Line Language

My girlfriend Kristi once asked, in response to a piece of writing I had shared, how is it, or why is it, you do that? Her question followed a visit I had made to a friend held in prison.

Fear, I answered.

Fear is a great motivator for me. Fear of failure, fear of becoming the person I don’t want to be.

Fear of what, she persisted in asking.

Fear of crossing the line, I stated, then clammed up. She did too.

photo 1That conversation came to mind as I was out on my walk yesterday morning. I had ambled through the backside of the Pendleton neighborhood, avoiding the streetcar construction cacophony, and as I approached the front of Horseshoe Casino, there stood a skinny, young man on the sidewalk on the opposite street.

He was standing in front of the Hamilton County Jail, signaling to someone through the slotted windows towering above. As I approached, I could make out his fingers showing a “3”, then a “2”, then he seemed to be emphasizing a “2” again.

I gazed up at the jail through the hazy glare, while I continued walking in his direction, though I could detect no movement from any of the half cut windows, designed for that very reason. Nothing in, nothing out. Or maybe the signal was, you’ll get nothing out of coming in here, you’ll get even less when you get out.

As I’ve been want to do, I stopped to chat.

Can you really see up there?

Oh yeah.

Who’s up there you’re signaling to?

My girlfriend.

Yeah, what’s she in for?

Non-support.

Ugh, for how long?

Twelve months.

Sheesh.

Yeah, sheesh, he repeated. So, I’m givin’ her my cell cuz I keep changin’ it.

I’m sorry, I whispered, I’ll say a few prayers. I moved on.

I glanced back at the young man, with WEBN tattooed in a jagged font on his arm, jeans torn, shoes beat. Stereotyping would have been so easy.

The phrase, “There but for the grace of God,” hammered me like the humidity.

It really is a fine line I am walking in life. I certainly have acted in my past in ways that could have caused harm. I certainly could have lost a job or a marriage or my mind, and found myself on the other side of that imposing block wall.

I am reminded of these circumstances in daily interactions with the homeless, the veterans, women on the streets. They don’t need me to give them a voice. They need me to keep them out of the arena of my judgment.

He was still gesturing long after I had shuffled another four or five blocks down Eggleston, the more gritty side of the CBD, the underside of the highways, the belly of the city. How ironic the casino was situated in that same locale as well. That too a reminder, there but the grace of God – or a payout of $10,000 – go I.

John Bradford, an English martyr, is credited with that historic phrase. It was said in reference to prisoners led off to execution. Mindful of its original meaning, I see how close a line we all walk.

When I think of lines, I recall the slit of sunlight streaming through the jail house windows, life attempting to slice through the stone. Humanity attempting to break in, instead of despair trying to break out. And I think of the scrawny man, body lined with tattoos. And somehow my world becomes infinitesimally smaller, almost balancing life on thread.

 

Photo above is the Hamilton County Jail, as viewed from the courtyard of the Horseshoe Casino. Juxtaposition possibly intentional 🙂

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City Living – Pathways to a Better Brain?

It only took a week for me draw a line between living in the city and dementia, two of my most passionate topics. As I scurried from place to place this morning, and read and reread emails I had missed, I realized I am out of sorts. The word I have been using is “unmoored.”

Where I had once tethered myself to Fields Ertel Road, and my routes to work, errands and grocery involved the use or avoidance of that road, I am now on foot. Or I am southernly located, and my life involves a northern orientation.

photo 3While the river is still south of my locale, one of the central destinations, my mother’s care home, is now north of me. So when I travel to visit, I have to think twice about which exit I can use to avoid the mall, at all costs. Or which grocery I might stop at on the way home (other than Findlay Market) to get an item I need for dinner.

Just this morning, Mark and I had to call around to bank branches, attempting to find a notary public (shouldn’t these go by the wayside). In doing so, we stumbled across the post office on Fifth and Vine, and I cursed at myself, envisioning the two envelopes that sat on my desk at home. I didn’t even think about the fact I would traverse a post office on my path today.

I have now visited all the necessary UPS, Fedex and USPS pick-up and drop-off locations, because we live in the city, and many instances, packages are not left on the front stoop or with a trustworthy neighbor. They are transported back into the annals of a warehouse in hopes that I remember to pick them up. Needless to say, I am more conscious of what I order, and what I have shipped, and what others will ship to me. Sorry Amazon.

But, as I am busy mapping new routes in my mind, to accomplish my everyday functions, my brain cells are gettin’ busy too. They are firing on all synapses, continuously, such that the mere thought of “how do I…”, often makes my eyes droop.

When someone ages, he or she is mainly doing so in place. In a place that person has called home for many years, following a routine he or she has followed for many years. That person will shop at the same grocery store, drive the same street to relatives, attend the same church, and say the same prayers.

Scientists have now thankfully left behind the blessed, or cursed, duo of Alzheimer’s preventions of Sudoku and blueberries, and have moved on to taut the benefits of learning a new trade, a foreign language or creating fresh connections.

My mother, the most blessed cook, followed the same recipes for her extravagant holiday dinners and desserts. It came as a surprise to hear one day she left the flour out in making pizzelles, and my father had to aid her in beginning a new batch. This was a sign her dementia was settling in.

Even Enzo seems stimulated in the city. Any one of my kids will tell you, while living in Loveland, if I asked, Can you walk the dog today, the request was met with assured resistance on their part, and on behalf of Enzo. He had been walking the same street, the same direction no less, as we lived with a cul-de-sac at the end of our street. He too tired of the route. Dragging Enzo was a common sight in our former neighborhood.

But when I pull out the leash now, he scampers to the door. He is anxious to meet new people. And I mean people, not dogs. When I walked him to Washington Park yesterday, during the Jazz Band concert, he simply approached people seated on sidewalks and sat without command, as if to say, “I’m ready for you to love me now.”

He runs ahead of me enough on our walk, that I have taken to running again, practically behind him. He is energized by the smells, but also, by the new directions.

City living is cause for intentionality. I wait – most times – to cross the street. I have to think about how will I access a store or business on foot. The interactions with new faces are constant. I have to be aware, when I am heading down a street with some unfamiliarity to it. I have to be conscious as a female, of strolling alone at night. I plan my meals, because Findlay Market is not open 24/7. I halt for a moment, when heading out in my car, wondering if I need 75 North, or South, 71 North, or South, I-471, as if my car were spinning a dial on a game of Life, which direction will I choose.

But there is spontaneity and simplicity too that arise from these circumstances. I can, without thinking, find a bevy of entertainment. I can, without forethought, decide to go out to eat, without getting in my car, and sitting in traffic. And the heightened awareness, along with some effortlessness, allow for more focus, less important items to fall off my radar.

All these are creating new brain cells, even at a snail’s pace, which Enzo no longer has desire to emulate.

 

The above photo is a view of Central Parkway, leading east towards Mt. Adams.

City of Youth

My husband purchased a Fitbit recently and was disappointed to learn the device calculated his physical age to be 55. I won’t divulge his actual age, but here in the city he has definitely regressed to a childlike status.

photo copy 7One of the primary motivators for moving into the city was for Mark to be closer to Christ Hospital, where he spends an average of three days a week. To eliminate the long commute on rainy days when traffic slows to a crawl on I-71 and when he arrives home, feeling washed up.

One of the other motivators was that as rising empty-nesters, we wanted to take advantage of all the options the city has to offer.

Two weeks ago, on a Sunday night, we cooked dinner at home (still wondering why we have a kitchen with Findlay Market and so many great dining options close by). But we wanted to break in the new grill and the new oven and stove so I didn’t burn every last food particle I attempted to cook.

The Opera was hosting a sampler event in Washington Park. Now, I am not an opera fan, especially after sitting through my first opera, Carmen, where I knew the narrative and the music, and still had difficulty lasting the three hours it took someone to sing the story to me. But, I am open to trying again.

Before I had even cleaned the rest of the kitchen, Mark had our two lawn chairs slung over his arm and stood ready at the door.

I didn’t even know we kept those chairs, I looked at him quizzically. They were chairs from another part of our lives, when we were the spectators at our kids’ events.

Me neither, said Mark, looking impatient with me.

I stood a minute longer, not wanting to sit in those with an injured back. But nothing mattered to him, but getting out the door and down the street.

We walked down the short alley that opens up to Washington Park, and he promptly set up our chairs and relished in the music of the opera (I didn’t realize he knew the music to Madame Butterfly), with the backdrop of blue skies and the looming Music Hall.

Washington Park has become our living room. When we are at home, after dinner or work, he knows the schedule of the bands that are playing, throughout the week so he can attend the performances. He will walk Enzo at the end of the night, just to stroll around the park, one more time before the night concludes.

Last week, after a furniture debacle that I will write about later because that too has to do with city living, I arrived home from a writing circle, to find husband and dog missing.

Hmm…He must have taken Enzo out for a walk, I surmised. So, I texted him to ask of his whereabouts.

I get a text back, Its Be Kind to Pet Bull night, (or something to that effect) and I’m at Neon’s with Enzo, and two councilpersons.

Come over?

It was sort of late. I was kind of tired. But I didn’t want him having fun in the city without me, so headed over the four or so blocks to find him seated at a patio table, with Yvette Simpson, and another woman he had just met. All the dogs were leashed, but sniffing around each other constantly.

Did you eat? I asked, recalling how I had shoveled tortellini in my mouth while at home with the furniture delivery guys in full view before attending my writing circle.

Oh yeah, they’ve got great burgers.

What more could I say?

Recalling when our children attended their first days of school, backpack perfectly packed, pencils neatly sharpened, this is the image I have of Mark, especially on the first day he had an opportunity to walk to work.

Its supposed to rain today, I grumbled, still in bed as he kissed my goodbye.

It’s fine.

Text when you get there, I reminded him.

Ok, Mom, he joked back.

And he probably bounded all the way up the Jackson Park steps or Sycamore Hill. Even this Sunday morning, after a very late night, he popped out of bed for a long day on call.

I rose a little while later, had my coffee, escorted the dog on his daily walk. Only later when I returned did it sink in that his car was still parked in the garage. Yep. He probably bounced up Sycamore Hill this morning. Well, maybe not bounced this morning.

But he sets out in these mornings, as if preparing to conquer the world. Like Ponce de Leon in search of the Fountain of Youth, just maybe he has conquered his small little corner of it.

I am loving this new, invigorated version of my husband. Though I am a little worried. I don’t want to lose out on my “I’m younger than you status.”

 

The photo above is the Peter Minges and Sons Candy Store at Court and Elm. Cincinnati was once a large candy manufacturing location. Supposedly the candy was once delivered with donkey and milk wagon. Ah, the good ole days.

In Awe

Our first days here, we were rather overwhelmed with tall, white boxes full of stuff we probably shouldn’t have moved, wondering what happened to the stuff we really wanted to save.
photo copy 6We had been traveling, eating, dining and entertaining in the city, in particular OTR, for so long, that a part of me had already grown accustomed to the yeast and cigarette smells, utility trucks rumbling down brick streets, the faces of unfamiliar people and the barks of dogs whose owners I didn’t know. Hence, I assumed the transition would all feel like a long lost glove I had been waiting to ease on my hand.

And it did, with one exception. As we walked the city streets those first days and nights, I was shocked by the numbers of people that poured into the Kroger building before work. I was alarmed by the numbers of residents who poured forth from the Drop Inn. I was stunned by the Ferraris parked down our street, a street where our children used to chide us for even parking our car, and gazing at a home that would someday be ours.

I was overcome by the rise of the Paul Brown Stadium from the pedestrian walk. I marveled at the Roebling suspension bridge. I cherished the long stretch of the riverfront that I could hardly wait to traverse with the dog, with the bike, with myself. I gave thanks for the opening of a low income senior housing complex.

Though we scolded our kids in the city to not always have their smart phones out, to be on guard for someone coming to swipe them away, I was constantly pulling out the my phone camera and shooting pictures of scenes I had witnessed countless times before. The stadium, river, parks, plaques, little gems found down an alley, a pair of pants someone had shed through the night and left behind on a park bench.

One night, I walked home with my husband from the Reds game, and the stream of fans carried me up the hill, and my wonder carried me along as well, while I continued to remark, “Stop, look at all these people”. They were here in Cincinnati, a place that everyone supposed culture and country forgot, especially following the riots.  Mark shook his head and smiled.  Later, my son tried to temper my enthusiasm, “Mom, chill out. You’re here, OK. You made it.  We get it.”

In short, I have been amazed not so much be what we had seen as travelers into this new territory, but what could now be seen as residents with a new set of eyes. I was impressed by the great human endeavor that a city is. The mechanism called a city is not pretty, sometimes takes hard work and sometimes quiet precision. Stop lights run. People walk. Businesses open day after day. Cars carry their inhabitants into parking lots. Bridges hold up the cars. Skyscrapers cause neck aches. There is marvel everywhere.

This might be the Pollyanna view, and I may grown disenfranchised at some point, but consider how a city is built up over two hundred years. Recalling when the plumber dug up our cellar floor, we all stared, speechless, at dirt that was 140 years old. Dirt beneath these streets and buildings is centuries old.

I am practicing awe each day, at what it takes to hold up two hundred years of feet and wheels, ideas and dreams, and at the great human endeavor that is called a city.

 

Photo above is an art structure in front of the Verdin Bell and Clock Tower Center.

 

 

Good Morning

photo copy 3On my mornings walks with Enzo, I often encounter tired, weary males, seated on the benches of Washington Park. They’ve spent the night at the Drop Inn Center, which provides basic human services for women and men, and by seven or eight a.m., are expected to transition out of the Drop Inn, giving staff time to turn over the facility and ready for a new day or evening of occupants.

I’ve observed many of these faces on my newly begun walks with the dog and in doing so, I usually initiate, “Good morning,” hope for a response, then walk on. My son, a seventeen year old who has lived in suburbia most of his life, has told me, there is a street code for how to say, “Hello.” A nod of the head up implies, “What’s up,” and that one knows the other person. A nod of the head down means, “Hello,” but to a stranger.

I attempt this most mornings, but I don’t like looking down, as I feel like a chicken poking my head at feed all day, so I stick with, “Good Morning,” and even once, because my jaunts around OTR remind me so much of a European village, I said, “Bon Giorno,” and then laughed only to myself.

As the past weeks had been crammed full of activity with children and family and moves, a Friday arrived with son and husband off, and we had BIG plans to get a lot done that day. They began their BIG plans with a visit to Holtman’s Donuts. I waited outside with the dog.

While doing so, the long grew longer and pedestrians moving past the donut shop had a more difficult time of maneuvering around the donut goers. I occupied myself with people watching. After I concluded a conversation with a person from Kentucky, catching a bus in OTR to head to Cincinnati State, I glanced down Vine Street.

Three males, about twenty to twenty five years in age, were strolling towards me, each walking with backpacks or bags that indicated they had slept somewhere other than home the night before, probably The Drop.

In keeping with my custom, and having tossed out Davis’s suggestions, I uttered a simple, “Hi, how are you today,” and made eye contact with one in the middle, mainly because he was wearing a neon yellow shirt and that’s where my eye was drawn.

He looked back at me as he sauntered by, and I held my breath, wondering about his response.

“I’m blessed today,” he declared.

In the blink of an eye it occurred to me one can feel blessed without money for a home or donuts.

I fumbled around for the proper response. “Me too,” I shouted out after him.

He had already traversed the donut line, and on the other side of a line of people who had no idea what was transpiring in front of them, he gazed back at me and smiled.

 

The photo above is the sidewalk less traveled in Washington Park, looking south at the SCPA.

New Surrounds, New Voice

photo copyWhen my husband and I visited NOLA a few years ago, we discovered a favorite Jackson Street artist.  Upon our return to Cincinnati, we attempted on several occasions to justify the expense and locale of one of her paintings. Instead, we settled on her small Louis Armstrong portrait, captured mid-stream blowing into his trumpet.  Last week, when we moved to the city, I asked Mark about the artist again, knowing we know had the space and a little bit of cash to spend on art.  “She’s changed her style,” he noted.  “Oh, shoot.”  I loved her work.  She could paint more of NOLA on one canvas than I could capture using 50,000 words.  “I guess she’s like any other artist, wanting to try something new, maybe she found love, or a new inspiration,” I mused aloud to Mark. “Maybe,” he shrugged back. Or maybe I was projecting.

Last week a friend asked when I would write more about this move to the city.  I reminded her I had written plenty over the past four years, about our projected move. I called the blog Generation U(rban). Over time, I ran out of enthusiasm for that blog, tiring of posting photos of work in progress, or attempting to predict my actual feelings about happenings in the city.

So this week, in what I had hoped to be the first without husband, children or contractors around (one just rapped on the door), I begin a new chapter, new blog, new voice.

I too find myself in want of fresh material, a desire for an updated, curious writing voice to match the new musings in my head. I hope this blog, or myself at least, can live up to those ideals.

The photo above is of the Robert Manley (no relation to husband Mark) law office. His efforts helped reestablish the mounted patrol in Cincinnati. Hence, the trough.  Drink up.