Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Time Warp, or Sunday in the Park With George

Sunday was a beautiful day here. It was also the day of a memorial service for a long time Kent fixture. He came here to live in the early 70s, along with many others who were drawn here after the tragedy of May 4, 1970. Many of them were part of the anti-Vietnam war movement. Others were writers, poets and musicians who found this a good place to practice their art and/or to continue to pursue the fight against the war. They seldom interacted with the townspeople, as there was still a lot of animosity and fear toward anyone with long hair or radical politics. The turmoil that resulted in the deaths of four students had frightened a lot of folks in this relatively quiet town.

Several of these newcomers decided that there needed to be some sort of way to heal the breach, and came up with the idea to start businesses that would involve all members of the community and lessen the tension. A variety of shops were opened: a book store, a record store, a used clothing store and a food c0-op. One of the main entrepreneurs was a guy named Mort, who seemed to have a lot of money and energy, opening one business after another.

Another was George, for whom the recent memorial was held. George had been a top reporter for the Akron-Beacon Journal. I remember seeing him at some meeting or other back in the 60s. He was handsome in a Byronic sort of way, and a very good writer. Unfortunately, he followed the advice of Timothy Leary to tune in, turn on and drop out - only he got fired before he could drop out. He was given a second chance because he was a good writer, but that didn't work out and he ended up here in Kent, doing some free lance writing, helping Mort with his enterprises and becoming a full blown hippie. He lost his Byronic looks and most of his teeth. He married a young woman who ran the used clothing shop and had a passel of children. I would run into him at the book store (which didn't last too long) or the record shop, which was a terrific place that lasted for quite a while and was patronized by everyone in town. When that closed I didn't see him very often. I wondered how he managed to support a family, especially after the clothing store closed. He did help out at the Natural Food Store, which grew out of the food co-op.

Sadly, he died a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to go to the memorial service because he was one of the people who gave this town some character, and he was a good writer. The service was held in the John Brown Tannery Park, by the Cuyahoga River, a lovely and appropriate setting.

I followed a crowd of people converging on a clearing by the river. There was a table containing his picture, along with some vases of wild flowers. As I looked around I felt transported back to the early 70s. There were all these people stuck in the world of 35 years ago, the flowing clothes, the bare feet, the tie-dyed shirts, head bands, etc.

There was a priestess (yclept Ygraine) who invoked the names of Celtic gods and goddesses, celebrating altered states of consciousness. She had moved to Ohio because, she said, she knew that she would find a kindred spirit, namely George. There were poetry readings. Testimonials from young writers whom George had mentored. Halim El Dabh, retired professor of music and world renowned composer, whose music can be appreciated best when in a state of altered consciousness, plucked out some noise on a borrowed hammer dulcimer. There was a guitarist who claimed that he was going to play one of George's favorite tunes ("I Get a Kick Out of You") only I think he was hearing an orchestra in his head, and he was just playing the guitar riffs, because I know "I Get a Kick Out of You" and that was no "I Get a Kick Out of You." He looked as if something was playing in his head anyway. There were many other heart-felt testimonials and one shock, at least to me. A well-dressed suburbanite came forward to address the gathering. She told us that she had known George longer than anyone else there because she was his first wife and the mother of his oldest daughter. It seems that many of the people there
had not known this; she certainly looked a lot different from the rest of the crowd.

As the ceremony came to a close, the sweet smell of Mary Jane permeated the sunny glade. Since it was such a pretty day, a lot of ordinary folks were taking walks with their families on the nearby walking trail and they were not the ones who were smoking. I found out later that good old George was the prime source for local lovers of the weed and that's how he made his living. I reckon there are a lot of people who will miss him much more than others will. But he was a good writer.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Metacomprehension Accuracy

Say what? I volunteered to participate in a study at the university, for which they needed geezers. It was in the psych department, where I no longer know anyone, since all my friends from there are now dead or retired. I was met by a graduate student who was about the age of some of my socks, who took me and an oldish man (looked to be a whippersnapper of around 70) to the "Cognitive Learning Lab." The study purported to be about memory, and since I still know my name and address, I figured I would be a good subject.

We were shown to a small room containing 2 computers. After filling out a couple of forms (to avoid lawsuits on our part), we were told to start the programs, which involved reading a series of articles and after we had finished with all of them, there would be some tasks on comprehension, using key words and answering some questions about each of the articles. The old guy had never used a computer, so there was some brief instruction for him on mouse clicking.

The first article, which was just a "test" article, was basically about the methods used to do lab experiments with human subjects, the scientific method, basically. It was written totally in academic jargon and was a real snoozer. I have no idea why we had to read it because we were not asked to do the tasks on it. The main effect of plodding through it was a feeling of gratitude that I do not ever have to read anything like it again.

Well, that was only the beginning of the deadly boring next 2 hours. The next article was on the naval battles in the Atlantic during WWII. That was followed by an article on stress, the reading of which was completely stressful, since it read like an overachiever's term paper. Then there was another really exciting piece on the Vikings - not a sports team, but the real deal and how they sailed around and had bloody battles and took over where the Romans left off back in the day. Next came a really aggravating exploration of the different ways men and women communicate. Real earth shaking stuff, there.And no sex either. The last was on the effects of ethanol on sleep. Guess what? It has an effect, which one could have said in about one sentence.

All of this was written in the most painfully boring manner possible, the sort of interest (if at all) only to academics attending the obligatory professional meetings. After we had plowed through this we had to list 5 key words from each article (a time lag being crucial to the research). We also had to answer questions from each article that only someone with Asbergers would even think about.

When this was all done we had another thing to do which was to make up definitions for word pairs used in a little short story. We were encourages to use our imagination, which had been effectively killed by the previous activity.

Most of the research done in this area has been done with college students and the material is aimed at college level people, so I don't know what this study will show using geezers, and there was no requirement that participants have a college degree. The grad student said they have accounted for that - how, I cannot imagine. I told her that one variable they may not have considered is that profound boredom could skew the results, in that the temptation to skip over much of it was great. In fact, knowing that I could not skip made it all the more painful.

However, I got paid $20 for my trouble and will remain on their guinea pig list. I expect that this study is underwritten by a grant, so no tax money is being used. If anyone wants more information, just Google "Metacomprehension Accuracy" and you'll find, right on top, a brief description of the original study. Oy veh!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I'm On the Bus

When I used to be on a trip, I would shudder if I pulled into a restaurant parking lot and saw a huge bus disgorging a load of geezers. But, hey, now I am one of those geezers. There's a local man who runs a very nice travel service which takes people to interesting places. Among those places are theaters in Cleveland to see road company productions of Broadway plays. We have a nice dinner at the Pufferbelly Restaurant in Kent, with special off-the-menu dishes, and then we're off to the big city. Since I don't like to drive out of town at night this is ideal.

Last night we went to see "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee". Fresh from my triumphant third place finish in the local 4th Annual Portage County Senior Spelling Bee, I wanted to check out the competition. I had read the reviews when it was in New York and had seen a snippet of it during the Tony Awards Show on TV. Having also seen "Spellbound", a documentary about the national student bee, I was anxious to see how they would present the pretty weird kids without being cruel.

Well, it is hilarious and touching at the same time. Yes, the kids were stereotyped, but it wouldn't be the spelling bee if they had not used them. The kids knew who and what they were and made you laugh and feel empathy at the same time. There were so many great lines and a lot of it seemed spontaneous. Four people from the audience had been chosen beforehand to participate and they seemed to be having a great time, too. My favorite among the cast was a character named "Barfee", pronounced "Bar -FAY" ( a bit like Hyacinth Boo-kay), who spelled out the words with his foot - ya hadda be there to get it. Anyway, it was a laugh-fest. I think they had to use very short people in the cast because they all looked and sounded like kids.

On the way home I heard the woman behind me on the bus say, "Well, that was cute," as if it had been a bit beneath her. Maybe she was expecting Chekhov? There is something about the word "cute" that is very diminishing. Again, ya probably hadda be there to know what I mean. But the actors in the play were cute, too. And not in a diminishing way, of course. Because I said it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spring and Spelling

First of all, Spring has finally hit, and the color purple looms large in the land. A friend gave me some swamp iris a few years ago, and although it doesn't last very long, when it's blooming it positively glows. John planted another lilac bush a couple of years ago and that, too, is a beautiful shade of - what else? - lilac, adding a wonderful aroma, which covers the odor of cat pee from a marauding gray stray who is marking the yard in an attempt to dethrone Dupree. The street is lined with crab apple trees which burst out with a sort of mauve blossom touched with a bit of magenta. All this color is short lived, but much admired, especially after such a gloomy and frigid March and early April.

Ever since the tragedy of May 4, 1970, in Kent, this lovely display is touched with sadness for me. The day it happened was just this kind of day, blue sky, green grass, flowering trees and shrubs. It was just so incongruous and the Spring in Kent is still tinged with sadness in spite of all the years that have gone by. There has really never been any resolution for either the university or the town. Today's students weren't even born when it happened; indeed, some of their parents were probably babies then. It's ancient history, but Spring will always remind me of a terrible time in this small town.

I have mentioned before that I belong to a spelling group and this year we were all encouraged to participate in the annual Portage County Senior Spelling Bee. I went along with it, figuring that I would probably flunk the written part which decided the top ten who would be in the oral part. I didn't flunk the written part. In the oral part, I kept spelling correctly until there were only three of us left and I was the only one from the spelling group who had made it that far. Then I was given the word "oppugn." I had never heard this word. I figured it was similar to "impugn." I gave it a shot and missed it by one "p." The person who came in first won an all-expense trip to, of all places, Cheyenne, Wyoming for the National Senior Spelling Bee!! Wow! Cheyenne!! I, on the other hand, won a gift basket of - wait for it - hair care products! Just what an 80 year old who gets a haircut every 2 months or so needs. I don't even know what most of the stuff is for, so I gave it to a younger friend who understands the intricacies of "product."