Time and age have done me no favors. I feel this ancient and just about this dead. Of course it’s February, and February is the suckiest month of the year.
Yes, central Ohio is usually colder in January than in February. Even so, it is still cold in February, and always dark in February, and that is worse than the cold.
February always reminds me of the quote from Dante’s Inferno: All hope abandon, ye who enter here. I don’t necessarily agree with Dante’s categorizations of hell (the Divine Comedy borrows heavily on Roman Catholic theology and their belief in purgatory- Dante was very much a loyalist and Papist- ) but I have to admire the imagery he evokes. Especially in Canto 32 (the Ninth Circle of Hell) where he encounters “the bottom of the universe”- in which is housed the very worst of traitors, those who have betrayed family and country. This is pretty much hell frozen over- a frozen lake in which the heads of the damned are sticking out of the ice.
This does not look to be a fun time. Then again, in my mind, betrayal is the most cruel pain that one can inflict on another. That’s why I try not to invest much emotional currency in relationships. My circle is very small for a reason.
Here is an entertaining thought: if Dante’s portrayals of the circles of hell were to be correct, this is where Obama would end up, along with 99% of Hollywood and 99% of the Democratic Party, but I digress.
I have promised not to get stuck on theological or political themes today. That’s difficult for me to do, but I can troll about for some ephemera. There are some good ones I found from Marion County in the late 19th to mid 20th century that are fascinating.
The Sawyer Sanitorium is not in the greatest shape, but it is still there today.
Most of the really cool architecture that survives in Marion County is not in the greatest of repair. The weather does it no favors, and the general poverty of the property owners doesn’t help either. It’s hard to maintain Victorian architecture even if you have plenty of cash. Poor folk usually have to resort to redneck ingenuity, which is somewhat functional, but usually not aesthetically pleasing.
The cigar store- I can still smell the heady, thick, sweet smell of a hundred years’ worth of tobacco products emanating from this place and everything that was purchased there. I can still see the vintage ads for Newports and Marlboros and the tins of pipe tobacco. The wooden plank floors were uneven and well worn and stained with the dirt and wear of thousands of pairs of boots and shoes. The windows were perennially stained with a film of dirt, condensation and the yellow smoker’s haze that clings to glass in places where people smoke. In 1982 it was still socially permissible to smoke in public places, even in restaurants and stores.
Every time I went in there I felt like Orwell’s character Winston (from the book 1984) in the curio store. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, but unlike the store keep Winston encountered, nobody there would have remembered or cared that I was there (even though admission and patronage was supposed to be restricted to those 18 and older) or that I was buying contraband. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been selling this stuff to a 13 year old kid.
The incarnation of the cigar store in the first pic was many years before I went there to buy risqué literature less the outer covers for $1.35 each. This second pic (below) is more what it looked like when I did my business there.
It is still there, however, it is in the process of being renovated and turned into a corner market. I don’t have a current pic of that renovation, and what it will be transformed into remains to be seen. Even so, feeding my clandestine dirty book habit was probably a better use of my lunch money than buying school food. The Freshman Building was notorious for not only having cockroaches everywhere, but also for the cafeteria food being burnt on the outside, frozen on the inside. The cook stoves and ovens were probably from 1915 just like the rest of the building. I don’t think thermostats or temperature controls were a thing pre WWI.
Sadly the Freshman Building was torn down in the mid 1980s- 1985 I think. It was sad. Especially because I loved the library. The entire third floor of the east wing. It was a magical place. I can still see the huge oak tables and chairs- nice, heavy, turn of the 20th century, real hand-crafted wooden furniture, well worn hard wood floors and expansive windows facing the east, and rows and rows of well-worn books. I spent many study halls there, blessedly left alone in my own universe that was condensed to music played through a cheap and somewhat contraband (though the teachers never bothered me about it) battery powered cassette player and headphones, and whatever literature I was currently perusing. That library was a portal to serenity that I have failed to find again anywhere or at any time in my adult life.
I did not love the HVAC in that building though. It was steam heat, which encouraged the proliferation of the roaches. Some of the registers would spout off and spray any nearby occupants with boiling water. Others did not work at all, so one could go from a room 100 degrees or more into another room where one could see one’s breath. There was no air conditioning to be had, (refrigeration technology being rather non-existent in 1915) and to make that sad fact even more fun, certain windows would fall out when opened, so opening windows was not always an option.
Even so, there was something about the soul of the place that was comforting but disturbing at the same time. It was larger than life with its high ceilings and massive windows, (the rooms were designed to take advantage of natural light) and ornate fine craftsmanship that shined through, even though by 1982-3 the building was dirty, poorly maintained and never upgraded. I am sure the writers of today’s OSHA and building inspection codes would have been appalled by the sheets of ancient lead paint that continually peeled and fell off the ceilings and fixtures.
It seems that I’ve gotten old enough that all the places I’d really like to visit again no longer exist, or at least they don’t exist in their previous form. The library, the cigar store, the old railroad trestle bridge over the Scioto River where I once spent a sunny, warm Good Friday afternoon sitting on the bridge watching the dirty river water flow under the bridge and simply savoring the sun and the breeze and wishing that time would stop forever, are all long gone.
The phrase “mid-life crisis” is not expansive enough to describe the cognitive dissonance that comes about when the things that once were accepted as being permanent and central are revealed to be temporary and transient. Barring some miraculous medical intervention that comes to pass in the very near future, I’ll be fortunate to have maybe another 25 years on this planet. My life is two thirds of the way over if statistics prove correct- in 1969 the average life expectancy for a white female in the United States was 75.5 years. Considering I was born in a rural, poor part of the country and have a number of medical issues, in practical application, 75.5 years is probably pushing the envelope.
“Midlife” for me- if I take the gracious prognostication of the actuarial chart from 1969- would have been 15 years ago. Sobering shit.
Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone, I get that, but just knowing that time remaining is a lot less than time elapsed is a little disturbing.
This was downtown Marion in 1958- 11 years before I was born.
Sixty years later it’s not as bad as it once was (the 70s through the early 2000s, it was almost completely abandoned and left to crumble) but there is room for improvement. Some of the old late 19th century buildings have been converted into apartment lofts and such.
The lofts are kind of cool in that I love the vintage architecture, the huge windows, and the high ceilings. I would be concerned about the HVAC challenges involved, and the logistical challenge of living on an upper floor without elevators, with dogs, would not be pleasant. The view and the ambience could be worth it though.
February will be over eventually. Until then, memories of a stolen sunny April afternoon sitting on a long gone railroad trestle watching the river go by, or of study halls reading old books and listening to 80s music on cheap cassette tapes in a long ago library will have to do.