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Thursday, January 26, 2006




Rob, the new boss of my boss called a meeting last week of the entire department. He'll be attempting to double the size of the department in the next year. Before the meeting started, we all sat around the conference table in the boardroom enjoying a rarity, the company-provided lunch. My associate co-colleague Kevin sat next Rob. I sat across from them. I hadn't had a real conversation with Rob yet but I gauged that the time was right for a little risk-free ingratiation. I knew Rob was, as am I, from Ohio. Perhaps this subject was my entree to a good first impression.

"So Rob, you're from Ohio, right?" I began.

"Yep, Yep, I am." He nodded, not really looking up from the iceberg leaf speared on his plastic fork, dripping with inexpensive vinaigrette.

"I'm from Shaker Heights." I said this wistfully, like I had a strong fondness for Shaker Heights when the truth is we moved from there to La Jolla, California when I was six and the only lasting memories I have of Ohio are of J.D. Lazerik from next door throwing rocks at my head and a surprisingly passionate two-day love affair with J.D.'s kid sister Lynn. I can't say that the clumsy kisses of a six-year-old outweighed the rocks bouncing off my noggin, so I would have preferred we skipped Ohio altogether and jumped right ahead to the skateboards and surfboards of sunny La Jolla.

"Really. Huh." I couldn't get a read on that reaction. Shaker Heights meant something to him but I couldn't tell if that thing was good or bad.

"Yep. We lived on Maplewood Road just a few blocks from Cedar," I babbled.

Some distraction took place at the table. Someone asked for a Diet Sprite or something, unwittingly forcing a break in the conversation. Rob, finished with his salad, put down his plastic fork and wiped his mustache-mouth-goatee assembly with his paper napkin, looked me in the eye for the first time and said, "Well, I'm from Parma."

"Oh. Parma, really." The search through my memory for all things Parma only produced the theme song to "The Drew Carey Show." Typical. Thanks, brain.

"And, I don't know if you know this," Rob wound up, clearing his throat slightly and wadding up his napkin. "But Parma and Shaker are rivals. See, our view of Shaker was that it was very affluent and kinda snobby whereas Parma was considered more blue collar, much more real."

Two things happened at this point. First, I thought to myself well, I blew that. I tried to create some sort of bond between us and instead I gave Rob a reason to resent me, a resentment, by the way that goes back to his childhood and therefore one that I have no chance of eliminating.

Second, a spin-off conversation started among nearby co-workers including associate co-colleague Kevin. They were joking about high school rivalries and cliques and how there were the brains and the nerds and the stoners, etc. Meanwhile, Rob continued to describe to me how his family had always been poor because his father worked in a factory. The two conversations were going on simultaneously. And just as Rob asked me what my father (a doctor, of course) did, someone else asked Kevin to which group he belonged in high school. Before I could answer, sealing my fate, a small miracle happened.

"I was a stoner!" Kevin proclaimed loudly and proudly. Everyone had a good laugh, myself especially since all the attention had shifted to Kevin, who quite clearly is no ass-kisser, God-bless him.





At 1/27/2006 2:35 PM, Tom in L.A. said...

Thanks to my memoirist, I have new facts regarding my childhood...

The suburb we lived in between the summer of 1968 and the summer of 1970 was Cleveland Heights, not Shaker Heights. Cleveland Heights was never as affluent as Shaker Heights, but it held its own in having a population that was highly educated, a good school system, good libraries and a theater that showed foreign and art films. Shaker Heights had all that plus the added cachet of charm. It had a center -- Shaker Square-- which had all the requisite pricey shops, a pharmacy and of course a movie theater. The Square was really an oval. If you lived in Cleveland, it was the best suburb to live in. For kids growing up on the west side of Cleveland, Shaker Heights was a world away, in more ways than geography. Paul Newman came from Shaker Heights. His family owned a sporting goods store there. Everyone dressed like a preppie back then. Today Shaker Heights is no longer the shining jewel it once was. Blight has set in.

Back in the 1940s, post WW II, Parma was new and expanding. Moving to Parma, if you lived on the west side of Cleveland, was moving one step up the socio-economic ladder, but still worlds away from Shaker Heights. It was a working man's community. The Drew Carey image of Parma that I have, is just about right. Parma was and still is the butt of many jokes.


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