These Are the People in Your Neighborhood…

When Susie and I moved out of Weinland Park a year ago, I was under no illusions that we moved to a crime-free Land of Milk and Honey, just because we were now in Olde North (or Baja Clintonville, or SoHud (“south of Hudson”), depending on who describes the neighborhood).  I knew we were just close enough to the Ohio State campus that we would be dealing with the petty crimes that prevail during football season–vandalism, littering, people urinating in public, loud parties, etc.

I have joined the small Neighborhood Block Watch that our neighbors have been organizing.  We are going for full certification by the Columbus Police, but concealed carry permits or any type of vigilantism are not options.  The group was originally an ad hoc organization to combat the epidemic of graffiti in the neighborhood.  The police tell us none of this seems to be gang-related.  A Gang Unit officer showed us a booklet of the different Columbus gangs’ trademarks, and in this neighborhood it seems to be mostly tagging than any of these gangs marking territory.

This is the type of graffiti that genuinely scares me and brings out the vigilante within.  This appeared last February on the bridge over part of the Glen Echo ravine, less than a mile from where Susie and I live.

Once one of these “artists” is caught in the act, I am wondering what the punishment will be.  I doubt arrest and punishment will be much of a deterrent.  My pet theory is that this is not gang-related at all.  There are groups of reprobate kids from the rougher neighborhoods who band together, call themselves gangs, and destroy property and commit petty crimes, but this is not Crips and Bloods land here.  I think our miscreants are bored kids from New Albany or Bexley who are vandalizing because it is fun, and because they are in neighborhoods where no one knows them or their families.  If these kids are arrested, their parents will grease the appropriate palms to make sure the problem quietly disappears, and their charges’ future employment or college enrollment is not jeopardized by this.

However, if I am wrong, and these are kids from the rougher neighborhoods trying to show the size of their testicles by vandalizing property of people who have never met them or done anything to them, arrest and even jail will not sufficiently scare them.  I have lived in Weinland Park, and before that Franklinton, and these are neighborhoods where going to jail is almost bar mitzvah for many of these kids (“today I am a man”), and the kid who gets in trouble with the law at the youngest age comes home as a celebrity to his peers.

A small incident several weeks ago has restored my faith in the people who live, work, and pass through my neighborhood.  Faithful readers of this blog will remember that in June, a week or so after Susie went to Florida for the summer, my red Schwinn Meridian adult tricycle was stolen from my front yard.  After filing a report with the police, I made the rounds (online and in person) of the bike shops, pawn shops, and bicycle communities here in Columbus, putting the word out about my stolen trike.  Several Facebook friends posted descriptions as their status, and I knew the Third Hand Bicycle Cooperative and other less orthodox channels, such as the World Naked Bike Ride organizers, would keep their eyes on the street.

Almost immediately, though, I ordered a new Meridian online, and by ComFest I was back in business, the only difference being that the new bike was blue.  Several weeks ago, I was riding at night (it was around 9:30-9:45 p.m.) back from the Whetstone Library, where I had gone to drop off some books.  I was on High Street, headed south back toward home, when a young kid in his early 20s began running after me.

I thought he was going to mug me, so I tried to pedal faster, but he ran after me and shouted, “Hey, you!  Is that bike stolen?”

This caused me to slam on my brakes.  I told him no, but I did own one that had been.  I had never seen this kid before, but word had spread about my theft.  I told him that I had been the victim, that the stolen model was identical, except that it was red, and not blue, and I had never seen it since.  I also told him I appreciated his being concerned enough to stop and ask me about it.

Maybe the spirit of OSU dropout Phil Ochs rests a little easier when he sees that he was not entirely accurate in this song:

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Franklinton Tragedy

Arson kills baby, 2 others

It strikes me as ironic that Scott and I would be making a journey to Franklinton last week.  Since moving from there in February 2009, I have made very few forays into that area.  It wasn’t avoidance or aversion, just no real need to visit.  And yet, while eating two apple pies and drinking some Diet Coke at the McDonald’s near the OSU campus, I divided my attention between my diary and this morning’s Columbus Dispatch.  The lead headline was the above story.

I wish I could say I was surprised the fire was in Franklinton.  Franklinton (also known as “The Bottoms” by its residents) doesn’t have a monopoly on arson, but when someone deliberately sets a fire there, the motive is usually more personal than a greedy landlord torching his own property because he has his eyes on a big insurance payout.

My thoughts immediately went back to the Wisconsin Ave. fire that took the lives of 19-year-old Mindy Hanners (a student of Steph’s at Gladden Community House) and her three children, who ranged in age from four years to two weeks.  It wasn’t until I went back to my old LiveJournal account to reread this entry that I realized the fire was four years ago this month.  I did not know the family that perished in this week’s blaze, but Deanna Perry, the 61-year-old woman who lived there, known to all as “Maw Maw”, opened her home to anyone who needed assistance.

The baby who died was the daughter of a troubled woman whom “Maw Maw” had hosted.  Mrs. Perry apparently had asked the mother to leave, because their relationship was fraying, but didn’t want the baby, who was ill, to be left without a place to lay her head.  The prevailing theory now is that someone was targeting the mother when they set the fire.

More and more, I am amazed by how people who possess the least are usually the most generous.  The house on N. Yale Ave. could hardly be commodious, and Deanna Perry was already living there with her husband, son, and grandson, yet she found room in her heart and her home for a woman and her baby who had nowhere else to turn.  (The husband and son had left the house for their jobs before the fire started, or else they could quite likely have died as well.)

The streets north of W. Broad are not as familiar to me as the ones to the south.  While we lived on West Park Ave., I made frequent trips to the Family Dollar store that sits at the corner of S. Yale and W. Broad, and the block between Broad and State Sts. featured several dilapidated houses, some of which were intermittently occupied, others which had long been abandoned.  Before I read the story thoroughly, I thought that the fire would have been in one of the S. Yale houses.  One house seemed to be okay structurally, but had a very high turnover of tenants.  I made almost nightly trips past it, especially if I had gotten off the bus on Broad St. and was walking home by way of Family Dollar, and it seemed like every other month there would be a new family there.  I’d see the clutter of Playskool toys in the patch of yard, I would see people sitting on the porch drinking malt liquor and smoking, I’d see the blue-white glow of the TV in the front room.  Then, after a few weeks, the house would be dark, there would be newspaper covering the windows, and the yard would be strewn with trash and debris.

Newspapers in the windows and darkness inside would become the norm for several weeks, but I’d never see a Realtor’s sign or a FOR RENT sign in the yard.  Then, one day I’d head over to Family Dollar to buy blank tapes or a new composition book to continue my diary, and the grass (more yellowed than green) would be cut, the newspapers would be gone, and a family would be in there.  I’d see furniture in the front room, and a jacket draped over a porch chair, or the front door open.  Then the cycle would repeat itself.

Franklinton residents seem to be focused on the proposal to convert the old Cooper Stadium, vacant since the Columbus Clippers moved to Huntington Park, into the Cooper Park Complex.  While passing through on the way to Central Point or Grove City, I see yard signs about it everywhere–even in the yards of the many abandoned properties.  Most of them say FOR Cooper Park Complex, and I guess it’ll be decided next month in the ballot box.  (One of the plans is for an automotive testing center and NASCAR racing, so the opponents cite environmental and noise issues.)  This tragedy will, maybe, divert their attention from the Cooper Park controversy and unite everyone in thinking of the three lives lost so needlessly this week.

I did not read of any funeral plans, but the memory of Mindy Hanners’ and children’s funerals, the standing-room-only show of support at Schoedinger’s Funeral Home’s Hilltop chapel, and the sealed coffin containing all four bodies, is still vivid in my mind.  We did not accompany them to the grave, but it seemed that most of Franklinton had come to pay their respects.  I suspect it’ll be the same for the victims of this disaster.

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.)