Confidentially…

Bugs2-500

What do Bugs Bunny, taking a bath, and a precocious vocabulary have in common?

This is a cautionary tale, a story of how ignorance and the nuances of language can combine with coincidence to convey an unintended message of a mortifying caliber.  It is the true account of a boy who was unaware that the unpleasantness confronting him was a consequence of his own actions, for he knew not what he was doing.  Thankfully he remained in this state of immaturity for several years, allowing his fragile psyche to recover from the staggering truth when, at last, the individual links merged into an undeniable chain of events.

To appreciate the predicament fully, we must begin in the middle.  Our protagonist – let’s call him, say, Bobby – is a quiet second grader at a Catholic elementary school.  He is in the class of one Miss M., a teacher beloved by most students and yet prone to a certain foulness of mood when crossed.  It is the very same Miss M. who once made a spectacle of her displeasure with Bobby’s older brother (whom we shall call B.J.) and the sloppiness of his desk by dumping B.J.’s accumulated possessions onto the floor before his peers.  B.J. stood there stunned and uncomprehending, wondering why Miss M. did not simply order him to clean out his desk rather than unleashing her pent-up fury.  But Bobby does not know about this darker side of his instructor, nor can he conceive that he is about to similarly provoke her ire. Read More

Son Of A Son Of A Son Of A Son Of A Civil War Soldier

Horace_Hunt_-_4_generations

The Hunt men:  from left, Grandfather Roy, Great-Grandfather Frank, and Great-Great-Grandfather Horace.

I drive past two thousand, two hundred and sixty dead Confederate soldiers every morning on my way to work.  Perhaps this would not be noteworthy were I a denizen of the south, but I live in Columbus, Ohio, well into old Union territory.  The fallen rebels are permanent residents of the last surviving parcel of Camp Chase, a military installation that prepared Ohio recruits for battle in the Civil War and housed a prison for captured enemy soldiers.

Today the once-sprawling complex is nothing more than a modest cemetery enclosed by stone walls.  Among its neighbors are a library branch, an ice cream stand, and a deserted corner gas station.  It is probable that most commuters traveling along Sullivant Avenue are unaware of the sacred historic landmark they are passing.

One step within its iron gates is a sobering antidote to such ignorance.  Walk around outside the cemetery’s perimeter, or scan its area as depicted in a satellite photograph, and you may perceive only a small rectangle of land.  Stand within its walls, however, and its interior seems to expand to impossible dimensions.  Row after row after row of small white headstones crowded together evoke the seemingly infinite crosses of Arlington National Cemetery.  The Confederates buried there were once held captive on Union soil, and following their deaths due to disease, they remain prisoners to this day. Read More

I Once Was A Man Who Lived In A ‘Shoe…

StadiumDormTee

It was the only campus dorm in which every resident was suspended.  Literally.

Ohio Stadium is not quite what it used to be.  Though its tradition of hosting Buckeye football games continues unabated and the structure itself remains an unmistakable landmark for sports fans and aircraft pilots alike, a piece of it that thrived for six decades is missing.  You might be forgiven for walking within it and failing to notice this omission.  Even when it existed, few people seemed to be aware of the Stadium Dorm.
Make that The Ohio Stadium Scholarship Dormitory, as it was officially known.  Its genesis was a spartan facility constructed inside the southwest tower in 1933, a mere eleven years after the stadium itself was built.  From that humble beginning as a no-frills campus residence for 78 men of limited financial means, the dorm gradually expanded along the west concourse into a much larger, coed residence hall.  The additions were elevated structures, their three floors of rooms suspended from the underside of the stadium seating.  In its final form, the Stadium Dorm was comprised of five major sections accessed by tiny entrance foyers featuring a flight of stairs leading up to the “first” floor.  Up to thirty students lived in each of the fifteen gender-segregated floor units, sharing communal bathrooms, taping posters to the paper-thin walls, and taking meals in the dorm cafeteria.  Meanwhile, throngs of Buckeye supporters sauntered beneath these quarters on many a football Saturday without noticing that a vibrant and lively dormitory was hanging above them.
By the time I lived there in the late eighties, its longevity had done little to raise its profile, nor to rectify popular misconceptions. Read More

Broadway Boogie-Woogie

Broadway Boogie-Woogie

As Aunt Peg would have said, “Isn’t that somethin’?”

I remember my Great Aunt Peg as a kindly old woman who seemed to be in a perpetual state of amusement.  She ambled about with her stout frame and white hair, her sparkling eyes framed by glacial grooves of laugh-worn wrinkles, her cherubic mouth always somewhere on the continuum from Mona Lisa grin to tooth-baring smile.

Her infectious laugh was gentle and silly.  It began with a short, guttural warning, followed by a cascading repetition of rollicking chortles.  A-hill, hill, hill!  A-hill, hill, hill, hill!  If you didn’t happen to think that the object of her outburst was funny, it was no matter to her – she just went on a-hill­-ing, and you couldn’t help but be amused yourself by that silly laugh.

She was a childless widow by the time I came along.  Though she lived only a block away, I never visited her, as it was the custom for her to visit us.  Then one day, by circumstances I do not recall, I found myself the sole guest in her modest home.

I was perhaps nine years old, and I must have known I was due for a visit of some length, for I remember bringing along a small collection of treasures to show and tell.  We sat before a coffee table in her ordinary living room, sunlight filtering through the window from the quiet intersection that bordered her corner house.  I embarked on a detailed lecture concerning the assorted items I had arranged on the table.  Aunt Peg sat patiently and attentively through my thoughtful discourses on the merits of one trading card over another and the means by which my portable slide viewer worked.

“Oh, how ‘bout that, it has a little battery inside,” she enthused, “a little battery, a-hill, hill!”

When at last I had exhausted my knowledge and fell silent, Aunt Peg was ready to take her turn.  She fixed her whimsical countenance upon me and asked, “Have you seen my tent room?”  Her casual tone made it sound as though she was referring to something everyone had in their homes.  Nonplussed and inquisitive, I followed her into the hall. Read More

You’ll Probably Need Stitches

ChainLinkFence500

Those points are supposed to go down toward the ground.

The house in which I grew up had aluminum downspouts that descended from our gutters and curved away from the foundation atop beveled cinder block.  They channeled rainwater adequately, but they were prone to rust and had sharp edges at their openings.  Not much of a hazard for most people, but if you were an eight-year-old boy running around the perimeter of your house at top speed, they could be dangerous.  I was surprised to discover this fact one summer afternoon, and I was further stunned when my bloody leg failed to elicit any sympathy from my mother but  instead earned me a reprimand.

“Well, if you hadn’t been running around the house instead of watching where you’re going, this wouldn’t have happened,” I recall my mother scolding me as she tended to my injury.  She probably tempered her criticism with compassion, but only her cool rebuke remained in my memory.  Somewhere among my developing dendrites and synapses I stowed away the lone nugget of wisdom I managed to cull from the experience:  If you’re hurt, don’t tell Mom.  It was a maxim that was destined to lead me astray. Read More

Hostel Is A Homophone

PotomacBridge

The bridge from Sandy Hook to Harpers Ferry…and also from lunacy to sanity.

“Nothing just happens!  Nothing just happens!” thundered the evangelizing voice of T.D. Jakes as I gnawed on fried chicken from the comfort of my hotel bed.  The congregation shouted its approval of their leader’s assertion that there is no such thing as a coincidence.  I pondered the idea for a moment, took another swig of cola, and clicked the remote.  Now The Andy Griffith Show flickered from the screen.  It was an episode I recognized, the classic “Man In A Hurry,” in which a stranded big-city motorist finds his patience tested by the leisurely pace of Mayberry as he waits for his car to be repaired.

“Ah, what luck,” I enthused before it occurred to me that T. D. Jakes would presumably disagree.

I was determined to squeeze whatever enjoyment I could out of my accommodations, as my room was costing me four times what I had budgeted.  Perched high atop Harpers Ferry at the edge of the Catholic cemetery, my lodgings were in every way a far cut above my original reservations.  In order to justify the indulgence of attending a five-day educational conference at my own expense (along with opportunities to do further research for my historical novel set in the area), I had intended to stay a little further down the Potomac, just across the river.  There at the base of Maryland Heights is the small community of Sandy Hook, where a humble hostel offers shelter to Appalachian Trail hikers, assorted vagabonds, and fiscally prudent educators.

The idea of staying in a hostel held no appeal to me beyond its minimal cost.  Multi-bunk barracks and community bath facilities are not what I would consider to be positive amenities.  In addition, this establishment was only open in the evening, overnight and morning hours, outside of which the doors were locked.  Still, I anticipated a busy week, and what more would I need from my accommodations but a safe bed and a shower?  As I was traveling alone, I did not need to consider the comfort of my family.  I could handle roughing it for a few days.  It might even make the whole endeavor more fun, allowing me to assume the role of the itinerant writer, a rugged intellectual who cares not where he sleeps so long as he may practice his craft. Read More

Trumpet Lessons

TrumpetLessons

The bane of my adolescent existence.

Black Monday.

My parents were disappointed with the label I had affixed to the evenings on which my trumpet lessons were scheduled.  Having spent a good deal of money to purchase the instrument itself, they no doubt would have been pleased had their son expressed any measure of gratitude over the further expense they incurred by arranging private lessons.  Each week they took the time to drive me to the outskirts of town so that I could spend a half hour in the presence of my instructor, a stern man renowned in my family for his success in developing the musical talents of a couple of my siblings.  Despite my parents’ sacrifices, I was far from grateful.

It was a dismal clash of disparate personalities.  Mr. Steffman was a gifted teacher who expected his students to arrive motivated and well-practiced.  Anything less was unworthy of his time.  Had I the maturity and discipline to adhere to his regimen to any degree, I might have blossomed into a brass master.  Unfortunately, I was a self-absorbed, sullen teen with little patience beyond instant gratification.  Regular practice interfered with more important pursuits, like afternoon, early evening, and prime time television viewing.  Read More

Loving In Fall

1971WithMom500

Mom and me, 1971

I don’t remember taking a walk along a lake with my mother on a chilly fall day, but the gentle moment is documented in a faded color photograph.  I was no more than a toddler at the time.  Looking at it now, I can imagine how fresh and exhilarating the sensation must have been for me, a novice to the cyclical changes of turning seasons.  The sharpness of the cool air, the windblown rustle of decaying foliage, and cascading waves of pinwheeling leaves would have captivated me.  Autumn must have been a wondrous and beautiful contrast to the vibrant skies and sweltering sun of summer.

Whatever wonder I associated with the season would dissipate within several years, however.  My annual return to school became the most memorable event in autumn, and I soon developed a distaste for what I gradually perceived to be a depressing time of year.  Summer was a joyous freedom from responsibility, a chance to impulsively indulge every whim, an endless vacation with so many hours of daylight that you could wake up late and still have more time than you ever wanted to ride your bike for blocks with no agenda whatsoever.  Fall came to represent the absence of these cherished things, and so it held little charm for me.  Deciduous trees aflame with color and crisp strolls through the apple orchard?  Who cares?  Summer’s over. Read More

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