Sunday, December 17, 2017

On and Ennui Go

The word "ennui" has been on my mind lately. Whenever ennui pops into my otherwise vacant skull, I think about it.  Ennui is the only word I can remember the exact moment I came to know it. Of course, there are a lot of words I know I learned while sitting in a class. I might recall the class where I picked up a word, but I wouldn't be able to relate the details of the moment the word became part of my vocabulary.

And many words work their way into my vocabulary as I read. But I cannot recall what I was reading when I came upon this or that word. The most memorable word in this category is "exacerbate". I must have been forty at the time that word got my attention. I have no recollection of what I was reading - book, newspaper, magazine, who knows? When I saw the word, I consulted the dictionary. Like so many other words I've looked up in the dictionary, "exacerbate" would have quickly fallen out of my vocabulary, except "exacerbate" suddenly became a hot word. In the papers and on the TV news, every situation was being exacerbated due to one thing or another.

There is no uncertainty about when and where I learned about ennui. It was a summer evening in the early 1960s, and Mom was sitting on the milk box by the front door, working on the crossword puzzle in that day's Pittsburgh Press. I stepped outside, sat on the door step, and began hassling her. "Do you need my help?" I asked several times. Finally, she handed me the paper and said, "OK, see what you can do."

I looked at the clues for the spaces not yet filled;  every one of them stumped me. So I moved to finding Mom's mistakes. She didn't make many mistakes, but there was always a chance she would. If she did, I wasn't likely to find it. But she made a very obvious error that day. Well, I thought she did.

"You goofed," I said.

"Where?"

"Right here."

"That's not a mistake," she said.

"Yes it is."

"No it isn't," she said, getting testy.

"Come on, E-N-N-U-I is not a word."

"It is so. It's 'ennui', and it means lazy or listless."

"Oh," I said, as I got up to go back in  the house and consult the dictionary. I was determined to prove her wrong. But the lexicographers agreed with her.

Dictionary.com defines ennui as, "a feeling of utter weariness or discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom." That would be me these days. Maybe it is the short days. For some reason, nightfall coming early seems different this year. I can feel the darkness setting in, and it doesn't feel right, like the world, or at least my world, is contracting.

Except for one other year, the shorter days and the return to standard time never bothered me. Back on Myrtle Avenue, as the kids were growing up,I always thought dinner was better when the sun went down before we sat down. The four of us at the table in the well lit kitchen, our little island in the dark world. I don't know how Debbie, Russ, or Bethany felt, but to me dinner on a winter's night was family time at its best.

Short winter days and long winter nights lost their aura of family and togetherness when the nest emptied in 2001. But fall and winter's dwindling daylight hours never bothered me. I was working for the Star Beacon then and more worried about the chance of snow as I made my way to a high school gymnasium to cover a basketball game.

In the fall of 2007, I left the ranks of the gainfully employed, going from two jobs to no job. The short days of fall and winter came and went without notice that year and in 2008. Not so in '09. The clouds and rain moved into Northeast Ohio the day the clocks were turned back. The dreary, damp weather stayed for two weeks. If the sun managed to poke through for a minute or two during that time, I didn't notice. I was one sad sombitch. Then one day the wind shifted, the barometric pressure rose, and the sunshine and blue skies returned, lifting my spirits in the process. The clouds came back every few days, but so did the sun. My outlook on life didn't have a problem with that.

From 2010 through '16, the autumnal equinox and the return to standard time passed almost without my noticing. Not so this year, and I can't blame the weather this time. Oh, there have been rainy days, but there have been many more pleasant sunny days. Days so comfortable and beautiful that on my wheelchair trips through the Covenant Woods' parking lots my mind has often returned to Ashtabula and memories of those magnificent spring evenings in late May and early June when we'd go to Cederquist Park to watch Russ and Beth play Little League ball.

It isn't long, however, before the ennui returns. "Ennui", the word I learned while kidding around with my mother, has become all too meaningful to me almost sixty years later. Should anyone wish to give me a good, swift kick in the ass, you are welcome to do so. I promise to get out of the wheelchair and standup to make it easier for you.

*                    *                    *

I was taken aback when I typed "sombitch", and the BlogSpot spellchecker didn't throw a squiggly red line below it to let me know I'd misspelled a word. Thinking it might be a legitimate word that I was unfamiliar with, I checked the Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster websites. They were both befuddled and provided a list of words they thought I might have intended to ask about.

Then it was on to Urban Dictionary, which confirmed my belief that it is the way some men in the South say "son of a bitch." But it went on to say, the southern men who use it are mostly "over fourty." Even the BlogSpot spellchecker knows that ain't right. Urban Dictionary also said, "sombitch" is usually said in a loud, high pitched manner and can be heard all the way across the trailer park. I don't think I was that loud. Was I?














Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Notes from the Home - December, 13, 2017

A visitor came to my door Sunday morning. I didn't let it in.

During the summer, five or six feral cats roamed the area between the parking lot and the apartments. They came by every day, sometimes several times a day, to frolic and occasionally fight on my porch and around the dogwood tree. A pair of them would wrestle on the porch, another would chase his buddy up the tree. Then the buddy would come down and they ran through the scene again, and again.

They might have been the cats that once caused friction among the residents in the duplexes. Some of the folks were cat lovers. They put bowls of food and water in their driveways for the cats. Others thought the cats were a nuisance and potentially dangerous. They didn't want anyone giving aid and comfort to them.

The anti-cat faction won the argument, and the maintenance guys were dispatched to rid that area of feline pests. Whether the cats that were hanging around the apartments were ones from the duplexes that had escaped a crueler fate, or a new herd, I don't know.

A month ago, James, one of the maintenance men, and I got to talking about, among other things, the cats catting around the apartments. James said they had to get rid of them. Which they did, except for one. A tan, furry, obviously not under-fed distant relative of the King of the Jungle walks by my apartment several times a day. When it's warm, he sometimes lies on my porch and suns himself.

Sunday morning, I got up, got dressed, and slid the porch door open an inch or two. The temperature was barely above freezing, but I like the fresh air, even if it is just for a short while. An hour later, the fresh air was making me fresh frozen. As I slid the door shut, the cat rushed onto the porch, sat, and stared at me with his big eyes. He held the gaze for over a minute, walked slowly away. I haven't seen him since. Maybe someone took him in.

*                    *                    *

Not long after after the cat left, Russ and Karen arrived, and we made our way to the dining room for Covenant Woods' annual holiday buffet. It was a great time. It is getting more and more difficult for me to get in and out of a car. As a result, the three of us seldom go out to eat. Karen and Russ do come over and bring supper with them once a week or so; that's always a good time, and the food, which is usually something they made themselves, is always very, very good.

Russ, Karen and me at the Covenant Woods' Christmas buffet in 2015.

And though we only went as far as the dining room, it still seemed like a "going out' experience. There was plenty of good food: shrimp cocktail, ham, beef, turkey, and all the fixin's. How good was the food? Well, I got a late start Sunday and didn't finish my oatmeal and toast until after nine o'clock. Two hours later, we were in the dining room. Russ went through the buffet line for me and brought back a more than generous portion of everything. I ate it all, not because I was hungry, and not in an effort to be polite. No, I gorged myself because it was so very good.

The event also sparked memories of Al. The holiday feed used to be held in the evening, and everyone ate at the same time, instead of in shifts as we do now. As people made their way down the buffet line, Al would sometimes get up and take charge of the shrimp cocktail. He made sure everybody got some, and made equally sure no one took more than their fair share. 


Saturday, December 9, 2017

Die, Spider, Die



It was nigh on to eleven o’clock, and having worked hard at squandering another day, I was ready to retire. The bed had a welcoming, comforting glow, but before climbing in I noticed the pole lamp next to bed had been moved. Margarita, the member of the housekeeping staff who drew the short straw and is assigned tidy my mess once a week, must have moved it when she vacuumed. It hadn’t been moved far, just enough that I worried I wouldn’t be able to reach it once I climbed in the sack. Getting the lamp back in its proper place was no problem. Though, like so many once-easy tasks, it took several minutes longer than it would have ten years ago. And getting it done without incident made this clumsy, inept fellow feel a little less clumsy and inept. 


As I sat there all full of myself, I thought I saw something dash across the carpet. It was a spider, a huge, fearsome, ugly spider. Well, perhaps not huge, but certainly the largest spider I’ve encountered here at Covenant Woods. And all spiders, regardless of size, are fearsome and ugly. The creature sprinted toward the table and once under it he stopped. He just stood there, daring me to do something stupid. He thought I’d lunge toward him and fall out of the wheelchair. Then he’d saunter over, bite my nose, casually stroll away and never be seen again. 

What was I to do?  I’d never be able to fall asleep knowing the beast was at large in my apartment. But, there he was, staring at me from beneath the table with that cocky smirk arachnids give you when they think they’ve got the upper hand. Perhaps I should call security. Yeah, right. “Hey, Mr. Spider, don’t move, someone will be here in five minutes to squish you.” I didn’t think he’d listen. Those eight-legged creatures all have that come-on-and-make-me attitude so prevalent among rebellious teenagers.

There he was under the table, knowing he had the upper hand, ready to stand there all night and watch me fret. Well, if I couldn’t get the wheelchair under the table far enough to run over him, maybe I could throw words at him. Admit it, you’re thinking, “Great idea! Read him a few paragraphs of your prose, Tom, it’ll bore him to death.” True, but I’m opposed to torture. My idea was to drop the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary on him. If successful, the eight-legged pest would be crushed instantly by the weighty words. I got the dictionary and moved slowly toward the table. The enemy held his ground, never moving an inch. I reached under the table, getting the book directly above Spidey and dropped it – THUMP. “Success. Yes,” I said, one second before the evil creature slithered from under the tome. Six inches from the book, he turned and looked at me. I’m not certain, but I think he said, “Nah-nah-da-boo-boo, I’m going to get you.” 


Ever confident of his ability to frustrate my efforts to end his worthless existence, he stood next to the dictionary, daring me to pick it up and try again. “I’ll show him,” I told myself, as I grabbed my cane. I no longer use the cane to help me walk, but it comes in handy when I reach for things I’ve dropped on the floor. Spidey wasn’t intimidated. He stood his ground until I thrust the business end of the cane toward him. As the cane’s base hit the carpet, the spider walked out from under the table. Foolish bug. BOOM! I brought the cane down again. And missed. But I didn’t miss a third time. The cane came down on him, and I spent thirty seconds twisting it back-and-forth, as if I was drilling a hole to bury him in. I lifted the cane, exposing what remained of his remains. And then to bed.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Life is Good at Covenant Woods???

WARNING: It has been nearly two months since I've written a word for this blog, or for anything else. If, for some strange reason, you have been anxiously awaiting my return, please be aware that what follows is a large, fetid pile of whining. You may stop now if you wish.

The subject of today's whine is my next-door neighbor's son. That inconsiderate bastard - oops, pardon me, that wasn't nice - let's start over. That slimy, overweight weasel - there, that's better - quite often keeps me awake at night. To give you an idea of the sort of person in question: He is not permitted in the building after 6 p.m. A real stickler for the rules, isn't he?

The problem started immediately upon the neighbor's arrival at Covenant Woods. Nearly every night the voice of a man droning on and on and on from the, TV, radio, telephone, computer, or some other modern inconvenience kept me up until the wee hours. After a week or two, I asked the neighbor to please turn it off, or at least way down at a reasonable hour. "That's my son," she said, "he listens to that stuff. You'll have to talk to him."

I have no doubt that it is her son. Before Covenant Woods obtained a restraining order for the neighbor and her son to ignore, the son parked his Kia, which looked like it had been through a bad night at the Demolition Derby, where I could see it from my window. When the car was there, I was treated to the crap. When it wasn't there, the night was pleasant.

But being of the opinion that we are each responsible for the behavior of guests in our apartment, I opted not to speak with Sonny Boy. Instead, when that voice from next door kept me awake, I called security. Some nights the response was immediate, and I was soon fast asleep. On other nights, nothing happened. "Must be an emergency somewhere," I thought, and tried to get to sleep before Mr. Thoughtful turned the thing off at one, two, or even three in the morning.

After the neighbor had been here a couple months, I learned that when I called to complain, the security guy would mosey down the hall past the neighbor's apartment. If he heard something, he would ask the neighbor to turn it down. If he didn't hear anything, he'd go on about his business without speaking to the neighbor. That is the Covenant Woods' policy: If the employee can't hear the noise when he goes by in the hall, he can't speak to the tenant about the complaint. Alas, my bed isn't in the hallway.

Eventually, I think it was in January, I took my concerns to the powers that be. I spoke to Kerri, the business manager, and she said she'd talk with my neighbor. She did, and for two weeks drifting off to dreamland was a delight. Then the nightly talks from who knows whom about who knows what started again. I spoke to Kerri several more times over the ensuing months. The result was always the same: A week or two of silence, followed by a return to abnormal.

Does the neighbor care? You decide. One Saturday in March, the son had the thing playing, and I couldn't sleep. A call to security proved useless. I started yelling, "Turn it off!" and a few other obscenity-laced requests. They were ignored until nearly two in the morning. At dinner on Sunday, the neighbor walked from the other side of the dining room to tell me they - they being her son and her - had heard a woman calling my name for almost two hours. "We were going to come knock on your door to tell you some lady was after you." She was so pleased with her attempt at humor, she nearly choked trying to hold back her laughter.

And so it goes. Last Friday, after putting up with Sonny Boy's stuff until one in the morning both Wednesday and Thursday, I spoke to Roger, the general manager. He said he'd talk to the neighbor. All was quiet Friday night. Not so Saturday. But Roger did say, if I heard voices next door to call security. At one o'clock Sunday morning I heard a male voice say, "Hey, Mom." I called security. Cedric, the security guy, was at the neighbor's door moments later. The neighbor wouldn't let him in. Cedric told her he'd be back with the police. I heard the neighbor whisper something to her son. Then the cops showed up. I don't know what happened, but it was quiet the rest of the night.

The son didn't stay away long. I've heard his voice once or twice during the day, when he is permitted to be here. And yesterday, I heard the neighbor knocking on her door and yelling "Get up and open this door." I've also heard the crap her son listens to several nights when I got into bed. But he has been turning it off when I yell, "Turn it off!"

But here's the rub. There is no reason to believe, based on his past behavior, that he will be cooperative much longer. And it's not likely he and his mother will converse much at night. They never have; hell, they don't even talk much during the day. Sometimes I think they communicate with sign language. So, I'll be left with the option of yelling until he turns the stuff off, or lying sleepless, hoping he'll hit the off switch before dawn.

The latter will soon be my sole option. Richie, who was my other next-door neighbor, officially moved out three weeks ago. Rich hasn't been at Covenant Woods since May, when he went to visit family in New England. I don't why he was gone so long, or why he moved, but with no one in that apartment, yelling at the jerk on the other side was an option. Heck, Rich's hearing was so bad, yelling was an option when he was here. Once someone moves in, I'll have to shut up and lie quietly.

To make matters worse, I was talking to Mildred last night in the dining room. She said she was talking to Warren, the other security guy, recently, and he told her he thought I was hearing things. That is reassuring. He told her that he has looked in the neighbor's room several times and never seen the son. I'm guessing he goes outside and looks to see if there is a TV on in the neighbor's apartment. I'm not absolutely sure, but I'll bet next month's retirement check, the TV isn't where the recorded voice is coming from. It is coming from a smaller devise, something he can slip into a drawer. Very often when he does finally turn it off, I hear a drawer open and shut.

I'd hate to leave Covenant Woods. I like it here. But I need my sleep. If the security people think I'm crazy, and if I respect my new neighbor and refrain from yelling at the inconsiderate SOB, I'll soon have to listen that stuff all night long. Not pleasant thought.




Thursday, September 28, 2017

Donut Memories

Such a pleasant, sunny morning, and as I circled Covenant Woods, my mind filled with pleasant memories. In the early 80s, we lived on Harmon Road in Ashtabula. Russ hadn’t started school, and I was home most mornings. 

“Daddy, let’s go get donuts,” Russ said.

“Want to walk to the Squire Shoppe?”

“I’ll walk.”

“The whole way; there and back?”

“Yep, the whole way.”

We walked down East 6th Street, passed the railroad yard and the hopper cars full of coal. Then across the lift bridge, where we stopped for a minute to look at the lake boat taking on a load of coal. Then up Bridge Street to the Squire Shoppe.

Russ always ordered two powdered donuts and a glass of milk. I got whatever struck my fancy that day and some coffee. Russ led me to an empty table. We ate our goodies, talked a little, and looked out the window, while those around us discussed the Indians, the Browns, and local politics.

When we started back home, we didn’t get far before Russ said he was tired and wanted me to carry him.

“But you said . . .”

“I know, but I’m tired.”

I tried to look disgruntled, but I couldn’t hold back the smile. This was the game we played once or twice a week.

Back at Covenant Woods, my mind turned to memories I’d like to make. Memories of being in Idaho with my daughter, Beth, her husband, Ken, and the grandkids, Hayden (7), and MaKenna (4). 

Beth, Ken, and I would be sitting on the porch, as Hayden and MaKenna played in the yard. Then the kids would come running, yelling, “Grandpa, Grandpa, can we go get some donuts?” 

I’d look over to Beth and Ken, who would be discretely mouthing, “No.” Then I’d look into the imploring eyes of the two kids now sitting on my lap, and I’d say, “Sure, let’s get some donuts.”

That’s what a grandpa is supposed to do. Isn’t it?


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hang in There, Mildred

Friday, I had dinner with Mildred, who lives across the hall from me, Georgia, and Ethel. The conversation turned to age: Mildred said she was 91. Ethel said she'd soon be 90. and Georgia said, "I'm the baby. I'm only 81." "At 69, I must be the bigger baby," I said. The thing is, they don't act their ages. Georgia and Ethel do have hearing problems. But they are both quick witted and have no problems following a conversation they can hear.

Saturday, Suzi took the fourth spot at the table, and Tony was just hanging out there, talking with the ladies. I went to the other side of the dining room to eat. Ten minutes later, Tony yelled, "Call 9-1-1." Mildred looked dazed, but from where I sat, she appeared to be telling Tony, the other ladies at the table, and Bev, who had rushed in from the desk in the lobby, that she didn't need 9-1-1. Mildred asked that someone call her son, Dan.

Once things settled down, I wandered over to check on the situation. Mildred was smiling, laughing at herself from time to time. "I had a seizure," she said. "Her head went back, and her eyes rolled back," Ethel said, providing a little more detail. Bev had been able to get in touch with Dan, and he was on his way. Sunday morning, I stopped by the desk to ask if there was any news on Mildred. Sara said, Mildred was with her son, that she had either a seizure or a mild stroke.

Yesterday (Monday), I looked out the window while waiting for Jeopardy to come on. Dan's SUV was in the parking lot, Mildred was out there with her walker, and Dan and his wife were nearby. I figured they were coming in until Dan took Mildred's walker and put it in the SUV. Then they all got in the vehicle and left. 

Had they been here a while? I don’t think so. My TV wasn’t on. The music I was listening to was just loud enough to provide a pleasant background, not loud enough to block out sounds from the hallway. Surely, I would have heard three people leaving the apartment across the hall. Wouldn’t I? Was Mildred planning on coming back last night, but changed her mind as soon as she got out of the SUV? Or did Dan see something and say, “Mom, you better spend another night with us.”?

Mildred is a wonderful neighbor. When I see her in the hall, I always hope she has a few minutes or more to talk. I wish I could keep my mind from going there, but it keeps taking me back to Shorty, who lived here three years ago. With his unruly white hair and his glasses with black plastic frames, Shorty looked like Spencer Tracy in his later movies. “People ask me where I’m living now,” Shorty would say, “I tell them I’m in that place where people go to die.” Too often it seems that way.







Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Day Spent Looking Back

 Poor Daniel. Daniel is the PT assistant who has been visiting me twice a week for a month. This morning, he said August is nearly gone, and September and fall will soon be here. The mention of the seasons sparked memories, a flood of them. Daniel must have felt as if he were being swept away by the flood, as I talked about some of those memories. I'm sure I yakked more during today's session than I did during Daniel's other six visits combined.

The changing of the seasons is much more stunning up north. The leaves down here, I told Daniel, don't put on much of a show. The last few weeks of September and the first weeks of October are beautiful on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line. Any time was always a good time to visit Uncle Jim. But the best time for the drive to Pittsburgh to see him was in the fall.

From Ashtabula we'd head south on Ohio Route 11, always a relaxing experience. Route 11, a four-lane, divided highway, looks like an Interstate, except for the traffic, of which there isn't much. Dad once told me, Route 11 was built because some Ohio politicians were certain a superhighway linking the Astabula docks with the steel mills in Youngstown, so the ore could be brought south by truck rather than rail, would have steel companies rushing to shut their mills in the Pittsburgh area and relocating them in Youngstown.

Things didn't work out that way. Conrail and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie remained the preferred routes for hauling ore from Ashtabula to the mills. And when steel jobs began disappearing, they disappeared more rapidly and more completely from Youngstown.

That left an underused highway, a thoroughfare you could safely navigate while appreciating the beauty of a fall morning. And the best was yet to come. I-80 east took us into Pennsylvania and the foothills of the Alleghenies. Mini-mountains, and forests alive with fall colors, created a fall-fabulous corridor for the trip down I-80 east and I-79 south. When the hillsides began showing signs of suburban life, bits of the Pittsburgh skyline started appearing when we got to a crest of a hill. A few miles more, and the cityscape was the view. And what a view it is as you cross the Ft. Duquesne Bridge on your way across the Point to the Fort Pitt Bridge. Then we went through the Ft. Pitt Tunnel and up the hill to the Green Tree exit. The drive ended a few minutes later, when we got to Jim's house on Kirsop Avenue.

Jim was a wonderful host and always had great suggestions for things to do while we were there. A day or two later, we pointed the car north and drank in the wonders of fall from the other direction. Outstanding weekends, they were.

After Daniel left, I made a cup of coffee, intending to quickly drink it and get on with the day. But as I sat looking out at the dogwood tree, the cars in the parking lot, and the wooded area that borders the parking area, the memories kept coming. They weren't memories suddenly dredged up from deep inside my mind. They were memories of moments I often recall. But this time they came more quickly, latched on to my attention more firmly, and kept me thinking of things past more deeply and with more reflection than ever before.

*                    *                    *

I remembered the August morning thirty-some years ago when Debbie and I accompanied Russ on his first day in kindergarten. Russ was in good spirits, and we did our best to help him get comfortable in this new place. Then he started to cry. Debbie asked what was wrong. "My name isn't up there. I'm not supposed to be here," Russ said, pointing to a large poster by the blackboard.

Mrs. Poros, the kindergarten teacher at Washington, had drawn balloons or flowers, I forget which, and put a student's name in each one. And, no, there was not a Russ in the bunch. Russ is Thomas Russell III. My dad was Bud to family and friends. When I was a preschooler, Mom, Dad, Nana and Uncle Jim called me Tim much of the time. No one else did, and I have always been Tom. When Russ was born, Debbie and decided, rather than run the risk of people calling the youngest T.R. Harris "Little Tom", we'd call him by his middle name.

Debbie pointed to the balloon with "Tom" in center and said, "See, here's your name." "That's not my name," Russ told her. We explained the situation to Mrs. Poros, and our son was "Russ" forever after in the Ashtabula Area City Schools.

*                    *                    *

I remembered a Friday night in late August 1995. I drove to Andover that evening to cover a high school football game. That 1995 season opener was a first for me: It was the first high school game in any sport that I went to as a sports writer.  The truth is, I hadn't written anything about sports - not ever - when, a few weeks earlier, I went to see Star Beacon sports editor Craig Muder about becoming a stringer for the sports department. He said they'd give me a call. They did, and I got my sports writing feet wet covering a couple Little League tournament games. 

Confidence wasn't oozing from my pores, but I did worry that a substance an angry coach, parent, or player might compare my game story to was oozing into my pants as I made my way to the press box to watch, keep stats and eventually write about Pymatuning Valley's gridiron battle with visiting Conneaut. The night belonged to PV. If I remember correctly, the Lakers scored a touchdown in each quarter on their way to a 28-7 victory.

Around Wednesday of the following week, when no one had reprimanded me for gross incompetence, I began breathing easier.

*                    *                    *

I remembered raking leaves on many fall Saturdays and Sundays. When Beth was young, she always came out to make sure I had fun. She would jump into the pile of leaves and bury herself in it. She had so much energy and was so full of laughter and mischief. Her antics might have resulted in me having to spend more time raking in order to bring order to the disorder she created. But the time went by so fast with her laughing, running, scattering leaves, and being so wonderfully high-spirited. From what she tells me about Hayden and MaKenna, I'm pretty certain they bring the same joy to the lives of Beth and Ken.

But I will have no sympathy for Beth should she ever complain about Hayden or MaKenna eating the food she's making as she prepares it. For a few years, I baked bread nearly every Saturday. As I mixed the dough, Beth would stick her hand in the bowl and pull out a little piece here and a little piece there and pop them into her mouth. It got worse while the dough was raising. Beth would sneak into the kitchen, lift the dish towel covering a loaf pan full of rising dough, pinch off a piece, and eat it. There were times when she must have eaten half a loaf of bread before it even went in the oven.

And Beth was downright demanding when she supervised me as I made tuna-noodle casserole. She told me exactly how I was to prepare it. She didn't offer guidance in order to ensure a better tuna-noodle casserole. No. She did it to make sure there was plenty for her to sample at each step of the way.

*                    *                    *

And I remembered two times I wasn't sure I would make it to the event I was scheduled to cover for the Star Beacon. But I did.

One Saturday morning in January, or maybe February 2002, I was awakened by the sounds of my next-door neighbor shoveling his driveway. I didn't think much of it; the neighbor was a fanatic about mowing grass in the summer and keeping the driveway and walks clear of snow in the winter. "He's probably shoveling flurries," I told myself. I had covered a basketball game Friday night and got home around midnight. I didn't see so much as a single flake along the way. "Nothing to worry about," I assured myself.

Staying in bed had its attractions, but I had to cover a girls basketball game in Jefferson that afternoon. I got myself out from beneath the covers, looked out the window, and said, "Holy shit." The world was white, buried in white, lots of white, at least a foot of white, maybe more.

After some orange juice, a bowl of shredded wheat, and a cup of coffee, I put on my jacket, gloves, and ski hat and went outside. A quick, close up look at the snow brought on another, "Holy shit." There was well over a foot of snow; a foot-and-a-half at least, maybe two feet. "Guess there won't be a game today," I thought. The game I was to cover was at Jefferson, which always got hit with more snow than the communities along the lake.

I resisted the urge to go back inside and have another cup of joe. I told myself, even if the game is postponed, and I was certain it would be, it was best to get right to the shoveling. If it warmed up the snow would get heavy and require twice the effort to move it. Shoveling two feet of snow isn't easy, especially when you are hemmed in by hedges on one side and the house on the other. You have to carry each shovelful around to a spot where the snow can be tossed. I took two or three breaks before I'd cleared a path from the car to Myrtle Avenue, which still hadn't been plowed.

Each time I went inside I checked the answering machine. Nothing. Don McCormack, the Star Beacon sports editor at the time was also an assistant girls basketball coach at Jefferson. I was sure he'd call if the game was postponed.

That call never came. So I ate a quick lunch, grabbed a score sheet, a notebook, a few pens, and headed to Jefferson. The first half block was the roughest. The city's street crews still had not plowed Myrtle Avenue, and there hadn't been enough traffic to wear a path in the snow. I was never so happy to be driving a car with a standard transmission. By going forward as far as the car would go, then backing up for a short distance, then repeating the process five or six times, I made it the half block to Walnut Boulavard, which, thank God, had been plowed. And so were all the other roads I traveled to get to Jefferson High School. The Falcons played Conneaut that Saturday. The Spartan faithful I talked to were surprised that the game wasn't postponed, and even more surprised that the snow was deeper in Conneaut than it was in Jefferson.

I headed back to Ashtabula thinking I would go home and have something for dinner. I forget what it was, but I remember there were some leftovers in the refrigerator that sounded pretty good. When I got to the corner of Walnut and Myrtle, the plans changed. Myrtle was still untouched by the street crews. I dined at McDonalds, quite a comedown from Chez Tomas.

Then it was on to the Star Beacon, where I typed in the Jefferson-Conneaut box score, wrote the game story, answered phones, and goofed off a little - or maybe more than a little - until it was time to go home. As I drove up Lake Avenue to the Harbor, a list of local motels ran through my mind, in case Myrtle was still not plowed. Not to worry. The plows had cleared Myrtle Avenue. In doing so, however, they pushed a generous amount of snow back into Tom's driveway. It took nearly a half-hour to get the pile at the end of the driveway out of the way. Needless to say, I slept well that night.

In October 2002, I was one of the sports guys assigned to cover the state cross country meet, which is held in Columbus. I was to do the stories on the girls races, and James Johnson would handle the boys races. That year, the three boys races (Divisions I, II, and III) were scheduled for the morning, and the girls races were run in the afternoon. A most fortuitous arrangement for a certain sports writer from Ashtabula, as it turned out.

I wanted to be there for the boys races and got myself up and on the road before seven o'clock. I was on the road for no more than ten minutes when I decided I needed a cup of coffee and something to eat. With that in mind, I got off I-90 at the Madison exit, a mere twenty miles into my trip. That might sound like laziness and the height of self-indulgence, but it was a very fortuitous decision on the part of your intrepid reporter.

The drive-thru window wasn't opened, so I parked the car and went inside to order a couple Bacon, Egg and Cheese Biscuits and a cup of coffee. The woman in her McDonald's outfit slipped the biscuits into a bag and handed it to me along with the coffee. I went outside, got in the car, slipped the key into the ignition, turned the key, and nothing happened. A few more attempts produced the same result.

I went back in McDonald's and told my problems to the woman at the cash register. She told me to take a walk. A walk to the garage a quarter of a mile "that way on the left. He opens pretty early." I did as she said. The garage was open, and I told the guy what happened. He brought a truck around and told me to get in. He drove down to McDonalds, asked which car was mine, and parked next to it.

"Get in the car," he said. I did, and he raised the hood. "OK, now start it." Nothing happened. He had me try again. Same result. He had me try a third time. When it didn't start, he said, "It's the starter." He said he could put a new starter in. I thought that was a great idea. So, he got the car started and told me to drive up to the garage.

The repair process was delayed when the guy realized he didn't have the starter he needed in stock. He told me he could get one, but he'd have to wait until the place opened. I couldn't see what was going on from the room where customers were sent to wait. I fretted and sweated for what seemed like forever, but it was only until 9:30. That's when he told me, "You're all set."

After making sure the credit card people still thought highly of me, he gave me the keys, and I was on my way to Columbus. It wasn't a relaxing journey, by any means. But I did get to where I needed to be twenty minutes before the first girls race. The car started right up when it was time to head home. And it kept on starting without hesitation for as long as I owned it.

















Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Noisy Neighbor Blues

For three days, as the slogan goes, life was good at Covenant Woods. Last night, it returned to normal. Sunday evening, after making a couple laps around the building, I stopped in the lobby to talk to Tony, who is a resident here, and Bev, who was working at the desk. The conversation soon turned to the subject of my next-door neighbor and her son.

I had been living at Covenant Woods for four years when the woman moved in next door. Both Corrine and Leila, the previous occupants of that apartment, were quiet neighbors. Richie, who lives next door on the other side, had quieted down, too. The nearly constant, always loud, drunken revelries he and William so enjoyed, and which always took place in Richie's apartment, seemed to have become a thing of the past. Oh, they still had an occasional pre-party before heading to Covenant Woods' Friday afternoon Happy Hour, but they were seldom rowdy after the sun went down. And Richie must have moved his TV away from the wall we share. It wasn't a bad neighborhood.

With the new neighbor came what must be a recording, or a slew of CDs on which some guy drones on and on about something, I'm not sure what. And I got to listen to them through the wall nearly every night.

I did my best to be patient. My view is, in a place such as Covenant Woods, we residents have to put up with each other, within reason, of course, from 8 a.m.until 10 or 10:30 p.m., certainly no later than 11 p.m. From 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. we need to think of each other. Not everyone is in bed by 11, but many folks are. We need to keep that in mind and be willing to adjust if our late-night activities make it difficult for a neighbor to sleep.

My new neighbor never turned the recordings off or even reduced the volume by 11, and seldom by midnight. A week or two after she moved in, I saw her in the hall and asked her to please turn it down. "You'll have to talk to my son. He's the one who listens to that stuff." I told her that wasn't my responsibility. She shot me a not-my-problem look and walked away.

 With that in mind, I turned to the night security man. On nights when the noise from next door kept me from sleeping, I'd call the desk and ask the security guy to ask the neighbor to quiet down. Some nights the response came within a few minutes, other nights there was no response at all. At the time, I thought a no-response meant that a more urgent matter had arisen - a medical emergency, perhaps.

At the time, the neighbor's son drove a Kia that had obviously been in an accident. The left side was bashed in, and the windows on the left side had been replaced with sheets of plastic. It was an ugly piece of junk, and its absence greatly improved the appearance of the parking lot. Its absence also improved my mood: if the car wasn't here, neither was the son. There were occasions when he was gone for two or three days. And every time it was gone for more than a day, I hoped he had found more a suitable residence for himself. But he always came back.

In December or January, I talked to Kerri, who is the business manager, about my neighbor and her son. Kerri talked to my neighbor, and the problem seemed to be solved. The following week, the neighbor apologized for bothering me. A week later, the son was back and unrepentant.

Since then, the neighbor has been told several times that her son is not allowed in the building at night. The son has been escorted to the door and told to leave a number of times. Two days later, heeeeee's back.

The son was here over the weekend, and he was his usual ignorant, inconsiderate self Friday and Saturday nights. Calling the security guy is often an exercise in futility. I found out along the way that when the security guy doesn't knock on the neighbor's door and tell the son to get out of the building, it's not because a more important situation requires his attention. It means he walked by the neighbor's apartment and maybe even stopped in the hallway for a minute to listen but didn't hear anything. If he doesn't hear anything, he can't do anything.

This was the gist of my conversation with Tony and Bev on Sunday. I told them I thought the son was in his mother's apartment, or had been when I went to take a ride. Bev looked ino the situation and told the neighbor her the son had to get out of the building. Five minutes after I got back to my apartment, a car stoppped in the parking lot and the neighbor's kid got in and left.

Three nights of blissful slumber followed. That does not mean the inconsiderate jerk stayed out of the building all three nights. I woke up at four Tuesday, not unusual for me, and could hear the familiar garbage on the tape playing softly in the neighbor's apartment. The same was true Wednesday morning when I got up at 5:30. On the other hand, nary a sound came from the neighbor's apartment those nights. I got into bed, relaxed, fell asleep quickly, and awoke feeling so very good, physically and emotionally.

It was back to abnormal last night. I could hear the tapes most of the evening, but they weren't loud enough to be heard in the hall. No use calling. They seemed louder to my ears when I got into bed at eleven. The reasons for that are the location of my bed - it's next to the wall between my apartment and the neighbor's - and my TV or the music I was listening to now being off.

I didn't bother calling security. It is unlikely the guy would hear the tapes as he stood in the hall. So I started yelling, "Turn it off!" He didn't. I yelled some more. And on and on we went. He turned it down a few times, and I yelled, "Turn it all the way off!" My experience with the son is, no matter how low he turns the volume, it will soon go back up. This went on until 12:15, when I yelled, "Turn the god-damned thing off, you asshole!" For whatever reason, he immediately turned it off. Maybe he just wanted me to talk dirty to him.

Three consecutive nights without hearing the tapes reminded me how nice it is to fall asleep without having to put up with that garbage playing on the other side of the wall. When I get upset and start yelling, my already stiff legs get noticeably stiffer and are usually still stiffer than usual in the morning. I go to sleep not feeling good about myself. I don't like having to yell; I worry that I'll wake up others. And I wake up feeling lousy: the legs are still a little stiff, and getting myself dressed is a bigger than normal challenge. And I don't feel good about myself and the way I behaved trying to get that guy to turn off his tapes.

All this because of a man who is not supposed to be in the building between 7 p.m. and 10 a.m.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Heat is On




This is a few years old, but it still true of me and the Georgia summer.

The Heat is On

Day after day the high’s above ninety,
The humidity at one-forty-four.
I’d like to say it with class and nicety,
How I can’t take this stuff anymore.

But daily that old heat-index rises
And weakens my teeny vocabulary.
Heat kills the nice words, and my surmise is
What’s left will draw the constabulary.

I do try hard to be understanding
Of Mother Nature’s mysterious ways.
Yet, on these days when I’m out standing
In Old Sol’s searing, scorching, sultry rays,

I find it hard to keep a civil tongue,
And polite expression is impossible.
Within seconds, I have burst a lung
Shouting words and phrases reprehensible.

It has been a summer like no other
That this one old fellow can remember.
In case you’re wondering what I’d ’druther,
I am lusting now for November.


Pop?

Alisha, the activities director, asked me to play Reader's Digest editor and condense an article on spring health tips she'd found ...