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 green 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 Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

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Love Shack Romeo

By Ed Staskus

   Maggie Campbell met Steve de Luca, her husband-to-be who was more-or-less living in Little Italy, when he was out of 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?” He was like a lobster click clacking his claws.

   “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.”

Beauty School Bust-Up

By Ed Staskus

   “Don’t you need to get ready and go register for school?” Alma Campbell asked Maggie, hands on her hips, elbows splayed out, scowling at her daughter.

   “Yeah, but I’m not going,” Maggie said.

   “What do you mean, you’re not going?”

   “I’m not going back to school. I’m not cut out for it. I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it.”

   “What are you going to do?”

   “Hair, I’m going to do hair.”

   Alma got excited. She loved it that her daughter was going to be a hairdresser. If a woman doesn’t have a hairdresser, then she has no choice but to let her hair go to hell. There’s no future in that. Alma started looking up cosmetology schools.

   Maggie was 19 years old. She had been going to Tri-C Community College for a year studying to become a special needs teacher. When she was a lifeguard at Bay Pool, she used to teach them how to swim. She loved those kids.

   But, at Tri-C they showed movies about teachers teaching special needs kids and the movies bummed her out. The whole thing came down to seeing the women’s faces, the teachers, and how their faces were hard, and she could see they were frustrated. She thought to herself, I don’t want to be like that around special needs kids.

   “I don’t want to become angry and jaded,” she told her mom. “The thought of getting frustrated with any of the special needers kills me. I don’t want to ever get angry with one of those little faces. When I told you I was going to become a hairdresser it came out of the blue. I didn’t know I had been thinking about it. You can only do what you want to do when you know you want to do it.”

   Maggie cut hair when she worked at Bay Pool, even though she wasn’t supposed to. Nobody liked loose hair floating in the water. Other teenagers would ask, “Do you know how to cut hair?”

   “I don’t know, maybe. I cut my own.”

   “OK, can you cut mine?”

   “Yeah, sure, I’ll cut it.”

   She used to pierce ears, too.  “Do you remember the time the electricity at school went out and we were all bored and you pierced my ear with your own earring?” a friend of hers asked at one of their school reunions. “No, but it sounds great,” she said. The way she looked at it, even if I don’t remember it, back then he wanted his ear pieced, so I pierced it, dark or no dark.

   By the time Alma was done, the next thing Maggie knew, she was enrolled at a beauty school in Fairview Park. It didn’t always go as planned. She had to spend many hours writing “I will not swear in front of clients” on the lunchroom chalkboard.

   One day a lady was in the bowl, soap in her hair, and she decided to sit up.

   “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Maggie blurted out. “Lay back down!”

   Her teachers were flabbergasted. “Did you just swear at her?”

   “No, I didn’t swear at her.”

   “Are you lying?”

   “No.”

   They made her write “I will not swear in front of clients” 500 more times. It was ridiculous. Her fingers got dry and dusty with chalk dust.

   “I’m paying you to go to this school,” she said. “I’m in charge.”

   “Keep writing,” they said.

   She was always in trouble. She didn’t even know she was saying anything vulgar when she was saying it. The words were just part of her vocabulary. “It’s been that way my whole life,” she said. “My mom would come home from work at the hospital, we’d sit down at the dinner table, and she was off to the races, fuck that stupid doctor, fuck that idiot nurse, and that fucking patient who gave me so much trouble. That was our dinner talk.”

   Have you ever talked to a nurse? Nurses swear like truck drivers, on and on. Alma painted the town with curses. She wasn’t just trying to get her point across by using harsh language, although it helped. It became part of the word world at the Campbell house.

   “I grew up in a house full of swearers,” Maggie said. “I swear a lot in front of everyone, all the time. My mom and I went to Put-In-Bay one weekend. It’s a small island in Lake Erie, the best walleye, and the third tallest monument in the country. We were waiting in line to get into the roundhouse. We were talking and I was swearing up a storm.”

   “Nice mouth,” a man behind them said to her. “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” 

   Maggie whirled on him. “You know what, asshole, my mother invented the word fuck. You want to see me kiss her? I’ll kiss her right now.” She kissed her mom on the mouth.

   “Mags, what are you doing?” Alma asked. She hadn’t been paying attention to the eavesdropping man behind them.

   Halfway through beauty school Maggie got into a car accident when she hit a cement truck. She was out of commission for months. When she came back, she had four months left. Those months became her dark days. She thought she was a hot shot and that she knew best. She was always goofing off. She never paid attention. She was her own man.

   “I thought I knew how to do everything, do it all. Once you get out of theory, they put you on the floor. I don’t want to do haircuts is what everyone else said. I was the daring person. It wasn’t about playing with scissors.”

   She was the first one to go on the floor. She didn’t mind standing all day. She could do it all week all month all the time with no problem. Maggie had cut hair before, so she was on fire, raring to go. She couldn’t and wouldn’t quit. She had to finish beauty school because she couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to Tri-C.

   Maggie didn’t enjoy cosmetology training, but she got through it, and got her first job at Cadillac Cutters in Rocky River. It didn’t go well, not because of her cursing, but because, in the end, she didn’t curse enough. If she had she might have washed them out of her hair sooner than later.

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

Trouble in Little Italy

By Ed Staskus

   Before Maggie Campbell’s husband Steve de Luca stopped blazing, he turned the younger of their two cats, whose name was Mittens, into a deadhead. They started calling him Stones because when he and Steve were in the bedroom together and the man was smoking weed, whenever Steve exhaled, the cat inhaled.

   He would lean up on his haunches and sniff for the smoke. He was a candy-colored longhair boy, in more ways than one. The look Stones gave Maggie, whenever she caught them together, was the “Are you looking at me?” look. He thought he was the hepcat. Afterwards, after Steve gave up drugs, they changed his name back to Mittens and he went back to using and abusing catnip.

  They called Sebastian, their older cat, Big Black, until he got even bigger. He had a different take on life. He ran out into the backyard whenever he could and hunted, at least when he was young. Later, in middle age, he spent most of his time eating in the basement. Stones was always looking high and low for his missing munchies. Eating non-stop didn’t work out too well for Sebastian. As he got older, they started calling him Fatbastian. He didn’t seem to mind. He kept eating and getting bigger.

   Steve’s dad wasn’t a gangster, but his dad’s friends and his uncles and their friends were all gangsters. His dad was an attorney for the Mob. He was the lawyer for the guy who killed Danny Greene with a car bomb in Lyndhurst. But, at the same time, he was a good friend of the Irishman for many years. Their house in Little Italy was a gift from Danny Greene and the Celtic Club. He never told the dagos about that. It was a secret.

   Steve’s family had wads of money when he was growing up. Whenever he smashed up a car his dad had a new one for him the next day. Speeding tickets got taken care of. There was no need to slow down. Steve was using at eleven and selling at thirteen. His uncles were addicts and used to run and hide their stashes from the police under his bed. When Steve was older, he ran errands for his dad. When his dad was on the verge of going to jail once when he wouldn’t give something up to a judge, he told Steve he absolutely needed him to go to Columbus that day.

   “These papers must be to be in the state court system by 5 o’clock. Make sure you get there.”

   Steve hauled ass down to Columbus, delivered the papers, and proceeded to get trashed, tequila trashed, to the degree he was swinging at and spitting at policemen who had been called to get him out of the bar he was a making a mess of it. He was Steve-o-mess wobbling on two feet when they got done with him.

   They hauled him outside and slapped cuffs on him. They pushed him into the back of a squad car. They allowed him one phone call. He called his dad.

   “I’m in jail,” he said.

   “I have one question for you.”

   “What?”

   “Did you deliver the papers?”

   “Yeah.”

   “OK, sit tight, you’ll be out in one hour.”

   He was out in fifty-five minutes.

   Steve’s brother, Fat Freddie, had a used car lot on Carnegie Ave. on the east side of Cleveland. Little Italy was a short walk south of University Circle, where bluebloods went to Case Western Reserve University and where all the museums were. The ghetto was a short walk north of University Circle. That’s where Steve and his brother got started rescuing dogs. The mean-spirited dumped animals in that neighborhood, behind abandoned houses and warehouses. 

   When Steve worked with Fat Freddie at the car lot, they found dogs on the street, picked them up, and brought them back to the car lot. They took care of them and tried to find them homes. Once his brother and he were looking at a used car and saw a mistreated dog chained to a tree in the back yard. He was on his last legs, with barely a leg to stand on.

   “What’s with the dog?” asked Steve, keeping his eyes on the man whose dog it was.

   “Oh, he’s a bad dog, got to keep him tied up,” said the man.

   Steve looked at the dog. He looked at the man and then at the dog again.

   “I’ll tell you what, mister,” he said. “You keep your car, and we’ll take the dog. To make it an even trade we won’t say anything to anybody about you abusing animals.” 

   “No sir, you can’t have that dog.”

   Fat Freddie put his right hand in his pocket and kept it there. He always carried a handgun. The man looked at the pocket. “Oh, hell, just take it,” he spit out.

   They untied the dog and took it with them.

   There was a pack of wild dogs living in a wooded field behind the car lot. Fat Freddie and Steve put bowls of food out at the tree line for them. They didn’t like going too far into the copse. One day Steve heard screaming and howling, so he went into the woods. He found a blind dog whose litter of puppies had been mauled and some of them eaten by other dogs.

   “Dogs will eat other dogs if they’re that hungry,” Maggie said. “They will. They’ll eat anything.”

   Steve grabbed the puppies that were still alive and ran. The blind dog howled for three days in the woods. There was nothing anybody could do. When the bitch stopped howling everybody knew what had happened.

   Steve’s dad died the same year Maggie’s dad died. Afterwards, Steve was living with Fat Freddie when he met his wife-to-be. It was rocky at first, but they smoothed it out. After they got married, they shared the house with Steve’s older brother for almost a year, until Maggie couldn’t take it anymore.

   “He loves us living here because I grocery shop, cook, and clean. I am a clean freak. My vacuum never gets put away. That’s how much I love to vacuum.”

   Fat Freddie and Steve had the same eyes, although Fat Freddie was shorter and thicker than Steve, had curlier hair, and was a deviler. Maggie had OCD, putting her at odds with all devilers. “Everybody knows you don’t fuck with someone who has OCD,” she said. “You just don’t do that! Except for Freddie, who thinks it’s funny to mess with me, even though I always get mad. That fat bastard doesn’t seem to care.”

   There was no good place to do her make-up in the Little Italy house. The rooms were weirdly cut and sectioned and there wasn’t any good lighting, so she had to do it downstairs. “I keep my make-up bag there. Your brother stuffs banana peels and old food wrappers into my bag when I’m sleeping. Do you know how dirty and disgusting that is?”

   Fat Freddie would just laugh. He thought he was funny, although he wasn’t. His funny bone was bent. But Maggie did not cry. It took everything she had to not punch him in the face. Her father was somebody who always said, “Someone’s pissed you off? Go beat the shit out of them.”

   “You think you want to hit me?” Fat Freddie would say. “Go ahead, try it, girlie, try it.”

   She got so upset that her fists balled up. More than anything else in the world she wanted to punch him in the face.

   “I’m not going to lower myself to who you are,” she said. “I’m not going to do it. I’m still a good person.”

   Fat Freddie wasn’t all bad, though. In the morning he’d say to Maggie, “Pack some extra lunch meat for if I find a dog on the streets today.” She would pack their lunches, for them and anything that needed a square meal. If man’s best friend was in bad shape and had to be saved from bad men that day, and said to them, ‘You better cut that hunk of baloney into two pieces because I’m hungry enough to eat six of them,” they always had something to offer in their resealable plastic bags.

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

Home Brew

By Ed Staskus

   “We’re going to have to get out of here or I’m going to kill him,” Maggie Campbell said. She meant it more than anything. “Dead as a doornail,” she added, looking around for a loose butcher knife with a sharp edge.

   Steve de Luca her brand 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 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 their own.

   They discussed argued prayed about the kind of house they wanted. “I want a home where when you go there they have to take you in,” Maggie said. She 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. “I mean, 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 lots of fence.

   The first two years of living there 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 puddles of mud tracked 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. His guy put up a fence and laid down stone stamps in the patio. They put 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 stuffed 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 mean gossipy neighbor Dawn when she wrinkled her nose.

   They bought a grill and cooked outside spring summer fall. Even though Dawn’s nose angled for an invitation, they never invited her over. In her case a good fence made a good neighbor.

   Even though they liked their new house right away, 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.

   “Home is where the heart is, but this place needs a new heart,” she said.

   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 then the next two winters in Cleveland happened. Lake Erie froze solid as a rock. “What happened to global warming?” Steve asked. It was winter for a long time for two straight 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 friends and junk.

   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 that is happening.

   “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 set in stone 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 carpeting laid down, Grayson their young Lab got through the Berlin Wall, went right upstairs, and peed on the new carpet. 

   Maggie posted an extra warning at the base of the stairs. “No dogs upstairs, especially no Grayson.” The dogs did their best trying to read it but couldn’t understand a word. They understood when she smacked them on the butt.

   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 snug. 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.”

   Birdie didn’t care. He was the only one of their dogs who had his own digs. His name was above the front door of his dog house. He didn’t let any of the other dogs visit unless they brought treats with them.

   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 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,” Maggie thought, keeping her fingers crossed for an early spring.

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.”

Boogie Woogie

By Ed Staskus

   Every time Maggie Campbell found an animal, cat dog bird squirrel, anything, it didn’t matter, she would take care of it. If they were hurt her dad, Fred, and she would help them get better They did it together. If it was an emergency, they took them to the Lake Erie Nature Center down Wolf Rd. way.

   It drove her mother Alma batty. She barely tolerated animals, at all. Besides, she had asthma. Their dander, saliva, and skin flakes aggravated it. It was a headache for everybody. “Somebody’s going to have to take me to the people doctor,” she complained bitterly whenever Maggie brought another lost or hurt critter home.

  “If you’re born to love animals, then you love animals,” Maggie said. She didn’t think it was anything you could just make happen. Her dad had it. She had it. Her mom wasn’t good with strays. She didn’t have it. Whenever Maggie wanted a pet, she always asked her dad. She never asked her mom. They had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and a poodle, thanks to Fred.

   Their poodle Coco hated Maggie’s brother Brad. She never knew why, exactly, except she thought he might have been too rough with her when he was a crawler. “Coco, get him,” was all she had to say if they were sitting on the sofa together. Coco would jump him, growling and snapping and ripping off his diaper. She had fun making the poodle attack her little brother since she knew the dog wanted to, and because she could.

  Before Elaine her older sister moved out Maggie and Brad slept in the same room. They both had double beds with posts and a bar across the back. They each had cherry wood dressers, a closet, and shelves for their toys. Maggie slept by the window and Brad slept closer to the attic. Her brother passed wind, more like gusts of noxious gas, when he was a tyke. They kept their bedroom window cracked open even in winter. Sometimes Brad farted so loud he woke her up.

   “Are your butt cheeks still flapping from that one?” 

  She did love him, though. He was a good kid most of the time. When she was in junior high, she took him with her wherever she went. They had their moments, though. They were like Tom and Jerry.

   Maggie played TRIP! with him all the time when he was small. Wherever he was in the house, which was a split level, six steps up from the basement, or the five steps up to the kitchen, or the twelve steps up to the bedrooms, it didn’t matter, he never knew when Maggie was going to suddenly pull a cord tight and make him trip.

   Her sisters made her play LET ME HAVE IT! with them. They would be in Elaine or Bonnie’s bedroom, and she would have to say, “LET ME HAVE IT!” They would pummel her with pillows. Just beat her, letting her have it.

  A car hit Coco when Maggie was a sophomore in high school. Coco had gotten older and slower, but none of them saw it coming. She ran up and down the street and into and out of the woods at the end of their cul-de-sac all her days.  The man who hit her stopped, picked her up, and went looking for the owners. When he found Bonnie, she came to the Bay Village swimming pool where Maggie was lifeguarding and got her. They had to put Coco down. Even Alma thought it was awful.

   When they got their Rottweiler, Alma claimed she loved the dog, but they had to get rid of him because she said the dog inflamed her asthma. Her sister Elaine adopted him, since she had moved away from home, so Maggie was still able to see the dog whenever she wanted.

   Growing up in the Fred and Alma Campbell house in Bay Village was not like growing up in your average house. You were either going to move out while you were still young, or you were going to be thrown out. Looking back, after she left, she realized they all left early.

   Everybody in their family got married when they were 19, except Maggie. Her mom and dad got married at 19, her brother got married when he was 19, and both of her sisters got married when they were 19. She didn’t get married until I was 34, soon after her dad died. She left the family home the year she was legal.

   Long before she got married, after her dad threw her out just before her 21st birthday, she watched Elaine’s dog whenever her sister went on vacation. He was a sweet dog, but a stupid dog, too.  Elaine named him Candyman. Everybody called him Candy. He wasn’t the kind of vicious Rottweiler everybody thinks they are. He had a blanket he carried around. They called his blanket Betty. They would tell him to go get Betty and when he came back, he would be dragging his blankie behind him.

   He loved people, just loved them. Elaine lived in West Park, near St. Patrick’s, which was a Catholic church and school, and when school let out, the Candyman would sit at the front door whimpering to be let out.

   “You can’t go out,” Elaine would say. “You’re going to scare the kids.”

   He was muddle-headed and cried no matter what she said. He learned how to lean on the door and swivel the knob with his snoot and get out. Maggie started thinking he wasn’t so simpleminded, after all. “No, you’re not going out there,” she told him all the time she was at Elaine’s house, but if she was upstairs, he would finesse the door and the next thing she knew he was at the end of the driveway. As the school kids walked by there was a big slurp for each of them.

   They walked away wiping their faces and rubbing their hands dry on their pants.

   He got out one day when two guys were playing with a frisbee in the street. The Rottie had seen them through the screen. He couldn’t contain himself. “You’re not going out there,” Maggie told him firmly, wagging her finger. “I don’t know those guys.” 

   He banged up against the door and when it flew open, he took off. The guys were 16, maybe 17, and when they saw him running full speed at them, they froze. Maggie ran out waving her arms. “Throw the frisbee!” she yelled. They stayed stuck in place stiff as sticks. “The dog will love you if you throw the damn frisbee!” One of them threw their bright red plastic disk. The eager beaver Rottweiler hauled ass after it.

   “Sweet,” one of the boys said.

   They hit the jackpot, running the mutt until the end of the afternoon. His feet were raw when he got home. He was an idiot, after all, Maggie decided. She poured him a big bowl of clean cold water and rubbed aloe vera gel on his paw pads.

   Even though she loved animals, and her mom didn’t, which was something between them that wasn’t getting resolved anytime soon, Maggie was the only one of her mom’s four kids who was determined to spark some love in her mother. The others had long ago given up trying. They had their reasons.

   She would come home from parties or from dances when she was in junior high and plop down on her bed, sprawling out and telling Alma about the whole fantastic night, everything that happened. Her mom would stay on the bed with her, stroking her hand, listening. She cooed until Maggie fell asleep.

   A dog will love you if you throw a frisbee. In their family they had to plan scheme compel their mom to love them. It was just the way Alma was. Her father had grown up well-off, but not her mother. Maggie used to wonder what it was like for her growing up in a worn-out washed-up town, her family poor broken ignored. Her mother needed some love. Maggie could tell. Maybe animals couldn’t give it to her, but she could try.

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.”

Jumping the Traces

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, keeping his greed engaged, although not always prudent. Sometimes he tripped over his sense of humor.

   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,” she declared putting her little foot down.

   Fred Campbell became a stockbroker. That way he could still gamble, except now it would be with other people’s money. He raked in a boatload of loot. He wasn’t just one-sided about the almighty dollar, 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 appeared on the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck” TV show now and then, doing skits with them. Hoolihan was Bob Wells. 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 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.” Hoolihan played a trumpet with a plunger mute and Big Chuck played a small uke. Fred couldn’t carry a tune, so was never invited to raise his voice in song. He brought his gorilla suit instead.

   The Soul Man, Mushmouth, 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 to their house for spaghetti dinners. He was 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 immediately!”

   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 shrugs and turns back into sheepish Chuck.

   Fred did most of his skits wearing a gorilla suit. But not all the skits 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 his 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 abruptly pop up with a roar, reaching for their passenger’s neck.

   That always scared 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 and apartments 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 for the night wondered what the thumping above their heads was all about.

   As they got older and wiser Big Chuck, Hoolihan, Lil’ John, and Fred got a little more restrained sophisticated. 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. After a few drinks Big Chuck became less wise and became the Kielbasa Kid for real. 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 they 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 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. James Butler III 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.

   “I am going to sue that son-of-bitch,” he roared. He was a corporate lawyer. His funny bone was more along the lines of a crazy bone.

   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 or threatened. 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 firing range. He would crawl under their beds at night and wait quietly until they got warm and cozy and dozed off. When he was good and ready, he reached up and around and suddenly 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,” Maggie said. 

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

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 sip on his Manhattan. Whatever happened to men’s clubs? he wondered.  After Bonnie and Brad came on board all 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. The summer Brad rounded out the family her mother blew her top. “Too many kids,” she yammered after he were born. The family vacations were more-or-less over and done with after that.

   “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 sulked whenever one of them was in the house. Anytime one of them walked into a room she got irate that the child was living and breathing and asking her for 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 in private homes were forbidden 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 fumed 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 three sisters were always throwing each other under the bus. “The bad part is your sisters then grow up hating you,” she said. That’s how there was the mess between them, 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 sourpussed about it, complaining that it was like corralling cats. One morning at the amusement park Maggie was with her. It was hot and steamy as a steam room. 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 Fred went to find tickets to see the Country Bears Jamboree.

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

   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

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

   They saw the Bear Jamboree later, and the next day Maggie spotted Donny Osmond riding the 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 prod in the small of the back running start, and the next thing she knew was standing in front of Donny Osmond. Maggie was flabbergasted. She had seen him on TV and now was standing less than a foot from him. She stammered and fumbled bumbled 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 the fans were lookers. When they were he got even more cavalier. When the monorail stopped, Maggie ran off the car as fast as she could. One of her shoes went kick 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 lots of 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 cataclysmic.

   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. It was 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, at the end of their bed, for decades. 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 stored it in her garage.

   Elaine wanted the bench bad. Maggie told her mom over and over that Elaine wanted it, but Alma said, “No, she can’t have it, and that’s final.” It was like talking to a block 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 somebody 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 junior year of high school, 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 a 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 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 their 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 down in the mouth 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, like something golden had disappeared from her life in the blink of an eye.

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.”

Loose as a Goose

By Ed Staskus

   The good times Maggie Campbell and her sisters and brother had when they were kids were always the day after their family fights, which were always the day before a holiday. Christmas Day was fun happy joyful because it was right after the Christmas Eve scrape. All the presents under the tree didn’t hurt, either, so long as they hadn’t been busted in the melee.

   The fights happened before or on the dot of the holiday, never afterwards. On Easter, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving there was always a knockdown. Alma or Fred, their parents, or both at the same time, would start the drag down. Afterwards the family pulled it together for the holiday, to look good for the big day. They had to look better for their friends, neighbors, and in-laws.

   One Christmas all their cousins from Pennsylvania, Maggie’s relatives and all their kids, were at their house in Bay Village. The house was warm and cozy and there hadn’t been any fights. They were all looking good. It was an unusual holiday. It couldn’t last. It didn’t last.

    It was Christmas Eve morning when Eric from Philadelphia passed gas. “Oh, that’s a wet one,” somebody said, and that started the whole thing, which turned out to be the flu. It went from Eric to Curtis to Kim and Skip and the rest of them. Everybody barfed and barfed for days. Alma was beyond mad. She was beside herself. She wanted to go to a hotel, even though she was a nurse. She would have jumped ship if she could have, but Fred made her stay.

   Every 4th of July there was a street party. They lived on one of the only two cul-de-sacs in Bay Village, a bedroom town west of Cleveland. In the morning all the kids would decorate their bikes and they had a bike parade. Their parents judged the bikes and handed out prizes.

   They played games all day and later in the afternoon everybody’s parents carried their grills and picnic tables to the end of the street for a party. They had food soda chips and the grown-ups had coolers of beer. When the kids had soda pop they burped as loud as they could. The beer drinkers burped despite themselves. Everybody partied and had a great time.

   Maggie’s mother wore a t-shirt that said “JOE BALLS” on the front and “FROM NEWTON FALLS” on the back. It was a family joke. They had an uncle named Harold who lived in Newton Falls, but everybody called him Joe Balls. Nobody knew why. 

   One summer a waterspout off Lake Erie touched down during their street party. They were out in the street playing. Their parents were close to trashed. When Maggie ran into the house to tell her mother, she said, “Go back out there and play.” But they ended up having the rest of the party in the garage once she saw what was going on outside the window.

   Alma became a nurse when Maggie was in 5th grade. She had four kids and a husband in the house but before anybody knew what was going on she decided she wanted a career. Fred’s parents put her through nursing school, paying for it all. She studied at Tri-C and went to work at Lakewood Hospital. When she became a nurse, she wore a t-shirt that said “THE PUSHER” because she was an IV Therapist. She was the one who loaded the tubes with drugs.

  It was the same year, when Maggie was at Normandy Elementary School, during the Miracle of Richfield, that she got a pair of tennis shoe roller skates. They had a teacher at school named Mr. Barton and he loved to hoe down dance and dribble basketballs at the same time. He taught them to do it and they got so good at it that they were invited to perform at a Cleveland Cavs game.

   It was the year the team was scrappy and good and played the Washington Bullets in the conference finals. The stands were crazy loud. Fans wore earplugs and the players on both benches stuck their fingers in their ears.

   “The Washington series was the greatest sporting event I will ever see in my life,” said Bill Nichols, who covered the series for The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “We want the Cavs! We want the Cavs! We want the Cavs!” the fans screamed. It was a thunder dome. Three of the games were decided in the last two seconds. The chanting was so loud that the chalkboard Cavalier Coach Bill Fitch used to diagram plays shook in his hands. “A couple of players had to hold it down,” star guard Austin Carr said.

   “If you don’t drop your ball, or double dribble, or anything else helter-skelter during the performance, I’ll buy you whatever you want,” Maggie’s dad told her. She told him she wanted tennis shoe roller skates. “Whatever you want,” he said.

   They were colossal that night doing their hoe down dribble dance at halftime at the Richfield Coliseum, which isn’t there anymore. It’s just a big empty field full of stink weeds now that it’s been torn down. They danced to “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers.

   “ S_A_T_U_R_D_A_Y!”

   After she got them, Maggie lived in her purple roller skates from that day on. She put them on first thing in the morning and skated all over the house. She did axles in the streets and figure skated every day in her rollers. She went to the roller rink every chance she got. But she wasn’t allowed to wear them in school, no matter what she said. Even so, she wore them all the time until she got her first pair of high heels.

   “The roller skates came off right after that and I’ve never been out of high heels since,” she said. “The reason is that I stopped growing when I was in 6th grade. After that I found out I was going to be short. My mom was a pygmy, although I had three or four inchers on her. She got shorter the older she got. Everybody else in our family was taller than me. My dad was six-foot-something. I was the shortest of all the kids, shorter even than my little brother Brad.”

   Her mother got Maggie a pair of Candies Heels. They were plastic made to look like wood and had a strap across the top of the foot that stopped about mid-way up. A girl could wear them with anything, shorts, skirts, and disco pants. They were the hot shoe. Every girl had to have a pair.

   “You’re going to be in these for the rest of your life,” her mom told her. “You will never get out of them.” She made Maggie practice walking in them, up and down the driveway, then up and down the street, and finally up and down the stairs. “You don’t want to walk like a clod,” she said. “A lot of girls stomp in their high heels, but you’re going to walk like a lady.”

   It got so she could run in them fast. She could chase dogs. She was still speedy enough when she grew up, not as much as she had been, but still fast if she had to be. Years later she ran in a high heel race down the middle of Lake Rd. in Bay Village. She wore a hot pink tutu and didn’t come in last. She didn’t know who invented high heels, but thought women owed the man a lot. “You put high heels on, and you change. Everything is different in them. Your body moves to a new kind of tempo.” 

   When she got her Candies Heels her favorite things in life were summertime funny TV shows boys barbeques dogs and shoes. She loved dogs the most, but shoes were a close second. They couldn’t lick up your face with slobber and love, but they could kickstart your new lady legs.

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.”

Born to Be Bad

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 back east in Cleveland. She lived there her whole life growing up. When she was a girl, she picked up every lost bird and squirrel, every lost cat and dog, and every injured anything still alive 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 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 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 he 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, three 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, 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. Jersey Shore isn’t anywhere near New Jersey, the Jersey shoreline, and the shoreline it had didn’t live up to the name. 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 paternal 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 cozy 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 his family still stayed in the dumps. They were too poor to paint but too proud to whitewash. Even though they were always short they built their own house on the Susquehanna River. Maggie didn’t know how they 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 big 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 to boot.

   Maggie didn’t know her Jersey Shore grandfather. He died young. He had arthritis from tip to toe, and it finished him off. It didn’t help working underground coal mining. She knew her grandmother well enough. Whenever her sisters and she visited her, 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 road beans bounced 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. They 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’s sister Elaine was born there. The rest of them made the scene in Bay Village. The family had moved to a short cul-de-sac, five blocks south of Lake Erie. Her dad designed the house, and it was built just the way he wanted it. He died when she was thirty-three years old. The next thing she did was get married to Steve de Luca.

   The crow’s nest was where Maggie grew close to Brad, who when he was 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. Brad brought 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 noisy, to begin with, and damp as his underarms, besides.

   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.

   Maggie was Brad’s number one protector when he was growing up, like she was with all the neighborhood’s lost cats and dogs. She and Brad sold bananas, bread and butter sandwiches, and hard-boiled eggs on their front lawn whenever their mom wasn’t looking. They ran to Bracken Way with money in their hands when they heard Uncle Marty’s Ice Cream truck coming.

   But Maggie could never protect Brad from Coco, their poodle, who bit and tore his diapers off when he was little. He 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 tough luck that Coco was on the rampage. She could be a brat when she had to be.

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.”