My little IMO piece was printed in this month’s newsletter for the 7th Ward. They may regret asking me to write something.  This photo is hard to read, so there is a copy/paste reprint down below.

For those who don’t know, the population of Youngstown, Ohio, dropped from 170,002 residents in the heyday of steel mills to less than 65,000 today. That left a lot of vacant houses. It’s great if you are looking to buy a fairly decent house on the cheap… mine was less than $20,000. Unfortunately, too many houses fell into decay, partly because out-of-town investors snatched up homes for pennies on the dollar and didn’t give a flying fig about taking care of the properties. Others just left… walked away. The house next door was abandoned years ago, owner address unknown, until the Land Bank acquired it last fall. After a thorough inspection, they opted to tear it down.

I did the #beingGladysKravitz thing and snapped some photos while peeking out my windows.

They did it right… followed EPA guidelines, removed basement block and everything was hauled off site. The vacant lot was left looking nice and tidy. Even the black-topped driveway was removed.

Hopefully, they got the bamboo out, too.

When the weather breaks, they will be back to plant grass and install a split rail fence across the front of the lot. If the people in the next house down wish to buy it, there will be no competition from me as I think it looks like it should become part of their yard. They don’t have a fence… I do.

On the next block over, the city street department demolished a house and left the lot in a royal mess. People are not happy. Neighbors are talking. They can see the difference between lots done right and demos gone bad. With hundreds of house already demolished and aggressive plans to tear down more, vacant lots dot our neighborhoods. We live here. We care.

Is it too much to ask those who don’t to do it right?

Ridding the city of dilapidated housing is good, but we need to think about the future, too. Vacant lots can enhance the city with green space, become urban gardens, or end up becoming just another form of urban blight. What is in the ground matters. So, that’s what I choose to write about.

Here’s the unedited version of my IMO (edited version in photo):


IMO, filling in the hole left after a demolition by smashing part of the house down into the basement and throwing dirt on top turns our vacant lots into mini unregulated landfills containing the same type of debris that requires annual testing to monitor leakage at state licensed C&DD (construction and demolition debris) landfills.

What is the long term effect?

The debris will rot over time, releasing heavy metals and chemicals that can leach into soil and waters. And it is not just lead from old paint. In fact, lead is not even on the list of 74 parameters that C&DD facilities are required to monitor. They are looking for Arsenic, Copper, Mercury, and a dozen other heavy metals. The list of 46 chemicals includes carcinogens like Benzene (used in paints, glues, resins, etc.) Licensed C&DD landfills have lots of rules, including disposal limits to protect their neighbors. They cannot bury debris within 100 feet of their property line or within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling. And yet, here we are, in an urban setting, with hundreds of mini landfills, containing the same type of debris with the same potential health hazards, located on vacant lots between houses in our own neighborhoods.

The practice must be stopped.

Yes, it costs more per demolition to do it right. But, what is the cost in the long run? Must our children suffer the health consequences? What is the cost to dig it up later, if a clean up is required?

Thankfully, most demolition contractors follow EPA guidelines, which suggest removing the basement, disposing all debris at a state licensed C&DD facility, and prepping the earth so the vacant lot can be beneficial to the city by providing green spaces that can used to help with storm water management.

IMO, the city should follow their example and also do it right.

Thanks for reading,

Nancy Barnes


Thing is, I don’t know for sure if the sub-par demo sites actually have buried debris (which is a banned practice in Ohio) or if neighbors just suspect that the some demos were done wrong. Either way, my little IMO may open a keg of worms requiring answers to the question.

Worse case scenario, I will have to write a retraction statement. If so, can I just quote Gilda Radner after a rant as SNL’s Roseanne Roseannadanna and offer a simple, “Never-mind”?


High Tide

So much for writing a fluff piece, all warm and fuzzy about a relationship that erodes my coast on every high frikkin tide.

We had words. Snip, snip, back and forth, and a little thought that floats up now and then slipped right out of my mouth. They must have caught a wave on the high tide.

“I’m done.”

Yes, I finally said it out loud. I didn’t plan it, didn’t think about it, just opened my mouth and the words came out, surprisingly without a tinge of animosity. It was like hearing myself reading the words out loud, as if reading a brief statement in a calm voice. I am done.

He said, “I’m done, too.”

I said, “Good.”

It put an end to the snip-snip back and forth before our words escalated into a full blown argument. There was nothing to argue about anyway. He wasn’t happy because I had cancelled cable television service while he was gone for a couple days. Oh well… my bill, my budget, not like he pays for anything.

“Grandma, did you break up with him?” Little Miss Z was in the back seat, ignoring her mother’s warning to stay out of grown folk’s conversations. “He’s lazy, grandma. I think you should break up with him.”

Should I take advice from a nine-year-old?

She thinks he’s lazy as he is usually in the bedroom with the door shut if he happens to be here when the kids comes over. That’s what he does on most winter days when he is here even if it is just us… he lays around watching TV between naps and playing on his phone, wanders out now and then.

Oh, sweet child… not yet.

Touch Points

Woke up in the wee hours and laid there thinking about touch points… the little comforts of skin to skin… the way his foot tends to feel for me in his sleep until a toe just touches my leg; but, sometimes his foot will linger, like when he gently cupped my bent knee with the insole of his foot. Or, how his bum always wiggles up to touch my belly when we spoon with space between us. And how my fingers inadvertently touch his fingers when I stretch in my sleep and reach for one of the iron rails of the headboard only to discover that his hand is already wrapped around the same post.

I was thinking about how each little touch arouses me and comforts me in that twilight moment between half awake and half asleep before drifting out again. I was feeling fuzzy warm about our relationship, smiling to myself, and thinking of how nice it is to share a bed with this man. And then he rolls over with that fucking pillow, hugging it like a teddy bear squished in between us, and I cannot tolerate that damn thing touching me.

There is something about a pillow touching the small of my back or pushed up against my belly that makes my skin crawl. I can’t stand it. I have to get away. Sometimes, there is not enough space on the bed to distance myself far enough away from that pillow so it does not touch me.

Any effort to remove the pillow will rudely awaken him akin to snatching a bottle from a hungry baby. Nah, it is more like poking a hibernating bear. The resulting pillow fight would not be playful. It is best just to exit the room until he rolls back over, taking the offensive pillow with him.

So, that’s why I was up in the wee hours, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in the kitchen, typing the draft of this via one finger taps on my phone.

I can’t explain why it bothers me so much. It is not the texture as the pillow is identical to one of my own and all our pillowcases and sheets are made of soothing cotton fabric. Perhaps feeling that pillow triggers some kind of body memory as it jerks me instantly awake and it always takes a while before the repulsion fades. I’ve racked my mind for clues, but my brain will not release any bad memories involving pillows.

An hour or so later, still before the light of dawn, I slipped back into bed.  He had rolled with his back towards me, but was still hugging his pretend teddy bear. I didn’t want him to roll back over with it, so I was careful not to touch him. I had snuggled in, got myself all comfy and warm curled up with my back to his back with space between us, when his foot found me. I drifted off to sleep listening to the sound of his soft snores while his heel rested in the curve of the instep of my sole.

Awe, the sweet comfort of his gentle touch.


MANY HOURS LATER:  I know what it is… I can’t stand the pillow touching me when he is breathing near me at the same time. Therein hides the memories. It’s not about pillows. It’s about teddy bears and the child I used to be so long ago silently whispering her own little #metoo.


ART PLUG: “Calm Sky” is available for purchase at