Category Archives: Back Page

Day of the Snapper

By Ed Staskus

   After we got married my wife and I bought a home in Lakewood a few houses east of the Rocky River valley and set up housekeeping. It was the early 1990s. We tore all the lime green shag carpeting out, tore all the false ceilings out, and tore all the wallpaper off the walls, painting them white. We purged the original bathroom. The house was built in 1922 and the bathroom had to go. It was only the beginning, but at least it was a start.

   After a few years we thought we would get a cat. My wife wanted a darkish long haired. I wanted an orange short haired. We got a fluffy orange Maine Coon. He was a half-breed, but well bred. The few times he misbehaved it was mostly because we hadn’t made it clear to him that some behavior, like scratching the furniture, was out of bounds. After we let him become an inside outside cat, all the scratching he did after that was outside. We never asked the local trees shrubs or fences whether they minded, or not.

   He stayed indoors during wintertime, except when it was above freezing, as well as those times he was simply close to the side door and I tossed him outside, which I did whenever there was a snow mound beside the door. If the snow was fluffy enough, he sank into it up to his eyeballs, looked helpless for a second, scrambling to get out of the snow, and giving me a dirty look rushing back inside. Maine Coons have a reputation for enjoying snow. Our cat didn’t live up to the reputation. He was good with rain, tolerated snow showers, but not blizzards or northern Ohio winter wind storms.

   We named him Snapper after a movie we had recently seen, “The Snapper,” which is about a big family in a small house in Dublin whose oldest daughter has gotten pregnant, but won’t tell anybody who the father is, because it happened after a wild night at a pub with a man who is her father’s friend and is her father’s age. She tells everybody it was a friendly Spanish sailor passing through town. The family calls the baby in the belly the Snapper.

   I called our cat Bud. My wife called him Snaps, Snapper Doodle, Kinney, Lambkins, and Goose. He didn’t answer to much unless he was hungry, wanted to go outside, or wanted to come back inside. He didn’t like to be bothered when he was catnapping, which was more often than not. He never answered to Bud, or anything else, when he was wholeheartedly asleep.

   Snapper didn’t tell us who his parents were. He didn’t say a word about his brothers and sisters, or uncles and aunts. He didn’t tell us where he was from or how he had gotten to where I found him, which was the Cleveland Arcade. He was vocal enough when it came to food and creature comforts but didn’t like talking about himself.

   It was Thanksgiving and Christmas time. I was downtown to pick something up from a store in the Cleveland Arcade. The whole placed was dolled up for the holiday. It used to be called the Crystal Palace. I parked near the Main Library and went in through the Superior Ave. doors. When I did, I noticed the Animal Protective League had taken a vacant storefront for the time being and was peddling dogs and cats. When I looked around, I spied our new kitten in a cage at eye level in the middle of the store. I extended my index finger into his jail cell, he took it into his mouth, and bit me. He was a youngster somewhere between 10 and 12 weeks old. He might have been able to puncture paper, but not me.

   “You’re for me, bud,” I told him.

   I told the man behind the sales counter I was going to my car to get money to pay for him. When I got back a young lady had him in her hands and was walking to the counter. I stepped up to her, tapped her on the shoulder, took our cat away from her, and said, “He’s spoken for.” She gave me a sour look and went looking for another one before another one of me came along.

   The Maine Coon is one of the oldest breeds in the United States. Nobody knows exactly where they came from, but many believe they are related to both Siberian and Norwegian Forest cats. They are the official state cat of Maine. Down Easters say the breed originated in their state. Others say they are the only original American cat.

   The legend I like best is that when Marie Antoinette, the ill-fated Queen of France, was trying to beat feet out of the country, she enlisted the help of Captain Samuel Clough. She loaded his ship with all her favorite stuff, including six of her favorite cats, Siberians and Turkish Angoras. Her luck was bad, though. The Gendarmerie dragged her back to Paris before the ship could sail. When the ship sailed the six cats sailed with it. After they reached the town of Wiscasset, Maine they went into town on shore leave, living it up with the local breeds. They didn’t make it back in time when the ship shoved off, developing into the modern kind of Maine Coon. 

   My mother-in-law was owning and operating a deli takeout on the ground floor of the National City Bank building on East 9th St. My trip downtown had also meant picking up dinner for myself and my wife. I needed to get food for the new guy, too. I parked on Short Vincent. I didn’t want to leave the cat in the car, so I smooshed him into the pocket of my winter coat.

   “What’s that wiggling in your coat?” my mother-in-law asked handing me a bag full of good food. The cat stuck his head out of the top of my pocket sniffing at the bag.

   After oohing and awing at the furball she gave me a wicker basket for him to sleep in. He slept in the basket that night and for years afterwards. He never suffered from insomnia. Even when we bought a bigger and better basket for him, he continued sleeping in the original until he couldn’t fit into it anymore. When he grew up, he had a white ruff on his chest and a two-layered coat, a silky undercoat under longer guard hairs. He wasn’t as big as a purebred Maine Coon, but more than hunter savvy enough. He was more than sociable with us since we were his feedbag.

   At first, we thought we would keep him indoors, but he was as much dog as cat and had to go outside, no matter what. When spring arrived, we started letting him out and teaching him to stay away from the street. I let him wander around, following with a squirt gun, and whenever he drifted down the driveway to the apron squirted him in the face. He didn’t like it and learned his lesson, at least until he got older, when all bets were off. Our backyard was fenced on three sides and raised above the alley behind our house. Three or four houses both sides of us was as far as he ranged sideways. 

   I was watching him walk up the sidewalk one day when a full-grown cat came sauntering his way. Snapper was still a tyke. They sniffed at each other. Our guy made a sudden movement and the other guy swatted him. When he went running the other cat followed him. He jumped and I gathered him up in my arms. The neighborhood bully sat at my feet watching while Snapper made faces at him, throwing caution to the wind, snarling, and showing his claws. He could be sassy. Cats fight all the time. Even when they are playing, they get scratched. That doesn’t keep kittens from happening. They are both wild and domestic at the same time.

   Over time he learned and remembered what our cars sounded like and hearing my wife or me pulling into the driveway ran out of the backyard to see us. I didn’t like him doing it and blared my horn to make him stop doing it, but he never did. He went his own way.

   We lost him one day in the night when he got trapped inside a neighbor’s garage after the man unwittingly closed the door on him, but he was such a loudmouth that his cries alerted everybody to where he was. He could have been a civil defense siren. He knew to come inside at sunset, but sometimes forgot, sitting under our bedroom window in the middle of night meowing until we let him in the house. He slept with us on our bed, taking up a third of it. He liked his space.

   Snapper was a mouser, bringing half dead mice to the door for our approval. He messed with anything that moved. Since we lived on the edge of the valley park, there were plenty of squirrels, rabbits, possums, and racoons. He never caught a rabbit, but one day a racoon caught him. We were searching for him the next day when I found him curled up in the back of a closet. There were gobs of dried blood on his face and puncture wounds on one side of his mouth.

   “It looks like a coon hooked him,” the vet said, sewing him up and shoving an antibiotic down his throat. “Give him one of these every day for a week.” Giving him the pills was easier said than done.

   He was a birder, too, although birds were usually too fast for him. One day a pair of blue jays were in our backyard bird feeder when he went after them. That was a mistake. One of the birds flew away but the other one circled back and started dive bombing him. Snapper had no answer for the loud jeers and attacks of the big bird and ducked under a hedge sulking. The rest of the summer he scanned the sky and made sure there were no blue jays in his neck of the woods before he went exploring.

   By the time his second summer rolled around he could jump to the top of any fence, climb any tree, and even make his way to the top of flat-roofed garages. He came down from trees backwards, but I usually had to get a step ladder to get him down from roofs. He often bit off more than he could chew. I kept him in shape by holding him upside down and tossing him up in the air. He twisted at the top of the arc, aligning himself head up feet down, landing on my open hands. He rarely misjudged it, nailing the landing. It stood him in good stead his long lifetime.

   Indoor cats live about 12 to 17 years. One way or another outdoor cats live about 2 to 5 years. Maine Coons live about 10 to 13 years. Snapper was half Maine Coon and half who knows what. He spent half his life indoors and half his life outdoors. The more time he spent in the great outdoors the more wary he became of the animal kingdom, especially people and their ways. He always had the same expression on his face, whether it was a June bug or an ax-murderer coming his way. He was able to snap to attention out of a deep sleep in a split second. Snapper never let anybody get near him unless we were nearby. He was smarter than he knew. He lived to be nearly 18 years old. 

   We fed him wet food in the morning and kibble the rest of the time. We started him off with top shelf wet food until he made it known that anything with gravy was his favorite. After that Iams and Science Diet were out. Cheap-ass Friskies were in. He might have lived on gravy alone if we let him. We didn’t let him, but we tried to keep him happy. “When my cats aren’t happy, I’m not happy. Not because I care about their mood but because I know they’re just sitting there thinking up ways to get even,” the writer Percy Shelly once said.

   As much time as he spent outside, he was a homeboy at heart. When we went on vacation, whether it was for a week or a month, the minute we got back he started complaining about our absence and stayed close to us for days afterwards. After that it was back to his gravy and his basket.

   He got slower towards the end of his life. When winter came, he slept near the furnace registers. His kidneys started going bad. We added a second litter box so he could pee the second he had to. 

   One summer day coming home from work I turned into our street behind another car. Snapper was across the street from our house, on our neighbor’s front porch. Hearing my car, he jumped up and started running across the street. He was still fast enough for his age, but not fast enough that day. The front tires of the car in front of me missed him but when one of the back tires struck him, he went up into the air, landed with a thud, and rolled over. I watched the car not stop. I stopped in the middle of the street. He was still alive when I ran to him, but just barely.

   He was spasming and crying. He was broken. He was choking on blood. I forced his mouth open so he could breathe. He sucked on my finger and died. He wasn’t the kind of cat who had nine lives. Snapper had one life and his life was over in the blink of an eye. I wrapped him up in that week’s issue of the Lakewood Observer and took him down Hog’s Back Lane to the park, burying him on the banks of the Rocky River. He had never been to the park but lived on the edge of it. He saw it every day of his life from our second-floor porch.

   Two years later we got another mixed Maine Coon. He was a black classic style tabby. My wife named him Gladwyn but called him Baby Wodin, after the pagan god of the Anglo-Saxons. She called him Gladdy often enough so that I started calling him Gaylord, after the crafty old Cleveland Indians pitcher Gaylord Perry. When winter came and went, he liked sitting on Snapper’s cat perch on the porch and looking out at the valley going buds and blossoms.

   Every spring I go to where I buried our cat and sit by the river in the sun watching ducks take their young out for a swim on the greenish-brown water. Snapper was like me in some ways. Whenever I chased him he went running. Whenever I ignored him he came purring.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Ohio Daybook

Theatre PEI


No Man’s Land

By Ed Staskus

   My grandmother was a Russian, a schoolteacher in Saransk, when my grandfather met her before the start of World War One. He was a Lithuanian. The town and the garrison were in the Penza, four hundred miles southeast of Moscow. It was somewhere but in the middle of nowhere. Antanas Staskevicius was an officer in the Russian Imperial Army, not that he wanted to be, but the Muscovite landlords of the Baltics demanded it.

   Saransk later became the capital city of the Republic of Soviet Monrovia, but long before that happened my grandfather had returned to Lithuania. Native soil is always better than the Saransk’s of the world. Home is where the heart is, but not necessarily where the heart is forcibly relocated.

   The town in the Volga Basin was founded as a fort, on the left bank of the Isar River, at the crossroads of Moscow and the Crimea. Before the First World War its commercial life revolved around leather, meat, and honey. After the war its factories were closed for more than ten years when there weren’t any available fuels or raw materials. In the meantime, the Kremlin stayed stocked with vodka and caviar.

   “My father was trained as an officer and sent to serve there in the Czar’s army with an infantry regiment,” my father, Vytas Staskevicius, said. “It was a hard post for him, because back then they said drinkers go to the navy and dimwits to the infantry.” The Imperial Russian Army had more than a million men, most of them conscripted, and most of them dirt-poor peasants. There were a quarter million Cossacks, too. Only the Cossacks knew what they were doing.

   “He met and courted my mother, Antonina, and they got married. They had my older sister, Eugenia, in 1917. We called her Genute. My sister Gaile was born the next year.” Vytas was born six years later, in 1924, in Siauliai. “My father named me after King Vytautas the Great.” His mother called him Vytas. His sisters called him many things, including the little prince and the rotten prince.

   Siauliai is home to the Hill of Crosses, a hill where there had once been a fortification less than ten miles from the town. It is covered with tens of thousands of crosses, crucifixes, and holy statues. It was after Czarist forces crushed Lithuania’s November Uprising of 1831 when the first of them appeared.

   By 1918 Lithuania had been missing from the map for more than one hundred years, having been disappeared after the Partition of Poland. Since that time, it had been under the thumb of the Czars. In late 1919, when the Bolshevik Revolution had become a Civil War, Antanas Staskevicius went home to a newly independent Lithuania.

   “Lithuania didn’t have many officers when they formed their own army,” said Vytas. “Most of them were men who had been conscripted into the Imperial Army before the war. My father fought in the post-war battles around Klaipeda and after that he served in the secret service in Kaunas, which had been made the capital.”

   Lithuania declared independence in February 1918 and for almost three years fought Russians, West Russians, and Poles for their land. Finally, they formed their own government, although they lost Vilnius, their historic capital, to the Poles, with whom they remained officially at war with no warfare after 1920. “After the post-war fighting with the Poles my father got some land for serving his country, near Siauliai. We lived on a farm.”

   During World War One most of Siauliai was destroyed and the city center was obliterated. Since its founding in the 13thcentury, it had burned down seven times, been struck by plague seven times, and World War Two was the seventh conflict that wrecked the town. It was rebuilt after every catastrophe.

   “We lived there for several years, but then my father became the governor of the Panevezys district and we moved to the city there.” Panevezys, a royal town founded in the early 16th century, is on the plain of the Nevezis River, about fifty miles east of Siauliai. During the years between the world wars Lithuania was divided into 24 districts and each district had its own governor. My grandfather was the governor of Panevezys until 1938.

   Vytas went to grade school and high school in Panevezys, but his father was later transferred to Zerasai, a place that was a summer resort. In 1834 Zerasai had burned down and been rebuilt. Two years later it was renamed Novoalexandrovsk, in honor of Czar Alexander’s son, but after the Great War the name was expunged. There was no love lost between the Baltics and the East Slavs.

   “When my father became the governor of Zerasai, my mother didn’t want to move there, since it was more than seventy-five miles from where we lived, so I stayed with her. But I didn’t get along with the students at the high school there. It was a strict school and everyone had to dress nice. On my first day of classes I was dressed up too nice, like I was going to a wedding, with a tie and everything, and everybody laughed at me. Where are you from, they all said. I didn’t make any friends there.”

   He told everyone, “I’m going to Zerasai.” He moved there in 1939 and lived with his father. “We always studied a second language in school, and since my mother was Russian, studying it was easy for me. But when I got to Zerasai I found out they only had English as a second language, no Russian. My father had to hire a tutor to help me.”

   All during the 1930s the world had been changing fast. In 1940 the Lithuanian world changed even faster. Father and son moved back to Siauliai. “The Soviets came that year. All the high officials were let go and the Russians selected new people who they wanted to run the country. They said they didn’t run the country themselves, we Lithuanians did, but it was the Lithuanian Communists who were in charge, so it was actually the Rus.”

   The family went to their farm, while renting a house in Siauliai, dividing their time between town and country. “It was only a few miles from our farmhouse to town. I used to walk or bicycle to Siauliai. But the mood was bad, very bad. Everybody thought something terrible was going to happen.”

   The Russian annexation of Lithuania was completed by the late summer of 1940. Businesses were nationalized and collectivization of land began. As the Russian presence expanded the family discussed leaving the Baltics.

   “Why don’t we go to Germany?” my grandmother asked.

   “We had a chance to leave the country then and go somewhere else.,” my father explained. “My mother wanted to go. We talked about it often, about going to Germany.”

   But my grandfather didn’t want to leave Lithuania. “I have never done anything wrong that they would put me in jail,” he told his family. “I have always been good to people. They aren’t going to put me in jail.” He stopped short of laughing it off.

   In the fall of 1940, a passing troop of Russian infantry commandeered their farm for several days. “They didn’t mistreat us or do anything bad,” my father recalled. “They stunk bad, though. They hadn’t washed in months. They rolled their Bulgarian tobacco in newspaper. They smoked all the time. It took a week to air out the house.” The tobacco came from the infertile fields of the Rhodope mountains, which were suited to little else other than tobacco.

   The family stayed on their farm through the winter. Then, as the mass arrests and deportations of almost 20,000 Lithuanian policemen and politicians, dissidents, and Catholics began in June 1941, my grandfather was picked up by NKVD plainclothesmen. It was a mild cloudless day.

   “He was gardening in our yard, weeding the cabbages, wearing a shirt, old pants, and slippers when they drove up, a carload of Russians, and stopped, saying there was something wrong with their engine. ‘I’ll help you out,’ my father said. He walked over to their car with them. They shoved him into the back seat and drove him to jail. He never came back.”

   Vytas was in school in Siauliai taking his final exams that morning. “My mother called the school and told me my father had been taken. I ran out of class and went home right away on my bike.” His mother packed clothes, socks and shoes, and soap for her husband. She went to see him the next day.

   “The man who was running the jail was a Jewish fellow. He had grown up with us and was a friend of our family, but when my mother asked him to help us he said the old days were over.” There was a new boss in town. There was a new order.

   “He was a Communist and had been in and out of jail because of his political activities. He was always in trouble. My father usually let him go after a few days, telling him to not get involved in politics anymore. ‘Just be a nice boy,’ he would tell him, but then the next thing we knew he was in jail again. He wouldn’t help my father when he was arrested. ‘Everything is different now,’ he said. Times had changed. Everybody was looking out for themselves, only themselves.”

   The man who had once commanded the local police stayed in stir. “They didn’t let my mother talk to my father. We went to the jail several times, but they never let us see him. We didn’t ever see him again.”

   Antanas Staskevicius was taken to Naujoji Vilnia and loaded onto a boxcar. The train left Lithuania on June 19, 1941. Four days later, between June 23 and 27, at the Battle of Raseiniai, the 4th Panzer Group, part of the first phase of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Russia, effected the almost complete destruction of Russian armored forces in Lithuania. Within a week Nazi Germany seized all of Lithuania.

   My grandfather was transported to Russia’s far east to a labor camp near Krasnojarsk in Siberia. He was put to work logging in the thick forests and starved to death in the winter of 1942. Anton Chekhov, a noted Russian short story writer, once wrote that Krasnojarsk was the most beautiful city in Siberia. My grandfather was never able to catch the tour bus there.

   “The morning after my father was arrested, I drove our horse and wagon to school to finish my exams. I had to deliver milk to my teacher’s family, too. But when I stopped at his house, he ran out with his family and said, ‘Help take us to the railroad station.’ I said OK and they all got into my wagon, his wife and he and their two children. I took them to the station. After that I never saw them or ever found out what happened to them. The next day one of our neighbors told me the Russians had gone to the teacher’s house that same afternoon looking for him. Teachers, lawyers, anybody from an educated family, they were worried about all of them. They were afraid high-class people were against them.”

   When NKVD men began mass arrests of Lithuanians, officials seized their property, and there was widespread looting by Lithuanians among themselves. It was every man for himself, unless you were a Red. “If you were a Communist then you were all right. The father of one of my friends was a metal worker. He didn’t even know how to read, but the Russians made him the mayor of Siauliai because he was a Communist.”

   Antonina, Genute, and Vytas stayed on the farm after Antanas’s arrests arrest. Gaile was living in Vilnius. When the mass arrests intensified, they became alarmed. “We were determined about leaving the farm. It was dangerous everywhere. We went into the forest. But then my mother told me to go to Vilnius and tell Gaile our father had been arrested. She wanted her to know to be careful. I took a train to Vilnius, but as soon as I got there, I got a phone call saying my mother had been arrested. When I got back to Siauliai, I found out she was being deported. Somebody probably complained and informed on her. We had land, 160 acres, so we were considered capitalists. We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor, either. There was no real reason that I ever found out about for why they took her. I went to the train station but didn’t see her anywhere. She was sent to a prison camp.”

   His mother was released from the Gulag in 1956, after Stalin’s death, but not allowed to return to her home in Siauliai. The Communists didn’t want her stirring up trouble, even though they were stirring the pot. “My God, you’ve gotten older,” was the first thing Antonina said when she saw her son again in 1979, come from the United States to behind the Iron Curtain. It was thirty-eight years after she had been transported.

   After his mother’s arrest and exile my father, not yet 17-years-old, left Siauliai and moved to Vilnius, staying with his sister Gaile and her husband. At the time almost everyone living in Vilnius was either Polish or Jewish. Lithuanians in the former capital city of Vilnius were relative strangers in their own land.

   “The day the Russians left and before the Germans came, everybody rushed to the food warehouses and broke into them. It wasn’t that we were robbing them, but everybody was doing it, since there was no food. Gaile and I went, too. We filled up our bags with bread and pork, all kinds of food, and took as much as we could home. When the Germans arrived, they put a stop to it.”

   He stayed in Vilnius for several months, but then decided to go home before the end of summer. The family farm had to be cared for, but, first, he had to get a travel permit. “I couldn’t get in to see a single German to apply for a permit, but finally I talked to someone who had known my father and got an appointment. The officer told me they weren’t issuing any for the time being and to come back, but after we talked about my father a little more, he said all right, and wrote one out for me.”

   He took a train back to Siauliai and walked to the farm, but when he got there, he discovered a company of Wehrmacht had taken over the  homestead. “They were there about two weeks, more than seventy of them. I couldn’t even get into our house since the officers had taken it over. They didn’t do our farm any harm. The soldiers had their own quarters and their own mess. I made friends with some of them. We drank Riesling wine together at night.”

   His father’s business practice had been to have a foreman run the farm. The foreman hired three men and three women every spring. Although the farm had chickens and pigs, and draft horses to do the heavy work, it was mostly a dairy farm with more than twenty cows.

   “It was a model farm,” said Vytas. “Every summer students from the agricultural academy would tour our farm. When I came back, my sister Genute was there, but she wasn’t interested, so she didn’t do any work. I started taking care of things, even though I didn’t know much, which was almost nothing. I knew the cows had to be milked and the milk had to go to the dairy. But about growing crops, and the fields, I didn’t know anything. But I did everything as though I knew what I was doing.”

   That fall he sent his hired hands out to till the ground in a nearby field. When his nearest neighbor saw them working, he ran across the road towards them, waving his arms.

   “What in the hell are you doing?” he yelled.

   “I told him we were preparing the ground for next year. He said, ‘You’re ruining this year’s seed and you won’t have any grass next year.’ We stopped right away. I learned what to do.”

   A year later he was on a horse-drawn mower cutting hay when he saw storm clouds gathering. He thought he would be better served walking the horses, so they could pull the mower faster, and jumped down from his seat. “As I hopped down, I stumbled and fell on the blades of the mower. The horses stopped right away. My hand was almost cut off. The boy who was helping me ran over. When he saw what happened, he passed out.”

   While the war dragged on across Europe, he had problems keeping the farm going. He had only partial use of his injured hand and farmhands everywhere were deserting the land. “I went to the prisoner-of-war camp where I knew the Germans used to give Russians out. They gave me five of them. They were nice guys, worked hard, and sang at night. One morning after a month I woke up and there wasn’t one of them left. They were all gone. I had to go back and ask for five more. My God, how they yelled about it. One officer shouted that I hadn’t looked after them, shouted that I needed to lock them up at night, and shouted that they weren’t going to give me anymore. In the end I said, I need five more, so they gave me five more. I kept them locked up after that and they were still there when the Russians returned.”

   In 1944 the Red Army stormed back into Lithuania. My father escaped with a mechanized company of Germans, whisked up by them in their vehicles as they passed. They had been stationed near the prisoner-of-war camp. They told him he had five minutes to decide whether or not he was coming with them as they retreated.

   “They told me the Russians were on the other side of the Hill of Crosses. They were in a big hurry. I only had time to fill a bag with a few clothes, a little money, and photographs of my parents.”

   His sister Genute, not at the farm that day, fled separately. She got across the border into East Prussia, and later into Germany. His other sister, Gaile, wasn’t able to escape Lithuania in time. “She had a problem at the border and didn’t make it. The Russians had taken that area, so Gaile was forced to stop in a little town there. She had her daughter and her husband’s mother with her.” In the end the three of them were compelled to remain where they were.

   “She stayed there after the war and finished a trade school, became a nurse, and never told anyone where she was from. The Communists never found out anything about her. If they had, it would have been the end of her.”

   In July the Red Army captured Panevezys. Later that month they took Siauliai, inflicting heavy damage on the city. Black smoke filled the sky. Two months later the counterattacking German 3rd Panzer Army was destroyed and for the next nearly fifty years Lithuania became part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

   “I was glad to get out of Siauliai in 1944,” my father said. He fled to the German border and landed in Hamburg. “There was no future in Lithuania anymore. I was very glad to get out in time.”

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland

Theatre PEI


Eye on the Prize

By Ed Staskus

   I was planting Japanese yews in our backyard when our next door neighbor KJ came out his side door with several trash bags. It was late April and storms were predicted for the next couple of days. The weather forecast suited my purposes. Every new yew got a handful of slow release fertilizer and a promise of plentiful rain. KJ swung the bags up and into the trash bin. I hadn’t seen him since December. He told me he had been in Los Angeles all winter, pitching a movie idea.

   “What’s the idea?” I asked.

   “One-Eyed Charley is the idea,” KJ said.

   “Who is One-Eyed Charley?” 

   “Charley was a woman in the 19th century who pretended to be a man so she could drive stagecoaches.”

   My ears pricked up. My wife and I had just watched a restored version of John Ford’s 1939 movie “Stagecoach” on the Criterion Channel. John Wayne was the Ringo Kid. He talked low, talked slow, and didn’t say too much. A roly-poly man called Buck handled the reins and whip on the way from the Arizona Territory to Lordsburg, New Mexico. He sounded like a teenage girl whenever he spoke. Curly Wilcox rode shotgun. He sounded like a he-man. The only people who messed with him were the local savages, who swore by cheap whiskey and unarmed men. By the time they found out Curly was armed to the teeth it was too late for a last shot of rotgut.

   When I first met KJ it was the late 20-teens and he had just moved in. We talked for a few minutes, getting acquainted. He was easy to talk to. He was also girlish looking. When I mentioned him to my wife I told her a young woman who was a teacher with a Ph.D. was our new neighbor. The last person who rented the second floor of the two-family house next to us on the west end of Lakewood had not been a good neighbor. The only Ph.D. he had was in headbanging with an undergraduate degree in weed. KJ looked like a big improvement.

   “She specializes in gender studies at Oberlin College,” I told my wife.

   “She drives all that way every day?”

   “I thought it was far, too, but KJ says it only takes her about a half-hour.”

   KJ Cerankowski teaches Comparative American Studies and is a writer with interests in asexuality, queer theory, and transgender issues. He has authored numerous articles, including the 2021 Symonds Prize winning essay “The ‘End’ of Orgasm: The Erotics of Durational Pleasures.” His poetry and prose have been published in Pleiades and DIAGRAM. He is the co-editor of “Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives” and the author of the recently published book “Suture: Trauma and Trans Becoming.

   “I read and tell in order to be upset, in order to live,” KJ says. “I gather the fragments that will never fit together to make a whole. I want the trauma to be poetry, but I cannot find the right timing, the right words, the right image. I ask how this constellation of events makes me desire or not desire, makes me desirable or undesirable, makes me like a man or a man.”    

    The year after I met our neighbor was when I began to realize she was a gal on her way to becoming a guy. She told me it was a long process, but she was committed to it. For people transitioning from female to male, the process includes hormonal therapy and surgery. Gender-affirming surgery includes chest surgery, such as a mastectomy, and bottom surgery, such as a hysterectomy. I knew there was loads of antagonism in the land about transgender anything, but it didn’t make any difference to me. She looked like she minded her p’s and q’s and didn’t run red lights, which was more than enough for me.

   When somebody runs a red light in front of me and I have to stomp hard on my brakes, I don’t think about what gender they are. I don’t wonder or generalize about their race or income or social status. The first thing that pops into my mind is, “What an asshole!” After that I take a deep breath and go my way.

   “You went to Hollywood to beat the drum for making a motion picture?” I asked KJ again, even though I knew there is no real place called Hollywood where movies are made. Hollywood is a state of mind, a global business, not a place.

   “Yes, a friend of mine and I have an idea for a movie about One-Eyed Charley,” KJ said. “We had a meeting with Sony. They liked our idea and were encouraging but said it wasn’t right for them. ‘Don’t give up,’ they said. They sent us to their TV division where they thought it might work better. We are teaching ourselves how to write a screenplay.”

   The Cambridge Dictionary last year revised their definition of “man” and “woman” to include people who do not identify with the sex they were at birth. “Man” now includes the definition “an adult who lives and identifies as a male though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.” The updated definition of “woman” is “an adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.” It made sense to me since sex and gender identity don’t always adhere to one another.

   Talking heads far and wide went ballistic. Daily Caller writer Mary Rooke said, “Fucking traitors to the truth. Cambridge Dictionary is only the latest. If we don’t stop them from erasing women our civilization is ngmi.” I knew what ‘fucking traitors’ meant. I had no idea what ‘ngmi’ meant. Mary Rooke didn’t bother defining it since she was too busy cursing up a storm.

   “Remember, if you control the language, you control the population,” Steven Crowder, a popular conservative TV pundit, posted on Twitter. Since many former employees claim he runs an “abusive” company, where he often spits and screams at the hired hands, including his own father, makes underlings wash his dirty clothes, according to the laundromat, and exposes his genitals, according to the New York Post, I ignored his tweet.

   “Transgenderism is the most dangerous extremist movement in the United States,” Tucker Carlson said on FOX News. Since he has a laundry list of most dangerous extremist movements, I ignored what he said, too. I would never get any sleep if I paid attention to the never-ending warnings of his kind. The end of the world is always near on FOX News.

   Charlotte Parkhurst was born in New Hampshire in 1812. She was orphaned early in life and delivered to an orphanage. She soon enough dressed up like a boy and ran away. She ended up near Boston cleaning stables. A livery owner took her in, raising her as his own, and trained her to handle horses and drive coaches. When the Gold Rush started happening in 1848 she went west to find her fortune. Instead, no sooner did she get there but a horse spooked by a rattlesnake kicked her in the face. She lost her sight in one eye but didn’t lose sight of the prize. She realized she could do better as a skilled stage driver than panning for gold in some God-forsaken stream bed in northern California. She put on a black eyepatch and rode both whip and shotgun for the California Stage Company. She got so good with her whip that she could slice open the end of an envelope from twenty feet away.  She could cut a cigar out of a man’s mouth without drawing blood.

   She became One-Eyed Charley. Some called her Cockeyed Charley, but only behind her back. She became a ‘Jehus,’ one of the best and fastest coach drivers in California. Jehu was a Biblical king who in the second Book of Kings is described as a man who “driveth furiously.” She carried goods and passengers up and down the state for nearly twenty years, mainly on the passages between Monterey and San Francisco, and Sacramento to Grass Valley.

   She was short and stout and a hard-living son-of-a-gun, a loner who chewed tobacco and drank like a fish. She could curse like the devil. Charley had more than her fair share of manpower and could handle all takers in a fight. She slept by herself in station relay stables, curling up with her horses. She kept her whip close beside her. It was a five-foot hickory shaft with buckskin lashes 12 feet long. She kept the lashes well-oiled so they stayed as limber as a snake in the sun.

   One-Eyed Charley dealt with would-be thieves whenever she had to. She was hauling gold bullion for Wells Fargo when she shot and killed Sugarfoot, an infamous road agent, near Stockton after he tried to hold her up. Wells Fargo rewarded her with a solid gold watch and chain. “Indians and grizzly bears were a major menace,” the New York Times wrote in 1969. “The state lines of California in the post-Gold Rush period were certainly no place for a lady, and nobody ever accused One-Eyed Charley of being a lady.” Even though the introduction of thorough braces to the underside of coaches created a swinging motion, making traveling easier and more comfortable, stagecoach work was hard work. Anything might happen trying to control a six-horse team over mountain passes.

   “How in the world can you see your way through this dust?” a passenger asked her one bone-dry summer day.

   “I’ve traveled over these mountains so often I can tell where the road is by the sound of the wheels,” she explained. “When they rattle, I’m on hard ground. When they don’t rattle, I gen’r’lly look over the side to see where I’m agoing.”

   Talking to KJ over the backyard fence I noticed he was sounding more like a man than I had noticed before. He was looking more like a man, too. His hair was cut short. He wore a form-fitting t-shirt that only betrayed a flat stomach. He looked more handsome than womanly.

   “Only a rare breed of man could be depended upon to ignore the gold fever of the 1850s and hold down a steady job of grueling travel over narrow one-way dirt roads that swerved around mountain curves, plummeting into deep canyons and often forded swollen, icy streams,” wrote historian Ed Sams in his 2014 book “The Real Mountain Charley.” On one trip over Carson Pass her horses suddenly veered off the road and the rare breed of woman was jolted off the box. She landed between the wheelers, the two horses at the rear of the team. She hung onto the reins as she was dragged on her stomach in the dirt and gravel. She somehow managed to regain control and got the team back on the road, saving the stagecoach and its passengers. She spent the night soaking and disinfecting her wounds in a tub of carbolic acid.

   Brother Whips were the road warriors of their day. “I think I should be compelled to nominate the stage-drivers, as being on the whole the most lofty, arrogant, reserved and superior class of being on the coast, that class that has inspired me with the most terror and reverence.” Henry Bellows, president of the United States Sanitary Commission, said during a trip to California.

   One-Eyed Charley wore gauntlet gloves to hide her womanish hands and a wide-awake hat to keep the sun off her face. She wore a loose linen duster to conceal her figure and fend off rain. She carried a bugle to announce stage arrivals. She could be testy, for good reason. She blew a  horn but didn’t blow her own horn. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender were all of them illegal at the time. “It was a crime,” Mark Jarrett, a textbook publisher, spelled out in plain English. “People didn’t go around professing what their real identities were. They hid them.”

   After transcontinental tracks got to the west coast, railroads branched out and muscled out stagecoach businesses. One-Eyed Charley put her driving days behind her, opening a saloon, among other ventures. She retired to a ranch near Soquel in the early 1870s, raising chickens. She voted in 1868 even though women didn’t win the right to vote until 1920. When her one good eye perused the ballot and she decided on Ulysses S. Grant, she became the first woman to vote in a federal election in the United States. She would have used her whip on any man who tried to keep her from the polls. Stepping over his prone body she doubtless would have unleashed a stream of tobacco juice on the unfortunate creature.

   “Why this woman should live a life of disguise, always afraid her sex would be discovered, doing the work of a man, may never be known,” the Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote in their 1880 obituary. “The only people who have occasion to be disturbed by the career of Charley Parkhurst are the gentlemen who have so much to say about ‘woman’s sphere’ and ‘the weaker vessel,’” the Providence Journal wrote soon after her death. “It is beyond question that one of the soberest, pleasantest, most expert drivers in this state, and one of the most celebrated of the world-famed California drivers was a woman. And is it not true that a woman had done what woman can do?” The Journal didn’t want to speak ill of the dead but no matter how expert One-Eyed Charley was in the saddle, she was not a sober nor a pleasant person.

   “How does a nice Polish girl from Parma know how to pitch a movie in Hollywood?” I asked KJ. “That’s not to say you’re a girl anymore, but you’re still from Parma.” Alan Ruck, an actor who portrayed Ferris Bueller’s best friend almost forty years ago, is the best known movie personality from there. The Miz, a famous wrestler, is the most famous person from Parma nowadays.

   Parma is a southern suburb of Cleveland. It is the biggest suburb in the state of Ohio. It where scores of Ukrainians as well as Poles live. There is a district called Ukrainian Village and another district called Polish Village. Eastern Orthodox Christians like Ukrainians are conservative about sex. Roman Catholic Christians like Poles are even more conservative about sex. There is no Transgender Village. There are no plans to found one anytime soon.

   “I’ve been taking Polish language lessons,” KJ said. “I was taking weekly in-person classes until the pandemic shut everything down. After that I kept up on Zoom, but now that I’m working on our movie, I’ve had to put that to the side.”

   “Now that you’re back in town, what are your plans for the summer?” I asked.

   “I’m going to Chicago this June for a year on sabbatical,” he said. “In fact, I’ve got somebody from Oberlin coming to look at my place any minute now.”

   “You’re not going to be sub-leasing to any One-Eyed Charley’s, are you?” 

   “No, but he or she might be a Two-Eyed Charley,” KJ said.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland

Theatre PEI


From Here to Someday

By Ed Staskus

   Sly and the Family Stone drifted into the kitchen where I was making pancakes, stood up on his hind legs, and slapped his tongue against the side of my face. I didn’t mind. His mouth was cleaner than that of most of my friends. His kiss was less risky than kissing another person, like my girlfriend. Whatever germs were in his cavernous mouth were mostly incompatible to human beings. I never caught the flu from him since he never coughed or sneezed. Sometimes it seemed he had more of a soft spot for me than any living thing I knew.

   My brother left his Great Dane behind when he moved out. The dog cost me an arm and a leg to feed. I had to walk him twice a day. I had to shove him out of my bed whenever he tried to sleep next to me. His germs might have been harmless, but his bad breath was like sewer gas. He was good-natured, though, and we got along. I called him Sly. He called me bossman. He didn’t know how to talk, but I knew what he meant when he barked.

   Sly was in his formative years and fascinated by cars. He chased them recklessly. I put a stop to it by sitting him down on the tree lawn and driving slowly past with a squirt gun in my lap. The gun was loaded with vinegar. Whenever he lunged at the car, I squirted him in the face through the open window. It only took ten minutes to teach him cars were dangerous and guns even more dangerous. After that I rarely put him on a lead when we walked to the pocket park on the lake for runaround time. He walked beside me and the only time I grabbed for his collar was when I spied another dog coming our way.

   I was living upstairs in a Polish double on the west end of North Collinwood, on a forgotten street, a couple of blocks from Lake Erie. Ray Sabaliauskas lived downstairs with his prize German Shepherd and the wife he brought back from the Vietnam War. I was going to Cleveland State University and paying for it by taking a quarter off every now and then to work for an electro-static painting outfit. They did most of their work on-site out of town. Ray fed and walked my dog whenever I was on the road.

   The day the dog became my dog was the week after my brother’s fiancée Brenda, a girl from Vermont who my brother met while in the U. S. Army at Fort Riley in Kansas, was killed on Route 20 coming home from her part-time job at a restaurant in Mentor. She had been enrolled full-time at Cuyahoga Community College the rest of the time.

   The night Brenda didn’t come home was the night I woke up at two in the morning from a bad dream with a bad feeling. I got up and sat looking out window. It had rained earlier, and the backyard grass glistened. The lettuce in the garden was fat and bright. A cat sat under the eaves of the garage, keeping an eye out for a late-night snack.

   When I noticed Brenda’s Subaru station wagon wasn’t in the driveway, I somehow felt certain something terrible had happened to her. I couldn’t shake the feeling. I stayed up, sitting by the window, until I finally went back to bed, thinking it was the dream that had upset me. Even so, I couldn’t fall back asleep, and when I did, I slept fitfully.

   The next morning a Cleveland Police squad car pulled up outside the house and broke the news to my brother. At first, I thought he hadn’t heard what the policeman said. He stood stock still. But then he asked where Brenda was and reached for his car keys. I didn’t see him the rest of the day or the next day. Brenda’s parents arrived later in the week and took her back to Vermont for burial in the family’s hometown cemetery. When my brother got back from the funeral he moved out.

   Brenda fell asleep at the wheel coming home the night she died, but that wasn’t what killed her. She wasn’t even hurt when the car drifted off the highway and halfway down the embankment. She was able to stomp on the brakes and stop the car from overturning. She even coaxed it back up to the shoulder, where she discovered she had a flat tire. She flicked on the flashers and was getting the jack and spare tire out of the back of the car when a drunk going her way slipped out of his lane and rear-ended her. She was propelled into and over the Subaru. She died on the spot, blind-sided, never knowing what hit her.

   When I finished my pancakes, I took Sly for a short walk. Brenda and my brother were gone, and the dog was my roommate now. He didn’t say much, which suited me, but he needed tending. I was running late for school. Back home I left him on the front porch to sleep the day away and made my way to Lakeshore Blvd, where I caught the 39B bus downtown for a class. It was cheaper than taking my bucket of bolts and paying for parking. It was Friday and I was looking forward to babysitting a friend’s motorcycle for the weekend.

   Saturday morning, I scarfed down a cream cheese bagel and a glass of Joe Wieder’s. The motorcycle was in the driveway behind the house where nobody could see it. The streets were sketchy, brothers from the hood and hoodlums from the neighborhood prowling for loot. It was a 1950s Vincent Black Shadow, only a couple of years younger than me. My friend had dropped it that spring when the front wheel locked up. A handlebar was bent and made tight right turns tricky. Even though it was beat up, it handled well, had great acceleration, and was all nearly all black.

   Thirty years earlier Rollie Free, wearing a helmet, swimming trunks, and tennis shoes, broke the motorcycle land speed record riding a Black Shadow at the Bonneville Salt Flats. He did it lying flat outstretched on his stomach and hanging on to the handlebars for dear life. Two years later he did it again, breaking his own record.

   I tied my backpack down across the handlebars, turned the key, and kicked it into life. The air-cooled V-twin engine made a happy sound. I dropped it into gear. At the sidewalk I tipped my hat to a blonde walking by. She turned her nose up at me but looked the bike up and down.

   I rode west on Lakeshore Blvd, halfway through Bratenahl, and turned south on East 105th St. I meant to connect with Euclid Ave. I wanted to get an eyeful of the urban decay in Glenville I had been hearing about. It was still there. I took in the ruins. The mess was a place, no place to live, I thought.

   I met my friend Matt Lavikka at our friend Mary Jane’s gray-colored Gothic-style clapboard house on East 33rd St. off Payne Ave. Matt was in the back with MJ, taking it easy in her deep-set narrow backyard. It was a tangle of overgrown hedges, monstrous bean plants, super-sized sunflowers, roses run riot, dwarf trees, and carnations trying to make sense of it all.

   Twin blue-eyed albino cats ran past from next door, across the lawn and over a low fence. One of them was cross-eyed. The hippie artist next door let them do their own thing. They were rolling stones who only ate and slept at home. Matt’s motorcycle was in the drive, a stripped-down 1965 Triumph with short pipes and a glossy paint job. We decided to ride west along the lake, nowhere special, just drifting in the direction the sun was going

   We gassed up across the Cuyahoga River and stopped at a diner for coffee. Matt was a fireman in Bay Village, where fires were far and few between. He knew his laydown jobs better than most. He graduated from Cleveland State University that spring. He was in a philosophical frame of mind all summer, trying to remember something that had never happened in the way of exercising his mind. 

   We rode on Lake Rd. through Lakewood, Rocky River and Bay Village. We were riding into a strong headwind, but it was no match for our bikes. The sun reached its zenith and kept going. We kept going, too, until we reached Vermilion. There were crowds milling in the streets. We slowed down to almost nothing. Children gamboled here and there. We inched our way to the harbor. A rail thin lady with a perky face told us it was the annual Fish Festival. 

   We caught a break coming into town that day. There were vintage cars on parade, men wearing fezzes and sashes, marching high school bands in starched uniforms, a covey of Boy Scouts, floats carrying gals looking like stars, garish looking clowns, and oafish looking town officials.

   Brenda had been an outdoorsman. She would have jumped at the chance to cruise the Fish Festival. She had just turned legal that year. Now she was gone with no future. I couldn’t get her out of my mind.

   We had heaping plates of buttered perch with potatoes and sage. Matt wanted to talk about the future, but I didn’t. I scorned the past as nothing but debris, and the present as grist for the mill. I left the future to chance. Now that Matt had a college degree, he told me I was being irresponsible. 

   “Mind your own business,” I said.

   “That kind of attitude is even more irresponsible,” he said.

   “You’ll be an old man soon enough. Wait until then to talk that way.”

   “I’ll have to look you up when that happens,” he said.

   A shapely gal wearing a bikini with ruffles came our way. She was topped off with a peaked hat two feet high, four feet wide, made of wire mesh and adorned with red, white, and blue rosettes. We admired her glide. When we left Vermilion, we followed a road along the shore winding past small frame houses and cottage resorts. There were big trees everywhere and the air smelled sweet.

   After we reached Marblehead, we took the ferry to Kelly’s Island. We saw sailboats bobbing up and down, leaning to one side of the wind. The ferry rode rough on the choppy water. Matt’s Triumph didn’t have a center stand and he had to lean on it to keep it from falling over. A tow-headed boy getting soaked at the bow laughed like Soupy Sales every time a wave crashed onto the deck. When he saw Perry’s Monument he jumped and pointed that way.

   “Don’t Give Up the Ship” was on Commander Oliver Perry’s battle flag during the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. It commemorated the dying words of a fellow commander who fell in an earlier naval engagement against the British. Oliver Perry didn’t give up and the British squadron was sent packing.

   We rode around the island aimlessly with our helmets off and the sunny breeze in our hair. The blacktop dipped and curved. There were boats stashed in harbors tied to docks all over the place. We took a break at a public beach, ogling babes sizzling in baby oil from behind our sunglasses. Back on our bikes we rode across a field to an abandoned baseball field. The chain link of the backstop was rusted, and the painted stands weathered cracking peeling. The pitcher’s mound was overgrown with weeds.

   We shared some weed sitting on the outfield grass. Matt started waxing about the problem of good and evil. I suspected I was in for it and took a deep drag on the reefer. “The Nazi’s thought what they did to the Jews was righteous, while at the same time many other people didn’t,” he said.

   “Especially the Jews,” I said.

   “Who was right?”  

   I said we both knew Adolf Hitler and his supporters were monsters.

   “Sure, but that’s not the point,” he said. 

   “What is the point?”

   “Just trying to touch on something metaphysical here.”

   “All right, but metaphysics is a branch of fantasy. Arguments about good and evil are useless. Hardly anything except breathing is not relative. Most of it is all made up.”

   “What about your brother’s girlfriend who got killed? Did the drunk driver have the right to determine her life and death?”

   “I hope they hang that guy like they hung the Nazi’s.”

   We took a quarry road back to the ferry dock. We were early for our return ride and walked to a nearby tavern. It had a Louisiana ceiling and wide plank floor. Fishing paraphernalia filled the walls. Teenagers were playing pinball and yukking it up They looked too young to drink but had bottles of Blatz at hand. Over the cash register somebody had scrawled in magic marker that an Irishman was not drunk so long as he could hold on to a blade of grass and not fall off the edge of the planet.

   Matt and I each had a Blatz while we waited for our boat. Back on the mainland, we took secondary roads as far as Avon, where Matt waved goodbye and roared off for home. I laced up my skates and got on the highway. I crossed the Flats going 75 MPH. Passing the Municipal Stadium I fell in with three other motorcycles who were hauling ass.

   I hit 105 MPH keeping up, then taking the lead, leaning low over my handlebars. Every part of me was focused on the road flowing backwards in front of me. I had never gone that fast on a car or motorcycle or anything else other than a jet plane. Nothing mattered except keeping my tail on the seat and not wiping out. 

   Hunter Thompson once said, “If you ride the Vincent Black Shadow at top speed for any length of time, you will almost certainly die. That is why there are not many life members of the Black Shadow Society.” It took less than three minutes to pass the Cleveland Aquarium and veer away from the pack down the ramp of my exit onto Waterloo Rd. I caught my breath at the stop sign before an impatient blaring horn behind me made me jump and I tapped the gear shift.

   Back home I tucked the Vincent away out of sight in the backyard. I watered and fed Sly before throwing myself down on the sofa. My legs felt like worn out rubber bands. My left palm was puffy from handling the clutch all day. I wasn’t used to it. I wasn’t used to anybody my age dying, either, but Brenda had died and there wasn’t anything anybody could do about it. 

   A good idea is to die young as late in life as possible. The real pay dirt is to not be there when it happens, although that never happens. It hadn’t worked out for Brenda. Her life was still in the memory of the living. Nobody had forgotten her, yet. When that happens, it happens slowly, counting down to zero, until nobody remembers. It was a shame, I thought, before I stopped thinking about time and fate and fell into a simple as ABC dreamless sleep.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland

Theatre PEI


Hitting the Bricks

By Ed Staskus

   There once was a union maid, she never was afraid, of goons and ginks and company finks, she went to the union hall when a meeting it was called, and when the Legion boys come ’round, she always stood her ground.”  Woody Guthrie

   Early in 2019, five weeks into a union-led strike against the country’s biggest car maker, General Motors was losing about $90 million a day and thousands of auto workers were watching their savings shrink. Yet there was no end in sight for the longest labor upheaval in many years. Nearly 50,000 workers were idled, picketing outside GM factories from coast to coast, squabbling about wages, retirement benefits, and the fate of the shuttered Chevrolet plant in Lordstown, Ohio.

   At about the same time, teachers at New York City’s YogaWorks studios, a nationwide chain that advertises itself as “America’s #1 Yoga Studio,” asked the wellness corporation to recognize a union. “It would appear to be the first union in the United States to include yoga instructors,” according to The New York Times.

   “Yoga teachers are poor,” said Abi Miller, feeling like the low man on the totem pole. He posted his feelings on a Facebook group page. “This is a vibration that I lived for the first years of teaching yoga,” he said. “I did lots of free community events. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing those things, it prevented me from jumping towards my dream. It held me back because I was afraid to ask for the money that I was worth. It delayed my process of stepping into the teacher that I am meant to be. This industry is in full boom and makes a ton of money every year. If you are a teacher, why wouldn’t you be deserving of having a little piece of that pie?”

   Although yoga is for everybody, everybody can’t always get to the front of the table for their piece of the pastry. Joe Hill, the songwriter, and union organizer, back in the day,  once pointed out why that was. “Work and pray, live on hay, you’ll get pie in the sky when you die.”

   “We believe yoga is for every body,” is the mantra of YogaWorks, fiddling with spelling and meaning. “No matter your age or fitness level, we offer yoga that will work for you. Our programs remain authentic to ancient yoga tradition while seamlessly integrating today’s popular styles. Join us on the mat, we’re here to honor and empower your journey toward personal growth and well-being.”

   Even though the request by their employees, who honor and empower the journeys of all those who come to the studio, was polite, if firm, the response by the company was equally firm, if not exactly polite. It was stern, if not rabid, in the tradition of labor-management relations, which are almost always adversarial.

   Unions and bosses have never exactly been a baby blue meeting of the minds. They have spent most of their time since the Industrial Revolution poking one another in the eye. When it’s gotten out of hand, which it often has, it’s ended up as an eye-for-an-eye. Sometimes it gets ramped up to two eyes for one. It never gets damped down to turning the other cheek. No one is that Christian Buddhist Muslim Jewish or God-fearing.

   In the 1890s the Carnegie Steel Company went toe-to-toe against the nation’s strongest trade union, which was the Iron and Steel Workers. An 1889 strike had won them a three-year contract, but three years later Andrew Carnegie was determined to break them. The company locked the workers out of the plant and all of them were fired.

   They workers stormed the factory and took over the company town. Three hundred Pinkerton guards, locked and loaded, were called in, but when they got there they were met by thousands of strikers, many of them locked and loaded, too. After a full-out gun battle, the Pinkertons gave up and ran for it. In all, nine strikers and seven Pinkertons were killed. More than a hundred were injured. Eight thousand Pennsylvania National Guardsmen were called in and the strike was quickly broken.

   The Battle of Blair Mountain, near Welch, West Virginia, in 1921, was a spontaneous uprising of ten thousand coal miners who fought the company’s hired guns and their allies, the state police, for three days before federal troops intervened. In 1987, while union members staged a fight as a distraction, others set fire to the Dupont Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico. The union was in a dispute with management about pay and health care. Ninety-seven people were killed, many of them burned beyond recognition.

   In New York City, the battle between YogaWorks and their working people was more in the way of a war of words. It was about hitting the bricks, not throwing bricks. Non-violence stayed the course. A YogaWorks official sent an e-mail addressed to their NYC teachers and trainers, painting the union as an untrustworthy group simply looking to collect dues from them, and on the look-out only for their own welfare.

   The e-mail, from Heather Eary, a regional vice president, ended in blunt capital letters. “DON’T SIGN A CARD.” The capital letters referred to cards being circulated by teachers and by the union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, stating the signatory wanted the group to represent them.

   “YogaWorks does not believe that employees joining, and paying dues to, a union is in the best interest of YogaWorks, our employees or our students,” the message said. “We are surprised that the machinist union would ask us to help them possibly take away your right to decide whether you want to go running to join them.”

   There was something queer about the message, as though it needed to get into down dog on both feet and both hands, to get itself grounded in the gap between the company’s principles and appetite. “Our offer to work in collaboration with the company still stands,” said David DiMaria, an organizer with the union. “Hopefully they will see past their original reaction.”

   Carla Gatza, the head of human resources for YogaWorks, said, “We believe that our company, our employees, and our students are best served when YogaWorks and its employees work together without the interference of a third-party union.”

   “They often say the yoga teachers are the center of this business,” Tamar Samir, embroiled in the unionization bid, said of the company’s leaders. “But then somehow the way that teachers are supported in terms of pay and benefits and job security doesn’t match that.” That being said, YogaWorks promptly closed its SoHo center, throwing its employees out of work and its students out on the sidewalk.

   A union is an association of workers, often in a trade or profession, formed to protect and further their interests and rights. They began forming in the mid-19th century in response to the social and economic impact of the Industrial Revolution. National unions bubbled up in the post-Civil War era as the coasts and regions were brought together by commerce and railroads.

   Labor unions benefited greatly from the New Deal in the 1930s, especially after the Wagner Act was passed to legally protect their right to organize. The number of workers belonging to unions peaked in the mid-50s at about 35% of the workforce and the total number of members peaked in the 70s at about 21 million. Membership has declined ever since. In 2013 there were 14 million members compared with 18 million in 1983. In 2013, the percentage of workers belonging to a union was 11%, compared to 20% in 1983.

   There are more than 50 thousand yoga teachers in the United States, and according to the Yoga Alliance there are two people interested in becoming a teacher for every current teacher on the classroom floor. At that rate, should they succeed in signing up the proletariat of yogis, the Machinists and Aerospace Workers will soon be the biggest union in the country.

   “Do I think that yoga teachers deserve more job security and better pay? Yes,” says J. Brown of J. Brown Yoga. “Are there a lot of yoga center owners who are participating in a business model that exploits teachers? Yes. Does the Yoga Alliance 200-hour teacher training standard bear a lot of responsibility for creating this model and fueling more people to follow it? Yes.”

   He didn’t stop there. “Do I think that 100 teachers in NYC becoming part of the union, so they can attempt to negotiate the terms of their employment with YogaWorks, will do anything to change the model across the industry and give teachers more job security and better pay? The answer is no.”

   There are about six thousand yoga centers nationwide. Twenty years ago, all of them were mom and pop places, independents, riding the wellness gravy train. In the past ten years venture capital has gotten its tentacles into the practice, for good reason.

   There are 36 million pairs of active feet on mats nowadays, according to Yoga Journal. The number of people doing yoga grew by 50% in the past five years. Sun salutations are now as popular as swinging a golf club, without even having to go outside and get a sunburn. Popularity polls show that 15% of everybody has done yoga in the past year.

   J. Brown sees “bottom line economics infecting the entire landscape of yoga centers. That is why yoga teachers have come to be paid so little and treated so poorly by both the corporate and independent operators.”

   The median income in the United States is about $32,000. Median pay at GM is about $40,000. Roughly speaking, the average hourly pay for a member of the United Auto Workers ranges from $28 to $38 for those hired before September 2007, and between $16 and $20 for workers hired afterward. In 2015 yoga teaching was rated as one of the top one hundred jobs in the country, according to CNN, with a median annual paycheck clocking in at more than $60,000.

   The compensation at YogaWorks ranges from about $35 to $100-or-more to teach classes of an hour’s length, occasionally an hour-and-a-half. The average teacher, teaching an average of 25 classes a week, working about 30 hours a week, at an average rate of pay of $50.00 a class, will make their $60 thousand-or-more a year without breaking a sweat, unless it’s a hot flow class.

   One of the complaints made by yoga teachers about their jobs is the extra time they have to spend cleaning the yoga rooms after class, even though the rooms are simply empty spaces with wood floors that usually just require mopping up some sweat and sweeping up some dust balls.

   The pay for hotel maids ranges between $9.00 to $13.00 an hour across the country. The pay range hardly varies, suggesting there aren’t many opportunities for increased pay or advancement, even with several years of experience. The average cleaner, working 40 hours a week, vacuuming making beds disinfecting hotel rooms, makes approximately $21,000 a year, a third of what the average yoga teacher makes.

   But it’s not just cleaning up after class. There’s more to it than that in the teaching racket. Hotel maids may have to mess with some messy stuff in the rooms they clean, but they don’t have to fiddle with their iPods. Yoga teachers do. “We’re constantly having to change our playlist, constantly having to sequence, testing it out,” Melissa Brennan of CorePower Yoga said. “The expectation is go out and do all of this work and then come back and bring it back to the studio.”

   The work on their digital music players is not compensated and has led to resentment, notwithstanding that teachers make about twice what the average Joe and Jane do. On the other hand, resentment is not morally superior to making money, so you might as well make as much of it as you can when you can.

   Melissa and Effie Morgenstern are suing CorePower. They claim the company has failed “to pay its instructors for certain hours worked, causing their average weekly compensation to drop below the minimum wages they are entitled.”
   “They hide behind the fact that you have all this gratitude and love and appreciation for yoga and your peers,” said Effie. “In a lot of ways, they weaponize relationships,” Melissa said. “I know there is a part of me that feels really foolish for buying into that and thinking that these people did care about me.”

   The suit is the fourth action with similar complaints filed against CorePower. Almost two thousand other yoga instructors joined a separate class action lawsuit, claiming they are “overstretched and not being paid the minimum wages they are entitled to.” In a statement, CorePower Yoga said the lawsuit brought by Brennan and Morgenstern is without merit and maintains there was no wrongdoing. “CorePower is proud of its practices, believes they are fair, and will continue to stand by and defend them.”

   When yoga went commercial it went capitalist. Yoga is cool beans, but cool capitalism is still capitalism, no matter how many times headquarters quotes BKS Iyengar Seane Corn Leslie Kaminoff or anybody else. They might as well cut to the chase and get right to Sadie Nardini, the bright shining light of yoga commercialism.

   The debate about traditional vs. modern in the world of yoga is over. It’s been bushwhacked. The answer is free market capitalism. It’s about selling and winning and making money. It’s not for the faint of heart. After all, you can go broke in the yoga game, like anywhere else. “Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without hell,” says Frank Borman, businessman and ex-NASA astronaut.

   Yoga is progressive open-minded socially conscious, except when it isn’t, when it comes to collective bargaining. Then it’s status quo push back time. “The dynamic of unions doesn’t reflect who we are, how we interact, how we make decisions or where we need to go,” is what automaker corporations and venture capital yogis all say when push comes to shove. It’s my way or the highway.

   Yoga literally means union. Yoga yoke union. It can be understood on different levels, philosophically, religiously, and psychologically, as in no longer living at cross-purposes with yourself. It can simply mean going to yoga class, getting in step with like-minded folks. It might soon mean a first sighting thunderbolt, yoga teachers walking the picket line, fending off glib-talking union-busting ginks and finks.

   Meanwhile, Andrew Carnegie, the Bluto of plutocrats, is rolling over in his grave laughing hysterically, while new-age union bosses are getting with the new dynamic, and Krishnamacharya and his antecedents are springing up out of corpse pose with surprised looks, all shook up at the ruckus.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland

Theatre PEI


10 Cent Beer Night

By Ed Staskus

   When my friends and I heard there was going to be a 10 Cent Beer Night at Municipal Stadium, we started saving our loose change. It was Saturday morning June 1, 1974. Beer Night was going to be on Tuesday night June 4th. We didn’t have much time, but we had plenty of motivation. When the big night arrived, our pockets were full of nickels, dimes, and quarters. We met at East 30th St. and St. Clair Ave. and took a bus to East 9thSt. From there we walked to the ballpark.

   Municipal Stadium opened in 1931 and was the home of both the Cleveland Indians and Cleveland Browns. Two days after it was formally dedicated Max Schmeling fought Young Stribling for the World Heavyweight Championship. The two sluggers brawled for the full 15 rounds. In the end Young Stribling was covered in more bumps, bruises, and blood than Max Schmeling, so the German won the match on a TKO.  A month later the Tribe played their first game there, losing to Lefty Grove and the Philadelphia Athletics one to nothing. The crowd of  more than 80,000 set a major league record.

   When it was built, and for many years afterwards, Municipal Stadium was the biggest baseball stadium in the country, although by the 1970s it was drawing the smallest crowds in the country. A month earlier only 4,000-some fans showed up to watch the Indians beat the Boston Red Sox. There were two reasons everybody stayed home and watched something else on TV. The stadium was built all wrong, for one thing. It was cavernous. Relief pitchers had to be driven to the mound from the bullpen. Even when new outfield fences were installed shrinking the size of the playing field, it was still 470 feet from home plate to the bleachers in straightaway center field. High and deep fly balls went there to die. We always sat in the cut-rate seats. No wannabe home run ever reached us. The upper deck was even farther from the field. Nobody wanted to sit in the stratosphere with high-powered binoculars.

   By the late 1960s the place was falling apart. It looked like Miss Havisham’s mansion. It stood on the south shore of Lake Erie, a wheezy open-air mausoleum. It was a dismal hulk, especially in the spring and fall when cold winds blew in off the lake. During the summer, during night games, the lights attracted swarms of midges and mayflies. The bathrooms were unbearable for many reasons. Only the desperate ever visited them, however briefly.

   On top of everything else, the Tribe couldn’t punch its way out of a paper bag. In the 1950s they were routinely winning 90, 100, and even 110 games every season. They won championships. By the 1960s they were lucky to win 80 games a season. In 1971 they lost 102 games and won only 60, finishing so far out of first place fans lit candles. The locker room got sad and gloomy. The Tribe lost more games during the decade of the 1970s than during any other decade of the team’s long life.

   When we got inside the stadium we were surprised by how many fans were there, about 25,000 of them, although we shouldn’t have been. Besides the cheap beer, payback time was in play. A week earlier in Texas, the Indians and the Rangers had gotten into it. In the bottom of the  eighth inning a Tribe pitcher threw behind a Ranger batter’s head. A few pitches later the batter laid down a bunt. The pitcher fielded the ball and tagged the runner out. The runner didn’t stop running, clubbing the pitcher in the face with a forearm as he ran past. When he got to first base he headbutted the Tribe’s first baseman in the nuts. The first baseman started swinging. Both benches emptied. After the fracas, as Indians players and coaches returned to their dugout, they were greeted with stale pretzels and warm beer hurled by Texas Ranger fans. Dave Duncan, the short-tempered Cleveland catcher, had to be restrained from storming the stands.

   After the game a reporter asked Rangers manager Billy Martin, “Are you going to take your armor to Cleveland?” Billy Martin replied, “Naw, they won’t have enough fans there to worry about.” The following week sports radio talk show hosts whipped up the ire of Cleveland’s baseball fans. It was billed as “Revenge Rematch Time.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer printed a cartoon of Chief Wahoo wearing boxing gloves. The caption read, “Be Ready for Anything!” 

   10 Cent Beer Night was the dreamchild of the Tribe’s sales and marketing department. “We were on a mission to save baseball in Cleveland,” said Carl Fazio, one of the men overseeing promotions. “We did everything possible to make baseball successful in our town. If we were going to fail, it wasn’t going to be because we didn’t try things.”   

   Tuesday was a hot sticky night. The sky was clear and the moon was full. Twice as many fans showed up as the sales and marketing showmen expected. “It was a stinkin’ humid night, and you kind of had a feeling things weren’t going to be good,” said Paul Tepley, a Cleveland Press photographer. “Billy Martin stood in front of the Rangers dugout before the  game heckling the fans, and the fans were heckling him. It had the makings of a bad night.”

   No sooner did anybody step into the stadium than they made a beeline to the special tables manned by teenagers and barely adults selling the low-cost beer. The legal drinking age in 1974 was 18. Banners behind the tables said, “From One Beer Lover to Another.” The regular price was 65 cents. The promotional price of 10 cents was a big discount. There was a limit of six cups per purchase but no limit on how many purchases anybody could make during the game. The first Beer Night had been staged three years earlier. It had been Nickel Beer Day. There were some incidents then but they mostly involved horseplay and vomit.

   Some fans brought pockets full of firecrackers and smoke bombs to 10 Cent Beer Night. They blew them off in the stands and threw some on the field before the game started. When the first pitch was thrown for a strike everybody settled back with their suds and tuned into the action. In the second inning a woman sporting a bouffant ran to the on-deck circle, lifted her shirt, and flashed the crowd. She was beaming smiles. She tried to kiss home plate umpire Nestor Chylack. He was not in a smooching mood. Everybody cheered the sight of boobs but gave the umpire a Bronx cheer for ducking the kiss.

   The Rangers took a three to nothing lead when Tom Grieve slammed a home run with men on base. As he went around second base a well-built naked man slid into the bag behind him. He was wearing two black socks. We thought he might be a businessman. When the streaker got up he saluted the crowd before dashing away. His butt was road rash red. He ran through center field towards the bleachers. One of his socks got loose. By the time he got to the fence in front of us, he was down to the other sock. He vaulted over the fence and disappeared under our seats. The next inning a father and son ran out onto the field and simultaneously mooned the crowd. The son’s butt was white. The father’s butt was cream cheese white.

   When the special tables selling 10 cent beer started to run dry the Stroh’s Brewing Co. sent a tanker full of brew to the back of the ballpark. Fans gathered at the industrial spigots fastened to the rear of the truck. Before the truck arrived every Rangers player who stepped up to the plate had been roundly booed. Twenty minutes after the truck got there, the crowd was throwing things at them.

    “I bet I had five or ten pounds of hot dogs thrown at me,” said Mike Hargrove, a Rangers rookie playing the infield. “A gallon jug of Thunderbird landed about ten feet behind me.” When he realized what he had done, the man who threw the half-full jug of fortified wine demanded it back. Fans threw rocks, batteries, and golf balls. One man threw a tennis ball and was almost laughed out of the ballpark. The bullpens had to be evacuated after cherry bombs were lobbed into them. 

   Everything went to hell in the home half of the ninth inning. Everybody with kids and a wife had already fled. The Tribe put together four straight hits and a sacrifice fly. They tied the game at 5 runs apiece. The winning run was standing on second base. Unfortunately for the Indians, that was as far as he ever got.

   Before he could make a move two young men ran out on the field towards Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs. They were greased for trouble. One of them tried to steal the ballplayer’s cap. Jeff Burroughs kicked at the man but slipped and fell down. The rest of the Rangers, far away in their dugout, thought the men had knocked their teammate down. Billy Martin led his Rangers players onto the field. “Let’s go get ‘em, boys.” They sprinted to the rescue. They were brandishing every bat they had on the rack. When hundreds of fans poured out of the stands after them, with slats they had torn off from their seats, the riot was on.

   The law and order detail at Municipal Stadium on 10 Cent Beer Night was fifty older part-time men and two off-duty Cleveland policemen. They were swept aside by the flow of drunks. Some of the troublemakers were waving chains. Some had knives. Twenty police cars responded to the call for help. When they got to the ballpark they called for the Riot Squad. When the Riot Squad got there they called for more men. “We would have needed 25,000 cops to handle that crowd,” said Frank Ferrone, the Chief of Stadium Security.

   Tribe manager Ken Aspromonte ordered his players onto the field to help the Rangers. They armed themselves with bats and formed a phalanx. “They saved our lives,” Billy Martin said. “That’s the closest you’re ever going to see someone get killed in this game of baseball.” He didn’t know it got closer in 1920, when Yankee’s pitcher Carl May hit Indian’s batter Ray Chapman in the head with an errant fastball and killed him.

   A Cleveland player was hurt the worst during the riot when a flying metal chair hit him in the head. He had to be helped off the field. Nestor Chylack’s hand was badly cut and he was hit by a flying chair as well, before finally declaring the game a forfeit. The mob was incensed. More chairs went airborne. “They were fucking animals,” the injured home plate umpire said. ”I’ve never seen anything like it, except in a zoo.”

   The organist played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” over and over again. Some fans ripped the padding off the third base line fence. They stole all the bases. “This is an absolute tragedy,” declared Joe Tait, one of the broadcasters. “I’ve been in this business for 20 years and I have never seen anything as disgusting as this. I just don’t know what to say.”

   When beat reporter Dan Coughlin tried to interview a rioter, he was punched in the face. When he tried to interview a second rioter he was punched in the face again. After that he put his notebook away and went looking for a drink, something stronger than beer. There was no charm in trying a third time.

   Mike Hargrove had a chunky teenager on the ground and was walloping him. “That kid came up and hit him from behind is what happened,” said Herb Score, the other broadcaster. When the ballplayers fought their way back to their clubhouses, they bolted the doors behind them and left Municipal Stadium under escort of armed guards. The Riot Squad flooded the field with tear gas.

   “It’s not just baseball,” Ken Aspromonte said. “It’s the society we live in. Nobody seems to care about anything. We complained about their people in Texas last week when they threw beer on us and taunted us to fight. But look at our people. They were worse. I don’t know what it was, and I don’t know who’s to blame.”

    When the fireworks were all over we walked to Superior Ave., went across the bridge over the Cuyahoga River, and crossed West 25th St. We passed the one-sock streaker. He looked like he was wearing somebody else’s clothes. He still had on one black sock. We walked to the Big Egg, where we got late-night grub, mainly hash browns and fried eggs. They hadn’t run out of that day’s gravy. Their sauce was boss. The Big Egg wasn’t the cleanest diner in town, but it stayed open all night and the food was dirt cheap. Their slogan, on the wall behind the long counter, was “Where the Egg is King, and the Queen is, too!” Bobby Dunn, a Cleveland policeman and the owner, made sure the coffee was strong, if only for his own sake.

   “I don’t look at it as a black eye at all,” Carl Fazio said afterwards about what took place that night. “It was just one of those crazy things that happened because of a crazy set of circumstances that all came together that night.”

   The next day the Tribe slugged five home runs, pummeling the Rangers in front of 8,000 spectators. The stolen bases were never recovered. New ones were put in place. My friends and I stayed home. I read about the second game of the series a day later in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The fans were well-behaved, cheering their heads off but not throwing anything onto the field. They sipped their beer before tossing their plastic cups under the seats. It was a breezy refreshing evening with bright stars high in the sky. Everybody kept their cool and kept their clothes on, too.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland

Theatre PEI


He Stomps By Night

By Ed Staskus

When he was sure his spot in the forest was the most secret spot in the forest, MechaGodzilla settled down and checked his weapons, which were himself. He was built of space titanium and could launch missiles from his fingers and toes. He fired energy beams from his eyes and chest. He could ignite a force field that shocked and repelled his enemies. Even if his head was cut off, he was able to stay in the fight. He had a “Head Controller” that took over, firing concentrated lasers the same as before. He was trouble in spades.

   He was going to take care of Godzilla and his little friend, Oliver, the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County. If Emma, Oliver’s older sister and right-hand man, butted in, he would take care of her, too. He didn’t care who got in his way. He was going to have his way with Godzilla, once and for all.

   Godzilla was on a world tour promoting his new movie, “Godzilla vs. Kong.” When he tried to land at the Atlas Cinema Great Lakes Stadium in Mentor, Ohio their parking lot was too small for him, so he landed in the bigger Home Depot parking lot next door. The general manager came out to complain, but after he looked up at Godzilla who was roaring “HELLO!” he went back into the store and wasn’t seen again for three days, locking himself in his office.

   The movie theater had rolled out the red carpet for Godzilla, but after the beast’s little toe hooked it, ripping it to shreds, they sent a maintenance man to sweep up the shreds and get rid of the rest of it. DQ Grill made the biggest ice cream cone in the history of DQ and sent a young counter girl hired yesterday out with it for white glove delivery.

   “Why me?” she complained.

   The other employees nudged her out the door. Godzilla liked the ice cream cone so much he gave the girl a ride on his back, rocketing up and over Lake Erie, to Cleveland for a bird’s eye view of downtown, and buzzed her home, sending her parents into a panic.

   When she walked back into DQ she was promoted on the spot.

   The first time they fought, MechaGodzilla was overpowered when King Caesar joined forces with Godzilla. They defeated him by chopping his head off and blowing his body apart. The second time they fought it was more of the same. The rebuilt MechaGodzilla was juiced up with human brain cells. He tag-teamed with Titanosaurus, who wasn’t much help, however. He survived, losing his head again, but when his main controls went haywire, Godzilla used his atomic heat ray on MechaGodzilla’s headless body, causing it to explode once more. 

   The third time should have been the charm, but it wasn’t meant to be.

   The new MechaGodzilla overpowered Godzilla but got zapped by a voltage back surge Godzilla made happen, whether he knew what he was doing, or not. When he was rewired, he was rewired as Super MechaGodzilla. Rodan was in the neighborhood and told Godzilla he would be glad to help. Godzilla was stricken when his second brain under his tail got a concussion, and Rodan was hurt bad. He wasn’t going to make it, so he gave up what life force he had left to revive Godzilla, who used his spiral atomic breath to destroy the not-so-super-after-all MechaGodzilla.

   But a bad penny always comes back. The bad penny sulked and smoldered in the forest behind Oliver’s house in Perry, not far from Mentor. When the movie star showed up to visit his grandchild Goo Goo’s friend is when he would make his move. If anybody got in his way, he would move on them, too. He was sick and tired of being on the losing end.

   After the premiere of the movie Godzilla took questions, signed autographs, posed for selfies, and finally sacked out on the Home Depot parking lot. When the general manager peeked out in the middle of the night to see if the coast was clear and heard Godzilla snoring, he went right back into his office and locked himself in again.

   Oliver and Emma got up early and went for a walk in the forest while their mom made breakfast. Godzilla liked eating fish and krill, Jello, cars, helicopters, and radio towers. She made him a humongous Jello salad and made it look like a car. Oliver’s father went out into their back yard with a spray paint can. He sprayed “EAT THIS” on the base of the 150-foot-tall cell phone tower that had recently been erected on the border of their property.

   “That thing is an eyesore,” he groused to himself spray painting “EAT THIS” on the thing.

   That night Oliver and Emma outfitted themselves in black from tip to toe. They both wore balaclavas. A thunderstorm was brewing, coming in fast. Emma saw MechaGodzilla first and stopped dead in her tracks. Oliver was picking up worms for Godzilla. They were good for his big buddy’s digestion. He looked back at his sister.

   “What’s wrong?” he asked.

    “Look,” Emma said pointing a shaking finger at the gleaming metallic monster. She and her brother slipped behind a tree. “Wait until it starts thundering,” Oliver said. “Then follow my lead. Run as fast as you can and don’t look back.” When the storm broke wide open, Oliver stepped out into the open and waved his arms over his head.

   “Hey, you big lunkhead, over here.”

   MechaGodzilla turned his head. “Who are you calling a lunkhead, you little squirt? Beat it!” His eyesight was bad in the dark. He didn’t realize it was Oliver. The Monster Hunter threw a rock at him. It clanged off the metalhead. He looked down at the boy, who was like an insect to him. Sticks and stones weren’t going to hurt him. He ignored the boy.

   “You are just a heap of scrap metal,” Oliver shouted.

  MechaGodzilla didn’t like that. He started shooting laser beams. Oliver and Emma ran the other way. It was raining harder and harder, lightning bolts lighting up the sky. They burst out of the forest into the clearing behind their house, MeachaGodzilla hard on their heels. Laser beams were flashing out of every part of him.

   Suddenly the sky boomed and cracked, and a lightning bolt zig zagged down from a mass of black clouds. It hit MechaGodzilla on the top of the head and stopped him dead in his tracks. Every part of him went crazy and he lit up like a carnival sideshow. When the show was over the new-age Frankenstein toppled over, smoke dribbling out of the seams of him. He lay there like a heap of scrap metal.

   “You took a big chance doing what you did,” his dad, an electrical engineer, said when the family gathered at the feet of the fallen creature.

   “Yes and no, dad,” Oliver said. “You always say to be careful during thunderstorms, but not to worry about metal attracting lightning, because that is a myth. You told us height, isolation, and a pointy shape are what make it likely a lightning bolt will strike. I was sure once Emma and I got him out in the open, since he had a pointy head and was so big, lightning would strike, and it did.”

   Godzilla came walking up. His head snapped around when he saw MechaGodzilla laying in the weeds. He walked towards him, eyeing him carefully, and bumped into the cell phone tower right in front of him. His nose was in the lead and took the bump full force. Godzilla jumped back, roared, and unleashed his atomic fire breath on the tower. It sizzled and glopped to the ground melting and smoking. It lay next to MechaGodzilla, both of them wrecked. All the phones in the neighborhood went dead.

   “I’ll eat that later,” Godzilla said, satisfied.   “Good riddance to that thing,” Oliver’s dad said.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts stories on 147 Stanley Street and Cleveland Daybook

Theatre PEI


Beauty School Boardwalk

By Ed Staskus

   “Don’t you need to get ready and go register for school?” Alma Campbell asked Maggie, hands on her hips, elbows splayed out, scowling at her daughter.

   “Yeah, but I’m not going,” Maggie said.

   “What do you mean, you’re not going?”

   “I’m not going back to school. I’m not cut out for it. I don’t like it. I don’t want to do it.”

   “What are you going to do?”

   “Hair, I’m going to do hair.”

   Alma got excited. She loved it that her daughter was going to be a hairdresser. If a woman doesn’t have a hairdresser, then she has no choice but to let her hair go to hell. There’s no future in that. Alma started looking up cosmetology schools.

   Maggie was 19 years old. She had been going to Tri-C Community College for a year studying to become a special needs teacher. When she was a lifeguard at Bay Pool, she used to teach them how to swim. She loved those kids.

   But, at Tri-C they showed movies about teachers teaching special needs kids and the movies bummed her out. The whole thing came down to seeing the women’s faces, the teachers, and how their faces were hard, and she could see they were frustrated. She thought to herself, I don’t want to be like that around special needs kids.

   “I don’t want to become angry and jaded,” she told her mom. “The thought of getting frustrated with any of the special needers kills me. I don’t want to ever get angry with one of those little faces. When I told you I was going to become a hairdresser it came out of the blue. I didn’t know I had been thinking about it. You can only do what you want to do when you know you want to do it.”

   Maggie cut hair when she worked at Bay Pool, even though she wasn’t supposed to. Nobody liked loose hair floating in the water. Other teenagers would ask, “Do you know how to cut hair?”

   “I don’t know, maybe. I cut my own.”

   “OK, can you cut mine?”

   “Yeah, sure, I’ll cut it.”

   She used to pierce ears, too.  “Do you remember the time the electricity at school went out and we were all bored and you pierced my ear with your own earring?” a friend of hers asked at one of their school reunions. “No, but it sounds great,” she said. The way she looked at it, even if I don’t remember it, back then he wanted his ear pieced, so I pierced it, dark or no dark.

   By the time Alma was done, the next thing Maggie knew, she was enrolled at a beauty school in Fairview Park. It didn’t always go as planned. She had to spend many hours writing “I will not swear in front of clients” on the lunchroom chalkboard.

   One day a lady was in the bowl, soap in her hair, and she decided to sit up.

   “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Maggie blurted out. “Lay back down!”

   Her teachers were flabbergasted. “Did you just swear at her?”

   “No, I didn’t swear at her.”

   “Are you lying?”


   They made her write “I will not swear in front of clients” 500 more times. It was ridiculous. Her fingers got dry and dusty with chalk dust.

   “I’m paying you to go to this school,” she said. “I’m in charge.”

   “Keep writing,” they said.

   She was always in trouble. She didn’t even know she was saying anything vulgar when she was saying it. The words were just part of her vocabulary. “It’s been that way my whole life,” she said. “My mom would come home from work at the hospital, we’d sit down at the dinner table, and she was off to the races, fuck that stupid doctor, fuck that idiot nurse, and that fucking patient who gave me so much trouble. That was our dinner talk.”

   Have you ever talked to a nurse? Nurses swear like truck drivers, on and on. Alma painted the town with curses. She wasn’t just trying to get her point across by using harsh language, although it helped. It became part of the word world at the Campbell house.

   “I grew up in a house full of swearers,” Maggie said. “I swear a lot in front of everyone, all the time. My mom and I went to Put-In-Bay one weekend. It’s a small island in Lake Erie, the best walleye, and the third tallest monument in the country. We were waiting in line to get into the roundhouse. We were talking and I was swearing up a storm.”

   “Nice mouth,” a man behind them said to her. “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” 

   Maggie whirled on him. “You know what, asshole, my mother invented the word fuck. You want to see me kiss her? I’ll kiss her right now.” She kissed her mom on the mouth.

   “Mags, what are you doing?” Alma asked. She hadn’t been paying attention to the eavesdropping man behind them.

   Halfway through beauty school Maggie got into a car accident when she hit a cement truck. She was out of commission for months. When she came back, she had four months left. Those months became her dark days. She thought she was a hot shot and that she knew best. She was always goofing off. She never paid attention. She was her own man.

   “I thought I knew how to do everything, do it all. Once you get out of theory, they put you on the floor. I don’t want to do haircuts is what everyone else said. I was the daring person. It wasn’t about playing with scissors.”

   She was the first one to go on the floor. She didn’t mind standing all day. She could do it all week all month all the time with no problem. Maggie had cut hair before, so she was on fire, raring to go. She couldn’t and wouldn’t quit. She had to finish beauty school because she couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to Tri-C.

   Maggie didn’t enjoy cosmetology training, but she got through it, and got her first job at Cadillac Cutters in Rocky River. It didn’t go well, not because of her cursing, but because, in the end, she didn’t curse enough. If she had she might have washed them out of her hair sooner than later.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland

Theatre PEI


On the Line at Liquids and Solids

By Ed Staskus

   “It took me awhile to understand the vibe that makes Liquids and Solids so special,” said Marla Gilman, a summer removed from her year working in the kitchen of the edgy gastropub in Lake Placid, New York.

    “I was visiting friends in Keeseville and they kept talking about this great little restaurant,” she said. “You would love this place, my friends kept telling me. Their food is awesome. They kept talking about it, and so, finally, during another visit to town, my boyfriend Dylan took me to eat there. It was awesome.”

   A graduate of the University of Vermont, the 25-year-old Marla began her college career focused on business and ended it focused on food and drink. “I took a farm to table class, just kind of randomly, where we read Michael Pollan,” she said. “That’s where the whole thing started. I realized I needed to re-think the way I was eating.”

   She went from being conscious of food by counting the calories in her mouth to getting in touch with sun soil rain through the taste of what she was putting into her mouth. She learned to enjoy food rather than think about it.

   After graduating from the College of Agriculture at UVM with a degree in Community Entrepreneurship and a minor in Food Systems, she spent the summer backpacking through Italy, Germany, and France. Her last stop was at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland, where she had enrolled to dovetail with her traveling.

   “I was on that side of the ocean, anyway,” Marla said. 

   The 12-Week Certificate at Ballymaloe, a one hundred acre working organic farm west of Dublin, is an intensive immersion-cooking course. Its track proceeds from fundamental skills to increasingly practical techniques, training its graduates to become ready-to-go cooks able to pursue a culinary career.

   But, certificate or no certificate, it didn’t prepare her for Liquids and Solids.

   “I was the first girl to work the line there, with the guys, with their raw, sarcastic stuff, and I was just this little girl from New Jersey who cared about local food. I couldn’t keep up at first. I didn’t talk for a while, at all. I just kept my mouth shut.”

   It was at Ballymaloe that Marla cultivated her personal palette for food. “I learned to taste by eating. I simply ate a lot of locally grown fresh food. I learned the difference between something tasting alive and something tasting dead.”

   However, since she knew little to nothing about wine, learning to drink took more patience. “People would talk about wine and I didn’t get what they were tasting. I couldn’t understand how wine could taste like apricots.”

   One of her friends at the school came to the rescue. The friend parsed a book about wine, cataloging essential flavors, and filled the small holes of eggs crates with those flavors. “Anna blindfolded me and I had to smell each one and be able to say what it was,” she said. “It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. It pulled it out for me. I learned what I was smelling for.” 

   After returning home she wrangled work at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. 

   Blue Hill in New York’s Greenwich Village, melding fresh local sources with inspired preparation, has been described as a go-to dining destination since it opened in 2000. Their restaurant at Stone Barns, opened four years later in the Hudson Valley, has no menus. Instead, diners are proffered a Grazing, Rooting, and Pecking bill of fare, featuring the farm’s best from field and market.

   “I was obsessed with Stone Farms for years and years, so in the end I staged there. I mean, I worked for free,” Marla said. “A stage is usually a week long, but I wouldn’t leave. I ended up working there for more than three months.”

   In the meantime, her boyfriend-in-waiting moved to the rolling farmlands of Keeseville, on the New York side of Lake Champlain, going to work for Fledging Crow Vegetables, an organic farm based on the Community Supported Agriculture model.

   “Dylan and I had been friends for 6 years and were just starting to see each other,” she said. “I thought I’d like to move there, but not right there, where my boy was. I didn’t want to do that.” Instead, she made plans to move not too far away, to the Keene Valley, known as the home of the High Peaks in the Adirondacks.

   “At first everything was just a thought in my head, and then, literally, within a week-and–a-half I had a place to live and a job.” The job was at Liquids and Solids.

   “I shot Tim Loomis, the head chef and co-owner, an e-mail, and I just said that I’m friends with Dylan at Fledging Crow, and I ate at your restaurant, which I thought was amazing. Just curious, any work opportunities?”

   A week later she got a return call. “Your resume looks awesome,” Tim said. ”We’ll be looking for someone soon and we’d love to have you.”

   “Whoa, you don’t even know me!” she said to Tim, who she had yet to meet. “But, Tim is close with Fledging Crow. He buys so locally. If he could, everything would come from local farms. So, when they dropped the good word about me, Tim being trustworthy about his friends, when they said this girl is cool, he was pretty much OK with it.”

   It was Marla’s first real job in a commercial kitchen. In a kitchen slightly bigger than a family van, serving hundreds of exactly orchestrated plates a night, she worked alongside the head chef, a sous chef, and a dishwasher.

   “I was the pantry person, although we rotated the work. I would do sous chef some nights and wash dishes other nights, and the sous chef would do the pantry some nights. Tim was always Tim every night. He was the main man.”

   At Blue Hill everything needed to be accounted for, from where ingredients were stored to the preparation and presentation of dishes.  “I had to show them every cut I made, and if I wasn’t sure about something, they expected me to ask. At Liquids and Solids, the flavors are all high-end, it tastes so eloquent, and I was always asking, is this all right, is that cut OK?”

   “Yeah, it’s fine, you don’t have to ask me,” Tim grumbled.

   She wasn’t sure how to take the no-questions rule, although she understood he wanted food done as well as she could do it. Nor did she understand the organization of the kitchen. “The kitchen was so disorganized,” she said. The management of the pantry and walk-in made sense to those in the know, but didn’t make any sense to her, at first.

   “It’s such amazing food, but we would forget to order chocolate chips for weeks and have to run to Lisa G’s, the restaurant across the street, to get some. The spices on the shelves were all shoved together. If there’s something on a shelf below where I originally put it I freak out. For me, a thing has to have a spot.”

   At Liquids and Solids salt and pepper could be in any one of six places. “Tim always knew those six places,” she said. Everybody else read Tim’s mind.

   When she asked where something was, she heard, “Stop asking me where things are.” She was expected to know, like the rest of the kitchen staff, who were more interested in what everything was for, that purpose being the end result. It was the plating of the food, and the appreciation of it in the dining room, that was the proof of the pudding of the kitchen’s organization skills. Electricity is organized thunder and lightning.

   “Tim doesn’t call himself the head chef,” Marla said. “He will laugh at you if you call him that.” As Alton Brown of the Food Network has pointed out, a cook who calls himself a chef one day will probably make the worst food you have ever eaten.

   “Tim’s food is so well put together you would think he has every little detail worked out. He does, in a way, but it’s a super laid-back kitchen. He puts a lot of trust in his staff.” She recounted days when Tim, on his day off, would nonetheless turn up in the kitchen and ask that she create a new offering.

   “I’ll do something with it tomorrow,” he said.

   “I was essentially the lowest person in the kitchen,” she said, “and for him to tell me to create something and have enough trust in me that I will apply it to a special that will be on the menu, that was really cool for me.” We are often made trustworthy when someone puts their trust in us. It is the glue of life, like eggs, flour, and breadcrumbs.

   The kitchen at Liquids and Solids was not especially ready for her, partly by accident, partly by design. She worked on a small table on top of a lowboy fridge behind a wall. “They didn’t bring tickets to me, either,” she said. “They would yell out the order and I had to scribble it down, in the right order, for the right tickets. It was totally new to me and super stressful.”

   Working in close quarters with the tight-knit Liquids and Solids crew unnerved her, as well. “They would listen to country stations, and the songs were all about sex, and they would make every inappropriate joke in the book,” she said. “I had no idea how to handle it. It took me a long time to realize it wasn’t real, it was just jokes, and appreciate that rank humor of theirs.“

   In some kitchens saying ‘Sancho’ to a co-worker means someone is at their house being carnal with their husband or wife. The proper response is, “I’m not worried about Sancho.”

   “There were never any hard feelings. It was just me having to adjust to that environment.” In the meantime, Marla was learning to work quickly and safely, be organized when preparing food, and stay responsible for holding up her end. “It was really hard for me at first,” she said. “I had pretty much never done line work before.”

   Line cooks need to be strong, both physically and mentally. Anthony Bourdain, a long-time cook, has likened the work to being in the trenches of a war. They are the foot soldiers in any functioning kitchen. “When the rest of the world is relaxing you’re working harder and going crazier than you ever have before,” Marla said. She was compelled to do her best in the face of toil and trouble. 

   “I found out if you over think it you will drive yourself crazy,” she said. “You have an order board in front of you, you’re trying to coordinate with the other cooks, and working on something else in the oven, too. You have to train your brain to take all that in at once and not forget any of it.”

   Memory separates what you know and don’t know. In a kitchen it’s like a rail yard with trains coming and going all the time, emptying out and filling up, working their way into and out of the yard. The kitchen swing doors at restaurants like Liquids and Solids never stop revolving as wait staff tack tickets to kitchen boards and deliver orders to diners.

   “I can barely remember what I did two days ago, but in a kitchen I can have four things going in the oven, be doing six other orders at once, don’t forget about the carrots, plate those two desserts, oh, here comes a new ticket, which is a charcuterie plate and an oyster, write that down, and, Oh, shit! the carrots are still in the oven, grab them, and handle the heat without passing out. That’s strictly from my experience there.”

   Two ovens and eight burners burning all the time were where liquids were brought to a boil and solids were baked, roasted, and broiled in the small kitchen. That’s why shouts of “HOT BEHIND!” are frequently heard in kitchens as pots of bubbling liquid are being moved.

   “It was hot in there,” Marla said. “You’re moving faster with hot objects than you’ve ever moved in your entire life. It was easy to get upset, get angry, because we were moving so fast and it was so damned blazing.”

   Except for Tim Loomis. “He was always moving fast, and sweating like the rest of us, but there was a calmness about him. His friends came into the kitchen all the time, shooting the shit with him. I always thought that if someone was talking to me I would freak out.”

   It wasn’t all noses to the grindstone, however. “They are really good at having a good time in the kitchen,“ Marla said. “Sometimes I thought they shouldn’t be having such a good time, but they definitely knew how to have fun.”

   One night in mid-July, on the third anniversary of the opening of the restaurant, despite it being the height of their busy season, they threw a party in the kitchen. A pick-up crew from Fledging Crow helping with the work.

   “It was a great night while we were all still working, and then we drank a little bit afterwards.” The life of a kitchen is making lemonade from lemons. Afterwards it’s refreshing to have a gin-soaked lemon gingerini at the bar.

   Over the course of her year at Liquids and Solids she grasped that Tim Loomis was sourcing and cooking food like what her teachers at Ballymaloe had recommended. “Tim’s cooking is fairly simple. It’s just picking good, fresh ingredients and doing it really well. We had a beet dish. It was just roasted beets with the skin peeled, with avocadoes and carrot and lime vinaigrette on top. It was so simple. I never would have thought of it. People loved it. Even beet haters loved it.”

   Tim didn’t brainstorm his ideas verbally. When Marla asked him what inspired him, he said, “I don’t know.” She discovered he was being full of air with her. He had his own method whenever the menu was changing. “He would sit at the bar all day, talking to farmers, finding out what was on the horizon.” 

   She found out how many local ingredients he was using, the attention he paid to their provenance, and how good he was at seasoning them. “He came up with a sauce for fried Brussels sprouts that is awesome,” she said.

   Brussels sprouts have been almost universally disliked for most of their history.  Parents urge their children to eat the mildly bitter vegetable, saying, “If you keep trying, you will probably like them in the end.” One reason they are misunderstood is most people don’t know how to cook them. At Liquids and Solids, they were transformed into a godly creation that has become a staple on the menu.

   “Tim’s mind works in a very different way than mine, and I think, from a lot of other chefs. Learning how to create his kind of food, his style, and his sauces was really special for me. That’s what was very satisfying about working there.”

   But, when the winter of 2013 became the spring of 2014 Marla began to think she was ready for something new. One tip-off was her nightmares. Marla’s monsters came in the form of cremated duck and shriveled asparagus. “The hours were really hard for me,” she said. “You work at such a high energy until one in the morning, and I’d stay wired until three. When I finally chilled and got to sleep I’d have weird dreams, kitchen dreams of everything going wrong. I’d wake up in the middle of the night in a panic.”

   The work itself took a toll on her, too.

   “I had back issues to begin with, and you’re always hunched over, on your feet, and my feet would be killing me. Your whole body just hurts. I don’t know how people do it for twenty years. I literally don’t get it.”

   Many cooks suffer sore backs from repeated heavy lifting and bone spurs in their feet from constantly standing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics they are affected by more injuries than the average American worker.  Falls on slippery floors are commonplace. Cuts and burns are common mishaps. Cooks suffer the highest number of work-related burns of anybody in any industry in the United States.

   She also felt out of sync with her friends, especially her boyfriend. “I felt like I needed a normal schedule. I was getting bug-eyed, and I wanted to be closer to my friends and boyfriend in Keeseville, too,” she said. “When you’re a cook you never get to see your friends. Dylan was farming, so he was up at six in the morning, while I was working nights and living almost an hour away. I wasn’t aligning with that.”

   As spring turned to summer she moved to Keeseville, taking over the Clover Mead Café and Farm Store, an off-the-beaten path eatery with fresh-from-the-farm flavors and creative food combinations, as well as artisanal cheeses and yogurt made from their own cows.

   Tim Loomis bade her farewell and went looking for somebody new. “Our pantry cooker Marla is leaving us for something new. We need to replace her. As usual, an appreciation for punk rock, classic country, and 80s pop culture is useful, but not necessary.”

   At the farm café in Keeseville, she is the menu planner, cook, and manager, as well as the face at the front counter. “Marla’s a great baker and cook,” said Clover Mead Farm co-owner Ashlee Kleinhammer. “She was excited about starting her own thing.”

   “When you’re cooking you never get to see anyone enjoying the food,” Marla said. “You sweat and cut your fingers and burn yourself and then what you created just disappears. I wanted to see the satisfaction that people get from my hard work.”

   By the end of summer, the café was beginning to meet its business goals and Marla was already planning for the next year, including adding meats from Mace Chasm Farms, a neighboring farmstead butcher shop, and beer from the newly opened Ausable Brewing Company down the street. 

   She still eats at Liquids and Solids. “I hate how far I live from it, but I drive the fifty minutes to Lake Placid because it’s so great,” she said. “I love the food there and I love going back.”

   What makes the long drive worthwhile is she doesn’t have to sweat like a sailor, either, to get a plate of homegrown, subversively creative, and expertly prepared food. She doesn’t set foot in the kitchen. She leaves that to somebody else, although she has been known to stand just outside of it and take in the smell of liquids and solids being transformed into culinary fare.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland

Theatre PEI


Head Over Heels

By Ed Staskus

   “The end is always near,” Greg Smith said. I called him Jonesy for fun, even though he didn’t think it was funny. “I dislike glibness,” he said like a grade school teacher. His hands were free and easy on the steering wheel. He was driving well enough to keep us on the road, but his eyes were pinwheels. The magic mushroom he had popped into his mouth a half hour earlier was working its magic. I couldn’t tell him to slow down because he was driving slower than the oldest slowest man in the world. I reached for the seatbelt, anyway. When I did I found out Greg’s top drop Chevy Impala SS didn’t have seatbelts. 

   SS stood for Super Sport. There was nothing super about the car anymore, which came off the line in 1961, except for the engine. It was still super when it had to be. The rocker panels were rusting out, the front of the hood was dented, and the tires were bald as baloney skins. The car was Roman Red on the outside while the interior was scuffed black leather. I reached for the grab bar attached to the padded dashboard.

   “Did you know this car was built by union labor right here in the USA?” he asked, apropos of the Jap and German cars we had been seeing here and there.

   “No, I didn’t know that,” I said.

   “It’s got a V-8 engine. One of my relatives might have built it.”

   “Is that right? By the way, what do you mean the end is always near?”

   “Like they say,” he said, “the future’s uncertain and the end is always near.”

   At the moment the Chevy was running on V-1 and there were none of Greg’s car-making relatives in sight. What was in sight was the future. There was a flashing red light behind us. It was the kind of light that always looks final. It gave me the blues. The Meigs County cop didn’t have any trouble getting on our tail. He had trouble pulling us over, however, even though the road was straight as a preacher. The manual steering took more than five turns of the steering wheel to go from lock to lock. In the state he was in it took Greg a few minutes and a mile-or-so to master the mechanics of pulling off onto the shoulder.

   The policeman didn’t bother asking for Greg’s driver’s license. “Step out of the car and let me smell your breath, son,” he said.

    Greg exhaled in his direction.

   “You smell all right,” the policeman said. “It don’t seem like you been drinking or puffing on stinkweed.” The car had a vacuum powered ash tray that sucked ashes to a container in the trunk. “Why are you going so slow when you got that power horse under the hood?”

   “I know this road doesn’t go anywhere but I’m looking for the end of it,” Greg said. “I don’t want to miss it.” The Meigs County cop wasn’t fazed by what Greg said. “It don’t go nowhere but it always brings you back again,” he said. Greg looked flummoxed for a minute. The policeman looked the Impala up and down. “This is the car the Beach Boys wrote a song about, son.”

   The song was a big hit in its day. “Nobody can catch her, nothing can touch my 409, giddy up, giddy up, my four speed dual quad 409,” Brian Wilson sang in his big falsetto while the rest of the boys layered the harmonies. The fired-up 409 was fitted with a 4-barrel carburetor and a solid lifter camshaft. The pistons were made from forged aluminum. The heads and engine block were made from cast-iron.

   “Those were the days, boys. Make no mistake, that Impala is a real fine car. Try to put some giddy up into your driving. And keep it on the yellow line.” He got back into his black and white Dodge Coronet police car and u-turned around going the other way. He went away straight as an arrow.

   I was along for the ride on Greg’s ride that day. I was spending the spring summer and fall in a place called Carpenter living with Virginia Sustarsic in an abandoned general store. She wasn’t my girlfriend, but we got along, even though she was a dyed in the wool hippie and I wasn’t. She rolled her homegrown delicately and deliberately. We kept two goats, gleaned plenty of food, and brewed our own beer. A kitten made us his crash pad. The town wasn’t a town so much as a whistle stop, even though the railroad had long since abandoned the place. There were fewer than a dozen residents, including us. There were dust balls in all the corners. Every star in the universe twinkled in the nighttime sky.

   Carpenter was in Meigs County. It was named after Return Meigs, Jr., who was the fourth governor of Ohio. The county is on the Appalachian Plateau in the southeast corner of the state. The Shade River and Leading Creek drain into the Ohio River. Leading Creek ran right through Carpenter. In the 1970s the county’s population was less than 20,000. As far as I could tell there were no Asians, Native Americans, or African Americans. There were hillbilly highways as far as the eye could see.

   Greg was a friend of John McGraw’s, who was Virginia’s on-again off-again boyfriend back home. They both lived on the bohemian near east side of downtown, near Cleveland State University. John was a part-time writer and drank booze right from the bottle. Greg came from a more polite class and drank from a glass. He and John had planned on visiting Carpenter together, but at the last minute John bowed out. Greg came anyway, cruising all the way from one end of the state to the other in his big red Chevy.

   Virginia dressed like it was still the Summer of Love while John dressed like the Age of Beatniks had never ended. Greg wasn’t any better off than them, living half on and half off the American Dream, but he dressed like a preppy. He read the classics. He was studying Latin so he could read Ovid and Seneca in the original. Nobody ever suspected he kept magic mushrooms in his wallet.

   Something came over Greg the minute the Meigs County cop was out of sight. He fired up the Impala. He spun gravel getting back on the asphalt. The next minute we were doing eighty in a forty. The Doobie Brothers came on the radio belting out ‘Rockin’ Down the Highway.’ I took a peek in the rearview. There was no hot potato behind us. I looked through the windshield at what was in front of us. All the danger was ahead.

   “We should maybe slow down,” I suggested as loud as I could yell. 

   The Impala was a four on the floor. She wasn’t good on gas and burned some oil. Greg picked up speed. We were doing a hundred in no time. There were no more gears to shift up into. His eyes weren’t pinwheels anymore. They glinted like icepicks. He leaned over the steering wheel. The car wasn’t sloppy, nor was Greg’s handling of it sloppy, but we were headed for trouble. We were blasting down a back road. It was cracked and rough. Meigs County didn’t have the tax base to keep its roads in any kind of Daytona 500 shape.

    “I’m not asking for a miracle, Lord, just a little bit of luck will do,” I whispered.

   “Every minute counts,” Greg shouted above the wind noise.

   “Keep your eyes on the road,” I shouted back. “You never can tell what’s around the corner.”

   He waved at the outdoors with his left arm. Southeastern Ohio on a sunny day in the summer is beautiful. When we roared around a blind curve there wasn’t anything there, to my relief, until there suddenly was. It was a roadhouse with some cars and pick-ups in the front dirt lot. The sign said Frank’s Roadhouse. There were antlers nailed to the outside wall above the front windows. We pulled in, skidding in three or four different directions. There were half a dozen bungalows in the back.

   Inside there was a bar, a kitchen, some tables, a dance floor, a riser protected by chicken wire, and a pool table. A man and a woman were having mashed potatoes with pulled pork at one of the tables. A bottle of BBQ sauce stood at the ready between their plates. There was some action going on at the pool table but none on the dance floor. Before I knew it Greg had found his own action at the bar, where a cute brunette was sitting, a lowball glass half full of red wine and a paperback book in front of her.

   There was an oblong mirror on the wall behind the bar. It was too smudged to see into. There was a hand-written warning, too. It said, “Don’t eat the big white mint!” I didn’t ask what it meant. I didn’t want to know.

   What’s a simple man to do? I looked around for something to do. I put a dollar on the lip of the pool table marking my turn in line. There were two men playing nine ball. It was the middle of the day on a Thursday. Neither of them was on union soil. Neither of them was being especially efficient. There were seven or eight bottles of Burger Beer on a small round table behind them.

   One of the men looked me up and down. “I’m a pretty big man around these parts,” he said, flashing an ersatz grin. He had sharp teeth. He was shorter than me, but I knew what he meant. “I thought you’d be bigger,” I said. He didn’t laugh. He had the sense of humor of a circus strongman. The other man laughed his head off. My man broke the rack. He was no Minnesota Fats. When my turn came I ran the rack and took my dollar back. I collected a dollar from the local yokel. He tried his luck two more times and paid me two more dollars. He didn’t know, and I didn’t tell him, that I spent more time than I wanted to admit shooting snooker at Joe Tuna’s Pool Hall back in Cleveland.

   I bought them both beers, they clapped me on the back, the circus strongman harder than he needed to, and I went back to the bar, joining Greg and the brunette. He wasn’t paying any attention to her book. He gave me a wink, which meant the main drag from the eye to the heart doesn’t go through the intellect, or words to that effect.

   Her name was Jeannie. She was a third-year student at Ohio University in Athens, 20-some miles to the north of where we were. She was majoring in English. She wasn’t enrolled in classes that summer but had stayed in Athens instead of going home to Cincinnati. She spent her spare time exploring. She had found Frank’s Roadhouse by accident, liked the looks of it, and stopped in for the afternoon.

   “What do you like about this dump?” I asked.

   “It looks real,” she said.

   I was willing to grant her that. When the bartender approached I ordered a Vernors Ginger Soda. Between Greg’s psychedelics and the shot of whiskey in front of him, one of us had to stay sober. “Who is Frank,” I asked the bartender. “There ain’t no Frank, at least not no more,” he said. “What happened to him?” I asked. “Nobody knows,” he said. 

   I reminded Greg we had promised Virginia we would stop at the grocery store in Pomeroy and pick up milk, cheese, and toilet paper. The toilet paper was like gold where we lived. Greg’s eyes had gone soft. He needed reminding. I had to remind him twice. He finally slid off the bar stool glowing like an electric eel.

   Jeannie followed us out to the Impala. “I like your car,” she said. Greg asked her if she wanted a ride back to town. She pointed to a VW Beetle. “Fontasse postem infantem,” she said, jotting her name and phone number down on a  scrap of paper. She pressed it into Greg’s hand. She rose up on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss on the cheek. I never saw a man go head over heels as fast as Greg did that minute.

   Once we were in the car, humming along Route 143 on our way to Pomeroy, I asked him what she had said.

   “Maybe later baby,” he said. “That’s what she said.”

   There was enchantment in his eyes. “Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel,” I reminded him for the last time. I didn’t have to remind him to keep his hands off the magic mushrooms in his wallet. He was riding high on a different kind of magic. Love may not make the world go round, but it makes the ride worthwhile.

Photograph by Elaine Mayes.

Ed Staskus edits Theatre PEI. He posts on 147 Stanley Street and Made in Cleveland

Theatre PEI