Duck Soup

By Ed Staskus

   When I was taking yoga classes at Inner Bliss in Rocky River, Ohio I learned a lot about the practice, from the thinking side of it to the action side of it. It learned it wasn’t any one thing but several things mixing it up in the melting pot. The core of it was simple enough, but the branches bore investigation, from headstand to meditation, no matter how exasperating they might be.

    I wasn’t able to do headstand except against a wall for a long time until one day I was doing it, no problem. After that I popped up wrong side up at home, too. When a guy toppled out of the pose and crashed into me in class, I thought, man, what an amateur. I changed my tune when I almost killed myself trying to get a grip on handstand.

   I never did get the hang of it.

   The teachers were all different, all sincere, all good. They demonstrated the nuts and bolts of poses. The explained the idea behind them. They helped with adjustments.

   They encouraged us, which was a good thing, if encouragement was what you needed. Encouragement and hope are two of the best things you can give another person. For my part, lack of encouragement has never been a deterrent. I am irascible enough to not be put down, even if I have to bide my time.

   One element of studio classes always bothered me, however, which was the catch phrases the teachers used. Not all of them, of course. Lingo like drishti, bandhi, and chaturanga were helpful to know. Everything seemed to revolve around tadasana and down dog, making it essential to jump to attention when hearing those words. Lift your leg, open your chest, and bring your feet together were sensible and understandable. Some of them, though, got under my skin.

   “Inhale the future, exhale the past.”

   For one thing, breathing is breathing. It’s not a metaphor. It’s a fact of life. Breathing consciously or unconsciously, awake or asleep, running a 10K or doing Chair Yoga, is staying alive. Not breathing for a couple of minutes is losing your good luck charm at the crossroads.

   For another thing, exhaling the past would mean puffing away everything you have learned and know. The past informs the present. It’s all gone, sure, but it isn’t going anywhere. As for inhaling the future, who can wait that long? When I was on the mat scuffling to keep up, I had to gulp air right now.

   Besides, teachers were always saying, “Be in the present.” Today was tomorrow yesterday. Every pose was right now.

   “Letting go is the hardest asana.”

   Nobody who has ever taken an Ashtanga Yoga or Bikram Yoga class can possibly believe this. Bikram classes are a torture chamber and Ashtanga classes are simply torture. After finishing a pose, letting go isn’t hard. It is the easiest most wonderful thing in the world. I have seen folks letting go at Bikram Yoga studios and never coming back.

   What is so hard about letting go and kicking back on the sofa?

   “Release the toxins.”

   Hearing it always reminded me of “Release the hounds.” What if I released my toxins and they started attacking others in class, for God’s sake? The teachers never explained the mechanics of it, except for saying nonsense like it came out in perspiration. There is no such thing as toxins that come out in sweat. Anyway, if I knew how to release them, assuming I was keeping toxins prisoner in my body, I would do so without anybody having to cajole me. Who needs toxins messing around their internal organs and circulatory system?

   The phrase that dazzled and perplexed the most was “It’s all yoga.” It was like saying “It is what it is.” When I asked what it meant all I got was mush that implied yoga was woven into the fabric of life.

   The life of the Mafia and Taliban? The life of Nazis and Commies? The zany cesspool of the NRA and the Grand Old Party? There are many monsters running loose and yoga is not in their DNA. The nut cases who shoot up schools and shopping centers don’t have a drop of blood of yoga in them. They could use it but eschew it for the darkness.

   Even yoga isn’t all yoga. Much of it in the New World is a hodgepodge of calisthenics, jazzercize, and core work. Many don’t even bother paying lip service to the ethical and spiritual side of it anymore. The Old World is catching on to the economic repercussions and following suit.

   There are practices Like Beer Yoga and We’re Stoned Yoga that have as much to do with yoga as the Three Stooges had to do with Schrodinger’s cat. Now you see it and now you don’t. Better to sleep it off than try to figure it out.

   “A child of five would understand this,” Groucho Marx said. “Send someone to fetch a child of five.”

   Some big-time teachers oozing sincerity have been the most insincere yogis ever, opting out for sex and greenbacks and adulation. They are always banging on Heaven’s door with news of the next Ponzi scheme. It was all a scam until the breadcrumbs led back to what they were really all about. 

   Don’t follow what leaders say, watch the parking meters.

   When I looked around Rocky River it was the haves who were enjoying “It’s all yoga” the most. They had the time and energy levels. Next door in Lakewood folks enjoyed some of “It’s all yoga.” The problem is their income levels don’t match up, so they don’t have the same time or energy. The west side of Cleveland, where yoga isn’t a virtue except for the scattered islands of the gentry, it wasn’t all yoga, at all. The streets are meaner there and there isn’t the time or money to make classes essential, or even possible.

   I don’t take classes anymore, saving myself several thousands of dollars a year. I practice at home almost every day. There’s nothing complicated about yoga once a few basics have been mastered. It’s easier than grafting plants or installing a garbage disposal. It has lots of benefits to it, like staying in shape and finding some peace of mind. When I get on the mat at home, I get to be me, not what somebody else is telling me I should be, using buzz words that conflate fantasy with reality.

   That’s the best thing about the practice, the freedom of it.

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.”

Summertime Blues

By Ed Staskus

“Well, I called my congressman, and he said I’d like to help you, son, but you’re too young to vote, there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.”  Eddie Cochran

   “Mom said you’re not leaving and you’re coming to my birthday party this year,” Maggie said, putting down her ear of corn, her lips peppered with flecks of salt and smeary with   butter.

   “That’s right,” said Frank Glass.

   Vera Glass’s brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece, Frank’s sister and her new boyfriend, a policeman who lived nearby, were visiting on the Fourth of July, in the backyard, a breezy sunny day in the shade, crowded around a folding table-clothed table doing double duty, food and drink and board games.

   Independence Day has been a federal holiday since 1941, but the tradition goes back to the American Revolution. Since then it’s been celebrated with festivities like fireworks parades concerts big and small and family barbecues. This year the fireworks parades concerts were scratched.

   Maggie was born seven almost eight years earlier. She was due to officially come to life the third week of September, four five days after Frank and Vera expected to be back from Atlantic Canada but was born on the first day of the month.

   She was a once in a blue moon baby. To do something once in a blue moon means to do it rarely. It is the appearance of a second full moon within a calendar month, which happens about once every three years.

   “Where do you go in the summer?” Maggie asked.

   “We go to Prince Edward Island, a small town called North Rustico, but we stay in a cottage in the National Park, a family owns the land, they’ve been there for almost two hundred years. We leave in mid-August and stay through the first couple of weeks of September, which is why we miss your birthday party.”

   “You always send me a present. I like that. But last year you sent me a sweatshirt with a red leaf on it that was ten times too big.”

   “You’ll grow into it,” said Frank.

   “Maybe I will, but maybe I won’t,” said Maggie. She was a genial child but could be a testy cuss. She thought she knew her own mind rounding out her seventh year, although it could go both ways.

   “Do you like it there?”

   “Yes, we like it a lot.”

   “Why aren’t you going? Is it the virus?”

   The 20th century was the American Century. The United States led the way socially economically brain-wise learning-wise and in every other wise way. In 2020 it led the way in virus infections, far outpacing the next two contenders, Brazil and India. The flat tires in charge nowadays can’t get anything right, from building their useless wall, all three miles of new wall, to securing a useful virus test.

   North Korea and Iran keep making atom bombs, there’s no China trade deal, the deficit has skyrocketed, and race relations have gotten worse. All that’s left is for the other shoe to drop. On top of that, Hilary Clinton still isn’t in jail.

   “Yes, the bug,” said Frank. “The Canadian border is closed, and even if we could get into Canada somehow, the bridge to the island is closed except for business.”

   In May President Trump said, “Coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better, going down almost everywhere, cases are coming way down.” In June he said the pandemic is “fading away. It’s going to fade away.” On July 2nd he said, “99% of cases are totally harmless.” Four days later, on July 6th, he said, “We now have the lowest Fatality Rate in the World.”

   John Hopkins University subsequently reported that the United Sates has the world’s ninth-worst mortality rate, with 41.33 deaths per 100,000 people. It was a bald-faced report. They didn’t capitalize the numbers.

   “Are you sad that you can’t go?”

   “Yes.”

   “They built a new bridge to our house. I know all about it, we drove over it two weeks ago. Mom was so happy. It’s a big bridge, too, the other one was small and always breaking.”

   “You know the bridge you go across from downtown, when you go up the rise past the baseball stadium where the Indians play ball, on your way to Lakewood?”

   “That’s a long bridge.”

   “It’s called the Main Avenue Bridge and it’s two miles long. The bridge that goes from Canada to Prince Edward Island is almost 5 times longer than that. It’s as long as the distance from downtown to our house.”

   “That’s far!”

   “That can’t be,” Frank’s nephew Ethan blurted out. “That bridge is too long!”

   “How do you know, Bud, you can hardly count,” said Maggie. She called Ethan Bud. They were buddies, although they didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

   “I can so count, I know all the dinosaurs, there are a million of them,” said Ethan.

   “I’m going into third grade and we’re going to learn division. You’ve been learning to finger paint.”

   “What’s a million and a million?”

   “2 million.”

   “OK, what’s the biggest dinosaur ever?”

   “The Brontosaurus.”

   “No! It’s the Argentinosaurus, and he weighed a million pounds.”

   “That can’t be,” said Maggie.

   “My math is my math,” Ethan simply said.

   “If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough,” said Albert Einstein.

   As of July, there were more than 300,000 cases of the virus reported in children since the start of the pandemic. The Executive Office of the Federal Government has repeatedly maintained it poses almost no threat to them. “The fact is they are virtually immune from this problem,” President Trump said.

   “How do you know about the virus?” Frank asked.

   “Everybody knows about it. The whole world knows.”

   “They even know in Antarctica,” said Ethan.

   “Do you know anybody who got it?”

   “A girl in school got it from her mom,” Maggie said. “I took piano lessons with her.”

   “That’s too bad,” Frank said.

   “Are there going to be fireworks tonight?” Maggie asked.

   “No, the city cancelled them.”

   “Where we live, too.”

   “Here there were fireworks last night, we sat on the front porch, until after midnight, but it was just people in the street or their yards. There were some big pops over there by Madison Avenue. I think they were shooting them off from the empty lot. We could see bottle rockets over the trees.”

   “Wow!”

   “You said you knew about the virus, but how do you know?” asked Frank.

   “The news about it is on every day on TV,” said Maggie.

   “That’s right,” said Ethan.

   “We have a TV, but we don’t have TV,” said Frank. “We only have a couple of streaming services for movies.”

   “We have real TV,” said Maggie, “and it’s on all the time. The news is on every single hour every single day and all the news is about the virus.”

   “Do you watch TV all the time?”

   “We don’t watch TV, but we watch it all day,” said Ethan.

   “We don’t really watch it, but it’s always there,” said Maggie.

   Parents are urged to pay attention to what their children see and hear on radio online television. They are cautioned to reduce screen time focused on the virus since too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety in kids. Talk to them about how stories on the web might be rumors and wildly inaccurate.

   “That’s OK, it’s all in your head, anyway,” said Maggie.

   “All in your head?”

   “That’s what dad says.”

   “Well,” Frank said, “your father knows best.” He wasn’t going to get into a no-win argument with his brother-in-law. His sister’s boyfriend was a policeman at Metro Hospitals. Frank didn’t want his ears pricking up. He wouldn’t understand it’s all in your head.

   “Are you worried about the virus?” Frank asked.

   “Would that help?” Maggie asked, biting into a burger. “This is yummy good.”

   “No, it would probably just make you crazy.”

   “Dad said your name wasn’t always Frank Glass.”

   “Yes and no,” said Frank. “My given name has always been Frank, which is short for Francis, like we call you Maggie even though your name is Margaret, but my family name, what they say is your surname, used to be Kazukauskas.”

   “What happened to it?” asked Maggie. “Why is it different now.”

   “When my father came here, to America after World War Two, the immigration people said he should change it to something other people could pronounce, that they could say without too much trouble, so he changed it to Glass.”

   “Where did he come from?”

   “Lithuania, a little country, north of Germany.”

   “That’s a nice name,” Maggie said. “I like Glass.”

   “At least he didn’t have to climb another brick in the wall once he got here.”

   “What does that mean?”

   “I’ll tell you when you’re older. Are you staying home more because of the virus?”

   “Yes!” both of them exclaimed.

   “Do you have to wear a mask when you go somewhere?”

   “We cover up,” Maggie said. “My face gets hot, my head gets hot, and my hair get hot. It makes my glasses fog up.”

   “I have a tube mask with rhino’s and bronto’s on it,” Ethan said. “But I can’t breathe, so I just rip it off until mom sees.”

   There was a box of Charades for Kids on the table. “Three or More Players Ages Four and Up.” Frank pointed at it.

   “Are you ready to play?”

   Maggie rolled around on the lawn, flapped her arms, rolled her eyes, and hugged herself. Nobody had any idea what she was doing.

   “Going to bed!” she yelped.

   Ethan did a somersault.

   “Somersault?”

   “Yes!”

   Maggie rolled on the ground holding her head and grimacing like a mad chipmunk. Everybody watched with blank faces, stumped.

   “Headache!” she blared.

   Ethan slashed the air with his hands.

   “Karate?”

   “Yes!”

   Maggie jumped, waved her right arm in circles, flapped it back and forth, and licked her lips. As the one-minute hourglass dropped the last grain of sand to the bottom, she fell down on the grass. Everybody was stumped again.

   “Frosting a cake! I can’t believe nobody got it.”

   Ethan got on all fours like an anteater, pretended to be eating something with great chomping motions, and clomped to the driveway and back.

   “Argentinosaurus?”

   “Yes!”

   Summer signals freedom for children. It’s a break from the structure of school days, a time for more days spent at the pool, a time for more play, for exploring the outdoors.

   One day his mom asked Ethan if he wanted to go out on his scooter.

   “So much,” he said. “I have got to get out of this house.”

   “Every single day I see the Amazon truck and the FedEx and the white trucks go past me,” said Maggie. “They turn around at the cul-de-sac thing, they just rush back, driving crazy. I run to the backyard.”

   “There’s a big field and woods past our backyard,” Ethan said.

   “We’re stuck at home but it’s summer, it’s nice outside, the sun is shining, and we all go for walks,” Maggie said.

   She hadn’t been to school since April, studying remotely. Ethan hadn’t been to pre-school for just as long.

   “Are you going back to school in the fall?” asked Frank.

   “I hope so,” said Maggie. “I miss it.”

   “I’m supposed to start first grade,” said Ethan.

   About two months away from hopes there will be a return to school, many parents were looking to new findings which suggest children are less likely to get and spread the virus. In late June the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advocates for “having students physically present in school,” published reopening guidelines. They stated that children “may be less likely to become infected” with the coronavirus and to spread the infection.

   Living and breathing in-person face-to-face time is what makes school a school. “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher,” is what a Japanese proverb says.

   “I want to play something else,” Maggie said. “Can you teach us how to play Pictionary?”

   “Sure,” Frank said.

   They put the never-ending news of the pandemic away, cleared one end of the table, and unfolded the game board, setting out the pencils note pads special cards. “Quick Sketches, Hilarious Guesses” is what it said on the yellow box, and that is what they did the rest of Independence Day, the clear sky going twilight, lightning bugs flashing on off on off, and neighborhood kids shooting off Uncle Sam Phantom fire flowers in the alley behind them.

   There wasn’t a dud in the caboodle, not that they saw. Uncle Sam got it right, rockets red glare.

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.”