These Are the People in Your Neighborhood…

When Susie and I moved out of Weinland Park a year ago, I was under no illusions that we moved to a crime-free Land of Milk and Honey, just because we were now in Olde North (or Baja Clintonville, or SoHud (“south of Hudson”), depending on who describes the neighborhood).  I knew we were just close enough to the Ohio State campus that we would be dealing with the petty crimes that prevail during football season–vandalism, littering, people urinating in public, loud parties, etc.

I have joined the small Neighborhood Block Watch that our neighbors have been organizing.  We are going for full certification by the Columbus Police, but concealed carry permits or any type of vigilantism are not options.  The group was originally an ad hoc organization to combat the epidemic of graffiti in the neighborhood.  The police tell us none of this seems to be gang-related.  A Gang Unit officer showed us a booklet of the different Columbus gangs’ trademarks, and in this neighborhood it seems to be mostly tagging than any of these gangs marking territory.

This is the type of graffiti that genuinely scares me and brings out the vigilante within.  This appeared last February on the bridge over part of the Glen Echo ravine, less than a mile from where Susie and I live.

Once one of these “artists” is caught in the act, I am wondering what the punishment will be.  I doubt arrest and punishment will be much of a deterrent.  My pet theory is that this is not gang-related at all.  There are groups of reprobate kids from the rougher neighborhoods who band together, call themselves gangs, and destroy property and commit petty crimes, but this is not Crips and Bloods land here.  I think our miscreants are bored kids from New Albany or Bexley who are vandalizing because it is fun, and because they are in neighborhoods where no one knows them or their families.  If these kids are arrested, their parents will grease the appropriate palms to make sure the problem quietly disappears, and their charges’ future employment or college enrollment is not jeopardized by this.

However, if I am wrong, and these are kids from the rougher neighborhoods trying to show the size of their testicles by vandalizing property of people who have never met them or done anything to them, arrest and even jail will not sufficiently scare them.  I have lived in Weinland Park, and before that Franklinton, and these are neighborhoods where going to jail is almost bar mitzvah for many of these kids (“today I am a man”), and the kid who gets in trouble with the law at the youngest age comes home as a celebrity to his peers.

A small incident several weeks ago has restored my faith in the people who live, work, and pass through my neighborhood.  Faithful readers of this blog will remember that in June, a week or so after Susie went to Florida for the summer, my red Schwinn Meridian adult tricycle was stolen from my front yard.  After filing a report with the police, I made the rounds (online and in person) of the bike shops, pawn shops, and bicycle communities here in Columbus, putting the word out about my stolen trike.  Several Facebook friends posted descriptions as their status, and I knew the Third Hand Bicycle Cooperative and other less orthodox channels, such as the World Naked Bike Ride organizers, would keep their eyes on the street.

Almost immediately, though, I ordered a new Meridian online, and by ComFest I was back in business, the only difference being that the new bike was blue.  Several weeks ago, I was riding at night (it was around 9:30-9:45 p.m.) back from the Whetstone Library, where I had gone to drop off some books.  I was on High Street, headed south back toward home, when a young kid in his early 20s began running after me.

I thought he was going to mug me, so I tried to pedal faster, but he ran after me and shouted, “Hey, you!  Is that bike stolen?”

This caused me to slam on my brakes.  I told him no, but I did own one that had been.  I had never seen this kid before, but word had spread about my theft.  I told him that I had been the victim, that the stolen model was identical, except that it was red, and not blue, and I had never seen it since.  I also told him I appreciated his being concerned enough to stop and ask me about it.

Maybe the spirit of OSU dropout Phil Ochs rests a little easier when he sees that he was not entirely accurate in this song:

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Birthday Milestone: I Bought Beer for the First Time in at Least 12 Years

I turned 49 last Sunday.  Next year, I will be eligible to join AARP (although retirement will, it seems, be about 22 years in my future), when I hit the big five-oh.  It was a good celebration, and the high point of it was the 21st-century equivalent of a barn-raising.

I had a bike-raising.  Or, to be more precise, a trike-raising.

During the winter, I decided that maybe I should supplement walking with another form of aerobic exercise.  Several people had suggested I take up bike-riding, but I was reluctant to do this.  I had many ear infections as a child (they lessened in frequency after my tonsillectomy in kindergarten), and a lasting effect is that my balance is not perfect.  I have always been rather wobbly when riding a two-wheeler, so I have not owned or ridden a bike since high school.

While doing some reading and Web-surfing this winter, I saw articles and pictures about cargo bikes (in some areas, people call them freight bikes).  This is an adult tricycle.  When the weather started getting warmer, I started looking online for an adult tricycle, talked to many people (online and in person) who were in the know about bicycling, and about two weeks ago, I went to Wal-Mart’s Website and bought a cherry-colored 26″ Schwinn Meridian adult tricycle.

About a week after I received their email confirming the purchase, I came home from work and saw the huge cardboard Schwinn box sitting on my front porch.  There was a stick-em on it from FedEx that said We delivered your package.  Thanks, guys.  So the trike had arrived, but, as I knew, it was not pre-assembled.

I had that covered even before I ordered it.  On Easter Sunday, a couple on my block invited me to a potluck. I went, and described the trike that I was ordering.  The couple who live diagonally across Maynard from me told me to let them know when the trike arrived, and they would help me put it together.

This was indeed good news.  I would not want to ride anything that I had assembled myself.  Probably the most hellish Christmas Eve I ever experienced involved putting together the Radio Flyer wagon that was one of Susie’s gifts that year.  I offered to return the favor by speaking up for some beer for the two of them.

That’s the allusion in my title.  On my birthday, Susie and I both slept a little later than usual, had brunch at the Blue Danube (a first for both of us), and while she was online with her friend in Medina (they’re writing a book together), I walked to Giant Eagle and picked up a six-pack of Burning River Pale Ale, a product of the Great Lakes Brewing Company.  (Something funny: I typed Burning River into Wikipedia’s search engine, and it redirected to Cuyahoga River.)

Luca and D’Lyn came over in mid-afternoon, bearing plenty of tools.  They did a very good job, and I reminded them that, should they have children, they will spend many a Christmas Eve doing this very thing.  Luca was prepared for any eventuality.  When I presented them with the beer, I was surprised (and a little embarrassed) to see I had no bottle opener.  (I had taken it to work for a potluck, since someone was bringing in Hawaiian Punch or Hi-C, which required a church key to open.  The bottle opener was–and still is–in my desk at work.)  I knew a kid in high school who prided himself on being able to open bottles with his front teeth, but Luca used one of his tools to do the job.

I was hoping to wind this entry up with dazzling prose describing my maiden voyage on this trike, but that is an entry for another day.  As the project neared completion, Luca and D’Lyn discovered that several screws and washers meant to hold on the front fender were missing.  My initial thought was that a front fender is not essential to riding the bike, but it seems that they may have packed the wrong rear fenders.  When the rear wheels turn, they rub against the fenders, which will eventually ruin the tires.  So, I’ve had several emails back and forth with the company, and the small parts, and two rear fenders, should be in my hands in seven to 10 business days.

Luca and D’Lyn putting together the rear of the tricycle.

Susie and I went to Lowe’s later in the afternoon and bought a bike chain and lock, and both of us wanted to be in and out of Lowe’s as quickly as we could.  I got the chain, paid for it, and we made a beeline to the front door.  (I know there are people who can spend entire Saturday afternoons in Lowe’s or Home Quarters, but their reasons baffle me.  However, I understand there are people who cannot understand how I can be entranced by a visit to OfficeMax or Staples, even when I’m only there to buy a notebook or a ream of paper.)

More Productive Than I’ve Been in Months

I will be back on the job in less than 12 hours, and I mentioned in my last entry that I was banishing all mention of “work” from my vocabulary for the four-day Christmas weekend.  That does not mean that I’ve been completely idle since I left work at 5 Friday evening.

I wasn’t exactly a white tornado, but the too-long cluttered living room is almost presentable for company now. Part of the reason I launched into this project was to find a notebook from earlier this fall that seems to have been buried under all the flotsam and jetsam that Susie and I generate.  (I think being a bureaucrat is hard-wired into my DNA–I can generate paper and other paraphernalia almost logarithmically.)
My longest (but most welcome) respite came on Friday night, courtesy of my across-the-street neighbors.  I was taking a break from excavating cleaning the living room, and was walking to a convenience store up the street, and my neighbor was tending a barbecue in the postage stamp of front yard.  “You alone tonight?” he asked.  I told him I was; my daughter was in Florida visiting her mom.  “Well, party going on.  We’ll be serving the food around 11!”  I bought some Coke Zero to bring to the party, since I figured (correctly) that I would be the only teetotaler in attendance.
But that didn’t matter.  The company was fantastic, and, although I was probably the oldest person there, most of the music was from my high school and young adult days–lots of ELO, Gary Numan’s “Cars,” and a series of one-hit wonders, such as The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen.”  The turkey and the spare ribs filled me up quite well, and I enjoyed the many conversations.  The down side was that, since I was drinking Coke all night, even though I came home around 2:30, it was well after dawn before I actually slept.
Earlier in this blog, I posted the dilemma faced by every bipolar person’s spouse: What do you do when your bipolar significant other, not famous for cleanliness, goes on a cleaning jag, quite likely as a result of swinging toward the manic end of the arc?  I do have a clean(er) living room, master bedroom, and office to show for it (pictures are forthcoming in an entry or two, I promise), but the down side is that I ended up missing both Christmas Eve services at church.  I didn’t want to lose the head of steam I’d managed to generate, because I know from bitter past experience that if I stop work on a project like that, it takes forever for me to resume the work, if at all.
The worst part of missing the Christmas Eve service was missing the dedication of my friend Ramona’s little daughter.  I learned about it the next day, when her folks, Steve and Kittie, invited me over for Christmas dinner.  I ate quite well, and enjoyed the company of Ramona, her daughter, Steve and Kittie, and Steve’s grown children (including his daughter Amelia, my companion on the journey to Washington last year for the One Nation Working Together march).  I ate buffalo meat for the first time, and loved it.  TBS was running A Christmas Story over and over for 24 hours beginning at midnight, and after seeing it for three or four times in a row, Kittie got a little bored with it, so she popped in a DVD of The Polar Express, which I had never seen before, but which I enjoyed.
Susie left me a voice mail message thanking me for the books I sent down to her in Florida.  (I made Steph promise to hide them from her until Christmas morning.)  In the message, she told me where she had hidden her present to me.  It was a book that was ideal for someone with a love of trivia and other minutiae–World War II: 4139 Strange and Interesting Facts.  It’s not the type of book you sit down and read from cover to cover, so I’ve enjoyed going from entry to entry.
I guess I’m still a little shell-shocked from the ordeal of NaNoWriMo, but other than this blog and diary entries, I have not done any writing.  In my defense, I am already planning next year’s NaNoWriMo project, but I am not going to tip my hand here, so publicly.  The rules say that you can take all the notes and write out all the outlines, etc., you want, but writing the novel proper cannot take place before 12 midnight on November 1.  I was hoping to get back into the mood by re-reading James A. Michener’s generically titled book The Novel, which I enjoyed when I bought it in Cincinnati in 1991–one of the few hardcovers I bought new.  I liked the book (and I was in the minority, even with Michener fans), and I’ve been carrying it around in my knapsack the past week or so, although I am not all that interested in Pennsylvania Dutch culture–the backdrop of much of the story.
This is the ultimate “Keep it simple, stupid!” when it comes to titling a manuscript.

I’m hoping it won’t take the next NaNoWriMo for me to start producing again.  The title of this entry is a little misleading–I was more productive on the domestic front than I have been when it comes to anything literary.  As I was getting my study arranged, I found the fat New Yorker diary from 1983 that I’ve used as an idea log and a place to write notes for future projects.  (I thought I had left it behind when I left Weinland Park.)  Maybe I need to keep it in my pack so I can jot down ideas for next fall’s NaNoWriMo project.

Who knows?  Maybe now that my work space isn’t quite as much of a shithole, I may actually be able to bear to spend time in it!

Planes and Backyard Movies–All Under the Harvest Moon

Every day I’m happier about Susie’s and my move to Old North.  The cleanliness, pride, and simple respect the neighbors have makes it infinitely preferable to Weinland Park, but the friendliness has made me feel even better.

After Susie came home from Youth Group yesterday afternoon, she and I were walking to the bus stop, so we could go shopping at Kroger.  There were about five people standing on the sidewalk as we went by.  I recognized one of the men as someone who often rides the 4 bus to and from downtown with me every morning.  (He’s in the minority on these particular schedules, since he works neither for the State of Ohio nor Nationwide Insurance.)  They invited Susie and me to a backyard movie at 8 p.m.  Without even asking what they were showing, I accepted.

The movie was El Mariachi, which I had never seen (neither had Susie).  Our hosts, Jeremy and Deborah, made us feel welcome right away.  The temperature was in the mid-60s, and I was perfectly comfortable, since I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, but Susie was wearing a T-shirt and was about to head back to the house to get a blanket, but Deborah very quickly produced one, so Susie was all set.

Fortunately, Jeremy put on the English captions.  My knowledge of Spanish is confined to counting to 20, and I only know this from years of Sesame Street.  Susie is taking a Spanish class at The Graham School, and she mastered counting to five, thanks to Dora the Explorer.  Jeremy and Deborah hung a bed sheet across the back wall of the garage for a screen, and put brick-sized speakers at either end of the row of chairs.  (There were six of us there altogether.)

Airplanes seem to fly over every four or five minutes throughout the movie.  (And El Mariachi is not a long movie–it’s less than 90 minutes.)  Sometimes the planes flew so low their navigation lights cast shadows on the ground.  None of us had ever seen that many commercial planes flying over the neighborhood with so little time between them.  (When I lived in Franklinton and Weinland Park, police helicopters, along with their mega-candlepower searchlights flashing around the neighborhood, were so common that we paid little attention to them.)  Last night, we only saw one helicopter, which was flying at high speed, and which I suspect was on its way to Riverside Methodist Hospital.  All of the planes were eastbound, so I suspect we’re in Port Columbus’ flight path.

The moon is not officially full until tomorrow night, and it is the harvest moon.  The Wikipedia says that October 11 is the latest that the harvest moon can be.  (The harvest moon is the first full moon after the start of the autumnal equinox.)  The moon was very bright last night, and there were white ringlets of clouds in the night sky almost directly above the yard.  The movie, the moon, and the company made the evening a very pleasant one.

The movie Susie and I saw last night in our neighbor’s back yard.

Susie and Rising Voices sang “Night Winds” at the 9:15 service yesterday morning, so we had to be at church early.  (I almost always go to the 11 a.m. service, and rarely am out of bed before 8:45 Sundays.)  We left just before 8, because Rising Voices’ director wanted to have a small rehearsal on the risers, and wanted all hands on deck by 8:45.

I was glad I went to the early service.  Susie and the kids sang quite well.  I shot the first non-test video with my new Kodak Easy Share C143 (my DXG camera gave up the ghost this summer, so I replaced it, going back to the model which worked the best for me) when they sang.  Below is the video I made:


There was a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown stalks into the panel fit to be tied.  He had gone to the store to buy a Hallowe’en mask, and the store didn’t have any.  One of his friends asked if they were going to order more.  Furiously, Charlie Brown said no, they weren’t.  “They were too busy putting up Christmas decorations!”  This afternoon, I received a Facebook invitation to the church’s annual winter concert, which will be December 18 at 4 p.m.  (Mark your calendars now, folks!)  I will be front and center, since Susie will be performing.  I’ll be missing her for Christmas, since on the 21st, she’ll be flying to Florida to spend Christmas and New Year’s with Steph.  Susie will be headed to Orlando on the last day of school (she’ll be leaving school a little early that day), and will be flying back the day before Winterim begins at Graham, January 3.  (Steph forwarded me Susie’s Southwest Airlines itinerary the other day.)

I wasn’t the dynamo I planned to be today when it came to getting this place completely ready.  I had vague memories of hearing Susie getting ready for school–getting dressed, fixing her lunch, shutting the front door, etc.–but it wasn’t until almost 11 a.m. when I hauled myself out of bed.  I bought some kitchen and cleaning supplies at Dollar General, and managed to set up my Crosley phonograph, but there is still a scatter of boxes in the living room.  And I confess I wasn’t all that organized when it comes to list-making. I don’t realize we don’t have something until the need arises.  I took some lasagna out of the oven tonight and then saw the only knives we had were butter knives, so I put the lasagna on top of the oven to cool and then dashed around to the corner market and bought a cheap set of steak knives so I could cut the lasagna.




Good Fences = Good Neighbors?

“Good fences make good neighbors” is a line from “Mending Wall,” a Robert Frost poem.  I must confess that I don’t know the rest of it.  I suppose I could Google it or look in Wikipedia, but the hour grows late, and my nerves are frayed from some Internet issues earlier tonight.

I think of the above line because I came home from work a few days ago and there was a section missing from the chain-link fence that separates our back parking area (can’t rightly call it a yard) from the next door neighbor’s house.  (They’ve been gone for some time, leaving behind mountains of trash and the remains of a Foos-Ball machine in their yard.)  Because of this, I thought of an incident when good fences definitely did not make good neighbors.  They had the opposite effect.

When I was nine, two women moved into the house next to ours on Seventh St. in Marietta.  One was a widow in her early 60s, the other was her unmarried daughter.  (I thought of them both as “the old ladies” at the time, but now I realize that the daughter must have been the age I am now.)  I don’t recall them getting off on the wrong foot with anyone, but when summer rolled around, the trouble began.

The boy whose back yard abutted ours and I would play baseball in the very small, very narrow yards.  Both of us had mothers who were overprotective to the point of psychosis, so we both knew better than to ask them if we could walk the half mile to Washington School’s playground, where there would be more space and probably kids who could join us.  They told us these wild stories about a man who was on the playground “scaring” little children.  He and I had also heard stories at school about “Paul Revere the Midnight Queer,” who loved staring at kids for hours as they played in the parks and playgrounds.  (I believe that he is Marietta’s equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot: Everyone knew someone who had seen him, but there was no first-hand evidence of his existence.)

And now, back to our story… as the announcers on radio soap operas would say.  In such a small yard, the ball was always going to go astray, and the first time it landed in their yard, I nonchalantly strolled in there and got it.  The older woman came out and yelled at me about it, and I was properly contrite as I retreated.

At first, both women were grudgingly willing to throw back the ball if it landed in their yard, but being on the other side of the shrubs that separated their yard from ours was like boldly marching across the 38th Parallel. They soon informed us (and our parents) that any balls that went into their yard would be gone forever.

My mother was furious about this, and railed about it, very high decibel, to my dad, to her friends, to anyone who would listen.  My mother went nuclear when she looked out the side window and there was a black and red NO TRESPASSING in the window that faced our house.  She said much of this in my presence, and even if I wasn’t in the room, I didn’t have to hold a glass to the wall to hear what she was saying.

(The sign now reminds me of a verse of “This Land is Your Land” that you don’t often hear:


As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.


Who knew our music teachers were teaching us such socialist propaganda?)


This led my friend and me to do something that was clearly wrong.  I think we thought we’d be okay because neither his parents nor mine had a kind word for these women.  One summer afternoon, we sat down with a pad of paper, a bag of rubber bands, and some rocks.  We wrote nasty–but not threatening–notes (such as “You bingbat (sic),” “Leave Ohio,” etc.  We would then wrap the notes around a rock with a rubber band and toss them into their yard, just like characters in adventure cartoons.


Whether they liked the women or not, our parents did not approve.  He was grounded, I had to write and hand-deliver a letter of apology, and the atmosphere in the house was Arctic for the next several days.  (It usually was, when my parents weren’t screaming at each other, but it’s far different when it’s directed at you.)


During the fall and winter months, we didn’t see them, they didn’t see us.  It was getting too chilly to play outside, and that fall I was constantly ill, starting with several bouts of flu and culminating in chicken pox.  I didn’t see much of my friend, either.  (“Friend” is the default term here.  I don’t think we really liked each other, but he was the only boy my age in the neighborhood, and we were the prisoners of our mothers’ paranoia.  It was more a marriage of convenience than a friendship.)


When the warm weather returned, Mother freaked out when she looked into the back yard and saw a chain-link fence under construction.  (The fence was purely symbolic on the women’s part, since it was lower than the hedge that separated our two yards.  I think the point was that now we couldn’t go into their yard after stray balls, even if we wanted to do it.)  Mother was especially incensed about upward-pointing sharp spikes at the top of the fist.  In her mind, she had staged several scenarios of how I (or other children in the neighborhood) would be impaled on these.


I don’t know if I knew the word hypocrisy at that time, although parents and parochial schools are the two best places to see it in action.  The previous summer, remember, my friend and I had gotten in trouble for throwing those nasty notes into the women’s yard.  As the fence neared completion, my friend’s mother had posted three signs on the rear of their garage, facing the women’s yard.  One said Love Thy Neighbor in a heavy Black Letter font you see on Bibles and newspaper mastheads.  Another said Children at Play, and the third said Sure, We’ll Take Criticism… If You’ll Take Ours!  On Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, she would seethe as she saw the two of them, dressed in their churchgoing clothes and carrying their Holy Bibles, walking to services at the church in the next block.


My mother’s recourse was much more expensive.  The above signs probably came from Woolworth’s, and probably cost a total of $2.  Mother, on the other hand, wanted a higher fence, right next to the women’s, and the fence builders would weave long plastic strips through the links.  The idea sounds idiotic as I type it today, but that night I crowed in my diary: “We’re having a fence built that’s higher than Fathead Jackson’s [not their real name]!!”  My dad was too much of a dishrag to tell her that this was not only a childish, but expensive, project.  I never thought of what a waste of money it was to carry on this war of the yards.  I just remember at one point lying back in a lounge chair with a tall glass of iced Kool-Aid in my hand, leisurely watching the workmen construct the fence.  No doubt they thought this a fool’s errand, but it was one that would earn them some money.


We moved away from there when I was 13.  Mother had left about six weeks after our fence was ready, leaving by way of the mental hospital and then several different jobs, cities, and schools over the years.  During the time I was on my own, which was most of the time, I had found other interests, some licit, some not.  The older of the two women died about 14 years ago at 80.  (I checked the Social Security Death Index  before I started typing this.)  The younger one still lives in the house.


If you’ve read the pre-April 2010 entries of this blog on LiveJournal, at http://aspergerspoet.livejournal.com, you’ll see we had our share of neighbor problems when we lived in Franklinton.  We’ve been fortunate here.  The neighbor on the other side of the duplex has only seriously grated on our nerves once.  During the Christmas season, he favored us with endless repetitions of “Carol of the Bells” on his electric guitar.