I was curious about the crime statistics for Cleveland Heights. The FBI keeps these numbers in its Unified Crime Report and they may be found on its website. But I was interested in a more personal, on-the-ground exchange in Cleveland Heights.
A Heights Observer
I know it’s not a good idea to laugh at your children. But the first time my husband and I took our then five-year-old son skating, his feet were flying out from under him in so many different directions, and at such a clip, that we—holding his hands on either side—could not stop laughing.
When we stopped to rest, we asked him how he was doing and he looked up at us with a euphoric expression. "Great!!" he said. He was having the best time. Such is the lure of the ice.
I was reminded of that day while watching the free skate at the Cleveland Heights Recreation Department’s ice rink.
The holidays are a great time to show our support for the men and women in our armed forces. Mister Brisket is asking Heights families to help in sending all-beef salamis to those serving our country.
All salamis are dried prior to shipping and sent with Cleveland’s own Stadium Mustard. Each will have a note of support from the contributor. Donors will be e-mailed when their salami has shipped and told where it has been sent.
We’re in the food season, I mean the holiday season, so my thoughts have turned to Mister Brisket. I have been doing business with him for 20 years. In fact, some of my most in-depth conversations about world politics and life have been with him when I’m ordering a “side of chicken.”
Right now I’m in the market for a turkey. So I went to see him in his lair, a storefront on Taylor Road near Cedar.
Not long ago, Peggy Spaeth, Heights Arts executive director, was at a meeting on the south side of Cedar Center facing the vacant space that one day is to be a new shopping center.
"This looks like Dresden after the war," she said. "It’s the apocalypse! Why don’t we do something!"
She held her head and shielded her eyes as if she were reliving the vision of that dreadful sight.
For someone like Spaeth, with an acute visual aesthetic, it was an affront. She was impelled to change it.
We’ve had the women’s movement, the mommy wars, the mommy track, the splash of infant brain research and even the Baby Einstein products.
But none address this constant: What’s a parent or caregiver to do at 4 p.m. when, alone again, one child is pitching a tantrum on the kitchen floor and the baby is shrieking in his crib upstairs?
In the American ethos, raising children has always been a private affair--in the family, maybe extended family. Somehow you would simply know how. Meanwhile, those to learn from have faded away. Grandparents and other family are often not around. Neighborhoods, strangely, can be isolating places. Family and community have shredded.
I am in awe of Dan Chaon’s best-selling novel Await Your Reply—the complexity of the plot, his mastery of suspense, and a darkness he dwells in that speaks to modern life. For me, the book is larger than life.
Yet, across the table at Phoenix on Lee, having a cup of coffee and sharing a cookie, he is warm and smiling, an easy-to-talk-to, for-real kind of guy, with blue eyes and a boyish face. He laughs a lot and insists he’s a "pretty optimistic, upbeat person."
I’ve taken Lee Road going north at least a few thousand times on my way to almost everywhere. This day, as always, I try to peer into the garden at the Fairfax school, long a curiosity. Most gardens are hidden away; this one is out in the open on a busy road. In midsummer, like a sentinel, a single sunflower towers above all else, beckoning. Today, I answer its call.
It’s hot and breezy. School’s out. Two kids meander on a bicycle and teens play basketball.
I meet the barefoot garden manager, Samantha Provencio, and her two children who are joyously spraying themselves and each other with the hose.
Jacqueline Edelberg came to town to talk about innovation—a key word in education—but she actually put forth a surprisingly retro idea: the neighborhood school.
'Edelberg, with school principal Susan Kurland, wrote a book about their experience with a Chicago public elementary school. Theirs is a story about the energy and creativity that is unleashed when moms, whose bonds were forged on the play lot, connect with strong, capable school leadership.
When a group of women get together, pull out their knitting needles and begin working them, it’s likely that something more than what is on the needles will take shape.
If they are sitting in anything resembling a circle, a certain kind of intimacy and conversation will emerge. As that rhythmic wrapping of yarn gets underway, arms reaching up in the air every so often to unwind more, no subject, at least in my experience, is off limits; parents, children, work, men, news—and more. So it was at the knitting circle at Noble Neighborhood Library on a recent Thursday evening.
Driving the attractive residential streets in Noble, around Lee Road, or any Cleveland Heights neighborhood for that matter, is somewhat deceptive.
You see a sprinkling of signs: For Sale - New Price - Reduced Price - Sale by Owner, and some houses, if you look closely, are empty. But if you look at a map with dots of houses in foreclosure, it seems more like a pretty bad case of the chicken pox.
From 2006 through 2009, foreclosures proceeded steadily and briskly. According to the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and Case Western Reserve University’s Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, 2,203 Cleveland Heights homeowners have lost their houses. That’s about 550 a year or one and a half per day--for four years.
Around 10 a.m. one weekday, I sat at Starbucks on Cedar Road, taking the first sip of my ‘tall.’Expecting to be enveloped by a warm coffee shop buzz, it took me a few minutes to get my bearings. It was so quiet, so study-hall quiet.
Sunday mornings at On the Rise bakery, most people know what they want. They have it down, they operate in here like some sticky-bun-seeking-device.
“I’ll take a baguette, a brownie and a chocolate chip.”
“I’ll take two scones and a cinnamon swirl loaf.”
You see a lot of this ‘now and later’ phenomenon. The croissant is for now, the organic multigrain, later.
Others less familiar inhale and gaze when they come in, dazed and intoxicated by what they see and smell. It is, after all, to enter an alternate universe, the luscious and magical way these bakers have of combining butter, sugar, flour, leavening and whatever else that fills the air with a seductive aroma.