411 and a Half
Photography . . . and life after depression in Lima, Ohio. By Michelle Cole
My city is littered with a few row house apartments, and several of them have fallen into disrepair. I noticed one listed in the real estate classifieds a couple years ago, and the asking price was just $40,000, with all four units rented. Maybe these structures lost out to the rise of suburban apartment complexes, with the siren call of dishwashers and steady maintenance service.
My daughter attended a birthday party in a row house situated about a block away from the buildings shown above. The birthday house had gorgeous woodwork inside, all wood floors and staircase. The place had a charm that had not dimmed with time and the sinking economic prospects of its neighborhood.
My family moved into a house right next door to these row houses back in the early 80’s. The term “motley crew” definitely applied to the residents back then. Nearly every car parked on the street, all of which looked impossibly long, had roach clips with feathers hanging from their rear view mirrors. One woman attempted suicide on a random Saturday morning, and the radio resting in her open kitchen window was broadcasting “Only the Lonely” by the Motels as the medics loaded her into the ambulance.
I’ve heard rumors that the row houses on Haller Street have since become crack houses. When I took a walk to take this picture, I did not get the sense that something so malevolent had salted this earth, at least not thorougly. Judging from the chatter I heard, I think the same combo of irreverence and light hedonism that helped their predecessors survive the Reagan years still reigned over this street.
After I took this picture, I could hear two men discussing my appearance as I walked away. One asked the other if I really lived down there, and his friend replied, “No, I haven’t seen her around. I’d remember that ass.”
A recent article in my local newspaper about the high number of pizzerias in my city made me consider that I may be living in Pizza, U.S.A. Per this article, we have 30 pizza businesses operating a total of 40 locations. This may not sound extraordinary, but here in Lima, Ohio, we have just 38,355 residents (U.S. Census Bureau). I don’t know if anyone has made a study of pizzeria density in the United States, but I figure that my city must excel in that ratio.
Here in Lima, Ohio, I am not alone in my passion for pizza. There are two pizza joints so close to my house that I could walk a pizza home. I have a frozen pizza in my oven as I am writing this sentence. Next to my oven, there is a Kitchen Aid mixer painted the color of pizza sauce, ready to knead dough should I wish to make pizza myself.
Who doesn’t like pizza? If you don’t like it, I can still understand your plight. I hate mayonnaise, yet it seems to be the mortar that holds the Midwest together. Avoiding all those mayonnaise foods has left me more room for pizza. Thus, pizza was my first teacher in the value of being an Other.
I was born in the suburbs of Indianapolis, where pizza was not such a living thing. I can remember eating pizzeria pizza there just once. I also never tasted salsa or ranch dressing in that metropolis (ranch is the only thing with a taste compelling enough to let me overlook the mayo in it). This monotony ended when my family moved to Lima in 1982, a move that was literally a homecoming for my parents because they were both born here.
Everything in Lima tasted better to me, from the school lunches to my grandma’s divine creamed corn. Shortly after we moved, my mom converted to Catholicism, which was a culture shock to me because my religious life prior to that time consisted of Bible readings and yearly viewings of Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. When I could get my Sunday mornings back? And what was up with this forest green polyester jumper I had to wear to Catholic school?
Pizza eased my way into the Church. Facing our first ever Lenten Friday, we needed a meatless dinner. My dad brought home a 21″ pizza from Fat Jacks. It costed just $6! It was enclosed in an enormous wax paper envelope with a miniature plastic table to keep the grease on the pizza and away from the paper. The wax paper still had a few translucent grease halos on it (Dr. Nick on The Simpsons once called such halos “the window to weight gain“).
Once my dad cut away the wax paper on that first Fat Jack’s pizza, I beheld the glory of 21” inches of carmelized cheese. There was enough pizza for all five of us in our family to have as much as we pleased. That Lenten pizza from 1982 is a still the finest pizza I’ve tasted.
I’ve lived in four different states and have visited 36 others. I haven’t been to any place where pizza is easier to get. When I lived on the West Coast, I once suggested pizza for dinner, which was vetoed because I’d made an unsolicited pizza that week. Why confine such a glory to once a week?
Here I can serve pizza to family and company alike without anyone complaining that they’ve already had too much pizza this week. Pizza is cheap, filling and can be suited to almost any dietary need.
Pizza speaks so well to the diversity, practicality and frugality of Lima. There is yet another pizzeria opening next month. I’m not worried that we’ll ever reach a saturation point for pizza.