NaNoWriMo – 30 –

Yet another National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to an end, and both Susie and I (in Florida and Columbus, respectively) are trying to recover.

I am skeptical (at best) about the effectiveness of Twelve-Step programs, but the “one day at a time” concept does have its uses, and NaNoWriMo bears out its usefulness.  Every evening (mostly evenings, sometimes afternoons), I sat down and faced the laptop like it was some type of adversary.  When I logged onto Microsoft Office and pulled up my manuscript, I did it with an emotion akin to dread.

Trying to write a certain number of words per day (1667 per day is necessary to produce 50 thousand words in 30 days) is a lot like visiting a nudist colony: The first few minutes are the hardest.  I know that when I began typing, that magic number of 1667 seemed so far away.

But, as the session progressed, I usually was able to get into the activity, and when I saw I had made my quota for the night, I almost had a feeling of disappointment–“You mean I have to stop now?”  Of course, I didn’t, but I wanted material to fill the next night’s session, and not have to scramble.

The manuscript now sits on my hard drive and on my Microsoft SkyDrive.  I am following the advice of Stephen King, and I am letting the project “marinate” until after the first of the year.  NaNoWriMo is not ashamed to say that the goal is quantity, not quality, so I am sure I overran the manuscript with verbiage and asides that will have to go.  Some word-padding techniques can stay.  (For example, I did not use contractions, except in dialogue.)  Truthfully, I have no qualms about not touching it until January.  I am sure I am going to look back over it and wonder what the hell was I doing writing such-and-such?  (Susie has read excerpts of it, and so far I have received her seal of approval.)

Another thing her project and my project have in common is that they are both incomplete.  As you may recall, I decided to make NaNoWriMo the subject of this year’s manuscript.  Thus, I began with a brief prologue, and each chapter afterwards represented one day in the contest: “Day the First,” “Day the Second,” et cetera.  I stopped at Chapter V, “Day the Fifth,” so once this book comes out of lockdown, I have 25 more chapters to write.  Susie says she is two chapters away from those beautiful words THE END.  (I will end it, as a tribute to my former typesetting days, with – 30 -, which I have often thought should be my epitaph–my name, and underneath it, – 30 -, carved on my tombstone.)

I took a page from Jim Bishop when I used these chapter titles.  In his books The Day Lincoln Was Shot and The Day Christ Died, he broke down the book into hours–each chapter represented one hour of the day he covered.  In his one and only novel, Honeymoon Diary (I met him in 1979, and he said, “Oh, Jesus!” when I told him I had read it), the titles were “The First Day,” “The Second Day,” all the way up to “The Thirtieth Day.”

Sleep has been the biggest casualty of NaNoWriMo, although my sleep patterns have been erratic for years.  I can’t lay the blame solely at the feet of this contest.  I am constantly dozing off on buses, or anywhere that I lack new stimuli.  And, as before, I can doze off straight into REM sleep, which means falling asleep and straight into dreaming.  Unless I have specific plans, on weekends I do not set an alarm.  (Even on Sunday; if I am awake in time to catch the bus and go to church, I will; otherwise, I take it as a sign and I’m content to “worship in bed.”)  So, every weekday morning, there is this Dagwood Bumstead scramble to get out of bed, into the shower, dressed, and out the door in time to catch the bus in time.  But, these past few weekends, I am wide awake before dawn, unable to get back to sleep.  Yes, I’ll toss and turn a while, but it’s a losing battle to try to get back to sleep.  And this is after not retiring until 2 or 3 a.m.

I took it easy the rest of yesterday, after submitting my manuscript to http://www.nanowrimo.org, where their template verified that I had enough words.  Yesterday was the Ohio State-Michigan game, and I was thankful it was in Ann Arbor, since the presence of drunken idiots would have been even greater had the game taken place at the ‘Shoe.  So, I thought it prudent to stay indoors, where I watched some DVDs of Homicide: Life on the Street and read.  (I kept my computer use to a minimum, since I had enough of my keyboard to last me awhile.)

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah coincided for the first time since 1868, and this will not happen again until 2070 (Susie will probably be experiencing this).  The coincidence that Black Friday occurred on a sacred holiday did not deter the shoppers.  We here in Columbus did not experience the brawling, gunfire, and stabbings that some communities had.  I, for one, kinda sorta boycotted the whole thing.  I went to two record stores, Spoonful Records and Records Per Minute (RPM), and bought some albums there–I kept my money local, and supported friends of mine.  The haul was not overwhelming, since I didn’t buy any new material.  I stuck to the dollar bins, where I could find much of the music of my teen years.  (As if my weirdo credentials weren’t already well established by high school, my favorite groups in high school were The Alan Parsons Project and Seals and Crofts!)

“Buy nothing day” was so much easier in the years when I was usually stone broke.

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A True Risk-Taker: Opening a Record Store in Downtown Columbus

Early yesterday afternoon, Susie and I ventured downtown for the grand opening of Spoonful Records at 116 E. Long St. (around the corner from the A.T.&T. building).  As part of molding Susie into a well rounded and erudite individual, I have insisted that she know what long-playing records were are, and that she know about such things as phonographs, turntables, etc.  I have taken her to record stores in Columbus and Cincinnati, and made a point of buying LPs whenever we’ve gone to the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention.

With the economy in free-fall, and downtown Columbus businesses dwindling almost daily, starting a business–any business–requires a leap of faith that I cannot even comprehend.  So, I was quite surprised to see that a new record store would be opening in downtown Columbus.

I first noticed it when I was walking up E. Long St., en route from work at lunchtime to the credit union to cash a check.  A long-abandoned former furniture store suddenly had butcher paper over the windows, and an OPENING SOON! sign hung in the windows, along with the name and telephone number of the business soon to open–Spoonful Records.

Yesterday was the big day.  I had spoken to the owner, Brett Ruland, on the phone earlier in the week, and it turned out we had some mutual friends and acquaintances through the used-LP grapevine.  He worked part-time at Lost Weekend, a record store a few blocks from my house, and had seen Susie and me in there.

Susie bought Everything’s Archie, the Archies album which premiered “Sugar, Sugar,” their most popular hit.  (She searched for but couldn’t find any Archie comics for sale.)  She was impressed by the spiral-bound sketchbooks and journals for sale, with covers made from LPs.

Susie fell in love, however, with the two pinball machines in the back.  (She was discouraged by her lackluster performance on Bally Wizard, but did quite well once she tried the other Bally machine, Four Million B.C.)  I had to remind her that 20 or 30 thousand for a pinball game was quite a respectable score when I was a teenager, and if she broke 100 thousand, the machine would either reset and she would lose all her points, or it would go totally nuts with all kinds of alarms and lights.  Once she learned how to work flippers and the fine art of gently jostling the machine (I have to explain the concept of “tilting” to her, but I’m happy she didn’t learn it the hard way) to guide the ball, she spent a lot of time at Four Million B.C., and beat the high score by a very decent margin.  “Damn!  I gotta start practicing!” the previous record-holder said when I told him.

Susie poses between games of Four Million B.C.
Several record stores opened and closed during the first 20 years of my life in Marietta.  I received my first phonograph–a portable orange and white plastic General Electric–for Christmas when I was about four, and bought a cheap stereo from Sears with newspaper-route money when I was 15.  At the time, the best places to buy records were at Hart’s Department Store or the Marietta College bookstore.  (There was a store called Scents ‘n’ Sounds in downtown Marietta, but my parents didn’t let me go there because–they said–it was also a head shop.)  In high school, Side One Records and Tapes opened, and I remember that was where I bought Q: Are We Not Men?  A: We are Devo, the only Devo album I ever owned.
One of my many country-mouse-becomes-city-mouse moments when I moved to Boston was turning to the Yellow Pages and seeing columns and columns of record store entries.  At that time, however, I relied exclusively on my tape recorder for music, since I had left my turntable in Ohio.  This limited my choices of things I could buy.  (I remember the first album I bought in Boston–on cassette–was Toto IV, because I had become quite fond of the song “Africa.”)  I was surprised to see the price for which 78 RPM records sold in Boston.  On one of my trips home, I brought back a stack of 78s that an old lady had given me when she paid me to clean out her attic.  (Her husband had died and she didn’t want to stay alone in a 10-room house.  She was moving to a condo, and she hired me to clean out her attic.  I had right of salvage for anything other than family personal effects–letters, albums, etc.)  They didn’t fetch much, but it was a little extra folding money for me.
I have long supported the merger of bookstores and record stores.  Spoonful had a few books for sale, and record stores in Cincinnati included rock memoirs along with some token Bukowski books and Beat authors, and shrink-wrapped editions of The Andy Warhol Diaries and Madonna’s Sex, but that was about it.  My ideal was Rooks and Becords, a store on Polk St. in San Francisco which I visited on my cross-country Greyhound trip in 1987.  I marveled at how well the two co-existed.  I bought books and I bought records, and gingerly transported them in my knapsack on the return trip to Ohio.  Half-Price Books has made the effort as well, but with the corporate look of the place comes a lack of intimacy.
Spoonful will be featuring listening stations, much like the record stores of New York (and other cities, I’m sure).  They’re not ready yet, but Brett holds out hope, as evidenced by this picture:
I’m sure Brett will have to post step-by-step instructions
once his equipment is ready to use.  Some of us
still remember how to do it; it’s like riding a bicycle.
I don’t remember ever being in a record store that had the small listening booths.  I remember a passing reference to them in William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice, and I saw allusions to them here and there in New Yorker anthologies, but I had never seen one.  The closest I’ve come is using the wall-mounted CD players at Used Kids Records on High Street, but standing there just isn’t the same.  (These players were in Used Kids’ newer location, opened after the fire in 2001 which destroyed their old location, along with some 70 thousand albums.  Lost forever was one of the best collections of spoken-word albums I had ever seen.  I had bought a record of Howard Hughes’ 1972 telephone press conference there.)
So, we have a new record store in downtown Columbus, and another one has opened in Clintonville, just south of W. North Broadway.  It’s called Dreadful Sounds, and it specializes in punk and metal.  I have yet to visit it, but I have passed it on the bus and on foot.  I learned about it from Columbus DIY’s Message Board, and plan to stop in soon to pay my respects.
Vinyl may be coming back into fashion.  My hope is that people won’t look at me quite so funny when I speak of my love for typewriters.

Street of Many Contrasts

It’s a muggy Friday night, and gnats circle in the air all over Clintonville, so I’m settled in–probably for the rest of the night.  I had to run an errand on High Street earlier in the evening, before the sun set, so I walked down one of the narrow streets that leads down to High Street.  I’ve noticed it on my many journeys up and down the street, especially since the warm weather settled in for the duration, and more people are outside.

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood…

One of my neighbors is promising a mega yard sale tomorrow, but she and her husband have already begun setting out some of the merchandise on the porch and the yard.  Never one to pass up a good yard sale, I ventured over for a look.  I plunked down a quarter for a respectably frayed Warner paperback of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and a dollar for a khaki guayabera jacket.  (It’s far too miserable to wear the jacket now, but it’s incentive for me to lose the bay window I have at waist level.  It zips up, but just barely.  If I can lose some of my girth, it’ll be quite comfortable.)  Not that anyone’s asked, but a guayabera–which is politically incorrectly nicknamed the “Mexican wedding shirt”–is a work shirt that features four front pockets.  There are two breast pockets, and underneath them, above the shirttails, are two more corresponding pockets.  (You might say the guayabera is the shirt equivalent of cargo pants.)  I’ve had guayabera shirts in the past, and with all the crap I carry with me at all times–keys, notebooks, glasses case, pens and pencils, digital camera (very recently!), cell phone, microcassette recorder–I put them to use.  This shirt is an invention that ranks up there with movable type and bifocals.

A professional and competitive powerlifter–a woman who was a friend of mine at O.U. and with whom I stayed in touch sporadically once we left Athens–lives a block or so from the house where I bought the book and the shirt.  Her whole life revolves around physical fitness and exercise.  On the rare occasions I see her, she’s usually headed to or from the gym or her job as a physical therapist.

And then you have her neighbors.  Immediately next door is a household that is singlehandedly keeping the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and/or Philip Morris in business.  I’m not sure who all lives there–I usually see three or four women in their late 20s or early 30s out on the porch.  Whether they’re sisters, girlfriends, friends, or some combination thereof, I do not know.  What I do know is that I have never seen any of these women without cigarettes.  When no one is out on the porch, there are at least two ashtrays on the table, all of them crammed to overflowing with cigarette butts.

I realized that smoking wasn’t just something that equated with entertaining guests.  I know there are some people like that, who only smoke with certain friends, or when drinking, etc.  (My late uncle Paul was quite odd in this respect: When the pro football season began, he began smoking heavily, whether he was watching a game or not.  However, as soon as the Super Bowl post-game shows ended, he put away cigarettes and didn’t touch them until the season began again.)  One morning, I was headed to Tim Horton to buy bagels and breakfast sandwiches, and one of the women came out to get the morning newspaper.  She was in slippers and a grey nightdress, and there was a cigarette in her hand.

Next to them is someone else committed to gradual suicide.  Whatever hour of the day or night I pass, the man is sitting in a plastic chair in the front yard, wearing the same shirt and shorts, and there is always a 1.75-liter bottle of Popov vodka sitting on the ground in front of him.  He sits out there taking generous dollops of it with a red plastic Solo cup.  Maybe he has been drinking this heavily for a long time, and finally decided to stop hiding it, or maybe he’s hit some kind of bottom so he no longer cares.  He must be an experienced drinker, because of the tolerance it takes to drink that much 80-proof vodka a day.  Maybe it’s because you can’t legally buy Everclear in Ohio.  (It is not illegal to possess it, however.  I knew many Cincinnati neighbors who went over to Kentucky to get it.)  I have seen that he delivers The Bag on weekends, so I understand what’s led him to drinking!

A casual pedestrian on this street will see many flags flying, regardless of the time of year.  There are quite a few American flags, of course.  The house where I bought the book and the jacket flew an O.U. flag and an American flag.  (The only American flag I own is the one that draped my dad’s coffin, and it is still in its triangular zippered American Legion case, along with the spent cartridges from his rifle salute.)  There is one house on the street where you can find one of three flags displayed: a U.S. flag, a Pittsburgh Penguins flag, or a Culpeper Minutemen “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.  (I wonder if the owner knows the Culpeper Minutemen organized to defend a group spearheaded by a bunch of Quakers, Deists, and Unitarians.  Also, the Committee on Safety pulled the plug on the Minutemen in January 1776.)

Continuing on this vexillological note for a moment (anything that makes you sprint for the nearest dictionary is purely coincidental intentional), a woman a few doors down from the patriot-Penguins fan-Don’t Tread on Me fan flies small respectably faded banners featuring the symbols of the world’s major religions–the Star of David, the Crescent and Star, the Om, the Buddhist Wheel of Righteousness, the cross, the pentacle.  (I have offered to find her a Unitarian Universalist Flaming Chalice, and when I do, I will donate it.)  In the same vein, a family further down the street flies flags featuring the word peace written in several languages–Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, English, Cyrillic.  Someone in the same block always displays an Israeli flag.

Interspersed among all these are Blue Jackets banners (Ironically, their slogan is “Carry the flag!”), Columbus Crew banners, and Scarlet and Gray will be impossible to avoid once the football season begins.  (I remember a duplex in Franklinton where a Michigan flag hung on one side and an OSU banner on the other.  I guess they came to some kind of truce about that.)

Susie and I are going to go to the opening of a new record store downtown tomorrow morning.  Yes, folks, a store that sells vinyl, as in LPs, is opening for business, and in a brick and mortar store, not online.  For those of you interested, it’s called Spoonful Records, and it’s at 116 E. Long St., in the site of an old furniture store around the corner from the AT&T building on N. Fourth St.  If you go, mention this blog!