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:

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!

What Hath God Wrought?

I guess the first words Samuel Finley Morse sent by telegraph are an appropriate way to christen my new computer.  After the theft earlier this month, I spent much time on the phone and online with Purchasing Power, a union benefits which enables me to buy computers through payroll deduction.  (Thirty-nine payments, and this baby–and the computer I bought for Susie–will be ours free and clear.)

So, this is the first blog entry on my spankin’ brand new Hewlett Packard Pavilion dv7.  The two computers (along with the various accessories and program disks) have been arriving all week, but tonight I finally cut the boxes open and set up both machines.

My new machine.

This afternoon, the leasing agent gave me the keys (all three of them) to our new half double on Maynard Ave.  Officially, Susie and I will be in residence Saturday, although we’re going to begin moving in piecemeal during the week.  (I am leaving most, if not all, of the furniture behind.  One of the reasons I’m leaving Weinland Park is to get away from the two-legged pests around me.  It would be counterproductive to take six-legged ones with me.  Thanks to the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio, I’ll be able to start over from the ground up with new furnishings in our new place.)  Susie was happy as ever when she came home this afternoon (from a Unitarian Universalist Youth Conference in Kirtland, Ohio) and walked through the house the second time.  The floors smelled of fresh varnish, and all the keys worked.

Susie and I are “in exile” this week.  Last Sunday afternoon, I was jumped and robbed on E. 6th Ave. while walking to Kroger, after cutting across Weinland Park Elementary School’s playground.  If I wasn’t already vacating the neighborhood, I think I would be much more traumatized by the event, especially if I had the feeling that there was no escape.  The kid that ran up behind me and sent me sprawling across the sidewalk didn’t cause any physical damage, other than some pulled muscles in my shins and two skinned knees.  A bizarre byproduct of the mugging was that I am so grateful that I use a debit card much more often now.  If this had happened anytime before this spring, I would have cashed my paycheck on payday and carried one or two weeks’ worth of wages around in cash in my wallet.  So, as it was, this thug came away with $7 in cash, but I still had money available, even with payday almost a week away.  So, we’ve been staying with Pat and his family until we officially move into our place in the Old North.

I spent much of this weekend working.  The fall quarter started at Columbus State Community College, so I worked eight hours yesterday and four hours today.  The four hours today were much more boring.  I was operating at a serious sleep deficit, because Pat, his daughter, and some of his friends and I went to see Metropolis at the Grandview Theater.  It was the first time I had seen Fritz Lang’s dystopian 1927 movie, and it was Fritz the Nite Owl’s September offering.  The show started at 11, with the latest episodes of Aidan 5 and Metropolis-related music videos.  I wasn’t in bed until nearly 4 a.m., and out of bed again a little after 7:15.  I ran outside after showering and dressing, and barely made it to work on time.  As Messrs. Lennon and McCartney would say, I made the bus in seconds flat.

So what was the high point of the work day?  Nationwide Insurance’s world headquarters looms to the east of the Discovery Exchange, and I watched workers on a scaffold (like high-rise window-washers use) install a letter t at the top floor of One Nationwide Plaza.  They’ve already installed Nationwide’s trademarks and the letters N and a.  Looking out the windows facing west, I could watch the workers as they set the t in place.

Even a four-hour work day, on very little sleep, seems to drag on forever.  It was a little more bearable because there were two overflowing carts loaded with returned books, so I disappeared into the shelves and put the books back where they belonged.  I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t at church, but this is the only Sunday of the quarter that the bookstore is open, and every little bit of extra cash comes in handy.  It was both a blessing and a curse that I had something to look forward to–Susie’s return from the conference, and getting the keys to our new abode.

Amazing that I’m able to hit the right keys, and so post a blog entry that looks like passable English.  I am still learning this keyboard–it doesn’t quite feel right to me yet, although I know I am going to spend many quality hours with it in time to come (especially if I make another quixotic attempt at National Novel Writing Month come November).  Add to that the fact that I am quite exhausted, and I’m surprised this post doesn’t resemble a spilled type tray.

Another milestone of the weekend: I made a pot of chicken soup for dinner tonight, a very generous portion that served all six of us, with ginormous portions left over.  Tanya walked me through the procedure step by step, and I ate two whole bowls of it, and everyone was sated.  I received a lot of compliments.  Next week, I’m learning split pea soup.

Susie Sees Her New Home–Inside and Out

Around dusk last night, Susie and I took the bus from our soon-to-be-ex neighborhood (Weinland Park) so I could give her a brief tour of the half-double in Old North Columbus (known more informally as Baja Clintonville).  I was racing the sunset, and only expected her to see the exterior.  I won’t have the keys in my possession until a week from tomorrow, and we don’t officially live there until October 1.

Our timing was excellent.  We got off the bus and were walking westward on East Maynard, and the first thing I noticed was that our half double was blazing with light.  I looked up and I saw Jerome, the leasing agent I’ve been emailing, speaking with, and meeting with since the word go, as he crossed the street from his truck, paintbrush in hand.  I was glad to see him, and asked if I could give Susie a brief tour of her new home.  He said sure, so we went in.

Normally, a house full of empty rooms doesn’t attract much interest, but Susie walked from room to room, quite enthralled.  The fact that it’s not in Weinland Park is 95% of the charm, to be sure, but she was already mentally planning where her bedroom furniture will go in the new place.  (She’s decided she doesn’t want to have the head of her bed under the windowsill, because she’s tired of hitting herself in the head upon awakening.)  She took over the master bedroom when Steph moved out, but I’m reclaiming it in this new place.  All of the rooms smell like fresh paint, and Jerome said the only major project remaining was to stain and varnish the floors.  (I like hardwood floors, especially since I don’t own a vacuum cleaner at present.  There was shag carpeting on the upper floors when I took the first tour of the place, but it’s gone now.  That was mainly because the previous tenants had a big dog they let run wild–which may be okay if you live out in the country, but not in a half double in the big city.  The shag carpeting smelled of dog urine, but when I came to hand over the check for the deposit, the carpet was gone and the second floor deodorized.)

Susie and I spent the next hour at Kafé Kerouac, using their computers.  I thought about writing a blog entry last night, but I was using a computer that dropped its Internet connection whenever somebody sneezed, and a machine that was very slow to respond to anything I typed.  I am a very fast typist, and using that computer last night reminded me of what I heard about Linotype operators back in the days of molten lead and hot type.  The mark of a good linotypist was that he would have to stop and wait for the machine to catch up to him.  For me it was just frustrating.

We walked south on Indianola most of the way home.  The evening was young, and students are starting to return to Ohio State for the fall quarter, so there were students wandering around with cases of beer.  It was barely 11 p.m., and already quite a few of them were under the influence.

We began to smell smoke around Indianola and E. 11th Ave.  At first, it was a sooty smell, like someone had been barbequing and had removed the food from the grill.  But the smell kept getting more intense the further south we walked,  and before long I suspected there was probably a fire somewhere nearby.  We were close enough to campus for me to think at first it was someone being careless with an impromptu bonfire or couch-burning, but as we walked further from campus, we began heading east toward our house.

It says a lot about Weinland Park and how unsafe we feel when I told Susie we should walk toward the fire.  I knew we would be safe there, because a fire would have police officers and firefighters everywhere, so nothing could happen to us.  We were walking past St. Sophia Orthodox Cathedral at Indianola and E. 9th Ave. when I looked east and saw a column of black smoke rising up against the night sky.  I knew the fire had to be pretty much under control, because I saw two fire engines leaving the scene at a rather leisurely pace.  As we walked, I saw a few embers of flames glowing here and there on the roof of a building, and I guessed right away where the building was.

There was a 1969 comedy movie called If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.  A similar phrase would be, “If it’s burning, this must be N. 5th St.”  (I’ve explained it before, but to avoid confusion: The numbered streets in Columbus are the exact opposite of Manhattan’s.  In Columbus, streets run north-south, avenues run east-west.)

And sure enough, a white frame duplex on N. 5th St. was on fire.  To my untrained eye, it looked like a total loss.  I’ve walked past it before, when headed toward OSU or anywhere else north of Weinland Park, and the doors were boarded up and the windows painted shut.  Whether this was arson or not, I have no idea.  Before I began typing this entry, I looked at The Columbus Dispatch‘s Website, and there was no story about it.  Fires on N. 5th St. no longer count as news.  My neighbor Rory’s blog hasn’t mentioned it yet, and he has had an ongoing series about Weinland Park fires.

Weinland Park’s official flag.    

Last night’s fire made me more thankful than ever that we will be leaving this dismal neighborhood.  During the year it has been home, I tried to reassure myself I was living there ahead of the curve.  (I have vague memories of when the Short North was a neighborhood no sane person would venture into after dark, and now it’s the trendiest neighborhood in Central Ohio.)  If anything, the neighborhood has deteriorated even further in the past year.  The drug peddling, the mugging, and the burglaries have become more brazen.

Susie wants out of Weinland Park as much as I do, and it is two weeks before we officially live in the ‘Ville again.  However, she did show a naivete about the neighborhood that almost made me laugh.  I went ahead and ordered two new laptops, and asked that they be shipped c/o a friend’s house–he works at home a lot, and his wife is usually home during the day.  I wondered about bringing them home to Weinland Park, and our neighbors seeing us bringing in new computers.  “We can do it while everyone is at work and school,” Susie suggested.

Work?  And school?  Weinland Park residents?

A Memorable 9/11 for Susie and Me

In perusing the blogosphere and Facebook posts today, it would almost seem like self-indulgent sacrilege to post anything other than reflections and reminiscences about the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Maybe, like me, you are 9/11’d out.  I do not downplay the horror, bloodshed, and tragedy, but I write of personal matters today because it may be a little while before I will have access to a computer for blogging purposes.

Why?  Both Susie’s and my laptop computers, as well as our Wii console, were stolen last night/early this morning.  I am just thankful that Susie was not in town when it happened.  She was at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Dayton, at youth chaplain training.  It may be fortunate that I was not at home.  I was at a concert at the Dude Locker in Clintonville, and discovered my back door ajar and both computers missing upon my return.  (It shows how little I use the Wii–Susie noticed it was gone; I didn’t.)

The event finalized any lingering doubts that I have had about getting the hell out of Weinland Park.  I moved there last year with the same high hopes and enthusiasm as I did when we lived in Franklinton, eager to do good and go a step beyond the people who were full of solutions about a blighted area, retreating at 5 p.m. to the safety of Worthington or New Albany.  Now I see it’s an area where the children are out of control and where the civic leaders who see it as the next Olde Towne East seem to think of mugging, burglary, and drug pushing as performance art.

Happily, I can report that our exodus from Weinland Park is a fait accompli.  Soon after Susie came home from Dayton, I met a leasing agent and handed over a cashier’s check.  As of October 1, Susie and I will be returning to the ‘Ville (Clintonville).  I found a three-bedroom half double in Baja Clintonville, around the corner from the Maynard Avenue United Methodist Church.  The price is affordable, and the landlord has been hard at work on improvements in the week or two since I first looked at the place.  The previous tenants were two graduate students who liked to party and who must have thought it was bad karma to housebreak their dog, so the leasing agent, I think, was happy to be renting to a single parent and teenage daughter.

Aerial photograph of the general area where Susie and I will live.

The news about the burglary was pretty upsetting to Susie, so I was glad that I was able to offset with the news that our time in Weinland Park is very brief.  I think she had begun to despair of our ever getting out of there, and I admit that I was mysterious about the fact I was meeting with a rental agent this afternoon.

We don’t have the keys yet.  The owner still wants to do a little more work, but he will hand me the keys on the 25th (two weeks from today), and that is when the move-in process begins.  Since my soon-to-be-ex-landlord was not all that conscientious about keeping vermin at bay (the two- and six-legged variety), Susie and I will not be moving as much.  The biggest pain, as always, will be books.  (I have three milk cartons consisting of diaries alone.  You can imagine what the rest of the library is like!)

I am hoping the computers are insured.  I am buying them through a purchasing plan my union sponsors, and theft should be covered under that.  If not, back to the drawing board and start buying another computer.  This is the one time in my life I’ve been thankful for a dry spell, writing-wise.  I have to admit there is not much writing that was lost on my laptop.  I wrote The Sad Hospital on a typewriter, and my memoir about Robert Lowry (which has been in the home stretch for over a year and a half, “in measurable distance of its end,” to quote the telescreen announcer in 1984) exists in several incarnations, including a hard copy I printed out and an optical disk.  Susie, I am afraid, has lost several poems, stories, and projects with the theft of her machine.

Mixed Feelings About a Street Shrine

Columbus police fatally shot a 21-year-old man a month ago, about a hundred yards from where I live.  I was not home when this happened, and thankfully Susie was in Florida when it happened.  Apparently, the police came to serve arrest warrants on the guy, and he bolted from the house on N. 5th where they found him, and ran out to N. 4th, shooting at the police on the way.  They fired back at him, and he was dead at the scene.  Most troubling, this happened around dinnertime, when N. 4th St. is quite busy.  Across the street, elementary school-aged children were on the field at Weinland Park Elementary School, with football and cheerleading practices.

A picture of Weinland Park (with Weinland Park Elementary School in the background) that Steph took in November.

On my way home from work the next day, I glanced out the bus window and I saw an impromptu shrine at the site where he died.  Mylar balloons and flowers clustered around a foam rubber cross, and people had left cards and small stuffed animals.  (My first experience with these little street shrines was in Cincinnati, where I would occasionally see them set up at the site of fatal car accidents.)
I confess to some ambivalence when seeing this shrine–now dismantled, since the guy’s burial.  My first feelings were in no way charitable.  Why is anyone honoring this guy? I wondered.  According to the newspaper, his resumé included outstanding warrants for receiving stolen property, aggravated robbery, and illegally possessing a firearm.  The police were not coming to get him because of too many jaywalking tickets.  He pulled his weapon on the officers first.  This was not a case of a trigger-happy officer who fires on someone, only to find out the person had been reaching into his pocket for a cell phone or a pack of cigarettes.  Nor was this a young man in the wrong place at the wrong time while on his way to visit his bedridden grandfather.  (I thought of an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street when Detective Frank Pemberton sees graffiti memorializing a thug who had died in an exchange of gunfire with police.  Pemberton looks at the graffiti with contempt, and proceeds to spit on the dead criminal’s name.)
But equally disturbing were some of the comments posted on the TV news Websites.  I looked at the video clips of the news coverage, and almost all of them thanked the police for saving the taxpayers money on trial and prison expenses.  The most brutal comment was “Cleanup on Aisle 5!!”  My normal reaction is to scroll past wisdom like this and say, “What an asshole!”, but I was caught up short by the first thought that ran through my head when I saw the shrine.
It takes effort, but I have to remember that this young man was someone’s son, maybe someone’s father.  I even try to remember John Donne’s words:
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

And that includes the death of this young man, or even the death of Osama bin Laden.
My feelings for police have been lukewarm at best for most of my adult life.  I never considered becoming a police officer, mainly because part of the job involved carrying a weapon.  (The only law enforcement job I ever seriously considered was Postal Inspector, but that too involves carrying a gun.  Weapons are deal-breakers for me, job-wise.)  As a teenager, I compiled a rather impressive portfolio of status offenses, but I was only arrested when I was in my 20s, arrested for disorderly conduct in Athens while I was a student at O.U.  When I appeared in Athens Municipal Court, I pleaded no contest.  I was quite under the influence when arrested that night.
That didn’t elevate my esteem of police, but I never embraced blind hatred of them.  When I lived in Cincinnati and habituated the Subway on West McMillan, the people behind the counter often played a compact disk of anarchist punk band Chumbawamba’s 1992 album Shhh, an album I enjoyed (and recently downloaded from immensely.  One of the songs was “Happiness is Just a Chant Away.”  The last half of the song parodies the Hare Krishna mantra with the words “Harry Roberts, Harry Roberts, Roberts Roberts, Harry Harry.”  Harry Roberts was a British career criminal who killed three police officers, and soccer hooligans and rioters are fond of chanting his name, along with a charming little song “Harry Roberts is our friend, is our friend, is our friend.  Harry Roberts is our friend, he kills coppers,” sung to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down.”
Discussion about Weinland Park crime seems to bring out the opposite of “the better angels of our nature” cited by Lincoln.  In this entry, which I posted in May, I described when a child, aged six or seven at the most, walked up to me for no reason and hit me with a closed fist, running away giggling to his friends who watched him from a street corner.  I described the incident on a message board on Columbus Underground, and I was appalled when one reader suggested I start carrying pepper spray or a Taser, and if it happens again, use them on the kid.  The debate about whether or not it was appropriate to Taser a six-year-old went on for days.
In this morning’s Columbus Dispatch, I read an article about the 1996 murder of the owner of the D&J Carryout, an eyesore and blight to Weinland Park located on the corner of N. 4th St. and E. 8th Ave.  The current owners have learned nothing from this legacy.  They allow the place to be used for drug deals, kids are loitering on its stoop each hour it’s open, and the owners turn a blind eye to the kids who attack pedestrians for their money and cell phones.  This Google Maps picture (enter “1395 N. 4th St., Columbus, Ohio 43201” in the search engine) accurately depicts the intersection, although the apartment building on the northwest corner has been razed since this was taken.  Do a 360-degree turnaround on the picture and see the disrepair of the buildings and properties.
I barely knew that the previous owner of the D&J was murdered.  When the murder happened in January 1996, Steph and I were living in a furnished one-bedroom apartment on Highland Ave., just south of the OSU campus, and planning our wedding.  (These were rather cramped quarters, since I rented the place fully intending it to be a bachelor apartment.)  I had no reason to be on that corner.  I came away much more informed once I finished reading this article.  Yet one of the comments posted on The Dispatch‘s Website doesn’t mention the senselessness of the murder, or the fact that it left a family without a husband and father.  All it said was, “He was probably another Muslim terrorist who could not speak English and paid no taxes.”  (The murdered owner of the D&J, Dib Yasin, was Palestinian, born in Jerusalem.)
Below is a video that I took last December, when the apartment building in the Google Maps shot was beginning to come down:
I guess gone are the days when tragedy brings out our nobler instincts.  I have lived almost a year in Weinland Park.  I was attracted at first by its cheap rent, and its proximity to the Really, Really Free Market and the Sporeprint Infoshop.  Careful readers of this blog will also recall that when Steph and I first realized ’tis time to part, we originally planned that Steph would have custody of Susie.  Now that I am raising Susie on my own, the urge to vamoose from this area takes precedence over many other things.  Gandhi often said the only tyrant before whom he bowed down was the “still small voice within me.”  The still small voice within me is saying to try and leave this neighborhood as soon as possible.

Do Something About My Neighborhood–Just Not Yet

Last night, Susie and I were walking the few blocks from the Northside branch of the library back home.  Kitty-corner to the library is a Dollar Tree, with a Kroger across the street from it.  On our short walk home, Susie and I counted four shopping carts on the sidewalk, taken from Kroger’s lot and abandoned.

I was shaking my head and clucking my tongue about this, another new arrival in Weinland Park wringing his hands about the detritus in the neighborhood–the trash, the ditched shopping carts, etc.

And yes, I do want these to change, and I will lend a hand in whatever way I can.  But tonight I was grateful that the clean-up has yet to begin.

Our union handed out an early Christmas gift to each member today: a $50 gift card from Meijer.  I immediately emailed Steph with this news, and asked her to email me back a small shopping list.  She did.  Payday’s a week away, so it’s good to be able to stock up on groceries for free.  The only trouble is, the only Meijer store I could reach was over an hour away on the bus–way out in Gahanna, on the east side of Columbus.  (Any resemblance between that name and “Gehenna”, the Valley of the Son of Hinnom used as a metaphor for Hell in the Bible, is purely intentional, I’m sure.)

Distance or no, I realized that I needed to restock our larder.  I bought milk, cereal, bread, meat, pop, hot chocolate mix, and some things for Susie, and when I reached the self-checkout, the bill came to $50.12!  I have to hand it to Steph–she planned the list almost right down to the penny, except for the 12 pennies I had to pony up on my own!

Laden with Meijer plastic bags, I crossed the parking lot and waited less than 10 minutes before the westbound 95 arrived.  This is the bus that goes back and forth on Morse Rd., a trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat.  I had packed the bags myself, so I’m sure I probably didn’t distribute everything wisely.  (The loaves of bread I bought are all kinds of funny shapes.)  I managed to load everything on the bus, and it was a pretty uneventful ride west on Morse until I got off to transfer to the bus that goes south on Indianola.  The handle on one of the bags broke, and I barely managed to catch the gallon jug of milk before it hit the bus floor and possibly burst.  A teenage girl sitting in one of the seats in front of me helped me organize things enough to get them off the bus.

I had to make two trips to get everything onto the southbound bus, and I dreaded the two-block walk from where the bus let me off to my house.  I looked around and, sitting under the streetlight, there stood a shopping cart from Kroger, the same shopping cart I had derided in my walk with Susie last night.  I was overjoyed to see this.  I loaded all my bags, all of them bursting at the seams, into the cart and pushed it home.  I was afraid the entire time that I would be the one person a police officer would arrest as an example to people who habitually steal shopping carts.  I must have engaged my cloaking device somewhere along the way, because I made it without incident to my kitchen, heaved a huge sigh of relief, and then began unpacking everything I bought at Meijer.

Dateline: Weinland Park

I almost said this was from my new “20,” but many of my readers may have come of age in the post-CB radio era, and never heard C.W. McCall’s one-hit wonder “Convoy.”  (A “20” is a location, in CB jargon.)  Anyway, this is the first time I’ve had the energy and the solitude necessary to type this, my first blog entry from our new home in Weinland Park.  (That’s the name of the neighborhood, as well as the city park.  We’re most definitely not living in the park itself!)

Weinland Park is the neighborhood bordered by E. 5th Ave. to the south, N. High St. to the west, E. 11th Ave. to the north, and the Conrail tracks to the east.  The statistics for this section of town are grim, but I know many people who remember when the Short North, which is probably the trendiest neighborhood in Columbus, was a neighborhood no sane person would venture into after dark.  Neither Olde Towne East nor German Village were always the yuppie paradises they are now.  Weinland Park has a long way to go, but it’s quite suitable to our–my–needs.

The arrow on this Google Map does not represent
our house.  This is the Weinland Park neighborhood,
with the A indicating (I think) the Godman Guild.

It is just north of Italian Village, and it is a nice walk, and not an overly long one, to the OSU campus.  At the same time, it’s not so close to OSU that we will have to deal with the rioting, empty beer cans, open containers, and public urination that come after every Buckeyes football game, whether won or lost.  We are in a half double, and the layout is quite similar to the Clintonville place we just vacated.

Most importantly, the rent is quite affordable.  High school home economics teachers used to tell kids that rent should never consume more than 25% of your income, and in the last decade or so, I have wondered whether or not that was realistic.  For the first time since I’ve lived on my own, I think that I’m actually going to be doing that.  In the next few months, Steph and Susie will be moving out, once our divorce is final.  Neither Steph nor I know how much I will pay in child support, but living here, I can realistically expect to maintain this half double as my bachelor quarters without breaking my bank.

Friday was the day of the big move.  Steph, Susie, and I spent much of the week packing, weeding out, and moving everything down to the first floor of the old place.  Steph went to Cincinnati for the weekend that afternoon, and I made the big move from Clintonville to Weinland Park during the evening.  My friend John brought his pickup truck, and in quite a few back-breaking relays, we moved the furniture.  Steve and his daughter Amelia (my companion on the “One Nation Working Together” Washington trip earlier this month) did quite well transporting my books and the other contents of my office.  We started around 6 p.m., and it was after 2 a.m. Saturday before I was able to say, “That’s a wrap.  Cut and print.”  Susie had made and collapsed into her new bedroom while John, Amelia, Steve, and I were still moving items.

As I observed on Twitter, any friend can help you move.  True friends will help you move bodies and books.

Soon after everyone departed, I fell asleep in my new bedroom.  I was so tired I fell asleep fully clothed (including shoes, watch, and glasses) on the mattress, and I was too wiped out to put sheets on the mattress.  It wasn’t until morning that I realized that the smoke detector in my bedroom is defective–it chirps about every 30-45 seconds.  I tried installing a new battery, which did no good.  I even called the fire department to ask their advice–they told me to speak to my landlord, which I did (via voice mail).  I was too tired for it to disturb me.  I think that Friday night-Saturday morning, I could easily have slept on a bed of nails, the way that Zen Buddhists have mastered.

My sleep was not long, because I had to be awake for the guy from WOW Internet and Cable to come and install the cable.  Steph crossed the threshold this morning when she came back from Cincinnati, and we’ve been unpacking and sending things to their appropriate rooms.

We don’t plan to do much entertaining, so the front room (the living room) has become my office, and the middle (dining) room is where Steph and Susie have set up their laptops, and where the TV and Wii reside.  Steph’s and my bedrooms are in the same locations as they were in Clintonville.  She has the master bedroom, and I have the middle one.  Susie’s back bedroom is flooded with light in the afternoons, and she has the most closet space.  (We estimated the house to be just post-World War II, which means the two bigger bedrooms have very narrow closets.)

Susie was quite ingenious.  Her closet includes steps to the attic, and the attic is permanently off limits.  At the top of the steps, there is a hatch that is closed up with a combination lock.  Since Susie’s dresser was falling apart, we left it behind, and Susie has used the steps to the attic in lieu of shelves.  She’s stacked her pullover shirts, underwear, socks, etc. on the steps as she would lay them out in drawers.

Another drawing card for me is the proximity to Sporeprint Infoshop.  (I’ve shared the link and sung its praises before, but I’m doing it again.)  Sporeprint events, such as the Really, Really Free Market and Food Not Bombs were what attracted me to the Weinland Park area initially.  I walked past Sporeprint’s E. 5th Ave. headquarters this afternoon, headed home after errands to Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, and someone there invited me inside.  I came home laden with bread, pastries, eggs, and a cherry pie.  And all I did was make contact and say hi.  I have long wanted to volunteer with Sporeprint, and I can do it, now that I’m closer.  It’s also a shorter walk home from any activities that occur at the Awarehouse, the bike repair bay/party hall in the alley behind E. 5th Ave.

I’m typing this at the worktable in the living room/office.  Both Steph and Susie are asleep in their rooms, and since I’m going to be working tomorrow, I should follow their lead.  The office is not set up yet–I still have several crates and boxes to unload, but photographs will be forthcoming once I’m finished.

This malfunctioning fire alarm causes me to be grateful for having narcolepsy.  Since I fall asleep easily, whether I want to or not, I should be able to sleep through having that thing going off all night.

Interesting acoustic counterpoint here.  I hear a long train on the Conrail tracks to the east of my house, and while I’m typing, I’m listening to Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” coming from the laptop.  The sounds aren’t all that compatible.

Thanks for the MRIs; Confessions of a Guinea Pig

This afternoon I turned the tables on the medical profession and Ohio State University Medical Center.  I went in and spent an hour with my head in the MRI machine, and they paid me.  I didn’t have to produce my insurance card, didn’t have a medical bracelet to staple to a page in my diary.  Instead, after I filled out the paperwork, the technician handed me a $20 bill.

Awhile back, I added my name to an email alert list for people willing to be test subjects for medical and drug studies, as long as I was paid for the time and effort.  Last week, I received an email from the OSU Medical Center, asking if I’d be willing to participate in a study of noninvasive MRI cardiac imaging.  I emailed back and told her I was.  I told her I’d had MRI studies before.  (My psychiatrist had ordered one in 2000, checking to see if I had Parkinson’s.  I didn’t–my guess is he was noticing some odd Asperger’s mannerisms I wasn’t even aware I did.)

So I reported to the Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza on Kenny Rd. at 4 this afternoon, filled out the paperwork, and eventually found myself lying on the moving table in my shorts and shirt, with suction-cup leads on my chest and a camera-electromagnet across my chest, sliding head first into the white-lined MRI.  (The only way to describe it is that it feels like they’re sticking your head in a dryer.)

Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza

The hardest part was lying still, especially when my nose began to itch.  The machine is quite loud when they’re actually taking the images.  It feels like someone is banging on the sides of the machine with a hammer or a closed fist.  The technician gave me headphones, and when I wasn’t listening to the director telling me what to expect and asking me questions, I listened to WOSU-FM.  (There was a microphone inside the MRI, so I could communicate with the operator.)  Fortunately, I am not claustrophobic, because OSU only has closed MRIs.  (The only open MRI facility I’ve seen in Columbus is at the Broad Street Imaging Center in Olde Towne East.) 
One of the future studies will involve being injected with a dye, and I’ll get $40, instead of $20.  That should be in about three weeks.
I first served as a “guinea pig” in Boston in the summer of 1983.  With The Crimson only publishing twice weekly, and work on The Confidential Guide to Courses at Harvard-Radcliffe pouring in erratically, I needed some extra folding money.  I signed up for a study (Friday afternoon to early Saturday evening) for three consecutive weekends testing Propranalol, a hypertension drug that was then newly on the market.  I reported to a house in Jamaica Plain where I was with about 30 other men, staying in a dorm-type setup (four to a room, bunk beds), and awakened every few hours for blood draws, blood pressure, etc.  And of course, even for that short a period of time shut in together, everyone gets on one another’s nerves.  I often retreated to the laundry room to read, write in my journal, etc.  They paid small increments at the end of the first two studies–after your last blood draw, they’d hand you a check on the way out.  The third check was the big one, and they ended up paying us $200 more than the ad in The Boston Globe quoted!
The oddest study I ever did was in the summer of 1987.  I was on summer break from Ohio University, and working a summer job as a typesetter for Homefinder magazine, which meant I spent two or three days typing away at the Feicke Printing Company’s ugly old building on Iowa Ave. in Cincinnati, and the rest of the time fretting about how the meager paycheck would last.  Christ Hospital advertised they needed test animals participants for a study of the Coxsackie A virus, a strain that could cause mouth blisters, pinkeye, rashes, and upper respiratory infections.  I passed the initial screening, and spent a week shut in the basement floor of the nurses’ dorm at Christ Hospital with other men, most of them unemployed or homeless.  (Fortunately, the study was on a week when I didn’t have to work.)  I read, watched lots of movies–the nurse running the study, who vacillated between Nurse Ratched and loving den mother, had to impose a rule that we could only watch porn movies at night, since nurses were in and out of our section during the day.  (One guy had brought his impressive collection of Swedish Erotica tapes.)
The odd thing about this study was that we had to save our Kleenex.  For this purpose, we had to carry pillowcase-sized Ziploc bags at all times, and eventually we would turn these in so the nurses and technicians could weigh them to see just how runny our noses were.  I lucked out; I learned later I had been given a placebo (they gave us the virus by nose drops).  Other guys were using so much Kleenex they were using their tissue bags as throw pillows and bolsters.
Later that summer, I was part of a Rhiniovirus study.  I caught enough colds for free in my lifetime that I jumped at the chance to get paid for it.  This time, I did develop the sniffles and a low-grade fever, but not as badly as some guys did.  The pay for this was enough to be spending money (includes books and new glasses) at O.U. for most of fall quarter.
Christ Hospital reran the study later after realizing they needed to separate their subjects better.  It turned out that the results were fatally flawed because when everyone was shut in together in such close quarters, we were all cross-infecting one another.  When they did the study again, they took an entire wing of a hotel and put everyone in solitary confinement (which, truthfully, I would have preferred.)  The only time they interacted was during meals, when everyone would sit in the doorways of their rooms.  That must be what being a sequestered juror is like.
I need to send this blog entry out into the world.  Tomorrow’s moving day, and I have to close up my office and get it ready.  I’m meeting the landlord at 4 p.m. for the key to our new quarters near Weinland Park.
The next entry I post will be after the move is completed and I’ve managed to sleep afterwards!

My Weekend for Sacred Texts

Before I head off to bed, I’m going to sit down and type some notes on the weekend that just ended, and get it posted.  So, Messrs. Nelson, Kristofferson, Jennings, and Cash are singing “The Highwayman” (from the disk The Legend of Johnny Cash), and I’m polishing off my last Diet Pepsi of the day.

I’m recently back from the Noor Islamic Cultural Center and their Ramadan open house.  I went with Steve Palm-Houser and his daughter Amelia.  Guests from many of Columbus’ many houses of worship came for the presentation, and for the food served at 8:09 p.m. (official sunset).  We even came away with small gift bags–a trade paperback of the Oxford University Press’ edition of The Qur’an (©2005), a picture brochure of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin (quite a beautiful building, both inside and out), and several pamphlets from the Website Why Islam?.

One of the guest speakers was Cantor Jack Chomsky, who leads the services (weekday and Shabbat) at Congregation Tifereth Israel, the Conservative synagogue in Olde Towne East.  He and the rabbis of that temple were a shining beacon to everyone in the post-9/11 lunacy and xenophobia which became fashionable, if not epidemic, in the U.S.  Down E. Broad St. from Tifereth Israel, the Islamic Center was severely vandalized, and the damage was so extensive that the building had to undergo extensive and costly repairs.  The rabbis and leaders offered the Muslims the use of the temple for their five daily prayers and Friday prayers for as long as it took to make their facility usable again.  To this day, Tifereth Israel loans out their parking lot gratis for the parking overflow for the Friday prayers.  (The leadership at Tifereth Israel are so treasonous as to not take their marching orders from Limbaugh, Beck, Gingrich, etc., and their congregation, and Olde Towne East, is much the richer for it.)

You almost needed to roll me out of the Islamic Cultural Center after the meal.  I had generous helpings of rice, chicken, hummus, lamb, and lentil soup.  (I had a beard trim this afternoon–more about that soon–so I felt I could eat lentil soup.  When the beard is untrimmed, I usually abstain from it.  About 25 years ago, I was eating a meal in a kosher restaurant in Flushing one winter night with my friend Ken Katz.  I saw two old Hasidic men–complete with the long, untrimmed beards–eating lentil soup.  If you want to lose your appetite in a hurry, that’s all you need to see.)

The Qur’an from the Oxford World’s Classics was my second sacred text today.  I slept too late to go to church today, but in the early afternoon, Susie and I went to the Really, Really Free Market in Weinland Park.  The Sporeprint Infoshop sponsors the Really, Really Free Market the last Sunday of every month, but they expanded it today as a way of bidding farewell to the summer.  Usually, the market is on the sidewalk in front of Sporeprint’s headquarters on E. 5th Ave., where books, clothes, bread, and baked goods are set out a table for anyone who wants them.

They turned it into a mini-fair in Weinland Park.  They offered knitting and hair-cutting, clothes, books, and household appliances, all free.  A young woman named Jessie walked around with a sign on her back that said FREE HAIRCUTS, so I asked if she ever cut facial hair.  She never had, but I was feeling adventurous, so I asked her if she’d trim my beard, which has gotten to the point where it was totally covering my upper lip.

I know Mr. Rogers told two generations of children,
“Haircuts don’t hurt,” but you’d never know it from
my facial expression.  Jessie very patiently and
thoroughly cut through the Brillo pad of my untrimmed

Jessie did a stellar job, especially using just scissors and a comb.  I’m sorry to report that the scissors were a casualty of the project.  By the time they cut through the beard (which is probably like steel wool in some places), I doubt her scissors would have cut butter.  She didn’t have a whetstone or a razor strop handy, so she had to strike her shingle after only one client.
The second sacred text I obtained today was A Buddhist Bible, edited by Dwight Goddard, courtesy of the Really, Really Free Market.  This was also a trade paperback ©1994 by Beacon Press (the Unitarian Universalist Association’s publishing arm), the publisher of two anthologies compiled by my late aunt Jean McKee Thompson: Poems to Grow On and Our Own Christmas.  (Jack Kerouac’s discovery–and extensive reading of–The Buddhist Bible laid the groundwork for his books The Dharma Bums and Some of the Dharma.  The latter remained unpublished until 1997, except for very few excerpts published by my friend Robert Lowry in his short-lived literary journal Robert Lowry’s Book USA circa 1958.)

Susie didn’t fare too well, I’m sorry to say.  The only shoes in her size had cleats on the soles, and she couldn’t find any clothes she liked that fit.  She came away with a glass and a Thomas Kinkade spiral address book.  I got Steph a pair of shoes, after getting on the cell phone to call and ask her size.

I remembered why I never buy puzzles or games second-hand.  Some of the children, trying to “help,” spilled two puzzles together on the ground.  Sally Louise, one of the people who helped launch this event, spent some time on her knees helping the kids collect the pieces and get them back.  (Fortunately, the backs of the puzzles were different colors, but I’m sure they’re still intermingled.)

Sally Louise helps the kids picked up the spilled puzzle
pieces.  How many Lite-Brite pieces ended up going
up vacuum cleaners in America over the last 40 years?
My friend Scott came with his face paints, jumping at the chance to ply his trade, since he never had a chance at Comfest.  (The last time he used such natural canvases was at the World Naked Bike Ride in June.)  Many of the younger element flocked to him, and they all came away pleased, especially this young man:
Such great artwork, and yet so fleeting.
Friday night, I went to a party/concert at The Monster House, an actual dwelling place on W. 10th Ave.  I didn’t spend much time at the concert itself.  That was in the basement, and being below ground in such a comparatively confined place with about 20 people, each giving off the energy and heat of a 150-watt bulb, triggered my latent claustrophobia (which has never been a significant issue in my life before).  I stayed on the main floor and on the front porch and talked with people, including our many hosts.
It was a BYOB affair, so I went to the 7-Eleven at N. High and 10th and bought some Diet Pepsi.  I received many unsolicited warnings about how horrible aspartame is (I guess that must be the nutritional bogeyman this summer–preceded by mono-sodium glutamate and carbohydrates; they’re hard to keep track of), all of these coming from people who were drinking beer by the liter and who were smoking.
One of the bands’ lead singers wore the big-lensed Christian Dior glasses that I remember girls wearing when I was in junior and senior high.  (My favorite TV personality, Fritz the Nite Owl of WBNS-TV here in Columbus, made them very popular on his Nite Owl Theater in the 1970s.)  She complimented me on my glasses, which doesn’t happen often.  (One woman I dated once told me I was one of the few people under 60 who could wear half glasses and not look silly.  I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.)  We traded eye wear and the moment was immortalized:
 What I never understood was when girls had little
stickers at the bottom of the lenses–with their
initials, or butterflies, or hearts.  How could
they stand to have that in the peripheral vision
all the time?

This was supposed to be a short entry, with or without illustrations.  The Johnny Cash disk ended a long time ago, and I’ve switched to The Alan Parsons Project’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, with “The Fall of the House of Usher Suite” playing right now.  (One thing I miss about LiveJournal–and that is a very short list–is the field where you type in what music you’re listening to or thinking of while you’re working.)