An All-Too-Short Breather From Moonlighting

I can tell that the end of the academic quarter looms at Columbus State Community College when I begin logging 12-hour workdays–my usual “day job” at the Industrial Commission, and the 2½ hours I work afterwards at the Discovery Exchange.  I wasn’t expecting to be back at the bookstore until Christmas, but I emailed my supervisor there to find out when he wanted me to start, and he asked me if I could start the first week of December.  My finances–or the lack thereof–made that an easy decision, quite a no-brainer.

So, starting Monday evening, I have been working at the bookstore, arriving home just before 9, and by then I’m usually so exhausted that I tumble into bed right away… and still don’t feel all that refreshed when the alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning.

It may some lingering NaNoWriMo mindset.  Even though I no longer have to type at breakneck speed to produce writing of questionable–if not outright nonexistent–literary merit, I still feel like I’ve expended an enormous amount of energy during the day, and just the proximity and practicality of sleep is enough of a suggestion that I tumble into bed at an early hour, often times before Susie.  (Even when I do stay up late, it is difficult to pinpoint when exactly she falls asleep.  She often dozes off reading or writing in her journal, so there’s light coming from under her bedroom door regardless of how late the hour.  If I’m passing her room at 2:30 a.m. en route to the bathroom, I’ll see the light, and long ago I came to realize that she’s sound asleep and has no problem sleeping in a brightly lit room.)

Susie and I are at Kafé Kerouac right now, just north of the Ohio State campus.  This is a good post-NaNoWriMo location, and a good place to host a write-in next year.  Kerouac wrote the version of On the Road that catapulted him to literary fame (and fortune–most of which he drank) in a style that NaNoWriMo writers would make famous over 35 years later.  After many false starts, Kerouac wrote On the Road in about three weeks, fueled by amphetamines and black coffee, writing on a long scroll of Teletype paper and getting up from the typewriter only for trips to the bathroom.  I am 48 years old now, so I have outlived Kerouac by a year, but I doubt that I would ever have had the spontaneity or the stamina to try such a project in such a radical way.  Several years ago, Viking published Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, and the work notebooks show that the writing of On the Road may have been spontaneous, but the text and the story was quite premeditated.

The famous scroll manuscript of On the Road.

This is the calm before the storm at the bookstore.  I have spent most of my workdays (-evenings?) re-shelving returns as students return them.  There are usually about five of us working on the second floor at night, and as one quarter winds down and the new one has yet to begin, there is not much customer traffic.  Sometimes I have to combat boredom, but shelving is a task that I genuinely enjoy.  During the lull in activity, when there aren’t even any books that need to be put back, I remind myself about how much I’ll relish moments like that once the onslaught starts again after Christmas.

One of my favorite isolated lines in Stephen King’s The Stand describes one of the heroes, Larry Underwood, tending to his mother when she becomes ill with the flu that eventually kills her and 99.4% of the human race.  Before anyone realizes just how deadly this is, he helps settle her in bed, moves the TV to her bedroom, buys her some paperback books at the corner store, and fixes her a small meal.  “After that,” says the narrative, “there wasn’t anything to do except get on each other’s nerves.”  To a much lesser degree, that’s kind of what we’re like on the second floor when there are no customers and no books to shelve.

The cashiers and customer service people downstairs place returns on a library cart, and when one is full enough, that’s when someone from the second floor (lately, me, but not exclusively) will come down and get it, exchanging it with an empty.  Because a loaded cart weighs so much, we take it up in the bookstore’s freight elevator.

One of my coworkers is a young woman from the Republic of Guinea in West Africa, who is taking pre-med classes at Columbus State.  She was a little scared when I told her the books had to go up in the freight elevator.  (I had seen her wheeling the cart toward the passenger elevator.)  Having worked at the Cincinnati post office, I have no fear of freight elevators.  The one at the Discovery Exchange could accommodate a small Toyota, but it has a mesh gate that raises and lowers, and the heavy steel external doors smash together with a sound that can make you jump.  As she and I waited for it, I’m sure my casual references to the “Elevator of Death” didn’t put her at ease.  (I suppose I should never let her see the L.A. Law episode featuring the death of Rosalind Shays.)

When I was 15 and living in Marietta, I helped a friend of mine deliver newspapers in the business district.  He had several customers in the Dime Bank Building at Second and Putnam Sts., across from the Washington County Courthouse.  The Dime Bank Building had an old, antiquated hand-operated elevator, complete with an old, antiquated elevator operator.  You got in, he would slide the accordioned gate shut, flip the lever (I always thought it looked like a ship’s engine order telegraph), and up you would go, watching the floors go by as you rose.

I made an all-too-quick trip to Cincinnati the first weekend of November, while Susie was at a church Coming of Age retreat in the Hocking Hills.  One of the people I took to lunch was George Wagner, who managed the apartment building where I lived.  George worked part-time as a clerk at Ohio Book Store on Main Street, and he had a healthy fear/respect for its freight elevator.  He emphatically stated he was not afraid of the elevator.  “I burn incense to it.  I pray to it.  I recite the 23rd Psalm before I get aboard it.  But no, I am not afraid of it!” he told me many times when I lived in Cincinnati.

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Moonlighting at the End of the Tunnel

One of the syrupy mantras I’ve heard repeatedly over the past few years is, “No one ever said, on his deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.'”  I know that I am not saying it now, even though the many extra hours I’ve worked these past few weeks have been necessary and–dare I say it?–fun.

Usually, I’ll just work the beginning-of-quarter rushes at the Columbus State bookstore.  That was why it was such a surprise (a very pleasant one!) when my supervisor emailed me out of the blue and asked if I’d be interested in working nights this spring.  (A manager is leaving Columbus, and I’m pretty much doing his job until they hire a full-time replacement.)

The drawback has been the timing.  I’m still green at the single-parent thing, and now that school is out, Susie has been depressed and bored for much of the day.  She has found some work, a few hours here and there working as a mother’s helper for a year-old little girl (the daughter of her first babysitter), and yesterday she and the Youth Group from church went down to the Feed My Sheep food pantry in Athens County which I’ve described in previous entries.  That’s why it was such good news to see that Susie will be working as a Volunteen at the library this summer.  The deadline for applying had come and gone, but some kids had dropped out of the program, so she applied.  I was all too happy to sign the permission form after she and I came home from dinner at Wendy’s tonight.

But there is an end in sight for the moonlighting.  The Discovery Exchange will be closing at 6 p.m. for the rest of the summer as of the first week in July, once the summer quarter is in full swing.  Since my work day at the Industrial Commission ends at 5, and it takes me 15-20 minutes to walk over to the corner of Cleveland and Mount Vernon Avenues, there is really no point in my working there for half an hour.  So, July 3 will be my last hurrah until the fall book rush.  I will miss the extra cash, but will be glad to be home in the evenings for Susie.

Susie and I have made two or three appearances at the Olympic Swim and Racquet Club since it opened.  This week, neither of us have gone–mainly because of my work schedule, but also because the temperature has only reached the mid-70s for most of the week.  It’s no fun to go swimming and then have to stand around digging slush out of your ears.

Fathers’ Day is next weekend.  Susie and I are going to celebrate by going to see The Wizard of Oz at the Ohio Theater.  Susie has seen it numerous times, and can recite most of the dialogue and songs from memory.  Until she was born, I was rather lukewarm about it.  I never even saw it on a big screen until Susie was a toddler, when I took her to a showing of it at Crosswoods Cinema in Worthington.  And I am sure it’s pure coincidence that The Wizard of Oz is showing during Pride Weekend.

I’ve learned this month how much disruption in familiar physical objects or surroundings can totally disorient me.  The weekend before last, while Susie was at the pool, I walked a block or two north to a little hole-in-the-wall dollar store and replaced my wallet, which was falling apart and barely holding together.  I paid about $2 for a blue tri-fold, and sat at poolside transferring the thick plethora of cards–insurance, business, shopping, etc.–and bus pass from one to the other, along with the few dollars I happened to have in there.  Even though many gift cards and debit cards were expired, I was loath to toss them in the trash barrel by the kids’ pool.  I haven’t carried pictures in my wallet since high school, so I didn’t have to sort through them to see who to keep and who to discard.  (I’d look like Steven Hill–or Peter Graves–going through the dossiers on Mission: Impossible, even though they would always pick the same agents.)

When my dad died, my stepmother sent a huge box to me UPS, which contained his clothes, the flag from his coffin, and his wallet, among other things.  When I went through the wallet, I was surprised to find a small color drawing of Andrew Jackson in with the high school graduation picture of me.  Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts printed trading cards of U.S. Presidents when I was about 11 or 12, which I collected avidly.  Dad always liked Andrew Jackson–safe bet I’m not part Cherokee–because he was the first truly proletarian President, so I let him have the Jackson picture.  (He said his interest in Jackson began when he read Arthur Schlesinger’s The Age of Jackson in college.)

On a larger scale, there’s been disruption in my physical setting at work.  I work on the 10th floor of the William Green Building, and in May I moved to a temporary pod in another section, while workers tore down the old pod walls and set up new ones.  This involved the usual logistical nightmares with cabling phone and data lines, etc.  I didn’t even unpack once I arrived at the temporary pod, since I knew I’d move back as soon as the new area was ready.

We moved to the new area.  It occupies the same section of the 10th floor, but the layout is different.  I have four section-mates, all very good people.  However, my pod is a bit removed from theirs.  Since I do virtually all of the Industrial Commission’s medical transcribing, I have higher walls and am separated from all the noise.  (I love my co-workers dearly, but they can get boisterous.)  I spent Friday and part of Monday moving and finally trying to settle in, and I’m still getting my bearings, and getting disconcerted when things aren’t where they were previously.

I am bringing this entry to a close, because morning comes way too early.  Tomorrow will be a jam-packed day.  I have an appointment with a podiatrist in the morning, going to Columbus State to get my paycheck immediately after that, then I’m working at the I.C.–transcribing the doctor who dictates at an auctioneer’s pace.  The bookstore beckons afterwards, and to end the evening on a festive note, I’m taking Susie to dinner at my (our) beloved Blue Danube Restaurant on High Street.

Couldn’t stand the show, but it’s an appropriate graphic for my work life this spring.