A True Recollection.

It was a warm spring morning. I was smoking a cigarette at the public bus stop, waiting for the bus that would take me to school. I couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. It had rained during the night. The only evidence was a thick layer of dampness over everything that would be burned off in a couple of hours by the spring sun. The smell of flowers and growth thickened the air.

I wasn’t the only person waiting for the bus. Peppered around the bus stop were fellow classmates, well-dressed people (presumably heading to an office job closer to the center of the city), and an older woman.

I didn’t see her at first. She must have been standing in the doorway, watching me. After some time she positioned herself in my eye line.

“Can I get one of those?” she gestured towards the cigarette hanging out of my mouth.

“Sorry: this is my last one.”

She didn’t say anything. Her face rapidly dissolved from the vagrant face of hope into the indignant face of insult. She took a few steps back from me and continued to wait for the bus.

(Really, I had four cigarettes left. Me, being an underage smoker made cigarettes hard to come by). Safe in my justification, I went back to waiting for the bus as well.

While we all continued to wait, I could feel her eyes on me, digging holes in my flesh from the safety of her doorway. Eventually the bus rolled to a stop at the corner we were all congregating on and we began to board. She stared at me the entire time.

I managed to snag a forward-facing seat relatively close to the front of the bus. The older woman had gotten a seat exactly perpendicular.

She continued to stare at me as the bus passed the local hospital. She stared at me as we passed the grocery store and a slew of still sleepy, residential homes. And she continued to stare at me as I got off the bus, at my stop in front of my high school.

I had managed to get across the street and halfway to the school entrance at the front of the building before I realized that she had exited with us and proceeded to follow me into school.

As we passed through the doors she saw me look over my shoulder. Her face hadn’t changed since I had turned down her initial request.

A cold panic was starting to work its way over my body. It was early in the morning. A fraction of the faculty was in the building but most of them were on the other side of the campus. I couldn’t think of anything else to do but to go about my business. So I went to my locker and got ready for the day. She stopped following me when she saw what I was doing. While I proceeded with my morning routines, I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was still watching me from the opposite end of the hallway.

An eternity passed before she came up to me and asked me a question.

“Do youuuu know what time it is?”

There were four clocks in that hallway. Two behind her, and two behind me.

I stared at her. She stared back at me. I looked at the nearest clock behind her, over her left shoulder.

I resumed eye contact with her, blinked and told her the time.

“6:45”.

She turned around and left without saying another word. I am a white male. She was an older black female.

It would be years before I realized that there might have been something more to this interaction. Maybe she saw me put the cigarette pack back in my pocket and knew I was holding out. Maybe she woke up that morning completely sour with where her life had led her. Maybe there was something psychologically wrong with her.

What really matters is the fact that I still think about her from time to time. I can still hear the dull silence and the smell of hormones between her final question and my answer. I still remember how much of an ignorant teenager I was and how easily I shrugged that whole experience off. And I can still feel the cold emptiness inside of me that I saw reflected back in her eyes.

Your Utility Bill When It Comes to Desert Living.

The desert, being a biome that I had yet to set foot in during my four decades of breath, I had some obvious concerns. Chief amongst those concerns was how dead our finances were going to be when those first utility bills came rolling in.

Don’t wave this off: I am the patriarch of a family of five. Three females and two males. On top of that, females tend to be in the bathroom/shower more than men and they leave lights on when they exit a room even though they don’t plan on returning to the very same room. Fight Me.

Preamble.

Once upon a time, I was fired from my job. The timing could not have been worse. I was the sole source of income. The wife was nearly finished with nursing school and on top of that, we had just welcomed our third and final child into our family.

Naturally, that negative catalyst had thrust a lot of things into perspective. Specifically, where our money was going. The first item to be examined was our utility bills. At that time we were living in a small apartment on the south side of Cleveland. Since we were apartment-livers, the only utilities that we were legally responsible for were the heating and electric bills.

The heating bill was never an issue. Since day one, I had always made a point of putting in the storm windows, laying down insulation tape, and putting plastic over the windows when the weather started getting cold. On top of that, we heated the rooms that we were occupying the most and turned that shit down (or off) when we all went to bed. This is common sense stuff when your global neighbor is Canada.

The electric bill was trickier to manage.

Thankfully, prior to my termination, I had all ready started making aims to shrink that bill. I had all ready swapped out all of the lightbulbs that were in the fixtures prior to moving in with energy efficient bulbs. (If you need a time stamp on these actions, energy efficient bulbs were a relatively new thing. Point of fact? They were fucking expensive back in the day).

On top of that, I had started over-paying the electric bill to a “whole dollar”. What I mean by that is that I treated the electric bill like a “leaky” savings account: you pay over the amount that the bill is for and then that excess that you paid gets applied to your next bill. (It’s “leaky” because it always needs to have a deposit…).

After I got shit-canned, I landed on that utility bill with both feet. I didn’t worry about “emergency relief” or anything like that. I took a walk through the apartment and took note of every damn electrical item that was plugged in, but not being used. There were multiple items in multiple outlets throughout.

After noting that, I had reasoned that those things were costing us money (that we desperately needed) even though they weren’t being used. And in coming to that conclusion, I put everything that needed to be plugged in on power strips and old surge protectors that could be turned off with the flick of a switch.

Within two billing cycles, I had knocked a $95 utility bill down to $15 and it stayed in that neck of the woods until we moved out.

Present Day

11 years later and on the opposite side of the country, my family and I are living in an apartment once more.

What it came down to was convenience, amenities, and utilities. We found a place down the street from where my wife needed to work, the apartment complex that we are living in came with washers & dryers with their units (which saved us from the purchase and logistical hell of having to secure those things) and as a part of the leasing agreement, the rental company offered us a flat rate on the water bill.

FLASHBACK!

After my wife had finished nursing school, we had managed to get back on our feet and rent our first house. When you rent a house, not only do you have to pay rent in order to live there, but you also have to pay ALL of the utilities.

That first winter was rough.

We relocated to Cleveland Heights. Cleveland winters aren’t anything to thumb your nose at. Our house was old, had high ceilings, and wood floors throughout.

On top of that the windows sucked ass. Point of fact: they were they were the original windows that the house was built with. AS IN, turn of the century style, the kind where you had to attach the storm window to the house from the outside.

After I plugged all of the holes that I could, I had other things to focus on and didn’t pay as much mind as I should have to “heat regulation”.

Our first heating bill was north of $600. After the shit was done curdling in my lower intestines, I put our heating bill on a budget plan that our gas company offered ($140 a month with the option to get off of that plan during the warmer months) and breathed a little easier.

The water bill to this day, can go fuck a goat.

The following information may be dated and it may vary depending on where you are at in the world. With that said, when you’re renting a home or owning your own home, there are two parts to your water bill:

  1. The actual amount of water used.
  2. Your “home’s use” of the city sewer.

You always pay the first part. The Second Part is paid on a basis that it is determined by the city within which you live.

Every other water bill was like the city of Cleveland Heights was trying to flick us in the ear, but we would turn our head at the last moment and we’d get flicked in the eye instead.

BACK TO THE FUTURE!

As of this writing, my family and I have been apartment living for the past 6 months. There have been a fair amount of challenges for sure. But when you consider that we pay a flat rate for water, we didn’t have to by a washer or a dryer, and our electric provider (Salt River Project) gives it’s users discounted rates if said users abstain from using major appliances between the hours of 3pm to 6pm (or 4pm to 7pm, user’s choice) a little discomfort has been worth it.

SAY WHAT??

It’s ok: I didn’t put much faith in it either regardless of my concerns.

During our first month in our new home, there was a lot of unpacking and downsizing that needed to be followed through on. As such, I couldn’t focus on keeping the margin of error lower on our electric bill. On top of that, we had just come from a part of the world that shares the same global parallel as the state of Tennessee (Japan). Our first summer in the desert was brutal. What resulted at the end of that first month was an electric bill north of $400.

It wasn’t unexpected. The AC was on constantly, ceiling fans were on high, and computational device usage was at an all time high because it was too fucking hot to kick the kids outside.

After I had finished separating the wheat from the chaff as far as our personal belongings were concerned, I turned my attention to our power usage. Bulbs were swapped, power strips were installed and a damn good reason better be had if I caught you running an appliance between the hours of 3pm to 6pm.

In the End

Honestly, if you’ve never lived in the desert before, how can you not wonder how utility bills work out here? Managing finances will always be an on-going process with respect to utilities regardless of the persons involved.  However, since our first month in the desert, that $400 electric bill has barely been out of the low $100’s. Years of experience and small changes will always yield big payoffs, eventually.

The Sum(mer) of its parts

This is part one of a series of articles that I have completed for AltOhio. In it, I detail the things that you could do in Cleveland at that time. A copy of the original article, as well as the rest of the series, can be found in the included links. 


Summer time is upon us! We have finally been granted a reprieve from the days when we are hermetically sealed in our homes in an effort to not freeze our asses off. The thirst to be outside and to be inhaling fresh air by the bucketful is thick in our throats. As a father of three children, this is a feeling that I know all too well. This summer, like all summers in Cleveland, promises not to disappoint. But there’s something that I have noticed especially since I have gotten older; certain parts of the city (and the surrounding area) get compartmentalized. One area is favored over the other for whatever reasons. What makes this worse is that the older a person gets, the harder it is to appreciate the city as a whole.

Over the next couple of months, I will be highlighting some of the more interesting happenings going on throughout the Cleveland-area as well as including a few polite reminders of why this part of Ohio should be appreciated as a whole.

Marc’s Great American Rib Cook-Off 

It would not be May in Cleveland if there were no Great American Rib Cook-off. Spread out over the course of Memorial Day Weekend, the Rib Cook-off is that one event in Cleveland that officially heralds the arrival of summer. There are ribs and there is live music (specifically from likes of Buddy Guy, Rick Springfield and Brett Michaels). It doesn’t get any more “summer” than that! Starting Friday May 24 at 12pm and ending Monday (Memorial Day) May 27, Marc’s Great American Rib Cook-Off promises to be an event that is suitable for the whole family. Something to ponder while you sate yourself on the fatted calf? “The flats are actually where Cleveland began. They served as the landing site for Moses Cleaveland and his survey party when they traveled from Connecticut in 1796 (Grabski, 2005).

Cleveland’s Theatre District

No one ever said that you had to spend your entire summer outside. There’s going to be one of those nights (or possibly, days) when the thespian urge strikes. Why not make a trip down Euclid Avenue to see what all of the fuss is about?

Starting May 1 at Playhouse Square is the fan-favorite Guys & Dolls. Based on a story by Damon Runyon with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, Guys & Dolls is a “musical fable” of Broadway that is set in mid-20th century New York and is about “gambling men and the strongwilled women who love them”. Hailed as an American classic, Guys & Dolls is a musical comedy that is sure to entertain.

As an historical aside, it should be noted that given Cleveland’s layout, Euclid Avenue was the only logical choice to serve as the location of the city’s theatre district. Back in the day, there were 5 theaters that started this new theater district: the Allen Theater, the Ohio Theater, The State Theater, the Palace Theater and 2 Loews Theaters (Becker, 2004).

For further information (or if Guys and Dolls isn’t your thing) visit playhousesquare.org Around the same time that the theater district had begun to assemble, the first indoor shopping mall in the United States had opened. The Arcade officially opened its doors to Cleveland’s residents in 1890 (Becker, 2004).

Also on Euclid Avenue this summer is the One Nation Under a Groove Gala. This funk and soul music revue will be performed by Cleveland School of the Arts (CSA) students. The school itself is a specialty arts school that focuses on music, theater, dance, creative writing & visual arts. The gala will honor David LaRue, CEO of Forest City Enterprises Inc. Mr. LaRue is the former President of the FCSA Board of Trustees and has been instrumental in achieving the goal of a new school building for CSA.

The gala will be held on Friday, May 3, 2013 from 6:30 – 10:30 pm at the House of Blues, 308 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44114. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.clevelandschoolofthearts.org or by calling 216.421.7690.

Cleveland Metropark Zoo

When in doubt, my default source of amusement and merriment has always been the zoo. It’s a very little known fact that Cleveland Zoo actually began on the East Side. Originally, Jeptha Wade (one of the founding members of Western Union Telegraph) donated land to the city for the establishment of Wade Park. Because of residential development and the addition of other animals, the zoo was gradually moved to (the then) Brookside Park, where it currently resides (Van Tassel, Grabowski, 1987).

From now until Halloween, Discount Drug Mart is sponsoring Photo Safari. This is the zoo’s annual photo contest that is open to all amateur photographers. All photos must be taken between April 1 and Halloween of this year.

Also happening is the Wild Ride at the Zoo. This is an after-hours event that will give visitors the opportunity to skip the tried and true Tram ride to the top of the hill and elsewhere in favor of riding their bikes!

Don’t have a bike or the means to get your bike there? No problem! The Bike Rack has you covered! Call (216) 771-7120 to reserve your bike seat! The number of bikes available for rent will be limited.

Tickets for Wild Ride are available online or at the zoo box office.

For further information visit clemetzoo.com

References

Becker, Thea Gallo. (2004). Images of America: Cleveland 1796-1929. Great Britain Arcadia Home Music Lifestyle Columns The AltOhio Story Collective Sports Page Good About Us Advertise With Us Publishing.

Grabski, Matthew Lee. (2005). Images of America: Cleveland’s Flats. Arcadia Publishing: Great Britain.

Van Tassel, David D (Ed.). Grabowski, John J. (Ed.). (1987). The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.


This is part one of a series of articles that I have completed for AltOhio. In it, I detail the things that you could do in Cleveland at that time. A copy of the original article, as well as the rest of the series, can be found in the included links. 

Tremont Arts Festival

This was my first article for AltOhio. In it, I wrote up the annual Tremont Arts Festival and delved into the history of Tremont (a neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio). A copy of the original article can be found here. 


On Saturday September 17th and Sunday, September 18th, Tremont will be hosting their 13th annual arts and cultural festival at Lincoln Park. The park is located at 1208 Starkweather Avenue. Saturday the Festival starts at 11am and ends at 6pm. Sunday the festivities begin at 12pm and end at 5pm.

According to the Tremont West Development Corporation web site, “The mission of the Festival is to celebrate the cultural and artistic diversity of Tremont and Greater Cleveland by encouraging the artistic and cultural endeavors of its visual and performing artists”. What you can expect is food, music, dance and poetry performances, art your children can participate in as well as art that you can purchase.

On the surface, it may seem that the goal of this festival is to raise money solely through merchandising. This is not the case.

After speaking with Festival Manager Scott Rosenstein I learned about the beginnings and overall intent of this festival. In September of 1999, Rosenstein, along with several other residents, (notably Jean Brandt, founder of the Brandt Gallery, Tremont’s longest running art gallery) started this grass roots promotion of area artists. When questioned about the popularity of the festival over the past 13 years, Rosenstein feels that he is subjectively pious. Folks really look forward to it and Artists reactions to it have been favorable. Many of them have participated multiple times. This is with good reason, too.

It is standard procedure for the artists to submit a survey regarding their experience in the festival. Over the past two years, well more than half of the artists have had positive experiences with the park layout, the amount of sales they have made and the level of help they have received from the event staff.

Speaking as a former resident, I have often wondered what it was that attracted artists to Tremont. Initially, I thought that it was the churches. It’s the first thing that even a casual observer would notice. There are a lot of churches in this neighborhood. It doesn’t even matter which direction you from. I-71, I-90, I-490… All of them have a church within view.

According to “Cleveland on Foot” by Patience Hoskins, there are 25 multi-denominational churches within 1 square mile of this neighborhood. After speaking with Mr. Rosenstein as well as doing some research of my own, I have come to the conclusion that it is the combination of the religious presence of the area as well as the history of Tremont.

Take the site of this weekends festival, Lincoln Park, for example. In 1850, Mrs. Thirsa Pelton originally bought the site with the intention of opening a girl’s school. Unfortunately, she died before the school could be built. As a result, her heirs surrounded the park with a fence and locked the gates.

In response to this action, Tremont residents repeatedly tore the fence down because they felt that this was an area that should be open to the public. Bitter litigation ensued further resulting in the city’s purchase of the park.

The residents celebrated the opening of Pelton Park on July 4, 1880 with a barbecue and additional festivities. It wasn’t until 1896 that the park was renamed Lincoln Park. The history of this community runs deeper than most people, locals included, seem to realize. 

The original settlers of the neighborhood we now know as Tremont hailed from New England. These people were economically better off than most and they were in search of an area outside of downtown Cleveland to build their homes. They settled in Tremont in 1818.

In 1851, these same settlers, through a remarkably nebulous set of circumstances, decided that the area known as present-day Tremont would be the future site of Cleveland University.

Initially, classes began in an off-site location due to the fact that the future of the school depended on said proposed site. It was the intent that this area was to be named University Heights. Hence, the names of the streets like Literary, Professor, College, etc. After a full year of operation resulting in the awarding of 8 degrees, attendance declined rapidly during the fall of 1852.

By 1853, the idea of Cleveland’s first university was abandoned. Supposedly this was the result of a personality clash between members of the board of trustees. 8 years later, the Civil War started. While it’s fairly obvious where the war occurred very few people realize that Cleveland was the site of one of the largest Civil War camps.

In July of 1862, Camp Cleveland was organized and located in the area that is presently known as W. 5th, W. 7th, Railway Avenue and Marquardt Ave. For three years, the camp housed visiting units, confederate prisoners, and served as the training ground for 15,230 officers. The camp closed shortly after the end of the war in August of 1865.

Facts like these seem to be easily kicked to the side when it comes to the rejuvenation of a local area. While it is good on many levels that this sort of rejuvenation happens, people become more concerned about the trend that a local area produces as opposed to the history of that area. There really is no happy balance between the two.

Personally, I think it has to do with the fact that a lot of us had to suffer some very terrible history teachers throughout our formal education. We’ve been conditioned on some level to think that history is boring.

History isn’t boring. It, like everything else in life, is what you make of it. Tremont is a testament to this. With its flourishing restaurant scene, the economical growth that has been stimulated by shopping area known as Steelyard Commons, and its budding art scene, Tremont is well on its way to being a hotbed of Culture in Cleveland.


This was my first article for AltOhio. In it, I wrote up the annual Tremont Arts Festival and delved into the history of Tremont (a neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio). A copy of the original article can be found here. 

The Paramedic

Once upon a time, I was contracted by a private individual to create a piece of flash fiction based on a prompt that they provided. This is that story. A copy of the original can be found here. 


“It was such a simple thing,” the thought disintegrated before it had a chance to take root.

As a paramedic, Ed had seen amazing things and helped a countless number of people. When the call came in Ed didn’t think anything of it. It was a routine car accident and he was familiar with the intersection where it happened. There was one fatality, 2 survivors, and a handful of witnesses. Another day at the office.

As the ambulance sped along, Ed remembered the things his wife had wanted him to get from the grocer’s after his shift. “Borax, milk… Fuck, there was something else,” he grimaced.

The ambulance arrived with little interference from the public. Sometimes people can’t be bothered to get out of the way. The irony wasn’t lost on Ed: some yahoo thinking that their life was more important than the one he was trying to save.

As Ed and his team exited the ambulance, they were briefed by one of the police officers that arrived at the scene first.

“Victim was a __ ___ ___. Witnesses reported that the victim blew through the intersection and t-boned the survivors.”

One of the survivors sat on the curb outside of their now boomeranged shaped car while they watched the other survivor be attended to by the members of Ed’s team. Ed and the officer continued to make their way to the Victim. They stopped in front of the Victim’s car.

The Officer continued while both he and Ed stared at the spider-webbed sea and accordion-ed steel of the car in front of them.

“Checked the car for any controlled substances. Only thing we found was the Vic’s cell phone on the floor of the passenger’s side.”

Ed looked down at the phone in the officer’s gloved hand.

“Such a simple thing…” Ed thought. The Victim had typed the word “I” in the reply field. Ed finished the text for her. “… Love you.” The Officer pushed ‘send’.


Once upon a time, I was contracted by a private individual to create a piece of flash fiction based on a prompt that they provided. This is that story. A copy of the original can be found here.