Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.

— H.L. Mencken

THERE’S A LINE comics and actors use after coming off stage to describe dealing with an unresponsive audience: “It’s Cleveland, and it’s raining.”

For performers from vaudeville to stand-up comic clubs, Cleveland for years always had a bad reputation for being a sleepy train stop on the way to Hollywood, where it never rains.

I have a few fond personal memories of Cleveland from the time I was a student at the prestigious Cleveland Playhouse Academy of Theater on the G.I. Bill in 1956, but too few to remember.

Cleveland in those days was getting ready to be one of the first cities in what would come to be known as the Rust Belt. To this visitor, it was a crumbling city of bleak streets, smoky skies and run-down shops. Of course, we were all starving acting students and didn’t get to hit the hot spots, if any.


On one bright occasion, we were all invited to the home of a wealthy theater patron in the posh suburb of Shaker Heights, Paul Newman’s birthplace, with tree-lined streets, wide lawns and stately homes. No rust seen on them.

Cleveland today is seemingly prosperous and a feather in the bonnet of Gov. John Kasich, who, at this moment, is obviously home having a drink and watching along with this writer.

I passed through Cleveland in 1969 for a brief reunion with friends only to see the lakefront catch fire. It seems that Cleveland had reached the bottom that year, and the harbor was so polluted that it actually caught fire. You can Google that.

Apparently Cleveland has risen phoenix-like from those ashes and is playing to a bigger, truly responsive audience this year: the 2016 Republican convention. And while it surely isn’t raining, there are some ominous clouds floating overhead.

I write this column while sitting in front of my big flat screen on opening night of the big show, so by the time you read this long after the final curtain, there may have been more showers, some thunderclaps and lightning flashes.

I surely hope so, because what I’m watching now is a Cleveland where, despite the sunshine, it still lacks the look of Fun City, USA.


But I hold out hope and keep tuned as one after another serious actors and comedians pop up and do their fifteen minutes in this “Law and Order”-themed convention.

I see a sea of cowboy and red baseball hats, poster wavers and women in rhinestone-sprinkled cowgirl hats. In other words, your usual political convention with a bit of a sinister touch.

One such moment stands out: We see vice presidential choice Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana chatting with Trump’s son/handler as an inquisitive camera inches in for a closeup. Suddenly, a huge man in a dark suit steps in front of the camera and blocks the view, thus eliminating any chance of a lip-reading liberal picking up a clue. Too dramatic?

Wait. Here’s Sheriff David Clarke from Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, a black, ardent pro-police activist in full uniform complete with four star epaulets who is well known for “fireball” deliveries. The sheriff gives a fiery political speech hammering the Black Lives Matter group with a full throated “Blue Lives Matter.” Understandably, in this crowd, it gets the first of many standing ovations. Methinks there are so many because of those iron-bottomed folding chairs.

The media gang is all there for my viewing pleasure: MSNBC’s lineup of Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and The Washington Post’s Gene Robinson who, reflecting on the crowd’s vanilla color tone, quips, “By the end of the night, the podium will be more diverse than the hall.”

Here’s the big moment of the night: A breathtaking, splendidly gowned Melania Trump is led on stage by hubby Donald, who steps aside and graciously lets her have her moment.

Melania, a sure-fire prospect to play Sophia Loren in a remake of Loren’s 1960 “The Millionairess,” delivers a short and flawless speech.

TUESDAY MORNING: All bets are off. Split screen videos of first lady Michelle Obama and Melania fill our screens. I’m not sure what the crime was, but they’re saying that Hillary was to blame. It seems I fell asleep during Melania’s speech and missed whatever it was. I apologize to Melania and to my readers. It was that second glass of wine.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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