1994: The Second of Four Elephants

This was an eventful year, but not in a way that is easy or fair to talk about. But I may have a story to tell even though I can hear the heavy footsteps of elephants in the distance. (Stephanie, if I cross any lines, let me know and I’ll edit judiciously. [If you’re not sure if your code name is Stephanie, you’re not Stephanie.])

Early in the year, I was preparing to be married for the second time. My fiancé and I attended several preparatory sessions together, conducted by a minister who seemed proper enough. At the end of one of the sessions, though, he cautioned us not to publicize his current profession too much: he’d formerly been a police detective, and some of the criminals he’d put on the inside might now be on the outside…and looking to settle a score. Whether or not that was true (why would a minister lie?), he certainly had our attention after that small request.

The church in which we were to be married held a lot of memories for me and for my family. My father’s parents, both of whom had passed away before I was 11 years old, had been two of the founding members of the church and had overseen its physical construction in the 1960s. My grandma, who gave piano lessons from her home, had played piano or organ or both for the church services. My own parents had been married in the same church.

This was the church where I attended nursery school and Sunday school, where we played Old Testament charades and learned about the power of a mustard seed, where I learned the names of the books of the Bible, and where my brother and I drew pictures in the programs when we were old enough to sit in the sanctuary with the adults but still too young to pay proper attention to the sermons. Even after we moved away to the country, we returned to this church for Christmas Eve services for many years; I learned suspense from holding my lit candle with a trembling hand while singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in the dark, only a tired paper circle protecting my hand from the melting wax.

candlelight1-540x360

It was a church where everything was positive but predictable. My father, on the rare occasions when he didn’t go to church, might look at his watch at twenty minutes past the hour and state that he knew what hymn they were singing. It was a friendly, comforting church, with the same families in the same pews week after week singing the same old familiar hymns. Yes, the minister who served for decades did eventually retire and was replaced (though not without some initial discomfort). Yes, the church did revise its hymnal to become more global and inclusive (though not without some initial discomfort and some hoarding of copies of the previous edition).

At Christmastime, this church was in its glory. Gradually, over the Advent season, poinsettias appeared on the steps to the altar, then spread across the full width of the steps, then seemed to explode in a lush profusion that filled the entire altar. Combined with a profusion of candles, the effect was stunning — and it happened every year without fail. It was the most beautiful place I could imagine to be married, whether or not my husband-to-be and I believed strictly in everything that the church believed. It was a special place, and that was where we were going to be married.

Christmas came, and the church was packed with poinsettias and candles and song. January came, and the wedding date drew nearer. My fiancé’s family drove in from out of state to meet with mine, rehearse the wedding, break bread, and have what was, frankly, the loudest congenial conversation ever held in my parents’ house. To be clear, no one was angry; it was just…loud.

The wedding day arrived, and I sat in a room by myself waiting for my cue. It was a small wedding, just for immediately family, but still there were protocols. I waited alone in a nondescript room I had never noticed before, never having had a reason to notice. My brother, my parents, and my future in-laws were elsewhere when there was a knock on the door. It was the minister.

“Can I come in? I need to tell you something.”

As time slowed, he haltingly told me that the Decoration Committee had come to the church early in the morning and removed every poinsettia from the altar.

“They assumed that you would want to bring your own flowers.”

His words hung in the air. What could I say? That I couldn’t afford to buy enough flowers to make the church prettier or more special than it looked at Christmas? That the poinsettias were one of the main reasons we’d chosen the church? That — why would a whole committee do such a thing without even asking first?

“You’d better see what it looks like before you go out there.”

The former detective led me out into the sanctuary to view the naked, starkly plain altar. He was right — the whole front of the church was stripped bare. Just two weeks after Christmas, everything was gone.

Somehow I incorporated the new image of the church. I waited in my little room, then came out on cue and was married. It was still beautiful.


Knitwise, I have now created two Baby Trekkie Washcloths and am ready to make two more — just try to stop me! They’re easy and quick, which are the main things they have going for them. I certainly don’t need to make more washcloths.

Last weekend I did unearth a large unfinished project that hadn’t seen the light of day in a year. It’s a Season 18 Doctor Who Scarf. This project is another dead-ender in that I originally began it eight years ago with yarn that has since ceased production. And it’s Lion Brand Yarn, too. You have to pick something pretty darned unpopular if Lion Brand decides to quit cranking it out. The project calls for bulky chenille acrylic yarn in orange, wine, and purple, and I’m quite certain that I don’t have enough of the orange yarn to finish the project. Nor, in the last eight years of casual searching, have I seen any available (meaning, I haven’t happened to notice any skeins of it at the thrift store). The plan is to pick up the Scarf periodically and plug away at it until I run out of orange, then (A) find more orange or (B) put it away again until I find more orange.

In the meantime, I have this little cycling event coming up this weekend. I’m training, planning, and packing. I’m also crossing my fingers that a few more donations will come in before Saturday and put me at or above the minimum I’m trying to raise. Thanks to you who have already donated. I’ll do my best and maybe even take some trip knitting with me. Hey, how about a washcloth?

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Published in: on July 16, 2018 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

1993: Frisco

Now that I had a permanent job, I was living in an apartment of my own. It was a “garden” apartment that did, in fact, have a tiny bit of arable dirt bordering a square concrete patio. I remember planting basil, marigolds, and chili peppers that I hung on a string to dry in my kitchen after the “harvest.” I don’t think that I ever actually used any in my cooking, but it’s just fun to grow peppers. I did grow enough basil to produce exactly one batch of pesto.

The kitchen wasn’t much at all, but I tried to learn how to do something with it. One day (it probably took me all day) I made two cups of hummus and managed to use every appliance and mixing bowl in my possession. It may or may not have been the cleanup from that experiment that led to my never making hummus again.

just 1981 Buick

A car, a white picket fence, and an apartment of my own. What more could I want?

It was a very small apartment, a little bigger than one person needed but certainly not big enough for two people. I wasn’t the entertaining type, so I didn’t need room for a crowd. By 1993 my boyfriend had moved to my town and was renting his own garden apartment in a building near mine. Still, something was missing. We put our heads together and decided that what I needed was…a cat.

One Saturday we paid a visit to the Cat Welfare Association‘s facility in Clintonville. It was a no-kill refuge that (somewhat obviously) handled only cats. The narrow building next to the train tracks was packed with cages, and cats of all ages and colors — in and out of cages, as there were dozens of cats that roamed freely about the building, sat on the tops of the cages, and jumped up and down from the windowsills — put on their most plaintive vocal performances as we walked the length of the shelter. I didn’t know what kind of cat I was looking for, so I spent a lot of time looking into the cages of the cats who commended my attention.

I made three trips up and down the aisle until the feline chorus began to subside, and that’s when I saw a cat I hadn’t noticed before. He was a grey tiger male seated in the back of his cage, with his tail tucked around him like a B. Kliban cat impersonating a meatloaf. When I looked at him he uncurled his tail, stretched, and came to the front of the cage. His calm demeanor said, “I’ve been waiting for you to notice; can we go home now?”

The new cat was of undertermined age, though no youngster; he was already neutered and declawed. Now that he had a home, I had to give him a name.

He was a confident, calm, and self-contained sort of fellow — not clingy or codependent. I named him after the most confident character I could think of: Francisco d’Anconia from Atlas Shrugged. (Of course, that would make his full proper name Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastián d’Anconia, but I never had occasion to use it.) Of course, what I called him was Frisco, the nickname given to Francisco by his childhood (and sometimes adulthood) companion Dagny Taggart.

Kliban cat window

Frisco - apt - cropped

I’m realizing as I write this story that it is, in fact, chronologically incorrect. My best Frisco story involves a trip to Oxford to visit my boyfriend for the weekend, so obviously we didn’t go cat-shopping together after he moved to my apartment complex, but before. The strands of time are starting to tangle, but each separate part of the story is true and there is no intention to deceive.

What’s the best Frisco story, you ask? Well, not knowing how I could leave him alone for the weekend, I took him along with me in the car on a trip to Oxford, which was a two-hour drive each way. The apartment where we were staying didn’t allow pets, which wasn’t much of a problem as Frisco slinked from under one piece of furniture to under another one. When we returned to Grove City he didn’t come out from under the bed for a day or so.

The next Friday afternoon I was getting ready to go to Oxford again. When Frisco saw me packing a bag he hid under the bed and refused to emerge.

“Okay, buddy,” I said (I may be paraphrasing). “I know you didn’t have a good trip last time. You can stay here this weekend. I’ll give you extra food and clean out your litter box when I get back. Cool?”

Slowly, tentatively, he emerged from under the bed and eyed me cautiously.

“I swear,” I said.

“Cool,” he said (I may be interpreting).

Frisco - condo - cropped


Knitwise, I made a lot of progress on Nakia’s Infinity Scarf in the last week, getting all the way through the first yarn. I broke the yarn and was ready to put the project aside until I found more of the yarns, then I decided to catch up on the Black Panther Shawl discussion thread on Ravelry. That’s when I discovered:

  1. What the designer really meant by a “twisted stitch.”
  2. That the pattern called for four skeins of a discontinued colorway of Noro Silk Garden rather than just the one I’d been fortunate enough to find.
  3. In fact, almost all the yarn called for in the pattern had been discontinued.

So. The scarf/shawl-in-progress is still in the project bag until I summon the will to tink, rip, or frog the project back to just before the row with the twisted stitches.

In the meantime I have knitted, bound off, and started a second Baby Trekkie Washcloth. It has the commendable features of being an easy to knit project made from an available yarn on comfortable needles to eminently readable instructions. Usually this is the kind of thing I would call “boring.” This week I call it “welcome.”

When I haven’t been knitting (or rueing the day I ever learned how to knit) I have been finally starting to train for the Scenic Shore 150, a two-day charity bike ride culminating in Door County, Wisconsin, and benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I did this ride four years ago, and last fall I got a terrific discount on registration and therefore planned to shake the dust off of myself and my bike and do it again.

Unfortunately, the weather so far this year has been absolutely terrible for cycling. When we didn’t have unseasonable heat in May, we had unseasonable cold in June — or 30 mph winds, driving cold rain, or tornado watches, take your pick. It was the kind of weather that would make you give up cycling forever if you were foolish enough to go out in it. So I didn’t.

Last weekend the weather was, finally, perfect. I finally got myself off the couch and finally got back on the bike. And back on, and back on, and back on. I have to do this efficiently; I have only next weekend for training and the following weekend is the ride.

The part I’m concerned about is not the ride itself — I’ve done it before and can do it again. It’s fantastically well supported and even if something unexpected happens and I can’t finish, I won’t beat myself up. I will go as far as I can and do my best for a terrific cause. What worries me is the fundraising aspect; I’m only halfway to my modest goal even though I’m sponsoring myself to the tune of $10 a training ride. (Yep, “pay to play.”) If you know someone who’d like to donate to a great cause, send them to this post and ask them to click on the link at “Scenic Shore 150.” We thank you for your support.

Published in: on July 9, 2018 at 11:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

1992: Barcelona

Many unusual events took place in 1992. It was an election year in the United States, but it featured three high-profile candidates: George H. W. “thousand points of light” Bush, Bill “I feel your pain” Clinton, and extremely earnest billionaire H. Ross Perot.

1992 debate

As you might imagine, this debate was an easy mark for parody. We’ll probably never see a presidential candidate with flip charts again. It was mesmerizing.

1992 debate parody

Dana Carvey, left, and the late Phil Hartman.

At my new workplace, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (as it existed with its various names) by publishing a special edition of the journal. I was also hard at work compiling and formatting a comprehensive index of all the feature articles and technical papers that had appeared in the journal during that time; it proved to be so comprehensive that it actually ended up going all the way to 1994. (I can lend you my copy if you need to look something up.)

ASNT logo

But 1992 was also an Olympic year, and at this time both the Winter and Summer Olympics were still held in the same year. The Winter Games took place in Albertville, France, and the Summer Games were held in Barcelona, Spain.

Bonnie Blair won a gold medal in speed skating; Dan Jansen still fell short of that prize, and our hearts broke with him as he struggled towards a goal that meant so very much. I enjoyed the excellence of sport as much as I appreciated the personal stories and the hard work that the athletes put in — no matter what country they represented. It’s quite possible that I began watching televised Olympic coverage in 1976, and I grew more enthusiastic every four years.

Just a few months later it was time for the Summer Games, and the hype was amazing. NBC was promoting a special coverage bundle called the Triplecast — you can read here about the details as well as all the reasons it was never offered again. I couldn’t afford the Triplecast, I definitely couldn’t afford to spend two weeks vacationing in Spain, and I couldn’t even afford to just take two weeks off and watch whatever was on TV.

NBA players were permitted to play Olympic basketball in the 1992 games, forming a “Dream Team” of some of the best basketball players in history. The team went 8-0 during the games, beating their opponents by an average of just over 43 points. I don’t pay much attention to professional basketball at all, but even I knew who most of these fellows were at the time, and still recognize a handful.

Barcelona-92-Dream Team

I watched whatever event I could during the evenings, but the moment that will always stay with me is the lighting of the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony. Over the last several years it has become a ritual to watch the Opening and Closing Ceremonies with my children, for as late as they can stay up. We have seen some elaborate and spectacular lightings. Yet nothing will surpass the pomp, suspense, and triumph of the Barcelona version. After a recent Olympics (Vancouver?) I queued up a clip similar to this one, and was gratified to hear my kids say, “WOW.”

Thank you, Antonio Rebollo!

Another high-profile mention of Barcelona came many years later, and I can’t resist sharing it with you. But it’s not referring to the city of Barcelona.

 


Knitwise, I met a friend last week and we talked sock knitting. I’ve even knitted a few rounds on a sock I started quite some time ago. The pattern is basic, and the yarn is nice enough, but the cool bit is the set of Karbonz double-points, constructed from carbon fiber. Tomorrow night is knit night and I’ll take the sock project with me as well as Nakia’s Scarf, but I’ll probably need to take a pillowcase or something that size to put over my lap before I work on Nakia — the Noro sheds terribly.

I recently took a week’s vacation, which entailed time away from Facebook. As of this evening I still haven’t gotten back in the habit of logging in to see what all my friends are sharing. I was surprised to realize that I don’t really miss it. I still have Messenger on my phone, so feel free to contact me that way if you feel like it. Otherwise, you could always leave a comment here on the blog and we could turn it into a conversation.

1991: Temp to Perm

In the spring of 1991, in advance of a move back to Columbus, I put together a resume and a snappy cover letter and proceeded to send them to every magazine publisher in the Columbus area. The job offers didn’t exactly roll in, but I received a couple of interesting responses. The editor of Fur-Fish-Game wanted to know how much I would charge for freelance editing. I purchased the current issue (probably at Kroger), perused it, and sent off a reply. I don’t think I was in the ballpark, as I don’t remember receiving another reply. It wasn’t exactly my sort of lifestyle magazine, but editing is editing. Good writing might be found anywhere, and almost all writing can be improved with judicious editing.

I did get an enthusiastic response from Dean Hoffman, who was then the editor of Hoof Beats, a publication of the United States Trotting Association. Bless him, he didn’t have a job for me, but he liked my feisty-on-paper attitude and informed me about a new group he was putting together — the Central Ohio Magazine Professionals (COMP).

When I moved to Columbus, I registered with Olsten Temporary Services and worked the jobs that came up. Their main office was in the downtownest of downtown Columbus locations and happened to be just across the street from the Banc One headquarters. Because they were so conveniently located, Olsten usually received the first call whenever a Banc One employee was out for any length of time and they needed a temp.

I enjoyed temping because of the variety of jobs I could get called for, anywhere from one day to two weeks in duration. When I wasn’t temping, I would go to the downtown office and take the tests to qualify on an additional piece of software or hardware. I could work with Wang, IBM, or Macintosh systems in a variety of word processing systems (many of which don’t exist anymore), so it wasn’t hard for me to get assignments. (There was a dry spell during which my parents urged me to register with a new temp agency; I signed up with Kelly but never worked a job for them.)

Marzettis Simply Dressed

One of the best assignments I had was as the receptionist for Marzetti Corporation, which you may know for its salad dressings and fruit dips. I worked there for two weeks, and on the first day they told me, “Here’s what you do for lunch. Go to the Wendy’s down the street and get a salad, but don’t get the salad dressing. Come back here and get whatever you want.” In the employee lunchroom the cabinets were filled with jars of every salad dressing the company made. It was heaven. Marzetti’s made great stuff and in those two weeks I tried every variety that I could. When my assignment was up, they sent me off with tote bags filled with jars of dressing. Shortly after my time there, they debuted the caramel apple dip, and all I could do was nod and smile. Yum yum yum. Yum.

Caramel Apple Dip

The worst assignment I had was temping for a receptionist at Lennox Corporation, which had recently been sold. The Columbus location, a campus of several small brick industrial buildings, was being phased out. Almost everyone who had been offered a job in the new regime had already relocated to another state. The employees who remained were bitter and not at all afraid to show it. They spent the morning standing in the hallways and complaining. I was replacing a woman who was having carpal tunnel surgery, and her desk was situated immediately inside the main entrance in the lobby. In my building there was one executive who was staying on, and a handful of angry short-timers. The executive had shut himself in his office, trying desperately to get things done while the rest of the staff railed bitterly and unproductively to each other (and me) about their fate. He emerged once to ask if I could find the receptionist’s password so that I could log in and type something up for him; I had an easier time finding that password than Ferris Bueller did finding “PENCIL” in the principal’s office. By lunchtime, overwhelmed by the atmosphere of stress and negativity, I had called my agency and begged to be reassigned to another job as soon as possible. Almost immediately, the short-timers approached to accost me. “We’re not good enough for you, huh?” “Want to leave, huh?” Now I really couldn’t wait to get out of there. By the end of the day I almost envied the poor receptionist and her ability to recover from her surgery at home in peace and quiet. The area is now the site of the Lennox 24 Theatres, and now you know…the rest of the story.

Lennox 24 Theatres

I wanted to move out of my parents’ house, but it was becoming apparent to me that while I stayed a temp — with an inconsistent income — I wouldn’t be able to get an apartment of my own. I toured apartment complexes from the West side to Westerville, but without a permanent job or what looked like a permanent partner (thanks to my friend Ben for coming along and playing the role of assumed boyfriend to try to improve my odds) I didn’t have a chance.

At the COMP meetings I mingled with editors, had some casual drinks, and talked the talk. I even served as the association treasurer for a year, which was a terrible, terrible idea I will never repeat. But my presence at the COMP meetings brought me into contact with the then Publications Manager of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing, and she was looking for some freelance help with a 50th anniversary publication they were putting together. I agreed to take on the job, and soon found myself stopping by her house to pick up new issues of the association’s journal (her kettle grill was the exchange point).

By day I was now temping as the executive assistant to one of the executive vice presidents of Banc One, and by night I was poring through back issues of Materials Evaluation to compile a comprehensive, cross-indexed listing of society-related obituaries. When the Assistant Editor of Materials Evaluation left for another job, I had to choose between applying for her editorial job or for a position as secretary to a bank executive. It was a difficult decision until I realized that, as a secretary, I would never move up. I would always be reserving the same conference rooms and booking the same flights while my well-respected boss moved further up her own corporate ladder. A temp stint where I gave assistance to the executive secretary of an even higher level Banc One Corporation executive gave me the necessary insight; her big dilemma was what font her boss should use for his official correspondence (I suggested Optima, and she agreed).

Reader, I took the editorial job.


Knitwise, I’ve been working on Nakia’s Infinity Scarf. Last week I tinked all those purl stitches until I was back to one row of stockinette. Then I was able to move forward again and even get into the twisted-stitches section. The revised pattern prints out at 16 pages, but includes row-by-row directions as well as charts. One row at a time, I can move forward with this — at least until I run out of Noro and need to find the three other yarns called for in the pattern. Maybe Shuri could develop a holographic yarn finder out of vibranium. By next week I hope to have made enough progress to take some pictures.

Published in: on June 25, 2018 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

1990: Mama Said Knock You Out

By the summer of 1990, my life had drastically changed. I was no longer married, I was still living in Oxford, and I had managed to find a part-time job at a local print shop. One part of the job was the walk-in business: making photocopies (and learning to clear paper jams in the multi-function copier), designing business cards, and ordering graduation or wedding announcements. For simple design work, we used a Mac SE running Aldus PageMaker 2.0; if you worked with it then, too, you’ll understand what I mean by saying that the most useful trick I learned was how to create invisible boxes. (In later years, being able to find and delete other people’s invisible boxes came in particularly handy when editing a layout that didn’t print as expected.)

PageMaker2

The other part of the job dealt with handling actual printing jobs initiated by the University and the local businesses. Every so often a brand new print job would come in, but most of what we did were reprints of prior jobs — another 10,000 pocket folders for freshman orientation, perhaps, but change the year on Cover One or the contact name on Cover Four. The client would call or come in; we’d pull the old job jacket, update the specifications, and hand off the jacket to our driver, Lester, to be taken back to the press in Richmond. Lester, a gentle and friendly soul who was past retirement age but liked to stay busy, drove daily between our locations in Richmond, Oxford, and Winchester to pick up job tickets and drop off print orders.

It was a good job for an English major who enjoyed working with computers and wasn’t seeking constant social interaction. Truly busy days were rare, and on the whole it was becoming a pleasant way to pass the summer and make a little money — not much money, because I worked only four hours a day. But that gave me the rest of the day for cycling, hanging out in the pool at my apartment complex, and other activities.

One day, we were all in a rush. Job after job had come in, and Lester waited in a chair in the corner while I talked to a client to get the specs for a new job. My boyfriend waited for the chance to take me to lunch. I hadn’t been able to take a break that morning, and I was starting to feel weak and crampy all at the same time. Then everything went white.

When I came to, I was on the floor. Lester was panicked and my boyfriend looked terrified. The client was gone, and an ambulance was on the way to take me to the local hospital for observation. Apparently I had fallen straight back to the floor: rigid, without crumpling. My boss sat by me as I lay on the concrete floor cushioned by a thin carpet. After a couple of minutes I heard sirens, then a team of EMTs came in to assess me. A brief question and answer period followed, and I was loaded into the ambulance and taken to the emergency room.

Ambulance and Gurney

This was not a reassuring turn of events. I may have mentioned that this hospital (the same one at which Professor Dickinson had “expired”) did not have a good local reputation at this time. I knew several townies with orders in place such that, should they have a medical emergency, they preferred to be airlifted to Cincinnati or Dayton rather than go to the hospital that was just a few blocks away from them.

After I arrived at the hospital I was even more confused. I was wheeled behind some curtains and left there, unattended, for over an hour. Eventually I was released to the custody of my still-terrified boyfriend, who had been sitting, uninformed by hospital personnel, on the other side of the curtain. We didn’t have cars, so we must have walked across town to go back to our apartment. Did I ever get lunch? What did we have for dinner? The details are lost to time and, possibly, to an undiagnosed concussion. Eventually I received a bill for $200 for the ambulance transport.

medical-bill-LI1-300x238

It was clear that, without health insurance, I couldn’t afford to get sick or hurt again. In an unprecedented act of chutzpah, I wrote to the owner of the printing company and explained that I would need to work full time and get health benefits or I would have to quit my job. I was amazed when they agreed, and hired me at full time. I didn’t know what had happened to me that day in the shop, but in one sense I could breathe a little easier.

A few weeks later, a sheepish looking man walked into the shop and apologized. He was the client with whom I had been talking when I passed out. I retrieved his job jacket, which had never been completed. I had used a red felt-tip marker to record the job specs, and at one point the handwriting ceased and a wobbly red line ran down the job jacket and off the edge. When I had turned off and dropped like a stone, the client had turned around and run out the door and down the street.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I thought you were dead.”


Knitwise, it took me a while to figure out which knitting (or crocheting) project I should start (or finish) next. I have a small project — the Baby Trekkie Washcloth — started at work and I can start another one to leave in the knitting bag for when I get stuck on my primary project. I assembled a preliminary project bag for a Knitterly pattern I bought online, but I felt dissatisfied even as I was just collecting the materials. It didn’t feel right, and yarn/pattern combinations that don’t feel right usually don’t go very well. I set that one aside until I could better listen to my intuition; after all, I had purchased that yarn almost 5 years ago and certainly didn’t have this pattern in mind at the time.

Finally I decided to start Nakia’s Infinity Scarf from Black Panther. I had already put together the project bag with the printed pattern, the right needles, and the specified yarn in the specified colorway, so I was ready to go. It turns out that I wasn’t quite ready, because the first step of the pattern entailed a provisional cast-on in a contrasting yarn. I’ve done this before, but it’s been a while. With some scrap yarn from our bin at Knit Night, and Jill’s crochet hook, and Therese’s coaching, I crocheted the chain and got the required number of 84 knits (actually purls) into it and finished eight rows (actually seven) before the row where the stitches started to get funky.

That’s when I remembered that the scarf’s designer was a machine knitter, and the pattern I had printed out was a machine knitting pattern. Some of the symbols and instructions wouldn’t make any sense. I checked on Ravelry and found that there was now a handknit version of the pattern, complete with row by row instructions; I’m printing out all sixteen pages of it now. And now I see that the first seven rows aren’t all purls, as I had previously interpreted the chart. As Don Henley sang, “Two steps forward and three steps back….”

Sigh. Next week I’ll be helping a friend learn to knit socks. Maybe I’d better find my stalled sock project, just in case.

Published in: on June 18, 2018 at 4:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

1989: The First of Four Elephants

Several life-changing events happened to me in 1989, but in order to choose a story to tell I will have to ignore a very large elephant that happens to be crowding out almost everything else from the room. One of the rules I set for myself in this storytelling series is that I would try not to tell anyone else’s story, and writing about my first marriage definitely qualifies as telling someone else’s story — even if the someone else isn’t likely to read it or to care about what I might have to say. This rule is self-imposed, and it’s about respect. It’s my rule and I’m sticking to it.

Elephant_in_the_courtroom

In the spring of 1989 I took the GRE and applied (and was accepted) to graduate school at Miami; in May I graduated with honors from Miami University with a double major in Creative Writing and English Literature. In July I got married, took a brief honeymoon in Denver, and returned to Oxford just in time to take an intensive pedagogy class for graduate assistants who would be teaching freshman English in August. In that class I met someone who would become a fast friend; in fact, you could say he owns the second elephant.

The summer of 1989 kicked off a complicated and stressful time in my life that persisted for entirely too long, and I didn’t often make the best decisions. Thus, we witness the generation of a series of elephants which shall not be discussed. (Special note for those who are 22 years old and think they know everything about the world: You don’t. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you. But it’s all right; I know you’re not listening anyway.) I’ll let you know when one of my elephants has wandered into the room, and we can talk about something else while it has a bit of hay and water.

Four_elephants

To avoid talking about my elephants or anyone else’s, let’s go back in time a bit to the spring of 1989, when my capstone project for the Honors program was due. Because my degree was in creative writing, I didn’t have a research project to present. My requirement would be fulfilled when I read from my work, to an audience in Hall Auditorium. I repeat, my degree was in creative writing. Not speech, communication, theatre, drama, broadcast journalism, or performance art. In silence and solitude I had written my words, considered them, revised them, and offered a portfolio of short fiction to be evaluated by my “thesis” committee in the creative writing program. Now, for the sake of the Honors program, I had to make the transition from the page to the stage.

Hall Auditorium, located on the other side of the campus library from Bishop Hall, was originally constructed in 1908 and named after Miami’s fifth president, John Hall. Over the years I had attended several events there, including a reading by Tom Wolfe and a performance by the Second City Touring Company. It has a seating capacity of 750, and in my day it was sometimes the site of huge lecture sections of Western Civilization classes.

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After a $6.5 million rehab in 1992….

It looks pretty big when you’re in the audience, and it has the curious property of looking even larger when you’re all alone on the stage, looking outward.

Mine wasn’t the only “act” on the agenda for that afternoon. I waited backstage for my turn to approach the microphone and read my work to whoever was in the audience — other members of the Honors program, I assumed. The student before me concluded their talk, received a round of applause, and walked off stage left. Everything was going just fine as I walked on from stage right. I placed my pages of text on the podium, took a deep breath, and began to read.

I heard my voice, small and soft in the large space. When I was a few sentences into my story, I noticed strange looks on the faces of the audience. When I was a few paragraphs in, I realized that they could not hear me well and it was possible that the microphone, which had worked perfectly for the previous speaker, was now not working at all.

As I continued to read, I brainstormed. Had the person before me turned off the mic before walking away, and had I been expected to turn it back on? No. Had the mic really just broken without warning? I wasn’t sure, but something did seem to be broken. Was it going to come back on? Perhaps. Should I keep reading, trusting that the mic would turn itself back on? Maybe. Should I stop reading, apologize, and start over?

The repercussions of my last question to myself were what made me decide to just keep reading and pretend that all was well. I was keyed up enough as it was; if I stopped now there was no guarantee that I would be able to calm down enough to start the reading all over again. I also couldn’t fix the mic, so there was no guarantee that it would be able to start all over again with me. There was a tech person on the stage, just behind the front curtain. Presumably they would be able to fix the mic if it were broken. (If I broke down, I wasn’t sure that I could be fixed.)

If that’s true, I asked myself, why haven’t they come over, stopped me, and fixed the mic? Maybe it’s not broken after all and I just THINK it’s broken.

So I kept reading, paragraph after paragraph, maintaining the gentle momentum of the text, staying as calm as I could. The short story itself was more of a tone poem with plenty of onomatopeia and internal rhyme, with a rhythm like a rocking chair, and it propelled me forward.

Two sentences before the end of the story, the microphone came back to life. My voice boomed through the auditorium as I read the last few words.

“Thank you,” I said, and exited stage left to a round of tepid, confused applause as my legs tried to turn to jelly.

I had done my reading, even if nobody heard a word of it, and there was no way they would get me back out onto that stage again.


Knitwise, I have completed the Grey Shawl of Eternity. Have I the proof of this accomplishment? Nay! I cast off last Tuesday night, displayed the shawl to my Jefferson knitting group, and folded it up and tucked it into my knitting bag. I then started a project with the only pattern I had on hand – for loafers, of all things – with the closest yarn to what it required, an orphan skein of brown-and-white marled bulky wool that ranged from extremely thin to extremely thick. It wasn’t fun or satisfying, but it was knitting. Two days later I took the shawl to my Whitewater group, unfurled it, and handed it over to the woman who had given me the donated yarn in the first place. While she wrapped herself in the Shawl of Eternity I knitted two more rows on the unsatisfying loafer pattern, paused, and then pulled out the needles and frogged the project.

Kate Hepburn knits

What would Katherine Hepburn knit?

I am open for suggestions.

1988: All Greek to Me

At the start of my senior year at Miami University, Republican presidential candidate George Bush made a campaign stop on campus. If you’ve never been in the path of a presidential appearance or even a candidate-for-president appearance, let me assure you that this is a Big Deal. The preparations must have been weeks if not months in the making.

I was not generally a political person at this point, though I generally learned toward the Democrats. However, when I was the editor of our high school paper I had interviewed State Representative Mike DeWine, a Republican, when he visited and gave a speech. He seemed like a sensible person, and over the years it was the memory of that interview that reminded me to vote for the better candidate rather than just for the familiar party. I voted regularly, though as a temporary resident of Oxford I chose to vote in my home district by absentee ballot rather than cast votes for local candidates, and on local issues, with whom (or which) I was unfamiliar.

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When I saw how the lines were being drawn in advance of the visit, with the rich fraternity boys aligned with the College Republicans, I decided to wander over to a meeting of the College Democrats and see what they had going on. It turns out that they had some advance news of the level of security there would be for the speech. If you looked like a Democrat or in any way in opposition to Bush, you would be separated and kept far back of the main spectator area. Well, that hardly sounded fair. After all, we just wanted to listen like everybody else. But wait — they had a scheme that might get some of us close enough to see and hear the dignitaries.

The scheme was to make some smallish political posters, roll them up, and smuggle them past the checkpoint up our pants legs. It sounded about as likely as hiding under the bed to escape the detection of professional thieves, but it just might work. And against all odds, it did! I found myself up near the front, behind a row of the most muscled college students I had ever seen, next to a couple of equally incredulous fellow Democrats, all of us with posters stuffed up our pants. (Sure enough, those who had been caught were escorted far behind the crowd to where they could barely hear the speech.) But I had made it though the screening. Now I just needed to wait for Bush to appear, take out my little poster, and wave it around. I wasn’t trying to start a riot or make trouble; honestly, I was really hoping for Bush to unveil his economic plan at this point on his campaign trail.

The warmup act came on, and I was dismayed at the hateful rhetoric and ethnic slurs that were made in order to whip the crowd into a patriotic frenzy. “I went to college too,” said one speaker, “but I didn’t need to take GREEEEEEEK.’ The crowd roared at this insult to Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis (and possibly at the thought of easing the university’s foreign language requirement), missing the irony that most of the college students supporting Bush seemed to belong to fraternities and sororities. The rest of the speech was more of the same, and I grew disappointed and disillusioned as I waited through it. Surely Bush himself would take a higher ground than this, and we would get to hear about his plans for the country rather than just attacks on his opponent.

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Bush in Troy, Ohio, in 1988.

Senator Bush came out, and so did our little posters for 70something Democratic senatorial candidate Howard Metzenbaum. We cheered and screamed and waved our posters, attracting the attention of the row of frat boys ahead of us. They took our posters, tore them up, and knocked us to the ground. I was furious but wasn’t really hurt. Senator Bush didn’t take a much higher ground than the other speakers, and after a few minutes of campaign clichés he was off the stage and escorted away by Secret Service, having convinced me of nothing. (His next stop was a meeting with the university’s Board of Regents, with whom he discussed his economic plan.)

After the main event broke up, there was a small counter-rally by the most liberal of the faculty members. Students who recognized their professors in the group gathered around and joined in for a while, briefly re-energized. Then that rally, too, broke up and we headed back to our dorms.

Postscript: Democratic candidates Mike Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen lost the election in November to George Bush and Dan Quayle, a poor speller from Indiana (Google “potatoe” if you don’t believe me) and no Jack Kennedy, helped along by the unfortunate image of self-admitted policy wonk Dukakis riding in a tank, looking like a geeky little boy playing Army. (Oh, and Howard Metzenbaum won!) The 1988 election was regrettable in many ways, but compared to recent events it seems bland and filled with naivete. Maybe it’s a good thing we can’t look too far into the future; we might stop walking forward at all.


Knitwise, I swear to all that is holy that I have just a few more rows to go on the Eternal Grey Shawl. I would have a better guess at this if my digital kitchen scale would cooperate, but all it does now is turn on and display which mode it is in (g/oz). The batteries are new, so something else is clearly wrong with it that I’m unable to fix. Every time I sit down to knit, I do two rows. I may be able to knit two more rows and then bind off tomorrow night. If it turns out that I had enough yarn to knit one more row, the extra yarn can go sleep with the fishes, the mermaids, and/or Jimmy Hoffa. I will be DONE.

So, let’s vote on my next project!

(A) Finish the Scrabble Blanket already!
(B) Pick a WIP, any WIP.
(C) Knit whatever you want as long as it’s not grey.
(D) You said you could crochet. Were you lying?
(E) Knit an elegant and impractical shawl in luxury yarn!
(F) Knit Nakia’s Shawl from Black Panther.
(G) ________________________________________________

Be honest, now. This is for science.

Published in: on June 4, 2018 at 9:56 pm  Comments (2)  

1987: The Macintosh era

In the spring of 1986, in the midst of the end-of-year confusion and grief, a minor miracle occurred. Miami required all its freshmen to live on campus, but on-campus housing after that was secured through a lottery system. I had been assigned a disturbingly high lottery number, and since most of the on-campus women’s housing was held by sororities (of which I was not a member), it wasn’t looking good for me. There was a separate lottery held for the very few available spots in the honors dorm, but I was sick the night of the lottery and I did not attend. Wonder of wonders, word soon reached me that someone had drawn a number on my behalf, and I had a space now saved for me in Bishop Hall until I graduated. Did I want to accept? Yes, a thousand times yes!

Bishop Hall

Bishop Hall, home of the Honors Program.

My new roommate, MaryAnn, was an upperclassman who was already living in Bishop; she already had friends there, she was engaged to a soldier stationed in Missouri, and she was incredibly talented within her program of study but fought a valiant battle to succeed in her liberal education courses. She was a great storyteller and knew how to tell just enough to build the drama. At the end of our year as roommates, she secured a single room for herself, which was perfect for the studio work she would need to do her senior year. I lost track of her after that, but I’m sure that she’s an immensely successful interior designer somewhere. Here’s to you, MaryAnn!

My new roommate for my junior year was Becca, a sophomore paper science and engineering major from Kentucky. Though our classes didn’t overlap and we didn’t do much together socially (mostly because I never went anywhere except to author lectures and poetry readings), we worked out well as roommates and shared the same room for two years.

During my freshman year I was introduced to the brand-name, honest-to-goodness IBM PC. I spent untallied hours in several computer labs across campus writing, rewriting, and reformatting my papers in PC-Write. By today’s standards the program was a horror show. Every change seemed to create more changes, and something as simple as changing the left margin became a programming chore as you revised and resaved the RULER.DEF file before starting the program and creating the file that would be your paper. You never knew what the paper would actually look like until you printed it out, then you had to make edits and do it all over again. I was spending many hours more than I needed on my papers, just on the formatting.

IBMPC

In fall 1987 I took a class on Environmental Geology; it didn’t exactly have a lab session, but there was a software program the instructor wanted us to use for a certain type of simulation. For this work we went to a different computer lab — a small room in Upham Hall that had about half a dozen Macintoshes, probably Pluses, ready and waiting for us.

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Every function on the Mac was startlingly easy to perform. It worked just the way I thought it should work. I clicked and dragged my way through the unit on fault lines and was soon spending time in the lab when I didn’t need to. I befriended the lab assistant, who made me a copy of a newly released word processor called Microsoft Word 3.0.

“How would you, say, change the left margin in an open file?” I asked one day.
“Just drag this triangle over,” he said. That was it for me!

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In October there was a Macintosh open house at the student center. Macs back then weren’t terribly powerful or, to be honest, affordable, but the Shriver Center Bookstore was an authorized Apple reseller and they wanted to drum up some business. They had my full attention, and within a year I had a Macintosh: my boyfriend’s mother worked for the University and we were able to use her discount and take out a loan on a Macintosh SE with a massive-at-the-time 47 MB hard drive sitting in one of the floppy disk slots.

For Becca’s sake — she and her classwork were IBM-compatible all the way — I picked out a keyboard (the DataDesk 101) that simulated an IBM PC extended keyboard. If she wanted to use my cute little computer she could just type away without worrying about those odd “apple” and “cloverleaf” keys that didn’t correspond to the IBM keyboard in any obvious way.

At a later point, I added a modem to the setup. (I still have it, but it’s in the basement, which is a Dark and Scary Place that may be inhabited by other species, so I’m not planning to get up and retrieve it at this very minute.) It was a whizbang 1200 baud modem, which meant that it downloaded text faster than my reading speed, which was somewhere between 300 and 450 baud. The downside was that it worked, as modems do, through the phone lines. For those of you readers substantially younger than I am, this meant that the modem connected to the phone line in place of the phone. If you received an incoming call during your “online time” you were disconnected. (This is why you wanted unlimited online access rather than a plan which charged you by the minute. This is also why my generation invented TTFN and LOL and ROTFL — we were saving time, and time is money!)

The primary reason that I had a modem at all was because of the Miami University Bulletin Board System, or MUBBS. This was the cyber-hub of Miami’s geek community a decade before anyone besides William Gibson was using the term “cyber” in front of any other word. At the MUBBS in-person meetings I was often the only female, which I enjoyed. We had online handles, we created and moderated discussion forums, and eventually we created and managed social events such as hackathons. I remained a member of this community through my time in graduate school, but am now in contact with only two of its members. Wouldn’t it be cool to find out that in the interim, they’ve set up a secret and invisible Facebook group that you wouldn’t know about until you hacked your way into it? That’s just the kind of thing they’d do.

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Miss you, Steve.


Knitwise, it’s now escalated to a slogalong on the grey shawl. I promised my knitting groups that I would knit on the shawl while I watched the qualifying and race sessions for the Monaco Grand Prix, but that didn’t happen. I was too busy coming up with elegant hors d’ouvres and shopping for champagne splits to concentrate on pedestrian occupations such as KNITTING. (Also, the race was rather exciting.) I do want to reiterate that I kept my promise not to knit on any other project until the Boring Grey Shawl was complete, so there’s a gold star for me. Just in case I can get some credit for completing non-knitting items, I would like to mention that over the Memorial Day weekend I put the winter coats away, cleaned up my kitchen, started training for a 15-mile bike ride, and made asparagus soup AND roasted asparagus. So there.

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My asparagus, James’s stoneware, Dad’s table.

What’s on your needles? I hope to report some progress or even a finished object in the next post. We’ll see how it goes. This Friday I will be chaperoning a group of eighth graders on their class trip to the Wisconsin Dells, and I might need more recovery time than I think.

Published in: on May 28, 2018 at 10:45 pm  Comments (2)  

1986: Major Malfunctions

In the fall of 1985 I took a class called American History for the English Major. It wasn’t quite the same — I can only suppose — as Physics for Poets or History for Jocks, but it did have a different feel to it than your standard college history course. The instructor was a professor named John Dickinson, who was the editor of a scholarly journal called The Old Northwest, based out of offices along the far eastern corridor of the third floor of Bachelor Hall. He was old school, he was a curmudgeon with a twinkle in his eye, he jibed at Ohio State every chance he had, he hitched himself up on the corner of the large metal desk to tell us stories about history, and I was hooked. After History 204 came History 205 and I couldn’t wait to hear the rest of his stories.

On Tuesday, January 28, 1986, our world changed. I was at Harris Dining Hall putting my lunch on a plastic tray when I vaguely sensed something different about the words coming through the hall’s sound system. Usually there was music from the radio; something had happened, and something was dreadfully wrong. I went right back to my dorm room and watched the TV. Eileen usually watched “The Young and the Restless,” but Dan Rather was on and talking about the Space Shuttle Challenger. The video of the launch and the sudden breakup of the shuttle at 73 seconds into the flight played over and over and over. The hours went by and Rather stayed on the air. At some point he was handed a plastic model of the shuttle and he continued his narrative as he identified key structures that were involved in the failure of the craft, the end of the flight, and the loss of the entire flight crew, including the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. Her class of proud students must have watched the morning’s events unfold in something beyond horror, past shock. Rather soldiered on for hours, live on the air, anguished yet calm, and perhaps hoping for someone to relieve him of this horrific public duty. Relief never came, and America clung to his every word.

I skipped a class that night, for the only time in four years. I was riveted to the small TV screen in our room, frozen with shock, aching for details, hoping against hope that this was all some sort of dream and there was something that I could do to wake up. This kind of thing just didn’t happen, but here it was, happening again and again.

“It has cleared the tower.”

“Go at throttle up.”

“Roger, go at throttle up.”

“Uh-oh.”

“…obviously a major malfunction…”

“We mourn seven heroes.”

 

 

After Tuesday night I attended classes again. I was taking Honors Freshman English from a professor who seemed impossible to please, a Freshman Honors seminar on “Work,” a Short Story class, a Zoology class with a lab session that met just when the dining hall was open but made me lose my appetite completely, and American History for the English Major II.

Professor Dickinson educated and entertained our small class of English majors, most of whom had continued from the first semester, but in March his health began to take a turn. He was hospitalized after an attack of gout, and eventually the History Department appointed another instructor to cover the classes he would miss. We all looked forward to his return, and took turns calling the hospital just before class to find out how Dickinson was doing. Just as he was recovering from the gout, he contracted pneumonia. One day in April I called the hospital and a voice on the other end said, “He has expired.” At first I didn’t understand; after I understood, I thought it was a particularly inhumane thing to say. Still in shock, I went to class and babbled the news to my classmates.  A few minutes later our substitute professor entered the room, awkwardly announced, “John’s gone,” and gave his lecture for the day.

I don’t remember much about the rest of the semester. I attended Professor Dickinson’s funeral at the Sesquicentennial Chapel and then went back to my dorm room and cried. The substitute professor soldiered on through the end of the term, but he had a different specialization and I couldn’t pay attention anyway. I went to class, possibly took notes, and took an almost incomprehensible final exam. I strongly suspect that the History Department’s priority was to pass us along gently in our grief and hope that nobody broke. There was no offer of counseling or therapy; John was gone and that was that. Classes were held and tests were taken.

A line from Shakespeare was printed on the programs from Dickinson’s funeral: “Love comforts like sunshine after rain.” At the time I didn’t believe that it did anything of the sort. I was in a fog and I don’t know how I managed to focus in my other classes. Perhaps it was only because they were my other classes that I was able to get through. A song kept playing on the radio that spring, and initially it caused me a lot of pain. I could barely listen to it, let alone sing along. But gradually the song came to stand for the Spring of 1986, for Dickinson, and for dear things lost to time.

 


Knitwise, my Jefferson knitting and crocheting group, Yarn-a-Latte, has celebrated its 9th anniversary. And my Whitewater knitting and crocheting group, the Yarnhawks, was recently approved as an official student organization after two years of informal meetings that included faculty, staff, and students. Knit on!

Published in: on May 21, 2018 at 11:01 pm  Comments (1)  

1985: Back to the Future

Monday, May 14

This post will be written and published whenever possible this week; tonight I am finally going to see Avengers: Infinity War! Shh! No spoilers!


Monday, May 21

Why did Back to the Future seem to mean so much to my generation? The action took place in the year I graduated from high school, but several months later. We graduated a month before it was even released, so seeing it in the theater wasn’t even a bonding experience for the Class of ’85.

Perhaps it was its celebration of the 1980s and the Reagan Years, even as it subtly mocked them. Perhaps it was the DeLorean — an older classmate’s father owned one, and it seemed like the coolest, most exotic ride in the world. Perhaps it was Michael J. Fox, fresh from “Family Ties,” which was set in Columbus (okay, probably Grandview or Bexley). Perhaps it was Huey Lewis, whose 1984 “Sports” album (okay, tape cassette) went platinum seven times over and was a huge album in a year of huge albums (the soundtracks to Purple Rain and Footloose immediately come to mind).

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“I’m sorry, boys, but you’re just too darn loud.”

Perhaps it was just that Back to the Future (BTTF) was a very, very good movie. It was well written, it was funny, and it was tremendously appealing. It wasn’t the first time-travel story enjoyed by a mass market — my own mother was addicted to “Quantum Leap,” and certainly two versions of “The Twilight Zone” had prepared us for time jumps — but it was the best.

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“Great Scott!”

This still doesn’t explain my own devotion to the movie and, eventually, the whole franchise. I own more copies of the trilogy than I should admit, I own a car charger that mimics the flux capacitor, and I can’t turn away from a showing of any of the movies.

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“Flux capacitor… fluxing…”

In the fall of 1985 I went off to my future, to college at Miami University. I had a new home, new teachers, new classes, new responsibilities, and a roommate. In my freshman dorm I was surrounded by girls — young women — from everywhere else (but mostly Cleveland). They brought their favorite music with them, and instead of Barry Manilow and Amy Grant I was hearing Genesis, UB40, Sting, and more.

In my first semester I struggled with calculus that I could perform but not understand, struggled to connect with a roommate who had goals and values so different from mine, and struggled with the weight of a course that compelled us to wrestle with the moral implications of the Holocaust. I also found new friends, new foods, new books, new places to watch people, and new places to be alone. I dated a young man who didn’t understand me at all, but before I broke up with him we saw several movies for a buck or two at the student center. Without someone to go “out” with, I might never have gotten out at all.

Gradually I expanded my circle of friends, took different classes than I thought I would, tried on a minor and dropped it, and came to find all my geeks in the small but extremely nerdy online bulletin board community of MUBBS. And on one school break, I got a ride home (or was it back to Miami?) from the guy whose father owned the DeLorean. The fall of 1985 was only the beginning.


Knitwise, I’m plugging along on the gray shawl whenever I remember that I really should pick it up because it’s not going to knit itself. ONE SKEIN OF YARN TO GO. I also purchased a new shawl pattern, with some stash yarn in mind. Never mind that I don’t know exactly where this particular stash yarn is, nor do I need a shawl, and neveryoumind that I’m not allowed to put another needle to another yarn until the BORING GRAY SHAWL is all done. Because what’s worse than knitting on a boring gray shawl? QUITTING.


Regarding Avengers: Infinity War, I’m not worried. I’ve seen movies before, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.