What should I be doing instead of this?

Take Five

By Stephanie Dunlap · September 12th, 2007 · There But For Grace

I take a break from writing a string of sincere columns about people on the margins and issues involving socioeconomic disparity to get lost in my new PlayStation 2 for a month.

I once logged about 20 hours over two summers playing Contra on a vacation friend's system. Outside her cottage, waves rushed the Michigan shoreline and the setting sun laid orange bars of glare on the TV screen while we battled some oversized octopus that shot fireballs from its many waving tentacles. I always died early.

My only other experience with video games is limited to endless hours racing up the 2D world of SpyHunter on my Commodore 64. That was around the time that Bobby Brown taught us all a new useful phrase: my prerogative.

My prerogative: I figure after writing about living in Over-the-Rhine, I am somehow obligated to write about leaving it to move back to Clifton's gaslight district.

Not counting my parents' house, into which I moved twice after college (lucky, but not lucky enough to escape Anderson Township for my formative years), I've already lived in four separate apartments of my own along Ludlow Avenue. This move makes five.

Meanwhile, back on the new PS2, I learn to clumsily manipulate a riotous digital landscape ("SpyHunter wasn't anything like this!") by playing the suitable-for-teens game Ratchet and Clank. Collecting magic bolts racks up my buying power.

In one of the game's scenes, a goofy plumber explains why he can't escape his besieged planet on transport vehicles like everyone else.

"Socioeconomic disparity," the plumber says. He enunciates self-righteously.

He's mocking me, I think.

"What?" says Ratchet.

"He means he doesn't have enough bolts," sidekick Clank explains.

I also briefly play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I gave it to my boyfriend, who says he once lost a whole month to it. Now I think buying it was a mistake, for several reasons.

In Vice City the currency is dollars and kilos of coke, not magic bolts.

In this game my victims curse and scream and finally collapse into pools of their own blood.

I can attack all the innocent bystanders I please, to take out their money or my aggressions. I can toss people out of idling cars and drive off in them.

In real life I'm a pacifist social worker.

"Play this for eight hours," my boyfriend says, "then go for a run and see how the world looks to you."

I can't play it for one hour, but I watch his avatar with perverse fascination. I remember Grand Theft Auto provoking a prudish outcry a few years ago. I'd wanted to know why. Ah.

Meanwhile, the night sounds of Over-the-Rhine are floating up through my open windows. Police sirens, rushing emergency vehicles, cars thumping bass, people cajoling and threatening. A couple times I can't tell from my bedroom if the sirens and screams come from the game on the TV or the game on the streets.

About half and half, it turns out.

I will miss this about Over-the-Rhine: the Prophet. Wave or call to him, and he'll drop to his knees, fly his hands to the sky and bless you. He might do this even if you don't acknowledge him or if you're a passing car or an empty street.

I ran past the Prophet one steamy Saturday. When he saw me turn back to speak to him, he blessed me.

He told me his name but said he's shy. He lives elsewhere but comes downtown to visit his family. He said some things about municipal court and a lot of things about family. Call your family, he said over and over.

"I wish I had a couple dollars, I'd by you a Coca-Cola," he said as I sweated in front of him wearing my iShuffle and water belt and GoGoGadget sports watch.

He wore a blue sweater and faded black slacks in the 90-degree heat. His long fingers played witness as he said, "I play the bass a little but, you see, I don't read sheet music. I do it my own way."

As I ran off, I had the strange sensation that I first felt when I got proper glasses and my depth perception was both corrected and skewed: the feeling that I was very tall and powerful and slightly off-balance.

The Prophet does it his own way, and he often appears to be in a better mood than I am. There are cranky journal notations like this one:

It's Labor Day and WiFi doesn't work down here. Grocery shopping doesn't work down here, in spite of Kroger's Vine Street renovation.

People don't work down here. Kaldi's service doesn't work down here.

Fire works down here. Then suburbanites head home.

Then comes Second Sunday on Main and cheery festival sounds drift up through my open windows. How can one neighborhood have so many different personalities?

So I move because I want to feel mostly safe running after dark. I want to not have to get in my car every time I leave my apartment to go somewhere. I want to be able to walk to a grocery store.

I move because I'm sick of getting parking tickets at the meters right outside my home, as if nonresidents are dying to park here at Main and Liberty. I move (just) because, and it's none of your business.

Do I need a reason to move? Can everything be good and bad both? Am I making a mistake?

My Over-the-Rhine is alive. It teems, not always in suitable-for-teens ways but in ways that feel vital. There are parts that aren't so pretty. To me they're like the hidden parts of us laid bare.

Over-the-Rhine is honest. I suspect that more peaceful neighborhoods are lying to themselves.

But my new apartment will have a view into Burnet Woods, and I could use the breather.

First Ratchet and I will win some more bolts to buy the Glove of Doom. It releases these cute little nattering robots to do my work for me.

I wish they'd pack my books.

CONTACT STEPHANIE DUNLAP: letters(at)citybeat.com. Her column appears here the second issue of each month.


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