Category Archives: West Park Blues

Stomping Grounds

By Ed Staskus

   “We’re going to have to get out of here or I’m going to kill him,” Maggie Campbell said.

   Steve De Luca her new husband didn’t say anything. What could he say? Fat Freddie was his older brother, and they were living in Fat Freddie’s house in Little Italy. The house was small and cramped. Freddie made it worse than it was.

   He wasn’t just their landlord. He was an annoying brother-in-law with coleslaw for brains. He stayed up late listening to heavy metal. He had sketchy friends. He stuck his used-up dirty food wrappers into Maggie’s make-up bag when she wasn’t looking because he thought it would be funny when she found them. It wasn’t funny. She told Steve there was going to be trouble. There was going to be blood. They started looking for a house of our own.

   They discussed argued prayed about the kind of house they wanted. Maggie prayed in English and Steve prayed in Italian.  He told his wife Italian was God’s native language and had the Big Man’s ear. “The USA is God’s country,” Maggie countered. “The Pope isn’t even Protestant, for Christ’s sake.”

   They wanted central air, three bedrooms, and a dry basement. They wanted a fenced-in backyard. They searched for a long time and finally their prayers were answered when they found a two-story house in West Park. They were one of the first people to see it, put a bid on it right away, and got it.

   They got everything they wanted, basically. The kitchen was large enough, the basement was waterproofed, and the back porch covered, although the backyard wasn’t dog friendly the way they wanted it, not at all. It needed a fence.

   The first two years of living in the house they had a backyard of mud. It was because they had up to 4 dogs at any one time, some theirs, some rescues. The lawn grass didn’t stand a chance. When the dogs came into the house a lot of mud would track in with them. Since Maggie was a clean freak, it freaked her out.

   “It’s a shame we can’t cement in the whole backyard,” she said to Steve.

   “I’ve got a guy for that,” Steve said. He had a guy for everything. Steve’s guy put up a fence and laid down stone stamps in the patio. They laid in river rocks, large ones around the small patio, and small ones in a big bed next to the garage where the dogs could go potty.

   That made it easy to clean up. Steve hosed down the patio, hosed down the river rock bed in the back, and picked up every day. He put it all in a garbage bag and tossed it in a garbage can. “What else am I going to do with it?” he asked their neighbor Dawn when she wrinkled her nose.

   Even though they liked their new house right away, which made their realtor happy, it was awful. It was decorated like an old man’s house. The outside clapboard was painted dingy yellow and brown. Inside the woodwork and walls were painted a vague gray. Maggie was not a gray person.

   They painted everything, the outside of the house, and all the inside, too. Maggie had lots of design ideas and a lot of ideas about new colors. They ripped the shag carpets out right away. Then they re-did the hardwood floors. Maggie swore to herself she would never have the house carpeted again. 

   Except the next two winters in Cleveland happened. Lake Erie froze over solid as a rock. “What happened to global warming?” Steve asked. It was winter for a long time for two straight long seasons. Getting up every morning, tramping on the cold hardwood floors first thing, one morning Maggie finally said, “We’re not doing this anymore. We’re getting carpeting for our bedroom.” There were two bedrooms. The other one was for junk and friends.

   Steve was against putting in new carpeting. He could be against anything, especially if he didn’t want to do it, but he never said a hard no way.

   “Do what you want,” he said, scowling.

   Maggie did what she wanted. “Of course, now he loves the carpet. He drags his big bare feet through it. Stop rubbing your gross feet in my new carpet I tell him, but he never listens.”

   The dogs were not allowed upstairs. They were not allowed beyond the kitchen. The rules were posted and stated they could be in the kitchen or in the basement. A gate was set up at the dining room doorway. Even so, just after they had the carpets laid down, Grayson their young Lab got through the Berlin Wall, went right upstairs, and peed on Maggie’s new carpet. 

   Maggie posted a sheet of paper at the base of the stairs. “No dogs upstairs, especially no Grayson.”

   They let their dogs into the living room sometimes. That’s why there were always hooked blankets stacked near their sectional. They let the dogs jump on the sofa so they could sit and snuggle with them. “Only Captain Hook, our Husky, is not a snuggler. He’ll cuddle for five minutes and then he’s done with you.”

   There was another living room in the basement. There was a television, bistro table, and another sectional. All the dog food and water bowls were in the basement, too. Captain Hook always slept in his dog bed, but the others lay out on the couch. It was completely chewed up. They pawed it and dug into it when they were settling in. “I don’t know what the digging thing is all about, but it’s their couch,” Steve said. “They can do what they want, destroy it if they want. Only, when it’s completely gone, it’s gone. They’re not getting another one from me.”

   The biggest troublemaker was Pebbles. They called her Steam Shovel. “She’s the one who truly wrecks the sofa,” Maggie said. “She is my digger. She’s the reason we used to have a nice living room in the basement until it all got destroyed.”

   Even though Steve and Maggie decided they weren’t getting any more sectionals, no more couches, or anything else new in the basement, Christmas was ridiculous at their house.

   “Steve and I buy our dogs lots of gifts,” Maggie said. “I start buying presents for them right after New Year’s when everything is discounted. Towards the end of summer, I start buying dog treats whenever I see them on sale. It’s not good if I buy them any earlier than September. Steve finds them and gives them to the dogs. So, I always start that later in the year.”

   The dogs got stockings full of toys on Christmas Day.  They ripped into their gifts in the morning. Then the mess started for real.

   The toys were in stockings stuffed with stuffing, just like pillows. The dogs took their stockings outside and tore them apart to get at the squeakers inside of them. By the end of the month the backyard was full of dull as dishwater white stuffing stuck in the ice.

   “It looks like a hillbilly backyard until I can finally get out there when winter is changing to spring and chip it out of the melting ice,” Steve said. “I don’t like it that it looks so bad all winter long, but what can you do?”

   “Thank God we have a privacy fence on all three sides of our backyard,” Maggie thought, waiting for springtime.

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.”

Poor Little Retard Kid

By Ed Staskus

   After Maggie Campbell was born family vacations became a sore point. “I have to drag those two around?” her mother Alma complained, pointing to Maggie and her older sister Elaine. Fred her husband took a slurp of his Manhattan. The day Bonnie and Brad came on board vacations came to a dead stop, except for once. When Elaine had been the one and only, she went all the time, mostly to Florida to see their grandparents, where she would ride fan boats and go fishing, and all her other fun stuff.

   Maggie screwed up the scheme of things, but still had her summer fun. When Bonnie and Brad rounded out the family her mother blew her top. “Too many kids,” she complained after they were born. “I never wanted you kids. You are all your father’s idea,” Alma told them their entire lives. She meant the children were a bad idea since they were her husband’s handiwork. “Why are you even here? You’ve ruined my life!”

   Her mom never wanted any of them, so she was sullen whenever one of them was in the house. Anytime one or the other of them walked into a room where she was kicking back she got irate that they wanted something. Whenever all of them walked in all at once she hit the roof, exasperated. 

   “It’s a good thing she doesn’t have a gas chamber in the basement,” Maggie told her brother and sisters. She didn’t know gas chambers were frowned on in Bay Village, Ohio. Even so, knowing wouldn’t have helped.

   Later, when they got older, Elaine was ostracized from the family, and Bonnie cut herself off. Elaine locked herself in her room and never came out. Bonnie was always fuming if she was within a mile of the house. 

   Whenever Brad made his parents mad, Maggie would jump in and take his punishment. She couldn’t stand to see him get it. None of them wanted to get hit. But the sisters were always throwing each other under the bus. “The bad part is your sisters then grow up hating you.” That’s how there was the mess between them and Maggie, a mess that wouldn’t go away. She wasn’t saying there weren’t good times, but it was tough sledding.

   The one and only all in the family vacation they went on her whole life was to Disneyland. Her mom was sullen about it, complaining that it was like corralling cats. One morning Maggie was with her. They were out searching for breakfast. No one knew where Elaine was. She had just walked off by herself. Bonnie took Brad with her, and their dad went to find tickets to see the Country Bears Jamboree.

  That’s the only reason he had agreed to go to Disneyland to begin with. He was a stockbroker and vice-president at Prudential Bache in downtown Cleveland where moneybags went every day but loved the Country Bears and couldn’t get enough of them. He laughed ear-splittingly at the mention of them.

   When her mom and she finally got trays of breakfast for everybody they couldn’t find anybody, so they sat down on a curb. A minute later, sitting on the curb, looking up, they saw Bonnie and Brad go slowly past, leaning back in a horse-drawn carriage, waving at them like movie stars

   Alma and Maggie looked at each other. Where were the rest of the lost and found? Their food was getting cold.

   They saw the Bear Jamboree later, and the next day Maggie spotted Donny Osmond riding the same monorail with them out of their hotel. Her sisters loved Donny Osmond but wouldn’t go up to him. They were scared skittish. Maggie was gun-shy, too, but her dad pushed her in Donny’s direction, anyway.

   “Go get his autograph,” Fred said.

   “No, no, no,” she said.

   Fred pushed her forward. She got a push in the small of the back running start, and the next thing she knew was standing in front of Donny Osmond. Maggie was just flabbergasted. She had seen him on TV and now she was standing less than a foot from him. She stammered and bumbled fumbled with her hands. She got his autograph, although she didn’t know how. Maybe he felt bad because he thought she was special needs.  

   “Poor little retard kid,” he probably thought and gave her his autograph. He could be cavalier, unless they were lookers, when he got even more cavalier. When the wheels of the monorail stopped, Maggie ran off the car as fast as she could. One of her shoes went flying. Donny Osmond ducked. It hit Micky Mouse who was behind him. Mickey gave Donny a dirty look.

   “Why would you do that to me?” she asked her dad. “Why me?”

   After the vacations stopped Maggie went to Bay Village High School. She was a lifeguard at the Bay Pool and a Bay Rockette on the kick line for two years. She had many friends growing up, but hardly ever had them over to her house. She went to their houses. She was always leery of having them over because she never knew if her dad would out of the blue lose his temper or her mom would out of the blue start something disastrous.

   If anybody liked something Alma was always going to find a way to not like it. After Maggie moved away, her sister Elaine, who had long since moved away, wanted a family heirloom their mom had, a bench that had been in their great grandparent’s house, but Alma wouldn’t let her take it.

   Her parents had the bench in their split-level family house in Bay Village, at the end of their bed, but when Fred passed away and Alma re-married in the blink of an eye, marrying her old high school sweetheart from Jersey Shore, and moving to a new house in North Ridgeville, she put it away in her garage.

   Elaine wanted the bench bad. Maggie told her mom over and over that she wanted it, but Alma said, “No, she can’t have it, and that’s final.” It was like talking to a blockhead of wood.

   “What are you doing with it?” Maggie asked. She knew the answer, which was nothing, but wanted to hear Alma say it. “No, no, no,” was all she said. It was because she knew Elaine wanted it that she wouldn’t give it to her. That’s the way Alma was. If someone loved something, then she hated it. She had always been like that. Their dad could be cool sometimes, at least. Maggie knew, even though he beat the tar out of them, that he cared about them. But, their mom, not so much, if at all.

   Maggie had a Rockette party at their house before her senior year, at the tail end of August. The party came out of left field. They were at practice and their coach said the first football game was coming up soon. It was on September such-and-such, but they didn’t have a place scheduled for their potluck, yet.

   “We can have it at our house,” Maggie blurted out. Just like that, thirty high school girls were going to be coming over to their house. She called her dad at work. He sounded happy to hear from her.

   “Hey, dad,” she said. “I just invited all my friends over for a potluck.”

   “Sweet,” Fred said. “We’ll make it work.” Maggie was amazed and hung up before he could say anything else. She didn’t say anything about the potluck party to her mom. It would have been like poking a hornet’s nest with a stick.

   Her dad came home early from work the day of the party, brought all the hot dogs hamburgers buns and pickles, and enjoyed having her friends in the backyard. He was all over the place with his camera and took a ton of pictures. It was a good time. Her mom stayed in the house and never came out. Fred loved it, but Alma was angry and sulking that her daughter had all her friends over.

   Maggie loved being a Rockette. She was one of the in crowd during her sophomore and junior years in high school until the night not long after the party when she tore her hamstring in three places. It was an act of God, but a misadventure that was going to take three or four months to mend. She had to give up being a Rockette her last year of high school because of her leg.

   It was terrible, like she had lost something special, something she could never get back.

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.”

Jesus and Mary Chain

By Ed Staskus

   Steve De Luca and Maggie Campbell’s neighbors who have passed away lived in the house on the driveway side of them. The woman who was horrible to all the neighbors lived on the other side of them. The Romanian man and wife who loved them and their dogs lived behind them.

   Mary and Josephine, who were sisters, lived together in the two-story brick bungalow on the east side of West Park for 62 years. Neither of them ever married. Josephine cooked hot dogs, brought them to the fence, and fed them to Steve and Maggie’s dogs every day. They hardly ever saw Mary. She hardly ever came out of the house.

   After they died Steve fixed up a timer and security light in their living room and mowed their lawn every Saturday. He parked Maggie’s Honda Element in their driveway to make it look like it wasn’t vacant, at least until the house was cleaned and sold. It wasn’t the kind of neighborhood where vacant houses were safe. If they stayed vacant too long their world went tumbling down. The angel sky was only so good for so long.

   There were statues of Jesus and Mary in front of a red hydrangea. They stood in Mary and Josephine’s front yard for an eternity. There were chains attached to the bases of both statues. The chains were buried beneath woody mulch and led to a bolt fixed to the side of the house. Mary and Josephine were determined to keep the holy family where they were. They didn’t want them spirited away to a sinful place.

   Dawn lived with her husband Chuck on the left side of next door. She was no Mr. Rogers. She was all about nine million rainy days. Chuck bought his house long before Steve and Maggie bought theirs. He had been a confirmed bachelor until he made a mistake and got married. He was a calm polite man. Before Dawn moved in Chuck was their nice neighbor. She was not so nice, disagreeable, and noisome.

   “She’s from New Jersey,” Maggie said. “She started in on us right at the start. Whenever we waved to her, she would never wave back. If she caught Chuck talking to either of us, he had to pay the price. He would sneak over to say hello and chat. The things she says to him about us I don’t even want to imagine.”

   “All my time in Hell is spent with her,” Chuck said.

   Dawn called the dog warden on them every other week, even when the dogs were on vacation. It was always about their dogs barking. It didn’t matter that they hardly ever barked. What she didn’t know was that the dogs were licensed, all of them, all the time.

   “Here’s the thing,” the Cleveland dog warden finally told Dawn. “Their dogs are licensed, and everyone’s dogs bark sometimes, so stop barking us up.” She finally got tired of her fun and games.

   “Most of the rest of our neighborhood loves it when our dogs are out,” Maggie said. “It is Dawn who gives us the most trouble. I don’t care if you’re from the bottomless pit, or not. It doesn’t give you the right to be a son of a bitch. But that’s all changed now that she needs me. When she couldn’t afford to have her hair done at the Charles Scott Salon anymore, I became good enough for her.”

   “Chuck doesn’t pay for anything for the kids,” Dawn complained bitterly. She had two children from an earlier marriage. Her ex-husband had killed himself. “Everything falls on me. I have to pay for their school.” They went to the West Park Lutheran School, even though Dawn was an atheist. She didn’t have much money of her own anymore. She had blown through her dead husband’s life insurance in Atlantic City. She depended on the good graces of Chuck.

   Then, when Maggie started doing her hair, knowing that she didn’t have kids herself, it was kids in her chatterbox all the time. “Do you think you could come over and watch them for a few minutes?”

   “No,” Maggie said. “That’s why I don’t have kids of my own. I don’t want to sit yours.” She might have done it to be a good neighbor, but she knew Dawn would have started taking advantage of her, so she put a stop to it.

   The old Romanian couple behind them bought their house the year Maggie was born. That was almost fifty years ago. They were straight out of Transylvania, which was part of Romania. Steve and Maggie could hardly understand a word they said, her more than him. His name was Anthony, but they had never been able to understand what her name was. They always called her Mrs. Anthony.

   Everything in their big back yard was a farm. They grew everything they ate, except for animals, in the back yard during the summer. When Steve and Maggie first moved into the neighborhood, they had grandkids who fed their dogs doggie cookies.

   They would hear the pack of them while sitting on their back porch. “Can we go see the dogs?” they asked. “Go, go,” their grandpa said.

   The children had become teenagers, but they still came to visit their grandparents. The dogs always ran to the back fence and lined up, waiting. “You can’t stop the feedbag now. You have to keep giving them cookies,” Maggie told the teens.

    Steve showed the dogs the lay of the land every day. He stopped and talked to their neighbors. They asked him about the dogs, so a lot of them found out they rescued dogs, finding them better homes. “That is so cool,” one of them said. That’s how they came to be called the Dog People. That’s what they’re known as. One day a distraught lady was walking up and down the street looking for her lost Dachshund.

   “Did you try the dog people,” everybody asked.

   “Have you seen my dog?” she asked Maggie.

   “No, but I’ll keep an eye out for the wiener,” she said.

   Sometimes neighbors donated dog food to them. They found 40-pound bags of it left on their front porch. It was nice to have a little community support.

   They started taking their tail-waggers to the dog park in the Rocky River Metropark instead of walking them because their Husky was a screamer. The second they put a leash on him the wailing started. It sounded like somebody was ripping out his toenails. He screamed the whole way on the way. Neighbors came out to make sure they weren’t torturing their dogs. Explaining got to be so embarrassing, Steve put their excursions to a stop. He drove them to the Metropark, instead.

   But the Husky hated the dog park, too. He didn’t like other people or other dogs coming up to him, or even up to his folks. One day they thought they would hide from him so he would learn to run around with other dogs. They hid behind a tree. But what happened was unsettling. He ran around like a madman looking for them.

   “Steve, we can’t hide from him,” Maggie said. “He’s never going to relax.”

   When they came out from hiding and he saw them he ran over right away. “He’s back to guarding us again,” Maggie told Steve. “He’s giving us his warm glow.”

   One of their neighbors fell in love with Grayson, their silver Lab, after he sniffed out who had bolt cut the Jesus and Mary statues and stolen them. Steve set them in cement so it wouldn’t happen again. Grayson had a great nose and was a cutie patootie, too. The neighbor lady did everything she could to get them to give Grayson to her.

   “He’s not for sale,” Maggie said. “He’s my dog.”

   “But I love him,” she said.

   “We love him, too,” Maggie said.

   One morning they took Grayson to Project Runway on Whiskey Island to a fundraiser for dog shelters. From there, later in the afternoon, they did Doggies on the Patio, another fundraiser. It was a long day. Afterwards they took him out for gelato. He loved it, the whole day, and the gelato. Maggie could never sell him. She couldn’t see that happening. It didn’t matter that he kept trying to sneak upstairs to sleep on their bed.

   Besides, Grayson had issues with Dawn, and was their early warning system, barking up a storm whenever she was in range. When she was, the Lab got going to the firing range. He never said a prayer, knowing he could get it done without any divine help.

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.”

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

By Ed Staskus

   Maggie Campbell was a Bay Brat, which means she grew up in Bay Village, Ohio, where the well-off live west of Cleveland, while the not so-well-off live east in Cleveland. She lived there her whole life until her father died. When she was a girl, she picked up every lost bird and squirrel, every lost cat and dog, and every injured anything alive she found and brought it home to protect it.

   She was an animal lover from the get-go. She got it partly when she was born, in the blood, partly from her dad, Fred, but not from her mom. Alma her mom never liked any of the animals they ever had in the house basement garage backyard.

   Her parents met at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a few hours from Philadelphia. Her grandparents on her dad’s side had moved from Ohio to Philadelphia a few years earlier and he enrolled in college there after high school. Alma was working in the town library, which is how they met. He fell head over heels for her, swept her off her feet, or at least he thought so, and they got married.    

   “We’re out of here,” is what Fred said the minute they got married. They moved right back to Cleveland. Even though they were married for more than forty years it might have been the worst thing either of them ever did. But Fred was stubborn, and Alma could be mean as a junkyard dog.

   Maggie had a mom who didn’t love her dad, and a dad who was frustrated about it, and the way he tried to make his wife happy was to rough up their kids. So, it was a tough childhood. Either you were being totally ignored or you were being roughed up.

   There were four of them. First, there was Elaine, then two years later Maggie, and then Bonnie hard on her heels, and last, five years later, Brad. Alma always said Fred tricked her four times. He zipped it up and from then on kept his thoughts to himself.

   He was from Cleveland, from the west side of town, where he grew up almost rich for his time. Alma was from Jersey Shore, just a few miles from Williamsport, where she grew up poor for her time. Jersey Shore isn’t anywhere near New Jersey, the Jersey shoreline, or any big shoreline of any kind. There used to be silk mills and cigar factories in Jersey Shore. Later, factories made steel rails for train tracks there.

   During the Depression Maggie’s grandfather was the only teenager in his high school who had a car. He used to follow her grandmother down the street trying to get her to come in his car with him, saying he wanted to help carry her books, so along the way what happened was they got snug and got married.

   Her grandfather in Jersey Shore had three jobs the minute he stopped being a teenager. He was a coal miner, a school bus driver, and a milkman, but they were still down in the dumps. Even though they were always short on everything they built their own house on the Susquehanna River. Maggie didn’t know how they ever got it built since they were strapped for hard cash most of the time.

   The river was their front yard. Susquehanna means Oyster River and it was on the Susquehanna where the Mormons say they got their holy orders delivered to them by divine beings. It was a beautiful comfortable house. It’s still standing, although it’s not been taken care of, so it’s falling apart fast.

   Her grandmother lived in the house into her 80s, but then sold it and moved into a trailer, in a trailer park in the mountains above Jersey Shore. She started believing people in the other trailers were trying to shoot her with laser guns. She slept wrapped up in foam rubber holding an umbrella over her head for protection. Alma never wanted to talk about her mom because she thought she was crazy, and a Jesus freak, too.

   Maggie never knew her Jersey Shore grandfather. He died young. He had arthritis from tip to toe, and it finished him off. It didn’t help working in the damp underground looking for coal. She knew her grandmother well enough. Whenever her sisters and she visited her in their big house she taught them how to pull taffy and fudge. They played with her paper dolls. She didn’t have any real dolls. They sat on the front porch in the afternoon and waited for the bean truck.

   “Before dinnertime she sent my older sisters to the side of the road. When the bean truck, or sometimes the vegetable truck, went by on the unpaved pavement beans would bounce off the back of it and they would run and gather them up. My grandmother cooked them for dinner. If no beans fell off the truck, there was no dinner, although she usually had a little something else in the house.” Most of the time it was something cold she had canned months earlier.

   Fred went to Upper Darby High School, starting when he was a sophomore. His parents moved him to Philadelphia from Cleveland, and he never stopped saying he hated it. He was a Cleveland Browns fan and wore their colors, so he got into fights every day with the other kids who were Philadelphia Eagles fans.

   “My dad liked telling us stories when we were growing up, like the one about how one day he and his friends went to the second story of their high school and jumped up and down all at once all together until the second floor fell in on the first floor.” The school’s mascot is a lion, but when Fred was there it was a court jester.

   Fred’s parents were from Akron, and lived in Lakewood for a long time, but had to move when the new I-90 highway was being built. It was called the “Main Street of Northern Ohio.” When they were growing up Fred would drive them to a bridge over the highway and show them the exact spot below the bridge where their house used to be.

   It was when they had to sell the house to the state that they moved to Philadelphia. After Fred and Alma came back, they lived in Lakewood in a rented house for a few years. Maggie and her sisters were born there. By the time Brad came along they were living in Bay Village. The family moved to a short cul-de-sac street, five blocks south of Lake Erie. Her dad designed the house, and it was built just the way he wanted it. Maggie lived there on-and-off until the day he died. She was thirty-three years old. The next thing she did was get married.

   They all had our own rooms, although Brad and Maggie shared a room because the house was a room short. Her sisters had separate bedrooms down the half-story stairway from them, and her parents were at the other end of the hallway. They lived in the crow’s nest until Elaine moved out and got married and Maggie finally got her own room.

   It was at that time Brad brought hauled home a drum set somebody had thrown out on their tree lawn and set it up in the basement. He taught himself how to play. He called himself Ginger Boom after Ginger Baker, his favorite drummer. He had thrown down the gauntlet. After he did no animal nor human would go down to the basement. It was too damn noisy.

   It was in the crow’s nest where Maggie grew close to Brad, who when he was a small fry looked just like Bamm Bamm in the Flintstones cartoons. They even called him Bamm Bamm, although after he got his drum set, they called him Boom Boom. Maggie was his number one protector when he was growing up, like she was with all the neighborhood’s lost cats and dogs.

   But she could never protect him from Coco, their poodle, who bit and tore off his diapers when he was little. Brad could never crawl away fast enough, no matter how fast he scurried on his hands and knees. The dog was quick as the devil and cut him off.

   Sometimes Maggie didn’t try to stop Coco, even if she could have. She had some of her mom’s tough love in her. Other times Brad had done something she didn’t like, and it was just his too bad tough luck that Coco was on the rampage.

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.”

Shake and Bake

By Ed Staskus

  Maggie Campbell’s father was a stockbroker, an investment advisor, and a vice president at Prudential Bache. He worked in downtown Cleveland with the other moneymakers. He believed in capitalism but didn’t let it go to his head. He was shrewd, although not always prudent.

   Everybody called him the Margin King. His wife called him the King of Fools. When Fred and Alma got married, he was a gambling man, but Alma didn’t want him doing that after the wedding. She said it was time he became a family man.

   “The gambling stops now.”

   Fred Campbell became a stockbroker. That way he could still gamble, except now it would be with other people’s money. He made a boatload of money. He wasn’t just one-sided about raking in a ton of loot, though. He told jokes all the time. He was a shaggy dog man. Getting a laugh was like hitting the jackpot to him.

   He was a prankster as well as a jokester. He used to appear on the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck” TV show now and then, doing skits with them. Hoolihan was Bob Wells, but he was Hoolihan the Weatherman on the CBS affiliate. After Ghoulardi left Cleveland for Hollywood in 1966, Hoolihan still did the weather, but became the other half of the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show.” It was what replaced Ghoulardi’s Shock Theater. They showed cheesy z-grade science fiction and horror movies late at night and did comedy skits in between the commercials.

   That’s where Maggie’s dad came in.

   The show always started with the Ray Charles song “Here We Go Again” and ended with the Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is.” Fred couldn’t carry a tune, so was never invited to raise his voice.

   Stash and Lil’ John were on the show, too, more than Fred was. That’s how he met them. Once they met, they became friends in no time. Fred and Alma went to Hoolihan and Big Chuck’s house parties. They used to have Lil ‘John over for spaghetti dinners. He was part of the troupe and a hungry Hank. Lil’ John was a small man who could eat a lot of spaghetti.

   They did skits on the show like Ben Crazy, from the “Ben Casey” TV series, Parma Place, which was like “Peyton Place,” and the Kielbasa Kid, which was like a Polish cowboy misadventure. The skit Fred was most famous for was the “When You’re Hot You’re Hot” skit, which was from a Jerry Reed song.

   “Well now me and Homer Jones and Big John Taley, had a big crap game goin’ back in the alley, and I kept rollin’ them sevens, winnin’ them pots,” was how the song went. “My luck was so good, I could do no wrong, I just kept on rollin’ and controllin’ them bones, and finally they just threw up their hands and said, when you hot, you hot, and I said, yeah.”

   They acted out the words to the song. Big Chuck rolled the dice. He had a Kirk Douglas chin. Fred was the sheriff. He had an honest face. The Hoolihan no-goods would be shooting craps on the street and Fred busts them. Later when they are in court the judge tells them he is going to throw the book at them, except when he throws the book, he hits Fred, who is the sheriff, in the head by mistake.

   “That hurt!” he shouts.

   “You’re out of order.” the judge says, pounding his gavel like a madman. “Arrest that man!”

   Shake and Bake Nights were when there were double features featuring movies like “Earthquake” and “The Towering Inferno” back-to-back.

   Alma was in a skit with Big Chuck. They are sitting on a park bench on a first date under a full moon and he turns into a werewolf. He reaches for her. She starts screaming and runs away. She falls face first into a cream pie. He turns back into sheepish Chuck.

   Fred did most of his skits wearing an old gorilla suit. But not all of the acts were on the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show.” Some of the time it was unscripted. It was their own reality show. He would wiggle into a gorilla suit and he and Big Chuck drove around the west side of Cleveland in a dark blue four-door Buick looking for hitchhikers. Big Chuck drove while Fred hid in the back seat. They would pick somebody up and after a few minutes Fred would suddenly pop up with a roar out of the back seat in his gorilla suit.

   That would scare the hell out of the hitchhiker in the front seat. One of them jumped out of the car while it was still moving. Maggie remembered being a little girl and listening to their adventure stories and thinking, “You guys are really weird.”

   Sometimes they would go out at night and roof jump. The houses in Lakewood are close together, often separated only by a driveway. They would run across the roofs, jumping from one to the other. They whooped it up as folks in their houses wondered what the thumping above their heads was all about.

   As they got older and wiser Big Chuck, Hoolihan, Stash and Lil’ John and Fred got a little more sophisticated restrained. They had mystery parties, which were parties on a bus on which they would have dinner and drinks with their friends, not knowing where they were going, and at the end of the night everyone would have to guess where they were. The winner got to be on the show. It was the Me Decade. Everybody wanted to be seen and heard.

   Maggie’s dad was a prankster even at home, which was staid quiet Bay Village. He played jokes on the neighbors on their street all the time. Fred once hired the Bay Village High School Marching Band to wake up one of their neighbors at five in the morning. They did it by marching up and down their driveway and playing a fight song. All the other neighbors for blocks around woke up, too. Some of them thought it was funny. Most of them didn’t. They called City Hall, even though City Hall wasn’t open for business that early in the morning.

   Another of their neighbors had dogs like them and Maggie babysat them when the Butlers were out for dinner or at a show. “Can you take care of our dogs?” Mrs. Butler would ask her.

   One day Fred took advantage of Maggie having the Butler family house keys. He snuck into their house and filled up every glass, cup, vase, sink, whatever it was, with water and a single goldfish. When they got home there were many hungry goldfish waiting for them, even in the toilets.

    From then on it was buttheads on the loose at the Butler house every few months. Once when they were strolling on Huntington Beach after dinner, Fred and his friends got into their garage, picked up their car, and turned it sideways. Mr. Butler couldn’t go to work the next morning.  There wasn’t anything he could do. Everybody on the street thought he might have to tear the garage down.

   Fred crept into their house late on a summer night wearing his gorilla suit and scared their kids so much they screamed their heads off and peed on the floor. He thought it was great laughs, giving them nightmares. That was fun to him. It didn’t matter what anybody thought. Whatever he thought of doing he did it. He was always pranking the poor Butlers. When they complained to the Bay Village police, the cops just laughed it off.

   Maggie and her sisters and little brother weren’t out of his stomping grounds. He would crawl under their bunks at night and wait quietly until they went to bed got cozy and dozed off. When he was good and ready, he reached up and around and abruptly grabbed their arms or legs, yanking.

   “Oh, yeah, while we were sleeping! I still can’t hang my foot out over the edge of my bed at night to this day,” she 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 “Follo

Just Like Honey

By Ed Staskus

   Steve De Luca’s cousin Clint had been an addict, gone through rehab, and everything seemed to be all right, until the night he decided to stick a needle into his arm again. The problem with smack is junkies think, since they’ve been clean, they can go back to using the same amount of it they had been using before. It tastes just like honey, except when it doesn’t. When it doesn’t it is trouble.

   It becomes the hard stuff.

   He wasn’t thinking straight. He went into the bathroom, sat down on the American Standard toilet, and stuck a needle in his arm like before. He was thinking less a few minutes later. The junk smacked him upside the head. He went down and out. The next morning his roommate awoke and found Clint curled up like a baby on the bathroom floor. He had been lying there all night, it turns out, on goose bump tile in the dark. It had been a long icy Lake Erie winter night.

   “Clint, my man, get up, I have to go pee,” the roommate said.

   When Clint didn’t move, the roommate, being the sleepy head that he was, went back to bed for an hour. When he woke up again Clint was still in the bathroom, still stone cold. Did he call an ambulance? No. Did he call the police? No. He called his girlfriend. She was almost out the door on her way to work.

   “What is it?” she asked, annoyed.

   “Hey, Clint’s on the floor of the bathroom and I need to get in there to wash up and stuff. I need to get to the grocery store. I’m out of coffee.”

   “Who is this genius?” Maggie Campbell asked her husband.

   “Boy wonder, disaster,” Steve said.

   When Maggie and Steve got married at the turn of the century Maggie kept her name and Steve kept his name. Steve came from Italian blood. Maggie came from Scottish blood. He had the oily hair and dark skin to prove it. She had the pale freckled skin to prove it. “There is no sense in trying to make you a Dago,” Steve said.

   The girlfriend rushed over to the drug den. While she was on the way she called the cops and Clint’s mom. She was thinking and reckoning. She knew Clint’s bad habits. EMS rushed him to the emergency room at the Cleveland Clinic in Fairview Park, where the roommate and Clint’s mom were told the bad news.

   “Here’s what is going on. This kid is not in good shape. He’s overdosed on heroin, his kidneys have shut down, and he’s got compartment syndrome. His whole body is shutting down. Before we can work on the kidneys, before we can work on the syndrome, before we can work on anything, he’s got to pull through the heroin overdose. He’s got to come through that first.”

   After forty-eight hours he was still alive, even though he had chased the dragon and lost. Nobody could believe it. It was like a miracle.

   The deadness is what happens when oxygen gets cut off to the muscles in the body. That’s what happened to Clint. It’s the same thing that happens when you fall asleep on your arm in the middle of the night and wake up with it numb and tingling. 

   You shake it off. It’s no big deal. You get up and have breakfast.

   But Clint had been lying on his face, arms and legs crushed beneath him, when he crumpled to the bathroom floor the night before. It was a big deal. He’d been unconscious for ten hours, circulation, and oxygen, everything, cut off. Everything fell into the big sleep. Then his muscles started dying, dying all night.

   In the hospital they slit his hands open at the palms and slit his hands open at the back. The doctors slit his arms all the way up on both sides and slit his legs down the middle. They manipulated his muscles to get them to start coming back to life.

   He was wide open, machines circulating his blood. They did nineteen surgeries over three months. They saved his arms, but both of his legs were gone. They had to be amputated. His leg on the left side was gone above the knee and his leg on the right side was gone below the knee. The Cleveland Clinic couldn’t bring the muscles back for anything. He lost taking a lazy walk to the corner store for smokes for good.

   His spoonful of fun had gone glum woebegone.

   They didn’t tell him they cut his legs off until he was almost done with all the surgeries and out of the recovery room because they needed him to fight and keep going. They didn’t need him down in the dumps. He was almost ready to leave his hospital room for rehab when they talked to him.

   “We have to tell you something,” they said.

   “Is it bad news?” he asked.

   “Yes,” they said.

   “All right, man, give it to me straight.”

   After he got home, he got a small, motorized wheelchair that he rambled around in. He couldn’t use prosthetics because the muscles in his upper thighs were ruined. They had to take some of them out because they were dying. If they had left them in, that might have made the other muscles die, too.

   The doctors had to take all the muscles that had the syndrome in them out of his legs. He had no strength in his upper leg muscles to support prosthetics, so he was going to be in his wheelchair until he went blue in the face. He was thirty-two years old. His fingers were locked up. They were almost like claws. When he talked and tried to gesture, he couldn’t unclench them.

   Clint took antibiotics anti-inflammatories and narcotic pain killers religiously for months. When his therapist’s care was over and done, he went cold turkey. If you can’t swim, you’re not saddled up. You’re only learning how to drown. He asked Maggie and Steve for a pet to keep him company. All his friends and dopehead pals had dropped him like a hot potato. His roommate had long since disappeared. Nobody wanted reminders of bad times.

   “I need a friend,” he said. “I need one bad. I don’t got nobody.”

   The friend they found for him was a puppy mill dog, a Parti Yorkie. They got her from a rescuer who put her up on Facebook. They didn’t even know what kind of dog she was. They thought she was a Maltipoo, but she was really a Parti dog. She was a kind of new-style designer dog.

   Steve and Maggie jumped the rescue by telling Facebook they had a desirable home for the dog. It was only partly a lie. The rest of it was a white lie. Facebook doesn’t know the difference between bona fide and groundless, anyway, no matter how pious the social site pretends to be. They took the dog, not knowing for sure if Clint would go for it. She was under seven pounds, not a family-sized Yorkie. Steve carried her around with him in his bathrobe pocket. That was a mistake, carrying her around, because Steve then started wanting to keep the dog. They cleaned her up before giving her to the lonely ex-junkie. 

   When they delivered the Yorkie to Clint’s apartment Steve told him if it didn’t work out it would be OK, and he would take the dog back. But Clint had nothing to do except sit in his wheelchair and dote on the dog. And the dog was the kind that needed nothing but being doted on. They were two peas in a pod.

   “I love this dog, man, and she loves me,” Clint said. “I am going to call her Honey. I’m keeping her, for sure.”

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.”

Dead Man’s Curve

By Ed Staskus

   Maggie Campbell was almost 22 years-old the morning she drove face first into a cement truck. She was driving a yellow rust-bucket 1970 Caprice Coupe a girlfriend of hers at the Bay Deli, where they both worked, had sold her for one hundred and ninety-five dollars in cash.

   “Thank God it was a big car,” she said. The Caprice in the early 1970s had one of the longer front hoods Chevrolet had ever produced. It went from here to tomorrow. Only the Monte Carlo front hood went from here to someday.

   She had gotten up late that frosty spring morning and shoveled down a Fudgsicle, a hot dog, and a cup of joe for breakfast. “I better go,” she said to herself, throwing the Fudgsicle stick in the trash.

   Her roommate and she were sharing a small house on Schwartz Road behind St. John’s West Shore Hospital in Westlake. She was late for class at the Fairview Beauty Academy. She bolted out to the car.

   When she got into the Chevy, she couldn’t wait for the front window to defrost more than the small square absolutely needed to look through. She was squinting through one square inch of windshield taking the curve at Excalibur Ave. and listening to Jan and Dean on the radio when she hit the cement truck head on.

   “It’s no place to play, you’d best keep away, I can hear ’em say, won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve.”

   “I never touched the brakes,” she said.

   The truck was parked on her side of the street, the front end facing her. That was the first surprise. She knew she was on the right side of the street as she came around the curve since she could see full well out her driver’s side window. At first, Maggie didn’t know what happened. The second surprise was that when she tried to get out of her car she couldn’t. When she looked down to see why she couldn’t move she saw the steering wheel between her legs. She was sandwiched between the wheel and the seat.

   Some days you are the dog and other days you are the fire hydrant.

   She finally got out of the car by swinging one and then the other leg over the steering wheel. Standing next to her Caprice, looking at the man suddenly standing in front of her, she realized why no one had come to help her. He was white as a ghost. The rest of the cement men behind him looked like they were looking at a ghost, too. They thought she had died in the car, which had instantly turned into junkyard scrap. 

   “I tried to wave you off,” one of them said.

   “Hey, here’s a little clue, I didn’t see you and I didn’t see the truck,” she said. “Thanks for the heads up, but I didn’t see anything.”

   The next thing she knew a woman walked up to her and shoved Kleenex up her nose.

   “You better sit down,” she said.

   “That’s OK,” Maggie said. “I’m good. Besides, I’ve got to get to school.”

   “No, you better sit down. I’ve called an ambulance. They should be here in just a minute.”

   “Seriously, thanks, but no. I just bumped my nose.”

   She sat Maggie down and when she did her skirt rode up and she saw her mangled knees.

   The convertor radio underneath the dash had slammed into them. Even though she couldn’t feel anything bad, not yet at least, she could see shinbones and a thighbone. “That doesn’t look right,” she thought. It had only been a minute since she had gotten out of the car. The front end was jack-knifed. There was bloodshed all over the front seat. 

   It was after the excitement was over that she went for real. Then she lost her eyesight. It was the last surprise. She blinked. It didn’t help.

   “Everything’s gone fuzzy, like an old TV on the fritz.”

   “Just close your eyes. The paramedics are here.”

   “OK, open your eyes,” one of the paramedics said.

   “Are they open?” she asked.

   “Yeah,” he said.

   “Are you sure? Because I can’t see anything.”

   “Is it like in a closet, or more like the basement, with the lights all out?”

   “A closet or a basement? What kind of as question is that? Oh, my God, this guy is such a smart ass. Who sits in a dark closet except crazy people?”

   They laid her down and out in the ambulance and, suddenly, her sight came back.

   “It was just the shock,” she told them.

   “Stop self-diagnosing,” the medic said.

   “I was a lifeguard at the Bay Pool. I know my stuff!”

   St John’s West Shore Hospital must have thought she was younger than she was. Underage is what they thought, so they called her parents.

   “You did what? You called who? I’m 21-years-old. You didn’t need to call my parents.”

   “It’s done.”

   “You rat bastards!”

   Maggie was beyond mad. She hadn’t talked to either of her parents for more than a year.

   “Fuck off and die” had been the last thing she had said to them.

   She planned on moving out as soon she turned 21, but her dad didn’t want her to grow up or move out. Maggie wanted both, to be 21 and gone. Her parents wanted her out, too, but they didn’t want her to go, either. When she told them she would be leaving the day of her birthday, first, they slapped the crap out of her, and then threw her out of the house. She had no money, no clothes, and nowhere to go.

   She called her dad from a phone booth about picking up her clothes.

   “If you come grovel for them, you can get them out of the trash,” he said.

   “You keep them, dad, because I’m not going to grovel.”

   “At the very least they raised a true-blue Scottish kid,” Maggie thought. She never knew if her dad really threw her clothes in the trash because she never called or went back, at least not for the clothes.

   Her mom burst through the emergency room door at St. John’s at the same time as her dad got her on the phone. Before that she had been joking with the doctors, saying she cut her legs shaving.

   “Oh, my God, look at her legs!” her mom started shouting.

   “Who let that woman in here?” Maggie blared.

   “Who’s the president?” her dad asked over and over on the phone until the line went dead. The next thing she knew her whole family, sisters, brother, her dad rushing in from work, were all in the room, and then the adrenaline started to wear off fast. She had been laying there, not too panicked, and suddenly her constitutional joy juice was all gone. She went banshee.

   AAARRRGHHHHHH!!

   Her younger sister started crying and everybody got so upset about her crying that they put her in her dad’s lap. Her mom stroked her hair. Maggie was left on her back on the table in pain and agony, ignored and all alone until a nurse finally wheeled her away to surgery.

   No one noticed she was gone.

   At the end of the day, what happened wasn’t off the charts. She broke her nose and had two black eyes along with a concussion. She hurt both of her knees. One of them had to be operated on. She was released three days later. A policemen told her afterwards if she had hit the back of the cement truck instead of the front she would have been decapitated.

   If that had happened and she had been driving a rag top instead of her hard shell, then “HEADLESS GIRL IN TOPLESS CAR” would have been the headline on the front page of the next day’s West Life News. As it happened, she ended up on page seven.

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.”

Stitch in Time

By Ed Staskus

   Maggie Campbell met Steve De Luca, her husband-to-be who was more-or-less living in Little Italy, when he wasn’t in jailbird trouble, a week after he got thrown out of a Columbus court and came home for his father’s funeral. Meanwhile, she was being thrown out of the family house in Bay Village after her own father died and she threatened to kill her sister.

   They met at Mad Anthony’s, and later Steve followed her to the Tick Tock Tavern on Clifton Boulevard, on a night when she was out with her friends. The stars were sparkling in a west side Cleveland sky. “I needed to get loose that night. Elaine and I had gotten into a fight at mom and dad’s house and when she tried to choke me, I told her I was going to punch her in the face and kill her if she ever put her hands around my neck again.”

   “What did you say?” Elaine shrieked.

   “I know how to break your nose and shove it up into your brain,” Maggie screamed when she pushed her older sister off. “I will do that if you try choking me one more time. I will lay you out flat.” Elaine never touched Maggie after that, but the threat of death didn’t go down well.

   Steve had been a bartender at the Tick Tock Tavern once, slinging shots and shooting the bull. He worked there forever, although since it opened in 1939 it hadn’t been forever. Whenever anybody mentioned anybody’s name to Steve at the bar he always said, “Oh, I know him.” It didn’t matter who it was, famous, infamous, or unknown.

   “Food, spirits, and characters” is what they say at the Tick Tock.

   After the fight with Elaine, Maggie went to her church, Bay Presbyterian, to talk to the pastor. She was contrite but seething. “I was born a Christian and raised a Christian. I have always gone to Bay Presbyterian, and I still go there. But goddamn my family to hell.”

   She had been going to counseling for years, but still not accepted the fact that her sisters and brother and she had been roughed up as children. She was upset that her roughing-it-up father had died, and was upset, too, about her ex-boyfriend-to-be, Craig, who was the mayor of Lorain, which was along the lake near her Bay Village hometown. 

   They had been seeing each other for twelve years, but there was no re-election on the horizon. Even if there had been, Maggie’s chances of higher office were slim to none. Craig had his eye on future choices and chances.

   “What are you doing with Craig?” her minister asked.

   “Why would you ask me such a thing?”

   “Why do you stay with him?” he asked.

   “You really want to know? I’ll let you know! I made a promise a long time ago, when I was a Young Lifer, that I would never have pre-marital sex. When I met Craig, a couple of years into our relationship, I started having sex with him. I said to myself, well, I’ve made my bed and I’m going to lie in it.”

   “No, no, no,” he said. “That’s not the life the Lord wants for you.”

   They started praying for the kind of man she wanted to meet, from eye color to personality. What she didn’t know was that Steve was hoping and praying to meet someone at the same time. He wasn’t being as specific as Maggie, though.

   After Steve got loose after driving too fast too drunk and arguing with the police, and shortly after his dad died, Fat Freddie, his brother, begged him to stay with him in Little Italy, so he did. Steve was a full-blown addict by then. When she met him, he was drinking nearly a fifth of Yukon with beer chasers and snorting coke day in and day out so he could keep drinking.

   He had started thinking his life totally sucked. He hadn’t had a girl to talk to for more than two years, because he was an obnoxious drunk, and he was down, if not down and out. One day while he was walking the dogs, dogs that his brother and he rescued at their used car lot, he started praying, which was something he had never done before.

   “God, if you can, bring me a woman. Please make that happen. I’m lonely, I’m miserable, and I hate my life. Please show me someone who can show me how to love you as much as I can love her.” He was willing to hold hands with the Lord so long as he could hold hands with a woman.

   Shortly after that Maggie’s friends and she were out having fun at Mad Anthony’s. Steve walked in and as he went by, locked eyes with her. After he walked past, she was talking to her friends when she got a creepy feeling that someone was staring at her. After another drink she kept feeling that long steep stare. She went over to where Steve was sitting alone.

   “I’m pretty sure we went to high school together,” she said.

   “Yeah, Bay High,” he said. “I was two classes ahead of you. You worked at the pool.” Oh, Lord, you done good, he wanted to say. Maggie was a fine-looking gal with ruby red lips and jet-black hair.

   Steve asked her out on a date and one more, too.

   “Really, dude, two dates before we’ve even had one date?”

   He wanted Maggie to go with him to the wedding of a sportswriter friend of his, but he thought they should go out first, to test the waters.

   “Alright, alright,” she said, finally. “We’ll see what happens.” She gave him her phone number. She could always hang up if she had to.

   “We’re going to the next bar,” her friends said.

   “It was nice meeting you,” she said to Steve. “Call me.”

   He followed them out. By the time they got to the Tick Tock Tavern he was a different man than the man she had been talking to at Mad Anthony’s, getting obnoxious and louder by the minute. By then his brain was drowning in Yukon. His life preserver was coke. But he was out of the powder. It was all downhill from there.

   “I’m leaving, so piss off,” she finally told him.

   “Jenny, why don’t you come home with me?”

   “Whoa, dude, you’re a jackass.”

   “Jenny, Jenny, why are you going?”

   “Because my name’s Maggie and that’s why I’m not going home with you.”

   As she went through the door, she shot him a look. “Great, he’s got my phone number,” she thought. But she gave him a second look. “He could be really handsome if we got rid of that huge monobrow.”

   The next morning, he called her.

   “What do you want?” she asked, ready willing able to hang up.

   “Don’t hang up, don’t hang up,” he said.

   “I have drugs and alcohol in my family,” she said. “The last thing I want to do is put up with it in a boyfriend. It’s not going to happen, pal.”

   “No, no, no, I’m good,” he said.

   They talked some more. When Steve wasn’t drinking like a drunkard, he was charming. He charmed her into a date and then another one, and even another one. They always went out with a group because she wouldn’t go out with him by herself. She was leery skittish cautious. Every time she went out with him, she left him at the bar at the end of the night after their argument.

   “You’re an idiot.” 

   When she was done running him down, she would leave, stamping her feet. He usually walked the railroad tracks home. He had lost his car to a court order and was footloose. But he started to get better, slowly surely, and as he did, they got better together, and the clock in Maggie’s head kept time to the times that might be on the way.

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.”