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.”