Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Urinal Once Used By JFK

My step-son Blaine, who graduated from High School in 1997, includes among his many talents encyclopedic recall of everything Motown. For someone his age, one might think this odd, since he wasn't even alive during the Motown era. All I can say is, both he and his mother have the Motown gene. Get them anywhere within earshot of Smokey Robinson, they're shakin' their moneymaker. Play Marvin Gaye's version of Yesterday, or greater still, The National Anthem, as performed by Marvin at the 1983 NBA All-Star game, it's church. And don't even try to knock either one of them back with some lame Stax-Volt question.

Marie and I met in 1997, right about the time Blaine was getting ready to graduate. Marie fell to tears one evening, talking to me about how proud she was of Blaine for finishing high school and getting his diploma, given his disabilities. Don't get me started. In more ways than one, Blaine is my hero too.

Marie had planned a special graduation present for Blaine. She had been plotting for months to take Blaine, to honor his achievement, to the birthplace of Soul Music, Detroit, Michigan, for a tour of the Motown recording studio, "Hitsville USA", where all of them, The Temptations, the Supremes, Marvin, Smokey, The Funk Brothers, Berry Gordy Jr., on and on, played and sang their hearts into some of the greatest music ever made.

Marie invited me to go. I was so thrilled to be asked. And I knew I could be of some help to them too, going on the plane, helping with Blaine, and making all the stops she had planned, including a stop in Cleveland, to tour The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Marie had told Blaine the big surprise, and he was, to put it mildly, pumped. One Saturday, still in Portland, we bought some travel books, some generic travel guides, and a few more exotic titles, to help us find some interesting and unusual things to do on our trip. Blaine and I got such a kick out of a couple of these books, because some of the sights and roadside attractions were just nuts. Giggling loudly, as we read them, we would call out to Marie our expectation to visit, for example, "The World's Largest Tire", which makes it's home in Dearborn, Michigan. Marie's reaction, of feigned severe regret for even having the dumb idea to go on this trip, got us going even more. The vacation of a lifetime had begun.

I'm sure I will be able to come up with some other tales of our adventures on this trip, but the following has to rate highest among them. One morning we awoke to a sunny day in Cleveland, the day after we had visited The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which we found to be definitely worth the trip. As Blaine sat in his chair, Marie and I lounged on the bed, considering our options for the day. We had our travel books spread among the blankets, and at some point, someone, I can't remember who it was, probably Blaine, made the suggestion that we drive to Salem, Ohio, to view the much revered "urinal once used by JFK", which all three of us found to be one of the most amusing and inane roadside attractions to ever find it's way into a travel book. We decided, we've made it this far........we gotta go!

The book where we had discovered this rare find is titled, "The New Roadside America", ( first fireside edition 1992). The text states precisely...."Our favorite presidential tribute would have to be the urinal used by JFK, in the men's room at Reilly Stadium in Salem, OH. The urinal is marked by a small plaque, and when the stadium's restrooms were renovated in the late '80's, it was reverently left untouched." So it's probably coming together for you now why we were so fired up about seeing this important Americana.

Research. We can't just drive blindly the 200 miles or so to find this most desirable attraction, without first making a call or two. We are long on rental car miles already.Who to call?...............

We decide to call the Salem, Ohio, city hall. I prop the phone up on the bed. Inside, I am beside myself with glee. I know this is gonna be good.

A lady answers at city hall, and I explain myself, as Marie and Blaine pay close attention. "Yes", I say, "my name is Ric Seaberg. My family and I are vacationing, and we thought we would drive down from Cleveland to Salem to view the urinal once used by JFK at Reilly Stadium, but we thought we would call first just to be sure we will be able to see it." As these words roll off my tongue, all three of us are just about ready to split a gut, and we have just begun.

There is dead silence on the phone. Finally, the lady says, "well, uh, I wouldn't know about that," dismissively. I explain that I am not kidding, that I have a travel book before me, and read her the text. "Well, I've never heard of that before, why don't you call over to the high school, that's where the stadium is." She reluctantly finds the phone number for me. I scribble it down on the hotel phone book.

I receive a similar greeting from the Salem, Ohio High School receptionist. "That's not something I would know about. Why don't I let you talk to our principal?" I say thank you very much, and my call is transferred. I am certain this is the end of my query. And I am shocked when a male's voice picks up. "May I help you?", an authoritative voice asks. "Why yes, thank you", I say, and begin my schpeil to the principal of the high school, about the urinal once used by JFK, and our desire to see it, as Marie and Blaine squirm and put their hands over their mouths. I am starting to get into it. He tells me he has heard of this before, but so far as he knows, there is no urinal used by JFK at Reilly Stadium, or a plaque, commemorating it's moment of usage. "But perhaps", he continues, "The Superintendent of Schools could help you with this." As he transfers my call, I tell Marie and Blaine that my call is being transferred to the Superintendant of Salem Schools, and the look on Marie's face is just about all I can take. I am having a rough time keeping it together.

"May I help you", another male voice asks. "Thank you sir," I reply. "My name is Ric Seaberg. My family and I are vacationing in your beautiful state, and we are, oh, you might say, eclectic tourists. We have a travel book here, which features unusual sights, and we are bound and determined, since we have travelled all the way from Portland, Oregon, to view one very special Ohio attraction, as featured in this book, and referred to as the urinal used by JFK. It is said to be at Reilly Stadium, and even has a plaque." The Super laughs, and suggests to me that he has heard of this, but suspects it is a figment of someone's imagination. "But it says so right here in this book", I offer, and he decides to lend a hand. "Let me give you the football coach's number", he says, "he's over at the stadium all the time. Maybe he could help you". I am thinking..... paydirt. This coach guy has gotta know something. I say thank you and goodbye.

So we take five and I towel off. We are in the zone. I don't believe I have ever had more fun in my life on a vacation, and all we are doing is sitting on a bed. Marie and Blaine have laughed so hard they are in tears.

I call the coach. He too, says he has heard of this, but "I'm afraid we just don't have that urinal used by JFK over at the stadium". He is clearly disapointed that he cannot answer in the affirmative."When we remodelled the stadium, a couple of years ago, I dunno, maybe they took it out and put it someplace", he allows. "Why don't you try the historical society."

We are prepared to make an appointment with the historical society and drive there to wander through the bowels of some warehouse to find the urinal, but alas, all I get at the historical society is a recording. I hang up only partially defeated. I know we have already had an experience that we will never, ever forget, not in a thousand lifetimes.

We catch our breath, have some breakfast, and head out to see "The Cleveland Style Polka Hall of Fame", which turns out to be a good story all in itself. The nearly rabid polka mania that grips Cleveland is a sight to see. Trophy cases, lifesize autographed photos, a wall of LPs and CDs, even cookbooks and polka slogan potholders. Still, we would have much, much rather feasted our eyes on the urinal used by JFK, at Reilly Stadium, in Salem, OH.

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