We never really got the chance to know much about Billy Batts in Goodfellas, just that he was a "made" guy, who'd been away awhile, that knew Tommy DeVito back when he was still shining shoes. Maybe it was intended as a joke at first, and maybe Batts was really trying to push Tommy's buttons, but he obviously touched a nerve in asking Tommy to go home and get his shine box. At the risk of spoiling a 23 year-old film, and a significant splash of pop culture, I'll remain vague, and state that the result of Batts agitation was tragic for all parties involved.
For Billy and Tommy, it didn't have to end that way. Call it poking bears at the zoo or setting fire to a short fuse, but cooler heads could not prevail because of damaged egos or hurt feelings. And, it was over a joke about shining shoes, a real thing that becomes a sore subject when spoken of with malice. As a lifelong Browns fan, I carry metaphorical shine box of my own, even people who haven't known me my whole life tend to remind me about it.
Certain things, obviously painful memories of Cleveland sports tragedy, do tend roll right off of my back like drips of water on a solid spit-shine. I can handle the truth. Brian Sipe didn't throw the ball in the lake, but people old enough to remember this do tend to be classy enough not to throw it in our faces. John Elway did drive the ball 98 yards with the game on the line, and Earnest Byner was stripped on his way into the endzone at Mile High; Denver fans of all ages like shoving those memories down our throats. Michael Jordan, Edgar Renteria, Tommy Maddox, the 2009 Orlando Magic, and our buddy Jim Gray at a Connecticut Boys & Girls Club; they're all fodder in this conversation too. It's as if the producers at a certain four-letter network snicker at the opportunity to run a montage of back-breaking highlights, but we're numb to the pain at this point. It is history, these things all happened, and the tape does not lie.
What serves as my "shinebox" is what takes place during and after the 1995 season, how things are remembered, and what people believe today. What it was, was filthy business tactics. What it was, was a bitter man in financial ruin doing the unthinkable. What it was, was my seventeen year-old heart breaking. It was all so surreal, something that I couldn't understand, but it was more that I didn't believe it, and couldn't accept that it was really happening. I was living this nightmare, but I am not the best authority for a recap of the events that ocurred literally a half a lifetime ago.
On behalf of my beloved hometown, I refuse to accept the blame and responsibility for the unthinkable events that went down to create the Baltimore Ravens, a franchise that legendary Cleveland sportswriter refused to recognize by any name other than "Ugh". We're no stranger to that team, who our beloved, but perpetually inept re-booted Browns see twice a season, poetically donning the colors of the bruises that they've left on our souls. Yet, it's Cleveland that gets painted in a bitter light as terrible things continue to happen to us. But, isn't it our fault that the smokers and drinkers of Cuyahoga County saved the Indians from their slum lord on the Lake Front? How awful was it that the "Cleveland" Cavaliers were rescued from life in the suburbs with a downtown arena?
Granted, I understand the envy of the Browns must have had in seeing new venues go up for the city's professional baseball and basketball teams. I recall the long winters that I suffered with a Nintendo Entertainment System while my friends Nick and Jason were enjoying their Sega Genesis consoles. I probably sulked, pouted, and wished I had their parents, but I was also still a few months shy of my fifteenth birthday. The seventy year-old owner of the Cleveland Browns had different agenda; he set the table for a re-location to Baltimore and their munipal bribe, and the wheels were already in motion before Cleveland could do anything. It's been nearly two decades, and my shoe shining days should be long since in the rear view window.
But, someone inevitably wants to bring it up. I try to avoid these types. If our four-letter friends are still doing it, I have to tell you that my moratorium on their family of networks is what people had in mind when the phrase, "ingorance is bliss" was coined. Still, I have to hear it on my radio, around the water cooler, and in the pubs. When radio, particulary SiriusXM NFL radio, pushes that button, I can push my own button that takes me to Mad Dog Radio or the soothing acoustic sounds of the Coffee House. It's a little more complicated around the water cooler or beer tap, for me anyway, because I am convinced that my voice can reach these people who may not know the truth.
I tell them "no more shines", and maybe that's enough, we raise our glasses, and move on. But, maybe they're disrespectful enough to keep their finger on the button, hateful enough ignore my polite dismissal of their ignorance. Look, it's simple; if you insist on pouring gasoline on a dumpster fire, you need to anticipate the inferno. It's worth noting that defending people from Northeast Ohio that root for the Steelers or referring to my beloved team with the orange helmets as "Clowns" will yield similar results.
After a very level-headed reaction to the death of Art Modell on Thursday, I was asked by a known muck-raker, one with Michigan roots (so consider the source), what the big deal was with Cleveland and Art Modell. After offering the Reader's Digest version of what happened, my explanation was met with, "Wasn't it Cleveland's fault?"
Look I don't shine shoes any more.
If two adults were talking, that would have been the end of the conversation. I want to shoulder some of the blame here. No man, woman, or child should love the Cleveland Browns with the unhealthy level of affection that I possess, with the obvious exception of Mr. Haslam, who has literally a billion reasons to care that much. However, no adult with even an average mental capacity should continue to rabble-rouse in this manner, unless they are hoping for a fist-to-cuffs. Now, I may be a tad-bit old for a Thursday Night barfight (no donnybrooks on a school night became a rule when I turned 30), but I did offer an angry 45-second tirade that included more F-Bombs than Joe Peschi uttered in the 146 minute film (reportedly he said it 246 times). What I was dealing with wasn't a "made" member of Cosa Nostra, so the trunk of my vehicle is clean this morning, and my mother isn't missing any knives from her kitchen. I was furious, but I didn't need a shovel or an empty hole in the desert (which is a Casino reference, but bear with me), because despite what you may read here, I'm a gentleman.
This is the type of stir craziness you can expect from a die-hard Browns fan that hasn't been able to watch a game that matters in over nine months...or 18 years, depending on what you classify a "game that matters". Truthfully, if it was the Browns, and not the Ravens, who had a Super Bowl trophy to show for the last 13 years of NFL competition, none of this is an issue. Damn, we really need a football team in Cleveland that will give us something to rise above this anger of these old scars. I make it too simple for the ignorant to tear open old scabs.