On the Ropes

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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 right to work for Palmer 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 south a couple weeks when it got dark and cold, got 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,” Elmer said one day while putting back a Blatz. “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 a nowhere ten.”

   Another 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, 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, since 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 and 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, too.

   I met a boatload of lookers that way.

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

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

   Eva and I met auditioning for the same show at Karamu. I kept my eyes on her from the minute I set eyes on her. She came on to me and would do stuff like, “Can you give me a ride home?” I had a convertible, she had stars in her eyes, and on starry summer nights it was a nice ride. Sometimes she would leave something in my car, like her wallet or watch. She would call me and I would drive to her house to return it.

   It was those little tricks women do.

   Her parents were hard against us getting married. I was a Lutheran, ten years older, born in the USA but Romanian. They were Catholic and Lithuanian, from the old country. 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 on the side of the road, 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. We sat back in the sun.

   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 Chagrin city park.

   My daughter Agnes was born the next year and my son Sammy two years after that. Our problems started three years later. They never stopped getting worse.

   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 booming the more I worked. I took clients out for golf and dinner three and four times a week. My handicap took a nosedive and my waistline inched up.

   I was making money hand over fist. I made a lot of money for Palmer Bearings, too. Those heebs loved me, as long as the pipeline was full and flowing.

   Eva complained about my never being home.

   “I do a lot of business on golf courses,” I said. “It’s work, don’t think it’s all just fun and games.”

   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 said. She gave me a queer look. I took her to dinner and shows, 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 got to be 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. When I asked her about it, she said it was just a bunch of them 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 who sounded like he was from India, asking for her. I hung up. She started coming home later and later at night, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, midnight. It started to seem like the babysitter was living in.

   “Where the hell were you?” I asked one night when she got home close to two in the morning.

   “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 a bust-up.

   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.

   “What?”

   “The account is at zero,” the teller said

   Eva had taken it all. She raided our joint bank account and taken all the money in it. All I had left was what I had been keeping in a personal account she didn’t know about, the scratch I kept separate, and our insurance policies. 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 Palmer Bearings. He was a golfing buddy of mine, but I still had to pay it up front. 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 the trophy to him. He was a Marine and I was just a draftee, so he got the first 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 a 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. The 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 TV. It sparked a recall drive to remove the mayor from office, which was the least of his problems, since the city was going bankrupt fast and for sure.

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

   I had bought 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 a second 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. I’m sure she looked like hell.

   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, even though I was used to a certain style of living for myself.

   I had to go on dates, too, looking for another woman, but it wasn’t easy. 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, a dago 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.

   In spite of myself I took a second mortgage on the house and gave her the money. I never saw the loan I gave her ever again. It put me in a spot.

   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, a third time, but I told her a second mortgage was all the bank would go for. She said she needed more investment money and that I could sell the house, splitting whatever I might 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 crummy patch of cardboard under a bridge, as far 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.”

   She scowled, her mouth twisting, and stamped out. Sammy didn’t look back. It was the last time I ever saw her.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories 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. Click “Follow” on a site to get its monthly feature in your in-box.

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