All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a freelance writer from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

Flower Power

By Ed Staskus

   My father was a firm believer in the harder you work the better your station. He meant better car better house more money in the bank better everything. He was a refugee from Lithuania, getting out of Europe in 1949 with a duffel bag and twenty-five dollars in his pocket. By the time he got to Sudbury, Ontario, he was down to five dollars, but found employment at a cement factory the next day. Even though I wasn’t sure the long march to better was better, I was barely 15 years old the summer of 1966 and not about to argue with him.

   When I came home from the two-week Lithuanian boys and girls summer camp on Wasaga Beach I was immediately put to work. My father got a job for me on the chain gang of a landscaper who was redoing the grounds at Mt. Sinai Hospital. We trimmed trees, ripped out dead shrubs replacing them with new ones, buried bulbs and planted flowers.

   Mount Sinai Hospital began in 1892 as the Young Ladies’ Hebrew Association “caring for the needy and sick.” It opened as a hospital in 1903 on East 32nd Street, catering to east side Jews, then moved to a bigger building on East 105th Street in 1916. In time it became the healthcare provider to Cleveland’s urban poor.

   My number one assigned thankless chore was helping unload soggy clods of rolled-up sod and laying them down to make new lawns. That meant removing the old grass and some of the worn-out soil beneath it, preparing the ground with a bow rake, breaking up large chunks, laying the sod, neatening the edges, and finally watering it. Handling the hose was the easiest best part of the job. By the end of the first day, I was damp dirty tired and underpaid. 

   I got a ride every morning from Val, a Lithuanian American like me home from college. He drove a 1960 Plymouth Valiant with push-button transmission shifters. There was no button for park, but there was a lever for it. Moving the lever to the end put the transmission into park and popped out whatever button was in gear. It was for laughs watching him smack the buttons from first to second to drive.

   We hopped on I-90 at East 185th St. and took the Liberty Blvd. exit, driving along the winding road through Rockefeller Park to the work site. The 200-acre park was given to the city by John D. Ruthless in 1897. Four stone bridges carried traffic and trains over the road, there was a lagoon for rowing fishing and ice skating at the end of it, and a couple dozen Cultural Gardens down the three-mile length of it.

   The gardens are a series of landscaped green spots honoring ethnic communities in Cleveland, set up from the south shore of Lake Erie to University Circle. The first one was the Shakespeare Garden in 1916, which later became the British Garden. The Cultural Garden League carved out the next one, the Hebrew Garden, in 1926. After that they were off to the races. In the next ten years 14 more gardens were created, including the Italian, Hungarian, and Lithuanian. The idea was to rave on the city’s immigrant groups, which at the time made up about a third of the population.

   In 1936 the city unified the gardens with bordered paths. Busts and statues were installed in many of them. The first One World Day took place in 1946. A parade of nationality floats and bands blaring old hometown tunes started downtown at Public Square, crept six miles along Euclid Ave. to the Cultural Gardens, where there were speeches and a ceremony. Afterwards there was food, souvenir stands, strolling around the gardens, hobnobbing, and dancing to more music. By the middle of the day, it sounded like the Tower of Babel.

   We were listening to ‘Hanky Panky’ by Tommy James and the Shondells on the car radio one Wednesday, curving down onto Liberty Blvd. on our way to work, when we were brought up short by a Jeep with a machine gun mounted on the back. It was blocking the road. There were more Jeeps scattered in the distance. A line of cars was backing up and going the way they had come. Val pulled over to the side until a National Guardsman walked up to our car. 

   “Turn around fellas,” he said. “The road is going to be closed today, maybe the rest of the week.”

   “Why, what’s going on?” Val asked.

   “The niggers are raising hell, busting into stores, burning them down.”

   “What about the parade?” I asked. One World Day was scheduled for the weekend. My parents, brother, sister, and I always went. All my friends went. It was a big thing.

   “I don’t know about no parade, but there ain’t going to be one until things cool down.”

   “One of the Jeeps had a plastic lei hanging down from the .50 caliber gun,” said Wayne Baker who lived in the St. Clair Superior neighborhood.

   The street fighting had started Monday when a black man walked into the white-owned Seventy-Niners Café at Hough Ave. and East 79th St. He asked for a glass of cold water to cool down. It had been a hot day in a hot summer. The café said no, get the hell out of here. Somebody posted a sign. “No water for niggers.” 

   One thing led to another and before long the Cleveland Police Department had a riot on its hands. The more cops who showed up the bigger the mob got. By the next day there weren’t enough policemen in the city to handle the uproar. Mayor Ralph Locher asked Ohio Governor James Rhodes to send in the National Guard. They showed up through the night and deployed in the morning.

   Helen Provenzano’s father got a call early that morning that all the windows in his restaurant on East 97th St. and Euclid Ave. were broken, and he should bring plywood. The eatery was the family’s bread and butter. By the end of the day there was a run on sheets of plywood at hardware stores.

    “Why are you home so early,” my mother asked after Val dropped me off. “Did you do something wrong?”

   “No, the colored people did, there’s a riot going on and we couldn’t get to work,” I said.

   In the mid-1960s 60% of Northern whites agreed that Negro students should be able to go to the same schools.70% agreed with residential integration. 80% agreed that they should be able to get the same jobs as white folks. 90% agreed that they should enjoy public transportation just like everybody else. 100% of Lithuanian Americans didn’t care what bus Negroes rode to whatever job, but the same 100% was opposed to colored kids in their schools and colored families moving into their neighborhoods. When the moving started was when the white flight started.

   My parents weren’t any different than any other Lithuanian I ever heard say anything about it. They hated the Russians, disliked Jews, and looked down on Negroes. Their culture was one of nationalism religion property and community. They thought Negroes were bad Americans, slow-moving and shiftless, belonged to the wrong religion, and didn’t respect private property.

   Where we lived there were none, at all. I delivered the Cleveland Press afternoon newspaper door-to-door six days a week and collected money for it once a week. I knew the faces of who lived on our street of 90-some houses. There weren’t any black hands on my route handing me their payment of 50 cents and a tip if they wanted their rubber-banded paper to land on the front porch the following week.

   Our high school, St Joseph’s, was the same as my paper route. I might see a black face once in a blue moon, but not in any of my classes. They were the janitors. There were lots of big Catholic families in our neighborhood of North Collinwood, and they were a solid block of European stock.

   After Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and the emerging Civil Rights movement, the times were slowly changing, but it was a bumpy change. Integration meant ill will and uproar. There had been a couple of incidents at Collinwood High School, a few miles southwest of us, the year before. “With the passage of each year, the western fringes of the Collinwood area are being occupied by the Negro overflow from Glenville,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the morning paper.

   The Five Points riot happened four years later. Four hundred white students and their friends milling around Collinwood High in the morning started throwing rocks, smashing more than 50 windows. The 200 newly enfranchised colored students attending the school fled to the third-floor cafeteria. When the mob stormed into the building the Negroes blocked the stairs to the third floor with tables and chairs, breaking off the legs to arm themselves. Cleveland police from the 3rd, 4th and 5th Districts poured in, forming a cordon to keep the whites from attacking the blacks who were boarding buses. 

   “Always be careful around them,” my mother said, meaning Negroes. “They might have a knife.”

   My mother and father believed African Americans went nuts at the drop of a hat. I took my parents at their word. It was always touch-and-go messing with their point-of-view. They survived three invasions while growing up in Lithuania, were in Germany during the convulsive last months of the Third Reich, emigrated to North America with just about nothing except willpower, and worked their way up to be tax-paying property-owning Republicans in the New World. They were short-tempered about anybody questioning their beliefs.

   Once, goofing around, I said, “And in this corner, still undefeated, my mom and dad’s long-held beliefs.” That was a big mistake, especially since they were within earshot.

   Hough was a powder keg the summer of 1966. Downtown was white, University Circle to the east was white, and in the middle was Hough, which was black. The housing was substandard and overcrowded. The area stores were crappy and overcharged for their wares. The cops were surly about who they were serving and protecting. When the race riot got rolling, there was rock throwing, looting, arson, and some gunfire. Four people were killed, all four of them Negroes. Two were caught in crossfires, one was killed by a white passerby while waiting at a bus stop, and one was shot by a Little Italy man who said it was self-defense. More than 30 were injured, close to 300 were arrested, and 240-some fires were set. There was an estimated $2 million in property damage, homes burned to the ground, most of them in Hough. 

   Philip Yarish’s grandmother, born at the turn of the century in Lithuania, was upset and wanted to go home to “my own place,” her home on White Ave. north of Hough Ave. She was staying with the family for the duration. The big houses all around her small house had all been made into boarding houses. It was overcrowded, but what could anybody do short on hard cash?

   Real family income rose rapidly in the 1960s. From 1960 to 1970, median family income, adjusted for inflation, rose to $20,939 from $15,637. It did, at least, if you were white. It didn’t if you were Negro. It went the other way.

   “It is a stark reality that the black communities are becoming more and more economically depressed,” Bayard Rustin wrote in 1966. “There has been almost no change or change for the worse in the daily lives of most blacks,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote in 1967. “Although it is true that the income of middle-class Negroes has risen somewhat, the income of the great mass of Negroes is declining,” Martin Duberman wrote in 1968.

   You can only do so much with less. It’s smooth sailing when there’s money in the piggybank. It’s a hard slog when the piggybank has been smashed to pieces. Living on bits and pieces is bitter and maddening.

   “The white man is reaping what he has sown. He is learning you can’t push people around. The trouble is here because the white man won’t treat the black man right,” the owner of a barber shop in Hough said. 

   A grand jury later concluded that the Communist Party, outside agitators, and black nationalists organized the haphazard uprising, but the finding was laughed off. No Communists had been seen in Cleveland for years and not even outside agitators nor black nationalists wanted to be caught dead in Hough, fearing for their safety.

   An angry crowd started a big fire at Cedar Ave. and E. 106th St. at the start of the weekend, burning down most of a block of stores, but that was the high and low point of the disturbance. Life in the ghetto returned to normal on Sunday and the next day merchants started reopening. The National Guard was released from duty. Val and I went back to work mid-week.

   From where we stood on the grounds of Mt. Sinai Hospital, it looked like nothing had happened. But there were two Cleveland Police cars parked at the front, and one near the back, that whole week. There had always been police cars around the hospital, but those three stayed around the clock.

   Nobody talked much about the riot, except to say, “those spades are crazy.” My parents and their friends said, “it’s a damned shame about the parade.” Val and I shouldered on for another two-some weeks. When the project was done, we were sent out to Bratenahl, mowing lawns for the millionaires who lived in the east side lakeside mansions.

   Our last day, which was payday and Friday, driving home on Liberty Blvd, the Cultural Gardens looking great in the full summer sun, Val said, “Have you noticed there isn’t an African American garden?”

   “No,” I said.

   “They were some of the first immigrants, not that they wanted to come here, but still, you would think there would be a garden for them, especially since this is all in their neighborhood.”

   “I guess so,” I said.

    Val was five years older and wiser than me. He was going to an east coast college, majoring in philosophy. He wore his hair long. Some Lithuanians called him a dirty hippie, even though he worked like a sharecropper.

   The idea of building a garden for Cleveland’s colored community was brought up in 1961 by Cleveland councilman Leo Jackson. He proposed a “Negro Cultural Garden.”  The mayor supported the proposal, but it was voted down by his finance committee. In 1968 the idea came back, including a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been assassinated that year, to stand in the middle of it. Nothing came of the comeback until 1976, when Congressman Louis Stokes brought it to life again. Ground for the garden was broken and dedicated in 1977, but the project remained unfinished until 2016, almost forty years later.

   When we turned off Liberty Blvd., curving onto the entrance ramp to I-90, Val punched the spunky Valiant’s push buttons through its gears, and we rode the current of rush hour traffic back to North Collinwood. The weekend was tomorrow. We were both ready as could be.

   “I’m glad to be going home,” I said.

   “It’s shelter from the storm, man,” Val said.

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

Full Steam Ahead

By Ed Staskus

   I hadn’t seen my bootleg niece for three or four years. When she unexpectedly showed up the first week of Lent, I thought we might get together. She had always been a hard girl to get close to, opinionated and stubborn. But I thought I would try to catch up to what she had been doing. When two weeks went by, and it still hadn’t happened, I stopped in to see my sister, where Silvija was staying in her old bedroom. But it still didn’t happen. She relayed a message down to me that she had a touch of COVID that day but would see me in a day-or-two.

   “She says she’s had COVID several times,” my sister said. “Both times it lasted for months. She says she’s hugely sensitive to it and that she can tell when anybody else has it.”

   “That’s unusual,” I said. “How can she tell?”

   “She senses it.”

   Silvy’s senses were on high alert. She had her own key so she could come and go as she pleased, even though she hardly went anywhere. She was careful as could be. She spent most of her time on the second floor in a room by herself with a laptop. She didn’t like anybody knocking. She said she was studying for her next computer programming job interview. She subscribed to Netflix to fill the rest of the time.

   After a day-or-two went by and I hadn’t seen her I thought it might be in a week or-two. After a week-or two I thought it might be in the unforeseeable future.

  “How long is Silvy staying in town?” I asked my sister.

   “I don’t know but I hope she leaves soon. She is creeping me out,” she said.

   “That is creepy, your light was on in your room even though I had turned it off, and I kept hearing strange noises. Someone else somehow had to have been in the house. It looked like some objects were moved as well. I feel super creeped out if it wasn’t you. I’ve been keeping the front and back door looked with the deadbolt when I’m home.  I always lock the doors. Even taking Vilka out to go potty in the backyard I lock the door behind me.”

   Vilka was Silvy’s’s dog. The dog was a Tamaskan. She got her from a breeder eight years earlier when the dog was 10 weeks old. Her name in Lithuanian means wolf. She was big and friendly enough but scared of her own shadow. 

   “I had an issue with stalking and people breaking and entering my apartment ever since I did that military project. I assumed it was staff coming in unannounced and made complaints to management and even filed a police report. They did nothing. I caught maintenance coming in once. There was no maintenance there. It is a form of harassment and against the law. Maybe we should get some hidden cameras.”

   “She seems to be in the weeds. How did she decide to visit you?” I asked.

   “I don’t know, she just showed up. She doesn’t have an apartment, or a job, so I don’t know what to do with her.”

   “What about Algis?”

   Al was my sister’s ex-husband. He had been a policeman in Lithuania, a roofer when they got married, and was now a long-haul trucker. He worked and lived in his 18-wheeler. He had tried to convince his daughter to share an apartment with him in Texas, so he would have somewhere to stay for a few days every month, where he could wash his clothes, sleep in his own bed, and plug into some R & R, but she said no.

   “They can’t be in the same room for long before they start screaming at each other,” my sister said.

   Silvy was born in Alytus, Lithuania in the early 1990s to my brother-in-law Al and his then wife Asta. When they divorced Al met my sister on a flight from Europe to the United States. She was a travel agent and was going home to Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Al was on his way to New Jersey where his estranged wife had emigrated. He couldn’t get back together with her but got together with my sister. While they were married Al, Silvy, and my sister lived in Lakewood, Ohio, on a quiet tree-lined street in an old-school neighborhood. When she was a teenager, she attended Lakewood High School.

   “I don’t feel safe. On top of the non-stop cyber-attacks, I have been living in hell for years from abuse, stalking, harassment, and sabotage. It has been a constant nightmare. It has destroyed my work, my finances, and so many other aspects of my life. I have spent $15,000 on new electronics in three years because of people installing malware and viruses on my devices and remotely controlling my computers and phones. I have been given wrong directions from my GPS directing me straight into oncoming traffic on a one- way street.”

   While she was in high school, she played rugby, playing scrum-half and fly-half. She was fast and quick on the pitch. Her last year the team won all their regular season games. They scrimmaged against both Kent State and Ashland University. They beat them both. They placed second at the Midwest Rugby Tournament and qualified for the Nationals, where they were ranked second in the nation.

   Silvy hurt her knee during the Midwest Rugby Tournament. She dragged herself off the pitch. She was still limping after a trainer wrapped her knee but insisted on going back into the game. She could hardly walk much less run, but she was worked up about winning.

   “She was a difficult friend, hard to get along with,” Courtney her next-door neighbor and rugby teammate said. “She was nosy and jealous.”

   Silvy went to summer camp on Wasaga Beach in Canada with my niece Katie, who was more-or-less her cousin, who lived right around the corner and who went to the same high school, every summer for seven years. “She couldn’t get along with her,” my sister said. “She wouldn’t be friends with Katie’s friends and finally didn’t even want to be in the same cabin as her.”

   She went to Miami University, majoring in psychology and zoology. While there she collaborated on the study “Biodirectional Effects of Positive Affect, Warmth, and Interactions between Mothers With and Without Symptoms of Depression and Their Toddlers” published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. She found a boyfriend, Dean, with whom she connected and with whom she traveled far and wide to raves and electronic dance music festivals. The lights were bright and the exclamation marks emphatic. She danced up a storm. In the meantime, she went back to school, earning a third degree in computer science. 

   “People corrupted my computer and prevented me from being able to interview by changing settings or preventing me from downloading a compatible browser. They have installed malformed certificates so the browser would not connect to the internet. All sorts of stuff like that for years. Non-stop abuse and attacks. Every single day I’m dealing with these things. I already had to return my new laptop. My phone currently has erratic behavior.”

   After she got done with her binary studies she worked as a software engineer for a year in Piscataway, New Jersey, five months in Windsor, Connecticut, and six months in Hartford, Connecticut, before landing in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she worked for about a year. By the time she came back to Lakewood she hadn’t been working for some six months. She was living on her credit cards and living out of her car. Dean her one-time boyfriend had long since disconnected. The raves were behind her. She still had her dog, but she was a fish out of water.

   “It has all caused so much depression. I have wanted to kill myself several times in the last three years because of all the abuse. Every time I made a police report or filed a report to the FBI Cybercrimes Division nothing came of it. I have lost over $150,000.00 from all of this in wage losses, property damage, job loss, and having to use credit cards to get by.”

   She was more than $30,000.00 in the hole with her credit cards and more than $60,000.00 in the hole with her student loans.

   “My browser constantly gives the wrong info. When I am studying or working my code compilation returns incorrect results regularly. The people responsible deserve to rot in jail or die. Not die, but still. Just finished meditating and I feel way less stressed. I guess the silver lining is that I am aware of what is happening to many other people and have experience with these kinds of situations. Perhaps at some point that will give me the power to create change in a corrupt system.”

   “Is she still a vegan?” I asked my sister.

   Silvy had gone emphatically vegan while at Miami University, losing weight and losing arguments about the viability of eating animal protein, although a glow of virtue lit up her face whenever veganism and animal rights came up in talk around campus.

   “No, she cooks pork chops for Vilka and herself every morning.”

   My brother invited Silvy to dinner at his house, but it didn’t come to anything.

   “I would love to, but I might get an urge to assault Katie for the things she has done in the metaverse, so I better pass this time. I don’t feel like entertaining shitty actors or scripted conversations. I refuse to be a victim for the rest of my life. I am not a project. Super appreciate you thinking about me, though.”

   One day my sister was driving down her street when she saw a flock of fire trucks in front of her house. One of the smoke detectors had started beeping and Silvy had called the Lakewood Fire Department saying that the house was burning down. When my sister dashed up the driveway to find out what was happening, the firemen told her nothing was happening.  

   “Your smoke detectors are on the old side. One of them was signaling that it needed to be replaced. I suggest you replace all of them.”

   “I don’t get why fire fighters say there is no smoke when there is. I smelled smoke and felt dizzy and couldn’t think. I checked the oven, stove, the outlets, but could not find the source so I called 911. What did I do wrong here? I have had the same issues at other places I have lived at. In Connecticut the fire fighters told me there was nothing there, too, when I had symptoms of CO poisoning and no alarm went off. It’s like a psych game. It is gas lighting the individual to not feel confident in their experience of reality. I don’t need smoke detectors. I don’t need people telling me I’m crazy or schizophrenic when that is not the case. I need people to stop gas lighting me.”

   The day came when Silvy had to go, one way or another. She wasn’t paying her share of anything and was being bossy and disruptive. The techno was out of whack. When she left, she left her dog behind, although she took the dog’s bed with her.

   “I left her with someone I thought would look out for her best interests since I have no way to take care of her with nonstop cyber-attacks and nanorobotics controlling me and throwing programmed errors at me hundreds of times a day. I’m sorry for adding a burden to you. I have tried everything I could think of for three years to escape being targeted. I’ve moved states four times, switched jobs four times, tried to lay low and see if it would stop. I tried resisting and suffered a brain injury. I don’t know what else to tell you. I did everything I could think of, and it wasn’t good enough. I’m completely sane and aware. I’m not depressed. I simply refuse to be controlled by a corrupt system and insane people willing to do anything for a few bucks. If my life is not my own, it is no one’s.”

   My sister already had a cat and two dogs. She called Silvy immediately and insisted she come back and pick up her dog. “I can’t have another dog in the house, much less an 80-pound dog,” she said. By the time she came back my sister had changed the locks and wouldn’t let her inside the house. She brought the dog to the side door. 

   “Go,” she said, pointing in all directions.

   Silvy kicked up a fuss in the driveway but was gone soon enough when she realized nobody was watching listening paying attention. It was Easter Saturday. The next day was resurrection day. “I want people to listen to me, believe me, and help me solve the issues and attacks I’m experiencing so I can keep my job and be able to afford a home for Vilka and me. She deserves better, but I don’t have a way of providing better.”

   A week after she left Lakewood, I heard she made it to San Diego and was boarding in an Airbnb with access to a kitchen and a backyard. Vilka was glad to be out of the car, 2,500 miles later, even if it had been wagon’s ho. Silvy’s father was paying the going rate, although she was fluffing her own pillows. She had gotten a sizable tax return and was bringing home double pack pork chops. There were few weeds in the neighborhood despite the abundant sunshine. 

   Ohio has more than its fair share of noxious weeds, given its damp midwestern climate, including giant hogweed, purple loosestrife, and mile-a-minute weed. Southern California dreaming is more like the home of invasive weeds, but since it is manicured buffed polished, unless they are stubborn, they don’t usually stand much of a chance.

   The last word I got about the gone girl was from Katie on Mother’s Day, who said she saw her on a social media site attending a yippie yi yay modern music fest out in the call of the west. She wasn’t from around those parts, but she was staking her claim and grooving to her own beat.

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

Pulling Up Stakes

By Ed Staskus

   Hal Schaser was born in July 1931, in Cleveland, Ohio. His mother Agnes and his father Mathias were Saxons from Transylvania, where they married in 1929. His father was a minister’s son, and his mother was a local beauty. The Great Depression was making a hard life after the Great War harder. They emigrated to the United States. Baby Hal got free passage traveling unseen in his mother’s belly. 

   In time three more children rounded out the family, his younger brother Willie, and younger stepsisters Suzanne and Joanne. The family dog was the youngest and went by Buddy. He was everybody’s friend.

   “My grandparents got married in the town of Hamlish in Romania, which Transylvania was a part of,” said Vanessa, Hal’s daughter. “One of my great grandfathers was a minister who kept horses and grew grapes for wine.” The church was built for worship and battle both, the bastions protection against marauding foreign armies. “My other great grandfather was the local banker.” Their children were second cousins. The banker bought wine from the minister for his table.

   Hal attended Cleveland public schools, graduating from East Technical in 1949. He acted in historical pageants while in high school and through the 1950s was often seen on stage at Karamu and the Chagrin Little Theater. “It was how I met gals,” he said. He met his wife-to-be at Karamu. 

   “The first thing I noticed was that he looked like Paul Newman,” Terese Stasas said. “I liked that right away.”

   Mathias Schaser opened a corner grocery store on the near west side of Cleveland. Two years later, two days after the birth of his second son, he was robbed and shot by two young stick-up men. He was pulling overtime after visiting his wife and newborn. “You mustn’t stay here any longer,” Agnes told him. “You go back to the store. We will need to have more money now.”

   He was pronounced dead the next day in the same hospital where his wife was still nursing their son. Twenty-three years later the two by now middle-aged stick-up men were paroled from the Ohio State Penitentiary.

   “I taught my sons to be forgiving, not bitter,” Agnes said in 1955. “We got along all right. They started delivering newspapers when they were ten. They finished high school, although they always worked at a bakery and other places around the neighborhood. I have a happy life with my children. I hope those two men can find jobs and become good citizens.”

   She remarried after her first husband’s murder, but her second husband died of a heart attack a few years later. She never married again, raising four children on her own, mostly on a Mother’s Pension, which was $90.00 a month.

   “My pop’s stepfather passed on when he was 7 years old,” Vanessa said. “His mother was a devout Lutheran and she instilled in them Christian values, which our pop carried with him all his life. He may not have been religious all his life, but he knew his Bible. He drove his mother to church every Sunday until the day she died.”

   “He grew up a true city kid through and through,” said Matt, Hal’s son. “He built and raced in the soap box derby, walked with friends to baseball games at League Park, and trained and sparred at his local gym.”

   “He was no dead-end kid, though,” Vanessa said. “When violin lessons were ordered by his mother, he endured them with grace.” Grown up he put the violin down and took up the guitar, playing the backbeat tunes Cleveland’s DJ the Moon Dog was making popular.

   Hal survived the East Ohio Gas explosion in their neighborhood in October 1944, when a tank containing liquid natural gas equivalent to 90 million cubic feet blew up, setting off the most disastrous fire in Cleveland’s history. Hundreds of homes churches and businesses were engulfed by a tidal wave of fire. His mother saved their house, a mile away from the blast, by spraying it with a garden hose until the water pressure gave out.

   “I was walking home from school and the blast almost knocked me off my feet,” he said. “It was like all at once the sky blew up with thunder balls.” Buddy ran inside and stayed in the basement for a week.

   Hal boxed as a teenager, training at gyms on the near east side, reaching the finals in his class at the Golden Gloves tournament held at the Cleveland Arena. He served in the United States Army during the Korean War as an artilleryman in a front-line battalion and later as a spotter. “Spotting was a suicide mission,” one of his friends who fought in the Vietnam War said. “If the other guys didn’t get you, your own guys would. How he made it home alive, I don’t know.”

   During one mortar and howitzer firefight his radioman was wounded. He carried him to safety. He had a grudging respect for the courage of Chinese soldiers. “No matter what we hit them with, they always kept coming,” he said. “We couldn’t kill the son-of-a-guns fast enough.”

   He gave up fighting after coming home, going to work for Palmer Bearings, working closely with the city’s steel and automobile industries. He often lunched with clients at the Theatrical on Short Vincent, meeting many city leaders, celebrities, businessmen, and gangsters.

   “He became Vice President of Sales where his smile and enthusiasm for life and helping others was his formula for becoming a success,” Vanessa said. “Honesty and integrity led his work, something that isn’t always easy for a salesman, but it was natural to him.”

   Hal married Terese Stasas in 1959. The couple had two children, Vanessa and Matt, raising them in the Indian Hills neighborhood near South Euclid. Their backyard was the woods of the Euclid Creek Reservation. “Our mom was a ballerina, an artist, and a chef, and our pop was a boxer, a fine ice skater, and a salesman,” Vanessa said. “I think it must have been their sense of hope and freedom that attracted them to one another.”

   “He loved to read,” Matt said. “He had his favorite chair in the living room and read classics and plays after dinner. He read the newspaper in the morning.”

   His other great love, besides his family, was golf. He always traveled with clubs in his car trunk. He played with clients after work and friends on teams in city leagues. He played courses all over Ohio. Whenever he had the chance, he took short vacations to play famous links nationwide.

   “Good golf depends on strength of mind and a clean character,” he said. He didn’t shortchange the front nine or back nine. He didn’t shortchange himself.

   Hal wasn’t entirely a religious man, although he was. He had his reasons, among them the twists and turns of the game. “My prayers were never answered on golf courses,” he explained. One lesson about the divine, however, stood him in good stead. Whenever he was on a fairway and got caught in a lightning storm, he held his 1-iron up in the air. 

   “Not even God can hit a 1-iron,” he said.

   He never stopped walking golf courses, even when he played two rounds, never riding a cart, well into his 80s. “Our pop golfed ever since I knew him,” Vanessa said. “Oh, did he golf. He played with a red ball when it snowed. He loved being with people and golfing with his friends. Sometimes mom said he loved golf more than he loved us.”

   He lived alone after his wife divorced him, taking their kids with her, although he never left his children or grandchildren behind. It wasn’t any back street girl that came between husband and wife. It was Hal’s career and the golf monkey on his back. After becoming a single man again, he ate like a buck private and stayed fit into his later years. He lived in Euclid and afterwards for 25 years in Lakewood, across the street from St. Ed’s High School.

   “I always loved my kids, no matter what,” he said.

   In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election Hal fell in love with Donald Trump. He started wearing a veteran’s cap, saying bad things about immigrants, denigrating blacks and Jews, and talking down anybody young who demonstrated against anything. He decried the federal government as a conspiratorial deep state and stuck his fork in the scrambled eggs of QAnon. 

   He believed the new boss man was battling a cabal of Democratic Party pedophiles and only he could get the job done. Only the President was dirty enough to do the dirty work, no matter that POTUS didn’t know one end of a pop gun from another, since he thought khaki was for suckers whenever target practice was mentioned.

   He watched Tucker Carlson on FOX. He reckoned the newsman’s idea of unvaccinated people getting fake vaccine cards to avoid mandates was a good idea. “Buying a fake vaccination card is an act of desperation by decent, law-abiding Americans who have been forced into a corner by tyrants,” the FOX man said. Hal refused to be vaccinated the first time, the second time, and didn’t even bother thinking about the booster shot. He didn’t know where to get a bogus card. He called Tucker Carlson, but the line was busy. He left a message, although he never heard back from America’s Voice of Grievance.

   Hal put his golf clubs away and kept them away, while POTUS went golfing in Scotland. Saving America from itself became his passion. It was a fire that burnt bright.

   When Rush Limbaugh died from lung cancer, after smoking stogies for decades and sounding off that cancer was a notion, and Dan Bongino took over, he stopped listening to Rush and started listening to Dan. When Rush had said wearing a mask to protect society from COVID was a conspiracy against the freedom-loving and God-fearing, Hal paid attention and never wore a mask, unless the grocery he was trying to get into denied him entry without one. An empty stomach usually trumps ideology. When Dan took up the mantra that the mask was Democratic BS, he gave Dan a thumbs up, but didn’t stop going masked man grocery shopping. 

   “My brother and I asked him to wear a mask every time we saw him,” Vanessa said. They asked him to get vaccinated, but he wouldn’t do it. He said there was something untrustworthy about the vaccines. He had heard Bill Gates was putting nefarious things into the shots.

   “I told him he had to wear a mask when visiting the kids, or he couldn’t visit them,” Matt said.

   Whether they knew it or not the right-wing radio poohbahs Hal listened to were playing with fire. Ranting and raving about unwed mothers and welfare cheats and the half-dozen voters who cheated is one thing. Ranting and raving about pandemics is another thing. It can be hazardous to life and limb conflating the two. Unwed mothers are not nearly as dangerous as man-eating viruses.

   “I’m Mr. Anti-Vax,” Marc Bernier told the listeners of his talk radio program. After the first vaccines were approved, he declared the federal government and the CDC were “acting like Nazis” in urging people to get vaccinated. The Nazis rolled over in their graves and died laughing. Six months later the whacky broadcaster died of COVID. So did Jimmy DeYoung, a nationally syndicated Christian radio preacher, and Dick Farrel, a talking head for Newsmax TV.

   They lived by crying wolf, screaming their lungs out, and died when they couldn’t breathe anymore.

   Hal played with fire for almost two years. He got burnt towards the end of the year and by the morning after New Year’s Day could barely walk. Vanessa and Matt tried for a week after Christmas to get him to go to Fairview Hospital, but he refused. He said he felt fine, even though he looked terrible. He had a kitchen cabinet full of supplements snake oilers had been selling him to combat COVID, but the mystery pills had suddenly lost their magic.

   Matt called 911 the day after New Year’s and paramedics took Hal to Fairview Hospital. Only one person at a time once a day could visit him. When Vanessa or Matt visited him, they had to wear bio-hazard bunny suits and masks. One day Hal felt good, and the next day felt bad. He complained about being brainwashed. He tried to walk out. He refused to take his medication. The nurses gave it to their patient, anyway, making sure he took it. One day after three weeks in the hospital he said he was feeling terrific. The next day he suffered a stroke and died three days later.

   Two weeks later a small memorial service was held for him in the Rocky River Memorial Hall. His grandson played a French children’s song on the baby grand piano and his granddaughter played “Amazing Grace.” A bugler played “Taps.”

   Vanessa and Matt said a few words. 

   “He supported animal charities, valued his friends, and loved his children and grandchildren, watching them laugh and enjoying their creativity and joy,” Vanessa said. “I’ll never forget an early childhood memory of my feet on top of his while we waltzed to records in the living room.”

   Bob his Vietnam War friend said a few words, too. “He was part of our group at McDonald’s for coffee every morning. He was the only Republican among us, so there were plenty of disagreements, but he was a great guy, the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. They don’t make them like Hal anymore.”

   The next day his golfing buddies saluted him with their 1-irons held high to Heaven. Nobody got struck by lightning. Hal was watching over them.

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

Taylor Swift Flips Out

By Ed Staskus

   By 1984 many bands had strutted their stuff at the Palace on the Prairie in Richfield, Ohio. They included Led Zeppelin in 1975, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band in 1978, the Rolling Stones in 1981, and Queen in 1982. Frank Sinatra opened the Richfield Coliseum with a show in October 1974 and The Who’s Roger Daltrey gone solo closed the doors twenty years later.

   “The crisscross of lights, mirroring the animation of 21,000 stylish people packed from floor to roof, transformed the gray amphitheater in the hills of Richfield Township into a huge first-night bouquet of green and blue,” is how The Cleveland Plain Dealer splashed ‘Ol Blue Eye’s show across its front page. I called him Slacksey because no matter what his slacks were always neatly pressed. In 1994 Roger Daltrey’s performance drew fewer than 5,000 fans. Nobody wrote a word about it or how he was dressed.

   Over the years there were more than a hundred concerts at the Richfield Coliseum. Even Elvis and Bob Dylan got into the groove. The Bee Gees drove girls to screaming crying pleading in 1979.

   Vann Halen opened for Black Sabbath in 1978 and came back as headliners in 1984. When they did, they had to sit on their hands waiting for ice to melt. Walt Disney’s “Magic Kingdom on Ice” had just left the building. When Van Halen came to town it was the one and only time I saw the band and the one and only time I went to a show at the Richfield Coliseum. 

   It wasn’t that I didn’t go to rock ‘n roll shows. It was that the few I went to were closer to home, like at the Allen Theatre, the Agora, and the Engineer’s Hall, where it was standing room only. Downtown was nearby but Richfield was a long drive for my long-suffering notoriously unreliable car. Besides, I was by necessity a Scrooge. First things came first, like food and shelter. 

   I saw The Doors at the Allen Theatre in 1970, The Clash at the Agora in 1979, and the Dead Kennedys at the Engineer’s Hall in 1983. The Dead Kennedys blew into town during a heat wave. The air conditioning at the Engineer’s Hall was non-existent and there were no windows. We all sweated up a storm and stayed through the encore. Six years later the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers sold their building. It was demolished and replaced by a posh hotel. The Kennedys never came back.

   The Doors started their sold-out Friday night show in 1970 with ‘Roadhouse Blues’ ‘Break on Through’ and ‘Backdoor Man’. They did The Carter Family’s ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’. That was a surprise. They sounded better raw and live than on carefully managed vinyl. They were more than worth the five dollars for the orchestra seat ticket. Eli Radish, a local band, opened, and were fun funky, but all through their set everybody was antsy waiting for Jim Morrison.

   “He worked the crowd with his staring sneers and sexy leather posing, witch doctor mumbling and general slouching about,” said Jim Brite, who was in the crowd. “The lighting and sound were dramatic. The band was great, with extended solos and workmanlike professionalism, delivering the music behind the Shaman. No one could take their eyes off Jim. It was one of the best concerts I saw, and I’ll never forget it.”

   The Doors had been banned from performing in Cincinnati and Dayton the year before. They were kicked out of Miami for Jim Morrison’s obscene language and lewd behavior. None of it mattered to the 3,000 of us filling every seat.

   “Jim Morrison swigged beer and smiled a lot between numbers,” Dick Wooten wrote in The Cleveland Press. “When he performs, he closes his eyes, cups his hand over his right ear, and clutches the mike. His voice is pleasant, but his style also involves shouts and screams that hammer your nervous system.”

   When it was over, we whistled roared clapped until the house lights came on. We were disappointed there was no encore but what could we say. Everybody was getting to their feet when suddenly Jim Morrison came back on stage. “Somebody stole my leather jacket. Thanks a lot Cleveland!” He flipped us the finger. “Nobody leaves until I get it back!” The dirty look bikers at the front of the stage jogged to the back of the hall and blocked the doors. When I looked, Jim Morrison had left the stage, but then a minute later came back.

   “Sorry, that was a mistake. I found it.” 

   He said the band wanted to play some more, but John Densmore’s hands were messed up. He was the group’s drummer. The beat couldn’t go on without the beat.

   “The drummer was walking backstage and holding up his hands which seemed bloody in the creases of his fingers,” said Skip Heil, the drummer for Eli Radish. “I felt all warmed up since we played before them, so I said I’ll do it. I wasn’t sure of the songs, but I thought they were simple shuffles. Afterwards, Jim was accidentally locked in the old funky bathroom and one of the roadies came and said, ‘Stand back Jim.’ He proceeded to smash the door in to set him free.”

   Jim Morrison died in Paris the next year and the doors shut forever on the band.

   The Richfield Coliseum was an arena in Richfield Township in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Akron and Cleveland. It was built to be the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the local NBA team, although indoor soccer, indoor football, and hockey were played there, too. Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics said it was his favorite place to shoot hoops. He played his last pro game there. Muhammed Ali made ground beef out of Chuck Wepner there in 1975. Dave Jones, Ali’s nutritionist, was always trying to get the boxer to try soy burgers, but he had to have his red meat. There were rodeos and monster trucks. There were high wire acts and hallelujah choruses. The WWF Survivor Series came and went and came back.

   I had a friend who had gotten tickets to see Van Halen. Two other friends of ours went with us but had to fork over $10.75 apiece for the privilege. My passage was on the house, since it was the night of my birthday. I didn’t know much about the band, except that they were no doubt about it flat out loud as all get out, but free is free and since I had free time I went. 

   The rock ‘n rollers were from Pasadena California. They were Eddie Van Halen on guitar, Eddie’s brother Alex Van Halen on drums, Michael Anthony on bass, and David Lee Roth belting it out up front. Michael Anthony sang back-up while keeping the low pitch going.  “It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth Van Halen record that people would go, Wow! You’re singing backgrounds on those records. That’s not David Lee Roth,” he said. “And I go, Hell, no! That’s not David Lee Roth.”

   Everybody said they were “restoring hard rock to the forefront of the music scene,” whatever that meant. I was listening to lots of Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker and the Balfa Brothers. The rock ‘n roll parade was largely passing me by.

    Everybody also said Van Halen’s live shows were crazy energetic and Eddie Van Halen was a crazy virtuoso on the electric guitar. During the show he switched guitars right and left, but more-or-less stuck to a Stratocaster and a Kramer, except it wasn’t exactly a Stratocaster. Eddie Van Halen called it a Frankenstrat.

   “I wanted a Fender vibrato and a Stratocaster body style with a humbucker in it, and it did not exist,” he said. “People looked at me like I was crazy when I said that’s what I want. Where could I go to have someone make me one? Well, no one would, so I built one myself.”

   His homemade six-string was almost ten years old, made of odds and ends, a two-piece maple neck stuck onto a Stratocaster-style body. He used a chisel to gouge a hole in the body where he stuck a humbucking pickup out of a 1958 Gibson. He used black electrical tape to wrap up the loose ends and a can of red spray paint to get the look he wanted.

   When he met Kramer Guitar boss Dennis Berardi in 1982 Eddie showed him his Frankenstrat. It was his prize possession. “We went up to his house and he got it out,” Dennis said. “It looked like something you’d throw in the garbage. But that was his famous guitar.” 

   Van Halen released their first LP in 1978. By 1982 they had released four more. When they came to Cleveland, they were one of the most successful rock acts of the day, if not the most successful. Their album “1984” sold 10 million copies and generated four hit singles. “Jump” jumped the charts to become a number one single.

   When the lights went down and the stage lights went up, the band took their spots. Eddie Van Halen wore tiger striped camo pants and a matching open jacket over no shirt. He wore a white bandana, and his hair long. Michael Anthony wore a dark short-sleeved shirt and red pants. He wore his hair long, too. David Lee Roth wore a sleeveless vest, leather pants ripped and stitched in all ways, and hula hoop bracelets on his wrists. He wore his hair even longer. Alex Van Halen wore a headband, and it was all I could see of him behind his Wall of Drums. There were speakers galore stacked on top of each other on both sides of the drum set.

   When they launched into “Running with the Devil” Michael Anthony ran across the stage and slid on his knees playing the opening notes. David Lee Roth was a wild man, swinging a sword around like Zorro and doing acrobatics like Kurt Thomas. He did kicks over Michael Anthony’s head and jumped over the drums while singing “Jump.”

   In the middle of one song, he stopped singing. The band played on but slowly dropped out, one instrument at a time. “I say fuck the show, let’s all go across the street and get drunk,” David Lee Roth shouted into his handheld microphone. The crowd hooted hollered cheered, forgetting for a moment they were at the Palace on the Prairie and the closest bar was miles away. One of the best parts of the show was when Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony did a long bass and drum duet.

   Eddie Van Halen did some good work on keyboards, doing the opener for “I’ll Wait” but did his best work on his guitars. He had a way of playing with two hands on the fretboard. He learned it from Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. “I think I got the idea of tapping watching him do his “Heartbreaker” solo back in 1971. He was doing a pull-off to an open string, and I thought wait a minute, open string and pull off? I can do that, but what if I use my finger as the nut and move it around? I just kind of took it and ran with it.”

   He filed for and got a patent for a device that attaches to the back of an electric guitar. It allows the musician to employ the tapping technique by playing the guitar like a piano with the face upward instead of forward.

   Most of us stayed in our seats during the show, only coming to our feet to applaud, but there was a crowd squished like sardines at the front of the stage, where they stayed from beginning to end. It was loud enough where we were up near the rafters. It had to be mind-blowing being at the jaw lip of the speakers.

   By the time the show ended Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth had long since stripped off their shirts. It took a half hour to shuffle out of the arena, a half hour to find our car, and another half hour to inch the traffic jam the half mile to the highway. My hearing came back somewhere along I-271 on the way home.

   After the show I went back to listening to the blues and zydeco accordion. I didn’t rush out to buy any records by Van Halen. My dog and neighbors would probably have complained about the noise.

   Five years later, what seems to have happened after the excitement of being pushed into existence died down, one afternoon when her mom was in the kitchen and the cradle stopped rocking, Taylor Swift took a sneak peek at a film clip on MTV of the 1984 concert at the Richfield Coliseum. She almost flipped out of her manger. She made a vow then and there that she would do the sure thing. She wasn’t going to invite 20,000 fans to hit the bottle. There was barely enough for her.

   The first thing she would do when she was ready and able to sing her way to stardom was head to Nashville. It would be a baby step, but she had her sights set. It was going to be the hillbilly highway all the way to my way. She was sure as shooting not going to strum a Frankenstrat or bust out any hard rock moves, with or without a sword, neither wearing a shirt nor shirtless.

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

When Hell Freezes Over

By Ed Staskus

   “The Hells Angels are so much aware of their mad-dog reputation that they take a perverse kind of pleasure in being friendly.”  Hunter S. Thompson

   When Frank Glass pulled his Hyundai into the back lot of Barron Cannon’s pop-up yoga class, on the border of Lakewood and Cleveland, Ohio, getting out with his rolled-up mat under his arm, he was brought up short by a fleet of Harley Davidson motorcycles parked outside the door. Inside, he peeked into the practice space, where a mob of muscled-up bare-chested men was in awkward cross-legged poses on rental mats. The denim vests and jackets hanging on coat hooks bore the Hells Angels colors and moniker, red lettering displayed on a white background.

   The bikers are sometimes called “The Red and White.” They are also known as “The Filthy Few.” Inside the club house among themselves they are “The Club.”

   The Angels are the best known of what are known as outlaw motorcycle gangs. The name comes from the P-40 squadrons of Flying Tigers who flew in Burma and China during World War Two. The pilots were known as “Hells Angels” because the combat missions they flew were dangerous courageous literally death-defying.

   Skulls scowled from the middle of the back of the biker vests and jackets.

   Frank took a seat, instead of taking the class, seeing he was late for it, anyway, and the room was full. He might as well, he thought, read the book he was halfway through, and go to lunch with Barron, as they had planned, when the class was over. The book he was reading on his iPhone was David Halberstam’s “The Fifties.” Even though the Hells Angels were formed at the turn of the decade, and ran riot in the 1950s, there wasn’t anything about them in the book.

   Yoga in the United States got going in the same decade, although it didn’t run riot. It kept a low profile until the next decade, the 1960s, when hippies made the scene, and adopted yoga as one of their motifs. Even so, from then until now as yoga has grown exponentially, it has never run riot.

   The Hells Angels and yoga have diametrically opposing outlooks on duty focus liberty life in general. The bikers are noted for violence, brawling, and fighting with fists pipes guns. They are notorious for being ruthless. They will cut the legs out from under you at the slightest provocation. One of the legs yoga stands on is ahimsa, or non-violence. Yoga stands up for its own values but doesn’t go out of its way to chop anyone else down to size.

   When the class ended the Hells Angels filed out of the studio. It had only been them in Barron Cannon’s morning class. They slugged back bottled water, toweled off, and got back into their denims and Red Wings.

   “I’ll be damned if that was a beginner’s class,” one of them said.

   The biker standing next to him, his bald mottled head glistening, said, “That was a hell of a workout.”

   “Workout?” another one exclaimed. “That was some kind of a torture.”

   The Hells Angels are the biggest biker gang in the world. There are 444 chapters on six continents. They are banned in some countries, like the Netherlands, where they have been labeled as a “menace to public order.” The Angels don’t give a fig about the Dutch, so it’s a wash. 

   There are only a few requirements for becoming a Hells Angel. First, you have to have a driver’s license and a seriously badass motorcycle, preferably a chopped Harley Davison. Second, you have to ride it a minimum of 12,000 miles a year. Third, if you were ever a policeman, or even ever thought of being a policeman, you cannot join the club. Fourth, you have to undergo a semi-secret initiation, resulting in being “patched.” Being patched is like getting tenured at a university. Lastly, you have to be a man, and a renegade, to boot, no women allowed.

   It’s best to be a white man when applying for membership.

   In 2000, Sonny Barger, one of the sparkplugs of the gang, said, “if you’re a motorcycle rider and you’re white, you want to join the Hells Angels. If you’re black, you want to join the Dragons. That’s how it is whether anyone likes it or not. We don’t have no blacks and they don’t have no whites.” When asked if that might ever change, he answered, “Anything can change. I can’t predict the future.” He was being sarcastic.

   As many Hells Angels as there are, there are many more folks who practice yoga, about 300 million worldwide. It’s easy to do, too. You don’t need a $20 thousand-dollar two-wheeler, you don’t need to ride it all day and night, and there are no initiation rites, half-baked or otherwise. You can be whatever race creed color gender you want to be. You don’t have to be amoral bloodthirsty ungovernable, either, although yoga is good for resolving those problems.

   “What did you say?” asked one of the Hells Angels.

   “Who, me?” asked Frank

   “Yes, you,” the biker said, looming over him.

   “I didn’t say anything. I’m just sitting here reading, thinking.”

   “Keep your thinking to yourself,” the Hells Angel said, stalking out of the pop-up. Some of the other bikers glared at him but left without incident. One of them gave him a friendly wave and a wink. Frank breathed a sigh of relief.

   There was a roar of 1690 and 1870 cc engines starting up in the parking lot. In a minute the bikers were swaggering down Clifton Boulevard towards downtown Cleveland. Frank had overheard one of them mention the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He wondered whether there was an exhibit commemorating the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont, where the Hells Angels had been hired to provide security, and 4 people were killed during the show.

   Barron Cannon stepped out of the studio space, wearing loose black shorts and a tight-fitting Pearl Izumi jersey. He looked cool as a cucumber. Frank jumped up.

   “What in the goddamn Sam Hill was that all about?” he asked blurting it out.

   “Missionary work,” said Barron, as unflappable and insufferable as a post-graduate in philosophy can be. Barron had a PhD, although he eschewed academics in favor of his own leanings, which were economic Marxism, idealistic anarchy, vegetarianism, and yoga. He had grown up on the other side of Lakewood, camped in a yurt in his parent’s backyard while he was in school, been briefly married, and lived in a small 80-year-old vaguely modernized apartment close by Edgewater Park, a short bike ride away.

   Barron owned a Chevy Volt, but often rode his bicycle, shopping for groceries, visiting nearby friends, and training aerobically on the multi-purpose path in the Rocky River Metropark.

   “Missionary work? What do you mean?”

   “Let’s go across the street to Starbucks, get some coffee, some wraps or egg and cheese protein boxes,” said Barron.

   Sitting down inside the Starbucks, which had transformed a vacant Burger King the year before, their food and coffee in front of them, Frank again asked Barron, “What are you up to?”

   “Off the mat into the world.”

   “The last time that came up you derided the idea, saying yoga had to stay close to the individual, close to its roots, and not try to reform the world.”

   “Times change, bud,” said Barron.

   “Trying to teach yoga to Hells Angels isn’t a hop skip and jump.”

   “No,” said Barron. “It’s a great leap forward, man.”

   Barron Cannon took secret pleasure in conflating things like the moon landing and Chairman Mao, as though the past was play dough.

   “How did it go?”

   “Not bad, they got engaged in what we were doing. I think they might follow up on the class.”

   “When hell freezes over,” thought Frank.

   Barron Cannon laughed.

   “That’s mostly true, but not entirely true,” he said. “No one is absolutely unsuited for yoga practice.”

   “Are you reading my mind?”

   “Sometimes.”

   “Are you sure they weren’t just grandstanding?”

   “If there’s anything uncertain about yoga, it’s certainty,” said Barron.

   Many law enforcement agencies worldwide consider the Hells Angels the numero uno of the “Big Four” motorcycle gangs, the others being the Pagans, Outlaws, and Bandidos. They investigate and arrest the bikers for engaging in organized crime, including extortion, drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and violent battery of all kinds. They raid their clubhouses and haul the Filthy Few off to jail.

   The police never bust up yoga studios, which are generally spic and span.

   Members of the Hells Angels say they are a group of enthusiasts who have bonded to ride motorcycles together, organizing events such as road trips, rallies, and fundraisers. They say any crimes are the responsibility of the men who committed them and not the club as a whole, despite many convictions for racketeering, riots, mayhem, and shootings.

   One of their slogans is, “When in doubt, knock ‘em out.”

   “How did you get them into the studio in the first place?”

   “I was at the Shell station up on the corner, filling up, when a Hells Angel pulled in behind me. He moved like a wooden Indian. He had to lean on the gas tank getting off his motorcycle.”

   “And you suggested yoga?” 

   “You should try yoga,” Barron said to the biker. “It’s good for your back.”

   “What the fuck?” said the biker, his arms tattooed from wrist to shoulder. “Who the hell are you?”

   “I teach yoga just down the street. You should come in for a beginner’s class. You might be surprised what a big help it can be.”

   “Fuck off,” said the biker.

   “So, what happened?” asked Frank. 

   “The next thing I knew, there they were this morning. They took over the class, one of them standing outside turning everyone else away, saying the class was full, until I got started.”

   “How did it go?”

   “They wouldn’t chant, and they didn’t want to hear much beforehand. They told me to get down to business, so what happened was that it turned into a plain and simple asana class.”

   “How did they do?”

   “They’re strong men, but most of them can’t touch their toes to save their lives. They tried hard, so I will give them that. They were terrific doing the warrior poses, but things like triangle, anything cross-legged, and some of the twists were beyond them. Most of them were stiff as boards.”

   Yoga plays an important role in reducing aggression and violence. It helps you by becoming more thoughtful about your actions. It makes you more flexible in tight spots. The brain-addled in prisons have been specifically helped by the practice.

   “Attention and impulsivity are very important for this population, which has problems dealing with aggressive impulses,” says Oxford University psychologist Miguel Farias about inmates

   Simple things like pranayama breathing techniques release tension and anger. Doing headstand is a good way to get it into your head that you can’t stay mad when you’re on your head. Mindfulness and awareness flip the misconceptions of anger.

   “We can see anger in terms of a lack of awareness, as well as an active misconstruing of reality,” says the Dalai Lama.

   Even the yoga concept of non-attachment can be a big help. No matter what patches you wear, you aren’t that patch. You are an individual who is free to make individual choices. The Hells Angel skull’s head is a reminder of the transitory nature of life. Make the most of it. Don’t be always punching your way out of a paper bag.

   Frank and Barron finished their coffees and stepped outside. At the crosswalk they paused at the curb. The traffic was light on Clifton Boulevard, but a biker was approaching. He was a trim young man on a yellow Vespa. He pulled up and stopped at the painted line of the crosswalk. He was wearing a turquoise football-style helmet. Both his arms up to the sleeveless of his black t-shirt were heavily tattooed. He waved at them to go. They went over the edge of the curb into the street.

   Stepping up to the curb on the other side, Barron said, “There you are, Frank, not all angels are bats out of hell.”

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

Motor City Clampdown

By Ed Staskus

   Antanas Kairis was a year-or-two older than me, good-looking, and quick on the uptake. I met him at a party at a large house on Magnolia Dr. in University Circle, close to the Music Settlement. Dalia and Algis Nasvytis, who were near my age and who I knew through the community, lived there with their younger sister, Julia, and their parents. It was a week before Christmas.

   They sometimes threw their house open, clearing the big room in the back for kids teenagers young adults to dance to records. The grown-up adults mingled, smoking and drinking and chatting. It was cold and had snowed for days beforehand. The house was brick, two stories with a front facing slate roof and gables, and windows galore. All lit up it sparkled going up the walk in the frosty night.

   Andy was from Boston and had come to Cleveland, Ohio, to see his girlfriend, who was from Dearborn, Michigan. When I called him Tony, the lingo for Antanas, he said, “Call me Andy.” Aida was blonde and beautiful and visiting friends. She didn’t know the Nasvyciai, but her friends did, and she knew Andy.

   I didn’t know I was standing next to him until Aida sauntered off to dance with another boy. 

   “What do you know, I drive all day, and she slips off with somebody else,” he grumbled smiling devilishly.

   It took me a second to realize he was talking to me. I was wall flowering more than dancing. At least he had a girl to complain about. I didn’t often strike up conversations with strangers. Andy was more silver-tongued than me, by a long shot.

   He wanted a cigarette. We went out on the back terrace, and he lit up. I didn’t smoke. He did most of the talking. By the time we went back in it seemed like we were fast friends. I didn’t see much of him the rest of the night. He only had eyes for Aida. He clapped me on the back when I was leaving with my ride, saying he hoped we would meet again. I said sure, even though I didn’t expect to ever see him again.

   I don’t know how Andy got my number but just after the first of the year I found myself on the phone with him. He was driving to Dearborn to see Aida the next weekend and wanted to know if I wanted to go along. I cleared it with my parents, even though they didn’t know his family or him, and he picked me up the next Friday morning. He looked like he had driven all night.

   He was driving an almost new two-door GTO hardtop 428. GTO stands for The Great One. It was red, what Pontiac called Montero Red. It was a cool car inside a hot color. It had street cred, and more. I waved goodbye and piled in. When we got to the corner of our street, he asked me if I minded driving. I said I didn’t mind and drove all the way to Dearborn while he slept.

   Dearborn was 170 miles away. We made it in record time in the smooth as silk muscle car. The engine had a throaty sound and handled like doing simple arithmetic.

   Henry Ford was born on a farm in Dearborn and later built an estate there. He pioneered the mass production of automobiles, and his world headquarters was based there. He forged the River Rouge Complex there, the largest factory of his empire. He had a reconstructed historic village and museum built, immortalizing his youth. The open land is planted with sunflowers and his favorite crop, which was soybeans. The crops are never harvested.

   There were lots of Poles Germans Italians and Lithuanians in Dearborn. If there were any African Americans, I didn’t see them. “Negroes can’t get in here. Every time we hear of a Negro moving in, we respond quicker than reporters do to a fire,” said Orville Hubbard, the mayor from 1942 to 1978. “As far as I am concerned, it is against the law for a Negro to live in my suburb.” The Michigan Civil Rights Commission in 1965 found Mother Hubbard guilty of posting racist newspaper clippings on City Hall bulletin boards. However, he was never taken to court on the issue. He was an equal opportunity bigot. He complained that “the Jews own this country,” that the Irish “are even more corrupt than the Dagos,” and when Middle Easterners started moving into Dearborn after the Six-Day War that “the Syrians are even worse than the niggers.” In 1970 his son John Jay Hubbard ran for mayor against him but got beaten to a pulp.

   The unofficial slogan of the lily of the valley burg was “The Sun Never Sets on a Negro in Dearborn.”

   We found Aida’s house without too much trouble, except for stopping at several gas stations and asking for directions. Her parents were suspicious of Antanas but brushed me off as a harmless sidekick. They agreed to let us sleep in their furnished basement that night and Saturday night and fed us lunch. It was hot beet soup with black rye bread and kugelis. I wasn’t surprised it wasn’t burgers and fries.

   We went out on the town, visiting the Automotive Hall of Fame. We went to the Henry Ford Museum and rode in a Model-T. We went to the Fairlane and sat in an old bus. We went to the movies and saw “In the Heat of the Night.” We stopped at a tavern with a neon sign in the window saying “EATS.” Andy explained I was with him, and they let me in. We had burgers and fries. Andy had a beer. Aida and I had Sprite.

   On the way back Double A sat in the back seat making out. We were at a stop light minding our own business waiting for the green to go when a car pulling up next to us got too close and broke off the GTO’s sideview mirror. There wasn’t one to begin with on the passenger side which meant now I didn’t have any. The young woman driving the white Chevy Corvair, one of the worst cars on the road, looked at me, looking chagrined. She put the car in park and got out. I noticed her compact car didn’t have side mirrors from the get-go.

   The Corvair is on most lists of “The Ten Most Questionable Cars of All Time.” 

   I was standing beside the driver’s door looking at the broken mirror lying in the road when I noticed Andy bolting out of the back seat and making a beeline to who-knows-where. He hit the pavement running and disappeared down a side street. When the police appeared, I pointed to the broken mirror and explained what happened. Aida and I sat in the car while they went about their business. They wrote a ticket and gave it to the guilty girl. She drove away in her Corvair waving goodbye.

   “We’ve called your parents and they’ll be here to pick you up soon,” one of the policemen told Aida. She looked worried. “Are your parents strict?” I asked. She nodded yes.

   “What about me?” I asked.

   “You’re coming with us,” the policeman said.

   “Where are we going?”

   “You’re going to jail,” he said.

   “Why? I didn’t do anything.”

   “This is a stolen car,” he said.

   The city hall the police station and the district court were all in a row on Michigan Ave. I was taken to the police station, photographed and fingerprinted. They put me in a holding tank. It smelled bad, like a toilet with a dead rat in it. A man in a suit showed up and took my statement. 

   “I didn’t steal that car,” I said. “Find Antanas. He’ll tell you.”

   “We already found him.”

   “And?”

   “He said you stole the car.”

   “What! That’s not true. Why did he run away if he didn’t steal it? I didn’t steal anything, he did.”

   “Have you ever been to Massachusetts.”

   “No, except once a couple of years ago when there was Boy Scout Jamboree there.”

   “All right, sit tight,” he said.

   I sat tight that night and the next night and the night after that until my court appearance on Monday. I was shuffled into a cell with three other men, two of them there for drunk and disorderly and one of them, an African American, for being in Dearborn after the sun went down. He called us honkies. We ignored him.

   “I don’t trust anyone that hasn’t been to jail at least once in their life. You should have been, or something’s the matter with you,” John Waters once said.

   I didn’t trust the two drunks and slept with one eye open. My fears were put to rest the next day when they sobered up. They built Ford Mustangs at River Rouge. The complex included 93 buildings with nearly 16 million square feet of factory floor space. It had its own docks on the dredged-our Rouge River, 100 miles of interior railroad track, its own electricity plant, and an integrated steel mill. It was able to turn raw materials into running vehicles within its own space. 

   “You leave your brain at the door,” one of them said. “Just bring your body, because they don’t need any other part. It’s a good thing, otherwise I would lose my mind. They tell you what to do and how to do it.”

   “Hey, there ain’t a lot of variety in the paint shop either,” the other one complained. “You clip on the color hose, bleed out the old color, and squirt. Clip, bleed, squirt, clip, bleed, squirt, clip, bleed, squirt, scratch your nose. Only now the bosses have taken away the time to scratch my nose.” 

   “Yeah, the line speed used to be 40 or 45 cars an hour twenty years ago but now it’s working its way up to a 100. A lot of the time I have to get into the car and do my job sitting on raw metal. I was always going home with black and blue marks on the back of my legs. I made a padded apron to wear backwards so I would be more comfortable.”

   “I was a two-bolt man for a while,” the painter said. “There were two bolts and I put in one and secured it. Then I put in the other one and secured it. They came pretty fast, so it’s time after time. I always had a sore shoulder. It just wears you down in your bones.”

   A rolling rack of paperback books came by, and I grabbed a couple of Perry Mason mysteries. We were fed morning noon and night. I took naps whenever I wanted to. By Monday morning I had gained a pound or two, easing into my motel tan, and was well rested.

   On the way to the courtroom, I saw Dandy Andy in another group and jumped him, only to be separated from him in no time flat. I spit out he was a rotten goddamned fink. He gave me the finger and that ended our so-called friendship on the spot. In the courtroom I saw my father, who had taken the day off and driven to Dearborn. When my turn came a police detective and an assistant district attorney talked to the judge first. When they were done the judge crooked his finger at me to approach the bench.

   “Your friend has admitted stealing the car in Boston to go joyriding and so we are dropping the charges against you,” he said.

   “He’s not my friend,” I said.

   “In any case, you’re free to go.”

   Automobile theft was rampant all over the country, with almost a million of them going missing every year. Michigan was one of the states that led the way. My case was open and shut, thank God. Stealing cars was a trap door to prison. I left with my father, who wasn’t happy, but happy I had been sprung loose.

   “I still can’t believe another Lithuanian would do that to me, especially lying about stealing the car,” I said on our way home.

   My father brushed my naivete aside.

   “In Lithuania whenever anyone is driving, they are cautious of people on the side of the road trying to flag them down, trying to get them to pull over,” he said. “More often than not it’s a trick to get you out of your car so that a second man can either steal what’s in your unattended car or drive off with it. Everybody knows if you absolutely must leave your car, say you are involved in an accident, be sure to turn off the ignition, take the keys, and lock the car. Lietuviai are no saints, believe me.”

   He tapped out a Pall Mall, lit it, and drove in silence while he smoked.

   “What do you think the moral of your lost weekend might be?” he asked ten minutes later stubbing out his cigarette.

   I looked at the pivoting globe compass and small painted statue of St. Christopher on top of the dashboard, wiggling slightly on their magnetic bases. Even though the compass told him what direction he was going in, my father was terrible with directions, often getting lost. He didn’t like asking for them, in any case, and relied on St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. Unfortunately, St. Christopher never said a word about anything.

   I couldn’t think what the moral might or might not be. I knew it was going to be some kind of clampdown.

   “Never trust anybody driving a stolen car, not any Lithuanian, and not even yourself,” he said.

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

Raise High the Roof Beam

By Ed Staskus

   When I moved into the Plaza Apartments on Prospect Avenue at the intersection of East 32nd St., which wasn’t even a street since the other end of it dead-ended into a parking lot, it was by accident, including a car accident and bumping into Arunas Petkus a few days later. 

   I was living at Dixon Hall up the road, a stone’s throw from East 40th St. A little more than a decade after I moved out it was designated a legacy building and historic location but when I lived there it was a rat’s nest, full of students, day laborers, and deadbeats. It was a solid four-story stone and brick apartment but was going to seed.

   Hookers and boozers roamed Prospect at night after the blue collars and shop owners went home. The junkies stayed in the shadows, hapless harmless nodding off. I avoided the suburban toughs on the prowl, hunting for suckers.

   My roommate Gary was exactly ten years older than me and was drinking himself to death, day by day from the bottom of his heart. I first met him the day before moving in, when I answered a worse for wear note on a bulletin board at Cleveland State University, a ten-minute walk away. He was stocky, bearded, and sullen, but I needed a cheap room, and his second bedroom was available.

   It wasn’t any great shakes of an apartment, a living room, walk-in kitchen, and two small bedrooms. There were more cockroaches than crumbs in the kitchen. The sofa and upholstered chairs were a flop. Gary kept cases of beer stacked up by the back door and his whiskey under lock and key.

   I didn’t know much about spirits except that all the grown-ups I knew, who were most of them Lithuanian, drank lots of it, some more than others. I didn’t know why Gary was going booze off the bridge, but he was and wasn’t in much shape to do much more than sit around and drink.

   The day he told me he was going out to pick up his car surprised me, since he was living on some kind of inheritance and almost never went out. I didn’t even know he knew how to drive. I was even more surprised when he asked me if I wanted to go along.

   “Where is it?” I asked.

   “Down by 36th and Payne,” he said.

   We could walk since it was a sunny day and East 36th and Payne Avenue was only about twenty minutes away by foot.

   “All right,” I said, my first mistake.

   The car was a 1963 VW Beetle with a new engine block and repainted a glossy lime. He paid cash in hundred dollar bills and we drove off, down East 55th to the lake, up East 72nd to St. Clair, and back to Dixon Hall. When he pulled up to the curb, he asked me if I knew how to drive a standard shift.

   “Sure,” I said.

   “Do you want to try it?”

   “Sure,” I said, my second mistake.

   I didn’t get far, about a quarter mile. As we were approaching the intersection of East 30th and Prospect a flash of sunshine glancing off the glossy yellow-green hood of the car distracted me. I turned my head to the left. That was my third and last mistake.

   I didn’t see the four-door sedan going through the red light to my right and never touched the brake. He smashed into the front fender of the VW, sending us spinning, and a car behind us smashed into the rear engine compartment. The opposed 4 made a last gasp and went dead.

   When we came to a stop the VW Beetle was finished and I was finished as Gary’s roommate. I was just barely able to talk him into giving me a few days to scare up another roof over my head. The fall quarter at CSU was rolling along and winter wasn’t far away.

   I was playing beggar-my-neighbor with friends in the Stillwell Hall ground floor cafeteria when Arunas Petkus joined us, snagging a card game in his free time. He was Lithuanian like me. We had gone to St. Joe’s together, a Catholic high school on the east side, and he was an art major at CSU. He had a deft hand drawing and painting. He piped up when he heard about my predicament.

   “Try the Plaza,” he said. “There’s a one bedroom on the second floor that’s come open. Somebody I know had to move out in the middle of the night.”

   The Plaza was just down the street from Dixon Hall. I had never paid much attention to it, but when I gave it a closer look, I liked what I saw. It was built in 1901 in an eclectic style, on a stone foundation, with some blocks of the same stone in the exterior, and yellow brick in front and all around the courtyard. Some of the brick was sprouting ivy. The top of the five stories was crenellated. It had a cool vibe when I walked around it, eyeballing the stamping ground.

   Dave Bloomquist and Allen Ravenstine, who was the synthesizer player for the Cleveland-based art-rock band Pere Ubu, owned and ran the building

   “I grew up at the Plaza. It’s where I became an adult,” said Allen.

   “I was a kid from the suburbs. When we bought this building in 1969, we did everything from paint to carpentry. When it was first built, it had 24 apartments. When we bought it in a land contract, there were 48 apartments. We tried to restore it unit by unit.”

   I knocked on Dave Bloomquist’s door. His apartment was at the crown, in the front, facing north, looking out across Chinatown, Burke Lakefront Airport, to Lake Erie. When he answered the door, I don’t know what I expected, but what I got was a large young man, maybe six and a half feet of him, a thick mop of black hair and a thick black beard.

   “I’m here about the apartment on the second floor,” I said.

   He led me through the kitchen, down a hallway, and into an office full of books records a big desk and sat me down in a beat-up leather armchair.

   I didn’t blanch when he told me what the rent was because it wasn’t much, but I didn’t have much. I could make the first month, maybe the second.

   I hemmed and hawed until he finally asked me if I was short.

   “More or less,” I said.

   “Would you be willing to work some of it off?”

   “Yes, you bet.”

   “Good, we can work that out. Do you play chess, by any chance? You look like you might.”

   “I know how to play,” I said, but didn’t say that I read books about chess openings.

   “Great, do you want to play a game?”

   “Sure.”

   He had a nice board, nice pieces, and played a nice game, but I finished him off in less than twenty moves.

   “Beginner’s luck,” I said.

   “After you’ve moved in stop by, we’ll talk about some work for you, and play again,” he said.

   I went down the front steps, out the door, and sat down on what passed for a stoop. A young woman stuck her head out a basement apartment window next to me.

   “I haven’t seen you around here before,” she said. “Are you moving in?”

   “Yes, in the next couple of days.”

   “Do you have a car?”

   “No.”

   “Good, I’ve lost two cars living here,” she said.

   “That’s too bad.”

   “I love living here, but it drives me crazy at night,” she said. Her name was Nancy, and she was studying art. She wanted to be a teacher. “The junkies sit right here on this ledge and party all night long. They never see anything happening.”

   The dopeheads didn’t have the wherewithal to steal cars. They didn’t have the smarts, either. The making off was happening when bad guys on a mission came down Cedar Road looking for easy pickings.

   I moved in over the course of one day, since I didn’t have much other than my clothes bedsheets kitchen dishes utensils pots and pans schoolbooks and a dining room table and chairs my parents bought for me. I lived on pancakes pasta and peanut butter. The apartment wasn’t furnished, but whoever had left in a hurry left a queen bed, a dresser, and a livable sofa. 

   A man by the name of Bob Flood, who lived on the same second floor, but in the front, not the back like me, helped me carry the table and chairs up. He was dressed in denim, wore a denim cap, making him look like a railroad engineer, had a little shaggy beard and bright eyes, and was on the rangy side. He walked in a purposeful way, like an older man, even though he was only twenty-or-so years older than me.

   Everybody called him Mr. Flood.

   I found out later he was divorced and had two nice kids who visited him, but I never found out if he worked for a railroad or what he did, not for a fact. He was either at home for days or he wasn’t. I had worked at the Collinwood Yards the winter before as a fill-in, sometimes unloading railcar wheels, sometimes walking the yard with a pencil and waybill clipboard. I didn’t remember ever seeing him there.

   “What kind of people live here?” I asked him.

   “All kinds,” he said. “There are a lot of musicians, artists, writers, some students and even a couple of professors.”

   “It’s an energy house,” said Scott Krause the drummer for Pere Ubu.

   “Not everybody’s in the arts,” Mr. Flood said. “There are beauticians, bartenders, and bookstore clerks, too.” 

   “If you want to stick your head out the window and sing an aria, someone might listen, and someone might even applaud,” said Rich Clark from his window.

   I found out almost everybody was younger than older, except for the Italian couple and their parrot. The old parrot never sang or spoke outside the family, no matter how much the Italians coaxed and cajoled him. The bird was as stubborn as a mule.

   Once winter was done and spring was busting out all over, I was reading a book for fun in the courtyard when Arunas Petkus stepped up to the bench I was sprawled out on. He wanted to know if I wanted to go to California with him once classes at Cleveland State University were finished.

   “All that tie dye is finished there,” I said. “Even the hippies say so.”

   “I thought we could visit Chocolate George’s grave.”

   “Who’s Chocolate George?”

   Charley Hendricks was a Hells Angel in the San Francisco chapter who was hit by a car while swerving around a stray cat one August afternoon in 1967 as the Summer of Love was winding down. He was thrown from his motorcycle and died later that night from his injuries. He was known as Chocolate George because he was rarely seen without a quart of his favorite beverage, which was chocolate milk.

   “He drank chocolate milk because he had an ulcer,” explained Mary Handa, a friend of his in the 1960s. “He spiked it with whiskey from time to time.” He snagged nips all day long.

   Charles George Hendricks was a strapping 34-year-old when he died. He was a favorite among the hippies in Haight-Ashbury because he was funny and friendly. Sometimes he sported a Russian fur hat, making him look like a Cossack. His mustache and goatee were almost as long as his long hair, he wore a pot-shaped helmet when riding his Harley, and his denim vest was dotted with an assortment of round tinny pin badges.

   One of the badges said, “Go Easy on Kesey.”

   The writer Ken Kesey had been the de facto head of the Merry Pranksters. Much of the hippie aesthetic traced back to them and their Magic Bus.

   “I bought a used car,” Arunas said.

   It was parked in the back next to the nerve-wracking back stairs. The stairs were sketchy. Going up and down them felt like it might be the last time all the time as they twitched and shook and seemed on the verge of yanking themselves off the brick façade. I avoided them whenever I could.

   The car was a two-door 1958 VW Karmann Ghia. 

   “You know how the Beetle has got a machine-welded body with bolt-on fenders,” Arunas said.

   I didn’t know, but I nodded agreement keeping my distance from the car. It looked like a soul mate to the stairs. It was pock-marked with rust and seemed like it might fall apart any second.

   “Well, the Karmann Ghia’s body panels are butt-welded, hand-shaped, and smoothed with English pewter.”

   I didn’t know what any of that meant, either, but nodded again.

   “Does it drive?”

   “It got me here.”

   “From where?”

   He bought the VW at a used car lot on East 78th and Carnegie. It was two or three miles away, on the Miracle Mile of used car lots.

   “Where is Chocolate George buried, exactly?” I asked.

   “He’s not buried, not exactly,” Arunas said.

   Five days after his death more than two hundred bikers trailed a hearse and the family car up and down San Francisco’s narrow streets, pausing and revving their engines at the Straight Theater, near where the accident happened. Two quarts of chocolate milk got warm slowly next to the cold body in the back of the hearse. The funeral ceremony was performed at the Cypress Lawn Cemetery, Chocolate George was cremated, and his ashes scattered over Twin Peaks, which are in the center of the city.

   The funeral procession became a motorcycle cavalcade, roaring to Golden Gate Park where, joined by hundreds of hippies from Haight-Ashbury, a daylong wake erupted. Big Brother & the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead were the live music send-offs. There was dancing and tripping.  

   “Sometimes the lights all shining on me, other times I can barely see, lately it occurs to me, what a long strange trip it’s been,” Jerry Garcia sang in his mid-western twang.   

   There was free beer courtesy of the Hells Angels and free food supplied by the Diggers.

   The Haight Street Diggers were said at the time to be a “hippie philanthropic organization.” They used the streets of San Francisco for theater, gatherings, and walkabouts. The organization fed the flock that made the scene in the Panhandle with surplus vegetables from the Farmer’s Market and meat they routinely stole from local stores.

   Two months after Chocolate George’s funeral the Diggers announced “The Death of the Hippie” by tearing down the store sign of the Psychedelic Shop and secretly burying it in the night.

   “So, do you want to go?” Arunas asked, his hand on the hood of the Karmann Ghia.

   “Sure,” I said, short on memory and long on summer.

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

The Long Walk

By Ed Stasku

   It is 11 miles as the crow flies from East 42nd St. in Newburgh Heights to East 125th St. and St. Clair Ave. in Cleveland. A streetcar in the 1950s would have made the trip in about 40 minutes and a car in about 20 minutes. Walking on a summer day would have taken about 3 hours. When Harold Scott left work at American Steel and Wire in Newburgh Heights for home on Friday November 24, 1950, in the middle of the Great Thanksgiving Blizzard, no streetcars were running, and he didn’t have a car. He started walking. He didn’t see a crow that day or the rest of the weekend.

   The storm started on the holiday when an arctic air mass barreled into town, and temperatures fell to below zero. The next day low pressure from Virginia moved into Ohio. When that happened a blizzard with high winds and heavy snow got rolling. By the end of the day two feet of snow had fallen and the airport was closed. Mayor Tom Burke declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard. Snow plowing was hampered by more than 10,000 abandoned cars. The mayor declared a state of emergency. Unnecessary travel was banned. Everything nonessential was forbidden from trying to get downtown. The car ban lasted for a week until the last Cleveland Transit System line was back on the line. By then the temperatures hit the 50s and all the snow melted. Rivers flooded far and wide.

   Harold Scott was born in 1903. He had a sister, Eleanor, and a brother, LeGrant. His brother made it as a professional baseball player nicknamed Babe, after Babe Ruth, although he never made it out of the minor leagues. Harold married a local girl, Jennie O’Connell, and they had six children. Jennie died of pneumonia twenty years later leaving Harold with six kids under the age of eighteen. A year-and-a half later he married his next-door neighbor and they had two more kids, Mike and Teen, or Harold Jr.

   Teen was killed when he was four years old. He was sitting on a curb on a sunny day waiting for his brother to get home from school when a delivery truck backing up ran over him. After the funeral, Hal’s hair turned white as a ghost.

   When Hal started walking home as the Great Thanksgiving Blizzard was raging, he walked up E. 49th St. zigzagging to Guy Ave. to Hamm Ave. to E. 55th St. to St. Clair Ave. From there, he only had seventy blocks to go. It was slog. The snow was deep and getting deeper. Nobody was shoveling any sidewalks. He walked in the street more than on any sidewalk. He stopped every so often to catch his breath. It was dark as a squid’s basement by 8 o’clock. He was wearing a heavy wool coat, gloves, a hat, and rubber buckle galoshes. He pulled his collar up. Hal was dressed for bear, but it was hard going.

   “Everything came to a standstill,” said Burt Wilfong. He got to his feet, bundled up, and went outside to shovel his walk and driveway. There was a problem, though. “The garage doors were the kind that opened out. There was about 5 feet of snow that drifted around in front of the garage, and the snow shovel was inside.”

   By the time he got to Orey Ave. and East 55th St. Hal was more than ready to sit down in the hole in the wall bar on the corner and warm up. He could use a bite and a drink, too, or two drinks. He sat down. A barfly two stools down had a bowl of black olives and a bottle of Blatz in front of him.

   “Hell of a night to be out,” the barfly said.

   “That’s the God’s truth,” Hal said.

   He ordered chicken soup in a pot with homemade noodles and hard-boiled sliced eggs. He thought about a draft beer but had a shot of rye whiskey instead. Halfway through his eggs he ordered another shot. He got a cottage cheese and pickle relish sandwich to go and stuck it in his coat pocket. He left $3.00 on the bar, buttoned up his coat, and started north up East 55th St. again. He felt much better, although the storm was getting worse.

   He took short steps shuffling now and then when the going got icy. He walked bent slightly forward as much as he could, with his center of gravity directly over his feet. The wind made it tricky. It was worse than the snow. He stayed prepared to fall as gusts slammed into him. The wind was at his back, slightly from the side, which was better, but not much better.

   “I was born during that storm,” Fred Rothhauser said. “My parents told me I was a miracle baby coming into the world the day hell froze over.”

   Every leafless branch of every tree was in motion. Twigs littered the snow. He stepped over branches that had cracked off. As the wind swept over roofs their tiles shook and flapped. When they ripped away, they went sailing past disappearing. Overhead electric and telephone wires whistled. The infrequent passing car looked like it was on the verge of sliding veering crazily off somewhere.

   Flo Ellis was two years old when she, her four brothers and sisters, and parents drove to Willoughby for Thanksgiving dinner. “We stayed overnight, the blizzard hit, and turned into almost a week. My grandma had to cut head holes and armholes in pillowcases to make nightgowns for us kids.”

   When he got to Fleet Ave. Hal saw two bars. One was on the opposite corner and the other one on his side of the street. He took the path of least resistance.  He might have gone to Krejci’s Tavern down the street but didn’t. It was “Where the Fishermen Meet” and where he met his pals for drinks. It would have been full of fishermen, anyway, talking tales about The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 that sank 30 freighters and killed more than 200 mariners.

   There was a three-story cupola over the front door he went through and lots of windows on the Feet Ave. side. A yellow sign said “Parking in the Rear” in red letters. There were two cars in the lot. How they got into and were planning on getting out of the lot was beyond Hal. The windows on the second and third stories were brightly lit. Whatever children and boarders the bartender and his wife the cook had were staying snug as bugs.

   The watering hole was full of people. The tables were all taken. He sat down at the bar alongside a group of six. When he asked the bartender, the man said, “It’s the local folks, they’ve been walking in all night, except for this group. They’re from Lakewood. I guess everybody has had their fill of turkey.”

   Gus and Eva Stanik were sitting closest to Hal.

   “We are going to Pennsylvania deer-hunting,” Eva said. “We got up in the morning, and there was a load of snow, and we decided that maybe we’d better not go.” Her younger brother, Gomer, disagreed and talked them into making the trip.

   “Oh, yeah, we can still do that,” he said in the afternoon. “It can’t keep snowing much longer.”

   Gus and Eva fired up their 1946 Buick Sedanet with her brother’s friend in the back seat. Gomer rode with his uncle Ivan and their friend Mack in Ivan’s 1941 Ford Super Deluxe. Their bags blankets gear and guns were in the trunks. They had coffee in thermoses.

   “We were young,” Eva said. “There were six of us all together in two different cars. So, we helped one another. But everywhere we went, my uncle got stuck.” They passed one deserted car stuck in a snow drift after another. “My husband was the only one that had chains on.”

   After the two cars went slip sliding out of the parking lot behind the bar, Ivan’s car got stuck. Hal helped push it out. When they drove off, they followed snowplows east. Hal waved goodbye as he set off on East 55th St. again. 

   “When we were going through Sharon in Pennsylvania, we came to a standstill,” Eva said. “Gomer got out of the car and went across the street to a place that sold peanuts in the shell. We ate peanuts the rest of the day.” They threw the shells out the windows. Their four-hour trip turned into a twelve-hour trip. They labored on to Coalport, found their motel, shoveled out parking spaces, and fell into bed.

   “Hell, yeah, I shot my deer the next day,” Gus said.

   Hal walked the rest of the night. The bars were all closed. The whole city was all closed. He stopped for shelter in doorways now and then, watching plows waste their time. No sooner were they gone than snow started piling up again. The sun came up at 7:30, what there was of it. When it did, he turned the corner on to St. Clair Ave. When he did, he saw Pershing tanks hauling broken down busses away.

   “Hundreds of motorists abandoned stalled autos,” the Lakewood Sun Post wrote in its morning edition. “Stuck streetcars were strung along main arteries for miles. Bus routes were littered with coaches blocked by enormous drifts. Most plants closed, and some employees who did manage to report in were marooned on their jobs. Trucks laden with food couldn’t deliver. Babies were without milk, and groceries able to open were rationing it as well as bread.”

   Lakewood is Cleveland’s closest western neighbor, just across the Cuyahoga River. The other side of Lakewood butts up to the Rocky River. No neighbors were visiting neighbors that weekend, even though they could have skated across the rivers. By the end of the day snow was wall-to-wall and drifts were 25 feet high. Some buildings collapsed under the weight of snowpack. More and more wires and trees were blown down. Bulldozers cleared roads so ambulances could reach those in need. The National Guard delivered food in their Jeeps to the out-of-the way. 

   Hal stopped at the first diner he saw for breakfast. He was hungry as a horse. The diner was the kind that never closed. He sat on a bar stool at the counter across from the galley kitchen. He had eggs sausages hash browns pancakes and two cups of coffee. When he was done, he folded his arms and lay his head down. A waitress woke him up when he started snoring.

   He trudged on as far as East 69th St, where he stopped again. His legs were heavy. He was more tired than a month of overtime. He walked into the Maple Lanes Tavern and Bowling Alley. Nobody was bowling but a handful of men were at the bar. One of them was a snowplow driver. He looked exhausted. Hal sat at the bar and had two shots of rye whiskey. When he felt warm again, he went out into the cold for the last long stretch home.

   The bone-chilling cold created a run on woolen clothing, long underwear, and flannel pajamas. A department store hosiery clerk took a call for fleece-lined women’s hose. “I don’t know that there is any such thing,” she told the caller. Funerals and burials were delayed because cemeteries were neck-deep in snow. Hearses were unable to navigate roads to churches for services. An undertaker watched a body being unloaded from a milk truck at his funeral parlor for embalming.

   After Hal got home late Saturday afternoon, 24 hours after leaving work, his wife bombarded him with questions, but he was too cold and too tired to talk. He spoke to his son Mike for a few minutes, telling him everything was all right, took a long hot bath, and stumbled into bed. His wife threw an extra quilt over him. He slept the rest of the day, all day Sunday, and called off work on Monday. The National Guard went home on Wednesday November 29th. Schools stayed closed all that week. When Hal got out of bed, he checked all his fingers and toes. He didn’t have a speck of frostbite on him.

   While he was winding up his long trek on Saturday, the Big Ten championship game in Columbus between Ohio State and Michigan went ahead as planned. A trip to the Rose Bowl was at stake. Fifty thousand fans, just more than half of the tickets sold, were in their seats for the kick-off. There was heavy snow, 40 MPH winds, and the temperature at game time was 5 degrees. Michigan won the Snow Bowl, even though they didn’t get a single first down and only gained a total of 27 yards. There were 45 punts between the two teams in the 60 minutes of playing time.

  “I was a teenager when the blizzard hit,” Irene DeBauche said. “It was something you never forget. We thought it was exciting and fun although our parents thought differently.”

   The Great Thanksgiving Blizzard impacted 22 states, killed 383 people, and caused almost $70 million in damage, equivalent to about $800,000,000 today. Insurance companies paid out more money to their policy holders for damage than for any previous storm of any kind up to that time. 

   When Hal’s wife Catherine died in 1964. he married another neighbor, Theresa, in 1969. After he went blind, he spent warm weather days on his porch. When his children and grandchildren visited, and the neighborhood kids ran over, everybody sat on the steps and porch. Hal always had a brown paper bag filled with candy bars. The younger kids snacked while the older kids counted the number of times he cursed. When they ran out of fingers to count on, they counted on their toes.

   Hal cursed up a storm whenever he recounted the Great Thanksgiving Blizzard of 1950, until the day he died in 1976. If he had lived a couple more years, he would have experienced the White Blizzard of 1978. When it was over everybody in Cleveland agreed it was the Storm of the Century. If he had made it that far, Hal would have had an outstanding opportunity to expand his hot-blooded stock of swear words.

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

Vanishing Act

By Ed Staskus

   Hal Schaser was always excited by Catholic girls. His mother was Saxon Lutheran, and she raised his brother Willie and him as Lutherans, but Catholic girls were for him. That’s why he married one. But they had to be at least a nine or ten on the good-looking scales at the same time they were Catholic. If they weren’t, they didn’t count, not in his eyes. 

   All the guys rated gals, one way or another.

   He went to Florida every winter after he got back to Cleveland, before he got married. He came back from the Korean War with a Purple Heart, and after he got back on his feet, went right to work for Palmer Bearings. They put him in sales the minute they saw him. He was 22 years old, clean-cut, proportioned, and full of pep. He didn’t tell them about the bad hearing in one ear he came back with after a year as an artilleryman.

   His city pals, the young men he knew who had the dough to go south for a couple of weeks when it got dark and cold on the south coast of Lake Erie, razzed him about being picky.

   “All you do is keep looking for a number ten girl, and half the time you don’t got any girl on your arm,” one of them said one day while sucking on a bottle of Blatz. “Me, I get a number three or four, so I’ve always got a gal, and by the end of the week they all add up to more than zero.”

   Another of his pals, another wise guy on the camel train, said, “Hal, if you ever land a ten, she’ll be out of your league, anyway, so forget about it.”

   Teresa Stasas was Catholic, between a nine and a ten, and 15 years old when Hal met her. He was 25 years old. She lied about her age, not that she had to. But after he found out he made sure she was eighteen before they got married. “We missed out on the cash envelopes and presents, since her family was dead set on me staying single and Teresa marrying somebody else.” He didn’t care. He wanted Teresa. He wanted to get ahead to the high life with her fast at his side.

   They met at the Karamu Theater. Hal lived with his mother on the near east side, and Teresa took a bus from North Collinwood, where she lived with her three sisters and parents in a two-bedroom house. Hal liked auditioning for parts and acting in shows. It got him started with the girls. He looked like Paul Newman, which didn’t hurt his chances. He was always trying out for shows at the Chagrin Little Theater, too.

   “I met a boatload of lookers that way.”

   Teresa was in high school shows and danced ballet. She had taken dance classes ever since she was a little girl. She could straighten a leg, keep a foot flat on the ground, and raise the other one to the ceiling. 

   “I don’t know how the hell she did it. I always liked ballet dancers. I fell in love with one when I was in high school. Her name was Margo. She was a beautiful girl with a beautiful body, the same age as me, but an inch taller. She was one of the gym leaders and danced ballet on stage at our school. Another guy liked her, a Serb who played a lousy hillbilly guitar, and he was always angling to get into shows with her.”

   Hal started trying out, trying to get close to Margo, trying to elbow the Serbian boy aside.

   Teresa and he met auditioning for the same show at Karamu. He kept his eyes on her from the minute he set eyes on her. “She came on to me and did stuff like, ‘Can you give me a ride home?’ I had a car, she had stars in her eyes, and on starry nights it was a nice ride. She sat close to me on the bench seat.”

   She would sometimes leave something in his car, like her wallet or watch. “She would call me, and I would drive to her house, returning it, seeing her again. It was those little tricks women do.”

   Her parents were set in stone in opposition to her wedding bell plans. “It won’t work,” they both insisted. He was Lutheran, ten years older than her, born in the United States, but Romanian-bred. They were Catholic and Lithuanian, from the old country. She was still a teenager. He had a better job than either of her parents, making more money than the two of them put together, but it didn’t matter. 

   Teresa and Hal had to elope, driving across the Ohio line to Indiana, where they found a justice-of-the-peace on the side of the road, and got married. They went to Florida for their honeymoon. “We drove straight there in a new car I had just gotten. We stayed in the same motel my buddies and I used to go to. Our suite had a small kitchen and there was a big pool we went swimming in.” They sat out in the sun. Their skin got a shade darker. They discovered each other in the dark.

   When they got back to Cleveland, Teresa’s’s parents disowned her, and she didn’t see them for years. They moved in with Hal’s mother, in the meantime, in the old neighborhood, around East 65th St. and St. Clair Ave. Most of his countrymen worked in factories, ore docks, and knitting mills. His father had operated a corner store until he was murdered by two young thieves.

   “I worked hard, saving my salary and commissions, and the next year we bought a two-story house in Indian Hills, up from Euclid Avenue, near the city park.” The house fronted a sloping wooded lot. Their daughter Vanessa was born the next year and their son Mathias four years after that. Their problems started three years later. They never stopped getting worse.

   “We started out great, got the year of living with my mother out of our systems, moved into our big house, three bedrooms, newer than not new, got the kids grown up enough to walk, and my job got bigger and better the more I worked. I took clients out for golf and dinner three and four times a week. I kept my waistline under control by walking the courses. My handicap took a nosedive.”

   He was making money hand over fist. “I made a lot of money for Palmer Bearings. Those heebs loved me, so long as the pipeline stayed full and flowing.” His bosses said, “Keep up the good work.” His neighbors envied his one after the other new car. His wife complained about him never being home. “What do you do all those hours at work?”

   “I do a lot of business on golf courses,” he told her. “It’s work, don’t think it’s all just fun and games, it’s not.”

   Whenever he came home right after work, Teresa came running out the front door, grabbing him, giving him a hug and a kiss. He thought, this is embarrassing, the neighbors are watching, even though he barely knew any of their neighbors. “Cut it out,” he said. She gave him a queer look. He kissed the kids and read a book while Teresa set the table and served dinner.

   “I took her to dinner and shows, but it was never enough. I always let her do whatever she wanted. I let her teach cooking at the high school. I let her get a job at a restaurant. I let her go to Cleveland State University. It got to be a problem, because no matter what I did, it was never enough.”

   Teresa was a good-looking young woman, shapely and good on the move, friendly and running over with zip, and men eating at the restaurant were always hitting on her, but Hal’s problem was the young men she met at college. “One time I found a note in a drawer from some guy named Dave, thanking her for the great time they had. When I asked her about it, she said it was just a bunch of them from one of her theater classes going out for a drink.”

   “That’s all it was,” she said.

   “You’re not getting together with him?”    

   “No,” she said, “of course not.”

   He didn’t believe her, not for a minute. He knew what women were about. But he didn’t know everything. He didn’t know he was on his way to splitsville.

   Hal found out more, small things that looked like big things, about other men she was cheating on him with. He was sure of it. One night he answered a call from a man who sounded like he was from India, asking for her. He hung up. She was coming home later and later at night, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, midnight. It began to look like the babysitter would have to start living in.

   “Where the hell were you?” he asked one night when she got home close to two in the morning.

   “Oh, my keys got locked in somebody’s trunk.”

   “It was always some bullshit story like that. We got into an argument. We got into a lot of arguments.”

   “Not so loud,” she hissed. “You’ll wake up the kids.”

   “It was her idea to get separated. Later it was her idea to get divorced. I loved her. I loved my kids. I didn’t want a bust-up. We could have settled the split between ourselves, but she had to get a lawyer, which meant I had to get a lawyer. Her mouthpiece must have put something in her ear, bastard lawyers.”

   He stopped at the Cleveland Trust Bank downtown on East 9th Street one day, after lunch with clients on Short Vincent, to withdraw some money, but the teller said, “There’s no money in your account, sir.”

   “What do you mean?”

   “The account is at zero,” the teller said.

   “Teresa had taken it all. She raided our joint bank account and took all the money in it. All I had left was what I had been keeping in a personal account she didn’t know anything about, the scratch I kept separate, and our insurance policies. She charged all kinds of stuff on our credit cards before I wised up and cancelled them all.”

   He paid his lawyer five thousand dollars, in cash. He got it from a separate business he had going, apart from Palmer Bearings. The lawyer was a golfing buddy of his, but he still had to pay it all up front. “The son-of-a-bitch, right away he joined the Shaker Country Club with it, and never invited me to play golf there, not even once, not even when I got in his face about it.”

   When they went to court, Hal picked a fight there and then. Not with Teresa, but with their two lawyers, his and hers. “The Saul Goodman’s get together with their crap, take all your money, and leave you with nothing. They are like morticians, just waiting for you to come back to life.”

   Between Teresa and them, he complained loud and long to his friends, they left him with only table scraps.

   Hal knew how to handle himself. He boxed Golden Gloves before going to Korea. He got to the finals in his weight class, and even though the other fighter was dazed purple and bloody, the judges gave the first prize to him. He was a Marine and Hal was an Army draftee, so the Marine staggered away with the trophy. 

   “I could have levelled both the shysters in a minute flat. The bailiff, and a policeman, and the judge, had to restrain me. The judge gave me a hell of a talking to after everybody was back in their seats.” It was a loud knock-down drag-out commotion on the third floor of the Lakeside Courthouse, under a high ceiling of ornate plasterwork, quiet paneled walls, and leather-covered doors.

   “They’re all the same, talking through their hats.”

   Teresa moved into the new Park Centre on Superior Avenue, the same building where some of Richard Hongisto’s right-hand men lived. He was Cleveland’s new top lawman, although inside a couple of years Dennis Kucinich, the kid mayor of the city, fired him on live TV. It sparked a recall drive to remove the mayor from office, which was the least of his problems, since the city was going bankrupt fast. The bankers hated the mayor and withdrew their helping hand of ready cash. They knew how to get back at him.

   “I say a plague on all of them, except that whoever did the car caper with her got me the last laugh on Teresa, for what it was worth.”

   He bought her a new Mercedes sports car, hoping it would make her happy. It had a red leather interior. She loved the car, although it didn’t make her any happier about him any more than she wasn’t already. When they separated, she reported the car stolen. She called Hal about the insurance money. He told her he would let her know. He didn’t tell her the car was in his name. 

   “A month later I got a letter from a parking garage in New York City, saying we’ve got your car here, you owe so much for parking, come and get it. I was sure one of Teresa’s cop neighbors cooked it up with her, driving the car away, and leaving it in the garage. When I got the insurance check for the missing car, I cashed it and tore the letter up.”

   Teresa was a looker in her time, always worth a second look. Hal wasn’t sure how she looked when she got older, since after their last fight he never saw her again. He was certain her looks had gone south. “I’m sure she wasn’t the beauty she had been. I’m sure she looked like hell. That’s something I would bet money on.”

   She had beautiful handwriting but wrote Hal hate letters after their separation. 

   “Your kids don’t want to see you, you haven’t sent me enough money, all that kind of crap. I had to pay child support, even though I was used to a certain style of living for myself. I had to go on dates, looking for another woman, but it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t operate. I didn’t have much money. You’ve got to have money to do things. I was nearly broke. I had to take care of my kids. I didn’t want to be a deadbeat father.”

   Teresa met another man, a handsome Italian from Rochester, a Vietnam veteran. They moved in together, with her children. They didn’t pretend to be married, even though they lived like man and wife. They wanted to get married, but Hal wouldn’t give Teresa a divorce, no matter how many times she asked.

   “She and the guy from Rochester got it into their heads to go into the restaurant business. She asked me to take a second mortgage on the house. I said no, restaurants are the worst thing you can get into. In spite of myself I took a second mortgage on the house and gave her the money. It put me in a spot.”

   Teresa’s restaurant became two restaurants. The new family moved up to the seventeenth floor of Park Centre, to a three-bedroom end suite facing Lake Erie. They watched the Cleveland National Air Show from the balcony. They opened a bar on the new Eat Street in the apartment complex.

   “The dago was always telling me, take it easy, like he was trying to be my friend. I wanted to tell him how mad I was about not being able to get my wife back, about never seeing my kids. I never said one bad thing about her, but the divorce hurt me bad. After the mess in court, after we split up, I thought, if that’s the way it’s going to be, I don’t want anything to do with her anymore. I don’t want to talk to her, and I don’t want to see her. And I never did, except once more.”

   Teresa came to the family house in Indian Hills on a quiet autumn afternoon. She asked Hal to mortgage the house again, a third time, so she could expand her eateries some more, but he told her a second mortgage was all banks would go for. She said she needed more investment money and that he should sell the house, splitting whatever he might get for it with her.

   “If I do that, where am I going to live?”

   “That’s up to you.”

   “She was living downtown, in her fancy high-rise. What did she care where I lay my head? It could be some crummy cardboard bed under a bridge, as far as she was concerned. We got into an argument about it. My boy was with her. He stuck up for his mom. I didn’t blame him, though. I liked that about him.”

   Push came to shove, and Teresa slapped Hal hard in the face when he finally had enough, nose to nose, shouting that he wasn’t going to sell the house, that they were through once and for all, and that was that. 

   “She scratched me with her fingernails when she slapped me, cutting me, and drawing blood. I pushed her away.”

   They glared at each other.

   “Quit it. Go away,” he said.

   Teresa’s mouth went cold thin-lipped, she twisted around, reaching for her son, and stamped out. She didn’t look back. The front door slammed shut. He didn’t see her or the money he had lent her ever again.

   He was on the ropes. He knew the TKO was on its way, making its slow way to down and out. He had let his guard down and there was nothing he could do about it. He would have to take it like a man.

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

Furnace Room

By Ed Staskus

   Abner Vance first spied Odessa Ballard through a second-floor window at the Majestic Hotel. She was fiddling with her skirt standing waiting on the corner of Central Avenue and East 55th Street for the CTS streetcar. It was a sunny summer day. Odessa did pantry work and was on her way home. He spotted her from behind his venetian blinds.

   “I had just gotten back from Woodland Cemetery, where I sometimes did patrols on foot, which was whenever my sergeant thought there was some small thing I did he didn’t care for.” It was how Abner came to be known as Gravedigger Vance. “She was a sight for sore eyes and my sore feet. I put my Colt Positive away in the dresser drawer and stepped outside.”

   During the winter the Majestic let Abner, who was a policeman, have a small room on the 55th side of the hotel. Whenever it got below zero, he ducked into it for ten fifteen minutes to warm up. He helped the house man when help was needed. His room was a half-dozen steps from a secret door beside the drug store in case anything bad happened. After a few years he kept the room in the summer, too. The Majestic was called the apartments, but it was a hotel. Abner started going there when he was in his early 20s and the jazz club off the lobby was called the Furnace Room.

   “Meeting your mother was a lot like jazz, it was improvised,” he told his son Lavert. “That was it, go ahead and see what happens.” The club had dancers and crooners and bands that came through Cleveland on tour. The restaurant serving food, to the club and rooms, was Mammy Louise’s Barbeque Café. Their house specialty was braised beef short ribs in gravy. The ribs were like soul music in your mouth.

   Abner was from a small town in the Florida Panhandle and never thought twice about eating chicken fried steak, candied sweet potatoes, and cheesy grits. He ran it off when he was a boy. He walked it off when he was a cop.

   “We went to Mammy Louise’s for dinner and then next door to the club,” he said. “The International Sweethearts of Rhythm were there the night we stepped out. They were an all-girl all-color orchestra. ‘Slick Chicks and Hot Licks’ was what it said on the billboard outside the doors. They raised the roof and we kicked up our heels, dancing up a storm.”

   The Furnace Room became Elmer Waxman’s Ubangi Club, but when Abner first took Lavert there in the 1950s, when he was twelve years-old, it was the Rose Room Cocktail Lounge. Before the Hough riots and Glenville shoot-outs in the 1960s, even though it was already mostly a colored neighborhood, the audiences were every which way. Judges and politicians from downtown brought their wives to the Rose Room. It was the black and tan saloon scene. It was its own world in the nighttime. But by then no one danced to jazz anymore. That had already changed. It wasn’t that jazz changed, even though it had. There was a new music and new dancers in town.

   When Abner applied to the Cleveland Police Department after high school the merit system broke down, like it always did, because he was a Negro. They told him he had poor eyesight, even though he didn’t start wearing glasses until he was in his 70s, almost fifty years after joining the force. He had to ask for help from his ward leader to have the rejection overruled.

   He hunted bootleggers in the 1930s, before they gave him his own beat. It was dangerous work. They carried more guns than the police. He had to prove himself. “You could always tell whether the moonshine was good if you set it on fire and blue flames were what you saw. That’s when you knew it wouldn’t make you go blind.”

   There weren’t many men of color on the police force, and most of those who made the department had to get certification from outside doctors to get past the official exam of the police doctor. Jim Crow was sneakier in the North than it was in the South. The department kept separate eligibility lists, so when one Negro died, resigned, or retired, his replacement might or might not be another Negro. When a white policeman died, his replacement was always another white man.

   Duke Jenkins and his group were the house band at the Majestic. They were the first jazz band Lavert ever heard. Every Tuesday night was Cha Cha Night and on Thursdays Mambo Night was the hot ticket. But the big attraction was the before dawn Blue Monday Party.

   “People lined up to get into those jam sessions. Sometimes you couldn’t even get a seat. All the players, the girl singers, the quartets, entertainers like Erroll Garner and Arthur Prysock and Nancy Wilson, they’d be there performing. People went crazy when Nancy Wilson was there because she was so good,” Abner said.

   Lavert stayed overnight with his father at the Majestic on Sundays and went to the Blue Monday parties with him when they got going, which was at five in the morning. Afterwards Abner drove his son to school. If they stayed too late at the jam session, soaking up the sounds, he would call and ask for a squad car to race Lavert to school, its lights flashing and siren whooping.

   “Eyes lit up like flashbulbs on a camera whenever that happened,” Lavert said.

   There were only a handful of Cleveland hotels listed in the Negro Green Book. The Majestic was one of them. All the rooms had two beds and a radio on every bedstand, although Abner only had one bed. He had the other one removed so Lavert and he could have a table to eat at on Sunday nights. Lavert slept on a folding rollaway his father kept in the closet.

   When he was a baby, his mother kept his playpen next to the upright piano in the front room. It was so she would know where he was. So long as she heard him picking out notes she knew he wasn’t getting into trouble. When he was in third grade, he found out they had music classes at his grade school. He was eight years old.

   “I’d like to do that,” he told his mother. He lived with her and his grandparents. It was a surprise to all of them. “That’s just what my place was,” he said. But he found out even the status quo can change.

   He put his name down for piano lessons at the Miles Standish School. He learned to play a Chopin waltz sitting beneath a painting of Miles Standish, after who the school was named. The portrait was of a soldier accompanying the Pilgrims when they came to the New World. In the painting he wore armor and carried a matchlock rifle. He didn’t look like he knew a piano from a peace pipe. 

   Lavert played the organ and piano because his grandmother wanted him to. She was the matriarch of the family and conservative about everything under the sun. She didn’t believe in bell house music. She was strict about church music, too, so she had a man, who was the organist at the New Liberty Hill Baptist Church, come to their house and give him lessons. Years later, when he was older, Lavert played there himself.

   Paul John was the man who came to their house. He worked in the steel mills in the Flats. He was a friend of Lavert’s’s grandfather, who sang in the male chorus in the mill that Paul John led on a Salvation Army five rank pipe organ. The chorus went to Detroit and Pittsburgh to perform on holidays.

   “Mr. John could play Rachmaninoff, and all, but he was ahead of his time, so he had to give lessons,” Abner told his son. “That was the incentive for him when he came to your mother’s house and got you started. You put food on his table.”

   Lavert played sacred music for most of his life and jazz music the rest of the time. The sacred music came from his mother and grandmother, and the jazz music came from his father, who took him to uptown clubs like the Tijuana Café Society.

   “When the Four Sounds came to audition at the Tijuana, they were just re-opening, and they didn’t even have a piano on the stage. It was in the corner. I helped them lift it up on the stage to do the audition,” Abner said. He was a tall strong man. “They had been the Four Sounds until they asked me to talk to the saxophone player one night. He had a habit of carrying a gun in his horn case. He wouldn’t listen to a lick of sense. When he said he didn’t want to leave it behind, they finally left the saxophone out and became the Three Sounds.”

   Most days anybody walking around the neighborhood could hear a horn through an open window down the street from Doan Square, where all the action was. It was a jazz musician reading his lines in the afternoon. Hotels weren’t open to musicians of color, so they stayed in rooming houses. They minded their own business.

   “You couldn’t even go to the Five and Dime store and have a quiet lunch,” Lavert said.

   His grandmother went to buy a hat one Saturday and when she tried it on, she had to buy it. She had put it on her head to see if it fit and when a salesclerk saw her, she had to pay for it. His grandfather was a mulatto from Cuba. Whenever a white man came to their house, selling something, or on some errand, his grandfather was polite, but as soon as the white man left and was out of earshot he would spit and call the man a cracker.

   They lived on Pierpont Avenue in Glenville, what everyone called the Gold Coast, before Glenville fell apart and the Gold Coast moved to Lakewood in the 1960s. His grandmother died in 1968 and his mother sold the house, moving to Lost Nation Road. His grandfather moved into a rented room. By then Lavert had finished studies at the Boston Conservatory and was playing the big organ at the Christian Science Mother Church. In the summer he played piano at jazz clubs in Provincetown and Martha’s Vineyard.

   When he was a boy Glenville was crowded with immigrants, Negroes, and Jews. There were orthodox Jews all over the place. He thought they were Santa Claus’s in black suits. There were churches for men of faith, like the Cory United Methodist Church, which had been the Park Synagogue, and the Abyssinia Baptist Church, which had also been a synagogue. There were clubs, movie houses, and department stores.

   There were mom and pop restaurants run by the Jews. There were no bad sandwich shops in Glenville, but Abner always ate at Pirkle’s Deli. He said if he ever stumbled on a good-looking Jewish woman from his window at the Majestic, he was going to track her down so he could get up Sunday mornings and stroll out to the deli with her.

   “Those folks never invented anything so fine as deli food,” he said.  “The corned beef at Pirkle’s is as tender as a young lady’s leg.”

    Lavert’s father and mother were never together as a family. “There were two different families, his and ours,” he said. Abner and Odessa had their room at the Majestic some nights, but in later years she stayed away. She felt he betrayed her. “My father said he wanted to marry my mother, and she thought he was going to divorce his wife, but he never did that.” Over time she had a hard time seeing Abner as a soul mate.

   “Your mother shot a hole in my soul,” Abner said.

   Lavert lived with his mother and after she married another man, she bore two more boys who became his brothers, the boys sharing her. He became Lavert Stuart. Abner came to their house many times, often in his police car after he was promoted. He parked in the driveway for everybody to see. It wasn’t as if they were cut off from him.

   He was one of the first colored farmers in Twinsburg, where he kept fowl and pigs. Every November the family got a turkey for Thanksgiving. He had a smokehouse, too, and when time came to slaughter some of the fattening pigs, he would do it himself. He castrated the males a month beforehand. The family had bacon and ham all winter and into the spring.

   Abner picked Lavert up in his Ford pick-up on Friday and Saturday nights to help him forage for feed. The father and teenager drove up and down Euclid Avenue, on the south side of Glenville, from E. 110th to E. 95th Street, picking up refuse from barrels and dumpsters behind the clubs and restaurants on the strip. Abner stuck his gloved hands into the slop and nosed around for metal and glass before filling up his barrels.

   “Pigs will eat anything you give them. They can be stink and filth, even though their sausages smell great. I would rather cut myself than injure my animals.” The Hebrew meaning of Abner is “father of light.” He was a good father to his pigs.

   When their barrels were full, they drove to the farm. The pigs would hear the truck coming and know it was time to eat. “They started doing what pigs do, getting feisty and greedy. He dumped the food in the trough, let them loose, and they would go at it,” Lavert said. That was why Abner picked through the fruit vegetables scraps of meat greasy bits and pieces, because they would have cut themselves, biting into anything.

   Lavert Stuart stopped gleaning garbage when his mother told him he had to be careful about his hands. She didn’t want him hurting them, hurting his chances. Odessa wanted him to go places, better places than scrounging for leftovers behind eateries in the middle of the night.

   He learned more sacred music and less blue notes after his mother put him in Empire High. Eleanor Bishop, his music teacher, had been there since the school opened. She had a trim hourglass figure and the only thing that gave her away was that she wore old lady comforters. But she was spry and walked fast. She could catch bad boys anytime she wanted to.

   She was an old maid because she had become a teacher long ago and wasn’t supposed to marry, and by the time the times changed it was too late for her. One afternoon Lavert found a dedicatory book for Empire High, which was built in 1915. He leafed through it. He took it to her office.

   “I see your name in this book, and your picture,” he said.

   She looked at him.

   “Is this you?”

   “Yes.”

   “But you’re old, not like this.”

   “Everybody was once new,” she said, her face pinched. Lavert was sure she wanted to pinch him, hard, like she did when he hit a wrong note. But she didn’t put any concern to what he said. She made sure he practiced faithfully and later helped him get a scholarship to Ohio University, where he studied the organ. After he graduated, he never lived in Glenville again.

   He lived in Chicago, New York, and Boston. He learned to live alone, like Duke Ellington, who said music was a mistress. He lived in his own world, detached and determined, so he could practice. He had friends who kept him in tune to the here and now, but on weekend nights he didn’t go anywhere. He had to be ready for Sunday services. That kept him out of wrongdoing. He tried mischief a few times but decided it’s bad when you’re not feeling well in a church after a hard Saturday night. He decided he had to do it his way.

   He didn’t see much of his mother, who moved to California to live with one of his brothers, who had become a minister, and saw his father only when he was passing through the Midwest. They visited and had lunch at one or another deli in Cleveland Heights, where all the Jews had moved. Pirkle’s Deli had burned down. 

   Abner was an industrious man his whole life. When he retired and his lawful wife passed on, he bought the last commercial building, next to Whitmore’s Bar-B-Q, on Kinsman Road where it starts to snake up into Shaker Heights. It was a barbershop and beauty salon side-by-side. He lived upstairs in a one-bedroom apartment. He could have lived in a house, since he owned five of them, but didn’t want to.

   “I don’t want to get too comfortable because I may not be here long,” he said. His apartment had one bedroom and one bathroom. It had one table with two chairs, one sofa, and one half-empty closet. It looked like no one lived there. He was becoming his own gravedigger.

   “He had been industrious but changed into a careless custodian of his properties. He got short stingy and mean. He patchworked instead of getting things done the best way, so everything slowly deteriorated. He wasn’t willing to pay the price to get things done the right way. When a man has that mindset, he ends up losing more money than he’s spent,” Lavert said.

   Abner lost his eyesight when he was visiting Texas. He stepped on a splinter and after a few days his big toe got infected. He had surgery for it, but in the end, they had to amputate the toe. Afterwards he lost feeling in his leg. While he was still in the hospital convalescing, he woke up one morning and had gone blind. He stayed in Texas for a month, and when he came back, he moved in with Lavert’s sister on the other side of the family, who took care of him.

   He never recovered his sight, which was hard on him because he had always lived by his senses. The biggest problem, though, were the visions and nightmares he suffered, which were part of the side effects from the medication he was taking. He had them at night when he went to bed. He heard things and saw craziness and wasn’t able to sleep.

   Lavert never got his father and mother together, even when Abner was dying, and Lavert was staying with him, playing old jazz records. His father listened to music all day long towards the end. He stopped sleeping and eating, drinking cold lemonade, instead. The last time his mother visited Cleveland Abner was near death. Lavert took her to places in Glenville, some that were still there and others that weren’t anymore, trying to get her to go to the facility on Rockside Road where his father was. 

   She fought him all the way, and in the end wouldn’t go. Odessa just didn’t want anything to do with Abner. “That’s all over, a long time ago,” she said, shaking her head.

   Abner and Odessa did what they had to do from beginning to end. “I was just a cameo in the business they had between themselves,” Lavert said. After his father died there was nothing left to do anymore about the torn seam in the family fabric. He said goodbye to his mother, who went back to California. Abner Vance left behind six children by his wife Amanda, 11 grandchildren, and 18 great grandchildren. The rest didn’t make the cut.

   When he moved back to Cleveland, Lavert Stuart played sacred organ music three seasons of the year. But in the summer, he played jazz and popular tunes in clubs on Cape Cod. On Sunday mornings when the weather was good, he brewed a pot of strong coffee and warmed up a plate of spiced buns. On his balcony sitting in the light and warmth of the rising sun, he looked for what was behind the blue brightness, on the blue note side of the sky.

A version of this story appeared in Literary Heist Magazine.

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