Tag Archives: Vera Glass

Six Oysters Ahoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All right, but what about dinner?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s they?” asked Frank.

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

She wondered, how could you tell?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kaela Barnett is our chef.”

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

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

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

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

“Me, too.”

“Are you oyster connoisseurs?” asked Kieran.

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

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

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

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

“What wine goes with oysters?” asked Vera.

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

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

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

“That’s what I’ll do,” said Vera.

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

“Oh, Frank, try one,” said Vera.

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

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

Kieran handed him a Lucky Lime.

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

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

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

Frank looked down at the liquid-filled half shell.

“From the wide end,” said Kieran.

He slurped the oyster into his mouth and swallowed it.

“Now you’re a pro,” said Vera.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blackberry Point was very salty.”

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

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

“No, its like wine,” said Kieran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you want dessert?” asked Kieran.

“Do you have carrot cake?”

“It’s made here.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where You Are.”

“I know where we are,” said Vera.

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

“Aha, I see,” said Vera.

“Hustle it up, we’re almost late.”

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

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

Photograph by Vanessa Staskus

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

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Fire in the Belly

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“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.

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Down On Hog’s Back Hill

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It was wet more than dry the front end of summer and too muddy to ride the single tracks in the Metropark valley. Instead, I rode my Specialized on the all-purpose trail and left my 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 rolling on the flat side, and a higher stem. It made for faster riding on asphalt.

It made for faster riding down Hog’s Back, too, which is the entryway off Riverside Drive into the Rocky River valley. Hog’s Back is a steep two-lane road more than a half-mile long. Hunched forward on my Specialized I usually topped 40 going downhill, unless I feathered the brakes.

I rode alone most of the summer because Skip was getting married. He said he didn’t have time to get on his bike anymore and go riding, anyway. “I don’t want him going down that crazy hill and falling,” said his fiancée, Tammy. She was down on Hog’s Back.

By July it was hot, in the high 80s and the weather was heavy and humid. I could have ridden the single tracks, since they had dried up, but it was overcast the last week of July, and I was still riding the all-purpose trail. On the Thursday that week, after getting home from work, I rode twelve miles out, almost all the way to Berea. It was on the way back that I passed a tall man on a blue hybrid bike.

Inside a few minutes he was behind me, drafting, and when I slowed for a car at the crossroad to the entrance of the Little Met golf course, he slipped ahead when the car paused to let us go by. The trail goes up a long hill there and I finally caught the blue bike at the top.

I tucked in behind him and we rode fast to where the trail zigzags through some curves, and to where he 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 from the trail to the Valley Parkway and he had to backtrack. I waited for him. “Nice pace,” he said later when I peeled off to go back up Hogsback, while he kept going.

Going up Hog’s Back is a slog, which is what I did, slog up the long hill.

The next day Skip and I rode downtown. His bride-to-be was still good with him riding on city streets, but not farther on into the east side ghettos. “I don’t want him getting killed in Fairfax,” said Tammy. He said he had a haircut to go to at Planet 10, which was downtown, anyway. On the way from Lakewood we rode through Ohio City to Church Street. Skip showed me 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 singer and actress. We spun our bikes south on West 25th Street, crossed the bridge to Jacobs Field, and rode to the Warehouse District.

Skip pushed his bike into Planet 10’s lobby and I pushed off. On my way back home, stopping at a narrow strip of grass at the base of the Bob Hope Bridge, I saw a fat, black woman easing herself down onto the ground in front of an RTA sign. She looked up at me and smiled. I looked at her and returned the smile.

I was standing outside our garage when Skip and Tammy pulled up in her baby blue Ford Tempo. “Jerry screwed up Skip’s appointment,” she said. “He’s so unprofessional.” She was mad. “That’s not how we do business at Artistiques.”

She was a nail technician at a hair salon when she wasn’t acting.

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

Vera and I drove out to Tammy’s bridal shower that weekend, at her friend’s house in Avon Lake, who was a broad-faced woman married to an Englishman who was a barge pilot. It was steamy even though it was just barely August. I was sprawled on a leather sofa in the air-conditioned family room when I noticed a small furry dog on the coffee table. I couldn’t tell if it was a stuffed toy or a dog sleeping soundly. When I reached for it the pushed-in face snapped at my fingers.

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

I went for a ride after we got home and dusk was turning to darkness by the time I got back. As I got off my bike Snapper, our orange Maine Coon, came running onto the driveway from our neighbor’s backyard. Just when I was ready to close the garage door, Skip pulled into the driveway. Snapper ran to the back of our backyard.

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

“Sure.”

Skip had Katie, Tammy’s four-year-old, with him. I picked her up, held her upside down, and spun her by her heels in tight circles around me. When we were done we talked about a nickname for her, finally settling on Skate. She waved goodbye through the window of the car as Skip pulled out.

By mid-August cumulus clouds dotted the sky and the weather was cooler than it had been. I rode my Schwinn down Hog’s Back and got off the all-purpose trail at Mastick Woods, swerving onto the dirt tracks there. I rode the track for three miles and then double-backed on the horse trail. As I did I noticed someone had come up behind me.

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

He banked to our right and rode into the trees toward the river and the single tracks on the bank. I followed him, bumping over ruts and logs and through thick underbrush, but soon lost sight of him. I got on the track, then the horse trail, and then the all-purpose trail. I pushed it up the hill running along Big Met, then down, and as I came into the clear the Trek jumped onto the trail ahead of me. He was riding fast. We sped through a copse, then out to the baseball field where he widened the gap between us by jumping a wood guardrail, something I couldn’t do like he did.

I thought I might catch him on the Detroit Road climb out of the valley, except he climbed so fast I lost more ground. I finally caught up to him when he stopped at a traffic light on Riverside. We talked while I gulped air. He had known I was behind him. “I wasn’t planning on doing much today, but it ended up being a fun ride,” he said.

A week before their wedding Skip called and said Jo was out as their maid of honor. She is Tammy’s ex-friend-to-be who arranged the blind date of Tammy and Skip and who wrangled a promise that she would be maid of honor if the date led to anything. She’s also a travel agent who they gave a check to for their Cancun honeymoon. But, the travel agency called and said they were getting anxious about the payment, since they hadn’t gotten it, yet.

When Skip telephoned Jo she said she hadn’t gotten the check from Tammy, but when Tammy heard that she got on the phone with Jo. There was a loud, long argument and Jo later somehow found the payment. The honeymoon is back on, but Tammy is searching for another maid of honor.

The next day Skip called again.

“You going riding?” he asked.

“I’m just out the door,” I said.

“I’ll be there in 5 minutes.”

I was stretching in the back yard when he 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,” I said.

The sky was overcast and gusts from the southwest pushed at us sideways as we rode on Riverside along the rim of the valley. We glided down Hog’s Back and rode single tracks. The dirt was dry and deep rutted and I rode fast. My back wheel went in dangerous directions a few times. Skip held back. He didn’t want to crash.

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

“Maybe a little,” I said.

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

“Getting married is risky business,” I said. “Look at you and Tammy. You were married once and it lasted for 56 days. Tammy’s been married twice and she’s got two kids by two different fathers. You might want to throw yourself down every downhill between now and the wedding day. It would make sense.”

“I don’t think so,” he said.

Coming out of the park on a smooth stretch Skip slowed down when I wasn’t looking, I got tangled in his rear tire, and went over. I skinned my knee and banged my helmet, but we were going too slow for much else to happen.

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

Skip’s wedding went off without a hitch, but during the reception, when Vera was congratulating him, he made the shape of a handgun with his fingers pressed to his temple.

The next day, while Vera made dinner, I drove to Skip’s house with the gift we had forgotten to take to the reception. Tammy was lounging in the living room in a thick, white bathrobe and Skate was in her pj’s. While Skip and I talked in the kitchen doorway, Tammy’s old Irish setter limped up to me and licked the scrape on my knee.

By the beginning of October the park was blond and brown and maple red. I rode the all-purpose trail every other day, One Sunday morning Vera and I had breakfast at the Borderline and went for a walk on the horse trails south of the Puritas stables. That night, while I was watching the Cleveland Indians play the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS, Skip called.

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

“Tammy?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “It’s my shoulder.”

I had seen how he couldn’t lift his right arm above his shoulder without some difficulty.

“After any ride,” he said, “roots or no bumpy roots, my shoulder’s in a lot of pain. I’ve been taking Voltaren, 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 deterioration goes, I’ll need a replacement shoulder.”

“Oh, man!” I said.

The last Saturday of the month was the last day of the year I rode down Hog’s Back into the park. I was adjusting the strap on my helmet when a gang of neighborhood kids came walking up with rakes, brooms, and a wagon. They asked if they could rake our yard for $2.00. I said yes. They started pushing wet leaves into messy piles. The biggest of the girls walked up to me.

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

“Sure,” I said.

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

I rang the doorbell for Vera and she started laughing coming outside, saying she would take care of the boy and supervise the raking. “Go before it gets dark,” she said. The days had gotten short.

I rode away.

Where Hog’s Back intersects with the Valley Parkway I cut across a grassy field and jumped onto a single track. The path was littered with big brown leaves. I came around a quick bend and the branches of a fallen tree alongside the track jabbed at my face. I swerved to the right and pulled on the brakes. I jumped off the bike when the tree I was going to run into became the tree I ran into. I landed on my feet and the bike was all right when I lifted it up.

On the way home I rode on the Parkway, hugging the shoulder’s white line. A big man in a white van blew his horn behind me and when he went past almost shrugged me off the road. I cursed under my breath. At home I hosed the Schwinn off and hung it up in the garage. I checked the tires. They looked good, although I knew that hanging there for the next five months all the air would slowly seep out of them.

I knew I would have to pump them up again in April before going back down on Hog’s Back again.

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

 

Reading Rocky River

rocky-river-nature-center-e1546723734167.jpg

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.

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

 

Esme, Beforehand Then Later

woman-screaming

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!

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

 

When Esme Got Married

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

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? 

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

 

Fig Leaf

fig1

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?

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