Tag Archives: Hal Schaser

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.”

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.”