Tag Archives: Cleveland

Avon Lake, Ohio: A Boy Among Books

The Avon Lake Public Library, courtesy of http://www.alpl.org.

The Avon Lake Public Library, courtesy of http://www.alpl.org.

BY ROBERT MILTNER

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

I arrive by bike at the Avon Lake Public Library, on Center Road, next to Miller Creek near the high school and half a mile south of Lake Erie.  It’s an old two-story house that has been converted into a library.  It has a flat-roofed porch and an addition added on the back.  The house roof is covered in wide horizontal bands of tarpaper that run parallel to the white clapboard siding.  The library sits snug against the flat landscape on the north coast of Ohio.  The men who settled here cleared the pin oaks to plant apple orchards and Concord grape vineyards that sweetened in the late harvest due to the warm autumn temperature of the lake.  In the fall, during the football season, on a cold clear night the air is thick with a scent like grape jam.

The July morning is warm already and it will be hot by early afternoon.  I get off my one-speed bike and push down the kickstand with my right foot.   Mine is the only bike here, on the front lawn, near the large evergreen shrubs.  I leave my tackle box in the front basket and lay the fishing rod and reel across the handlebars.   There are three cars parked in the cinder lot.

I sit on the lowest of the three steps that lead to the porch.  The shoelace on my left Converse sneaker is getting loose and I want to make sure it’s tight.  I untie it, pull the laces, and retie my shoe.  I have shorts at home, but I like my dungarees better.  My dad told me that he didn’t get long pants until he was in high school, so I feel grown up for an eight-and-a-half-year-old boy.  I walk up the three steps to the porch.  To the right of the screen door is an aluminum glider under the windows, its green canvas seat looks well-used by people who sit outside, reading or waiting for someone to check out or return books.

A small bell rings once as I open the screen door to enter and rings again as I close it.  The librarians can hear someone enter from wherever they are on the first floor.  I stand and wait at the oak desk just inside the front room. In my pocket are eight pennies, two for each book, each book two days late.  I’m bringing back Billy and Blaze and Blaze Finds the Trail.  I like the way Blaze is such a smart horse, always helping Billy.  I wish I had a horse.  I can walk through the woods near my house to a farm where they keep a brown horse with a black mane and tail and a miniature horse colored like a Palomino.  I pull grass from my side of the wire fence and hold it out to them.  The larger horse comes over and I pet his nose while he takes the stalks of grass from my hands.  If I bring apples I pick from one of the deserted orchards, the small horse will come for one of those.  I like the way Clearance William Anderson illustrates the books he writes.  I like that he uses his middle name.  I wish the pictures were in color.

The clock ticks.  10:22.  The calendar on the wall says 1957.  Warm air from the west comes in through the screen door behind me, and from the south through the screened window to my right.   On the desk is a deep wooden tray marked Returns.  The Town.  Peyton Place.  Horton Hears a Who. I read that. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.  What Johnny Can’t Read.  No, that’s wrong.  Why Johnny Can’t Read.  The summer library assistant, a high school girl with a pony tail and dark-rimmed glasses, comes out of the back room.  She puts the pennies in a small box that she puts in the desk drawer.  She returns to the back room without saying a word to me.

I walk past the desk to the staircase that takes me to the second floor, which is the children’s section.  The steps are narrow and the walls close.  It’s dark halfway up.  I emerge from the stairs through what was once a trapdoor, into the low-ceilinged, slant-walled half-story of an attic.  Book shelves line the walls and two back-to-back sets of bookcases run down the center, taking up almost the whole length of the second floor.   It’s like a long playhouse filled with books.  In the winter, because there is no heating duct to the second floor, it is so cold I can see my breath.

It’s hot up here today.  Only the north window opens all the way.  Because the window ropes are broken, the other window, the south one from which the air is moving, is barely held open with an old book.  It’s stuffy and the air is musty with the scent of old books. I see dust motes in the sunlight.  Sweat begins prickling at my temples.  I start walking among the books, feeling sweat dampening the back of my neck by the hairline.

The books in the children’s section are arranged by how well a child can read. The shelf starts with picture books and early readers.  Fun With Dick and Jane.   Lassie and Her Day in the Sun.  The Cat in the Hat.  Curious George.   I move on to the illustrated books where I stop and look for Blaze and the Gypsies. It must still be checked out.  I’ll look again next time. The Lone Ranger and the Ghost Horse. Molly the Rogue.  First Book of Space Travel.  Freddy the Pig and the Baseball Team from Mars. 

Walking along the row of books, I hear the floor creak.  Its sound echoes off the low ceiling, like someone saying words aloud.  I stop.  The hot breeze rattles the frame of the window, making a humming sound.  The screen vibrates back like an answering whisper.

Next in line are the chapter books.  Because they are bigger and have their titles on the book spine, I can read the titles without pulling them from the shelves.  My mother has a small bookshelf in her sewing room with three shelves of books.  Grown up’s books.  I took some down to look at because the titles sounded like they’d be picture books.  The Long Goodbye.  The Little Sister.  The Big Sleep.  But there we no pictures.  And they weren’t for kids.

I read each case of chapter books like it is a page of a story, left to right, top to bottom.  I pull out Tales from Shakespeare.  The book makes a cracking sound as I open it.  The illustrations look really old.  Most of the stories are people’s names.  I keep this one in my hand as a move down the row.  Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  The cover has some kind of submarine.  Now I carry two books.

A fly buzzes around my head.  A bead of sweat rolls into my eye and I feel the salt sting.  My feet are hot and my sneakers feel tight.  It’s too hot to stay and I want to be outside.  The fly is buzzing against the window, bouncing off of it, trying to get out.  I go down the staircase and check out my books.

After I close the screen door behind me, I stand on the porch, feel the wind against my face, neck, arms.  I sit on the glider, set my books next to me.  It’s a hot breeze, but it feels cool after being upstairs.  I stand up and walk to my bike, get my rod and reel, my tackle box.  I carry them in my left hand and hold the two books in my right hand.

Behind the library, past the cinder parking lot, is a wide concrete bridge made from pouring concrete over a huge steel culvert.  It’s almost as long as school bus, through which Miller Creek runs.  Because the yard is flat, the creek is below me, down about ten feet of broken shale from where I stand looking.   It takes two trips to get the books and fishing stuff down to the creek.

The inside of the culvert feels like going into a cave.  Along the one side is a bank of concrete where I sit down.  It’s cool and shady under the bridge.  The scent of muck is strong.  Miller Creek slows and widens here in an under-bridge pool about three feet deep.   Small schools of minnows scatter and dart.  On the other side of the pool, I see a few mud chimneys the crayfish have built.  But what I’m looking for in the water are bluegill, or if I’m lucky, a catfish.

I release the reel on my fishing rod and when the line goes slack I remove the hook from the eyelet at the tip of the rod and free the line.  The red and white wooden bobber gets removed because I don’t want to fish close to the surface for bluegill.   I open my tackle box and use pliers to squeeze an extra lead sinker onto the line so the hook will lie on the bottom where the catfish feed.  I take out a plastic bread bag, reach in, and remove a piece of white bread.  I break off a piece the size of a movie ticket and roll it into a tight ball that I work on to the hook.  I’m ready to fish.

After setting the rod down, I pick up the books I’ve brought down from the library.  Read the titles to myself.   I settle on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  I cast my line, watch it sink, loop the slack around my index finger.  If a catfish strikes, I’ll feel a quick tug.  I open the cloth cover of the book and begin to read.

Robert Miltner is Professor of English at Kent State University and he teaches fiction and poetry in the Northeast Ohio MFA in Creative Writing program (NEOMFA).  His prose poetry collections include Hotel Utopia (New Rivers Press Many Voices Project award), Against the Simple (Wick chapbook award), Eurydice Rising (Red Berry Editions award), and And Your Bird Can Sing: Short Fiction (Bottom Dog Press).  His nonfiction is published or forthcoming in Los Angeles Review, Diagram, Mochilla Review, Buried Letter Press, Research for Life (Kent State University), and Silver Apples of the Moon: Art and Poetry (Cleveland State University Press).  Miltner edits The Raymond Carver Review.

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CLEVELAND, OHIO: The Flats Will Be Back

A view of Cleveland from an Army airplane in 1937. Courtesy of military archives.

A view of Cleveland from an Army airplane in 1937. Courtesy of military archives.

BY PATRICK PUJOLAS

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

The river here is brown. Brown and murky, and from a distance, barely moving. But if you look closer, you can see it swirling, like smoke, and you know that something is going on down there. Sometimes people jump into it (usually they are drunk), only to find they can’t get out. There are two eight-feet walls flanking the river, attached to the pilings; the walls are made of steel forged right here in Cleveland, Ohio.

The river divides this city in half. The East Side is known for its historic mansions, white-collar success, art museums and winding, meandering streets. The West Side is known for its factories, blue-collar work ethic, sports fans, and streets that run parallel or perpendicular to one another.

Presently, the Cuyahoga River flows from South to North, emptying into Lake Erie, although that wasn’t always the case. About 10,000 years ago, a glacial retreat entirely reversed the river’s direction; the receding ice sheet also left behind debris and scars, which further disrupted the river’s course, resulting in a serpentine, somewhat shallow body of water that traverses 100-plus miles in switchbacks and oxbows to cover a mere 30 miles of longitudinal distance.

Over time this crooked river carved out a flood plain or valley near the mouth of the Great Lake. This flood plain, known as “The Flats,” was the site of an unprecedented economic boom in the late 1800s. Entrepreneurs like Rockefeller, Morgan and Carnegie seized upon a rare convergence of major railroads and shipping lanes to maximize distribution of their products. Industries like iron, steel, asphalt, petroleum, salt and paint began to take root; indeed they began to soar. By 1920 Cleveland earned its place as the fifth largest city in the United States.

To facilitate increased traffic, engineers designed and built 26 movable bridges to span the river, providing safe transport for automobiles and trains above, as well as river barges below. Architects will tell you this area is no small mecca for studying single and double-leafed bascules (draw bridges), swing bridges (center and pier pivot) and vertical lift bridges (trestles counter-weighted like an elevator).

In fact, many photographs of Cleveland feature these bridges prominently in the foreground—while the city’s western-facing, downtown skyline looms in the distance. At night the buildings announce their shapes in radiant yellows and oranges; daytime reveals a different story. Those same buildings appear gray and beige and brown, darkened in the creases by decades of soot and smog, betrayed by the very industries that made them possible.

Cleveland’s economy peaked in the decade following World War II. By 1950 the population reached an all-time high at 914,808. Business was positively booming in the Flats. Unfortunately, business was booming elsewhere too.

The 1960s brought with it vast infrastructure improvements, innovations in distribution (airplanes and semi-trucks), advancements in technology (automation) and perhaps most damaging, competition from overseas. The gradual loss of manufacturing would devastate this city and its people.

In June of 1969 the end arrived—in the form of a bizarre river fire. An errant spark (possibly from an overhead train) ignited a floating mass of oil, debris and sewage. The Cuyahoga River fire was not the first, but ensuing media coverage ensured it would be the last. Time magazine featured the story on its cover, describing the Cuyahoga as “a river that oozes rather than flows.”  The U.S. government responded in turn by establishing The Clean Water Act and the EPA.

The following years saw dramatic improvement in water quality. The riverfront once again became a viable investment opportunity—but this time for a different purpose. Investors purchased and renovated vacant factories and warehouses, transforming an industrial blight into a vibrant entertainment district. Bars and restaurants and boardwalks sprang to life on either side of the river; boats cruised the nightlife scene, docking at legendary hotspots like Shooters, D’Poos, Fagan’s and Rumrunners; blaring music and shrieks of laughter echoed across the boating channel; colorful neon lights and flashing strobes shimmered and danced across the water’s surface.

For nearly two decades, The Flats reigned as the premier tourist destination in Ohio (rivaled only by Cedar Point), boasting the highest concentration of bars in the Midwest and a steady influx of 100,000 visitors on any given weekend. But by the year 2000, everything had changed again. What happened was and still is a subject for debate. Some say it was the buildings themselves, shut down due to fire and health code violations; some say it was an increasing (and unsettling) number of drownings in the river; some say it was violence, rumors of stabbings and/or gang activity and some say the nightlife simply migrated elsewhere, to newer bars and restaurants in the Warehouse district (and later to East 4th Street). The only thing we know for sure: the Flats was dead once more.

And yet there is hope. The Cuyahoga River remains the place where we bring visitors, people who want to know the real story of Cleveland. We tell these people about The Flats, about the industries and the bridges, about the endless stories that began here. We, the remaining 390,000, point to new construction on the East Bank, hotels and restaurants and apartment buildings, new investments, new interest, new hope. We say things like “The Flats will be back.” As proof, we need only mention the unusual history of the Cuyahoga River, a murky river that once flowed south, a river that meanders 100 miles back and forth, to cover a mere 30 miles of distance, a river that, at least on paper, makes no sense at all.

Pat Pujolas is the author of Jimmy Lagowski Saves the World (Independent Talent Group, 2012), as well as many other published works of fiction and non-fiction. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio.

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CLEVELAND: ALISSA NUTTING IS NOT A DIRTY GIRL

nutting

Michael Heaton sits down with Alissa Nutting, author of “Tampa.” An excerpt from the Fall 2013 issue. 

Michael Heaton: This book is pure filth. Yes or no?

Alissa Nutting: Gauging the purity of filth strikes me as a difficult task. I will say that there are many types of filth in the book an assortment of elements from the Periodic Filth Table are represented and cause dangerous chemical reactions. Various layers of filth compete against one another in a grotesque carnival of pageantry.

MH: Summarize reading this book.

AN: It’s like stopping in front of a house because you see something very disturbing going on through the window, then when you peek in more closely, you spot a television screen in the back of the room, and what’s playing on the television is even more disturbing that what initially made you stop. It is a Russian nesting doll of impropriety.

MH: Are you going to let your mother read this book?

AN: My mother is incredibly protective of her soul, of her general mental landscape of decency. She will not read the book.

MH: Your protagonist Celeste Price is a peeping tom, an adulterer, a narcissist, a pedophile, a chronic masturbator, and a liar. What are her good points?

AN: Easy on the eyes. Somewhat wizardly with sarcasm. Her patronizing thoughts about absolutely everyone else demonstrate a type of commitment to equality.

MH: How difficult was it to live with this woman in your head while writing this book?

AN: She was a pretty demanding mental roommate, to be honest. Parts of my spirit that were once a lush and radiant garden now look like dehydrated bacon from prolonged exposure to Celeste. One corner of my heart was removed, and in its place she put a Ziploc sandwich baggie filled with tobacco chew spit, etc. I may never fully recover from the act of scarification that was the writing of this novel. That sort of damage never heals.

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CLEVELAND: CPT and “Rusted Heart Broadcast”

ClevelandPublicTheaterBY CAROLYN JACK

An excerpt from the Spring 2013 issue. 

Most people who’ve written about Cleveland Public Theater over the last 30 or so years have undoubtedly used pens or typewriters or computers. But it might more appropriate to switch to seismographs, because CPT has shifted more Cleveland-area cultural ground than
any geological force.

With the company’s upcoming production of “Rusted Heart Broadcast,” the machines would likely record more big waves. “Rusted Heart,” you see, is not what most people would call a play at all. No one playwright wrote it. It tells no linear story. It contains no witty repartee, no cocktails, no period sets – no sets at all, really.

And though it includes singing and dancing, you certainly wouldn’t call it a musical. Instead, the production that opens Thursday, May 30 and runs through June 15 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, is the latest burst of devised theater – theater created organically by the people directing and performing it, together, from their own ideas – in the sizable list of such pieces that the company has presented since Raymond Bobgan began working there.

Bobgan has been devising avant-garde theater pieces since his college days at the University of California at Irvine, where he studied with Jerzy Grotowski. From his arrival in Cleveland in 1991, first as a leader of his own companies, Wishhounds and Theater Labyrinth, then as a CPT staff director, and now in the position of CPT executive artistic director, Bobgan has presented these weirdly free-form, deeply felt, experiential works on CPT stages, leaving audiences perhaps unable to describe what they’d seen, but certain they had witnessed something important, something profound – and been moved by it.

 

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