The Sunday evening sky was an orange hue as the sun descended into setting. The streets were barren with very little traffic. The houses along our quest varied in shapes and sizes. There were duplexes, and singles big and small. Some occupied, some empty a few abandoned. Some yards had two houses in them, one in the front and another in back. There was a slight chill in the air. The tall trees that lined our journey was preparing for winter with branches beginning to bear and leaves that were colorful. Some of them fell gracefully in the cool breeze while the others were dried and on the ground crunching beneath our feet over the uneven sidewalk.
Walking thru the neighborhood was tricky. You couldn’t just walk down certain streets, because you had to avoid certain houses, where certain gang members gathered. As we passed the 12-unit apartment building at the end of our block, I noticed gang graffiti sprawled on the wall. It read "Rolling 20's Crip" in blue. For me this meant go the other way. Gang tags and graffiti had become the new normal in what was then deemed “Crip” territory. This gang signal didn't faze my dad. He kept his quick pace to play the lotto. I didn't think he knew what it was or even cared. Me on the other hand knew exactly what it was and my body flushed at the very site of the word “Crip”. With every step all I could hear was my sister saying "They ain't gone do nothing but knock you upside you fat head and take it! HeHeHeHe.”
My Father had this scientific way of coming up with his numbers for the Lottery. “I think I’m gonna play 1709 for the win!” He was making his play on the final score of the game 17-9. Then he started going over different combination “1907, 7901, 1790”. “1079!” I reacted “That’s my birthday month and year!” With my father’s presence and conversation, my insecurities about taking a simple walk through gang turf waned. “1079 it is.” he said as we ventured into the “drug free” zone that has taken over our neighborhood.
We finally reached the Ohio Lottery Station. It was 6:45 when we walked in and there were three people ahead of us. Hot Sauce Williams was a few doors down and they had arcade games in its lobby. I asked could I go order my food and play “Galaga”, while he waited in line to play his numbers. He told me to get two rib dinners for him and my mom and a polish boy with fries for my sister. He gave me $20.00 and said he’d be right over when he was done. I zipped out of the line clutching the $20 dollar bill, rushing into the Buckeye corridor by myself. The aroma of Barbeque hung heavy in the evening air along the Buckeye corridor. Hot sauce Williams seemed to always have multiple grills burning their award winning ribs. I loved Hot sauce Williams because it had the best barbeque sauce in the city. From polish boys to ribs, 25-cent chicken wings to 50-cent fries, a good majority of my allowance went into their cash register and their mini arcade. My hunger carried me from the corner of E.123rd in Buckeye through the front door into the lobby of Hot Sauce Williams.
The assorted colors of the Starter Jackets were appealing to the “Gangsters” in the “hood” because it allowed them to express their set or gang. It didn’t matter the team, it was all about their flag, their colors. Like the Black and Silver of the Los Angeles Raiders represented the Vic Lords. The black and white of the Los Angeles Kings represented the Folks. The black and red of the Chicago Bulls represented the Bloods. The Crips wore blue but Buckeye’s Crips were the Rolling 20’s and they adorned the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The clock read 6:50 pm and the small space was crammed with Hot Sauce patrons. A few were standing in line to order, some were waiting on their order while others were crowded around the arcade games’ “Galaga”, “Donkey Kong” and “Ms.Pacman”. The large overhead menu lit up my face as I searched their options. Mouth watering, I could taste the wings and fires with sauce as I clutched the $20 dollar bill my dad gave me. As the line pushed forward, I noticed that the person standing at the counter had a blue bandana hanging out of their left back pocket. Once I recognized his “Soldier Rag” I heard the phrase “WHUD UP CUZ?!” fill the air, interrupting the low chatter of the lobby. Just completing his order the dude with the bandana turned around and returned the greeting by saying “WHUD UP CUZ?!” He looked like he was in his early twenties and the whites of his eyes were burgundy red. Two teens from the neighborhood walked in wearing all blue from head to toe. I gasped and said to myself “It’s the Crips!” My heart started pounding deep and hard.
BaBoom Baboom Baboom...
The “Big Homie” stepped out the line to greet them. I was staring at their exchange of bending and twisting handshake. I was mesmerized by how their fingers moved acrobatically in a show of solidarity and style. They moved toward the “Ms. Pacman” arcade game. I felt my mouth begin to dry.
Baboom …Baboom… Baboom….
“NEXT!” yelled the cashier, breaking my gaze from the gangstas. I was next. I walked up to the counter, placed my crumbled and moist $20 dollar bill on the counter and said with a shaky voice “May I please have one wing dinner, two rib dinners and a polish-boy with fries, sauce on everything.” While placing my order I felt the gangstas watching my every move from across the room. When I got done making my order I heard one of the gangsters say “please” and “thank you”…
…The group laughed and I did my best not to look in their direction. “That will be $17.50.” The cashier said. He picked up the money off the counter. My hand slightly trembled as I received my change and receipt with call number. “Thank you sir.” I said to the cashier. He turned and walked toward the kitchen to place my order. Gathering my change, I prepared a quarter so to play “Galaga”. The cashier returned from the kitchen. I heard him yell “1963. Your order is up!” I noticed that the cashier called the “Big Homies” ticket. With his eyes low, stern and burgundy red, the “Big Homie” started walking my way. He wore a blue fitted cap turned backwards with a black and blue flannel shirt buttoned up to the top button. He wore baggy dark blue Jeans and blue and white Nike Cortez sneakers.
Baboom Baboom Baboom…
As he approached in a rhythmic stride, I watched his face. His red eyes seemed to peer right through me and with a mean mug he looked me up and down. He grabbed his food, looked at me and said forcefully “Nice jacket lil homie. What size is it?”
Baboom Baboom Baboom …
His questioning prompted the other two gangsters to come and join the conversation. All I could see was his blood shot eyes. Before I answered, I took a gulp. Voice breaking I said “An EXtra larGE. I GOt it For mY BRITHday.”
Baboom Baboom Baboom
The circle that formed around me closed tighter in front of the Ms. Pacman arcade. One of the teens, wore an all blue Dickies coverall with a blue hoodie underneath. His hair was in cornrows and he also had on a pair of Nike Cortez sneakers. He was shorter than me and the other two Crips. The other teen also had dark blue jeans on with a champion crew neck sweatshirt, with a visible white t-shirt that was untucked and a blue goose down vest. He was tall and wore a perfectly shaped afro. After telling them about my size and where I got the jacket from, the tall teen with the familiar face said “Awww him mommy and daddy bought him jacket for him birthday.” Pouting his lips and batting his eyes. The lobby erupted into laughter. The short one interrupted the comedy and got serious “Mannnn - we should gank this fool. This Crip!” I flinched as he crossed his arms at his chest and formed his stubby little fingers into C’s, while throwing his hands and twisting other symbols into his flurry of finger and hand dancing. The people in the lobby looked on while others cleared the way.
Baboom Baboom Baboom…
The room seemed to have gone silent. In the background, I could here the playful sounds of Ms. Pacman “did da do did da do did da do brik brik” but this was no game. I stood there scared shitless waiting for them to knock me upside my fat head, like my mom and kid sister prophesized. The clock read 7:00pm.
With long lanky arms, the tall one snatched at my Steelers hat and with a quick dodge I was able to avert his attempt. But the short one was able to counter my dodge and he snatched my hat off my head anyway. My nervousness transformed into rage “GIVE IT BACKKKK!!!”I yelled as they pulled me into a game of keep away between the two of them, until my cap feel at the “Big Hoimes” feet. He picked it up clutching it tightly in his fist. As I stood toe to toe and nose to nose with the “Big Homie” the circle around us thickened. As I went to grab at my hat – my father pushed through the back of the small crowd. His silhouette casted a shadow over the makeshift arena stationed in front of Mrs. Pacman. “Whose your new friend” standing at the “Big Homies” back. “Aint no friends here mister!” he said attempting to stare through me with my hat in his hand. My father moved around to see the “Big Homies” face. On site my dad said “Cleophis!? Lil Cleo, is that you!?”. My dad recognized Cleophis Simmons Jr. from the neighborhood. He went to high school with his father and they were good friends. At the sound of his real name, his government name the “Big Homie” broke his stare, looking at my dad surprisingly. “Boy-I remember you, when you were crawling around in shitty little diapers. How yo momma doing? He then pointed at my hat in his hand and said “You a Steelers fan too like my son huh?”. At that point, the stone cold gangstas, morphed into a pack of wayward teens looking for trouble. Cleophis and his crew looked at me, then at my dad, then at me again and said “You’re the mail mans son?!” Snatching my hat back with authority, a new sense of confidence fell over me. “YEAH!” I said with a puffed out chest and fist balled in a tight squeeze and determined look in my eye.
“”1965, your order is up!” the cashier yelled from the counter. The call of my order – reengaged my taste buds as I moved triumphantly toward the cashier for my awaiting order. Grabbing our food my dad stayed back talking with Cleophis and his crew. Before this run-in, I never actually seen a “Crip”. For a while the all blue uniform with soldier rag, crip walk, the graffiti, gang signs, the guns, the drugs the violence where all apart of the enigma that shrouded gang life and culture. The excitement in the lobby subsided and returned to normal. Walking out of Hot Sauce Williams with my dad, we left Cleophis and the peanut gallery standing in front of the Ms. Pacman looking salty as I passed in my Steelers jacket, hat, gloves and scarf. I would usually be embarrassed by my dad meddling into my affairs, but in this situation, I was glad to see him.
The evening sky was now a deep purple as the Corridor held evening traffic. The cool October air was invigorating as my dad and I walked into the night. The aroma of barbeque pushed us home with a quickened pace so to throw down on those wings, them ribs and that polish boy with fries, sauce on everything, officially putting the cap on my 13th birthday. “You gotta be careful in that jacket son. Cleophis told me that the Pittsburgh Steelers represented the Rolling 20’s Crips out of Los Angeles California.” He said while walking past the graffiti on our block. “L.A.?!” I said shockingly “Yep – L.A.! Luckily I was there. They were about to go upside your fat head.” We continued our journey home.
Damien Ware has organized as well as hosted various public performances and open mics and facilitated creative writing workshops for all ages. A zine-maker and poetic video blogger, Ware loves to share his talent for writing with the community, through self-publishing and public / web-based performances. He holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Wayne State University and a Bachelors Degree in African American Studies from Eastern Michigan University. He is a husband and father of three and writes daily.
On June 16, 2016 the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to tie the series and force a deciding Game 7. After watching the first six games of the series in my own home, I decided that I wanted to watch Game 7 in a public setting. I figured that it would be either an occasion for communal celebration or commiseration. (Given Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought and the fact that no NBA team had ever recovered from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, the smart money was on commiseration.)
It didn’t take me long to choose my location: the Academy Tavern on Larchmere Boulevard. The Academy might have seemed like a strange choice for a guy who lives in South Euclid and doesn’t drink. But I’ve worked as a community organizer in the Larchmere neighborhood since 2008, and I’ve had many a conversation with neighborhood residents over lunch at the Academy, a neighborhood institution for more than 75 years.
I like the Academy for its unpretentious, inclusive atmosphere. On any given day at the Academy, you might run into postal workers, police officers, and politicians; shoppers and shop owners; residents of Moreland Courts and Woodhill Homes.
That diversity was in evidence for Game 7, both in the small group of friends that I had invited and in the overall crowd that packed the tavern. Our crew included Ali and Shila, librarians and Buckeye residents; Sylvia, a horticulturist and lifelong Ludlow resident; and Doug, a master carpenter and Collinwood resident.
It was Sunday, June 19 — Father’s Day. My wife, Lee, and I had spent most of the previous day walking up and down the streets of Larchmere during PorchFest, an annual festival that features 30 bands on 30 porches throughout the neighborhood. Now we were back on Larchmere for one of the biggest events in Cleveland sports history.
From the start of the game, there was loud noise in the tavern — cheers when the Cavs scored, groans when they missed open shots or committed turnovers, boos when the Warriors complained about calls. Shila, who had never watched a sporting event at a bar, was shocked at the level of noise. It was impossible to hear the TV commentators.
As the game progressed, the atmosphere in the tavern grew less festive and more tense — especially during an excruciating four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter when neither team could score. It looked as though the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala would break the scoring drought with a fastbreak layup, but LeBron flew out of nowhere and pinned Iguodala’s shot against the backboard. The entire tavern erupted in elation and amazement. Minutes later, we exploded in cheers again as Kyrie Irving made what turned out to be the game-winning three-pointer.
When the final buzzer sounded, it took an extra fraction of a second for us to come to the realization that the Cavs had won. Then we began to cheer wildly, hugging and high-fiving one another. The revelry went on for several minutes — until ESPN’s Doris Burke got hold of LeBron for a post-game courtside interview. We grew reverently quiet as he spoke. At the conclusion of the interview, we burst into applause again.
Eventually, our crew decided to head outside. Ali and Shila rode their bikes home in the dark. Sylvia walked with us to the parking lot. We heard gunshots — of the New Year's variety — coming from somewhere in the neighborhood.
I don’t consider myself a diehard sports fan. Those of you who are may disagree with what I’m about to say. It seems to me that what we’re yearning for — more than wins, more than championships — is a feeling of connection, of being part of something larger than ourselves. That’s why neighbors have been going to the Academy Tavern for more than 75 years — through changes in ownership, changes in the menu, changes in population, changes in the businesses on the street — and through “Red Right 88,” “The Fumble,” “The Drive,” “The Shot,” and all the other near misses. Because, deep down, in spite of our differences, we want to feel connected to our neighbors and our neighborhood.
Kevin Kay is a partner in Kay Coaching, a consulting company. He has been working in the Buckeye, Larchmere, Ludlow, Mt. Pleasant, Shaker Square, and Woodland Hills neighborhoods since 2008. He appreciates the kind, generous, and fascinating people that he meets every day through his work as a community network builder.
In the fall 1997, my father died. My mother and I packed up our belongings and, with the help of my brother and sister, closed up our house on Sophia Avenue and headed out to our new home in Willoughby. Sophia was a small street off Woodhill Road, near the big intersection of Woodhill. Buckeye, and Shaker Boulevard. I was 41 years old and had lived in that house for 32 years.
We might as well have moved to the moon. It was quiet most of the time, people didn’t lock their cars or their doors. The first day that I left for work, I pulled my car out of my garage and dutifully locked the door. When I looked down the street of our condo development, mine was the only garage door handle in the locked position. I was finally in a place where I felt that my mother and I could feel safe in our own home. I could finally breathe. I thought, like many that had gone on a similar journey, that soon I would forget all about that house, that street, and the neighborhood that they belonged to. But then I had a dream, unlike any other I’d ever had, though it started like many I’d had since we moved.
In the dream, I am alone in that old ramshackle house on Sophia, more a boy than a man. The house is dark. It’s a hot summer evening, the air is thick and humid. I go out on our dilapidated front porch in hopes of catching a faint breeze as people often did in that neighborhood. But I seem to be alone. It’s the latest part of dusk, when the sun has all but gone, the street lights begin to flicker, and the air begins to glow a little under the leaves on the tree branches. And the leaves begin to rustle slightly in the breeze as if something is living among the branches. I feel the breeze on my face, a little coolness finally. I am sitting on the old, weather beaten steps that my siblings and I constructed some thirty years before, the last improvement to be made on the exterior of the house.
I’m just sitting there trying to catch the remnants of the breeze when I hear it coming: some sort of commotion down near Woodhill. I get up to get a better look. It’s some sort of a procession—a parade really—coming right up little Sophia Avenue! There are old cars: T Birds, Cadillacs, Pontiacs, and Chevys. All convertibles, all lined up, one behind the other. And there are people, black people, in front of, in between, and around the cars. They are singing and dancing, clapping their hands. There is music playing; sweet, sweet, music. And in the cars are all of the most famous black people that I could imagine seeing, some living, some dead. Aretha Franklin is in the lead car, a giant Cadillac, singing and waving. And there are James Brown, Al Green, and Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson, and Andrea Crouch--all singing and waving.
And the cars and people keep coming, on and on right down my the street! I’m astonished and excited, and I run to the sidewalk. But no one really notices me, they are too busy singing, dancing, marching up the street. I follow along all the way up to the corner of Sophia and East 102nd, Somodies Delicatessen on one side and Mary’s Hideaway Lounge on the other.
The procession turns at the corner, heading down 102nd toward Buckeye Road. But I don’t follow farther, I just stand on the corner, awestruck, watching. It continues, God knows how long, way into the night. And I watch and watch as they pass under the glare of street lights. Then they are gone. And the street is dark, old leaves swirling.
I’m so excited. Wait till I tell them, all the people on the street. “Did you see it? Didn’t you see who was here? Right here on Sophia Avenue, our little street?” But when I turn around the street is empty. There is nobody around; they are all in the parade. So I slowly walk back to my little porch and sit down, a little sad but touched, touched to the core of my heart. Because I have seen it all, the glory and the sorrow. I saw it all here on this street and I am grateful for what I was allowed to see. And it will never be apart from me, for it rests deep within my soul.
Kevin Matlak was born in Pittsburgh but moved around a lot in his early years. After his father retired from the navy, he moved to Cleveland in 1964 and lived on Sophia Avenue near Buckeye Road from 1964 to 1997. During that time, he saw a lot of changes in the neighborhood, both good and bad. He feels there isn’t enough space in a short bio to encompass his feelings about living in this neighborhood for so long. Sorrow and joy are mixed together in a very complicated way. He has a Bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State and works in the grocery department of The Mustard Seed Market in Solon.
It was a cold winter morning -- a Friday -- when I first walked to the church. There was music playing and people talking, and a huge television was hanging on the wall. I can still remember the smell of homemade baked goods in the air. I was very nervous being in a new place, but a beautiful black woman named Sister Mercury said “welcome” in a soft low voice. She had a big smile on her face. So I willed myself to sit down, though I was still a little nervous.
As the pastor gave his spiritual lesson, I got more relaxed and when they came out with the baked goods….boy, I can still taste those homemade baked goods.
As the pastor was closing, I looked around and saw the other people in the room smiling and nodding at me. I laugh about it now, but I suddenly realized I was the only white person there. Afterward, people came up to welcome me, some hugged me, and that’s when I knew I’d found my church.
On the next day, I joined and I’m amazed that it’s already been six years. Everyone is still welcoming—even the new members. I know I’ll never forget this—my first experience on Buckeye—though other people may forget, now that I’m the usher at the church.
Robert Schafer is an independent contractor who has lived in the Buckeye neighborhood for seven years. He loves the people and all that the community has to offer. He writes and shares poetry at the Harvey Rice Library, where he attended a Who We Are, Where We Live workshop.
Lori Hollins is originally from Cleveland, though she just moved back to the Buckeye-Shaker community a year ago. She is a physician who also enjoys writing and drawing.
I moved from the east side of Shaker Heights to the Shaker Square area of Cleveland in 2007. My husband and I love the urban feel of the Square at the same time that we have access to the beauty of Shaker Lakes. While living in Shaker Heights, I had been a member of the SH League of Women Voters. There I met and worked alongside many committed community members.
Soon after moving to the Square, I became engaged in Barack Obama’s 2008 primary and election campaigns. As Ward 4 Neighborhood Team Leader, I was responsible for recruiting and managing volunteers to “Get Out The Vote.” The staging office was on Buckeye Road. I will never forget the excitement and energy of that election, but one example stands out as a new level of civic engagement.
During the final four days of election weekend, our job was to visit every house in Ward 4 six times, including three times on Election Day itself. We kept track of residents who had voted and crossed their names off our lists with each pass through the neighborhoods. But we couldn’t keep up with the neighborhood kids! The final pass was around 5:00 pm. Volunteers left the office, determined to get every possible voter out the door and to the polls.
On several streets, kids of all ages met them, anxious to tell them who had not yet voted. They pointed to “Mrs. Brown’s” house on the left or “Mr. Tom’s house” on the right. Sure enough, as the volunteers approached the designated houses, voters came out their front doors, saying, “I’m going to the polls now!” or asked volunteers to secure rides for them. The volunteers were happy to oblige, both kids and voters! It was one of many magical community moments in 2008 and 2012.
Mary Reynolds Powell grew up in NYC and lived in Colorado, Michigan, and upstate NY before moving to the Cleveland area in 1989. She currently lives in Cleveland’s Shaker Square neighborhood and is engaged in community activities.
By Michael Arrington Sr., as told to Cindy Washabaugh
I think of my wife as the story-teller in our family, but she says I have stories to tell, too. We started out living on Shaker Square, but moved to the Buckeye neighborhood 18 years ago. Two or three years ago, I was a substitute teacher at Buckeye-Woodland, one of our neighborhood schools. I knew some of the students were kids who lived nearby, but it never really hit me what this meant until one day, long after I’d taught there, when a young lady who lives on our street walked up to me and asked if I was ever going to come back and teach at her school.
I was shocked. She not only remembered me, but wanted me to come back! It was a great moment for me to know that I was making some kind of a difference—that she remembered and enjoyed the learning--and that I was impacting someone who lived right on my own street. Buckeye-Woodland School is closed now, but great things are happening here. That young lady is now a high school student, getting ready to graduate.
This is a good neighborhood, an underestimated neighborhood, I think. Some people see it as crime ridden, a place for vagabonds, but anything you can find in your suburbs you can find in our neighborhood. Tons of good people, tons of good shopping, and the people are actually just as helpful and supportive of each other, if not more. And on top of all that, we’re just 12 minutes from downtown without the freeway.
Michael Arrington Sr. and his wife, Dawn, are both active members of Neighbor Up and other community groups in the Buckeye neighborhood, where they are raising their two children. Along with teaching, Michael enjoys coaching basketball and working in a variety of ways to help others succeed.
There's a dead guy on the floor in the front aisle of Podray's Sporting Goods. He's wearing a green army fatigue jacket and crisp, new blue jeans, cuffed at the ankle and tattered where his heel had been stepping on the cuff. There's blood, turning a deep shade of red, almost black, as it pools beneath his head. The blood is running in a thin stream from the pool beneath his head down towards the front door of Podray's, running cleanly in the grooves of the rubber mat Mr. Podray put down to keep the slush off the floor of the aisle in the winter and the dripping rain of summer storms. Here it had begun to form in a small, sticky pool mingling with the scattered pennies from the guy's bulging coat pockets, pennies he had purloined from the ancient NCR cash register at the back of the store. And here this guy lay dead, with a neat bullet hole in the back of his head, lying bleeding among the purloined pennies that spilled from his pockets as he tried to flee and the shattered glass of the lower panel of the front door which the dead guy had smashed to gain entry to the store. This was such a surreal scene, this dead guy on the floor in front of the front door to Podrays.
I've never really thought of it in this way but, yeah, Podray's was my second home for most of my life up to that point. I've known Peter since I was four years old, I met him through the fence in the backyard to this building. The Podrays owned a block of buildings comprising of several storefronts on Woodhill Road and their building and attached yards were built into the a gentle rise that began at the corner of Woodhill and Sophia Avenue and extended all the way north down to Buckeye Road. There were apartments above the storefronts one of which the Podrays lived, the others they rented. The yards were on two levels. The street level yard was behind the Podray's store and here the slope had been cut away and there were opposing rows of brick garages, about twenty in all, which Mr. Podray rented. A set of wooden steps took you up to a narrow and very long and deep backyard where Mrs. Podray grew peonies, a lot of peonies along with roses and a lot of other types of flowers. The entire complex encompassed several city lots deep, maybe an acre all told.
The fence was to a backyard on Sophia Avenue where the Hornik's lived. I lived not too far down Sophia from there and my little friend (that's what my family called all of the kids I hung out with, my "little friends", I think my sister Michelle, eldest in our family, stuck that tag on them) Richie Paluga, who lived two houses down from us and who was a cousin of the Hornik's took me over there; he was always telling me about this kid that lived behind the Hornik's. Richie was prone to telling tall tales so I may have acted like I didn't believe him, so he took me over there to meet Peter and prove him right.
So there was Peter, on the other side of the fence and I remember thinking, "Hey, look at that kid over there!" and I think Richie called him over and introduced us and I think we sorta shook hands between the fence, our little four year old boy hands fitting more or less through a link in the chain link fence. This was in the summer of 1964, my first summer in Cleveland, the summer when we returned to live in Cleveland permanently as my dad was now retired from the Navy and didn't have anywhere else to go. This was the summer of the famous Sedlak family reunion in Ellsworth, PA, Sedlak being my mother's family and Ellsworth the tiny coal mining town south of Pittsburgh where she was born and raised. That summer everything was still new to me and exciting, and, as I look back on it, terrifying too.
And here we were now, teenagers, and all sorts of hell had gone on between then and now but the Podray's home had become my second home and Peter had become my closest friend in life, truly my best friend in all senses of that phrase. It's hard to describe the Podray's property. There wasn't anything like it that I knew of and I doubt there's anything like it that exists today as everything has changed so much. Peter's family hadn't owned the entire suite of buildings and their yards when Mr. Podray acquired his first building on Woodhill set up his sporting goods store there on Woodhill Road in the late 1940's.
It seems hard to believe now that there was any demand for sporting goods in an east side ethnic neighborhood deep inside the city in post-WWII America but Mr. Podray was a shrewd man and he had an affinity for sports having been a golf pro at one of the courses in nearby Shaker Heights. He knew what he was about when he started the store as there was, in fact, a tremendous demand for sporting goods in that neighborhood after the war. Buckeye Road was a burgeoning place back then bursting with large, primarily Slovak families (at least on this end of Buckeye Road, west of East Boulevard) packed tightly into split-level upstairs/downstairs duplexes on the streets and avenues lining Woodhill and Buckeye. The neighborhood stood right on the cusp of Cleveland's great industrial flats and the fathers of these families worked in the mills, foundries and machine shops that thrived right up to the edge of Woodhill Road, and a good many of their wives worked in the mills as secretaries or as barmaids or waitresses in the taverns and bars that dotted Woodhill and especially Buckeye back then. And during the 1950's and early 1960's leisure and recreation had become a big thing and there were a lot of people who lived around there and a lot of them leisured and recreated. They golfed and they bowled, there was a bowling alley down Woodhill at Buckeye and Shaker, and the factories and tool and die shops had teams; bowling teams and softball teams. And people were big into fishing on the Lake and rivers that ran into the Lake even though the Lake was dying then and the rivers right along with it.
And in the late '50s and early '60s hobbies became a big thing so Mr. Podray branched out into hobbies and part of his business became devoted to it. The Podray's store front originally was two separate but adjoining stores and at some point Mr. Podray turned the second storefront into a hobby shop. He sold model kits and wood burning kits and puzzles and games and even toys.
What really became big at that time was hot rodding. Working class guys were buying beater cars from earlier decades and souping them up and driving them on tracks in and around the city. Some of these guys rented space in Mr. Podray's garages to work on these sorts of cars. Down the road from there going south along Woodhill you eventually could go down into the Cuyahoga Valley and down there was the Cloverleaf Raceway where on Saturday nights these guys raced their cars. So the kids of these guys, and even a lot these guys themselves, bought small scale models of these cars so Mr. Podray got the idea that he would put in a scale racing track so he bought the store, what had once been a dry cleaners, at the north end of the block and installed an electric racing track. By all accounts from his parents and Peter himself, this became a huge business. Mr. Podray installed an electronic scoreboard and people formed racing teams and they raced on this raised figure eight track with six lanes and on Saturday mornings and afternoons the place was packed with kids racing these cars and buying pop in little ten ounce bottles for a dime from the Coke machine in there and there was also snack machines and a pinball machine. Peter tells me that his dad literally made a million running this operation.
But this was all well and long over by the time the dead guy showed up on the floor in the front aisle in front of the front door. Display cases lined the walls of the narrow storefront bordering the center aisle and in them, what had once held top of the line fishing rods and reels and high quality hunting knives and even watches for divers and all sorts of stuff like that now only displayed gaudy trinkets of questionable value that Mr. Podray kept there to give people the idea that he was still running a viable business. He still had customers who came to the shop, people from the old days who knew and trusted Mr. Podray to sell quality items of those sorts of things. He didn't display that sort of stuff anymore, he kept it in drawers and shelves underneath and behind the display cases. You had to know that it was there and you had to ask about it.
The dead guy didn't know this and after he kicked in the bottom panel of glass on the front door to gain entry to the store he made for the antique mechanical NCR cash register that was towards the end of the aisle of display cases. He broke this open and discovered only the pennies which he stuffed in his pockets. (Mr. Podray didn't keep cash in it at night. After locking up at night he took the day's till with him up to their apartment above the store.) He then made for the display of cheap pocket knives which must of looked real fancy and rich to him, where he tried to kick in the glass to get at them and succeeded only in cracking the glass on a couple of the cases.
By this time the alarm had rung in the Podray's apartment upstairs. What the dead guy also didn't know, and what most of the Podray's customers also didn't know, was that the thin strips of aluminum tape that lined the border of all of the windows and doors of the building, and since this was a collection of five different storefronts that was a lot of windows and doors, were part of an alarm system. If the tape were to break due to a smashed window, or, as in this case, a door, an alarm would sound downstairs as well upstairs in the Podray's apartment. The alarm was supposed to notify the police at the 4th District, which was just down Woodhill about a mile at the corner of Kinsman Avenue and Woodhill, that their store was being broken into but Peter said it probably didn't since one of the curses of his life was to have the wind blow too strongly and rattle one of those windows or doors too much and trigger the alarm, usually in the dead of night and usually in the worse weather imaginable. It was his job to go down into the store, shut off the alarm, make sure there really wasn't any intruders which there never was, and then find the damn window or door, out of all of those windows and doors, which had shaken enough to break the contact of the alarm and then fix that break. The police didn't arrive at those times and they didn't arrive now.
As Peter recently recounted to me during a phone call in which we discussed this event, by the time the dead guy was trying to smash the display case with the cheap merchandise in it, Mr. Podray had armed himself with a big, old style five shot .38 revolver and a .32 semi-automatic and made his way down from the apartment and into the store. Here, in the deep gloom of the darkened store, with the alarm blaring, Mr. Podray, who was terrifically near sighted and had forgotten to put on his glasses in his haste to get downstairs, could only see the bulk of a shadow moving in the dim glare from the fluorescent lights they left on at night in the front windows to light up the store from the outside. Seeing the shadow now move suddenly Mr. Podray fired the .38 revolver. The shadow seemed to stop.
By this time Peter had also armed himself with the pump action shotgun from the case they kept in the apartment for just these sorts of emergencies and was just getting to the bottom of the stairs from the apartment when he heard a "BLAM", the report of the gun his father had just fired. Peter carefully threaded his way past the shelves and displays of this part of the store, the hobby shop, not knowing what he would find when he got to the other side of the store. There he saw his father still pointing the gun towards the front. He slowly crept up to him and saw that he was alone.
"What happened?" he asked his dad.
His dad replied, "I shot him."
Together they approached the figure huddled up against the front door in a crouch. Peter kept the shotgun on him, again, not knowing what to expect. He poked the guy with the barrel of the gun and he didn't move. Peter turned towards his father and said, "I think you killed him."
Peter kept his gun on the guy while his father went to shut off the alarm and turn on the store lights. With the store now lit up his father returned and together they stooped down to take a better look. The guy was still in a crouch and he was just about halfway out of the door panel that he had kicked out to get in. At the back of his head they saw a little hole with some blood trickling out. Against all probable odds Mr. Podray's shot had hit the guy squarely in the back of the head instantly killing him.
The only reason that it was Mr. Podray and not Peter who fired that shot was that Peter and I had spent the evening smoking weed and doing shots, just getting hammered, in his little studio apartment above the main door of the store and was so stoned that he wasn't able to answer the alarm before his father. At some point in the past year , this was in 1977 during our junior year in high school, Peter had snagged the apartment so he could get away from his parents, particularly from his mom who was always in his hair about one thing or another. During the winter and spring of 1977 we had seriously discovered marijuana and Peter's retreat, which he originally had explained to his parents that he needed to help him have a quiet place to study as the rationale for wanting the apartment, had become one of our choice spots to indulge our discovery. We had gotten into the habit of spending a lot of time up there smoking and drinking Teacher's scotch which Peter had at first siphoned off of his father's bottle and, after getting caught doing that, drinking the Teacher's scotch that I sometimes would be able to buy as I then looked seventeen going on twenty-five, or which he obtained from an older friend of his, Lou Charnicky, who happened to be a former tenant of the Podrays.
The way the routine would go is that Peter would call me up after school and say, "Hey, Tony, want to get high?" I would of course agree to that and then after dinner we would meet up at the street entrance to the apartment on Woodhill Road. Then we'd spend the evening obliterating brain cells at a furious pace while listening to records and having long, elaborate talks about the nature of reality, that sort of thing. Sometimes our good friend Chuck Vance would join us in these marathon sessions. I was working in the meat department at Mazzulo's Bi-Rite and Peter had started a job driving cars around for the executives at a big corporation in Shaker Heights. Since we were just kids and not paying rent we spent all of our money on drugs, mostly pot and beer with more whiskey and scotch than I probably realized we were drinking at the time. Then we would figure out that it was getting late and we had to get up for school so we would unsteadily heave ourselves up from the cushy chairs he had put in there and make our unsteady way down the flight of stairs to the street and mumble, "Later," or, "Take it easy," and go on our separate unsteady ways.
That night wasn't any different than any other dozens of nights we had spent there over the course of that year. It was early in that summer and we were both just off of school and I remember that it was a Saturday night. So after mumbling, "Later," I wove my way down Woodhill and then up Sophia back to my house. This in itself was, by that time, an adventure. The Woodhill Road of 1977 wasn't anything like, say, the Woodhill Road of 1967 when I was a little kid and would spend a lot of my summer days going back and forth from my house on Sophia to Peter's building on Woodhill.
The Woodhill Road at the Corner of Sophia in 1967 was a still bustling working class business district. All of the buildings and storefronts were still there and although some of them by that time were becoming empty many still had viable businesses and some of those were actually thriving. On the southeast corner of Sophia and Woodhill there was an Ohio Savings and Loan housed in a small yet impressive bank sort of building done up in typical neo-classical regalia with faux plaster Corinthian columns and an American eagle set above a clock in the entrance way. Across from there was a workingman's shot and beer bar and next to that was the imposing edifice of Weldon Tool, maker of auto parts and other fine machined components which took up a city block and was a major employer in the neighborhood and beyond. In the buildings which adjoined the Podray's to the south there was a Square Deal Superette and two storefronts which housed a dressmaker/milliner and a tailor shop. Across from there was a building that housed Mader Hardware, whose stock Mr. Podray bought out when it closed by the early 1970s turning his sporting goods business, which had by then declined significantly, into primarily a hardware store. Next to Mader's to the south was a butcher and to the north another bar and above all of these buildings were apartments or professional offices such as a dentist and an optometrist housed in the savings and loan building. In short it was a rather mundane but safe and comforting street, a quasi industrial/commercial/residential district not much different than many others of its kind in the city that made for a safe and comforting way to spend one's childhood.
In the span of a decade all of that changed dramatically and not at all for the better. The savings and loan had closed and now housed a black Baptist church. (This was one of the only success stories as it, the building and church, are still there today. Indeed, it is one of the only original buildings still standing.) All of the shops adjoining Podrays had closed save for the superette. That had recently reopened as what passed for a superette which didn't really seem to sell anything but apparently you could get large quantities of marijuana in there if you knew who to ask. The biggest change was Mader's block. The butcher was long closed and a small storefront, part of Mader's, had opened as a record store which curiously didn't sell records. There was always a guy standing out front of the place regardless of the weather and apparently his job was to signal to the occupants that the police were in the neighborhood as what was sold in there were nickel and dime bags of weed. The bar had boarded up all of its windows and operated now as an after hours and gambling joint and in the apartments above were the ladies. You could see them in the early hours of the morning when you were going off to work. They were just getting off of work, coming downstairs to get into large late model sedans after a long night of servicing customers.
The activity of the street in the daytime had dwindled considerably but at night, as the old song said, the joint was jumping. There was a wild frolic of big cars, big spenders and any and all manner of street types. When I left Peter's apartment at night I typically had to run this gauntlet of unruly characters in order to get back to my house in one piece. On this particular night I remember that the street scene was unusually slack, there was absolutely nobody out and around, not even the guy in front of the "Record Shop", so my fear level was lowered. I got back to the house without any issues and crashed.
The next thing I know my mom is waking me and telling me that Peter was on the phone. This seemed incredible, what was so important that it couldn't wait until tomorrow? I got up and went to the phone, standing in the upstairs hallway where the cord stretched so I wouldn't both further disturb my parents' sleep than it already had been and also to not let them in on what we were going to discuss. This conversation was brief and went something like this:
Me: "Yeah, Peter, what's up?"
Peter: (His voice is indistinct and somewhat slurred) "Tony, uh, you've got to come down here. Uh, my dad just shot a guy breaking into the store."
Me: "Okay, Peter."
I then hung up and went back to bed. This happened again with my mom waking me up, me going to the phone in the hall and pretty much the same conversation and the same result, I hung up and went back to bed. On the third call my father was not at all pleased about this and I hear him hollering, "Tell Tony to answer the goddamned phone and find out what Peter wants and tell him to stop calling so goddamned late at night!"
This got my attention because by this time in my life I was very keen on not having my father get mad about anything so I got up before my mom woke me and went to get the phone this time downstairs in the entry hall calling up to my mother, "I got it," so she could hang up and go back to bed. This third and final time:
Me: "Peter, what in the hell do you want?" By now I'm a little irritated that he keeps calling me. I really just want to sleep.
Peter: By now he's also a little irritated and I can catch a note of alarm in his voice, "Tony, man, where the hell are you? You've got to get down here... uh... my dad shot this guy and there's blood and broken glass everywhere and... uh... you've got to help me clean it up."
Peter: "Yeah, uh, he like shot this guy. He killed him. You've got to get down here and, uh, help me, you know, with stuff."
Me: "Whaaat? Your dad shot somebody and he killed him? Huh? Uh... yeah, yeah, I'll be right down."
By now my father is fairly apoplectic. He's demanding to know what is going on. I can still see my mom's worried face as she stood in the upstairs hallway in her night gown as she asked me what did he want for the third time. By that age I, like most teenagers, tried my best to keep what I was doing away from my parents. This was going to be kind of hard to keep away from them. So I told her, "Peter says his dad shot someone and he needs me to help him out." She pressed me for details and I just replied, with a little exasperation, that I didn't know any more than that. My father, upon hearing of this, calmed down considerably. I hurriedly threw on some clothes and left into the gloom of the early morning, not quite before dawn, where everything seemed so unusually quiet and normal.
When I get to the store there's a Cleveland Police squad car sitting out front of Podrays on Woodhill but their lights are silent and it looks unoccupied. Peter is waiting at the front door which he has to kind of force open as the dead guy is still blocking the door. By this time a lot has happened. They had called the police and after the cops showed up they had to take Mr. Podray down to the 4th District. He was going to be booked for murder but the cops assured him that this was just procedural. It was clearly a shooting in self-defense. He was going to be released as soon as he could see a judge. When they had arrived Peter said one of the cops eased the guy from his crouched position down on the floor. This is what I see when I enter and have to step over the body to get in the store.
Peter is in a state somewhere between panic and calm, cool efficiency. He says to me, "Come on, come on, will you get in the store!" as I squeeze through the partially opened door and maneuver my way around the dead guy. "Watch out for the broken glass and blood," he adds as he locks the door behind me and starts down the aisle.
The store is all lit up by the overhead fluorescents. I'm not used to seeing it lit this way because Mr. Podray usually kept the lights to a minimum during the day with the light of the western sky filling the full glass windows of the storefronts and lighting the store with a comfortable day-lit glow. Now, it was still quite dark outside and the fluorescent hum and throb of the overheads were harsh and electric by comparison. Stepping carefully around the broken glass and the trickle of blood that made it off the mat and towards the door I take my first real look at the dead guy, the guy that broke into the store who Mr. Podray shot. I step around him, to get past him as he's pretty much blocking the entrance, so I have somewhere I can stand maybe as far away as I can get without actually leaving the store or disappearing down the aisle into the safe dimness in the back. I pick a spot a couple of feet away from the dead guy but stay close enough in case Peter needs me to do something although at this point the scene is so overwhelming I can't begin to think of what that might be.
I say something insightful, like, "That's him, huh?"
Peter sighs heavily and says, "Yeah..., that's him."
"When did the cops get here?"
"Just a little bit ago," he replies and begins filling me in on what had transpired, the shooting, and afterwards. He begins explaining to me how he has to fix the door, bolt something to it to secure the lower panel, and how we have to clean up the blood and glass.
At some point during this macabre scene, with the dead guy on the floor and Peter calmly telling me about it, Mrs. Podray appears. She's a short, nervous, bird-like woman with wispy fly away red hair streaked with gray wearing a flower printed house dress that is fading to unrecognizable features and colors. Under normal everyday circumstances Mrs Podray could be described as being wired pretty tight. But now? Now her hair is more flown than fly away and she's quite near hysterical. "Oh, Peter! Oh, Peter," she's calling out, "Peter, they said they have to take him down to the station! Why do they have to take him down to the station? It was self defense! The guy was in the store! Why are they taking him away?"
Peter doesn't doesn't miss a beat as he turns to his mother and starts with a rap that I've heard from him hundreds of times since before we were teenagers. It's like this patterned rap that he uses on his mother when she would all of a sudden appear in the middle of us doing something, part dismissive, part exasperation "It's okay ma, they gotta take him in. No, don't worry about it, he'll be back before you know it. Go back upstairs. Tony's here and he and I will take care of everything. Don't worry about it, we'll make sure the store's locked up... Go back upstairs, Ma." He's fairly sweeping her before him guiding her back the way she came and all the time giving her reassurances that everything is under control. This time I can't help but to note that there's a little more calm and a little more tenderness in his voice than usual when she would make one of her sudden appearances. And for a moment I'm left standing alone in the store, alone with the dead guy on the floor.
Eventually Peter returns telling me, "Man, she's really freaked out about this..." We share a knowing nod. It doesn't take much to freak out Peter's mother and this here is a major freak out. During the next hour or so that it takes for an ambulance to arrive to remove the body Mrs. Podray makes several more appearances in the same sort of condition. Finally Peter gets her to bed by giving her a good slug of scotch so she could calm down enough to get into bed.
At some point the two cops from the patrol car show up and explain about the ambulance. We stand in silence with the two cops and the dead guy on the floor. I can't really describe the cops because I don't really remember anything about them. They were two white guys, in my memory one was taller and one was shorter but I can't say for certain. At the time they were just cops to me and cops were generally somebody you wanted to avoid being around.
Time, a moment ago rushed and blurred when I first entered the store, now slows to an interminable crawl. Despite the bizarre tragedy of the situation I'm still pretty high and I want to lean against the display cases and chill but I know better than that having been warned dozens of times over the years not to do that as the cases are really pretty fragile belying their apparent solidity. Instead I shift from one foot to the other in an uneasy quiet wondering what's supposed to happen next, wondering what the hell am I even doing here.
I come out of my reverie to listen in on the conversation Peter has struck up with the cops. Having been raised in a commercial environment, where, from a young age, he helped his father out in the store with customers, Peter has a remarkable facility of being able to converse with just about anybody in just about any situation with extraordinary ease and equability.
I hear one of the cops, the one who seemed to do most of the talking for the pair, remarking, "Yeah, when we heard the call come through about the shooting we didn't immediately respond, because, you know, we were on another call. When we got down here and saw what was going on we would have answered right away but we didn't know any white people still lived down here."
Peter's response to this was to do one of his classic non-committal shrugs and with slight shake of his head replies, "Ahhh, yeah, well, we've been here for over thirty years and if I know my old man we aren't going anywhere soon..."
He leaves that hanging in the air and glances over towards me. Our eyes meet and I know exactly what he's thinking, "Man... can you believe this guy?" What's weird about his statement is that cops come into the store all of the time to buy ammo from Mr. Podray. Where's this guy been?
The cop doesn't seem to catch the underlying sarcasm in Peter's tone as he blithely continues, "Yeah, well now that we know you guys are down here we'll make it a point to keep an eye on the place. You know, drop in and see how you're doing. And if there's anymore trouble like this we'll be sure to give it a priority response."
The other cop chimes in his agreement, "Yeah, we'll be watching."
Adding to the unreality of the scene is the easy racist banter of these two cops making the assumption that despite our long haired youthful appearance because we happen to be white guys left living "down here" we'd accept their rather incredible admission that if we happened to be black we would be down on the list if there's any trouble. Of course, it's true, but to hear a cop just come right and say it I found quite remarkable.
At another point the talkative cop let's out this little gem, "You know, the way that guy was when we got here, halfway out the door like that, if he had made it out this would have been a real problem for your dad,."
"Ah, oh yeah?" Peter responded, encouraging him to go on.
"Yeah, if he was out on the street then it wouldn't have been self-defense, it would have been murder. Then your dad would have had a whole lot of trouble with a trial and everything, especially since the guy wasn't armed with nothin' but a knife. Then it would've been harder to prove self-defense."
"Really?" Peter said, again encouraging the cop to go on.
"Of course, when we got here if we saw something like that we'd have told your dad to just drag the guy back into the building while we looked the other way. See, this sort of thing happens and we don't want to see good people going to jail who were just trying to stick up for themselves."
I think at that point Peter and I just stared at the cop in amazement.
Then the cop continues, "But that's just between you and me, you see. It's not something we go around telling people to do or letting out that it happens that way. But hey, these things happen."
Finally the ambulance arrives. They have to bring the gurney in through the other door on the storefront of the hobby shop. It's rarely used and eventually Peter's dad will have it boarded up altogether in an attempt to further secure the store. As the ambulance guys are bringing the gurney around to the front entrance the four of us, the cops, Peter and me, are left standing in silence staring at the dead guy on the floor.
The ambulance guys appear to know what they're doing and are quietly going about their business. They position the gurney, which is folded down flat as far is it will go, to about two feet off the floor, as near to the body as they can. One of them takes a sheet from the gurney and lays it lengthwise folded in half next to the body. Then he and the other guy go over to the dead guy and roll him gently onto the sheet. Then one of them goes to the feet and the other to the head and on the count of three the heave the guy up using the sheet like a sling to put him on the gurney.
At that point Peter speaks up, "Ohhh, I was wondering how they were going to do that!"
One of the cops also chimes in, "Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing. I haven't been around when they've removed the body before." His partner agrees with him.
In fact, I was thinking the same thing myself but I wasn't going to say anything because I didn't want to add to the feeling of dread that was in the air. The whole procedure was really very fascinating in a gruesome sort of way.
Now the ambulance guys are securing the dead guy, who is now neatly wrapped head to toe in the sheet onto the gurney, like he was a patient they were transporting to the hospital except they weren't. He was a corpse and they were taking him to the morgue.
After that the cops left and Peter and I went about cleaning up and securing the store. Peter brought out a broom and dustpan and I dolefully swept up the detritus left by the break-in and shooting while he went and collected up a drill and a socket wrench and nuts and bolts from the store's hardware stock. He spent some time rummaging around in the back of the store where thirty years of stuff had accumulated and managed to scrounge up a thick piece of plywood that just happened to cover the hole left where the window had been smashed. I had to help him hold the plywood in place while he drilled the holes for the bolts and then secured them in place with a socket wrench.
This was all very weird to me. It seems over the years when I was going over to Peter's he was always involved in some kind of intense project of his own devise or something that had to do with the building or grounds that his parents put him up to doing. I was always helping him bolt something or hammer something together or dig something up or bury it. It's what we did most often in the long summer months of our childhood. This was just like that except it wasn't at all like it. It was just weird.
After we were done I pointed to the floor and asked him, "What about this?" Meaning the blood. There actually wasn't as much of it as you would think, just a trickle that had leaked from the back of the guy's head when the cops had set him down on the runner on the floor. It was still a sticky, yucky kind of mess.
Peter looked down at it wearily and replied, "Ahh, just leave it. I'll mop it up when I get up."
There was a moment of silence and then I said, "Uhh, hey Peter, how about smoking another bowl?" When I asked him that I realized that all during this ordeal it was on my mind and I was looking forward to it after all of this was over.
Peter gave it a good thought and then he said, "Ahhh, naah. I really gotta go upstairs and check in on my mom. And I'm really bushed. It's been a long night and I gotta hit the sack."
I answered, "All right, man. Just thought I'd ask."
Then I went to the door and Peter let me out and we said, "Later," and all that and that was it.
By this time it was early morning, that time of night right before dawn when the robins begin to sing their morning songs. I was left to make my way back up Woodhill to Sophia, on my own again with the early birds singing in my head. I was still thinking about having that bowl.
It was a couple of weeks, maybe some time in July later that summer and I was once again coming by the store to hang out with Peter. He was down in the store waiting for me and his mom and dad were there too, just like always. During the time since the shooting I had seen one or the other of his parents and nothing was ever mentioned, as if it hadn't happened. It's not like it was something that I was going to bring up, either. Peter and I had told our close friend Chuck Vance and maybe a couple of other people about it but it really felt like something you didn't want to dwell on.
On this occasion, while I was waiting for Peter to get his stuff together so we could go out, Peter's mom happened to say, "You know that guy, that Pat shot, the colored guy?" She said in this kind of conspiratorial tone. His mom was a great and true gossip and one of the things she delighted in was serving up the latest dish. I have to say I couldn't tell you much about all of the things she shared with me over the years but I was always sure to treat her with respect and give her my fullest attention. She was an elder and this is how you treated a person of this sort. This, however, was on the order of altogether something different than the usual gossip of local doings that she imparted using this tone of voice and I was certain to pay attention this time.
"Well you know," she continued quietly, having gotten my full attention, "they came in the store, you know, his family. " When Mrs. Podray was sharing her little jewels of information Mr. Podray, if he wasn't taking care of a customer, would assume his position by the cash register and chew on his cigar which was infrequently lit and always seemed to be smoked down to a stub. He would stoically listen to his wife's rambling stories and gossip about people and tersely interject corrections or clarifications as he saw fit. This time he just nodded and let her continue.
"Yeah, you know, they live in the neighborhood," she continued, "It was his mother and his brother, or maybe an uncle, I don't know, you never know with these people. And she said they'd been in the store before, you know, as customers."
This time Mr. Podray saw fit to make one of his interjections, "Yeah, I seen 'em before. They were customers. Not regular, you know, but they were in here. Think I sold em something for their plumbing or something like that."
"Well you know," Mrs Podray began again, this time her voice becoming quieter, "You know what they said? Well, they came in to apologize! Yeah, to apologize! It turns out that their son, the guy, you know, that Pat shot, turns out that he was a Vietnam vet and they said when he got back from the war he was really messed up. They said before the war he was a real nice kid, he worked, went to church, all of that, and when he got back he was changed, They said he couldn't hold down a job, and he was really into the drugs, you know. What do they call it, you know, heroin?" Here she made a motion of a stabbing a needle into her forearm.
"They said they did everything they could for him, tried to get him cleaned up or whatever you call it, off of the drugs and that he would get off the stuff for awhile and then he'd go back to it. They said they hadn't heard from him in a couple of weeks, you know he was bingeing or whatever it is, and the first they heard from him in a couple of weeks is when the cops came and told them he'd been shot."
Now a tone of amazement came into her voice, "And you know, they were the nicest people. I just couldn't believe they'd come in the store to say this. They wanted to apologize for putting Dad through all of this, you know, the shooting and breaking into the store and having him go to jail for it. They said they understood and if that had happened in their own house they'd probably do the same thing, you know, shoot the guy that broke in. They even offered to pay for any damages he caused!"
It was time again for one of Mr. Podray's interjections. This time he looked away from his wife telling the story and then looked down uncomfortably at his feet, "I told them thank you but, no. I couldn't take any money from them people for what their son did. Insurance covered the damage and he didn't really do all that much to the store except maybe crack one of them display cases and the front door. But that wasn't really nothin'."
"But they come into the store to apologize," Mrs. Podray said to complete her story, "I'd think they would be here, you know, angry at us. If that don't beat all."
I'm sorry to confess that I don't know the guy's name, the dead guy on the floor at Podray's. When his parents told me this story about the family coming in to the store to apologize they mentioned his name but it was long ago lost in memory. I seem to remember there was a short article about the incident in one of the papers where they gave the guy's name. The Cleveland Press was still in print back then and they would have been the most likely source for that kind of information, the Press being more of the kind of scrappy, working class type of paper that reported news in the neighborhoods and city. I also seem to remember that the article noted that the Podrays declined to be interviewed for the story which wasn't at all surprising, they weren't the sort of people who wanted their names in the paper and certainly not in connection to something like this story.
And I'm sorry to remember him only as "the dead guy on the floor at Podray's". As it turned out he was something so much more to me. After years of thinking what all of this meant to me I've come to realize that whatever fractured sort of childhood I had growing up and that I shared with Peter in my life on Sophia Avenue ended on that summer night so long ago. Things changed at that moment and things were never quite the same after.
Community Anthology Table of Contents
About the program
Who We Are, Where We Live is a free community writing program giving voice to people who live and work in the Buckeye/Shaker community. Participants write stories, learn about their neighborhood, and share with their neighbors. Annually, selected writings are published here in an online anthology and presented at a final reading and celebration.