Chapter 14

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Catching Up With Sebastian

“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.”  Orhan Pamuk

We used to have two cats, Stones and Sebastian, but we lost Sebastian, who was our big fat orange cat.

We were out with friends on a Friday night and when we came home the first thing that sruck me was that the whole house smelled like pee. It looked like a massacre had happened downstairs in the den.

We let the dogs out and Stones, our smaller cat, was at the baby gate frantically trying to get out, too.

“What the hell went on?” I asked Brian.

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

“Oh, my God, oh, my God,” I said. “Gretel’s hurt, Gretel’s hurt.”

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

We went back in, down to the den, and Brian found Sebastian.

“Julie, call the hospital,” he said.

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

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

“He always wheezes,” I said.

“He’s a little heavy, too.”

“That’s why we call him Fatbastian.”

He was our cat because former friends of ours had one day asked us to watch him for a few weeks. They were moving to Chicago.

“Sure,” I said, like a stupid, gullible idiot.

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

“No, the cat is ours.”

What we didn’t know, while we were talking in the waiting room of the Animal Hospital, was that the vet had taken blood from our cat and was having it analyzed. When we were ready to leave, thinking Sebastian 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, I 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 we 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.

Our personal vet, who does house calls, never told us Sebastian had diabetes. She just said he was fat and we should put him on canned food. But, when we did he refused to eat it. He ate all the dried dog food instead, because it’s more fatty.

Gretel had once attacked another dog we had rescued, too, 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, 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 Sebastian, we don’t eat other cats and dogs. I’ve made that plain to Gretel.

When my sister Patty lived in West Park the lady next door was always afraid of Wellington, Patty’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, forcefully backed her up against the side of the garage, and pinned her there.

“What beast is trying to hurt you? I’ll protect you!” That’s what Wellington was trying to say.

Patty heard the noise and rushed next door.

“Your dog is attacking me!”

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

Patty patted 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 I ever rescued once I was grown up and living in an efficiency apartment on Lake Road was a Rottweiler who was running around Patty’s West Park house. It was winter and snowing and cold. My dad and I rescued it. It took calmness and patience and luring to get the dog to come over to me.

I lay on the ground in the snow until the dog finally came to me. I petted him and he followed us back to Patty’s house. We called a shelter and later took him there.

I always loved dogs, always wanted them, and always thought I was going to have twenty-three of them.

Then I met Brian and his brother Freddie the Deviler. They rescued dogs and after Brian and I got married, and after we left Freddie behind in Little Italy, we did that, too.

We’ve rescued so many dogs that people now ask us to find them dogs.

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 my head, and it’s in my heart, too. I cannot to this day turn away.

Someone posted a picture on Facebook of a dog chained up and all alone in Atlanta. I asked Brian, are you ready to take a ride to Georgia? I was ready to go down south. Chaining a dog up all by himself, all alone at the end of a chain, is the worst punishment you can give 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 I have to send my dogs downstairs for a timeout they will slowly creep back up the basement stairs and sit at the top of them. I try to ignore them. They look like the worst thing in the world has just happened. They would probably howl if they didn’t know full well they’re not allowed to.

It can be heartbreaking.

If you enjoyed this chapter of Dogs Never Bite Me, please consider your support of the writing by clicking here to donate.

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Chapter 13

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Whoa, Dude, Slow Down

“Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate.” Sigmund Freud

I met Brian, my husband-to-be, after he got out of jail and came home for his father’s funeral, and I got thrown out of our house, again, after my dad died and I threatened to kill my sister.

We met at Mad Anthony’s, and then he followed me to the Tick Tock Tavern, on a night when I was out with my friends.

Patty 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.

”I know how to break your nose and shove it up into your brain,” I yelled when I got her off of me.

“I will do that if you try choking me one more time. I will lay you out flat.”

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

Brian had been a bartender at the Tick Tock Tavern on the edge of Lakewood. He worked there forever, although since it opened in 1939 maybe it hadn’t been forever, exactly. Whenever anyone told Brian anybody’s name at the Tick Tock he always said, “Oh, I know him.”

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

After the fight with Betty I went to my 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 had always gone to Bay Presbyterian, took my family there, and I still go there.

I had been going to counseling for years, but still not accepted the fact that we had been abused as kids. I was freaking out that my dad had died and I was upset, too, about my ex-boyfriend-to-be, Craig, who was the mayor of Lorain.

We had been seeing each other for seventeen years.

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

“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.”

We started praying for the kind of guy I wanted to meet, from eye color to personality. What I didn’t know was Brian was praying to meet me at the same time.

After Brian had gotten out of jail for DUI, and shortly after his dad died, Freddie, his brother, begged him to stay with him in Little Italy, so he did. But, Brian was a full-blown addict by then. When I 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 kind 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. One day while he was walking the dogs – dogs Freddie and he rescued – he started praying, which was something he had never really 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 my friends and I were out for a birthday party at Mad Anthony’s. A guy walked in and as he went by he locked eyes with me. After he was past I was talking to my friends when I got that creepy feeling that someone was staring at me. After another drink I kept feeling that steep stare. I went over to where Brian was sitting.

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

“Yeah, Bright, Bay High,” he said.

Then he asked me out on six dates.

“Really, dude, six dates?”

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

“Alright, alright,” I said, finally. “We’ll see what happens.”

I gave him my phone number.

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

“It was nice meeting you,” I said to Brian. “Call me.”

He followed us out. By the time we got to the Tick Tock he was a different person than the man I had been talking to at Mad Anthony’s, obnoxious and loud: too much Yukon.

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

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

“Whoa, dude, you’re a jackass.”

“Jenny, Jenny, why you going?”

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

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

The next morning he called me.

“What do you want?” I asked, ready to hang up.

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

“I can’t do it,” I 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, no, no, I’m good,” he said.

We talked some more. When Brian wasn’t drunk he was charming, so charming. He charmed me into a date and then another one, and another one. We always went out with a group because I wouldn’t go out with him by myself. I was leery.

Every time I went out with him I left him at a bar at the end of the night.

“You’re an idiot,” and I would leave. He usually walked the railroad tracks home.

But, he started to get better, slowly, and as he did, we got better, too.

If you enjoyed this chapter of Dogs Never Bite Me, please consider your support of the writing by clicking here to donate.

25% contributed to the Cleveland Animal Protective League. (Specify APL in notes.)

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Chapter 12

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Freddie’s Dog & Car Lot

“Hounds follow those who feed them.” Otto von Bismarck

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

He would lean up on his haunches and sniff for the smoke.

The look Stony almost always gave me, whenever I caught them together, was the WTF look. He thought he was the hepcat of cats.

Afterwards, after Brian gave up drugs, we changed his name back from Stony to Stones and he went back to using catnip. He was a black and white cat, in more ways than one.

Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about catnip being an introducing drug?

We used to call Sebastian, our older cat, Big Orange. He had a different take on life. He always ran out into the backyard 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 we started calling him Fatbastian.

Brian’s uncles and dad weren’t gangsters, but his dad’s friends and 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. His house in Little Italy was a ‘gift’ from Danny Greene and the Celtic Club.

His family always had tons of money when he was growing up. Whenever Brian smashed up a car his dad would have a new one for him the next day.

Brian was using at eleven and selling at thirteen. His uncles were addicts and used to run and hide their stashes from the police in his room. When Brian was older he ran errands for his dad.

Once, when his dad was on the verge of going to jail, because he wouldn’t give something up, or because of a client, he told Brian 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.”

Brian hauled down to Columbus, delivered the papers, and proceeded to get trashed. I mean, 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 mess in, making a mess of.

They totally hauled him out and arrested him. He called his dad.

“I’m in jail,” he said.

“I have one question for you.”

“What?”

“Did you deliver the papers?”

“Yeah.”

“OK, you’ll be out in ten minutes.”

He was out in ten minutes.

Brian’s brother, Freddie, 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 Fred, Freddie, and Brian 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 Brian worked with Freddie at the car lot they would find dogs, pick them up, and bring them back to the lot. Once Freddie and he were picking up a used car and saw a mistreated dog tied to a tree. He was in bad shape.

“What’s with the dog?” asked Brian.

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

Brian 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 prosecute you for abusing animals.” They untied the dog and took it with them.

There was a pack of wild dogs living in a wooded city block behind the car lot. Freddie and Brian used to put bowls of food out on the edge of the woods for the dogs. One day Brian heard screaming and howling, so like an idiot he went into the woods. He found a blind dog whose litter of puppies had been mostly eaten by other dogs.

Dogs will eat other dogs if they’re that hungry. They will.

He grabbed the puppies that were still left and ran. The blind dog howled for three days in the woods.

Brian’s dad died the same year my dad died. Afterwards, Brian was living with Freddie when we met. After we got married we shared the house with Freddie for almost a year, until I 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.

Freddie and Brian have the same eyes, although Freddie is a little shorter than Brian, has curlier hair, and is a deviler. I have OCD and everyone knows you don’t fuck with someone who has OCD. You just don’t do that! Except for Freddie, who thought it was funny to mess with me, even though I always got really mad.

There was no good place to do my make-up in the Little Italy house. It was weirdly cut and sectioned and there wasn’t any good lighting, so I had to do it downstairs. I kept my make-up bag there. Freddie 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?”

He would just laugh. He thought he was funny, but he wasn’t.

But, I do not cry. It took everything I had to not punch him in the face. My dad was someone who always said, “Someone’s pissed you off? Go beat the shit out of them.”

“You think you want to hit me?” Freddie would say. “Go ahead.”

I used to get so upset that my fists balled up. More than anything else in the world I 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.”

Freddie wasn’t, though, all bad.

In the morning he’d say to me, “Pack some extra lunch meat in case I find a dog on the streets today.” I would pack both their lunches and Freddie and Brian 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 would have cold cuts handy for it.

If you enjoyed this chapter of Dogs Never Bite Me, please consider your support of the writing by clicking here to donate.

25% contributed to the Cleveland Animal Protective League. (Specify APL in notes.)

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Chapter 11

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Margin King

“I have to go out every night. If I stay home one night I start spreading rumors to my dogs.” Andy Warhol

My dad was a stockbroker, an investment advisor, and a vice president at Prudential Bache. But, he never let it go to his head. He wasn’t always prudent, though.

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

“The gambling stops now, “ she said.

So, he became a stockbroker. That way he could still gamble, except now it would be with other people’s money. He made tons and tons and tons of money.

He didn’t just make a boatload of money. He told jokes. He was a jokester.

He was a prankster and a jokester. He used to appear on the Hoolihan and Big Chuck TV show all the time, doing skits with them.

Hoolihan was really Bob Wells, but he was Hoolihan the Weatherman on the air. 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 low-grade science fiction and horror movies late at night on weekends and did comedy skits in between the commercials.

That’s where my dad came in.

The shows always started with the Ray Charles song ‘Here We Go Again’ and ended with the Peggy Lee song ‘Is That All There Is’.

Big Stash and Lil John were on the show, too, more than my dad was , but they were all friends. My parents used to go to Hoolihan and Big Chuck’s house parties and we used to have Lil John over for spaghetti dinners. Lil John was actually a 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 my dad was most famous for was the ‘When You’re Hot You’re Hot’ skit, which was from the 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.

“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.

“When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not you’re not, 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 would roll the dice. My father was the sheriff. They would be shooting craps on the street and my dad 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 hits my dad, who is the sheriff, in the arm by mistake.

“That hurt!” he always said.

My mom 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.

My dad did a lot of skits wearing a gorilla suit. But, not all of them were on the Hoolihan and Big Chuck Show.

He would get into his gorilla suit and he and Big Chuck would drive around the west side of Cleveland and Lakewood looking for hitchhikers. Big Chuck drove while my dad hid in the back seat. They would pick someone up and after a few minutes my dad would suddenly pop up out of the back seat in his gorilla suit.

They would scare the hell out of the hitchhiker. That’s what they did for fun.

I remember being a little girl and listening to their stories and thinking you guys are really weird.

Sometimes they would go out and roof jump. The houses in Lakewood are close together and they would run across the roofs, jumping from one to the other.

When they got older Big Chuck, Hoolihan, and my dad got a little more sophisticated. They had mystery parties, which were parties on a big bus on which you’d have dinner and drinks, not knowing where you were going, and at the end of the night you’d have to guess where you were.

It was the 60s at that point in time.

My dad was a prankster even where we lived, which was quiet conservative Bay Village. He played jokes on the neighbors on our street all the time. One time he hired the Bay Village High School Marching Band to wake up one of our neighbors at five in the morning. They did it by marching up and down their backyard and playing a fight song.

Another of our neighbors had dogs and I used to watch them when they were out for dinner or a show.

“Julie, can you watch our dogs?” Mrs. Butler would ask me.

One day my dad took advantage of me having their 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 goldfish everywhere in their house.

Another time he and his friends got into their garage, picked up their car, and turned it sideways. They left it sideways so tight in the garage you had to squeeze around it. Mr. Butler couldn’t get to work the next day. There wasn’t anything he could do.

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

It didn’t matter to him. Whatever he thought of doing he did. He was constantly, constantly, constantly pranking the poor Butlers.

My sisters and Brad and I weren’t out of his prank zone, either. He would crawl underneath our beds at night and wait quietly until we dozed off and then reach around and grab us. 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 great dad, but he was a prankster, that’s for sure.

If you enjoyed this chapter of Dogs Never Bite Me, please consider your support of the writing by clicking here to donate.

25% contributedto the Cleveland Animal Protective League. (Specify APL in notes.)

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Chapter 10

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Thank God for Privacy Fences

“What’s better? Dogs or brooms? I mean, will the world ever really know?” Larry Bird

“We’re going to have to get out of here or I’m going to kill him,” I said.

Brian my newly wed husband didn’t say anything. What could he say? Freddie was his older brother and we were living in Freddie’s house in Little Italy.

But, Freddie wasn’t just our landlord. He was an annoying older brother. He stuck his empty, dirty, disgusting food wrappers into my make-up bag when I wasn’t looking because he thought it would be funny when I found them.

It wasn’t funny. I told Brian there was going to be trouble. We started looking for a house of our own.

Brian and I prayed together about the kind of house we wanted. We wanted central air, three bedrooms, and a fenced-in backyard.

We searched for a long time and finally our prayers were answered when we found a two-story house in West Park. We were one of the first people to see it, we put a bid on it, and we got it.

We got everything we wanted, basically. The basement was waterproofed and the back porch covered, although the backyard wasn’t dog friendly the way we wanted it, not in the least, not at all.

For the first four years of living in that house we had a backyard of mud. It was because we had up to 13 dogs at any one time, some ours, some rescues. When they came into the house a lot of mud would track in with them. Since I’m a clean freak it freaked me out.

“It’s a shame we can’t cement in the whole backyard,” I said to Brian.

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

Brian’s got a guy for everything.

Brian’s guy laid down stone stamps in the patio and we put in river rocks, large 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. We hose down the patio, hose down the river rock bed in the back, and Brian picks up every day. He puts it all in a garbage bag and we throw it in the garbage cans.

What else are you going to do with it?

Even though we liked our new home right away, which made our realtor totally happy, it was awful. It was decorated like an old person’s house. The outside of it was painted yellow and brown. Inside the woodwork and walls were painted white. I’m not a white person.

We painted everything, the outside of the house, and all the inside, too. I had a lot of design ideas and a lot of ideas about new colors. We ripped out the carpets right away. Then we re-did the hardwood floors. I swore to myself I would never have the house carpeted again.

Except after the last two winters in Cleveland happened. Like Erie froze over.

It was winter for a long time so twice for two straight years. Getting up every morning, touching the cold hardwood floors, one morning I just said, we’re not doing this anymore.

“We’re getting carpeting for the upstairs bedrooms,” I said.

Brian was very much against putting in new carpeting. He’s usually against everything, but he never says no.

“Do what you want, do what you want,” he said.

So, I did what I wanted.

Of course, now he loves the carpet. He drags his big, bare, gross feet through it.

“Stop rubbing your gross feet in my new carpet.” I tell him.

I never thought I would love carpeting over hardwood floors, but in the bedrooms I love it.

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

No dogs upstairs – no Grayson.

Every once in a while we let them into the living room. That’s why there are always blankets on our sectional. We let the dogs jump on it so they can sit and snuggle with us.

Only Nookie, our Husky, is not a snuggler. He’ll cuddle for ten minutes and then he’s done with you.

There’s 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, too. Baby always sleeps on his dog bed, but the others lay out on the couch.

The couch is completely chewed up, completely. They paw it and dig in it when they are settling in. I don’t know what the digging thing is 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.

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

Even though I’ve decided they aren’t getting any more sectionals, no more couches, or anything in the basement, Christmas is ridiculous at our house.

Brian and I buy the dogs tons of gifts. I start buying presents for them for the next year right after Christmas when everything’s discounted. Around the end of August I start buying dog treats whenever I see them on sale. It’s not good if I buy them any earlier than August. Brian finds them and gives them to the dogs. So, I always start that later in the year.

The dogs get stockings full of toys on Christmas Day. Then the mess starts.

The toys are in stockings stuffed with stuffing, just like pillow stuffing. The dogs take their stockings outside and tear them apart to get at the squeakers inside them. By the end of Christmas week I’ve got a backyard full of puffs of white stuffing stuck in the ice.

It looks like a hillbilly backyard until I can finally get out there when winter is changing to spring and chip it out of the melting ice. I don’t like that it looks so hillbillyish all winter long, but what can you do?

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

If you enjoyed this chapter of Dogs Never Bite Me, please consider your support of the writing by clicking here to donate.

25% contributed to the Cleveland Animal Protective League. (Specify APL in notes.)

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

Chapter 9

 

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Tennis Shoe Roller Skating

“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” Robert Heinlein

The good times we had when I was a kid were always the day after our family fights, which were usually on the days before a holiday. Christmas Day was always fun because it was after the big Christmas Eve scrape.

The fights always happened before or on the holiday, not afterwards. On Easter, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving we always had a knockdown. My mom, or my dad, or both of them, would start the fight. Then the family pulled it together for the holiday, to look good for the big day. We had to look better for the neighbors and in-laws and our pets.

One Christmas all my cousins from Pennsylvania, my mom and dad’s sisters and all their kids, were at our house. Our house was warm and cozy and there weren’t any fights.

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 us. We barfed and barfed for days.

My mom was pissed. She was beside herself. She wanted to go to a hotel. She would have jumped ship if she could have, but dad made her stay.

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

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

My mom wore a t-shirt that said JOE BALLS on the front and FROM NEWTON FALLS on the back. It was a family joke. We had an uncle named Harold who lived in Newton Falls, but we called him Joe Balls.

One summer a waterspout tornado from off the lake touched down in Bay Village during our street party. We were out in the street playing. All of our parents were trashed. When I ran into the house to tell my mother she said, “Go back out there and play.” But, we ended up having the rest of the party in our garage.

When my mom 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 I was in 5th grade. She had all of us and then decided she wanted a career. My grandparents put her through nursing school, paying for it all. She studied at Tri-C and later worked at Lakewood Hospital.

It was when I was in 5th grade, at Normandy Elementary School, during the Miracle of Richfield, that I got a pair of tennis shoe roller skates and lived in them for years.

We had a teacher named Mr. Barton and he loved to hoe down dance and dribble basketballs at the same time. He taught us to do it and we got so good at it that we 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. We 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, I’ll buy you whatever you want,” my dad said. I told him I wanted tennis shoe roller skates.

“Whatever you want,” he said.

We were great that night doing our hoe down dribble dance at halftime at the Richfield Coliseum, which isn’t there anymore. It’s just a big empty field now that it’s been torn down. We danced to the song Saturday Night by the Bay City Rollers.

S_A_T_U_R_D_A_Y!

I lived in my skates. I put them on first thing in the morning and skated all over the house. I did axles in the streets and figure skated every day in my tennis shoe roller skates But, I wasn’t allowed to wear them to school. Even so, I wore them all the time until I got my 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.

My mom got me 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 the foot. You 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,“ my mom told me. “You will never get out of them.”

She made me 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.”

I got to the point where I could run in them fast. I could chase dogs. I’m still fast, not as much as I was then, but still fast if I have to be.

I don’t know who invented high heels, but we owe 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.

My favorite things are dogs and shoes. I still love dogs the most, but shoes are a close second.

If you enjoyed this chapter of Dogs Never Bite Me, please consider your support of the writing by clicking here to donate.

25% contributed to the Cleveland Animal Protective League. (Specify APL in notes.)

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

Chapter 8

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Our Cutie Patootie

“It’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” Nora Ephrom

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

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

They both died this year. Brian fixed up a security light in their living room and he mows their lawn. We park our 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 us. Chuck has been in his frame house the whole time we’ve been in ours. He’s a super nice guy. Dawn moved in sometime later, after Chuck was our neighbor. She’s not so nice.

She’s from New York City. She started in on us right at the beginning. 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 talk. The things she says to him about us I don’t even want to imagine.

She would call the dog warden on me every other week. It was always about our dogs barking, even though they’re not big barkers. What she didn’t know was our dogs are 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.”

Our 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,” she 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.

Then, when I started doing her hair, knowing that I don’t have kids myself, it was the kids with her. “Do you think you could come over and watch them for a few minutes?”

“No,” I said. That’s why I don’t have kids of my own, I thought. “I don’t want to sit your kids,” I said.

I might have done it to be a good neighbor, but she would have started taking advantage of me, so I put an end to it.

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

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

We would hear them from our patio. “Can we go see Julie and Brian’s dogs?”

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

Brian used to walk the dogs every day. He always stopped and talked to our neighbors. They asked him about the dogs, so a lot of them found out we rescue them.

“That is so cool,” some of them said.

That’s how we came to be called the dog people. That’s what we’re known as. Once 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 me.

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

Sometimes neighbors donate dog food to us. We find it left on our front porch. It’s nice to have a little community support.

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

It’s so embarrassing. Brian stopped walking them.

But, Nookie hates the dog park, too. He doesn’t like other people or other dogs coming up to him, or even up to us.

One day we thought we would hide from him so he would learn to leave our side and run around with the other dogs. We hid behind a tree. But, it was really sad. He just ran around looking for us.

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

When we came out from hiding and he saw us he ran over to us right away. “He’s back to guarding us again,” I told Brian.

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

She did everything she could to get us to sell Grayson to her.

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

“But, I love him,” she said.

“We love him, too,” I said.

One morning we 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, we did Doggies on the Patio, another fundraiser. It was a long day. Afterwards we took the dogs out for gelato.

They loved it, the whole day, and the gelato, too, especially our cutie patootie.

If you enjoyed this chapter of Dogs Never Bite Me, please consider your support of the writing by clicking here to donate.

25% contributed to the Cleveland Animal Protective League. (Specify APL in notes.)

28870741_173777473244459_4492555201049541965_n.jpg

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