All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a free-lance writer from Sudbury, Ontario. He lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

Luck of the Irish

By Ed Staskus

   Everybody both friend and foe called Danny Greene the Irishman. He was almost 42 years old the summer of 1975 and somehow still alive. He had never looked his age, but that had changed, although he still didn’t look his age. He looked older. Water under the bridge hadn’t done him any favors. He had grown a mustache to take attention away from his thinning hair. On top of that, at the moment, he felt bad. He didn’t feel bad about Bill O’Sullivan being blown up in Lakewood two days earlier. He was in a rage about that. That was different. His mouth hurt bad. A bum tooth was a different kind of misery. He called his dentist, who knew well enough to get him in no later than today.

   He lay down with his face on a pillow on the floor of the trailer home in Collinwood that had become the Celtic Club. His live-in girlfriend Denise knelt over him and massaged his back. It had been tightening up every night the past two months and he was stiff as hell every morning. Denise was a student at Collinwood High School. She was on the teenage side of half his age. The bomb blast hadn’t slowed her down. Two months earlier at 4 in the morning while they were sleeping on the second floor of their two-story storefront home on Waterloo Rd. somebody threw two bombs through the ground floor windows. It was where he had a phony consulting firm that went by the name of ‘Emerald Enterprises.’ The enterprise was in the business of extortion.

   When he heard glass breaking, he slipped out of bed and into the kitchen. He had a gun in his hand. When the first bomb exploded, he was crouching between the sink and the refrigerator. A cabinet was above him. He was safe in his improvised nook when timbers and bricks started to fall, but when the floor caved in he went down with it. Denise was still in bed. She and the bed went down, too, like a runaway elevator.

   “Greene got out like a cat,” Ed Kovacic, the Central Station police lieutenant investigating organized crime, told Frank Gwozdz and Tyrone Walker. “He was luckier than his own cats.” Danny Greene had two street cats who nightly slept inside on the first floor. They were both killed. His new 1975 Lincoln Continental was destroyed. The second bomb was connected to a two-gallon can of gasoline. That bomb didn’t go off and the gasoline didn’t ignite. Danny had more lives than a clowder of cats.

   The Bomb Unit got to work before dawn. Across the street a hippie bum sat on the curb waving a bottle of Boone’s Farm at anybody who gave him a glance. “You should a heard just what I seen,” he said to anybody who came within earshot. Nobody paid any attention to him. Even he had a hard time paying attention to himself.

   When the rubble was cleared away the Irishman set up shop in the same place, parking a trailer home there. The evening news interviewed him outside his new Celtic Club headquarters. He announced his address and invited any other would-be bombers to try again. “If they want me they know where to find me.” He was shirtless bare-chested. He pointed to the medal of St. Jude he was wearing around his neck. “This is why nobody is going to get me.” Parents in all directions warned their children not to go near the trailer with the big Irish flag in front of it. They told them it was best to stay away from that whole block, St. Jude medal or no St. Jude medal.

   Danny’s mother died when he was three days old. His father got drunk and stayed drunk after she was buried. He lost his job with Fuller Brush. When he did he dropped the baby boy off at the Parmadale Orphanage. Six years later, back on his feet, newly married, he took Danny back, but the boy argued long and loud with his stepmother and ran away again and again. One night he ran away to his grandfather’s house in neighboring Collinwood and never went back.

   His grandfather put him into St. Jerome’s Catholic School where he was an altar boy and all-star basketball player. After he graduated he went to St. Ignatius High School. He joined the Boy Scouts. After that things started to go south. He was thrown out of the Boy Scouts for fighting. He was expelled from St. Ignatius for fighting with the Italian pupils, freshmen, seniors, and everybody in between. He transferred to Collinwood High School but was expelled for “excessive tardiness.” He explained he had to fight his way in to school, fighting the bullies blocking his way, but the principal didn’t believe a word of it and told him, “Leave, and don’t ever come back.”

   “He grew up hustling,” said his one-time friend Aggie who ran with Danny Greene when they were kids. “It’s hard to take the hustle and larceny out of somebody who grew up with nothing. Being an orphan and growing up with the nuns, you tend to grow up edgy, tough, slightly mean.”

   He enlisted in the Marine Corps. They liked his fighting spirit. He became an expert marksman. Before long he was training other marksmen. When he was discharged he was honorably discharged. He went home to Cleveland to be his own man. He was done with running away. He had a brand-new plan.

   He started working on the waterfront. He was elected president of Cleveland’s Local 1317 International Longshoreman’s Association, the dock workers union, in 1962. The trouble started right away when he started embezzling union funds. He was living large and needed the money. More trouble started when he started leaning on longshoremen for more money.

   “Danny was spending money hand over fist,” said Skip Ponikvar, vice president of the union. “His trips to the Theatrical Grill downtown, trips to Chicago, trips to New York. And he was picking the tabs up. There was only so much a few hundred men could support with dues. He got the idea to have these guys work the grain boats and sign the checks over to the union. The guys started bitching and moaning about it. Well, if you worked a lot of hours on the grain boats, then when it came to the hiring hall, those guys were given the better job, which is illegal.”

   Longshoremen started shaking down and beating up employers for payoffs. One of them threatened to kill the children of a businessman who wouldn’t cooperate. His house had to be put under police protection and his children escorted to school by an armed guard. After one too many complaints, the Cleveland Police sent Ed Kovacic and his partner. It wasn’t a far drive to the union hall. They stopped for coffee and a smoke. They walked into the union hall quietly, looking for the boss’s office.

   “When we walked in, I felt like I’d fallen in the Atlantic Ocean, because it was all green,” said Ed Kovacic. “Even the walls were green.” The only thing not green was Danny Greene from the neck up. “Everything was green except his hair and face. He handed us a pen, which had green ink in it. Everything was pleasant until he asked why we were there.” They told him why they were there. “He got up and started walking around the room. As he did, he got louder and louder. He started talking about how the dagos thought they ran Collinwood, and this was just a bunch of tough Irish and Slovenian kids who were going out there and telling them they didn’t run Collinwood anymore. I handed him our crime report and said, ‘How about this man? They blinded a Chinese American man.’ Boy, that really set him off like a rocket! Finally, he said, ‘Get out. That’s enough. We’re done.’ We got in the car. I said, ‘That was like a scene from that waterfront movie. He was acting like Marlon Brando.’ My partner said, ‘Yeah, I was waiting for him to start hollering, ‘Stella! Stella!’” Ed didn’t bother telling his partner he was getting his movies mixed up.

   Danny Greene didn’t want or need anybody like Stella. Blanche was more his speed, at least if she had been half her age. He knew how to get what he wanted. He liked blondes who were blonde as sunlight. The nuns at St. Jerome’s tried to teach him the difference between angels and whores, but he never learned his lesson.

   “He was dynamic,” Skip said. “Dressed to the nines. You never saw him in jeans or street clothes. Suit and tie all the time. He negotiated a hiring hall for the union. It allowed us control. Total control. If you were my friend, I’d send you on a boat that’s going to work 10 hours. And if you weren’t my friend, or just an average guy, I’d send you on a boat that’s going to work four hours. He had ‘Don’t fuck with me’ written all over him. You didn’t want to even challenge him. He was always in shape. He didn’t smoke. But when he drank, that was his weakness. He drank to excess, and when he drank to excess, bad things would happen, arguments, fights.”

   He was in shape but couldn’t fight everybody in the union. He was outnumbered. Everybody finally wanted him gone sooner than later. “The men wanted him out,” said John Baker, one of the dock workers. “They didn’t want to work the boats for nothing. When he got into his jam, he asked me for a vote of confidence, and I said, ‘Danny, I couldn’t do it.’ That was it. We never talked after that.”

   The national inion suspended him. He was done running Cleveland’s docks. Somebody drove past his house and pumped five bullets into it, just to make sure he got the message. When a TV reporter showed up the next morning Danny read from a scrap of paper, “Effective immediately, I have resigned as a member and officer of Local 1317. After nearly four years of devoting all my energies to get the dock workers in Cleveland a fair shake, I found that my only compensation is headlines in the newspaper and bullets through my window.”

   When push came to shove he pled guilty to falsifying union records and was fined $10,000.00. He never spent a day in jail for it and never paid a penny of the fine. By that time, he was a part-time FBI informant and the FBI didn’t care whether he paid his fine, or not. They had bigger fish to fry.

   Danny Greene stayed on the floor for ten minutes after Denise was done, rolling over on his back, grasping his knees, and pulling them into his chest. He rocked forward and back. When he stood up he felt like his old self. He went outside and sat in a lawn chair in the dirt front yard in front of his trailer home. Two cans of Stroh’s beer lay at the base of a plaster leprechaun beside the chair. He used to do next week’s drinking every day of the week but had put a stop to most of it. He started jogging and started gulping vitamins and steaming vegetables. His dentist’s appointment wasn’t for two more hours. The tooth yanker was in Lyndhurst, twenty some minutes away, so there was plenty of time to think things over between now and then. He had gotten a new Lincoln and enjoyed driving it. What he didn’t enjoy was checking it from front to back and all underneath it for anything that might go boom in the night. Denise wouldn’t go near it until he was done.

   He was going to make somebody pay for Bill O’Sullivan’s death. He was going to make somebody pay for blowing up his building and killing his cats, never mind the car. He knew more about revenge than any man alive. He was going to make somebody pay for something, if it was the last thing he ever did. He was nothing if not a man of his word, no matter how bent and broken his word might be.

Excerpted from “Bomb City.”

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”


Day of the Snapper

By Ed Staskus

   After we got married my wife and I bought a home in Lakewood a few houses east of the Rocky River valley and set up housekeeping. It was the early 1990s. We tore all the lime green shag carpeting out, tore all the false ceilings out, and tore all the wallpaper off the walls, painting them white. We purged the original bathroom. The house was built in 1922 and the bathroom had to go. It was only the beginning, but at least it was a start.

   After a few years we thought we would get a cat. My wife wanted a darkish long haired. I wanted an orange short haired. We got a fluffy orange Maine Coon. He was a half-breed, but well bred. The few times he misbehaved it was mostly because we hadn’t made it clear to him that some behavior, like scratching the furniture, was out of bounds. After we let him become an inside outside cat, all the scratching he did after that was outside. We never asked the local trees shrubs or fences whether they minded, or not.

   He stayed indoors during wintertime, except when it was above freezing, as well as those times he was simply close to the side door and I tossed him outside, which I did whenever there was a snow mound beside the door. If the snow was fluffy enough, he sank into it up to his eyeballs, looked helpless for a second, scrambling to get out of the snow, and giving me a dirty look rushing back inside. Maine Coons have a reputation for enjoying snow. Our cat didn’t live up to the reputation. He was good with rain, tolerated snow showers, but not blizzards or northern Ohio winter wind storms.

   We named him Snapper after a movie we had recently seen, “The Snapper,” which is about a big family in a small house in Dublin whose oldest daughter has gotten pregnant, but won’t tell anybody who the father is, because it happened after a wild night at a pub with a man who is her father’s friend and is her father’s age. She tells everybody it was a friendly Spanish sailor passing through town. The family calls the baby in the belly the Snapper.

   I called our cat Bud. My wife called him Snaps, Snapper Doodle, Kinney, Lambkins, and Goose. He didn’t answer to much unless he was hungry, wanted to go outside, or wanted to come back inside. He didn’t like to be bothered when he was catnapping, which was more often than not. He never answered to Bud, or anything else, when he was wholeheartedly asleep.

   Snapper didn’t tell us who his parents were. He didn’t say a word about his brothers and sisters, or uncles and aunts. He didn’t tell us where he was from or how he had gotten to where I found him, which was the Cleveland Arcade. He was vocal enough when it came to food and creature comforts but didn’t like talking about himself.

   It was Thanksgiving and Christmas time. I was downtown to pick something up from a store in the Cleveland Arcade. The whole placed was dolled up for the holiday. It used to be called the Crystal Palace. I parked near the Main Library and went in through the Superior Ave. doors. When I did, I noticed the Animal Protective League had taken a vacant storefront for the time being and was peddling dogs and cats. When I looked around, I spied our new kitten in a cage at eye level in the middle of the store. I extended my index finger into his jail cell, he took it into his mouth, and bit me. He was a youngster somewhere between 10 and 12 weeks old. He might have been able to puncture paper, but not me.

   “You’re for me, bud,” I told him.

   I told the man behind the sales counter I was going to my car to get money to pay for him. When I got back a young lady had him in her hands and was walking to the counter. I stepped up to her, tapped her on the shoulder, took our cat away from her, and said, “He’s spoken for.” She gave me a sour look and went looking for another one before another one of me came along.

   The Maine Coon is one of the oldest breeds in the United States. Nobody knows exactly where they came from, but many believe they are related to both Siberian and Norwegian Forest cats. They are the official state cat of Maine. Down Easters say the breed originated in their state. Others say they are the only original American cat.

   The legend I like best is that when Marie Antoinette, the ill-fated Queen of France, was trying to beat feet out of the country, she enlisted the help of Captain Samuel Clough. She loaded his ship with all her favorite stuff, including six of her favorite cats, Siberians and Turkish Angoras. Her luck was bad, though. The Gendarmerie dragged her back to Paris before the ship could sail. When the ship sailed the six cats sailed with it. After they reached the town of Wiscasset, Maine they went into town on shore leave, living it up with the local breeds. They didn’t make it back in time when the ship shoved off, developing into the modern kind of Maine Coon. 

   My mother-in-law was owning and operating a deli takeout on the ground floor of the National City Bank building on East 9th St. My trip downtown had also meant picking up dinner for myself and my wife. I needed to get food for the new guy, too. I parked on Short Vincent. I didn’t want to leave the cat in the car, so I smooshed him into the pocket of my winter coat.

   “What’s that wiggling in your coat?” my mother-in-law asked handing me a bag full of good food. The cat stuck his head out of the top of my pocket sniffing at the bag.

   After oohing and awing at the furball she gave me a wicker basket for him to sleep in. He slept in the basket that night and for years afterwards. He never suffered from insomnia. Even when we bought a bigger and better basket for him, he continued sleeping in the original until he couldn’t fit into it anymore. When he grew up, he had a white ruff on his chest and a two-layered coat, a silky undercoat under longer guard hairs. He wasn’t as big as a purebred Maine Coon, but more than hunter savvy enough. He was more than sociable with us since we were his feedbag.

   At first, we thought we would keep him indoors, but he was as much dog as cat and had to go outside, no matter what. When spring arrived, we started letting him out and teaching him to stay away from the street. I let him wander around, following with a squirt gun, and whenever he drifted down the driveway to the apron squirted him in the face. He didn’t like it and learned his lesson, at least until he got older, when all bets were off. Our backyard was fenced on three sides and raised above the alley behind our house. Three or four houses both sides of us was as far as he ranged sideways. 

   I was watching him walk up the sidewalk one day when a full-grown cat came sauntering his way. Snapper was still a tyke. They sniffed at each other. Our guy made a sudden movement and the other guy swatted him. When he went running the other cat followed him. He jumped and I gathered him up in my arms. The neighborhood bully sat at my feet watching while Snapper made faces at him, throwing caution to the wind, snarling, and showing his claws. He could be sassy. Cats fight all the time. Even when they are playing, they get scratched. That doesn’t keep kittens from happening. They are both wild and domestic at the same time.

   Over time he learned and remembered what our cars sounded like and hearing my wife or me pulling into the driveway ran out of the backyard to see us. I didn’t like him doing it and blared my horn to make him stop doing it, but he never did. He went his own way.

   We lost him one day in the night when he got trapped inside a neighbor’s garage after the man unwittingly closed the door on him, but he was such a loudmouth that his cries alerted everybody to where he was. He could have been a civil defense siren. He knew to come inside at sunset, but sometimes forgot, sitting under our bedroom window in the middle of night meowing until we let him in the house. He slept with us on our bed, taking up a third of it. He liked his space.

   Snapper was a mouser, bringing half dead mice to the door for our approval. He messed with anything that moved. Since we lived on the edge of the valley park, there were plenty of squirrels, rabbits, possums, and racoons. He never caught a rabbit, but one day a racoon caught him. We were searching for him the next day when I found him curled up in the back of a closet. There were gobs of dried blood on his face and puncture wounds on one side of his mouth.

   “It looks like a coon hooked him,” the vet said, sewing him up and shoving an antibiotic down his throat. “Give him one of these every day for a week.” Giving him the pills was easier said than done.

   He was a birder, too, although birds were usually too fast for him. One day a pair of blue jays were in our backyard bird feeder when he went after them. That was a mistake. One of the birds flew away but the other one circled back and started dive bombing him. Snapper had no answer for the loud jeers and attacks of the big bird and ducked under a hedge sulking. The rest of the summer he scanned the sky and made sure there were no blue jays in his neck of the woods before he went exploring.

   By the time his second summer rolled around he could jump to the top of any fence, climb any tree, and even make his way to the top of flat-roofed garages. He came down from trees backwards, but I usually had to get a step ladder to get him down from roofs. He often bit off more than he could chew. I kept him in shape by holding him upside down and tossing him up in the air. He twisted at the top of the arc, aligning himself head up feet down, landing on my open hands. He rarely misjudged it, nailing the landing. It stood him in good stead his long lifetime.

   Indoor cats live about 12 to 17 years. One way or another outdoor cats live about 2 to 5 years. Maine Coons live about 10 to 13 years. Snapper was half Maine Coon and half who knows what. He spent half his life indoors and half his life outdoors. The more time he spent in the great outdoors the more wary he became of the animal kingdom, especially people and their ways. He always had the same expression on his face, whether it was a June bug or an ax-murderer coming his way. He was able to snap to attention out of a deep sleep in a split second. Snapper never let anybody get near him unless we were nearby. He was smarter than he knew. He lived to be nearly 18 years old. 

   We fed him wet food in the morning and kibble the rest of the time. We started him off with top shelf wet food until he made it known that anything with gravy was his favorite. After that Iams and Science Diet were out. Cheap-ass Friskies were in. He might have lived on gravy alone if we let him. We didn’t let him, but we tried to keep him happy. “When my cats aren’t happy, I’m not happy. Not because I care about their mood but because I know they’re just sitting there thinking up ways to get even,” the writer Percy Shelly once said.

   As much time as he spent outside, he was a homeboy at heart. When we went on vacation, whether it was for a week or a month, the minute we got back he started complaining about our absence and stayed close to us for days afterwards. After that it was back to his gravy and his basket.

   He got slower towards the end of his life. When winter came, he slept near the furnace registers. His kidneys started going bad. We added a second litter box so he could pee the second he had to. 

   One summer day coming home from work I turned into our street behind another car. Snapper was across the street from our house, on our neighbor’s front porch. Hearing my car, he jumped up and started running across the street. He was still fast enough for his age, but not fast enough that day. The front tires of the car in front of me missed him but when one of the back tires struck him, he went up into the air, landed with a thud, and rolled over. I watched the car not stop. I stopped in the middle of the street. He was still alive when I ran to him, but just barely.

   He was spasming and crying. He was broken. He was choking on blood. I forced his mouth open so he could breathe. He sucked on my finger and died. He wasn’t the kind of cat who had nine lives. Snapper had one life and his life was over in the blink of an eye. I wrapped him up in that week’s issue of the Lakewood Observer and took him down Hog’s Back Lane to the park, burying him on the banks of the Rocky River. He had never been to the park but lived on the edge of it. He saw it every day of his life from our second-floor porch.

   Two years later we got another mixed Maine Coon. He was a black classic style tabby. My wife named him Gladwyn but called him Baby Wodin, after the pagan god of the Anglo-Saxons. She called him Gladdy often enough so that I started calling him Gaylord, after the crafty old Cleveland Indians pitcher Gaylord Perry. When winter came and went, he liked sitting on Snapper’s cat perch on the porch and looking out at the valley going buds and blossoms.

   Every spring I go to where I buried our cat and sit by the river in the sun watching ducks take their young out for a swim on the greenish-brown water. Snapper was like me in some ways. Whenever I chased him he went running. Whenever I ignored him he came purring.

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

Throne of Blood

By Ed Staskus

   Little Italy was a fifteen-minute drive from the Central Station. Frank Gwozdz drove slightly under the speed limit and didn’t try to time the lights. It took them twenty minutes. He parked at the intersection of Euclid Ave. and Ford Dr. on the border of city life and Case Western Reserve University. Downtown was its own world. The school was its own world. Little Italy was up Mayfield Rd. It was its own world, too.

   “We’ll leave the car here,” Frank said. “We can walk the rest of the way.”

   “No respect for the law where we’re going?” Tyrone Walker asked.

   “Let’s just say it’s better to leave the car here where the school kids are,” Frank said.

   They walked to Corbo’s Dolceria on Mayfield Rd. at the corner of Murray Hill Rd. After sitting down at one of a handful of small tables in the front, Frank ordered a caffe normale and Tyrone ordered a coffee with cream and sugar.

   “Do you want to try a cappuccino instead?” Frank asked.

   “Whatever that is, no,” Tyrone said.

   Frank ordered a cassata for himself and another one for Tyrone.

   “Do you want it the Sicilian way or the American way?”

   “What’s the difference?”

   “The Sicilian way is with cannoli filling and maraschino cherries. The American way is with fresh strawberries and custard.”

   “I’ll take mine the American way.”

   “Suit yourself,” Frank said, ordering the Sicilian way for himself. Antoinette Corbo, who owned the bakery with her husband Joe, brought them their coffees and cassata cakes. She gave Tyrone a sidelong glance. 

   “Did you know the macaroni machine was invented in this neighborhood 70 years ago?” Frank asked Tyrone.

   “No, I didn’t know. I don’t know anything about this neighborhood.” 

   “It’s kind of like an Italian hill town,” Frank said. “Cleveland is down there and Cleveland Hts. is up there at the top of Mayfield Rd. It’s been here nearly a hundred years. Most of the first immigrants, who were from around Naples, worked at nearby marble works. They were stone cutters. Their women went into the garment trades, mostly lacework and embroidery.”

   “Why are we here?” Tyrone asked.

   “We’re here for you to see the neighborhood,” Frank said.

   “Is this the hot bed of dynamite?”

   “This is one side of the bed. The other side of the bed is the Celtic Club.”

   “I’ve been boning up on the files.”

   “Not here, not now,” Frank said. “After we finish our drinks we can take in the sights and sounds and then walk up to the cemetery. We can talk there. The walls have ears here. The dead don’t care there.”

   “What cemetery?”

   “Lakeview Cemetery. You can’t see it from here, but we’re sitting right next to it. That why all the Italian stone masons came here in the first place.”

   After finishing their cups of coffee Frank and Tyrone walked two blocks down the hill to the Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church. It was a Baroque-style building. The house of worship stood four-square on the incline of the street.

   “The dagos weren’t here but a few years before they started building this church,” Frank said.

   “Don’t call them dagos,” Tyrone said.

   “I agreed to not call you a Negro,” Frank said. “That’s all the agreeing I’m going to do for one day.”

   “All right then,” Tyrone said under his breath.

   “Where was I?”

   “Christian charity,” Tyrone said.

   “I didn’t agree to listen to wisecracks, either.” 

   “All right,” Tyrone said under his breath again. Frank was his partner but partner or not, he was still his superior officer. There was no point in making an enemy of him his first day on the job. That could wait for later. He followed Frank up one of the flights of concrete stairs to the double front doors. There were two large arched windows above the doors. There were statues of saints at the top of the façade. A domed bell and clock tower anchored the eastern corner of the church. There was a parochial school in the back run by nuns of Maestre Pie Filippini. Boys and girls were forbidden giving them any lip. The nuns were not above giving them a hard crack. Their parents did worse than that whenever they heard excuses from their children about their misbehavior in school.

   “Since all the Italians back in the day here were stone cutters, like you said, how come this church is built of brick?” Tyrone asked.

   “The foundation is stone,” Frank said.

   “I guess that’s good enough,” Tyrone said.

   “Are you a church-goer?” Frank asked as they stepped inside.

   “Yes, but Baptist, not Roman,” Tyrone said. “How about you?”

   “Not anymore.”

   They went inside. It was quiet as a moonbeam. The church was empty. The sanctuary was brightly colored, but the nave was musty. It felt like a tomb. The police detectives looked around. Frank spoke low and slow.

   “This where the dagos get baptized, get married, and get buried,” he said. “We are always here for the funerals, to make sure whoever is in the casket is the man we won’t miss seeing, making sure he’s really dead, and check out what other hoodlums are in the crowd.”   

   “Do you take pictures of them?”

   “No, we show some respect when we’re here. Beside, we know who’s who.”

   “It sounds like routine enough work.”

   “It’s not the kind of work you’re going to be doing anytime soon, not with your face.”

   “My badge is the same color as everybody else’s,” Tyrone said.

   “The men we’re talking about don’t have any respect for badges, no matter what color they are. They have even less respect for black men carrying badges.”   

   Back on Mayfield Rd. they went across the street again. Frank slipped back into Corbo’s and came out with a cold bottle of San Pellegrino. He looked  back at the church. “They have a weekend here called the ‘The Feast of the Assumption’ every summer. It’s some kind of fundraiser. They hoist the Virgin Mary up on a platform, march her around, and everybody pins dollar bills on her. There are so many people nobody can move.”

   They went up the hill. They stopped when they got to the New Mayfield Repertory Cinema. “Opening Soon – Classic and Foreign Films” an a-frame sidewalk sign announced. “It’s some Jew who lost his job teaching English out in the suburbs,” Frank said pointing at the sign. “He got a year’s pay in the downsize and is re-opening this place. He thinks between the arty college crowd down on Euclid Ave. and the grab bag hippies up on Coventry Rd. he can turn a hobby into a business.” 

   Tyrone wanted to say something about calling Jews Jews but wasn’t sure what to say. It was dawning on him that Frank was less mean mouthed than missing a sense of properness. He wasn’t a babe in the woods by any means but for a big city cop he was somehow more country than big city. He was like white men in Alabama who couldn’t help themselves. A glass encased poster for the opening movie said “La Strada.” It was an Italian movie with Anthony Quin and Richard Basehart in it. Anthony Quinn looked musclebound. Richard Basehart was wearing angel wings and walking a tightrope. The love interest was somebody by the name of Giulietta Masina. She wore a bowler hat and had a clown’s dot on the tip of her nose. She didn’t look like any leading lady Tyrone had ever seen. The director was somebody by the name of Federico Fellini. Tyrone had never heard of him.

   “The funny thing about it is, he had to talk to Blackie first about getting this place,” Frank said.

   “Who’s that?” Tyrone asked. 

   “That’s Jim Licavoli, one of the mob bosses here. They had lunch together and he finally gave the Jew his blessing to lease the Mayfield, even though he didn’t have any ownership in it. It used to be a vaudeville theater that closed six or seven years ago. The way Blackie looked at it, strippers were OK but foreign movies were immoral.”

   “Why do you call him Blackie? His name came up in a file, but it said he’s called Jack White.”

   “He’s almost as dark as you, which is why we call him Blackie. He calls himself Jack White, God knows why. We never call him by that name.”

   “How do you know they had lunch together?”

   “We were nearby and heard the whole thing, although it was more a waste of time than anything else. The Jew had curly hair and was sincere as Shirley Temple. He wouldn’t stop talking about how much he loved movies. We thought he was a faggot. I think Blackie gave him his blessing just to get rid of him.”

   “You go to the movies?” Tyrone asked.

   “Not since I was in the academy,” Frank said. “’The Music Man’ might have been the last movie I saw.”

   “What do you do to relax?”

   “Fight with my wife,” Frank said.

   “She can’t be all bad.”

   “She comes the closest.”

   “That’s too bad.” 

   “Yeah, it’s too bad.”

   They continued walking up Mayfield Rd. When they got to E. 126th St. they turned left. At a dead-end past half-a-dozen houses they walked through a line of trees into the cemetery. Frank led the way, zig zagging to the James Garfield Monument.

   “It’s a tragedy what happened to him,” Frank said.

   “It’s a tragedy any time somebody gets shot, president or no president” Tyrone said.

   “No, I mean it’s too bad about how he died. He had the best doctors in the country, but they didn’t believe in disinfecting their hands and instruments. So, he didn’t die of the gunshot wound. He died of infection. He had only been president four months. He was six feet tall and had been a two-star general. It took him almost three months to die.”

   They stopped to look at John D. Rockefeller’s grave, but Tyrone didn’t want to stay. “He was the richest man in the world, selling his black gold, but he wouldn’t give the black man a chance. His kids did better later, but not John D. He was a son-of-a-bitch.”

   They crossed the cemetery’s Hillside Rd. before coming to the Haserot Angel.

   “What is that?” Tyrone asked looking at it. It was a life-sized bronze angel sitting on a marble gravestone. She held an extinguished torch upside down. Her wings were outstretched. She seemed to be crying black tears.

   “They call it ‘The Angel of Death Victorious’ because of the torch that is out,” Frank said. “Some people call it the weeping angel because it looks like she’s crying. It was put up about fifty years ago by a local man who made his fortune in canned goods.” The name ‘Haserot’ was chiseled into the base of the gravestone. “The man who sculpted it is buried in this same boneyard. Lots of people say this place is haunted, especially this spot right here.”

   They heard a cough and rustling behind the angel. There was a bad smell in the air. Frank put a finger to his lips and signaled Tyrone to step back. Tyrone slipped his Colt into his hand with the barrel pointing to the ground. Frank stepped to the side of the monument. The angel stayed where it was, looking deadpan.

   “All right, come out of there, with your hands where we can see them.”

   What stumbled out from behind the marble angel was a small swarthy man who reeked of booze. There was a pint bottle of it peeking out from his back pocket. It was emptier than fuller. He slapped dirt off his hands and shrugged loose grass off his shoulders. One of his shoes was untied. His shirt was checked, and his eyes were fly belly blue. His zipper sagged at the crotch of his pants. All of him smelled worse the closer he got to them.

   “That’s close enough,” Frank said. “What are you doing here?”

   “Visiting old friends,” the man said.

   “Let me introduce you to Joey Bag of Donuts, one of the bomb makers for the dagos,” Frank said to Tyrone, pointing to the man. “Does Danny Greene know you’re here? He might show up with a shovel.”

    “It takes an earlier bird than that dumb-ass paddy to get the better of a worm like me,” Joey said smiling slyly.

Excerpted from “Bomb City.”

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Head Over Heels

By Ed Staskus

   “The end is always near,” Greg Smith said. I called him Jonesy for fun, even though he didn’t think it was funny. “I dislike glibness,” he said like a grade school teacher. His hands were free and easy on the steering wheel. He was driving well enough to keep us on the road, but his eyes were pinwheels. The magic mushroom he had popped into his mouth a half hour earlier was working its magic. I couldn’t tell him to slow down because he was driving slower than the oldest slowest man in the world. I reached for the seatbelt, anyway. When I did I found out Greg’s top drop Chevy Impala SS didn’t have seatbelts. 

   SS stood for Super Sport. There was nothing super about the car anymore, which came off the line in 1961, except for the engine. It was still super when it had to be. The rocker panels were rusting out, the front of the hood was dented, and the tires were bald as baloney skins. The car was Roman Red on the outside while the interior was scuffed black leather. I reached for the grab bar attached to the padded dashboard.

   “Did you know this car was built by union labor right here in the USA?” he asked, apropos of the Jap and German cars we had been seeing here and there.

   “No, I didn’t know that,” I said.

   “It’s got a V-8 engine. One of my relatives might have built it.”

   “Is that right? By the way, what do you mean the end is always near?”

   “Like they say,” he said, “the future’s uncertain and the end is always near.”

   At the moment the Chevy was running on V-1 and there were none of Greg’s car-making relatives in sight. What was in sight was the future. There was a flashing red light behind us. It was the kind of light that always looks final. It gave me the blues. The Meigs County cop didn’t have any trouble getting on our tail. He had trouble pulling us over, however, even though the road was straight as a preacher. The manual steering took more than five turns of the steering wheel to go from lock to lock. In the state he was in it took Greg a few minutes and a mile-or-so to master the mechanics of pulling off onto the shoulder.

   The policeman didn’t bother asking for Greg’s driver’s license. “Step out of the car and let me smell your breath, son,” he said.

    Greg exhaled in his direction.

   “You smell all right,” the policeman said. “It don’t seem like you been drinking or puffing on stinkweed.” The car had a vacuum powered ash tray that sucked ashes to a container in the trunk. “Why are you going so slow when you got that power horse under the hood?”

   “I know this road doesn’t go anywhere but I’m looking for the end of it,” Greg said. “I don’t want to miss it.” The Meigs County cop wasn’t fazed by what Greg said. “It don’t go nowhere but it always brings you back again,” he said. Greg looked flummoxed for a minute. The policeman looked the Impala up and down. “This is the car the Beach Boys wrote a song about, son.”

   The song was a big hit in its day. “Nobody can catch her, nothing can touch my 409, giddy up, giddy up, my four speed dual quad 409,” Brian Wilson sang in his big falsetto while the rest of the boys layered the harmonies. The fired-up 409 was fitted with a 4-barrel carburetor and a solid lifter camshaft. The pistons were made from forged aluminum. The heads and engine block were made from cast-iron.

   “Those were the days, boys. Make no mistake, that Impala is a real fine car. Try to put some giddy up into your driving. And keep it on the yellow line.” He got back into his black and white Dodge Coronet police car and u-turned around going the other way. He went away straight as an arrow.

   I was along for the ride on Greg’s ride that day. I was spending the spring summer and fall in a place called Carpenter living with Virginia Sustarsic in an abandoned general store. She wasn’t my girlfriend, but we got along, even though she was a dyed in the wool hippie and I wasn’t. She rolled her homegrown delicately and deliberately. We kept two goats, gleaned plenty of food, and brewed our own beer. A kitten made us his crash pad. The town wasn’t a town so much as a whistle stop, even though the railroad had long since abandoned the place. There were fewer than a dozen residents, including us. There were dust balls in all the corners. Every star in the universe twinkled in the nighttime sky.

   Carpenter was in Meigs County. It was named after Return Meigs, Jr., who was the fourth governor of Ohio. The county is on the Appalachian Plateau in the southeast corner of the state. The Shade River and Leading Creek drain into the Ohio River. Leading Creek ran right through Carpenter. In the 1970s the county’s population was less than 20,000. As far as I could tell there were no Asians, Native Americans, or African Americans. There were hillbilly highways as far as the eye could see.

   Greg was a friend of John McGraw’s, who was Virginia’s on-again off-again boyfriend back home. They both lived on the bohemian near east side of downtown, near Cleveland State University. John was a part-time writer and drank booze right from the bottle. Greg came from a more polite class and drank from a glass. He and John had planned on visiting Carpenter together, but at the last minute John bowed out. Greg came anyway, cruising all the way from one end of the state to the other in his big red Chevy.

   Virginia dressed like it was still the Summer of Love while John dressed like the Age of Beatniks had never ended. Greg wasn’t any better off than them, living half on and half off the American Dream, but he dressed like a preppy. He read the classics. He was studying Latin so he could read Ovid and Seneca in the original. Nobody ever suspected he kept magic mushrooms in his wallet.

   Something came over Greg the minute the Meigs County cop was out of sight. He fired up the Impala. He spun gravel getting back on the asphalt. The next minute we were doing eighty in a forty. The Doobie Brothers came on the radio belting out ‘Rockin’ Down the Highway.’ I took a peek in the rearview. There was no hot potato behind us. I looked through the windshield at what was in front of us. All the danger was ahead.

   “We should maybe slow down,” I suggested as loud as I could yell. 

   The Impala was a four on the floor. She wasn’t good on gas and burned some oil. Greg picked up speed. We were doing a hundred in no time. There were no more gears to shift up into. His eyes weren’t pinwheels anymore. They glinted like icepicks. He leaned over the steering wheel. The car wasn’t sloppy, nor was Greg’s handling of it sloppy, but we were headed for trouble. We were blasting down a back road. It was cracked and rough. Meigs County didn’t have the tax base to keep its roads in any kind of Daytona 500 shape.

    “I’m not asking for a miracle, Lord, just a little bit of luck will do,” I whispered.

   “Every minute counts,” Greg shouted above the wind noise.

   “Keep your eyes on the road,” I shouted back. “You never can tell what’s around the corner.”

   He waved at the outdoors with his left arm. Southeastern Ohio on a sunny day in the summer is beautiful. When we roared around a blind curve there wasn’t anything there, to my relief, until there suddenly was. It was a roadhouse with some cars and pick-ups in the front dirt lot. The sign said Frank’s Roadhouse. There were antlers nailed to the outside wall above the front windows. We pulled in, skidding in three or four different directions. There were half a dozen bungalows in the back.

   Inside there was a bar, a kitchen, some tables, a dance floor, a riser protected by chicken wire, and a pool table. A man and a woman were having mashed potatoes with pulled pork at one of the tables. A bottle of BBQ sauce stood at the ready between their plates. There was some action going on at the pool table but none on the dance floor. Before I knew it Greg had found his own action at the bar, where a cute brunette was sitting, a lowball glass half full of red wine and a paperback book in front of her.

   There was an oblong mirror on the wall behind the bar. It was too smudged to see into. There was a hand-written warning, too. It said, “Don’t eat the big white mint!” I didn’t ask what it meant. I didn’t want to know.

   What’s a simple man to do? I looked around for something to do. I put a dollar on the lip of the pool table marking my turn in line. There were two men playing nine ball. It was the middle of the day on a Thursday. Neither of them was on union soil. Neither of them was being especially efficient. There were seven or eight bottles of Burger Beer on a small round table behind them.

   One of the men looked me up and down. “I’m a pretty big man around these parts,” he said, flashing an ersatz grin. He had sharp teeth. He was shorter than me, but I knew what he meant. “I thought you’d be bigger,” I said. He didn’t laugh. He had the sense of humor of a circus strongman. The other man laughed his head off. My man broke the rack. He was no Minnesota Fats. When my turn came I ran the rack and took my dollar back. I collected a dollar from the local yokel. He tried his luck two more times and paid me two more dollars. He didn’t know, and I didn’t tell him, that I spent more time than I wanted to admit shooting snooker at Joe Tuna’s Pool Hall back in Cleveland.

   I bought them both beers, they clapped me on the back, the circus strongman harder than he needed to, and I went back to the bar, joining Greg and the brunette. He wasn’t paying any attention to her book. He gave me a wink, which meant the main drag from the eye to the heart doesn’t go through the intellect, or words to that effect.

   Her name was Jeannie. She was a third-year student at Ohio University in Athens, 20-some miles to the north of where we were. She was majoring in English. She wasn’t enrolled in classes that summer but had stayed in Athens instead of going home to Cincinnati. She spent her spare time exploring. She had found Frank’s Roadhouse by accident, liked the looks of it, and stopped in for the afternoon.

   “What do you like about this dump?” I asked.

   “It looks real,” she said.

   I was willing to grant her that. When the bartender approached I ordered a Vernors Ginger Soda. Between Greg’s psychedelics and the shot of whiskey in front of him, one of us had to stay sober. “Who is Frank,” I asked the bartender. “There ain’t no Frank, at least not no more,” he said. “What happened to him?” I asked. “Nobody knows,” he said. 

   I reminded Greg we had promised Virginia we would stop at the grocery store in Pomeroy and pick up milk, cheese, and toilet paper. The toilet paper was like gold where we lived. Greg’s eyes had gone soft. He needed reminding. I had to remind him twice. He finally slid off the bar stool glowing like an electric eel.

   Jeannie followed us out to the Impala. “I like your car,” she said. Greg asked her if she wanted a ride back to town. She pointed to a VW Beetle. “Fontasse postem infantem,” she said, jotting her name and phone number down on a  scrap of paper. She pressed it into Greg’s hand. She rose up on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss on the cheek. I never saw a man go head over heels as fast as Greg did that minute.

   Once we were in the car, humming along Route 143 on our way to Pomeroy, I asked him what she had said.

   “Maybe later baby,” he said. “That’s what she said.”

   There was enchantment in his eyes. “Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel,” I reminded him for the last time. I didn’t have to remind him to keep his hands off the magic mushrooms in his wallet. He was riding high on a different kind of magic. Love may not make the world go round, but it makes the ride worthwhile.

Photograph by Elaine Mayes.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Dangerous Passage

By Ed Staskus

   The Police Department’s Central Station was the end of the line for many criminals. It was also the end of the line for some policemen. The police force had been created in 1866 by the Metropolitan Police Act. Before that there were a few constables and night watchmen. Cleveland wasn’t a safe place even with them doing the best they could. The Cleveland Grays, a private military-style company, took over in 1837 but they couldn’t keep suspicions and arrests in the right order. In the 110 years since the police became official one hundred and eight of them had died in the line of duty. Seventy-five of them were gunned down by handguns, rifles, and shotguns. The rest died of assault and battery. All the policemen who were killed were men.

   When Frank Gwozdz’s partner was shot and killed his badge was retired, like the badges of all the other policemen who had been killed. Patrolmen wear numbered silver-colored badges. Detectives carry numbered gold-colored badges on their person. The rest of the force, Sergeant and higher, wear unnumbered gold-colored badges. The Badge Case was on the wall of a landing between the first and second floors. Frank never took the elevator to the third floor where the desks of the General Duty Detective Squad were. He always took the stairs. He saw his partner’s badge every day.

   Frank had been on the landing with other detectives when his partner’s badge was put in the case. The Police Chief, his partner’s wife, and partner’s son had been there. too. The boy wore a little boy’s man suit, bow tie, and a fresh haircut. He frowned through the ceremony and frowned when Frank told him his father was a brave man who died protecting Cleveland’s citizens. He was the first detective on the force to be shot and killed since 1960, fifteen years earlier.

   “Did you catch the bad man?”

   “Not yet, son, but we will.”

   The boy frowned more than ever. He looked like he wanted to kill the man who had murdered his father. Frank wanted to nail the man who had murdered his partner. There will be blood. Frank knew that and the man who killed his partner knew that.

   His partner’s bloated body had been found floating in Lake Erie with a bullet in his face near the White Beach City Park. Two days earlier Danny Greene had shot and killed Mike Frato, with whom he had been disagreeing about garbage collecting, at the same place. Danny Greene, who ran the Celtic Club, had set up a sham union. He meant to strong-arm garbagemen for their dues and anything else he could get. Mike Frato didn’t want to join any mob union. He had ten children and meant to keep the family money in the family. Danny Greene sent his personal bomber, Art Sneperger, to plant a bomb underneath  Mike Frato’s car. Something went wrong and the bomber blew himself to kingdom come. Two months later Mike Frato drove into the park and shot at Danny Greene, who was walking his dog, shooting through the open passenger window of his car. He emptied his gun, shooting wildly. The Irishman dropped to the ground. He shot back. His aim was true. He killed Mike Frato with a single shot. He was later acquitted of all charges after pleading self-defense.

   Not a day went by that Frank didn’t think about it. He was still standing on the landing looking at the Badge Case when another plainclothes man walking past said, “The captain is looking for you,” he said. “He’s in the dep’s office.”

   “OK, thanks” Frank said, turning to go down the stairs to the Deputy Commander’s office. It was on the first floor. He stopped at the snack stand run by the Society for the Blind and bought a pack of Beech-Nut chewing gum. There were five sticks in the pack. He unwrapped two sticks and pulled them into his mouth with his tongue. Chewing gum kept his blood pressure under control and raised the blood pressure of his superior officer. It helped keep their meetings short and sweet.

   The Central Station was built of white limestone with pinkish pillars fronting the main entrance. It was five floors of command and control. On the first floor were the information bureau, traffic division, chief’s office, inspector’s office, record room, property room, and newspaper reporters’ room. One floor up were the municipal courts and rooms for prosecutors and probation officers. Several holding cells serviced the four courtrooms. Bondsmen, lawyers, and private dicks did their dirty work in the bathrooms at the back end of the second floor. The third floor housed the detectives, with offices for the inspector, superintendent of criminal identification, and lieutenants. There were rooms for photographic equipment and record keeping. There were seven small airless rooms for detectives to interview their prisoners. The fourth floor was the jail. The fifth floor housed the radio department and battery rooms. 

   There was a line up room on the fourth floor. It was divided by a screened wall and bright lights. Suspects couldn’t see into the other side. Detectives were supposed to attend lineups before roll call three days a week. Newly arrested men and women were marched behind the screen. Detectives and witnesses sat in the dark less than three feet away. Many run-of-the-mill street crimes were solved this way. 

   When Frank walked into the Deputy Commander’s office his captain was there, as well as a black man dressed like a detective. It wasn’t a uniform but any detective could sniff the suit out.

   “Have a seat,” the Deputy Commander said.

   “Thanks, I’ll stand,” Frank said.

   “I said have a seat.”

   Frank sat down and waited. His captain had on a poker face. The black man had on a poker face. He put one on, too.

   “You’ve been doing a good job running down the numbers, but we are going to reassign you,” the Deputy Commander said. “There are too many bombings in this city. It’s gotten so the papers are calling us ‘Bomb City USA.’ I want you to get up to speed on it and then find out where the bombings are coming from. When you find names that can be prosecuted report to me first before filing your report. Is that clear?”

   “It’s clear enough, but everybody knows it’s the micks and dagos killing each other.”

   “Don’t tell me what I know and don’t know,” the Deputy Commander said. “And while we’re at it, this new assignment is not shoot first and ask questions later. Put the bounty hunter attitude away. We want answers, not DOA’s piling up.”

   “Yes, sir.”

   “You’ve been working alone, but there’s an element of more danger involved in your new assignment, so we are assigning you a partner.” He nodded at the black man.

    Frank looked the man up and down, looked at his hands, and shook his head from side to side.

   “That’s not going to work,” he said.

   “What’s not going to work?”

   “The Negro is not going to work,” Frank said pointing at the baby-faced man sitting next to him. “First, I don’t need a partner. I work better alone. Second, he’s too young. I’m not a babysitter. The last thing is, he’s the wrong color. He’ll stick out like a sore thumb.”

   “We determine whether you need a partner, or not,” the Deputy Commander said. “It’s not up to you. Second, he’s old enough to be a police detective, which is what he is. And the last thing, I don’t like his color any better than you do, but orders are to get him out in the field. There’s no other Negro we can pair him with. You drew the short straw because nobody else is champing at the bit to work with you.”

   “Yes, sir,” Frank said.

   “You and you partner will be running a parallel investigation with the Bomb Unit. When you’ve got something to report, report it to Ed Kovacic, and me personally. Is that understood?”

   “Loud and clear, sir.”

  “Whatever extra you need for this assignment, go to your captain. He’ll make sure you get it.”

   The short and sweet conference was over. Frank stood in the hallway with his new partner. He tossed the wad of now tasteless Beech-Nut gum in the trash. It disappeared without a trace, sticking to a court summons somebody had thrown away.

   “Don’t call me Negro again,” Tyrone said.

   “What should I call you?” Frank asked.

   “Call me partner or call me by my name, which is Tyrone Walker. Drop the Negro thing. You’re behind the times. We’re called black now.”

   “Like in black and white?”

   “That’s right, like in black and white.”

   They took the stairs to the third floor. When they walked into the bullpen, Frank saw that an old unused desk had been pushed in place, its back butting up to the back of Frank’s desk.

   “It looks like we’re joined at the hip, brother,” Frank said.

   “I don’t think so,” Tyrone said. “This desk looks like a shack. And don’t call me brother.”

   “Don’t call you Negro and don’t call you brother?”

   “That’s right.”

   “Anything else?”

   “I’ll let you know.”

   “Let’s stop right there,” Frank said. “We need to get off the wrong foot and on the right foot. I’ll call you whatever you want to be called. I’ve got no problem with that. What I said downstairs stays downstairs. We are going to be working together. When we are on the street we have to trust one another. Most of the time it won’t matter, but sometimes it will. If we can’t or won’t watch one another’s backs, whether it matters or not, it will come back to bite us.”

   Tyrone sat at his new beat-up desk, leaning forward.

   “All right,” he said. “I can live with that. We don’t have to be friends. I get that. I’ll watch your back if you’ll watch mine.”

   “All right,” Frank said.

   “One thing you should know,” Tyrone said.

   “What’s that?”

    “I don’t like being called nigger. I hate it. It riles me up. I see red.”

   “Somebody calls you that, I will remind them you are servant of the law and deserve respect. If they disagree, we can try convincing them in other ways.”

   “What ways?”

   “Talking some sense into them might be one way. Getting in their face might be another way. Threatening them with thirty days in the hole on a trumped up charge might be the best way.”

   “It looks like I’m going to get the hang of big city police work my new partner’s way,” Tyrone laughed.

   “Where are you from?”

   “Montgomery, Alabama.”

   “That’s a big enough city.”

   “It’s small like a fishbowl when you’re one of the few black men on the city police force,” Tyrone said. “The first sheriff in Alabama was only elected nine years ago. Until D. C. imposed hiring quotas there weren’t any black uniformed state policemen. Now it’s all the way up to 5% of the force in a state where we are almost 30% of the population. In our state the governor says, ‘Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.’ He says D. C. can go to hell.”

   What Tyrone didn’t know was that Governor George Wallace had also said, “I look like a white man but my heart is as black as anyone’s.” He meant what he said, everything he said.

   “All right, let’s take a drive up to Little Italy,” Frank said.

   “That’s the launching pad, right?”

   “That’s right, but more like a shooting gallery,” Frank said. “Make sure you bring your peacemaker with you.”

Excerpted from “Bomb City.”

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Independent People

By Ed Staskus

   “I started to help in the sugar beet fields when I was 9 years old,” my mother said. “My sister Irena started helping me two years later when she turned nine.” The year was 1939 when the sisters worked together for the first time. Six years later my mother was in a refugee camp outside of Nuremberg and my aunt was on her way to a slave labor camp in Siberia. My mother was lucky Americans ran the camp she ended up in. My aunt was unlucky Russians ran the camp she ended up in. She was lucky to survive her first year, much less the next decade.

   “We worked with our father, who had a one-row horse-drawn puller.” My grandfather Jonas Jurgelaitis followed on foot behind the puller, picked up the beets, scalping the tops with a small machete, and dropped them behind him as he went. He recycled the heads for animal feed. His daughters brought up the rear, shaking dirt off the beets, and loading them into a side slat cart. When it was full he made his way to Mariampole, the nearest market town, where there was a storehouse and a train station to later take the root vegetables to a sugar beet factory. 

   Their other major crop was cabbage. They could harvest upwards of ten thousand heads an acre. When they cut the cabbage head out of the plant they left the outer leaves and root in the ground. That way they got two crops. Jonas took them to Mariampole, too.

   “My older brothers Bronius and Justinas helped handle the livestock, and they did field work and repairs. Something always needed to be fixed. My younger brothers were still growing up. My father did everything outside the house and my mother did everything inside the house. All of us worked around the clock at harvest time, even the boys.” Most of the food and drink the family of eight ate and drank came from their own fields and pastures, although their sugar beets were grown on land they rented from a neighboring childless widow.

   The farm was in the Naujeji Gizai region hallway between Lake Paezeriu and Mariampole, although it was far closer in spirit to the lake than it was to the city. Some farmers had tractors. Most farmers had draft horses. They preferred tractors, but the Great Depression had put a dent into what they preferred. Some big land owners had cars. Everybody else had a horse and carriage to get the family to church on time on Sundays.

   My grandfather kept cows, pigs, and chickens. “We made our own bread and butter, made cheese, gathered eggs, and collected berries.” There were patches of wild blueberries at the edge of their fields. Although they didn’t have a cellar, my grandmother Julija still canned pickles and beets and stored them in the well. “We raised our own pigs and my father killed them.” When the time came, Jonas selected a pig for slaughter, walked it to a clearing beside the barn, hit the animal hard between the eyes with a club hammer, and cut its throat. With the help of his two eldest sons, he cleaned and skinned the pig with a sharp knife, keeping a knife sharpener at hand.

   Once the skin was separated from the muscle and fat, he cleaned out the guts and sawed the pig’s head off. After quartering the animal, Jonas found the hip joints and slid his knife into them, cutting off the two hams. He did the same thing when cutting off the shoulders of the pig. At the center, where the ribs are, he took whatever meat he could find. They made sausages, bacon, and cured slabs of pork with salt and pepper. Jonas had built a closet around the chimney in the attic of the house, which could be gotten to by ladder. There were no stairs. He smoked the pork in the closet, laying the meat on grates, opening a damper to vent smoke into the closet. “I was scared to death of the upstairs, of the fire up there, although the pig meat was delicious,” my mother said. “When we ran out of food, my father killed another animal. He was a serious man.”

   The dining room was big enough for all of them at once. There were no chairs. There were two long benches. My mother always sat cross-legged when eating. “I was scared that a Jew would sneak under the table.” She was afraid he would bite her legs and suck her blood. “Everybody said the Jews had killed God and they drank the blood of Christians.”

   One of my mother’s chores was killing chickens for dinner. She didn’t like chopping their heads off, so she grabbed them by the neck instead and swung them in a circle around her until their necks snapped. There were barn cats and a watchdog. They chained the dog up at night. There were potatoes and fruit trees. They grew barley and summer wheat, putting in a barnful of hay every autumn. Sugar beets were my grandfather’s number one cash crop, followed by cabbage and hemp. He grew some stalks of marijuana and tobacco behind the barn. He didn’t puff on pot himself. He smoked his homegrown tobacco instead, packed in a pipe, taking a break at the end of a long hard day. 

   “I let the young men smoke their stinkweed and get silly,” he said. My grandfather got silly in a different way. He brewed his own beer and krupnickas. My grandmother didn’t smoke or drink. She kept a close eye on her husband. He kept a close eye on her, never smoking in the house. She had chronic tuberculosis, coughing and running a fever, and wasn’t long for this world.

   Making home brew is the simplest thing in the world. Sumerian farmers brewed beer from barley more than 5,000 years ago. The Codes of Hammurabi, that were the laws during the Babylonian Empire, decreed a daily beer ration to everybody from laborers to priests. Laborers got two liters a day. Priests got five liters a day. In the Middle Ages Christian monks were the artisanal beer makers of the time. Since my grandfather had water, malt and hops, and yeast within easy reach, he had beer within easy reach year-round.

   Krupnikas is a spiced honey liqueur. The Order of Saint Benedict whipped it up for the first time in the 16th century. It can be spiced with just about anything, including cardamon, cinnamon, and ginger. If they had them, farmers added lemons, oranges, and berries. Honey was essential, although not as essential as a gallon or two of 190 proof grain alcohol. There was grain as far as the eye could see, and everybody knew somebody who made moonshine, so making krupnikas full-bodied was never a problem. Lithuanians pour it down on holidays and weddings. Everybody likes a warm snort of it in the dead of winter, whether they have a cold or not.

   Next to the lowlands of central Lithuania, the carbonate soils of the west are the best. That is where my grandfather was. More than half of the country’s land area was farmland. Most of the rest of it was meadow and forest. What was left was where the towns and cities were. The agrarian reform of 1922 promoted farmsteads. Landless peasants got some acres of land, if not a mule. Most holdings, except those Polonized, were between 5 and 40 acres. The Poles were Lithuania’s rural aristocracy. My grandfather had been a landless peasant. He got 10-some acres of his own and rented more of it. During the interwar years more than 70% of the population depended on agriculture for its livelihood. In the 1930s Lithuanians fed themselves and were the source of 80% of the country’s export income. Lithuania is roughly two-thirds the size of the state of Maine. The small country was the sixth-largest butter exporter in the world.

   My grandfather didn’t know anything about the legality of cannabis. He didn’t know it was called “Sacred Grass” three thousand years ago in India. He didn’t know the Romans had used it as medicine. He didn’t know Queen Elizabeth in 1563 ordered all English land owners with 60 or more acres to grow it or face a 5 pound fine. One year later King Philip of Spain ordered cannabis be grown throughout his empire from Spain to Argentina. George Washington cultivated it at Mount Vernon and smoked it when his teeth hurt too much to bear.

   After World War One some nations began to outlaw marijuana. It became seriously illegal in the 1930s. The United States led the way. The plow breaking new ground was “Reefer Madness” and the man behind the plow was William Randolph Hearst. His chain of newspapers ran one article after another demonizing marijuana. There were articles about Mexicans gone crazy after smoking it, running around with a “lust for blood,” and articles about reefer-mad Negroes dancing to voodoo jazz music and raping white women.

   Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, turned the nativist, as well as racist, battle against marijuana into a war. “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” he said. He believed it had a bad effect on the weak-minded “degenerate races.” He was especially worried that white women might smoke it at parties and consort with black men. 

   “Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, and Filipinos,” he said. “Their satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from its usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, and entertainers, and many others. I consider it the worst of all narcotics, far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine.” The soft drink Coca-Cola contained cocaine from 1894 until 1929. It was why kids could walk five miles to school, both ways, uphill in the snow, jumping barbed wire fences. 

   The town of Gizai is situated at a crossroad. There was a small school, church, police station, hardware store, and a coffee shop in the 1930s. “We went to church every Sunday and my father went to the store whenever he needed a tool or something he couldn’t make himself,” my mother said. “When he took us along he treated us to candy at the coffee shop while he drank coffee and had a slice of lazy cake.”  

   Back on the farm everybody slept on the ground floor of the house. The bedrooms were three side rooms. One was for Jonas and Julija. One was for my mother and her sister. The third room was for the four boys. There was no electricity. The house was lit by kerosene lamps. The dining room was the biggest room. It was lit by a big kerosene lamp that was raised and lowered from the ceiling by a pulley attached to a counterweight. Everybody washed their meals down with tea. My grandfather bought tea from a German smuggler rather than pay the taxes levied on it. In the winter the fireplace was stuffed with wood and turf. The boys had the chore of making sure it never died out November through March.  Once a year a chimney cleaner came with ladders, brooms, and brushes. The sweep used a long rope attached to a weight for pushing out the soot.  

   In Washington, D. C. Harry Anslinger could blow smoke with the best of them. “Under the influence of marijuana men become beasts. It destroys life itself,” he declared. He called for a nationwide ban on the weed. Just in case anybody had missed the point, he added, “Smoking it leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing.” The top pot cop got the Marijuana Tax Act passed in 1937. It effectively made the weed illegal from coast to coast. Other countries worldwide got on the bandwagon. Even the Netherlands criminalized cannabis for a few years. The American law was declared unconstitutional in 1969, but Richard Nixon replaced it with the Controlled Substances Act the next year. Darkies couldn’t catch a break any which way.

   The Nixon administration quickly changed the name of the Controlled Substances Act to the War on Drugs. The next Republican president dragged out the big guns. “I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast,” said President Ronald Reagan. The First Lady consulted advertising executives and her astrologer and they came up with a snappy slogan: “Just Say No!” When asked what she meant she said she wasn’t talking about H-bombs but about marijuana.

   My grandparents couldn’t afford a washerwoman, so my grandmother did all the laundry. She put a tripod inside the fireplace and heated water in a copper kettle. After the clothes were washed she rinsed them in another kettle. She hung some of the clothes on a line in the attic to dry. She used a mangler on other laundry to get the wrinkles out. It was a wooden box with rollers like a wringer that squeezed and smoothed water-soaked clothes. When she was done she didn’t need any marijuana to help her relax. She fell asleep the minute she was done.

   My grandmother Julija died of tuberculosis in 1941. She had been in and out of a sanatorium in Kaunas. When she decided to go home for the last time it was to go home to die. My grandfather built an addition for her, which was a bedroom with a window. He built a new bed and stuffed a new mattress with clean straw. He moved their wedding cask to a corner of the bedroom. When the end was near he stood a coffin up beside the door. She was buried in a cemetery outside Gizai a few months before the German Army suddenly invaded.

   My grandfather Jonas died in 1947 after the Russians took the country over and collectivized everybody’s farms. The authorities told him he could keep one cow and one pig. They didn’t care about his chickens. They told him to stop growing marijuana and tobacco. All his crops had to be delivered to the state and the state would pay him whatever they thought was appropriate. He had differences with them about it, but what could he do? What he did was die soon afterwards of some kind of brain disease. His head probably exploded. Who wants to be a slave of the state? His farm disappeared down the Soviet sinkhole.

   Lithuania criminalized cannabis in 2017, a hundred years behind the times. The country was going against the grain. Almost everybody else in the world outside of China and Russia was decriminalizing it as fast as they could. They were sick of the drug gangs and lost tax revenue and prisons bulging with one-time losers. By then everybody knew marijuana didn’t make anybody sex-crazy or lust after blood. The country pivoted four years later and decriminalized small amounts for personal use. Growing any amount of jazzy stinkweed remains illegal. God forbid a seed in your personal Mason jar sprouts and flowers.

   My grandfather was a simple man with only a handful of overriding concerns, doing what had to be done, leaving the rest to take care of itself. He might have mulled the matter over on his front porch, drawing on his pipe to get it going, but I doubt he would have paid too much attention to whatever monocratic laws the boss men promulgated, unless it was at the point of a gun, regarding his farm and crops.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Cloak and Dagger

By Ed Staskus

   The police detective kept his eyes fixed on nothing. He wasn’t tall or short. He wasn’t thin or chunky, either, except when he wore a bulletproof vest, which made him look chunky. He was able-bodied, although he was near-sighted. The closer something was to him the better he saw it. When he had to, he wore brow line glasses to see far away. He kept his hair not-too-neat and didn’t shave too often. He read the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper every morning except Sunday when there was too much of it. There was hardly anything about him likely to draw anybody’s attention. When he was in some bar at the bar with a beer in front of him, a Lucky Strike smoking itself at his elbow, nobody ever gave him a second look. 

   He worked out of the third floor of the Cleveland Police Department’s Central Station at East 21st St. and Payne Ave. The Central Station had been in business for fifty years. It replaced the Champlain Street Headquarters. When it did the Plain Dealer reported, “The minute the new station opens, the ancient Champlain Avenue mausoleum of crime and rats which has been functioning as a police headquarters for perhaps twenty-five years too long will start to crumble before the wrecking engines.” Fifty years later the Central Station was in the same boat, overflowing with crime and rats.

   Frank Gwozdz looked at his bottle of beer. He took a short pull. It was getting lukewarm. It didn’t matter to him. It was only in front of him so he could hide behind it. He loosened his tie and the top button of his shirt. Mitzi Jerman was working the bar. She asked if he wanted more peanuts. “Thanks, but no,” he said. He hadn’t touched the bowl. The bar didn’t serve food, just peanuts, pretzels, and pickled eggs. He hadn’t touched anything, yet, although he might if the two gangsters stayed long enough. He was getting hungry. He knew the goon with jug ears doing all the talking had worked the numbers for Shondor Birns. He was sure enough the other one had been up to the same thing. He wondered why they were near downtown and not the near east side where the Negroes lived. That’s where their bread and butter was this time of night. 

   Jerman’s Café was on East 39th St. and St. Clair Ave., although it wasn’t actually on any street. It wasn’t in a storefront like most corner bars, and it wasn’t on a corner, either. It was on the ground floor of a house. It was set back from St. Clair Ave. with a parking lot on the side. If a drinker didn’t know the bar was there he might end up high and dry. It opened in 1908 when a Slovenian immigrant and his wife opened it. It had lived through World War One, the New Deal, World War Two,  and the 1956 Cleveland Indians World Series win, when the celebrating didn’t stop for days. It stayed open as a speakeasy during Prohibition, not missing a beat. Mitzi’s uncle smuggled booze from Canada those years, making the run across Lake Erie in a speedboat by himself. Mitzi’s mom and dad hid the rum and whiskey with neighbors whenever Elliot Ness was on the loose.

   Mitzi came back to where Frank was sitting and parked herself in front of him. “Working tonight, handsome?” she asked, drying freshly washed glasses with a bar towel. Frank wasn’t exactly handsome anymore, just like he wasn’t exactly young anymore.

   “I’m working right now,” the police detective said in a quiet voice.

   Mitzi had been born upstairs in the apartment above the bar. It was where her parents lived all their working lives. She slept in the same room she had been born in. There was a piano and a juke box in the bar. A pool table squatted near the rear. She watched Tribe games in living color on a TV set placed high up on a wall. Her pooch Rosco slept at her feet. The bar Frank was sitting at was oak, and the ceiling above him was zinc. Mitzi served Pabst, Stroh’s, and Budweiser on tap.  Everything else came in a bottle and cost more. Frank fiddled with his bottle of Schlitz.

   One of the men at the back table snapped his fingers. Mitzi looked at them. They were looking at the neighborhood girl who worked nights with Mitzi. She was a looker. Some men wanted to hang their hats on her. Mitzi sent her to their table. They ordered two more glasses of Pabst and gave her a pat on the behind for her trouble.

   “Are you working those two bums?” Mitzi asked.

   “I only work bums, and it looks like they are the only two of their kind in this place right now.”

   “Is anything going to happen in my place tonight?”

   “Not if I can help it,” he reassured her.

   Shondor Birns had run the numbers racket for years, until he was blown up on Easter Saturday outside of his favorite strip club three and a half months ago. “SHONDOR BIRNS IS BOMB VICTIM” the Cleveland Plain Dealer headline in block letters blared on March 30, 1975. The big news out of Vietnam that day was below the local lead story. “Communists capture Da Nang.” The strip club was Christie’s Lounge, where Shondor Birns spent the evening drinking and ogling the naked girls bumping and grinding. When he was good and drunk, he staggered to his Lincoln Continental parked in a lot across from St. Malachi’s Catholic Church. When he turned the key in the ignition the dynamite wired to the ignition blew up. He was blown in half, his upper body catapulted through the roof of the car. Some of him landed in the parking lot. Some of him was sling shot into the webbing of the surrounding chain link fence. Celebrants at the Easter Vigil rushed out of the church when the explosion made the stained-glass windows shake and rattle.

   The racketeer had been arrested more than fifty times since 1925 but was hardly ever convicted. He had killed several men, but no charges ever stuck. He ran a theft ring. He ran the vice resorts. He became one of Cleveland’s ‘Public Enemy No. 1.’ When he got into the protection business many small businessmen discovered they needed protection. “He was a muscleman whose specialty was controlling numbers gambling on the east side, keeping the peace among rival operators and getting a cut from each of them,” was how the Cleveland Press, the city’s afternoon newspaper, put it. “He was a feared man because of his violent reaction to any adversary.”

  What little was left of Shondor Birns was buried in Hillcrest Cemetery on April Fool’s Day. He was officially gone. They had taken his picture down from the top row of the big board at the Central Station. Somebody had taken his place, even though the mystery man’s picture wasn’t on the board, yet. The policy games weren’t going to stop with Shondor Birns gone. His fast fists hadn’t been fast enough to save him. The next boss was taking care of business. Frank wanted to know who that was.

   When the two men at the back table got up and left, Frank got up and left, too. They got into a green Plymouth Duster. He wasn’t going to have any trouble following it. He got into his unmarked Ford Crown Victoria. The dark blue car wasn’t much to look at, since it looked like every other unmarked police car in the country, but no other car was going to outrun it if it came to a chase. The Duster drove to East 55th St,, turned on Euclid Ave, and at Mayfield Rd. turned again going up the hill to Little Italy. They parked behind Guarino’s Restaurant and went in the back door. Frank parked five spaces away, near the entrance to the lot.

   He turned the car off. He was hungry but didn’t go inside right away. He thought about going home. Nobody had assigned him this shadow job. He had taken it upon himself. He could go home anytime he wanted to but he didn’t want to go home. He wanted to see his kid but didn’t want to see his wife. She had been getting unhappier by the day since the day she stopped nursing their boy. That was three years ago. She was miserable at home and had taken to drinking. Frank threw away every bottle he found hidden away somewhere, but he never found the last bottle. He could smell it on her breath every day when he got home.

   She was eleven years younger than Frank. He knew it was a mistake but at the time he hadn’t been able to control himself. She had gotten to be sneaky and patronizing. She complained about him being a policeman. She complained about his unpredictable hours. She complained about his pay and how he dressed. When he tried to explain the dress code behind being an undercover man, she was condescending about it, calling him “you poor dear man.” They didn’t kiss anymore, much less talk much. She complained about the housework, even though she did less and less of it. She had started to neglect their child, leaving the boy with a teenaged babysitter those afternoons she went to the Hippodrome.

   “What’s at the Hippodrome?” he asked.

   “Movies,” she said.

   The Hippodrome had the second largest stage in the world when it was built in 1907. It was in an eleven-story office building with theater marquees and entrances on both Prospect Ave. and Euclid Ave. in the heart of downtown. It hosted plays, operas, and vaudeville until the movies took over. After that it was all celluloid. It became the country’s biggest theater showing exclusively big screen fare. A new air conditioning system pumped in cold water from Lake Erie, keeping everybody cool on sweltering summer nights.

   Frank tailed her there one day. She went to the Hippodrome but didn’t go to the movies. She went downstairs to the lower-level pool hall. She walked to the back and through a door marked “Private.”

   “What’s behind that door?” he asked one of the pool players.

   “The boss is behind that door,” the pool player said.

   “Would that be Danny Vegh?”

   “Naw, this is Danny’s joint, but Vince runs the place. Why all the questions?”

   “No reason, just curious.”

   “If you want to see Vince, you don’t want to right now. He’s got a woman in there and it’s going to be some time before they finish up their business.”

   “Thanks pal,” Frank said. “How about a game of nine ball?”

   An hour later and twenty dollars the worse for wear, Frank gave up. His wife was still in Vince’s office. The door was still shut tight. He walked out and up the stairs to Euclid Ave. He crossed the street, leaned against a light pole, and lit a Lucky Strike. His wife walked into broad daylight a half hour later. A car pulled up to the curb and she got into the front seat. Frank followed the car to their home in North Collinwood. The car pulled into the driveway. His wife got out and went in the front door. The car drove away.

   “Son of a bitch,” Frank muttered to himself. It was looking to him like she was a gal gone over to monkey business. She had promised him at the altar more than he was getting. He wasn’t getting any of her love, for sure. He could kill her for what she was doing, except for the kid. He might kill her anyway. There was more than enough room in the backyard for an unmarked grave. He would plant poison ivy to mark the spot.

   Frank’s stomach grumbled. He was hungry as a flatfoot at the end of a long day. He hadn’t popped even a single peanut into his mouth at Jerman’s Café. He could eat at the trattoria and keep an eye on the two goons at the same time. He got out of the Crown Victoria, locked it, and walking through the vineyard patio went into Guarino’s. The restaurant had been around since before the 1920s. A Sicilian family ran it then and the same Sicilian family ran it now. It had been redecorated in a Victorian style in 1963, but the décor didn’t affect the food. Mama Guarino led him to a two-top table. He ordered veal saltimbocca. The waitress brought him half a carafe of chianti. He took his time eating, making sure his wife would be asleep when he got home.

   He had always thought there was nothing more romantic than Italian food. He wasn’t feeling romantic tonight, but at least the food was delicious. He took a bite of veal and gulped down a forkful of angel hair. No man could love a cheater and not pay the price for it. Things fall apart when they’re held together by lies. His thoughts grew dark. He filled his wine glass with red relief and drank it slowly thoughtfully.

Excerpted from “Bomb City.”

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

One Way Street

By Ed Staskus

   When Agnes was a kid, everybody said her mom was the best-looking woman on the hill. Eva Giedraityte’s hair was soft, not stiff like the neighbor ladies, and she colored it champagne blond instead of the brassy yellow and bleached white that was popular. She was shapely with long legs, not skinny or fleshy, or too tall, but taller than her husband. When she walked, even when she was doing housework, she moved like a ballerina with woman-sized hips. 

   They lived on a bluff above the factories on Euclid Avenue, in the Euclid Villas, on the western edge of the North Chagrin parkland, just a few miles from the Lithuanian neighborhood where Eva grew up. In the summer Eva Agnes and Sammy went picnicking in the reservation at Squires Castle and hiked through the forest at Strawberry Lane. The park butted up to their backyard so that they were almost a part of it. Theirs was the end road in the neighborhood and there were deer that rubbed on the tree bark, raccoons that snuck into their attic, and low-down sneaky possums in the woods where they played the knocking game at night.

   Eva always had to be doing something. Whether she was dancing or not she moved like she had never heard there isn’t anything that isn’t set to music. She sang all the time, even though she was tone deaf. At house parties all the husbands except hers wanted to be her partner.

   “There’s no punch to it,” Nick grumbled. He boxed Golden Gloves when he was younger. He was Saxon Romanian and liked small steps in place, rapidly changing steps, tapping and syncopated steps.

    Eva knew all the smooth moves, like the Foxtrot and Waltz, her favorites, and even honky-tonk twisting. She had studied ballet and danced with a Lithuanian folk group. She was tireless and never had to catch her breath, although she wouldn’t dance with just anyone, only with some of the men. “Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance,” she said winking and gliding away with whoever knew how to lead.

   When they went to weddings, she was on the ballroom floor all night, waltzing and trotting, but Anna MacAulay, her best friend, knew she never got in the middle of anybody married, like some other women, because that’s not what she wanted. She wanted to talk and dance the room down and have a good time. Eva knew how to forget everything, even herself, but not the life bubbling up inside her.

   She did all the shopping and housework. Before she had a car, she took buses and taxis to the grocery store. She made breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the three of them, and sometimes for Nick, too, if he wasn’t gone already. He worked all day, and when he wasn’t working, he was playing golf. He wasn’t around the house much.

   He didn’t work around the house or even go outside and do yard work. He hired kids to mow the lawn in the summer, rake leaves in the fall, and shovel snow in the winter. They were the only neighbors he knew or liked on the street, and they liked him because he always paid them on the spot with Lincolns.

   Whenever anything had to be repaired, he called Sears, and the next day a van would pull up in their driveway and the Sears man would ring the doorbell. Even though he had a Craftsman toolbox in the basement, the only thing they ever saw Nick do tool-wise was change a light switch pull chain once, although he didn’t need a Craftsman to do it. 

   After Sammy got the first of his two-wheelers and they started bending breaking falling apart because of his Evel Knievel smash-ups he lugged them to Alex Newman for repairs. He was a big man with a radish-looking nose and worked in a factory. He knew how to fix everything.

   “What did you kids do today? And you better have done something,” Alex usually said, waving and rubbing his hairy hands together, pulling open the garage door, flipping the bike upside down on a workbench and taking care of whatever was wrong with it. Nick couldn’t pump up their bike tires when they were low because he didn’t know where the inflator was in the maze that the garage was to him.

   He was hardly ever home for dinner, even on weekends. But he was always in his chair for the “Ed Sullivan Show” at eight o’clock Sunday night, right after they finished watching the “Wonderful World of Disney.” He looked forward to the comedians like Jackie Mason, Charlie Callas, and Senor Wences, but not the singers, especially not the Supremes, or any of the other Negro groups. He would go to the kitchen or the bathroom whenever they were announced and only come back when he heard Ed Sullivan’s slow voice again.  

   The most unfunny man Agnes ever saw on television was Ed Sullivan. He stood in the middle of the screen like a cigar-store Indian, arms folded across his gray suit lapels, his no personality eyes sunk into their late-night dark bags. 

   “And now introducing on the shoe…” he said after the commercials were over, shifting his weight from one leg to the other, while Nick sank back into his sofa.

   Eva made dinner at 5:30 sharp every day, as though Nick was at the head of the table like the other fathers on the street, which he hardly ever was. From the steps of their front porch Agnes could see, if she wanted to, Mr. MacAulay, Mr. Holloway, and Mr. Newman coming home from work. Her friends ran slapping feet out of their houses as their fathers came up the walk from their garages. 

   That almost never happened at their house.  

   Whenever they knew for sure Nick was on time on his way home, they walked to the far end of Hillcrest, and then to Grand Boulevard and to the blue collection mailbox on the corner. They lay on the sloping lawn of the Robinson house and looked for his car to come up the hill. Eva liked to say good things come to those who wait, but Agnes wanted him to come home so bad she couldn’t sit still, running back-and-forth.

   “Waiting wears out my patience,” she said when Eva called her back to the lawn, telling her to be patient. 

   “I just don’t have a lot of it, and it runs out fast the more I have to wait.”

   The nights Nick was at dinner, instead of spaghetti and meatballs or the Dutch Oven chicken they liked best, Eva did up beef brisket. She busted the family food budget, Nick being near to stingy, taking a taxi to Fazio’s, the big grocery store. He munched on crudités and dip before dinner and afterwards his favorite dessert was apple pie with cheddar cheese on it. Sammy and Agnes weren’t big fans, so they nibbled on hard-boiled eggs floating in mayonnaise, and Eva made sure there was Neapolitan ice cream for them after dinner.

   Celery was Nick’s all-time favorite food, which caused a commotion one summer. Eva wanted a new dress fabric she had seen in a McCall’s sewing pattern and started skimming from the grocery money Nick gave her on paydays. He didn’t notice anything until the week she didn’t buy celery. Nick’s brother Tomas was living with them that summer, painting their house for more than two months, and sleeping on a foam mattress in the laundry room. 

   Uncle Tom and Nick both made lists of what they liked to eat and gave the lists to Eva so she would know what they wanted. Before Tom came, she always made barbecue chicken for Sammy and Agnes on Friday nights, in Kraft’s Original Sauce, but she didn’t that summer after Tom told Nick BBQ was out. Eva knew celery was Nick’s special food, but she thought he wouldn’t miss it for a week. What she didn’t know was that celery was Tom’s favorite, too, because she always threw his list away without looking at it.

   “How could you forget the celery? What were you thinking?” was all she heard from them day after day until Uncle Tom finally moved out the Labor Day weekend before school started.

   “I didn’t stop to think,” she told him, smiling and shuffling, “and then I forgot.” She didn’t tell him about the dress fabric she bought, especially after she sewed the dress and he never noticed how she looked in it.

   Nick ate part of an ice-cold Hershey bar every day. He kept it in the freezer and always knew how much was left. If he suspected any was missing his eyes got small and fixed and he complained to Eva about it.  Sammy and Agnes hardly ever ate any of it because they knew he would be grumpy, and besides, they knew what it was like to come home looking forward to something that wasn’t there.

  Nick loved coffee, too, but not the drinking kind. He kept gobs of coffee ice cream in the freezer, coffee yogurt in the fridge, and coffee nibs in the kitchen cupboard, and no one was allowed to touch any of those, either.

   They had breakfast together more often than their pop-less dinners. But before they were allowed to eat Nick passed out piles of vitamins. They would push the pills into order and then sit looking at them while he drank apple cider vinegar from one glass and black strap molasses from another.

   The first one down the gullet was vitamin A, then vitamin E, while the worst ones they saved for last. Lecithin was a horse pill. Agnes hated it. The yeast, kelp, and liver she swallowed fast, the narky flavors sliding over her tongue. Zinc and garlic were bad later in the day because she couldn’t help burping them up. The desiccated liver was not the worst. The worst thing before Eva brought food to the table was the huge tablespoon of pale-yellow cod liver oil they had to swallow. Their mother secretly slipped drops of lemon into it so they wouldn’t throw up.

   Eva had to get on the bandwagon, too, but she got a Wheateena Juicer for the wheels. She told Nick she couldn’t get the pills down, and needed smoothies and vegetable potions. She told Sammy and Agnes the machine digested everything ahead of time and all they had to do was drink it. She squeezed oranges, and added apples, beets, wheatgrass, and even ice cubes in the summer. Sometimes she would halve carrots on the long side and slide them down the chute into the auger, but then Agnes drank the juice holding her nose since she hated carrots.

   One of the last times she ever ate cooked carrots was when she had a mess of them in her mouth at dinner but wouldn’t swallow them. She had had enough. She felt like she was going to gag and choke. Eva got mad when she saw Agnes’s mouth at a standstill and made her stand in the corner. She still wouldn’t swallow, until Eva finally let her spit the orange paste into her hands, and then clean up at the kitchen sink.

   The only thing worse was koseliena, which their grandmother served every time the few times they went to their house. Eva’s parents had disowned her for marrying a man not Lithuanian ten years her senior. The no-go rules had been since relaxed. Koseliena is chopped organ meat set in cold gelatin with horse radish on the side. It is like meat headcheese Jello. Agnes always said, “I don’t want to try it.” She always had to try it. She always knew she was going to throw up.

   “You should eat your vegetables,” Eva said. “They’re good for you, for your eyes.” Agnes’s eyes were going bad. They were going out of focus, like a screwed-up telescope. She needed glasses.

   “Carrots aren’t vegetables, they’re roots,” she retorted. “I don’t care about seeing in the dark, why should I care, it’s still dark, there’s nothing to see, and I just really, really hate carrots.” Eva gave her the belt after that. Nick never hit the children. It was always Eva. She never said wait until your father gets home because they would have said, “Who?”

   Eva got married because her three sisters slept in the second bedroom while she slept on a daybed, because her mother was always bossing her around, and because she was a free spirit. She only waited until the day she was one minute older than eighteen to get married. She loved sleeping in her own bed in her own room in her own house.

   Nick was always busy selling ball bearings and hitting golf balls so that they only ever went on two family vacations. Eva took Agnes to a Lithuanian summer camp, but it wasn’t meant to be. Her older sister was a bigwig in the community and had the blood of her parents in her veins. She was a bigwig at the camp, too.

   Eva drove her Mercedes, the top down, Agnes’s bags tossed into the trunk, laughing and singing to the camp. It was in Michigan, farmland all around, outside a small town, which is Manchester. The summer camp had been there since the early 1960s when the American Lithuanian Roman Catholic Federation bought 200-some acres for it. They wouldn’t let her stay, though, because Agnew didn’t speak Lithuanian. It was the most alone she ever felt walking back to the car. Eva was sure her sister’s hand was behind it. She spun gravel turning around. Eva was so mad she got two speeding tickets going home, one in Michigan and one in Ohio.

   Before they went to Fredericksburg, they went to Niagara Falls with Bob Bliss, pop’s golf buddy who they had never seen before, and his wife and their little girl. Eva asked Nick to put them up on the Canadian side so they could walk in Queen Victoria Park and Table Rock Point on top of the waterfall. But he wanted to play golf on the American side, so they stayed in New York at a roadside motel with a pool out front.  

   Agnes had gotten a new bathing suit for the vacation, a blue cotton gingham pinafore with elasticized puffy bottoms. Friday morning after breakfast Bob and Nick went golfing and they went to the pool. Sammy played with something he was inventing. Eva sat on the lip of the pool with her legs scissoring watching Agnes paddling back and forth.  

   The bottom of the pool was robin egg blue and the sun felt like a fuzzy electric blanket. By the time she saw the black bug floating on the water in front of her it was too late. She skimmed over it and felt it get under her bib and bite her on the stomach. It stung like crushed red peppers. Eva helped her out of the water and laid her down on the scratchy concrete and they watched a red welt rise on her stomach. 

   “I don’t like looking at sores,” the little Bliss girl said looking down at Agnes.

   Sammy and she were dying to go to the arcades and Ripley’s Believe It or Not across the bridge in Canada. They begged Nick to take them to the odditorium. In the travel brochure it looked like a fallen over Empire State Building with King Kong on the side of it. But he went golfing again the next day and they had to go bowling. She was only seven, but Eva found pint-sized black bowling shoes for her, and a blue marbleized ball she could push at the pins. After twenty minutes Agnes felt like her arm was going to fall off. 

   “One thing about bowling that’s better than golf is you never lose a bowling ball,” Bob Bliss guffawed.  

   They had dinner that night at Michael’s Italian Restaurant. Eva and Nick had liver and onions and they ate all the American cheese and salami from the antipasto plate, and the chicken fingers, hot dogs, and French fries, too, except for the slices of them Sammy tested for floatability in his glass of Sprite. Agnes didn’t drink soda, but Eva let Sammy have his because he liked the lime flavor.

   “Taste its tingling tartness,” he said, slurping it up his straw.

   “Our little bub is starting to tingle. Is there really no pick-me-up in that?” Agnes asked her mother.

   The next morning Eva put out a bread pan of congealed scrapple she had brought with her, slicing it into squares, and frying it on the hot plate in their room.  She made it from pork scraps, everything but the oink, she said, with cornmeal, and mixed in spices. 

   Nick called Eva’s scrapple pon haus. It was a salty meat cracker. “Shoofly pie and apple pandowdy,” he sang, standing next to Eva as she mixed in scrambled eggs and ketchup. “Makes your eyes light up, your tummy says howdy, makes the sun come out, when heavens are cloudy.”

   Perched on the top deck of the Maid of the Mist later that afternoon they set sail for the Horseshoe Falls. Sammy and Agnes hung on the rail at the front of the boat, their faces wet in the swell and noise. Agnes thought about Moe singing his Niagara Falls song in the Three Stooges movies Sammy and she watched Saturday mornings.

   “Slowly I turn, step by step, inch by inch,” Moe purred, leaning away from Larry, looking sideways at Curly, his eyes slits of mischief and mayhem.

   Everybody on the boat was wearing a blue rain poncho just like everybody else. Even though it was a sunny day they were being rained on. When the boat ricocheted turning in the turmoil at the edge of the falls, Agnes mixed up Mrs. Bliss and Eva, grabbing the wrong hand, Eva snatching at her other hand. She was pulled up on her toes between them.

   Eva learned to swim when her mother took her out on Lake Erie and threw her off their rowboat. But they didn’t have a boat, so Agnes didn’t know how to swim, only paddle like a dog. Eva never taught her how and Nick was too busy to take her to the city pool.

   Afterwards, Nick picked them up at the dock, they stopped at HoJo’s for a dinner of beans and sweet brown bread, and drove straight home, the sun sinking into the twilight ahead of them.

   While Sammy napped with his head lolling in her lap, she looked at her leather moccasin change purse. The Shoshone Indians had sewed it. It was studded with green, red, and pink glass seed beads. Marcia her best friend brought back souvenirs from her family vacations, the change purse from Yellowstone, a gold-trimmed Ghost Town cowboy hat from Lake George, and a “Don’t Mess with Texas” t-shirt from the Alamo. 

   Five years later coming home from Fredericksburg from their second family vacation Agnes kept her eyes down while Sammy stared at his reflection in the back-door window. Their parents were at it again, cutting and slashing each other up all the way home while Sammy and she fidgeted in the back seat.

   “I give you cash, so when I say don’t use the credit card, I mean don’t use the credit card,” Nick insisted.

   “But you don’t give me enough cash,” Eva told him.

   “That’s what I give you the credit card for,” he told her.

   “But you’re telling me not to use the credit card, to wait until you give me cash, which you don’t do,” she said.

   They argued and fought about money from Hagerstown to Youngstown, loud and mean, until they finally ran out of steam. Later, after nightfall and a gas station stop, Nick started up again. He laid down the law and insisted she promise to never use the credit card. He said she was ruining them by spending all the family money, and their nest egg, too. Sammy and Agnes didn’t know what that was and didn’t ask.

   “I’ll just charge it,” was one of Eva’s favorite things to say as she slid her Diner’s Club card out of her purse.

   “Doesn’t that sound weird to you?” she asked, twisting across the car seat towards the children. “He wants me to put food on the table, clothes on your back, and fill up the piggybank with money he never gives us. What do you think about that?”

   Nick said people were putting things into head, and Eva said her head would be empty as pie in the sky if it wasn’t for her friends and college professors.

   Agnes stared at the change purse she had filled with pebbles from the Fredericksburg battlefields. The closer they got to home the more Eva and Nick argued. He said he brought home the bacon. She said he had bacon for brains. Every twenty thirty miles he threatened to throw her out of the car. 

   “Get out of the car or I’ll throw you out” he yelled, mashing down on the gas pedal, even though they were already going faster than all the other cars. But he didn’t throw her out. When they got home, he slept on the sofa downstairs for a week until he made up with Eva, but they were never the same again

   Eva started taking classes at the college downtown when Agnes was eight years old. Nick didn’t want her going to Cleveland State University, and he didn’t want her going downtown, where the school was, even though he worked near downtown and ate lunch there every day.

   “I don’t like you going downtown,” he said.

   “What about you?”

   “That’s different.”

   Eva and Agnes went downtown every week, Tuesdays and Thursdays for Agnes’s ballet lessons, and Wednesdays for white gloves and party manners classes at Higbee’s. Sometimes they stopped at the Hippodrome, where there was a movie house, and said hello to Vince. He had an office next to the poolroom in the basement. Eva explained he was the man in charge. He wore a brown suit and always gave them something to drink, ice water for Agnes, and something in a fancy glass for Eva.

   Afterwards they stayed and saw a movie with the free tickets Vince gave them. They saw “Jaws” and “The Sting” and “Live and Let Die.” Agnes loved the big screen. She loved Roger Moore.

   Nick and Eva loved each other once, but it had drained away. One night at dinner they got into an argument. Eva bolted from the table and went upstairs. Nick followed her. Sammy and Agnes could hear them in their bedroom, screaming at each other in foreign languages. Suddenly there was a loud crash. Eva came running down and ran to Anna MacAulay’s house. Nick came downstairs after she was gone and told them everything was all right. He sat by the back window the rest of the night and stared into the ravine.

   When they went upstairs, they looked in the bedroom and saw a hole in the wall. A potato masher was lying on the floor. They found out later he had thrown it at her but missed. It lay on the floor until the next day when Eva came home. She cleaned up the dinner table, did the dishes, and put the potato masher away. 

   Anna came over the next day when Nick was at work. Eva packed a suitcase and told them she would be gone for a few days. She took them into the kitchen and showed them the food she had prepared in casserole dishes and explained how to heat it up. Agnes had a hollow leg in those days and could eat as much as she wanted and never gain weight.

   “I’ll be back Monday,” Eva said.

   But she didn’t come back Monday, or the rest of the next week. She finally came back two weeks later, on a Tuesday, just after Agnes had gotten home from school.

   “Mom, we’re almost out of food,” she said.

   They found out she wasn’t ever coming back when she took them to Helen Hutchley’s for ice cream. They sat in a booth in the back. Agnes had strawberry swirl on a plate, Sammy had tin roof in a cone, and Eva had two scoops of butterscotch in a cup. She told them things weren’t going good at home, which they knew, and then she said she was leaving Nick for good and moving downtown. 

   “How can you do that to him?” Agnes asked, even though she didn’t like her father as much as she did her mother, who she loved more than anything. Sammy put his cone of tin roof down on a napkin and wrapped his short arms around her.

   “Whatever you want to do, mom, whatever you think is best,” he said. 

   But Agnes was mad and started to cry. “Finish your ice cream, peanut,” Eva said, so she did, before it melted.

   They lived with Nick for a year after Eva left, but afterwards moved downtown with her. It was hard at home. Agnes never had to do anything when the family was together. Eva had done everything, so it was a chore for her to do anything. She tried cleaning and cooking but it was a rough go. She couldn’t keep up at school. Sometimes she sat inside her closet in the middle of the day, hiding. She was bitter that her father never helped her, either. He was always gone, no matter what happened.

   After they moved away, and moved into a new modern apartment building, the Park Centre on Superior Ave., she only ever had to help her mother with the dishes. It was Sammy and Agnes and Eva, the Three Musketeers again. Nick had never been one of the Musketeers. He was never going to be one.

   Agnes did better in school. She made new friends. She didn’t sit in closets anymore

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Being Three Isn’t Easy

By Ed Staskus

   The day push came to shove I had no idea what was going on. I was born 9 months 7 days and some hours after my mom and dad were done with the art of romance on a smile of a summer night. The day before I was born everything was so far so good. I was curled up warm and cozy in my mom’s womb. But before the day ended I was unexpectedly twisting and turning. I was restless all evening. The next thing I knew my mom and dad were in a taxi in the middle of the night on their way to the hospital.

   I was born in the Sudbury General Hospital of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Everybody called it ‘The General.’ The hospital had opened the year before. There were 200 beds, and it was modern as could be. The Sisters of St. Joseph used their own money to get northern Ontario’s first English-speaking hospital built. They mortgaged their properties to get the loan for the construction.

   “They used to do this cool thing,” Ginette Tobodo, a Sudbury mother, said. “On the walls they painted certain colors, one color for the lab, another color for the cardiac department, and you just followed the color to where you needed to go. It was easy to find your way around.” My dad was sure I was going to be a boy, so he followed the color blue. It took him to the cardiac department where he explained he was going to have a heart attack if he didn’t find the maternity ward.

   In the end, when I was born a boy, he was on cloud nine. Courtney Lapointe’s three brothers were born at the same hospital. She was down in the dumps every time. “I wanted a sister so bad, I bawled my eyes out at the hospital when each one of the boys was born.”

   Being born is no business for babies. It’s a man’s job. When the squeezing and pushing were all over, and I looked around, I didn’t see anything recognizable. There were plenty of colors and shapes. The colors and shapes moved and made sounds. Everything more than a foot away was a mystery. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I was washed and swaddled and went to sleep. After I woke up I wanted to suck on something. When I smelled my mother’s milk I liked the smell and taste of it.

   My parents had moved to a new house on a new length of Stanley Street. It was just west of downtown, and dead ended at a cliff face of nearly 2-billion-year-old rock. My mom and dad had emigrated to Canada in the late 1940s, like many other Lithuanians after World War Two. Canada was admitting DP’s who were willing to do the dirty work. My dad was a miner for INCO. He loaded bore holes with black powder charges and stood back.  My mom had been a nanny for a family of 13 but was now her own homemaker.

   Sudbury is not a large city, but it is the largest city in northern Ontario. It is about 70 miles north of the Georgian Bay and about 250 miles northwest of Toronto. There are 330 lakes within the city limits. It came into being after the discovery of useful ore in 1883. The Canadian Pacific Railway was being constructed when excavations revealed vast stores of nickel and copper on the edge of the Sudbury Basin. Something crashed there from outer space a long time ago. Few craters are as old or as large anywhere on the planet. It wasn’t long before mines were being dug and settlers were arriving to work in the mines. 42,000 people lived there the year I was born.

   My first two years of life after coming home were uneventful. In the event, I couldn’t remember much of what happened from day to day, much less the week before. I was like a yogi living in the moment. I was about two and a half years old before I came into my own. I started busting out of my toddler bed so often my dad put a lock on it.    

   I found out there were rules. One rule was no climbing on the radiators. Another rule was no going into the basement. The basement was where the coal-fired boiler was. A third rule was absolutely no scaling the rock cliffs at the back end of our backyard.

   “Behave, or Baubas will come and get you,” my mom repeatedly warned me.

   Baubas is an evil spirit from Lithuania with bloodshot eyes, long skinny arms, and wrinkly fingers. He came from the Old World to Canada with the DP’s to keep their kids in line. He wears a dark hat and hides his face. He supposedly slept in our basement behind the octopus furnace. According to my mom he kept a close watch on my behavior. I had never seen him and never wanted to see him. Whenever I balked at eating my beet soup, my mom would knock on the underside of the kitchen table, pretending somebody was knocking on the door, and say, “Here comes Baubas. He must know there’s a child here who won’t eat his soup.”

   When I told my friend Lele about Baubas, she laughed and tried to steal my security blanket. Lele lived one block over on Beatty St. We played together every day when we weren’t fighting. Whenever we fought it was always about my blanket. Whenever I was hard on her heels trying to get it back, she waited to the last minute before laughing maniacally, tossing it to the side, and running even faster, knowing full well I would rescue my blanket first before trying to exact revenge on her.

   Most of my friends were Lithuanian kids like her. The man who built our house lived across the street in a house he built for his own family. He was French Canadian. Sudbury was the hub of Franco-Ontarian culture. He had two sons who were my age. We ran up and down the street playing make believe. There weren’t many cars and even less traffic. The Palm Dairies milk delivery truck rolled up the street every morning going about 5 MPH. The driver drove standing up. The throttle and brake were on the steering column. Their bottles of chocolate milk had tabs on the top through which a straw could be stuck. In the wintertime we skated in our yards when our fathers flooded them to make rinks. Sometimes in the morning in the sunlight hoarfrost sizzled. We practiced falling down and trying to get back up hundreds of times a day. I only spoke Lithuanian. My two friends spoke French and English. I learned to speak English from them. They said French was for art critics.

    They slept over one Monday night when their parents went out to dinner and later to a wrestling match at the INCO Club. Dinty Parks and Rocco Colombo were the gladiators that night. They bumped heads hard in the third round, and both went down. Rocco shook it off but was drop kicked by Dinty when he tried to get up. The next second Dinty got the same treatment from Rocco. It went back and forth, each man pinning the other for a two-count until the referee finally called it a draw. When he did the two wrestlers violated one of the most holy canons of pro wrestling by shaking hands before leaving the ring. Nobody in the audience could believe it.

   Sometime after our dinner my two friends showed me what they had brought with them. They were magic markers. We drew a picture of Baubas pierced with arrows. We drew a picture of him running on the Canadian Pacific tracks behind our house being chased by a raging locomotive. We drew a picture of him hitchhiking out of town in the direction of Gogama way up north.

   “Do you remember the mean green dinosaur?” my friend Frankie asked. His name was Francois, but he got red in the face whenever anybody called him that. We had seen “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” earlier that summer at the Regent Theatre on Elm St. We walked there with some older boys and girls and paper bags full of popcorn my mom popped for us. We sat in the front row so we could see as much as possible. The movie was about a hibernating dinosaur woken up by an atomic bomb test. When he wakes up he becomes ferocious. He ends up in New York City where he terrorizes everything and everybody.

   When we got tired of drawing pictures they convinced me to strip down to my skivvies and drew wavy lines all over me with a green magic marker. They drew a life-size dot on the tip of my nose. When they heard my mom outside the door the next thing I knew the marker was in my hand and my mom was demanding an explanation from me. I tried to tell her it wasn’t my fault, but my mom had no patience for explaining and complaining.

   “Go wash that off,” she said and pointed to the bathroom.

   The green marker, however, wouldn’t wash off. The ink was indelible. I called to my friends for help, and although they tried they were more hurt than help. They scrubbed enthusiastically until those parts of me not green were red with irritation. When they were done I was red and green all over.

   The tenth or twelfth time I climbed on a chair on the sly to get on top of the radiator to look out the side window was the time I lost my balance and went over the side. I stuck my arm out to break my fall and broke my collarbone. Before I knew it I was on my way back to ‘The General.’ I had to wear a sling for two weeks. That wasn’t the worst of it, though.

   My mom never bought anything from the Rawleigh salesman who went door to door selling snake oils. The next time he knocked on our door she did buy something, however. It was a bottle of PolyMusion, a yellow syrup with a horrible orange rind after taste. The Rawleigh man said it was a cure-all. There was no hiding when my mom came looking for me with a tablespoon of the thick liquid. She was nice enough afterwards to serve me blueberries soaking in a bowl of Multi-Milk.

   My brother was born when I was a year and a half old. After he got home our mom unretired our enameled diaper pail. When the time came his poop got scooped away and his diapers went into the pail to soak in water and bleach. The pail had a lid. We were thankful for that. When he went off his liquid diet after six months she put him on baby pablum, which was like sweet-tasting instant mashed potatoes.

   I was feeling better by Canada Day, what everybody called Firecracker Day. One of the bad boys on Stanley Street got his hands on a pack of Blockbuster firecrackers. They were five inches long and a half inch in diameter. “Do not hold in hand after lighting” was printed on top of the 4-pack. We snuck behind the last house on the other side of the street and behind some bushes at the base of the cliff. One of us had brought an old bushel basket and another of us brought an old teddy bear. The bear had a hard rubber face. We lit a Blockbuster, turned the basket upside down over it, and ran to the side. The Blockbuster blew the basket to smithereens. When it was the teddy bear’s turn we pushed a Blockbuster into a rip in his belly and ran to the side. The blast blew the stuffing out of the bear, which caught fire, some of it starting the bushes on fire. The man who lived in the last house put the fire out with his lawn hose. There was hell to pay up and down Stanley Street that night.

   No matter how many times I was warned to stay away from the rock cliffs was as many times I went scuttling up them. There were Canadian Pacific tracks at the top that curled around the backside of Stanley Street. One day I was exploring and lost track of time. My pockets were full of black pebbles by the time I realized what time it was. One of them was different. It was a shiny pinkish gray. Sudbury’s rock, which was everywhere, wasn’t naturally black. It was naturally pale gray. Smelter emissions contain sulphur dioxide and metal particulates. Sulphur dioxide mixed with atmospheric moisture creates acid rain that corrodes rock. A coating of silica gel trapped particulates that coated the rock black as pitch.

   I ran home, jumped the railroad tracks, and scrambled down the rock face. When I burst through the back door into the kitchen I saw my mom sitting at the kitchen table. She looked distressed.

   “Where have you been?” she asked, angry. “I’ve been looking for you for hours. I was worried sick.” She looked like she wanted to hit me. I pulled the shiny rock from my pocket.

   “I was searching for treasure,” I said. “I found this. It’s for you.” After that everything was forgiven, thank God.

   The day I screwed up my courage to find out what was down in the basement was the day I turned clumsy stunt man. My dad was blasting rock deep in the mines and my mom was taking a nap on the sofa. My brother was in a rocking baby Moses basket next to the sofa. He had been crying his head off lately and the only thing that stopped the flood of tears was the basket. One of my mom’s arms was over her face and her other arm was unconsciously rocking the basket. I snuck past to the basement door. I quietly opened the door. I took a step down, which turned out  to be a misstep, and tumbled down the rest of the stairs to the bottom. When I came to a stop after backflipping the last step I was surprised I hadn’t cried or screamed. I was also surprised to find I was unhurt. I looked in all directions for Baubas. I thought I saw something move in the shadows. I heard hissing and whispering. It felt like something was pulling my hair. I raced back up the stairs and burst into the living room. I was in a cold sweat. My mom was still asleep. My brother opened his eyes and winked at me.

   When I looked behind me there was no Baubas anywhere in sight. I closed and fastened the door to make sure. I needed fresh air. I went outside and sat on the front steps. Frankie and his younger brother Johnny came over. Johnny was short for Jean. The towhead had a dime in his hand.

   “Look what I found,” he said. A sailboat was on one side of the coin and King George VI was on the other side.

   “Let’s go to the candy store,” Frankie said, taking the dime. There was a store around the corner on Elm St.

   “There’s a monster in our basement,” I told Frankie and Johnny while we were walking there. “We almost got into a fight.”

   “I have nightmares about an unstoppable monster,” Johnny said. 

   “The way to fight monsters is with your brain, not your fists,” Frankie said.

   “How do you do that?” I asked.

   “You think up a plan.”

   “What’s thinking?” I asked.  

   “It’s what you do with your brain,” he said. “No problem can stand up to thinking.”

   Frankie was almost a year older than me and knew everything. Johnny was half a year younger than me. He didn’t know much. He stared at the dime not in his hand anymore. I liked what Frankie said. I could stay out of the basement but still do battle with scary old Baubas. I couldn’t wait to get home and outwit the monster. I was going to think him back to where he came from.

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Rocket from the Tombs

By Ed Staskus

   Tommy Monk had an alarm clock on the stand next to his bed, but except for Saturdays and Sundays he never set it. When 5:30 in the morning happened, he knew his dad would be coming through the door making him get up. He was more commanding than the clock. It was Sunday July 6, 1975, and since it was, he had set his alarm clock the night before. His dad always slept in on weekends, snoring his head off, reading the newspaper the rest of the morning, catching up on that week’s news, and drinking a pot of coffee. His mom was up at the crack of dawn making meat pies and casseroles for the rest of the week.

   His mom was from the Baltics. She grew up on a family farm. His dad was from Finland. He grew up in a city. They met in Espoo after she escaped her Russian overlords. She got away across the East Sea in a stolen rowboat. When they got their green cards after the new American immigration law came into effect in 1964, they emigrated to the United States, to Lakewood, Ohio. Tommy was a blue-eyed one-year-old when he was followed by a brother and soon after that by a sister. His dad changed the family name from Muukkonen to Monk when he went to work as a bookkeeper for TRW. He was still working for TRW, except he had moved up to accountant and gotten a raise. When he did, he bought a Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon.

   “You’re the best dad ever,” his kids said a month later driving to the Pymatuning State Park in their new car for camping and campfires. Tommy and his brother sat in the rear-facing seat telling each other scary stories. Their sister had the back seat to herself. She liked it that way since she considered both her brothers to be nitwits. Her father was the strong silent type. Only her mother was worth talking to.

   Tommy was called Tommy by everybody except his mom and dad and friends. His mom called him Tomas. His dad called him Bud. His friends called him One Shoe because one day, getting on the CTS bus that took him to grade school at the West Park Lutheran School, he discovered he was wearing only one shoe. It was too late to get off the bus and go home for it. He spent the rest of the day shuffling to class, to lunch, back to class, and back home. He became Tommy One Shoe. When he got home there was a hole in his shoeless sock. A blister was peeking red-faced through the hole.

   After Tommy got the alarm clock calmed down, got dressed, and got himself to the garage, he started inserting the front page and sports page sections into the Sunday edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He had already gotten the comics and classifieds and the rest of the newspaper on Friday when his route manager threw the bundles out the back of his truck onto their driveway. He put those parts together on Saturday afternoon, after which he went collecting.

   He collected the week’s payments once a week. Most people left the payments in an envelope under their doormat or taped to the front door. Some old folks liked handing it to him personally and liked hearing him say thank you. He kept the money in a cigar box in his mom’s dining room cabinet. The route manager stopped by early every Monday morning, counted the money, and left him a receipt. Tommy lost the receipts as soon as possible. He worked hard but wasn’t a meticulous businessman. He delivered the newspapers seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, on foot, as fast as he could. The houses in his neighborhood were close together, which helped plenty. He had to be done in time to catch the bus to school. 

  His paper route was all of Ethel Ave. between Clifton Blvd. and Detroit Rd. There were 97 houses. He lived on the north end of the street, making his life easier than it might have been. He walked a loop, first north to Clifton Blvd., then south to Detroit Rd., and finally north again. He crossed the Conrail tracks twice. When he was done with the next-to-last newspaper he was home, back where he started. His dad’s newspaper was the only paper he white glove delivered. The rest got delivered airborne flying from his hand to a front porch. He never looked back to see whether anything unpredictable had happened, like a paper rolling off a porch into flower beds in a rainstorm.

   Monday through Saturday he stuffed the newspapers into his shoulder slung bag. Every time he threw one on to a porch the bag got a little lighter. He left it in the garage on Sundays. The paper was too big that day to carry in his bag. He pulled a Radio Flyer with removable side panels. The panels kept the stacks of newspaper in place. The wheels were rubber. They were slick as baloney skins. They gripped the sidewalk well enough three seasons out of the year. They slid every which way in snow and ice.

   The last home on the corner of Ethel Ave. and Clifton Blvd. was one of the first houses on his route. It was a two-story brick house with a detached garage to the side, unlike all the other houses whose garages were in the back. The front door of the residence faced Clifton Blvd. The driveway was a short slab of concrete. An Irish man lived in the house with a good-looking young woman who nobody ever saw. He had grown up in Lakewood after his mother married an American soldier in the 50th Field Artillery Battalion. The newlyweds left Belfast for the United States the minute World War Two was over.

   Tommy knew to throw the paper at the base of the back door which he could do without even looking. That Sunday, however, he didn’t have to throw the paper. Bill O’Sullivan came out the back door as Tommy was rolling up with his Radio Flyer. The man unlocked his car and got in. He never parked in the garage. He always parked in the driveway, the nose of the car facing the street. The car was an Imperial LeBaron, the heaviest and most expensive car in the Chrysler line-up.

   “Hey kid, over here,” Bill O’Sullivan called out, waving for him to bring the paper to him. Tommy knew the man’s name. He didn’t know everybody’s names on his route, but he knew who the man in the black pinstripe suit was. He gave him better tips than anybody else. There was always an extra dollar in the envelope inside the back screen door. He gave him twenty dollars on Christmas. Tommy was his unofficial look-out on the street.

   “You see anybody funny hanging around, you tell me right away.”

   “What do you mean funny?” 

   “Funny like they look like they don’t live around here. It will be a man, probably one man, sitting in a car looking like he’s just wasting his time. He might be wearing a hat, maybe an old-fashioned kind of hat. He might be pretending to be reading the paper. He’ll be smoking, for sure, and throwing the butts in the street.”

   “All right, I’m on it, “Tommy said.

   “You’re jake, kid.”

   He hadn’t spotted anybody suspicious the whole year nor the year before. Ethel Ave. was a quiet street. Their mid-town neighborhood was a quiet neighborhood. Lakewood was a quiet suburb, not like Cleveland, where bad things happened day in and day out. He handed Bill O’Sullivan his copy of the Plain Dealer. The front page was full of the world’s bad news

   Tommy walked to the crosswalk, crossed the street, and turned left. It was getting on 6:30, a half-hour after sunrise. It wasn’t light but it wasn’t dark, either. A man and a woman pushing a sleeping baby in a stroller went by on their way to Lakewood Park. Lake Erie was only two blocks away. He was just about to throw a newspaper at the first house on the corner, the first house starting up the west side of Ethel Ave., when a sudden walloping noise and shock wave from an explosion knocked him down. He fell face first, barely able to break his fall with his hands. When he landed he cupped them over the back of his head. He did it without thinking. Something landed with a thud beside him. The noise of the explosion became an intense silence. He stayed on the ground for a minute.

   He could hardly hear a thing. All he could hear were his ears ringing. He looked back across the street. The big Chrysler LeBaron was a fireball. He stood up, unsteady, staying where he was. People were looking out their windows. A dog was barking like a nut case. A fat man in a bathrobe ran out of a white house. “Don’t move, stay there,” he shouted, gesturing with his hands, inching toward the fireball before turning around and coming back. They both stayed on their side of the street watching the smoke and flames. It wasn’t a minute before they heard sirens coming from two different directions.

   Tommy looked down at what had landed beside him. It was a hand. There was a silver ring on the pinkie finger. It was Bill O’Sullivan’s hand. It was a charred fist clutching a part of the newspaper. The paper was smoking, tiny flames licking at the edges trying to become bigger flames. Section four of the Cleveland Plain Dealer was in the fist, a section called ‘The Spotlight.’ The headline of the full-page lead feature read in large letters, “Bombing Business Booming Here.”

Excerpted from “Bomb City.”

Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”