On the Ropes


By Ed Staskus

I was always excited by Catholic girls. My mother was a Lutheran, and she raised my brother Billy and me as Lutherans, but Catholic girls were for me. That’s why I married one. But they had to be a nine or a ten on the looks side at the same time they were Catholic. If they weren’t, they didn’t count, not in my eyes.

All of us guys rated girls, one way or another.

I went to Florida every winter after I got back to Cleveland, before I got married. I came back from the Korean War with a Purple Heart, and after I got back on my feet, went to work for Chamber Bearings. They put me in sales the minute they saw me. I was 22-years-old, clean-cut, proportioned, and full of pep.

My sunshine pals, the guys I knew who had the dough to go, would get mad at me about being picky.

“All you do is keep looking for a number ten girl, and half the time you don’t got any girl on your arm,” one of them said. “Me, I get a number three or four, so I’ve always got a gal, and by the end of the week they all add up to more than ten.”

One of the guys, a wise guy, said, “If you ever land a ten, she’ll be out of your league, anyway.”

Eva was Catholic, between a nine and a ten, and 15-years-old when I met her. I was 25-years-old. She lied about her age to me, not that she had to. But after I found out I made sure she was eighteen before we eloped and got married. We missed out on the cash envelopes and presents, but her family was dead set on me staying single and Eva marrying somebody else.

We met at the Karamu Theater. I lived in the neighborhood, but Eva took a bus from Collinwood. I loved acting and trying out for parts. I looked like Paul Newman, which didn’t hurt my chances. I was always trying out for shows at the Chagrin Little Theater and Karamu.

I met a busload of good-looking girls that way.

Eva had been in one or two high school shows and danced ballet, too. She had taken dance classes ever since she was a little girl. She could straighten a leg, keep her foot on the ground, and raise the other one to the ceiling. I don’t know how the hell she did it.

I always liked ballet dancers. I fell in love with one when I was in high school. Her name was Margo. She was a beautiful girl with a beautiful body, the same age as me, but an inch taller. She was one of the gym leaders and danced ballet on stage at our school. Another guy liked her, a Serbian who played a hillbilly guitar, and he was always angling to get into the shows with her.

I started trying out, too, trying to get close to Mary, trying to elbow the Serb out.

Eva and I met auditioning for the same show at Karamu. I liked her right away. She came on to me and would do stuff like, “Can you give me a ride home?” It wasn’t far, I had a new convertible, and on starry summer nights it was a nice ride. Sometimes she would leave something in my car, like a wallet. She would call me and I would drive to her house to return it.

It was those little tricks women do.

Her parents were against us getting married. I was a Lutheran, ten years older, and Romanian, not German. I had a better job than either of her parents, making more money than them, but it didn’t matter. Eva and I eloped, driving across the Ohio state line to Indiana, where we found a justice-of-the-peace, and got married. We went to Florida for our honeymoon. We drove straight there in a new Mercedes Benz sports car I had just gotten. We stayed in the same motel my buddies and I used to go to. Our suite had a small kitchen and there was a big pool we went swimming in.

When we got back to Cleveland Eva’s parents disowned her, and she didn’t see them for years. We moved in with my mother, in the meantime, in the old neighborhood. I worked hard, saving my salary and commissions, and the next year we bought a three-bedroom house in Indian Hills, up from Euclid Avenue, near the park.

Our daughter Agnes was born the next year and our son Sammy two years after that. Our problems started three years later.

We started out great, got the year of living with my mother out of our systems, moved into a great house, three bedrooms, newer than not new, got the kids grown up enough to walk, and my job got great the more I worked. I took clients out for golf and dinner three and four times a week. My handicap took a nosedive.

I was making money hand over fist. I made a lot of money for Chamber Bearings, too. Those Heebs loved me.

Eva complained about my never being home.

“I do a lot of business on golf courses,” I said. “It’s work, not fun.”

When I did come home right after work, Eva came running out the front door, grabbing me, giving me a hug and a kiss. I’m thinking, this is embarrassing, the neighbors are watching.

“Cut it out.”

I took her to dinner and the theater, but it was never enough.

I always let Eva do whatever she wanted to do. I let her teach cooking at the high school. I let her get a job at a restaurant. I let her go to Cleveland State University. It became a problem, because no matter what I did, it was never nearly enough.

Eva was a good-looking gal and guys at the restaurant were always hitting on her, but the biggest problem was the guys she met at college. One time I found a note in a drawer from some guy named Dave, thanking her for the great time they had had. When I asked her about it, she said it was just him and some others from one of her theater classes going out for a drink.

“You’re not getting together with him?”

“No,” she said, “of course not.”

I didn’t believe her, not for a second.

I found out more, little things, about other guys she was cheating with. One night I got a call from a man, he sounded like he was from India, asking for her. She started coming home later and later at night, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock. It started to seem like the babysitter was living in.

“Where the hell were you?” I sked one night when she got home close to midnight.

“Oh, my keys got locked in somebody’s trunk.”

It was always some bullshit story like that.

We got into an argument. We got into a lot of arguments.

“Not so loud,” she hissed at me. “You’ll wake up the kids.”

It was her idea to get separated. Later it was her idea to get divorced. I loved her. I loved my kids. I didn’t want it.

We could have settled our divorce between ourselves, but she had to go and get a lawyer, which meant I had to get a lawyer, too. Her mouthpiece must have put something in her ear. I stopped in at the Cleveland Trust on 9th Street downtown one day after lunch with clients on Short Vincent and tried to get some money, but they said, there’s no money in your account.


“The account is at zero,” the teller said

Eva had taken it all. She raided our joint bank accounts and grabbed all the money in them. All I had left was what I had been keeping in a personal account she didn’t know about, and our insurance policies, and the scratch I kept separate. She charged all kinds of stuff on our credit cards before I wised up and cancelled them all.

I paid my lawyer five grand, in cash, since I had a separate business going, apart from Chamber Bearings. He was a golfing buddy of mine, but I still had to pay it up front, he said. The son-of-a bitch, right away he joined the Shaker Country Club with it, and never invited me to play golf there, not even once before I later almost punched him in the face.

When we went to court, I picked a fight there and then. Not with Eva, but with our two lawyers, hers and mine. The Saul Goodman’s get together with their crap, take all your money, and leave you with nothing. They are like morticians, just waiting for you to come back to life.

Between Eva and them, they left me with nothing.

I knew how to handle myself. I boxed Golden Gloves before going to Korea. I won in my weight class, but even though the other guy was all purple and bloody, the judges gave it to him. He was a Marine and I was just a draftee, so he got the prize.

I could have levelled both of the shysters in a minute flat. The bailiff, and a policeman, and the judge, had to restrain me. The judge gave me a hell of talking to after everyone was back in their seats.

They’re all the same, talking through their hats.

Eva had moved into the new Park Centre on Superior Avenue, the same building her new boyfriend lived in, and the same building one of Rich Hongisto’s San Francisco guys lived in. Hongisto was Cleveland’s new top lawman, although inside a couple of years Dennis Kucinich, the kid mayor of the city, fired him on live local television. It sparked a recall drive to remove the mayor from office, which was the least of his problems, since the city was going bankrupt.

I say a plague on all of them, except that whoever did whatever got me a last laugh on Eva, for what it was worth.

I had gotten her a brand new four-door Mercedes Benz, hoping it would make her happy. She loved that car, although it didn’t make her any happier about me any more than she wasn’t already. When we separated, she reported the car stolen. She called me about the insurance money. I told her I would let her know. I didn’t tell her the car was in my name.

A month later I got a letter from a parking garage in Buffalo, saying that we’ve got your car here, you owe so much for parking, come and get it. I was sure Eva’s cop neighbor had cooked it up with her, driving the car away, and leaving it in the garage. When I got the insurance check for the car, I tore the letter up.

Eva was a ten, or close to it, always worth another good look. I don’t know how she looked when she got older, since I didn’t see her after she lost her looks. I’m sure she did. They all do.

She had beautiful handwriting, but she used it to write me hate letters after our divorce. Your kids don’t want to see you, you haven’t sent me enough money, all that kind of crap. I had to pay child support, but I was used to a certain style of living for myself.

I had to go on dates, too, looking for another woman. But I couldn’t operate. I didn’t have much money. You’ve got to have money to do things. I was nearly broke. I wanted to take care of my kids. I didn’t want to be a deadbeat father. I did the best I could.

She took up with her new boyfriend, an Italian from Rochester, a Vietnam veteran. They moved in together, with my kids, like they were man and wife. They got it into their heads to go into the restaurant business. Eva asked me to take a second mortgage on the house. I said no, the restaurant business is the worst thing you can get into.

But I took a second mortgage on the house and gave her the money. It put me in a spot. I never saw that loan I gave her ever again, either.

The guy from Rochester, he was always telling me, take it easy, like he was trying to be my friend. I wanted to tell him how mad I was about not being able to get Eva back in the family, about never seeing my kids. I never said one bad thing about her, but the divorce hurt me bad.

After the mess in court, after we split up, I thought, if that’s the way it’s going to be, I don’t want anything to do with her anymore. I don’t want to talk to her, and I don’t want to see her. And I never did, except once.

Sammy and she came to our house. She wanted me to mortgage the house again, but I told her a second mortgage was all the bank would go for. She said she needed more investment money and that I should sell the house, splitting whatever I could get for it with her.

“If I do that, where am I going to live?”

“That’s up to you.”

She was living downtown, in her new high-rise. What did she care where I lay my head? It could be a slab of cardboard under a bridge, as much as she was concerned. We got into an argument about it. Sammy stuck up for his mom. I didn’t blame him, though. I liked that about him.

Eva slapped me hard in the face when I finally had enough, yelling at her that I wasn’t going to sell the house, we were through once and for all, and that was that. She scratched me with her fingernails, cutting me, and drawing blood. I pushed her away.

“Quit it.”

That was the last time I ever saw her.

Ed Staskus posts a feature story monthly on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com.