Cleveland 28, Ohio

The ’Burbs 1951-1962 (The Red Arrow Was Our Home)

In 1951, we moved to the Harvard-Lee area of Cleveland, the extreme southeast corner of the city. Buckeye Road was only a few miles north and west of us and easily reachable by way of the Shaker Rapid light rail line. The next stage of my life was to consist of seven years attending Saint Henry School (which is no more) and the next four attending Chanel High School (which was just demolished this summer).

Several things were different in the suburbs. For one thing, there were a lot of bullies around, including our neighbors Jimmy and Joey Fordosi and Jack Rulison, three doors south of us. I guess that was because I reached the age when bullies magically appear; and it didn’t help that I was very young-looking for my age. Could it be that my pituitary tumor had already begun, stunting my growth? Throughout my years at Saint Henry, I was either the shortest or second shortest kid in class, including both boys and girls.

Chanel High School as It Was 1958-1962

When I “graduated” from eighth grade (there was no real ceremony), I was surprised to find that I had won a scholarship to Chanel High School in nearby Bedford, Ohio. In fact, my parents never had to pay a penny for tuition, because in each of my four years at Chanel, I received the highest grades in the elite, or “A” section. I had outgrown my slowness in the English language and in fact proceeded to make the language my own.

I was helped in this by four successive English teachers who were so good that I decided, when I graduated, to work at becoming an English professor. There was Father Gerard Hageman SM (Society of Mary “Marist”) in 9th grade; Father Raymond Healey SM in 10th grade; Father William Parker SM in 11th grade; and Father James Murray SM in 12th grade. These four priests provided an incredible education in literature and language—one for which I will be eternally grateful.

My graduation from Chanel was a much more formal event. Not only was I the class valedictorian, but I had won the Mr. Chanel award for all-around academic and extracurricular achievement. And I was going to an Ivy League college with a full scholarship. Those were my glory days.

 

 

Buckeye Road

Cleveland’s Terminal Tower, Once the Tallest Building West of NYC

In my youth, there were two Clevelands. First there was Buckeye Road, which was my world between the ages of one and six. (There had been a brief interlude in Florida, which I will describe in a later post.) Then, when I was sent home from kindergarten with a note from my teacher pinned to my shirt asking what language I was speaking (it was, of course, Hungarian), my parents planned for a move to the suburbs. That happened in 1951, shortly after my brother Dan was born. I will describe the Harvard-Lee Area tomorrow.

Buckeye Road was after World War Two the most vital Hungarian neighborhood in the United States. I have never been able to figure out why, unless my people had an affinity for hot, humid summers and dark, icy winters.

An Exhibit About Buckeye Road at Cleveland’s Hungarian Heritage Museum

We lived at 2814 East 120th Street, a short block from the main drag and only a short walk from ritzy Shaker Square—not for us penny-pinching Hunkies. There were two movie theaters within walking distance: the Moreland and the Regent. On nearby East 116th Street were Harvey Rice School, where I was to be a problem to the non-Hungarian teachers; the local library, the College Inn, whose French Fries I adored; the Boulevard Lanes where my Dad bowled (he was pretty good); and a very tasty doughnut shop not far from St. Luke’s Hospital. The residential streets were filled with two-story duplexes, on the second floor of one of which we lived.

Just before we moved out to the ’burbs, the city built a nice playground on nearby Williams Avenue, which I had just begun to enjoy.

There was a Hungarian Reformed Church on Buckeye, where the Reverend Alex Csutoros preached. His services were broadcast—in Hungarian—each Sunday on a local radio station to which my Mom listened. Dad didn’t, because he was a Catholic, like his two sons. The deal was that any girls born into the family would be Protestant; the boys, Roman Catholic.

My earliest memory was listen to my parents argue about money, while I lay anxiously in my crib. Both Dad and Mom worked, and my great grandmother Lidia Toth took care of us during the day. She spoke not a word of English her whole life long.

Still, my memories of Buckeye Road are probably seen mostly through rose-tinted glasses. There were hard times, but they didn’t leave me with many bad memories.

 

My Tragic First Love

Traduced by My First Love

My first love—really, a schoolboy crush—was with Laura Sowinski in the Third Grade at Saint Henry School in Cleveland. She was a pretty little girl with some artistic talent. For some reason, I thought she was Swiss, because Sowinski sort of sounded like “Swiss.” Hey, I was only eight years old. What did I know? Now I would think she was Polish, which was more likely for the neighborhood in which I had lived.

Of course, I had hoped that my feelings for her were reciprocated, though I don’t know how she knew what I felt for her, because I never communicated it.

The rupture—and yes, there was a rupture—came when I was sick at home for a few days. In the Catholic school system of Cleveland in those days, there were often days off with little advance notice. When I got better from my cold or whatever it was, I dutifully walked to school the next day. (In those days, we walked to and from school.) To my surprise, the school building was all locked up. I turned around and returned home.

My unexpected free day came to an end the next day, so I trudged to school the next day. Being the age I was, I told everyone I showed up to school on a free day. In a week or two, when the next dittoed edition of the St. Henry Golden Knights news sheet came out, the whole last page was a drawing by none other than Laura Sowinski of me walking up to the school when it was closed. The caption read “James Paris Going to School on a Free Day.”

I thereupon turned several shades of vermilion and thought of my great love as wrecked on the rocks. I don’t think I ever spoke to Laura again. Not that I had ever spoken to her before.

Heat Wave

A Heat Wave with No Place to Go

I thought that somehow, in this first year of the coronavirus outbreak, that somehow me might be spared extremes of heat. Well, it was not to be. As I sit here at my computer, I feel stuck to my chair with the sticky heat. In addition, Martine is suffering from an attack of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, making it impossible to eat almost anything without suffering in consequence.

Usually we get this type of Mexican Monsoon heat in July, but I guess we can’t rely on data from past years. The earth is sufering. The United States is suffering. I am suffering.

 

 

Childless

I Was Fated Never to Be a Parent

So much of my life has been affected by a brain tumor that I had roughly between the ages of ten and twenty-one. Because the tumor—a chromophobe adenoma—controlled my sex hormones, I was potent, but quite sterile. I did not discover until some ten years ago that it was theoretically possible for me to have children’ but by then I was sixty-five years old, and I was in a relationship with Martine, who did not want to bear children for reasons of her own. (In fact, she made me get tested to verify that I could not impregnate her.) So I just resolved to accept my childlessness without complaint.

My friends and acquaintances would always use the same four-word phrase, telling me, “You could always adopt.” I have friends who have done this, but it is not always an easy road. My answer to this suggestion sometimes turned people off: “I don’t want to be responsible for other people’s mistakes.” When I said that to one cute co-worker named Alexis, she hung up on me in exasperation.

I know that raising a child is a long term commitment; but I also know myself, that I would not necessarily be willing to make the sacrifice if the child were not of my blood. If that makes me a bad person, then I must reluctantly admit that I am a terrible person. Better that, sometimes, than making my life and that of my partner possibly a living hell. Sure, the reward can be great, but I have seen cases where it wasn’t.

There was another factor: At times I have a savage temper like my father did. Since I was childless for so many years, I am sometimes not patient with the behavior of children who misbehave. I suspect I might behave as my father did—by swatting the child. In these times, that is considered child abuse.

 

My Muses Part 1

Rita Tushingham

I had always viewed myself as something of an ugly duckling. In grade school, I was always close to being the shortest kid in class. Also, I was always a bit on the scruffy side—and I still am. So when I wound up in college, some six hundred miles from home (and me never having been more than a few miles from home before), I found myself gravitating toward the movies.

The first film I saw projected at Dartmouth’s Fairbanks Hall was Carl Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943), a film about witchcraft that got me started thinking about film as an art form. I was particularly impressed by the Danish actress Lisbeth Movin, who plays a young witch married to a minister. I don’t think I had ever seen an actress quite so beautiful. Now, some sixty years later, I still think of her as radiant.

Lisbeth Movin in Dreyer’s Day of Wrath

I was always enthralled by the beauty of certain actresses, even though I felt like Caliban in front of most girls. At the time, Dartmouth College had only male students; so I was relatively safe from making a fool of myself.

My next “muse” was Rita Tushingham who made a big impact on me during the 1960s.

Another View of Lovey Rita

Her eyes were so close together under her bangs, and her nose was the perfect ski jump, but I was enthralled. She had been described by some in the press as “ugly,” but I did not think so. According to an article in the guardian, “A New York Times reporter who met her described her as ‘a slip of a girl, her uncosmeticised face framed in straight dark hair, wearing a sweater and jeans, with those enormous eyes incessantly expressive even when the rest of the small face disappeared behind a big yellow coffee cup.’”

I think it was the eyes that did it. I have always been a sucker for women with eyes that seemed to come to life. Today I saw her first film, Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey (1961). She was to appear in other 1960s productions such as The Girl with Green Eyes (1964) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), but it was that gamine Rita of the 1960s that I so dearly loved.

Medical Miracles

Me in Ojai 1999

I bought my first digital camera, a Kodak, in 1999. Although I had severe osteoarthritis in my left hip and did not dare walk without a cane, I was still pretty active, working full-time at a busy Westwood accounting firm, traveling, and even hiking on weekends. It was not without pain, however, which was to get worse until 2002, when I visited my orthopedist who asked me, while looking at my X-Ray, “Tell me, Mr. Paris, how is it you are able to walk at all?” At that point, my left leg was 1½ inches shorter than my right; and I had a few bad falls.

Within a few months, I had a hip replacement, during which my left leg was somehow lengthened to be even with my right. After my release from Cedars-Sinai and several visits to a physical therapist, I was able to walk without cane and without pain.

The surgery was nothing less than a miracle—and not even the first one in my life. Back in September 1966, I was hospitalized at Cleveland’s Fairview Park Hospital with a chromophobe adenoma, a pituitary tumor that had given me over ten years of severe frontal headaches on most days. With considerable pain, I managed to get a four-year education at an Ivy League college thinking I was just just being a coward about pain. My headaches were due to migraines, a “lazy eye,” hay fever—you name it! It was only when I got the mother of all headaches, one that segued into a coma, that my doctors figured out there was something else happening. In those days,it was not easy to look inside the body except via X-Rays, and X-Rays did not show tumors.

Fortunately, my family doctor just happened to be an endocrinologist who managed to guess I had a pituitary tumor. The surgery was one which typically killed the patient, turned him into a paralytic or a blind man. I was the first person ever to have my pituitary accessed through the brain without dying or becoming totally disabled. And the headaches are totally gone, except for an occasional small one that responds well to aspirin.

 

 

Breakfast

Our Dinner Table in 2011

My main meal of the day is breakfast; and the most important component of my breakfast is a fresh pot of tea. The above photo was taken nine years ago, but I am using the same cheap metal Japanese teapot. I like it because it has a removable insert which captures all the tea leaves so I don’t end up pouring any in my cup. Visible in the upper left of the photo is a green and grey houndstooth-checked tea cosy, which I hardly use any more. After breakfast, I let my tea cool and, for lunch and dinner, pour the cold tea into a glass and add ice cubes. If I want to be fancy, I could also add Splenda, a little splash of dark rum, and a squeeze of lemon or lime.

My tea preference is almost always an Indian black, consisting of Ahmad of London’s loose teas, sometimes a mix of Darjeeling, Ceylon, Assam, and Brooke Bond Red Label tea. Right now, I am drinking pure Darjeeling, which I consider the best of Indian teas. When the coronavirus eventually subsides, I will shop for a high-quality Chinese Oolong from Ten Ren Tea Company for occasional entertaining.

At present, I add a bit of Mesquite Honey to the tea in my cup and a squeeze of lime.

Along with the tea, I rotate between steel-cut oatmeal with dried cranberries; grits with sausage, butter, and pepper; scrambled eggs with Serrano chiles; onion or sesame bagel with butter and cream cheese; my own kind of Welsh Rarebit on a sourdough English muffin with sharp Cheddar cheese and spicy red chile powder; crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich; sausage and biscuit; or, if I am pressed for time, just buttered toast.

It’s not much, but it makes an excellent start to my day. Martine and I usually eat breakfast separately, so I usually read the Los Angeles Times, concentrating on the comics, Sudoku and Kenken games, and (finally) the news.

My Musical Career

I Thought It Would Be a Neat Idea, But What Did I Know?

One of the problems of being the firstborn son of poor parents is that you are elected to fulfill their unfulfilled wishes for their own lives. When I was nine years old, they decided that I should play a musical instrument. That sounded fine to me; it’s just that I didn’t realize the extent to which the hook was baited.

For some reason, I wanted to play a trombone. At the music store, my mother and father got the salesman to point out that my teeth weren’t right for playing the trombone. They both suggested I play the saxophone instead. I didn’t even know what a saxophone was. So I foolishly said, okay. Before I could say “Help: Get me out of here!” I had a music teacher downtown who would teach me the ways of the alto saxophone.

What follows resembles an episode of Leave It to Beaver. Each Saturday morning, I had to take the 56A bus downtown to Prospect and Ontario, from where I trudged with my instrument case to East 3rd Street where Mr. Jack Upson tried to make a musician out of me. The lessons were okay, I suppose, but the daily practice sessions were, quite simply, horrible. When I wanted to go outside to play, I was sternly reminded that I had roped my family into buying me a saxophone, which they couldn’t afford; and I had damned well sit down for an hour and practice. My mom’s favorite song was “Londonderry Air,” which she knew as “Danny Boy.” Just to make things totally untenable, my little brother Dan would show up for the song and grin while I tootled away while staring daggers at him.

At Chanel High School, I joined the Firebirds marching band. Just imagine what it was like to take the field at halftime and do formations with only twenty-odd instruments. All anyone in the stands ever heard was the booming of the drums.

This nonsense continued until I went away to college. Although I showed up for several Dartmouth band practices, I immediately saw that I was among people who knew how to play their instruments and who loved performing. I quietly left the band before the first football game and never picked up my saxophone again. After all, in Hanover, New Hampshire, there was no one to make me practice—and several classmates who would have tarred and feathered me if I had.

 

 

Catholic School

Dominican Sisters Wearing Traditional Habits

When we lived in the Buckeye Road Hungarian neighborhood, I didn’t do well in school. It started in Kindergarten when my friend András and I started kicking our teacher in class for being angry with us because we didn’t speak English. What in blue blazes was this English? Everyone on Buckeye Road spoke the Magyar tongue, and Harvey Rice Elementary School was in the middle of Buckeye Road. Was our teacher stupid or something?

My mother and father understood the problem. My little brother Daniel had just been born when they decided we would have to move to a white bread Anglo neighborhood, which we did in the summer of 1951. Being born in January, I had just finished the first half of first grade when—poof!—I started second grade in September at a new Catholic school, Saint Henry, where I was taught by Dominican sisters (and some lay teachers). Fortunately, by this time I had some notion of the English language, but was still thought of as being a tad slow. My teacher, Sister Frances Martin, would sneak up behind me in class, pull my ears, and call me “cabbagehead.”

In fact I was just an average student, and a bit of a disciplinary problem, until I reached fifth grade. By then, I started getting the hang of things. Unfortunately, that’s also the time my pituitary tumor started bothering me with frequent severe frontal headaches. I was now a whiz kid, but looked very young for my age.

Saint Peter Chanel

After eighth grade, I got a tuition-free scholarship to attend Chanel High School in nearby Bedford, Ohio. The school was named after a missionary from the Marist order of priests who taught me, one St. Peter Chanel, who was martyred for his faith in Polynesia. (Coco Chanel came from the same family.) I got the idea from somewhere, though I’ve never been able to confirm it, that St. Peter Chanel was cooked and eaten by the savages he was trying to convert.

Anyhow, I was considered a whiz kid at Chanel and was always on top of the honor roll. I graduated as class valedictorian and received the Mr. Chanel award for being the best all-round student at the school, despite the fact that I was too sickly for sports. I lettered in band and academic achievement, which made me the natural enemy of those students who toiled for the letters on the sports field. So it goes.

Although I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I have nothing but respect for the sisters, priests, and lay teachers who taught me. I was never an abused altar boy: In fact, I was never even an altar boy. The idea of getting up at 5 am to serve Mass was not my cup of tea, though my brother did it for several years.