First Time Blogging Since Turning 50

Early onset senility has not been the reason why I have not logged into this blog in nearly eight weeks.  I won’t waste my readers’ (or reader’s) time by listing all the lame reasons for why I have been absent.  I think I’ve been like many people who try to keep diaries.  They’ll go to the bookstore and buy a blank journal, write in it like mad for a week or two, and then toss it in a drawer and never pick it up again.  As far as keeping this blog current, to paraphrase A. Conan Doyle, “I can but try.”

I turned 500 (oops, one too many zeroes) on April 29.  Since then, I’ve done another stint at the Columbus State bookstore.  After a day trip to Cedar Point, Susie’s sophomore year at The Charles School ended.  At the end-of-year assembly, she learned that she is one of 20 students accepted for the Early College program at Ohio Dominican University.

However, the big news for Susie right now is that she is, even as I type, en route to Romania.  She and six other teenagers–and three adult chaperons–left Port Columbus this morning for a 10-day Justice Trip, representing First Unitarian Universalist Church here in Columbus.  (This was the best expenditure of a tax refund in the 30 years I have been filing!)  Just before I started typing, I received a text message from the church’s Associate Minister, letting me know they’ve all landed safely at JFK in New York.  (They will be there until late afternoon, before embarking on the longest leg of the trip, which is between New York and Helsinki.  There will be much tighter connections between Helsinki and Warsaw, and Warsaw and Bucharest.)

Susie is the first of our immediate family to journey outside North America.  My overseas travel was 15 minutes in Ciudad Juarez in 1987, where my sole activity was buying a bottle of tequila for $1.15.  Steph lived in upstate New York until she was nine or 10, which meant frequent trips in and out of Canada.  However, Susie journeyed to Costa Rica (for the “Winterim” trip at The Graham School), and now will be headed across the Atlantic Ocean to Romania.  (Although it is known as “the Eastern Europe of Eastern Europe,” Romania plays a prominent role in Unitarian history, and is as important as Jerusalem or Rome.  The only Unitarian monarch, John Sigismund Zápolya, ruled Hungary in the mid-16th century (as John II).)  A Reader’s Digest version of the Unitarian history of the region can be found here.

Our Associate Minister picked us up at 7:45 for the ride out to Port Columbus.  (The flight was supposed to leave at 8:30 a.m., but did not leave until after 10.  He called me, and the parents of all the other youth, around 2:15 a.m. to let us know.)  Before everyone headed to the TSA metal detectors and the American Airlines boarding area, they posed for pictures.  Here is the group, rarin’ to go:

Just across from the American Airlines ticket counter, after checking in baggage and scanning passports.  Susie is on the left, in front of the Honda logo.

There were many planning meetings for this trip.  One of the adult chaperons wisely mentioned that they would be together almost constantly, and they would get on one another’s nerves.  (There will be a buddy system to make sure no one is out and about alone.)  Susie told me that when the Graham School trip to Costa Rica ended, the plane had landed at Port Columbus, and was still sitting on the runway before the passengers disembarked.  One of the teachers in charge told everyone, “I love you all, but I don’t want to see any of you for 72 hours.”
 
I am taking the day off from work.  I thought about coming in to work once I knew Susie was airborne, but my sleep was spotty last night (Susie and I had considered staying up all night, but I caved a little after midnight, and she went to bed around 1 a.m.  I was just getting to sleep when my phone rang, bringing me the news the flight would be leaving later than expected.)  I foresee an early night for me tonight.  I am hoping that Susie and the others will take advantage of the long flight over the Atlantic Ocean to Finland, and get some shut-eye during that.

Advertisements

A Continent Apart…

Central Ohioans are currently reveling in the unseasonably warm temperatures for January.  It is currently 3:38 in the afternoon, and the temperature is 53° F.  Susie, on the other hand, is in Costa Rica (on her “Winterim” trip with her schoolmates at The Graham School), and has probably been to the beach once or twice.  (She may be there right now, as I am typing this.)

Her “big” Christmas present this year was a digital camera, and I am hoping that she will come back with hundreds of pictures to share with her Facebook friends and others.  The only way I’ve managed to keep abreast with what she has done is through her rather terse Facebook posts.  (I let her take her Nook down, mainly so she could play Angry Birds on the flight, but did not want her taking her laptop on this journey.)  She has gone kayaking, played soccer with some kids at a school in Monteverde, enjoyed the best strawberry milkshake of her life, and gone horseback riding and zip-lining.  (She was determined to skip the zip-lining, but did it and, despite being scared to death, loved it.  I am glad I did not tell her that one of the synonyms for it is death slide.)

Susie is the first in our family to leave North America.  My “overseas” travel is 15 minutes in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in 1987, en route back from San Francisco.  I walked from downtown El Paso, crossed the Rio Grande, bought a fifth of tequila, and came back to the U.S.  (This was in the pre-9/11 days, when crossing to Mexico or Canada required no passport, and also before Juarez became as dangerous as it is now.)  Steph lived in upstate New York until she was seven or eight, and therefore crossed back and forth in and out of Canada with her family quite often when she was a child.

Susie’s Graham School group left Port Columbus at 6:30 Monday morning.  Neither Susie nor I slept the night before.  She was too keyed up about the trip, and I knew the only way to be up at 3:30-3:45 was not to go to bed.  The mother of one of the girls going on the trip picked us up a little after 4 a.m., and we drove to the U.S. Airways terminal.  Columbus was dark and pretty quiet at that hour, and even the airport seemed to be more peaceful than I usually see it.  (My last trip out there was to buy $150 worth of colones for Susie’s journey.)  The kids (and two teachers) going on the trip were full of energy and excitement.  Nevertheless, three or four of the kids went off en masse to Cup o’ Joe to buy coffee and espresso.

Susie and Flannery after going to get caffeine.

I didn’t stay to see Susie off.  Check-in at the baggage counter began around 5 a.m., a full 90 minutes before takeoff, and the teachers assured us they could take it from there.  I marveled at how efficient Susie had been with packing.  Her suitcase was still small and light enough to go as a carry-on, which saved me a $25 booking fee.  Flannery’s mother and I left just after the attendants scanned and approved passports, and it was still dark when I fell into bed.  There was a text message from Susie on my cell phone when I awoke late Monday morning.  It was time-stamped 8:03, and it said In charlotte.  (They were changing planes in Charlotte, N.C., so I had asked her to text me once she arrived there.  I wasn’t sure about her cell phone service in Costa Rica.)

Back here in Columbus, I’ve kept myself occupied by nights at the bookstore, since the winter semester at Columbus State is in full swing.  This semester, us “old-timers” at the bookstore have been blessed with some very sharp, very hardworking, and very fun rookies.  You always come away from some customers wondering, “Just what is this person doing in college?”, but even they have seemed less than before.

So far, the most noteworthy event that has happened in Susie’s absence has been the end of my years-long quest for a Cisler brick.  I posted an eBay alert for “cisler brick” last year, and finally received an email saying one was available.  (I have written extensively about the significance of this brick in this entry, when I still used LiveJournal as a platform.  This article goes into even further detail.)  I made the payment online, and yesterday, when I came home from work, there was a Priority Mail box on my front porch.  I knew what it was, and my neighbors were a bit puzzled as to why I was so happy about getting a brick in the mail.  (One of my Facebook friends did point out–correctly–that getting it in the mail is better than getting it through the front window.)

The much coveted Cisler brick.

We are heading into a long weekend.  Both the State of Ohio and the bookstore will be closed Monday, in honor of the Martin Luther King holiday, and today is supposed to be the only day with decent weather.  Although I went to bed around 11:30-11:45 last night, I tossed and turned until nearly dawn, so I called off working at the bookstore today, which will definitely be a blow to my pocketbook once that payday happens.

But I did not regret it.  I awoke early in the afternoon, and when I saw that it was in the low 50s, I brought the trike out of drydock (i.e., my dining room), since next week the temperature is not supposed to exceed the mid 20s.  I rode around Olde North and the Ohio State campus area, and ate lunch at Five Guys.  My infirm Dell laptop is not up to my typing speed, so I have made a pit stop at the OSU Library to type this blog entry.

Susie will be back late Wednesday night.  Her plane lands around 11:45 at night, and I will be at the U.S. Airways gate ready to meet her.

I Have a Right to Cry Over Spilt Milk

I did not make any New Year’s resolution to post to this blog daily–although so far I have been batting 1000 on writing in my holographic diary (since I christened a new volume on New Year’s Day).  I enter a plea of “guilty with an explanation” for why I have not posted an entry since Christmas Day.

On Christmas Day, I was sitting on the love seat in my living room.  The laptop was in front of me, and I was holding a bowl of cereal in one hand.  The hand holding the cereal trembled a little, and a little milk sloshed out, just enough to render the keyboard useless.  So, I sent out an SOS to a computer geek at church (I brought my overloaded and very slow Dell Inspiron out of retirement for the time being), and explained the situation.  He said I will probably have to buy a new keyboard.  At the moment, there is a dispute about whether the computer is still under warranty.  That is why I have not taken any measures to fix it yet.

The Dell is too slow for extensive typing.  Working on it is much like the situation that fast Linotype operators often faced in the pre-photocomposition era.  A fast linotyper would often have to stop working in order to let the machine catch up to him.  My Dell is so slow that I could not work on it for a long time without losing my patience.  So, I am at the Whetstone library this cold but pleasant Saturday afternoon, bringing this blog up to date.

I know I was speaking in tongues for many people when I wrote about the Linotype machine, so I’ve included this video so you can see one in action.
Our Christmas celebration was low-key, as it has been for quite a few years.  I am fortunate that Susie was here with me in Columbus this year.  She will be gone for 10 days this month (more about that soon), so she, Steph, and I decided it would be best for her to spend Christmas with me, instead of Susie going down to Florida immediately after school ended for the winter break.
Steph’s gift to us was tickets to the premiere of Les Misérables at the Lennox 24.  We brought along our friend Ramona, and I almost needed CPR when the kid behind the refreshment counter told us that candy, popcorn, and fountain drinks for the three of us totaled about $37!  All three of us enjoyed the movie, and ate a large and delicious Christmas dinner at the home of Kittie and Steve, Ramona’s mother and stepfather.
Susie’s friends gave her My Little Pony stickers and two or three blank journals.  She gave me a Stephen King book that I did not own, and I presented her with her “big” gift–a Nikon digital camera.  Above, I mentioned that she will be gone later this month.  She is going on a “Winterim” trip to Costa Rica with students and teachers at The Graham School.  They will be leaving at 6:30 on January 14, flying U.S. Airways to San José via Charlotte, N.C., and will be back on the 23rd.  The trip is more nature- than history-oriented.  The kids will explore rain forests, visit an extinct volcano, and go horseback riding, kayaking, whitewater rafting, and zip-lining.  Susie is looking forward to all but the latter.  She will be the first in our immediate family to leave North America.  (Steph lived in upstate New York until she was in second or third grade, so she made several trips in and out of Canada during that time.  My only time out of the United States was 15 minutes in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on my way back from San Francisco in 1987.)
My other “big” present was a down payment for a youth pilgrimage to Romania, paid to the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council.  Our church is chaperoning several youths to see the key historical sites in Unitarian history and theology, in Transylvania and elsewhere.  (Susie is, of course, eager to see Bran Castle, which is the prototype for Castle Dracula–although I don’t think Bram Stoker ever visited Romania.)  Trips to Romania are relatively recent events.  Especially in his last decade or so of power, Nicolae Ceaucescu did not make Romania a pleasant place to visit or live, and they are still trying to pick up the pieces from his legacy.
Once Susie is back from Costa Rica, other changes are on the horizon for her.  On February 4, she begins classes at The Charles School, which is a middle and high school in partnership with Ohio Dominican University.  Steph and I, in a long series of instant messages and Skype phone conversations, decided that Susie was not learning at a high enough level at The Graham School.  (This came to our attention when she took a placement exam at Columbus State Community College, so she could take a night or weekend class there.  Her reading and writing scores, as we knew they would be, tested way off the charts, but her math scores were below the acceptable level to take classes–and this was in material she covered, and received good grades in, while at Graham.)  Early in December, Susie and I took a tour of The Charles School, and met with the dean of students (Steph participated via speakerphone), and Susie will begin there next month.
The Charles School will be more labor intensive than Graham–or many other high schools, public or private.  When she graduates, she will have a high school diploma and an Associate of Arts degree from Ohio Dominican.  It will mean an extra year of high school (there are “seniors” and “super seniors”) at Charles, but it also means two years of college absolutely free of charge–no paying for lab fees, textbooks, or course materials.
That is quite important, because there is no way I can afford to pay for college.  Susie will need any and all scholarships she can receive.  From a practical standpoint, The Charles School will cover two years of tuition, and I have no doubt that if she excels with their program, she will have no difficulty getting scholarships to cover the remaining two years.  Also, education at Catholic colleges is more labor-intensive than most state, and many secular, colleges.  (My father is a 1952 graduate of The Catholic University of America.  Oddly enough, the only U.S. President to graduate from a Catholic college was Bill Clinton–Georgetown University Class of 1968.  The erudite and well rounded President Jed Bartlet in The West Wing was a Notre Dame alumnus.)
Having said this, some things are remaining the same here as we veer safely away from the latest non-Apocalypse (the most recent was supposed to be last December 21, per the many mental cases who have too much free time and unfettered Internet access).  On Thursday evening, I began my seasonal stint as a bookseller and customer service drone at the Discovery Exchange, Columbus State’s bookstore.  The spring semester looms on the horizon, so I will be working most evenings and the next two or three Saturdays there.  I am grateful for this chance, since I am in no hurry to come home to an empty and quiet house while Susie is in Costa Rica.  I won’t earn a large sum of extra money, but every little bit comes in handy, and I do need to exercise, and the 15- or 20-minute walk to the bookstore from the William Green Building is quite aerobic, especially with ice and snow on the ground.
The Discovery Exchange, 283 Cleveland Ave., Columbus, Ohio.
 

Bless Me, Blogspot, For I Have Sinned. It Has Been Nine Weeks Since My Last Entry…

With Susie away for the weekend, I decided that I was fresh out of excuses for not writing in my blog.  When I pulled up the Website to begin typing, I was appalled to see that it has been over eight weeks since I last wrote in here.  I have been alternating all fall between a malaise where holding up my end at work and at home is my major accomplishment, and bursts of short-lived manic energy that usually end up producing nothing constructive, either at home or creatively.

Susie is spending this weekend as a chaplain at a Junior High Youth Conference at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Rocky River, on the west side of Cleveland.  She left last night, and will probably be back late tomorrow morning.  She and I are both a bit humbled by the fact that our involvement in National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) crashed and burned quite early into the “competition.”  I think she lasted a little longer than I did, but at least she has the constructive reason that she is also working on a writing project with a friend in Akron.  Their manuscript is a shared Google Document, and they work for hours each night online.  (The earliest practitioner of this that comes to mind is Stephen King.  When he and Peter Straub were working on The Talisman, in the early 1980s, their respective word processors were connected by telephone hookup–a primitive modem–between King’s house in Maine and Straub’s in England.)

Susie’s site (work experience) at The Graham School this fall is a twice-weekly stint in the Human Resources Office at the main library downtown.  She is finding the work–mostly filing and compiling packets for new employees–to be quite boring.  I come down on both sides of her predicament.  I can understand her dread of boredom.  As I have learned at my own job, especially in the last two or three years, extreme boredom leads to severe depression for me.  As I age, I find myself less able to combat or offset depression than I did when I was younger.

At the same time, the realist in me wants to tell Susie that there is a name for going someplace you really don’t want to go, and spending the entire day doing something that bores you to tears.  The name for this is employment.  (I have often wanted to say this to parents of gifted children who wring their hands about how bored their children are at school.)

There is probably a cause and effect at work here, but when I decided not to continue with NaNoWriMo this year, ideas for the novel I began (about four or five pages, altogether) began popping up.  I have begun to jot these down in notebooks, and will keep filling them in as they come my way, and in October begin working on some type of outline.  And at midnight on November 1, 2013, I’ll begin the book again from scratch.

I bought this Jack Kerouac Bobblehead from the Lowell Spinners, and put it on my desk in the hope (vain, thus far) that it would inspire me to keep my nose to the keyboard, much like Schroeder’s bust of Beethoven atop his toy piano.  Still has yet to happen.

Steph made a brief trip to Columbus last month, and all went well.  She made the trip so Susie could apply for a passport.  Since Susie is a minor, both parents have to be present when she applies.  Susie will be going to Costa Rica in January on a school trip (“Winterim”), and we wanted to make sure that the passport was in her hands well before her departure.

The only frustrating moment was when we applied for the passport itself.  Steph and Susie went to the FedEx Office downtown for passport photos, and then met me outside the post office across from the building where I work.  According to the State Department’s Website, we could obtain a passport at this post office branch.  When we got to the counter, the clerk told us that they hadn’t handled passports in years.  After venting some frustration, we took a taxi to the main post office on Twin Rivers Drive, where we knew they processed them.  The clerk behind that counter was a joy and a delight, and we finished the process in less than 10 minutes.  (Susie’s passport came in the mail last week.)

The passport will also come in handy next summer, when Susie and the youth group in Columbus hopes to fly to Romania, which is the first place where people first began to call themselves Unitarians.  This will include tours in Transylvania and Hungary.  In a way, it is analogous to a trip to Rome or Jerusalem.  Once Susie comes home from Costa Rica, I’m going to put an ad in Ohio State’s student newspaper, the Lantern, looking for someone to tutor her in Hungarian.

One place where Susie and I differ is that she still has not outgrown trick-or-treating.  I never cared much for it after I got to be about eight or nine, despite my love for sweets at the time.  Susie turned 15 last month (I bought her Taylor Swift’s new album, Red, and my friend, comic book writer Ken Eppstein, graciously signed a set of Nix Comics for her), but she was glad to walk around with a 12-year-old girl from church.  Columbus was quite the exception, in that trick-or-treat took place on Halloween’s actual date, October 31.

I usually mark the occasion by listening to a compact disk of Orson Welles’ infamous dramatization of The War of the Worlds, broadcast October 30, 1938, which scared the nation to death by describing an invasion from Mars in the form of news bulletins and the diary of a survivor.  (I was pleased to see one Facebook friend posting allusions to the broadcast: “Listening to Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.”  To show him I was in the loop on this, I quoted the voice of a ham radio operator after the Martians conquer New York: “2X2L calling CQ, 2X2L calling CQ.  2X2L calling CQ, New York.  Isn’t there anyone on the air?  Isn’t there anyone on the air?  Isn’t there… anyone?”)

But on the weekend after Halloween, I went to a very festive post-Halloween party at a friend’s house that is about a five-minute walk from home.  The young woman who hosted the occasion is fun to be around, and you are always in a good mood when you leave.

Saying goodbye to Amber, hostess extraordinaire.  (I have been a teetotaler for almost 15 years, but usually in party pictures, I’m the one who looks like he most has his load on.  This is one of the rare exceptions.)

 


Susie and her friend are working on a novel that includes a heroin addict as one of its characters, so as part of her research, I showed her Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955).  She watched with one eye and kept her other eye on her laptop for most of the movie, but she sat in rapt attention and stunned silence during the withdrawal scenes.  This was not Reefer Madness’ silliness.

I was happy about Obama’s re-election, although I did not stay up to wait for the announcement.  I went to bed a little after 10 on Election Night, and at that time Mitt Romney was leading by some 80 or 90 electoral votes.  Susie was awake before I was on Wednesday morning, and I asked her on my way out the door.  She told me that she learned sometime around 11:30, from one of her friends on Tumblr.

What struck me that morning was that regardless of who won, I still would be getting up, catching my bus, and going to work, making payments on Susie’s trip to Costa Rica, and mailing a check to my landlord.  (The governor’s race in 2014 is another matter altogether.  Governor Kasich has announced that he plans to run again.  His dream for State workers is for us all to be living under bridges and drinking Night Train while his cronies run privatized State agencies.)