By Ed Staskus
Kevin Rourke was a winsome young man with a big handsome face, big handsome hair that fell waving across his forehead, and a handsome man’s love for all girls, great and small. He was charming and devious. He was slowly going to paunch but still young enough that nobody noticed it except us, his roommates, who saw him flip flopping to and from bedroom and bathroom every morning with a towel wrapped around his spreading mid-section.
He was in his late-20s, but his belly was going on late-30s. He didn’t drink, but he didn’t work out either. He liked food as much as he liked girls. He was always eating and plucking daisies. The only time he wasn’t was when he went to Florida, which he did for a week twice a year. When he did he took only a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, two pairs of clean underwear, and a wad of cash with him.
“What do you do there?” we finally asked him.
“I don’t do anything,” he said. “I hardly leave my room. I sit on the balcony sometimes at night.”
“How about getting some sun?”
“No,” he said. “I keep the outside where it belongs, which is outside.”
“What do you mean? There’s a beach right there.” He always stayed in the same hotel, the Pier 66 Hotel, on the Atlantic Ocean. “What do you do in your room?”
“I sleep,” he said.
“What about food?”
“It’s my diet week.”
“You can’t sleep all day every day for a week.”
“I’ll take that bet,” he said.
His Lebanese fiancée took the bet and lost. When she did she wouldn’t take his calls for two weeks, but he wormed his way back into her good graces after he got back to Cleveland from Fort Lauderdale and their wedding was back on, except when it wasn’t. They had been engaged for more than a year. Day after day they were unable to set a firm date. In the meantime, Kevin kept sowing his wild oats, continuing to hedge his bets.
He took more showers than anybody we knew. He showered every morning, and often enough again in the early evening after work. He even showered those nights he wasn’t going out but staying in. He wrapped his dampness up in a bathrobe those nights and watched TV. Neither Matt Lavikka, our other roommate, nor I minded. We didn’t watch much on the boob tube, anyway, except in the fall when the Cleveland Browns were losing to somebody every Sunday after Sunday.
When he was spic and span, Kevin worked for ABF Freight Systems, which was a national less-than-truckload motor carrier based in Arkansas. We called it All Broken Freight. After calling it that to his face a few times and seeing frown lines break out on his puss, we eased off and stopped with the buzz talk.
He was an orphan, or at least said he was an orphan, and had thrown in with ABF like it was a second family. He had a desk in an office in Brook Park, although he hardly ever went there. His paycheck grew, being largely commissioned, only when he was on the road. He never missed a day of work. Most of the time he worked overtime, pressing the flesh day and night. Some nights he slept in his car in his suit when the drive back to Cleveland was going to take too long. When he showed up in the morning he took a shower, changed his clothes, and went back to work.
Even though we knew he was making a boatload of money, he didn’t seem to own anything except half a dozen expensive suits, a row of long-sleeved starched white shirts, a trove of status symbol ties, comfortable Italian leather shoes, and a 1980 Mercury Marquis. The car was still nearly new and was reddish purple with a leather-and-velour interior and split-bench seats. The driver’s seat reclined. We called it the land yacht. He kept it even cleaner than he kept himself. If there was anything he loved, it was that car.
I was taken aback the first time I saw Leyla, Kevin’s Lebanese girlfriend and treasure chest. She was dark-skinned like she had just crossed the River Jordan, with black hair and a pocket-sized hook nose. There isn’t much that is more problematic than marrying somebody with a big nose. She was swank, with some sort of fur wrapped around the top of her. Her dress was cream-colored and designer. She wasn’t half as good-looking as Kevin, and I pegged her at about ten years older.
Her groom-to-be lived by the mantra that when he found a woman with millions of dollars, who would sign over most of it to him, and promised to be dead within a couple of years at the most, that was the woman he was going to marry. “It’s just as easy marrying a rich woman as it is marrying a poor one,” he explained. Leyla didn’t look like she was going to drop dead any time soon, although she looked like she had the dollars, for sure. We found out her father was a big time import exporter.
Kevin knew that married couples become in the eyes of the law one person, and that one person was going to be him. Even though it is true enough that one shouldn’t marry for money, since it is cheaper to simply borrow it, he had a one-track mind.
I was dating a queen bee by the name of Dana Price. Her family lived in a new house in a new development in Solon, a bedroom suburb about twenty minutes southeast of Cleveland. She worked for IBM as a saleswoman, selling hardware systems to banks, and lived in an apartment twice as large as she needed at the top of Cedar Rd. in Cleveland Heights. Her father ran Mrs. Weiss’ Noodles.
The family company had been another family’s business for more than forty years. They were Hungarian, churning out Ha-Lush-Ka noodles for casseroles and dumpling-style Kluski egg noodles at their Woodland Ave. plant. When it burned down in 1961 they built a new plant in Solon. By 1968, after they merged with American Mushroom, they were a multi-million-dollar company and still growing. After the Hungarians were dead and gone, Jim Price became president in 1978.
I called him Big Jim because he was a big man with a big mouth. He knew everything about everything. There was no mistaking where you stood with him. He told me so himself when he told me to stay away from his daughter. He didn’t want her marrying an immigrant son with nothing in the bank and anarchist leanings. But she was as stubborn and determined as her father and ignored him.
We talked about her father’s concerns. She wasn’t planning on marrying anybody to reform them. “That’s what reform schools are for,” she said. Dana was like the highway between Akron and Cleveland, no curves, but I liked her for sticking up for me.
Kevin hated Dana. She had swagger to spare, and he knew it. She wasn’t curvier than his steady but was better-looking by far. He resented her faux Boston accent. He resented her family, her family’s wealth, and their lifestyle. The family house in Solon had four bedrooms and a hot tub decking out the back deck. Big Jim drove a Caddy. It seemed like it was always a new car. Kevin hated all Big Jim’s Caddy’s.
Dana had gone to college in Boston and flew there every two months-or-so to get her hair done by her favorite stylist. That winter, when I was thinking of breaking up with her, she asked me if I wanted to go to Aspen for some skiing. Before I could say anything she stuck an airline ticket in my hand and said she would meet me at the airport. She was going a few days in advance. She was more like her father than she knew.
“I’ve only skied a few times,” I told her. “I mostly cross-country ski on the golf courses, which are mostly flat.”
“You’ll get the hang of it,” she said.
I felt like I was being hung out to dry with a broken leg in the making. Aspen Mountain is almost 12,000 feet up and has a vertical drop of more than 3,000 feet. The ticket was like an albatross around my neck. I went for a walk around the block to work it out.
“Why don’t you give the ticket to Matt?” Kevin suggested. “He’s always skiing. He would love to go to Aspen.” Matt’s parents were from Finland, where skiing is second nature. They always said, “One cannot ski so softly that the tracks cannot be seen.” It was some sort of Finnish proverb.
That’s what I did. I gave the ticket to my roommate. I didn’t say a word to Dana. After he got back from Aspen, Matt told me Dana was thrown off balance when he arrived in my place, his gear in tow. After she got her feet back under her, she swore up a storm and swore it was over between us. She was true to her word.
“How was the skiing?” I asked.
“It was great,” Matt said. “You should try it.”
The on-again off-again wedding of Kevin and Leyla was back on when spring started to bust out all over. They planned to get hitched in June. I had majored in English and minored in Unemployment at Cleveland State University, and so had time to spare for errands and lending a helping hand. I addressed all the invitations, sealed, and stamped them. I mailed them out. The replies started coming back the beginning of May. It was shaping up to be a sizable wedding followed by a chock-full reception. Kevin was opting out of hot wet love and into cold hard cash.
I thought all his talk about marrying for money was just talk since a lot of what he said was all talk. I found out otherwise. He was going to marry for money. He was inviting anybody and everybody, no matter how distantly related by blood or friendship, adding up what their envelopes stuffed with fifties and hundreds might amount to.
Kevin had sparred with too many people in his day. There was nothing any girl could say to him that he didn’t have a better retort for. That was his number one problem. What girl was willing put up with a smart-ass day in and day out, much less for the rest of her life? The second problem was he never dated anybody who was better looking than him. When that became clear to whoever was princess for the day, she chopped his head off with words and moved on. Leyla was willing to put up with both problems. She wanted Kevin so she could make him into what she wanted him to be. Kevin was still wrestling with that a week before the wedding.
When he went down for the count he called it off. He was giving up the job of loving his girl. Leyla was going to find out soon enough she was being made a monkey of.
Matt and I were watching the Kardiac Kids on TV a week before the ceremony. It was going to be at St. Marion’s, which was a downtown Maronite church. The congregation had been around since before WW1. It was the center of Lebanese culture in Cleveland, both religious and ethnic. The Kardiac Kids were the exciting new version of the Cleveland Browns. They snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat most every Sunday. Kevin walked in on the broadcast and tried to break his news flash to us. Brian Sipe was lofting a Hail Mary Pass. We motioned for Kevin to wait. When the Dawg Pound erupted, their prayers answered, we turned to him.
“What’s that you were saying?” we asked, high fiving each other.
“The wedding is off,” he said.
“It’s off?” we asked, flummoxed.
“Finito,” he said in an Italian accent phony as a bag of baloney, making a slashing motion across his throat. “You’re going to have to let everybody know.”
“Hey, that’s all right,” I said turning back to the football game, making sure Don Cockcroft had kicked the extra point. “No man should get married until he’s studied some anatomy and dissected one or two women, so you know exactly what you’re going up against.”
Matt and I were at his parent’s house the next Sunday. They had gotten a new Philips color TV and we were watching the adventures of the Kardiac Kids. The game hung by a thread. In the middle of the drama a slew of commercials interrupted the action. We told them all about Kevin’s misadventure.
“Life is not a waiting game for better times,” Matt’s dad said when the commercials were wrapping up, the game was coming back on, and we were done with our account of the no wedding.
“What does that mean?” I wondered. I thought it had to be another Finnish proverb. What about all good things come to those who wait?
“Even in Helsinki they don’t keep a maid on the dresser too long,” Matt’s mom said as though she had read my mind. I didn’t have to parse that. I went back to watching Brian Sipe avoiding the pass rush and pitching flying colors right and left.
“Even in Helsinki they don’t keep a maid on the dresser too long,” Matt’s mom said as though she had read my mind. I didn’t have to parse that. I went back to watching Brian Sipe side-stepping the bull rush and pitching flying colors right and left.
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.”