Last Quiet Moments for Awhile

Today is May 31, the day I call the Diarists’ Holy Day of Obligation, but, May 31 or no, I am posting tonight because this is the last day of relative quiet and inactivity I will have for the next three or four days.

I will make the obligatory Samuel Pepys reference by showing a picture of the six manuscript volumes of his diary, now housed at Magdalene College:

With that out of the way, I will go on to explain why this weekend is going to be packed to the rim with activity and emotion.

Susie will be reading her Faith Statement at a potluck Saturday evening at church.  She has been on two weekend retreats, and met with her fellow Coming of Age students on Sunday mornings for much of the year.  Like the journalist she hopes to become, she was at the keyboard finishing up the statement as the hands of the clock grew later and later.  If that wasn’t enough, the world premiere of Steph’s play, TeenTalk.com debuted Tuesday night at The Graham School, and Susie was one of the actors.  (See below YouTube file for the finished product–complete with cameo appearances by the P.A. system.)

For Unitarian Universalist adolescents, Coming of Age is the equivalent of bat mitzvah or Confirmation.  In true UU fashion, logistics and scheduling went down almost to the wire, with a blizzard of emails going back and forth between mentors, ministers, kids, parents, etc.  On Sunday morning, Susie will be reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go! at the 10 a.m. service.

But there’s more.  Steph and her partner, Mike, are en route here by way of car and Amtrak from the Space Coast of Florida even as I speak type.  At the same time, Steph’s father, Ray, aged 84, is headed here from Milwaukee by Greyhound, and will be arriving about 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.  This will be the first time I have seen Ray in at least six years, and the first time I have seen Steph in over a year, and the first time I have met Mike.  Much has changed in all this time, and I think we’ll all be treading lightly until we finally feel comfortable.  (Steph and I talk almost daily by IM and email, and sometimes by phone, and are more of a united front as parents than we were when we lived together.)

The first rainfall in over a week is going on right now.  Before I started typing, I ran outside (when it was still sprinkling, and not raining hard, as it is now) and put a blue 12′ × 12′ plastic pool cover over the trike.  I doubt one good rain will ruin the trike, but nonetheless I hurried out there to cover it.  I must be like the owner of a new car, who dies a million deaths the first time he sees a scratch, no matter how microscopic, on his beloved vehicle.

At the same time, I know I should not be complaining about how hectic this weekend will be.  Susie will be going to Florida with Steph for the summer, and I probably will not see her until mid-August.  This means I’ll have about 10-12 weeks of quiet and time to myself.  Time will tell if that translates into a renewal of my long-moribund mental energy to write–poetry, blogs, diaries, or anything else.  I will be back at the bookstore Monday night, for at least the coming week, as summer quarter is just around the corner at Columbus State Community College.

Susie went on Graham’s class trip to Cedar Point today.  She had to be at school an hour earlier than normal.  I was still getting dressed when I heard her shutting the front door and sprinting toward the bus stop.  Yesterday was the last day of school, and Susie greeted me with the news that she is now a sophomore… not that there was any doubt in my mind.

Another semi-noteworthy event I’ll share.  I received a package yesterday containing the Sears Silvertone AM radio I bought on eBay.  It’s currently sitting on my night table, which is too cluttered right now to be photo-worthy.  I combed the Internet for months for the same model I remember seeing in our house when I was a kid.  Dad bought it when he was a student at the Catholic University of America in the late 1940s, and I used it on and off for much of my life.

As prone to coincidence as I am, the first thing I did when I took the radio out of the box was check the underside.  I last saw Dad’s radio on my desk when I left home in 1982, and it was nowhere to be found when he died in 2000.  When I was a child, I scribbled on the underside of the radio with a crayon, and apparently it was indelible.  My first thought was that I had ended up with his radio again.  This was not the case this time.

When I was younger, the clock lit up in an eerie orange, and the words MAGIC GLOW rimmed the lower part of the dial.  By the time I left home, the clock no longer glowed.  This is true with the model that arrived yesterday, but the clock still keeps time.  I moved the AM dial around from low to the high end, and could barely pick up 610 WTVN, and only then with plenty of static.  I’m sure the radio has seen better days, and I am not going to expend any mental energy constructing an antenna.  I’m just glad to have this radio and this model by the bed.

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Banishing Thoughts of Work Until Tuesday

When I left the job today at 5 p.m., I made it a point to shut off the weekday and Saturday alarms on my cell phone–your faithful blogger/online diarist does not have to work anywhere until 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.  I did set the 8:45 Sunday morning alarm, so I can go to the informal 11 a.m. Christmas service at church on the 25th, but, other than that, my sleep will be open-ended.

The only downside to this news is that Susie is not here to celebrate the holiday with me.  Late Wednesday afternoon, she boarded a Southwest Airlines flight to Orlando, so she can spend Christmas with Steph.  My friend Steve took us to Port Columbus International Airport, and her flight left on time, at 4:50 p.m.  She was due to arrive in Orlando at 7:05 p.m., but, according to Steph, she actually arrived a few minutes early.  After I saw that her plane took off on time, I went to the Discovery Exchange and worked the usual 2½ hours.  (I had given my supervisor a “definite maybe” about whether I’d be there.  If Susie’s flight left on time, I would be in for work, but if it was late, I would not come in.)  The last day of school at The Graham School was Tuesday, and Susie will return to Columbus on January 3, the day before Winterim starts.

I won’t be totally alone for the holidays.  I will be having Christmas dinner with Steve and his family after the service at First UU, and I am planning to go to the 10 p.m. Christmas Eve service.  Nor did I go overboard with gifts.  I bought for Susie, and she will open my gifts to her on Christmas morning in Florida.

My period of solitude at work has ended.  Due to an organizational shuffle at work, I am in a new department, and I was working alone in its new area on the 10th floor, but my co-workers joined me this week, so now I have other people around me while I’m working, and I am glad to have them.  My desk is near the south-facing window, so I have a good view of the Leveque Tower, and a not-so-scenic view of the back of the YMCA.

One of our supervisors has donated a small library of audio books.  Currently, when I have been scanning documents, and not listening to doctors’ audio dictations, I have been listening to The Stand (the original edition, although I hope Stephen King decides that The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition should be recorded.  (A co-worker has generously reduced this large novel to three optical disks by recording it as MP3 files.)  I have that and It (also on MP3 files) at my desk, along with cassettes of Kerouac’s On the Road read by Matt Dillon.  The only other audio book I have is an abridged reading of Thomas Merton’s Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation, which is the journal covering the years between his conversion to Roman Catholicism and ending a week before he entered the monastery in Kentucky where he spent the rest of his life.

I was excited when my supervisor sent this email about the collection of audio books she was donating.  I went over to see what she supplied.  One was To Kill a Mockingbird, and there were some Nicholas Sparks novels (the only one I ever read was The Notebook), and some abridged James Patterson novels, not all of them Alex Cross novels.

However, she did have–unabridged–all of the Twilight novels.  I probably will not read them.  Except for Dracula, vampire stories have never interested me that much, and my attraction to Dracula was because Stoker told the story in an epistolary format.  Susie read the first two novels in the Twilight series, reading them over her friends’ shoulders.  Since then, she has come to agree with Stephen King, who so famously wrote that

Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity.  Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.

Before I worked for the State of Ohio, I worked as a data entry typist (known as a “header entry operator”) at Medco Health Solutions.  I had brought my love of audio books with me, a love that began in the summer of 1986, when I was working as a temp for the State, in the Division of Elevators (and Boilers before that).  At Medco, enough of us listened to audio books that there was a lot of swapping and borrowing back and forth.  Because of this, I read things I would not normally have read, such as Sue Henry’s Murder on the Iditarod Trail and the novels of Clive Cussler.  The only time I voluntarily did without was when the only books available to me were Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind novels.

Their lunatic theology aside, the books are not that well written.  I learned this when I was waiting for a bus, and someone had left behind a copy of Glorious Appearing: The End of Days at the bus stop.  (This is apparently Volume XII of the series.)  Bored, I read the first few pages, and shook my head and left it behind for the next poor bastard.  (I think the person left it behind the same way some people do with the little religious comic book tracts of Jack T. Chick, in a bizarre way to proselytize.)  The late Christopher Hitchens (I won’t call him great, because no one who supported the Iraq War is great) described the Left Behind series most eloquently and accurately as “generated by the old expedient of letting two orangutans loose on a word processor.”

I had thought that I would be working at the bookstore tomorrow morning, but a four-, instead of six-hour day.  Yesterday morning, however, there was an email from my supervisor, wishing me a merry Christmas and telling me the bookstore would be closed Christmas Eve.  So, I am going to stay up as late as I want to tonight, and sleep as late as I choose.  With the 12-hour work days I have been logging lately, that is indeed a welcome gift.

It’s 100% irrelevant to the entry, but here is a plate from Christmas 1988, depicting the President’s House at Marietta College, a scene from my home town.  (My dad was never president of Marietta College–nor did he want to be–but I went to three or four functions here in my day.)

Major Change in My Life on the Horizon

Steph returned from Florida very early Thursday morning, and is planning to move there permanently this June.  She’s already burning up Craigslist and other Websites searching for work.  Although we have no future together as a couple, as far as Susie is concerned, we have always been on the same page whenever it comes to her happiness and wellbeing.

Both separately and together, we spoke to her about the changes that will be taking place in the next two or three months.  Most prominently, we would let her decide where she would live, and with who.  There were advantages and disadvantages to both choices, as there always are.  She has lived here in Columbus her whole life, and has friends through school and church, as well as godmothers and proximity to the Unitarian Universalist youth conferences sponsored by the Ohio-Meadville District.  Alternately, Florida would provide a fresh start, a clean slate, the excitement of starting from the ground up, reinventing herself.

We told her she had until June to make the decision.  If she elected to live in Florida with Steph, she would stay here in Columbus until Steph established herself, job- and apartment-wise.  (Steph posted on Facebook that she is looking for preschool teaching jobs in the Tampa Bay area, and is willing to go as far north as New Port Richey.  Florida is one of the 12 states I have never visited, so I don’t know the geography or layout.)

Susie has made her decision.  She wants to stay in Columbus with me.  Steph’s and my final parting is unsettling enough that she feels moving to completely foreign terrain–especially with a parent who is also learning the lay of the land–would be worse without the comforting presence of people she knows and loves, and familiar surroundings and routines.  She is starting at Whetstone High School this fall as a freshman, and, although it is a new school, she will be with many of her friends from Dominion, and it is in the city where she has lived her entire life.

I was a little flippant when I titled my previous entry “Diary of a Bachelor Father.”  I guess I was more prophetic than I realized.  My thought had been that Susie would elect to stay with her mother, mainly because a teenage girl would want to be very close to her mother during this period of biological transition.  Steph will still be a very active part of Susie’s life–nothing will change that.  She will still see Susie during vacations and holidays, and I’m sure they’ll be in constant email and Skype communication.

This is not hitting me like a ton of bricks.  I am, in fact, surprised and humbled by Susie’s decision.  Nor is it the first time when I anticipated single parenthood.  The first time I thought it might be possible was when Susie was less than a week old.  She was born on Monday, and she and Steph left Grant Hospital on Friday. We had been home about three hours when Steph went into congestive heart failure.  The squad took her to Riverside Methodist Hospital, and I stayed behind with infant Susie.  When Tanya and Pat knocked unexpectedly at the door an hour later (Tanya, our midwife, was pregnant–very pregnant–with her daughter at the time), I feared they had come to deliver the news that Steph had died.  But this was not the case.  They offered to take Susie for the night so I could be with Steph.  Susie had her first sleepover at four days of age.

During both heart surgeries, the possibility that I would raise Susie alone loomed over us.  Susie was not quite two when Steph had her first one, in 1999.  At that time, Steph and I decided that I would use insurance money to pay for a housekeeper and nanny until Susie started kindergarten.  In 2008, during the most recent heart surgery–which included my 45 seconds of widowhood–I thought single parenthood was a distinct possibility, and was trying to gear up for it emotionally.

The transition will not be as abrupt this time.  Steph will be here until June, and the past week has shown me that I am up to the job.  (I wasn’t always, and I’m the first to admit it.  During the pregnancy, I often wrung my hands about what a bad parent I would be, since my mother, father, and stepmother were horrible parents.  The paradox is that the more I doubted my abilities as a parent, the more people who knew me believed I’d be an excellent parent.)

I’ve told this story when this blog was at LiveJournal, but I think it bears repeating.  There was a man in his early 60s named Buddy whom I saw on the Sullivant Avenue bus several times a week while going to or from work, running errands, shopping, etc.  He remembers when I’d carry Susie on my shoulders, and he called her “Susie Q.”  (Susie will probably never be a Creedence Clearwater Revival fan.)  One day, I ran into Buddy on the bus and casually mentioned I was meeting Susie’s mom for lunch.  He did a double take.  “Her mom?”  I said yes, puzzled as to why this was such a jolt to him.  “Man, I always thought you were a widower.”  He had never seen Steph with Susie and me, and when he grew up, the father didn’t play as active a role in the child’s day-to-day life, especially if the child was a girl.

As for romantic or remarriage plans for me, there are none.  I am still surprised that I ever married at all, because for most of my adolescence and young adulthood I vowed never to marry.  I echo the words of Abraham Lincoln (in an 1838 letter) on the subject:

I have come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason, I can never be satisfied with anyone who would be blockhead enough to have me.

His life probably would have been a happier one had he stuck to this.  The dreadful novel Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter failed to explain how a vampire hunter would marry an emotional vampire like Mary Todd.

Susie and me, December 2010

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.)

Remembering the Night on the Christmas Set

“The Christmas Set” is a poem I wrote several years ago.  It still remains unpublished, and I may post it to Scribd if I can ever find a copy of it.  (One of my Facebook friends actually thinks I keep my notebooks, papers, and manuscripts in logical order.  How naïve is that?)  I wrote it to describe the last Christmas my mother, father, and I spent together.  This was in 1973, when I was 10.

I called it “The Christmas Set” because we were play-acting, and we were performing for an audience.  Our family custom had been to open gifts on Christmas Eve, because on Christmas morning when I was eight, I couldn’t restrain my enthusiasm and woke my parents at 4:30 a.m. to open presents.

The year of “The Christmas Set,” my parents had been at each other’s throats for most of the day, and this was so customary that I could usually pick up the latest issue of Mad, put a record (usually Dave Brubeck or the Beatles) on my mono phonograph, and retreat to my bedroom.  When I was younger, the sound would terrify me, and I was come into the room, tearful and white-faced.

One of my gifts that year was a new cassette recorder, a Superscope with a condenser microphone.  I was enthralled by this, because I did not know that you could record without having to hold a mike in your hand.  When my parents finally laid off the high-volume bickering long enough for us to gather around the tree, the tape recorder was in a big box marked PAUL–OPEN THIS FIRST!!  I did, and my mother’s plan was to christen it with a taped letter to her father (my grandfather) in Florida.  So, once the tape was rolling, we were a page straight out of Norman Rockwell, laughing and joking as we opened presents, including the clay ashtray I made for my mother and the paperweight I made for my dad (a painted rock with a velvet pad glued to the underside).  I remember getting three blank cassettes, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, the 1974 Information Please Almanac, and my first diary.  Mother pleasantly talked about how we were going to the midnight service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Dad talked about how our paperboy’s Irish setter had chased me when we stopped by his house to deliver his gift, and I talked about the Christmas program at school.  (We did not mention that when I came home from school, Mother was on her way to the hospital by ambulance after taking an overdose of pills with liquor.)

Mease Manor in Dunedin, Fla.  This is where my
maternal grandfather and his wife lived when
we mailed him the tape of our performance of
a lifetime–pretending to be a happy family.

I knew the tape in the machine was only 30 minutes per side, but I never wanted it to end, because once someone pushed the STOP button, the happy family, and all the shalom bayit, would be gone like a soap bubble.

Tonight, I did more in the way of Christmas activities than I have since the shopping season began.  (A caveat here: In my eyes, it is still Friday night, although my Emerson Research digital clock shows 2:34 a.m., Saturday morning, December 18.  I haven’t been to bed, and it’s still dark outside, so it’s Friday night.)  This was the end of school until after the first of the year, so Susie remained “sick” today, mainly because Dominion had early dismissal.  After work, I took the bus up to Walgreen near Graceland Shopping Center so I could pick up a photo print I had ordered online.  At Steph’s suggestion, I stopped in Dollar General and bought a three-foot artificial tree, a little taller than the scraggly little twig in A Charlie Brown Christmas, and brought it home.  I know it doesn’t compare to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s father going out in the Big Woods near Pepin, Wisconsin and felling the family tree.

We’re going to decorate it sometime tomorrow–when, I don’t know.  I’m going to a Qabalistic Christmas Ritual tomorrow afternoon at the Masonic temple in Westerville with my friend Steve.  (Once a typesetter, always a typesetter–I love spelling the word this way because it’s one of the few times I can use a Q without a U immediately after it.)  Later in the evening, I may be going to a concert at The Dude Locker on Hudson St.

I can heave a sigh of relief and say the Christmas shopping is over and done with, and I did not have to dive into the mosh pit that began in the stores on Black Friday and will continue until well past midnight Christmas morning.  After dinner, Steph and I exiled Susie to her bedroom, pulled up Amazon.com on Steph’s laptop, and bought Susie’s gifts online.  They will be arriving from different places, and I hope that all of them are in our mailbox by Christmas Eve.  If not, Susie will have something to look forward to in the days between Christmas and New Year’s.  After Steph went upstairs, I went online and ordered her gift, and now I am crossing my fingers and hoping it arrives by the 24th.  (When I worked at the Cincinnati post office, the December slogan was “We deliver for Yule.”  I hope that’s still true.  More importantly, I hope they deliver by Yule!)