Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cleveland Ho

In April of 2011 I drove south from New York to the Northern Fork in Virginia. Ms. Carolina was recovering from yet-another battle with cancer. Her husband thought my visit might cheer up the blonde beauty. The Potomac River was cold, but I jumped from their dock into the frigid water.

Coming out of the river Ms. Carolina laughed at my shivering and handed me a towel. Her husband called me a crazy Northerner with a smile.

"You're right about that." My affair with Ms. Carolina ended in 1995 after meeting her husband. We remained friends, but only friends. Charles was a complete gentleman, but had a 38 under the seat of his car. We never spoke about the recent past and I said, "I'm just a crazy Yankee."

"And I'm a crazy Reb."

"That you are."

And we toasted the Great State of Maine and the Army of Northern Virginia. Both our people had fought at the Fredericksburg massacre. General Ambrose Burnside had been insane to assault the rebel fortifications on Marye's Hill. The 20th Maine passed the night behind barricades of dead comrades.

Not all of the Union troops were crazy.

That night we watched the rise of the moon and drank whiskey on the dock. The winter night air was giving way to spring. The bourbon freed out tongues and we spoke about our pasts. Our lives went back many years. We had different beliefs. They didn't really matter tonight.

"Do you believe in God?" asked Charles.

"Not since my best friend died in 1960. He drowned in a lake in Maine. Only eight years old. Hearing how God moved in strange ways answered only one question.

"Which was?"

Ms. Carolina shook her head. She understood my feelings. They were better kept a secret, except I was never good at lying.

"There is no God."

Charles frowned at this assault on his God. I meant it about all gods. Ms. Carolina wasn't happy with my rejection of the Bible and I added, "But I respect your belief in God."

"I never understood how you people, atheists, lost your faith."

"One of those things that just happened."

"That I understand. Care for some more bourbon."

"Let your unconsciousness be my guide."

Throughout the evening I drank enough to feel like a drunk Cary Grant in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

Ms. Carolina laughed at our jokes.

A little after 1 we watched the passage of an orbiting satellite.

"We are not alone." I pointed in the sky.

"And I'm never alone with my lovely wife."

Ten minutes later Ms. Carolina shook me awake and said, "Precious, time for bed."

Charles helped me up the stairs.

"Sweet dreams," wished Ms. Carolina from her bedroom door.

Guided by bourbon I dreamed of old times and a better future.

Some time after midnight I heard someone enter the bedroom and I opened my eyes to a .38

Charles' hand was steady.

He knew everything. I said nothing.

I'm going to miss her."

I nodded in agreement.

"You're not a good man, but you're not a bad man either. Go back to sleep."

I knew better than to argue with an armed man and crashed back into a bourbon coma.

At dawn my wife called from Thailand and asked about Ms. Carolina. She had visited us twice in te Last Babylon.

"Maii dii," I explained Ms. Carolina's condition.

"Kor thot," Nu apologized and said to tell Ms. Carolina that everyone in Ban-Nok was praying for her.

Me too, only not to God.

Later that morning I groggily accompanied Ms. Carolina and Charles to their church, a temple to that Old Time religion, where husband preached the Word of God.

"Never to late to repent."

"Sinners exist to show the good which path not to take."

"That we do."

I didn't step inside the small white church and bid them fare-well. Charles shook my hand.

"Say a prayer for her."

"I will."

Ms. Carolina missed me on the cheek. She smelled of Chanel # 5.

I didn't know it then, but it would be our last.

I drove up the back roads to Washington, stopping to survey the Potomac from Lee's plantation.

It was a broad river and I called Ms. Carolina from atop the high bluff.

Charles answered and said she was resting.

"Thanks for coming down."

"My pleasure. I'll be down in the fall."

"Charles would like that." You take care, precious."

I got in the car and continued north, listening to country-western music on the radio.

I arrived the Capitol slightly before noon.

I conducted a fifteen drive-by of the White House, Washington Monument, and Capitol before calling my nephew Matt. The capitol of America was empty.

Tourists didn't travel in the winter.

I met my nephew Matt and his girlfriend at the National Gallery. She came from Cleveland. Something about them said they were in love and only one thing happens to people like that.

They get married.

That summer I went out to Thailand to see my kids.

Angie was getting tall.

So were Fenway and Noy.

I hated myself for not living with them and their mothers, but there was no money in Thailand for me.

Certainly not in rural Ban-nok and I returned to New York, scheduling on my next trip for after the New Year's.

Nearing October Ms. Carolina called from a Richmond Hospital. Her voice was weak and I asked if she wanted me to come down.

"No, I want you to remember how I was. I know you don't believe in heaven, but we'll each other again."

"I know we will."

In September my father joined my mother in the Here-After.

My best friend in the world was gone, but he didn't go alone.

Right around Thanksgiving Charles called with bad news.

"Barbara's gone."

"No." I had expected to see her again.

"She was a fighter, but had no more fight in her."

"You want me to come down for the funeral?"

"She's already in the ground."

"Sorry about that."

"Me too."

We wished each other good luck and life went on without my father and Barbara.

I went through some bad times.

They lasted longer than necessary.

Not for everyone.

Two summers ago my nephew Matt called to tell the news that he had moved with Kristen to Cleveland.

"Cleveland?" No one on any side of our family had ever lived in Ohio. We were New Englanders.

"It's coming back."

"From the dead." The city on Lake Eire had lost 50% of its population since the 1950s.

"Like Dracula and what about you." Matt had heard of my troubles from my sister.

"Not bad. I'm working in a metal shop six days a week."

"That must be tough at your age."

"Yeah, but it won't kill me." It was tough work for a man of 61, but my kids were getting older. "Good luck in Cleveland."

"Thanks."

Matt and I spoke regularly.

I knew him all his life.

He liked Cleveland and loved Kristen.

I was happy for them.

Two winters I received the phone call from Matt. What he had to say came as no surprise.

"We're getting married and I need to get a diamond engagement ring. Something over one-carat in a platinum halo setting."

"Your wish is my command and congratulations."

I had worked in the diamond industry and arranged the purchase of a diamond to be set in the platinum mounting of Kristin's desire. She was happy and the only better than making a woman happy was making her happier.

I figured that the ring would buy him two years.

I was wrong and Matt called this Spring to say, "Kristin and I are getting married on Halloween."

"This Halloween? What's the theme?"

"Tuxedos. No costumes. Only masks."

"Only masks? No way."

At the age of five I had fallen off my next-door neighbor's stairs wearing a Halloween skull and learned not to ever wear a mask again for any reason. "I'll wear my tuxedo. Only one problem. It was in Luxembourg at the British Residence."

"I'm sure you'll find a way to get it."

"Me too. By the way congratulations."

I really meant it.

I had worn the monkey suit to the RAF ball and danced with the ambassador. We had a good night.

The next day I phoned the ambassador to have her send my tux over to New York.

"No way." Alice was a longtime friend. "You come over and get it. I'm leaving the embassy for Africa in the New Year."

"Okay." October was six months away from April.

Like Matt said I would find a way.

April turned to May. I visited my big family in Thailand. I wished I could have stayed. I loved being with my children and wives, but I needed money to support them and there was none to be had in the Land of Smiles.

Summer came fast. I went to the beach.

Matt called in late July to ask another favor.

"I need you to become an online minister to sign the marriage documents for the state of Ohio."

"Aren't you getting married by a priest?" His fiancee was Catholic by baptism.

"No." Matt had been raised by my sister. She was a devote Old Religionist, but understood his apostasy. There were more than one atheist in our family.

"As long as I can give a sermon."

"No sermon."

My mother always wanted me to be a priest. My apostasy had hurt her and this was my chance to make her happy in heaven. Not that I believe in the place.

"Not even on the sanctity of marriage."

""Weren't you involved with a married woman?"

"Yes."

He was talking about Ms. Carolina.

"He who commits adultery lacks sense."

"Proverbs 6:32-35." I hadn't been an atheist all my life.

"No sermon."

"Okay." I accepted his condition and wondered how I was going to get my tuxedo at the British Residency in Luxembourg.

I had no money for a flight and checked the online prices for a rented tux.

Powdered blue polyester cost $49.99 and it could second as a Halloween costume.

Sadly I wasn't able to exercise that option.

My bad luck ran worse.

My boss closed her jewelry store in mid-September. I was hoping to last until Xmas. She didn't pay my salary or commissions, which was a really uncool thing to do to a father of five kids, however the rich are well-known for their shabby treatment of the poor and almost everyone in New York was poor now, except for the rich.

Thankfully a wealthy business associate needed to meet an artist in London. I knew Dave Tidball well. His paintings was accelerating into high orbit of the art world. My price for arranging a secondary-market purchase was 1% of the sale, plus an all-expenses paid trip to the Continent.

The ambassador was happy to see me.

She was sad to see me go.

I was too.

Luxembourg was a comfortable city.

London was fun.

I saw my friends.

Tidball asked about Ms. Carolina. They had met in New York and he had stayed at her river house on the Potomac.

"She's gone four years now."

"Sorry to hear that. She was a good lady."

"That she was."

I told Tidball about my well-heeled friend wanting a painting.

He wasn't willing to sell his paintings behind his dealer's back and my business associate was disappointed by this refusal. He left London without saying good-bye. Rich people are like that. Right before I left for Heathrow, Tidball gave me a drawing.

"Don't sell it. It might be worth a lot one day."

I wanted to stay, but I had to get back to the States.

My tux still fit and my nephew expected me in Cleveland within two weeks.

Back in New York my nephew called about the rings.

I said that I was picking them up in the Diamond District the next day.

I didn't know how since I still owed $300 for them.

Not having a job was becoming a drag.

I showed Tidball's drawing to my business associate.

He knew my situation and lowballed an offer.

"Sold."

I had rent to pay in Brooklyn and feed in Thailand.

I had enough to pay for the rings and booked a hotel in Cleveland through my business associate for $50 a night.

That week my nephew called from the West.

"I need you there Friday night."

"I'll be there."

"How you getting here?"

"Not sure yet."

"The Sotnicks are driving from New Jersey."

"Alan and Barbara?" I had not seen the couple in years. They were best friends with my sister and her husband.

"Yes, give them a call. I'll text you the number."

He did so and I called them a few minutes later expecting them not to remember me. Barbara answered the phone. She was happy to hear from me and offered to drive me to Cleveland.

"Alan will do all the driving."

"Great." My sister had one time said Alan drove fast.

We made plans to meet in Northern New Jersey. I would sleep at their house and we'd leave early Friday morning. It was a seven-hour drive. I was going to the Sixth City.

I had been there once in 1972. My friend's family had owned a junkyard by the Cuyahoga River, which had infamously burned in 1969. We had drank at the Harbor Inn. I recalled someone pulling out a shotgun. He had shot at someone. We left the bar the following second and I departed from Cleveland in the morning.

I wracked my brain for memorable events in Cleveland.

The great Jim Brown played nine record-breaking seasons for the Browns from from 1957 to 1965. The bruising fullback had told a college football coach, "Make sure when anyone tackles you he remembers how much it hurts."

Cleveland loved him, because Cleveland is that kind of town.

On June 4, 1974 the Cleveland Indians staged a dime beer night to get fans into the stadium for a game versus the Texas Rangers. The crowd drank to their hearts' delight and then spurred on by an eighth inning brawl and a fan's attempt top steal the first baseman's hat the hometown attendees stormed onto the field in the ninth inning in the thousands.

NBC newscaster Tim Russert, then a student at the Cleveland–Marshall College of Law, attended the game. "I went with $2 in my pocket. You do the math."

Lastly the Dead Boys were from Cleveland. They were a mainstay at CBGBs. I loved them, because like Devo and Pere Ubu they would never be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I consider that omission a badge of honor for the Young, Loud and Snotty.

Otherwise I drew a blank, which didn't matter.

I was going to Cleveland no matter what.

An actor friend called that week. He was making a film in Cleveland. Bill and I went back to the East Village. We arranged to meet in Cleveland. A wedding and a dinner with Old Bill made Cleveland sound like fun.

Thursday I packed my tux into a bag and caught a 4:16 train to Ridgewood NJ from Penn Station. It was a glorious Indian Summer afternoon to travel through the Meadowlands, even knowing that by 2050 most of marshlands would be underwater.

Except for Snake Hill.

The igneous rock intrusion had been the home the Hudson County's infamous Lunatic Asylum from 1873 - 1939. I hated institutions like that, having grown up across the inlet from Portland's notorious School for the Deaf. Bad things happened in these places and I was glad to be away from it, until the train pulled into Newark.

I had missed the train connection at Secaucus Junction.

Newark was filled with commuters heading home.

None of them knew which way was New York City.

I wanted to get out of there fast.

The next train to Secaucus came ten minutes later.

Snake Hill hadn't moved in my absence and I remembered that Ms. Carolina was from New Jersey.

She was Yankee same as me.

Four years had passed since her passing.

I thought of her often.

Secaucus Junction was in the middle of nowhere.

Ridgewood was 30 minutes away.

The sun set before I got there.

Night came came fast this time of year.

Alan picked me up at the station.

"Long time no see."

"About thirty years?"

I had taken Alan and my brother-in-law into Manhattan for a night on the town.

Back then I had been someone.

"That long?"

"I think so."

During the ride to their house I recounted the tale of my life; nightclubs around the world, selling diamonds in the Diamond District, having a family in Thailand. I said nothing of my years with Ms. Carolina.

"Sounds like quite a life."

"Some of it, yes."

I liked the quiet life now and the Jersey suburbs were very quiet.

That night Alan's wife cooked a chicken dinner washed down by a good Pinot Grigio. Afterwards we watched the Patriots play the Miami Dolphins of Thursday Night Football. The couple retired to bed at the end of the 3rd quarter.

"We're off early in the morning." Alan figured on a 8AM departure.

"I'll be ready."

Once they went to bed, I finished off the bottle of wine and cheered silently as the Patriots remained undefeated for the season.

The next morning we set off at 8am in Alan's Jaguar. The rear seat was comfortable. We stopped briefly at Dunkin' Donuts before heading west on I-80 toward the Delaware Water Gap.

My sister hadn't lied about Alan. No cars passed his Jaguar, as we wound through the steep-walled chasm. I wished we could stop to admire the autumn vista, but Cleveland was six hours away and we crossed the Delaware River without losing speed.

I-80 spanned almost 500 miles across Northern Pennsylvania. Barbara controlled the radio dial. The station played Bon Jovi more than once. I spotted an exit for the Poconos and a billboard for a well-known hotel.

"We once stayed at Mount Aerie Lodge."

"The motel for lovers." New York City TV had run a famous ad promoting the resort throughout the 1980s. The motel for lovers specialized in erotic baths and beds for adulterers. Alan and Barbara were not that type. "How were the rooms?"

"Sordid. We spent about thirty minutes there."

"That long."

"An eternity." Suburban women liked clean.

"Yes, the beauty of the Mount Aerie Lodge." I liked clean too.

A hundred miles on Williamsport lay to the north. The Little League World Series was played there each year. There was no stopping there. 80 mph was a traveling speed, but not fast enough to get through the rural expanse of the Pennsylvania Wilds. There were no towns.

Only exits.

We joked about Jersey Shore.

This stretch of highway was the center of the West Branch Susquehanna River Valley The town lay over the ridge from the Interstate, since the highway's engineers had routed the road to avoid population centers, lending the early afternoon a special desolation. We could have been nowhere and Cleveland was still another four hours

The trees of the hillsides were losing their color.

Back in Thailand the monsoon had ended and the dry season was in full swing. I told Barbara about my family and how I missed them every day. The children and both my wives. Barbara asked, "How can you have two wives? A mistake?"

"Some might say, but then mistakes are the only proof of true free will."

Ms. Carolina could have been my third wife, because leaving her husband would have been worst than a mistake.

"Men," said Barbara.

"I'm not really an adulterer, but my great-great-great-great-granduncle had been Joseph Smith, the leader of the Mormons. So bigamy is a tradition for the Vermont side of the family." We were from Maine.

"Yeah, right." Married women had no time for adulterers.

Alan was smart and said nothing. I recognized his wisdom and stopped trying to explain myself.

It was a losing effort, because women are always right.

Thirty minutes later we made a pitstop at a gas station. It was the halfway mark between New Jersey and Cleveland. Barbara and I went inside thee mini-mart, which sold cheap sandwiches. The people paying for gas were fat. This was their only source of food outside the home.

This was civilization in the Wilds.

People living here spent their lives here.

I was cursed by the road to wander and stepped off the asphalt onto the dirt.

The withered undergrowth was hibernating in preparation for winter.

I took a photo.

Alan beeped the horn. Barbara shouted, "Let's go."

Cleveland was getting closer.

Alan was familiar with this road. He had attended Hiram College.

"James Garfield had been the head master there."

"Ohio born if I remember correctly."

"From the Western Reserve. This had once been the wilderness then."

"Still is as far as I can see, " commented Barbara, as she fiddled with the radio to find another station from the next and only big town in Northwest Pa.

Dubois.

"How many times you make this trip?"

"Probably twenty or thirty times in four years.

"I paid my tuition by booking bands and even George Carlin.

"George Carlin?" The comedian was my hero. "If you can't beat them, arrange to have them beaten."

"Spoken like a true son of Ireland, but I prefer 'Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"

"You've spent too long on the Jersey highways."

"That was the truth." Alan had been retired for several years. I couldn't stop working until I was 75. Another twelve years into the future.

I dozed off for a few hours and woke in rolling farmland, as we neared Kent State.

"Four dead in Ohio."

"Over thirty-five years ago."

"Not many people remember that day." Governor James Rhodes ordered in the National Guard. The raw troops shot into the crowd of students protesting the invasion of Cambodia.

"It was a long time ago."

"And only yesterday for us."

The fatal fusillade shocked a nation and turned the country against the Viet-Nam War.

Our destination was getting close now. Cleveland had top billing on the road signs.

"Another twenty minutes. We'll drop you at your hotel." Alan and Barbara were going to see friends.

"Thanks for the ride. I can't wait until we do it again."

"On Sunday," Barbara groaned. She hated driving long distances and I couldn't blame her after six hours of traversing the withered wastelands of the Wilds.

I spotted the city in the gloomy distance. There was no more summer left in the Midwest.

"It's bigger than I remembered."

"Cleveland had a population of 750,000 in the 1970s."

"And now?" The Forest City had suffered a large depopulation of white flight like most cities of the Rust Belt.

"A little under 400,000, but I've heard it's experiencing a revival."

"My nephew said the same thing."

"We'll find out soon enough."

The hotel was first-class. My room was more than adequate. I called my nephew.

"The rehearsal dinner will be at 5." He gave me an address for an upscale brewery on the other side of the Cuyahoga River. I looked at a map. It was a walking distance, but I had some time to kill and threw on my suit. I hadn't seen this side of Lake Erie since 1974.

The center of town consisted of empty parking lots for suburban commuters and newly-built luxury condos for young tech workers. The only people on the street were homeless. Most of them were black. None of this added up to a revival.

But the city had a history. The Rockefellers had made money here.

The temperature was cooler than New York with a slight threat of rain.

Few cars were on the street, because the cities of America were no longer destinations for a family weekend.

I wandered down to the Cuyahoga River. A tram line traveled between the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the outskirts of the city.

Cleveland had won the museum over Memphis, since WJW disc jockey Alan Freed had coined the phrase 'rock and roll'.

Chuck Berry was the first inductee in 1986.

Many other stars followed him, but in 2006 the surviving members of the Sex Pistols rejected the honor of being inducted into the 'piss stain'.

I had not come to Cleveland to pay to see rock mementos, unless they were from the Dead Boys, and walked along the river.

No one was here.

Not on the sidewalks.

Nor before the maritime store.

Or under the I80 Viaduct.

I admired the solitude of the walk and the light of the sun in the late autumn sky.

The beauty was mine and mine alone, but cities are cities not because of their ruins, but their people and I sought the company of homo sapiens.

They had to be someplace.

I found them at the Portside across the street from Browns Stadium.

The bartender was friendly.

So were three Browns fans, although they gave me the finger after learning I was a New Englander.

"Tom Brady sucks."

"Not really. The Patriots had won three Superbowls with # 12 and answer me this. Who's your quarterback?" I asked knowing that the Cleveland front office had drafted the 2014 Heisman Trophy Winner Johnny Manziel # 1.

They looked at each other with disgust and the youngest cursed, "Johnny Fuckin' Football. We suck even more than Brady."

"He doesn't suck. Brady's married to Giselle," said one of his friends and they each bought a round to toast Browns, the Cavs, and the defunct NHL Barons.

"They used to be the Oakland Seals."

"They were losers too."

To avoid any trouble I raised my glass and said, "Here's to the greatest band from Cleveland. The Dead Boys."

"Who were they? asked the young bartender. She had rock tattoos.

"A punk band from here. Sort of founded punk in the USA." Not everyone on that scene agreed with me, especially snotty hardcore fans.

"Never heard of them."

"Us neither. Are they in the Hall of Fame?"

"Not a chance. You haven't heard Sonic Reducer?" It was their best song.

"Nope."

I repeated the question to the other seven drinkers at the Portside.

Seven nopes.

I rejoined my beer and asked the Browns fan,"Then who's the best band ever from Cleveland?"

"That's easy. The James Gang."

"Fuck that, they were just a bar band."

I paid my tab and exited from the Portside. It was time to get ready from the rehearsal dinner.

The sun was almost down as I left the hotel and headed to the Flats.

The light was boreal gold off the Lake Eire.

The Cuyahoga River mirrored the evening sky.

The other side of the river was devoid of life.

No cars sped on Columbus Road.

No people either.

No one was in Hart Crane Park. The poet had been lost at sea after a drunken beating by sailor offended by his homosexual advances. Some said suicide and others say the crew threw Crane off the Orizaba.

I remembered one line from THE REPOSE OF BUILDINGS and roughly recited, "I could never remember that seething, steady leveling of the marshes till age had brought me to the sea.

Lost at sea indeed and I wondered if anyone was in Cleveland.

Population zero in Ohio City.

This was how the world would look seven days after the death of the human race, except Cleveland and many of its Midwestern sister cities had been deserted by the whites after the Hough Street Riots, which I remembered watching on black-and-white TV in 1968.

On July 17 The Jewish-Mafia proprietor of the Seventy-Niner's Café refused a black man any ice to accompany his bottle of whiskey and posted a sign 'No water for niggers'. A crowd chucked rocks at the bar. The owners phoned the cops. The police ignored the call and the Afro-American residents of Hough Street began looting the white-owned stores. Snipers shot at the cops. A lot of men had returned from Vietnam with arms. Molotov cocktails lit up houses and stores. A thunderstorm stopped the rampage at midnight.

Even though all the bars in Hough were closed, more rioting erupted the following night. The National Guard patrolled the streets with heavy weapons. The insurrection against White Rule continued until July 22.

The police blamed everything on Black nationalists.

The nation's newspaper ran the same storyline.

No one accused Abe Feigenbaum, the owner of the Seventy-Niner's Café of anything, because racism isn't a crime in America.

And like that Cleveland became a ghost town, but not for the Dead Boys or those that remained behind the whites fleeing to the fucking suburbs, making Cleveland the perfect setting for a Halloween wedding.

Thankfully people were loading up on food at the restored marketplace.

Clevelanders liked eating judging from the weight of the shoppers.

Most were XXL. More than a few were XXXL. I was feeling thin and wandered past the fish stalls, heading to a beer brewery.

The man of the hour was at the door.

Matt was dressed in his finery.

He gave me a hug.

"Thanks for coming, Bubba."

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world, besides I'm the online minister."

"Errr, yeah."

I didn't like the way he said that, but I instead said, "Just one thing. I walked over here and didn't see a single soul or a car."

"That part of Cleveland is always deserted. Like the zombies ate everyone."

"I thought the same."

"Anyone in a Halloween outfit?"

"No one."

"Not even Uncle Padraic."

""Nope." More people arrived at the entrance. Matt turned to them and said, "Go get yourself a drink. There's lots of old and new faces."

My younger brother's kids; Eric and Andrea.

Padraic greeted me with a brotherly embrace. I hadn't seen him since the previous winter in New York.He was still working the the phone company in Boston. Retirement was only another two years away. I would be working into my 70s.

"Where's your costume?"

"I was coming as Bill Bellichek, but my wife said no Halloween outfits."

"I was told the same thing."

"But I did bring fireworks." Pyromania ran in my family.

"They'll come in handy after the reception."

"Or during it," Padraic was adventurous in a time of unpeopled cities and I asked, "Do you remember the Dead Boys from CBGBs?" "I remember seeing the Ramones with you, but no Dead Boys."

Padraic was a recovering alcoholic, but said, "Go have a few drinks for me."

I found my older brother Frunk at the bar. He ordered us beers.

"Good to see you."

"Good to see all of us." We clinked glasses.

In a big family not everyone is talking everyone all the time.

I wish Mom and Dad were here."

And Michael too." My brother had succumbed to AIDS a year before my mother.

"They liked a good wedding, but you'd have to drive him here. Dad would have been 94."

"And Mom 88."

And both of us are in our sixties."

"How we get so old. Seems like only yesterday we were Halloweening in Maine.

"What about the time you dressed up as John Glenn and fell off the neighbors' steps."

"Yeah, for some reason I thought it was cool to wear sunglasses under the helmet. I couldn't see anything."

"You really hit the ground hard."

I can almost feel it now." My mouth had filled with a metal taste, as I tried to regain my breath."

"It was a good crash landing."

"Any are as long as you can walk away from them."

I later switched to vodka and tonic.

I was getting drunk.

After the bride and bridesmaids lined up for photos my sister thanked everyone for coming. A bus was taking everyone to their hotels. I didn't want to be with the crowd and got on the trolley to the Tower City.

A few people strolled through the terminal. Most were heading for the casino. Having lost a thousand dollars driving across Nevada in the Spring of 1974, I had no desire to play blackjack or throw away my money on the slot machines. Reno murdered me.

My hotel room was comfortable.

My hangover demanded sleeping off the day.

My burner rang on the night table.

It was Bill. His first scene was not until the evening and he invited me to a vegan brunch.

Thought you could use some food."

We had been friends for decades.

"You got that right. I'll meet you in thirty minutes."

I had been hoping for bacon and eggs. The vegan restaurant probably had tofu bacon on the menu. I showered and dressed in ten minutes.

Bill waited in an alley. He was spitting for distance. He smiled and said, "My character, an armed robber has a spitting contest with a drug dealer.""I challenge you." I had beeb brought up chucking louies.

Bill launched a lungie.

It looked like a spitball hit by David Ortiz.

Mine barely made the opposite wall."

"Practice, practice, practice."

Bill was very dedicated to his craft.

"Let's go eat."

The meal was healthy and we spoke about our lives, the new movie, my writing, and Cleveland.

"It's a little grim, especially out in the black neighborhoods."

"Like Hough Street," I explained about the riots, then looked across the street. The open space was dominated by a Civil War memorial. Over 7000 Ohioans died in the War to Free the Slaves or the Civil War and uniformed Civil War recreators were offering visitors a tour through the substructure.

"You mind if we take a look."

"I got time." Bill didn't have to be on location for another two hour. "But if it gets a little close, you know, like people all around me, say it's time to go. But nicely.

"You've got it."

Bill 's fans tend to be cool, although I'm always surprised to hear what films they like the best.

We crossed the street to discover that the tour was highlighting the haunted aspects of the memorial. People recognized Bill. The guides treated as a star and he treated them with his smile in the dark crypts. None of us saw a ghost. Bill stood for a few photos and signed several autographs. He treated his fans good.

We walked over to the Cleveland Mall, stopping at a plaque inscribed with the opening of the Gettysburg Address. I asked if Bill could recite it. He glanced at the plaque and spoke Lincoln's words.

"Four score and twenty years ago..."

"Important words." Bill looked at his watch.

"I got to go." His shoot was for 1pm

I had to get dressed for the wedding.

We both had someplace to go, but walked across the broad mall toward the lake.

I turned around and said, "There's no one here. This is a haunted city."

"Haunted by what?"

"Depopulation."

"Same as most cities across the Midwest."

"Like the zombies had eaten everyone."

"But maybe they'll come to Cleveland and figure out no one is here and move onto Detroit."

"They'd starve in Detroit too."

At least Cleveland had a shot at survival.

To the left was Browns Stadium. Bill was a Packet fan and said, "I'm going to the game on Sunday."

The Browns are all this city has."

We could not see the other side of the lake, but directly north was Ontario and I told Bill,"I've driven through that part of Canada. All farms and flat plains."

"It'd be the same here, if it was for Cleveland." The lack of people was disconcerting, but I liked the desolation.

"Another fifty years and it might be that way again."

"We won't be there."

"Maybe not you, but my family lives long."

"My aunt Bert lived to 103."

"You think you'll make it that far."

We were both in good shape."

"I'll tell you when I get there." Some mornings I felt a thousand.

Today wasn't one of them and we said good-bye. Bill gave me a hug. He was a good friend. There was no telling where we next would meet. Probably New York. We both lived there and I had been stuck in Brooklyn for over a year.

My mother believed in tuxedos at weddings. Mine fits fine. I left the hotel headed for the wedding site by the river.

A tree blazed red.

No one was under the bridge.

Nor along the Cuyahoga River.

I had thirty minutes to kill and had a drink.

I chose the Harbor Bar.

It was a dive.

An old man tended the bar.

The three customers drank boilermakers.

They stared at my tuxedo and I shrugged ordering a Jamison.

"A wedding?" asked the bartender.

"My nephew at the aquarium. We're from Boston."

The drinkers mutter about the Patriots.

Football teams define the cities of the Mideast.

The Browns have never been to a Super Bowl.

I let them have their say.

The Patriots had beaten Seattle Seahawks less than a year ago.

I toss down my whiskey and continued to the wedding.

It was not far away from the Harbor Bar.

The shadow of a steel bridge lays the path.

I spotted the wedding party along the river.

His fiancee was the goddess of Cleveland.

Matt waited at the entrance. He beamed with happiness. This will be his day forever. I wished him the best and he says, "Sorry you're not saying the vows."

"I understand." Uncle Steve was a state judge and I was an atheist.

I have a problem with the word 'God'.

"You have my blessing."

Alan and my brother-in-law are having a good time.

And why not?

This was his only son's wedding.

We gathered in the assembly hall of the Aquarium.

Matt and Kristen exchanged vows.

I couldn't have been happier for them, even though I wasn't the official celebrant.

In silence I said my prayers to the universe.

It was time to celebrate.

All my families were in attendance.

The young and old.

I don't remember what we ate for dinner.

I was drinking gin-tonics.

Fast.

We went from table to table, regaling the listeners with stories of Matthew.

We were family.

Kristen and Matt cut the cake.

Kristen and Matt had their dance.

It wasn't to SONIC REDUCER.

A slow dance.

They made a beautiful couple.

Kristen's father showed his style.

The band took the stage.

The young hit the dance floor.

They danced to their favorite hits.

I knew few of them

And stayed off the dance floor, remembering Chris Rock's old warning about being the oldest man in the disco.

Doctor Doom appears.

It's officially Halloween.

It's a night for the young.

Things get fuzzy.

For everyone.

We had a glow.

And that glow was happiness.

Even if I ended up at a fire pit party with Doctor Doom and sexy zombies, but that's another story for another day.

In Cleveland or anywhere else in the world.

Forever, because Cleveland spells love to those in love.

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