Ditched Blog for NaNoWriMo

We are down to the final six days of NaNoWriMo–the authors’ form of PMS–and one sign that I have actually been at the keyboard grinding out the requisite number of words per day has been the neglect of this blog.  This month has been a fairly active one, and not exclusively at the keyboard.

No news is good news when it comes to cardiac news.  There is nothing to report on that front, except for the appointment (and possible cardiac catheterization) on the 11th, just over two weeks in the future.  The aneurysm remains at 4.5 centimeters, 1½ cm shy of how dilated it would be to require surgery.  My understanding is that if I wake up every day, that means it has not burst.

NaNoWriMo has not completely dominated my life this month.  The weekend after Veterans’ Day, I went on a truly quick trip to Washington, D.C.  It was a milestone because this was the first time I had gone as a tourist since about 1983.  Previous blog entries and my diaries bear me out when I say that all of the trips I have taken to Washington since that time have been politically-oriented: anti-war, pro-environmentalism, 350.org, etc.

I don’t know where I learned the phrase “bang-zoom,” but it is fitting for this trip.  I left by Greyhound Friday night (it was supposed to be at 9 p.m., but we didn’t pull out of the station on East Town Street until 10:30 or so), traveled by way of Pittsburgh, and arrived at Union Station in Washington just after 8:30.  My tour guide and boon companion on the trip, of course, was Robert Nedelkoff, who is well versed on D.C. history, although not a native, and literature, music, and other subjects as well.  When I arrived at Union Station, I texted him: Houston, Tranquility Base here.  The Eagle has landed.  It is always good to make allusions like that to someone who is old or well read enough to actually understand them.

One of the stops would be Arlington National Cemetery, since the following Friday would be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it was “only fitting and proper” to visit his grave.  However, I did feel like I was visiting a grave while I was in Union Station, waiting for Robert to arrive on the Metro.

When I was in Washington in February, Robert and I took a tour of the Barnes and Noble, which was going to close in six to eight weeks.  I bought a journal for Susie and a paperback James Patterson novel (when in Rome… the Alex Cross series takes place in D.C.) for myself.  I went to the site where the former Barnes and Noble had been, hoping to get some satisfaction from seeing an empty storefront.  No such luck.  H&M, a Swedish clothing chain, has opened a store in its place, and there was a very rapid turnaround time between the two businesses.

My main reason for going to D.C. this weekend was to see the JFK exhibit at The Newseum, but I was disappointed with this.  Other than some contemporary hardware (such as the original yellow copy displayed in a Teletype machine from United Press International, the clothes Lee Harvey Oswald wore when arrested, and JFK’s personal Smith-Corona electric typewriter), there was nothing that I either could not access on YouTube or which I had not purchased as DVDs at the Cincinnati Nostalgia Convention.

Author James L. Swanson autographs the copy of End of Days that Robert bought for me.  This event was at Politics and Prose on Connecticut Ave. NW on Saturday night during my visit.

Maynard Ave.’s diarist in residence (left–on the level, complete with bubble in the middle) and Robert Nedelkoff, November 16, 2013, on the balcony of The Newseum.  The Capitol Building and the Canadian Embassy are in the background.

New to me was the International Spy Museum, which seemed to focus more than it should have on James Bond and the various villains and nemeses he has encountered, both through the Ian Fleming novels and the many movies since the 1950s.  This was understandable, it seems to me, since espionage is the type of business that, in order to be successful, leaves as little of a trail, paper or otherwise, as possible.  I was amused to see the gold-plated Royal manual typewriter on which Fleming wrote several of the Bond novels.  (My first exposure to Ian Fleming was, of course, my Little Golden Book copy of Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car.)  I also took some pictures of different wire and reel-to-reel recorders to share with a reel-to-reel tape recorders enthusiasts’ group on Facebook.

Ford’s Theater’s exhibits seem to focus more on Lincoln’s career and Presidency more than the assassination.  New to me were swatches from the ropes used to execute the four conspirators in July 1865, and the padded hoods worn by the prisoners during their imprisonment.  (The wardens and jailers at Guantanamo took a page from Edwin M. Stanton’s playbook.  I don’t believe that Stanton was the Keyser Söze who manipulated the events leading up to Lincoln’s murder, but his treatment of the suspects once in custody was unconscionable.)  Some of the possessions that John Wilkes Booth had on his person when he was captured and killed–his wallet, small photographs of five women, and a diary–were also on display, with the diary opened to where 18 pages are missing.

Part of the exhibit at the Petersen House, across the street from the theater, includes a large tower representing every known book written by or about Lincoln.  The house itself is where Lincoln died, with several additions.  The silliest one included Lincoln in various contemporary media, including a cover of The Amazing Spider-Man where he shares the frame with Spider-Man and Captain America.  I was a little miffed they did not show a still from the Star Trek episode “The Savage Curtain” (Stardate 5906.4).  I was very glad they did not display anything from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

The crowning jewel of the trip was–aside from the excellent meatloaf at Jake’s American Grille on Connecticut Ave., NW–a visit to the Politics and Prose bookstore.  I heard James L. Swanson speak, promoting his new book, End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy.  The new hook, these past few years, for Kennedy assassination books, has been the lone gunman theory, and Vincent Bugliosi’s doorstop Reclaiming History has been the most convincing.

I did get to the microphone to ask one question, dealing with the sudden estrangement between Marina Oswald and her benefactor and hostess, Ruth Paine, the Quaker woman who took Marina in rent-free and helped care for her two infant children when the Oswald marriage began to go on the rocks.

Swanson autographed End of Days for me, as well as the copy of the coffee-table book Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution I bought at Ford’s Theater.

I’m so surprised that I’m typing this at 6:37 a.m. on a Monday morning.  I am very slow to get out of bed in the morning, but I took a “nap” once I came home from Soulful Sundown, the monthly 5 p.m. service at the Unitarian church.  This nap lasted well past midnight.  I woke up, heated some Chef Boyardee lasagna, but decided not to try and sleep any more.  I went into my office, typed 1831 words of the NaNoWriMo project, and then decided to use the momentum I had started to write here in the blog.

Soon, it will be time to dive in the shower and then catch the bus, for another day of civil service.

Squinting at the Light

I am the first one to realize how long I have had this blog on hiatus.  Over a month is very out of character for me.  I have no illusions that there are hordes of people who hang on every word I post here, the same way people crowded the docks of New York and Baltimore for new shipments of Dickens’ novels.  My blogging this afternoon is one of the positive signs that I’m emerging from a mental lethargy that has consumed me much of the summer.  For the past week, however, I feel like I’m emerging from the mental haze and back into life.  (Also, I’m doing a once-over-gently allusion to I Peter 2:9 here.)

The lack of blog entries is a sign of what I suspect may have been a serious bout of depression.  At no time was I suicidal, nor did I (or anyone else) think hospitalization would be necessary.  However, my inactivity and overall lack of energy and drive worried me.  One red flag was when I looked at the current volume of my diary.  It is a 200-page composition book, and I wrote in this volume for the first time on May 1.  Today is August 7, and I am only up to page 57.

Per my Casio Data Bank watch, it is now 2:26 in the afternoon, Eastern Daylight Savings Time.  I am not at work right now because my CPAP machine kept acting up, and it was nearly impossible for me to sleep.  I was finally dozing off into a restful state when my alarm sounded.  I had just enough strength to phone my supervisor and tell her I wouldn’t be coming in, and then fell back into bed… and was unable to sleep.  (This is due to a combination of the CPAP, which is in need of a new data card with new settings, and Nuvigil, the wakefulness drug I just started.  The Nuvigil may be working too well at the moment.  My body needs to get used to it.)

Getting out of the house and onto the trike worked pretty well for me.  A trike ride has yet to fail to rejuvenate me–I keep hoping I can get my psychiatrist to declare it medically necessary, so my insurance will pay for it.  I had a great ride to the Ohio State campus, and to Thompson Library, where I am sitting in the lab typing this.

A week from tomorrow, I will be on the road.  Susie has spent the summer in Florida with her mom, and I will be making my first journey to the Sunshine State on ther 15th.  On that night, I’m hopping a Greyhound to Orlando.  It’ll be a 22-hour trip, with an hour-long transfer in Atlanta.  I’ll spend two full days in Merritt Island, and on Sunday morning, Susie and I will fly back to Columbus via Southwest Airlines.  This will be the first time I’ve flown on an airplane since 1983, when I lived in Boston, and used airplanes semi-regularly to get to Ohio or to Washington, D.C.  I will have some pictures and blog entries from this trip.

A definite step in the right direction for me was my 26-hour road trip to Washington, D.C. the weekend before last.  A friend invited me on Facebook, and I accepted, and was surprised at how underwhelmed I was about the whole thing.  Usually a trip to Washington has me stoked with adrenaline from head to toe.

This was a rally to ban fracking, an issue which affects many natives of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and upstate New York.  In my childless days, I paid little attention to environmental issues, shrugging it off by saying, “The world can do what it wants after I’m dead,” but that whole picture changed once I became a parent.

The Stop the Frack Attack took place on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.  We left Columbus just after midnight from the Franklin University parking lot, and made it to Washington (by way of Interstates 68 and 70) just after 8 a.m.

I like schedules like this.  The rally itself didn’t start until 1:30, so I had plenty of time for walking around Washington.  Washington is a very pedestrian-friendly city, although it is tropical in the summer.  I had no plans to join any guided tours.  They always try to hurry you through too many sites in too little time.  The bus dropped us off at Union Station, and I got my backpack and began walking toward Chinatown.

I had an 11:30 lunch date with my friend Robert Nedelkoff, the man the British Museum and the Library of Congress consults for accuracy.  We had several emails flying back and forth between Columbus and Silver Spring about just where we were going to meet for lunch.  My first choice had been The Tombs, a bar and restaurant in Georgetown a block or two from the famous Exorcist stairs.  Looking at a map made me realize that Georgetown was a little too off track for going to the rally.  I would have had to inhale my lunch and then catch the Metro toward Capitol Hill.  So we agreed to meet at Tonic at Quigley’s Pharmacy in Foggy Bottom, where we had eaten before.

My walk through Chinatown was to look at Wok and Roll, the Chinese restaurant at 604 H St. NW.  Robert and I had eaten there before, but my interest is because, in 1864 and 1865, it was the Surratt boarding house, the meeting place for John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators as they plotted the abduction (and eventual assassination) of Abraham Lincoln.  For her hospitality, the owner of the boarding house, Mrs. Mary Surratt, was hanged in July 1865, the first woman executed by the Federal Government.

The William Petersen House, also known as The House Where Lincoln Died, 516 10th St. NW in Washington.  Visting this place and Ford’s Theater (even when I don’t have the time to go inside) is, in a way, my equivalent of visiting the Western Wall.

Robert had asked me when was the last time I visited D.C. as a tourist.  I couldn’t pin down the date, except that it had to be pre-1994, because when I visited JFK’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Jackie was still alive and not buried there.  In 2000, when my dad died, I sent his obituary to the alumni office at his alma mater, the Catholic University of America.  A woman called me to let me know they were going to say a Mass in his honor.  I wanted to go to it, but a day or two before the Mass took place, I awoke with a very bad case of the flu and walking pneumonia, and my travel was restricted to the bedroom and the bathroom.  Trips between the two felt like climbing Everest.

Ancestors on my mother’s side owned and operated coal mines in Noble County, Ohio, and my late uncle, Glenn McKee, often wrote in his poetry about the mine fires and the mined-out coal country of that part of Ohio.  I took comfort in the fact they were probably rolling in their graves if they knew I was headed to Washington to protest fracking.

The truly joyous event of the trip to Washington was reuniting with an old friend.  The name Bill McKibben is quite familiar to anyone in environmental circles.  He is the founder of 350.org, an organization dedicated to solving the climate and earth crisis.  He is also the author of The End of Nature and The Age of Missing Information.  (The latter is the only book of his I have read, I confess.)

Bill graduated from Harvard in 1982, three months before my arrival in Boston.  He had been president of The Harvard Crimson, which would become my employer and the focus of my life and activity.  After he graduated from Harvard, he worked at The New Yorker, writing many of its “Talk of the Town” columns.  Bill grew up in Lexington, Mass., just outside of Cambridge, and he would often stop in The Crimson‘s building on Plympton St. to visit when he was up from New York to visit his parents.

While he worked for The New Yorker, he volunteered as an advisor for the newspaper for an inner-city Manhattan high school.  When the paper folded, he came to Cambridge and asked me, and one or two others, to typeset the farewell issue.  (This was also the night of The Crimson‘s annual Alumni Dinner.  After the fête at the Sheraton Commander Hotel, I went to work on the copy.  A true Kodak moment: I was sitting at the CRTronic Linotype, my jacket draped over the back of the chair, my sleeves rolled up, the knot of my tie hanging down to mid-breastbone, and a can of Michelob at one hand and a can of Coke at the other.  And yet the finished product looked beautiful.)

I suspected Bill would be one of the speakers, because he is a superstar in the environmental movement.  The center of activity was a small dais on the West Capitol lawn, facing toward the Washington Monument (closed since the 2010 minor earthquake).  And I was not disappointed.  Bill was the third or fourth speaker.

I was able to shoot a video of Bill’s speech, and my batteries miraculously lasted long enough to get the entire thing.  I had the foresight to bring extra batteries for the camera, so I was able to shoot even more video and still pictures.

This is not my video of Bill McKibben, however I do make a Hitchcock-like appearance in front of the platform.

Once Bill stepped off the platform, I went to meet him.  “Hey, Bill.  It’s Paul Evans, from The Crimson!”  He laughed and hugged me, and said, “How are you doing, brother?”  I thought he would remember me, because we had some common ground, however slight, other than The Crimson.  His mother was born in Parkersburg, W.Va., as was I.  (Whenever I’m tempted to ridicule West Virginia–a very popular sport when I was growing up–I try to bear in mind that I was born in Parkersburg because “advanced” Marietta had no obstetrician/gynecologist in 1963.)

I handed the camera to someone nearby, and immortalized the moment.

Your intrepid diarist and Bill McKibben, July 28, 2012, West Lawn of the United States Capitol.

What truly inspired me was the undercurrent of happiness and positive focus that guided this demonstration.  I am not echoing the thoughts of New Age gurus who will happily collect your money and tell you that the victims of Hurricane Katrina should have thought more positively, and that six million Jews died under the Nazis because they chose to.  Hubert Humphrey spoke (somewhat naïvely) about “the politics of joy” at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago as police were breaking protestors’ skulls with clubs and arresting reporters, delegates, and protestors en masse.  At many peace march and political gatherings, I have often felt an undercurrent of hostility, of people who were itching for fights, and who delibertely tried to “sow dragons’ teeth,” which my English teacher Mrs. Curtis always warned us never to do.
I witnessed this when it came to a head in November 1982, when a march against the Ku Klux Klan in Washington degenerated into rock-throwing, tear gas, vandalism, and arrests.  I was on the receiving end of tear gas, and have chronicled the experience here, in an earlier entry in this blog.
After the speakers left the podium, everyone took to the streets from Capitol Hill.  There were about 5000 people, shouting and displaying every pun based on the word frack you can imagine (My personal favorite: GOD HATES FRACKS, a variation on the signs the Westboro Baptist Church alleged humans carry).  There was no parade permit, but the police stood by and watched.  Since we weren’t all mobbing the streets like the rejects from Attila the Hun’s army, they could relax.  We were a celebratory mob.  A young woman who was on the bus from Columbus periodically stepped out of the street and gave water bottles, sandwiches, and bread to homeless people sitting on benches nearby.
Only one time did I fear that the march would veer out of control.  We converged on the American Petroleum Institute on L St. NW, on a Saturday when the doors were locked and no one was at work, save for a lone unarmed security guard in the lobby, who probably earned minimum wage.  I’m sure all he wanted was to listen to the baseball game on the radio, but then here comes this mob that surrounds the entrance in a semi-circle, chanting, “The water!  The water!  The water’s on fire!” with the responding, “We don’t need no fracking, let the corporations burn!”  (This was a parody of “The Roof Is On Fire,” by Rockmaster Scott & the Dynamic Three, which I heard way too many times in the bars when I was at Ohio University.)  The energy level was so high that I was afraid at some point someone would toss a trash can or brick through the glass doors.  That would have been my cue to leave.  (To echo the words of Messrs. Lennon and McCartney, “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”)
The march ended at Franklin Square, at 14th and K Sts., NW.  Many of the people opted to jump into the fountain in the center of the park.  This was pure spontaneity, and I doubt anything on the march was choreographed or pre-arranged.  There was no street theater or political statement to it.  The temperature was around 85° F., with relative humidity hovering around 82% all day.  (This, by D.C. standards, is cool for summertime.)  Only a person extremely self-disciplined and -denying would not have been tempted to get in the fountain.  (I didn’t get in, but I stayed near the lip of the fountain and was “accidentally” splashed a few times.)

Franklin Square, Washington, D.C.  “Whose water?”  “OUR WATER!!”  A far cry from the way the park appeared in The Lost Symbol.

Our bus was back in Columbus by 2 a.m. Sunday morning.  I thought about sleeping on the way home, but I was keyed up from the experience, and didn’t even read while we came home along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I was content to look out the window.  Once home, despite my exhaustion, I was up until well past dawn loading pictures and video to my Facebook page.
And I dreaded that a crash was coming.  After an event that is so exhilarating it stokes the adrenaline, once the stimuli disappears, the letdown is bad, especially for someone with bipolar disorder.  I tried to keep in mind the Facebook maxim “Don’t cry because it’s over, laugh because it happened,” and I was fortunate enough to have a full load of work when I came to work the following Monday.
This was important, because as much as I dread typing certain doctors (one sounds like he dictates after happy hour, another one sounds like he moonlights as an auctioneer), it is good for me to be busy.  Over the last several years, I have noticed that boredom leads to severe depression for me.  This is the type of situation that made me understand Sherlock Holmes’ rationalization of his cocaine habit in The Sign of Four.  Presented with problems, work, or crime, Sherlock Holmes could leave his syringe alone.  When his mind was idle (“My mind rebels at stagnation,” he told Dr. Watson), that was when he would turn to cocaine.
That route has not tempted me, neither cocaine nor anything else.  Since Susie was an infant, I have not had any beverage stronger than Diet Pepsi, nor used any unprescribed drug.  So, bored as I was, I never considered relapsing.  (The hardcore Straight Edge people, however, would not consider me one of their own, because of my excessive caffeine consumption and the fact that I eat meat.)
I have to constantly guard, however, against my current rejuvenated feeling veering off into a manic episode.  I have been conscientious about taking my lithium twice daily, but it can only control mania or depression, not stop it.  Under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, I probably cannot legally own a firearm, because I have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility in the past.
That’s probably a good thing.  Gun control pro and con has been all over the news this summer, because of the mass killing in Aurora, Colorado and this Sunday’s massacre in the Sikh temple just outside Milwaukee.  When Mitt Romney and President Obama take to the campaign trail after Labor Day, I am sure there will be plenty of idiots who want to get their names in the history books by killing them.
As a bipolar person, I understand that it would be stupidity for me to have a handgun in the house.  Not because Susie would find it and play with it–when she was in Florida last December, Steph took her to a firing range and let her target shoot, and the paper target now hangs on Susie’s bedroom wall.  Either end of the bipolar pendulum could spell disaster for me.  I would not use a gun on someone else, but in a moment of extreme mania I could find myself thinking how much fun it would be to shoot out street lights, or to see what would happen if I blew a hole in the living room ceiling.  And on the extreme depressive end of the scale… use your imagination, gentle reader.
As long as I’ve been typing this, I feel like I’ve gone a few laps on a treadmill.  Maybe it is a good sign that once I logged on here and began typing a blog entry, the struggle was not to produce the next word, but the biggest difficulty was stopping. 

The Upside of Autumn

I grumble about the end of summer as much as any schoolkid (including my own), but one of its bonuses (at least for those of us who toil in the vineyards of civil service) is that, from September until February, there is at least one paid day off per month.  Monday will be such a day.  Tomorrow night, I will not set the alarm, but that tomorrow will still be a semi-work day for me.  My goal is to make some serious headway in making our new home look more like a home–we’ve hung up clothes, and the office is starting to take shape, but we still look like we’re in transit.

Susie turned 14 on Thursday, and she was quite happy with the Seventeen subscription I bought her, although the first issue has yet to arrive.  (I remember receiving a subscription to Mad for my 11th birthday, and feeling just as good.)  I bought her subscription through Amazon.com, and they sent her an email Thursday morning notifying her, so now she’ll haunt the mailbox until the first issue arrives.  Susie’s grandfather sent her a sketchbook and a pen, and her mom mailed her clothes.  Susie and I had chicken soup at home (the same chicken soup I made two weeks ago–freezers and Crock-Pots are wonderful inventions) and then I took her for dessert at Groovy Spoon, a frozen yogurt restaurant on N. High St. just south of Whetstone Park.
She had a sleepover last night with a girl from The Graham School, so I stayed up almost until dawn, but was awake again by 9.  Susie and I went to Studio 35 to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, although we declined the chance to dine with the Klingons.  (We ate lunch at Burger King beforehand.)  Between lunch and the movie, we went to a garage sale on E. Weber Rd.  Susie bought a purse and a scarf.  There was an entire rack of women’s clothes, but nothing she liked fitted her.  I bought a DVD of Kissing Jessica Stein and a two-disk set of Beethoven’s Favourite Piano Sonatas (I’m listening to the “Moonlight Sonata” as I type this, which is appropriate, because the moon is very bright tonight, although it’s not officially full until Tuesday).

Where Susie and I went to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The downside of a three-day weekend is that my sleep schedule is now off track.  Since I didn’t get to bed until close to sunrise, and was awake again a mere four hours later, I crashed for an hour or two almost as soon as Susie left for dinner and a movie with her godmother.  Susie is singing at the 9:15 service at church, so we’ll be out of the gate sooner tomorrow morning than usual.  And I’m hardly leading by example!  It’s nearing midnight, and I’m sitting here typing this entry with a bottle of Coke Zero at my elbow.
As I was unpacking, I was scared to death that I had lost the manuscript of my memoir about my friendship with Cincinnati novelist Robert Lowry during the move.  (Most of the text was on the hard drive of the stolen laptop.)  I sent a panicked letter to my friend Robert Nedelkoff just outside D.C., since he has been my consultant and father confessor for much of the project.  (I sent a letter rather than emailing so he could have a hard copy of my new address.)  About two hours after I dropped the letter in the mailbox, I was unpacking one of the big Staples boxes (my packing lacks organization–it always has, it always will), and, voilà, there it was.  I heaved a huge sigh of relief.  A day or two ago, RobertNed sent me an email thanking me for notifying him of the change of address, and he attached the Word file of the Lowry manuscript, as well as other items.

Now that I have an extant copy of the hard copy, rewriting should head the “to do” list, since–as Robert has not so subtly pointed out–I am in the home stretch of finishing this book.  (Lowry died in December 1994, and the last time I added anything to the manuscript, I was describing the period between the spring of 1992 and the summer of 1993.)  However, it has been so long since I wrote anything, the voice has changed, I’ve fallen out of love with some of the prose I wrote, etc., so it’s best if I did the whole damn thing from the ground up.  Before she moved to Florida, Steph made some invaluable comments and edits in pen and ink on the manuscript, and I plan to incorporate some of these changes in the next incarnation.

An aside here–I changed the music while writing the last paragraph.  Currently, I’m listening to Vivaldi’s “Double Trumpet Concerto for Two Trumpets, Strings, and Continuo in C Major, RV 537 Allegro,” from the album Greatest Hits of 1721.  I love this piece.  What’s funny is that it first came to my attention when I saw All the President’s Men.  During the scene when Woodward and Bernstein suspect that Nixon’s people are wiretapping them, they sit at a typewriter and “converse” by typing, and Woodward blares this music on the stereo to drown out the sound of the typing.

As I was rereading the pages of the Lowry manuscript, I seem to mark the decline of my daily conduct with him to my return to gainful and stable employment, particularly my third-shift job at the main post office in Cincinnati.  I’ve often said that my conversations with him at the Bay Horse Café started off as resembling William Holden and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, since Lowry’s life and work fascinated me since I read about him in a 1989 Clifton magazine article.  Toward the end, as Lowry declined mentally, it more resembled Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.

I Sought, and Eventually Found

Last Saturday night, I was in such a hurry to type up the blog entry about Pulpfest that I neglected to write about the very pleasant denouement of the whole day.  (I was racing the clock, making sure I finished and posted the entry before making the 3¼-mile walk to Grandview to see Teenagers From Outer Space.)  During the day I spent at Pulpfest, I successfully ended long searches for a book that I had lost (the Ace Giant Double Novel(s?) They Buried a Man and The Dark Place by Mildred Davis) and found a DVD of a made-for-TV movie I had seen in 1977 that had affected me deeply (Alan Alda in Kill Me If You Can, a biopic about Caryl Chessman).

Between coming home from Pulpfest and meeting Mike Nevins and Steve for dinner, another long search came to an end.  Propped against my front door was a package from Classic Vinyl in Gaithersburg, Md.  It was not a total surprise, since I had mailed payment for it at the end of the previous week, but seeing the package there was reassuring and made me feel rewarded for hard work and effort.

My parents played many classical music records when I was a child, especially in the house on Third St. in Marietta where I lived until I was six.  Part of my love for classical music came because my parents watched NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley Report every evening, instead of Walter Cronkite and The CBS Evening News.  (The Huntley-Brinkley Report‘s closing theme was the second movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.)

When I was an adult, my mother told me that she first began to suspect I had some type of clinical depression because, after school, I showed little interest in playing outside or watching TV.  “You’d just eat your snack, and then go up to your room and put on Vivaldi and stay there until dinnertime.”

Although I could identify my favorite Vivaldi composition if I heard it, I could not remember its title.  I do remember that, on Sunday mornings, while my mother slept in, my dad and I would remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8) by having pancakes or French toast instead of cold cereal, and by playing a record of Vivaldi’s Gloria.  But I loved one instrumental piece so much I took it from the record cabinet of my parents’ Magnavox console and kept it in my bedroom, where I could play it on my orange and white monaural General Electric phonograph.

My desire to find this recording began anew in December 2009, when the church featured the Gloria as part of the winter concert.  That triggered the memory of the instrumental piece I so loved, and I checked out a six-disk Vivaldi set by Deutsche Grammophon, and, after going through the entire recording, could not find it.

This did not deter me.  I could physically describe the album.  I knew it was from the Musical Heritage Society.  Its cover featured no graphics–just a list of the works on the album and the personnel.  It had blue letters against a white background.  The other side of the album cover was blank–just black, with nothing on it.

The piece’s being instrumental made it more difficult.  If a song’s title eluded me, I could always log onto Lyrics.com and type whatever phrase I remembered into its search engine, and the song would pop up in front of me.

Besides remembering the album cover, I remembered that the bassoonist was named Anthony Checchia.  (I had a rudimentary knowledge of the instruments of the orchestra due to playing and replaying my Vanguard Everyman Classics record of Peter and the Wolf–incomparably narrated by Boris Karloff–until it was marred and scratched.)  Earlier this summer, I Googled his name, hoping to find the album, or at least something that would trigger a distant memory of the title of the piece.  Much to my delight, I found out Checchia is alive and well, artistic director of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.  (The album came out in the mid-1960s, so I was not taking for granted any of the performers were still alive.)  I emailed Checchia in Philadelphia and, to my delight, he replied a few days later.  He thought he knew the record I described, but was in Vermont overseeing the Marlboro Music Festival, and would not be able to go through his personal files until he returned to Philadelphia in September.

I went back to Classic Vinyl and Googled Vivaldi’s and Checchia’s names, and found an album that I thought may be the one I wanted.  I was wary, because it cost $26 (not including postage), and it may not be the right one.  Finally, after some emailed conversation with the owner of the site, I bit the bullet and mailed him the $26 money order.

I held my breath when I unpacked the record Saturday evening and put it on my turntable.  I put the tone arm to approximately where I remembered my favorite piece being, set it down…

…and it turned out I hit paydirt!  Indeed, it was the recording that I remembered.  I was 99.8% sure when I turned the album cover over and saw the black side, but I wasn’t sure until I heard my favorite Vivaldi piece for the first time in over 40 years.  (By the way, its title is “Concerto in G Minor for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Bassoon and Figured Bass, P. 403.”)

When in search of a book or music title, I will leave no turn unstoned stone unturned, and will make many people who know me get down on their knees and pray that I please find it, and soon, so they won’t have to hear about it anymore.  I have two friends who live quite some distance from me, and I have fired off many emails to them titled, “You Would Know This If Anyone Would…”  Robert Nedelkoff in Silver Spring is my Delphic oracle when it comes to matters literary, although his musical knowledge is quite encyclopedic as well.  (Robert is the only person–other than myself–who had heard of Lauran Paine, who was the most prolific author in history.  Paine had published 880 books, mostly Westerns, under 74 different pseudonyms, when People wrote about him in 1985, “Author Lauran Paine Rewrites the Record Books Every Time He Sits Down at the Typewriter.”)

My St. Louis friend John Bilgere, whom I met at a Unitarian youth conference in Michigan in 1979, has an encyclopedic knowledge of rock and pop music from the British Invasion until the end of the 1980s.  One day, bored at work, I had an earworm for a song from 1974 in my mind.  I emailed John:

In 1974, there was a one-hit wonder that I heard on the radio quite frequently.  I can’t give you the title or the artist, because the song was completely in Spanish, so I think the title probably was, too.

Any idea of who that might be, or what the song is?

And John did not disappoint!  A day or two later, I checked my incoming email box, and he had written:

The song which you speak of is possibly “Eres Tu” by the Mocedades (key of E flat).  Another one, which did not make many waves in the U.S., was “Jesuscristo” by Las Fresas Acidas (1972?).

I pulled up “Eres Tu” on YouTube, and John had been right.  My Spanish fluency consists of counting from 1 to 20, thanks to many afternoons watching Sesame Street until I was a teen, so I would not have been able to identify the song otherwise.

The pre-Internet days were much worse.  When my parents gave me a record player for my fourth Christmas, they also gave me an Apple single of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”  I was happy to receive this, along with The Archies’ “Bang-Shang-a-Lang” and Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days.”  There was another recording I wanted, but, since it was instrumental, I did not know its title.

I would not know its title until the summer of 1990.  That summer, I worked as a medical billing clerk for a company contracted by Christ Hospital, and we kept WRRM-FM (Warm 98) on the radio in the office.  One day, while typing the prices for rhythm strips and EKGs into the database, I heard the song that I had liked so much as a preschooler.  I heard it from the transistor radio of a teenage girl sunbathing in the next yard while I had been playing outside.  Warm 98, like many other stations, now posts its playlist on its Website, but this was several years before anyone had heard of the Internet.  I stopped what I was doing and called the station.  I didn’t get the DJ on the line, but I asked the receptionist who answered the phone, “What was that song you just played?”  She put me on hold, and she came back on the line in seconds.  The song was “The Horse,” by Cliff Nobles and Company.  I jotted that in my pocket notebook (I had started the habit of always having a notebook and pen handy my final months in Athens), and then began to plague record-store owners in Cincinnati with requests to find it for me.  Even PhonoLog‘s three-ring binder on the counter didn’t yield any results, and I was all prepared to pay for an ad in Goldmine.  Then, one day I lucked out.  In a St. Vincent de Paul (where I also bought most of my clothes), I found a Billboard compilation album from 1968 which featured “The Horse.”  (When “The Horse” was the number-one song, the number-two song was Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” maybe the only time when instrumentals held both number-one and number-two spots.)

Of course, my neighbors were not happy that I had this stroke of luck, and they prevailed upon me to use headphones for my many replayings of the song!

I like to think of myself as a generous type, so I now share with you the earworm of “The Horse.”

The Incredible Shrinking Magazine

In addition to reading The Columbus Dispatch during my morning break, I often look through the current issue of Newsweek at the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation library.  Over the last year, I’ve noticed how wafer-thin it’s become.  There seem to be more and more graphics, less and less text, and long-running features seem to be disappearing, like slats from a picket fence.  I haven’t seen “The Periscope” in years, and “My Turn” rarely runs anymore.  There is maybe half a page devoted to editorial cartoons, when they used to be interspersed throughout the entire magazine, running alongside the news items they caricatured.

During Watergate, I awaited the arrival of the next Newsweek just as urgently as a letter from my pen pal.  I think it was the first time I ever started watching or following the news.  (Below is the best Watergate-related cover that any publication ever printed.)

Newsweek cover, July 30, 1973

In addition to drastically slimming down their format, it would seem that Newsweek has either done away with, or greatly reduced, their research and fact-checking department.  In the past, they’ve always seemed (at least to me) to be a magazine conscientious enough to step up to the plate and admit an error they’d made, no matter how grievous.  Now, they don’t seem to have the space or the integrity to do this.

Most of the January 24 issue last month dealt with the bloodshed in Arizona, with about equal parts armchair psychotherapy, hand-wringing, objective news, and finger-pointing.  The writer cited the October 1868 assassination of Rep. James Hinds (R-Ark.), murdered by Klansman George Clark, and said that Hinds’ assassination was the only murder of a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

I knew right away this was not true.  If you read my blog entry from the weekend of the Tucson shooting, you’ll see my reference to Leo Ryan (D-Calif.), the U.S. Representative murdered in Guyana in 1978 by members of Jim Jones’ cult while Ryan was on a fact-finding mission.  I got on Gmail and immediately began a letter to Newsweek.  (Just to be sure, I ran this by my friend Robert Nedelkoff, fellow Robert Lowry scholar and researcher and fact-finder par excellence.  Not only did he confirm to me that Hinds and Ryan were the only U.S. Representatives slain while in office, he reminded me that only two Senators–Huey Long (D-La.) and Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) were the only Senators assassinated while in office.

When I forwarded the email to Robert, I mentioned that other former House members had been assassinated, since all four assassinated U.S. Presidents (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy) had served in the House at one time or another.  He then added Allard Lowenstein to the list.  He had served one term as a U.S. Representative, but was not in office at the time of his murder in 1980.

I am vain enough to have hoped that Newsweek would have printed my letter pointing out their error.  They seem to have done away with the “Letters” feature altogether.  Nonetheless, I was hoping for a little box correcting the mistake about James Hinds and mentioning Leo Ryan.  Nothing.  Even The Boston Herald mentioned, however mutedly, that they were wrong about the Hitler diaries.  (In 1983, news about the “discovery” of Adolf Hitler’s heretofore unknown diaries dominated The Herald‘s front page for days that spring.  They were going to start printing excerpts beginning Sunday.  When document examiners established beyond doubt that the diaries were forgeries, the notice retracting the excerpt announcement ran in a very small box in classified ad-sized type.)

Cold, Wet, and Gray Outside

Very erratic sleep schedule this weekend, which means I’m now waking up (it’s after 8 p.m.) after a four- or five-hour nap.  I thought the best thing to do would be to share some of the D.C. pictures with my faithful readership.  My actual thoughts from Friday night to Sunday morning are available in the scanned handwritten pages that I’ve already posted.  That always reads better than recapitulating the experience later.

I was in bed a little after 4 a.m., after arriving back from the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington. I took the time to scan the pages from my union diary where I wrote my thoughts as they came to me, but didn’t post them (backdated) into the blog until this afternoon.  This morning, between awakening and leaving with Susie for church, I posted my pictures to my Facebook account.

Amelia Houser and I at the Communication Workers of
America’s union hall on East Broad St., just before
boarding one of two Washington-bound chartered buses.

The above picture reminds me of something Travis McGee, the hero of 21 novels by John D. MacDonald, said in A Tan and Sandy Silence that, if he carried a placard, it would read:


We could not have asked for better weather, especially when I was giving Amelia, who has never been to Washington before, a good workout as we walked up and down the National Mall.  One Nation Working Together was not a march per se; the publicity was a little misleading in that respect.  It was more a rally, taking place at a fixed place.

And what better fixed place?  This is how the Lincoln
Memorial looked a little after 10 a.m.  I took this just
after Amelia and I crossed the Memorial Bridge from
the Pentagon’s parking lot in Virginia.

We didn’t go inside anywhere, but I did show Amelia the significant landmarks within visual range of the Mall, such as the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, the White House, the National World War II Memorial, some of the visible spires of the Smithsonian, etc.
The Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial looked sparkling, which isn’t always the case.  I remember making a trip in high school and finding that it was drained, and that had been in May.  Sometimes in the summer that is common.  During the Poor People’s Campaign in the spring and summer of 1968, when Resurrection City stood on the Mall, the pool was emptied several times because residents were using it to clean clothes and wash dishes.
Amelia was happy to touch the Washington Monument, even
though we arrived too late to go inside.

This is the scene in the early afternoon.

Happy for a brief respite from the crowd, Amelia and I
went to Tonic at Quigley’s Pharmacy on G St., NW, in
the heart of the George Washington University community.
My friend Robert Nedelkoff took us to lunch–a very good
lunch!  It’s always good to see Robert.

After the repast at Tonic.  Robert, as usual, looks like
he stepped out of the St. John’s Bay catalog, and I resemble
an outtake from America’s Most Wanted.
Bidding a reluctant farewell to the Lincoln Memorial.
I took this picture after Amelia and I walked back over
the Memorial Bridge (on the left) into Virginia, where
our charter bus awaited.

Washington Beckons

Now I’m watching the clock waiting for 11:30 to get here, so I can be en route to the One Nation Working Together march tomorrow in Washington, D.C.  My original plan was for Susie to come with me, but another road trip, especially one this long, was too much, coming on the heels of the trip to North Olmsted last week.  Additionally, Susie is the stereotypical “Are we there yet?” kid when it comes to travelling.  If she was getting impatient for the two-hour journey to Cleveland to end, the seven-plus hours to Washington would be excruciating for her.  She told Steph on Monday that she really didn’t want to go.

I made a few phone calls, trying to fill the seat.  We have a donor who provided the bus free of charge (I’m not sure who), so I was working the phones and the email trying to find someone to go with me.  Steve was tempted, but he declined; big work week, so he was looking forward to spending the weekend staring at the ceiling.

But, I will not be travelling alone.  Amelia, Steve’s 20-year-old daughter, is coming with me.  I think it’s her first time in Washington.  The only road trip I’ve ever taken with her has been to Mineral, but I’ve been with her and her dad locally for several events, such as the Isaiah 58 rally at the State House and the Ramadan trip to the mosque.  I’m sure she’s enthusiastic about the trip.

During some idle time at the computer, I went on Google Maps and calculated how much I will have traveled between Friday night and Sunday morning, when Amelia and I return to Columbus.  The total will be 1372 miles.  There was the trip to and from North Olmsted last week, and last night Pat and I went to the Winchester Tavern in Lakewood to see Allan Holdsworth in concert–the third time I’ve seen him.  (What amazed me about that little junket was how comparatively early we were headed back to Columbus.  The concert began at 9 p.m., and there was no opening band.  The show was over by 10:30.  Pat and I stopped to get gas and pick up some burgers before we left Cleveland.  I think my clock radio said 1:15 when I came back to my bedroom/study.)

Before I promise an illustrated blog entry upon my return, I need to conduct an experiment here.  Sunday night, after coming home from North Olmsted, I tried to load some additional pictures from the Con.  Blogger.com was not cooperating, and I understand from other bloggers they were experiencing the same thing.  (The problem is not in your set!)  So, I am going to try and load a picture below:

 Susie and her friend Harriet back up their friend
Florida (at microphone) during the talent show at North
Olmsted last Saturday night.  They were insurance against
stage fright or chickening out.

Houston, all systems are go and all lights are green!  This is the picture I tried to post Sunday without any success.  Now I know that the malfunction with Blogger.com and loading pictures has been repaired, so I’m taking the Kodak EasyShare with me to document the march.
My fellow bibliophile and collector of arcane knowledge Robert Nedelkoff is meeting us for lunch at 1:45 at Tonic at Quigley’s Pharmacy, a restaurant and bar located on G St., NW in Foggy Bottom.  It’s always good to see him; this will be our third in-person meeting, and I believe I will meet his wife Rene this time.  I have never heard of this eating establishment.  The building hasn’t been a pharmacy for years, but the name is too normal for a Washington, D.C. pharmacy.  Two chains (since defunct) in Washington had names that always brought a chuckle to me.  One was Drug Fair, which was absorbed by Walgreen last year.  (Drug Fair could also have been the name for Lafayette Park after dark.)  The other was Peoples Drug, which always made me think it was a huge methadone clinic.
Right now, I just glanced at my watch.  It’s 11:08 p.m., and Steve and Amelia will be coming around to pick me up soon.  I’m packing light–camera, diary, the latest New Yorker, and a copy of On the Road (my equivalent of carrying a St. Christopher’s medal, I suppose).  Just like the New Jersey trip, I will handwrite the blog in a pocket date book (scrambling around my desk to find one), and then post backdated entries in here, assuming Blogger.com’s ability to load pictures doesn’t crash while I’m gone.