All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a free-lance writer from Sudbury, Ontario. He lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

Hammer the Sickle Blues

By Ed Staskus

   “Man, I had a dreadful flight, I’m back in the USSR, you don’t know how lucky you are, boy, back in the USSR.”  The Beatles

   When Angele Staskus went to Lithuania in 1977 with her daughter, she had not been on native ground for thirty-three years. Her daughter, Rita, 17 years old, had never been there. They flew from Cleveland, Ohio, to New York City to Moscow to Vilnius. It took two days to travel the five thousand miles.

   It was in 1944 that Angele Jurgelaiyte, then a 16-year-old farmer’s daughter, fled Alvitas near Marijampole in the south of the country, the German Army retreating pell-mell and the Red Army storming the front. She shared a wagon drawn by two horses with her aunt and her aunt’s four children. A milk cow was tied to the back of the wagon. She fled to East Prussia to Germany to Canada. Nobody else in her immediate family got away before the clampdown. They got to stay in the USSR for the next five decades.

   Angele got married to Vic Staskevicius, another Lithuanian refugee, in Sudbury, Ontario. They had three children and the family emigrated to the USA in the late 1950s. After they got there they became Mr. and Mrs. Staskus. They started at the bottom. Everything looked like up to them.

   The first time Rita saw her first Russian  airport, she wasn’t impressed. “The Moscow airport was crappy, gray on gray, and there were birds and bats flying around inside the terminal. Everybody looked sick, like stomach flu was going around.”

   “The color of truth is gray,” said the French writer Andre Gide. He was wrong. The Commies were wrong, too, and their favorite color was wrong. Social material political truth at any cost is more trouble than it’s worth, sparing no one, not during the countless bloodthirsty 20th century grabs for glory and power, for sure. It’s not black and white either, no matter what the insincere masterminds say. The color of truth is more like Sgt. Pepper’s Crayola 64 Colors. 

   The Sheremetyevo airport served most of the international flights arriving and departing the capital city. The airport was originally built as a military airfield in the late 1950s with one runway. In the early 1970s a second runway was added. A single terminal still served both runways. Half the people waiting for their flights looked like they might commit suicide any second.

   “We had to go through customs. The higher-ups, police, and soldiers all looked grim. Everybody going to Lithuania was smuggling something. My mom kept telling me to flash a smile at the soldiers, most of whom were young, like me. We had gum and cigarettes in my suitcase, but they never went through it.”

   A woman behind them wearing an oversized fur coat wasn’t so lucky. “She had all kinds of stuff sewn into the lining of her coat. They ripped the lining apart and took all of it.” The police put her stuff in their pockets.

   There were several eateries in the terminal, but neither mother nor daughter ate while waiting for their connection. “The food looked horrible, and what was the point of bad food and bad service without a smile?” asked Rita.

   They flew Aeroflot to Vilnius. “They brought us food, butter and buns, but they were hard as rocks,” Rita said. “You couldn’t even bite into them.” She tossed them under her seat. “The stewardesses were all so surly, down at the mouth, that I started laughing about it.” The flight attendants did a slow burn.

   When they landed in Vilnius, the stale buns rolling to the front of the airplane, passenger loading stairs were rolled to the door. The terminal was built in 1954. “It was a gray rectangular building, like a warehouse, like in Moscow.” There were sculptures of soldiers and workers outside and wreaths, bay leaves and stars, and the Soviet hammer and sickle inside.

   “It was even crappier than the Moscow airport.”

   Inside the terminal was a tight-knit group of more than forty of their relatives. “They came running up to us. One of them asked, do you speak Lithuanian? When I said yes, everybody started talking at once.” Some of the people looked a little like her, while others looked a lot like her mother. They were her uncles, Justinas, Juozukas, Sigitas, and her aunt Irena. There were nieces and nephews. When the excitement died down, they drove to the Gintaras Hotel, near the railroad station.

   The Gintaras was where foreigners stayed, all foreigners from anywhere, who visited Lithuania. It was a hard and fast rule. Signs warned against making a commotion. “The kids were running up and down the hallway, while the adults were all in our room. It was crowded since it wasn’t a big room, at all.”

   They had brought pens, gum, and cigarettes. “My uncle Justinas lost the pen I gave him, and when I offered him another one, he said, no, he wanted the same pen I had given him. Nobody could find it, so I pretended to find it, and gave him a new one.”

   Everybody wanted the American cigarettes they had smuggled in. “Russian cigarettes were nasty. They smelled bad.” The Belomorkani cigarettes didn’t come with a filter, but with a hollow cardboard tube attached to a thin paper tube filled with tobacco. The tube was like a disposable cigarette holder. They were popular in the Baltics because of their cheap price. They were notorious for being the strongest cigarette in the world.

   “Everybody was smoking in minutes, the men, the women, and the older kids. It was non-stop.” 

   The Prima brand was imported from Bulgaria. It was a better quality of tobacco. But since the Belomorkani was the only available fag in most of the hinterland, that is what everybody smoked. A low-lying ashy cloud soon hung down from the ceiling. Even though cigarette advertising wasn’t allowed in the USSR, almost everybody smoked. 

   “After twenty minutes you couldn’t see across the room.” Rita noticed one of her cousins was chain-smoking. “I didn’t know you smoked.”

   “I don’t,” he said.

   “We brought Bubble Yum because that’s what they wrote us they wanted. All they had was crappy hard gum that would break your teeth when you started to chew it.” Introduced just two years earlier by Life Savers, Bubble Yum was the first soft bubble gum ever created. “They would chew the Bubble Yum for a half hour and then put it back in its wrapper, putting it away in their pockets or purses.”

   One afternoon Rita was sitting in a nearby park talking with her uncle Sigitas. He took his wallet out of his back pocket. He filled his hand with a wad of cash.

   “We have money, but there’s nothing to buy,” he said.

   “We went to a butcher shop. There were only two kinds of meat and both of them were loads of white fat. My aunts were always cutting fat off. It was gross. Even the herring was bad. I mostly hated the food. It turned my stomach.”

    There was a store near the hotel. It was called the Dovana Krautuve, or Gift Store. It was for Western tourists only. Lithuanians weren’t allowed to shop there, or even go inside it. They went there one day on a tour bus. “They had amber, wooden dolls, artsy stuff there. They just wanted our American dollars. When we were leaving, they gave each of us a bottle of Coca-Cola.”

   Back on the bus, Rita asked the driver if he liked Coke.

   “Yes, I had some in 1955,” he said. “It was good.”

   “That was twenty-two years ago,” she said. 

   “Yes, I understand,” said the bus driver.

   She gave him her bottle of the sweet soda.

   “The Young Communists were always following us around, telling us their world was just as good as ours, that they had everything we had, and more. When I had to take my contacts out on the bus, one of them said, we have those, too. That was wacky because none of my relatives had contacts and none of them knew where to get any unless it was the black market.” She finally told the Young Communists to cut it out. “Your BS isn’t doing anything for me,” she said.

   While inside the hotel, nobody talked about anything that might compromise them. “All the rooms were bugged. Everything was bugged.” Everybody was constantly watched, one way or another. Telephones were tapped. Mail was opened. Black government sedans followed people around.

   Angele and Rita stayed at the Ginraras Hotel for a week. Everybody knew somebody was always listening in. Nobody said anything. Their room wasn’t small, but it wasn’t large, and the bathroom was even smaller. The room was a bathroom and a shower all at once. There weren’t any sliding doors or shower curtains. “There was a drain in the middle of the floor, and whenever we showered the spray would get all over the tiled walls and sink and toilet. Everything got wet. The whole room became a shower.”

   After they towel dried the room and themselves off, they visited with their relatives. It was what they did more than anything else. There weren’t many sights to see in Vilnius, even if you could go there.

   “You never asked anybody, even your own flesh and blood, what they did. They would always say, ‘I have responsibilities.’ If you lived in Vilnius, you probably had a normal job, but not in Marijampole.” Most of her kinfolk lived in the country and farmlands southwest of the rural town. They finagled and horse traded, going to Poland, smuggling whatever they could, doing things that weren’t altogether legal, or so the Russians said, so it wasn’t prudent to ask them too much

   The goal was to be a ‘pasikaustes,’ somebody who has the smarts prowess right stuff to make it happen. It literally means putting a horseshoe on yourself. Everybody needed good luck in the clampdown. That’s why they were always wheeling and dealing.

   They were waiting for the Russians to get the hell out of their country. They had once waited more than a hundred years. They could wait another hundred if they had to, although who wanted to do that? They were already bitter and alienated. ‘Laikiu nesulaukiu’ means not being able to wait for something to happen. “I wait but I can’t wait.” It’s like being in jail for a crime you didn’t know you had committed.

   They made plans to go to Silute to see Rita’s paternal grandmother, who was in her 80s. Angele had never met her. Rita couldn’t imagine her.

   Silute is to the northwest of Marijampole, two-some hours away. The Nemunas River floods there almost every year, soaking the lowland pastures. Migrating birds call it home away from home because of the delta and all the water. A fifth of the area is forested. It is home to more than three hundred villages.

   Antonina was Angele’s husband’s mother. She was a Russian woman, had been a young schoolteacher in the middle of nowhere, and married Rita’s grandfather when he was an officer in the Imperial Army, stationed in the middle of nowhere. “She was taken a few years after my grandfather was deported in 1941 and dragged away to Siberia for more than ten years.”

   Rita’s mother’s family, who lived in the south of the country, made plans to take them to Silute. They kept their plans close to the vest. The scheme was for there to be three brothers, three wives, three cars, Angele and Rita, and some of their cousins. “My mother would be in one of the cars, I would be in another, and the third car would be a decoy, if it came to that.”

   The secrecy was necessary because they weren’t allowed to go anywhere except within the city limits. When they asked about Silute, Siauliai, and Zarasai, the other points of the compass to Vilnius, they were told they were all out of bounds. Everywhere outside of Vilnius was off limits. The Intourist official, the Soviet tourism monopoly, at the front desk of the hotel leaned forward and told Angele and Rita it was because of missile installations.

   “Are there missiles in every town in the whole country?” asked Angele.

   “I know sarcasm from naïve American when I listen to it,” the official scowled.

   Their convoy didn’t get far the day of the familial excursion. They were stopped by a roadblock on the outskirts of Vilnius. The police were waiting for them. “They knew,” Rita said. “Somebody had overheard something. Somebody talked. They waved us off the road.”

   The police glanced at Justinas’s papers and told him to go back.

   They went to the second car. Everybody had to show their papers. Angele was the best dressed of everyone in all three cars. She was all decked out. They asked her where she lived.

   “The Gintaras Hotel.”

   “Turn around, fancy lady, go back to the Gintaras.”

   They went to the third car.

   Sigitas and his wife Terese showed their papers. Rita was sitting in the back with three of her cousins. They all showed their papers. When it was Rita’s turn, she said, “You’ve seen their papers. I live in the same place.”

   “What’s your name?”

   “Jurgelaitis, just like them.”

   He asked her something in Russian. She didn’t understand a word and glared at him. The stare-down between cop and girl took a long minute.

   “The next time I see this one she is going to have to answer,” the policeman warned Rita’s uncle.

   “Turn back,” he said, shooting everybody a dirty look. They turned around and the convoy went back to Vilnius.

   Undaunted, a few days later, a day before leaving the USSR, Rita was picked up by Sigitas before dawn before breakfast at the back of the hotel for an end run to Silute. She skittered into the car, and they sped off. The streets were empty in the gloom.

   “He was a crazy driver, always yelling, ‘Somebody’s following us!’ He stayed off the highway, and the main roads, instead going up and down different streets. I thought the drive was going to take two hours, but it took much longer.” It took five hours on empty stomachs. It was worse than the Aeroflot flight.

   They were stopped several times, but every time her uncle was allowed to stay the course. The roadblock police didn’t explain why. They just waved him on. When they got to Silute they asked around and found the house where Antonina Staskevicius was living. 

   After Josef Stalin’s death many political prisoners in Siberia were set free. She was one of them. Her chain gang days were over. Her husband was long dead, dead of starvation in 1942, in a forest labor camp. She was sent back to Lithuania, but not back to Siauliai where the family farm didn’t exist anymore. She still wanted to go there but was told to go live in Silute. The Russians shrugged her off when she asked why.

   “She lived in a two-room apartment, in a rectangular four-unit building, almost like a log cabin, that looked like it was built a thousand years ago,” said Rita. There was no running water or indoor plumbing. The floors were dirt. The windows needed caulking. The roof was several generations overdue.

   “She was in her 80s. She had gone through tough times, but still had a lot of life in her.” She had seven grandchildren in the United States. Rita was the first one she ever saw. She gave her granddaughter a big smile and a big hug, even though she was a small woman and had to reach up.

   She wasn’t made of steel, like the Muscovite ringleader who squashed her and the Baltics under his thumb, but he was gone, a tinhorn memory, and she still had plenty of what it takes. How you start isn’t always how you finish.

   They had lunch, cold beet soup, potato dumplings, and mushroom cookies with strong hot tea. Rita didn’t throw anything under the table. It was an old-school buffet on an old round wood table.

   “How did you like it?” her uncle asked on their way back to Vilnius.

   “It was the best food I’ve had since I left home,” Rita said.

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

Godfather of the T

By Ed Staskus

   The one and only time I met Daffy Dan was at a party in a 4th floor warehouse studio on Superior Ave. between downtown Cleveland and the Innerbelt highway. There was a car-sized freight elevator in the back, but the front stairs were what all the partygoers used. They were ready for a drink by the time they got upstairs. The studio belonged to Joe Dwyer, somebody I had gone to high school with, who was an artist and was making artworks in the studio. He also threw parties there, especially on Halloween, which it was the night I met Daffy Dan.

   When I was introduced to him I realized who he was right away, if only because I had seen the custom-made fifteen-foot tall caricature of him on the front of the warehouse building across the street. The sign next to the cut-out said, “The Creative Studio of Daffy Dan’s.”

   He was on the short side and wore his hair long, over his shoulders, and parted in the middle. He was 28 years old, slightly older than me. He had a handlebar mustache. It was the kind of mustache lawmen and outlaws wore in the 19th century. He wasn’t wearing a costume for the Halloween party. He had on faded blue jeans and a sports jacket over a  t-shirt. The t-shirt featured WWMS-FM, the town’s number one rock ‘n’ roll radio station. Their buzzard logo, a top hat in one hand and a walking stick in the other hand, was in the middle of the t-shirt. “Ohio Tuxedo” was in bold red letters above the smiling blonde-haired buzzard.

   A campaign-style button was pinned to the lapel of his jacket. It said, “If your t-shirt doesn’t have a DD on the sleeve, it’s just underwear!!” The two exclamation points meant he meant business. Daffy had a can of beer in his hand. Every few minutes somebody stopped and said hello to him.

   “How did you get into the t-shirt business?” I asked. I was interested because I wasn’t in any business of any kind. I floated from one job to another and was consequently relatively poor. Even though Daffy didn’t have a degree of higher learning, after a few minutes of talking to him it became clear he was far from a few cans short of a six pack.

   “I dropped out of high school my senior year and went to work in the record store business,” he said. “I started to carry some rock group t-shirts. I got a catalog of shirts from who knows where. Other record stores started coming to me and asking me where I got them from, and rather than telling them, I looked up a dealer and started to wholesale them.”

   Even though he looked as counter-cultural as the best of them, he was bright as a button when it came to commerce. He was the city’s godfather of t’s. His medium was the message, and the other way around.

   “Before long I started to realize, wait a minute, those dealers aren’t doing it right. I can do it better. The rock group t-shirts just took off like a rocket. That was 1973. We located our storefront over on Clifton and West 104th St., and that’s where we really started. From the beginning we marketed ourselves as Daffy Dan’s from Cleveland, Ohio. We opened a single store in 1973.” There were now five of them, with four more planned. “It isn’t tourists, either. It is Clevelanders buying Cleveland-themed t-shirts and merchandise. It’s a phenomenon.”

   The slogan of Daffy Dan’s first store was, “If You’ll Wear It, We’ll Print It.” By the time I met the man behind the phenomenon he was moving more than 40,000 t-shirts annually. One of his most popular offerings offered up the legend, “Cleveland: You Gotta Be Tough.” Andy Gibb’s face was a hot potato plastered on bosoms far and wide, followed in popularity by Darth Vader and Farrah Fawcett-Majors. “It’s not a fad,” Daffy said. “Blue jeans and t-shirts have become the American way of life.”

   Back in the day t-shirts were called tunics. Into the 19th century they were simply called undergarments. The first t-shirt was created when a union suit was cut in half with the top long enough to tuck into a waistband. The U. S. Navy put them into circulation as crew-necked, short-sleeved undershirts during World War One. Work parties in steaming hot engine rooms took to wearing them all the time. Farmers adopted them during the Great Depression. They were cheap and lightweight. The first printed t-shirt was an Air Corps Gunnery School t-shirt issued in 1942. In the 1960s they got more popular as souvenirs, advertisements, and self-expression billboards. A friend of mine had one that said, “My parents went to Disneyland and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

   Plain white t-shirts started to go out of fashion, even though they are versatile, like a blank canvas. Everybody has got something to say. If you don’t declare what’s on your chest you end up looking like nobody. That’s when you get a t-shirt with an iron-on monkey and the caption, “Here Comes Trouble.” There is no sense messing around. One of Daffy Dan’s t-shirts went in the out door. “I am a Virgin. This Shirt is Very Old.” Another one of them was a sideways entreaty for hugs and kisses. “Turkeys Need Love Too.” One got right to its own bad-tempered point. It said, “Go to Hell.”

   “I love you, Daffy Dan,” Marsha Greene said years later. “You were with me through my teenage hood. I loved wearing your t-shirts. They made me feel proud and you were considered one of the cool kids when you wore a DD t-shirt back then. They helped my self-esteem.”

   The Halloween party had gone into overdrive. I suggested a quiet corner somewhere, but there were none. Joe threw an LP by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers onto the turntable. They started in on their smash hit ‘Monster Mash.’ The singer had a British accent with a sniff of Transylvania. “They did the monster mash, it was a graveyard smash, it caught on in a flash, they did the monster mash.” The speakers weren’t the greatest, but they didn’t have to be. They just had to hold out until the end of the night.

   “You silk screen a lot of rock ‘n’ roll t-shirts,” I said. 

   “Yeah,” he said. “When I was starting, the Agora was packing them in every night. I saw rock ‘n’ roll t-shirts as an absolute natural.”

   “Do you listen to rock ‘n’ roll?” I asked. “Do you go to shows?”

   “I go to music clubs or concerts every night of the week,” he said. “The offerings are spectacular. The Agora, of course, is at the top of my list, but there are a hundred clubs and concert venues, the Hullabaloo Clubs, It’s Boss, the Viking Saloon, the Roundtable, Utopia, Atomic Alps, and the Plato. I go to them all. The music scene in Cleveland is like being a kid in a candy factory.”

   Joe slid another record on the turntable. It went round and round. It was the Rolling Stones belting out ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ Mick jagger was in fine form. “Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints, as heads is tails, just call me Lucifer.”

   “Did you really drop out of high school?” I asked. “I thought that’s something you’re not supposed to do nowadays, unless the Devil makes you do it.”

   “I was walking down the hall between classes at Shaker Heights High School when the baseball coach grabbed me,” Daffy Dan said. “He grabbed me by the peace sign hanging around my neck on a leather strap and led me to the office proclaiming that I would not be allowed to graduate with my class in June without a haircut. Mind you, this is 1968, and my hair barely touched my collar and was just a tad over my ears, but according to the coach, not up to the school dress code. The gauntlet had been thrown down, and I promptly withdrew. That was a proud moment in our household. Not! I was plumb nuts back then.”

   My mod girlfriend had wandered off, God knows where. The smell of weed was everywhere, even though it was decidedly illegal. Richard Nixon had declared a ‘War on Drugs’ a few years earlier. He said they were “Public Enemy Number One.” He didn’t say what was Public Enemy Number Two, although I might have suggested the White House burglarizing Democratic party headquarters. Daffy and I had to raise our voices to be understood. We lowered them between songs. 

   “How did you get your nickname?” I asked. He told me he had been at a friend’s house doubling down on his big idea of imprinting t-shirts. He was trying to raise capital. His friend’s wife didn’t think much of the business plan. “You’re daffy, Dan,” she said. It brought Daniel Roger Gray up short. “I stopped, speechless for a moment. That was it, Daffy Dan’s!”

   After the Summer of Love became a fact, entrepreneurs in California started producing t-shirts featuring motifs and emblems, especially anything associated with marijuana, hippies, the Grateful Dead, and Che Guevara. They silk screened their t-shirts, just like Daffy Dan was doing. When screen printing, a design is separated into individual colors. Water based inks are applied to the shirt through mesh screens, limiting the areas where ink is deposited. The most important factors are making sure the t-shirt is on a flat surface and that the stencil is positioned exactly where the artwork is supposed to appear.

   T-shirts with glow-in-the-dark charts of the periodic elements are silk screened in secret. “My customers are individualists and eccentrics who want something a little different from what you can buy off the rack,” Daffy said. “They want a work of art.”

   It was going on midnight when Joe slapped Screamin’ Jay Hawkins down on the turntable. “I put a spell on you because you’re mine, stop the things you do, watch out, I ain’t lyin’, I can’t stand no runnin’ around, I can’t stand no puttin’ me down, I put a spell on you because you’re mine.”

   I said good night to Daffy Dan and started looking around for my newish girlfriend. We hadn’t been seeing each other for long. “I wonder where she ran off to?” I asked myself. I didn’t find her. When that happened, she became my old girlfriend. I didn’t care all that much. She was a rich girl with conservative suburban parents. I wouldn’t have minded being rich, but not on her father’s terms. She was going to become him sooner or later.

   Out on the damp dark sidewalk I looked across the street at Daffy Dan’s Superior Ave. nerve center. His cut-out caricature was lit up by a floodlight. He had been lit at the party, although not by beer or weed. He was lit with going his own way. He had probably taken some wrong turns along the way but he seemed to have his eye on the prize. His path to flying colors looked somewhat different than most but that didn’t mean he was going in circles. He was no Daffy Duck.

Photograph by Heather Hileman.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Eye on the Prize

By Ed Staskus

   I was planting Japanese yews in our backyard when our next door neighbor KJ came out his side door with several trash bags. It was late April and storms were predicted for the next couple of days. The weather forecast suited my purposes. Every new yew got a handful of slow release fertilizer and a promise of plentiful rain. KJ swung the bags up and into the trash bin. I hadn’t seen him since December. He told me he had been in Los Angeles all winter, pitching a movie idea.

   “What’s the idea?” I asked.

   “One-Eyed Charley is the idea,” KJ said.

   “Who is One-Eyed Charley?” 

   “Charley was a woman in the 19th century who pretended to be a man so she could drive stagecoaches.”

   My ears pricked up. My wife and I had just watched a restored version of John Ford’s 1939 movie “Stagecoach” on the Criterion Channel. John Wayne was the Ringo Kid. He talked low, talked slow, and didn’t say too much. A roly-poly man called Buck handled the reins and whip on the way from the Arizona Territory to Lordsburg, New Mexico. He sounded like a teenage girl whenever he spoke. Curly Wilcox rode shotgun. He sounded like a he-man. The only people who messed with him were the local savages, who swore by cheap whiskey and unarmed men. By the time they found out Curly was armed to the teeth it was too late for a last shot of rotgut.

   When I first met KJ it was the late 20-teens and he had just moved in. We talked for a few minutes, getting acquainted. He was easy to talk to. He was also girlish looking. When I mentioned him to my wife I told her a young woman who was a teacher with a Ph.D. was our new neighbor. The last person who rented the second floor of the two-family house next to us on the west end of Lakewood had not been a good neighbor. The only Ph.D. he had was in headbanging with an undergraduate degree in weed. KJ looked like a big improvement.

   “She specializes in gender studies at Oberlin College,” I told my wife.

   “She drives all that way every day?”

   “I thought it was far, too, but KJ says it only takes her about a half-hour.”

   KJ Cerankowski teaches Comparative American Studies and is a writer with interests in asexuality, queer theory, and transgender issues. He has authored numerous articles, including the 2021 Symonds Prize winning essay “The ‘End’ of Orgasm: The Erotics of Durational Pleasures.” His poetry and prose have been published in Pleiades and DIAGRAM. He is the co-editor of “Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives” and the author of the recently published book “Suture: Trauma and Trans Becoming.

   “I read and tell in order to be upset, in order to live,” KJ says. “I gather the fragments that will never fit together to make a whole. I want the trauma to be poetry, but I cannot find the right timing, the right words, the right image. I ask how this constellation of events makes me desire or not desire, makes me desirable or undesirable, makes me like a man or a man.”    

    The year after I met our neighbor was when I began to realize she was a gal on her way to becoming a guy. She told me it was a long process, but she was committed to it. For people transitioning from female to male, the process includes hormonal therapy and surgery. Gender-affirming surgery includes chest surgery, such as a mastectomy, and bottom surgery, such as a hysterectomy. I knew there was loads of antagonism in the land about transgender anything, but it didn’t make any difference to me. She looked like she minded her p’s and q’s and didn’t run red lights, which was more than enough for me.

   When somebody runs a red light in front of me and I have to stomp hard on my brakes, I don’t think about what gender they are. I don’t wonder or generalize about their race or income or social status. The first thing that pops into my mind is, “What an asshole!” After that I take a deep breath and go my way.

   “You went to Hollywood to beat the drum for making a motion picture?” I asked KJ again, even though I knew there is no real place called Hollywood where movies are made. Hollywood is a state of mind, a global business, not a place.

   “Yes, a friend of mine and I have an idea for a movie about One-Eyed Charley,” KJ said. “We had a meeting with Sony. They liked our idea and were encouraging but said it wasn’t right for them. ‘Don’t give up,’ they said. They sent us to their TV division where they thought it might work better. We are teaching ourselves how to write a screenplay.”

   The Cambridge Dictionary last year revised their definition of “man” and “woman” to include people who do not identify with the sex they were at birth. “Man” now includes the definition “an adult who lives and identifies as a male though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.” The updated definition of “woman” is “an adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.” It made sense to me since sex and gender identity don’t always adhere to one another.

   Talking heads far and wide went ballistic. Daily Caller writer Mary Rooke said, “Fucking traitors to the truth. Cambridge Dictionary is only the latest. If we don’t stop them from erasing women our civilization is ngmi.” I knew what ‘fucking traitors’ meant. I had no idea what ‘ngmi’ meant. Mary Rooke didn’t bother defining it since she was too busy cursing up a storm.

   “Remember, if you control the language, you control the population,” Steven Crowder, a popular conservative TV pundit, posted on Twitter. Since many former employees claim he runs an “abusive” company, where he often spits and screams at the hired hands, including his own father, makes underlings wash his dirty clothes, according to the laundromat, and exposes his genitals, according to the New York Post, I ignored his tweet.

   “Transgenderism is the most dangerous extremist movement in the United States,” Tucker Carlson said on FOX News. Since he has a laundry list of most dangerous extremist movements, I ignored what he said, too. I would never get any sleep if I paid attention to the never-ending warnings of his kind. The end of the world is always near on FOX News.

   Charlotte Parkhurst was born in New Hampshire in 1812. She was orphaned early in life and delivered to an orphanage. She soon enough dressed up like a boy and ran away. She ended up near Boston cleaning stables. A livery owner took her in, raising her as his own, and trained her to handle horses and drive coaches. When the Gold Rush started happening in 1848 she went west to find her fortune. Instead, no sooner did she get there but a horse spooked by a rattlesnake kicked her in the face. She lost her sight in one eye but didn’t lose sight of the prize. She realized she could do better as a skilled stage driver than panning for gold in some God-forsaken stream bed in northern California. She put on a black eyepatch and rode both whip and shotgun for the California Stage Company. She got so good with her whip that she could slice open the end of an envelope from twenty feet away.  She could cut a cigar out of a man’s mouth without drawing blood.

   She became One-Eyed Charley. Some called her Cockeyed Charley, but only behind her back. She became a ‘Jehus,’ one of the best and fastest coach drivers in California. Jehu was a Biblical king who in the second Book of Kings is described as a man who “driveth furiously.” She carried goods and passengers up and down the state for nearly twenty years, mainly on the passages between Monterey and San Francisco, and Sacramento to Grass Valley.

   She was short and stout and a hard-living son-of-a-gun, a loner who chewed tobacco and drank like a fish. She could curse like the devil. Charley had more than her fair share of manpower and could handle all takers in a fight. She slept by herself in station relay stables, curling up with her horses. She kept her whip close beside her. It was a five-foot hickory shaft with buckskin lashes 12 feet long. She kept the lashes well-oiled so they stayed as limber as a snake in the sun.

   One-Eyed Charley dealt with would-be thieves whenever she had to. She was hauling gold bullion for Wells Fargo when she shot and killed Sugarfoot, an infamous road agent, near Stockton after he tried to hold her up. Wells Fargo rewarded her with a solid gold watch and chain. “Indians and grizzly bears were a major menace,” the New York Times wrote in 1969. “The state lines of California in the post-Gold Rush period were certainly no place for a lady, and nobody ever accused One-Eyed Charley of being a lady.” Even though the introduction of thorough braces to the underside of coaches created a swinging motion, making traveling easier and more comfortable, stagecoach work was hard work. Anything might happen trying to control a six-horse team over mountain passes.

   “How in the world can you see your way through this dust?” a passenger asked her one bone-dry summer day.

   “I’ve traveled over these mountains so often I can tell where the road is by the sound of the wheels,” she explained. “When they rattle, I’m on hard ground. When they don’t rattle, I gen’r’lly look over the side to see where I’m agoing.”

   Talking to KJ over the backyard fence I noticed he was sounding more like a man than I had noticed before. He was looking more like a man, too. His hair was cut short. He wore a form-fitting t-shirt that only betrayed a flat stomach. He looked more handsome than womanly.

   “Only a rare breed of man could be depended upon to ignore the gold fever of the 1850s and hold down a steady job of grueling travel over narrow one-way dirt roads that swerved around mountain curves, plummeting into deep canyons and often forded swollen, icy streams,” wrote historian Ed Sams in his 2014 book “The Real Mountain Charley.” On one trip over Carson Pass her horses suddenly veered off the road and the rare breed of woman was jolted off the box. She landed between the wheelers, the two horses at the rear of the team. She hung onto the reins as she was dragged on her stomach in the dirt and gravel. She somehow managed to regain control and got the team back on the road, saving the stagecoach and its passengers. She spent the night soaking and disinfecting her wounds in a tub of carbolic acid.

   Brother Whips were the road warriors of their day. “I think I should be compelled to nominate the stage-drivers, as being on the whole the most lofty, arrogant, reserved and superior class of being on the coast, that class that has inspired me with the most terror and reverence.” Henry Bellows, president of the United States Sanitary Commission, said during a trip to California.

   One-Eyed Charley wore gauntlet gloves to hide her womanish hands and a wide-awake hat to keep the sun off her face. She wore a loose linen duster to conceal her figure and fend off rain. She carried a bugle to announce stage arrivals. She could be testy, for good reason. She blew a  horn but didn’t blow her own horn. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender were all of them illegal at the time. “It was a crime,” Mark Jarrett, a textbook publisher, spelled out in plain English. “People didn’t go around professing what their real identities were. They hid them.”

   After transcontinental tracks got to the west coast, railroads branched out and muscled out stagecoach businesses. One-Eyed Charley put her driving days behind her, opening a saloon, among other ventures. She retired to a ranch near Soquel in the early 1870s, raising chickens. She voted in 1868 even though women didn’t win the right to vote until 1920. When her one good eye perused the ballot and she decided on Ulysses S. Grant, she became the first woman to vote in a federal election in the United States. She would have used her whip on any man who tried to keep her from the polls. Stepping over his prone body she doubtless would have unleashed a stream of tobacco juice on the unfortunate creature.

   “Why this woman should live a life of disguise, always afraid her sex would be discovered, doing the work of a man, may never be known,” the Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote in their 1880 obituary. “The only people who have occasion to be disturbed by the career of Charley Parkhurst are the gentlemen who have so much to say about ‘woman’s sphere’ and ‘the weaker vessel,’” the Providence Journal wrote soon after her death. “It is beyond question that one of the soberest, pleasantest, most expert drivers in this state, and one of the most celebrated of the world-famed California drivers was a woman. And is it not true that a woman had done what woman can do?” The Journal didn’t want to speak ill of the dead but no matter how expert One-Eyed Charley was in the saddle, she was not a sober nor a pleasant person.

   “How does a nice Polish girl from Parma know how to pitch a movie in Hollywood?” I asked KJ. “That’s not to say you’re a girl anymore, but you’re still from Parma.” Alan Ruck, an actor who portrayed Ferris Bueller’s best friend almost forty years ago, is the best known movie personality from there. The Miz, a famous wrestler, is the most famous person from Parma nowadays.

   Parma is a southern suburb of Cleveland. It is the biggest suburb in the state of Ohio. It where scores of Ukrainians as well as Poles live. There is a district called Ukrainian Village and another district called Polish Village. Eastern Orthodox Christians like Ukrainians are conservative about sex. Roman Catholic Christians like Poles are even more conservative about sex. There is no Transgender Village. There are no plans to found one anytime soon.

   “I’ve been taking Polish language lessons,” KJ said. “I was taking weekly in-person classes until the pandemic shut everything down. After that I kept up on Zoom, but now that I’m working on our movie, I’ve had to put that to the side.”

   “Now that you’re back in town, what are your plans for the summer?” I asked.

   “I’m going to Chicago this June for a year on sabbatical,” he said. “In fact, I’ve got somebody from Oberlin coming to look at my place any minute now.”

   “You’re not going to be sub-leasing to any One-Eyed Charley’s, are you?” 

   “No, but he or she might be a Two-Eyed Charley,” KJ said.

Photograph by Chris Crisman.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

10 Cent Beer Night

By Ed Staskus

   When my friends and I heard there was going to be a 10 Cent Beer Night at Municipal Stadium, we started saving our loose change. It was Saturday morning June 1, 1974. Beer Night was going to be on Tuesday night June 4th. We didn’t have much time, but we had plenty of motivation. When the big night arrived, our pockets were full of nickels, dimes, and quarters. We met at East 30th St. and St. Clair Ave. and took a bus to East 9thSt. From there we walked to the ballpark.

   Municipal Stadium opened in 1931 and was the home of both the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns. Two days after it was formally dedicated Max Schmeling fought Young Stribling for the World Heavyweight Championship. The two sluggers brawled for the full 15 rounds. In the end Young Stribling was covered in more bumps, bruises, and blood than Max Schmeling, so the German won the match on a TKO.  A month later the Tribe played their first game there, losing to Lefty Grove and the Philadelphia Athletics one to nothing. The crowd of  more than 80,000 set a major league record.

   When it was built, and for many years afterwards, Municipal Stadium was the biggest baseball stadium in the country, although by the 1970s it was drawing the smallest crowds in the country. A month earlier only 4,000-some fans showed up to watch the Indians beat the Boston Red Sox. There were two reasons everybody stayed home and watched something else on TV. The stadium was built all wrong, for one thing. It was cavernous. Relief pitchers had to be driven to the mound from the bullpen. Even when new outfield fences were installed shrinking the size of the playing field, it was still 470 feet from home plate to the bleachers in straightaway center field. High and deep fly balls went there to die. We always sat in the cut-rate seats. No wannabe home run ever reached us. The upper deck was even farther from the field. Nobody wanted to sit in the stratosphere with high-powered binoculars.

   By the late 1960s the place was falling apart. It looked like Miss Havisham’s mansion. It stood on the south shore of Lake Erie, a wheezy open-air mausoleum. It was a dismal hulk, especially in the spring and fall when cold winds blew in off the lake. During the summer, during night games, the lights attracted swarms of midges and mayflies. The bathrooms were unbearable for many reasons. Only the desperate ever visited them, however briefly.

   On top of everything else, the Tribe couldn’t punch its way out of a paper bag. In the 1950s they were routinely winning 90, 100, and even 110 games every season. They won championships. By the 1960s they were lucky to win 80 games a season. In 1971 they lost 102 games and won only 60, finishing so far out of first place fans lit candles. The locker room got sad and gloomy. The Tribe lost more games during the decade of the 1970s than during any other decade of the team’s long life.

   When we got inside the stadium we were surprised by how many fans were there, about 25,000 of them, although we shouldn’t have been. Besides the cheap beer, payback time was in play. A week earlier in Texas, the Indians and the Rangers had gotten into it. In the bottom of the  eighth inning a Tribe pitcher threw behind a Ranger batter’s head. A few pitches later the batter laid down a bunt. The pitcher fielded the ball and tagged the runner out. The runner didn’t stop running, clubbing the pitcher in the face with a forearm as he ran past. When he got to first base he headbutted the Tribe’s first baseman in the nuts. The first baseman started swinging. Both benches emptied. After the fracas, as Indians players and coaches returned to their dugout, they were greeted with stale pretzels and warm beer hurled by Texas Ranger fans. Dave Duncan, the short-tempered Cleveland catcher, had to be restrained from storming the stands.

   After the game a reporter asked Rangers manager Billy Martin, “Are you going to take your armor to Cleveland?” Billy Martin replied, “Naw, they won’t have enough fans there to worry about.” The following week sports radio talk show hosts whipped up the ire of Cleveland’s baseball fans. It was billed as “Revenge Rematch Time.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer printed a cartoon of Chief Wahoo wearing boxing gloves. The caption read, “Be Ready for Anything!” 

   10 Cent Beer Night was the dreamchild of the Tribe’s sales and marketing department. “We were on a mission to save baseball in Cleveland,” said Carl Fazio, one of the men overseeing promotions. “We did everything possible to make baseball successful in our town. If we were going to fail, it wasn’t going to be because we didn’t try things.”   

   Tuesday was a hot sticky night. The sky was clear and the moon was full. Twice as many fans showed up as the sales and marketing showmen expected. “It was a stinkin’ humid night, and you kind of had a feeling things weren’t going to be good,” said Paul Tepley, a Cleveland Press photographer. “Billy Martin stood in front of the Rangers dugout before the  game heckling the fans, and the fans were heckling him. It had the makings of a bad night.”

   No sooner did anybody step into the stadium than they made a beeline to the special tables manned by teenagers and barely adults selling the low-cost beer. The legal drinking age in 1974 was 18. Banners behind the tables said, “From One Beer Lover to Another.” The regular price was 65 cents. The promotional price of 10 cents was a big discount. There was a limit of six cups per purchase but no limit on how many purchases anybody could make during the game. The first Beer Night had been staged three years earlier. It had been Nickel Beer Day. There were some incidents then but they mostly involved horseplay and vomit.

   Some fans brought pockets full of firecrackers and smoke bombs to 10 Cent Beer Night. They blew them off in the stands and threw some on the field before the game started. When the first pitch was thrown for a strike everybody settled back with their suds and tuned into the action. In the second inning a woman sporting a bouffant ran to the on-deck circle, lifted her shirt, and flashed the crowd. She was beaming smiles. She tried to kiss home plate umpire Nestor Chylack. He was not in a smooching mood. Everybody cheered the sight of boobs but gave the umpire a Bronx cheer for ducking the kiss.

   The Rangers took a three to nothing lead when Tom Grieve slammed a home run with men on base. As he went around second base a well-built naked man slid into the bag behind him. He was wearing two black socks. We thought he might be a businessman. When the streaker got up he saluted the crowd before dashing away. His butt was road rash red. He ran through center field towards the bleachers. One of his socks got loose. By the time he got to the fence in front of us, he was down to the other sock. He vaulted over the fence and disappeared under our seats. The next inning a father and son ran out onto the field and simultaneously mooned the crowd. The son’s butt was white. The father’s butt was cream cheese white.

   When the special tables selling 10 cent beer started to run dry the Stroh’s Brewing Co. sent a tanker full of brew to the back of the ballpark. Fans gathered at the industrial spigots fastened to the rear of the truck. Before the truck arrived every Rangers player who stepped up to the plate had been roundly booed. Twenty minutes after the truck got there, the crowd was throwing things at them.

    “I bet I had five or ten pounds of hot dogs thrown at me,” said Mike Hargrove, a Rangers rookie playing the infield. “A gallon jug of Thunderbird landed about ten feet behind me.” When he realized what he had done, the man who threw the half-full jug of fortified wine demanded it back. Fans threw rocks, batteries, and golf balls. One man threw a tennis ball and was almost laughed out of the ballpark. The bullpens had to be evacuated after cherry bombs were lobbed into them. 

   Everything went to hell in the home half of the ninth inning. Everybody with kids and a wife had already fled. The Tribe put together four straight hits and a sacrifice fly. They tied the game at 5 runs apiece. The winning run was standing on second base. Unfortunately for the Indians, that was as far as he ever got.

   Before he could make a move two young men ran out on the field towards Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs. They were greased for trouble. One of them tried to steal the ballplayer’s cap. Jeff Burroughs kicked at the man but slipped and fell down. The rest of the Rangers, far away in their dugout, thought the men had knocked their teammate down. Billy Martin led his Rangers players onto the field. “Let’s go get ‘em, boys.” They sprinted to the rescue. They were brandishing every bat they had on the rack. When hundreds of fans poured out of the stands after them, with slats they had torn off from their seats, the riot was on.

   The law and order detail at Municipal Stadium on 10 Cent Beer Night was fifty older part-time men and two off-duty Cleveland policemen. They were swept aside by the flow of drunks. Some of the troublemakers were waving chains. Some had knives. Twenty police cars responded to the call for help. When they got to the ballpark they called for the Riot Squad. When the Riot Squad got there they called for more men. “We would have needed 25,000 cops to handle that crowd,” said Frank Ferrone, the Chief of Stadium Security.

   Tribe manager Ken Aspromonte ordered his players onto the field to help the Rangers. They armed themselves with bats and formed a phalanx. “They saved our lives,” Billy Martin said. “That’s the closest you’re ever going to see someone get killed in this game of baseball.” He didn’t know it got closer in 1920, when Yankee’s pitcher Carl May hit Indian’s batter Ray Chapman in the head with an errant fastball and killed him.

   A Cleveland player was hurt the worst during the riot when a flying metal chair hit him in the head. He had to be helped off the field. Nestor Chylack’s hand was badly cut and he was hit by a flying chair as well, before finally declaring the game a forfeit. The mob was incensed. More chairs went airborne. “They were fucking animals,” the injured home plate umpire said. ”I’ve never seen anything like it, except in a zoo.”

   The organist played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” over and over again. Some fans ripped the padding off the third base line fence. They stole all the bases. “This is an absolute tragedy,” declared Joe Tait, one of the broadcasters. “I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I have never seen anything as disgusting as this. I just don’t know what to say.”

   When beat reporter Dan Coughlin tried to interview a rioter, he was punched in the face. When he tried to interview a second rioter he was punched in the face again. After that he put his notebook away and went looking for a drink, something stronger than beer. There was no charm in trying a third time.

   Mike Hargrove had a chunky teenager on the ground and was walloping him. “That kid came up and hit him from behind is what happened,” said Herb Score, the other broadcaster. When the ballplayers fought their way back to their clubhouses, they bolted the doors behind them and left Municipal Stadium under escort of armed guards. The Riot Squad flooded the field with tear gas.

   “It’s not just baseball,” Ken Aspromonte said. “It’s the society we live in. Nobody seems to care about anything. We complained about their people in Texas last week when they threw beer on us and taunted us to fight. But look at our people. They were worse. I don’t know what it was, and I don’t know who’s to blame.”

    When the fireworks were all over we walked to Superior Ave., went across the bridge over the Cuyahoga River, and crossed West 25th St. We passed the one-sock streaker. He looked like he was wearing somebody else’s clothes. He still had on one black sock. We walked to the Big Egg, where we got late-night grub, mainly hash browns and fried eggs. They hadn’t run out of that day’s gravy. Their sauce was boss. The Big Egg wasn’t the cleanest diner in town, but it stayed open all night and the food was dirt cheap. Their slogan, on the wall behind the long counter, was “Where the Egg is King, and the Queen is, too!” Bobby Dunn, a Cleveland policeman and the owner, made sure the coffee was strong, if only for his own sake.

   “I don’t look at it as a black eye at all,” Carl Fazio said afterwards about what took place that night. “It was just one of those crazy things that happened because of a crazy set of circumstances that all came together that night.”

   The next day the Tribe slugged five home runs, pummeling the Rangers in front of 8,000 spectators. The stolen bases were never recovered. New ones were put in place. My friends and I stayed home. I read about the second game of the series a day later in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The fans were well-behaved, cheering their heads off but not throwing anything onto the field. They sipped their beer before tossing their plastic cups under the seats. It was a breezy refreshing evening with bright stars high in the sky. Everybody kept their cool and kept their clothes on, too.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Rules of the Game

By Ed Staskus

   You never want to fall asleep in Mr. Hittbone’s second period math class, no matter what, because he will leave you asleep until you eventually wake up, whenever that is. It’s one of the rules written on his personal rules board at the front of the class. “No Waking Sleepers!” Classes will come and go, and no one is allowed to wake up anybody sleeping.

   If you fall asleep he just lets you snooze and snore, no shaking you awake, and you miss the next class, and even the class after that. You wake up and it’s, my God! You get major detentions for missing classes at St. Ed’s. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t your fault. Mr. Hittbone doesn’t care that maybe you had homework for six classes and maybe you had work to do around the house, too, and walking the dog on top of that. Nobody cares when you’re explaining. They care even less when you’re complaining.

   A guy once went dead duck and slept for three straight periods. When he woke up Mr. Hittbone was at his podium lecturing, just like always, but after the guy blinked shook his head looked around, he saw there weren’t any familiar faces. There were all different guys in the class. He bolted out of the room. He hadn’t technically skipped any classes, but he got a butt load of detentions for disrespect.

   It’s not a school rule. It’s the Boneman’s rule. There’s no breaking and getting away with it. I woke up halfway through his class one day after a restless night at home. “Did you sleep good?” he asked. He smirked down at me. “No, I made a few mistakes,” I said. He didn’t like that. I got a detention.

   “You boys grow up without rules, without boundaries,” he told us the first class the first day of school. It was September 2014. The good old summertime was over. “You need discipline. You can be yourself, whatever you think that is, once you’ve learned the rules.”

   Lots of rules and no mercy, that’s the Boneman, like he just stepped out of the Old Testament. Mr. Rote and the rest of the religion teachers teach the New Testament, but that update has never reached Mr. Hittbone. It’s not sinners in the hands of an angry God anymore, Mr. Bonehead! But he doesn’t care about that, either.

   Everybody says he’s been at St. Ed’s since it opened, or maybe even before that. He was probably rubbing his hands for the big day to happen. He’s only ever taken two days off in all those years. He told us about them on the second day of school. “It wasn’t because I was sick,” he said. The Chalk of Fate says he’s never been sick. Someone else might have been sick on those two days. Maybe he only ever feels like crap in private.

   Mr. Hittbone’s a short man, mostly bald and bearded. He has lips like wieners. He wears suspenders like it’s another century. He doesn’t wear a sports jacket. He only ever wears a dress shirt. He has grayish hair and eyes the color of a telephone pole. He’s a grumpy dude. Everybody hates him, the upper classmen, and us, just everybody, really. Everybody hates his chalk board full of numbers and equations we can barely understand.

   Some of the upper classmen add an “S” to the front of his name, but never out loud to his face. That would be a disaster. The Boneman is old but lightning fast on the draw with detention slips. It’s not even funny. He’s married but told us he can’t stand his wife because she never turns off the lights and watches TV all the time. “She even shops in bed, thanks to television,” he said. We all thought, “So what?”

   He has a son and daughter, but never talks about his son. When he told us about his daughter he said he was annoyed about how in the first year of whatever job she got she was making more money than him. He always says money is a “masterpiece in the eye of a masterpiece,” whatever that means.

   “God wants us to prosper and have plenty of money,” he said. “Money is how you keep score. That’s why you don’t want to stop at simple math, because then you’ll only make simple money.” Nobody knows what he’s talking about.

   He smokes between classes, in front of our gold dome Hall of Fame chapel. He rips the filters off his cigarettes. I’ve never seen another teacher smoke on campus, only him. He throws the butts on the ground, mashes them with his foot, and lights up another one. Whenever anybody tells him cigarettes are bad for you, he scowls. “When it looks like I’ll live longer than my next smoke I’ll scrape it off the bottom of my shoe,” he says.

   Whenever anybody tells him cigarettes are practically illegal, he gets mad about that, too. “The government tells you smoking is bad for your health, but when you Ben Franklin it, the government has killed more people than cigarettes ever did, or ever will.”

   One morning he told us he was in a gas station buying cigarettes down on Detroit Rd. just down from the school, when somebody tried to rip off the attendant with some kind of money trick. “I wanted to beat him with a baseball bat,”  Mr. Hittbone said, making fists, his hands shaking. He wanted to bash the hell out of him. Every day the forecast for the Boneman is clouds, rain, and anger. We all laughed, though. He couldn’t punch himself out of a paper bag with Babe Ruth’s bat.

   He teaches from a podium at the front of class. He’s the only teacher in the school who has one. How does he rate? It’s because he’s a dinosaur and gets his way. He puts his papers and things on the podium and hardly moves all period, unless he wants to tear up something that’s on your desk. That’s another one of his rules. “Math Only!”

   Even if you’re not doing anything with whatever is on your desk, like a science assignment, if he sees it he’ll just swoop down on you and take it. “I don’t think you’ll be needing this,” he says, and rips it up. He’s always looking for things to rip up, even if it’s something from one of your other classes, not even his class, something you were just glancing at. He’s always showing up all of a sudden and tearing your stuff to shreds.

   He has a ton of rules on his board, more than fifty of them, a boat load of them. “No Chewing Gum!” If you chew gum anywhere on campus, not just in his class, watch out for him seeing you doing it. He scribbles your name in his black spiral notebook and reports you. He gives you a full detention, which is forty-five minutes. He never gives out minor detentions. Mr. Hittbone told us chewing gum should be forbidden at the school.

   “You want to be a bum? Go ahead, chew gum, but not here.”

   No one is allowed to touch anything in his classroom, either. “No Touching!” If you walk by one of his special teacher books and you sort of graze it with your leg, you get a major detention. If you pick up a marker at the board without first asking his permission, you get a major detention. If you punch somebody’s arm, even though it’s none of his business, you get a major detention.

   It’s nothing like my third period class, which is our science class. The teacher is Mr. Strappas, who’s one of the varsity football coaches. He’s young, has blond hair, and is super fit. He played football in college and he’s a cool dude. He encourages us to touch things, do things, get into the projects, and the only rule he has is no talking when he’s talking.

   I don’t know why some guys can’t get it right. It’s always the same guys who get it wrong, who do all the talking in class, breaking the rules. We sit pairs to a table and the two chatty guys are somewhere in the middle of the room. They talk about video games, sports, and all their other dumb stuff. Mr. Strappas will say, no talking, and they will say, sorry, but they don’t stop. They don’t get good grades on their quizzes and tests. They don’t turn their homework in on time and get bad marks for effort. They’re just retards.

   Mr. Strappas doesn’t stand at his lectern. He roams back-and-forth, to the sinks, the whiteboard, and all around the room. He’s always on the move. It’s my favorite class of the day. I actually like learning in it. It’s fun finding out about atoms and lasers and everything he’s interested in.

   He expects us to be in our seats when his class starts but doesn’t sweat it if it doesn’t happen. But if you’re not in your seat when the bell rings the instant Mr. Hittbone’s class starts, you get a full detention. Everybody should be in their seats when class starts, we all know that, but if you’re standing there for a second, just fixing your belt, he gives you a detention. It’s totally stupid, but that’s another one of his rules.

   Because it’s  the Boneman, you absolutely want to make sure you’re all good. “Look Proper!” We wear ties, dress shirts, dress pants, a belt, undershirt, and black shoes. We have to make sure we’re all buttoned up. If any button is even half unbuttoned it means a full detention. He totally hates it if the second button on your shirt is undone.

   Even though Mr. Hittbone is a hundred years older than Mr. Rote, our first period religion teacher, who is young and thinks he’s all there, but is a doofus, it’s one for the button in first period and the same button in second period. They both hate casual dress days. “It’s like a casual walk through the insane asylum,” the Boneman says, looking at us like we are crazy.

   If there is any piece of paper on the floor around or near your desk at any time of the class he’ll give you a detention, even if it’s not yours, and even if you didn’t see it in the first place. “No Litter!” If the paper has your name on it, it’s even worse, because he rips it up before giving you the detention. Mr. Hittbone is his own chicken hawk laying down the law.

   “Don’t Look Through the Windows!” We’re supposed to face front when we’re in class, but there are some guys who sit right by the windows and sometimes they can’t help shifting their faces to the glass. That means a full detention. If Mr. Hittbone and I looked out the same window, I don’t think we would see the same thing, no matter how you do the math. Sometimes I think that since I didn’t have a part in making his rules, the rules have nothing to do with me. If you say Cloud 9 is amazing, he’ll say, what’s wrong with Cloud 8? No matter what, you can’t fight the Boneman. He’s like Godzilla. He swats you down with his horny tail.

  At the end of class, we can’t jump up and leave like in any of our other classes. His rule about the bell for ending class is that it isn’t the school bell, but his make-believe bell that matters. When the real bell goes off, we have to stay in our seats until he says we can go. At the end of class I’ll say, “See you tomorrow Mr. Hittbone.” And he’ll say, “Thanks for the warning, Mr. Who It.” My name is Wyatt, so he calls me Who It, as in Why It, and then he laughs.

   Sometimes it seems like he wants you to lay down at his feet like a beat-down dog and say, “Yes, sir, I’ll go dig up those apples, sir, whatever you say.” He thinks he’s the GOAT, but he’s just an old goat. He’s got us for fifty minutes, and that’s that. I’m counting the days until my sophomore year and I’m none of the Boneman’s business anymore.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Katya in Asia Town

By Ed Staskus

   The Chinese started settling in the United States in the 18th century. Wherever whenever there were enough of them, they lived close to hand, building their own neighborhoods, appropriately called Chinatowns. There are more than 50 of them across the United States, including at least 16 in California alone.

   There are several of the towns within cities in New York City, the most famous one being in Manhattan. It’s the largest Chinatown in the country, spread out over 40 blocks and home to more than 150,000 Chinese-speaking residents.

   Cleveland, Ohio used to have a Chinatown, a colony at Rockwell Ave. near downtown. Immigrants settled in the area starting in the 1920s. After the Communist takeover of the mainland and into the 1960s more than 2,000 lived in the neighborhood. There was a row of Chinese restaurants, among them the Three Sisters, Golden Coin, and Shanghai, as well as two grocery stores between East 21st and East 24th. Storehouses in the district supplied native eateries one end of the city to the other. There was a temple and a meeting hall.

   Chinatown went into sharp decline in the early 1970s and a few years later, when I moved into what was becoming Asia Town, there wasn’t much left. Most of the residents moved to the suburbs and by the 1980s there were only two half-empty restaurants holding on, catering mostly to business folk and occasional tourists looking for the city’s historic Chinese quarter.

   Asia Town is roughly from East 18th St. to East 40th St. and from St. Clair Ave. to Perkins Ave. It has the highest percentage of Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese in Ohio. When I lived on East 34th St. between Payne Avenue and Superior Ave. in the mid to late 70s, there weren’t as many yellow faces yet but they were everywhere. There were dirt poor whites, dirt poor blacks, and a recent influx of college students. It wasn’t as present-day as it would become after the 1990s when Asia Plaza was built at East 30th St. and Payne Ave., when it became a business as well as a residential community.

   My roommate Carl Poston was tall, walked with a lanky slouch, and wore a mop of twisty black hair. Everybody called him Erby. He never said why, and I never asked. He liked to read, tearing through the Plain Dealer newspaper every morning, and liked to play chess, like me, but was better than me. He had a bad-ass motorcycle and several bad-ass friends with motorcycles. He worked downtown for the city helping crunch numbers and delivering bad news as Cleveland went under.

   In 1978 the city became the first one in the United States to go bust since the Great Depression. After the bankruptcy it became known as the Mistake on the Lake, a nickname nobody in the hometown liked. When Mayor George Voinovich showed up at a Cleveland Indians game against the New York Yankees in the 1980s wearing a t-shirt under his sports coat, the t-shirt said, “New York’s the Big Apple, but Cleveland’s a Plum.” Only the Asians liked the plum thing, since plums represent purity and perseverance to them. Nicknames come and go but when Cleveland later became ‘The Land,’ nobody shook their heads in despair. It was far better than the mistake and the plum.

   Our house on East 34th St. was behind another house. There was no backyard or garage. Almost all the houses on the west side of the street were that way. The houses across the street had backyards and most of the houses in the neighborhood had backyards. But there were some houses so tucked away one had to be looking right at them to see them. Our rent was more than reasonable, and my half was even better. The landlord lived in Strongsville. His grandmother lived in Asia Town, like me. In return for checking up on her at the beginning of the week and taking her to Dave’s Grocery at the end of the week, I lived almost rent-free.

   Her name was Katya, and she was hundreds of years old. She was five foot four something short and hunchbacked on top of that. She was always in her kitchen when I knocked on the side door, she always croaked “Come in, honey,” and when I went in, she always asked me what I wanted.

   She had three cats who I never saw. She kept a pan of water next to the door for them but no food bowls or litter. They were freeloaders, running down grub in the wild. She had a stack of old newspapers in a corner and the linoleum kitchen floor was usually covered with them. It was sketchy walking inside. The unfolded papers piled haphazardly on top of each other slid every which way. I had to walk like a duck to stay upright.

   “I keep my kitchen floor clean that way.” she said, peeling back the corner of a newspaper and showing me.

   She bought her clothes from third hand stores but bought her shoes new. She was crazy frugal, but she wasn’t crazy. She was built to last, and her feet had to lead the way.

   Katya was from Slovenia, from sometime back in the 19th century. Her parents were peasants from a village nobody ever heard of southeast of Ljublijana. They came to Cleveland to work in the steel mills in the 1890s. At first, they lived in Newburgh, but when a community started forming along East 30th St., from Lake Erie south to Superior Ave., they moved, finally landing on East 38th St. She still lived in the small house her parents bequeathed her.

   By 1910 there were so many Slovenes in Cleveland that it would have been the third-largest Slovenian city in the world if it was in Slovenia. The immigrants opened enough taverns to drown their New World blues and enough churches to repent their drinking. St Vitus was established in 1893, St. Lawrence in 1901, and St. Mary in 1906. Each had its own school. They published their own newspapers in their mother tongue and formed debating drama and singing clubs.

   The singing clubs were stamping grounds, as well. The Lira Singing Society, located in the St. Clair neighborhood, and adamantly Catholic, was opposed by the Zaria Singing Society, sponsored by atheists and socialists. Everybody knew what the arguments were about.

   Katya was married long enough to have two sons before her husband was shot by mistake by a policeman outside a Collinwood bank during a botched robbery. He bled to death before an ambulance could reach him. She buried him in Woodlawn Cemetery, never married again, raising her sons by herself. She took in sewing days and worked nights during World War Two. Her oldest son moved to Seattle and she never saw him again. Her younger son moved to the west side and had a family, but they didn’t want to visit her.

   “We aren’t going to your crazy grandmother’s house in that terrible neighborhood, and that’s final,” his wife said. What the woman didn’t know was that Katya kept a loaded Colt Pocket Hammerless in her kitchen table drawer. It was a single action blowback .32 caliber handgun.

   “Nobody going to shoot me by accident,” she said.

   Her eldest grandson loved her and made sure she had what she needed to stay afloat. She had a small pension and some social security, too. She told me she had silver dollars buried in the backyard, but quickly shot me a wily look.

   “Forget I say that.”

   When Katya’s husband Janez was buried in Woodlawn, it was the oldest cemetery in Cleveland, the first man being inhumed there in 1853. It was the worst cemetery in Cleveland, too. The Depression wrecked its finances. There were sunken graves, toppled headstones, grass never mowed, piles of rotting leaves, and broken tree branches all over the place. That was before the city found out Louise Dewald, who worked in the finance office, had stolen almost half a million in today’s dollars from the coffers as the Depression picked up steam.

   After that it got worse.

   The cemetery chapel roof and the rest of it collapsed in 1951 and was hauled away. The next year City Council thought about digging up and moving all the bodies somewhere else, but the public outcry was too great. Katya never stopped visiting Janez, no matter what, no matter what it took to get there. 

   One Friday walking her home from Dave’s Grocery she asked me if I could take her to the Slovenian National Home the next afternoon for a luncheon. 

   “I don’t have a car anymore, Katya, sorry.” My 1962 Rambler Custom Six, that I had gotten for free, was no more. When I got it, the car was already on its last legs. It was now rusting peacefully away in a junk lot somewhere up on Carnegie Ave.

   “Oh,” she said. “Maybe you walk with me there?”

   “It’s pretty far,” I said. I didn’t mention taking a bus. She distrusted the metropolitan buses getting to where they were going, ever since the city’s rail tracks had been torn up and the electric cars replaced with diesel transport. She believed half the drivers were addled from the fumes.

   The Home was almost thirty blocks away on East 64th St. and St. Clair Ave. At the rate she walked we would have to start as we spoke. After the luncheon we would have to walk the whole night to get back.

   “Oh, that too bad. Janez and I dance there all the time before he die.”

   “Let me see what I can do.”

   I asked my roommate Carl, in return for my washing the dishes, cleaning the house, and mowing our grave-sized plot of grass, if he would take her there and back.

   “It’s a deal,” he said.

   The next day he schlepped her to the Slovenian Home on his Harley, waiting outside smoking cigarettes and shooting the bull with passersby. She was a big hit with her cronies when they spilled outside after the gabbing and feedbag and saw her climb on the back of the hog, wrap her stumpy arms around Carl’s waist, and glide away.

   The Slovenian Home was where my Baltic kinsmen booked their big wedding receptions and celebrations. The Lithuanian Hall on Superior Ave. was too small in the 1960s and the new Community Center in North Collinwood wasn’t built yet. The Home opened in 1924, with two auditoriums, a stage, bar restaurant kitchen, meeting rooms, a gym, and a Slovenian National Library.

   The main auditorium was plenty big enough for any get together and the stage was plenty big enough for any band. The bar was big enough for even Lithuanians. Europeans drink more alcohol than anybody else in the world and Lithuanians are number one in Europe. Whenever I accompanied my parents to the Slovenian Home for a reception or gala, it was always a long night. There was a big dinner at big round tables, speeches, chatting it up, dancing, drinking, and as the drinking went on, singing. My father and his friends would booze it up well into one and two in the morning, singing “In the Sea of Palanga” and “The Old Roofs of Vilnius” and “Oh, Don’t Cry, Beloved Mother.”

   By then I was snoozing sprawled out in the balcony.

   Unlike our no backyard house Katya had a backyard where she grew Brussels sprouts cauliflower broccoli onions potatoes and anything else she could squeeze in. She liked prosciutto and bread for lunch. Sundays she made loads of yota with turnips beans cabbage and potatoes and a slab of meat loaf with hardboiled eggs in the middle. She kept it in the fridge all week, dinner at her beck and call.

   That fall I had to tell Katya that once the school quarter at Cleveland State University was over, I was going to have to take the next quarter off. I had found a job with an electrostatic painting outfit that was going to send me on the road, expenses like food and motels paid, for a couple of months. We were going to start in Chicago, swing out to the west coast, end up in Texas, and be back in time for the spring quarter at CSU. It was chance for me to earn good money and save almost all of it.

   “I going to miss you,” she said.

   We traveled in three-man crews and worked nights, from about 5:30 to about 1 in the morning. We worked in offices, painting office furniture like metal filing cabinets, desks, bookcases, and storage cabinets. The paint was loaded with a low voltage positive charge and the metal items magnetized negative. The finish was like new, no runs, no brush or roller marks, and there was almost no overspray.

   When I got back from my two-and-a-half months on the road, I picked up my cat Mr. Moto from my parents, did my laundry, and registered for classes for the spring quarter at CSU. I went to visit Katya that evening, but she wasn’t there anymore. The house was vacant. A “For Sale” sign was posted. I asked one of the neighbors, but he said he didn’t know much, just that a moving truck pulled up one morning and by the end of the day she was gone.

   I peeked through the windows. The ground floor rooms were all empty. The only thing left was a stack of old newspapers in a corner of the kitchen.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

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 and Made in Cleveland 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 and Made in Cleveland 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 and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Staying Alive

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 and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”