Book Review: ‘Damn Right I’m From Cleveland’ by Mike Polk

Read an epic scathing review of Mike Polk Jr.’s book Damn Right I’m From Cleveland.

damn-right-polkEvery nonfiction book makes a promise, stated or unstated, and Damn Right I’m From Cleveland: Your Guide to Makin’ It in America’s 47th Biggest City by Mike Polk states its promise right there in the subhead — to help the reader make it in Cleveland.

I picked this book up thinking, “Maybe I’ll learn something that can help ME make it in Cleveland. Or maybe I’ll learn something I can share with my cousin from Lyndhurst while he waits for his arraignment. This confident-looking man on the cover, Mike Polk Jr., is wearing a natty suit and boldly-chosen socks. He’s drinking that cocktail with such nonchalance. He’s doing OK. I bet there IS good information in this book. I bet I will find out how to make it in Cleveland.”

But I didn’t. I didn’t find out how to make it in Cleveland at all.

For example, I don’t understand how using a crudely pasted cartoon of city founder Moses Cleaveland fleeing Cleveland right after he founded the city is supposed to help me make it in Cleveland. If Moses Cleaveland cannot make it in Cleveland, I’m not sure anyone can. At this point, nine pages in, Polk should have realized this book was a fool’s errand, and he should have returned his reported $30 million advance to Gray & Co. Instead Polk rambled on—drunkenly, for the most part—for another 100 pages.

Damn Right I’m From Cleveland is a crooked river of nonsense.

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Art Buchwald Thanksgiving Column

Humor columnist Art Buchwald wrote a lot of great columns, and one that is still remembered widely is his Thanksgiving column, entitled “Le Grande Thanksgiving.”

In this column, which Buchwald wrote while living in France, the humorist explained Thanksgiving to the French. He told them it was the only time of year Americans eat better than they do.

Buchwald’s Thanksgiving column became a classic, and newspapers have run it ever since.

Check it out: Art Buchwald’s Thanksgiving Column


The Humor Columnist Interview with Author JW Bull

Read The Humor Columnist’s interview with author JW Bull.

jw-bullOne of the perks of judging the Shirley You Jest humor book contest is that I get to talk to a few of the winners.

Author J.W. Bull (that’s her over to the left) won first place in the LOL Fiction category. We discussed her book Pickin’ Tomatoes, which is about a single, 40-year-old, jobless new mother named Maggie who enters a food writing contest (even though she is not a food writer), somehow manages to win and launches into a whole new life.

Here’s how one very biased Amazon reviewer described Pickin’ Tomatoes:

“I bought this book hoping it would be awful. You see Pickin Tomatoes is up against my book in the finals of the Shirley You Jest Book Awards. Within the first few pages I was sorely disappointed. Not only was this book not awful – it was really, really good. The words flowed across the pages – funny and witty, the story dragged me into its soul – captivating and touching, and the (sic) protaganist, Maggy Malone, touched my heart making me laugh and even cry.”

In addition to being an author, Bull, whose real name is Jennifer, is a violinist in The Georgia Symphony and a wife and mother.

JD: Your book about a woman who won a writing contest has won a writing contest. Are you now wishing you had written a book about a woman who receives a large inheritance from a distant relation?

JWB: Actually, I wish I had written a book five years ago about a woman who receives a large inheritance from a distant relation. Inheriting money during the Bush years versus inheriting money during the Obama years…hmm…

JD: I am nodding in sober agreement. What was the inspiration for Pickin’ Tomatoes?

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10 Talking Points for the Impromptu High School Reunion That Happens at the Bar the Night Before Thanksgiving

Going to the bar the night before Thanksgiving? Here are some tips.

The night before Thanksgiving is one of the most important drinking nights of the year, right up there with Christmas Eve and Tuesdays. Thanksgiving is one of the rare blessed holidays that can be enjoyed while severely hung over because the basic idea of this holiday is to sit, eat, watch football and drink some more. It’s like the pilgrims wanted you to be drunk for 24 straight hours, God bless them and their shiny-buckle hats.

Where to drink the night before Thanksgiving is easy. You could drive across town to drink, but then you run the very real risk of sitting in a jail cell later trying to remember the phone number of that one DUI lawyer you saw with the ad on the back of a city bus–the one where he’s looking at you like, “DUIs aren’t the driver’s fault. They’re the cops’ fault. Hire me and my justice-y beard.”

The best option the night before Thanksgiving is always to drink locally. When you do, you will run into people you know from high school. And inevitably you will run out of things to say because there is a reason you don’t keep in touch. Not to worry. I gotcha covered.

1. So, what was jail like?
OK, not everyone you went to high school with wound up in jail, but if you’re out drinking the night before Thanksgiving, and you’re in a conversation with someone you went to high school with, and you’ve never been in jail, statistically, the odds are pretty good that the other person in the conversation has been to jail.

2. I heard ____ is pregnant again.
That girl who got pregnant 15 years ago your junior year in high school? She’s still getting pregnant. And now her kids are pregnant and even some of their kids are pregnant.

3. Is ___ dead?
There is always one kid–his name is Tony in my class–who everyone thinks is dead.

Every Thanksgiving or Christmas some girl who didn’t know Tony at all will start telling you that your class’s Tony is dead and isn’t it awful?

Then three hours later you see him while picking up your mom’s car at the mechanic, and you’re like, “I can’t believe you’re alive!” and he’s like, “What the hell are you talking about?”

4. I heard Mr. ___ finally got arrested.
You had at least one pervy teacher. If there is any semblance of functioning law enforcement in your town, he has since been arrested.

5. Did Ms. ____ really pose for Playboy in the 1980s?
This rumor started while you were in high school. There’s one foxy older teacher, and rumor has it she did a Playboy spread in the 1980s, and this one guy you know said he saw the spread one time, but when you ask him to produce it, he says he doesn’t have it anymore, and you want to call BS on him, but the confident glint in his eye seems to indicate that he did see it. And so you wander the earth going from garage sale to garage sale, flipping through stacks of old magazines, hoping…

6. I heard ____ is loaded.
No, not loaded as in drunk. Loaded as in made a lot of cash. And it’s not a kid you’d expect. The kids with the best grades in my class went on to become schoolteachers, pro bono lawyers and mimes. But some kid no one paid attention to invented a thing a bunch of people want and now he’s rich, and everyone agrees we all should have been a lot cooler to him in high school.

7. Do you see your ex much?
Again, if you’re pounding brews 10 hours before you’re supposed to be eating yams with grandma, and you don’t have an ex, odds are the person you’re talking to does.

8. I heard ____ is gay.
There was one guy in your class. You knew he was gay. He knew he was gay. The entire school knew he was gay, but because coming out in your high school would have invited daily beatings, he never came out, and everyone had to pretend he was straight even to the point where he took a girl to homecoming and everyone had to pretend it was a real date and their homecoming photo looked something like this.

9. I heard ___ is gay now.
This one is a bit different. This gay guy is one of the guys who would have or did beat up the flaming gay guy in high school. This one’s a shocker, because this guy hated gay guys so much he just wanted throw them violently to the ground and climb on top of them and thrust his hands and legs at them while yelling and screaming…hey, wait a second.

10. I gotta get out of this town, man.  
The short list of towns to escape to always includes Chicago, because we all have one friend who lives in Chicago, and even though it’s far from home, and the weather is terrible nine months a year and everyone there, including the women, has thick furry, ethnic mustaches, they’ll all tell you it beats living it at home. After Chicago, the list of cities people want to move to but never move to goes: Miami, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Boston, in that order.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

See you at the bar.

Joe Donatelli is the author of Full Griswold: Stories from a Honeymoon in Italy.

Bar photo via Nicole Yeary


Stuff Your Face with Weird Foods

Check out my article in Livestrong about weird foods and why you should eat them.

weird-foodAccording to the Food Marketing Institute, the average grocery store offers 38,718 items for sale. I called an FMI representative to confirm that this information was correct, and she assured me that even though “the average grocery store offers 38,718 items for sale” sounds like the most completely made up fact of all time, it is real.

This number is important because, like most of you, I buy the same 30 or whatever things every time I go to the grocery store, completely ignoring the other 38,688 options at my disposal. I don’t have the time or, in many cases, the stomach to buy more. Among the 38,688 items that I leave behind each week are some seriously weird and unappetizing foods.
You know the weird foods—chicken liver, leeks, pickled octopus cecum and all that other stuff only little old ladies in babushkas ever buy.

But these items are in the market, which means someone must actually be buying them. And if someone is actually buying them, there must be a perfectly good reason. So what are grocery store randoms good for?

I talked to a handful of nutritional experts about why someone should vary their diet and try new, off-the-beaten path foods. They all agreed, in general, that food variety is good for your health.

Then I went to the grocery store and photographed 50 different foods, an activity that aroused absolutely no suspicion from store employees or passersby, even in post-9/11 America. I shared the photos with my editor Brian, and we whittled the list down to 10 downright funky foods. I researched all 10 and discovered that there is a reason weird foods are sold in the market. Many of them have decent to good to excellent nutritional value.

The foods I found are weird to me, but maybe they are not weird to you. So if you eat smoked turkey neck every day, and you think I’m the freak because I don’t, then bully for you. The idea here isn’t to say you’re weird; it’s to share the health benefits of overlooked foods.

To see what all I found, check out this slideshow on Livestrong.