Thursday, September 18, 2014

The 216 renaissance unfurls

Photo that does not require a caption

I had a ball penning this article for this week's Fresh Water.  I invite all of my Clevo buddies to give it a look, as well as you unenlightened souls from across the nation.

Writing this one, which summarizes the most exciting projects in the area, I felt an unmistakable energy bubbling. Something is afoot. It's our time to take the spotlight and the powers that be know it.

So, as a Marcel Breuer "brutalist" building (once slated for the wrecking ball) is transforming into an upscale urban entertainment complex, it became obvious that the associated residents would need a grocery store. Why not put it in the adjacent classical style bank rotunda that lay fallow for years (image of both here)?

We can do that.

A few of the other projects in the article: They're turning a failing urban mall into gym. A new skate park is under construction in the Flats, a pedestrian drawbridge is moving closer to fruition in Northcoast Harbor and 1000-seat beer garden is sent to open next month.


So take a peak at the article and as Rachel Maddow says, watch this space.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Giant steel dinosaurs that eat your legs

When I was a kid, Dad would occasionally take me down to the Flats (Cleveland's industrial riverfront district) for one reason or another, maybe to go to Samsel Supply or some machine shop that's long since closed. Whatever the purpose of the trip, we'd almost always end up at Fagan's, a grungy riverfront watering hole frequented by longshoremen that eventually turned into a trendy nightspot. Dad would drink his Stroh's while I quietly eyed the dark barroom and blew bubbles in my Shirley Temple.

Dad and me in '73
Whenever the air horn blared, indicating the railroad bridge (nicknamed the Iron Curtain) was about to go up, Dad would say, "Come on, honey. Let's go watch the bridge."

We'd step out into the thick August heat. Another horn would sound and the bridge would silently ascend high enough to let the Edward B. Greene or the Joe S. Morrow or the E. M. Ford pass over to Lake Erie. Dad would explain how the bridge allows trains to go over the river and how it can be raised to let the massive ore boats pass.

"The bridge guys sit in there," Dad said, pointing to a windowed box atop the bridge's span. "You see those stairs?" he asked. I nodded. "Once an old bum climbed up onto that bridge. He got away from the stairs and started crawling around in the steelwork."

"Did he come down okay?" I asked with trepidation.

"An ore boat came along," Dad said, placing a Marlboro 100 between his lips and fishing his Zippo from his front pocket, "and the bridge guy didn't know the bum was up there, so he raises the bridge." As he spoke, the cigarette bobbed up and down on the tip of the lighter's flame.

"Didn't the bridge guy blow the horn?"

"Sure he did: one long blast and one short. But the bum was passed out drunk, didn't hear a thing. Up goes the bridge." He exhaled a plume of smoke and sipped his Stroh's. "Sheared the guy's legs right off."

That's when the bridges became giant steel dinosaurs that ate your legs. In my world, they couldn't have been more real.

I was terrified of the murky water of the Cuyahoga and the bridges, yet fascinated as well. Despite being a strong swimmer my whole life, I have nightmares to this day about being in the river with only the giant pilings and impossibly huge ore boats around me and being so very very small.

Nonetheless, I came to profoundly love the Flats for it's history and infrastructure and authenticity. I love the crazy angles of the bridges, the ancient buildings and the impossible grid of streets.
Hence when they announced the opening of the Scranton Flats Towpath Trail in July, I was beside myself with joy.

Sculling in the Flats, 1988, humble hostess is third from last

Last week, the Goat and I finally took a walk along the new path and beyond. We walked all through this part of town I love so much, yet had really only toured via car, and not very purposefully at that.

I was like a kid at Disney, pointing with mouth agape, swooning and snapping photos.

That said, when we passed by the defunct Eagle Avenue Bridge, a chill ran through me. I yelled at Eric to stay away from the shear drop to the river. The massive counterweight overwhelmed me. I'd never been so close to the works of one of those scary steel dinosaurs.

Eagle Avenue Bridge

I kept my distance and took a couple of photos.

Eagle Avenue Bridge counterweight ... eek!

This was the terminus of the new trail, but we continued walking. We reached the Carter Road Bridge and decided to cross. The bridge was down, but the horn sounded as we approached. I froze and backed away until I was plenty far from the span. The second horn sounded and the bridge began to rise. I clutched the adjacent rail until the Goodtime III passed, the span came back down and the all-clear sounded. Nonetheless, walking across the bridge freaked me out, particularly at the junction where the moving part meets the stationary part. The return trip was a little better, but still pretty dicey for me.

I survived, legs intact.

I'll end with some more photos from our walk and a bidding to my fellow Clevos to go and enjoy this new urban trail. Forty years ago, your parents would never have thought such a thing was possible.

Oh beautiful, beautiful life.

Landscape in the Flats

Streetscape in the Flats

Flowers in the Flats

Underbelly in the Flats

Erection in the Flats

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Friday, September 12, 2014

At the end of the earth with a loin cloth eating terrorist

Domestic terrorist

The readership might not think that looks like a domestic terrorist, but I promise you, it is.

This animal is essentially trying to eat our entire house, despite being (self-limited) to one room (she will not cross the threshold of the living room, which apparently indicates the end of the earth to the bunny).

Perhaps she's just practicing self-control. Perhaps she won't venture out into other parts of the house until her Work is done here in the living room.

House Protector II surveys
the end of the earth
Sometimes the bunny makes out with the house protectors. We have two in the living room. Thankfully they are positioned such that they cannot see each other so they don't know about the bunny's promiscuity.

She has eaten both of their loincloths and most of the hair on the one that has hair.

I'd call the Humiliation and Sexual Enslaving of the House Protectors the bunny's greatest exploit.

Cuckolded House Protector I
Sometimes the bunny hops onto the couch (the leather of which is dotted with holes courtesy of unfortunate sessions during which were not practicing enough care in the supervision of the bunny) and attacks the Goat's newspaper, tearing it into shreds.

Your humble hostess enjoys those proceedings immensely. 

The bunny's other big project involves the table next to where I usually sit. We have essentially conceded this table to the bunny, which she furiously gnaws at like a pint-sized power tool.

Despite how much wood is associated with said side table, I'm pretty sure one day, whilst the Goat and I lounge in the sweet velvet of the morning sipping coffee, I shall set my mug upon the table in order to type a missive on my laptop and the whole thing will clatter to the ground.

And the bunny will silently glare at us, vindicated.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Ahead of President Obama's speech tonight, if you have a chance to listen to Dan Carlin's Common Sense Show 280: In Search of Context, it will be an hour very well spent. That podcast might have even more impact after the speech.

You will not feel better afterwards, but you will appreciate his point of view.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

It was last fired on April 10, 1994

Sometimes I just land here. Sometimes the world pushes me here.

When I first returned to work after my brother John's suicide, a coworker said to me, "You know, he cannot be buried in a Catholic cemetery."

That was before John's name would become internationally associated with the award-winning film Leaving Las Vegas, although I'm pretty sure that individual would have said the same thing under any circumstances.

One man wrote to tell me he was going to "join" John amid pages of barely comprehensible ranting. One woman wrote me 14 years after John's death to tell me he'd made a pass at her while he was still married.

Once at a terrible book signing wherein I sat by myself at a table for hours with a pristine stack of copies of my novel before me, the one person who came in from the blinding blizzard did not buy my book, but asked me casually, "So, why did your brother kill himself?"

I do my best to mothball the unfortunate comments, but as you can see, they are pretty indelible. Hence, I did not comment on Robin Williams' death, but it did move me to this post.

The Grim Reaper and I are old friends. I know his ways all too well. He'll let you say goodbye to just about everyone, but you will never lay down a suicide. It is a badge he sews into your flesh.

Read this:

At some point after Dad's death, Mom gave that box to Eric. It remained sealed until nearly 19 years after John's death.

Nineteen years.

On January 4, 2013, some cosmic switched toggled. It was time. Someone had to verify the gun--acknowledge it--and it had to be me. I asked Eric to dig the box from wherever he'd stowed it. He did. When he handed it to me, it was at once too heavy and too light. I could not open it. I handed the box back to Eric as queasiness overwhelmed me from my stomach to my head. I was shaky and flushed.

As he worked through the wrapping, I thought, what will you do if it's covered in dried gore?

The masculine tailored look of the Smith and Wesson, a terrible handsome thing, was not lost on me. It was exactly the gun I would have expected John to select, which was oddly painful: to not be surprised by it.

The evidence tag was another story. I had not expected that: written verification on the inside of what Dad refused to acknowledge on the outside of this box. That rote slip of paper amid all this blood and emotion struck me at my core.

I could not touch the gun, but documentation seemed important. I don't know why. I took the photos and Eric took it all away.

Perhaps the heaviest burden associated with John's death is the dichotomy of the act: was it the zenith of cowardice or bravery? After 20 years and countless hours studying his body of work, I've concluded that it was both. Whether I'm right or wrong isn't the point. I deserve the modest liberation it affords.

This is what it is like. This is exactly what it is like.

Bill and John O'Brien, circa 1961

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