All posts by Edward Staskus

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

Chapter 21

I do love the Ramones, Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy and Marky. There is no doubt about that.

It all started with the movie Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, which was the most 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?

I never saw it in the winter of 1980, a couple of months after it came out, as soon as it came to Cleveland. A few years later, when it was in the stores on VHS, I bought it and watched it one hundred, two hundred, maybe more, times. I 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.”

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

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

“Maybe you need to watch it with me,” I said, “so you can see how great all the parts are.”

“How can you say that?” she asked.

“Maybe it’s a stupid movie,” I 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 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 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. “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. I am definitely into stupid humor. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of my 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 the Ramones, except for a few songs here and there. It’s where I got my first taste of them.

I went to a Ramone’s concert in 1989, at the Phantasy Night Club in Lakewood. I thought I could handle it, the mosh pit, but I ended up 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 me out. “Don’t come in to the pit anymore,“ he said. There were bodies everywhere. After the concert we went upstairs to drink at the bar. The Ramones came up, too. I was star-struck, even though Johnny Ramone was uglier in person than he was in the movie. I couldn’t go up to them. I was frozen and just looked at them all from a distance.

There was a tribute to the band a few years ago at the Happy Dog Saloon. I was all 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,” I turned to Brian. “I’ve never seen it on the big screen, only on VHS. Can we go? We’ve got to go!”

I watched Rock ‘n’ Roll High School from the word go through high school. I would just put it on the VCR whenever I 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.

I watched Rock ‘n’ Roll High School every week for years. In 1999, the year my 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?” he asked me.

“That would be the Ramones, dad.”

Chapter 22

I’m a huge dog lover more than a small dog lover.

The first time I saw a Leonberger I knew that was the dog for me.

After Baby, our first one, turned two, I 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 I told our breeder he was a Baby Huey, he started laughing, laughing for five minutes, so in the end his name became Baby.

I had been saving and saving, and when we got our income tax return I told Brian, “I’m ready to get another Leonberger.”

“Have you lost your mind?” he asked.

We went ahead. We got another one.

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

The first thing she did after shaking off the scariness was go after my diamonds and rubies. She tried to eat my necklace, my bracelet, and my earrings, everything. We thought, oh, we’ll call her Zsa Zsa, because of her love of jewels.

After a week we 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. I used to put buttered rice in Baby’s food because I thought he wasn’t eating enough, wasn’t growing, wasn’t getting big enough. Eat, Baby, eat!

With Veruca, the little fatty, I don’t have to do that.

All food all the time is fair game for Leonbergers. They’re taller than counters and tables. If I leave butter on a counter, it’s gone. If I set dinner out for Brian, but don’t push it back out of reach, they’ll go up and get it. It’s gone.

Veruca ate all my Malley’s Chocolates one day. She ate a whole box of them and didn’t even get diarrhea.

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, not really. Leonbergers don’t like that. He has never been spanked because he’s so good. At least he was, until my birthday. Walking into the kitchen I heard slobbering and crunching.

“What the hell’s going on?” I thought.

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

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

Veruca is different. When I corrected her for eating my chocolate, she barely paid attention.

“I ate your chocaoate? Is there something you’re going to do about it?”

She’s been corrected one hundred thousand times, but she doesn’t care. When I correct Baby, he’s on the floor. Veruca, she just sits there defiantly. “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’s over my face. One afternoon he got so excited when I got home that he jumped up on me and we both fell through the back door.

My nephew Kyle is teaching Baby to slow dance. It’s ridiculous how much Baby is in love with his cousin. Kyle sat down on a white plastic chair on the patio. Baby was so glad to see him he ran out and jumped on Kyle’s lap. The legs of the chair shot out, the chair collapsed, and both Baby and Kyle 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. I’ve already gotten a little bit of a fat lip from the big Veruca paw.

Kyle taught them to wrestle. When we’re 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.

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

We cannot have nice things. I broke down against my 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 my neighbor, Dawn, crazy, which is a good thing. She’s awful. There’s nothing nice about that woman.

After Mary and Josephine died next door, we got new neighbors on that side of us, who bought their house, a Puerto Rican couple in their 60s. They love both our dogs and us. “Don’t they drive you crazy?” I asked.

“We like it,” they said.

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

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

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

“Go play King of the Pool,” I said.

Chapter 23

Unless someone knows Brian, it won’t make sense. Unless they know who he is, where he came from, it won’t make sense to them. What made sense was that he was a good guy, always has been.

It all started when Brian was living in Florida with his sisters and mother. He had just gotten out of jail, where he was locked up for contempt of court. He wouldn’t give away what he knew about somebody to the judge of the court. He was covering for somebody and wouldn’t tell anybody anything.

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

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

“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” That’s the way Freddie was.

So, Brian 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 was 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.

We met in 2001 when he was living with Freddie. He had become a full-blown addict in the meantime. When I 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. I was living in Lorain and was from Bay Village, on the west side, as far away from Little Italy as could be in more ways than one.

We met at a party. It didn’t seem like we had much in common except that his father had just died, and my father had just died, too.

My childhood was sad while Brian’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. Brian’s father was a mob lawyer.

Danny Greene was a mobster during the Cleveland gang wars in the 1970s. They were always trying to blow each other up. One time another 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 Mr. Jurek, Brian’s father, were tight, Mr. Jurek defended the guy who blew up Danny Greene.

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

His uncle Angelo was one of the heads of the Youngstown Mafia. We 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.

Brian and I saw each other for ten months before we got married in 2002. At first we lived in my brother’s mother-in-law’s old house on Berea Rd. We were getting ready to get married. Then Brad’s mother-in-law accused us of running up the water bill.

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

I looked at the water bill. I 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!”

She had a Section 8 family with special needs kids living upstairs in the double house. We lived downstairs. One night at two in the morning I saw water dripping from our ceiling. I went upstairs.

Bang, bang, bang, I 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, I thought.

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 Brian and me of using all this water, really?” We got into a fight.

“Brian 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.”

We packed up and left, even though we didn’t have anywhere to go. We got married and moved back to Freddie’s house in Little Italy. We weren’t there long before I started looking for our own home. I couldn’t stand living with Freddie.

He loved it because I did all the grocery shopping, all the cooking, and all the cleaning. But Freddie 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 Brian rescue stray dogs, but I could have blown that man up.

Chapter 24

When Brian 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, we would take them to the vet, get the repaired, train them and find them homes. Although we don’t live or work on the east side anymore, if I see a stray, I stop the car and do something about it.

After we moved to West Park, we 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 when it was getting into fall that the dog was getting skinny, skinny, skinny. She found out the homeowner had gotten another dog and was starving the backyard dog to death.

Animal Control told her the dog wasn’t being visibly mistreated. She was distraught. One day she was telling somebody who knew Brian and me about it.

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

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

She gave our friend the address of the skinny starving dog.

It was Thanksgiving night. We had dinner, set the alarm for 2:30, and went to bed. When we woke up it was storming lightning and thunder.

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

“What about the lightning flashes?”

He didn’t say anything.

We filled our pockets with turkey. When we got there, it was pitch dark. We walked up to the fence and the dog came running. Brian unlatched the gate. The dog came to the gate and sniffed him up. We gave the dog some turkey, he was happy, and he went right to the car with us.

The next morning, we called the mail lady. She had told our friend she would take care of the dog.

“We have the dog,” said Brian.

“What? You have her?”

“Yeah, you want to pick her up?”

The next day, when she walked up to our front door, she was looking around in all directions. You would have thought we were doing an illicit drug transaction. Many people think dogs are their property, but when dogs are mistreated, I don’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 ours had one of our rescues. We kept in touch. She called us 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,” I said.

When she called us, we walked right into the man’s garage. The back door wasn’t even locked. We 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.

Brian went and rescued a pit bull bait dog one morning that my niece-in-law’s sister told us about.

“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 over the fence. The next minute he was gone. That was that, no more docile dog for a mean dog to attack.

It’s not always that easy, although it can be. We 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 we got there we found out the people were on vacation. Their neighbor was in his backyard.

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

“What are you going to do with him?”

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

“OK.”

Brian cut the dog’s chain and we took him away.

Most of the dogs we rescue we find by word-of-mouth or Facebook. I have lots of dog rescuer friends on Facebook. When we rescue a dog we take them to a vet, take them to our house where they can play with our dogs, and 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.

We have a vet who we’ve had for a long time. We took a dog to him that Brian 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. Brian scooped him up on the fly.

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

He wouldn’t charge us for that surgery, just like he doesn’t for many others. Brian rescues dogs all the time. He found one when he saw some people 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!”

They got in their car and took off. He found a mastiff in the bushes, gained its trust, and the next thing I know there’s Brian with the dog.

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

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

“We’re going to keep Gretel,” I said.

“Gretel?”

“That’s her name,” I said.

She was the sweetest dog ever. It made her day the day she came to live in our home. We kept her with us until the day she died.

Chapter 25

“Don’t you need to go and register for school?” my mom asked.

“Yeah, but I’m not going,” I 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.”

She was so excited. She loved it that I 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. My mom started looking up cosmetology schools.

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

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

I don’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.

I used to cut hair when I worked at Bay Pool. Kids I worked with would ask me, “Do you know how to cut hair?”

“I don’t know, maybe. I cut my own.”

“OK, can you cut mine?”

“Yeah, I’ll cut it.”

I 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 mine asked me at one of our school reunions.

“No, but it sounds great,” I said. Even if I didn’t remember it, back then he wanted his ear pieced, so I pierced it, dark or no dark.

By the time my mom was done, the next thing I knew, I was enrolled at the Fairview Beauty Academy in Fairview Park. It was there then and it’s there now, thirty years later. It didn’t always go as planned. I had to spend a lot of time 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?” I said. “Lay back down!”

My teachers were, like, “Julie!”

“Did you just swear at her?”

“No, I didn’t swear at her.”

“Are you lying?”

“No.”

They made me write “I will not swear in front of clients” 500 more times. It was ridiculous.

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

“Keep writing,” they said.

It was horrible. I was always in trouble.

I don’t even know I’m saying it when I’m saying it. It’s just part of my 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 and on. Mom loved 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 our 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 guy behind us said to me. ”Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

I 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.” I kissed my mom.

“Jay, what are you doing?” she asked me. She hadn’t been paying attention to the man behind us.

Halfway through beauty school I got into a car accident when I hit a cement truck. I was out for four months. When I came back, I had four months left. Those months became my dark days. I thought I was a hot shot and that I knew best. I never paid attention. I 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 said. I was the daring person. It wasn’t about playing with scissors.

“I do!” I said.

I was the first one to go on the floor. I didn’t mind standing all day. I could do it all day with no problem. I had cut people’s hair before, so I was, let’s go. I couldn’t and wouldn’t quit. I had to finish beauty school because I couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to Tri-C.

I hated beauty school, but I got through it, and I got my first job at Cadillac Cutters. It didn’t go well, not because of my swearing, but because, in the end, I didn’t swear enough.

Chapter 26

When Brian and I go on our vacation to Mexico my friend Kristen and her girlfriend Karen come over and watch the dogs. They stay at our house, living in. They hang out with the dogs. Kristen is a godparent to them. I’ve known her forever.

We go to Mexico in January, flying from Cleveland Hopkins Airport direct 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.

When we’re flying there Brian sits in the seat beside the window, pulls the brim of his baseball cap down, and falls asleep. The next thing I know I’m waking him up. The next thing he knows we’re there.

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

I don’t know Karen as well as Kristen. She’s a little on the shyer side. Kristen is one of the nicest people I know.

When we’re in Mexico Kristen sends me pictures of our dogs.

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

“Does my Baby miss me?” I asked.

“Yes, very much.”

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

“It’s like a little vacation,” said Kristen.

I leave food in the fridge and presents for them.

“You do too much for us,” she said.

“You watch my kids,” I said.

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

Brian and I enjoy going to Mexico for our five-day vacation. “You both look so relaxed and so happy,” said my friend Christy. One night we had dinner at the Brazilian Steak House. That was delicious.

“Who watches your dogs when you’re gone?” All kinds of people who have dogs ask me. I tell 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.

But I don’t want my 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. I won’t do it to my dogs. I always call Kristen. I trust her and if she’s willing to come over and babysit, I’m willing to have her in our house, and pay her.

“You pay me way too much,” she said.

“I don’t think I pay you nearly enough,” I said. I don’t just leave food and drink for her and Karen. I leave wine, too. She watches our dogs and our house, she’s responsible, but she needs to kick back sometimes.

I take care of people who take care of me 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 we don’t do a lot of stuff with the Animal Protective League anymore, I share a lot with the Cuyahoga County Kennel, and I have a lot of rescuers on my Facebook page. One woman, Barb Katzenmyer, does so much, unchaining, rescuing, transferring, re-homing. I admire her so much. She is someone I would strive to be, if I could.

Brian doesn’t let me go to kennels too many times because there ‘s always the danger I will come out with an animal. We were looking at a dog one day, but they 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?” asked Brian.

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

Karen taught Baby how to slow dance. Kristen sent us a picture of Karen and Baby, our shaggy two-hundred-pound Leonberger, dancing in the kitchen.

We had a good time in Mexico. I 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 we 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 we got home.

“She was fine, why?”

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

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

Karen gave all our 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 I already call her Fat Warthog.

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

Chapter 27

All my dogs are friendly, sometimes too friendly. I 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 our full-grown Leonberger, accidentally punched my girlfriend and me in the face trying to hug us. I had a cut on my nose. She got a bad bruise.

When my cousin from Jersey Shore was in town for Thanksgiving, and we were all over my mom’s house for dinner, he asked about coming to our house for a visit.

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

“That’s OK,” he said.

“How do you want to meet the dogs?” I 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 our dogs were in the kitchen when we 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 I 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 had started.

“You asked for it,” I said.

“I love it,” he said.

I had to work Saturday after Thanksgiving. My cousin messed with the dogs all day.

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

Nanook is our Husky. He’s my alpha dog. He’s the leader of the pack. He’s not going to snuggle. Our two big babies, Grayson and Veruka, come into the kitchen and start to kiss. 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 our two Leonbergers. Baby is the bigger, older dog, but Veruka is a monster next to Baby. Baby is the sweetest thing ever in this world.

I always have to correct Veruka. I never have to correct Baby. Veruka is teaching Baby some bad tricks, too, which I don’t like.

Veruka ate my wallet and everything in it, my medical card, my bank card, our checks, my tip money. We had to go to the backyard, the stone area, where she takes all her captives. Whenever we give her anything she goes there and starts chewing. We found some dollars, a twenty, and my checks. I found my wallet, but it was all over for it. I just threw it out. But, before I did, I showed it to Veruka.

“Who did this? Did you do it?”

She gave me her look. “Yeah, I did that.” If I tell Grayson he’s a punk, he’ll run downstairs and put himself in his cage. If I show 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 my attention. When I come home from work, I have to let him out on the porch, which means, in dog talk, you come out the back door by yourself and keep it closed so the other dogs can’t come out. You give me some one-on-one.

That’s what I have to do. The second I do, 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, our 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 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 our bed, wait for me 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 me and ran around 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 our dogs. One day they were all on the back porch, all screaming. King of the Back Porch. I thought they were going to come in through the windows. They wouldn’t stop, flying from one end of the porch to the other.

I opened the back door.

“Party’s over kids. No more screaming.” They all came in when I told them the party was over, except for Nanook. He had to get in one last howl.

When I opened the door for him, he ran away. When I shut the door, he ran up to it. When I took one step out of the door, like I was going to go get him, he lay down on the ground.

Nanook doesn’t know I’m the boss. He thinks Brian is the boss. Maybe he’s right.

One evening after work my dogs started wrestling in the kitchen, all of them, all five of them. It was Puppy Wrestlemania. I yelled at them. Brian wasn’t home. Not one of them stopped.

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

Brian and I were fighting, going at it, when he said, “My opinion just doesn’t matter.”

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

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

“Yeah,” he said.

Chapter 28

I spray Lysol on everything. It’s the Windex of all germ killers. I buy it by the case. It’s good for everything. It kills everything, every kind of flu, strep, everything.  I spray it on my doorknobs, handles, couches, pillows, blankets, my bed.

Everything.

It soaks in, dries, and afterwards everything smells really good. I like the freshwater scent best.

I have even sprayed Lysol by accident into my water and drunk it. It just happened, not that I meant to, but when it did, I thought, all right, it will kill all the germs from the inside out.

When Jimmy was staying at our house and caught the flu, I sprayed him.

We were in Mexico, Kristen was watching our dogs, but she got sick, got the vommies. Jimmy needed somewhere to stay, so he took over from her. I told him to spray the house down.

“Julie, 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 I had no problem spraying him.

When we got home from Mexico two days later, I told him I 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,” I 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,” said Jimmy.

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

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

He told me about it while he was lying on the sofa with Fat Pebbles. They are girlfriend and boyfriend. My house is crazy. We have six dogs ever since we got Hermy. You have to be a little crazy to hang out at our house.

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

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

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

Jimmy and I have been friends since 5th grade. We dated a little in the 7th and 8th grades, but he and I are both too controlling to be a couple. He’s controlling, I’m controlling, but we stayed friends. He’s been my best friend ever since then.

We text each other every day all day, forty times a day. If Brian and I are out to dinner, and he says something, I will call or text Jimmy.

“Guess what Brian just said!” That’s the kind of friendship we have.

We ran into Jimmy a couple of years after getting married. He was surprised.

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

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

“I married her,” said Brian.

“You stole my girl,” said Jimmy.

“Oh, God,” I said.

We laughed about it and since then we’ve been back to being friends. We call Jimmy husband #2.

Jimmy’s dad was once a bigwig cop in Cleveland. He used to sit outside Brian’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 Brian and Jimmy hanging out together. They were both on a bad path.

Jimmy 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. Jimmy came back into our lives after a two-year stint of being gone. Something happened and he disappeared.

After Kristen got sick and Jimmy 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 Brian, but unlike Brian he had a slip-up and fell off the wagon. He got back on with our help.

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

I made the mistake of getting Brian a hand bell when he was sick. That will never happen again. He completely abused the bell. Most guys are like that.

After the bell got lost and we couldn’t find it, Brian started called me Sharon. Sharon is Ozzie Osborne’s wife. She can never find anything in their house. My nickname became Sharon.

When Jimmy was feeling better, he and Brian went to Malley’s and bought me a box of Bordeaux Chocolate.

Malley’s is an ice cream candy chocolate store. There are 22 of them. We 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 our house Jimmy left the box of chocolate on the kitchen counter. He didn’t know that dogs can and will eat anything if you let them. I’ve had dogs that would eat green peppers. Veruka, our Leonberger, will eat fruits and vegetables.

When Jimmy and Brian came upstairs Veruka came 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.

I know 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 my whole box of Bordeaux Chocolate on her way upstairs. Her dog mouth dog lips dog tongue was all chocolaty.

She was licking it off her face. There was no need for Lysol.

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.”

“Why?”

“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.