Dr. Know: January 2014

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I grew up near Cleveland, a city with an east side vs. west side rivalry. Then I moved to Cincinnati, which also has the east-west thing going on. Is geographic hostility a peculiarity of Ohio cities?
—Sitting on the Fence

Dear Sitting:
Hostility? While there may be bad blood on the both banks of the much-improved (possibly even life-supporting) Cuyahoga River that bisects Cleveland, the Doctor senses only mutual indifference and unfamiliarity in the Cincinnati sectors separated by the much-improved (possibly even life-supporting) Mill Creek; the functionally obsolete and brutally ugly Mill Creek Expressway; an enormous sewage treatment plant; two increasingly prosperous and slightly arrogant railroads; Camp Washington; and the Protestant Reformation. Granted, in the days before the disinvestment in what had been a remarkably good public school system, there was enough contact between east and west Cincinnati for a friendly, high school football–fueled rivalry to exist. But postwar flight to the vinyl-clad townships ultimately severed relationships along the 39th parallel.

The “east-west thing” going on is, in truth, one of those desperate gambits used by journalists who have been told to write something that will intrigue their aging readers without alienating them, so it is likely to continue to turn up in print and on morning radio not just in Ohio, but throughout this magnificent nation as long as those media and their editors exist. If you find it tiresome, you may consider moving to Chicago, which has no east side.

Standing in line to get into a major metropolitan art museum in a major metropolis, I struck up a conversation with the visitor behind me. She asked me where I was from, and when I said Cincinnati, she smiled a snotty little smirk and said, “Oh, yes: Mapplethorpe.” Sigh. What’s the proper response when one makes a new acquaintance who doesn’t realize that the statute of limitations has run out on a hoary old civic embarrassment? —Queued Up

Dear Up:
The Doctor hopes you are not genuinely distressed over the loss of this unfortunate new acquaintance. Had the conversation gone on a bit longer before she unloaded her snotty smirk and massively rude remark, you might have been lured into exchanging cell phone numbers or making plans to get together for craft cocktails. You should thank Divine Providence for that early and telling display of civic and historic ugliness. You were protected from your naive friendliness.

The proper response when you are so treated is to stiffen your back, put ice in your expression, rotate 180 degrees, and begin talking to the person ahead of you in line. This is actually an extremely useful maneuver to learn for most of the increasingly frequent displays of rudeness that seem to be accompanying the general decline of middle class America. Practice in front of a mirror.

Once again, there’s no one from my neighborhood serving as a Cincinnati City Council member. I realize that council members are supposed to represent everyone. But practically speaking, when I have a gripe, how do I get someone’s attention? —Peeved

Dear Peeved:
The Doctor feels your pain. He is currently suffering from a surfeit of garbage carts brought about by whatever is the opposite of a public-private partnership. You, Peeved, will have noticed that the new profile in garbage carts is roughly the size of a Chevy Cruze. Just as the Doctor had rearranged his potting shed to accommodate the municipal hulk and gotten as adjusted as he was going to get to the garbage cart delivered by the Public Works Department, along came the private dump people to drop off their own even larger garbage cart. The Doctor made a beeline for the City of Cincinnati website only to find himself quickly suffocated in a sea of frequently asked but totally irrelevant questions on the Public Works Department page. Grrrr.

Phone calls don’t work. The time-honored way to get a politician’s attention—whether you are in remotest Sayler Park or a few blocks away in the West End—is to write a check to the politician’s election campaign. Doesn’t matter which. Pick one. Two hundred dollars will get the attention of an aide who will know how to threaten the appropriate municipal bureau for your particular gripe. It’s considered gauche to send your check in the same envelope as your gripe. And once a year is usually enough.

Originally published in the January 2014 issue.

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