Every 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.
Can you make it in Cleveland by redesigning the city’s official flag to include a photo of a shark, a double-neck guitar and local celebrity weatherman Dick Goddard? Polk seems to think so.
Can you make it in Cleveland by suggesting that Cleveland could reverse its sinking fortunes by changing all of the freeway signs leading into Cleveland to say Chicago? Capital idea, says Mr. Polk.
Would it improve your lot in Cleveland to learn that the strippers at the Fox’s Den look like a “failed cloning experiment”? That information helps no one, Mr. Polk, except maybe my cousin in Lyndhurst.
Far be it from me to climb into the author’s vodka-addled brain, but when you read the book a certain way, it almost appears that Mr. Polk, instead of trying to help you make it in Cleveland, is actually making fun of Cleveland.
Yes, held up to a certain light, Polk’s snide book is actually piquant social commentary cloaked in humor wrapped in a pierogi of truth. He lures the reader in with the promise of service, but the service he really delivers is a civic tour de force of all the things that make Cleveland horrible and great. If you read this book a certain way, it is very, very funny.
Unless you’re idea of making it in Cleveland is finding a good place to poop downtown (the author recommends a port-o-john on E. 13th and Providence), this book, as any sort of guide to succeeding in Cleveland, fails miserably. As a raucous, photo-filled satire of Cleveland in the year 2012, it is a raging success.
You can buy this very unhelpful book on Amazon here.
Joe Donatelli is a journalist who used to work with Mike Polk Jr., until Joe’s well-coiffed boss asked Joe to stop coming to work one dark day. You can follow Joe on Twitter.