Farewell to a Kidney Stone of a Year…

I am so happy to see that the balance of 2013 can now be measured in hours.  I will be going to a party in my neighborhood later on tonight, and seeing that ball drop on Times Square at the stroke of 12 midnight is going to feel like the front gate of a prison swinging all the way open.

I cannot take credit for the phrase “kidney stone of a year.”  I first saw it in a Doonesbury cartoon where the characters were toasting the end of the 1970s, a “kidney stone of a decade,” and “the worst of times.”  In addition to a two-liter or two of Diet Pepsi, one of the items I am bringing to the party will be a 2013 calendar.

As soon after midnight as is feasible, I am going to be setting the calendar on fire.  The coming year of the common era 2014 will be a blank book with 365 pages–and I’m quoting an Internet meme that has been making the rounds on Facebook the last day or two.

The low highlights of 2013 that made this such a shitty year are (in roughly chronological order):

  • The death of my friend Scott on March 10.  Scotty was younger than I am (by about six weeks), and we spoke of many subjects–both personal and otherwise–during the many long evening walks that we took, often braving varieties of weather, and often venturing into neighborhoods that neither of us knew very well.  The final chapter of Scotty’s life was this fall, in the Memorial Garden at the Unitarian Universalist Church, when we all took turns scattering his ashes among the greenery in the garden.  (This is the same garden where my mother’s memorial service took place in 2008, although we did not scatter her ashes there.  Unlike Scotty, my mother had alienated so many people that she was seen out of this world mainly in the presence of strangers.)
  • The aortic aneurysm.  I have not reveled in the myth that I am immortal since I was a teenager, and I know that statistically there are more years behind me than there are ahead of me, but discovering in May that there was something wrong, something tangible, something visible on an X ray and a CT scan, drove the point home that yes, I am mortal.  As things stand now, the aneurysm is not getting any larger, and I don’t need to have another CT scan until next November, but still there is a part of me that wonders if it will burst.  (The way of telling that an aortic aneurysm has burst is actually quite simple: If I wake up in the morning, it has not burst.)  Part of me is surprised that I have made it to 50, since I have never been a role model for self-care, with my earlier abuse of alcohol and my current caffeine overuse–plus the fact that I am overweight, with a cholesterol level that resembles a ZIP code.  I have already lived longer than Mozart, Jack Kerouac, and Jesus, so maybe I am more indestructible than I think.
  • Susie’s moving to Florida in June.  That took quite a lot out of me emotionally–more than I thought it would.  Had Comfest not been the same weekend that she left, I am not sure I would not have crashed emotionally, to the point where I would have required hospitalization.  So much of my identity from 2011 has focused on being a single parent, and it was something where I had truly found my niche.  I earned high praise from Steph, and even from friends of hers who did not have much use for me personally.  I have managed to pick up my completely re-bachelored life in the intervening months, and while I have missed Susie, especially on those nights when the house is so quiet that I would have to make any noise to break the silence, I have made the adjustment.  I have always been adaptable to new situations, it’s just that this one took longer.
  • The death of Russell Speidel.  The proprietor of Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures died this summer of prostate cancer.  In addition to being a good neighbor, and the owner of the bookstore where I went for all my obscure titles, he was also a very good friend.  I was quite high maintenance at the time I lived next door to his store in Cincinnati–drinking too much, spending money foolishly, intermittently employed, and he often hired me to do small jobs for him, and lent me money when I was totally broke.  He was not a young man when he died, nor when I knew him, but he was one of those people I thought would always be around.  I am glad that he saw my transition from the heavy-drinking neighbor for whom employment was never a given to a father and steadily employed State employee.

When I set the pages of the 2013 calendar on fire soon after midnight, I will revel in the sight of the flames more than any pyromaniac.

I am upstairs in my office typing, with my beloved Alan Parsons Project blaring from the speakers on the desk and the bookcase.  Susie and her friends are seeing in the new year with mountains of junk food and hours’ worth of DVDs.

Yes, you read that right.  Susie is here until next Monday.  On Christmas Eve, I took Southwest Airlines down to Florida to spend the Christmas holiday.  The presents were modest all around–I gave Susie three compact disks (two Beatles, one Elvis Presley), and she gave me Robert L. Short’s The Parables of Peanuts.  The best gift was being able to see Susie, and knowing that she would be flying back to Ohio with me on the 28th.

She and I did the usual things that we did together in Ohio.  We went to a Goodwill store in Rockledge, hung out with our laptops in the Merritt Island Barnes and Noble, and had a meal at Steak ‘n Shake.  After using so many hours of Barnes and Noble’s free Wi-Fi, I broke down and bought a new journal.  The one I am using now has about 86 pages left, and I am going to fill them before I begin the new volume, even though a new year is the traditional time to begin a diary or christen the next volume of one.

Susie wasted no time in re-establishing contact with friends of hers.  Even before she left Florida, she had scheduled a lunch date with the woman who was her mentor during Coming of Age in church last year.  I had the pleasure of taking her and her friend Maya–they first met during children’s theater at the Davis Center for the Performing Arts, and reunited at The Charles School, and picked up right where they had left off–to brunch at the Blue Danube.  As I knew she would, Maya fell in love with the place.

Susie and me after our breakfast repast at Roberto’s Little Havana Restaurant in Cocoa Beach.

I will not be bidding an affectionate farewell to 2013.  This is one of the times when I can sympathize with Lucy Van Pelt, who complained that the previous year had disappointed her, and that she was going to write a letter of protest.  She stopped when Linus asked her, “Who’s in charge of years?”

Before I go to the party, I might finish the novella I have been reading all week.  The title is The Bab Deception, by Bill Paxton (not the actor).  It’s a Sherlock Holmes adventure that is decidedly not part of the Canon (the 56 short stories and four novels written by A. Conan Doyle).  This novella deals with an assassination that is pinned on members of the Baha’i faith.  At the beginning, Holmes and Watson have quite a discussion about astrology, Spiritualism, and even Wicca.

I am in the home stretch of the novella (about 76 pages altogether), and I would say that Holmes is Baha’i-curious at this point.

Now, Let’s Get This Goddamn Plane Airborne

My traveling by plane happens about as often as seeing a kid from Weinland Park with his pants pulled up, but so I could maximize the time I spend with Susie in Florida this weekend, I will, in a little over an hour, be a passenger on AirTran, and at 2:32 p.m., I will be landing in the Sunshine State.  I’m taking advantage of Port Columbus’ free Wi-Fi to type this entry before boarding begins.

This will be my second time in Florida.  Until Susie began spending her summers (and eventually moved there permanently this past summer), the only places in Florida I had any desire to visit were Fort Jefferson (on the Dry Tortugas) and Key West, particularly Ernest Hemingway’s house and Sloppy Joe’s, the bar he made famous.  (It depresses me to see fraternity and sorority folk coming back from spring break wearing Sloppy Joe’s T-shirts displaying Hemingway’s face.)

There is, although remote, a Merritt Island connection to the title of this post.  Merritt Island is the home town of White House photographer Cecil Stoughton, who took this picture aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963, as Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office as the 36th President of the United States, two hours after John Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas.  As soon as LBJ ended the oath with, “So help me God,” he turned to his aide and issued his first Presidential order, which is the title of this post.  (I think everyone was glad that someone had shut off the Dictaphone recording the audio before he said this!)

Merritt Island native Cecil Stoughton took this picture of Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office aboard Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, Texas.  A Dictaphone captured the audio.  (The microphone is visible in front of Judge Sarah Hughes.)

Merritt Island’s other famous resident was Zora Neal Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God.  (I have to admit I have never read that, or any of her works, although it seems that high school kids have it on their reading lists more often than when I was in school.)

I think that my neighbors and co-workers think Susie and I have joined the ranks of the jet-setters.  In February and June, respectively, Susie traveled to Costa Rica and Romania.  I have been to Washington this year (for the Forward on Climate Change march), and I was in St. Louis last weekend.  My most-traveled year, however, is undisputably 1983.  I was living in Boston, during the time I was typesetting The Harvard Crimson, and made several trips back to Ohio, and at least two to Washington, D.C.  My furthest trip that year was a Greyhound trip from Boston to Los Angeles.  I was going to the 1983 Continental Conference of Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) at de Benneville Pines, in the San Bernardino Mountains.  (It’s located at a dot on the map called Angelus Oaks.)  The trip was over 2900 miles.

I remember when Susie sounded most boastful of her journey.  This spring, she was walking barefoot in the hallway on the second floor of our place.  (All the floors are hardwood, since the previous tenants’ dog had ruined all the carpeting by doing his business all over them.)  I was getting ready for work when I heard Susie cry out in pain.  She had a splinter in the sole of her foot.  It did not look like something easily removable by tweezers, so I took her to an urgent care in Victorian Village.  We were the first ones in after they opened, which meant no wait.  As the nurse was taking down Susie’s information, one of the questions was, “Have you traveled out of the country in the last six months?”  Susie sounded very proud to say, “Costa Rica.”  Steph took her to the doctor before school started in Florida, and I’m sure the question arose again.  Now Susie can say, “Costa Rica and Romania.”  She may even include Poland and Finland, since that was where she changed planes en route.

Speaking of planes, my cell phone calendar (which has now become my appointment diary and address book) just beeped, so I will be heading to AirTran’s gate to await the boarding.

My First Full Day in Florida, and The Tall Dark Man From PulpFest

I did not realize just how tired I was until I fell onto the air mattress in the front room.  I barely had the dexterity and the awareness to put on my CPAP mask and turn the machine on before falling completely asleep.  Susie had stayed up late with me for awhile–both of us on our respective laptops–but I stayed up a little later than she did, and almost fell asleep in the chair where I had been sitting.

Susie, Steph, and Mike gave me the $.10 tour of Brevard County after we stopped at a produce farm to buy mangoes.  The growers sold Steph and Mike some unripe mangoes, and said they had none available that were ready to eat.

The mango farm was just across the road from the Indian River, which separates Merritt Island from the mainland.  I saw the exterior of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Cocoa, and from a distance saw the launch pads of the Kennedy Space Center.  We went onto the beach by Cherie Down Park in Cape Canaveral and I could barely see the launch towers in the distance.  I took some pictures of the Atlantic.

I realized that I did not blog about PulpFest after it happened, and I attribute that to a serious lack of mental and emotional energy.  I did not spend all that much money.  I think my single biggest expense was the admission fee.  For $650, I could have come away the proud owner of an electric typewriter used by Walter E. Gibson, the author of many novels and short stories featuring The Shadow.  And for $10 thousand, I would have owned a first edition of Dracula, copyright 1897 by Archibald Constable and Company.

Instead, I reigned in my spending.  I bought a DVD of Three Into Two Won’t Go, a 1969 British love triangle movie starring Rod Steiger and Claire Bloom.  I barely remember seeing it on the late, late show on Channel 3 (from Huntington) when I was a teenager.  The title intrigued me, and I remembered it instantly when the Yammering Magpie had it for sale among many hundreds of DVDs at PulpFest.

At a table full of vintage paperbacks, I spent $8 on a Dell paperback of The Tall Dark Man, by Anne Chamberlain.  Those blog readers who are not from Marietta probably have never heard of it, but The Tall Dark Man is a mystery novel written by a Marietta native.  The story is about a teenage girl who has a penchant for making up tall tales and improbable scenarios.  One day in study hall, she is looking out the window and sees two men on a hill.  One man kills the other, and then sees that she witnessed it.  The novel describes her attempt to escape him, and her often futile attempts to enlist the aid of people who know about her history of exaggeration.

I attended Marietta Junior High School for one year, and have not set foot in the building since 1978, but reading the description of the interior, and then of walking down the steps to Seventh St., bring vivid images to mind.

I mention it now because I had planned to bring the book on this trip, since I haven’t reread it for quite a few years, but while the bus was heading down Interstate 75, I looked in my knapsack and discovered that I had forgotten to pack it.

I’m starting to droop here.  We had a late meal at Steak ‘n Shake, and Susie and I are the only ones awake right now.  It’s getting hard for me to hit the right keys here.

Dateline: Merritt Island, Fla.

I have yet to take a melatonin tablet, but sleep will be fast approaching.  So, I’ll try to type some thoughts about the long trip to Orlando that ended early this evening.  I left Columbus at 9:15 last night, and spent the next 22 hours on Greyhound, and actually arrived at Orlando 20 minutes early.

This is my first time in the Sunshine State.  Susie has been down here all summer with Steph and Steph’s partner Mike.  Susie will be coming back to Ohio with me on Sunday morning (another first: the first time I have been on an airplane in almost 30 years), and I’m spending a little R and R here in Merritt Island, on the Space Coast of Florida.

I am glad I made the trip down by bus, although the portions of the trip occurring in the nighttime hours were tedious, once I left Cincinnati.  It was odd for me for a bus trip to not terminate in Cincinnati, so when the rest stop ended, I had to remind myself that I was going further south.  I was not able to sleep very well as the bus went down Interstate 75 through Kentucky, although I did manage a few scattered hours once the bus crossed the Tennessee line.  All I had to eat on that leg of the trip was an overpriced bag of animal crackers, which I bought at the Greyhound station in Chattanooga.  (The same bus station also featured 20-ounce bottles of Coke products for $2.25.  I passed on that!)

My only change of buses was in Atlanta.  The bus station there is too small and too chaotic, which is surprising for a city that size.  However, with the help of the station manager, the driver of the Atlanta-to-Orlando leg of the trip quite efficiently loaded the passengers, and we made very good time all the way to Orlando.  (During a rest stop in Tifton, Ga., I had some fried chicken at Church’s, which was my only meal until Steph, Mike, Susie, and I had a big dinner at Kelsey’s Pizza Pasta Kitchen in Merritt Island.)

The brevity of this account is a far cry from the first travelogue I ever wrote.  I think the first “long” manuscript I ever wrote (long since lost) was when I was 11.  It was called “Two Trips to Richmond, Virginia,” and I described two trips I made with my parents to Richmond, when my uncle was seriously ill with the congestive heart failure that would eventually kill him.  I faithfully described every bathroom break, food stop, Mail Pouch barn, and trip to the hospital that I could remember.  The end product was 48 single-spaced typewritten pages.

I am no stranger to long bus rides, but this one took a lot more out of me than I thought it would.  Even taking a melatonin tablet on the bus didn’t help me sleep.  I didn’t read much, either, because it seemed that would require more mental energy than I could summon.  My mood perked up as the bus neared Orlando, and especially when Susie ran up to me and hugged me in the terminal.

Now that I’ve visited Florida, there are only 11 states I have yet to visit.  They are in the Pacific Northwest, the Deep South, and Alaska and Hawaii.

I went to Volunteers of America and bought a large suitcase for this trip, and then had to buy a larger knapsack than the one I usually carry–one that would fit this laptop, as well as books, my diary, camera, and other necessities of travel.  Even so, I looked overloaded, because I also had to carry the black over-the-shoulder bag containing my CPAP machine.  (On the way back from Kelsey’s, we did some grocery shopping at Publix, since I had to buy distilled water for the machine.)

I had difficulty loading Blogger’s page while I was on the bus, otherwise I may have attempted an entry in “real time.”  (I have a hard time picturing Jack Kerouac with a laptop during his travels.)

Now, as Samuel Pepys would say, “And so to bed.”