My First eBay Bidding War–Definitely Worth Recording

Susie went out this evening for dinner at The Spaghetti Warehouse, and then to the 11:30 showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Studio 35.  So, it’s just the laptop, the blog, and me here right now.  (Susie flies back to Florida late Monday morning, but she has managed to see many of her good friends while she has been visiting here in Ohio.)

While I was in Florida, I ventured where I had never been–but in territory which is familiar to many people I know.  I found myself in a bidding war on eBay.

A day or two before Christmas (and going down to Florida to celebrate the holiday), I set my sights on a Lafayette RK-710 reel-to-reel tape recorder.  I picked the brains of my fellow members of the Reel-to-Reel Enthusiasts’ group on Facebook, since I had never heard of Lafayette.  All reassured me that the Lafayette Radio Electronics Corporation was a reputable company.  So, I submitted a bid a dollar or two above the price listed in the posting.

To my surprise, eBay sent a notice to my email saying that someone had bid higher than I had.  I immediately jumped onto eBay and raised the price by a dollar.  It was after placing the bid that I realized that my “opponent” had only raised the stakes by about $0.11 or $0.12.  I raised it a dollar, and saw that bidding would close the next day around 8 p.m. EST.

Steph pointed out to me that I was the one who was driving up the price.  Apparently, the other bidder realized this as well, since he/she automatically set the account to raise the price a dollar each time I placed a bet.

I sat out the next 12 hours, although I set the alarm on my cell phone to go off five minutes before bidding closed.  Patiently, I watched the timer run down, and discovered that the other bidder had placed a $40 ceiling on automatically raising bids.  As time was down to about 15 seconds, I increased the bid by $0.50, and received the good news that the tape recorder was now mine.

A Facebook friend told me that there was another–far more universal–tactic for bidding on Facebook.  It is called “sniping,” and it involved not driving up the price by matching and exceeding bids.  It involves sitting there quietly as the time runs out on bidding, and, as close to the last second as possible, putting in the highest bid.

The recorder came yesterday by FedEx Ground.  Susie was home to take it off the porch, which was a good thing, since there has been a rash of package thefts here in SoHud during the Christmas season.  She emailed me at work that the package was here, so I was on the edge of my seat the rest of the day, willing the clock to move more quickly to 5 p.m. so I could get home and try out the new machine.

My new toy, the four-track Lafayette RK-710 recorder.

Oddly enough, this would be the third reel-to-reel machine to be under my roof.  This past summer, I met my old friend Scott–we met in seventh grade at St. Mary’s Middle School.  As the only non-Catholics in the class, we naturally gravitated toward each other.  In high school, we discovered a mutual fascination with radios and iron oxide tape, so we spent many hours immersed in tape, patchcords, and microphones.  
When Scott and his wife moved to a farm in Licking County, he decided to unload many of the possessions he no longer needed–a lesson I have yet to learn!  So, we met for brunch at the Blue Danube, and, after long conversation and the usual filling meal, he gave me two portable tape recorders, a Sony and a Penncrest, both of which were familiar to me from the afternoons and evenings we spent using them.

I wanted to buy yet another machine because neither portable machine could accommodate seven-inch reels.  Also, the motor on one machine seemed to be DOA, and the other did not record, at least not with the microphone that came with it.

The new Lafayette machine (pictured above) had one cosmetic flaw.  The tone and volume knobs are both missing, so I turn them with a small slothead screwdriver that fits just perfectly.  (The missing knobs did not concern me; I changed channels with a pair of pliers on the TV I had when I lived in Cincinnati.)  Also, the machine’s 1 7/8 inches-per-second speed did not seem to work.

I tried some of the tapes that Scott had given me.  (Since he no longer had the equipment to play them, he gave me his reel-to-reel tapes as well.)  One was a three-inch reel of the audio of Star Trek‘s third-season episode “The Tholian Web” (Stardate 5693.2), and the sound quality and speed was erratic, which had me worried.  I had better results when I took a five-inch reel at random, and heard a crystal-clear recording of Side 2 of Pink Floyd’s Animals.

My next concern was whether I had a two- or four-track machine.  When I lived in Cincinnati, I bought a Wollensak reel-to-reel recorder from my across-the-hall neighbors, who sold it to me one night when they were desperate for beer money.  (When you’ve got ’em by the addiction, their hearts and minds will follow.)  Soon afterwards, the College Conservatory of Music had its annual record sale.  At this sale, they featured commercially produced reel-to-reel tapes for $0.25 apiece.  I bought two operas, plus a recording of an Israeli string quartet.  (I had no idea what music was on the latter tape, since the liner notes and listings on the box were all in Hebrew.)

I came back to my apartment eager to try out my new treasures.  I threaded one of the opera tapes into the Wollensak and pressed the PLAY button, and was utterly crestfallen.  I had a two-track machine, and it was a four-track tape.  While playing side one, the machine played side two backwards at the same time!

This afternoon, while Susie was having lunch with her Coming of Age mentor, I went to Used Kids (where, as faithful readers of this blog will remember, I bought four milk crates of 78 RPM records for $20 in November).  The manager was nice enough to give me a piece of equipment I desperately needed and which did not come with the recorder–a seven-inch take-up reel.  I spent $3 on a four-track commercial reel-to-reel album, Tribute to the Big Bands under the Tape-Mates label (TMS-102).  It’s a three-hour tape which includes all the big names of the Big Band era, such as Glen Miller, Artie Shaw, Les Brown and His Band of Renown, Duke Ellington, etc.  With trepidation, I put it in the Lafayette, and lo and behold, it played crisply, and only one side at a time.

My fascination with recording, and my tendency to want to hang onto things “in case I need them later” was the cause of an ongoing battle Steph and I had whenever we contemplated a move.  The Wollensak came with me in 1995 when I moved from Cincinnati to Columbus, although I kept the same spool of tape on the machine and never played it (and never found a microphone for it).  Steph kept urging me to get rid of it, but I was adamant that where I went, it went.  The conflict was similar to a friend of Steph’s son, a teenager who refused to part with his Fisher Price farm set, which had been in a box collecting dust in the basement since he had been in grade school.  He balked at allowing his mother to give the set to Susie, who was a toddler at the time.

I have owned a variety of tape recorders since I received my first one as a gift on my eighth Christmas.  Most of them have been cassette recorders.  As is the case now, I did not collect eight-track tapes or recorders.  (Eight-track is the only medium that is explicitly unwelcome in my home.)  Tape fascinated me so much that I began avidly following Watergate once Alexander Butterfield disclosed the existence of Nixon’s secret taping system.  I also looked forward to Mission: Impossible reruns so I could see the way that Dan Briggs and Jim Phelps retrieved the recordings that would explain their next assignments.

(I was quite happy when one technophile posted a YouTube video showing the different makes and models that Mission: Impossible employed in the series.)

Susie is not a fan of Big Band music, so while I was trying out the new (to me) tape that I had bought at Used Kids, she put on her earbuds and listened to music from her laptop.  I was in the dining room (which, among other things, is the place where I moor the Schwinn Meridian) with the tape recorder on a bookcase, and she was typing away at her TV Tropes and fan fiction pages, listening to the music she liked while I was listening to the various Big Band instrumental numbers, this time more to see how reliable the machine was, although I developed a liking for swing and Big Band music through my association with the old-time radio circuit.

Maybe I’m older than I realize.  Just after I won the bid for the Lafayette, I proudly posted a picture of it on my Facebook page.  One of my fellow bookstore co-workers, who is 20 or 21 at the oldest, posted, “What is that?”  He had no idea what it was, or what I did.  So, I explained, and then posted a link to Wikipedia’s entry on reel-to-reel recording.

That way, I can tell myself I educated someone, as well as spending money on a new toy.

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Russell Speidel (1936-2013)

During the blog’s hiatus this summer, I learned that Russell J. Speidel, who owned Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures when I lived in Cincinnati, died July 16, at the age of 77.  I had wanted to forgo posting a tribute to him here until after a memorial service.  However, I learned this week that his husband has decided there will not be a memorial service–neither he nor Russ wanted one.

When I was finally flush enough to afford a Clifton Heights apartment, proximity to Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures (and, I admit, to the bars) was my primary consideration.  I had fallen in love with Duttenhofer’s the first time I visited it in the mid-1980s, when I was living in a rented room above a Dairy Barn in Hartwell and working too few hours at Feicke Web.  Russ was behind the glass counter, very helpful and knowledgeable about anything in print, and the store looked much more pleasant than the intimidating Acres of Books on Main St.  I learned later that he had been an attorney and a judge in Clermont County, and when he left the legal profession, he took a job as a cashier for Stanley Duttenhofer, the store’s founder and original owner, and bought the store when Stan decided to retire.

He knew me as a customer until I moved to a small apartment above the Christian Science Reading Room on W. McMillan St. in 1990.  I saw them then almost daily, stopping in to buy the newspaper, chat with him, browse, and occasionally buy, books.  The mailbox in my apartment vestibule was small, so I put a tag on its door: CARRIER: Leave packages @ Duttenhofer’s!  When my job situation was precarious, and I was too poor to afford a phone, he let me use the store’s number on job applications.

(I must admit I abused this last favor a little.  When I came in to buy the newspaper one morning, he crossly passed along a message: “Joe says he can’t meet you at Murphy’s Pub until 11:30,” and pointedly informed me that the store was not my answering service.  Phone service was the first thing I bought when I received my first paycheck from the U.S. Postal Service in May 1992!)

Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures, June 2013.  Photo by Stephanie Mesler.

I often told people (and I think Russell would have agreed with me) that we had somewhat of a Dennis the Menace-Mr. Wilson relationship.  “Don’t you have a home?” was his greeting to me on more than one occasion.  (“Yes I do.  It’s on West McMillan, and it has lots of books in it,” I’d reply.)  Nevertheless, he often bought books from me that had no value or interest, just so I would have some pocket money when payday was still a week in the future.  He gave me an autographed copy of Lawrence Welk’s autobiography, Wunnerful! Wunnerful! because of his intense dislike of Lawrence Welk.  I also inherited much of his true crime books, after a leaking urinal dripped down on that section and ruined most of them.

I paid back in any way I could.  During my last years in Cincinnati, he often forgot to return the discount book cart to the inside of the store when he locked up for the night.  This was the cart that featured books he was selling for $.50 to $1.  There were no Gutenberg Bibles or First Folio Shakespeare volumes on the cart, but I knew that he would not want them stolen–otherwise they would have been in the FREE box.  I would roll the cart into the vestibule of my building, where it would not be so publicly displayed.

I also remember alerting him to some young scam artists in our neighborhood.  These were two little boys, whom I often saw out running the streets as late as 10 p.m. on school nights.  I was helping Russ out one Sunday morning, selling newspapers to pedestrians and drivers, wearing my black New York Times apron.  A man told me there were two little boys who had tried to sell him The Cincinnati Enquirer‘s Sunday paper for a dollar.  When he pointed them out to me, I shadowed them for a few blocks, and found that they were putting $1.50 in a vend box and taking out the entire stack of papers and reselling them.  I told Russ, but he would never tell me if he told the police or not.

(These same kids worked another scam.  One night I was coming out of Subway, and they offered to sell me, for $.50, a catalog of night school classes, courses on everything from flirting to bookbinding to bartending.  The kid’s finger was covering the word FREE in the upper right-hand corner of the page.) 

The highest praise he ever gave me was when I visited Cincinnati several years after my move to Columbus.  Since that time, he had discontinued his Sunday hours, but I was not aware of this.  I went to the store, and the door was unlocked.  The lights were all out, except the emergency lights in the back of the room.  That was when I saw the sign in the window saying “Closed Sunday.”

I went to the nearest pay phone and called him at home.  I told him his store’s front door was wide open.  “You’re kidding!” he whispered, sounding totally stunned.  I reassured him that I was dead serious–I was using a pay phone where I could keep an eye on the store.  He said he had left his cigarettes there the night before, and had gone back to get them, and must have forgotten to re-lock the door.

I told him I would stay at the store until he could come to lock it.  “Paul,” he said, “What would I do without you?”

Rest in peace, Russell Speidel.

An interior shot of Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures, taken by me in 2012.

"It’s Complicated" Doesn’t Sum It Up

Facebook’s choices of “Relationship Status” are quite limited.  In addition to “Married,” “Single,” “Widowed,” etc., it lists “It’s Complicated” as one of the choices.  Several people I have known–from Ohio University, from college, from former jobs–have listed their statuses that way.  Many times, I didn’t feel I was close enough to them to ask them to elaborate.

I now list my status as “It’s complicated.”  It will be complicated for some time to come, but I already know the outcome.
>Steph and I decided, calmly, without tears, raised voices, or words spoken only to be regretted later, that we will end our 14-year marriage as soon as it is practically possible.  Neither of us have been happy for some time, and what will ultimately constitute happiness in our eyes differs so radically that remaining together will ultimately breed only resentment.

I wish I had the answer to when this will come to pass.  In 1975, the group Tavares released a song that said, “It only takes a minute, girl, to fall in love.”  That is true, but to fall out of love takes many years and, in many cases, a few thousand dollars.  This will be an amicable divorce.  After we sign the paperwork, I can see Steph and me going out to lunch together.  We are not going to enrich lawyers, because we come to the table in full agreement regarding custody for Susie (Steph will retain full custody, but I will have very liberal visitation rights and will still have a voice in decisions that affect her life and well-being).  There isn’t that much joint marital property, since we don’t co-own a home, boat, or vehicle.

During the next few months, we will be settling financial matters, as well as making decisions regarding health and insurance.  We need to satisfactorily resolve these be for we set foot in the Clerk of Courts’ office to ask for the divorce paperwork.  No-fault divorce is the law of the land in all 50 states (except New York, but no-fault divorce will go into effect there next month), so we can end the marriage without any finger-pointing or negativity.

Indeed, no one is the villain here.  I have long realized that I would make a terrible spouse for anyone.  I married Steph because I held a glimmer of hope that maybe I was wrong about that, and I was shaken by the idea of spending the rest of my life wondering.  However, 14 years of marriage has proven to me that I am a person who should not be partnered.  I am also coming to wonder if partnered, not-partnered is hard-wired genetically, like being left- or right-handed.  When Steph and I married, many of the guests whom I invited came to the ceremony with a “This I’ve gotta see!” attitude.  When I made a visit to Cincinnati a month or two after my marriage, I stopped in a bar I used to frequent.  My former across-the-street neighbor was tending bar, and he said, “Paul, you’ll never believe this.  The craziest rumor’s been going around Clifton about you…”  He stopped in mid-sentence, glanced at the ring on my left hand, and said, “Oh, Jesus!  It’s true.”

Surely, I had no positive role models of marriage growing up.  My parents were monsters, people who had no business marrying, and even less business parenting.  I tried to take into consideration that not all marriages are like theirs, but they were so unavailable to me emotionally and spiritually that I learned to draw on my own resources, maybe to the point that I am either unwilling or unable to fully ask or receive that from anyone else.

The entries I post after this one will not all focus on the divorce.  Both Steph and I are maintaining our lives and our interests.  Steph is returning to the choir at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, singing at the 9:15 a.m. services.  I will continue to habituate the Sporeprint Infoshop and the events that interest me when I see them posted on the Columbus DIY message board.  We remain living together, although my office is now my bedroom.  (I have a twin mattress on the floor, which I upend when I am not sleeping.  Or at least I will upend it once I buckle down and clean this room–I’ve taken a page from Oscar Madison at his worst lately.)

While mustering the words to describe this turn of events, I went and pulled down my diary from the summer of 1996, the year we married.  Scotch-taped inside one of the pages, after an entry a week before the wedding itself, was a paragraph I clipped from The Discoverer, First UU’s newsletter.  We had mailed about a hundred invitations already, but in case we missed anyone from the church, we submitted this to the newsletter:



A similar announcement ran in the newsletter of 

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which Steph also 

attended at the time.  We had an Episcatarian service worthy of King’s Chapel in Boston.

We mailed out many wedding invitations, and people learned the date and time as soon as the next day, or a week to 10 days later, depending on the vagaries of the U.S. Postal Service and how far away from Columbus they lived.  But the news of the end of our marriage, because of the Internet, traveled to people we love at the speed of light.  This afternoon, Steph and I sat down, each of us in front of a laptop, and wrote the following Google Document, which we emailed to friends in our address books:

Dear Friends and Family,

It is with some sadness and some relief that we share news that we are ending our marriage as soon as it is feasible to do so, most likely within the next 18 months.  We will be sorting out some financial, health, and insurance matters before we even file for the divorce and expect THAT may take upwards of six months.  In the meantime, we consider ourselves to be single, simply roommates who happen to be co-parenting.  

 We have decided that our priorities are Susie and our respective roads to happiness.  That means there will be major changes ahead for all of us, but that we will try to keep things as level as possible for Su as we can, though, at some point, we will stop sharing the same home and that will mean huge changes in her life as well.  Luckily, we are all resilient as hell and will get through this just fine.  

 Before you all start guessing at the whys and wherefores, we will tell you that no one here has done anything really wrong.  Over many years together, we have grown apart and gone our separate ways, so much so that we now find our paths lead in opposite directions.  If you want to know more specific details than that, you are welcome to ask.  We will tell you whatever you want to know within the boundaries of our own abilities to know.  We do, however, ask that you not question Susie about any of these matters.  If she wants to talk to you, she will let you know and we would be glad she has reached out to someone.  But, please let her be the one to open the discussion.  

 One thing we can tell you for sure is that our daughter will be in Steph’s fulltime custody throughout these months and into the future.  Paul will remain her loving and devoted father with all the responsibilities and rights so accorded.  

 The divorce will be an amicable one.  While the marriage may be ending, the friendship and deep respect we have for each other is intact, if not stronger, for having made this decision.  We leave the marriage with no animosity toward each other.  We do not feel that our many mutual friends need to “choose sides”.  We will always be a part of each other’s lives.  We do ask that everyone show Susie the support and love that she will need during this difficult time to come.

 Peace to All and Blessed Be!

Steph & Paul

 That is about all there is to report at the moment.  There is a financial morass to sort out, because both of us want to emerge from this as unblemished as we can.  I would like to think we will sail through that, but reality is much more different.

Demolition as Spectator Sport (Remembering Sander Hall)

When I was at Ohio University, I was fortunate to take two classes from Jack Matthews, Distinguished Professor of English, novelist, poet, and world-renowned authority on book collecting.  Midway through spring quarter 1987, I submitted a short story which I called “The Dynamite Raffle,” describing the imminent destruction of a college campus eyesore, and the main characters’ attempts to sell raffle tickets.  (The winner would be the one to press the button.)

It would be premature to call myself a prophet, but when I left Athens and moved to Clifton, the University of Cincinnati’s student ghetto, I found that what I described–fictionally–was coming to pass.  Looming over the eastern part of the campus was a 29-story eyesore known as Sander Hall, constructed in the 1970s as a dormitory, and vacant since the early to mid-1980s.  It was chock full of asbestos, fire alarms went off at all hours (forcing residents, not all of them 100% awake and not all of them 100% sober, to scramble down all those poorly lit flights of steps to the main floor), and elevators were erratic at best.  Skyscraper dorms were the ultimate in naiveté.  University officials honestly expected 17- and 18-year-old kids, away from home for the first time, free of all parental restraints, and learning how their hormones worked, to be cooped up in these monstrosities in close quarters and actually live like civilized human beings.

So, for most of the ’80s, Sander Hall stood empty, like a big glass and cement tombstone.  Occasionally a strong wind would blow out a windowpane, but miraculously no one was ever hit by one of them.  It was almost a textbook example of how not to design a building.  Complicating the mad scramble down the stairs during a fire alarm was the fact that no one could survive in those stairwells during a real fire.  If you open a door to the stairwells during a fire, the stairwell becomes one giant chimney, and the likelihood of dying of smoke inhalation increases a thousandfold.

In 1990, the University of Cincinnati came to its senses and decided to demolish the building.  I thought this would be done piecemeal, by cordoning off a radius x number of feet from the building and then using a wrecking ball.  But that would not be the case.  They would implode the building with dynamite–the eyesore would be eliminated in one fell swoop.

June 23, 1991–19 years ago today–was the day Sander Hall was to be demolished.  A general party atmosphere prevailed around Clifton the night before, about half because of the excitement of seeing something that big being blown up, and also because this blot on U.C.’s campus would be gone.  (The last is somewhat ironic, because the University of Cincinnati’s campus in the ’80s and ’90s was far from attractive.  Except for the green lawn area facing Clifton Ave., the campus looked like an industrial park gone amok.)

I had a small party/wake to mark the occasion.  Two friends came down from Columbus, and a Cincinnati friend and I did a reconnaissance mission after the bars closed to see where the best vantage point to Sander Hall would be.  Our final decision was to stake out the plaza in front of the College Conservatory of Music.

The sun rose at 5:12 that morning, and my Cincinnati and Columbus friends were staked out at the location by 6.  We weren’t alone for long.  The area in front of CCM provided an almost unobstructed view of Sander Hall in profile, so we camped out with bags of Cheetos, big cups of fountain drinks, and other assorted nutrients.

There was a raffle to push the button to demolish the building, I learned on the news that night.  However, it was the chance to push a dummy button at the same time the demolition engineer pushed the real one.  (The reason: By Ohio law, whoever pushes the button is civilly and criminally liable for any damage that may result.)

I was beginning to get a little impatient, and you could feel the current of impatience go from one person to another like a static electric charge.  Finally, about 8:35, someone shouted, “Here it goes!”  I bolted upright from the cement urn where I had been sitting, and my friends all jumped to their feet as well.

I expected a big, long, drawn-out, spectacular BOOM! and seeing the building fall gracefully.  Nothing close to that happened in real life.  There were three somewhat loud pop! sounds, like a truck backfiring or a cherry bomb.  I looked up and Sander Hall buckled a little, actually seemed to sway, and then there was a whoosh! sound you could almost feel, and the building was just… gone.  A huge cloud of concrete dust seemed to fly up out of the ground, and it seemed to swallow Sander Hall completely.  (I was videotaping the coverage from WCPO-TV, Channel 9, at the same time.  Their reporter, Jay Shatz, was on the roof of another dorm.  When the building fell, someone shouted, “One more time!” and another voice said, “I didn’t get that.  Can we do it again?”  There were a few obligatory shots of the tape moving backwards so you could watch this giant cloud of rubble and dust suddenly fly together and become a skyscraper once again.  Television viewers are quite easily amused.)

We stood there aghast as the cloud of concrete dust began to roll southward.  The crowd began to scatter, some of them with their noses and mouths buried in their shirts, as the dust rolled to Vine St., and I could see that it hit Calhoun St. and didn’t even begin to dissipate until it reached W. McMillan (my street).  (There was an invitation-only all-night party in progress on the roof of Dollar Bill’s Saloon on Short Vine, and I wonder if the debris managed to ruin the party atmosphere there.)

When I returned to my small railroad flat above the Christian Science Reading Room on W. McMillan, I realized that I should have closed my windows before we left to watch the building come down.  There was a thin layer of yellow concrete dust in my kitchen and bathroom, and I took out a broom and a dustpan and went to work sweeping.

Once it seemed like the dust had cleared, we made our way back toward Calhoun St., a little dazed, since the adrenalin rush was waning as quickly as it had come.  There was a thin layer of yellow concrete dust over everything–we saw people writing their names with their fingers on car hoods and roofs.  We heard rumors that something had gone wrong, and that part of the Shoemaker Center (where the U.C. Bearcats played basketball) had been damaged in the blast, but this was not the case.  (TANGENT ALERT: The Shoemaker Center was named for Myrl Shoemaker, a Democrat who died in office as Lieutenant Governor of Ohio in 1985, during the administration of Dick Celeste.  The place is now called the Fifth Third Arena, because the powers that be at Fifth Third Bank can write checks with more 0s on the end of them more easily than can a deceased politician.)

The layer of concrete dust reminded me of my two weeks in Maine in 1982, during the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly (TANGENT–G.A.’s opening celebration commences in a little over an hour in Minneapolis) and Common Ground II, the convocation to build a new national UU youth group.  Whenever a wind blew, you saw solid yellow clouds of pollen blowing out of trees and hanging in the air.  Pavements and cars were crusted with it.  The fact that I was not in constant agony–running nose, watery eyes, itchy palate–made me realize that I had indeed outgrown my allergies.

Sander Hall topped the list of subjects when I sent out tape-recorded or written letters for the following week.  (I labeled one cassette “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!”, since the LifeCall ads featuring an elderly woman lying prone on her bathroom floor were popular at the time.)  Therefore, I was quite happy when the University issued a post card immortalizing the event.  (I was such a stickler for accuracy that whenever I sent someone a post card of the U.C. campus, I’d draw a bar sinister–the red circle with the slash like you see on NO SMOKING signs–around Sander Hall.)  Here is one that I sent my dad:

It took them awhile, but the University finally posted a streaming video on its Website, and here it is.  The photographic record is, of course, more accurate than what my eyes and memory recorded, so it was a little disquieting to watch these film clips and think about how it contradicts what I remembered seeing that morning, even allowing for my lack of sleep and the generous amounts of beer I consumed the evening before.  Also, seeing the videos, especially in slow motion, made me understand the concept of imploding the building.  Several civil engineering majors I knew had explained to me that we didn’t need to worry about flying debris.  They were not blowing the building up, they were blowing it in.  We had witnessed over a thousand separate dynamite charges, and the building had come down incrementally–quickly, but not all at once.

I remember seeing a classified ad in The Cincinnati Enquirer the following day advertising that so many cubic feet of concrete rubble was available for sale.  I didn’t buy any, but I regret not going to the debris pile and taking a chunk of the building as a souvenir, much the way people did with the remains of the Berlin Wall.

Several years passed before I realized just how significant June 23, 1991 was to be in my life.  That morning, almost 700 miles away in Yonkers, N.Y., Steph’s first husband left her (on their first wedding anniversary!).  Indirectly, my life changed irrevocably that day.

How Far Removed I Have Become…

My friend Scott and I went walking for the first time this calendar year.  Much has interfered with walking these past several months–the snowfall, my persistent cough, the gallbladder surgery and the recuperation.  Tonight, all the stars were in alignment.  Our schedules meshed, the weather was beautiful, and I actually felt energetic.

We toured the new Ohio Union for the first time tonight, a beautiful structure with an excellent food court (we ate dinner there), and I was amused to see the lyrics of “Carmen Ohio,” the OSU alma mater, chiseled inside the main lobby.  We each worship at our own unique shrines, I suppose.

Scott and I didn’t do as much walking as we planned.  A friend had asked Scott to make sure all the doors were locked at a rental property he owns east of campus, and once that was done, I told Scott I wanted to swing by FedEx Office and buy a new notebook.

Getting close to FedEx Office (nee Kinko’s) was much easier said than done.  The music at the O Patio and Pub was deafening, and the patio was at capacity.  It almost had the atmosphere of Michigan weekend or pre-Notre Dame football.  We asked around, and the first annual OSU AXE Undie Run was launching from there at 9 p.m.  The idea of this event was to wear clothing you will donate to the homeless and run a little less than a mile in your underwear.  (AXE, the sponsor, manufactures men’s toiletries.)  The race kicked off in front of the O Patio (near the corner of E. 15th and High) and would end at Pearl Alley and E. 16th, about a block north, via a circuitous route around Iuka and Woodruff Aves.  Ohio State was competing with nine other universities–whoever donated the most clothes (by weight) receives a half-naked statue.

As nine o’clock drew near, I admit I forgot all about buying a notebook.  There was a genuinely fun atmosphere as both women and men stripped down to their briefs and bras.  (The oldest participant was a man in his 60s, a memory I’m trying to exorcise from my head.)  Scott and I enjoyed watching it.  The atmosphere was festive, and I doubt any woman or man felt threatened in any way.

The title of this post refers to my realization (something I keep having to learn and relearn) that I’ve moved a generation away from the college crowd.  I have haunted college campuses and environs for most of my life.  My late father was an English professor at Marietta College, so we lived within blocks of the campus, and even at a young age I knew his students, as dinner guests, as babysitters, and later as friends.  As a teen, I frequented the Gilman Student Center on the Marietta College campus, since it had the best pinball machines and the first video games in Marietta.  In high school, I often hitchhiked to Athens (50 miles away) to drink or lose myself in the stacks at Alden Library.  When I landed in Boston, I lived in Boston University’s student ghetto and earned my living typesetting The Crimson, which brought me in close proximity to the Harvard campus.

So now I am a generation removed.  As Scott and I watched everyone stripping down for, and participating in, the Undie Run tonight, it came to me that these students were young enough to be my children.  Many of them were born while I was at Ohio University in Athens.  It was easy for me to forget this fact, since I didn’t become a parent until I was 34, but that is the exception, not the rule.  (I still shudder, however, when I think of a woman who worked alongside me at the Cincinnati post office, 30 years old and already a grandmother.)

College is often the happiest time of many people’s lives, but there are certain college towns that students and alumni love so much that they never leave, and they become fixtures.  Ann Arbor is like this, as is Athens, and so is Chapel Hill.  I knew people in Athens who stayed and worked for degree after degree, and once they had exhausted this, took low-paying jobs in town just so they could remain in the college milieu.

The most obvious (and tragic) example of this was a guy I knew in Athens, whom I’ll call Dirk.  He went to O.U. on the GI Bill in the late ’50s and graduated with a degree in education.  He taught in several elementary and secondary schools in Appalachia, and in the mid-’80s, about when he turned 50, he decided to return to Athens for a master’s in special ed.

Dirk lived in an apartment off campus, and went to classes at O.U. for about a year and a half.  Finally, his faculty advisor told him he was just wasting his money on classes, and that he would never be a good enough teacher.  Nonetheless, he stayed on in Athens, living on an allowance from his mother, hanging out mostly with students 30 years younger, taking his meals in the cafeteria, etc.  He was free with advice to students on how to conduct their romantic lives (though he was a lifelong bachelor), their academic lives (although he had washed out of his own program), and was a zealot about telling people to “act responsibly” (this from a man in his 50s living on his mother’s largess.)  I am not a Christian, but you gotta wonder if Jesus of Nazareth knew such a person when he spoke: How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:4-5)


I was in the cusp between my college years and the kids I saw tonight while I lived in Cincinnati.  As soon as I could afford it, I moved to an apartment in Clifton, near the University of Cincinnati, and the closest thing that Cincinnati would ever have to Greenwich Village.  I set up shop in the Subway restaurant across from my commodious W. McMillan St. apartment, and developed a rapport, if not deep friendships, with many of the people who worked there.  I was the one who made runs to the convenience store for cigarettes and beer, and, when the manager banned alcohol on the premises, the “sandwich artists” stored beer in my refrigerator.

Soon, I was permitted unlimited refills on soda pop, which I drank by the gallon, and even allowed to run tabs, which I paid off as soon as I was flush.  Here is a page from my notebook (actually a pocket 1994 appointment diary) which listed my tab.  The initials at the bottom are the manager’s, indicating that I had paid the debt in full.

TANGENT ALERT: Even as I was extending my adolescence well into my 30s, I did have my eyes out for bigger and better jobs and more exotic places to live.  Some were practical, some outright unrealistic, as another page in the same pocket diary will show:

Planning to live as an expatriate in the Czech Republic
at the same time I was rolling pennies for bus fare–
realistic, eh?

The first signs that I was moving beyond being a peer was when I was in a conversation with some students at  a bar near my place.  Somehow we got on the subject of when we were first allowed to stay up late.  I mentioned that the first time I was allowed to stay awake past dark was in July 1969, so I could watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon.  By the reaction this wrought, you would think I was reminiscing about seeing off the Santa Maria on its voyage to the New World.
And I knew I was different from the kids working there.  Some of the Subway workers called me “rabbi,” mainly because of my wire-rimmed glasses and my beard.  (If I had joined the Hasidim, it would make my wardrobe more colorful, to be sure.)  It was joking and respectful at the same time.
Many of the customers saw me as a fixture, as much as the fountain drink machine and the bright yellow booths.  I was the guy who would sit there for hours, either writing in a big red journal or poring over Kerouac or Hemingway.
I even felt this to a small degree when I first arrived at O.U. as a student in the spring of 1984.  I had the mystique of having lived in “the real world” for three years between high school and college–for a year unemployed, and two years working a “real” job.  This also brought the added bonus of being the only person in a freshman dorm who could buy hard liquor.  The age barrier goes up fast, but it was only tonight that I realized just how far removed I was.  I remember shaking my head at a 1990 editorial in Clifton magazine (U.C.’s literary magazine, published quarterly) which mentioned the Kent State massacre.  “We were alive then.  We couldn’t walk yet, but we were alive.”  I was in first grade then!
To make up for a somewhat depressing blog entry, I will post the few pictures I took at tonight’s Undie Run.  I apologize for their quality.  The flash on the camera was never that great, and the batteries are beginning to run low.  But here they are:
Not exactly a motto that would meet Mother Teresa’s
approval, but “Philanthropy Just Got a Whole
Lot Sexier” has more allure than “Give the shirt
off your back.”

AXE’s professional staff, handing out complimentary
socks and wristbands until they were gone.  GOOD
SAMARITAN GONE WILD might actually make
some teens return to Sunday school.

The man on the right manages the AXE Undie Run
Road Show.  If he can land an Undie Run at Brigham
Young University, he has my undying respect and
awe.

Preparation for the event–one of many
police cars and emergency vehicles, and
one of many photographers and guys
from the dirty-raincoat contingent.

Preparations for the run itself, as 9:30 p.m. draws
ever closer.  (They didn’t start until around 9:45,
actually.)

Day is done, gone the sun, and with it my
ability to take decent pictures.  All pictures
taken afterwards were mostly silhouettes.

There’s Good News Tonight!

The title of this entry is an allusion many of my readers will miss.  It was the on-air greeting of Gabriel Heatter, a Mutual Broadcasting System radio commentator and reporter during the 1930s and 1940s.  Since Susie and I were in Cincinnati at the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention today (technically, yesterday, since it’s now 1 a.m.), I thought this would be a good title for the entry.

My friend Steve Palm-Houser, whom I know from church, attended his first OTR convention this weekend.  I had talked it up to him all year, and he was sufficiently fascinated to make his first trip.  This was Susie’s third convention, and (at least) my seventh.  It was at a new location this year, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blue Ash,  a Cincinnati bedroom community.  Annually, I say this year I will audition for the broadcast reenactment, and I’ve batted zero on making good that vow.  (They use authentic working equipment, but the final product doesn’t go out over the air.)

We arrived late in the morning.  The Crowne Plaza is a totally new hotel to me.  Since Blue Ash has almost no public transit service, I may have been there twice in all the years I lived in Cincinnati.  When we came in the lobby, the ballroom immediately off the lobby was very full, but very quiet.  The easel just outside the door said that it was a pinochle tournament sponsored by the Cincinnati Yellow Jacks Pinochle Club.  The room had almost a churchlike, monastic silence about it, like I’ve heard can happen at chess and bridge tournaments.  The OTR people were quite boisterous.

I spent less money than I have in the past.  Most of the programs available on MP3s, or tape cassettes, or compact disks are now available free of charge, mainly from The Internet Radio Archive and other sites.  I bought a two-DVD set of ABC News’ coverage of the 1981 Reagan assassination attempt.  (The day it happened, I was watching CBS, so I am looking forward to seeing the late Frank Reynolds, on camera, blow his stack at his staff when he kept getting conflicting reports about whether Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, had died of his injuries.  I have never seen that, except for an out-of-context clip on YouTube.)  I bought a CD-ROM which featured Spider-Man’s first 10 appearances (in 1962; Amazing Fantasy #15 and the first nine issues of The Amazing Spider-Man).  That’s out of character for me.  I was never a big superhero fan, but when I was, I was more loyal to DC than Marvel.

I even managed to resist the usual stray impulse purchase of something I knew I couldn’t use.  It only took me 15 seconds to decide not to buy an old radio transcription disk.  This was a 16″ acetate recording disk, and radio stations used them extensively until magnetic tape emerged after World War II.  There was a time when I would have bought this disk (and more in the box), regardless of the fact that I have no phonograph that can play it.  The tone arm pivot would get in the way, and the grooves are wider than on a standard LP, which means the needle would skate constantly.

For those who think I’m still speaking in tongues, here is a picture of a transcription disk I downloaded from http://www.auldworks.com.

From Bob Gardner of Vintage Publishing, I bought a disk called News Program Collection.  Other than the fact that there are 134 episodes, I don’t know what is on it.  I’m just praying the files are labelled properly when I load the disk.

Susie didn’t come away empty-handed, but she was disappointed that the vendor who sold Archie comic books at previous conventions didn’t come.  She bought some MP3s of Fibber McGee and Molly.

Steve showed incredible restraint; for a moment, I thought he considered it a wasted trip, but he said he was trying to be prudent.  He bought Cornell Woolrich’s posthumously published Into the Night, which featured an Afterword by my friend mystery novelist Francis M. (“Mike”) Nevins, Jr.  That was it.

Many people tuned into Internet radio heard Susie a little after noon.  Neal Ellis and Ken Stockinger of Maryland broadcast live from their table at the convention, on their Radio Once More Website.  (In 2008, when I casually mentioned to Neal that Susie was the youngest person ever to attend the convention, he immediately stopped broadcasting Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and interviewed Susie.  Here is the link to my LiveJournal entry of that day:  LiveJournal Entry, April 12, 2008.  In it, I did err and say Neal was playing Boston Blackie when he made the snap decision to interview Susie.)  Susie took her place at the microphone just as the live broadcast was beginning, and she was much more at ease and much less tongue-tied than when she spoke in 2008.  Frantically, I tried to get onto Facebook through Steve’s Verizon Wireless phone to post a notice Susie would be on the radio at noon, but I couldn’t connect to my account.  I managed to text a few–very few–friends by cell phone about 11:53 (per the phone’s log) and send them the URL.  As far as I know, only Ivan in Vermont was successful in hearing the broadcast.  He texted me back: “I’m tuned in listening to Sus.  She sounds really grown up!”

Susie during the interview.  Across the table from her is Neal Ellis
(with the beard) and Ken Stockinger.

Susie reunited with two members of the Riverdale delegation.  In the hotel’s food court, we saw Rosemary Rice and Bob Hastings sharing a booth.  Rosemary Rice played Betty Cooper in the NBC radio program Archie Andrews, based on the comic books.  Bob played the titular role.  At an earlier convention, I met the late Hal Stone, who played Jughead.  Susie interviewed both Hastings and Rice for a school project in 2008, using a microcassette recorder.  Bob told her of his day-to-day working life in radio, and spoke in his Commissioner Gordon voice to her.  (He voiced Gordon in The Cartoon Network’s Batman: The Animated Series.)  As I was never a fan of McHale’s Navy (where he portrayed Lt. Elroy Carpenter) or General Hospital (Capt. Burt Ramsey), the first time I saw Bob on TV was as Tommy Kelsey, the barkeep on All in the Family.

Rosemary Rice and Bob Hastings (both from NBC
Radio’s Archie Andrews), with Susie in the food court
of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, May 8, 2010.

Tangent alert: This YouTube clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zY7HqCYgpM&feature=related is from “Judging Books by Covers,” a first-season episode of All in the Family.  Bob Hastings, as Kelsey, is behind the bar, most clearly visible beginning at 3:18.  This is an “ABC soap opera” episode.  Both Bob and Anthony Geary (Roger) would appear on General Hospital.  Geary would play Luke Spencer (as in “Luke and Laura”), America’s sexiest rapist.  Philip Carey’s (Steve) long career as One Life to Live‘s patriarch Asa Buchanan ended only when he died in 2009.

Steve loves bookstores as passionately as I do, so when we decided we had seen enough of the convention, we drove into Clifton, my erstwhile neighborhood.  The neighborhood is a lot less shoddy than it was, but it has become so brand-named and cookie-cutter sterile, and is losing what made it vital and unique.  It is not the Clifton that I loved.

One of the holdouts against the big brand names taking over (or property seizure by eminent domain) is Duttenhofer’s Book Store.  I moved to W. McMillan St. for the express purpose of living near it, and I was there constantly, and I visited about a dozen times for each time I actually bought something.  Russell Speidel, the current owner, is a very good man, and was generous with me when I was broke, either loaning me small sums, or buying books of little or no value so I wouldn’t be totally broke.  There were quite a few times, I’m sure, when he thought of himself as Mr. Wilson and me as Dennis the Menace.

I was disappointed not to see him behind the counter.  I actually bought something, so that may have been too much for his heart.  I bought a Fawcett Crest paperback of James A. Michener’s Centennial for $.50 and two other books.  I got a kick out of the fact that a thick hardcover of The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, which I sold him when I lived on W. McMillan, was still on the shelf, untouched for at least 15 years.  (I knew it was my copy because of a phone number I had penciled in the margin of one of the earlier pages of the book.)

All three of us were home by late afternoon, and I’ve maintained my good mood ever since, save for a battle with Facebook when I tried to load pictures I had taken in Cincinnati to my photo album.

It’s almost 3 a.m.  Susie and I are leaving for church a little after 8, since she’ll be singing at the 9:15 service.  I’ll be sleep-deprived, and I feel a little bad about neglecting the holographic diary, but I wanted to post my impressions here while they were still fresh.