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.”


   “Did you deliver the papers?”


   “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 stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook 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 and Cleveland Daybook 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 and Cleveland Daybook 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 and Cleveland Daybook 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 and Cleveland Daybook 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 and Cleveland Daybook 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 and Cleveland Daybook To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Digging Up West Park

By Ed Staskus

   Maggie Campbell grew up in Bay Village, ran around like a crazy girl on her dead-end street and through nearby back yards, went to grade school and high school in Bay Village, got her first job at the Bay Pool, and didn’t know West Park existed until she moved away from home.

   At first there wasn’t anybody anywhere in West Park. The wilderness didn’t have a name. There were some Indians who came and went and millions of trees. At the turn of the 19th century, it was lots of land, a handful of homes, and a few wagon paths. The paths were rutted and often impassable. The land was named for John West, an early pioneer.

   John West and his wife were from Ireland. They weren’t the founders of the new place, but they had a 600-acre farm with a 25-acre front yard and an artificial lake with rowboats on it. The land around the lake was called West Park. Over the years everybody came to call their entire locality the same thing.

   The terrain is bordered to the north by Lakewood, which hums on the shoreline of Lake Erie. It is west of Brooklyn and east of Fairview Park. Everything else is south of it. It is twelve and a half square miles formed as Rockport Hamlet in 1892, incorporated as Rockport Village in 1902, and renamed the Village of West Park in 1913. In the 1920s it was its own city with its own government. It became the last independent city to be annexed by Cleveland in 1923.

   George Reitz the mayor said, “I’m no longer going to be mayor of West Park. I’m going to be a resident of Cleveland.” Cleveland was the fifth largest city in the country at the time.

   After Maggie and Steve de Luca got married, they moved in with Steve’s brother Fat Freddie in Little Italy, but it got off to a bad start and went downhill. Fat Freddie had a heart of gold but a Three Stooges sense of humor that got on Maggie’s nerves. It wasn’t long before she wanted to do him in. She might have but for Fat Freddie being friends with the pastor of Holy Rosary Church and the local mobsters. Besides, he was her brother-in-law and murdering him would have looked bad at the next family picnic.

   The first road in West Park was a wooden plank toll road. Horse drawn streetcars went back and forth. All the other roads were unimproved, a mess of mud every spring and buried by snow every winter. Oswald Kamm opened a grocery store at the intersection of what is now Lorain Ave. and Rocky River Dr. Most people called West Park the “lost city.” Getting to the grocery store was an ordeal. Whenever a thunderstorm broke everybody stabled their horses at the store and stayed the night.

   There are four West Park neighborhoods, which are Kamm’s Corners, Riverside, Bellaire-Puritas, and Jefferson. Kamm’s Corners is Irish Catholic. There are taverns right and left of the corner. Riverside was largely unsettled until Cleveland Hopkins Airport was built there in 1925, when it became airplane country. Bellaire-Puritas is manufacturing intensive, largely due to the presence of many industrial parks. It is adjacent to highways and has access to the Norfolk-Southern and CSX rail lines. Jefferson was thinly populated for a long time but following annexation residential development moved fast forward.

   Grayton Rd. is north of the airport and more-or-less follows the lay of the Rocky River. Alan Apelt grew up on Grayton Rd. when it was a dirt road and everything around it was farmland. 

   “If a car was driving down our road they were lost,” Alan said. His grandfather August farmed vegetables there in the 1920s. After he kicked the milk bucket one of his four children took over the family farm. Rudy Apelt built a greenhouse while still farming outdoors. In the 1950s Cleveland was known as the “Greenhouse Capital of the Americas.” Through the 1960s there were more than fifty of them around town growing cucumbers, tomatoes, and leaf lettuce. It was where the Central and West Side Markets got their veggies.

   After Rudy met his maker Alan and his brother Ron took the helm. They specialized in English seedless cucumbers. When his brother passed away Alan turned the greenhouses into a hydroponic operation. He gave it up in 2016 and dismantled them. In their place he planted 400 Chinese Chestnut trees.

   “Chestnut trees are the easiest things to manage on a day-to-day basis by yourself,” he said.Three years later he had a harvest to meet the rising trend in cooking of using chestnuts. They have a sweet flavor and potato-like consistency. When they fall from their branches, they are enclosed in spiney burrs. Picking them up means wearing gloves. Picking them up barehanded means getting stabbed by a spiny burr.

   John West’s red brick house still stood on W. 138th Street when Maggie and her husband bought a house on West Ave. in the Jefferson neighborhood. John Marshall School of Engineering was at one end of the street and Cleveland Police First District headquarters was at the other end. Steve’s father had been a lawyer for the Cleveland Mob. Steve didn’t mind some law and order being close to hand.

   There weren’t any farms left. All the greenhouses were gone. Three interstates were nearby. There were three rail transit stops within hiking biking distance. Almost everybody was Irish, Latino, or Black. Maggie was Scottish, which was close enough. Steve was Italian, which wasn’t close, at all. But he had been born and bred in Little Italy, where the Dago’s were surrounded by Wasps and Jews. He knew how to mix it up with folks who were nothing like him.

   If things got sketchy, being from Little Italy, he knew how to take care of himself. If they got dangerous, he knew who to call. If Fat Freddie proved to be not enough back-up, he knew his brother knew enough dangerous men to set things right. In the event, their home was their castle. Just in case, they always had two or three dogs in the house. They weren’t Chihuahuas or Miniature Poodles, either.

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

Just Like Honey

By Ed Staskus

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

   It becomes the hard stuff. It does hard stuff to you, stuff there is no getting around. It hisses with danger. Clint had more trouble with himself than with any other man.

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

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

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

   “What is it?” she asked, annoyed.

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

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

   “Boy wonder, disaster,” Steve said. “If he ever has an idea it is going to die of loneliness.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   His spoonful of fun had gone glum woebegone.

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

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

   “Is it bad news?” he asked.

   “Yes,” they said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dogs Never Bite Me

By Ed Staskus

   Maggie Campbell was working at her friend’s hair salon in Old Brooklyn and was halfway through an overlay when her husband called. She couldn’t pick up since her hands were full. When she listened to the voice mail later, she heard Steve say he was sorry.

   “Honey, I’m sorry,” he said. She could hear talking in the background, and somebody laughing. The laughing man sounded like Fat Freddie, Steve’s brother.

   “What did you do?” she thought, sitting in the lunchroom, making a sandwich, waiting for it to heat up in the toaster oven. He rattled on for more than a minute. She took a bite of her ham and cheese sandwich. It was raining cats and dogs outside.

   “Oh, man, what did you do?” she thought to herself louder than before.

   “She was walking in the street,” he said. “She looked like she was trying to get hit by a car.”

   “Oh, he rescued another dog,” Maggie realized.

   He said the dog looked so bad that he pulled over, turned around, went back, and picked her up. Fat Freddie sat in the back with man’s best friend, who was shivering. “She was just looking for somebody to hit her,” Steve told Maggie over dinner that night. “She just wanted to die.” But there she was safe and sound at their feet.

   Steve found her on the east side, on Superior Ave. on the other side of downtown. No collar and no tags. She was a purebred German Shepherd, between two and three years old. Fat Freddie wanted her right away. He lived in Little Italy where he had some sketchy neighbors. But, because Steve’s brother had a hateful girlfriend, she said no, and that was that.

   When Steve brought her back to their house in West Park, Maggie fell in love with the pooch. “She’s so sweet I can’t stand it. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to give her to anybody.”

   She curled up on the sofa between them when they watched TV. If they got up at the same time, she didn’t know which one of them to follow. Wherever they went she was right behind them. She lay next to the claw tooth tub when Maggie took a bath. She had to step over the dog, which was hard to do with her short legs.

   She was wondering what the dog’s tale was.

   Maggie was going up the stairs to take a bath, stripping as she went, when she found out. She was taking her belt off when the dog almost pooped herself. She could not get away from the sight of the belt fast enough. The Shepherd stumbled down a few steps before recovering her balance, and disappeared fast

   Maggie muttered “son-of-a bitch” under her breath. “All because I took my belt off. How about that?”

   When they first got her, the dog was depressed and miserable. She wouldn’t eat for a week. At first, Maggie and the pooch shared rice chips. She wouldn’t eat anything else, and she wouldn’t touch dog food, but then she got back in the swing of eating chow.

   She had a bad ear infection, but, luckily, Maggie had ear medication left over from other dogs they had rescued. Their vet came over to check her out because she had some small lumps on her chest. Tracy the Vet said they were probably fatty lumps and nothing to worry about. She ran the dog’s blood, just in case.

   Steve put a call in to the pound and left a description of the dog and his phone number, but no one ever called back. Maggie didn’t know if she was going to be able to give her to anybody, but thought she had to find her a home, even if it was only with another rescuer.

   They put up fliers with other rescuers, passing them to each other, by word of mouth and on Facebook. They found a home for her in no time. A few days after Steve found the German Shepherd, Maggie tagged her sister about a Yorkie.  Her sister had needed to put her own Yorkie down a couple of months earlier.

   “I want the dog,” she said.

   Maggie called about picking up the Yorkie.

   “When can I grab the dog?”

   She drove to Elyria and picked up the eleven-month-old dog. He was going to be Maggie’s sister and nephew’s Christmas present, but they had to fix him up first, in more ways than one.

   An older woman had bought the dog from a breeder, but she broke her leg and ended up in a nursing home. Her kids locked the puppy in the garage for three weeks. They were sick idiots. They fed him, sure, throwing some food into the garage now and then, but they neglected the animal. He went from being spoiled rotten to having no one, no matter how rotten they were.

   Finally, a neighbor took the Yorkie, but soon decided the dog was vicious.

   “Oh, it’s vicious, vicious, it snarls at me, and lunges at me,” the lady said.

   “All seven pounds of it” Maggie said.

   “Yes, he won’t let me pass out of the kitchen.”

   “Just give me the dog,” Maggie said.

   People are so stupid, she thought. Sometimes I hate them. “Dogs never bite me, only people,” she told the Yorkie. “Honestly, I’d rather hang out with dogs,” she told anybody who would listen.

   Most of the Yorkie’s problem was that he had never been neutered. That was going to take a lot of his attitude out of him. The rest of it was they let him act like that. You don’t let a dog act like he wants to. You are the alpha dog, not the dog. He learned quick enough who the alpha dog was in Maggie’s house.

   “When they’re aggressive you have to show them that you’re more dominant than they are.”

   Maggie said no, and the Yorkie growled, showing his teeth, and she picked him up and put him on his back. If it’s a little dog, you put them on their backs. If it’s a big dog, you press on their backs until you hear the sigh of release.

   “We don’t do that in this house,” she explained.

   She put him in a cage.

   “Ugh,” he said, and said it again.

   But cage training is better than force training. After that he was a good boy, running around on the couch, playing with his rope and toy. When she gave him to her sister, she explained how to restrain him when he acted out, and to make sure she had a cage for him, just in case.

   The next day Steve came home with another Yorkie.

   “It’s for my cousin,” he said.

   Steve’s cousin Clint had been a heroin addict who had to have his legs amputated.

   “He isn’t still using, is he?” Maggie asked.

   “He needs a dog,” Steve said, and that was all he said.

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