Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cleveland's East Ohio Gas Blow-Up

Don Robertson’s book The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread was fun to read. He has these terribly long run-on sentences that I love. Those run-on sentences are one of the reasons why I need to get a new writing group. They don’t get that they’re all right.

I have to admit that I skipped around in this book, read the first 30 pages and skipped to the middle of the book, and I read the last half of the book in about two hours or less. I had to have it done for book group, and Ms. Roberta did a wonderful job of showing us where Morris Bird III walked and what the places that were blown up look like today. She even did a trifold board with photos she collected from the internet and took herself. We met at Lynn’s place, her comfy little haven, and had chicken salad with rosemary bread and rosemary butter, chocolate covered strawberries and shortbread cookies, and bread pudding. Very well done.

Don Robertson wrote 18 novels during his lifetime and he was from Cleveland. He took the night shift at his newspapermen’s job (he wrote for both the PD and the Press) so he could write novels. This book was written in 1965 when he would have been around 36 years old, and there are two other books with Morris Bird III in them. The New York Times said, “Delightful . . . universal enough to send a twinge of nostalgia through any ex-boy.”

The best part of the book was the end when Robertson captured what it was like to be in the Hough area when the gas tanks blew—I couldn’t put it down. We like this kid described in third person and always by his full name—Morris Bird III. “He had never seen Suzanne Wysocki cry. Veronica Lake had revealed herself to him. Suzanne Wysocki had never revealed a thing—except, of course, her interest in babies and death and all that sort of beeswax.” He loves a real girl and he loves Veronica Lake and Robertson says things like “beeswax,” which cracks me up. He keeps a picture of Veronica Lake hidden in a copy of a book about baseball, a picture he crooked from Woolworth’s. People tell him he has a good mind, and there are a whole mess of items in his head like “When you pitched baseball gum cards against a walk you got two for leaners” and “Republicans were terrible people. Everyone said o. Or anyway, almost everyone” (this one I particularly loved.) How about the word “tiddlelump”? The time is 1944, and we’re there with Morris and his little sister Sandra and a wagon with the words “NOSMIRC KAERTS” on it “hauling Sandra and the alarmclock (what’s with the combining of words like that?) and the jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter.”

Characters are well drawn and they all run together in paragraphs, like on page 135 when we get “Mrs. Barbara Sternad sat down and had a cigarette . . . So what if she did sort of baby herself? . . . The Bernstein neighbor again telephoned Casimir Redlich. No, no sign yet of Irving . . . Mrs. Imogene Brookes gently soaped herself in her tub. She always was gentle with her body. Its measurements were 35-22-35, and she didn’t want to disturb anything. She was humming, and her head was full of visions of her passionate optician, her wonderful G. Henderson LeFevre . . . Now she was entrapped in a dreadful situation, and the awful part of it was—she was enjoying it. It was uncomfortable and it was preposterous, but she’d never enjoyed anything more. Never.” Later, on page 138, she reflects “But she wasn’t in her right mind. He was quite tall and think, and his shoulders were rounded, and he wore rimless spectacles that in no way concealed the fact that he blinked too much, but oh dear, appearances were so deceiving. She loved him. Truly she did. She had to. If she didn’t, what did that make her? Oh dear. Such a dreadful thought.”

The descriptions are as horrible as how horrible it must have been. And I didn’t even know this true East Ohio Gas event of blown tanks of natural gas that caused 5000-degree temperatures even happened. The places where the houses were is now owned by East Ohio Gas, Roberta reports.

Why did nine-year-old Morris do all this? Why take his sister in a wagon across town? "Selfrespect." And when he gets home, he’s going to get it.

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