You’ll never guess where this sunny, sandy shore is.

The water was warm and calm. The sun gleamed off the surface. It was early in the morning. Mrs. Wife and I had the entire beach to ourselves. It was a nice, quiet hour. But we weren’t on the New Jersey shore, as you might suspect. This, believe it or not, was Lake Erie. (Huntington Beach, to be specific.)

For the uninitiated, thanks to Cleveland’s heavy industry, Lake Erie spent decades as a feted, polluted mess. At one time, the Cuyahoga River, which feeds into Lake Erie at downtown Cleveland, was so rank that the waste floating on the surface ignited and caught fire. To this day, Cleveland has never been able to shake the “river that burned” albatross around its neck.

When I grew up here [mumble-mumble] years ago, spending the morning strolling along the shore of Lake Erie was unthinkable. It was that bad. Thanks to a fed up community and a government that had a shred of dignity, things were cleaned up. Mrs. Wife and I took our shoes off and waded in the water. Here I am knee-deep in Lake Erie. Look how clear it is! This is pretty mind-blowing stuff to people like myself who grew up here.

An astonishing turn of events. And people complain about government regulation. Do you suppose this ever would have happened if it hadn’t been legislated?

* * *

My brother and I broke away from the family festivities to take a drive around the near West Side where our family roots are buried. We went by the alcohol treatment center at St. Malachi on W. 25th and Detroit where our step father, and many like him, got through the DTs.

This is St. Michael the Archangel Church on Scranton Road. It was built by German and Polish immigrants in the 1800s. My mother went to its school and was married there. My sister was married there. Now, it’s a predominantly Latino parish.

A few blocks away is Buhrer Avenue, where my mother, three uncles, grandmother and grandfather lived. Six people lived in this modest house. It’s a lot smaller inside than it looks! We drove by slowly, like we were casing the place out, and I had sudden rush of memories. I dropped my grandfather’s gold pocket watch down a crack in a window sill and it fell into the house’s foundation. It’s probably still there. He never got angry about it. My grandfather, a gardener, showed me how grasshoppers spit.

The neighborhood looked better than I thought it would. I assumed, because I buy into racial stereotypes without realizing it, that the houses would be a wreck. But they were fairly well maintained.

* * *

They closed one block of East 9th Street for a film shoot. Nobody shoots in Cleveland! East 9th Street is THE major north/south thoroughfare that runs through the center of downtown, and it’s a major disruption, but this is for the big Marvel Comics flagship movie The Avengers, due out next spring.

In it, Ironman, The Hulk, Sgt. Fury, Thor and Captain America team up to fight..I don’t know who. Maybe the Republican presidential candidates. Cleveland was remade to look like New York City. I can’t get away from that place!

A crushed NYC taxi cab.

Someone said this scene involves a fight with The Hulk and Sgt. Fury. Nobody could confirm. Samuel L. Jackson was in town. He was spotted at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

The most unsettling special effect was NOT the fake destruction or false fronts built onto the surrounding buildings. The most unsettling effect was seeing a lot of NYPD cruisers on East 9th Street in Cleveland. Very confusing.

I’m a sell out / Nasty

I’ve been away from reading/commenting on blogs because last week some nice guy out in L.A. bought a copy of the Thunder Road chapbook I made and was so smitten with the book and the story behind it, that he did a great write-up for, the all-Bruce Springsteen, all-the-time fan website. He even skewed one of Nick Hornby’s book titles for the article headline and linked Springsteen’s cameo from the film adaptation of Hornby’s High Fidelity. Oh, that’s clever!

The piece is so compelling and so well-written that it resulted in a tsunami of orders. I’m a one-man fulfillment center so I’ve spent the last five or six nights hold-up in my basement packing and shipping books. Here’s the article. Just scroll down a bit. The books are now sold-out, which was never a guarantee, so thanks, Jon. I’ve also had to spend time refunding money that keeps pouring in. People are disappointed. Additionally, I was contacted by a DJ from E Street Radio on Sirius Satellite who was going to play Thunder Road and then do a story on the book to try and move copies, but that’s no longer necessary. I’d also like to publically thank Mrs. Wife for taking all 200 packages to the post office for me. Do you think that was easy? is a huge, influential website. They linked my blog post that tells the story of how the book was made and my stats went through the roof. My usual puny 50-70 hits per day ballooned to about 300 per day since last week. Many orders included congratulations and messages of admiration which, for an egomaniac like me, couldn’t be more satisfying. I keep re-reading them over and over. It’s like pushing a lever and getting a peanut M&M.

* * *

Last week, Mrs. Wife impulse-purchased a pair of deeply discounted tickets to see Janet Jackson. I’m not a huge Janet Jackson fan but it certainly beat the hell out of another fruitless scroll through Netflix. It was an outdoor venue and the concert sold so poorly that everyone who had a lawn seat was given a seat inside the pavilion. The back parking lot, where we usually get stuck, was completely empty. Not one car! Hence, the discounted tix, I suppose.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that about 70% of the concert was lip-synced. But I don’t fault Ms. Jackson. The show is so intensely choreographed that I decided it’s not meant to be a concert of just singing. It’s about the dancing and visuals, too. And you can’t put on that kind of show and still sing live. It’s just not possible! Especially at 45 years old.

Her want to please the audience seemed genuine to me. To turn around and say, oh, for shame, she lip-syncs, would be in poor form and belittle her efforts. She was working her ass off. What more do you want? So I will grant her a pass, where many others would cry foul.

There was a mini-tribute to Michael Jackson, which left me unexpectedly sad. A photo montage that featured the two of them since their childhood was played on a screen behind her while she sang. It dawned on me that although he was an oddity, he was also her brother. And he died tragically. She lost her big bother, whom she obviously loved. Do you have siblings? Can you imagine watching one of them die in the manner he did? I was so blue.

Music in the streets of Crazytown

The city is littered with outdoor festivals and events throughout the summer. It’s all free, so bring your cheap ass to Manhattan and be entertained for nothing!

I was feeling a little blue so I went to the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival to see if anything there could cheer me up. Boy, did it ever! I saw the Raya Brass Band. They’re five young guys from Brooklyn who play music of the Balkans. Good, Eastern European stomp. Just like the stuff my Polish dad used to play on Sunday mornings.

You might have to watch this clip twice to take it all in. First, watch the old dude on the right in the blue tee-shirt and hat dance the crazy spastic-twist. No rhythm whatsoever. He just wants to steal attention from the band and make it all about him. Typical crazy New Yorker. Then, about midway through, watch the old Balkan women dance into the frame. And notice the old perv looking them over. The poor band.

The dancing becomes TOO FRANTIC and the po-lice have to step in to restore order. I kept waiting for fists to fly. Meanwhile, the band never stops playing! Seasoned pros. As you can imagine, I walked away from all this feeling much better about life.

God bless Lincoln Center for providing this festival for the city. Laurie Anderson is doing a free show on the 10th but I’ll be away. If you’re around you should go. Unless it’s raining. Nothing will kill an outdoor concert quicker than rain.

* * *

Last summer, 88 decorated pianos were placed throughout the city streets and plazas. People could just walk up and start playing. The event was so popular that they brought it back this year. Sadly, someone actually stole one of the pianos that was out in Queens. Bastards! They’re chained to cinder blocks but that didn’t stop the thieves.

Here, at the piano in Times Square, a woman bangs out a ragtime number. I’ve always heard that ragtime is particularly difficult to play. Is that true?