Monday, June 27, 2016

Sarah, Rex and Me: A Remembrance

By Pamela Zoslov

The first dog I ever knew and loved was Rex, a German Shepherd mix who belonged to Sarah White, the lovely lady who was our family's housekeeper when I was a child.

Although we weren't rich and my mom didn't work outside the house, having a maid was in those days considered the birthright of middle-class suburban Jewish housewives. Sarah was more like a second mom or nanny — she would chat with me while ironing my dad's shirts, patiently abiding my endless questions, even when they betrayed my childish naïveté about race.

At the age of eight, I had no awareness of the social system that relegated black women to working as domestics in white people's houses. One day I asked my mom, whose wistful expression I'd noticed,  what was wrong. "I'm just thinking about how poor Sarah is." My mom had grown up parentless and poor, and, I imagine, suffered from a certain level of bourgeois guilt about employing maids. She helped our housekeepers in the ways she could, giving them extra money, clothes and housewares.

Sarah gave me this snapshot of Rex, in his younger days. I duly captioned it with Rex's first and last names, and the photo, now creased and wrinkled, lives on my dresser mirror.

Sarah was impeccable and dignified — "classy" was my parents' term. She insisted on wearing a starched white uniform while on duty. I just knew her as a warm and serene presence, a second mother who always seemed to have time for me. I told her about my little-girl hopes and dreams. In the laundry room, there was a cardboard carton of "play clothes" — Mom's old dresses and shoes — and I would put them on, clomping around in size 10 pumps and a polka dot New Look dress. I asked Sarah when I would be grown up, and she replied, "In 1980." So I made up a rhyming song: "In nineteen-eighty/I'll be a lady....!" (Turns out, that wasn't quite true; in 1980, I was only a foolish college freshman.)

My parents traveled a lot then, often leaving me with my aunt (unhappily), but one time, to my delight, they left me at home in the care of Sarah, who brought with her the excellent Rex. I had often begged for a dog, a plea to which Mom's standard response was "We'll see." (By age ten, I realized the "Can we get a dog?"/"We'll see" duet was getting me nowhere. I asked my dad, who said "Pick out the kind you want.")

With Rex living in the house, I was in paradise. Sarah let me clip his leather leash to his collar and take him for walks. I get to walk a dog! He slept on the staircase landing, and every morning I would spring out of bed, excited that there was an actual dog living in my house, I still remember shaking the box of dog treats, and Rex's tail wagging as he took the crunchy morsel out of my hand. A little girl could hardly be happier. I didn't particularly miss my parents that time, and was sorry to see Sarah and Rex leave when they returned.

Nearly a half century later, I can still remember how I felt when my mom told me that Sarah died. She was in her 40s, and had battled cancer. It was the first major loss of my life, and hit me much harder than the loss of my grandfather and grandmother, who were comparatively distant figures in my life. I thought I would never stop crying.

Sarah. I hope you know what you meant to me. I miss you, and Rex, too.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


By Pamela Zoslov

I met a couple of young men downtown sitting in a doorway, dressed in tattered, muddy overalls that spoke of hard living.

"Take a picture for any part of a nickel?"

They are freighthoppers, men who catch rides surreptitiously on freight trains. They are exceptionally open and friendly and speak in the casual cadences typical of young adults.

They introduced themselves: "I'm called Kid," said one. His traveling companion goes by Hesh.

"We met on the road. We've been hopping freight since last spring." They came from Spokane, Washington and landed in Cleveland by way of Lorain. "We're trying to go to Virginia, to my parents'."

What's it like traveling this way, engaging in a hallowed hobo practice that first arose after the Civil War?

"It's fun. It's always windy and sort of cold."

It's heartening, in a way, to meet young people not on a competitive career path, even if their alternative is to live like Depression-era tramps. The idea of riding the rails still, in 2016, has an American romantic quality that appeals to the freedom-lover in us.

"It's an addiction," says the Kid.

"It's better than hitchhiking," says Hesh. "I still hitchhike, but it's dangerous."

The weather can be forbidding for freighthoppers.

"Going from Nashville to Memphis, it was pouring-ass rain. Sixteen hours of water," said The Kid.

How do they elude train authorities — the "bulls," as Neal Cassady called them?

"It's a game of cat-and-mouse. Jump and run."

Hesh agrees. "A lot of running."

Friday, April 29, 2016

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Road to Hope


Scenes from Road to Hope, a Cleveland Public Theatre-sponsored event commemorating the Cozad- Bates House in University Circle, which was a station along the Underground Railroad. April 24, 2016.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hard Times

While Cleveland's Public Square is fenced off and under construction until 2016, there's no place for people to congregate, and downtown feels less cohesive and more sinister than usual. Panhandlers are using ever more abstruse gambits ("Hey, I know where you got those shoes, Big Man!" says one to every passing gent; another walks down Euclid Avenue holding a small cardboard sign that reads, with admirable candor, "WHY LIE NEED BEER."

Above, a Dickensian scene befitting the downtown carriage-ride business pictured. Hearing loud cheers from Browns fans watching the game in a nearby tavern, the man in the clerical collar, who was holding the horse's bridle, asked the driver if he could go check the score.

The driver, cigarette dangling from his lips, replied:

"No, you're not checking the score. You'll do your job!

"I'm not checking the score," he continued, with the puffed pride that comes of being boss. "I'm doing my job!"

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Quality Shoe Repair

Men hard at work on a Wednesday afternoon at Quality Shoe Repair and JC's Shine, a small, efficient shop at 708 St. Clair Avenue downtown.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Mr. Gilbert's Hats

This gentleman, Robert Harris, sells hats from a stand on Buckeye Avenue, next to his church. His business, Mr. Gilbert's Hats, and his little white truck with the top hat and cane logo, are often seen around town. Over Labor Day weekend, he'll be selling hats to sun-baked spectators at the Cleveland International Air Show.

Harris, 70, has been in the hat business for decades, having worked at the famous Cleveland store Mike the Hatter. He would like to open his own store, maybe at Shaker Square where he lives, and sell upscale hats.

I have passed his stand many times while driving, but today decided to stop and chat with Mr. Harris, who regaled me with stories about his life and his views on modern mores "Kids today don't have respect. I had a teacher at the old East Tech, she was a midget of a lady. But she'd take you by the ear to the principal's office. We didn't disrespect her."

He reflected on his earlier years. "I was into some bad things, selling drugs and that. The pastor of this church saved me. He believed in me. I love that man."