19 August 2008

The Elephants in the Room

Goodbye summer.

How short is boyhood, and how sad is it to see the yellow buses lumbering down the street.

Why is it that a boy can only be seven for one summer?

But that is not what this post is about. It is about vacationing. Leaving home and returning to see your home in a different light. It is about how it is often hardest to see what is right in front of your own nose.

After vacationing in a distant suburban/rural locale with in-laws, I was really ready for my return to my urban paradise. A trip to the grocery on this vacation was a tortuous, winding 20 minute drive. The sleeping arrangements made for a lack of privacy, and there were always kids crying. The winding roads gave me a headache. After 7 days I was ready for our private home in the city.

On the drive back, I was shaking my head thinking: "who in their right mind wants to live where you have to drive an hour round trip to buy a bottle of liquor?" What is the purpose of such isolation at such great expense? Granted, there was nature outside our door, but it was tamed and really acted only as scenery. (The trees were trimmed to accentuate the view of a nearby golf course). On the long drive back, I was thinking how much our home in downtown Cincy is heaven. At our home, I thought, the world is at our doorstep, yet inside it is a peaceful retreat.

But as I pulled-up to the house, I suddenly had an anxiety I hadn't experienced for 8 days or more: No parking spaces. I had tons of packages and a couple of sleepy kids to unload, and no place near our door to park. That wasn't that big of a deal, but there were also lots of people hanging-out, sitting around watching me unload. I had to park next to two passed-out drunks, and then walk past three guys in wife-beater shirts at the corner. One of the guys finished peeing on the wall right before I walked past.

I know this is going to sound dumb, but just then it hit me that this is what I have been living with for years, and for some reason I had pushed it out of my mind and as a result I didn't really understand other people's aversion to living here. This was the elephant in the room that I never talked about. But I didn't do this consciously. And it is not that I don't notice littering or people bumming change. It is more that I forget that the rest of the world is not all like this. And, like it did to me after being gone for a week, it unnerves people.

Then tonight I am made to listen for hours to Andre's new boom-box. I mean he keeps the volume at eleven, at all times! But now, after being home for 24 hours, this doesn't bother me at all. With the windows closed, these guys, singing off key to an old soul tune is akin to the locusts and frogs humming in the forest.


Anonymous said...

Living in the city isn't perfect, yet. There is a good fight to be continued; but at some point along the way, there will be fewer undesirable elements to deal with. Keep the faith, the scale will tip.

Randy Simes said...

"Squeaky swings and tall grass,
The longest shadows ever cast,
The water's warm and children swim,
And we frolicked about in our summer skin.

I don't recall a single care,
Just greenery and humid air,
Then Labor day came and went,
And we shed what was left of our summer skin.

On the night you left I came over,
And we peel the freckles from our shoulders,
Our brand new coats so flushed and pale,
And I knew your heart I couldn't break,
Cause the seasons change was a conduit,
And we left our love in our summer skin."

'Summer Skin' by Death Cab for Cutie

Chris S said...

There are the pros and cons to both arrangements - city v. country ....

When I travel to the countryside for vacation, I have to be more mindful of trips to get supplies, and I certainly don't just "run out" to get toothpaste. In some ways, this is a good thing - I spend less time dealing with shopping/consuming - activities I relatively loathe, and more time close to friends and family.

When I am in the city, I have to deal with the "other" - other people. Sartre was not totally off base with the premise that hell is other people. Living in the city is all about the "other" and living in close proximity to people you may or may not care to associate with. Each and every one of us either makes the conscious choice to celebrate this, and to enjoy this diversity, or to fear it.

In the balance, I feel like my life is much richer for the "others" that surround me. While crickets chirping may be peaceful, real peace is found only in the acceptance and understanding of the so called human condition. As much as I don't really enjoy the smell of urine in the alleyways, how often are you reminded that the human condition is less than ideal for all beings when you live isolated from everyone else?

Unknown said...

Locations and homes fit us differently at different times in our lives. Living in the city, although not OTR-but city nonetheless-has worked for us raising our kids because we were walking distance to work, walking distance to elementary school(not high school-unless 5 miles each way uphill in the snow)walking distance to grocery store and drugstore. Now that our girls are getting older and moving on we might want something different--bigger garden,place to raise chickens, less sirens--who knows?? Doesn't always have to be either/or--just what works right now. Different chapters/same book.

CityKin said...

Love the "summer skin" quote Rando.

VisuaLingual said...

New boombox = good times for all. You missed last week's R&B dance party in the park.

I hope that the city never embodies any one person's vision of "perfect." Don't forget that scales tip back and forth.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Your blog is a blast from my past. I've spent a good hour here already and am not done yet. Love all the old pics of OTR, my old neighborhood. It's quite different than when I lived there though. I moved away in 1976 and haven't been back. It seems the city is taking more interest in OTR than when I lived there.

Do you have any information on Webster Elementary School. It was located on Findlay street between Race and Republic. I think it was demolished in the 1970's and a recreation center built in the footprint.

Love your blog. Have bookmarked and will visit often.

DP said...

I think your post just described why my wife would never live in the city with kids.

I'm inclined to agree with "Distracted", in that different places may be appropriate during different phases of life. We lived in DC (in the city) and NYC (Upper East) for a combined 10 years before moving to Cincy when we had our daughter. For now, Mt. Lookout is the "right place" for us (I won't try to define whether it is "urban" or "suburban"). But when our daughter (and any future kids) are grown and gone, I think the "right place" for us may change - I already miss the days of no yard to maintain...

CityKin said...

Webster must have been demolished in 1971 to make way for the HUB center. See my post last week about St. John's demolition in the same block.

I will try to do a little research on the schools that have been demolished in the neighborhood. I have met a lot of people who went to school at the corner of Elm and Central Parkway, where a new school for SCPA is currently being built.

CityKin said...

I think if I hadn't already been living here for many years before kids, I would think the same way. It is interesting to try to remember our old prejudices about how we live. Actually that kind of gets at the who impetus for this blog.

Anonymous said...

Mike, glad you all made it back safe.