August 18, 2018
I ground beans in one of the (yes) four coffee grinders that we have in our house and pushed down on the old french press to force the steaming water from the electric kettle through the grounds. I heard, overhead, my husband stirring as I took my coffee cup into the dining room.
On top of the bookshelf is the cage for our crested gecko, Little Bit. Right after we bought this house, we went to a nearby reptile expo. We picked him out because he has an enormous head compared to the rest of his little body, and also because the gecko breeders claimed they were nearly impossible to kill. We don’t have a good track record; we’ve had a litany of dead plants and Sea Monkees. I am occasionally impressed that we’ve kept the gecko alive into his technical adulthood of three years, even though he looks dolefully at us a lot and I really have no idea if we feed him enough. We read online that geckos aren’t particularly active during the day, but are “prone to leaps of faith,” occasionally springing out in the most surprising directions.
As I mixed up some dehydrated fruit powder and water into a nasty-looking slurry for Little Bit, my husband came downstairs. He was dressed in a short-sleeved checked shirt from one of those trendy camping-and-outdoors companies and some cargo shorts. “Remember?” he said. “We’re volunteering at the Dragon Boat Festival today.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, pushing the little dish of fruit smoothie at Little Bit’s uninterested face. “I forgot. Do we have time to walk?”
My husband nodded. Little Bit was having none of his smoothie. I persisted, shoving till a bead of fruit goop stuck to his face. He hesitated, then used his pink tongue to wipe it away with a flourish. He settled into a rhythm, his shovel-shaped tongue darting out to gather a morsel of the smoothie. I eased it down onto the floor of his tank, and ran to get my shoes.
The walk from our house to the Great Miami River takes less than half an hour, even if you have a cup of artisanal coffee in hand. We walked down blocks of pretty houses. They were nothing crazy grand but I knew inside they probably had the same oak floors and bannisters that our own house has. Ours is a 100-year-old all-hardwood home with stained glass windows that cost about a quarter of its insured value; there are benefits of living in a suburb of Cincinnati. We also walked down sidewalks in areas of less kempt homes, where near-decomposing newspaper packets pile up on broken concrete stoops and angry paper signs announce, beneath rainwater stains, that no one is to enter this house for some unknown reason. We talked about how Hamilton is too small to truly gentrify like big cities have, but it is changing.
At the Dragon Boat Festival, companies and organizations field teams who have to row in unison in order to try to beat the other Dragon Boats in a race. We manned a booth for a local young professionals group, so we sold t-shirts to anyone who wanted one (two people did) and we talked about our upcoming happy hour events, and offered snacks to anyone who came up, huffing and puffing, between races. There was a decent crowd. At 60,000 residents, Hamilton just isn’t that big, but thought of another way, it’s an awful lot of people that have to get along, find work, find housing, and fall in love in one shared space. I thought about all the ways the city has attempted to brand itself in the past; one ill-fated attempt involved officially adding an exclamation point to the end of the name of the town. I kind of wish I lived in Hamilton!, Ohio, because that’s often the way I talk about it.
On the way back from volunteering, we passed small shops, the craft microbrewery, the cool fast-casual restaurants that have come to Main Street in the past few years. Looking around, I felt the intensity of the waiting that is going on around me: the city is almost on the up-and-up; new developments that might really move the economic needle are on the way. It’s strange to be in a place where the optimists are gaining ground and the pessimists are starting to raise their eyebrows as if something, maybe, someday could go right here; it’s strange to be a married person in her 20s whose generation has also been characterized by waiting a long time for things like marriage and children and homes. We are waiting to see if Hamilton(!) is our forever place, if kids are in the cards, if it’s better to buy an affordable house and spend our disposable income on nice coffee and meals downtown, or to do something else.
We spent our evening at home, playing a nerdy board game called Pandemic that has such complex rules I’m embarrassed to break it out when we have other people over to the house; when it’s just us though, I set up the shining piles of “disease cubes” and the many stacks of location cards and our pawns.
My husband tried to put Little Bit in his shirt pocket while we attempted to save the world from four deadly diseases. Little Bit leapt away from him, landing with a surprising smack on the board, between two game pawns. He eyed them as if they might be food, but for the longest moment he did nothing at all.