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.

   “Hallo!”

   I’m, like, “Hi.”

   “Yes?”

   “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.”

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One thought on “Once in a Lifetime”

  1. You continually blow me away into long gone memories of growing up in cleveland, smirking at the catholic school digs and drooling for foods we took for granted. I hung out with Lithuanian friends and was often offered a nod and a “labas” from unsuspecting adults assuming I shared their ethnicity because of my blonde hair & green eyes. I knew John Degutis, Ed Stankitis, to name a few. Good times in a changing world.

    Like

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