Happy Place/Sad Place

Bil Keane drew a Family Circus cartoon a long time ago which showed the mother and the children driving past a hospital.  One of the kids asked, “Mommy, is the hospital a happy place or a sad place?”  “Both,” she said.  On the one hand, she was remembering the birth of all four of her children, and on the other was the memory of her and Daddy at the bedside of a dying relative.

I am blogging from MCO, Orlando International Airport, waiting for my flight home to Columbus via Atlanta.  I am seeing friends and family reuniting, and some tears as people see off their beloved friends and family on outgoing flights.  I am feeling sad right now because my time with Susie (and Steph and Mike–and I say that without qualifying it at all) has ended.  They are back in Merritt Island, and I am in the limbo between visiting here and resuming my workaday life in Columbus.

The four of us sat around the house like deflated balloons following the return from Jungle Adventures.  Susie and I stayed on our laptops, while Steph and Mike made an early night of it.  Susie walked Rex the Jack Russell terrier, and I tagged along so I could go to Cumberland Farms on the corner and buy caffeine and sugar which did not affect me.

This morning and afternoon was almost traditional.  We went to the 11 a.m. worship service at First Unitarian in Orlando, after which we celebrated Sunday dinner by eating like Romans at the Mellow Mushroom in Winter Park.    (I am no restaurant critic, and I do like this restaurant, although I warn the reader that their appetizers are big enough to be meals in their own right.)

We spent much of the afternoon in Winter Park, at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the campus of Rollins College (alma mater of Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame).  I enjoyed the artwork on display, and was especially happy to see an original tintype of an 1861 Lincoln portrait by Mathew Brady.

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An 1861 portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Mathew Brady, exhibited at the Cornell Art Museum at Rollins College.

As much as I would like to linger here to spend more time with Susie, and to be free of the responsibilities of awakening in the morning at sunrise and making my way to my pod downtown, at the moment I am also impatient to be aboard the plane and headed toward Atlanta, and from there to Columbus.

Very seldom do I say that a period of time–even a 24-hour one–is perfect or idyllic, but I would say that about this trip (omitting the long layover in the Atlanta Greyhound station, which is an honorary circle of hell).  During the bus trip, I made quite a bit of progress reading Reclaiming History, which is the late Vincent Bugliosi’s magnum opus about the JFK assassination.  I read it on my Nook.  (As much as I extol the virtues of paper and ink books, the Nook came in handy when I want to carry a book as thick as Reclaiming History, along with A. Conan Doyle’s complete Sherlock Holmes canon (all four novels and 56 short stories.))

Boarding will begin soon.  The monitor above my gate entrance says that Atlanta temperature is 70 degrees and cloudy.  Per The Weather Channel, it is raining and 39 in Columbus.

And so to Columbus.

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This Christmas I Spend With You…

The above is the title of a lesser known Christmas song.  I remember Robert Goulet singing it on a Goodyear album, The Great Songs of Christmas, an album my parents picked up at a gas station during the holiday season.  It’s on my mind tonight, while I’m sitting here in Brevard County, Florida, once again across the table from Susie and her laptop, making a pitiful attempt to bring this blog up to date.

I began making plans for this trip the week that Susie returned to Florida in October, and my promptness bore fruit.  I was able to travel on Megabus from Columbus to Atlanta for $1, and from Atlanta to Titusville for about $17.  So, early on the morning of the 21st, I set out on this trip from downtown Columbus, endured 5½ hellish hours in the Atlanta bus station, and spent a long night on an almost non-stop journey (with a meal stop in Fortin, Georgia at around 3 a.m.) to Orlando.

I enjoyed the mundane things Susie and I did together–eating at Steak ‘n Shake, drinking tea at Barnes and Noble, walking the dog around the neighborhood.  I treated myself to the five-mile walk to Cocoa Village to buy records at Caroline’s House of Records.  I enjoyed every part of the walk, except that the bridge over the Indian River scares me to death.  The pedestrian walkway is quite narrow, and Floridians have an ongoing love affair with their accelerators.

Besides gift-giving, we observed the holiday at the 7:30 p.m. Christmas Eve service at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando.  The choir, readings, messages, and the overall service were moving and wonderful.  I could not believe I was standing out in a church courtyard on Christmas Eve in short sleeves holding a candle, although I hear the temperature in Columbus at that time was in the 40s–not balmy, but way above normal.

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The chancel of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando before the 7:30 p.m. Christmas Eve service.

Susie was encouraged by the many same-gender couples she saw at the service, and thinks that this church may be where she will be attending and participating.

My gift from everyone was an elaborate one.  Susie, Steph, and Mike played it very close to the vest until today.  It was a trip to Jungle Adventures, a Real Florida Animal Park in Christmas (Christmas, Fla., zip code 32709).  I had gotten little hints, such as a stuffed alligator toy, and an alligator Christmas ornament.  I spent the afternoon watching a man feed alligators, watching a baby alligator urinate on Susie when she handled it for a photo opp, and holding a ball python.

One of my co-workers kept her radio on Sirius XM’s Christmas music channel, and I was thoroughly weary of all the many renditions of different songs and carols.  One that always gave me pause was from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a very chipper song overall, until the line “Through the years/We all will be together/If the Fates allow.”  I didn’t think much of it as I was growing up, but that line stuck in my head.

So far, the Fates have allowed.  December was also the time for my annual CT scan, the annual check on what my thoracic aortic aneurysm is doing or not doing.  It has contracted, going from 4.2 to 3.9 cm, so I don’t need to pay another visit to the Ross Heart Hospital until next December (I’ve already made the appointment!).  The cardiologist says that if it continues to go down at that rate, my CT scans may switch to every other year instead of annually.  My goal is to not think about the aneurysm until Ross texts me with reminders that the appointment is close.  (Even as I write that, I think of the teacher who told his grade-school pupils to sit in total silence for five minutes and not think of white elephants.  They were thinking of nothing but during that whole period.)

All the walking, and being conscientious about logging calories (though not this Christmas week, I assure you!) has definitely made a difference.  I celebrated an unseasonably warm Saturday, the first Saturday of December, with another Nelsonville-to-Athens walk, and cut six minutes off my time, and was barely sore, and definitely not winded.  I noticed marked improvement in my lung capacity (which I never thought was an issue, since I have never been a smoker).

One casualty to report on this journey: My beloved black Eastpak knapsack, which has traveled with me on previous Florida jaunts, to Bay to Breakers last spring, and innumerable miles on my back through Columbus.  I ripped the zipper irreparably while trying to un-stick material.  So, I had to swing by Walmart and buy a new one.  It cost more than what I would have wanted to pay, and Walmart is a business I feel guilty patronizing, but I think my new pack is quite durable and will be with me many miles in the years to come.

It’s only 10:39 p.m., but it feels like it’s 1 or 2 a.m.  I’m flying back to Columbus tomorrow night, and Monday I will be back at work, dreading the backlog I will have to tackle.  (As I type that, I am hoping that the period between Christmas and New Year’s means less of an avalanche of undone work.  “By what we have done, and what we have left undone” is a phrase from Rite I of “A Penitential Order” in the Book of Common Prayer, but it hovers close in the mind of any conscientious bureaucrat.)

On the surface, an evening here has not been significantly different than one in Columbus.  I’m on my laptop and cell phone–probably far too much–and I make frequent forays out to buy munchies that are not good for me.  Here, I walk to the nearby Cumberland Farms store, where the cashiers seem to remember me from one visit to the next.

I titled this entry with the Robert Goulet Christmas song.  The final lyrics are a good way to close the entry, sandwiching my own immortal prose.

To mark this holiday
For my own
Note this Christmas I’m not alone

Michigan Week… Under a Cloud

I put extraordinary time and effort into ignoring the existence of Big 10 football season, which is not an easy feat when I live 1½ miles from The Shoe, but this year Michigan Week has resulted in tragedy.

Last night was the annual Mirror Lake Jump.  On the Tuesday before the Ohio State-Michigan game, OSU students jump en masse into Mirror Lake, doing the usual “O-H-I-O!” and “Fuck Michigan!” chants, while splashing around in water that is barely above freezing, and walking back from the experience completely drenched and often intoxicated.  The lake has been filled end to end, with people thrashing around in the water pressed together as if they were on a Tokyo subway.  I blogged about it here in 2011, when I took my camera and shot some of my own video of the experience.

Had I been a student at OSU, I probably would have participated when I was in my 20s.  By the same token, had I been a student at the University of Michigan, I would have enthusiastically participated in the Naked Mile to mark the end of classes.  But I am content to watch other people splash around in the brackish water and make their way back completely wet and bordering on hypothermia.

Last night, a person died in the jump.  Austin Singletary, a 22-year-old junior from Dayton, went into cardiac arrest when he went into the water–water which was not more than a degree or two above freezing.  He died this afternoon at OSU Wexner Medical Center.

OSU has said that the Mirror Lake Jump ends here.  It will be interesting to re-read this blog entry at this time next year and see whether that prohibition comes to pass.  (The University does not officially sanction the event, much like Halloween in Athens.)  I was reading a story on The Dispatch‘s online site, and, despite what happened, most of the students they interviewed worry more about the end of the tradition, although many prefaced their comments with cursory “It’s sad what happened, but…”

There were rumors that Comfest 2009 would be the final one, after an 18-year-old man, very much under the influence of drugs, accidentally stabbed himself to death.  Comfest still continues, because the medical examiner’s report determined that the tragedy could have happened anywhere.  It could have happened in his yard or on The Oval.

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A post card of Mirror Lake, circa 1940.  Campbell Hall, the brick building in the background, is on Neil Ave., so this view faces west.  (This is also before the installation of the fountain in the center of the lake.)

There was no way I could take the video that I took in 2011, in the blog entry I linked above.  OSU seemed quite aware of the trouble that might arise from the Mirror Lake jump, and took extraordinary precautions.  I walked home from work yesterday via Neil Avenue, and was shocked to see a metal temporary fence, at least 12 feet high, around the lake and all the away around nearby Browning Amphitheater.  There were police–OSU and Columbus City Police, as well as State Highway Patrol officers–everywhere.  There was only entrance to the lake, and it was a narrow gap in the fence on the east side, at least a two- or three-minute walk from the lake.  Only students who had already obtained wristbands were permitted through the gate.  Once I saw this layout, I gave up on trying to take pictures.  Even from Neil Ave., I would have needed a telephoto lens far beyond the capacity of either my cell phone or my Sony Cybershot.

OSU is rightly scared of the liability that will result if the jump-in continues, and if they allow it, I would be reluctant to insure them.  Posters on news sites have been wringing their hands about the end of this tradition, and throwing out comments about the “nanny state.”  (Usually, the phrase “nanny state” is invoked when executives complain about being forbidden to bury radioactive waste near a school or dump toxins into drinking water.)

The end of this tradition doesn’t bother me one way or the other.  I have no interest in OSU Football, and am especially grateful that the game is in Ann Arbor this year.  Yes, there will be drunken revelry regardless of who wins, but at least it will not be compounded by fans pouring out of The Shoe afterwards.  The jump-in was amusing to watch the few times I saw it, but I will not miss it.

 

The Chance to Reinvent

A co-worker’s daughter just christened a new blog, and that has spurred me to try and maintain this one, and not let weeks and months go between entries.  No idea how long I will remain zealous about writing in here–just have to hope that the urge to write in here comes more frequently than it has in the past few months.

During the time that Susie and I were spending the night hours at the McDonald’s on North High Street, she saw several of her former Graham School classmates hanging out there, along with (or a part of) the never-ending cast of characters of the transient kids who would come in and nurse cup after cup of fountain drinks to avoid being ejected for loitering.

There was one young woman there who surprised Susie.  She had come in and had greeted Susie warmly when she passed by our table.  (I had my Nook in my hand and, as usual, Susie was hard at work on her laptop.)  Susie was surprised.  The two of them had known each other at Graham, but weren’t really close friends.  They overlapped acquaintances and a class or two (not hard to do–Graham has a pretty small student body), but that was about it.

The young woman who had greeted Susie was a year or so older, and when she had been at Graham, she had been pretty straight edge, and hung mostly with the informal Christian group.  At McDonald’s, we mostly saw her sitting at the stone tables outside playing Magic: The Gathering while chain-smoking Newports.  (Some straight edge people I have encountered seem to not have a problem with that way of life and smoking, although the rationale there totally escapes me.  The main focus seems to be to eschew drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity.)

Often, conversion to a new religious or political philosophy is the classic impetus for re-invention.  The most dramatic example in history has to be Saul of Tarsus, known mainly as St. Paul.  After being a ruthless enemy of the floundering new church, he became its most tireless and prolific advocate his experience (whether divine intervention, or some kind of seizure or emotional breakdown) on the road to Damascus.  (Paul also elevated self-invention depending on the circumstance to perfection, writing in I Corinthians 9: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law.”

A more recent example is former white supremacist Larry Trapp, who was the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Lincoln, Nebraska during the 1980s and 1990s.  When he “welcomed” a new cantor, Michael Weisser and his family to Lincoln with threatening phone calls and hate mail, Weisser called him and, completely out of the blue, offered Trapp, who was wheelchair-bound and nearly blind from diabetes, a ride to the grocery store.  (He also mentioned that, in Nazi Germany, the very first laws were against Lebensunwertes leben, life unworthy of life, which meant that Trapp would have been the first to die under the Nazis.)  Trapp eventually left the KKK and befriended Weisser and his family.  I first learned of this on Inside Edition.  The story ended with: “And here’s the final twist: Larry Trapp now says he will convert to Judaism.”  Trapp died in 1992, three months after becoming a Jew.

Going away to a new setting is usually the ideal place for reinvention.  You tend to see this a lot at college.  There was a young woman from Upper Arlington who was in a mythology class I was taking.  She had graduated high school at 17 (compared to me, a freshman at 23).  She dressed like she had just stepped out of the pages of The Official Preppy Handbook, and I was surprised that she did not pledge a sorority.  We became close acquaintances, but not really friends, during the quarter we were in this class.

Less than a year later, I ran into her on Court St., where a friend and I were eating burritos on the steps of the Athens County Courthouse.  It took me a moment to recognize her.  She had dyed her strawberry blonde hair jet black, the same color as her eye shadow, and had discarded her blazer for a leather jacket and her penny loafers for Doc Martens.  She had also begun smoking, which was surprising, because she and I had shared the same loathing of that habit in the past.

It’s something all of us have done, not necessarily in as dramatic a fashion as I have described above.  We all adjust with change and aging, usually so gradually that we don’t even recognize it at the time.  One of the few worthwhile readings from the American literature class I took in high school was Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.”  I copied its most famous passage inside the front cover of my notebook:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

And speaking of consistency and reinvention, I see that WordPress has changed the specifics of this template on me!

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A friend’s Facebook meme inspired this entry.

“Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite!”

I would rather live alone in a tarpaper shack than live with a roommate.  Other than Steph and Susie–spouse and daughter, respectively–I have not shared living quarters with anyone since 1989, when I had a bedroom in a small one-story house (since razed) on the edge of the Ohio University campus.

Despite that, I have never taken extreme measures to get rid of roommates, until this fall.  There have been many stories in The Columbus Dispatch and the local TV stations about bedbug infestations in Columbus and surrounding areas, and I ended up sharing the house with a horde of them.  (I don’t know if a group of bedbugs has a collective noun, such as a murder of crows, a school of fish, a crash of rhinoceroses, etc.)

Susie and I both suffered persistent itching which often meant little or no sleep at night.  When I did sleep, I often awoke with bites up and down my arms that felt almost like Braille.  (They would go down within an hour or two.)  I finally had to sleep fully clothed in order to make the night bearable.

I replaced both our mattresses, and nightly washed and dried all linen in temperatures as hot as the washer and dryer could go.  But, whenever I killed bedbugs, more came to take their place.  (Bedbugs tend to travel in packs, as this article from the Entomological Society of America’s online newsletter says.)

Landlord-bashing is a popular sport everywhere, especially in rentals around college campuses.  I have to dissent here.  My landlord stepped up to the plate and, even though he was under no legal obligation to do so, paid for an exterminator to take care of both my place and my neighbor’s (I live in a half double.)

I had used some remedies, like Dead Bed Bugs, Raid, and four thieves (an essential oil said to have prevented users from bubonic plague), but it never lasted.  Whenever I saw bedbugs, I would go after them like Robert Duvall in the “Ride of the Valkyries” scene in Apocalypse Now (1979), although I resisted the urge to play that track from my CD set Best of the Millennium–Top 40 Classical Hits.

A friend asked me why I didn’t take off the entire Friday the exterminators came to spray.  One reason was I’m trying to be as stingy with paid leave as possible, for my Christmas trip to Florida next month to see Steph and Susie.  The other is because I had to stay out of my place for five hours following the spraying, so I figured I might as well go in to work.

When I saw the exterminators arrive with massive tanks and hoses, and put on firefighter gear and gas masks, I knew it was truly “Game on!”  The place still smelled of pesticide when I came home, but I have not had a bite since.  (It was a reward for the nearly round-the-clock work I did preparing for the treatment: washing all clothes, emptying drawers, eliminating clutter.)  A friend visited me this past week, and he slept in Susie’s room, and awoke with no complaints of bites or itching.

“Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite!” is something parents have said to their children at bedtime for ages, my own parents included.  (I was an adult before I learned the reply was, “See you in the morning light.”)

Insect non grata.

Insect non grata.

Bedbug infestation has nothing to do with cleanliness or hygiene.  Leaving food out is an invitation for roaches, and elementary school-aged children are notorious for bringing home lice.  (A co-worker told me about a daycare where her two daughters went with they were preschoolers.  All the kids played, took naps, and gathered on a big rug in the basement of a church that housed the daycare.  Her daughters, and most of the kids in the class, came home with lice.  My co-workers daughters are grown now, but to this day, whenever they drive past that church, one of them will inevitably say, “There’s the head lice school!”

When Susie had her travails with head lice in elementary school, Steph and I were tempted to just move the three of us out of the house for a month.  Deprived of a host, any lice in the house would die.  (A bedbug’s life expectancy, however, is from six months to a year, and they can go months without eating.  So moving out was not practical in my case.)

I have never missed a roommate after we’ve parted ways, but I have never missed roommates less than I have the Cimus lectularius club.

Laid Low By a Fan

That title made me remember a very bad joke: What do Thomas Merton and John Lennon have in common?  They were both killed by a fan.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, I bury all my pride and report that NaNoWriMo ’15 tanked for me within the first two days.  It is a poor worker who blames the tools, but my stopping involved preventing a possible fire and permanent damage to my laptop.  I would log on, and go to Word, prepared to set the keyboard ablaze with my inimitable prose, and be caught short by a warning saying the motor was overheating.  So, the laptop has been under the knife for the past week, as the repair store awaits a new fan.

The preceding paragraph sounds a lot like MTV’s first broadcast music video, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”  (The first MTV video I ever saw was Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” in 1982.)  When I lamented this turn of events on Facebook, many people pointed out that I could have resumed the work with my ballpoint pen or my typewriter.  To those of you old enough to remember the original ZOOM on PBS, “Take your typewriter, pencil, or pen, and if you make a mistake, ya gotta do it again!”  I suppose I could have, but trying to type everything back onto the laptop once it’s back would put me way behind schedule.  I didn’t save it to my Cloud because I wouldn’t be able to write whenever the mood struck me, like I would at home.  I would have to seek out libraries for writing, and be beholden to their hours.  (I am currently typing this at Thompson Library at OSU.)

I am not a total Luddite, but it seems that technology has not helped in the progress of the printed word.  I think of the “novel-writing machines” that George Orwell describes in 1984, which produce pornography for the proles.  In 1977, I was a big fan of the TV series Lou Grant, and a frequent plot twist was when their new (almost futuristic at the time) VDT system (visual display terminals) malfunctioned, and they risked losing the entire content of the newspaper.

In the pilot episode of Lou Grant, "Cophouse," Lou beholds a portent of how writing will be in the very near future.

In the pilot episode of Lou Grant, “Cophouse,” Lou beholds a portent of how writing will be in the very near future.

So, I was out of the race early this year.  Susie, on the other hand, has been steaming ahead, despite her having some kind of flu bug and her mom recovering from a bout of pneumonia down in Brevard County.  (Susie has also been doing the lights for Surfside Players’ just-closed performance of Steel Magnolias.)

In the month since Susie moved back to Florida, I’ve managed to keep myself busy.  The first days after she left were rough.  I copied a passage from Volume I of The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln into my diary, an excerpt from a letter he wrote to his law partner John Todd Stuart in January 1841:

I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.

I have managed to crawl out of the morass, however.  Work has been busy, and I’ve forced myself to attend monthly Blockwatch meetings.  (I tune out when they talk about parking issues, since I am blessed not to be able to drive.)  I have been very interested in all the problems that have come from a hookah bar on N. 4th St.  I have never used tobacco, so I’ve never been interested in setting foot in the place, but the fact that it seems to turn into the OK Corral in the wee hours of the night has been of concern to many homeowners nearby.

There is a certain irony to my concern about the hookah bar.  One of my co-workers moonlights several nights a week at a suite hotel’s bar.  It caters to executives, travelling business people, etc., and the bar (from the pictures I have seen on their Website) is very genteel, with a dress code and plush seating.  Naturally, we have dubbed it the Hood Bar, and are constantly trading “information” about its nightly stabbings, shootings, drug dealing, and dogfights.  (The co-worker who tends bar there thanked us–she said she had no idea that these events happen there.)

I feel virtuous right now.  Colleen’s Collectables (sic) is having a record show at the Haimerl Center (next door to Ascension Lutheran Church) even as I type, but instead of spending money there–yesterday was payday–I’m bringing this blog up to date.  I am down to less than 13 pages in my current holographic diary volume (one of the four $.24 composition books Susie gave me last Christmas), so there is no excuse for me to be neglecting this more public journal.

Empty Nest Redux

Susie crossed the threshold from childhood to adulthood (except, of course, that she can’t legally celebrate this rite of passage with a drink)a week ago today.  She turned 18, and I fêted her with plenty of Italian food at The Florentine.  She was ecstatic when I presented her with her gifts: A DVD of the first season of Gravity Falls and a stuffed Waddles the Pig toy.  The owner (who knew us from when we lived in Franklinton) surprised both of us with complimentary birthday cake.

And yet it was a bittersweet birthday.  Yesterday, Susie returned to Florida.  She is going to be there indefinitely.  The reasons are many.  Her job search has been less than successful here in Ohio.  She wants to learn to drive, which is not impossible here, but much more of a nuisance and a hindrance when living with a parent who doesn’t have a license.  A local theater group took her on as a stage manager for an upcoming play–an unpaid position which would require committing to many nights and weekends–and then dropped out, 100% out of the blue.  Also, Steph has had some health issues that will probably continue for the foreseeable future.  All of this combined to make Susie decide that she should be in Brevard County and not here in Columbus.

It speaks for itself.  Snoopy is entirely correct here.

It speaks for itself. Snoopy is entirely correct here.

I sank into a depression that I was afraid would get dangerous once Susie let me know of her decision.  I was able to keep it at bay by giving myself a Susie-related project–planning my trip to Florida for the Christmas holiday.  I spent most of the morning juggling Megabus’ and Greyhound’s Websites, trying to figure out how I could cheaply get to Merritt Island for Christmas.  My pride at managing to buy bus tickets for a total of about $25 ($1 from Columbus to Atlanta by Megabus, and about $16.50 and tax from Atlanta to Titusville via Orlando) improved my spirits.

An old friend of mine recently blogged about the experience of becoming a father-in-law for the first time, a lengthy meditation that came from his recent road trip from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania and back for his oldest child’s wedding.  It is indeed a milestone, although I suspect it’s far in the future for me.  Until the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling this June (granting same-sex couples the right to marry), there had even been the distinct possibility that father-in-lawhood would be something I would never experience.

I am brutally self-analytical enough to realize that my initial reaction whenever Susie has elected to spend an extended period of time in Florida instead of with me is selfish.  The father in me kicks in and that point and I realize that it’s not about me, or about Steph.

One time at work, I overheard two co-workers gossiping, and I was thrilled and proud to hear one of them say, “And you know Paul.  It’s all Susie with him!”  When Susie decided to finish high school in Merritt Island, and let me know of this decision when she returned from Romania, I realized just how much my identity was wrapped up in being a single parent to a teenaged girl.

The thought of raising a child alone terrified me, and I did learn on the job, and I did make mistakes.  Even friends of Steph’s who could not stand me were able to spot me the mistakes, and complimented me on the job I was doing–as did Steph, in emails and Facebook posts both to me and to our mutual circle of acquaintances.

And the compliments on my fathering skills came from unexpected quarters.  I was at a party one night while Susie was in Romania, and my attempts to chat up a woman there did not work too well.  I went on and socialized with other people there for the remainder of the evening.  When this woman left, she came up to me and she said, “I heard that you’re raising a teenage daughter by yourself, and that’s you’re a really good father.  That’s fantastic!”, followed by a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

When Susie said she wanted to come back to Ohio after she graduated last May, I told her she could stay as long as she wanted.  It was my way of repaying the generosity that had always been second nature to her.  She did not learn it from either her mother or me.  It was hard-wired from the start.

I immortalized one in a poem I sold to The Saint Anthony Messenger.  When she was three, I took Susie to an Easter egg hunt at a church in Merion Village.  I was watching from the sidelines, along with the other parents, and soon I noticed something.  Susie was going to town with collecting eggs.  She had a sixth sense about where they were hidden, and her basket runneth over.  And yet… I would turn around and then see that she was finding eggs and then giving them to the other children, often when the kids had their backs turned and couldn’t see it.  I had to tell Susie that it was okay to keep some of the eggs for herself.  (A side note: I have had two poems published in the Messenger, which is quite an achievement for a Unitarian!)

Another time Susie’s generosity proved to be greater than mine was at that (or any!) age was one day when payday was still over a week away, and we were broke.  Very proudly, Susie came home from school and showed us the $20 she had won in a spelling bee.  When we asked her if we could use it so we could buy food to last until payday, she very cheerfully handed it over to us.  We paid her back as soon as we could, but she did not ask us to, and was happily surprised when we did.  If my parents had asked me to hand over my prize money, I would have balked at the idea.  No, this was my money.  I won it, I’m going to spend it the way want to.

Susie spent Saturday night at a friend’s house, engaged in a DVD-watching marathon of several horror comedy films.  I was a little hurt, but not surprised, that she didn’t want to come with me to the Gateway Film Center on campus for Dr. Bob Tesla’s triple-feature.  That included The Call of Cthulhu (2005), an excellent silent film scored in-house by the Ishmael Ali Orchestra.  (I never read a line of Lovecraft’s until PulpFest this year!)  I would have had to drag Susie by her hair to this triple feature, but she would have laughed–in spite of herself–all the way through the short films Italian Spiderman (2007) and Kung Fury (2015).

Now that Susie has turned 18, I am hoping her job prospects improve, either in Florida or–if she is not happy there–back here in Ohio.  In the meantime, I am counting down the days (70 as of today) until I am on a southbound Megabus headed for Florida.

“The Road is Always Better Than the Inn”

Midway through the workload on Monday morning, as I was navigating the pile of ex parte orders and doctors’ dictations on my desk, I had an epiphany about walking.  I knew the time for long walks (indoors at least) is drawing short, since fall officially began at 4:22 a.m. on Wednesday, and cold weather loom ahead of us.

More specifically, this epiphany involved a specific place and time for said walk.  That very moment, I decided that on Saturday, I would walk the distance from Nelsonville, Ohio to Athens–about 12½ miles altogether–and go along the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.  The specific plans were easy: On Saturday morning, take the GoBus from downtown Columbus to the Hocking College campus, and then step onto the Bikeway and begin walking.  Once in Athens, stay in town for a few hours, and then catch the 5:30 p.m. bus back to Columbus.

So, I was planning a trip to Athens, as I have countless times before since high school.  This time, though, I would have the above Cervantes quote (from Don Quixote, of course) in mind.  There would be more road than Athens on this trip.

The only thing that would prevent the trip from happening was the weather, so I logged onto The Weather Channel’s site innumerable times between Monday afternoon and Friday, checking the Nelsonville forecast.  I finally bought my Columbus-to-Nelsonville and my Athens-to-Columbus tickets early Friday evening.

For those of you who are surprised by my use of the word epiphany, it has nothing to do with the Christian holiday.  This is purely a lower-case E meaning, “an experience of sudden and striking realization.”  I guess aha moment would be another word.  Even atheist Christopher Hitchens used the word, describing why he quit years of heavy smoking in 2008.  (It would have been much more worthwhile if he had experienced an epiphany about the sin of supporting the Iraq war.  There is more documentation for the Virgin Birth than there is of Saddam Hussein’s possessing weapons of mass destruction.)

The forecast said there was only a 20% chance of rain on Saturday, so, before the sun rose, I was downtown at the Greyhound station with my ticket in hand.  I had stripped the backpack to the bare necessities (a shirt, some fruit bars, my diary and pens, and aspirin) to lighten the weight, and realized, as the bus went down U.S. 33 and the usual stops in Lancaster and Logan, that the ride was the easy part of the trip.  I was heading on to Athens, but with nothing but my feet to convey me.

Part of the reason, on an unconscious level, for my wanting to take this walk came from church the previous Sunday.  Eric Meter, our associate minister, spoke at some length about Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  I had only recently learned about the existence of the Pacific Crest Trail, and decided that, if I ever had the leisure time or money for such a project, I would walk it rather than the Appalachian Trail, which has been trod and retrod ad nauseam.  I may have been making a mental note to go to the library’s Website to reserve Wild, and my mind, as it so often does, ran off into the ditch and I began to think of trails closer to home.

The Hockhocking Adena Bikepath.

The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.

The walk did not involve any extraneous or unnecessary steps.  The trail itself begins in downtown Nelsonville itself, but the GoBus stop is in a parking lot on the small campus of Hocking College.  (It was Hocking Technical College until 1991, and those of us at Ohio University less than kindly referred to it as Tinker Tech.)  I walked about a hundred feet, and came to Robbins Crossing, which was an entry onto the bikeway.  I did not want to waste time backtracking to the start of the trail at the Rocky Boots Outdoor Gear Store in downtown Nelsonville, only to have to turn around and go to Robbins Crossing again.

I confess that I have a horrible sense of direction.  I didn’t want to waste time walking in the wrong direction, so when a camouflage-clad guy driving an O.U. ROTC truck stopped at an intersection, I felt foolish as hell but I asked him, “Which way to Athens?”

I’m sure his military training never prepared him for a middle-aged guy with a backpack and gray beard appearing out of nowhere and asking where Athens was.  But, he very smoothly pointed eastward down the trail.  “Athens is that way,” he said.  I thanked him, but he still seemed a little perplexed as he drove away.

So, around 8:45, I made the first step onto the bikeway.  I had packed no water, and was not wearing boots, just tennis shoes that have definitely accompanied me on one too many walks.  (I made sure that I had my diary with me, but did not pack any water.  It speaks volumes about my priorities, n’est-ce pas?)

The time was early enough that I encountered very few runners or cyclists along the way.  All the ones I did see were kind and friendly, and we all exchanged greetings.  Totally exhilarating was seeing a family on the path which included a son in his early 20s who was riding a blue Schwinn Meridian, just like mine.  He was developmentally disabled, and I don’t think he could speak, but I told his mother that I had a Meridian and loved it, especially when grocery shopping.

I liked to think that my knowledge of Athens County is somewhat vast.  Besides the many years I spent in Athens, either as a student or visiting it, I made several trips to the Feed My Sheep food pantry in Mineral, in the western part of the county.  However, taking the bikeway was an experience that awakened me to a part of the county I did not know existed.  Dead leaves were under the soles of my feet at almost every step, but there was still enough foliage that there was some darkness along the way.  Although it never rained, there were gray clouds in the sky throughout the walk, and the sun’s light was barely visible behind them.

I saw several large rocks in the side of the hill, much like the ones I had seen on trips to Old Man’s Cave and Ash Cave when I was younger.  It was quite moving when, at Mile 12, I saw the remains of a railroad bridge, marking the former presence of the Baltimore and Ohio rail line which had gone through Athens County well into the 1980s.

The railroad bridge at Mile 12.

The railroad bridge at Mile 12.

This is not to say that I could feel cut off from civilization during this trip.  Several bicyclists and runners came behind me or facing me, and their numbers increased as I neared Athens.  Except in a very few places, I could hear the sound of traffic, including sirens and truck brakes.  At one point, I could hear the sound of a man’s voice on a loudspeaker or public address system, probably announcing a Saturday morning sporting event.

The only landmarks of Nelsonville I saw were the buildings of Hocking College.  They were deserted, since it was Saturday morning.  I didn’t go into town itself, so I did not see the Stuart Opera House or Doctors Hospital Nelsonville.  (I am old enough that I still think of it as Mount St. Mary’s Hospital!)  As I first began walking, I tried to orient myself by looking for the Nelsonville Cross on the top of Kontner’s Hill, but could not find it above the treeline.  (The cross–“a tribute to God, a memorial to Betty”–has been there since 1973, when a widower named Walter Schwartz built it in honor of his wife.)

And there were people who lived out this way.  That would not be feasible for me, as a non-driver, even if the idea attracted me.  I saw a log cabin with all the comforts of home, including a satellite dish, out front, so I guessed the owner did not try for an aesthetic existence like Thoreau at Walden Pond.  All Thoreau deemed essential were his tools, the Bible, a copy of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and his journal–who could ask for more?  It’s doubtful the cabin-dweller I saw would strip his life to the bare bones like that.

I did not see any large animals on the walk.  There were birds, but no deer, and not even any raccoons or squirrels.  I did not go during hunting season, so I did not hear any gunfire, nor did I make a special effort to dress in clothes that would have made me stand out against the background.

The only time there was anything remotely dangerous was when the bikeway crossed State Route 682.  It does not see nearly as much traffic as U.S. 33, and nowhere near as much as an interstate, but there is a steady flow of traffic in both directions.  As I came to the intersection, I looked across 682 and saw three or four senior citizens (I know–I will be one in less than 15 years!) on bikes on one side, and I, the lone pedestrian, on the other.  We were at an impasse for several minutes, waiting for a driver on either side to be nice enough to let us cross.  Yes, pedestrians and bicyclists have the right of way on that road, but, as a famous driver’s ed cliché loves to point out, “The cemetery is full of people who were dead right.”  When traffic stopped in both directions and we all could cross, I felt like I was re-enacting the pivotal scene in Make Way for Ducklings.

I did not follow the bikeway to the end, since it would have meant almost totally going around the city of Athens and ending up east of the campus.  One of Susie’s friends raises goats on a farm, so I got a kick out of walking past the Armitage Farm and seeing two goats staring through the wire fence at me.  A handwritten wooden sign, possibly in a child’s hand, told me that I was meeting Ava, Lily, and Bailey (I’m not sure which two I saw), and that I was welcome to hang out with them–just that feeding them was a no-no.  (I wonder if you should always say their names in that order, just like Daniel 3 always mentions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in that order and no other.)

Ava, Lily, or Bailey (two of the three goats at Armitage Farm) wonder about the weird guy who just came off the bikeway and started taking pictures.

Ava, Lily, or Bailey (two of the three goats at Armitage Farm) wonder about the weird guy who just came off the bikeway and started taking pictures.

According to Google Maps, the Armitage Farm was over three miles by car from the west side of Athens, but almost exactly a mile by following the bikeway.  I turned from Armitage Rd. back to the bikeway, and then I was on Currier St., which at first seemed like totally foreign terrain for me.  I had been in this neighborhood many times before, but I had always come to it via the city, and never from the west.

The bikeway did not exist when I was a student at Ohio University.  Two friends and I kept making vague plans to do a walk from Athens to Nelsonville, and then have a friend meet us at Yankee Burger in Nelsonville (this restaurant is long gone).  This was in 1986 and 1987, and the only way to make the trip was to walk up U.S. 33 in the days before it bypassed downtown Nelsonville altogether.  The walk never materialized, because Saturday morning was the only convenient time to do it, and two of us were usually too hungover to contemplate walking anywhere beyond a source of caffeine.  I realize now, from the many bus and car trips I have taken on 33, that walking alongside it–even facing traffic–was a foolhardy experience.

I had walked 4¼ hours before I found myself standing at the corner of Currier St. and W. Central Ave. in Athens.  (The time stamp on my camera phone shows 12:52:14 p.m. as when I snapped the picture of the west side.)

Journey's end, 12:52:14 p.m., Athens, Ohio. Second Street is in the foreground, and Frank's Bait and Carry-Out (the Sprite sign) is at the end of Central Ave. The land of 45701 never looked so beautiful.

Journey’s end, 12:52:14 p.m., Athens, Ohio. Second Street is in the foreground, and Frank’s Bait and Carry-Out (the Sprite sign) is at the end of Central Ave. The land of 45701 never looked so beautiful.

I spoke some thoughts and impressions on the trip, using my digital Olympus VN-7100 recorder (also called Diane, like my earlier microcassette recorders, named after Dale Cooper’s unseen aide in Twin Peaks).  It’ll be awhile before I play the recordings back.  I’m afraid they’ll sound like the rantings of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (1979).

Even with that, they probably sound better than the “Travelling Tapes” I used to make when I was nine or 10.  I would describe things like “We’re going past an old Mail Pouch barn that’s falling apart.  And here’s another Mail Pouch barn, and this one has to be propped up by a stick.”  Instead of describing scenery, I usually included, “The dumb lady in the car in front of us wasn’t paying attention to the road, but was just fixing her hair.”  In one such travelogue, one that we mailed to my grandfather, I was all of eight years old, and somewhere on 33 (we were going to see my mother’s relatives in Logan), talking about being “way out in the open, far from Marietta!”

My exhilaration about having made this trip without any accident, tragedy, or disappointments far exceeds the pain that I’ve been experiencing in my foot ever since.  I walked around Athens for much of the day, but didn’t see anyone I knew.  I even went to Little Professor, the bookstore I loved to visit when I was a student there, and bought a copy (for $.99!), of Go Ask Alicethe “real diary” of a 15-year-old drug user.

Susie noticed I was limping when I met her in the McDonald’s near campus which has become our nocturnal base of operations.  Just for the record, I had invited her to come on this safari with me.  She replied by playing this for me:

Although the weekend has involved very little sleep, and more physical activity than normal, this was definitely time well spent.  I had thought about even going the extra distance and leaving my cell phone behind, but I realized that I would need it in case I had an emergency on the trail, or encountered someone else who needed help.  On my dictation, I made a snide comment about “Just watch.  This’ll be when the aneurysm decides it’s had enough.”

And, according to My Fitness Pal.com, I’ll drop over 25 pounds if I do this every day for the next five weeks.

I kept thinking about this audio clip, Jack Kerouac reading parts of On the Road and Visions of Cody.

Defective Cable Box = Emergency?

I normally jump at any chance to leave work early, but when I did it yesterday, I felt a little guilty–mainly because, after years of very intermittent and spotty projects at work–I came back on Monday morning and found myself inundated by reports waiting to be transcribed, in addition to the steady flow of ex parte and other orders awaiting me.  It seemed to be that all the doctors had conspired to dictate their reports over the weekend.

Despite that, I left work at noon yesterday.  I considered telling my supervisor that I had left to “visit a sick friend,” but the reality is completely 21st century.  I was waiting for a technician from WOW! Internet to deliver a new cable box.  As usual, their customer service representative could only tell me “between 12:30 and 5 p.m.,” so I was resigned to wasting an entire afternoon.

The worst part of this was that they were replacing another defective cable box.  My original box–a silver Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300–had suddenly stopped most of its functions.  I could still watch TV programs, but could not pause them, or record them on the DVR.  So, about two weeks ago, another technician brought a new box, identical to the previous one, and the same problem came within 12 hours.

How I felt after leaving work early yesterday to meet the WOW! technician.

How I felt after leaving work early yesterday to meet the WOW! technician.

So far, the new box is holding together.  The technician came around 3:20, and installed it, and Susie and I were able to watch the season premiere of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit while, at the same time, I was recording Return to the Wild on WOSU.

Unlike my parents and grandparents, I never knew a world without television.  I was born in the spring of 1963.  General Hospital debuted four weeks before I was born.  Three weeks to the day before my birth, Pete Rose made his professional debut on Opening Day in Cincinnati.  When I was almost six months old, television changed forever when Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered in everyone’s living room.  Nine or 10 weeks before I was born, the short-lived TV series It’s a Man’s World was cancelled.  (The latter is significant because Marietta, Ohio was the basis for its setting, where some buddies attending college lived aboard a houseboat moored in the Ohio River.)

The first TV set I remember was a black and white Zenith that took up most of the coffee table in our living room.  As a toddler, I showed no interest in sports (which continues to this day) except for bowling, and I was particular excited by a forgettable game show called Reach for the Stars, which ran for about 12 weeks before NBC gave it the axe.

My parents did not really let the TV become a babysitter, but it was a way to keep me from being underfoot during my preschool years.  A milestone in my life was my fourth birthday, the first time my name was ever spoken on the air.  Luci Gasaway, the host of WBNS’ children’s show Luci’s Toyshop, said “Happy birthday!” to me.

The night Apollo 11 landed on the moon was the first time I was allowed to stay up late.  I didn’t really see that much.  On our set, we saw shadows moving about on the screen, with the caption FIRST LIVE PICTURES FROM MOON at the top of the screen.  This was way before the era of the VCR, so my parents aimed the camera at the TV screen and took pictures as they were broadcast.

When cable television became the fad nationwide, Marietta was far ahead of the curve.  The Mid-Ohio Valley was not conducive to receiving television signals by air.  We could pick up two Columbus stations, the Parkersburg station 12 miles away, and WTRF from Wheeling, and that was about it.  Cable was a necessity for any variety, so around 1968, the Ohio Valley Cable Corporation came and most people in the city limits were “on the cable.”  Devola and the little townships around Marietta were a little slower to come around.  (Maybe Marietta should have had a cable project analogous to Franklin Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration.)

Even though it was almost impossible for me to sit still as a child (the same is still true as a middle-aged man), I could sit, captivated, by the cable company’s weather channel.  It did not feature forecasts, or blurry satellite maps.  Instead, it was a row of dials about the size of the gauges on a car dashboard.  A tabletop camera moved from one end of the row to the other.  (To this day, I can still remember the order of the gauges.  From left to right: Time, relative humidity, barometer, wind direction, wind velocity, and rainfall.  The latter measured the cumulative prescription for the month.  During one month in 1974, there had been so much rain that the needle had gone all the way around the gauge.  I wrote in my diary that night, “The rain gauge on the weather channel went past the 0!”)

I did not get my own TV set until I was 17.  When my dad and stepmother married, my bedroom was an afterthought.  I slept on a couch in the basement, and the color TV there was the family’s.  After bedtime, I often stayed up–even on school nights–watching Nite Owl Theater, and on weekends continuing my habit of watching WSAZ’s All Night Theatre.

The first TV that was truly my own fell into my lap (not literally!) by accident.  A friend of mine had been unsuccessful in selling a black and white Admiral at her family’s yard sale.  She and I were watching 20/20 at her house, and she offered the TV to me.  Proudly, I lugged it home, and–since it would mean more hours of self-imposed exile from him, his wife, and her kids–my dad happily installed a cable tap in my room.

Television fell by the wayside for me during the 14 months I lived in Boston.  My housemates on Commonwealth Ave. did not have one, and my dad sent money so I could buy an inexpensive portable at RadioShack.  I watched it the least of the three of us, since I was usually at The Crimson from 6 p.m. until about 7 a.m. most days of the week.  The set was stolen six or seven weeks after I brought it to the apartment.

Ironically, two popular programs–St. Elsewhere and Cheers–were set in Boston and, had I watched, I would have seen many familiar sights and local allusions.  When I was in high school, the then-controversial drama James at 15 (later James at 16) took place in Boston.  When I moved to a small room at the YMCA in Cambridge, a shorter walk to The Crimson, I bought a black and white portable from a co-worker, and set it up on my desk in my room, visible from the bed.

I watched very little TV at Ohio University.  Like Marietta, cable was a necessity in Athens.  Most of the dorms were not wired for cable, and the cost of the service was beyond the reach of many students who did not get big checks from Mom and Dad.

I did not own a color TV until Steph and I were married.  During my five years in Cincinnati, my TV was a huge black and white Zenith that I had salvaged from a dump.  (All that was wrong with it was a missing channel selector.  I used a pair of pliers to change channels, but other than that I had no complaints.)  In 1995, when I was working for the Internal Revenue Service here in Columbus and the Federal Government shutdown took place.  As I was leaving the Federal Building, a reporter from WBNS, Mike Russell, interviewed me about the impending shutdown.  (“IRS employee Paul Evans left the Federal Building in downtown Columbus tonight not sure if he would have a job tomorrow.”)  My memorable line was, “None of us got into government service with dollar signs in our eyes.”

Russell asked if he could come to my place and videotape me watching the news about the shutdown.  I consented, and on the 11 o’clock news that night, Central Ohio learned I had a black and white TV.  With my brow knitted in concern, I watched Dan Rather speak of the fact that the Federal Government would have no authority to spend money after 12 midnight.

I have acquired more TVs than I have ever bought.  My current giant TV in the living room was left behind by the previous tenant on E. Maynard Ave., and I brought it with me here to Blake.  I have one in my bedroom (smaller, enough to fit on top of my dresser), but about the only time I turn it on is when I wake up in the morning and reach for the remote to check the temperature on The Weather Channel.

Whenever I’ve surfed through the “reality shows,” especially Survivor and Big Brother during the summer, I wonder if Elvis had been right when he changed channels with his .45.

Caveat Lector

I just reread the entry I posted late this afternoon, and then scrolled back to the one that preceded it. I realized then that I pretty much covered the same ground in both.

I will not delete either entry. Instead, I can chalk if up to not reviewing what I have already written, and a desire to share what occupies my mind. The same issues remain, whether I’ve blogged about them or not.

Excuse the brevity of this entry. I am typing this on my smartphone, which is quite a laborious process.

A good night to all.  I remain, obediently yours.,