Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Had everything proceeded as scheduled, sunlight would have streamed in through the glass in front door and the living room and dining room windows by 3:30. The late afternoon sunlight is Cuddles' cue to get up, stretch, groom, and get at it. This is the busiest part of her day, the part she spends chasing both the sun's reflections and the shadows created by the sunlight. She listens for the sound of each approaching car and watches the wall, hoping to see a reflection of the sun's glow scamper across the wall as the car passes. When it does, she gives chase. If she is frustrated by her inability to capture light in her paws, she doesn't show it, and she will pursue the next whispy sprite and the one after that and the one after that with the same eager determination as she did the first. Cuddles is a master multi-tasker, and she listens for my wheelchair even as she listens for traffic. When I move, she springs to life, scanning the walls and floor for her prey, the elusive beam of light. Sometimes as I sit idly, she will crouch inches from my chair, demonstrating her deep desire to hone her instincts, along with her misplaced faith in my ability to spot her there and to avoid her once the wheelchair is in motion.
But there was no sunlight to brighten the house on Monday afternoon, and Cuddles never got off the recliner. Oh, she woke up a couple of times and stretched a little only lay back down and fall asleep again. What a pity that a cat barely a year old can't find a reason to get out of bed. But perhaps today will be a better day. There have been moments of sunshine this morning; maybe blue skies are on the way.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Alas, the six months or so the Dairy Queen will be closed will transpire much more slowly than the six months or so it was open.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
At 2:13 in the morning, the mind that is too busy to sleep wins its battle with the body that is too tired to stir. I lie awake and my mind frantically generates thoughts and ideas. Some are sentimental, some biting, some gentle, some serious, some wistful, some humorous, some poetic, some witty, some effervescent, and some maudlin. They are wonderful ideas, and for the next forty-five minutes, my mind churns out verses, sentences, paragraphs and pages of scintillating prose and poesy, rhymed and unrhymed, silly and profound.
Six hours from now, when I sit at the computer, the ideas will have lost their luster. The words that now sparkle with the liveliness of a cascading stream, and the words that flow with the languid beauty of a river on a summer’s day will later spread across the page like scum on a stagnant pond. I know this will happen. It always does. By three in the morning, when my mind begins to tire and the surge of ideas becomes a trickle, I wonder if there is a program that can transfer tonight’s musings from my head to the computer and then be retrieved at a decent hour. And I wonder if it would make any difference. Are these nocturnal notions as dazzling they seem? Or are my powers of discernment too tired in the middle of the night to be discerning?
My mind has worn itself out and longs for rest. Fall is approaching, the window is open and the air conditioner is off. The quiet of the night is not the same as the quiet of the day. It is softer and more comfortable. The leaves rustle in the gentle breeze; enjoyable white noise, unlike the refrigerator that I noticed only when it shuts off. The dog across the street barks for a minute or two. And a critter, probably a raccoon, pushes a tin can around as it searches through the garbage for a bite to eat. It doesn’t stay long. Maybe it doesn’t like the selection and is going away hungry and unhappy. A siren, faint at first, gets louder and then fades as a police car races along Route 20. Two CSX freight trains, one eastbound, the other headed west, scream at each other as they approach Columbus Avenue. There is a great rumbling and clanking of metal as the trains pass, followed by a moment of silence before one of the trains sounds its horn at another crossing. Then all is quiet.
The air is cooler now, and I curl up on my side and pull the blankets over my shoulder and fall asleep. For three hours, leaves rustle, cops chase, dogs bark, scavengers scavenge and trains rumble, but I am unaware of it all until the radio comes on at 6:15.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Almost from the moment I began having trouble getting around, I noticed a marked improvement in human nature, at least in those humans not associated with FOX News. One day, when I was still using a walker, I went to the Post Office to mail a package. When I finished at the window and started out, a woman I didn't know gave up her spot in the lengthy line and held the door for me as I went into the lobby and then followed me and held the door to the outside as I left the building. Making my way out the doors, I had visions of the Harris family going into a restaurant. Walking through the parking lot we looked like a typical family, but then Dad, Ed, Jim, Uncle Jim or I would bolt to the door and hold it open. And once the ladies got safely inside, the men would stand outside for fifteen minutes saying things like, "Go ahead," "After you," "No, you first."
In any event, when I am out and about and getting in the way of people or asking people to get out of my way, they are invariably understanding, cooperative and pleasant. Is this because people react differently to me because I'm in a wheelchair? Or do I see things differently from my wheelchair? It could be that when I was not so dependent on people's cooperation and helpfulness, I failed notice it when it was there. If someone got surly, I could always find a way around him, hurling imprecations as I went. Well, being a wimp, I lobbed my imprecations, getting great satisfaction from unleashing a string of expletives under my breath while avoiding the risk of having the other person hear them and reducing me to a pile of broken bones in a pool of blood.
This question arose again the other night at the rib fest. When I decided what I wanted to eat, I made my way to the end of the line for that vendor. There were a lot of people going this way and that, and the two guys who had been at the end of the line until I got there, moved aside to let me through. Just to be sure, I asked them if I was at the end of the line. They said "yes," and I told them that's where I wanted to be. Then they turned around, and for the next ten minutes talked to each other while I followed behind watching people. But when they got to the front of line, one of the men asked me what I was going to have. I told him, and a minute later, he handed me a plate with what I had planned to order on it and walked away. I was left wondering if he thought I was needy; which I'm not. Or if he felt sorry for me; for which there's no reason. Or if he was someone whom I should have known but didn't recognize; which would be embarrassing. Or if he was just a nice guy who in a generous mood.
I appreciate his kindness, of course. But I feel like the guy on old western TV series, who said just before the final credits rolled: "Who was that masked man?"
Friday, September 17, 2010
Until a few years ago, I took the attitude that since I was going to feel better in three days, anyway, why bother going to the doctor. So, I'm probably not the best judge of medical demeanor, but the neurologists I've since come to know do seem a little different. My first encounter with a neurologist came early in 2006, when I went to see Dr. Mellick at ACMC. He was a friendly guy with the kind of cynical sense of humor I enjoy, and he provided a running commentary as examined me. I wasn't quite sure if the purpose was to keep me informed or if he was just talking to himself, but as he went through the different steps in the examination, he would say, "OK, that must be this," or "Well, it can't be that." When he finished the examination, we sat down and he began a very perfunctory listing of possible causes of what was ailing me. It was all sort of "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." One of the blahs was, "or it might be a brain tumor," which he uttered in the same dull monotone as all the other blahs. But as soon as he had mumbled it, he turned and looked at me straight in the eye and said, "Boy, I hope it's not a brain tumor." At that moment, "brain tumor" went from being one of many possible problems to being the obvious problem, at least in my mind. A week or two later, after I had had an MRI of the brain, Dr. Mellick told me my brain was normal, which was a relief to me, although nearly all my non-medical acquaintances expressed their doubts.
Dr. Mellick then referred me to the Cleveland Clinic, where in October 2006, Dr. Rudick diagnosed my problem as primary-progressive MS. That appointment began with the usual questions about the problems I was having and when they began. Then he asked me to go over and get on the examination table. As I made my way to the table, he told me to be careful and take my time, and I came back with what I thought was a witty retort acknowledging that I had no choice but to take my time. "I'm glad you can laugh about it," he said. But he said it with an edge in his voice, like the one Mom used to have when I broke something she had told me not play with, and she'd say, "We'll, I hope you're happy now."
A few months after that, I asked Dr. Bathoux at the Mellen Center about getting a disability placard for the car. He got out his prescription pad and noted that I had MS, a lifetime disability. I took the slip to the license bureau and was told that it needed to have an ending date on it: the DMV doesn't issue lifetime disability placards, six years is the maximum. The next time I was at the Mellen Center, I gave Dr. Bathoux the prescription and told him what I had been told. He gladly wrote out another slip, noting that I would have MS for the next six years. "Won't they be surprised when you show up again in 2013?" he joked. I know there is no cure for MS. But there are times when I would rather not be reminded of that, and that must have been one of those times.
Whatever happened to elevator music? It seems to have become extinct, at least in public places, where elevator music performed its greatest service.
Sure, the music was as bland as warmed over Cream of Wheat, as insipid as a Lifetime movie, but that was its great strength. Elevator music could be ignored. It asked to be ignored. Like one of those nettlesome tasks you really ought to do, but which no one will notice if you don't, it begged to be ignored.
The accompaniment to the unpleasant but necessary, it was found in the places you didn't want to be, usually in a waiting room where you were biding your time until the doctor or dentist was ready to hurt you.
Hugo Winterhalter, Andre Kostelanetz, Lawrence Welk, Enoch Light, Nelson Riddle and the rest were ideal waiting-room companions. If you wanted to read a magazine, work a crossword puzzle or share your medical history in all its nauseating detail with the stranger next to you, they didn't interfere. And if you wanted to sleep, elevator music was a terrific soporific.
Of course, there was the possibility you might be vaguely familiar with the lyrics to one of the languid melodies. Then those few words, that phrase, that snippet of schmaltz would linger. The mind wanted to sing, but the only words it knew were "baubles and bangles and beads," or "shall we dance, bum ba bum," or "across a crowded room," or "I'm crossing you in…a boat?"
It was frustrating. But the words had limited staying power and fled at the first sign of impinging reality.
Sadly, elevator music has been banished from most waiting rooms and replaced with televisions tuned to one or the other cable news stations. Regardless of their politics, all news networks have two things in common: announcers with screeching, grating, nasal voices; and theme music with an insistent, driving rhythm, like the music announcing the approach of the shark in Jaws, only louder, more ominous and more demanding of attention. To add to the frenzy, the announcers, who never have much to say, insist on saying it rapidly and at great length; perhaps they're paid by the word.
It's nigh on impossible to read, carry on a conversation or nod off for a moment when the waiting room is filled with the mind-jarring, ear-piercing yammering of people whose job it is to convince us that the end is near – right after this commercial break. Stay tuned or miss the apocalypse.
To make matters worse, these news people, with their degrees from some of America’s great universities in English or journalism or communications, seem incapable of asking a simple question. Five minutes of meandering speed talk and fractured syntax produce a disjointed, convoluted query that might have a point – somewhere.
Then the guest says, "Well, Sharon, I think…"
Only to have the newscaster interrupt in a rare burst of brevity: "I'm sorry, Senator, but we're out of time. Thank you for dropping by."
Then the nurse calls for you, and a few minutes later the doctor says, “I think we better talk about your blood pressure.”
# # #
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
"On Bethel High,
On to victory.
Drive through your foe,
Show them all your might.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
Wave banners high,
We're all for thee.
Drive right on down the field
And who among the Bobcat alumni can forget:
"Here's to the school of might,
Here's to the school of fight.
Here's to old West Virginia Wesleyan."
Why, I can even remember a couple lines of the West Virginia Wesleyan alma mater. Granted, part of the reason might be that sometime in the 1980s I heard Daffy Duck and a few others belting out the tune. Then, several days later, listening to Karl Haas's "Adventures in Good Music" - how's that for eclectic tastes: Looney Tunes and Karl Haas - I discovered that "Alma Mater of the Mountains" is set to the sextet from Gaetano Donizzetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Other than Mimi being the heroine of La boheme, a fact I picked up from doing crossword puzzles, the origin of the tune for the Wesleyan alma mater is the extent of my operatic knowledge. Still, I can remember a few lines:
"Alma mater of the mountains,
West Virginia Wesleyan.
At thy magic, mystic fountains,
Noblest dreams of life began."
But for the life of me, I can't remember a single word of Bethel Park Senior High School's alma mater, other than perhaps "Bethel" and "alma mater." Perhaps someone can help me.
Most of the people who fritter away their time reading this stuff probably have seen my e-mail on the subject. But I fancy myself a writer, and boring people is my job. So, back in the days when the Harris clan was still headquartered on Myrna Drive, Grandma was spending a few days with us. One morning, while a few of us were sitting around the kitchen table, Grandma began hurling imprecations at Kaiser Willy. The problem was, Willy got into a war with the United States, and the American not of Germanic descent got upset with the Americans of Germanic descent who insisted on speaking German. This was a problem for Grandma because she had learned her catechism in German, and now, she said, "I can't even remember the Commandments. " While that seemed to explain a lot to us, it upset her.
Then earlier this week, I came across the following article from the Cincinnati Enquirer, which was reprinted in the Plain Dealer. Obviously, the good Germans of Cincinnati had something other than the Commandments on their mind.
City's brewing past bubbles up with new book, tunnel discovery
Cincinnati went from the "Paris of America" to a "cesspool of hell, rot and filth" in the blink of a generation's eye.
The reason for the Queen City's ascent and its decline: Beer made by German-American breweries in Over-the-Rhine.
The city's Parisian image went to hell with the start of World War I and the dawn of Prohibition in 1920.
That change, in the words of Michael D. Morgan's upcoming book, "Over-the-Rhine: When Beer was King,'' helped rob Cincinnati of its image, its soul and its economy.
Shockwaves from that robbery still reverberate today. Over-the-Rhine remains in a 90-year struggle to regain its once exalted status.
"The war demonized everything German in America," Morgan says. That included the German-Americans' beverage of choice: beer.
Prohibition, the so-called "noble experiment" turned nightmare, arrived on the heels of World War I. The era tried and failed to turn America into a nation of teetotalers.
When Prohibition became law, the beer taps went dry. That dried up the lifeblood of Cincinnati's German-American culture. In 1915, that culture had been labeled by evangelist and temperance leader Billy Sunday as a "cesspool of hell, rot and filth."
Masters of intolerance, Prohibition's advocates "took aim at Germans and drinking," Morgan notes. "They attacked them for being anti-American with much of the same anti-immigrant rhetoric that we are hearing today."
Prohibition, Morgan adds, "killed Over-the-Rhine, with a knife right to its heart, the beer industry." Without that foamy brew, the restaurants, beer gardens, music halls and clubhouses of the heavily Germanic neighborhood closed.
Breweries and their support systems, ice houses, architects, builders, carpenters, bottle makers, printers, stone masons, farmers and teamsters, went out of business. Thousands of workers lost their jobs.
The fun went out of Over-the-Rhine. "Cincinnati lost its equivalent of New Orleans' French Quarter," Morgan adds. "And that severely altered the city's image."
Cincinnati's conservative image, "is a recent development," Morgan says. "Before Prohibition, Over-the-Rhine was a fun-loving, progressive place. And, for years, that was Cincinnati's image."
The attorney and Over-the-Rhine historian let out a long sigh. The sound of his sigh echoed in a recently discovered tunnel.
The subterranean space is located 20 feet below street level in what once was Over-the-Rhine's John Kauffman Brewing Co. and will someday soon be the new home of the Christian Moerlein Brewing Co.
The stone- and brick-lined tunnel was uncovered last week for the first time since Prohibition put the Kauffman brewery out of business 90 years ago. "This old tunnel may look as though it just goes from one building's basement to another," Morgan says. The structure connected the defunct firm's brewing facility with its bottling plant.
"When we opened the tunnel, we did not find any gold or old beer recipes or Jimmy Hoffa," Morgan says.
What he did find, however, "was a symbol," a metaphor for hope.
"This tunnel, finally being uncovered, stands for our reclamation of our history and our pride. We have done a poor job of preserving and celebrating our heritage," he adds. "A lot of that is linked to its German-ness."
Over-the-Rhine was once so German that the language in the street, on street signs and in the neighborhood's newspapers was German. English was spoken there - but often as a second language.
German-Americans dominated Cincinnati. They ruled city hall, ran the zoo and the Cincinnati Reds.
In 1890, the city was still basking in the 12-year-old light of a local newspaper's declaration that the Queen City was the "Paris of America." This was when 70 percent of the population had German roots.
That same year, the Cincinnati Reds returned to the National League. The team had been booted from the league after the 1880 season when its owners refused to go along with a ban on selling beer at games. In Cincinnati, beer and baseball were synonymous.
The league came to its senses about beer in time for the 1890 season. The Reds returned to the fold. Beers in hand.
Also in 1890, Over-the-Rhine was home to more than 300 saloons, a dozen breweries and nearly 45,000 people. (Today's population: an estimated 7,000). It had 3,704 buildings. A century later, that number was down to 1,274.
Many of those buildings were related to the neighborhood's most important product: beer.
Cincinnatians brewed 35.7 million gallons of beer in 1890. Most of that beer was made in Over-the-Rhine. Moerlein, the city's largest brewer, made 500,000 barrels.
Kauffman produced 55,000 barrels. And, most of that output was consumed locally.
"Moerlein exported lots of beer to New Orleans and even to South America," Morgan says. "But most of the local breweries' customers were in Cincinnati."
The Queen City was a very thirsty place in 1890. Cincinnati was the seventh-largest brewing town in America. But it led the nation in quaffing.
"The national annual per capita consumption of beer in America back then was 16 gallons," Morgan says. "In Cincinnati, it was 40 gallons for every man, woman and child."
After 1920, the Queen City's thirst could not be legally quenched.
"Prohibition changed everything," Morgan says. "Over-the-Rhine's German culture took a one-two punch and never recovered. The city's major brewers never came back. And neither did the neighborhood."
As he looks around the dry, dark tunnel, Morgan sees a glimmer of hope.
"Prohibition hid this tunnel and our city's history just like the sands of Egypt covered the tombs of the pharaohs," he says.
"Now, with this tunnel being opened and the Moerlein Brewery returning to Over-the-Rhine, we have a chance to reclaim our history and celebrate it once more."
Have a suggestion for Our History? Contact Cliff Radel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 513-768-8301.
Monday, September 13, 2010
On warm summer evenings, Dad would get a folding chair and sit between the house and the willow tree, on the asphalted area by the garage, where it was always shady. But after few minutes, he’d go in the basement and get a ball, a bat and a couple baseball gloves, and yell upstairs for Ed, Jim and me to come out.
It wasn’t often that the three of us immediately answered the call. But one of us would, and Dad tossed him a glove and a game of pepper commenced. Dad hit a ground ball across the driveway, which the son fielded and threw back and Dad stuck the bat out and hit the ball back. This continued without stop until the guy with the glove let one go through his legs or the guy with the bat failed to make contact.
In time, the other two brothers came out, sometimes together, sometimes not. We wandered in and out of the game, playing for a while then going off somewhere and perhaps rejoining the game later, or perhaps not. There were also several kids in the neighborhood who sometimes joined in and, like us, played for a while and then went and did something else. Six or seven kids might participate during an evening, but there were seldom more than two or three involved at a time. When the driveway did got crowded, Dad would send a few kids into the neighbor’s yard and hit pop flies to them.
By the time the sun got low, Dad was the only one left outside. And as the air cooled and the shadows faded, Dad, in a pair of erstwhile dress slacks, a T-shirt and a decaying black cap with the orange Bessemer logo above the visor, stood at the basement door. He had outlasted the younger generation, and he had outlasted the sun, and now, with a glove in one hand and a bat in the other, he was reluctant to call it a day.
Thoughts of ThoughtsI want to write a triolet
And fill this vacant, empty page.
Pad, pen and coffee - I’m all set.
I want to write a triolet,
Too bad I’m not inspired yet
By thoughts too witty or so sage.
I want to write a triolet,
And fill this lonely, vacant page.
You’d think I’d have at least one thought
That I could turn into a poem.
Really, unless my brain is shot,
You’d think I’d have at least one thought,
But all my thoughts have come to naught.
Perhaps my intellect is foam.
You’d think I’d have at least one thought
That I could turn into a poem.
I’d like to write a triolet,
A witty verse that will delight.
But there’s a chance I might forget
I want to write a triolet.
I’ve not had one idea as yet,
Nor any thoughts on when I might.
I’d like to write a triolet,
A witty verse that will delight.
Saturday morning, almost before the sun was up, Nancy started down the trail, putting in 63 miles and then setting up her tent. A little later, I set out in my wheelchair and explored about five miles of the trail. Although it probably wasn't so peaceful when the long coal trains rumbled through, the trail is a wonderful place to spend a few hours. There are spots that are just so unbelievably quiet; all you hear are the birds and the rustling of the wind. Then, of course, the quiet is interrupted by a train, which you can't see through all the trees, going by on the other side of the river. Then the quiet returns. The funny thing about the section of trail I was on: most of the time I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere, but the truth was I was never more than a half mile from somewhere.
One of the many things Nancy has done for me is introduce me to the bike trails. There is a short trail in Geneva State Park and a longer one that follows abandoned railroad right-of-way from Ashtabula to Warren, OH, and will eventually extend to the Ohio River. Several times in the summer, when Nancy's bicycle group rides on the trails I've been able to go out with them. I usually get in four or five miles in the time it takes the group to do its twenty or thirty mile rides.
Saturday evening, oddly enough, only a week or two after Russ sent word that he got a royalty check from a greeting card company for his drawing of the GPS getting smart with the driver, the Guy Noir episode on A Prairie Home Companion had Guy being hassled by his GPS. The show was a repeat, but it brought to mind the time when Russ was in high school, and he and his friend Jason were doing "Stranger than Nonfiction" for the Star Beacon's teen supplement, and a cartoon very similar to one of theirs in the Star Beacon appeared in the New Yorker a few weeks . It really was stranger than nonfiction.
On Sunday, I went down to the little park by the river, and as I was heading back toward the bed and breakfast, I went by the trail parking lot, and as I did, a guy was looking at me as if he knew me. Finally, he walked over and asked, "Are you Nancy's friend?" Then he introduced me to another guy who had also been on the ride. We talked for a bit, and they said they got an early start and were the first ones back. A half hour or so later, Nancy got back. Across the street from the bed and breakfast, at the gift shop owned by the people who owned the bed and breakfast, they were selling fried bologna sandwiches for the benefit of the local food bank. So it was that lunch brought back memories of Jim slicing Jumbo at the Family Dairy.
Then Nancy loaded me and all the other stuff on to the van and we headed north. And it all worked out so well; it was a beautiful day, the Steelers won, but they didn't do so until we were into Butler County and well beyond the post-game congestion. A very good weekend, indeed.
Monday, September 6, 2010
It's Labor Day, the traditional end of summer, so they say. And, at least this morning, we're experiencing a taste of traditional fall weather here in Ashtabula. Well, the truth is, we've been enjoying very pleasant weather for the past week - a welcome change from a summer when the term "summer-like weather" was used mostly in the pejorative sense.
The traditional start of fall has brought with it some reminders my traditional ineptitude. For example, I spent the morning putting together a submission to a magazine. This involved a series of mistakes, of course - doesn't everything - but after fumbling around for almost three hours, everything seemed to be in order, and I slipped my poor efforts into an envelope and sealed it. It was then that I glanced up at the computer screen, where my cover letter was still hanging out. I wrote the letter last week and read it over several times then. And this morning, I read it several more times before printing it. But it was not until the hard copy was sealed in the envelope that I notice the letter was dated September 1, 2020.
I first became aware of this phenomenon when I started writing for the paper. The errors that eluded me, no matter how slowly and deliberately I had read through my story, or how many times I had read through it, while I was at my desk in the newsroom, always seemed so obvious the next morning when I was reading the paper at the breakfast table. It was as if they had been printed in bold type.
Then I noticed on Facebook that niece Ashley ran a half-marathon over the weekend. During my time as a regular member of the fourth estate, I had the opportunity to get to know quite a few runners, and whether they were high school students running cross country or adults competing in 5Ks and the like, they all seemed like nice people, and I enjoyed talking to them, even if I couldn't figure out the allure of running for the sake of running. So it was, about a year ago, I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami and was moved to write a column about runners and running.
Ashley's post made me think this might be a good time to post the column. So I went to the Star Beacon website to retrieve it, and like Old Mother Hubbard, I was disappointed. The column was no longer there. That wouldn't have mattered, but having a great ineptitude for file keeping, I often depend on the web to keep my files for me. But, trust me, it was a darn good column.
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