800 Pound Gorilla

By Ed Staskus

Theatre patron: “Say, what is it, anyhow?” 2nd Theatre patron: “I hear it’s a kind of gorilla.” Theatre patron: “Gee, ain’t we got enough of them in New York?”  King Kong

I never thought I would see an 800-pound gorilla in headstand, but then again, I never thought I would see a fleet of gold SUV’s filling up the parking lot of the yoga studio in Rocky River, Ohio, that I sometimes practice at, either.

The car repair lot next door, where no one is supposed to park, was filled, too. I parked across the street. It was early March, but winter had been mild, either because of climate change or El Nino, and there were no snowdrifts to climb over or icy sidewalks to flat foot across.

The SUV’s were parked in a line along the front of the building. As I squeezed past the lead one I glanced inside and saw a red baseball cap on the passenger seat.

Donald Trump? I thought.

I knew the Ohio GOP primary was coming up soon, I knew it was Donald Trump’s chance to derail John Kasich, our governor still in the race, and I also knew what Marco Rubio had said about Donald Trump during the FOX News debate in Detroit a few days earlier.

“He’s very flexible,” said Marco Rubio, pointing out that Donald Trump was primed for yoga because of his cherry picking politics. I wasn’t sure I agreed with Senator Rubio. Donald Trump’s policy positions seemed more like blobs of mercury, impossible to pin down and toxic, too.

At the top of the stairs, the yoga studio being on the second floor, two burly security men in dark glasses and darker suits looked me up and down. They asked me to unroll my mat for their inspection.

“Democrat or Republican?” they asked as I was rolling up my mat again.

“Canadian,” I said, lying.

They smiled, grimly.

I stepped into the studio wondering if Canada might ever build a wall from their side of the border to keep out their scary neighbors. When did the United States become the scary neighbor?

The yoga room was packed to the gills.

I had several times attended workshops staged by celebrity teachers, one with Janet Stone and another led by Max Strom, and thought then that the room was packed to the gills. I was wrong. If it all comes down to turnout, as is often said about elections, it was “Mission Accomplished”.

Both of my favorite spots in the yoga room were overflowing. The only available spot I saw was one in front, my least favorite place to be, but beggars can’t be choosers. I set up camp next to a vacant, extra-thick, extra-long, tangerine-flecked purple mat that faced the teacher’s mat.

Where do 800-pound gorillas practice yoga?

Anywhere they want to.

Donald Trump was in the center of the room. He wore a gold Speedo and nothing else, not even a headband. He was surrounded by a crowd and speaking, waving his arms as he spoke.

“I was always a good athlete,” he said. “I was always the captain of my teams. Staying in shape is very important. If you’re physically happy and healthy, it’s a lot easier to keep a relationship going. Taking care of your body is a great thing for love.

“Don’t even think about Marco Rubio saying my hands are small, and if they’re small something else must be small. My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.” He pointed to the front of his Speedo. “I guarantee you there’s no problem.”

Some of the women in the crowd being regaled by Donald Trump lifted their eyes from his gold Speedo, gathered up their mats, and left the yoga room. One of them stopped and asked the teacher, “What is that?”

“That’s Donald Trump, the Republican running for president.”

“I know,” she said. “Did you lose a bet?”

“Of course not. This is part of our yoga on and off the mat program.”

“This is the same man who said women were dogs, slobs, fat pigs, and disgusting animals, right?”

“It’s all yoga,” said the teacher, looking increasingly uncomfortable.

“Blah,” said the woman, slipping out the door.

Since the yoga room was less crowded at the start of class than it had been beforehand, everyone rearranged their mats. The teacher cued her iPod and class began.

“Before we start,” said the teacher, “I’d like to welcome Donald Trump to our studio and say that I really believe in the essential goodness of Republicans.”

“Wait a minute, not all goodness,” exclaimed Donald Trump, jumping up out of Easy Pose. “There’s Lying Ted, he’s an unstable person. His whole deal is he will lie. He will lie and after the lie takes place he will apologize. Little Marco, he’s always hiding his palm sweat. Once a choker always a choker. Kasich, he’s a nice guy, but he’s a baby. He can’t be president.”

My mat was next to Donald Trump’s, giving me an up-from-your-bootstraps view of the man as he stood straddling his mat. He was tall, over six foot, and big, well over 200 pounds. He had large feet, size 12 or 13. It was clear he had recently gotten a pedicure.

As he sat back down I heard muttering behind me. I glanced over my shoulder and saw another dozen-or-so people leaving the yoga room. “Mitt Romney was right when he talked about your bullying and absurd third grade theatrics,” said a middle-aged man, pausing as he passed by.

“Get him out of here,” said Donald Trump, tilting his chin up to one of his security men. “They’re always sticking a certain finger up in the air. I love the old days. You know what they used to do to protestors like that when they got out of line. They’d be carried away on a stretcher, folks.”

There was a low moan from the back and a few more people walked out. The yoga room had gone half empty and class hadn’t even actually started. Our teacher, looking out at what had been a multitude just minutes earlier, hurriedly got us on our feet for sun salutations, a traditional warm-up.

We were midway through our second sequence of sun salutations when Donald Trump jumped out of down dog to the front of his mat, but instead of staying in the sequence he stood upright and began flapping his arms.

“What language is that?” he demanded to know.

The teacher had been speaking partly in Sanskrit, the classical Indian language used in yoga to define poses.

“Is that Mexican? That’s bad. When Mexico sends people, they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. I will build a great wall. Nobody builds walls better than me. I’ll make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“Oh, man, that’s all I can take.” It was a voice I recognized, although I hadn’t seen her in the room. When Lola stormed to the front I was sure there was going to be a confrontation. She grew up in a Polish-American neighborhood on Cleveland’s south side and taught high school in Lorain, a nearby rust belt town. Many of her students were either first or second-generation immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America.

“It’s scary to actually think about what you in office would mean for equality,” she said, standing high on her toes to get up into his suntanned face. Although, when I looked closely, it looked like he was using a self-tanner. The color was orangey.

“The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted,” said James Madison.

“Nobody’s done so much for equality as I have,” said Donald Trump. “When it comes to my $100,000.00 membership club, Mar-a-Lago in Florida, it’s totally open to everybody. I set a new standard in Palm Beach.”

“Yikes,” she said and stormed out, followed by what was now a throng.

“How did she get that close to me?” asked Donald Trump, glaring at his security men. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

He turned to face what was left of the class. “We need strong borders. We need a wall. I’m the king of building buildings, the king of building walls. Nobody can build them like Donald Trump.” He was starting to slip into the third person, as though there were two of him. “I’m opposed to new people coming in. We need Predator drones.”

By this time there weren’t many darker-skinned people of any kind left in the room, only a handful of women, and no one who practiced yoga for more than the exercise. Most of the remainder, scattered in the corners and shadows, were either younger men or older men. They began chanting, but not OM, the chant most commonly heard in yoga classes.


“We’re going make our country rich again,” Donald Trump shouted over the din. “We’re going make our country great again and we need the rich in order to make the great.”


“It’s better to live one day as a lion than one hundred years as a sheep,” he shouted, even louder. “I know who said it, Mussolini, OK. But what difference does it make?”


The teacher tried to regain control of the class, but it was too late, in more ways than one. If yoga is about focus, the focus of everyone left in the room was elsewhere. All eyes were on Donald Trump. He whirled on the teacher.

“You’re fired, done,” said the King of Skull Island. “What a moron, lightweight.”

He gathered up his mat and unfurled it where the teacher’s had been, perpendicular to the class.

“I promise you I’m much smarter than her. I focus exclusively on the present. I’m speaking with myself,” said Donald Trump.

“I’m the super genius of all time. I was a great student. I was good at everything. We need a president with tremendous intelligence, smarts, and cunning. My whole life is about winning. I don’t like losers. Everybody loves me. The haters and losers refuse to acknowledge it, but I do not wear a wig. My hair may not be perfect, but it’s mine.

“It’s all about living your words, walking your talk, and talking your walk.”

Our yoga class was almost over. Since he had flipped the GOP head over heels this campaign season, Donald Trump said we were going to finish by doing an inversion. He spun his hair into a bun and to my astonishment lifted up into a pinpoint headstand, his new updo making a comfy cushion.

Most people who practice headstand hold the pose for about a minute. If they stick with it and get seasoned, some hold headstand for up to five minutes. Donald Trump’s eyes were open and his gaze straight ahead. His legs were parallel and butt tucked in.

Five minutes later everyone had rolled up their mats and left the room. Donald Trump was still in headstand. His security men stared out the windows. Ten minutes later the yoga receptionist cracked open the door and peeked in.

“Mr. Trump, I don’t mean to interrupt,” she said. “Our next class is scheduled, we’re running late, and everyone’s waiting out here in the lobby.”

“That’s so inappropriate,” he said. “You’re a flunkie, treating me very badly.”

She closed the door softly behind her.

I lay on my mat in corpse pose. I could hear Donald Trump’s breathing next to me, slow and steady. When I was finished I rolled my mat up, nodded to the bored-looking security men, and left the yoga room. Everyone’s eyes fell on me as I stepped into the lobby.

“Is he still in there?” someone asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“When is he going to be done?”

If there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room, the yoga class is over when the beast says so.

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


Kid Blast

By Ed Staskus

   I knew some bits and pieces about Dennis Kucinich, even though I had never met him. I knew what I knew because I was living in Cleveland, Ohio, and he was the mayor. He was the youngest mayor in the history of the city. He was the youngest mayor of any major American city. He was 31 years old but still looked milk-fed.

    I hadn’t voted for him. I never voted for anybody. I thought of myself as an anarchist. I wasn’t the bomb throwing kind though. I liked the idea of anarchism more than the risk-taking of anarchism. I wasn’t ready and willing to end up behind bars.

   The new mayor was born and bred in Cleveland, the oldest of seven children in a Catholic family. He was 23 years old when he won a seat on Cleveland’s city council. After he got a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University, he ran for mayor in 1977. He surprised himself and everybody else when he won. When he did his troubles started and went on and on.

   Cleveland was a mess in 1977. A year earlier The Cleveland Plain Dealer splashed “Bombing Business Booming Here” across its front page. The old-school Italian families and the new-school Celtic Club were fighting it out for control of the rackets. Car bombs were the preferred ways and means of debate. All the evidence was usually blown to bits, which suited everybody involved, since they were all in. It didn’t suit the police, who were left out in the cold.

   The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms set up a new headquarters in town. When asked why they said since Cleveland was “Bomb City USA” they were obliged to do something about it. Within a year they doubled their staff.

   It wasn’t just bombs, either. Trash collection and street repairs were slipping fast. The parks were more litter and dopeheads than fun and games. Corporations and manufacturers were pulling up stakes. Racial polarization was staying put. Whites hated the busing that was coming and made sure everybody knew it. “We Say, No Way, No Bus for Us” is what their banners said. As the 1970s kicked off murders in the city set a record with 333 of them. Ten years earlier there had been 59. Environmentalists declared the Cuyahoga River dead and Lake Erie not far behind. The city lost a quarter of its population during the Me Decade. 

   The city didn’t lose me. I moved back to Cleveland after growing up in North Collinwood and Euclid. My parents didn’t like it. They believed in the American Dream and thought I was back tracking. They told me so from their suburban home. They thought the metropolis was a nightmare.

   I lived a block from Lakeshore Blvd. and two blocks from Lake Erie. Bratenahl was three blocks west. I rode the 39B bus through the posh village Monday through Friday on my way downtown to Cleveland State University. I always sat in the last row so that nobody could sit behind me. I didn’t have to worry about the swells, since they never rode the bus, but the same wasn’t true of some of my east side neighbors.

   Dennis Kucinich got started with a bang when he was elected in November. He championed the public good and made sure everybody understood he wasn’t going to auction off the city’s assets. He was sick and tired of corporate collusion and tax abatements. Everybody was sick and tired of the old mayor Ralph Perk. Dennis Kucinich was a breath of fresh air.

   It was snowing when he was inaugurated in January. It kept snowing and the new leader of the pack was forced to declare the metropolitan area a “disaster zone.” Before the month ended the city was hit with the worst blizzard in its history. Things went from bad to worse when he fired his police chief two months later.

   Dennis Kucinich had appointed Richard Hongisto, a former San Francisco sheriff, to be chief of police as soon as he became the mayor elect. It seemed like a smart choice, especially after the head honcho in blue saved a man from a snowbank during the Great Blizzard of 1978. He was acclaimed by the press and public as a man’s man.

   The mayor didn’t see it that way. When the police chief wouldn’t go along with his plans, which included rewarding his supporters with jobs, he charged him with insubordination. The chief responded by saying he wasn’t going to commit any “unethical acts.” On Easter weekend in front of live TV cameras the mayor fired his top cop. One thing led to another, and even though he was in a hole, he couldn’t stop digging. When business and civic leaders lost confidence in him, momentum grew for a recall election. When they started calling him Dennis the Menace the momentum became the real deal.

   I didn’t meet Terese Schaser until the late 1980s. It happened soon after I met her daughter, who was going to become my wife-to-be, although none of us knew it at the time. In 1978 Terese was living in Park Centre. She had left her husband and was making her way as a restaurateur. The twin 23-story downtown towers were less than ten years old, built with raw cement features in a Brutalist style, where the best people lived. Richard Hongisto lived in the same building as my mother-in-law in the making.

   She was in her mid-30s and getting on a roll. When she heard about the recall effort, she got behind it and helped roll the ball forward. She wasn’t much older than the boy mayor but believed he was an upstart, his inexperience getting in the way of his governing ability. Her friend the ex-police chief agreed with her. Neither of them gave a hoot about his populist philosophy.

   Cleveland was on the verge of default. Dennis Kucinich did the best he could to fend off his naysayers, but he was a Democrat, not a member of any intelligible political party. He shouldn’t have been allowed to deal with the devil in the first place. He was taking his lumps from all sides. Even his own city council was at his throat.

   He called them “a group of lunatics” and “a bunch of buffoons.” He said, “it’s hard to believe that so many people can be so stupid.” He added insult to injury by saying, “if they’re not stupid then they are crooked.” That summer he ordered more police patrols in the projects to counter rising crime. The police department refused to obey the order. Thirteen police were disciplined and suspended which led to a police strike. Among other things it was another first for the city.

   The Kucinich administration was making history right and left.

   When the weather warmed up Terese was in summer dresses and flat shoes helping with the recall petition. She had great legs from her dancing days. Towards the end of May the effort was short of the required signatures. She threw herself into the work explaining cajoling and demanding. She never got tired and wore people out. She had a big personality. Ten years later she wore me out. Her children ate cold cereal in the morning and cold leftovers at night. By the deadline of June 1st more than enough signatures had been gotten. 

   The mayor refused to resign, saying “Bring on the recall.” He handed out bumper stickers saying, “Support Kucinich, the Peoples’ Mayor.” The people would have their say soon enough. Terese’s kids breathed a sigh of relief, but the hot meals didn’t last long. The recall election was scheduled for mid-August. The canvasser redoubled her efforts.

   She had pizzazz to spare and didn’t spare any of it during the recall campaign. She didn’t just rub two sticks together. She made sure one of them was a match. The lady lit a fire under everybody she talked to. Working on a political campaign means about half the electorate is going to hate you day in day out. She didn’t let it get her down. She had an agenda and a bogeyman. At night she made her plans for the next day while singing along to lurid Italian operas. 

   “My mother was an enthusiastic but terrible singer,” her daughter said.

   When Dennis Kucinich stalled on demands to sell Municipal Power, the city’s publicly owned electric utility, not only did lawyers get involved the Cleveland Mob got involved, too. They brought in a hit man from Maryland to shoot him during a parade. Nothing came of it when the mayor was hospitalized for a few days and missed the event. He never really liked parades, anyway. 

   As the recall campaign got into full swing, Council President George Forbes and Dennis Kucinich argued about the merits of building a new ore dock for Republic Steel, except their arguments had nothing to do with the ore dock.

   “Stick to the issue,” George Forbes said.

   “Mr. Chairman, I determine the issue,” Dennis Kucinich said.

   “Not in this chamber,” George Forbes retorted.

   “You will permit me to continue my remarks,” Dennis Kucinich said.

   “Just one moment,” George Forbes complained. 

   “You have no ability to censor my remarks,” Dennis Kucinich explained.

   George Forbes didn’t like that. His dark face got darker. He ordered the mayor’s microphone shut off. Dennis Kucinich and his aides stormed out. When all the hot air was said and done, Republic Steel walked away from Cleveland and built a new ore dock in Lorain.

   “The best and longest running show in town isn’t at Playhouse Square,” Roldo Bartimole, who wrote the newsletter Point of View, said. “It’s at Cleveland City Hall. The admission is free.”

   When recall day arrived more than 120,000 Clevelanders voted. Dennis Kucinich took a nap. He knew staying up wasn’t going to change the result if he lost. He also knew if he won, he had another tough day in front of him, and needed the rest. He prevailed by a margin of 236 votes. Terese’s kids ate well the next day when it was all over.

   Towards the end of the year Cleveland s banks refused to roll over the city’s debts. They assured the mayor it would be business as usual if they could do what they wanted with Municipal Power. He refused, and the city went into default, the first city since the Great Depression to find itself unable to meet its financial obligations.

   He lost his reelection bid in 1979. It was one and done. He wasn’t going to be the jackass in a hailstorm anymore. Everybody was sick and tired of confrontational politics. George Voinovich took his place. He got Cleveland going on the road to ‘The Comeback City.’ When the century came to an end historian Melvin Hollis put Dennis Kucinich on his list of ten worst big-city mayors of all time in his book “The American Mayor: The Best & Worst of the Big-City Leaders.”

   Terese remarried and moved to a corner apartment on an upper floor of Park Centre. The family barbecued on the balcony and watched the air show over Lake Erie every September. The Blue Angels cut the corner across their roof pirouetting back to Burke Lakefront Airport. She gave up governmental enthusiasms, concentrating on foodstuffs. She opened a restaurant and then another one. She worked as a pastry chef on both sides of town. She catered weddings and served food at funerals.

   At the end of the day, kicking back, she liked to paraphrase Mark Twain. “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a politician, but I repeat myself.” It always got a big laugh over dessert, especially when she added, “Put them in charge of the Sahara Desert and in a couple of years there will be a shortage of sand.”

   I moved to Lakewood, Cleveland’s second-oldest suburb on its western border. The town’s mayor kept his nose to the grindstone, focusing on safety, schools, and city services.  They weren’t running out of sand anytime soon.

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.”