"Death is the Only Excuse!"

I first heard this line over the P.A. system in high school, when a teacher was announcing an after-school club’s meeting where attendance was mandatory.  I did not care for it much at the time, but I’m finding it applicable to my current situation–my delinquency in posting to this blog.

My longtime friend Scott Robinson died unexpectedly last month, aged 49.  He had been a friend since shortly after my 1995 move to Columbus.  We knew each other mainly through Unitarian Universalism, and various political and social activities and organizations.  (I mention him several times in this blog, particularly our long walks.)  He died early on a Sunday morning, and I went to a packed memorial service for him at church the following Thursday.  (Scott took the picture of me that is at the title page of this blog.)

His death triggered a heavy, but barely functional depression.  I was able to keep going to work, although I’m sure my production was sub-par; I am not looking forward to my next quarterly evaluation.  After coming home from work daily, about all I wanted to do was sleep, so while Susie and I spent evenings in the living room, either watching DVDs of House or while she was online with her friends, I often slept for much of the evening stretched out (as best I could) on the love seat.

The downward spiral stopped because of something you would not associate with curing (or at least arresting) depression.  Even though it was the first day of the vernal equinox here in Columbus, the mercury was below freezing, and the heavy winds made it feel even colder.  Our furnace picked that night to conk out on us.  I had it up to 85 degrees at one point, and the furnace made all the knocking and whooshing sounds, but there was no heat coming up from the registers.  So, Susie and I sat around in sweatshirts and coats, and she kept a space heater close to her.  With my fingers turning blue and bent from the cold (okay, this is a little hyperbolic), I texted the property manager, and we made plans about his going in to look at the furnace.  All the while, I was hoping that the problem was relatively simple.  I was simultaneously expecting and hoping that the property manager would give me hell for calling him in to relight the pilot light.

As it turned out, this furnace uses no pilot light.  The manager said the furnace had a bad igniter, but he repaired it and we once again had heat.

I think the reason my depression lifted was because, once the furnace stopped working, I knew that it was from no ineptitude of my own.  Too many times in the past, if I came home to a house where the electricity didn’t work or there was no heat, it would be because I had neglected to pay a bill, and the service was discontinued.  This time, I knew I was solvent with rent, that my payments to Columbia Gas were current, and so the lack of heat’s cause was mechanical, not financial.

Susie is not looking forward to the end of spring break Monday.  She is back from a week in Florida with Steph, where they went clothes-shopping, and visited the zoo and bookstores.  Sometime in May, her drama class at The Charles School is performing Twelfth Night, so three afternoons a week she is at rehearsal.

During her week in Florida, I “indulged” in a “wild bachelor weekend.”  The definition of “wild weekend” varies as you get older, or when you discard various pharmacological forms of entertainment.  When Susie was a toddler, she and Steph went for a week to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.  I had used up all my paid leave because of Steph’s first heart surgery and recovery, so I stayed behind in Columbus.  My “wild weekend” involved ordering in from Donato’s and watching all three Godfather movies in a row.

So, what did I do this time, besides neglect the blog?  I laid out my fledgling collection of 78 RPM records on the living room floor and love seat, and did something a little OCD.  I made sure that Vocalion records were in Vocalion sleeves, that RCA Victor records were in RCA Victor sleeves, etc.  I had my laptop switched on, and the had the Online 78 RPM Discographical Project on the screen, but I didn’t check my collection against this vast and exhaustive database.  In the case of my Columbia LPs, there were more records than sleeves, so–against the advice of the owner and proprietor of Vintage Fountain Pens here in town (also a vinyl salesman)–I put them in the binder albums that a record store owner gave me.

Just your typical Saturday night in my house when Susie is out of town–sorting out 78 RPM albums and putting them in the proper sleeves.

 Not the most fascinating way to spend the weekend, but the solitude made it easier.  Laying the records on the floor when there were two of us in the house risked someone stepping on them (I confess I lost two records this way.  It may be sour grapes, but judging from the titles, they probably sounded better being stepped on than played), so this was a project best done alone.

Once the weather is consistently in the 60s, trike rides are going to be the norm, and not the exception.  Even after a decent night’s sleep, I am very slow in getting out of bed in the morning (a lifelong habit), so I really need to pre-plan when I would ride the trike in to work.  I restarted taking lithium this winter, but have stopped because it’s causing me to gain too much weight, and regular trike rides should help bring down the excess poundage.

On the 29th of this month, I turn 50 years old.  I received an AARP card in the mail earlier this week, amist the other unasked-for mail, such as the MicroCenter catalog and an invitation to join AAA (as a non-driver, I have no need for it).

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Tach It Up, Tach It Up, Buddy Gonna Shut You Down

I realized that since posting about my birthday gift to myself–my 26″ Schwinn Meridian adult tricycle–I have not posted in this blog about it (or anything else!).  I vowed to wait until I had racked up some miles, and then report to those readers who have been waiting impatiently for news about my new vehicle.

The trike, sitting in my living room, before adding the front fender.

When last you tuned in, my neighbors D’Lyn and Luca had assembled the trike on my front porch, which was when we discovered it was minus the large bolt and washers necessary for holding on the front fender.  I sent an email to the bike company that night, and by the end of the week, there was a small padded envelope in my mailbox containing the missing hardware.

On the Saturday after my birthday, Susie was in Akron at a Unitarian Universalist youth conference, and I took advantage of the empty house for a day trip to Athens on GoBus, $21 round trip.  So, until the fender was on the front of the trike, I knew it would’t get any mileage.

Sunday morning, my co-worker Jeff came in from Reynoldsburg with an impressive tool kit, and he was at work on the fender as Susie’s ride dropped her off after returning from Akron.  (I knew my bike was in skilled hands.  Jeff’s late father owned a hardware store, and Jeff earned his allowance as a kid and teenager by assembling bikes.)

Once the fender was on, I took the trike for its maiden voyage.  I think the Wright Brothers stayed in motion longer than I did.  They managed a 12-second, 120-foot flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and I think my first trip on the trike was less than that.  I got on, wobbled a little bit, and almost capsized it because of my old habits from my limited bike-riding experience.  As I got to the end of the block, I tried to lean into a turn.  I haven’t been on a bicycle since high school, but I haven’t been on a tricycle for over 45 years, so I had forgotten all I had to do was turn the wheel.

I was still a little wobbly on my first ride.  In Two Years Before the Mast, Moby-Dick, and the Horatio Hornblower novels, they always talk about getting your sea legs, and Mr. Scott on Star Trek has mentioned getting your space legs.  I had yet to get my trike legs, because on my first trip back, I very narrowly missed hitting a tree.  I was only going a few miles an hour, so I would not have been injured if I had hit the tree, but it was very close.  As Dan Rather would have said, “Look at that!  Can’t get a cigarette paper between ’em!”

A day or two later, after work, I went down to the Olentangy Trail and embarked on several trips back and forth.  I am still not ready for riding alongside heavy traffic, so my on-street riding has been mostly on the narrow one-way east-west streets in Olde North.  The trail is asphalt, with several turns and small rises.  I rode back and forth from Dodridge to Lane Ave. four or five times, turning around when I could see the curved roof of St. John Arena.  I would have gone further north than Dodridge, but the bridge over the Olentangy River is out, and my trike is too wide to get around all the sawhorses, barriers, and fences the City has erected to block the path at that point.

Until yesterday, I had to restrict myself to daytime riding.  Last night, my friend Scott called and told me he was buying me a set of lights for the trike, and giving me a helmet.  I had been riding minus a helmet, although I knew on some level that a bicycle enthusiast I knew in Marietta was right when he said he always wore a helmet “whether I’m going around the block or around the world.”  Commander William Riker said that Fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise.  I must fall in the first category.  Scott and I went to Target last night and he bought me the lights (I paid for the batteries, a 12-pack of AAAs).

Tonight I did not hit the Olentangy Trail, but went biking on the sidewalks in Olde North.  I did get some stares, but the trike handled well, and I got my second wind pretty quickly.  As a proud pedestrian, I had mounted my cyber soapbox in the past about bicyclists using the sidewalk.  I had even ended a post on Columbus Underground with “Ride your bikes in the street, assclowns!”  On paper at least, riding bicycles on the sidewalks is forbidden, but no one in the city (including bicycle cops) obeys that rule.  I would be petrified riding in traffic, so I have elected to ride on the sidewalks, at least for the foreseeable future.

Not that the sidewalks are 100% safe.  I have not had any run-ins (literally or otherwise) with pedestrians or parked cars, but the sidewalks in Olde North are often jagged, uneven, and cracked in many places, so I’ve taken some pretty hard bounces.  It is only after tonight’s ride that I’ve stopped sweating blood about whether I blew a tire.  (I had considered practicing in the alleys, but cars usually roar through those at high speeds, and they are strewn with gravel, broken glass, nails, and other hazards.)

Pedestrians have been courteous to me, and have stepped aside without any complaint, and I’ve resolved to be more respectful about riding on the sidewalks than many of the bicyclists I’ve encountered.  I think that an adult tricycle is such an anomaly that many people give me a wide berth just so they can get a better look at it.  (“Cargo bike” and “freight bike” are the other conventional phrases to describe my vehicle, although I overheard a kid on the Olentangy Trail call it a “geezer bike.”)

The accessory that I have yet to purchase is some kind of signalling device.  I have heard a lot on the merits of a bell versus a horn.  I thought about buying a standard ooga horn, although another person suggested I get a bell (for “thank you” and for greeting people) and a marine air horn, the type of signalling device that boats carry as distress signals.  (Anyone who has been to a professional hockey game has heard them.)  The air horn is very high on the decibel scale, but I am not sure that any pedestrian, with earbuds in and volume cranked, would hear anything less.

Hopefully, the sarcasm shines through in the title of this blog post.  I am hardly Marlon Brando when I am riding this trike.  (I definitely don’t look like any of the bikers in Scorpio Rising.)  It’s a single speed, which means I have to get out and push for a lot of inclines, although with time and experience, I’ll build up more strength in my legs.  When I was shopping online for a trike, I flirted with the idea of getting a trike with a magnesium frame (much lighter), but the cost was prohibitive, and I am well aware that the more aerobic the bike ride, the more it will benefit me in the long run.

More progress reports to come.  The trike is enough of a novelty that my landlord and my next-door neighbor both wanted to ride it up and down the block last Saturday when they saw me arrive on it.  Maybe I should charge for that.

Comfest 2010

Rumors abounded about how Comfest ’10–the annual “Party With a Purpose” in Goodale Park–would be different this year, or whether it would even happen at all.  During last year’s festival, an 18-year-old man stabbed himself to death (see Columbus Dispatch story posted here in the blog in a separate entry), and that cast a pall over the entire celebration.  It was the first fatality at the festival since the first one (in 1972), and the Internet was humming with rumors that it would be cancelled, that Goodale Park would be swarming with police officers, and that the police officers would more rigidly enforce laws than before.  (They’ve usually turned a blind eye, or issued friendly tsk-tsk-tsks, when they’ve encountered pot-smoking, in the past, but rumors abounded that police officers assigned to Goodale Park for the weekend were going to start kicking ass and taking names.)

I went Friday night, from about dusk until after midnight, and was in the park Saturday from early afternoon until the celebration officially ended at 10 p.m.  (That was one difference that was blatant: A set ending time for bands, vending, etc.  Even when these events ended in the past, there was usually something going on into the wee hours, including movies, where they’d show B movies–drive-in quality and below–on a bed sheet stretched between tree limbs.)

My friend Scott and I sampled the terrain Friday night.  Goodale Park was wall to wall with people when we arrived about 8:30, and police were visible everywhere.  They weren’t antagonistic toward the people at the festival, quite the opposite.  They’d say “hello,” were helpful with questions, and went with the flow of (pedestrian) traffic, trying to blend in as much as their uniforms would allow.

Dr. Lincoln Goodale gets his Comfest on,
and is more “stoned” than anyone there!

The beer lines were many people deep, and the smell of Cannabis sativa (intimately familiar to anyone who went to Ohio U.) was almost anywhere you turned.  The people were friendly, with “Happy Comfest!” greetings passing back and forth among strangers passing on walkways or on the grass.  It was a warm night, so the welcome sight of topless women, many of them sporting elaborately and painstakingly painted breasts, was everywhere.  I saw more topless women this weekend than at the Pride Festival last week.

The most memorable of these women would probably do quite well jumping out of a cake at an Ancient Order of Hibernians stag party.  Independence Day is just around the corner, but she was decked out in the garb of St. Patrick’s Day:

I know I used this line on Facebook, but I was proud
of it, so I’ll use it again: “I thought it was ‘Erin Go
Bragh,’ not ‘Erin, go bra-less!'”

When it was 11 p.m., Scott and I both wondered if there was going to be an announcement to “Proceed to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion, the park is now closed!” coming from the police.  There wasn’t.  The beer booths staggered (if you’ll pardon the expression) their closing times, so people would gradually leave, and so police and Comfest security could monitor fewer areas where people were leaving drunk.  (I don’t know what time they stopped selling beer tokens.)
Scott and I were never told to leave.  Both of us were sober, and not causing any trouble, so the police and Comfest personnel never said anything.  We walked around the park, talked to people, and stopped to rest at the stone tables and benches in the park.  Several groups of teenagers sat under trees in different sections of the park, most of them under the influence.  (Scott was pushing a two-wheel grocery cart, and one of the guys in the aforementioned groups was totally convinced he was pushing a stroller.)  I think if you were sober and not causing any problem, they weren’t in a hurry to shoo you out of the park.
Yesterday was sunny and warm, and the bands, poetry readings, vendors’ tables, and drum circles were in full swing.  One family played badminton, and I marveled at their ability to find enough square feet of vacant green space to accomplish this.  Unlike Pride Weekend, I saw no one foolhardy enough to swan dive into the pond, although many people (most of them teenagers) sat at the edge dangling their feet in the water.
One woman (who would only tell me her name was Z) would be quite upset if they ever pulled the plug on Comfest.  She is pregnant with her third child, and has plans for this one to be a Comfest habitué.  She advertised her intentions on her belly:
The little voice balloon pointing to the
baby says, “Party in the belly.”  The
face of Comfest Future.

There were minor emergencies all over the park all weekend.  An emergency squad truck stood by at all times, and a fully manned first-aid station was open for the duration.  The only time I saw anyone needing medical attention was when I saw a guy huddled on the ground with his girlfriend bending over him, looking very concerned.  My first thought was that he had just fallen asleep on the ground, like many other people did wherever they could find enough shade.  As it turned out, he had been chugging beer almost nonstop and hadn’t thought to keep himself hydrated.  When you have access to beer, who wants a no-fun liquid like water, right?  Two police officers managed to bring him around.  I don’t think they had the squad take him to the OSU Medical Center.  They probably told him to lay off the beer and start drinking lots of water (and maybe Gatorade to get his electrolytes where they belong).  He’s probably paying dearly for this today.
Most of the police were on foot, occasionally you saw one on a bicycle.  The Comfest safety personnel moved around the park on golf carts, many of them (especially after dark) with the care and respect for others’ safety exhibited by kamikaze pilots.  (I saw more than one person driving golf carts while holding cups of beer.  That makes me turn a jaundiced eye at the official statements about not driving home from Comfest if you’ve overindulged.)
Comfest after dark, Saturday night.
Soon after nightfall, I felt intermittent raindrops here and there, but no steady downpour.  The sky still looked relatively clear, even though the park was briefly illuminated by a lightning flash once in awhile, none of them followed by thunder.
Saturday’s activities officially ended at 10 p.m., and the bands (especially the Bozo Stage–the main one) ended their sets no later than 9:45.  This was fortunate, because they had turned off all their microphones and equipment by the time the thunderstorm and downpour hit, almost at the stroke of 10.  People first began to move under trees, but that meant risking a lightning strike.  The little shelters and makeshift canopies became very popular very quickly.  I waited with several others under several of them, waiting until a break came in the rain and then dashing to another shelter just ahead of the next cloudburst, until it was dry enough for me to make my way to High Street and catch a bus back to Clintonville and home.
Waiting for a break in the rain and thunder.

Two religious groups were quite prominent at Comfest this year, and they struck me as wonderful people.  One was Ekklesia, a small non-denominational house of worship whose main church is a small property on Buttles Ave.  Their beliefs are distinctly Trinitarian, but their mission is to those who have been ignored, vilified, or marginalized by more mainline evangelical denominations.  I have walked past their church several times, and knew they were good people when they hung a Lenny Bruce quotation in their front window: “Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”  Recently, I stumbled on a YouTube video about their outreach to my erstwhile neighborhood, Franklinton.  The video, Bringing Faith to Franklinton, is linked here.  Ekklesia also generously gave away Frisbees, cold bottles of water, Sierra Mist, and Faygo, as well as bumper stickers.  I have no bumper, but I took home one that said, When Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” I think he probably meant don’t kill them, which my friend Jacques sports on the bumper of his car.  (I’ve wondered if the Gideons should be allowed to hand out New Testaments on military bases.  If the soldiers starting reading them, there’d be desertions en masse.)

The other group went around the festival, two young men and a woman, wearing cardboard signs around their necks that said “FREE HUGS–HFTR.”  After taking advantage of the free hugs, I asked what HFTR meant.  It stands for Hope for the Rejected, “a community of believers within the underground subculture.”  My initial thought is to admire what they claim to be doing–sharing faith “through our friendships and exemplified by our actions,” but many destructive and faith-destroying religious cults began with generous invitations and love-bombing.  Initial Googling hasn’t brought up any complaints or adverse anecdotes.  They have not cut the horrible swath through families, relationships, and careers that the University Bible Fellowship considers a sacrament, no one is signing over all their worldly goods to HFTR, and no family has tried to “deprogram” a loved one involved in it.  But all fringe religious groups will reach out especially to anyone who feels rejected, and a person who thinks he/she is drowning will reach for any rope extended, even if it’s going around his/her neck.

Here is the card they gave me:

The Comfest theme this year was “Live every day the Comfest way.”  That would be murder on many peoples’ livers, but I understand the applaud the overall idea of such a slogan.

A Weekend Quite Short on Sleep, But Who Had Time?

Saturday morning and afternoon was one of those days when I logged quite a few miles without ever leaving the Columbus city limits.  To a bank on High Street to cash a check, then on the long journey to the West Side to pay a bill, and then to the library.  I’m almost always thankful that I don’t drive, but never more than when I have to make these junkets to run different errands on far-away ends of town.  Susie had dinner with one of her godmothers on Saturday evening, and Steph pretty much stayed home for the entire weekend.  I took advantage of the long bus ride to begin Steve Thayer’s novel Moon Over Lake Elmo, which I’m sure will be good, since I enjoyed The Weatherman and Silent Snow so much.

Saturday night lasted well into Sunday morning, and my friend Scott and I were witnesses to a quasi-historic occasion in Columbus.  We were on hand at the first Columbus World Naked Bike Ride, an event that has happened annually in England, Canada, and more enlightened U.S. cities.  Neither of us rode, nor did we get totally naked, but we were there to support the protest against excess dependence on oil and to celebrate the human body in all its glory.

As opposed to the OSU/AXE Undie Run last month, this event did not receive any publicity at all.  Police were notified that there would be scantily clad (and possibly unclad) people on bicycles and other human-propelled vehicles headed from the Short North to downtown and around the Arena District and back north. However, I did not see a squad car, there were no TV mobile units, and E. 5th Ave. (where the Third-Hand Bicycle Cooperative‘s headquarters are) looked so deserted at first that Scott and I wondered if the event had been cancelled.

But it hadn’t been, even though a heavy rain was falling.  At first, the Co-Op’s garage was almost deserted, except for a few guys sharing tools, bicycle advice, and a bottomless supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon (Scott and I were one of the few teetotalers that night).  It looked just like a typical bike shop.

All that changed starting around 10:30-10:45 p.m.  Bike-riders (and riders of other vehicles) began arriving, and soon paintbrushes and tubes of acrylic paint were in demand as much as wrenches and calipers.  Although Scott and I were by far the oldest people there–the oldest of this crowd was probably 15 years younger than we were–we felt welcomed.  Some women just removed their shirts, and wore sports bras or halter tops, although several women rode topless, and men were mostly in tight briefs, jockstraps, or thongs.  Most of the topless women took advantage of the free body-painting, and the designs ranged in complexity from museum-quality work (executed in a very short time!) to simple line drawings.  I overheard one topless woman in the parking lot asking her friend how she should be painted, and I jokingly suggested she should have the BP logo painted on her.  When she emerged from the crowded, chaotic garage, I saw that she indeed have a shield painted above her breasts, with the big “BP” painted in the middle.

Several men did strip completely, which I am not sure is wise from a safety standpoint if you’re a bike-rider.  The only woman who shed all her clothes was a pixie-like woman of 20 who arrived wearing nothing but a porous white shawl and a black thong, both of which she took off for the ride, and which remained off for the rest of the night.  (She shouted, “I love you!” and blew kisses to each pedestrian she met en route to and from, I heard.)

I was astonished to see that the ride actually took off at 11:59 p.m., as planned.  Even at 11:50 p.m., there were many people crowded into the garage awaiting body paints, tools for last-minute adjustments to their bikes, etc., that I wondered how they were going to leave on time.  I wasn’t sure when they would return, because I knew this was a ride, and not a race.  Because of the falling rain and wet pavement, no one was encouraging speed.

Scott and I lingered in the Short North, after making a vain car trip southward to see if we could “catch ’em on the flip-flop”, as the CB radio enthusiasts used to say.  By the time we got back to E. 5th and Hamlet, the wet and exuberant naked riders had begun to arrive.  That was when they adjourned to a warehouse in the alley behind the Co-Op, a nondescript white building that looked like a small airplane hangar.  The warehouse now served as a clubhouse and impromptu dance hall.

We stayed until nearly 4 a.m., and spoke with many people, watched people in varying degrees of intoxication attempt the climbing wall, and made frequent trips outside for air.  The building was not well ventilated, and most of the people there smoked, so we went out into the alley, both to breathe and to be able to talk without having to scream over music.

The whole event was memorable and idyllic for me, but what stands out in my mind were one or two specific incidents.  Someone found hula hoops in a storage area, and one woman managed to maintain, without losing any momentum, her hoop around her waist for quite some time.  If I had the laptop with me, or a cell phone that accessed the Internet, I would have checked with The Guinness Book of World Records to see if there was a standing record for topless hula-hooping.

I had brought a camera along, but never took it out of Scott’s glove compartment, since I didn’t know any of the people at the gathering.  Around 3:30-3:45 a.m., there was a Kodak moment in the alley that I will regret never capturing.

Many of the people there tried out bikes they had never seen or ridden before.  One person had ridden a tall bike, and a woman at the party wanted to try it out by riding it back and forth in the alley.  (The bike reminded me of those penny-farthing bikes that were popular in the 1880s, minus the huge front wheel.)  After some difficulty, she was able to climb in the bike’s saddle (see picture, courtesy of Wikipedia) and make some initially shaky progress down the alley.

A car came down the alley, and there was a man in his late 50s or early 60s behind the wheel.  I wish I had captured the look on his face–the wide eyes and the perfect O of his mouth–when he looked out in front of him and there’s this gigantic bike in the beam of his headlights, and riding it is this rather well endowed woman wearing nothing but a smile and a pair of bike shorts.  He would have needed CPR if he had glanced inside the entrance of the warehouse to see the party going on there.

My friend Steve Palm-Houser writes a bicycling column for The Examiner.com.  He was unable to come to the ride, since he and his wife were in Chicago, but he pumped me for information on Monday, and here is his article:  Columbus Cyclists Join World Naked Bike Ride.  You can imagine how much arm-twisting it took on his part to get me to go and be his eyes and ears to this event!

I found out about the Naked Bike Ride when I saw
this card at the Weber Market one night.

Only in Clintonville can you have a schedule like this: Sat 10 p.m.-Sun. 4:30 a.m.–World Naked Bike Ride and party.  Sun 12:30 p.m.–Church Annual Meeting.  Sun 5:00 p.m.–Picnic at Whetstone Park with Susie’s youth group.

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
awe.

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,
actually.)

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