One of Those "Everything But the Kitchen Sink" Posts

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  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.

The Owl Returns

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.)

Advertising his recently cancelled FM jazz
radio program with a vintage Nite Owl Theater
publicity shot from circa 1978.

Still nocturnal after all these years.  At last, I
meet Fritz the Nite Owl.

Grayer and older, but the baritone voice is the
same as ever, and the witticism and wisdom
hasn’t changed a bit.

I am now more sure than ever that a friend of mine erred one summer night when we were watching Nite Owl Theater in Marietta.  We were alone in my house–a common event that summer, since I was usually left alone while Dad slept at his wife-to-be’s apartment–watching the Saturday all-night edition of the show.  It was a war movie (I’d give you the title if my 1976 diary wasn’t long gone), and my friend kept saying, “We’re probably the only ones watching this.”
Definitely not true.  I am sure of that now.