A Brief Return of The Journal of Emotional Hygiene

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LeBron is back, and so now it’s time to figure out how that makes us feel.

A story: The hood and roof of my car have a few long scratches in their paint. They showed up sometime this winter, long silvery gouges on the otherwise-pristine field of metallic blue. The scratches in the roof sit just above the driver’s seat and are obvious to anyone who may be getting into the driver’s seat. That person is usually me, and I see the scratches every time.

My wife pointed out the scratches to me sometime in the late winter, maybe early March. Our initial theory was that our car got keyed. This seemed plausible, and was infuriating. Random damage happens to cars parked in cities; one of my tires had been slashed just a few months prior on Thanksgiving weekend. It sucks, but it’s part of city life. The idea that someone came onto our property and damaged my vehicle angered me, but that anger quickly subsided. C’est la vie.

One morning a thought occurred to me: I had used a metal shovel to clear snow off of my car. The metal-on-metal friction likely caused the scratches. Another thought occurred to me: I’m a goddamned idiot.

So I sulked for a while about it, and looking at those scratches every day served as a reminder of just how much of an idiot I really am.

A few weeks ago, my wife was a bridesmaid in a wedding. The matron of honor was pregnant, and one of the groomsmen had a two-month old baby. Our daughter was five months old at the time, so our conversation at the rehearsal dinner gravitated towards the common ground we had: pregnancy and babies.

Eventually, my wife and I discussed our experience getting to the hospital on the day our daughter was born. In telling the story, a forgotten truth came up: in my rush to remove the ice that had come down the night before, I had used the shovel to clear the sidewalk and the car. Those scratches in the paint were there because the fastest way to the hospital involved clearing the car with the metal shovel that was already in my hands. I inadvertently damaged my car because the snow stood between us and the hospital and the snow needed to go.

Now, every time I look at my damaged car, I smile and think of my daughter. My vehicle is flawed, but I prefer it that way.

**

The NBA, for those of you unfamiliar with my “work”, was a source of absolute delight for me during the LeBron/Cavs years. The Cavs were solid, albeit flawed. They were propelled by a man so absurdly talented that sometimes watching him felt like a personal accomplishment. Jokes abounded, and everything was mostly good, except for that time that the Cavs suddenly lost to the Orlando PEDs Magic. That really sucked.

Then that whole unfortunate thing happened; mistakes were made. My over-correction was severe: I watched the Decision, drank some more spirits, wrote some words, and more or less left my NBA fandom behind.1 I’ve spent the past few years dealing with that and have mostly been fine with it.

QUOTE2It’s never a wise thing to expect a high level of rationality from Cleveland sports fans,2 but the actions of a significant number of Cleveland fans in the fallout of The Decision 1.0 were enough to cement the notion that I was done with sports for a while. I knew that nameless, faceless Cleveland Fans would do stupid, petulant things. What I didn’t expect to see were people I know from high school calling LeBron James the N-word on Twitter dot com. These were people not so different from me, and they were saying the worst possible things to another human being—because of a professional decision that only directly involve one of the parties involved (hint: the person directly involved wasn’t the person I went to high school with).

Ugliness like that made me ashamed to be a Cleveland fan. It’s ugly, and inexcusable, and ranks high among the worst possible outcomes of entertainment. I wanted nothing to do with that sort of garbage, not even a tangential association.3

**

The past few days have made me think a lot about how I feel about LeBron, the Cavs, and Ohio. LeBron’s maturation has been evident over the past few years, and it’s been increasingly difficult to not like him. Note I did not say ‘not despise him’: LeBron has been somewhat at ease since the Heat won their first championship. He became comfortable in his own skin, serving as a leader for the players’ association and acting as a fantastic ambassador for the sport—as well as the City of Akron—while in Miami. He’s grown into a very respectable man. The Decision was the only blemish on his career.4

The energy surrounding the Cavs with LeBron pulled me in. I was excited that the team’s new owner was aggressively pursuing options. Sure, Dan Gilbert trotted out his team to lobby for his casino, but whatever: the Cavs were great, and that was easy to look over. Then the Gilbert made a fool of himself with his letter, and his petulance became a rallying cry for the fan base. And then he became more the face of the ‘team’ than any of the players, with frequent and questionable front office/coaching moves all for the sake of Making The Playoffs. All of that was very off-putting.

Now, at least from a team identity standpoint, the owner is no longer the focal point. Sure, he can do PR interviews explaining how wrong he was in 2010 and how much he’s learned, but this is LeBron’s team now. LeBron chose the Cavs and NE Ohio as his destination. LeBron is taking up the rallying cry. And that’s remarkable and refreshing and heartening.

Which brings us to Ohio: I have not lived in Ohio since 2006. I do not plan to live in Ohio any time in the near or distant future, nor do I particularly want to raise my child there. But Ohio is still important to me because I am from there, and I very much want for Ohio to thrive. I think that’s where a lot of my initial excitement about LeBron’s return comes from: the idea that Ohio will thrive. That there will be tens of thousands of people in Downtown Cleveland for 40-plus Cavaliers home games every season for the foreseeable future. Sure, most of those people will immediately flee the city back to the suburbs, but maybe a few people will decide they like it in Cleveland Proper and will move inside the city limits and make Cleveland great again.

I want Ohio to thrive, but I do not want to live there. More accurately, maybe I’m not willing to give up the life I enjoy in the District of Columbia to ensure that Ohio does thrive. This feels somewhat hypocritical and more than a little cowardly at times, but it is the bare and honest truth.5 I like where and how I live and do not see any opportunities to live similarly in Ohio. So it is rather heartening and exciting to see Ohio immediately improved by the presence of one LeBron James. It’s nice that he decided to fill in for me in my absence.

**

At this point, you’re probably wondering why the hell I told you about my car. It is a mostly fine vehicle: it hums along without issue and is generally in good shape. It gets me from place to place. It is big, and heavy, and can cause terrible and irreparable harm when not operated correctly. It is vulnerable. It is an outward extension of me in some ways: the make and model might, to some, say a great deal about me.6

My car is also damaged in ways that are familiar and somewhat comforting. That damage reminds me in convoluted and personal ways about things that matter to me. That car is very much like my relationship with sports.

For a long while, I haven’t really cared about professional sports. If we’re keeping with the forced metaphor, I thought that LeBron ran a shovel (and then maybe a chainsaw) across my sports fandom car. In actuality, I’m the one who did the damage—blaming LeBron was the easy and false way out. I still can be a fan if I feel the need to, however damaged those feelings may be. Every now and again, those scratches on my car can unexpectedly hit me hard right in the feelings. Sports still have the potential to do the same, even as I’ve actively limited my exposure to them in order to avoid just that.

I think LeBron’s return hit me right in the feelings. It’s hard to say for sure, but I’m excited in a way that I haven’t felt in years. I’m excited to see good basketball played in Cleveland. I’m excited to see Cleveland come alive. And I’m excited to see LeBron lead the whole thing. More than anything, I’m excited to start enjoying the Cavs again. My relationship with the Cavs is more than a little damaged, but that damage has a backstory, and that backstory is comforting if I want it to be. Maybe it’s better that way.

  1. Browns fandom has never really existed, and it’s hard to get excited about bad baseball from a distance. []
  2. We have, in recent memory, been excited about: Brady Quinn, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Haslam, Team PR Persons, Nick Swisher, and Anthony Bennett among others. []
  3. I know: racist people say racist things, and not all Cavalier fans are racist. What really struck me was that there were the added layers of familiarity and ‘home’ into the racist mix. That coupled with the fact that their reaction to Sports Free Agency was to attempt and debase another person that way still eats at me. []
  4. Save me the apocryphal ‘LeBron doesn’t tip’ or ‘his mom is mean’ or ‘he drinks appletinis’ or ‘he is bald lol’ stories. They are irrelevant when assessing his career, and most of them are irrelevant no matter what. []
  5. The underlying assumption here—namely that my mere presence would improve Ohio’s prospects—may not be structurally sound. []
  6. I am not a ‘car person’, but I understand that plenty of people put a lot of stock in what their car says about them. If you’re curious, I drive a Ford Fusion. It is functional and utilitarian. []
  • Eric G

    Paragraph 16. I have never connected with words more. I am in the exact same position and I commented around that point when the announcement came. I live in Long Beach, CA now and I *cannot* imagine moving back. But I am SO stoked for what this means for the city.

    Much akin to Kareem’s point about LeBron not being able to “go back” because of everything that has happened while he was gone (both to him and away from him) – time.com, I have a romanticized notion of NEOH. I mean, I’m realistic about the 1 month of Summer as compared to the 12 months here, but I still think, even with an almost 2 year old, that maybe we could sustain life in the city and maybe be a part of re-building, and I have family there, and so many memories, and maybe all of that is enough to go back.

    In reality, we would probably be miserable away from my wife’s family out here, and not least especially, the weather.

    I want nothing more than Cleveland to be the greatest city in the US. I would absolutely love it. But, as hypocritical (maybe the wrong word?) as I’m sure this sounds, I won’t go back to help be a part of it.

  • Harv 21

    Beautiful, Denny.

    Two things:

    – I’m warmed and fuzzied by this return because of everything LeBron’s done to make it happen. Best I can tell, all the Cavs have done is fly to Miami and hug it out. His action and Letter offered a glimpse beyond his commercial soul that may be real, something I always felt he hid (or didn’t feel) through 2010, while he concentrated on his general marketability. Now the Cavs have to reciprocate with competence, not dumb luck that’s been most responsible for getting him the first time and now getting him back.

    – You haven’t been here, but downtown is already in the middle of a pretty radical change, a development LeBron’s return will only accelerate. Young people are moving downtown, so quickly that there is a waiting list of appropriate housing. A Heinens supermarket is going into the historic stone bank building at Euclid and East 9th, a big step toward viability of downtown living. I see young people (and middle aged) walking dogs and just living downtown everyday, something not existing 20 years ago when the streets in summer were filled only with people in Tribe gear on game days.

  • JDV

    If you don’t live in Ohio, I don’t five a fu** what you think. I’ve lived in Ohio for 20 years and every time some idiot like you makes a remark disparaging the area I cringe for them. You don’t want your kids to grow up in Ohio, but rather DC? Are you serious? D.C. is in the lowest decile for safety in the United States.

    And do tell, what is it about DC that you are you are unable to achieve in Ohio? Are there more Whole Foods per-capita? Perhaps it’s the rampant crime? Or maybe the great examples your child can look up to of the “high quality” individuals inhabiting our political system? It must be the restaurant scene, because clearly all we do in Ohio is eat raw corn and beef from our neighbors’ farms…

    This article was a sham… And I hope we don’t hear from you again anytime soon.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    “The underlying assumption here—namely that my mere presence would improve Ohio’s prospects—may not be structurally sound.” – Maybe not, but maybe it is, right? If enough people have that part of their mindset, that’s ultimately what makes it true. Lebron moving back is the perfect example of this (though with him, it’s real just by himself). We care about CLE wherever we are, and while some may not be willing to make the move back for understandable reasons, some of us who swore we never would ultimately have (we moved to CLE a year ago after 10 years in NYC).

    Regardless of whether someone moves back or not, having people living elsewhere who can praise CLE and root for its success, who can appreciate its growth and change, helps those of us who live here as well. My friends still love to poke fun at CLE, but because they knew us, they also ask a lot of Qs about living there and question why they’re paying double for housing that’s 1/3 the size while sitting in traffic for two hours a day. (A: “But then we’d have to live in *Cleveland*.”)

    It’s changed. CLE has changed, and will keep changing. It’ll still be a punchline until we have some championships, perhaps, but it’s awesome to be here knowing we’re not only undeserving of that, but knowing that everyone else is starting to catch on, too.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Inappropriately harsh. Sure, DC is a terrible place by most normal comparisons, but as a city that hates when everyone else mocks or hates on us for not choosing to live as they do, doing the same to others (who are expressing their support for CLE!) seems petty and dumb.

    We moved back to CLE a year ago, and are the flagship CLE people to many friends of ours, but it was attitudes like this that had us originally swear off ever coming to CLE.

  • bossman09

    I actually started disliking LeBron prior to 2010 decision. The one thing I want to see him do is show up to an Indians game with a frickin Tribe hat on and not a Yankees hat. When he asked for playoff tickets and then showed up with a YANKEEs hat on, I know the guy had problems. If he stops doing that crap, I will be 100% healed. I’m mostly there, but there was more than just the decision that caused problems.

  • arnold_palmer

    Someone isn’t going to be happy…

    Great Article Denny.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Get over the Yankees hat thing already sheesh and this comes from a Red Sox fan!

  • RGB

    As a NE OH expat in GA, I find myself being treated like a toddler who dropped his ice cream cone, whenever I’m sporting my Browns/Tribe/Cavs gear. lol

    My wife never tires of complete strangers coming up to me…”So, you’re a Browns fan…”

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Nice job by WFNY’s own D-man! Now like LBJ said, lets get to work.

  • Eli_L

    I really want to live in Cleveland again, but my wife refuses to move anywhere there is more snow. Luckily, however, climate change may solve that issue for me, so look out for my 2035 permanent return!

  • http://www.zfcomics.com dgriff13

    Wonderful article, Denny. I’ll chime in as another ex-clevelander. My dad’s job was transferred to Philly when I was 14, thus we moved from South Euclid to the Philly/NJ area. I don’t think I realized what a joke the city was to others, until I left. But just as I was/am a big tomboy and geek and a cartoonist in a dying industry… I felt right at home defending what I hold dear. I’m the eternal underdog supporting other underdogs on their uphill battle to success. I loved playing pickup basketball with guys, because I enjoying having to prove myself each and every game as a woman … which in actuality means proving I am BETTER than half the guys on the court, to be considered equal. I think the same goes for Cleveland sports. We have to win it all to be considered equal as a team, as a city, to others. Until then we will always be the whiny losers who are the pin-cushions of sports cities. Even when we are celebrating the return of a sports hero- we are “whiners”.

    However, since the Decision 1.0… I have seen a change in how Philly fans react to Cleveland and it’s fans/teams. I had tremendous support in 2010- Philly had our backs, and Sixers fans boo’d Lebron at games too. And today, I’ve only been hearing good things about LeBron’s return, with no mockery of how we “accepted him back so easily”. Maybe it’s because PHI has also suffered a lot of close-calls and heartbreak and droughts, so they are sympathetic. Hell, even when I bring a friend or my husband back to CLE, they are pleasantly surprised… by the cleanliness and updated downtown, by the friendly people, by the food and beer, by the general chill-but-not-boring atmosphere. My husband loves going to Cleveland for a break from the hectic-and-rude east coast. He feels the people of the midwest are just REAL, and it’s refreshing… it’s part of the reason he married me, as I still retained that quality. Guess I have my parents to thank for that, in how I was raised even after moving. BTW- my dad’s name is Denny.

    Just saying maybe we are starting to alter the stigma… LeBron’s return can only help, along with a championship. I’m feeling quite homesick ever since Friday, and look forward to MY own return in October, for a comic convention :0)

  • gmoko

    I did the same metal shovel/car hood thing during Snowmaggedon. Wish I had a good excuse.

  • gmoko

    Maybe if Cleveland advertised in the DC metro stations like Columbus does …

  • swig

    Denny!

  • Allen P

    Ahh, yeah. Aggressive defensiveness like this is exactly what we “Clevelanders” need to get past when it comes to our continued “spiritual” growth beyond the woe-is-me attitude and into a positive, forward-looking mindset that will be much more attractive to outsiders.

    We don’t know what circumstances Denny refers to when he says he prefers to stay in DC, so let’s assume that they’re just as reasonable as yours for staying here.

    I say all of this as a lifelong resident and “Cleveland Defender” who is bummed to hear of young professionals making conscious decisions like “I do not plan to live in Ohio any time in the near or distant future, nor do I particularly want to raise my child there.”

  • mgbode

    I am still receiving “ARE YOU READY FOR JOHNNY FOOTBALL!” comments everywhere I go this summer.

  • Matt Bowman

    Good piece Denny. My only issue is I think it seems slightly condescending that you wouldn’t consider coming home in the near or distant future, but at least you’re being honest.

    I think the flight we’ve seen out of Cleveland from native Clevelanders (and NE Ohioans overall) is an important thing that LeBron touched on in his (and Lee Jenkins’) SI piece. The part that really moved me was:

    “I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I
    sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place
    to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a
    family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community,
    which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

    I’ve felt the same way for a long time and obviously don’t have the influence that LeBron has. That’s why I’m so excited that he said this to the world. Maybe, just maybe, that will resonate with some people out there and start a movement. Cleveland is a great place – we just all need to believe that and let others know it. It will always be home for me and I’m not ashamed of it. No one should ever be.

  • RGB

    And training camp hasn’t even started.

  • mgbode

    Gotta say I do hope he lives up to his football billing as it would be fun to have it continue

  • Denny

    I didn’t hope to sound condescending, but if I came across that way, oh well. It’s not that I don’t consider returning to Ohio – I think about it more often than I’m usually willing to admit, but the end result is always the same: nope.

    That part of LeBron’s letter got me really excited about what he can do for Ohio, too. But I’m not selfless enough to say ‘you know what, I’m going to give up life here to go change Ohio for the better’.

  • Denny

    For me, I think ‘selfish’, rather than ‘hypocritical’ might best describe the feeling. But both work, and I couldn’t make up my mind when writing. Reading through what you’ve said, I think ‘selfish’ is a better fit.

  • Denny

    Yeah, I’ve read about the downtown grocery store, and the bike lane networks that have been going in. It seems like there are a lot of things to be excited about. The last time I was in downtown Cleveland was probably in 2009 when I ran the marathon. Even then, there were some really interesting things going on. I’ll have to take the time and visit next time I’m in Ohio.

  • Denny

    “Sure, DC is a terrible place by most normal comparisons”

    You may feel that way. I certainly do not.

    On Saturday, I threw my one (1) Browns t-shirt on and took my daughter out for a walk. We were sitting at the park and she was watching dogs run around. A guy walked up to me and said ‘Hey! Cleveland! They’re having a heck of a week!’, to which I replied ‘yeah, definitely.’ He followed up with ‘Yeah, they got the RNC!’. That he immediately went to the RNC as Cleveland’s Big News made me re-think DC, if ever so briefly.

  • Dave

    It’s not selfish or hypocritical. If I was a free agent in my line of work and there was a firm in Cleveland willing and able to pay me the max amount my line of work can pay, I would move back home from DC in a heartbeat. That is not a reality in my chosen industry though and likely many others if they are in finance, gov’t work, consulting, non-profits, legal, etc (the major industries of DC). You know the DC area is simply a transplanted area of mid-westerners who would like to move home but prefer a six-figure job and a nice neighborhood.

    Whether it’s Long Beach, Arlington, or Detroit, taking care of the bank account comes first for many people and I don’t think anyone argues against that. I know my family and friends in lobbying to come home understand where my paycheck is sourced. Now, the point that if people started fleeing to the Cleve, whether it’s because of LBJ or not, then it becomes a different story as the population growth starts to feed off itself.

    Neighborhoods grow/develop, people want to move there, companies need people so they move there to get the people, neighborhood gets crowded so cycle repeats. This happened in DC over and over again in the past 15 years largely due to an economic boom unleashed in the region from 9/11. Cleve isn’t going to have that type of dynamism added to its economy any time soon and it’s core economic drivers from 50 years ago are gone so it’s more important to focus on population growth and creativity to become a smaller hub of commerce.

    So here is where we come back to being selfish or hypocritical. I’m not getting a job offer to come home for more money on a COLA-adjusted basis in Cleve anytime soon so I’m staying put and have planted a flag in DC. But I want Cleveland to succeed and become a hub of growth and creativity. So how can Cleveland become that smaller hub of commerce and growth without people who have succeeded elsewhere not returning home to contribute?

    I don’t think there’s a right answer here and as soon as LBJ announced and the letter processed by people, I was asked by 10+ colleagues when I was moving back. If it starts a revolution to flee back home and in 15+ years Cleveland is a dynamic, vibrant, and growing economy the envy of the midwest let alone the country, then even if the Cavs don’t win a championship, LBJ is a hero.

  • Eric G

    Well said. And maybe you’re right. Maybe it isn’t ‘hypocrisy’ or ‘selfishness’. Maybe it’s just that damn guilt. I feel it everyday when I don’t see my side of the family, save for two times a year (if we’re lucky). And I feel it for the city. It’s pretty egotistical to think that if I had stayed there, the city would be better off. But, I don’t think it’s egotistical if you apply that to a large group of people, all of whom moved away for the same reasons. Who likely would have the city in a better place if only the right jobs were there to keep us.

    I’m not sure what the solution is. And with all of the socioeconomic factors at play, who does know?

    I will likely continue to live with the guilt and just deal with it like I do everyday. But hey, at least it isn’t hypocrisy!