You can’t compare apples to oranges… or plums

plum

I just got a new job, and went to pick up my apron and other employee stuff today before I start my first day tomorrow. My new boss (who’s from NYC) asked me where I grew up.

Me: “Cleveland.”
Him: “Cleveland, Ohio. Hey, I think another guy who works here is from Ohio.”
Me: “Oh really?”
Him: “Yeah, or somewhere weird. Did you grow up there dreaming of leaving?”
Me: “Not really.”

I didn’t say that even since I was a kid, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with Cleveland. Once I had an awareness of it as a city people looked down on, an overly defiant spirit came upon me like the dewfall and, well, even the Denver sun hasn’t been able to evaporate it.

Him: “How do you like Denver?”
Me: “It’s different.”

This is the truth. This is the only real answer. It’s different.
When I’m in Denver, I miss: my family, my Cleveland friends, ornate architecture, the cultural neighborhoods, and pierogies.
When I’m in Cleveland, I miss: my Denver friends, living downtown, walking everywhere, the amazing street art, and green chili.

The point I’m trying to make is, as much as I might hold up and compare the two cities in which I’ve had an address, there is no comparison. Denver and Cleveland are two totally different places, in totally different areas of the country, with their own culture and their own history. You can’t compare the Rust Belt to the Wild West. You can’t compare mountains to Lake Erie. You can’t compare green chili to pierogies. (Omg, wait. Can you put green chili ON a pierogi?????)

Sure, I love to shit-talk Denver, but that’s because I find ranting fun. And it’s like teasing a friend. As in, hey, I notice the weird things you do because I pay attention to you. And some of these weird things annoy me. Same story with Denver. (And honestly, same with Cleveland, too. But just like I wouldn’t tease a friend in front of people who don’t know them, I’m not going to shit-talk Cleveland when people already think it’s trash.)

I’ve already gone over this topic many times, in print and in person, Denver vs Cleveland, the loves and the hates. That’s because talking/writing is a mode of thinking for me. Whether joking or serious, when I find myself talking and writing about a topic over and over, it’s because I’m digging into it. Putting it into language, explaining it before I’m even really sure what it is I’m trying to explain. It’s all a sprawling, messy first draft of… something.

talking-to-myself

Clearly, I haven’t yet figured it out. Anyway, just remember: you can’t compare apples and oranges. Or the Big Apple to a plum. Or the plum to an over-hyped piece of–

Darn it, there I go again.

 

Inhabitant

Now that Patrick and I are back from our excursion through New Mexico, I have settled back into my Denver routine. I didn’t really realize I had one until I went about my normal activities and it seemed almost strange to have Patrick back at home again. Now I have a job and a daily set of things to do, plus the odd errand and/or fun evening. At last I could say I’m content. (…..Except for how excited I am to go back to Cleveland for Easter!!!)

Speaking of going back to Cleveland… we’re visiting for Easter but also later this spring for Patrick’s work. His work will pay for him to have a place to stay downtown, and when we were discussing this I said, “But how will I get around?”
Patrick (joking): “Use the amazing local transit system.”
Me: “No, seriously! I don’t wanna be holed up downtown without a car.”
Patrick: “Um…. What?”
Me:
Me:
Me: “….Ohhhhhhhhh. Oh… I live almost downtown here. I can just… walk to places… Just like I do here….”
Patrick: “Thank god, you figured it out. I actually started to wonder if you got hit in the head.”
But as I explained to him, when I picture downtown Cleveland I picture almost nothing! Having spent little actual time down there out and about (instead I was always in a car or only walking a few blocks), I can only picture certain streets or buildings and I have no concept at all of the general layout or the nearness of coffee shops to hotels.
The other crazy thing was, thinking about walking around downtown Cleveland made me a little nervous. I don’t know my way, there might be sketchy characters, etc… And yet again it dawned on me that I deal with those same things right where I live now.

Apparently, I have become a city girl. I did choose our neighborhood for its proximity to downtown/stuff, but for the most part I have to say I was unwittingly transformed.

This past Saturday was fairly nice out (unlike today, when both Patrick and I are home thanks to a snowstorm shutting down our places of work… Not that I’m complaining because DOUBLE SNOW DAYYYYY!!!) so I went to get myself a cup of coffee in the late morning. Walking back with the sun shining, hot cup in hand, and people out around me, I felt a sense that this was kind of, a little bit, maybe, my neighborhood.

The reason I went out to get coffee that day was more my craving for a little walk than it was for caffeine (okay, but caffeine did play a huge role). And more than geography or getting out, even my personality has become more “city-fied”– when I first moved here I found the constant brushing with strangers exhausting. But now I chat with strangers in line. I recognize people I’ve seen around the neighborhood and say hello. I’ve gotten better at making new friends. I give directions to people who ask me (and they must ask me because I look like I know?!!?). I’ve also learned the art of when and how to ignore the world, for example, wearing my headphones on the walk home from work.

All of this makes me want to inhabit Cleveland just as fully as I inhabit this neighborhood. To always make an effort, explore, and meet people. It sounds pretty cliche, like pictures of girls with blonde ponytails standing on a rock, the background for some quote about “adventure” underscored with an arrow. But actually trying to live beyond one’s comfort zone is a worthwhile challenge, and one which I am determined to undertake even in familiar places.

Spring’s a girl in the street at night

Lately I can’t stop mentally singing “Dirty Old Town” even though until I looked it up, I knew only one verse. But anyway, that’s where the title of this post is from… Fitting for the moment as I continue to further– I don’t want to say explore, more like interact with— Denver as the weather jilts toward springlike. Although Denver isn’t dirty in the same way. It would be “slightly littered old town” or something.

I’m also interested in the song because it makes me think of how I am always trying to describe things, but I always try to describe them in this super deep way and I want to get it exactly right. It ends up sounding like Ray Bradbury on a nostalgia tangent. (We all know I love him but some of his stuff can get to be a bit much for me– Dandelion Wine? Like, cool it, man.) But when it comes to “Dirty Old Town”, I realize that you can actually write something very simple and people will overlay their own experiences onto it, and it will come out all right. Of course this is a simple concept that I knew on a conscious level, but have yet to grasp in my writing.

When I was younger, it was easier. I didn’t try as hard to convey exactly because I didn’t really understand how different others’ experiences were from mine. I thought, you can just write about the woods, describe the smell and maybe the tree bark and leave it at that. And you can! But now that I’ve been more places and met more people I feel this weird need to be like, “THIS IS THE EXACT WAY IT IS OKAY”. Basically, I need to relax.

I can write something as simple as, “I smelled the spring on the smoky air” and it doesn’t have to  be complicated.

Writers are all only one person with one set of senses. Which is why it’s important to be as observant, open, and deep-digging as we can; and in writing, to leave enough space around our narrow experience for a reader to stand in and see not only what we see but what they’ve seen and what we can both imagine.

Well, that ended up kind of philosophical… All from some Irish folk song that Patrick and I started to sing in a jokey way when we walked to Chipotle one night, striding past lampposts and construction signs and a fancy restaurant where a guy smoking outside looked up in surprise.

Then it got stuck in my head and I was left alone with my thoughts… and a blog. Oh dear.

-Pen

 

A road too long to mention

Well, there are only a couple more days left of our time in El Paso, and then it’s the trek back to Denver. In preparation, I’ve been reading On the Road. I’m glad I waited until now to read it, actually, because his journey in the beginning of the book, from New York to Denver, is very similar to the way Patrick and I drove with our U-Haul when we moved. I can really picture it: I also traveled through Illinois, took a quick stop in North Platte, felt the excitement of getting close when we hit Cheyenne.

Then, when he’s actually in Denver, I could imagine him running around Colfax; I could relate to his friend’s basement apartment and poems about those Denver pigeons.

Of course, there’s still parts I don’t understand at all– like when he casually mentions walking five miles to a friend’s place. I’m just like… How??? Wouldn’t that take a long time?? Was this a normal thing, to walk five miles to meet up with someone? Did they just sit around waiting for however long it takes you? EXPLAIN PLEASE.

Right now I’m sitting in a Starbucks, across from a stranger who is also on a laptop. It’s crowded, needless to say. I just tried to move my foot and I accidentally nudged theirs and I died for a second.

Another thing about On the Road is the way he hops from city to city, job to job. He gives his shirt away to a fellow traveler (and later, gets it back). It reminds me of what I love about movie hit-men: if they lose their coat or their gun, they just find another one laying around and use that. Goals, man. If I could go with the flow even half as much as movie hit-men and Sal Paradise…

Oh, the stranger got up for a second. Time to stretch my legs… Oh lord. Well, at least I’m not the guy who got stuck with just an armchair in a corner.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the road trip, and to getting home and having my own pillow back, and doing some projects. (One of which, I keep joking to Patrick, is going to be the opening credits of an indie film with the song “Rights of Man” playing in the background for absolutely no reason.)

I’ll miss this city, though. El Paso makes me feel so refreshed (*one hundred sun emojis*).

Also, I slept for twelve and a half hours last night… Which I guess might have something to do with it.