Last Quiet Moments for Awhile

Today is May 31, the day I call the Diarists’ Holy Day of Obligation, but, May 31 or no, I am posting tonight because this is the last day of relative quiet and inactivity I will have for the next three or four days.

I will make the obligatory Samuel Pepys reference by showing a picture of the six manuscript volumes of his diary, now housed at Magdalene College:

With that out of the way, I will go on to explain why this weekend is going to be packed to the rim with activity and emotion.

Susie will be reading her Faith Statement at a potluck Saturday evening at church.  She has been on two weekend retreats, and met with her fellow Coming of Age students on Sunday mornings for much of the year.  Like the journalist she hopes to become, she was at the keyboard finishing up the statement as the hands of the clock grew later and later.  If that wasn’t enough, the world premiere of Steph’s play, TeenTalk.com debuted Tuesday night at The Graham School, and Susie was one of the actors.  (See below YouTube file for the finished product–complete with cameo appearances by the P.A. system.)

For Unitarian Universalist adolescents, Coming of Age is the equivalent of bat mitzvah or Confirmation.  In true UU fashion, logistics and scheduling went down almost to the wire, with a blizzard of emails going back and forth between mentors, ministers, kids, parents, etc.  On Sunday morning, Susie will be reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go! at the 10 a.m. service.

But there’s more.  Steph and her partner, Mike, are en route here by way of car and Amtrak from the Space Coast of Florida even as I speak type.  At the same time, Steph’s father, Ray, aged 84, is headed here from Milwaukee by Greyhound, and will be arriving about 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.  This will be the first time I have seen Ray in at least six years, and the first time I have seen Steph in over a year, and the first time I have met Mike.  Much has changed in all this time, and I think we’ll all be treading lightly until we finally feel comfortable.  (Steph and I talk almost daily by IM and email, and sometimes by phone, and are more of a united front as parents than we were when we lived together.)

The first rainfall in over a week is going on right now.  Before I started typing, I ran outside (when it was still sprinkling, and not raining hard, as it is now) and put a blue 12′ × 12′ plastic pool cover over the trike.  I doubt one good rain will ruin the trike, but nonetheless I hurried out there to cover it.  I must be like the owner of a new car, who dies a million deaths the first time he sees a scratch, no matter how microscopic, on his beloved vehicle.

At the same time, I know I should not be complaining about how hectic this weekend will be.  Susie will be going to Florida with Steph for the summer, and I probably will not see her until mid-August.  This means I’ll have about 10-12 weeks of quiet and time to myself.  Time will tell if that translates into a renewal of my long-moribund mental energy to write–poetry, blogs, diaries, or anything else.  I will be back at the bookstore Monday night, for at least the coming week, as summer quarter is just around the corner at Columbus State Community College.

Susie went on Graham’s class trip to Cedar Point today.  She had to be at school an hour earlier than normal.  I was still getting dressed when I heard her shutting the front door and sprinting toward the bus stop.  Yesterday was the last day of school, and Susie greeted me with the news that she is now a sophomore… not that there was any doubt in my mind.

Another semi-noteworthy event I’ll share.  I received a package yesterday containing the Sears Silvertone AM radio I bought on eBay.  It’s currently sitting on my night table, which is too cluttered right now to be photo-worthy.  I combed the Internet for months for the same model I remember seeing in our house when I was a kid.  Dad bought it when he was a student at the Catholic University of America in the late 1940s, and I used it on and off for much of my life.

As prone to coincidence as I am, the first thing I did when I took the radio out of the box was check the underside.  I last saw Dad’s radio on my desk when I left home in 1982, and it was nowhere to be found when he died in 2000.  When I was a child, I scribbled on the underside of the radio with a crayon, and apparently it was indelible.  My first thought was that I had ended up with his radio again.  This was not the case this time.

When I was younger, the clock lit up in an eerie orange, and the words MAGIC GLOW rimmed the lower part of the dial.  By the time I left home, the clock no longer glowed.  This is true with the model that arrived yesterday, but the clock still keeps time.  I moved the AM dial around from low to the high end, and could barely pick up 610 WTVN, and only then with plenty of static.  I’m sure the radio has seen better days, and I am not going to expend any mental energy constructing an antenna.  I’m just glad to have this radio and this model by the bed.

Advertisements

Gotta Post Today

For those of you who conscientiously follow my blog (kind of like Fritz the Nite Owl’s “14 viewers out there in the darkness,” you know May 31 is kind of a holy day of obligation for me.  On this day in 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote the final entry in the diary he began New Year’s Day 1660.  According to my computer clock, it is almost four hours into May 31.  Since it is impossible for me to sleep right now, I’m here at the keyboard blogging.

Pepys’ diary, describing the Great Fire of London in September 1666.

The temperature right now is 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the coolest it’s been in the past 36 hours or so.  The current relative humidity is 84%, and the air conditioner is not working right now.  That’s one of the reasons I’m not sleeping right now.

Another is that I napped for much of the afternoon.  Susie and I share a Sprint 4G wireless card (much more cost-effective than a cable router), and in the afternoon, she came home from the playground vowing not to go out again the rest of the day, because of the heat.  So, while she was online, I went up to my bedroom and stretched out on the bed to read.  The next thing I knew, it was late afternoon, and Susie was knocking on the door to announce she had just made a pot of spaghetti.  (I was not going to ask her to, because of the heat.)

Possibly the fact that I drank about half of a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi tonight may have something to do with my current wakefulness.  That is doubtful, and I don’t say that facetiously.  My caffeine consumption is so heavy that I’ve built up quite a bit of tolerance to its effects.

So, that is why I’m sitting here in the front room in my shorts, with the laptop screen lit before me, my two fingers tappety-tapping across the keyboard, and the Alan Parsons Project’s “You Don’t Believe” sounding from my speakers.  (I am keeping the volume low, since Susie has taken over the master bedroom, directly above this room.)

Today was a good day to make only occasional visits to Facebook and the ‘Net anyway.  Most (but not all) recycled the same Memorial Day pictures and treacle ad nauseam.  (John Fugelsang was correct when he posted, “The best way to honor veterans is to stop creating new ones.”)  Plus, many people are up in arms about Jim Tressel’s resignation as Ohio State’s head football coach.  I was told to “GO TO HELL!!” by one Marietta High School classmate because I wondered if Tressel needed to resign so he could write another book about integrity and faith in God to live one’s life.  (Even the most die-hard fan has to get a chuckle out of the title of Tressel’s book Life Promises for Success: Promises from God on Achieving Your Best.)

Later in the evening, I felt that I had to remind my Facebook friends that Monday was the day Jim Tressel resigned.  The calendar does not say December 7, 1941; it does not say November 22, 1963; it most certainly does not say September 11, 2001.

And how do I feel about Tressel’s resignation?  I remember a December 1986 editorial in The New Republic about the Iran-Contra scandal, when it looked like bad times were ahead for the Reagan Administration.  The author of “TRB in Washington” summed up my feelings about Reagan, and I echo them now regarding Jim Tressel:

Dear me.  Am I really the only one here who’s having a good time?  Dry those tears and repeat after me: Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

I managed just one walk tonight, and it was more out of necessity than a desire to exercise.  I walked to the Giant Eagle on Neil Avenue (about 1.7 miles) just before dark.  There is a Kroger less than 10 minutes away (on foot), but it is becoming a ghost town.  The new store, on the same site, is close to completion, and so, as they run out of items, nobody is restocking the shelves.  It’s been known as Kro-ghetto for quite some time in the neighborhood, and a friend of mine has been mugged at least twice in the parking lot.  So, apparently the solution is to let everything run out, and then close the store at the end of this week, and reopen it in the new building come July.  The new building is starting to look like something finally, and the current building will be razed so they’ll have more parking space.

I just question the wisdom of building a high-end store (with a butcher shop, fresh fish area, delicatessen, wine section, etc.) in this neighborhood.  Who patronizes this Kroger currently?  Mostly students, people on food stamps, pensioners, and immigrants who come to this Kroger because it’s within walking distance of campus, Weinland Park, and Harrison West.  Many of these folks aren’t all that rich.  (I use my Kroger Plus card with each visit, but that’s often a waste, because I accumulate beaucoup fuel perks, but, being a non-driver, I have no occasion to redeem them.)

It’s now about an hour from sunrise.  I walk Susie to the bus stop at 6:30 (a guarantee that the bully I mentioned in a previous entry leaves her alone), which means I set my alarm for 6.  I’m not really tired, although I’m sure I expended some energy here at the keyboard.  Wondering if lying down, even for a little while, is a waste.

My "Cut for the Stone" Anniversary

Last year, I got many people’s hopes up when I said “They’re going to remove my gall–” and I see the disappointment when I finished the word “–bladder.”  I have enough gall for 10 people, so the news that I was going to have a cholecystectomy was anticlimactic.  Exactly a year ago, at this time, I was back home from Grant Hospital, watching Criminal Minds and taking oxycodone.  I awoke in my own bed that morning with a gallbladder–complete with stone.  Twelve hours later, I was home, and the stone was in a small, orange-lidded plastic jar (where it sits right now, right in front of me).  I slept in my own bed that night.

Here is the account of the actual experience, written two days later on my old LiveJournal account.  I’m not celebrating the event with the same intensity as when Samuel Pepys (a hero to all diarists) celebrated being “cut for the stone”.  His procedure, removing stones from his urinary bladder, was in 1657 with no anesthesia and no sterile equipment.  (Pepys ended up sterile because of the operation, but the instruments most definitely were not.)

A year later, I have to look to find the scars.  Had I undergone the procedure about 40 years ago, I would have recovered in the hospital for about a week afterwards, and I would have borne a very visible scar for the rest of my life.

President Lyndon Johnson shows off his gallbladder surgery scar.  One journalist said, “Thank God he didn’t have a hemorrhoidectomy!”  LBJ opened the door for Dan Rather to show cross sections of Reagan’s colon and prostate on the CBS Evening News during the 1980s.

About all I did to celebrate was take off from work 2½ hours early.  It wasn’t to mark the event, but because there was so little to do.  I’ve begun the Books on Tape recording of William Landay’s The Strangler, and I’m on the third disk (of 11), but I couldn’t listen to it while I re-indexed scanned documents (a very hazardous task–the death rate from boredom rivals fatalities in coal mines) because my headphones disappeared sometime during the evening yesterday.  Luckily, no doctors’ reports were in the on-deck circle for me to transcribe.  I took some mini-walks.  The ice storm seems to be behind us (this one, anyway), but there are still many sidewalks that are rough and slippery.  I’m still fall-free so far, but each time I lose my balance, even for a microsecond, I’m less sure I’ll be able to right myself before going down.  Clintonville’s electricity only returned this evening, which means Susie will be back in school for the first time since Monday.

Holy Day of Obligation for Diarists

Samuel Pepys, we who are about to blog salute thee!  On this date, in 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote the final entry in his diary.  He was a member of the English Parliament and Naval Administrator under Charles II, and discontinued his journal (begun New Year’s Day 1660) because he feared (mistakenly) he was going blind.  So, every May 31 is the day that I feel I must post a blog entry, or write in my holographic diary, even if I abandon it all other times.

I started my first real diary on New Year’s Day 1974, when I was in fifth grade.  As a belated Christmas gift, my dad bought me a blank diary (blue cover with My Diary One Year on the cover, and a lock.  The lock was as impenetrable as Fort Knox unless you had a bobby pin.)  He bought me the diary at Sugden’s Book Store in downtown Marietta, and for the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s, I was itching to start writing in it.
I made my first entry New Year’s afternoon, as we were driving back from Richmond, Va. to Marietta.  We had gone there on December 28 to be with my aunt (my mother’s older sister) Jean and her family while her husband Roger was in the cardiac care unit of a Richmond hospital, undergoing treatment for the congestive heart failure that would take his life the following spring.
That diary, along with all the ones from 1974 to 1989, is long gone, since I stored them in a storage locker and never maintained the payments.  I distinctly remember writing the first entry with a dull pencil, even including a dateline (“Somewhere in Virginia,” which sounds like a Union Army dispatch to the War Department during the Civil War), writing about Uncle Roger’s return to Intensive Care, watching the ball drop at Times Square on the television, and how hard it was to find a gas station that was open.
I was hooked from then on.  My friends (particularly my male ones) thought it weird, but it was just another proof that I was completely nuts and 100% different from them.  (When I had friends staying over, or if I spent the night with them, they were respectful when I would get out the diary and a pen and go off by myself just long enough to fill a page.)  I even defended it with words I echoed from my dad: “You like to watch Star Trek, don’t you?  Well, when Captain Kirk does his captain’s log, that’s his diary.  Besides [I added, doubly righteously], the most famous diary in the world was kept by a man!”  It did take me a long time to get over the picture of the girl lying on her stomach writing when I heard the word “diary,” however.
I haven’t maintained a perfect day-to-day record, even in the many volumes that were lost.  I have gone days, weeks, and months between entries.  Overall, I am a pretty conscientious diarist.  I have used a variety of books as diaries.  Growing up, every Christmas I received a new one-year book (never another one with a lock), but when I was 16, I began to use blank books that were not predated, so I wouldn’t be confined to a page per day.  I varied in book types then, too, ranging from big red legal ledgers to spiral notebooks.
For most of my 20s, I used bonded leather blank books (usually the Anything Book brand), with the occasional stenographer’s notebook or appointment diary thrown in for variety, plus whatever books I received as Christmas or birthday gifts–when in doubt, get Paul a journal, was the wisdom.
From about age 35 on, I have–with some exceptions–written in simple composition books, inspired mainly by movies such as Se7en, Joe Gould’s Secret, and Henry Fool, where major characters make liberal use of composition books.  They’re cheap (often about $1 at places like Family Dollar) and much more durable than many of the more expensive variety.  That is the type of book I am now using.  (The current 200-page Mead composition book is 70% full, and its successor sits in my desk drawer right now.)  I have received expensively bound blank books with parchment pages, but they’re so beautiful you almost feel guilty marking the page.  Plus, I have good penmanship, but I can’t write without lines–the words go downhill almost immediately if I write on an unruled page.)
Steph vowed several years ago she had stopped reading my diaries.  There was no higher principle involved–the matters of trust and secrecy.  She had read them when she thought I may have had something to hide, or if there was something on my mind that I wasn’t sharing, but she quit for a much more practical reason.
“Your diary is boring!” she said.  She read page after page of my rehashing of a union meeting and its aftermath, where I would write something like:

John seems to think that this policy will help with the mandatory overtime, and he thinks that they should be adding five more people per shift per area.  I told him that he’d be playing right into Management’s hands if he did that, because they’ll be accusing the union (and I’m not sure they’d be wrong) of deliberate featherbedding, which will bite us in the ass come contract time.

 Steph’s remark that my diary was/is boring may well be true, but at the time neither of us knew much about the Reverend Robert Shields (1918-2007), a retired United Church of Christ minister in Washington State who kept a very detailed diary of literally everything that happened to him from 1972 until a 1997 stroke made the job impossible.  I first heard of him in a “News of the Weird” column in 1996:

According to a Seattle Times feature in March, Robert Shields, 77, of Dayton, Wash., is the author of perhaps the longest personal diary in history–nearly 38 million words on paper stored in 81 cardboard boxes–covering his last 24 years in five-minute increments.  Example: July 25, 1993, 7 a.m.: “I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.”  7:05 a.m.: “Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine.  Used 5 sheets of paper.”

I thought this had to be a joke or hoax, until shortly after Shields’ death, when excerpts from this mammoth diary were published on National Public Radio’s Website:

 One of the more exciting pages I could find in
Rev. Shields’ magnum opus.  Click on the
image to read the entries more easily.

This entry was written on my 31st birthday.

I bought a small white one-year diary at a junk store years ago for about a quarter, and used it for appointments, etc. until it disappeared with the coat where I carried it.  Most of the pages were blank, so I was able to fill in appointments under the appropriate preprinted dates.  There were a few penciled entries, such as “Me and Donnie told jokes at class today walked home there’s a good chiller movie on TV tonight.”
During my white-tornado blitz cleaning of the office the past few days, I christened the finished project with pictures from my new Kodak digital camera (see last entry).  One of the shots I made was of my own diaries.  This isn’t even complete, since some of the volumes are locked in my desk at work:
These are more or less in chronological order.
The current volume stays with me, so I can
write in it whenever the urge strikes me.

Just before Steph went to The Cleveland Clinic for her heart surgery, she made out a last will and testament.  I realize now I should have done the same thing, both as a gesture of solidarity and as a practical matter.  (I should have made one out when I got married, and again when Susie was born.)  I have no vast financial holdings–my net worth can be calculated by what’s in my wallet when I die, plus how many pennies are in the jar in my office, so I don’t have that many assets to distribute.  If I died intestate (as I am now), Steph and Susie would automatically inherit everything.  However, I do plan to bequeath my diaries to either Alden Library at Ohio University or the Ohioana Library here in Columbus–can’t decide which.
Whichever place finally gets the honor, I do have daydreams of the day they arrive, when the librarians march all my diaries around the facility in procession and people touch their garments to them.
Steph puts up no objection to my diaries ending up in a library vault somewhere–they didn’t interest her when I am alive, after all.  In this, she was probably a lot like Evelyn Yates Inman, whose husband Arthur, a reclusive and hypochondriac poet, kept a 155-volume diary.  Arthur Crew Inman kept his record while living off inherited money in a Boston hotel, living as an invalid because of a long list of imaginary ailments.  He began the record in 1919 and ended it in December 1963, when he took his own life.  Professor Daniel Aaron of Harvard University began editing the 155 volumes and 17 million+ words in the 1980s, while I was working for The Crimson, and Harvard University Press published a very abridged version in 1985.  A movie, Hypergraphia, about Inman’s life, is currently in production.  This Website for Hypergraphia is the place to go for the background and news on the film.
I discovered this Website 100% by accident last month.  It’s one that makes me feel like I’m a little less alone in my fascination with notebooks, diaries, etc.  The title is Notebook Stories, and I feel like I have a personal kinship with everyone who posted there.  I used to think I was the only one who would go back into my burning house to rescue diaries and notebooks (once my daughter and wife were safely outside).
And while I’m on here:

I slept until almost noon, then I got up, took a shower, and dressed.  My friend Jacques took me to lunch at Cazuela’s Grill at N. High St. and W. Northwood Ave.  (Normally, he’d be in Mineral at the Feed My Sheep food pantry, but the pantry is closed today for Memorial Day.)  He drove me back home, I loaned him two or three issues of The Catholic Worker (poor is having to buy a Catholic Worker subscription on layaway). I took Susie to our friend’s apartment so she could feed and water the cats, then she and I came back home.  She may go swimming later, once we’re 100% sure the cloudbursts are finished for the day.  (It’s in the low 80s right now, and the pollen count is in the stratosphere.)
And then I came home and wrote this entry.