Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer Rain

So I'm walking home a little while ago, heading down the bridge that connects Lorain and Carnegie (can't remember which street name it bears), and just as I'm about 5 steps in front of the first set of awesome giant sculpture things, it starts raining ... hard.

It kept up until I was about 40 yards in front of the next set of awesome giant sculpture things, and then settled into a nice, steady drizzle.

It made me chuckle a bit, as I, of course, was sans umbrella or, well, anything remotely resembling protective rain gear.

It was glorious.

One good thing about turning 30

Yesterday, my phone rang with a call from GEICO, telling me my contract with them was up and confirming that I wanted to renew. I did, the guy asked some brief data confirmation questions, and then said, "Oh, here's something good."

I said, "What's that?" in a tone that fully belied my mounting irritation at being disturbed in the middle of the day from doing nothing.

He informed me that my monthly rate was going to decrease by about $30, because I recently turned 30.

My response: "Well, that's one good thing, then."

Summer Doldrums

I have this awful tendency to let things pile up -- work, chores, communication with friends and loved ones, etc. And when I realize the mountain of crap I've let accumulate, I go straight to denial, followed by a series of day-time naps I can't really afford.

And then I get bummed.

So here I am bummed. Actually, I should say, here I am - sitting in my office at 240 pm on a beautiful day, bummed. I walked here (downtown) from my apartment (Ohio City) to get some exercise. I think, in a few minutes, I'll do the same thing. Well, not the same thing. Actually, precisely the opposite thing, in that I'll be walking from work to home, but you get the drift.

At least I'm getting the exercise, even if I blew all that by enjoying a cold Mountain Dew and an iced honey bun from CVS. Fuck it - I needed that.

So, anyway, I'm just letting y'all know that I'll be absent for a bit. I'm leaving town for a couple weeks (sadly for more work than fun, although I hope and expect to have some of the latter along with a hopefully productive amount of the former). And I hope to not be so bummed when I return.

See you all mid-July-ish.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Extreme Creepiness at the Old Angle

So, tonight my lady friend and I are at the Old Angle, partaking in wing night gloriousness. (Note: the "hot" wings are INCREDIBLY hot, much more so than the typical "hot" flavor most other places.)

After a bit, she excuses herself to go to the restroom and comes back quickly, completely freaked out.

Mind you, this is a person that remains calm and cool all the time -- sometimes irritatingly so.

She says, "Something really weird just happened."

When she went to the basement to use the ladies room, she stepped down two steps into the restroom area, at which point you can either turn left or right. A left turn apparently will take you into the restroom, a right turn will leave you staring into a small alcove, maybe 18 inches deep, and nothing more.

Never having been there before, she turned to her right and ...

saw a guy wearing an apron standing there, back pressed up against the wall. She screamed, naturally, and he stepped forward, telling her it was ok because he worked there. Then he left and she came back upstairs.

She made me go down later and glance into the entrance way (NOT the actual bathroom), so that I could fully understand why she was so upset. I told her I understood, but she insisted I look for myself. I finally did so, and I gotta say it made me even more concerned. There is seriously no reason I could ever think of that would lead a male employee to stand there. It isn't really near the other storage areas down there, the only reason you would even go down those steps would be to go in the restroom. It is possible he was in there cleaning, but that doesn't explain being pressed up in an alcove, totally hidden from the view of women entering.

Seriously, there is NO reason for that, other than some pretty disturbing options, the best case scenario of which being really creepy and probably criminal. The worst case scenario being too awful to mention, though I imagine you all can insert your own nightmare here.

Later, the guy in question came back into the bar, and then exited, walking into the kitchen area. So, if nothing else, we are all but positive the dude is an employee.

We mentioned it to the bartender who cashed us out after we finished eating, and he seemed genuinely taken aback. He offered an apology and a shared sense of confusion, but that's about it. To be fair, I can't really say what else I would've wanted the Monday night bartender to do, but I still walked out of there feeling really disturbed. I can't come close to guessing how my date felt, but probably not good.

So, anyway, for my female readers especially, but anyone with an opinion, what do you think I should do as a follow up? I like the Old Angle, it serves good pub grub, has a nice neighborhood feel to it (possible peepers/worse not withstanding), and has been one of my favorite places in Ohio City over this past year. I don't want to just banish it from my list of potential places to go. I also don't want to read in the paper about any other woman falling victim (literally) to any similar act of creepiness, or worse. In the event that the guy in question is the worst case scenario, I don't want someone like that working in my neighborhood. But most importantly, I don't want to be passive about such an indignity. I feel guilty and somewhat responsible. It was my neighborhood bar, my suggestion to go get wings and cheap beers there instead of driving somewhere, it was me who she was over visiting. It would be far from gentlemanly or even reliable for me just to shrug my shoulders and drop it.

I'm usually the type of person that tries to visualize how difficult/stressful things will go before I jump in, but I can't quite wrap my mind around walking into the bar later in the week, asking to speak to the manager, and telling them what I just told you. I also know I react poorly when frustrated, and I can't really imagine the manager reacting in any way that wouldn't leave me frustrated in some form or another, if for no other reason that I can't really tell you what type of response I would even want the manager to have.

So any advice would be quite welcome.

In the meantime, to my bar-going female readers, please travel in pairs to the Old Angle's ladies room and make sure you are secure before allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

My thoughts on our urban neighbor to the south-east

From an email I just sent to a Pittsburgh native friend:

Hey Shawn,

Thanks for your email. And let me say again, your home city is awesome. I'm not really sure what I was expecting -- I'd never been before and didn't really have any cultural references to guide my imagination -- but whatever the expectations were, they were vastly exceeded.

We got in to town about 5 PM and checked in to our hotel downtown -- next door to the Heinz history center which looks pretty cool, though we didn't check it out. We changed and then walked across a bridge to the Warhol museum, which was doing this special Friday night cocktails thing and, bonus, charging half-price admission. The museum as a whole was cool, especially some of the installations. And one of the special guest exhibitions was super cool. Can't remember the guy's name, but if you are interested and look up the site, it was the one not named Mondrian.

Afterwards we headed back across the river and walked to the Strip neighborhood and got dinner and beers at some shitty seafood place. Then we called it a night.

Saturday was the best day, for sure. We woke up, grabbed a gut-busting breakfast at DeLuca's -- awesome, by the way. Then we walked up and down the Strip center, checking out places. There are a bunch of cool places, but I particularly enjoyed chatting with one of the partners at the Pennsylvania Pottery store, grabbing coffee at the Leaf and Bean, and perusing gourmet chocolate heaven in Mon Aimee. About 2 pm, we went back to the hotel, dropped off our bags of purchased stuff, and drove over to A.I.R., this non-profit arts co-op. They were having an open house/party, and for 10 bucks we got in, were fed burgers from the outdoor grill, offered beers from Penn Brewery, and given the opportunity to make our own silkscreened posters and postcards. After that, we headed back downtown, where the Three Rivers Arts Fest was being held, checked out this awesome series of cargo/shipping container installation art pieces, and then went to this wacky Art Olympics thing where there was even more beer (from East End brewery, this time ... even better). As for the Art Olympics, imagine an Iron Chef style art competition, complete with 2 hours of hilarious performance art and live jazz, pitting small teams of artists from three neighborhoods against one another, with the winners being determined by factors like entertainment level, quality of art, and usage of materials. While we hung out I met the art critic from the Pittsburgh paper and this guy who relocated from NYC that used to own a really great gallery I had read about before but has since unfortunately shut down. Both were super cool to talk with.

Afterwards, we drove over to the Church Brew Works, this old Polish catholic church that, after 100 years or so of religious usage, closed down and reopened as a beautiful brew-pub. The beers are pretty basic, better than Bud Light but not as good as most small craft stuff, but the food was better than average and the views (and novelty factor) were incredibly impressive. Definitely a must-see next time you visit. Then we played hipster for a minute and stopped at Brillobox. It seems like a cool place, if a bit of a scene, but the smoke was too much and we ducked out early. Funny how after years of living in Texas and now Ohio -- two states that don't allow indoor smoking -- I'm totally unable to tolerate a closed room that does. And I used to smoke, at least socially back in college.

Sunday we were pretty tired out, but still had a nice fancy breakfast at this place called Coca coffee lounge in Lawrenceville. Then we went over to the Pittsburgh Glass Center and walked around. It was totally dead, so the only thing to observe was the facility, but that was amazing. My best pal here in Clevo has a glass-blowing co-op, and as cool as it is, it isn't much like the glass center in Pittsburgh. Then again, that place felt antiseptic and cool professional, unlike my friend's inviting, DIY vibe. After that, we headed back downtown, parked and walked over to PNC ballpark. On the way there, we passed through a gay pride event and parade and, a few blocks later, through the vendor area for the arts fest I mentioned before. We finally made it to the park, but decided to grab beers at a nearby bar before going in (the $3 yeungling pints there kicked the $7 in-park price's ass). We got to the game in the beginning of the 2nd inning and left around the 8th -- mostly I just wanted to see the park and watch some day-game baseball. We both intermittently dozed off throughout the game, though, and as I'm totally ambivalent about both the Pirates and the Blue Jays (who they were playing), it didn't bother me to leave early.

A short walk back across the Roberto Clemente bridge and down Liberty Ave and we were back to the car. 2.5 hours later we were pulling into Clevo, bushed but inspired by what a cool city we had visited and how we wished Cleveland would take a few pages out of Pittsburgh's cultural book. Don't get me wrong - I'm generally impressed with the cultural community in Cleveland, and there are some things I think we do better here than there (namely our music and culinary scenes are better) - but Pittsburgh brings it all together a little better, I think. Especially the visual arts. I think a few of the artists I've become friends with during the last year here would thrive all the more there (or at least if we brought some of their ideas back home).

You know, now that I've typed all this out, I think I'm just gonna post this email to my blog. Save me from writing about it all twice. Thanks again for your tips. Let me know when you might want to do that Falling Water trip -- late summer or early fall might work good for me.

Take it easy,

Cleveland Bachelor

Friday, June 20, 2008

I hope it isn't the Pitts

Hiya audience members,

I bid you adieu for a few (hey that rhymes!) as I venture down to Pittstown (another rhyme) for the weekend.

Staying downtown, plan on checking out the Warhol and Mattress Factory museums, the Strip district, the Church Brew Works, and - by my demand - a ball game at PNC.

Feel free to post last minute tips if you have any favorite stops in the Strip or Lawrenceville.

Otherwise, take care of the Cleve whilst I'm away.

Take it easy,


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Literary Sadness

My friends,

If you don't already know, I am quite saddened to inform you that the used boookstore on W. 25th street is shuttering for the last time at the end of this month. The store is a crown jewel in my W 25th neighborhood and I will really, really miss it. It is too late to shop there as a good deed, but if you are looking to expand your personal library on the cheap, I'd pop in the store soon if I were you.

In the meantime, I'm off to meet an entirely different Cleveland lit scene curmudgeon: Harvey Pekar. Honestly, I'm pretty ambivalent about old Harvey, even more so after having an indirect chance encounter with his name-dropping spouse, but my friend is a big fan so I'm going to try to scare up a cheap copy of something Pekar wrote and get it signed for him.

In the meantime, like anyone reading this even needs the reminder, but just in case -- KEEP BUYING LOCAL. This era of free trade agreements and corporate explosion makes it tougher and tougher to do so, and if we don't go out of our way to try, we'll lose something intangible about ourselves.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hungarians must have hidden stomachs

Those of you that haven't met/seen me should know, I can eat. Sadly, for my wardrobe, life expectancy, and general level of attractiveness, I can eat.

So it is a big deal when I say HOLY SHIT Balaton serves a lot of food.

We went in there the other day to check it out. We'd been in the Shaker Square area most of the day (with the exception of a hike around one of the nearby lakes that featured prominently me falling on my ass and sliding down a hill of mud), catching a movie and even buying cheap crap at Goodwill, so it worked.

We opted for the Hungarian Wood Platter, which was alleged to feed 2-3 people. We were both hungry from our hike and from missing breakfast (this took place beginning about 4 PM). We figured it'd be like an appetizer sampler, but unless we suddenly live in the land of giants, that was not what we received.

Seriously huge portions, as you can see above. The picture was taken after we gave up, originally it included three plate-size pieces of schnitzel (2 veal, 1 chicken), 2 good sized pan-fried pork chops (covered in a bed of seriously delicious thin n crispy fried onions), about a 1/2 pound of bacon, a bowl of spaetzle, two bowls of cabbage and paprika, two big bowls of pickled beets, about 1.5 pounds of sausage, and other stuff I can't remember. It was all delicious, and we gorged ourselves, yet didn't touch more than 30% of the platter, if even that much. All told, it cost $50, and could easily feed 5-6 people (more if you aren't big eaters), so the price was right.
So, if you have an army of folks that dig Eastern European fare, no real aversion to a distended belly for a day or two, and fifty bucks lying around, check it out. You won't be disappointed, and you will have a fridge full of leftovers to last you the week.


I don't think this has ever happened before, but as I sat in my desk chair this morning, I heard myself utter an audible sigh of relief. More than I knew, apparently, I was happy that the weekend was over.

Not that it was bad. It wasn't.

Not even all that extensive in activity.

I was just ready to be at work.

That's probably because I have a shit-ton to do and the mounting backlog has started to invade my quiet times. Sort of like when you are super broke and it stresses you out all the time, even when you aren't thinking about it. So, yeah, I'm in a bit of a hurry to reduce that mountain to a series of molehills. I hope.

On Friday, as promised, I went to the duct tape festival at Avon. What more can I really say? It was a duct tape festival. It was muggy and carnivalish, but with a gazillion free rolls of duct tape being forced into your hands every time you paused. Still, there were some impressive duct tape sculptures and even more impressive duct tape dresses and tuxedos. All told, it captured my life for about 35 minutes, including the walk to and from the parking area.

Afterwards, we went to Henry's at the Barn for dinner. Pretty and well-appointed inside, if a little bit too refined. The cuisine is good, and the chef deserves major kudos for presenting authentic middle-class cuisine that is still funkified a bit (examples: Meyer Lemon grits). The beef medallions were AWESOME, the most tender I've had in memory. The peel-and-eat shrimp is a good bet, too, especially if you go with the house red horseradish sauce. I'd happily go back, if I found myself in Avon or somewhere nearby, though I can't see making another special trip out for it.

After a night of tossing and turning and cursing myself for having the AC set so low yet too lazy to get up and change it, I woke up, went for breakfast at Michael's in Shaker Square, and then headed over to Voodoo Monkey for my crisis-driven tattoo consult. That was a snap, then over to Visible Voice in Tremont to hear a friend give a reading about his new book about New Orleans, race, politics, and jazz. Afterwards we had coffee and cake at Civilization, then went to the amazing Loftworks building on E 40th and Payne for a going-away party for a guy I didn't know (though he made killer caipirinhas) that is setting off for a 2 month hike across Iceland. The live-work loft where the party was held was AWESOME, from the tiny curving staircases to the recessed bedrooms to the roof-top garden and grill area. That is seriously a place I'd think about living in, even if the immediate surrounding environs define sketchiness.

After that suaret with artists and intellectuals and top-shelf violinists, it was off to Lyndhurst for a backyard bbq, complete with full pig on spit action, and the most citronella candles ever assembled on one quarter-acre. That was fun, though I was beat, and I headed back home, with a stop in the heights that became an overnight layover.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Whither Avon?

Today is the day.

The day being reference to Avon's annual Duct Tape festival, of course.

I'll be spending the next handful of hours anxiously awaiting my first ever trip to the thriving metropolis of Avon, an excitement I know will only increase every mile we head further westward on the interstate.

After getting our fill of duct tape wallets, prom dresses, parade floats, and documentaries, we'll be stopping off for dinner at Henry's at the Barn, the restaurant most famous for the smug joy it allows local professional food writers when they casually name drop "Low Country" like it is an every day thing, like they didn't have to google it or just take the phrase straight off the website.

I don't know a single thing about low country, beyond its location in South Carolina (thank you, website) and my context-clues driven conclusion that the topography of said country is reduced in scale compared to the rest of the state. But I do know a quick perusal of the menu reminds me of many non-tourist restaurants I enjoyed in my brief life as a resident of Louisiana, so I'm excited.

Anyway, the goal of this post -- beyond insulting professional food writers, a literary species of which I was once a member -- is to ask my friendly readers if they have any other tips about Avon. I heard there was an ice cream parlor right next to the restaurant, but that's about it. Any tips, as usual, would be graciously accepted and (probably) followed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

cooler by the lake

Wasn't the weather this evening nice? I spent most of the day indoors, "working." Headed westward late afternoon, with a quick stop at the Lakewood Library to pick up my weekly 1/2 share from City Fresh. Got a bag of mixed cooking greens, small head of broccoli, some green onions and some garlic that looks identical to green onions, a quart of strawberries, some fresh oregano, fresh cilantro, and fresh lemon balm (which I have no idea what it is).

Afterwards, I headed over to the Cleveland Public Theater to catch their production of "Matt and Ben" and then headed up a dozen blocks or so for dinner at Reddstone on W. 76th. Reddstone is pretty cool - I think I prefer it to Stone Mad, in the same neighborhood - and tonight was the perfect night to chill in their lush brick patio. I had the spicy ranch wings and some pizza, my date had some Asian sirloin noodle bowl and fish; everything was moderately better than average. I was hoping to get the duck confit pizza, but a few minutes after ordering, the server came out and explained that the chef said the duck wasn't up to their standards and he'd much rather prepare something else for me. I'm not sure about the back story there, but I appreciated the honesty and found it pretty compelling.

I'll go back for sure. Reddstone trumps just about any other place in that neighborhood I've visited, with the notable exception of the Happy Dog.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Break time

Had a chance to take a break from the daily grind today and enjoyed myself immensely. Slept in a bit, then woke and caught up on emails and some light reading (random observation: Tom Robbins novels are too long by half). Afterwards, caught a lovely lunch at Dish, then wandered about Ohio City for a bit visiting pals at the Glass Bubble, setting up a tattoo consult at Voodoo Monkey and doing a little more work-related reading at Talkies.

After a brief stop home to feed/walk/water the dogder, it was off with my friend Ken to watch CC throw a complete game shut-out. Now, having arrived home just long enough to cool off from the warm walk and even warmer, super-packed train ride, I'm off to walk Smelly Ellie and then to bed. I have to make up for today's sloth with extra effort in the morning tomorrow.

Ahh, summer time. Can't beat it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Birthday Celebration Observations

1) The pear cocktail at Bar Cento is out of this world good.
1a) The sugar cane cocktail at the same place kinda tastes funny.
1b) With the awesome music playing, I'd happily drink any cocktail that came from the bar there.

2) Whoever is in charge of service at Light Bistro should call a staff meeting. The only employee that wasn't either outright rude (especially the hostess, whose eye rolling when we asked to sit in a certain section of the 40% empty restaurant was so visible I was worried she'd hurt her neck) or bizarre (the 40-something guy with the daaaaark tan that looks/acts like he's waiting for a Hollywood call-back) was the trainee shadowing our server. I've never noticed the weirdness before, but the rudeness seems to be a hallmark of the place. I visited once last fall and it was so bad I left after my starter and walked over to Momocho (which is what I should have done this time, too). The problem seems especially pronounced with the hosting folks.
2a) Whoever is in charge of the kitchen should take away the chef's pork belly privileges. I have dreams about pork belly, I love it so. I couldn't believe I had to ask for a steak knife to cut it. And even then had to put a little shoulder into my efforts. That shit is supposed to be tender, dude. I just crossed "go have lunch at Light Bistro and order the pork belly panini" off my to-do list. That last sentence is seriously not a joke.

3) The gal working the bar at The Flying Fig was unimaginably on top of her game, almost disconcertingly so. Whatever she was on to make her so energetic, I'd like some please.
3a) The casually dressed guy that seemed to be in charge of the front-of-house operations at the same place seems waaaaay too confident of his job security. From all I've observed and read about the talented and apparently conscientious chef Small, I can't believe she has such a boorish dude on staff.
3b) The Van Gogh double espresso cocktail is awesome, the kind of drink you'd expect the Dude to upgrade to if he ended up with wealthy Maude on a permanent basis. And since the Van Gogh blog folks liked my last post enough to comment (and wish me happy birthday), this time around they are totally welcome to ship me a bottle or three as a way of saying thanks for the plug...

Oh Canada

As I've mentioned once or twice in the virtual pages of this blog, I am a nightly listener to "Coast to Coast AM." In fact, it is really difficult for me to fall asleep if it isn't on.

Fortunately, AM 1100 plays the show from 11 PM to 5 AM, except when local sports are on. And, for whatever absolutely moronic reason, on Sunday nights, when they choose to play the absolutely wacked out, racist/sexist/homophobic trologdyte Bill Cunningham. Cunningham is also the revolting douchebag headlining the effort to publicly refer to Senator Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama," and beyond the lunatic right-wing fringe is best known for prompting a McCain apology to Obama because of some of the words Cunningham used during an introduction in North Carolina. (See here for a decent version of the story.)

The sound of that guys voice, not to mention the poisonous venom he spouts, is enough for me to start surfing the airwaves. A few weeks ago, I tuned into 800 AM, which I guess is some Canadian station, and also showcases George Noory and Co on Sunday nights. Ever since, I've had my radio tuned to it, which not only allows me to avoid the neo-fascist Cunningham's deplorable rhetoric, but also has me waking to news broadcasts in some Canadian town I haven't identified yet (mostly because I don't really care all that much).

For example, today the news led off with some excited coverage of the previous weekend's strawberry festival, which apparently attracted 20,000 people. Ironically, there was a strawberry festival in Cleveland Heights over the weekend, and for a minute I was in disbelief that 20,000 folks showed up at what had appeared to be a rather intimate affair. Then I heard one of the reporters use the word "about" and I remembered I was listening to the Canadian station.

After extensive discussion of the strawberry festival -- the length of which only unsurprising because a week before the station had an entire call-in show dedicated to debate over the drop-off point for the public transportation at some other festival -- the newscasters got to the really troubling topic: the demise of the Hockey Night in Canada theme song.

Apparently, because of some licensing agreement issue or some other reason I don't quite get, the folks at Canadian Broadcasting have elected to abandon the song, which was written by an charming Vancouver native named Dolores Claman in 1968.

Canadians, and the 437 hockey fans that are not Canadian, are in a rage. I spent 25 minutes in bed this morning, hitting the snooze option on my cell phone alarm clock, listening to caller after caller top the previous one in their efforts to talk about the epic proportions of how disastrous for Canadian heritage this decision is.

After a while, I found myself chuckling along, a little bit making fun of the callers but a little jealous, too. Our call-in shows feature hysterical (and not in the ha-ha way) screamers, upset about issue from global wars to mortgage foreclosures to rising prices at the pump to whether/the degree to which Obama must atone for defeating HRC and so on and so on and so on.

I wish I lived in a place where changing a theme song was the biggest civic deal to erupt in a week. Of course, we don't see Canada manufacturing intelligence, selling itself to China, invading the middle east, nourishing a corrupt and extensive military-industrial complex, deregulating the shit out of anything that might actually merit regulation, allowing the banking industry carte blanche, and so on and so on and so on.

I usually think those folks that say "If (fill in the blank here) wins the election, I'm moving to Canada" are stupid. Some times, though, after listening to broadcasts about strawberry festivals and theme song controversies, I think they have the right idea.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Birthday Festivities plan

So after much thought -- most of which occurred during my 3-hour birthday walk from Ohio City to Tremont/all around Tremont in a failed attempt to find the farmer's market/back to Ohio City for birthday beers (ice cold cans of MGD - you take the good with the bad) at the Glass Bubble -- I have settled on a plan for this evening.

I'm picking up my friend at about 630, then we are hitting up Bar Cento for some pre-dinner cocktail action. Then it is off for dinner at Light Bistro (the menu just won me over). Afterwards, we'll probably hit up Flying Fig for post-dinner cocktails (mostly because my dining companion is in love with the Van Gogh double espresso vodka and the Fig has a good drink featuring it) and probably some cake.

Then, I don't know, but if my first three decades are any indication, it will likely involve poor and regrettable decision making. We shall see.

Thanks everyone for the tips and wishes!

I'm, ahem, um, 30.

Today's the day. Ten years from today, I'll be forty. Ten years ago today I turned 20. I had just moved back home from school for the summer, was involved in the single most ridiculous romantic affair of my life (which is really saying something), and working as a telemarketer for Reader's Digest.

I guess things have improved.

I remember my 21st birthday a little better. Well, I do and I don't. I remember coming home from work and my usually aloof father giving me a MGD. I remember my two best friends coming over (neither of whom I am in touch with anymore) and taking me out to the Driftwood Inn, where many beverages were consumed and the night ended when I did the running man right off the bar. That one followed rather hilarious, if I may say so myself, artistic dance interpretation of Hendrix's Purple Haze. The next day I had to be at work, driving a truck for a local produce wholesaler. That was a very difficult day.

Since then, naturally, birthdays have been less interesting. Last year, I think I just went out to my usual place, Revolution Cafe, and sat around in the hot Texas night. I probably did the same thing the year before that. A couple years earlier, some of my fellow grad students took me out to bars like Fitzwilly's and the Dixie Chicken. Some time in my early twenties there was a group outing to a Cubs game.

But usually, birthdays are fraught with personal doom and danger. I've had my appendix taken out on my birthday. I've been dumped 3 times on my birthday. I was fired from a job once on my birthday ... by my uncle ... at the family furniture store. I've had serious bike accidents on my birthday. In general, I'm afraid of my birthday, especially this one.

We'll see how it goes, but so far all is calm. Then again, it is 10:18 AM as I type this, so there are still a bunch more hours to survive.

The transition from 20-something to 30-year-old went well. Last night I checked out the grand first screening of Ohio Citizen Action's new documentary about the problems with Mittal Steel and health effects in Tremont, Slavic Village, and other neighborhoods near the immense mill. Then it was off to Cleveland Heights, where I invented a new game for my friend's kids to play. I also invented a complicated player ranking system, rules for ranking challenges, and decided it would be best if only 2 people played the game while 1 or 2 others kept score in a formal way I invented. I also decided I was immune from rankings, as I was the inventor, the game was named after me, and it would interfere with my self-granted title as "perpetual king" of the game.

Then they went to bed and my friend and I grilled some trout and made a tasty little soup out of my City Fresh bok choy, some coconut milk, some hotter-than-anticipated chili paste, a little mustard seed, and some minced garlic. I preferred the fish. Then I went home, shortly after midnight and receiving a "Oh, it is your birthday ... Happy Birthday! .... Ooh, you are old!!!" comment. Went to sleep in my nice and chilly, recently turned on AC apartment, and woke up to write you all this.

Now I think it is off to the Tremont farmer's market, then maybe to the art walk in Little Italy for the afternoon.

Friday, June 6, 2008

My (poorly managed) city

So today I left my office early, to get a head start on the birthday weekend festivities.

Of course, the city of Cleveland couldn't help me with this.

I wait 30 minutes for the Euclid Corridor trolley, which is supposed to arrive every 10 minutes on the dot.

The driver must've been in a mood, because she made a big deal out of braking frequently in such a way as to show her displeasure with other motorists. I've played that game before, stupidly, but it was always with my own vehicle. I can't imagine the city would be happy she was doing so with theirs. Then again, with this city, they probably wouldn't even notice, being too busy jetting off to Paris on taxpayer money and all. (That story still floors me.)

I finally get to Tower City, manage to get down to the basement to the red line entrance and am greeted with the hugest non-Browns game crowd ever waiting for a train. Turns out the rapid is more than 30 minutes behind. Plus the usual number of crazies is quintupled, with the featured guest being some lunatic screaming that the machine stole his dollar and that the city needs to get their fucking pop machines fixed. Get in line, pal. I can't believe this guy didn't get arrested, as he started screaming at anyone near him, asking whether they had a problem and if they wanted to "go." About 15 minutes later, the train came -- after two empty but not in service trains went past -- and stop-start-stop-started its way to the West 25th stop. For those of you that ride the train often, you know that is about a 4 minute ride. This time took about 22 minutes.

Finally, I get off, navigate the throng of pan-handlers lined up and waiting for what is now rush hour (despite my attempt to leave the office before 3), and get to the market. I do what I need to do there, with the only disappointment being the fact that no one has black cherries this week, and head home. On the way I see two different squad cars parked. One just sitting there, with two cops in it, the other with one cop writing tickets while his partner kept the passenger seat warmed.

Now I am all in favor of having plenty of cops near my home, but seriously guys, what a waste of manpower. Four cops to give out parking tickets. And only one actually out of the car. Even if the two guys sitting in the car were doing something else of importance, that still leaves a two-man unit to give out parking tickets. I mean, today's the hottest day of the year, the first real hot day so far -- you know there are gonna be fools shooting other fools tonight. Can't we focus our energy on that? Just sayin'.

But enough of the complaining. I turned on the AC right before starting this post and am starting to feel the first few cool bursts on my back. I'm gonna jump in the shower, put on a pair of shorts, and head eastward to a friend's, where we'll grill trout and make this funky coconut-sweet potato-bok choy recipe I found online when trying to figure out how to make use of my first batch of CSA produce. (Early next week I'm gonna braise up some curried collard and turnip greens.)

Speaking of which, sorry Christine, but I forgot to take a picture. Next time, I promise, cause that seems like a good idea, especially week-to-week. However, if you have any tips for recipes featuring hyssop, I'm all ears.

Goodbye youth

Today is the last day of my 20s.

I feel as if I should go out and do something completely irresponsible this evening.

I also feel like I should stop by the Brooks Brothers at Tower City beforehand, to buy a staid suit for tomorrow, as I embark on the rest of my life being old.

It is funny, I sent a text message to several of my friends the other day, mentioning that my 30th birthday was coming up. Their ages ranged from 24 to late 30s.

The responses I received were telling. Every single one younger than me made some variation on the joke "Ha Ha old man." The ones already over 30 split just about 50-50 between pep talks ("The 30s have been way better to me than the 20s") and hostility ("I'm turning 40 in a year, asshole" or simply "Fuck You").

So, even though I intellectually understand the miniscule difference between one day and the next, the symbolic change of cohorts kinda bowls me over.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Junkyard Exhibition

My friend's dad owns a junkyard in town and the other day - for reasons I still don't fully understand - we had to go over there. While we were there, he showed me around. It really is an amazing place, a collection of visuals and untold stories everywhere (most of which I probably don't want to hear) you look.

Mood Brighteners from Odd Corners

I just received a confirmation email from one of the good people over at City Fresh, reminding/confirming that I've signed up for a CSA share to be picked up tomorrow at Lakewood Library.

I cannot tell you how irrationally giddy I am about this.

If you don't already know it, I can't really cook very well. This is especially true when it comes to using veggies.

So I'm really looking forward to the weekly challenge of getting a bag of stuff, grown locally, and figuring out what to do with it. I'm also looking forward to stopping at the West Side Market on Fridays to pick up whatever I still need for recipes I've discovered that I don't have at home.

My collection of kitchen utensils and appliances ranges from dismal to disgusting to non-functioning to plain old absent, so I'm also looking forward to hitting up places like Williams-Sonoma and Target, trying to fill all the empty cabinets in my kitchen. Right now I have one deep skillet that I use for everything, from warming leftovers (I don't believe in a microwave) to cooking pierogies to boiling hot dogs. I can't wait for that to not be the case.

Dap and presidential politics.

So Barack and Michelle kicked off last night's oratorical celebration with a little dap action last night, huh? That's cool.

I guess I didn't think it was that weird until I saw this round-up about the difficulty the media is having with describing fist-bumping. I suppose I've done it with my friends since 6th grade basketball, but for media old-heads that apparently weren't paying attention during Vietnam, it must be something new.

Some of the better quotes:

“At 09:09:27 Central Time, Michelle Obama gave Barack Obama a pound in St. Paul, Minnesota.”—Lola New York

“I never realized how romantic and respectful and mutually appreciative and loving a frat-tastic fist bump could be. Could it be the new peck-on-the-cheek?”—The Frisky

“... Obama, who was joined on stage by his wife Michelle, with whom he shared a celebratory fist-bump.”—Reuters

I love it.

Another movie recommendation

Dear readers, following up on my endorsement of Barcelona, I have another must-see movie for you.

Last night, I watched Eagle vs Shark and laughed the whole time. Sort of a low-chuckle laugh, with occasional flights of high-pitched giggling (which I'd rather forget, yet find myself blogging about).

This is all the more remarkable considering how drop-dead exhausted I was.

Anyway, the film is an indie romantic comedy, filmed in New Zealand, and stars Jermaine Clement (famous from The Flight of the Conchords) and Loren Horsely (not famous, but also the films co-writer). The actors (including every single secondary performer) are perfect, with the best visual/facial comedy I've seen in a long time, the cultural references spot-on, and some beautiful film work, a long with a few brief recurring animation sequences. In a way, I suppose you could describe this as a smarter, better executed, more professional version of the mumblecore scene storming the US. (By the way, I really dig the mumblecore movement, so that's a huge compliment.) I suppose another way to compare it would be to a darker, edgier, smarter Napoleon Dynamite that features older and more fractured characters.

Plus, the film's soundtrack is great, and not in a smack-you-in-the-face way like Cameron Crowe or Wes Anderson do. Check it out!

Monday, June 2, 2008

'Nawlins Night, Clevo-style

Keeping with the cultural theme of my weekend -- which featured, among other things, drinks at Irish pubs, film and beers @ Latvian churches, and Greek food from Cleveland gas stations -- we went to 'Nawlins Night on Sunday to sample Northeast Ohio's best take on Cajun and Creole deliciousness.

I am pleased to report that, for a bunch of city restaurants in Ohio, the various chefs present did a darn good job.

A little bit about my credibility as a judge of Louisiana cooking chops: I have very little. I lived in the great state of Louisiana for about 6 months about 10 years ago. I have visited the state about a half-dozen times since. I also dream about the cuisine and find the various micro-cultures utterly absorbing.

But I'm no chef and I'm no native. Just a fan that's done a bunch of thinking and eating.

Anyway, the event itself was put on by Cleveland Independents, a cool little marketing co-op featuring, you guessed it, independent restaurants. Among the nearly six dozen members of the organization are hot locations like The Flying Fig, Lucky's, and One Walnut, along with the participating restaurants noted below.

Upon arriving at the B-Side Lounge, where the event was held, we scouted our environs and quickly realized it would be difficult to find a seat. That, by the way, was the worst aspect of the night. For $100 (for 2 people), you think you'd be able to sit down, right? We started off in the corner farthest from the bar with a bowl of chicken/andouille gumbo and a couple hunks of perfect jalapeno cornbread, courtesy the dudes at Fire Food + Drink. This dish was, beyond doubt, the single greatest dish of the evening. Sadly, after we had sampled everything and decided to get seconds, the gumbo was gone. We followed this up by some kinda pedestrian jambalaya from Fat Fish Blue and some beautifully tender crab cakes served with a zesty remoulade from Bistro 185. Technically, there was some buttermilk-fried okra and "root beer rice" from The Leopard in there, too, but the amount and the quality of the dish was pretty disappointing. Sergio's SARAVA boosted up a yummy bowtie pasta dish called "Creole Heart Attack" that featured crawfish, andouille, crab, shrimp, and fried oysters in a flavorful sauce. It was good, but would have been better over rice. Also, the preparation of the dish outperformed the taste, as all the various ingredients lying in piles on the table, next to the chef sauteeing, was really cool and delicious looking. Before moving on to the two desserts, we tried one last thing: an incredibly garlicky fried oyster served with tomato chimichurri from Boulevard Blue. I'm not a fan of any sort of garlic ass-kicking, but this was good. I probably wouldn't have been able to take more than two, but what I had here was scrumptious.

After we exhausted the traditional entree fare, it was on to dessert, starting first with banana praline pudding and bourbon pecan bars from J. Pistone. This was a bit boozy for me (I prefer to drink my liquor, thank you), but rich and decadent. Plus, as my guest told me about J. Pistone's shop, it made me excited to check it out some time. Finally, we grabbed plates of lemon-scented beignets, served with a tiny dollop of macerated raspberries, brought to us by the fine folks at Moxie. These were pretty good, but of all the dishes they seemed like the least like their made-in-Louisiana counter-parts. A little gummy, to be honest. Besides, I prefer my beignets basic, with a pot of chickory coffee. The lemon-scented approach and the berries were a little too fancy.

Overall, it was an above-average event, but any level of success is due to the chefs and their assistants, not the organizers. The B-Side isn't the right kind of place for something like this, with the lack of seating and the bare-bones bar. It would have been cool to have servers there, bringing dish after dish. It also would have been cool to have New Orleans-themed drinks at a cash bar, from Blackened Voodoo beer to Hurricanes to a fine Pimm's Cup. A little more foresight next time around, along with some grander level of service, and this makes an event to look forward to.

There are some aspects, though, that should not be changed. First and foremost, the post-dinner show upstairs at the Grog by Buckwheat Zydeco. It was a hoot, and the guys in the band (especially Buckwheat) are talented. I only wish I wasn't suffering what Grandpa on the Boondocks so eloquently referred to as "the itis." After all those courses, I needed a nap. I caught a super brief one in the park on Coventry between dinner and show, but despite the wonderful performance, I found myself yearning for a short encore.

Ahh Politics

You take the good with the bad, I suppose.

And feel hopeful because of the good.

Taken from the conclusion of a recent piece by John Dickerson:

"I first saw Barack Obama announced to a crowd as a presidential candidate in a nearly identical venue several months ago, standing at the end of another basketball court in Columbia, S.C. Then, he was a long shot. He has since lost a cigarette habit, his church membership, and maybe a little of his innocence—in the early days, he barely even attacked George Bush. And he's gained a necktie, a flag pin, and the Democratic nomination."

Films with the Latvians

Yesterday was a great day in my brief history in Cleveland. I woke up on a lumpy mattress in Cleveland Heights with a terrible back-ache, looked at the clock, realized I'd messed up when setting my cell-phone alarm clock again, and went to wake up my friend so we could head over to Lakewood.

We both got ready and then headed off to the Latvian Lutheran Church Hall, where an acclaimed documentary about the Soviet evils of WWII and after, titled The Soviet Story. As the documentary itself points out, history has spared the Soviets from much of the criticism they deserve for their several instances of unbelievable war crimes and genocide, mostly because (a) they ended the war on the side of the victors and (b) as bad as they were, it is pretty hard to top the evil that Hitler and the rest of the Nazis perpetuated. After viewing the documentary, one cannot argue with the notion that "Koba the Dread" Stalin and company in the Kremlin did their best to try.

On the way, we stopped off at some gas station on Carnegie for petrol and, it turns out, gyros. They weren't nearly as bad as you'd expect from a gas station. Though still not exactly what we think of when we say or in any other way use the word "good." Naturally, I managed to drip about 40% of the tzatziki sauce on my nice button-up shirt, which resulted in me entering the church in a purple Dinosaur Jr t-shirt and awesome breath.

The folks at the church could not be nicer, including the lady who offered to let us in for free (the cost was a suggested $7 for each person) when I couldn't find cash at first and another lady who saw us sitting on the side of the room and drug us over to a table where we could sit and eat the lovely Latvian desserts. On the way over, I complimented them on hosting such a cool event and she laughed and smiled, saying "We may work hard, but we party hard, too."

As my eye caught the beverage table, I saw she was right, with rows of options, including a nice Latvian lager, Minhauzen Piebalga. One taste took me back to my first trip to Russia, in 2000, when we crashed in dodgy "tourist apartments" in towns like Vladimir, buying lukewarm bottles of Baltica 3 (and 4 and 7 and 9 and even 0 when supplies got scarce) from fierce matrons controlling the key desks on each floor and enforcing mandatory curfews (which mostly amounted to operating as pimps for the local "businesswomen").

The documentary was excellent, clearly made with the intention of selling eventually to the History Channel or something like it. It got a little ham-fisted at the end, but despite that made the point it was striving for in a way that no one in the room will soon forget. I'm still floored that it is the first cinematic endeavor for the director, Edvins Snore, a Latvian scholar and human rights activist. Hopefully, for those of you interested in fine documentaries, human rights, or Eastern European history, we'll see it on an upcoming slate at the Cinematheque or Film Festival.

Also of note was the presence and brief lecture by Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis. Kristovskis is an impressive figure, particularly given his courage following the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s. Kristovskis and his compatriots led the first wave of national defection from the USSR and folks from the Baltic states have been agitating for truth and justice since. It was cool to hear a former Defense minister, current member of the EU parliament, and all-around radical talk about the global political and economic difficulties involved in getting any other European nation to pressure the Russian government to acknowledge, much less make reparation for the excessive evil of their war-time and post-war administrations, a task all the more difficult in the current Putin era.

But enough about the dark side of world affairs. This is supposed to be a blog about bachelorhood in the Forest City, right?


This Saturday the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes held their 3rd Annual "Pestival."

For the record, the "p" with which I began that word isn't a typo or some weird text-only speech impediment. It is intentional. And here's why.

Apparently portions of the nature preserve there are frequently overrun by garlic mustard weed, an invasive plant that is also edible and delicious. Every year, hordes of volunteers pick large amounts of it, wash it, and then some tremendously talented staffers make it into pesto. They turn the whole event into a great fundraiser, and patrons receive a delicious dinner of organic greens, pasta with garlic mustard pesto, and dessert.

A lot of fun, especially with the power-point playing in the background that interspersed mug-shots of underworld all-stars like Capone and Dutch Schulz with info slides and pics of various other invasive flora, where they "escaped" from, and what "crimes" they commit in the eco-systems they have invaded.

You missed the boat on this year's event, but keep it in mind for next summer. It was a great way to spend a warm summer evening, and a great cause to support. In the meantime, check out the Nature Center next time you want to take a stroll, see some wildlife (flora and fauna), and dig a slice of nature in the midst of our urban jungle.

Friday and Saturday with the bourgeois

Last night, about 11 PM, I finally crawled into my bed. Before drifting off to sleep in very short order, the only thing I could think was how happy I was that the weekend had finally ended.

Not that it wasn't good - it was a lot of fun. Just tiring. I ate too much, slept poorly, and came face-to-face with the realization that I am no longer a spry young man. Of course, no living soul that wasn't suffering from dementia would call me spry, not for the last dozen years or so, but still.

Friday I went over to Rocky River, where my friend Mike was being featured in an art exhibit at Mitchell Sotka. I'd not been to the neighborhood before, and while it was middle-aged riche as all get out, I did enjoy the Heinen's grocery store. It was also good to accidentally discover the location of Europtical, as I have an appointment there soon.

Saturday I went to lunch at Yours Truly in Shaker Square with my friend and her daughter, then endured (with hopefully good spirit) a trip to the toy store for the kid and Home Depot for the mom. All I have to say about that is that the restaurant makes a nice limeade, though it would have been better if served alongside an airplane bottle of rum. Though that might just be the lingering stress of watching a first-grader destroy a plate of Mickey Mouse pancakes (if Salvador Dali was back in the kitchen working the grill, as that shit looked nothing like a mouse).

Later, after the kid was dropped off with her father, mid-sugar rush, we stopped off near Coventry to get smoothies at Tommy's and a bunch of books from Mac's Backs. Then it was off for some outside reading, before heading off to the Shaker Lakes Nature Center. More on that later.

After dinner, we decided to head over to Edgewater Park, to burn off some calories jumping from rock to rock and catch the last few minutes of the sunset. We then followed that up beer stops at the Parkview and Stone Mad. Stone Mad deserves particular mention, as I've never been in any business where decor and design have received such exacting, precise attention. Kudos to the folks in charge of that. The bocce court and the glass work in the middle bar room are impressive, as are the stone table sets outside.

However, I don't think I'll be a frequent visitor. The place's vibe is too over-the-top upper crust for me. Call me a class warrior or just someone still hung up on their quite humble roots, but I don't like that kind of scene. I think that's why I'm pretty ambivalent about the surging Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, too. Most of the time, when urban areas go through the neo-bohemian cycle, neighborhoods go from destitute to underground art haven to cheap housing for culturally literate yet still professional entry-level folks to bougie enclaves with for-profit galleries and high-dollar eateries. Exhibit #1 in Cleveland: Tremont.

Detroit-Shoreway, or at the Gordon Square/W. 65th epicenter, seems to have skipped the middle steps, which are also the steps I find both the most charming and the most consistent with my own soci-econo-cultural preferences. Perhaps that's why the average age at Stone Mad seemed to be about 45.

But sociological observations aside, it really is a beautiful bar, worth of your dollars (even in this economy!) at least once.

Pittsburgh Tips

Hello there everybody,

Looks like I have a quick trip down to Pittsburgh planned in about 2-3 weeks. I've never spent much time there, so if anyone has any must-do tips for the city that gave us Iron City Light, let me know.