Category Archives: Dogs Never Bite Me

Tick Tock

By Ed Staskus

   Thelma met Steve, her husband-to-be, right after he got out of jail and came home for his father’s funeral. Meanwhile, she was getting thrown out of her house, again, after her dad died and she threatened to kill her sister.

   They met at Mad Anthony’s, and later Steve followed her to the Tick Tock Tavern on Clifton Boulevard, on a night when she was out with my friends. The stars were bright in a clear sky.

   “I needed to get loose that night. Patty and I got into a fight at mom and dad’s house and when she tried to choke me, I told her I was going to punch her in the face and kill her if she ever put her hands around my neck again.”

   “What did you say?” Patty shrieked.

   “I know how to break your nose and shove it up into your brain,” Telly yelled when she pushed Patty off. “I will do that if you try choking me one more time. I will lay you out flat.”

   She never touched Thelma again after that, but the threat of killing her didn’t go over very well.

   Steve had been a bartender at the Tick Tock Tavern, slinging shots. He worked there forever, although since it opened in 1939 maybe it hadn’t been forever, not exactly. Whenever anyone mentioned anybody’s name to Steve at the bar he always said, “Oh, I know him.”

   “Food, spirits, and characters” is what they say at that place.

   After the fight with Patty, Telly went to her church, Bay Presbyterian, to talk to one of the pastors. “I was born a Christian, raised a Christian, and will always be a Christian. I have always gone to Bay Presbyterian, took my family there, and I still go there.”

   She had been going to counseling for years, but still not accepted the fact that they had been roughed up as kids. She was freaking out that her dad had died, and was upset, too, about her ex-boyfriend-to-be, Craig, who was the mayor of Lorain. They had been seeing each other for seventeen years.

   There was no reelection on the horizon. If there had been, Telly’s chances of higher office were slim. Craig had his eye on future chances.

   “What are you doing with Craig?” her minister asked.

   “Why would you ask me such a thing?”

   “Why do you stay with him?” he asked.

   “You really want to know? I’ll let you know! I made a promise a long time ago, when I was a Young Lifer and I accepted Christ into my heart, that I would never have pre-marital sex. When I met Craig, a couple of years into our relationship, I started having sex. I said to myself, well, I’ve made my bed and I’m going to lie in it.”

   “No, no, no,” he said. “That’s not the life the Lord wants for you.”

   They started praying for the kind of guy she wanted to meet, from eye color to personality. What she didn’t know was Steve was praying to meet someone at the same time. He wasn’t being as specific as Thelma, though.

   After Steve got out of jail for driving too fast too drunk, and shortly after his dad died, Bobby, his brother, begged him to stay with him in Little Italy, so he did. Steve was a full-blown addict by then. When she met him, he was drinking a fifth of Yukon with beer chasers and snorting coke so he could keep drinking.

   He had started thinking life more-or-less of sucks. He hadn’t had a girl to talk to for more than two years, because he was an obnoxious drunk, and he was down, if not out. One day while he was walking the dogs, dogs that Bobby and he rescued, he started praying, which was something he had never truly done before.

   “God, if you can, bring me a woman. Please make that happen. I’m lonely, I’m miserable, and I hate my life. Please show me someone who can show me how to love you as much as I can love her.”

   Shortly after that Telly’s friends and she were out for a party at Mad Anthony’s. Steve walked in and as he went by, he locked eyes with her. After he was past, she was talking to her friends when she got that creepy feeling that someone was staring at her. After another drink she kept feeling that long steep stare. She went over to where Steve was sitting alone.

   “I’m pretty sure we went to high school together,” she said.

   “Yeah, Bay High,” he said.

   Then he asked her out on a date and five more.

   “Really, dude, six dates?”

   He wanted Telly to go with him to the wedding of a sportswriter friend of his, but he thought they should go out six times first, to test the waters.

   “Alright, alright,” she said, finally. “We’ll see what happens.” She gave him her phone number.

   “We’re going to the next bar,” her friends said.

   “It was nice meeting you,” she said to Steve. “Call me.”

   He followed them out. By the time they got to the Tick Tock he was a different person than the man she had been talking to at Mad Anthony’s, getting obnoxious and loud. By then it was too much Yukon on the brain. It was all downhill.

   “I’m leaving, so piss off,” she finally told him.

   “Jenny, why don’t you come home with me?”

   “Whoa, dude, you’re a jackass.”

   “Jenny, Jenny, why are you going?”

   “Because my name’s Telly and that’s why I’m not going home with you.”

   As she went through the door, she shot him a look. “Great, he’s got my phone number,” she thought. But she gave him a second look. “He could be really handsome if we got rid of that huge monobrow.”

   The next morning, he called her.

   “What do you want?” she asked, ready willing able to hang up.

   “Don’t hang up, don’t hang up,” he said.

   “I can’t do it,” she said. “I have drugs and alcohol in my family. The last thing I’m going to do is put up with it in a boyfriend. It’s not going to happen.”

   “No, no, no, I’m good,” he said.

   They talked some more. When Steve wasn’t drinking like a drunkard, he was charming. He charmed her into a date and then another one, and another one. They always went out with a group because she wouldn’t go out with him by herself. She was leery skittish. Every time she went out with him, she left him at a bar at the end of the night.

   “You’re an idiot,” and she would leave, stamping her feet. He usually walked the east west railroad tracks home.

   But he started to get better, slowly, and as he did, they got better together, two hands tick-tocking the same clock.

Excerpted from “Dogs Never Bite Me” at http://www.dogsneverbiteme.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.”

Street Legal

By Ed Staskus

   Every time Thelma found an animal, cat dog bird squirrel, anything, it didn’t matter, she would take care of it and nurture it. If they were hurt her dad, Fred, and she would help them out together. If it was an emergency, they took them to the Lake Erie Nature Center down Wolf Road.

   It drove Alma batty. She barely liked animals, at all. Besides, she had asthma. Their dander, saliva, and skin flakes aggravated it.

   “Someone’s going to have to take me to the people doctor,” she said whenever Telly brought another lost or hurt creature home.

  If you’re born to love animals, then you love animals. Telly didn’t think it was anything you can make happen. Her dad had it. She had it. Her mom wasn’t good with it. Whenever she wanted a pet, she always asked her dad. She never asked her mom. They had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and a poodle, thanks to dad.

   Their poodle Coco hated Telly’s brother Brad. She never knew why, exactly, except she thought he might have been too rough with her when he was a crawler.

   “Coco, get him,” was all she had to say if they were sitting on the sofa together. Coco would assault the hell out of him, growling and snapping and pulling off his diaper. She had fun making the poodle attack her little brother since she knew the dog wanted to, and because she could.

  Before Patty moved out Brad and Telly slept in the same room. They both had big beds with posts and a bar across the back of them. They each had cherry wood dressers, a closet, and shelves for their toys. 

   Telly slept in the bed by the window and Brad slept closer to the attic. Her brother passed wind gusts of gas when he was a kid. They kept a window cracked even in winter. Sometimes it was so loud he woke Telly up.

   “Are your butt cheeks still flapping from that one?” 

  She did love him, though. He was a good kid most of the time. When she was in high school, she took him with her wherever they went. They were Tom and Jerry.

   Telly played TRIP! with him all the time when he was small. Wherever he was in the house, which was a split level, six steps up from the basement, or the five steps up to the kitchen, or the twelve steps up to the bedrooms, it didn’t matter, he never knew when his sister was going to suddenly pull a cord tight and make him trip.

   Her sisters made her play LET ME HAVE IT! with them. They would be in Patty or Betsy’s bedroom and she would have to say, “Let me have it.” They would pummel her with pillows. Just pummel her, letting her have it.

  A car hit Coco when she was a junior in high school. Coco had gotten older and slower, but none of them saw it coming. She ran up and down the street and into and out of the woods at the end of their cul-de-sac all her living days.  The man who hit her stopped, picked her up, and went looking for the owners. When he found Betty, she came to the Bay Village pool where Telly was lifeguarding and got her. They had to put her down. It was awful.

   When they got their Rottweiler, Alma claimed she loved the dog, but they had to get rid of him because she said the dog inflamed her asthma. Her sister Patty adopted him, since she had moved away from home, so she was still able to see the dog whenever she wanted.

   Growing up in their house in Bay Village was not like growing up in your average house. You were either going to move out while you were still young, or you were going to be thrown out. Looking back, she thought they were all thrown out.

   Everybody in their family got married when they were 19, except Telly. Her mom and dad got married at 19, her brother got married when he was 19, and both of her sisters got married when they were 19. She didn’t get married until I was 34, right after her dad died. 

   Before she got married, after she left her family’s house because of one thing and another, she babysat Patty’s Rottweiler whenever her sister went on vacation. His name was Wellington. He was a sweet dog, but a stupid dog, too. He wasn’t the kind of vicious Rottweiler everybody always thinks they are. He had a blanket he carried around. They called the blankie Betty. They would tell him to go get Betty and when he came back, he would be dragging his blankie behind him.

  He loved people, just loved them. Patty lived in West Park, near St. Patrick’s, and when school let out, Wellington would sit at the front door whimpering to be let out.

   “You can’t go out,” Patty would say. “You’re going to scare the kids.”

   He was a silly beast and would cry no matter what she said. He learned how to lean on the door and swivel the knob and get out. Telly started thinking he wasn’t so stupid, after all. “No, you’re not going out there,” she told him every time she was at Patty’s house, but if she was upstairs dressing for work, he would burgle the door and the next thing she knew he was at the end of the driveway. As the kids walked by there were three big slurps for each of them.

   They walked away wiping their faces and rubbing their hands dry on their pants.

   He got out one day when two guys were playing Frisbee in the street. He had seen them through the screen. He couldn’t contain himself.

   “You’re not going out there,” Telly told him firmly, wagging her finger. “I don’t know those guys.” 

   He banged up against the door and when it flew open, he took off. The guys were 18, maybe 19, and when they saw him running at them, they froze. Telly ran out. 

   “Throw the Frisbee!” she yelled. They stayed stuck in place stiff as sticks. “The dog will love you if you throw the damn Frisbee!” One of them threw the bright red plastic disk. The big Rottweiler hauled ass after it.

   “Sweet,” one of them said.

   They hit the jackpot, running the dog until the end of the afternoon. His feet were bloody when he got home. He was an idiot, after all.

   Even though she loved animals and her mom didn’t, which was a disagreement between them that wasn’t getting resolved anytime soon, Telly was the only one of her mom’s four kids who forced her to show some love. The others gave up trying.

   She would come home from parties or from dances when I was in 7th grade and plop down on her bed, sprawled out and telling Alma about the whole fantastic night, everything that happened. Her mom would stay on the bed with her, holding her hand, listening.   

   A dog will love you if you throw a Frisbee. In that family they had to plan scheme compel their mom to love them. It was the way Alma was. Telly used to wonder what it was like for her growing up in a small worn-out Pennsylvania town, her family poor broken ignored. She needed some love. Telly could tell. Maybe animals couldn’t give it to her, but she could try.

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.”

High and Low

By Ed Staskus

   Telly is a Bay Brat, which means she grew up in Bay Village and lived there her whole life until her dad died. When she was a girl, she picked up every lost bird and squirrel, every lost cat and dog, and every injured animal she found and brought it home to protect it.

   She was an animal lover from the get-go. She got it partly when she was born, in the blood, partly from her dad, but definitely not from her mom. Alma never liked any of the animals they had in our house garage backyard.

   Her parents met at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a few hours west of Philadelphia. Her grandparents on her dad’s side had moved from Ohio to Philadelphia a few years earlier and he enrolled there after high school. Alma was working in the library, which is how they met. He fell head over heels for her, swept her off her feet, at least he thought so, and they got married.    

   “We’re out of here,” is what Fred said the minute they got married. They promptly moved right back to Cleveland. Even though they were married for more than forty years it might have been the worst thing either of them ever did.

   Telly had a mom who didn’t love her dad, and a dad who was frustrated about it, and the way he tried to make his wife happy was to beat the kids. So, it was a tough childhood. Either you were being totally ignored or you were being hit.

   There were four of them. First, there was Patty, and then two years later Betsy, and then Thelma five years after that, and last, five years later, Brad. Alma always said Fred tricked her four times.

   Fred was from Cleveland, from the west side, where he grew up almost rich for his time. Alma was from Jersey Shore, just a few miles from Williamsport, where she grew up poor.  Jersey Shore isn’t anywhere near New Jersey, the Jersey shoreline, or any real shore of any kind. There used to be silk mills and cigar factories in Jersey Shore. Later on, factories there made steel rails for train tracks.

   During the Depression Telly’s grandfather was the only teenager in his high school who had a car. He used to follow her grandmother down the street trying to get her to come in his car with him, saying he wanted to help carry her books, so what happened was they eventually got married.

   Her other grandfather in Jersey Shore had three jobs the minute he quit being a teenager. He was a coal miner, a school bus driver, and a milkman, but they were still poor. Even though they were always short they built their own house on the Susquehanna River. Telly honestly don’t know how they ever got it built since they were so strapped for money most of the time.

   The river was their front yard. Susquehanna means Oyster River and it was on the Susquehanna where the Mormons say they got their priesthood delivered from heavenly beings. It was a huge beautiful comfortable house. It’s still standing, although it’s not been taken care of lately, so it’s falling apart.

   Her grandmother lived in the house into her 80s, but then sold it and moved into a trailer, in a trailer park in the mountains above Jersey Shore. She started believing people in other trailers were trying to shoot her with laser guns. She slept wrapped up in foam rubber holding an umbrella over her head for protection. Alma never wanted to talk about her mom because she thought she was crazy, and a Jesus freak, too.

   Telly didn’t know her grandfather because he died young. He had arthritis terrible bad, and it finished him off. It didn’t help him working in the damp underground. She knew her grandmother well. Whenever her sisters and she visited her in their big house she taught them how to pull taffy and fudge. They played with her paper dolls. She didn’t have any real dolls for them. They sat on the front porch in the afternoon and waited for the bean truck.

   “Sometime before dinnertime she sent my older sisters to the side of the road. When the bean truck, or sometimes the vegetable truck, went by on the bumpy road beans would bounce off of the back of it and they would run and gather them up. My grandmother cooked them for dinner. If no beans fell off the truck, then there was no dinner, although she usually had a little something else in the house.”

   Most of the time it was something cold she had canned months earlier.

   Fred went to Upper Darby High School just outside Philadelphia, starting when he was a sophomore. His parents moved him to Philadelphia from Cleveland and he never stopped saying he hated it. He was a Cleveland Browns fan and wore their colors, so he got into fights every day with the other kids who were Philadelphia Eagles fans.

   “He liked telling us stories when we were growing up, like the one about how one day he and his friends went to the second story of their high school and jumped up and down all as a gang until the second floor fell in on the first floor.”

   The school’s mascot is a lion now, but when Fred was there it was a court jester.

   Fred’s parents were from Akron, and lived in Lakewood for a long time, but had to move when the new I-90 was being built. It was called the “Main Street of Northern Ohio” back then. When they were growing Fred would drive them to a bridge over the highway and show them the exact spot below the bridge where their house used to be.

   It was when they had to sell the house to the state that they moved to Philadelphia. After Fred and Alma came back to Ohio they lived in Lakewood in a rented house for a few years. Telly’s older sisters were born there, but by the time she came along they were living in Bay Village.

   The family lived on Jefferson Court her whole life. It is a short cul-de-sac street, five blocks south of Lake Erie. Her dad designed the house, and it was built just the way he wanted it. Thelma lived there until the day he died, when she was thirty-three years old.

   They all had our own rooms, although Brad and Telly shared a room when they were tots because the house was a room short. Her older sisters had separate bedrooms down the half-story stairway from them, and her parents were at the other end of the hallway. They lived in the crow’s nest until Patty moved out and got married, when she was nineteen, and Brad was seven. 

   It was in the crow’s nest where she grew close to Brad, who looked just like Bamm-Bamm in the Flintstones cartoons. They even called him Bamm-Bamm. Telly became his number one protector like she did with all the neighborhood’s lost cats and dogs.

   But she could never protect him from Coco, their poodle, who bit and tore off his diapers when he was little. Brad could never crawl away fast enough. Coco was quick as the devil.

   Although, honestly, there were times Telly didn’t try to stop Coco. She had some of her mom’s tough love in her. Other times Brad had done something she didn’t like, and it was just his tough luck that Coco was on the rampage.

Excerpted from “Dogs Never Bite Me” at http://www.dogsneverbiteme.com.

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.”

Margin King

By Ed Staskus

   Thelma’s father was a stockbroker, an investment advisor, and a vice president at Prudential Bache. He worked downtown with other moneymakers. But he never let it go to his head. He wasn’t always prudent, though.

   They called him the Margin King. His wife called him the King of Fools. When Fred and Alma got married, he was a gambling man, but Alma didn’t want him doing that after the wedding. She said it was time he became a family man.

   “The gambling stops now.”

   He became a stockbroker. That way he could still gamble, except now it would be with other people’s money. He made a boatload of money. He didn’t just rake in a ton of loot, though. He told jokes all the time. He was a jokester. Getting a laugh was like hitting a jackpot.

   He was a prankster as well as a jokester. He used to appear on the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck” TV show now and then, doing skits with them.

   Hoolihan was really Bob Wells, but he was Hoolihan the Weatherman on the TV. After Ghoulardi left Cleveland for Hollywood, Hoolihan still did the weather, but became the other half of the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show”. It was what replaced Ghoulardi. They showed cheesy science fiction and horror movies late at night on weekends and did comedy skits in between the commercials.

   That’s where Telly’s dad came in.

   The show always started with the Ray Charles song “Here We Go Again” and ended with the Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is.” Fred couldn’t carry a tune, so was never invited to raise his voice.

   Big Stash and Lil’ John were on the show, too, more than Fred was. That’s how he met them. They were all friends in no time. Fred and Alma went to Hoolihan and Big Chuck’s house parties and they used to have Lil ‘John over for spaghetti dinners. Lil’ John was a very small man who could eat a lot of spaghetti.

   They did skits on the show like Ben Crazy, from the “Ben Casey” TV series, Parma Place, which was like “Peyton Place,” and the Kielbasa Kid, which was like a Polish cowboy misadventure. The skit Fred was most famous for was the “When You’re Hot You’re Hot” skit, which was from a Jerry Reed song.

   “Well now me and Homer Jones and Big John Taley, had a big crap game goin’ back in the alley, and I kept rollin’ them sevens, winnin’ all them pots,” was how the song went.

   “My luck was so good, I could do no wrong, I just kept on rollin’ and controllin’ them bones, and finally they just threw up their hands and said, when you hot, you hot, and I said, yeah. When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not you’re not, put all that money in an’ let’s roll ‘em again, when you’re hot you’re hot, La, la, la, La, la, la, when you’re hot, you’re hot.”

   They acted out the words to the song. Big Chuck rolled the dice. Fred was the sheriff. The Hoolihan gang would be shooting craps on the street and Fred busts them. Later when they are all in court the judge tells them he is going to throw the book at them, except when he throws the book, he actually hits Fred, who is the sheriff, in the head by mistake.

   “That hurt!” he shouted.

   “You’re out of order!” the judge said, pounding his gavel.

   Alma was in a skit with Big Chuck. They are sitting on a park bench on a first date under a full moon and he turns into a werewolf. He reaches for her. She starts screaming and runs away. He turns back into sheepish Chuck.

   Fred did most of his skits wearing a gorilla suit. But not all of them were on the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show.” Some of the time it was unscripted.

   He would wiggle into his gorilla suit and he and Big Chuck drove around the west side of Cleveland and Lakewood in a dark blue Buick looking for hitchhikers. Big Chuck drove while Fred hid in the back seat. They would pick somebody up and after a few minutes Fred would suddenly pop up with a loud grunt out of the back seat in his gorilla suit.

   That would scare the hell out of the hitchhiker. One of them jumped out of the car while it was still moving. That’s what they did for fun. Telly remembered being a little girl and listening to their adventure stories and thinking, you guys are really weird.

   Sometimes they would go out and roof jump. The houses in Lakewood are close together, often separated only by a driveway. They would run across the roofs, jumping from one to the other. They whooped it up as the folks in their houses wondered what the thumping was all about.

   When they got older Big Chuck, Hoolihan, Stash and John and Fred got a little more sophisticated. They had mystery parties, which were parties on a bus on which they would have dinner and drinks with their friends, not knowing where you were going, and at the end of the night everyone would have to guess where they were. The winner got to be on the show.

   It was the swinging 60s at that point in time.

   Telly’s dad was a prankster even at home, which was quiet conservative Bay Village. He played jokes on the neighbors on their street all the time. Once he hired the Bay Village High School Marching Band to wake up one of their neighbors at five in the morning. They did it by marching up and down their backyard and playing a fight song. All the other neighbors woke up, too. Some of them thought it was funny. Most of them didn’t.

   Another of their neighbors had dogs like them and Thelma babysat them when they were out for dinner or at a show.

   “Telly, can you watch our dogs?” Mrs. Butler would ask her.

   One day Fred took advantage of Telly having the Butler family house keys. He snuck into their house and filled up every glass, cup, vase, china, and toilet, whatever, with water and a single goldfish. When they got back there were hungry goldfish waiting for them.

    From then on it was Butler time every few months. While they were walking on Huntington Beach after dinner he and his TV friends got into their garage, picked up their car, and turned it sideways. They left it so cramped tight sideways in the garage you had to squeeze around it to get anywhere. Mr. Butler couldn’t get to work the next day. There wasn’t anything he could do. Everybody on the street thought he might have to tear the garage down.

   He crept into their house late on a hot summer night wearing his gorilla suit and scared their kids so much they peed on the floor. He thought it was great glee, giving them nightmares. That was fun to him.

   It didn’t matter what anybody thought. Whatever he thought of doing he did. He was constantly pranking the poor Butlers. When they complained to the Bay Village police, they just laughed it off.

   Telly and her sisters and Brad weren’t out of his prank zone, either. He would crawl underneath their beds at night and wait quietly until they dozed off and then reach around and suddenly grab their arms or legs. 

   “Oh, yeah, while we were sleeping! I still can’t hang my foot out over the edge of my bed at night. He was a bad dad and great dad when he wanted to be, but he was a prankster all the time, that’s for sure.”

Excerpted from “Dogs Never Bite Me” at http://www.dogsneverbiteme.com.

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.”