20 March 2008


I subscribe to, and read, the New Yorker. My relationship to this fact is complicated and continually in flux. (I used to, all-to-frequently begin conversations with the almost ritual disclaimer: "I don't want to be one of those people who always asks 'did you read the thing in the new New Yorker' but... did you read the thing in the new New Yorker?")

In any case. In New York City, and thus in the universe of internet discourse, the new issue of the New Yorker appears each Monday. When I lived in California, i always received my copy on the following Wednesday. In Cleveland, I receive my copy on either Friday or Saturday. Thus I have two days to read the entire issue before the universe of internet discourse, and my NYC acquaintances, begin discussing the contents of the next issue.

I know, in my rational brain, that each copy of the magazine is not sent out from Lower Manhattan on Monday, moving at a constant rate, arriving in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Texas on Thursday, and Alaska by the weekend. I know it doesn't work like that. But I can't help but feel that the New Yorker delivery schedule reveals a secret truth about geography that the map obscures. San Francisco is two days closer to New York City than Cleveland is.

07 March 2008


Self-Portrait in a Snowstorm

Cleveland is supposed to receive between 12 and 18 inches of snow in the next 24 hours. My next-door neighbor has invited me to hike through the blizzard to go to the wine bar in our neighborhood. Could be fun! Or very cold!

04 March 2008


Today the temperature reached 60 and all the snow melted and the sun came out. I got spring fever, practically running to work in my bright red Prada shoes with no coat on. I was giddy.

After yet one more day of being not very good at my job, it got rainy and cold again, and I was stuck in my office with no coat and no hat and no umbrella.

Eventually I faced the truth that I had no choice but to walk home in the rain. It is, as I may have said before, a one-mile walk that should take me about twenty minutes. But not tonight. Halfway up the hill I saw a man stumbling in middle of the street. I thought he was just drunk, but as I got closer I saw that he was rather elderly, and as he stumbled over to the far side of the street, where there is no sidewalk, only a muddy embankment, he clutched his chest and looked like he was in a lot of pain. So I called out to him.

I was right the first time. He was just very, very drunk. He was perhaps in his 70s, although it's hard to tell. At first I thought his pinky finger on one hand had been amputated, but in I saw later that the finger was normal, just curved in at a strange, painful angle. He was wearing a ratty hooded jacket and big cheap glasses.

"I'm drunk," he said.

"I'm really fucked up," he said.

"Where we goin'?," he said.

"I don't even know where the fuck I am," he said.

"I'm followin' you," he said.

He said these things over and over again. He said them all in the same tone of voice -- not pitiful at all, and not angry either, but sort of like he was giving a command, regardless of whether he was actually telling me to do something, asking a question, or stating a fact. The only thing in a different voice was a little terrified-sounding "woah!" when I started to get too far ahead of him. He'd lean against the fence for a moment, then revert to his normal tone. "Don't let me fall, motherfucker."

He only fell once. One of the lenses of his cheap glasses popped out, and a wad of cash fell out of his pocket. I thought that perhaps I would ditch him in a bus shelter and run home. It would have been easy, since we stopped in the bus shelter across from my house. He would never have remembered me, or remembered my failure to help him. And the only help I was providing was leading to the liquor store and the pay phone, which in the big picture was hardly any help at all. He wanted me to take him to a restaurant or a motel. Neither were a possibility in Cleveland Heights at midnight on a Monday. The liquor store was the best I could do.

And I did it. I got him to the all-night liquor store, walking slowly in the rain as my bright red Prada shoes got more and more waterlogged and my toes got more and more numb. I held his hand now and then, briefly, but mostly walked five steps ahead. Mostly I just wanted to keep him from walking into the road and getting hit. As he finally walked in the door of the shop, I ran back towards my house that we had earlier passed. He never told me his name or expressed any gratitude whatsoever, except for a moment when I handed him the lens of his glasses.

There was a moment, in the middle of our journey, when we stopped in a bus shelter, when he said "Wait, wait. I want to talk to you." He started to say "I'm from..." and then a long pause "I need to go to..." and then another long pause. He never told me where he was from, or maybe he didn't know anymore. After the moment, we fell back into his mantra of "I'm drunk...where we goin'...I'm followin' you."

He would not have remembered my abandoning him. He will not remember my helping him.

20 January 2008

I'm back

Since I last posted here, I descended in a difficult emotional space, and then began to climb out. Why was I unhappy, you ask? Well, lots of reasons, but it is perhaps illustrative that some people who live Cleveland still, in 2008, don't understand how AIDS works. (And are also fat.)

No, seriously it's not that bad. More soon!

01 December 2007


The view from my window today

Tonight, while I was in the movie theater watching I'm Not There (sublime!) the first storm of the winter arrived.

Did you know? When you drive in snow and sleet and freezing rain, it freezes to your windshield until you can't see very well. So you turn on your windshield wipers, which spreads everything around, so you see even less well. So then you spray your wiper fluid, which adds even more to spread around and freeze, so you can't see at all.

I would suggest that you go through these steps before you are driving on an unplowed road, where even if your windshield were clear, you couldn't see the lines that indicate where you are supposed to drive.

It is an adventure! (Eventually your wiper fluid and warm-air defrost inside will make it so that there is no longer ice blocking your view, and the fun ends.)

I stopped for gas, and on the other side of the pump there was a man filling up a pickup with a snow plow on the front.

"I hate this weather!" he yelled to me.

"But if it didn't snow, you'd, you'd be out of a job," I pointed out

"This time next year, I'm selling this damn truck and moving to Florida. I mean it; I'll do it. I tell you what!"

10 November 2007


I have a strong memory of the first snowfall after I moved to Massachusetts to go to college. I was coming from California, and had convinced myself (or been convinced) that I would hate the cold weather. I made jokes about it, but I was genuinely afraid that I would spend months being unhappy. And then fall arrived, and it got chilly, but fall in north-western Massachusetts is so famously beautiful that the weather really couldn't get me down. But still I thought—when the snow arrives, I will be miserable.

And then the first snowfall happened, and it was sublime. It was like a cloud of soft white feathers. It seemed to be happening in slow motion. I was transfixed, like that dumb scene American Beauty where the kid films the plastic bag blowing in the wind, except instead of one anthropomorphized object, there was a swarm little dancers joyfully spinning all around me. I told myself to remember the experience.

This week, Cleveland had its first snowfall of the season. And it was like a thousand tiny little daggers stabbing my face again and again.

Coming soon on Letters from Cleveland: Greg reports on the special hell that is the "Wintry Mix." They have invented a whole new form of weather here, that I had never heard of! It's going to be a long winter.

06 November 2007


RTA station

So I'm back from a trip to Québec, where I spent most of the time explaining that Cleveland isn't really that bad and that my crippling depression really isn't that crippling. All in all, the trip was probably not worth the extraordinary expense.

But this blog is not about Québec or my not-that-crippling depression. It is about Cleveland! And my latest revelatory Cleveland moment was a my trip to the airport, my first encounter with the light-rail component of the dubious-award-winning Cleveland Rapid Transit.

The light rail stop that is walking distance from my house is at 120th and Euclid, which is essentially on the border between East Cleveland and Cleveland proper. East Cleveland has been systematically impoverished. (I have taken some snapshots which perhaps problematically aestheticize the picturesque urban decay and deprivation of East Cleveland.

The train came relatively promptly, and was relatively full. And I was the only white person on the entire train. More than that, I was the only non-African American.

Thinking back, I guess there were many times when I got on the (now defunct) #40 bus line from Oakland to Berkeley when I was the only white person, but then there were invariably Latino and Asian Oaklanders on the bus. I can't immediately call to mind occasions, before coming to Cleveland, that I found myself in entirely black spaces like this, although I'm sure there have been some (that fish and chips shop on Oakland's Grand Ave, maybe? Particular, rare moments at the Chicken and Waffle House?)

I have no particular insight about this fact, or how it felt—particularly because as soon as the train got past the University Circle station I was no longer the only non-black passenger, and by the time we reached Tower City the train was fully integrated. I only make the observation, especially since, like so many experiences so far in Ohio, it is a new to me, but only subtly so.

In related news, today is election day, and I'm not voting, since I never got around to registering. There is, apparently, a measure to fund the Cleveland Heights public schools better. (I heard about it on the radio; I'm too lazy to dig up a link to a news story.) It is predicted to fail, since all the white families send their children to private school, and won't vote to allow their taxes to pay for the consequently-mostly-black public schools. Ain't democracy grand!?

ETA! (Wednesday 7/11): The Cleveland Heights school tax levy passed, 5822 to 4723! Hooray for democracy! Or for noblesse oblige or whatever!