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.”