"The Bone Lady"
When the Browns left town, I boycotted the NFL. I didn't even watch the Super Bowl. Like everyone else, I was heartbroken. But by the time the 1999 expansion draft came, I was hungry for anything having to do with my beloved Browns. That's how the whole idea of "The Bone Lady" started.
I was born in Cleveland, grew up in Bath Township and Richfield, but was living in Columbus when the Browns moved. I've moved back here since. Being in Columbus and anxiously awaiting the Browns' return, an idea popped in my head. I woke up one day and said, "I'm going to paint my car like a Browns helmet and put an 8-foot bone on top." My friends said, "No, you're not. That's a Volvo. You'll ruin your car."
It was the first time that I didn't listen to anyone except that little voice inside my head. I had a guy professionally paint the car and then I went to work on the inside. I wanted the inside to be a collage of Browns memorabilia, a true tribute to the Browns' return. So I worked on it every night. I would grab a beer, turn on the Indians game, sit in my Volvo with my glue gun and paste every kind of Browns thing I could lay my hands on to the inside of my car.
As the season started getting close, I realized I would have to establish some sort of deadline for myself or I would never get it finished. So I entered myself in a Fourth of July parade in Columbus. My family came down and we were all going to be in the parade.
The night before, I realized that I couldn't be "normal" and be in the parade, so "The Bone Lady" was born. That's when I came up with my outfit: the beehive hairdo, hooped skirt and fishnet stockings. I always say "The Bone Lady" is what happens when you drink too much beer and own a glue gun!
In the darkened Riverside Theatre on Lorain Avenue at Kamm's Corners, sometime in the late '40s, a cop quietly approached me from behind and with a loud rap of his flashlight on the back of my seat said, "Do your necking at home, pal!"
You don't forget these things.
Such was my big, fat Norman Rockwell life growing up on the West Side after the war. No drugs, no gangs, just dutiful Cleveland police ready to engage in in loco parentis anytime, anywhere — even if the underage citizen was breathlessly involved in a mutually consensual kiss.
I came of age in Cleveland at the same time Major League Baseball came of age.
... It was the dark ages, a time when baseball players left their gloves on the field and World Series games were played only in daylight. Sister Bertrand at Our Lady of Angels School allowed us to listen to the World Series games on the radio.
It was 1948 and there we were, concentrating on every pitch as Jimmy Dudley and Jack Graney brought the big game right through the classroom door, past the crucifix on the wall and into the hearts and minds of the OLA eighth-graders who lived and died with the Tribe.
Life was good for a Cleveland sandlot kid: stickball on Southland Avenue, fishing, trapping and scaling the shale walls of "The Valley" (otherwise known as Cleveland Metropolitan Park). These were the daily activities during my coming of age, an age before heavy metal — a soft, civil time of Mantovani music at the St. Christopher Saturday Night Canteen in Rocky River, where all the girls wore angora sweaters.
I remember seeing my first television picture, the animated lighthouse logo of the Scripps Howard Co., owner of the local ABC station. As the beacon swept by the screen and returned again, the announcer, Cort Stanton, boomed, "WEWS, Channel 5, first in Cleveland."
And how lucky can a guy get? St. Edward, one of the nation's finest Catholic high schools for young men, opened just in time for me. I am a member of the first graduating class, 1953. We presided over the first of everything: football, band, school paper and commencement ceremony. For four years, we strutted about like the "seniors" we always were, never a bully above us. Today, St. Edward High School, under the leadership of Brother Peter Graham, enjoys one of the finest reputations in the nation, in academics and athletics.
Like being interrupted in the dark — mid-kiss — you don't forget these things. This was my Cleveland, the Best Location in the Nation — believed it then, believe it now.
I was a geeky little refugee kid who looked like Howdy Doody, and my mother was a desperately shy woman who couldn't speak the English language. Whenever she went shopping at the West Side Market, 16 blocks from our apartment on Lorain Avenue, I went with her as her helper and translator.
I fell in love with the smells of the world at the market — with grilling bratwurst and just-opened sacks of apples and crates of pears and the woodsy bonfires that the vendors lighted up in the alley behind the market to warm their hands. The vendors were gruff, sleepy, chain-smoking men, mostly immigrants themselves, who treated this black-babushkaed Hungarian woman with great respect and kidded her geeky son.
One vendor, a rough-hewn Italian named Vito, tossed me an apple or an orange or a pear every time he saw me. And he saw me a lot because the grade school I went to, St. Emeric's, was only a few hundred feet from the market and I had to pass through the market every day to get there.
Imagine that! All those hundreds of apples and pears through the years, tossed to me with the words "Here ya go, Joey!" underneath a thick Italian accent. I thought about Vito a lot as I grew into a man. Who knows what little things make a little boy love America? I came to the conclusion that Vito played a very large part in the way I grew to love this great country.
Forty years later, in 1993, I took the woman who is the love of my life to the West Side Market for the first time to share my childhood with her. A limo dropped us off nearby and we walked to the market. I saw a group of men eyeing us and the limo. And a very old man among them yelled, "Here ya go, Joey!" in a thick Italian accent. And he threw me an orange!
It made me cry, of course, and I introduced Vito to the love of my life who, poetically, happens to be part Italian.
I married Naomi Baka (from Mansfield, Ohio) and we had four boys. When our oldest was seven, we moved from Malibu, on California's gold coast, back to Cleveland. I think the biggest reason we moved back is so that our four boys could experience the sheer heart-pumping joy of walking through the West Side Market.
Who knows? Maybe somebody will toss them an apple or a pear or an orange sometime.
Daffy Dan Gray
What I still can't believe is the warm response I've had from the people of Cleveland. I'm just this guy who sells T-shirts and loves rock 'n' roll, but when I walk the streets of this town you'd think I was somebody important. I get recognized everywhere. Sure, I look a little different from most people. I still have the long hair that got me thrown out of Shaker High in 1968, and I've worn the same sideburns and moustache for better than 30 years. I'm sure the fact that the Daffy Dan's logo is a cartoon of me helps, but the fact is people recognize me.
What really makes me feel good, though, is that they all want to tell me a story about a shirt they got way back when, or a time when they hung out with me at some music club. I've always wanted people to have a good time with my products, and it's so much fun when they tell me these stories. For a couple of generations of Clevelanders, getting that first T-shirt from Daffy Dan's that said what they wanted it to say has been something like a rite of passage. I love that, but I'm still surprised by how people relate to me personally!
I have a lot of fond memories of growing up in Cleveland. But growing up where I did, my first idols were (and it's strange how the range and longitude is in that kind of thing) the pimps and numbers runners. As a kid, my uncle ran numbers and one of his friends was Don King. If you lived on the streets of Cleveland in that area, you knew all the pimps and numbers runners. ...
I graduated from Warrensville Heights High School, but I started at Kennedy in the Lee-Harvard area. My mom thought I was getting in too much trouble in 10th grade. That's when I discovered women and cars, and that became my life. So my mother tried to get me away from certain friends. I understand now that she was trying to get my grade-point average up so I could go to college. I'll be honest with you, at that point I was talkin' stuff like, "I don't need no school because I'm gonna be an entertainer or a pimp."
It's a hard thing for a mother to explain to you that there are no dental benefits in pimping. And she explained it to me with a wooden spoon in her hand. When you're bigger than your mom, a wooden spoon is necessary. She would say, "There are no dental benefits in bein' a pimp. What kind of retirement plan do you think they have?!" All the time hittin' me in the shoulder blade with the spoon.
Most people know me as a businessman, civic leader and a developer, but what they don't know is that I grew up poor on Cleveland's near East Side, just off 63rd and Woodland.
It was tough growing up there. You fought your way to school and you fought your way back home at night. I went to Woolridge Elementary School, which is no longer in existence. My parents didn't speak much English, but they were hard working and smart.
I grew up in a Jewish household and I am still, to this day, very proud to be a religious Jew.
Growing up in Cleveland wasn't all bad. I did get a few breaks for which I'm grateful. My mother scrimped and saved pennies so I could go to college. Back then, tuition at Western Reserve University was about $300 a year, so I went there. At the end of three years, I had earned some scholastic and athletic achievements. There was a dean at Western Reserve who took a liking to me, Dean Huntley, who encouraged me to apply to Harvard because they were giving out scholarships. I told him I didn't think they would accept me, and they probably didn't take people from my class. But he kept encouraging me, so I finally applied and got in.
My mother, God bless her memory, said, "If you are going to Harvard, I'm going to make sure you have a suitcase for your clothes." So she found a suitcase without any handles. Before I left, she fashioned handles out of laundry rope. I thought this was par for the course. When I got to Harvard, I was one of the last to walk into the dormitory. I took one look at all the other suitcases and was ashamed. I should have been proud, but I was ashamed. I didn't know what to do, so I hid my suitcase and unpacked when no one was looking.
I have been very successful. I have been involved with numerous real estate developments in Cleveland, but I'm more proud of what I have been able to accomplish as a philanthropist.
Yet, despite my professional success, when people ask me where I learned the most in life, I usually say, "Gutter University." It's the most valuable education you can get, because it gives you a radar. When you see somebody, two antennae go up and in seven seconds you can tell whether you have a phony or not. It's been very valuable to me throughout my career because when you find someone who's genuine you can be very loyal.
And I'm very loyal to the people in my life.
I liked Cleveland from the first time I saw it. Which is a little strange since it was in pretty rough condition back then. It was late February 1972, I was the recent 13th-round draft choice for the Cleveland Browns and my plane was late arriving from San Diego for our first mini-camp. By the time I landed, the other draftees had already gone out to Case Western Reserve for the workout. The Browns' Gordie Helms stayed behind and as he drove us up I-71, I got my first look at my new home. Until that time, Cleveland was one of those places I'd have had a hard time finding on a map.
I was born and raised in Southern California and was comfortable with the lifestyle: living at the beach, surfing every morning and not making any plans for a pro football career. The only reasonable post-college plan I had was to wait tables in Steamboat Springs, Colo., ski and enjoy the mountain life for a while. This date to compete at a pro football camp seemed more an adventure than an opportunity. My chances looked a bit slim.
Cleveland didn't put on its best face for me during that drive. So many factories were closed down and the Cuyahoga River had caught fire the year before. It was a gloomy afternoon and because it hadn't snowed in a while, what snow remained was dirty. I remember thinking that this was as close as I was ever going to get to the Soviet Union — at least I imagined it that way.
By the time we got to Case Western Reserve, the rookie workout was over. The players were showering, Gordie had to leave, and I was left to stand in this cold, gray place, waiting for the bus that would take us back to our rooms at the Hollenden House Hotel. Not a good start!
As I waited and worried about my missed opportunity to impress the coaches, an older gentleman approached me. He looked like a cartoon character, but with a big smile. He introduced himself as Lou Groza. Now, this was ironic because he was the only man in football that my dad had ever mentioned to me. They shared a class together at Ohio State after my dad got out of the Marines. And now here I was with Lou Groza offering to give me a lift back to the hotel, which I gladly accepted.
Lou made me feel welcome. If ever there was a guy that epitomized Cleveland it was Lou. From that day forward, he treated me with dignity and friendship. It was unearned, unexpected and genuine. On that dark, cold, gray February day, Lou Groza put a smile on the city for me, and suddenly it felt like a much warmer place.
The intersection of East Ninth and Euclid was the great gateway to forbidden territory. Turn south and you found yourself crossing Prospect, where the walls of the pawnshops were lined with treasure the likes of which we had never seen. We lusted for the dust-covered guitars and drums, assured the bored owner that we were serious about buying and wanted nothing more than a few minutes of communion with those magical musical tools that we were sure were the first step to fame, fortune and, more importantly, girls. ...
But if lust was really what you were after, you turned north off of Euclid and, in one short block, found yourself in front of the Roxy Burlesque, whose facade was resplendent with huge, pastel-tinted photos of Tempest Storm, Virginia Bell and her "amazing 48s" and the other queens of a soon-to-be-gone art form. And, in an era when brazen sexuality was not exactly a national pastime, this larger-than-life display of barely covered womanhood was all the more impressive!
And that was the beauty of it all. Downtown, the men seemed to walk taller, the women seemed more beautiful and the tough guys sneered harder.
"Cleveland Classics" is available in softcover ($35) and limited-edition hardcover ($60) at local Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Borders Book & Music and Barnes & Noble locations. For more information or to order by phone, call Lorien Studio, (248) 589-9940.