Monday, November 26, 2012

The Oy in Ohio

As you know from my prior posts, I am not your typical Gay man who makes a big deal out of every birthday like a five year old. You know the ones. They invite all their friends out for their big birthday celebration or make a big dramatic event out of their thirty-seventh birthday, so they can get free drinks and lots of gifts – and attention!

However …

This year, I turned fifty on Thanksgiving, and after spending a year telling everyone I was forty-nine (and I wrote about that, too), I really didn’t want to spend another birthday standing over my sink eating a bucket of fried chicken and throwing the bones down the disposal. I know that sounds dramatic, but it is only dramatic if you have a witness … or a reality show – two things I need!

I made up my mind last year after spending Thanksgiving alone, along with Hanukah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, the Fast of Gedalia, Martin Luther King Day, Tu Bishvat, Valentine’s Day, Shavuot, and St. Patrick’s Day, that I would go away for my birthday. I mulled over a few destinations, being this would be my first non-working, non-volunteering vacation in five years, and Devon suggested we go to Cleveland.

So, to Cleveland we went.

Cleveland, as it turns out, has a lot to offer. For example, they have the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, which I hear is great. I say “I hear” because after booking the trip, I found out it was closed for renovations. They also have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which I can tell you is the biggest rip-off in the country (I really wanted to go to Dollywood!). It costs $21 a person to go in plus $11 for parking, and after ten minutes, you realize you are in the most poorly organized and ridiculous tourist trap in the Midwest. We should have known better when we arrived fifteen minutes after they opened and people were already leaving. Even the employees were bored; they also never left their kiosks, so I think they were chained to their posts.

But, those are the lowlights. Oh wait, there is one other. Our motel. While researching luxury lodging on Priceline, we stumbled upon the motel with the highest rating, even higher than the Stouffer Tower Plaza and the Wyndham – the Motel 6 in Willoughby. It wasn’t just the highest; it was the highest by two points. We booked it.

We knew the minute we pulled up that the reviews and ratings were the result of the owner’s inbred cousins. For starters, the Wifi turned out to be “pay-by-day-by-device.” They cut out slips of paper and scotch taped them to a card with the passwords to get on the Interweb and go on Facial Book. The Internet connection was slower than dial-up, and Devon declared the place the “Motel Sucks.” Even better was maid service. The maid exchanged your towels (I am not sure the new ones were clean), emptied one basket and left. She did not clean the bathroom, vacuum, or make the bed. Did I tell you they did not have Kleenex or even generic tissues? None! I asked, and they said, “We don’t provide those.” By the third day, I procured my own linens and towels and proceeded to do the maid’s job. Get a queen on caffeine, and she is either cleaning or cooking. When they went around with the leaf blower, the leaves blew under the door into the room. I mentioned this to the front desk urchin, and she said, “Oh yeah, that happens in all the rooms.”

The best part was we had a view of the Courtyard Marriot whose room rates were three times ours. Too bad they were booked. The second morning, someone had thrown a pizza crust out of their room and hit my truck with it, splattering pizza sauce on the paint. From that point forward, I would look out the peep hole to see what other leftover Italian food was being tossed at my vehicle. Of course, by the end of the trip, the story of the pizza crust had evolved into someone dumping a seven-course, Italian meal on my truck.

Thanks to great company and a sense of humor (on both our parts), we made the best of the motel, and let’s face it, a vacation is about the sites and adventures and not the motel. I will keep telling myself that. The optimist in me takes this view: Had the motel been perfect, I would have had nothing to complain – or write – about, and if I didn’t kvetch, I wouldn’t know what to do with my free time!

Cleveland does have some great attractions. We visited President James Garfield’s Memorial at Lake View Cemetery. Considering he was shot less than a year into his first term and died, his memorial is … how shall I put this … a bit much? It is fucking huge! I imagine if he served a full term, there would be an entire section of the city devoted to his memory. From the top, and yes, you can climb to the top, you can see the Cleveland skyline and Lake Erie or touch the hand of God. The cemetery itself, which still has some lovely property for sale, is amazing. One monument out gaudys the next. I loved it. Then again, I love obituaries and cemeteries and the gaudier the better.

There is also the Cleveland Museum of Art. If you have never been there, you have to go. It is the most amazing art museum I have ever visited. We spent five hours there, and we still missed an exhibit. We returned on the Black Friday to see the feature exhibit on the Wari people, and it was packed. As it turns out, that is their busiest day of the year. How nice to see people taking in culture rather than pepper spraying each other over a pair of Nikes.

The people of Cleveland are very nice and very helpful. When you walk into a CVS, they greet you. Everywhere you go, they are friendly and helpful. It is a shame most will be lucky if they live to see their fortieth birthdays. I discovered the official dish of Cleveland is macaroni and cheese, and apparently, they eat a lot of it with one exception – middle to old age women at Bally’s Health and Fitness.

God forbid a Gay man should go a day without working out, so we worked out while on vacation (you have to do something to work off the mac and cheese). Gym choices are limited, and I don’t have to tell you that the Motel 4.8 did not have a fitness facility, and if they did, it was probably a rusted out Soloflex with a cat skeleton on it.

I have not been in a Bally’s since it was European Health Spa, and judging from the age of the equipment, this one started out as one, and they never upgraded. But, I am an optimist – who also loves to complain – so I was determined to make the best of it. Funny how that works. I ended up having the best workouts there, and so did the women. The women who ranged in age from forty-five to seventy-five were hard core and in phenomenal shape. They weren’t wasting their time on cardio equipment; they were squatting, benching, pressing, etc. Our favorite was Sylvia Goldfarb (not her real name). She was Moses’s prom date. There she was in full make-up, big hair, sports bra, spandex pants, and a gold belt. She had the face of a seventy-year-old drag queen and the body of a twenty-year-old cheerleader. She became my new hero. The men their loved her, and they should. She was working out harder than Arnold Schwarzenegger at a Beverly Hills Housekeepers’ Convention. I want to be her when I grow up; some say I already am.

The men were another story. All they did was walk around in shorts that were too short for Bill Clinton in 1992 and gossip with each other. I never saw one lift a dumbbell or use a machine. Worse were the two personal trainers. Each would have to lose forty pounds to be qualified as obese, and they were hit hard with the ugly stick. There was one exception. We nicknamed him Daddy. This hot fifty-five-year-old did more for tank-tops than Mario Lopez. He seemed happy to see two other men actually working out – very happy. I haven’t been cruised like that since Nancy Reagan was standing behind Ronnie telling him what to say.

The aerobics instructor was another site to behold. After he borrowed an outfit from Richard Simmons, he slapped on his wig (not a toupee, a wig), and made everyone sweat to the oldies, including a suspicious number of songs from the Supremes, Abba, and Liza. Yes, Virginia, there are old queens in Ohio, and they teach Jazzercise.

Again, everyone was very nice.

We had a fantastic time, and we enjoyed everywhere we went with one exception. OK, two, if you include the forty minutes at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I needed some Lactaid milk and my newest treat, Lactaid cottage cheese. I know; I have a Jewish stomach, and I live a full life. This is why we ended up at the Giant Eagle – the grocery store of the Zombie Apocalypse.

It was a sea of huge asses, motorized scooters, and extras from Deliverance. This is where the not so nice Clevelanders go to shop. They bang into you, cuss at you, block aisles, and if you are not careful, eat your brains. Apparently, they have already eaten everything else. I usually don’t like crowds anyway, but this was the scariest place on earth. I kept telling Devon, “I need to get out of here; I need to leave; they are going to eat us.”

What we also noticed was that Cleveland is very segregated. Rarely did we see Blacks and Whites in the same building or restaurants and specifically the same neighborhood. I also did not recall seeing any Asian people. With the exception of Daddy and the restaurant manager at the Cleveland Museum of Art, we didn’t see any Gays either. Devon said that one of the night managers at the Motel 3.7 was a lesbian, but I never saw her.

However, our Gays would soon be found. After our second trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art, we began our journey home to Jessup and stopped at the Double Tree in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, halfway there. The desk clerk assumed we wanted a king bed, and we knew we had arrived in a special place. So, other than Felton, Pennsylvania, the town where all the male Log Cabin Republicans live, Monroeville is Pennsylvania’s official gay couples’ capital. At dinner, we noticed the sparsely populated restaurant had only two-tops and all were same-sex couples. Even our server was a lipstick lesbian.  

In spite of the Motel 2.3, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the grocery shopping expedition to the Giant Eagle, whose organic aisle had a four-inch layer of dust, this was the best vacation and best birthday I have ever had, which had a lot to do with the company as well as the destination.

I wonder whom Daddy at Bally’s is cruising today? What color spandex is Sylvia wearing?

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1 comment:

  1. Ironic. I am a straight, Black woman who lives where - you guessed it Cleveland. I read constantly and purchased your book about being Gay and Jewish in a trailer park (I mean mobile home community) this morning. It is easily one of the most entertaining book I've read all year. I too was born in '62, love the Cleveland Museum of Art, worked out at Bally's for years and had a good male friend (Gay of course) who I've lost touch with, that lives in Lakewood, Ohio. That's where many of Cleveland's Gay population reside. Sorry no one told you about it. You may have had a better impression of our fair city. I said all of that to say, I really love your writing and am looking forward to reading more of your work. By the way, I was born in the city's only Jewish hospital ; Mt. Sinai. My mother also worked there for 37.5 years. It began my fascination with many things Jewish. Unfortunately, it was run into the ground and torn down a few years ago. The synagogue attached is still there and is quite beautiful. You have a wonderful way with words and I am glad that I came across your work. More please:)
    P.S. Your hair looks great!