I met a friend in Chagrin Falls the other day. It's funny how if you live here in Cleveland, Chagrin Falls brings to mind this very cutesy town square, with adorable clapboard houses, white picket fences and rose bushes, pretty bridges. But the name is actually very sinister. I didn't realize that till just now when I wrote it out. Chagrin - Regret, Shame, Guilt. What you would name a town in a murder mystery. Something very much like what my friend said as we wondered along the river park with her little girl, with our artisan 2 dollars a half scoop poached pear and cardamon ice cream, past gaggles of moms who are now my age and have somehow morphed from girls with tattoos to girls with strollers that cost more than my car is worth, and all of them in khaki floods and plain v neck tshirts that also cost more than my entire outfit that day. That this is where bad things might happen.
When I was in high school, and was the social outcast among my classmates' parents for living in the City with the Poor People and the Dangers, Chagrin Falls was still money. But it was much more small town back then, and gave off a vibe of professorial money, teaching money or design money, creative money. It felt like wholesome educated money. Now it looks like Legacy Village or Crocker Park, a cookie cutter fake facades mall vibe, the really expensive kind. Where people go to blow hundreds of dollars on purses and shoes, positively greasy with money. It rubbed off on you and stained the sheets in my happy off day frame of mind. It was an amusement park. Where once we were the misfit hippie kids wandering the town square smoking opium, spending a lot of time contemplating the waterfalls, loitering in bookstores and bars where our favorite bands used to play before they got big, now it was women on the higher side of thirty their bodies tanned and slimmed and coiffed in that way that screams "I married a lawyer", staring straight ahead with practiced intent as they sashayed across the crosswalks. Older men with expensively cut gray manes and more expensive suits leaving their business lunches to smoke cigars in the park and ogle the young mothers.
It felt dirty in a way that I never felt on W. 25th and Lorain, waiting for my bus. Even that particular hallowed corner of sincerity is going away, succumbing to a Friday bar scene with valet parking and girls in ridiculous stilettos. Money is taking places away from me, places I knew like the back of my hand, with their rusty edges and dirty wet sidewalks and windy miserable bus stops. I know the money is supposed to be good, money is better than no money I guess. And I know that I should have grown up and left these haunts behind a long time ago, replaced them with better places. I've waited too long to leave, and now my memories are all being torn down to put up cheap plastic card houses. It's my fault, I spend too much time in these places, trying to connect with people my own age who really have nothing in common with me, because I am poor and unplanned, and they are on career paths with investment portfolios. But I want people to hang out with and the people from where I grew up are not the adults with expendable income now. Frankly, I don't want to hang out with them on porches in backyards with their kids. I want to go out and spend money. I want to drink beautiful drinks with men who wear suits. This thing in me, it rebels and growls and snarls, chokes at the chain of it. I feel the absurdity and meaninglessness of the situation. I push it back and try to have a good time. I try hard to not give in to my bitter class war ways. I try really hard to not fall the other way too, into a pit of prettily attired expectations. It's exhausting, either way I lean. I feel displaced.
Then, that's when you go up on the roofs, and look at the city from where the people can't get to it, where it still smells like gray wet rain and steel exhaust. There is a still a flame sometimes from the mill and Cleveland is still a weak and gasping place that needs love, concrete steel rebar love. Love in the form of commitment to the people that actually live there, not the people you want to live there. I'm not the person, I think, to give that love, I'm not the person to give any kind of love really (being essentially a very ineffective person all together), but it helps to wipe the glitter out of your eyes frequently. It blinds you if you leave it in too long, makes you blink and suddenly you're seeing things through a funnel of wealth. The glitter and constant affirmation convinces you it's somehow normal to spend hundreds of dollars on a purse, or to wear heels in the snow. To have a new car every few years. To spend money at the bar 4 days a week, on happy hours and sushi and pork belly. How ridiculous to be made to feel inadequately rich in a place like Cleveland, in the places where we all grew up poor but felt lucky sometimes to not be That Poor, where my family looked rich because we had Lands End backpacks and didn't have to eat school lunches. Another friend mentioned, as we drove over 90W through the construction zones, how happy everyone was at her local union that all the boys had work now on the new bridge, and there that's a thing that actually matters. Workers getting jobs and paying bills and buying groceries. Maybe I am ineffective, a dilettante not an activist, but I guess in between martinis I can remember they exist and make their form and function and weight permanent in my memory. I just don't want to get lost. I desperately don't want to get lost. That's probably a sign I already am.