Yesterday I got on a plane to fly to Cincinnati for work. It is always weird coming out this way, as I lived the better part of three years just a couple hours up I-75 from here, and would sometimes fly in and out of the airport (which is actually on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River). It’s been a couple years since I was here, and I haven’t actually visited the home office in over 3 years, if memory serves. That’s kind of crazy, really.
Flying in on a beautiful day, I was reminded how green Ohio is. Of course this shot (a horrible picture, I know) is Kentucky as we flew in; Kentucky was a frontiersman’s paradise back in the day.
I drove to my hotel, a lovely Holiday Inn Express that sits just off I-75 in Northern Cincinnati. I mean it is literally right off the damn highway. Here’s the view out my window.
Ohio is a weird place. In Sidney, where I lived, you can have a street where in one house the family, who has lived there their entire lives, have thick, unintelligible accents that sound like they just rolled out of the mountains of Tennessee, while next door another family, also lifelong Ohioans, have just the slightest tinge of Midwestern twang. Everyone also has little animal statues in their yards. I mean everyone does. If the family doesn’t have a dog to keep in the yard, then I shit you not they will put a statue of one out there. Dogs, deer, gnomes, lawn jockeys; if you can think of something, someone has a whimsical version all painted up on their freakin’ lawn, guaranteed.
Ohioans pronounce the town of “Versailles” Ver-Sales (rhymes with Her Sales). “Bellfontaine” is pronounced Bell Fountain (rhymes with Hell Fountain). And “Russia” is something like Roosie (would rhyme with Ruthie if you said it with a lisp). It’s like they decided them foreign-lookin’ town names weren’t ‘Merican enough, so they’d pronounce them however they wanted to. It took me forever to figure out what they were talking about when towns like this were mentioned that I couldn’t find on the goddamn map.
One of my first trips here I asked a manager at a movie theater if there was a Mexican restaurant nearby, and he said there was one right across the street; “It’s real authentic,” he said. “It’s even run by authentic Mexican people.”
So during the course of today’s work-related activities, the woman essentially managing the project from the customer side of things asked where I was staying. When I told her, her face crumpled in horror. “That’s not where you’re staying tonight, is it?” Well, yeah. “That’s a horrible part of town!” She went on to relate all the horrors that have been visited by folks upon other folks in this neck of the woods. The White Castle right next door (now featuring Pulled Pork Sliders!) was the scene of an infamous beating death of a guy courtesy of Cincinnati’s Finest. Down the street is a Shell station that has been the scene of a couple other murders in the past few years, apparently. It’s not like any of this freaks me out too much, since I laugh at death; it simply underscores not only the continued luxury of my accomodations but the real glamour of the biz travel lifestyle! Eat your hearts out, homebodies!
Still, it got me thinking about a couple people I’ve seen in this vicinity that kind of shows why this part of the country is featured in movies like Gummo, or why filmmakers like David Lynch mine the heartland for bizarre shit. I don’t really consider Ohio the heartland; it’s too far to the east, but still not possessing that high-nose East Coast snobbery. Down here in Cincinnati we may as well be in Kentucky, or West Virginia, and once you get that far south, the Middle South I’d call it, shit starts getting weird. Only two places have I ever been where I just didn’t feel like people wanted me there; once was stopping for gas in West Virginia, and another was browsing through a sporting goods store in South Carolina. The vibe was just creepy, man, and I follow my gut when I get those feelings. I’ve traveled enough to know that anyone who shrugs and says, “People are people” just flatout hasn’t gotten out much.
Anyway. I first got creeped out when I checked into my hotel yesterday. The guy working the desk, an Indian guy (not Indian as in from Browning, but Indian as in from Bhopal), had the most fucked up hand I’ve ever seen. His right hand was otherwise normal — four fingers and a thumb — except he has a miniature, clawlike thumb growing off of his regular thumb. It was so hard not to stare just to wrap my brain around it. I know that isn’t very PC, but deformities freak me out. I mean, the guy is right downstairs this moment, and I’m tempted to get a little liquor in me so I wouldn’t be afraid to ask to take a picture of it. I’m not enough of a prick sober to do that, unfortunately. And since I’ve already barricaded myself in for the night, I won’t be going anywhere.
The woman I saw this afternoon really set me on edge, though; remember I was already a little freaked out by entering my neighborhood-for-the-week with the newfound knowledge of the criminal proclivities of my neighbors. I was pulling off the highway at my hotel exit, and the ramp ended at a stoplight. Just to my left was a woman sitting in a chair, sun beating down on her, with a cardboard sign that had “POOR” written on it. As I approached, I thought she had some kind of little yarmulke on that looked almost exactly like this; same color and everything:
That’s not what it was, though. Most of the top of her skull was cut away; I could clearly see the edge of the bone, though skin-covered. What I thought was the yarmulke I almost thought had to be just the top of her brain, and that is about what it was, with maybe only the thinnest layer of bone, or skin, or something, covering it. The entire edge had big stitches tying it to the lip of bone that circled her crown. I’m not over exaggerating or being flippant at all, that was exactly what it looked like. She looked to be maybe in her 50s, and her face looked like it had undergone some surgery as well. Who knows what the hell happened to this poor woman. At her feet was a really ugly reddish-blonde wig. I think that just added to the creepiness of it — this horrific injury, and the cheap, shapeless wig that looked like it crawled out of the 70s. I felt sorry, and ashamed, and all that . . . we kept casting furtive glances at one another. If I’d had cash on me, I would have given her some, but all I have in my wallet right now are a bunch of goddamn receipts.
Even now reflecting on it makes me kind of uneasy, like — as Julia suggested and nailed the feeling — a bad dream that, upon waking up, kind of follows you around all day. There has to be a tragic story there that I’m not so sure I would even want to hear.
In closing tonight’s chuckle-fest, I realize we can’t have American Gothic stories like this without religion, and there are all manners of awesome old churches, strip mall churches, and imposing mega-churches in the vicinity. Then there is the Solid Rock Church, just up the highway from here. I mean, get a load of the size of their fucking saviour:
If that doesn’t make you feel The Lord, Sinner, then nothing will. I see they have a gift shop. If I drive by there tomorrow, I am totally stopping by.