Tuesday, September 02, 2003

David Citino - Columbus OH

When you book motel rooms over the Internet, it's never entirely without some hidden value. After leaving WV on the afternoon of Sept 1st, I journeyed another 200 miles to my next city, Columbus OH, where I will meet with David Citino. With a whole evening stretched in front of me to recuperate from the initial blast of the trip, I pulled into my Super 8, a motel notable for having both a Waffle House and a Gentlemen's club sharing its parking lot. They form a little triangle with a weird energy. The strip club, The Gold Fox, is red with yellow lights around its exterior. On the front door, which you pass as you walk to the motel lobby, I see that they have a 2 drink minimum, but no cover charge. In felt pen, someone has written: “Shirts with sleeves – no motorcycle gear.” 

The motel is spectacularly bad. It's cheap, too, and this is now all making sense to me. I bunk out that night, listen to banging of an unknown origin from room 120 - except when the steady stream of truck traffic on the interstate doesn't drown it out - then get out of bed quickly to wash it all off of me.

This morning, I am not rested, but I'm happy to be checking out. I drive down I-71 to the campus of Ohio State to meet with Citino. The campus is ungodly large, covering blocks and blocks of area. Inconceivably, because of the crush of buildings already there, construction is flourishing everywhere. When I pull into the Parking Garage B, just off High Street, I am surrounded by work trucks, guys getting out with metal lunch pails, helmets, etc. I go another way - haven't I always - and make my way across to a 2 story McDonald's. The place is fantastic inside, clean, empty. Nobody there but me and Janet behind the counter. I give my order and then head over to a corner of the room with a TV. Right at 7 two kids come in. Now, my first though is: "Lunkheads." Don't get me wrong. I like lunkheads. Sometimes, when I think of my youth, I realize I was often a lunkhead. It's not a slam, is what I'm saying. They look like they just woke up. They both have OSU hats and t-shirts on, thin, worn down. They turn the TV without asking me if I'm watching CNN, which I'm not. There's a car ad on so the taller of the two hustles over Janet and makes their orders. Before guy #1 gets back, a show starts. It looks like a Jurassic Park thing to me, made for TV, though. I miss the titles and opening because I'm doing my best to keep the syrup off of my shirt as I work through three perfectly symmetrical pancakes.

When guy #2 gets back, the two buddies face the TV, sitting on the same side of the booth, and stare at the set, eating all along. At the first commercial break they talk back and forth, #1 catching up his pal on what's happened so far. I find out they're ceramic engineering majors, but don't find out what THAT is because the show comes back on. It's called Lost World, and it is a Jurassic Park sort of thing. These two guys in the show have rescued a damsel who they find has psychic powers of some kind. She's been on before because the lunkheads are glad to see her. At the next break they resume talking to each other: "Has she got predestination?" one guy says, eating half a hash brown at the question mark. "No, she's a sensor." The show comes back on; the lunkheads quit talking, and I head over to Denney Hall.

David Citino has one of those offices every professor wants, full of books, spacious, well lit from inside and out. It's big enough to play racquetball in. He's a terrific host, and we sit next to each other in front of his desk and we chat about the book a while before I begin asking him about the role place plays in his work. Citino's lived in Ohio his whole life, born in Cleveland, now 30 years in Columbus. For him, Ohio is a place that he takes with him on any journey in his own writing.

We spend some time looking out the big bank of windows that open to a nice circular seating area, stone walkways and wooden benches. It's a great place to sit and read or write. We open his window and I go outside the building and take some pictures of David through the window from the outside. I'm almost falling over a circa 1985 Schwinn Roadmaster bicycle, but I get some great shots. I go back in, we talk about a few poets I'll be seeing down the road, and we say our goodbyes.

Thirty minutes later, as I'm hustling up I-71 north, headed for Oberlin, on the radio, crackling a bit in a sudden rain storm, Garrison Keillor reads one of David's poems on his "Writer's Almanac" show. Keillor's voice always a bit too much gravitas for my taste, but he reads David's poem "Hair" beautifully. I weave in and out of truckers who are spraying me senseless. After the poem is over, I pull out a Shelby Lynne CD and turn that up as loud as I can stand and keep driving.