“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” —Tennesee Williams
Dear Tennessee Williams:
I understand you were a cosmopolitan fellow and a well-heeled traveler to boot. But why do you have to go dogging Cleveland, my dude? According to you, vis-a-vis the internet (ever the font of truth and perfect attribution), there are only three American cities: The Big Apple, The Big Easy, and San Fran. “Everywhere else is Cleveland,” so says the Tennessee Williams quotation.
Puzzling how a playwright of your caliber did not qualify that bit about Cleveland. Did you mean everywhere else lacked uniqueness? Because Cleveland is nothing if not unique. Have you ever BEEN to Cleveland’s own franchise, the Harry Buffalo Saloon? It’s uniquely terrible. It’s the only place you can order a glass of water and be given an ashtray. The aesthetic is that of a molding heel of bread. Where else can you spar with a racist over the erstwhile Chief Wahoo logo while shotgunning a Great Lakes Brewing Company Christmas Ale that tastes like an actual pine tree was stuffed down a beer bottle? I’m sure you never crossed paths with Cleveland’s own Michael Symon but if you had, you would have been changing “Stella” to “Lola,” straight up.
Or perhaps when you allegedly said “Everywhere else is Cleveland,” you were referring to the pervasive mentality of a place. I can assure you, though, that you could search the world over for a population as obsessed with the fearsome possibility of parking scarcity, only to discover this obsession is endemic to Cleveland on a level unparalleled (pun intended). Streetcar Named Desire? Try a bigass parking spot named Now Gimme That, Buddy. Have you ever heard the expression “tree lawn”? No? That’s because Cleveland invented it. Because Clevelanders would become so panicked about not being able to find a parking spot, that they needed to designate the short strip of grass abutting the sidewalk as only for trees, not cars. If you’ve spent a day in Cleveland and not talked about parking, perhaps you were in Cleveland, Tennessee. You of the nom de plume Tennessee should know.
How, praytell, when you uttered this snobbish dismissal of Cleveland, did you even pronounce Cleveland? Did you clench your jaw to make that gorgeously nasal, Great Lakes long “e” sound go for a full bar? I fear you probably did it all wrong. New York doesn’t get it. San Fran? Nope. Your beloved New Orleans? Get out of here. Cleveland! Named after Moses Cleveland! Respect the pride of Lake Erie or be tossed into the Cuyahoga River that last caught fire 50+ years ago but by all means let’s trot that joke out once more since it happens everywhere, right, Tenn?
I don’t understand how a man of your talents and ambitions, who penned the words, “I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic!” could be so reductive about a city whose weather system is pure sorcery. Cleveland has managed to install a gray lid above its wide expanse along the armpit of Ohio, lifting it only several times a year like the roof of the Astrodome. Clevelanders bend actual time on an annual basis. Whereas the rest of the world is subjected to just 31 days of the month of January, Cleveland manages to add another 97 days to that every year.
Don’t even get me started on the arts and culture of this rare Midwestern jewel. Show me another city that fetes rock n’ roll like the one and only Cleveland, and I will ask you: did they validate your parking like they did at the House that Rock—and Cleveland—Built? Exactly how much did you pay for parking?
Remember in The Glass Menagerie when Jim knocks over Laura’s unicorn figurine and breaks off the horn? Well, in this scenario, you are Jim. The unicorn is Cleveland. You may have broken off her horn, but Cleveland? She’s still a goddamn unicorn. Make sure you pronounced all that with the longest, most nasal vowels your jaw can manage.
A Clevelander to Death,
Kendra Stanton Lee