Sweet Sixteen for Susie

With my penchant for precision, I waited until exactly 1:13 p.m., when Susie was born, before calling to wish her a happy birthday.  (She didn’t hear the message.  Her voice mailbox has been full for quite some time, because we forgot the passcode, and her phone was on vibrate.  We IMd on Gmail a few minutes later, however.)

Susie’s birth time is easy to remember.  It’s 13:13, in European or military time.  Mine is also simple–12:34 p.m.  One two three four.  My obsession with detail even revealed itself at Susie’s birth.  Susie was delivered, after some 36 hours of labor, by Caesarean section, at Grant Medical Center.  When she finally made her debut, I was behind the sterile screen with Steph, so I could not see the actual event.  Our midwife took the single-use camera out of the breast pocket of my scrubs, and took the picture.  Susie still had the umbilical cord connected to her, and the nurses had yet to clean her.  I grabbed the camera back from the midwife, turned around and took a picture of the wall clock.

I was on Amazon.com last week to order Susie’s gifts.  They were DVDs of the fifth and sixth seasons of House, and a copy of Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem!, which is Holy Writ for anyone who participates in NaNoWriMo.  (This is October, and November, the month for National Novel-Writing Month, is looming on the horizon.  Susie and I “won” NaNoWriMo in 2011, and since I’m doing the empty-nest thing, I guess I cannot plead too many distractions when I undertake it this year.)  I am not sure if Susie will try her hand at NaNoWriMo this year, but November is the perfect month for it.  It’s so literate people can have something to do during college football season.

Right now, I am unable to write about another one of Susie’s gifts.  I approach this with some reluctance because, as a former employee of the U.S. Postal Service, I am sensitive to criticism about it.  On Tuesday, I sent her a parcel via Priority Mail.  Included in the price is a tracking number, so your package leaves a trail beginning at the post office counter (in this case, at the Christopher Columbus station downtown, 43215) and ending up at its destination–which would be Merritt Island, Florida 32952.  I set up an alert so that the site would email Steph and me with each point in the package’s journey.

On Thursday, the email notified us that the package had arrived–not at the sort facility in Orlando, but in Honolulu.  I was an expediter’s assistant when I worked at the main post office in Cincinnati, so my guess is that someone in Columbus threw this package into the wrong tub, which meant it went out on the wrong flight.  We were in limbo until this morning, when I opened my email and saw that the package had made it to the sort facility in Orlando.  Unless someone drops the ball there, Susie should receive it tomorrow.  (I won’t disclose the contents, because Susie reads this blog.)

The government shutdown continues.  It brings back memories of 1995, when another shutdown occurred.  At the time, I was working for the Internal Revenue Service here in Columbus as an appointment clerk, and for that entire week, the atmosphere at work felt like a prisoner on Death Row waiting for a phone call from the governor.  On November 13 at midnight, Congress’ continuing resolution would expire.  I was on the phone to taxpayers and their representatives, telling them that I was cancelling appointments–no auditors would be there.  Our supervisor told us to report for work the next morning.

Outside the Federal Building, Mike Russell of WBNS-TV (Channel 10) interviewed me.  The only quote from that interview aired was my saying, “None of us got into government service with dollar signs in our eyes.”  I stand by that statement.  Anyone who enters government service at any level for financial gain is a fool.  Russell wanted to film more at my place on Highland St., so I came home and told Steph, “We’re having company.”  “Who?”  “Channel 10.”  Russell and a film crew arrived, and took some reaction shots of me watching Dan Rather on The CBS Evening News–on my black and white portable.  He showed me talking about living from one paycheck to the next, and how I would feel the loss of even one day’s wages.  (Compare this to an elderly woman who worked at the Industrial Commission when I arrived in 2004.  She had been there since World War II–hired when most men were in the service–and when she retired, supervisors found several uncashed paychecks in her desk.  If my paycheck is short $50, I feel its loss!)

We also came in the next morning, although the government officially closed for business at midnight.  I called a few more accountants and taxpayers and told them about the cancellations.  Finally, around 10 a.m., I left to get a Coke, and when I came back, my supervisor said, “Paul, sign your furlough letter and go home,” handing me the letter and a pen.  I signed it, put on my jacket, and headed for the door.  The telephone on my desk rang.  Just on instinct, I turned and reached for the receiver.  Then, I just shrugged my shoulders and walked out, and headed home.

The shutdown ended on the 19th of November.  I remember a video clip of Bob Dole (R-Kansas) saying, “If the government shuts down, his [President Clinton’s] fingerprints will be all over it.”  We see how well that worked during the 1996 elections.  Clinton was re-elected with 379 electoral votes, and he carried 31 states and the District of Columbia.

This weekend has not been totally boring.  I did some major cleaning in my study (the living room is next, since it’s turned into an Oscar Madison-type bachelor pad, which, even in my re-bachelor state, I’m not liking) and discovered a small pocket diary that I bought on eBay earlier this year.  It covers only the month of January 1887, and, because of its age and fragility, I will leave it blank.  It is also the only time I have ever seen an entire appointment book that covered only one month.  (I have seen five-year diaries–although I never used them–and appointment books where the whole week appears on two pages.)

I wonder if the Rhode Island Underwriters Association gave their clients a new diary every month, as a perk for buying a policy.

I left work early and went to a rummage sale at a friend’s house on N. 4th St.  Most of the selection was women’s clothing, which, of course, did not interest me.  I did buy $6 worth of records, including The Rock ‘N’ Roll Era–1963 (the year of my birth), a Time-Life compilation.  I was a little dismayed it did not contain “I Will Follow Him,” by Little Peggy Marsh, which was the #1 hit the week I was born.

(The week Susie was born, the #1 hit was Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind/Something About the Way You Look Tonight.”  I believe it was the recording of the version of “Candle in the Wind” that Sir Elton John sang at Princess Diana’s funeral that summer.)

Days at the Scanner

Earlier this week, I shared a Huffington Post article on my Facebook page.  The story carried some sad tidings–after 244 years, the Encyclopædia Brittanica will no longer appear in hard copy after the edition published this year.  I shared the article by email with several friends, many of them bibliophiles and curators of useless odds and ends of information.

As sorry as I am to see the Encyclopædia Brittanica fold, it also makes me wonder about the integrity of computerized and scanned records that students and researchers will see in the future.  In an earlier post, I posted a picture of John Hurt portraying Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s novel 1984, as he goes about rewriting historical records and periodicals to conform with the current party line.

My workload has been light this week, so I have been working in scanning, a job made bearable–and even fun–as long as I have audiobooks to listen to as I work.  (Yesterday, I finished The Stand, and today I began Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History.)  The job is fairly simple.  It involves stacking documents and forms into a scanner, clicking the mouse, and then making sure they scanned properly before submitting them.  Eventually, the original paper records are destroyed.

Logistically, this is the right thing to do.  Eventually, the stored hard copies would be impossible to maintain, and probably the State of Ohio (as well as other agencies–government and private sector) would constantly be scrambling for a place to store records.  Yet, computerized images and records can easily be manipulated or altered by either side in a legal battle, and there would not be a hard copy available for a comparison.

In no way am I suggesting that we eliminate microfilming or scanning paper records.  Soon after my dad died in 2000, I thought it would be fun to obtain a copy of his service record.  He served as a Remington raider (Army slang for a clerk typist) stateside from 1952 to 1954.  (He said that he occasionally considered writing to get his medals, but he never did.)  It seems likely, however, that his records were among the 80% of Army records destroyed in the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire in the St. Louis suburb of Overland.

When I’m looking up old articles online, I often try to see if I can look at a microfilm copy of the original page at the library as soon as possible, if not that very day.  As a young teenager, I was quite fascinated when I visited Dawes Memorial Library, the Marietta College library, and saw bound editions of Time and Newsweek going back to the 1920s, and learned how to thread spools of microfilm into the reader to look at The New York Times and The Marietta Times (I would sneak a peak at the comics page in the latter).  The library kept weeks of newspapers from all over Ohio, and some of the national dailies, but soon they would either put them on microfilm or throw them away.

I must admit the demise of the printed Brittanica hits me on a personal note.  During a 1987 discard sale at Ohio University’s library, Alden Library, I happily plunked down $10 for a 1947 edition.  The library was even kind enough to lend me a shelving cart to get the books down to my New South Green dormitory, and declined my offer to pay a deposit on the cart.  In addition to lying in bed reading random entries (yes, folks, I read reference books for fun), the books made excellent lap desks in a very popular class I took the next quarter.

It would also seem that supermarkets never offer encyclopedia sets for sale anymore.  When I lived in Cincinnati, Kroger offered the Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia for sale, and I, like many would-be buyers, ended up being an expert on everything from A to Argentina.  I bought Volume I for about $.12, and never kept up with buying the subsequent volumes.

One friend pointed out on Facebook that we will always need records that can withstand a power surge or a change in software.  (Whenever I’m tempted to say ’tis time to part when it comes to typewriters, I remind myself that I have yet to strike a wrong key and delete an hour’s (or month’s) worth of work, never to be seen again.  When writing his memoir Keeping Faith, Jimmy Carter deleted an entire chapter while using “my trusty word processor.”

Winston Smith writing in his diary, a scene in 1984.

I guess this is also the reason why I’ll probably never abandon keeping a handwritten diary, and why I’ll add to the stack of composition books, journals, calendars, and spiral notebooks that accumulate in my study.  I know that there is always a chance that LiveJournal’s or Blogger’s Website may one day irreparably crash, and this blog and all the hundreds of thousands of other blogs stored there, may one day disappear like a soap bubble. 

Wishing I Was More of a Techno-Nerd

Since I last posted, I learned how to download pictures from my new (to me) DXG camera.  That was how I was able to share the pictures and YouTube footage I shot at the “Kill the Bill!” rally at the Statehouse on Tuesday.  Until yesterday, I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that this camera features the ability to record audio files.  Between the lens and the shutter, there is a small microphone, and close to it is a speaker about the size of the nail on my pinkie.

Currently, I’m a little more than halfway through a taped letter (as in magnetic recording tape) to a friend in St. Louis, a tape I’ve been promising to mail him since before Christmas.  As I’ve been spending my breaks and lunches with my Memorex portable cassette recorder in my hand, I’ve also been wondering about the possibilities that the audio feature of my camera open up to me.

One thought has crossed my mind, the possibility of occasionally posting spoken-word entries to this blog.   I have made very short-lived attempts at keeping taped diaries in the past, never lasting more than a few days.  I was most prolific when I was carrying a microcassette recorder with me most of the time, a machine that has since conked out on me, but which I will replace this spring.

But for the moment, I am stymied as to how to proceed.  I made small sound files last night, of about 30 seconds’ duration max, consisting of little more than “Testing one, two, three.”  I was able to load them to the laptop, but how to get them from the hard drive to the blog is still a mystery to me.

And maybe it’s supreme arrogance on my part to think my life is so worth chronicling that I should endeavor to record it in yet another way.  I already have a voluminous diary, and I think that paper will ultimately keep longer than computer files.  I have this blog, which I’ve kept for four years (including its time on LiveJournal).  So do I need to turn on the microphone and open a vein?

I pondered this for awhile at work yesterday and today.  The surface of my work table here at home is too cluttered (beyond just the usual genius-at-work scattering of papers), but I did manage to clear away some of the detritus that has clogged my L-shaped desk at work.

Quite an odd assortment of inspirational figures.  I’m the only one who could hang up Abraham Lincoln, Jack Kerouac, Elvis, and Fritz the Nite Owl all in one space.  The picture of Susie is a school picture from second or third grade.  And, even though I make snide comments about my hometown of Marietta, Ohio whenever I can, a post card of the banks of the Ohio River, with Front and Greene Sts. in the foreground, hangs where I can see it many times daily.

Some more of the decorations adorning my pod wall.  Susie’s “mug shot” was from when she was in Bugsy Malone, Jr. at the Davis Center for the Performing Arts.  I didn’t have the money to buy a framed print of this New Yorker cover, so I hung up the original magazine cover.  The cast of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit hangs above a picture that a third-grade Susie drew (“I ♥ Chess”) of a chessboard and its pieces.

The only way I can guarantee not losing a memorandum or procedure list is to tack it to the wall, where my eyes will eventually light upon it.  This means there is usually very little cloth exposed.  Sergeant George Baker  published a comic called “The Sad Sack” in Yank, The Army Weekly during World War II.  One strip showed the hero of the strip at a paper-laden bulletin board.  He keeps burrowing deeper and deeper into the items tacked there until finally, by candlelight, he sees a yellowed order: “All men will fall out promptly at midnight to cross the Delaware River.  By order of General George Washington, 1776.”

The closest the Industrial Commission came to this was when an elderly woman in my department retired.  She had been there since about 1942, and she was hired quickly because most men were in the service by then.  She retired a year or two after I came, and when people cleaned out her desk, they found several uncashed paychecks.  (Compare that to me: If my paycheck is $50 short, I notice it immediately and I’m on the phone to payroll at warp speed.)  I am not sure of this woman’s precise age.  There are unconfirmed rumors that she waited tables at the Last Supper, while others claim she is Millard Fillmore’s illegitimate daughter.