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PG Columnists

Looks don't mirror fears

Friday, July 03, 1998

By Tony Norman, Post-Gazette Columnist

Steve Lashuk tries to look as inconspicuous as possible while standing in the lobby of the Edgewood Eat'n Park, clutching a fire-engine red suitcase.

Wearing a pale blue suit and gold clips on the points of his collar, Lashuk, 70, blends right into the middle American ambience of the restaurant.

His little red suitcase marks him as either a door-to-door salesman or a sad-faced uncle anticipating his last high cholesterol meal before shuffling off to the old folks' home.

With eyes full of grandfatherly pathos and a healthy coif of brown hair, Lashuk resembles Jack Gilford, the late actor who starred in the classic Cracker Jack commercials of the late '60s. One almost wishes he looked less like a beloved television icon and more like a guy struggling with some very weird bigotry.

Lashuk opens the red suitcase and pulls out one of many hardbacks dealing with the "gay menace."

"This is the BIG ONE coming up," he says, emphasizing each word, "the END of CIVILIZATION as we know it."

Our booth isn't far enough from other customers to insulate us from occasional stares. A burly guy one booth away looks in our direction, assessing the situation. I'm sure we look harmless enough, though some customers are hearing things they never expected at an Eat'n Park.

"I'm not going to see 50 million people die," he says of a holocaust he expects long after he's dead. "When this thing starts mushrooming, you're going to see people shot."

I order a bowl of chili, but Lashuk declines everything the waitress offers, even water. I suspect it has something to do with fluoridation, though I have no proof.

"I don't have any problem with the homosexual gay man per se," he says. "It's the lesbians that are creating all the problems."

Oddly enough, it wasn't Ellen DeGeneres' televised coming out that drove Lashuk into the arms of intolerance. Five years ago, the East End resident founded his one-man think tank, the Lesbian Studies Institute, because of his fear of a vast, world-spanning "lesbian cartel" that controls both major political parties down to the committee level.

Now he devotes his days and nights to ferreting out the details of a conspiracy to take over the world he insists stretches from Hillary Rodham Clinton and Janet Reno to the eastern suburbs, where "they've already taken over."

Lashuk flips through his self-published dissertation, highlighting sections that prove his point. It's the same manifesto hundreds of East Enders found stuffed in their mailboxes several weeks ago.

"Jesus is putting this burden on my shoulders," he says. "You think I enjoy being a 'right-winger' or a homophobe? You think I'm proud of myself? No, I feel I'm trying to save America."

And like an evangelist, Lashuk explains his crusade against "social engineers at CYS" and university feminists.

Chili burns my stomach and I feel slightly mortified. I know somewhere in town, someone as innocuous as Lashuk is saying similar things about blacks or Jews or Irish Catholics, even as we wrap up a very civil but absurd conversation about gays.

He asks me to join him. I tell him that I could never belong to any club that would have me as a member. Later, I regret the joke. After all, it was probably Rush Limbaugh's quip about "feminazis" that got Lashuk started in the first place.

Tony Norman's column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be e-mailed at tnorman@post-gazette.com

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