Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


It's nothing day as far as major league baseball goes. The one day in the season where nothing official occurs. I've always thought of today as the exact middle of summer. The middle of nothing. So, nothing much to say, except to add my two cents for the greatest summer song of all time. There are plenty of summer songs and mixes around the blogosphere these days, but nobody ever posts or mentions this song. It's one of my all-time favorites. Enjoy it and bask in the nothingness of mid-summer.

Pretty Things-Summer Time

Monday, July 12, 2010

God's Gettin' An Earful: R.I.P. Harvey Pekar

Only now, four days later, has Cleveland actually lost a true icon. Harvey Pekar, creator of the American Splendor comic book series, died this morning. I had what turned out to be my last of several encounters with Harvey less than two weeks ago. He came into the store all excited (it was a treat to see the usually curmudgeonly Harvey excited) because a friend had told him he was mentioned in Playboy magazine. He wasn't sure if it was the current July issue or next month's. Being polite, as he always was, Harvey asked if it were possible for me to remove the shrink wrap on a copy of the magazine so we could look for his name. Seeing that most people feel no qualms about ripping open a Playboy to look for anything but their own name, I had no problem doing the honors for him. Harvey was a little unclear as to where and in what context his name was mentioned, so I diligently paged through the issue, looking for any article that might mention him (at one point, as I turned the glossy pages, I told Harvey to shield his innocent eyes--those incredibly expressive eyes that looked as paranoid and suspicious as a trapped rat's, but also always seemed to be shyly looking for a hug; he looked at me like I was nuts; I wish I had thought to open the centerfold and check out the playmate's list of turn-ons, to see if that was where his name was mentioned--God only knows what gem of expression--verbal and physical--Harvey would have come up with then). I couldn't find his name, and Harvey said he'd go call his friend and find out more. I told him if he gave me his phone number, I'd call him when next month's issue came out, if it turned out to be that issue. "I'm in the phone book," he said casually. Well, a half hour later I answered the phone and it was Harvey, saying he had found out it was this month's issue in the Advisor column. I found the opened copy, found the Advisor column, and read him the bit where his name was mentioned. "I'm coming right back up," he said, almost sounding gleeful, of all things. So I put an unopened copy on hold for him with a post-it telling him what page, 28. I guess he complimented me to the cashier for the post-it note when he came in to buy it.

Over the years I had several of these little Harvey encounters, and I never got the feeling that he remembered me from one to the next, and alas, as much I tried to say something witty each time, I never did turn up in one of his strips. Oh well.

I first encountered him in 1987 in the lobby of the Hanna Theatre in downtown Cleveland before a Tom Waits concert. At the time Harvey was famous for his epic appearances on the Letterman show. I walked up to him and asked for his autograph. "You want mine?" he whined. Yes, I said. A true hipster piece of memorabilia: Harvey's autograph on a Tom Waits ticket stub.

A few years later I got to edit an article or two Harvey wrote for a magazine I was working on. I remember Harvey showing up in the office, looking hangdog as always, and going on forever about whatever obscure jazz figure he was writing about. I also remember trying to smooth things out with him over the phone a couple months later when he was still waiting for his check. Disembodied via the phone, his voice was even whinier but somehow more endearing. Even when angry, Harvey was oddly charming and engaging.

Soon after the movie American Splendor came out, Harvey was in the store one night. I asked him if he had gotten a writing credit, because I thought the movie was great and had hoped he'd be up for an Oscar. "Nah," he shooed me away with his arm. I wonder how many millions of times Harvey uttered that Job-like "nah" of his during his life.

My favorite Harvey encounter came a few years ago, right before Christmas. He came in the store early one morning, just after we opened, and asked where the knitting books were. Our manager had a field day with him in the section, helping him pick out a few Christmas presents for his wife. My God, what a real artist could have done with that tableau--Harvey Pekar shopping for knitting books. Later I was privileged to wrap the two or three books for him. As usual, he seemed suspicious, as if the offer of free gift-wrapping had to come with some awful catch. I asked Harvey which of the festive wraps he wanted for the books. "It doesn't matter," he said, like a death row inmate being asked whether he wants to be shot or hanged. I couldn't resist saying, when he politely if gruffly refused my offer of colorful bows, "She'll appreciate them even more if there are bows on them." "Nah." Now that he's gone, sadly, I can tell you he was the customer I wrote about who this past Christmas went the easy route--gift cards (read about that encounter here).

I am hardly a comic book or graphic novel fan, but I always liked American Splendor. Harvey's masterful depictions of the qoutidian, all-loose-ends nature of his life, our lives, have a genuine, almost mystical quality to them--not always getting what you're programmed to expect to "get," you keep turning the pages nonetheless and end up somehow happier and even wiser about life and living it. Art, I think it's called. The movie's great, but read the comics--they're the true Harvey legacy.

Fittingly, my co-worker Emily broke the news to me today about Harvey's passing. Emily in many ways is the anti-Harvey: positively bubbly and always enthusiastically happy. So I was surprised a couple years ago when Emily said that Harvey had written about her in one of his strips (surprised and even more jealous; for more than twenty years I had been desperately trying in my infrequent encounters with Harvey to say something profound or absurd enough to get me in his strip). Emily used to be a bank teller at Harvey's bank, where she quickly became his favorite and only teller. The eyes don't lie: I always thought there was something lovable and optimistic deep in Harvey's suspicious, pessimistic eyes. It just took someone like Emily and her natural good cheer to draw it out a little.

And fittingly, Harvey wound up in this month's (thank God it wasn't next month's) Playboy because a young college graduate had written the Advisor wanting a list of books he should read to make him a well-educated man. And there, at the very end of the list, included with some of the giants of all-time, was American Splendor, by Harvey Pekar.

Hey Cleveland, we've got some empty mural space on our hands. How about honoring a real Cleveland icon? This town could use a sixty-foot image of Harvey watching over us. But would it ever happen? Nah.

Jay McShann-T'ain't Nobody's Bizness (If I Do)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Workin' On Danny's Farm

No, I wasn't out plowing the back 40 (square feet) today. And yes I swore I was finished with the whole LeBron thing, but silly me, I neglected to take into account that Jesse Jackson hadn't yet chimed in on the whole unfortunate episode. Until now, that is. Read here Jackson's comments about Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert's owner-slave mentality regarding James. As if this whole thing couldn't get more absurd. But I must say, Gilbert's comments made me wince, and I have to admit Jackson's got a point when he talks about Gilbert having to back up his claims about LeBron quitting in those playoff games. I guess LeBron's been too busy dancing in Miami and getting booed at Melo's wedding in NYC to respond to Gilbert's assertions. Infantile, all of it. Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to offer you this killer cover of Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" by Solomon Burke.

Solomon Burke-Maggie's Farm

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Last Two Words On LeBron: Feng Shui

After all the blather (and my God, it's worse than I thought--how can people actually think they're owed something by a professional athlete or that they are in any kind of a position to be betrayed by him?) including my own (see below), the only sensible thing I've heard about the whole LeBron James thing came from a German truck driver who, still reeling from his nation's defeat to Spain in the World Cup, offered this to me concerning Cleveland's loss of LeBron: "Cleveland needs better Feng Shui. You all should start planting some plants." Amen, over and out. Anybody got some seeds and some hoes?

The Kinks-This Is Where I Belong

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Doesn't He Like Us?

Every teacher knows them, the students who hang around after class to tell you something inane but important to them. The kids who after you mention some obscure movie or CD in class one day will tell you a couple days later they bought the movie or CD and really like it. The ones who give you some obscure candy bar, like a Zagnut, because you said it was your favorite. Nice kids, all of them, just looking for a little affirmation and kindness and respect that they usually aren't getting too much of from the other students. They're a little insecure and they want to be liked, want to know they're okay, not some freak. They all grow out of it. The kid who hung around you every day after class as a sophomore passes you in the hall as a senior with barely any recognition.

As I write this it's three hours until LeBron James finally ends all the suspense and announces where he's going--or staying. The vibes are definitely in the going column right now--probably to Miami. To pay any attention to the media in Cleveland right now or just the chatter on the streets, things seem pretty glum. The refrain I keep hearing, which really ticks me off, is the "how could he do this to us?" one. "He's going to go on national TV and kick us in the teeth." The sense seems to be if LeBron doesn't "do the right thing" and re-sign with the Cavaliers, the city of Cleveland will implode, never be the same.

Enough. Cleveland seems to me to be that needy kid, one who's never grown up and out of it, though. Since when is this DECISION really about us? It's almost as if Clevelanders hate Cleveland and are too insecure to admit it. They need big-time people like LeBron to affirm their choice/fate of living in Cleveland. As if they're saying, I hate Cleveland, but as long as the world's greatest basketball player is here, and now chooses to be here, it's okay with me.

Name me a twenty-five-year-old who's been given the ultimate choices of moving anywhere in the country, especially to a place like Miami, to work with good friends and have an excellent chance at succeeding like he or she's never succeeded before, who wouldn't seriously consider moving, let alone probably doing it. Is it a slap in the face to the community if the person does? Hell no. LeBron doesn't owe us Clevelanders anything, except maybe our lives back, which would be a good start for all of us to move on and grow up.

Besides, if he does leave, we'll only be left with a much bigger chip on our collective shoulder to flaunt (and boy do we love that). Also, no longer will we be the favorites. In my lifetime, the few times Cleveland has been the favorite, we've failed (choked?) miserably. Underdogs with massive chips on our shoulders, that's who we are. Maybe it's time to return to our roots. LeBron's been a very accommodating, friendly teacher for us for seven long years now. It's time we let him go and deal with our own insecurities.

Of course, if he stuns us all and does re-sign, I'm sure I'll be jumping for joy and thinking about a championship parade down Euclid Avenue in less than twelve months.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ichabod's iPod, Part 3: Huck Finn

Who's more American than Huck Finn? Nobody. What's on Huck's iPod these days? Well, let's take a look.

Watching the River Flow-Bob Dylan: Most played and most loved. "What's the matter with me...?"

Goin' Out West-Tom Waits: The ultimate lightin' out for the territories anthem.

Goin' Fishin'-Bobby Charles: Raison d'etre.

Slipping & Drinking-Tom House: One for Pap.

Up Around the Bend-Creedence Clearwater Revival: A great rave-up for a picaresque, adventurous boy.

Any World (That I'm Welcome To)-Steely Dan: For those bodies disgusted with the whole human race.

Something I Learned Today-Husker Du: Angst howls for the lessons one doesn't want to learn.

Fishin' Blues-Taj Mahal: For when Jim's not around.

Watch Me Fall-Uncle Tupelo: Empathy for the insecure.

Guilty By Association-Vic Chesnutt: For all the boy's tortured, twisted guilt.

Shake Sugaree-Elizabeth Cotten: A great raft-drifting song.

Promised Land-Chuck Berry: One day.

Everybody's Talkin'-Fred Neil: Joe Buck's got nothing on Huck. Here's to Miss Watson, the "tolerable slim old maid."

I'm No Angel-The Gregg Allman Band: The song to sing when one makes up one's mind to consciously go to hell.

The Weight-The Band: Huck might not understand it (who does?) but it sounds just right.

Reach Out (I'll Be There)-The Four Tops: Jim in full throttle, calming Huck.

Old Friend-Lyle Lovett: Jim.

The Boys Are Back In Town-Thin Lizzy: Tom & Huck am-buscading everything in sight.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Golf Lessons

A couple of wonderful outings the last few days have kept me from blogging: 30+ holes of golf on Wednesday, and seeing/listening to Bill Fox last night. I've written about Bill before here, so today I'm going to write about some of the things I've learned from being around golf as a caddie, coach, and player for nearly forty years (I still haven't learned to break 80, though, more than a small handful of times, so all lessons here are esoteric rather than instructive).

  • when you hear the word "fore" yelled at you, the ball never comes close to hitting you; when you don't hear the word, that's when you get clocked
  • if you're still missing the putt on your fourth do-over putt, it ain't meant to be
  • I'm semi-famous for a quick tee it up and hit it; if I had a nickel for every time somebody talked in my backswing, I could maybe afford a round at a swanky course by now
  • replacing a divot after a good shot is a great feeling of communing with nature; replacing a divot after a lousy shot is akin to accidentally finding a wasp nest
  • if most golfers were miked as much as Tiger Woods is, Tiger would have the reputation for being one of the best-mouthed players around
  • there is no cooler, more unique and special role in sports than the golf caddie
  • visors can only make a beautiful woman look more beautiful; visors can only make a man look dorky
  • there have been plenty of days when the best part of my golf game has been the 99.9% coverage of my sun-block application
  • a canned six-foot putt is much more thrilling than a long, straight, soaring drive--and usually much more important in the grand scheme of things score-wise and bets-wise
  • beer (singular) can serve to relax and improve your game slightly; beers (plural) can be a disaster
  • wherever two or more trees are gathered in close proximity on a golf course, there you have a functioning men's room
  • I like the feel of spikeless golf shoes, but the sound of spikes on a cart path is a sound I miss dearly
  • as I remember, the euphoria of driving a golf cart as a kid was greater than that of first driving a car
  • if you don't know the vast difference between saying "I had a six on that hole" and saying "gimme a six," you don't know anything about golf
  • if you have to convince yourself that sure you can make it over the water, you better have an extra ball at the ready
  • if someone "gives" you a putt, pick up the ball graciously at once; those "are you sure, thanks," half-ass swipes at the ball then awkward lurches to tap the in-motion ball into the hole embarrass everybody
  • if you look forward to flirting with the beer-cart girl, you're way out of your league and should look into taking up bowling
  • you can tell the quality of the golfer by the quality (i.e. existence of) his ball retriever
  • Johnny Miller and the other over-analysts on NBC's golf coverage aside, the only "smart leave" is the one where the ball falls into the hole
  • I've never seen a tree I can't hit a ball through, and never played a ball that can't find any tree on the course
  • the best golf-related true story I've ever heard: my cop friend once stopped a guy on suspicion of breaking into and robbing a stripper's car (true story, I swear); besides having a clutch of Pat Benatar CDs on him, the guy was also wearing golf shoes (in the dead of winter); "so you play golf, hunh?" my friend the cop asked; "yes," replied the man; "what's your handicap," the cop asked; the man replied, in all seriousness, "schizophrenia."