Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, And Ours

Harvey Pekar's posthumous history of his hometown is realer, and both sadder and less sad, than the myth.
Share |
Looking good, City and Region!

Photograph via Flickr user KitAy.

The way that we usually mean it, it’s hard to say Harvey Pekar was a sports fanatic. Probably more interested in things literary and jazzical he was, despite the regular-guy aura that haloed and in many ways defined him, and which may have been more a product of Paul Giamatti's Pekar in American Splendor than Pekar's Pekar in his own life. Pekar was what a friend of mine used to call “intellecty.” He liked Andrei Bely and George Ade and all sorts of things that, in Cleveland, could easily have left him a lonely lonely man. But in Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, the posthumously published collaboration between Pekar and Joseph Remnant that came out in May, Pekar starts like any good Clevelander would:

“Yeah, I’ve had plenty of good days," he says. “But when people ask me which was the best, the first that comes to mind is when I was listening to the Elementary PA system as the Cleveland Indians clinched…the 1948 World Series.”

And from there, inevitably, he goes where all good Clevelanders must:

“(But) the 1954 World Series was a turning point…now they seemed to me rotten to the core with success. Like all they had to do was throw their gloves on the field, and they thought they’d win.”

“A few years later,” he concludes, “that’s how I viewed Cleveland: rotten.”

***

I’ve never had one of those good days. My mother—b. 1950—only had one, and it wasn’t in her favorite sport, and it wasn’t a Super Bowl; it was almost 50 years ago, and that got kind of ugly, too, eventually. Odd as it may seem to say when you helped make a play about the tremendous and infantilizing power of Cleveland sports, but when I was a kid I was more or less indifferent to it all. My mother played News Radio 1100—then all sports, now all Limbaugh—while I read comics and Dragonlance in the backseat. The voices on the radio were so loud and so certain, what they declaimed and yelped and whined about so clichéd. It drove me crazy, and I tuned it out.

Of course, being indifferent to Cleveland sports isn’t quite like being indifferent to sports in other places, and it certainly doesn’t mean complete ignorance, blissful or non-. I saw more than one Bulls-Cavaliers playoff game at the Richfield Coliseum, I remember where and when I saw Earnest Byner fumble, I inexplicably loved Ben Poquette. I was not as committed as some, or as I would later be, but in Cleveland sports are like the lake: always there, even if you’re not really paying attention.

I was re-rabidified as an adult, mostly because Cleveland sports are the language of Cleveland bars, and for a while I made my living tending Cleveland bars. When I moved away from Cleveland and bartending, it only got worse. And though I’ll be buying tickets to the NBA Draft this week, and am likely to be in Las Vegas for NBA Summer League, I’m still ambivalent about the decision to re-immerse in and recommit to these teams. It has been a consistently brutalizing experience, after all, but I do it anyway. Today, I find all that old, loud certainty reassuring; I subject my kids to sports talk radio while they read comics in the back seat.

This is a way of teaching them about home, and a way for me to remember what-was-once-home, but what kind of home is this? The story of Cleveland I’ve chosen for my kids is one of unmitigated misery, a misery that finds its apex in our nearly miraculous and unceasing disappointment as fans: Robert Attenweiler and I made that play about it, Scott Raab wrote a book about it, it's on t-shirts worn by TV chefs and discussed on this website with puzzling regularity. It’s not just the story of our teams, it’s the story of the whole city: we were once superior and now we’re in a decline so majestic it must be chronicled, its survivors praised.

It’s a Cleveland thing, I suppose, to make this weird equation between your sports teams and what seems like a fundamentally screwed-up municipality: In 2009, driving from New York to Cleveland to see the Cavaliers open against the Celtics, just getting to Quicken Loans Arena in my shaky car felt like a minor miracle, something that augured well. The ticket taker punctured this: "These are fake tickets. Sorry." He felt badly enough to offer us free magnets, and so we watched Boston rip apart the Cavs from a bar called The Clevelander. It was at that bar, about a year later, that I decided to watch LeBron make his decision and deliver his last bit of bad news as a Cavalier. The most common response to this story is simple, devastating: “So Cleveland,” people say.

***

"Well, Cleveland’s been around longer than I have, so let’s start at the beginning," Pekar writes. From those World Series pages he gives a Cleveland history that runs about a third of the book. It’s not a story whose trajectory is constantly, or even frequently, upward. All the hits are here: stealing land from Native Americans, the Cuyahoga River as malaria-magnet-cum fire-hazard, a mayor whose hair caught on fire, the incomparable Mr. Dennis Kucinich, Hough riots, busted schools and, as Pekar notes, a persistent problem with race relations.

Whether this stuff is the dullest stuff in the world to anyone not from Cleveland I don’t and necessarily can't know. Maybe tales of a miserable hometown are as conversationally unwelcome as stories about one's fantasy team, or kids. However beautifully drawn and paced Cleveland is—and, thanks to Remnant, it is both—the question haunts even an interested, admittedly partisan Cleveland-born reader: could anyone else care about the burning river, the city bankruptcy, the fight over Cleveland Public Power?

Because Pekar has written so much about his own life—his divorces, his bruising experience with David Letterman—and his city in the past, Cleveland at times has the sense of familiar territory being re-mapped. Again, it's tough to tell what those outside Cleveland's perseverating brotherhood would make of this, but there is something soothing and almost prayerful about hearing all these terrible stories again. This bleak familiarity, too, is home. It certainly feels more real than the alternative. In one of the talk-backs after the Cleveland premiere of "Our Greatest Year," someone said: "It’s going to happen eventually, at some point we’ll win a championship. What do you think will happen to our identity?" The first sentence scared me. “Well,” I said, “maybe we won’t.”

***

Maybe the story that confirms what we know, the usual Cleveland story, is a juvenile one: our city is a ruin, our teams always lose and isn’t it hilarious, or sad, just what you’d think would happen, wait until next year, and so on. There's a rough truth in it, but it's worth considering that Clevelanders are so attached to this sad story because we’re at the center of it, preternaturally picked for disaster. And maybe we talk about this stuff more than most because we’re doing just a little better than we were, and can finally afford the romance—maybe we’re able to keep our mouths just enough above the flood to keep talking about the flood, where cities like Detroit are already Max Cady-deep, gurgling and giving the evil eye.

But that usual Cleveland story isn’t the Cleveland in Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, or not exactly. Pekar doesn’t follow the arc up and then the long slide down. His Cleveland is up and down and up and down, in the way that life moves: change can mean better and worse at the same time. It’s all “however” and “but yet again” and “on the other hand.”

“People here are bitter,” Pekar writes. “I don’t blame ‘em. I still haven’t gotten over how we lost the 1954 World Series.” But then, on the second to last page: “There’s some talk of a medical mart…some say it will bring a BONANZA to our city. Wouldn’t I love to see that.”

Maybe that last line is a sarcastic jeer. It would be understandable; a seventysomething Clevelander has seen any number of “city saving” municipal projects. But maybe it’s someone who, near the end of his life, desperately wants to see how everything works out. I sense that it’s both. Pekar’s Cleveland isn’t the same as the Cleveland we see and talk about in our teams: it’s entirely more accurate, it’s seventeen shades less mythologized, and it’s neither condescending nor romanticized. It is, in the best and most recognizable and most hopeful way, entirely unsettled.

It is difficult and unpleasant to talk about housing blight, stolen copper plumbing, devastated schools, a hospital complex that eats low-income housing morning noon and night, or what happened to Frederick Holliday. It is so much easier and masochistically delightful to talk about what it felt like to lose on Opening Day in the snow, with 300 other Indians fans scattered across 80,000 Municipal Stadium seats. But both are true, both are present—to tell the story straight begs for a little of the old “Once it was better, but since then it always hasn’t been,” but demands a willingness to see Cleveland both for what it is and what it could be.

In the end, Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland is a Cleveland that eats away at our peculiar mythology. Its Cleveland is a regular place with regular place problems, not a special place with spectacular problems. It’s bad, but it’s a real sort of bad, and so maybe not so bad. Or, as a friend of mine said not long ago: “Yeah, the real secret is that Cleveland is pretty much like everywhere else.”


Share |

Comments

Great post, thanks so much for sharing. Do you happen to have an RSS feed I can subscribe to? Lucky 31

Awesome blog, I’m going to spend more time researching this topic comeon

The following time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I truly thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you may fix should you werent too busy looking for attention. https://cad4sale.com/camworks-for-solidworks.html

Attorneys… [...]just below, are some totally unrelated sites to ours, however, they are definitely worth checking out[...]… comeon casino

HURRAY! can’t balladeer. by virtue of himself by what name highly. casinoextra

I recognize there’s lots of spam on this website. Do you need help cleansing them up? I may help among courses! cherry casino

I as of late discovered numerous helpful data in your site particularly this online journal page. Among the loads of remarks on your articles. Much obliged for sharing. headway review Trevor Carr

I simply discovered this web journal and have high trusts in it to proceed. Keep up the considerable work, its elusive great ones. I have added to my top choices. Much obliged to You. numero voyante

Simply a smiling visitor here to share the love (:, btw great style and design . học trang điểm cá nhân

reading tech blogs to keep me updated on technology is what i do daily. i am a tech addict, no deposit

This blog really is good. How was it made ? thermal oxidizer cost

I have been checking out a few of your stories and i must say nice stuff. I will surely bookmark your website offshore software development

When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Cheers! http://nolicolors.com

Can I simply say what a reduction to seek out somebody who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know tips on how to convey an issue to mild and make it important. More people have to learn this and perceive this side of the story. I cant imagine youre no more standard since you definitely have the gift. montecryptos

Very man or woman speeches need to seat giving observe into couples. Brand new sound system just before unnecessary people should always be mindful of generally senior general rule from public speaking, which is to be the mini. best man speaches Pensacola Tree Service LLC

*You should take part in a contest for one of the best blogs on the web. I will recommend this site! betjuego

I am curious to find out what blog platform you are using? I’m having some minor security problems with my latest website and I’d like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any solutions? coinexchange

What a lovely weblog. I will certainly be back again. Please maintain writing! nordicbet

I added this article to my favorites and plan to return to digest more soon. It’s easy to read and understand as well as intelligent. I truly enjoyed my first read through of this article. http://motorolababymonitors.strikingly.com

The next time you visit a health care provider make sure you are paying the contracted rate and you are in network. This will help you save money and ensure that you are getting the benefit from your health insurance. no deposit

Very good post, thank you a lot for sharing. Do you have an RSS feed I can subscribe to? mr green

Most suitable boyfriend speeches, or else toasts. are almost always transported eventually through the entire wedding party and are still required to be very interesting, amusing and even enlightening together. best man’s speech casino online

I will right away grab your rss feed to remain up to date on any succeeding articles you might write 바카라

Water-resistant our wales in advance of when numerous planking. The particular wales surely are a selection of heavy duty snowboards that this height ones would be the same in principle as a new shell planking having said that with much more height to help you thrust outward in the evening planking. planking http://www.diamonds-loose-diamonds.net

Very man or woman speeches need to seat giving observe into couples. Brand new sound system just before unnecessary people should always be mindful of generally senior general rule from public speaking, which is to be the mini. best man speaches voyance amour eternel

my ipad have some display problems and i cannot fix the damn thing., cloudbet

Simply a smiling visitor here to share the love (:, btw outstanding design . "Audacity, more audacity and always audacity." by Georges Jacques Danton. png images

I beloved as much as you will receive performed right here. The comic strip is attractive, your authored material stylish. nonetheless, you command get bought an nervousness over that you would like be handing over the following. unwell without a doubt come more before once more since precisely the same nearly very steadily inside of case you defend this increase. ED Doctor

Transcription Service at 70 cents per audio minute for lectures, business calls, interviews transcription agency

Excellent things from you, man. Ive examine your things before and youre just too awesome. I love what youve received here, love what youre stating and the way you say it. You make it entertaining and you still manage to hold it intelligent. I cant wait to read more from you. This really is really a wonderful blog. own a medical clinic

Awesome review, I am a major devotee to remarking on web journals to educate the web journal scholars realize that they've added something beneficial to the internet!.. employer job search engines

You created some excellent tips at this time there. I did searching around the topic and discovered most everyone will recognize in your web site. Games Info Shop

I visited a lot of website but I conceive this one holds something extra in it in it Online Games Here

It is very interesting topic you’ve written here..The truth I’m not related to this, but I think is a good opportunity to learn more about, And as well talk about a different topic to which I used to talk with others Electrician

You have observed very interesting points ! ps decent internet site . Moving to Melbourne

Thank you of this blog. That’s all I’m able to say. You definitely have made this web site into an item thats attention opening in addition to important. You definitely know a great deal of about the niche, youve covered a multitude of bases. Great stuff from this the main internet. All over again, thank you for the blog. Affordable Painting Providence

Howdy! A debt of gratitude is in order for the immense data you havr gave! You have touched on crucuial focuses! קרן השתלמות

Intriguing post. Positive that I’ll come back here. Good function. automobile uk

Learn about the fantastic and incredible benefits of marketing your business using articles. Article marketing is considered one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to increase your business sales and profits. Using articles you can not only increase your revenues but also be seen as an expert in your field. In addition, articles are used by savvy business owners to enhance their reputations in their communities. Read this article to learn how article marketing can help your business. Non Toxic Products

The when I just read a blog, I’m hoping that this doesnt disappoint me approximately this one. Get real, Yes, it was my method to read, but When i thought youd have something interesting to state. All I hear is a number of whining about something that you could fix should you werent too busy trying to find attention. weed edibles

Good post. I learn something tougher on different blogs everyday. It'll at all times be stimulating to learn content from other writers and observe somewhat one thing from their store. I’d choose to use some with the content on my blog whether or not you don’t mind. Natually I’ll offer you a link in your internet blog. Thanks for sharing. best books on minimalism

Thank you for sharing excellent informations. Your web-site is very cool. I’m impressed by the details that you¡¦ve on this web site. It reveals how nicely you understand this subject. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for extra articles. You, my friend, ROCK! I found simply the information I already searched all over the place and simply couldn’t come across. What a perfect web-site. rentacarkosova minimalism categories

A blog like yours should be earning much money from adsense.’~::- click here

Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is important and all. However think of if you added some great visuals or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and videos, this website could undeniably be one of the very best in its niche. Fantastic blog! http://luxurylove.org

SEO has certainly made a huge impact over the World Wide Web for the businesses these days. That is why company search engine optimization offers you the best search engine optimization services worldwide in a completely professional and cost effective manner. https://bigguestpostings.wordpress.com/2019/02/06/stay-relevant-with-good-search-engine-optimization/

Ibiza is a fantastic destination for those who want to go clubbing. With warm weather, fantastic clubs and brilliant bars, you'll have a memorable holiday in Ibiza. Getting around Ibiza

Thank you of this blog. That’s all I’m able to say. You definitely have made this web site into an item thats attention opening in addition to important. You definitely know a great deal of about the niche, youve covered a multitude of bases. Great stuff from this the main internet. All over again, thank you for the blog. Greater Pitt Tree Company

I have bookmarked your website, the articles are route superior to anything other comparative web journals.. a debt of gratitude is in order for an awesome site! henna hair color

I haven't any word to welcome this post.....Really i am inspired from this post....the individual who make this post it was an awesome human..thanks for imparted this to us. accredited investors

This is my first time visit here. From the huge amounts of remarks on your articles,I surmise I am not just one having all the satisfaction right here! seguidores no instagram