More Productive Than I’ve Been in Months

I will be back on the job in less than 12 hours, and I mentioned in my last entry that I was banishing all mention of “work” from my vocabulary for the four-day Christmas weekend.  That does not mean that I’ve been completely idle since I left work at 5 Friday evening.

I wasn’t exactly a white tornado, but the too-long cluttered living room is almost presentable for company now. Part of the reason I launched into this project was to find a notebook from earlier this fall that seems to have been buried under all the flotsam and jetsam that Susie and I generate.  (I think being a bureaucrat is hard-wired into my DNA–I can generate paper and other paraphernalia almost logarithmically.)
My longest (but most welcome) respite came on Friday night, courtesy of my across-the-street neighbors.  I was taking a break from excavating cleaning the living room, and was walking to a convenience store up the street, and my neighbor was tending a barbecue in the postage stamp of front yard.  “You alone tonight?” he asked.  I told him I was; my daughter was in Florida visiting her mom.  “Well, party going on.  We’ll be serving the food around 11!”  I bought some Coke Zero to bring to the party, since I figured (correctly) that I would be the only teetotaler in attendance.
But that didn’t matter.  The company was fantastic, and, although I was probably the oldest person there, most of the music was from my high school and young adult days–lots of ELO, Gary Numan’s “Cars,” and a series of one-hit wonders, such as The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen.”  The turkey and the spare ribs filled me up quite well, and I enjoyed the many conversations.  The down side was that, since I was drinking Coke all night, even though I came home around 2:30, it was well after dawn before I actually slept.
Earlier in this blog, I posted the dilemma faced by every bipolar person’s spouse: What do you do when your bipolar significant other, not famous for cleanliness, goes on a cleaning jag, quite likely as a result of swinging toward the manic end of the arc?  I do have a clean(er) living room, master bedroom, and office to show for it (pictures are forthcoming in an entry or two, I promise), but the down side is that I ended up missing both Christmas Eve services at church.  I didn’t want to lose the head of steam I’d managed to generate, because I know from bitter past experience that if I stop work on a project like that, it takes forever for me to resume the work, if at all.
The worst part of missing the Christmas Eve service was missing the dedication of my friend Ramona’s little daughter.  I learned about it the next day, when her folks, Steve and Kittie, invited me over for Christmas dinner.  I ate quite well, and enjoyed the company of Ramona, her daughter, Steve and Kittie, and Steve’s grown children (including his daughter Amelia, my companion on the journey to Washington last year for the One Nation Working Together march).  I ate buffalo meat for the first time, and loved it.  TBS was running A Christmas Story over and over for 24 hours beginning at midnight, and after seeing it for three or four times in a row, Kittie got a little bored with it, so she popped in a DVD of The Polar Express, which I had never seen before, but which I enjoyed.
Susie left me a voice mail message thanking me for the books I sent down to her in Florida.  (I made Steph promise to hide them from her until Christmas morning.)  In the message, she told me where she had hidden her present to me.  It was a book that was ideal for someone with a love of trivia and other minutiae–World War II: 4139 Strange and Interesting Facts.  It’s not the type of book you sit down and read from cover to cover, so I’ve enjoyed going from entry to entry.
I guess I’m still a little shell-shocked from the ordeal of NaNoWriMo, but other than this blog and diary entries, I have not done any writing.  In my defense, I am already planning next year’s NaNoWriMo project, but I am not going to tip my hand here, so publicly.  The rules say that you can take all the notes and write out all the outlines, etc., you want, but writing the novel proper cannot take place before 12 midnight on November 1.  I was hoping to get back into the mood by re-reading James A. Michener’s generically titled book The Novel, which I enjoyed when I bought it in Cincinnati in 1991–one of the few hardcovers I bought new.  I liked the book (and I was in the minority, even with Michener fans), and I’ve been carrying it around in my knapsack the past week or so, although I am not all that interested in Pennsylvania Dutch culture–the backdrop of much of the story.
This is the ultimate “Keep it simple, stupid!” when it comes to titling a manuscript.

I’m hoping it won’t take the next NaNoWriMo for me to start producing again.  The title of this entry is a little misleading–I was more productive on the domestic front than I have been when it comes to anything literary.  As I was getting my study arranged, I found the fat New Yorker diary from 1983 that I’ve used as an idea log and a place to write notes for future projects.  (I thought I had left it behind when I left Weinland Park.)  Maybe I need to keep it in my pack so I can jot down ideas for next fall’s NaNoWriMo project.

Who knows?  Maybe now that my work space isn’t quite as much of a shithole, I may actually be able to bear to spend time in it!
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Blockbuster Stores Folding

Another mainstay of my early adulthood seems to be going, going gone.  On the way up High St. to church this morning, I passed the Blockbuster store at High and Hudson Sts., and there was a giant GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign in the parking lot, and all the inventory was on sale.

I can’t remember the last time I rented a video.  During the last few years, I’ve mostly borrowed them from the public library, because the wait is well worth the money I save by doing so.  (It’s very rare that I’ll go to a first-run movie.  The last two first-run movies I’ve seen are Zodiac and Howl.  This year, it will definitely be The Conspirator.)  I would try renting from Netflix, but their pushiness when it comes to advertising has been a turn-off for me.  They definitely have a product I would use, but seeing their ads pop up all over my laptop screen has the opposite effect.

Much like other technology, I was a latecomer to the world of videotape.  I bought my first VCR from my friend Ivan at Ohio University in the spring of 1987.  He owned a Panasonic OmniVision which his parents gave him as a Christmas present when he was still in high school.  Ivan was, like many students, desperate for money once spring rolled around, so he sold me his ancient top-loader.

My first VCR.  Since I’ve never had a first car, I’m likely to be more sentimental about this.

In 1987, it was not common for all homes to have a way to record television shows.  Only the newer dorms (the ones on New South Green) were wired for cable in the individual rooms, and Athens was in a valley, so getting TV signals out of the air was next to impossible.  This meant I was making many trips to the video store on Stimson Ave. once I hooked the OmniVision up to my black-and-white TV.  I showed my friends the standard issue, such as the Star Trek movies, but used it also as a chance to show some of the classics of many genres.

That summer, I lived in a rented room above the Dairy Barn in Carthage, a neighborhood in the Mill Creek Valley just north of Cincinnati.  I was working (too few) hours as a typesetter at Feicke Web, producing the Homefinder magazine, a journal of real estate listings, and The Woman CPA, a trade publication.  As soon as I was settled in my new summer quarters, I joined the fledgling video club at the convenience store a few blocks down.  After work, I usually stopped there to pick up my usual dinner fare–a pound of cold meat, three cans of beer, and a loaf of bread.  Their selection of movies consisted mostly of action films–Chuck Norris, Schwarzenegger, the various Rambo and Rocky pictures.  Occasionally, when I plowed through the detritus, I found occasional gems.  This store was where I first rented Stand by Me and Psycho III.

By the time I had returned to Athens that fall, one of my friends had bought a VCR as well.  I went to Radio Shack and bought a set of patchcords, so if one of us had a movie that we wanted to own permanently, that meant we’d bring the two machines together and dub them onto blank VHS tapes.  (We knew there were criminal penalties for doing this.  How much did we respect this?  When showing movies in my room, a pre-movie ritual was everyone reading the warning aloud as it scrolled up the screen.  Occasionally, I would dub laugh tracks onto the warning.  I thought the worst-case scenario was brief incarceration in one of the minimum-security prisons with the golf courses and tennis courts.)

I’ve owned and worn out several VCRs in the meantime, both in my bachelor days and during my marriage.  I have narrowed down my collection of VHS tapes considerably, and finally own more DVDs than I do tapes.  I should probably shell out a little money to get the equipment to convert VHS to DVD, but it’s been on my “to do” list for quite some time.  (Yesterday, I mailed a VHS tape of the movie That Kind of Woman–based on a short story by my friend Robert Lowry–to a friend in Cincinnati so he could convert it to DVD for me.)

When I lived in Cincinnati, I very briefly considered buying a Beta video recorder.  It was at a yard sale, on sale for about $2, and Beta tapes occasionally still appeared at junk stores and library discard sales.  (This was when I was first becoming interested in old-time radio, and saw people ecstatic over getting three-record sets such as National Anthems of the World and pro-Bund propaganda broadcasts of the 1930s.) In some rare self-restraint, I opted not to, although I once had a Betamax ad hanging in my bedroom as a kid:


I knew it was unrealistic to expect our family to buy a Betamax–not where my father considered trips to the doctor and dentist unnecessary luxuries–but I loved an ad that acknowledged people who loved to watch late movies on TV, as I did at the time.

In the pre-Internet area, I frequently baffled the clerks at the Blockbuster stores in both Cincinnati and Columbus with my requests for odd titles.  Many stores provided PhonoLog listings of tapes that were available, and I would go through them whenever new pages arrived, looking in vain for B-movies I vaguely remembered from Channel 3’s All Night Theater when I was a teen.  (That Kind of Woman has yet to be released as a DVD or tape.  I obtained my copy only after joining a Sophia Loren fan club through Yahoo!Groups, and someone there was nice enough to dub me a copy.)  Even the older clerks and cashiers were completely baffled when I asked if they could order Gene Tierney in Whirlpool or James Stewart in Call Northside 777.

One industry that home video practically destroyed was the pornographic theater.  I live in Weinland Park, and it is close to the one- or two-block stretch of High St. called the Garden District, so named for the now-vacant Garden Theater, which was an X-rated movie and burlesque establishment.  When home video became the norm, people could watch their smut in the privacy of their own homes, and not have to feel embarrassed when a friend, employer, or clergy person saw them coming out at the end of the show.

When I lived in Boston, the one section of town I tried to avoid was The Combat Zone, on the edge of Chinatown and near the Tufts Medical Center.  As you can read here, I was wise to do so.  (I wasn’t always 100% successful.  Since I had no medical insurance with my job at The Harvard Crimson, I often went to the Medical Center’s free clinic whenever I needed to see a doctor.)

Arriving in Boston very low on money, but very much full of piss and vinegar, I decided to jump into freedom and independence with both feet, and applied for a job as a cashier and clerk at a smut bookstore on the edge of the Zone.  (I stopped in after an appointment at the Tufts Medical Center.)  The owner was straight out of central casting.  He wore a shirt that may have been white when Woodrow Wilson was President, a green eyeshade, his sleeves were balled up around his elbows, and he had a cold cheap cigar hanging from one corner of his mouth.)  I asked for a job application, and he passed me a clipboard and a ballpoint pen, I filled it out, and he hired me right on the spot, as long as I could pass a police check.  (The Boston police was keeping an eye on the area for prostitution and drug trafficking.  The outcry about bulldozing The Zone rose to high-decibel levels starting in 1976, when Andrew Puopolo, a Harvard cornerback, was fatally knifed outside a bar.)

I remember vowing to tell my dad that I had gotten a job “in a bookstore.”  Since it was Boston, there were more bookstores than gas stations, so I didn’t need to elaborate on what type of bookstore it was.  I was also relieved that my job did not involve mopping the floors of the private video booths in the rear, where you could spend a quarter to watch about 45 seconds of grainy 8-mm. smut footage.  (The owner elegantly described my job: Keep the minors out, make sure the “jerk-off technicians” didn’t shoplift the merchandise, make sure no drugs or child pornography were changing hands.)

But my career as a ground-level pornographer was not to be.  A day or two after I was hired, the owner called me and asked if I could start the job that night.  I said sure, but I was curious about the urgency, since I wasn’t supposed to start until a few days later.  He was quite casual about why.  The cashier who normally worked that night was shot the previous night during a robbery.  Could I work his shift while he recovered?

Suddenly the minimum-wage job washing dishes in a Brookline delicatessen sounded so much better.  I’m a zealous defender of the First Amendment, but being shot in a smut bookstore wasn’t as noble as publishing the Pentagon Papers.

The big question is what will occupy the soon-to-be-vacant Blockbuster site.  I can tell by the building’s architecture that it was at one time an A&P, another dying breed.  (The last one I saw was in Queens in the late 1980s.  The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company is no longer a corporate giant.)  Vacant buildings are much more the norm than the exception in many commercial neighborhoods in Columbus, and it seems that many businesses disappear overnight.  Denise’s Ice Cream, located in Clintonville, a place where I went with Susie and her friends many summer evenings after the pool, has closed.  I learned about this only as Susie and I were headed north for choir practice at the Unitarian Church, and I happened to look out the bus window and saw a big FOR RENT sign in Denise’s front window.

The day the last brick-and-mortar bookstore closes will be a day when I will truly grieve.  Borders’ Columbus stores are selling to the bare walls.  Coming home from church today, I saw a guy on the corner of High and Henderson holding a big EVERYTHING MUST GO! sign for the Borders on Kenny Road.  I am not as unhappy about the demise of McBookstores like Borders as I am about the small, privately owned stores.  The New Yorker best illustrated the problem in this cover:


Cards on the table: Even as I take Amazon.com to task for driving so many independent book dealers out of business, before I began typing this entry, I ordered a second-hand DVD of Exorcist III from a dealer via Amazon.com, at a cost of about $3.  The other side to this coin is the Website Abebooks, which has rescued many independent bookstores from total oblivion by expanding the customer base worldwide.  Several bookstores who were barely breaking even from foot traffic saw profits skyrocket when they listed on Abebooks, when customers from around the country (or world) began ordering.

Exile on High Street

Steph’s Saturday calendar was packed to the rim today (even more so than usual), and so, though she didn’t specifically order it, I’ve made myself scarce today.  I’m blogging at the Whetstone Library, one of the many stops I’ve made on High Street this afternoon.  I’ve been a regular on the 2 bus today.

Steph taught some voice and piano lessons this morning, and when I left, a double rehearsal for her a Capella women’s group, The MadriGals, had just started.  I slinked (slunk?) slowly and unmissed from the house, headed to Cartridge World to exchange ink cartridges for my Hewlett-Packard DeskJet printer/scanner.  (I’m too stingy to break down and buy a laser printer.)

There was rain last night and some this morning, so all of Columbus has a mildewy smell about it.  I seem to have outgrown most of the environmental allergies that plagued me as a kid, otherwise my eyes and nose would be running, and aforementioned eyes would be bloodshot right now.

I finally did buy the notebook I was seeking on Thursday, before my friend Scott and I found ourselves in the midst of the OSU AXE Undie Run.  (I’m still old enough to remember when having your underwear showing was the ultimate humiliation.  At the Ohio-Meadville Youth Con last weekend, I came to the conclusion that exposed bra straps are now a fashion statement of some kind.)  I bought a blue Mead 3″ x 5″ notepad, and christened it last night by making notes for a short story.  I haven’t typed a word of the story itself, but I think I know what I want to do with it.

I turned around and headed north here to Whetstone, mainly to return interlibrary loan books.  If they’re overdue, the fines can be prohibitively expensive.  I also picked up a Book on CD, Haiku, the most recent Andrew Vachss novel.  (I was a bit leery, since he’s permanently retired the Burke series, but what little I read of this book in print sounds fantastic.)

I’m not sure where Susie is.  She was in her bedroom with the door closed when I left.  I doubt I could have interested her in a trip to Cartridge World, so I didn’t bother to knock.  I had company on the errand; I’ve begun a long overdue taped letter to a friend of mine, so I was communing with my tape recorder (the Memorex MB1055 standard-sized one, not Diane the Olympus microcassette recorder).  As I was waiting to catch the northbound bus, a gaggle of four or five sorority women walked by (I was in front of the Newport Music Hall), and one leaned over and shouted “Hi!” into the microphone while I was talking, sounding like a nursery school kid on Romper Room.  The time-and-temperature sign in front of the Ohio Union said 12:45 p.m., and these women were already quite drunk.  It made me wonder how long they’d been at it.

I’m going to a wedding on Second Life tomorrow night–one of my rare forays into that domain.  (Its national anthem should be the Alan Parsons Project’s “In The Real World”: “Don’t wanna live my life/In the real world.”)  Steph and I are tux-shopping for me tonight.  I’ll enjoy that as much as I enjoy real-world clothes-shopping, I’m sure.  (I’ve worn a tuxedo only once in my life, when I was best man at a friend’s wedding.  When I saw myself wearing the tux, I wondered if it came with a hurdy-gurdy and a monkey, or if I’d have to buy them separately.  I didn’t even wear a tux to my own wedding!)

Were it not for the threat of rain, and my overfilled over-the-shoulder bag, I might have walked from campus to here, all 20+ blocks.  The musty after-rain smell didn’t make me as miserable as it would have during my childhood, but it was still triggering an itchy palate.

I probably should have walked, because I dozed off a few times on the relatively short bus ride north.  I slept rather well last night, but I recognized the dozings-off on the bus as narcoleptic attacks; I was going straight into REM sleep and dreaming in a matter of seconds.  It’s happened a lot on the way home from work lately, too.  Last week, I was riding the northbound bus and reading The New Yorker, and at least three times I dozed off, awakening only when my magazine hit the bus floor.  (The article I was reading was far from dull, too.)

The cough seems to be 95% gone.  I do still cough from time to time, but the tickle in my throat doesn’t trigger the long and loud bouts that have plagued me through much of March and April.  The chest pain episode on my birthday turned out to be pleurisy, so I’m willing to bet it’s all part of the same package.  There was a woman on the bus the other day whose cough sounded as bad as mine, although I could tell by the sound that she had a much more productive cough than I did.  (Mine was dry 99 times out of a hundred.)  I’d look over toward her seat and her face was red from the effort of all that coughing.

She got off the bus before I did, and I saw her opening her purse as she stepped off the bus.  I thought she was getting out an aspirator (for asthma), or her cell phone (so a friend could take her to Urgent Care), but I was wrong on both counts.  I was just shaking my head in disbelief when I saw her pulling out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes.  No doubt where her cough originated.  (Mine was probably an opportunistic infection that came when I was still recovering from the gallbladder surgery.)