Happy 2012 to All!

And may there be many years ahead of you!  I’m excited right now because Susie will return from Florida in a little over 24 hours, in time to begin Winterim at The Graham School on Wednesday.  I haven’t been completely as productive as I wanted to while she was gone, but I’ve put the time to good use.  I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to return to work tomorrow morning.

I worked New Year’s Eve day at the bookstore, so I couldn’t sleep in.  I went to Kobo, a nightclub on High St., for the evening.  I saw a co-worker of mine from the bookstore, and he immortalized my presence there by photographing me deep in my (Diet Coke) cups.

Me at Kobo, January 1, 2012

I declined a drink of champagne from the brother of another bookstore co-worker, and when I left, I bumped into some pretty graphic evidence of why I’m glad that I no longer drink.  (I don’t think I am/was an alcoholic, but I was definitely headed in that direction, and with two alcoholic parents, the deck was definitely stacked against me genetically.)

I stepped out onto High St. and there was a woman huddled on the ground in the fetal position in the alley next to the bar.  Her friends–both male and female–were helping her, but she was so out of it she couldn’t even make the initial moves to get on her feet.  My first thought, shared with many of the onlookers who had come outside to smoke, was that she had overindulged, had gone outside to vomit, and then had passed out.  Her friends’ attitude ran the gamut from commiseration to impatience to disgust.  One wanted to get her a cup of water, but another friend wisely pointed out that she wasn’t conscious enough to swallow; if they gave her water, she would probably drown.  They kept her turned on her side, so she wouldn’t aspirate in case she vomited.

My mind flashed back to a fall night in the ’80s, back at Ohio University, when there was a party in one of the dorms.  This was typical for a Friday night, but it was a freshman dorm, which meant the hosts and many of the guests were underage, and the noise could be heard all over East Green.  One of the clowns attending the party decided the action was a little dull, so he/she went out into the hallway and pulled the fire alarm.

Everyone–party-goers or not–soon came out of Shively Hall because of the fire alarm.  All but one, a guy at the party who really had his load on, to the point that he was unconscious.  The squad came for him, and two EMTs brought him out, his arms around their shoulders, his feet dragging, swaying back and forth between them and his head dangling down.  Everyone was still in the parking lot, waiting for the all-clear to go back inside, and not at all happy about having to go outside for no reason.

Their mood changed when the EMTs came out with this guy.  The entire crowd broke into applause, whistling, and foot-stomping.  “Buy that man a drink!” several people shouted.  Had Twitter and the Internet existed in 1984, I am sure that the video would have gone viral in hours.  My amusement was not a “Well, that’s what you get for overindulging,” but it was more along the lines of “Can’t hold your liquor, can you, tenderfoot?”  (I haven’t drunk anything stronger than Diet Pepsi for over 13½ years, but I don’t think the Straight Edge community would claim me as one of their own.  My love of meat and my excessive caffeine consumption would negate any claims of being Edge.)

The woman in the alley was drunk, but, as it turned out, there was more to the story.  After 15 or 20 minutes of debate, one of the bouncers finally called 911.  It looked like this overindulgence was going to be costly to more than just the woman’s pride, because she was barely responsive at all.  The bouncer also flagged down a police car as it was headed up High St.  I talked to the brother of the woman’s boyfriend, and it turned out she had been assaulted, and her cell phone stolen from her.  She didn’t seem bloody or bruised, and when she was finally with it enough, the police officer took a statement from her.  (By this time, she was able–barely–to stand under her own power, and she leaned against the wall with her boyfriend, while the officer stood there with his notebook and his pen.)  I asked her if the cell phone had a GPS, so they could track it down, but she said it didn’t.  (I have one on mine, but it’s only activated when I dial 911.  My thinking is that if I have a heart attack or stroke, and can only manage to dial 911 before I lose consciousness, the paramedics can find me.)  And she ended up going home with the boyfriend and her retinue of friends, and the police car made it less than a quarter of a block up High St. before they had to quell some other fracas at Ledo’s Lounge.

My friend Jeff from Marietta, whom I met in 1977 when he was working at the public library, came up for a long overdue visit on New Year’s Day.  I had sent him Google Map directions, so he had no problem finding my place, and we walked over to the Blue Danube for dinner, caught up on our respective life situations, and he fell in love with the ‘Dube immediately, as does almost anybody I’ve ever brought there.  (It was my second day in a row going there.  On Saturday, after the bookstore closed at 2, I took a co-worker and her father there.  She is 19, and grew up on Indiana Ave., but did not know the place existed. I could not allow this state of affairs to continue, so when the bookstore closed, she, her dad, and I went there for lunch.  In addition to the food, she fell in love with the jukebox and the painted ceiling tiles.)

After Jeff left to return to Marietta, I had a pretty sedate evening, which lasted until about 4 a.m. this morning.  I put on hours’ worth of music (I patched my old Dell laptop into my Crosley phonograph, so the Crosley can serve as an amplifier), stretched out on the love seat, and read until I finally felt tired.

There’s a slight dusting of snow on the ground right now, and the Weather Channel icon at the bottom of my screen says 24 degrees Fahrenheit right now.  In the early hours of New Year’s Day, there was a windstorm.  Coming back from Kroger yesterday afternoon (I went there to pay the electric bill), I saw that a tree in Brevoort Park had blown across E. Torrence Rd. and totally blocked it.  Also, the screen on my living room window is completely ripped, and I saw quite a few limbs and spilled trash cans as I was out and about in Clintonville during the day yesterday.

Somewhere There is a Desk Under Here

This is a mantra I constantly repeat to myself, both at work and at home.  Felix Unger, of Odd Couple fame, wanted to shoot a documentary about his roommate Oscar Madison and title it Mondo Filth.  Were someone to do this about my desk, Mondo Clutter would be the perfect title for it.

At work, this is less true than normal.  I transcribed like a man possessed Friday, and was able to finish shortly before lunch.  The doctor wasn’t one of my favorites, but he’s articulate enough that I usually have no trouble transcribing, once he finishes repeating himself and interrupting himself.  That left the second half of the day without any specific jobs or responsibilities, so I cleaned up my pod somewhat.  I was able to throw out a backlog of no-longer-relevant paperwork, file away some personal papers, and get the desk to the point where I was able to use a rag and a spray cleaner on the surface.

But that never lasts.  “Out of sight, out of mind” is something you usually hear in connection with long-distance romance, but that is a truism when it comes to my trying to locate things.  Unless it’s all on the surface of my desk, no matter how far buried it is, I’m likely to lose track of a book, document, or disk.

My ideal desk is a Tingle table.  I first saw one when I worked at the IRS’ Regional Processing Center in Covington, Kentucky in 1995, before electronic filing became more the rule than the exception.  (When you mailed your Federal income tax form to Cincinnati, Ohio 45999, this is where it would end up.)  A Tingle table (named for its inventor; I thought that it had a rather kinky-sex sound to it at first) had numerous compartments, slots, and drawers to separate incoming documents and enclosures when people mailed in their tax returns.  Failing that, I would love to own one of the 19th-century rolltop desks which featured dozens of small pigeonholes, much like the stations for letter-sorting by hand where I spent many a predawn hour.  (I saw a multi-pigeonholed desk for sale when I lived in Franklinton.  The $2000 asking price was all that prevented me from taking it home.)

This is a picture of a Tingle table that ran in The New York Times sometime in the late 1990s.  I remember seeing them in the Service Center in Covington, but I was grateful that I never had to sit at one.

I have some incentives to straighten out the desk where I am now sitting.  When Steph and Susie came home from running errands yesterday afternoon (including clothes-shopping and a haircut for Susie), Susie left something on my desk, along with the recent issues of The New Yorker and The Catholic Worker.  She found it Scotch-taped to our front door.  It was from our landlord, saying they’re doing a property inspection next Tuesday afternoon.  A messy desk isn’t grounds for eviction or reprimand, but it’s a good reason to try to make some headway into straightening this up.  (The letter said, “It is not necessary that you be on the premises at the time of entry.  The representative, after knocking, will use a passage key to gain entrance.”)

Some other incentives: My pedometer and my keys are missing.  I made it a point not to take my key ring to the Con in Cleveland last weekend (see last entry), because I was worried about losing my keys in Cleveland.  (This ring has my house keys, the keys to my desk and cupboards at work, and the ring knife I “borrowed” from the Cincinnati post office when I worked there in 1994.)  As part of a Live and Work Well campaign at work, Human Resources was handing out free pedometers at work, and I was quite conscientious about clipping it to my belt, and recording my daily number of steps in my diary every night, and now the pedometer is at large.

As I’ve made the first baby steps toward organizing this desk (more of a work table, really), I’m more grateful than ever that I don’t smoke.  I’ve never regretted for a nanosecond the fact that I’ve never smoked a cigarette (total disclosure here: I’ve never smoked tobacco), because I’m uncovering half-empty cans of cola and cups almost every time.  Had these been cigarettes, I would have burned this place down long ago.

I have the same “out of sight, out of mind” problem when it comes to facial recognition, and because of this, I have–totally without meaning to–offended people when I draw a blank on who they are.  Last Monday, when Susie and I took COTA to her school, we were walking from the stop on Indianola Ave. to her school (just under half a mile), when a father driving his daughter to school pulled over and offered us a ride.  I was grateful for this, because it was raining.  He called me by name, and wished me happy belated birthday (I turned 48 on the 29th), so I knew we are Facebook friends.  Susie didn’t know who he was, either, because she and his daughter aren’t close friends.  His name didn’t click with me until tonight, when there was a notice on Facebook that he had changed his profile picture.

This is an extension of the shock you feel when you’re a grade-schooler.  All of us can look back and laugh at how bewildered we are as children the first time we see our teacher at the grocery store, or walking down the street, or at a restaurant.  I will totally overlook someone if they are out of context.  If I’m used to seeing you at work or church, there is a chance I may not click on who you are initially if I see you in a completely different setting.

Sometimes that extends to uniforms and clothing.  There was a Muppet skit on Sesame Street a long time ago where a little boy is lost, and goes to a nearby police officer for help.  Because of the badge and the uniform, he doesn’t recognize that the officer is his uncle.  One of my English professors at Ohio U. was a Catholic priest, but I only saw him “in uniform” once.  He usually dressed like a stereotypical academic–tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, button-down shirts, necktie.  The one time he came in wearing his “blacks”–i.e., black shirt with clerical collar, black slacks–was when he had performed a wedding shortly before class, and hadn’t had time to run back to his apartment and change clothes.  When he came into the classroom, it took me a second to realize who it was, although I knew from day one that he was a priest.

So when everything is right out on the desk, it’s easier for me to remember its existence.  Whether my keys and my pedometer are under here is still a mystery.  (I am not exaggerating.  This desk currently resembles an archaeological dig.  I considered posting before-and-after pictures, but decided against it.  I’m too mortified by its current condition.)  In the course of typing this entry, I’ve already discovered a pair of laptop speakers I forgot that I owned.

How Far Removed I Have Become…

My friend Scott and I went walking for the first time this calendar year.  Much has interfered with walking these past several months–the snowfall, my persistent cough, the gallbladder surgery and the recuperation.  Tonight, all the stars were in alignment.  Our schedules meshed, the weather was beautiful, and I actually felt energetic.

We toured the new Ohio Union for the first time tonight, a beautiful structure with an excellent food court (we ate dinner there), and I was amused to see the lyrics of “Carmen Ohio,” the OSU alma mater, chiseled inside the main lobby.  We each worship at our own unique shrines, I suppose.

Scott and I didn’t do as much walking as we planned.  A friend had asked Scott to make sure all the doors were locked at a rental property he owns east of campus, and once that was done, I told Scott I wanted to swing by FedEx Office and buy a new notebook.

Getting close to FedEx Office (nee Kinko’s) was much easier said than done.  The music at the O Patio and Pub was deafening, and the patio was at capacity.  It almost had the atmosphere of Michigan weekend or pre-Notre Dame football.  We asked around, and the first annual OSU AXE Undie Run was launching from there at 9 p.m.  The idea of this event was to wear clothing you will donate to the homeless and run a little less than a mile in your underwear.  (AXE, the sponsor, manufactures men’s toiletries.)  The race kicked off in front of the O Patio (near the corner of E. 15th and High) and would end at Pearl Alley and E. 16th, about a block north, via a circuitous route around Iuka and Woodruff Aves.  Ohio State was competing with nine other universities–whoever donated the most clothes (by weight) receives a half-naked statue.

As nine o’clock drew near, I admit I forgot all about buying a notebook.  There was a genuinely fun atmosphere as both women and men stripped down to their briefs and bras.  (The oldest participant was a man in his 60s, a memory I’m trying to exorcise from my head.)  Scott and I enjoyed watching it.  The atmosphere was festive, and I doubt any woman or man felt threatened in any way.

The title of this post refers to my realization (something I keep having to learn and relearn) that I’ve moved a generation away from the college crowd.  I have haunted college campuses and environs for most of my life.  My late father was an English professor at Marietta College, so we lived within blocks of the campus, and even at a young age I knew his students, as dinner guests, as babysitters, and later as friends.  As a teen, I frequented the Gilman Student Center on the Marietta College campus, since it had the best pinball machines and the first video games in Marietta.  In high school, I often hitchhiked to Athens (50 miles away) to drink or lose myself in the stacks at Alden Library.  When I landed in Boston, I lived in Boston University’s student ghetto and earned my living typesetting The Crimson, which brought me in close proximity to the Harvard campus.

So now I am a generation removed.  As Scott and I watched everyone stripping down for, and participating in, the Undie Run tonight, it came to me that these students were young enough to be my children.  Many of them were born while I was at Ohio University in Athens.  It was easy for me to forget this fact, since I didn’t become a parent until I was 34, but that is the exception, not the rule.  (I still shudder, however, when I think of a woman who worked alongside me at the Cincinnati post office, 30 years old and already a grandmother.)

College is often the happiest time of many people’s lives, but there are certain college towns that students and alumni love so much that they never leave, and they become fixtures.  Ann Arbor is like this, as is Athens, and so is Chapel Hill.  I knew people in Athens who stayed and worked for degree after degree, and once they had exhausted this, took low-paying jobs in town just so they could remain in the college milieu.

The most obvious (and tragic) example of this was a guy I knew in Athens, whom I’ll call Dirk.  He went to O.U. on the GI Bill in the late ’50s and graduated with a degree in education.  He taught in several elementary and secondary schools in Appalachia, and in the mid-’80s, about when he turned 50, he decided to return to Athens for a master’s in special ed.

Dirk lived in an apartment off campus, and went to classes at O.U. for about a year and a half.  Finally, his faculty advisor told him he was just wasting his money on classes, and that he would never be a good enough teacher.  Nonetheless, he stayed on in Athens, living on an allowance from his mother, hanging out mostly with students 30 years younger, taking his meals in the cafeteria, etc.  He was free with advice to students on how to conduct their romantic lives (though he was a lifelong bachelor), their academic lives (although he had washed out of his own program), and was a zealot about telling people to “act responsibly” (this from a man in his 50s living on his mother’s largess.)  I am not a Christian, but you gotta wonder if Jesus of Nazareth knew such a person when he spoke: How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:4-5)

I was in the cusp between my college years and the kids I saw tonight while I lived in Cincinnati.  As soon as I could afford it, I moved to an apartment in Clifton, near the University of Cincinnati, and the closest thing that Cincinnati would ever have to Greenwich Village.  I set up shop in the Subway restaurant across from my commodious W. McMillan St. apartment, and developed a rapport, if not deep friendships, with many of the people who worked there.  I was the one who made runs to the convenience store for cigarettes and beer, and, when the manager banned alcohol on the premises, the “sandwich artists” stored beer in my refrigerator.

Soon, I was permitted unlimited refills on soda pop, which I drank by the gallon, and even allowed to run tabs, which I paid off as soon as I was flush.  Here is a page from my notebook (actually a pocket 1994 appointment diary) which listed my tab.  The initials at the bottom are the manager’s, indicating that I had paid the debt in full.

TANGENT ALERT: Even as I was extending my adolescence well into my 30s, I did have my eyes out for bigger and better jobs and more exotic places to live.  Some were practical, some outright unrealistic, as another page in the same pocket diary will show:

Planning to live as an expatriate in the Czech Republic
at the same time I was rolling pennies for bus fare–
realistic, eh?

The first signs that I was moving beyond being a peer was when I was in a conversation with some students at  a bar near my place.  Somehow we got on the subject of when we were first allowed to stay up late.  I mentioned that the first time I was allowed to stay awake past dark was in July 1969, so I could watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon.  By the reaction this wrought, you would think I was reminiscing about seeing off the Santa Maria on its voyage to the New World.
And I knew I was different from the kids working there.  Some of the Subway workers called me “rabbi,” mainly because of my wire-rimmed glasses and my beard.  (If I had joined the Hasidim, it would make my wardrobe more colorful, to be sure.)  It was joking and respectful at the same time.
Many of the customers saw me as a fixture, as much as the fountain drink machine and the bright yellow booths.  I was the guy who would sit there for hours, either writing in a big red journal or poring over Kerouac or Hemingway.
I even felt this to a small degree when I first arrived at O.U. as a student in the spring of 1984.  I had the mystique of having lived in “the real world” for three years between high school and college–for a year unemployed, and two years working a “real” job.  This also brought the added bonus of being the only person in a freshman dorm who could buy hard liquor.  The age barrier goes up fast, but it was only tonight that I realized just how far removed I was.  I remember shaking my head at a 1990 editorial in Clifton magazine (U.C.’s literary magazine, published quarterly) which mentioned the Kent State massacre.  “We were alive then.  We couldn’t walk yet, but we were alive.”  I was in first grade then!
To make up for a somewhat depressing blog entry, I will post the few pictures I took at tonight’s Undie Run.  I apologize for their quality.  The flash on the camera was never that great, and the batteries are beginning to run low.  But here they are:
Not exactly a motto that would meet Mother Teresa’s
approval, but “Philanthropy Just Got a Whole
Lot Sexier” has more allure than “Give the shirt
off your back.”

AXE’s professional staff, handing out complimentary
socks and wristbands until they were gone.  GOOD
SAMARITAN GONE WILD might actually make
some teens return to Sunday school.

The man on the right manages the AXE Undie Run
Road Show.  If he can land an Undie Run at Brigham
Young University, he has my undying respect and

Preparation for the event–one of many
police cars and emergency vehicles, and
one of many photographers and guys
from the dirty-raincoat contingent.

Preparations for the run itself, as 9:30 p.m. draws
ever closer.  (They didn’t start until around 9:45,

Day is done, gone the sun, and with it my
ability to take decent pictures.  All pictures
taken afterwards were mostly silhouettes.