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Out & About in Cleveland

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53rd annual St. Elias Church Festival; Cleveland Peace Action Visits for Dinner; 11th Congressional District Community Caucus Labor Day Parade; Cleveland Oktoberfest; Annual Greasy Pole Contest

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We spent most of Labor Day weekend tabling on behalf of "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" at the 53rd annual St. Elias Church Festival in Brooklyn as we usually do on this holiday.

Technically, the congregation of "St. Elias Church" is mostly Lebanese but all are welcomed there and its festival attracts a wide range of Clevelanders each year. In fact, two of the people who stopped by our booth to tell us how much Ms. Margaret Wong helped their families were from Latin America. One of them was a woman named Dolly whose family is from Columbia and the other was a young woman named Isabella who immigrated to the United States from Honduras with her family just six years ago.

Throughout the weekend, Middle Eastern music was provided by Mr. Emad Haddad and Zyad Soltan, two talented men, and we enjoyed tabling next to Ms. Sally Nicholas of "Create Your Own Sand Art" aimed at young children and our good friend Mr. Pierre Bejjani representing both the Cleveland American Middle East Organization (C.A.M.E.O.) and the Lebanese Cultural Garden. Of course we always like seeing such St. Elias Church stalwarts as Father Naim Khalil, Mr. Abby Mina, Ms. Jean Haddad, Mr. Robert Haddad, and Mr. Lenny George who work so hard organizing this festival each year.

Unfortunately, however, due to the wind chill on Friday night and the relatively cool weather on Saturday, this year's festival was not as well-attended as others that we have been too although we still liked being there and chatting with people who walked over to our booth to say hello like a man named James who we had met only a few months before and had given a copy of Ms. Wong's book, "The Immigrant's Way" which he hadn't got around to reading yet but sincerely planned to particularly in light of actions taken by the Trump administration. Another neat guy who stopped by was named Bob who had recently attended an exciting conference at "Earlham College" in Richmond, Indiana regarding the rebuilding of church organizations.  Bob told us that no fewer than 43 languages were represented at that conference.

Then a pleasant surprise came to us on Saturday night when the Middle East Committee of "Cleveland Peace Action" composed of Mr. Don Bryant, Mr. Kim Hill, Mr. Jeff Kassouf, Ms. Deneen Kassouf, Mr. Paul Hanawalt, and Ms. Laurie Hanawalt got together for dinner and visited with us for a while. Certainly local politicos stopped by like Ms. Ann Marie Oakar who is running for Cleveland Municipal Court Judge along with her aunt, former U.S. Congressperson and State Board of Education member, Ms. Mary Rose Oakar.

One of the highlights of the festival was the 4th Annual Hummus Competition that always takes place on Sunday afternoon. The organizer was Ms. Jomana Mansour and the judges were Mr. Serge Elias, owner of the "Cedarland at the Clinic" restaurant; Ms. Mirielle Abdel Karim, member of "St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church"; Ms. Therese Afram, Lebanese Food Chef at "Joe's Deli"; Mr. Jim Farris, a jeweler as well as a member of "St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church" and "St. Elias Church"; Ms. Aida Zaboura, a Chef and also a member of the latter two churches; and Mr. George Hamway, the owner of "Chicago Deli" in Solon and a member of "St. Elias Church". Nine local entities submitted samples of their hummus which was then judged on its consistency, texture, blending of ingredients and overall taste. When the score sheets were finally tallied, the final winner was the hummus produced by"La Villa Conference and Banquet Center" on Brookpark Road which was fine by us because we have eaten there on several occasions and really enjoyed its savory output.

Before the contest ended, Mr. Elias, who has been in the culinary business for nearly thirty years now earnestly contended that food should represent a culture and therefore should not be changed according to the locality where it is eaten; when that occurs it both loses its essence and becomes less healthy. And, the more we think about it, he is right because, to cite only one example, "General Tso's Chicken" is not really a Chinese dish but a deep-fried, highly spiced, 1300 calorie version of a Hunan dish initially prepared without sugar but was then modified to be more attractive to non-Hunanese people with a craving for fast food.

In addition to tabling at the St. Elias Church Festival, we found time on Monday, September 4th, to attend several other Labor Day events.

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First of all, we went to the line-up of the annual "11th Congressional District Community Caucus Labor Day Parade" which started around East 146th Street and Kinsman Avenue. Basically, we wandered around and took some photographs while saying "hello" to people knew like Mr. Bill DeVito of "Ironworkers Local 17" and Mr. William Vodrey, a candidate for Magistrate of the Cleveland Municipal Court who invited us to march with him but we declined because we had to head back soon to St. Elias Church.

In fact quite a few candidates for public office were present like Ohio State Rep. Kathleen Clyde and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley who will be running respectively for Ohio Secretary of State and Governor in 2018. Another prospective candidate for Governor who we were surprised to see there was former Cincinnati Mayor and provocative talk show host Mr. Jerry Springer who posed for photos with his fans and there were quite a few of them.

We talked for a moment with our friend, Ms. Cynthia Dempsey, Chair of the "Cuyahoga Women's Democratic Caucus Steering Committee" who told us that she thought Ms. Margaret W. Wong had "the hippest glasses in town." Of course there were a lot of schools and community groups present to march in the parade and we especially liked it that the "Cleveland Job Corps Center" was well-represented. We thus made it a point to tell them that "you are what this day is all about!"

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Later on Monday, we decided to check out the "Cleveland Oktoberfest" that had been taking place all weekend at the Berea Fairgrounds because we wanted to see if the atmosphere might be conducive to "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" tabling there next year.

As it turned out, we decided that the proceedings had too much of a carnival tone for us to successfully conduct an information table but we still respect the festival committee for being all-inclusive in the selection of its musical acts; throughout the weekend there were performances by musical groups representing the cultures of Germany, Ireland, France, Poland, China, Russia, Scotland, Serbia and Spain.

Soon after we arrived, we watched the "Lucina Slovak Folk Ensemble" stage the "Slovak Bottle Dance" under the direction of Mr. Tom Ivanec who greeted us with enthusiasm.

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What really impressed us was the exquisitely detailed sand sculpture of a Bavarian couple by Mr. Carl Jara who was on hand to answer questions about his work. He said that weather conditions were just right over the last few days for him to work as well as he did with the sand.

One event that had concluded by the time that we got there was the "Wiener Dog Races" although we got to take a photo of the ultimate winner, a little dachshund named Leo who posed with his proud owners.

We decided to save our favorite event of the day to write about last and this happening was the annual greasy pole contest which always takes place on Labor Day at 2 p.m. at the "St. Rocco Festival" in Cleveland. To be sure, we had been hearing about this contest since we arrived in Cleveland in 2008 but had never watched it before so we resolved this year to be there.

After we arrived (this was after St. Elias and the 11th District Parade but before the Oktoberfest) we managed to angle our way through the busy crowd to get to a place where we could view the contest from just a few feet away. As it turned out, we couldn't have been luckier because we got to meet Mr. Doug Trout who had been a member of the "Team Dempsey" pole climbing team for years and had participated in this effort on many occasions. This year though, Mr. Trout (who is close to our age) wisely decided that it was time to step aside and let his very able son, Mr. Zak Trout take his place.

Nevertheless, Mr. Trout still considered himself to be a part of "Team Dempsey" and from what we saw the other members certainly still considered him to be one of their own. Needless to say, he was particularly proud of "Team Dempsey" since it had won 10 of these contests which is an all time record for an event that had been taking place over a one hundred year period. In fact, the "Team Dempsey" members had taught other teams how to climb.

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Mr. Trout then explained to us how things worked. First of all, this year there were seven five-person teams who would each have three chances (2 minutes per chance) to climb to the top of the pole and win the contest by taking ahold of one of the hanging items tied to its top which were a bottle of wine, a piece of cheese, a loaf of bread and a salami. In order to get to the top of the greased pole, the team members had to climb atop each others' shoulders and then, once they were about a body length from the top, one of the members had to "step out of line" for lack of a better term and climb over one or two of his fellow members (whose legs and bodies were wrapped as tightly around the pole as was possible) and go for the prize.

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Subsequently, the winning team got to divide the annual $1,000.00 prize UNLESS not one of them made it after three tries. In that case, the prize for that year would go to the next year's winner. Mr. Trout smiled as he recalled that in one of the recent contests "Team Dempsey" took home $3,000.00 because there had been no winner for the two previous years. He spoke with candor and intensity as he described what pole climbing was all about. Of course, "strength" was an important factor but just as important were "technique" and "finesse". He said that pole climbing was the one of the most "demanding" activities that he had taken part in and that "it gets in your blood...it's an adrenaline rush..." quite like no other.

As for the competition that "Team Dempsey" has encountered over the years, Mr. Trout expressed disappointment that a women's team who had done so well in 2015 decided not to return for the 2016 competition because they showed a lot of promise. He contended that it takes a while for a new team to come together and from what we saw during the contest we believed him because we could soon see the difference between the prowess of an experienced team versus the tentativeness of a newly formed team.

From our standpoint, two other elements of a successful team are respect for the sport and honor. This was evident in the course of the second round when one of the competing teams made it to the top and touched one of the items but did not actually take hold of it. The judges said that it didn't count and we admired Mr. Trout and quite a few of the other players for protesting the ruling on the grounds that it was not made absolutely clear during the directions given at the start of the contest that there was a difference between a grab/wrapping one's fingers around the item and merely touching it. Nevertheless, the judges insisted that the "touch" not be counted as a win and the contest continued.

As for us, during the third round we held our breath and were too keyed-up even to watch as a skillful "Team Dempsey" member managed to crawl over his fellow members, make it to the top, and wrap his fingers around one the hanging items (we didn't see which one but it really doesn't matter). To no surprise, the crowd went nuts as "Team Dempsey" scored its 11th win.

And, of course, Mr. Trout couldn't have been prouder of his team or his son, Zak(he wasn't the one who made it to the top but he vitally contributed to the successful effort) so much so that he readily welcomed a huge hug by Zak, by this time as greasy as one could be, even though it meant the ruination of his own spotlessly white new t-shirt.

Let us now say that before we arrived we honestly expected to witness a bunch of goofy guys swigging beer and trying half-heartedly to climb a greased pole and falling all over themselves as they exchanged wisecracks with the audience. Instead what we saw was a serious effort requiring intelligence, strength, discipline, endurance and skill. We mean it sincerely as we state that we believe that the great author and avid sportsman Ernest Hemingway would have appreciated it too.

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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