Hand and House News

Today marks my second day minus the wrist splint.  The doctor at the OSU Hand and Upper Extremity Center says that I should wean myself off of it, but I am so thankful that my hand is close to healed that I am going “cold turkey” away from it.  Not being to hold a pen, not being able to use silverware, and not being able to wear a glove on the cold days we have had recently (yes, even after the start of the vernal equinox)–none of this will I miss.  There is still some pain in my right wrist, when I try to bend my hand too far forward or backward, or to either side, but I think it will soon be gone.  I am able to keep it at bay with naproxen.

When I last blogged, I was in limbo about where I live.  In case you missed the last entry, I had just gotten my heat back after weeks of having to sleep in my clothes, wear layers of sweatshirts and jackets in the house, and place unreturned phone calls to the property manager.  (If there had been no forward motion about the dead furnace, I was going to print off a copy of Section 5321.04(6) of the Ohio Revised Code, which deals with landlord responsibilities, and enclose it with my next rent check.  That was when I learned that the landlord had washed his hands of the place by neglecting his property taxes.)  The property was on the verge of being sold at sheriff’s auction when a new owner and property manager stepped up to the plate, bought the place, waterproofed the basement, and replaced the furnace.

About two weeks later, I played a voice mail message on my phone at work.  The new owner wanted to increase the rent to $1200 per month, which was a jump of 43% over what I had been paying in the 2½ years I have called this half double my home.  (I realize this is incomprehensible for any readers who live in New York, Boston, or the San Francisco Bay Area, but for under $700 per month, I was renting a three-bedroom half double.)  This near-doubling of the rent is especially insane in a neighborhood like this, where entire houses rent for around $1000 per month.

I had first dibs on the place at the new place, but I knew it was not realistic to think I could afford such an increase.  The new owner said I could stay until the end of June (I had been month-to-month since October), but I immediately got online and began to look for a new place.  I was also going around the SoHud neighborhood, notepad and Pilot EasyTouch ballpoint in hand, jotting down any phone number on FOR RENT signs I encountered.  The latter was not an easy task with a hand in a splint.  Looking over the pages in my notebook right now, I am surprised my penmanship came out as legibly as it did.

Mercifully, the search was a short one.  Walking toward High St. late one afternoon, I saw a sign in the front yard of a half double on E. Blake Ave.  I called the number on the sign, and made a date to meet the owner the next day after work.

And I liked what I saw.  It’s only $20 a month more than what I am paying now, although it is two-bedroom, instead of three.  The floors are freshly varnished.  A washer and dryer combination is in the basement.  (I have been renting to own a set from Rent-A-Center.  There is a lot of truth to something FBI Agent Dale Cooper said in Twin Peaks: “Leasing may be the fast track to an appearance of affluence, but equity will keep you warm at night.”)  Furnace and central air are brand new and flawless.  And the owner is current with property taxes and mortgage payments.  (He and his wife did live in my half of the duplex, but they’ve moved to a bigger place in Beechwold, since they plan on having children in the near future.)

The owner agreed to rent it to me after about 15 minutes of conversation, and he faxed me a lease the next day.  The big day will be April 1, when I meet him and he gives me the key.

Susie has been spending spring break with me, and has enjoyed everything except the weather.  I came close to blogging about my good fortune in finding affordable new living quarters as soon as I had sealed the deal, but I reined myself in so I could surprise Susie by pointing out the new place as we walked by it.  (She still has not seen the interior.  She will be returning to Florida late Sunday afternoon, and I do not get the key until Tuesday.)

The only planned “special” activity that Susie and I did was visiting COSI (the Center of Science and Industry) on Sunday afternoon.  While we were emailing and IMing back and forth about Susie’s spring break visit, I mentioned the Sherlock Holmes exhibit at COSI, and both of us wanted to see it.  We were both underwhelmed.  My favorite part was the mock-up of the interior of 221B Baker St., and it was complete, right down to the Holmes mannequin in the window (to fool a criminal into thinking Holmes was actually there when he wasn’t), to the “VR”–Victoria Regina–spelled out in bullet holes above the fireplace.  (When bored, Holmes would resort to either cocaine or indoor marksmanship.  I am not sure if he ever combined the two.)  Holmes’ file of correspondence was where it was in the stories.  It was pinned to the fireplace mantle with a jackknife.  The exhibit was the first time I had ever seen original editions of The Strand magazine, where many of the short stories (and a serialized Hound of the Baskervilles) first appeared, and, almost as rare as a Gutenberg Bible or a Shakespeare First Folio was a copy of Beeton’s Christmas Annual, where Holmes first debuted in A Study in Scarlet.

The exhibit was not worth the $56 I paid for two tickets.  As for the interactive part of the exhibit, the mystery-solving was on a par with “It was Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick.”

I will have the façade of wealth throughout the month of April.  I have paid the April rent at my soon-to-be-former home, so during that month I will have two residences!  This is purely for practical reasons, so I can move over piecemeal, especially the more cumbersome job of moving the books and records.  (I had a modest assortment of LPs when I moved here in the fall of 2011, and that has quadrupled–at least!–and then there are all the 78s.  I have imposed a moratorium on buying books and records until the move has started, to lessen what needs to be moved.)  I will save the furniture until the very end, and will probably hire a professional mover for that.  (Moving books is the only time I will ever wish I had a Nook!)

This is a still from The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and what I envision every time I have to move.  This time, however, I am hoping to stay put for the foreseeable future.  (My new landlord seems more conscientious than my last one.)

Susie, a friend of hers, and I walked to dinner at the Blue Danube tonight.  We passed the new place en route, and were happy to see that the FOR RENT sign was gone from the front yard.  I am looking forward to the exchange next Tuesday (I give him a cashier’s check, he gives me the key), although I wish the move was already behind me.  I’ll feel much better once I am actually settled into the new place.

Farewell to a Kidney Stone of a Year…

I am so happy to see that the balance of 2013 can now be measured in hours.  I will be going to a party in my neighborhood later on tonight, and seeing that ball drop on Times Square at the stroke of 12 midnight is going to feel like the front gate of a prison swinging all the way open.

I cannot take credit for the phrase “kidney stone of a year.”  I first saw it in a Doonesbury cartoon where the characters were toasting the end of the 1970s, a “kidney stone of a decade,” and “the worst of times.”  In addition to a two-liter or two of Diet Pepsi, one of the items I am bringing to the party will be a 2013 calendar.

As soon after midnight as is feasible, I am going to be setting the calendar on fire.  The coming year of the common era 2014 will be a blank book with 365 pages–and I’m quoting an Internet meme that has been making the rounds on Facebook the last day or two.

The low highlights of 2013 that made this such a shitty year are (in roughly chronological order):

  • The death of my friend Scott on March 10.  Scotty was younger than I am (by about six weeks), and we spoke of many subjects–both personal and otherwise–during the many long evening walks that we took, often braving varieties of weather, and often venturing into neighborhoods that neither of us knew very well.  The final chapter of Scotty’s life was this fall, in the Memorial Garden at the Unitarian Universalist Church, when we all took turns scattering his ashes among the greenery in the garden.  (This is the same garden where my mother’s memorial service took place in 2008, although we did not scatter her ashes there.  Unlike Scotty, my mother had alienated so many people that she was seen out of this world mainly in the presence of strangers.)
  • The aortic aneurysm.  I have not reveled in the myth that I am immortal since I was a teenager, and I know that statistically there are more years behind me than there are ahead of me, but discovering in May that there was something wrong, something tangible, something visible on an X ray and a CT scan, drove the point home that yes, I am mortal.  As things stand now, the aneurysm is not getting any larger, and I don’t need to have another CT scan until next November, but still there is a part of me that wonders if it will burst.  (The way of telling that an aortic aneurysm has burst is actually quite simple: If I wake up in the morning, it has not burst.)  Part of me is surprised that I have made it to 50, since I have never been a role model for self-care, with my earlier abuse of alcohol and my current caffeine overuse–plus the fact that I am overweight, with a cholesterol level that resembles a ZIP code.  I have already lived longer than Mozart, Jack Kerouac, and Jesus, so maybe I am more indestructible than I think.
  • Susie’s moving to Florida in June.  That took quite a lot out of me emotionally–more than I thought it would.  Had Comfest not been the same weekend that she left, I am not sure I would not have crashed emotionally, to the point where I would have required hospitalization.  So much of my identity from 2011 has focused on being a single parent, and it was something where I had truly found my niche.  I earned high praise from Steph, and even from friends of hers who did not have much use for me personally.  I have managed to pick up my completely re-bachelored life in the intervening months, and while I have missed Susie, especially on those nights when the house is so quiet that I would have to make any noise to break the silence, I have made the adjustment.  I have always been adaptable to new situations, it’s just that this one took longer.
  • The death of Russell Speidel.  The proprietor of Duttenhofer’s Book Treasures died this summer of prostate cancer.  In addition to being a good neighbor, and the owner of the bookstore where I went for all my obscure titles, he was also a very good friend.  I was quite high maintenance at the time I lived next door to his store in Cincinnati–drinking too much, spending money foolishly, intermittently employed, and he often hired me to do small jobs for him, and lent me money when I was totally broke.  He was not a young man when he died, nor when I knew him, but he was one of those people I thought would always be around.  I am glad that he saw my transition from the heavy-drinking neighbor for whom employment was never a given to a father and steadily employed State employee.

When I set the pages of the 2013 calendar on fire soon after midnight, I will revel in the sight of the flames more than any pyromaniac.

I am upstairs in my office typing, with my beloved Alan Parsons Project blaring from the speakers on the desk and the bookcase.  Susie and her friends are seeing in the new year with mountains of junk food and hours’ worth of DVDs.

Yes, you read that right.  Susie is here until next Monday.  On Christmas Eve, I took Southwest Airlines down to Florida to spend the Christmas holiday.  The presents were modest all around–I gave Susie three compact disks (two Beatles, one Elvis Presley), and she gave me Robert L. Short’s The Parables of Peanuts.  The best gift was being able to see Susie, and knowing that she would be flying back to Ohio with me on the 28th.

She and I did the usual things that we did together in Ohio.  We went to a Goodwill store in Rockledge, hung out with our laptops in the Merritt Island Barnes and Noble, and had a meal at Steak ‘n Shake.  After using so many hours of Barnes and Noble’s free Wi-Fi, I broke down and bought a new journal.  The one I am using now has about 86 pages left, and I am going to fill them before I begin the new volume, even though a new year is the traditional time to begin a diary or christen the next volume of one.

Susie wasted no time in re-establishing contact with friends of hers.  Even before she left Florida, she had scheduled a lunch date with the woman who was her mentor during Coming of Age in church last year.  I had the pleasure of taking her and her friend Maya–they first met during children’s theater at the Davis Center for the Performing Arts, and reunited at The Charles School, and picked up right where they had left off–to brunch at the Blue Danube.  As I knew she would, Maya fell in love with the place.

Susie and me after our breakfast repast at Roberto’s Little Havana Restaurant in Cocoa Beach.

I will not be bidding an affectionate farewell to 2013.  This is one of the times when I can sympathize with Lucy Van Pelt, who complained that the previous year had disappointed her, and that she was going to write a letter of protest.  She stopped when Linus asked her, “Who’s in charge of years?”

Before I go to the party, I might finish the novella I have been reading all week.  The title is The Bab Deception, by Bill Paxton (not the actor).  It’s a Sherlock Holmes adventure that is decidedly not part of the Canon (the 56 short stories and four novels written by A. Conan Doyle).  This novella deals with an assassination that is pinned on members of the Baha’i faith.  At the beginning, Holmes and Watson have quite a discussion about astrology, Spiritualism, and even Wicca.

I am in the home stretch of the novella (about 76 pages altogether), and I would say that Holmes is Baha’i-curious at this point.

Bidding Adieu to a Service Deemed Antiquated

Portable Internet access is apparently so common these days that yet another longtime service has gone the route of the Edsel and the eight-track tape, at least in Columbus.  I’m talking about dialing the time and temperature on the phone.  As of the first of this month, (614) 469-1010 will no longer provide you with the current time, temperature (including wind chill during the appropriate season), and forecast.

I learned this one morning in mid-January, as I was getting ready for work, when I called the number to see what the outside temperature would be, so I could dress appropriately.  The recorded voice welcomed me to the Weatherline Forecast Service.  Instead of the usual brief commercial, a cheerful voice thanked me for my past use of the line, and that it would stop on February 1.

I marked the occasion by deleting the number from my cell phone.  I am sad for the loss, because there were times when, as a grade-school kid, there were many afternoons when I was confined to quarters.  Dad was teaching afternoon classes, or at Faculty Council, while my mother was upstairs, zonked out from a cornucopia of prescription drugs.  I tired of watching reruns of The Flintstones and The Big Valley, but still wanted to hear some human voice.

One early indication, I guess, of my Asperger’s syndrome was that yes, I wanted to hear the human voice, but I didn’t want much interaction.  This was why I didn’t call up friends from school or the few kids who were in the neighborhood.  If speed-dial existed at the time, Ohio Bell’s time service and the dial-a-prayer from the Sixth and Washington Sts. Church of Christ would have been on mine.

Forty years later, I can still remember, verbatim, some of the small statements that accompanied the time service.  I still remember the number (373-7641–the area code was 614 for Marietta when I was a child, but it has been 740 since 1998), and some of the introductory promotions: “Dial a wrong long-distance number?  No charge; dial the operator.”  “The Trimline phone combines the dial and handset to save steps and time!”  I formed a mental picture of the man whose voice I heard.  (My dad said he sounded like an announcer on a St. Paul radio station he listened to when he taught at the University of Minnesota, but that it wasn’t the same man.)

We lived only about a third of a mile from the Church of Christ, but we were nominal Episcopalians at the time, never going to church.  (My dad effectively excommunicated himself from the Roman Catholic Church when he married my mother, who was a divorcée.)  What little theological training I had came from watching The Treehouse Club early Sunday mornings while waiting for the morning paper (read: the funnies) to arrive, and from the recorded messages from the Church of Christ.  I was not comfortable with the theology–even then, my inner Unitarian was starting to show through–but the minister’s voice was a pleasant one, and when he ended his recording, the way he said, “This is Charles Brown from the Sixth and Washington Sts. Church of Christ, please call again,” he sounded like he was saying goodbye to a friend.  (I later met him at the public library, and found him to be a very personable and pleasant man.)  Since I yearned for mail not addressed to “Occupant,” I even took two or three lessons of the church’s correspondence course.  (Some Saturday mornings, I would watch Sunrise Semester before my cartoons came on, trying my best to absorb the NYU professors’ courses.)

Cincinnati’s time and weather (at (513) 241-1010) still seems to be alive and well.  Its number is in my cell phone, even though I only use it when I go to Cincinnati for the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in the spring.  In addition to time, weather, and forecast, they add the Ohio River stage.  Someone who did not grow up on the Ohio might find this puzzling, but it makes perfect sense to me.  Cincinnati suffered major damage during the Ohio River floods of 1913, 1937, and 1946, and the March 1945 flood endangered much of the wartime production industry in Cincinnati.  (These same floods devastated Marietta as well.  See below for the front page of The Parkersburg Sentinel from the spring of 1937.  The newspapers were as successful as predicting the crest of the river as Jehovah’s Witnesses have been at predicting the end of the world.)

So, I bid farewell to time and weather on the telephone here in Columbus.  USA Today used to print a number on the back page of the front section, where they print the national weather map, where you could text your zip code.  It would then return the current temperature and a 72-hour forecast.  This service has also gone kaput, apparently, because the number no longer appears.

As long as we’re on the subject of weather, I can say that right now (it’s almost 7 p.m.), the temperature is 50 degrees, the lowest it’s been today.  I have Monday off (Presidents’ Day), but took a cost-savings day today, so I could extend my weekend even further.  (Today was one of those 10 days per year for which I am not paid.  I wore a hoodie just to be safe, but didn’t need it.)

Every Wednesday, the tornado sirens blow all over Columbus, testing to make sure they’re in working order. This was confusing one day last summer, when the National Weather Service map was aglow with color like an overdecorated Christmas tree (or a menorah on the eighth day of Hanukkah), the sky was so dark the street lights were on, and rain was pelting the windows on the 10th floor.  At work, we heard the sirens go off, and my fellow floor wardens and I were wondering if this was a real siren–go to a safe place, a tornado is bearing down on you–or the weekly test.  I looked at my watch, and it was indeed 12 noon.  Maybe it was a little bit of both.

There was a different situation last Wednesday.  Noon came and went, and no siren.  The weather outside was pleasant, but the fact there was no siren was eerie, not unlike “the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime” featured in “Silver Blaze,” a story in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  (“The dog did nothing in the nighttime.”  “That was the curious incident.”)  Was there an unwritten understanding that if there was no siren at noon on Wednesday, adverse weather was just around the corner, and you had best make peace with your Creator and expect the worst?

Nothing of the kind.  At five after, they went off.  Someone must have been distracted and not kept track of the time.