I've only met today's featured proper noun once, but it was a memorable exchange. I was at Mac's Backs for a reading by some traveling young novelists and Fred Wright (aka Wred Fright) was their host. When he got up to do his own reading, it turned out to be more of a puppet show than anything else. A really, really hilarious and bizarre puppet show, to be sure.
By the time I'd attended this reading, I was already familiar with Wright's work, having read The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus shortly after moving to Cleveland as part of my self-assigned homework to learn more about the city's culture. Wright's book was one of the first I encountered on my path to realizing just how rich and diverse and crazy and wonderful the literary community in NEO is and I remain thankful to him for not only writing the book, but also taking the time to participate in today's Q&A.
As a writer, he is able to respond to these questions with flourish, and could have easily pounded out answers designed to amuse and entertain. Wright, however, took the adult route and presents some really thoughtful and challenging As to my Qs and more than most of the preceding score of interviews I've done with other locals, they really make me think. Check them out.
1) How long have you been in Cleveland? And if you didn't grow up in Cleveland, where'd you relocate here from?
I've been living in the Cleveland area since 2002, mostly Lakewood, though now I live in University Heights to be closer to work. I lived in Cleveland proper for about a year before the crime and incompetent city government chased me back to the suburbs. Before coming to the Cleveland area, I lived in Bowling Green, Kent, and New Concord in Ohio. I'm originally from Pennsylvania though. College scholarships and the fact that Ohio sells beer in supermarkets (unlike Pennsylvania) convinced me to become a Buckeye instead of a Keystone. I moved to Cleveland initially because a friend of mine needed a housemate and I was having an existential crisis, and Cleveland is a good place to have an existential crisis since the entire area seems to always be having an existential crisis itself.
2) What is your favorite Cleveland memory?
Even before I moved here, I had a lot of friends here, so I always had a good time visiting the area. So despite the area's troubles, I have lots of good memories with it in the background. However, my favorite memory is asking my born in Cleveland wife to marry me in Cleveland. Of course, she said yes. If she had said no, then that probably wouldn't be my favorite Cleveland memory.
3) How does (if at all) Cleveland influence your work and/or art?
Cleveland has a rich history and has always been a fascinating place, yesterday, today, and, I hope, tomorrow. Even before I ever visited, I was amazed that of the three biggest early punk rock scenes in the 1970s, one was Ohio (Cleveland, Akron, and Kent principally). I loved bands such as Devo, Pere Ubu, and The Dead Boys, so even before I lived here Cleveland was influencing me. Over the years, I've been astounded at how much art I love has Cleveland connections from Siegal and Shuster (the creators of Superman), Harvey Pekar, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Albert Ayler, Mark Winegardner, Constance Fenimore Cooper, Charles Chesnutt, d.a. levy, and the list goes on. Cleveland work has a cool vibe I dig (sorry that I sound like a 1960s acid casualty there but that's the best way to put it). Cleveland artists are usually really weird but think they're totally normal, which of course just makes them even weirder. The history of the area from being the frontier after the Revolutionary War to Rockefeller to rock and roll to Kucinich is pretty interesting as well. I've written about Cleveland a few times. I have the rock band in my novel The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus play a horrible gig in town at a place modeled on a DIY venue that used to be on the west side called Speak In Tongues. Probably the greatest influence is in the novel I'm serializing now at Wredfright.com, which is called Blog Love Omega Glee and set in a city called Cleaveland in 2012. I always thought the city should have kept that "a" in its name so I rectified things in the novel.
4) If it was your birthday and you decided to have a Cleveland-centric blow-out bash, how would you celebrate? That is, what would you do, where would you do it, etc.?
I'd go to B.A. Sweetie, which claims to be the largest candy store in the US, and buy a case of Canadian candy bars (the Big Turk or Coffee Crisp) and have a chocolate orgy, and the next day I would visit my dentist in Lakewood. That's today's answer. If you asked me tomorrow, I probably would do something more sensible like just go to Mac's Backs and buy a book to read by Lake Erie.
5) Say you had a friend coming in for 24 hours and had never been to Cleveland before. What would you make sure they saw and did?
Beyond just visiting with friends, people from out of town usually want to go to the Rock Hall, so we'd probably go there. Little Italy, Melt, Coventry, and Lake Erie are also good spots to take visitors.
6) What is something from another city you wish you could import to Cleveland?
I'd like to take all the misbegotten wealth Wall Street executives in New York have taken from working people across the country and invest it in Cleveland so the city wouldn't be duking it out with Detroit every year for the title of America's Poorest Big City. Since that likely won't happen, I'd settle for people being kinder to one another. I'd probably even settle for making driver's licenses tougher to get so that there wouldn't be so many bad drivers on the east side (west side drivers drive lousy as well, but there's typically more room to steer around them there).
7) If you had the undivided attention of the mayor, city council, and county commissioners, what would be the one thing you'd ask for or tell them?
Stop being corrupt and short-sighted. This region has a lot of potential but no one is going to invest in it, develop it, or even stay in it if he or she thinks things aren't going to get better. As an example of what I'm thinking about, I'll relate a brief story. A couple of years ago, my wife was stopped in her car at a red light on a busy street in Cleveland and a garbage truck started driving backwards towards her. She laid on the horn but it crunched her car. Fortunately the truck stopped before it injured or killed her. The driver got out and explained that he missed some garbage so he was going to pick it up. Apparently he never heard of driving around the block or walking, just driving backwards. The police came and wrote up an accident report, and, judging from the damage to the cars, correctly concluded that the garbage truck driver was at fault. Alas, despite the report, getting the city to pay for the damage was a herculean task. My wife's insurance company didn't even bother trying, presumably based on past experiences with the city where the city would cite sovereign immunity (a horrible legal concept, which explains why governments aren't more responsible) as the reason not to pay. However, my wife and I pressed the city to get her deductible back. We never did get the full amount back, but we got most of it. However, in the course of doing so, instead of apologizing for one of its drivers driving badly, the city started defending the garbage truck driver, and implying that the police, who also worked for the city, had filled out a bad report. I even had to explain high school physics to the city law director at one point. I'm sure he knew physics but to save the city from paying the claim he was prepared apparently to argue that the physical laws in the rest of the known universe don't apply in Cleveland. How defending the rights of garbage truck drivers to drive backwards down busy city streets will help the city in the long run is beyond me, but that's what the city administration considered important. That's pretty short-sighted and shitty though. And then they wonder aloud in the press why people don't want to live in Cleveland. Who would want to live in a place that does that sort of nonsense? Not me. That's why I moved out of the city. I'm still fond of the area, but some of the so-called leaders here make that a difficult task.
To learn more about Fred, check out his website here or his blog here. DEFINITELY pick up a copy of his novel, The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus, at Mac's Backs or (I think) Music Saves - it is wonderfully delightful.