Category Archives: Days and Nights

Kid Blast

By Ed Staskus

   I knew some bits and pieces about Dennis Kucinich, even though I had never met him. I knew what I knew because I was living in Cleveland, Ohio, and he was the mayor. He was the youngest mayor in the history of the city. He was the youngest mayor of any major American city. He was 31 years old but still looked milk-fed.

    I hadn’t voted for him. I never voted for anybody. I thought of myself as an anarchist. I wasn’t the bomb throwing kind though. I liked the idea of anarchism more than the risk-taking of anarchism. I wasn’t ready and willing to end up behind bars.

   The new mayor was born and bred in Cleveland, the oldest of seven children in a Catholic family. He was 23 years old when he won a seat on Cleveland’s city council. After he got a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University, he ran for mayor in 1977. He surprised himself and everybody else when he won. When he did his troubles started and went on and on.

   Cleveland was a mess in 1977. A year earlier The Cleveland Plain Dealer splashed “Bombing Business Booming Here” across its front page. The old-school Italian families and the new-school Celtic Club were fighting it out for control of the rackets. Car bombs were the preferred ways and means of debate. All the evidence was usually blown to bits, which suited everybody involved, since they were all in. It didn’t suit the police, who were left out in the cold.

   The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms set up a new headquarters in town. When asked why they said since Cleveland was “Bomb City USA” they were obliged to do something about it. Within a year they doubled their staff.

   It wasn’t just bombs, either. Trash collection and street repairs were slipping fast. The parks were more litter and dopeheads than fun and games. Corporations and manufacturers were pulling up stakes. Racial polarization was staying put. Whites hated the busing that was coming and made sure everybody knew it. “We Say, No Way, No Bus for Us” is what their banners said. As the 1970s kicked off murders in the city set a record with 333 of them. Ten years earlier there had been 59. Environmentalists declared the Cuyahoga River dead and Lake Erie not far behind. The city lost a quarter of its population during the Me Decade. 

   The city didn’t lose me. I moved back to Cleveland after growing up in North Collinwood and Euclid. My parents didn’t like it. They believed in the American Dream and thought I was back tracking. They told me so from their suburban home. They thought the metropolis was a nightmare.

   I lived a block from Lakeshore Blvd. and two blocks from Lake Erie. Bratenahl was three blocks west. I rode the 39B bus through the posh village Monday through Friday on my way downtown to Cleveland State University. I always sat in the last row so that nobody could sit behind me. I didn’t have to worry about the swells, since they never rode the bus, but the same wasn’t true of some of my east side neighbors.

   Dennis Kucinich got started with a bang when he was elected in November. He championed the public good and made sure everybody understood he wasn’t going to auction off the city’s assets. He was sick and tired of corporate collusion and tax abatements. Everybody was sick and tired of the old mayor Ralph Perk. Dennis Kucinich was a breath of fresh air.

   It was snowing when he was inaugurated in January. It kept snowing and the new leader of the pack was forced to declare the metropolitan area a “disaster zone.” Before the month ended the city was hit with the worst blizzard in its history. Things went from bad to worse when he fired his police chief two months later.

   Dennis Kucinich had appointed Richard Hongisto, a former San Francisco sheriff, to be chief of police as soon as he became the mayor elect. It seemed like a smart choice, especially after the head honcho in blue saved a man from a snowbank during the Great Blizzard of 1978. He was acclaimed by the press and public as a man’s man.

   The mayor didn’t see it that way. When the police chief wouldn’t go along with his plans, which included rewarding his supporters with jobs, he charged him with insubordination. The chief responded by saying he wasn’t going to commit any “unethical acts.” On Easter weekend in front of live TV cameras the mayor fired his top cop. One thing led to another, and even though he was in a hole, he couldn’t stop digging. When business and civic leaders lost confidence in him, momentum grew for a recall election. When they started calling him Dennis the Menace the momentum became the real deal.

   I didn’t meet Terese Schaser until the late 1980s. It happened soon after I met her daughter, who was going to become my wife-to-be, although none of us knew it at the time. In 1978 Terese was living in Park Centre. She had left her husband and was making her way as a restaurateur. The twin 23-story downtown towers were less than ten years old, built with raw cement features in a Brutalist style, where the best people lived. Richard Hongisto lived in the same building as my mother-in-law in the making.

   She was in her mid-30s and getting on a roll. When she heard about the recall effort, she got behind it and helped roll the ball forward. She wasn’t much older than the boy mayor but believed he was an upstart, his inexperience getting in the way of his governing ability. Her friend the ex-police chief agreed with her. Neither of them gave a hoot about his populist philosophy.

   Cleveland was on the verge of default. Dennis Kucinich did the best he could to fend off his naysayers, but he was a Democrat, not a member of any intelligible political party. He shouldn’t have been allowed to deal with the devil in the first place. He was taking his lumps from all sides. Even his own city council was at his throat.

   He called them “a group of lunatics” and “a bunch of buffoons.” He said, “it’s hard to believe that so many people can be so stupid.” He added insult to injury by saying, “if they’re not stupid then they are crooked.” That summer he ordered more police patrols in the projects to counter rising crime. The police department refused to obey the order. Thirteen police were disciplined and suspended which led to a police strike. Among other things it was another first for the city.

   The Kucinich administration was making history right and left.

   When the weather warmed up Terese was in summer dresses and flat shoes helping with the recall petition. She had great legs from her dancing days. Towards the end of May the effort was short of the required signatures. She threw herself into the work explaining cajoling and demanding. She never got tired and wore people out. She had a big personality. Ten years later she wore me out. Her children ate cold cereal in the morning and cold leftovers at night. By the deadline of June 1st more than enough signatures had been gotten. 

   The mayor refused to resign, saying “Bring on the recall.” He handed out bumper stickers saying, “Support Kucinich, the Peoples’ Mayor.” The people would have their say soon enough. Terese’s kids breathed a sigh of relief, but the hot meals didn’t last long. The recall election was scheduled for mid-August. The canvasser redoubled her efforts.

   She had pizzazz to spare and didn’t spare any of it during the recall campaign. She didn’t just rub two sticks together. She made sure one of them was a match. The lady lit a fire under everybody she talked to. Working on a political campaign means about half the electorate is going to hate you day in day out. She didn’t let it get her down. She had an agenda and a bogeyman. At night she made her plans for the next day while singing along to lurid Italian operas. 

   “My mother was an enthusiastic but terrible singer,” her daughter said.

   When Dennis Kucinich stalled on demands to sell Municipal Power, the city’s publicly owned electric utility, not only did lawyers get involved the Cleveland Mob got involved, too. They brought in a hit man from Maryland to shoot him during a parade. Nothing came of it when the mayor was hospitalized for a few days and missed the event. He never really liked parades, anyway. 

   As the recall campaign got into full swing, Council President George Forbes and Dennis Kucinich argued about the merits of building a new ore dock for Republic Steel, except their arguments had nothing to do with the ore dock.

   “Stick to the issue,” George Forbes said.

   “Mr. Chairman, I determine the issue,” Dennis Kucinich said.

   “Not in this chamber,” George Forbes retorted.

   “You will permit me to continue my remarks,” Dennis Kucinich said.

   “Just one moment,” George Forbes complained. 

   “You have no ability to censor my remarks,” Dennis Kucinich explained.

   George Forbes didn’t like that. His dark face got darker. He ordered the mayor’s microphone shut off. Dennis Kucinich and his aides stormed out. When all the hot air was said and done, Republic Steel walked away from Cleveland and built a new ore dock in Lorain.

   “The best and longest running show in town isn’t at Playhouse Square,” Roldo Bartimole, who wrote the newsletter Point of View, said. “It’s at Cleveland City Hall. The admission is free.”

   When recall day arrived more than 120,000 Clevelanders voted. Dennis Kucinich took a nap. He knew staying up wasn’t going to change the result if he lost. He also knew if he won, he had another tough day in front of him, and needed the rest. He prevailed by a margin of 236 votes. Terese’s kids ate well the next day when it was all over.

   Towards the end of the year Cleveland s banks refused to roll over the city’s debts. They assured the mayor it would be business as usual if they could do what they wanted with Municipal Power. He refused, and the city went into default, the first city since the Great Depression to find itself unable to meet its financial obligations.

   He lost his reelection bid in 1979. It was one and done. He wasn’t going to be the jackass in a hailstorm anymore. Everybody was sick and tired of confrontational politics. George Voinovich took his place. He got Cleveland going on the road to ‘The Comeback City.’ When the century came to an end historian Melvin Hollis put Dennis Kucinich on his list of ten worst big-city mayors of all time in his book “The American Mayor: The Best & Worst of the Big-City Leaders.”

   Terese remarried and moved to a corner apartment on an upper floor of Park Centre. The family barbecued on the balcony and watched the air show over Lake Erie every September. The Blue Angels cut the corner across their roof pirouetting back to Burke Lakefront Airport. She gave up governmental enthusiasms, concentrating on foodstuffs. She opened a restaurant and then another one. She worked as a pastry chef on both sides of town. She catered weddings and served food at funerals.

   At the end of the day, kicking back, she liked to paraphrase Mark Twain. “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a politician, but I repeat myself.” It always got a big laugh over dessert, especially when she added, “Put them in charge of the Sahara Desert and in a couple of years there will be a shortage of sand.”

   I moved to Lakewood, Cleveland’s second-oldest suburb on its western border. The town’s mayor kept his nose to the grindstone, focusing on safety, schools, and city services.  They weren’t running out of sand anytime soon.

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.”

Busted Flat on Prospect

By Ed Staskus

   As the Me Decade was winding down, I discovered I was poor as a church mouse. I owned lots of dog-eared books, some clothes, and a broken-down car. I didn’t have any money in the bank because I didn’t have a bank account. When the time came for me to leave Prospect Ave. for better prospects, it was past time. I didn’t have a clock, but I could tell.

   I moved out of the Plaza Apartments because I couldn’t make the rent, which wasn’t astronomical by any means, but considerable enough for me. I moved into a Polish double in Asia Town with a roommate and my Siamese cat. The house was behind another house with no driveway or garage, but the rent was heaven-sent. The kitchen was small to non-existent. The living room was large and the bedrooms fair-sized. The neighborhood was a mix of old-timers, students, and Chinamen. It was quiet, too, with little of the vice and violence that made Prospect Ave. menacing.

   In the 1870s the avenue steamrolled past Erie Street, which is now East 9th St., and kept going until it reached East 55th St. That’s where it stopped. “Lower Prospect, closer into downtown, went commercial long ago, but Upper Prospect, east of say 14th or 22nd, stayed residential longer,” says Bill Barrow, historian at the Michael Schwartz Library at Cleveland State University. Lower Prospect is where lots of downtown entertainment is now, including Rocket Mortgage Field House, where the NBA Cavaliers play basketball, and the House of Blues.

   At the turn of the century the Rose Building was built at East 9th St. and Prospect Ave. There were only four cars in the city. Everybody else walked or rode a horse-pulled streetcar. It was called Rose’s Folly because everybody believed it was too far from Public Square, even though it was less than a mile.

   The Winton Hotel was built in 1916 on the far side of East 9th St. It was highfalutin. It was renamed the Carter Hotel in 1931, suffered a cruel fire in the 1960s, but was renovated and renamed Carter Manor. I never set foot in it. The Ohio Bell Building went up in the 1920s before the Terminal Tower on Public Square was built.  When it was finished it became the tallest structure in the city. It was the building that Cleveland’s teenaged creators of Superman had the Man of Steel first leap over in a single bound. The cartoon strip appeared in their Glenville High School newspaper, The Daily Planet.

   Before Superman ever got the nickname, the Man of Steel was Doc Savage. There were dozens of the adventure books written by Lester Dent. When I was a kid, I read every one I could get my hands on. Doc Savage always saved the day. Nothing ever slowed him down, not kryptonite, not anything. 

   In the 1970s Prospect Ave. wasn’t a place where anybody wanted to raise kids. Nobody even wanted to visit the place with their kids in tow. The street was littered with dive bars, hookers, and bookstores like the Blue Bijou. There was heroin in the shadows and plasma donation centers opened in the morning light. The junkies knew all about needles and got paid for their donations.

   The Plaza was around 70 years old when I moved in. There was ivy on the brick walls and shade trees in the courtyard. There were day laborers, retirees, some no-goods, college students, beatniks and shiftless hippies, artists and musicians living there. “The people who lived in the building during my days there helped shaped my artistic and moral being,” Joanie Deveney said. “We drank and partied, but our endeavors were true, sincere, and full of learning.” Everybody called her Joan of Art.

   Not everybody was an artist or musician.

   “But anybody could try to be,” Rich Clark said. “We were bartenders and beauticians and bookstore clerks with something to say. There was an abiding respect for self-expression. We encouraged each other to try new things, and people dabbled in different forms. Poets painted, painters made music, and musicians wrote fiction.”

   The punk band Pere Ubu called it home. Their synch player Allen Ravenstine owned the property with his partner Dave Bloomquist. “I was a kid from the suburbs. When we bought the building in the red-light district in 1969, we did everything from paint to carpentry. We tried to restore it unit by unit.”

   The restoration went on during the day. The parties went on at night. They went on long into the night.

   “I remember coming home at four in the morning,” Larry Collins said. “There would be people in the courtyard drinking beer and playing music. We watched the hookers and the customers play hide-and-seek with undercover vice cops. In the morning, I would wake up to see a huge line of locals waiting in line in front of the plasma center.”

   When I lived there, I attended Cleveland State University on and off, stayed fit by walking since my car was unfit, and hung around with my friends. Most of us didn’t have TV’s. We entertained ourselves. I worked for Minuteman whenever I absolutely had to. The jobs I got through them were the lowest-paying grunge jobs on the face of the planet, but beggars can’t be choosers.

   I spent a couple of weeks on pest control bending and crawling into and out of tight spaces searching for rats, roaches, and termites. My job was to eliminate them with pesticides. The sprays were toxic. The bugs ran and hid. I tried to not breath the white mist in.

   I spent a couple of days roofing, trying not to fall off sloped elevated surfaces that were far hotter than the reported temperature of the day. The work was as unskilled as it got, which suited me, but I got to hate high places. My land legs were what kept me going. I didn’t want to fall off a roof and break either one of them.

   I spent a couple of hours jack hammering, quitting in the middle of the day.

   “If you don’t go back, don’t bother coming back here,” the Minuteman boss told me. “Hit the road, Jack,” I said, walking out. I wasn’t worried about alienating the temporary agency. Somebody was always hiring somebody to do the dirty work.

   The Plaza was four stories and a basement, a high and low world. Some folks were lazy as bags of baloney while others were hard-working. Some didn’t think farther ahead than their next breath while others thought it was a Lego world for the making.

   “I had a basement apartment in the front,” Nancy Prudic said. “The junkies sat on the ledge and partied all night long. But the Plaza was a confluence of creative minds from many fields. It was our own little world. Besides artists, there were architects and urban planners. My kids grew up there.”

   Some kids didn’t grow all the way up. Some of them didn’t last long. They moved on one way or another. One of the kids was Pete Laughner.

   He was from Bay Village, an upper middle class lakefront suburb west of Cleveland. He wrote songs, sang, and played guitar. He was “the single biggest catalyst in the birth of Cleveland’s alternative rock scene in the mid-1970s,” Richard Unterberger said. He led the bands Friction and Cinderella Backstreet. He co-founded Rocket from the Tombs. “They were a mutant papa to punk rock as well as spawning a number of famous and infamous talents, all packed into one band,” Dave Thomas said. After the Rockets crashed and burned, he teamed with Dave the Crocus Behemoth to form Pere Ubu.

   Pere Ubu’s debut show was at the Viking Saloon in late 1975. Their flyer said, “New Year’s Eve at the Viking. Another Godamn Night. Another year for me and you, another year with nothing to do.” Pete had a different take on it. “We’re pointing toward the music of the 80s.”

   When he wasn’t making his stand on a riser, Pete was writing about rock and roll for Creem, a new monthly music magazine which was as sincere and irreverent as his guitar playing. The magazine coined the term “punk rock” in 1971. “Creem nailed it in a way that nobody else did,” says Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.

   He played with the Mr. Stress Blues Band in 1972 when he was 20 years old. They played every Friday and Saturday at the Brick Cottage. Mr. Stress called the squat building at Euclid Ave. and Ford Rd. the “Sick Brick.” When he did everybody called for another round. Monique the one and only barman ran around like a madwoman. “The more you drink, the better we sound,” the stocky man on the mouth organ said.

   Mr. Stress was a stocky TV repairman by day. The lanky curly-haired Pete Laughner was in disrepair day and night. He wasn’t part-time anything. He wasn’t like the other sidemen. His guitar playing was raw and jagged. While the band was doing one thing, he seemed to be doing another thing. 

   “He only ever had three guitar lessons,” said his mother.

   “He was so energetic and driven, but his energy couldn’t be regulated,” said Schmidt Horning, who played in the Akron band Chi Pig. “It could make it hard to play with him. He was so anxious and wouldn’t take a methodical approach.”

   Pete was already in bands in his mid-teens. “Peter was my boyfriend when we were 15,” Kathy Hudson said. “He still had his braces. He was with the Fifth Edition. They were playing at the Bay Way one time and he wanted them to bust up their equipment like The Who. The others weren’t down with it.”

   Charlotte Pressler was who Pete married. “From 1968 to 1975 a small group of people were evolving styles of music that would, much later, come to be called ‘New Wave’. But the whole system of New Wave interconnections which made it possible for every second person on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to become a star did not exist in Cleveland,” she said. “There were no stars in Cleveland. Nobody cared what they were doing. If they did anything at all, they did it for themselves. They adapted to those conditions in different ways. Some are famous. Some are still struggling. One is dead.”

   Before Pete died, he stepped into a photo booth in the Cleveland Arcade, one of the earliest indoor shopping arcades in the United States. He was wearing a black leather jacket and looked exhausted. He sent the pictures and a note to a friend. “Having a wonderful time. Hope you never find yourself here.”

   He played his kind of music at Pirate’s Cove in the Flats, along with Devo and the Dead Boys. “We’re trying to go beyond those bands like the James Gang and Raspberries, drawing on the industrial energy here,” Pete said. He played at the Viking Saloon, not far from the Greyhound station, until it burned down in 1976. Dave Thomas was a bouncer there, keeping law and order more than just an idle rumor. He wasn’t the Crocus Behemoth for nothing.

   Pete wrote to a friend of his in 1976. “I’m drinking myself to death. No band, no job, running out of friends. It’s easy, you start upon waking with Bloody Mary’s and beer, then progress through the afternoon to martinis, and finally cognac or Pernod. When I decided I wanted to quit I simply bought a lot of speed and took it and then drank only about a case of beer a day, until one day I woke up and knew something was wrong, very wrong. I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t piss or shit anything but water. And then the pain started, slowly like a rat eating at my guts until I couldn’t stand it anymore and was admitted to the hospital.”

   The rat was pancreatitis. If you lose a shoe at midnight you’re drunk. Pete lost shoes like other people lose socks in the dryer. He didn’t need any shoes where he was going. It was the beginning of the end of him. It didn’t take long. He wouldn’t or couldn’t listen to his doctor’s orders. He went back to his old pal, booze.

   “Peter could do whatever he wanted to do,” said Tony Mamione who played bass in Pere Ubu. “He was instrumental in crafting the Pere Ubu sound, but, even at such an early age, had a deep understanding of all kinds of music.”

   Tony and Pete met when they lived across the hall from each other on the third floor of the Plaza Apartments. “I had just moved in and would play my bass and Peter heard it through the walls and knocked on my door. We started talking and he went back and grabbed his guitar and some beer, and we started jamming right away.”

  Pete was as good if not better on the piano than the guitar, even though the guitar was his rocket ship. One day he found a serviceable piano at a bargain price and bought it. He and Tony picked it up to take back to the Plaza. “Here I was driving his green Chevy van down Cedar Ave. and there he was in the back of the van rocking out on the piano,” Tony said. “He was so special, a pure musician.”

   After they coaxed dragged muscled the piano up to the third floor, they had some beers and the next jam session started.

   “I want to do for Cleveland what Brian Wilson did for California and Lou Reed did for New York,” Pete said in 1974. “I’m the guy between the Fender and the Gibson. I want a crowd that knows a little bit of the difference between the sky and the street. It’s all those kids out there standing at the bar, talking trash, waiting for an anthem.”

   They would have to wait for somebody else. Pete Laughner died in 1977 a month before his 25th birthday. He was one year younger than me. He didn’t die at the Plaza Apartments. Neither of us was there anymore. He died in his sleep at his parent’s home in Bay Village. There’s nowhere to fall when your back is against the wall, except maybe where you got up on your feet in the first place.

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.”

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.”

From Here to Someday

By Ed Staskus

   Sylvester came into the kitchen where I was making pancakes, stood up on his hind legs, and slapped his tongue against the side of my face. I didn’t mind. His mouth was probably cleaner than that of most of my friends. His kiss was less risky than kissing another human being, like my girlfriend. Whatever germs were in his cavernous mouth were mostly incompatible to human beings. I never caught the flu from him since he never coughed or sneezed. Sometimes it seemed he had more of a soft spot for me than any living person I knew.

   My brother left his Great Dane behind when he moved out. The dog cost me an arm and a leg to feed. I had to walk him twice a day. I had to shove him out of my bed whenever he tried to sleep next to me. His germs might have been harmless, but his bad breath was like sewer gas. He was good-natured, though, and we got along. I called him Sly and the Family Stone. He called me the boss. He didn’t know how to talk, but I knew what he meant when he barked.

   Sly was in his formative years and fascinated by cars. He chased them recklessly. I put a stop to it by sitting him down on the tree lawn and driving slowly past with a squirt gun in my lap. The gun was loaded with vinegar. Whenever he lunged at the car, I squirted him in the face through the open window. It only took ten minutes to teach him cars were dangerous and guns even more dangerous. After that I rarely put him on a lead when we walked to the pocket park on the lake for runaround time. He walked beside me and the only time I grabbed for his collar was when I spied another dog coming our way.

   I was living upstairs in a Polish double on the west end of North Collinwood, on a forgotten street, a couple of blocks from Lake Erie. Ray Sabaliauskas lived downstairs with his prize German Shepherd and the wife he brought back from the Vietnam War. I was going to Cleveland State University and paying for it by taking a quarter off every now and then to work for an electro-static painting outfit. They did most of their work on-site out of town. Ray fed and walked my dog whenever I was on the road.

   The day the dog became my dog was the week after my brother’s fiancée Brenda, a girl from Vermont who my brother met while in the U. S. Army at Fort Riley in Kansas, was killed on Route 20 coming home from her part-time job at a restaurant in Mentor. She had been enrolled full-time at Cuyahoga Community College the rest of the time.

   The night Brenda didn’t come home was the night I woke up at two in the morning from a bad dream with a bad feeling. I got up and sat looking out window. It had rained earlier, and the backyard grass glistened. The lettuce in the garden was fat and bright. A cat sat under the eaves of the garage, keeping an eye out for a late-night snack.

   When I noticed Brenda’s Subaru station wagon wasn’t in the driveway, I somehow felt certain something terrible had happened to her. I couldn’t shake the feeling. I stayed up, sitting by the window, until I finally went back to bed, thinking it was the dream that had upset me. Even so, I couldn’t fall back asleep, and when I did, I slept fitfully.

   The next morning a Cleveland Police squad car pulled up outside the house and broke the news to my brother. At first, I thought he hadn’t heard what the policeman said. He stood stock still. But then he asked where Brenda was and reached for his car keys. I didn’t see him the rest of the day or the next day. Brenda’s parents arrived later in the week and took her back to Vermont for burial in the family’s hometown cemetery. When my brother got back from the funeral he moved out.

   Brenda fell asleep at the wheel coming home the night she died, but that wasn’t what killed her. She wasn’t even hurt when the car drifted off the highway and halfway down the embankment. She was able to stomp on the brakes and stop the car from overturning. She even coaxed it back up to the shoulder, where she discovered she had a flat tire. She flicked on the flashers and was getting the jack and spare tire out of the back of the car when a drunk going her way slipped out of his lane and rear-ended her. She was propelled into and over the Subaru. She died on the spot, blind-sided, never knowing what hit her.

   When I finished my pancakes, I took Sly for a short walk. Brenda and my brother were gone, and the dog was my roommate now. He didn’t say much, which suited me, but he needed tending. I was running late for school. Back home I left him on the front porch to sleep the day away and made my way to Lakeshore Blvd, where I caught the 39B bus downtown for a class. It was cheaper than taking my bucket of bolts and paying for parking. It was Friday and I was looking forward to babysitting a friend’s motorcycle for the weekend.

   Saturday morning, I scarfed down a cream cheese bagel and a glass of Joe Wieder’s. The motorcycle was in the driveway behind the house where nobody could see it. The streets were sketchy, brothers from the hood and hoodlums from the neighborhood prowling for loot. It was a 1950s Vincent Black Shadow, only a couple of years younger than me. My friend had dropped it that spring when the front wheel locked up. A handlebar was bent and made tight right turns tricky. Even though it was beat up, it handled well, had great acceleration, and was all nearly all black.

   Thirty years earlier Rollie Free, wearing a helmet, swimming trunks, and tennis shoes, broke the motorcycle land speed record riding a Black Shadow at the Bonneville Salt Flats. He did it lying flat outstretched on his stomach and hanging on to the handlebars for dear life. Two years later he did it again, breaking his own record.

   I tied my backpack down across the handlebars, turned the key, and kicked it into life. The air-cooled V-twin engine made a happy sound. I dropped it into gear. At the sidewalk I tipped my hat to a blonde walking by. She turned her nose up at me but looked the bike up and down.

   I rode west on Lakeshore Blvd, halfway through Bratenahl, and turned south on East 105th St. I meant to connect with Euclid Ave. I wanted to get an eyeful of the urban decay in Glenville I had been hearing about. It was still there. I took in the ruins. The mess was a place, no place to live, I thought.

   I met my friend Matt Lavikka at our friend Mary Jane’s gray-colored Gothic-style clapboard house on East 33rd St. off Payne Ave. Matt was in the back with MJ, taking it easy in her deep-set narrow backyard. It was a tangle of overgrown hedges, monstrous bean plants, super-sized sunflowers, roses run riot, dwarf trees, and carnations trying to make sense of it all.

   Twin blue-eyed albino cats ran past from next door, across the lawn and over a low fence. One of them was cross-eyed. The hippie artist next door let them do their own thing. They were rolling stones who only ate and slept at home. Matt’s motorcycle was in the drive, a stripped-down 1965 Triumph with short pipes and a glossy paint job. We decided to ride west along the lake, nowhere special, just drifting in the direction the sun was going

   We gassed up across the Cuyahoga River and stopped at a diner for coffee. Matt was a fireman in Bay Village, where fires were far and few between. He knew his laydown jobs better than most. He graduated from Cleveland State University that spring. He was in a philosophical frame of mind all summer, trying to remember something that had never happened in the way of exercising his mind. 

   We rode on Lake Rd. through Lakewood, Rocky River and Bay Village. We were riding into a strong headwind, but it was no match for our bikes. The sun reached its zenith and kept going. We kept going, too, until we reached Vermilion. There were crowds milling in the streets. We slowed down to almost nothing. Children gamboled here and there. We inched our way to the harbor. A rail thin lady with a perky face told us it was the annual Fish Festival. 

   We caught a break coming into town that day. There were vintage cars on parade, men wearing fezzes and sashes, marching high school bands in starched uniforms, a covey of Boy Scouts, floats carrying gals looking like stars, garish looking clowns, and oafish looking town officials.

   Brenda had been an outdoorsman. She would have jumped at the chance to cruise the Fish Festival. She had just turned legal that year. Now she was gone with no future. I couldn’t get her out of my mind.

   We had heaping plates of buttered perch with potatoes and sage. Matt wanted to talk about the future, but I didn’t. I scorned the past as nothing but debris, and the present as grist for the mill. I left the future to chance. Now that Matt had a college degree, he told me I was being irresponsible. 

   “Mind your own business,” I said.

   “That kind of attitude is even more irresponsible,” he said.

   “You’ll be an old man soon enough. Wait until then to talk that way.”

   “I’ll have to look you up when that happens,” he said.

   A shapely gal wearing a bikini with ruffles came our way. She was topped off with a peaked hat two feet high, four feet wide, made of wire mesh and adorned with red, white, and blue rosettes. We admired her glide. When we left Vermilion, we followed a road along the shore winding past small frame houses and cottage resorts. There were big trees everywhere and the air smelled sweet.

   After we reached Marblehead, we took the ferry to Kelly’s Island. We saw sailboats bobbing up and down, leaning to one side of the wind. The ferry rode rough on the choppy water. Matt’s Triumph didn’t have a center stand and he had to lean on it to keep it from falling over. A tow-headed boy getting soaked at the bow laughed like Soupy Sales every time a wave crashed onto the deck. When he saw Perry’s Monument he jumped and pointed that way.

   “Don’t Give Up the Ship” was on Commander Oliver Perry’s battle flag during the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. It commemorated the dying words of a fellow commander who fell in an earlier naval engagement against the British. Oliver Perry didn’t give up and the British squadron was sent packing.

   We rode around the island aimlessly with our helmets off and the sunny breeze in our hair. The blacktop dipped and curved. There were boats stashed in harbors tied to docks all over the place. We took a break at a public beach, ogling babes sizzling in baby oil from behind our sunglasses. Back on our bikes we rode across a field to an abandoned baseball field. The chain link of the backstop was rusted, and the painted stands weathered cracking peeling. The pitcher’s mound was overgrown with weeds.

   We shared some weed sitting on the outfield grass. Matt started waxing about the problem of good and evil. I suspected I was in for it and took a deep drag on the reefer. “The Nazi’s thought what they did to the Jews was righteous, while at the same time many other people didn’t,” he said.

   “Especially the Jews,” I said.

   “Who was right?”  

   I said we both knew Adolf Hitler and his supporters were monsters.

   “Sure, but that’s not the point,” he said. 

   “What is the point?”

   “Just trying to touch on something metaphysical here.”

   “All right, but metaphysics is a branch of fantasy. Arguments about good and evil are useless. Hardly anything except breathing is not relative. Most of it is all made up.”

   “What about your brother’s girlfriend who got killed? Did the drunk driver have the right to determine her life and death?”

   “I hope they hang that guy like they hung the Nazi’s.”

   We took a quarry road back to the ferry dock. We were early for our return ride and walked to a nearby tavern. It had a Louisiana ceiling and wide plank floor. Fishing paraphernalia filled the walls. Teenagers were playing pinball and yukking it up They looked too young to drink but had bottles of Blatz at hand. Over the cash register somebody had scrawled in magic marker that an Irishman was not drunk so long as he could hold on to a blade of grass and not fall off the edge of the planet.

   Matt and I each had a Blatz while we waited for our boat. Back on the mainland, we took secondary roads as far as Avon, where Matt waved goodbye and roared off for home. I laced up my skates and got on the highway. I crossed the Flats going 75 MPH. Passing the Municipal Stadium I fell in with three other motorcycles who were hauling ass.

   I hit 105 MPH keeping up, then taking the lead, leaning low over my handlebars. Every part of me was focused on the road flowing backwards in front of me. I had never gone that fast on a car or motorcycle or anything else other than a jet plane. Nothing mattered except keeping my tail on the seat and not wiping out. 

   Hunter Thompson once said, “If you ride the Vincent Black Shadow at top speed for any length of time, you will almost certainly die. That is why there are not many life members of the Black Shadow Society.” It took less than three minutes to pass the Cleveland Aquarium and veer away from the pack down the ramp of my exit onto Waterloo Rd. I caught my breath at the stop sign before an impatient blaring horn behind me made me jump and I tapped the gear shift.

   Back home I tucked the Vincent away out of sight in the backyard. I watered and fed Sly before throwing myself down on the sofa. My legs felt like worn out rubber bands. My left palm was puffy from handling the clutch all day. I wasn’t used to it. I wasn’t used to anybody my age dying, either, but Brenda had died and there wasn’t anything anybody could do about it. 

   A good idea is to die young as late in life as possible. The real pay dirt is to not be there when it happens, although that never happens. It hadn’t worked out for Brenda. Her life was still in the memory of the living. Nobody had forgotten her, yet. When that happens, it happens slowly, counting down to zero, until nobody remembers. It was a shame, I thought, before I stopped thinking about time and fate and fell into a simple as ABC dreamless sleep.

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.”

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.”