I swear, Ohio wasn’t broken when I left it. The Buckeye State was in fine shape in the late 1970s, a solid Midwestern place — high in the middle, round at both ends.
Sure, people snickered at Cleveland. The Cuyahoga River really was so polluted it caught fire. Our mayor, Dennis Kucinich, really did resemble Howdy Doody. His predecessor, Ralph J. Perk, really did set his hair on fire, trying to cut a ribbon with an acetylene torch. An awkward, Nixonian man, Perk made Richard M. Daley seem graceful as Nijinsky.
But we had industry: steel plants, car manufacturers. We had science. My father worked at the NASA Lewis, adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins Airport. I’d visit and wander the place, goggle-eyed. I remember those remote manipulators used to handle radioactive material — you put your fingers into tubes so you could operate large robotic arms, like on “The Simpsons.”
We had culture. A world-class orchestra. An impressive art museum, particularly if you hadn’t yet been to The Art Institute. Even little Berea, my hometown, west of the city, had interesting stuff going on. The Berea Summer Theatre put on edgy productions like “R.U.R.,” the Karel Čapek play that introduced the word “robot” to the English language in 1921. Baldwin Wallace College brought in significant speakers, like Margaret Meade, the great anthropologist. I still have her autograph.
Ohio people were salt-of-the earth types who drank Black Velvet whiskey neat and Genny Pounders — 16-ounce cans of Genesee Cream Ale. The state was home to eight presidents. True, those presidents were all guys like Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes and William Howard Taft — their brilliance not exactly shimmering off the pages of history — but that, too, seemed apt. We didn’t have to shine, we Ohioans. We were happy just to show up, punch the clock, survive another day.
Sure, religion was big. I learned about hell after Bobby Koch told me I was going there for the sin of being Jewish. I was 5. Our next-door neighbors, the Kensingers, wouldn’t drop a nickel in our orange UNICEF boxes at Halloween, instead handing out pamphlets explaining that the international children’s relief effort was a Communist plot. But that was religion’s fault, not Ohio’s.
Now I’m not so sure. It seems Ohio is giving Indiana a run for its money for the title of Mississippi of the Midwest, where Christianity is jamming its busy fingers into the gears of government, because its influence isn’t quite enough for their liking.
Ohio is in the forefront of state legislatures competing to see what kind of daft, intrusive, cruel laws against women having abortions, which are still legal in this country, sort of. Last week, those who pay attention to such things — and our heads are spinning like tops at this point — noted Ohio House Bill 413, a proposed law which would create a new crime, “abortion murder,” and charge doctors who failed to try to re-implant ectopic pregnancies into the uterus of women who have them. An ectopic pregnancy is a dangerous condition when a fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tubes. Re-implantation isn’t a thing. “This is not a medical treatment,” a professor of obstetrics told Snopes, the rumor debunking site, which lays out the improbable legal attempt to ... Jeez, I’m not really sure what they’re trying to do. Punish women, I suppose. What’s next? Chastity belts? Dunking witches? Stoning whores?
The good news is that Ohio women are fighting back. Earlier this year, pregnant women painted “PRO CHOICE” in red on their large bellies and posed at the statehouse in Columbus. “We’re actually the people giving life to the babies, bringing them into this world,” Whitney Smith said. “And we’re pro-choice, firmly.” They dressed in red cloaks and white bonnets, like breeding females in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
It didn’t help. Nothing seems to. My hunch is we haven’t hit rock bottom yet. Women haven’t been provoked enough to stir, en mass. That’s coming. Or “The Handmaid’s Tale” is coming. Take your pick.
Funny. These same religious fanatics abuse Islam as being oppressive. But which is more intrusive: being forced to carry a child you don’t want, or to wear a veil? Unlike the GOP, I can’t speak for women. But I know which I’d choose.