Literally, a Post From the Road

This time, I am blogging while in motion.  It will only be August for another half hour, and I have neglected this blog most of the summer.  Tonight, I am riding on the upper level of a Megabus heading west toward Cincinnati and Indianapolis.  My final destination will be St. Louis, arriving there about 2:15 p.m. Central Daylight Savings Time.  This being Megabus, I will not be going the direct route, down Interstate 70.  I will be on this coach all the way to Chicago, due to arrive there at 6:45 a.m. local time.  Once the bus leaves Indianapolis, it will turn north and head up Interstate 65.

Just like I did when I made this trek in 2011, I will have an hour or so to wait at Union Station near Jackson Blvd., and then I’ll be southbound through Illinois on Interstate 55.  (I wish I could throw in an allusion about rolling up the Interstate “like a rocket sled on rails,” but C.W. McCall’s immortal song refers to Interstate 44, which does go through St. Louis, but mostly crosses Texas and Oklahoma.)  I guess I could throw in a line from Edward Albee’s Zoo Story: “Sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”

And my mission is the same.  I am visiting my friend John, whom I met 34 years ago this month at Circle Pines Center in Delton, Mich.  John is in a wheelchair and requires full-time care because of his multiple sclerosis, and is in an assisted living facility near the Delmar Loop.  We communicate by text messages and Skype calls, but this time it is different.  John will soon be moving to Madison to live closer to his brother, so the next time I visit him it will be in Madison.

I am also reuniting with a mutual friend of John’s and mine, Alex, whom I also meet at Circle Pines.  We were there for OPIK ’79, a Midwestern get-together of members of Liberal Religious Youth, which was the Unitarian Universalist church’s youth group at the time.  OPIK (rhymes with topic) was an acronym for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky.  The reason it took place in Michigan in 1979 is a long story that will only further bore the reader.

I am also making my first visit to the Gateway Arch since 1993.  On that trip, the Mississippi River was running wild as part of the Great Flood of 1993, and from the Arch I could see Laclede’s Landing completely underwater, and the whole area around the Arch looking like Venice.

I am also celebrating the end of another semester of moonlighting at the Columbus State bookstore, which was 2½ hours per night four nights a week, and eight-hour Saturdays.  I will receive a decent paycheck on the 13th, but I was coming home, eating not very well or healthily, and then falling into bed, only to repeat the cycle the next day.

Right now, it’s time for a confession: Writing in the blog tonight was Plan B.  I don’t want to overextend this laptop, because I left the power cord in Columbus.  I put it on the coffee table where I wouldn’t forget it, walked by, looked at it, and proceeded out the front door.  I remembered it when I unzipped my knapsack.

My first plan was to write in my diary, but the driver has disabled all the reading lights, so I can’t see the page (at least not until after daybreak) to write in there.  Right now, we are on Interstate 71, headed toward Cincinnati, where this coach will make its first stop.  Odd to be going to Cincinnati and not ending the journey there.

This blog is beginning to sound like the “traveling tapes” I used to make whenever my parents and I took a road trip–even if it was only the 11 miles to Belpre.  (I made longer tapes–on multiple cassettes–when we went to Richmond, Va.)

I’ll log off for now.

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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.
 

Damn, Damn, Damn…

I worked yesterday morning at the bookstore, and it wasn’t until I was there, and well into the workday, that I remembered that I had signed up for “Mark My Words,” a true crime-writing workshop at the Old Worthington Library.  The workshop was to begin at 2 p.m., and I debated leaving at noon, but my supervisor was not in, and didn’t feel right about just disappearing at 12 noon and leaving a note on his desk.

Diana Britt Franklin led the workshop.  She is the author of The Goodbye Door, the story of Anna Marie Hahn, “the blonde Borgia,” who is famous for being the first female serial killer executed in America.  (She was electrocuted at the Ohio Penitentiary in 1938, after killing many elderly people in Over-the-Rhine, the neighborhood just north of downtown Cincinnati.)  Franklin also wrote Gold Medal Killer.  I have read neither of these books, but just reserved them online from the library.

One of the reasons I forgot about the workshop was because I changed cell phones.  The Net10 cell phone I have carried for over a year is finally dying on me, and on Friday night I began using the Verizon phone a co-worker gave me.  I had not entered my calendar events into the new phone, so I forgot about the event until I had a “Wow, I coulda had a V-8!” moment while re-shelving the buyback books.  Meanwhile, on my dresser at home, the old cell phone had beeped to remind me to head Worthington-way.

I think my interest in true crime began in 1974 or so, unless you count my endless research on the Lincoln assassination.  When Charles Lindbergh died, the news programs ran small biographies, including the 1927 New York-to-Paris flight, his isolationism in the pre-World War II days, his environmental activism, and his writing.  Until I heard these, I had not known about the kidnapping and murder of his first son in 1932.  (For those of you who don’t know about this, Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son Charles Augustus, Jr. was kidnapped from his crib in New Jersey in 1932.  The kidnapper left a note demanding $50 thousand ransom, and mailed several other notes afterwards, including one attached to the boy’s pajamas.  Lindbergh paid the ransom, but no one found the child at the Massachusetts location the kidnapper had mentioned.  Six weeks after the ransom payment, the boy’s body was found in the woods by the Lindbergh home.)

Lindbergh had been a hero of mine, after I read about his flight to Paris, and before I knew about his flirtation with eugenics and Nazism.  I knew remarkably little about his life other than the flight, and knew nothing about the kidnapping.  (I wrote him a fan letter, which I never mailed, and its P.S. was “I was wondering–are you related to Anne Morrow Lindbergh?”)  I went to the library and borrowed the best book at the time on the case: George Waller’s Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case.  It’s a very thick book, with small type and no index, but I read it over a three-day period in the summer of 1975, and immediately went on to The Hand of Hauptmann, by J. Vreeland Haring.  Reading these books opened the door to my interest in true crime, and I began haunting the 364 (Criminology) section of the library.

In the last 10 or 15 years, I have become a bit more snobbish about my tastes in true crime.  I have bought true crime books by writers such as Aphrodite Jones and Ann Rule, but I usually relegate them to the less visible bookshelves in my house, like a teenager hiding pornographic magazines, or the same way I would hide Harlequin Romance novels… if I owned any.  To me, the three best true crime books written were Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Joseph Wambaugh’s The Onion Field, and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.  (In Cold Blood is a “non-fiction novel,” and later research bears out the thought that it’s more novel than non-fiction.)  The Executioner’s Song is a novel, but it is much more thoroughly and meticulously researched than many true crime books I have read, including the hastily produced ones that hit the newsstands days after a horrendous crime.  (I remember two books on the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide appearing less than a week after it happened.)

First edition of In Cold Blood.

Currently, I’m immersed in Stephen King’s newest novel, 11/22/63, about a Maine high school teacher who turns time traveler in order to prevent John Kennedy’s assassination.  I have yet to reach the part of the story where he meets Lee Harvey Oswald, but I am currently quite fascinated by his sojourn to Derry, Maine not long after the 1958 events in It.  (Derry reminds me in many ways of my hometown, Marietta, Ohio.)

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, a holiday for State workers, and Susie has the day off from school as well, so we’re going to mark the event with eye examinations.  Long overdue, but quite necessary for both of us.

Winter Solstice is Officially Here

It seems that I have to kick off more and more blog entries by apologizing for not posting more frequently.  I plead the usual–work overload and utter exhaustion once the work day finally ends.  I’m logging the usual 40 hours per week in service to the State of Ohio, and two or three nights per week at the Discovery Exchange.  (The winter quarter is in full swing at Columbus State, but my supervisor asked me if I would stay on until the end of next week.  I need the extra cash too much to decline such an offer.)

As I left the DX (as Columbus State people call it) last night, the snow began to fall.  I was under-dressed for this, since the temperature was in the mid-40s when I left my house around 7:30 a.m.  It was cloudy and gray, but I didn’t give that any special consideration.  From mid-November to about March, Columbus residents speak of seeing the sun the same way other people talk about UFO or Loch Ness Monster sightings–and usually receive the same skeptical responses.

When I left the Industrial Commission at 5 and started to make the 0.8-mile walk east on Spring Street, a cold rain was falling, and I was, as usual, hatless.  I managed to keep busy by re-shelving buybacks and customer assistance, so I was astonished when the work day was winding down and I saw that wet snow was starting to fall.  Snow had covered most of the ground, including the sidewalk and streets, much thicker than the very light dusting that covered the grass just before Christmas.

Susie came home about 30 minutes after I did, not happy about having to walk from High St. to our house in the snow.  Now that she is older, snow is definitely losing its allure.  The Susie and snow memory that I will retain until the day I die was the sudden dumping of snow in February of 2010.  I was lying abed, recovering from my gallbladder surgery, and Susie and one of her friends shouldered snow shovels and went all over Baja Clintonville, coming back $40 richer.  They were out earning money, and getting some major exercise, while my major accomplishment that day was that I managed to get from my bedroom to the bathroom and back without having to hang onto the wall the whole way.

One of the books I got for Christmas when I was about three or four.

I still enjoy snow, although, as I get older, I like it more while I’m watching it from inside.  I never willingly participated in a snowball fight (I knew kids in Marietta who were not above putting M-80s and rocks in their snowballs), although I enjoyed sled-riding.  I was a bit of a chicken when it came to sled-riding–I stuck to my easy-to-manage flexible flyer, inviting ridicule from kids who used saucers, car hoods, flattened cardboard boxes, etc.  (I have never ridden on a metal saucer.  Once they started going downhill, you were a projectile, with absolutely no way of stopping until the hill bottomed out or until you hit something.)

The hill next to Mills Hall on the Marietta College campus was the one we used most often.  The campus was private property, and security officers had repeatedly run us off, but we had the rules-are-for-canasta attitude that I still retain to a lesser degree, even now, and security finally gave up.  It was steep enough to get up a good head of steam while you were headed downward, but not so fast as to instill terror.  Usually, your ride would stop when you hit the chain-link fence that enclosed a small basketball court at the foot of the hill.  It would smart a little, but usually the kids wore enough heavy clothes that it wasn’t more than a bump.

Susie had school today, and I went to work.  I took for granted I’d be working, since the State barely agreed to close all offices during the 1978 blizzard.  I made the lunchtime walk to the Payroll office at Columbus State, but moved a little more slowly than usual, since I was afraid of slipping and falling.

The snow hasn’t kept Susie and me confined to quarters.  We’re both at Kafé Kerouac right now, and I’m typing away while two aspiring guitarists play on the stage.  (Listening to these guys, I think they will be aspiring for a long, long time!  Susie reviewed them in her blog and her critique is quite accurate.)  High St. looks pretty clear, and there’s plenty of condensation on the windows, which makes the streetlights and car headlights look a little ghostly.

While we were walking here tonight, the neighborhood seemed to be pretty quiet, other than some music from some of the houses we passed.  This is quite a contrast from last night, when the sound of the wind howling up and down Maynard Ave. awoke me several times.

Marietta did not get the full force of the 1978 blizzard, although we missed a lot of school because of the snow, and because the Bituminous Coal Strike drove up the price of heating.  When snow came, it was quite subtle.  I remember one Sunday night calling a friend of mine and saying, “Hey, it’s snowing.”

“It is?” he said, quite skeptically.  There was silence on the line for five or 10 seconds, and then he gasped, “My God, it is!”  He and his older brother made the 15-minute walk over to my house, and the three of us left together about 15 minutes later.  His brother was disappointed, as we retraced their path, to see that their footprints hadn’t been covered up.  A day or two later, snow was falling fast enough and heavily enough that footprints disappeared almost as you made them.

An All-Too-Short Breather From Moonlighting

I can tell that the end of the academic quarter looms at Columbus State Community College when I begin logging 12-hour workdays–my usual “day job” at the Industrial Commission, and the 2½ hours I work afterwards at the Discovery Exchange.  I wasn’t expecting to be back at the bookstore until Christmas, but I emailed my supervisor there to find out when he wanted me to start, and he asked me if I could start the first week of December.  My finances–or the lack thereof–made that an easy decision, quite a no-brainer.

So, starting Monday evening, I have been working at the bookstore, arriving home just before 9, and by then I’m usually so exhausted that I tumble into bed right away… and still don’t feel all that refreshed when the alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning.

It may some lingering NaNoWriMo mindset.  Even though I no longer have to type at breakneck speed to produce writing of questionable–if not outright nonexistent–literary merit, I still feel like I’ve expended an enormous amount of energy during the day, and just the proximity and practicality of sleep is enough of a suggestion that I tumble into bed at an early hour, often times before Susie.  (Even when I do stay up late, it is difficult to pinpoint when exactly she falls asleep.  She often dozes off reading or writing in her journal, so there’s light coming from under her bedroom door regardless of how late the hour.  If I’m passing her room at 2:30 a.m. en route to the bathroom, I’ll see the light, and long ago I came to realize that she’s sound asleep and has no problem sleeping in a brightly lit room.)

Susie and I are at Kafé Kerouac right now, just north of the Ohio State campus.  This is a good post-NaNoWriMo location, and a good place to host a write-in next year.  Kerouac wrote the version of On the Road that catapulted him to literary fame (and fortune–most of which he drank) in a style that NaNoWriMo writers would make famous over 35 years later.  After many false starts, Kerouac wrote On the Road in about three weeks, fueled by amphetamines and black coffee, writing on a long scroll of Teletype paper and getting up from the typewriter only for trips to the bathroom.  I am 48 years old now, so I have outlived Kerouac by a year, but I doubt that I would ever have had the spontaneity or the stamina to try such a project in such a radical way.  Several years ago, Viking published Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, and the work notebooks show that the writing of On the Road may have been spontaneous, but the text and the story was quite premeditated.

The famous scroll manuscript of On the Road.

This is the calm before the storm at the bookstore.  I have spent most of my workdays (-evenings?) re-shelving returns as students return them.  There are usually about five of us working on the second floor at night, and as one quarter winds down and the new one has yet to begin, there is not much customer traffic.  Sometimes I have to combat boredom, but shelving is a task that I genuinely enjoy.  During the lull in activity, when there aren’t even any books that need to be put back, I remind myself about how much I’ll relish moments like that once the onslaught starts again after Christmas.

One of my favorite isolated lines in Stephen King’s The Stand describes one of the heroes, Larry Underwood, tending to his mother when she becomes ill with the flu that eventually kills her and 99.4% of the human race.  Before anyone realizes just how deadly this is, he helps settle her in bed, moves the TV to her bedroom, buys her some paperback books at the corner store, and fixes her a small meal.  “After that,” says the narrative, “there wasn’t anything to do except get on each other’s nerves.”  To a much lesser degree, that’s kind of what we’re like on the second floor when there are no customers and no books to shelve.

The cashiers and customer service people downstairs place returns on a library cart, and when one is full enough, that’s when someone from the second floor (lately, me, but not exclusively) will come down and get it, exchanging it with an empty.  Because a loaded cart weighs so much, we take it up in the bookstore’s freight elevator.

One of my coworkers is a young woman from the Republic of Guinea in West Africa, who is taking pre-med classes at Columbus State.  She was a little scared when I told her the books had to go up in the freight elevator.  (I had seen her wheeling the cart toward the passenger elevator.)  Having worked at the Cincinnati post office, I have no fear of freight elevators.  The one at the Discovery Exchange could accommodate a small Toyota, but it has a mesh gate that raises and lowers, and the heavy steel external doors smash together with a sound that can make you jump.  As she and I waited for it, I’m sure my casual references to the “Elevator of Death” didn’t put her at ease.  (I suppose I should never let her see the L.A. Law episode featuring the death of Rosalind Shays.)

When I was 15 and living in Marietta, I helped a friend of mine deliver newspapers in the business district.  He had several customers in the Dime Bank Building at Second and Putnam Sts., across from the Washington County Courthouse.  The Dime Bank Building had an old, antiquated hand-operated elevator, complete with an old, antiquated elevator operator.  You got in, he would slide the accordioned gate shut, flip the lever (I always thought it looked like a ship’s engine order telegraph), and up you would go, watching the floors go by as you rose.

I made an all-too-quick trip to Cincinnati the first weekend of November, while Susie was at a church Coming of Age retreat in the Hocking Hills.  One of the people I took to lunch was George Wagner, who managed the apartment building where I lived.  George worked part-time as a clerk at Ohio Book Store on Main Street, and he had a healthy fear/respect for its freight elevator.  He emphatically stated he was not afraid of the elevator.  “I burn incense to it.  I pray to it.  I recite the 23rd Psalm before I get aboard it.  But no, I am not afraid of it!” he told me many times when I lived in Cincinnati.

Here I Come to Save the Day!

When the start-of-quarter rush ended at Columbus State Community College, I left the bookstore thinking I would not be back again until December.  I was grateful for the extra money, and usually the job is fun, but at the same time I felt bad about leaving Susie home alone.

Yesterday, I came back from lunch and read a panicked email from my supervisor at the Discovery Exchange. The night manager was unable to come in on Wednesday, Thursday, or Monday.  I know it’s last-minute, but could you possibly…?

It didn’t take long for me to hit Reply and say “yes,” I would be there.  I left Susie a voice-mail message, and typed an email to her, telling her I’d be home late, and to leave me some food in the Crock-Pot, and be sure her homework was finished.  And when 5 p.m. came, I did not head north to Baja Clintonville, but walked the 0.8 miles to the bookstore.

Once I stepped through the front door, it felt like I had only left the day before, not two weeks.  Cashiers who worked with me before said hi, the coordinator handed me my old apron (a black apron with my round name tag and my Buy Local! pin), and I had been upstairs less than a minute before I was pushing a book cart and shelving buybacks and returns.

No class at Columbus State uses this textbook, but the title is just too good not to share!

The temporary bookstore gig has also been helpful to my mood.  After the initial euphoria and adrenalin about the move, and the splendor of our new place, wore off, I began to sense the red flags that signal a depressive episode.  We often tell children, “Listen to your body” when we toilet-train them, so they don’t have accidents in their pants, but too often we don’t “listen” to the symptoms that indicate a depressive (or manic) episode is just around the corner.

The lack of energy, the urge to sleep all the time, no motivation (despite having a crap ton of work to do to get this place ready for visitors and to look like we live here–as opposed to crashing here), all of it was starting to worry me.  I made it a point to refill my lithium prescription at CVS on Tuesday, since this would not be the time to run out of it.

So, armed as I was with a 30-day supply of lithium carbonate, the email from my supervisor was an added bonus.  I felt honored that he turned to me in this semi-crisis.  It would be unrealistic for me to write or believe that I am unneeded–as a single parent, and as a full-time civil servant, it would be the epitome of self-pity, and completely unjustified at that.  Nevertheless, it improved my mood and my overall mental level of functioning when I received this email.  Feeling needed in a crisis is a positive supplement to the extra money I will earn as a result of this.

I’m glad to be inside.  The rain is falling outside.  No thunder or lightning, but there is a steady rainfall just outside my window, an interesting counterpoint to the crickets.  It’s 61 degrees outside–I walked from the bus stop to my house with my shirtsleeves up.  We had spaghetti ready to go in the Crock-Pot when I arrived home, but I had to run an errand to the little market around the corner to buy some vegetable oil and Parmesan cheese.  It was misting at that time, but the sky was cloudy.  Now the rain has begun to fall.  And it’s having a tranquilizing effect on me, which is a good thing.  (I was virtuous and drank Diet Rite this evening, which is caffeine-free and taste-free.)

What Hath God Wrought?

I guess the first words Samuel Finley Morse sent by telegraph are an appropriate way to christen my new computer.  After the theft earlier this month, I spent much time on the phone and online with Purchasing Power, a union benefits which enables me to buy computers through payroll deduction.  (Thirty-nine payments, and this baby–and the computer I bought for Susie–will be ours free and clear.)

So, this is the first blog entry on my spankin’ brand new Hewlett Packard Pavilion dv7.  The two computers (along with the various accessories and program disks) have been arriving all week, but tonight I finally cut the boxes open and set up both machines.

My new machine.

This afternoon, the leasing agent gave me the keys (all three of them) to our new half double on Maynard Ave.  Officially, Susie and I will be in residence Saturday, although we’re going to begin moving in piecemeal during the week.  (I am leaving most, if not all, of the furniture behind.  One of the reasons I’m leaving Weinland Park is to get away from the two-legged pests around me.  It would be counterproductive to take six-legged ones with me.  Thanks to the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio, I’ll be able to start over from the ground up with new furnishings in our new place.)  Susie was happy as ever when she came home this afternoon (from a Unitarian Universalist Youth Conference in Kirtland, Ohio) and walked through the house the second time.  The floors smelled of fresh varnish, and all the keys worked.

Susie and I are “in exile” this week.  Last Sunday afternoon, I was jumped and robbed on E. 6th Ave. while walking to Kroger, after cutting across Weinland Park Elementary School’s playground.  If I wasn’t already vacating the neighborhood, I think I would be much more traumatized by the event, especially if I had the feeling that there was no escape.  The kid that ran up behind me and sent me sprawling across the sidewalk didn’t cause any physical damage, other than some pulled muscles in my shins and two skinned knees.  A bizarre byproduct of the mugging was that I am so grateful that I use a debit card much more often now.  If this had happened anytime before this spring, I would have cashed my paycheck on payday and carried one or two weeks’ worth of wages around in cash in my wallet.  So, as it was, this thug came away with $7 in cash, but I still had money available, even with payday almost a week away.  So, we’ve been staying with Pat and his family until we officially move into our place in the Old North.

I spent much of this weekend working.  The fall quarter started at Columbus State Community College, so I worked eight hours yesterday and four hours today.  The four hours today were much more boring.  I was operating at a serious sleep deficit, because Pat, his daughter, and some of his friends and I went to see Metropolis at the Grandview Theater.  It was the first time I had seen Fritz Lang’s dystopian 1927 movie, and it was Fritz the Nite Owl’s September offering.  The show started at 11, with the latest episodes of Aidan 5 and Metropolis-related music videos.  I wasn’t in bed until nearly 4 a.m., and out of bed again a little after 7:15.  I ran outside after showering and dressing, and barely made it to work on time.  As Messrs. Lennon and McCartney would say, I made the bus in seconds flat.

So what was the high point of the work day?  Nationwide Insurance’s world headquarters looms to the east of the Discovery Exchange, and I watched workers on a scaffold (like high-rise window-washers use) install a letter t at the top floor of One Nationwide Plaza.  They’ve already installed Nationwide’s trademarks and the letters N and a.  Looking out the windows facing west, I could watch the workers as they set the t in place.

Even a four-hour work day, on very little sleep, seems to drag on forever.  It was a little more bearable because there were two overflowing carts loaded with returned books, so I disappeared into the shelves and put the books back where they belonged.  I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t at church, but this is the only Sunday of the quarter that the bookstore is open, and every little bit of extra cash comes in handy.  It was both a blessing and a curse that I had something to look forward to–Susie’s return from the conference, and getting the keys to our new abode.

Amazing that I’m able to hit the right keys, and so post a blog entry that looks like passable English.  I am still learning this keyboard–it doesn’t quite feel right to me yet, although I know I am going to spend many quality hours with it in time to come (especially if I make another quixotic attempt at National Novel Writing Month come November).  Add to that the fact that I am quite exhausted, and I’m surprised this post doesn’t resemble a spilled type tray.

Another milestone of the weekend: I made a pot of chicken soup for dinner tonight, a very generous portion that served all six of us, with ginormous portions left over.  Tanya walked me through the procedure step by step, and I ate two whole bowls of it, and everyone was sated.  I received a lot of compliments.  Next week, I’m learning split pea soup.

Dusting Off the Blog and Writing

Very early Saturday morning, I Twittered that I was far too exhausted to post a blog entry, but that I’d do my damnedest to do so that evening.  At the time, I was sitting with my laptop in (where else?) my lap, in a hallway on the first floor of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Cleveland.  That predawn in Shaker Heights found me “night angeling” at Jurasicon, the spring youth conference for the Ohio-Meadville District.  Susie was there, part of the two carloads of us who came from Columbus.  (A night angel is an adult and/or youth who walks through the church to make sure everyone is okay.  Early Saturday morning it’s an easy job, because all the kids are easy to find.  At that hour they’re all flying off the walls.)

You’ve probably figured out by now that blog entry never materialized.  This was not–repeat, not–due to a lack of material to cover.  Quite the opposite is true.  On Friday, I turned 48, and being in Shaker Heights as a sponsor at a UU youth conference was the perfect way to celebrate.  Susie has made a 180-degree turn from the barely social shrinking violet she was at the first conference she attended, last year in Pittsburgh.  She gravitated straight toward the friends she met at previous conferences, and her feet barely touched the floor all weekend.

Susie (left) and two of her pals at Jurasicon, Shaker Heights, Ohio, April 29-May 1, 2011.

The conference (“con” in youth parlance) was a joyous event, but there were some bumps in the road.  One of the youths I was sponsoring, and who rode up with me from Columbus, came down with strep throat on Saturday morning.  My co-sponsor and I thought he was overreacting at first, since we couldn’t see any white spots in his mouth or throat, and he seemed to perk up after a little while.

After a very little while, that is.  By the end of the morning, he was lethargic, the throat felt worse, and the telltale white spots were there.  I suggested that he bunk out in the sanctuary.  It was a big enough space that people could stay away from him, and the only room that had little, if any traffic.  Someone came up from Columbus and took him home, and the other sponsors related anecdotes about the “chickenpox con” from two years ago–which made me quite thankful Susie had been too young to attend (although she has had chickenpox and is now, presumably, immune.)

A young girl I was sponsoring broke her toe playing Ultimate in the field across from the church.  (“No violence” is one of the standard non-bendable rules at youth cons, yet games of Kissy-Face and Ultimate are very popular, and the kids play them in a way that makes Rollerball look tame.  I think it’s the same as the way Quaker boarding schools’ field hockey games are frightening to watch.)  A paramedic sponsor splinted her toe with two spoons at first, and later with the more orthodox makeshift splint, a Popsicle stick.

Susie and her friend Cynthia performed an improvisational comedy act during the Talent Show, and after the Talent Show came the bridging ceremony, for high school seniors attending their final conference.  By the time it was over, there was not a dry eye in the Fellowship Hall.  I speak from personal experience when I say that many of the friends you make at these cons will be part of your life even 30+ years later.

I am sorry to have to report that Susie crashed very cruelly back to earth late Sunday afternoon, once we were back in Columbus.  She spent the weekend in very loving surroundings, with friends on all sides, talking, laughing, and singing with her.  Late in the afternoon, she went to the playground near our house, and soon came home in tears.  A girl from her school (who lives in the neighborhood) harassed her, pulled her hair, and beat her in the face and head.  Susie was neither bruised nor bleeding, but she was badly shaken up.  We called the police, and when the officer came, he was talking to Susie when the girl who attacked her went by our house on her bike.  The officer pulled her aside and talked to her, but did not arrest her.  Apparently, unless they witness it directly, it’s a she said-she said type of situation.

Yesterday morning, Susie and I spoke to the assistant principal of her school, and he said he would speak to the girl’s parents that day.  Despite his assurances that Susie is in his jurisdiction from the moment she steps out of our house en route to the bus stop until the moment she crosses our threshold again, both Steph and I doubt she’s completely safe.  The school handbook spills a lot of ink about its zero-tolerance policy about bullying, but it all boils down pretty much to, “Bullying is bad, mmm-kay?” (spoken like South Park‘s Mr. Mackey)

Last week brought a surprise to me–a much needed one at that.  My supervisor at the Discovery Exchange (Columbus State’s bookstore) emailed me to ask if I was available to work evenings this and next week.  I replied within minutes of reading the email (“Yes!  Yes!  Yes!”), and have gone straight to the bookstore from the Industrial Commission last night and tonight.  The pace is much slower than during rush, and I’m enjoying it.  The last few days at the I.C. have been busy, trying to finish work before a computer upgrade, and the bookstore job has been the perfect place to decompress.

Bachelor Father’s Diary

Steph left for Florida Tuesday night to see some old and new friends, so between working (both my “real world” job with the State of Ohio and my part-time bookstore job) and being with Susie, my idea of leisure time has been sleep.  It’s not that I don’t love my readers, it’s just that I’ve been so exhausted that the end result of any session at the keyboard would not have resembled English.

Today begins my last week at the bookstore.  (I must be good at what I do, because twice my supervisor has emailed me and asked me to stay longer.)  I am eager for the 13-hour days to end, but a look at my finances made me realize I’d be crazy to turn this down.  Today was the one Sunday per quarter the bookstore was open (albeit for only four hours), and every time a cart full of returns and buybacks materialized, yours truly was in and out of the stacks, shelving them.

Susie and her drama class went to see a matinée performance of West Side Story at Eastmoor Academy last week, which was a welcome break from the regular school day.  When I came home from work, Susie left a stellar report card on my keyboard for me to sign.  (The keyboard is the only place where you can leave something and be sure I’ll find it.  The rest of this desk makes me look like I’m auditioning for Hoarders.)

Tonight I served lasagna for dinner, and put my culinary skills to work.  Preheat the oven to 375º, put the lasagna in, set the timer for 45 minutes.  I’ve downloaded the recipe for tuna casserole, and that may be dinner tomorrow night.  Quite a filling meal, and none of its ingredients are that expensive.

Never saw the show, but the title card is appropriate
for describing my life since Tuesday night.

Susie and I went to the First Friday potluck at church on–when else?–Friday evening.  We were invited to a soccer game at Crew Stadium (against FC Dallas), but declined.  I am not a sports fan, and neither is Susie, plus we were under-dressed.  By the time the game ended, the temperature would have been in the 30s.  Susie was already starting to nod off as we were on the bus headed to church, and I wasn’t surprised when she headed straight to bed once we came home, save for a cursory glance at her email.

Pat took me to lunch at the Saigon Palace Friday afternoon, and the sesame chicken meal was filling enough that I debated not eating anything at First Friday.

Susie’s godmother Cynthia took her to Cirque de la Symphonie last night at the Ohio Theater.  I ate dinner at the McDonald’s on campus, and was so wiped out that I considered taking the bus the 1.3 miles.  But I didn’t.  I hoofed it the entire way, and even made the trip a little longer by using side streets and back alleys, instead of going all the way to High St. and walking north.  (I know how contradictory it sounds–walk a mile to eat fast food.  It’s like running a marathon where the prize is a carton of cigarettes.)  I nursed a few Diet Cokes, read a chapter of Secrets Can Be Murder, and wrote in my diary, and made sure I was home before Cynthia and Susie returned.

Next Saturday will be my last bookselling day, until spring quarter winds down at the beginning of June.  I have accounts at SnagAJob.com and other job-search sites, looking for part-time work, but I’m not sure just how much my heart is really in it.  I’m pleasantly surprised by how much I’m enjoying the bookstore job.  As I apply for part-time jobs, my attitude resembles a line I read in an old “Family Circus” cartoon.  The friend of one of the boys in the comic says, “Go ask your mom if we can play on the roof!”  The little boy reluctantly walks toward the house, saying, “Okay, but I hope she says no.”

I switched my Facebook status to “single” just before Steph departed for Florida.  We are still married in the eyes of the law, but we are, at best, roommates right now.  We posted a joint letter last fall about our intention to divorce, both as a Google document and as a Note on Facebook, but I could tell that not everyone had seen it.  A co-worker of mine, who is also a Facebook friend, asked me about my new status when she saw me at work the other day.  I knew that she did not know about our divorce plans–she hadn’t read the letter.  I could tell because it wasn’t common knowledge around the agency within minutes.  (In 1948, Tex Williams recorded the song “Don’t Telephone, Don’t Telegraph, Tell a Woman”, saying this was the fastest way to spread news.  Dated but true.)

A Saturday for the Books

Day One of spring quarter 2011 at Columbus State is Monday.  Usually, the Discovery Exchange closes at 2 p.m. on Saturday, but today it remained open until 4.  And yours truly was there from start to finish.

The alarm is never a pleasant sound to me, even less so on a day when I usually sleep late.  For one vain moment, I hoped that I just forgotten to disable the alarm when I went to bed last night, but as I reached to shut it off, reality returned to me.  This was a day I was working at the Columbus State bookstore, an eight-hour shift (8 a.m.-4 p.m.).

When I worked for the Cincinnati post office, I thought that it was a unique job; it was the only job I ever had where I switched back and forth between blue- and white-collar tasks so many times in a single shift.  Sorting letters was clerical (and, in fact, my title was “casual clerk” or “rescue clerk”), whereas tending letter-sorting machines was definitely labor-intensive work.  Sorting second- and third-class mail was quite aerobic.  I wasn’t putting letters into pigeonholes or casing them, I was throwing bundles of magazines or flyers into canvas hampers (like the ones hospitals use to collect soiled linen).

I wouldn’t have thought this possible when it came to bookstore work.  I was wrong.  A co-worker and I spent the first two hours of the work day bagging prepaid Web orders, so they would be ready when people came to pick them up.  I ate a nutritional breakfast of Diet Pepsi and M&Ms during this task.  The work was somewhat repetitive, but not as mind-numbing as an assembly-line job, where you can effectively zone out while your hands fit Part A into Slot B repetitively for years on end.  Bagging prepaid orders meant checking to make sure all the books before you matched the list, putting the books in the transparent bag, sealing it with a tape gun, and taping the recipient’s name and address on a hanging tag, visible when the cashier checks the shelf for it.

After that came the more physically demanding part of the job.  Many wooden pallets groaned under the weight of cartons of unpacked books.  Once I knew which books went on the shelves, and which were going back to the publishers and/or distributors, my task was set for the rest of the day.  I unloaded books at a rather brisk pace, stacked them on V-shaped dollies, and began filling gaps on the shelves with them.  I was never able to establish any real rhythm, which would have made the task go more smoothly, because I constantly had to stop what I was doing to answer customers’ questions.  (My new pet peeve is when they lead off with “Can I ask you a question?”  I used all my self-restraint–and for me, self-restraint happens about as often as Halley’s Comet–to keep from saying, “As long as it isn’t that one.”)

The Discovery Exchange, Columbus State Community College’s
bookstore, 283 Cleveland Ave.  Also accessible on the Web
at http://www.cscc.bkstr.com/.

Very few books are on the Discovery Exchange’s first floor.  There is a magazine rack in the small convenience store in the rear of the first floor (it’s much like any other convenience store, except that they don’t sell alcohol or cigarettes), but most of the books are on the second floor.  Because of the nature of the business, over 90% are textbooks, but on the other side of the second floor is a modest selection of leisure-reading.  The first floor features most of the “spirit gear”–Columbus State apparel, license-plate frames, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, etc.  The front windows advertise the variety of things available, besides books, such as clothing, graduation announcements, coffee, gifts, and others (I meant to jot down the list today, but reached into the breast pocket of my shirt only to find I left this morning minus my notebook).

As I wait for my post-work bus, and see the items advertised on the front window, I think of a small convenience store I went to when I lived on Commonwealth Ave. in Boston.  It wasn’t part of a chain, like 7-Eleven or The Store 24, so the owner could be creative with his signage.  I wish I had taken a picture of the sign, but I will remember it as long as I live.  When I rode toward my apartment at night, it would be over the front entrance, promising

MILK  PAPERS  BREAD
FRIENDS  GIFTS  ETERNAL LIFE

Any competitor had his work cut out for him!