For me, one of the indications that warm weather will be here awhile is when the yard sale and garage sale signs begin appearing on trees, telephone poles, and yard signs around the neighborhood. The Olde North and Clintonville neighborhoods have begun sprouting them, and, now that it’s easier for me to bring home my purchases (my trike has a large basket in the back), I’ve begun noting when and where these sales are happening, and planning my weekends (especially payday weekends) around them.
My job at the Discovery Exchange (Columbus State’s bookstore) is on hiatus until the day after Labor Day, so I’ve been enjoying this time off to the hilt, including a very open-ended Friday night bedtime. The downside to this is that I’ve ended up sleeping through Saturday morning and early afternoon events that I’ve not wanted to miss. But I am boasting a new–to me–pair of shoes.
Even though it was close to 5 a.m. when I tumbled into bed
last night this morning, I fully intended to walk to Grandview this morning for the matinee re-showing of The Terror, starring Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff. (Fritz the Nite Owl showed it at midnight the Saturday of Comfest, and Susie and I waited and waited for Bus 5 to take us to Grandview Ave., but it never came, hopelessly snarled in all the northbound traffic exiting Goodale Park.)
The show started at 11 a.m., so I planned to have pavement under me by 9:30. My alarm went off at 8:45, I cursed it, shut it off, and promptly went back to sleep. It was past noon when I finally got out of bed for good. (I rationalized it by remembering my years of third-shift work, at The Crimson and at the Cincinnati post office, when 12 noon would be considered rising too early.)
I also took a pass on two chances to be civic-minded. The Stand Up for Ohio Festival was at the Ohio State Fairgrounds today, easily within walking distance (for me), and my original plan was to go after the movie. (The event featured the Ohio Players, Grand Funk Railroad, and Nikki Giovanni.) I couldn’t summon the interest or mental energy to make my way there, despite being 100% on the same page with the goals of the organization–namely the repeal of Senate Bill 5, the bill which effectively ended collective bargaining for Ohio’s civil servants.
The same was true for the Weinland Park Festival. Even though it was much closer, I declined to go to this as well. In the year that I have lived here, I have fallen almost completely out of love with Weinland Park, and I would have felt hypocritical going to the Festival, as if my warm body being there indicated that I affirmed and took pride in being a resident. At best, it would have been like going to the Thanksgiving dinner of relatives you loathe because they happen to set such a good table.
So what did you do, O blogger? I went to the Goodwill in Baja Clintonville (by the Giant Eagle) to buy shoes, since there were holes in the soles of the pair I was wearing. In my un- or underemployed days, I would have remedied this by filling the holes with newspaper and using the shoes until the soles started flapping. But today, for a little over $7, I came away with a gray and white pair of Adidas tennis shoes, and a black T-shirt from Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. (I have never been to Key West, nor to Florida, but I bought the shirt because of the picture of Hemingway on the front. (Hemingway and friends habituated this bar until he moved from Key West in 1939.)
Once I put on the new shoes and pitched the ones I had been wearing, I broke them in by walking about three or four miles around Clintonville and the North Campus area. (I remember when I was delivering newspapers on Knox St. in Marietta when I was in high school. I overheard a little girl tell her mother, “I’m putting on my new shoes so I can break out in them!” Art Linkletter was right.)
When I sign onto online chat boards, I’ve considered using Walkingman as my screen name, but I haven’t. I would think people would associate it with the James Taylor album of that name–one of his least commercially successful and one of my least favorite. A friend suggested Walkingdude, but I vetoed that right away. I’ve never liked the word dude, and I think it sounds idiotic without the word ranch after it. But the main reason is because this is one of the many nicknames Stephen King uses in The Stand for the demonic Randall Flagg, the novel’s mega-antagonist.
This afternoon, I spent several hours at the Ramada Plaza on Sinclair Rd. at the 40th annual Pulpfest, moving from vendor table to vendor table in the hotel ground floor. I’ve become much more choosy at events such as these, and gone are the days when I could blow an entire paycheck at something like my beloved Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati. It would have been impossible for me to scrutinize every book, DVD, poster, and pulp magazine for sale, but I am pretty sure I got a pretty representative picture of what’s available.
There was a we’ll-look-back-on-this-and-laugh moment during the convention. A seller from Michigan specializes in manuscripts, first editions, and signed copies. On his table, he displayed a two-page handwritten letter (circa 1928) from H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu Mythos. I asked how much it cost. “Twenty-five,” he said.
My friend Steve wrote his master’s thesis on Lovecraft’s body of work, so I went outside and texted him immediately. (Cell service is nonexistent in the ground floor of this hotel.) I texted, 2pp Lovecraft letter (handwritten) on sale for $25!. He texted back, Wow. Authenticated? He was wise to ask this, because I went down and spoke to the dealer, and this brief discussion brought me back down to earth. I went back upstairs to where there was cell reception, and sent another text message, Never mind. It’s $2500!” Steve texted back, That sounds more like it. 😀. Lovecraft died in 1937, and any of his papers, hand- or typewritten, appreciate more and more annually.
I was able to keep my spending reasonable. When I was going to St. Mary’s Middle School, I gave a speech in my forensics class (a classy way of saying “public speaking”) on my growing book collection. Among other gems (nothing particularly valuable or collectible), I showed a double novel, They Buried a Man. The husband and wife who own and operate Hooked on Books in Bolingbrook, Ill. had the book. (My copy disappeared in the many moves from Marietta to Boston, Cincinnati, Athens, etc. over the years.) So, for a mere $5, I now own They Buried a Man once again. Ace Books published an entire series of “Ace Giant Double Novels.” They’re the size of a typical paperback of the period (1955), selling for $.50. Mildred Davis was the author of both They Buried a Man and the other novel, The Dark Place (G-543). When you finish reading one novel, you would turn the next page, and the final page of the other book would be there upside down. Two covers, two complete books, two for the price of one.
I learned about Pulpfest from mystery writer, law professor, and attorney Francis M. (“Mike”) Nevins, Jr., whom I met several years ago at the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati. The convention came to Columbus in 2009. It had previously been in Dayton, so I never attended until it came to the Ramada Plaza. I am not surprised at the overlap between the old-time radio crowd and the pulp enthusiasts’ crowd. I saw some of the same faces, and some of the same merchandise was available. (There were very few audio recordings for sale, but several vendors sold DVDs of movie serials, 1950s TV shows, and B movies.)
Very interesting choice of music right now. I’ve programmed my laptop to shuffle the music files stored there. Here I am writing about a convention for pulp fiction and genre enthusiasts–the theme is the 80th anniversary of The Shadow–and the song that came up just now was “Spooky,” by the Classics IV. (When I was in high school, the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s cover was quite popular, but I admit I like the Classics IV version better.)
And now for a double whammy music-wise. The next song that came up was “Read ‘Em and Weep,” by Barry Manilow. Besides admitting for all the world to read that I have a Barry Manilow album ripped to my laptop, I’ll ‘fess up the reason why this song hits me in the gut. Steph and I were married 15 years ago tonight at Highbanks Metro Park in Powell. In the eyes of the law, we are still married, but tonight we are over a thousand miles apart. And now, it’s a thousand statute miles apart–we have been thousands of miles apart spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for much longer. I know it’s best that we’re apart, and I think I’ve adapted well to single fatherhood (and this month of full bachelorhood), but that doesn’t make this date any easier. Anyone who has suffered the bitter end of a relationship can appreciate the lyrics of this song.
I am not long back from dinner with Steve and Mike Nevins at Noodles and Company (I highly recommend their Wisconsin macaroni and cheese with meatballs, by the way), and later tonight I will make the three-mile trek to Grandview for the Return of Nite Owl Theater. The film tonight is Teenagers from Outer Space. I have never seen this, nor have I heard it before it appeared on Fritz’ Website.
I bought two DVDs at the convention at $10 apiece. One was Barfly, a movie that had me in stitches when I first saw it in the early 1990s. The only Charles Bukowski book I had read at the time was Post Office, a novel I loved but did not fully appreciate until I went to work at the main post office in Cincinnati in May 1992. Barfly‘s setting reminded me very much of the 600 block of East Main Street in downtown Cincinnati, where I spent many afternoons and early evenings with Robert Lowry, the once-famous Cincinnati novelist who died broke and out of print in 1994. I was a bit of a snob about where I drank, and I considered Lowry’s hangout, the Bay Horse Café, to be beneath my station–I was used to college bars, and thought they were a step up from Skid Row establishments such as The Saloon and the Bay Horse. (The college bars were, after all, college bars, even if you had to step through a minefield of spilled beer, broken glass, and vomit to get from the bar to your seat.)
The other was Kill Me If You Can, a 1977 made-for-TV movie starring Alan Alda as Caryl Chessman, a career criminal executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin in 1960 for rape and kidnapping. I was in junior high when I saw the movie for the first time, and it turned me into an opponent of the death penalty, and it led me to read the four books Chessman wrote while on Death Row, including his autobiography, Cell 2455, Death Row and his only novel, The Kid Was a Killer, published two or three months before his execution. I have not watched the movie in its entirety, and I won’t tonight, but I am glad to finally have a copy.
Many of the vendors organized their products by genre, author name, or publisher, and many issues of Argosy, The Phantom Detective, and Dime Mystery Book were in chronological order. That was good, because I was on a mission to find a specific 1955 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for a friend. (I came away with two “I have it, but not here”s, but I collected email and snail addresses from both vendors, and will contact them in the next day or so.) At the same time, serendipity can be your friend as well. I have lost track of how many books I now own by discovering them completely by accident while in search of something else. I have prowled bookstores and a misfiled book just happens to me one I’ve tried to find for years.
|Some typical PulpFest fare.|
I’ve done enough organizing and tidying up around my worktable that I can get to my turntable without obstruction for the first time in weeks. I celebrated this event by putting on a Dave Brubeck Quartet LP from the mid-1960s, Angel Eyes. One of the songs on this album is “The Night We Called It a Day.” It’s not my favorite song on this particular album (that would have to be “Diamonds for Your Furs”), but it is truly appropriate to my current life situation.
(Even now, by the way, I’m still on a vinyl Brubeck jag. Currently spinning is Anything Goes! The Dave Brubeck Quartet Plays Cole Porter, and I’m listening to “Love for Sale” as I type.)
Steph is now in Florida, on the eve of beginning a new job, and already beginning a new life. Susie and I saw her off at the Greyhound station downtown early Friday morning, and she left at 7:30 a.m. for a 26-hour bus ride to Titusville, via Cincinnati, Nashville, Atlanta, and Orlando. Since Susie had to be at school to audition for a speech, we didn’t stay with Steph until she boarded, but left her as the line was moving toward the gate and onto the bus. This was the point where the driver was announcing “Tickets out of the envelopes, please!” (Steph had ordered her tickets online beforehand, and they had arrived in the mail earlier in the month.) Steph teared up hugging Susie goodbye, and I gave Steph a very cursory farewell hug, and went out with Susie to East Main Street so she could catch her bus to school and I could head home.
(I had planned to just arrive late for work, in the interests of returning to normal as soon as possible after Steph’s departure for Florida. However, earlier in the week Human Resources sent me an email saying that I had one cost-savings day left, and it had to be used very soon. Not remembering it was the day Steph was leaving, I asked for May 27, more because it would make my Memorial Day weekend longer.)
Susie and I are bearing up quite well. Despite this entry’s title, there was no night (or day) Steph and I decided to stop being together. It’s been a gradual process, and even going through nearly 16 years of memories (my own memory supplemented, of course, by reams of diaries and shoe boxes full of breast-pocket notebooks), I can’t pinpoint one point where it started to go bad. So in the end, there is little sadness on my part. There is, instead, much relief. I feel that the limbo has lifted, and the way is clear for me to look at the next phase of my life. And last Friday is as much of a milestone in my own history as 1066, 1492, 1215, 1776, and 9/11 are in world history.
The record has now gone to “What is This Thing Called Love,” and the best answer I can give right now comes from the computer in WarGames (1983) describing thermonuclear war: “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.” This is not universal, by the way. It’s just the way I think I have to live in order to preserve my own sanity.
I was proud of Susie Friday night, when she performed in the Cabaret Night at Dominion Middle School. The attendance was sparse, and many of the kids scheduled to appear were no-shows, but Susie and her friends were on hand to perform two brief skits from The Wizard of Oz. Susie played the Wicked Witch of the West in one scene, and the Scarecrow in another. (There may have been better attendance if it hadn’t been Memorial Day weekend and if the baseball team wasn’t away at a championship game.) Several of the acts listed in the program didn’t happen, because cast members were absent, and the drama teacher, Emily Foster, had to fill in for some of the roles, but I was proud that Susie was front and center. Despite the fact that she said goodbye to her mother 12 hours earlier, and that she may not see her mother again for weeks, or maybe months, she gave her all once she was onstage. That makes the no-shows’ excuses rather lame, methinks.
|Dominion Middle School, where Susie will be a student until the end of this week.|
Saturday night, Susie and I walked the three miles to Grandview for the monthly Return of Nite Owl Theater. The movie last night was Dementia 13, the first commercially successful film of Francis Ford Coppola. Susie thought she’d doze off during it, especially after the long walk, but she was riveted to her seat. I even found myself warming up to the latest installment of Aidan 5 (a detective, circa 2070, tries to solve the mass murder of his clones), which had left me a little cold when I had seen it in March before Carnival of Souls. I dismissed it then as a cheap Sin City wannabe, but now I want to go to the site and watch the episodes from the beginning.
First Unitarian Universalist Church went to one service per Sunday as of this morning, and Susie and I marked the event by sleeping late. (Smaller UU churches shut down for the entire summer. The stock answer when non-Unitarians ask about this is, “What other denomination could God trust out of His sight for an entire summer?”) We went to the Really, Really Free Market in the afternoon, and the pickings were slim this month–there is no way to predict it. I knew, however, that Susie would not go away empty-handed. Next door to the Sporeprint Infoshop is the Third Hand Bicycle Cooperative, and last week a generous soul donated eight or 10 children’s bicycles. Most of them were for kids of kindergarten age and a little older. My friend Randall told me this last Monday, and he set aside a 15-speed Huffy Mont Clare for Susie–the only one that might have been big enough for her. Between Monday night and Sunday afternoon, he filled the front tire and adjusted the handlebars and the saddle, and now Susie has a bike. She has had limited success in learning to ride them in the past, so I’m worried that it may gather dust, but I’m hoping to encourage her to take it to Weinland Park this summer and give it a whirl. (It’s in our dining room right now, because we don’t have a bike chain and lock. Even with one, I’m not sure if keeping it outdoors is a good idea. I can see someone in this neighborhood owning the tools to snap a thick U-lock in half like a twig, and Susie had a bike stolen when we lived in Franklinton and kept it out front.)
Susie and I went to an excellent Memorial Day cookout in Clintonville, at the home of our friends Steve and Kittie. The undisputed star of the show was their granddaughter, who will turn a year old in July. I picked up the little girl, and she did the exact thing Susie did when she was an infant: she made a grab for my glasses, which instantly skittered to the deck. I had completely forgotten how fascinated babies are by glasses, and how they’ll make a grab for them when given the chance. (Susie also loved tugging at my beard, or pulling things out of my breast pocket, when she was a baby and I was holding her. It made me very briefly consider shaving off my beard until she was older–and this from a guy who considers it a deal-breaker if a romantic partner asked me to get rid of my beard!)
Since I was (am) so proud of Susie for stepping up to the plate and performing so well on such an emotional day, I am posting this video from Friday night’s Cabaret at Dominion. (Susie is in the blue T-shirt, portraying the Wicked Witch of the West–riding a push broom!–and the Scarecrow.)
Tonight is my night off from the Columbus State bookstore, since it’s only open until 6 on Fridays. (My night shifts start at 5:30, so there is no sense in working for only half an hour.) I enjoy the job at Columbus State, and my co-workers are good people, but I still felt great when all I had to do after work is come home via the local branch of the library (to pick up reserves).
Most nights this week, I’ve simply been too wiped out to sit down and type an entry once I’m home, and once Susie is in bed and Steph has retired to her bedroom for the night. That is why the entry I’m writing at the moment will not hang together, subject-wise, and I doubt it’ll flow in any conventional sense.
Slowly, I am easing myself back into walking. The bookstore job has entailed a lot of walking back and forth on the second floor, either shelving books, straightening out awkwardly placed volumes, or helping customers. Although the vernal equinox was Sunday, temperatures in the 20s and 30s have made return appearances in Columbus this week, so I haven’t considered walking home after the bookstore job ends at 8 p.m. (It ends at 9 p.m. as of Monday.) I logged plenty of mileage on the floor, but I have only had two “real” walks since I last posted.
The first was on Saturday night. The monthly “Return of Nite Owl Theater” was a week early, because Fritz the Nite Owl is at HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis this weekend. I walked the three miles each way to the Grandview Theater and thoroughly enjoyed the 1962 black-and-white film Carnival of Souls, starring Candace Hilligoss.
I found the movie even more enjoyable when I realized that its director, Herk Harvey, filmed some of it in a place I have actually seen. The abandoned amusement park where the heroine is trapped by disembodied souls cavorting about is the Saltair Pavilion, located just west of Salt Lake City. I remember seeing it in 1987, as I was en route by Greyhound from Athens to San Francisco for spring break. It stood out in the midst of the Great Salt Lake on over a thousand pilings, and I remember seeing it from I-80 and wondering just what it was. (A year later, I was walking down High St. here in Columbus when two young Mormon missionaries tried to proselytize me. Both were Utah natives, so I got them off on a big tangent by describing the building and asking what it was. We ended up talking about that, a welcome break from Mormon theology.)
|This is from Cardcow.com. A picture of Saltair in its heyday, and a post card
that gave me a laugh.
I walked very briskly home, because the temperature dropped 10 or 15 degrees during the movie, and I was a little underdressed for the weather.
The other walk was because of a fax machine error. One of my co-workers tried over six times to fax paperwork to OPERS (the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, what we pay into in lieu of Social Security). It went through our machine fine, but never seemed to arrive on the other end. She was getting more and more frustrated, because the meter was running on the deadline for submitting this paperwork. Finally, I told her I’d run it over to OPERS’ office on E. Town St. It was exactly a mile each way from our office, and I needed to get some pavement under me, no matter how much I had been resisting it. She was quite grateful. She sealed it all in an envelope and gave it to me, and I left the office at 12:30. (“Cue the theme from Rocky,” I told her on my way out.)
It was a good walk. Despite being a little out of practice for me (I wish I had the mindset that I had when I posted all my entries and Tweets about always jonesing for a good long walk), I kept a pretty good pace and obeyed all the WALK-DON’T WALK signs, which is something totally out of character for me. It was misting just a little, so I very conscientiously kept my co-worker’s envelope underneath my sweat jacket. (I thought of my cousin Bob, describing to a desk sergeant how he knew that he had paid a speeding ticket: “It was drizzling rain, and I got into my car with that envelope, and I carried it upside down, so the rain wouldn’t blot the address, and I put it in that fine box by the Delaware County Bank.”) I gave her envelope to the receptionist in PERS’ lobby, and when I asked for a receipt, she Xeroxed each page, date-stamped the front one, and handed them back to me. I put them back in the envelope and returned to the office.
Some of our customers at the bookstore are people who, for whatever reason, dropped out of high school, and are at Columbus State to get their GEDs. The GED books are in constant demand, and I am sure many of them are very diligent students. (I considered dropping out of high school and going for the GED, but my dad insisted I get a job if I did that, and Ohio was 49th in employment at that time, and regular work was anathema to me at that period of my life.) After he retired from Marietta College, Dad taught GED classes a night or two a week, and he told me that many of the students there were more conscientious than his college students.
What appalls me is how many people have no clue how to locate their books, or how to determine what books go with what courses. The layout of the second floor shelves is pretty straightforward. Subjects appear alphabetically, and the course numbers are numerical within those. The free-standing bookshelves go from A through N. N through the end of the alphabet (Veterinary Technology). In the “teach a man to fish” spirit, I explain that when someone asks how to find a book. On several occasions, I have had to pretty much lead the person to the book they want, and then point to the shelf tag to show them what books or materials go with the courses.
I had the same issues when I worked at DuBois Book Store in Cincinnati, situations which I satirized (quite mercilessly) in my as-yet-unpublished novella The Textbook Diaries. My constant thought when these situations arose was, “If you need to be led by the hand to find your books, and cannot puzzle out an alphabetical shelving system and straightforward shelf tags, then maybe college isn’t for you.” That thought even popped up once in awhile when I was in Harvard’s orbit. Most of the people I met during my 18 months in Cambridge were bright, intelligent, and creative, but there were some whom you knew were only there because their parents could afford the tuition and promised generous contributions.
Ever since I was a young teenager, I’ve wondered why “walking a mile” is supposed to represent walking a long distance. I remember hearing about the slogan Camel used for decades to advertise its cigarettes, “I’d walk a mile for a Camel!” And yet, 5280 feet (1.609 km) is not that far a distance to walk, really. (It probably is a long, long way to run, especially for someone like me, who has never run long distances. I don’t run because I don’t have the stamina. Why don’t I have the stamina? Because I don’t run.)
This subject comes to mind because the Owl flies tonight, which means I’m going to be pounding pavement in a little over an hour. Tonight is the second return of Nite Owl Theater, and tonight Fritz the Nite Owl will be hosting Plan Nine from Outer Space, long considered the worst movie ever made. The Grandview Theater is just over three miles from my house in Weinland Park, a straight westerly walk up W. 5th Ave. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t walk three miles in 27-degree weather to see that thing–I used to have a VHS copy of it, but erased it to record cartoons for Susie when she was a toddler. But Fritz is hosting it, and that’s reason enough. (Susie’s introduction to the legendary Mr. Peerenboom will be on Christmas night, when the show will be–surprise, surprise!–Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.)
At least three of the items on my “bucket list” (a wish list of things I want to do before I “kick the bucket”) involve walking. The three big walks I want to make in my lifetime are these:
- John Wilkes Booth’s escape route. It would start at the back door of Ford’s Theater in Washington and wind its way through Maryland and Virginia before ending in Port Royal, Va., where Booth was captured and was shot by a demented Union soldier, a born-again Christian and self-castrated eunuch named Boston Corbett. It would also include pit stops at the Surratt family tavern in Clinton (then called Surrattsville) and Dr. Mudd’s farmhouse in Bryantown.
- The National Road. This inspiration came to me while I was living in Franklinton (“capital of West Virginia”) from 2002 until 2009. The main drag through Franklinton is W. Broad St. In fact, Broad St. is the major east-west thoroughfare in Columbus. It is part of U.S. 40, which is the old National Road, beginning in Cumberland, Md. and terminating at the Kaskaskia River in Galesburg, Ill. Much of it would be familiar terrain for me, since I went back and forth on W. Broad St. daily when I worked at Medco Health on Phillipi Rd. In Wheeling, my dad’s hometown, the street is called “National Rd.”, and part of its route includes going over the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. (I don’t remember if I’ve ever crossed the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, but my dad said it swayed so much that during a circus parade to Wheeling Island, one of the elephants was so petrified its handlers had to blindfold it and lead it across. Sobering, especially if you’ve ever seen the footage of the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State.)
- The Pony Express route. This would be from St. Joseph, Mo. to Sacramento, Calif. (known fondly to my friends in the Bay Area as “Excremento”). Even though emails and text messaging are legion, I still love the feel of writing (or tape-recording) letters and cards and then dropping them in the blue mailboxes (when I can find them). The only reason I never signed up to be a carrier during my stint at the main post office in Cincinnati was because carriers had to have driver’s licenses–I would have been happy to take my mail on the bus and deliver it that way, but that wasn’t permitted. And mail call–although increasingly disappointing–is still my favorite part of the day. (Amazon.com gave me a $1 subscription to Rolling Stone for recently buying a DVD, and my first issue arrived yesterday. Two previous issues were in the mail today.) So, walking the Pony Express route–all 1680 miles of it–would be a good way to combine my love of mail and my love of walking. Ads for Pony Express riders targeted “young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen”, with the added notice “Orphans preferred.” My walking the distance of the Pony Express route (Fort Collins, Provo, Salt Lake City) would be proof that you don’t need to be young, skinny, or wiry. I was when I was a teen (“not over eighteen”), but I am an orphan now, so I meet one of the qualifications.
I keep reminding myself I need to be on my guard tonight. The Ohio State Buckeyes were victorious over the University of Michigan Wolverines today (as they have been annually since 2004), 37-7. The game was here in Columbus, so I am sure that there will be places along W. 5th Ave. where I will be running a gauntlet of drunken yahoos who are celebrating the victory aided by sustenance they’re carrying around in brown paper bags. I am thankful that the old Roxy Theatre on N. High St. (just north of Lane Ave.) is no more. If it still existed, I’m sure that’s where Fritz would be hosting this program tonight, and trying to get through High St. when the streets and sidewalks are clogged by inebriated football fans would truly be a hellish experience. So, I’m glad to be making the trek to Grandview, west of where all the insanity is occurring.
Last night, I made my first decent walk (a total of almost 6½ miles) to the Grandview Theater and back, and this was a walk with a definite goal in mind. I wanted to be front and center for the return of Nite Owl Theater to Columbus. Unfortunately, it’s not returning to the airwaves, especially not to Channel 10 (WBNS-TV), but the Owl is among us once again.
For those of you not familiar with Columbus TV, I am speaking of longtime TV and radio icon Frederick C. (“Fritz the Nite Owl”) Peerenboom, aged 75. This article fills in much of the biographical details, but you had to have been a nocturnally inclined person growing up in the late ’70s around in the Columbus, Ohio television market to fully appreciate Fritz. His unmistakable trademark are the “owl glasses,” recycled from a pair of the big-lensed Christian Dior spectacles popular (especially with women) in the mid- to late 1970s.
I first discovered him when staying up all night with friends (or alone) when he would host double-featured Chiller Theater after the 11 o’clock news on Channel 10. The more pedestrian movies appeared on The New Armchair Theater during the week, and Nite Owl Theater ran Saturday night from midnight until nearly 6 a.m. (At that time, however, my weekend overnight loyalties were with Huntington’s WSAZ-TV, and its much blander All Night Theater, which showed scratchy B movies sandwiched in between reruns of Green Acres and The Saint.)
During my eighth-grade year, I took pride in my “clandestine” nocturnal activities. My sleeping quarters were quite the afterthought after my dad married my stepmother in 1976, and we moved (with her three daughters) into the house behind Mound Cemetery. I slept in a couch on the basement, with a small area cleared away for my living quarters. It also housed the color TV, so after everyone else went to bed, it was me and Fritz the Nite Owl. That fall, Channel 10 had changed the late-night format (this was pre-Arsenio Hall and -David Letterman, and they elected not to run The CBS Late Movie), so Nite Owl Theater was a weeknight show as well.
Last night, a cameraman put his lens and a boom microphone in my face and asked me about my first experience with Fritz. I mentioned how I’d watch the show late into the night, even on school nights, and I surprised him by remembering the first film I watched. It was Last Train from Gun Hill, with Kirk Douglas, Earl Holliman, and Carolyn Jones. (I was never a big Western fan, but Fritz made me like them more than I had before.) The interview is part of a documentary about Fritz’ career, which should be released sometime next year. I’ll keep everyone posted–especially if my cameo appearance remains in the final cut! (I even remember the first movie I watched on WSAZ’s All Night Theater. It was a forgettable picture called Three Guns for Texas.)
My only disappointment was that the new Nite Owl Theater did not use the opening I best remembered. That featured the 1976 Columbus skyline (back when the LeVeque Tower was the tallest building in Columbus) at sunset. The sun set in rhythm with the song “South Philly Willy” by New York Mary, followed by a full moon rising over WBNS’ transmitter. Fritz would host the show from a mock-up of Channel 10’s tower, complete with the warning light blinking behind him.
Since he was supposed to be hosting the show from the tower, this led to his nightly farewell: “See you tomorrow night, same time, same tower,” followed by a picture of Channel 10’s tower. There would be a loud “click-click,” like someone turning off a light, and the moon would vanish. Oftentimes, I would watch the show to catch his commercial-break commentaries, or his two-minute asides midway through the picture.
Last night was the first time I had ever seen him in person, although I had written him from Marietta, and received handwritten replies (one letter was written on the back of a TelePrompTer sheet) which answered my many obscure questions and commented on the movies I asked him to show. (I specifically remember asking him to show Ice Station Zebra, the 1968 Cold War (no pun intended) thriller that Howard Hughes watched over 150 times during his years of complete seclusion, so many times that his aides could recite the entire soundtrack from memory by the time he died in 1976. I said “I’m curious to see what Howard Hughes saw in it,” to which Fritz replied “Maybe he dug snow!”)
This being Hallowe’en Eve, the featured movie was Night of the Living Dead, George Romero’s classic low-budget film about hordes of zombies invading the Pittsburgh suburbs. I had seen it quite a few times before–the first time being at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, Mass., but the commercial break commentary from Fritz and the vintage commercials (Arrid Extra Dry, Polaroid’s SX-70 Land camera, Alka-Seltzer, and Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia) really made it fun to watch. Fritz claimed he received his first standing ovation last night when he strolled out in front of the screen before the film actually rolled, although I find this hard to believe. (Last night’s show was posted online at this site sometime during the night, so you can see the movie and all the ephemera associated with it–including Coca-Cola’s Bicentennial-era “Look up, America! See what we’ve got!” commercials.)
Watching Night of the Living Dead last night made me aware of something that had slipped under my radar previously. The phrase “those things” came up so frequently in the dialogue that I was waiting for its next occurrence more than enjoying the movie. It was almost like constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s like listening to records of Richard Pryor’s stand-up routines or watching Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, when after five minutes or so all you hear is “blah blah blah–motherfucker–blah blah blah–motherfucker” and nothing else. The characters were constantly talking about escaping “those things,” or what “those things” would do next, or how to scare away “those things.”
Fritz signed autographs in the lobby after the show, and I got one for myself, and one for Susie. He signed Susie’s “Ya shoulda been here!”, a situation I may rectify next month when he shows Plan Nine from Outer Space, and she definitely will be with me Christmas night, when the feature is (of course) Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. (There will be free Nite Owl Theater shows the last Saturday of every month at the Grandview Theater, 1247 Grandview Ave., 12 midnight.)