A New Cleveland Curse?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
July 13 2010 2:17 PM

A New Cleveland Curse?

It’s been a rotten few days for Cleveland, my hometown. LeBron left. Troy Patterson panned Hot in Cleveland . Local hero Harvey Pekar died . So much bad news led a colleague of mine at Slate to ask if there’s a third nationally famous Clevelander left to die or leave, per the rule of threes. I could think of only Dennis Kucinich or the reclusive Bill Watterson. Then, this morning, Cleveland native (and one-time would-be Indians owner) George Steinbrenner passed away. Clevelanders might have no special love for Steinbrenner, whose Yankees won when our Indians couldn't, but his death seems to indicate that this unlucky streak is nothing less than a curse.

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Of course, Cleveland is no stranger to suffering. Past hardships include: the Drew Carey Show ; the Curse of Rocky Colavito ; the industrial years when our river caught on fire, inspiring the wildly popular T-shirt with the motto "Cleveland: You Gotta Be Tough." Besides, famous people whose obituaries include a "born in Cleveland, but moved away to seek fame and fortune " line aren’t unusual—Paul Newman, Halle Berry, even Drew Carey, who traded on his Cuyahogan roots so heavily. T hat’s why we all half-expected LeBron to leave on his rumspringa. A blog post on the Paris Review argued that we Clevelanders in exile " imposed on LeBron our own burdens of guilt" about leaving, which seems about right to me.

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Pekar was the rare exception: He didn’t leave, hanging around his Coventry haunts even after American Splendor and Letterman made him something like a household name. He embodied the Deep Cleveland state of mind—an unshakable sense that losing and loss are inevitable and imminent, but one wryly soldiers on anyway. So for some, at least, his loss is the worst of all the recent psychic blows to the city.

Deep Cleveland is a geographically portable feeling—it’s been my mood here in New York over the past week. But last night my mother told me she thinks people at home are getting over all of the recent disappointments—July in Cleveland doesn’t incite the same existential dread as, say, February. There’s lots of great stuff going on in the arts and tech sectors, and of course we always have Lake Erie, that priceless natural resource. At least until the Asian Carp destroy it , she added.

Noreen Malone is a senior editor at New York magazine.

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