The Cleveland Curse

Help.

Somebody. Anybody.

Dr. Phil. Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo. Buffy The Vampire Slayer. We're not picky.

No need for archaeologists to take a flyer on finding a hellmouth in Belize. We got you covered.

Basketball season. Football season. Baseball season. Any time of year will do.

We do not yet have a losing Lingerie Football League team but only because that inaugural season of the Cleveland Crush (I wish I were making that up) doesn't roll around until Fall.

You may think this is all coincidence, a cyclical downturn. You may think it's no reason to suspect forces of evil at work.

Then please explain why presently the city's only winning team is the American Hockey League's Lake Erie Monsters.

Sorry, this city needs a "slayer." We thought we had one in Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert when he sent the Cleveland Curse packing in July. Stood right up and told the demons to hitch a ride to South Beach with LeBron James, he did.

Condemned them to walk the earth with James wherever his life of misery took him.

In a singular moment that rallied the rejected, Gilbert guaranteed the Cavaliers would win a NBA championship before the Miami Heat would.

"The self-declared former 'King' will be taking the 'curse' with him down south," Gilbert wrote in a statement on the team's website. "And until he does 'right' by Cleveland and Ohio, James [and the town where he plays] will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma."

So...how's that going?

• The Indians lost 90 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1978. They finished last in Major League Baseball in home attendance, which is not easily accomplished outside of Pittsburgh.

• The NFL Browns finished 5-11 in consecutive seasons and fired a head coach for the fourth time since 1999. They are denying reports their latest coach, Pat Shurmur, came from a temp agency.

• Jim Brown, the greatest player in franchise history and maybe the greatest player in NFL history, got crossways with the organization and was a no-show for the September induction of 16 Hall of Fame Browns into the organization's stadium Ring of Honor.

• Gilbert's Cavaliers own the worst record in the NBA. They have lost 31 of 32 games. They have set a team record for consecutive road losses and have the record for consecutive losses overall in their crosshairs. In a "contest" against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers scored 57 points and lost by 55 points. Steven Seagal movies don't receive that kind of drubbing in the voting for Oscar nominations.

• Just recently my newspaper, The Plain Dealer, conducted a phone interview with Washington Generals' founder Red Klotz, whose team lost 2,495 consecutive exhibitions to the Harlem Globetrotters before winning a game in 1971. And we're calling him for advice.

• Did we mention the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns' most hated rival, are in the Super Bowl looking for their seventh Lombardi Trophy in eight tries? Pittsburgh's "One for the Thumb" slogan was hard enough to take in Cleveland. When we get around to "One for the Big Toe" Cleveland sports fans can only hope the Rapture occurs during the Super Bowl national anthem.

Gilbert is still popular among people here for puffing out his chest and telling LeBron James where to go. He called James a quitter. He called him a traitor.

Actually, he did more than call him one.

Gilbert. who also owns Fathead LLC, discounted the LeBron James' vinyl wall sticker to $17.41. Not coincidentally, 1741 is the year Benedict Arnold was born.

Gilbert made Clevelanders feel good the night of "The Decision," the hour-long exercise in narcissism staged by James on ESPN. He made everybody else say, "Whoa, was this guy channeling Sam Kinison or what? With such a vindictive owner running things, no wonder James got out of there."

His other mistake was in telling the Curse where to go. Curses leave when they're ready to leave. They do not take direction well as Cubs fans have learned in dealing with the Curse of the Billy Goat.

"You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal," Gilbert wrote that July night...."I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only: DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue...."

Sure enough, people in Cleveland deserve a championship as Gilbert said.

It's been since 1964 when the Browns won the NFL title. Then Jim Brown retired. At age 29.

The Indians haven't won since 1948. The Cavaliers have never won.

Former Browns owner Art Modell, still Public Enemy No.1, moved the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season. The curse stayed. Modell won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. The Browns have played one postseason game since. (Good guess, yes, they lost. To Pittsburgh of all teams. After leading 24-7 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.)

Former Browns coach Bill Belichick didn't win in Cleveland and was roundly dismissed as an anti-social mope. He's won three Super Bowls in New England. When Stephen Hawking gets stuck trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, it's believed he calls Bill Belichick.

Based on all that and also on the crackling fire and hellish sounds heard under our city streets, you'd have to say LeBron James' chances to pick confetti out of his hair look pretty good.

Bad Company

Cleveland doesn't have the market cornered on depressing years in sports or on depressing championship droughts.

Circa 1972 in Philadelphia comes instantly to mind. The NBA's Sixers won just nine games in '72-73 (still a record). The NFL Eagles of 1972 won just twice and the Phillies went 59-97.

The difference: Philadelphia was only five years removed from winning a NBA title with Wilt Chamberlain.

ESPN put together a list of the most tortured sports cities a few years back. For good reason, Cleveland won.

Here was ESPN's Top Ten, with my comments. I took into account recent changes of fortune where applicable:

10. Houston. The Astros make Houston's spot on the list possible. But at least the Rockets won two championships while Michael Jordan was off swinging and missing at curve balls.

9. San Diego. OK, 91 seasons with only one championship. But life is so good otherwise, it wouldn't be on my list. I lived there. Fans only truly get upset when the Chargers lose or when the ocean breeze makes it difficult to light the beach fire pit on the first try.

8. Atlanta. It belongs in the conversation for all the losing that's gone on there: 147 seasons and one title. But a World Series 15 years ago and all that excellence from the Braves has kept hopes fairly fresh.

7. Seattle. Lost more than a basketball team to Oklahoma City. Lost Kevin Durant. Seattle did win a NBA title 31 years ago, which, in Cleveland and Buffalo, would feel like just yesterday.

6. Minneapolis. The Twins won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. If that happened in Cleveland, they'd immortalize everyone with a statue including the bullpen catcher.

5. Boston. OK, the Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino with a World Series title in this decade. That was a long drought. But The Celtics, Patriots, Bruins? This is a city unworthy of any miserable list.

4. Chicago. I know all about the Curse of the Billy Goat and how the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. But now the Blackhawks have won. So have the White Sox. So did the Bears of Mike Ditka. Do we really need to mention Michael Jordan and the Bulls?

3. Buffalo. Hasn't won anything in 45 years. Gets the seat at the head table next to Cleveland at the roast.

2. Philadelphia. The Phillies won in 2008, ending a 25-year title drought. The key word there is "end." Please leave the list immediately.

1. Cleveland. Last NFL title: 1964. Last World Series championship: 1948. Last NBA title: never.
Not that anyone is counting.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long
Apeel
Apeel

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh
Apeel

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration of preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangos, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
Express/Express/Getty Images

The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

chimp eating banana
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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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