Happy MMXI!

Besides being the first day of 2011, this is also the first Saturday of the month.  To mark the occasion, I’m taking Susie tonight for her first showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Studio 35.  (It’ll be the first for me in a long time.  The last time I saw it was in 1980 at a theater in Albuquerque.  I was in the Land of Enchantment for General Assembly, my first time west of Indianapolis.)  It’s kind of my way of atoning for subjecting her to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians last Saturday at the Grandview Theater (even if she did get to meet Fritz the Nite Owl).

I rang in the new year at the Pirate House, site of the Mustache Party last month.  The concept was “Party Behind the Iron Curtain,” but the best I could do was bring (and flash) my International Publishers copy of The Communist Manifesto.  I had a beard trim on Thursday, which pretty much ruined my chances to try to pass as Fidel Castro or Karl Marx.

I never cease to marvel at how childhood toys continue to hold fascination for people even as they cross to adulthood.  A woman came to the party with a crossbow that shot marshmallows, a toy that cost her $2 at a thrift store.  Out on the rear deck, this became a very popular toy, with the added allure of a small gnome statue sitting at the base of a tree.  Everyone wanted a turn with this thing, and the weather was hospitable for such an activity.  The temperature in Columbus was in the upper 50s-low 60s for most of the day, even after the sun set, and I almost skipped wearing a hoodie when I left for the party.

This is where my prior experience as a postal
worker came in handy.

I even took a few pot shots at the gnome, and my unfamiliarity with weapons became glaringly obvious.  I don’t think I even came close to target at any of my three attempts.  (I am definitely not in the league of Hunter S. Thompson, who had an elaborate setup of targets and gongs for his shooting pleasure at Owl Farm in Colorado.  I thank God I don’t resemble William Burroughs, who killed his wife while bragging about his skills as a marksman and demonstrated by trying to shoot a glass off his wife’s head with a pistol.  He wasn’t as good a shot as he boasted.)  When everyone exhausted the bag of marshmallows, we went out to the base of the tree and recycled the marshmallows.  There will be some squirrels in that yard who will be on horrendous sugar highs for the next 1-2 days.

There were three hula hoops sitting on the back deck, and they received a lot of attention and mileage.  They require marginally more skill than the crossbow, so not as many people used them.  One person managed one, two, or three hoops at a time, twirling them around her waist and/or wrists, or using the hoop like a jump rope.

Administering the coup de grace to the gnome.
Notice all the “spent ammunition” at the base
of the tree.

I was probably the oldest person at the party.  I’m not 100% positive, but I am dead certain who the youngest person was.  My friend Ramona, aged 21, proudly brought her daughter Kiley, who will be six months old next week, to the party.  It’s a cliché to wring your hands about “where have the years gone?”, but I can remember when Ramona, a mere eight or nine years old, would fawn very lovingly over infant Susie.  (Susie, I think, even wore some of Ramona’s old baby clothes.)
We all watched the ball drop on Times Square at midnight, loudly starting the countdown “50!  49!  48!  47!” The pictures came from CNN’s live feed, although earlier we were looking (why, I don’t know) at a live feed of the front of the White House.  The only exciting thing that happened with that was when the exterior lights all shut off at once.  (It didn’t look like anyone was home, because there were no lights in the windows.  I think President Obama and family are in Hawaii, so the family quarters were probably deserted.)
All eyes are on the live feed from Manhattan as
the ball begins its annual descent from the top
of One Times Square.
Leaving the party around 4 a.m., I walked the nine long blocks back to Weinland Park.  Police seemed to be everywhere, either making arrests or patrolling loud party areas.  I saw just as many taxis as I did squad cars. “Be careful, they’re arresting everybody!” one guy cautioned me as I was walking south.  I didn’t have anything to worry about, since I hadn’t drunk alcohol.  (I brought Diet Pepsi, but since there was at least one recovering alcoholic at the party, the “buffet” had plenty of Coke and store-brand cola.)
One New Year’s Eve I remember from my childhood was when I was five.  I wasn’t awake at midnight, but my parents held a small party around the dinner hour at our small house on Third St.  Dad opened a bottle of red bubbly, and I don’t know what he did, but once the cork was out of the bottle, all of the champagne sprayed out of the bottle.  None of the adults had a drop of it, since it all ended up on the kitchen ceiling.  I was doubled over laughing so hard (it didn’t take much to amuse me at that age) that I was choking and coughing.  My dad’s sister moved into the house the following summer, and she immediately had to get on a ladder and wipe the remaining champagne from the ceiling.
When I lived in Boston, I went back to Ohio for the Christmas holidays, and saw in 1983 at a party in Rocky River, a Cleveland suburb.  About four of us, friends from the Ohio-Meadville District UU youth groups, went to the party of a friend of one of theirs.  The parents were gone, so everyone picked the liquor cabinets bare, and those with forged IDs made pilgrimages to the carry-outs whenever the beer ran low.  All pretty standard fare, but the party made me realize the importance of carrying a notebook and pen at all times.  I overheard several memorable lines that somehow never made their way into my fiction, although I remember them as if I heard them yesterday, and not almost 30 years ago.
One came from a guy who sounded very happy.  The tone almost suggested that he was going to be seeing an old and dear friend for the first time in ages.  “Great!  Rudy’s here–I’m going to beat the shit out of him!”  I overheard the second in an upstairs hallway, while I was waiting for the bathroom.  A guy and a girl were trying for minimal privacy in another section of the hall.  “I’m really starting to like you,” the guy said, in a very confessional tone, “and it’s really bothering me.”  That’s not an opening line I highly recommend to any potential suitor.
The third exchange was, “Where’s Matt?”  (I forget whether this voice was male or female.)  “Who’s Matt?”  One guy said, “Oh, Matt’s my 14-year-old brother.  He’s a penis.”
The New Year’s Eve that I always loved to hear about took place two years before I was born.  (I’ve mentioned this in the LiveJournal blog, so caveat lector.)  My maternal grandmother, Lucie McKee, died near Asheville, N.C. on December 30, 1960.  (My grandfather was teaching at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa at the time.)  The family spent all of New Year’s Eve on the train bringing her body back to Ohio for burial in Caldwell at Olive Cemetery, and, according to my mother, two drunken sailors burst into the coach just after midnight, waving whiskey bottles over their heads and shouting, “Happy New Year!  Hey, everybody, they’ve got a stiff in the luggage car!”  I have never heard anyone else tell this story, and the only person who was there at the time who is still alive is my cousin Karen, who was a toddler when this happened.
As for so far this year, I didn’t get out of bed until after 1 p.m., and I only ventured out of the house to go to Family Dollar.  Today, the temperature has hovered in the low 40s, and it has been gray and drizzly all day.  A light rain was falling at 4 a.m. during my walk home from the party, so I was grateful to get out of my wet clothes once I made it home.

Street of Many Contrasts

It’s a muggy Friday night, and gnats circle in the air all over Clintonville, so I’m settled in–probably for the rest of the night.  I had to run an errand on High Street earlier in the evening, before the sun set, so I walked down one of the narrow streets that leads down to High Street.  I’ve noticed it on my many journeys up and down the street, especially since the warm weather settled in for the duration, and more people are outside.

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood…

One of my neighbors is promising a mega yard sale tomorrow, but she and her husband have already begun setting out some of the merchandise on the porch and the yard.  Never one to pass up a good yard sale, I ventured over for a look.  I plunked down a quarter for a respectably frayed Warner paperback of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and a dollar for a khaki guayabera jacket.  (It’s far too miserable to wear the jacket now, but it’s incentive for me to lose the bay window I have at waist level.  It zips up, but just barely.  If I can lose some of my girth, it’ll be quite comfortable.)  Not that anyone’s asked, but a guayabera–which is politically incorrectly nicknamed the “Mexican wedding shirt”–is a work shirt that features four front pockets.  There are two breast pockets, and underneath them, above the shirttails, are two more corresponding pockets.  (You might say the guayabera is the shirt equivalent of cargo pants.)  I’ve had guayabera shirts in the past, and with all the crap I carry with me at all times–keys, notebooks, glasses case, pens and pencils, digital camera (very recently!), cell phone, microcassette recorder–I put them to use.  This shirt is an invention that ranks up there with movable type and bifocals.

A professional and competitive powerlifter–a woman who was a friend of mine at O.U. and with whom I stayed in touch sporadically once we left Athens–lives a block or so from the house where I bought the book and the shirt.  Her whole life revolves around physical fitness and exercise.  On the rare occasions I see her, she’s usually headed to or from the gym or her job as a physical therapist.

And then you have her neighbors.  Immediately next door is a household that is singlehandedly keeping the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and/or Philip Morris in business.  I’m not sure who all lives there–I usually see three or four women in their late 20s or early 30s out on the porch.  Whether they’re sisters, girlfriends, friends, or some combination thereof, I do not know.  What I do know is that I have never seen any of these women without cigarettes.  When no one is out on the porch, there are at least two ashtrays on the table, all of them crammed to overflowing with cigarette butts.

I realized that smoking wasn’t just something that equated with entertaining guests.  I know there are some people like that, who only smoke with certain friends, or when drinking, etc.  (My late uncle Paul was quite odd in this respect: When the pro football season began, he began smoking heavily, whether he was watching a game or not.  However, as soon as the Super Bowl post-game shows ended, he put away cigarettes and didn’t touch them until the season began again.)  One morning, I was headed to Tim Horton to buy bagels and breakfast sandwiches, and one of the women came out to get the morning newspaper.  She was in slippers and a grey nightdress, and there was a cigarette in her hand.

Next to them is someone else committed to gradual suicide.  Whatever hour of the day or night I pass, the man is sitting in a plastic chair in the front yard, wearing the same shirt and shorts, and there is always a 1.75-liter bottle of Popov vodka sitting on the ground in front of him.  He sits out there taking generous dollops of it with a red plastic Solo cup.  Maybe he has been drinking this heavily for a long time, and finally decided to stop hiding it, or maybe he’s hit some kind of bottom so he no longer cares.  He must be an experienced drinker, because of the tolerance it takes to drink that much 80-proof vodka a day.  Maybe it’s because you can’t legally buy Everclear in Ohio.  (It is not illegal to possess it, however.  I knew many Cincinnati neighbors who went over to Kentucky to get it.)  I have seen that he delivers The Bag on weekends, so I understand what’s led him to drinking!

A casual pedestrian on this street will see many flags flying, regardless of the time of year.  There are quite a few American flags, of course.  The house where I bought the book and the jacket flew an O.U. flag and an American flag.  (The only American flag I own is the one that draped my dad’s coffin, and it is still in its triangular zippered American Legion case, along with the spent cartridges from his rifle salute.)  There is one house on the street where you can find one of three flags displayed: a U.S. flag, a Pittsburgh Penguins flag, or a Culpeper Minutemen “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.  (I wonder if the owner knows the Culpeper Minutemen organized to defend a group spearheaded by a bunch of Quakers, Deists, and Unitarians.  Also, the Committee on Safety pulled the plug on the Minutemen in January 1776.)

Continuing on this vexillological note for a moment (anything that makes you sprint for the nearest dictionary is purely coincidental intentional), a woman a few doors down from the patriot-Penguins fan-Don’t Tread on Me fan flies small respectably faded banners featuring the symbols of the world’s major religions–the Star of David, the Crescent and Star, the Om, the Buddhist Wheel of Righteousness, the cross, the pentacle.  (I have offered to find her a Unitarian Universalist Flaming Chalice, and when I do, I will donate it.)  In the same vein, a family further down the street flies flags featuring the word peace written in several languages–Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, English, Cyrillic.  Someone in the same block always displays an Israeli flag.

Interspersed among all these are Blue Jackets banners (Ironically, their slogan is “Carry the flag!”), Columbus Crew banners, and Scarlet and Gray will be impossible to avoid once the football season begins.  (I remember a duplex in Franklinton where a Michigan flag hung on one side and an OSU banner on the other.  I guess they came to some kind of truce about that.)

Susie and I are going to go to the opening of a new record store downtown tomorrow morning.  Yes, folks, a store that sells vinyl, as in LPs, is opening for business, and in a brick and mortar store, not online.  For those of you interested, it’s called Spoonful Records, and it’s at 116 E. Long St., in the site of an old furniture store around the corner from the AT&T building on N. Fourth St.  If you go, mention this blog!