Friday, September 30, 2011

Housing Projects are Not Dynomite!

Good Times cast.
When I was a little kid, one of my favorite shows was "Good Times."  I would strut around the house yelling DYNOMITE! at the top of my lungs whenever I thought it fit. Which much to my parent's irritation was about 20 times a day. I remember singing along, "Temporary layoffs...Good times!" having no real clue of what I was singing about.

What I didn't know was that the show was set in a high rise housing project in Chicago.I knew the Evans family had it rough, but they loved each other and JJ was funny, so I loved it.

All I ever knew of housing projects was what I saw on television. With me being white bread from the burbs, TV was all I had to go off of. As I grew up, television showed me crack dens and drug houses, but when I heard about housing projects, I still thought of the Evans family. Like everything else on TV, I naively assumed it was an exaggeration.

And then I moved back to Cleveland.

For my job, I work with inner city youth. Not directly, but I do have contact with the kids. Every day, I see the statistics. Far less than half of the kids going to Cleveland Public Schools are graduating. The poverty and unemployment rates are staggering.

There have been occasions that I have dropped kids off and I have seen where they live. It looks rough on the outside, but still...I had the vision of the Evans family. Good Times.

And then I had to help one of the kids take some stuff into the house.

I pulled into the parking lot and briefly wondered if I would come back to it on cinder blocks. Walking up to the door, there were a few guys giving us the glare.Rough looking guys hanging out, staring. Looking us up and down like fresh meat. The kid I was walking with instantly stopped talking as we got closer. I took the cue from the kid and shut up. We walked in silence to the door. I fully admit, I got a little nervous. This was a rough neighborhood and I was sticking out like a palm tree in the arctic. The scene from Blindside went through my head...where Sandra Bullock tries to hop of the car and he tells her to stay put and lock the doors.

I had to be brave and cool though, because this is where the kid lives. If the kid can live there, I can at least go to the door without peeing myself.

When we got to the door, I looked around and noticed how everything was in disrepair around the complex. I doubted there was a handyman on site. Broken doors. Torn out screens. The lunchroom scene from Lean on Me went through my head. Morgan Freeman demanded the cage in the cafeteria be torn down. You treat kids like animals, they will behave like animals.  The kid opened the door and lucky for me I kept my sunglasses on because what I saw horrified me. The kid looked back and said they were going to run upstairs, but I knew I was being watched. Would I show my shock? Would I think less of the kid? I cracked a joke and the kid went upstairs. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut.

I lifted my glasses and my vision was blurry from the tears forming. Outside of the movies, I have never seen anything so awful. Roaches crawled around my shoes. The walls were crumbling. The curtains were a bed sheet pinned to the wall. It smelled of desperation, weed and hopelessness. The walls and floors were covered in years of filth and grime. I thought to myself that it would take weeks to clean all of the misery away, if it could be cleaned away.

The kid came back down the stairs and off we went. but I can't stop thinking about that visit.

We have kids in this city that are living in deplorable conditions, wondering if they will get dinner. I get cranky when we go to lunch late. I can't imagine being hungry, truly hungry and not being able to have a meal.

With their minds filled with a daily search for basic needs, algebra will always take a back seat.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bark and Let Bark

The Four Loko Kids burning LeFoolio's jersey in the Muni-Lot.

At the last Browns game, a man was asked to sit down in the Dawg Pound because he was cheering to much. For my non-Cleveland friends, the Dawg Pound is the end zone area with the most faithful, raucous fans. You don't sit in the Dawg Pound and knit. If you have ever heard of the Browns, you know this.

I can only assume that this directive is coming from an effort to make the games more family friendly. The Browns currently have a family section, which I have no problem with. If you want to take your kids, or have a tame experience, this is where you should sit. Browns fans are hardcore. After years of the Cleveland Sports Fail Reel, we have to be. Games in freezing temperatures, wind and rain and snow. Yup. We're there. A Browns game is nothing like say, a Colts game.

For years I worked at Colts games, including games in Lucas Oil Stadium - a snazzy enclosed stadium. The women come decked out in their high heels and bedazzled sparkly Colts shirts. In the middle of winter they complain that it is too the Stadium. I would politely tell them that as soon as they got to their seats, it would warm up. Colts fans are sweet and polite. But even at Colts games, there are some raucous areas of the stadium. If you have a family or have tender ears, you don't go up there.

Football isn't a polite sport. Why should we expect its fans to be?

Don't mistake me, I get the fact that everyone has some cash on the line for their tickets and they want to enjoy the game. But, if you are the person that has earplugs in your ears griping because the crowd is too loud, I am as irritated by you as you are of me. 

Keg bowling in the Muni-Lot.
On a home game morning, take a walk through the Muni-Lot. You have rowdy fans getting their cheer on. Hundreds and hundreds of people. Parking lot after parking lot. Fans drinking their loaded hot chocolate and enjoying some burgers, all in all, an adult event. But every game, there are people that bring their kids. Kids in the Muni. Inevitably, some little one walks by the Four Loko kids and begs their parents to let them participate in keg bowling. Or, worse. Last year, I had some Bluto try to kick in the door of the porta potty I was occupying. When I got out to have some harsh words with him, I saw his little boy standing near him, cheering his pops on. Real father of the year material. It was one of the few times I was speechless.

My point is life is about choices. If the crowd is too rowdy for you, stay home. Watch the game in the comfort of your house with your nice and clean bathroom. Maybe even take a nap at halftime. There is no shame in that. But if you look around and you are the only one in your section fuming about the drunk guy screaming at Big Ben while wearing a cape, then maybe the guy in the cape isn't the problem.

If someone is threatening and dangerous or outright offensive, I agree with giving them the boot. But if it is a guy wearing floppy dog ears barking until he goes horse, I say bark and let bark.

Braylon Edwards jersey sacrificed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Thomenator

The sign says it all.
I really have to applaud the Cleveland Indians front office and their move in bringing Jim Thome back to Cleveland. I also have to give the marketing department a big A+. With the "Welcome THome" signs on his first game back to the Jim Thome celebration with "Thomenator" signs for the crowd and the announcement of a Jim Thome statue, in the location of his now famous home run ball.

I've always been a Thome fan. In fact, much to my dad's chagrin, I bought us matching Thome sweatshirts to wear to games in the 90s. Thome, Omar, Kenny - I could go on forever about the Tribe team of the 90s.

But then, like most good things, it came to an end. The team was dismantled through trades and so was our bid for the ever allusive championship (and hopefully the demise of the dreaded Cleveland sports fail reel). That is until this year. The tribe had a great run, and I happily ran along side the team, going to more games this season than the past 5 years combined.

When the talk of Thome returning started, I had to sit on my giddiness. Rumors swirled that he would go back to Phillie...then...the talk that he was a lock for Chicago. I admit, I had horrific flashbacks of the other recent "decision". And ... like a finding a twenty in your pocket, Thome decided to come back to Cleveland. He wanted to end things where they began for him.

You know what? I'm OK with that.

With all of the cheers for Thome, there is a smattering of boos, and that one drunk guy that is jumping up and down with his middle fingers in the air. I don't get it. I remember when Thome left. I was sad, ticked, honked off even, but I got over it. It wasn't like when LeFoolio left.

I have to wonder if we as Cleveland sports fans are forever scarred by the actions of LeFoolio and his infamous decision. Sometimes, people have to make decisions to better themselves. Maybe take a job away from home to see what else is out there. I get that. I've lived in 4 states. It wasn't until I was away for a bit that I realized how much I missed much I missed home.

That friends, is how I see Thome. The guy went away, but ultimately, he wanted to come home. He didn't have to come back to Cleveland. But he did. When he left, he didn't give the city a one fingered salute.

Thome is not LeFoolio. Let's not confuse the two.

Jim Thome is home now and I couldn't be happier. From the look on his face when his statue was announced, I don't think he would want to be anywhere else.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


This week I had a young man come into my office to ask me about 9/11 for a school project. The project was to ask people where they were and what they remembered.

I started off telling him that on the morning of 9/11, I was originally supposed to fly into Baltimore for a conference, but I changed my plans the week before and was going to go on the 12th. So that morning I already had the day off so I just hung around the house watching the Today show. I saw every second of it.  I remembered the shock when Katie and Matt talked about a horrible accident of a plane flying into the World Trade Center.

I also remember that after the second plane hit, someone from the news program called the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, an investment bank.  These folks, more than 600 people were trapped on the 101 floor...with no chance of escape. Katie Couric read the report. She said ,"when the office of Cantor Fitzgerald was called and we asked what was going on up there, the person on the phone said we are f-ing dying up here. We are f-ing burning alive what do you think?" Katie then said that when called back no one answered. I remember thinking that was something that NBC should have left alone.

In talking to the young man, it hit me that he was a little kid then, not more than three or four, so he really didn't know. I explained that at the time, no one really knew what was going on. I will never forget people walking up to news crews with pictures of their loved ones begging to get on the air to find them. I remember rushing out to give blood for all the casualties that never arrived.

At the time, I had a friend that, last I talked to her she was starting a job in one of the WTC buildings.  Thankfully, she had moved from there months before, but I didn't know that.

In 2011, that was before the social media explosion. You had to call or email someone. Phone lines were clogged and down. The young man in my office was shocked when I told him there was no Facebook or Twitter or text messaging to get in touch with someone.

With all the tribute programs on, I can't watch a single one. I saw every minute of coverage that day, and I'll never forget it.

I'm not sure what is better...having never known anything other than a pre-9/11 world or remembering what life was like before and knowing that it will never be the same again.

Friday, September 2, 2011

There are days that I wish that I had some sort of ability to see someone's thought process. I would love to see the pattern that their thinking follows. How is that instead of going from point a to point b to point c do they go from point a to 4 to banana?

Right now, there are some random things going on for me that I would love to blog about, but now isn't really the time. Maybe in a few weeks...but not now.

I'm currently perplexed by those folks out there that make rash, *bad* decisions and never learn from them.

I don't know about you, but I know when I make a mistake, I like to not repeat it.