I’ve often wondered if we reach a certain age where making new friends becomes more trouble than it’s worth. We're supposed to be downsizing as we get older, not supersizing, right? But then along comes someone who is funny, provocative, simpatico. Our circle expands a little wider, and our lives becomes a little richer in new and unexpected ways.
I met a person like that a few years ago. We were introduced by a mutual friend who thought our shared enthusiasm for Cleveland sports teams would unite us like long-lost relatives. Actually, I don't think that first meeting lit up with the promise of bromance our mutual friend anticipated. If I recall correctly, we circled like wary verbal wrestlers, testing each other’s knowledge of Cleveland sports lore. Gauging one another’s level of fandom eventually segued to the friendlier “have you ever been to…?” conversation; cementing the authenticity of each other’s claim to be a genuine Clevelander at heart. Eventually I had to get back to editing and he had to conduct an interview, but as we went our separate ways, I’m sure the same nagging thought was circling both our minds like vinyl on a turntable: “I think that guy might be a bit of an asshole — even if he is from Cleveland.”
That initial impression eventually gave way to a more complete portrait of someone with whom I knew I wanted to be a friend. To this day, I am drawn to his acerbic sense of humor and poetic profanity, as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of all-things Cleveland. He speaks with equal fluency about the Tribe, the Cavs, the Browns or the Buckeyes. He knows exactly what I’m talking about when I refer to “The Jake,” “The Flat Iron,” the “World Series of Rock,” “Daffy Dan” or “WMMS.” Football season after season we roamed around the Factory of Sadness together; lost in a mutual malaise of defeat. Then Baker appeared at the end of the dark tunnel to lead us into the light of our first playoff appearance in years; sparking a regular torrent of early morning SameTime messages to jump-start my day. I offer quotes from Terry Pluto to him and he responds with his own eloquent epistles full of fiery optimism and reserved rage. Together we welcomed LeBron back and thanked him for allowing us to finally understand how it felt to be a winner. Together we cursed the Cubs and the rain delay that prevented The Tribe from doing the same.
He knows I’m that special friend who understands the impulse purchase of a jersey with "Janovich" stitched across the back, or the literary genius of a detective novel with "Jacovich" emblazoned across the front. And I know he appreciates a celebratory cannonball while wearing the jersey of the most DAN6EROUS QB in football, the power of the Rally Possum, and receiving a picture of "Bolt the Wonder Dog" sporting his orange game-day bandanna. He contributes to my Cleveland sports shrine with posters and plaques, and I’ve expanded his library of Christmas music and Irish writers. He appreciates Great Lakes Beer, Malley’s Buckeyes, and Bertman Original Ball Park mustard. He’s joined me in the cheap seats at the Capital One Arena to cheer for the visiting team from Cleveland, and one of these days, when we retire, we will cheer just as loud together for the Browns and the Tribe (or the Spiders, or whatever the hell they're gonna be called)—after we get off work volunteering as docents at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and wolfing down a cheeseburger at Johnny’s Little Bar on the way to the game.
I tried like hell to score you a six pack of Great Lakes Christmas Ale for your birthday, but no surprise it’s sold out everywhere. Then I tried to get your audacious game plan for tomorrow night printed on a t-shirt, but there's no Daffy Dan's operating in Maryland. So it looks like you’ll just have to settle for this modest toast to our friendship, and the Happy Medium Song of the Day by long-time Cleveland favorite, (and World Series of Rock veterans) the J. Geils Band. “Southside Shuffle” from the 1973 album, Bloodshot, is a timeless impetus to dance and celebrate things like birthdays and, crushing victories over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It’s good to have friends covering all the bases for the many different facets of who we are. Happy Birthday, Southside. Burn it Bright! ~ C-Kid.