All posts by Edward Staskus

Edward Staskus is a freelance writer from Sudbury, Ontario, and lives in Lakewood, Ohio.

Chapter 21

   Thelma loves the Ramones, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy and Marky. There is no doubt about that. She has all their records and CD’s.

   “It started with the movie “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” which was the best most fun most horrible movie you ever saw. It’s a cult classic. If you haven’t seen it, or if you say you can take it or leave it, all I can say is, what is wrong with you?”

   Telly didn’t see it in the winter of 1980, a couple of months after it came out, when it came to Cleveland. A few years later, when it was in the stores on VHS, she bought it and watched it one hundred, two hundred, maybe more, times. She loved that stupid movie.

   “Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, Well I don’t care about history, Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, Cause that’s not where I want to be.”

   She loved that movie so much, about spirit and fun and punk music.

   “Telly, that’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen,” said her sister Betsy.

   “Maybe you need to watch it with me,” she said. “Just so you can see once and for all how great all the parts are.”

   “How can you say that?” she asked.

   “Maybe it’s a stupid movie,” she said, “but it’s awesome.”

   It’s awesome because the Ramones are actually in it, with all their punk and all their attitude, blowing everybody away. You have to hear them to understand, even though the first time they came to Ohio, to Youngstown, three years before the movie, only ten people went to the show.

   Johhny Ramone, the lead guitar player, was the ugliest creature you will ever see in your life. He was even uglier than Howard Stern, if that could possibly be. He had long black hair and wore red glasses.

   The movie story is all about a high school girl, Riff Randell, who’s in love with Joey Ramone. Joey was the beanpole lead singer of the Ramones. Riff is his #1 fan. She’s written a song for them. She has to meet them so they will play her music.

   “Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, I just want to have some kicks, I just want to get some chicks, Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school.”

   Riff spends three days in line to be the first person to buy Ramone’s concert tickets. The first day she cuts school she writes a note, “Please excuse Riff because her mother has died.” The second day she writes, “Please excuse Riff because her father has died.” The third day, “Please excuse Riff because her goldfish has died.”

   Those things always happen in 3s.

   She buys one thousand tickets and starts handing them out at school.

   The school principal, Principal Togar, is a no fun, intolerant, buttoned-up stiff bully she-goat. She has hired goons who are her hall monitors. They’re always writing love letters to Principal Togar and one of them is always rolling a joint and getting high.

   Riff is forever on Togar’s shit list, and when the hall monitors body search her, they confiscate her Ramone’s tickets. Now neither she nor anybody else from her school can go to the show. She and her friends are sad. “Everyone’s going to be there, but not us.”

   But then she wins a radio station’s ‘Name This Song’ contest. It’s a Ramone’s song, of course. She knows it right away.

   Before the concert Principal Togar does a science experiment with white mice. They have to listen to rock-n-roll with headphones on, to the Who, the Clash, and Led Zeppelin, and finally the Ramones “Watch what happens when they have to listen to the Ramones,” says Principal Togar. The mouse’s head explodes! If you’re not into stupid humor you won’t like it. Telli is definitely into stupid humor. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of her all-time favorites.

   The Ramones come to Riff’s school. A mouse wearing headphones is there, like at all their shows. The music in the movie is full blast Ramones, except for a few songs here and there. It’s where Telly got her first taste of them.

   She went to a Ramone’s concert in 1989, at the Phantasy Night Club in Lakewood. She thought she could handle it, the mosh pit, but she ended up flopping around on the floor.

   “Well, the girls out there knock me out you know, Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, Cruisin’ around in my GTO.”

   A nice guy dragged her out to safety. “Don’t come in to the pit anymore,” he said. 

   There were bodies everywhere. After the concert they went upstairs to drink at the bar. The Ramones came up, too. She was star-struck, even though Johnny Ramone was uglier in person than he was in the movie. She couldn’t go up to them. She was frozen and just watched them all from a distance.

   There was a tribute to the band a few years ago at the Happy Dog Saloon. She was excited. Then they announced at the Happy Dog that they were going to show “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” on the big screen at the Capital Theater.

   “Oh, my God,” she turned to Steve. “I’ve never seen it on the big screen, only on VHS. Can we go? We’ve got to go!”

   She watched “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” from the word go through high school and beyond. She would put it on the VCR whenever she wanted to and crack up.

   “Rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school, I hate the teachers and the principal, Don’t want to be taught to be no fool, Rock, rock, rock, rock, rock ‘n’ roll high school.”

   The Ramones are all dead now, except for Marky.

   “I’m really lucky I’m still around,” said Dee Dee Ramone, just before he died. “Everybody expected me to die next. But it was always someone else instead of me.” He was the troublemaker in the band.

   Telly watched “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” every week for years. In 1999, the year her dad died, he started listening and singing along to music.

   “Hey ho, let’s go, Hey ho, let’s go, They’re forming in a straight line, They’re going through a tight wind.”

   “Who sings this song?” Fred asked Thelma.

   “That would be the Ramones, dad.”

Chapter 22

   Thelma is a huge dog lover more than a small dog lover. The first time she saw a Leonberger she knew that was the dog for her.

   After Baby, their first one, turned two, she started looking for another one all over again. Baby’s name was supposed to be Hans, a German name for a German dog. But, when she told her breeder he was a Baby Huey, he started laughing, land stayed aughing for five minutes, so in the end his name became Baby.

   She had been saving and saving, and when they got their income tax return she told Brian, “I’m ready to get another Leonberger.”

   “Have you lost your mind?” he asked.

   They went ahead. They got another one.

   When they had Baby flown in from Missouri, he was laid back when they got him out of the crate, so chill, like a rock star. When they got Veruca she was a little afraid at first. Thelma could tell they were going to have their hands full.

   The first thing Veruca did after shaking off the scariness was rustle after telly’s diamonds and rubies. She tried to eat her necklace, her bracelet, and her earrings, everything. Steve thought, OK, we’ll call her Zsa Zsa, because of her love of jewels.

   After a week they re-christened her Veruca, after Veruca Salt in “Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.”

   “I want it now!” She’s a brat.

   Veruca is a big one, bigger even than Baby. She’s already got 10 pounds on Baby at the same age. Telly used to put buttered rice in Baby’s food because she thought he wasn’t eating enough, wasn’t growing, wasn’t getting big enough. Eat, Baby, eat!

   With Veruca, the little fatty, she didn’t have to do that.

  All food all the time is fair game for Leonbergers. They’re taller than counters and tables. If Telly leaves butter on a counter, it’s gone. If she sets dinner out for Steve, but doesn’t push it back out of reach, they’ll go up and get it. It’s gone.

  Veruca ate all her Malley’s Chocolates one day. She ate a whole box of them and didn’t even get diarrhea. There was no remorse.

   “She comes charging into our living room, a runaway puppy train, and tries to jump on the couch, but can’t get her fat ass up there. She flops on her stomach and then flops on me. She’s going to be 200 pounds.”

   Baby has never been disciplined or corrected. Leonbergers don’t like that. He has never been spanked because he’s so good. At least he was, until Telly’s birthday. Walking into the kitchen she heard slobbering and crunching.

   “What the hell’s going on?” she wondered.

   Baby had his big fat self in the air, on the counter, and was eating her birthday cake. All she could do was put her hands on her hips. “Baby!” she cried out. He jumped back, started crying, and threw himself down on his back.

   “No, no, no,” he cried. It was ridiculous. You would have thought telly was beating the dog with a stick.

   Veruca is different. When Telly corrected her for eating the chocolate, she barely paid attention.

   “I ate your chocolate, you say. Is there something you’re going to do about it?”

   She’s been corrected one hundred thousand times, but she doesn’t care. When Telly corrects Baby, he’s on the floor. Veruca, she just sits there surly and defiant. “This is it?” She does not care, does not care. She’s the honey badger of Leonbergers. She doesn’t give a shit.

   They are powerful dogs. When Baby stands on his hind legs, he looms over Telly’s face. One afternoon he got so excited when she got home that he jumped up on her and they both fell through the back door.

   Her nephew Style is teaching Baby to slow dance. It’s ridiculous how much Baby is in love with his cousin. Style sat down on a white plastic chair on the patio. Baby was so glad to see him he ran out and jumped on Style’s lap. The legs of the chair shot out, the chair collapsed, and both Baby and he landed sprawled out in the back yard.

   “Is my kid hurt?”

   “Which kid?”

   Veruca has the same heavy paws, the same heavy forelegs, as Baby. Telly has already gotten a little bit of a fat lip from a big Veruca paw.

   Style taught them to wrestle. When they are in a park or at a festival little kids are all over Baby, rubbing his belly as he rolls around. Veruca is usually sitting next to him. God forbid Baby ever relaxes. If Veruca sees he’s getting too much attention she’ll start wrestling him, grabbing him by the neck, and shaking him. She’s a brat bully.

   Baby, Veruca, and Grayson, their Lab, wrestle all day long. It sometimes sounds like their house is going to explode. They will be barking snarling all at once and then barrel out the door. There’s an empty pool in their back yard. It used to be filled with water until the dogs destroyed it.

   Steve and Thelma cannot have nice things. She broke down against her better judgment and bought a new futon for the basement. They destroyed it. It’s gone. Sometimes dogs are famous for missing the point.

They run to the empty pool and whoever gets there first is the King of the Pool. The other two try to get in, they bark, and chase each other. It drives Telly’s neighbor, Dawn, crazy, which is a good thing. Dawn is awful. There’s nothing nice about that woman.

   After Mary and Josephine next door died, they got new neighbors on that side of them, who bought the M & J house, a Puerto Rican couple in their 60s. They love both the dogs and them. 

   “Don’t they drive you crazy?” Telly asked.

   “We like it,” they said.

   They weeded Telly’s yard one day and afterwards she sent over a plate of stuffed cabbages she had made. The PR’s raise chickens in their back yard, have a fire pit, and roast the chickens. They’re sweet people. It’s great over there.

   “Dawn doesn’t like Puerto Ricans,” said Chuck, Dawn’s boyfriend.

   Telly pushed Baby, Veruka, and Grayson out the door.

   “Go play King of the Pool,” she said.

Chapter 23

   Unless somebody knows Steve, it won’t make sense. Unless they know him, where he came from, it won’t make sense to them. What made sense to Thelma was that he was a good guy, always has been.

   Then his father died in 1999. He came back to Cleveland for the funeral. After the funeral his brother Bobby begged him to stay.

   “Please stay here stay with me,” Bobby pleaded. “You can stay at the house, you can work here. It will be great.”

   “Blah, blah, blah.” That’s the way Bobby is.

   So, Steve moved back to Ohio, to Cleveland, to Little Italy. There used to be a Big Italy, near downtown, near the Central Market, but in the 1960s the new freeways and urban renewal wiped it all out. Little Italy is on the east side, up from Euclid Ave. up Mayfield Rd. and all the way up to Cleveland Heights.

   Little Italy was a hundred years old by then. It was Italian stonemasons from the Abruzzi who settled it. They built the Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church and sculpted the giant headstones and monuments at Lake View Cemetery at the top of Mayfield Rd.

   Thelma and Steve met in 2001 when he was living with Bobby. He had become a full-blown addict in the meantime. When she met him, he was drinking up to a fifth of Yukon a day with beer chasers and snorting some coke so he could keep drinking. Telly was living in Lorain and was a gal from Bay Village, on the west side, as far away from Little Italy as could be in more ways than one.

   They met at a party at a bar. It didn’t seem like they had much in common except that his father had just died, and her father had just died, too.

  Telly’s childhood was sad while Steve’s was more exciting than most. There was alcohol and drugs, there was money, there was the Mafia. They were all in on it. The Little Italy house they lived in they got from Danny Greene as a gift. Steve’s father was a mob lawyer. He wasn’t a crook, although he sprang crooks.

   Danny Greene was a mobster during the Cleveland gang wars in the 1970s. They were always trying to blow each other up. One time a rival gangster tried to blow up Danny Greene’s car, but Danny found the bomb and took it apart. He later blew up the other gangster. Everybody thought he used the same bomb.

   Danny Greene wore a medal of St. Jude around his neck and took care of other people, including eight hit men who tried to get him. But, one day when he was leaving his dentist’s office, getting into his car, the car next to him exploded and he was blown to bits. Even though Danny Greene and Steve’s father were tight, he defended the hit man who blew up Danny Greene.

   Steve’s uncles used to hide drugs and stuff in the kid’s rooms, in his room, so if the police searched, they believed the cops wouldn’t search those rooms. They hid everything under the carpets. After Steve and Telly got married, they finally stopped having Easter with the uncles because she thought it was sacrilegious.

   Steve’s uncle Angelo was one of the heads of the Youngstown Mafia. They would go to their house for Easter. They would be sitting at the table, the godfathers, baptizing their babies, shoveling food into their mouths, and talking on their phones.

   “I would start wondering, what are they going to be doing later in the afternoon? I finally decided I couldn’t have Easter breakfast, on the day Jesus died, with hit men. I just couldn’t do it.”

   Steve and Telly saw each other for ten months before they decided to get married in 2002. At first, they lived in Thelma’s brother’s mother-in-law’s old house on Berea Rd. They were getting ready to get married. Then Brad’s mother-in-law accused Telly of running up the water bill.

   “You’re doing hair at home,” she said.

  She looked at the water bill. She blew up. “Do you think my doing hair at home is costing this much water? I do one person’s hair at home a month. That’s one extra shampoo a month!”

   The mother-in-law had a Section 8 family with special needs kids living upstairs in the double house. Steve and Telly lived downstairs. One night at two in the morning she heard water dripping from their ceiling. She went upstairs.

   Bang, bang, bang, she knocked.

   When the kids came to the door they were in their underpants, swinging pots and pans full of water, and firing off water guns. What is happening here, she wondered. “Stop that!”

   Not only did the family upstairs do all their laundry every day, but the people who were supposed to watch the kids did their own laundry in the basement, too. The washing machine was always going, night and day.

   “You’re accusing Steve and me of using all this water, really?” They got into a fight on the spot. “Steve and I have been nothing but fair and kind to you. We’ve taken care of the yard and we’ve taken care of the house. Fuck this, we’re leaving.”

  They packed up and left, even though they didn’t have anywhere to go. They got married and moved back to Bobby’s house in Little Italy. They weren’t there long before Telly started looking for her own home. She couldn’t stand living with Bobby.

   “He loved it because I did all the grocery shopping, all the cooking, and all the cleaning, too. But Bobby and I didn’t get along. He had a not-so-funny sense of humor. A good man is hard to find, and he was a good man when helping Steve rescue stray dogs, but I could have blown that man up.”

Chapter 24

   When Steve worked at his brother’s east side car lot, he came across stray dogs all the time. He would pick them up, bring them home, they would take them to the vet, get them repaired, train them and find them homes. Although they don’t live or work on the east side anymore, if Steve or Thelma see a stray, they stop the car and do something about it.

   After they moved to West Park, they got a reputation for stealing dogs from people who mistreated them.

   A postal worker had been delivering mail to a house for a few years, always saw a dog in the back yard, and noticed one summer as it was morphing into fall that the dog was getting skinny, skinny, skinny. She found out the homeowner had gotten another dog and was starving the dog in the back yard to death.

   When she complained, Animal Control told her the dog wasn’t being visibly mistreated. She was distraught. One day she was telling somebody who knew Steve and Telly about the creature.

   “I know these crazy awesome people that will go steal that dog. Just give me the address,” said their friend.



   The mail lady gave the friend the address of the skinny starving dog.

   It was Thanksgiving night. The plan was set, but Steve and Telly sat down at the table first. They had dinner, set the alarm for 2:30, and went to bed. When they woke up it was storming lightning and thunder.

   “That’s a good sign,” Steve said. “In case the dog barks the thunder will hide the barking.”

   “What about the lightning flashes?”

   He didn’t say anything.

   They filled their pockets with turkey scraps. When they got to the skinny dog’s house, it was pitch dark. They walked up to the fence and the dog came running. Steve unlatched the gate. The dog came to the gate and sniffed him up. They gave the dog some turkey, he was happy, and went right to the car with them.

   The next morning, they called the mail lady.

   “We have the dog,” Steve said.

   “What? You have her?”

   “Yeah, you want to pick her up?”

   The next day, when the mail lady walked up to their front door, she was looking around in all directions. You would have thought they were up to a drug deal. Many people think dogs are their property, but when dogs are mistreated, Telly doesn’t care about your philosophy of property. If you’re starving a dog, you should have it taken away from you. When you chain a dog up, and get a kick out of it, you need some mental health. You’re one step away from being a serial killer.

   A friend of theirs in Lakewood had one of their rescues. They kept in touch. She called them one day and said her neighbor was kicking and whipping his dog. “He leaves the dog in his sweltering garage all day, too.”

   She was in tears. “I can’t take it anymore.”

   “Can’t you do anything?”

   “I’m afraid of him, but I can’t let the dog live like that.”

   “The minute he leaves, call us, we’ll get the dog,” Telly said.

  When she called them, Steve and Telly walked right into the man’s garage. The side door wasn’t even locked. They took the dog, who was in bad shape, because the man had been taking his belt and whipping the shit out of it.

   “If you treat a dog like that, I can’t imagine how you treat your kids and wife. The young German Shepherd had heartworms, which we got fixed, and we found him a loving family.”

   Steve went and rescued a pit bull bait dog one morning after Telly’s niece-in-law’s sister told them about it.

   “You stay home, just in case there’s trouble,” he said.

   It was seven o’clock in the morning, He walked up to the backyard, where there was no food no water no shelter, and pulled the dog by his collar over the fence. The next minute he was gone. That was that. No more docile dog for a mean dog sent to attack it.

   It’s not always that easy, although it can be. They were told about a Great Dane in Hough that was left alone chained to a post all day and night in all kinds of weather. When they got there, they found out the homeowners were on vacation. Their neighbor was in his backyard.

   “I’m here to take the dog,” Steve said.

   “What are you going to do with him?”

   “We’re going to find him a good home.”


   Steve cut the dog’s chain and they took him away.

   Most of the dogs they rescue they find by word-of-mouth or on Facebook. Telly has lots of dog rescuer friends on social media. When they rescue a dog, they take it to a vet, and then take it to their house where it can play with their dogs. Steve and Thelma work to find them homes. 

   “Those dogs are put in our path for a reason. That reason is to help them. We find the money for it all by praying.”

   They have a vet who has been helping them for a long time. They took a dog to him that Steve found running in the street. The owners of the dog were chasing him. A chain was dragging behind him and there was a padlock on his neck, a padlock that was so tight it was embedded in the skin. Steve scooped him up on the fly and flew away down the street.

   “This is the cruelest thing ever,” said the vet.

   He wouldn’t charge them for the surgery, just like he doesn’t for many others. Steve rescues dogs all the time. He found one when he saw some guys stopped at the side of the road and noticed they were yelling and throwing rocks at a dog.

   “What the hell are you doing?”

   “Nuthin! What’s it to you?”

   “I’m making it my business,” he said, walking straight at them.

   They got in their car and took off. He found a mastiff in the bushes, gained its trust, and the next thing she there’s Steve with the dog eating out of his hand.

   He found Gretel the same way, on a street somewhere on the east side, escaping from who knows what. Thelma was making soup for their pastor when he brought the dog home. Telly gave the soup to the dog, instead.

   “What are we going to do with her?” Steve asked.

   “We’re going to keep Gretel,” Telly said.


   “That’s her name,” she said.

   She was the sweetest dog ever. It made her day the day she came to live in their home. They never found a Hansel for her, but they kept her safe and sound until the day she died.

Chapter 25

   “Don’t you need to go and register for school?” Alma asked Thelma, her hands on her hip, elbows splayed out.

   “Yeah, but I’m not going,” Telly 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 was so excited. She loved it that Telly 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. Alma started looking up cosmetology schools.

   Telly was 19 years old. She had been going to Tri-C Community College for a year trying to learn how 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, angry, and she could see they were frustrated. She thought to herself, I don’t want to be like that around special needs kids.

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

   Telly cut hair when she worked at Bay Pool. Kids she worked with would ask her, “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 earring?” a friend of Telly’s asked her 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 Telly knew, she was enrolled at the Fairview Beauty Academy in Fairview Park. It was there back then and it’s still there now, thirty years later. It didn’t always go as planned. She had to spend many hours writing “I will not swear in front of clients” on one sheet of paper after another.

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

   “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Telly 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.

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

   “Keep writing,” they said.

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

   Have you ever talked to a nurse? Nurses swear like truck drivers, on and on. Alma enjoyed cursing a lot. 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 their house.

   “I grew up in a house full of swearers.  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?” he sneered.

   Telly 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.

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

   Halfway through beauty school she got into a car accident when she hit a cement truck. She was out of commission for four 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 never paid attention. She was always goofing off.

   “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 day with no problem. Telly had cut hair before, so she was on fire, let’s 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.

   Telly hated beauty school, but she got through it, and got her first job at Cadillac Cutters. It didn’t go well, not because of her cursing, but because, in the end, she didn’t curse enough.

Chapter 26

   When Steve and Thelma go on our vacation to Mexico her friend Kristen and her girlfriend Karen come over and watch the dogs. They stay at their house, living in. They hang out with the dogs. Kristen is a godparent to them. Telly has known her forever.

  They go to Mexico in January, flying from Cleveland Hopkins Airport directly to Riviera Maya. It’s on the gulf, on the Caribbean, on the Yucatan Peninsula. There are all-inclusive resorts up and down the coastline. The beaches are everywhere, white sand beaches, blue water.

   When they are flying there Steve sits in the seat beside the window, pulls the brim of his baseball cap down, and falls asleep. The next thing Telly knows she’s waking him up. The next thing he knows they are there.

   Kristen has been watching Telly’s dogs for years. They know her. She was friends with Kristen and her friend Janelle, but when they broke up, she hardly saw Janelle after that. Kristen and Karen live in a Lakewood duplex, not far from them. Kristen works in a bank. She and Karen are going to graduate from nursing school soon.

   Telly doesn’t know Karen as well as Kristen. She’s a little on the shyer side. Kristen is one of the nicest people she knows.

   When they are in Mexico Kristen sends them pictures of their dogs.

   “I sent these to you last night. Not sure if you got them?”

   “Does my Baby miss me?” she asked.

   “Yes, very much.”

   When Kristen and Karen come over to watch the pack they stay at Telly’s house. They hang out. They love it.

   “It’s like a little vacation,” Kristen says

   Telly leaves food in the fridge and presents for them.

   “You do too much for us,” Kristen said.

   “You watch my kids,” Telly said.

   Their dogs love the girls. They puppy love them because when they’re here the rules go out the window. They know they will have full reign full rule of the house.

   Steve and Telly look forward to going to Mexico for their five-day vacation. “You both look so relaxed and so happy,” said her friend Christy on a FaceTime call. One night they had dinner at the Brazilian Steak House. That was delicious. They got more relaxed.

   “Who watches your dogs when you’re gone?” All kinds of people who have dogs ask her that. She tells them about Kristen. She charges 30 or 35 dollars a night. Local dog hotels run about 40 or 50 dollars a night. The Barkley in Orange Village is a resort-style animal care pet hotel, recreation, grooming, and boarding. It looks like a harem from the outside. It costs a fortune, unless you’re rich.

   But Telly doesn’t want her dogs sleeping in a crate at night, resort or no resort. It’s hard on dogs, their owner has gone away, and they’ve been shipped somewhere they don’t know anything about. She won’t do it to her dogs. She always calls Kristen. She trusts her and if she’s willing to come over and babysit, Telly is willing to have her in the house, and pay her.

   “You pay me way too much,” she said.

  “I don’t think I pay you nearly enough,” Telly said. She doesn’t just leave food and drink for her and Karen. She leaves wine, too. She watches the dogs and the house, she’s responsible, but she needs to kick back sometimes. Telly takes care of people who take care of her and mine.

   “Kristen has one of our rescue dogs. It doesn’t take much time or money to turn a troubled dog’s life around. They don’t come from breeders, so you can’t pick how shiny their coat is going to be, but you can pick their new environment. There’s no profit in it, but the profit you get inside is priceless.”

   Even though Steve and she don’t do a lot with the Animal Protective League anymore, she shares a lot with the Cuyahoga County Kennel, and has a lot of rescuers on her Facebook page. One woman, Barb Katzenmyer, does so much, unchaining, rescuing, transferring, re-homing. Telly admires her so much. She is someone she would strive to be, if she could.

   Steve doesn’t let her go to kennels too many times because there is always the danger she will come out with another animal. They were looking at a dog one day, but the vet said he didn’t get along with other dogs, and might be sick, so they couldn’t adopt him out, yet.

   “Are you ready to go home now?” Steve asked.

   “No, I’m not,” Telly said. “I’m going to look for another dog.” That’s when they found their little silver Lab, their cutie patootie. They have Grayson to this day, even with all his health problems, their little handicap boy.

  Karen taught Baby how to slow dance. Kristen sent them a photograph by text of Karen and Baby, their shaggy two-hundred-pound Leonberger, dancing in the kitchen. The iPhone was too small for the picture.

   They had a good time in Mexico. Telly wasn’t looking forward to leaving. The hardest part was saying goodbye to the beach. The sun shines everywhere, not just on beaches, but it shines best on beaches, salty, ocean sounds, ocean breeze. It was cold and gray and there was no sun anywhere in sight when they landed at Cleveland Hopkins Airport. It was January in Cleveland, Ohio, on the south shore of Lake Erie, so there being no sun in the sky wasn’t unusual, at all.

   “How was Izzy when I left?” Kristen asked the day after they got home.

   “She was fine, why?”

   “I think she wanted to come home with me.”

   “Don’t even try to steal my dogs!” 

   Karen gave all their dogs different names. Izzy became Peach Nut. They all answered to their old names, but their new names, too. Only Pebbles stayed Pebbles. A good new name for Pebbles would be Oompa Loompa, although Telly already calls her Fat Warthog.

   A few days after they got back from Mexico she came down with the flu and had to stay in bed. Pebbles lay on the floor beside her. Fat Pebbles always does what is needed when the flu hits.

Chapter 27

   All of Thelma’s dogs are friendly, sometimes too friendly. She can let anybody in the house, and they are going to rush you with excitement. They are going to jump on you and hug you. Baby, who is their full-grown Leonberger, accidentally punched Telly’s girlfriend and her in the face trying to hug them. Telly got a cut on her nose. Her friend got a bad bruise.

   When her cousin from Jersey Shore was in town for Thanksgiving, and everybody was all over Alma’s house for dinner, he asked about coming to Steve and Telly’s house for a visit.

   “You’re allergic to dog hair,” she said.

   “That’s OK,” he said.

   “How do you want to meet the dogs?” she asked. “One by one, or do you want the bum’s rush?”

   “I’ll do the bum’s rush,” he said

   He got the bum’s rush.

   All five of their dogs were in the kitchen when they stepped into the house. None of them are small dogs. They could hear a different voice at the door, so they got wound up. Somebody new!

   The second she let them out of the kitchen they were all over him, all over the couch, pillows everywhere, and all over him again. It was like balloons had dropped and the party started. They panted and barked up a racket.

   “You asked for it,” she said.

   “I love it,” he said.

   Telly had to work at the hair salon on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Her cousin messed with the dogs all day.

   “They got down on the floor with me,” he said. “Except the Husky.”

   Nanook is their Husky. He’s the alpha dog. He’s the leader of the pack. He’s not going to snuggle. Their two big babies, Grayson and Veruka, come into the kitchen and start to kiss each other. Nanook will sit and disapprove. He did the same thing when Boy Boy and Pebbles used to kiss, making low sounds, scowling, being the Godfather.

   It’s all talk, though.

   Most dogs are their own dogs, their own people. They’ve got personality. Veruka and Baby are the two Leonbergers. Baby is the bigger, older dog, but Veruka is a troublemaker next to Baby. Baby is the sweetest thing ever in this world.

   Telly always has to correct Veruka. She never has to correct Baby. Veruka is teaching Baby some bad tricks, though, which she doesn’t like.

   Veruka ate Telly’s wallet and everything in it, medical card, bank card, their checks, and her tip money. They had to search the backyard, the stone area, where she takes her captives. Whenever they give her anything she goes there and starts chewing. They found some dollars, a twenty, and the checks. She found her wallet, but it was all over for it. She just threw it out. But, before she did, she showed it to Veruka.

   “Who did this? Did you do it?”

   She gave Telly her obstinate look. “Yeah, I did that.” If his master’s voice tells Grayson he’s a punk, he’ll run downstairs and put himself in his cage. If she shows Baby something, anything, he’s done wrong, he throws himself on the floor and is crying. You can almost see him blushing and turning red.

   Veruka just does not care.

   Nanook doesn’t like to associate with the other dogs or vie for attention. When Telly comes home from work, she has to let him out on the porch, which means, in dog talk, you come out the back door by yourself nobody else and keep it closed so the other dogs can’t come out. You give me some one-on-one.

   That’s what she has to do. The second she does, he’s happy and comes right back into the house. That’s his personality.

   “Pebbles is my whore. She loves to be on the couch, lay on you, snuggle, and just be fat Pebbles. She doesn’t care what you do to her as long as she can lay in your lap, nibble on your fingers, and be fat. She loves her food. When we are ready to give the dogs their treats, she shakes her ass and chatters her teeth.”

   Grayson, their Lab, is special needs. He was in the hospital for months, has a bad hip, and big fat feet. He’s the sweetest dog, but tough enough. Even though he’s only a third the size of Baby, he can take Baby down. He is a strong dog.

   He likes to do the window trick, which is jump on their bed, wait for Telly to open the upstairs window, and stick his body out as far as he can to look around the street. One day Nanook got away from her and ran around on the roof. Grayson did the same thing but slid down the roof when he saw a squirrel go by on the telephone pole.

  “Dogs get their personalities just like we do, from God, when they’re created in the womb. There’s no such thing as bad dog, although some people train their dogs to be mean.”

   Even though they’re all grown up, it’s Puppy Wrestlemania 24/7 with their dogs. One day they were all on the back porch, all screaming., barking.  King of the Back Porch. She thought they were going to come in through the windows. They wouldn’t stop, flying from one end of the porch to the other.

   She opened the back door.

   “The party is over kids. No more screaming.” They all came in when she told them the party was over, except for Nanook. He had to get in one last howl. When she opened the door for him, he ran away. When she shut the door, he ran up to it. When she took one step out of the door, like she was going to go get him, he lay down on the ground.

   Nanook doesn’t know Telly is the boss. He thinks Steve is the boss. Maybe he’s right. One evening after work her dogs started wrestling in the kitchen, all of them, all five of them. It was Puppy Wrestlemania. She yelled at them. Steve wasn’t home. Not one of them stopped.

   Steve is like a dog trainer. He’s got that calmness. Whatever he says they listen to. Telly, they could care less. Steve whistles and they do what he is whistling for them to do.

   She and Steve were fighting one night, going at it, when he suddenly said, “My opinion just doesn’t matter.”

   “Alright, I respect that statement.” He looked at her. “Honey how do you like my hair, long or short?” she asked him.

   “I don’t know, whatever you do with it.”

   “Do you like my hair dark or light?”

   “I like it when you mix it up.”

   “Curly or straight?”

   “Surprise me.”

  “That is why I have no time for your non-opinions.”

   Suddenly, he whistled at her.

   “Are you kidding? Did you just dog whistle me?”

   “Yeah,” he said, grinning like a wolf.

Chapter 28

   Thelma sprays Lysol on everything. It’s the Windex of all germ killers. She buys it by the case. It’s good for everything. It kills everything, every kind of flu, strep, everything.  She sprays it on her doorknobs, handles, couches, pillows, blankets, and her bed.

   Everything in the house. It soaks in, dries, and afterwards everything smells good. She likes the freshwater scent best.

   She has even sprayed Lysol by accident into her water glass and drank it. It just happened, not that she meant to, but when it did, she thought, all right, it will kill all the germs from the inside out.

   When Jesse was staying at their house and caught the flu, she sprayed him.

   Steve and Telly were in Mexico, Kristen was watching their dogs, but she got sick, got the vommies. Jesse needed somewhere to stay, so he took over from her. She told him to spray the house down.

   “Jewel, catching the flu is for weak people,” he said. 

   Only weak people get the flu? He’s so big and strong? Of course, he got the flu right away. Which is why she had no problem spraying him the minute she got home. When they stepped into the living room, she told him she was going to have to spray him and the couch he was lounging on with Lysol. He didn’t like it, but he gave in.

  “Close your mouth and eyes,” she told him. It kills 99 per cent of germs. The ones that survive go back and tell their germ friends, don’t mess with Lysol!

   “I swear your dog tried to hop me,” Jesse said.

   “Don’t talk about my dog like that. Which one?”

   “Veruka, she hopped me, held me down, I swear she was trying.”

   He told Telly about it while he was lying on the sofa with Fat Pebbles. They are girlfriend and boyfriend. Their house is crazy. They have six dogs ever since they got Hermy. You have to be a little crazy to hang out at their house. Jesse was more than a little crazy.

   “I was upstairs sleeping when Veruka jumped me,” he said. “I was herding her down to the kitchen, to the basement where their couch is, when out comes your husband into the hallway, butt-naked.”

   “I warned you, if you are going to stay here, Steve-o hardly ever wears clothes.”

   “My God, I thought I was going to go blind.”

   Jesse and Telly have been friends since 5th grade. They dated a little in the 7th and 8th grades but were both too controlling to be a couple. He’s controlling, Telly’s controlling, but they stayed friends. He’s been Telly’s best and worst friend ever since then.

   They text each other every day all day, forty times a day. If Steve and she are out to dinner, and Steve says something funny or interesting, she will call or text Jesse right away.

   “Guess what Steve-o just said!” That’s the kind of friendship they have.

   They ran into Jesse a couple of years after getting married. He was surprised.

   “What are you two doing together?” he asked.

   Steve and Thelma are not your typical couple. She was a good girl in high school, Steve was a drug supplier, and Jimmy was one of his drug users.

   “I married her,” Steve said.

   “You stole my girl,” Jesse said.

    “Oh, God,” Telly said.

   Telly laughed about it and since then they’ve been back to being friends. They call Jesse husband #2.

   Jesse’s dad was once a bigwig cop in Cleveland. He used to sit outside Steve’s dad’s house in Little Italy in an unmarked car. The house was bugged. His dad’s job was to listen in. Sometimes he would hear Steve and Jesse hanging out together. They were both on a bad path.

   “Jesse is in and out of our lives. He has a bad temper. He gets mad at you, cuts you out for a couple of years, but then comes back. He came back into our lives after a two-year stint of being gone. Something happened and he disappeared. After Kristen got sick and Jesse took over, if he hadn’t been able to stay at our house, he wouldn’t have had a place to stay. He’s in recovery, like Steve, but unlike Steve he had a slip-up and fell off the wagon. He got back on with our help.”

   Jesse works with heavy machinery and he’s going to start taking crane classes as soon as he’s done being down and out with the flu, which he caught even though he’s not a weak person, so strong, so he says.

   Telly made the mistake of getting Steve a hand bell when he got sick, Lysol or no Lysol. That will never happen again. He completely abused the bell. Most guys are like that. After the bell got lost and they couldn’t find it, Steve started called her Sharon. Sharon is Ozzie Osborne’s wife. She can never find anything in their house. Thelly’s nickname became Sharon.

   When Jesse was feeling better, he and Steve went to Malley’s and bought her a box of Bordeaux Chocolate. Malley’s is an ice cream candy chocolate store. There are 22 of them. They go the original one in Lakewood, which opened in 1935. The Malley family lived in the back of the building back in the day.

   When they got back to their house Jesse left the box of chocolate on the kitchen counter for telly. He didn’t know that dogs can and will eat anything if you let them. They have had dogs that would eat green peppers. Veruka, their spoiled rotten Leonberger, will eat fruits and vegetables.

   When Steve and Jesse came upstairs Veruka strolled up from the basement. She busted through the baby gate in the kitchen doorway. Her plan was to come upstairs and accost us. The box of chocolate stopped her in her tracks.

   She knew the chocolate wasn’t for her. But Veruka is the kind of dog who doesn’t care, just doesn’t care. She ate the whole box of Bordeaux Chocolate on her way upstairs. Her dog mouth dog lips dog tongue showed up all chocolaty.

   She was licking it off her face when they saw her. There was no need for Lysol. Veruka gave them a look that said, “Don’t bother saying anything.”

Chapter 29

I cut my teeth lifeguarding, then slicing bologna, and finally cutting hair.

I worked as a lifeguard at Bay Pool, but after my parents threw me out I stopped working there and moved to Westlake. I lived with a friend’s mom. When I got a job at the Bay Deli I hitchhiked to work, because in the middle 1980s there wasn’t anything nearby, no Crocker Park, no nothing.

My first real job was at Cadillac Cutters, which I got after I graduated from the Fairview Beauty Academy. My sister worked there and got me the job. All the girls who now work at the Kameryn Rose Salon and Spa in Rocky River, and me, we all used to work there.

It’s weird how it’s all come full circle.

The Cadillac Cutters was a hair salon owned by two men. They were freaks, flamboyantly gay. Terry was tall, had blond hair, and Tom had long flowing black hair. They were always impeccably dressed.

Tom came from money. He seemed to think he was better than everyone else all the time. Terry was a prima donna. Terry always had something on that was cool, suits, while Tom always had something on flowing and silky. They were good at what they did, but they didn’t seem to care about a whole lot of anybody except themselves.

At first I was only allowed to be an apprentice. An apprentice is someone who hands the stylist his combs and brushes. I was supposed to pay attention, too, watching how the highlights went.

I never got the chance to get past the apprentice stage, get on the floor on my own, because the owners screwed up bad, screwed up really bad, with insurance fraud, among other things.

They told everyone they were subscribing to health insurance for us. They took everyone’s money and then never paid the premiums.  Somebody took their kid to the hospital and found out they didn’t have insurance when they thought they had been paying for it all along.

They did a little bit of nose candy, too, probably with that money.

I wasn’t allowed to talk to clients, which I thought was strange.

One day I was talking to a client. One of the gay guys spotted me. He took me in the back.

“Shut the fuck up when you’re on the floor,” he said.

“OK,” I said.

“No one wants to hear what you have to say,” he said. “You’re just a lowly assistant.”

I was hurt by what he said because I had been working there for a while. It was embarrassing. I felt stupid. I got so upset I called my dad.

“No one talks to my daughter like that,” he said. “I swear to God, if you don’t walk out of that place right now!”

Then my paychecks started bouncing.

“Oh, Julie, sorry, but we got you these earrings,” said Terry.

“Yeah,” I said, “but I can’t pay my rent with those.”

“They’re really expensive earrings,” said Tom.

“I’m sure they are,” I said. “But again, I don’t think my landlord is going to care, and besides, I don’t know if he wears earrings.” They didn’t know my landlord was my friend’s mom.

I called my dad because they got shitty with me about my money.

“Walk out!” he said.

“Where am I going to go?”

“Walk out. Call me when you walk out.”

When more of my paychecks bounced things came to a head. The day I told my dad about it he was beyond mad.

“You walk out of there right now and I will make sure they pay you. This is my kid!”

I hightailed it out of there.

He went cold ballistic on them. He did some digging, found out what they were up to, and talked to somebody downtown about it. He sicced the IRS on them. The next thing I knew, the next thing Tom and Terry knew, the IRS was looking things over, shutting things down, and their business was being closed down.

When I had to go back and get my stuff it was awful. I didn’t know if they knew I was the cause of their business closing.

They were shut down for a small while but opened up under another name. It didn’t last long. Cheating is easy. They didn’t know to stay away from easy. Their new staff got tired of it.

Tom and Terry were a couple and lived in Rocky River. I still see Terry at the Heinens Supermarket on Detroit Road now and then. Tom got married, married to a woman, actually. It was kind of weird, but he came from a lot of money, and I think his family demanded that he marry a woman.

My dad was never the kind of father who would take it easy and sit to the side. You don’t screw with one of his kids. You just didn’t do that. He was the kind of father who believed that if you don’t stand up for your children, you don’t stand for much.

He was always ready to attack anyone who was mean to me. I was always his happy girl who smiled all the time. He closed down the Cadillac Cutters never to be heard of again, at least not under that name.

I called my dad on Christmas Eve, even though he had kicked me out of the house, to wish them all a happy holiday.

“Are you coming over to go to church with us?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

I was so happy I was crying. He could hear me crying over the phone.

“What happened? Was it him who made you cry?”

He thought my boyfriend had done something.

“No,” I said.

“I swear to God, Julie, if I need to come over there!”

“Dad, I’m not sad crying.”

“Then why are you crying?”

“Because I just got a puppy.”

“Oh, cool, bring the dog over,” he said.

My dad could be rough with us, but he loved us, and dogs, too. He’s the man who taught me everybody has to stand up for their rights. He was right about that.

Chapter 30

My mom and dad were married for forty-two years, but my mom hated my dad. She just hated that man. It all started when she married him for his money.

She was supposed to marry her high school sweetheart, Pete, but he went away to Korea during the war. They wrote letters to each other. She wrote something in one of her letters that he didn’t like, and he wrote back that she was a silly little girl and should grow up.

My mom being my mom, that pissed her off, and she didn’t write back or talk to him again for a long time, years and years. When she met my father, who was from Cleveland, but was living in Jersey Shore for a few years, she thought, OK, he’s got money, he’s rich, let’s get married.

In the meantime, Pete wasn’t worried. He thought, when my tour of duty is up, I’ll go find her, we’ll make up, and we’ll get married. But when he came home to Jersey Shore, he found out she was marrying my dad. He was sad, so he signed up again, went back to Korea, and ended up with an overseas bride.

Pete got married to a Korean girl. They never had any kids. When we were kids, he sent my mom a birthday card every year. It came in the mail to Bay Village, where we lived.

My dad died on the first day of 1999. It didn’t take long for my aunt, my mom’s sister, to call Pete. It didn’t take long for him to call my mom. You’re the love of my life, he told her. I want to see you. I’m not going to miss out again.

He apologized to his own wife, gave her half of everything, and divorced her on the spot. Less than a year after my dad died my mom married Pete. It messed me up. I had to go to therapy because of it.

Pete’s a good guy, a sweet guy, and worships the ground my mother walks on. He loves her and that’s all you can ask for. He never had kids, so having kids now, the four of us step-kids, is new to him.

They’ve been great together for almost eighteen years. He’s a sweet man and will do anything she asks. But he’s also a frugal man, a very frugal man. They disagree about it sometimes.

They got into a fight over a cast iron patio set. When my mom told him it cost $2500.00, he said it was too much. “That’s nothing,” said mom. She wanted it and that was that. They got into a huge fight. She ended up throwing him out of the house. He didn’t know where to go. It was Christmas Eve. It was snowing up a storm.

When I called to wish them a Merry Christmas my mom started giving me short answers.

“What’s going on?” I thought.

“I threw Pete out of the house,” she said.

“Why are you such a spoiled brat?”

“I couldn’t remember what holiday it was,” she said.

“Dear God, mom,” I said. “You hold on a minute. I’m going to call you right back.”

I called Pete.

“Pete, where are you?”

“Well, I’m in Kentucky.”

“Why are you in Kentucky?” 

“Your mother threw me out. I thought I would just go live in our Florida house.”

He was driving to Florida., even though the weather was horrible.

“Why didn’t you call me, or Betsy, or Brad, and say you need a place to stay?”

“I don’t know. I’m not going to bother you kids. Florida is a place to live for free.”

“You’re driving to Florida, that’s going to cost you money. Pete, turn around.”

“I don’t know, your mother…”

“Turn around! If nothing else, stop.”

He stopped. I called my mom. “You call him right now and tell him you’re sorry.”


“Mom, he’s in Kentucky, he’s driving to Florida to live in the Florida house, because you threw him out.”

“Oh, that’s ridiculous,” she said.

“Call him now!”

She did and he turned around and came home. Since then, they’ve sold their house in Florida. Mom had lived there often and loved it, but then all of a sudden, she got sick, regressed in years, started saying she didn’t want to live in Florida anymore. 

“I never wanted to live there, I’m glad the house is going, I don’t want to be there.”

When she was young, she didn’t want to live in Florida. Then she did. Now that she’s back at that same age when she didn’t want to go to Florida, she’s back in the same place, same frame of mind.

“Do you really want to sell your Florida house?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Do you know you have a Florida house?”

Pete went down south, cleared everything out, and sold the house. My best friend Jimmy met him and helped him drive everything back up here. Jimmy had been living at our house but cleared out and is now living in Florida with his new girlfriend.

What’s sad now is that my mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Pete feels like he’s been cheated again, like when he was separated from her for forty-two years. He was with her, they were together, for fifteen years and then she got sick. She’s not exactly who she is, who she was, anymore. I think he’s heart-broken over that. It’s so sad, but he’s been good to her, stays good to her.

There are people who get cancer and brain tumors and get better. Is there anyone who has gotten better from Alzheimer’s? I’ve never heard of anybody like that.

Pete is a funny guy sometimes. I’m never sure if he talks to my mom like she’s still there, all there, or he talks to her how he remembers she used to be. Alzheimer’s can be a terrible thing, because the person you love is there, right in front of you, but they’re gone sometimes, just gone.

He’s a sweet guy, though, in good times and bad times.