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.

“USA! USA! USA!”

“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.”

“USA! USA! USA!”

“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?”

“USA! USA! USA!”

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.”

Batten the Hatches

By Ed Staskus

William Murphy, Jr. was 21 years old the day the Marco Polo was deliberately run aground at Cavendish. She was a three-masted three-deck clipper ship built at Marsh Creek in Saint John, New Brunswick 32 years earlier. During its construction the frame was disheveled and blown all over the shipyard by a storm and the skeleton had to be reassembled. When the shipbuilding was done the launch didn’t go well. The boat grazed the bank of the creek while sliding down the slipway, got stuck in a mudflat, and went over on her side. A week later a high tide lifted her up, but she got stuck in the mud again. Two weeks later she finally floated free and was fitted with rigging.

   The big boat carried emigrant men and women from England to Australia for many years. She set the world’s record for the fastest voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne, doing it in 76 days. More than fifty children died of measles on her maiden voyage and were buried at sea. Coming back, she carried a king’s ransom in gold dust and a 340-ounce gold nugget. It was a gift to Queen Victoria from the colonial government. Pulling into its home port, the ship unfurled a banner claiming it was the “Fastest Ship in the World.”

   During the gold rush it carried loads of standing room only men to Australia. Nobody died of measles, although some of them died of bad moonshine and fights. Fire is the test of gold. Many of the men died of typhus, what they called ship fever, burning up in their hammocks in the South Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Tasman Sea. Many of the original whites laying claim to aboriginal land, the oldest, flattest, and driest inhabited continent with the least fertile soil anywhere, got there on the Marco Polo. 

   When she was retired from the passenger trade, she was refitted for the coal, timber, and bat shit trade. The hull was rotting wasting away. Chains were wrapped around it and drawn tight trying to keep it together. A windmill-driven pump was installed to send leaks back to where they came from.

   It was a late July morning, clear sunny warm after the storm that had driven the ship to Cavendish. Bill Murphy was in the dunes watching the crew wade ashore. They had been on the way from Montreal to England loaded with pine planks when they got caught in a gale. They plowed ahead but started to take on water. Two days later wind and waves were still pommeling them, and they were still taking on water. The ship was flooding from stem to stern and the hands couldn’t plug the leaks fast enough or well enough. The windmill blew away and the pumps gave a last gasp. Captain Bull decided to try saving the crew and cargo. He put the clipper into full sail and wheeled it straight at Cavendish’s sandy beaches.

   The closer they got the better their chances looked until, three hundred feet from shore, he ordered the rigging cut. The masts groaned wanting to snap and the bottom of the boat scraped the bottom. Everybody stayed where they were, staying awake all night, until dawn when the storm finally wore itself out and they rowed ashore. There were 25 of them, Norwegians Swedes Germans. They were tough men. There was a Tahitian, too. He was half-tough, it being the beginning of only his second sea voyage but looked tougher. He was speckled with tattoos and wore his hair in long braids tied up at their ends with small shiny fishhooks.

   Lucy Maud Montgomery was a pale slim 8-year-old girl, her long crimson hair in braids with choppy bangs, when she and everybody else in Cavendish watched the crew abandon the boat. She wore a white flower hairpiece on one side of her head and took notes on scraps of paper. Nine years later her short story “The Wreck of the Marco Polo” was published.

   Bill Murphy was hired by the salvage company stripping the boat. It was welcome work before harvest time. As soon as they started on the grounded vessel, another storm rolled in. Bill was on the boat and had to stay where he was. Trying for the shore was too dangerous. They battened whatever hatches were still left and spent the night being battered. Captain Macleod from French River showed up the next morning. The wind beat him back the first time he tried to reach the Marco Polo, but he made it the second time, saving all the men except one. He and his shipmates got gold watches for their courage. Bill went home wet as a wet dog.

   He didn’t go home empty handed, though. There were twin figureheads of Marco Polo, depicting the boat’s namesake, spearheading the boat. A man from Long River hauled one of them away and hung it in his barn. Bill hauled the other one away and hung it in the Murphy barn. It was the end of the road for the far-ranging Polo

   Bill was back on the boat two days later as the salvage work went apace. He was taking a break on the poop deck leaning against a gunwale above the captain’s cabin when a young dark-skinned man joined him.

   “I am Teva the Tahitian,” he said.

   “I am Bill the Murphy,” Bill said.

   Teva was the only one of the crew who signed on to help salvage the ship. The rest stayed in Cavendish drinking and chasing farmgirls. The Tahitian and the Irishman worked together for the rest of the week and into August. Teva told Bill he was putting his purse together to get to Maine and sign on to a whaler.

   “My grandfather Queequeg was a harpooner,” he said. “He was the best in the world. You could spit on the water, and he would split your floating spit from the deck with one throw. He shaved with his harpoon and smoked from a tomahawk. He was a cannibal, but his favorite food was clam chowder.”

   “He was a cannibal?” Bill asked, taken aback. 

   “Him, not me,” Teva said. “I never met him, but my father told me about him before he went whaling and never came back, either.”

   “They both went to sea and never came back?”

   “Both, never. A friend of my grandfather’s stopped on our island when I was a boy and told us about what happened to him. He and grandfather sailed and slept together.”

   “In the morning his arm was thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner,” Ishmael said. “You had almost thought I had been his wife. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”

   “When I asked what my grandfather was like he told me ‘There was no hair on his head, nothing but a small scalp-knot twisted up on his forehead, large, deep eyes, fiery black and bold. He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had a creditor. His bald purplish head looked for all the world like a mildewed skull. His body was checkered with tattoo squares. He seemed to have been in a war, and just escaped from it with a sticking-plaster shirt. Still more, his legs were marked, as if dark green frogs were running up the trunks of young palms.’”

   Teva lapped up water with his hands from a barrel and spat on the deck.

   “Grandfather saved Ishmael’s life when their ship was head-butted by a white whale they were hunting. The coffin they had built for him when he was dying during the hunt was thrown overboard and Ishmael hung on to it like a buoy. He was the only sailor who survived when Captain Ahab the crew my grandfather and the Pequod all sank to the bottom.”

   “Since your father and grandfather both went whaling and never came back, why are you going to the States to take up whaling?” Bill asked

   “It’s in my blood,” Teva said.

   Every day when the day was fair and the sun shining families picnicked on the beach at Cavendish, watching launches with two-masted ketch rigs go back and forth, taking what they could to Alexander MacNeill’s for auction.

   It was a Sunday when Sinbad the Sailor walked up to Bill Murphy, looked him up and down, and meowed. “They say our boat had no rats the whole last year,” Teva said. “He drove them off and those who thought they could stand up to him, they disappeared.” Teva tossed a piece of salt pork at Sinbad, who snagged it midair and gulped it down.

   Sinbad was a two-tone black and white Norwegian Forest cat.

   “One of the Vikings brought him aboard,” Teva said.

   Sinbad was a twenty-pound bruiser with long legs and a bushy tail. His coat was a thick, glossy, water-repellent top layer with a woolly undercoat. It was thickest at the legs, chest, and head. His ears were large, tufted, wide at the base, and high set.

   “He’s a good climber, very strong,” Teva said. “He can climb rocks and cliffs.” 

   When he leaned on Bill and reached up stretching flexing his front legs, his claws extended slightly. They were sharp as razors. Bill rubbed Sinbad’s head. 

   “He’s big enough to be a man-eater,” Bill said. “What’s going to happen to him when our work is finished?”

   “I don’t know,” Teva said. “The Viking left him behind.”

   That evening, when Bill was walking back to the rude shelter he had thrown up for himself behind the dunes, Sinbad the ex-sailor-to-be followed him. Bill put a bowl of fresh water out for the cat but left breakfast lunch dinner up to him. He was sure Sinbad was not going to starve. He was a vole shrew deer mouse snowshoe hare red-bellied snake widow maker. Even racoons coyotes and foxes gave him a wide berth.

   Sinbad went back and forth to the boat with Bill the rest of the month and into August while it decayed and fell apart piece by piece until a wild thunderstorm barreled up from the United States and the vessel broke up along the coast, going down to the bottom of the sea, to Davy Jones’ Locker. It was the end of the Marco Polo. It sank to a moldering standstill.

   When Bill packed up his bedroll and shelter and walked home, Sinbad walked beside him the five miles back to Murphy’s Cove and North Rustico. Biddy and Kate were shucking oysters on the porch, a pot at their feet. The oysters were from Malpeque Bay. Hundreds of boats were in the fishery there and at St. Peter’s Bay. Until the 1830s oysters were so plentiful and so few people ate them that they were spread over land as fertilizer. The shells were burned, too, for the lime they produced.

   After the Intercolonial Railway got rolling in 1876 new markets for Prince Edward Island oysters opened in Quebec and Ontario. But oyster stocks started to fall and kept falling as more boats joined the harvesting. Oysters fled for their lives. They didn’t like being eaten alive. Biddy and Kate didn’t know anything about overfishing or the deep-seated fears of shellfish, and didn’t much care, either, so long as they got their fair share.

   “Oh my gosh, what a beauty!” Kate exclaimed when Bill walked up to the porch with Sinbad beside him. 

   “He landed here on the Marco Polo,” Bill explained. “The ship broke up yesterday in the storm and he needed a new home, so here he is.”

   Sinbad walked straight past the girls to the pot and started pulling oysters out, gulping them down without a single word of hello glad to meet you happy to be here.

   “Hey, stop that,” Biddy scolded, covering the pot. “You’ll ruin your appetite, silly goose.”

   Sinbad’s ears pricked up. He had goose for dinner last Christmas, and it was delicious. He shot a look in all directions. He didn’t see any birds, but had no doubt there had to be one or two somewhere nearby. He was by nature a nomad, but as there was a pot full of oysters and silly slow geese to eat, he thought, I’ll stay for the time being.

   He was a back door man, but when the front door was wide open, that was the way he always went.

Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.

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.”