Money, Money, Money


If producers of the hit show need an inspiration to continue after its “final” season … fast-forward to the 1970s, when the remaining members of the Crawley family sell their estate to a pop group from Sweden… but they and their servants are permitted to live on the property alongside the winners of Eurovision 1974. Hilarity ensues!

Hey, it could work.



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 got 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.


Or “A Belated Birthday Gift For My Husband, Which I Finally Managed to Finish, Albeit A Couple of Weeks After the Fact.”

Some notes: 

My husband Andy is 15 years older than I am, which occasioned some comment when we were dating, and when we got engaged. Most of it was lighthearted in nature — well, except for my mother, but seeing as how her first comment when I told her we‘d gotten engaged was “I thought you were going to do something with your life,” any further discussion was bound to go downhill from there.

In the months leading up to our wedding, Andy & I took dancing lessons so we wouldn’t look like complete clods during the wedding reception. At one point, our instructor told us that if we came up with a song, she’d help us put together a choreographed dance for our first dance. I don’t remember if I was being serious or sarcastic when I suggested “When I’m Sixty-Four” –maybe as a kind of retort to people who’d joked about the difference in our ages? — but Andy liked it, and the dance instructor and Andy pointed out that many, if not most, Beatles songs are foxtrots.

So, for our first dance at the reception, we had a fancy routine all worked up. (I can still remember practicing in the big living room of our first apartment, after we’d rented it but before we’d moved all our stuff in.)

I also remember thinking at the time, “hmmm, I’m going to have do something special for Andy’s 64th birthday as a kind of ‘in-joke.'”

So, here we are.  Happy birthday to my husband Andy.  He’s the best.


*The panels above feature cameos by our pets, those still with us, and those which have moved on to another plane of existence.

* sorted both of us into Hufflepuff; ergo, that’s a Hufflepuff initial sweater I’m knitting for Andy, à la Mrs. Weasley’s Gryffindor sweaters for her kids — though this drawing is clearly set in the alternate universe where I can, you know, actually knit.

*We tend to have trouble keeping our side mirrors attached to the car. Things keep running into them.

*We really do have a weeping cherry tree in our front yard. Dandelions, too.

*Lego does not, as far as I know, actually make a “Frank Lloyd Wright in Spaaaaaaace” set, but it would be darn awesome if they did.

*The postcard Andy is holding reads “Why do melons get married?” The answer, of course, is “Because they cantaloupe.” I have told Andy this joke at least once a week for the last 23-1/2 years, usually upon the occasion of him bringing cantaloupe home from the market. Despite this, we are still married. There was an early 20th century vogue for romantically-themed postcards with incredibly bad jokes, so I borrowed the tradition since I didn’t have to dig too hard for a terrible joke.

"…the trees don’t die, they just pretend, go out in style, and return in style: a new style."*

Black marker and colored pencil, drawn on the back of an appointment reminder from my doctor.  (If you look closely, you can see the map with directions to the clinic showing through.) For some reason, I’ve never been good at keeping a sketchbook, but often use scrap paper, the envelopes from junk mail, etc.

Found this hastily-drawn sketch buried under piles of papers around my computer; had forgotten about it.  It’s from last autumn, and the subject may need some explanation.

In late October –it must have been the afternoon of Halloween, blue skies, puffy white clouds, golden autumn leaves all around– I was driving home from somewhere, when something caught my eye.  I glanced over, and jumped when I saw what seemed to be a couple of small ghouls.

You know, just raking the leaves in a front yard, like suburban ghouls do.

It was only after I’d passed by that the scenario arranged itself in my imagination:

“Now, before dinner, and before trick-or-treating, I want you two to get those leaves raked.”


“I mean it — now get to it.”

“Can we wear our costumes while we do it?”

(Pause.) “Well, not the whole thing.  You can wear your masks.”


I’m glad I found this little sketch.  Seems appropriate for the first weekend of fall. 

Don’t know how these kids will disguise themselves this Halloween — I can’t even quite remember where I saw them  — but for one instant, this is what they were.

*From the poem “Leaves” by Lloyd Schwartz

23 Years, 4 Homes, 5 Cats, 2 Dogs, and 1 Mustache, To Say Nothing of Some Truly Regrettable Hairstyle Choices On My Part

No, it’s not just you.  It’s crooked. 

Today is our 23rd wedding anniversary.  There are not enough words in the language for me to tell the world how much I love my husband, or how lucky I am to know him, and what a truly good man he is.

So here’s a silly drawing instead.  (Little-known fact:  Silly drawings are, in fact, the traditional present for a 23rd wedding anniversary.)

Ninja Uterus Comics

Just in time for the Republican convention!

This comic was conceived (get it? get it?) when the divine Deborah Harkness shared Jennifer Tucker’s New York Times article “The Medieval Roots of Todd Akin’s Theories.”

During the ensuing discussion, author Alyssa Harad suggested we go back to the ancient notion of the ‘wandering womb,’ adding, “I want to send mine out on secret ninja missions to take care of this kind of business.”  And then Alyssa made the mistake of musing, “Am now dying for a webcomic starring a ninja womb.”  

So, there you have it. 

Some notes: 

*There will be more to come, both in terms of plot and design, I think. I keep looking at Mild-Mannered Ninja Uterus and trying to figure out how I can give  hair done up in a bun. You know, so that when she goes all “Ninja Uterus SMASH!” she can cast her glasses aside and shake her hair out, in the classic superheroine tradition.

I keep debating this within myself, and am very close to concluding that, if I’m going to have an ambulatory uterus with legs and feet running around outside a body, at that point, I can pretty much do whatever the hell I want.  

Honestly, in a world where it seems that the sum of male Republican politicians’ knowledge of human reproduction from clandestine conversations on their elementary school playgrounds — or better/worse still, a late-night game of “Telephone” at a sleepover — the idea of an ambulatory uterus, with or without bun, doesn’t seem that absurd.

*Sometimes cartooning leads me into weird, weird, areas of the imagination; hence the earnest conversation I had last night with my husband on the topic of ‘considering that the original ninjas were mainly meant to infiltrate, and look as ordinary as possible, would a disembodied uterus actually wear the modern ninja costume ideal of all-black, with only its eyes showing? Wouldn’t that make stealth more difficult? Unless it were night?’

I told you it gets weird.  Of course, one of my favorite aspects of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that the only part of the ninja uniform they wear is their scarves/masks.  Because wearing a mask makes a giant bipedal turtle carrying a martial arts weapon less identifiable. 
*If your sperm/semen is the shade of green depicted above, please consult your physician. 

Update, August 27th, 8:45PM: Apparently uteri are on the loose.  Seek shelter! 


Shadow of Night and Dinosaurs

My college friend Deb Harkness came to Cleveland a couple of weeks ago, on her book tour for her #1 New York Times bestseller Shadow of Night.  She was originally scheduled to appear at a branch of our local library, but so many people signed up to attend, the library moved the event to the auditorium of the high school — which was filled to capacity.  Eager readers came from all over the area, other states — and at least one came from Texas! 

Deb’s audience clearly loves her, which is only right, as she is incredibly brainy, wise and droll.  (Case in point: We went to dinner with her the night before her appearance.  As we reminisced, I said that I’d gotten so used to her being a Southern Californian — she teaches at USC — that I couldn’t recall where she was originally from; she explained that she hails from the far outer suburbs of Philadelphia — “not on the Main Line.”

The author regrets to announce …

 “Like, um … Lancaster?” I guessed.

“No, not that far out,” said Deb. “We were Amish Adjacent.”*)

Fans of her novels lined up for an hour before her reading & talk to have Deb sign their books (and for an hour after her talk, for that matter).  As she began her remarks, Deb said that a boy waiting in line with his mom had asked her, “Are there any dinosaurs in your book?”

She had to tell him, ruefully …. “No dinosaurs.”

Which is a darn shame, but Shadow of Night seems to be doing pretty well without them. 

P.S.  It’s not too much of a spoiler to relate that Shadow of Night involves time travel back to 1600s England, where the novel’s main character discovers there is a distinct lack of modern tableware.  Coincidentally, the day after Deb’s appearance, a culture-newsy web site I frequent featured this fascinating article on the history of the fork, which, it turns out, features enough drama, intrigue and whimsy to rival any novel.  

*For the uninitiated, “Beverly Hills Adjacent” is a euphemism used by real estate salespeople, and the upwardly (but-not-that-upwardly mobile), to obscure the fact that a property is not actually in Beverly Hills.  Eric Spiegelman notes, “If someone tells you they live Beverly Hills Adjacent, they’re selling something.”

Lesser Presidential Encounters with the Supernatural

A friend of mine complained about people who complain that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has no historical merit.   “No shit,” he says.  “It’s about vampires.”

This reminded me that, once upon a time, film critic Roger Ebert appeared on Conan O’Brien’s show, and somehow the conversation drifted to *Kazaam,* starring Shaquille O’Neal, which Ebert described/describes as one of the worst movies of all time. One of his complaints is that Shaq-as-genie showers a kid with all kinds of modern name brand candies, in a clear example of product placement. But then Ebert added something to the effect of “Wouldn’t a 2,000 year old genie from Arabia be more apt to give a kid dried figs or something?”

And Conan gave him a look, and said slowly, in a voice dripping with irony, “Soooo… you didn’t like the historically inaccurate rappin’ genie movie?” 

My husband and I pretty much say this in response to any complaint like the one my friend brings up.  (“Soooo … you didn’t like the historically inaccurate Abraham Lincoln-as-vampire killer movie?”)

Here’s some historical accuracy:

James Madison was our shortest President, at 5 feet, 4 inches.

William Howard Taft was our tubbiest President.  (See what I did there?  See?)  He may or may not have once gotten stuck in the White House bathtub. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson horrified dog lovers by picking up his beagles, Him & Her, by their ears.  Frankly, it’s always looked to me as if LBJ was messing with people’s minds, because if you look at pictures where he’s “lifting” the dogs up by their ears, their back legs are never off the ground.  I think it’s possible that Johnson cued the dogs by starting to “pull” at their ears, then the dogs would start to stand up on their back legs while Johnson kept up the illusion of “pulling.” 

But LBJ was a complicated guy.  It’s hard to say, really.

Holy cow (and exploding cat)

Okay.  Neil Gaiman just re-tweeted me.  NEIL FREAKING GAIMAN.

He’d originally tweeted, “Dear god I’m up against Stephen Fry in the Anglo Fan Favorites tournament.”

How could one possibly choose between the two?

If you haven’t seen or read Gaiman’s recent commencement speech to the University of the Arts, you really should.  If you need any kind of inspiration in any kind of artistic endeavor — or any endeavor at all, really — watch it or read it

Artist Gavin Aung Than has gloriously rendered the speech into comics form.  And for that matter, Than’s site Zen Pencils is a treasure trove of inspirational words, whenever you may need them.

Cats at Work: Faux Postage

Earlier this year, the United States Postal Service issued a set of stamps honoring Dogs at Work, featuring dogs in familiar jobs — guide dogs for the blind, therapy dogs, military dogs, and search & rescue dogs.

Despite their reputation for indolence and indifference, cats have jobs, too, and I felt they should be honored for their contributions to our daily lives.  Don’t try to put these on envelopes, though.

That admonition reminds me of a story which pops up in a couple of the many fun history books we have all over the house:  in 1874, the city government of Liege, Belgium, in an act of sheerest  optimism, attempted to train the town’s cats to deliver the mail.  It didn’t work. The New York Times archive has a stickily twee contemporary article (PDF document)* describing the experiment, but here’s the quick summary:

The town fathers of Liege presented the town cats with a pile of letters.

The cats looked at the pile of letters.

The cats looked up at the town fathers, said “no,” and left to complete the other projects they had scheduled for that day.

*Both pages of the New York Times article are in the PDF; scroll way down to see the first column.

*     *     *

More About “Cats at Work”: ink, Copic marker, and colored pencil on Borden & Riley #234 Paris Paper for Pens.

Four of the cats here are modeled on cats we own or have owned.  The gray and white “Meditation Teacher” cat honors our late, great cat Argyle.  His official job title in real life was, more accurately, “Benevolent Warrior King.”

Archie, one of our current cats, has dedicated his life to defending America–or at least my husband and me — from the Red Dot Menace.

Henry was our sundial — to borrow from Christopher Smart’s poem about his cat Jeoffry, “For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him,” although Henry’s love affair with the sun, and the world, ran through afternoon, early evenings and in dreams all through the night, and likely continues on to this day, somewhere in the universe.

Gingersnap, poor little man, was a cat of very little brain, but much affection.  His kneading massages were accompanied by a window-rattling purr, and less attractively, a cascade of drool.