Monday, September 23, 2013

A Greek Poet Walks Into A Tailor Shop...

Classicists find this hilarious.

The Writer's Almanac points out that today is the birthday of the Greek poet Euripides. How they know this, I do not know, what with the scarcity of written records from that period, the many adjustments made to our calendars over the centuries, etc. etc.

Nonetheless, I took it as a hint that I should finally get around to illustrating one of my very favorite bad jokes of all time. 

I'm sure my former college art history professors are thrilled that I'm utilizing my academic major in this way.  

So happy birthday, Euripides! Rock it up, rip it up, have a ball, dude.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A History of Cleveland, OH in 50 Objects, #2 of a series: The Plum

Map borrowed from the Internet & altered/purpled by me; plum drawing also by me.

Q:  What's the difference between Cleveland and the Titanic?
A: Cleveland has a better orchestra.
                                                     --popular joke, ca. late 1970s

The latter half of the 20th century wasn't kind to the city of Cleveland. You know the litany:  river catches on fire, mayor's hair catches on fire, default, "The Mistake by the Lake." Cleveland became a national punchline.

How to combat that?  Well, why not some old-fashioned civic boosterism? In 1981, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the city's (then) daily newspaper asked its advertising agency to come up with a slogan to attract out-of-state businesses, and/or their money, to northeast Ohio.

The agency came up with ... "New York May Be The Big Apple, But Cleveland's A Plum."

At least that's how I -- and I think a lot of other Clevelanders -- remember it.

I was in high school at the time, and my friends and I sneered at our new civic motto with the intellectual snobbery practiced by precocious teenagers of every era.  But for years I thought we'd had a legitimate point on this topic.  Huh? Why bring up some other city in your own city's motto? Particularly a legendarily cosmopolitan city which could only make Cleveland look bad in comparison?

Turns out that the "New York May Be The Big Apple, But Cleveland's A Plum" slogan was originally meant to be posted only at New York's LaGuardia Airport, to attract the attention of business moguls and convince them that Cleveland was ... er ... ripe for their advertising dollars.

That made a little more sense.

Except that the Plain Dealer, claiming that the population couldn't get enough of The Plum, then slapped the motto (sometimes shortened to "Cleveland's A Plum," sometimes in its entirety) on every possible marketing novelty -- buttons, mugs, tote bags, bumper stickers, you name it. The city celebrated "Plum Week," culminating in the mayor throwing out the first pitch at an Indians game ... using a plum in place of a baseball. 

Yes, we got that "plum" is a term for, as the Oxford English Dictionary notes, "any desirable thing, a coveted prize; the pick of a collection of things; one of the best things in a book, piece of music, etc.; (also) a choice job or appointment."  

Even without the New York comparison, the metaphor seemed forced. Cleveland has never had any connection to plums. The suburbs just south of Cleveland used to be known as the "Greenhouse Capital of America." But Cleveland's agricultural industry was dying off by the late 1970s, and at any rate, wasn't famous for its plum-growing capabilities. Ohio was once among the nation's leading growers of tomatoes. So boasting "Cleveland: Wow! What a Tomato!" might have made sense at one point.  Maybe.*

So, for the most part, Clevelanders regarded the new slogan with polite bafflement. And over the years, like so many other Cleveland oddities, that bafflement has evolved for Clevelanders Of A Certain Age into a kind of perverse, nostalgic pride:  yeah, we're an odd city that once had an odd civic slogan, what's it to ya? 

So we came full circle -- the motto meant to banish the punchline became the punchline. 

But it's our punchline.

*Incidentally, in case you were wondering, California leads the nation in plum-growing, followed by Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Michigan. 

Addendum: You can get newly-minted "New York May Be the Big Apple, But Cleveland's a Plum" merchandise at Big Fun, Cleveland's own fabulous emporium of all things pop culture, and truly one of the great aspects of living here.

I was once at the Big Fun on the West Side when a teenage girl picked up a NYMBTBABCAP mug and read the motto out loud.

She made an explosive, derisive sound and asked her friend, "What does that even mean?

Oh, honey, you had to be there. 


"Agriculture," The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (online), a joint project of Case Western Reserve University and the Western Reserve Historical Society.

"How the Plum grew and grew and grew!" letter to the editor, William J. Stern, President, Nelson Stern Advertising, Pepper Pike, Ohio, to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 21, 1981, p. 5AA.

"No Plums Allowed," Cleveland Magazine, August 2004

"Nothing Rotten about the Big Plum," Time (subscription only), June 15, 1981.

"Plum Profile," Hayley Boriss, Henrich Brunke and Marcia Kreith, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California; revised March 2012 by Greg McKee, North Dakota State University. The Agricultural Marketing Research Center (

"The Week (May 25-31)," Herm Weiskopf, Sports Illustrated, June 8, 1981.

This is not directly related to this entry, but there are fascinating photographs and other materials related to the history of the greenhouse industry in Cleveland at Cleveland State University's Cleveland Memory Project  -- which, come to think of it, is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Cleveland and its environs.  You may be there a while.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Goat Day Has Come (and Gone) Again

Last year, Goat Day was in early September.  This year, due to the vagaries of goat husbandry, it was the last weekend in June.  Belatedly, here's my design for the 4th annual "Goat Day," the invitation-only celebration of All Things Goat at the farm of my friends Heather & Ken. (Get your Goaterdammerung t-shirts, mugs, buttons & posters here.)

Oh, but wait.  You may not know about Goat Day.

To recap from last year:

What's Goat Day? 

As Heather says, "Wait, you don't know about the traditional observance of GOAT DAY? How sad for you. But we can fix that.

"Come play with adorable new baby goats. Try your hand at milking a goat if you want, or not. Sit on the porch and drink sangria. Play the ukelele. Bring food and/or drink to share. Eat a motherlovin' smoked turkey. Take a walk in the pastures or woods. Go nap on the hammock."

Heather and Ken's dogs will also be there. Many of them are smarter than most people, but most people don't hold that against them.  (Incidentally, Heather maintains a blog entitled Raised by Wolves, and if you're at all interested in dogs, search and rescue, livestock, farming, biology, or life in the country, you should be reading it.)

But mostly Goat Day is designed to capitalize on the fact that baby goats are the cutest thing God ever made.  (Well, maybe they're in a tie with puppies.)  This year, the cuteness will be well nigh unbearable, as Heather now has dwarf Nigerian goats, and their brand-new kids are ickle widdle twee little sweethearts.  I met two of the new baby goats a couple weeks back.  I picked one up.  It looked up at me with twinkly eyes and let out a barely audible "maaaa-aaaaa-aaaaaaa," and it was all I could do to keep from running to our car, tossing it into the back seat, and taking it back home with me, fish-tailing out of Heather and Ken's driveway as I raised a cloud of gravel and dust. (Eventually, though, I suppose I'd have to come back and get my husband, and the whole incident would just become embarrassing.)

Well, we didn't have a smoked turkey this year, nor sangria. And I don't think the hammock was up, because there was some dark muttering by Heather about Ken having broken it.

But ukeleles were played -- well, one ukelele, at any rate, shared by two people playing at various times. One of those players can actually play, and sing, the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated." So, now I can cross "Hear 'I Wanna Be Sedated' played on the ukelele" off my bucket list. I actually didn't know it was on my bucket list until I heard it, but once I had, I felt it was something everyone should experience.

And there were definitely goats. And baby goats.

It was a good day.

Next year's Goat Day design: Goat Day: Electric Boogaloo.  I promise.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Or "A Belated Birthday Gift For My Husband, Which I Finally Managed to Finish, Albeit A Couple of Weeks After the Fact."

Some notes: 

My husband Andy is 15 years older than I am, which occasioned some comment when we were dating, and when we got engaged. Most of it was lighthearted in nature -- well, except for my mother, but seeing as how her first comment when I told her we'd gotten engaged was "I thought you were going to do something with your life," any further discussion was bound to go downhill from there.

In the months leading up to our wedding, Andy & I took dancing lessons so we wouldn't look like complete clods during the wedding reception. At one point, our instructor told us that if we came up with a song, she'd help us put together a choreographed dance for our first dance. I don't remember if I was being serious or sarcastic when I suggested "When I'm Sixty-Four" --maybe as a kind of retort to people who'd joked about the difference in our ages? -- but Andy liked it, and the dance instructor and Andy pointed out that many, if not most, Beatles songs are foxtrots.

So, for our first dance at the reception, we had a fancy routine all worked up. (I can still remember practicing in the big living room of our first apartment, after we'd rented it but before we'd moved all our stuff in.)

I also remember thinking at the time, "hmmm, I'm going to have do something special for Andy's 64th birthday as a kind of 'in-joke.'"

So, here we are.  Happy birthday to my husband Andy.  He's the best.


*The panels above feature cameos by our pets, those still with us, and those which have moved on to another plane of existence.

* sorted both of us into Hufflepuff; ergo, that's a Hufflepuff initial sweater I'm knitting for Andy, à la Mrs. Weasley's Gryffindor sweaters for her kids -- though this drawing is clearly set in the alternate universe where I can, you know, actually knit.

*We tend to have trouble keeping our side mirrors attached to the car. Things keep running into them.

*We really do have a weeping cherry tree in our front yard. Dandelions, too.

*Lego does not, as far as I know, actually make a "Frank Lloyd Wright in Spaaaaaaace" set, but it would be darn awesome if they did.

*The postcard Andy is holding reads "Why do melons get married?" The answer, of course, is "Because they cantaloupe." I have told Andy this joke at least once a week for the last 23-1/2 years, usually upon the occasion of him bringing cantaloupe home from the market. Despite this, we are still married. There was an early 20th century vogue for romantically-themed postcards with incredibly bad jokes, so I borrowed the tradition since I didn't have to dig too hard for a terrible joke.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Love: Exciting and .... "Mew."

Long time, no blog.  I know.  I blame the holidays.  All of them.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, National Chocolate Cake Day, National Kazoo Day.  And this year, Penguin Awareness Day & Inauguration Day were on consecutive days!  How could I be expected to get anything done?

Okay, you caught me.  Sheer sloth is my only excuse.

Well,  I was also working on these Valentines, to help everyone celebrate the traditional day of love & lovers.  Available for purchase, right now, chez my Etsy shop.  (I worked in some French, there, to make it more continental, and romantic.  Did you notice?) Your sweetheart would love a hand-painted, hand-crafted Valentine.  I just know it.

These are available in convenient necklace form, as well, but I'm still working on posting all of them. Keep checking.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A History of Cleveland, Ohio in 50 Objects, #1 of a Series: The Letter 'A'

A couple of months ago, the New York Times ran a feature entitled  "A History of New York in 50 Objects," a selection they hoped "could embody the narrative of New York." They were inspired by the BBC's "History of the World in 100 Objects," and I in turn have been inspired by them. 

Probably any city or civilization could inspire such a list, but Cleveland ... well, it's so goofy and so sober and so cultured and so vulgar in turns that I can't imagine the list ever ending. 

But the beginning?  The beginning is easier.

To be updated whenever I feel like it.  Another part of the "30 Days of Comics" effort.  Now I'm only two behind.