Cleveland Tough

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The longer I live in Cleveland, the more I find it a tragedy that I never met Harvey Pekar.  Because I don’t think you can truly understand Cleveland without understanding Harvey.
I’d say Harvey was the first blogger, desperately hunting down multiple artists and publishers to comic-strip-ize his mundane tales of Cleveland life in American Splendor, but that would be incorrect.  Part of blogging is interacting with your audience afterwards, and Harvey never cared about that.  Harvey’s audience actively seemed to irritate him at times.
He just had this burning need to talk about things that nobody else seemed to be telling.  Tiny, street-level interactions.  The mundanities and strangenesses of life.  No superheroes, no grand story arcs, just a tiny, quirky little life lived at sidewalk level.
Yet somehow he made it fascinating.  And back in the 1970s, when independent comics were underground, he self-published these weird little tales and found an audience.
Cleveland’s like Harvey: unapologetic, deeply loving of quirky things, the butt of jokes everywhere.  Yet we don’t care.  Hey, we have three thriving theater districts, one of the best classical orchestras in America, a wealth of fine dining.  Did you know that?  No?  Well, who the fuck cares?  You don’t live here.  We’re not living our lives to impress you, we’re living it because we damn well like it – and yeah, maybe the economy’s a pisser and we’re all struggling for work and things are tougher than we like, but we’ll get by.  We’re survivors, man.  But being a survivor doesn’t mean you give up the shit you love.
Just like Harvey, obsessively collecting his jazz albums in his shithole of an apartment.  A strange beauty, Cleveland is.
I mean, Harvey wasn’t afraid to open veins.  He blogged about his deepest foolishnesses.  And occasionally he lashed out in ways that even he considered embarrassing later on, going on strike in David Letterman and confronting him in perhaps one of the most uncomfortable TV moments in history.
But you know, what Harvey did, he never apologized for.  He did what he thought was right at a time.  Maybe he didn’t know better, but he did the best with what he had.  And there’s a strength in that.
I dunno.  I see parallels between myself and Harvey, but I could never take on his mantle.  And yet, at one my point my girlfriend Bec called me “Cleveland tough” – which may be the greatest compliment I’ve ever been given.  To be honest enough to endure the waverings of uncertainty is, in a way, the greatest strength.  And to suggest that I’m a hardscrabble survivor, like Cleveland, like Harvey Pekar, is a glory.
I’d be proud to call myself Cleveland tough.  For I’m in love with this city.  This attitude.  This way of being.  Who we are is what we are, and maybe you think it’s silly or foolish, but fuck it.  You know the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, fuck it, that’s commercial, if you’re distracted by that PR bullshit then you don’t deserve to know us.
I’m gonna watch American Splendor one more time today, and marvel at Harvey.  I miss that crusty, unhappy bastard.  Yet his legacy resonates still with me, with his city, and that’s something I’m proud to carry.
Here we are, funny voice and all, surviving. Thriving.  Improbably creating beauty from the strangest things.

1 Comment

  1. Gillian Daniels
    Mar 21, 2012

    I met him at a signing he did at Mac’s Backs. No line, he was just sitting out front, patiently waiting for people to approach him. He didn’t look very different from a lot of the local people in Cleveland Heights, though the quietly affable curmudeonliness was definitely there. He seemed happy when I told him I liked his comics.
    His wife ran some library groups I was a part of when I was younger, including an anime club with their daughter. I liked her, too, and knew her before I read anything by her husband. She had me write reviews for library DVDs when I was about thirteen. I also remember being impressed that she had written a short comic for an anthology. Her involvement with the Cleveland Heights Library lessened when American Splendor began production, so that was that. I think I saw her in a Phoenix Coffee some time after Harvey passed, but I wasn’t sure it was her and was too shy to say “hello.”
    Man, I can stay in Boston for years, and Cleveland will never not be a part of me. I agree with the way you describe it.

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