Category Archives: Dogs Never Bite Me

Dogs Never Bite Me

   Chapter 1

   Thelma was working at the hair salon halfway through an overlay when her husband called. She couldn’t pick up, since her hands were full. When she listened to the voice mail later, Steve said he was sorry.

   “Honey, I’m really sorry,” he said. She could hear talking in the background, and somebody laughing.

   “What did you do?” she thought, sitting in the lunchroom, making a sandwich, waiting for it to heat up in the toaster oven. He went on for more than a minute. She took a bite of the ham on rye sandwich. It was raining cats and dogs outside.

   “Oh, my God, what did he do?” she thought to herself louder than before.

   “She was walking in the street,” he said. “She looked like she was trying to get hit by a car.”

   “Oh, he rescued another dog,” Telly realized.

   He said the dog looked so bad that he pulled over, turned around, went back, and picked her up. “She was just looking for someone to hit her,” he told Thelma over dinner. “She just wanted to die.” But there she was alive at their feet.

   Steve found her on the east side, on Superior Avenue on the far side of downtown. No collar and no tags. She was a purebred German Shepherd, between six and eight years old. He called his brother about the dog and he wanted her right away. But, because Steve’s brother has such a nasty, hateful girlfriend, she said no, and that was that.

   He brought her back to their house.

   Telly fell in love with her. “She’s so sweet I can’t stand it. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to give her to anybody.”

   She curled up on the sofa between them when they watched TV. If they got up at the same time, she didn’t know which one of them to follow. Wherever they went she was right behind them. She lay next to their claw tooth tub when Thelma bathed. She had to step over the dog, which was hard to do with Telly’s short legs.

   She was wondering what the dog’s tale was.

   Thelma was going up the stairs to take a bath, stripping as she went, when she found out. She was taking her belt off when the dog almost pooped herself. She could not get away from the sight of the belt fast enough. She stumbled down a few steps before recovering her balance, and disappeared fast

   Telly muttered “son-of-a bitch” under her breath. “All because I took my belt off. How about that?”

   When they first got her, she was depressed and miserable. She wouldn’t eat for a week. At first, Thelma and the dog shared rice chips. She wouldn’t eat anything else, and she wouldn’t touch dog food, but then she got back in the swing of eating chow.

   She had a bad ear infection, but, luckily, Telly had ear medication left over from other dogs they had rescued.

   Their vet came over to check her out because she had lumps on her chest. Tracy said they were probably fatty lumps and nothing to worry about. She ran the dog’s blood, just in case.

   Steve put a call in to the pound and left a description of the dog and his phone number with them, but no one ever called back. Thelma didn’t know if she was going to be able to give her to anybody, but thought she had to find her a home, even if it was only with another dog rescuer. Better than the one she ran away from.

   They put up fliers with other rescuers, passing them to each other, by word of mouth and on Facebook. They found a fine home for her. The day after Steve found the German Shepherd, Telly tagged her sister on to a Yorkie.  She had to put her own Yorkie down a few weeks earlier.

   “I want the dog,” she said when she got hold of Telly.

   She called about the Yorkie.

   “When can I grab the dog?”

   She drove to Elyria that night and picked up the eleven-month dog. He was going to be Thelma’s sister and nephew’s Christmas present, but they had to fix him up first, in more ways than one.

   An elderly woman had bought the dog from a breeder, but she got sick and ended up in a nursing home. Her idiot kids locked the baby Yorkie in the garage for four weeks. They fed him, sure, throwing some food into the garage now and then, but they neglected it. He went from being spoiled rotten to having no one, no matter how rotten they were.

   Finally, a neighbor of the kids took the Yorkie, but decided the dog was vicious.

   “Oh, it’s vicious, vicious, it snarls at me, and lunges at me,” the lady said.

   “All seven pounds of it” Telly said.

   “Yes, he won’t let me pass out of the kitchen.”

   “Just give me the dog,” she said.

   People are so stupid, she thought. Sometimes I hate them. “Dogs never bite me, only people,” she told the Yorkie. “Honestly, I’d rather hang out with dogs,” she told anybody who would listen.

   Most of the dog’s problem was that he had never been neutered. That was going to take a lot of his attitude out of him right there. The rest of it was they let him act like that. You don’t let a dog act like he wants to. You are the alpha dog, not the dog. He learned quick who the alpha dog was in their house.

   “When they’re aggressive you have to show them that you’re more dominant than they are.”

   Telly said no, and he growled, and went to bite, and she picked him right up and put him on his back. If it’s a little dog, you put them on their backs. If it’s a big dog, you press on their backs until you hear the sigh of release.

   “We don’t do that in this house,” she explained.

   She put him in a cage.

   “Ugh,” he said.

   But cage training is better than force. After that he was a delight, running around on the couch, playing with his rope and toy. When she gave him to her sister, she explained how to be with him, how to restrain him when he acts out, and to make sure she had a cage for him, just in case.

   The next day Steve came home with another Yorkie.

   “It’s for my cousin,” he said.

   Steve’s cousin Clint had been a heroin addict who had to have his legs amputated.

   “He isn’t still using, is he?” Thelma asked.

   “He needs a dog,” Steve said, and that was all he said.

   Chapter 2

   Steve’s cousin Clint had been a heroin addict, gone through rehab, and everything seemed to be all right, until the night he decided to stick a needle into his arm again. The problem with junk is you think, even though you’ve been clean, you can go back to using the same amount of it you had been using before.

   That doesn’t work. He wasn’t thinking right. He went into his room one night and stuck a needle in his arm like before. He stopped thinking a few minutes later. The junk smacked him down and out.

   The next morning his roommate got up and found Clint curled up on the bathroom floor. He had been lying there most of the night, it turns out, on goose bump tile, in the dark. It had been a cold winter night.

   “Clint, get up, we have to go to work,” the roommate said.

   When Clint didn’t move, the roommate, being the bright boy that he is, went back to bed for an hour. When he woke up again Clint was still in the bathroom, out stone cold. Did he call an ambulance? No. Did he call the police? No. He called his girlfriend. “What is it?” she asked, annoyed.

   “Hey, Clint’s on the floor of the bathroom and I need to get in there to shave. I need to get to work.”

   “Who is this genius?” Thelma asked Steve.

   “Boy wonder, disaster,” he said.

   The girlfriend rushed over to their apartment. While she was on the way she called an ambulance and Clint’s mom. She had started thinking, at least. She knew Clint’s bad habits. They rushed him to the emergency room at the hospital in Fairview Park, where the roommate and Clint’s mom were told the bad news.

   “Here’s the deal. This kid is not in good shape. He’s overdosed on heroin, his kidneys have shut down, and he’s got Compartment Syndrome. His whole body is shutting down. Before we can work on the kidneys, before we can work on the Compartment Syndrome, before we can work on anything, he’s got to pull through the heroin overdose. He’s got to come through that first.”

   After forty-eight hours he was still alive. Nobody could believe it. It was like a miracle.

   Compartment Syndrome is what happens when oxygen gets cut off to the muscles in your body. That’s what happened to Clint. It’s the same thing that happens when you fall asleep on your arm in the middle of the night and wake up with it numb and tingling. You shake it off. It’s no big deal.

   But Clint had been lying on his face, his arms and legs underneath him, when he crumpled to the bathroom floor the night before. It was a big deal. He’d been unconscious for ten hours, circulation, and oxygen, everything, cut off. Everything fell dead asleep. Then his muscles started dying, dying all night.

   In the hospital they slit his hands open at the palms and slit his hands open at the back of them. The doctors slit his arms all the way up on both sides and slit his legs down the middle. They manipulated his muscles to get them to start coming back alive again.

   He was wide open, machines circulating his blood. They did nineteen surgeries over three months. They saved his arms, but both of his legs are gone. His leg on the left side is gone above the knee and his leg on the right side is gone below the knee. They couldn’t bring the muscles back for anything. So, he lost his legs.

   They didn’t tell him they cut his legs off until he was almost done with all the surgeries and out of the recovery room because they needed him to fight and keep going. He was almost ready to leave the hospital for rehab when they talked to him.

   “We have to tell you something,” they said.

   “Is it bad news?” he asked.

   “Yes,” they said.

   After he got home, he got a small, motorized wheelchair that he runs around in. He can’t even use prosthetics because all the muscles in his upper thighs are ruined. They had to take some of them out because they were dying. If they had left them in that could have made the other muscles die, too.

   The doctors had to take all the muscles that had compartments in them out of his legs. He has no strength in his upper leg muscles to support prosthetics, so he’s going to be in a wheelchair forever. He’s thirty-two years old and his fingers are locked up. They’re almost like claws. When he talks and tries to gesture, he can’t unclench them.

   Clint asked Telly and Steve for a dog.

   The dog they found for him was a puppy mill dog, a little Parti Yorkie. They got him from another dog rescuer who put him up on Facebook. They didn’t even know what he was. They thought he was a Maltipoo, but it was really a Parti, a new designer dog, although it’s hard to tell the difference.

   They jumped the rescue by telling them they very possibly had a desirable home for it. It was only partly a white lie. They took the dog, not knowing exactly if Clint would go for it. They cleaned him up and had him for a few days at their house before giving him to Clint. Steve carried the Parti Yorkie around with him like a clutch. He was show dog size, under seven pounds, not a family-sized Yorkie. That was a mistake, carrying him around, because Steve then started wanting the dog.

   When they delivered the Yorkie to Clint’s apartment Steve told him if it didn’t work out it would be OK, and he would take the dog back.

   But Clint does nothing now except sit in his wheelchair and dote on the dog. And the dog is the kind that needs nothing but being doted on. They are peas in a pod.

   “I love this dog, man, and he loves me,” said Clint. “I’m keeping him.”

   Chapter 3

   When Thelma’s little brother Brad and she were kids they only ever all together went on one family vacation. Before that vacation her sisters went all the time, to Florida to see their grandparents, where they would ride on boats and go fishing, and all their other fun stuff.

   But then Brad and she joined the family.

   “Too many kids,” her mom said after they were born. Their family vacations were over and done after that. Her mom never wanted any of them, anyway, so she was mad that they were there to begin with.

   “I never wanted you kids. You are all your father’s idea,” Alma told them all their entire lives. She meant the children were a bad idea, since they were her husband’s idea. “Why are you even here? You’ve ruined my life!”

   Anytime any of them would walk into a room she got pissed that they were living and breathing.

   “It’s a good thing she doesn’t have a gas chamber in the basement,” Telly told her sisters.

   Later on, Sarah was ostracized from the family and Betty cut herself off. Sarah locked herself in her room and never came out. Betty was always fuming. Whenever Brad made his parents mad, Telly would jump in and take his punishment. She couldn’t stand to see him get it. But the sisters were always throwing each other under the bus. None of them wanted to get hit. “The bad part is your sisters then grow up hating you.” That’s how they had the mess between her sisters and Thelma now. She wasn’t saying there weren’t good times, but it was definitely tough.

   The one family vacation they went on in her whole life was to Disneyland. Her mom complained it was like corralling cats. One morning Telly was with her. They were out searching for breakfast. No one knew where Sarah was. She had just walked off. Betsy took Brad with her and their dad went to find tickets to see the Country Bears Jamboree.

  That’s the only reason he went to Disneyland to begin with. He loved the Country Bears and couldn’t get enough of them. He laughed up a storm at the mention of them.

   When her mom and she finally got trays of breakfast for everyone they couldn’t find anyone, so they sat down on a curb. A minute later, sitting on the curb, looking up, they saw Betsy and Brad slowly go past leaning back in a horse-drawn carriage, waving their hands.

   Alma and Telly looked at each other. What? Really?

   They all saw the Bear Jamboree later, and the next day Telly spotted Donny Osmond riding the same monorail with them out of our hotel. Her sisters loved Donny Osmond when they were growing up, but they wouldn’t go up to him.

   Telly was young and gun-shy, but her dad pushed her in Donny’s direction, anyway.

   “Go get his autograph,” Fred said.

   “No, no, no,” she said.

   Fred pushed her forward. She got a pushed in the small of the back running start, and the next thing she knew she was standing in front of Donny Osmond. Telly was just flabbergasted! She had seen him on TV and now she was standing in front of him. She got his autograph, although she didn’t know how. Maybe he felt bad because he thought she was special needs. She just didn’t even know. “Poor little retard kid,” he probably thought and gave her his autograph.

   She ran off the monorail car when it stopped. “Why would you do that to me?” she asked her dad. “Why me?”

   Thelma went to Bay Village Middle School and Bay Village High School. She was a lifeguard at the Bay Pool and a Bay Rockette on the kick line for two years. Telly had a lot of friends growing up, but she hardly ever had them over to their house. She usually went to their houses. She was always leery of having them over because she never knew if her dad would be mad out of the blue or if her mom would start something out of the blue.

   If they liked something Alma was always going to find a way to not like it. After Telly moved away, her sister Sarah wanted a family heirloom their mom had, a bench that had been in their great grandparent’s house, but Alma wouldn’t let her take it.

   Her parents used to have the bench in their split-level family house in Bay Village, at the end of their bed, but when Fred passed away and Alma immediately re-married, marrying her old high school sweetheart from Jersey Shore, and moving to North Ridgeville, she put it away in her garage.

   Sarah wanted the bench bad. Telly told her mom over and over that Sarah wanted it, but Alma said, “No, she can’t have it, and that’s final.” It was like talking to a block of hardwood.

   “What are you doing with it?” Telly asked her.

   “No, no, no,” was all she said. It was because she knew Sarah wanted it that she wouldn’t give it to her.

   That’s the way Alma is. If someone loves something, then she hates it. She always finds a way. She’s always been like that. Their dad could be cool sometimes. Telly knew, even though he beat the tar out of them, that he cared about them. But, their mom, not so much.

   She had a Rockette party at their house once, at the tail end of August, coming out of left field. They were at practice and their coach said the first football game was coming up soon, on September such-and-such, and they didn’t have a place scheduled for their potluck, yet.

   “We can have it at our house,” she blurted out.

   Just like that thirty high school girls were going to be coming over to their house. She called her dad at work. He sounded happy to hear from her.

   “Hey, dad,” she said. “I just invited all my friends over for a potluck.”

   “Sweet,” Fred said. “We’ll make it work.”

   He came home early from work, bought all the hot dogs and hamburgers, and thoroughly enjoyed having all Telly’s friends in the backyard. He was all over the place with his camera and took a ton of pictures. It was a good time. Her mom stayed in the house and never came out into the yard. Fred loved it, but Alma was pissed that her daughter had thirty girls over.

   Telly loved being a Rockette. She was one of the in crowd during her sophomore and junior years at Bay High School until the night not long after the party when she tore her hamstring in three places. She had to give up being a Rockette because of her leg.

   It was terrible, like she had lost something special, something she could never get back.

   Chapter 4

   Every time Thelma found an animal, cat dog bird squirrel, anything, it didn’t matter, she would take care of it and nurture it. If they were hurt her dad, Fred, and she would help them out together. If it was an emergency, they took them to the Lake Erie Nature Center down Wolf Road.

   It drove Alma batty. She barely liked animals, at all. Besides, she had asthma. Their dander, saliva, and skin flakes aggravated it.

   “Someone’s going to have to take me to the people doctor,” she said whenever Telly brought another lost or hurt creature home.

  If you’re born to love animals, then you love animals. Telly didn’t think it was anything you can make happen. Her dad had it. She had it. Her mom wasn’t good with it. Whenever she wanted a pet, she always asked her dad. She never asked her mom. They had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and a poodle, thanks to dad.

   Their poodle Coco hated Telly’s brother Brad. She never knew why, exactly, except she thought he might have been too rough with her when he was a crawler.

   “Coco, get him,” was all she had to say if they were sitting on the sofa together. Coco would assault the hell out of him, growling and snapping and pulling off his diaper. She had fun making the poodle attack her little brother since she knew the dog wanted to, and because she could make it happen.

  Before Sarah moved out Brad and Telly slept in the same room. They both had big beds with posts and a bar across the back of them. They each had cherry wood dressers, a closet, and shelves for their toys. 

   Telly slept in the bed by the window and Brad slept closer to the attic. Her brother passed windy blasts of gas when he was a kid. They kept a window cracked even in winter. Sometimes it was so loud he woke Telly up.

   “Are your butt cheeks still flapping from that one?” 

   She did love him, though. He was a good kid most of the time. When she was in high school, she took him with her wherever they went. They were Tom and Jerry.

   Telly played TRIP! with him all the time when he was small. Wherever he was in the house, which was a split level, six steps up from the basement, or the five steps up to the kitchen, or the twelve steps up to the bedrooms, it didn’t matter, he never knew when his sister was going to suddenly pull a cord tight and make him trip.

   Her sisters made her play LET ME HAVE IT! with them. They would be in Sarah or Betsy’s bedroom and she would have to say, “Let me have it.” They would pummel her with pillows. Just pummel her, letting her have it.

  A car hit Coco when she was a junior in high school. Coco had gotten older and slower, but none of them saw it coming. She ran up and down the street and into and out of the woods at the end of their cul-de-sac all her living days.  The man who hit her stopped, picked her up, and went looking for the owners. When he found Betty, she came to the Bay Village pool where Telly was lifeguarding and got her. They had to put her down. It was awful.

   When they got their Rottweiler, Alma claimed she loved the dog, but they had to get rid of him because she said the dog inflamed her asthma. Her sister Sarah adopted him, since she had moved away from home, so she was still able to see the dog whenever she wanted.

   Growing up in their house in Bay Village was not like growing up in your average house. You were either going to move out while you were still young, or you were going to be thrown out. Looking back, she thought they were all thrown out.

   Everybody in their family got married when they were 19, except Telly. Her mom and dad got married at 19, her brother got married when he was 19, and both of her sisters got married when they were 19. She didn’t get married until I was 34, right after her dad died. 

   Before she got married, after she left her family’s house because of one thing and another, she babysat Sarah’s Rottweiler whenever her sister went on vacation. His name was Wellington. He was a sweet dog, but a stupid dog, too. He wasn’t the kind of vicious Rottweiler everybody always thinks they are. He had a blanket he carried around. They called the blankie Spooky. They would tell him to go get Spooky and when he came back, he would be dragging his blankie behind him.

  He loved people, just loved them. Sarah lived in West Park, near St. Patrick’s, and when school let out, Wellington would sit at the front door whimpering to be let out.

   “You can’t go out,” Sarah would say. “You’re going to scare the kids.”

   He was a silly beast and would cry no matter what she said. He learned how to lean on the door and swivel the knob and get out. Telly started thinking he wasn’t so stupid, after all. “No, you’re not going out there,” she told him every time she was at Sarah’s house, but if she was upstairs dressing for work, he would burgle the door and the next thing she knew he was at the end of the driveway. As the kids walked by there were three big slurps for each of them.

   They walked away wiping their faces and rubbing their hands dry on their pants.

   He got out one day when two guys were playing Frisbee in the street. He had seen them through the screen. He couldn’t contain himself.

   “You’re not going out there,” Telly told him firmly, wagging her finger. “I don’t know those guys.” 

   He banged up against the door and when it flew open, he took off. The guys were 18, maybe 19, and when they saw him running at them, they froze. Telly ran out. “Throw the Frisbee!” she yelled. 

   They stayed stuck in place stiff as sticks. “The dog will love you if you throw the damn Frisbee!” One of them threw the bright red plastic disk. The big Rottweiler hauled ass after it.

   “Sweet,” one of them said.

   They hit the jackpot, running the dog until the end of the afternoon. His feet were bloody when he got home. He was an idiot, after all.

   Even though she loved animals and her mom didn’t, which was a disagreement between them that wasn’t getting resolved anytime soon, Telly was the only one of her mom’s four kids who forced her to show some love. The others gave up trying.

   She would come home from parties or from dances when I was in 7th grade and plop down on her bed, sprawled out and telling Alma about the whole fantastic night, everything that happened. Her mom would stay on the bed with her, holding her hand, listening.   

   A dog will love you if you throw a Frisbee. In that family they had to plan scheme compel their mom to love them. It was the way Alma was. Telly used to wonder what it was like for her growing up in a small worn-out Pennsylvania town, her family poor broken ignored. She needed some love. Telly could tell. Maybe animals couldn’t give it to her, but she could try.

   Chapter 5

   Steve and Thelma had a friend whose name was Dell. He’s an 80-year-old small-sized man who is a widower. They met him the day Steve told Telly he was bringing one of the guys from the shelter to their house for dinner.

   “Oh, now we’re going to be feeding the homeless in our own home,” she complained.

   She cried when she met Dell because she thought he was destitute. He wasn’t, although he helped out at the homeless shelter. He was like Steve, feeding the hungry.

   Dell lives in a sprawling house on Erie Road in Rocky River near the Elmwood Playground. He lives alone. They went to his house every Sunday, hanging out, going out to dinner or maybe eating there. That’s how they knew Doug and Christine. They live across the street from Dell, their backyard facing the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.

   They had a three-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. His name was Mr. Jibbs. They brought Baby, their 140-pound Leonberger, with them to Dell’s one evening. Leonbergers come from Leonberger, Germany. Jack Russell’s are fox and rat hunters and come from England.

   “It’s too bad Doug isn’t out with Jibbs,” Telly said. “I would love Baby and Mr. Jibbs to meet each other.”

   “Oh, we can go over,” Steve said.

   “I don’t know. It’s Sunday night.”

   “They’re not going to mind if we stop by and say hello,” said Steve, knocking on their door. They brought Mr. Jibbs out and he and Baby played and wrestled. There was some barking and wrangling, but not like a world war. Doug and Telly took the dogs across the tracks to Elmwood Playground on the other side of the street.

   There weren’t any teams playing baseball, so they let the dogs run around on the field, although Baby is too much of a lazy lummox to run very long. He’s a big, muscular, working dog, but a loafer. Mr. Jibbs did most of the running and Baby did most of the laying around. After they walked back, across the tracks and through the backyard, and were sitting down again, Doug said he was going to bring out champagne.

   “Don’t,” Thelma said. “We just came to say hello goodbye. We’re going out to dinner, anyway, don’t do anything special.”

   “No, no, stay,” he said. “Christine doesn’t like champagne. I’m going to open the bottle and we can finish it.” They were sitting and talking and drinking when Doug got up. “Have you ever seen a train coming down the tracks from this way?” he asked Telly.

   “No, I haven’t.”

   All of a sudden Christine jumped up, worried, nervous.

   “Doug, go grab Jibbs,” she said.

   “He’s fine,” Doug said. “He’s been in the backyard hundreds of times with the train going by. Everything’s fine.”

   Telly grabbed Baby.

   “Baby’s never seen a train,” she said.

   She held on to him because they were ten-some feet from the embankment along which the tracks were on. Mr. Jibbs was running back and forth with his Frisbee. Telly thought he was guarding it, keeping it from Baby, so he couldn’t get it, not that Baby had any interest in it. They were trying to catch Mr. Jibbs as the train came closer. He didn’t realize they just wanted to keep him out of harm’s way, and no one cared about his Frisbee, at all.

   “Someone go grab that dog.” Telly tried to jump and grab him, but he took off. He bolted away from them. Suddenly, the Jack Russell swerved and ran out onto the tracks.

   Christine was running an arm’s length behind him. She was wearing flip-flops and a long, flowing summer dress. Telly never knew how she didn’t get hit by the train. Obviously, it wasn’t her time, but the train hit Mr. Jibbs. Christine somehow got on the other side of the tracks and Telly thought she was screaming.

   “No, it was you screaming,” Steve said.

   The worst part was waiting for the train to pass by before they could get to Christine and before she could pick up her dog. It was horrible. Telly drank herself into oblivion at home that night to dull the pain.

   “We shouldn’t have gone over, we shouldn’t have interrupted them, we should have left things well enough alone,” she said to Steve when they were home.

   “I told Doug,” Steve said. “Your wife gave you the look. Go get your dog. Now he’s fucked.”

   “He was just guarding his Frisbee,” Telly said. “Should I have walked the other way with Baby? Would Jibbs have followed us? I just can’t believe Doug didn’t keep the dog back or do anything.”

   “Thelma,” said Steve. “When you tell me to do something I will listen from now on.”

   “God, I hope so,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t take another dog dying.”

   There’s a place at the Promenade in Westlake that sells silver bracelets with little paws dangling from them. She decided to get one for Christine, and she was going to Cahoon’s Nursery and get a plant or a bush for their backyard, in memory of Mr. Jibbs.

   For more than a week Telly sent a text to Christine every day. She found out she was sitting by the spot where Mr. Jibbs died, every day. She was trying to save her dog and the train missed her by inches. She might have been killed herself.

   “I wake up at night seeing Christine just barely being missed and Jibbs being hit by the locomotive. I hear the train whistle screaming, which is why I didn’t hear myself screaming. All I could hear was the whistle screaming. I wake up all night long, jumping, reliving it in my head.”

   A week later Steve asked if she could move her Honda because he had to take his van to be e-checked. She was backing her car out of the driveway when a box truck came barreling down the street. She started to panic and jumped out of the car at the edge of the drive.

   “I’m not that kind of a person,” she blurted out to Steve when he came running.

   Nothing much freaks her out, but Mr. Jibbs being killed by the freight train has freaked her out.

    Chapter 6

   Thelma is a Bay Brat, which means she grew up in Bay Village and lived there her whole life until her dad died. When she was a girl, she picked up every lost bird and squirrel, every lost cat and dog, and every injured animal she found and brought it home to protect it.

   She was an animal lover from the get-go. She got it partly when she was born, in the blood, partly from her dad, but definitely not from her mom. Alma never liked any of the animals they had in our house garage backyard.

   Her parents met at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a few hours west of Philadelphia. Her grandparents on her dad’s side had moved from Ohio to Philadelphia a few years earlier and he enrolled there after high school. Alma was working in the library, which is how they met. He fell head over heels for her, swept her off her feet, at least he thought so, and they got married.    

   “We’re out of here,” is what Fred said the minute they got married. They moved right back to Cleveland. Even though they were married for more than forty years it might have been the worst thing either of them ever did.

   Telly had a mom who didn’t love her dad, and a dad who was frustrated about it, and the way he tried to make his wife happy was to beat the kids. So, it was a tough childhood. Either you were being totally ignored or you were being hit.

   There were four of them. First, there was Sarah, and then two years later Betsy, and then Thelma five years after that, and last, five years later, Brad. Alma always said Fred tricked her four times.

   Fred was from Cleveland, from the west side, where he grew up almost rich for his time. Alma was from Jersey Shore, just a few miles from Williamsport, where she grew up poor. Jersey Shore isn’t anywhere near New Jersey, the Jersey shoreline, or any real shore of any kind. There used to be silk mills and cigar factories in Jersey Shore. Later on, factories there made steel rails for train tracks.

   During the Depression Telly’s grandfather was the only teenager in his high school who had a car. He used to follow her grandmother down the street trying to get her to come in his car with him, saying he wanted to help carry her books, so what happened was they eventually got married.

   Her other grandfather in Jersey Shore had three jobs the minute he stopped being a teenager. He was a coal miner, a school bus driver, and a milkman, but they were still poor. Even though they were always short on everything they built their own house on the Susquehanna River. Telly honestly don’t know how they ever got it built since they were so strapped for money most of the time.

   The river was their front yard. Susquehanna means Oyster River and it was on the Susquehanna where the Mormons say they got their priesthood delivered from heavenly beings. It was a huge beautiful comfortable house. It’s still standing, although it’s not been taken care of lately, so it’s falling apart.

   Her grandmother lived in the house into her 80s, but then sold it and moved into a trailer, in a trailer park in the mountains above Jersey Shore. She started believing people in other trailers were trying to shoot her with laser guns. She slept wrapped up in foam rubber holding an umbrella over her head for protection. Alma never wanted to talk about her mom because she thought she was crazy, and a Jesus freak, too.

   Telly didn’t know her grandfather because he died young. He had arthritis terrible bad, and it finished him off. It didn’t help him working in the damp underground. She knew her grandmother well. Whenever her sisters and she visited her in their big house she taught them how to pull taffy and fudge. They played with her paper dolls. She didn’t have any real dolls for them. They sat on the front porch in the afternoon and waited for the bean truck.

   “Sometime before dinnertime she sent my older sisters to the side of the road. When the bean truck, or sometimes the vegetable truck, went by on the bumpy road beans would bounce off of the back of it and they would run and gather them up. My grandmother cooked them for dinner. If no beans fell off the truck, then there was no dinner, although she usually had a little something else in the house.”

   Most of the time it was something cold she had canned months earlier.

   Fred went to Upper Darby High School just outside Philadelphia, starting when he was a sophomore. His parents moved him to Philadelphia from Cleveland and he never stopped saying he hated it. He was a Cleveland Browns fan and wore their colors, so he got into fights every day with the other kids who were Philadelphia Eagles fans.

   “He liked telling us stories when we were growing up, like the one about how one day he and his friends went to the second story of their high school and jumped up and down all at once together until the second floor fell in on the first floor.”

   The school’s mascot is a lion now, but when Fred was there it was a court jester.

   Fred’s parents were from Akron, and lived in Lakewood for a long time, but had to move when the new I-90 was being built. It was called the “Main Street of Northern Ohio” back then. When they were growing Fred would drive them to a bridge over the highway and show them the exact spot below the bridge where their house used to be.

   It was when they had to sell the house to the state that they moved to Philadelphia. After Fred and Alma came back to Ohio they lived in Lakewood in a rented house for a few years. Telly’s older sisters were born there, but by the time she came along they were living in Bay Village.

   The family lived on Jefferson Court her whole life. It is a short cul-de-sac street, five blocks south of Lake Erie. Her dad designed the house, and it was built just the way he wanted it. Telly lived there until the day he died, when she was thirty-three years old.

   They all had our own rooms, although Brad and Telly shared a room when they were tots because the house was a room short. Her older sisters had separate bedrooms down the half-story stairway from them, and her parents were at the other end of the hallway. They lived in the crow’s nest until Sarah moved out and got married, when she was nineteen, and Brad was seven. 

   It was in the crow’s nest where she grew close to Brad, who looked just like Bamm-Bamm in the Flintstones cartoons. They even called him Bamm-Bamm. Telly became his number one protector like she did with all the neighborhood’s lost cats and dogs.

   But she could never protect him from Coco, their poodle, who bit and tore off his diapers when he was little. Brad could never crawl away fast enough. Coco was quick as the devil.

   Although, honestly, there were times Telly didn’t even try to stop Coco. She had some of her mom’s tough love in her. Other times Brad had done something she didn’t like, and it was just his tough luck that Coco was on the rampage.

   Chapter 7

   Steve and Thelma’s neighbors who have passed on and are no longer with us, Mary and Josephine, lived in the house on the driveway side of them. The woman who used to be absolutely horrible to Telly, but is a little less horrible now, lives on the other side of them. The Italian man and wife who love their dogs live behind them.

   Josephine and Mary, who were sisters, lived together in the two-story brick bungalow for 62 years. Neither of them ever married. Josephine cooked hot dogs, brought them to the fence, and fed the pigs in a blanket to their dogs every day. They hardly ever saw Mary. She never came out of the house.

   They both died this year. Steve fixed up a security light in their living room afterwards and he mows their lawn. He parked Telly’s Honda Element in their driveway to make it seem like it isn’t vacant, at least until the house is cleaned out and sold.

   Chuck and Dawn live on the other side of them. Chuck has been in his house the whole time Steve and Telly have been in theirs. He’s a nice polite guy. Dawn moved in sometime later, after Chuck was already their neighbor. She’s not so nice, although she’s not as horrible as she used to be.

   “She’s from New York City. She started in on us right at the start. Whenever we used to wave to her, she would never wave back. If she caught Chuck talking to either of us, he had hell to pay. He would have to sneak over to say hi and chat. The things she says to him about us I don’t even want to imagine.”

   She would call the dog warden on them every other week. It was always about their dogs barking, even though they’re not big barkers. What she didn’t know was that Steve and Telly’s dogs were licensed, all of them, all the time.

   “Here’s the thing,” the dog warden finally told her. “Their dogs are licensed, and everyone’s dogs bark sometimes.”

   They don’t bark much, at all. Their little Lab doesn’t even bark. Dawn finally got tired of that game.

   “Most of the rest of our neighborhood loves it when our dogs are out. It was Dawn who gave us the most trouble. I don’t care if you’re from New York City, or not. It doesn’t give you the right to be a bitch. That’s all changed now that she needs me. When she couldn’t afford to have her hair done at the Charles Scott Salon in Rocky River anymore, I became good enough for her.”

   “Chuck doesn’t pay for anything for the children,” Dawn said. “Everything falls on me. I have to pay for their school.” She has two kids of her own and doesn’t have any money anymore. She depends on Chuck.

   Then, when Telly started doing her hair, knowing that she didn’t have kids herself, it was the kids in her talk all the time. “Do you think you could come over and watch them for a few minutes?”

   “No,” Telly said. That’s why I don’t have kids of my own, she thought. “I don’t want to sit your kids,” she said. She might have done it to be a good neighbor, but Dawn would have started taking advantage of her, so she put an end to it.

   The old Italian couple behind them bought their house the year Telly was born. That’s almost fifty years ago. They’re straight out of Italy and Steve and Telly can hardly understand a word they say, her more than him. His name is Anthony, but they have never been able to understand what her name is. They always just call her Mrs. Anthony.

   Everything in their back yard is a farm. They grow everything they eat the full year long back there during the summertime. When they first moved in, they had little grandkids that fed their dogs doggie cookies.

   They would hear them from their patio. “Can we go see Telly and Steve’s dogs?”

   The kids are teenagers now, but they still come over to see their grandparents. The dogs run to the back fence and line up, waiting there. “You can’t stop doing that, you have to keep giving them cookies,” Telly tells the teens.

    Steve used to walk the dogs every day. He always stopped and talked to their neighbors. They asked him about the dogs, so a lot of them found out they rescued them.

   “That is so cool,” some of them said.

   That’s how they came to be called the dog people. That’s what they’re known as. One day a lady was walking up and down the street looking for her lost dog. “Did you try the dog people,” everybody told her.

   “Have you seen my dog?” she asked Telly.

   “No, but I’ll keep an eye out for it,” she said.

   Sometimes neighbors donated dog food to them. They found it left on their front porch. It’s nice to have a little community support.

   They started taking the dogs to the dog park in the Metroparks lately instead of walking them because Nookie, their Husky, is an absolute screamer. The second you put a leash on him the screaming starts. It’s sounds like somebody is ripping out his toenails. He screams the whole way on the walk. People come out their doors to make sure they are not beating their dogs.

   It’s so embarrassing, Steve stopped walking them. He drove them to the dog park, instead.

   But Nookie hates the dog park, too. He doesn’t like other people or other dogs coming up to him, or even up to them. One day they thought they would hide from him so he would learn to leave their side and run around with the other dogs. They hid behind a tree. But it was sad what happened. He just ran around looking for them.

   “Steve, we can’t hide from him,” Telly said. “He’s never going to relax.”

   When they came out from hiding and he saw them he ran over right away. “He’s back to guarding us again,” Telly told Steve. “He gave us a warm glow of a bark.”

   One of their neighbors fell in love with Grayson, who is their little silver Lab. He’s got a great personality, mostly because he hangs out with Baby. He’s a cutie patootie, too

   Their neighbor did everything she could to get them to sell Grayson to her.

   “He’s not for sale,” Telly said. “He’s my dog.”

   “But I love him,” she said.

   “We love him, too,” Telly said.

   One morning they took Baby and Grayson, who are best friends, even though Baby is five times bigger than Grayson, to Project Runway on Whiskey Island for a fundraiser for dog shelters. From there, later in the afternoon, they did Doggies on the Patio, another fundraiser. It was a long day. Afterwards they took the dogs out for gelato.

   They loved it, the whole day, and the gelato, too, especially the cutie patootie. Telly could never sell him. She couldn’t see that happening.

Chapter 8

   The good times Brad Telly and her sisters had when they were kids were always the day after their family fights, which were usually on the days before a holiday. Christmas Day was always fun happy because it was after the big Christmas Eve scrape. All the presents didn’t hurt, either.

   The fights usually happened before or on the holiday, not afterwards. On Easter, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving there was always a knockdown. Alma or Fred, or both of them at the same time, would start the fight. Afterwards the family pulled it together for the holiday, to look good for the big day. They had to look better for the neighbors and in-laws and pets.

  One Christmas all their cousins from Pennsylvania, Telly’s mom and dad’s sisters and all their kids, were at their house. The house was warm and cozy and there weren’t any fights. They were all looking good.

   It was Christmas Eve morning and Eric from Philadelphia passed gas.

   “Oh, that’s a wet one,” somebody said, and that started the whole thing, which turned out to be the flu. It went from Eric to Curtis on down to Kim and Skip and the rest of them. Everybody barfed and barfed for days.

   Alma was beyond pissed. She was beside herself. She wanted to go to a hotel, even though she was a nurse. She would have jumped ship if she could have, but Fred made her stay.

   Every 4th of July there was a street party. They lived on one of the only two cul-de-sacs in Bay Village. In the morning all the kids would decorate their bikes and they would have a bike parade. Their parents judged the bikes and gave out prizes.

   They played games all day and later in the afternoon everybody carried their grills and picnic tables to the end of the cul-de-sac for a party. They had food and their parents had coolers of beer. Everyone would party and they were great times.

   Alma wore a t-shirt that said JOE BALLS on the front and FROM NEWTON FALLS on the back. It was a family joke. They had an uncle named Harold who lived in Newton Falls, but they called him Joe Balls. Nobody knew why.

   One summer a waterspout from off the lake touched down in Bay Village during their street party. They were out in the street playing. All of their parents were trashed. When Telly ran into the house to tell her mother she said, “Go back out there and play.” But they ended up having the rest of the party in our garage once Fred saw what was going on.

   When Alma became a nurse, she wore a t-shirt that said BUSHER THE PUSHER because she was an IV Therapist. She was the one who loaded the IV’s with drugs. She became a nurse when Telly was in 5th grade. She had all of them still in the house and before they knew it decided she wanted a career. Telly’s grandparents put her through nursing school, paying for it all. She studied at Tri-C and later worked at Lakewood Hospital.

  It was the same year, when she was at Normandy Elementary School, during the Miracle of Richfield, that Telly got a pair of tennis shoe roller skates and lived in them for years.

   They had a teacher named Mr. Barton and he loved to hoe down dance and dribble basketballs at the same time. He taught them to do it and they got so good at it that they were invited to perform at a Cleveland Cavs game.

   It was the year the Cavs were scrappy and good and played the Washington Bullets in the conference finals. They watched it on TV. The crowds were so noisy people in the stands wore earplugs and the players on the benches stuck their fingers in their ears.

   “If you don’t drop your ball, or double dribble, or anything else helter-skelter during the performance, I’ll buy you whatever you want,” her dad said. Telly told him she wanted tennis shoe roller skates.

   “Whatever you want,” he said.

   They were colossal that night doing their hoe down dribble dance at halftime at the Richfield Coliseum, which isn’t there anymore. It’s just a big empty field full of weeds now that it’s been torn down. They danced to the song “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers.

   S_A_T_U_R_D_A_Y!

   Telly lived in her skates from that day on. She put them on first thing in the morning and skated all over the house. She did axles in the streets and figure skated every day in her tennis shoe roller skates But, she wasn’t allowed to wear them to school. Even so, she wore them all the time until she got her first pair of high heels.

   “The roller skates came off right after that and I’ve never been out of high heels since. The reason is that I stopped growing when I was in 6th grade. After that I found out I was going to be short, a pygmy. My mom was a pygmy, too. I don’t know that she was ever taller than five-foot-one. Everybody else in our family was taller than me. My dad was six-foot-something. I was the shortest of all the kids, shorter even than Bamm-Bamm.”

   Alma got Telly a pair of Candies. They were plastic made to look like wood and had a strap across the top of the foot that stopped about mid-way up. A girl could wear them with anything, shorts, skirts, disco pants. They were the hot shoe. Every kid had to have a pair.

   “You’re going to be in these for the rest of your life,” her mom told her. “You will never get out of them.”

   She made Telly practice walking in them, up and down the driveway, then up and down the street, and finally up and down the stairs.

   “You don’t want to walk like a clod,” she said. “A lot of girls stomp in their high heels, but you’re going to walk like a lady.”

   She got to the point where she could run in them fast. She could chase dogs. She was still fast, not as much as she was then, but still fast if she had to be. She didn’t know who invented high heels, but thought women owed them a lot. You put high heels on, and you change. Everything is different in them. Your body moves to a different kind of tempo. Her favorite things were dogs and shoes. She loved dogs the most, but shoes were a close second.

Chapter 9

   “We’re going to have to get out of here or I’m going to kill him,” Thelma said. She meant it. She was looking for a knife.

   Steve her newlywed didn’t say anything. What could he say? Bobby was his older brother, and they were living in Bobby’s house in Little Italy.

   But Bobby wasn’t just their landlord. He was an annoying obnoxious older brother-in-law. He stuck his dirty disgusting food wrappers into Telly’s make-up bag when she wasn’t looking because he thought it would be funny when she found them. It wasn’t funny. She told Steve there was going to be trouble. They started looking for a house of their own.

   Steve and she prayed together about the kind of house they wanted. They wanted central air, three bedrooms, and a fenced-in backyard. They searched for a long time and finally their prayers were answered when they found a two-story house in West Park. They were one of the first people to see it, put a bid on it, and got it. They got everything they wanted, basically. The basement was waterproofed, and the back porch covered, although the backyard wasn’t dog friendly the way they wanted it, not in the least, not at all.

   For the first four years of living in that house they had a backyard of mud. It was because they had up to thirteen dogs at any one time, some theirs, some rescues. When they came into the house a lot of mud would track in with them. Since Telly is a clean freak it freaked her out.

   “It’s a shame we can’t cement the whole backyard,” she said to Steve.

   “I’ve got a guy for that,” he said.

   Steve’s got a guy for everything. His guy laid down stone stamps in the patio and put in river rocks, big ones around the small patio, and small ones in a big bed next to the garage for the dogs to potty. That made it easy to clean up. They hose down the patio, hose down the river rock bed in the back, and Steve picks up every day. He puts it all in a garbage bag and they throw it in the garbage cans.

   What else are you going to do with it?

   Even though they liked their new home right away, which made their realtor totally happy, it was awful. It was decorated like an old person’s house. The outside of it was painted an ugly yellow and brown. Inside the woodwork and walls were painted white. Telly isn’t a white color person.

   They painted everything, the outside of the house, and all the inside, too. She had lots of design ideas and lots of ideas about new colors. Steve ripped the carpets out right away. Then they re-did the hardwood floors. Telly swore to herself she would never have the house carpeted again.

   Except after the last two winters in Cleveland happened. It got super cold. The Cuyahoga River froze solid. Lake Erie froze over. It was winter for a long time twice for two straight years. Getting up every morning, touching the cold hardwood floors, finally one morning Telly declared, “We’re not doing this anymore. We’re getting carpeting for the upstairs bedrooms.”

   Steve was against putting in new carpeting. He’s usually against everything, but he never says no. At least, not after they discuss it.

   “All right, all right, do what you want,” he said.

   So, Telly did what she wanted. Of course, now Steve loves the carpet. He drags his big, bare, feet through it.

   “Stop rubbing your gross feet in my new carpet,” she tells him to no avail.

   Telly never thought she would love carpeting over hardwood floors, but in the bedrooms, she loves it.

   The dogs are not allowed upstairs, or even beyond the kitchen. The rules are that they can be in the kitchen or in the basement. A baby gate is set up at the kitchen and dining room doorway. Even so, just after they had the carpets laid down their little silver Lab, Grayson, got through the gate, went right upstairs, and peed on their new carpet.

   “No dogs upstairs. No Grayson. No matter how much we love him,” Telly said putting her foot down.

   Every once in a while, they let them into the living room. That’s why there are always blankets on their sectional. They let the dogs jump on it so they can sit and snuggle with them. Only Nookie, their barking Husky, is not a snuggle bunny. He’ll cuddle for five minutes and then he’s done with you.

   There is another living room in the basement. There’s a television, bistro table, and another sectional. All the dog food and water bowls are in the basement. Baby sleeps on his dog bed, but the others just lay out on the couch like bums. The couch is completely chewed up, completely. They paw it and dig in it when they are settling in. Telly didn’t know what the digging thing was all about, but it’s their couch. “They can do what they want, destroy it if they want. Only, when it’s completely gone, it’s gone. They’re not getting another one.” She has told them that. It’s up to them to understand.

  The biggest troublemaker is Pebbles. Fat Pebbles is what she is. She’s the one who truly wrecked the sofa. She is the evil digger. She’s the reason they used to have a whole living room in the basement until it all got chewed up.

   Even though they decided they aren’t getting any more sectionals, no more couches, or anything in the basement, Christmas is ridiculous at their house. She and Steve buy the dogs tons of gifts. Telly starts buying presents for them for the next year right after Christmas when everything’s discounted. Around the end of August, she starts buying dog treats whenever she sees them on sale. They are not any good if she buys them earlier than August. Sometimes Steve finds them and gives them to the dogs early. So, she always starts looking for them later in the year.

   The dogs get stockings full of toys on Christmas Day.  Then the mess starts. The toys are in them jacked with stuffing, just like pillow stuffing. The pack of hounds takes its stockings outside and tear them apart to get at the squeakers inside. By the end of Christmas week, they have a backyard full of puffs of frozen white stuffing stuck in the ice.

   It looks like a hillbilly highway until they can finally get out there when winter is changing to spring and chip it out of the melting ice. Telly didn’t like that it looked like a pigpen all winter long, but what can you do?

   Thank God we have a privacy fence on all three sides of the backyard, she thought.

   Chapter 10

   Thelma’s father was a stockbroker, an investment advisor, and a vice president at Prudential Bache. He worked downtown with the other moneymakers. But he never let it go to his head. He wasn’t always prudent, though.

   They called him the Margin King. His wife called him the King of Fools. When Fred and Alma got married, he was a gambling man, but Alma didn’t want him doing that after the wedding. She said it was time he became a family man.

   “The gambling stops now.”

   He became a stockbroker. That way he could still gamble, except now it would be with other people’s money. He made a boatload of money. He wasn’t just serious about raking in a ton of loot, though. He told jokes all the time. He was a shaggy dog man. Getting a laugh was like hitting the jackpot.

   He was a prankster as well as a jokester. He used to appear on the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck” TV show now and then, doing skits with them.

   Hoolihan was Bob Wells, but he was Hoolihan the Weatherman on the TV. After Ghoulardi left Cleveland for Hollywood, Hoolihan still did the weather, but became the other half of the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show.” It was what replaced Ghoulardi. They showed cheesy science fiction and horror movies late at night on weekends and did comedy skits in between the commercials.

   That’s where Telly’s dad came in.

   The show always started with the Ray Charles song “Here We Go Again” and ended with the Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is.” Fred couldn’t carry a tune, so was never invited to raise his voice.

   Big Stash and Lil’ John were on the show, too, more than Fred was. That’s how he met them. They all became friends in no time. Fred and Alma went to Hoolihan and Big Chuck’s house parties and they used to have Lil ‘John over for spaghetti dinners. Lil’ John was a very small man who could eat a lot of spaghetti.

   They did skits on the show like Ben Crazy, from the “Ben Casey” TV series, Parma Place, which was like “Peyton Place,” and the Kielbasa Kid, which was like a Polish cowboy misadventure. The skit Fred was most famous for was the “When You’re Hot You’re Hot” skit, which was from a Jerry Reed song.

   “Well now me and Homer Jones and Big John Taley, had a big crap game goin’ back in the alley, and I kept rollin’ them sevens, winnin’ all them pots,” was how the song went.

   “My luck was so good, I could do no wrong, I just kept on rollin’ and controllin’ them bones, and finally they just threw up their hands and said, when you hot, you hot, and I said, yeah. Put all that money in an’ let’s roll ‘em again, when you’re hot you’re hot, La, la, la, La, la, la, when you’re hot, you’re hot.”

   They acted out the words to the song. Big Chuck rolled the dice. Fred was the sheriff. The Hoolihan gang would be shooting craps on the street and Fred busts them. Later when they are all in court the judge tells them he is going to throw the book at them, except when he throws the book, he actually hits Fred, who is the sheriff, in the head by mistake.

   “That hurt!” he shouted.

   “You’re out of order!” the judge said, pounding his gavel like a madman.

   Alma was in a skit with Big Chuck. They are sitting on a park bench on a first date under a full moon and he turns into a werewolf. He reaches for her. She starts screaming and runs away. He turns back into sheepish Chuck.

   Fred did most of his skits wearing a gorilla suit. But not all of them were on the “Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show.” Some of the time it was unscripted. It was a reality show.

   He would wiggle into his gorilla suit and he and Big Chuck drove around the west side of Cleveland and Lakewood in a dark blue four-door Buick looking for hitchhikers. Big Chuck drove while Fred hid in the back seat. They would pick somebody up and after a few minutes Fred would suddenly pop up with a loud grunt out of the back seat in his gorilla suit.

   That would scare the hell out of the hitchhiker. One of them jumped out of the car while it was still moving. That’s what they did for fun. Telly remembered being a little girl and listening to their adventure stories and thinking, you guys are really weird.

   Sometimes they would go out and roof jump. The houses in Lakewood are close together, often separated only by a driveway. They would run across the roofs, jumping from one to the other. They whooped it up as the folks in their houses wondered what the thumping was all about.

   When they got older Big Chuck, Hoolihan, Stash and John and Fred got a little more sophisticated. They had mystery parties, which were parties on a bus on which they would have dinner and drinks with their friends, not knowing where you were going, and at the end of the night everyone would have to guess where they were. The winner got to be on the show.

   It was the swinging 60s at that point in time. They swang to their rhythm, bang-a-lang.

   Telly’s dad was a prankster even at home, which was quiet conservative Bay Village. He played jokes on the neighbors on their street all the time. Once he hired the Bay Village High School Marching Band to wake up one of their neighbors at five in the morning. They did it by marching up and down their backyard and playing a fight song. All the other neighbors woke up, too. Some of them thought it was funny. Most of them didn’t.

   Another of their neighbors had dogs like them and Thelma babysat them when they were out for dinner or at a show.

   “Telly, can you watch our dogs?” Mrs. Butler would ask her.

   One day Fred took advantage of Telly having the Butler family house keys. He snuck into their house and filled up every glass, cup, vase, china, and toilet, whatever, with water and a single goldfish. When they got back there were gobs of hungry goldfish waiting for them.

    From then on it was butthead time at the Butler house every few months. While they were walking on Huntington Beach after dinner Fred and his friends got into their garage, picked up their car, and turned it sideways. They left it so cramped in tight sideways in the garage you had to squeeze around it to get anywhere. Mr. Butler couldn’t get to work the next day. There wasn’t anything he could do. Everybody on the street thought he might have to tear the garage down.

   He crept into their house late on a hot summer night wearing his gorilla suit and scared their kids so much they screamed and peed on the floor. He thought it was great glee fun, giving them nightmares. That was fun to him.

   It didn’t matter what anybody thought. Whatever he thought of doing he did. He was constantly pranking the poor Butlers. When they complained to the Bay Village police, the cops just laughed it off.

   Telly and her sisters and little brother weren’t out of his prank zone, either. He would crawl underneath their beds at night and wait quietly until they dozed off and then reach around and suddenly grab their arms or legs. 

   “Oh, yeah, while we were sleeping! I still can’t hang my foot out over the edge of my bed at night. He was a bad dad most of the time and great dad when he wanted to be, but he was a prankster all the time, that’s for sure.”

   Chapter 11

   Before Steve stopped blazing, he turned the younger of their two cats, whose name was Stones, into a deadhead. They started calling Stones the Stony because when he and Steve were in the bedroom together and the man was smoking weed, whenever Steve exhaled, Stony inhaled.

   He would lean up on his haunches and sniff for the smoke. The look Stony gave Telly, whenever she caught them together, was the WTF look. He thought he was the hepcat of all cats.

   Afterwards, after Steve gave up drugs, they changed his name back to Stones and he went back to using catnip. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about catnip being an introducing drug? He was a multi-colored longhair boy, in more ways than one.

  They called Sebastian, their older cat, Big Orange. He had a different take on life. He ran out into the backyard whenever he could and hunted when he was young, but later on in middle age spent most of his time eating in the basement.

   That didn’t work out too well for him. As he got older, they started calling him Fatbastian. He didn’t seem to mind. He kept eating and getting bigger.

   Steve’s uncles and dad weren’t gangsters, but his dad’s friends and his uncle’s friends were all gangsters. His dad was an attorney for the Mob. He was the lawyer for the guy who killed Danny Greene with a car bomb in Lyndhurst. But, at the same time, he was a good friend to Danny Greene for many years. Their house in Little Italy was a gift from Danny Greene and the Celtic Club.

   His family always had wads of money when he was growing up. Whenever Steve smashed up a car his dad would have a new one for him the next day. Speeding tickets got taken care of. There was no need to slow down.

   Steve was using at eleven and selling at thirteen. His uncles were addicts and used to run and hide their stashes from the police under his bed. When Steve was older, he ran errands for his dad. When his dad was on the verge of going to jail, because he wouldn’t give something up, he told Steve he absolutely needed him to go to Columbus that day.

   “These papers have to be in the court system by 5 o’clock. Make sure you get there.”

   Steve hauled ass down to Columbus, delivered the papers, and proceeded to get trashed, tequila trashed, to the point he was swinging at and spitting at policemen who had been called to get him out of the bar that he was a making a mess of it. He was a Steve-o mess wobbling on two feet.

   They hauled him out and arrested him. They gave him one phone call. He called his dad.

   “I’m in jail,” he said.

   “I have one question for you.”

   “What?”

   “Did you deliver the papers?”

   “Yeah.”

   “OK, sit tight, you’ll be out in one hour.”

   He was out in fifty minutes.

   Steve’s brother, Bobby, had a car lot on Carnegie on the east side of Cleveland, which he has had for going on more than thirty years. That’s where their dad, Bobby, and Steve got started rescuing dogs. People just dumped animals there. They rescued tons of dogs at the car lot. They would take care of them and try to find them homes.

   When Steve worked with Bobby at the car lot, they found dogs on the street, picked them up, and brought them back to the lot. Once Bobby and he were picking up a used car and saw a mistreated dog tied to a tree in the yard. He was in bad shape, barely a leg to stand on.

   “What’s with the dog?” asked Steve, keeping his eyes on the man whose dog it was.

   “Oh, he’s a bad dog, got to keep him tied,” said the man.

   Steve looked at the dog and then looked at the man and then the dog again.

   “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “You keep the car, and we’ll take the dog. To make it an even trade we won’t say anything about you abusing animals.”

   “No sir, you can’t have that dog.”

   Bobby put his right hand in his pocket and kept it there. The man looked at the pocket. “Oh, hell, just take it,” he spit out.

   They untied the dog and took it with them.

   There was a pack of wild dogs living in a wooded field behind the car lot. Bobby and Steve put bowls of food out on the edge of the tree line for the dogs. One day Steve heard screaming and howling, so like an idiot he went into the woods. He found a blind dog whose litter of puppies had been mauled and some eaten by other dogs.

   “Dogs will eat other dogs if they’re that hungry. They will. They’ll eat anything.”

   He grabbed the puppies that were still left and ran. The blind dog howled for three days in the woods. There was nothing anybody could do.

   Steve’s dad died the same year Telly’s dad died. Afterwards, Steve was living with Bobby when he and his intended met. After they got married, they shared the house with Bobby for almost a year, until Telly couldn’t take it anymore.

   “He loved us living there because I grocery shopped, cooked, and cleaned. I am a clean freak. My vacuum never gets put away. That’s how much I love to vacuum.”

   Bobby and Steve have the same eyes, although Bobby is a little shorter and thicker than Steve, has curlier hair, and is a deviler. Telly has OCD, putting her at odds with devilers. “Everyone knows you don’t fuck with someone who has OCD,” she said. “You just don’t do that! Except for Bobby, who thought it was funny to mess with me, even though I always got mad. He didn’t seem to care.”

   There was no good place to do her make-up in the Little Italy house. The rooms were weirdly cut and sectioned and there wasn’t any good lighting, so she had to do it downstairs. “I kept my make-up bag there. Bobby stuffed banana peels and old food wrappers into my bag when I was sleeping. Do you know how disgusting and dirty and filthy that is?”

   Bobby would just laugh. He thought he was funny, but he wasn’t. But Telly did not cry. It took everything she had to not punch him in the face. Her dad was somebody who always said, “Someone’s pissed you off? Go beat the shit out of them.”

   “You think you want to hit me?” Bobby would say. “Go ahead, try.”

   She used to get so upset that her fists balled up. More than anything else in the world she wanted to hit him.

   “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to lower myself to who you are. I’m still a good person.”

   Bobby wasn’t all bad, though.

   In the morning he’d say to Telly, “Pack some extra lunch meat in case I find a dog on the streets today.” She would pack both their lunches and Bobby and Steve would go to work at the car lot. Just in case a dog was in bad shape and needed rescuing that day, and in case the dog was hungry, they always had cold cuts handy for it.

   Chapter 12

   Thelma met Steve, her husband-to-be, right after he got out of jail and came home for his father’s funeral. Meanwhile, she was getting thrown out of her house, again, after her father died and she threatened to kill her sister.

   They met at Mad Anthony’s, and later Steve followed her to the Tick Tock Tavern on Clifton Boulevard, on a night when she was out with her friends. The stars were bright in a clear sky.

   “I needed to get loose that night. Sarah and I got into a fight at mom and dad’s house and when she tried to choke me, I told her I was going to punch her in the face and kill her if she ever put her hands around my neck again.”

   “What did you say?” Sarah shrieked.

   “I know how to break your nose and shove it up into your brain,” Telly yelled when she pushed Sarah off. “I will do that if you try choking me one more time. I will lay you out flat.”

   She never touched Telly again after that, but the threat of killing her didn’t go over very well.

   Steve had been a bartender at the Tick Tock Tavern, slinging shots and beers. He worked there forever, although since it opened in 1939 it hadn’t been forever, not exactly. Whenever anyone mentioned anybody’s name to Steve at the bar he always said, “Oh, I know him.”

   “Food, spirits, and characters” is what they say at that place.

   After the fight with Sarah, Telly went to her church, Bay Presbyterian, to talk to one of the pastors. “I was born a Christian, raised a Christian, and will always be a Christian. I have always gone to Bay Presbyterian, took my family there, and I still go there.”

   She had been going to counseling for years, but still not accepted the fact that they had been roughed up as kids. She was freaking out that her dad died, and was upset, too, about her ex-boyfriend-to-be, Craig, who was the mayor of Lorain. They had been seeing each other for seventeen years. 

   There was no reelection on the horizon. If there had been, Telly’s chances of higher office were slim. Craig had his eye on future chances.

   “What are you doing with Craig?” her minister asked.

   “Why would you ask me such a thing?”

   “Why do you stay with him?” he asked.

   “You really want to know? I’ll let you know! I made a promise a long time ago, when I was a Young Lifer and I accepted Christ into my heart, that I would never have pre-marital sex. When I met Craig, a couple of years into our relationship, I started having sex. I said to myself, well, I’ve made my bed and I’m going to lie in it.”

   “No, no, no,” he said. “That’s not the life the Lord wants for you.”

   They started praying for the kind of man she wanted to meet, from eye color to personality. What she didn’t know was Steve was praying to meet someone at the same time. He wasn’t being as specific as Thelma, though.

   After Steve got out of jail for driving too fast too drunk, and shortly after his dad died, Bobby, his brother, begged him to stay with him in Little Italy, so he did. Steve was a full-blown addict by then. When she met him, he was drinking a fifth of Yukon with beer chasers and snorting coke so he could keep drinking.

   He had started thinking life more-or-less of sucks. He hadn’t had a girl to talk to for more than two years, because he was an obnoxious drunk, and he was down, if not out. One day while he was walking the dogs, dogs that Bobby and he rescued, he started praying, which was something he had never truly done before.

   “God, if you can, bring me a woman. Please make that happen. I’m lonely, I’m miserable, and I hate my life. Please show me someone who can show me how to love you as much as I can love her.”

   Shortly after that Telly’s friends and she were out for a party at Mad Anthony’s. Steve walked in and as he went by, he locked eyes with her. After he was past, she was talking to her friends when she got that creepy feeling that someone was staring at her. After another drink she kept feeling that long stare. She went over to where Steve was sitting alone.

   “I’m pretty sure we went to high school together,” she said.

   “Yeah, Bay High,” he said.

   Then he asked her out on a date and five more of them.

   “Really, dude, six dates?”

   He wanted Telly to go with him to the wedding of a sportswriter friend of his, but he thought they should go out five times first, to test the waters.

   “Alright, alright,” she said, finally. “We’ll see what happens.” She gave him her phone number.

   “We’re going to the next bar,” her friends said.

   “It was nice meeting you,” she said to Steve. “Call me.”

   He followed them out. By the time they got to the Tick Tock he was a different person than the man she had been talking to at Mad Anthony’s, getting obnoxious and loud. By then it was too much Yukon on the brain. It was all downhill.

   “I’m leaving, so piss off,” she finally told him.

   “Jenny, why don’t you come home with me?”

   “Whoa, dude, you’re a jackass.”

   “Jenny, Jenny, why are you going?”

   “Because my name’s Telly and that’s why I’m not going home with you.”

   As she went through the door, she shot him a look. “Great, he’s got my phone number,” she thought. But she gave him a second look. “He could be really handsome if we got rid of that huge monobrow of his.”

   The next morning, he called her.

   “What do you want?” she asked, ready willing able to hang up.

   “Don’t hang up, don’t hang up,” he said. “Talk to me.”

   “I can’t do it,” she said. “I have drugs and alcohol in my family. The last thing I’m going to do is put up with it in a boyfriend. It’s not going to happen.”

   “No, I’m good,” he said.

   They talked some more. When Steve wasn’t drinking like a damned drunkard, he was charming. He charmed her into a date and then another one, and another one. They always went out with a group because she wouldn’t go out with him by herself. She was leery skittish. Every time she went out with him, she left him at a bar at the end of the night.

   “You’re an idiot,” she said and would leave, stamping her feet. He usually walked the east west railroad tracks home. But he started to get better, slowly, and as he did, they got better together, two hands tick-tick-tocking the same clock

   Chapter 13

   Steve and Thelma used to have two cats, Stones and Sebastian, but they lost Sebastian, who was their big fat orange cat. They were out with friends on a Friday night and when they came home the first thing that struck them was that the house smelled like pee. It looked like a massacre had happened downstairs in the den.

   They let the dogs out and saw Stones, their smaller cat, at the baby gate frantically trying to get out, too.

   “What the hell went on?” Telly asked Steve.

   In the backyard Nanook, their Husky, was all over Gretel, their German Shepherd.

   “Oh, my God, oh, my God,” Telly cried out. “Gretel’s hurt.”

   “No, no, she’s fine,” Steve said, after checking her out.

   They went back into the house, down to the den, sniffing around, and Steve found Sebastian.

   “Telly, call the hospital,” he said.

   He scooped up Sebastian, who was hissing and screaming, wrapped him up as snugly as he could in a blanket, and they drove him to the Animal Hospital.

   “He’s not too badly hurt,” the vet said. “Although, I can see he’s wheezing.”

   “He always wheezes,” Telly said.

   “He’s a little heavy, too.”

   “That’s why we call him Fatbastian.”

   He was their cat because former friends of theirs one day asked them to watch him for a few weeks. They were moving to Chicago. “Sure,” Telly said, like a gullible idiot.

   “Do you think they’re ever coming back?” she asked Brian ten years later.

   “No, the cat is ours to keep.”

   What they didn’t know, while they were chatting in the waiting room of the Animal Hospital, was that the vet had taken blood from Sebastian and was having it analyzed. When they were ready to leave, thinking Fatso was going to spend the night in care, one of the aides came back.

   “The doctor wants to see you in the exam room,” she said.

    Nothing good ever comes from those words, Telly thought.

   “You need to put him down,” said the vet.

   “Why? You just said he was fine.”

   “I took his sugar and it’s over 420. He’s 13-years-old,” said the vet. “You should just put him down. He’s going to take a turn for the worse, much sooner than later.”

   What happened that night while they were out was that diabetes finally caught up with Sebastian. Gretel attacked him when he started having seizures. She tried to take Sebastian out. It’s a natural instinct with dogs. “If they see you are lame, or sick, or whatever, they will try to put you out of your misery.”

   Their personal vet, who performed house calls, never told them Sebastian had diabetes. She just said he was fat, and they should put him on canned food. But, when they did, he refused to eat it. He ate all the dried dog food instead, because it’s fattier.

   Gretel once attacked another dog they rescued, a dog who turned out to have cancer. Gretel kept smelling her and smelling her for weeks and weeks. “Let me help you out,” is what Gretel said one day, barked, and tried to end her life there and then.

   “We had to get the other dog sewn up. Gretel now knows, after that episode, and after what happened to Sebastian, we don’t eat other cats and dogs. I’ve made that plain to Gretel.” 

   When Telly’s sister Sarah lived in West Park the lady next door was always afraid of Wellington, Sarah’s big Rottweiler. One afternoon the dog slipped into her backyard, and was sniffing around, and she spotted him. She started screaming and carrying on. Wellington thought she was in trouble and ran right over. He turned his butt to her, backed her up against the side of the garage, and pinned her there.

   “What is trying to hurt you? I’ll protect you!” That’s what Wellington was trying to say. Sarah heard the noise and rushed next door.

   “Your dog is attacking me!”

   “He’s protecting you, you fool,” Sarah said, after sizing up what she was seeing. “Although you don’t deserve it. Your cat would push you down the stairs.”

   She rubbed Wellington on the head as she brought him back to the house.

   “You poor dumb dog, you’re the beast she thinks is attacking her.”

   “WOOF, WOOF, WOOF.”

   The first dog Telly rescued on her own, once she was grown up and living in an efficiency apartment on Lake Road, was a Spaniel who was running around Sarah’s West Park house. It was winter and snowing and cold. It took calmness and patience and stealth to get the dog to come to her.

   She lay on the ground in the snow until the dog finally came to her. She petted him and he followed her back to Sarah’s house. She called a shelter and later took him there.

   Telly always loved dogs, always wanted them, and always thought she was going to have ten of them, her own pack. Then she met Steve and his brother Bobby the Bothersome. They rescued dogs and after Steve and she got married, and after they left Bobby behind in Little Italy, they started doing that, too.

   They have rescued so many dogs that people now ask them to find them dogs for pets.

   When God puts the love of an animal, or the love of something, in your head, you’re going to work with it. It’s there, in Telly’s head, and it’s in her heart, too. She cannot to this day turn them away.

   Somebody posted a picture on Facebook of a dog chained up and all alone in Atlanta. Telly asked Steve, are you ready to take a ride to Georgia? She was ready to go down deep south. “Chaining a dog up all by himself, all alone at the end of a chain, is the worst punishment anybody can impose on a dog. You can hit him, and he will come back to you. But the worst thing you can do is separate a dog from people. They just want affection.”

   When she had to send her dogs downstairs for a time out, they slowly crept back up the basement stairs and sat at the top of them. She tried to ignore them. They look like the worst thing in the world has just happened. They would probably howl, but they know full well they’re not allowed to.

   “It can be heartbreaking.”

   Chapter 14

   Being a Christian means you don’t have to be a good person. You can be a piece of shit. Thelma knew that, just like she knew she was a piece of shit, but she also knew someone paid her debt off. That’s what being a Christian means.

   “Someone paid my debt for me, died for it, and then rose again. I can be a sinner, I can be a drinker, and I can be born this way and that way. I can be the person who never changes, because someone has saved me.”

   After they met, Steve began praying that Telly and he would meet some more. He got a with-it haircut and got his monobrow waxed. He became a more handsome man. Some people think he looks like Al Pacino while others think he looks like Eric Roberts. Telly thinks he looks like the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

   Every time they went out, she wrapped up whatever last date it was that night thinking it was the last time. After three months of give and take she had a party at her house, and he came to it. It wasn’t her house, not exactly, it was Craig’s house, her ex-boyfriend’s, but by then he had moved out and she was still living there, alone.

   All her friends came over and everyone stayed the night because they were drinking long and hard. They all left in the morning, except Steve. He didn’t leave, but Telly left after breakfast. She had an appointment at Bay Presbyterian with her minister that morning.

   She told her minister about who she had met and what was happening.

   “I’m fucked,” she thought.

   “Red flags should be going up,” he said.

   “They are!” she said. “They are going up all over!”

   They prayed and her minister made a list with a good side on the right and a bad side on the left. She started checking them off, drug addict, Mob ties, can’t always remember my name, until her minister finally stopped her.

   “He’s mostly on the bad side of the list,” Telly noticed.

   “Do you believe God can move mountains,” he asked.

   “Of course, I do,” she said.

   “What makes you think you can’t change Steve?”

   “That’s a good question.”

   “You could stay away from him, but that’s not what Christianity is about.”

   “You’re right,” she said. “Jesus hung out with prostitutes and shitty people.”

   Steve and Thelma were both abused when they were young. He went to drugs and alcohol. She went to the Lord. When Telly got back home to Craig’s house, she told Steve what her minister had said.

   “He didn’t tell you I was a piece of crap and you should leave me?” he asked. Steve was brought up a Catholic. He looked on the doom and gloom side of things.

   “No,” she said. “But he did say you should change your ways and follow Christ. He said if you would stop drinking for a year then you have his permission to further your relationship with me.”

   “I’ll never drink again,” Steve said.

   “Get out of my house, get out, and don’t come back!” Telly exploded.

   He just gaped at her.

   “You can’t make those kinds of promises. What is the point if you don’t tell the truth? Nobody can help you if you don’t tell the truth. I’m all about the truth. Call me if you ever sober up.” He looked and looked at her. “What?” she asked.

   “I’m sorry,” he said. “But you have to give me a ride.”

   He didn’t own a car. Telly drove him back to Little Italy.

   He called her the next morning. “I’m still sober,” he said. “I’m never going to drink again. You’re my life and I’m going to marry you.”

   “Don’t say shit like that,” she said.

   They got married on St. Patrick’s Day. Steve has been dead sober for fourteen years and they have been married for thirteen years. St Patrick is the saint who said, “Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise.” He’s the patron saint of unworthy sinners.

   Steve found Christ, but the one thing he did not do was he didn’t stop smoking weed. Telly was OK with it, except it bothered her when he was getting high in the car while they were on their way to church.

   “I don’t care what the fuck you do,” she finally told him,” but don’t go to church high. I’m not going to harp on it, it’s just something I can’t stand.”

   Telly swears like a truck driver. Steve is OK with it. She grew up with the word ‘fuck’ flying up and down the dinner table every night. She thought for many years her mother invented and patented the word. At least she made it her own, like Telly has. “I say it every day in front of my minister. There’s no fakeness. I’m very real. If that is how I’m going to talk then that is how I’m going to talk.”

   The weed was where she drew the line with Steve, although when you get everything on your go-to list answered the way you want it, down to his eye color, you don’t throw it back in God’s face saying, no thanks. But she had to draw a line in the sand.

   “You’re not going to go to church anymore if you’re going to get high on the way,” she said.

   He got down on his hands and knees and asked the Lord to take the yoke from his neck and get rid of the addiction. He wanted to get clean, and it was in his heart. He hasn’t smoked for almost ten years.

   She had a dream one night that he went back to the bottle.

   “That’ll never happen,” he said. “Did I have fun then? Do I miss those days, Sure, I had a blast, it was a great time, but I was lonely and I was by myself and was sad, on top of it. I love my life now.”

   He was a drunk then. He didn’t know a lot about sobriety, only a lot about drinking. He never had just one beer. Whenever he bought a six-pack, he drank a six-pack. He used to make her so mad when he drank like a fish.

   “I’m going to punch you in the fucking throat!” she would yell when she saw him boozing.

   He doesn’t smoke or drink anymore. He’s the first one to tell everyone that Christ is real and alive and working in all our lives every day. They still go to bars, but he just watches Telly drink. It only takes a couple and she’s loose as a goose.

   They don’t have to not go to bars because of Steve or leave five minutes after they’ve gotten there, either. He can go to a bar and not drink. He’s made that happen. He started getting it through his head that it was about the people he was with, especially since the ace in the hole was he was with her.

   Chapter 15

   It was last summer that Thelma started noticing her mom wasn’t herself.

   “Something’s wrong with mom,” she told her brother Brad.

   “What do you mean?” he asked. 

   “Something’s up, maybe she’s in another drug psychosis, because she’s got issues.”

   Steve and she had gone to Florida with her mom and Pete, their stepdad, to their house there. Alma got into a problem then and got put on steroids. It just wreaked havoc with her. One thing led to another and she started overdoing, overtaking, and overdosing everything. It wasn’t exactly anything new. She went into a psychosis. They got her out of the hospital in Florida. They had to detox her.

   “Mom, you have to go back to the hospital,” Telly told her getting off the plane in Cleveland. “You have got to get clean.”

   “I’m not going back to the hospital, Jay,” she said. He mom called Telly the Jay Bird.

   “Yes, you are. You’re not done. There’s something seriously wrong. You have to go back and finish.”

“If you think I’m going back to the hospital, you’re wrong, I’m not. I’m healthy.”

   She was mad as a hornet and called Telly everything but a white woman. “If you think this is fun for me, you are seriously mistaken,” Thelma said. 

   “Fuck off, Jay,” she said.

   “Maybe later, mom, but right now, I’ve got to get you to a hospital.” 

   Even though she was pissed, they got her there. Afterwards things got better, even though she wasn’t sleeping any good at night. Then she fell and broke her spine. They told her she needed surgery. 

   “I don’t want to,” she said. “I’m going to go on pain management instead.”

   “Oh, great,” she said to her brother. “She’s going to take more drugs.” Her house was already like a pharmacy.

   But, within a week she couldn’t walk. She had to have surgery because of the way her vertebra broke. It was poking into a nerve. After surgery she seemed better, but she was high all the time. She would take an OxyContin and then a couple of Percosets and be gone like a kite in the sky. Telly’s mom was 78 years-old and was tripping. It wasn’t anything new. She took drugs most of her life. It started when she became a nurse. After that it was going to the doctor, getting drugs, then seeing more doctors, and getting more drugs.

   Telly started noticing after her mom started getting slightly better that she was being less herself. At first, they thought she had a urinary tract infection, like it was one thing after another. That’s why they thought she was looking sounding and acting crazy. But the doctor ruled out a urinary tract infection.

   “I just have a flu,” Alma said.

   “Maybe it’s missing the drugs,” said Pete. “She hasn’t taken any narcotics in three weeks.”

   “Why isn’t she taking her drugs?” Telly asked. “She’s a major hypochondriac. I mean, she lives to take drugs.” All of a sudden, a woman who lived to take drugs wouldn’t take a single pill. She wouldn’t take her thyroid medication or her asthma medicine.

   “You have to take these,” Telly said.

   “You’re not a nurse,” Alma said.

   “Take your medicine.”

   “No.”

   On top of everything she was diabetic and wouldn’t take her insulin. “Don’t you think it’s time to measure her sugar?” Pete asked Telly.

   “She doesn’t seem to have any idea,” she said. “It’s like she doesn’t know she needs insulin.”

   They took her back to the doctor’s office. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He said she might have had some ministrokes, which he was going to have to test for. When they finally got her to take her medicine, she would only take them from Telly. She had to put them in applesauce and feed it to her like that. She wouldn’t take any from Pete or her brother Brad. Brad is like their dad and that makes Alma mad. She never liked Fred.

   “Do you want supper, mom?”

   “No, I already ate some” she will say, even though she hasn’t. You have to live in her world. There’s no more reasoning with her. You have to take all reasoning out of the conversation.

   Suppose she wants to have her hair brushed? You learn to use little white lies and trade-offs. “You take your medicine, mom, and I’ll brush your hair.” It’s hard to watch. It’s like seeing your mom revert back to childhood. Telly started doing art projects with her, just to keep her mind occupied.

   “My brother helps a little, but my stepdad and I take care of her. My sister Sarah, who hasn’t talked to me in more than seven years, now lives in a podunk town somewhere in Maine. No one even knows the name of the town. My other sister, Betsy, has a hard time with it. It makes her sad, even though she and my mom never got along. She can’t deal with it and just stays away.”

   Telly went to her mom’s house on Mondays and Fridays. She gave her a bath every Monday. Fridays were usually her bad day. Home health care comes in five days a week and makes sure she takes her medicines. She’ll take them from a stranger, although not always. One Thursday she slept for more than fourteen hours and when Friday morning arrived still didn’t want to get up.

   “I don’t want to,” she said.

   “But why mom?”

   “I don’t know.”

   “I don’t want to get you upset, but Tiffany’s going to be here tomorrow to give you your medicine. Do you remember Tiffany?”

   “I don’t forget, Jay. The doctor says I don’t. I was just there.”

   “OK, that’s what he said?”

   “He says I don’t have a memory problem at all.”

   “Mom, that’s great,” Telly said. “I’m glad you don’t have a memory problem,”

   “She can come here, but I won’t get out of bed.”

   “I can guarantee you she will be back here. You be nice.”

   “Oh, I’m nice. I’m just not going to get up.”

   “That’s not being nice.”

   “I know what’s nice and not nice.”

   There are some things she just knows. She doesn’t know, but she knows.

   Chapter 16

   Thelma got ice cream for her dogs all the time.

   It started years ago when she used to go to her sister Sarah’s house in West Park with their family’s Rottweiler, whose name was Chavez. She took Patty’s Rottie, whose name was Wellington, and Chavez for a walk.

   She and the dogs walked to the Dairy Queen on Riverside Drive. It’s a Cone Zone now, but back then it was a DQ. She did that every weekend without fail. One Saturday, as they were strolling past the Shell gas station on their way to the DQ, she spotted some guys walking towards them. There were a gaggle of them, seven black guys, coming her way. She began to get a little nervous.

   “Shit,” Telly muttered to herself.

   As they got closer to her, they started being obnoxious and making cat calls. She had two thoughts going. One was that she shouldn’t make eye contact with them, and the other was, at least I have my dogs with me. But, when she looked the posse over sideways, it didn’t seem like the guys had even noticed the dogs.

   Finally, when they got closer, they focused on the Rottweilers and the Rottweilers focused on them. They stopped and Telly stopped, and the dogs stopped and started to bristle. Then, just like that, they all split.

   “Thank God,” she thought. 

   One of them yelled back over his shoulder, “That’s some well-guarded pussy.”

   “You guys are getting extra ice cream,” she said to Chavez and Wellington. “You’re getting a sundae, in fact, one big one for each of you.”

   Dogs, they know, they know what’s up in the wild. They have a sixth sense. They don’t like anything that the other five senses don’t add up to. If you have something to worry about, then you have something to worry about. If you don’t, you’re fine. If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear from dogs.

   Steve and she had a Wolf Black Lab who was her life when there was still lots of life in him. He was the sweetest thing ever and she just loved that dog. His name was Blue. One night they ordered Chinese. The only time she ever saw Blue go after somebody was when the deliveryman came to their front door. The Wolf Lab chased him right back to his car. He barked at the car all the way down the street as it sped away.

   He never before or ever after did anything like that. The deliveryman obviously had bad intentions. If someone comes to the door and there’s ill will, or there are bad intentions, the hair on all dog necks goes up and their blood starts to run hot.

   A woman’s intuition is strong, but a dog’s is even stronger. They know when the feeling is just not right. There have been a few times in Telly’s life when things have not been right. Every time she’s had a dog with her for protection.

   They usually have five or six dogs in the house, so a bad man would have to be out of his mind to try and come and rob their house. He would have to be absolutely nuts. Cats will offer you up as a sacrifice, but a dog, it’s all about save and protect.

   Steve found a Rottweiler who needed a new home. He was going to move it to one of his cousins. But he private messaged Telly, “My cousin’s not responsible.” After that she put the dog up on Facebook. She had a client at the hair salon who had been pestering her for a Rottweiler, so she tagged her, and she came back with, “When can I meet this dog?”

   “Let me find out what the scoop is,” Telly told her.

   Her client had just built a house in Olmsted Township. The dog was from Olmsted Falls, and he loved children and other dogs, so everything was all right there. Steve called Telly and said, “I think I’ve got someone else who wants that dog.”

   “Well, if the meet and greet doesn’t go well, you can have your shot, but remember she was first,” Telly said.

   In the end, Telly’s haircut client was wealthy, they had a good home, and they had put down their own Rottweiler a couple of months ago. They loved the new dog, the new dog loved them, and it all came together.

   Sometimes they take dogs in themselves, especially if they find them on the street. They found Gretel that way. Steve brought her in and when Telly saw her, she said, “That’s it, I love her, she’s mine. She’s not going anywhere.” They kept Gretel, although more dogs can be a problem.

   One big problem at their house is dog hair, which is a problem because Telly is a clean freak. Some dog lovers believe if you’re not covered in dog hair your life is empty, but she’s not one of them. In the years Steve and she have been married they have had six Dysons. The last one broke when she accidentally dropped it and watched it fall down the stairs, bouncing on the runner one step at a time on its way all the way down.

   “Fuck,” she thought, as it cracked and broke apart.

   Telly went on Facebook and asked, “I’m really tired of giving Dyson my money, what do you guys got?”

   In the meantime, they bought an Electrolux. That vacuum cleaner was the biggest joke. She hated that piece of shit. Even Steve hated it. He used it once and was cursing all day about it. Telly took it back to Best Buy and told them how much she hated it.

   They bought a Miele. Some people think not wanting to scare their dog is the perfect excuse for not vacuuming. Not Telly. She loves her Miele. It’s been a godsend, especially since she loves to vacuum.

   The other problem they have all the time is dog nose prints all over their glass surfaces, which is mostly the doors when they press their noses against them.

   Whenever she comes home from the grocery store, or the pet store, and is bringing in bags of food, they gang up on the glass. Sometimes she thinks they must think she is the greatest hunter in the world, judging by how much food she brings home. There are the two of them and usually five or six of the four-footers. That adds up to not only a whole lot of food, but a whole lot of Windex, too.

   “I wonder where their sixth sense tells them I’m getting all that food and ice cream from.”

   As long as the goods keep coming, the dogs don’t care and don’t waste their time devoting their sixth sense to it.

   Chapter 17

   Thelma went on birth control when she was in her late 20s. She had to be on some kind of birth control because of her polycystic ovary syndrome. As soon as she went on Norplant she broke out in bad acne. It was horrible.

   “Get those out of your arm,” Alma kept telling her.

   After that, she put on 85 pounds and it would not go away. She went on every diet known to man and beast. She would lose some weight, get down to a certain number, and then just stop, or get it all back. It frustrated her, and pissed her off, too.

   “I’m going to do gastric bypass,” she told Steve.

   “Oh, no, don’t, I love you the way you are,” he said.

   Steve is a good guy. He comes to the beauty salon every day. There isn’t a day he doesn’t stop in. He gets mocked for it sometimes, but he can take it.

   “I’m going to do it,” she told him.

   Telly went to St. Vincent’s Hospital when she was forty-two years old, signing on the dotted line.

   “I highly recommend the full gastric,” her doctor said.

   “I’ll do whatever you recommend,” she said, although she asked him about the band.

   “If you do the band I go in and put the band in your stomach, but you don’t start losing weight right away. First you have to wait six months for it to heal, and then I’ve got to tighten it.”

   “Screw that,” she said. “Let’s do the one where I start losing right away. I don’t want to wait.”

   She dropped 85 pounds, which was exactly what she had put on.

   One day she went to her chiropractor for an adjustment. His jaw dropped. “Where did the rest of you go?”

   It was right after she lost all her weight, although it was more about her getting rid of it. She had no intention of ever finding it again.

   “I know, I know, it’s great,” she said.

   “There’s nothing left of you.”

   She had always been a small person before the implant. Most of the women in her Bible study group had eating disorders and weight issues. 

   “I know what it’s like. I was anorexic in high school. My brother Brad’s wife is 38 years old. She’s a double zero and she’s lost all her teeth because she’d made herself throw up so many times. All her teeth corroded, just eroded out, and she’s lost her esophagus. So, that’s gone. Then she had to get a double mastectomy because she found out she has the x marker. She’s teeny-weeny, but her mother is heavy, and her sister is almost five hundred pounds. Her sister’s husband used to be normal, but he has put on a lot of weight since they’ve been together, too. She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, but she stinks. She stinks to high heaven. How do you bathe when you’re 500 pounds? She’s the sweetest person, but she knows.”

   She wanted to have a hysterectomy because her ovaries were so bad. “My female parts are diseased and horrible, but they won’t do it.”

   “You should keep all your parts, like you keep your teeth,” her doctor always said.

   “Why would you want me to keep them?” she asked her. “You pull out rotten teeth, don’t you?”

   But her doctor said she wouldn’t do it. She gave Telly three options.

   “You can go back on the pill.”

   “I’m 49 years old,” she said. “No.”

   “We could try an ablation.”

   “I’m not doing that. I probably have cystic ovarian disease. And I have anemic cyanosis. It’s only the inside of the uterus. I’m not doing that.”

   “All right, we can do an implant again.”

   “Fuck that,” she told her. “I’m never doing that again, gain all that weight, so forget it.”

   The diet she follows is the blood type diet. It’s the eat right for your type diet. Anybody can get any disease, any ailment, any affliction. But there are some blood types that get some more than others. More of the O’s, like her, are going to get more blood clotting, rheumatoid arthritis, and have more sinus issues. A’s have heart issues, high cholesterol, heart disease, and all the things that go with that.

   Her chiropractor told her about the blood type diet.

   “If you’re willing to do the gastric, are you willing to go a step farther?” he asked.

   “I can try anything for a month,” she said.

   After a few weeks Telly started to feel good. After two months she noticed she hadn’t had a sinus infection for two months, so she kept going.

   Steve went on the diet, too. He follows his blood type diet, which is awful since he has to be a vegetarian. He hates it, but on weekends he splurges, and eats whatever he wants.

   Ever since Telly started following it, she hardly ever got sinus headaches anymore. She used to get them all the time. In the last seven years, since she has been on the blood type diet, she’s had a sinus infection exactly seven times. There’s something to it, although her husband’s aunt, who is their doctor, doesn’t believe in it.

   “It’s funny,” Telly told her, “how I used to see you all the time, but now I never see you.”

   She just shrugged.

   “Steve has to be a vegetarian, but I love my meat. I’m a Christian and I believe animals are here for me to eat. I’m not about vegetarianism. At the same time, I think there’s so much in our food we don’t know about, like preservatives and chemicals. Why do they have to torture animals before killing them? They inject them with drugs and rip their feathers out while they’re still alive.”

   Treat them humanely, at least, she believed.

   Last Christmas they were a out for a party with friends, driving around in a limo, all lit up like Christmas trees. They were hammered. When they got to their restaurant Cheryl’s husband went right to the bathroom and threw up.

   Steve ordered veal, since it was the weekend, and since she had never had veal, she wanted to try it, so she did. She stuck a piece in her mouth, but she has a thing with texture. It was just not steak texture. She didn’t like it. Steve must have seen the look on her face, because when she spit it out, he picked it up and popped it into his mouth.

   Everybody at the table laughed, but that’s love.

   Chapter 18

   Thelma was almost 22 years-old the morning she drove face first into a cement truck. She was driving a 1976 Monte Carlo that a girlfriend of hers at the Bay Deli, where they both worked, had sold her for one hundred dollars.

   “Thank God it was a big, big car.”

   She had gotten up late that morning and shoved down a hot dog and Fudgsicle for breakfast.

   “I better go,” she said to herself.

   Her roommate and she were sharing a small house on Schwartz Road behind St. John’s West Shore Hospital in Westlake. She was late for class at the Fairview Beauty Academy. She bolted out to the car.

   When she got into the Chevy, she couldn’t wait for the windows to defrost more than the little bit of one inch you absolutely need to look through. She was squinting through that inch of windshield when she hit the cement truck head on.

   “I never touched the brakes.”

   The truck was parked on her side of the street, the front end facing her. That was a surprise. She knew she was on the right side of the street since she could see out her side window. At first, Telly didn’t know what happened. When she tried to get out of the car she couldn’t. She was wearing a skirt and when she looked down to see why she couldn’t move she saw the steering wheel between her legs. She was sandwiched between the wheel and the seat.

   Some days you are the dog and other days you are the fire hydrant.

   Telly finally got out of the car by swinging one and then the other leg over the steering wheel. Standing next to her suddenly scrap-metal Monte Carlo, looking at the man in front of her, she realized why no one had come to help her. He was white as a ghost. The rest of the cement men behind him looked like they were seeing a ghost, too. They thought she had died in the car. 

   “I tried to wave you off,” one of them said.

   “Hey, here’s a little clue, I didn’t see you and I didn’t see the truck,” she said. “Thanks for the heads up, but I didn’t see anything.”

   The next thing she knew a woman walked up to her and shoved Kleenex up her nose.

   “You better sit down,” she said.

   “That’s OK,” Telly said. “I’m good, I’ve got to get to school.”

   “No, you better sit down. I’ve called an ambulance. They should be here in just a minute.”

   “Seriously, thanks, but no. I just bumped my nose.”

   She sat Telly down and when she did her skirt rode up and she saw her banged-up knees.

   The convertor radio underneath the dash had slammed into her legs. Even though she couldn’t feel anything totally bad, not yet at least, she could see both shinbones and a thighbone. It had only been a minute since she had gotten out of the car. There was bloodshed everywhere. It was after the excitement was over that she went screaming banshees.

   Then she lost her eyesight.

   “Everything’s getting fuzzy, like an old TV.”

   “Just close your eyes. The paramedics are here.”

   “OK, open your eyes,” one of the paramedics said.

   “Are they open?” she asked.

   “Yeah,” he said.

   “Are you sure? Because I can’t see anything.”

   “Is it like in a closet, or more like the basement, with the lights all out?”

   A closet or a basement, she wondered. Oh, my God, this guy is such a smart ass. Who sits in a dark closet except crazy people?

   They laid her out in the ambulance and, suddenly, her sight came back.

   “It was just the shock,” she told them.

   “Quit self-diagnosing,” the medic said.

   “I was a lifeguard. I know my stuff.”

   St John’s Hospital must have thought she was younger than she was, underage is what they thought, so they called her parents.

   “You did what? You called who? I’m 21-years-old. You didn’t need to call my parents.”

   “It’s done.”

   “You rat bastards!”

   Telly was beyond mad. She hadn’t talked to either of her parents for almost a year.

   “Fuck off and die” had been the last thing she said to them the year before.

   She planned on moving out as soon she turned 21, but her dad didn’t want her to grow up or move out. Telly wanted out, Fred and Alma both wanted her out, too, but they didn’t want her to go, either. When she told her parents that she would be leaving the day of her birthday, first, they beat the shit out of her, and then threw her out of the house. They literally threw her out. She had no money, no clothes, and nowhere to go.

   She called her dad about picking up her clothes.

   “If you come grovel for them, you can get them out of the trash,” he said.

   “You keep them, dad, I’m not going to grovel.”

   At the very least they raised a stubborn kid. Telly never knew if Fred really threw her clothes in the trash because she never called or went back, at least not for the clothes.

   Her mom burst through the emergency room door at St. John’s at the same time as her dad got her on the phone. Before that she had been joking with the doctors, saying she cut her legs shaving.

   “Oh, my God, look at her legs!” Alma started shouting.

   “Who let that woman in here?” Telly blared.

   “Who’s the president, who’s the president?” her dad asked over and over on the phone until the line went dead. The next thing she knew her whole family, sisters, brother, dad, were all in the room, and the adrenaline wore off fast, completely fast. She had been sitting there, not too panicked, when all of a sudden AAARRRGHHHHHH!!

   Betsy started crying and everyone got so upset about her crying that they put her in Fred’s lap. Telly was left laid out on the table alone in pain and agony until they finally wheeled her away to surgery.

   No one paid any attention to her being gone.

   In the end, what happened to her wasn‘t off the charts. She broke her nose and hurt one of her knees. It had to be operated on. They told her afterwards if she had hit the back of the cement truck instead of the front she would have been decapitated.

   If that had happened and she had been driving a custom convertible Monte Carlo instead of her hard shell, then “HEADLESS GIRL IN TOPLESS CAR” would have been the headline in the next day’s Bay Village Observer.

   “At least I kept my head,” she told Steve years later.

   “That’s what you say,” he said, ducking his head.

   Chapter 19

   Thelma went down a dog when Izzy left her house to go live with Alma. “It’s all right because Izzy is helping her. She takes care of my mom.” When Telly goes to Alma’s house the first thing she asks is, “You’re not going to take Izzy back, are you?”

   After Alma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, she went downhill fast. On top of that she fell down and had to have surgery. After she recovered from the surgery, Telly took her to see her A. D. doctor.” I was shocked when he told us she had had Alzheimer’s for at least five years.”

   Izzy is a Pom. She has a job to do and that’s to take care of Alma. “She makes her very happy. She watches her, sits with her, and sleeps with her. Mom shares breakfast with Izzy.” Neither of them eats dog food. Mom hasn’t forgotten she’s a person while Izzy doesn’t believe she’s a dog.

   “Do you want your dog back?” her mom asked Telly.

   “I’m here four times a week,” she said. “I see that spoiled brat all the time. I’m good with her taking care of you.”

   At first, Telly visited her mom twice a week, bathing her on Mondays. Now she visits her four times a week and bathes her Mondays and Fridays. Izzy loves shower time. Her favorite part is when Telly lotions up Alma. That’s when Izzy licks the lotion off her legs.

   After bathing Alma sits on a chair in the shower, a towel wrapped around her, and as she dries off, Telly starts to lotion up her legs, back, and arms. When she gets out of the shower and is getting into her underwear and socks, that is when Izzy runs up and starts licking away.

   Telly asked her vet if it was OK.

   “Sure. A lot of times the store-bought lotions are kid-safe,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily taste good, but you’re not going to die from it.”

   “She can’t wait to get at it, although we don’t let her lick a lot,” Telly said.

   “It must taste good to her,” she said.

   When Thelma was growing up her mom didn’t like kids or dogs. She grew up being raised by a mother who hated her. “She never in a million years would have let any of this go on before. I don’t know if she’s forgotten all of it, all of the past, although that’s very possible. It’s like a gift from God now loving her like I’m loving on her and taking care of her the way I take care of her.”

   She got a kick out of it, the way things had changed.

   “It absolutely cracks me up. When you have a parent with Alzheimer’s you’re supposed to live in their world. I like her world, most of the time. It can be fun.”

   “Well, I went to Pick-n-Pay,” Alma said.

   Pick-n-Pay was a Cleveland-area chain of supermarkets. There were more Pick-n-Pay’s back in the day than there were Fazio’s or Stop-n-Shop’s. But then the owner was murdered when someone tried to kidnap him. The last store closed in 1994, more than twenty years ago.

   Alma doesn’t leave the house, never, no. “You went to Pick-n-Pay?” Telly asked her. One of these days she’s going to say she just came home from work. That’s how the progression of the disease goes.

   A neighbor told Telly the best way to deal with Alzheimer’s was to not argue with it. “She sees flying monkeys outside the window? OK, what are they doing? What are they wearing? Where are they flying?”

   They see what they see. There’s no reasoning with it. It’s deteriorating your brain. Her peripheral vision is not there anymore. She only sees straight ahead. Telly doesn’t approach her from the side.

   “It’s time to take a shower,” she’ll say, face-to-face.

   “I’ll take a shower, but I’m not going to get wet,” Alma says.

   Or she’ll say, “I’ll take a shower, but I’m not taking my clothes off.”

   “We can do that, but it’s going to be awful getting out of the shower with your wet clothes on.” 

   “Oh, yeah?” she says.

   She sees Telly all the time. She sees Brad all the time. But she may have already forgotten who Thelma’s sisters are. Sarah lives in Maine and never comes home. Betsy never comes over, although she came over for Christmas. Nobody knew if Alma was going to be here mentally next year, so it was maybe a final Christmas. It was horrible. Nobody was happy.

   Telly’s stepfather Pete asked her to stay over one weekend after Christmas. He had to go to Florida. “Sure, can’t wait,” she said. What he forgot to tell her was the code for the ADT alarm system. Although she wasn’t in her right mind to set it, Alma somehow set off the alarm. Telly slept next to Alma.At 4 o’clock in the morning the wailing went off. Alma wasn’t in the bed. Telly’s heart went in her throat.

   She found her mom standing in the hall by the back door. “Mom!” she screamed.

   “Oh, my God, that’s loud, Jay.”

   “What’s the code?”

   “I don’t know.”

   Telly wanted to freak out. “My chest hurt, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Lucky for me I punched in the same code for their garage door and the alarm shut up.”

   “I don’t know how that fool thing went off,” Alma said.

   “You opened the back door!” Alma probably thought, in her shrinking head, she was letting in the dog, and right after that couldn’t remember a thing.

   Alma loves having slumber parties and having Telly sleep over. One day she said, “Mom, I can’t, I have to go home and cook dinner for my husband,”

   “You’re married?” She was surprised. But now she covers it, and says, “Oh, that’s Steve, he’s a good guy.” She hides what she doesn’t remember.

   They were playing cards one night and Telly asked her, “You know who would have loved Izzy?”

   “Who?”

   “Nana,” she said. Nana was Fred’s mom. She died many years ago.

   “I know, I send pictures of Izzy to her every week.”

   “Oh, do you? And Nana loves Izzy?”

   “Oh, yeah, she just loves that little girl.”

   “How sweet is that, that she loves my puppy.”

   Alma will sit and stare at Izzy, just stare at her, telling Thelma how precious and pretty she is, how Izzy gives her a leg up.

   One big problem she has with her mom is getting her to take her medication. The medication helps, but sometimes she refuses to take it, especially if it’s the home health care worker trying to give it to her.

   “I won’t get out of bed whenever they get here,” she said.

   “Why are you such a little stink?” Telly asked. “You have to have home care and you have to take your medicine.”

   “I’ll kick them out,” she said.

   “Mom, do you remember the doctor telling you that you have Alzheimer’s?”

   “Uh, huh.”

   “How do you feel about that?”

   “That’s the hand I was dealt with,” she said, with a sickening feeling that she hid.

   When the home health worker hands Alma her medication she almost always takes it. She knows the hand, just like Izzy does, that isn’t trying to bite her. She knows the helping hand.

   Chapter 20

    Everyone’s always asking Thelma, “How did you train him to be like he is?”

   She always tells them, “That’s how they come. That’s exactly how he got off the plane as a puppy, as calm as can be.” That’s just how Leonbergers are. That’s just how Baby is. He never says a thing about it.

   Which is a good thing, being calm, because they grow up to be as big as lions. He is a lot of dog. They’re well behaved, even though Baby can be headstrong. It’s a good thing they’re smart, too, and know how to heel. They can pull and push you off your feet. If they lean on you, you better be able to lean back. They are Lean-on-Bergers.

   Telly is a dog lover of all nationalities, but she is a huge dog lover more than a small dog lover. Little dogs are yappy and prissy. She gave her Pom to her mom and Alma ruined her, turned her into a total punk. Telly had Izzy trained like a big dog. She used to think like a big dog, but now she’s turned into a princess.

   Telly likes big animals. They are crazy, but Steve and she have hand-fed bears in the wild. The first time she saw a picture of a Leonberger she wanted one. She showed the picture to Steve.

   “Oh, my God, I want one.”

   “Sweet,” he said.

   Getting Baby was no mean feat. It’s absolutely ridiculous what you have to go through to rescue a dog. You have to jump through hoops. You have to have a vet. You can’t have other dogs at home. They come and check your house. They want to check the house, that’s fine. They should absolutely make sure there’s no dog fighting. That’s great, but, for real. It’s harder to adopt a dog than it is to adopt a baby.

   “What kills me is that there are so many unwanted dogs. If I have four other dogs, which I do, they’re like, no. Fuck that. I’m a good parent. I love animals. They’re all going to be spoiled rotten in my house.”

   They knew if they wanted to adopt a Leonberger nobody was going to give them one. So, they decided they were going to pay for it, and get it as a puppy. They wanted the dog to be young because they don’t live long.

   Leonbergers come from Leonberg, Germany, although theirs came from Missouri. They are a cross between a Newfoundland and a Saint Bernard and a Pyrenean mountain dog. It’s a three-for-one deal. They’re farm dogs, with a water-resistant double coat, and Baby, since he’s a male, has a mane.

   They got him from a breeder. It was hard because it’s something they don’t believe in. It went against everything Steve and Telly believe in, but they felt they had paid their dues rescuing the 600-or-so dogs they have rescued.

   He cost them $2300.00. Telly had him shipped in. Then, after he was delivered to Cleveland, she found out there was a place in Medina, only a half-hour away, which breeds Leonbergers. She was pissed.

   The dog is just a few months older than two years now, but when they got him, he was less than a few months old, just older than about five weeks. He was packed up in a little crate that was shoved onto the plane. They picked him up at Cleveland Hopkins, although it was actually behind the airport, on the road towards the IX Center.

   When they got there, Telly started getting nervous. She said, “He’s just a baby, I wonder if the plane ride scared him?” Another lady was picking up her dog. By the time she and her husband got him out of the crate he was shaking, twitchy, a basket case.

   “Oh, my God,” Telly said, “my poor dog.” She opened the cage and he blobbed out. He lay on the concrete floor, looking up at her, loopy, goofy.

   She thought, “Right.”

   He rolled over on his back.

   She thought, “This is a chill dog.”

   There was grassy stuff in his crate, still warm, a food dish, and a water dish. He had been given plenty of food and water for the 8-hour trip. Even so, the grub was all gone.

   When she picked him up he wanted to play. He fell back down to the floor and she picked him up again. He rolled over in her arms. Telly rubbed his belly. She thought he was going to be as shaky as the other dog, scared and petrified. She was wrong, totally wrong. He was so cute, although it was easy to tell he was going to be about mischief and mess.

   He was jumbo-sized right out of the box, long fur that was ready to shed, not anything for a neatnik. After they got him home, they found out he loved water and loved dirt. From the very first second Telly opened his cage door they were both in love with one another. “We’ve got a yard for you.” He liked that. He wasn’t a studio apartment kind of dog. That was obvious.

   Leonbergers grow fast, 7, 8, and 9 pounds a month for the first two years. He’s always been about, “When do we eat?” He’s been a growing boy most of the time they’ve had him. It’s always dinnertime somewhere in the world is how he looks at it. When she can’t feel his ribs anymore is when she will know it’s diet time. He can smell any food leftovers left over anywhere in the house.

   Baby has been a calm dog from the day they got him. When he sees people other than them, or dogs other than their dogs, he is cool. He loves being around people and other dogs, rather than by himself.

   They take him everywhere, which is where their SUV comes in handy. He’s even gone to Cleveland Monster games, in the stands, and Cleveland Indians games, right down on the field.

   It’s like he’s high, or something. High on life. He is chill.

   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,” her sister Betsy said

   “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 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 that 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. Telly 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 into 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 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 during the show 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 had 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 the 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. There was no doubt about it.

   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 laughing 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 Steve, “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. Telly 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 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 shouted. 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 doesn’t care. When Telly corrects Baby, he’s on the floor. Veruca, she just sits there surly and defiant. 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 they 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 Telly 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.

   It all started when Steve 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. 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 Bobby begged him to stay.

   “Please stay here stay with me,” Bobby pleaded. “You can stay at the house and 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.

   Telly 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 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 free.

   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 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.

   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 Telly’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 the year 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 other 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 poor creature.

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

   “Really?”

   “Yeah.”

   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 starving 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 stinking 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 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.”

   “OK.”

   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 Telly work hard 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 bouncing 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, won its trust, and the next thing 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. Telly was making soup for their pastor when he brought the dog home. She 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.

   “Gretel?”

   “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 right now 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 her daughter was going to be a hairdresser. If a woman doesn’t have a hairdresser, then she has no choice but to let her hair go to hell. 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, “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?”

   “No.”

   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 Yelly 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 week 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 didn’t enjoy 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?” Telly asked.

   “Yes, very much.”

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

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

   Telly leaves food in the fridge and presents on the table 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 there 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 even 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.

   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 hers.

   “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 a lot, 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 often 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. He is 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, cool ocean breeze. It was cold and gray and there was no sun anywhere in sight when they landed back 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 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 them 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 goes 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 to make it. 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 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 believe 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. 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 said. 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 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 happened to need 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. The bog oaf.” 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 afterwards.

   “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 hardly ever wears clothes.”

   “Goddamn, 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 Telly are not your typical couple. She was a good girl in high school, Steve was a drug supplier, and Jesse was one of his drug users.

   “I married her,” Steve said.

   “You stole my girl,” Jesse said.

    “Oh, my 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. He is 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. 

   Telly’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 went to 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. She will eat crumbs.

   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 them. 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

   Thelma cut her teeth lifeguarding, then slicing bologna, and finally cutting hair.

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

   Her first real job was at Cadillac Cutters, which she got after she graduated from the Fairview Beauty Academy. Her sister worked there and got her the job. All the girls who now work at the beauty salon in Rocky River, and Telly, too, they all used to work there.

   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 a whole lot about anybody except themselves.

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

   She never got the chance to get past the apprentice stage, get on the floor on her 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 them. 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, probably with that money. Health care up their noses and down the drain.

   Telly wasn’t allowed to talk to clients, which she thought was strange. One day she was talking to a client. One of the gay guys spotted her. He took her in the back.

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

   “OK,” she said.

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

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

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

   Then her paychecks started bouncing.

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

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

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

   “I’m sure they are,” she 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 her landlord was her friend’s mom.

   She called her dad again because they got shitty with her about the money they owed her.

   “Walk out!” he said.

   “Where am I going to go?”

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

   She didn’t, but when more of her paychecks bounced things came to a head. The day she told her 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!”

   Telly hightailed it out of there.

   Fred 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 Tom and Terry knew, the IRS was looking things over, shutting things up, and their business was being closed down.

   When she had to go back and get her stuff it was awful. She didn’t know if they knew she 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. Telly still saw 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 she thought his family demanded that he marry a woman.

   Fred 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 her. She 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.

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

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

   “No,” she said.

   She was so happy she was crying. He could hear her crying over the phone.

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

   He thought her boyfriend had done something.

   “No,” she said.

   “I swear to God, Telly, 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.

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

   Chapter 30

   Thelma’s mom and dad were married for forty-two years, but her mom hated her 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 girl and should grow up.

   Telly’s mom being her 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 Fred, 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 Fred. 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 Telly was a kid, he sent Alma a birthday card every year. It came in the mail to Bay Village, where they lived.

   Fred died on the first day of 1999. It didn’t take long for Telly’s aunt to call Pete. It didn’t take long for him to call Alma. “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 Fred died Alma married Pete. It messed Telly up. She had to go to therapy because of it.

  “ Pete is a good guy, a sweet guy, and worships the ground mom walks on. He loves her and that’s all you can ask for. He never had kids, so having kids now, the four of them 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 new cast iron patio set. When Alma told him it cost $2500.00, he said it was too much. “That’s nothing,” said Alma. 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 Telly called to wish them a Merry Christmas her mom started giving her short answers.

   “What’s going on?” she wondered.

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

   “Why are you such a spoiled brat?”

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

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

    She 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. She called her 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. Alma 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 house down there?” TellyI asked.

   “Yeah,” she said.

   “Do you know you have a Florida house?”

   “I know for now.”

   Pete went down south, cleared everything out, and sold the house. Telly’s best friend Jesse met him and helped him drive everything back up to Ohio. Jesse had been living at Telly’s house but cleared out and was now living in Florida with his new girlfriend.

   What’s sad is that Alma 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. He’s heart-broken over that. It’s so sad, but he’s been good to her, and stays good to her.

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

   Pete is a funny guy sometimes. Telly was never sure if he talked to Alma 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.

   Chapter 31

   It all started when Steve and Thelma were in Mexico and Jesse was staying at their house, which was more like living at their house. Jesse and Telly in a room together can be a blow-up. It can happen even thousands of miles apart.

   She grew up with Jesse, they’ve been best friends ever since, but she’s very controlling, he’s very controlling, that can be a problem, and always has been.

   When Steve and she were in Mexico, no matter who called them, she answered by saying “Ola!” When Jesse called, she said the same thing. “Ola!” Steve and Telly were having a good time in Mexico. They were having a fine time. Everything was Ola OK.

   “You and I are going to speak English today,” said Jimmy.

   “What?” she said, not OK with it. “The first thing out of your mouth is not going to be about what I’m going to be doing.” 

   Telly hates being told what she’s going to have to do. After they got home, and after Jesse got done being sick, she finally blew up.

   “Why is she so mad?” asked Jesse.

   “Dude, it was you who kind of did it,” said Steve.

   “I respect that,” said Jesse.

   “You treat her like a two-year–old,” said Steve.

   That’s what he does. He’s staying at their house, he’s not paying rent, living for free, and he treats her like a two-year-old. He’s like family, so he drives her crazy. Steve calls him husband number two. He also calls him Telly’s child.

   “Go talk to your son, he’s called you twenty times today,” Steve says.

   Anytime Telly talks to Jesse on the phone he tells her how fat her husband is. Steve’s not even close to being fat. He’s fit, but it’s a man joke between them. All they do is sit around and tell each other how fat they are. 

   She says, “I can’t handle it, I’m either going upstairs or I’m going to beat the hell out of both of you. I think you’re both idiots and you both deserve to be fat.”

   But then they start on her, look who’s talking, and the fat jokes come out.

   Jesse comes from a fucked-up background, like Telly. That’s probably why they hung out together. They both had screwed-up families. Jesse’s dad blamed him for his divorce, said he was the reason he was leaving his wife, Jesse’s mother, when Jesse was in high school.

   “You know that’s not true,” Telly said, but there’s no telling Jesse’s dad anything.

   “My dad wonders why I do drugs,” said Jesse. He did stupid stuff growing up, did drugs, drank, committed grand theft auto, he was so mad at his parents. He is tall, more than six foot, more than 200 pounds. He’s like a giant next to Telly. He was a hockey player once. She always tells him he’s like a big brick wall in her way.

   After he moved out of their house Jesse went down to visit his father in Florida. His dad was once a bigwig cop in Cleveland. He retired to Florida, to The Villages, south of Ocala, north of Orlando. His father was getting divorced again at 80 years of age.

   “She’s a bitch,” Jimmy said about his stepmother.

   “Stop that,” Telly said. 

   He can’t even talk to his original mother, or mothers in general.

   He re-connected with a friend of his, Lynn, who lives in Ocala, and who had been going through a divorce for more than three years. Jesse’s dad keeps a horse at Lynn’s stables. Lynn is a polo player. Jesse found out from hanging around her that polo people are scum. It’s a dirty sport. He doesn’t want her playing it anymore because she’s had heart surgery. If she ever falls off her horse she’s going to die.

   “She’s been making comments to me,” he said when he called Telly. “Do you think she’s coming on to me?

   “I don’t know Jesse, maybe she’s just really nice.”

  “Yeah, she is really nice,” he said.

   “She is friends with your dad,” she said.

   Lynn asked Jesse to drive her dogs to Santa Fe. He said yes and she flew him and his son JJ down to Ocala. JJ is planning on becoming a Marine, like his older brother. They took her dogs and all the stuff she wanted to be taken and drove everything to New Mexico. She was planning on staying there for a couple of months

   After JJ went home, she invited Jesse to stay for a while. That’s when she made her move. After that they started dating.

   “She is nice,” he said.

   “Ah hah!” Telly laughed.

   After he came back to Cleveland, he finished some classes he was taking, packed up his stuff, and it was, all right, I’m moving in with her. He moved to Florida, into her $3 million-dollar house. She’s the daughter of a rich man. Her parents are moneybags in Cleveland.

   But there were complications. When Lynn’s dad found out she was dating Jesse, he threatened to kill Jesse, never mind that Lynn is 60-something-years-old and Jesse is 50 years old. There’s some strange relationship going on between Lynn and her dad.

   It’s a mess what he’s got going with her. She’s got issues. Jesse was ready to pack up and leave a couple of times. He talked it over with himself and then with Telly. 

   “I’ll believe you’re footloose when I see you standing on my doorstep again,” she said.

   “We all know the score, but nobody say anything to him because he is so stubborn,” she told Steve.

   “When we were in New Mexico all her shitty friends were there,” Jesse said. “She’s only got friends because she’s rich. Everybody wants something from her, wants what they can get from hanging out with rich people. Jimmy don’t play that. Jesse don’t date girls for the money.”

   Then to his surprise he found out his 80-year-old dad has a crush on his girlfriend. “He’s always kissing on her,” he said. Everybody in the development thinks Jesse’s dad has slept with Lynn. Nobody knows if he has.

   It’s absolutely kind of freaky. He’s trying to be nice to his dad about it, trying to let him know in a nice way that he should stop being the old creepy guy.

   “It’s just really hard,” he said.

   “I bet it is,” Telly said. 

   Chapter 32

   Thelma first heard U2 in the early 1980s. I started with “War,” which was huge. “Boy” came out before that. Once she heard “War,” she went back to that and “October.” her brother got on the bandwagon when he heard Telly listening to them.

   You can’t help becoming a fan once you listen to U2.

   The same four band members have been in the band since 1976, Bono, the Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr. They are the best rock-n-roll band in the world. It’s no blasphemy. Don’t blaspheme Bono and U2!

   Bono’s name is Paul Hewson and the Edge’s name is David Evans. Nobody calls them Paul and Dave. Adam Clayton’s nickname is Sparky and Larry Mullen’s nickname is the Jam Jar. Nobody calls them that. Bono is Bono and the Edge is the Edge. Adam and Larry are Adam and Larry. It’s just the way it is.

   A lot of U2’s music is about Jesus. A lot of people don’t know that. There are not a lot of songs that Bono sings that don’t either talk about or mention his name. Being a fan for a long time Telly thought it was the coolest thing ever that the song “Until the End of the World” is an imaginary conversation between Judas and Jesus and what Bono thinks about the Last Supper.

   When she started listening to them, they were the only band that would go on tour and read the Bible instead of drinking. The only party boy on the bus was Sparky. Bono lost his mother at a young age, and so did Larry Mullen, who is the drummer. They leaned on each other. When Larry’s mother died Bono was there to help him.

   One of the cool things among the many cool things about Bono is that he has given over half of his earnings away to different charities, like Red, which is about the fight against AIDS in Africa, and the One Campaign. Even though he’s got millions, he’s given millions away, because he believes in tithing.

   There aren’t too many people like him.

   Bono is still married to his high school sweetheart, which is impressive in this day and age. His favorite book of the Bible is Isaiah, which used to be called the Fifth Gospel. Isaiah was a prophet who came out hard and fast prophesying about Jesus’s coming.

   Telly identifies with U2 because she was brought up religiously and those guys sing about somebody she worships. The music is good, too. That helps.

   She saw them live for the first time in 1987 when they came to Cleveland and played at the Municipal Stadium on Lake Erie. It was the Joshua Tree Tour. The Edge says U2 is a live band more than anything else. She was dead set on going to that concert.

   Telly was in beauty school. She didn’t have tickets and didn’t have any money, but she was getting there come hell or high water. She saved up all her tips from bartending.

   Her girlfriend and she parked on East 9th Street and walked all the way to Municipal Stadium. She figured scalpers were going to nail us with the price, but she was ready. A guy was standing in the lot near an entrance with tickets.

   “You guys need tickets?”

   “How much,” she asked.

   “Face value.” His friends hadn’t shown up. They were floor seats, on the baseball field outfield grass.

   “Hell, yeah, we want those tickets,” she said.

   She couldn’t believe we were on the floor, close to the stage. She was so excited. The Plain Dealer music critic was in the row behind them. Telly found out she was behind them because the next day their picture was in the newspaper with a blurb about how obnoxious U2 fans could be, not staying in their seats, obstructing the view.

   “I was just so excited that I never sat down. Who sits at a concert? Get up!”

   Then a fight broke out. Who goes to a U2 concert and gets into a fight? Freaking morons! After it got sorted out, they were all moved forwards and got better seats, anyway. The concert was great, but the fight was ridiculous. It’s a band that sings about love and peace and idiots are going to start fighting? Ridiculous!

   “It was all so great that, even though I wasn’t drinking, I have almost no memory of the show. I remember running into my brother and his friends, though. Can you give us a ride back to our car?” she asked him.

   “Yeah,” he said. He had no idea they had parked so far away. They sat for hours in traffic that barely moved.

   “I’m going to kill you,” he said.

   Telly has never missed U2 whenever they’ve come to Cleveland. She has seen them in Miami, Virginia, Detroit, too, although she missed going to the Pittsburgh concert with her brother a few years ago. she was having surgery. He got mad about it.

   It was Halloween when she saw them in Detroit. Everybody was dressed up. They got high. There were guys dressed like Devo, all of them in orange jumpsuits. She thought it was a poster, not real people.

   “Check out that poster, dudes,” Then they all started moving and dancing. It took her by surprise. They were walking down a hallway and a guy dressed like Elvis was in front of them. He kept turning around and looking at them. Telly tried to focus. He finally whirled around, facing them.

   “Do you know who I am?” he asked.

   He knew they were completely stoned.

   It was a great show, although it might have been greater if it had been the show at the Palace of Auburn Hills one March twenty-five years ago during the Zoo TV Tour when Bono ordered 10,000 pizzas for the crowd.

   That’s putting your money where your mouth is.

   Chapter 33

   Kirby is a great guy, the baby of the family, the apple of his father’s eye, and a mama’s boy, so definitely a spoiled boy. He and Steve grew up together. He has been friends with Kirt since they were in the womb.

   Kirt’s father died of heart-related issues, and then his mother died eight or nine years ago. His sister took everything when their mother died and more-or-less left him with nothing. They never got along. Kirt asked Steve if he could put his house in Brian’s name. His mother had bought the house for him and he was afraid his sister would take it, too.

   “Oh, my God,” Telly told Steve. “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.”

   “Kirt would never screw me over,” said Steve.

   “He would never screw you over intentionally,” Telly said. “But, let’s face it, Kirby is Kirby, always out to make a buck.” Kirt is Kirby, but we call him Kirt most of the time. He is nuts. One time he was growing pot in his basement, another time he was making meth, not using it, but growing it and making it and selling it.

   Guess what, Steve put his name on Kirt’s house. Telly told him this is the worst thing ever.

   Guess what, it went bad.

   Kirt blew whatever little money his mother left him and then stopped paying his property taxes. They started getting delinquency notices in the mail. It piled up on Steve and Telly.

   “I’m going to kill him, I swear to God, I’m going to kill him,” she said. “I’m not losing our house because he’s an asshole.”

   Steve finally talked to him.

   “Dude,” he said. “I’m selling your house.”

   Steve sold it, paid off the taxes, there wasn’t anything left after that, and that was that.

   Kirt stopped by their house one day. Telly couldn’t even look at him. “I know you didn’t try to do this, but you’re an idiot,” she said. “Steve and I almost divorced over you. You’re a major fucking idiot.”

   After that they lost contact with Kirt. Years went by. The next thing they knew, Steve heard that Kirt had had a massive heart attack. He ended up in the Cleveland Clinic, where they did a quadruple bypass. As soon as he recovered, because he had no insurance, they said, we fixed your heart, but now it’s goodbye. He was out the door.

   Three weeks later he was back.

   “I’m not feeling right,” he said. “Something’s wrong, something’s wrong.”

   They found a blood clot aneurysm in his head. They had to remove the top third of his brain. He has two-thirds of a brain left. They discharged him again.

   “Where the hell is Kirt?” Steve asked. He set out to find him. He found him living in Ashtabula, in a dirt-floor shed, living with his dumb-as-a-rock star two-hundred-pound American Bulldog, Louie.

   “This is my life,” said Kirby. He couldn’t work anywhere. If anyone were to hire him, they would be liable for his mistakes.

   “Can we take him in?” Steve asked Telly.

   “My mom just got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I cannot take on anymore, no,” she said.

   They found friends of his to take him in. Steve got power of attorney so they could make sure his medical stuff got done. But, Kirt’s friend, someone he had gone all the way together from elementary school through high school, didn’t work out. He was a heavy alcoholic, and his wife was stealing Kirby’s medications for her own recreation.

   “What the fuck is wrong with people?”

   She finally told Steve, OK, bring him here. “At least we’re not going to take advantage of him.” Steve went and got him and his dog. He loves Louie. When he was having his heart attack Louie sat on his chest and kept him warm until somebody finally found him, and the ambulance came. He wasn’t going to go anywhere without his dog.

   At first Kirt and Louie stayed upstairs in their guest bedroom. After a week, blech, it was too close for comfort. It was time for a new plan.

   “How would you like it if I made an apartment for you out of my basement?” she asked him. “That way I have a little more privacy, you have a little more privacy.”

   Kirt loved the idea. Their dogs, whose basement it was, loved the idea. They loved having Kirby down there with them.

   They took out the couch their dogs had destroyed, put in a fridge, and a king-size bed. She told the dogs the bed wasn’t for them. “You’re not capable of having anything nice, you always tear it up.” They started totally bumming on her.

   Then Kirt piped up, “Oh yeah, they all get to sleep with me!”

   “You know what,” she said, “it’s done, it’s your apartment.”

   They made the apartment for him. He’s got his fridge, his cupboards, his bathroom. They go grocery shopping for him, take him to the doctor, and they are trying to get him on disability He’s been turned down twice, even though there’s nobody who needs disability more than him. He’s only got part of a brain and his heart works at way less than capacity.

   “Third time is the charm,” Steve said.

   He finally got it, but then they said it has to be reviewed, and the review board can’t get to him for the next eighteen months. They pay retro, they told Steve, but who cares? He could be dead before that. The Cleveland Clinic told him after his heart surgery he wouldn’t last a year.

   A year-and-a-half later he’s living in Telly’s basement. At least as of right now.

   One day she told Steve, “I haven’t seen Kirby all day. Go make sure he’s alive. Just go down. I don’t want to go there.”

   Steve went downstairs. The dogs started barking.

   “Kirt, you’ve got to clean your apartment,” she heard Steve telling him. “Keep it clean.” Her dogs came running upstairs during the scolding. She opened the back door and let them outside into the backyard. Louie stayed downstairs with his Napoleon.

Chapter 34

   When Steve said he had rescued another dog, Thelma said, “No, I can’t take it anymore, we don’t have room, I can’t do it.”

   They did it anyway.

   When they got Herman, who they call Hermie, he was less than four months old. He looked like a baby deer. He was scared to death of people, for good reason. His first toy was a little pig. He loved that pig. When he got bigger, and came out of his shell, he started looking better, although he started looking like the Joker.

   Baby and Grayson are his best buddies, although Hermie and Veruka are always beating up on Baby. He will let Hermie and Veruka take food right out of his mouth. Baby is just so sweet and gentle. He lets Hermie sleep with him, keeping him warm.

   Anyone would think Pebbles might do that, too, because she’s fleshy, but she doesn’t. She’s an 80-pound turkey. She’s gross, a fat whore. She just lets it all hang out.

   When they were in Mexico, Kristen was watching their dogs, but Telly’s friend Jesse had to take over after she got the flu. When Kristen was babysitting, she sent them cute pictures of their dogs every day. The picture they got from Jesse wasn’t so cute. It was a picture of Hermie lounging out on the couch with Jimmy, his legs spread-eagled. He was hanging with Jimmy, the original hanger-out.

   Telly texted him, “Dude, don’t do that to my dog. No bad habits, please.”

   Steve found Hermie on West 25th Street, near St. Malachi’s. It’s a Catholic church from back in the 1860s, tucked into what’s called the Old Angle. They do a Monday Night Meal and have a Back Door Ministry and once a month they stage a Peace Walk from the church to Public Square. Somebody told Steve there was a small shivering dog on a fence near the church. He got a blanket, spotted him, and scooped him up.

   Telly was driving when Brian called her. “There’s a puppy out here,” he said. “He’s tiny, shivering.”

   “No, I can’t take on anymore,” she said. “I can’t do it.”

   “OK,” he said. “I’ll take him to the shelter.”

   “Oh, I hate to do that,” she said. “No, don’t do it, not the shelter.”

   St. Malachi’s used to be Cleveland’s port church. The cross on top of the steeple was always lit to guide ships on Lake Erie into the harbor. After the church burnt down in 1943 and was rebuilt, the cross on the spire has been lit ever since, even though it doesn’t really have to be anymore.

   When Telly got home, Steve had the dog on our bed. He was blond and taupe, with a long snoot, so he looked like a baby fawn. He was afraid to move. When he saw Telly he peed on the sheets right away. She had to wash them.

   At first, whenever he heard their dogs barking, he would freak out, and start to shudder and shake. But then he got curious and started going to the baby gate that keeps the dogs out of the dining and living rooms and away from the upstairs rooms. After a few days they could tell what he was thinking, which was, you guys are OK.

   They started letting him mingle with the other dogs, who at first were, no, no, we’re fine, we don’t need anybody new, but he persisted, and played with all of them, who accepted him, even Pebbles and their aloof Husky, and he came into his own.

   No matter how much he’s grown since they got him, when Telly takes him with her to visit Pete and Alma, they right away think he’s too thin.

   “Oh, he’s so skinny,” said Alma.

   They can’t stand it, so they started feeding him potato chips and ham. That’s what they feed Izzy, the Pomeranian Telly gave her mom to keep her company. They feed Izzy donuts, too. They just can’t stand to see a skinny dog. Izzy’s dog food is always spilling out of her bowl because she doesn’t eat it. She waits for creampuffs, instead.

   In the summer they started taking care of Kirby and his dumb dog, when Kirby absolutely needed a place to get back on his feet. After he and Louie moved into their basement, they had eight dogs in the house, including Hermie. With everything else going on, she needed another dog like she needed a hole in the head.

   Alma was having teeth pulled and replaced by dentures. It was going to be better for her, but it was a struggle for Telly, getting her to go the dentist’s office. Whenever she got her there, and they were leaving afterwards, and she asked her – “Are you OK, mom?” – the answer was always never good.

   “Jay, I am never going to the dentist again,” she would say.

   When Telly’s shoulder started hurting, she went to Orthopaedic Associates in Westlake. After they examined her, they told her she needed a cortisone shot.

   “You have bursitis of the rotator cuff,” her doctor said.

   When she went back Hermie kept her company. They stuck a huge needle into her arm. Back in the car Hermie’s eyes got big and round when she showed him the puncture.

  They still don’t know what kind of a dog Hermie is. They asked their vet, but that wasn’t much help. Telly was hoping he wasn’t going to be much bigger than when they found him, but he outgrew himself in no time. Eight months later he is large. At first, she could hold him in one arm. Now she’s got to have two hands to hold him back, and one of those hands is attached to my bad arm.

   He’s a wonderful dog, but he can be a load.

Chapter 35

   When Steve and Thelma took Baby to the Cleveland Cutest Dog Contest, it turned out that not only was he the only Leonberger in the bunch, he was the cutest of the bunch. They took Grayson, their little Lab, too. He wanted to go in the worst way, but they didn’t enter him in the contest, even though he is almost as cute as Baby.

   He was happy tagging along.

   The contest was at Edgewater Park. It’s part of the Cleveland Metroparks Reservation, about 150 acres of parkland and 9000 feet of shoreline on Lake Erie, fifteen minutes from where wtheylive just south of it on the west side. There’s a fishing pier, picnic areas, and even a dog beach next to the swimming beach.

   There were lots of dogs who turned out. Everybody was supposed to write a short piece about their dog, including their name, breed, and age. They wrote a biography of Baby for the contest, which ended up being mostly about how he has his own bachelor pad and what he does for fun. He was everyone’s favorite. They stood in the long line winding along the lake and through the parking lot to the photo shoot. All the dogs were so good, all standing in line, waiting their turn.

   Steve and Telly scoped out the competition.

   “We have this in the bag,” Telly told him. It sounds horrible, but she was sure of it.

   “We’ll send you a free digital copy of the portrait,” somebody said from the photography staff, after Baby sat on his haunches tall and proud for his portrait.

   After he got his picture taken, Telly wanted to go through the line to see all the other dogs. There were more than two thousand of them. Since Steve pretty much lets Telly do whatever she want to do, and he, of course, wanted to see all the dogs, too, they walked back down the line, petting all the dogs as they were leaving the park.

   Baby is not usually interested in other dogs, not normally.  But, as they went down the line, talking to people and petting their dogs, Baby suddenly stopped. At his feet was a puppy. “Oooooh, puppy,” he thought. You could hear him thinking. He just scooped the other dog up. He fell in love on the spot.

   When Baby found his puppy love everyone around them was, “Oh, my God, look how cute he is!”

   “Aargh,” said the puppy’s mom. Baby was easily twenty times his size.

   “C’mon Baby, we have to go,” Telly said.

   Leonbergers are bred to look like lions, even though they’re sweet as lambs. But Baby didn’t want to go. He kept saying no. He was being stubborn. He’s the kind of family dog who loves everyone, especially kids and puppies, even though they are themselves guard dogs and search and rescue dogs.  He’s loyal and courageous, but he’s mostly a gentle giant.

   He loves cuddles. Want a cuddle? He’s your dog!

   A lady standing nearby took pictures of the puppy and Baby together. She somehow found telly on Facebook, found her phone number, and texted her the pictures. If you were a dog lover, it was a great day. She never checked the web site afterwards to see if they made the cut for cutest dog of all time. It didn’t matter in the end. They had a great time.

   They take Baby everywhere. He’s been to parades, to the Irishfest, and the Germanfest. Everywhere they take him people take pictures of him. If Telly started charging a buck a picture, they would be rich.

   The Cleveland Indians have a Pup-a-looza night in the middle of the summer that you can bring your dog to, to the game. Their dogs are just like kids at the ballpark. They want hot dogs and ice cream, so they get them hot dogs and ice cream.

   They took Baby to a Cleveland Monsters game. It was seriously cold, but he has plenty of shaggy dog hair to deal with winter. He could play in snow all day, no problem. The Monsters are the American Hockey League minor league team of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets. They play at Quicken Loans Arena downtown, the same place where LeBron James leads the Cleveland Cavaliers.

   They were walking up to the arena when a Cleveland Police horse with a cop on top stopped beside them.

   “I know that dog,” the cop said.

   “I know that horse,” Telly said.

   Walking in, strolling along the concourse, and inside the arena finding our seats, Baby was calm and laid back at our side. It was Pucks and Paws Night. It was Dog Night.

   Her brother had given them his tickets. There was one section reserved for everybody who had brought dogs. Lots of people who didn’t have dogs wandered into their section, wanting to see the dogs. When it got too crowded, they walked around the arena and finally traded in their tickets for seats in the nosebleed section.

   Baby loved the game, watching the players speed across the ice, changing direction at the drop of a hat. He was mesmerized, except when he looked straight down, which is when he got dizzy and seasick

   When the third period started, he wanted to go down, so they went down to the first level. They stood behind the last row of the first level. A man in front of them was eating a hot dog. Baby’s head was right there, right at his shoulder, ready to get the hot dog, although he didn’t. Telly took a picture, and before she knew it everyone was taking selfies with Baby.

   They could have made a fortune that night.

   The Monsters won the game, and everyone went home happy. They waved goodbye to the cop on the horse. Baby slept like a log that night, not that he doesn’t sleep like a bump on a log every night.

   Chapter 36

   Kirby and his big bulldog, Louie, have been living in our basement for half a year, ever since last summer, when Steve rounded them up. There’s not a lot he does or can do. A chunk of his brain is missing. He can’t work. He’s got heart disease, so he spends a lot of time going to the doctor.

   The rest of the time he smokes dope.

   I have no issue with pot, even though neither Steve nor I take drugs. I think it should be legalized for many reasons. Smoking pot seems to be helping Kirby’s heart. The last time I took him to his cardiologist the doctor said Kirby was getting better.

   “I don’t know what you’re doing, but your heart is getting healthier,” he said. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”

   Kirby forgets things, maybe because of his brain surgery. It’s like the first stage of Alzheimer’s. It’s not good.

   One day he was eating an apple. He didn’t finish it, setting it down on the kitchen counter. I thought, OK, should I say something, like get your apple? No, I think I’ll wait to see where his head is.

   Kirby watched some TV, did this and that, went downstairs and came back up. By the end of the day what was left of the apple was brown. I threw it away

   The next morning, he came up and said, “Jewels, I just had an apple. Have you seen it?”

   “No, sweetie, that apple was yesterday.”

   “Really? I swear I can taste it, like I just bit into it.”

   “I wouldn’t trick you, Kirby. It got gross. I threw it away.”

   “Oh. Sorry, Jewels.”

   “It’s OK.”

   After Thanksgiving we had to take him to his doctor to get his medicines changed up. When we did, the next week he started vomiting. We thought it’s probably the medicine change. We got him some food and he ate it and got all fattened up again.

   I called him from work.

   “How are you feeling?”

   “I just ate a pizza.”

   “So, you probably don’t want any of the Kung Pao chicken I’m bringing home?”

   “I love Chinese,” he said.

   After work, which was a ten to nine day, I was sitting on our living room couch, having Kung Pao, when Kirby came up from the basement, doubled over, holding his stomach. “You’ve got to take me to the hospital,” he said. Is it the flu? Is it the medicine again? Is it the pizza and the chicken? Is it the full moon? My mom was a nurse, she worked in the ER sometimes, and whenever there was a full moon she said, “Oh, shit, it’s a full moon.”

   It affects emergency rooms most. If you’re going to have a drug overdose, if you’re going to have something go wrong inside your body, if you’re going to have a freak accident, the full moon is going to make it happen. It’s crazy in emergency rooms whenever there’s a full moon. If you’re going to go nuts, have an episode, boom! You shoot for the moon and land on the roof.

   I dropped him off at Fairview Hospital. The ER was packed. “Get in there,” I said. “Don’t sit around. At least get seen.” Kirby shuffled inside.

   I sat in my car in the parking lot for an hour, waiting, getting pissed. I called Steve. 

   “I might have to drag someone out of the ER,” I said. “I’m going to have to beat someone if they don’t tell me what’s going on.”

   “We’ll switch out,” he said. “Just come home. I’ll go take care of Kirby. You come home.” It was 1:30 in the morning by the time Steve got home.

   “What is it, the flu?” I asked.

   “I told them to stop looking at his brain or his heart and look at his gut, which is what was giving him trouble,” said Steve. “When they came back, they said, he’s going to have a ruptured appendix here soon. He needs an operation.”

   It was wildly inflamed. They took it out in the morning.

   I felt horrible. What kind of a caregiver am I? It never clicked with me, although I knew a lot of adults have flu symptoms when they have appendicitis. We went to visit him. He was sore and queasy, but all right. They did it laparoscopically, so it was going to be a fast heal.

   On Tuesday, back at work, Regina, the new girl at the front desk, stopped me and said, “There’s an envelope here for you. It has your name on it. I keep forgetting to give it to you.”

   I thought, someone probably forgot to tip me, and they felt bad, ran in and dropped it off. I was on break later on, having lunch in the back room, not thinking about anything, when Regina came in.

   “Here’s that envelope.”

   I opened it, expecting a few dollars for me. I found a sheet of paper.

   “You have opened your heart and your home to someone less fortunate and are taking care of him. I’m sure your bills have doubled, so please take this, and God Bless You.”

   Inside the folded sheet of paper were five one hundred-dollar bills. Even before I was done reading, I was bawling like a crazy person. I called Steve.

   “What’s the matter? Why are you crying?”

   I took a picture of the money with my phone and texted it to him. He called me back.

  “Telly, that is so beautiful, it just shows you how good God is.”

   Whoever it was went to a lot of trouble to make it an anonymous gift. We could have checked the surveillance cameras in the shop, but I didn’t want to disrespect what they had done.

   Kirby was back home in our basement, feeling better. He would probably feel even better if I brought some Kung Pao home after work, something to get his spirits and strength back up.

   Chapter 37

   We all went to Mexico this year, everybody from the salon, like we did two years ago for my birthday. Jody, her husband, me and Steve, Mel and Don, Francie and Steve, Cheryl and her husband, and Cathy, who roomed with Jody’s sister, Dani. We all stayed at the Ocean Maya Royale.

   When I was going to turn 50 two years ago, Francie had an idea.

   “Why don’t we all put $40.00 a week away and all of us go on vacation to Mexico for your birthday,” said Francie.

   “Sure, let’s go,” I said.

   That’s what we did. We went to Riviera Maya and had a great time. All except for Francie’s husband, who didn’t go with us that year.

   “He asked me why I wanted to go to Mexico in the middle of January when there was snow to ski on,” said Francie. “Are you crazy, that’s a silly question, if you ask me. You go honey. I’m going to Mexico. He took one of my daughters and I took the other one.”

   Last year Steve and I went to Mexico alone. It was his 50th. This year we all went together again. The water at Ocean Maya Royale was rough in January and a lot of seaweed got churned up on the beach. It was the first time we’ve gone to the ocean, and I haven’t gone in, because it was ugly. Steve and I spent our days at the pool.

   Every morning we had breakfast early and were at the pool by nine. We stayed there until five o’clock. That’s how we did our vacation, nine to five. We had drinks during the day and whenever we needed to cool off, we went into the pool. Then we’d go right back to our chairs.

   Except for one day when I was floating, and Don and Greg had an idea. They started pushing my floatie across the pool to each other, until some guy finally asked, “Where do you want to go?”

   “Away from these two idiots,” I said. “I’m tired of being played catch with.”

   There was a lot of day drinking. People started drinking the first thing in the morning, mimosas, bloody marys, and margaritas. Not me. I could only do a couple of froufrou drinks if I wanted to be up and running and have fun at night. Cheryl and Greg were great day drinkers. Dani powerhouse day-drank. She started at eleven. Powerhouse drinking is two-handed drinking.

   A kid from Minnesota cracked us up one day at the pool. One of the bronzed Mexican kids working at the pool joked with him, “Why are you wearing a white t-shirt with pink nipples on it?” He was bare-chested. It was because he was so pale, as white as drywall.

   There was a boatload of entertainment. The Magic Mike dance was a small Mexican dancer doing a routine and then you had to copy it. One night the Mexican Beatles hit the stage. Another night was Karaoke Night, which was horrible. One Mexican kid sang Sweet Caroline, “Toching hands, toching me, toching you.” There was a duo who just could not sing. We listened to some of it, but then my ears started to bleed. It was bad.

   The lusty couple was bad entertainment, too, but we couldn’t keep our eyes off them. He was gray-haired, a big belly, and 60-something. She was in her late 20s, not great looking, and wore a thong over a cottage cheese butt. They entertained themselves at the pool, pulling their chairs up the lip of the tiles, and putting on a sexual show.

   She sat on top of him, straddling him, facing him. It was gross. We were horrified but couldn’t stop watching. We were in the water once when they decided to take a dip.

   “Watch out, grossness has entered the pool,” Steve warned everybody.

   There were foam parties at the pool, when everybody was in the water, and they brought out a blowing machine that blew bubbles everywhere. Everyone got covered by them. It was like a giant bubble bath. Other times we had live music and they threw balloons in the water, twisty balloons, and floaties.

   One day Steve and Rich went out in a fishing boat. Somebody had told them they had been catching 50, 60 fish. It was five hundred dollars for the excursion. Brian came back with two fish. Rich came back with no fish.

   We left the resort a couple of times to eat at Coco Cabanas. One of Rich’s friends had told him about it. On the way I thought, looking around, we’re going to get kidnapped and held for ransom. But, once we got there, they had the best salsa, best food, fajitas, brick oven pizza, and the best margaritas. According to somebody the secret ingredient in the margaritas was infused pot. They were great margaritas, infused or not. Nobody was feeling bad. There were hammocks in the back that you could lay around and swing in after dinner. We all did that.

   I fed their dog, who was a strange mix of Dachshund and Labrador. He liked the pizza crusts. But they caught me and told me not to feed her table scraps.

   There was a little earthquake one night. Francie and Steve were up and felt the rumbling. Cheryl had a 12-hour flu, and it woke her up. “Oh, my God, why is the bed shaking,” she wondered. The next night we got a text from Jody’s brother that there was a tsunami watch for Cancun. “We’re all going to die,” we thought, so we went out drinking.

   They called off the watch, but we kept drinking.

   We love Mexico. You get the most bang for your buck there, but we’ve been thinking of trying someplace new, like Costa Rica or Jamaica. I would love to go to Amsterdam. I wonder what the weather is like there in January?

   Maybe sometime in the summertime might be better.

   Chapter 38

   Thelma always tells Kirby he doesn’t have to do anything around the house. He does not have to earn his keep. But if he decides something is going to stimulate his brain, when he’s ready to put on his MacGyver hat, by all means go ahead, do whatever you want to do.

   “It challenges my brain, thinking, working,” he said. You might win some, you might lose some, but when you challenge yourself, you become a better person. It’s joyful to have him around the house. He can be a big help. Except it wasn’t when I went looking for our Christmas ornaments.

   We keep them in the garage. When I went to get them, though, I found out they weren’t there anymore. The garage was completely not our garage anymore. Nothing was where it used to be.

   Kirby had decided to fix one wall of the garage. We bought him everything he needed, including cement. He moved everything, but only he knew where. Then he got sick, got appendicitis, was out of commission, and then it got too cold to do any more work.

   “We’re going to have to wait until summer for Kirby to finish,” Telly told Steve. In the meantime, everything was somewhere else. “I need my ornaments,” I said. We had to search all over. Kirby couldn’t remember where he had put anything.

   Kirby is a jack-of-all-trades.  He might not be brilliant at anything, but if you need him to do something, he can do it. He used to be an ironworker. Before he lost his house, he took the house all apart and put it back together.

   Since he’s been living in our basement, he’s painted the house, installed a dishwasher, and put a vanity in upstairs. He fixed our front porch, which used to bounce up and down walking across it. He got it done without even bracing anything underneath. No one’s fallen through the porch, so I’m OK with that. He fixes light fixtures. Sometimes I come home, and doorknobs will be mended. One day I came home, and our living room was all clean. I liked that.

   He used to wear his hair in a Mohawk, but now it’s grown out and gone all wild. He looks like a chrysanthemum. He looks like Einstein, except taller, thinner, and with an earring and a necklace he loves, and tattoos. His back is all tattooed, stars, fire, wolves, moons, and a wrench.

   A halfway decent haircut goes a long way, but he cuts his own hair. Whenever he gets tired of what it is, he buzzes it down to nothing and starts all over again

   He took apart my computer, put in new parts, and it works. A friend of ours brought over a heater. Kirby repaired it, put it back together, and it’s working better than ever. Our friend had to bring the heater to him because Kirby doesn’t like to leave the safety of our house.

   He sleeps most of the day away since his heart is only working at half of what it used to. He gets tired. His brain only works at two-thirds speed. A third of it is kaput. He leaves the house only to go over to Pookie’s house a couple of blocks away and smoke pot.

   When he comes home, he likes to reminisce about when he and Steve were young, kids together, and all the crazy stuff they used to do. And that was before he grew up. It all went schizo for Kirby after his mother died. He got her house, but never paid the real estate taxes, and lost it. He inherited twenty thousand dollars but threw it all away.

   He bought a convertible to drive his girlfriend around in. He took her to Vegas. Las Vegas is a place where you make bad decisions. You can get married there in ten minutes and then it takes you ten years to get out of it after you get home. He spent everything on his girlfriend.

   Right after Kirby got his twenty grand he came over to our house. “Can you open a safety deposit box for me?” he asked.

   “Why do you want me to get a safety deposit box for you? What do you want to put in it?”

   “I have twenty grand in cash. I want you to keep it for me and don’t let me touch it.”

   He looked serious, sounded serious, but that didn’t last long. He started coming over our house every week. He’d ring the bell and say, “I have to get to the bank.”

   “Kirby! You told me not to let you touch that money.”

   “I need it, Jewels, I need it.”

   “If you want to be spending it all, throwing it away, it’s not my money, it’s your money. But you’re not going to have any left the way you’re taking it out,” I told him. I was serious. “You’re taking a thousand every other day.” Safety and security is what happens between your ears. It doesn’t happen in a metal box in a vault somewhere.

   Inside of two months it was all gone.

   He could have invested what he had, let money make money for him, but he wasn’t willing to listen to us, at all. Kirby is 50 years old. He has nothing left. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, who left when the 20 grand was gone, a convertible, or a house. Nothing

   Kirby needs us. He doesn’t drive anymore. We run all his errands and buy all his food. He loves that I cook for him. One day I brought home turkey kielbasa.

   “Jewels, how would I go about cooking this?” he asked.

   “Why don’t you just ask me to cook it?” 

   “OK.”

   I cooked him a plate of kielbasa and he was happy for the night.

   Chapter 39

   “You can’t do that, guy,” I said. “He’s only a month-or-so, too young to leave in the backyard.”

   “I can do whatever I want,” he said.

   He was an adorable puppy. Steve and I brought him treats and smooched him over the fence.

   “No, you really can’t,” I said.

   “You need to mind your own business,” he said. He was standoffish from the get-go, not wanting to talk to us.

   We had started to notice the puppy crying in the middle of the night, out all night.

   “I was born in a crossfire hurricane, and I howled at my ma in the driving rain,” the Rolling Stones sang.

   “Dog rescue is my business,” I said. “This is my business right here.”

   Needless to say, Steve and I and our neighbor, who was Puerto Rican, got off to a bad start. It didn’t help that there was a language barrier. Our immediate neighbors, also Puerto Rican, who we love, were helping by sort of translating a lot of what we were saying. I often didn’t have anything nice to say, so I asked them to not translate that.

   He was young, in his 20s, married, with five kids. He had always wanted a blue nose pit bull, so he went and got himself one. He named him Jack. But there was no shelter for the puppy, no water bowl outside.

   “Did you get your dog vaccinated?”

   “I don’t need to talk to you guys about what I do with my dog.”

   “You kind of do. We have eight dogs. Your dog needs to be vaccinated.”

   “If my dog ever goes missing, you’re the first people I’m going to send the police to,” he said.

   “That would probably be a good place to start,” I said.

   It got to the point where he and I wouldn’t talk. Steve and I would still stop at his fence, bring Jack the pit bull doggie cookies, watch the dog jump, and watch him grow throughout the summer.

   Oh, my God, I was in love with a pit bull!

   I had always sworn I would never own one. Pit bulls are a breed you can definitely train for fighting. Once they lock their jaws on you, you can’t get it off. They clamp down. It makes them dangerous. Someone once told me to unlock a pit bull’s jaw you have to poke a finger up its butt.

   Too many idiots breed them. It’s time to stop blaming the wrong end of the leash. That’s why we say not to shop and adopt. Too many idiots are breeding their own home brew of dog. You never know what you’re getting.

   He came to our front door one evening in early August. Jack was shaking, shivering, and soaking wet.

   “Why is this dog soaking wet?” I asked.

   “Please help me,” he said.

   I wanted to say, what about the police, what about that situation, but I was more concerned about the dog.

   “He hasn’t eaten in three days, and he’s throwing up and has diarrhea.”

   “Did you ever finally vaccinate your dog?”

   “I don’t know what you mean by vaccinations.”

   “I mean, did you get your dog its first set of shots?”

   “No,” he said.

   “You are a big stupid asshole,” I said, and asked our neighbors to translate that.

   “Your dog probably has parvo.”

   Canine parvovirus is viral contagious deadly. The most common kind is intestinal, meaning a lack of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. It’s very serious, more often fatal than not. It all depends on how fast it’s diagnosed and treated.

   “You waited three days?” That’s why I sometimes hate people. I wanted to tell him I hated him at that moment.

   “Well, here you go sport,” I said. “You didn’t get your dog his shots, which would have cost you a hundred bucks. Now it’s going to cost you fifteen hundred, and there’s no guarantee the dog will survive even taking him to the animal hospital.”

   “I can’t afford fifteen hundred,” he said.

   “I can’t afford fifteen hundred either,” I said. “But the deal is, if I take the dog, and I pay for it, he’s my dog.”

   We took him to the hospital the next morning. Jack had parvo. When the hospital people wanted to start yelling at us about animal cruelty, I told them it was a neighbor’s dog, a neighbor who had not gotten the dog his shots.

   “Oh,” they said.

   “What I’m worried about is, I’m going to get him through the parvo treatment, and they’re going to want him back.”

   “Oh, no,” they said. “We’re going to put everything in your name, so if it does ever go to court, it will show you paid all the medical bills.”

   He was there a week, recovering.  He won my heart. After that I was his mommy.

   I felt bad when we took him. I believe the Puerto Rican man loved the dog. He never told his kids Jackie wasn’t coming back. They would ask us, “Can Jackie come over?”

   “No, he can’t, because I don’t know what was in your yard that made him sick in the first place.”

   Jack loved to play with the kids, at least until they moved away. When we walked him, he always wanted to go back to their house. But the Puerto Rican had no business having the dog. He didn’t take care of Jack, and he didn’t train him, either. That was the shame of it. Pit bulls are a powerful breed. Jack is a powerful dog. You have to train them.

   He was a cute puppy and he’s growing up to be a handsome boy. He loves all the kids in the neighborhood, all the other dogs, and he never complains when I dress him in pj’s at night.

   Jack was a jumping flash of a dog once he came to live with us. He is always excited to see people. He likes to jump up and smooch. But you can’t have a pit bull jumping up at your face. You just can’t.

   “It’s fine,” everyone says.

   “No, it’s really not fine.”

   Everybody loves Jackie, but he’s not allowed to jump.

   Chapter 40  

   After we got Jack our blue nose pit bull, I started singing along to “Jackie Blue.”

   “You have officially lost your mind,” said Steve.

   Jack turns his head, looking at me, whenever I play “Jackie Blue.”

   “That’s right, Jackie, they’re singing about you.”

   He recognizes his name. He’s so smart. He was smart enough to find us, even though it was more on the side of good luck. The luck of the Puerto Rican man, our neighbor, who brought Jack into the neighborhood, ran out near the end of September, not long after we took the dog away from him.

   I was getting back in bed after going to the bathroom in the middle of the night when I heard the most horrendous crash biss boom. Up until then it had been a quiet night. I jumped up and pulled open the curtain. A drunk driver had come down the middle of the road, swerved somehow, lost control, and smashed headfirst into a van parked across the street from our house.

   Steve’s Honda Element was parked behind the van. Later on, the car and the van had to be hauled away on flatbeds. They were both so demolished neither of them could be towed. The Honda was, by some miracle, untouched.

   Even still, Steve said, “I’m never parking in the street again.” I ran outside. A minute later Steve came out with Jack. The girl who had been driving had gotten out of the car, barefoot, bawling, and on her phone. She was walking away down the street.

   “Hey, get back here!” I shouted. “You can’t just walk away from an accident.”

   “I was driving,” her friend said, getting out of the passenger side.

   “Don’t take the fall, kid,” I said. “Don’t do it. As much as you love her, you’re in a big mess.”

   I called the police. When they finally showed up, they talked to everyone out in the street. “What did you see?” they asked me.

“What I saw was the police station just down the street,” I said. “I called, like, fifty times. You guys got here a half-hour later. That girl’s friends got here faster than you. They picked her up and now she’s gone.”

   I was a little mad at the police for taking their time. They took it in stride. That’s the way it is with the Cleveland Police Department.

   “What did you see?” one of the uniforms asked me.

   “I saw that the kid wasn’t driving,” I said. “He got out of the passenger seat.”

   “Really,” the officer said.

   “You know what,” I said. “If this kid wants to take the fall for that stupid girl, that’s fine, that’s his choice, but it’s your fault if he finally admits he wasn’t driving, then you’ve got no one.”

   I never found out where the girl went when she left the scene of the crime, although I heard later on she had gotten hurt, and her friends had probably taken her to a hospital. After the crash we tried to wake up the Puerto Rican family. But we could not wake those people up. Everyone finally took a window and started knocking on it. The guy eventually came out.

   “I’m done,” he said when he saw his smashed-up van. “That’s the last straw. I’m not even living here anymore.”

   He had just gotten the van but had not gotten insurance. It was the same thing with Jack, which is why we took his dog after Jack got parvo. You can’t have a dog and not take care of it. No shots means the dog is going to get sick. No insurance means there’s going to be a wreck.

   In the next few weeks, they packed up all their main stuff and moved. They left all the kid toys and kid bikes behind. They left a mess behind. They left a huge electric bill and a huge water bill.

   “I was trying to give the guy a break, help him out,” said the landlord, who is Puerto Rican, too.

   He ended up having to fix the huge mess they left behind.

   They moved in with family members in North Olmsted, the last we heard. We never saw them again. We got Jackie, though.

   When we take him for a walk it’s the Jackson Parade. He is so stinking cute. Life is too short to blend in. so that works for him. Everyone is “Hi, hi, hi.” Who hates puppies? Everyone loves puppies.

   We were walking down the street one nice sunny day when Jack saw some bread on the sidewalk. The pieces of bread were covered with ants, but he started eating it, anyway.

   “No, no, no,” said Steve.

   He pried Jack’s mouth open to get the bread. The dog’s sharp little razor teeth, at the top of the jaw, slit into one of Steve’s fingers. “What are you thinking,” I said, “sticking your finger into his mouth? He’s a baby, so his teeth are razor sharp.”

   Everybody loves Jackie. They want to see him, touch him, pet him, jump on the bandwagon, and that is fine and good, but he can’t be jumping up into their faces. “You live your life in a free-form style, Jackie Blue.”He just can’t do that.

   It’s a problem we’ve been working on. He gets excited, jumps up, and smooches, but sometimes he leaves a love nip with his kiss. “You say it’s easy, just a natural thing, like playing music, Jackie Blue.” The problem is, when a dog jumps, he’s bound to land somewhere. He usually just catches a little tiny piece of your lip, but even that is too much.

   He has to sit and be good. Except when he’s on the Jackson Parade, when he doesn’t have to sit, but still has to be a good dog.

   Chapter 41

   A huge family war fight broke out when my mom fell and broke her neck.

   Even though she isn’t supposed to be left alone, sometimes Pete has to go out for an hour, an hour-and-a-half. She fell and fractured two vertebrae in her neck. They took her to the Cleveland Clinic in Fairview Park.

   She doesn’t know she fell. She doesn’t know her face is black and blue. She doesn’t know she’s in pain. Sometimes I think her Alzheimer’s has killed the pain center in her brain. But the arm on the side she fell down on hurts. She might have tried to break her fall. Every time they take her blood pressure she cries, no, no.

   When I found out what happened I was nervous and scared for her. She had a horrible trauma. I stayed overnight in the hospital. I tried to sleep but sleeping in a hospital is a loose term.

   The next morning bad news showed up. The headline was my sister-in-law. In big bold letters.

   My siblings hate me. Last year they ripped me apart for posting a picture of me giving my mom a pedicure and us having lunch together. They said I was degrading and humiliating our mother. It’s all about them not having any pictures of her because they don’t do shit with her.

   I didn’t acknowledge my sister or brother or his wife, my sister-in-law, at the hospital. I didn’t talk to them and I didn’t look at them. I just minded my own business, kept quiet. They can’t get mad at me for that, isn’t that right?

   Wrong!

    After I left, Steve went to see my mom. Pete had gone somewhere but left his phone. Something possessed Steve to look at it. There was a text on the phone.

   “I had this horrible gut feeling come over me” Steve said. The text was from Satan. He said he went ahead and read it.

   “All it did mock you, make fun of you and bash you,” he told me. “And your stepfather agreed with everything.” 

   I felt something happen in my heart. I was so upset. It broke my heart. Steve went off on Pete. “How could you? She’s given up her work schedule, half her salary, to come to your house and help you take care of your wife. She loves her mother.”

   When I went back to the hospital, I asked Pete, “Don’t you get tired of hearing the nastiness and hatred and mean things from them? Doesn’t it tire you out? Why don’t you shut it down?”

   “I didn’t know I could do that,” said Pete.

    “What are you, stupid?” I asked. “I’ve been here for two-and-a half years helping you. Not only did you not support me, but you agreed with them.”

   He must have told them what I said.

   The next time I was at the hospital Pete’s phone rang. It was the blood brother sister of bad news, my sister. I could hear her. “I’m so sorry that she started all this drama. Do you want me to put her in her place?”

   I blocked all of them on my phone. I unfriended all of them on Facebook. It makes it easier to go and take care of my mom, knowing who I’m dealing with, knowing who my stepdad is, who he thinks I am. We will talk about my mother, about Izzy, my dog that I gave them, about the weather. There’s nothing else to talk about.

   Another day at the hospital, he was on the phone with my brother-in-law in Maine, who is married to Satan’s other cousin, my other sister. “Your sister had to have surgery on her hand,” he said. “I’m glad everything went well,” I said. There was no more to be said. I didn’t need to hear more about it. I refuse to talk to any of them.

   God forbid that my feelings get hurt and I’m an emotional wreck. I have not had time to do anything for myself for a long time, yet my family has the audacity to get pissed off at me for getting upset about their hatred. My brother is a paramedic, and my sisters are nurses. They think they are way more valuable than me. They don’t do crap for my mom. They don’t do anything.

   After my mom got out of the hospital, she went to a rehab center. We were there on a Saturday when Steve said, “Oh my mom’s coming to town.”

   “Dear God!” I said.

   Since I started taking care of my mom my house hasn’t had any attention paid to it. Sunday morning Steve said he was going to church. “How can you go to church? This house is a mess!” He went to church, anyway. When he got home the upstairs looked like a bomb had exploded. I had unloaded drawers, unloaded closets, and unloaded everything out of two rooms. “Holy crap!” he said. “What should I do with it?”

   “I don’t care what you do with it, just get it out of here.”

   He took everything to St. Malachi’s. I did our bedroom, the downstairs, the dining room, all the drawers, and all the cupboards.

   “She’s only staying for a few days,” said Steve.

   “It’s a great excuse to clean the house,” I said. I looked at our oven. Is that the color it’s supposed to be? I turned on the self-cleaner.

   Steve’s mom has never been to our house. We had cats for a long time and she’s deathly afraid of cats. We were at dinner once with her where somebody had cats and she literally jumped on Steve’s shoulders. WTF just happened?

   With all the trauma, my mom getting hurt, my sisters, Steve’s mom coming, tearing my house apart, I decided to get my lips done. I do it every couple of years because I have no lips. My lip girl is from Hungary and does permanent makeup. My lips were no lips, nothing, and they were slightly crooked. She evened them out. But, if she sticks that needle in my lips one more time, I thought, I am going to lose it, and I did. I burst into tears.

   “I’m sorry,” she said.

   “No, no, it had to happen.”

   Chapter 42

    One morning my friend Jesse, who had moved to Florida, slept in while his girlfriend Lynn let her dogs out. She has a big house, and since it is her own house and home, she was walking around naked. After she let the dogs back in, she started brewing coffee, and the next thing she knew she heard a sound from the back of the house.

   It wasn’t the dogs, although that’s where they were. She tiptoed to the back, peeked around a corner, and saw Jesse’s dad stretched out on a couch with the dogs. Jesse’s dad thinks he is Lynn’s boyfriend, even though he is in his 80s. He got divorced because he thought he had a chance with Lynn. Holy crap! It’s a really sad situation.

   She ran upstairs and came back in a housecoat. Jesse was with her. She pointed at his father.

   “Dad, you can’t do that,” he said. “You can’t just come into the house. Lynn should be able to walk around her own home however she wants.”

   It’s creepy. Jimmy was trying to be nice to his dad, letting him know in a nice way not to be the old creepy guy. It was still creepy.

   “It’s really hard doing that, kind of freaky,” Jesse said when he called me later.

   It’s not like Jesse’s dad is her neighbor. Lynn’s house is in the middle of 54 acres. She has barns and horses and fields. She’s a polo woman. She’s not thinking anyone is going to be walking into her house the first thing in the morning.

   “My dad’s still obsessing on my girlfriend,” said Jesse.

   His dad doesn’t think he has an obsession, but he tries to see Lynn every day. It’s like somebody trying to put ketchup on everything. It’s insane.

   “Tell your dad to stop marking his territory,” I said.

   Everyone in the neighborhood thinks Jesse’s dad divorced his second wife because he screwed Lynn. It’s a mess. His dad doesn’t even try to stop the talk because he’s proud of it, proud that people would think that, even though it probably never happened.

   Jesse’s plan was to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to get Lynn away from his father and away from the polo crowd. Lynn had wanted him to learn how to play polo, but Jesse bought a dirt bike instead. He couldn’t get into the polo world. He wanted Lynn to stop playing polo, anyway, and recover from her injuries, and quit drinking, too. This is from somebody who is a many-times-over recovering addict. One of his famous lines is, “I just threw up in my mouth.”

   Even though Jesse thought moving to New Mexico would fix all their problems, it didn’t. He’s a very controlling person. He and I once dated, but it didn’t work out because he’s so controlling, I’m controlling, and two controlling people just don’t and can’t go together. They can’t control themselves.

   He thought Lynn should listen to everything he said and do everything he told her to do. He wanted her to take his advice because he knows everything and everyone else knows nothing.

   “They’re all stupid,” he says.

   A lot of what he told her was about what to do with her money, which she has a lot of, and which is all hers. She talked to her lawyer about Jesse’s advice.

   “No, don’t do that,” her lawyer said. “Don’t listen to that guy.” She followed her lawyer’s advice.

   Jesse threw a tantrum.

   “You don’t want to listen to me, fuck you, I’m out of here,” he said, and stormed out.

   The storming got Lynn down and she finally called him.

   “I miss you,” she said. “You’re right, I should have done everything you said.”

   He ran right back to her.

   “OK,” he said. “We can be boyfriend and girlfriend again because you’re going to do what I told you to do.”

   They got back together, although when I heard about it, I thought, how long is that going to last? Someone once said a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. I could see Jesse riding off into the sunset sooner rather than later. They were in New Mexico then, but decided to move back to Florida, to her big house and her horses.

   She bought him a pick-up truck. His was a piece of crap. He said he needed something nice. She had it put in her name because Jesse has problems with the law, with banks, with responsibility. He paid her monthly for the truck. Even when they broke up again, he kept making payments to her. He loves that truck.

   Even though they had gotten back together, they fought all the time. It wasn’t long before they got into a big fight. They fight, he decides, “Fuck it!” and takes off for the weekend. She spends the whole weekend trying to get a hold of him. He gets his high on, his drinking, gets his crack on, does whatever he needs to do, and finally calls her on Sunday night.

   “I’m coming back,” he said.

   “All right,” she said.

   He drives back Monday morning, drives up the long driveway, parks his pick-up, and goes in the front door of the house.

   “Hi,” said Lynn.

   “Hi,” said Jimmy.

   “I just want you to know,” said Lynn, “when I saw you pulling up, I called the cops and they will will be here in a couple of minutes.”

   “You called the cops?”

   “Yes,” she said.

   “You know they could put me back in prison, don’t you, put me there for a long time,” he said.

   “My lawyer told me to.”

   “Your lawyer, who the fuck is he, what does he know?”

   “I’m sorry,” said Lynn.

   “Sorry, like you can take it back?”

   Jesse turned his back on her, ran out the door to his and her truck, just in time to see a police car pull up.

   Chapter 43

   Baby is my gentlest sweetest horse of a dog. Everyone loves him. Everyone is always, holy shit! Can I touch it?

   “Of course.”

   I love people’s reactions to Baby.

   There’s a bar down in Tremont that lets you bring dogs inside. It was a Monday night, I was bored, and so I called to double-check.

   “Inside? Not just on the patio?”

   “Inside,” she said.

  “Excellent!”

   When we walked in there was big table full of hipsters and plenty of people at the bar. Steve and I walked in with Baby and Veruka. It was like a record being scratched. Everyone turned and looked and before we knew it everyone was on top of the dogs. It was so cool. They were a big hit that night. Everybody loved them, as they should.

   As sweet as Baby is, Veruka has a bitch attitude. Not so much in public, but private, yes. She’s had it ever since she was a baby. She’s a sweet girl, and she likes other dogs, but she’s a bitch. That’s how she got the name Veruka. It’s Veruka Salt from Willy Wonka. “I want it and I want it now!” That’s Veruka, our other horse of a dog.

   Jackie is our Pit Bull, who I love. Baby and Jack are always together. Veruka, not so much. Jackie’s got a friggin’ cute-as-hell adorable face. He’s so kissable, which means I go up to him all the time and start smooching him.

   I say, Jackie, let’s go kiss. He comes up on the couch and smooches mommy Sometimes, though, he doesn’t want to. He’s, uh, what are you doing, mom? Underneath our living room couch seems to be his favorite place, the black abyss of lost toys for him. Even if there’s not a toy under there, he’ll stay in front of it all night long, believing and hoping there’s a toy underneath it.

   He likes to eat the couch, too.

   He loves the fireplace when it’s cold, wearing his pj’s. I took him over to my mom’s house in them. She laughed every time she looked at him. She thought his legs looked funny hanging out.

   Sometimes Baby is too sweet for his own good. We had to separate him from our other dogs for a few weeks because they were beating him up so bad. He doesn’t fight back or stand up for himself. Hermie, who is a little stinker, will take food right out of Baby’s mouth while he is still chewing.

   When we’re out in the backyard, and all the dogs are playing and wrestling out there, Baby will mind his own business. He lies down on the ground. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s giving little Hermie a fair shot at him, even though Baby is twenty times bigger than Hermie when he’s on his own four feet.

   “Watch out, here comes Hermie, take down!”

   That’s what Hermie does all the time. Baby lies there and takes it. Sometimes when we come home, we’ve got to run through the front door to save him. We can hear Baby screaming and crying in the backyard. All the other dogs are beating him up, even though he’s bigger than all of them by far, except Veruka. They get so excited biting him.

   “Ow, ow, ow,” Baby cries.

   Even Pebbles, whose new name is Boulder, because she’s gotten so fat, messes with Baby. We have to run from the front door to the back door and get Baby indoors, so the other dogs stop beating him up. They call it Big Dog Little Dog Syndrome. There is really such a thing. Our vet says there isn’t much we can do.

   I used to cut her hair when she was in high school. “When I go to college, I’m going to become a vet,” she said.” I’m going to be your vet.” I was already rescuing dogs back then. All right, I thought, but I’ll probably never see this kid again after she goes to college

   After she graduated and became a vet, she sought me out. She’s been getting her hair done with me ever since, and she’s been my vet ever since. We trade services.

   We took Baby, Veruka, and Jackie to the Brite Winter Festival, on the west bank of the Flats. There are bands on indoor and outdoor stages, fire and light dancing, ice carving, and plenty of food trucks. The festival was outside McCarthy’s and the Harbor Inn. Everyone dresses warm because it’s February.

   We were walking around the night we went when a guy came up to us wearing a crocheted Viking helmet and an attached Viking beard. The big dog was fascinated by the fake beard on the Viking’s face. Every time he moved Baby’s head swiveled to follow the beard.

   Finally, they got nose to nose, sniffing each other out.

   We walked around and bought hot dogs for the dogs. We bring our own water for them. We couldn’t go seven steps before being stopped by a crowd of people. That’s why we bring the dogs. We like to show them off. When people see them, they just go in love with them. Baby has his ways, though. If we are in one spot too long, he says “ugh” and starts to lie down,

   “No, no, no, don’t lay down,” I say.

   Once he lies down, he’s a lost cause. I push him all the way over until he’s belly up, paws in the air, and rub his belly. Everybody else does the same. He gets lots of belly rubs. He just lies there and takes it, all the belly rubs.

   When he’s ready to go though, is when we’re all of us ready to go. He leads the way. He’s shy around people, except when he gets out in public. That’s when he turns into a people person and we follow behind.

   Chapter 44

   When Lynn told Jesse that she had called the police, he went right out to his pick-up truck and started cleaning it out, all the paraphernalia and drugs, especially the crack. He took it all into the house and hid it. Afterwards he couldn’t remember where he had put it.

   “Lord knows where!” he said. He was so mad about it he could barely talk, which for him is mad, since he talks one hundred miles a minute.

   They had gotten into an argument weeks before and Jesse had left, going to work in Pennsylvania. He is a heavy machine operator. When she called him he ran back to her right away. It wasn’t what he thought it was going to be.

   “Do you know you could put me back in prison?”  Jimmy said to Lynn when the police came.

   “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, but my lawyer said I had to.”

   She was already regretting it.

   The police put Jesse in handcuffs.

  “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Jesse said. “What are you arresting me for?”

   “You stole that pick-up truck outside,” they said.

    “That is bullshit,” he said. “I’ve been making payments to her for it. I have proof. It’s my truck, believe me. I was just in Pennsylvania with it. She was fine with that. I can show you all my text messages, and she always says, your truck, your truck, not her truck.”

   “Let me see those text messages,” said one of the policemen.

   He went back to their squad car and when he came back, he gave Jimmy his phone.

   “It’s his truck,” said the policeman to Lynn. “That’s what you’ve been saying in all your text messages.”

   They took the cuffs off. They had to work out a few more things, Jesse told me, but they finally drove back to where they came from.

   “You fucking called the police,” he said to Lynn.

   “We can work this out,” she said.

   “There’s no working this out,” he said. “You ruined everything.”

   “No, Jesse,” I told him later. “You ruined everything by going out and having a crack weekend. Maybe you shouldn’t have been that stupid.” He didn’t like that. “Don’t blame her because she called the cops. Yeah, it’s a crappy thing to do, but it gets to the point where you don’t give people too much choice. It’s always your way or the highway, and if they don’t like it, they can go, so, honestly, I can see where she’s coming from.”

   He got a written piece of paper from her, signed, stating, yes, this is my truck, in my name, but I have given Jesse full power over it. He’s still paying her. “I’m not going to go back on my word,” he said. “I’m never going back to her, either. She ruined everything.”

  He was driving, on the phone, talking fast. I asked him where he was going. “I packed all my shit and I’m going to Colorado,” he said. His kids live in Colorado. One of them is a Marine. The other one wanted to be a pilot, but his eyes are bad. He’s still floundering.

   “Are you high?” I asked him.

   “I don’t want to answer that,” he said.

   “You’re a special kind of stupid,” I said. “Getting high and drunk and driving, putting yourself and others in jeopardy, you selfish bastard. What’s wrong with you?”

   “They can’t nail me. I’m not drunk enough.” He had gotten the taste back for drink and coke.

   “Your husband was an addict,” he said.

   “What’s that got to do with anything?”

   “He’s fat, too.”

   “What? Are you fucking two?”

   “He replaced drugs with food.”

   “I have no idea why you’re bringing Steve into this. And he’s not fat, not by far.”

   “Don’t you dare defend him,” he said. Then he hung up and blocked me

   He unblocked me a few days later. I sent him a text.

   “This friendship has reached its conclusion. There’s no room for it to grow.”

   A few weeks later I got a letter in the mail. It was addressed to Jesse. He lived in our house for part of a year, getting back on his feet. Some of his mail was still being delivered to our address. He never bothered going to the post office to set up a forwarding address.

   He doesn’t want to hear how he used Steve and me and never paid us back for all the stuff we paid for while he was living in our house. He doesn’t want to recognize we took him in when no one else would, fed him, clothed him, and got him on his feet. What we got in return was not even a thank you.

   Inside the oversize letter were his heavy machinery training certificate and new membership card. Jesse is famous for ignoring people, but I texted him about the letter, anyway. I am not like that.

   “I got your laminated stuff, where do I mail them to? If I don’t hear from you, they’re in the trash.”

   He sent me his new address right away.

   We’re still friends on Facebook. He posts things about me, playing the victim. Facebook never blocks the right people. “When people throw you out of your life” are the kinds of things he posts. He’s become a drama queen. Get off your high horse! That’s what I should post.

   I admit when I’m wrong, and I would say to Jesse, don’t be a dick your whole life. I don’t know what to do with him. He wants to go around pretending he never does anything actually wrong.

   Jesse and Steve were once best friends, but not anymore.

   “I don’t care about me,” he said. “But you bent over backwards for Steve-o. I don’t ever want to see the kid again.”

   But, if Jesse is a bad penny, and bad pennies always turn up, like people say, I expect he will turn up again someday.

   Chapter 45

   This morning I got up and searched for my glasses, but I couldn’t find them. Wait a minute, I thought, you don’t wear glasses anymore. Hey, I can see the alarm clock. t’s so weird. When I went for eye surgery the guy there told me I was literally off their eye charts.

   “What do you mean by that?” I asked.

   “We only go down to a minus 16. You’re at a minus 17 and a minus 19. I don’t know if we can get you to 20/20 vision. You’re kind of legally blind.”

   “Yeah, I know” I said.

   After surgery on the worse eye, I got to a minus 1. The other eye is going to be even better. No more contacts and no more glasses for me. To not have to wear them on vacation all the time is going to be great. I won’t know what to do with myself.

   Putting on a new pair of glasses is a way to transform your look, just like a new hairstyle does, but it gets old after doing it your whole life. Although they can be useful, like when you don’t like the looks of something. You can just take your glasses off.

   “You’re too young to have cataracts,” the eye doctor said.

   “My eyes have always been forty years older than me,” I said. “My whole life, they’ve always been old.”

   I still have a high risk for detached retina, but that’s something you can’t fix. You just have to wait for it to detach. They say it’s not if your retina will detach, but when. I’ve gotten to be very educated about the signs of retinal detachment, especially since it already happened to me once. I had a macular hole in one eye, and now it’s cataract surgery. It’s crazy, but that’s life. In a way I feel lucky that I got cataracts when I did. Now I have 18-year-old eyes. I’ll take that.

   Everybody is telling Steve, now that she can see you, dude, she’s going to dump you. I can’t see that happening, since I like what I see every day.

   He and I were on a walk with Jackson and Baby, two of our dogs, when we almost started a riot, a racial war, at the end of our street. At least, we thought we did. It was bad, anyway.

   We had Jackie on a leash, but Baby, who’s sweeter than anything, no matter that he’s bigger than anything, was walking without a leash. It didn’t matter. Baby doesn’t do anything to anybody. Jackie is a Blue Nose Pit who is a very active dog. You have to keep up with him. He needs playtime and exercise, so we walk him, take him to the park, let him run around. Sometimes he looks goofy. Sometimes he looks intimidating. He’s smart, above all, eager to please, trains quickly, the best dog there is.

   But, when he’s on the street we keep him on a leash.

   Baby is a Leonberger, a giant dog, calm and steady, loving and steadfast, social and confident, although he is a little more on the shy side, but friendly and easygoing. There is no need for Baby to be on a leash on the street. We were walking one way when a black woman went driving past us the other way. There was a red light at the corner. She stopped, and when we got to the corner, she rolled down her window and yelled.

   “You need to put yo’ dog on a leash!”

   “Thank you, have a blessed day,” Steve said.

   She wouldn’t let it go. She kept screaming out the window, even though she’s in her car, going the opposite way of us, and we’re on the sidewalk. What the hell? We kept walking away.

   “Have a great day, God bless, goodbye.”

   Then the guys at the bar we had just walked past, who were sitting outside, and who had petted the dogs when we went by, started laughing and hooting. She pulled around at the next corner and got out of her car. The next thing we know a cop car pulls up.

   “I’m afraid of dogs,” she said.

   “You weren’t on that side of the street, where they were,” said the policeman. “Besides, you were in your car.”

   “Those dogs need to be on a leash!”

   Steve and I kept walking, around the block but on our way back we saw more blue police car lights flashing. “What the hell is happening?” I asked. As we got closer, we saw the lights were flashing in front of the bar.

   “It can’t be that we started a racial war.”

   In the end it wasn’t that, at all. Some idiot had been pulled over on the highway, except he kept going until he was finally pulled over in front of the bar. There were kids in the car, there was a baby in the car, there was some kind of problem with the baby, and there were all kinds of cop cars there on the road.

   Holy shit! I was so glad we hadn’t started a riot. All because our dog wasn’t on a leash, our Baby who is the gentlest scaredy cat dog.

   We couldn’t believe it when the woman in the car turned around and parked. She had to get her two-cent’s worth in. Whatever happened to a penny for your thoughts before expressing your thoughts? Too many people are comfortable with their opinions without the discomfort of thinking them through. She was one of those people.

   “You’re not even on our side of the street, much less walking,” I said. “You’re in a car going the other way of us. But thank you for your information about leashes.”

   She wasn’t somebody who knew sarcasm when she heard it.

   “You need to go your own way,” I said.

   Some people just have no sense.

   Chapter 46

   One of my girlfriends, Dee, and I went to the Blossom Music Center to see “Tommy” towards the middle of summer. It was a great show. Blossom is an outdoor amphitheater in Cuyahoga Falls, about 45 minutes from downtown Cleveland. The pavilion seats about 6,000 people and the sloping lawn seats about 15,000 people. There were lots of people at the show, for sure.

   After we parked, we had a long hike to get to the general admission lawn. Dee was on her phone every couple of minutes. She finally took her eyes off of it when we went through the turnstile.

   “You’ve thinned down,” she said.

   “I’ve been walking since spring, all summer, five miles a day. I got up this morning and did my five miles,” I said.

   “I’m fat,” she said, and started to cry.

   “Don’t cry,” I said. “It helps to watch what you eat and exercise. Why don’t you walk with me?”

   I invited her to Lakewood Park, one of the places I walk. She walked with me and we talked about her diet, but every few minutes she stopped to get on her phone.

   “You need to step it up, Dee. Put that phone away.”

   “I can’t do that,” she said.

   “OK,” I said. “You dabble on that phone, do whatever you want. I’m going to keep walking.” I walked away. The next day she sent me a text.

   “It’s not what I eat that makes me fat.”

   “Oh, really. What makes you fat?”

   “It’s my hormones and my thyroid.”

   “What about all those key lime pies? Don’t they make you fat?”

   “I only told you about the pies because I need support.”

   The next day she sent me a text about hypothyroidism. The day after that she sent me a text about how over-exercising can make you fat. I lost it. You know what, here comes a truth bomb, and a couple of other bombs besides that.

   “What the fuck are you doing? You are on the internet trying to find every excuse for eating pies and for not walking. That over-exercising, that’s for triathletes. Neither of us is ever going to over-exercise. I don’t want to hear your stupid excuses. They’re all bullshit and I don’t like bullshit.”

   I was sweating as I was texting her. She was making me have a stroke.

   “Dang, you didn’t have to go off on me!” she wrote back.

   “I kind of do! I’m not going to sit here and listen to you cry and bawl and hate your life. It’s hard to listen to as a friend. It hurts me to see you like that, and then you tell me somebody brought in more cake and you ate it all. But it’s still not the food! Either you watch what you eat, and you get up, walk and sweat, get home, take a shower, fix your hair and make-up, otherwise don’t tell me anything, I don’t want to know.”

   She didn’t talk to me for a week.

   “She is reminding me why I hang out with dudes,” I told Steve. “It’s all drama. Oh, my God, sometimes I just hate women.”

   Not all of them, of course. I called Lisa, another one of my girlfriends, who gets me. I hadn’t talked to her in three months, but when I called and asked if she wanted to go to the beach, she said, “Yeah!”

   “Perfect,” I said.

   I called Dee.

   “I called Lisa about going to the beach. Do you want to go?”

   “Well, I don’t know. Is Lisa going?”

   “Yes, but what the fuck difference does that make? Are you coming?”

   “Do you have to go get her?”

   “Yeah, you know she doesn’t have a car. Do you have a problem with that?”

   Why am I arguing about this, I thought? Dee didn’t show up. She had her tantrum. You know what, I thought, I’m not dating you. I don’t have to answer to you. I don’t owe you an explanation. I don’t have to put up with your bullshit. You make it into a drama, but I got no time for that.

   The next thing I knew I got a nasty horrible message from Lisa, not going to the beach Lisa, but another Lisa, about what nasty horrible friends Steve and I are, that we didn’t plan a 50th birthday party for her.

   Even though I take care of a guy living in my basement who’s only got half a brain, even though I take care of my mom who has got Alzheimer’s Disease, even though I take care of eight dogs, and even though I work full-time. Even though my plate is full. Even though all of that. I got pissed off.

   “Maybe a little head’s up would have been nice, Lisa. I’m turning 50. Let’s do something. Not a problem, let’s plan something.”

   “I don’t want to see you guys again,” she said.

   Where were you for my 50th? I wondered. Where were you for the other Lisa’s 50th? Where were you for Dee’s 50th?

   “I just thought you guys were my close friends,” she said.

   “We invited you to all of those birthday parties, but you never showed up,” I said. “You always had your excuses. You never showed up.”

   Her big reason to kick me out of her life was her boyfriend, who is an atheist.

   “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to friend you on Facebook,” he said.

   “OK.”

   “I just don’t believe in God.”

   “OK.”

   “And I don’t want to offend you.”

   “I’m cool with that. It would probably be me who offends you.”

   I have no problem going to people with the truth. If they don’t like my truth, which most atheists don’t, they’re not going to offend me. I feel sorry for them that they don’t believe in a loving kind God. I would rather go through this life believing there is a God and finding out there wasn’t, than the other way around. I’m usually nice, but I’m always truthful. Everything that I said to Lisa and her boyfriend was blunt, but honest.

   It didn’t matter. She got rid of me because of her boyfriend and her birthday party. OK, bye, have a great life. So done, so done.

   Chapter 47

   The first time I ever cut anyone while cutting their hair was on the first day of beauty school just after I got home.

   “Wow, you’re a hairdresser,” my little brother said.

   “Technically, not yet,” I said.

   “Come on, cut my hair,” he said.

   “Brad, I haven’t even taken a class yet. All we got was our stuff today, our kit, that’s all.”

   “Come on,” he said, following me around the house like a dog.

   I set him up, got my scissors, and before I knew it took the top of his ear off. He yelped and shouted and chased me around until he caught me and sat heavy on me.

   I don’t know why he cried so much. I’ve cut myself worse since then, so much so that I’ve needed stitches. I’ve learned to pull ears out of the way. I bend them so I won’t cut them. Sometimes, though, when you’re cutting around any ear, you can get a little skin on the tip. A little nip is what it is. It’s not great, but it happens. I don’t do it often, but when it happens, I clean it up and continue cutting.

   The worst mistake I ever made was at the end of a long, long day. It happened when I mixed up my straight edge shears with my texture shears. Since I accidentally cut out a big clump of hair when I did it, ever since then I always look to make sure what pair of shears I have in my hand.

   Texture shears cut the hair, but they don’t cut all your hair. It’s a thinning, blending technique. I grabbed the wrong shears. It was at the end of the night, we were talking, and I wasn’t paying attention. There wasn’t anything I could do or say. I fucked up. There’s nothing to be said after that.

   As soon as I went to texturize her hair, and instead cut out a chunk of her hair, I said, “Oh, my God,” but there wasn’t really anything to say by way of explanation. I knew and she knew what had just happened. She looked at me and I was, “Yeah, that just happened.” There’s no fixing a big clump of hair missing that goes missing from the top of your head.

   What could I say? I’m a brutally honest person. “I cut your hair off. There’s no denying it. This one’s on me,” I said.

   She didn’t say anything, just glared.

   “You don’t have to pay me. I’ll probably never see you again, anyway.”

   I apologized again. She got up and left. I never saw her again.

   There was no fixing it, not by me or anybody else, although I do a lot of fixing in other ways. People are always buying their Madison Reed, going down the road of we’re never going to salons anymore for hair color. That’s fine, but every other hairdresser and I are saying, go ahead, see where it gets you.

   “We’ll see you sooner or later,” we all say.

   Girls see the ads on Facebook, believe every word of them, God knows why, go to the drugstore, put it in their hair, and end up with gorilla black. They act surprised and think it can be taken care of prest-o change-o.

   “I want to go back to blonde,” they say.

   “That’s not going to happen anytime soon,” I say.

   “We’re going to have to go light brown, and in the process, I’m going to damage the fuck out of your hair, and you’re going to have to work to maintain it. It’s a whole process.”

   They have to spend the whole day at the salon to get the repairs done, have lunch, have dinner, bring something to read, because I’ve got to bust through the store-bought stuff, the gorilla black they poured on their heads, because now you wish it was back to normal.

   I’m sorry for their loss, for the golden color that’s gone, but they are going to be black for a while. What were you thinking of in the first place? Sometimes people bring me pictures of what they want to look like. And sometimes I have to tell them it isn’t going to happen.

   “You have frog fur for hair,” I say. “You have three or four hairs on your head, and you want me to make you look like the full voluptuous head of Kardashian? What color in the sky do you think it is that you think this is going to happen to you today?” Sometimes it hurts to hear me, but brutally honest is the way I am.

   The most blood I ever drew was almost no blood at all, which was how Barry became known as Barry the Bleeder. His sister and mom still come to the salon to get their hair cut, but Barry moved to Florida. They love me and I love them, but Barry passed out once when I was cutting his hair when we all worked at another salon.

   I was doing a snip around his ear, and I pinched it a bit. He didn’t even feel it at first. I went over to the other side of his head, came back, and saw there was a little trickle of blood.

   “Oh, I gave you a little nip,” I said.

   I wiped it up with my hand towel. He looked at the blood on the towel. He stood up, all six feet of him, took another look, and went down. He fainted.

   “Oh, for God’s sake, get up,’ said his mother, who is a nurse, and who was sitting beside us.

   “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I hope he’s OK. I don’t think I can pick him up.” He was a teenager, but he was a big kid.

   “I’m so embarrassed,” she said. “Get up, get up!”

   “Oh, my God, I just made your kid faint and you’re embarrassed?”

   “He’s ridiculous,” she said. “Just ridiculous.”

   Chapter 48

   The number one priority my dogs have is guarding my house, especially at night, since I will and do sleep through anything. They have to earn their puppy pennies somehow. They can be a mooch pooch pack otherwise.

   It was after the 4th of July one night when Steve had had to work until 4 in the morning that he set the dogs all barking at once. It was thunder storming when he got home and walking up to the house, he decided to take down the flag, fold it up, and put it away.

   I had tried to get Jackson, our Blue Nose Pit, to come upstairs and sleep with me, but he was just not having it. He was being a punk. He went to sleep on the couch.

   When Steve set the flag down on the floor of the porch and started to fold it, pandemonium broke out. Jackson jumped off the couch, rushed the front door, and started to bark. It started a chorus, of course, of more barking and howling by all my other dogs, who had been sleeping in the basement.

   I was out cold in our warm bed upstairs. I didn’t wake up. I slept through it all.

   I sleep with the TV on. In the morning, as I become aware that I’m waking up, I often ask myself, did somebody turn the TV off? All of a sudden, I hear it. It happens as I finally wake up. Everything is shut out when I’m asleep.

   Our dogs will howl at every fire truck, police car, and ambulance going down the street. At 3 in the morning, it doesn’t bother me. I’m sleeping so soundly I don’t hear sirens. The neighbors, on the other hand, are not on the side of it being an awesome sound, at all.

   Except for our Italian and Puerto Rican neighbors. “They are doing their job. That is what you have dogs for,” they say.

   One night when I was still a teenager in Bay Village, living at home, I slept through a fire alarm at home. My mother smelled smoke in the middle of the night, called the Bay Fire Department, and they rushed to our house. Even though it was a small fire, there was smoke, the firemen tramped in with their hoses, turned on all the lights, searched for the smoke, and took care of business.

   In the middle of taking care of business they asked my mother if she was going to wake my brother and me up. He slept as soundly as me at the time.

   “I don’t think so,” said my mother. “They have school tomorrow. Let them sleep. Everything’s good, right?”

   “Everything’s good,” they said, tramping away.

   When I woke up, I told my mom something smelled funny.

   “Right,” she said.

   When my friends came over in the morning for their rides to school, they were all excited.

   “What about the fire that happened at your house?” they all wanted to know.

   “What fire?” I asked.

   “The fire department was here last night.”

   “No, they weren’t.”

   “Telly, they were at your house. There was a fire.”

   “I live here. You’d think I would know if the fire department had been here. They weren’t here.” When I asked my mom about it, she said, “Yeah, the fire department was here last night, and you slept through it.”

   We have privacy fences on both sides of our backyard, but just a chain link fence at the rear. Our Italian neighbor, Anthony, and his wife whose name over the years I have never found out, live behind us. A man and wife lived in the house next to Anthony. The wife’s husband died in the spring. While she was at the wake someone broke into her house in broad daylight. She was getting robbed at the same time she was burying her husband.

   Except she came home earlier than the robber expected. He had probably read about the death in the newspaper and thought, oh, no one’s going to be in the house today, let’s go rob it. Unfortunately, that’s what some people do.

   When she came home early, Anthony and his wife were in their garden. When the robber was discovered, he jumped out the window into the backyard, and then jumped the side fence into Anthony’s yard. Anthony held his rake up high. The robber jumped the chain link fence into our backyard.

   All hell broke loose.

   Kirby, who’s been living in our renovated basement for a year, and almost never goes anywhere, had let the dogs out in the morning when Steve and I had gone to work. They were all out there, dozing, playing, and freeloading, since it was a warm sunny day. All eight of my dogs were in the backyard. They went ape shit when the robber hopped the fence. They rushed him in an instant.

   “What the fuck are you doing in our yard?” the dogs barked at once. What they were saying couldn’t have been more clear-cut.

   “I think the guy maybe pooped his pants a little,” my Puerto Rican neighbor said afterwards, who had seen it all happen.

   My dogs knew he was up to no good. They immediately went at him, going for blood. Most of my dogs are on the larger size. The robber in his black sweats jumped back over the fence into Anthony’s yard, rushed up the driveway, into the street, and was never seen again.

   He can thank his lucky stars Jackie was still a youngster. If he had been the size he is now, he would have done some damage. He would have gone over the fence after the robber, no problem. When he caught him, he wouldn’t have let go, either. It wouldn’t have been any problem for him to drag the thief to the police station.

   Not that anyone in the neighborhood would have cared what happened to the robber. Who cares what happens to anyone who robs widows on the day of the wake? None of my dogs are going to put up with anything like that.

   Chapter 49

   Tonto was part Sheltie and part Collie, even though Shelties, which come from the Shetland Islands in Scotland, used to be Shetland Collies. What happened was breeders didn’t like mixing the breed names, so Shelties became Shetland Sheepdogs. Collies stayed Collies. Tonto brought the breeds back together.

   She was the smartest dog I ever had. She knew go for a walk, go for ride, do your business, go get a cookie, go get a hamburger, and go to the kitchen. She could probably have done our taxes and gotten away with the doggie treat deductions.

   My brother and his family loved Tonto. Whenever they visited me in Lorain, when I was the mayor’s fiancée, before I wasn’t his fiancée anymore, they would say, “Tonto, we’re going to the kitchen to get a snack.”

   Tonto would get up and head for the kitchen. If they didn’t get up from wherever they were sitting, he would stop and look back.

   “Didn’t you say we were going to get a snack?”

   They would sing the drive-in song to her. “Yum, yum, it’s time for a tasty and refreshing snack, let’s all go to the snack bar.”

   Whenever they sang that song, it was, whoop! let’s go get a snack, and Tonto would get on the move. I would say “What do you want, Tonto?” and she would tap whatever box of crackers or cookies she wanted.

   If I said, “Do you have to do your business?” she would get up, which meant, yeah, she had to go. Sometimes though, she would give me the yes sign, but at the same time say it’s wet and cold outside, so let’s wait a while. She didn’t like to get wet.

   Everyone loved her. They would always ask if my dog could sleep over at their house. I let her go when she was younger, but as she got older, no, I wanted as much time with her as possible.

   Everybody loved her, except the woman with the wiffle bat. Tonto was in her own front yard one day, minding her own business, doing her own dog thing, when the woman walked by. Tonto hadn’t left the yard, but the woman came onto my front yard, on my grass, and whacked Tonto with her wiffle bat.

   I was sitting in the window eating cereal. I dropped the bowl and went crashing through my front door. I ran right up to the woman.

   “What the hell are you doing?” I was so incredibly mad.

   “Your dog, your dog…”

   “Yeah, my dog, you fucking nitwit, why are you hitting my dog?”

   “It’s vicious,” she said.

   She carried her wiffle bat whenever she went walking, to hit dogs with, in case they attacked her.

   I looked at Tonto. She ran up to me. “Why?” she asked. I gave her a pat on the head.

   “My dog is vicious? Do you really think I’m that stupid? Do you really think I would let a vicious dog outside to just bite anyone passing by? I could lose my house over something like that.”

   “You should keep your dog tied up,” she said.

   “You should stay off my street,” I said. “Because if I ever catch you on my street again, I will back over you with my car 100 times and tell everyone it was an accident.” I never saw her on my street again.

   The mayor heard about what happened.

   “You can’t threaten to run over people accidentally,” he said.

   What about my dog? I thought. I already hated people enough. The woman had no right to hit my dog. We need a new plague, to thin the herd, I mumbled to God.

   Tonto was so smart she never needed to be told twice not to do something. Whenever she did anything I didn’t like, I would tell her it was bad, and she would never do it again. My other dog, on the other hand, Niagara, a Newfie, had to be told 50 times about everything. I was always making her sit on the stairs or next to the vacuum cleaner for a time out or punishment.

   Niagara hated sitting on the stairs and was afraid of the vacuum cleaner. My poor Niagara wasn’t a dumb dog, and she was loved and spoiled by me, but next to Tonto she looked like an idiot.

   Sometimes I would test Tonto to see how smart she was.

   “Do you want this cracker or that one?”

   I would show her two boxes, Cheez-It and Triscuits. She would usually point to the Cheez-It box. She loved cheesy treats. Everyone loved how smart she was. They would give her treats as a reward. That’s probably why she eventually grew a big butt.

   Her smartness got her fat. She was very sensitive about her keister, though. If you talked about it, she knew you were talking about it.

   One night we had a few people come over to our house, and when they came in the door, they all crowded in the hallway, saying hello and taking off their coats. Tonto was there, trying to get through everybody congregating there. She was trying to get to me. I was her human among all those other humans.

   She couldn’t get to me fast enough, so she thought, “I’ll just sneak underneath this side table.” She got low and got between the legs of the table, but then her butt got stuck between the legs, and when she kept going, the table went with her. She got nervous when she realized was happening. She thought the table was following her.

   I told her, “Oh, Tonto, your butt is stuck!” She was so embarrassed. She put her paw out. She looked up at me. She knew we were all talking about her big fat heinie.

   “Oh, it’s OK,” I told her.

   Sometimes she was OK with it. Sometimes she didn’t care. Sometimes she would even shake her milkshake machine. That butt was awesome.

   Chapter 50

   I talk to my dogs all the time. What we talk about depends on what is going on that day. A few days ago, I took a close look at Veruka and called her a fat whore. She didn’t care, even though she knows. She barked it off, a total brat.

   She is going on a diet soon, if I have anything to say about it.

   When I lived in Lorain, before I got married, I had two dogs, Niagara and Tonto. Niagara was half-witted, but Tonto was and still is the smartest dog I ever had. She and I talked. We even talked about God. She knew God, as certain as there is day. She knew who had created her.

   When I’m in the kitchen I often ask my dogs questions they either can’t or won’t answer. My questions usually start with “How did this happen?” Then I point to whatever is the mess in the kitchen. They never say anything. They don’t want to get in trouble. But I can usually tell who did it. I’ll walk up to the pack and say, “Who did this? I want to know right now.”

   The ones who look around at all the others are not the ones who did it. They’ll look around at the other dogs and then look back up at me. The ones who look down right away are the guilty ones. While they are getting yelled at, all the other dogs have big grins on their faces.

   “Not me, right? I didn’t do it. I’m a good dog.”

   Sometimes I have to step right up to them and show them what they did. If they just look at it, “Oh. What’s that?” they didn’t do it. But, if they look away, looking shifty, yes, they are guilty. One day I did something that was my own fault. I left a bag of garbage on the kitchen floor. They ripped into it.

   “Who did that? Get out of my house!” They all slammed through the back door and into the back yard.

   Jackie is our Blue Nose Pit. I’ve started called him “Hate the Mama.” I ask him, “Why do you hate mommy so much?” He never says anything. He moves there, goes there, and I go, why? When I talk to him, he thinks I’m playing. He opens his mouth and puts it on my face. He’s a very strange dog.

   Whenever I come home, he’s got to grab something, his toy, or whatever is close to hand, he’s got to have it in his mouth, and then he bonks me on the nose a few times with whatever is in his mouth. If I am taking my shoes off, before I have taken the second one off, Jackie has the first one in his mouth and is trying to bonk me with it.

   Talking to my dogs about whatever bad thing they’ve done doesn’t always work. That’s when it’s time for action. That’s when it’s time for the spank a heinie spoon.

   I grew up with the rule of the wooden spoon. If you did bad, you got the wooden spoon, a heinie on the butt. Growing up, I was definitely scared of the wooden spoon. I hated that thing. I think lack of spanking is why we have so many little punk kids like we do now with no respect for anything. Give them the wooden spoon!

   My dogs have grown up with the same rule as I did. You do bad, you get the wooden spoon. All I have to do is reach for it and they’re all good all of sudden. If I have to actually put it in my hand, most of the time I just crack it against the wall. They hate the sight and sound of it. They can’t get out of each other’s way fast enough. Jackie, on the other hand, he gets a crack on the heinie, and he’s back on the move, WORTH IT!

   I wouldn’t want that wooden spoon twice!

   The squatter who lives in my basement sings to my dogs and his bulldog Louie, who is the dumbest dog we have in the pack. Lou is a good dog, but just stupid. All the dogs dig Kirby. They’re happy somebody is hanging out with them, talking to them. Kirby has been living scot free downstairs and talking to them for close to two years.

   His disability checks are finally due to start arriving soon. We’ve depleted our savings taking care of him. He has plans of knocking out our kitchen wall and extending onto the porch once he starts getting his benefits.

   “Yeah, that would be great, that would be fantastic, but I don’t know how much money you think you’ll be getting from the government,” I said. “Why don’t we wait until Steve’s business takes off, and we’ll look for a new house, and an in-law suite for you.”

   We’re in it for the long haul with Kirby. He’s got nothing and no one. Where is he supposed to go? Who is he supposed to be with? His pothead friends down the street?

   Kirby is always telling the dogs what to do. “You’ve been given a command,” he says. Except none of the dogs pay attention to him, including his own dog Louie.

   One morning Louie was halfway up the basement stairs barking his head off.

“Get down here now, Lucifer, and stop that barking,’ said Kirby. He calls Louie Lucifer. “You’ve been given a command.” We all laugh. It’s a kind of joke around our house. “Who did you give a command to?” None of the dogs ever listen to him, including his own dog.

   Louie stayed put on the stairs and barked until he was hoarse. In the end he barked himself into not having a voice. That’s when he stopped barking, not before.

   Chapter 51

   When I couldn’t find my favorite suitcase a few days before Steve and I were going down to Mexico for a week, I called Jesse.

   “Do you have my suitcase?” I asked.

   “I’ve had it for three years,” he said.

   “We take it to Mexico every year. You haven’t had it for three years.”

“Yes, I have, you’re wrong,” he said.

   “No, you’re wrong,” I said.

   “No, I’m not.”

   “Are you ever wrong, Jesee?”

   “No.”

   “You sound like you’ve had a few drinks,” I said.

   “Yeah, a few. I work hard, you know. After this I’m off to see the wizard. I’m not telling you for jokiness. I’m telling you because you want me to be honest, be your friend. I’m being honest. I don’t need any judgement.”

   “I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways, dickhead,” I said. “Either you have friends who care about you, or not, so I’m going to say you’re an asshole for going to smoke crack.”

   “I worked hard all week. Lynn knows where I’m going, what I’m doing,” he said.

   “Then she’s a bigger idiot than I thought she was, for letting you smoke crack all weekend while you’re taking care of her.”

   “What are you doing this weekend?” he asked.

   “It’s a blizzard outside, so I’m in the house cooking.” I love to cook when it’s snow storming.

   “What are you making?”

   “I’m making spanakopita. It’s a Greek spinach pie, with onions, cheese, and herbs. It’s all folded up in a flaky crispy dough.”

   “Oh, you mean spanakapita.”

   “I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced with an O,” I said.

   “You’re an idiot,” he said. “You never admit when you’re wrong, do you?”

   “OK, you’re right, I’m an idiot. I’m making spanakapita. Happy now?” Why do I even ever talk to Jesee? Steve refuses to speak to him.

   “Why do you even talk to that asshole?” he asks me.

    “Why are we even friends?” I asked Jesse.

   “Are you going to tell me you’re not my friend anymore?”

   “Unfortunately, Jesse James, you and I have been friends since the 5th grade. There’s just no getting rid of you.”

   “I took Lynn to a French restaurant last week.”

   “That’s nice,’ I said. “So, you’re back in the big house?”.

   “Yeah.”

   “How’s your dad? Is he still alive?”

   “Yeah.”

   I didn’t ask if he hung out at Lynn’s house anymore. For a while Jesse’s dad had tried to get Lynn for himself, before Jesse finally won her over.

   “I heard Lynn’s dad has showed up down there in Florida.”

   “Yeah.”

   Lynn’s father is a very rich and a very sick man. Last year, when Jesse was dating Lynn, he had a fit. He hates Jesse. He said he was going to shoot him, although he never did. He has an undying love for his daughter, but not the right kind of love.

   “I’m not allowed to be there when he comes over,” said Jesse. “I take off.”

   He knows it’s sick and demented, but he hides when Lynn’s father comes over. She has a big spread, what with her polo ponies, so there’s a lot of landscape to hide in.

   “I don’t understand your life,” I said. “It’s gross! It’s wrong.”

   “I’m being honest,” he said. “Don’t judge me.”

   Right is right even if no one is doing it and wrong is wrong even if everybody is doing it.

   “That doesn’t mean I have to like it. It doesn’t mean I don’t worry about you. You’re dating a woman 20-something years older than you, who has a father who’s like a hundred, who, we won’t even talk about that, and you are smoking crack every chance you get.”

   “Everyone has a few drinks. Why can’t I have some crack?”

   “They don’t serve that at bars, that’s why,” I said.

   “I can control it,” he said.

   “Right, says every crackhead and none ever did,” I said.

   “I just do my work, hang out, be myself.” He works in construction all week, and he’s started working for Lynn, too, at her house, on her property.

   “Why shouldn’t I do the work, instead of the Mexicans?” he said. “Why shouldn’t I earn the money?”

   What Jesse likes is she has got money and a big house. What Lynn likes is the sex. They are both getting what they think they need.

   “Basically, you’re doing whatever the hell you want, and she’s doing whatever the hell she wants,” I said.

   That didn’t go over well. Jesse says he’s being honest whenever he says whatever he says, but he doesn’t want any honesty in return. He thinks you’re getting in his face. Every time we talk, he tells me why he’s the greatest and Steve and I are idiots. He’s like a broken record.

   “Why won’t your husband talk to me?” he asked.

   “Because you ran out on us after we took care of you when you were down and out,” I said. “And because of how you treat me.”

   “That’s not true,” he said.

   “Pray tell, how do you see it in your world?”

   The crack the past ten years hasn’t changed Jesse, not at all. He’s still as selfish and self-righteous as he always was. Steve says that he will never grow up because he’s not wrong, never wrong, and never will be wrong.

   He knows more than you. Right off the bat, that’s what he assumes about everybody. “I’m right as rain,” he says. “You’re an idiot.” I’m an idiot because I married Steve instead of him.

   When I told him Steve’s new business had turned the corner and is doing really well, he didn’t want to hear it. When I first told him about it, what Steve was planning, he told me the business would fail, for sure. “Down the tubes,” he said.

   “It’s going well,” I said.

   Nothing is all of what Jimmy said. He didn’t want to hear it and had nothing to say.

   Chapter 52

   Anybody who says, you’re going to be my eighth hairdresser, you know they are very hard to please, and probably nuts, besides.

   Not too many guys come in for a consultation before their first haircut. Basically, no guys do that. But many women do. They come in before their first color and cut. It’s not a bad thing, either. They come in, spend some time with me, show me what they want, what they like and what they don’t like. It puts us on the same page.

   The woman with screwed up colors and too many hairdressers freaked me out from the get-go. She went to Bay High School, like me, but was three grades younger than me. Someone mentioned me to her, where I worked in Rocky River, and the next thing I knew she was scheduling a consultation with me.

   Steve walked into the salon the afternoon she came in. She was waiting in the lobby. Steve saw her, recognized her, stepped over to my chair, and in a quiet singsong voice said, “Crazy, you know, crazy.”

   He need not have bothered. I could already tell she was nutty neurotic.

   She had come in to get her hair done for her high school class reunion. Back in the day, back in the 80s, Bay High School was known as Glenbeigh High, because everyone had drug and alcohol problems. I was a Rockette, a good girl, but I knew what was going on.

   Before she came in, she had called me about twenty times. I know because I told the receptionist the last fifteen times to tell her I was busy, her appointment was confirmed, and I would see her on the appointed day.

   The first thing she said when she sat down was, “I’ve been dead sober for five years now.”

   I barely knew her, hadn’t seen her in about thirty years, but now I knew she had been an alcoholic. Even though she was three or four years younger than me, she looked twenty years older than me. It must have been some hard drinking she had been doing.

   Her hair was a mess. She looked like a messed-up game show host. She had been moving among stylists, even though most people stay with the same stylist year after year, looking for some fanfare that wasn’t going to happen.

   I wasn’t going to have to worry about screwing up, trying to fix anything in the backwash. What I was going to have to worry about was her talking too much. A lot of clients talk about their family, their jobs, their problems, their personal lives, and their health, among other things. I was worried that she might talk about all of it, everything, all at once.

   “You’re going to be my eighth hairdresser,” she said.

   My first thought was that number nine is right on the horizon.

   “I had an appointment with another one, but I think I’m going to try you,” she said. “Because we both went to Bay.”

   She was looking through swatches when she pulled out a color.

   “I want that one,” she said.

   I looked at it.

   “I don’t even know where you got that color,” I said. “It just says ‘Gray.’”

   “I want gray hair,” she said.

   “You want gray hair?”

   “Yes.”

   Even though she was sitting down, I sat her down.

   “I know you probably like ash, not gray, exactly, but part of your hair is bleached out white, part of it is highlighted, and if I were to put ash color in your hair, like you want, your hair would turn to green mud. I am going to have to put a red base in your blond, which is what your hair is lacking. You’ve got a yellow green base. I have to add red to make it happen.”

   “I don’t want red,” she said.

   “Well, you know what, right now you don’t have a whole lot of choice.”

   “I want the top of my hair blonde and the underneath dark,” she said suddenly.

   “Hold down,’ I said, “because that is a whole new thing you just said. What do you mean you want the top all blonde and the bottom dark?”

   “I want to see it a little darker underneath and a little more platinum on top,” she said.

   “Oh, so underneath the crown of your head you want to see some dark?”

   “Yes.”

   “OK, but that is not going to happen the first time, or anytime soon. You have spent years bleaching it out and now it looks like a cheap crooked toupee. It’s going to take a lot of hair cutting and depositing color to get you what you want.”

   It is called color correction. It takes a bucketful of money. Many people will wear old clothes, drive old cars, but they won’t skimp on their hair. She liked what I had to say. She was on board for it.

   “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said.

   I hadn’t even touched her head, yet.

   I see drama on the street, and I’ll look to see what’s going on. Crazy me, I will try to break up a fight if I walk up to one. I’ll jump right in. Crazy me, I was willing to jump right in on her wrecked head of hair.

   Hairdressers aren’t miracle workers, not the first one or the last one or any of them in between. Some are definitely better than others. I’m one of the better ones, especially when it comes to color.

   In the end she liked how it came out. She looked good and I’m sure she looked good at her reunion, although how she’s going to look whenever her ninth hairdresser gets done with her, that’s anybody’s guess.

   Chapter 53

   When Kirby left, moving down the street into Greg’s house, after a year of living in our basement, after a year of getting him back on his feet, after a year of spending ten thousand dollars on the kid, he said he hated us, we were horrible people, and we had just been using him. When he left, he took his bulldog Louie with him. When he left, he left a godawful mess in our basement. He didn’t bother cleaning up after himself.

   Greg is a friend of Steve’s, from way back when, just like Kirby. At least, they were friends. Greg’s is where Kirby went to smoke pot, while he was living with us. Greg is half Greek and half American Indian. He was married for 5 minutes, but that’s over. He’s the kind of man who is always yelling. He will come to my house and start yelling.

   So, I yell back, “You’re yelling at me in my own home? Why are you over here? Why do we have anything to do with you?”

   “Make me stay cool,” he says.

   He is re-doing his two-family house, where he lives upstairs, and he decided free labor would be better than paid labor. The free labor is Kirby. He started in on Kirby’s ear, telling him we were horrible people, and that he should move into Greg’s first floor suite. He could have the whole first floor in return for working on the house.

   What an idiot! Kirby is not supposed to even be working. That’s why he’s on disability. When we first took Kirby in, he slept all the time for a couple of months. Now he sleeps all the time because he’s exhausted.

   “You’re going to kill him,” I said.

   “What business is it of yours?” yelled Greg.

   “You talked him out of living with us, where he was being well taken care of, where he was getting everything that he needed.”

   “I don’t understand,” said Greg.

   “Let me tell you why I’m mad,” I said. “For such a good friend of Kirt’s, like you say you are, what you’re doing means he’s going to lose his disability, maybe lose his health insurance, lose his monthly payments, lose everything, because you don’t really care.”

   Once Kirby had gotten his big back payment disability check, we were going to pay back our expenses for the past year, put in a new floor and kitchen appliances in his basement suite, and carpet our living room, so he wouldn’t have to hear us walking around upstairs. But Greg got into his head, telling Kirby we just wanted to take all his money.

   Kirby started to believe him.

   We had been getting monthly checks for a few months and there were a few thousand dollars piling up. I sat Kirby down and told him we needed to open a bank account for him. He jumped up and started swearing up a storm.

   I have told Greg that Social Security has been calling, they haven’t heard from Kirby, they want to know where he is, he needs to go and check in.

   “I don’t care,” said Greg.

   “What do you mean you don’t care?”

   “I’m not doing that shit,” he said.

   “I hope you’re happy with the decision you’ve made,” I said. “You’ve taken him away from people who actually cared about him, who weren’t going to work him to death.”

   “This is my fault?” he asked loudly.

   “Whose fault would you like it to be?” I asked. “Would you like to blame someone else? You just tell me, and we’ll go talk to that person.”

   “I don’t want to fight with you,” he said.

   “I don’t want to fight with you, either. Nothing more to say.”

   I’m nervous for Kirby. He’s only got a few months to make it back to the Social Security office. You have to check in, you have to show receipts for rent, you have to prove you are alive. I feel bad that he’s too stupid to know better. Thanks to Greg, he’s completely screwed over. All the rights we fought to get him, all the lawyers we talked to, all the offices and courtrooms we took him to, but Greg won’t do anything for him.

   Even the lawyer went to see Kirby, told him he needs to pay us back, but Kirby said no.

   “They’ve taken everything from me,” he said.

   He’s about to lose everything and all we can do is stand by and watch. I don’t think Kirby’s in his right frame of mind. He’s gone off the rails and he’s getting sick living at Greg’s. He’s back to doing nothing else except lying in bed. I don’t think he’s doing much work there.

   Steve went to Greg’s to talk to Kirby, to try to get him to go to the government offices and get his food stamps card. Kirby just screamed and went the other way.

   I asked Steve about Kirby coming back.

   “He can’t,” he said. “He had his opportunity. He’s not welcome back.”

   “What if you see him on the street?”

   “I’ll give him some money if he asks. But he’s not coming back here.”

   “He’s going to lose everything,” I said.

   “I can’t squeeze water from a stone. I can’t make Kirt do what he doesn’t want to do.”

   He decided he was going to go see the lawyer we had gotten for Kirby and take our names off everything. We won’t be able to help him legally anymore. Steve doesn’t want the responsibility anymore. He hurt my husband bad because he always considered him like another brother. In the meantime, Greg called to make an appointment for a haircut.

   “No, you piece of shit,” I said.

   “Aw, pookie,” he said, because we always called each other pookie. “I don’t know why you’re mad.”

   “Pookie’s dead,” I said. “Lose my phone number.”

   Chapter 54

    Does everybody talk to me when they’re in the chair in front of me at the hair salon? Does everybody talk into the mirror on the wall that is in front of us? Yes, they do, unless they’re the silent type. They’re not allowed to turn their heads, because I’ve got sharp scissors in my hand, which is why both of us talk into the mirror, unless they just don’t want to talk.

   What do they talk about?

   It depends on what kind of day they’re having. Sometimes people tell me about what book they’re reading, about a restaurant they were at, about something that happened at work. It could be about the hot topic of the day. It could be about the Cleveland Browns.

   “Did you hear about who just got traded to the Browns?”

   “It’s off to the playoffs we go!”

   When I was cutting the hair of two girls one day, whose mother belongs to the same Bay Village church as I do, they wanted to know all about the St. Patrick’s Day parade downtown. Steve and I always go because our wedding anniversary is on St. Patrick’s Day.

   “Is it crazy?” one of the girls asked.

   “No,” I said. “There’s definitely a drinking party side to it, but there’s a kid friendly side to it, too.”

   She had straight hair, but said she wished she had curly hair. I told her, as soon as you have curly hair, you’ll want it to be straight again. That’s how women are. But I took off four inches and curled it, anyway.

   A lot of women read books, and we talk about them. I don’t read many books because I almost always hate the endings. I hated “Girl on the Train.” It was great until the ending, but the bad guy, the guy who caused all the trouble, should have gotten his ass kicked a lot more than he did. He was awful. He got off too easy. I would have tortured him for a while. Getting stabbed in the face and dying fast, that was getting off easy, for sure.

   I watch murder shows all the time, especially “Dateline on ID.” It always starts with a murder and the rest of it is how they catch the person. There are the background stories, interviews with everybody, the people who were involved, the killer and the victims, at least the victim’s family.

   They call us ID Addicts, because we sit at home and watch murder mysteries on TV 24/7.

   “Have you figured out how to get away with it, yet?” Steve asked me one day.

   “I’m getting there,” I said.

   Most murders are mixed up with the oldest reason in the book. It was a love triangle. Someone is trying to get rid of their husband or wife because they have a new boyfriend or girlfriend. They want the life insurance money, too, so they can live on that with their new lover.

   There was a guy in Colorado, married, with two kids, living in a big house, who killed her and his kids. She was a social media darling, people followed her on Instagram and Facebook. She filmed her own life and posted it. He was a chunky guy, but all of a sudden, he started working out, started jogging, and lost a ton of weight.

“That’s trouble,” I thought. Sure as shit he was having an affair.

   One of the last things his wife posted on Facebook was her breaking the news that she was pregnant again. His reaction wasn’t the greatest. He strangled all three of them. He claimed someone else did it, but the police said, we know you did it. Then he said he killed his wife because she had killed the children Everyone knew that was a lie. He finally fessed up and pled guilty and they put him away for three life terms and no chance of parole ever.

   Or it’s revenge, or it’s money, or they’re crazier than even that.

   There are some people who kill because they are rapists and don’t want you to be able to identify them afterwards. There were some kids who killed a babysitter because they wanted to see what it was like to kill somebody. They knew she would be all alone, and they got her because she was convenient. Some people kill to see what it’s like to take a life. It’s fucked up, but that’s what they do.

   Murder never takes a vacation

   We talk about vacations in the chair, places to go, where they’re going, where I’m going, what they did when they were there, what I did when I was somewhere, like Mexico.

   “Melanie tells me about her family,” said Meg, looking up from a magazine, her hair in rollers, sitting in a chair next to my chair. Either we’re telling them about our families or they’re telling us about their families.

   “She told me about her husband’s arm surgery,” said Meg. “We talk about our sons and their girlfriends, the ones we don’t like.”

   “You hear it all,” said Francie, working at her chair two chairs up from mine.

   “We were just talking about the cheating scandal,” said Meg.

   “Exactly,” said Francie.

   “The college thing,” said Meg.

   “Isn’t that disgusting?” I said.

   “It’s horrible.”

   “I’m sorry, but they all deserve to go to jail,” I said.

   We talk about what’s going on in the world right now. We talk about who we dislike in our families, the family dysfunctions, all of that. We talk about recipes, what people are having for holiday dinners, who’s hosting.

   “Who never hosts,” said Meg.

   “That comes back to the family dysfunctions.” I said.

   I have people who have literally sobbed in my chair. Someone is on drugs, or lost their job, or got cancer, or flat-out died. You hear it from the happy to the terrible. One of my clients told me that a friend of ours from high school had committed suicide. It was sad. I wasn’t able to go to his wake because I had to work. I couldn’t get off. It was the same day Luke Perry died.

   “52, that’s young,” said Meg.

   “He was good,” I said. “He wasn’t all Hollywood. The good die young.”

   Chapter 55

   When I took Ping Pang in, I thought, I need another dog like I need a hole in the head. But I did take him in. I still say we have seven dogs, but it’s eight, although he’s more like a gerbil than a dog. He doesn’t take up much space, at all. He’s a Min Pin, a Miniature Pinscher.

   Our other dogs could care less. They ignore him, but Jack, our Blue Nose, loves him. They are wrestling buddies. They wrestle all day long.

   He’s a little dog with a giant personality. He’s always on the move. I call him Ping Pang, after Ricochet Rabbit.

   Ricochet Rabbit was the cartoon sheriff in the town of Hoop ‘n’ Holler. Whenever he had to draw his gun and blast away at bad guys, the ricochet of the gunfire sent him flying. He would bounce off one thing after another yelling ”Ping-Ping-Ping!” as he bounced around. Sometimes he yelled “Ping-Pong-Piiiing!”

   Our Min Pin does the same thing. He ricochets off everything, table legs, sofas, TV stands. My mom and stepdad call him Little Man, which is the first thing they called him the first time they saw him. Steve sometimes calls him Little Shit.

   Ricochet Rabbit’s deputy was Droop-a-Long, who wore a big slouchy hat and a low-slung gun belt and could never do anything right, although at the end of every show the right thing always got done. Ping Pang is sometimes Little Shit because he doesn’t always get things right, although his heart is in the right place.

   I didn’t plan on taking Ping Pang in, only help rescue him, but things didn’t work out that way. I had just gotten to work when I got a text. I didn’t look at it right away because just a couple of minutes earlier I had been looking in my rearview mirror just in time to see somebody in a car hit a bicyclist. It was at the crosswalk outside the hair salon, at the entrance to the pink hotel.

   “Oh, my God!”

   I stopped in the middle of the street, not even bothering to close my car door, and ran back to see if the kid was OK. He had landed on his shoulder. He said, “I’m scared.” I said, “Don’t be scared.” He said, “I need to put my shoulder back in place.” There was something about him. I think he might have been slow. I told him to sit tight.

   The driver who hit him had stopped, too. She was a young girl. She was upset, very upset. “He was in your blind spot,” I told her. “You didn’t maliciously run over the guy. That’s why they call them accidents.”

   The Rocky River police and an EMS showed up. That’s how my day started. I got back into my car, drove around the corner, and parked in the lot at the corner of Lake and Depot Streets, walked past the Eternal Salon and Loft, and into our hair salon.

   When I checked out the text it was from an acquaintance of mine, someone who knew I help rescue dogs, who said friends of hers in Sheffield Lake had picked up a puppy on the street. They checked around, looked for a microchip on him, and even called the police, who told them no dog fitting that description had been reported lost. They had taken him to vet, had had him for more than a week, but couldn’t keep him because their pit bull hated him.

   That turned out to be a twist, because our Jackie is a pit bull.

   “Can you help us find a home for him?”

   I called the folks in Sheffield Lake. Steve and I were going out to dinner with our friend Dell that night, in Avon, like we do every Sunday. Avon is just down the road from Sheffield.

   “Can we pick him up after dinner?” I asked the lady who answered the phone. “We should be able to find him a good home.”

   She said, “We are driving back from the east side of Cleveland with the dog right now.”

   “Oh, did you find him a home?”

   “We tried,” she said. “My daughter’s friends wanted him, but when we got there, their parents said, no way.”

   “Where are you now?” I asked.

   “We’re on I-90, coming up on West 140th.”

   “Well, I live off of West 140th,” I said.

   I gave her our address. Ten minutes later they pulled up to our house in a Porsche SUV.

   “Holy shit!” I thought. “Nice car.”

   They handed me the dog. We were standing on our front porch, she and her husband and me.

   “Oh, my God, he’s so cute,” I said.

   He had some road rash, which meant they had found him in the street, because somebody had thrown him out of their car. He limped a little, where he had landed on his hip. When I took him inside the house, he ran right at my husband, barking up a storm.

   “Hey, call off your dog,” Steve said.

   Ping Pang was less than a year old. He wasn’t barking mad at women, only at men. So, obviously, a man abused him. To get him over his fear of men, every time he barked at Steve, I picked him up and handed him to my husband. He would hold the Little Man until he calmed down.

   He now loves Steve, although he bit my stepdad a few times. I told him, if he tries to bite you again, you have to hold him. Once in a while he will bark at him, but now he’s mostly cool. Even though Ping Pang loves Steve, he still barks at him sometimes when Steve is coming into bed.

   “He is guarding you,” says Steve, and then he leans down to the Little Man and says, “All right, let’s get ricocheting off my side of the bed.”

   Chapter 56

   When Jesse broke up with Lynn again it was because he told her that her addiction to pain medicines and her drinking weren’t any different than his smoking crack cocaine. So, he decided he was going to smoke crack on weekends, and that was that. When Jesse gets it into his mind that, “That is that,” that’s the way it goes. Lynn thought it was all too trashy for her, and they got into a fight.

   “I’m never coming back,” he said at the end of the fight, and left. He walked out of the Florida mansion, gave his pick-up truck, which was actually her truck, back to her, and left with a suitcase, his phone, and his wallet.

   “I dropped a truth bomb on her,” he said.

   “I’m going to drop a truth bomb on you,” I said. “You’re homeless, you’re living out of your son’s pick-up truck, and you don’t have a job.”

   “I’m trying to find work,” he said.

   JJ and Alex, his sons, who are now both in the Marines, have a house in Colorado. They invited him to visit them, with the intention of doing an intervention on their father. They didn’t say anything about it to him.

   He got fucked up on the way, lost his phone, lost his wallet, lost his way, but somehow made it there. When he found out what they were up to, he got his hands on Alex’s pick-up truck, and beat it out of town.

   “How dare they pull that shit on me!” he said.

   Trying to get Jesse to do something he doesn’t want to do is like trying to dam up Niagara Falls with toothpicks.

   “Oh, Jesse James,” I said.

   “Don’t you take their side.”

   He somehow made it to Georgia. He called me. He had gotten another phone, somehow.

   “I’m coming up to Cleveland.”

   “Why?”

   He didn’t say but showed up a week later. He didn’t have any money. He stole his whole way up from the south to here. He would go into Walmarts, steal food and alcohol, go to gas stations, steal snacks, connive gas for his truck.

   “I have a Home Depot gift card,” he said. “Can you buy it off me?”

   “I guess so.”

   “You know it’s stolen, don’t you?” Steve asked me.

   “Oh.”

   Jesse steals stuff from big stores, returns it later on for a refund, and gets gift cards. We met him for breakfast when he got into town. He looked hungry.

   “I don’t have any gas,” he said, wolfing down ham and eggs and coffee.

   “I’ll fill your tank up,” said Steve.

   He was hoping we would ask him to stay at our house. I could tell. I brought it up to Steve later at home. But, buying him breakfast and filling up his gas tank was as far as it was going to go.

   “He’s not sitting on our sofa, much less staying at or house,” he said.

   Jesse called me again about buying the Home Depot card.

   “How much is it?” I asked.

   “It’s $186.00, but you can have it for a hundred.”

   I knew it was throwing money away. We would never use it. It would just be something to help Jesse out.

   “I have to get out of Cleveland,” he said.

   “Who did you piss off?”

   “Nobody,” he said.

   “Did you steal some drugs?”

   “I just need to go,” he said.

   “You are such an asshole.”

   “All right, but are you going to buy this gift card, or not?”

   “OK, I’ll come and get it. I just need to stop at an ATM.”

   “No, I’ll come and get you,” he said.

   Like an idiot, when he came over, I got into his truck with him. He went flying down Detroit Road and sideswiped a parked car. He didn’t stop. He just kept going.

   “Stop the car,” I yelled.

   “I’m sorry, Jewel,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

   “Stop the car!”

   The whole side of his son’s new, very nice pick-up, on the passenger side, where I was sitting, was bruised and dented and scratched up. There was food scattered everywhere. Empty bottles rolled around. I was pissed.

   “Do you know you just smashed your kid’s truck? And you drove away. And you almost killed me.”

   “I know, but I promise I’ll be good.”

   “Did you steal all that food?” I asked.

   “A guy’s gotta eat,” he said.

   The next day, JJ called.

   “Alex is in Cleveland,” he said. “He’s gone up there to get the truck back from our dad.”

   “JJ, why didn’t you tell me he was coming? Jesse was here yesterday, but now he’s gone.”

   “We called him and said we were coming.”

   “That was a mistake,” I said. “He’s gone to Canton.”

   “Why Canton?”

   “Because Alex isn’t in Canton, that’s why. He’s hiding from you.”

   They finally found him by phone, and Alex went to see him. They met in Canton. But Jesse parked the truck a couple of blocks away, so Alex wouldn’t see it and take it away from him. They talked, but Alex never got the truck back. He went back to Colorado and Jesse went back to living in the pick-up.

   Jesse thought I had led Alex to him. He thought I was scheming with them to take the truck away from him. He called me and called me every name in the book.

   “Even though you do what you do to your kids?”

   “That’s right,” he said.

   “You treat them worse than junk yards treat their dogs. Have you ever even had a dog?”

   “No,” he said

   “The only way you’ll ever get that truck back is if you report it stolen,” I told JJ when I talked to him afterwards.

   “No, I can’t do that,” he said. “My dad would go to jail if I did that.”

   “Maybe that’s what he needs,” I said. “Maybe he needs to be in jail for a while.”

   Chapter 57

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

   I have bursitis and tendinitis in both shoulders. When you’re working your arms are always up around your shoulders. It hurts. I wake up dreaming that somebody is twisting my arm off. Sometimes I dream they’re twisting both arms off. I got pain shots, since it started running up my neck, but my doctor was just guessing.

   “Am I hitting your bursa?”

   “I don’t know.”

   “How does that feel?”

   “Yow!”

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

   “Really?”

   “Yes.”

   “OK”

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

   “No.”

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

   He was definitely not the shot Nazi. But it freaked me out a little. I thought I was just going to pull my shirt down and they were going to put a shot in me. Instead, they gave me two gowns, told me to take everything off, and get into the gowns. I had to wear the blue hat.

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

   “Right.”

   “So why am I getting naked?”

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

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

   “No, no, no,” he said. “Sit still.”

   “OK, but I need more juice.”

   They gave me more the second time I went, and I definitely don’t remember much about that time. After he stuck the needle in me, and did the procedure, I thought, are you kidding me? The preparation took much longer than the shot itself.

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

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

   I’m the kind of person, if there are going to be side effects, I’m going to have them. For two weeks after the shots, I had horrible side effects. They’re shooting in cortisone. It’s a steroid. Whenever you get steroids injected, you risk getting hungry, getting ‘roid rage. I got hungry and got ‘roid rage. I got heat sensitivity, too. I was flushed all the time. I was crazy emotional all the time, whenever I wasn’t eating all the time. What the hell is wrong with me, I wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Chapter 58

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

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

   The last time I had talked to Jesse, months ago, was when I found out, two weeks after it happened, that his mother had died. We didn’t talk long that time. Jesse and his mother never got along. Whenever he was in AA, he worked it, but she was in AA for life, always preaching to him about it. He always said he didn’t have an addiction, but he was wrong.

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

   Steve and Jesse grew up together. They were friends. They were best friends.

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

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

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

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

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

   “He’s an idiot,” said JJ.

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

   “I know that, but what did he do?”

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

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

   I don’t pick up most numbers that I don’t recognize. That’s just the way it is. Who needs the aggravation? I found out it was a number ending in 0000. I went to my phone and checked. There were a ton of calls from that number.

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

   He said, “No.”

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

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

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

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

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

   Of course, he is.

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

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

   “Dad is in jail,” said JJ.

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

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

   “Of course.”

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

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

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

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

   Somebody said the brother was going to find a way to add on armed robbery, although I don’t know how that would be possible, since it wasn’t like that. Steve said Jesse should just sit there until they bring everything down to a misdemeanor and plead.

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

   He threw a curveball down the heart of the plate at me.

   Chapter 59

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   It is time to raise awareness of this cruel disease.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Saddest disease ever!

   Chapter 60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Telly?”

   “Hi Jesse.”

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

   You don’t get much time to talk, though, maybe about five minutes. When there was a minute left, we started saying our goodbyes. The phone went dead in the middle of a sentence. There wasn’t even a dial tone left behind. Just dead. He called again the next week. We only had five minutes again, so he got right to the point.

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

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

   “Is Steve there?”

   “He is going to be.”

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

   “You can start with me.”

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

   Are you kidding me?

   What book and what passage and what verse are the seven deadly sins in? Can you point that out to me? If you can’t, is that because you have gone the Roman Catholic way? I knew he was hiding something, and I thought it was the Catholic religion bullshit. Their religion is totally man-made. Period! They don’t even call themselves Christians.

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

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

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

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

Chapter 61

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

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

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

   The kid was still right behind me.

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

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

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

   We trained Jackie to not be vicious, but sometimes there will be blood, when it comes right down to it. You can’t train all the old-school fight out of a pit bull. Blue Nose Pit Bulls are not a separate breed. They are rare and rare for a reason. The blue color is recessive, which means it takes two dogs with the same gene to make another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   God gave women intuition. They always talk about women’s intuition, about getting a weird feeling about something, a gut feeling that something is about to happen. “A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition,” said G. K. Chesterton.

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

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

   Chapter 62

   When Jesse was in jail, in the Correction Center downtown, where everyone, unless he is the wrong man, is bad, he was on a bad floor. He was there because his brother put him there, with murderers and molesters and rapists, even though he was technically in jail only on a theft charge. He was in with the worst of the worst. He shouldn’t have been there. He was the wrong man on the wrong floor. But you can’t always get what you want, no matter how bad you want it.

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

   Surprise, he doesn’t. The biggest idiot you will meet in life will be the Jesse who thinks he knows it all. Everyone who thinks they know it all have no way of finding out that they don’t. I’m still learning about the Bible, and I’ve been reading it for years and years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   I don’t think you want to burn bridges unnecessarily, but some bridges are just meant to be burned. Some roads are not meant to be traveled again, like the Jesse James highway of crime, when there have been too many fender benders and crashes on that road. He has lost all his jobs with the union. He’s been stupid. He lost a great gig with them. If he even can, he’s going to have to fight hard to get back into the union.

   “Telly,” Steve said, “we might have to do that, take him in.”

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

   “Honey, we need to help him out.”

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

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

   I wasn’t thrilled, not at all. I would have been surprised if Jesse even asked us, though. I didn’t think he would. But I knew he couldn’t just get another pick-up truck and live in that. It would bring back the loneliness in him. Loneliness is a part of life, but it is the least favorite part about life for most people. Jesse is so self-centered he gets lonely easy.

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

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

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

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

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

   He needs to get a job, get an apartment, get a truck, pay his own bills, make his own bed, and look out for himself. It can’t be me looking out for him. Not anymore. That bridge has burnt down.

   Chapter 63

   The virus came from China, starting there towards the end of last year, and now it is just about everywhere. Unless it didn’t come from China. It came from somewhere, who knows where. We all have to stay indoors as much as possible for another week, governor’s orders. The hair salon has been closed since the middle of March, schools closed, restaurants and bars, gyms, almost everything shut down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Sometimes they get an infection, or get worms, or lick plants and random toxins laying around that are poisonous to them. They suffer, just like us, serious medical problems like kidney and liver disease and cancer. Flea infestations range from meek and mild to severe itching and discomfort to inflamed skin problems and infections. Dogs can get anemia in extreme circumstances. Fleas can transmit tapeworms. No dog wants a tapeworm. They don’t get the plague, though.

   There are three kinds of plague, bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. Bubonic plague causes swollen lymph nodes. Dogs are resistant to the plague-causing bacteria. Fleas be damned! They don’t get the new virus, either. Dogs can catch some viruses, like the canine respiratory coronavirus, but the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, isn’t a health threat to dogs.

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

   Dogs don’t contract 19 nor do they spread it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   Sometimes dogs just can’t catch a break.

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

   Cats and dogs don’t get COVID-19!

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

   Some people think there are no dogs in Heaven. I think all dogs go to Heaven, but only some people do, if there’s any justice in this world.

   Chapter 64

   Three million-and more people filed claims for unemployment the week after the lockdown when the virus pandemic closed down big parts of the country’s economy. Experts are saying “catastrophic unemployment crisis” after the Labor Department announced jobless claims rose to 3.28 million from 281,000 the week before. It is the highest ever reported, smashing the previous record of 695,000 claims filed the week ending the first week of October 1982.

   That is almost forty years ago. That is a hell of a jump in numbers. The full scale of the impact of the crisis started to come clear.

   “This morning’s jobless claims confirm that the United States is in the thralls of a catastrophic unemployment crisis, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression,” said Andrew Stettner of the Century Foundation. “This represents the single worst one-day piece of labor market news in America’s history.”

   Our Governor Mike DeWine announced that all movie theaters, bowling alleys, spas, fitness centers, tattoo parlors, and nearly all Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices have to close in response to the virus outbreak. He also asked that businesses start to check the temperatures of people who still have to report to work.

“The virus is here,” Gov. DeWine said. “It lives among us and we must be at war with it.”

   I think I know where the war might have come from, although nobody wants to talk about it. I think Dr. Anthony Fauci is blocking cures to enrich vaccine makers and Bill Gates wants to use a vaccine to inject microchips into people or try to cull some of the world’s population.

   All bars and restaurants are closed. All K-12 public and private schools were ordered to close. All hair salons had to close, too. Just like that I was out of work. Just like that all of us at the salon were out of work. Just like that everybody like me up and down the state was out of work.

   A cross-section of businesses was allowed to stay open. The list included grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, health care facilities, gas stations, and hardware stores. We all have to eat. It also included liquor stores.

   Jessica Miller, co-owner of Roots Hair Salon in Greenville, wondered what a shutdown would do to her four stylists. She and her partner, Cassie Bunger, talked about whether they would be able to get unemployment.

   “It’s nerve-wracking, especially if we find we won’t be able to pay our bills and can’t pay for the shop,” Jessica said.

   “My best wishes to the employees,” said Diana Fyfe, who gets her hair cut at Charles Scott just up the street from our salon. “This is definitely changing the world. I hope you all will be fine and able to pay your bills, feed your family, and stay healthy.”

   Nothing works unless we do. Working is what gets it done, paying the bills and putting food on the table. Without work, life starts going downhill.

   “It’s a difficult time and the various service industries are getting hit hard, but we will get through this and take it one day at a time, ” said Jennifer Bodnar of Nailchick71 Salon & Boutique, in Youngstown. “Our number one priority has and always will be the safety of our customers, so we will be here once this is all over to make our clients look and feel beautiful.”

   At Jen and Friends in Boardman, Karin Bernard, a stylist, was finishing up a client when she heard the news.  “Of course, all of us here in the salon are devastated, but we will comply with the Governor’s mandate, and we know our clients are loyal and will return.  We just pray that our customers, who are more like family, stay safe and healthy, and we pray for everyone here and across the world.”

   It’s gotten to be a mess all over the world, especially in Spain and Italy. All the Indians, all the 1.3 billion of them in India, except for the police and army and medical and absolutely essential workers, were ordered to stay at home, not set foot outside, for 21 days.

   What happens when they run out of food?

   The Mexicans told the Mexicans to stay home. I don’t know how that’s going to work. “I can’t stop,” a guy by the name of Leonardo Prado said standing next to his hamburger cart in Mexico City.

   “If I don’t sell, I don’t eat. It’s as simple as that.”

   The virus sweeps into Detroit. The virus sweeps through Louisiana after Mardi Gras. The virus sweeps into Florida as people with second homes try to get out of whatever city they are living in. The virus spreads everywhere where people go. The virus spreads behind bars, jails and prisons

   Roughly three out of four Americans are under orders to stay home. If they aren’t there now, they will be soon. President Trump says so. He said the day before the end of last month that everybody had to chill until about the end of May.

   He said he was extending his administration’s social-distancing guidelines for another thirty days, after saying for days that he was going to open up the country in the next couple of weeks, by Easter, no later. Before that, before the virus got here, he said it was no problem, Americans didn’t have to worry about it.

   Something isn’t right in the White House

   I went to Lakewood Park, found a parking spot, and went for a sanity walk. I got some fresh air and got in four miles.

   Everybody is letting their hair down until we open up again.

   “I will definitely have some roots,” said Jacquelyn Fabiszewski.

   “Hang in there, Telly,” said Chris Pate. “I’m glad I got to see you before things shut down. I’ll be back to see you. Stay safe!”

   “See you when lockdown is over,” said Rhonda Dearfield.

   “Stay safe Telly,” said Beth Strohm. “I will see you when this is all over.”

   It might be a while, which means some of my clients might start getting desperate. All I can say is do not under any circumstances go a pet store and get a cut from a dog groomer. They do great with dogs, but it just wouldn’t be worth it.

   There’s nowhere to go to show off your new do, anyway.

   Chapter 65

   Now that Jesse is out of jail and at our house, it’s like having two full-grown toddlers rolling around. They are worse than the dogs. I said over and over that Jesse could only live in our house over my dead body. But there he is, and I’m still alive and breathing.

   I had gotten Steve a pair of slip-on shower shoes, but he didn’t like them. He told Jesse he could have them. But Jesse could only find the left slip-on. He couldn’t find the right one.

   “Where’s the other one?” he asked. “Steve said I could have them.”

   “I don’t know where it is. I would have to look myself.”

   “Well, I love them, can you look?”

   “I don’t give a fuck,” I told Jesse.

   I told him in the letter I wrote him when he was in the Corrections Center downtown, that what you want to do sounds great, but it all depends on what you actually do when you get out of jail. What he actually did when he got out was go straight to Lorain County Jail.

   Even though his brother hates him, his brother who is a prosecutor downtown, Jesse got out on a personal bond. He is broke, so he couldn’t have made bail, but all he had to do was promise to stay in town ad show up when he was summoned. He walked out of jail and walked right back into jail. His brother set it up when he found out Jesse had stolen three thousand dollars-worth of golf clubs from Golf Pro. Jesse plays the game, but he was going to sell the clubs so he could get drugs.

   Have clubs, will trade for crack.

   He had never told me about what he did to deserve the Lorain jail, but I found out.

   “I didn’t want to tell you because you wouldn’t be my friend anymore,” he said.

   “This is the same fuck-up,” I said. “Get it cleaned up!”

   Steve and I were having the same conversation we had had before, about how I didn’t want Jesse in our house again, he hurt me, we’ve gone through this before, when Steve asked me where Jesse was.

   “Jesse’s out of Cuyahoga,” I said.

   “OK but where is he?”

   “Lorain was waiting for him.”

   “Oh, shit.”

   Jesse called from Lorain, all sad and let down, explaining, thinking we wouldn’t listen to him, or help him out.

   “Look, this is still your same screw-up, get this shit taken care of, do your time, whatever you need to do.”

   In the meantime, they let him out on a personal bond, again. He called me again.

   “I’ve probably got a warrant out for my arrest in Cuyahoga County,” he said.  “I was in jail in Lorain on my court date that I didn’t show up to.”

   “That’s your cross to bear,” I said.

   “Can you come get me?”

   “What?”

   Steve took the phone.

   “If you need to stay with us, you can stay with us,” he said to my surprise.

   “No, no, no,” I said. “What are you doing?”

   “Our friend needs help.”

   “We can help him, but he doesn’t fucking need to live here.”

   “We’re going and picking him up,” Steve said.

   He was waiting for us on the corner.

   “Thanks,” he said, getting in the car

   “I have to stop at a dispensary downtown to get THC gummies.”

   “Great!” he said

   In high school I was a Young Christian. Now I’m an older Christian, but I’m a stoner, too.

   “No, they’re for me.”

   I take THC for pain and because it is supposed to retard dying neurons. If I start on pot now, the way I look at it, I should be really good in later life. If I ever get Alzheimer’s, like my mom, I hope somebody overdoses me on something. I’ve told all my nieces and nephews. I don’t want to live like that. But they are all, no, we are not going to do that. What the hell? A bunch of pussies in my family. I told them again, you better come over and OD me.

   Jesse came to live with us, and it worked out better than I ever thought it would. Steve gave him some of his clothes and I gave him a haircut. Steve has known him since grade school. He’s a great guy, his two sons are both in the military, he just got caught up in drugs. It got crazy.

   One night, when Steve and I were away, we were on the phone with him, when suddenly we heard screaming dogs. When Jesse came back to the phone, he said there had been a fight, Jackie was hurt bad, and he had to stop the bleeding and call a vet.

   When we got home it was what we thought. Graysun and Hermie had for the sixth time ganged up on Jackie and torn him up. He was already starting to look like Frankenstein. There was hardly a mark on the other two. Jackie had been bit on the face and head and his back was all stitched up.

   My Care Credit card was getting run up. It was up past three thousand dollars getting Jackie stitched up again and again. I didn’t know why they did it, why they kept doing it, but I cried about it.

   “We can’t live like this,” I said

   I thought maybe we could take Graysun and Hermie to a shelter, but Steve said, what if they attacked another dog there. No shelter is going to want to take them if they know what they have been doing. What if a family adopts one of them and the dog attacks a child?

   There wasn’t anything we could do but put the two of them down. After we did, a peace came over the house. Jesse made sure to watch and take care of Jackie. He is in love with Jesse now.

   Chapter 66

   I finally told my doctor at Orthopedic Associates, “No more medication, I’ve done all the physical therapy and everything you asked me to do.” I wasn’t getting anywhere. It wasn’t helping.

  “What about shots?” he asked.

   It was for my shoulders and neck, the tendinitis and bursitis. My shoulders are so bad I couldn’t lay down or even sit in a chair. It was so painful. I couldn’t sleep. It hurt all the time. The shots were something, which helped, but what happened was from June to November last year my heart started going crazy because of the fucking shots. I told him, “I can’t do those anymore, the side effects are terrible.” I told him I was thinking about medical marijuana.

   He said, “Let me know how that works for you.” I told him I would.

   I looked it up, made a phone call, had to go online, fill out forms, and go see a doctor who specializes in pain and medical marijuana. Ohio’s not messing around, which I kind of like. Personally, I’m all for it. I think it’s a God given herb, but you have to be careful.

   I called my doctor, told her what I was doing, that I was so sick of pharmaceuticals. Marijuana is here for a reason. It cures epilepsy, helps with Alzheimer’s, is good for Parkinson’s, all sorts of things.

   I’ve been giving my mom medical marijuana for four years. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for her. She now sleeps when she’s supposed to, so she doesn’t get her days and nights mixed up anymore. She has an appetite. Before, she was losing a pound a week. She was crabby today, so I pulled out a gummie for her.

   “Open up little birdie.”

   Ohio’s medical marijuana program passed in 2016, and was supposed to be operational by September 2018, but red tape delayed it until the beginning of 2019.

   The basics of the law are, qualifying conditions only, permitted for medicinal use only for patients who are prescribed medical cannabis by a doctor to treat one, or more, of 21 qualifying conditions, prescriptions by approved doctors only, patients and caregivers must be registered to purchase, possess, and use medicinal cannabis with the State Board of Pharmacy, a 90-day supply of medical marijuana only, and medicinal cannabis in a form that can be vaporized, no igniting or combusting using a flame, or as tinctures, patches, and topical ointments.

   It’s a lot, but it’s the law.

   When I got my appointment, it was in the King James Building in Westlake. The office was all white, except for one wall that was wall papered in marijuana leaves. When the doctor introduced herself, she told me she had been an anesthesiologist.

   “But I stopped believing in the pharmaceutical world,” she said.

   “Not many of us do anymore,” I said.

   She went over my medical records. At first, I was nervous, but then she said, “You’ve done it all, but it’s going up your neck, so you have every reason to try marijuana. You’re still working, too, so it will work for you.”

   She sent me to another office, where a young girl was working, who told me all about it.

   “You’re going to love it,” she said. “Just remember, it’s illegal to smoke it.”

   “OK, no buds,” I said.

   “No buds.”

   “Just the oil,” I said.

   But I sat on it for a couple of weeks before actually trying it. I finally drove to a dispensary in Elyria. I went in the door. There were two more doors. I pushed a button. A camera looked me over and they let me in. I had to fill out forms and more forms. A man led me out to where the marijuana was.

   “This is Chelsea, she will be your personal shopping concierge.”

   “For real?”

   “Yeah, you might have questions.”

   The marijuana room was beautiful, new, crisp, clean, natural wood on the walls. There were three huge flat-screen TV’s. Six tables filled the room, dark wood legs, marble tops, glass cases.

   Wow, I thought.

   “What are you interested in?” asked Chelsea.

   “I don’t know, why not tell me about everything.” She did.

   There was indica, sativa, and hybrids. Indica strains are physically sedating, perfect for relaxing with a movie before bed. Sativas are about invigorating, uplifting effects that pair well with physical activity and social gatherings. Hybrids fall somewhere in between. There were THC and CBD mixtures. There were all kinds of everything.

   I got a bottle of hybrid and three different kinds of gummies. The oil was a tincture, the type of thing you put under your tongue. Oh, my God it helps! THC is the best thing I’ve ever done. It stops the pain.

   I had been getting my mom gummies, getting them from a friend. She ran out for seven days and every day my stepfather looked more and more haggard. I swore it would never happen again. My doctor’s visit cost $260.00 and the medical marijuana card $50.00. My stepfather paid for half of it.

   My mom’s nickname when she was a nurse was “Buescher the Pusher” because she was an IV therapist. Now that I supply her with gummies, I have become “Buescher the Pusher.” The older you get the more like your parents you become.

   It’s better than living on pharmaceuticals. I was clenching my teeth all the time and had to take Flexeril.  It treats muscle spasms. I was taking Vicodin, too. It’s a combination medicine used to relieve moderate to severe pain. It contains an opioid pain reliever and a non-opioid pain reliever. It works in the brain to change how your body feels and responds to pain.

   With the THC oil, I don’t take those drugs anymore. I take my tincture at about 8 o’clock, get into my PJ’s, getting ready, and in the next hour it takes effect. My eyes get small, and I start smiling. Whatever and whenever Steve says something, all I can think to say is, “What?”

   But it’s the greatest thing. I can finally relax.

   Chapter 67

   My stepdad called me early in the morning. Thank God I was up! My mom had fallen down. Jesse watched the dogs while I rushed over there. When I got there, she was still on the floor. I couldn’t lift her by the shoulders, since it looked like she had hurt her arm, so I had to grab her by the waist. I gave her a good wedgie, but at least I got her off the floor and into a chair.

   “She was getting up, she was going to get her shoes, and she just fell,” said Pete.

   “What do you want to do?” I asked.

   “What do you think is best?”

   “If we take her to a hospital, drop her off at the door, with this virus, that will be it.”

   We called Orthopedic Associates in Westlake. I was not happy with the doctor. I don’t think he was happy to see a patient, at all. I was hoping it was just a dislocation, but after he x-rayed her, he said it was broken. I had to keep propping her up because her arm swelled up so fast and so big it was unbalancing her.

   “She really needs surgery,” the doctor said.

   “Is there anything else?” I asked

   “We can put her in a sling.”

   “OK.”

   He sent a girl in from his staff. She put a sling on and told me I would have to tighten it when we got her home.

   “No, I don’t know how tight it’s supposed to be. You do it.”

   “I can’t, it’s too swollen.”

   When we finally got her home, the next thing I know, mom collapses. Fortunately, she fell on top of me.

   “Pete, her legs aren’t working. There’s something more wrong.”

   “She very dramatic,” Pete said.

   My dad used to always say that. “She used to be dramatic,” I said.

   We got her into a recliner, put ice on her arm. I was trying to tighten the fucking sling, but her arm had gotten so big and heavy, and her fingers were like giant sausages. It was bad. We gave her pain medicine and more ice and as the day went on, she started becoming OK.

   I decided I was going to move in and sleep next to her on their little love seat couch. That way, if she needed something, I could grab it. Steve came every morning, helped me get her to the potty, I would change her diaper and pad, put her back in the chair, and make breakfast. He came back every dinnertime and we did the same thing all over again. It was a lot of work, but after a month I could tell something was going wrong.

   “We’re losing her,” I told Pete. “She’s going to die on the ship. I honestly think she needs to go to a hospital.”

   “Well, I don’t know,” said Pete.

   “She’s hardly breathing. It’s either that, or she dies in this chair.”

   “Yes, call the ambulance,” he said.

   “Thank you.”

   When they show up, my brother is part of the squad. He’s on the department in North Ridgeville. I’m a mess, but he walks right past me, like I don’t exist.

   “Piece of shit,” I said to myself.

   They took her away on a stretcher. My brother told my stepdad she was near death. None of us knew why. I called Orthopedic Associates and left messages for two days, but nobody called me back. Finally, I reached the doctor on the third day. I told him she was going down.

   “I’ve had it,” I said. “You’ve ignored our calls and we don’t know what is going on. Nobody dies from a broken arm. If she does. I’m coming for you.”

   They took her to the Cleveland Clinic on Lear Road in Avon. There, it turns out, for some stupid reason, one of the doctors put her on a potassium supplement. My mom loves bananas. She eats 50,000 of them a day. She eats them with her bacon and toast first thing in the morning. She doesn’t need any more of it. Her potassium levels were sky high, her afib was out of rhythm, and her kidneys were shutting down. It was a very dangerous thing. She was in the Intensive Care Unit.

   When they did blood work on her the hospital doctor said it was killing her. The reason she was having kidney failure was also because she had been an addict most of her life. She was a nurse and loved her codeine.

   Thank God her kidney specialist was on call at the hospital that day. He told us he was going to try something.

   “If this horrible thing I’m going to do doesn’t bring back her kidneys,” he asked, “what do you guys want to do?

   “If she needs dialysis, put her in a coma and let her faze out,” I said.

   We were all on board with that. He gave her a shot through her IV and BOOM! Her kidneys kicked right back in.

   “Now they can address her arm,” the doctor said.

   Because I threatened his staff, mom’s doctor at Orthopedic Associates refused to do the surgery. There was another doctor at the Clinic, also from Orthopedic Associates, who took a look at her arm.

   “I’ll do the surgery, no problem,” he said.

   He did a great job. When she was well enough, they took her to the Lutheran House in Westlake for recovery.

   “She’s going to need a cane, I told Pete. “She won’t be able to get around on her RollAtor.”

   “I think you’re right,” he said.

   I told him I was thinking of taking care of her all of the time, but I was bothered by how I almost killed her, waiting so long, torturing her.

   “Well, we didn’t know what was happening.” He said he might be good with it.

   “Are you sure you want me to?” he asked.

   I was sure I wanted to.

   Chapter 68

   When my mom had surgery on her arm after her fall, they had to bring the arm up three inches to reattach it to the bone. They put a rod in her little bone to connect it. One more rod in her little body.

   We asked the surgeon to give her twilight instead of anesthetic during the surgery. Older people, when they go under, they will come out of it with some dementia. Mom is at the beginnings of stage three of Alzheimer’s Disease. She knows who I am, and she knows who my stepdad is. Those are great things. There are lots of things she doesn’t know anymore. We don’t want her forgetting us.

   She’s had two broken hands and a broken neck. She’s got a rod in her back. Now she’s got a rod in her arm. The next time something happens, we are going to have to take her out, because I don’t think I could survive it. I don’t want to see her live like this.

   Honest to God. It’s killing me. It’s not living.

   When she got up on her feet at the Lutheran Home, she was able to take about fifty steps That’s great! We can get her to the potty. After a while we’ll be able to get her back from the potty. What kind of a life is that? It’s not a kind of life, at all. Once she got out of recovery from the Lutheran Home she was going home. Once she was home, she would need caring even more than the caring she had been getting. Once again, I would be taking grief from my brother and sisters.

   “Have you talked to Brad or Sarah or Betsy?” I asked Pete.

   “Why should I talk to them,” he said. “They don’t take care of her, we do.”

   That’s the sentence in a nutshell that got me kicked out of my family. I never said it, other people say it, but they all believe I said it. There’s no telling them they are wrong. I’ve been taking care of my mom for almost five years. I don’t care what they say anymore.

   Many Alzheimer’s Disease patients have ten years from the time they come down with it. My mom could have five more years. I started thinking, once she was up and about, back home, it might be best if I devoted myself to taking care of her. I wasn’t sure how to tell Pete, because every time I had ever brought it up, he said, “No, no, no, you need to keep your job, keep working.”

   But work was killing me. I have had many ailments over the years from the job, tendinitis, bursitis, on my feet all day, my bad back. The salon was closed for ten weeks because of the virus. After my first day back, I was so sore. I had never hurt so bad. It was awful.

   You can’t die from it, although I thought I was going to die from the soreness. I stayed stoned from the second I got home until the second I went back through the salon door. I called Pete the next day, after I thought about what I should do.

   “This is what we are going to do,” I said.

   “What is that?” he asked.

   “There’s no way you can do it all alone, take care of her and everything else. I am going to devote myself to it. Steve and I are willing to scrimp and save while we have to, to get it done.”

   I hadn’t talked to Steve about it, yet.

   “I will help take care of you that way,” he said, which brought tears to my eyes.

   I had some huge God things happen to me the past few months. Pete saying what he said was one of them. I talked to Jody at the hair salon. She said she completely understood and that if I decided to retire, I was welcome back anytime. That brought tears to my eyes, too.

   Taking care of my mom can be rough. She gets Sundown Syndrome all the time. When the sun goes down, she often goes mad as a hornet, throwing shit, yelling. My grandfather had it. I would go see him at night, after work, and he complained the nurses were poisoning him. I would take a bite of his food to show him they weren’t trying to kill him.

   “Look, it’s OK, there’s no poison.”

   He would take a bite and spit it right out on the floor.

   “Poison!”

   It was bad. One time my grandmother went to see him, and the minute she stepped in the door, he shouted, “Helen, there’s a huge black hair hanging out of your nose!”

   There wasn’t but no matter what we said, it didn’t matter what we said. The next day he remembered and was so embarrassed.

   Pete calls, says, your mom is going crazy. When I get there, I feed her some THC. It’s not going to kill her, but buzz her up a bit, and she gets a good night’s sleep. She won’t take anything from Fred, but she will usually take what she needs to take from me.

   I start by playing with her hair, twirling it a little, and once I do that, her body will start to relax. “Down the hatch,” I say, and it’s down the hatch. It’s been a Godsend.

   When my mom got home, still recovering from her broken arm, I continued thinking, she is going to need a lot of help, and my stepdad is going to need some help, too. I had been taking care of her for almost five years. My sister and brother didn’t do anything. I decided to talk to Steve.

   “I think it’s time for me to retire from the hair salon,” I said. “Can we do this?”

   “The two times I was out of work, God took care of us,” he said. “You were tired, working, you made the money. Now it’s my turn. I’ll take care of it.”

   “I’m nervous. I’ve never not worked since I was fourteen.”

   “We can do it together,” he said.

   “OK, we’ll do it together,” I said, and that’s what we did.