“A city is more than a place in space, it is a drama in time.” ~ Patrick Geddess
“What is the city but the people?” ~ William Shakespeare
“Sing the Queen City. Say home.” From “Seven Hills and a Queen to Name Them”
First, our neighbors worried about us.
“You lost your house?” they asked, voices oozing empathy.
“No, we didn’t lose the house. We sold it.” Technically, at least. It was 2008, and we sure didn’t make any money on the beautiful home we’d built seven years before.
It was a deal for the new owners. They got the house, all five bedrooms of it, three acres of land, and custody of three generations of a deer family that devoured our hastas and rubbed our tree bark, but never really pulled their weight. We had gotten rid of our kids only to acquire these antlered dependents.
Then our neighbors were perplexed. “So you’re moving to the city? Where there’s crime and litter and homeless people?” Though they didn’t say it, I could hear their politically incorrect thoughts about the color of our new neighbors.
Yes, we were moving to the asphalt jungle. A place where our dependents were not deer, but two harmless homeless people who circled our apartment building day in, day out, in seasonally inappropriate clothes. A place with virtually no green space, which was fine by me. I’m a gal who manicures her nails, not her lawn. I like about as much nature as I can see from my Lazy Boy.
Finally, our neighbors were just plain angry. “You’re going to rent?” they asked, in a tone that suggested that we were undermining the very fabric of civilization. “You mean, temporarily, right? Just until you find a condo to buy?”
No, we were never going to buy again. We were done with replacing toilet seats, deadheading petunias, and cleaning out gutters. We were tired of living within our means—even if we had to borrow to do so.
We were going to live the opposite of The American Dream. Every American can NOT own a home! Every American can be transient and unsettled and uncommitted.
If our decision to downsize and rent forever wasn’t enough to puzzle our neighbors, our decision to sell the contents of our house was even more confounding. We sold my deceased cat’s favorite chair-cum-scratching post; the three-drawer file cabinets with hanging files that didn’t; the Funk and Wagnalls; our lettuce spinner and our leaf blower. Gone were the cake pans shaped like Pink Panther and the Cookie Monster; the sombrero (made in China) I wore on a flight home from Cancun; the glass thingies we bought in Murano.
We moved with our clothes (but only the ones that fit), dishes, spices, a king size bed, and two lawn chairs into a 1200 square foot 19th floor apartment on the fringe of the city. My lawn chair broke the day after we moved. We were energized, even as we wondered how we’d survive with only a bed and a chair. It was kind of like being a newlywed, but with more money and less sex. (So, the bed was quite beside the point.)
After two years we moved one mile west into the heart of the city. We had always wanted to live in downtown Manhattan or Chicago or Portland, but Cincinnati is the city we’ve got, the city where we have a kid and elderly parents. And it’s a darned good city!
For five years now we’ve lived in a ten-floor apartment building, The Renaissance. For almost a century the building housed all sorts of businesses including tailors, dressmakers, and accountants. It was here in the 80s that I dragged my little girls to the Polly Flinders Outlet to buy smocked dresses.
The building was divided into 100 apartments fifteen years ago. The units in this red brick fortress are virtually soundproof. The warren of parking places chiseled from the ancient basement are separated by columns and half-walls which seem to magnetically attract car bumpers and fenders.
Our neighbors are perfect—diverse and interesting, friendly but distant. I love knowing that while I’m coloring Easter Eggs, there’s a Seder dinner underway on the third floor and that someone on the ninth is on their knees, facing Sycamore Street and Mecca. Somewhere in these ten floors, a young architect may be Skyping her mama in Malta. A cardiologist may be feeding Buddha. There are surely young couples making love, the hurried new kind, while the octogenarians down the hall are reading three daily newspapers.
Food is fast food by virtue of the fact that you can walk out the door and get a meal in minutes. I can grab a Hawaiian bagel at Silverglades Deli, which is directly ten floors below my apartment, or walk across my parking lot and down an alley for a gyro and homemade soup from Sophia’s. I can walk to the courthouse and get a wrinkled hot dog from a cart, then chase it down with a local beer at Arnold’s Bar and Grill, Cincinnati’s oldest tavern.
Here in my city, I am not isolated or insulated. I love rubbing up against life: the affluent in suits toting briefcases and iPhones; the poor and the hungry pushing shopping carts and waiting outside on cold days for the sanctuary of the library; the family singing Happy Birthday as they shade their eyes and look up at the sixth floor of the jail; the mating dances of the young and the beautiful. Life here tests those values and opinions I developed in the cozy confines of the burbs.
I love my wide awake city. I love the garbage trucks, jack hammers, and police sirens, and I praise those who labor to make my city work. Late at night, I look out my front window and see one lone office lit up. I imagine a custodian is inside polishing a glass top desk, or that a broker is waiting for the day’s NASDAC quotes. I wave and say, “You are not alone. You are my neighbor.”
I have no interest in sports, none, but I love the Reds and Bengals fans, how they dress up in red or in tiger stripes. Never do I feel as alive as I do at the Opening Day Parade, a day for sanctioned hooky from school and work. Workers sneak out in their wingtips and heels to watch, and folks in tenements lean out to cheer. It’s a flurry of babies and balloons and baseball hats.
It turns out that Petula Clark was quite right: “Things will be great when you’re Downtown.”
“Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city. Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty . . .” ~ Composed by Tony Hatch; performed by Petula Clark
A note about the photographs: The pictures that are out of focus and wopperjawed were taken by me with my phone. The beautiful, arty ones were taken by my husband, Rick Lingo. If you would like to see more of his photographs, check out his blog: ricklingo.com. If you would like to print any of the photographs, he will be happy to send them to you digitally and for free.
Copyright © 2016 Sandy Lingo, All Rights Reserved.