New Orleans 1 Cleveland 0

Thursday, 28 September 2017

It’s no secret that I don’t get out much. I’ve been in New Orleans for a conference the past few days. The conference itself (NRPA) has been great, but I’m not planning to talk shop on my personal weblog. What’s been revelatory to me is that I have room in my heart to love more cities than just Cleveland. I’ve roamed over the French Quarter, Marigny, Garden District, et al.; and, like Cleveland neighborhoods, they’ve all had distinct, unique personalities. They’re all people I want to get to know better.

The best restaurants in Cleveland would be middle of the pack in New Orleans and the music (as much as I love Cleveland’s music scene) is incomparably better. There is no road rage – cars don’t have nearly the market share.

I’ve been told that it’s a very different city since Hurricane Katrina, but what’s clear is that New Orleans is a city that’s never doubted itself and Cleveland remains a city that doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Lafayette Park, New Orleans
Lafayette Park, New Orleans

De rien

Saturday, 22 July 2017

I’ve lived in Cleveland for nearly 15 years now, & in all of that time, the city & its people have been, through existential trial & error, trying to taxonomize what it means to be Cleveland. All of them should have visited Steve’s Lunch before it burned.

There are a few who have me beat, but, for the most part, I’ve been to more places in more neighborhoods than people who’ve lived here their whole lives. The common denominator, when you wipe away all the branding & internet-era posturing to reveal the rusted heart at our core, is a moderately exasperated politesse. Clevelanders are busy, we’re in a hurry, we know what we’re doing, we don’t have time for your shit, but we aren’t gonna be jerks about it.

We’ll hold the door just long enough for it to not close in your face; we’ll throw up our hands at a senior citizen who probably shouldn’t be on the road, and impatiently give them the right of way. We’ll serve up a completely unpretentious hot dog, on a cheap plastic plate that’s been cursorily washed 10,000 times in 15 years, that changes your life when the stadium mustard smears across your tongue.

Steve’s Lunch is where I went when I had $20 to spend on a night out & could buy a hot dog with my last two dollars at 3AM. It burned before I could introduce my son to the place, but we’re regular enough at Steve’s Diner that the staff knows us on sight & the Pepsi is waiting for us when we sit down. We grouse with the staff about weather & homework & bills & split a plate of fries. Steve’s is where I go when I’m lonely or in need of comfort, & where I head when all I have time for is a hot dog.

That hot dog could be dim sum; or pierogi; or ribs barbecued in a converted 50-gallon drum & served up without a permit at an abandoned gas station. The core of Cleveland, that no amount of luxury condos or new coats of paint can obscure, is a lack of pretension. Dandelions like Steve’s are in every neighborhood; lifting their yellow heads & growling at whatever Cleveland supposedly is this week.

We’ve seen so many grand gestures & prophets of prosperity descend from the clouds to save Cleveland, using money & influence to change entire swathes of our neighborhoods. The loudest story is that we need to be saved. We do our best to obscure the fact that we serve up little bits of salvation every day.

You want another hot dog?

Two Nights Only

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Check out these great photos that Cleveland Public Library took while I was downtown this summer writing poems for their First Folio exhibit!

Free Poetry for Shakespeare

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The Cleveland Public Library asked me to come do Poetry 4 Free in the Eastman Reading Garden on a couple of dates this summer as part of their celebration of the Folger Shakespeare Library First Folio exhibit.

I had fun – it’s been a couple of years since I was downtown writing poetry on the fly for folks, but I pretty much took right back to it. I wrote 11 Shakespeare-inspired poems in 2 hours. Folks could either give me a favorite passage, or pick from a few that I had selected.

Por ejemplo:

Some folks had no idea who Shakespeare was, and others related horrified anecdotes from college. A few people just grabbed a quote and took off without letting me write a poem for them. Everybody seemed like they were having a good time.

When the Cavs Won It All

Sunday, 19 June 2016

What will I remember about today,
in this city
that takes every punch,
unflinching, on our chins;
that rises up from every blow,
standing tall, cut-mouthed
against the world?

I'll remember
that this day is like
every other day
this city working doubles
while you slept on it
this city skipping vacation
to get the job done
this city, laconic, intractable
where we bow to no king
no, not even our own
this city of redemption
where we always welcome our sons home

Today, today
is for 
                YOU 
to remember:

this city can always say it left it all on the floor
this city where every stand is a last stand
this city where we pull for each other, exchange 
blood-stained grins
and sing loudest for the unsung.

You had forgotten
what we've always known
Cleveland is the city
filled with champions
and tomorrow, 
we get back to work.

I’m an Old Brooklyn Social Media Ambassador

Thursday, 28 April 2016

I met with some neighbors at the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation tonight to learn about their #whatsyouroldbrooklyn social media campaign. I signed up to be one of their local social media ambassadors, was selected, and have now been oriented.

Having spent 4 years (mostly thankless) promoting Tremont out of goodwill via Tremonter (I have no idea what the hell it is now, or who owns the domain), I’m glad to be out of the driver’s seat and happy to help out doing – quite frankly – exactly what I’d be doing anyway. I also have more powerful tools in my pocket than were available from 2004-2008.

I’ve only lived in Old Brooklyn since August 2015, but I like it here. It’s too big to become $450k condos surrounding a street of $40-per-plate restaurants like Tremont – and if there are factions fighting over what “Old Brooklyn” means or should be, I am completely oblivious to them. People keep their yards tidy, shop local, and chat with each other. I don’t feel like this neighborhood is trying to be a destination. I feel, rather, as if it wants to be the place you come home to.

What I value in a neighborhood has changed, especially now that I’m a dad. There’s a lot of authenticity in this part of Cleveland, and a lot of history, and I look forward to helping people discover it. For the next 6 months, I’ll be doing so via Twitter (& Periscope), Instagram, Google+, and to a lesser extent, Facebook and Snapchat (sciurus). There might even be a little Poetry 4 Free action as well. And, of course, posting here on my weblog.

Feeling kind of nostalgic. Should be good.

When the Cavs Won/Lost It All

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

About a week ago I was contacted by Bill at Fox8 who had remembered my previous Fox8 appearance about my Poetry 4 Free project. His idea was to make a piece about how Clevelanders were reacting to the Cavs being in the finals & he wanted me to come up with something that would help tie it all together. I think he did a great job considering he had to plan the piece to work for victory or defeat. Clevelanders tend to be good at that kind of planning. Here’s the piece:

I also anticipated the possibility of needing two outcomes. My full poem is below. I only gave a couple of hours to it, so it isn’t as revised as I would like, but I knew it was going to be a small part of a larger whole, so I tried to structure it for both coherence and reorganization. I only had to change the first line of the last stanza to change the tone of the poem. Efficiency!

What will I remember about today,
in this city
that takes every punch,
unflinching, on our chins;
that rises up from every blow,
standing tall, cut-mouthed
against the world?

I'll remember
that this day is like
every other day
this city working doubles
while you slept on it
this city skipping vacation
to get the job done
this city, laconic, intractable
where we bow to no king
no, not even our own
this city of redemption
where we always welcome our sons home

Today, today
is for 
                YOU 
to remember:

this city can always say it left it all on the floor
this city where every stand is a last stand
this city where we pull for each other, exchange 
blood-stained grins
and sing loudest for the unsung.

You have forgotten (or) One day you'll learn
what we've always known
Cleveland is the city
filled with champions
and tomorrow, 
we get back to work.