Cleveland, Ohio — I know. You don’t have to tell me. You
can’t go home again. But just for the hell of it, I’m gonna give it a
try. I’m on a mission here, you see. A sort of Proustian pilgrimage back
to the place where I grew up. I haven’t been here for almost 30 years.
Now I’m a man. And yet, over the years, this place has — in some
strange and very powerful way — inhabited my being. For no matter what
guises I’ve assumed, underneath it all, I’ve always felt like I was
really just — a kid from Cleveland.
It’s funny. Everybody I meet here says the same thing. “Oh yes, you
really must see … blah blah blah.” How do I explain to them
that I don’t care about how Cleveland has progressed … that I
don’t want to see anything new. That the new is my enemy.
What’s important to me aren’t really even so much specific places.
It’s more intangible things: smells, colors … a particular street
corner … certain angles … the way the light falls and the shadows
are cast at a particular time of day.
First, I drive to the corner of Kinsman and Lee streets, a personal
landmark. I am in shock. What was once the place where I used to spend
countless, lazy Saturday afternoons is now nothing but a burnt out array
of second-hand stores, grubby burger joints, and empty shop-fronts with
CLOSED signs on the windows.
I am mortified. I can feel my heart sink. But wait! There — across
the street. My first school — Moreland Elementary. Aside from a slight
sense of having shrunk, the old schoolhouse looks uncannily the same as
I remember it.
I hotfoot it across the street, and walk across the lawn over towards
the playground. Something about the way the grass is shaped into little
hillocks — the roundness of everything — causes a wave of nausea to
pass over me.
A large rock embedded in the grass gets my attention. Of course! Hey
you … rock! Remember me? The kid that used to go to school here in the
first grade. Yeah, that’s right … I’m back!
Though it looks positively forbidding, I go inside the building. The
polished emptiness of the corridor hits me. I recognize the smell.
There’s a massive knot in the pit of my stomach. What is it? Then I
recognize the sensation. It’s that old, sickening feeling of being in
school on the first day.
For a few seconds, I am deliciously 7 years old again. I look around
the halls, terrified. Afraid that a teacher will come out and scold me.
Make me go to the principal’s office. Call my parents.
Giddy with the sensation, I split.
I drive down Van Aken Boulevard to Shaker Square (I’m actually in
Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland). My God, there it is! Pristine.
Untouched. That wonderful circle of neat brown and white shops, all
connected by little archways, where I spent so many countless boyhood
I park my car, and begin walking. Immediately, the memories come
Drinking vanilla cokes in the Colony Drugstore. Reading Mad magazine
and Little Lulu comic books while popping Pez into my mouth (the
scowling clerk always looking on, clucking his jowels). Buying my first
very first record (“Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots” … on
78!) in the local record shop (now gone). Getting caught for throwing
tomatoes in Higbee’s department store. Trying to look contrite as the
manager gave me and my pals a lecture. Sitting in the Rapid Transit (the
local trolley car) coffee shop, eating a burger and fries, and listening
to “Don’t Be Cruel” on the jukebox. Trying to adopt an Elvis/James Dean
pose (complete with black leather jacket) when I noticed some girls
looking at me.
As I walk around the square, every archway … every brick … seems
pregnant with meaning. They seem to tease, not quite willing to reveal
themselves to me.
How odd. How strange that world has gone on — that men have walked
in space, wars have been fought, people have been born, people have died
– and through it all, these buildings have been right here! At the
moment, this notion seems nothing short of miraculous.
For one magical moment — time stops. I bask in it, trying to hold
Sitting on a bench, I spy a wizened old bum, who, over the next three
days, I will constantly see here. As is my custom, I give him a name.
Thus, he is christened (what else?) — The Shaker Square Bum. For some
reason I can’t quite put my finger on, this guy bothers me. Some bums,
you see, seem happy being bums — but this fellow looks like somebody
who wasn’t a bum once and doesn’t like being one now.
Worse, his eyes are yellow. He looks like death warmed over.
I want him to go away. Somehow he’s a bad omen.
Back in my hotel room, I leaf frantically through the phone book,
trying to look up names of old friends. Wait a second! What are you …
crazy? You’re talking 30 years, man! Naturally, none of the names
that pop into my skull are listed. Still, somehow I keep expecting the
phone to ring. To hear a voice saying, “Hey, kid … is it really
you? Are you really back?”
But the phone doesn’t ring. I sit, staring at the TV, which at the
moment is showing Jerry Springer. A huge wave of depression washes over
me. I comfort myself by consuming massive doses of junk food and cokes
from the machines in the hall.
The next day, I’ve arranged to go back to Ludlow, my second
elementary school. Here, I make the rounds of the classes, being greeted
in each one by kids anxious to meet the “famous writer” from L.A.
A gap toothed kid sitting in what used to be my desk (it’s the same
desk … my initials are carved it it!) in the room that was once my
sixth grade classroom stares up at me.
“You Sean Penn?” he asks.
“No. I’m Goldman.”
The kid eyes me warily. “If I come t’Hollywood, kin you get me in the
movies?” he asks.
“Call me when you get to town, pal,” I say, handing him my card.
I shoot him my best Jack Nicholson smile, as if to say “Gotcha
covered, pal.” He smiles shyly, then looks down, embarrassed, as the
girl behind him tweaks his ear.
Back outside the school, I trace the old route I used to take home.
As I walk, I seem to remember every crack in the sidewalk. My God, will
you look at those cracks! The very same cracks I used to walk
over with these very feet!
What fantastic cracks! Hey, you — crack! It’s me … your old
pal. The kid who used to walk over you on his way home from school.
Yeah, yeah, I know. How time flies.
Passing the houses.
There! The house of the evil John Stone, my crazy friend who threw up
on our rug while watching Howdy Doody, and who later tried to set my
house on fire when my mom banned him from the premises. (Someone
informed me that he had committed suicide a few years back.)
And another! The house of my best friend, Jeff. I always loved his
house because his mom made better hamburgers than mine and because we
got to stay up late and watch Sid Caesar on (the very first) color TV.
In Jeff’s driveway, a black kid is shooting some hoops. He eyes me
somewhat suspiciously as I pass.
Hey, Negro lad! It’s me! Yeah, it’s me! That’s right, I used to play
in the very driveway where you now stand. So know this, my young friend;
someday, someone shall play in your driveway! Yes, know this, and
tremble with the knowledge, my dear young chublet, for I, — the Kid
From Cleveland — have spoken!
Finally, I reach end of the street. There it is! My old house. 14112
Becket Rd. Oddly, the moment I see it, I recall my phone number; Wyoming
Weird that all that stuff stays locked in the brain.
The current owners have painted the house a hideous shade of blue.
Nonetheless it’s still a magnificent place. I let my eye trace every
shingle, every window, every archway. And as I do, it all comes back –
all the many and sundry wonderful and terrible things that took place
during the three years we lived there. How odd that the people living
here now know nothing of these stories. How could this be?
And then I realize that every house contains a multitude of
strange and wondrous tales.
How they must ache to tell them!
I walk around the corner and onto the next street. Suddenly the
neighborhood grows shabby. Sullen looking folk sit on stoops, staring
out at nothing.
I walk down the street. It’s getting dark now. Suddenly it strikes me
that this neighborhood might not be so safe at night. But safety be
damned! Don’t these fools know who they’re dealing with? Don’t they
realize that I — The Kid From Cleveland — have risen from the dead …
that I can smite them with a mere flick of my wrist! That I carry doom
and destruction within the very fiber of my being!
From the other end of the street a lone man approaches. I knot my
fists, readying myself. C’mon sucker. Try something. I’ll bite a
hole in your throat! I’ll rip your eyeballs out and eat them if you so
much as look at me cockeyed! Come on! Make a wrong move, and meet
The guy is nearer now. As we get close to one another, I see that
he’s an old Jewish man of perhaps 80 or so. Still, I emit a tiny growl
as he passes.
Night is fallen. The lights inside the houses are on now.
Everything looks magical.
I stop in front of one house — a handsome, white, three-story
affair. God, how many times did I stand here just like this, looking up
at the second-story window? Hoping upon hope to catch a glimpse of my
true love (though she never knew it), the wonderful, ever-lovely Wendy
Bergman. I’d been completely crazy for her — that is, until the day
after Elvis made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.
The following day in school, when I spoke excitedly of Elvis’
appearance, Wendy’s pretty face suddenly turned terrible.
“Eeeewww. He’s ugly!” she scoffed. “He looks like a drug addict.”
Ugly?! Drug addict?! Why you pathetic little greaser! You brainless
kinky-haired little snot! You preposterous pile of putrefied pig feces!
A curse on you, I say! Yes, you evil whore of Babylon. I pray
that your mustache grows, and that all your children are cursed with
large nostrils like yours!
Needless to say, it was the end of a beautiful romance.
For the next day (my last), I’ve saved a ritual that was most sacred
to me: Taking the Rapid Transit to downtown Cleveland. From Shaker
Square, the ride used to cost a quarter. Now it’s a buck. I plunk four
quarters into the little box next to the driver, and take a seat — just
like I used to — at the very back of the trolley.
But once I reach my destination, there’s more heartache in store.
What used to be a magical place is now just another depressing downtown,
populated by assorted bums, winos, and guys with no legs.
But then, as I cross the street I spot an incredible old guy wearing
a straw hat, a blue alpaca sweater, a gigantic red tie, and sandals with
socks. He’s carrying a hand lettered sign proclaiming Jesus as the
Savior. I immediately like this guy. I don’t know … somehow he’s
different from the rest of the downtown freaks.
I approach, and ask him if he minds me taking his picture. He says
no, and preens properly as I snap away.
Then something really strange happens. As I’m about to round the
corner, I’m struck by a sensation so powerful that it almost knocks me
over. I’m so dizzy that I actually have to sit down on a bench and catch
my breath. It takes me awhile to realize what’s happened.
How to describe it? It’s like the opposite of deja vu. I’ve seen this
place before. But not really. That’s it — I dreamed it! And by
dreaming it, now I’ve somehow created it in reality!
In my dream I’ve come close to this corner many times. Yet I’ve never
rounded the bend, because somehow I know instinctively that if I do,
something terrible will happen. You’d enter this long, grey corridor and
then, before you know it, you’d take one step too many and you’d fall
off an edge — the edge of the world — and then you’d just keep falling
… down and down and down. Forever.
And now, I am at this very spot. Only I’m not dreaming! This is real!
I’m sorely tempted to walk around the corner. Yet a voice, a sense
inside me, tells me that I must not. In fact, I must leave the Dream
Corner immediately, for it is a border never to be crossed.
Back in Shaker Square, dusk is setting. The place has an odd, surreal
quality about it. Timeless Negroes saunter around the square, gazing
into shop windows. Nobody seems to be going anywhere special. Nobody’s
in a hurry. It’s as if they have all the time in the world. As if they
have always been here and always will be.
As I’m basking in this nether-reality, suddenly I hear a terrible
sound behind me:
I turn around to see the Shaker Square Bum. He’s adjusting a piece of
newspaper on his little bench to keep his skinny old butt from getting
cold. Something about the guy makes me extremely nervous. I don’t want
to look at him because I know he’s dying, and I don’t want him to know
that I know.
The signs are clear.
It’s time to leave.
I walk one more circle around the square. The sun has almost set now.
Some pigeons dart crazily across the sky. The red glow from the Colony
Theater comes on. It seems to me I can smell the popcorn. God, it’s so
pretty here …
For one more magical moment, time ceases to exist.
So, goodbye Shaker Square. Goodbye bum. Goodbye kids. Goodbye house.
Goodbye Rapid Transit. Goodbye lawns. Goodbye sidewalks. Goodbye rock.
Goodbye lights. Goodbye trees. Goodbye schools. Goodbye drugstore.
Goodbye movie theater. Goodbye comic books. Goodbye Elvis. Goodbye Wendy
Bergman. Goodbye Jesus Man. Goodbye Dream Corner. Goodbye, goodbye,
And may God bless you, each and every one.
OFFICIAL TONGUE UPDATE: Only a couple more weeks, gang, and The
Tongue, the Web’s First Official
Muckraking and De-Programming Site, will be open to the public. Well,
sort of. As I’ve told you before, we are restricting membership to this
site. Thus, in order to be able to log on, you’re going to have to pass
a sort of “personality test.” Yeah, you heard me. This is going to be
real exclusive little country club. Call me a snob if you like …
that’s the way it’s gonna be. If you don’t like it, tough! So, those of
you brave souls who want to see if you “pass muster,” and would like to
get an advance copy of The Tongue “application form,” can simply send an
email. Put the word
“messugenah” in the header, and we’ll zip one on out to you, pronto.
Again, I’d like to thank all of you who’ve offered their services as
proofers and/or copy editors. However, I’m a bit disappointed to report
that out of all those fine Americans who offered, actually only
one individual has come through and actually done any editing. Ah
well, such is the nature of the human beast, right? (They never fail to
disappoint you.) So, the deal is — we still need proofers and
editors (real ones, not imaginary ones, thank you). We also need a few
folks who simply enjoy surfing the net; people who can find websites
that we can either recommend, make fun of, or steal stuff from. Let me
be clear once again dear reader: these are all non-salaried positions
(at least till we start breaking even). However, you will –for your
efforts — receive a free lifetime membership to The Tongue, substantial
discounts on all of our many-and-sundry products, as well as some other
super-nifty perks. Not to mention, of course, that you’ll get a few
notches in your “good karma” belt.
EMAIL UPDATE: Well, the time has come, sadly, to announce that my
popularity on this site has reached such stunning proportions, that I am
simply unable to personally answer all of your emails any longer. So
here’s the deal. Since WorldNetDaily’s exceedingly over-worked
webmaestro isn’t able to put in special email addresses as links on the
bottom of my page, here’s the scoop: (write this down, gang, cause I
know that some of you are in great need of my wisdom). Firstly, anyone
writing to the generic email address will probably (if my secretary isn’t off doing her
stupid aerobics class) receive a “boiler plate” response. Or you might
get no response. However — for those of you who really, desperately
need a personal response (and I know there are lots of you guys), I’m
going to give you some very special addresses to write me where
you will be guaranteed that I will actually respond to your
missives (just send a check for $25.00 with each request. Just
kidding!). OK … so for those of you who have a question they need
answered you should write to: firstname.lastname@example.org. For those people who want to tell me how my column has
changed your lives or how wonderful, great and wise I am, please write
to: email@example.com. Likewise, for those
of you who’ve been disturbed, offended, or would like to tell me how
much you detest me, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, for those of you who are SERIOUSLY TICKED OFF, have
a major BONE TO PICK, and would like to engage me in some
halfway-intelligent repartee, you are invited to take your best shot and
write me at: email@example.com. I will,
I promise, reply to each of these emails personally, though it may take
Got it? OK. Cool.
HOT OFF THE PRESS!
Finally, as you may have noticed, two of my books, ‘Poison
Penmanship: The Art Of Verbal Warfare,’ and ‘Secrets Of The
Super-Snoopers’ (edited by yours truly)
are now available exclusively on WorldNetDaily’s Secure Storefront. I’ve gotta tell you gang — and this is no B.S. –
they’re going like hotcakes! So, given that there are a limited number
of these babies available (especially the latter) — I suggest you get
off your fat little tuchuses this instant, and order your copy now!
And now … like they say at the end of the drive-in movie (are there
any drive-ins left anymore?) — Ahbadah, ahbadah, ahbadah …th… th
… th … That’s all, folks!!!