Time Marches On

Implacable, inexorable, ineffable, improbable
Immovable and unstoppable
Impatient, impertinent
Impossible
Itinerant, intolerant
Intangible and incorporeal
Ever forward
Ever onward
Everlasting and finite
It proceeds.*

Lunken Moon 0005a
Super moon, July 13 2015. It was a bit overcast

I’ve been particularly pensive the past couple of days, thinking about a lot of things, the assorted accumulations of stress and strain and illness. I don’t think there’s anything about which to be alarmed; it’s just where my head is right now. I analyze, I agonize; that’s how I’m wired. What I haven’t been doing is staying in my head while staying in my house. Saturday was the super moon, a day when the moon would be very close to the earth. I’d planned to go out with my camera and my tripod and practice with long exposures. When I looked up in the sky, though, I saw mostly clouds. Still, I had made plans, and more importantly, made plans with another person. If not for her, I would have stayed home, and I might have regretted it. I missed a mini family reunion that afternoon, though. I didn’t make a reminder that stuck with me. Kinda upset about that.

Monday evening, against my better judgement, I drove across town to spend the evening in a dive bar with a bunch of people, former students from my high school†. It was effectively another mini reunion, although with significantly fewer people, and fewer classes represented – almost all of the people at the bar were alumni from the year after mine. I knew them; even hung out with some of them in school. Others I’ve only really gotten to know since we found one another on Facebook. I’d planned to be there until maybe 8:30, 9:00 at the latest – I got home at about a quarter to 11:00…I was a little tired the next morning. Worth it.

Yesterday afternoon, I had an appointment with my nephrologist, first one in four months. I left work early to get there; first time I made it before my scheduled appointment. Stable, no changes to be concerned about. After my appointment, I came home and grabbed my laundry basket and detergent, and headed for the laundromat, where I did several loads of laundry…

Yeah, that didn’t happen. I came home, sat down and had something to eat, then stayed home, laundry marinating yet another day. Figured I’d do it tonight, when I was less tired. How do you suppose that went?

When I left work, I debated between doing laundry and not doing laundry. I picked up my prescriptions, which had been ready for a few days, now, and headed home – by way of a Mexican restaurant. There was a margarita.

2014-07-16 Ancient Tinsel_0004a low
You can’t see it, but it’s there, honest. Above the wire.

Of course that has nothing to do with the topic. Well, not directly, anyway. What really spurred this on, what inspired the poem, was when I was parking at home. I had the sunroof open because it was a gorgeous fall day in July; something caught my eye as I reached up to close it – the house next door has a very large fir tree in the front yard, taller than the telephone poles. When I looked up, there was a little glint, a glitter, a silvery hint of, well, tinsel. I’ve lived beside that house for three years, now, and I’ve had the same car all that time. I don’t know how many times I’d reached up through the open roof to pull the cover over it, looking up above my head, seeing the tree, watching for opportunistic birds (been lucky so far). Not once did I notice the tinsel.

I stood out there for a few minutes trying to see where the tinsel ended. I didn’t see any below the power/phone lines, although I spotted more near the crown. It’s been there for a while. Likely the people who put it in there are long gone.

Several thoughts went through my mind when I realized what I was seeing. The man who owned that house when I came back had passed away shortly before I moved in. I never got to meet him. I don’t know how long he lived there, but maybe long enough to decorate a small fir in his front yard for the kids to enjoy. Maybe that was his tinsel, or the tinsel of one of the children, stretching up as far as they could go, putting it on the highest branch. My own time of wonder had passed, which I find to be tragic. I’m working on that. The camera helps – the world looks different when you are searching for just the right shot.

Other than that, I had this thought: I have to remind myself not to dwell on the past. Remember it, learn from it, fondly recall it, absolutely, but don’t live there.

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*There was a time when I wrote almost exclusively poetry. It rarely rhymed, but rhythm mattered.

†High School isn’t really accurate – the school went from 4th grade (~9 years old) to 12th grade (~18 years old); I only got to go for four years, but I already covered that.

In Life, Size Doesn’t Matter…

Quality does.º

What does that mean, really? Does it mean good things come in small packages? Yes. And no. It’s not something exclusive to size, just that bigger isn’t automatically better. Longer isn’t always better. What matters is what you do with it.¤

A real-life example is produce. I can get absolutely gigantic apples or peaches or strawberries, firm, and colorful. That first bite, however, might not match the greatness that piece of fruit promises. When I was a kid, we had a cherry tree, raspberry bushes, and a strawberry patch. And a mulberry tree, but that’s not something you find in stores all that often. They were tasty, though. I wasn’t allowed to touch the raspberries, because those were my mother’s favorite, but in season, coming home from school or from the pool, I’d stop and pick some strawberries or cherries that the ants and birds hadn’t gotten. I know what they’re supposed to taste like. Michigan, my neighbor to the north, is well-known for cherries. So is Ohio for that matter. And yet, the cherries I buy in the grocery store now tend to come from Washington state, a couple thousand miles away. Quite a bit of the produce we see in stores has been modified so that it travels well, doesn’t bruise easily, doesn’t rot quickly, looks pretty, and is bigger. Taste is a minor consideration. So is nutrition, for that matter.

Cincinnati Zoo
Sometimes, bigger is kinda neat, though. Manatee at the Cincinnati Zoo, one of only a couple rehabilitation centers in the country.

It’s not just food, though; a bigger store, for instance, might have more selection, but might not have the personal touch a smaller one would. I was reminded of that last night. The grocery store I prefer is small, maybe six checkout lanes total, and a handful of self-checkouts^. While at the wine tasting – that’s right, wine tasting at the grocery store – we discussed other nearby stores in the same chain. One up the hill was small, larger than this one, but still small, parking was challenging, and the attitude is very snotty, a little unwelcoming for anyone who appears to be “other,” not from there. The other is gigantic, parking is a nightmare, it’s always crowded – it even has a State Store in it. It has a tremendous selection, including some things you might otherwise only find at Jungle Jim’s, it’s brightly-lit, clean, and again, HUGE! I don’t like it. Just like my favorite store, it pulls from a fairly diverse population. Actually, a good chunk of the same population. The distance from my house between the two is a difference of a few tenths of a mile.

I get so lost in there. They remodeled some years back, and I can’t find anything anymore. I worked there briefly, as a second job, years ago. I couldn’t do it for too long. But then, the only person who would go hungry, homeless, or naked if I were broke is me; the incentive isn’t as strong as it could be. Frustrating when I consider in college I not only had a full load of music classes – there are many 1 and 2 credit courses, so it took a lot to be a full-time student – I also worked in the dining hall, which resulted in a bit of derision from the average student at my alma mater who’d never had to work a day in his life, AND I was a beer vendor, which sort of evened out the dining hall. Couldn’t drink it – legally anyway – but I could sling it. Physically, I was in great shape. Going up and down concrete stairs, carrying a case of glass bottles, shouting at the top of my lungs to be heard rows and rows away; How I managed to keep my singing voice through that, I don’t know. I didn’t have to work all that hard, though, considering. Well, think about it – you’re out with the guys, the wives/girlfriends/kids are at home, and you want a beer. There’s a dude just a couple aisles away, fit, working the crowd. And then there’s a girl+ a few more aisles away also selling beer, also fit, but she’s a girl, young, maybe attractive, but certainly female. There were men who waited for me to come by. I didn’t get rich by any stretch, but I did alright. Anyone working a 2nd job, or working full-time, raising a family, and going back to school, I am in awe of you. My mother did that. No idea how.

I’d recommend everyone spend at least one year in a job where you are interacting directly with the public. Pay attention, learn something. Figure out how to read people, and find out what it’s like when someone takes their bad day out on you. Maybe you can be less of a jerk to someone who is doing a job like that, hmm?

Where was I? Oh right, size. A tale of two stores.

Feeding the Ducks - re-edit
Small can be a moment, just like this. The impact, however, is tremendous.

As I’d mentioned, both my favorite grocery store, and the gigantic one have a similar population. The one is huge, even has a little clinic in it. So, clinic, state liquor store (kept separate from the main store), wide selection, wide aisles, brightly-lit, generally clean, and just freakin’ huge! It’s impersonal. It feels like my presence makes no difference one way or the other. I’ve had occasional interactions with the staff, and they’ve been helpful and polite, no complaints on that front, but I was a customer, not a person. At my favorite location, the staff is no more or less helpful and polite, but I kinda feel like a person there, instead of a metric.

There are exceptions, of course, and horrible examples, but generally, just because it’s bigger doesn’t mean it’s better. I don’t feel the need to drive around in a gigantic SUV, although I know there truly are excellent reasons to do so that have nothing to do with ego or perceived inadequacies. I don’t need a 3,000 square foot house. I don’t need a 20-oz steak with a 3-lb baked potato†. I certainly don’t need that 5-gallon jug of mayonnaise.

My point is this‡ – we need to remember the smaller things, the things that make life living. Maybe it’s playing catch in the front yard with your kids, instead of pushing them to get on a championship little league team. Maybe it’s having dinner at a small, single-location restaurant that maybe has less selection and smaller portions, but high quality, instead of that national chain with indistinguishable menus.

I’m not saying don’t go to the national chains, those all started as a single location once. Just – don’t forget the little guy.

_________________________

ºThanks, Barb, for the inspiration!

¤Low-hanging fruit, I know…

^I prefer the lanes with a real person, but if it’s crowded, I’ll use the first available

+At 19, you’re still a girl; maybe not legally, but definitely still a girl

†I do need these duck fat fries, though.

‡Yes, there actually is one

Forty Years

I sing the Body Electric;
I celebrate the me yet to come!
I toast to my own reunion;
When I become one with the SUN!”

In 1973, a group of artists and educators got together and created something incredible – a public school for the arts and academic excellence. It started small, just a few high school kids from around town. As the budget and fame* grew, so did the student body.

Created by the late Erv Raible (look him up), this logo covers, quite clearly, nearly every discipline taught. Writing was tricky to add.
Created by the late Erv Raible (look him up), this logo covers nearly every discipline taught.
Writing was tricky to add.

When my brother went, the school was for kids from 4th through 12th grade. He got to go in 4th grade. I was, instead, expected to follow the academic route. I went from 6th grade to a college prep high school, full of students who passed an entrance exam that apparently only about 20% of the population could pass. I never understood that; seemed easy to me at the time. I’ve learned a bit of discretion and diplomacy since then. What’s easy to me may be near impossible for someone else, and vice versa.

I hated it.

Initially I hated it because change is frightening, and this was a big one. My elementary school had an old building and a new building; the new building was where the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders had most of their classes. It was air-conditioned and carpeted. The classrooms didn’t have doors, but the dividers tended to keep the sound in the room itself. The ceiling was a friendly ten feet at most, and there was a lot of exposed wood, and a common area with all sorts of raised areas to sit or stand on. It looked like those schools I saw on TV, the ones that were in the suburbs where no one had to worry about more than making sure they had the most fashionable clothes before anyone else did. Classes were around 20 kids, except for gym, and maybe art and music.

It wasn’t always a safe place – in fact, it wasn’t quite often – but it was smaller and it was familiar. This new school, though, was another story entirely. Students from all over the city were here. Students who were experienced at being the best of the best in their old schools, the big fish, the popular kids who also happened to be good students, the studious jocks and musicians, the kids who were quite often told just how proud everyone was of them. I was going to have to learn a few things if I wanted to survive there. The average class size seemed to be about 35, although some had more.

The building itself was glorious, with important-looking marble statues in a dark hallway, almost like a display in a museum. At the end of that hall was a much larger, much longer hallway, far brighter and busier than the entrance. There didn’t seem to be any space to move. I was already one of the smaller kids in my school, but I was finally taller than all the 1st-graders; here I was small yet again.

2014-07-04 SCPA Reunion_0027a
This historic building was the home for SCPA for the longest in its 40-year history.

I sensed my own insignificance surrounded by all those giants, all those kids who were old enough to drive, boys who had to shave, girls who wore makeup and hairspray (it was the 80s – there was a lot of hairspray), books thicker than my arm, and those marble statues, probably intended to remind people of Greek or Roman universities, where great learning among the privileged took place.

My grades were abysmal. I’d never had to study before, so I had no idea how to do it. My mother couldn’t help because she had the same issue, which is why she didn’t finish college the first time. I was dealing with some other issues that wouldn’t come to light until well into my 20s. It helped when I went back for an MS in Accounting, but it was a bit late to help me when I was drowning in 7th grade.

Finally – FINALLY – I got my mother to listen to me. She could see I was miserable, and that things were getting worse, not better. I hated school, now. I didn’t hate school when I was younger. I got to audition for this other school, this place that looked like Fame, looked like fun, looked like something I would enjoy.

I still had to get in on my own merits.

I can remember my audition like it was yesterday. More the feeling than anything. I have no idea what I sang. I did a monologue from “Raisin in the Sun,”  as a cold reading, ^and I wrote a rather descriptive story about a disgusting bathtub. That was fun. They told us when we could expect to hear. One evening, the phone rang. There was no call ID then, so you never really knew who was going to be on the other end until you picked it up. I was nervous. I don’t remember who answered, but I do remember holding the handset to my own ear, a voice telling me the best news I had ever heard – I had been accepted! I may have screamed. I know I cried. A big ol’ ugly cry, with weird noises and snot. My mother laughed. Not a cruel, taunting laugh, but the laugh of a person who got to witness a loved one be elated. Even with all her faults, she did want us to be happy.

My very first day I experienced something I never had before – excitement about a new beginning. Oh I was still nervous, still anxious about this gigantic change, but unlike the previous events, this one made me smile the whole time. I didn’t even get in the door before I was greeted by another student.

2014-07-04 SCPA Reunion_0031c
There were 40,000 cameras – this was the only one where we’re all looking at one of them. Okay, not the same one, but still…

There is a new building for the students now, a beautiful technological marvel. They moved in the 2010-2011 school year, if memory serves. The one that I called home for 4 years was old and in desperate need of repair, something the school system could not afford. Fortunately, the building has been sold and will have new owners, owners who are interested in preserving the history even as they turn it into apartments or condos.

There were students who went on to do things in theater, art, music, writing. There are students who’ve been nominated for and even won Tonys, Emmys, Grammys, and yes, Oscars. And there are students who used the lessons learned here to succeed in professions not at all related to the arts. It wasn’t about working to be a professional artist; it was about being a professional person, about what it takes to be the best you can be, to take chances you might otherwise never take. Was it all sunshine and lollipops? No, of course not. There were some darker moments. Overall, though, it was phenomenal. Some alumni have said the school saved their lives. In at least some of those cases, I know that to be true. Not directly, like with CPR or something, but indirectly, giving those students a reason to care, a reason to try, a reason to excel. If I really think about it, I think I was one of those students.

Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Raible, Mr. Louiso, Mr. Stull, thank you. Ms. Hennigan, Mrs. Yonka, Mr. McCraken, and all the teachers and founders and supporters who weren’t able to come, you – all of you – have *no* idea how much you’ve done for me.

2014-07-04 SCPA Reunion_0023b
Yes, you, Mr. Louiso

If you’re curious, a few of the local news stations came out to see what we were up to. There wasn’t just a reunion in the parking lot, but a photograph and a little dance. At least two of them are on autoplay, so check your sound.

WLWT Channel 5
WCPO Channel 9
WKRC Channel 12
WXIX Channel 19 did a story the day before.

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*Sorry; couldn’t help myself.

^For the uninitiated, a cold reading just refers to performing something you may have had a whopping five minutes to review.