The Price of Vandalism


Ramp to nowhere:  the morning after fire destroyed the Sway Fun glider.

Where were you on the Saturday night after Thanksgiving?  That’s what the police will be asking you, if they ever discover that you were responsible for the apparent act of arson that lit up the field behind our house like a campfire gone awry.  Have you thought about what you might say?  If your alibi doesn’t persuade the authorities of your innocence, they’re likely to stare into your guilty eyes and demand an answer to the question the whole neighborhood is wondering:  What were you thinking?

I can only speculate – and hope – that you weren’t thinking.  Because if your irresponsible and cowardly crime was the deliberate end of thoughtful planning, then breaking the law is merely the beginning of your problems.  I would prefer to think that you are young, perhaps one of several peers involved in a prank that got out of hand before it could be stopped, and the whole unfortunate incident is very much contrary to your character.  I would like to believe that you are ashamed of your actions and consumed with regret.  I wish that you could muster the tremendous courage to step forward, admit what you have done, and begin the long journey to make a complete reparation for it.  That is the most optimistic scenario I can envision. Read More

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


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

A Study In Scarred Lit.


John Watson regales us with yet another adventurous yarn.

There is a wonderful moment in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces in which the eccentric protagonist is so incensed by what he sees on a movie screen that he cannot help shouting out his indignation.  “Oh, good heavens!” bellows Ignatius J. Reilly to the annoyance and unease of fellow patrons.  “What degenerate produced this abortion?”

Although I’m a passionate proponent of politeness in movie theaters, I can empathize with Reilly’s plight.  There is a point where one’s artistic sensibility can become so offended that it is impossible to remain silent.  That’s why I’ll be staying away from screenings of one of this holiday season’s anticipated blockbusters, Sherlock Holmes.  I wouldn’t want to involuntarily proclaim my outrage aloud and thus violate my own standards for audience etiquette.

I enjoy the canonical Sherlock Holmes, which is to say that I prefer the novels and stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  I’m not a snob about it, though – if a later author produces a story that is true to the spirit, logic, and language of the canon, I’m all for it.  The original stories are so beautifully crafted that I find many adaptations enjoyable but nevertheless diluted.  I’ll take a good verbatim reading of a classic Holmes story over the best dramatization any day.

From the looks of the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes (if trailers and other advance publicity are any indication), this latest effort appears to be not so much an adaptation as an outright bastardization. Read More

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


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


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

Dynadormophis Up


What if people could bank, sell, and buy their sleep?

It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with a sleeper or a dynamo, every service call on a Dynadorm unit leads to an angry or incoherent customer.  That’s why there’s such a high turnover rate for us service techs, never mind the money.  I don’t care what kind of debt you have hanging over your head, the first time you get assaulted by one of these people, no amount of compensation seems worth it.  It’s not the physical trauma of it, it’s the terror of dealing with the unhinged.  There’s nothing more dangerous than some sleep-deprived zombie who’s counting on you to get up and running again.

I’ve had all sorts of weapons pulled on me, dodged my share of thrown objects, and more than once I’ve been forced to threaten a client.  Dynadormophis tells us not to in the handbook and every training session, but they know what goes on at the front line, and you do what you have to do.  They’ll never admit it – that’s what keeps the lawyers off our backs – but every rookie soon learns that corporate doesn’t care what we do so long as the green keeps flowing.  And they expect the green to keep flowing.

After all, it’s the service contracts that keep us in business.  You can rent a Dynadorm fairly cheaply these days, relatively speaking, and outright buying one is within reach of some, but you’d be a fool to think that’s the extent of your investment if you expect the thing to keep working.  I see the same scene over and over again.  That first call usually comes sometime in the first or second year of operation, by which time the unit is well out of warranty and its owner has become financially, emotionally, and/or physically dependent on it.  They can’t believe that the call is going to cost so much, swear up and down that nobody in sales ever made the cost/benefit ratio of a service contract clear to them, then finally stop stamping their feet and cursing long enough to accept our generous offer of applying seventy-five percent of their bill toward a long-term contract.  After that, they’re pretty much hooked. Read More

Hostel Is A Homophone


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


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


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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