Speed Trap

By Ed Staskus

   I didn’t in a million years think I was going to be an Ed’s man. I always thought I would go to Lakewood High School, because I lived in Lakewood, and because everybody I knew was going there. I didn’t think too much about it. Most of the time I didn’t think about it, at all. St Ed’s was down the street somewhere. Lakewood High School was practically next door. St. Ed’s was upper crust and Lakewood was hoi polloi. No problem there.

   I was in seventh grade when my grandfather and grandmother began talking about it. It came out of the blue, at least I thought so. Knowing them, I should have known. They wanted me to go to St. Ed’s because it was a Catholic school, and a good school. All of their kids had gone to Catholic schools, except my Aunt Lizzie, who had to finish her high school at a public school when St. Peter’s downtown closed for good.

   They probably ran out of money since they were getting to be on the edge of the ghetto. Back then the ghetto was moving downtown. These days downtown has gone there-and-back. My dad says the gentry have moved in and taken over. He didn’t explain what he meant, not that I cared. The gentry can stay on their side of the street.

   I didn’t really know anything about going to St. Ed’s. I had never given the school a glance. But I mostly didn’t want to go there because I wanted to stay with my friends. You can be smart or stupid with your friends, never having to explain anything. I didn’t see many of them going to St. Ed’s.

  Grandpa and Grandma and my parents wouldn’t stop talking about it. They wore me down. It was like Chinese torture. Finally, I thought, whatever, they want me to go, I’m not going to wear them out, they’re going to wear me out, and I should be grateful, everybody says it’s a really good school. There’s probably no getting around this.

   “OK, whatever you say, I’ll go,” I said.

   I had never paid much attention to it, although it’s only a few miles from where we live. It’s next door to City Hall and the Police Station. My dad and I had driven past it many times, but I had never genuflected. Every time we went past it I sang along. “There’s a speed trap up ahead, but no local yokel gonna shut me down, me and my boys got this rig unwound.” I hadn’t gotten an eyeful, yet. I had definitely never been inside. My friend Allan’s older brother went there. He told us about it. He told us it was boss. We finally believed him. Allan and I are both there now. But I still didn’t want to go back then.

   The school is in the shape of an M, at least if you see it from the top of a tree or see a picture of it taken from a drone. The legs of the M face the lake, which is on the other side of the practice field, across Clifton Boulevard. The boulevard is officially the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, although it’s really just a wide street with big houses, and then north of that is Lake Road, where all the rich people live, and after that all that’s left is Lake Erie. 

   There used to be Indians living on the lakeshore back in the wilderness days and they wore bobcat tails on their heads. Erie means long tailed in their language, even though bobcats have short tails. The Indians had their own way of doing things. The explorers who came exploring, trapping, and hunting didn’t call it Lake Erie. They called it Cat Lake.

   The first freshman class didn’t go to St. Ed’s because there wasn’t a St. Ed’s, yet. All one hundred of the first students had to take classes at the Lakewood Catholic Academy down the street for two years until work on the building was finished. When my uncles went there, enrollment was almost two thousand guys and it cost three hundred dollars a year. It was a comprehensive school back in the day. Dad says that meant they taught everything. Now there are less than half as many students as back then, half of them are in the pre-engineering program, and it costs forty times as much to go there, more than thirteen thousand dollars a year.

   That’s why most of my friends don’t go there. Sometimes I wonder where my dad gets the bag full of dough. I’ll bet it’s coming from my grandfather. He’s a bean counter, which is a good thing when you need money, although I hardly ever seem to get any, even though I usually need some.

   It’s not a comprehensive school anymore. It’s a college prep kind of school. We all go there so we can go somewhere else. If you look at it that way, it’s the way to go. If you look at it from the front it’s a small campus. It doesn’t have as many guys as most public schools, maybe eight hundred. They are all guys. There are no prying eye girls.

   It started with the Holy Cross Brothers from Notre Dame, who were the Fighting Irish, although they came from France. The French Revolution was their archenemy. Their motto is “Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope.” There used to be plenty of them at St. Ed’s, but there are hardly any of them left. Most of our teachers are lay teachers now. Back in the day they almost called  the school St. Mel’s, which is funny because St. Mel was a blue-collar guy, not like St. Edward the Confessor, who was a king, and Ed Hoban, who was the Archbishop of the diocese in those days. They killed two birds with one stone with that naming ceremony.

   St. Mel’s mother is called the Mother of Saints because she had seventeen sons and two daughters, and they all became saints. He worked in Ireland with his uncle St. Patrick. They built churches and monasteries. Mel supported himself by manual labor. He worked with his hands. My dad’s boss Ken the Toad goes to church every Sunday but hates people who work with their hands. Mel was like a plumber, or a car mechanic, would be these days. Whenever he had money, he gave most of it away to the poor.

   Nobody who is on the ball does that anymore, especially not at St. Ed’s. No charity is the rule, or at least as little as possible. Nobody says so, but it’s what everybody does. It’s the 21st century now, the USA, not the middle of nowhere a thousand years ago, some god-forsaken place. We’re all in on that. I take it smart.

   There’s a big sign at the entrance to our parking lot that says, “EDUCATING THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF YOUNG MEN.” We’ve had 400 National Merit Scholars and 34 State Champions, we’ve won 28 wrestling state championships and 11 hockey state titles and more football titles than we can even count anymore, and now we’ve got basketball, baseball, rugby, volleyball, and track and field state championships, too. You don’t want to ride the bench at St. Ed’s. We win a boat load of championships. That’s why they keep score at our school. It’s not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that. At St. Ed’s we say go bigger or go home. 

   Most of the school is on the older side, but it’s all updated, with new computers, new smart boards, and new high-tech stuff. We have the Dahl Leadership Center, which is more-or-less new. Then there’s the Howe Center, which is even newer. It’s the engineering part of the school. The computer classes are there, too. It’s very cool. New is what works. It’s what makes the world work. Old and decrepit sucks bad.

   We have a small football field at the back where the JV team plays, and the varsity team practices. St. Ed’s is small because it’s on a small campus. There isn’t any room around the school to buy any space. We’re on the edge of the street and then there’s just a bunch of big apartment buildings all around. They would probably be too expensive to buy and tear down, although the school obviously has plenty of money. I’m sure they have a little cash left over after paying everybody. We all know that! That’s why we’re at Ed’s, to always remember that. It never hurts to have a pocketful full of cash.

   A couple of years ago a new chapel was built at the side of the school. It has a gold dome, just like Notre Dame. Inside the chapel is a life-size bronze sculpture of Jesus on the cross. The same man who makes all the head busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton made the Jesus statue. Our gold dome Jesus is an all-pro in the sky. Go Jesus!

   My dad and his parents and all the family wanted me to go to St. Ed’s. They were cool with the cost and status symbol. I was worried I was going to be away from my friends, who were all going to Lakewood High School. But once I applied, and the more I thought about it, the more I got into it. I started thinking it might be a good thing. It’s not that public schools aren’t good, but St. Ed’s would definitely be a better school. Actually, public schools are terrible.

   I liked public school less and less the more and more I was there, especially the older I got. The lessons got less smart more dumb going on retarded year after year. I’m glad I got out. I feel like I escaped what I was, or was becoming, or I escaped someone else’s choice for me, like I found a door to a new world.

   After my dad applied to the school, we started getting mail. We got a butt load of it, which means they must spend lots of money on those of us who are going to be the new freshmen. I got mail every day when I was in 8th grade. After being accepted I got even more, most of it so much crap. I got bushels of forms, too, and I had to fill all of them out. My dad said he was too busy, and it was my responsibility now.

   Not everybody gets in. No way!! A boat load of guys apply to get into St Ed’s, way more than a thousand, maybe even lots of thousands. I don’t even know how many. At the public schools everybody in their own city goes to their own school. Every retard gets in. But at St. Ed’s they drive in from all over, from Parma, Maple Heights, even Twinsburg. One guy lives an hour and fifteen minutes away. He’s a freshman, like me, except it only takes me five minutes to get to school in Story’s dad’s SUV. He races down streets like he’s trying to get away from something.

   St. Ed’s is a small school, but it has international programs, so even more guys try to get in these days. I had to take mucho tests. Some of them were easy, but some were hard. Most of them were just standardized ones, the ones everybody has to take, like math, science, and English. There wasn’t anything useless, like history.

   I didn’t know I was going to make it at first. And I still wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I was almost wishing I wouldn’t get in. But when I kept thinking about it, I thought I would still have all my old friends, because we all live in the same city. We live close to one another, and we would still see each other. I kept thinking about it, and I finally it dawned on me since I would still have all my friends, St. Ed’s might be a good place for me. It’s a No. 1 education. Everybody talked it up and nobody said there was anything bad about it.  I thought to myself, I’m going to make a bunch of new friends, too. I started to get excited about it.

   It’s a great school, after all. I found that out. At St. Ed’s they always say, if you believe in us, we’ll believe in you. I’m glad I made it. I made a bunch of new friends, too. Many of my friends from Lakewood applied to St. Ed’s, but only three of them made it. It’s competitive getting in, but that’s good because it makes you stronger. It makes you more determined. You have to watch out for the chopping block. That’s the thing that matters the most. Don’t get chopped. That’s what everybody does at St. Ed’s. They chop the other guy. That’s why we win all the state championships.

   I met new guys in my classes, and we started talking. We’re all good friends now. I still see some of the guys that went to our Lakewood schools, although I see them less. I talk to them, text them, and stay in touch. We meet up sometimes and have lunch. We have lunch at Panera Bread. I have an allowance, so I get money to go places. It’s the bare minimum, $40.00 a month, which is $1.50 a day. I can’t make lunch on $1.50 a day, but my grandmother gives me some money, and my dad slips me cash on the side. A couple of times a month he gives me pre-paid credit cards for $50.00, or more.

   Sometimes he gives me a hundred in cash. It’s for wherever I want to go and whatever I want to do. I work around the house for him. I fold clothes, wash dishes, and clean the cat crap. I do a butt load of stuff. I vacuum while they’re all sitting around living it up, all of them except my dad. The rest of them don’t do much, especially not Jack. He does nothing and my stepmom worships him no matter what he doesn’t do. She doesn’t pray to any statues of me. I get grief no matter what I do. 

   My dad does everything, fixes and cleans everything, and runs around all the time. He works all the time. He doesn’t get any downtime. Sometimes he relaxes and sleeps. Whenever he has a day off, he makes my bed, even though I usually do it, for my dog, so he can lie on it and be comfortable. Blackie doesn’t like that and will stare him down. Scar doesn’t care. He just lays there.

   My sister Sadie is lucky. She knows it and I know it. She goes to Baldwin Wallace College and has lots of friends. She lives in an apartment with her friends. She doesn’t come home for weeks, even though it’s less than twenty miles away.

   St. Ed’s was brand new to us in our freshman class. We were all from different places, from all around Ohio, from everywhere. One of my friends is from Hinckley, wherever that is. It’s weird in the beginning because you don’t talk to anybody. Then one day you notice you’ve become friends with people you just met. The talk just happens naturally after that. I made good friends on the second day of school.

   The first friend I made was Hunter. He was going in and out of the locker next to me. He’s the kicker on one of the football teams, a good guy, and smart, too. Since our lockers were right next to each other we started talking immediately. A friend is somebody you like to talk to. They don’t always have to say nice things to you, but, more-or-less, they do most of the time.

   But you can’t be friends with everybody, no sir! The guy in the locker on the other side of me is Ethan, who’s a big black guy. He’s football big, more than six foot, maybe more. He casts a long shadow. He’s not totally mean to me, not exactly, although he is. Ethan is not that nice. Nice is when you are kind to other people, in general, not just to your only friend, in particular. Mean is when you are a jerk bag. Ethan needs to learn to be a nice person. Nice people are kind, modest, and caring. They are all those things. There are lots of people like that, but there are a butt load of people who aren’t.

   Oh, yeah! There are more people who aren’t kind than are kind in this mean old world. That’s the way things are. You have to be careful about being nice. You don’t want to be cut down. You don’t want to finish last. Ethan is rotten the way he is, and the way he talks and acts towards small fry. He cuts you down whenever he gets the chance.

   We go to our lockers all at the same time, after fourth period. We leave the books we had with us and take our other books with us. You go to your next class, sit down, talk to your friends, and get through the class. You don’t notice it, but you actually have your day, like an assembly line, making sausages.

   St. Eds wasn’t the school I wanted to go to, but now I call it my school. Some people call it ‘The Facility,’ but most guys call it St. Ed’s. Cooper calls it ‘The Organization,’ but that’s Cooper, always hauling off and slapping his nuts. When we’re on the loose, my friends and I just call it Ed’s.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Rocking the Land

By Ed Staskus

   Most cities have a nickname. Detroit is “Motor City.” Las Vegas is “Sin City.” New York City is “The Big Apple.” Atlantic City is known as “Always Turned On” although it has been turning itself off for years. Even suckers lose their taste for losing to the dealer sooner or later. Cleveland was once known as “Forest City” and “Sixth City.” In the 1960s it was the “Mistake on the Lake” and in the 1970s it became the “Rock and Roll Capital of the World.” Nowadays it is known as “The Land.”

   It has never been known as a hotbed of anarchy, although at the beginning of the 20th century that is what it was. It was where the anarchist Emma Goldman struck a match. After the match sparked and flared to life the run-up to the end of the life of the 25th President of the United States started.

   When Emma Goldman gave a blistering speech at Cleveland’s Franklin Club in December 1900 she knew she was throwing gasoline on fire. She didn’t know the White House was where the flames were going to spread. Leon Czolgosz was in the audience. He was born in Detroit but lived in Cleveland the rest of his life after his immigrant family moved there. As soon as the speech was over he started putting spare change aside to buy a handgun. He hadn’t held down a job for three years. Money was hard to come by but he made sure to come by it, by hook or by crook. 

   In the meantime, he tried joining Cleveland’s Liberty Club, a local anarchist group, but they said no. They said he was mad as a hatter and couldn’t join their club. All Leon could do was roll his eyes. “I don’t need to belong to no damn club,” he muttered. He probably would have refused to join any club that would have him. The lone wolf hoped his aim would be true when the time came.

   Anarchism is a philosophy that believes the state is unnecessary and undesirable. It advocates the end of hierarchical government. “Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others,” Edward Abbey said. What is desirable is a stateless society. Anarchists believe in organizing society on a voluntary basis without recourse to compulsion. They refuse to rely on authority. They have always believed in defunding the police. It is the farthest left of anything on the political spectrum. Anarchism is not for or against anything but it stands for liberty. “I say, liberate yourself as far as you can,” is what Max Stirner said. 

   Capitalists and Communists hate anarchists as much as they hate each other. The police everywhere in the world put them in jail. Most people don’t understand them and don’t want to understand them. Some others believe the worst thing in the world, next to government, is anarchy.

   Not long before Emma Goldman, who was billed as the “High Priestess of Anarchy,” lit up Cleveland, New York’s Supreme Court ruled that the act of identifying oneself as an anarchist in public was a breach of the peace and liable to prosecution. The state later passed the Criminal Anarchy Law, which said nothing prevents the government from punishing political speech that advocates its violent overthrow. Theodore Roosevelt, after taking over from William McKinley, proclaimed that anarchists were criminals and malefactors. “Their perverted instincts lead them to prefer confusion and chaos to the most beneficent form of social order.” Before he was president, Teddy Roosevelt was the police chief of New York City. In 1903 Congress passed a law that said no immigrants who were anarchists with “foreign-sounding” names were welcome. Go back to Germany. Go back to Russia. Go back to where you came from.

   Emma Goldman wasn’t a windshield wiper kind of anarchist, mincing her words to suit her listeners. She said the same thing to bomb throwers and the judges who put bomb throwers away. What she said in Cleveland was, “Anarchism stands for liberation from the dominion of property and liberation from the shackles of government. The political arena leaves one no alternative. One must either be a dunce or a rogue. Politicians promise you heaven before election and give you hell after. There’s never been a good government. A man has as much liberty as he is willing to take.” 

   She brought the house down at the Franklin Club. “My head nearly split with the pain,” Leon Czolgolsz said after the speech. “She set me on fire.” He made up his mind to take down the top dog at the top of bad government. He circled the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in September on his calendar.

   The Franklin Club was the Union Labor Club at first. It was organized to promote the “brotherhood of humanity.” By 1896 the club was meeting at Forester’s Hall near downtown Cleveland and had changed its name to the Franklin Club. They had two motto’s. The first one was “error is harmless if truth is free to combat it.” The second one was “labor produces all wealth.” When they met their lectures and discussions revolved around ethics, economics, religion, free love, and anarchy. After Leon Czolgolsz got done doing what he was planning on doing, the club’s records were seized by the Cleveland Police and the group disbanded.

   Anarchists had been busy in the years leading up to the new millennium. They believed that since the state was an instrument of violence it was appropriate to employ violence against the state. In Chicago in 1886 an anarchist threw a bomb at a group of policemen, killing seven of them. Four anarchists were hanged. In 1893 an anarchist tossed two bombs into a theater in Barcelona, Spain, killing 20 people. That same year an anarchist detonated a nail bomb in the French Parliament. He went to his death by guillotine shouting, “Death to bourgeois society! Long live anarchy!” Over the years they assassinated more and more European monarchs, including the Tsar of Russia, the Kings of Italy, Portugal, and Greece, and the Empress of Austria.

   Not all anarchists advocated violence, but nobody paid much attention to those who didn’t. There will be blood is what the front page is all about. When Luigi Galleani, who was the leader of an anarchist group dedicated to terrorism, published a manual for bomb-making, which included a do-it-yourself guide to nitroglycerin, everybody paid attention. He wasn’t hiding his hopes and dreams. His rants about class warfare and tips about bomb-making were published in his magazine “Chronicle of Subversion.” After one of his followers blew up a Milwaukee police station, he was deported back to Italy, even though the Italians didn’t want him back. Who wants to be re-gifted a bomb-making bomb-thrower? In retaliation his followers mailed letter bombs to 36 mayors, governors, congressmen, and the U. S. Attorney General. The Attorney General was A. Mitchell Palmer. Before he was done retaliating, ten thousand foreign-born radicals had been arrested and more than five hundred deported.

   When Leon Czolgosz took a train from Cleveland to Buffalo in late August 1901 he had just enough money to rent a room for a few days, buy a handgun, and wait for his chance. He got his chance on September 6thwhen President William McKinley was at the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition. He hid his handgun by wrapping a handkerchief around his hand. The president was shaking hands with well-wishers. When the anarchist stepped up to shake the president’s hand, he fired two shots instead. The first bullet hit a button over the president’s sternum and bounced away. The second bullet hit William McKinley in the abdomen. He went down gutshot and died eight days later. His last words were, “It is God’s will. Goodbye to all.” 

   The gunman was arrested on the spot. He told the Secret Service men dragging him away his name was “Fredrich Nieman.” It meant “Fred Nobody” in German. “You’re somebody now, you son-of-a-bitch,” one of the Secret Service men said. It didn’t take long for the State of New York to deal with the assassin. He was tried by the Supreme Court in Albany and found guilty in two days. He was electrocuted on October 29th. His last words were, “I killed President McKinley because I done my duty. He was the enemy of the good people, the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.” His body was tossed into a lead casket and disintegrated when sulfuric acid was poured into the coffin. He was buried in an unmarked grave. All his personal possessions were burned. Everybody in Cleveland said, “Good riddance.”

   Emma Goldman was arrested on suspicion of being involved, but later released. There was insufficient evidence she had helped plan or execute the murder. She couldn’t help herself, though,  and published “The Tragedy at Buffalo.” She compared Leon Czolgosz to Marcus Brutus, the assassin of Julius Caesar. She said tyrants had to go, one way or the other. She called William McKinley the “president of the money kings and trust magnates.” She was later deported for shooting off her mouth.

   Anarchism didn’t go away after William McKinley’s death and all the crackdowns that followed. The Los Angeles Times Building was bombed in 1910 during a bitter labor dispute. A series of bombings targeted anti-immigration politicians and businessmen in 1919. Judges who had sentenced anarchists to prison were singled out. An anarchist parked a horse-drawn cart at noontime in front of the J. P. Morgan building in the heart of Wall Street on a mid-September day in 1920. He walked away. A minute later at 12:01 PM 100 pounds of dynamite in the cart exploded, spraying 500 pounds of metal ball bearings in all directions. The horse pulling the cart was killed instantly. More than 30 people died and more than 300 were injured.

   The anti-anarchist lockups and interdictions of the 1920s were the effective end of them. It wasn’t the end of terrorism, though. In the 1930s terrorism became the preferred tool of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. Both were fascists in their own way. They hated almost everything except themselves and their cronies. After World War Two terrorism was the preferred tool of nationalist anti-colonial forces. In the 1960s the Red Brigade and the Weather Underground employed old methods in new ways. They kidnaped and killed people who they blamed for economic exploitation and political repression. Towelheads took up the sword in the 1980s. After 9/11 they discovered they hadn’t thought through the consequences.

   Terrorism means getting more bang for your buck. Northern Ireland suffered more than its fair share of terrorist bombings for decades during “The Troubles.” Even Canadians got in on the action. Quebec separatists robbed armories and set off bombs throughout the 1960s. In 1970 they murdered a Quebec cabinet minister.

  In Cleveland anarchism has largely faded away but hasn’t entirely gone away. Ten years ago, five local anarchists were arrested by the FBI for trying to blow up a four-lane bridge. They knew they wanted to blow something up but at first weren’t sure what. They talked about blowing up a Ku Klux Klan picnic ground in the suburbs. They talked about blowing up the Federal Reserve Bank building downtown. “We wanted to send a message to big business and the government,” 20-year-old Brandon Baxter said. They finally settled on the bridge.

   They planted C-4 explosive charges at the base of the high-level bridge crossing the Cuyahoga Valley National Park south of downtown. They planned to set the explosives off the next day when anti-government protests were planned to happen in Cleveland. They changed their minds and drove to a nearby Applebee’s, where they sat down to beers and tried to set off the bombs by cellphone. The restaurant was on a bluff overlooking the valley and the bridge. Nothing happened. When it did FBI agents rushed them, handcuffed them, and frog marched them to the Justice Center. They had been infiltrated by an informant. The C-4 was fake. The plot was a bust.

   The FBI had been on to the anarchists for almost a year. The informant met the five suspects at a Wall Street Occupy Cleveland rally. He told lawmen about their plans. The lawmen paid him $5,000 to get the goods on them. Supporters of the “Cleveland Five” gathered outside the Justice Center after the arrests carrying signs calling for the arrest of the man who was the informant. The FBI ignored them. The informant laughed all the way to the bank.

   Four of the anarchists pled guilty and were sentenced to long prison terms and lifetime probation. The fifth anarchist pled ignorance and innocence. He testified he was only along for the ride and that he thought his friends wanted to tag the bridge with paint.

   “All I really wanted to do was help my friends,” 24-year-old Joshua Stafford said.

   Lying turned out to be a mistake. He was found guilty as charged after a three-day trial. “The defendant’s callous disregard for our community, all in the name of making his ideological views known, reinforces the need to work diligently to stop terrorists from committing violent acts,” said Stephen Anthony, the FBI Special Agent in Charge. Joshua Stafford squirmed and bit his tongue. He was facing life in prison, never mind probation.

   The root of the word anarchy is archos, which means no leaders. It’s not about chaos and confusion. It is about taking personal responsibility for yourself. When it comes to leaders, it’s buyer beware. The world’s poohbahs have beyond any doubt proven that and continue to prove it. Back in the day Bob Dylan warned, “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.”

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Rough and Tumble

By Ed Staskus

   I’m on the shorter side, not too short, on the lean and mean side, but not too mean. I can be short-tempered when I have to be, but I am more friendly than not. I didn’t get it from my stepmom, for sure. I don’t get much from her. I go through doorways easier than most. I could probably go down a rabbit hole if I drank what Alice drank. That would be some kind of out of body out of my hometown on my street in my backyard in my mind adventure! I like running around with my bro’s. On the sports side of life, I run cross-country.

   I have freckles, like my dad, blue eyes, and brown hair that I keep trimmed. I keep it aerodynamic. I keep it regulation for school. I don’t change it all year. But next summer when my baptism of fire is over and done, I’ll get a full cut, grow it out, and let it flow chop until school starts again in the fall. Flow chopping is when your hair is in a circle. It’s all about letting your life flow. It’s all about being on the go with the boys.

   I’m stronger than most guys my size, but not super muscular. I’m more like lean meat. Keep your body slender and your mind sharp. My dad used to be that way when I was a baby, but he’s bulked up since then, gone big-chested. He’s not as sharp as he used to be, either. He repeats himself. He’s gone the way of pay me in full and I’m full satisfied. He’s gone grown-up.

   My middle name is Sebastian. St. Sebastian was a bodyguard for the Roman emperor. He was a tough dude, fee fi fo, walking to Detroit. St. Sebastian was bigger than me in his bodyguard days, before he got cut down to size. I’ve been doing push-ups lately. I hit the weight room after track practice and get on the bench. I do all the machines and I’m up to 85 pounds. I’m on the dumbbells, too, but I only do fifteens. My forearms aren’t that strong, yet, but they will be.

   St. Sebastian was the man, until he got on the wrong side of the boss man and got hacked to pieces. He was shot to death with arrows after he became a Christian. But they couldn’t kill him, so the emperor’s flunkies clubbed him to death, chopped him up, and threw his parts into a sewer. He was buried in France, after they found the parts of him, but later Protestants looted the church and tossed his bones into a ditch. He couldn’t catch a break. After they found most of him, they sent him to a church with locked doors so it wouldn’t happen again. 

   He’s the patron saint of sports. I wear a sacramental medal of him. I kiss the medal right before races. I was good at football when I was young, but I was never big enough. When I got big the other guys got bigger. I was a crash test dummy. No matter how many times I kissed my sacramental medal it didn’t help. Now I love running. I’m not an all-star athlete, but I’m more physically fit than most guys. I’m more than fit enough to be on the cross-country team, so I’m absolutely in the better half.

   Many guys at St. Ed’s are physically fit because they’re in sports. They’re all jacked to begin with, or they’re good at something, like soccer or football. There are others who don’t play any sports, not at all. At St. Ed’s you’re either fit or you’re unfit. The ones who are unfit are usually the ones who don’t play sports. They either don’t want to be told what to do or they are slackers who don’t want to exert any effort towards anything.

   Whenever I’m running, I feel totally free. It just flushes everything out of me. That’s when I do my best thinking, bright and bushy. But race day is different. It’s like running across a frozen lake with the ice breaking behind you, the ice-cold water reaching for your legs. It’s time for getting it on fast. I don’t think much during races.

   My teeth are close to perfect. I’ve only ever had two cavities, but I did have one tooth pulled. I was in 5th grade. One day I woke up and it hurt bad. It wasn’t even loose. There was something wrong with the nerve and I had to get it pulled that same day. It was so horrible it was horrible. The dentist gave me a shot of Novocain, but it wasn’t enough. When he pulled on it the first time it hurt bad, and he had to stop. He gave me two more shots and after that it was all right.

   I hate pain, even though I can take a lot of it, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Mr. Rote, our religion teacher, says we measure our pain by God, whatever that means. A lot of my prayers are thanking God I’m mostly healthy. We talk about evil in class, but I think the worst thing is pain. When my grandfather got old, before he died, he was in pain all the time. He was always hunched over, but he never complained. He could hardly walk. Dad said he just had to accept it. It sucks to be old. When you’re a grown-up it’s right around the corner. You might as well brace yourself for it.

   I’m allergic to dust mites and pollen. I get itchy eyes from them, sneeze a lot, and feel like crap. I had to get special microfiber covers for my mattress and pillows. If I eat nuts, I feel sick and then get sick. My throat hurts, it’s hard to swallow, and my stomach gets upset. It’s deadly, so deadly I need EpiPens, two of them, just in case. They pierce your skin. A needle shoots out and epinephrine makes it all go the way of the saints, so I don’t have to go to the hospital.

   Thank God my dad has a family insurance plan. The pens cost an arm and a leg, but they don’t cost us anything. If I was on my own, I would have to rob a bank. I would have to bushwhack a doctor. I would have to improvise, for sure.

   My left thumb is different than my right thumb. It happened three years ago when I was eleven. My dad and I were buying a massage for my stepmom. We parked in the Beachcliff Mall shopping lot in Rocky River and when I got out of our Toyota van, I slammed the door shut, except I slammed it on my own thumb. My hand was still in the door. I slammed it on my own thumb, where it got stuck!

   It was terrible. I couldn’t make sense of it. “Open the door, open the door!” I screamed. When my dad finally jerked the door open my nail came off. We had to get x-rays at Lakewood Hospital. My thumb was broken and when the nail grew back it grew back different.

   I have a scar on the left side of my neck. It happened last summer when I was playing Nazis and Jews at summer camp and got whiplashed. It was my own fault, but it was the fault of the jerk who was chasing me. I told him he wasn’t a real Nazi, and I wasn’t a real Jew, and did he have to barrel after me like it was life and death? The doctor says I’ll probably have a tattoo of it on my neck for the rest of my life.

   I have a good personality. It’s better than most, for sure. I am definitely smooth to the touch. I’m just being who I was made to be. I think it’s better to be yourself. Don’t try to be anybody else, even though they might be smarter or more successful. Even though my personality is my personal property, it seems everybody, especially my parents and my teachers, and all the grown-ups are always trying to change it.

   I like to think I’m brave. I’d like to be a hero. Everybody knows I don’t have a quiet personality. I never look behind me or to the side. That’s not me. I don’t want to know who I used to be. That’s over and done. I’m only interested in who I am now. The past is where I grew up, and I liked living there, but everybody knows you can’t go back to yesterday.

   I’m nice to everybody, unless they’re a jerk. Then I’m not going to be nice to them. I don’t mind what some guys think of me because I know there are other guys who don’t think that, not at all. There are many nice people like me, who are kind and considerate. You can’t judge a book by its cover. That’s what a lot of people do. I don’t do that. I’m open-minded, but I don’t like it that grown-ups always try to stick things I don’t want into my open mind. I don’t like it, at all.

   I’m not too emotional. I’m more of a happy person, not a crazy high and low guy. I know everybody gets sad and depressed. I try to give them a smile. I like doing that. It’s right under your nose and it’s better than being mean. Everybody looks better when they smile. Some of my teachers smile as though they just want to get it over with. It’s like they’re visiting a disaster site. I get ticked off if people never smile, or if they smile only with their lips, not their whole face.

   It’s sad when people die, but I feel they wouldn’t want you to be unhappy. You obviously can’t be happy, but don’t be depressed. That’s how I feel. It’s not worth the effort to be so sad. I might be down about something for a few hours, or even a whole day, but then I’ll just forget about it. When you smile, you forget. When you remember, you get sad. Never look back is what I say. I take it smart.

   Some of the guys at St. Ed’s are so emotional it’s like a weepie movie. And it’s all a gang of guys, not even any girls. They don’t know that no one wants to hear their sob stories. They talk about how someone stole their girlfriend, how their parents are control freaks, and how their teachers don’t understand them. They want emotional support, like an IV pumping it. I’m not like that. I only tell my close friends what I honestly think. I’m not going to blab it out like a sob train to the whole school. 

   Those guys put it all on Facebook. They tell everybody what happened, when it happened, and why it happened. It’s not worth it. Who cares? Nobody cares. They think they have a lot of friends on Facebook. They couldn’t be more wrong. That is the biggest joke of all time. The Facebook gang is laughing all the way to the bank. Don’t be waiting for a friend request from any of them! Twitter has wiped out Facebook, anyway. I’m done with it, although I’m still on Facebook all the time.

   There are a butt load of jerks and more at St. Ed’s. There are tools, cocky guys, and whores. A tool will say they are your best friend. You are friends with them, you talk to them, but they go right behind your back and tell other people. So, they are tools. A cocky guy is someone who thinks they are the best at everything, even though they aren’t. Even if they are good at something, they are so cocky about it they are annoying. The whores are just sad kids, all lonely. They’re never who they really are, letting themselves be who they are, so they can’t be a real friend. A friend to everybody is nobody’s friend.

   Who upsets me more than anything else are the attention seekers. They want attention over the dumbest things. It makes me pissed off. One guy who is in one of my classes is always raising his hand to say something dumb, or if we have to do something, he asks the teacher to come check this or that. He says he just wants to make sure he’s on the right track. He goes on and on. He wants all eyes on him, since being the poster model is what he does. He needs to shut up!

   I just don’t like to hear their voices. It’s totally annoying. The guys who make me upset are the queer bags. They’re the guys who will try to get with anyone. They’re just thirsty for a partner, anyone who will pay attention to them. They would probably even steal from bullies to attract a little attention.

   Bullies rattle me more than most. I was bullied a lot in middle school. It was horrible. My dad would call the school, and tell them about it, and even go to the school. They would say, “We know, this kid, he’s a bully,” but nothing would ever happen. Nothing ever got done, no whipping, no hanging, no change.  At St. Ed’s it’s different. They don’t tolerate it, at all. But guys still get bullied. It rubs me the wrong way. I know how it feels. It sucks, so it ticks me off a lot.

   I’m popular at school because I know how to make friends with my classmates, and sophomores, too. I don’t try to win any popularity contests. That’s just how it is. I’m not modest, but I’m not conceited, either. I don’t try to be popular. I try to be nice and that translates into popularity. Not with everybody, for sure, because there are plenty of scrubs and haters in the hallways.

   The only dogs who bite me are people. Dogs never bite me, although Scar almost bit me once. I barged into my bedroom, and he was sleeping on the other side of the door. My hand was in his mouth before I knew it and even before he knew it. When he looked up it was a toss-up who was more surprised. Was it him or was it me? His tail was wagging, and he was snarling at the same time. He left teeth marks on me, but no bloodshed.

   Scar is jumpy about water. A neighbor sprayed him in the face when he was a puppy to keep him from barking when we were all in Michigan for a long weekend. She did it a bunch of times. When my older sister Sadie and I found out we waited until she flew to Las Vegas with her friends to lose money and we broke all the windows in her new Audi with baseball bats.

   He has personality, like me. Sometimes I think I might have been a dog in a past life because dogs will sometimes do a double take when they see me. I think they can see the inside of you. Scar always knows when I’m coming home, even though I might only be turning the corner up the street. He runs to meet me. No one else even ever knows I’m home until I come through the door and ask what’s for dinner.

   It is fun running up and down the street and in the park with Scar. Dogs are fit and fast. Dogs are my favorite people sometimes, definitely at my house. Scar is short and sweet, like me. Nobody thinks cats and dogs go to Heaven, but I think animals were there a long time ago, before any of us, no matter what the holy roller Mr. Rote says, who doesn’t even have a dog. What does he think he knows that he doesn’t know?

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Staying Alive at the Armory

By Ed Staskus

   One of the concerns of Cleveland’s early settlers was that Canada might invade at any time. They were just on the other side of Lake Erie and they had plenty of boats. They might land their Canuck army somewhere off the beaten path and lay siege to the city. Nobody knew what they would do if they captured Cleveland, they being foreigners who lived on poutine and littered their mother tongue with ”eh?”, but everybody was convinced it was going to happen soon. 

   The Canadian Rebellions of 1837 were in full swing. When the city fathers acted they formed the Cleveland Grays, a volunteer military company, to protect themselves from Canucks on the loose. They weren’t called the Grays at first. At first they were called the Cleveland City Guards but since their uniforms were gray from tip to toe they changed the name the next year. They wore Queen’s Guard bearskin hats that made them look a foot taller than they really were. They adopted “Semper Paratus” as their motto. Nobody knew what it meant because it was in Latin until the man upstairs finally explained it meant “Always Prepared.” Everybody liked that. There were 65 of them.

   The Cleveland Grays stayed busy even though the Canadians eventually decided to stay on their side of the border. In 1852 they put down a two-day riot at Cleveland’s Medical College. A mob bearing clubs and cleavers attacked the school, protesting the work of Resurrection Men. They were men who robbed graves of the recently deceased for dissection lectures. The crowd broke into the college, the doctors, teachers, and students fleeing, and destroyed all the furnishings and equipment. They ransacked the lower level looking for the body of a young local woman who they believed had been body snatched. The Grays restored order, but the next day the mob was its way to burn down the house of one of the anatomy teachers when they had to save the day again. The rabble saw their bearskin hats a mile away and ran away.

   In 1861 they were the first militia in the country to form a company and respond to the call for Union soldiers. They fought at the First Battle of Manassas. They hauled the first ever captured Johnny Reb cannon of the war from the Cheat River battlefield back to Camp Cleveland in Tremont. The troops called it ‘Cannon Sesech’ after the secessionists. They fired it after every Union victory. They whooped it loud and clear every hour for 24 hours on the day the war ended. Nobody complained about the noise. Over the years, after a Gray had been a member for twenty-five or more years, he was entitled to be called a “Pioneer” and to wear a leather apron with his uniform. He was also entitled to carry an axe when on parade. Nobody messed with them when they were on parade. They fought in the Spanish-American War and World War One. After that the Militia Act proscribed them and their like from fighting in wars anymore on their own initiative. Uncle Sam still wanted them but only if they wore his regulation uniform. The Cleveland Grays lasted as a “Businessmen’s Camp” into the 1990s.

   They first set up shop on the fourth floor of a building called the Mechanics Block. Thirty years later they needed more space. They moved into a former fire station. Ten years later they moved into the newly built City Armory, sharing it with the Ohio National Guard. Soon after that a fire destroyed the building. They decided to build their own place that would stand the test of time. 

   A three-ton block of sandstone was set in place in 1893 where Bolivar Rd. meets Prospect Ave. for the foundation of the Grays Armory. It grew to be three stories high with a five-story tower on the northeast corner. It was built as an urban fortress. There is a black iron drop-gate and iron barriers in front of the solid oak front doors. Iron rods were bolted to the brick walls as window protectors. 

   The armory was built to store weapons and ammo. The drill room, which doubled as a ballroom, was where the Grays marched up and down in tight formations. But it wasn’t long before it became a kind of community center. The Cleveland Orchestra’s first concert in 1918 was staged there. The first time the Metropolitan Opera came to town they sang songs of doomed love and hellfire there. When John Philip Souza first marched into town his band played there. The first home and garden show and the first auto show in Cleveland were held there.

   Even though in the early 1970s I was living on Prospect Ave. near Cleveland State University, and later in nearby Asia Town, I didn’t know the first thing about Grays Armory. The few times I saw it I dismissed it as an old ramshackle castle with a cool-looking tower. I did, at least, until Joe Dwyer invited me to his new digs there.

   Joe and I went to St. Joseph’s High School the same four years in the 1960s and for a few years in the 1970s lived a street apart in Asia Town. Many of the suburban kids who went beatnik and hippie in those days moved downtown like us. Many of us lived in reduced circumstances, trying to keep our heads above water, living catch as catch can in our counterculture world. Joe was living rent-free in the caretaker’s quarters on the top floor of the tower. He was keeping a part-time caretaking eye on the armory.

   He showed me around the building. He told me it had just been added to the National Register of Historic Places. It looked like a forest had been chopped down for the floors, doors, stairs, and wainscoting. It was a sunny day and sunlight poured in through the windows. Everything was old but gleaming like new. We played a game of pool in the Billiard Room. We peeked into the basement where there was a 140-foot-long shooting range. We played some haphazard notes on the Wurlitzer pipe organ that had been installed a couple of years earlier. It came from a silent movie theater in Erie, Pennsylvania. It sounded creepy in the empty ballroom. Three or four concerts a year were being sponsored by the Western Reserve Theater Organ Society.

   Twenty years later my wife and I were living in Lakewood when we received a friend’s wedding invitation. The reception was being held in the main ballroom of Grays Armory. We checked the box saying we would be attending the festivities.

   We parked on Erie Ct. alongside the Erie Street Cemetery on the day of the big day. It was where Lorenzo Carter, the first permanent settler of Cleveland, was buried. It was where Chief Joc-O-Sot, who fought the first settlers, was buried. It was where almost a hundred Civil War veterans were buried, including General James Barnett, who was a commander of the Cleveland Grays. After the war he served on the commission that got the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument built on Public Square. We walked to the end of the block to the armory. The lobby was carpeted in red. There was some kind of ancient ticket booth off to the side. There was a grand staircase. The posts and railings were carved from a single slab of wood. The posts were engraved with ‘CG’ for Cleveland Grays.

   After toasts, dinner, and some dancing, we were standing around when somebody in our group said the armory was haunted. “Lots of people have seen ghosts here,” the man in the know said.

   “Like who?” I asked. 

   “Plenty of people,” he replied.

   “I saw a handsome young man with light brown hair, parted on one side, with a crown imperial goatee,” said Chris Woodyard, who has written a series of books about haunted places. “The spirit was wearing a Cleveland Grays woolen jacket, decorated with a glockenspiel pattern down the front, formed by braids and buttons.” Staff and visitors say a woman wearing white often appears at the armory’s piano. She doesn’t play it but no matter where it is moved to, she’s always there. She wants to dance but doesn’t have a partner. Day and night doors lock and unlock themselves and disembodied voices whisper in the shadows. Ghostly footsteps were forever setting off security alarms.

   One day the spirit of a soldier walked through a wall to get into the ballroom. A cleaning man was mopping up after a party. He watched the spirit watching him. A woman spirit wearing a party dress appeared and walked up to the man spirit. When the cleaning man coughed the spirits melted away. Another day a maintenance man was working at the back of the ballroom when a glowing green hand closed the door. He ran to the door, and opened it, but there was nobody there. The door knob oozed wormwood.

   After another drink my wife and I went looking for spooks. “Don’t bother looking for Lou,” we heard a voice behind us say. “He’ll find you.” My wife didn’t like the sound of that, but she was game and went with me.

   Lou was a caretaker who once lived at the top of the tower in the same quarters Joe had lived in. He died of a heart attack making his rounds. He still made his rounds. Most ghosts are about unfinished business. He often walked behind people in the ballroom. When they heard his footsteps they turned to see who it was, but there was never anybody there, although they could smell the aroma from his cherry-vanilla pipe. Whenever there was a meeting in the first-floor tower room, where there was an oversized potted plant, he liked to shake it violently until it fell over.

   “Do you believe in ghosts?” I asked my wife.

   “Not during the day,” she said.  

   “How about at night?”

   “I’m a little more open-minded at night.”

   It had gotten to be night when we went on our self-guided tour of Grays Armory. We went upstairs. We stepped into the Club Room where the Grays used to sit around and puff on stogies. There were comfy leather sofas. The mahogany was dark and the atmosphere cozy. We stepped into the Billiard Room where Joe and I had shot pool years earlier. There were antlers of long dead deer on the walls. We peeked into the rooms on the upper floors. One of them was a smaller ballroom for meetings. Back in the day folks wanted to be high up so they wouldn’t have to smell the horse shit in the street. There were unlit fireplaces everywhere. We found cupboards in the Mess Room where members used to hide their booze during Prohibition. There wasn’t a drop left.

   With every step we took we had the feeling somebody or something was behind us, but every time we looked around we were alone. After a while being alone got scary. It’s better to be alone than to be in bad company, I reassured myself.

   “Maybe we should go back,” my wife suggested.

   “We’re not after fish but let’s do a little more fishing,” I said.

   We went up and down the tower. We stepped into the ground floor room. The lights went on by themselves. We heard footsteps and bumps in the night. A big dusty potted plant that looked like it was a hundred years old started to shake. It fell over.

   “That’s enough fishing for the day,” my wife said, backing up.

   In the end we didn’t see any ghosts, except for maybe Lou, which wasn’t to say we were ready to say there weren’t any. The Ghost Hunters, a paranormal team on the TV show SyFy, rooted around Grays Armory one day and found evidence of hauntings. Every time they left a room something closed the door behind them. When they investigated the basement they heard an unseen somebody say “Hello.” When they left the voice said “Goodbye.” They concluded there were spirits, but they seemed to want to have a good time more than cause a ruckus. Ghosts just want to have fun.

   “Have you ever noticed that ghosts are always wearing clothes?” my wife asked.

   “I’ve noticed without really noticing it,” I said.

   “How do their clothes get into the other dimension with them?” she asked.

   “That’s a good question,” I said. “If you ever get the chance, ask one of them.”

   “There’s a fat chance of that ever happening,” she said.

   We hadn’t seen anything substantial but we had seen enough. We had felt the presence of spirits in the shadows. We went back to the wedding reception in the ballroom. The bride and groom were the life of the party on the dance floor. True love is like a ghost. Everybody talks about it but not many have ever seen it. They were doing the hustle to a Bee Gee’s tune being spun by the DJ. The Lady in White, the lonely dancing spirit who had long haunted the armory, was nowhere in sight. Disco is a surefire remedy for ghost sightings.

   “Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’, and we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Once in a Lifetime

By Ed Staskus

   I wake up on school days before everybody else, while they are snoozing and snoring their heads off, stare at the ceiling in the dark, wonder whether the sun blew up in the night, make plans for breakfast, and mess around with Blackie. He’s my black cat that sleeps at my feet. Sometimes he curls up under my arm with his face pressed into my armpit. I wonder how he even breathes. I shouldn’t wonder, though, since he’s the Chuck Norris of everything that goes on in the neighborhood. I never trim his claws. Nothing messes with him twice. 

   When it’s time to rise and shine I throw on a sweatshirt. I like going outside first thing, so I always do that right after I get out of bed. Otherwise, somebody would tell me to do something else. Most mornings I walk Scar, our Beagle, although he won’t go out in the rain. We stay dry on the back porch when it rains. We got him from the Animal Protective League four years ago, in 2010. He’s like a hound with short legs and long ears. He has a bad habit of biting strangers. I never interfere with that. He’s got a chase reflex, too, especially if they’re cats, chipmunks, squirrels, or any dog bigger than him. 

   We jog down Riverside Dr. to Hogsback Ln. to the Metropark, but I have to be careful, because if he sees a badger in the park it’s all over. He doesn’t think it’s a revenge obsession, but he’s mistaken. Revenge is for grown-ups, anyway. He got his scar when he was still a puppy. There was a badger with cubs in our backyard, behind the garage, and Scar got too close to them. There was an explosion of yelps screeches barking when it happened. His face was ripped open, and we had to rush him to the Animal Clinic.

   I used to eat breakfast with my parents. It was always a boat load of something. “Take your elbows off the table and pass the ketchup. Did you do your homework? Is that a clean shirt?” There would be a quiz about what I did yesterday and what I was going to be doing today. They hardly eat together anymore, anyway. Both of them are always in a hurry to get to work, even though my dad hates his job because of the toad family whose business it is. My stepmom teaches at the new middle school down the street. She loves it because she can boss everybody around and make big money doing it. She talks about her pay and raises and pension all the time. She made sure all of our neighbors voted her way when there was a school tax levy last year

   The first thing I do after I’ve showered and gotten dressed for school is call the Red Door Deli and order two Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials. There’s a scrawny guy who works there and when he answers the phone it’s wacko time. He has a thick ching chong accent.


   I’m, like, “Hi.”


   “I want to order two Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials.”

   When he repeats my order, I can barely understand him. “That’s right,” I always say no matter what he says. Everybody there knows me, but he pretends it’s the first time he’s ever talked to me, even though he answers the phone every morning. He’s the one who hands over the bagel specials at the counter, too.

   The Red Door is across the street from St. Ed’s High School, in a pint-sized strip shopping center, squeezed between Bubbles, a pit stop for dirty laundry, and Sassy Beauty, a hair salon. I go there every morning and since they know me the yellow man just hands me my bag without a word and I fork over four dollars.

   What time I get there for my bagels depends, although it’s never later than eight o’clock. It depends on Story’s father, who drives both of us to school. Story lives next door. His dad works at a garden center in Avon, even though their yard isn’t any better than ours, which is surprising. Story calls my cell phone when they’re ready to go and I run over.

   “Pick it up, pick it up,” his dad grumbles, shrugging his way into their SUV. He always sounds peeved about something. He drops us off at the Red Door, I get my breakfast sandwiches, and Story and I walk across the street to school.

   The cafeteria is at the back of the building, which is the new part of the school. We cross the street, squeeze between the chapel and main classroom, and go in through a side door. Our  chapel is topped with a gold dome, just like Notre Dame. It glows in the sun. You can see it from blocks away.

   Every morning there are a butt load of guys in the cafeteria. The TV’s are all on and everybody is watching whatever, which is mostly the news. The flat screens are on every wall except the far wall with the windows.  There’s destruction and disaster every morning on the FOX Morning Show, major scariness everywhere, but it doesn’t interfere with anybody’s breakfast.

   I don’t watch too closely. It’s all just a lot of crap, a splash of eye candy, blood and guts, a sour lollipop without the handle. But sometimes I pay attention, especially if the news is about an airplane crash since I’m always in the middle of crashes when I play video games.

   The family at home watches FOX News every night. They agree among themselves that every word the talking heads say is true. It’s doing to them what they say video games are doing to me. It’s making them slow. What they don’t know is video games make me fast, although my stepmom most of all doesn’t want to hear it. I’ll leave them in the dust soon enough.

   I wouldn’t want to be body slammed inside an airplane hitting a hillside. It’s an instant mess, all broken bones and gore. It only takes a second, but sometimes forever happens in just one second. Everybody’s so burned up and busted to pieces that dentists have to be brought in to find out who is who.

   One day there was major terrorist news that caught my eye, except it wasn’t on the news. It was online. It was too gruesome for the news. The holy war towelheads caught some innocent people who didn’t have anything to do with anything and wouldn’t let them go. They tied them to posts and blindfolded them. They shot them one at a time, although they don’t shoot to kill. They shot them in the legs. Then they went back and shot them in the arms. They just did it randomly. It was weird. The internet doesn’t care about weird.

   They filmed it while they were doing it, too. They are sick butt turds. The army, our army, is totally rad and could take them out, but nobody is going to win that war. It’s an epic fail over there. It’s been going on forever. I hope they come here, and we can just rumble on their butts. It’s ammo, cammo, and Rambo in the USA. Our family has plenty of guns, in the attic, and we have ammunition, too. I’m not sure about everything we have, though. Jack is the only one who knows.

   “I have two 12-gauge’s, a semi-automatic pistol, a .22 Sig Sauer, a big bore 14-gauge, and an AK-47 semi-automatic,” Jack says. “I have more, but the rest of it isn’t any of your business.”

   Jack is like that. He’s my half-brother. He lives on the third floor and doesn’t let anyone in his room. It’s all under lock-and-key, starting with the door. My stepmom is good with it. It wouldn’t be good for me if I tried it. He wears camouflage clothes and goes to Cleveland State University. He wants to be a policeman or an army man. He’ll be gone in two or three years. I can’t wait for that.

   Jack’s arsenal is technically my dad’s, because he bought them, but they’re totally my brother’s. Jack-o now buys guns for himself since he’s nineteen and an adult. Before that he wasn’t allowed. He was still a child. It’s sketchy being Catholic and grown-up at the same time.

   We go shooting sometimes, at Scooterz-N-Shooterz in Uniontown, and on my grandfather’s farm in Michigan. The whole family goes there every summer. My grandfather says that whenever anybody says you don’t need a gun, you’d better make sure you have one that works. “They always want to take guns away from the people who didn’t do it,” he says, cackling like he just bit into something bad, sticking in his craw. Last summer I shot so many rounds off at the farm, at targets, at trees, at nothing, that I got a big blister on my hand, and it was nasty.

   I have my own gun, although it’s not a real one. It’s a G & G Carbine air soft gun. It’s not real, but it looks feels acts like the real deal. It shoots BB’s instead of bullets. Ted Nugent said the BB gun is the most important gun in the history of American weaponry. He should know. He has his own name brand BB’s. Air soft ammo is plastic, not metal. They leave a welt when they smack skin.

   My dad bought it for me. It’s not from Target or anyplace like that. It cost almost four hundred dollars. My friends Nick and Jake and I use Grudge Tactical pellets when we’re out and shooting each other. They’re coated with powder, so they leave a mark on your clothes. It’s not just some stupid toy. It’s fully automatic. 

   Nobody talks about guns at St. Ed’s, not us, and not our teachers. Even though everybody talks guns down, when they say anything at all, Mr. Rote, our religion teacher, broadcast the news that the church says self-defense is cool, and told us all about St. Aquinas and taking care of business. Mr. Rote said it’s best to shoot first and ask questions later. He said the Dalai Lama said the same thing. Nobody asked him who that was, not that anybody cared about any Lama.

   “It’s your responsibility to defend your faith, your family, and your country,” he said. “It’s a duty to defend church and country from bad men.” He didn’t say much more than that. He’s probably never had a firearm in his hands in his whole life. What does he know? We don’t have metal detectors at St. Ed’s like they do at public schools, but if anyone ever brought a gun to our school that would be the end. They would never be allowed back.

   You can wear pajamas to public school, but at St. Ed’s we have to wear a dress shirt and tie, dressy pants, and shoes. You can’t even have too much style in your hair. When you’re in a Catholic school there’s more expected of you. If you’re an Ed’s man, or if you go to St. Ignatius, or any Catholic school, everybody expects you to be a good person. What you do in public school is up to you, which isn’t always a good thing. Not everybody is a good kid. There are plenty of rotten apples.

   When I was in middle school big kids would make fun of small kids with learning disabilities. They always picked on the smaller specimens. They would walk right up to them, start being mean, and push them around. They would go after the ones with ADHD or Tourette’s, edge down on them, and make fun of them.

   From sixth grade on it was all about bullying kids who were shy or different, especially in gym class. There was a whole group bullies, Tristan, Justin, and the other Noah. They were their own little posse. I hated those kids. They were complete jerks. I would try to help, as long as the monsters weren’t there, the ones who say they don’t punch you in the back, they punch you in the face.

   “You shouldn’t act like that,” I said them whenever I could.

   “Shut up.”

   “Leave them alone, make fun of somebody else.”

   “Yeah, yeah, beat it.”

   They wouldn’t stop. It wasn’t like they were in class, so they could keep doing it and doing it. They thought they were so dandy. That’s how they got the stupid kids to like them. That’s the thing about Catholic schools and public schools. Guys don’t do that at Catholic schools. I’m sure some do, but truly, not like that. So many public-school kids are jerks. They learn English by watching cartoons. 

   If a teacher at a Catholic school got wind of anything like that there would be no problem seeing the trouble you were in. All hell would break loose. When you’re in a Catholic school there’s a lot more expected of you. You’re expected to be responsible and be a better person. You have to take charge of yourself and carry the cat by the tail. It’s a big change when you leave public school for good. It was a big change for me. I didn’t go to a parochial grade school. I didn’t have eight years of dress rehearsal.

   The food is better at St. Ed’s than it is at public schools, where it’s mostly grown in boxes and cans. Their cooks carry X-Acto knives instead of spatulas. At St. Ed’s we have real cooks and we’re served whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and no sugar drinks are allowed. The milk is low fat. It doesn’t pay to be fat at our school. It’s the Breakfast of Champions, but I still bring my Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials most mornings, because we don’t get enough food.

   There are rules about everything, even about how many calories we’re allowed. I don’t get enough for cross-country and the football players bellyache about the portions. Football is the most important thing at St. Ed’s. It’s so important it’s totally important. Everybody knows where the goalposts are. We won states last year, so this year we are the defending state champions.

   When school started in the fall we were 5th in the USA Today poll and 6th in the ESPN poll. That’s in the whole country, not just Ohio. That’s how good we are. At St. Ed’s it’s either football season or it’s waiting for the next football season. We say it’s faith, family, and football. Sometimes it almost seems like it means more than Heaven and Hell. It puts pep in everybody’s step when we win. I tried football in grade school, but it didn’t work out. I was under-sized and then I broke my collarbone. Now I love running.

   The football players boycotted lunch one day. It was a big stir fry. My friend Rick, who is a 6-foot-3-inch 220-pound linebacker, said he burns more than 3,000 calories during three hours of weight training and practice after school. “We are starting to get hungry even before the practice starts,” he complained to one of the vice-principals. “Our metabolisms are all sped up.”

   “I could not be more passionate about this,” the food service supervisor said, making a speech the next day before lunch. Grown-ups are always making speeches, masterminds on their soapboxes. “I want to solve this problem,” she said, looking smug and serious. She had everybody fill out cards about what we did and didn’t like about our meals. We all laughed about it. Everybody knew nothing was going to change. They’re always trying to pull it over us with their plans and schemes. Grown-ups do what’s good for them, not for anybody else.

   Our cafeteria is the nicest one I’ve ever seen. There are skylights over the atrium, polished wood floors, oblong folding tables, and ergonomic chairs. Everything is super modern. Somebody’s dad died and he gave the school a ton of money, millions of it, the minute he was six feet under. The whole school is up-to-the-minute, even though it was built in 1949, on land that used to be a feeding stop for cattle trains. Back then if you got a detention you had to help dig out the new basement with a shovel. Punishment was being made blue collar for the day, made to work with your hands.

   When I check my cell phone and it’s 8:25 I wolf down what’s left of my Bagel Bacon Bagel Specials and get going because my first class is at 8:30. Being late for Mr. Rote’s Roman Catholic class would be the worst thing I could do to start my day. When we hit the hallway it’s every freshman for himself and God against all.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Salty Dog Days

By Ed Staskus

   A football team can have the best running backs, linemen, and defensive backs but if they have a goat taking the snap instead of a GOAT, they are unlikely to make it to the Super Bowl. If they have competent role players and a ‘Greatest of All Time’ spiraling TD passes here there and everywhere, they are not only likely to get to the promised land there’s a good chance they will be hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy and going to the White House to be hosted and boasted by POTUS. Tom Brady has proven that to everybody’s satisfaction and Bill Belichick’s discomfiture. Nobody needs the best coach of all time. They simply need the best QB of all time.

   Almost everybody develops osteoarthritis sooner or later, even the GOAT’s and POTUS’s of this world. Live to be a hundred and the odds are hard against you. Live to be two hundred, like the ageless Tom Brady will probably do, and you can absolutely bet the family farm on it.

   I knew my hip replacement surgery scheduled for the third day of spring had been coming for ten years. What I didn’t know was that Light Bulb Supply, a commercial lighting distributor in Brook Park I worked twenty-five years for, was going to go out of business as fast as they did. When they did my blue-chip health insurance disappeared in the blink of an eye. Without it I couldn’t afford the surgery. I pushed the idea to the back of my mind. It stayed there for a long time.

   I started walking more, flipping upside down on a Teeter, taking supplements, taking yoga classes, and ignoring get-healthy-quick claims, but not before trying some of them. I might as well have set my paper money on fire. I waited to get on Medicare. Two years ago, I fell down walking on a beach when my hip gave out. It was a warning shot. I kept limping along, even though my mind was made up. When the 19 virus made its appearance, the flat tires in the Oval Office ignoring it, the ineptitude screwed everything up, but eventually I got to see Dr. Robert Molloy, who had been recommended to me.

   I had never been operated on. I wasn’t looking forward to it. But there was no going back because there was no future with the bone-on-bone bad news I had unless I was up for crawling.

   “How are you walking?” the surgeon asked after looking at my x-rays.

   “On one leg, more-or-less,” I said.

   If Dr. Molloy didn’t have a stubble beard, he would have looked like Doogie Howser, maybe younger.

   “Let’s get you going on two legs.”

   Five minutes later he was done with me. One of his outfit walked in and made an appointment for the procedure. Five minutes after that I was in my car driving home. After that it was a matter of waiting. The week before surgery was a long week. I wasn’t allowed to take Celebrex, which is an anti-inflammatory. Until then I hadn’t realized what a nitty-gritty role the drug played in keeping me on my feet. I barely made it to the Cleveland Clinic’s Lutheran Hospital under my own power

   An operating team is like a football team. It is made up of many moving parts. The surgeon is the top dog but unlike teams that throw catch kick balls, he is less the star of the show and more the lead man of the ensemble. He doesn’t spit snort chaw or scratch his balls while at work. The surgeon, the team, and  the operating room have to be as sterile as possible. The surgeon doesn’t pretend what he does matters, like pro athletes do, because it does matter. He doesn’t throw interceptions because what he does is a matter of life and death.

   Dr. Robert Molloy doesn’t earn the kind of the paycheck Tom Brady does, although if it was a left-brain world he would, and more. But it isn’t, so sports heroes have the key to Fort Knox. He doesn’t do hip replacement surgeries in front of 70,000 crazy cheering fans, which is probably a good thing. What if they were cheering for the other side? When Tom Terrific makes a mistake, he gets a do over the next time the offense takes the field. That isn’t necessarily the case with surgeries.

   “While I’ve done over 10,000 operations and invented devices that are used every day in surgery, the joy I receive from watching even one person take back their health just can’t be surpassed, and certainly can’t be measured monetarily,” Steve Gundry, a heart surgeon, said. In the meantime, Tom Brady has $4 million dollars of sheet metal parked in his garage, including a Rolls Royce Ghost, two Aston Martins, a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, and a Ferrari. “Moderation in everything,” he says is his go-to mantra. Hip, hip, hooray for moderation.

   Hip replacements got going in Germany in 1891. Themistocles Gluck used elephant ivory to replace the ball on the femur attaching it with screws. The cement he used was made from plaster of Paris, powdered pumice, and glue. He might have added some spit to the mix. I’m glad I wasn’t the patient. He couldn’t have lasted long. Molded-glass implants were introduced in the 1920s but were mechanically fragile. Metallic prostheses started to appear in the 1930s.

   The first metallic total hip replacement was performed in 1940 at Columbia Hospital in South Carolina. It ushered in a new age. Modern technological advances spare surrounding muscles and tendons during total hip replacement surgery. The surgery protects the major muscles around the joint and the surgeon can see that the components fit just right. It allows the patient under the knife to take advantage of better motion and muscle strengthening after surgery. About 400,000 of the procedures are performed annually in the United States, making it the most common of joint replacements.

   Once I was checked in, checked out, and fitted with a one-size-fits-all gown, I was wheeled to the staging area, which is the pre-op room. It looked like the deck of the Starship Enterprise. There were computers and flat screens everywhere. LED lights blinked and there was a buzz in the air. The body shop nurses and doctors came and went, some of them dressed like spacemen.

   Two nurses were attending to somebody next to me. I could hear them on the other side of the curtain. “I don’t know how Amazon does it,” one of them said. “You order what you want and it’s at your house the same day, the next day at the latest.”

   “I know,” the other one said. “It’s like a miracle.”

   When I looked around, I thought, Amazon puts things in boxes, puts the boxes in trucks, and then puts the boxes on your front porch. It doesn’t seem like a miracle by any stretch of the imagination. The miracle is this pre-op room.

   An anesthesiologist with a Brazilian nametag asked me some questions. “We’ll have you up and dancing at Carnival sooner than later,” he said. He asked me to sit up and hug a pillow, hunching over it. I felt a cold solution being rubbed on my lower back. The next thing I knew somebody was waking me up. I was in the recovery room. There was a group of men and women standing around and looking down at me.

   One of them reminded me of Doogie Howser. “It went very well,” Doogie said. Whoever he was and whatever he was talking about went over my head and I fell instantly back asleep. The next time I woke up I was in a different room, cold and shivering. My left side felt like I had fallen from a ten-story building and landed on that side. When I gingerly felt for the soreness, my hand landed on an ice pack. That explained the shivering. I drew my blanket tighter around me and fell asleep again.

   The night nurse came and went, taking my vitals. I tried to explain to her how vital it was that I sleep, but she woke me up with her thermometer and blood pressure gizmo every couple of hours. I was hooked up to an IV. She told me it was for my own good, full of anti-inflammatories and pain killers.

   “It still hurts like hell,” I said.

   She brought me a small white pill that she said was Oxycodone. It did the trick. I fell asleep and stayed asleep, at least until she came back to get more vitals. It was two in the morning when she woke me up. She had brought a walker.

   “It’s time for you to take a walk,” she said.

   She must be new, I thought. I patiently explained that I had come out of major surgery just a few hours earlier and that there was a foreign object made of ceramics and plastic, titanium alloys, and stainless steel inside of me. Nurse Ratched shrugged it off and before I knew it, I was out of bed and plodding down the long hallway. She made sure I stayed on my feet and got me back into bed safely. She gave me another small white pill and I went back to dreamland, which was nothing if not wide-screen technicolor.

   When breakfast arrived the next morning, I wolfed it down like I hadn’t eaten anything for nearly two days, which I hadn’t. Its tastiness belied its reputation for blandness. When the lady who delivered the breakfast came back for the tray, she asked me how it had been.  

   “Better than hospital food is supposed to be,” I said. 

   “That’s good, honey, that’s good, got to keep your strength up,” she said.

   After breakfast the day nurse strolled in and stuck a memory stick into the flat screen on the wall at the foot of my bed. It was a 45-minute Cleveland Clinic video about what recovery was going to encompass. Halfway through the video a troop of nurses walked in to check on the Palestinian in the room with me, and me, too. I paused the video. The Arab had been there when I arrived and was still there when I left. He had a Frankenstein-like incision on one side of his Adam’s apple. “They did surgery on my neck, on some herniated disks,” he said. All that morning a nurse had been trying to get his medicine to go down, but even when they crushed and mixed it with apple sauce, he couldn’t swallow it. His throat was so swollen he couldn’t swallow anything. After a doctor showed up with something new, he was right as rain an hour later. When his wife came for a visit, they called their children to let them know how it was going. They toggled their phone to speaker. While they talked to their kids in all-Arabic, their kids responded in all-English.

   When the troop of nurses was done with my roommate, they turned their attention to me. One of them asked what I thought of the video. “It’s good,” I said. “The lady doing the talking got off to a slow start, sort of fumbling around, but got her footing and some spice soon enough. I liked the part about doing recovery the Cleveland Clinic Way and not the Burger King Way.” The narrator meant don’t do it your way, do it our way. “She’s a Salty Dog, that one,” I said.

  “Meet the Salty Dog,” one of them said, motioning to a woman at the back of the pack. It was Karen Sanchez. She was the leader of the pack. She was the Salty Dog. She shot me a tepid look. I wished I was still out cold.

   One day after entering the hospital I was on my way home. I said goodbye to the Palestinian. “Remember, follow the rules or follow the fools,” he said. The day nurse wished me luck and called for transit. “Ron will be up in ten minutes,” she said. The last person I saw before leaving my room was Karen Sanchez. She came alone and gave me a stern talking to about what to do and what not do the next few weeks. By the time she was halfway through I was convinced. She wasn’t convinced and continued her lecture. When she was done, I gave her a thumb’s up. She gave me a reassuring smile from behind her mask.

   I was put in a wheelchair and wheeled to an elevator. My last look back was of the stern watchdog admonishing somebody trying to get out of bed on his own. “What are you doing?” she barked. “Get right back in bed and ring for your nurse.” She was as much mother hen as anything else

   The pre-op and post-op teams, the check-in and check-out teams, had done their jobs. The transit team was Ron. He sported a jet-black Elvis pompadour and asked if I liked rockabilly. “I don’t like anything just now,” I said. I couldn’t have gotten into my car without him. My wife watched while he showed me the tricks of the trade. If I had tried to do it myself, I probably would have dislocated my new hipbone and he would have had to wheel me right back inside. Everybody described that kind of thing happening as “excruciating.”

    Surgical teams need a top dog, but unlike fun and games in colorful jerseys, they need a team as good as the surgeon to get the patient to the operating table and afterwards get the patient back on his feet. The goal isn’t to kick a field goal and win the Super Bowl, while the other guy slouches away dejected. The goal is for one and all to win the Super Bowl. The day after the operation I went home. When I got there, it took me five minutes to get up to the second floor, on the same steps my grade school niece and nephew could barrel up in less than five seconds. Our cats always ran the other way. They looked me up and down quizzically.

   It was a cold and overcast day. It was raining. I got into bed and slept for thirteen hours. The next day was cold again but sunny. My aftermarket hip needed breaking in. I broke open the recovery book the Salty Dog had given me, flipping to page one, and got down to business. 

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Cooking Up Trouble

By Ed Staskus

   “Mom, you know it’s not dinner without a napkin,” Matt said. He was on the third floor on his cell phone calling his mother who was in the kitchen on the first floor. She answered on the land line. She had made a 3-course dinner for him and taken it upstairs a minute earlier. She made dinner and took it upstairs to him every night, at least on those nights he was at home. When he wasn’t, my mother-in-law caught a break. She quick fried some chicken for herself and kicked back in front of the TV. She liked B & W movies, mostly comedies and melodramas. Her husband worked split shifts. She had the house to herself those nights to yuk it up and cry at the sad parts.

   My mother-in law Terese was a self-taught chef and taught herself well enough that she could make anything, including cakes for millionaire weddings and potato salad for picnics. She only ever glanced at manuals when she had to. No matter that she was intrepid, having created and managed several restaurants, as well as working as a pastry chef and a caterer, she had to play dumb waiter once a day.

   “I’ll bring one right up to you,” Terri said.

   Matt lived on carry out dinners except they were carry up dinners. His mother Terri did the cooking and carrying. She had been a professional cook for many years. Matt did the eating. When he was done he brought his dishes downstairs. My father-in-law Dick washed all the dishes by hand every day. They had a dishwasher, but he preferred to stand at the sink and get his hands dirty. He had been a military policeman in Vietnam before becoming a bartender.

   The house was on East 73rd St. at the corner of Chester Ave. in the Fairfax neighborhood. It was built in 1910, three stories, four bedrooms, two baths, two fireplaces, and a full basement. The third floor was originally servant’s quarters. The foundation was sandstone quarried in nearby Amherst by the Cleveland Stone Company. Amherst was the ‘Sandstone Center of the World’ at the time.

   There were stores, churches, and schools everywhere then. There were light industries and warehouses. Street cars ran east and west day and night on Euclid Ave. one block north. The Karamu House Theater opened in 1915. Langston Hughes developed and premiered some of his plays at the playhouse. Sears, Roebuck & Co. built a flagship store in 1928. 40,000 people lived in Fairfax in the 1940s. Sixty years later, when my mother-in-law showed up, 5,000-some people lived there. 

   By the 1950s the servants were long gone and so were the wealthy families who raised their children in the house. They moved away to the suburbs. Urban renewal was in full swing. As 1960 rolled around the neighborhood was nearly all-black and low-income. The home was divided up and converted into a boarding house. By the 1980s it had gone to hell.

   Terri and her husband were living in Reserve Square in a 17th floor three-bedroom corner apartment overlooking Lake Erie on East 13th St. and Chester Ave. when they bought the house and brought it back to life. They were living well. They owned and operated a bar restaurant on the ground floor. When they moved it was the biggest mistake they made in their lives. They didn’t realize how much trouble they were asking for.

   The neighborhood they moved to was less than three miles from their digs in downtown Cleveland. The Fairfax neighborhood was located on the edge of University Circle, where most of the city’s major educational institutions and museums were. The northern part of the locality was dominated by the Cleveland Clinic, which was growing by leaps and bounds. The Hough neighborhood was just to the north and the St. Clair – Superior neighborhood was north of Hough. Past that was Lake Erie where yellow perch and walleye lived rent-free.

   The house was being flipped when Terri and Dick first saw it. The flipper put the house back together as a single-family, putting in a new central staircase, a new kitchen, and a new two-car garage. He stopped there. He bought the house for pennies on the dollar. He sold it to my in-laws for dollars on the dollar. Terri and Dick paid $135,000.00 for the house, more than double nearly triple what almost all other houses in Fairfax were priced at. A weedy vacant lot next door was thrown in. There was another vacant lot across street. There were several others within sight. The neighborhood was more ghost town than not. 

   Hough was where race riots happened in 1966, when Terri was in her mid-20s, married to her first husband, with a child and another one in the making. They lived on the border of the Euclid Creek Reservation, bounded by North Collinwood and Richmond Hts. It was a family friendly neighborhood with good schools. All the men drove to work in the morning. The kids walked to school. Their backyard was a forest. On clear days in the fall and winter they could see Mt. Baldy in the distance.

   The Hough Riots started when the white owner of the Seventy-Niners Café on Hough Ave. and East 79th St. said “Hell, no” after being asked by a passing black man for a glass of water on an oppressively hot day. One thing led to another, an angry crowd gathered, there was some rock throwing which led to looting and vandalism, arson and sniper fire followed, and two days later the Ohio National Guard rolled in with .50 caliber machine guns mounted on Jeeps and live ammunition.

   Terri and Dick opted for the Fairfax house because Terri wanted a house on the near east side near where she had grown up. She grew up in a Lithuanian family of two parents and four sisters in a two-bedroom bungalow where she slept on the sofa. It didn’t matter to her that she was on the wrong side of the racial divide. Dick wanted what his wife wanted. They lived for each other. He cashed in his 401K to make the down payment on the house. The next summer they took out a second mortgage for $85,000.00 to replace the roof, replace all the early 20th century windows with vinyl windows, blow liquid  polyurethane insulation into the walls, and vinyl side the exterior. They painted the interior.

   The floors were hardwood from back when there were man-sized forests. They had them refinished. When the floors were finished they sparkled like the clock had been turned back a century. Everything was once new.

   They blew through their second mortgage fast. When Terri’s downtown diner in the National City Bank building on East 9th and Euclid Ave. slipped out from under her feet, her partner getting the better of her, they started living partly on Dick’s paycheck, partly on Terri’s freelancing, and partly on their credit cards. It wasn’t long before they were making only the minimum payment on their multiple cards. 

   My brother-in-law Matt moved in with his parents after briefly living in both Cleveland Heights and Lakewood. He was working full-time for General Electric and going part-time to graduate school to get a second high tech degree. He paid some rent for his third-floor space. He helped out around the house. He played lead guitar in a local rock ‘n’ roll band and kept his eyes open for girlfriends.

   My wife landscaped their front yard and Dick put in a sizable garden in the back yard. Terri liked herbs and fresh veggies where she could get her hands on them in a jiffy. They adopted a handful of stray cats. They invited Terri’s sisters and their husbands over for holiday dinners. Dick’s family lived in New York a long drive away. The house was spacious and cozy at the same time. It was pretty as a postcard when it was lit up and full of people on Christmas.

   They had barbeques in the summer, opening the garage door and wheeling out a grill. Dick wasn’t a chef, but he was a master at charcoal-broiling when it came to hot dogs, hamburgers, and steaks. We played horseshoes in the vacant lot where there was plenty of room for the forty-foot spacing. Dick was a big man with a soft touch and almost impossible to beat when it came to pitching. He was King of the Ringers. Even when he didn’t hit a ringer or a leaner he was always close. The game is deceptively simple, but hard to master. When I vented about losing to him repeatedly, he said, “You can’t blame your teammates for losing in horseshoes.”

   We brought skyrockets, paper tubes packed with gunpowder, on the 4th of July and shot them off from the vacant lot when it got dark. One of them went haywire and flew into the garage through the open door. Dick was standing at the grill but ducked in the nick of time. The cats went running every which way. They stayed away for two days, until they got hungry.

   Their garage got broken into. They installed a security system. They lost their front porch patio furniture to thieves. Terri saw the thieves dragging it down the street in broad daylight, but there wasn’t anything she could do. She called the Cleveland Police Department but there wasn’t anything they could do either. The crime rate in Fairfax was high and the cops had better things to attend to. They replaced the furniture, chaining it down to the deck of the porch. They went on litter patrol most mornings, picking up empty wine and beer bottles, and sweeping up cigarette butts and plastic bag trash.

   What few neighbors they had watched out for each other. A mailman lived in a newer house catty corner to them where Spangler Ct. met East 73rd St.  He let them in on the workings of Fairfax, what to watch out for and what didn’t matter, and after they took the measure of the neighborhood they got as comfortable with it as they were ever going to get. Terri started watching some of the kids who lived in the four-story run-down walk-up apartment building behind them. She made lunch for some of them, took some of them on day trips to nearby museums, and drove some of them to school when their parents were incapacitated.

   Some condos and McMansions had been built in both Hough and Fairfax, but they were far and few between. Police cars and ambulances sped up and down Chester Ave. every hour on the hour sirens blaring. There was an occasional gunshot in the dark.

   One day, sitting on the steps of their front porch, I watched three men tie a rope around a dead tree in the vacant lot across the street. They were going to try to yank it out of the ground. The first time they tried the rope snapped. The second time they tried they used two ropes. They put their pick-up truck in low gear and tugged. The rear bumper got pulled off and the truck shot forward, the driver slamming on the brakes, tearing up the turf. They came back with a bigger truck. When the tree started to lean it fell over fast, cracking, the roots ripping loose, barely missing them. I thought they were going to saw the branches off and section the trunk, but they didn’t. The tree lay rotting on the ground all summer.

   Neither Terri nor Dick lived to see their house taken away from them. If they had they would have seen their one asset in life reduced in value by 90% in 2008. All the money they had was tied up in the house. They would have been left with nothing. They could see it coming and it made them miserable. Their health started to fail. The wise guys who blew up the housing bubble until the bubble blew up walked away free and clear. Alan Greenspan, who ran the Federal Reserve Bank for nearly twenty years, said the meltdown was due to a “flaw in the system.”

   Terri died on New Year’s Eve 2005 and Dick died on Easter Saturday 2006. She collapsed  on the landing of their staircase. She was dead by the time 911 got her to the nearby Cleveland Clinic. Dick collapsed in the front room of the house in the middle of the night four months later while working on a crossword puzzle. He never used a pencil. He always filled the open squares in with a pen. When Matt found him head down in the morning he had almost finished the puzzle. His pen was on the floor.

   It was right then that house prices started to slip and the housing collapse that was going to push the United States into recession picked up speed. Matt stayed in the big house for a few years, taking in Case Western Reserve University student boarders, but it was no good. When he walked away it was for good. My wife and I helped empty it, giving most of everything that wasn’t a personal effect to whoever could use it. 

   Matt never went back and whenever he found himself driving through the Fairfax neighborhood he avoided the crossroad at East 73rd St and Chester Ave. He had no taste for what he might see. Or not see.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Monkey Business

By Ed Staskus

   Kevin Rourke was a winsome young man with a big handsome face, big handsome hair that fell waving across his forehead, and a handsome man’s love for all girls, great and small. He was charming and devious. He was slowly going to paunch but still young enough that nobody noticed it except us, his roommates, who saw him flip flopping to and from bedroom and bathroom every morning with a towel wrapped around his spreading mid-section.  

   He was in his late-20s, but his belly was going on late-30s. He didn’t drink, but he didn’t work out either. He liked food as much as he liked girls. He was always eating and plucking daisies. The only time he wasn’t was when he went to Florida, which he did for a week twice a year. When he did he took only a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, two pairs of clean underwear, and a wad of cash with him.

   “What do you do there?” we finally asked him.

   “I don’t do anything,” he said. “I hardly leave my room. I sit on the balcony sometimes at night.”

   “How about getting some sun?”

   “No,” he said. “I keep the outside where it belongs, which is outside.”

   “What do you mean? There’s a beach right there.” He always stayed in the same hotel, the Pier 66 Hotel, on the Atlantic Ocean. “What do you do in your room?”

   “I sleep,” he said.

   “What about food?”

   “It’s my diet week.”

   “You can’t sleep all day every day for a week.”

   “I’ll take that bet,” he said.

   His Lebanese fiancée took the bet and lost. When she did she wouldn’t take his calls for two weeks, but he wormed his way back into her good graces after he got back to Cleveland from Fort Lauderdale and their wedding was back on, except when it wasn’t. They had been engaged for more than a year. Day after day they were unable to set a firm date. In the meantime, Kevin kept sowing his wild oats, continuing to hedge his bets.

   He took more showers than anybody we knew. He showered every morning, and often enough again in the early evening after work. He even showered those nights he wasn’t going out but staying in. He wrapped his dampness up in a bathrobe those nights and watched TV. Neither Matt Lavikka, our other roommate, nor I minded. We didn’t watch much on the boob tube, anyway, except in the fall when the Cleveland Browns were losing to somebody every Sunday after Sunday.

   When he was spic and span, Kevin worked for ABF Freight Systems, which was a national less-than-truckload motor carrier based in Arkansas. We called it All Broken Freight. After calling it that to his face a few times and seeing frown lines break out on his puss, we eased off and stopped with the buzz talk.  

   He was an orphan, or at least said he was an orphan, and had thrown in with ABF like it was a second family. He had a desk in an office in Brook Park, although he hardly ever went there. His paycheck grew, being largely commissioned, only when he was on the road. He never missed a day of work. Most of the time he worked overtime, pressing the flesh day and night. Some nights he slept in his car in his suit when the drive back to Cleveland was going to take too long. When he showed up in the morning he took a shower, changed his clothes, and went back to work.

   Even though we knew he was making a boatload of money, he didn’t seem to own anything except half a dozen expensive suits, a row of long-sleeved starched white shirts, a trove of status symbol ties, comfortable Italian leather shoes, and a 1980 Mercury Marquis. The car was still nearly new and was reddish purple with a leather-and-velour interior and split-bench seats. The driver’s seat reclined. We called it the land yacht. He kept it even cleaner than he kept himself. If there was anything he loved, it was that car.

   I was taken aback the first time I saw Leyla, Kevin’s Lebanese girlfriend and treasure chest. She was dark-skinned like she had just crossed the River Jordan, with black hair and a pocket-sized hook nose. There isn’t much that is more problematic than marrying somebody with a big nose. She was swank, with some sort of fur wrapped around the top of her. Her dress was cream-colored and designer. She wasn’t half as good-looking as Kevin, and I pegged her at about ten years older.

   Her groom-to-be lived by the mantra that when he found a woman with millions of dollars, who would sign over most of it to him, and promised to be dead within a couple of years at the most, that was the woman he was going to marry. “It’s just as easy marrying a rich woman as it is marrying a poor one,” he explained. Leyla didn’t look like she was going to drop dead any time soon, although she looked like she had the dollars, for sure. We found out her father was a big time import exporter.

   Kevin knew that married couples become in the eyes of the law one person, and that one person was going to be him. Even though it is true enough that one shouldn’t marry for money, since it is cheaper to simply borrow it, he had a one-track mind.

   I was dating a queen bee by the name of Dana Price. Her family lived in a new house in a new development in Solon, a bedroom suburb about twenty minutes southeast of Cleveland. She worked for IBM as a saleswoman, selling hardware systems to banks, and lived in an apartment twice as large as she needed at the top of Cedar Rd. in Cleveland Heights. Her father ran Mrs. Weiss’ Noodles.

   The family company had been another family’s business for more than forty years. They were Hungarian, churning out Ha-Lush-Ka noodles for casseroles and dumpling-style Kluski egg noodles at their Woodland Ave. plant. When it burned down in 1961 they built a new plant in Solon. By 1968, after they merged with American Mushroom, they were a multi-million-dollar company and still growing. After the Hungarians were dead and gone, Jim Price became president in 1978.

   I called him Big Jim because he was a big man with a big mouth. He knew everything about everything. There was no mistaking where you stood with him. He told me so himself when he told me to stay away from his daughter. He didn’t want her marrying an immigrant son with nothing in the bank and anarchist leanings. But she was as stubborn and determined as her father and ignored him.

   We talked about her father’s concerns. She wasn’t planning on marrying anybody to reform them. “That’s what reform schools are for,” she said. Dana was like the highway between Akron and Cleveland, no curves, but I liked her for sticking up for me.

   Kevin hated Dana. She had swagger to spare, and he knew it. She wasn’t curvier than his steady but was better-looking by far. He resented her faux Boston accent. He resented her family, her family’s wealth, and their lifestyle. The family house in Solon had four bedrooms and a hot tub decking out the back deck. Big Jim drove a Caddy. It seemed like it was always a new car. Kevin hated all Big Jim’s Caddy’s.

   Dana had gone to college in Boston and flew there every two months-or-so to get her hair done by her favorite stylist. That winter, when I was thinking of breaking up with her, she asked me if I wanted to go to Aspen for some skiing. Before I could say anything she stuck an airline ticket in my hand and said she would meet me at the airport. She was going a few days in advance. She was more like her father than she knew. 

   “I’ve only skied a few times,” I told her. “I mostly cross-country ski on the golf courses, which are mostly flat.”

   “You’ll get the hang of it,” she said.

   I felt like I was being hung out to dry with a broken leg in the making. Aspen Mountain is almost 12,000 feet up and has a vertical drop of more than 3,000 feet. The ticket was like an albatross around my neck. I went for a walk around the block to work it out.

   “Why don’t you give the ticket to Matt?” Kevin suggested. “He’s always skiing. He would love to go to Aspen.” Matt’s parents were from Finland, where skiing is second nature. They always said, “One cannot ski so softly that the tracks cannot be seen.” It was some sort of Finnish proverb.

   That’s what I did. I gave the ticket to my roommate. I didn’t say a word to Dana. After he got back from Aspen, Matt told me Dana was thrown off balance when he arrived in my place, his gear in tow. After she got her feet back under her, she swore up a storm and swore it was over between us. She was true to her word.

   “How was the skiing?” I asked.

   “It was great,” Matt said. “You should try it.”

   The on-again off-again wedding of Kevin and Leyla was back on when spring started to bust out all over. They planned to get hitched in June. I had majored in English and minored in Unemployment at Cleveland State University, and so had time to spare for errands and lending a helping hand. I addressed all the invitations, sealed, and stamped them. I mailed them out. The replies started coming back the beginning of May. It was shaping up to be a sizable wedding followed by a chock-full reception. Kevin was opting out of hot wet love and into cold hard cash.

   I thought all his talk about marrying for money was just talk since a lot of what he said was all talk. I found out otherwise. He was going to marry for money. He was inviting anybody and everybody, no matter how distantly related by blood or friendship, adding up what their envelopes stuffed with fifties and hundreds might amount to.

   Kevin had sparred with too many people in his day. There was nothing any girl could say to him that he didn’t have a better retort for. That was his number one problem. What girl was willing put up with a smart-ass day in and day out, much less for the rest of her life? The second problem was he never dated anybody who was better looking than him. When that became clear to whoever was princess for the day, she chopped his head off with words and moved on. Leyla was willing to put up with both problems. She wanted Kevin so she could make him into what she wanted him to be. Kevin was still wrestling with that a week before the wedding. 

   When he went down for the count he called it off. He was giving up the job of loving his girl. Leyla was going to find out soon enough she was being made a monkey of.

   Matt and I were watching the Kardiac Kids on TV a week before the ceremony. It was going to be at St. Marion’s, which was a downtown Maronite church. The congregation had been around since before WW1.  It was the center of Lebanese culture in Cleveland, both religious and ethnic. The Kardiac Kids were the exciting new version of the Cleveland Browns. They snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat most every Sunday. Kevin walked in on the broadcast and tried to break his news flash to us. Brian Sipe was lofting a Hail Mary Pass. We motioned for Kevin to wait. When the Dawg Pound erupted, their prayers answered, we turned to him.

   “What’s that you were saying?” we asked, high fiving each other.

   “The wedding is off,” he said.

   “It’s off?” we asked, flummoxed.

   “Finito,” he said in an Italian accent phony as a bag of baloney, making a slashing motion across his throat. “You’re going to have to let everybody know.”

   “Hey, that’s all right,” I said turning back to the football game, making sure Don Cockcroft had kicked the extra point. “No man should get married until he’s studied some anatomy and dissected one or two women, so you know exactly what you’re going up against.”

   Matt and I were at his parent’s house the next Sunday. They had gotten a new Philips color TV and we were watching the adventures of the Kardiac Kids. The game hung by a thread. In the middle of the drama a slew of commercials interrupted the action. We told them all about Kevin’s misadventure.

   “Life is not a waiting game for better times,” Matt’s dad said when the commercials were wrapping up, the game was coming back on, and we were done with our account of the no wedding.

   “What does that mean?” I wondered. I thought it had to be another Finnish proverb. What about all good things come to those who wait?

   “Even in Helsinki they don’t keep a maid on the dresser too long,” Matt’s mom said as though she had read my mind. I didn’t have to parse that. I went back to watching Brian Sipe avoiding the pass rush and pitching flying colors right and left.

   “Even in Helsinki they don’t keep a maid on the dresser too long,” Matt’s mom said as though she had read my mind. I didn’t have to parse that. I went back to watching Brian Sipe side-stepping the bull rush and pitching flying colors right and left.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Show and Tell

By Ed Staskus

   “It’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, now go, cat, go.” Elvis Presley

   Some folks turn on the living room and porch lights Halloween night and wait for the doorbell to ring, others sit on their front steps or stoop, while others plop themselves down on lawn chairs at the base of the driveway. Those who don’t want to bother make sure all their lights are off. They sit sulking or watching whatever on their phones and tablets. They think Halloween is just for kids and that grown-ups have better things to do.

   When I was a kid and went trick or treating with my sister, brother, and our friends it was, next to Christmas, the biggest show of the year. It didn’t matter what exciting show was on TV or what show and tell we had going on the next day at school. What mattered was making sure we stuck to our battle plan. We planned our route days beforehand, which was left out of our house on Bartfield Ave., left on E. 128th St., left on Locke Ave., left on E. 127th St., down Coronado Ave. to Lancelot Ave. and back home. We knew we had about two hours and if we banged on a door every minute we would have gotten to more than a hundred houses and hit the jackpot. When we did we ran home to survey what we had gotten.

   My sister and I hid our loot from our brother. We had to. He had a non-stop sweet tooth. He believed in sharing, like us, but Sharing Street to him was a one-way street.

   All of us hated dark blank houses. Time is candy, we reckoned, and wasting time evaluating a dark house was time lost. We imagined mean old men and women lived there, better left unseen, although we also thought they could have shown their faces at least once a year. Halloween was the one day of the year when we were OK with seeing their wizened selves.

   We weren’t scared about anything anybody threw into our pillow cases, except when it was pennies and apples. The day of crazy people putting razor blades and poison into candy hadn’t arrived yet. We didn’t want money and we got more than enough apples at home. Our mother fed one to us every day to keep the doctor away. When we got sick she gave us cold Ginger Ale and hot slices of liver and onions. The soda was refreshing. The liver and onions were sickening.

   A neighbor high school boy told us there hadn’t always been any such thing as Halloween. We were aghast. How could that be? We ignored him. We found out later he was right, although by that time we weren’t trick or treating anymore, so it didn’t matter.

   In Romania the holiday is Dracula Day. In China it is the Hungry Ghost Festival. In Mexico it is the Day of the Dead. In the Middle Ages in England ‘soulers’ went around begging for round cakes or ‘souls’ during All Hallows Eve to remember the dead. It was the soul kitchen.

   My parents didn’t know a thing about Halloween until we got to the USA. It’s not a traditional celebration in Lithuania, where both came from after WW2. It was only introduced there after the country kicked the Russians out in 1990. It wasn’t much of anything in Sudbury, Canada, where I was born and bred, either. There was usually snow on the ground by the end of October in northern Ontario and nobody went out dressed as a skeleton in zero weather sponging for sweets. 

   Before there was Halloween there was nothing, just the end of the month and the beginning of the next month. Then the Irish Potato Famine happened, and millions of Irishmen came to the USA. They didn’t have any food, but they had culture. They brought Samhein with them. The Irish New Year started on November 1st and Samhein was the day before that. It was when the spirits of the dead returned to the world of the living for one night. Paddy lads and lassies dressed up in costumes and went door to door begging for food and money. Their parents carved ghoulish faces on turnips to ward off evil. They put candles inside the turnips to let kids know they could bang on their door for treats.

   Many youngsters without a drop of Celtic blood in them got into the spirit of it but the powers that be didn’t like it. They blanched at the complaints of vandalism, houses splattered with eggs and toilet paper littering shrubs and trees. Enough is enough, they said, and put a stop to it wherever whenever they could. They didn’t care that some parents wrapped their kids up in toilet paper to look like mummies. After the post-WW2 baby boom there were too many families making too many  demands to make the holiday official, and they were forced to bow to the popular will. Halloween broke out all over.

   It busted loose just in time for the candy companies and us. Old timers used to parcel out nuts, fruits, and trinkets. They thought we would have fun bobbing for apples. They were wrong, just like everybody who gave us candy corn was wrong. Candy corn was originally sold in the 1880s. It was like chicken feed with rooster images on the boxes. Nobody ever ate it unless they wanted a jelly belly. It didn’t matter that the last pyramid-shaped penny candy had been slurried together during the Roaring Twenties. Every year it was repackaged and redistributed. By the mid-50s real candy became the treat of choice. We were all in on the new tradition. We didn’t know it would grow into the second-largest commercial holiday in the country, raking in more than $6 billion dollars.

   It doesn’t do it in on the shoulders of kids going door to door anymore. These days only a third of people hand out candy. Another third leave candy out in a bowl, while the rest keep their lights off. One year my wife and I were going out to dinner with friends. We left a big plastic bowl full of goodies on the front porch with a sign saying, “TAKE ONE.” We were pleased to see it empty when we got home, until we ran into one of our neighbors the next day.

   “Two boys just ten minutes after you left wiped you out. They turned the bowl over and poured everything into their bags. When I went up to them to say something they ran away.”

   We loved getting Clark Bars, which were peanut butter and spun taffy, Zag Nuts, which were peanut butter and toasted coconut, and Mary Janes, which were peanut butter and taffy molasses. We had a soft spot for peanut butter. Treacle was a close second. We hated Necco Wafers. They were tasteless except when they tasted bad. We liked candy cigarettes, which we could pretend to smoke and eat at the same time.

   Many more than less of everybody stays home nowadays and watches a scary movie instead of trick or treating. “Hocus Pocus” is the number one Halloween movie followed by “Friday the 13th” and “It’s a Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” In the late 1950s and early 1960s nobody stayed home watching any stinking movie. Everybody beat feet the second it got dark enough for the starting gun to go off. When it did we raced outside and took a left.

   A decade later, when my trick or treating days were behind me, I lived in Asia Town. The old school Cleveland neighborhood had plenty of Chinamen, Eastern Europeans, Puerto Ricans, the working class, trailer trash, beatniks and hippies, and college students. I fit in somewhere between beatnik and college student. I joined the working class whenever I ran out of money. It was an affordable place to live with all of life’s necessities within walking distance, which worked for me because most of the time I didn’t have a car. The rest of the time I had a car that didn’t work most of the time.

   Joe Dwyer was one of my friends who lived one block over. We had gone to high school together and were both some-time students at Cleveland State University. We were dodging the draft as much as we were reading “Paradise Lost.” At least I was reading it for one of my English classes. I was majoring in English with a minor in Unemployment. Joe was an art student and didn’t read anything unless it was necessary. He painted houses whenever the need arose.

   His house was on East 33rd St. between Payne Ave. and Superior Ave. It was narrow as a one-lane road and as cluttered as the Animal House. He smoked reefer like nobody’s business. He made sure it was nobody’s business. In those days cops were always throwing young adults into jail for toking on the weed. Dying in Vietnam was OK. Smoking pot was not OK. He had two white cats with mismatched blue and green eyes. There was a disheveled garden in his postage-stamp sized yard. He collected and decorated gourds.

   One day in mid-October, passing by his house, I heard hammering. When I took a look-see I saw he was hammering a coffin together in his backyard.

   “Who died?” I asked. I didn’t put it past him. He was crafty in more ways than one.

   “Nobody died, not yet, at least,” he said. “This is for Halloween.”

   He was making the coffin so it would stand on its hind legs. He painted the outside a glossy black and the inside a glossy fire engine red. He was going to park it in his front door on the big day. When kids came up his stairs they would have to approach the vertical lid of the coffin in the doorway. When they did, spotting them through a peephole, he opened the lid, dressed as a vampire, and handed out treats.

   Nobody in that neighborhood at that time took a pass on Halloween, especially not that year. The holiday was on a Friday and that made it Halloweekend. It didn’t matter if the children were from China or West Virginia. Every child who could walk hit the mean streets of the near east side running. Every teenager did the same thing. Even some elderly Slovenian women dressed up as themselves went out, their babushkas tied tight under their chins. I sat on a front porch next door to Joe’s house with some college friends. We had a family-size bag of Lay’s potato chips and a 12-pack of Stroh’s beer for ourselves and tossed Home Run gumballs into everybody’s bags, but not before getting our two cents in about the costumes we were seeing. We tried to be nice. The gumballs were right up our alley, costing us close to nothing..

   Joe had somehow rigged up a mirrored stardust ballroom light. It strobed, throwing shards of colored light on the ceiling, walls, and deck of the front porch. Once the trick or treaters were on the porch there was no missing the coffin, especially since a purple floodlight was making it look creepier than coffins usually do.

   At first, everybody was cautious about approaching the coffin. Some kids didn’t even try. They took one look at it and left for greener pastures. Some kids recoiled when Joe slowly swung the lid open, the hinges creaking, extending Nips in assorted flavors. Nips were pint-sized Coke bottles made of food-grade paraffin filled with colored syrup. 

   Some kids fell backwards in surprise when Joe’s hand floated forward reaching for them, landing on their behinds, and scuttling away. A few screamed and ran for their lives. Joe’s vampire get-up featured pancake make-up, fangs, and fake fingers a foot long. His lips were  and eye sockets were blackened. He was dressed in a stitched together tuxedo a starched white shirt, and a black bow tie. There were few parents accompanying their children so there were few irate parents to give Joe a piece of their minds.

   Not that it mattered. When word got out, Joe’s house became the place to go to for fun and fear in Asia Town. At first the line was down the walk. Then it was down the sidewalk. Then it was around the block. Everybody had to see the coffin for themselves. When Joe ran out of Nips I ran to Stan’s Deli on the corner and got more of anything he had.

   Stan was a Polack who ran a combo meat counter and beverage store on Payne Ave. He was short and heavy-set and always wore a white apron. It never had drops of gore or blood on it, which was surprising since he so seldom washed it. It was plain dirty all the time. He sold a grab bag of wares besides ground beef and beer. He had a box of old flavored wax lips he said I could have at a big discount. I bought those. He had bags of old cotton candy. He slashed the price. I bought those, too. He had wads of World War Two-era Orbit chewing gum. I bought those and rushed back to Joe’s house.

   He was still there, standing outside his coffin, telling monster stories in lieu of handing out treats. We dished out what I had brought back until it was all gone and then called it a day. “Hey mister, you got any candy corn to go with that gum?” a pint-sized Long John Silver asked. The next morning Joe told me he was so tired at the end of the night that he threw himself down on his sofa still clad in his Bela Lugosi outfit and fell right asleep. “I slept like the dead last night,” he said.

   At the end of the first “Halloween” movie, after Dr. Sam Loomis pumps six bullets into Michael Myers, he catches his breath on the balcony and looks down at the sidewalk. He doesn’t see the boogeyman lying there. He’s gone! When that happened, everybody knew there was going to be a sequel, just like everybody knows after the big night that the next Halloween is exactly one year away.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

High Wire Act

By Ed Staskus

   When your back is to the wall, you’ve only got one place to fall, which is flat on your face. I didn’t want to do that. I had gotten married the year before and it was time to knuckle down. I called Doug Clarke and asked if I could see him.

   “Absolutely,” he said.

   “What’s a good time?”


   We made a time on the following Monday.

   I met Doug Clarke when he was in a small building on Linda St. in Rocky River. It was going on the late 1980s. Doug had been set up in business by his father, who worked for Philips Lighting. He was selling commercial lighting and had lately gotten a head start on tanning bulbs. Philips had developed the 10R, 09, and 09R fluorescent UV tubes for the European market and Doug was selling them like gangbusters. There were three of them, Doug, his friend and salesman Marty Gallagher, and Chuck Pampush, who did the warehouse work and driving. The company truck was a red F150 Econoline. It was called the Lightmobile.

   Doug had an office, but Marty’s desk was in a hallway leading to the warehouse. They weren’t going to stay friends long. As tanning bulb sales grew by leaps and bounds Marty took the leap and set up his own distributorship. It went to court, there were claims and counterclaims of theft of trade secrets, but in the end, they both stayed in business, personal enemies, and business rivals.

   Randy Bacon, Chuck’s brother-in-law, helped in the warehouse now and then. He had a tattoo inside his mouth under his front lip. It said, “Fuck You.” I gave him a wide berth whenever I saw him. I gave his junkyard dog a wide berth, too. The pooch was unusually mean.

   By the time I met Doug on Monday he wasn’t in Rocky River anymore. He had fast outgrown it. He was in Lakewood on the third floor of a hybrid industrial commercial building, renting space and then more space.

   “What can you offer us?” he asked.

   “I can offer you 20-some years. After that it’s up for grabs.”

   “Steady Eddie.”

   “That’s right.”

   “All right, you’re hired.”

   In the end it amounted to twenty-two years.

   When Doug was still in Rocky River I had teamed up with a friend of mine and set up a small tanning salon across the street from the Cleveland State University campus. We were in a five-story brick building at East 21st St. and Euclid Ave. The Rascal House Saloon was across the street. It was where concert goers at Peabody’s Down Under would go after shows for a gorge fest. The Plain Dealer called it “Cleveland’s Best Pizza.” I went whenever I was famished and down to a couple of bucks.

   “Man, I spent a lot of book sale money there!” Carla Wainwright, a graduate of CSU, said. “You never got much for used books, but it was a win if you got enough for a beer and a slice.”

   We were on the lower level. Bill Stech, an architect and the landlord, was on the top floor. He always wore the same dark suit, white shirt, and dark tie. He had black hair that looked laid on. He always made promises and usually broke his promises. After a while I stopped taking it personally. Whenever he didn’t want to see me, his receptionist said he wasn’t in, even though his car was parked in the back in its customary space. Sometimes I could see him in his office, his back turned to me.

   My business partner was a full-time fireman in Bay Village, so I did most of the work at the tanning salon. I drummed up additional work at other salons, trying to make myself useful, doing repairs, selling delivering installing bulbs, and whatever else needed a handyman. I kept my head above water, but I was treading water. When Doug hired me for part-time sales, I opened a savings account.

   Doug had moved to the Screw Factory on Athens Ave in Lakewood. Madison Park was in front of the building and Birdtown was all around us. One day after work, as I walked to my car, I saw a dead bird stuck headfirst in my front grill. I hadn’t heard or felt him hit the car that morning. He was stiff and there were flies buzzing around him. I pulled him out, wrapped him in a newspaper, and took him to the park, where I laid him down in a pile of autumn leaves.

   The brick pile was going on a hundred years. It was on 18 acres with plenty of parking. From 1917 to 1924 it was the Templar Automotive Plant. They built cars, trying to compete with Detroit.

   Dave Buehler, a Lakewood native, collected cars and had more than dozen of the Templars. He had restored them and kept them on display on the same floor where they were first assembled. I sat in one of them one day. It was sizable enough but uncomfortable. The steering wheel was huge, and the mirrors were tiny. It looked like it would transition into a coffin at the first whiff of an accident.

   The building became Lake Erie Screw in 1946 when John Wasmer took it over and started manufacturing fasteners. In the 1970s they added large bolts to their line-up and growth accelerated. When most fastener manufacturers disappeared into China, the Wasmer family kept up the beat of the hometown maker and their growth continued apace. By the mid-90s the company was doing about a hundred million dollars in annual sales, all of it in cap screws and structural bolts.

   In the beginning my job was as thankless as it gets in the world of commerce. I had a cubicle the width of a toilet and was expected to cold call until I got sick of it. I got sick of it every day. There were few busy business owners who wanted to talk to an eager beaver trying to sell them something. The other salesmen sat back and waited for calls to come to them. They racked up commissions while I racked up zeros.

   It took longer than I wanted, but I finally got a desk and got to answer in-coming calls. I sat between Betty the Typist and Jim Bishop. Betty was a looker who never looked at me, except when she had something sharp to say. She was doe-eyed on Doug. Even though Doug had a girlfriend who was going to be his wife soon enough, the talk was that he and Betty were close.

   He had a bedroom behind what passed for his office, which was a large desk at the back of our shared bullpen. There was a waterbed and a fridge. There were posters of hot cars and hot girls on the walls. There were piles of clothes and old mail everywhere. He wasn’t especially tidy.

   One day when I was on the phone with a customer, Betty broke into her song and dance about what I was doing wrong and what I should be doing to win friends and influence people enough to make them buy our stuff. She didn’t stop even when I finished the call and was writing up the sale.

   “Look, shit for brains,” I finally said loud enough for anybody listening to hear. “You take care of your business at that typewriter over there and I’ll take care of mine over here.” Nobody dropped a pin in case I had anymore to say. Betty sniffed and went to the bathroom. I went over to Doug’s desk and apologized for the outburst. He laughed it off. I never apologized to Betty. She wasn’t ever going to become Mrs. Doug Clarke, anyway.

   We were riding the wave of the tanning craze. We had more sales than we knew what to with. Doug rented additional space for warehousing our bulbs and hired more packers. Trailer loads of bulbs from Cosmedico, Wolff Systems, and Light Sources rolled in every other week. We sent small orders out by UPS and pallet orders out by LTL.

   Doug started out as Efficient Lighting selling run-of-the mill commercial lighting. Tanning bulbs sold under the name of Ultraviolet Resources were making him rich, but we still sold all kinds of incandescent, fluorescent, and high-pressure bulbs. I got into the swing of it and lent a hand, even though the commissions were less. Jim Bishop was the lead man. He sat on the other side of me. Betty hated him more than she hated me. He never stopped baiting her, no matter what. 

   I couldn’t make him out. He looked like hell, even though John Elias, another salesman one desk down, told me he was trying to “hold on to his youth.” That horse was out of the barn. He lived in the Warehouse District, in the Bradley Building, an early pioneer of downtown’s revitalized housing. He wore his hair long, down to his shoulders, dressed better than anybody else in the office, and only took calls when he wanted to. He snorted coke on his lunch hour and was always more personable when he got back to the office.

   He liked to stop at Betty’s desk and stare down at her without saying a word.

   “What do you want now?” she asked, breaking the silence.

   “What if I told you I was gay?” he asked.

   “Just go away, please,” she said.

   Kathy Hayes was Mrs. Doug Clarke in the making. There was no mistake about that. She brought her sister Maggie into the business, then her brothers Kevin and John. Kathy came from a family of thirteen. More brothers and sisters came and went as the need arose. Maggie, Kevin, and John stayed. They became Beavis and the Buttheads. Maggie was Beavis. Kathy was the Queen of Mean.

   She was a mix of go-getter, speed and greed, and a hair trigger temper. She calmed down after her children arrived, but never lost the mean streak. She was my immediate boss, so I watched my step. I was fake polite to Beavis and the Buttheads.

   After I cold called myself into the good graces of the kingfish, I settled into a routine of Monday through Friday. It wasn’t what I wanted to do but it was what I had to do. The only concession I was able to wrangle was a starting time of 11 AM to be able to work at my part-time job, which was more remunerative but not as steady. I would be getting a paycheck every two weeks, making good on my bills, and paying into a 401k, which were good things. I never worked overtime and never volunteered for anything. They didn’t pay me enough for that.

   The American Dream is only true blue for those who say so.

   Towards the end of the millennium Doug broke ground on a new state of art warehouse and offices in Brook Park. He spared no expense. It was 45,000 square feet next door to the 230-acre Holy Cross Cemetery. There were dedicated loading docks and a separate dock for the delivery services. There were skylights in the warehouse. The head honchos had sizable offices with windows. There was a gym and a party center on the second floor. The lunchroom was all stainless steel and a huge flat screen. Christ on the Cross was fixed to the wall above the front entrance doors. The cross looked like a cactus.

   It rained money. One day a young Middle Eastern man walked in with a paper bag stuffed with more than 50 grand in tens and twenties. He was setting up a salon. We were outfitting it. I wrote up the sale but didn’t bother counting the loot. I left that to Beavis, who scowled mightily when I poured the cash out on her desk.

   We moved into our up-to-date nerve center at the beginning of the new century. It was the beginning of the end at the other end of the glad handing. It took five or six years but Light Sources, whose tanning bulbs were Doug’s meal ticket, decided they wanted a bigger slice of the pie. They offered Doug a choice. He could sell the tanning division to them, they would send somebody from headquarters to run things, or he could decline their offer, in which case they would open their own operation somewhere else, bypassing him. Doug went with the flow. Everything stayed put.

   It didn’t do any good. Inside a few years Light Sources moved themselves to Westlake, Beavis and the Buttheads jumped ship and went with them, and Doug was left holding the bag. He lost a ton of money in the stock market downturn of 2007. As the second decade of the century dawned, he had to shed most of his remaining staff, including me, sell his new building, find an older, smaller building, then find something even smaller, until he ended up in a strip of mom-and-pop shops in Avon selling whatever he could. His kids didn’t re-enroll at their private schools. He lost his McMansion in North Ridgeville.

   In life he bore a resemblance to the late-night TV host Johnny Carson. He had a warm smile and went out of his way to make most people feel good, even though he was as oriented to the bottom line as a manhunter. He had been president of the Brook Park Chamber of Commerce. He spent money on himself and his family like he had money to burn. The money ran out slowly but surely. By the time he died there wasn’t much left.

   “I feel bad for the victim,” Dan Darko of nearby Elyria said. “It sucks to feel pushed to that point. But I feel worse for the driver. One person’s choice will affect him for the rest of his life to the point where he may never be able to do his chosen profession again.”

   It happened so fast the driver didn’t have a chance to touch his brakes. I couldn’t believe it was an accident, but I had a hard time believing Doug had deliberately done it. He was a Roman Catholic, taught Sunday School at his church, and was a member of Religious Readiness. According to Rome, death by suicide is a grave matter. It holds that one’s life is the property of God, and to destroy that life is to wrongly assert dominion over God’s creation. I never knew how sincere Doug was about his faith. I knew he sincerely valued prosperity. I don’t know if he had lost his faith. I knew he had lost his prosperity.

   The funeral was at St Clarence Church in North Olmsted. He left a wife and four kids behind. All the in-laws and good friends who had bailed out on him when Light Sources swallowed up his golden goose were there. They said all the right things. I didn’t go to the service. I had never been close to Doug or Kathy, keeping my distance. His in-laws always talked loud trying to tell you what they didn’t like. They had their faults, but changing their tune wasn’t one of them. The less I saw of them the better. I felt sorry for his fatherless kids.

   If Doug walked in front of the semi-truck trailer on I-90 on purpose, I wondered if he did it for them. He probably had a loaded life insurance policy. It might have had a suicide clause limiting the payment of benefits. He might have thought he could kill two birds with one stone if it looked like an accident. He could stay in the good graces of the church and provide for the future of his family.

   Nobody never does not have a good reason for committing suicide, especially if they believe hope is gone and not coming back. The problem is that the glow of how Doug lived his life is dulled by how he died. The first thing I now remember about him is how his life came to an end on a stretch of godforsaken go for broke concrete.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”