Three Days In…

I have yet to go to work this year (that will change as of tomorrow, when my alarm sounds at 6:45 a.m.).  So, for three consecutive days, I have slept late, walked, written in my diary, read, and treated myself to USA Network’s Law and Order: Special Victims Unit marathon.  I could get used to this, but I have work to do, which was not finished as of 5 p.m. New Year’s Eve, so I’ll be back in my cubicle working at the stroke of 8 tomorrow morning.

I saw in the New Year–2016, or MMXVI–at the new Pirate House.  (I have celebrated the change of the year with the wonderful hosts of the Pirate House for years, but they’re in a new location now.  This was my first visit to their quarters in Merion Village.)  As always, the company and conversation were first-class.  It was surreal to watch people playing Jenga, with the structure getting quite tall, while Metropolis (1927) played on a nearby TV with the volume muted.

We only watched Times Square coverage long enough to count down to the ball dropping.  Everyone promptly turned away from the screen at midnight for rounds of toasting, hugging, and kissing.

I am proud to report that I have done a fair amount of walking so far this year.  Since the weather has been so erratic here in Central Ohio, even since the coming of the winter solstice, I checked The Weather Channel’s site to see what the weather is in Nelsonville, to see if I can squeeze in another walk to Athens.  (I marked the first weekend in December with such a walk, and managed to shave 10-15 minutes off my overall time.)

I am savoring the unscheduled time of January as much as I can.  The spring semester at Columbus State Community College will soon be underway, which means that from the 12th of this month until about the first week of February, I will be working evenings and weekends at the bookstore, often coming home too exhausted to do much, and not needing a dose of melatonin to fall asleep.


I should probably be thankful that my daily routine is nowhere near as overloaded. I have never been a fan of Richard Nixon’s, but this page from his daily schedule makes me further question the sanity of anyone who wants to be President.

When I came home from Florida last week, I had (still have) a mystery greeting me.  In the mail that accumulated during my week in the Sunshine State, there was a package from a bookseller in Toledo.  Inside was a hardcover copy of Lily White, a novel by Susan Isaacs.  This was a book I had not ordered, nor is Isaacs a writer I have ever read.  Inside the front cover, there was no invoice, which means whoever sent it my way intended it to be a gift.

(I was not wary enough to hesitate when I saw the book, because I am expecting a book I ordered through AbeBooks, and thought maybe it had come early, despite the avalanche of holiday mail.)

I remember hearing some interesting things in passing during a New Year’s Eve party celebrating 1982 into 1983.  I think it was what inspired me to try and keep a breast-pocket notebook and a ballpoint pen on my person at all times–not knowing at that time that former Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.) had long ago beaten me to the punch.

The party was at a house in Rocky River, and I went with three friends (two female, one male) whom I had met during various Ohio-Meadville District Unitarian youth conferences.  One of the women–my date for the evening–had literary aspirations, as did do I, so we tried to keep an ear out for interesting dialogue and incidents.  The party was chock full of story material.  Parents were nowhere in sight, and I, at 19, was probably the oldest person there.  Our host was doing a Risky Business (1983) a full eight months before the movie debuted.

My date and I happened to hear a serious conversation between a guy and a girl.  They were at the end of an upstairs hallway, in the relative privacy of the area by the linen closet and the bathroom door.  “I’m really starting to like you,” the guy said.  He sounded almost regretful, “and it’s really bothering me.”

I never met my fellow party-goers before that night, and probably never crossed paths with any of them again, but it did not take long to discover there were some long brewing enmities in the gathering.  One kid, about 16, glanced toward the driveway and his face just brightened.  “Great!” he shouted gleefully.  “Rudy’s here!  I’m going to go beat the shit out of him!”  This did not come to pass, as far as I remember, because when my date and I went out to the back yard for some privacy, Rudy was out there with some of his friends, and there was not a mark on him.

The one that had both of us laughing came from an overheard exchange: “Tim’s here.”  “Who’s Tim?”  “Oh, Tim is my 14-year-old brother,” a guy piped up.  “He’s a penis.”

Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary, defined a year as “a period of 365 disappointments.”  Even though it’ll be 366 in this case, so far I am not complaining.  (I can’t even invoke Rent‘s 525,600 minutes from “Seasons of Love,” because this year it’s 527,040 minutes.)

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.

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.