Tag Archives: Frank Glass

Hot Room Badass

brian-paquette-chair-pose-chagrin-yoga.jpg

By Ed Staskus

“I’ll have the whole grain pancakes and coffee,” said Barron Cannon.

“Cream and sugar?” asked Chris, the bartender, wearing a “Best Burgers” black sweatshirt.

“Black,” said Barron.

He was a vegan.

“And you?”

“Three eggs easy over, sausage links, whole wheat toast, cream for my coffee,” said Frank Glass.

He was not a vegan.

Barron and Frank were sitting at the bar at Herb’s Tavern in Rocky River for a late Saturday morning breakfast. “Add a lemon slice to the iced water, and no straw,” said Barron. “If you’re over three years old, or not disabled, you shouldn’t be drinking out of a straw. On top of that, whoever thought of disposable plastic straws should be horse whipped.”

“What got into you today?” Frank asked, changing the subject. Something was always getting into Barron. When it came to the environment and climate change, he wore blinders, always ready to get into it.

“I don’t know,” said Barron. “I was feeling good alert, just feeling it.”

They had come from Barron’s warm flow yoga class earlier that morning. Both of them, and probably everyone else in the class, had worked up an appetite. Barron owned and taught at a yoga studio on the east end of Lakewood, a ten-minute drive away.

“It reminded me of the way Kristen Zarzycki used to teach her Sunday afternoon five-dollar classes at Inner Bliss.”

“Is she still teaching?” asked Barron. “I thought she had gone into biotechnology sales.”

“I don’t know, but when she was teaching, she was a tiger by the tail.”

Frank Glass had gone to three yoga classes a week for three or four years, and then twice a week Bikram Yoga classes for two more years. He had a herniated disk in his lower back. Almost nothing helped. A hot water bottle helped, a daily NSAID helped, and yoga helped. He had attended a dozen-or-so workshops in his time. He practiced at home now, only going to Barron’s studio once or twice a month to stay in touch.

“That way you can stay in touch with me,” said his wife, Vera.

“There would be a eighty ninety people crammed into the class, you know how Inner Bliss is, some of them in trim, most of them trying as hard as they could to keep up, sucking air, it was a fast flow, and Kristen would be on her mat, doing all the poses, and doing the dialogue, cheerful and upbeat, while half the class was dying, just trying to make it to the end. In the summer, even with the windows open, it could get hot in there.”

“My classes are fun yet challenging, taught from a base of gratitude and commitment to taking care of your body so that students can shine in their space on the mat,” says Kristen. “On the mat, I have learned that as in life, each person has areas where they struggle and those where they shine, and that the collaboration of all of our gifts is what makes our world so amazing.”

When asked what was in the backpack she carried to and from class, she said, “Gum, lip gloss, and binkie.”

Whether she meant a baby’s pacifier, the high hop a rabbit performs when happy, or a stuffed animal, was unclear.

“Was she your toughest teacher?” asked Barron, a flapjack shard on his fork dripping maple syrup.

“No, Deanna Black was a boat load. She was freelance, thank God, so I only ran into her when she was subbing. She drove her classes at breakneck pace, and every few minutes we had to do ten push-ups, or twenty sit-ups, or some damn thing, and then it was back to the flow.”

“Push-ups are good for you,” said Barron.

“Never mind about your two cents’ worth,” said Frank. “The thing is, if you faltered, say you collapsed in a push-up, she would come over and do twenty push-ups right next to you, smiling like a wolf. She didn’t actually do the class, instead she prowled around, explaining cajoling threatening, but one look at her was all you needed to know she could it, all the physical stuff, and another class after that, with no problem. She was incredibly fit.”

“Climb every mountain, ford every stream,” Barron sang, lilting.

“She did that in the off-season.”

“The benefits are more than meet the eye,” says Deanna. “Your reactions to the challenges in your physical practice often reflect and carry over to those from the challenges of daily living.”

“OK, so she was lusty and tough as nails, good for her,” said Barron.

“But she wasn’t the toughest teacher I ever met,” said Frank. “That would be Brian Paquette.”

“Who is Brian Paquette.”

“He taught Bikram Yoga at Chagrin Yoga, although they didn’t call it that because they weren’t one of the Brainiac’s licensed studios.”

Bikram Yoga was masterminded by Bikram Choudhury, practiced in a carpeted room heated to 105 degrees with a humidity of 40%, like India even before climate change. The walls were covered in mirrors. Instructors were taught to be high-handed and to teach from a hands-off literal platform at the front of the class.

“That man was a nut,” said Barron.

“He was a nut, but if you wanted to climb the mountain of posture yoga, his 26 postures in the torture chamber was the mountain.”

Bikram Choudhury’s philosophy of yoga was making pupils work through pain. “I am a butcher and I try to kill you, but don’t worry, yoga is the best death,” he told his followers.

“You took classes in Chagrin Falls? That’s a forty-minute drive one way.”

“Twice a week for two years, until I had enough of the most unrelenting remorseless cramps I have ever had in my life. I couldn’t drink electrolytes fast enough to replenish. I got a vicious cramp driving home one night and had to pull off on the shoulder before I killed myself and everyone around me. That was the beginning of the end, although by then the economics of taking classes wasn’t making sense to me anymore.”

“Whoa, there, my friend,” said Barron. “You’re talking about my bread and butter.”

“It wasn’t just that, although bread and butter played a part. It dawned on me there wasn’t any magic, not that yoga teachers aren’t magic, most of them are, any magic in going to classes anymore. Sure, it was engaging to practice in a collective atmosphere, but I knew enough by then to stand on my own two feet. What I didn’t know, I knew I could just ask you over breakfast or lunch. Can you pass the butter?”

“What made him so tough?” asked Barron

“What made Brian tough was that he didn’t come across as tough, at all. He came across as a good-natured guy. And he was a good-natured guy, patient affable understanding. Most Bikram Yoga teachers, not if but when you had to stop, always wanted you to stay in the room.”

“Just sit down on the mat for a minute,” the apostle on the platform would say. “It’s cooler at floor level.”

“That sounds like Bugs Bunny physics,” Barron laughed.

“It was maybe one half of a degree cooler on the floor,” said Frank. “Brian let people leave the room. He told us, if you have to, you have to. Try to come back if you can. He encouraged us to drink as much water as possible. I had one teacher, she trotted out the harebrained idea that water weighed you down and we should only be taking a missionary-sized sip once in a while.”

“He sounds like a simpatico kind of guy. Is he from Ohio, from here?”

“I’m not sure, although I don’t think so. When I was taking classes in Chagrin Falls, he told me he lived nearby, maybe even within walking distance. One night, after class, we were standing around, he mentioned he had gone through some hard times. He had been a professional gambler, something like that, for a while, and had fallen into a downward spiral. He got connected to yoga, somehow scraped up enough cash for Bikram Yoga teacher training, and trained in Las Vegas, of all places.”

Bikram Yoga teacher training is learning the world-famous system and learning to teach it, according to Bikram HQ.  They are dedicated to teaching trainees the precise nature of yoga. Everyone is nurtured in a challenging, but safe environment, no kidding.

Trainees learn how to greet students professionally and jawbone intelligently about the mental and physical benefits of yoga. Everyone is encouraged to develop a dedicated hatha practice. They are taught how to speak clearly and how to teach the sequence confidently, correcting students appropriately and compassionately, no fooling.

They learn how to grow their own personal yoga practice, sans steam, since it impractical in most apartments condos homes anywhere. There’s no kidding about that.

The training takes about four weeks and costs between $12 and $15 thousand, depending on what paradise on earth the training is set. The total costs include tuition, hotel accommodation, transportation, lectures, classes, towels, and all the water you need to complete the training in one piece.

Even though Bikram Choudhury has recently fled the United States after losing a multi-million-dollar civil suit for sexual shenanigans, he continues to stage his tent show around the rest of the world.

“Brian taught hot yoga, but he was more engaged with Kriya Yoga, which was crazy at odds with the Bikram way of life, which was fancy cars and fancy girls and cash on the barrelhead. He didn’t ever say much about Bikram Choudhury, although he once said yoga had been around a long time and no one had a proprietary claim to it.”

“So, he was more a Kriya kind of guy than a fancy pants?”

“That’s right. You’d ask him what his favorite pose was, and he’d say, ‘Meditation posture, straight spine, because it brings peace.’ His favorite books were the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, Holy Science, and Autobiography of a Yogi. If you asked him what made him happy, he’d say, ‘Meditation, singing the names of God, and spending time with my family.’ His favorite quote was, ‘Read a little. Meditate more. Think of God all the time.’ I forgot to ask him who said that, but it was probably some old-school yogi.”

“My God, he sounds like a saint, not a badass,” said Barron. “I mean, one of my favorite quotes is, ‘You better take care of me Lord, because if you don’t, you’re gonna have me on your hands.’ What does that make me?”

“Who said that?”

“Hunter S. Thompson.”

“Fear and Loathing?”

“Right-o.”

“Brian wasn’t like that,” said Frank. “He wasn’t a saint, just a regular guy, really, although he did a hell of a lot of meditation. I mean, hours of it. What I mean about him being a badass is the way he went about his business in the hot room. He always came in last, wearing mid-thigh compression shorts, no shirt, and carrying a jug of water. He ran the class like a grade-school teacher. He wasn’t like a drill sergeant, which was a persona most Bikram teachers took on in some way shape or form.”

“Why did he need water?” asked Barron. “I thought Bikram Yoga teachers just shouted out the poses from their soapbox. Why did he need a jug?”

“He did just about the whole thing, which is why he needed it. That’s why he takes the gold medal of badass yoga teacher, in my eyes, at least. Every class there were plenty of people who had to take a break or leave the room. A lot of them were young and fit. Brian did it day after day, no sweat. Getting through ninety minutes of the torture chamber wasn’t any walk in the park, man, it was hard.”

“How hard can it be?”

“Believe me, beyond hard,” said Frank. “You don’t see me doing it anymore.”

“You finally accept an offer to go to a class thinking, easy, I can do this.” said Benny Johnson about his first Bikram class.

“I played real sports for a few years, so how hard can it be? You arrive at the class thinking, let’s do this! But then you walk into the class and the heat hits you. It is ninety-one thousand degrees. You set up your mat in an open space. Little do you realize the hell awaiting you. The poses are relatively easy but holding them is hard. And you actually really start needing water, but it does not help! By the final stretches, you’re just limping along. Then the torture ends, and you lay down in a haze and total defeat.”

“More iced water?” asked Chris, walking up to the bar.

“Yes, please,” Frank and Barron both said.

They drank their water, paid the bill of fare, and left Herb’s Tavern.

“How did Brian reconcile Kriya with Bikram,” Barron asked as they walked to the back of the parking lot. “The two seem mutually exclusive. Kriya is about selflessness and Bikram was only in it for himself.”

“I don’t know, we never talked about it, but his actions, how he did things, seem to say he did. He was both a badass and one of the more sincere people I ever met. He was a quiet sparkplug. If you asked him what inspired him, he would say, ‘My guru, my wife and my children.’ If you asked him who sees the real you in this sketchy world, he’d say God.”

“It sounds to me that the way he practiced in the studio was the test of his sincerity,” said Barron. “He was melding the two, but not selling out.”

“He’s a religious guy in a secular world, a spiritual guy teaching a totally incarnate practice,” said Frank. “He was always urging us to meditate, even though we were all there for the crazy boot camp workout because all of us needed it for our own almost always physical reasons. He was hard to make out.”

“The good of the body depends on the goodness of the spirit, and the other way around,” said Barron.

They got into Frank’s Hyundai Tucson and pulling up to Detroit Road, a black squirrel built like the tailback Barry Sanders, crazy quick and elusive as the all-Pro, vaulted over the brick wall surrounding the outdoor front terrace with a chuck of stale bagel in his mouth. Frank feathered the brakes, but there was no need. He wasn’t the kind of squirrel who ran in circles and got run over. He dashed to the bushy endzone at the back of Century Cycles and disappeared into the trees.

“Have you ever noticed squirrels never say things like, if I had my life to live over, I would do whatever?” asked Frank.

“I know what you mean,” said Barron, chewing on a fresh bagel he had squirreled away in his pocket before leaving. “They’re just rats in better clothes, but they’ve got it going, for sure. They’re not vegans, but what’s more free and right in the head than a squirrel?”

They might get run over by us, squashed flat like pancakes by car after car, but they never fall out of trees into a world not of their making. They are second to none at planting their own trees, too. They bury their acorns, but often forget where they put them. The forgotten acorns become oak trees.

Ed Staskus posts a feature story monthly on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com, Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com, Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com, and State Route Two http://www.stateroutetwo.com.

Summertime Blues

By Ed Staskus

“Well, I called my congressman, and he said I’d like to help you, son, but you’re too young to vote, there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.”  Eddie Cochran

   “Mom said you’re not leaving and you’re coming to my birthday party this year,” Maggie said, putting down her ear of corn, her lips peppered with flecks of salt and smeary with   butter.

   “That’s right,” said Frank Glass.

   Vera Glass’s brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece, Frank’s sister and her new boyfriend, a policeman who lived nearby, were visiting on the Fourth of July, in the backyard, a breezy sunny day in the shade, crowded around a folding table-clothed table doing double duty, food and drink and board games.

   Independence Day has been a federal holiday since 1941, but the tradition goes back to the American Revolution. Since then it’s been celebrated with festivities like fireworks parades concerts big and small and family barbecues. This year the fireworks parades concerts were scratched.

   Maggie was born seven almost eight years earlier. She was due to officially come to life the third week of September, four five days after Frank and Vera expected to be back from Atlantic Canada but was born on the first day of the month.

   She was a once in a blue moon baby. To do something once in a blue moon means to do it rarely. It is the appearance of a second full moon within a calendar month, which happens about once every three years.

   “Where do you go in the summer?” Maggie asked.

   “We go to Prince Edward Island, a small town called North Rustico, but we stay in a cottage in the National Park, a family owns the land, they’ve been there for almost two hundred years. We leave in mid-August and stay through the first couple of weeks of September, which is why we miss your birthday party.”

   “You always send me a present. I like that. But last year you sent me a sweatshirt with a red leaf on it that was ten times too big.”

   “You’ll grow into it,” said Frank.

   “Maybe I will, but maybe I won’t,” said Maggie. She was a genial child but could be a testy cuss. She thought she knew her own mind rounding out her seventh year, although it could go both ways.

   “Do you like it there?”

   “Yes, we like it a lot.”

   “Why aren’t you going? Is it the virus?”

   The 20th century was the American Century. The United States led the way socially economically brain-wise learning-wise and in every other wise way. In 2020 it led the way in virus infections, far outpacing the next two contenders, Brazil and India. The flat tires in charge nowadays can’t get anything right, from building their useless wall, all three miles of new wall, to securing a useful virus test.

   North Korea and Iran keep making atom bombs, there’s no China trade deal, the deficit has skyrocketed, and race relations have gotten worse. All that’s left is for the other shoe to drop. On top of that, Hilary Clinton still isn’t in jail.

   “Yes, the bug,” said Frank. “The Canadian border is closed, and even if we could get into Canada somehow, the bridge to the island is closed except for business.”

   In May President Trump said, “Coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better, going down almost everywhere, cases are coming way down.” In June he said the pandemic is “fading away. It’s going to fade away.” On July 2nd he said, “99% of cases are totally harmless.” Four days later, on July 6th, he said, “We now have the lowest Fatality Rate in the World.”

   John Hopkins University subsequently reported that the United Sates has the world’s ninth-worst mortality rate, with 41.33 deaths per 100,000 people. It was a bald-faced report. They didn’t capitalize the numbers.

   “Are you sad that you can’t go?”

   “Yes.”

   “They built a new bridge to our house. I know all about it, we drove over it two weeks ago. Mom was so happy. It’s a big bridge, too, the other one was small and always breaking.”

   “You know the bridge you go across from downtown, when you go up the rise past the baseball stadium where the Indians play ball, on your way to Lakewood?”

   “That’s a long bridge.”

   “It’s called the Main Avenue Bridge and it’s two miles long. The bridge that goes from Canada to Prince Edward Island is almost 5 times longer than that. It’s as long as the distance from downtown to our house.”

   “That’s far!”

   “That can’t be,” Frank’s nephew Ethan blurted out. “That bridge is too long!”

   “How do you know, Bud, you can hardly count,” said Maggie. She called Ethan Bud. They were buddies, although they didn’t always see eye-to-eye.

   “I can so count, I know all the dinosaurs, there are a million of them,” said Ethan.

   “I’m going into third grade and we’re going to learn division. You’ve been learning to finger paint.”

   “What’s a million and a million?”

   “2 million.”

   “OK, what’s the biggest dinosaur ever?”

   “The Brontosaurus.”

   “No! It’s the Argentinosaurus, and he weighed a million pounds.”

   “That can’t be,” said Maggie.

   “My math is my math,” Ethan simply said.

   “If you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough,” said Albert Einstein.

   As of July, there were more than 300,000 cases of the virus reported in children since the start of the pandemic. The Executive Office of the Federal Government has repeatedly maintained it poses almost no threat to them. “The fact is they are virtually immune from this problem,” President Trump said.

   “How do you know about the virus?” Frank asked.

   “Everybody knows about it. The whole world knows.”

   “They even know in Antarctica,” said Ethan.

   “Do you know anybody who got it?”

   “A girl in school got it from her mom,” Maggie said. “I took piano lessons with her.”

   “That’s too bad,” Frank said.

   “Are there going to be fireworks tonight?” Maggie asked.

   “No, the city cancelled them.”

   “Where we live, too.”

   “Here there were fireworks last night, we sat on the front porch, until after midnight, but it was just people in the street or their yards. There were some big pops over there by Madison Avenue. I think they were shooting them off from the empty lot. We could see bottle rockets over the trees.”

   “Wow!”

   “You said you knew about the virus, but how do you know?” asked Frank.

   “The news about it is on every day on TV,” said Maggie.

   “That’s right,” said Ethan.

   “We have a TV, but we don’t have TV,” said Frank. “We only have a couple of streaming services for movies.”

   “We have real TV,” said Maggie, “and it’s on all the time. The news is on every single hour every single day and all the news is about the virus.”

   “Do you watch TV all the time?”

   “We don’t watch TV, but we watch it all day,” said Ethan.

   “We don’t really watch it, but it’s always there,” said Maggie.

   Parents are urged to pay attention to what their children see and hear on radio online television. They are cautioned to reduce screen time focused on the virus since too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety in kids. Talk to them about how stories on the web might be rumors and wildly inaccurate.

   “That’s OK, it’s all in your head, anyway,” said Maggie.

   “All in your head?”

   “That’s what dad says.”

   “Well,” Frank said, “your father knows best.” He wasn’t going to get into a no-win argument with his brother-in-law. His sister’s boyfriend was a policeman at Metro Hospitals. Frank didn’t want his ears pricking up. He wouldn’t understand it’s all in your head.

   “Are you worried about the virus?” Frank asked.

   “Would that help?” Maggie asked, biting into a burger. “This is yummy good.”

   “No, it would probably just make you crazy.”

   “Dad said your name wasn’t always Frank Glass.”

   “Yes and no,” said Frank. “My given name has always been Frank, which is short for Francis, like we call you Maggie even though your name is Margaret, but my family name, what they say is your surname, used to be Kazukauskas.”

   “What happened to it?” asked Maggie. “Why is it different now.”

   “When my father came here, to America after World War Two, the immigration people said he should change it to something other people could pronounce, that they could say without too much trouble, so he changed it to Glass.”

   “Where did he come from?”

   “Lithuania, a little country, north of Germany.”

   “That’s a nice name,” Maggie said. “I like Glass.”

   “At least he didn’t have to climb another brick in the wall once he got here.”

   “What does that mean?”

   “I’ll tell you when you’re older. Are you staying home more because of the virus?”

   “Yes!” both of them exclaimed.

   “Do you have to wear a mask when you go somewhere?”

   “We cover up,” Maggie said. “My face gets hot, my head gets hot, and my hair get hot. It makes my glasses fog up.”

   “I have a tube mask with rhino’s and bronto’s on it,” Ethan said. “But I can’t breathe, so I just rip it off until mom sees.”

   There was a box of Charades for Kids on the table. “Three or More Players Ages Four and Up.” Frank pointed at it.

   “Are you ready to play?”

   Maggie rolled around on the lawn, flapped her arms, rolled her eyes, and hugged herself. Nobody had any idea what she was doing.

   “Going to bed!” she yelped.

   Ethan did a somersault.

   “Somersault?”

   “Yes!”

   Maggie rolled on the ground holding her head and grimacing like a mad chipmunk. Everybody watched with blank faces, stumped.

   “Headache!” she blared.

   Ethan slashed the air with his hands.

   “Karate?”

   “Yes!”

   Maggie jumped, waved her right arm in circles, flapped it back and forth, and licked her lips. As the one-minute hourglass dropped the last grain of sand to the bottom, she fell down on the grass. Everybody was stumped again.

   “Frosting a cake! I can’t believe nobody got it.”

   Ethan got on all fours like an anteater, pretended to be eating something with great chomping motions, and clomped to the driveway and back.

   “Argentinosaurus?”

   “Yes!”

   Summer signals freedom for children. It’s a break from the structure of school days, a time for more days spent at the pool, a time for more play, for exploring the outdoors.

   One day his mom asked Ethan if he wanted to go out on his scooter.

   “So much,” he said. “I have got to get out of this house.”

   “Every single day I see the Amazon truck and the FedEx and the white trucks go past me,” said Maggie. “They turn around at the cul-de-sac thing, they just rush back, driving crazy. I run to the backyard.”

   “There’s a big field and woods past our backyard,” Ethan said.

   “We’re stuck at home but it’s summer, it’s nice outside, the sun is shining, and we all go for walks,” Maggie said.

   She hadn’t been to school since April, studying remotely. Ethan hadn’t been to pre-school for just as long.

   “Are you going back to school in the fall?” asked Frank.

   “I hope so,” said Maggie. “I miss it.”

   “I’m supposed to start first grade,” said Ethan.

   About two months away from hopes there will be a return to school, many parents were looking to new findings which suggest children are less likely to get and spread the virus. In late June the American Academy of Pediatrics, which advocates for “having students physically present in school,” published reopening guidelines. They stated that children “may be less likely to become infected” with the coronavirus and to spread the infection.

   Living and breathing in-person face-to-face time is what makes school a school. “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher,” is what a Japanese proverb says.

   “I want to play something else,” Maggie said. “Can you teach us how to play Pictionary?”

   “Sure,” Frank said.

   They put the never-ending news of the pandemic away, cleared one end of the table, and unfolded the game board, setting out the pencils note pads special cards. “Quick Sketches, Hilarious Guesses” is what it said on the yellow box, and that is what they did the rest of Independence Day, the clear sky going twilight, lightning bugs flashing on off on off, and neighborhood kids shooting off Uncle Sam Phantom fire flowers in the alley behind them.

   There wasn’t a dud in the caboodle, not that they saw. Uncle Sam got it right, rockets red glare.

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

Six Oysters Ahoy

IMG_6834 2

By Ed Staskus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right, but what about dinner?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s they?” asked Frank.

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

She wondered, how could you tell?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kaela Barnett is our chef.”

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

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

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

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

“Me, too.”

“Are you oyster connoisseurs?” asked Kieran.

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

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

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

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

“What wine goes with oysters?” asked Vera.

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

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

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

“That’s what I’ll do,” said Vera.

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

“Oh, Frank, try one,” said Vera.

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

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

Kieran handed him a Lucky Lime.

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

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

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

Frank looked down at the liquid-filled half shell.

“From the wide end,” said Kieran.

He slurped the oyster into his mouth and swallowed it.

“Now you’re a pro,” said Vera.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blackberry Point was very salty.”

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

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

“No, its like wine,” said Kieran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you want dessert?” asked Kieran.

“Do you have carrot cake?”

“It’s made here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where You Are.”

“I know where we are,” said Vera.

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

“Aha, I see,” said Vera.

“Hustle it up, we’re almost late.”

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

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

Photograph by Vanessa Staskus

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

Fire in the Belly

dsc_5079

By Ed Staskus

“It is a hard matter to argue with the belly, since it has no ears.” Marcus Cato the Elder

For the past fifty-or-so years restaurants have been rated on the star system by magazines and newspapers. One star means the spot is good, two stars means very good, three is excellent, and four is extraordinary. No stars means you’re on the spot. It’s either tasteless or you’ll be gagging behind the eight ball if you go.

There are some restaurants, standing inside the door, waiting for a table, you get a gut reaction, and it’s best to slowly back out of the place. It doesn’t matter if your name is on the reservation list. Tell the hostess it was a mistake.

“No one likes one–star reviews,” said Peter Wells, restaurant critic for The New York Times. “The restaurants don’t like them, and the readers don’t like them. It’s very tricky to explain why this place is good enough to deserve a review but not quite good enough to get up to the next level.”

Liquids and Solids at the Handlebar is a neck of the woods gastropub slightly off the beaten path, across from Lamb Lumber, in Lake Placid, New York. It doesn’t have the one or two-star problem. With Liquids and Solids it’s love or loathing, feast or famine, no stars or four stars.

“The joint skips the rustic pretentious vibes and serves unforgettable upscale drink and plates in a comfy atmosphere,” Nara Shin wrote recently in ‘Cool Running’.

They don’t take reservations. They describe themselves as “cooking and drink making how we want.” Originality is independence. It doesn’t matter that you have to set aside some of the tried-and-true. Most first-rate stuff is the fruit of originality, anyway.

Frank and Vera Glass, who live in Lakewood, Ohio, walked into the eatery on the corner of Station Street and Route 73 on a Thursday night in late June. It was hopping crowded lively, lots of talking, little of it for the sake of anybody else’s table. Besides, there was food and drink on the tables to pay attention to.

Summer was a week in and it was summertime in the north, a breeze in the windows. Mr. and Mrs. Glass were on a road trip and had stopped in Lake Placid to have dinner at Liquids and Solids.

“We’ve eaten here nine or ten times,” said Frank Glass. “We like it.”

“I never noticed this, it looks like they take their old menus, tear them in half, and put the meats and cheeses on what was the blank backside,” said Vera Glass, seated at a round table in the middle of the restaurant.

“Waste not, want not,” said Frank.

The menus are printed on a 2007-era Kyocera. “It prints the daily menus at a not so top speed, jams pretty fast, sensitive to overheating, traded a guy named Bill a meal for her,” said Tim Loomis, chef and co-owner.

“Best printer we’ve ever had.”

The meats, from the Kreature Butcher Shop next door, included Fennel Kolbasz, Andouille, and Corned Tongue. The cheeses included Dutch Knuckle “fruity and nutty” from the Sugar House Creamery in nearby Upper Jay and a feta “goat’s milk aged 8 months” from Asgaard Dairy in nearby Ausable.

Liquids and Solids is the brainchild, labor of love, and walk of life of Tim Loomis and Keegan Konkoski, the bartender, native Adirondack restaurateurs. “He got the action, he got the motion,” Dire Straights sang when the two were tykes. “Dedication, devotion, do the walk of life.” Getting the hang of going is in the going.

The restaurant seats maybe sixty, seventy diners and the bar seats maybe a dozen. There are no flat-screens, no pump up the volume, and nobody performs any tricks at your table.

“How’s it going, guys?” asked the server walking up to Frank and Vera’s table. “I remember you, you ate outside last fall.”

“We did,” said Frank, “It’s Mel, right?”

“Close, it’s Raquel. Do you want to start with a beverage?”

“A draft.”

“Do you like IPA’s? The Gone Away is fantastic.”

“I’ll take that.”

Vera asked about the Maple and Spice.

“It’s a bourbon, a little spicy, high-end peppers,” said Raquel. “Keegan got the idea for it from a detox, like a cleanse, not that it’s going to cleanse you, but the combination came from that in mind. The apple and lemon juices level it out. The nice thing is it comes in two sizes, a small and a 19 ounce.”

“I’ll take the small one,” said Vera. “That way I can try something else later.”

“What do you like about bourbon?” asked Frank.

“Kentucky punch, it’s refreshing,” said Vera.

Food writers are anyone and everyone who writes about food and restaurants. Some of them prowl noodle shops, like Ruth Reichi does, handing out two and three stars. Others, like Jonathan Gold, win Pulitzer Prizes. There are more than 2 million blogs about food.

Food journalists reviewers critics are expected to be honest, understand both specific dishes and cuisine, as well as be able to look beyond the food to capture the whole of a restaurant, from sandwich shops to swanky supper clubs.

“We have a funny relationship with critics,” said NYC chef Wylie Dufresne. “Regardless of how well we prepare the food, if people don’t know that we’re out there, if someone isn’t talking about us, you guys aren’t coming.”

Sometimes, though, asking a critic to name their cream of the crop restaurant is like asking a butcher to name their favorite cow. It is problematic at best. Our dependence on food is vital, a matter of existence, but our tie-ins to food are intimate, existential.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” said Virginia Wolff

Nobody needs a critic to find out where good food is. Just go there and try it for yourself. But, since the aughts, with the rise of Zagat, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, everyone’s a critic. Good criticism melds good judgment with a nub of good, old-fashioned crankiness. If you don’t like it, fair enough. But, there’s a difference between judgmental sideswipes and a write-up or write-down, whatever the case may be.

“The arrogant pretentiousness of the mixologist was unbelievable. Part-owner, if she smiled just once, she might even be pretty,” a Virginia diner wrote about Liquids and Solids.

“The short ribs were tough, fatty, and without flavor, the worse short ribs I’ve ever had. I’m 100% sure the chefs bring in and cook whatever animal they killed with their car that morning,” a downstate New York diner wrote about Liquids and Solids.

“Motivated by my dead taste buds and general anger, I am writing as a warning to others about possibly the WORST restaurant I have ever set foot in. My octopus had the consistency of a rubber boot,” a Canadian diner wrote, after rushing back to safety over the border.

It begs the question, however, why the diner was cognizant of the taste of a rubber boot in the first place.

If things don’t work out for DJ Trump in the court of public opinion, maybe he can take his talents to the food court, putting them to work yowling on Yelp.

Unlike reviews of books, music, and movies, reviews of restaurants serve a pragmatic purpose. They alert us to things like cleanliness and food poisoning. Food poisoning is one thing, pointing to a clear danger, but social media poison is another thing, like dirty dishwater.

Imagination, ingenuity, and invention aren’t for everyone, especially not in the food court. Creativity only works when you make mistakes along the way. Who wants to eat a swing and a miss? On the other hand, who doesn’t want to eat a home run?

“They warn you when you first walk in the menu is not for the weak of stomach. I had blood sausage, pureed sweet potato, and some other stuff on a croissant. It was delicious!” wrote a diner from New Jersey.

“The menu changes daily so it’s inevitable they’ll churn out some misses along with their hits. I got beef tartare with cured egg yolk, pickled onions, patty pans, scallions, bacon vin, jalapenos, and potato chips There was a lot going on. Risk-taking, but really yummy,” wrote a diner from New York City.

“The tempura asparagus buns were playful and dangerously addictive, the gnocchi and spaghetti squash layered with a ton of intricate flavors. Excellent service, attentive,” wrote a diner from Massachusetts.

The sound of someone tooting your horn is the sweetest of all sounds. The sound of someone’s two cents’ worth, however, when they’re panning you, can be hard to take.

There are many ways of taking criticism. In the heat of the moment many people get mad and defensive. Some don’t lose their balance, listening to what the critic is saying, taking it like a champ. Others simply admit their mistake and hope for the best. Sometimes you just have to shrug it off. The best restaurateurs take a slice of humble pie, swallow their pride, and try harder, or not, since they are already trying their hardest.

Ordering dinner at Liquids and Solids is simple. It’s all on one side of the paper menu and everything is in black and white. The Ramen plate, for example, is particularized as being made of fried chicken feet, scallions, mustard greens, miso broth, and minute egg.

The sides are called Smalls and the entrees are called Larger.

“Are you ready to go to the next step?” asked Raquel. Waiting tables means being the kind of person who doesn’t get lost on subways.

“Is the Caesar salad still a Caesar salad?” asked Frank.

“It’s a little bit of a play on it, and there are potatoes,” said Raquel. “The old Caesar isn’t on the menu anymore.“

“To keep it alive, it needs to have somebody in there inventing,” Peter Wells has said about chefs and their kitchens.

“OK, we’ll grab that, with two fried eggs on top,” said Frank. It’s a buck an egg extra at Liquids and Solids.

“How about the poutine, we can share that, too” said Vera.

“They’re a little different tonight,” said Raquel.

Poutine is a Quebecois dish, French fries and cheese curds topped with light brown meat gravy, usually served in greasy spoon casse-croutes and roadside chip wagons. French-Canadians say poutine won’t cheat on you, won’t betray you, won’t fight you.

“Poutine gravy is traditionally beef, but this one’s a veggie base, broccoli. It’s a little bit of a lighter poutine.”

“It doesn’t sound like the Meatatarian, but let’s try it,” said Frank.

“How are the smoked grits and shrimp?” asked Vera.

“Southern style, everybody’s lovin’ it tonight.”

“The fried pig head?” asked Frank.

“What they’re doing is they’re cooking the pig head down and pulling all the meat off of it, then balling it, breading it, deep-frying it, and it comes with polenta, cheddar, apples, maple vinaigrette.”

“As long as we don’t see the head,” said Vera.

When restaurants lose the make-it-or-break-it intensity that made them famous in the first place, no matter how crazy much they charge for their plates after that, they become just famous and meaningless. Liquids and Solids is more along the lines of super-excellent than famous.

People go to good restaurants to eat good food and have a good time. Eating bad food in some hash house would put anyone in a bad mood. Everybody’s got to eat. You might as well have an A-1 crack at it.

The good times that roll off the food line at Liquids and Solids kitchen are the doing of Tim Loomis. “Tim rocks,” said the waitstaff on their Facebook page. “Thanks for tossin’ that food on the plate and makin’ it taste and look all sexy like.”

The good times that spill out of the craft beer and specialty cocktail bar at Liquids and Solids are the doing of Keegan Konkoski. Last year for the second year in a row she was named mixologist of the year in Best of the Adirondacks 2015.

She mixes it up even when she’s not mixing drinks. “First day of fall, see ya tomorrow,” said Keegan on the first day of fall. “Off biking. This day should be a holiday!”

“How are you guys digging the poutine?” asked Raquel.

“You can taste the potatoes more, like the broccoli moistens it,” said Vera. “Are there any herbs in there? Am I tasting thyme?”

“I’m not 100% sure. I’ll have to ask.”

Broccoli is one of the world’s healthiest foods. Many children, however, vow that when they grow up they are going to uninvent it. “I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it,” said George H. W. Bush soon after being elected. “I’m President of the United States now and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli.”

Liquids and Solids doesn’t necessarily try to reinvent the wheel, just realign the wheels, starting with plain old broccoli.

“They said no herbs, just different kinds of broccoli,” said Raquel.

“Who dreams this food up?” asked Frank.

“Tim.”

“Why change the tried and true?”

“Who knows what goes on in his head? Try to figure that out, you’ll be here all day.”

“What’s that oily peppery taste?”

“That’s actually simple. They did a rue, flour and butter, cooked it down with onions, and salt and peppered it.”

“It wasn’t thick, it wasn’t all ruey,” said Vera.

“They cooked it down enough that the cool tastes come out,” said Raquel.

“Why can’t Tim do a Caesar salad that you can count on and just fork up?” asked Frank.

“I think he put it on the menu in the first place for people who struggled to find something on our menu. It’s everybody’s go-to. People like to order what they know.”

All food is comfort food for somebody. Caesar salad, no matter where you are, is a standby. You can always rely on it. Except when you can’t.

“Why does Tim do anything? There’s always a reason. Until a month ago he was doing kale and mustard greens because there was an abundance of it on the farm.”

Halfway through dinner a fresh cocktail, a #1, and another pint of beer came to the table.

“Cheers” said Raquel.

“This is different than the Gone Away, but still grapefruity,” said Frank.

“It’s not an IPA, but it’s got a little funk to it” said Raquel. “It’s brewed with wild yeast cultures, in Allagash, Maine.”

“That sounds Turkish.”

“It doesn’t sound American.”

“Did Turks go to Maine, found Allagash, and make beer there?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

Liquids and Solids closes at 10 PM. By then the dining room was almost empty. Half a dozen people sat at the bar, two of them with plates of poutine.

“Don’t leave that bite on the plate,“ Vera said, glancing at Frank’s plate.

“Let them eat pig’s head!” said Frank.

In the bowels of some restaurants, whenever a food critic is spied walking in, the kitchen goes into overdrive. Everything else takes a back seat. Whatever the critic orders might be prepared and plated two three four times to make the order absolutely unconditionally no ifs ands or buts great.

At Liquids and Solids everything is prepared and plated once, because everyone’s a critic.

“How was everything?” asked Keegan Konkoski as Frank and Vera Glass passed the bar on their way out.

“Good, thanks,” said Frank.

“I had the #1,” said Vera.

The #1 is a whiskey, whistle pig, st. germaine, suze bitters, cherrys, cran-molasses mix, and falernum.

“You had the #1?”

“Yes, I did.”

“I’m impressed.”

Vera Glass walked out of Liquids and Solids at the Handlebar with a happy full belly and big smile pasted on her face. There’s nothing like tasty sincere food, a sincerely serious drink, and a sincere tip of the hat to make one’s day.

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

Delicate Steve

By Ed Staskus

   It was wetter than dry the front end of summer and too muddy to ride the single tracks in the Rocky River valley. Instead, Frank rode his Specialized on the all-purpose trail and left his Schwinn hanging in the garage. The Schwinn was outfitted for dirt, with front shocks and a low stem. The Specialized was fitted with road tires, knobby on the outside and smooth rolling on the flat side and had a higher stem. It made for faster riding on asphalt.

   It made for even faster rolling down Hogsback Lane, which is the entryway off Riverside Dr. into the valley. Hogsback is built up a steep shale hill. It’s more than a half-mile long. When the shale slumps and slides, the two-lane surface crumbles, and it becomes smart to keep your eyes on the road.

   Hunched forward on his bike Frank could top 40 MPH going downhill, unless he feathered the brakes.

   He rode alone most of the summer because his friend Steve Petrauskas was getting married. He said he didn’t have time to get on his bike anymore, anyway. “I’ve got a lot going on,” he explained. When they were kids, everybody called him Delicate Steve. At least until he joined the Army, when he became Steve-o, even though his real name was Azuolas. He had gone to a public school and his name always landed him on the losing end, so he went by his middle name, Stephen. He wasn’t a mighty oak, anyway, which is what his name means.

   Frank had gone to a Catholic school in the old neighborhood, full of Serbs, Slovenes, and Poles. His name was never a problem, even though it was Pranciskus Kazukauskas. When his father got a promotion, it became Glass. His name meant ‘free,’ but it became Frank in grade school.

   They had been riding together on-and-off since Steve moved to the west side. They met again by accident. Their paths had diverged, but they still had enough in common to hit the Metropark single tracks and all-purpose trail together.

   “I don’t want him racing that crazy hill and falling,” said his fiancée, Tammy. She was down on Hogsback. She didn’t want a train wreck walking down the aisle at her side.

   “You be careful, too,” Vera said to Frank in their backyard. “I don’t want you wrecking either.”

   By July it was hot, in the high 80s and the air was humid and heavy. Frank could have ridden the single tracks, since they had dried up, but it was overcast the last week of July, and he stayed on the all-purpose trails. Towards the end of that week, after getting home from work, he rode twelve miles out, almost all the way to Berea. It was on the way back that he passed a tall man in a yellow helmet on a blue hybrid.

   Inside a few minutes yellow helmet was behind Frank, drafting, and when he slowed for a car at the crossroad to the entrance of Little Met, he slipped ahead when the car paused to let them go by. The trail goes up a long hill there and Frank finally caught up at the top.

   He tucked in behind him and they rode fast to where the trail zigzags through some curves, and to where yellow helmet got sloppy. He tried to pass two young women on blades, except on an inside-out curve, and when a biker rode up on the other side he had to go wide on the grass. At the end of the curve a ditch stretches away from the trail to the Valley Parkway, and he had to backtrack. Frank waited for him to catch up.

   “Nice pace,” he said when Frank peeled off to go back up Hogsback, while he kept going. Going up Hogsback is a long hard slog, which is what he did, slog up the long hill. By the time he got near the crest, he was on the verge of a standstill.

   The next day Steve and Frank rode downtown. Steve said he had an appointment for a haircut at Planet 10, on West 9th Street, and wanted a pedal. On the way from Lakewood, they rode through Ohio City to Church Street. Steve showed him the old church whose rectory had been converted into a recording studio. “That’s where we’re having our reception,” he said.

   Tammy was a sometime actress and singer.

   They were getting married at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church instead of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where Vera and Frank had gotten married. Steve was Lithuanian-American like him, but even though Tammy was an atheist, her mother was Episcopalian and wanted her to be married in a church. She didn’t like the Lithuanian church in North Collinwood, so it was St. Peter’s in Lakewood.

   They spun south on West 25th Street, crossed the bridge to Jacobs Field, and rode to the Warehouse District. The bride-to-be was still good with Steve riding on city streets, but not farther into the east side ghettos, like they used to do, to Cleveland Heights along Cedar Rd. She quashed that.

   “I don’t want him getting killed in Fairfax,” Tammy said.

   Steve pushed his bike into Planet 10’s lobby and Frank rambled away. After zigzagging around downtown, on his way home, stopping at a narrow strip of grass at the base of the Bob Hope Bridge, squeezing his water bottle, he watched a fat woman with shopping bags easing herself down to the ground in front of an RTA sign. She looked up at Frank and smiled, crooked brown teeth. She was going back to the near east side, maybe thinking of killing Steve if he rode his bike past her house.

   He was standing outside his garage when Steve and Tammy pulled up in her baby blue Ford Tempo. His bike was sticking out of the trunk, the trunk bungee corded. “Jerry screwed up Steve’s appointment,” she said. “He’s so unprofessional.”

   She was mad. “That’s not how we do business at Artistiques.” She was a sometime nail technician at a hair salon when she wasn’t acting.

   It was mid-week when Frank rode back into the park and got on the dirt trails that branch off from the stables at Puritas Road. They were dry where they were level, but they weren’t level much. There were patches and mud bogs all along the tracks. He had to ford a small stream where a big tree had fallen. He jumped some baby stumps, fell down once, and when he got home turned on the outdoor hose and sprayed cold water on his head.

   Vera and he drove to Tammy’s bridal shower that weekend, which was at her best friend’s house in Avon Lake. She was a big-faced woman married to a ruddy Englishman who was a barge pilot. It was steamy as hell even though it was just barely August. Frank was sprawled on a leather sofa in the air-conditioned family room when he noticed a small furry dog on the coffee table. He couldn’t tell if it was a dog dead asleep or a stuffed dog looking dead. When he reached for it the pushed-in face snapped at his fingers.

   “You better watch out,” big face said. “He’s blind, so he bites at everything.”

   He went for a ride after they got home. Twilight was turning to night by the time he got back. Snapper, their orange Maine Coon, came running onto the driveway from the neighbor’s backyard. Just when he was ready to close the garage door, Steve pulled into the driveway.

   “Can I borrow your lawn mower?” he asked.

   “All right, but don’t break it.”

   Steve was notorious for either busting or never returning borrowed tools. He had Katie, Tammy’s four-year-old, with him. Frank picked her up, held her upside down, and spun her by her heels in tight circles. When they were done, they talked about a nickname for her, finally settling on Skate.

   “It rhymes with Kate.”

   She waved goodbye through the window of the car as Steve pulled out with the lawn mower. If Katie hadn’t been with him, I wouldn’t have lent him the mower, Frank thought. That’s probably why he brought her along.

   By mid-August cumulus clouds were dotting the sky and the weather was cooler than it had been. He rode his Schwinn down Hogsback and got off the all-purpose trail at Mastick Woods, veering onto the dirt tracks there. He rode the track for three miles and then double-backed on the horse trail. As he did, he noticed somebody had come up behind him.

   When he went by, he saw the rider was wearing a baseball cap instead of a helmet and on a good-looking Trek. He was riding fast, and even though he followed him as best he could, he couldn’t catch him until he slowed suddenly. He saw why when he pulled up. Horses were coming around a bend.

   They waited while the horses cantered past.

   The Trek turned to the right and rode into the trees toward the river and the single tracks on the bank. Frank followed him, bumping over ruts and logs and through thick underbrush, but soon lost sight of him. He pushed up the hill running along Big Met, then down, and as he came into the clear baseball cap jumped onto the trail ahead of him. He had gone around and was riding faster. They sped through a copse, then out to the baseball field where baseball cap widened the gap by jumping a wood guardrail, something he couldn’t do, even if he tried as hard as he could.

   It would just end badly. He went around. It went well.

   He thought I might catch the Trek on the Detroit Rd. climb out of the valley, except he climbed so fast Frank lost more ground. He finally caught up to him where he was waiting at a red light on Riverside Dr. They talked while Frank gulped air.

   “I wasn’t planning on doing much today, but it ended up being a fun ride,” he said.

   “I know you,” Frank said.

   “Yeah, I work at the Latvian Credit Union, where you do your banking.”

   The Lithuanian Credit Union in North Collinwood had gone out of business after its president and several employees were arrested by the FBI for embezzling $12 million dollars, half of the bank’s assets. The state closed the bank. Vera and he got a check a few months later from the insurance corporation and they joined the Latvian Credit Union in Lakewood.

   “I saw the Vytis decal on your fender,” he said. There was a red decal of the White Knight on Frank’s rear X-Blade fender. “Not many people know what that is,” Frank said.

   A week before the wedding Steve called and said JoJo was out as their maid of honor.

   JoJo was Tammy’s ex-friend-to-be who arranged Tammy and Steve’s blind date when Tammy had been on the prowl after her latest divorce. She was promised she could be maid of honor if the date led to anything. JoJo was a travel agent. Tammy gave her a cash down payment for a Cancun honeymoon. But then the travel agency called and said they were getting anxious about the payment, since they hadn’t received it, yet.

   When Steve telephoned JoJo, she said she hadn’t gotten any cash, but when Tammy heard that she rushed to the phone. There was a loud long argument and JoJo somehow found the money. The honeymoon was back on, but Tammy had to last-minute find another maid of honor. She was an all the time improvisor.

   The next day Steve called again.

   “Are you going riding?” he asked.

   “I’m just going out the door,” Frank said.

   “I’ll be there in five minutes. I need some fresh air.”

    Frank was working out the kinks in his back when Steve rode up the driveway.

   “Tammy’s sick,” he said.

   “What’s wrong with her?”

   “Cramps. I think it’s nerves,” he said.

   “Let’s go,” Frank said.

   The sky was overcast and gusts from the southwest pushed them around as they rode Riverside Dr. along the rim of the valley. They glided down Hogsback and rode single tracks. The dirt was late summer dried out and the ruts were bad, but they rode fast. Frank’s back wheel went in dangerous directions a few times. Steve held back. He didn’t want to face plant.

   “A little out of control there,” Steve said when they crossed over to a horse path and relaxed.

   “Maybe a little,” Frank said.

   “I want to make it to the altar in one piece,” he said.

   “Getting married is risky business,” Frank said. “Just take a look at you and Tammy. You were married once, and it lasted for 78 days. Tammy’s been married twice, and she’s got a kid by one of the dads. You might want to throw yourself down every downhill between now and the wedding day.”

   “I don’t think so,” Steve said, giving him a flustered look. “Anyway, I intend to keep my eyes half shut after the wedding.”

   Coming out of the park on a smooth stretch Steve slowed down when Frank wasn’t looking, he got tangled in his rear tire, and went sideways over the handlebars. He skinned his knee and banged his helmet, but they were going too slow for much else to happen.

   “Crash test dummies!” a crow squawked.

   The morning of Steve’s wedding, while Vera went shopping for a gift, Frank rode Hogsback into the valley. He felt good, but a crosswind was blowing, and he got tired. The bike felt sloppy, too. Going home he pushed hard because he didn’t want to be late for the wedding. When he finally got home, he found out he had been riding on a nearly flat back tire.

   Steve’s wedding went off without a hitch, but during the reception, when Vera was congratulating him, Steve made the silhoutte of a gun with his hand with his finger pressed to his temple.

   The next day, while Vera made Sunday dinner, he drove to Steve’s house with the gift they had forgotten to take to the reception. Tammy was lounging in the living room in a thick, white bathrobe and Skate was in her pajama’s. While Steve and he talked in the kitchen doorway, Tammy’s old setter limped up to him and licked the scrape on his knee.

   By the beginning of October, the park was yellow and maple red. Frank rode the all-purpose trail every other day. One Sunday morning Vera and he had breakfast at the Borderline Café and went for a walk on the horse trails behind South Mastick. That night, while they were watching a movie on TV, Steve called.

   “I won’t be able to ride anymore,” he said.

   “Tammy?” Frank asked.

   “No,” he said. “It’s my shoulder.”

   Frank had seen how he couldn’t lift his right arm above his head without trying hard.

   “After any ride,” he said, “any ride at all, ruts roots or no roots, my shoulder’s in a lot of pain. I’ve been taking Celebrex, but my doctor told me it’s rubbing bone on bone. There’s almost no cartilage left. He said sometime in the next couple of years, depending on how fast the rest of it goes, I’ll need a replacement shoulder.”

   “Oh, man!” Frank exclaimed.

   The last Saturday of the month was the last day of the year he rode in the park. It was getting too wet and cold. He was adjusting the strap on his helmet when a gang of neighborhood kids came walking up with rakes, brooms, and a wagon. They asked if they could rake their yard for $5.00. He said sure. They started pushing wet leaves into piles. The biggest of the girls walked up to him.

   “Mister, can I ask you something?” she said.

   “Sure,” he said.

   “That small boy,” she said pointing to a small boy. “He’s having a potty emergency.”

   He rang the doorbell for Vera, and she came outside, saying she would take care of the boy and supervise the raking. “Go before it gets dark,” she said.

   Where Hogsback intersects with the Valley Parkway, Frank cut across a grassy field and rode onto a single track. The path was littered with slapdash leaves. A flock of geese went by overhead. He came around a quick bend and the branches of a fallen tree on the side the track jabbed at his face. He swerved to the left and pulled on the brakes, jumping off the bike when the tree he was going to run into became the tree he ran into. He landed on his feet and the bike was all right when he lifted it up.

   On the way home he rode on the road, instead of the all-purpose trail, hugging the shoulder’s white line. A beefy man in a shiny new white pick-up blew his horn behind him, and when he went past, tried to shrug him off the road, giving him the middle finger. Some people are assholes, Frank muttered. There’s no getting around it or doing anything about it. At home he hosed off the Schwinn and hung it up in the garage.

   He was sure by then it was the end of Steve-o. He wasn’t going to be that anymore. He was going to be Azuolas again, raising a family, like a mighty oak, probably having another child-or-two in no time while he still had time. He would be riding alone next year. He checked the tires. They looked good, although he knew that hanging upside down in the garage in the winter months all the air would slowly seep out of them.

   He was going to miss Steve, but when you ride with somebody else you always have to wait until they’re ready. When you ride by yourself you can go whenever your bike is spit polished and lubricated. The White Knight had been a metalhead for his liege, and even though his decal brought up Frank’s rear, going it alone is the real deal. Nobody wants to be alone, but sometimes you just need to be left alone.

   He did yoga alone at home that winter. He went to a couple of classes but couldn’t stand the pie in the sky talk. He rowed his Concept 2 and did band work. He didn’t have an indoor bike and didn’t pedal a stroke for five months. He would have to pump the tires up again the coming April, before going back down into the valley, staying beeline and keeping a peeled eye on the road down Hogsback Lane, never looking back, strips of daffodils blooming, turkey buzzards back in the warming air, the new springtime fine-spun after an icebox winter on Lake Erie.

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

Esme, Beforehand Then Later

woman-screaming

By Ed Staskus

There’s not much here. Nikki is up to her ears in after-wedding plans and I am all adjusted to my new little life. It is not so bad, except for my job, of course. There is something about dumb jobs and me.

Brent has taken an intern position for the summer in Milwaukee at the Miller Brewing Company. It is exciting for him. He will be in Marketing. I’ve heard Milwaukee is beautiful, so we shall see. It is five hours from here, so my guess is we will be spending many, many weekends in Chicago.

Is there anything new with you and Vera?

Irene filled me in on the brouhaha. Skip is a bastard! My God, stealing a $10 thousand dollar order, that is insane! I would go nuts on him, and Kenny, too. He’s supposed to step in. He is the Sales Manager, or is he that just because he’s Cathy’s brother? Let me see…

Doesn’t Skip have a conscience? Or did he skip out on that? I would rest easy knowing that Tammy is probably soaking him for that money as we speak! Soaking him so she can soak up the blended bourbon!

Poor Brian. He shouldn’t have done it because he’s not that smart, and it was all such crappy small change, anyway. Isn’t he Carol’s brother and Kenny’s brother-in-law? That is strange, since he was part of the clan. So much incest! But, he deserves to steal, as I see it. Cathy and Dave should be put behind bars for what they pay people. It is a crime. I totally bet if someone did an investigation on their efficiencies and pay scale it would be interesting, and you all would get raises, except for Maggie.

She shouldn’t be able to afford a freaky Lexus. I can’t afford anything!

After working for a big company it is easy to see how self-serving Cathy and Dave were. I am now in that situation again at a small company. It is funny how things go in a circle.

I am a Marketing Manager at Keter. We manufacture cabinets and shelves. I hate it here. My superiors are Israeli. They are in Israel and do not care what I recommend or ask for. I have no action. My boss hates me. That is funny. I do probably twice as much as I did at your place, but not a quarter as much as I did at Glidden.

Glidden has turned out to be the boyfriend that dumped me and the one that I can’t seem to get over. I wish I could go home. It’s too bad, really.

Brent and I are watching a movie tonight with Brie and grapes and wine. We are having some alone time. I had an interview yesterday for a job I know I won’t get and Brent is stressing about school and the National Guard. It makes both of us rather large assholes. So, tonight we have to be nice to each other.

I woke up the other day feeling something bad was going to happen. I had two flights to North Carolina and some cab rides, but my first flight was delayed which made me miss my other flight. Nothing went right that day.

Brent left last week for Milwaukee. So far he loves it, so that is promising. They seem to be schmoozing him by taking him to baseball games and fishing. We will see if this turns into a job offer. Milwaukee wouldn’t be so bad. I hear it is kind of cool there.

I am bored out of my mind. Brent is gone. At least I am in school and I have one friend. School is hard for me now, not like when I was in school before. It takes up a lot of time, probably because there’s a math class. I got an A last semester, so that is good.

I am working on managerial accounting. I wonder if I know more than Carol, yet?

Hehehehe…

Later!

I accidentally kicked a blind woman’s cane out of her hand. I was crossing a plaza going to a class at school. There were a bunch of smokers and one of them flicked his butt away. What a disgusting habit! I didn’t see the blind lady because I looked at the butt, but then there she was, crossing my path.

Before I knew it my leg hit her cane and it went flying. She stopped dead, but before I could do anything, one of the smokers rushed over to the cane and gave it back to the empty-handed blind woman. The smoker gave me a dirty look on top of everything. Sometimes things are so unfair.

I quit my job, which is a really bad idea financially, but a great idea mentally. My boss was a prick, and that is being kind and sweet about the situation.

He had me doing his Fed-xing and presentations. I wasn’t allowed to think on my own, just do his administrative work. Brent and I are both students now. I am halfway through my MBA and I think my time will be better spent finishing school than being some a-hole’s secretary.

We are going to leave here next summer. I will be done with school. It’s been good, but a little slow. All my knowledge is being called upon and the bits and pieces I forget are coming back to kick me in the butt. We will be in a great amount of debt when I’m done, but at least I will be done.

We are planning on going to Jamaica in a few weeks for a few weeks. I can’t wait.

We went to Jamaica! We stayed in a resort called Sans Souci, which means without cares. I got four free spa treatments and free manicures and free pedicures and it was all we could eat and drink. We did a ton of eating and drinking. Brent scuba’d and we went kayaking. We had a blast. I hadn’t a care.

It now seems like a way distant memory.

Brent got an offer letter from the Miller Brewing Company, which means we will officially not be living in my mother’s basement next year, as previously feared. I have a few recruiters that have told me all I have to do is tell them the location and they will find me a job. It will most likely be Milwaukee, since that is where Miller is, but hopefully Chicago, or even Columbus. We will know by January.

I have made a few of my recruiters look really good. I will have to call on some favors soon.

Later!

Yes, we’ll see you and Vera this weekend. Although that restaurant looks amazing, is there somewhere else, maybe a little more in our student price range that we could go to? I don’t think we can afford that. I am such a loser, I know. Maybe something more casual? Sorry for sounding like a cheap ass. It is really hard to be so poor. We are not good at it!

So Vera gave you shit about saying something about my hair. I don’t care. I love gossip. So much is going on here and none of it is good. I am going to tell you for the mere fact I hope it doesn’t come true.

Brent got orders to go back to Afghanistan two weeks after he was supposed to start at Millers. It’s OK financially because Millers supports this kind of stuff and he will have his job after twelve months of bullshit! Doesn’t that suck! Things always suck!

Anyway, on a lighter note, I only have ten more weeks of class. Brent was done yesterday and graduated with high honors. I am so irritated that I can’t stop telling everybody about our stupid situation. My professors think I’m nuts.

Things have been getting away from me. School is so boring and I have sunburn. I wish we were going to be in a house this fall, but probably not. I keep waiting for one of those days when I will have excellent news.

We did get a dog. He’s a boxer puppy and his name is George. He’s to keep me entertained while Brent is away.

We still don’t know when exactly he will be leaving for Stansville. In the meantime he is working at Millers. My trying to find a job is a total pain. I think I might have to open up my search soon, maybe around Chicago. It’s more land to possibly employ me.

As of next month Brent will officially belong AGAIN to the Army. He is being officially deployed to Afghanistan – AAARRGGHH – for one year after his seven weeks of training. This comes as a slight shock to us as he submitted his official paperwork to leave the National Guard in February. He is the victim of BAD paperwork!

We have done everything we can to get this changed, but are about 98% sure he is going, as the Guard does not seem at all concerned that his paperwork was submitted twelve weeks before his notice to be deployed. They do not have any type of precedence policy.

I am sad – read that as irate. This is not what we had envisioned for this year. However, my plan is the same. I am still going to move to Milwaukee, unless anyone knows of a contract position in Cleveland lasting one year – just checking. Our plan is to still get a house. I will work and volunteer, and most likely get certified to teach spinning classes, to keep me busy.

I will also be attending some sort of therapy weekly, meaning read trips to the spa, to keep me sane.

Brent’s been gone for months and I’m going to my mom’s for X-mess. I need yoga, bad, but my gym doesn’t offer it when I can make it. It’s really the way to go, cleanses the body of toxins, and keeps you sane. Maybe I will try to find a class, even though working out seems to be the one thing I keep pushing off to do other things, like spend time with my dog.

It’s unbelievable that it’s another New Year already. Thanks for dinner, seeing you and Vera was great, and thanks for the marshmallows and the pictures of the woman humping a dragon and then having little dragon babies. They are sure to be conversation pieces.

My mom and I were baffled for a minute. Mom thought I should cover up the nipples. I am too immature for these pictures, but I think you knew that.

Hehehehe…

The marshmallows were awesome. Later!.

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

Reading Rocky River

rocky-river-nature-center-e1546723734167.jpg

By Ed Staskus

It was damp and cold on an overcast Sunday afternoon in mid-December when the Rocky River Readers met for their final book review of the year, taking a look back at everything they had read since January, and casting their votes for best book.

The Rocky River is the boundary between Lakewood and Rocky River, the suburb named after the river. Field & Stream magazine has ranked it one of the top steelhead trout fishing rivers in the world. It is also what defines the Metropark on Cleveland’s west side.

The reading group meets once a month to talk about the book they have been reading that month. Joni Norris moderates the roundtable discussion. This year they had to meet twice in August, reading and discussing two books, since Ms. Norris, a Metroparks Naturalist, was in Finland all of July.

“It was a great trip,” she said. “I got to know the moose up there really well.”

There are more than 100,000 moose in Finland’s forests. There are none in Ohio. Finnish passports even have a quirky security feature, which is a moose appearing to walk across the page. USA passports feature the balding head of an iconic-looking eagle. The moose looks like he’s minding his own business. The eagle-eyed bird looks like he’s minding your business.

A staff member since 1985, Ms. Norris’s interests in reading and writing led to the monthly book review program she proposed and offers at the Cleveland Metroparks. It focuses entirely on writing about nature topics.

This year the group read: Fire Season by Philip Connors and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Swarm Tree by Doug Elliot and Sex on Six Legs by Marlene Zuk and A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean and The Earth Speaks by Steve van Matre and Bill Weiler and The End of Nature and Eaarth, both by Bill McKibben, and Northern Farm by Henry Beston and Tales of an African Vet by Roy Aronson and The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe and, finally, The Bluebird Effect by Julie Zickefoose.

The reading group meets in the Rocky River Nature Center off the Valley Parkway. The center was built in 1971 and from a back deck overhanging the river there is a view of 360 million year old shale cliffs. A friend who is in the group invited my wife and me to come along. She promised there would be pie and coffee afterwards.

My wife isn’t an avid reader, even though she does read when it strikes her, but she readily agreed to accompany me. She admitted the pie and coffee were powerful inducements.

The readers are critics, but affable rather than cruel ones. Their relationship to books is not the same as the relationship of pigeons to statues. But, writers need critics because, even though they might be good book writers, it doesn’t necessarily make them good book critics, in the same way that most good drunks are not necessarily good bartenders.

The weekend group of two-dozen critics sat in a large circle on folding chairs in the high-ceilinged auditorium of the center. Led by an energetic Mrs. Norris, they discussed rather than dissected the works of the nature writers and environmentalists they had been reading. They made their way with personal observation as much as with discrimination acquired by long, consistent reading.

They don’t worry about reading being bad for their eyes, either. “Reading isn’t good,” said Babe Ruth, the famous Bambino. “If my eyes went bad even a little bit I couldn’t hit home runs.” On the other hand, the road to strike outs and bubbaloney is paved by the short sighted who won’t and don’t read.

Reviewing their reading for the year the group began with Fire Season.

“It was a memoir and a history at the same time,” said a trim woman in creased blue jeans. “It was about being a fire watcher in Arizona and he was very good at telling stories about the loneliness and dangers. He lived in the mountains all alone with his dog.”

“His wife visited him from time to time,” said a man in a mustache and yellow shirt, which drew a big laugh.

“A man’s best friend, indeed!” said a wag sitting on the far side of the circle.

“My best friend,” Abraham Lincoln once said, “is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was variously described as an emotional portrait of a family, an interplay of race, poverty, and medicine, as well as a critique of science. The Swarm Tree, however, drew a blank, drawing little discussion.

“I don’t even remember it. We read it so long ago,” someone said apologetically, looking sheepish

Next up was Sex on Six Legs, a book about the complex behavior of the many insects whose brains are smaller than poppy seeds.

“It was about bugs,” said one reader. “It was really about their personalities and communication skills, not really about sex, but it helped sell the book, I suppose. The sex parts, I mean.”

“Did you know that, in general, people are more scared of bugs than they are of dying?” asked another reader.

The thing that almost everyone is more scared of than death is standing up in front of a group and having to speak. The readers all stayed in their seats when offering their comments.

“It just poured out of him” was how A River Runs Through It was described. The book is an evocative semi-biographical collection acknowledged to be the greatest fishing story ever told. Robert Redford made it into a movie.

Both The End of Nature and Eaarth by the New York Times best-selling author Bill McKibben were met with wary respect.

The End of Nature, it was all about global warming,” said a woman wearing a knitted white Christmas sweater. “It was about how we are all going to die. But, it had a positive twist at the end.”

“That was when he lived in the Adirondacks,” replied another reader. “The next book Eaarth was much more optimistic. Either it was because he moved to the Green Mountains in Vermont or the anti-depressants kicked in.”

Someone guffawed, and the next second looked guilty.

Northern Farm: A Chronicle of Maine drew a mixed response.

“It put us to sleep,” complained one couple that had come to the discussion that afternoon fresh from a hike in the northern reaches of the Metropark.

“No, we loved it,” another couple countered. “It’s a New England Christmas card.”

Tales of an African Vet was well received.

“He was trying to promote conservation. It was very upbeat,” said a man in a flannel shirt.

“I liked it,” said a woman in a red blouse, leaning back, content with her assessment.

“It got scary at times,” said a stout man wearing a beard and sweater. “He usually treated the animals in the wild and sometimes they would wake up in the middle of the procedure.”

“You’re right,” said another man. “The monkey died, but most of them came out all right.”

In the middle of the discussion about The Viral Storm someone asked, “Do you smell anything?”

“I think it’s my pie,” said Joni Norris. “What time is it?”

“It’s 2:45.”

“Usually an apple pie tells you when it’s done, but I better check that,” she said as she briskly walked to the back end of the auditorium and into the open kitchen where the pies were baking.

“Is it burnt?” someone asked.

“No, it’s perfect.”

The Bluebird Effect was the last book discussed, being the December selection. It is the latest book written by Appalachian wildlife artist and writer Julie Zickefoose, an Ohio resident, and drew the most comment.

“She’s very accessible,” said a woman, herself a writer and member of the River Poet Group. “She is very intimate with birds. I liked the story about the one bird that knocked itself out. She nursed it back to health and then the bird came back with a friend to visit. At other times it is very stark, tragic, but beautiful.”

“One sad part that is in the book,” said a woman in a maroon sweater and black slacks, “is that you are allowed to shoot morning doves in Ohio, just so you can have them as delectable little treats on your plate.”

“Why not crows, or how about seagulls?” someone asked. “There are a lot of seagulls.”

Joni Norris squeezed her nose and made a bird sound. She announced it was time to vote for the book of the year. Ballots were passed around, pencils chewed on, selections made, results tabulated, and the top three books were announced with an improvised drum roll on the back of a legal pad.

Tales of an African Vet came in third, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Laks secured second place, and The Bluebird Effect took the grand prize. Joni Norris announced that she was considering inviting Julie Zickefoos to the Nature Center for a lecture the coming summer, the news being greeted with general approbation, as was the announcement that the refreshment table, laden with Christmas cookies, cakes, and pies, was open.

Everyone, it seems, had brought a dessert.

I sampled three apple pies while my wife chatted, but in the end I couldn’t decide which was best, so I went back for seconds.

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

When Esme Got Married

Stephanie and Joe's wedding at Casa Golondrinas in La Manzanilla, Mexico.

By Ed Staskus

Check this out. It’s just the New Year now and I lost my job.

They re-organized the place and I got let go. I am really bitter since I left there for here. The good news is a headhunter has to help me and I got three months pay to enjoy myself. I’ve gone to Hawaii. Yup, it’s January and I’m here for more than a month and Brent’s coming next week.

Later!

San Francisco is very fun, little bars and clubs, like the movies, even the ratty neighborhoods, like the Mission. I am not complaining until I run out of money. I have two months.

Hehehehe…

I have sent out some resumes and talked about a job in Milwaukee. It’s the same as I was doing, except it’s a start-up. I’ll be back home at the end of February and then I am moving out. I’ll move in with my mother for a while, at least until Brent is back.

I am finally moving! I will be leaving for Indianapolis on Sunday. This week is flying by! There is so much to do. No, I do not have a job. We will be living with Brent’s sister for a month until we are on our own. If you feel like visiting Hoosierville, I think they did well in basketball this year.

Don’t forget me.

Things are crazy here. Moving is a huge pain. Brent and I got a three-bedroom, two-bath apartment right on the highway, which is good since it looks like I might be working in Indianapolis, which is an hour away. Not having a job still blows. I am lucky I haven’t gotten fatter, or anything like that. I am definitely less high maintenance than I was before.

Things in the wedding area are about finished, only a few details to nail down. Are you guys planning on coming?

I miss you all very much. I know I have been crappy, but now that I am settled in Indianapolis I will be much better. If you get any calls, please say nice things about me. I have been interviewing, so hopefully something will break, more on that later. Please send gossip. I am dying out here. Must…have…gossip!

Brent is good, although he is missing both Hawaii and the Army, but not Afghanistan so much. He is not working either, yet, because he is in the National Guard and has to go away for two weeks next Saturday. I am sorry Bob and Jan aren’t happy. That place was too negative for me. Maggie and Cathy? Yikes! How do you stand it? I saw John at a bar and he was friendly. I always liked him the most out of that dysfunctional clan. Speaking of dysfunctional, how is Skip? Brent’s brother-in-law displays similar personality traits.

Blah!

Hey! What is going on? I haven’t seen you guys in sooo long! How has everything been? I still have no job. It totally freaks me out. There are some prospects, so hopefully not much longer for this crap. Brent might be called up for that homeland stuff. We really want him to because you get paid to guard an airport and he wouldn’t even have to do that! He would just organize the people. Then he could get state tuition for Indiana U. Wedding invitations are going out soon. Keep your eyes peeled!

Later!

Things are busy, although I am not sure how. I am sending out wedding invitations any day now. I hope you can come. I think it will be fun. If not, it is always free food.

All of our church requirements are done and we have registered for gifts. That sucks the fun out of shopping. The final fitting for my dress is next Friday. I will be in town then, but Brent’s mom will be here, too. Brent will be in Montana fishing, so I can’t really hang out. How are the mean people you work for? Bob said Cathy had another baby. Yuck. None for me, thanks!

See you soon!

What is going on? Did you get the wedding invitation? Are you planning on coming? I hope so. We’d love to see you guys there. Hopefully you can make it. I hope there aren’t any trade shows that weekend. I still have no job. I am a loser. Things are getting better, though, I think.

Is anything new going on? Keep in touch!

Hey! Didn’t you and Vera get the wedding invitation? You ARE coming, right? I am not going to be home much until the wedding, but I am definitely looking forward to seeing you there. Thanks for the massage salon gift. It works for me as long as Dick isn’t giving it!

Hehehehe…

I am evil, I know. Make sure you send back your response card soon! I am so excited to see you guys!

OK! I am finally employed!

I am going to be a marketing manager for a company called Keter Plastics. They make the same kind of things that Rubbermaid makes. They are in Costco, Walmart, and Lowes. Their latest venture is with Black and Decker and I will be working a lot with them. Yippee! I have no idea when I start and a limited idea of the money involved, but I do not think I care anymore. Yippee! It was my second choice job. My first choice was Delta Faucet, but their new department won’t begin until late October and I can’t wait that long! Now I can shop!

I am so excited!

Hey! My mom got your reply today! I am so glad you guys are coming. I am getting so excited. Make sure you come to the church. I think it will be nice. We are going to have a place for everyone to go for appetizers between the church and the reception. Medina is full of little coffee shops and pubs. It should be a fun day.

Yippee!

I am glad to see you and Vera are coming to the wedding. I think I am going to stop into your work on Thursday to say hi. I haven’t seen you in ages and I will be in the area picking up my dress from Coming Attractions in Lorain. OK, it is not exactly the area. Anyhow, do you guys want to adopt Brent? We decided his family sucks and he is looking for a new family. You don’t have any kids and he is potty-trained for the most part. He just needs a better family. OK, so all families suck, but his is really bad. His sister isn’t coming to the wedding because it might stress out her babies. She is the first woman to ever have a baby.

Sense the sarcasm!

So, think about adopting Brent.

Oh my! I am so busy. Blah! I am planning on stopping in to say hi sometime before the wedding. I need to know how everything is. Is Maggie still in the front office? Can you unlock the back door for me? I can’t believe it is July and two weeks away. I am dying! How fun!

Hey, would it be possible for me to stop in and say hello on Thursday at your work? I am coming home Wednesday night and would like to say hi to everyone before all the chaos of the wedding. Tell Bob and Jan, but don’t say anything to Cathy and Maggie.

I come in next Wednesday night, so basically Thursday morning. I have an appointment to get waxed, ouch, at 9 AM. At least I am hoping to have it then.

Later!

Whoever is in the mood to hang out at Friday’s in Strongsville on Thursday, let me know. I have a ton of wedding high maintenance girl stuff to do that day, like getting my ass waxed. Oh, wait, I mean my back. I will need a drink by the end of the night, and a smoke, and some fattening food. Let me know if you are interested so I can call ahead and get a table. If no one wants to go I will be embarrassed, but that is OK, too. You already have to see me this weekend!

Holy shit, you are busy. You are flying back from the Chicago trade show for my wedding? That is hilarious. I am sorry. You didn’t have to! That is so cool, though. I hope it is not too much of a pain for you to come back. At least it is a cheap flight. Cathy is probably so annoyed!

So, all the mean people have lots of babies. Maggie is driving a Lexus, oh, God! Where do I start the jokes? She is not the type. You can’t have a Lexus and look like you are from the 80s. I want to rip on Maggie so bad. Too easy, though… I don’t want to bring on that bad karma. When is Maggie having a brat of her own? Cathy and Dave suck. She is mean, he is oblivious, but at least he is nice. He made that place tolerable.

My life is nuts. We are going to Chicago next weekend for our “honeymoon.” We only have two days. We are staying at the Crowne Plaza, the same one we all stayed at for the trade show. Remember that place with the velvety drapes? You all got rooms with Jacuzzi’s, except me. I am so excited! I really appreciate you coming home to see us get married.

I can’t wait to see you guys. I really appreciate you ditching that fishy trade show to see me get hitched. That is so great! See you on Saturday. I am leaving work now.

My friends totally loved you. I hope you and Vera had a good time. I was so busy I didn’t get to talk to you more. It is sooo hard to do anything you actually want to do when there are a hundred people who want to be around you. Usually no one wants to be around me!

Hehehehe…

Thank you so much for coming. I hope it was worth the trip!

Did you and Vera have fun at the wedding? My friends thought you were hilarious. I wish someone would come to this cornfield. How is work? When are you leaving there? Is it any day now? Kristin told me she told you how miserable I was when I worked there. Nothing like airing dirty laundry! Sorry if you had to listen.

We went house shopping this weekend. Now I am sick. I don’t think the two are related. It’s wet and cold here. Houses are so fun to look at.

Not much is going on here. Brent is getting great grades at Indiana. He is in the top third of his class and getting recruited from companies like Proctor and Gamble, Miller Brewing, his favorite, and Kraft. He is happy.

Me, on the other hand, I am hating life. I am one of those people who let one thing get them down. I hate my job and do just about nothing all day, which gives me plenty of time to think about how much I hate my job. I have made a few friends, which makes things easier. My best friend is a lawyer and she hates her job, too, so we laugh a lot and make fun of Hoosierville. I am taking classes again, for my MBA, after a year hiatus, seeing as I had no income for most of the year.

Hopefully it will get me out of this hellish job.

Married life is fun. Brent and I do a lot of poor people things together. We have fun inventing things to do, although we are much better at it when we have money. Nikki, my old roommate and best friend, you met her a few times, is getting married right after the New Year, or maybe in the spring, That is the next thing I am looking forward to. I am excited to be the one not getting married.

I am getting pretty adjusted to my new little life.

Is there anything new with you? 

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

Fig Leaf

fig1

By Ed Staskus

“Here comes the sun, doo doo doo, and I say, it’s all right.” The Beatles

The temperature was in the 90’s, like it had been for weeks, and the humidity was Louisiana-like, which it had been for weeks, when Frank and Vera Glass went for a walk on the multi-purpose path in the Rocky River Reservation, about a mile south of Lake Erie and the mouth of the river.

The Metroparks, more than a hundred years in the making, are a series of nature preserves, more than 21,000 acres, which encircle Cleveland, Ohio, and its suburbs. There are hundreds of miles of paths and horse trails, picnic areas and fishing spots, and eight golf courses.

Their home sat on a side street on the east side of the Rocky River valley. If there is ever another Great Flood, the river would have to rise more than one hundred and fifty feet up the cliff to threaten them. Turkey vultures nest in the cliff face and soar all summer like gliders in wide circles on the currents rising up from the valley. The Glass house, a dark gray Polish double, is ten minutes by foot from the park, cooler mid-summer in the shade of the forest and along the riverbank.

They walked down the Detroit Road entrance, past the marina, the dog park and the soccer fields, as far as Tyler Field, before turning around. As they neared Hogsback Hill, an isolated high point on the near bank of the Rocky River, Frank suggested they go up to see his friend Barron Cannon, whom they hadn’t seen recently.

It was a month earlier that they had gotten back from a month on the east coast of Canada. Barron had spent more than two months protesting on the east coast of Manhattan.

“You know I don’t want to,” said Vera.

“I know,” said Frank, turning up Hogsback.

Barron Cannon is a trim young man in his 30s who lives in an orange Mongolian yurt he built in the backyard of his parent’s ranch-style house at the top of Hogsback Hill. He has a master’s degree in Comparative Philosophy and is a committed yogi, as well as a radical vegan.

He practices yoga for two hours a day and meditates for another half-hour. Sometimes he chants or plays his harmonium. He’s thankful they have no nearby neighbors, and the house is slightly off the edge of park land, so the park rangers can’t bother him. His parents have long since thrown up their hands. They pray he’ll find a girlfriend and move away, but aren’t holding their breath.

“He needs to be committed,” Vera has said to Frank on several occasions, usually right after they have visited him and are out of earshot.

“Why couldn’t he stay and occupy Wall Street instead of his mom’s backyard?” she added.

Barron does not have a job or a car or a television. He reads books. He has never voted.

“I’ll vote when anarchists are on the ballot,” he told Frank.

Frank wanted to remind him that anarchists who vote are like atheists who pray, but he thought, what was the point?

They found Barron Cannon in the backyard, lying face-up in the sun on an Elmo Sesame Street blanket, on the south side of his yurt. He was naked except for a fig leaf covering his private parts.

It was a literal fig leaf.

Vera looked away when Barron propped himself up on his elbows and the fig leaf rolled away.

“Sorry,” he said, pulling on a pair of cargo shorts. “I was getting my daily dose of sunshine here on the acropolis.”

He was tan, from tip to toe. Frank could see he hadn’t been using an SPF lotion of any kind anywhere on himself.

“You should be careful,” he suggested. “Too much sun isn’t good for you.”

“That’s where you’re right, but even more wrong,” Barron replied.

“Too much sun may be bad, depending on your skin and heredity, but avoiding the sun is not good for anyone. Remember, we evolved in the sun, living outdoors for almost all of our two million years on this planet.”

He flipped on a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses and leaned towards Frank.

“Then, not very long ago, we started messing with Mother Nature and started avoiding the sun. When you avoid the sun, you may not get rickets, because you can always take a pill, but all the pills in the world can’t replace the real thing.”

He pointed up to the sky.

”When you avoid the sun, like it’s life and death, you increase the risk of dying from internal cancers,” he said slowly solemnly.

Frank must have looked skeptical, because Barron tilted his dark glasses down his nose Lolita-style and exhaled.

“Look it up,” he said.

It turns out, when Frank looked it up, Barron was right.

“I really hate it when he’s right about anything,” said Vera.

The Journal of Epidemiology, more than 30 years ago, reported that colon cancer rates are nearly three times higher in New York than in New Mexico. Since then many other studies have found solar UVB induced vitamin D is also associated with reduced risks of breast and rectal cancers.

“When the government and our medical monopoly started telling us to avoid the sun, they forgot to remind us we would need to get our vitamin D somewhere else,” Barron said.

By this time Vera had wandered off and was commiserating with Barron’s mother about the flower garden her son had torn out, except for a small plot she had saved at the last minute, coming home from the grocery and discovering what he was about. He had thrown her flowers into a compost pit and replaced them with rows of root vegetables.

“Vitamin D is a hormone,” said Barron “and it’s produced naturally when skin is exposed to UVB in sunlight.”

Frank noticed a yoga mat rolled up and leaning against the alligator skin bark of a sweet gum tree.

“You’re still doing yoga outside?”

“I am.”

“In the buff?”

“You bet. It was good enough for the Greeks, it’s good enough for me.”

Barron told Frank vitamin D sufficiency is linked to a reduction in 105 diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Some researchers believe vitamin D deficiency contributes to nearly 400,000 premature deaths and adds a one hundred billion dollar burden to the health care system.

By many estimates vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide epidemic, with some studies indicating greater than 50 percent of the global population at risk.

Three out of four Americans are considered vitamin D deficient, according to government data.

“Do you know why?” Barron asked him.

“No,” he said.

“It’s because of overzealous sun avoidance, which has led to a 50 percent increase in that figure in the past 20 years,” he said, slapping a fist into his palm for emphasis.

“I take a vitamin D supplement every morning,” Frank said. “I don’t have to go out in the sun. Besides, it’s been unbearably hot and there are lots of bugs, since we had such a mild winter.”

“You think our time and space is complete and knows everything,” he said. “You assume science understands all the benefits of sunlight and that the only good it does is make vitamin D.”

“Yes,” Frank said.

“That isn’t true,” Barron said. “Let me give you an example.”

He told Frank about a recent study at the University of Wisconsin and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. They discovered that something in ultraviolet light retarded progression of an animal model of multiple sclerosis, which is a painful neurological disease for which there is no cure. While vitamin D suppressed progression of the animal model, ultraviolet light worked even better. The report concluded that UV light was having an effect independent of vitamin D production.

“If it’s true in humans, it means that sunlight, or UV light, contains something good in addition to vitamin D,” he said. “We just don’t know what it is.”

Our ancestors evolved naked, full frontal. Barron waved his fig leaf.

“The sun was directly overhead. We have a long evolutionary bond with the sun. Humans make thousands of units of vitamin D, and who knows what else, within minutes of  life and limb exposure to sunlight. It is unlikely such a system evolved by chance. When we sever the relationship between ourselves and sunlight, we proceed at our own peril.”

Barron Cannon gave Frank a sharp look and leaned back on his elbows

At a loss for words, Frank was grateful when his wife reappeared.

“I’m getting a little toasty in all this sunlight,” she said.

They agreed that they should be going. They bid Barron goodbye, Vera waved to Barron’s mother, and they made their way home.

After dinner that night, as Vera watched “Lawrence of Arabia” on Turner Classic Movies, while sitting on the front porch in the orange-yellow light of a quiet sunset, Frank skimmed a review of a paper in the British Medical Journal.

“Some people are taking the safe sun message too far,” wrote Professor Simon Pearce. “Vitamin D levels are precarious in parts of the population. They stay at home on computer games. It’s good to have 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to the sun two to three times a week.”

As he put his iPad down, he thought, I might give it a try in our backyard, without slathering on any sunscreen as I normally do, but definitely wearing a pair of shorts.

Inside the living room, on the flat screen, Lawrence and his Arab allies were charging across a sun-blasted desert outfitted from head-to-toe in long loose robes.

Where did Barron Cannon get fig leaves, anyway, Frank wondered?

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

When Frank and Vera Glass Met Barron Cannon

1541439751626-yurt-in-hawaii-gettyimages-103785701-e1570467007985

By Ed Staskus

On an early May morning Frank and Vera Glass visited Barron Cannon, who they hadn’t seen much since the previous October when they met him picketing the Hungry Oasis, a vegan restaurant in their Lakewood, Ohio, neighborhood. They had stopped by several times, but once winter settled in had not paid him a call.

The first time they saw met encountered Barron they were attracted by the flashing lights of a black and white SUV at the eatery, and were greeted by the sight of a slender pony-tailed man in his 30s bearing a placard on a stick with a single word scrawled on it: HYPOCRITES!

In cold blood red crayon.

The two exasperated patrolmen who had been called to the scene by one of the outraged cooks were asking if he would refrain from protesting without a permit. Although he maintained he had more than enough reason, and cited his first amendment rights, he finally agreed to go home, and strode off, his picket sign jangling over his shoulder.

He was going their way, up West Clifton, and after falling into step with him, they were astonished to learn he was himself a vegan.

“Eating is an act of nourishing my body and soul,” he said. “I choose to do no harm.”

He did not eat animals, drink their milk, or wear their hides. He eschewed all animal products for any reason, at all. He didn’t snack on chocolate, slurp miso soup, or pour salad dressing on salads. He considered eating honey exploitive and avoided it.

“I don’t like people who eat animals,” he said, “and since that’s just about everybody, and since that is not changing anytime soon, that’s that, there they are, and here I am. At least I don’t have to live with them.”

As least as long as they weren’t his parents. Although he lived alone, he had to live with his folks.

“My parents are the worst,” he said. “They are always bringing chickens, pigs, ground beef, roasts, sausages, hot dogs and frozen fish home from the grocery. I see them in their kitchen every day, sticking forks into decomposing flesh and animal secretions. They chew on Slim Jim’s while they watch the news on TV.”

It turned out he lived in an orange yurt in the backyard of his parent’s house overlooking the Rocky River Reservation, about a mile-and-a-half south of Lake Erie. He had built the Mongolian tent himself. He did not have a job, a car, a refrigerator, a wife, or any pets.

“Don’t even get me started on pet slavery,” he said.

Vera gave him a sharp glance. They had two house cats, Shadow and Sky King. She didn’t think of them as slaves, and she was certain they didn’t think of themselves as slaves, either.

“Have we met before?” Frank asked as they turned down their side street and Barron continued his trek up Riverside Drive.

“I don’t think so,” said Barron.

A college graduate with a master’s degree in philosophy and a hundred thousand dollars in unpaid student debt, Barron Cannon was unqualified for nearly any and every job, even if he had been remotely interested.

He did not vote, watch television, or take medicine.

“By FDA requirement,” he explained, “each and every pharmaceutical is tested on animals.”

He was a vegan purist, pursuing his ideals to their logical conclusion.

He had few friends, other than several sketchy bicycle-riding hippies and a handful of retirees in the neighborhood for whom he did odd jobs. But he only worked for them if they did not have cars and agreed not to talk about their problems, especially their health problems.

“Insurance, HMO’s, meds, doctors, it’s all a racket,” he said.

Whenever they visited Barron they always walked, because if he knew they had driven to see him, he would refuse to see them.

“Can’t we just drive and park a block away?” Vera asked, reminding Frank of the nearly four-mile round-trip hike from our house.

Barron lived on an allowance his mom and dad begrudged him, shopped at a once-a-week local farmer’s market, and only recently had gotten his yurt connected to his parent’s power supply.

Unbeknownst to them he had dug a trench from the connection at the back of their house to his yurt, into which he had lain and buried a concealed transmission wire.

“I found out we are on the nuclear power grid now, off the natural gas and coal, which I will tell you is a blessing,” he said. “It gets dark and cold in this yurt in the middle of January.”

“I used to heat it with firewood from the park,” he added. “I had to collect it at night, otherwise the rangers gave me grief. I don’t think they liked me.”

He now heated his yurt with a 5000 BTU infrared quartz heater and LED’s were strung in a kind of lazy chandelier. He cooked on a Cuisinart 2-burner cast iron hot plate.

Barron had previously refused to employ or enjoy either electricity or natural gas, on the premise that both are petroleum products, in which are mixed innumerable marine organisms.

“That’s one of the things I can’t stand about those leaf-eaters at the restaurant, cooking their so-called vegan cuisine with gas made from the bodies of dead fish,” he said. “And the Guinness they serve on draft, it comes from kegs lined with gelatin. They’re too busy ringing up the cash register to even know what they’re doing.”

Vegetarians drew his ire, too, although he tolerated them.

“I can put up with vegetarians if I have to,” he said, which Frank reluctantly admitted to being when he quizzed them. He gave me Frank a mirthless grin. “At least they’re only half lying to themselves.”

Vera, who described herself as an omnivore, on the side of free range and organic, aimed a dazzling smile at Barron Cannon, wisely keeping her eating habits to herself, gnashing her teeth at the same time.

As they approached Hogsback Hill overlooking the Metropark valley, they looked out across a sea of green treetops, always a welcome sight after a long winter. Barron’s yurt was on the backside of a sprawling backyard on the edge of the valley, where the long downhill of the road intersects Stinchcomb Hill, named after the founder of the park system. It is a bucolic spot in the middle of the big city.

Frank was loath to mention that William Stinchcomb had been a pork roast and beef tenderloin man in his day, as well as president of the Cleveland Automobile Club, so he didn’t mention it.

“Vegans are the worst, the whole lot of them,” said Barron.

“Show me a vegan who isn’t an elitist, or someone who spouts veganism who is not a do-gooder, or making mounds of money from it, explaining how it’s all one big happy equation, yoga, and veganism, and new-age capitalism, and flying to their Lord Vishnu immersions in Germany, and everywhere else around the globe for their yoga retreats, damn the carbon footprint, I’m racking up the miles, and I’ll show you the real invisible man who’s burning up the planet.”

Since Barron did not own a phone, or even a doorbell, they were happy to find him at home that morning, although Vera was less happy about it than Frank. Barron was laying out rows of seeds and tubers outside his yurt. They joined him, sitting down on canvas field chairs. He had opened the flap over the roof hole of the yurt. Vera poked her head inside, remarking how pleasant and breezy it was inside his house.

“Inside your tent, I mean,” she said.

“It’s a yurt,” he said.

“Whatever,” she said under her breath.

Frank was nonplussed to see an Apple laptop on a small reading table.

“I keep up,” he said. “It’s not like I’m a caveman.”

He noticed a yoga mat rolled up.

“Where do you practice yoga?” asked Frank.

“Here in the backyard, and sometimes at Inner Bliss. The owner and I trade cleaning for classes.”

“That’s probably where I’ve seen you before,” said Frank.

“Maybe,” said Barron

He led them to his new garden. He had dug up most of his mother’s backyard, dislodging wild roses and rhododendrons, and was planting rows of root crops, including beets, onions, turnips, and potatoes. He was especially proud of his celery.

“I cover my celery with paper, boards, and soil. They will have a nutty flavor when I dig them up in December.”

“I don’t eat anything from factory farms,” he continued. “In fact, I am getting away from eating anything from any farms anymore, at all. Farms whether big or small are not good ideas. They make you a slave to the supermarket. Freedom is a better idea.”

As they prepared to leave, Barron scooped handfuls of birdseed from a large barrel into a small brown paper bag and handed Frank the bag.

“You should take every chance you have to feed the birds and other animals you see outside your house,” he said. “Give them good food, organic food, not processed. It will make such a difference in their lives.”

On the driveway of his parent’s ranch-style house at the top of Hogsback, looking across the valley towards the Hilliard Road Bridge, Barron tapped the brim of his baseball cap in farewell.

“Be a real vegan. That’s the biggest thing any of us can do,” he said.

Frank and Vera walked the long way around to home, crossing the bridge, on the way to Rocky River. The 900-foot long concrete Hilliard Road Bridge was not the first bridge on the spot. The earliest one was known as the “Swinging Bridge” and was a rope bridge with wooden planks that was used by school children and Lakewood residents to cross the Rocky River. It hung thirty feet above the water and swayed in strong winds.

Vera was unusually quiet. She was a naturally gabby woman. As they passed a small eatery on Detroit Road, with outdoor seating, she suggested they stop for refreshments, since Barron hadn’t offered them any.

“I know chocolate brownies have eggs in them,” said Vera, “and cappuccino has milk in it, and I know Barron wouldn’t like it, but right now I think I need to sit down in the shade and enjoy myself for a few minutes, not thinking about that wise guy.”

They both agreed that the vegans they knew were ethical and compassionate, their lives complementing their health, humanitarian, and environmental concerns. They could not agree on whether Barron Cannon was a determined idealist, a mad ideologue, or simply lived in an alternate universe.

Or maybe he was just somebody’s cranky uncle.

They had espresso and cappuccino, raisin scones and chocolate brownies, watched the sun slip in and out of the springtime clouds, and walked the rest of the way home in the late afternoon in a happy buzz state-of-mind.

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