Tag Archives: North Coast Blues

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.”


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 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.”

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 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.”

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 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.”