Loofah Day in Cleveland

2:41pm EST and I’ve just returned from the first annual Loofah Day festivities. As I wrote in my previous message, I was drawn to the falafel side of things and so, though just having completed  a 6 ½  hour road trip with my family from Aberdeen MD, and pulling into Cleveland, OH at 10:30 pm last night, I awoke early this morning to prepare the chickpeas that I had the foresight to set soaking in the refrigerator back on Friday. I enlisted the help of my 3 year old, Noam, who enjoys manning and operating the mixer. He usually likes to add the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies but was sufficiently intrigued by the meat grinding attachments that he saw me fastening onto the mixer, to help out. I’ve always heard that falafel originates from Egypt where they add fava beans to the mix. There are many styles, Iraqi, Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian, Israeli and Yemenite, that I’m familiar with. I grind together chick peas (hummus) onion, fresh parsley and coriander, dried mint, cumin, salt and a blend that I picked up at ‘Al-Madina’ grocery on W. 117th and Lorain labeled ‘Falafel spice’. Originally I had thought to take the simple equipment needed (oil, pot, propane camping stove) down to the Fox studios but upon further consideration I thought it best not to handle boiling oil in a place where I conceivably might not be welcome. Who knows what could happen? I figured that I’d see how it went this year and based on that, I could adjust for next year. For a really good falafel, it has to be eaten fresh, within minutes of frying. It’s impossible to overemphasize this point. On the other hand, stale falafel that has stood out for a while, might be more resilient in the shower should anyone wish to take it there, I don’t know.

Much as he’d like to I don’t let Noam cook with hot oil, so his services were no longer needed and I dismissed him and sent him outside to play. While usually deep fried in the shape of balls, I made patties using a falafel molding tool from Egypt that I also purchased at ‘Al-Madina’. The physics of falafel frying is what currently eludes me. I’ve tasted them where they’re crispy and golden brown on the outside and so light and airy on the inside that they don’t even feel as if they’ve been fried. Mine on the other hand tend to be (I’m sorry to say) slightly soggy on the inside. It’s something that I’m trying to remedy. To mask the imperfections, I also prepared a tehina sauce to go with it, made of sesame paste, lemon juice, water, garlic and salt. The tehina came out too lemony. But never mind. I was finished by 11:30, and placed the freshly made falafel in a foil pan and kept it in the oven at low setting to keep it warm. I took a piece of aluminum foil to cover it with and wrote ‘Falafel’ and ‘Tehina’ in English and Arabic. Hey, showing up at Fox studios with Arabic script covering an unidentified metal object, who could resist?

I copied the Arabic letters off of a box of mix that I have. Although I can read and write Arabic haltingly, having taken a Harvard extension class back in 1984. I remember on the first day the instructor expressed surprise at the unexpectedly large size of the class and asked if we knew of jobs somewhere requiring Arabic and if so, would we let him know? I wonder what he’s doing these days?

When my wife to returned from grocery shopping, I donned my Counterpunch T-shirt, grabbed my camera and double checked the Fox studio address in the phonebook, listed as downtown on Euclid Avenue. I had remembered it being on S. Marginal Rd., along Lake Erie. At 11:45 I set off from our suburban residence (we’re walking distance from the city border) thinking that I’d first check out the address on Euclid Ave. On the way down, I popped an unmarked cassette in to play. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Bob Dylan’s ‘Under the Red Sky’, an under appreciated Dylan record, it combines the surreal and the playful and the political. ‘Wiggle Wiggle’ was playing, and sounded good. On Euclid Ave-nothing, desolate-some guy sitting in these new concrete bus stops they’ve got set up along the street. I probably wouldn’t even get the chance to ask him to take a picture. Wait! It was channel 5, the ABC station, the phone book was wrong! I quickly hopped onto I-90 N, near E. 30th and was winging my way to S. Marginal Rd. at the E.55th street exit. It was just past noon. I didn’t want to be late! One of the perks of living in a dying urban center is that there is no traffic on weekends and holidays, none. So I could make good time and get over there easily. But now, slowing down and coming around ‘dead-man’s curve’ at the lake, I saw on my right fields filled with people- tents, families out grilling, blankets, frisbees. All this for Loofah Day in Cleveland?! I couldn’t believe it. My heart began to swell with pride, I may have gotten goose-bumps. Alack, Alas, but no! People had gathered to watch the annual Labor Day Air show along the lake. The F-15’s or Blue Angels or phantoms were hurtling by at that moment. People were on hand for the annual glorification/idolization/deification/adulation/capitulation to the military/industrial complex. I had seen them practicing on Thursday while taking my lunchtime walk at work. They fly low and come up on you silently- then comes the ear-shattering sonic boom. I could only imagine how terrifying this would be to a Lebanese or Palestinian child in some village, seeing those things looming in on you. I had a personal taste of this when we were visiting my wife’s family in Israel and stopped at a water park above the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was evidently situated near a military airfield and there were frequent flyovers by these types of planes. Every time one would pass over, Noam, then 2 years old, would become frightened and agitated. It was freaking him out, and pissing me off. I commented to my wife that I could understand the psychological damage done to the children of Gaza and Lebanon by these constant aural assaults. Here we were on the aggressor’s side and look at how even temporary exposure was affecting our child.

So I continued east on I-90 trying to outrun those stealth bombers or whatever the hell they are, to no avail. My exit was presently coming up and I got off and saw the Fox TV studio down S. Marginal. As I pulled closer, hoping to see loofahs raised high in the air accompanying some rhythmic tribal dance, it was all silent the only sound coming from Dylan’s ‘TV talking song’ playing in the background ‘your mind is your temple/keep it beautiful and free/don’t let an egg get laid in it by something you can’t see.’ I pulled into one of the four parking spaces outside the electric gate. 12:07 pm. Nothing, quiet. Summer cicadas chirping. Some self-parody of William Hurt in Broadcast News standing in front of the klieg lights stood out on the front lawn just past the no trespassing private property sign. He didn’t notice me. Probably reporting on the Kremlin tank parade going on above us. An F-16 climbed straight up, another flew past turning jerkily to reveal its enormous genitalia underneath.

I took the food out of the car and walked around the fence to see if anyone else was around and was pondering how I was going to snap a picture of myself when three cars loaded with people came barreling into the remaining 3 parking spots. A woman got out of one car and we exchanged greetings as she walked by me to another car. I waited patiently for her to finish her conversation and asked her to take my picture in front of the Fox sign with the falafel. She amiably agreed. I told her that I was waiting for some people and she said that they were too, hooking up to go watch the air show. Then I remembered that when there was no loofah to be found in our bathroom cabinet I grabbed my wife’s shower cap instead. Do forty falafels and one shower cap carry the symbolic weight of one loofah? I hoped so. I asked her to wait a moment and put it on mumbling some sort of explanation. The occupants in one of the cars looked at me with bemused smiles. I offered falafel to them and to my photographer. They declined. I wouldn’t accept strange-looking fried food offered by a man wearing sunglasses and a shower cap standing alone in front of the Fox TV studios while stealth bombers flew overhead either.

She snapped one and then another just as a Fox security guard emerged to politely tell us that we were on private property and would have to leave (I had seen the William Hurt guy glance over at us). I offered the security guard falafel but he too demurred. I couldn’t blame him either. The three cars departed as they had already contacted the people who they were to meet and I was left alone again. I waited another couple of minutes and when I felt that no one else was going to show up I got back into the car and drove next door to the Horizon Science Academy where I had once judged a science fair.

I turned around and idled the car in front of the Fox building. The klieg lights were still on and I stuck my head out of the window to take a few pictures. It was fun to snap those shots thinking that someone might be in there watching me-unlike once when I had waited in a car early one morning on a bridge over Road 6 in Israel, near Tul-Karm where I was waiting for a friend coming from the north to bring me something I’d left behind at his place the day before. I stuck my head out of the window to photograph the apartheid wall with the minarets of Tul-Karm in the background. Within minutes a military police jeep with red plates and fenced in sides pulled up and parked behind me. The driver was wearing mirrored sunglasses. I thought that maybe I should get out to see what he wanted but I stayed in the car reasoning that he’d come to me if he needed anything. That had a riskier feel to it.

I snapped some pictures of the TV studio and drove off. End of Loofah Day festivities 12:25pm.

Later in the evening I drove over to my friend Tom’s house to return the car top carrier that I’d borrowed for the 2 day visit to Maryland. (My 13 year old played in a youth baseball tournament there-don’t get me started). Anyways, Tom told me that he attended the Cleveland Peace Show that afternoon downtown at Willard park on E. 9th and Lakeside that was organized as a response to ‘the militaristic exhibit of war planes as entertainment at the Cleveland National Air Show’. Tom said eight hundred people attended. So that’s where everyone was! I had forgotten but I received a flyer from Cleveland Peace Action announcing the event ‘Peace Cranes not War Planes’. It kicked off at noon. I was the only one to show up at Fox today. There was music and food. Pete Seeger’s grandson was one of the performers. I didn’t ask if there was falafel.

MICHAEL GREENBERG works for the pharmaceutical/industrial complex at the largest non-profit (yeah, right) institute in Cleveland.








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