All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a free-lance writer from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Lakewood, Ohio, on the north side of the Rocky River valley.

Dog Days

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No movies. No concerts. No sporting events. No restaurants. No social gatherings. Limited workload. Now that I’ve cleared your schedule, can we talk now?”  God

The virus started in China towards the end of last year and now it is just about everywhere. We all have to stay indoors as much as possible for another week, governor’s orders. The hair salon has been closed since the middle of March, schools closed, restaurants and bars, gyms, almost everything shut down.

It has been getting around fast. It’s the same as it was in the 14th century. Maybe everybody thinks nobody ever went anywhere back then, but lots of people moved around traveled sold their stuff. It’s always been global, since the first people walked out of Africa.

The plague started when Mongols attacked an Italian trading station in the Crimea. In 1346 contagion broke out among the Mongols and from them it got into the town. When winter broke, the Italians sailed away on their ships. The Black Death got on board and sailed with them.

It got to Sicily in October 1347. Early the next year it landed in Venice and Genoa and from there it moved inland. By summer it was in Tuscany, where more than half of the people in Florence died, and south into Rome. By the winter of that year one out of three of everybody in Italy died.

The Black Death was bubonic plague, a disease that rodents get when there are lots of them all in one place. It’s called a plague focus. People get it when black rats become infected. They’re called house rats, because they like to live close to people. When the plague kills off most of a rat colony, the fleas go looking for their next meal ticket. The freeloaders turn on people. When they bite you, it swells to form a bubo, most often in the groin, on the thigh, or in an armpit.

That’s the plague. A booboo as in bubonic. 80% of the time, if you’re bitten, you’re a goner.

Dogs get sick for lots of different reasons. They’re big on throwing up. Vomiting is often brought on by a sudden change in diet. Dogs feed off leftovers, scavenge, beg, and sometimes eat too much and too quickly. They gulp down things they shouldn’t, like socks and toys. Motion sickness makes them throw up, which can and will be a mess in your car.

Sometimes they get an infection, or get worms, or lick plants and random toxins laying around that are poisonous to them. They suffer, just like us, serious medical problems like kidney and liver disease and cancer.

Flea infestations range from meek and mild to severe itching and discomfort to inflamed skin problems and infections. Dogs can get anemia in extreme circumstances. Fleas can transmit tapeworms. No dog wants a tapeworm. They don’t get the plague, though.

There are three kinds of plague, bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. Bubonic plague causes swollen lymph nodes. Dogs are inherently resistant to the plague-causing bacteria. Fleas be damned!

They don’t get the new novel coronavirus, either.

Dogs can catch some viruses, like the canine respiratory coronavirus, but the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, isn’t believed to be a health threat to dogs.

The World Health Organization says, “There is no evidence that a dog, cat or any pet can transmit COVID-19. It is mainly spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently and thoroughly.”

Dog’s don’t contract 19 nor do they spread it.

The CDC says that “while this virus seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is now spreading from person-to-person.” The CDC recommends that people traveling to China might want to avoid animals both live and dead, “but there is no reason to think that any animals or pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this novel coronavirus.”

The Bubonic Plague was bad, but there are many viruses that can make us sick. They range widely in severity. Some people don’t even know they’re sick when they’re sick with something.  The first serious known illness caused by a coronavirus was the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome epidemic in China. Everybody called it SARS. The next outbreak started in 2012 in Saudi Arabia with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Everybody called it MERS.

Last year Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization of an outbreak of a novel strain causing severe illness They called it SARS-CoV-2. Everybody else called it COVID-19.

They might as well have called it “The Plague.”

Towards the end of last month 650,000 people had gotten the virus worldwide and more than 30,00 of them died. In the United States we got caught flatfooted and more people are sick here than anywhere else. Everybody knew it was coming, but the amateurs in the Executive Office laughed it off.

There are at least 175 countries and territories that have reported cases. Many have declared lockdowns or dramatically restricted travel or said stay six feet apart. This has left hundreds of millions of people under all kinds of different restrictions.

For God’s sake, the entire country of India can’t step outside for three weeks, not even for anything. They have to stay home 24/7. The cops ride around on scooters and beat you with a cane if they catch you out the door.

Some people are tossing their out pets out the door, their cats and dogs, because some people believe their pets can catch the virus. Then they think they will catch it from them. Some people are idiots, if not total assholes!

Sometimes dogs just can’t catch a break.

Missy Lamonaca, who works at Helping Hearts and Healing Tail Animal Rescue, said, “we’re starting to see people dumping their animals because they’re afraid they are going to get the coronavirus from their animals.”

Cats and dogs don’t get COVID-19!

“Thousands of samples have been done since that on dogs, cats and horses by Idexx Laboratories,” said Dr. Johanna Vena at Cambria Veterinary Care in Johnstown, near where my family’s family came from. “There have been no positives so no evidence that pets can contract the disease of Covid-19.”

Some people think there are no dogs in Heaven. I think all dogs go to Heaven, but only some people do.

Burning Bridges

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“Because growing up I was never the logical one, packed my shit and left home like the prodigal son, filled with spite staying high as a kite, I was dealin’ and stealin’ everything in sight.”  Kid Rock

When Jimmy was in jail, in the Correction Center downtown, where everyone, unless he is the wrong man, is bad, he was on a bad floor. He was there because his brother put him there, with murderers and molesters and rapists, even though he was technically in jail only on theft charge. He was in with the worst of the worst.

He shouldn’t have been there. He was the wrong man on the wrong floor. But you can’t always get what you want, no matter how bad you want it.

He called me once a week, usually on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon. When he told me about how he had started giving Bible lessons, and three jailbirds were coming to them, I sent him a Bible, even though he had argued with me about the seven deadly sins, and would not admit he was wrong, no matter what. Every time his pride rears its head, and it always goes right to his frigging fucking pride, I’m stuck in back, because he knows everything, Jimmy does.

Surprise, he doesn’t.

The biggest idiot you will meet in life will be the Jimmy who thinks he knows it all. Everyone who thinks they know it all have no way of finding out that they don’t.

I’m still learning about the Bible, and I’ve been reading it for years and years.

The core of Protestant teaching is in focusing on the Bible as the sole source of infallible truth, and the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone. We traditionally encourage private interpretation of the scriptures by one and all rather than relying on the interpretation of the church, like Catholics do.

Scripture is clear about the essential truths of salvation. That’s why I keep reading it. “When you follow Christ, it must be a total burning of all your bridges behind you,” is what Billy Graham once said.

Brian and I were out at a Friday night football game. We were rattling on about something I had said the week before, that he was pissed off about, and missing most of the game as we rattled on.

“There’s nothing for you to get pissed off about,” I said.

“OK,” said Brian, “but what about Jimmy? What is he going to do when he gets out?”

I knew that he thought he would be getting out of jail sometime during the holidays.

“Where is he going to go? asked Brian. “What is he going to do?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s not my thing.”

Jimmy was waiting for the kidnapping and armed robbery charges to be dropped, because they weren’t real, and waiting to be released on the lesser charge of simple theft. He was talking to his lawyer, waiting, watching time creep along.

“I don’t know where he’s going to go. He kind of burnt that bridge with us.”

I don’t think you want to burn bridges unnecessarily, but some bridges are just meant to be burned. Some roads are not meant to be traveled again, like the Jimmy highway, when there have been too many fender benders and crashes on that road.

He has lost all his jobs with the union. He’s been stupid. He lost a great gig with them. If he can even do it, he’s going to have to fight hard to get back into the union.

“Julie,” Brian said, we might have to do that, take him in.”

“What? We’ve been there, done that. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Honey, we need to help him out.”

“Look, this is you and Jimmy,” I said. “I am not inviting him. If it were up to me, that bridge would stay burnt. I would be telling Jimmy, you’re not coming back, ever, sorry.”

“We’ve got to help him,” said Brian. He and Jimmy grew up together. They were best friends for a long time.

I wasn’t thrilled, not at all. I would have been surprised if Jimmy even asked us, though. I didn’t think he would. But I knew he couldn’t just get another pick-up truck and live in that. It would bring back the loneliness in him.

Loneliness is a part of life, but it is the least favorite part about life for most people. Jimmy is so self-centered, he gets lonely easy.

We can help him, I thought, but he doesn’t have to live here. I didn’t want him in my house. Besides, it would be better for him, building a life, to take responsibility and have his own place.

“I think we should give him a place to live until he can get his own apartment,” said Brian.

“We’ve had him here before,” I said. “If you feel you need to put me in this predicament, I predict I’m going to kick him out again.”

I love Jimmy, but being in jail, getting out of jail, he hasn’t proven he’s not going to go steal stuff again. I don’t think he would ever steal from me. He’s never done it, yet. The only thing he’s ever done is ask me for money. But it depends. It depends on how bad his addiction gets. He needs to go to rehab, and continue going to rehab, before he does anything else.

I told Brian, ”I don’t think we should be coddling him, either. He should get his own place, make his own bed. He’s like a brother to me, I love him, but always helping him, no, I don’t love him that much.”

He needs to get a job, get an apartment, get a truck, pay his own bills, make his own bed, and look out for himself.

It can’t be me looking out for him. Not anymore. That bridge has burnt down.

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

 

Jack in the Park

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“A man once told me that his dog was half pit bull and half poodle. He claimed that it wasn’t much good as a guard dog, but it was a vicious gossip.”  Stanley Coren

Jack and I were on our way to the park for a five-mile walk when the next thing I knew a kid hopped off the bus, just a few feet away from me, and started creeping on me. I stopped. I turned around. He stopped. Jack stopped and turned around.

“Don’t come up on a woman like that,” I said. “We have enough to worry about.”

Jack looked the kid up and down. The kid was tall for his age, but Jack can jump five feet up in the air from a standstill. He has great jumping skills. We had to train him not to jump up at our friends who were visiting, who he was excited to see again. He’s a blue nose pit. He is an American Pit Bull Terrier whose nose pit is colored blue. We rescued Jackie. He is the friendliest dog of all time, except when he isn’t.

The kid was still right behind me.

“Dude, you are kind of creeping me out.”

Jackie stepped forward. “What is this guy doing?” I could see it in his face. I don’t think the kid could see it. I don’t think the kid knew what he was dealing with, if it came to that, and he had to deal with it.

Blue Nose Pits back in the day were bred to fight blood sports. One of the   sports was tossing a dog into an arena with a bull. The dog would bite and try to hold on to the bull, fighting to bring it down. The breeders bred the dogs to be ripped and hard as nails. They had a powerful jaw for biting into things. The kid was no bull, for sure. he was scrawny. He wouldn’t have a chance if Jackie got on him.

We trained Jackie to not be vicious, but sometimes there will be blood, when it comes right down to it. You can’t train all the old-school fight out of a pit bull.

Blue Nose Pit Bulls are not a separate breed. They are rare and rare for a reason. The blue color is recessive, which means it takes two dogs with the same gene to make another.

Jefferson Park is just down the street, past the firehouse, from where we live in West Park. It’s a city park, near George’s Diner. During the summer there is a concert series, the Jefferson Rocks West Park. People bring blankets and lawn chairs and enjoy music from local bands. There are some basketball courts and baseball diamonds.

There is a railroad track that runs by the park. There are holes in the fence and kids are always hanging around on the tracks. Bums sleep on the rail bed. There have lately been some Mexican men hanging around, doing I don’t know what.

Jackie is a very active dog. He needs a lot of playtime and exercise. That’s why I take him to the park for a walk. When I can’t, I let him run around the backyard. He never gets bored doing that. He never gets bored doing anything. I like taking his leash off in the park so he can enjoy the outdoors the way dogs like to enjoy it.

When I go walking in the park, I definitely bring one of our dogs with me. Who’s going to bother me, if it’s Baby, who is nearly 200 pounds, or Jackie, who can jump a fence in the blink of an eye? If it’s Jackie, it would be best to not even think of messing with me or him.

Sometimes I have Jackie on a leash and other times I have him off the leash. One time I had him off the leash, and we were coming up to a guy on the sidewalk, who said, I’m freaking out, I’m scared about your dog.

“I sorry,” I said. “I’ll get him on the leash. Just so you know, he’s friendly.”

I don’t usually tell anybody that, because I don’t want most people to think I have a friendly pit bull. I don’t want them to think that, if they tried to do something to harm me, he would be friendly about it. He wouldn’t be, no way.

Jackie is a sweetheart, though, who will break your heart. Now that he’s grown up, he doesn’t fit into the baby clothes I had gotten him, which bums me out. I loved seeing him in his jammies. I have to find him a new set. The last time we were in Mexico I brought a gift back for him, but he wasn’t cool with it, and I was heartbroken. It was a pale blue zipper hoodie. It had big purple polka dots on it. It was a perfect jacket for him, but I could not get it on him. Whenever I tried, he wrestled away from me.

I told the kid, before he could start anything that Jackie would finish, you need to not creep up on me like that, or pass me, one or the other. Don’t breathe down my neck when I’m walking.

God gave women intuition. They always talk about women’s intuition, about getting a weird feeling about something, a gut feeling that something is about to happen.

“A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition,” said G. K. Chesterton. 

I don’t like to be touched, either, when I’m out. If you’re on an elevator with me, don’t touch me. It’s just a weird thing. I don’t know what happened in the park, but luckily the kid finally turned away. Maybe he finally got a feeling about Jackie, a feeling that wasn’t a good feeling. He got smart and went his own way.

I called Jackie to me and we went into the heart of the park, where he ran his legs off to his pit bull heart’s content. It’s just a feeling with him.

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

House of Correction

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“I remember making my own dog food and feelling very fulfilled by it, then by day four I was over it.”  Chrissy Teigen

When I was reading Jimmy’s letter and got to the part where he wrote that God had spoken to him, my first thought was, please, don’t do the God part thing on me, not just yet. But, knowing Jimmy, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. It seems that God had answered a prayer of his, and Jimmy noticed, and now he was all in with God.

He was downtown in the Correction Center, in the county jail, for stealing all the lawnmower equipment from the landscaper he had gone to work for. Video cameras caught his every move, and the Cleveland Police caught him. They made out a warrant for him. They dragged him downtown, up the river, to the clink.

The problem he had in jail was that he had become a little squirt. He used to be a big man, but he had been smoking crack for a year, so he had no weight on him anymore. He had stopped working out, so he had no more muscle on him, either.

He had been big guy, but now he was a little twerp. A little tiny twerp in a jail on a floor with forty other guys all bigger than him, pushing him around, and taking his food. The county jail doesn’t give the prisoners an over-abundance of food to begin with, and if it’s being taken away from you, that is not a good thing, not at all. He started praying to God that he needed some more food, any food.

“I need some help,” he prayed. “If you still hear me, help me. If you help me, I promise to turn my life around.”

He got moved to a new cell, a cell all to himself. An inmate approached him, said he could help, and gave him some food, and some extra food, too. Jimmy wrote that it was God’s hand at work.

I wrote him back, nine pages worth of letter writing. The first four pages were all about, fucking asshole, dumb piece of shit, what the fuck is wrong with you? You’re 52 years old! Grow the fuck up! Then I listed all the ways he had screwed me over, lived with us, took our money, and treated me like dirt.

Then I said, now that I’m done yelling at you, since I am a child of God, whatever help you need, I’ll give it to you.

I got a phone call from JJ, who is one of Jimmy’s sons, and he said his father had been trying to call me. But it was from a 0000 number, the kind of number I never pick up. Finally, I picked it up, when I knew where it was coming from.

“Julie?”

“Hi Jimmy.”

They have phones, but they’re not allowed to have phones. They have to have pre-paid cards to use the official phone number from the lockup. He talked and ranted all about life on the inside, even though it wasn’t even close to being a penitentiary.

You don’t get much time to talk, though, maybe about five minutes. When there was a minute left, we started saying our goodbyes. The phone went dead in the middle of a sentence. There wasn’t even a dial tone left behind. Just dead.

He called again the next week. We only had five minutes, so he got right to the point.

“Is Brian with you, is he there?” he asked.

He must have read my letter. I had written, all the stuff we did for you, all we do for you, I do because Brian says I can.  He lets me help you. In return you have been nothing but disrespectful to him. Show him some goddamn respect!

“Is Brian there?”

“He is going to be.”

“I need to apologize to him and to you,” he said.

“You can start with me.”

Another thing I wrote him was that I was going to get him a Bible. Many a man has found God in the slammer. I wrote, I am so glad you talked to God, that is great. Fucking fantastic! But I want to remind you about the argument you and I got into about the seven deadly sins. You said you were right about them, and that maybe I should read my Bible, read up on them.

Are you kidding me?

What book and what passage and what verse are the seven deadly sins in? Can you point that out to me? If you can’t, is that because you have gone the Roman Catholic way?

I knew he was hiding something, and I thought it was the Catholic religion bullshit. Their religion is totally man-made. Period! They don’t even call themselves Christians.

The God I believe in isn’t short on cash. That’s a direct quote from U2’s song, from Bono. Where in the Bible does it say you need incense and stained glass? If you’re a church, you preach the Bible. That’s the whole point. You read it and read it until you love it.

The Catholic Church has been around a long time. Roman Catholics believe they are headed by the Pope, who they think is the mediator between them and God. Finally, the Protestants protested, saying the mediator between man and God was and is Jesus. That’s what the Bible says. Catholics believe crazy things, like the seven sins, that are taught by people who aren’t God. Protestants believe in the teachings of God as they’re taught in the Bible.

I believe the Bible is 100% God-made. There’s no interpretation. Who needs a Pope? If you don’t believe one part of the Bible, then you might as well not believe any part of it. Don’t bother believing something you don’t believe in.

That’s what I believe.

That’s my whole strength. Now that Jimmy has found God, and knowing how much he likes to argue, and get his way, he and I were going to have thrash it out. Although if you’re in jail you thrash on your own time. If you are in jail, you have plenty of time, doing time, so Jimmy was going to have plenty of time to get it right.

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

Gone Forgotten Unremembered

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“A pet is never truly forgotten until it is no longer remembered.”  Lacie Petitto

It is a person’s rapidly shrinking brain is how a doctor described it to me.

“When people say, ‘You have Alzheimer’s,’ you have no idea what Alzheimer’s is. You know it’s not good. You know there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. That’s the only way you can go. But you really don’t know anything about it. And you don’t know what to expect,” said Nancy Reagan

It is a progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility.

“What really scares me is Alzheimer’s or premature senility, losing that ability to read and enjoy and to write. And you do it, and some days maybe aren’t so good, and then some days, you really catch a wave, and it’s as good as it ever was,” said Stephen King.

It is a brain slowly dying, the person changing physically and eventually forgetting who their loved ones are.

“Have you ever walked along a shoreline, only to have your footprints washed away? That’s what Alzheimer’s is like. The waves erase the marks we leave behind, all the sandcastles. Some days are better than others,” said Pat Summitt.

It is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for more than half of dementia cases.

“The thing about Alzheimer’s is that it’s sort of like all these little, small deaths along the way, before they actually physically die,” said Lucinda Williams.  

People can eventually become bedridden, unable to move, and unable to eat or drink.

“Suffering is always hard to quantify especially when the pain is caused by as cruel a disease as Alzheimer’s. Most illnesses attack the body; Alzheimer’s destroys the mind and, in the process, annihilates the very self,” said Jeffrey Kluger.

Alzheimer’s isn’t a normal part of aging. Even so, the greatest risk factor is increasing age, and the majority of people with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older. But it’s not just a disease of old age. More than 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“People do not realize that Alzheimer’s is not old age. It is a progressive and fatal disease and staggering amounts of people develop Alzheimer’s every day,” said Melina Kanakaredes.

It worsens over time. It’s a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over the years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, people lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.

“I think the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s are the hardest. Particularly because the person knows that they are losing awareness. They’re aware that they’re losing awareness, and you see them struggling,” said Patti Davis.

It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. On average, a person with the disease lives four to eight years after diagnosis, but can live as long as twenty years.

“Alzheimer’s it is a barren disease, as empty and lifeless as a desert. It is a thief of hearts and souls and memories,” said Nicholas Sparks.

It has no current cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues. Although current treatments cannot stop Alzheimer’s from progressing, they can temporarily slow the worsening of dementia symptoms and improve quality of life for those with malady and their caregivers.

“It’s a horrible thing. Some people are naive about it. They think, ‘Oh it’s just your memory,’ but my mother was in terrible pain. Your body closes down. She didn’t know if she’d eaten or if she wanted to eat. She couldn’t remember how to walk. Towards the end, she didn’t know us. It came gradually, then it got worse,” said Bonnie Tyler.

There is a worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, and prevent it from developing.

“Alzheimer’s is literally killing us, and the only way to fight this ‘crime’ is through a groundswell of people who continue to raise their voices and funds to ensure it gets the attention it deserves,” said Terri Gerritson.

There will be people who will pass by talk about dementia or Alzheimer’s because it hasn’t touched them. They may not know what it’s like to have a loved one who has fought a battle against it.

“I loved my husband very much, and it was heartbreaking to have him develop Alzheimer’s disease, and to stand by and watch him decline in his ability to take care of himself,” said Sandra Day O’Connor.

It is time to raise awareness of this cruel disease.

“I am committed to helping the Alzheimer’s Society in any way I can. My family and I rely on the help of organizations like the Alzheimer’s Society to help us understand the disease and guide us in the care of my grandmother. It’s been a privilege to meet so many people with dementia,” said Carey Mulligan.

It is a nightmare that has no time limit no odds or a treatment or drug that can slow it down.

“Alzheimer’s is a disease for which there is no effective treatment whatsoever. To be clear, there is no pharmaceutical agent, no magic pill that a doctor can prescribe that will have any significant effect on the progressive downhill course of this disease,” said David Perlmutter.

No percent or odds to beat, just a family member who doesn’t know you, and will never ever remember you again.

“It is a devastating disease. It was painful for me and my family to watch my grandfather deteriorate. We must find a cure for this horrible disease,” said David Hyde Pierce.

I wouldn’t wish dementia or Alzheimer’s on anyone.

“We have all witnessed family, friends, or medical workers who have chosen to provide years of loving care to persons who may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating illnesses precisely because they are human persons, not for any other reason,” said Neil Gorsuch.

Saddest disease ever!

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

In the Doghouse

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 “I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren’t certain we knew better.”  George Bird Evans

I thought I had seen the last of Jimmy, but then he called me from jail. It was the downtown jail. It was the Cuyahoga County Jail, or the Corrections Center, or the Justice Center, depending on who you talk to. Everybody you talk to says you don’t want to be in that jail.

Last year a U.S. Marshals Service report detailed “inhumane” conditions in the center. There is an ongoing investigation that has so far resulted in criminal charges against a dozen-or-so jail employees, and there’s an FBI civil-rights probe going on, too.

The last time I had talked to Jimmy, months ago, was when I found out, two weeks after it happened, that his mother had died. We didn’t talk long that time.

Jimmy and his mother never got along. Whenever he was in AA, he worked it, but she was in AA for life, always preaching to him about it. He always said he didn’t have an addiction, but he was wrong.

Jimmy’s dad was a Cleveland Police Department detective. He used to sit outside Brian’s family home in Little Italy off Mayfield Road and spy on his father, audiotaping everything that went on, and photographing everybody who came and went. He followed him all around town. Wherever Brian’s father went, Jimmy’s father followed, like a faithful dog, keeping him under surveillance. Brian’s father was one of the lawyers for the Mob.

Brian and Jimmy grew up together. They were friends. They were best friends.

When jimmy’s mother was on her deathbed, she asked to see him. He went to the hospital. When I found out she died, I immediately broke my vow of silence with him, and texted him, saying I just heard about your mom, I’m so sorry about sending my condolences so late.

He texted me back. It was a meme from “Friends,” of Joey Tribbiani, shrugging it off.

“Oh, fuck you, back to silence with you.”

When Jimmy called me from jail, he called on a telephone that’s made available for jail bird use on a daily basis. The phones are coinless collect phones. No incoming phone calls or messages are accepted for inmates, for any reason, ever.

“What did he do?” I asked JJ, one of his kids.

“He’s an idiot,” said JJ.

JJ is in the Marine Corps, the same as his brother, Alex. Their father wasn’t in the armed services. He was in the brig, though.

“I know that, but what did he do?”

“He said he’s been trying to call you, but you won’t take his calls.”

“First of all, he’s an idiot. Second of all, I didn’t not take his calls. Third of all, what number is he calling me from?”

I don’t pick up most numbers that I don’t recognize. That’s just the way it is. Who needs the aggravation?

I found out it was a number ending in 0000. I went to my phone and checked. There were a ton of calls from that number.

For a long time, Jimmy wouldn’t take a lot of jobs, because they didn’t pay as well as the jobs he did for the union. If they didn’t pay, he went his own way. I told him, “Some money coming in is better than no money coming in.”

He said, “No.”

He finally went to work for a local landscaper. But in no time, he had the brilliant idea of stealing all the equipment, mowers, blowers, hedgers. He tried to sell it all to Freddie, Brian’s brother.

“It’s got to be hot, no thanks,” said Freddie. He hung up on him.

Jimmy didn’t even try to ask Brian. He knew that wouldn’t have gotten him anywhere.

While Jimmy was stealing the stuff, he was being caught on surveillance video, and then he was being caught by the real thing, the police.

Jimmy always claimed his family life was horrible. Except it wasn’t. I was telling everyone what Jimmy was saying about his family, and I don’t think his family appreciated it, at all. They were, like, “He’s an addict. He’s full of shit.”

Of course he is.

Jimmy’s dad’s partner on the police force, who is my girlfriend’s father, said “Jimmy was coddled his whole life.”

I had been waiting to get a phone call about Jimmy. When it was JJ on the phone, I thought, he’s either in jail, or he’s dead. Those are the two only things I expected, because I am the closest thing he has got to family.

“Dad’s in jail,” said JJ.

“At least that’s a better place for him than the grave,” I said.

“I’m going to be coming into town, can I hang out with you?”

“Of course.”

But he was all over town, found the pick-up truck Jimmy had stolen from him and his brother, sold it, and we didn’t see him in the end.

“Don’t worry, I’m coming back,” he said.

He’ll be coming back to see his dad, sooner or later.

Jimmy’s brothers are sick of his shit, he comes from a big family, and one of them, a prosecutor downtown, got down on Jimmy, and had him locked up on the roughest floor of the Corrections Center. “Let him sit there and rot.”  Then he piled it on, trumping up kidnapping charges against him. Some young kid was helping him, and the video shows him getting into Jimmy’s truck, then getting out, walking around, and then getting back in, all on his own.

Somebody said the brother was going to find a way to add on armed robbery, although I don’t know how that would be possible, since it wasn’t like that.

Brian said Jimmy should just sit there until they bring everything down to a misdemeanor and plead.

Before Jimmy finally got me on the phone, from jail, I got a letter from him. He wrote me about where he was, what had happened, and then threw out that God had moved into his life.

He threw a curveball at me.

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

Wear and Tear

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“The old saw about old dogs and new tricks only applies to certain people.”  Daniel Pinkwater

All hairdressers at all salons break down, sooner or later. Some hairdressers break down earlier than others, but it’s taken me more than thirty years to break down, for the work to take its toll.

I have bursitis and tendinitis in both shoulders. When you’re working your arms are always up around your shoulders. It hurts. I wake up dreaming that somebody is twisting my arm off. Sometimes I dream they’re twisting both arms off.

I got pain shots, since it started running up my neck, but my doctor was just guessing.

“Am I hitting your bursa?”

“I don’t know.”

“How does that feel?”

“Yow!”

I got shots twice until my doctor said, “I think you need to see a pain specialist.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“OK”

“Did you bring records?” the pain specialist at the Cleveland Clinic asked.

“No.”

“That’s all right, you’ll get your shots anyway.”

He was definitely not the shot Nazi.

But it freaked me out a little. I thought I was just going to pull my shirt down and they were going to put a shot in me. Instead they gave me two gowns, told me to take everything off, and get into the gowns. I had to wear the blue hat.

“I’m just getting s shot in my shoulder, right?”

“Right.”

“So why am I getting naked?”

“Well, you are going into surgery to get the shot,” the nurse said.

I was a little paranoid going in. I had to get an IV stuck into my arm.  They told me I wouldn’t remember anything. But I remembered everything. I sat up and talked the whole time. I remember watching the video screen. I remember him hitting my nerve. I jumped.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Sit still.”

“OK, but I need more juice.”

They gave me more the second time I went, and I definitely don’t remember much about that time.

After he stuck the needle in me, and did the procedure, I thought, are you kidding me? The preparation took much longer than the shot itself.

“You freaked me out for a couple of minutes of shooting?”

I had my right shoulder done first, and my left shoulder done two weeks later. It worked, although I think the second shot worked better. I was more relaxed. There were some side effects, though.

I’m the kind of person, if there are going to be side effects, I’m going to have them. For two weeks after the shots I had horrible side effects. They’re shooting in cortisone. It’s a steroid. Whenever you get steroids injected, you risk getting hungry, getting ‘roid rage. I got hungry and got ‘roid rage. I got heat sensitivity, too.

I was flushed all the time. I was crazy emotional all the time, whenever I wasn’t eating all the time. What the hell is wrong with me, I wondered.

At the same time, I started sleeping in positions I hadn’t slept in for years. I used to always sleep with my arms up over my head, but I hadn’t been able to for a long time because of the pain in my shoulders. I couldn’t sleep on my face because my shoulders hurt. I would wake up wimpering. The pain was so bad, rolling over didn’t help, nothing helped. My arms would go numb. The pinkies on both my hands would go numb. Laying in a beach chair, whenever Brian and I went to Mexico, nothing was comfortable, even though it was the most comfortable place in the world.

For a long time, there were no comfortable spots. Time goes by, you forget about it. After the shots, I’m sleeping with my arms up again. Everything is a comfortable spot.

The pain starts to come back after a month-or-so, but you can’t get a shot every month. You can’t have more than four of them a year. It’s not good for you, even though they’re good for me. Too many shots will deteriorate the muscles around where the steroids are going. The big question is how long will the cortisone stay in the nerve and block the pain?

When the pain comes back, I start having a hard time turning my neck. When I’m driving, and I try looking behind me, ouch! I already am having a hard time turning to the right. Don’t be coming at me that way! I would like to not feel anything from the neck up, I told my pain specialist doctor. That would be wonderful. He just laughed.

Hairdressers always have lower back and hip and foot problems. They’re always on their feet, leaning over their clients, twisting a little one way and the other way.

Everybody laughs at my platform flip flops, but I’ve never had any foot problems. Walking in them is like standing on my rubber mat. When I walk in them, it’s like I have a platform mat for shoes. When I first started, I used to wear high heels. I learned very quickly that was a dumb idea. A woman I worked for, for a few years, who also cut hair, always wore high heels, twelve hours a day. She destroyed her feet. She can never wear high heels again, even though she’s twenty years younger than me.

I don’t have any lower back or hip problems. I don’t have varicose veins. Francie has plantar fasciitis. Mel has bad varicose veins. I don’t have corns or bunions or gross looking feet. I have nice looking feet, not like many hairdressers, at all. The feet on some of them get all gnarled up, pinched, ugly.

Anybody can say anything they want, make fun of my platform flip flops, I can take it. I’ve been wearing them for twenty-seven of my thirty-two years on salon floors, and I‘ve made it this far without breaking down too much. Although, I might fall off of them and break my neck someday.

If only there were platform flip flop things for my shoulders. That would be a new trick.

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