So I was in an elevator full of men who were wearing the team colors of the Cleveland Browns. They grumbled aloud and boldly that there wouldn't ever be any Baltimore Ravens fans anywhere near. I thought better of making a joke.
My reading of Ferguson is on a brief hiatus, but I was beginning to get the flavor of how the Germans got so aggravated in the years leading up to the election of Hitler. My short story does nothing good for history but humiliation is certainly part of the formula.
One of Cobb's Rules in the area of Boys and Girls has to do with what men love to hear and what they hate to hear. What men love to believe is that their particular skill is valuable. Just as I say that people don't have weaknesses so much as they overuse their strengths, the world of men is a world of hammers in a sea of nails whether or not those are actually nails. What men hate to hear is that they are deluded and useless. Destroying a man begins with demonstrating to him that he has lived a lie his entire life and all the work he has done has been a cruel joke - that he is a fool just like all the other fools. When a woman tells a man that all of his skills are meaningless, she is burning the last bridge to his heart. It is unforgivable for a man to be thought of like all the rest - to the extent a man accepts this, he competes with other men to get to the point of 'are we cool?'. And by the way, a 'bastard' is by definition the man who never says 'yes, we're cool'. The powerful bastard gives no quarter, ever, for any relenting in competition. The powerless bastard searches eternally for someone to dominate. These are men who suffer from the lack of having a father's pride and calming hand.
Speaking of which, I sensed something touching this past week in observation of a father and son up close and personal in their house with whom I shared a delicious meal. A father patiently but firmly pointing out the broccoli and the son with a big pile of food in his cheeks he doesn't want to swallow. My own son was a 'juice junkie' and would live on orange juice and string cheese if he had his way. Boys must be grown into social appetites, and like men, have their real appetites made meaningful and significant.
So my mind is on Cleveland and it fascinates me to no end that this is a place where steel was made and Rockefeller hung out, but today they are owned in most every way by LeBron James. It's not that James is an improper leader, but that his contract is short and two years hence, he may go the way of Republic Steel - sold off to some bidder from a bigger town. The men of Cleveland have as an expression of themselves, the Cavaliers and the Browns. And ain't nobody better be talking smack about Baltimore.
As it turned out, Baltimore shut the Browns out sixteen to nothing. What's worse, it all happened in under 30 seconds. All of the hotel rooms emptied out and Cleveland returned to a somber pace, laced with some self-deprecating humor which is the only peaceful cure for humiliation, that hedge against ambition that allows a man to laugh when he is the butt of the joke. The other cure is revenge which is sometimes sweet but more often cruel.
It is my observation that Cleveland is not full of bastards, nor is Ohio in general. And although they tend to pick on people to the north and south for their non-Midwestern accents, on the whole they wear their humility fairly well. Still.
On a dark night with rainy streets, there are crestfallen empty buildings on 9th Street that overlook a cemetery three blocks from the new stadiums. There's more money in the sports complex than in the financial district and bars with neon signs stand darkly awaiting a championship season. A Russian girl tends bar facing 10 big screens full of action and excitement from every town but this. Parking lot attendants stare over empty acres now that baseball season is over. The steakhouses are empty every night except when the wealthy fans from out of town fly in to see their team beat Cleveland.
There's no reason for this. It's not about Cleveland in particular because men everywhere have their standards and limits. Surely the Russian girl knows a town without such teams and men without such dreams. There is enough to be proud of without digging too deep. But pride lingers on the edge of disappointment and enough of that leads to bitterness. That was the edge in the huff and puff of the voices on the elevator last Monday night. A rivalry between Baltimore and Cleveland tinged with the readiness of ordinary men to do battle.