US Election Dispatch: Slyman's, Cleveland, Ohio
3106 St. Clair Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
by T.N. Toost
Back in January I invited all the major Presidential candidates at the time to breakfast with me for the LRB. In the States, the LRB does not command the journalistic respect it does in the UK. Most campaigns sent an auto-reply email thanking me and promising to be in touch. John Edwards’ scheduler actually called me a few days before he quit (nothing better to do, I suppose). Two weeks before the Ohio primary, I followed up with those who remained, but to little avail. Then, a week later, on the front page of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“Campaign staffers called Mayor Dean DePiero on Monday morning, seeking his suggestions on locations that would serve Clinton’s ‘breakfast table’ theme.”
To which I responded exactly as you just did: “What the fuck?”
Clinton is not the nicest human being. In fact, she’s repulsive. And I’m not just a slighted breakfast date: I worked for the bitch back in 1999. Then she has the audacity to ignore the LRB’s campaign correspondent in favor of the advice of some fucking dumbshit suburban mayor. I’m not voting for any candidate right now – I’m voting against her. Slut. Cow.
I even scheduled breakfast on the date of the debate in Cleveland, and told them about the old Evening Standard slot. God, I was so close.
Obama was marginally better: no newspaper article appeared saying he was trying to breakfast in Ohio without me. In fact, I haven’t heard of him having breakfast here at all. McCain ignored me completely – he has enough to think about, what with that whole fucking-a-lobbyist scandal. Nader joined too late to invite. Anyway, he’s almost as vain as Hillary.
Spilt milk: none of them showed anyway. Your correspondent and two friends walked in and Freddie Slyman greeted us, showing us to a table and announcing loudly that everyone in the restaurant was to talk politics with us. Immediately we were accosted by the waitress and a pensioner patron while another customer snuck away. The pensioner said, “I’m for McCain,” then, instantly, “Well, Ron Paul first, of course…” Then came the media hush-up theory. The waitress came out strongly for Hillary until she, too, remembered to say, “Oh, of course, Ron Paul would be my first choice, but you know, the media shut him up and took everything he said out of context.” Ron Paul, according to the morning’s popular consensus, “is honest.” “He talks straight.” “He doesn’t play the Washington games.”
We ordered. One man walked over to point out that Ron Paul is the only candidate who will close the borders, pull the troops out of Iraq and restore America to its pre-W. glory. Eddie the Glass Man, a patron with long white hair, a long white beard, heavily calloused hands and a heady odor of sweat and coffee, promised he would vote. However, when asked what mattered to him, he digressed, spitting Cheshire Cat riddles without being as interesting. He then paraphrased Stalin: “The people who vote aren’t the ones that matter. It’s the people who count the votes that matter.” He’ll know who he’ll be voting for, apparently, when he wakes up on Tuesday. He then insulted the sign I’d posted on my table saying, “Please talk/about politics/with me!!!” He would have written it, “Please/talk about politics/with me!!!” Two breakfasters, separated by a common language.
I ate. The braised eggs were perfectly textured, the hash browns fresh, the corned beef pile exquisite. Heaped on buttered rye toast, it formed the perfect breakfast sandwich. The Slyman’s machine is a beautiful thing to watch – the workers are like a highly trained dance company, each moving in their calculated rhythms. I spoke with the waitress and another patron about their regular visits to London, which they love.
In the end, my notes offered irrefutable proof that ordinary Americans care deeply about what is going on in the government even if, like Eddie the Glass Man, they believe they have no effect on the election's ultimate direction. (At least, that’s what I think he was riddling at). In this country, schoolchildren are regaled with glorious stories of civic-mindedness during and after the Revolutionary War, and it seems to have stuck. My notes also reminded me of the George Burns line, “Too bad all the people who know how to run this country are busy running taxicabs or cutting hair.” I’ve always wondered if he meant that they’re the ones who know how things work, or just think they are. After breakfast at Slyman’s I must say I’m still not quite sure.
On the way out, I stopped again to thank Freddie for having hosting us. He turned around with a paper bag in his left hand, shaking my outstretched right. In that moment, he exemplified everything good I can think of about America: a Lebanese man who runs a Jewish-style deli; a man of strong convictions and faith who can sit down with his patrons and disagree with someone on every issue and yet not alienate them; a man who is intensely interested in and inquisitive about how the world operates, who works hard every day yet has the grace to send your correspondent out with a packed lunch and a smile. Bribery? Hardly – we’ve already reviewed Slyman’s favorably twice, and he comped our meal. It was just the friendliness and care that is so characteristic of the American people.
(Post-Script: if you ever get a chance, the Reuben he made for me had 66 layers of corned beef. It lasted me through both lunch and dinner, and along with our breakfast provided me with 36 hours solid of corned beef sustenance. This is, after all, America.)