Tag Archives: Ed Staskus

Chapter 11

   Before Brian stopped blazing, he turned the younger of our two cats, whose name was Stones, into a deadhead. We started calling Stones the 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 always gave me, whenever I caught them together, was the WTF look. He thought he was the hepcatest of cats.

Afterwards, after Brian gave up drugs, we changed his name back from Stony to Stones and he went back to using catnip. Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about catnip being an introducing drug? He was a black and white boy, in more ways than one.

We used to call Sebastian, our older cat, Big Orange. He had a different take on life. He always 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, we started calling him Fatbastian. He didn’t seem to mind. He kept eating.

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. Speeding tickets got taken care of.

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 man mess in, making a mess of it.

They totally 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, 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 on the street, 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, keeping his eyes on the man.

“Oh, he’s 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 say anything about you abusing animals.” 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. Freddie and Brian used to put bowls of food out on the edge of the tree line 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 mauled and 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.

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 mad. He didn’t seem to care.

There was no good place to do my make-up in the Little Italy house. The rooms were 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 somebody 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 always had cold cuts handy for it.

Chapter 12

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

We met at Mad Anthony’s, and later he followed me to the Tick Tock Tavern on Clifton Boulevard, on a night when I was out with my friends. I needed to get loose that night.

Patty and I had gotten 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 pushed 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 again 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 border of Lakewood and Cleveland. He worked there forever, although since it opened in 1939 maybe it hadn’t been forever, exactly. Whenever anyone mentioned anybody’s name to Brian 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 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 have 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. There was no reelection on the horizon.

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

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. He wasn’t being as specific as me, though.

After Brian got 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. 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. Brian 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, Bay High,” he said.

Then he asked me out on a date and five more.

“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,” my friends said.

“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. By then it was too much Yukon on the brain.

“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 are 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 and willing 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 drinking like a nut, he was 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 east west railroad tracks home.

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

Chapter 13

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 struck 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 can 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 fattier.

Gretel had once attacked another dog we 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, 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 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, 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. 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 rescued on my own, 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. It took calmness and patience and stealth 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 me back to Patty’s house. I called a shelter and later took him there.

I always loved dogs, always wanted them, and always thought I was going to have twenty 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 them 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 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 I have to send my dogs downstairs for a time out, 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, 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. I know I’m a piece of shit, but I know someone paid my debt for me. 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 we met, Brian began praying that we would meet some more. He got a 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. I think he looks like the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

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

All my friends came over and everyone stayed the night because we were all drinking. They all left in the morning, except Brian. He didn’t leave, but I left after breakfast. I had an appointment at Bay Presbyterian with my minister that same morning.

I told my minister about who I had met and what was happening.

“I’m fucked,” I thought.

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

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

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

“He’s mostly on the bad side of the list,” I pointed out.

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

“Of course, I do,” I said.

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

“Good question.“

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

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

Brian and I were both molested when we were young. He went to drugs and alcohol. I went to the Lord. When I got back home to Craig’s house, I told Brian what my minister had said.

“He didn’t tell you I was a piece of crap and you should leave me?” he asked. Brian was brought up a Catholic.

“No,” I 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,” said Brian.

“Get out of my house, and get out, too!” I exploded.

He just looked at me.

“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 and looked at me.

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

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

He called me 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,” I said.

We got married on St. Patrick’s Day. Brian has been sober for fourteen years and we’ve 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.

Brian found Christ, but the one thing he did not do was he didn’t stop smoking weed. I was OK with it, except it bothered me when he was getting high in the car while we were on our way to church.

“I don’t care what the fuck you do,” I 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.”

I swear like a truck driver. Brian is OK with it. I grew up with the word ‘fuck’ at the dinner table every night. I think my mother invented the word. At least she made it her own. 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 I drew the line with Brian, 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 I 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,” I 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.

I had a dream 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 I was sad. 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 one beer. Whenever he bought a six-pack, he drank a six-pack. He used to make me so mad. 

“I’m going to punch you in the fucking throat!” I would yell when I 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. We still go to bars, but he just watches me drink. It only takes a couple and I’m loose.

We don’t have to not go to bars because of Brian or leave five minutes after we’ve gotten there, either. He can go to a bar and not drink. He’s made that happen. He started getting it that it was about the people he was with, especially since he was with me.

Chapter 15

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

“Something’s wrong with mom,” I told my brother Brad.

“What do you mean?” 

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

Brian and I had gone to Florida with mom and Pete, our stepdad, to their house there. She had 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. We got her out of the hospital in Florida. We had to detox her and fly her back home.

“Mom, you have to go back to the hospital,” I told her getting off the plane in Cleveland. 

“I’m not going back to the hospital, Jay,” she said.

“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, I’m not. I’m healthy.”

She was mad as a hornet and called me everything but a white woman. “If you think this is fun for me, you are seriously mistaken,” I 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, we got her there. Afterwards things got better, even though she wasn’t sleeping well 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,” I said to my 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 the surgery she seemed better, but she was high all the time. She would take an OxyContin and then a couple of Percosets and be high as a kite. My mom was 78 and she was tripping. She took drugs most of her life. It started when she became a nurse. It was about going to the doctor, getting drugs, then seeing more doctors, and getting more drugs.

I started noticing after she started getting better that she wasn’t being herself. At first, we thought she had a urinary tract infection, like it was being one thing after another. That’s why we thought she was looking, sounding, and acting crazy. But the doctor ruled out a urinary tract infection.

“I just have a flu,” said my mom.

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

“Why isn’t she taking her drugs?” I 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,” I said.

“You’re not a nurse,” she 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 me.

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

We took her back to the doctor’s office. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He said she might have had some mini-strokes, too, which he was going to have to test for. When we got her to take her medicine, she would only take them from me. I had to put them in applesauce and feed it to her like that. She wouldn’t take any from Pete or my brother Brad. My brother is like my dad and that makes her mad. She never liked my dad.

“Do 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.” t’s hard to watch. It’s like seeing your mom revert back to childhood. I’ve 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 Patty, who hasn’t talked to me in more than seven years, 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.

I go to my mom’s house on Mondays and Fridays. I give her a bath every Monday. Fridays are 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 on Friday morning 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,” I 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. 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

I get ice cream for my dogs all the time.

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

We would all walk to the Dairy Queen on Riverside Drive. It’s a Cone Zone now, but back then it was a DQ. I used to do that every weekend without fail.

One Saturday, as we were walking past the Shell gas station on our way to the DQ, I spotted a pack of guys walking towards us. They were a gaggle of them, seven black guys, coming my way. I began to get a little nervous.

“Shit,” I thought.

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

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

“Thank God,” I thought. One of them yelled back, “That’s some well-guarded pussy.”

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

Dogs, they know, they know. 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.

We had a Wolf Black Lab who was my life. He was the sweetest thing ever and I just loved that dog. His name was Blue.

One night we ordered Chinese. The only time I ever saw Blue go after someone was when the deliveryman came to our front door. He 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 dog necks goes up.

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 my life when things have not been right. Every time I’ve had a dog with me for protection.

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

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

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

They 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. Brian called me 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,” I said.

In the end, my 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 we take dogs in ourselves, especially if we find them on the street. We found Gretel that way. Brian brought her in and when I saw her, I said, “That’s it, I love her, and she’s mine. She’s not going anywhere.” We kept Gretel, although that can be a problem.

One big problem at our house is dog hair, which is a problem because I’m a clean freak. Some dog lovers believe if you’re not covered in dog hair your life is empty, but I’m not one of them. In the years Brian and I have been married we have had six Dysons. The last one broke when I 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,” I thought, as it broke apart.

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

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

We bought a Miele. Some people think not wanting to scare the dog is the perfect excuse for not vacuuming. Not me. I love my Miele. It’s been a godsend, especially since I love to vacuum.

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

Whenever I come home from the grocery store, or the pet store, and am bringing in bags of food, they gang up on the glass. Sometimes I think they must think I am the best hunter in the world, judging by how much food I bring home. There are the two of us and usually five or six of them. That adds up to a whole lot of food, and a whole lot of Windex, too.

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

Chapter 17

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

“Get those out of your arm,” my mom kept telling me.

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

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

“Oh, no, don’t, I love you,” he said.

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

“I’m going to do it,” I told him.

I went to St. Vincent’s Hospital when I was forty-two years old.

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

“I’ll do whatever you recommend,” I said, although I 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, and…”

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

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

One day I went into my chiropractor for an adjustment. His jaw dropped.

“Where did the rest of you go?”

It was right after I lost all my weight, although it was more about me getting rid of it. I have no intention of finding it again.

“I know, I know, it’s great,” I said.

“There’s nothing left of you.”

I had always been a small person before my implant.

Most of the women in my Bible study group have 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 ‘s 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.

I want to have a hysterectomy because my ovaries are 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,” my doctor always says.

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

But my doctor said she wouldn’t do it. She gave me three options.

“You can go back on the pill.”

“I’m 49 years old,” I 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,” I told her. “I’m never doing that again, gain all that weight, so forget it.”

The diet I follow is the blood type diet. It’s the eat right for your type diet.

Anybody can get any disease, any ailment, and any affliction. But there are some blood types that get some more than others. More of the O’s, like me, 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.

My chiropractor told me about the blood type diet.

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

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

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

My husband is 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 completely splurges, and eats whatever he wants.

Ever since I started following it, I hardly ever get sinus infections anymore. I used to get them all the time. In the last seven years, since I’ve been on the blood type diet, I’ve had a sinus infection exactly seven times. There’s something to it, although my husband’s aunt, who is our doctor, doesn’t believe in it.

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

She just shrugged.

Brian 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!

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

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

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

Chapter 18

I was almost 22 years-old the morning I drove face first into a cement truck. I was driving a 1976 Monte Carlo that a girlfriend of mine at the Bay Deli, where we both worked, had sold me for one hundred dollars.

Thank God it was a big, big car.

I had gotten up late that morning and wolfed down a hot dog and Fudgsicle for breakfast.

“I better go,” I said to myself.

My roommate and I were sharing a small house on Schwartz Road behind St. John’s West Shore Hospital in Westlake and I was late for class at the Fairview Beauty Academy.

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

I never touched the brakes.

The truck was parked on my side of the street, the front end fronting me. That was a surprise. I knew I was on the right side of the street since I could see out my side window.

At first, I didn’t know what had happened. When I tried to get out of the car I couldn’t. I was wearing a skirt and when I looked down to see why I couldn’t move I saw the steering wheel between my legs. I was accordioned between the wheel and the seat.

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

I finally got out of the car by swinging one and then the other leg over the steering wheel. Standing next to my suddenly scrap-metal Monte Carlo, looking at the man in front of me, I realized why no one had come to help me. He was as white as a ghost.

The rest of the cement men behind him looked like they were seeing a ghost, too. They thought I 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,” I said. “Thanks for the heads up, but I didn’t see anything.”

The next thing I knew a woman walked up to me and shoved Kleenex up my nose.

“You better sit down,” she said.

“That’s OK,” I 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,” I said. “I just bumped my nose.”

She sat me down and when she did my skirt rode up and I saw my knees.

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

Then I lost my eyesight.

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

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

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

“Are they open?” I 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, I thought? Oh, my God, this guy is such a smart ass. Who sits in a dark closet except crazy people?

They laid me out in the ambulance and, suddenly, there’s my sight back!

“It was just the shock,” I told them.

“Quit self-diagnosing,” the medic said.

“I was a lifeguard. I know my stuff.”

St John’s Hospital must have thought I was younger than I was, underage, so they called my 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!”

I was mad. I hadn’t talked to either of my parents for almost a year.

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

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

I called my dad about getting my 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.

I don’t know if he really threw my clothes in the trash because I never called or went back, at least not for the clothes.

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

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

“Who let that woman in here?” I cried.

“Who’s the president, who’s the president?” my dad asked over and over on the phone until the line went dead.

The next thing I knew my whole family, my sisters, brother, my dad, were all in the room, and the adrenaline wore off fast, completely fast. I 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 my dad’s lap. I was left laid out on the table alone in pain and agony until they finally wheeled me away to surgery.

No one paid any attention to me.

In the end it wasn‘t too bad. I cracked my nose and seriously hurt one of my knees. It had to be operated on. They told me afterwards if I had hit the back of the cement truck instead of the front I would have been decapitated.

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

But I kept my head.

Chapter 19

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

After mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, she went downhill fast. On top of that she fell and had to have surgery. After she recovered from the surgery, we went back to see her Alzheimer’s 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 my mom. She makes her very, 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?” mom asked me.

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

At first, I visited my mom twice a week and bathed her on Mondays. Now I visit her four times a week and bathe her Mondays and Fridays. Izzy loves shower time. Her favorite part is when I lotion up my mom. That’s when Izzy licks the lotion off her legs.

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

I asked my vet if it was OK.

“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, although we don’t let her lick a lot,” I said.

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

When I was growing up my mom didn’t like kids or dogs. I grew up being raised by a mother who hated me. 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 almost 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.

I get a kick out of it. It absolutely cracks me up.

When you have a parent who has 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,” she 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.

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

A neighbor told me the best way to deal with Alzheimer’s was to not argue with it. She sees flying monkeys out 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. I don’t approach her from the side.

“It’s time to take a shower,” I’ll say

“I’ll take a shower, but I’m not going to get wet,” she 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,” I said

“Oh, yeah,” she said.

She sees me all the time. She sees my brother all the time. But she may have already forgotten who my sisters are. Patty lives in Maine and never comes home, and Betsy never comes over, although she came over for Christmas. We don’t know if mom’s going to be here mentally next year, so it was kind of maybe a final Christmas. It was horrible.

My stepfather Pete asked me to stay over one weekend after Christmas. He had to go to Florida. “Sure, can’t wait,” I said. What he forgot to tell me was the code for the ADT alarm system. Although she wasn’t in her right mind to set it, my mom somehow set the alarm. I sleep with her and at 4 o’clock in the morning it went off. My mom wasn’t in the bed. My heart went in my throat.

I found her standing in the hall by the back door. “Mom!” I screamed.

“Oh, my God, it’s loud, Jay.”

“What’s the code?”

“I don’t know.”

I 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,” she said.

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

She loves having slumber parties and having me sleep over. One day I 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 Brian, he’s a good guy.” She hides what she doesn’t remember.

We were playing cards and I asked her, “You know who would have loved Izzy?”

“Who?”

“Nana Buescher,” I said. Nana Buescher was my dad’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.”

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

One big problem we have with 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 just won’t get out of bed whenever they get here,” she said.

“Why are you such a little stink?” I 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 feeling.

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

Chapter 20

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

I always tell 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.

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

I like big animals. We are crazy, but Brian and I have hand-fed bears in the wild. The first time I saw a picture of a Leonberger I wanted one. I showed the picture to Brian.

“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.

We knew if we wanted to adopt a Leonberger they weren’t going to give us one. So, we decided we were going to pay for it, and get it as a puppy. We wanted the dog to be young because they don’t live long, anyway.

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

We got him from a breeder. It was hard because it’s something we don’t believe in. It went against everything Brian and I believe in, but we felt we had paid our dues rescuing the 600-or-so dogs we’ve rescued.

He cost us $2300.00.

I had him shipped in. Then, after he was delivered to Cleveland, I found out there was a place in Medina, only a half-hour away, which breeds Leonbergers. I was pissed.

He’s just a few months older than two years now, but when we got him he was less than a few months old, just older than about five weeks. They packed him up in a little crate that was put on a plane. We picked him up at the live-something at Cleveland Hopkins, although it was actually behind the airport, on the road towards the IX Center.

When we got there, I started getting nervous. I thought, “He’s just a baby, I wonder if the plane ride scared him?” Another lady was there 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,” I said to myself, my poor dog.” I opened the cage and he plopped out. He lay on the concrete floor, looking up at me, loopy.

I thought, “Right.”

He rolled over on his back.

I thought, “This is a chill dog.”

There was grassy stuff in his crate, still warm, a food dish, and a water dish. He had had plenty of food and water for the 8-hour trip. It had been a first-class flight.

When I picked him up he wanted to play. He fell back down to the floor and I picked him up again. He rolled over in my arms. I rubbed his belly. I thought he was going to be as shaky as the other dog, scared and petrified. I 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 for a neatnik. After we got him home, we found out he loved water and loved dirt.

From the very first second I opened his cage door we 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 we’ve had him. It’s always dinnertime sometime is how he looks at things. When I can’t feel his ribs anymore is when I know it’s diet time. He can smell any food leftover left over anywhere in the house.

Baby has been a calm dog from the day we got him. He’s still always calm. When he sees people other than us, or dogs other than our dogs, he is cool. He loves being with people and other dogs, rather than by himself.

We even take him everywhere, which is where our 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. He is chill.