The reason I stayed in Cincinnati was that my mother was going to give me what we called “the side field” at Markin Farm. Nobody could beat the price. It was free. I planed to build a geodesic sphere in that field and that would be my house.
The sphere that I planned was 24-feet in diameter. I prepared a building permit that showed the triangle shapes that would make up the sphere. I got a book that explained how to make everything. It says my design was a three-frequency icosahedron. That book says the intricate mathematical shape occurs in nature. It is called “Cirognia Icosahedra” In a picture it looks like a tiny hayseed. The book says there are different geodesic shapes, and not all of them involve a curved surface. It says the word geodesic means: “the shortest line between two points on a mathematically derived surface.” Right next to that is the definition of the next word in the dictionary: geoduck. It says it is an edible clam (Panope Generosa) weighing over five pounds. That is the informal nature of the book throughout.
I made a model from plastic straws melted together. The model also included the floor. The sphere was fastened to the floor. The main floor was located in the middle of the sphere. It was atop several columns extending through the triangles. Then there was a lower floor.
On the model all the triangles went together to make the shape. There were no walls or roof. It had an inherent strength. I could do it myself. It was possible. I felt like I discovered something.
As it turned out I never built the sphere. I had a permit to build the thing. That is not what stopped me. The side field was always there when I was growing up, but it was not always part of Markin Farm. It was part of Peterloon Farm. My father mowed it and always took care of it as if it were part of Markin Farm. One Christmas my mother’s stepfather, the wealthy industrialist, gave it to both my parents. Then it became part of Markin Farm. Soon after that the side field got tied up in the legal arrangement of a loan, and nothing about it could change until the loan money was paid back to the bank. When my mother said I could have it to live on she was unaware of this situation. When it was explained to her repeatedly by a trusted financial person she couldn’t grasp why I couldn’t live there. To her ownership of the side field was as absurd as saying you own the Nile
River and made it for yourself. I didn’t build my dome. It was not disappointing. It was what happened. When I was in Columbus after I finished at the University I needed to make some money because I had none, and, at that point, I wanted to have some money when I moved to Cincinnati. When I did move I got an apartment on Riddle Road near the University of Cincinnati. I thought that was the same environment I was leaving. It was after I had made the move to Cincinnati, and had a job on a little weekly newspaper that the sphere idea ended.
In my quest to save up a little money I got a job as a dishwasher at a hotel near the University on Olentangy River Road in Columbus. An exchange student from Africa and me, were the two people in the dish room. We were extremely quick at loading the racks, sending them through the automatic dishwasher, and unloading them. Even during the busiest time the dishes wouldn’t get stacked up on the slide.
I loaded the racks and the other guy unloaded them. Occasionally we would trade off but usually that was the way we worked. There was a waist high opening in the wall where dishes and glasses were put by people working in the dining room and the bar. The opening was two-feet high and six-feet long. It had a stainless steel shelf on the outside of the dish room that went the whole six-foot length of the opening. Its width went through the wall and it became part of the slide. The slide was a stainless steel counter top with a raised edge so liquids and left over food wouldn’t spill onto the floor. When I loaded one of the racks I would slide it into the dishwasher. When it came out the other side the person unloading would pull the hot steaming rack and unload it in an area designed for that purpose.
When people bringing things to be washed put them on the shelf I could see they were there, but I could not see them. One of the cocktail waitresses who put glasses on the shelf had unusually long legs. Her uniform was comprised of a very short skirt and sheer stockings with visible black squares all over them. One of the times she came back to the dish room with a tray of glasses I bent over and looked up at her through the opening. It scared her. I could see her face. I asked her if she was ever in the Olympics. She left, and never spoke. After that we spoke when there was a break in the work. There was no wall between us. She was a student at the University. I could see the whole of her.
Once when the restaurant and bar closed at two in the morning the manager said the workers could have what was left of the ice cream. She and I were friends by then. I extended an invitation to her to have some ice cream with me in the stairwell. She led the way through the fire door, and we sat on the stairs with our dishes of ice cream.
Several weeks later we both called in sick on the same day. We were having a cold beer with lunch on High Street when all of a sudden I saw that manager sitting at the end of the bar eating his lunch. We both got fired the same day. I was loosing it on that job. Every week there was a work schedule posted. I was getting less and less time to work. That job was in the late afternoon and all evening. I worked spot labor on days when I didn’t work in the restaurant. One time before the rush the manager told me to get some soapy water. Someone had put some graffiti on the wall in the men’s room in the front of the restaurant, and he wanted me to get it off. I had never been in that area. He showed me where it was, and as we walked there he said some frustrated journalism major had made those marks. I scrubbed it off. I think he thought I was the one who put it there. I never wrote on walls where it wasn’t intended. I wrote with chalk in empty classrooms when I finished studying there. I would write expressions I had memorized. I once wrote: “Though they stand before the magistrate of the people to be tried, tell me my son, who will the magistrate of the people stand before?” The student riots were fresh in everyone’s mind, but I wasn’t thinking about them. The next day it was still on the chalkboard, but someone had written an answer. They pressed hard, and underlined several times the words, “the people”.
After the incident involving the graffiti in the restaurant my hours got reduced even more. When the manager saw me eating lunch with that cocktail waitress the day we both called in sick he couldn’t take it, and we got fired together. For one reason or another I also got fired from almost all of the jobs I had. Later in life I created my own job. I had to provide for a family. I couldn’t afford to get fired anymore.
When I lost the restaurant job I spent more time doing spot labor. I got a permanent assignment as a laborer for a contractor building a twenty-unit apartment building on Fourth Street. It was almost finished. The contractor wanted someone to stay in the building all night as a sort of a night watchman. I moved out of the apartment on Frambes, and took most of my things to Cincinnati. I put them in a stall at Markin Farm. When the job for the contractor was finished I moved to Cincinnati.
I spent time with the cocktail waitress who got fired along side of me. Neither one of us seemed to mind loosing that job very much. She had an apartment by herself a short distance North of the campus. She transferred to that university after her second year at another university in Athens, Ohio. She was doing her third or fourth year of college when I met her. She was a dance major.
My job at the construction site expanded. I would sign for furniture that arrived every day and keep things tidy. The labor pool still employed me, but I only went downtown to get paid.
There was an old five-story apartment building nearby that was going to be torn down. It had stairs that wound up the middle to the top floor. A corridor on each floor led around to the next set of stairs. There was a railing on one side of the corridor. On the other side of the corridor there were two apartments. At the far end of the corridor there was a door to a third apartment. The apartments in the building were empty.
On the third floor in the corridor between the two apartment doors there was an upright grand piano. I asked the demolition job supervisor about it, and he said it was going to be torn down with the building. I asked him if I could have it, and he said I could if I got it out of the building. It was heavy.
The driver of a furniture truck with a lift gate at my job and two helpers agreed to help me. The cocktail waitress friend of mine said I could put it in her apartment. Everyone who helped me was relieved to hear her apartment was on the ground floor. I got two more people to help carry it down three flights of stairs. There were six of us, and it was all we could do to get it out of the building. The piano went in the truck and we drove the short distance to her apartment. The piano and the move didn’t cost me a dime.
When I moved to the apartment on Riddle Road in Cincinnati the piano was still in her apartment in Columbus. She came to Cincinnati once. I was trying to find a real job with my degree in Journalism. It was an unimpressive process. Several weeks later when I called her to say I was coming to get the piano she implied it was hers. I told her I would huff and puff and blow her door down if she didn’t give it up. I spent the weekend up there. I took the piano back with me on a small utility trailer attached to my car, and it was added to my collection of things in the stall at Markin Farm. I never saw her again. We both got busy with what we were doing in different cities.
The apartment I had on Riddle Road was one among fifty that were in an L shaped building with two floors and a flat roof. It was an urban area. Each apartment opened to the outside on the same side of the building. From any door I could see all the cars belonging to the people who lived there, including mine. Inside my apartment and all the others there was one main room, a small kitchen, and a conventional bathroom.
My mother’s attraction to alcohol and my father’s loss of money tormented them both during the time I lived on Riddle Road. I had a good childhood growing up under the hedges, but when I talked with siblings who lived at home much longer than I did it was hard to believe we grew up in the same house.
Several years later I was by myself in a one-room post and beam house. It was cold outside. The wind howled. The wood stove was turned up, and logs were blazing in the fireplace. Inside it was warm. I had a conversational bottle of wine. There was no one to converse with so I wrote letters. The next time I was on the mainland I mailed them.
I stopped at my brother’s house on the way back to Cincinnati. There were several messages for me from the people I had written the night I drank the bottle of wine. In various ways they all said that I had a long family history of people who became inoperative as a result of alcohol consumption. I was told to go to a meeting or meetings dealing with the subject. I was amazed it was so obvious to them that I drank a bottle of wine. Perhaps my handwriting was flared. I didn’t think I said anything outrageous. I wouldn’t have mailed the letters if I had. When I got back I went to several meetings. Those who had alcohol problems attended them. I learned a necessity to solving the problem is admitting there is a problem. I was amazed how person after person told the same story about their plight. There was nothing unique. When I thought about it some of the nicest people I knew were alcoholics. The ones who survived were the ones who got off their high horse and admitted they had a problem. That state of mind made them highly sensible.
Ten or fifteen years before I lived on Riddle Road my father learned about a floundering candle company that my mother’s stepfather was going to sell. My father found a shrewd partner, and together they bought it, each of them came up with half. My father got his half of the money from his wife, my mother. The partner oversaw the candle making, and my father took care of sales. The company tripled in size. The factory was moved to a new location in Leesburg, Ohio. Soon after that the partner bought my father out. My father didn’t seem at all remorseful about selling his half when he did. After that for the first and only time he wore the brim of his hat turned up in front like a popular Italian comedian with an Italian name. I could hear language records every morning when he got dressed. He went to Italy.
Not long after he got paid for his half of the Candle Company my mother and father were sitting at each end of the kitchen table. They were the only ones there. I was passing through the kitchen on my way out the door. They were talking about the money he had. My mother cried often at almost nothing it seemed. She had tears in her eyes and said, “We have never had money before.” He was going to lose all of it soon, and it was like she suspected what would happen. He once told me she had lots of money, and that is probably why he was visibly amused in an inoffensive way when she said “we” have never had money before. She said, “we”. Her grandmother, on her father’s side, left her money. My father always had ideas on how to make her money increase. My mother was advised by a trusted friend to leave everything concerning money the way it was. She never attempted to guess if what he said about money was right or wrong.
Years after the sale of the Candle Company when I was living on Riddle Road my father called me up one morning before I went to work and asked me to lend him a thousand dollars. He said he could handle the big things but not the little things. I told him I didn’t have any money saved up. The money I made from my job was barely enough to pay the rent, put gas in my car, eat, and buy a few beers. By then the money from the candle company was gone. He invested all of it in broken down businesses like the Candle Company once was. He never had a partner. He closed every one of them.
One big effort he made different from the others was an instant orange juice company in Salerno, Italy. He got three or four investors. Eventually the whole thing hinged on a loan from the Italian government, which didn’t happen. It collapsed. They didn’t make the first glass of orange juice. My father put the whole thing together. He said one of the local newspapers had a story about how one of the investors who lost money was suing him. He said it was a “friendly law suit.” My mother was not one of the investors. She had been advised by her trusted financial friend not to let money come between them so it didn’t. My mother’s stepfather had sold Markin Farm to both of them for a dollar when they got married. My father used that land to secure cash loans from banks. During the time my father was having financial difficulty my mother had to pay all kinds of mortgages and liens so the banks wouldn’t take the property. She ended up owning the entire place, and vowed never to give him another cent. It was after that the Salerno deal happened.
It didn’t stop there. He got credit cards and used credit cards to pay off credit cards. Finally, his creditors trying to collect money nearly every day on the telephone became so disheartening to my mother that she got the financial person to pay all his credit card debt, and arrange so it could not reoccur. When they moved to a smaller house and a different environment in Maine they were older people. Before my father became immobile he had an office in town. My brother looked after his affairs, and he said my father was constantly lured into entering cash giveaway schemes that came in the mail.
He did not make anyone in the family aware what days certain enterprises of his closed and went out of business. As usual, he mowed the fields, read the paper, and swatted houseflies. He was good with his hands. He listened to operas Saturday afternoons with his eyes closed.
His mother seldom came to our house. She lived far away, but one of the last times I saw her before she died we sat on the terrace at Markin farm. I was a child. She was staring at two four-foot high clay vessels. She didn’t ask how they got there or anything else about them. They could have come from a department store in Cleveland for all I knew at the time. They were ornaments on the terrace. She looked at them a long time longingly, and did not want to be disturbed.
She was old by then. She was a small Sicilian woman with dark clothes, and she always wore her hair tight against her head in a braided circle.
I met her husband, my grandfather, twice in Rochester when we were driving to Maine. One of my Italian relatives was a barber, and I always got a hair cut in the kitchen with everyone else in the room. A well-known American writer said, “Italians are the only ones who know when they are having a good time.” He could have easily been describing my family in Rochester.
My father’s father, my grandfather, died when I was a boy. I only remember him sitting quietly watching everybody else from a large chair in the main room of the house in Rochester. He was an old man. He had thick white hair. He was lean and small in the chair. My grandmother did the talking for them both. He watched her and even when she was in the next room he seemed to be listening to what she was saying.
On the terrace at Markin Farm that day the clay vessels were to the side of her. She looked at me and said, “In Italy they put olives in them.” She grew up in Cerda, which is a small farm town in the middle of Sicily. They looked authentic with chips in them. I found out my mother got them in Italy.
When I was living at home my father directed the Cincinnati, Opera. It was a non-paid job. He liked opera, and he was unequaled at extracting money from the people who kept the opera alive.
I seldom went to the opera with him, and when I did I usually went to sleep after the intermission. He went whenever there was a performance, and in the summer that was often. My older sister knew what each one was about and she knew who the singers were by name.
My father selected singers at auditions held every year in New York City. The ones who came to Cincinnati were all Italian citizens who knew a small amount of English. They stayed in a local hotel.
A few times I went with him to a restaurant where the singers and some of the staff would meet after the performance. It was late. They were the only ones there. They would eat a seven course Italian meal. Someone who wasn’t connected with them would have thought it was ten in the morning the way they carried-on. They were a very happy bunch of people.
In those days the opera was operated in an open-air theatre on the grounds of the Cincinnati Zoo. The entire place had a roof over it, but the sides were open. During intermission people went outside where there were many plants along pathways. Concession stands were in bright lights. That opera facility was eventually torn down and the opera moved to an enclosed building in the downtown area. My father was no longer a part of the opera after it moved. He kept his interest going. He made two efforts to promote opera later in his life. They ended after a short while.
My father’s main income producing activity when I was growing up was advertising. That seemed to fade away after he sold his half of the Candle Company.
His advertising agency was in an office building down town. That is where he would go every morning when we were waiting for the school bus. He always wore a suit and I could smell the same after-shave lotion all those years. I was in his office several times. It seemed there were a number of people there. His secretary always got the airplane tickets, and travel money for me when I was going away to school.
When I moved into an apartment on Riddle Road there were two large daily newspapers and when I didn’t get hired by either of them I started applying at all the advertising agencies in town. My father’s advertising agency had closed by then.
At a job interview very often the first question was, is your father, and the interviewer would name him. I didn’t know if the person sitting across the desk was my father’s friend or foe. It seemed like it was a loaded first question. I wanted to say, “what’s it to you dog face.”
After awhile I became aware all of the people who asked that question were his friends. I never met anyone who didn’t like him. They wanted to see what I could do. That is closest I came to getting hired. I did assignments for them.
I continued to beat the bushes in my effort to find a job. Now and again I worked spot labor. In the evenings I would hang on a nearby college bar in Clifton and watch the same band do a song with the words often repeated, “out on the street again”.
There was a fascinating girl who wound around the dance floor in a very slow and easy way. I stood up straight and spoke to her once. I wasn’t very clear about anything. She made it very clear she didn’t want anything to do with me.
I got a piece of mail from my grandmother on my mother’s side. It said it was “urgent” that they see me as soon as possible. I called her and we set up a time for me to go over there for diner.
When I got there she left my grandfather and me alone in the library. We sat away from the magazine table in armchairs. We were directly facing each other. I knew this was not the usual visit. He said the executive who ran the chemical company, his former son in law, related to him that my mother had telephoned, and said the bank was “calling in the note” on the Markin Farm mortgage. Why she called the executive was baffling to him. It made no sense to him. He said this kind of bizarre behavior couldn’t continue. He said my mother had to get medical help for her alcoholism.
I told him I learned from others who knew about this sort of thing if a person doesn’t voluntarily want help it is a waste of time and money to force help on them.
He knew my mother had inherited a bunch of money. I told him I would get the telephone number of her financial advisor, and maybe he could provide money for medical treatment. He didn’t respond, and I never got him the telephone number.
I told him my father had sold his half of the Candle Company for twenty times what he paid for it, and invested all the money, which he promptly lost. My grandfather who sold the Candle Company to my father said my father and his partner did an amazing job. A Black Labrador dog went over, and sat beside him. He looked at the dog a moment, and started to massage its ear making a contented growling noise like a dog. He said he didn’t understand why my father didn’t “rest on his laurels.”
My grandmother came back into the room, walked over to where I was, stooped over, and kissed me on the forehead. I didn’t acknowledge it in the slightest, because I was in mid sentence talking to my grandfather. Later it overwhelmed me what a dear gesture that was.
No great plan evolved that night. I told my mother what had happened. She must have called the financial person because I later heard an arrangement was made with the bank that the entire mortgage would be paid during the next year.
My mother never hit bottom because she always had money. Over the following years no amount of reason or periodic hospitalization could help her kick the habit of alcohol. What finally did was old age and a series of falls that resulted in broken bones. After that my parents both had nurses attend to them. They moved to Maine. My father had a stroke. He didn’t talk anymore, and was in a wheel chair. Nurses were there 24-hours a day. She could not drive. All of us children who were full grown adults told the nursing agency that if they liked being there then do not let her get any alcohol. We finally got our way, and she didn’t. The medical people said she had premature dementia. She also had great perceptions.
Before I got my first real job on a newspaper I went to the labor pool. They got me some work at a company that made machines for the machine tool industry. I swept the floor and occasionally had a conversation with a machinist.
On the floor where I worked there were about twenty lathes. There was a partitioned room with bright lights and large windows where the supervisors worked. Some of the bright light from the windows shone on new computer lathes with young people standing by them.
When a piece of metal was lowered into the grip of one of those machines the operator pressed buttons on a panel. After that another button was pressed and a hood would slide over the piece of metal. A carbide cutting tool came in contact with the turning metal and at the same time cutting oil came from a nozzle. There were no metal shavings, just brittle chips that shot away from the turning piece. When that part was finished it would go to another place, and eventually it would be part of a metal lathe made by that company.
On the far wall there was a huge lathe. It was painted black, and most of the other ones were painted light gray. There were no electronic buttons on it anywhere. The black lathe looked very clean and well kept. The machinist who operated the lathe told me he worked on that machine since it was new forty-five years ago. He said he was going to retire soon. When he was talking he took a shop rag and without interrupting himself he wiped some oil off the lathe.
I was on that job for three weeks and during that time he retired. When he left no one else took his job operating the black lathe. Another person told me it was scrap iron. Some maintenance people came and disconnected the electric wires, and hung a sign on it that said, “not in use”. Another machinist at the lathe next to the black lathe said when the old man was the operator he could make it work right, but no one else could.
It was bigger than any other machine on the floor. The first week I was there I marveled at the size of it and asked the old man if it was difficult to operate. He said it wasn’t difficult because he knew the machine so well. He said for anyone else but him it would be difficult.
All the people who worked in that place except me belonged to a national worker organization called a “Union”. The Union had an agreement in contract form with the company about everything concerning the workers. My employer was the labor pool, and I was on assignment to that factory. My job was to push a broom around the place, but when I appeared there day after day some of the workers thought the management of the company didn’t respect their Union contract. One of the machinists was the Union Steward, which meant he represented the Union.
He worked by the bright lights of the supervisor’s office. Often he would slide the hood back on his machine just as it was finishing, but not quite finished so metal chips would go all over the floor. When that happened I could here it and I hurried over to his area with my broom and cart to sweep them all up. My job was to sweep up those chips quickly so he could get on with his work. When I was finished sweeping the chips I always had a few words with him about his machine or the weather.
Perhaps twice a day the supervisor would scurry over to an area where there was a big metallic thud from a large piece of steel dropping to the floor. The first time it happened I asked the machinist nearest to me what that was and he said it sounded like someone dropped their watch.
A laborer from another floor talked to me about working directly for the company. He said it was a good place to work. He told me he had been there a short time. He said how much he was making, and what my starting wage would be.
The old man had told me before he left that over his lifetime he had always gotten nickel and dime raises each year. I told the laborer I didn’t want to work there, that I was interested in temporary employment.
In one section there were steel racks holding long bars of steel. The day after I talked to the laborer, the supervisor asked me to tidy up the racks. I was lifting up bars of steel. A short distance away I saw the Union Steward and several of the other machinists grouped together peering at me. I learned later the union contract said only union people could handle steel.
The same day a person from the labor pool walked back to where I was and asked me if I wanted to work there, and I told him there was too much —-ing noise.
He walked away. That evening before I went to the bar on Calhoun Street the man from the labor pool called me on the telephone, and said the job at the tool company was over. In the same business fashion I said that was too bad and I asked him what else he had. He said he would call me in a few days. I said that sounded like a corporate comment to me. I said he could just tell it to me like it is.
Several days later he did call me. The job was a long-term assignment fixing lawn mowers, and doing related work for the Cincinnati School Board. Each day I reported for work in an underground garage. A supervisor and two other people my age worked there. The two other people were U.S. Army veterans who knew each other before that job. Their wages were paid by the Government as part of a federal program to help veterans find work. They had been there almost a year and were somewhat anxious because when the year was up the government would no longer pay their wage. If the School Board wanted to keep them it would have to put them on its payroll. They only had a month or two left, and they said there was no indication the School Board would hire them. My presence was a sign to them that they would not be hired. They often sat away from me when on break or during lunch.
The walk-behind lawn mower used to cut grass at all the schools was the same as the old L model my father had at Markin Farm. The person who shod the horses showed me how to braze metal when the exhaust manifold on it was broken. Also, I had watched my father many times take the head off the motor and fix a stuck valve.
When Mortiuri was still a working farm truck I put the walk behind mower in the back and left it running while I took it to the farm implements place at the head of the road. I didn’t need a driver’s license to get there. I didn’t tie it down. After I accelerated I didn’t hear the engine anymore, and when I looked in the rear view mirror I saw it bouncing down the road behind me. I stopped. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to explain this to my father. When I walked back the engine was still running. It was upright on its two wheels. The rim of one wheel was bent. The handle bar was bent, and the exhaust manifold was broken. That was the only damage. I drove it up the ramps into the back of the farm truck. I didn’t have any ropes to tie it down. This time I stopped the motor, and put it in gear so it would not roll.
My younger brother and I were always going up to the farm implements parts counter to get a small nut or bolt to fix something. Sometimes we paid for items with money we got from turning in empty soft drink bottles.
Once we made a motorized surrey and were there almost every day for weeks getting nuts and bolts. One of those days we were in my mother’s car and she dropped my brother off to get something he needed. On our way back we picked him up, and as we were going down the road my brother who was about nine years old said the parts man had called him a little ____er (a four-letter slang word beginning with f that means fornicate). My mother turned the car around, drove back up there, and went into the farm implements place. A few minutes later she returned and drove home. She didn’t say anything, and after awhile I asked her what happened. She said she walked up to the parts counter and asked the parts man point blank, “Did you call my son a little ___er?” She said right out loud the same word he used. She said several of the mechanics and the owner all of whom we knew by name happened to be standing there in front of the parts counter. I asked her what they said and she said no one said anything.
When I saw all the lawn mowers in that School Board garage were the same as the one we had at Markin Farm I knew I could handle the job. The fact that I could do better work than the two veterans, who had been there almost a year, made the situation with them even worse.
One morning the supervisor told me to get in his pick-up truck. He said he was going over to one of the schools to get something. As it turned out he didn’t need my help. He wanted to tell me something.
He told me the other two people were bums as far as he was concerned, and when the government stopped paying their pay they were finished. He said next year he would retire, and somebody new was needed to run the garage. I suppose he wanted to let me know what the situation was. If he had ideas of my being the person to fill that position he didn’t say so. I didn’t think seriously about what he said other than he was the person speaking. I was enjoying the breeze in my face, and the ride to nowhere. That was the only time during that job I was not in the garage. I never saw the other two leave while I was there.
Several days later we were on our lunch break. There were ten minutes left before we had to go back to work. The two veterans were resting by the ceiling on two high piles of a soft substance covered with canvas. I was sitting a short distance away on the tailgate of a truck. At one point we were talking, and something I said irritated one of them. He climbed down off the pile. I didn’t call him a bum, but I told both of them what the supervisor had said in his truck.
The veteran was coming at me with his hands clenched into fists, and he was walking fast. I stood up to absorb his forward movement. We grappled for a few seconds, and then I pushed him away from me. When I did he was holding onto my shirt and it got ripped in many places. I felt like a cartoon character named The Incredible Hulk. When he stepped back he was in perfect striking distance, and I hit him twice in the face hard enough to get his undivided attention. I felt like a large cat moving slowly through the tall grass. I out weighed him by about twenty pounds, and he didn’t know what he was doing. I knew I had him. I told him to step right up like a person in a carnival. The supervisor came out to see what all the noise was. I saw him out of the corner of my eye standing there between two parked vehicles watching us. He was a weak person in all respects. He said and did nothing. I didn’t want to hit him another time. It was too easy. I told him I was going to break him down like a shotgun, and he was going to cry like a sissy punk rabbit as he gave it up. That finished him. He went back where the other veteran was. After that the superintendent told me to go home.
That evening a person from the labor pool I never heard of before telephoned, and said not to go back to the School Board job. That was the end of the call. I didn’t belabor the point. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to work for them. I felt like I was dying. I didn’t want to wallow in the mire anymore.
I started looking diligently for a job. I went to all the little weekly newspapers in surrounding communities. Finally I got hired by one of them in Lebanon, Ohio. That newspaper was always in the shadow of another weekly newspaper with a much bigger staff. If the one I worked on had gone off on its own, it might have lasted longer.
The money to operate the newspaper came from paid advertisements that appeared each week on the same pages as the news. Supposedly, people would buy the paper for the news content and see the advertisements. Sometimes I thought it had to be the other way around. Although the
obituaries really made you think about death.
There was one lady in the front room that handled the advertising department and occasionally she would have a helper who would go out and beat the bushes for new accounts.
There were three of us in the editorial department. That was another name for the people who wrote the news. My boss had a firm idea how it should be. The other person was a retired self-proclaimed newspaperman who did all the main news. I did the stories he didn’t have time to do. I took all the photographs for the paper. I also did routine things like empty the waste paper baskets and type up the obituary column. I’d call all the local funeral homes each week. Eventually I got to know the names of some of the undertakers (funeral directors). I’d ask them if they had any dead ones that week. The editorial department was all in one room. When the editor heard me she told me not to phrase it that way.
When I first saw the man who hired me he was sitting at a desk at another newspaper. It was by chance he was there when I showed up looking for a job. I didn’t have any idea he owned the paper. There were several people in the room. He was the only one who looked up when I entered. That is why I went over to where he was. He never got up from his chair, and I never sat down. From the questions he asked I told him I was a recent journalism graduate looking for work. I didn’t have to fill in the blanks on an application form.
That night he called me and said, “If you are interested I have something on another newspaper in Lebanon”. I should have let him finish talking because I think he was about to say when I should go to work, but I asked him first. We didn’t talk about my pay on the phone. We had talked about that subject earlier face to face, and I had said I wanted a good job more than anything else. He asked me what a good job was. I said it was one where I could tell a judge I was gainfully employed.
As a reporter I wrote a story about the money policeman earned on various police departments in the County. I learned a rookie policeman made almost twice as much as I did. Mine wasn’t subsistence pay, but it was close. Most of the time I wasn’t aware how little I made. It was enough to get by, and I was grateful to have a permanent job I was trained to do.
Most of the stories I did were not “hard news”. The newspaperman among us did all those. The lady editor who was my immediate boss did some stories she wanted to do plus she read over everything that went in the paper to make sure things were said and spelled correctly. Her husband of many years had died a prolonged death a few years earlier. She said the last years of that time were difficult. We had long conversations. My grandmother on my mother’s side died when I worked there, and she seemed to know all about my mother’s stepfather. She told me who he was.
My job description wasn’t spelled out in words. I didn’t know exactly what to do. I did routine things, but that wasn’t very much. The man who hired me never said so but I think he was a little concerned at first that all he was getting for his money was a bunch of photographs. They didn’t give me anything else to do so I thought I was doing enough. After awhile I realized my job entailed a delicate balancing act. I was supposed to do more without stepping on anyone’s toes.
The owner showed up each week to pick up the copy (written words), go over the advertising with the advertising lady, and to give us our paychecks. One of those days when I first started working there I was leaving at the end of the day, and I saw him sitting in his car parked outside by the curb. He didn’t notice me. He was pulling the photographs out of the large brown envelope the editor had handed him. Most of the photographs were of people who had gained some notoriety in that quaint little town.
Several weeks after that he asked me how I get people to smile. I said that just before I took a picture I’d say to the person, “say cheese”. I said they either started to laugh or said the word (when a person says the word “cheese” in the English language their mouth has to make a smile even if they never do).
He took all the copy to another newspaper office. There, the type written pages were set into neat newspaper columns. Three or four people operating computer machines did that work. Once the type was set the paper would be “pasted-up” which meant each page would be “composed” and made ready for an “off-set” camera. The pasted-up pages were called “flats”. Those finished flats were photographed with the offset camera. The next day the owner would take large sheets of film made by the camera to the printer fifty miles away. Then bundles of newspapers would come back. They were addressed and taken to the post office.
Evenings I helped paste-up all four papers and I operated the offset camera. I made more money doing the production of the papers than I did doing words.
One of the photographs I took that appeared in the paper was of a corncrib near the corner of a large field. Two main roads in the county went along each side of the field and crossed at the corner. The abandon corncrib was visible to anyone who looked in that direction from the road. The
photograph had a few words under it (cutline) that said it probably wouldn’t be there much longer and to bid it farewell.
The week the photograph appeared the man who owned the field called the paper. The editor told me to pick up the phone and speak to him. He asked me why I said it was an “eye sore”. I told him if a person read the words under that photograph and thought it said the corncrib was an eye sore they should be rushed to a doctor. I said to the man on the telephone whatever is put in its place is most likely going to be an eye sore. There was a silence. He said a few other words and got off the telephone.
I wanted to do a story about the 4H clubs in the County. I collected material here and there for several weeks before the story with photographs appeared in the paper.
During a time in the United States that is generally called the “Industrial Revolution” the Department of Agriculture started 4H. That was when the family farm went from feeding the family to feeding the entire nation. When I did the story the Department of Agriculture had an “Extension Office” in the County and through that office the 4H program was directed. I learned there were similar offices in other counties doing the same thing.
4H enabled young people (mostly young people who grew up on a farm but not necessarily so) to develop an appreciation for taking care of animals, growing plants, making things by hand, and doing all the activities associated with farm life. If one of the 4H club members wanted to learn how they were doing compared to others they could do so at the County fair each year where cattle, plants, quilts, honey, and other things were judged.
I talked with boys who proudly showed me what they said were fine steers and they told me why they thought so. Several evenings I went to club meetings in old farmhouses with high ceilings. Each meeting began with a pledge of allegiance to the flag and the United States of America for which it stands. One club met during the day in a farm house kitchen. A group of girls learned from an older woman how to make bread.
I was in the kitchen for most of the club meeting. One of the girls who seemed like she was going to graduate from high school any day had a sweetness and simplicity they all had, but she had more. I don’t remember how I got her telephone number but I did. I called her up. It was a mistake. She couldn’t talk, and the next day the older woman called the paper.
The editor and I were the only ones there. The newspaperman was at City Hall and the advertising lady was out. I wasn’t paying any attention to the call, or knew what it was. Many calls came into the newspaper office. I was hard at work at my desk trying to find a letter on the keyboard. The editor put her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, and said to me that it was so and so from 4H and now she wanted to talk to me. Then she said for me to get it in the other room. She meant where the advertising lady worked. There were two desks there and on each one there was a telephone.
I sat down at the desk that was most seldom used and picked up the phone. I identified myself, and she said how awful it was that I called that “child” on the telephone. She sounded very angry and I listened to her some more. When she stopped for a moment I said I would hardly call that girl a child. I said that without expecting it to change much in her mind about anything, but it did. There was a pause and her whole tone changed. We talked some more. I admitted it was a mistake. She said it certainly was. We wound down on the telephone. I put the receiver down, got up, and walked back to my desk. The editor asked me if the lady was put at ease, and I said she was. The editor told me to do the story, and not get any more information.
Even though the newspaper was in the largest town in the County its readers and advertisers not only came from there, but also from small towns and townships throughout the County. The township meetings I went to were held in the evening. They were public meetings conducted by three people called the trustees.
The business they conducted concerned maintaining roads and getting some of the more basic public services done. The townships relied on tax money for operating expenses. Township government was the closest government to the people. The trustees in some urban townships had to work with regional planning commissions on complex matters. Sometimes they also had to deal with matters concerning a township police department. Most townships relied on the County Sheriff for a police department, but some had their own. The difference in urban and rural township meetings was extreme. One might be as formal as a courtroom, and the other would be people getting together after work to hear a neighbor’s request for the township to ditch a road in front of his cornfield.
At one township meeting the trustees voted to have some work done. That was it that week. There were only one or two people there. One of the trustees said it wasn’t often someone from the newspaper came to the meeting. He apologized that there wasn’t something more exciting to report. He then improvised and told me a story, which he said I could put in the paper.
He said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “open burning” law was in effect. The statewide law said people could not have any sort of open fire such as a burning leaf pile. Exceptions to the law were fire barrels at construction sites, cooking fires, campfires, fires that melted tar for the work roofers do, and a few others.
The trustee told me that a person he knew was burning a huge brush pile on his farm when the Ohio EPA swept down on him in a helicopter and two people in the back got out to issue him a citation. He said when they said what they were doing the farmer went up to the edge of the flaming brush pile, and barely able to stand the heat, he stuck a smoldering chicken, feathers and all, on the prongs of a pitch fork. He said the farmer brought the chicken to where the EPA officials were standing so they could see it. He told them in all seriousness he was having a barbecue.
In the city of Franklin on the edge of the county up by Dayton there was a “resource recovery” experiment being conducted by a New York City based company, the city of Franklin, and the Federal Government. The company made paper-pulping machinery. I did a story on what was happening there.
According to the company municipal garbage is 40 per cent paper fiber. They wanted to learn if it could be economically extracted. The experiment would also reveal if other parts of raw garbage could be separated economically.
The most unique part of the project was its first step. Private contractors dumped fifty tons of municipal garbage per day from the city of Franklin on a concrete slab. A large wheeled machine pushed the garbage down a hole as it arrived. The hole was the top of a modified “hydrapulper” and that was the first step. It went seventy-five feet below the slab. Water added to the garbage made everything inside into a slurry. The hydrapulper was higher than it was wide, and at the bottom blades whirled around making a rumbling noise that could be heard anywhere at the facility. An engineer described it as very big kitchen blender.
Upside-down magnetic conveyor belts, optical scanners, and centrifuges produced the end result. In one place there was a row of large containers under chutes. They were filling up. In one went all the aluminum from the garbage. Each piece was small, clean, and uniform in size. The second container had pieces of steel. There was no paint on any of the metal. The next three containers were filling up with small pieces of red, green, and clear glass. Not one piece of glass was in the wrong container.
The chief engineer of the project told me that each day he and three people were able to separate and recover nine tons of paper fiber, three tons of ferrous metals, two tons of glass, and one-fourth ton of aluminum. He said the remaining fraction included plastics and other organics that have about half the energy value (BTU per pound) of coal.
The engineer in charge of the project said separation of garbage at the source is the last resort in resource recovery. He said many consumers (in the United States) are encouraged to save their bottles, cans, and paper so it can be recycled. He said this is not the answer to resource recovery from an economical standpoint because there would still have to be an inspection station to determine how well everyone was separating their garbage. He said everyone would separate their garbage to a different degree making it necessary for a second separation that would cost nearly as much as if raw garbage was separated at the collection end. He said the effort for resource recovery must not be directed at the good will of the consumer, but at industries profit motivation.
The Franklin city manager told me that the taxpayer had to pay the bill to get rid of garbage. He said the conventional way to dispose of garbage in landfills was less expensive. Several years later the facility was closed.
I got involved in editorial comment one time. A group of people in the community wanted to take over operation of the “animal shelter” because they felt it was being run the wrong way.
The animal shelter was where unclaimed animals (primarily house dogs and house cats) were taken that would otherwise roam loose in the County. If an animal was not claimed in three days it was killed.
A citizens group objected to the way animals were killed, the way carcasses were disposed, the way live animals were kept, and what they said was a lack of effort to find people who might adopt the unwanted pet.
The animals were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. They were put in an old van kept for that purpose. The engine was started and the exhaust from the engine was directed into the enclosed section where the animals selected to be killed were put. The bodies of the dead animals went into a nearby pit.
The citizen group wanted to buy what they said was a more humane “decompression chamber” to kill stray dogs and cats. They wanted to install a kennel type of area and group dogs according to their size. They wanted to have an ongoing program to get animals adopted. All of those things involved spending money. The County officials in charge of the money didn’t want to spend more on the shelter, and they didn’t want to turn the operation of the shelter over to a group that was not in county government.
The County Commissioners and a group of citizens comprised of housewives were going back and forth month after month. When it seemed there was no end I wrote an opinion.
The opinion recounted how dogs were killed by the County ten or fifteen years earlier in a shed at the “fair grounds.” Their throats were cut by hand. The dead dogs were then thrown in the back of a dump truck, and taken who knows where. I said so now there is a van with the exhaust going inside, and the dead dogs go into a pit. I wrote that no reasonable person would deny unwanted animals needed to be collected and killed, but it ought to be done with the respect they deserve as God’s creatures on this earth. When it appeared in the newspaper the editor had removed the word God and it said, “…deserve as creatures on this earth.”
In the Southwest corner of the County the United States Information Agency (USIA) operated the “Bethany Relay Station” which was one of five Voice of America (VOA) locations in the nation. It had “rhombic” antennas and one huge “curtain antenna” that simultaneously beamed several radio programs into foreign countries.
The director of that place said the Bethany Relay Station began operation in 1943 to “combat” enemy “propaganda” and to tell people why America was entering World War Two. He said then and now the workers there are responsible for the technical aspect of directing VOA broadcasts into “target areas”. He said a target area is a place in Europe, Africa, or South America with a government not friendly to the policies or government of the United States.
He said for technical reasons the Bethany Relay Station was located where it is. He said the radio signal they produce bounces the right way off the atmosphere. He used words such as “propagation, aurora zone bypass, and aurora zone absorption” to explain. He said the broadcast originates at the VOA “headquarters” (center) in Washington D.C.
I went in the control room with the director. People were there to make sure the transmitters and antennas were functioning properly. There was a headset and a selector switch that made it possible to listen to each broadcast being made.
I heard the English language recordings of modern American music. When I asked the director about this he said the hunger for American music is the competitive advantage VOA has over other stations trying to reach the same people. He said many VOA listeners around the world understand Basic English from listening to American music, and from special instruction on the radio.
The songs were like these: “Caught Madeline at the top of the hill doing 110 in a Coup de Vile…My motor got hot and I knew my Ford wouldn’t do no more.” Or, this one, “It fell out of the sky a little South of Moline. Jody fell off his tractor couldn’t believe what he seen. Lay on the ground, shook, fearing for his life. Then he ran all the way to town screaming it fell out of the sky. Crowd gathered around and scientists said it was Marsian. The White House said it belonged in the Blue Room. The Vatican said it belonged to Rome. Jody said its mine but you can have it for seventeen million.”
The director said the songs are followed by world news. He said the news, unlike the songs, is in the language of the target area.
During the time I worked on the newspaper I moved from my one room modern apartment on Riddle Road to an upstairs room in an old house on Mulberry Street in Lebanon. My mental health improved considerably at that point. I wasn’t sick, but the whole scene on Riddle Road was like a jailhouse where people had their own key.
In the house there were two apartments upstairs and one downstairs. The owner was a plumber. He and his wife lived in a modern flat-topped building next to the house. I mailed them the rent money each month. A few times when I was late one of the plumber’s employees came to my door to ask for the money.
A man, woman, and a small child lived in the apartment next to mine. I think they both worked and the child went to school. I didn’t get to know them at all. When someone leaving their apartment was going downstairs I could always here the child with the exact same inflections in his voice say, “bye now”.
Sounds from their apartment never came into mine, but sounds from mine went into theirs and beyond. I was restoring the Rabbit. It was under a car cover on blocks outside, but practically everything that could be removed from the car was in my room. I hammered bent aluminum strips straight on a table of mine. I didn’t have an anvil. I’m sure the pounding could be heard a long way off. No one ever complained about the noise.
Downstairs there was a seedy person who worked nights in a gasoline station on State Route 123 beside Interstate 71. We had the same routines. We became friends. After one year I was working nights also. The man who owned the newspaper in Lebanon owned four others. I got full time work pasting up those papers and operating the offset camera. I didn’t work in Lebanon anymore. My full-time work was done in two towns. They were forty-five minutes away on the expressway.
I drove that distance almost daily. State Highway Patrol policeman parked on the side of the interstate highway, were attracted to my car. I had rolled it awhile earlier on a two-lane highway outside Charlottesville, Virginia. When I drove it to work in the afternoon they could see the excessive body damage on whatever side was toward them and on the roof. It didn’t look so hot. It was combat ready in all other respects.
The State Policemen who pulled me over were always very friendly if I was friendly first. When they stopped me I asked them what’s up? I think my car fit the criteria of having a misbegotten driver. Each policeman said, as he handed me a warning, when the work indicated on the warning was done I should sign the paper, and send it in.
One State Policeman who stopped me said as he handed me a warning that if I signed my name to the statement on the warning that the work was done and I got another warning for the same thing, then a warrant would be issued for my arrest. I never signed any of the warnings. I had no warrants “outstanding” even though I had quite a collection of warnings. I thanked him for the tip. I stuffed his written warning into the glove box with all the others and proceeded on my way.
The seedy person in the apartment downstairs had a friend who drove a domestic automobile. Without any modifications it was known to have much quickness, but this one had modifications that made it still quicker. It was painted a special way.
The engine had a lumpy idle but when the revolutions per minute (rpm) increased the sound of the engine became smooth and loud. When the engine rpm increased suddenly the side of the car moved as if someone were pushing on the fender. The exhaust system was designed to enhance power more than anything else. The tires on the rear axle were wide. The suspension was changed to prevent the tires from striking the inside of the fenders. Without looking under the car I could see several other changes in the suspension. All the changes had the singular purpose making the car go faster.
Several months after the seedy person and I became friends I walked in his apartment early one evening when neither of us were working, and two girls our age were sitting on his raggedy old couch over by the wall. I had seen one of them before in the automobile that was rigged to be quick. The person who drove it was her “boy friend”, and she was waiting for him. I had not seen the other girl before that time. She looked a little bit refined and out of place. They had come together from the city of Fairfield, in the next county.
When I first saw the other girl I didn’t know what to say. Then I walked over to where she was sitting, stood over her, and asked her what a nice girl was doing in a place like this? I told her she should be ashamed of herself. She looked at the seedy person and her friend, and without looking at me she asked what sort of place it was. By that time I was going across the room to an armchair. I said it was a den of iniquity. She asked what that meant, and if we had a dictionary. I said I wasn’t sure, but it wasn’t good.
Outside it was a still summer night. When the boy friend arrived, he and his girl sank down low in the seats of his car. The seedy person, the other girl, and me sat on the curb beside the car with a can of beer in our hand. There was a perfectly shaped tree across the street. We discussed its merits and decided that if it were a person it would be a President.
The girl was sitting on the curb. I was sitting behind her on the curb. My feet went on each side of her, and I rubbed her back. I put my hands under her shirt, and unfastened underwear on her back that was in the way. She didn’t move or speak. Our conversation changed from being frivolous. Her arms were tight against her sides. I was rubbing her back, and that is all I did.
The other two in the car looked over the edge of the window on the passenger side. First the girl and then both of them were peering at us. It was because I had my hands under her shirt and I took them away. The girl had her head down. She had stopped talking, and never looked at them.
After the girl became quiet it was just the seedy person and me talking. It was almost like the girl wasn’t there. Then the others started looking at us. I took my hands away and things got back to the way they were, talking about trees and things.
The Rabbit was back together by then. It was parked nearby off the street under a car cover. We talked about it, and she asked me if she could take a ride. I asked her if she had ever driven a stick shift, and she said she had. When I uncovered it she put one hand over her mouth. I said I would drive it out of town and then she could take a turn. We changed places when I got to a country road. When it came time to find the next gear she had her hand on the gearshift knob. I put my hand on top of hers to show her where it was. I did that every time, and she became the focus of my attention. That was the only way I touched her. When we got back, the party had ended. She and the girl she came with went home.
I saw the girl’s friend a short time later, and asked about the girl who shifted the gears with me. The girl friend said her friend would probably go “out” with me. I never saw her again, and our paths never crossed.
Nights, when I didn’t paste up one of the newspapers I went to the gasoline station where my friend worked. The station was open all night. It was privately owned, but the sign and other markings indicated it was part of a well-known oil company. I never saw the owner or daytime manager. My friend was the only paid employee at night. If he was doing a small repair on an automobile inside I would put gasoline in cars, wash the bugs off windshields, check the oil, and handle the money. No mater how rude and hideous a person behaved I would say, yes sir this, or no sir that, or if they wanted to argue I would say, anything you say. It was the middle 1970’s. The price of gasoline increased often. When someone asked rudely at 2 a.m. in the morning why the company charged so much for gasoline, I’d say, gee wiz, I don’t know. Probably, they think they can get it, or if a customer complained about other things I had no control over I would tell them I would bring it up at our next board meeting. There weren’t many awful behaving customers, but when one was about to drive off, nastiness and all, I would say with a big smile and the same delightful inflections as the child in the apartment next to mine, bye now.
The sign for the station was on two high poles near the expressway. People could see it when they were far from there. The sign had lights inside and at night it would attract bugs, which would attract bats. These bats were small furry nocturnal mammals that ate bugs in mid air. During the day they hung upside down asleep, probably in nearby barns. Over and over I could see them turn instantly to gobble up large flying insects going in an entirely different direction. It was amazing to watch those creatures change direction. They moved so fast and could turn so sharply.
One of the 75-foot poles on the sign had steel pegs on each side so a person could climb up, crawl through a hatch, and get inside the sign. Once I did that, and before I got into the sign I was close to the bats.
As many as five or six people would congregate at the gas station at night. There was an all night restaurant we could see across the street on the same side of the expressway. Around midnight several of us usually went over there to get something to eat. If I was still there at dawn when the seedy person got off work we would get breakfast there.
We were familiar faces. When one of the waitresses got fired we would learn all the details from the other waitresses. We also knew the manager by name. Most of the waitresses were recently out of high school or in school. It was summer.
There was a massive amusement park several miles down the expressway. When it closed many cars going north would get gasoline at the station. After that it wasn’t busy the rest of the night. Sometimes when no one else was there we would sit outside in two chairs tipped back against large glass windows.
During that time the idea of a character named the BF’er started. The BF’er was unattractive in appearance, but faster than a bullet, more powerful than a speeding locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The BF’er inadvertently and unwittingly became a defender of justice for people everywhere.
We thought of it as a daily cartoon in a newspaper. As we sat there ideas would come. There were infinite possibilities. The last picture would show the BF’er going out the door tucking in his shirt. In one cartoon the BF’er is leaving a restaurant like the one across the street. In the background everyone is humped over counters, the upright part of booths, tables, on the floor, everywhere. Everyone has little X’s in their eyes, their rear-end is propped up, their pants are down, and a little wisp of smoke is spiraling straight up from their bare bottom. The title is, the day the BF’er didn’t get served. In another cartoon called the BF’er Vs. Kung Foo the second to last frame shows Kung Foo trying to karate kick the BF’er. The last frame shows the BF’er going under the ropes tucking in his shirt. In the background Kung Foo is in center ring with his pants down, smoke is rising off his rear end, and there are little X’s in his eyes. The referee is standing there in awe of how swift and sure the BF’ers is.
. We laughed about other ones; the day the BF’er makes King Kong come down, the BF’er gets a warning from the State Highway Patrol, the BF’er pumps gas, the BF’er is falsely accused. In that one the last frame would show the BF’er leaving a courtroom. In the background the Judge, the prosecutor, the bailiff, false witnesses, and everyone else involved has learned not to trifle with the BF’er. Innocent bystanders are amazed. They don’t know who the BF’er is. Nobody does. He has no name or identification number. His alias is the BF’er.
After a year the man who hired me to work on the newspapers made some sort of a deal with another person who owned and operated one small weekly newspaper near Cincinnati. That person took over the operation of all the papers. I still had the job of pasting up the papers, and one evening when I was doing that the editor from the biggest paper of the group came over to help me. She was a mainstream journalist and apparently efficient at getting things done. In an announcement in the newspapers about her it said the man operating the papers appointed her to oversee each editorial department. That announcement was the only indication I ever had that she did anything more than be the editor of the one paper.
I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary when she came to help me paste up the paper. We talked about our personal lives. She was sincere about everything. We were pasting up the paper while we talked, and when I looked over at her she was crying. I didn’t say anything. She cried and at the same time was pasting up the paper. It was natural as could be. We could both have a good cry if I knew why she was crying. I didn’t ask. That same week the new man who operated the newspaper group came back to where I was and said he wanted me to be the editor of the little weekly paper he once owned before it became a group. I got the same money, but it took a whole lot more time. Several weeks later he called me up at my new job and wanted to know the month and year I got a degree from college. I told him, and wondered if he was going to cut my pay any further below the poverty level if I had never been to college. Meanwhile the office where he worked was modernized, air conditioned, and the ceilings were dropped.
When I was doing the job of pasting up the papers I would return to Lebanon when I was finished. It was dark. I never got a warning from the State Highway Patrol at night. It was a matter of routine in the day. One evening when I got back to my apartment I turned on the radio, and an accelerated voice with fast background music said the station “salutes Jonathan Margo, grand prize winner of the feeling free photo contest.” The grand prize was a 10-speed bicycle that had a lightweight steel alloy frame. I later read an article on the subject that said it had excellent “geometry”. The bicycle was made in Nottingham, England. Later a company in the United States bought the company in England, and after that the bicycle was made in the United States. The name was the same but it was not the same bicycle.
The knowledge I had of bicycles before then was from peddling up the road at Markin Farm to exchange empty soft drink bottles for money. To get there it was up hill all the way. I was glad when the day came I got a gasoline powered go-cart. When I won the expensive new bicycle I thought I would ride it once, and then sell it in the large daily newspaper in Cincinnati.
I went downtown to pick it up and after a publicity photo was taken I strapped it on top of my car and took it to Lebanon. There I took it off my car, and rode it up a hill into a cemetery on Mulberry Street. That day I decided to keep the bicycle. I was amazed what a fine machine it was and how little effort was needed to make it go. It wasn’t like any bicycle I had ever ridden.
To enter the contest a person was to send in a photograph of what made them feel free. I figured most people would send in a photograph of their naked girl friend. I sent a black and white photo I thought would be the only one that exemplified capitalistic values. My photograph was taken with a large telephoto lens across two fields. The first field was clover hay, and the second was corn. All the white tassels were out on the corn.
In the middle of the first field there was a huge White Oak tree. In its shade were two apple wood chairs. In one chair two people were sitting together facing the cornfield. The second chair was empty. Under the photo I wrote the words, “I feel free watching my corn grow.” The words were probably half the reason I won.
The new job of being the editor of a small weekly newspaper in a small town left no time for anything else, including spending nights at the gas station thinking up new episodes for the BF’er.
I moved into an old farmhouse closer to work. The big oil company took over the station. The seedy person lost his job, and soon after that the gas station closed completely. The building became a place where someone could buy a tomahawk or something else of value.
Before the station closed I wrote a letter to the big oil company saying they made a big mistake letting the seedy person go. I said, he often would finish working on a customer’s car even if it was after he was off duty and he wasn’t getting paid for his time. I identified myself as the editor of a weekly newspaper. I didn’t say I used to hang out there, that I unofficially pumped gas there, or that I carried a big wad of their money in my shirt pocket. I wanted to command a little respect.
A person at the oil company corporate headquarters called the newspaper office on the telephone. I answered it, and they asked to speak to me. The person on the other end said my letter was why he was calling. I interrupted him to say he didn’t have to explain. I told him I just wanted
to say they fired a good man. He said since I took the time to write he wanted to take the time to reply. He said the location had become a trouble spot. He said all sorts of unsavory people were loitering there all night.
He may have been right about that because I learned later that one of us had been arrested and convicted for stealing CB radios from trucks parked across the street in the parking lot of the all night restaurant. If the authorities had us under surveillance they probably thought we were on drugs or were selling more drugs than gas. The person who was arrested for stealing CB radios told me that once when he was pumping gas two people with a Hillsboro bracket on their license plate pulled up to the pump and asked to buy some drugs. The person who stole CB radios told me that he was startled, and said they better go back to Hillsboro where they belonged. Hillsboro was a rural city two counties over. I never saw any drugs or alcohol when I was there. I don’t know why a person would drive up, having never been there before, and ask that question. He probably worked for the police who wanted to find out what we were doing night after night.
Another time two total strangers walked up and one of them wanted to sell a chrome-plated handgun. The one holding the gun was wearing no shirt and the other person who came with him stood about twenty feet to the side. They were older. They looked well fed and had recent haircuts. The chrome gun was cheaply made. I held it and saw it didn’t have any serial number. I said it looked like an exhibit in a murder trial. They might have been from Hillsboro also.
For a short period of time two girls showed up at the gas station. The one who always drove had an older car with a big engine and a yellow sticker on the window that said “Hurst”. I asked about the sticker and she said it had “four on the floor”. When she left the station she always spun the tires to get up to speed.
The gas station had one “bay” which is the area where a car drives inside. Two, red, car length steel channels were fastened to a large hydraulic column which when activated lifted up a car.
One evening most of us were in there. No car was inside. The girl with the fast car was a well-coupled young lady. She was kind of like a hornet. She was standing on one of the channels and I was between them. Her leg was bent. There was a rip in her blue jeans above her knee. Her skin was pressing against the rip, and it was a golden color. She saw me staring at that place. Later, when no one else was around she came up to me. Between her thumb and forefinger she was holding a tiny locket fastened to a necklace around her neck. She was sliding it back and forth on the chain. She was looking down at the ground some of the time when she asked me if she could ride in my car. I had the Rabbit parked outside. It was a delicate car compared to her car. I was surprised. We sat in it and she said she could relate to the headlamps, and running boards. When we drove out of the gas station I stopped and asked her which way she wanted to go. She said she wanted to see where I lived so we turned toward Lebanon. I asked her if she was from Hillsboro. She wasn’t.
Another night a person driving around on the grass with people sitting on the car hood bumped into a light pole. Everyone went flying. Fortunately, no one hit the light pole. The bumper of the car was bent. The driver was concerned that the insurance company wouldn’t pay for the damage. He and the people he came with made a plan to drive the car into a big steel bridge located down the road a short distance. They thought the insurance company would pay for that damage. I never saw or heard what happened.
One night somebody climbed into the sign to look around. I don’t know if the company thought the seedy person was responsible for any of that, but it happened on his watch.
A State agency called the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) had my arrest and conviction in their computer files. That information was available to any employers or insurance companies doing a background check on me. I wasn’t aware that my criminal record had any effect on what I was doing, but when I learned of a new law passed by the State Assembly that enabled people to “expunge” a conviction I wrote the lawyer in Columbus the same day. If my record was expunged it would be “sealed” which meant no one could learn about my arrest and conviction except a police agency or a Judge doing a pre-sentencing investigation.
A politician who was in the Ohio House of Representatives sent the newspaper an occasional report about what was happening in State Government. That is how I learned of the law. I called her on the telephone to learn more. The newspaper was circulated to people in her district and that is why she always sent information about what happened in the State House. At first she assumed I had a certain opinion about the law. She said, over and over again, she didn’t vote for it as if I was doing a story for the newspaper. Finally, I thought it would put her more at ease if I said it was for personal reasons I asked. When I said that she became disturbed and terse. She asked where I lived implying I didn’t live within the political boundary she represented. I was mistaken that I could simply talk to her. The conversation didn’t last very long.
When I wrote the lawyer I said I could probably get letters from the city police chief who read comic books at his desk, the city manager, the mayor, members of city council and others that would substantiate that I had rehabilitated myself. I sent him a little money and he wrote back that I was the first person to use the law. He said it might take longer than I expected. Several weeks later he wrote again to say my record had been expunged. I didn’t have to get letters from the people I had mentioned. They went on without knowing I was convicted once.
I was the “managing editor” of the newspaper. My job was to carry on the tradition of the newspaper, not start a new one. The owner of the newspaper oversaw the whole group of newspapers. He had an office at the biggest one, but he considered the newspaper where I worked his baby. He wrote complex opinions about government that appeared each week. He didn’t do that in any other paper.
I rarely had anything constructive to say. Once I wrote an opinion about bread. I grappled with that one for a long time. It was as difficult an issue as I ever wrote about, except the time toward the end when I saw wide open gambling at a church festival. I wrote an opinion about that sight. In so many words it said people were sinking. Apparently, no one cared, because nothing changed. An always-friendly old lady delivered a hand written gardening column to the newspaper office on the same day and time each week. In her last column she said it was terrible to throw out leaves after they were raked into piles, because they made such good compost. She said leaves in autumn were like “gold” which I thought was a great conception. When that column appeared in the paper the word gold was among others in large type in the headline. The man who owned the paper called me on the telephone, which was not a regular occurrence, and he said that was a poor choice of words.
The town was actually a small city named Loveland. It was divided in half by the little Miami River. The half on the East Side was informally called old Loveland, and the other side was called new Loveland. She lived outside the city limits on the old side. On the new side there were progressive shopping centers. Most houses on the East Side were up in the hills in new subdivisions. They all had two car garages and manicured lawns.
After the one about leaves being like gold she didn’t bring her column to the paper. The owner called her to say he didn’t want the column any more. I never asked her why she stopped. She was a casualty. I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t far behind her. All anyone could do was continue to march, and keep their mind about them as everyone was loosing theirs.
In new Loveland there was a large furniture store that placed a full-page advertisement in the newspaper every week. The man who ran the store, and determined when and where his advertisement appeared, called me on the telephone. In a perturbed tone of voice he said photographs in the paper always showed old Loveland, and when there was a photograph of the new side it more often than not had to do with something like getting the utility wires out of sight.
I was apologetic and conciliatory. As I listened to him I was thinking about his place of business. I assumed the man was sincere about his thoughts. Likewise, I asked him sincerely, why if he was concerned about the look of new Loveland, did he park his truck with big lettering naming his store on the edge of the parking lot beside the roadway at night? The furniture store man exclaimed what! I repeated myself. He never did provide an answer. Soon afterward the owner of the newspaper, who I seldom saw, walked in, and asked me about the conversation. I recounted what was said. He didn’t say anything. I asked him what I should have done. He just listened to me and walked out without saying anything.
There was an old farmhouse on the edge of Peterloon Farm. I had gone by it many times. One of the two people who did all the work associated with farming on Peterloon lived in that house. He was the foreman’s helper. The foreman lived in a newer red brick house on the other side of the farm. A farm management company in London, Ohio a hundred miles away decided what went where, and they determined what the two people were supposed to do.
When I was driving from Loveland to see my parents at Markin Farm I drove by the white farmhouse, and noticed the grass was over a foot high. I drove my car in the gravel driveway and walked up to the door. No one was there. I looked through the window and saw bare floors. The house was empty. Each windowsill was over a foot deep.
I went over to the brick farmhouse where the foreman lived and knocked on the door. The helper’s wife opened it, and explained that the foreman had died. Her husband was the new foreman. I asked her what was going to happen to the place where they used to live. She said she heard the fire department was going to burn it down as some sort of exercise. She said the management company wasn’t going to get another helper. I asked her why the windowsills were a foot deep, and she said because the walls were log. Under the plaster and lath there were logs. It was a log house. She said the roof leaked and the wood box gutters were rotten. The farm management company said it wasn’t worth fixing and the house was going to be burnt down. No one but the person who used to live there knew the walls were solid logs. The wife of the helper talked about other things pertaining to vegetation. She said she liked, “anything that grows”.
My mother’s stepfather owned the house. He lived in the main house at Peterloon. His wife, my real grandmother, died several years earlier. After she died he had two strokes a year apart. The second one left him a speechless invalid in a wheelchair. Not long after the second stroke he died.
He bounced back from his first stroke. Physically it didn’t seem to affect him much. It was during this time that I called him from my place in Lebanon, and he told me he would discuss the farmhouse with me on a specific afternoon at his house. I went on that day and time, and rang the buzzer. A lady in a black and white uniform who had been there for years answered the door. She told me to wait in the front hall. She left, and when she came back she led me into the library where he was. He was in the process of standing up when I walked into the room. I walked over to him. We shook hands. He smiled and said, “Hello Jock. What are we going to do about that house”?
Ultimately, what was going to happen to that house was entirely up to him. His putting me on parity with him concerning the farmhouse was awesome. It made the entire event something other than business. We sat down in those two armchairs facing each other, and I told him I wanted to rent the little white farmhouse. He asked if anyone was living there, and I said no it was empty. I said the Management Company was going to have the fire department burn it down. I said I would like to live there, and fix it up. I asked him if I could deduct the cost of materials from my rent. I told him it was a real log house and whatever happened to it, I said, please, do not let anyone burn it down. I said it would be the equivalent of burning art.
Without further talk about the house or him telling me what he had decided, we talked about other things. I was there several hours. The time went fast. When I got up to leave he got up too, and he brought up the subject of the house. He named his secretary of many years, and told me to call her. We never talked about money. When I called her I named the rent money that I thought was fair and something I could afford, but mostly what I could afford. She told me where to send it each month and that was all.
I lived in that house a long time. I still live there. The area changed faster and faster. Long before I was born the man I would call my grandfather bought six farms that became Peterloon Farm. At nearly the same time several other people like him moved near there also. Soon afterward they set up a political boundary around their property and the connecting land. It was called Indian Hill Village. Their idea was to establish an environment that insulated them from what was different from them, or what was different from what they wanted.
The people who established Indian Hill were not speculating on a payback. It was where they lived. Their concern was that it be a certain way.
Indian Hill became a desirable place to live. When I was a small child it took nearly an hour to get downtown from Peterloon. When Indian Hill was started it probably took much longer. Now with expressways and turnpikes it takes twenty minutes, and that includes the elevator ride. Not only was it close to Cincinnati, but also it was protected by zoning laws from anyone who might be at cross purposes with the intent of the people who started it. As time went by more and more people built houses there. The outsides of some of the houses were lit up all night long by outdoor floodlights. It was not long before it was visibly apparent to anyone driving down the road any time of day or night that it was an affluent community.
The little white wooden farmhouse where I lived was in Indian Hill. It was not demolished. It was very different from all the other houses nearby. It is an anachronism is what it is.
One day a few years after I moved in I was outside cooking on a charcoal grill. A large van went past very slowly. I could see all the people looking toward the house. Then the van came back going the other way just as slowly and again I saw many faces looking in my direction. I waved. The van stopped, and the driver shouted, “We’re just looking at your house. My father was born there and his father built it.”
I shouted back in a slightly frantic manner, and gestured for him to back up to the driveway. I took the food off the grill, and went over to greet them. Many people got out, and some of them were small children. One of the people was a ninety-year-old man. He was the driver’s father who was born there. The driver told me they were from another state, and were having a family reunion. He said they wanted to see the house once more.
They all came inside. The old man who was born there told me his name, and said his father was buried in the cemetery at the end of Hopewell Road. He said his father built the house after the American Civil War. We talked about the dirt floor in the basement and I said how I planed to make it a concrete floor. He said when it was hot it was always cool in a basement with a dirt floor.
I was using wood stoves for heat in the winter. He saw them and we talked about wood. I asked him how many cords he used. It seemed he didn’t know, and I said it took me about eight cords to heat the house in the winter. Then he said that is how much they used.
We talked about the construction of the house. By that time I had taken all the plaster and lath out. Large hand hewn beams were exposed downstairs. The customary way to build a house at that time was wood frame. That meant houses had a skeleton of wood with an exterior and interior surface put on that frame.
His father who was born in Germany personally built the house with several other people who helped him. The land was named the Hog Back Farm. When the house was built there was plenty of wood. The beams were not meant to be exposed on either the inside or the outside. On the outside there was white clapboard siding, and inside there was wallpaper over plaster and lath. The method of construction represented the end of one era in building, and the beginning of another one. The solid log walls went as high as the first floor. The walls on the second floor were wood frame with vertical four-inch square pieces of oak on 20-inch centers.
The old man’s father didn’t trust building a two-story house on sticks. Oak studs were sticks in comparison to the solid oak beams on the first floor. He thought it was all right to have wood frame construction on the second floor holding up a roof, but there was no way he was going to have studs on the first floor holding the upstairs plus a roof. The floor joists were full dimension two by twelve sawn lumber.
When the old man was leaving the house he saw a chain saw in the corner. He turned around and said they cut those eight cords of firewood with a crosscut saw.
The man who owned the newspaper in Loveland, and who took over the operation of the other six newspapers hired a person from Loveland to be the comptroller for the whole group. That person was also on the Loveland City School Board. Not long after he had the job of comptroller he called me to his office at the biggest newspaper. When I went in he was sitting behind a desk.
He had a copy of the newspaper folded in such a way that a recent story about a School Board meeting was facing up. He said it was not correct. Basically what he was saying was that I should have made the report so that his position as president of the School Board, and therefore the Board’s position, as a whole, would be reflected more positively. The implication was that it might go well with me, if, in his eyes, I was a better reporter. He was the comptroller of the entire newspaper group.
When he was finished I proceeded to talk standing there in front of the desk where he was sitting. I told him how difficult it was to have public trust. I put it in terms he understood. I said if there was no public trust there were no readers, and, if there were no readers there were no advertisers. And, if there were no advertisers there was no money. I said readers of the newspaper will see his name on the “mast head” and if they think the reporting is slanted because of him then the public trust will be shot.
The masthead was a space in the newspaper that identified the publisher, and where the paper was published. It was a requirement for bulk mailing in the United States. Also, although not a requirement of law, the masthead usually included the names of the key staff.
Many teachers who wanted more money for their work attended the School Board’s meetings at that time. The Loveland Education Association (LEA) represented them, which was part of a much bigger teacher’s Union. The newspaper reported what happened at the meetings.
There were no bad guy’s. This man, the entire School Board as well as the teachers who wanted a union, said, first of all, they wanted to provide an education for the children. Their disagreement was over how it should be done.
When I was finished we talked a little more. I told him it would probably happen again, and quoted a dead American president who said, “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”
I rarely communicated with the “main office”. There was no need to, and they rarely communicated with me. I went about my business making sure all the copy and photographs for the next edition of the paper were ready to go each week. That time was called the “deadline”.
The typed pages of copy were taken to a place in the building where the main office was, and people operating computer machines would “set” the copy into neat columns called “galleys”. Each galley would be pasted on a page that looked like a newspaper page. A page would be photographed on one sheet of film by an offset camera. All the developed sheets of film, each one representing a page of the newspaper, would be taken to the printer. The printer would make a “plate” from each piece of film. The metal plate would be fastened to the printing “press”, and with great speed the press would make the finished newspaper.
The owner-operator used the newspapers to get bank financing to buy a green field site to build his own printing facility. When completed it would be worth more than all the papers combined. While it was still an empty lot the State of Ohio forced everyone in the development to sell the land so that a huge automobile transmission factory could be built there.
The Governor of Ohio reportedly wanted to move fast because the automobile company was also considering locations in neighboring states. Ohio’s interest in making the land available was that it would provide jobs and tax money.
In the room next to the Loveland newspaper there was a young man who ran a press that did small printing jobs. He had worked for the owner-operator when he had only the one paper. The young man told me that when he first heard about plans to build the printing facility he thought he was probably going to work there. I asked him how much money the owner-operator got when the State forced everyone to sell? The young man said he didn’t know. He said the owner-operator told him the selling price was high, and that “they were crazy to take it.” They did take it and every other piece of land necessary for the transmission plant to locate there. It covered many acres when it was built.
The first time I ever wrote a formal letter to the owner-operator was the time I asked him for more money. I didn’t think a nickel or dime would be enough. After several weeks I still had not received a reply, and so I wrote another letter. This time I said that I could not afford to work there which was a nice way of saying I quit. Again, I received no reply and after a week of trying to get him I telephoned his house hoping I could find him there. His wife answered the telephone. I knew her well from her involvement with the newspaper. I told her the news about my leaving. It wasn’t news to her. She knew all about it, and my two letters. She asked me what I was going to do. I said I hadn’t given it thought. I remembered I needed some firewood so I said I was probably going to cut some firewood.
The week before I left that job someone appeared who was going to be the new managing editor. She was full of vim and vigor. As I went on down the road I doubted I would ever go back.
Not long after I left that job the owner-operator left, and the old man who hired me to work in Lebanon had to come out of retirement to run the newspapers.
When I quit my job it was my third winter in the farmhouse. That one was both colder, and there was more snow than any other winter in my life. I heated the house with wood. I was allowed to cut any dead or fallen trees on Peterloon Farm. In old English law I had what is called “Stover’s rights.”
During the first winter there was no heat. The farmer who lived there before me had a large kerosene heater connected to the flu in the kitchen, but when he left so did the heater. The house where he now lived had a fuel oil furnace in the basement so I don’t know where the heater went. Without the Kerosene heater the house had no heat. When it was there heat from it would rise through a register above it, and go into the rooms on the upper floor. Some heat would go into the front rooms, but not much. The two ground floor rooms in the front got very little heat. There was a brick chimney with flu in each of those rooms. In the years before me they weren’t used, and got clogged with bird nests and other debris. The house had three chimneys with five flues, but no hearth or open fire place. I was able to clean one of the front chimneys all the way, but the other was so packed I was only able to clean it out to the second floor flue. After the first winter I put cheap light gage sheet metal wood stove in each of the front rooms. The stovepipe where the clogged chimney was went through the second floor into the flue in the bedroom. I hooked-up a better stove in the back room which was the biggest room, and where the kitchen was. A few times on cold winter nights when I had all three stoves going the heat drove me out of the house. The cheap stoves in the front burned too hot. The air could not be regulated enough, and that is what made them cheap stoves.
The one in the kitchen had a cast iron top and bottom. The sides were one piece of sheet metal. The air control was a cast iron piece fastened to the front. A cast iron lid covered an opening on top where pieces of wood were loaded. It burned slowly all night, and gave off even heat, which is the mark of a good stove. On most winter days it was the only stove I used.
During the severe winter I found a part time job working for a “market research” company. A hundred other people and me did telephone interviews. I went three days a week and worked from the late afternoon until late at night. When it was late we telephoned the West Coast of the United States, which was three hours earlier.
We would read questions from a questionnaire, and write the “respondents” answer in the space. After we started an interview if the person in some way ended it before it was completed we circled the word “terminated” on the top of the paper.
There were four or five rooms with a supervisor and twenty or thirty people in each one. Some of the bigger studies lasted several days, and might be conducted in several rooms. At the beginning of a study the supervisor stood before everyone in the room and reviewed the questions. Then we got a stack of interview copies, a list of telephone numbers, and we went to work. Everyone in a room did the same study. The people who had been working for that company a long time were seldom terminated and they completed many interviews. Somehow we all knew who they were. A successful interview was one where we were able to get answers to all the questions. A telephone call might last anywhere between five and twenty minutes.
Every study was designed to get unbiased answers. Marketing people who were the equivalent of scientists prepared the questions. After looking at all the responses they knew the prevailing attitude about something like chewing gum in a market area. Or, from a study they would know what the awareness of a product was after test advertising was done there. Studies would find out what a person recalled about a specific advertisement they saw.
We were told to always use one of the “clears” to answer any question the respondent may have. A clear was a scientific reply that would both answer the question and not bias future answers. We were instructed to terminate the interview rather than say something other than an established clear.
Often someone would ask, “Who is the survey for? The clear to that questions was, “We are not given that information.” That was the truth. It was never obvious from the questions what company wanted the information, and no one told us.
When someone asked where I was telephoning from I answered, “for the purpose of this study I can’t answer that question right now, but I will try to answer any questions you may have at the end of the interview.”
The proper clear for the question, “How did you get my number?” was “all our telephone numbers are computer generated.”
During the day I cut firewood. The hardest part about firewood was not cutting and splitting it, but getting it out of the woods. To do that I made a trailer called my French Guyana trailer. I got the idea for the trailer from a photograph in a magazine about a religious cult of Americans in French Guyana who had just committed mass suicide. In the photograph, off to the side, was a trailer hooked to a farm tractor. It was different from any trailer I had seen. Its wheels were far to the rear. Half it’s weight was on the drive wheels of the tractor. The tractor when pulling the trailer would have extra weight on the back wheels. That would give it traction superior to that of a tractor pulling a conventional trailer with its wheels directly under the load. I got a rear axle from an old car and made a trailer. The wheels were located just like the ones in the picture. It had an area in the middle big enough to hold one cord of firewood. A cord was equal to 128 cubic-feet or a stack of wood four-foot wide, four-foot high, and eight-foot long.
I hitched it to the red tractor my father gave me years earlier. I had never done anything with it except go on tractor rides around Peterloon Farm. It wasn’t good for much else. It had a flat head four-cylinder engine that developed slightly less than twenty-horse power.
The company that made it ceased operation shortly before my father bought it new from the farm implements place at the head of the road. What he paid for it was less than what it cost me for a new rear tire when it was mine. The farm implements people attached a seven-foot sickle bar. My father used it to mow the fields at Markin Farm. He cut the grass around the house with a walk behind reel type gang mower. The red tractor lasted a few summers, and then my father got a more powerful tractor with a 60-inch rotary mower. The red tractor went in the sub-cellar of the Little Barn where it stayed for several years until I pulled it out with Morituri. My brother and me pulled it up and down the road. The pistons were rusted to the cylinder walls. Finally after almost giving up, the pistons broke loose and the engine turned. Soon it started, and hunks of rust came out the exhaust. At first it didn’t sound too hot, but after awhile it sounded better. I didn’t dare get off for fear it would stall. My brother disconnected the tow chain, and I drove it around in circles.
There was no formal declaration or exchange of paper to signify it was mine, but after that day I sort of took it over. A tooth on the first gear was broken off. That had happened, when the gear shift lever broke. It shifted into first and second gear at the same time. Something had to give and it was that tooth on the gear. I took the gear to a company that cut large industrial gears. I had been there several times over the past years. I had first been there to buy a two-foot diameter sprocket for a surrey my brother and I were making. The second time, years later, I wanted to get bigger holes drilled in a propeller hub. The third time I went there was with that broken gear. An old timer looked at it again and again through his bifocal eyeglasses. After awhile he said the way to fix it was to put weld metal where the tooth was and then grind it down. He said he would grind it down, but he could not build it up with metal. He gave me the name of a person who could, and he told me to tell him who sent me. The man who was going to put the weld metal on it turned it over in his hands several times. He said it had to be “pre-heated” and that I could pick it up the next day.
When I took the gear back to the old timer he looked closely at the glob of metal where the broken tooth had been. He asked me what the other guy charged me. It was next to nothing. He said he would have the grinding done in a few days. When I put the tractor back together the first gear didn’t knock anymore, and it functioned properly.
Not long after that it became apparent the “spider gears” or “planetary gears” in the rear end were destroyed. Almost all the teeth were severely damaged. I didn’t think I could get new ones. The company that made the tractor was gone, and parts for it were not available.
If I welded those gears solidly in place so they would not move it would be the same as having permanent “differential lock.” Differential lock was an added feature on bigger farm tractors, and some off road cars, but it was something that could be turned off and on. It wasn’t permanent. The spider gears allowed one of the two-drive wheels to rotate independently of the other one, which was necessary when making a turn. I was getting ready to weld them in place, so at least the tractor would go, when a person looking over my shoulder says, “those look just like the gears in my car.” We took them to the parts counter of a large car dealer and the parts man was able to get the exact same gears. When we were driving back I asked the person who went with me how could his car have the same spider gears as the tractor when the tractor was made ten years earlier? He said the spider gears were part of a twelve-bolt rear end assembly made by a third company.
At night I worked for the market research company with others doing the same thing. Each night a few hours after we went to work we stopped to eat supper. The area where we ate was one large room with long rectangular tables and metal chairs. It was on the second floor of a modern steel and glass cubical building. The rooms where we worked opened into the large room. Some people brought their own food, but most of us got together, and ordered our diner on the telephone. A deliveryman would bring it soon afterward in an insulated carrying case. When he arrived everyone would stop what they were doing, and eat the food while it was hot.
One lady I talked with while we were sitting at a table in the large room told me she lived on a farm across the river in Northern Kentucky. All of her children were grown up. She took that job to get some extra money. She said she had some puppies, and asked me if I wanted one. I agreed. Very soon after that she brought it to work in a cardboard box. Not long after I lost that job, and when the dog was still a puppy it died. I don’t think it would have died if I handled it differently.
Several days in a row I was hitting it with an open hand in an effort to get it to stop urinating and defecating where it pleased in the house. The day it died, the puppy was lying down after I was hitting it, and I couldn’t understand why. I wondered what was wrong with it, and decided it needed some high-energy canned dog food instead of the dry food it was getting in the 50-pound bag. I went to the store, and when I walked back in the house it was lying in the same place. It was dead. Then I figured out what probably happened. The dog died from shock. I learned in the Army that shock kills. With people the body simply shuts down when death seems inevitable even though, in reality, the wound by itself may not be fatal. Death certainly was not inevitable for that dog, but it thought it was. Rather than deal with me or what was happening it died. I felt terrible. That afternoon I buried it by the split rail fence. When I was finished, but with the shovel still in my hand a car pulled in my driveway. It was a girl I spent time with named Jenny. She knew I had a puppy, and I told her it was dead and buried. I said remorsefully, “It just lay on the floor. When I got back with a can of dog food, it was dead”. She said it probably had distemper (a disease common among puppies). That was not why it died, but I didn’t say anything.
I got phased out of the marketing company the same way got phased out of the dishwashing job. It started right after the manager called me into her office to inquire about a disturbance that happened the proceeding night. She must have been told about the incident from a supervisor because the manager wasn’t there when it happened.
The other person in the disturbance wasn’t in the office with me. There was a rule that when supper arrived anyone with an interview in progress was to finish that interview before going to eat. I had just started a long interview when the pizza man arrived.
The interview was designed to find out attitudes about a number of “fast food” restaurants grouped together in a small community in California. I was especially hungry that night. The supervisor had left the room. For a moment I entertained the idea of terminating the call by simply hanging up the telephone. I stuck with it, reading each question. I asked the respondent about one of the restaurants and he said, “I never eat in those places.” I put a check mark in the appropriate box. Then I read him the next question about a fast food restaurant next to the first one. He said, “Didn’t you just here what I said? I said I never eat in any of those places.”
I made up my own clear. I understood that a clear did not bias the person’s opinion. He could bias me, but I couldn’t bias him. If he categorically didn’t eat in any of those restaurants he was probably fairly literate. I said, “Sir, whether or not you eat or have ever eaten in one of those restaurants does not disqualify or qualify you from the interest we have in your answers. We want to know what earth people eat.”
Then he asked, like it might be someone he knows, “Who is this? Where are you calling from”? I looked up again to make sure the supervisor had left. I thought he would definitely terminate the interview. I said, “I’m in another Galaxy.”
It was like he got those calls all the time. He said, “Go ahead. What is the next question?”
It was a fifteen-minute interview and he did the whole thing. When I got near my pizza it was like I was trying to get the last seat on a lifeboat. I sat down only concerned about eating. Then I became aware of someone standing over me. She was furious. Before then I had not talked to her. She looked like a politically militant college student. She asked me who I thought I was? She was mad. It was like she was saying here was one of the social ills we have to deal with every day. My mouth was full. I was still feeding. My forearms were on each side of the pizza protecting the food from anyone who might try to take it away from me.
I should have apologized for being crude and rude. When I swallowed the food in my mouth I looked up at her smiling, and said, “‘you can do anything you want to do, but don’t you step on my blue suede shoes.'”
When I said that her face got all wrinkled up. She looked at the shoes I was wearing and said, “What?” Then one of the big mammas who heard that song told her to back off, and she went away.
After I left that job I spent more time sitting around the wood stove keeping warm. Practically every day I cut wood so I would stay that way. Jenny shared an apartment in Mount Adams with a girl friend. I went there often, and every fireplace there was so small most of the firewood sold would not fit.
Mount Adams had narrow hilly streets with old houses close together in rows. Twenty years earlier it was a residential community also, but then it had broken down houses full of people who seemed content to get through the day. Bare foot, raggedy children with big smiles played in the street.
As large companies grew in Cincinnati highly educated young people came, and they needed a place to live. While many people from Cincinnati couldn’t imagine Mount Adams, as anything other than it was, it appealed to people from other places who were hired right out of college. It appealed to them because it was tucked away from the rest of the city, but it was part of the city. Also, it didn’t cost very much to live there, and it was close to the down town area where most of them worked. Once the change started people who grew up in the Cincinnati area became attracted to that place also, and they moved there. All the old houses got repaired, and the bare foot children playing in the street weren’t there anymore.
A new group of people lived in the old houses with the little fireplaces. They had little cars that were parked up and down the street. Bars on the corners of the street were redone by new owners who wanted to attract people from all over the city. On the weekends Mount Adams was packed with people and cars.
A friend of Jenny’s had a coffee shop in Mount Adams that had all kinds of different coffee drinks. Before I went there I had never had a cappuccino. That same friend also published a small community weekly newspaper that was delivered to the residents of Mount Adams. I placed a small advertisement in it that read, “fire wood, custom cut to fit your fireplace.”
That Winter I hauled many loads of firewood to Mount Adams. The trailer I used had no brakes. I pulled it full of wood behind my car on those hilly streets. I never wrecked.
I delivered a cord of wood to one person, and they opened this tiny closet under the stairs and expected me to fit it all in there. That sort of thing happened many times. Once a person paid for the load and told me to take the rest home.
The wood I sold in Mount Adams came from cut your own ads in the big daily paper. There was always someone who wanted to get rid of wood. Their advertisement would read, “cut your own,” or “free fire wood.” Also, I knew a builder who let me cut wood on a lot before he built a house there. All the wood I took to Mount Adams I got that way. Some of it I used where I lived, but most of the wood I heated with at home came from Peterloon Farm.
There was an area that had never been logged behind the lake on Peterloon Farm. It was what forest people call a “virgin forest.” The trees were huge. Those trees had clear butt logs several feet in diameter that went up forty or fifty feet like giant arrow shafts sticking in the dirt. Far off the ground they spread into a tremendous array of branches and leaves. It was like standing beside a dinosaur or like seeing a spectacular burst of fireworks that didn’t go away. There was a majesty about them.
One had been blown over. Close to the wall of torn roots where the tree had parted from the ground the dirt was pressed down in an oval shape. A deer had slept there. No undergrowth was on the forest floor. Young trees were growing, and if left alone someday they would be like the one that fell.
Near there a giant limb was on the ground. Lightning might have made it come down. Between the two there was enough firewood to last a winter and a half.
When the ground was frozen I went back again and again as I needed fire wood. Each time I would cut, split, and stacks as much wood as the trailer could carry. If the tree or the branch had fallen in a ravine it would have been lost to me. Carrying one arm full of split wood up a steep hill then returning for more was exhausting and impractical. If I could get the red tractor and trailer beside whatever wood I was going to cut I would have a good time.
I put tire chains on the tractor. That, plus the trailer weight made it possible to go anywhere except into ravines. When the trailer was loaded with wood and the tractor was pulling up a grade the tongue weight on the tractor plus the torque from the rear wheels lifted the front wheels off the ground. Each rear wheel had its own break pedal and I steered by holding the break on one wheel or the other. I made a special hitch that kept the tractor from turning over on the trailer. When the wheels were lifting up, and the tractor was pulling a load I always kept my foot on the clutch pedal. There would be a split second to act, and no time to think if the hitch broke. A major accident would result if I wasn’t able to disengage the clutch immediately.
Jenny and I spent a lot of time together. There was seventeen miles of road between her place and my place. I traveled that distance many times with and without firewood. She worked downtown in the front office of a company that operated a real steam powered riverboat. The passengers who went on that boat came from all over the country to enjoy the kind of river travel that existed a long time ago in the United States.
The company’s office and the boat moved to New Orleans, and it wanted her to move there also. It was then we decided to get married, and she stayed in Cincinnati. We didn’t decide about marriage all of a sudden, but any reluctance I had disappeared when I realized she might move to New Orleans without me.
When she left that job neither one of us had one. I sold some firewood and that was the only money we had. She would marry me she said because, “There is never a dull moment.” If volatile living is what she liked I didn’t disappoint her in the years that followed.
If there was reluctance on my part about getting married it was because, unlike everything before, it was not something I was going to do for awhile, and then not do. I was ready for the change, but it was a deliberate and permanent change in my life that caused me to hesitate.
The ceremonial words that we would be one person were both frightening and exciting. It was frightening because her problems would be mine. It was exciting because my problems would be her’s. The whole idea sounded nice.
I had plenty of notions floating in my mind about faithfulness and how my great grandparents had enough to spare. Years after I got married I understood the meaning of faithfulness. Up until that time I didn’t consider faithfulness a necessary ingredient of a happy marriage.
How our marriage survived in the beginning is much like a person who survives putting one bullet in a six shot revolver, spinning the cylinder, and pulling the trigger with the end of the barrel pressed against their head. It survived by chance.
I was thirty and she was twenty-six. I didn’t consider the big issue of the lifetime responsibility we would have for each other. I’m not sure I was capable of that thought.
It was the right time to get married, and Jenny seemed the right person to marry. We clicked. I always thought I would marry some exotic creature from the other side of the earth. What made us click was probably that we grew up in the same place.
She grew up where I grew up. Her father and my mother knew each other. Jenny came to Markin Farm several times with my sister, but we never met.
When I did see her for the first time it was in a bar. The bar was in a building twenty miles outside Cincinnati. A friend of hers who lived in Mount Adams renovated it. It had once been a stage coach station. The friend made a restaurant out of it, and invited her and others to the opening. She came with her parents. I worked for the newspaper in Loveland and the building that was renovated was in the newspaper’s territory. Her friend who owned the building invited me to come because he wanted to have the grand opening publicized.
Jenny was talking with the girl who introduced us. Jenny and I talked the whole time. The other girl left. We sat down at the bar and were still talking when I realized everyone had gone home. We went to another place together.
She was physically beautiful to me, but more than that, and one of the reasons I stuck with her so long was she never said anything bad about anyone. I kept waiting for that to change, but it never did. I thought it was most unusual. I wondered if she was aware of all the grief that existed. When I mentioned it she said I was too practical. Without saying anything more I tried to be less practical, and copy what I saw as a quality. For the better part of a year it went on that way, and then we got married. Getting married did not result from analyzing our situation or looking at a long list of pros and cons on the subject. It was kinetic more than anything else.
Getting married the way we wanted to get married was not easy. The closest we ever came to deciding not to be married was when we were planning to get married. Other people wanted to control the event. We both were older and had been living on our own for some time.
The man who married us was a long time friend of mine. Jenny knew him also, but not as well as I did. He had married and buried more of my family than I cared to think about, and now he was an old man. When I was a child he was the preacher at the Indian Hill Church. He wore white robes. Jenny liked his voice. She said he always had a beautiful voice. Two other people became the main preachers at the church. He still put on his white robes to bury a friend, marry the children of friends, and their grandchildren. He traveled with his wife to visit his own children, and he went to a summer house they had.
He met with us several times before we got married. Once in conversation I made the expression, “…if I die…” and he abruptly interrupted me in a startled way and said half amused, “What do you mean, If you die?”
He talked to us about the table china and the difference of opinion Jenny and I had on that subject. On one of his trips he sent us a post card. It was about his thoughts after talking with us. He mentioned the china. He wrote that as we went through life we should be aware that, “my ways are not your ways.” The next time we saw him was when he married us.
The marriage ceremony was in Jenny’s house. Neither one of us went to church so it didn’t seem right to be married in one. The only people invited to the wedding were immediate family. About twenty-five of them were there. Afterward we got in the rabbit and went downtown to a big hotel where we spent the night in a large ghastly room with mirrors and a free bottle of champagne.
The next day we drove home to the farmhouse. I still had plaster and lath to haul out, but the house was cleaned up. I told Jenny we would take our “honeymoon” later when we could afford it. We mailed a letter to people who knew us explaining that we were going to have a small wedding in Jenny’s house, and they were not invited. We asked them to come to a party at the farmhouse the next day. It was bright and sunny when we drove home that day.
A friend who owned a wine store gave us a discount on many cases of good red wine. I made five gallons of spaghetti sauce with much garlic, and boiled long noodles. We had loafs of fresh bread that had not been sliced. Many people said it was tasty.
The red tractor was hooked up to a hay wagon. It was loaded with long, sweet smelling, fresh cut hay, and the same friend who helped me get the spider gears gave hay rides in the field behind the house during the party. When people left they talked about having a fine time.
I had a large pot of duck soup on the wood stove. It had been cooking for several days. It was for anyone who wanted some at the party. A few people with an inquisitive look asked me what it was. I said, “duck soup.”
After we got married there were always fresh flowers around the house. Jenny got a job in the office of a company that did diner cruises on the Ohio River. The company had several boats. Most of them had a paddle wheel that didn’t churn the water into a white froth when the boat moved. They turned listlessly as they were dragged through the water. The paddle wheel on one of those boats probably looked real through a periscope, but the boats were propelled underneath by one or more propellers.
The money Jenny earned from that job was the only money we counted on having. One afternoon I was moving plaster from a pile inside the house to a pile outside the house with a shovel and a wheelbarrow when the telephone rang. A man at a big company near Cincinnati said he had an application about a job. He was one of three managers of an in-house advertising department at the company. On the telephone he said they were in need of a copywriter, and he asked if I would go there for an interview.