Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Yowie-kazowie, Batman!

Well, it's nothing all that dramatic, actually. I was mowing the lawn this evening and some flying stinging thing flew onto me and stung me on the back of the arm. Kinda feels like I've been punched now--tight skin, red, hot, itchy. But not too bad.

FYI, all y'all who commented: The bedding has been washed. C'mon, like you never slept with your pillow flipped over because one side of it had dried-up...um...never mind. At any rate, M was a dear and washed it all today, bless his heart. He also took the sander to the bathroom walls and repaired some damage. Next step: Spackle city.

I've been walking around all night saying "spackle" because it's an even funnier word than "spatula." I wonder if I put some spackle on this wasp/bee/flying jabberwocky sting thing if it would stop hurting. I bet it would feel nice and cool. At first.

Today was nice. Nothing bad happened. Nothing super-good happened, but nothing bad happened, and I suppose there are lots of people in the world who can't say that about their day today. The worst that happened was that I got stung. Big deal; it's not like I'm going into anaphylactic shock or anything, and if I do, well, we've got Epi-pens. Also I ran over some dog crap and a rotten plum with the lawn mower, but in the grand scheme of things, that's not so awful. I had a nice skate at lunch and got some pictures.

Here's one of them. It's not framed that well because I was skating and it was a bit breezy so I kept getting street grit in my eyes (suck!--I ought to get some goggles for city skating so I can look like a bigger dope than I already do) and it was difficult to see the viewfinder since it was all bright out and shit, and that's a lot of excuses for taking a bad picture and all, but anyway, there you go. This is up north of the downtown-ish part of the city, in the slummier areas. You go along this street and up this big hill and there's a great view of the city's skyline, looking so pristine and clean against the blue of the sky today (a true rarity in August), and yet in the foreground of the scene, you see nothing but tenement housing, projects, busted-out windows and darkness and gloom and crime and sadness. Scenes like that bring home the disparities that exist in this country, and remind me again not to take the things I have for granted. I like to spend time in bad neighborhoods. It puts things in better perspective.

While I was skating near Music Hall, which is across the street from one of the most dangerous public parks in the city, I looked down a sunlit alley and saw two bike patrol cops in their blue shirts standing over a man who was lying in the alley with stuff scattered all around, bags of things that looked to me like trash but might have been everything in the world the man possessed. I wanted to take a picture of the scene but in some ways I thought it should remain as it was, undocumented, because a photo couldn't capture the complexity of the moment: Here it is a stunningly beautiful day, sunny, clear, in the seventies, the sky September 11th blue, and yet this scene of utter degradation and sadness is playing out under the brightness of the sun. You can't take a picture of that. You can catch the light on the shoulders of the cops, how their blue shirts glow in the alley, you can catch the darkness of the clothing worn by the man lying in the alley, but you can't show the totality of the scene, the architecturally gorgeous Music Hall on the left, the drugs-and-rape-and-murder park on the right, buildings with broken windows ahead, the commerce of downtown behind...and anyway, in certain parts of town, you don't take your camera out. In certain parts of town, the streets are thronged with people in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday. They're not on their lunchbreak, because they don't have jobs. They're out on the street in their lawn chairs because as depressing as it may be among all the reeking trash and broken bottles and potholes and drug deals and prostitutes, it's a lot nicer out than in, where they live.

I wish more people who work downtown would bother to venture out of their Fountain-Square fast food comfort zone at lunch and go see what the city is really like, outside the ten-block by ten-block square of safeness. When I go to the bad neighborhoods, I never see office-building escapees. I see people who live in abject poverty and I see cops and I see people in cars driving by with the windows up and the doors locked. It makes me sad that people are so afraid to see what's so close to them, as if never looking at a thing makes it not so. I understand that fear is a big factor in it too, on a lot of levels--not just fear for your personal safety, but fear that such inequality exists, that America isn't this rosy, dreamy vision of utopia so many people assume it is. I have a lot of problems with the assumption that anyone can become anything they want in America. It's such a huge line of propagandist, elitist bullshit. When you start with nothing, it's a lot more difficult to become a white-shirted banker in shiny shoes and a suit, and you're taught not to want or respect that anyway.

I fear this part of the city less than most people because M used to live in it when I first met him. He had a crudhole apartment on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, and when Cincinnati had its race riots in 2001, he was in thick of it; he had a gun pushed in his face by a thirteen-year-old kid while he was walking to work one night during the riots. (He broke the kid's arm and took his gun.) That neighborhood...I still feel nostalgic when I go through it. It's not like it was so long ago, only a couple years, that he lived there, but a place like that can have a powerful hold over a person, can have such a feel to it that it stays with you all the time, and after you leave it and come back to it you see subtle changes in it that you can interpret in ways outsiders can't. Despite the violence, it had its good points--namely that nothing was ever dull there; the people's lives were an endlessly fascinating tableaux of drama and pain and anger and, now and then, happiness, and it was always played out right on the street. You got to know the people on the streets after a while and you feared them less. If they know you and your dog and you talk to them and don't walk by like you assume they're going to fuck you up in some way, you lose your fear that they're going to rob you or hurt you, you drop all that shit you're taught to think and see them as people, not as whatever stereotypes you categorize them as in your head because you're afraid.

Well, this turned into a lot bigger post than I meant it to. My intention for tonight was to get some writing done on the story I'm working on, but now I don't feel bad that I didn't. I'm glad I wrote about these things. These things matter to me.

8 Comments:

At August 25, 2005 9:57 AM, Blogger d.K. said...

What a moving and beautifully written social commentary on many of the un-truths that exist in the landscape of American folklore. I don't know what else to say about it other than that I'll surely come back to read it over again and will share it with friends of mine who will appreciate the painful honesty.

Also, I've never before heard the sky described as "September 11 blue," but those of us who live in the Eastern part of the country know instantly what that means. Before I knew anything unusual had happened that morning, I honestly remember thinking that it was one of the most beautiful mornings I could remember in every respect, including the intense, cloudless blue sky.

Thanks for sharing this thoughtful and thought-provoking essay with us.

 
At August 25, 2005 1:05 PM, Blogger Greg said...

I love your photos and stories. Almost makes me want to move there.

 
At August 25, 2005 1:45 PM, Blogger Mr. H.K. said...

Isn't blogging wonderful?

Cheers,
Mr. H.K.
Postcards from Hell's
Kitchen

And I Quote Blog

 
At August 25, 2005 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is only America that has a rosy view of itself. It seems to me that Canada, Europe, just about the whole world even, holds a fairly derisive view of America. Which is not to say they don't experience the same problems of pride eclipsing reality.

Q

 
At August 25, 2005 4:45 PM, Anonymous Suley said...

J., you inquired about C.'s motorcycle the other day. If y'all are interested, I posted a picture of it, as well as C.s description, up on my new blog.

I had a friend who was in a band called "Spatula." It was the late 90s.

What's elitist about saying you can be anything? It's the elitists who want to keep folks down. If you stifle people by telling them they can't attain their dreams, then aren't you engaging in true elitism?

Determinism versus agency.

-Suley

 
At August 25, 2005 9:36 PM, Blogger J. Star said...

I guess what's elitist about it is that it seems people who were born into circumstances that would enhance their chances of success seem more frequently to think that everyone has the same chance at success, when that's not necessarily the case. It's not to say that people born into more difficult circumstances *can't* become anything, it's just to say that it is sometimes more difficult to achieve the rigidly-defined American version of success when you don't have the resources available to you that certain others may have. And it seems elitist to me for someone who *has* those resources to think that it's just as easy for someone who *doesn't* to achieve success, and that the reason the person without the resources doesn't is because there's something wrong with him/her. The assumption that success is something you earn as an individual regardless of your personal circumstances, rather than something that, in some cases, you more or less inheret from your culture--it seems a bit unfair. I do understand your point though about telling someone they can't be something being more elitist. I guess it's just a matter of picking your point of view. :)

 
At August 25, 2005 10:12 PM, Anonymous Jenelle said...

Did you ever see the movie UHF starring Weird Al? If you did then you would know all about "Spatula City" Funny stuff, if not then disregard this message...

 
At August 26, 2005 9:25 PM, Blogger DocAMAZING said...

You have a knack for making the mundane around you seem pretty interesting. Reading your posts challenges me to find more in the plain walls I find myself in daily.

 

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