Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Five things to do when you're in Cleveland...

Well, I’m back from the glorious and fertile land of Ohio. It was a great time, full of whimsy and merriment. We drove, we ate, we drank, we farted, we bantered obscenely, we giggled like six year olds, we visited museums, we tipped the valets, we were snubbed by the housekeepers, and—in the end—I don’t think it’s too pretentious to say that we grew a little bit as human beings. Now I must re-adjust to my routine life, a life far away from the soothing shores of Lake Erie. But, before I sally forth into the future, allow me to share with you a few fun things you ought to do if you ever find yourself in Cleveland...

1) Have a long discussion about dolphin sex

There exists a small subculture of people who are sexually attracted to dolphins. I know this because the fabulous and gentle-spirited Mel directed me to several disturbing websites. I will not link to them here, as they are too perverse and terrible to inflict on my audience, all of whom are well-adjusted and decent people and none of whom are perverts. Because, frankly, only a pervert would want to have sex with a dolphin. Dolphins are not hot. They are fish. Now, they may be beautiful fish, intelligent and fascinating and all that, but that should not translate into lust. It is wrong, wrong, wrong to lust after something with gills and flippers. I don’t think I’m being excessively prudish here.

The website we looked at---which was either (a) an elaborate and gross hoax or (b) prime-time, big-league, grade-A crazy shit—was allegedly written by a man who had his first affair with aquatic life when he was twelve. Get this: the dolphin swam up to him, some pre-teen just out for a pleasant wade, and initiated the encounter. Riiiight. Am I too much of a skeptic for doubting this? Do dolphins really just swim up to children and start to “fool around” with them? Maybe some brilliant biologists can chime in here, because I really don’t want to research the question anymore. A member of the scientific community might also be able to shed light on another one of the fish-screwing lunatic’s claims: that a dolphin has a prehensile penis which it can actually grab things with. Because, frankly, that would be kind of cool. If I had one, I could type this and be holding a Diet Coke at the same time.

Anyway, the dolphin-lover made a big to-do on his website about the differences between “bestiality”, which is a nasty and terrible forcing of degrading human will upon the animal kingdom, and “zoophilia”, which is tender and mutual loving between species. This distinction made us uncomfortable. Why? Because it’s creepy-assed bullshit. There is no way you can have a “tender, mutual” sexual relationship with a dolphin. Why? Because it’s a fucking fish, that’s why. We discussed this all the way to Cleveland, and we came to one steadfast conclusion: having sex with sea creatures is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Unless it’s a mermaid, of course.

2) Importune a great American artist

So we were whiling the time away in a downtown Cleveland mall, trying to eat up the minutes before Talledega Nights started, when my good friend, the suave and fashionable Greg, saw Tom Waits walking into a Foot Locker store. He was playing Cleveland that night, and apparently he and his family needed some new shoes. Now, we love Tom Waits unreservedly, and I consider him one of the top five greatest songwriters of all time, so you can imagine how exciting this was for us. I mean, holy shit, it was Tom Waits! Tom "Bone Machine" Waits! Rain Dogs! Heartattack and Vine! And there he was! Buying shoes! In Cleveland!

Of course, there was no question: we were going to talk to him. But we were going to be cool about it. We weren’t going to pester him. We thought it would be best to let him finish shoe shopping before we pounced on him. The only problem was that he was taking his time. Talledega Nights was gonna start soon, and we couldn’t hover outside the Foot Locker forever. So, with Greg in the lead, we made our move. It was a little bit terrifying, to be honest. I mean, we’re talking about TOM WAITS here. I mean, he’s in the running for my favorite musician EVER.

And he was gracious. I can say this with authority now: Tom Waits is every bit as cool in a Foot Locker in Cleveland as he is on record. We gushed briefly about how great he was and what an honor it was to meet him and he thanked us and shook our hands. The whole encounter lasted probably twenty seconds, and then we took our leave. We didn’t want to annoy the man. He already seemed somewhat weirded-out having fans glad-hand him while he was trying to buy shoes. I don’t blame him. I suppose that would be a strange thing to put up with.

Postscript: While we were accosting him, Mel bought us some of his CDs so we could have him autograph them. But we were too chickenshit to talk to him a second time. Thinking back on it now, an autographed Tom Waits CD would be a pretty goddamn awesome thing to have laying around the house.

3) Go to Pittsburgh

No offense to Cleveland, of course. Cleveland is a pretty cool place, but it isn’t Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh might be my new favorite city. You can even ask my traveling companions: I got so excited I messed myself when I first saw it. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place. There’s sweeping hills, there’s mighty rivers, there’s tremendous skyscrapers, there’s cool museums, there’s bucolic college campuses, there’s gritty ethnic enclaves and there’s genteel, historic neighborhoods. I’m not sure why the young and striving rush out to San Francisco or New York City when they could also go to Pittsburgh, a place that has most of what those places have, and at much lower prices. What fools! I say this to you, gentle Pittsburgh: you’re first in my heart nowadays. When I get married, I swear I will return to you for my honeymoon. Whatever woman I get hitched to is just going to have to deal with that.

4) Go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I know, I know: it’s pretty much the pinnacle of cheesy and touristy. I mean, it the whole idea seems asinine—a big pompous museum dedicated to rock music, a once edgy genre now grown long in the tooth and pining for its early vitality. If anyone ever felt like proving that rock-and-roll is dead and has been rotting in it’s coffin for a few decades now, their best piece of evidence could be that fancy building on Lake Erie filled with guitars behind glass, hippie posters, and capes that Robert Plant used to wear. Maybe, in thirty years or so, we can all go to a Museum of Hip Hop and marvel over Run DMC’s gold chains and the bullets they dug out of Fifty Cent. In the meantime, it doesn’t seem like an art, especially a popular art like rock music, can be both vital and kept in reverential display cases.

That’s at least what I thought before going to the museum. Afterward, I didn’t think any of that. One reason for this was that I had one of those nasty headaches I get whenever my bloodstream runs low on Diet Coke. Another was that I actually had a really good time in there. I can’t help it: it was cool to see the bass guitar that the guy in the Clash was smashing on the cover on London Calling. It was fun to read the hate letters that Mick Jagger got. I genuinely enjoyed looking at Sam Cooke’s sweater collection. Who’d have thought?

5) Wander the desolate banks of the Cuyahoga River at midnight

I’ll admit it: we had a hard time finding the Cleveland nightlife. The first night there, our taxi driver brought us to “The Warehouse District”, which was just awful, filled as it was with ex-frat boys in their fancy striped shirts and wacky gel-crusted hair wandering around drunkenly after squawking blondes showing six miles of cleavage. We departed promptly for there and set out in search of “The Flats”, which my travel book said was a good place to have a drink. Unfortunately, my travel guide was four years old and nowadays all “The Flats” consists of is a single bar where a bad band plays disco covers that resonate throughout the stretch of abandoned factories and empty streets that surround it. We wandered quite a ways in search of that bar, which we could hear but not see. We walked along the river, over bridges, under viaducts, down several dozen dark and lonely streets in the hopes of finding the place where “Last Dance” was being mangled so heartily. We figured there had to be other places in the vicinity where we could have fun.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. After crossing a vast parking lot, we finally came to the disco bar as it’s twelve patrons were wandering back to their cars. There was no other place in sight and, since there wasn’t even any traffic to speak of, there weren’t any taxis to catch. We asked the bartenders if they knew the numbers to any cab companies, but they didn’t. It was beginning to look like we might be stranded and lost. We were glumy pondering our options when, as if by magic, the same cab that had taken us from our hotel appeared. We piled in, marveling at the coincidence.

The driver shared our excitement. He got to overcharge us twice.