Knowing My Place
Take no offense, Westsiders, but you are not my people. There are deep reasons why I won’t live “over there” and I’d be willing to guess they are the same reasons why you don’t live “over here” on the Eastside. It has nothing to do with supposed Eastside snobbery, honest. Nothing to do with your way of life, your neighbors, your festivals or your schools. It’s just not my place.
My identity is not tied to “West.” I’m sure you’ll agree that “East” doesn’t make you nostalgic, full of that warm feeling just shy of pure joy, but more than just the feeling of comfort. You see, Eastside is home. I wasn’t brought home from the hospital to West 8th Street, but 33rd Street. (You hear that newfangled Oakley residents? Yes, 33rd Street, before they changed them all to “avenue.”) For a while one corner’s sign said 33rd Street and the other read 33rd Avenue. They finally changed them both to Avenue. We prefer street, and we still call it that. (We fight the man where we can on the Eastside.)
Westsiders are lovely people, I’m sure, because I’ve met more than a handful. I’ve drank heavily on multiple occasions at the Crows Nest listening to your Westside boys, The Tillers. I’ve attending men’s volleyball games in Elder’s gym, in awe of how hard and fast high school boys play volleyball, of all things. I’ve run your hills at Rapid Run Park, threw up before and cried after races. This isn’t about politics, or accents, or cuisine. It’s personal.
See that concrete slide tucked on that hill? We used to buy wax paper, situate a square under our butts and fly down it. Inertia already letting us stay in motion, the wax paper just added to the effect. You’ll crash at the bottom unable to stop yourself and fall into sticks, rocks, and dirt. You’ll climb the steps next to the slide and doing it again. One of your friends will hurt themselves and it will be worth it. This is what happens on the Eastside. You’ve probably not frequented Alms Park, and gone down the slide, I imagine, because you’ve got Mt. Echo. Lovely place (I went for my first time a month ago), but it’s not the place I found out I was allergic to holly while hiding in a vast thicket of the plants. It’s not where I played in the grand castle, or the place where I wept at the overlook of the Lunken Airport when I realized my grandmother was really and truly going to die that month. The police showed up that night, ran our IDs and warned us for being in the park after dark, thinking Jordan and I were necking or something. I’m sure you have your Westside after dark park stories too.
It’s not on your side of town that I learned to drive my Hell Beast, the Jeep Cherokee that mysteriously shifted itself into reverse. And let’s be honest, I’m grateful for that because I always get lost on your streets. Suddenly Pedretti turns into Glenway, Glenway into Queen City, and before I know it I’m on my way towards Indiana driving down Route 50. No, when gas was cheap enough to drive around with friends purposeless, it wasn’t down your streets that we laughed, and sang and felt so grown up and ridiculous.
See that bookstore on Madison Road? It used to be called the Blue Marble. That’s the store where I would walk to and dream of all the books being mine someday. It’s probably where the obsession began: filling bookshelves, not dog-earing the pages, but collecting them like sacred artifacts. It’s where Mr. Mohr took students with straight As for the year to buy a book in 4th grade. I chose the Eleventh Hour: a Curious Mystery and gave it to my aunt as a gift.
See that pink brick building a few doors down? That’s Aglamesis Brothers Icecream. It’s always been there, I’m sure of that. Mr Aglamesis has always been that old. Mrs. Boberg, my first grade teacher took us there when we got 10 or 20 or 1000 gold stars on the star chart (details are fuzzy when you’re six). It smells divine in there, and my family didn’t go there often or at all that I can remember for icecream because it was expensive, but on the rare occasion that I was able to sit at the marble counter in their pink and wire back bar chairs, I felt like a character out of some magnificent Blue Manatee book. They served little finger cookies on top of whipped cream on top of shakes. I didn’t like whipped cream then but it was so beautiful on top that I didn’t dare ask for the shake without it.
Across the street there all lit up in red is the 20th Century Theater. She sure is a beauty now, isn’t she? I stood out there once with my grandma and what seemed like a thousand other people. It closed in 1983 and sat there for about 10 years empty, not lighted and a tree growing out where it said 20th at the top. We held little paper cups with candle in it, had a vigil to keep it from being torn down for a parking lot, probably. I’m sure you have your theaters on the Westside, but I’ve never helped save them with my grandma and don’t even know where they are located.
The bowling alley up the road on Madison. One time in grade school we got a behind the scenes tour there from someone’s dad who managed it at the time. I had a birthday party there, and in later years, our sober driver would drive us there to bowl late into the night while we demanded snacks and food. On Saturday mornings, the family would bowl before Troy died, and we’d make a morning of it. When I was younger, Aunt Sandy would take me to her bowling league where men and women would chain smoke, and I’d beg for quarters to play an old bowling game, and demand snacks, and food. I think you have bowling alleys on the Westside, but I think you know what I’m going to say.
I was baptized there at that giant church, made my first communion there, confirmation. Jordan and I chose not to get married there for reasons that aren’t nostalgic. But my grandmother was married there, and my mother, and my two of my aunts. I’ve given two eulogies there.
I nearly passed out in that choir loft once, standing behind that huge pipe organ, which is hard to believe given my current ability to sing. I can tell you what the vestibule used to look like before they put in the accessible restroom. I can also tell you that if you use the restroom in the under-croft as a child, you have to run up the red carpeted stairs as fast as possible because it’s just so frightening down there. I can tell you the same selections from the Gather Book that they used to make: On Eagle’s Wings, Taste and See, City of God. When I hear other friends who grew up Catholic and went to different parishes reminisce about their church songs, they sound strange, foreign. Nice enough, but I don’t know the melody and the lyrics are unknown to me. The Westside is like that to me, too.
Tom Kohler was in town this past weekend and he asked, “How long do you think it would take you to get to know your neighbors if you moved to the Westside?” I answered not that long. But how long would it take me to replicate 26 years of personal history to a place? How long would it take me to reproduce a Meyer/Jones family history dating back to the late 1930s? How could I say, that’s the house where my grandmother, mother, aunts, sisters, and I were raised? I couldn’t. I couldn’t point out the stump of a tree that was struck by lightning and nearly hit Jenny when she was a child. She said afterwards that she tasted pennies, and we were all convinced she was probably struck too. I couldn’t point to the hill we went sled riding down and Mom wound up doing back-flips when she lost control of her sled (and body). I couldn’t walk past the routes I took on my Sea Princess banana seat bike around town.
And I don’t intend to try to want to build a new history across town. I know my place and it is in the veins of neighborhoods like Oakley, Madisonville, Kennedy Heights, Pleasant Ridge. It’s down Madison Road and Erie, Minot, Robertson and Isabella, Bramble and Whetsel and the side streets in between. Westside, this love story is not for you. And moving to your side of town would be the worst kind of infidelity.