Street of Many Contrasts

It’s a muggy Friday night, and gnats circle in the air all over Clintonville, so I’m settled in–probably for the rest of the night.  I had to run an errand on High Street earlier in the evening, before the sun set, so I walked down one of the narrow streets that leads down to High Street.  I’ve noticed it on my many journeys up and down the street, especially since the warm weather settled in for the duration, and more people are outside.

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood…

One of my neighbors is promising a mega yard sale tomorrow, but she and her husband have already begun setting out some of the merchandise on the porch and the yard.  Never one to pass up a good yard sale, I ventured over for a look.  I plunked down a quarter for a respectably frayed Warner paperback of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and a dollar for a khaki guayabera jacket.  (It’s far too miserable to wear the jacket now, but it’s incentive for me to lose the bay window I have at waist level.  It zips up, but just barely.  If I can lose some of my girth, it’ll be quite comfortable.)  Not that anyone’s asked, but a guayabera–which is politically incorrectly nicknamed the “Mexican wedding shirt”–is a work shirt that features four front pockets.  There are two breast pockets, and underneath them, above the shirttails, are two more corresponding pockets.  (You might say the guayabera is the shirt equivalent of cargo pants.)  I’ve had guayabera shirts in the past, and with all the crap I carry with me at all times–keys, notebooks, glasses case, pens and pencils, digital camera (very recently!), cell phone, microcassette recorder–I put them to use.  This shirt is an invention that ranks up there with movable type and bifocals.

A professional and competitive powerlifter–a woman who was a friend of mine at O.U. and with whom I stayed in touch sporadically once we left Athens–lives a block or so from the house where I bought the book and the shirt.  Her whole life revolves around physical fitness and exercise.  On the rare occasions I see her, she’s usually headed to or from the gym or her job as a physical therapist.

And then you have her neighbors.  Immediately next door is a household that is singlehandedly keeping the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and/or Philip Morris in business.  I’m not sure who all lives there–I usually see three or four women in their late 20s or early 30s out on the porch.  Whether they’re sisters, girlfriends, friends, or some combination thereof, I do not know.  What I do know is that I have never seen any of these women without cigarettes.  When no one is out on the porch, there are at least two ashtrays on the table, all of them crammed to overflowing with cigarette butts.

I realized that smoking wasn’t just something that equated with entertaining guests.  I know there are some people like that, who only smoke with certain friends, or when drinking, etc.  (My late uncle Paul was quite odd in this respect: When the pro football season began, he began smoking heavily, whether he was watching a game or not.  However, as soon as the Super Bowl post-game shows ended, he put away cigarettes and didn’t touch them until the season began again.)  One morning, I was headed to Tim Horton to buy bagels and breakfast sandwiches, and one of the women came out to get the morning newspaper.  She was in slippers and a grey nightdress, and there was a cigarette in her hand.

Next to them is someone else committed to gradual suicide.  Whatever hour of the day or night I pass, the man is sitting in a plastic chair in the front yard, wearing the same shirt and shorts, and there is always a 1.75-liter bottle of Popov vodka sitting on the ground in front of him.  He sits out there taking generous dollops of it with a red plastic Solo cup.  Maybe he has been drinking this heavily for a long time, and finally decided to stop hiding it, or maybe he’s hit some kind of bottom so he no longer cares.  He must be an experienced drinker, because of the tolerance it takes to drink that much 80-proof vodka a day.  Maybe it’s because you can’t legally buy Everclear in Ohio.  (It is not illegal to possess it, however.  I knew many Cincinnati neighbors who went over to Kentucky to get it.)  I have seen that he delivers The Bag on weekends, so I understand what’s led him to drinking!

A casual pedestrian on this street will see many flags flying, regardless of the time of year.  There are quite a few American flags, of course.  The house where I bought the book and the jacket flew an O.U. flag and an American flag.  (The only American flag I own is the one that draped my dad’s coffin, and it is still in its triangular zippered American Legion case, along with the spent cartridges from his rifle salute.)  There is one house on the street where you can find one of three flags displayed: a U.S. flag, a Pittsburgh Penguins flag, or a Culpeper Minutemen “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.  (I wonder if the owner knows the Culpeper Minutemen organized to defend a group spearheaded by a bunch of Quakers, Deists, and Unitarians.  Also, the Committee on Safety pulled the plug on the Minutemen in January 1776.)

Continuing on this vexillological note for a moment (anything that makes you sprint for the nearest dictionary is purely coincidental intentional), a woman a few doors down from the patriot-Penguins fan-Don’t Tread on Me fan flies small respectably faded banners featuring the symbols of the world’s major religions–the Star of David, the Crescent and Star, the Om, the Buddhist Wheel of Righteousness, the cross, the pentacle.  (I have offered to find her a Unitarian Universalist Flaming Chalice, and when I do, I will donate it.)  In the same vein, a family further down the street flies flags featuring the word peace written in several languages–Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, English, Cyrillic.  Someone in the same block always displays an Israeli flag.

Interspersed among all these are Blue Jackets banners (Ironically, their slogan is “Carry the flag!”), Columbus Crew banners, and Scarlet and Gray will be impossible to avoid once the football season begins.  (I remember a duplex in Franklinton where a Michigan flag hung on one side and an OSU banner on the other.  I guess they came to some kind of truce about that.)

Susie and I are going to go to the opening of a new record store downtown tomorrow morning.  Yes, folks, a store that sells vinyl, as in LPs, is opening for business, and in a brick and mortar store, not online.  For those of you interested, it’s called Spoonful Records, and it’s at 116 E. Long St., in the site of an old furniture store around the corner from the AT&T building on N. Fourth St.  If you go, mention this blog!