Tag Archives: Westgate

The Confederate ghosts of my neighborhood

In the two weeks between closing on our house and moving in a couple of years ago, I had anxiety dreams about my neighborhood. Once home to Camp Chase, a Union military base and prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers, this cemetery is all that still stands.
I dreamed that the ghosts of these men wandered the streets here at night. And that there were so many of them, I’d have to drive through a fog of gray, opaque bodies just to get home from the grocery store.
We took a walk to the cemetery today — a perfect All Saints’ Day — just after watching pundits on HBO joke that this moment in history calls for a leader, specifically “someone like Lincoln, not someone who’s winkin‘.” It seemed appropriate to pay respects at the graves of 2,260 former countrymen, 2,260 former enemies, 2,260 men supposedly mourned by a “gray lady” at dusk who searches the tombstones for the one with her husband’s name.
The site is crunched between stark emblems of urban life. There is an ugly apartment building full of one-room flats and the “Dari Twist” – an ice cream stand with dozens of soft-serve flavors. A platform area that was likely built as a place for annual ceremonies that honor the dead is surrounded by a moderate amount of garbage and graffiti.
A group of skater punk teens filed in as we got ready to leave, settling in for a visit on the platform. They smoked cigarettes and noshed on Halloween candy. Two of them kissed each other as we took a last look at a cannonball that had been fired in a civil war battle, set in stone by the gate.

Making tree forts out of high wind destruction

So, this was supposed to be our first big week of preschool.

But the back end of Ike sneaked up on Ohio and smacked us with 50-70 MPH winds for several hours on Sunday evening, tearing down trees and fences and power lines, leaving about half the city and much of the state, still today, without power — our first Midwestern hurricane.

Schools are closed, traffic lights off, grocery stores stocked with few or no perishable items and both the city and state are in a declared state of emergency. Lots of my friends on the north side of town have been told that they won’t have power until the weekend. For reasons I can’t fathom, our power was restored after one peaceful night, but our town is, for most intents and purposes, shut down.

Thank goodness for 10-year-old aspiring architect neighbor girls.
Our block didn’t have any major tree-falling incidents, but the storm left a massive debris field of branches scattered across every yard. Our ten-year-old neighbor, banished from school, decided to use the remnants of destruction to fashion an elaborate tree fort in her front yard, and she sweetly let Declan help, and repeatedly indulged his desire to be tickled and scared.
From the side, you can see that they wisely constructed a railing up the hill on the way in.
The roots of the tree, I was told, are the steps to this entryway.As I was taking pictures, she turned this sign from “keep out” to “come in.”
The inside room is cozy with its Hello Kitty blanket, and a mirror hung on the bark.

Sometimes the sheer awesomeness of kids makes me cry.

Inventory: 28 Months

Declan is 28 months old today. It’s kind of hard to believe that’s all the time it has been. Mysterious coos and babbles have given way to complete sentences. Once unable to roll over on his own, he’s now the “sultan of somersaultin'” (named so by Dan). Frenetic waves have transformed into deliberate, dramatic hand gestures that accompany mini-lectures about space.

As a family, we’ve also been through a lot in that time. We lost a couple of Dan’s older family members. Dan nearly lost his eye. We lost our dear companion Samson. Even one of our cars and a laptop died (actually, Dan murdered it with ginger ale). And we’ve had horrible luck with landlords.

We had a terrifying bout with lead paint and for our trouble, got kicked out of our conveniently located (although rented) home by a man we had thought had more decency. Then the short-sighted landlord of Dan’s business helped put an unceremonious end to his nearly 20-year run.

But we also bought a house in a part of town where we have no baggage and the neighbors are cartoonishly friendly. We’ve forged new friendships with other new parents and enjoyed an awful lot of days just spending time on our own as a family. I’ve been able to do some writing work that I feel matters. We’ve learned a whole lot about space and physics, which tends to put things like craptastic landlords and life, death and illness in a very different perspective.

Tonight we’ll have cowboy-style Tuvan Throat singing, tomorrow we’ll go to a funeral for a man who has contributed a great deal to the cultural life of the city. Time, as they say, marches on.

Life soundtrack: Rufus Wainwright, I Am Sam soundtrack, “Across the Universe”
Rufus Wainwright - I Am Sam - Across the Universe

Is it like a butterfly?

It was a perfect, temperate world last weekend. We spent lots of time on playgrounds and in parks, visiting with friends and family and finding places where we could let the dog run loose. On Monday, we had a picnic on a Granville hillside and met the early signs of fall during a quick walk through the woods. Declan stopped to examine details along the way: a pine cone, a fallen spray of Queen Anne’s lace (“I have a flower for you, mom.”), and a sprig with two deep red leaves on it that he spun between his fingers, asking “is it like a butterfly?

On the way home, the sunset stung his eyes and he kept sneezing. I tried to convince him to wear sunglasses or hold up a book to block the sun, but he was determinedly unhappy, desperately wanting out of his car seat now, now, NOW. I was relieved when we got to the Broad Street exit and began making our way up the long incline to the Hilltop.

Then I saw this body on the side of the road, this man with his face planted into the ground, his legs twisted around a bicycle, blood on the sidewalk near his head. I started grabbing for my cell phone and trying to form a sentence to tell Dan to slow the car down, that there was a person hurt or dying or dead and alone back there. We pulled up to the next intersection so I could look for a street number to tell the 911 operator where the man was. In spite of being the granddaughter of a surgeon, I really had no idea how to help this man other than to call someone who could. The three rings before an answer seemed like a lot.

“I don’t know if he’s dead or alive, he’s just collapsed on the sidewalk and I think his head is bleeding,” I told him. Head injuries. Don’t they come faster for head injuries?

By the time we waited through a light to turn back down Broad Street, two more cars had stopped and a group of five or six people now milled around the man, a couple of them with cell phones pressed to their ears, also calling 911. A helicopter circled. We still had a crying toddler in the back seat. Not to mention an anxious dog strapped into the seat next to him who was now beginning to sense some new level of stress in the air, and who would, therefore, probably start trying to dig his way toward the trunk momentarily. I gave the dispatcher my phone number and told him that we were heading home. Dan told the group that we had reached emergency services and someone was coming. As we reached the top of the hill, an ambulance passed us on its way down.

This is the second time inside of a month that I have seen a person prone along West Broad Street, and went home wondering for several days whether I was possibly looking at someone just moments before, or moments after, their death. The newspaper didn’t shed light on either situation. I don’t think it’s important that I know.

My hope is that in both cases, they are recovering somewhere, basking in the gift of having survived, ready to soak in a perfect, temperate world and twirl the brightly colored, fallen sprigs of a Midwestern autumn in between their fingers.

Life soundtrack: Lou Reed, Magic and Loss, “Magic and Loss”
Lou Reed - Magic and Loss - Magic and Loss

West Side Story, Chapter 2

I got stuck in an automatic car wash on West Broad Street* two days ago. I input the code numbers to make it go, the thing pulled me in about 20 feet, then stopped. Trapped in the somewhat foreign space of my stepfather’s Crown Victoria, I watched the spindle of fat, soapy rags twirl through an entire cycle and realized that I couldn’t take the keys out of the ignition without putting the car in park. Being on a track that demanded the car stay in neutral, this didn’t seem like the smart choice. Instead, I chose to lean on the horn like the most annoying person who ever lived and hoped that my oil-stained white knight would arrive soon.

My mother called me on my cell phone at that moment. Learning of my peril while listening to me beep for several minutes without getting any response, she serenaded me with, “Did she ever return? No, she never returned, and her fate is still unlearned/Though for years there were fond hearts watching/for the little girl stuck in the car wash who never returned.”

She tried to call the BP station for me while I kept on honking, and after about 10 minutes, a young man finally showed up to help. After a series of “turn the wheel this way” and “hit the gas!” instructions, I wound up safely back in the right place and miraculously, without any scratches on the car. He sent me back though with an upgraded car wash, which is apparently more expensive because you get to sit there and watch yourself get encased inside of a rainbow of sherbet-colored foam instead of plain white soap.

Yesterday, on the same stretch of road, I stopped at a traffic light close to the outerbelt, right at the moment that an ambulance and firetruck pulled over to examine a person lying on ground beside the offramp. I saw an EMT pick up one of the person’s arms and drop it. As it flopped to the ground, I decided that I would add an errand or two to my trip, which had been to simply ship a camcorder back to Canon that they have now failed to fix twice. I didn’t find anything about this person in the paper today, so I’m hoping that means the man or woman (I couldn’t tell which) is okay, or recovering from whatever happened somewhere.

When I finally drove home, I soaked in the friendly sight of Westgate’s neighborly-looking streets. A young woman in a ruffled blue shirt and spectacles walked a three-legged dog in front of these 1940s homes, where canna and petunias and sunflowers are embroidered into the landscape. There is enough obvious house pride around here to keep us feeling the peer pressure to weed and fix our crumbling front step. As commercial or institutional as West Broad Street can feel, Westgate is equally welcoming.

Dan keeps joking that living on the West side is like being in the witness relocation program. In our old quarters, closer to North High Street*, he couldn’t walk ten feet without bumping into some musician, artist, know-it-all, music fan, cult of personality or new or old friend. I have run into someone I know out in the neighborhood (in this case, at the hardware store) exactly once since we moved here last November. Dan, of course, has run into a few more, but nowhere near the level he did around our old stomping ground.

This is probably a blessing this summer, because we certainly can’t go to a festival or music event without his experiencing some degree of interrogation about what happened to Little Brother’s and what he’s planning to do next. Around the closing, it was very touching when so many people said “I’m so sorry,” and a few people actually cried about losing the club, or because they hurt for us, knowing that despite Dan’s veteran status as a music man, our life as a family is very new and financial instability is scary. It is touching, but exhausting.

For the sake of trying to figure out how we are going to rebalance our lives, it’s good to get stuck in a West Broad Street car wash.

* For those not familiar with Columbus, West Broad Street is the primary east-west road that runs through Columbus, while High Street is its North-South counterpart. The two street intersect in the center of Downtown, where the Ohio Statehouse is located.

Life soundtrack
: Doc Watson, My Old Country Home, “The Ship That Never Returned”
Doc Watson - My Dear Old Southern Hom - The Ship That Never Returned

West Side Story

Features of our neighborhood:

• Mango and papaya are at the front of the produce section in every major grocery store.

Camp Chase. When we bought the house but were still waiting to move in, I had a dream in which people asked me “how’s the new house?” and I said “It’s great, except for all of these ghosts of Confederate soldiers. They make it hard to drive through the neighborhood at night.”

• A 24-hour jelly donut drive-thru.

Westland Mall has hosted at least two child pageants and a gun show since we arrived. This Saturday’s Cinco de Mayo celebration/garage sale may be the city’s most authentic.

•We actually know our state representative, and he has already taught us the secret West side handshake.

• An ice cream stand with over 25 flavors of soft serve (?) !

• The only Mexican/Filipino grocery store in town that I am aware of.

• Discount warehouse cheap liquidation factory outlet clearance everything. On sale now!

Taquieras everywhere. Dan is visiting a tortilla production line this weekend.

Plan B version 127 for our uncertain future: Dang if this side of town doesn’t need a decent bookstore and coffeeshop with WiFi.