Slow Day at Mineral

This Presidents’ Day was the first Monday I haven’t been working for quite some time, so I put it to use.  My friend, retired R.N. Jacques Angelino, and I made the trip (72 miles each way) down to Mineral in western Athens County.  Jacques has made the trip at least 500 times, each time with his Toyota bursting at the seams with clothes, school supplies, personal hygiene items, and food to deliver to the Feed My Sheep food pantry.  He always brings his 97-year-old mother Jackie along, and she sits in the Faith Believers’ Ministry sanctuary and bags pasta and rice.

The turnout today was low.  We traveled down in the driving rain and low-lying fog and went to work filling food boxes from the shelves that lined the pantry walls.  Cans of tuna, corn, Spam, kidney beans, green beans, and soup went into the boxes on the worktable, all the co-workers prayed over them, and then when the cars began lining up outside at 1 p.m., they were ready to go.

I took this picture last June.  These are full boxes of food,
ready for distribution to the people coming by for them.

As the end of February nears, we expected there to be a long line of people coming to get food packages, but there were probably only 20 to 25 customers altogether.  My guess is the line will be bumper-to-bumper next week, the last day of February, but we took long breathers between cars, and many boxes remained on the worktable in the pantry, ready to go out next week.

Rev. Ray Ogburn, the pastor of the small Faith Believers Ministry (which hosts the pantry) justifiably takes pride in the fact that his is the only pantry in Athens County which has never run out of food.  In addition to filling the outgoing boxes, we restocked from the backup supply of food in the Sunday school room and the trailer next door.

Contributions are always a touch-and-go business, and Ray isn’t always flush to buy food from the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.  Since Athens County is the poorest of the 88 counties in Ohio, unfortunately there will be a need for his service for quite some time.  Jacques told me about an elementary-school girl from the church who came down one Monday with her mother to help hand out food, and she asked her mom, “Where do the people who come here go to work?”  Her mom explained that there were no jobs for them in this area, and this was why we were down here helping.  Employment is so scarce in the area (the Office of Workforce Development placed it at 8.2% in December) that people frequently car- and vanpool to day labor jobs in Columbus, Parkersburg, and Lancaster.

More and more I find myself in total agreement with the words of St. John Chrysostom.  (I have long been reluctant to cite his quotes, because he is also the author of some anti-Semitic sewage called Eight Homilies Against the Jews, which was Mein Kampf before there was Mein Kampf.  Rabbi Michael Lerner took him to task quite handily in his excellent book The Socialism of Fools: Anti-Semitism on the Left.)

However, these words of St. John Chrysostom should be inscribed above the altar of all houses of worship:

It is not possible for one to be wealthy and just at the same time.  Do you pay such honor to your excrements as to receive them into a silver chamber-pot when another man made in the image of God is perishing in the cold?

Jacques brought 10 lovely afghans from church and gave them to people with young children.  Women at the church spent many hours knitting these, and another woman crocheted the separate panels together, and now children in Athens County will sleep in warmth in the near future.  He gave one afghan to a woman who turns 85 next week, and I took a picture of it with his one-shot camera.  (I was going to bring my new DXG Model 506V mini-camcorder/still camera.  I got it at the end of January at the Really, Really Free Market, and it works just fine.  Unfortunately, it came minus the CD-ROM with the driver, so I have no way of loading my pictures and video clips into the laptop at present.  I sent an email to DXG asking about sending me the disk with the driver.)

He has also made it a point to include a children’s book or two in each outgoing food box.  He believes that children should start reading and learning at as young an age as possible, and I totally agree with this.  When Jacques taught elementary school in inner-city Washington, D.C., he was constantly appalled during his home visits when he saw the total lack of reading material in any of his pupils’ homes.  I live at the other extreme, where books consume every flat surface of my living quarters, but he would go to houses where there was nothing to read–not even a TV Guide or a Holy Bible, let alone a dictionary or a newspaper.

I was home by late afternoon, and the mercury dropped just far enough that the rain turned to wet snow.  The ground was already covered by the time I stepped out of the house for my weekly meeting of the Radical Mental Health Collective at Sporeprint.

I do not/will not elaborate on what happens at the meetings, because confidentiality is the first order of business for such a gathering.  The only chiseled-in-stone rule of the Collective is a mantra that members of Narcotics Anonymous use as a guide:

Who you see here,
What you hear here,
Let it stay here,
When you leave here.


The reply is: “Hear, hear!”

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Nil per os; Susie and Matthew Morrison; Plywood

How celebrate Columbus Day?  I’m probably not alone in this, but I’ll kick off the day with a fasting blood draw.  I think it’s time that I have my blood sugar checked, because in the past six to eight weeks I’ve noticed that I’m almost constantly thirsty, and often find myself making mad dashes to the bathroom.  It is now just 11 p.m., and I had my last non-water at 9 p.m.

The title is Latin for “nothing by mouth,” a medical direction for patients (usually written on charts and hospital bracelets as “NPO”).  I never took a Latin class, despite two years at a Catholic middle school.  However, my dad was an English professor, and he grew up Catholic pre-Vatican II and attended the Catholic University of America, so he was fluent in Latin.  I picked up enough Latin by sheer osmosis that I had a very easy time learning pharmacy shorthand when I worked at Medco Health.  When my fellow trainees were sweating blood over the difference between bid, tid, and qid, (twice, three times, and four times per day, respectively), I just told them to remember bicycle, tricycle, quartet, and it would be easy.

I’m usually pretty good at gleaning a word’s meaning from looking at its Latin roots, although I have been off base from time to time.  (My biggest faux pas was that for years I thought a pedophile was somebody with a foot fetish.)

After they draw the pipette of blood, I’m meeting Jacques at church, and he, his almost-centenarian mom, and I will be headed to Mineral and the Feed My Sheep Food Pantry.  (I try to go whenever I have a Monday off from work.)  It’ll be good to be down there putting together food packages.  We’re not quite halfway through the month, so I don’t know if there will be a mob scene on hand or not.  Ray Ogburn, the director of the pantry, is rightfully proud of the fact that his pantry has never run out of food.  The quality of the food varies–it depends on what people donate, and what Ray can buy from the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.

I took Susie to a political rally at the back of the new Ohio Union last night.  As much as I would like to think she was eager to see our incumbent U.S. Representative Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Columbus) and Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher (currently running for the U.S. Senate), the truth is that the drawing card was Matthew Morrison, who plays Will Schuester on Glee.  She waited patiently (barely) through the speeches by Fisher, Kilroy, and lieutenant governor candidate Yvette McGee Brown until Morrison came onto the podium, and her eyes were out on springs the entire time he was speaking.  Once the rally ended, she joined the throngs (I almost typed “thongs”–do Freudian slips extend to the keyboard?) flocking around Morrison.  I spoke briefly with Fisher, since he was at Oberlin at the same time as a dear friend of mine who died in 1997.  Susie asked for my notepad and my pen, and, after almost being smothered by the crowd, she emerged a little later, victoriously waving the pad.  “I got it!  I got it!” she said, bouncing up and down.  I looked at the book.  Sure enough, Morrison had scrawled his name onto the page.

I scanned the page before I tore it out of the notebook for her, so
Susie could share it with her Facebook friends.

Susie has added it to her autograph collection (which includes autographs by Jim Davis, Lemony Snicket, and Emma Watson).  The only political signature she has is John Glenn’s, which I got for her when I attended a Democratic rally at the Holiday Inn in Worthington last month.  (Senator Glenn also signed an autograph for me, replacing the one I lost.  He signed that one in 1974, when he came to Marietta to dedicate the Ohio River Museum.)
Susie also managed to shake Morrison’s hand, and she gleefully proudly shared the news with her friends at church this morning.  The other day, I was rereading XXXIII Celebrities, an autobiographical chapbook by Robert Lowry, the Cincinnati-born novelist I befriended the last few years of his life in the 1990s.  He wrote of the famous people whom he had met (Babe Ruth held the four-year-old Lowry in his arms in 1923; Lowry rejected a story by Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin scolding him for a Time review he wrote).  If I ever wrote of such a thing, I’d have to write about the only celebrity who has ever kissed me.
It wasn’t Julia Roberts.  It wasn’t Madonna.  It wasn’t Jennifer Aniston.
It was–of all people–David Susskind.
During the summer of 1983, a skeleton crew stayed on at The Harvard Crimson to put out the summer edition of the newspaper (twice daily in the summer, instead of five days per week) and produce The Confidential Guide to Courses at Harvard-Radcliffe.  I sublet an apartment near the Tufts campus and spent almost every waking hour on Plympton St.  One day, I came up from The Shop, deserting my CRTronic Linotype long enough to get a Coke or go to the bathroom, and there was a man in his early 60s sitting in one of the swivel chairs by the rows of overworked typewriters.  The semicircle of Crimson personnel followed every word with rapt attention.  He spoke of his plans to travel to the Soviet Union to interview Yuri Andropov, and when he mentioned the coup he scored with his 1960 interview of Khrushchev, I knew this was David Susskind.  Susskind spoke of the gifts that Soviet citizens wanted most from the United States: toiletries, long-playing records, and–this surprised me–feminine hygiene products (pads and tampons), since Soviet women usually resorted to using newspaper.
When he stood up to go, I put out my hand to introduce myself.  (I didn’t tell him that I knew of him primarily from voice impressionist David Frye’s albums Radio Free Nixon and I am the President.)  He didn’t even see my proffered hand, but instead took my elbows, bent over, and kissed both cheeks.  I’m proud to say I accepted it much more graciously than Archie Bunker did with Sammy Davis Jr.:
We are currently in search of new living quarters.  As much as we love Clintonville, we feel we need to move to a place where rent is less expensive.  The reason is because wherever we move will become bachelor quarters for me (although I’ll technically be a grass widower, not a bachelor) once the divorce is final, and we want it to be affordable enough for someone who will be making child support payments.
Scotty and I looked at some places in Franklinton, the neighborhood just west of downtown Columbus where we once lived, yesterday.  (If you read my pre-February 2009 posts here, you’ll read a chronicle of our Franklinton life.)  The neighborhood seems to have borne the brunt of the tanking economy.  Houses fully occupied are sitting vacant, many of them are boarded up.  If I was in the plywood supply business, I would have a net worth in the seven figures just from Franklinton alone.  We looked at one house and were just appalled by the state of disrepair.  (The landlord told me on the phone: “It’s unlocked, just let yourself in!” when I tried to arrange a time to meet him.)  The gutters were shredded and hanging off the edge of the roof, every upper floor ceiling bore massive water stains, the tub needed to be totally replaced–it was way beyond re-glazing.  My guess is that the landlord was deliberately keeping the place unlocked, hoping that a homeless person will pass out in there with a lit cigarette and he can reap beaucoup insurance dollars afterwards.  (I doubt professional arsonists advertise on Craigslist, so I doubt the landlord would ever go that route.)

Last Week, I Was–Quite Literally–A Bean-Counter

Last Monday was Flag Day, and it is not one of the Federal holidays that government workers enjoy while most of the private sector still has to show up and punch in.  I took a vacation day Monday and made one of my semi-regular journeys down to Feed My Sheep food pantry in Mineral to help out with packaging and distributing foodstuffs.

I came there with two rookies–my friend Steve Palm-Houser and his daughter Amelia.  We made the trip down to western Athens County with only one casualty along the way–Steve’s tire.  He managed to travel the rest of the way from Logan to Mineral (New Marshfield, according to the U.S. Postal Service) on a doughnut, but we arrived shortly after 1 p.m.

Bean counter is a pejorative term for an accountant (per The Urban Dictionary), but it’s been extended to all civil servants.  Last Monday, I literally became a bean counter briefly, although I was mostly a pasta counter.  We arrived too late to stock the boxes of food in the back room of Feed My Sheep (a room off the sanctuary of Faith Believers’ Ministry), so we went to work filling Ziploc bags with pasta.  Amelia jumped right into this task with no trouble at all, helping Jacques Angelino’s 96-year-old mother, while Steve and I needed a few moments to get organized and get a pattern going.  Soon enough, we were scooping up pasta, filling bags, and adding them to boxes, stopping only when we ran out of bags.

Steve (back to camera), pasta, and me, at Faith Believers’ Ministry.

Amelia and Jackie bag pasta.

Mineral, and the poverty in Athens County, is an ongoing crisis.  In many ways, I would think that a natural disaster–such as Hurricane Ike or Hurricane Katrina–would be preferable to a resident of these areas than the grueling poverty and unemployment.  When a natural disaster strikes, the experience is hellish, but they end.  You can look around and see what has been damaged or destroyed, you can see what needs to be done, and then set about either doing it or finding the resources to accomplish it.  This is an ongoing crisis, and you come away thinking that your time is well spent, even if the help provided will be necessary again next week.  Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, is fond of quoting Talmudic rabbi Tarfon’s words: “It is not upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

I have posted the address elsewhere in the blog (both here at Blogspot and on my erstwhile site, the LiveJournal account), but if you are moved to generosity, please send a check or money order to:
Feed My Sheep Food Pantry
c/o Faith Believers Ministry
8137 St. Rt. 356
New Marshfield, OH  45766
I am hoping to make another trip down to the pantry sometime in the summer, possibly with Susie in tow.  She has gone before, and was quite a productive worker.
Amelia made a new friend while she helped out at Mineral.
A look at Faith Believers Ministry, which houses
Feed My Sheep Food Pantry, and boasts the
only soda pop machine in Mineral ($.50 a can,
quite a bargain!)

Holy Day of Obligation for Diarists

Samuel Pepys, we who are about to blog salute thee!  On this date, in 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote the final entry in his diary.  He was a member of the English Parliament and Naval Administrator under Charles II, and discontinued his journal (begun New Year’s Day 1660) because he feared (mistakenly) he was going blind.  So, every May 31 is the day that I feel I must post a blog entry, or write in my holographic diary, even if I abandon it all other times.

I started my first real diary on New Year’s Day 1974, when I was in fifth grade.  As a belated Christmas gift, my dad bought me a blank diary (blue cover with My Diary One Year on the cover, and a lock.  The lock was as impenetrable as Fort Knox unless you had a bobby pin.)  He bought me the diary at Sugden’s Book Store in downtown Marietta, and for the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s, I was itching to start writing in it.
I made my first entry New Year’s afternoon, as we were driving back from Richmond, Va. to Marietta.  We had gone there on December 28 to be with my aunt (my mother’s older sister) Jean and her family while her husband Roger was in the cardiac care unit of a Richmond hospital, undergoing treatment for the congestive heart failure that would take his life the following spring.
That diary, along with all the ones from 1974 to 1989, is long gone, since I stored them in a storage locker and never maintained the payments.  I distinctly remember writing the first entry with a dull pencil, even including a dateline (“Somewhere in Virginia,” which sounds like a Union Army dispatch to the War Department during the Civil War), writing about Uncle Roger’s return to Intensive Care, watching the ball drop at Times Square on the television, and how hard it was to find a gas station that was open.
I was hooked from then on.  My friends (particularly my male ones) thought it weird, but it was just another proof that I was completely nuts and 100% different from them.  (When I had friends staying over, or if I spent the night with them, they were respectful when I would get out the diary and a pen and go off by myself just long enough to fill a page.)  I even defended it with words I echoed from my dad: “You like to watch Star Trek, don’t you?  Well, when Captain Kirk does his captain’s log, that’s his diary.  Besides [I added, doubly righteously], the most famous diary in the world was kept by a man!”  It did take me a long time to get over the picture of the girl lying on her stomach writing when I heard the word “diary,” however.
I haven’t maintained a perfect day-to-day record, even in the many volumes that were lost.  I have gone days, weeks, and months between entries.  Overall, I am a pretty conscientious diarist.  I have used a variety of books as diaries.  Growing up, every Christmas I received a new one-year book (never another one with a lock), but when I was 16, I began to use blank books that were not predated, so I wouldn’t be confined to a page per day.  I varied in book types then, too, ranging from big red legal ledgers to spiral notebooks.
For most of my 20s, I used bonded leather blank books (usually the Anything Book brand), with the occasional stenographer’s notebook or appointment diary thrown in for variety, plus whatever books I received as Christmas or birthday gifts–when in doubt, get Paul a journal, was the wisdom.
From about age 35 on, I have–with some exceptions–written in simple composition books, inspired mainly by movies such as Se7en, Joe Gould’s Secret, and Henry Fool, where major characters make liberal use of composition books.  They’re cheap (often about $1 at places like Family Dollar) and much more durable than many of the more expensive variety.  That is the type of book I am now using.  (The current 200-page Mead composition book is 70% full, and its successor sits in my desk drawer right now.)  I have received expensively bound blank books with parchment pages, but they’re so beautiful you almost feel guilty marking the page.  Plus, I have good penmanship, but I can’t write without lines–the words go downhill almost immediately if I write on an unruled page.)
Steph vowed several years ago she had stopped reading my diaries.  There was no higher principle involved–the matters of trust and secrecy.  She had read them when she thought I may have had something to hide, or if there was something on my mind that I wasn’t sharing, but she quit for a much more practical reason.
“Your diary is boring!” she said.  She read page after page of my rehashing of a union meeting and its aftermath, where I would write something like:

John seems to think that this policy will help with the mandatory overtime, and he thinks that they should be adding five more people per shift per area.  I told him that he’d be playing right into Management’s hands if he did that, because they’ll be accusing the union (and I’m not sure they’d be wrong) of deliberate featherbedding, which will bite us in the ass come contract time.

 Steph’s remark that my diary was/is boring may well be true, but at the time neither of us knew much about the Reverend Robert Shields (1918-2007), a retired United Church of Christ minister in Washington State who kept a very detailed diary of literally everything that happened to him from 1972 until a 1997 stroke made the job impossible.  I first heard of him in a “News of the Weird” column in 1996:

According to a Seattle Times feature in March, Robert Shields, 77, of Dayton, Wash., is the author of perhaps the longest personal diary in history–nearly 38 million words on paper stored in 81 cardboard boxes–covering his last 24 years in five-minute increments.  Example: July 25, 1993, 7 a.m.: “I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.”  7:05 a.m.: “Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine.  Used 5 sheets of paper.”

I thought this had to be a joke or hoax, until shortly after Shields’ death, when excerpts from this mammoth diary were published on National Public Radio’s Website:

 One of the more exciting pages I could find in
Rev. Shields’ magnum opus.  Click on the
image to read the entries more easily.

This entry was written on my 31st birthday.

I bought a small white one-year diary at a junk store years ago for about a quarter, and used it for appointments, etc. until it disappeared with the coat where I carried it.  Most of the pages were blank, so I was able to fill in appointments under the appropriate preprinted dates.  There were a few penciled entries, such as “Me and Donnie told jokes at class today walked home there’s a good chiller movie on TV tonight.”
During my white-tornado blitz cleaning of the office the past few days, I christened the finished project with pictures from my new Kodak digital camera (see last entry).  One of the shots I made was of my own diaries.  This isn’t even complete, since some of the volumes are locked in my desk at work:
These are more or less in chronological order.
The current volume stays with me, so I can
write in it whenever the urge strikes me.

Just before Steph went to The Cleveland Clinic for her heart surgery, she made out a last will and testament.  I realize now I should have done the same thing, both as a gesture of solidarity and as a practical matter.  (I should have made one out when I got married, and again when Susie was born.)  I have no vast financial holdings–my net worth can be calculated by what’s in my wallet when I die, plus how many pennies are in the jar in my office, so I don’t have that many assets to distribute.  If I died intestate (as I am now), Steph and Susie would automatically inherit everything.  However, I do plan to bequeath my diaries to either Alden Library at Ohio University or the Ohioana Library here in Columbus–can’t decide which.
Whichever place finally gets the honor, I do have daydreams of the day they arrive, when the librarians march all my diaries around the facility in procession and people touch their garments to them.
Steph puts up no objection to my diaries ending up in a library vault somewhere–they didn’t interest her when I am alive, after all.  In this, she was probably a lot like Evelyn Yates Inman, whose husband Arthur, a reclusive and hypochondriac poet, kept a 155-volume diary.  Arthur Crew Inman kept his record while living off inherited money in a Boston hotel, living as an invalid because of a long list of imaginary ailments.  He began the record in 1919 and ended it in December 1963, when he took his own life.  Professor Daniel Aaron of Harvard University began editing the 155 volumes and 17 million+ words in the 1980s, while I was working for The Crimson, and Harvard University Press published a very abridged version in 1985.  A movie, Hypergraphia, about Inman’s life, is currently in production.  This Website for Hypergraphia is the place to go for the background and news on the film.
I discovered this Website 100% by accident last month.  It’s one that makes me feel like I’m a little less alone in my fascination with notebooks, diaries, etc.  The title is Notebook Stories, and I feel like I have a personal kinship with everyone who posted there.  I used to think I was the only one who would go back into my burning house to rescue diaries and notebooks (once my daughter and wife were safely outside).
And while I’m on here:

I slept until almost noon, then I got up, took a shower, and dressed.  My friend Jacques took me to lunch at Cazuela’s Grill at N. High St. and W. Northwood Ave.  (Normally, he’d be in Mineral at the Feed My Sheep food pantry, but the pantry is closed today for Memorial Day.)  He drove me back home, I loaned him two or three issues of The Catholic Worker (poor is having to buy a Catholic Worker subscription on layaway). I took Susie to our friend’s apartment so she could feed and water the cats, then she and I came back home.  She may go swimming later, once we’re 100% sure the cloudbursts are finished for the day.  (It’s in the low 80s right now, and the pollen count is in the stratosphere.)
And then I came home and wrote this entry.