Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on
Now the lord can make you tumble
And the lord can make you turn
And the lord can make you overflow
But the lord can’t make you burn
-- Randy Newman, “Burn On, Big River”
I am a lifelong fan of Cleveland professional sports teams. For those of you who follow such things, this is a little like admitting that one votes for perennial U.S. Labor Party presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche – distasteful to some, irrelevant and pointless to most. The last time the Cleveland Indians won a world championship, Harry S. Truman was president and people still drove Packards and Edsels. Hell, for all I know, the women all wore bonnets and crossed the country in Conestoga wagons. The last time the Cleveland Browns won a Super Bowl .... wait, the Cleveland Browns have never even appeared in a Super Bowl. The Cleveland Cavaliers? No appearances in the NBA Finals, no NBA championships.
To add to the ignominy, these teams play in Cleveland, where it snows from October to May, and where the clouds are a continuous ashen gray except for the nights when the old steel mills spew their orange smoke in the air and the spacious skies take on a hue that resembles something out of Dante’s Inferno. You know the jibes: The Mistake on the Lake, The City of Burning Rivers. They are, alas, all true. No one wants to live in Cleveland. Cleveland will let you down every time. To quote an old Howlin’ Wolf blues tune, I asked for water and you gave me gasoline.
Still, it’s home, hellish landscape and all. Except it’s not – not quite – and therein lies the mystery. I live near Columbus, midway between Cleveland and Cincinnati. And Cincinnati, in addition to occasional blue skies, also boasts some sports teams that occasionally win. So explaining my lifelong allegiance to Dante’s teams is a little perplexing. All I know is that the allegiance is there, and that hope springs eternal. It is a flaming river that is never extinguished. And so I hope. And this year, almost in spite of myself, I find myself hoping more than usual.
Here’s the deal: the Cleveland Cavaliers are two wins away from reaching the NBA East Finals. The Cleveland Indians are in first place with a 20 – 10 record, and this looks like the year when all those promising young kids finally come into their own. I should know better. I’ve been here many times before, and I’ve seen it too many times. I think back on the Cleveland Browns disasters that are known simply by the monikers The Fumble and The Drive, the Indians meltdown in 1995, when they were clearly the best team in baseball but were done in by David “There Is No” Justice and the Atlanta Braves. I think back on that damned Jose “Costa” Mesa (as in “You put me in the game, and I’ll costa great team the world championship”) in 1997, the heinousness of Art “Satan” Modell slinking out of town with the Browns in 1999 and instantly turning our beloved team into the Baltimore Stealers. There is a lot of grief. But I can’t help myself. It’s spring. The snows have melted. The skies are threatening to turn blue. The Cleveland Cavaliers are still playing basketball, and the Cleveland Indians are in first place. Hope dies hard here in the heartland. Pity me or pray for me. But don’t you dare tell me I’m deluded.