Loser City

Clevelanders Parade, Flaunting Their NFL Team’s 0-16 Record

It was almost always thus. In most years, Cleveland teams piled up a dismal win/loss record. Not that I give a fig for professional sports, but while I was living there, I would have given much for a winning season. In 1959 the Indians won the American League baseball pennant (but lost the series ignominiously to the White Sox). And in 1964, the Cleveland Browns shut out Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts 27-0. That was when Frank Ryan was quarterback and Jim Brown was at fullback and gary Collins and Paul Warfield were the ace receivers. After that, it was not until 2016 when a Cleveland team, the Cavaliers, won the NBA championship.

I actually had a personal stake in the Cleveland Indians doing well. As a straight-A student, I received seven pairs of free Indians tickets every summer—mostly to see them go down to defeat. Acutely, I felt that Seymour Krebs’s “The Monster That Devoured Cleveland” from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis had struck. I was in a major dudgeon until I could leave “The Mistake on the Lake,” which I did in 1962, when I went to college in New Hampshire. Thereafter, when I came home from Dartmouth, I could watch my father stew in his juices as his teams traduced his efforts at fandom.

Cleveland’s Terminal Tower (How Appropriately Named!)

Sometimes I think my great love of travel comes from feeling stuck in Cleveland and wanting to get out at any cost. It’s a pity, because at one time it was a fairly nice place. It did not, however, fare well economically and demographically. When I was in the lower grades of grammar school, it was the seventh largest city in the U.S. Now it ranks fifty-first, behind Oakland, Tulsa, and Wichita.



“A Hundred Windows Opened on All Sides of the Head”

Old Building on Buckeye Road

Old Building on Buckeye Road

This morning, I started reading G. K. Chesterton’s Autobiography, and it set me to thinking. I thought it would be fun to put all my earliest memories in one place, lest I forget. Chesterton had it right:

What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world. What gives me this shock is almost anything I really recall; not the things I should think most worth recalling. This is where it differs from the other great thrill of the past, all that is connected with first love and the romantic passion; for that, though equally poignant, comes always to a point; and it is narrow like a rapier piercing the heart, whereas the other was more like a hundred windows opened on all sides of the head.

I was born in a house on East 177th Street, a few houses north of Glendale. Because we moved shortly after I was born, all my earliest memories are tied up with 2814 East 120th Street, just off Buckeye Road. We lived on the second floor of a duplex. I remember lying in my crib. One of my first memories was of an argument between my mother and father about money. Both were working, my father at Lees Bradner & Company, my mother at the Cleveland Woolen Mill.

Like most toddlers, I was fairly rambunctious. Mrs. Nebehaj kept shouting from her first floor rooms, “Missus, the ceiling is coming down!”

From a very early age, I was cared for by my great grandmother Lidia and great grandfather Daniel. As Daniel died when I was one, I do not remember him. I was always told he wanted to live long enough for me to buy pipe tobacco for him at the grocery store on Buckeye Road. It was not to be.

My oldest friend was Joyce. Now for the sex: I was fixated on the crook of her knees, which to me was smooth and lovely. There wasn’t too much I could do about it, but I remembered it nonetheless. Once, when I was playing with her, I lost control of my bladder, and the pee ran down my leg. My landlord saw me and asked why I was dripping. I said I stepped in a bucket of water, and it was running down my leg. Was that my first lie?

On Buckeye Road, near East 120th, there was a ramshackle old building that sold furnace pipes and such like. I remember playing in the small yard that fronted the building. There were a number of tree stumps on which I could play with my toy soldiers.

Of course, everybody spoke Hungarian. So did I. It was almost a 100% Hungarian neighborhood, and we didn’t have a television set until 1949. Broadcasting would begin around 4:00 PM with the Kate Smith Hour, followed by the Howdy Doody Show, which I watched religiously.

Once, I remember going with my father to pick up Mom at the Woolen Mill, and there was a big fire in a nearby building.

My life changed when I attended kindergarten beginning in January 1950. Trouble emerged at once when my teacher, Mrs. Idell, refused to understand my Hungarian. My friend András, who was similarly afflicted, and I began kicking her shins. Also, my brother was born in April 1951. It was time to move, and that signaled a new epoch in my life.

Poor Cleveland

I Have Many Happy Memories of the Place

I Have Many Happy Memories of the Place

No, this is not about the Oompa-Loompa coronation ceremony taking place in my old home town, nor of GOP dumpster fire that threatens to engulf the United States. This is about my happy memories of Cleveland going back to my childhood.

No one outside the Chamber of Commerce would think of Cleveland has a happening sort of place. But I did when, as a student at Saint Henry School on the East Side. Back then, the metro area was the seventh largest in the nation, with a population of approximately 900,000. There were huge auto plants, and the city was a major machine tool building center. That’s the industry my Dad worked in, building giant gear-hobbing machines for Lees-Bradner. My Uncle Emil ran a small factory in the Flats of the Cuyahoga River.

The symbol of Cleveland was the Terminal Tower—oh, how unfortunately symbolic!—on downtown’s Public Square. (You can catch glimpses of it in the movie A Christmas Story (1983), many of whose exteriors were shot in the area.) It was during those school years the largest building in the country outside of New York.  Underneath was a large concourse and the main rail passenger terminal for Northeastern Ohio.

When I graduated from high school in 1962, I marveled that so many of my classmates were leaving town. And, it turned out, never to return. By then blight had set in, the auto industry was beginning to tank, and many machine-related industries were moving to Asia. Worst of all, people were starting to laugh at Cleveland. The Cuyahoga River caught fire from the pollutants flowing downstream from the factories in the Flats, and one mayor—Ralph Locher—was photographed with his hair on fire when he refused to wear a hard hat when visiting a steel mill. Worst of all was Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver) on the “Dobie Gillis” show always going to see a film called The Monster That Devoured Cleveland.

Until the Cavs won the NBA championship this year, the records of local sports teams have been dismal. For a while, we even lost the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise, until they re-formed in 1999.

I wish Cleveland well, and I hope they survive this week’s political onslaught.


The Monster That Almost Devoured Cleveland

Le Bron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers

I never write about sports, and yet here is my second consecutive posting about sports. The day before yesterday, the subject was Muhammad Ali. Today, it is the comeback of my native city, Cleveland, Ohio, in winning the NBA championship after being down 3 games to 1. No, I didn’t watch the game—Martine controls the TV remote in our household—but I followed the sports news on the net and in the Los Angeles Times.

The last time Cleveland won any sports championship was the 1964 NFL championship, in which the Browns slammed the Baltimore Colts 24-0. And that was 2 or 3 years before the first Super Bowl. That was the great team that featured Dr. Frank Ryan at QB and Jim Brown at FB. I remember listening to the game on radio because it was blacked out in the Cleveland TV market.

It took 52 years before Cleveland won another championship … in anything. In the meantime, it became the butt of jokes, such as from Maynard G. Krebs (played by Bob Denver) of “The Dobie Gillis” show always going to see a movie called The Monster That Devoured Cleveland.

Well, the monster did not devour Cleveland this time. Although I would have to have my head examined before I ever went back to live in what we called The Mistake on the Lake, I retain a strong affection for the people who live in my old home town.

When I was in grade school, Cleveland was the 7th largest city in the United States. No more. After much of its industry went to Asia to stay, it is now 31st and still falling. Although they have been uniformly miserable in sports rankings over the years, I hope they start a new tradition of winning, so that the devoted sports fans of Northeastern Ohio have something to look forward to.


In Remembrance of Amusements Past

The Abandoned Amusement Park of My Youth

Geauga Lake: The Abandoned Amusement Park of My Youth

There are few things so pathetic as an abandoned amusement park. When I was a kid in Cleveland, I remember going at least once every summer to Geauga (pronounced JAW-gah) Lake in Aurora, Ohio. My father’s union, MESA Local 17, frequently held its summer picnics there. My brother and I always had a ball.

The park had a great fun house, complete with naughty mechanical peep shows that had nekkid ladies for a penny, and you could crank the cards to turn over at whatever speed. By the entrance, one had to maneuver a tricky labyrinth. There was a carney employee stationed by a button that released a jet of air to blow women’s dresses up above their heads. (I guess that wouldn’t go over too well now.) Also there was a giant rolling wooden barrel that one tried to traverse without falling on one’s heinie.

The Fun House at Geauga Lake

The Fun House at Geauga Lake

What my parents liked was the big open launch that circled the lake, creating a breeze that refreshed the passengers in the humid Ohio air. There was a roller coaster and a lot of fast rides that I was too chicken to try. (It was enough just to battle the car sickness en route.)  No, I mostly hung out at the fun house, or I would pick a nice shady spot to read—ever the bookworm. I even remember one summer in high school reading J. E. Neale’s Queen Elizabeth I to pass the time after I became sated with my crude fun house pleasures. I still have the volume on my shelf.

As I grow older, I see parts of my past being annihilated by the passage of time. Geauga Lake was founded in 1887 and finally closed down in 2007. I guess 120 years was not a bad run. Hell, I wish I could last as long!


In Memory of Emil

Where My Uncle and Cousin Emil Worked: The Metal Craft Spinning Company

Where My Uncle and Cousin Emil Worked: The Metal Craft Spinning Company

For two years, 2008 and 2009, I posted all my blogs at Blog.Com. When suddenly it started to go bad around the end of that period, I moved to Multiply.Com for a while, which also went bad. Anyhow, here is a blog I wrote about my cousin, Emil Zoltan Paris:

I wish I had a photograph of my Cousin Emil. Perhaps I do—and when I find it I will post it—but I could not lay my hands on it on short notice. Emil Zoltan Paris Jr., to give his full name, was my father’s twin brother Emil Zoltan Paris Sr.’s only son. Between those formative years in my life during the early 1950s, he lived only a block away on East 177th Street.

He was a couple years older than I was, and he was anti-intellectual to a high degree, but he was fiercely loyal and goodhearted. As a little kid, I was frequently picked on by the neighborhood bullies—unless Emil was around. He was tall and big, the type that became a defensive tackle in high school (and in fact, that’s just what he was at West Geauga High). Whenever he caught someone who was picking on me, Emil just sat on him and whacked away until blood squirted or sounds of apology were reluctantly tendered.

Once, when he walked into our living room while I was reading Tom Sawyer, Emil picked up the book and slammed it to the floor, saying “There! That’s what I think of books!” Even at John Adams Junior High School, Emil was not known for his learning or sensitivity. But we liked him for his good heart and his steadfast friendship. Not, however, for his humor. Once he asked me if I could use the word Rotterdam in a sentence. When I hesitated, he grinned and said, “I gave my sister some candy and I hope it’ll rotterdam teeth out.”

Emil married a woman named Lois from Detroit, but it didn’t turn out well. She left him for another woman, who happened to be African-American.

I lost touch with Emil went I went to college and, from there, moved out to California. Then, I heard from my mother that he was living in Lake Havasu City, AZ, just across the Colorado River. Twice, on my road trips through Arizona, I detoured to Lake Havasu and visited him, once with my mother along. He was running a limo service there. We kept in touch now and then.

After a few years there, he moved back to Cleveland to be with his aging mother. It was difficult to tell who was more ill, because Emil was showing symptoms of advanced Type 2 Diabetes. Toward the end, he lost his vision. Then he passed away about sixteen years ago, leaving his two grown-up sons, Greg and Doug, with whom I am not in touch.

I miss not having Emil around to talk about old times. Those included the years he worked for his father’s company, the Metal-Craft Spinning Company in the Flats of Cleveland (see photo above).  The building in which Uncle Emil’s factory was located has now been subdivided into luxury lofts. I used to drop in with my father ostensibly to talk to my uncle, my cousin, and Mr. Prosser, my uncle’s partner. Actually, I was probably just as interested then in the nudie pinup calendars scattered throughout. For lunch, we would walk over to the old Flatiron Café and have some delicious sandwiches. It is still there, but it’s become yuppified and now calls itself an Irish Pub. Those gruff Slavic faces at the tables of the old greasy spoon are all gone.

3989 East 176th Street

Where I Lived 1948-1964

Where I Lived 1948-1964

When I looked up my old street address on Google, I was also given the opportunity to get a photographic view of the house where I spent most of my childhood up to fifty years ago. The house in the middle fronts on where Eldamere runs into East 176th Street. On the left side of us lived the Smiths; on the right, the Fordosis, our “enemies.” The photograph makes the front yards look much bigger than they were by about a quarter. The tree hides the window to my second story attic room, where I spent much of my time doing my homework and reading.

We were just a few houses in from Harvard Avenue, where Charley Fontana’s corner grocery store was located. Once, when I was little, William Boyd, the star of the Hopalong Cassidy television series, stopped at Fontana’s and was mobbed by little kids, one of whom was me. He handed out embossed plastic commemorative coins stamped with the name Hopalong Cassidy.

About half a mile left on Harvard was Saint Henry’s Church and School, where I attended grades two through eight. (Don’t tell anyone this, but, to my eternal shame, I never finished first grade.) Then I spent four years at Chanel High School in Bedford, which was renamed St. Peter Chanel before it blinked out of existence last year.

It was a pretty nice neighborhood when we moved there in the late 1940s. Because most of the houses were pretty new back then, the streets were barren. Now they are flanked by large trees that were just getting started when we moved to Parma Heights. By then I was at Dartmouth College and was way too sophisticated to care.

What made us move out was a real estate practice known as blockbusting. The early 1960s were a time of racial tension. When real estate salesmen paraded potential black buyers to neighborhood houses, the existing residents—including my family—panicked and sold out. We thought the neighborhood would become an evil slum like the Hough District just east of downtown. It never did: The new owners apparently were just as intent on making it a nice place to live as the Hungarians and Poles who left the area.

When I returned in 1998 to look around with my brother, we were pleasantly surprised.