Tag Archives: Vera Glass

Lone Wolf on Hogsback

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It was on an early May morning Frank and Vera Glass visited Barron Cannon, who they hadn’t seen much since the previous October when they ran into him picketing a vegan restaurant on the far west side of their Lakewood, Ohio, neighborhood. Faces peered through the plate glass windows. Passersby stopped to see what was going on.

They had dropped by several times since, but once winter got cold and crusty had not paid him a call, not that Vera minded, or even gave it a thought.

The first time they saw met encountered Barron they were attracted by the flashing lights of a black and white SUV at the eatery, and were greeted by the sight of a slender pony-tailed man in his 30s bearing a placard on a stick with a single word scrawled on it.

HYPOCRITES! In capital letters. In cold blood red crayon.

The two patrolmen who had been called to the scene by one of the outraged cooks were asking if he would refrain from protesting without a permit. Although he maintained he had more than enough reason, and cited his first amendment rights, he finally agreed to go home, and strode off, his picket sign jangling over his shoulder.

The exasperated cops drove away.

He was going their way, up West Clifton, and after falling into step with him, they were astonished to learn he was himself a vegan.

“Eating is an act of nourishing my body and soul,” he said. “I choose to do no harm.”

He did not eat animals, drink their milk, or wear their hides. He eschewed all animal products for any reason, at all. He didn’t snack on chocolate, slurp miso soup, or pour salad dressing on salads. He considered eating honey exploitive and avoided it.

“I don’t like people who eat animals,” he said, “and since that’s just about everybody, and since that is not changing anytime soon, that’s that, there they are, and here I am. At least I don’t have to live with them.”

As least as long as they weren’t his parents. Although he lived alone, he had to live with his folks.

“My parents are the worst,” he said. “They are always bringing chickens, pigs, ground beef, roasts, sausages, hot dogs and frozen fish home from the grocery. I see them in their kitchen every day, sticking forks into decomposing flesh and animal secretions. They chew on Slim Jim’s while they watch the news on TV.”

It turned out he lived in an orange yurt in the backyard of his parent’s house overlooking the Rocky River Reservation, about a mile-and-a-half south of Lake Erie. He had built the Mongolian tent himself. He didn’t have a job, a car, a refrigerator, a wife, or any pets.

“Don’t even get me started on pet slavery,” he said.

Vera gave him a sharp glance. They had two house cats, Mr. Moto and Sky King, who slept on their bed with them most nights. She didn’t think of them as slaves, and she was certain they didn’t think of themselves as slaves, either.

“Have we met before?” Frank asked as they turned down their side street and Barron continued his trek up Riverside Drive.

“I don’t think so,” said Barron.

A college graduate with a master’s degree in philosophy and a hundred thousand dollars in unpaid federal student debt, Barron was unqualified for nearly any and every job, even if he had been remotely interested in seeking employment.

He didn’t vote, although he enjoyed Donald Trunp’s antics whenever he heard about them, watch television, or take medicine.

“By FDA requirement,” he explained, “each and every pharmaceutical is tested on animals.”

He was a vegan purist, pursuing his ideals to their logical conclusion. Vera thought of his pursuit as a dead end, but didn’t say so.

Barron had few friends, other than several sketchy bicycle-riding hippies and a handful of retirees in the neighborhood for whom he did odd jobs for cash only. But he only worked for them if they didn’t have cars and agreed never to talk about their problems, especially their health problems.

“Insurance, HMO’s, meds, doctors, it’s all a racket,” he said.

Whenever they visited Barron they always walked, because if he knew they had driven to see him, he would refuse to see them.

“Can’t we just drive and park a block away?” Vera asked, reminding Frank of the nearly four-mile round-trip hike from their house.

Barron lived on an allowance his mom and dad begrudged him, shopped at a once-a-week local farmer’s market, and only recently had gotten his yurt connected to his parent’s power supply.

Unbeknownst to them he had gone on-line, rapidly read about what he considered a simple chore, dug a trench from the connection at the back of their house to his yurt, into which he put down and buried a concealed transmission wire.

“I found out we are on the nuclear power grid now, off the natural gas and coal, which I will tell you is a true blessing,” he said. “It gets dark and cold in this yurt in the middle of January.”

“I used to heat it with firewood from the park,” he added. “I had to collect it at night, otherwise the rangers gave me grief. I don’t think they liked me.”

He now heated his yurt with a 5000 BTU infrared quartz heater and LED’s were strung in a kind of loopy chandelier. He cooked on a Cuisinart 2-burner cast iron hot plate.

Barron had previously refused to employ or enjoy either electricity or natural gas, on the premise that both are petroleum products, in which are mixed innumerable marine organisms.

“That’s one of the things I can’t stand about those leaf-eaters at the restaurant, cooking their so-called vegan cuisine with gas made from the bodies of dead fish,” he said. “And the Guinness they serve on draft, it comes from kegs lined with gelatin. They’re too busy ringing up the cash register to even know what they’re doing.”

Vegetarians drew his ire, too, although he tolerated them.

“I can put up with vegetarians if I have to,” he said, which Frank reluctantly admitted to being when he quizzed them. Barron gave Frank a mirthless grin. “At least they’re only half lying to themselves.”

Vera, who described herself as an omnivore, on the side of free range and organic, aimed a bright smile at Barron, wisely keeping her eating habits to herself, gnashing her teeth at the same time.

As they approached Hogsback Lane looking over the Rocky River valley, they saw a sea of green treetops, always a welcome sight after a long winter. Barron’s yurt was on the backside of a sprawling backyard on the edge of the valley, where the long downhill of the road intersects Stinchcomb Hill, named after the founder of the park system. It is a bucolic spot in the middle of the big city.

Frank was loath to mention that William Stinchcomb had been a pork roast and beef tenderloin man in his day, as well as president of the Cleveland Automobile Club, so he didn’t mention it.

“Vegans are the worst, the whole lot of them,” said Barron.

“Show me a vegan who isn’t an elitist, or someone who spouts veganism who is not a do-gooder, or making mounds of money from it, explaining how it’s all one big happy equation, yoga and veganism, and new-age capitalism, and flying to their immersions in the Bahamas, and everywhere else around the globe for their holiday retreats, never mind the carbon footprint, and I’ll show you the real hypocrite who’s burning up the planet.”

Since Barron didn’t own a phone, or even a doorbell, they were glad to find him at home that morning, although Vera was less happy about it than Frank. Barron was laying out rows of seeds and tubers outside his yurt. They joined him, sitting down on canvas field chairs. He had opened the flap over the roof hole of the yurt. Vera poked her head inside, remarking how pleasant and breezy it was inside his house.

“Inside your tent, I mean,” she said.

“It’s a yurt,” he said.

It was round, orange, and circled by a necklace of large white stones, like what kids do at summer camps.

“Whatever,” Vera said under her breath.

Frank was nonplussed to see an Apple laptop on a small reading table.

“I keep up,” he said. “It’s not like I’m a caveman.”

He noticed a yoga mat rolled up.

“Where do you practice yoga?” asked Frank.

“Here in the backyard, every day, and sometimes at the studio across the Detroit bridge in Rocky River. The owner and I trade cleaning for classes.”

“That’s probably where I’ve seen you before,” said Frank.

“Maybe,” said Barron.

He led them to his new garden. He had dug up most of his mother’s backyard, dislodging her wild roses and rhododendrons, and was planting rows of root crops, including beets, onions, turnips, and potatoes. He was especially proud of his celery.

“I cover my celery with paper, boards, and loose soil. They will have a nutty flavor when I dig them up in December.”

“I don’t eat anything from factory farms,” he continued. “In fact, I am getting away from eating anything from any farms anymore, at all. Farms whether big or small are not good ideas. They make you a chattel to the supermarket. Freedom is the best idea.”

As they got ready to leave, Barron scooped handfuls of birdseed from a large barrel into a small brown paper bag and handed the bag to Frank. He was still unsure of Vera.

“You should take every chance to feed the birds and other animals you see outside your house,” he said. “Give them good food, organic food, not processed. It will make such a difference in their lives.”

On the driveway of his parent’s ranch-style house at the top of Hogsback, looking across the valley towards the Hilliard Road Bridge, Barron tapped the brim of his baseball cap in farewell.

“Be a real vegan. That’s the biggest thing any of us can do,” he said.

Frank and Vera walked the long way around to home, crossing the bridge, on the way to Rocky River. The 900-foot long concrete Hilliard Road Bridge wasn’t the first bridge on the spot. The earliest one was known as the “Swinging Bridge.” It was a rope bridge with wooden planks that was used by school children and Lakewood residents back then to cross the Rocky River. It hung thirty feet above the water and swayed in strong winds.

Vera was unusually quiet. She was a naturally gabby woman. Frank gave her a glance. As they passed a small eatery on Detroit Road, with outdoor seating, she suggested they stop for refreshments, since Barron hadn’t offered them any.

“Man, oh man, I know chocolate brownies have eggs in them,” said Vera, “and cappuccino has milk in it, and I know Barron would have a cow, but right now I think I need to sit down in the shade and enjoy myself for a few minutes, not thinking about that wise guy.”

They both agreed that the vegans they knew were ethical and compassionate, their lives complementing their health, humanitarian, and environmental concerns. They could not agree on whether Barron Cannon was a determined idealist, a mad ideologue, or simply lived in an alternate universe.

Or maybe he was just his own incarnation of everybody’s cranky uncle.

They had espresso and cappuccino, raisin scones and chocolate brownies, watched the sun slip in and out of the springtime clouds, and walked the rest of the way home in the late afternoon in a happy buzz state-of

Lord of the Fishes

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The North Rustico beach squats at the mouth of the harbor of the town, on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province. The crescent shaped island is tucked into the shoulders of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, across the Northumberland Strait. On the far side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is Newfoundland. Europe is the farther landfall across the Atlantic Ocean.

North Rustico is on the north-central coast, on Route 6, between Cavendish and Rusticoville. Some of it can be seen from the deck of Pedro’s Eatery, where Route 6 dips and curves through the middle of town, the market and gas station, the bakery and the credit union, the lobster restaurant and the post office. The rest of it is within a few minutes, down the harbor road and up some side roads.

It’s all within easy sight of the flocks of seagulls who fly up and down the coast.

Frank and Vera Glass, staying at the Coastline Cottages just outside of town, drove the mile-or-so from their cottage along the parkway, past Rollings Pond to the parking lot at the back of the beach, where a creek empties, up the dirt road to the other lot, parked in front of a sign saying the beach was unattended by life guards, walked up and then down the path to the beach, and made fast at a nice spot on the sand not far from the shoreline.

It was sunny and fair, the sun behind them, as they unfolded their low-slung blue canvas chairs, plopping into them, pulling books from their Pedro, a yellow and black re-purposed bicycle messenger bag.

Vera was reading an autobiography of Agnes de Mille.

Frank was reading “The Durrels of Corfu.” He interrupted Vera every few minutes with something funny he had just read. Vera thought, you’re slowing me down, dude, even though she was a slow reader, anyway.

“Did you see that sign?” she asked Frank.

“No, what sign?”

“The sign beside the lifeguard cabana, the one that said, ‘Caution! Attention!’”

“There are no lifeguards, not until next week,” said Frank. “I saw that sign when we parked.”

“It’s the North Rustico Beach welcome sign, the big red and white sign when you walk onto the beach, the one that says rip currents, strong offshore winds, beware of large surf, and don’t use inflatables.”

Frank looked out at the flat quiet water, the spaghetti surf, and the wide sky dotted with puffy clouds standing still.

“No, I didn’t see that sign,” he said. “Anyway, it seems beside the point today.”

“It does, doesn’t it,” said Vera, smiling at her husband.

They read their books, watched couples walking by barefoot, children running, and a head down in a cell phone shuffling past. A family set up camp nearby, Vera took a nap, and Frank rolled out of his canvas chair and practiced a half-hour of yoga on the warm sand. He didn’t have a mat, but it didn’t matter. He turned and pulled and released and twisted one way and the other.

When he was done he rolled back into his low-slung chair.

“That felt good,” he said.

“I’m glad, honey,” said Vera. “What was that last thing you did, the twisty thing? I haven’t seen you do that before.”

“It’s called Lord of the Fishes,” he said. “It’s supposed to be good for your lower back.”

Vera didn’t do yoga in any of its forms, although she was glad Frank did. He had a bum back and the exercises kept him on his feet. The thinking behind the practice – Frank liked to call it that – also seemed to be good for him, keeping him on the tried and true straight and narrow.

“Do you remember the last time we had dinner with Barron at Herb’s Tavern, and he spent coffee and dessert railing about how steady as it goes has gone big top high wire?” Frank asked Vera.

“Yes, I do,” said Vera, remembering the carrot cake she had not been able to fully enjoy.

Barron Cannon owned and operated and taught at a small yoga studio near where Frank and Vera lived in Lakewood, Ohio, an inner ring suburb on the shores of Lake Erie, west of Cleveland. He was between young and middle-aged, married but divorced – what woman could stand living with him, Vera wondered – a post-modern sensibility with a PhD in philosophy, but a yoga traditionalist. He taught the exercise poses, but always in the context of the other arms of yoga, which he considered the essential parts of the practice.

Whenever he was in high dudgeon he complained about the 21st century western emphasis on the physical aspects of yoga.

“Everywhere you go, everywhere you look, it’s asana on the mat, in a hot room, an hour of hard work and it’s back to whatever else you are up to. When did yoga become work hard, no pain, no gain? When did it become just another something on the checklist, getting fit, staying ahead? When did it become competitive, a race to the finish, another rat bastard in the rat race?”

Barron was Frank’s friend. Vera tolerated him for her husband’s sake. She didn’t dislike Barron, but she disliked it when he said things like, “Nobody worth their salt is nice.”

“I was going to tell Barron about Eric Young, mention his ideas, but I didn’t,” said Frank. “We would never have gotten out of Herb’s, at least not until after closing time, if then.”

“Who’s Eric Young?” asked Vera.

“A Baltimore guy, a lot like Barron in some respects, teaches some yoga, aerial style, a big fan of the Baltimore Orioles, which is too bad,” said Frank.

“Why were you going to bring him up to Barron?” asked Vera.

“Because he’s on the other side of the teeter totter,” said Frank.

“What’s too bad about the Orioles?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Competitive yoga started in India, not the west, but that’s a minor detail,” said Eric. “I am curious, though, at the idea of the physical becoming the more dominant focus, and so many people feel the need to tell other people that’s not yoga when there is no agreed upon definition. If we are all properly practicing an inward journey, shouldn’t that remove the need to be concerned what others do and what they call or label the activity in which they are doing it?”

“That makes sense to me,” said Vera.

“There’s more,” said Frank.

“Setting aside the definitions of yoke and some of the more deeper translations and interpretations of yoga from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and setting aside the atman and seer ideas, for the average practitioner they will have no understanding, or care to,” said Eric.

“In my yoga teacher training class, I would say half had no idea there was anything beyond the physical. To many, yoga is a down dog, a bird of paradise, with a glass of wine after, and for some, a puppy or a baby goat wandering by. I say more power to them, for at least two reasons. First, if they are truly in the present, they are doing a lot of the work, even if not labeled as such, and if they do it enough, the work will pay off one way or another. Second, if I am doing my yoga, in whatever form that means to me, then I should not be bothered one way or another. As no one owns the term and there are so many different facets, it’s arrogant for me to say you’re wrong.”

“I’m not sure Barron would be good with that,” said Vera.

“You know how Barron is. He would have plenty to say,” said Frank.

“I will concede if your business is teaching, and I set up shop next door spouting I know as much and am as good a teacher, which I don’t and am not, you have every right to be bothered by this, but that’s business, not yoga,” said Eric. “I don’t think the gurus of yore were bothered by what another one did on the other side of the country. But for those who say because it’s not four thousand years old, only two hundred years, and it’s not authentic, I call that bullshit.”

“He speaks his mind,” said Vera.

“There is wisdom and there is gray hair,” said Eric.

“I wouldn’t put Eric and Barron in the same room,” said Vera.

“I don’t know about that,” said Frank. “They’re both on the same yoga planet.”

“What planet are you on?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, don’t put them in the same room, for God’s sake. They may be on the same planet, but they’re not coming from the same place. That would be a head-on collision.”

They heard a loud squarking from the shoreline, and when they looked towards the sound, they saw a seagull dragging a rock crab out of the surf. When the bird had the crab out of the water it began to peck at it, killing it, if the crustacean wasn’t already dead, dragging it landwards whenever the surf rolled it back towards the ocean.

“I thought their shells protected them from birds,” said Frank.

“Maybe the shell was cracked already,” said Vera.

“One of the guys at the harbor told me that gulls will pick up shellfish, fly them up in the air, and drop them on rocks so their shells crack when they land.”

“I didn’t know seagulls had it in their pea brains to be able to think that out,” said Vera.

“It’s a dog eat dog world,” said Frank. “Seagulls are intelligent. They can unlock trash bins. They’re omnivores and they’ll eat anything. I read about a black-backed gull down on Cape Cod that snatched up a miniature chihuahua, right off the beach, and the dog has not been seen since.”

They watched the seagull rip legs off and pull goopy innards out of the crab, until there wasn’t anymore left to be had. The big white and gray bird arched its neck, cawed several times, and flew away. The remains of the crab slowly but surely rolled back into the ocean.

“What time does Doiron’s close?” asked Vera.

“Six,” said Frank.

“What time is it now?”

Frank looked at his iPhone.

“Quarter of six,” he said.

“Drive me over me there” said Vera. “You can drop me of and I’ll walk back to the cottage.”

“All right, maybe I’ll drive up the parkway, go for a walk around Orby Head, and we can meet back at the cottage,” said Frank.

He dropped his wife off at the fish market.

Doiron Fisheries is on the wharf on Harbourview Drive. It’s been there since the 1950s.  It’s a small storefront with a big sign over the door, a long shallow front room chock full of haddock, hake, halibut, salmon, mackerel, oysters, mussels, scallops, and cooked crab.

Frank drove up Church Hill Road, past the Stella Maris church and the graveyard, and down to the National Park kiosk. They had a seasonal pass attached to the stem of the rear view mirror of their Hyundai Tucson, and when the attendant in the kiosk glanced up and waved him through, Frank swung the car to the left up the hill into the seashore park.

He had once stopped and asked the teenager in a National Parks shirt behind the drive-through window, “What do you call this building?”

“We call it the gate,” she said.

“The gate?”

“That’s it, yup, the gate.”

Frank drove past Doyle’s Cove and the Coastline Cottages. The cottages are in the Prince Edward Island National Park, but aren’t a part of the park. The Doyle’s kept their land, in the family for a dog’s age, not selling it to Canada when the park was established. There are a handful of their houses, one nearly a hundred years old, another one newly built last year, within sight. They are the only homes in sight.

He drove the two miles-or-so up the Gulf Shore Way, pulled off the road at Orby Head, and went for a walk along the red sandstone cliff. He lay down face forward on the other side of the rope fence and looked down at the waves churning and breaking on the narrow rocky landing far below.

A group of cormorants in a v formation flew past, nearly at eye level. He closed his eyes and breathed evenly for a few minutes. He heard a car pull in, its tires crunching on the gravel. He opened his eyes, got up, and walked back to his car.

When he stepped into the cottage the lowering sun was lighting up the kitchen window, and Vera was at the stove.

“What are you making for dinner?” he asked.

“Crab cakes,” she said.

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

 

Out On a Limb

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I found myself tagging along to yoga in the first place because my neighbor Vera had started taking classes. Vera told me she was stiffening up. She was dropping in to the neighborhood studio because her husband Frank had taken classes for a long time.

“He said he went to yoga because he’s a counterculture kind of guy, even though yoga is a 5,000-year-old culture, and everybody does it nowadays, anyway,” said Vera. “Besides, his lower back hurt.”

Yoga never fixed his back, but Vera said he still gets on his mat every day, although mostly at home now.

I meant to start right after the New Year, but with one thing and another didn’t take my first class until the first week of February. February is the month I was born and the same month and year the Beatles first number one hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hit number one.

Vera picked me up and we drove to the yoga studio across the bridge in Rocky River. She didn’t hold my hand walking through the front door, not that I wasn’t nervous.

The owner of the yoga studio was teaching the beginner’s class. We all had to say our names and then tell a story. “Tell your story,” said Lindsey. I had no story. “Oh, my gosh!” I said. What story do I have? I thought. “My name is Liz Drake and Frank Glass is my friend’s husband,” I said, pointing to Vera.

Lindsey started laughing. “He’s the funniest guy I’ve ever met,” she said.

What? I thought. There are lots of funnier people than Frank, but since Lindsey was smiling up a storm I didn’t say anything. She was a good teacher, but I had no idea what was happening. I had no idea we had to go into poses. I had nothing. I didn’t know anything about yoga.

I had never done it, never seen a class, only a few minutes of it on TV. I had some idea about the mats, but no idea about the blocks and straps.

I thought it was going to be easier than what it was. You’re just stretching, right? We had to sit there, had to close our eyes, breathe, and I thought, is this what it’s going to be like? This is going to be easy. But, then you start doing poses. My God! It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.

I didn’t realize it, but I thought everyone was there for the first time, just like me. When we told our story I should have added I had never done yoga before. I forgot to add that. I had no idea what I was doing. Lindsey would say do this, do that. She had names for all the poses. What is that? I thought. What? I looked around, trying to do it, although I felt I was goofing on everything.

Although everyone else looked like they knew what they were doing, I didn’t even know what downward dog was. It was like when my Israeli ex-boyfriend-to-be convinced me to take Hebrew lessons. He said it was a beginner’s class for people who didn’t know Hebrew, but when I got to the class everyone was speaking Hebrew.

All during the yoga class I pretended like I was on the right track. I didn’t want to look like a total beginner. Lindsey would say, now everybody do this, go into this pose, and everybody would do it. I didn’t want to look like a total beginner, but I didn’t know what I was doing.

After some classes with Lindsey I started going Sunday mornings. Gina was the teacher. The room was always filled with incense at eight in the morning and we had to do weird breathing exercises. I thought I was going to pass out. Maybe I should fake it, I thought. I’m going to pretend I’m breathing, but I’m not going to, because I’ll get dizzy, get flashbacks.

“Pull it up from your core,” she said. Where is that core? I wondered. I never understood what that kind of breathing meant. It didn’t feel natural. Gina seemed to think we had to breathe differently to do yoga.

I liked Gina, but one morning I said I felt like I was doing most of the poses left-handed.

“I don’t even know the names of them. I just look around and hope I can copy somebody.”

“Oh, no, not the D word,” said Gina.

“What? What D word?”

“Discouragement.”

Everybody in the class was so sincere, so serious. They dressed like yogi people with their yoga costumes, special clothes, while I wore a t-shirt and sweat pants. At the end of class we sat cross-legged while Gina told us to imagine drifting down a river, putting all our bad thoughts on a leaf, and then letting the leaf float away. What are you talking about? I wanted to ask.

I moved on to a Tuesday beginner’s class with Tracy. It was at night right after a hot flow class. While we waited in the lobby to go in they were coming out completely drenched. Pools of sweat water were everywhere on the wood floor when we walked into the yoga room. You had to dodge around the pools.

Tracy was good at teaching us the actual poses. She took her time, walking around to help us all, although sometimes I would be in a pose waiting and waiting for her to get to me. I learned every pose as perfectly as could be since she was into perfect alignment.

One day there was a big guy who came to Tracy’s class. He was wearing funny plastic pants. Our class was usually mostly women. Sometimes there might be a guy or two, but after one or two times you never saw them again. Before we started, the plastic pants man said, “This is easy.” Once the class began he started sweating to death. He’s never coming back, I thought.

I never saw him again.

I never sweated, although I drank a lot of water.

I liked the crazy twists, for some reason, but standing on one leg was hard. I don’t have good balance because I can only see out of one eye. Whenever we did balancing poses the picture I got was, I’m going to fall down!

By the middle of summer I was ready to move up the yoga ladder. Tracy told me I should try Monica’s’s Basic Hatha Flow class. I bought a thicker mat. It was great for my knees. Some of the poses are hard on your bones, but that’s what you have to cut your teeth on. At least, that’s what Monica said.

She was tough, almost like a man, but I went to both of her weekly evening classes for five months the rest of the year. Most teachers had a soft voice, but Monica’s was never that soft. It became my main class, even though I dragged myself there. The whole drive to the yoga studio, even though it was only a few minutes, I would complain to myself. She’s going to come and push, she’ll walk around looking for me, I thought. She would push you down, sideways, all ways.

One time she pulled me when I was in a standing pose and I fell down. I just started laughing. You don’t want to be the center of attention, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

She made us hold poses incredibly long until my legs would burn and shake. I remember my thighs burning. I couldn’t even control them.

“What’s wrong with that, that’s good,” she said, “It’s good that your legs are shaking.”

I kept going back. She was top-notch.

One day she stood behind me and pulled my shoulders.

“How does that feel?” I started laughing, thinking, are you kidding me? Go to somebody else.

It didn’t feel good. But, it was a good pain. I liked being stretched.

A small man came to class and acted like he knew everything. “I’m doing this really great, aren’t I?” he said. But, he was just jumping around, moving fast. Afterwards he asked Monica about taking a more challenging class. “You have to be careful, basics would be best for the time being,” she said.

He wouldn’t listen, even though it was Monica telling him what for.

He had heard about Ashtanga Yoga and that’s where he went. I remember thinking, OK, buddy, you’re almost twitchy in this class, sweating, crawling out of the place. The next time I heard about him was when a story went around about a newcomer to the Ashtanga Yoga class who fell and cut his head and had to get stitches.

I was laughing.

Monica was the kind of teacher you were kind of scared of. When she told us we were going to be standing on our heads, I thought we had to do it, no question about it. But, I said to myself, Oh, Jesus! I don’t even know where to start. I never stood on my head in my life. She tried to get all of us to do it, but finally said, “If you don’t feel comfortable, you can sit this one out.”

“I’m glad you said that,” I said. Until then I had been ready, even though I was scared. I just give in and do it. I found out later that standing on your head is an advanced pose.

The one advanced pose I liked was wheel, especially when Monica walked over, got her hands under my back, and pulled up. It’s so hard on your back and hands. How much can you lift yourself? I remember thinking keep your hands there, right there, that feels great.

The whole thing about yoga was that I felt great at the end of class. Otherwise, why would anyone go and do it? I felt better, felt taller, all smoothed out. You had to take the pain of doing it to feel good once it was all over. That’s why I went back week after week, even though I knew Monica was going to push, make us stay in poses until it hurt.

It was because I felt darn good afterwards.

I didn’t want to give up on it, but it was so expensive after awhile. I went for a long time, almost a year, but then I thought I could do it at home. Frank Glass was doing it at home. Vera said he practiced yoga almost every day. If he could do it I could do it, for sure.

I started, but then stopped after a few weeks.

You have to be disciplined to do yoga at home. Whenever Monica saw anybody in her class slacking off she would say, “What’s wrong with you, get going.” At home you can say I’m not doing this pose today. The next day you can say I’m tired and won’t do anything today. I finally didn’t do much for more than a month, and when spring came I started working in the yard and going for walks in the park with my fox terriers.

That was the end of yoga for me.

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

 

 

 

Blinded by the Light

light

Frank Glass hadn’t been to a yoga studio since before spring broke into brightness, preferring to practice at home, and riding his bicycle on sunny days, taking advantage of the season. There aren’t many of them, sunny days, in Lakewood, Ohio, on the south shore of Lake Erie, during the six months of fall and winter.

Most of them are cloudy moody challenging. Behind every cloud there’s another cloud many days in the Land on the Great Erie Lake, although that’s not what the Erie called it.

Before they were wiped out after the Beaver Wars, the indigenous Erieehronon lived on the lakeshore. They thought panthers surfed the waves. They wore bobcat tails like strings of pearls on their heads. Erie means long-tailed in their language, even though bobcats have short tails.

French trappers didn’t call it Lake Erie. They called it Cat Lake.

There are plenty of sunny days in spring and summer, easy and breezy, some not a cloud in the sky. That’s when it’s Cloud 9. They are good days to go riding, even when sunlight is staring you straight in the face.

Frank had been practicing yoga more at home than at studios for more than a year. There had been a time when he twisted breathed meditated over and above at studios, only barely once-in-awhile at home, until one night when his wife looked up from the stove.

“If I only made meals at cooking class you would starve to death,” said Vera Glass.

What she meant was she prepared dinner, even if only a Caesar salad and a glass of wine, almost every night, not just when she took a cooking class. She might also have meant Frank was looking like a slow learner, taking so many classes.

“Remember what Napoleon used to say,” she said.

Frank Glass’s wife was a self-employed business manager and bookkeeper, but had a college degree in history. He waited to find out what Napoleon Bonaparte used to say.

“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”

“What about if you’d rather someone else do it, for example, like make a fool of yourself,” asked Frank. “Then it’s better you don’t do it all by yourself, right, and never mind Napoleon?”

Vera stirred the pot. “Like they say, to thine own self be true.”

Yoga practice at a studio is inspiration positive energy pushing your limits, and a rubber mat buzz. Frank’s motivations for doing yoga at home were money time one-size-doesn’t-fit-all.

During the half-dozen years he took classes three four five times a week he spent thousands of dollars a year on the practice, as well as spending the time getting to and from studios.

The two years he practiced Bikram Yoga were even more costly. He drove farther to the hot class, 45 minutes, suffered in the so-called torture chamber for 90 minutes, and after a cold shower drove another 45 minutes home. He gulped down quarts of coconut water and electrolyte drinks before, during, and after every class.

When the first month’s hellish heat cramps finally subsided he never stopped stopping at the drink coolers of 7-Elevens and slapping his loose change down before, during, and after every class.

Practicing at home meant simply walking up to the attic loft where he kept his mat, blocks, and twelve-inch Yoga Wheel. There were two skylights cut into the pitched ceiling and a futon for Sky King, the white and gray cat, and Alexander Pope, the dark Maine Coon cat, to curl up on while watching him.

Sometimes he wondered what they were thinking, when they stretched by second nature, but most of the time he didn’t want to know. They were inscrutable, anyway. He knew that cats, whenever they slipped and fell, always pretended like it hadn’t happened. All the same, not many cats trip over people. We trip over cats.

The practice on and off the mat is like carrying a cat by the tail, learning something you can’t learn any other way than by doing it.

Although Cleveland is not considered to be a hotbed of yoga, there was a studio within walking distance of where Frank and Vera Glass lived on the west side of Lakewood, an inner-ring suburb on the west side of Cleveland, there were two within biking distance, and another two within a short driving distance.

Yoga studios are good places for guided practice, adjustments, and finding new ways to do things on one leg. It was either the last day of summer or the first day of fall, he couldn’t tell, and Frank Glass felt like it was good day to get out of the house.

He grabbed his mat and some cash and drove across the bridge across the river to the Better Bliss Yoga Studio in Rocky River. He hadn’t been there for several years, but walking in it looked like nothing much had changed, although he didn’t recognize the desk help, the instructor, or anyone else in the class.

He recognized the Apple iMac the studio used for checking in and payment processing, and the Apple iMac recognized him, too.

The studio boutique was new, selling oils and balms, leg warmers and jewelry, infusers and candles and something called Spiritual Gangster. Frank was a big fan of gangster movies, but he thought of yoga as an inquiry, of questioning one’s intent, of looking for meaning, and knew from the movies that gangsters don’t ask many questions.

But, Spiritual Gangster turned out to be tanks and pants. One of the tanks was emblazoned with the breezy slogan ‘I’m Just Here for the Savasana’.

The class was crowded, like squids squeezed into a subway at rush hour, but he managed to slip in near the corner near the back near the windows. There were maybe a hundred men and women in a squarish room that should have fit seventy, at most. The mat map spread out over the gleaming wood floor was rows of them facing the front and rows on the sides turned 90 degrees towards the center.

The class was a vinyasa, or flow-style class, the action sequenced and done in time with inhalations and exhalations. Vinyasa is a catch-all, overlapping many styles of the practice, based on sun salutations and continuous movement. After a salutation and some hurrahs from the instructor the class got to their feet.

Almost immediately, as they moved into their first down dog, Frank Glass was confronted with the back end of a pair of skintight tie-dyed pants on the mat less than a foot in front of him. The legs were printed in blue and the hip-hugging waistband was purple.

He found out later they were ‘Waves of Vishnu’ haute Capri’s by k. deer, “strong, sexy, transforming, and proudly made in the USA.”

Back in the day Vishnu’s pants were baggy and wrinkled, not so sexy, handmade in the sub-continent, but that was a long time ago.

“They feel invisible when you’re wearing them,“ the young woman wearing the Capri’s told him after class.

Shades of lululemon’s ill-fated see-through pants, he thought, trying not to agree too heartily or look too closely.

“Oh, and they don’t retain stink, either,” she said.

“That’s good, not making a stink, I mean,” he said.

The flow class was challenging, the pace relentless and perspiry, accompanied by a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame soundtrack. The Beatles once chanted “jai guru deva om” on one of their hit tunes and Mick Jagger still practices yoga, which might explain his Jumping Jack Flash moves at the age of 73.

Frank Glass did his best to keep up with the class, which was not a low-key group, but rather go-getters getting their money’s worth. He wasn’t in shape for game speed yoga. He could feel his face scrunching, feel himself muscling through poses, trying too hard, and breathing erratically. He finally settled into doing the best he could.

“Do it at your own speed,” said the instructor in passing, nodding at him, making modifications and offering encouragement as she went down the rows of mats.

Frank’s tie-dyed neighbor had a neighbor, another young woman, wearing a muscle tee. Every time she moved her arms a clanking sound echoed the movement. She was wearing loose bracelets. They slid up and down and up her arms as she twisted and turned into and out of poses and jumps.

Frank was surprised at the fashion statement. He had seen a woman once in class wearing a pendant necklace jump through and the pendant swung and smacked her in the mouth when she landed. She had a black and blue fat lip for the rest of the hour. He thought there were two rules about jewelry. The first rule was leave it at home and the second rule was take it off when you got to the yoga studio.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

From Satya Jewelry to Lovepray Jewelry to Pranajewelry there is a wealth of eye-catching bling to show off your love of all things yogic. There are stainless steel bracelets etched with positive-sounding mantras like “Be the Change”. There are Happy Buddha! gemstone necklaces handcrafted of turquoise and silver. There are Garden of Ohm earrings stamped with the likenesses of deities like Shiva, Ganesh, and Durga.

There are stylish toe rings that match the color of your mat, although if you snag an open end of the ring on the rubber, you may go toppling over in downward facing dog, ending up as face first dog down on the mat.

There are many kinds of distractions at yoga studios, from people who stare to loud breathers and groaners to body odor perfume pools of sweat smells and hairballs. It’s a group practice in a confined space. Some people charge their iPhones, check their iPhones, and answer their iPhones in class. Sometimes people even think out loud while engaging in a practice designed to quiet the mind.

At the peak of the class Frank sat down lower in chair pose, but there was no rest there. The instructor led everyone through backbends, supported shoulderstand, some twists and forward bends, and finally it was time for corpse pose, or as the Spiritual Gangsters would have it, what they were there for.

Gangsters are always trying to convince people to become corpses.

Savasana was Frank Glass’s number one yoga pose. It meant the class was winding down, all the physically challenging work was over, and he was confident he could do it right, since it only involved laying on the floor, letting your belly go soft, and breathing.

He didn’t think it had anything to do with acknowledging mortality or making friends with death, like some people thought. He thought of it as slowing down, letting his body get both heavy and light, and being in the few minutes between the nothing that isn’t there and the nothing that is.

Like many things near and dear to one’s heart it was over before he knew it and before he knew it everyone was sitting upright cross-legged. The instructor saluted the class.

“Namaste,” she said.

Suddenly, a bright white light blinded Frank.

Until the 21st century, when yoga morphed into physical fitness, it was a mind body spirit united states of being practice. Although physical fitness and brainwave control were always elements of yoga, it was training for the body and mind to self observe and be less self centered, and for the spirit to get to a place of more consciousness. That place was called samadhi.

Samadhi is the eighth and last limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. It means the act of concentration and what is being concentrated on and the body mind spirit that is doing the concentrating all becoming one. It is yoga’s end game of union. It’s a thrill, but a thrill in the thrall of stillness.

It’s like the light at the end of the tunnel.

Frank Glass blinked and turned his head and realized he wasn’t having a samadhi moment. He had been blinded by the sun spilling through the studio windows and reflecting off a big diamond ring on the finger of a woman’s hand in mudra pose. She was sitting on her mat between him and the sun outside the window.

He knew it was a real diamond because the way diamonds reflect light is unique. Inside the gem mirror-like facets sparkle a brilliant white. Outside the gem bending reflecting refracting light they sparkle a white fire. Frank Glass knew big girls need big diamonds, but it was still an eye-opener to see the splashy lozenge in a yoga class.

Maybe it had something to do with Joan Rivers, who said, “If God had wanted me to bend over, he would have put diamonds on the floor.”

When Frank Glass got home his wife was in the kitchen making dinner.

“Did you learn anything at class today?” asked Vera.

“Yes,” said Frank. “Leave the family jewels at home.”

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