Happy Meal

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Early on a late spring morning Hal Schaser was snug in his seat at the Lakewood McDonald’s, facing the high plate glass windows fronting southeast, nibbling on an English muffin with jam.

“I always sit in the same booth,” said Mr. Schaser. “I can look out and see the sunshine.”

A line of cars inched through the drive-thru lane, making their way towards the menu board and speaker box. Behind the counter, bags of breakfast egg and cheese and sausage biscuits, hash browns, and cups of hot coffee made their way to and out the pull-up window.

“I get up, exercise, then I usually get here before 8 o’clock, and sometimes I stay until eleven,” said Mr. Schaser.

“I used to read the newspaper at home, but I got tired of doing that, just sitting there all alone. Here you can read the paper, and interact with people, and I like their coffee, too. Some days I don’t read much because I start talking to people.”

In his early 80s, Hal Schaser has lived in Lakewood for more than 16 years. He boxed in Golden Gloves as a young man, served in Korea at the height of the war, and raised a family on Cleveland’s east side.

After more than 40 years with Palmer Bearing, working his way up to vice-president of sales, he took early retirement in 1993, and began polishing his golf game.

“I used to shoot par and better, but I can’t anymore. I don’t even try to figure out my handicap these days. We play 18 holes on weekdays. When the course isn’t busy we play another 9 and it doesn’t cost anything extra. You can’t beat that!”

Although he comes and goes to McDonalds alone, once there Hal Schaser is rarely alone for long. Many seniors start their day with a McCafe and animated discussion of the day beneath the golden arches.

More than most of the morning diners scattered inside the fast food restaurant on any given morning are retirees. At a table one day were a retired manager, retired plumber, retired teacher, and a man just plain retired, keeping up a steady banter.

“We’ve solved a lot of the world’s problems right here at this table,” one of them said.

Some problems are harder to handle than others, however.

“It gets heated up once in a while,” Mr. Schaser said. “There was one guy, he came in regular, handsome fellow, but always talking about abortion, and he got into an argument with another guy, and now he doesn’t come in here anymore.”

The restaurant manager passing by with a coffee pot in hand refilled Hal Schaser’s small cup and stopped to talk.

“It is my pleasure to often open the store in the morning, and get coffee for this fine gentleman,” said Glenn Haas, a trim, affable man in a crisp McDonald’s shirt. “My memory is short sometimes, but it is long enough to remember what he is getting.”

“There is what I call coffee klatches at my store,” he said. “My parents used to belong to one that was at Snow Road in Parma when I was younger. They’d drink some coffee, chit and chat with their friends. That happens here, gentlemen and some ladies, five or six, sometimes ten, get together here every morning. It’s a social gathering place.”

Mr. Haas refilled coffee at several tables, including that of a well-dressed man sitting alone.

“He always sits over there, by himself” said Mr. Schaser. “He’s an older guy. The kids who serve the food, they bring it out to him, because he has trouble walking. He told me he used to be in the diamond business. He goes to those casinos, like in West Virginia. He likes to gamble.”

Several men stopped at Hal Schaser’s booth, genially greeting him while they waited for their food orders to be filled.

“Most of the people who come in here are pretty regular,” he said. “We talk about everything in general. It’s a lot of baloney.”

The talk turned to local churches being torn down and replaced by drug stores, or simply closed and shuttered.

“I had a neighbor once who was a very religious man,” said Hal Schaser. “He went to church two times every Sunday. Once when he took his wife, and once when he went back to get her.”

Watching his waistline, even at McDonald’s, and staying fit has stood Mr. Schaser in good stead as a senior.

Before and after the Korean War, and before taking up golf, which later proved to be a life-long pursuit, he boxed as a featherweight, only ever losing two amateur bouts.

“There was a guy who wanted to manage me,” he said “and I was training, but I always thought if a guy ever really hits me with a right cross, I’m going to quit.”

“One day I was sparring and a guy hit me with a right, and I mean I saw stars, so I said, that’s it, I’m not going to walk around on my heels all my life. That was the end of my career.”

The day was sunny and long on the other side of the spic-and-span windows.

“In the old days, when I was younger, we would go play golf on a day like today,” said Hal Schaser. “But, I don’t have those golfing buddies anymore.”

The talk drifted to a recently departed coffee klatcher.

“He was a millionaire, lived in Bay Village, collected gold coins, all kinds of stocks and bonds,” said Mr. Schaser.

“Some of the guys kidded him about wanting to be in his will. He never went anywhere, never went on vacation, or spent his money. Then one day he didn’t show up and we found out he had passed away.”

“Sure enough, the guy couldn’t take it with him,” he added.

Outside a fleet of yellow Cushman scooters began pulling into the parking lot, the city sanitation workers trooping inside for break time. Hal Schaser frowned at his winter-weary Suzuki sedan.

“I’ve got to get this car washed for golf season,” he said.

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate. 

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Time is Candy

Superman

Three hundred and sixty-four days of the year parents tell their children to never take candy from strangers. Then, on the last day of every October they dress those same children up in masks and weird costumes and tell them to go out on the streets at night and either threaten or beg strangers to give them candy.

Halloween is traditionally a holiday observed on the eve of the Christian feast of All Hallows, or All Saints Day. In the Middle Ages it was believed that restless souls of the recently dead wandered during the year until All Saints Day, when their fate would be decided. All Hallows Eve was their last chance to get revenge on their enemies before entering the next world. Some people, fearing the consequences, would wear masks to disguise themselves.

It wasn’t until the first decade of the 20th century that Halloween began to be celebrated in the United States and not until the 1930s that children began trick-or-treating. Since then costume parties, haunted house attractions, and watching horror films have also become popular.

When I was a child Halloween was a special night after a long day filled with anticipation. My brother and sister and I and our friends couldn’t wait for nightfall to head out onto the dark streets and ring as many doorbells as we could.

On the night of the past Halloween, postponed several days by Hurricane Sandy, my wife and I and a neighbor sat out on our porch, on the top lip of the stairs, on a cold but dry night, with our cauldron of chocolate treats. We long ago learned that anything mostly chocolate was “the good stuff”.

As we put fun-size Milky Ways and Kit Kats into plastic pumpkins, coffin containers, and grab-and-go pillowcases, we began asking many of the children in disguise coming and going up and down our walk what they liked about Halloween.

“The most fun is dressing up,” said one girl, dressed as the Material Girl. “I’m an 80s rock star. I love Madonna.”

We wondered if she wasn’t chilly because of the weather.

“I’m not cold,” she said. “I’m insulated.”

One boy was a walking bundle of towels.

“Some safety pins and a lot of old towels and you’re warm,” he said.

We asked a puffed-up little boy in white what he was.

“I’m a cloud!”

“What is that on your pants?”

“Lightning!”

“What are those spots?”

“Rain!”

“Is that your mom?”

“She’s a rainbow. We go together!”

A girl dressed as a witch said she liked seeing other kids in costumes.

“It’s a time for them to dress up like they’re not, to just be someone they never could be before.”

Others take a minimalist approach. When we asked one boy why his friend wasn’t wearing a costume, he said, “See, he’s on his cell phone. He’s not wearing a costume because he’s a businessman.”

Some children delight in the scary side of Halloween, the ghost stories, monsters, and gory special effects.

“I like Halloween because it’s fun, “said a boy dressed in a Warrior Wasteland costume. “People scare you a lot. It’s so amazing. I just like the horror of it.”

Other children take delight in seeing their heroes in the flesh.

A stocky six-year-old in black pants, a red over-sized jacket, a red hat, and an enormous black mustache told us he was Super Mario.

“Because I am,” he said. “My happy time, it was when I saw BATMAN! I love Halloween!”

Another boy dressed as Spiderman said Halloween was fun because “Kids dress up!”

“I like Spiderman because he’s red and white. If I was Spidey I would sling my webbing and save all the people.”

In a MSNBC poll adults were asked what their favorite part of Halloween was. More than 50 percent said it was seeing little kids dressed in costumes, while just 10 percent said it was eating candy. Our own unscientific poll revealed the exact opposite. Nine out of ten kids told us it was all about the candy.

“Candy is the best thing that ever happened to me on Halloween,” said someone in KISS regalia

“It’s my favorite season. You get all the candy. I’m a vampire,” said a girl with bloody fangs.

“They should have more Halloween weekends, and pass out a lot of candy,“ said a boy dressed as a pirate, waving a rubber sword.

Many children walked the streets in groups, the smaller ones accompanied by their parents. But, one teenager rode up alone on a bicycle, wearing a Beavis and Butt-Head latex mask. He jumped off his bike, which clattered to the ground, and ran up our walk. We tossed chocolate bars into his bag, asking him what he liked about Halloween. Sprinting back to his bike, he turned and shouted,

“Can’t talk, time is candy.”

Our chocolate bars moved briskly all night, followed by the lollipops our neighbor had brought.

“You just wolf down candy bars,” said a girl dressed as Fluff N Stuff, “but you can play with suckers, click them against your teeth.”

I asked several children what were the least-liked treats they had gotten. Among the worst offenders were Mary Janes, Necco Wafers, and Christmas ribbon candy.

“I don’t even know what Mary Janes are,” said a boy dressed as Luigi, in blue overalls, a gigantic green hat, and white gloves.

“They taste like molasses sawdust.”

The worst offender, however, turned out to be money. Towards the end of the night we ran out of candy, and since all we could see on the street were some stragglers, we gathered up our loose change rather than race to the corner store.

A small girl dressed as Popstar Keira, with a tiara on her head, came up the stairs smiling. My wife put some dimes and nickels into her extended hand. The girl looked at the coins and then up at us. She threw the coins down and started crying.

“I don’t want money! I want candy!”

She refused to be consoled until we finally found a full-size Hershey bar in our kitchen and brought it out to her.

After the streets were finally empty and Halloween was over, my wife and I popped a big bowl of popcorn and watched George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” on DVD.

When my wife, who had never seen the old black-and-white horror movie, finally realized what the zombies were after, she asked, “Seriously, are they trick-or-treating?”

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate. 

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Click here to see more writing between fiction and non-fiction by Ed Staskus.

 

Non-Fiction and Short Stories