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#FridayReads, Sept. 14–“Rust Belt Chic” & “The Scarlet Ruse”

My belated #FridayReads is for the new book, Rust Belt Chic: A Cleveland Anthology, edited by Richey Piiparinen and Anne Trubek, to which I’ve contributed “Remembering Mr. Stress, Live at the Euclid Tavern,” an essay on the bluesman I followed devotedly for the many years I lived in Cleveland. I just got my own copy of the book yesterday and have begun reading my way through the more than 50 other entries in it, with pieces on legendary rock n’ roll scribe Jane Scott, poet hart Crane, graphic novelist Harvey Pekar, urban decay and renewal, and many other topics. It’s a thrill to be in this book with so many other terrific writers.

Before Rust Belt Chic‘s arrival in the mail yesterday I was reading one of John D. MacDoanld’s gripping Travis McGee novel’s The Scarlet Ruse, which I’m continuing to enjoy this weekend. If you too enjoy MacDonald’s work, please note I’ve blogged about his novels a number of times, and I learned this week there’s a Facebook group page in his honor, which I invite you to check out and consider joining. It’s always fun to have such great nonfiction and fiction on the boil.

This Week at The Great Gray Bridge

In the past week I’ve blogged about an urban skunk I encountered in Riverside Park;  a great new espionage novel called The Double Game by Dan Fesperman; the shameful lack of recognition for women in tech, as revealed by Change the Ratio’s Rachel Sklar; a well-deserved honor for Jim Tully: American Writer, Hollywood Brawler, Irish Rover, my fave biography of 2011; the lack of public transportation for wage-earners which means they often can’t get to jobs they would otherwise be able to fill; a new genetics study that may shed light on how the Americas were peopled in prehistoric times; a personal essay I’m contributing to a new book called Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology; Mitt Romney’s most secret offshore investment, Mitt and Ann’s Jet-Ski vacation, and a NY Times Editorial that hit Mitt. I also put up a guest post by my son Ewan Turner, a blended short story that fuses an actual incident from Bob Dylan’s career with an imagined episode involving the singer.

Over at The Great Gray Bridge tumblr, my site for quick hits and diverting photography, I put up a photo of Donald Trump that the Scots must find hilarious (h/t TPM and Zuma Press/Newscom and a post about the personal effects of lawman Eliot Ness, which have been put for auction.

Contributing an Essay to “Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology”

I’m pleased to have been invited to submit a contribution to the upcoming  Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology, a book that is being assembled and edited by Anne Trubek and Richey Piiparinen. With several dozen contributors, it will be published in September as a trade paperback and an ebook. I completed my piece and submitted it yesterday, a personal essay titled “Remembering Mr. Stress, Live at the Euclid Tavern,” on a venerable Cleveland bluesman and the venue where he played for many years, which proved personal gateways to my lifelong enjoyment of live music. A bit closer to publication I will cross-post the entire essay here on this blog. For now, here are some lines from it.

“The club included a central music room with a low stage for the band and a dance floor, an outdoor area in back, plus a basement bar. It was a veritable cruise ship of nightlife. During breaks between sets I often made new friends in my ambles around the lively deck. In the room opposite the stage was the main bar, a long hitching post of a drinks station where multiple bartenders pulled beer taps and poured liquor. Behind and above them was a sign that became a watchword in my life: “It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you’re on the ground with the turkeys.”

Clevelander or not, if you’re eager to support this exciting self-publishing initiative in cultural urban renewal, you can pre-order copies of the book via this link. You can also support the effort by

–Following us on twitter at @rust_belt_chic

–Liking the Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rust-Belt-Chic-The-Cleveland-Anthology/385206038193184

–Bookmarking the website: http://www.rustbeltchic.com. The site will be updated frequently.

Please help us spread the word.

In the weeks to come I will post more information and additional links related to the anthology and its contributors. For now, here’s a current photo of the Euclid Tavern taken by my sister Pamela Turner along with shots of the artwork and sleeve from the LP that Mr. Stress released in the early 1980s, the period covered in the piece.

How to Enjoy Sports Even When Your Teams Have a History of Failure

I grew up in Cleveland, which has a sad history of failure in team sports that rivals that of any city in North America. The Indians in baseball, the Cavaliers in basketball, and the Browns in football have each come tantalizingly close to winning championships in my lifetime, but only once did a local team manage to win the final, crowning game of a season. That was in 1964, when the Browns led by the great running back Jim Brown won the NFL title, defeating the Baltimore Colts led by Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas, 27-0. The game was a scoreless shut-out at halftime but in the second half Browns QB Frank Ryan threw three TD passes to split end Gary Collins, and the route was on. Municipal Stadium became a scene of joyous bedlam. This was two years before the Super Bowl was inaugurated, and since then the Browns have never made it back to the title game.

With Lebron James on the doorstep of an NBA title (Friday update: now clinched), it seems time to reflect on Cleveland’s sports tradition, and that of all teams that break their fans’ hearts.

I was in the stands at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium on that cold day, December 27, when the Browns faced the Colts, sitting in the cold stands with my father Earl, and brother Joel, now both sadly gone. I was ten years old. Our dad Earl was an extremely knowledgeable sports fan, and in fact had had youthful ambitions to be a sportswriter, though he ended up buying and selling scrap metal as a profession, a pretty common field for the son of Jewish immigrants in the first half of the twentieth century (see such examples of this prevailing sociology as the uncle of the eponymous protagonist in Mordecai Richler’s classic novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, also an excellent film written by Richler, starring Richard Dreyfuss). But Earl never lamented his years in the metals industry, instead channeling his knowledge and savvy sports spectatorship into his three kids, including our sister Pamela, teaching us how to appreciate key plays in sports, and how to enjoy the subtle games of strategy, the parry and thrust that’s always made sports fascinating for me to watch, experience, and follow. A favorite expression of his for me to hear, one he frequently made, uttered, say, when a pitcher leapt off the mound to field a bunted ball and in tossing his throw toward first base, plunked it off the back of the baserunner, prompting Earl to say, “Wow, I’ve never seen that happen before!”

Earl had earlier enjoyed another Cleveland sports championship, in 1948, when the Indians won the second World Series in their history, the first having come in 1920, when he was two years old. When I was born, on September  22, 1954. the Indians had just completed a remarkable regular season, when they won 111 games and were about to enter the World Series against the NY Giants as heavy favorites. Sadly, they were swept four straight by the Giants. The opener of the series in which Willie Mays made his remarkable play, now known simply as “The Catch,” occurred on Sept. 30, probably the day of my br’it meilah, the ritual circumcision that in Judaism occurs eight days after the birth of a male child. While I of course have no memory of that day I have long imagined my dad’s elation at the arrival of his third child and the crushing defeat his team endured that autumn.

With all that as backdrop, I have been following with great interest and enjoyment the Euro Cup soccer tournament that started a few weeks ago. When I was in Toronto last week, ethnic neighborhoods, like Little Portugal, were consumed with anticipation the day of a game. There have been some great matches, amazing plays, and surprising outcomes, like when England defeated Sweden 3-2 in a come-from-behind win on an amazing back-of-the-foot goal late in the second half. In England’s next match, they beat Ukraine 1-0, but only after what appeared to be the equalizer by Ukraine was judged to not have fully crossed the goal line, a call which replays later showed quite definitively to have been incorrect by the referee. During that tense match, Michael Goldfarb, former NPR correspondent, currently London correspondent for Global Post, and an author whose New York Times Notable Book, Ahmad’s War, Ahmad’s Peace: Surviving Under Saddam, Dying in the New Iraq, I edited and published with him in 2004–visited a North London pub to ask English fans how they were feeling about their team. In his excellent article, he chronicles the predominant history of failure that has hung for decades over the nation’s football team, and interviews fans who really open up about what it’s like rooting for a blighted team.

“The team takes the field and after sporadic hoarse cries of, ‘C’mon England!’ a silence descends on the crowd. This is the epitome of the English fan experience—the total silence in which the crowd suffers. The essence of watching a championship in any bar in America is the kibitzing among strangers. The jokes, the barracks humor, are part of what makes it fun. Fun is not part of the picture here. . . . I start chatting with a skinny guy who has managed to perch on the windowsill just where I’ve been standing. It’s no more than 5 inches deep. ‘Are you suffering yet?’ I ask. ‘I’m an England fan, I have to suffer.'”

Well, somehow, they beat Ukraine, even if the win was tainted by the bad call, and their next match is against Italy. So, maybe England will continue advancing through this tournament. And, maybe the Cleveland Indians, who won a game with a walk-off HR Tuesday night, and are somehow in first place in their division, will find a way to get into the post-season. Oh, well, we fans chastened by loss, never lose our capacity to dream. Click through here for all photo captions.

Treasuring Early Natural History Books

Always happy to see a story involving my old hometown Cleveland’s book culture–Judith Rosen of Publishers Weekly reports that an 1886 book of natural history and ornithology, Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, a copy of which was discovered in 1995 in the library of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, is now being republished by Princeton Architectural Press. PAP’s catalog listing for the book shows that the new edition has been retitled  America’s Other Audubon by Joy Kiser, the librarian who found one of twenty-five remaining copies of the rare book.

The author, Genevieve Jones, an amateur naturalist of her day, was inspired to create the book after seeing Audubon’s Birds of America paintings at the World’s Fair of 1876. She created sixty-eight original lithographs in making her book, which contemporaries described as “the most beautiful book ever produced in America.” Sadly, Jones died before it was finished and her family labored seven years to see to its completion, then underwriting printing and selling it by subscription. Only 90 copies were produced, and among the subscribers were Theodore Roosevelt and President Rutherford Hayes.

I love old natural history books, such as The Journal of A Disappointed Man by W.N.P. Barbellion, to which H.G. Wells contributed an Introduction upon its publication in 1919–a few months before the author died of multiple sclerosis at age thirty. Two sample entries from Barbellion’s youth, January 3, 1903: “Am writing an essay on the life-history of insects and have abandoned the idea of writing 0n ‘How Cats Spend their Time.'” and March 18, “Our Goldfinch roosts at 5:30. Joe’s kitten is a very small one. ‘Magpie’ is its name.”  I have an old Penguin copy of the book and a reprint published in 1989. Then there’s Fishes: Their Journeys and Migrations by Louis Roule, originally published in 1933, which I republished as a Kodansha Globe title in 1996, with a new Introduction by George Reiger of Field & Stream magazine. A reviewer of the original edition wrote, “Will please the nature student, the Izaak Walton enthusiast, or the reader who delights in believe-it-or-nots.” Living in an age of diminishing biological diversity with an accelerating pace of extinction, it is important to be aware of species and varieties that used to be common and are no more, or increasingly scarce, and I treasure these books for aiding that effort, decades after they were first published. That’s kind of miraculous.

#Fridayreads/Nov. 25

#fridayreads Finished ‘The Whore of Akron,’ @scottraab64’s gonzo fete of Cleveland sports history. This old Clevelander loved the fierce takedown of Lebron and Raab’s scalding humor.