November 4, 2018
I sat on a swinging bench by the banks of the slow churning, chocolate brown Ohio River. The sky was a fragile blue, sprinkled with nonchalant cirrocumulus clouds. My parental radar never entirely strayed from half-listening for the sounds of my daughters in the nearby playground.
Notable cities come with notable nicknames, like; “The City that Never Sleeps.” “City of the Broad Shoulders,” or “Emerald City.” My city is called “Porkopolis,” a reference to the many pig rendering plants that called Cincinnati home. It’s also called “The Queen City,” but so is Charlotte, North Carolina.
Nobody ever calls Cincinnati “The Queen City.” Flying pig sculptures festoon the city in random locations.
The riverbank here has altered over time, flipping from pristine shoreline to mundane riverboat dock to industrial and grotesque. But now it’s an emerald strip of gleaming recreation. The playground is a cacophony of slides, climbing walls, bridges, and other challenging apparatus (including, of course, one flying pig). There’s one of those “fitness trails” that all cities like to install, although I’ve never actually seen anyone ever using the inclined sit-up bench, pull-up bars, or aerobic step slider thing. There is a meandering pathway along the river with a stainless-steel pergola that runs alongside it, filled with swinging benches for lovers, students, and coffee breakers.
The “five-minute warning” I’d given my daughters was long past, and it was time to go. We walked together, them bubbling after their play, and me listening, enjoying their banter.
My two darling girls, ages 11 and 13, are really growing up. Sylvia, the youngest, has started to really question the world. Her older sister, Lillian, just started having her period. I’m happy that they have had such a quaint, friendly city to grow up in, surrounded by my wife’s big, doting family.
But these girls were born in Idaho, in the Rockies, and I’d had visions of teaching them to ski (or, as they call it here, “snow ski”) and taking family vacations in mountain cabins and yurts. Here I’ve given up trying to take them to the local ski slopes. After growing up in New England and living out west, the local place is just too pathetic, and too expensive.
But my girls were happy after their jaunt in the playground; the oldest is not yet too old, or too cool, to not enjoy a swing or a slide.
We decided to finally fire off the little model rockets I got them last Christmas. The rockets sat in a spare room as the calendar event “Shoot Rockets w/ Girls” bounced along, pushed from weekend to weekend for months. Today was the day though! We decided we would hit a local park, shoot our rockets, and take cool slow-motion videos of them taking off with our iPhones.
I drove up I-71N, whipping around the thoughtful local drivers. The girls talked and gently fought, the older offering passive-aggressive insults to the younger, who called her bullshit and picked it apart word by word. The older one flipped through the satellite radio stations at blazing speed, hoping to find a song she liked before I caught some old New Wave tune that I insist we listen to, complete with a history lesson.
We arrived at the park, where the girls once played as tiny little things, back when Lillian could still boss Sylvia around. Back then I had to lift them up onto the swings and then push them too.
Our rockets, launcher, various chemical “engines,” fuses and other elements in hand, we set up near the playground, since the wind was blowing toward the soccer/baseball field.
The park was busy. We had an audience: A Hasidic Jewish family playing football stopped to watch. Some older African American boys sat down right next to us, ready for the show. Toddlers and their parents crowded around us, waiting to see what would happen. It made Sylvia, the sensitive one, nervous.
Her apprehension grew as we tried to launch the first rocket. Nothing happened. The power light on the handheld launch controller glowed brightly, but the charge somehow couldn’t get to the “engine” that would launch the little cardboard and plastic rocket into the air. We tried, and failed, and tried, and took it all apart and put it all back together. Nothing. Then we tried the other rocket and other motors and other fuses and … nothing. As we faltered from one rocket to the other and back again, our little audience went back to their swings and football game and toddler-chasing. We eventually packed up and brought everything back to the car.
As a consolation prize, I offered to take them to the new ice cream place that Sylvia has been begging to go to. It started to rain, a harbinger of the months of depressive, muddy “winter” that will follow. I didn’t really want ice cream, for once, but I was happy to take them.
We continued chatting about school, the election, and the things we have to get done this coming week. We all agreed to try launching the rockets again soon, but with new batteries in the rocket launcher controller. And we vowed we would also find a less popular park in case our rockets still aren’t ready to leave the ground.