The Sounds of the Universe Coming in My Window…

On the SoHud Facebook page, there has been an ongoing conversation–almost like watching a stock ticker–about the varied and scattered explosions around Olde North and SoHud.  One poster got the ball rolling by saying, “Sure hope that was fireworks twenty seconds ago.”  There has been speculation about the origin of the sounds, with people reporting their locations and where they traced the sounds.  Were we hearing firecrackers?  Gunshots?  Or, since Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, did this mean a return of the bottle bombs that were so ubiquitous last year?

The explosions seemed to be consistently timed at one point, so a poster suggested we all stand on our porches and try to triangulate, and maybe figure out where these originated.  The suspects range from the residents of the various Xenos Christian Fellowship group houses, to a house on Medary Ave. where a heavy metal band seems to enjoy practicing regardless of what time of the day or night it is.  Also, today was the last day of classes for Columbus Public School seniors, so there are parties all over the place, and I have seen open containers galore all over a two- or three-block radius around my place.

I dealt with the problem in my usual way.  I was at the laptop reading friends’ blogs online, and I just turned up the volume on the music I was playing–a potpourri that ranged from Steely Dan to Gordon Lightfoot to the Alan Parsons Project to Seals and Crofts.  I heard a few more scattered explosions shortly after sunset, while I was taking a nap upstairs in my bedroom, but I was too woozy from being awakened to go outside to see where it originated.  (Later on, while I was walking outside, there was a slight odor of gunpowder in the air, but nowhere near as strong as it would be immediately after a firecracker or M-80 had exploded.)

Before I go any further, I should note that I cannot take credit for the title of this post.  The title comes from a spoken-word track Jack Kerouac recorded on Poetry for the Beat Generation, the 1959 album he recorded with Steve Allen.

I have wanted to blog about other sounds of the universe coming in my window.  The day I received the keys to this place, I was standing on the back deck and clearly heard the quarter-hour chimes of Holy Name Church, which is about a quarter mile southeast of here.  With the windows open, and minus any noise I create from music or TV, the chimes come through quite clearly, including the Baptism of Bells at noon and 6 p.m.

I have always found the sound of bells to be comforting.  Having grown up in the orbit of Marietta College for the first 19 years of my life, the quarter-hour Westminster Chimes from atop Erwin Hall, which is the most iconic building at the Marietta College campus.  Additionally, the hour and half-hour chimes from the Washington County Courthouse downtown produced a pleasant sound audible almost anywhere in town.

Erwin Hall, on the Marietta College campus.  Photo is from Wikimedia Commons.

Around Easter, Marietta College held (holds?) a festival known as Doo Dah Day–it may be called Etta Fest now.  When I was 13 or 14, the most exciting event was not trying to persuade servers that I was old enough to buy beer, but when a friend from the Marietta College Mountaineering Club let me come into the tower with him.  (I think they planned to rappel down to the ground, but they were overruled by the College, and they settled instead for flying a banner from the tower roof.)

One of my favorite recordings is Mercury’s 1812 Overture on its Living Presence label (Mercury 434 360-2), because it features cannon fire from an authentic weapon used by Napoleon in his 1812 Russian campaign.  Even better, the ending includes the bells from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Canon at the Memorial Church in Manhattan, all of them turned loose and recorded by microphones hanging at different levels in the tower.

Edgar Allan Poe apparently shared my love for bell sound.  Many kids resented having to memorize his poem “The Bells,” and I admit I never fully appreciated it until I heard Phil Ochs set its words to music on the album All the News That’s Fit to Sing.


In the aftermath of 9/11, Muslims who sought to build new mosques in their hometown have often faced petition drives and town meetings to deny them zoning, building permits, and all the paperwork that a new house of worship has to complete before even breaking ground.  These are similar to all the hand-wringing and protests around the non-issue of the Cordoba Center (misnamed “the Ground Zero mosque”) in New York.

One of the lame excuses, in a futile attempt not to clothe their protests in white sheets and hoods, is that the sound of the adhan (call to prayer) five times per day would be distracting.  Most of us have grown up around church bells–and we even sang about them in nursery school.  (The third line of “Frère Jacques” is Sonnez les matines!  Sonnez les matines!)  The Muslim call to prayer would be no more distracting, and would quickly fade into the white noise common in all neighborhoods, within days of a mosque’s opening.

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Several blog posts ago, I wrote about the SoHud Block Watch that my neighbors have organized in response to the graffiti, car break-ins, thefts, and vandalism occurring in our particular patch of Columbus the last several months.  Word of mouth worked well when the idea of a Block Watch first started to percolate, and this quickly progressed to closed groups on Yahoo!, Google Groups, and Facebook.

The latest meeting was last night at the Maynard Ave. United Methodist Church.  I was unable to be there in person, since I went to a parents’ meeting at The Charles School at Ohio Dominican University, where Susie began classes last Monday, but I was able to play a part before the meeting occurred.

With all the cyberspace methods of spreading news now available to just about anyone, the SoHud Block Watch decided to spread the news the old-fashioned way.  When I came home from work Monday, there was a stack of leaflets and a roll of Scotch tape in between the storm door and my front door.  The organizer had assigned me territory as to where to hang these.  So, the following night, I went out with the little stack of leaflets and the roll of tape, and began taping them to the doors of houses.  My territory was east of where Susie and I live, short blocks sandwiched by N. 4th St. to the west and the Norfolk Southern train tracks to the east.

I needed the exercise, and it was not as brutally cold as it has been the past several nights, although it was icy and I nearly fell several occasions.  (Grudgingly, I am coming to realize that I am coming to an age when a fall can have serious consequences.  So far, I have imitated the Weeble: I wobble, but I don’t fall down.)  I went up and down both sides of the block on Wyandotte Ave., E. Maynard, Chilcote, and Clinton, before I ran out of flyers.

One of the organizers of the Block Watch publicly complimented me on Facebook for a job well done, since several newcomers from the sections I canvassed appeared at the meeting.  While I was out in the night with my stack of flyers and the roll of tape, I felt a little like the town criers you see in children’s stories about the American Revolution.  (I remember seeing a flyer in a supermarket that was called Town Crier, and its logo was a guy in a tri-corner hat, ruffles, tights, and boots, ringing a bell, and from his wide open mouth was a voice balloon shouting, “Hear ye!  Hear ye!”)

My route was supposed to cover E. Tompkins as well, but I ran out of copies.  (Before I began distributing, I put two copies in my diary, so when those pages are studied by the historians of the future, there will be extant copies for all to see.)  Many flyers, whether for political candidates, bands, pro- or anti-abortion rallies, or store openings, usually end up in the trash within hours.  Sometimes, I have looked on eBay to see if anyone is selling original copies of the Hands Off Cuba! Fair Play for Cuba Committee leaflets that Lee Harvey Oswald distributed on the streets of New Orleans in the summer of 1963.  I have also looked to see if anyone has the original handbill for the Ford’s Theater performance of Our American Cousin for the April 1865 night when Lincoln was assassinated.

Wonder how many of these were discarded before Lincoln went to the theater that night?

In 1960, Richard Nixon, who was then Vice President, made a campaign stop in Marietta when he was running against John F. Kennedy for President.  My parents, who were quite enthusiastic Kennedy supporters, went to see Nixon speak in front of the National Guard Armory on Front St.  I have always been irritated by the fact that my dad eventually lost much of his ’60 Kennedy campaign memorabilia–his PT-109 tie bar, his Frank Sinatra campaign record (“High Hopes”), and his ALL THE WAY WITH JFK button, but he did manage to keep a little pamphlet called The White House–American or Roman?, by V.E. Howard.  It addressed the question of whether it was proper for a Roman Catholic to be President.  After reading two or three paragraphs, you can tell that the answer is a screeching “No!”  (I keep my copy inside the front cover of a 1922 book, The Suppressed Truth About the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, by Burke McCarty.  The “suppressed truth,” of course, was that the Vatican was behind Lincoln’s murder.)

When I arrived in Boston in 1982, I arrived pretty much broke, and was desperately searching for jobs that paid very soon after taking them.  Before I took my short-lived job as a dishwasher and busboy at a delicatessen in Brookline, I considered taking a job leafleting in Harvard Square.  These were small flyers for any business that paid to produce them, anything from shoe stores to tailors.  The pay was minimum wage, and it meant standing out in the weather and trying to press these into the hands of passersby who avoided you as much as they avoided the panhandlers, and also competing with people handing out other types of printed matter.  Women in hijabs timidly held out “paper against Khomeini,” and Scientologists badgered people about taking a “personality test.”  (I told one that I already took one, and it said I was obnoxious.)  Hare Krishnas endlessly tried to issue invitations to free vegetarian meals (I kept one of their brochures in my wallet, in case I ever needed a free meal), and Bridge Over Troubled Waters workers tried to get literature to runaways and kids living on the streets about their services.  I decided not to try to take this job, although the leafleting service would have hired anyone who could stay in one place and move one arm for eight hours.

I have searched eBay, so far in vain, for the WANTED FOR TREASON handbills that circulated in Dallas in November 1963, in the days before John Kennedy’s assassination.  These featured front and side photographs of Kennedy, and was styled like the posters that hung in post office lobbies.  Many Dallas-area Democrats (and Republicans who were not on the far end of the political and lunatic spectrum) probably declined them, and tossed them into the nearest trash can, but their value skyrocketed from the moment the news spread that Kennedy had been killed.

Political extremists, both Left and Right, still cling to the art of the leaflet.  As recently as my last few trips to Washington, for peace and anti-fracking marches, I have come home with “9/11 was an inside job” flyers, poorly printed and typeset descriptions of chemtrails and how they’re turning us all into zombies, and the evils of the Federal Reserve and the Trilateral Commission.

Evangelism learned the value of the flyer long ago.  Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, managed to condense his version of the New Testament into a short little work called The Four Spiritual Laws, which is short enough to be readable over a single cup of coffee and a sandwich.  And, there is Jack T. Chick, a Talibangelist who has published booklet-sized comic books to spread his own way-out-there version of the Gospel (along with other “little-known facts” such as that the Vatican was responsible for the Holocaust, that Dungeons and Dragons is a gateway drug for Satanic worship, etc.), and many of his tracts are given out at trick-or-treat (with or without razor blade-studded candy), left in Laundromats, or on buses and public restrooms.  One tract you won’t see much anymore is Lisa, which is beyond question his most grotesque.

I’ll make one brief segue before ending this entry.  I finally broke down and bought an external keyboard, since my keyboard has been DOA, when I tipped over a cup of milk on it.  The thought never occurred to me until this week, but tonight Susie and I went to Micro Center so she could buy a new power cord for her Acer laptop.  For a mere $4.05, I bought an Inland external keyboard.  It took less than 10 minutes to install, and now I am back in business.  It’s not as easy to use as the regular keyboard, but it is much better than trying to use the onscreen keyboard!

These Are the People in Your Neighborhood…

When Susie and I moved out of Weinland Park a year ago, I was under no illusions that we moved to a crime-free Land of Milk and Honey, just because we were now in Olde North (or Baja Clintonville, or SoHud (“south of Hudson”), depending on who describes the neighborhood).  I knew we were just close enough to the Ohio State campus that we would be dealing with the petty crimes that prevail during football season–vandalism, littering, people urinating in public, loud parties, etc.

I have joined the small Neighborhood Block Watch that our neighbors have been organizing.  We are going for full certification by the Columbus Police, but concealed carry permits or any type of vigilantism are not options.  The group was originally an ad hoc organization to combat the epidemic of graffiti in the neighborhood.  The police tell us none of this seems to be gang-related.  A Gang Unit officer showed us a booklet of the different Columbus gangs’ trademarks, and in this neighborhood it seems to be mostly tagging than any of these gangs marking territory.

This is the type of graffiti that genuinely scares me and brings out the vigilante within.  This appeared last February on the bridge over part of the Glen Echo ravine, less than a mile from where Susie and I live.

Once one of these “artists” is caught in the act, I am wondering what the punishment will be.  I doubt arrest and punishment will be much of a deterrent.  My pet theory is that this is not gang-related at all.  There are groups of reprobate kids from the rougher neighborhoods who band together, call themselves gangs, and destroy property and commit petty crimes, but this is not Crips and Bloods land here.  I think our miscreants are bored kids from New Albany or Bexley who are vandalizing because it is fun, and because they are in neighborhoods where no one knows them or their families.  If these kids are arrested, their parents will grease the appropriate palms to make sure the problem quietly disappears, and their charges’ future employment or college enrollment is not jeopardized by this.

However, if I am wrong, and these are kids from the rougher neighborhoods trying to show the size of their testicles by vandalizing property of people who have never met them or done anything to them, arrest and even jail will not sufficiently scare them.  I have lived in Weinland Park, and before that Franklinton, and these are neighborhoods where going to jail is almost bar mitzvah for many of these kids (“today I am a man”), and the kid who gets in trouble with the law at the youngest age comes home as a celebrity to his peers.

A small incident several weeks ago has restored my faith in the people who live, work, and pass through my neighborhood.  Faithful readers of this blog will remember that in June, a week or so after Susie went to Florida for the summer, my red Schwinn Meridian adult tricycle was stolen from my front yard.  After filing a report with the police, I made the rounds (online and in person) of the bike shops, pawn shops, and bicycle communities here in Columbus, putting the word out about my stolen trike.  Several Facebook friends posted descriptions as their status, and I knew the Third Hand Bicycle Cooperative and other less orthodox channels, such as the World Naked Bike Ride organizers, would keep their eyes on the street.

Almost immediately, though, I ordered a new Meridian online, and by ComFest I was back in business, the only difference being that the new bike was blue.  Several weeks ago, I was riding at night (it was around 9:30-9:45 p.m.) back from the Whetstone Library, where I had gone to drop off some books.  I was on High Street, headed south back toward home, when a young kid in his early 20s began running after me.

I thought he was going to mug me, so I tried to pedal faster, but he ran after me and shouted, “Hey, you!  Is that bike stolen?”

This caused me to slam on my brakes.  I told him no, but I did own one that had been.  I had never seen this kid before, but word had spread about my theft.  I told him that I had been the victim, that the stolen model was identical, except that it was red, and not blue, and I had never seen it since.  I also told him I appreciated his being concerned enough to stop and ask me about it.

Maybe the spirit of OSU dropout Phil Ochs rests a little easier when he sees that he was not entirely accurate in this song: