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.”