Friday, November 21, 2014

A Lighter Soul

12 years ago, I started my first “blog.”  It was kind of goofy really (and it’s actually still online, but I won’t tell where).  My first girlfriend’s best friend had one, so we both got one too.  I wrote every day for awhile, with her as my primary audience.  There’s maybe 2 posts after we broke up, then I stopped writing it at all.  

A year or two later, Xanga became all the rage among my friends in high school.   I wrote in that, every day, for a couple of years- until October 2005, actually.  I remember being a little saddened by losing my streak, but also a bit pleased that the chore it was at times had been lifted.  That blog was directly continued by this one, but, perhaps thankfully, Xanga and anything on it is effectively defunct these days.  

During my senior year of college, I wrote here about once a week.  After graduation, that was maybe a little increased as I struggled through fund development and my first year of staff.  
But eventually, we moved to Cleveland and everything started to change.  At first, I wrote more to try to put my new home town into words.  I wrote to process marriage and life around it.  I wrote to process my protracted break-up with InterVarsity.  Near the beginning of the year, I thought I could rekindle this public writing by a wholesale rebrand toward nothing but Cleveland coverage.  

Short of a few decent outlets while LeBron kept us all on the edge of our seats in July though, there wasn’t really much to it.  There never could be, because blogging just isn’t a part of me the way it used to be.
I used to need it to process all of life.  It helped me cope with leaving home for college and the adaptation to college life.  Indeed, at every step, it was a great way (for me at least) to cope with and process the transitions in my life.  
But my life is transitioning a lot less these days.
It’s true, we’re adapting to having a baby.  It’s true, I’ll be graduating from law school soon enough (but not actually soon enough, I admit).  Those are transitions.
But for the longest time, I never knew enough about me to handle the transitions on my own.
Nothing really changes you like becoming a parent- but there’s a lot less about me open to change these days. 
My first blog was really a foray into first loves.  That’s a new territory for someone very much still finding who they are.
My second blog was primarily about leaving home and adapting to Wooster.
This blog has been largely the pre-graduation meditations and the denoument of post-college life.  
But I’m married and have a kid now.  I’m settled on at least the type of career I’ll have (perhaps my continuing to blog during InterVarsity was a red flag, in retrospect), and, perhaps most importantly, I’ve got a home in Cleveland that won’t be changing for a very, very long time.  I even have a retirement place picked out, in Savannah, Georgia.
So much of my life has come together in these past 5 years.  Like before, I needed this to express myself, while I tried to figure it all out.
I’m far from finished and I’ve far from figured it all out.
But I’ve got enough figured out that I don’t think I need this anymore.  
So, for the very much foreseeable future, this is my last blog post.  If I ever write another, it won’t be on this site.  The era is over.
I’ve always felt like I blogged because I had to more than I wanted to.  I needed a place to write, to get something out.  Knowing there could be someone reading it was the motivation that got me to sit down and just do it.  But I never did it for anyone else.  
Lately, I’ve not needed it, so I haven’t done it.  Ultimately, I don’t think I need it much at all anymore.  If there’s something I absolutely need to write about, I can do that, or just talk about it with someone.
Because I’m decently who I’m becoming now, at least compared to who I used to be.  I know I’ve still got a long way to go, but I know, for the time being, that I don’t need this to get there.  In fact, if anything, this might be holding me back.
“Futures will never keep their promises if all we hold is yesterday”


Monday, August 4, 2014

Now Playing: Boyhood

“It’s the beginning of August, and I’d be a little surprised if I didn’t just see the eventual best picture winner.”  That’s a common saying as summer turns to fall, with quality films finally breaking through the malaise of blockbusters and shallow romances.  It’s understandable really: it’s not easy finding a movie that doesn’t feature a super hero or a Nicholas Sparksesque plot from May-August.  It’s not even that there’s anything wrong with that, but we all know they’re not going to compete for the gold guys come March.

And that’s the situation in which Boyhood hit theaters.  Just like every year, I tend to agree with the early buzz.  Boyhood is an excellent film. 

A lot will be and has been said about the 12 year filming process.  A lot should be said about it.  It takes unflinching drive, passion, and determination to commit to something so long.  No matter the finished product, even having something to show for it, and not an aborted plan 5 years in, is an accomplishment. 

The finished product though, is much more than getting to see an actor grow up as the same fictional character.  Certainly, that’s a great part of the film: wondering how he’ll grow up, and getting to see it.  Likewise, it’s quite a treat to see the world change with the characters. 

But beside all of that, there’s something spectacular about the whole experience.  We have the technology to age people in film.  We’ve been casting multiple actors as the same character to age them for years.  But Richard Linklater opted for neither to tell his story.  What we get instead is both an interesting study on growth and change, and an impressive meditation on artistry.

To make a film like this, you have to be determined and devoted.  But at the same time, it is a film about transformation and growth.  No one can say they’re the same person now as in 2002.  The artist, the writer and director behind all of this, cannot claim to be the same either. 

I don’t know how much of the original screenplay remained intact for 12 years.  I know though, that the mind interpreting it grew and changed.  It had to. 

Annie Dillard notes in the marvelous “The Writing Life” that it takes, on average, 2-5 years to write a full novel.  She goes on to suggest that the work is finished by a very different person- a person 5 years senior- to the person who started it.  That’s true and profound.  But that same artist, as she or he grows, can edit it all across those 5 years.  The finished product, no matter when the lines were written, is a product approved and put forth by the 5 year older version. 

Boyhood and film, however, don’t allow so much control.  To be certain, much editing had to take place after all 12 years of filming stopped.  But recreating scenes from all but perhaps the last year would have been literally impossible.  Linklater was bound to the footage from years 1-11, for better or worse.  That's a fact only film can capture.  This film had to be a film because any other medium could not impose that limit or allow that organic an expression.

To that end, this is perhaps the most unique film ever created from an artistic standpoint.  It gives away some of the director's control, in order to tell the story how it must be told; the film, the actors, the world itself, had to age for the product to be possible.  It means the artist had to incorporate pieces of himself that were no longer himself.   How Linklater (how everyone) saw the world in 2002 is not how he sees the world in 2014.  But he had to show you a bit of how he saw it back then to accomplish the film’s first year.  That’s astounding. 

This is an artist creating a work which, in its own sort of way, creates itself.  It’s a rigid plan strictly adhered to (12 years, no other options) juxtaposed with the necessarily free-flowing line of time and aging. 

There is a plot, but it doesn’t matter.  There are characters you come to care about for no other reason than because they, too, are human.  It’s expertly shot without letting the lines overcome the story.  Linklater’s use of jumpcuts would make Godard salivate. 

But all of that technical excellence aside, this is a masterwork, because it is a master trusting his art to become itself. 

I don’t know that we’ll ever see another thing like it.  We must do all we can to celebrate it while we can.

It’s currently playing all over the place, including at the splendid Capitol Theater on West 65th.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Ohio City Creep

Yesterday, the king of all Cleveland Cuisine, Michael Symon, announced that the former La Strada space, on E. 4th, will be replaced with Mabel's barbecue.  It sounds like my dream of a restaurant and I can't wait to try it. 


But, with Butcher and Brewer opening soon (they've said that for awhile, but they defintely are making progress in the space), it feels like E. 4th is entering an identity crisis phase.  With Flannery's,  the restaurant at the bowling alley (I think it's called the E. 4th bar and grill, and it's basically that unique a place too), and the House of Blues well-established, E. 4th isn't exactly the higher, more cultured dining experience it was supposed to be, or at least always seemed.

Lola and Chinato aren't going anywhere, and Society is a gem.  But it's supposed to be the bastion of Cleveland's elevated plates, not W.25th downtown. 

I'm not complaining really.  In fact, I think Mabel's will soon become one of my favorite restaurants in the city.  It might even be a good thing- E. 4th has always struggled with its image given its proximity to Progressive Field and the Q.   Indeed, La Strada, even though it had a much more "fine dining" feel, was pretty terrible at almost everything (save for dessert and cocktails), and tragically overpriced for the quality.  I'm glad to see it replaced with somewhere I want to eat. 

But it does make me wonder if instead of a gentle eclecticism tending toward up-scale, E.4th will soon be just a microcosm of every other restaurant district in Cleveland- some very nice places (like Crop and Soho on W. 25th) but mostly beer halls with a lot of meat (even if it's great meat).  W. 25th itself just lost the Light Bistro- one of the most upscale places on the west side.  I just hope, if E. 4th becomes more and more like W. 25th, there's still space for something a little different, a little more refined.  Thankfully, Lola should be fine, and Greenhouse is just bar-crawl friendly enough that it shouldn't be in trouble any time soon. 

But that's the trouble with urban planning.  At the end of it all, we'll organically decide what stays and leaves.  It's probably for the best in the end.  Cleveland will choose what Cleveland wants to be, and, personally, I'll probably spend more time at places the specialize in beer and meat, just like everyone else anyway. 

It doesn't meant we can't pause a little and think about what we could be losing though.  Given how much Cleveland has last over the last 100 years (see yesterday's post), it's the least we can do.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Paved Paradise

Lost Cleveland

The above link is a slideshow from  It's been making its rounds through Cleveland social media over the last 24 hours. If you're looking for something striking, beautiful, and thought-provoking, take a look through it.

I didn't live in Cleveland when basically any of the places presented were operational.  I wasn't even alive for the majority of them.  But Cleveland is my home, and looking at what was: Euclid Beach, Bond's, Luna Park, Central Market, still invokes a longing and sentimental mood in me. 

I know where all of these places were.  I walk by many of them at least weekly.  Most of them are parking lots now. 

People always complain about big cities lacking parking.  That's never going to be a real problem in Cleveland, at least anytime soon.  We have more parking spaces per capita than any city of our population probably.  I feel like I might have read that statistic somewhere, but even if I made it up, it's got to be close. 

And why do we have so many spaces?  So people can drive downtown.  Enough people work down here that most lots are moderately full during the day.  If you don't mind a bus or trolley ride though, it's never challenging to find a spot- it's just a question of how much you're willing to walk or pay. 

That's something that makes living outside of Cleveland a little too simple.  In my opinion, far too many people can drive downtown far too easily.  It lets people stay in the suburbs and cherry pick their downtown experience.  When you absolutely can drive right up to your destination, that destitnation is all you'll experience.  I drive to work now, so I'm part of the problem, I know. But it's a triangular problem and something has got to give. 

1. We need less parking.  It would get people walking downtown instead, which would bolster business across the area. 
2. We need more non-personal car transportation.  The RTA is solid, but if you're going off the healthline or rapid corridors, it's dicey, at best.  It also has a bad reputation among many suburbanites, but so does the city itself.  They're both wrong and the very reason they're at all right about both downtown and public transportation.  Everyone in New York takes the subway.  Sure, it's got issues (more than RTA, trust me), but everyone still does it because they don't have a choice.
3.  We need the parking lots/garages that exist right now to be replaced by destinations, housing, and places to work.  Shopping, restaurants, theaters, you name it.  Things that will draw people downtown and simultaneously replace the parking lots.  That's a win win to me.

We're currently experiencing a rapid increase in downtown living.  Hopefully inevitably, this means businesses will continue to move downtown too.  Right now, we have a ton of space occupied by nothing more than asphalt for 16 hours a day.  That's a waste of our best space.  A huge waste. 

By having so much parking, we're just catering to people who want to take their money out of town at the end of the day.  But something has to give.    If we bolster the RTA but keep the parking, will it prove untenable?  If businesses move downtown at the expense of parking, does that mean no one can come to give them business?

It's a tough question, but I'd rather take a bet on Cleveland.  Give them something they can't get in the suburbs, and they'll come to get it. That's what Chicago and New York do.  We're neither, sure, but that's a good thing.  We're Cleveland.  Let's be more than a parking lot.  Even if people still live in the suburbs, by being forced to park elsewhere and take a train downtown, etc., they'll also be forced to walk past businesses, be forced to walk through tower city, be forced to stay downtown before the Indians game and meet their spouse, instead of running home first.  All of those are revenue generating.  Having so many places to park might make people come to Cleveland that wouldn't, but right now, there are so many it encourages people to spend the minimal amount of time and money here.  That's the opposite of what we want. 

In 50 years, I'd prefer if didn't post a slideshow of all the places I love to go now, reminiscing about how great they were or how beautiful the buildings had been. 


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Taste of Tremont: wherein we determine exactly what percentage of the Greater Cleveland Area's population fits onto a narrow city street

For, I can't believe it but its true, the 4th consecutive year, we made itout to the Taste of Tremont yesterday. 

As always, it was among the most can't-miss of can't-miss Cleveland events.  It's probably the closest thing to a single snapshot of where old Cleveland and new Cleveland come together.  That's probably because its in Tremont, which is exactly that too. 

A few thoughts:
1. How many Cleveland-themed t-shirt companies can our city support?  I know they all have some excellent stuff, but there's got to be a limit right?  Does New York have more than the I "heart" NY shirt and its variations even?  About a year ago, there were maybe 2, 3 if you counted the burgeoning fresh-brewed tees.  Now, there were at least 5 big enough to have stands at the ToT, and there are more out there.  I love Cleveland t-shirts as much as the next guy, but if you factor in officially licensed sports clothing too, we might be heading toward a Cleveland-wear bubble.  Or not.  I'm being dramatic.  But the market for clothing about our city has exploded in less than 12 months (at least visibly).

2. If you're not going to enforce the beer-carrying rules, at least make beer easier to obtain.  I'm no enemy to letting people carry their containers throughout the festival, but there's no good reason to not, in light of that, allow the bars to sell "to-go" cups, the stands to sell cocktails, etc.

3. The more things change...  Our first year at the ToT, we went right around lunch and it was about as crowded as it was yesterday, when we went right near the end.  The event has grown exponentially.  It probably extends 2 or 3 more blocks than it used to. 

4. The more they stay the same... The lines are still long, some of the food is needlessly overpriced, it's hard to move more than single-file, and scoops, even though their store is *right there* still doesn't know how to make enough bananas ahead of time.  But it's all 100% worth it.

There's nothing quite like the civic spirit that embodies these sorts of events.  It feels like all of Cleveland has come out, just to celebrate Cleveland.  It's, of course, Tremont focused, but Tremont might be the most important part of Cleveland.  It used to be where the steel-mill workers lived.  It's an old neighborhood that could have died.  But it's the spot where the resurgence started to build.  If there weren't a Tremont that became cool, would there be an Ohio City that is cool, or a Lakewood that can apparently support an infinite number of restaurants on a rotating basis?  Tremont is where the Westside revolution started.  One each year, it's like we all come back to it to remember that. 

I already can't wait for next year.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Splash

As we all come back to Earth, it's still hard to believe that, in less than a week, we, as a city, earned the Republican Convention in 2016 and the rights to hundreds of millions of dollars in our economy, just because another person from North East Ohio decided he couldn't bear to be away any longer. 

About two years ago, I wrote about how I couldn't blame LeBron for leaving if I wasn't going to blame everyone else who left Cleveland to find success- for 50 years, it's been the thing to do.  It hasn't just been about getting out to that nice home in the suburbs: it's been about getting out of the city, the county, the region, even, often, the state.    It's not white-flight or gentrification when it's a mass exodus (though let's be real, there are plenty of both in Cleveland). 

But LeBron is coming back to the place that, in his own words, made him who he is.  I don't know if other people give this part of the world that sort of credit most of the time.  There's a running line about millienials/hipsters/lazy post grads, that they pick rust belt cities because a modicum of success makes you a king and high roller in places like Detroit and Cleveland.  But I haven't seen that.  There are plenty of those types around here, but they're almost always from here.  They're just determined to not make the same leaving-home mistakes the past generation made.  For those of us/them that aren't from these places (and I'm kind of one- Cleveland, as much as its my home, is not where I'm "from") the line is typically about investing in places that need it most- you know, making decisions for the benefit of something much bigger than themselves or their immediate family.  That, and there are plenty of people my age who have made the trek to New York.  Some are doing fine, some aren't.  I'm in Cleveland almost by accident if you look at it in some ways (or else divine intervention).  What brought me here, and what brings/keeps everyone here is and will be secondary to what we're actually doing here.

It's been something of a constant euphoria around most Cleveland haunts since last Friday.  Even if you don't care about sports, it's hard to deny how big of a deal "The Return" is.  But LeBron said it himself- "there's not going to be a party: it's time to get to work."  At least in his essay, as contrived or not as it is or isn't, he made it clear that getting here is only the beginning.  We need people to visit Cleveland, to realize that it isn't what they think.  But we need a lot more than good thoughts out there.  We still need investment.  We need as much good will as we can get, but we need jobs and infrastructure more. 

The scads of millenials making Cleveland home right now, for all their good will in coming here, are much more useful for their life-long investment here, if they make it.  Maybe it is easier to get established and thrive in Cleveland.  LeBron himself acknowledges that getting one championship here will be like surpassing Jordan's 6 elsewhere.  But Cleveland isn't starting from the same place.  50 years of bad karma or whatever you'd like to call it, doesn't die easily. 

But I'm starting to come around to the belief that a Cavs (or otherwise, but let's be realistic) championship might do more than just give us all some warm feelings for awhile.  Maybe, just maybe, it would be the point at which we all know Cleveland's a legitimate place again, in more than just our own minds.  Maybe it would be the impetus for creativity and investment that really does change something here. 

We're all just trying to do our part, for good or for ill, what more can we do?

I don't know.  But there's the hope there, that the light is coming.  And no matter how far along we get, no matter how much money pours into Cleveland, hope will always be our greatest asset. 


Friday, July 11, 2014

Levitate #Lebron

"In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given, everything is earned.  You work for what you have"
-LeBron James

23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
-Luke 15:23-24

And with that, weeks of speculation end.  LeBron's coming home.  All is somehow right in the world again. 

That's not actually true.  But it's impossible to be down in Cleveland right now.  It's not just that the best basketball player in the world is coming to our team.  It's that one who was lost is found.  It's that one who had turned away has returned for redemption. 

It's the stuff of legend.  It's better than any movie. 

It's proof that you can come home again, and people can actually want to be in Cleveland. 

Maybe we'll win a championship.  Maybe we won't.  I will care more about that later.  What I care about right now?  Throwing off 4 years of bitterness.  It feels like everything is as it should be again.  That's the best feeling in the world.  Welcome home LeBron.  Maybe more importantly, welcome back Cleveland.

Waiting for the Sky to Fall #Lebron

Today is one of those days that remind you why you live in Cleveland after the type of winter we just had.  It's right around 70, not a cloud in the sky, just a slight breeze to keep it fresh.

But it's also one of those days that remind you why you live in Cleveland: because we're still waiting on LeBron to make a decision.  It's the second time in 4 years we've gone through this.  LeBron, himself, aside, we've been waiting for a championship for 50 years.  That's what we're really waiting for and the reason it matters so much.

I've followed the Packers my whole life (since the Browns left right when I got into football).  So I know, to a degree, what it means to see your team win a champsionship. It's great for awhile, and it's something you never forget.  But it doesn't really change your life. 

I think though, that it would be different in Cleveland.  Actually, I know it would be.  It's not just that we'd finally have one and we'd get the same experience everyone else does.  It's that we will finally feel like our most visual city representatives are the best at something. 

Cleveland's got a pretty wide inferiority complex, mostly generated by the percieved, real, and ongoing treatment the city recieves from national media.  For the same 50 years we've been waiting on a title, we've fallen from the fatest growing city in the US to one of the smallest metropolitan areas with 3 sports teams.  We went from a top 5 city in the country to not even being the biggest city in our own state. 

Cleveland has fallen a long way.  We're rebuilding.  We've been rebuilding amidst the fall. In two years we'll be at the heart of the heart of the presidential election, hosting the Rupublican National Convention.  There's a lot of good press out there about Cleveland now, and I'm thankful for it. 

But that illusive championship is still out there.  It's like we've been prepping for a coming out party that just keeps getting postponed. 

In so many ways, this LeBron has been a two-week long distillation of 50 years.  Heck, even if LeBron does return, that's not even a guaranteed title. 

But at least it would prove, once more, that Cleveland is more relevant than the rumors would suggest. 

We all know why we love Cleveland.  We might not even all agree on why we love Cleveland.  But we don't feel like anyone else understands.  Most of the time, I'm sure they don't.  If LeBron came back, more importantly, if we won a title, we feel like everyone would actually believe Cleveland is back. 

I don't know how well that would actually happen.  A Championship won't, on its own, fix economic problems.  It won't change crime rates or poverty levels. 

I'm not even sure how important nationwide respect is for actual change to take place in those areas.  But at the same time, people like to confirm their biases.  I'm not sure what national people could do for Cleveland, but as long as they believe it's a hopeless place we'd all do better to move away from, they'll never do whatever little they could. 

Respect is important.  Cleveland rarely gets any of it outside Cuyahoga county (and let's be real- most outer-rim suburban people treat Cleveland like a necessary evil they'd like to avoid, so you don't have to go far).  Maybe a champsionship will help.  I don't know.  But I know it won't hurt.

And so yeah, I want LeBron to come back.  I don't know if he will.  I'm just hopeful.  That's the only thing you can be if you actually want to survive in Cleveland.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

An oddly plausible theory on LeBron's return #illuminati #lafamilia

As I walked back to work from Walnut Wednesday today, I put on the old iPhone.  I'm not too embarassed to admit that I have a potential LeBron's return pump up playlist.  It's mostly music from the LeBron era in Cleveland that I associated with the NBA and Cavs games (for instance "Put On" by Young Jeezy- the intro song they played at the Q back then).  Among them is "Run this Town" by Jay-Z, featuring Rihanna and Kanye.  There's a line in the first verse I had to relisten to, and it made me rethink the whole song.  Context determines meaning friends, and this song has a new meaning for me today.

Pause though.  Before I jump into the song itself, there was a little uproar when twitter realized this:

As far as I've been able to tell, those are the only three NBA player twitter profiles with La Familia on them.  It's kind of a stretch, but we're talking about the game of shadows that is NBA free agency.  Every clue is a lead and every lead is a leak. 

Back to Run this Town:  Near the end of the first verse, Jay-Z says "This is la familia, I'll explain later, but for now let me get back to this paper."    You'll see that it doesn't make a ton of sense in that context either.  Whatever it means, it seems our only hope for an explanation is Jay-Z's eventual story. 

Whether or not Jay-Z does indeed explain later is immaterial.  In the context of Run This Town it seems that La Familia is talking about the way a group of people do things to "run this town" and "get back to runnin circles round these (expletive omitted)" 

LeBron and Jay-Z have something of a relationship.  Whatever it is is fairly unclear, but you can be certain LeBron's a fan of the music.  I'm sure he's heard "run this town" plenty of times. 

Could he have adopted the thinly veiled "code word" from Jay-Z (who, it should be said, features two of his most prominent label mates in the song.  Kanye and Rihanna are the two most readily described as the "we" in "la familia")?  Could LeBron be telegraphing something based on "Run this Town?"  It's possible.  I don't know if its probable.  But LeBron's had a well-documented longing, establishment, and loyalty to his family and friends.  He wrote a book about it.  His twitter profile and website drip with it. 

I don't know if its far fetched or a little bit genius- Run This Town turned 5 years old two days before the NBA draft.  Who remembers a throwaway Jay-Z line from one of his worst albums?  LeBron would, if he's longing to get back to Cleveland and join la familia.

This is all probably hogwash.  But the best part about all of this is that some people might think it's true if LeBron comes back.  Half of us get to be right no matter how much we're making up. 

That's the best and worst thing about NBA free agency and twitter.


Monday, July 7, 2014

The Return?

4 years ago, well, nearly 5, I wrote this post:!/2010/12/and-back-again.html

I thought it'd be pertinent to revisit it, on what's looking more and more like the eve of LeBron's return. 

I can't say I ever thought I'd see the day- there's proof right there of that.

About two years ago, I wrote the one above. 

And now it's all coming back to something new, different, and yet, old. 

Or maybe it's not. 

I'm not even sure how I'd feel.  I'd be happy.  Cleveland would be contending.  A prodigal son would return a grown man.  Winning without him would always have been the way we wanted to do it- but if he comes back now, it's so largely going to be because of his family.  That's a big part of what it means to be Cleveland- family. 

I've never been to Miami.  The closest I've been is Savannah, Georgia geographically, and New York City metro-size wise.  I don't think you could just combine the two and get Miami, so I have no context. 

But I've lived in Cleveland for 3 years and Ohio my whole life.  Forgetting where you came from isn't an option, and I don't think it ever was for LeBron either. 

But he's not officially back yet.  I'm not sure when or even, yet, if he will be. 

I'll be elated, but things won't be what they were when he left.  Nothing's ever going to take us back to those days.

And maybe that's a good thing.

Friday, June 20, 2014

On Predictability and Viability

I'm not the type to say I told you so in writing, but if you've read anything here this week, you'll know that I'm not surprised and not displeased by the David Blatt hiring from the Cavs.  It's a little bit of a gamble, but it's a little bit of a genius all-or-nothing move.  That's as Cleveland as it gets.  Or at least it should be.  It's at least how I see the younger generation here: making the well-informed gamble, because the old way of doing things with limited resources (IE, doing the same thing everyone else does, but worse because it's all we can afford) just doesn't cut it anymore. 

I just hope my LeBron tea-leaf reading lines up with my Blatt prediction.  Granted, there was a lot more to go on with Blatt. 

We're just under a week from the draft now, and I promise, next Friday or Saturday is the latest I'll write a post about nothing but Basketball for awhile.  I might even try to roll something else in in the meantime. 

But for now, I got this one right, and I think the Cavs did too. 

One underrated (in other words, heretofore unmentioned elsewhere) aspect of the Blatt hire is the sorts of places he's worked: Israel, Russia, Hungary: he's worked in places that put the blue-collarness of Cleveland to shame.  He's seen the best and the worst of what Europe has to offer.  There's going to be no pretention about the guy.  He's on record as saying he went to Europe because he wasn't good enough to play in the NBA.  He worked his way up from next to nothing in the basketball world.   That's a good thing for someone moving to Cleveland.  He'll appreciate the grittiness and the struggle. David Blatt's career is not unlike a rollicking metaphor for Cleveland's last 40 years. Sure, Tyron Lue would be happy just to have a chance as an NBA coach.  But he's spent two years in LA and some time in Boston before that.  I'm not saying he'd be opposed to being in Cleveland, but he has ridden some pretty expansive coattails to nearly guaranteed success year in and year out under Doc Rivers.  I'm sure he'll be a fine head coach someday (actually, I have no idea, I'm just saying that because it's the sort of thing you say at this point in this sort of paragraph), but Blatt fits Cleveland a little better. 

I had to talk myself into Mike Brown.  I feel like I'm struggling to dislike anything about this move.  He doesn't have NBA head coaching experience.  But either did Greg Popovich when he took over the Spurs.  If Blatt is 1/5th as successful, Cleveland will be euphoric.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

On LeBron

I learned in 2010 that predicting what LeBron James will do is a fool's game.  He's a person who keeps his decisions close to the vest.  That being said, it made perfect sense after the fact, given a few tips LeBron left, but might not have known he left.

LeBron was always adamant that he wouldn't talk about his impending free agency.   Nothing has changed there.  At the time, I took what he said for what it was worth: he didn't want to discuss the future during the season.  And then he left.  It could just as easily been that he was planning on leaving but knew he couldn't admit that during the season if he wanted to continue the Cavs quest for a championship. It's easy to see it that way now, true or not.

But LeBron did talk about one thing that season: his number.  At some point, and I think it was actually right after the Cavs had pummelled the Heat in Miami, LeBron claimed he'd be changing his number, and that he believed every team in the league should retire 23 in honor of Michael Jordan (which, by the way, makes Jordan's public schoolyard jibing of LeBron all the more galling: MJ passes up no chance to denigrate his greatest supporter.  Stay classy MJ, and keep drafting less than mediocre UNC grads far too high).
It's a strangely little known fact that the Heat, at that point, had only retired 2 numbers: 13 for Dan Marino, and 23 for Michael Jordan.  Neither of which ever played for the Heat, but who's keeping track?  Saying what he did about league-wide retirement, when only one team, at this point, has done that, was among the clearest ways LeBron could have said he's going to Miami without coming right out and saying it.  We all missed it though.  I mean, I'm sure someone in Miami or some backwater internet locale might have pieced it together.  But we wouldn't have believed it then anyway.  Everytime I say we in this, I mean the general public, but more specifically, the general Cleveland public. 
Fast-forward four years.  It doesn't look like anything so clear ever came out.  LeBron is still deflecting talk.  He said recently that he owes it to his teammates to talk to them before making a decision.  That could just as easily mean he owes it to them to tell them he's leaving first.  That's a graciousness he never gave the Cavs, so it would mean he's learned from his mistakes.
Once more though, LeBron has taken a stab at league wide policies.    He's talked a few times about how he thinks he deserves a max deal at some point in his career (a tautology if there ever was one).  He's also said that he thinks he'd make 50 million a year if there weren't a max level in the NBA.  Maybe I'm reading the tea leaves too much, but that sounds a bit like the number retirement talk.  LeBron feels like he deserves more money.  That's never easy to hear from a multi-millionaire, but if it's ever been true of any multi-millionaire, it's LeBron.  He's worth 4-5 times what he's getting paid.  No matter how set for life you are, there's a level of professional pride in making what you deserve.
Certainly, it could still all just be that he's meaning exactly what he says, and he has no idea.  That would appear to break with how he handled things in 2010.  Was the jersey number thing dispositive proof back then?  Well, it did turn out to be true.  Who can say if his mind was already made up?  It probably, at least, proves that he was thinking about Miami as a destination at that point. 
It does feel like we have less to go on this time around.  That's fine too: LeBron is a human who can make his own decisions as late or early as he'd like.  But everyone around the Heat has made it sound like an era is over.  Whatever happens, there's going to be a shift out of this Big Three world.  Maybe it's a new Big Three for LeBron in another city, or maybe it's LeBron and 11 guys not on the roster right now.  Last time LeBron made a speech about the way things should be, he ensured that he wasn't part of the problem as soon as he could and switched his number.  Could he do the same and at least insist on getting max money somewhere?
It's still a fact that LeBron keeps a house in Bath Township and spends as much time there as possible.  He can obviously afford the nicest temporary home wherever he lives, but there's a pretty clear indicator that Akron is his home and no matter how far his career takes him, he'll always return.  Maybe he's reached a time in his life where being home, actually home, most nights, is more important than a scorched earth pursuit of titles.  Honestly, Cleveland+LeBron is probably better than Miami-LeBron, even last years iterations.  Did it really look, even when they were blowing the Pacers off the court, like that team could win 30 games without LeBron? 
From a basketball perspective, LeBron is almost too good.  He can say he wants to go where he's in the best position for a title, but wherever he goes automatically becomes that.  He could go to Boston or Milwaukee and they would be contenders.  It's not just because of how good he is, but how easy it becomes to get quality free agents when he's there.  That was as enduring a theme during the Miami run as the Big Three itself.  Teams in the lottery this season almost invariably have more than enough cap space to add LeBron and 2 or 3 of the top other non-max Free Agents (or better).  This is professional basketball.  It doesn't take much more than that with the right coach.  When we're talking about "the right situation" some are probably better than others.  But LeBron is so good and so attractive, he could make even the worst team better than almost (if not) every other team.  I think he knows that, because he's now experienced it.   Why did the Spurs beat the Heat then?  Because they're the Spurs.  They had the right amount of a chip on their shoulder, rest, and the best coach in the world strategizing for a whole year.  That's what it takes to beat LeBron on an otherwise lottery-caliber team.  Imagine LeBron with the first overall pick in "the best draft in decades" and last year's all-star game MVP.  That's a big 3 better than any combination Miami put forward this year (seeing Dwyane Wade is barely a shell of the shell of his former self). 
Cleveland or not though, LeBron's actions now seem to suggest that he's in a similar place as 2010.  The results may, in fact, mirror those.  I don't know that he'll come back, but it seems, right now, that the smart money might actually be on him leaving.  We don't have much evidence, but what we do have, and what we know about the past, suggest it. 
I'd say he probably at least opts out and demands a max deal requiring Wade and Bosh to opt out and take cuts so they can still get the right free agents to be competitive again.  If they don't opt out, I don't see him returning to Miami: he rightfully feels like he deserves a max contract and will go where he can get one. 
Those are my thoughts at least; only time will tell.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Help Wanted: In Search of a Coach

Outside the box, for sure.
I know I don't typically post specifically about sports on a more than macro level.  When I do though, it does tend to be about the Cavs.

After Cleveland was up in arms about how long it took the Browns to hire a coach, the Cavs are getting all sorts of good press for their prolonged search.  In the best light, Cleveland fans are like parents who understand which child responds to what correction/praise best.  In the worst light, we pick narratives and define whatever we see through them.  The Browns are weak and shiftless, so their search looked indecisive.  The Cavs are run by an impulsive mad-man, so their search looks refreshingly thoughtful.

I believe the Browns were being thoughtful and that this current search is actually either needlessly prolonged or a smoke screen.

The man pictured above, who is giving new meaning to the word "blazer," is David Blatt, the outgoing coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv: essentially the San Antonio Spurs of the Euro-league (in the well-coached, winning when they shouldn't on paper sense).  He's a Princeton Alum who never got a shot in the NBA, so he went abroad and became Europe's Phil Jackson.

For years, the NBA has been importing the best Euro players (often to great success, sometimes to Ricky Rubio mediocrity or Christian Eyenga irrelevance).  After communism wasted Arvydas Sabonis, there's always been a steady stream.  Now, for the first time, the Cavs are thinking about importing the best Euro Coach, even if he is an American.

I'll be honest, like most of Cleveland and the U.S., I had no idea who David Blatt was about a week ago.  But he's quickly become my favorite for the job.  The other options have coached in the NBA but none of them have championship.   0.  Indeed, the amount of coaches who end up winning championship on their 2nd or 3rd NBA job is very low, especially if they were fired from their first.  I've always liked George Karl's style, but I don't want to lose in the 2nd round of the playoffs every year.  I was impressed when the Grizzlies made their run over the last few seasons, but surprise second place finishes seem to be Lionel Hollins' ceiling.  Mark Jackson could be the aberration because he never quite got to finish his run and wasn't fired for anything on the court.  As it sits though, I get the sense that all of the guys with coaching experience available don't have what it takes to win a Finals series.  Granted, it seems that you either have to have LeBron or a pact with the devil (how else could Popovich keep whatever he's doing up?) to do that these days, but I'd rather give someone a shot to see what they've got, then sign up for likely failure before the season even starts.

David Blatt knows what it takes to win in Europe.  That's not the NBA, but if we're so sure Colt McCoy got a raw deal because "he's a winner" we need to give Blatt the same benefit of a doubt.  That doesn't fit the aforementioned Cleveland sports narratives we love as a city, but it's the rational step.

As I said, I think this all might have been a smoke screen, all of the interviews with assistants and old coaches.  You see, though the Cavs failed to snag Calipari (before they officially fired Mike Brown...), and though it's been about a month, Blatt has only been on the open market for about a week, since his team wrapped up their title early last week.  David Griffin seems like the nicest guy in the world, but he also seems like the guy most likely to actually be a vampire.  What I mean by that is that you get the sense he's always up to something.  It's never something you see coming (Spencer Hawes?  It's so unexpected but it was perfect.  The Cavs make the playoffs last year if they execute that trade last off-season instead of signing Bynum).

Word on the street is that Griffin has done a lot of Euro scouting so he's been familiar with Blatt for quite some time.  Could it be that Blatt was the plan from the start (post-Calipari at least) but the Cavs had to buy time til they could talk to him?

I'm not saying it's a done deal, but I've got my suspicions.  If they hire him quickly, it will seem pretty clear that he was the number 1 guy and the interview answered any questions they had.  I don't think that's an outlandish thought at all.

So what does it mean then?  It means the Cavs will either christen a new era in NBA coaching or close the door for Euro coaches forever.  I don't really care about that: I want the Cavs to win a championship.  Will the Euro style work here?  I honestly don't see why not.  I think concentrating on how styles work in a certain league is a bit misguided.  It's not so much about if a style works as it is can you run it consistently enough to put up points and keep the other team from putting up more.  That's facile, certainly, but if it scores points, it can work with the right personnel.

I'm no Mike D'Antoni fan, but his teams never won a title because he only coached half a game: same with Mike Brown.  It's not about style as much as it is wholeness of competence.  The 2 Mikes who got fired this year would make 1 great coach.  Unfortunately, half a coach won't win a title, even with LeBron or Nash/Amare in their primes.  Erik Spoelstra proves everyday that you can win titles with decentish schemes on both ends of the floor, but you can't with elite defense but terrible offense, and the reverse.  That's why Popovich would be deified upon retirement, if Adam Silver were Ovid.

In the end, like everyone in Cleveland, I just want a title.  I'd prefer a Cavs title first, because I'm a bigger NBA fan than any other sport.  But if the Indians pull it together, or the Browns shock the world first, I'd take that too.

As a city, we need to realize that the goal is a championship parade down Euclid, to end the bleeding of our City's collective sports heart.  That's more important than how it's done (save for illegally or point-shavingly, of course).

If David Blatt can do it, I'll take it.  If a pink pony from Portugal named Petunia was the coach and got the job done, I'd be fine with that too.  Deep down, I think we all would.


Friday, June 6, 2014


For my summer internship, I'm required to write a weekly blog.  Feel free to check it out at

I find myself writing about Cleveland most of the time.  You can read only my contributions by clicking "legal" at the top.  Or you can read them all and see how the other interns are finding the summer as well.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Cleveland Holiday

I wish I had more time to write, and perhaps I will soon, but it is finals season at the old law school, and times the last thing I feel like I have most days, at least over these two weeks.  But I had a final this morning, so I've got a bit of time this afternoon.

Tomorrow, as anyone following Cleveland sports at all, is the NFL Draft.  It's a bit of a joke around town, that the draft is the most important day of the year, every single year.  If our team could actually win, logic goes, we'd be able to talk about that instead.  That's true.  As a life-long Packers fan, I spent the majority of my life before moving Cleveland without much mind for the draft at all.

And yet, here we are, on draft-day's eve, and it feels like tomorrow is opening day or something.

It is easy to make fun of Cleveland for putting so much stock into a bunch of players who haven't set foot on an NFL field yet.  Perhaps, to a degree, it's not entirely undue.  But there's also something noble in it.

Other cities with such sustained runs of high draft picks would probably stop caring about their team, much less the draft, at some point.

But for Cleveland to still, year in and out, put so much stock into a day that represents nothing but possibilities says something about the city's spirit.  It's about hope.

That's the heart of what I love about Cleveland.  Even if what happens doesn't always work out-- in the case of the NFL draft, it's barely worked out at all since 1999 (and most of the time before: don't forget that Bernie Kosar was not a traditional draft pick).  But Cleveland hasn't given up hope.

Perhaps its because we're all just too into football and will take anything we can get, even if that's (probably unfulfilled) hope in the middle of April (or beginning of May, as it is this year).  That might be true.

But there's more to it.  If it was just a football-fix, it wouldn't fixate and excite everyone so much.  We don't give up, even when so many others would.  We con't give up even when so many others say we should.

And that's what makes Cleveland Cleveland, all sports aside.

Too bad I have a final Friday morning so tomorrow night is a bit less than convenient...


Sunday, April 27, 2014


3 years ago this month, I moved to Cleveland, via Swanton, Ohio, Hillsdale, Michigan, Ottawa, Ohio, and Wooster, Ohio.  For good measure, I can throw Findlay in, as a quasi-home that I've never actually had a permanent residence in.  Though I live in all of those places and more prior to moving to Cleveland, Ottawa, for all its worth, is my "hometown."  It's where I grew up, its where the farm I so often cite in stories about my childhood is, and its where I went to high school.

Last week, for Easter, we went back to Findlay and Lima to visit my grandma and my future child's grandma (aka my mother-in-law).  Every time we get back to northwestern Ohio, I think about all of the great things you can do there that you can't do in Cleveland.  That's a little ridiculous, if you've ever been to Findlay, Lima, or Ottawa, because Cleveland is larger than all 3 put together, particularly from a diversity and cultural standpoint.  As you can see, the Putnam County flag is pretty close to the confederate flag.  That's much less shocking than you might think, for a county literally 3 hours from Canada.

But even so, there are things back "home" that you can't get in Cleveland.  Kewpie (Lima) burgers are still the best fast-food burgers in the world; Main Street Deli (Findlay) could hold its own even in Cleveland's crowded deli-sandwich scene, and Pizzeria (Ottawa) would be my favorite pizza in Cleveland if it were here.  I don't know if my opinions on all of those are at all objective: but its the stuff I grew up with and its the stuff that, sometimes, I crave because you just can't get it here.  I should also note that, even though a "Titan Burger" is essentially a Big Mac made at a local ice cream stand (in Ottawa), my mouth still waters at the thought of it, even though I could get a pretty close approximation all over the place.  But it's just not the same.  You long for the things you grew up with.

But despite all of my cravings for things back home, (including non-food experiences, like sitting around a fire in someone's backyard, drinking busch light, with the closest neighbor miles away, or running into people you vaguely remember at the gas station and talking with a faux-southern accent), more and more, "back home" isn't very much home lately.

About a year before I moved to Cleveland, my mom left our family.  Though it would be easy to say it was a standard divorce sort of thing from my dad, it was really a complete walk-away from our entire family.  I've talked to her maybe 4 times since, and it is never more than barely polite.  Ever since, home, or whatever notion I had of it, just hasn't been the same.  Even if I'm in the backyard of a farmhouse on road M-10, drinking a busch light while the fire blazes, waiting for the pizzeria to deliver our pizza and crazy bread, there's not so much home to go back to when I go "back home."  In its own way, I suppose Ottawa, Findlay, Lima, etc. will always feel like home. But it hasn't been the same since my mom left.  There will always be a gap between what growing up was, with how my family is (or isn't) now.  So many of my memories and feelings toward northwestern Ohio are tied to a conception of life and family that doesn't exist for me anymore, because the family I grew up in doesn't really exist anymore.

And it is with that background that I came to Cleveland.  And it is in Cleveland that I'm finding the home I'd lost.  It could simply be a product of the facts: this is where my wife found a job, this is where we live, and this is where we're starting our own family.  I'm sure that is a part of it.  But more broadly, there is much more to it.

I've always said that something I love about Cleveland are the times when you get the sense that we're all in this together.  At a sporting event, at a festival, whatever it may be, there's a certain love for this place and a will to see it rebound and thrive that ties everyone together.  That is when Cleveland is at its best.  For me, thats the lifeblood on which I thrive myself.  It doesn't matter where you came from in Cleveland (at least when Cleveland is being the best version of itself)  If you've chosen to make this your home, you become "one of us."  It is very much the opposite of the cloistered German-American society I grew up in (I literally knew 0 white people besides my (technically adoptive) grand parents and extended family on my dad's side who weren't German.  As a complete side note, it's interesting that Ottawa, which was one of the earliest reservations for the Ottawa Indian Tribe, is now a sort of de facto reservation for German Catholics).  As my own home from my whole life faded into nothingness, Cleveland became a place where I could be who I am to this point, and become who I'll be moving forward.

There's a place for everyone in Cleveland.  And that's a good thing, because Cleveland needs everyone it can get.  It will always be a wild ride, as we struggle with our systemic problems that lead to poverty, homelessness, and scads of  condemned and decrepit buildings.  But there's a camaraderie in the struggle.  As Cleveland engages in its own fresh start, it grants us all the opportunity to do the same.  There's a circular beauty there.  Home is where the heart is, they say.  Perhaps, my whole life, my heart was here, and I just didn't know it.  Cleveland is my home now, and in many ways, more than anywhere else ever was.

Now, if we could just get rid of "Wahoo"....


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Don't Call it a Comeback

Unless this is your first time reading this, you're probably noticing the new look, and the entirely new concept.  But if this isn't your first time reading this, it's probably not all that unfamiliar.  I've realized, since getting married and starting law school, that I don't really write personal blogs all that much anymore.  Sometimes I do, but most of the time, even then, it's more like a way to share extended thoughts with friends far and wide on a level at least a little deeper than Facebook.

For the most part though, for quite some time, I've realize that I focus on a just a few things: entertainment, sports, food, but mostly, Cleveland.

Since moving here, even when I try to think about other topics, my thoughts always devolve back to what it means for this city that's propped up a spot in my heart.  So I decided, for better or worse, to actually dedicate my blog, for the foreseeable future, to writing about Cleveland- the people, places, things I encounter, the stories I hear, the thoughts and feelings it stirs inside me.  This is where my life is now.  I've hitched my future to Cleveland's future, so I thought I'd chronicle it, best I can, along the way.

But why "Post-Modern?"  3 reasons really:

1. The term itself is perfect for where Cleveland is now.  Ever since the seventies, Cleveland has been struggling to attain an unfulfilled promise of greatness.  Industry built Cleveland, and now the city, still, strives to reach its past by reinventing itself for the 21st century.

2.  Timing.  For better or worse, we've been in the "post-modern" era since the sixties as a society (or longer, depending on what you're looking at), and the tenants of post-modernity (namely non-centrality) have finally broken into the subconscious of adults.  Cleveland is going to be shaped by those people.  By "those people" I mean "us" because I'm right there in it.

3. Diversity.  Cleveland is a fractured city when you look at it up close.  East-West, White-Black, rich-poor.  But Cleveland somehow pulls it all together.  No matter where you're from or where you're going, Cleveland's shared sense of striving and pushing forward for the greater good brings people together here.  People, individually, are very different from each other.  But when Cleveland is at its best, those differences combine to make something strong, something tenable and beautiful.  Cleveland's identity is hard to pin down, because it is defined by so many people who are not like one another.  Like any big city, that's not always an easy fact: there is plenty of racism, sexism, and "side-ism" to go around.  But Cleveland has the potential to be truly cosmopolitan and communal, because we're all in this together in ways that cities without so much shared struggle don't have to be.

Federico Fellini once said that he never really saw the world til he look at it through the lens of a movie camera.  Well, I'm not a filmmaker, but I like to write.  So here I am, starting a journey to look at Cleveland and document what I find, to maybe see it a little better, to understand the people more, and to give a voice to the comeback.  Comeback though, is not the right word.  The industry won't come back.  Rebirth, perhaps, after a decentering and deconstruction, as something bigger, stronger, and better than ever before.


Friday, March 14, 2014

We Must Try to Live

Two weeks ago, we saw Hayao Miyazaki’s last film “The Wind Rises.”  It is, in many ways, the most unique of Miyazaki’s prolific career.  If you have seen anything else (Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, to name a few) by Miyazaki, the obvious expectation is something set in an out-of-this-world, fantastic universe, with magical creatures or spirits or witches.  Even Ponyo and Princess Mononoke, both actually set in “real world” Japan, featured mystical spirits and talking animals.  The Wind Rises has none of that.  Other than some magical dream sequences, there’s not really a hint of magic.  But even in its real-world trappings, The Wind Rises is nothing if not magical.

Set before, during, and after World War II, the film tells the story of an aspiring aeronautical engineer, who wants to make the world a better place but is forced to create the next great figher plane for Japan’s war efforts.  I won’t really retell more of the plot than I have to, but the whole film centers on a translated french quote: Le vent se leve, il faut tenter de vivre: translated as “The wind rises, we must try to live (though more literally the wind rises, I must try living) from Paul Valery’s poem “The Cemetary by the Sea.”   It seems to me that the entire film is a sort of meditation on that line.   It’s a movie about war without being a war movie: in many ways, it offers a frank, anti-japanese-government-but-pro-japanese take on WWII that doesn’t surface very much in the US.   But the point never quite seems to be about politics. 

Because it’s a Miyazaki movie, you could just mute it and be dazzled by the animation: this time, he shows his expertise at animating the flight, the wind, and all of its effects.  But because it is a Miyazaki film, all of that visual splendor affects the film’s artistry beyond its dazzling shots and animation. 

The wind rises, and it is beautiful when it does.  But there is always a crash or a landing: but even a landing is an end to the flight.  As a film about an engineer, Jiro, there’s a certain sadness, even to his success.  The planes are meant to kill people, even though that is never what their creator wanted, it was the only way he could express his creativity.  There is no other option for Jiro: he has to create planes because it is the purpose of his life.  There’s no other option: the film is not even a meditation on determinism: it’s just that simple: Jiro exists to create planes, even if they are figther planes for a war he doesn’t want.  The wind rises.  He must try to live.  If it weren’t for the wind, there could be no flight.  If it weren’t for the war, there could be no outlet for his creativity.  The wind rises, so he must try to live.

At a point in the movie, Jiro falls in love with a woman who is terminally ill: but they are in love, so they must marry and make it work as much as they can: the wind rises, they must try to live.  It’s simply that basic: there are things in life they can control: their marriage and life in it, and things in life they can’t: both that they love each other and that she is dying.  That’s the dualism of the film: the wind rises, and we must try to live despite it.  But if it weren’t for the wind, there would be no flight, no planes, no life as Jiro knows and needs it (and, without putting much more plot into this, know that, were it not for the wind, Jiro would have never met his eventual wife). 

I’m not one much for message movies as such.  Just look at my post about the Oscars: 12 Years a Slave and Philomena were, to me, vastly overrated because of their message.  But I am not opposed to a film having a message: actually, I think any work of art probably does in some way, if it is truly a work of actual artistic expression. 

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest living cinéartistes: it is no surprise that all of his films are high art in one way or another.  Though not may favorite of his work (Spirited Away is a masterpiece among masterpieces), The Wind Rises may be his most poignant film.  It has a clear message, in that “the wind rises, we must try to live” but it never tells you what that means: it shows you what it means.  That is great art.  Jiro’s life is a story of overcoming obstacles, but at the end of the film, it’s not as if he’s some kind of champion engineer living happily ever after.  At the end of the film, Jiro’s career is over, most of his planes have been destroyed (“that’s what happens when you lose a war” one of the characters says): but for what it was, while it was, Jiro can only say thank you for all he had, even if he has nothing to show for it now.  The wind rose, he lived.  It’s not about the end result for Jiro, it’s about how he lived while the wind was rising.  Like the planes he built, they either crashed or landed, but none of them flew forever.  For 35 years, Miyazaki rode the wind too.  Though most would, by all accounts, call him a huge success with plentty to show for it, it seems he cherishs the memories of the act of creation most, if we are to take any of The Wind Rises as a message from him.  (and it’s impossible not to, seriously). 

In that regard, The Wind Rises is appropriately unAmerican.  It’s not about the end result, it’s not about winning or losing.  It is about living while the wind is rising, succeed or fail.  Wars, disease, loss of loved ones, unintended and adverse goals set by authorities beyond our control all come in life: and they meet parts of us we can’t help: the temperment we’ve been given, the skills, talents, ideas, the people we love, the families we have: they all come together, the wind rises and falls with all of them.  But it’s the attempt to live within all of that, while we’ve still got the chance, that matters most.

None of The Wind Rises ever says any of that.  The entire film shows all of it.



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ten Restaurants You Have to Try, in (and around) Cleveland

If you’ve ever seen the movie “High Fidelity,” you’ve probably thought about creating a bunch of lists, just as a sort of way to catalogue your life.  After 15 years, it seems like the entire internet is finally getting around to that back-of-the-mind goal.  Buzzfeed uses the list as a means to communicate, CNN does its best to copy the format (and CNN’s best is not very good).  Everywhere you look, all over the internet, there are lists. 


It makes sense: lists are digestible: they can communicate a lot of information in a nicely-chunked up format that people can either choose to read entirely, or just scan and see the rundown.  As society  moves toward an increasingly game-like system, in which everything is turned into a mini-competition to increase productivity (it’s true, and I think it’s a good thing), there’s something inherently appealing about the list as a means of organization and communication with an implicit eye toward competition. 


I’m not one for brevity, and I’m not generally one for trendy writing.  I typically want to perfect my own style for its own sake than please the reader.   It’s like the difference between Fireball Whiskey and Jefferson Rye.  One is really popular right now and appeals to the current drinker (at least on Cleveland’s Westside…); but the other is a time-tested recipe, honed toward perfection for the last 300 years.  It has less mass appeal, but it is better at being itself.  Ultimately, that’s what I want, to be better at being myself.

All of that said, I thought I’d make a list, every now and then, because it is fun to make lists.  So here’s my first, roughtly approximated to the ten places I’ve enjoyed eating most since moving to Cleveland.  It’s not a ranking really, just an homage.  It’s also probably the “10 Best Restaurants in Cleveland” as would be determined by Cleveland magazine or the plain dealer.  Theses are ten of my favorites, for the unique reasons I’ll explain.  Most of all though, they are suggestions you should try next time you’re in Cleveland. 


(I’m still working on not being the type of writer who has to thoroughly preface everything, or at least to be better at being that type of writer.  I’m not sure).


10.  Crop, Ohio city (New American Cuisine)

                Built in a monstrous old bank building, a vestige of Ohio City’s old place as an actual part of downtown, Crop one of the most unique settings you’ll find in Cleveland.   Much of the early-twentieth century bank-skyscraper trappings remain: the original ceiling, floor, and artwork still adorn the space.  When we went, we got to sit at the “chef’s table;” a real treat: getting to see a busy kitchen.  If you go, I highly recommend the “chef’s table” if it’s available.  It’s like sitting at the bar, but instead of the drink prep area, you’re looking in on the kitchen at work.  Though that might sound a bit like subway, it’s much more like performance art.  It even came with an amusée bouche: an incredible pork belly bite topped with peppers and a dressing.  I had an incredible fried pork chop for dinner, but the best dish was probably our olive and goatcheese flatbread.  It balanced the two tangy twins perfectly with dates, greens, and an incredible, flaky but crispy crust.

9. Greenhouse Tavern, (Sustainable American-French) E. 4th

                I’ve never actually been here for dinner (though I hear it’s quite good).  It made this list foe 2 reasons: 1. The sort of bicycle garage atmosphere and 2. The wait staff.  I’ve had it for lunch a couple of times (a certain perk to working downtown), and though I enjoyed my food (a croque madame and spectacular truffle fries), it has been, each time, the excellent service that wins the day.  The people who work at Greenhouse absolutely know their stuff.  More than that, they are actually passionate about it.  Maybe it’s easy to be passionate about great food, but there’s something unique about this place.  They don’t just tell you an obviously prepared list of ingredients and general impressions: they tell you everything about the food, from where it’s sourced to how its prepared.  The food service industry is (ironically) a pretty thankless job much of the time: poor wages, poor tippers, entitled Americans.  I’m sure Greenhouse gets those clients and suffers those ills (though I’d not be shocked if they make better than minimum-server wages): whatever they’re doing here though, makes the staff love their work.  That’s the mark of a great place, good food or not.  I’ll let you know how I feel about the food when I actually get there for dinner though

8. Soho, (Southern U.S.), Ohio City

                I’ve got a pretty large soft spot for actual southern food and drink.  It’s probably so big that my hard spots are smaller than that soft spot.  Soho, though apparently named after a district of both New York and London, is actually shorthand for “southern hospitality.”  Though I despise the fact that they use boneless, skinless chicken for their fried chicken, even it’s pretty good.  Everything else is astounding.  I particularly recommend their spicy collard greens.  Though Heinen’s has changed it, this used to be the only place in Cleveland to get a Cheerwine (thank you Heinen’s).  Their cocktails are unique and worth the price (that’s rare, even in Cleveland), each named for a different southern city.  For being pan-southern, they actually do a good job acknowledging the diversity of the South- it’s not just St. Louis or Memphis style ribs or friend chicken and collard greens: they have southern-style seafood (that isn’t Maryland style: it’s almost impossible to find anywhere that differentiates), shrimp and grits, smoked mac and cheese, their fried fish is catfish, etc., etc.  Anywhere that acknowledges that South is not just Texas, New Orleans, bourbon, and friend chicken, is my kind of place.

7. The Indies (Indian), 5th St. Arcade;

                This is in a food court.  This is also the best Indian food I’ve found in Cleveland.  For 7 dollars at lunch, you get 2 pieces of Naan and a drink alongside 3 curries of your choice.  There are usually 4 or 5 vegetarian dishes, and 4 or 5 chicken dishes.  I typically get 2 vegetarian and a chicken.  My favorite is a vegetarian curry made with chickpeas and mustard greens.  Everything is perfectly spicy and flavorful.  The naan is buttered and crisp on the outside while pillowy beneath.  It might not have all of the options of a more typical Indian restaurant, but if you’re not picky and just want some Indian food, you’ll not find a better spot, regardless of price.  For the money, it’s a win-win.  

                Side note: The 5th street arcades are becoming the most incredible place in Cleveland, more and more each week it seems. 

6. Deegan’s (New American Gastropub), Detroit Rd. (Lakewood)

                Ah Deegans.  We’ve probably ate here more than basically anywhere else in Cleveland.  It’s close to our house and it never, ever disappoints.  Melt is next door and much more famous, but Deegan’s should be.  The menu changes all of the time because they keep everything seasonal, so it’s hard to say what I’d recommend eating.  Just know that they do everything right: the drink list is monstrous, though classic (there are no signature cocktails aside from the occasional seasonal).  A rotating seasonal cheese/sausage list provides the perfect alternative appetizer.  Their warm pretzel “bar snack” is soft, and served with a beer cheese you would literally kill someone for.  Those are just the things I know they have- their entrees, which are different every single time we go, never, ever disappoint.  I mean never.  I always say I want to try their burger next time, then they have some new dish I just have to try.  Someday, I will try the burger.  I’m sure it will be delicious.  My wife raves about the mussels constantly, but I don’t like mussels.  If you like mussels, I guess you should probably go to Deegans.

5. Happy Dog (Hotdogs and tatertots), Detroit Shoreway

                For 5 dollars at Happy Dog, you get a hot dog with whatever you want on it.  Whatever.  This does mean you can do something crazy, like peanut butter, marshmallow, and salsa.  Happy Dog is known for allowing these shenanigans. But it is actually the well-thought out hot-dog that will steal the day.  They have 7 or 8 cheeses, 7 or 8 vegetables (from relish to pickled jicama), 7 or 8 sauces (hot sauces, barbecues, all sorts).  From there, the hotdog is your canvas.  I particularly enjoy brie, onions, mustard, and their hottest hot sauce.  The tatertots are somehow magically delicious too.  Don't leave without trying them.

4. El Carnicero (New Mexican), Detroit rd.( Lakewood)

                There is much to say about El Carnicero: their margaritas are unique and spectacular, the environment is interesting and hip, their bartenders have a great sense of humor (for 5 dollars during happy hour, you can order “El Hipster”: a shot of tequila and a modelo- Lakewood everybody).  But there are two words that define the El Carnicero experience succinctly: refried beans.  If there is a better use of 3 dollars anywhere in the world, sign me up.  It’s just a side dish, but it is literally the most flavorful side dish you will ever eat.  They are perfectly spicy, wonderfully aromatic, and the texture is just right.  They aren’t pasty, but they aren’t just slightly smushed beans either.  Everything about them is perfect.  Everything.  They are what heaven tastes like.

3.  Mahall’s 20 Lanes (Progressive Bowling Alley fare), Madison Rd. (Lakewood)

                Yeah, this is a bowling alley.  But don’t tell the chefs that.  I’m not sure how they found them or what they were thinking, but Mahalls somehow put together the perfect set of snacks for bowling without having anything to do with mozzarella sticks or hot dogs.  I met one of the chefs accidentally once.  I was eating the collard greens, he asked me what I thought of them.  “They’re delicious” I replied.  “I’m glad to hear that” he said.  “ It’s my mother’s recipe.”  Mahalls is literally just letting people make their parent’s recipes, and they’re quietly making the best sourthern food in Cleveland, or maybe all of the north.   Their cole slaw, pulled pork, fried chicken, and collard greens are better than anywhere I’ve had elsewhere in town.  Actually, they’re better or as good than most of what I’ve had actually in the South.  I mean, they give you regional options with your (unsauced when you get it) pulled pork.  At a bowling alley.  That’s unheard of  in Ohio.  Heck, barbecue usually means either sauce, potato chips, or grill in Ohio, even at “barbecue restaurants.”  Mahalls is a bowling alley, but I just bowl so I can eat.  (also, it is a hipster mecca in everyway- they also have the best cocktails outside of the Velvet Tango Room (and they’re actually more unique) and an incredible beer selection)

2.  Light Bistro (New American Tapas) , Ohio City

                For the last three years, we’ve enjoyed Light Bistro for our Valentine’s day meal, and that’s mostly what got this here.  The Light Bistro, like many restaurants, offers a prix fixe for valentine’s day.  This year, we had to celebrate a day early, so we missed out.  I’m kind of glad we did.  Though it was good the last two years, I’d always wanted to explore the deeper menu.  Simply put, I enjoy any good tapas place for the variety.  Light Bistro is no exception.  The highlight is the pork belly: it’s perfectly cooked: tender, with the fat melting atop it.  After my first bite, I decided that bacon is a waste of pork belly.  It’s how pork should be eaten.  But everything we tried was delicious.  For dessert, they shake a bag of warm beignets in sugar, then provide 3 dipping sauces.  It’s even better than it sounds.  If you want taps in Cleveland, I don’t see how you could go anywhere else.

1.  Le Petit Triangle (French Café),  Ohio City

                I’m always a little torn about Le Petit Triangle.  We’ve been there once and it is simply supreme.  They do french right, it’s that simple.  In typical Cleveland fashion, it’s a hole-in-the-wall with the strangest shape you’ll find for a restaurant (the name comes from the building’s shape), and it has legitimate food, beyond the more highly touted.  It’s the best french food we’ve had in Cleveland, even if Brasserie 429 or Tartine get more publicity around town.  It’s very classic: they have steak with bleu cheese sauce, poulet au (insert seasonal sauce and vegetable), ratatouille, crepes, even frog legs and escargot.  It’s also highly affordable for what you get.  But you always know what you’ll get.  That’s why I can be so torn.  Cleveland has so many adventurous eating opportunities: it’s hard to ever eat at the same place twice.  But at the same time, there’s something to be said for doing good food well, and Le Petit Triangle does great food spectacularly.  It’s a very french/Cleveland experience.  Dinner takes a long time, as it should, even though the wait staff looks more like off-hour starbucks baristas than professional garcons.  So I’m torn- you know what you’re getting, and it’s not quite how you’d expect to get that.  But once you get it, it will be astounding. 


You’ll notice that I left off anything by Michael Symon and Melt.  It’s not that I dislike Michael Symon, and I certainly love Melt.  But I have a strict rule: if Guy Fieri has been there or knows you, I can’t endorse it publically.