Tag Archives: 147 Stanley Street

Crackerjack Girl

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“I see you’ve made it back,” said Michelle, sporting neato retro eyeglasses and handcrafted rings on nearly every finger of every hand. Waiting tables, delivering three four five plates at a time, is two-fisted three-fisted work.

“I have to try the pad Thai, after seeing the folks next to us digging into it the week before last,” said Vera.

‘That’s one of Emily’s best, definitely. Would you like to start with a drink?” she asked, one of the three grown-up servers on the floor the early September weekend evening.

“What is a good mixed drink?” asked Vera, running her eyes up and down the menu.

“Everything, but Kim can mix up anything if we don’t make it.”

“What is Straight Shine?”

“Shine.”

“Like moonshine?”

“It’s our island-made moonshine.”

“Like Ole Smoky in a mason jar?” asked Frank.

“Not the same, it’s served more like a margarita,” said Michelle.

“That’s a step in the right direction,” said Frank.

“My God, I might moonshine,” said Vera. “My grandfather used to make vodka at home. All his friends from Lithuania, who escaped during the war, would come over on Sunday afternoons after church, drinking the rest of the day, reminiscing, yakking it up, and singing their old country songs. OK, I’ll try it.”

“I’ll have a pint, something IPA,” said Frank.

Frank and Vera Glass were at The Mill, a restaurant on a high bank overlooking the River Clyde in New Glasgow, on Prince Edward Island, up the eastern Canadian coast. The eatery is in a two-story Dutch Colonial-like blue building built in 1896. It served as a community center and courthouse, among its many later incarnations. It was converted to a restaurant in the 1990s by the Larkin’s, nearby poultry farmers who are the largest turkey growers in the province.

“We used to have a guy in shipping, in the warehouse, from West Virginia, who brought back moonshine every time he went home for a visit,” said Frank, as Vera sipped her Straight Shine. “He always said you could tell it was good if you put a match to it and the flame burned blue. That meant it was good to go and wouldn’t make you go blind.”

Michelle walked up and lit the tea candle on their table.

“How is it,” she asked

“It looks good to me,” said Vera. “What I mean is, it tastes good.”

When the Larkin’s transitioned out of the dining room business twenty years later, The Mill stayed down home when PEI chef Emily Wells took over, putting her fusion-style stamp on the dining room.

Vera ordered the stir-fried garlic ginger cilantro lemon juice rice noodle fettucine pad Thai with lobster and Frank ordered the special, curry sweet potato soup, baby back ribs with mac and cheese, and dessert. It was East meets West meets Italy. Fusion cooking is the art of mixing ingredients and preparation styles from different cultures into a distinctive dish of tastiness.

The window Frank and Vera were sitting at had gone dark by the time they finished their dinners, although Vera was still on the last lap. She was a slow eater and her plate had been stacked. A quarter-moon in a cloudless sky reflected a milky light in the river. Frank leaned back in his chair as Vera lifted a final forkful to her mouth.

“Since we both ordered something new, why don’t we try something new for dessert, too?” Frank asked Vera.

They had eaten at The Mill several times the past three years and usually ordered coffee and carrot cake after dinner, since the carrot cake was about the best they had eaten anywhere.

“It’s better than my mom’s, and she’s a pro,” said Vera.

Vera’s mother was a freelance pastry chef in Cleveland, Ohio, who during the holiday season mixed in making website-ordered Russian Napoleon cakes, shipping them frozen solid all around the country by Fed-Ex next-day air.

“How about the chocolate cake that couple from Miami told us about?”  asked Vera.

“We move around the island a lot,” said the husband from Florida. “We’ve eaten at a lot of restaurants but overall this is our absolute favorite.”

“What’s so great?” said the lady of the house. “The unique combination of flavors and menu options, and there’s not a deep fryer in the kitchen! They’re dedicated to local food sourcing, which means super fresh food and vegetables. Make sure to try the chocolate cake even if you’re full. It’s made in-house and melts in your mouth.

“And the portions are large, too,” she added.

Unlike more than one restaurant with a swell reputation on Prince Edward Island, in the meantime serving prison camp portions at penthouse prices, The Mill gets it done with a square deal, even though it has as much, if not more, in the culinary arts to crow about.

“Do you bake this here?” asked Vera.

“Our baker does,” said Michelle.

“It’s totally delicious, the dark chocolate, if you want to let the baker know.”

A few minutes later a strapping young woman with disheveled hair walked up to their table.

“Did you make this?” asked Frank, pointing to the half-eaten slice of zuccotto he was sharing with his wife.

“Yeah,” said Anna, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Do you make the carrot cake, too?

“Yeah.”

“It’s our favorite carrot cake anywhere,” said Vera. “Your chocolate dessert is what chocolate dessert should taste like, up-to-the-minute. They can be boring, doing the same thing over and over again. This is definitely bomb cake, in more ways than one.”

“You seem awfully young to be making cake this good,” said Frank

“Yeah,” said Anna with a big smile.

“How old are you?”

“I’m 17-years-old,” said Anna. “I was 15 when I first started cooking here. I came in to work one day, I was bussing tables, and my boss said, you’re scaring everyone out there. You have to go into the kitchen. From that point on I’ve worked in the kitchen.”

“Scaring everyone?” asked Frank.

“Yeah, they said my personality was too big.”

“Too big?” said Vera.

“I was fourteen. How scary could I be?” asked Anna. “I guess I can be scary sometimes. Nothing’s really changed.”

“I told her when she worked out front that she was scaring the customers with her huge personality,” said Kim, the mixologist. “Now that she’s in the kitchen, she’s come up with pet names for all of us. We won’t talk about that, though. It can get gross.”

“What did you guys eat?” asked Anna.

“She had the Thai and I had the special. Last week we both had the big seafood chowder bowl,” said Frank.

“Ahhh,” said Anna.

“I’ve heard you have a name for it in the kitchen.”

“We have a pet name for it, yeah.”

“I tasted orange in the soup,” said Vera.

“Yup, there are orange peels, marinated, and bay leaves, that we take out right before service. We make our own fish broth, and our own vegetable broth, too.”

The new Mill, brainchild of Emily Wells, who was named one of the north’s top chefs by the Matador Network in 2016, serves fresh local food made with global flair. She works in a classic vein, adapting her recipes to what’s in place and on time. “You’re buying local lettuce, local tomatoes,” she said. “A huge chunk of it, it’s seafood season on PEI.” A graduate of the first class at the Culinary Institute of Canada, she cut her teeth in kitchens in Ontario and Prince Edward Island, and made a name for herself at The Dunes in Brackley Beach.

“I’ve been at it for thirty-five years,” she said.

“Oh, I’ve got mussels on the stove, back in a minute,” said Anna, striding out of the dining room.

“I thought Emily was making the desserts, or they were buying them from some high-end bakery,” said Vera.

“If that teenager is the pastry chef, all I can say is, she’s totally up to speed,” said Frank.

“Do you make all the desserts,” asked Vera, when Anna came back to their table.

“Yeah, I’m a line cook and the baker.”

“My mother is a pastry chef,” said Vera. “You’re very good.”

“How did you learn to bake so well?” asked Frank.

“Emily taught me. I‘m a quick learner. I learned a lot from my grandmother. I used to spend all my time with her when I was a kid. She taught me to pickle and bake.”

Not everyone is good with pastry, not by any means.

“I make no bones about it,” says Michael Symon, chef, author, and restaurateur. “I have no understanding of pastry.”

“Honestly, I hate to say this,” said Anna, “but my aunt makes an even better carrot cake than I do.”

“You’re early to be nearly as good as your aunt,” said Frank.

“Most of our staff is young,” said Anna. “Everyone in the kitchen is under 20, except Andrea and Emily. We have a 19-year-old, another 17-year-old, and a 13-year-old, who is my sister. Luke, our other prep, has three younger brothers who work here.”

“It’s like a family line on the line,” said Frank.

If you are under 16 in the province and want to work, you must have permission from your parents, only work between 7 AM and 11 PM, and not work in an environment that is harmful to your health, safety, moral or physical development, among other things. If you are over 16, those limits don’t apply.

“I’ll tell you about PEI and Atlantic Canada, it’s a culture of honest, hard work,” says Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Sometimes known as the “Million-Acre Farm,” farming is king on the island. Farming for a living is hard work. You won’t ever need a gym membership. There are some advantages. You are your own boss, you can go to work in boots and a dirty t-shirt, and you eat like a king.

“I started as a dishwasher,” said Anna.

Working the dish pit means long hours on your feet, getting wet a lot, and ending the day smelling like food and dirt. It’s not markedly different than farming.

“The kids are great,” said Kim. “Ours is a teaching kitchen, so they get an education, and get paid. They all have a great work ethic. The little hostess, she’s fifteen, a crackerjack like Anna. It’s great to see that they want to work. I’ve worked in other places, and it’s like pulling teeth, all standing around. Here, they’re eager to learn and do.”

“A lot of people, their idea of baking is buying a ready-made mix and throwing in an egg,” said Vera. “I make carrot cake at home, but it’s just carrots and stuff. One of our cats likes a piece now and then. Yours is both more subtle and more complex.”

“The main spices we use are ginger, cloves, and cinnamon, and a bit of all-spice, and that’s about it.”

“The cake isn’t heavy, which is what I like,” said Frank.

“There’s pineapple in it.”

“The frosting is terrific,” said Vera.

“I couldn’t come to work yesterday,” said Anna. “I decided my cat died.”

“Oh, my gosh, that’s too bad!” said Vera. “What happened?”

“She was an outdoor cat. I had her since I was six, I came home one day and asked, where’s my cat, but nobody had seen her for days. It’s been a month. I sat outside in my lawn chair until it got dark, but she never came back. I’m pretty sure she got eaten by a coyote.”

After paying the bill, Frank and Vera lingered at the rail on the front deck. The band that had been playing in the loft was in the parking lot, still hooting it up. The night air was damp but brisk. The moon hovered in the inky sky. Across the street, lights glowed over the bay doors of the New Glasgow Volunteer Fire Department.

“That girl might be one of the best 17-year-old pastry chefs no one has ever heard of, not anywhere, except for right here,” said Frank.

“Besides the known and the unknown, what else is there?” said Vera.

“That moonshine seems to have gone to your head,” said Frank.

“Ha, ha. Anyway, she’s got a big smile, big energy, and some scary cake talent. Somebody will hear about her, sooner or later.

There’s always a “Surprise Inside” every box of Cracker Jack.

They walked to the end of the deck leading to the side lot. Fluorescent lights blazed the windowpanes. Dishes clattered through the open windows, the kitchen staff having a gab fest as they cleaned up. They heard a rowdy high-spirited laugh, which followed them down the steps and stretch of gravel to their car.

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

 

Cabin Fever

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Most people practice most yoga indoors, the weather being what it is in North America. Yoga studios are almost always inside buildings, anyway. That is a good thing if it’s the middle of winter in Vermont or the armpit of summer in Mississippi, or fall winter spring on Prince Edward Island on the south side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Almost 120 inches of snow falls during the long winter season on PEI. Skiers going to Vermont are happy if 80 inches have fallen during the season. The wind off the ocean makes everything feel colder than it is on the island. Sometimes harbors are still frozen well into May.

Practicing indoors means being able to practice in the middle of a blizzard or a thunderstorm, or even a light sprinkle. It means practicing in a space set aside for exercise and breathwork, or just meditation, without interruption. It means being able to be consistent in one’s practice, a habit thought to be fundamental to gaining ground.

No rain checks are ever needed when unrolling a mat at your local studio or your basement recreation room. They are private spaces, spaces in which the environment is controlled. Lightning might strike, but it won’t be literal lightning.

Some practices, like Bikram Yoga, are performed indoors only, in sealed-up steam-filled rooms,, like heat-ravaged parts of the world in the grip of a post-modern climate change event, when you might as well be outside. Even then it probably doesn’t measure up to what Bikram Choudhury, the mastermind of hot yoga, calls his “torture chambers.”

Pattabhi Jois, the man who inspired and developed Ashtanga Yoga, on which most yoga exercise of the last half-century is based, recommended that it be practiced indoors.

“Outside don’t take,” he said. “First floor is a good place. Don’t go upstairs, don’t go downstairs.”

When asked about renegade yogis in India practicing in the forest, he simply said, “That is very bad.”

Although there are problems associated with practicing outdoors – including that it will inevitably defy the weather forecast and rain the one day you try it – people do it all the time, especially in places like southern California, where there are many classes like ‘Beach Yoga with Brad’.

“Ditch the confines of the indoors!” recommended CBS-TV Los Angeles, reporting from the great outdoors.

“If you’re doing yoga indoors then you’re cheating yourself,” said Sarah Stevenson, a Certified Yoga Instructor in Orange County. “The sun’s rays and fresh air provide not only improved physical health, but also spiritual and emotional wellbeing.”

It isn’t just sunny climes, either, that roll out the mat regardless of rocks and roots and biting bugs. From Missoula to Minneapolis, any place where the winters are long and dark, the sun-starved come out in droves in the summer.

Some don’t wait for the solstice.

Members of ‘Y-8’ routinely practice their Alsteryoga on the thick ice of the frozen-over Lake Alster outside the northern German town of Hamburg. They make sure to pull the hoods of their insulated sweatshirts over their heads when in headstand.

Whether it’s ice or sand or grass, the instability of ground outdoors makes for a challenging experience. Some people practice on paddleboards when the hard water of rivers and lakes has gone defrosted. “When you’re not on a solid wood floor surface, you end up using different parts of your body,” said Jennifer Walker, an instructor in Maine. “Outside, you end up engaging your core much more to stabilize your whole body.”

Although I oftentimes get out into our backyard in the summer, I still roll out my mat indoors because I’ve carved out a space I like at home, and because the weather in Lakewood, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, is unpredictable, while the midges and mosquitoes that fly up out of the Rocky River valley are predictable.

Sometimes, though, I jump the traces.

The three mostly sunny weeks my wife and I spent in North Rustico, on the north coast of Prince Edward Island, at the Coastline Cottages on the National Park road, I moved my mat and me outside. Sometimes in the morning, but more often in the afternoon, when the crab apple tree at the back of our cottage cast a convenient shadow, I unspooled on the grass and set about doing yoga exercises, warming up with sun salutations.

“When I practice outdoors, there is this amazing energy,” said Angela Jackson, an instructor in Oakville, Ontario. “I feel more connected to the earth, the birds, the animals, the sky, and to myself.”

I practiced almost every day, because we were on vacation with plenty of time, and because the days were warm and it was fair and breezy where we were on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. I was bitten every one of those days, sometimes more than less, by flying bugs, as well occasionally by black flies from the scrubby conifer woods beside the fifty acres of soybeans behind the cottages.

Prince Edward Island is predominately a farming and fishing province. There are croplands and cattle and fishing boats everywhere. A few years earlier we had stayed in a cottage next to a field and a barn full of cows. Every room in the cottage came equipped with a fly swatter. We made sure all the screens were safe and sound and in place.

The reason we feel more connected to the earth when we practice outdoors is because we are standing directly on the earth, on the soil and grass of it. PEI is made of soft sandstone and its soil is an iron oxide red. The contrast of bright green grass to the red land beneath a high blue sky on a summer day is often striking.

I saw lots of sky doing things on my back on my mat behind our cottage. Creeping crawling insects took shortcuts under me, the long way over me, or just bumped into me and zigzagged away. Seaside birds flew overhead. Most of them were cormorants, an easy to spot coastal bird with short wings and a long neck. There were plenty of wood warblers and a couple of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, darting in and out of the crab apple tree.

One afternoon behind our cottage a week-and-a-half into our early summer stay on the island, a grown-up red fox hunkered down and watched me for a long time. The fox surprised me, even though I knew they were all over the north shore. We had seen plenty of them, on the shoulders of roads, or the edge of woods, always looking for handouts.

From 1900 until the 1930s black silver fox farming – the silver fox is a mutation of the island’s ubiquitous red fox – was a cash crop on Prince Edward farms. Fox pelts were in high style, but cost an arm and a leg because they could only be got from trappers. No one knew how to raise them until in the 1890s two men, a PEI druggist and a farmer, perfected a way to domesticate and breed them.

It made many of the natives rich. The price for a bred fox pelt, never mind a trapped pelt, in 1910 was a jaw-dropping $1200.00. To put that into perspective, farm laborers on the island in 1910 averaged a dollar a day in pay for ten and twelve hour days.

The Great Depression and changing fashion crippled the market and by the 1950s fox farming was finished on Prince Edward Island. Most farmers simply let their animals loose. The foxes were probably glad to go, glad to be back on their own, glad to not have to be a fashion statement anymore.

“My grandfather raised horses, and kept foxes for their pelts,” said Kelly Doyle, a North Rustico lobsterman whose Coastline Cottages we were staying at. “But, then they weren’t cool anymore, so he let all the foxes out, and my father who couldn’t make a living at that became a farmer.”

Rubbing eyes with a fox in woods or fields used to be out of the ordinary, but sightings nowadays are commonplace.

“Whereas foxes once avoided human contact, they now venture up to parked cars, presumably looking for food,” said Ryan O’Connor, who grew up on PEI and is a historian of Canada’s environmental movement.

Although some of the issues with sun salutations in the great outdoors are bugs and bad weather or sometimes too much sunshine, rarely is the issue a wild animal. The foxes are wild, but not so wild, too. They live in woodlots and sand dunes, are intelligent and adaptable, and have no trouble living in close association with human beings.

One moonless night, sitting on the deck of our cottage overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, we heard a god awful noise somewhere out on the long dark sloping lawn. The next morning Kelly Doyle had to clean up the remains of a dismembered rabbit. Every fox hunts every night for mice voles rabbits.

I don’t know when the red fox slipped behind the adjacent cottage to ours. I saw him midway through my yoga series for the day, when I lengthened into plank from down dog and transitioned into up dog, and there he was, about fifty feet away from me.

There is a rule at the Coastline Cottages. “Don’t Feed the Animals.” The rule is to discourage foxes from loitering, looking for food for their kits. I hadn’t seen anyone breaking the rule, because who wants a fox at their door cadging for a handout? But there was the red fox, plain as day, behind the cottage next to ours, giving me the once over.

“They won’t bother you, or bite you,” Kelly had told us.

I had no reason to doubt him, so I continued what I was doing, sneaking a peek at the animal now and then. The fox wasn’t overly large, maybe 20 or 25 pounds, with a reddish-brown coat, white under belly, and a black-tipped nose. One of his eyes was cloudy, as though the animal had a cataract or been hurt.

He lounged and moved more like a cat than a dog, although foxes are a part of the dog family. His ears were triangular. When he cocked his head and his ears went up erect he resembled a Maine Coon cat with his muzzle in mousing position.

All during the rest of my yoga practice that afternoon the fox never made a sound, and even seemed to doze off for a few minutes. He stretched and yawned. When he left, moving away into the soybean field, he walked on his toes, heels off the ground, agile canny swift. No amount of yoga I ever did was ever going to get me to be able to move like that.

I didn’t see him again the rest of our stay.

Living north of the Mason-Dixon Line I am by necessity forced to do yoga indoors most of the time. But, moving one’s mat outdoors isn’t necessarily for the birds, if only because that’s where the energy is. The fountainhead is under the arching sky in the wide blue yonder.

In the world of yoga the word prana means energy or life force and pranayama means breathwork, or breathing exercises. To practice outdoors is to be immersed in the source of prana, whether you mean it as the source of life or simply as the air we breathe.

Bringing a breath of out in the country air into your body mind spirit is refreshing. Great wafts of it are even better. It’s no holds barred refreshing breathing in the old-school air of the island. There’s more air in the air on the edge of the ocean than there is in most other places.

There was more than enough of it for both the red fox and me the sunny day we shared it, both of us dwarfed by a sweeping horizon and puffy white clouds blowing out to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, behind a small cottage next to a soybean field.

“How was it?” my wife asked when I stepped back into the cottage.

“It was a breath of fresh air in my brain,” I said.

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

 

Grinding the Night Away

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I went to our Homecoming dance with a girl friend. She wasn’t a girlfriend, just someone who happened to be a girl. Nobody is allowed to go by himself or even with another guy, no matter what kind of friends you are. You have to have a date to go to Homecoming. The dance was at St. Mel’s in the main gym the night after we smashed out a win over Moeller’s, the Fighting Crusaders.

The Crusaders slouched back to Cincinnati and afterwards we called them the Sad Taters. St. Mel’s takes no prisoners on the football field. No, SIR!

My dad worked the refreshment table at the dance. He’s a member of the Father’s Club. It was awesome for my friends and me. We had a boat load of free drinks, for sure.

Homecoming was the night Jake and Jess broke up. It isn’t the kind if thing that usually happens at Homecoming, but that’s what happened. It started when I saw Bert making out with Jake’s girlfriend. They were dancing and the next thing anybody knew they started kissing, right on the dance floor. When you’re somebody else’s girlfriend that’s rude and inconsiderate.

Allan and I both saw it happening. Allan is one of my best friends. He’s a football player, not much taller than me, but he’s 250 pounds. He’s a lineman on the team, although he had to sit out after he got a concussion. He’s a white kid and pretty pasty, which isn’t pretty.

We all saw Bert kiss Jess as plain as day. Allan walked right up to Bert. He was angry.

“Bert, what the fuck, what are you doing?”

Bert plays soccer, is taller than me, but he’s a toothpick. He’s sort of ugly, too.

He was really scared for a second.

“I was, like…” he stuttered.

Allan was angry about it and I wasn’t happy, either. Allan faced Bert down, who started backing away. I stood there for a few seconds and then ran to find Jake. I didn’t want to leave him hanging. Hanging for what? I had to tell him. Bro’s before ho’s. That’s what a brother does. Everybody says so. She was obviously that if she was kissing another man.

Jess is short, skinny, and blonde. She’s sort of pretty. I might even have liked her once. She had been to my house for dinner, with Jake, one night when Allan and Paul were over.

Jake was outside getting a drink at the refreshment table when I found him. There was Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. He was picking up a can of Sprite. The can looked big in his hand. Jake is almost a midget. I’m on the short side, but he’s shorter than me, by a long shot.

“Jake, Jess kissed Bert,” I said.

“Are you kidding me?” he asked.

“No dude, I’m sorry, but it’s true.“

He was sad at first, and depressed, that he had just lost his girl. “I’m going to talk to her about this.”

“I’m sorry, dude,” I said. He was sad and really down. Then he jumped her on the spot, surprising everybody.

“Yeah, gangster,” I thought out loud.

“Thanks a lot,” he said, all sarcastic, and then said something to her nobody else could hear.

“We’re done,” he said, flashing his thumb and finger and walking away. He dumped her on the spot. Her jaw dropped. She was left standing there. Jake wasn’t blue the rest of the night. He had only been going out with Jess for less than a month, anyway.

I was grinding in the mosh pit later when a girl threw up all over the floor because she was totally wasted. Someone slipped on the mess and fell down, hitting his head and getting puke on his clothes. He smelled like beef liver with onions in a can after that.

Everybody merks their crap load of beer and booze before the dance. It used to be weed, but this last summer the school principal’s brother got a sweet contract for himself to drug test us, so now it’s drinking instead of drugs. At least it is during the school year. It doesn’t even do any good to shave your head, because they snatch a different kind of hair from you, and the test works exactly the same way.

“Maybe I’ll just do LSD,” DB said, spinning his head in fast, tight circles.

They don’t test for LSD because they have to get your pee, not just your hair, to do that. The St. Mel’s men would start peeing on each other. It’s too expensive, anyway. Our military even stopped testing for it because it costs so much.

I don’t drink much of anything, nor do my friends, but that doesn’t mean anything. If it weren’t such a big deal to drink or not to drink guys wouldn’t do it so much.

HONEST to GOD!

It’s mostly about being rebellious. They think it’s cool and makes them be cool. If guys could drink whatever they wanted they wouldn’t do it as much. Honestly, they just wouldn’t, since the temptation would be all gone. But, that’s the exact thing, because they’re doing something forbidden, it makes them feel SO MUCH cooler.

Drugs, smoking, and drinking at Homecoming are a tradition. Oh, yeah, I can feel it and smell it when I’m in the mosh pit. When you’re in the pit it’s pushy, noisy, and hot. It’s sweaty and the odor is bad, like armpits and hot dog water. You dance and grind in the pit and have fun. There are a thousand guys and girls all pushed in together and the teachers are stuck on the outside.

Not everyone crams into the mosh pit, but a large crowd does, for sure. There’s a stage at the front of the gym and everybody swirls it, surging tight, and facing whichever which way. We dance to slow songs, rock, techno, whatever. The best are Skrillex, Kid Cudi, and M & M. I love ‘Stairway to Heaven’, except I hate it at summer camp, where Stupidhead plays it every night on his guitar in our cabin. There’s another song, ‘White Roses’, or something like that, I’m high on for slow dancing.

Nobody’s brains are guaranteed in the pit. Everybody goes to the pit to have fun, that’s all. The girls like it. That works for me. We all get going get amped get excited in the pit. No one can help it. Grinding is the greatest when you’re rubbing up against some girl to Lady Gaga’s ‘Disco Stick’. You don’t even have to look them in the face since most of the time it’s from behind.

The parents don’t know the grinding that goes on. Girls put their butts on you and figure eight. It’s like doing it with your clothes on. Sometimes we form lines, forty or fifty of us in a line grinding on each other. Nobody’s parents want to know about that.

NO WAY! BELIEVE ME!

You can get in trouble for grinding. All the teachers are there and they watch out for it. They call it pelvic thrust dancing, or at least Mr. Rote does, who’s got a sharp eye for it. There’s a rule that you can get kicked out of the dance for doing it, but none of the teachers can ever get into the mosh pit, so hardly anybody ever gets caught.

They will mark your hand with a Sharpie if they do catch you, and if they catch you a second time, they kick you out of the dance. Guys go all crazy, all sweaty and flustered, trying to rub the indelible Sharpie mark off as fast as they can.

Not many guys got kicked out of theHomecoming dance, but Allan’s older brother did. It was funny to everybody, although he wasn’t laughing. Girls don’t get kicked out because it’s at our school. Just the guys get the boot. I saw a couple of them being dragged from the pit and kicked out of the gym. The Dean of Students had their cell phones and was looking through all their messages.

St. Mel’s is a private school. They aren’t funded by the state. They don’t have to stick to the state rules like the public schools. They can’t hit you, but they can, if they want to. If a teacher hit me I would be very, VERY upset, but they can do just about anything.

THEY CAN DO WHAT THEY WANT!

They can look through your phone and anything else of yours. They can drag you away. I don’t even know all the stuff they can do.

They can kick you out of school, for sure. If you do something bad it becomes Steck Time, the Dean of Students, who is a very mean man. He can say, “Don’t come back tomorrow.” When Mr. Steck-It-To-You says it he means it and he can make it stick. Because it’s a private school they can lock you out and you can’t ever go back. And then you’re out, that’s all. I’ve heard of some kids who got thrown out once-and-for-all for good.

You’ve got to be careful.

They won’t kick you out of school for grinding. You have to get caught stealing computers, or smoking weed, or something like that. Not always, though, since it depends. There’s a guy’s father who owns a jewelry store in Rocky River, and his son got caught smoking weed on campus, but he didn’t get kicked out. The diamond man talked to the Dean, somebody probably got a karat, and after the deal was done the guy might still have gotten thrown out, but didn’t, obviously.

It wasn’t even close.

The girls at our dances sometimes come from some public schools, but mostly from St. Joe’s, Magnificat, and the other Catholic schools. Are good Catholic girls the same as good girls? Are you pooping on my face? God, no, they’re not good! That’s why we’re all grinding at the dances.

There isn’t much difference between a Catholic girl and a public school girl. Sometimes it seems like Catholic girls are even worse than regular bad girls. They can go to extremes, like wanting a guy more than regular girls do. They just want to have boyfriends. They want to have somebody, anybody, they can say is their boyfriend, someone to be on their hip side. They are thirsty for guys.

They’re thirsty and need to be quenched.

The Catholic girls aren’t even that hot, at least not usually. There are more hotter public school girls than Catholic girls. Some of the Catholic girls even think they are better than other peeps, which is rude, and mostly mistaken.

Many of them seem to think they are on a totally upper level over other girls. They absolutely believe their status is higher, which I think is ridiculous. They truly think they are better than other people, at least better than public school girls, for sure.

I have some good friends who go to Mag’s, but St. Joe’s, no. St. Joe’s girls are Catholic girls all out. They are ever not so nice.

If you are hanging out with public school girls, or Catholic girls, and the other side walks up, it tends to be that public school girls are nicer. They are like your friends right out of the box and they are nicer to you, too. The Catholic girls are kind of low and frank. The public school girls are nicer, asking what your name is, and being interested in you. Catholic girls are like, “Oh, hi, WHO are you? I have to GO.”

You can tell they don’t care.

The only time they CARE is when they’re GRINDING, but that’s a TOTALLY different kind of caring.

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My Two Best Friends

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When I met Wayne Biddell, he 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 once told me in all that time he had only drawn his service handgun three times, and never fired it.

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.

I met Wayne after my marriage fell apart and I lost my house, which was a lot like what happened to Wayne. We met on the grassy courtyard of the apartment complex on East 222nd Street in Euclid, where we both lived, when I saw him messing around with his golf clubs on a warm dry spring day. He was retired and lived alone.

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

We played golf together for the next three years. He was the best friend I ever had, even more than Mattie Haylor, even though Mattie ended up doing more for me later on. Wayne did many things I never even asked him to do. After I moved to Lakewood, he got me a car, convincing his lady friend to give me the old Ford she had been planning on trading in when she got her new car, and later mailing me a check for five hundred dollars, to live on, knowing I was broke.

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

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

I knew he was right, but I knew he didn’t want to lend me a cent, anyway.

I junked the Ford and got a hundred bucks for it.

I had to walk to the Lakewood Library and McDonald’s, the grocery and the bus stop that winter, the winter Wayne blew his head off, and all the next spring until Mattie died and left me a hundred thousand dollars, after all was said and done and the trust sold his house, and I was able to buy a new car.

When my wife Mary walked out on me, and took all the money out of our joint accounts, and cashed in our insurance policies, and swooped up the kids, and talked me into taking a second mortgage out on our house so she and her boyfriend could open a restaurant, which failed inside of two years, and Chamber Bearings went bankrupt, putting me out of the only work I had ever done since getting shipped home from the Korean War with a Purple Heart, was when I played more golf than I ever had played in my life, and waited to be thrown out of my house.

When I finally moved out of Indian Hills, down the hill to Euclid, I was in my late 50s. I was holding on, waiting to get to 62, so I could get on Social Security early. I needed the money. When I worked for Chamber Bearings, they gave me a new car every year, and I had an expense account no one ever questioned, and was in line to be made a vice-president, up to the day the family business closed their doors without a word of warning to me. There were years when I almost always had a thousand dollars, or more, in cash in my pockets every day.

Those days were gone.

When I moved to Euclid I moved into a free apartment, an apartment that Angelo, the maintenance man at the apartment complex, who I met through Stan, a Polack I often had breakfast with at the railroad car diner on Green Road, not far from the giant Fisher Body and TRW plants, got for me when I got hired to be his helper.

Stan and I talked all the time over cups of coffee. We got to be good friends. He was a hell of a bowler. He was so good he bowled in tournaments, and I went to a couple of them to watch him. It was a hop, skip, and a glide to the line. He was always pounding out strikes.

Angelo was a Korean War veteran, like me. He talked the Jewish guy who was the boss, who owned the apartment complex, into hiring me. Jews run 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.

I shoveled snow, did some of the gardening, and vacuumed the hallways. I cleaned apartments when they went vacant, and got paid extra whenever I had to clean kitchens, scrubbing the stove and emptying out the fridge, throwing away rotten food. I made a few bucks here and there. I kept my head above water.

The apartment complex had been built during World War Two for government workers. It was sturdy like 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 I would shuttle to it on good days, getting in eighteen holes.

Wayne worked part-time at night, in a booth selling betting slips at the Thistledown horseracing track in North Randall. He was on his own during the day, which was how he and I were able to go golfing together whenever I was free. We even went to tournaments, to watch the professionals. Stan went with us once, but he wasn’t used to walking that much, and got tired.

After I lost my car Wayne always drove. He had gotten a new 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 I moved to Lakewood, on the west side, to a small apartment across the street from St. Ed’s High School, Wayne visited me a few times, even though he didn’t like my apartment or the building. “It’s a dump,” he said. I took him to Joe’s Diner. I could tell he was suffering. He had prostate cancer and was hurting bad. 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 at Miami University. He had tried out for the football team as a walk-on and made the cut. He was a hell of an athlete and was their back-up quarterback. He drove up to Euclid to see his dad on Christmas. Wayne told him about his new car.

“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. It was the first and last time he ever shot a gun at a human being.

After the funeral I walked around Lakewood until summer, until Mattie, my golfing buddy for many years, who was in his 80s, got sick. He was taken to Fairview Hospital, and when there wasn’t anything more they could do, he was moved 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 wet and cold to walk the courses. After that, any of us who could afford it went on vacations west or south to play. I had traveled to sunny places to play golf many times, when I was married and even afterwards, until I couldn’t afford to go far anymore.

When Mattie passed away in his sleep, a month-or so after his funeral I got a letter from a lawyer saying I was included in his will. He had 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 got quiet, who waited to talk about something else he was bound to remember sooner or later. The house was sold and I got a check for a hundred grand.

I was always 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 best friends. I bought a new car, paying cash for it. I paid off all my credit card debt, the credit cards I had been living on, and bought a new laptop computer, so I didn’t always have to go to the library to work on my schemes.

My ship is coming in one day. When it does, I’ll dump the Chevy in the blink of an eye and get an Audi convertible.  I’ll go to Florida every winter.

I bought some new shirts and shoes and ate better. After squirreling the rest of Mattie’s money away I was in good shape. I played golf all summer at some new courses. I went to both Wayne’s and Mattie’s graves once and paid my respects.

I made some new best friends.

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Six Oysters Ahoy

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“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

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Chips on the Spaldeen

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“It’s really a good day for it,” said Dwight Eisenhower, smiling broadly.

It was going to be his first full round of golf since June. He’d had a heart attack last year. Then when summer rounded itself into shape, he needed surgery for ileitis. The past week had been filled to the brim with the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, Even though he had been unopposed, no need for a stampede, there had been some hard campaigning to drop Dick Nixon from the ticket, to no avail.

Ike was president because it was his duty. Richard Nixon wanted to be president. He wanted it for himself.

“Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy,” thought President Eisenhower.

The Negro singer Nat King Cole had spoken at the Cow Palace yesterday, the last day of the convention, to some jeers. Ike made it happen, no matter the carping about it. He knew he had to give in on the Vice-President, who was a hard-line anti-Communist, who the rank-and-file supported with cheers. But he knew he didn’t have to give in to Jim Crow. He could take the high road and leave the contrivances to Tricky Dick.

They drove up to Pebble Beach before the convention ended, before the Nixon’s could invite him to dinner. Richard Nixon’s father was seriously ill, besides, and Ike urged him to go before it was too late. There were three cars full of Secret Service fore and aft. Charlie Taylor, who’d been at it for years, was in one of the cars.

One night when Ike was having trouble opening his safe, and asked for help, his agents told him safecracking wasn’t part of their training. Ike was beside himself until Charlie Taylor got the cranky combination to give with no problem.

“I won’t know whether to trust you, or not, after this,” said Ike, glancing at Charlie.

He was driven to his golf outing in a black Lincoln Cosmopolitan. It was one of ten presidential touring cars. They all had extra headroom to accommodate the tall silk hat he wore on formal occasions. The cars were almost 20 feet long, V8’s with Hydra-Matic transmissions, and heavily armored, weighing in at close to ten thousand pounds. One of them was a convertible, a 1950 model built for Harry Truman. It had been fitted with a Plexiglas top since then.

Ike called it the Bubble-top. Charlie Taylor called it a pain-in-the-ass. Mamie didn’t like sitting under a dome, but she put up with it.

It was a high blue sky day, sunny, dotted with seaside clouds.

“It’s a pleasure, Mr. President,” said Turk Archdeacon, his caddy.

“Why, that’s fine,” said President Eisenhower.

Turk had been caddying at Cypress Point since he was nine-years-old, almost 40 years since. He and Ike walked to the practice tee. It was a cool morning. Ike started whacking balls out into the distance. He played with Bobby Jones woods with the official five-star general insignia engraved on the heads. At the putting green he lined up three balls down on the ground 20-some feet away from the cup.

He sank all three.

“I should quit right there,” he laughed.

He’d been practicing on a green on the White House grounds, and been hitting wedges, irons, and 3-woods, sometimes hitting balls over the south fence. Whenever he did, he sent his valet to retrieve them.

The squirrels that prowled the lawn dug up his putting green, burying acorns nuts hardtack. They left small craters behind. One morning he finally had enough. “The next time you see one of those goddamned squirrels go near my putting green, take a gun and shoot it!” The Secret Service asked the groundskeepers to trap the squirrels, instead, and release them in a park somewhere far away.

In a week August would be come and gone.  He would be 66-years-old soon.  “I’m saving that rocker for the day when I feel as old as I really am,” he said, pointing to the rocker in the Oval Office. More days now than not, he felt like that day was drawing close.

His birthday was on October 14th. CBS was planning a “Person to Person” style TV show the night before. Eddie Fisher was going to sing ‘Counting Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.’  Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel were going to sing ‘Down Among the Sheltering Palms.’ Nat King Cole, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, was singing ‘It’s Just a Little Street Where Old Friends Meet.’

He was looking forward to it.

In six weeks he would be throwing out the first pitch for the first game of the World Series. There were five or six teams in the hunt, although the New York Yankees looked like a lock at least to get there. If he were a betting man, which he was, he would be putting his money on the Bronx Bombers.

He liked Cypress Point because it was set in coastal dunes, wandered into the Del Monte forest during the front nine, and then reemerged on the rocky Pacific coastline. The 15th, 16th, and 17th holes played right along the ocean. He’d played golf on many courses around the world.

This was one of the best of them.

On the other coast it was hot and humid in Hell’s Kitchen. It was in the 90s and stagnant. The heat was trapping the humidity in the air. Dottie was playing stickball in the street.

The street wasn’t West 56th.  Her father had told her to never play stickball on their own street. The fronts and windows of buildings were ruled home runs. Stan didn’t want any broken windows near where they lived. Dottie and her friends always played on West 55th or West 57th.  A boy bigger than her had once teased her about it, pushing her to the ground.

“You always do everything your old man tells you to do?” he said, curling his lip, looking down and straddling her.

She still had the stickball broom handle in her hands. Looking up from the gutter she whacked him as hard as she could across the shins. When the boy’s father showed up at their apartment that night to complain, her father threw the man out, dragging him down the stairs by his collar, threatening him and his son and any of their neighbors with harm if they ever laid hands on his daughter again.

“You did the right thing Dottie,” he said. “If somebody says something rotten to you, be a lady about it. But if somebody pushes you, or grabs you, or hits you, you hit them back as hard as you can. You always do that. That’s so they won’t push you down again.”

“OK, dad,” she said.

It was a good day for stickball. Eight kids had shown up, they had made their teams, and Willy, her friend from Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School, had brought a new pinky ball. It wasn’t a Pensy, either. It was the cream of the crop, a Spalding Hi-Bounce.

“Spaldeen!”

They drew a square rectangle with chalk on the brick wall at the back of a vacant lot on West 55th to represent the strike zone. The buildings on both sides were the foul lines. They chalked first and third base on the building walls and second base was a manhole on the sidewalk. If the ball hit any of the buildings across the street, it was a home run. If it hit a window they would run like hell. If it hit a roof it was a home run-and-a-half.

“There ain’t no runs-and-a-half,” a snot-nosed kid from Chelsea, visiting his cousins, sneered.

“If you’re going to play stickball on West 55th, you better learn Hell’s Kitchen rules,” gibed Willy.

Dottie was batter up. She smacked a hot grounder, but it was caught on the first bounce, and she was out. Willy got as far as third base, but three strikes and you’re out finished their inning. By the time they came back up in the second inning they were behind by five runs.

Dwight Eisenhower looked out at the par-5 10th hole. He had taken off his tan sweater, but still had a white cap on his head. Seven months ago Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, living legend professionals, had taken on Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, amateurs, but talented and skillful, in a friendly foursome at Cypress Point.

The same 10th hole turned out to be the key to unlocking the contest.

“I bet they can beat anybody,” said San Francisco car dealer Eddie Lowery about the two amateurs, who were his employees. He was talking to fellow millionaire George Coleman. The bet and the match were on.

Harvie Ward was a two-time U.S. Amateur champion. Three months later Ken Venturi came within one stroke of winning the Masters. The cypress-strewn rolling dunes of the course on the wind-swept coast, the deep ravines, knee-deep grass, sand on all sides of the fairways, weren’t redoubtable, not to them.

Ben Hogan won the day on the 10th when he rolled in a wedge shot for a 3. The eagle and 27 birdies testified to the unfriendliness of the match. The drinks at the bar rubber-stamped the camaraderie afterwards.

Ike was playing with Harry Hunt, the president of Cypress Point, Sam Morse, a one-time football star who had developed Pebble Beach, and John McCone, a businessman who had been the undersecretary of the Air Force. Dwight Eisenhower was partnered with Harry Hunt. They were playing a dollar-dollar-dollar Nassau bet. It was even-steven at the halfway mark, even though Ike had stunk up the 8th hole.

“Where is it?” he had asked getting there, looking for the green across the dogleg.

He sliced his tee shot into sand. When he got to it he hit it less than ten feet further on. Then he hit it fat, the Ben Hogan ball soaring twenty feet, and falling into somebody’s heel print.

“I’ve had it, pick it up,” he said.

“Having a little trouble?” asked Sam Morse.

“Not a little,” said Ike, “but a lot.”

“All right, all right, let’s pick it up, let’s get some roofies,” yelled Willy, urging his team on. “But chips on the ball. I mean it.”

He meant that if his new Spaldeen was roofed, and couldn’t be found, everyone would chip in to pay for a new ball.

Hal came up to the plate, wagged the broom handle menacingly, and planted his high-top rubber-soled Keds firmly in the unravelling asphalt. They were new and felt like everyday’s-a-Saturday shoes. His batted ball hit the side wall at third base where the wall met the ground and bounced back to home plate in a high slow arc.

“It’s a Hindoo,” he shouted.

“No, that ain’t a do-over, foul ball, so it’s a strike,” shouted back Dave Carter, who everyone called Rusty because his hair was red.

“What do you know?”

“I know what I gotta know.”

“Go see where you gotta go,” said Hal.

“No, you stop wasting my time,” said Rusty. “It was a foul ball.”

“Ah, go play stoopball,” shouted Hal.

Stoopball was throwing a pinky against the steps of a stoop, and then catching it, either on the fly or on a bounce. Catching the ball was worth 10 points. Catching a pointer on the fly was worth 100 points. A pointer was when the ball hit the edge of a step and flew back like a line drive, threatening to take your eye out. When you played stoopball you played against yourself.

“You got a lotta skeeve wichoo,” Rusty shouted back at Hal.

“All right, already, strike one,” said Willy, finally.

He knew Rusty would never give in. He was a weisenheimer, besides, someone you had to keep your eyes on, or your Spaldeen might grow legs. It wasn’t that Rusty was a thief. He just kept his nickels in his pocket. Willy had heard he was such a tight-wad he still had his communion money from two years ago.

Rusty had been born in Philadelphia. That was his problem.

Hal hit a cheap, a slow roller, but when Rusty let his guard down, reaching leisurely down for the Spaldeen, it went between his legs, and the next second Hal was standing at first base, smirking.

“Comeback stickball,” he whispered to himself.

Eleven batters later Dottie’s team was on the plus side of the scoreboard, nine to five.

On the tee of the 17th hole Ike lined up his shot. Sea lions on the rocks below him barked. “It’s hard to hit a shot and listen to those seals at the same time,” he said, but not so either of the Secret Service agents with them could hear him.

Dwight Eisenhower was accustomed to having guards around him, during the campaign in North Africa, and later as commander of the Allied Army in Europe. The Nazis had tried to kill him several times. Secret Service agents near his person nearly every minute of the day was like a second skin. He knew what it took to save his skin. When he moved into the White House he didn’t mingle mindlessly, shake hands in crowds, or do anything foolish.

“Protecting Ike works like clockwork,” said agent Gerald Blaine.

Mamie Eisenhower gave her agents nicknames. One, who was a good dancer, was “Twinkletoes.” He asked Mamie to keep it between themselves. Some of the agents called her “Mom.”

“You don’t have to worry about me, but don’t let anything happen to my grandchildren,” Ike told Secret Service chief U. E. Baughman.

The Diaper Detail guarded the four kids. Dwight Eisenhower changed the name of the presidential retreat in Maryland from Shangri-La to Camp David in 1953. “Shangri-La is just a little fancy for a Kansas farm boy,” he said. He renamed it in honor of his 5-year-old grandson, David.

When Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union leader, visited the retreat he said the name sounded like a place where “stray dogs were sent to die.”

Ike looked for the fairway on the 18th  hole.

“Where do we aim here?” he asked.

“Keep it away from the left,” said Harry Hunt. There was a stand of pine trees on the left. “That’s the Iron Curtain. You’ll never get through that stuff.”

Ike laughed and hit a long drive. His next shot was a 4-iron and he nailed it onto the green, 20 feet short of the pin.

In 1954 eighty people were convicted of threatening the president, and sent to prison or locked away as madmen. In 1955 nearly two thousand credible threats were made against Dwight Eisenhower’s life. The year before, the Russian KGB officer Peter Deryabin, after defecting, told the CIA about a plot to kill the president in 1952.

“We were preparing an operation to assassinate Eisenhower during his visit to Korea in order to create panic among the Americans and win the war in Korea.”

Shortly after Mother’s Day the Secret Service investigated a threat to plant two boxes of explosives at a baseball park where the president was planning on taking in a game. Whenever he played golf, stern-faced men with good eyesight and high-powered guns took up vantage points on hills, surveying the course with telescopic sights. Other agents, dressed in golf clothes, carried .351 rifles in their golf bags as they tagged along. In the parking lots the “Queen Mary,” an outfitted armored car, was the rolling command center.

“Demoralize the enemy from within by surprise, terror, sabotage, assassination,” Adolf Hitler had said not many years before. “This is the war of the future.”

Dwight Eisenhower and the Allied Army derailed the Nazi night train. No one was going to take him by surprise. He was planning on sitting in his rocking chair one day, rocking back and forth, watching over his grandchildren.

The woman sitting on the stoop across the street watched Dottie and her friends walk away down the sidewalk, their stickball game over, one of them bouncing his pinky, all of them talking happily.

“We killed them, just killed them,” said Willy.

“We sure did,” said Hal.

“What a game!” said Dottie.

“Yeah, first we were down, came back big, you put some Chinese on that ball between Rusty’s legs, they slipped ahead, and then we score fourteen just like that, and it’s all over.”

“Did you see Rusty, the putz, pulling that long face?” asked Hal.

“Oh, he’ll be back, he loves stickball,” said Dottie.

Dwight Eisenhower had served in the armed forces from one end of his adult life to the other. After he retired he was dean at Columbia, and then president. He was still the president and, he was sure, he was going to defeat Adlai Stevenson better than he had four years ago.

Dottie was so glad her team had won.

Even though he’d commanded millions of men in the last war, Ike thought war was rarely worth going to war for. He hated it. “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

They had scrapped for every run. It was worth it. She didn’t mind losing once in awhile, but she liked winning better.

“Didn’t you once say that we are going to have peace even if we have to fight for it?” asked Harry Hunt.

“When we have to, but always remember, the most terrible job in the world is to be a second lieutenant leading a platoon when you’re on the battlefield. There‘s no glory in battle worth the blood it costs. When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it themselves.”

Dottie stripped off her hot sweaty clothes, rubbed down with a cool sponge, and put on a fresh pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

The Cold War wasn’t as hot as it had been ever since Nikita Khrushchev had denounced Joseph Stalin’s cult of personality earlier in the year, as well as admitting the Man of Steel’s crimes, the crimes committed against Mother Russia. A door had been cracked open. Ike had long thought war settles nothing, even when it’s all over. He was afraid of the arms race, the march towards a nuclear catastrophe.

“You just can’t have that kind of war,” he had told his inner circle. “There aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.”

Dottie put her stick bat away in a corner near her bedroom window. In the summer she loved her friends, no matter what team they were on, and stickball more than anything in the world. She even liked Rusty a little bit when it was sunny and warm.

“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative” is what he had written and wanted to say at the Cow Palace, but didn’t, not with Dick Nixon and the Red Scare and the military hand-in-hand with industry. He wanted to call it what it was, a military-industrial complex that was always crying “fire” in a crowded theater.

But he couldn’t, at least not until after he was re-elected.

In the meantime, he planned on speaking softly and carrying a big stick, even if it was only a long shaft wood driver, the biggest club he had in his bag.

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

Lights Out at the Lighthouse

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“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘till it’s gone.”  Joni Mitchell

Starting early in April, lights start coming back on in stores inns restaurants and businesses of all kinds on the Outer Cape. Hiring ramps up for cooks, waiters, waitresses, cashiers, retail associates, merchandisers, front desk agents, landscaping, cleaning services, and even at local airports parking and fueling aircraft.

Even though snowfall is uncommon on Cape Cod, whatever there is of it melts as the weather suddenly gets warmer. Purple-blue hyacinths and bright yellow daffodils start to open. In Wellfleet, where almost everything closes down for the winter, almost everything opens up again in the spring.

Except when it doesn’t.

Early in April Joe Wanco and his family, wife Laura and daughters Michelle and Jodie, made it known that their iconic Lighthouse Restaurant in a mid-19th century building in the middle of town on Main Street would not be opening for the season spring summer and fall.

“After many years, many employees, many building renovations, many blueberry muffins, pints of beer, and Boston sports championships, it has been decided it is in the best interest of the family that we no longer operate as a business. This is not a decision made overnight or without extensive consideration. Forty years is a long time and even longer in restaurant years.”

“Oh, man, this is sad,” said Molly MacGregor.

“This is worse than closing down Town Hall,” said Steve Curley.

“I want to scream, NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” screamed Heidi Gertsen-Scheck.

Forty years in the dining room trade is like four hundred in dog years. It’s a challenge. If you like falling pushing jumping off the deep end, watering holes are for you.

Even if your menu is coherent and priced appropriately, and the tables are set nice and neat, and the ambience is what your customers like, if the customer service goes sour, customers will remember. Even if management is on top of orders, sales goals, and labor costs, if they don’t notice nobody is asking for slimehead fillets, and don’t take it off the menu, they’re stuck with a freezer full of slimehead. Even if the grub is outstanding, the staff trained and ready to go, if you’re slow marketing your restaurant, you end up with a half-empty restaurant.

“You’ve had a great run,” said Jim Clarke, who owned the Lighthouse from 1968 to 1978. “I still have memories and nightmares from those years. I wish I had a nickel for all the muffins I made.”

The Lighthouse was a local seafood eatery, with arguably the best oyster stew between Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, a local sports bar and grill where the Patriots Red Sox Celtics ruled the roost on the flat screens, and a local dive bar with two dollar cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Cape Cod bands livening up the joint year after year.

“Main Street won’t be the same,” said Donna Adams McCaffery.

“You guys have been a bedrock of this community,” said Sam Greene.

“We started almost every vacation in Wellfleet at the Lighthouse, starting in 1989 when my now husband met my family there for our vacation-starting breakfast,” said Laura Kaspar Wardwell.

Six American presidents came and went, while another has been out to lunch, in the time since the Wanco’s landed on Main Street. Townspeople and tourists grew up with the Lighthouse. Some were born and had to find out for themselves.

“I grew up with stories about the Lighthouse before I even knew what it was,” said Amy St. John Ramsdell.

“Our five children grew up having breakfast at the Lighthouse every Sunday after mass,” said Jodi Lyn Deitsch-Malcynsky. “Your family was always inviting and gracious and fun! Our summers in Wellfleet will be forever changed.”

“I remember parking my bicycle out front and coming in for a Cherry Coke or hot chocolate,” said Matt Frazier, years before he became their trash hauler and recycler. “An extra special thank-you for always treating our crew with snacks and beverages during and after Oyster Festival.”

The menu wasn’t the biggest buffet catalogue in the world, and the prices weren’t an arm and a leg, even though the plates were chock-full, but the always hot food was more than good, often very good.

“The best scallops in the world, as good as Digby, Nova Scotia,” said a man from Boston. “What’s more to say?”

“I can’t say enough about the Cod Ruben,” said a man from Westfield. “They have a great selection of beer. The service is awesome.”

“They happened to have lobster dinners on a special, super fresh and tender,” said a woman from Worthington. “They were the best lobster dinners we had all summer.”

The Lighthouse was the only restaurant on the Outer Cape without a front door, two side doors, and plenty of windows to sit at and watch the world go by. “Here’s to missing the big picture,” one man said to another, sitting at the bar one September morning, over hearty breakfasts and Bloody Mary’s, their backs to the window. The bar sat about a dozen and the front room and side room tables sat forty or fifty. The floors are hardwood. There is a large skylight in the beamed tilted ceiling of the side dining room. It isn’t a small place, but it isn’t a big place, either.  It was always lively and got even more lively at night.

“When I was younger it was our breakfast place,” said John Denninger. “As I grew older it was my place to get a drink. When I decided to move here you made it feel like home. I could not have found a better place to hang out.”

A red and white replica of the red and white Nauset lighthouse sits straight and true on the flat roof of the front room. “The lighthouse does great service, yet it is the slave of those who trim the lamps,” observed the writer Alice Rollins. It doesn’t go looking for passing ships in the night. It just stands there with the big bright light on. Lighthouses are always lighthouses in somebody’s storm.

The Wanco’s came from northern New Jersey in the late 1970s. They partnered with a friend of theirs in the restaurant “to have their hand at a small business in a seaside town in an expression of their own American dream.”  Their partner retired ten years ago, but the Wanco’s kept the lights on, carrying on. “It left just our family to provide a watering hole, meeting place, warm meal, cold beer, loud music, local gossip, friendly banter, and a smiling face.”

Besides everything else, who wants to lose a smiling face?

“Ah, Jaysus,” said Jenifer Good. “It’s too much!”

Owning and operating a restaurant isn’t the same as going to work. It’s more like work. Many people start work by checking their e-mails. So do many restaurateurs. Many people check their e-mails all day. Most restaurateurs don’t. They don’t have time. There are too many other things to do.

After they’ve turned on the lights and checked their mail in the morning they do a walk-through of the restaurant, note what needs to be cleaned repaired replaced, start receiving orders, start food production, say hello to arriving cooks and staff, last minute scrambles because someone is sick hungover missing, breakfast service, take a break, lunch pre-shift, lunch service, move on to more food production, staff meal, dinner pre-shift, dinner service, clean up, wipe down, go over the day’s receipts, stay on top of staffing for tomorrow, and fit in balancing the checkbook, making payroll, checking inventory against reality, making a list of purveyors to talk to, and finally, turning off the lights.

All of this without swearing overly much at staff customers passersby loved ones.

Not that working at the Lighthouse wasn’t a happening, an exploit. “Working there was always an adventure,” said John Dwyer.

“My first waitressing job 40 years ago,” said Gina Menza. “I was terrible, but you kept me on. Some crazy memories living upstairs, sitting on the roof to watch the parade, and sneaking into the drive-in rolled up in a carpet in the back of the van.”

“Living in the upstairs apartment to working at the Lighthouse for my first job, smashing my head into the tables while running from the kitchen to the dining room, creamy dill salad and the best pickles on the planet, working down in the bakery, and years later to many post-shift beers,“ said Jacqueline Stagg.

“My most fun job,” said Kelly Moore. “Endless pre-games and endgames, situations, life lessons with Pill Bill, meltdowns, bike stealings and returnings, hurricane parties, skinny dipping team meetings, Wall of Shame, family breakfasts, jam sessions, chats with Thomas, high society, beer pong tournaments, roof top nights, off-season regulars, Mexican meltdowns with Slammo, and mista sista kissa.”

Communities are built around their city halls, schools, and businesses. Even though the Outer Cape is known for its guidebook attractions, sun and sand whale watching galleries seafood summer theater, Provincetown, the Cape Cod Rail Trail, and the National Seashore, its essence is in its smaller neighborhoods and places.

“They were the center beacon of our town,” said Chris Eize of the Sacred Mounds. “When we became the house band, we became part of the Lighthouse.”

Most bands that ever played at the Lighthouse played in a place where the music making was consistently better than it should have sounded, resonating better than the written notes, and from Funktapuss to the Sacred Mounds they always lit up the venue.

“The Super Scenics always had a blast playing there with our gracious hosts the Mounds and the Lighthouse” said Jeff Jahnke, “Thanks and cheers!”

“We got to know Michelle and Jodie on an intimate level of trust, honest communication, and friendship,” said Chris, the frontman of the Mounds. “I loved how Jodie didn’t really have a filter, and you knew exactly what she was thinking, because she would tell you, whether you liked it or not. We enjoyed the after-show drinks and reflections with Michelle, and that openness will live on with appreciation and fondness.”

There is always a lot of camaraderie in restaurants, everyone working closely together, all around the chuck wagon.

“The restaurant business, even in the most stable of markets is, frankly, exhausting,” said Joe Wanco. “It’s an ever-consuming extra member of the family. There are no restful nights, even with the help of your favorite tequila.”

It is a consuming undertaking because of the long hours and hard work, most of it on your feet, and the competition inherent in the undertaking. The restaurant business is massive, with more than one million restaurants coast to coast. The chances of making it even one year are slim. Most eateries close in their first twelve months. Three of four close in the next three to five years. Making it four decades is Bunyanesque.

“The Wanco family put their heart and soul into their work,” said Chris Eize. Staying the course means staying steadfast. “Wow, 40 years, that’s awesome,” said Katie Edmond.

“You and your oyster stew are going to be greatly missed,” said Rob Cushing.

“Joe and Laura, enjoy your well-deserved retirement,” said Virginia Paine Davis. “You have served the town well.”

It works both ways, coming and going, since Main Street in Wellfleet is not a one-way street.

“We are eternally grateful for the many years of support from our loyal clientele, especially our year-round community,” said the Wanco family, signing off.

“Good luck, cuz,” said Joyce Buccino Fabiano to the leave-taking.

“We sure are going to miss you all,” said Mike Deltano.

“But how will I ever find my children now when I get to Wellfleet?” asked Judy Sherlock. “Look for them at the library?”

The Wanco’s were the Lighthouse keepers for a long time. The lights of our favorite places go on and off over time. Every now and then they need a new minder. What Main Street needs now is a new barkeep to fire up the lanterns again at the local public house, like the Garden State transplants did forty-some enterprising years ago.

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