It was all set to happen, the other week. We were playing a benefit in Rochester for a friend, Tom Kohn, whose legendary record store the Bop Shop had been forced out by greedy landlords. He’d managed to find a new spot and a bunch of musicians had gotten together to raise money for him to move tens of thousands of records.
Sitting in the audience watching the Chandler Travis Three-O, I got very choked up. They’d left the stage and were playing and singing while moving around the audience. It’s the kind of thing that can seem forced, but it felt so intimate and wacky at the same time. When they played Things To You, that sweet NRBQ song, it almost did me in. It was a mixture of sad and happy, just like the song. Sad about Tom Ardolino, the NRBQ drummer who’d passed away the week before. Happy to be “home”, and simultaneously audience and participant.
They played a Travis/Greenberger composition next, called “This Is Home” – you know that feeling you can get when it seems like a band is telepathically channeling your life into song? He got to a line about “I’ve got boxes of stuff somewhere else” – and then I remembered: Cleveland.
Cleveland. The reason I put “home” in quote marks. Because if I’m honest, part of me still lives there.
“That’s How I Got To Cleveland” is the potential title for a country song parody, or memoir-turned-work of fiction. No matter how it happened, six or seven years later I still have an Ohio driver’s license. A nice guy named Bill still gets the occasional piece of mail for me at the UPS store on Euclid. My cellphone still mystifies people when it comes up in Caller ID – “who the hell’s calling from Ohio?” And there still sits in a storage place in Cleveland Heights a 5 X 8 space with my stuff in it.
Every time I go to make a piece of toast, I remember I’ve got a toaster. Bending down to take a charred piece of bread out of the broiler – “in Cleveland”, I sigh.
“That shirt’s looking a little wrinkled,” I say to Eric. “Let me get the iron-”
“Can’t – it’s in Cleveland,” we say in unison. A certain book, or something from the archives, that space heater or bit of Fiestaware – all in Cleveland.
In France, it was too far away to deal with. There was something comforting about having my little stake back in the states. And there were other toasters and irons. But those things don’t work here in the US. And there’s all that useful stuff sitting only a day’s drive away.
So I figured Rochester was even closer – four hours? I’d booked a ticket on Greyhound, reserved a small truck, had even arranged for a moving guy to help me empty the space and be done with it. But it snowed, and I was running low on money. And I didn’t want to be unloading a truck on my birthday.
In the time I was away, things changed. I catch up at the gym, watching TV on the treadmill. Hoarders shows, and Hot In Cleveland – aging gals who used to be somebody, adjusting their location/expectations to make the most of where they’re at in life. Geography – if you don’t like where you’re at, just change it. Is there a part of me that can’t say goodbye?
I was truly miserable when I lived there – I think I went there to be miserable. But it was the last place my daughter and I lived together. It was where I was living when Eric and I got together. It was cold, lonely, snowy – except when it was disgustingly hot and humid.
But there was a beauty to it, a purity and lack of pretension. Like Pittsburgh, where I grew up, but without the charm.
Storage places bank on this kind of inertia.
My friend Norma was visiting this past weekend – she said there’s a Women In Rock show going til the end of the month at the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We’ve made a tentative plan to meet up there. Maybe I just need to trick myself into thinking I’m not moving again. Just stopping by to pay my respects to a small but important part of my life.
And leave with a truck full of stuff.