A Greek Poet Walks Into A Tailor Shop…

Classicists find this hilarious.

The Writer’s Almanac points out that today is the birthday of the Greek poet Euripides. How they know this, I do not know, what with the scarcity of written records from that period, the many adjustments made to our calendars over the centuries, etc. etc.

Nonetheless, I took it as a hint that I should finally get around to illustrating one of my very favorite bad jokes of all time. 

I’m sure my former college art history professors are thrilled that I’m utilizing my academic major in this way.  

So happy birthday, Euripides! Rock it up, rip it up, have a ball, dude.


Traditional Anniversary Gifts


Mr. B. & I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago, in our typically low-key way.  We went out for a quiet dinner; but then again, nearly all our dinners are quiet, since we are both quiet people who are content to be with one another in a comfortable silence. (There’s a line in E.M. Forster’s short story “The Celestial Omnibus” which I always think of: “But they did not chatter much, for the boy, when he liked a person, would as soon sit silent in his company as speak …”)

It’s always seemed odd to me that the”official” guidelines for anniversary gifts sputter out after the 15th anniversary, except for the anniversaries ending in zeroes & fives.  You’d think that a couple married for more than 15 years would deserve gifts –even weird ones — for that accomplishment.

A History of Cleveland OH in 50 Objects

A History of Cleveland, OH in 50 Objects, #2 of a series: The Plum

Map borrowed from the Internet & altered/purpled by me; plum drawing also by me.

Q:  What’s the difference between Cleveland and the Titanic?
A: Cleveland has a better orchestra.
–popular joke, ca. late 1970s

The latter half of the 20th century wasn’t kind to the city of Cleveland. You know the litany:  river catches on fire, mayor’s hair catches on fire, default, “The Mistake by the Lake.” Cleveland became a national punchline.

How to combat that?  Well, why not some old-fashioned civic boosterism? In 1981, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the city’s (then) daily newspaper asked its advertising agency to come up with a slogan to attract out-of-state businesses, and/or their money, to northeast Ohio.

The agency came up with … “New York May Be The Big Apple, But Cleveland’s A Plum.”

At least that’s how I — and I think a lot of other Clevelanders — remember it.

I was in high school at the time, and my friends and I sneered at our new civic motto with the intellectual snobbery practiced by precocious teenagers of every era.  But for years I thought we’d had a legitimate point on this topic.  Huh? Why bring up some other city in your own city’s motto? Particularly a legendarily cosmopolitan city which could only make Cleveland look bad in comparison?

Turns out that the “New York May Be The Big Apple, But Cleveland’s A Plum” slogan was originally meant to be posted only at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, to attract the attention of business moguls and convince them that Cleveland was … er … ripe for their advertising dollars.

That made a little more sense.

Except that the Plain Dealer, claiming that the population couldn’t get enough of The Plum, then slapped the motto (sometimes shortened to “Cleveland’s A Plum,” sometimes in its entirety) on every possible marketing novelty — buttons, mugs, tote bags, bumper stickers, you name it. The city celebrated “Plum Week,” culminating in the mayor throwing out the first pitch at an Indians game … using a plum in place of a baseball.

Yes, we understood that “plum” is a term for, as the Oxford English Dictionary notes, “any desirable thing, a coveted prize; the pick of a collection of things; one of the best things in a book, piece of music, etc.; (also) a choice job or appointment.”  

Even without the New York comparison, the metaphor seemed forced. Cleveland has never had any connection to plums. The suburbs just south of Cleveland used to be known as the “Greenhouse Capital of America.” But Cleveland’s agricultural industry was dying off by the late 1970s, and at any rate, wasn’t famous for its plum-growing capabilities. Ohio was once among the nation’s leading growers of tomatoes. So boasting “Cleveland: Wow! What a Tomato!” might have made sense at one point.  Maybe.*

So, for the most part, Clevelanders regarded the new slogan with polite bafflement. And over the years, like so many other Cleveland oddities, that bafflement has evolved for Clevelanders Of A Certain Age into a kind of perverse, nostalgic pride:  yeah, we’re an odd city that once had an odd civic slogan, what’s it to ya? 

So we came full circle — the motto meant to banish the punchline became the punchline. 

But it’s our punchline.

*Incidentally, in case you were wondering, California leads the nation in plum-growing, followed by Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Michigan. 

Addendum: You can get newly-minted “New York May Be the Big Apple, But Cleveland’s a Plum” merchandise at Big Fun, Cleveland’s own fabulous emporium of all things pop culture, and truly one of the great aspects of living here.

I was once at the Big Fun on the West Side when a teenage girl picked up a NYMBTBABCAP mug and read the motto out loud.

She made an explosive, derisive sound and asked her friend, “What does that even mean?” 

Oh, honey, you had to be there. 

Agriculture,” The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (online), a joint project of Case Western Reserve University and the Western Reserve Historical Society.

How the Plum grew and grew and grew!” letter to the editor, William J. Stern, President, Nelson Stern Advertising, Pepper Pike, Ohio, to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 21, 1981, p. 5AA.

No Plums Allowed,” Cleveland Magazine, August 2004

Nothing Rotten about the Big Plum,” Time (subscription only), June 15, 1981.

Plum Profile,” Hayley Boriss, Henrich Brunke and Marcia Kreith, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California; revised March 2012 by Greg McKee, North Dakota State University. The Agricultural Marketing Research Center (

The Week (May 25-31),” Herm Weiskopf, Sports Illustrated, June 8, 1981.

This is not directly related to this entry, but there are fascinating photographs and other materials related to the history of the greenhouse industry in Cleveland at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Memory Project  — which, come to think of it, is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Cleveland and its environs.  You may be there a while.


Goat Day Has Come (and Gone) Again

Last year, Goat Day was in early September.  This year, due to the vagaries of goat husbandry, it was the last weekend in June.  Belatedly, here’s my design for the 4th annual “Goat Day,” the invitation-only celebration of All Things Goat at the farm of my friends Heather & Ken. (Get your Goaterdammerung t-shirts, mugs, buttons & posters here.)

Oh, but wait.  You may not know about Goat Day.

To recap from last year:

What’s Goat Day?

As Heather says, “Wait, you don’t know about the traditional observance of GOAT DAY? How sad for you. But we can fix that.

“Come play with adorable new baby goats. Try your hand at milking a goat if you want, or not. Sit on the porch and drink sangria. Play the ukelele. Bring food and/or drink to share. Eat a motherlovin’ smoked turkey. Take a walk in the pastures or woods. Go nap on the hammock.”

Heather and Ken’s dogs will also be there. Many of them are smarter than most people, but most people don’t hold that against them.  (Incidentally, Heather maintains a blog entitled Raised by Wolves, and if you’re at all interested in dogs, search and rescue, livestock, farming, biology, or life in the country, you should be reading it.)

But mostly Goat Day is designed to capitalize on the fact that baby goats are the cutest thing God ever made.  (Well, maybe they’re in a tie with puppies.)  This year, the cuteness will be well nigh unbearable, as Heather now has dwarf Nigerian goats, and their brand-new kids are ickle widdle twee little sweethearts.  I met two of the new baby goats a couple weeks back.  I picked one up.  It looked up at me with twinkly eyes and let out a barely audible “maaaa-aaaaa-aaaaaaa,” and it was all I could do to keep from running to our car, tossing it into the back seat, and taking it back home with me, fish-tailing out of Heather and Ken’s driveway as I raised a cloud of gravel and dust. (Eventually, though, I suppose I’d have to come back and get my husband, and the whole incident would just become embarrassing.)

Well, we didn’t have a smoked turkey this year, nor sangria. And I don’t think the hammock was up, because there was some dark muttering by Heather about Ken having broken it.

But ukeleles were played — well, one ukelele, at any rate, shared by two people playing at various times. One of those players can actually play, and sing, the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.” So, now I can cross “Hear ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ played on the ukelele” off my bucket list. I actually didn’t know it was on my bucket list until I heard it, but once I had, I felt it was something everyone should experience.

And there were definitely goats. And baby goats.

It was a good day.

Next year’s Goat Day design: Goat Day: Electric Boogaloo.  I promise.