All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a freelance writer from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

All My Best Friends

By Ed Staskus

   When Nick Goga met Wayne Biddell, the burly man had two bum knees, although they were the least of his problems. He had been a Cleveland Police Department detective for fifteen years and a uniformed officer before that. He told Nick in all that time he only drew his service handgun three times and never once fired it. He lived with the same bullets on his belt all his life.

   He had bad knees from playing handball at the downtown YMCA.

   “I probably never should have played that game, but I loved it, although it and my job cost me my legs and my marriage,” he said.

   Nick met Wayne after his marriage fell apart and he lost his house, which was a lot like what happened to Wayne. They met on the grassy courtyard of the apartment complex on East 222nd Street in Euclid, where they both lived, when Nick saw him messing around with his golf clubs on a warm dry spring day. The ex-cop was retired and living alone.

  Nick wasn’t retired, not exactly, but he lived alone, too.

  They played golf together for the next three years. He was the best friend Nick ever had, even more than Mattie Haylor, even though Mattie ended up doing more for him later on. Wayne was affable and did many things for him that he never even asked him to do. After Nick moved to Lakewood, Wayne got him a car, convincing his lady friend to give him the old Ford she was planning on trading in when she got her new car. He later mailed him a check for five hundred dollars, to live on, knowing Nick was strapped, knowing his ex-wife had taken him to the cleaners.

   It wasn’t his fault the Ford’s transmission blew out, stranding him in Tremont, and his son-in-law wouldn’t lend him the money to get it repaired.

   “Fixing it will cost more than the car is worth,” he said. “You’re better off sending it to the scrap yard.”

   He knew Jack was right but knew he didn’t want to lend him even one dollar, at the same time. He could tell Jack didn’t trust him, even though he had always been an honest man. All his friends said so. He wasn’t sure what his daughter Agnes thought, whether she was just backing her husband up, or not.

   He junked the heap and got a hundred bucks for it.

   After that he had to walk to the Lakewood Library and McDonald’s, the grocery and the bus stop all that winter, the winter Wayne blew his head off, and all the next spring until Mattie died and left him a hundred thousand dollars, after all was said and done. The trust sold Mattie’s house and old furniture and threw everything else out. He was able to buy a new car, a two-door Suzuki that never ran out of gas.

   When his wife Eva Giedraityte walked out on him, and took all the money out of their joint accounts, swooping up the kids and talking him into taking a second mortgage out on their house so she and her new boyfriend from Rochester could open a restaurant, and Palmer Bearings went bankrupt, putting him out of the only work he had ever done since getting shipped home from the Korean War with a Purple Heart, it was then he played more golf than he ever played in his life, and waited to be thrown out of his house.

   When he finally got the boot and moved out of Indian Hills, down the hill to Euclid, he was in his late 50s.

   “I was hanging on, waiting to get to 62, so I could get my Social Security early. I needed the money bad. When I worked for Palmer Bearings, they gave me a new car every year, with an expense account no one ever questioned, and I was in line to be made a vice-president, up to the day the Shylocks closed the doors without a word of warning to me.”

   Nick had a chip on his shoulder about it. He was aggrieved and bitter. Sometimes he went for a walk to cool down.

   “There were years when I almost always had a thousand dollars, or more, in cash in my pockets every day. Those days were gone. I had made the day for the Jews who ran the business. In the end they took it all away from me, just like my wife did. Eva broke me down inside.”

   When he moved to Euclid he moved into a no-rent apartment, an apartment that Angelo, the maintenance man at the apartment complex, who he met through Stan, a Pole he often had breakfast with at the railroad car diner on Green Road, not far from the giant Fisher Body and TRW plants, got for him when he was hired to be his helper.

   “Stan and I talked all the time over cups of coffee. We got to be good friends, even though he was a thick Polack. He was a hell of a bowler. He was good enough to bowl in tournaments, and I went to a couple of them to watch him. It was hop, skip, and glide to the line. He was always pounding out strikes. It got old, though, and I stopped going, except when the beer and pretzels were free.”

   Angelo was from Texas and was a Korean War veteran, like Nick. He talked the man who was the boss, who owned the apartment complex, into hiring him. Nick didn’t like the man, didn’t like his shrewd face, but he kept his mouth shut.

   “He was Hebrew, and that’s who runs the country. They run the money, which means they run everything else, too. They own most of the gold in the world. They marry inside the family, keeping it all together for themselves.”

   He shoveled snow, did some of the gardening, and vacuumed the hallways. He cleaned apartments when they went vacant and got paid extra whenever he had to clean kitchens, scrubbing the stove and emptying out the fridge, throwing away spoiled food. He made a few bucks here and there, one way or another. He stayed quick on the uptake. He kept his head above water.

   The apartment complex had been built during the Second World War for government workers. It was built like a tank, sturdy as a fort. The brown brick buildings were three stories with garages in the back. Fox Avenue intersected the complex and ran all the way to Babbitt Avenue, where there was a golf course. Wayne and he shuttled to it on good days, getting in eighteen holes.

   “He wasn’t any good, and complained about the walking, but we got along. I always went looking for the balls he shanked.”

   Wayne worked part-time at night, in a booth selling betting slips at the Thistledown horse track in North Randall. He was on his own during the day, which was how he and Nick were able to go golfing together whenever Nick was free to go. They went to tournaments in Akron, to watch the professionals. Stan went with them once, but he wasn’t used to hiking more than a bowling lane and got worn out.

   After Nick lost his car Wayne always drove. He had gotten a new dark blue Mercury four-door sedan. “He loved that car and talked his lady friend into getting one, too. That was how I got her old Ford.”

   When he moved to Lakewood, on the west side, to a no-frills apartment across the street from St. Ed’s High School, Wayne visited him a few times, even though he didn’t like the small apartment or the building.

   “It’s a dump,” he said.

    Nick took him to Joe’s Diner for breakfast. “I could tell he was suffering. It wasn’t just his knees. He had prostate cancer and was hurting. It was just a matter of time. I called him on Christmas Eve and wished him happy holidays. He didn’t sound good, but he didn’t sound bad, either. At least, that’s what I thought. I was dead wrong.”

   Wayne’s son was a pre-law student at Miami University. He had tried out for the football team as a walk-on and made the cut. That fall he saw playing time as the team’s back-up quarterback when the starter was injured. “He was a hell of an athlete,” Nick said. He drove up to Euclid from Oxford to see his dad the Christmas weekend. Wayne told him all about his new Mercury.

   “Take my car and give it a little ride,” he said. “I haven’t driven it for a while. It needs to be out on the road.”

   His son got the car and drove it up and down Lakeshore Boulevard. It had snowed overnight, but not much, and what snow there was had been plowed to the side. When he got back, he found his father in bed. Wayne had put a pillow over his head and a gun in his mouth. When he pulled the trigger, it was the first and last time he ever shot a gun at a human being.

   After the funeral Nick hoofed it around Lakewood until summer, when Mattie, his golfing buddy for many years, who was in his 80s, got sick. He was taken to Fairview Hospital, and when there wasn’t anything else the doctors could do, they moved him to the Welsh Home in Rocky River.

   “Mattie was a great guy and great friend of mine, my other best friend for a long time. He was on our golf team in the Cleveland Metropolitan Golf Association. We had about ninety members and most of us were friends. We played golf until it was too cold to walk the courses. After that, any of us who could afford it went south to play. I went to sunny parts of the country to play golf many times, when I was married, in the clover, and even afterwards, until I couldn’t afford to go anymore.”

   Mattie passed away in his sleep and a month after his funeral Nick got a registered letter from a lawyer saying he had been included in the will. “He left me his house. It surprised me but didn’t surprise me. I was the only person who ever listened to what he had to say, who stuck around when he lost track of his thoughts, who waited for him to reminisce about something else he was bound to remember sooner or later, even though it was a lot of nothing. After the house was sold, I got a check for a bundle.”

   He bought his new car, paying cash for it. He paid off his credit card debt, the plastic he had been living on, and bought a new laptop computer, so he didn’t have to always go to the library to work on his get-rich schemes. He stopped sending e-mails to his son-in-law when Jack exploded about them one day, saying he was sick of the schemes. He told his father-in-law he was never going to buy in to any of them.

   “I always was a good friend with different people, including Wayne and Mattie, who were my two best friends. It’s good to be best friends with your friends. Otherwise, you end up with duck eggs. My ship is coming in one day. When it does, I’ll dump the Suzuki in the blink of an eye and get an Audi convertible.  I’ll go to Florida every winter. I’ll play golf in the sunshine again.”

   He bought new shirts and shoes and ate better. After squirreling the rest of Mattie’s money away he was in good shape. He stayed in his dog-eared apartment to keep costs down. He thought about buying birthday presents for his grandson and granddaughter, even though he hardly ever saw them, and when he did, hardly paid any attention to them.  He didn’t work at much of anything and played golf all the next summer at new nicer courses. He went to both Wayne and Mattie’s graves and paid his respects. He only went once, but it was enough.

   He made some new best friends.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Farm Girl

LITTLE-BEET-TOPPER-PC-001-E1575408158239.jpeg

By Ed Staskus

When Angele Jurgelaityte was born in January 1928, it snowed until it got too cold to snow anymore. By the end of the month the thermometer rose to ten degrees below zero. When it warmed up the first week of February and the snow melted, a half-foot of slush was left behind. The next week there was heavy rain and her father’s fields were left under water. If it froze there would be acres of ice rink.

“I was born in an area we called the New Farm, in Suvalkija,” said Angele.

Suvalkija is the smallest of the five regions of Lithuania. It is girdled by the Nemunas River to the north. The region‘s identity was molded in the 19th century when it was a part of Congress Poland. Suvalkija was an agricultural area, generating substantial sugar beet harvests. Sugar beet yield in Lithuania was almost half that in the United States, even though the country is 151 times smaller than the United States.

“My father’s name was Jonas Jurgelaitis. My mother’s name was Julija. We lived on a small farm. It was three miles from Marijampole.”

Marijampole is in the far south of Lithuania, bordering Poland and Kaliningrad. Lake Vistytis is nearby. The town was a center of book spreaders and freedom fighters in the long struggle leading to the country’s independence in 1918.

Their farm was thirty-seven acres. The nearest neighbors were out of sight, even though they were hard by. Woodlands of Scots Pine and Norway Spruce and copses of Birch were scattered along the periphery of their land. Her father kept a pair of horses, three to four cows, chickens, and a sounder of swine. Every week he loaded 10-gallon 90-pound milk cans into his wagon and took them to a local dairy. Their croplands were mainly devoted to sugar beets, a cash crop, harvested in early autumn.

Suvalkija has less forest than any other part of Lithuania. It has been brought to bear for tillage. Kazlu Ruda, a large forest, nearly 230 square miles of it, is in Suvalkija, but it is on sandy soil that doesn’t work for farming.

Rye, wheat, and barley have been cultivated in Lithuania for two thousand years. Potatoes got rolling three hundred years ago. The country has always been able to sustain itself with foodstuffs. After gaining home rule from the Russians, land reforms in 1922 turned over ground suitable for the plow to tens of thousands of new landowners. Two years later the Academy of Agriculture was established to oversee land exploitation and management.

“My mother was tall and thin and pretty. She looked like a Romanian, even though she was born near where we lived. I didn’t look like her, at all. I looked like my father.”

Her mother gave birth to eleven children in less than twenty years. Six of them survived infancy. Those that did survived World War Two, the forty-six year subsequent Soviet occupation, and lived to see Lithuania regain its freedom.

Justinas was the oldest boy, born in 1919. “Justinas would invite his friends, and girls, to our house in the summer for dancing, before he joined the army.” Irena and the boys Sigitas and Jozukas were the youngest. Jozukas, the tenderfoot of the family, was two years old in 1938.

Julija started suffering chest pains that year, losing her appetite and losing weight. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a major killer in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Almost ninety years later tuberculosis is still prominent in Lithuania, one of the most highly TB-burdened countries in the world, falling behind most nearby countries in the prevalence of the disease.

“She went to the sanitorium in Kaunas the next year and got better.”

When family responsibilities and the family’s finances called her back, she got worse. Angele helped with the housework and cooking. She kept up her schoolwork, kept up her chores, and with her two older brothers nursed their mother.

“Irena and I went to school in Gizai, which was less than a mile from our house. In the winter, when it was snowy, my father hitched one of the horses to a sled and took us there. I went for six years.”

The family farm was five miles from Marijampole. It was forty miles southwest from Kaunas, the country’s second largest city. Vilnius, the capital, home to nearly a half million, was eighty miles away. It might as well have been a million miles away.

“We all had to work on the farm, but my father did everything. We had to work, since we were poor.” There were no hired men or seasonal laborers. “I mixed feed for the pigs and fed them. We earned our money by growing sugar beets. Irena and I helped, but Sigitas and Jozukas were too small. We pulled them out of the ground in the fall and used a big knife to cut the leaves away. We threw them in a cart and when we had enough to fill our wagon, my father hitched the two horses and took the beets to Marijampole.”

The family home was a frame house, clapboard siding painted green, two stories, although the second story was only an attic for storage and for smoking pork.

“We had another small house, a small barn where we kept wood for the fireplace.” They sawed their own cordwood. “On the second floor, up a ladder, there was hay for the animals and rye and barley for bread. Justinas and Bronius slept in a room beneath the loft.”

A brick-lined jumper duct fed heat from the farmhouse fireplace to the barn. Still and all, in the winter the young men gathered their blankets up and warmed them before going to bed. In deep winter the nights are 17 hours long.

Lithuania is a flat fertile country overlooking the Baltic Sea. The summers are mild, and the days are long, but the winters are cold and dark. Temperatures often drop well below freezing. The ground is ice and snow-covered from December to mid-March.

“We had a dog, in a house next to the barn, whose name was Sargis.” Saugotis means beware, watch out. “He was our guard dog, always tied up, who barked whenever a stranger came near. We had cats, too, who killed the mice and rats who ate our grain. We never let them into the house, though, they were only for outside.”

Barn cats lead a rough life, hunting vermin in outbuildings and fields. They sleep where they can, stay warm if they can. Living feral, they don’t live long.

The family knew everyone in their neck of the woods. Everyone was wary of strangers. Although they had no immediate neighbors, her mother’s father, a tailor, lived nearby, and her father’s mother also lived within walking distance.

”When my mother made potato pancakes, she would sometimes give me a platter of them, and I took them to grandma’s house.” Her grandmother lived on the other side of the woods, with one of her father’s older sisters.

The family fed itself.

“We made our own bread and butter, made cheese, gathered eggs, and collected berries.” There were patches of wild blueberries at the edges of their fields. Although they didn’t have a cellar, they still canned pickles and beets. “We grew our own pigs and my father killed them.”

When the time came, Jonas selected a pig for slaughter, marched it to a clearing beside the barn, hit the animal between the eyes hard 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.

“We never sold our pigs to anyone. We ate all of them.”

Once the skin was separated from the muscle and fat, they 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 the shoulders of the pig off. 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 on the second floor 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 of the upstairs, although the meat was delicious. When we ran out, we killed another pig.”

Whenever her mother got sick, from the time she was ten years old, Angele cooked for the family. “My oldest brother Justinas helped me until he went into the army, and then Bronius helped.” She cooked up pork logs, made soup, and served bread and butter every day.

After Justinas apprenticed to a tailor, and learned the trade, he joined the army. Everyone knew a war was coming. “He became a cavalryman and was stationed near Marijampole. He rode home a few times, on his horse, in his uniform. He was so handsome.” He had just turned twenty-one.

When the Red Army invaded the Baltic states in June 1940, their troops numbering some fifty divisions, supported by tanks, they swept the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian forces aside in a matter of days. Justinas spent the rest of the war sewing and mending, first under the thumb of the Russians, then the Germans, and then the Russians again.

A woman whose husband had died, who had no children and who lived on a nearby farm, helped Angele learn to bake bread in their brick-lined oven. They made five and six loaves at a time, working up to ten pounds of dough at a time, baking the free-standing loaves loosely arranged in front of a smoldering pile of coals that had been burning for several hours, pushed to the back of the oven. They added wood as they needed it, shifting the fire from side to side.

“We always had bread. We never had tea or coffee, just water. When we could, we collected herbs, and had herbal tea.”

The house did not have electricity or running water or indoor plumbing. They had oil lamps and an outhouse and a well. There was a sink in the kitchen. “The well had a pulley and a bucket until we finally got a hand crank.”

In January 1940 a bitter cold wave enveloped Lithuania, driving temperatures down to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The next month it dove to 54 degrees below zero, the coldest in 160 years. The Baltic Sea iced over. Some people froze to death and more than 10,000 in the Baltics were severely frostbitten.

When Julija had a relapse, she went back to the sanitorium, but returned home soon after in the fall. “A taxi brought her back. My mother said she had to be with her children.” She was not fully recovered. When winter bore down again, she ran down and became bedridden.

Jonas laid down rough wide planks over the packed dirt floor in one of the three rooms. He moved a metal stove into the room. His wife died in her bed, the head of the bed at the window, early the next spring. She was forty-three years old.

Her father re-married four months later. “He needed a woman to take care of Sigitas and Jozukas.” Jonas had decided to ask the nearby widow with the farm, the woman who had helped Angele bake bread, but by then she was spoken for by another man. He found a single woman in Gizai.

“It was where we always went. My school was there, and there was a church, a police station with a policeman, and a hardware store that had everything. Whenever we had a coin we bought candy there.”

Jonas’s new wife was younger than Julija had been and healthy. She had a daughter a year older than Angele, even though she had never been married. The wedding was in early September. It wasn’t long after the move-in before Angele realized she couldn’t stay.

“My new mother and my father started arguing. She loved the younger ones, and she loved her own daughter, but they started arguing about me. My father stood up for me, but he needed a wife. I don’t know what I was thinking, but one day I left.”

It was late September. She packed a loaf of bread, some cold pork, what clothes she could carry, and set off in the morning at first light for Alvitas, for her aunt’s house. Ona Kreivenas was her mother’s sister. Her aunt’s husband, a police captain, had been deported to Siberia by the Russians that summer, leaving her with three children and giving birth to a fourth.

Even though two German army groups had smashed into the country in late June that summer, ousting the Russians, by then it was too late for Jonas Kreivenas, who didn’t come back from Siberia for fifteen years, and when he did, found out his wife was living in Philadelphia, in the United States.

“I knew life wasn’t going to be any easier in Alvitas, but I had to go.”

Alvitas is about fifteen miles from Gizai. It took her most of the day to walk there. She passed a small prisoner of war camp crowded with Soviet soldiers captured by the Wehrmacht. When she got to her aunt’s farm the sun was near to setting.

“I lived with my aunt for the next three years, until the Russians came again, and we had to run to Germany. I never went back home, except to visit, as a guest. I loved my father, and my brothers and sister, but I couldn’t go back.”

When Angele woke up early the next morning, she had a new home and a new mother. “She was my mamyte now. They were my family.” She helped her aunt make breakfast. There was strong black tea at the table. The first frost wasn’t far away, but that morning was an Indian summer.

A version of this story appeared in Draugas News.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

The Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County

By Ed Staskus

   When Emma looked at her brother Oliver, she saw a towheaded boy about four feet tall and not even fifty pounds. He wore his hair short, ran up and down the stairs, was a slow eater, could be shy but always spoke up, and was learning how to play the piano, although he wasn’t nearly as good as she was. He was an all-American boy, half German and half Lithuanian, like her. He was also the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. How did a first grader become that? She was in third grade, taller, bigger, and smarter. She had mastered division and multiplication. Oliver was just learning how to read and write, for goodness’ sake.

   Sometimes she thought she should be the monster hunter, not her brother’s right-hand man. She was even more unofficial than him. She wasn’t sure she liked that, although she had to live with it.

   She had to admit, though, that Oliver had nerves of steel, while she still got spooked by some of the monsters he went head-to-head with. He had taken care of Goo Goo Godzilla in less than five minutes when he was threatening the nuclear power plant in North Perry, not far from where they lived. He did it as easily as brushing a bug away.

   He got started in kindergarten chasing shadows, noises in the night, and wrestling with nightmares. Phantoms learned to beware of his reach, though. He flattened them like pancakes and tossed them out of the house like frisbees. He made his reputation the summer before first grade. There was a troll in the woods behind their house. Not behaving himself was the last mistake he made in Lake County.

   Trolls came to the USA from Scandinavia in the 18th century on sailing ships. They can be big or small, ugly and slow-witted or sneaky charming, harmless or menacing, fast-talking liars or almost like the folks next door. They live apart from others, even other trolls, preferring their own company. They are ungodly, kidnapping cats and dogs. When crossed they can be dangerous. They are afraid of lightning and church bells. Sunlight turns them to stone.

   When the neighbor’s terrier disappeared, Oliver knew he had to step up. He saw the dog every day, fed him doggie treats, and treated him like a friend. A good neighbor is somebody who can play the bagpipes but doesn’t. The troll wasn’t being a good neighbor. Oliver didn’t like it when anything messed with his friends.

   He set his clock for an hour before dawn. It was cloudy and dark when he woke up. He threw his old camera and some bungee cords in his backpack and snuck out of the house, but not before Emma spotted him, threw on sweatpants and a pullover, and joined him. Their parents were still asleep, his father softly snoring.

   Oliver’s father had bought an old Polaroid and a dozen boxes of film for peanuts at a flea market in Grand River. He already had a fancy Minolta digital camera, so he gave the Polaroid to Oliver, who took pictures of spiders and praying mantises with it.

   “Are you going to try to get Chester back from that awful troll?”

   “Yes.”

   “What are you going to do?” Emma asked ready for action, but with no idea how her brother was going to deal with the varmint. She had never seen a real troll before. She had only ever seen the garden variety kind.

   “We are going to find him and keep him from crawling under a rock until the sun comes up. We can use the camera’s flashbulb to herd him. If we can get him to step into sunlight he’ll turn to stone, and we can save Chester.”

   “I brought my flashlight and pocketknife,” Emma said.

   “Good,” Oliver said, nodding grimly.

   They walked into the forest, Emma leading the way with her flashlight. They saw the troll’s campfire and smelled him at the same time. He smelled like an old rat. He was a pint-sized Tusseladd troll with three heads and three noses as long as carrots. He had a round stomach and short stubby arms and legs. He was boiling water to make porridge. Chester was tied up next to the fire. It looked like the troll meant to eat him with his porridge.

   “We’re in luck,” Oliver said. “That kind of troll is usually gigantic. I think we can handle this runt.”

   When they stepped out of the dark into the light of the campfire the troll jumped up and his three mouths started jibber-jabberring. Chester whined and kicked his legs. Oliver held up his hands, palms out and made a peace sign. He pointed to his stomach and said he and his sister had come a long way and were hungry.

   The troll calmed down and started dreaming scheming right away. Maybe he could grab and cook these two children, too. He would have more grub than he knew what to do with. He showed Oliver and Emma where to sit and went back to his pot. When the water started boiling, he started making his porridge.

   “Are you a betting man?” Oliver asked him.

   “Of course,” the troll said.

   “I bet I can eat more porridge than you.”

   The troll laughed a mean-spirited laugh like he was the living soul of a funeral. That was fool’s gold. Nobody could eat more porridge than a troll. 

   “If you can eat more porridge than me then I won’t eat you,” the troll said.

   “I’m on for that,” Oliver said.

   I don’t know about this, Emma thought. She started thinking of all the things that could go wrong. There were too many to count.

   They tended the fire while the troll went to get more water to make even more porridge. Once it was ready, they both ate as much as they could. What the troll didn’t know was that Oliver had shoved his backpack under his shirt and was filling it with the porridge, without the troll noticing. When the troll was full and couldn’t eat anymore, looking like he was on the losing end of the bet, Oliver suggested he cut a hole in his stomach so he could have as much as he wanted. He did and stuffed handfuls of porridge inside of himself. By the time he got to the bottom of the pot he was so heavy with the pasty goo he fell over groaning.

   Oliver and Emma rushed him, bound him up with their bungee cords, and dragged him by his feet to a small clearing. His three heads bounced on the ground all the way there. The sun was already up and when its light washed over the troll he turned to stone instantly. They stood him up and took Polaroid snapshots of him. Chester was barking up a storm, so they ran back to the campfire, untied him, threw dirt on the fire and went home.

   The troll who turned to stone became a landmark. 

   “If you want to go to the valley, take a left at the troll. If you want to go to the pond, take a right,” everybody said.

   When show and tell day was announced at school, Oliver took his Polaroid pictures. Emma took the muffins she baked all by herself. They would have been a hit any other day, but on that day the spotlight belonged to Oliver. He had matched wits with a troll, ridding the neighborhood of a vile nuisance, and lived to tell the tale. From that day on he was known as the Monster Hunter.

   On the Perry Local School District bus going home Emma pulled two muffins nobody had been interested in out of her book bag. She offered one to Oliver. They sat side by side eating them.

   “These are delicious,” Oliver said.

   “Better than the porridge?”

   “Better than anything that rotten troll could ever have made,” Oliver said.

   When they got home, Chester dashed up to them, working up an appetite. They gave him a muffin and he forgot all about them. They walked into the house.

   “How was school?” their mother asked.

   “I learned that nobody knows what a Polaroid camera is,” Oliver said.

The Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County stories can be found at http://www.theunofficialmonsterhunteroflakecounty.com.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Bringing Back the Future

By Ed Staskus

   The green house on Doyle’s Cove and the shore road on the Gulf of St. Lawrence have both been there for more than a century, except last century they changed places. The road used to be on the cliff side and the house on the hillside. The green house is on the cliff side today and the road has been moved away from the ocean. It is now the National Park road.

   “It was on the property but maybe a few hundred yards away,” said Kelly Doyle, about what became the green house. When Kelly’s father, Tom, hauled it down to the water’s edge, it was because his new bride refused to stay in the white family house, the house that ended up within earshot.

   “Dad in the back of his head thought his mother and wife would get along, but they were both very damned strong women,” Kelly said. “They just couldn’t live in the same house, both determined about that.”

   When Doris and Tom Doyle married in 1947, both in their early 20s, Dottie from Boston and Tom native to the island, they moved into the big white house on the cove built in 1930 that Tom grew up in.

   “The only place to live was living in the white house,” Kelly said.

   The white house is on the ocean side of North Rustico, on the north side of Prince Edward Island, near the entrance to the harbor, a clapboard two-story house with a dozen windows, two dormers and three porches on the side facing the water. A broad lawn slopes down to the cliffs. 

   “The first house was bigger,” said Kelly.

   It had been bigger, but it was gone.

   Kelly’s grandparents, Mike and Loretta Doyle, were playing cards at a neighbor’s house one night in 1929. It was winter, cold and snowbound. Their friends lived about a mile away. At the end of the evening, going home in their horse-drawn sled, they crested a frozen hill. A red glow lit up the sky and flared across the ice in the cove below them. 

   The pitch-dark night was lit up. The house was on fire. They had left seven children behind in the care of the eldest. Tom was the youngest, four years old.

   “It was a flue fire,” said Kelly. “It burnt down because of the stove.”

   By the time the horses raced down to the house, the parents finding all their children safe and sound outside, there wasn’t much Mike and Loretta could do. There were no neighbors nearby to help and there was no fire department. Mike was able to drag some furniture from the first floor out the front door and saved as many fox furs as he could.

   The house was rebuilt the next year and finished the following year.

   “The foxes my grandfather saved from the fire built the new house.” Kelly’s grandfather was a fox farmer. What he sold the pelts for went to pay for the work of the nomadic immigrant tradesmen who built the house.

   “Nobody knew them,” said Kelly. “They weren’t from around here.”

   It took the Great Depression a year to get to Prince Edward Island, but when it did it disrupted farming, what the island did for a living. In 1930 PEI farmers had a large grain and potato harvest. They had never had problems selling to their markets, but by then their markets were going broke. For the next couple of years, no markets were buying. By 1933 average net farm income on PEI was twenty dollars a year, selling fruits, produce, vegetables, and cattle.

   Although agriculture and the fisheries crashed, tourism and fox fur farming boomed during the 1930s. It was how many islanders kept their heads above water. One in ten PEI farmers were involved in keeping foxes, supporting their families. There were 600-some fox farms on the island in 1932. Five years later there were double that. By the end of the decade ten times the number of pelts went to market as had the previous decade.

   “When my mother married my dad, she didn’t get along with my grandmother all that well,” said Kelly. They were all living together in the family house. “My mom and grandmother liked each other enough, but not enough to live in the same house. She finally said to my dad, you better build me a house.”

   It put Tom Doyle on the spot. There wasn’t the money for a new house, even though they had the property. “Dad had a choice to make, either lose your wife, or build a house.” He couldn’t build a house, so he improvised.

   “I don’t know what kind of a building it was,” Kelly said. “It was few hundred yards away. He hauled it down the hill to the cliffs and turned it into a house, even though he had his hands full farming at the time.”

   Moving a building is no small amount of work. Fortunately, the building was on the small side, there was a short clear route, and there weren’t any utility wires that had to raised. There was no electricity or plumbing to disconnect, either. Still, wooden cribs had to be inserted to support the building inside and out, jacks had to raise it at the same exact rate and lower it the same way, and it had to be trailered slowly and carefully to its new foundation, between the barn and the white house.

   “It was almost eighty years old when my dad moved it,” said Kelly. “It was two thirds the size of what it is now. When I grew up in it, it was pretty small. They built onto it in 1964 when I was eight years old. We spent that winter in my grandmother’s house while our house was being renovated.”

   The Doyle kids, Cathy, Elaine, Kenny, John, Mike, and Kelly grew up in what became a two-story, gable-roofed, green-shingled house, even though it was never big enough for all of them, never enough bedrooms.

   “It wasn’t bad, since there was a fifteen-year difference between the youngest and the oldest. We all left the house at different times.”

   Mike Doyle died in 1948, soon after Tom and Dottie’s marriage, leaving Loretta a widow. She started taking in summer tourists, putting up a sign that said Surfside Inn. She harvested her own garden for the B & B’s breakfasts. “My grandmother filled all the rooms every summer. Some Canadians came, and more Europeans, and Americans because they had lots of money.” 

   She ran the inn for more than twenty years. 

   “She got a little bit ill around 1970, and lived alone for six, seven years until my dad moved her into the senior’s home in the village. After that nobody lived in the house for ten years.”

   In the late 1980s Andy Doyle took it over, rechristening it Andy’s Surfside Inn. 

   “My uncle had been gone for more than twenty years, nobody ever heard from him, and then he came out of the woodwork and took it over,” Kelly said. Nobody could believe that a man in his late 60s wanted or could run a five-room inn. He ran the show for almost twenty-five years, outliving all his siblings until dying in his sleep two years ago.

   It was the end of the Surfside Inn, but not the end of the white house. Erik Brown, the son of Elsie, Andy’s sister, moved in, keeping it in the family. The next summer he started renovating the house back to a home.

   “It was a rambling old home with large rooms and a spectacular view,” said a woman who came from Montreal. “The best thing is having breakfast in the morning with all the guests around one table. One year ten years ago it was with mime artists from Quebec, an opera singer from Holland, and another lady from Switzerland. A dip in the cove outside the front door is a must before breakfast. There are lovely foxes gambling outside, in the evening, on the large lawn!”

   “It was neat when I was growing up,” said Kelly. It was the 1960s. “There were ducks geese and sheep and white picket fences. She had lots of tourists from Europe. We were just kids, all these little blond heads running around. I started meeting those people from overseas.”

   Up the hill from the bottom of the pitch where today there is forest land there was in the 1970s a summer camp for clansman kids.

“They called it Love it Scots. There wasn’t a tree up there then. A couple hundred kids from around the Maritimes would come and they would teach them Scottish music and their heritage. We could hear the bagpipes being played every night on our farm down here.”

   Highland College staged the PEI Scottish Festival there.

   “After that it was a campground, three four hundred families up there.”

   When the campground closed, the trees began to grow back until today it looks like the trees have always been there, rimming out the horizon, alive with damp and shadow. Blue jays, weasels, red squirrels and red foxes live there. The foxes hunt mice and rabbits. The blue jay is the provincial bird and stays above the fray.

   “I grew up with tourists,” said Kelly. “It was different back then. Now people come here and expect to be entertained.”

   There is Anne of Green Gables for the kids. There is harness racing and nightlife. There are performing arts in Charlottetown, Summerside, and even North Rustico. There are ceilidhs every summer evening all over the island. There is a country music festival in Cavendish that draws tens of thousands of people. There is cultural tourism. There are bus tours. Cruise ships dock in Georgetown, Summerside, and Charlottetown, disgorging hundreds of passengers on shore excursions, looking for something to do.

   The provincial authorities opened a buffalo park in the 1970s after getting a score of bison as a gift. Bison is not native to the island. Nevertheless, tourists lined up to see the car-sized animal like a large cow with horns curving upwards. Bison can run three times faster than people and jump fences five feet high. Fortunately, they were behind six-foot fences.

   “Back then people came here with a different attitude. There was lots to do, too, because they found the local life interesting. They liked the humbleness of everybody, the way of life that was so honest and down to earth. PEI wasn’t like the rest of the world back then. The Maritimes were kind of cut off from the rest of the world once the Merchant Marine was taken away. We kind of fell behind there.”

   The tourists of the 1950s and 60s were young couples travelling with children. Some were older couples from the American east coast. There were nature lovers. There were artists. Some of them were bohemians. Others came because PEI had become the “Cradle of Confederation.”

   “Even though, it was a dump here when I was growing up, to be honest,” said Kelly. “Everyone had an outhouse and a pig in the backyard. There were rats everywhere. It wasn’t all that nice in Rustico, but a lot of artists, writers, photographers, people who liked nature came here. It took a long time to come back, in the 70s and 80s, before it became looking like a real village.”

   In the 1970s the provincial government invested in tourism and has stayed invested ever since. It partnered in the Brudenell Resort near Georgetown and the Mill River Resort. Both include golf courses, which are seen as important tourist attractions. 

   Fifty years later, Prince Edward Island is a different place.

   “It’s sterilized now,” said Kelly. “It’s a completely different PEI, and the people who come here are different, different attitude, different interests.”

   Kelly grew up in the green house, on the cove. After storms the beach and red sandstone were often choked with seaweed, stinking for hundreds of yards. Back in the day some men collected it for fertilizer in their gardens and banked it against their house walls as insulation against the cold winter weather.

   Everyone went to school in town. After school Kelly and his friends didn’t have to go far for fun.

   “Between the pool hall and the rink, those were my social events, before I could drink. We grew up in the pool hall here.”

   To this day John Doyle is an outstanding pool player and participates in tournaments. “John is a decent shot,” said Kelly. “Keep your money in your wallet.”

   The pool hall was down and around the corner from Church Hill Road. A boatbuilder had several shops there and one of his sons converted one of them. The shop that became a pool hall was green like the green house. “There were a couple of pinball machines up front and eight tables in the back. it was the spot for boys and girls on weekends.”

   By the time he was 16 years old and finished with 9th grade, he was finished with school. Many boys did the same, going to work with their fathers, or simply going to work. Kelly went west to Quebec and Ontario, but when he got back to Prince Edward Island and started going into the tourist trade, the green house was still there. 

   He built a cottage up the hill from it.

   In the years since then Kenny Doyle built a brown house behind the barn. After Tom and Dottie passed away, the green house was rented to a young woman from the village for a few years, but John Doyle has taken it over. Bill and Michelle DuBlois, sprung from Elaine Doyle, have built a blue house across the street. 

   It is Doyle’s Land, from the edge of the ocean to the edge of the trees.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Running on Empty

By Ed Staskus

   Nicolae Goga was always excited by Catholic girls. His mother was a Lutheran, and she raised his brother Tomas and him as Lutherans, but Catholic girls were for him. That’s why he married one. But they had to be a nine or ten in the good-looking roll call at the same time they were Catholic. If they weren’t, they didn’t count, not in his eyes.

   All the guys rated girls, one way or another.

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

   His city pals, the young men he knew who had the dough to go south for a couple weeks when it got dark and cold on the south coast of Lake Erie, got peeved about him being picky.

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

   Another of his pals, a wise guy on the camel train, said, “Nicky, if you ever land a ten, she’ll be out of your league, anyway.”

   Eva Giedraityte was Catholic, between a nine and a ten, and 15 years old when Nicolae met her. He was 25 years old. She lied about her age, not that she had to. But after he found out he made sure she was eighteen before they got married. “We missed out on the cash envelopes and presents, since her family was dead set on me staying single and Eva marrying somebody else.” He didn’t care. He wanted Eva. He wanted getting ahead fast.

   They met at the Karamu Theater. Nick lived at the Delrey Hotel on East 55th Street, not far away, and Eva took a bus from Collinwood, from the Five Points. He loved acting and trying out for parts. Nick looked like Paul Newman, which didn’t hurt his chances. He was always trying out for shows at the Chagrin Little Theater, too.

   “I met a boatload of lookers that way.”

   Eva was in one or two high school shows and danced ballet. She had taken dance classes ever since she was a little girl. She could straighten a leg, keep her foot flat on the ground, and raise the other one to the ceiling.

   “I don’t know how the hell she did it. I always liked ballet dancers. I fell in love with one when I was in high school. Her name was Margo. She was a beautiful girl with a beautiful body, the same age as me, but an inch taller. She was one of the gym leaders and danced ballet on stage at our school. Another guy liked her, a lousy Serb who played a hillbilly guitar, and he was always angling to get into shows with her.”

   Nick started trying out, trying to get close to Margo, trying to elbow the Serbian boy out.

   Eva and he met auditioning for the same show at Karamu. He kept his eyes on her from the minute he set eyes on her. “She came on to me and would do stuff like, ‘Can you give me a ride home?’ I had a car, she had stars in her eyes, and on starry nights it was a nice ride. She sat close to me on the bench seat.”

   She would sometimes leave something in his car, like her wallet or watch. “She would call me, and I would drive to her house, returning it, seeing her again. It was those little tricks women do.”

   Her parents were set in stone about her wedding bell plans. “It won’t work,” they both insisted. He was Lutheran, ten years older, born in the United States but Romanian. They were Catholic and Lithuanian, from the old country. He had a better job than either of her parents, making more money than them put together, but it didn’t matter. Eva and Nick had to elope, driving across the Ohio state line to Indiana, where they found a justice-of-the-peace on the side of the road, and got married.

   They went to Florida for their honeymoon. “We drove straight there in a new Mercedes sports car I had just gotten. We stayed in the same motel my buddies and I used to go to. Our suite had a small kitchen and there was a big pool we went swimming in.” They sat out in the sun. They discovered each other in the dark.

   When they got back to Cleveland Eva’s parents disowned her, and she didn’t see them for years. They moved in with Nicolae’s mother, in the meantime, in the old neighborhood, East 65th Street and St. Clair. Most of their countrymen worked in factories, ore docks, and knitting mills. His father had operated a corner store until he was murdered by two young thieves.

   “I worked hard, saving my salary and commissions, and the next year we bought a two-story house in Indian Hills, up from Euclid Avenue, near the Chagrin city park.”

   The house fronted a big sloping wooded lot. Their daughter Agnes was born the next year and their son Sammy two years after that. Their problems started three years later. They never stopped getting worse.

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

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

   His bosses said, “Keep up the good work.” His neighbors envied his new cars. Eva complained about Nick never being home.

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

   When he did come home right after work, Eva came running out the front door, grabbing him, giving him a hug and a kiss. He thought, this is embarrassing, the neighbors are watching, even though he barely knew any of the neighbors

   “Cut it out,” he said. She gave him a queer look. He kissed the kids and read a book while Eva set the table and prepared dinner.

   “I took her to dinner and shows, but it was never enough. I always let Eva do whatever she wanted. I let her teach cooking at the high school. I let her get a job at a restaurant. I let her go to Cleveland State University. It got to be a problem, because no matter what I did, it was never enough.

   Eva was a good-looking young woman, blonde and shapely, and men eating at the restaurant were always hitting on her, but Nick’s biggest problem was the young men she met at college. “One time I found a note in a drawer from some guy named Dave, thanking her for the great time they had. When I asked her about it, she said it was just a bunch of them from one of her theater classes going out for a drink.”

   “That’s all it was, Nick,” Eva said.

   “You’re not getting together with him?”   

   “No,” she said, “of course not.”

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

   Nick found out more, small things that looked like big things, about other men she was cheating on him with. He was sure of it. One night he answered a call from a man who sounded like he was from India, asking for her. He hung up. She was coming home later and later at night, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, midnight. It started to look like the babysitter was going to have to live in.

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

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

   “It was always some bullshit story like that. We got into an argument. We got into a lot of arguments.”

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

   “It was her idea to get separated. Later it was her idea to get divorced. I loved her. I loved my kids. I didn’t want a bust-up. We could have settled the split between ourselves, but she had to get a lawyer, which meant I had to get a lawyer, too. Her mouthpiece must have put something in her ear.”

   He stopped at the Cleveland Trust Bank downtown on East 9th Street one day, after lunch with clients on Short Vincent, to withdraw some money, but the teller said, “There’s no money in your account, sir.”

   “What?”

   “The account is at zero,” the man said

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

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

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

   Between Eva and them, he complained loud and long afterwards, they left him with only table scraps.

   Nick knew how to handle himself. He boxed Golden Gloves before going to Korea. He got to the finals in his weight class, and even though the other fighter was dazed purple bloody, the judges gave the first prize to him. He was a Marine and Nick was an Army draftee, so the Marine staggered away with the trophy.

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

   It was a hell of a commotion on the third floor of the Lakeside Courthouse, under a high ceiling of ornate plasterwork, paneled walls, and leather-covered doors.

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

   Eva moved into the new Park Centre on Superior Avenue, the same building her new boyfriend lived in, and the same building where some of Richard Hongisto’s right-hand men lived. He was Cleveland’s new top lawman, although inside a couple of years Dennis Kucinich, the kid mayor of the city, fired him on live TV. It sparked a recall drive to remove the mayor from office, which was the least of his problems, since the city was going bankrupt fast. The bankers hated the mayor and withdrew the helping hand of ready cash.

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

   Nick bought Eva a brand new four-door Mercedes sedan, hoping it would make her happy. She loved the car, although it didn’t make her any happier about him any more than she wasn’t already. When they separated, she reported the car stolen. She called Nick about the insurance money. He told her he would let her know. He didn’t tell her the car was in his name.

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

   Eva was a ten in her time, or close to it, always worth a second look. Nick wasn’t sure how she looked when she got older, since after their last fight he didn’t see her again, after her looks might have gone south. “I’m sure she wasn’t the beauty she had been. I’m sure she looked like hell. That’s something I would bet money on.”

   She had beautiful handwriting and wrote Nick hate letters after their divorce.

   “Your kids don’t want to see you, you haven’t sent me enough money, all that kind of crap. I had to pay child support, even though I was used to a certain style of living for myself.”

   Nick rubbed his face.

   “I had to go on dates, too, looking for another woman, but it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t operate. I didn’t have much money. You’ve got to have money to do things. I was nearly broke. I had to take care of my kids. I didn’t want to be a deadbeat father.”

   She took up with a new boyfriend, a handsome Italian from Rochester, a Vietnam veteran. They moved in together, with Agnes and Sammy. They didn’t pretend to be married, even though they lived like man and wife. Nick wouldn’t give Eva a divorce, no matter how many times she asked.

   “They got it into their heads to go into the restaurant business. Eva asked me to take a second mortgage on the house. I said no, restaurants are the worst thing you can get into. But in spite of myself I took a second mortgage on the house and gave her the money. It put me in a spot.”

   Eva’s restaurant became two restaurants. The new family moved up to the eighteenth floor of Park Centre, to a three-bedroom end suite facing Lake Erie. They opened a bar on the new Eat Street in the apartment complex.

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

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

   Eva and Sammy came to the family house in Indian Hills on a quiet autumn afternoon. She asked Nick to mortgage the house again, a third time, so they could expand some more, but he told her a second mortgage was all the bank would go for. She said she needed more investment money and that he could sell the house, splitting whatever he might get for it with her.

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

   “That’s up to you.”

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

   Eva slapped him hard in the face when Nick finally had enough, nose to nose, shouting that he wasn’t going to sell the house, that they were through once and for all, and that was that.

   “She scratched me with her fingernails when she slapped me, cutting me, and drawing blood. I pushed her away.”

   They glared at each other.

   “Quit it.” 

   Eva’s mouth went cold thin-lipped, she twisted around, reached for Sammy’s hand, and stamped out with him. She didn’t look back. The front door slammed shut. It was the last time Nick saw her. He never saw the money he had lent her, either.

   He was on the ropes. He knew the TKO was on its way and there was nothing he could do about it.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Go Going Gone

By Ed Staskus

   When Matti Lavikka and I slowly stopped playing chess and started playing Go we didn’t know we were sitting down to the oldest board game played continuously to the present day. The game was invented in China more than 2,500 years ago, maybe longer. It is a strategy contest for two players in which the aim is to surround more territory than your opponent. 

   The playing pieces are called stones. One player uses the white ones and the other one the black ones, taking turns placing them on the vacant intersections of the board. Once placed, stones cannot be moved, but are removed from the board if it, or a group of stones, is surrounded by opposing stones on all adjacent points, in which case it is captured. The game goes on until both players survey the pickings and decide it’s not worth playing anymore. When a game is finished, the winner is determined by counting each player’s surrounded territory along with captured stones. 

   Games can also end when one player spent exhausted brain dead simply gives up.

   “Chess has only two outcomes, draw and checkmate,” said Henry Kissinger, one of America’s most idiosyncratic and ingenious strategists. “The objective of the game is total victory or defeat, and the battle is conducted head-on, in the center of the board. The aim of Go is relative advantage. The game is played all over the board, and the objective is to increase one’s options and reduce those of the adversary. The goal is less victory than persistent strategic progress.”

    The chess board starts with everything on it. The last man standing wins. The Go board starts with nothing on it. Whoever is the better master craftsman inevitably ends up on top. It’s the way of the world.

   Even though the rules of Go are simple, the play is complex, especially the longer the game goes on. It has a larger board with more scope for play and more alternatives to consider per move compared to chess. The number of legitimate board positions in Go has been calculated to be greater than the number of atoms in the observable universe. The Japanese back in the day considered the Go board to be a microcosm of the universe. They believed no two Go games have ever been or ever will the same, like snowflakes and running water.

   If we had known that we probably would never have started playing. By the time we found out it was too late. We had been sucked into the black hole of Go.

   Matti had served a tour of duty in the armed forces, was on an extensive tour of R & R, and was boning up for the tests for mailman, fireman, and policeman. He later got on the roster of the Bay Village Fire Department, which was like working at a posh nursery school. There were hardly any fires ever at the upper end lakefront suburb. There were, however, lots of older folks having heart attacks and strokes and the EMS trucks kept up their back and forth to St. John West Shore Hospital.

   One night Matti and his partner Chuck were called to a home where the husband was having serious chest pains. He was on his back on a bed, his eyes closed. When they went in the bedroom his wife whispered to them that she thought he was dead, “the poor man.” Chuck was in the lead. When he approached the bed, he slipped on a throw rug and flew headfirst on top of the man, body slamming him, the bedsprings groaning and complaining.

   If he’s not dead yet, he’s dead now, Matti thought.

   “What the goddamned hell!” the man blustered coming awake. “Get the hell off of me.”

   From then on Chuck was known as Lazarus at headquarters, even though through the day of his retirement he was never able to replicate the feat.

   My friend Virginia Sustarsic introduced me to Matti. How they knew each other was beyond me. She was a hippie through and through. He wasn’t, not by a long shot. He played chess, like me, and we played now and then. I had moved out of the Plaza Apartments, where Virginia lived, and was living in North Collinwood, near Bratenahl, a couple of blocks south of Lake Erie. It was a Polish double. I lived upstairs in a two-bedroom. Ray Sabaliauskas owned the house and lived downstairs with his Southeast Asian wife and prize German Shepherd. He had recently come back from the mess that was Vietnam.

   I found my Go game at a garage sale in the neighborhood. It was practically brand new, the instruction sheet still in the box. I paid a dollar for it in quarters. Reading the rules took less than five minutes. Explaining the rules to Matti took less than five minutes. Our first game took five hours and was suspended due to darkness. We were playing on the front porch when the sun went down.

   “When starting, the best strategy is to spread the pieces far apart and stretch them out, to encircle and attack the opponent, and thus win by having the most points vacant,” Huan Tan said nearly two thousand years ago. “The next best strategy is cutting off the enemy to seek advantage. In that case the outcome is uncertain, and calculation is necessary to decide the issue. The worst strategy is to defend the borders and corners, hastily building eyes to protect oneself in a small area.”

   We were both bug-eyed after our first game. It was like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired, you quit when the gorilla is tired. Go is considered the most difficult board game in the world. Sleeping became my new hobby after a long game.

   I started jogging on the sidewalks of Lakeshore Blvd. from the mean streets of North Collinwood through the village of Bratenahl, where everyone was tall thin attractive wealthy, to build stamina for the struggle. I had put exercise on the back burner in my early 20s. I never thought I would be working out to be able to sit quietly hour after hour staring at a square board of intersecting lines.

   When I was a teenager, I ran track and field as part and parcel of Zaibas. The Cleveland Lithuanian sports club was formed in 1950. In 1951, at the 1st North American Lithuanian Games, members participated in basketball, volleyball, and table tennis. The next year the club hosted the games in our hometown and fielded a team in track and field. The club became active in swimming in 1956, tennis in 1959, and skiing in 1969.

   In the 1960s I ran around in circles encouraged by Algirdas Bielskus. He was the director of a men’s vocal ensemble, co-founder of a choir, and concertmaster of the Ciurlonis Ensemble. He was also the community’s track and field coach for sixty years. He had the voice to make himself heard loud and clear from the far end of a quarter-mile track. Every weekend fair or foul all I heard was “go go go.”

   He always carried a briefcase, briefcases he was always losing, stuffed with notes about how we were progressing. Rita Kliorys made him a Christmas gift of a new one in 1966. “It was the accordion kind,” she said. “I remember it cost $100.00, and I collected one dollar from many people. He actually did not lose it, either.”

   He coached thousands of youngsters who ran hundreds of thousands of miles.

   “I always thought of him afterwards whenever I saw the turquoise and orange Howard Johnsons and would remember how he took us there for ice cream sometimes,” said Regina Thomas. “Although I was a talentless klutz at sports, he never made me feel like one. I never thought much about it as a kid, but what a commitment to youth and sports.”

   He was seemingly tireless, championing fitness among Cleveland’s Lithuanian off-spring.

   “He worked for my dad’s company, Transmission Research, in the basement of our house,” said Dalia Nasvytis. “Sometimes we would hear noises downstairs late at night and realize he was still down there running off schedules for the next athletic meet he was organizing.”

   Once we started playing Go, Matti and I made a commitment to it. We played all that spring summer and through the winter, two and three games a week. It wasn’t an obsession although it was. We played on the front porch until it got too cold to play outside. After that we played in the living room at a coffee table, sitting opposite one another, all four of our eyes glued to the board.

   We rarely talked, going for hours without saying a word. Every so often Matti smoked a Marlboro. After another hour he would tap another one out of the red and white flip-top box. Whenever I joined him, the living room filled with smoke, a gray-white cloud hovering over the entanglements of Go.

   The game demands concentration, which is born out of silence. Some of our best moves and long-term maneuvers were made quietly. I found out the more time I spent in silence, the more surprised I was about what went through my head.

   “Now all my teachers are dead except silence,” is how W. S. Merwin put it.

   When we first started playing it was with the object of capturing stones. We both saw that surrounding other stones and capturing them yielded points. It was like taking a piece in chess. After a while we discovered the object of Go is not to surround and capture the opponent’s stones. The object is to surround empty territory on the board. The way to do it is by building walls around empty intersections. If your territory includes some opposing stones, all the better. 

   From then on it became a contest to capture territory rather than capture stones.

   In the Eastern world Go was the war strategist’s game of choice for a long time. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” reads as an introduction and exposition to the game. Warlords of every stripe were always big on blockading their enemies and capturing territory back in the day. The times they are not a-changing, not anytime soon. 

   There’s an old saying, “Chess is a battle. Go is a war.” The more we played we discovered it was a war of attrition. It was like breaking stones in the hot sun.

   Oskar Korschelt, a German chemist, brought the game from Japan to Europe in the 1880s. Even though it was slow to catch on, by the 1950s championship-level tournaments were being organized. By the mid-70s it was filtering into the United States.

   Lithuanians are instinctively suspicious, somewhat superstitious, sometimes curious, usually sensible, always pragmatic, hard-working, conformist and communal, and punctual. They are often reserved except when they get together. Once they establish their bona fides it’s pick up a drink and run off at the mouth time. They play volleyball and basketball. I never met another Lithuanian who played Go. They probably couldn’t stand the prolonged silence.

   One night after a protracted back-and-forth game Matti and I went to the Harbor Inn on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River in the Flats. We were looking for some down time. It used to be a home-away-from-home for dockworkers. Anyone who didn’t mind a lumpy mattress could sleep upstairs. It might have been a dive back in the day, but it was no ifs ands or buts about it a dive now, slinging suds to third shifters in the morning and anybody else who had a buck the rest of the day and night. There was a coin operated bowling arcade game and mangled dart boards. We got bottles of Pride of Cleveland beer and a handful of beat-up bar darts.

  Nobody knew how long the Harbor Inn had been there, but we reckoned it had to be from the day after Moses Cleaveland settled the land centuries before. It smelled rank, like standing water hundreds of years old. It smelled like old smoke from innumerable cigars and cigarettes. It smelled like sweat. Looking around there was no doubt some of the men in the bar only bathed once a month.

   The beer was refreshing and playing darts was even more refreshing. We played 501 Up. Both players start with a score of 501 and take turns throwing three darts. Bullseye scores 50, the outer ring scores 25, and a dart in the double or treble ring counts double or triple. The tally is calculated and deducted from the player’s total. The goal is to be the first player to reduce the score to exactly zero, the only hitch being that the last dart thrown must land in a double or the bullseye. 

   The darts are front-weighted, flighted weapons a few inches long with a sharp point. A part of playing darts is the throwing part. The rest of it is mental toughness, staying on the button, sting the cork like a bee. It was like Go, except we could let ourselves go. After a couple more P. O. C.’s we got sloppy, but it was no matter.

   There weren’t a hundred or more darts crowding the dart board, like all the stones on a Go board during the endgame. Every throw was always at an empty target, every throw a new opportunity to get it right, unencumbered by the past. It was a relief to see the target and hit the target, except when we missed.

   When that happened, we yukked it up, not like Go, which was no laughing matter.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Six Oysters Ahoy

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By Ed Staskus

“He was a very valiant man who first adventured on the eating of oysters.”  King James VI and I

“I checked the weather report,” said Frank Glass.

“What did you find out?” asked Vera Glass.

“It’s going to be the same today as it was yesterday.”

“Is it going to rain all day?” asked Vera.

“You don’t need a weatherman for that,” said Frank, throwing a glance at the window.

A steady rain was falling outside the large front window of the cottage, down on the long sloping lawn of the Coastline Cottages, on the Gulf Shore Parkway, on the three houses on the other side of the road, and out to the horizon as far as they could see. The sky was dark over Doyle’s Cove. Broad surfboard-sized waves worked up the water. When Frank looked out the northwest-facing kitchen window, the sky, where the weather was coming from, was even darker.

“What should we do? It rained all day yesterday. I’m getting cabin fever.”

“We could play cards, read, and talk among ourselves. How about dinner and a show?”

“That sounds good, especially the part about dinner,” said Vera. “Where do you want to eat?”

“There’s a show opening tonight at the Victoria Theatre.”

“All right, but what about dinner?”

“We could eat at the Landmark, it’s right there.”

“I’ve always liked the Landmark,” said Vera. “Eugene is a great cook. They have the best meat pies.”

“Somebody told me he sold it and there are new owners,” said Frank.

“What? How can that be? Eugene and Olivier and Rachel are gone?”

The Sauve family tree had repurposed an old grocery store in Victoria into a café restaurant in the late 1980s, adding a deck, digging a basement for storage and coolers, and expanding their dining space several times. They were a perennial ‘Best Place to Eat on Prince Edward Island’ in the magazine Canadian Living.

“It’s now called the Landmark Oyster House.”

“I love oysters,” said Vera. “Let’s go.”

It was still raining when Frank and Vera drove up Church Hill Road and swung onto Route 6, through North Rustico to Route 13, through Hunter River and Kelly’s Cross. It was still raining when they pulled into the small seaside town of Victoria on the other side of Prince Edward Island, on the Northumberland Straight side, 45 minutes later. It rained on them as they rushed into the Landmark Oyster House.

There wasn’t a table to be had, but there were two seats at the bar.

“Look, we’re right in front of the oysters,” said Vera, as they sat down at the closed end of it. “I love this spot.”

Kieran Goodwin, the bartender, agreed, standing on the other side of the bar, on the other side of a large shallow stainless steel bin full of raw oysters on ice.

“Best seats in the house,” he said. “They were going to put the bar in the front room, but the dimensions didn’t work out.”

“Who’s they?” asked Frank.

Vera looked the chalkboard on the wall up and down. The names of the oysters on ice were written on the board. There were six of them, Valley Pearl, Sand Dune, Shipwreck, Blackberry Point, Lucky Limes, and Dukes. She looked down into the bin. She couldn’t make heads or tails of which were which. She knew raw oysters were alive, more-or-less.

She wondered, how could you tell?

“Greg and Marly Anderson,” said Kieran. “They own a wedding venue up the road.”  It is the Grand Victoria Wedding Events Venue, in a restored former 19th century church. “When this opportunity came up, when Eugene was looking to tone it down a bit, they decided to purchase it.”

“I worked at the Oyster House in Charlottetown shucking oysters for almost five years,” said Marly. “We heard that the family wanted to retire because they had been working at this restaurant for 29 years. We already felt a connection to this place and we are friends and neighbors with the family.”

“They’ve put their roots down in the community, are making their stand here,” said Kieran.

“I like what they’ve done in here, casual but upscale,” said Vera.

“It looks like the kitchen is more enclosed than it was,” observed Frank.

“Yeah, they did up a wall,” said Kieran. “When you used to walk in, you could peek right in.”

“I remember Eugene telling us once he learned all his cooking from his mom. Who does the cooking now?”

“Kaela Barnett is our chef.”

“We couldn’t do this without her,” said Greg Anderson.

Somebody’s got to have a steady hand on the ladle that stirs the soup.

“I’m thinking of doing oysters and a board,” said Vera.

“That’s a good choice,” said Kieran. “I recommend the large board. You get a bit of everything. I personally like getting some cheese.”

“Me, too.”

“Are you oyster connoisseurs?” asked Kieran.

“Not me,” said Frank. “I can’t remember the last time I ate an oyster.”

“I wish I was, but I love them,” said Vera. “We were on the island last year and went to the Merchantman in Charlottetown with Doug and Rachel, Eugene’s daughter. We had oysters and she went through all the ones we ate, explaining them to me.”

“Would you like something from the bar?” asked Kieran.

“I’ll take the Gahan on tap, the 1772 Pale Ale.”

“What wine goes with oysters?” asked Vera.

“We have a beautiful California chardonnay,” said Kieran. “It’s great with shellfish. I recommend it.”

“This is good, fruity,” said Vera, tasting it.

“We have six oysters,” said Kieran. “You could do one of each.”

“That’s what I’ll do,” said Vera.

“I think I’ll have the seafood chowder and some of the board,” said Frank.

“Oh, Frank, try one,” said Vera.

“Lucky Limes are my favorite,” said Kieran. “It’s a good medium oyster.”

“OK, I’ll try it,” said Frank, shrugging.

Kieran handed him a Lucky Lime.

“How do I eat this thing?” Frank asked Vera.

“Sometimes I chew it, sometimes I don’t,” she said.

“Some people like putting stuff on it, like horseradish, which kills the taste,” said Kieran. “But straight up is best. That’s how islanders do it, just shuck it.”

Frank looked down at the liquid-filled half shell.

“From the wide end,” said Kieran.

He slurped the oyster into his mouth and swallowed it.

“Now you’re a pro,” said Vera.

“That wasn’t bad,” said Frank. “How could you tell it was a Lucky Lime? They all look the same to me.”

“If you look at the chalkboard, it’s one through six. That’s one way.”

“Can you tell by looking at them?” asked Vera.

“I can tell by the shell,” said Kieran. “The ones that are more green, that means there’s more saltwater content. So this is a Sand Dune, quite briny. That one is almost straight salt water.” He pointed to an even darker greener shell.

“The Shipwreck, the name made me nervous to have it, but it was mild,” said Vera.

“It would be farther up the estuary, closer to fresh water.”

“Blackberry Point was very salty.”

“The Blackberry’s are from Malpeque, which is near Cavendish,” said Kieran. “The Sand Dune is from Surrey, down east, and the Lucky Limes are from New London Bay. Valley Pearl is from Tyne Valley and the Dukes are from Ten Mile Creek.”

“I thought you were just making all this up,” said Frank.

“No, its like wine,” said Kieran.

“How did you get into the shellfish racket?” asked Frank.

“I graduated in business, traveled, lived in New Zealand and Australia, and then came back home, and worked in a bank as a financial advisor for six years, in Summerside and Charlottetown, but then I just got tired of working in a bank, and went back to school.”

“How did you find your way here, behind the bar?”

“I date Jamie, who is Marly’s sister.”

“Are those pickled carrots?” asked Vera, pointing at the charcuterie board in front of her.

“Yes, and you have raisin jam, too,” said Kieran.

“Chutney, stop the madness!” exclaimed Vera. “Oh, it’s strawberry jam. It just looks like chutney. It’s delicious.”

“We had raisin pie at a small diner in Hunter River the other day,” said Frank.

“The one by the side of the road, up from the Irving gas station?” asked Kieran.

“That’s the one,” said Frank. “The waitress told us she always thinks of raisin pie as funeral pie, because back in the day, if there was a funeral in the winter, women always made raisin pies for the reception after the memorial service, because raisins kept all year round.”

“Can I take my oyster shells with me?” asked Vera.

“Sure,” said Kieran. ”We can get a little bag for you.”

“You can really taste the sea eating oysters,” said Vera. “Blackberry Point was a little thin and too salty, but once you eat one, and you don’t like it, whoa, what are you going to do? Valley Pearl didn’t have a lot of flavor, but there was some good texture to it. Lucky Lime was very good. My favorite was Sand Dune. It had a strong ocean flavor, briny.”

“I’ve heard people say oysters are slimy, but the one I had, it didn’t seem that way,” said Frank. “I can see having oysters again.”

“Don’t people sometimes say the world is your oyster?” said Vera.

“Do you want dessert?” asked Kieran.

“Do you have carrot cake?”

“It’s made here.”

“We’ll split a slice of that, and two coffees, thanks.”

As Vera and Frank dug into their carrot cake, there was a commotion at the other end of the bar. Kieran, Jamie, and Marly were huddling over glowing screens.

“Did your electronics go haywire?” asked Frank when Kieran brought them coffee.

“The microwave in the basement tripped the breaker. We hardly ever use it, except to melt butter sometimes. It’s weird, it’s been working until now. We have a thing that magnifies our wi-fi signal. We just found out it’s on the same circuit.”

“My mother was a pastry chef,” said Vera. ”She didn’t use microwaves much, but whenever she did, she always said, ‘I’m going to nuke it now!’”

Frank and Vera used their forks on the last crumbs of their cake and finished their coffee. Frank checked the time on his iPhone. “Time to go, sweetheart,” he said. They paid the bill and stood to go.

“Enjoy the show, hope to see you again,” Kieran said as Frank and Vera walked out of the Oyster House.

“It’s raining and sunny at the same time,” said Frank as they dashed across the street to the Victoria Theatre, yellow slanting sunlight leading the way.

“That’s PEI for you,” said Vera. “By the way, what are we seeing?”

“Where You Are.”

“I know where we are,” said Vera.

“That’s the name of the show,” said Frank.

“Aha, I see,” said Vera.

“Hustle it up, we’re almost late.”

They went up the steps into the theater, got their programs, and sat down. Vera tucked the bag of shells under her seat. “Wherever you are, there you are, oyster boys and girls,” she thought, making sure they were safe and sound.

“How could you even tell?” she wondered, as the lights went down and the show started.

Photograph by Vanessa Staskus

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Laying Low on East 4th Street

By Ed Staskus

   It never mattered what time I stepped into Otto Moser’s, morning noon or night. Somebody was always dead drunk at the bar. If they were quiet enough everybody ignored them. If they got unruly, they ended up being tossed out on the sidewalk.

   Otto Moser’s was a bar restaurant downtown on East 4th St. in Cleveland, Ohio. When I was cutting classes at Cleveland State University it had been there about eighty years. It hit the century mark before its time came due. It was a narrow deep place between a Woolworths and a shoe store. A civil defense shelter was between the general-merchandise store and Otto Moser’s, in case an atomic bomb war broke out.

   Europeans drink more alcohol than anybody else in the world and Lithuanians are the heaviest European drinkers. The Lithuanian community I belonged to was swimming in it, even though they put their faith in God and country. I wasn’t much for strong drink, though. A couple of beers put me under the table, so I nursed whatever was in front of me. Most of the times I went to Otto Moser’s it was to hang out. The price of a chair for the afternoon, between the lunch and dinner crowds, was a cup of coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich.

   The restaurant’s grand opening was in 1893 when East 4th St. was called Sheriff St. The Euclid Avenue Opera House was across the street and there were five theaters and two burlesque houses within the blink of an eye. Many actors and personalities stopped in for a bite and hootch. Otto collected their autographed portraits, framed them, and hung them on the walls of his saloon. It got so there were more than a thousand of them. There were six mounted animal heads, also, including a moose named Bullwinkle.

   When Otto Moser died in 1942 two of his employees, Max A. Joseph and Max B. Joseph, took over. They didn’t change anything. Sometimes they closed their doors to the public, when the cast of a big show took the place over, or the Metropolitan Opera was in town. When it was, they closed nights for most of that week so the singers could kick back and relax at their leisure.

   When I went there in mid-day the waitress was Norma Bunner, who had been there since 1955. She never brought a menu or wrote my order down. The coffee was always fresh and the sandwich hot, with extra pickles on the side. I liked to read when I was by myself, which was most of the time.

   I often stopped at Kay’s Books beforehand to pick up a used paperback that didn’t have anything to do with my college studies. I was majoring in film and literature, so I made sure it was sans the movies or the classics. I read the John Carter of Mars series, Jim Thompson’s hard-boiled pulp, and Jorge Luis Borges’s short stories about knife fights in the shabby Palermo district of Buenos Aires.   

   Kay’s Books was on Prospect Ave, or what some folks called Prostitution Ave., and East 6th St. There were adult movie houses, hookers and pimps, and other questionable morals on both sides of the street. There were several wig stores and rotgut bars. If I was going there in the morning, I got off my bus at Public Square, walked through the May Company, left by the back door, and slipped past the Domino Lounge, its jukebox blasting, right into the bookstore.

   There was a raised platform just inside the front door of the store on the right. A big gay man who went by the name of Harry Condiles worked behind the counter, looming over everybody, wearing white button-down shirts with the sleeves ripped off. “Get out of here, you creep,” Rachel Kay shouted whenever his boyfriends stopped in to visit. He knew where everything was, was quiet and patient, although he could lose his temper if questioned one time too many. One day when a customer couldn’t find a book for the third or fourth time he snapped, “Oh, it’s up there, over there by those damned books, over by that fucking thing there.” 

   He had a keen eye for shoplifters. He knew when a purse or bag didn’t look right. Mrs. Kay was always somewhere in the three-story building her shoes click clacking on the mosaic tiled floors, keeping order as best she could.

   The place was stuffed full of books and magazines. I never saw the basement said to be filled to the brim with them but what I saw upstairs made me think they had a copy of every book ever printed. The aisles were narrow and the shelves floor to ceiling. There were rows of books behind the first row of books. It was sort of organized. New hardcovers were up front. Poetry was on the mezzanine. Mass market paperbacks were on the second floor. The upper level was porn and health magazines full of female nudists. Everything else sprawled all over.

   The paperbacks I bought were fifteen cents, maybe a quarter. Some of them had been priced so long ago I knew I was coming out way ahead when adjusted for inflation. Cockroaches that ate the glue were rampant, so I learned to check the binding. Mrs. Kay didn’t always stick to the sticker price. She wasn’t above saying a book costing $3.95 was worth more, crossing out the price, and writing $5.95 in black crayon in its place. Whenever anybody argued with her about being highhanded, they didn’t get the book, and were told to take their business somewhere else.

   I was reading “Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches” one afternoon when one of the barflys got up, limped over to my table, and plopped himself down in the chair opposite me.

   “Whatcha reading?” he asked.

   “Are we getting acquainted,” I asked.

   “You betcha,” he said.

   I thought before I spoke, wary of anymore cha cha cha’s.

   “It’s about World War Two.”

   “I was in that war, fella,” he said. 

   “Is that right?”

   “You don’t believe me?”

   “I’ll take your word for it.”

   “All right, all right,” he said, reaching for his billfold. “I gotcha.”

   He pulled out a five-pointed gold star attached to a faded red, white, and blue ribbon.

   “What is it?” I asked.

   The Silver Star,” my newfound neighbor said. “It’s awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.”

   “What did you do to get it?

   “I was on Tarawa.”

   “What’s that?”

   “It’s an island in the Pacific. We landed there in 1943. I got shot twice, but I killed my share of slant-eyes. Those sons-of-bitches were tough.”

   The battle for Tarawa was fought in late November, part of Operation Galvanic, the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. More than 6,000 Japanese and Americans died during the three-day fighting, mostly on and around the 300-acre bird-shaped island of Betio, southwest of Tarawa Atoll. It was the first American offensive in the central Pacific. The nearly 5,000 Japanese defenders were well-prepared. They fought almost to the last man. It was all over in three days.

   “The island was the most heavily defended atoll that ever would be invaded by Allied forces in the Pacific,” said Joseph Alexander, a Marine amphibious officer who later became an historian. One combat correspondent who landed with the fighting forces called it “the toughest battle in Marine Corps history.”

   “It was flat as a pancake” the barfly said. “There was nowhere to hide. We dug holes in the sand fast as we could.”

   “Every place on the island was covered by direct rifle and machine gun fire,” Marine Colonel Merritt Edison said.

   “We landed on amphibious tractors,” the man said. His hair was thin and unkempt. His teeth were bad, and his fingernails were yellowish. He smoked Lucky Strikes incessantly. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, but his watch was a Rolex, and his shoes were new soft fancy leather. He was down but not out. He waved towards the bar for his drink to be refreshed. “It was one goddamned snafu after another.”

   Shelling from the American warships was disjointed. The landing time was delayed twice. Headwinds pushed the landing craft between the devil and the deep blue sea. Scaling the seawall was more deadly than anybody thought it would be.

   “Those who were not hit wading ashore would always remember how the machine gun bullets hissed into the water, inches to the right, inches to the left,” wrote Robert Sherrod, a correspondent for Time Magazine.

    The Japanese used their grenades to good effect once the Marines started landing. Corporal John Spillane, a major league baseball prospect before the war, caught two of them barehanded and threw them back before a third exploded in his hand.

   “You got shot two times? Is that how you got the medal?” I asked.

   “Hell, no,” he said. “It was when the Japs counterattacked the third night screaming and yelling running right at us out in the open. Our artillery opened up until they were so close to us that they had to shut down. It was hand to hand after that.”

   “How did you get the medal?

   “A squad of gooks got low with their Type 99 machine guns, the kind that had armored shields, and were spraying us. We had to take them out. Five of us went with grenades. Another one of us had a flame thrower. We took them out, but I was the only one who made it back. I got plugged in the shoulder and my leg, right here near the hip. The medics jacked me up with morphine and a bottle of sake and that was the end of the war for me.” 

   After the ferocious battle, which saw only 17 Japanese soldiers surrendering, the island was awash in carnage. “Betio would be more habitable if the Marines could leave for a few days and send a million buzzards in,” Robert Sherrod wrote afterwards. Marine General Julian Smith declared the enemy “wiped out” and it was on to the next island.

   The man an arm’s length away had been a hero once. Watching him I thought of Marcel Proust, my least favorite French writer, who I had been forced to read for one of my classes. “Remembrance of Time Past” is one and a half million words long. During a Q & A session I asked our professor how many times he estimated a person would need to go to the bathroom getting through the interminable magnum opus. He gave me a sour look. Proust scribbles words words and more words about his day-to-day life society manners friends enemies boys and girls courtesans and love and love lost and the love of love and, above all, jealousy and recrimination. After a while it just makes you want to puke.

   I couldn’t finish it. It didn’t seem like there was a pay-off in store. Cliff’s Notes were created because of that book.

   Just as I was about to ask what happened, how he went from hero to tosspot, my companion said, “I gotta go to the john.”

   There was one thing about Proust that I recalled. He wrote that we think we are living in the world when we are really only living in our minds. Everything is inside us, not just now but all of the past. We are a house of mirrors. I realized my confidante had no doubt told his WW2 story to countless listeners, some willing, some procured like me. My booze hound was staring in the same mirror day after day. Otto Moser’s was a way station and a confessional.

   When he came out of the bathroom, he walked past me like he either didn’t see me or didn’t recognize me or I didn’t exist. He went out the front door. It was for the best. I had a four o’clock class and needed to get going. I stuffed my stuff into my backpack, paid the bill of fare, and walked out into the bright afternoon.

   VFW was outside, three sheets to the wind, supporting himself leaning on the fire hydrant at the curb with an outstretched arm. He was standing in a patch of sunshine. He was a ship in a bottle.

   “Are you all right?” I asked.

   “Sure, man, I’m OK,” he said.

   “Where’s home?”

   “Old Brooklyn, up by the zoo.”

   “You might want to go home and dry out.”

   “I’d probably die if I tried drying out,” he said.

   “There’s always tomorrow morning. Otto’s opens early.”

   “I know the order of business here, son, theirs and mine.”

   “In the meantime, maybe don’t lean on that fire hydrant,” I said. “Guys are always peeing on it.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Borderland

By Ed Staskus

   Over the river and through the woods, crossing the border from the north at Buffalo, New York, and going west in the 1950s meant crossing the Niagara River on the Peace Bridge and driving down Route 5 along the lakeshore to Athol Springs, and then jumping onto Route 20. They are state routes and were heavily wooded on both sides of both the two-lane roads.

   Route 20 parallels a borderland, running along the south shore of Lake Erie. The frontier is in the middle of the lake. Hardly anybody pays any attention to it. Walleye, carp, yellow perch, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass and bigmouth buffalo fish crisscross the border every minute of every day.

   The Peace Bridge is the international overpass between Canada and the United States at the east end of Lake Erie at the source of the river, about 12 miles up the river from Niagara Falls. It connects Fort Erie, Ontario, in Canada to Buffalo.

   When Angele Staskevicius, her husband Vytas, and their three kids, Ed, Rick, and Rita, crossed the bridge in late summer 1957, thirty years after it was built, they were crossing the busiest entry from Canada into the United States. They were within weeks of being the fifty millionth car going that way. They were a family of immigrants on the road from Ontario on their way to Cleveland, Ohio, by way of Lithuania.

   “Vytas bought an old Buick in Cleveland, drove back to Sudbury, and picked us up,” said Angele. “We shipped everything else by train, our Connor washing machine, beds, dressers and tables and chairs.”

   Construction on the Peace bridge started in 1925 and was finished in 1927. A major problem building the bridge was the swift river current. Edward Lupfer, the chief engineer, drove the first test car slowly across the bridge. When it didn’t collapse, they were cheered and three months later it opened to everybody in both directions. The official opening ceremony had almost 100,000 in attendance. The festivities were transmitted by radio in the first ever international coast-to-coast broadcast. 

   “We stopped in Hamilton with friends for a short while, picking up our mail from Customs. We all had Canadian passports but only Vytas had a visa, for him, not his wife and kids, but in the end, nobody said anything at the crossing.”

   When her husband went to the United States, Angele stayed behind in Sudbury all spring and most of the summer. She couldn’t call him those months because long distance calls were too expensive. Instead, they wrote each other, waiting a week-and-more for a reply.

   “The kids have been good. I forgot to call the lawyer about the house. I have to go buy food tomorrow,” she wrote.

   He wrote back that he was working but making less than half what he had been making in Sudbury’s nickel mines. “There are many Lithuanians here and I have been meeting some of them.” He looked for a second job.

   “I had almost no money,” she said. “Vytas was gone and there were no paychecks. I sold the house while he was gone and sent him the money. I spent all the rent money from the room upstairs and was waiting to go as soon as possible. When Rita’s birthday came, we couldn’t have anybody over for a party, but she was so young anyway. Edvardas was mad that I didn’t invite all the neighborhood kids, but Richardas didn’t care, thank goodness.”

   They drove through Buffalo in mid-morning, passing a junkman driving a beat-up truck, a milkman in a new white truck, and a sweet-smelling bread truck delivering door to door. Wash was hanging in yards and kids were on the streets walking running riding bikes and scooters jumping rope and kicking the can and fighting with rubber band guns made out of used tire tubes.

   “Ziurek, jis yra juodas!” Eddie exclaimed pointing out the back window of the car at a boy. “He’s all black, his skin is black!”

   Neither he, his brother or sister had ever seen a Negro in Sudbury. Sixty years later there were about a thousand blacks in Sudbury, but sixty years earlier there weren’t a handful. Visible minorities of all kinds even nowadays have a small share in the city, less than 4%. In mid-century the share was close to zero.

   Leaving Buffalo, the houses thinning out, they idled over to the curb to listen to a man playing an accordion, wearing a red shirt black shorts with a white belt and argyle socks, sitting on a wooden folding chair in the front frame of his garage the door open, his two friends drinking from cans of Stein Beer and body bobbing foot peddling.

   South of the city Vytas pulled his bucket of bolts over at Minerva’s Red Top in Athol Springs and got ice cream cones for the kids at the refreshment stand. He and Angele had sausage dogs and kraut. It was a short jog from there to Route 20, the road they drove the rest of the way the rest of the day to Cleveland.

   They rented a two-bedroom second floor suite on East 61st Street between Superior and St. Clair Avenues from a fellow Lithuanian and stayed for two months, living out of suitcases, sleeping on metal platform beds, and cooking on a hot plate.

   “I cut my leg on the metal one morning and had to get stitches,” Ed said. “My mom stopped the bleeding, since she had been a nurse before I was born.”

   “I dont remember a thing,” Rita said.

   “There was a candy store on the corner,” Rick said.

   “I liked it here until July,” Vytas said. “My God, it got hot!” The weather was hot hazy humid. There were no fans in the house. He lived on ice water.

   The months of July August September in Cleveland are sultry, when it gets into the 80s and 90s and stays there. Vytas was from Siauliai, Lithuania, where it stays in the low 70s. He had lived in Sudbury for eight years after the Second World War, where it stays in the mid-70s.

   “We visited Vytas’s sister Genute and her husband Andrius the next day,” Angele said. “They had three daughters, two of them were teenagers already, and we decided to buy a house together.”

   They bought a duplex on Bartfield Avenue, a two-block stretch of street between East 129th Street and Coronado Avenue with nineteen houses on it. There were coal sheds in the basement and a set of tornado doors in the back. There were two bedrooms in both units of the duplex, one for sleeping the children and the other the grown-ups. 

   “It was horrible,” Rita said. “I didn’t have my own bedroom. My brothers fought all the time.”

   A blind man’s house on a knoll anchored one end of the street, a three-pump two-bay Gulf gas station anchored Coronado and St. Clair, and a broad one-story log house building behind the gas station doubled as home for the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars and the Boy Scouts. It was fronted by a weedy tree-filled lot.

   “We messed around there all the time, in the old cars behind the gas station, pretending to be gangsters, and on the field in front of the log cabin, playing red light green light,” Ed said. “We played kickball in the street, and in the winter, we built snow forts on the blind man’s mound, since he had a big yard, and if you ruled the fort you could throw snowballs down at everybody while they had to throw up.”

   Ed went to first grade and Rick went to kindergarten at the Iowa-Maple public school that winter, walking the fifteen minutes up East 127th Street to Maple Avenue. The first school there was demolished in 1951. Their school was brand spanking new.

   They didn’t know and didn’t find out that a stone’s throw away across Eddy Road, the thoroughfare north to Bratenahl, the city’s wealthy lakeside suburb, was the footprint of the house the last president of Lithuania, Antanas Smetona, lived and died in on January 9, 1944, when the house caught fire and burned down. Five years later, when they moved out of the neighborhood, Rita’s mother took her to see Birute Nasvytyte, who had been a concert pianist in Europe before the war, from whom she started taking lessons. Birute was married to Julius Smetona, one of the ex-president’s sons.

   “I woke up one day after the New Year 1963 and found out we were going to be moving in the spring,” said Ed. “My parents told us we were living in a bad neighborhood and had to move. Until that day I didn’t know that where we were living was a bad place. I liked our neighborhood and my friends.” 

   But by then his neck of the woods had become a borderland.

   New interstate highways, slum clearance, and urban renewal were changing Cleveland in ways he didn’t know anything about. Some large parts of downtown and tracts of the east side were being torn down. Entire neighborhoods disappeared. Blacks started moving east. Whites started moving farther east. Everybody was saying, “The niggers are coming.” They made it sound like the plague. Everybody was asking, “When are they going to get here?”

   Whenever a real estate sign went up everybody was suddenly afraid there would be a dozen signs inside of a month and that property values would fall near to nothing. Nobody wanted to be the white face in a sea of black, not if they could help it. Nobody wanted to be the last man standing. All the ethnics, Ukrainians and Romanians, Slovenes, Slavs, Balts, started moving out.

   “I felt threatened that my neighborhood was being invaded by these people,” said Walt Zielinski, a local Polish boy. “I made it tough for one new black kid. We had a big fight. I beat the crap out of him, and that was it. But, as time went on, we became best friends. Then as the neighborhood started to change the first black families moved away just like the white families did, and they started to be replaced by a lower class of black people, and it started to get rough. I got beat up a lot. I was the little white kid. I was really intimidated. All my friends were gone. I felt very alone.”

   Most of the African Americans who moved to Cleveland during the Great Migration lived in the Cedar-Central neighborhood, bounded by Euclid Avenue to the north, East 71st Street to the east, Woodland Avenue to the south, and East 22nd Street to the west. Those frontiers were rapidly changing. The dynamics weren’t the same.

   “There were some hillbillies who lived next door, and one of their kids hit my brother with a rake one day, and my friends and I had to rescue him, but I hardly ever saw any black people, except on the bus,” Ed said. “We were only in the Iowa-Maple school for a year. After that we went to the St. George Catholic School on East 67th Street and Superior. We had to take two city buses there and back every day. Everybody was going to work at the same time we were going to school, white and colored all mixed together.”

   There were nearly 900,000 people living in Cleveland in 1960, a quarter million of them black. Twenty years later there were only 570,000 residents. Black people were still, for the most part, living in the city, but more than 300,000 white people had moved away.

   “In the summer we rounded up what bikes we could find, balls and bats and mitts and rode up Eddy Road to Glenview Park where we played ball all day. We could see Lake Erie and it was windy a lot. If somebody hit a pop-up into the wind, catching it got tricky. Bobby Noga, who lived on the other side of us from the hillbillies, caught a pop-up with the top of his head one day.”

   Tens of thousands of refugees from Europe settled in Cleveland after 1949. They all wanted to assimilate with the Anglo Americans. Nobody wanted to assimilate with the African Americans. In 1964 picketers at a segregated school in Little Italy were attacked by a mob of more than 400 white men wielding knives and clubs. Nearly a hundred policemen on foot and horseback tried to keep the riot in check.

   “You would have to be crazy to picket,” Cleveland Police Inspector Jerry Rademacker said.

   After the mid-50s immigrants in the east-side neighborhoods started moving to the East 185th Street, Lakeshore Boulevard, and Euclid neighborhoods. They moved to Parma, which by 1960 was fastest-growing city in the United States. Ukrainians filled up State Road and Poles filled up Ridge Road. Jews moved up the hill, filling up Cleveland Heights. The Cleveland metropolitan area became one of the most segregated in the country. It is still one of the most segregated in the country.

   After the White Flight was over it was all over.

   When they lived on Bartfield Avenue Ed and Rick and their friends walked to the Shaw-Hayden Theater on Saturday afternoons to see double features, paper bags of popcorn their moms made hidden under sweaters and jackets. There were comedy and tragedy masks lit up in purple leading the way. The movie house sat 1200, but they always sat as close as they could, the better to see the monsters and cowboys and spacemen. It’s where they saw the B & W 3D “Creature from the Black Lagoon” on the recently installed CinemaScope screen. The auditorium was dark, but the lobby was all white wood, a kind of knotty pine. 

   In the winter they went to Forest Hill Park to skate on the frozen lagoon, lacing up in the boathouse, tottering down to the ice. They went sledding on Knob Hill, scaring themselves silly going as fast as they could hitting the bump screaming at the bottom of the long downhill. After they moved, they didn’t do that anymore. 

   “Rita, Rick and I had to go to a new school, Holy Cross, where we didn’t know anybody,” Ed said. “It took twice as long to walk there, too. Everywhere else all of a sudden was too far to go.”

   Vytas and Angele Staskevicius bought a single house on a street starting at East 185th Street on the border of Cleveland and ending at East 200th Street on the border of Euclid. There were more than a hundred houses from one end of the street to the other. The new Lithuanian Community Center and the new Lithuanian church and school were nearby. There weren’t any tornado doors leading into the basement from the back yard, but it had three bedrooms on the second floor.

   “I was so happy,” Rita said. “I finally had my own bedroom.”

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

My Dutch Uncle

By Ed Staskus

   It was 10 minutes before 5 o’clock on a Friday that Dave Myers asked me to come into his office. I knew his intention was to fire me. Efficient Lighting was going downhill fast. There wasn’t much that was efficient about it anymore. I also knew I wanted to stick it out for the next year-or-two before it all went to hell and the doors were closed for good. All I had to do was somehow convince Dave to let bygones be bygones.

   That was going to be easier said than done. Dave was a soft-spoken arrogant son of a gun whose bite was worse than his bark. When I walked into his office and saw him with his wiener dog in his lap, sitting behind his ping pong table size desk, I thought if I played my cards right, I might have a chance. Dave was arrogant but he could be flighty, too.

   Efficient Lighting was the parent company of several children. We sold light bulbs of all kinds for all kinds of uses, from illumination to heat to disinfection. Our big seller was Light Sources tanning bulbs. We sold them by the boat load, although the boats had been getting smaller and smaller since the late 1990s, after tanning beds got mixed up with cigarettes. It was a slow death, but it was the kiss of death. Fewer and fewer people wanted to risk cancer for a drop-dead tan.

   The first time I met Dave Myers was at the Light Sources offices and factory in Connecticut. Our sales guys were there for a tour of the plant, to see and find out how fluorescent UV tubes were made. When we were introduced to him, I couldn’t help noticing his office was roomy. He was a kind of engineer executive in charge. He seemed close to Christian Sauska, the grand poobah of the enterprise. I found out later he was married to somebody from the Sauska clan.

   Light Sources went back to 1983, back to Hungary, when Christian and some long-gone buddies got the company off the ground. All the top guys in Connecticut were Hungarians. Dave Myers was enough Hungarian to count as one of the guys. When Light Sources engineered a takeover of Ultraviolet Resources International, the top dog child of Efficient Lighting, they sent Dave Myers to Brook Park to run the show. 

   Doug Clarke was the owner operator of Efficient Lighting. He built a state of the art 45,000 square foot warehouse and offices in Brook Park, Ohio at the turn of the millennium, next to a graveyard, after more than fifteen years in the light bulb business, most of them in Lakewood, next to an interstate highway. When Light Sources took control of URI everything stayed the same for a while. Everybody stayed right where they were. The only change was that Doug was kicked upstairs and Dave took over Doug’s ground floor office and the day-to-day operations of URI.

   I was a jack of all trades, working general lighting salt-water fish lighting and tanning bulbs. Everybody was the boss of me at the same time that nobody knew what to do with me. I kept my head down and kept moving through the weeds. I went to all the meetings and tried not to doze off.

   The second time I met Dave was at a trade show in Las Vegas. By the end of the day I thought, “This guy must get the same briefing the President of the United States gets every morning.” He seemed to know about anything and everything. I never ventured an opinion in his presence after that. I didn’t need a blowhard turning me over at every opportunity.

   I was civil to Dave from the day he showed up to the day he left for greener pastures with Beavis and the Buttheads. The family firm were splitting up and the day they would split up for good was fast approaching. Kathy Hayes, Doug’s wife, had brought her brothers and sisters into the business one after the other. Patty Hayes was our sales manager for the moment, but she was too mild-mannered to last and didn’t last. John Hayes, Kevin Hayes, and Maggie Hayes ran the show. They rotated who was Beavis and who was the Buttheads on a near daily basis. Maggie did her darndest to be Beavis as often as possible. Kevin took personality lessons from Dave. John handled all the big accounts and tried to look too busy to talk. Kevin’s wife was our long-time accountant.

   Dave and the B & B crew were on the verge of leaving Brook Park and buying a bigger building in Westlake. They were going to wrinkle up a new business venture with Wisconsin-based Tan-U, a regional distributor in the upper Midwest. 

   “As the indoor tanning industry evolves into a more mature market, consolidation makes a great deal of business sense,” Dave said. “I can’t think of another company which could result in a better fit and look forward to cementing the new company’s position as a major player in the market.” 

   He was a big fan of corporate snake oil talk.

   Dave started by asking me if I liked my job.

   “Sure,” I said.

   “Are you satisfied with how things are going?”

   “Sure,” I lied. 

   “What are your goals?”

   He was getting to be too much with his well-worn leading questions, but I played along. I made up some goals, keeping it short. Dave liked the sound of his own voice far more than he liked the sound of anybody else’s voice. Since there wasn’t anything he didn’t know there wasn’t anything he wasn’t contemptuous about that you didn’t happen to know.

   He nodded, looking down, stroking his dark brown middle-aged Daschund, thinking my goals over. The dog was recovering from hip surgery. One of my middle-aged hips hurt. I was taking yoga classes.

   He started talking about how the business world works. He was patient and sincere talking down to me. He told me to understand how business works, you must have a firm understanding of how people think and behave, how people make decisions, act on those decisions, and communicate with others. At its core, every business is a collection of people whose work and processes can be reliably repeated to produce a particular result.

   “Do you understand what I’m getting at?” he asked.

   “Sure,” I said. “How is your dog doing?”

   “Much better,” he said, and described the limp the dog had had to live with, the operation, the recovery, and the first day the dog had stepped out on grass and run a few steps, wagging its tail. He brought the animal to work every day. He slept in a custom bed. He ate a special diet catered to him in special doggie bowls. Dave encouraged him to follow at his heels whenever he went anywhere in the building to build its strength back up.

   “If there’s one thing that man loves, it’s that dog,” I thought.

   We talked about pets, animal cruelty and animal rescue, the companionship of dogs, the loyalty of dogs, and whether dogs were better people than people. By the time he was done, since he did most of the talking, it was past six and he said he had to pack up for a weekend trip. He gave me a bottle of fancy wine from the 100-or-more bottle walnut wine rack in his office. 

   “Thanks, Dave,” I said, hefting the bottle like a trophy.

   He had forgotten to fire me. I tiptoed away to my cubicle got my stuff and left. In the parking lot I saw Dave’s luxury four door ride and his natty ragtop sports car parked on both sides of my Saturn SUV. I made sure to not dent scratch or otherwise molest either one. The last thing I needed was another lecture from Dave.

   When Westlake was ready Ultraviolet Resources International, Dave Myers, John Kevin Maggie, Kevin’s wife the accountant, somebody’s sister-in-law, and some of the sales force went west to the outer-ring suburbs. Our building felt half-empty after that because it was. We were going to struggle for the next three years until all the downsizing that could be done was done and the building had to be sold. I was one of the last to be laid off, but I didn’t mind. There was hardly any work left for me to do, anyway.

   The next thing I heard was that Dave wasn’t with URI anymore and had set up an ISO Italia office on the east side, selling high-end Italian tanning beds and shoddy Canadian-made Sylvania tanning tubes. I was sure he could explain away the performance problems. The next year I heard he had been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with insider trading

   “Baltimore-based consultant Brett Cohen received coded e-mails from a fraternity brother about two biotechnology companies and passed the information to an uncle, David Myers, of Cleveland, Ohio who traded on the tip,” the SEC said.

   The fraternity brother got the information from his brother, a patent agent for California-based Sequenom, which made genetic analysis products. The patent agent passed along non-public information about the company’s plans to acquire Exact Sciences. Dave bought 35,000 shares of Exact Sciences before the acquisition was announced.

   The news sent Exact Sciences’ stock up 50 percent, setting Dave up to pocket illegal profits by selling most of the stock over the next few weeks. “David Myers garnered more than $600,000 in profits trading on the inside information,” the SEC said.

   The patent agent also passed on tips about an up-coming announcement that investors should no longer rely on Sequenom’s data about its Down syndrome testing. Dave bought Sequenom put options just before the announcement, which caused a 75 percent drop in the company’s stock, according to the SEC complaint.

   “Myers later sold that entire position for illegal profits of more than $570,000,” the SEC said.

   On top of everything else, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California filed criminal charges against Brett Cohen and Dave Myers. They pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

   “Gee whiz,” I thought, putting down my Apple iPad. I didn’t wish Dave any harm, but it was a relief to know he didn’t know everything after all. I had forgotten the wiener dog’s name but wished him the best, on or off the leash.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”