight, I did something which probably helped neither my cough nor my ears.  They had eaten dinner before I came home (since they thought–as I did–that I wouldn’t be home), so I went out in the cold rain (temperature in the mid-30s tonight) and went to Wendy’s and brought back two Double Stacks for dinner.

More doctors’ reports await me when I walk into the office at 8 a.m.  They’re from a psychologist, so at least it’ll be interesting.  They’re long, but I always seem to whiz through psychological and psychiatric examinations.  Hearing about people’s backgrounds and family upbringings is more interesting than hearing about their spines and their problems walking.  (One claimant had a condition you’ll find most often in spelling bees: trichotillomania, a compulsion to pull out your own hair.)

Listened to a Doctor and His Lunch Today

And no, despite the lateness of the hour, my fingers (the two I use for typing) did not stray when I typed the title.  I did a stack of ex parte orders and Statements of Facts today, but this morning I finished transcribing a doctor’s report that I left behind at the end of work yesterday.

This is not one of the doctors whose reports I dread.  This doctor (we’ll call him Dr. Kildare, after the hero of the movie and radio serials of the ’30s and ’40s–it’s better than typing “this doctor” over and over) dictated a 10-minute report, and I did not shudder when I clicked on it to type.

After nearly six years, I know what to anticipate when I see a physician’s name in the “To be Transcribed” queue.  A certain doctor always mumbles; another one mumbles and dictates too quickly; yet another one’s dictation varies on whether he records before or after Happy Hour; this one is very conscientious and will spell out the names of unusual drug names and ailments for you, etc.

Those of us on the receiving end–the ones doing the transcribing–have to hold up our end as well.  Most importantly, I have to listen to phrases and words in context, since many drug names and medical phrases sound similar, and remember lots of spelling rules that don’t make any sense at first.  (She was atraumatic, as opposed to It was a traumatic event.  The first C in cervical is pronounced like “Sam,” while the second one sounds like “cat.”  So far, the only real mistake I’ve made was when I was still quite green at the job: I typed fecal sac instead of thecal sac.)

I heard horror stories from other medical transcriptionists–including my mother–about doctors who cough in your ear, mumble, swear, run words together and then stop and gasp before continuing, but today was a unique experience.

About four minutes into his 10-minute dictation, I heard something while he was dictating.  (He was reading verbatim from an X ray report, and I had gone into our scanned documents, pulled up the document in a smaller Window onscreen, and was typing the words as I saw them and as he read them.)  At first, I thought the sound was paper rustling.  I’ve heard it many times, as the doctor reads one paper and searches for another one at the same time.

It was rustling, but not of paper.  “She had an MRI of the cervical spine on–” was interrupted by a loud crunch sound, and then the sound continued.  For the next few minutes, he averaged several crunches for every word that he dictated.  The guy was eating while he dictated, and apparently he was eating potato or corn chips!  I was glad to hear what sounded like his crumpling up the empty bag and throwing it away, and then he (I suppose, listening to the sounds) wiped his mouth with a napkin and gave the dictation his full attention.

Before his snack, I heard someone knock on his door, and I heard about 45 seconds of a conversation with a nurse.  It was about Mrs. So-and-So’s chart and did it need to be copied?

I wish I could find those kids’ telephone etiquette posters that used to hang in the hallways of my various elementary schools.  They featured animals showing how you shouldn’t be when you’re talking on the phone. I would send this doctor this poster, especially one of a goat with a phone receiver in his mouth, their way of saying that eating and talking at the same time is a no-no.

When Susie was younger, I used to dread having to call the houses of her friends.  Either the friend, or a younger sibling, answered.  After asking, “May I speak to your mom (or dad)?” I would then brace myself, holding the receiver a good five or six inches from my ear.  Almost immediately, the very high-decibel, “MOMMY!!  PHONE!!!” blasted out of the earpiece, because the kid inevitably would not cover the mouthpiece or turn his/her head away from it.

The long list of inconsiderate things cell phone users do is a subject that has been done to death in conversation, newspaper columns, letters to the editor, and blogs.  I haven’t witnessed much cell phone rudeness first-hand, although I hear complaints about how someone will be on their phone on a crowded bus, jabbering loudly about their genital warts or their spouses’ infidelities.

Wrong numbers are frequent with cell phones, since no one retains the same number for very long.  It changes when they buy a new phone, switch the service, etc.  Callers don’t seem to understand that the original owner of the phone will not come back if you just keep calling.  I have received calls from collection agencies asking for a particular woman almost from the day I started using the phone I have now, and no matter how many times I tell the collection agencies, they keep calling.  (Although I do admit it’s a relief to have a collection agency call and have it not be for me.)

I’m going to try and grab some sleep, since the day comes all too soon.  These next few days won’t be nearly as sleepless as last week (subject of an upcoming post), but I’m still a bit estranged from my bed.

I Came Into the Federal Building With a Weapon Today

There are few chores I dread more during the workday than making a trip across High St. to the post office in the Federal Building.  Fortunately, it’s seldom a necessity, but when I need to go there, I can never be finished soon enough.

Today was such a day.  I usually carry some postage stamps in my billfold (much easier since the Postal Service went to peel-off stamps), but I needed to mail a postcard, and didn’t want to waste one of the few $.44 stamps I had left.  So, at my three o’clock break, I resigned myself to the inevitable and made my way across High St. to the John W. Bricker Federal Building and the Christopher Columbus Station of the post office contained therein.

TANGENT ALERT: The building is named for Senator John William Bricker (R-Ohio), the 54th Governor of Ohio, and Thomas Dewey’s Vice Presidential running mate in the 1944 election.

Elaborate security precautions prevail on the first floor of the Federal Building, and they were in place seven years before 9/11.  Before the destruction of the Twin Towers and the damage to the Pentagon, there was Timothy McVeigh and Oklahoma City.  So now, if I’m going into the post office lobby to spend $.28 to buy a postcard stamp (as I was today), I have to wait in line, empty my pockets, have a security guard go over my person with a handheld metal detector, and step through a scanner.

I began the ritual in the usual way.  Before going through the scanner, I took everything out of my pocket: coins, wallet, MP3 player, notepad, pens (always about five of them), cell phone, and key ring.

That last item on the list, the key ring, was what caused the short-lived panic.  I have about eight or nine keys on the ring, a rubber Minnie Mouse standing next to a large letter P (a co-worker brought it back from Disney World for me), and a ring knife.

The ring knife is a souvenir from my days at the main post office in Cincinnati.  You wear it on your finger like a ring, although it barely fits past the middle knuckle.  Protruding from the top is a J-shaped blade, used for cutting open bundles (of newspapers, magazines, etc.).  The Cincinnati post office always seemed to be short of them, and when I was working in second- and third-class mail, sorting and routing periodicals, half my shift seemed to consist of scrambling trying to find a blade to split open bundled magazines.  So, one night, I was lucky enough to find a ring knife within minutes of clocking in to work, so I put it on my key ring, and there it has remained to this day.

The guard asked me about it.  I told him what it was, how I used it, etc.  I don’t think it would have made an effective weapon, even if I had wanted to try.  The blade is nowhere near as sharp as it was 15 years ago, and I doubt it could cut butter.  (Crazily, I tried to picture myself putting that ring knife on my finger, waving my arm around in a large arc, and shouting, “Okay, everybody lie down on the floor, nobody gets hurt!”  There was a guy in Cincinnati who tried to rob a bank with a butcher knife once, just as effectively as I would have been.)

The guy decided to let me go through, mainly because he sensed my impatience.  My afternoon break is only 15 minutes long, and I wanted to buy my stamp and get back to work, possibly picking up a Sierra Mist on the way back.  I would have offered to let him hold the key ring for me until I was finished at the post office.

I headed for the post office with the key ring (ring knife included) securely in my pocket.  The guards there can be a little paranoid, and I’d think that people guarding a Federal building should learn the art of the poker face.  They don’t have to be as rigid and emotionless as the Grenadier Guards at Buckingham Palace, but they seem to overreact to innocent situations.

When you enter the building, you empty your pockets into a shallow plastic bowl, and it goes down a conveyor belt, where they X-ray it and see if there’s anything you shouldn’t have.  When the bowl emerges on the other side, the guard will pick up the cell phone and push buttons on it, to make sure it’s a real cell phone, and not the remote control for a bomb.  When I go on break, I set my phone’s timer to 00:15:00 and press the “start” button, and it beeps when my 15 minutes ends.

Awhile back, the security guard turned white as paper when he took my phone out of the bowl and pushed one of the buttons.  The display lit up, and he sees a timer that is counting down to zero.  Visions of spending the afternoon with some of Homeland Security’s brownshirts came to my mind while he stared at my phone display.  He looked me a question, and I told him what it was all about.  He looked a little deflated as he handed the phone back to me.  He probably envisioned being interviewed on Good Morning America as the hero who thwarted a bomb plot.

“Good vibes” and “bad vibes” were popular phrases in my late teen and early adult years.  I’ve never taken the concept seriously.  That may be a side result of my Asperger’s syndrome, whose symptoms include an inability to “read” other people (tone of voice, body language, etc.), but the Federal Building was one I never liked, even when I came to work every day.

I got off on the wrong foot with that building.  In April 1995, I interviewed for a job with the Agriculture Department.  The appointment was at 1 p.m., and I took a morning Lakefront Trailways bus up from Cincinnati.  My friend Ivan and his stepson met me, and Ivan told me about the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which had happened just as I was getting on the bus in Cincinnati.  (I listened to CDs or slept all the way up, so I wouldn’t have had a radio going on the journey.)

Security was tight that afternoon, because at that time no one knew who had bombed the Oklahoma City building, whether it was an isolated nut or a well organized conspiracy, or whether other buildings elsewhere in the country would be attacked.  I went through the metal detector, and even though I presented my IRS ID (I worked at the IRS Service Center in Covington, Ky. at the time), they still insisted that I empty my pockets, remove my watch, and let the man pass the metal detector wand (actually, it’s about the size of a fraternity paddle) over me.  Then a guard stepped forward and said, “Sir, I need to pat you down,” which brought a “Why?  Don’t you get enough at home?” from me.  (I was a tad bit surly at that point.)

The building is as dingy on the inside as it is on the exterior, and I sometimes wondered about sick building syndrome when I worked there.  My main responsibility as an Appointment Clerk was scheduling audits, so I was always on the phone with taxpayers and/or their representatives.  When someone was coming from out of town, he or she often asked, “Which building is the Federal Building?”  I often said, “It’s the monstrosity at the corner of Spring and High, on the northeast corner,” which usually evoked a chuckle.  (I showed rare self-control the three years I worked there.  Never once did I yield to temptation and say, “It’s at Spring and High, and there’s probably an abandoned Ryder truck sitting out front.”)

I’ll let you, beloved readers, be the final judge as to the building’s beauty.  Here’s a picture, courtesy of the General Services Administration:

John W. Bricker Federal Building,
200 N. High St., Columbus, Ohio