Tag Archives: 147 Stanley Street

Soul Music

20424212_1606125269421932_5066442236704435886_o.jpg

“I’ve always been obsessed by weddings,” said Marsha Weeks. “I used to buy wedding magazines when I was 7-years-old and dream about planning a wedding.”

Most kids don’t grow up to be the firemen and rock stars, much less heroes and explorers, they dreamt about becoming. It’s less than 1 out of 30. It’s a long shot when it comes to becoming a hero, or even a wedding planner. The rest of children, because of ups and downs, twists and turns, turn out becoming and doing something else, mechanics, working in stores, teachers, and doctors.

Marsha Weeks grew up in Fredericton, a small rural community in western Queens County on Prince Edward Island. The province is Canada’s smallest, made up of only three counties, as well as the most rural. It is the only province without a metropolis. Most islanders live in country and small town areas.

After graduating from high school she moved west, almost three thousand miles west, enrolling at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. She stayed for ten years. “I did hospitality management, managed restaurants,” she said. When she moved back to PEI she worked in hotels in Charlottetown, the capital, then went into sales and marketing at the Stanley Bridge Resort, not far from where she grew up.

“I now work for the Children’s Wish Foundation,” she said. She is a wish coordinator. “We grant wishes to children from the ages of 3 to 17 who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.” Founded in 1983, the charitable organization has chapters in every province and territory of Canada. It has granted more than 25,000 wishes. The most popular ones include travel and meeting celebrities.

Super heroes are splashed across the pages of comic books and IMAX screens, battling super villains and saving the world. Real heroes are usually real people helping another real person. She helps kids hitch their wagons to a shooting star.

She also helps grown-ups get hitched to their sweethearts. Since returning to Prince Edward Island, she has become a licensed marriage commissioner and officiant. Dreaming about weddings and watching re-runs of “Say Yes to the Dress” has finally paid off.

“The provincial government started licensing it in 2006, because there was a demand for same-sex marriages,” said Marsha. “There was the church, too, which doesn’t allow marriages outside of the church. A priest wouldn’t be allowed to marry somebody on the beach.”

When 90 people flew to the island last summer for the wedding of Matthew MacDonald, a PEI native, and Katie Shaver, they landed at a wedding officiated by Marsha Weeks staged on a red cliff overlooking the Northumberland Straight.

“It was important to us to showcase the island and have a real east coast feel,” said Katie. “We were blessed with perfect weather, a quintessential late summer PEI day!”

Although you have to take the birds and bees into consideration, as well as inclement weather and the buffet table surviving the wind, nothing beats getting married outdoors. Unless you mistake the lay of the land and your car gets marooned. “Someone from Ontario coming to a wedding here decided to drive over the dunes on to Cavendish Beach,” said Marsha. “They got stuck in the sand and had to be towed out.”

In any event, the flowers are already there – pink and purple lupins line the fields, roads, and ditches in June and July – and your photos will look great.

Almost 900 marriage certificates were issued in the province in 2018, according to PEI Vital Statistics, nearly 400 of them going to couples with a relationship to the island, but not necessarily living there. The Marriage Act was simplified in 2016, allowing people off-island to marry with passports, doing away with the need for birth certificates. There are almost one hundred marriage commissioners licensed to conduct a legal marriage ceremony.

Marsha Weeks is one of the busiest of them. On a summer day last year she officiated five weddings on a Saturday. She didn’t wait for all the traffic lights in all directions to go green before getting going.

“I started at Cavendish, a destination wedding, went to Fox Meadows Golf Course, a farmer’s field in Brookfield, to the woods at Clinton Hills, and ended up on a back road on the Trout River, at a private residence.”

For once, she hired somebody to drive her. “I didn’t want to risk being late, and I wanted to be able to give them as much attention as I could,’ she said. “I didn’t want to just jump out in time for their ‘I do’s’”

It isn’t only traditional wedding season bells, either.

“I recently officiated a large wedding in western PEI,” she said. “The bride and groom chose to incorporate their children with a sand ceremony to symbolize the blending of their two families into one, and presented the children with necklaces as their own special gifts. It was a reflection on how important one big happy family meant to the couple.

“That same day I officiated a small intimate wedding in Charlottetown. The bride and groom couldn’t keep their eyes off of each other for even a second, and as they exchanged their vows, their love for each other radiated. It was honestly beautiful.”

Most people, as recently as ten years ago, used to get married in a church. Nowadays most people get married in a civil ceremony. “I think it’s going to continue that way,” said fellow commissioner Marlo Dodge. “You can get married wherever you want, whenever you want. You can tailor the ceremony to the way you want.”

As long as you include the legal parts, you can write your own ceremony.

Not many people, however, write their own music. There are scores of wedding ceremony songs, from the traditional to the modern. “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles is still popular, as are Josh Groban’s “The Prayer” and “Fairytale” by Enya. “The Wedding March” by Felix Mendelssohn has stayed a Top 10 on the soul music charts since it was first played in 1858 as a recessional for a royal wedding.

Marsha started making soul music on her own when she moved back to Prince Edward Island.

She had gotten the hang of the pump organ as a tot sitting at her grandmother’s side. “One of the fondest memories I have growing up is of her playing hymns. She loved playing for herself. I’m like that. I get something out of it on the inside.” She started taking fiddle lessons six years ago from Gary Chipman.

“Someone recommended him,” she said.

She couldn’t have tied the bowstring knot with anybody better. Gary Chipman learned to play the fiddle when he was 5-years-old. His father, a well-known Charlottetown-area fiddler, taught him his first tunes. By the 1960s he was often featured at local dance halls. He toured with Stompin’ Don Connors and is well known for his down east Don Messer style of fiddling.

“The Cape Breton style is rhythmic, with Scottish cuts,” said Marsha. ”The down east style is melodic, it flows, it’s a lot faster.”

If Don Messer played with little ornamentation and great assurance, Gary Chipman plays with expressiveness and great assurance.

“I was taking lessons from him, but I had not heard him play,” said Marsha. She heard him one afternoon at Remembrance Day. “I couldn’t see the stage, but I could hear a person playing. That is amazing, I thought. Who is playing that fiddle?”

It was her music teacher. She had only ever heard him play scales. She didn’t know he had played on the folk musical TV variety show “Don Messer’s Jubilee” when he was still a lad. “My chest swelled so much I thought it would burst, it was so exciting,” said Gary. The half-hour show at the time was second in viewership only to “Hockey Night in Canada.”

“These are the good old days, today,” said Gary. “I’m going to keep playing until I can’t play anymore.”

“Musicians don’t retire,” said Louis Armstrong. “They only stop when there’s no more music in them.”

“The Don Messer show was near and dear to a lot of people in Atlantic Canada,” said Marsha. ”When they cancelled it, there was a huge protest. Not riots, but a huge uproar.”

Since brainstorming is the marriage of ideas, Marsha put on her thinking cap. She went to the beach on the national seashore. She went for a walk by herself. She went home and took a hot shower. It’s where some people do their best thinking. Warm water helps increase dopamine flow to the brain. She let her thoughts take center stage.

“I’ve always had an element of promotions and event planning in my career. His natural ability to play music, my entrepreneurial spirit, it was a kind of natural fusion, and I decided I wanted to organize a show.”

They put together a performance, and then did another, and then ”it kind of blossomed after that.” They spent two seasons doing shows at Avonlea Village and two seasons after that at Stanley Bridge. In between they took a Don Messer show on the road.

Avonlea Village is in Cavendish, on the north-central coast, the small town Lucy Maud Montgomery called Avonlea in “Anne of Green Gables.” It is a re-creation of the 19thcentury town, merging purpose-built with heritage buildings. The Women’s Institute in Stanley Bridge is 4 miles up the main drag on Route 6. There are ceilidhs at the community hall six days a week in the summer.

“The Stanley Bridge hall has such a soul,” said Marsha.

Two years ago Gary Chipman spent summer nights there playing with Keelin Wedge, a hairpin turns wizard on the fiddle, and Kevin Chaisson. Last year he played Mondays with the Chaisson Family Trio and Wednesdays with the Arsenault Trio. Jordan Chowden, a world-class step-dancer, made the stage boards go percussive. The Chaisson’s from Bear River have deep roots in PEI’s music scene They are part of the spearhead keeping traditional fiddling alive and well on the island.

Marsha hosted the shows, joining in when the opportunity arose, although keeping up with the Arsenault’s was no mean feat.

“Their liveliness is amazing,” she said. “If we were playing ‘St Anne’s Reel,’ they definitely add more notes to it. They put their own spin on everything. It’s their Acadian style and it’s fast.”

Before the shows Marsha does all of the social media, organizes the schedule, takes notes during rehearsals, and types up the play list in capital letters. She makes sure the doors of the hall are open, the lights are on, and the soundboard is right on.  “I’m always so proud to hand them their play list, although by the end of the night they might have done a few songs on the page,” she said. “It’s just the way it is. Most of the time it works.”

During the shows Marsha is the emcee and stage manager. “Everybody likes the sound of their instruments through the monitors a certain way. They’ve got to have water. Gary has to have his guitar on his right side, or else he gets all tangled up.”

She is also the timekeeper. “It seems like I’m the boss of it, but that’s only because they never think to look at the clock. They would keep going all night. Gary is the biggest offender. I don’t necessarily want the music to stop, either, but I’m the one who knows the show has to end at 9:30.”

Marsha’s own fiddle has become an extension of herself. “I understand now what I was missing,” she said. “It’s a part of me, a part of who I am. It’s a part of what makes myself me. You don’t have to be the best. You just have to feel it.”

It’s her own soul music.

“I don’t think of it as a genre. It’s more of a feeling,” explained Louis Kevin Celestin, a Montreal DJ and partner in the hip hop duo the Celestics, explaining soul music.

“Don Messer was my idol when I was a kid,” said Gary. “I thought his band was the best type in the world.  I had the dream of doing my own tribute show.”

The dream came true in 2015 when he did a tribute show at Winsloe United Church, on the road between Oyster Bed Bridge and Charlottetown. Gary’s daughter was in the band and the Charlotte Twirlers, a square dance group, hoofed it up.

Two years later Marsha and Gary took “A PEI Salute to the Music of Don Messer and His Islanders” farther down the road. They took the Messer-style toe-tapping jigs and reels to National Fiddling Day in Charlottetown and the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside. They took the show to Harvey, New Brunswick, Don Messer’s hometown.

“It’s of real sentimental importance to me, having tried to emulate the sounds of Don Messer for my entire fiddling career,” said Gary.

“The older the fiddle, the sweeter the sound,” is what they say.

In September 2017 they took the show to Walter’s Dinner Theatre in Bright, Ontario. “I don’t even know where Bright is, but we’ll find it,” said Gary. When they found it they sold out all the nine shows they did during their week’s run at the watering hole and show hall.

“Gary plays old tunes in new ways,” said Marsha. “He’s the real deal. He puts his own twist on things.”

Sometimes Marsha puts her own twist on weddings. Sometimes stepping up to the altar and step dancing happen all on the same day. Sometimes somebody’s first dance is in the center aisle at the Stanley Bridge community hall, to the soul music of three or four island fiddlers serenading you.

“There were the two moms, the couple, their son, and me,” said Marsha. “It was an intimate wedding.”

The couple from Alberta had come especially to PEI the middle of last summer to get married. “I try to personalize it. I want them to have an amazing experience when they’re making their forever promises to each other.” There’s a forever kind of happiness in making a commitment. The first event many couples plan together is their wedding. There’s nothing unfun about it, either.

“Marsha brought a genuine joyful vibe that is priceless. We felt she was truly happy for us. We are so glad we chose her to officiate our ceremony. That joy is something one can’t pay for.“

Even though the climate is more mild than it should be thanks to the warm water out in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, summer is short and winter is long on Prince Edward Island. It starts to snow in November and lasts until April. Harbors can be frozen solid into May.

“I’m a bit of an old soul,” she said. “I work full-time, but in the winter I slow down, recharge. I write, do projects, and plan for the spring. I practice my fiddle. I practice every day.”

Winter is when wishes get organized and saved up for the heyday of springtime.

“If I could just do weddings and fiddles all the time, it would be my perfect life,” said Marsha Weeks, springing a smile.

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate. 

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825-e1550878549646

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

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Rachel Gets a Ring

Rachel and Doug

Although it may be there are either no coincidences or everything is a coincidence, it is certainly the case that everyone in some small or large way is shaped by happenstance. One thing doesn’t work out while the other one does.

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous” is how Albert Einstein put it.

“I was out with a group of friends,” said Doug McKinney. “Another friend that I played basketball with back in the day texted me he was at Baba’s Lounge. Although I never went there, I went that one time, and connected with Rachel.”

Baba is a word that comes from Persian. It is a Middle Eastern word of fondness, like darling. ‘Do you mind if I ask you a question, darlin’?’

‘Where I come from, that’s a term of endearment.’

’We’re on the same page, then, darlin’.’

“No, we connected at the game,” said Rachel.

Doug McKinney was a power forward for the Island Storm of the Canadian National Basketball League for four years, once on the All-Star team, and to this day holds the playoff record for most points scored in the fewest minutes, when he couldn’t miss in the seventh game of the 2014 NBL Finals.

“I didn’t see you at the game,” said Doug.

“I thought you were just skipping over me, but I saw you, and I wrote you.”

“OK, technically we can start there.”

“I wrote him, I haven’t seen you in years, I hope you’re OK.”

“When I saw her at Baba’s she gave me a big hug, we hung out for a little bit, and when I left, I couldn’t stop thinking about her afterwards.”

They had first met more than ten years earlier, when Doug was playing for the University of Prince Edward Panthers, and Rachel was dating one of his teammates, even though Doug was Best Male Athlete of the Year at the school in 2007.

“I was always a big fan of Doug’s, a great guy, sweet,” said Rachel.

In the years since Doug had finished his college career, played internationally, and was in his third season with the Island Storm. Rachel had gone to school in Toronto, lived in Hawaii, and moved back to Prince Edward Island. In the meantime, she traveled, to the USA, the Caribbean, and Europe.

She and her friend Emma, whose family operates the Chocolate Factory across the street from the Landmark Café, in Victoria, their hometown on the south shore of Prince Edward Island, piled into a 1992 Buick with Emma’s nearly 200-pound Newfoundland dog, Rupert, and drove across and back the range of Canada.

Newfies are black dogs who don’t necessarily eat too much, don’t necessarily need large houses to live in, but do sprawl across back seats, and do, by necessity, usually drool. They are dogs who save babies from drowning and need baby wipes.

“It took months, a crazy road trip, came home, moved to Ontario, came back, did some more traveling, and every summer worked at the Landmark,” said Rachel.

The popular eatery, featured in the guidebook ‘Where to Eat in Canada,’ is seasonal, opening in May and closing in October. The Landmark Café was her father and mother’s brainchild 29 years ago. Rachel and her brother have worked there nearly every summer since they came of age, and even before that.

Doug went the length and breadth of Prince Edward Island during his walk of life with the Island Storm.

“I got to see more of the island on that team than living here my whole life,” he said. “Going to schools, all these little communities, we’re talking to kids, promoting literacy, all kinds of community stuff.” Even though PEI is the smallest of the Canadian provinces, there are more than 70 municipalities spread out over 2200 square miles, most of them separated by big tracts of farmland. There are only two pocket-sized cities on the island. It is mainly a rural landscape.

It wasn’t long after their chance encounter at Babas’s Lounge that Rachel and Doug became a twosome.

“I don’t think either of us were looking for a relationship, but we didn’t want to pass it up,” said Rachel.

“There was something special about our energy together,” said Doug. “I never felt that energy before.”

The summer after retiring from pro ball he got involved with skills training at several basketball camps. He helped out at the Landmark Café, too. “Doug was finishing up with the Storm and it was time to start work at the restaurant,” said Rachel. He bussed tables, later on learning to serve. Seasonal work on PEI means being busy as a bee.

“You could have a day off, but you felt guilty because everyone else was there working so hard,” said Rachel.

“We didn’t see each other a whole lot, but then it just came together,” said Doug.

“It evolved into us realizing we worked well with one another,” said Rachel. ”It’s been almost five years working at different things together, and so we’re at a spot where we’re trying to figure out our next life.”

“Our next play,” said Doug.

“Our next thing,” said Rachel.

“Working side by side,” said Doug.

“We do well together,” said Rachel. ”We’re very open with each other. Even if I feel embarrassed, I know I can go talk to Doug about anything. When we worked at the restaurant, I was almost his boss. He can take it.”

There’s no needing to take it when you’re on the same wavelength.

Getting in sync at the Landmark Café was one thing. Hiking the Camino was another.

“That definitely brought us closer together,” said Rachel.

The Camino de Santiago, sometimes known as the Way of Saint James, is a network of paths passages roads in northwestern Spain all leading to the shrine of the saint. In the Middle Ages it was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages. Even today hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make their way to the Cathedral Santiago de Compostela. Some do it for penance or as a spiritual retreat from modern life. Some hikers walk the route for the challenge. The full length of the trek takes about a month.

If things go haywire there’s always the traditional queimada, which is a local ritual used to fight off evil spirits by drinking a smoking concoction brewed somewhere out of sight, although planning on a day of R & R after the cultural experience is advisable.

“Doing the 800 kilometers of the Camino brought us closer,” said Doug. “There’s the physical stress, dealing with it, of the two of you walking 30 kilometers a day with backpacks, side by side.”

It’s one day at a time on the Camino. It can get hot dusty tiresome. Your partner can start getting on your nerves.

“There are a lot of couples, they say, I can’t imagine working with him,” said Rachel.

“I can’t imagine going to two separate jobs, being separate forty hours a week,” said Doug.

“It gives me anxiety,” said Rachel.

“I just wouldn’t be comfortable,” said Doug.

“I definitely feel safe when Doug’s around,” said Rachel. “In many ways, the more the years go on, the more you want to be together. We can look at each other and we know what the look means. It’s just fun to have, if you’re in that fun busy relationship. It can be great.”

A fun busy loving relationship may not make the world go around, but it makes the ride worthwhile.

After three years working elbow-to-elbow at the family restaurant, in the past year they both found a new path, going to work for Fairholm Properties, which operates high-end inns and lodgings in Charlottetown. They rent an apartment downtown in the capitol city, a few minutes from their jobs. “In the wintertime, it’s storming outside, you can walk just about anywhere,” said Doug.

The next step was walking to the jewelry store.

Like Socrates said, “If you find a good wife, you’ll be happy. If not, you’ll become a philosopher.” Who wants to be a down at the mouth philosopher? After all, Socrates ended up drinking hemlock. Better to ask your better half to pop the top of a Ghahan Sir John A’s honey wheat ale. It pours a refreshing golden color with a white head and it’s not poisonous.

“I know my future is something colorful, something hands-on, something bright, with Doug next to me,” said Rachel.

When you’re hands-on you’re a big part of whatever you’re doing, jumping right in, not taking it for granted, seeing it through from beginning to end. It’s taking the present into your own hands, getting your hands dirty, not handing anything off to anybody else. It’s a show of hands.

Doug showed his hand the October before last.

“I didn’t know where we were going to get engaged, although I knew it was going to be in St. Andrews,” he said.

St. Andrews, at the far western end of New Brunswick, is a small town on the southern tip of a triangle-shaped peninsula in the Passamaquoddy Bay. Many of the original buildings from the 18th century have been restored and are still in place. It is a National Historic Site, although whose history is open to question. Many of the homes were dismantled and floated across the border to the town by disgruntled Loyalists from Maine at the end of the American Revolutionary War, where they were reassembled.

“It’s literally on the USA border,” said Doug.

Crossing borders was more seat-of-your-pants once upon a time. Nobody asked for your passport. Everybody wasn’t forever talking about another brick in the wall. You could bring your whole house with you, not just your RV.

“It is beautiful there,” said Rachel. “Whenever we see a botanical garden, we go to it. When we visit family in New York City, we always go.” Although born and reared on PEI, Rachel’s mother is from NYC and her father is from Montreal.

They had lunch in the café at the Kingsbrae Garden.

“The chef happened to be from PEI,” said Rachel.

The Kingsbrae Garden is a 27-acre former family estate turned horticultural oasis of nearly three thousand perennials, shrubs, and trees. It is a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. There are peacocks, pygmy goats, and ponds, a cedar maze, and a trail through an old-growth forest. Doug and Rachel walked the gardens after lunch.

They spotted a giant Adirondack chair, the kind of oversized chair that makes grown-ups look like kids. They stopped in front of the great big chair.

“Oh, yeah,” said Rachel. “Whenever we see one of those big chairs, we get a picture of us sitting on it.”

When they slid off the seat, Doug asked her if she had dropped something when she got off the chair.

“She didn’t actually drop anything,” said Doug. He didn’t tell her it had fallen far. Rather, it was right there. You don’t want to cast your chance too far when you have the chance.

“It was all just a ploy to get her to turn around.”

“I looked and looked, and when I looked back at him he was on his knee.”

Doug was on his knee next to a giant pumpkin beside the chair on a sunny October afternoon, the day after Columbus Day, proposing a new world, proposing marriage.

”It made us at eye level,” said Rachel.

“How long do you want to be loved? Is forever enough?” is how the Dixie Chicks sing it.

She said yes when she saw the ring, the two of them seeing eye-to-eye in the garden.

“I’m pumped for the rest of our adventures,” said Rachel.

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate. 

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825-e1550878549646

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

 

The Last Splatter

4755909_orig

“What in the hell am I doing?” Jackson Pollack asked himself, surveying the rise of the road, driving up too fast toward the top of it for what was on the other side. He couldn’t dope it out. He was driving like a crazy man, like what all the analysts he had ever gone to always told him he wasn’t.

Not crazy, not exactly.

One of them had said, “You’re just in search of a nervous breakdown.” He didn’t tell that one about 1938. It didn’t matter. He knew he was raw. That’s why the work worked. He wasn’t a nutcase because he saw psychiatrists. But, in the last five minutes he had twice caught himself steering the car at the soft shoulder.

He was the second best driver in Springs, next to Harry Cullum, who had told him he was second best on a late afternoon one day in mid-winter when the two of them were having beers at Jungle Pete’s. “You’ll have the last laugh, just wait and see, Jack,” he said, clapping him on the back.

“Maybe not on the road, but you’ll get ‘er done.”

Jackson Pollock’s convertible didn’t have seat belts, although Harry, the best driver in town, had outfitted his own family car with lap belts. He told everyone it was for his wife’s sake. “In stock car racing we never used seat belts if there wasn’t a roll bar, suicide if you do,” said Harry.

The girl in the middle of the front seat, between Ruth and him, was screaming. “Stop the car, let me out, let me out!” He wasn’t going to stop the car, he knew that, but he had a bad feeling. It was a clear, starry night, splashed dark, hot and muggy. The road felt spongy.

The car was an Olds 88, a big open air carriage.

He got his first convertible, a Cadillac, when his action paintings had started to get some action, after Life Magazine put him on the cover almost exactly seven years ago. It was his boast of success. They said he was the shining new phenomenon of American art. When 1950 got good and done, the next month Art News published a list of the best exhibitions of the year. The top three shows belonged to him. It wasn’t bad for somebody who never graduated from high school.

Even though he used to throw his car keys in bushes when he was getting drunk at parties, he had smashed the Caddy into a tree.

Action painting, he thought, and snorted, spraying spit on the steering wheel. What critics didn’t know wasn’t worth a pot to piss in.  “If people would just look at my paintings, I don’t think they would have any trouble enjoying them. It’s like looking at a bed of flowers, you don’t tear your hair out over what it means.” He had meant it when he said it. He’d say it again, too.

Who needs a critic to find out what is, or isn’t art. Most of them, if they saw him walking on water, crossing the Hudson River at Canal Street, would scribble something about him not being able to swim. The only time he met Man Ray, at the Cedar Tavern when the man was finally on his way back to Paris, he told Jackson, “All critics should be assassinated.”

Lee called his work all over painting because he got it all over the flat canvas nailed down on the floor, the hard floor, his boots and jeans and hands. Bugs and bits of litter and blackened shag from his cigarettes fell into the paint.

“Is Jackson Pollock the greatest living painter in the United States?” is what Life Magazine blew the balloon up with, headlining the story, and a picture of him, slouching against a wall with a smoke dangling from his mouth, and a couple of pictures of his paintings. He looked good, like he didn’t have a care in the world, didn’t give a damn, like he had the world by the balls. Now was different. He hadn’t made a painting in more than a year. He felt washed up.

He wasn’t sure he had anything to say anymore.

“She started to scream,” said Clement Greenberg. “He took it out on this pathetic girl by going even faster. Then he lost control on the curve. The screaming is what did the killing, finally.”

What was her name? He chewed it over in his mind, sliding a glance sideways at her. He couldn’t remember. They were on the Fireplace Road in East Hampton, not far from home. It couldn’t be more than a mile. Not much of a home anymore, anyway. Lee was in Paris with her friends. She had said she was coming back, but he wasn’t sure. He wanted her back, but it had all gone to hell.

Hell-bent in his Olds with two broads in the car and his wife in Europe wasn’t going to get it done, wasn’t going to get it back. He had to get back on track. Maybe the last analyst he’d seen was right, maybe there was something gumming up the works. He was going to try a new approach, he’d said, called hypnotherapy.

He was a new downtown brain doctor. “It’s not hypnosis, at least not how most people think of it,” said Dr. Sam Baird. “We’re not going to try to alter or correct your behavior. We’ll try to seed some ideas, sure, but we’ll talk those out before we go ahead.”

He told Lee he was going to get clear with Dr. Baird. “He isn’t full of old-time shit,” he said.

If any of his neighbors saw him staggering his car down the road they would laugh and say it was like his paintings. Most of them still thought he was nuts, even though they didn’t say so anymore to his face, now that he was in museums and galleries. When he was a nobody they looked down on him like he was a nobody.

“I could see right away he wasn’t from here,” said Frank Dayton. “I asked a fellow later who he was. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘that’s just a crazy artist.’”

“To some goody-goody people he was a bum, just someone to laugh at,” said Sid Miller. “They didn’t think much of his work, didn’t think he was doing anything.”

“Folks said he painted with a broom,” said Ed Cook. “Near everybody made jokes about his paintings, never thought they’d amount to anything.”

“To hell with them,” he said to Ruth sitting close next to him. She was a looker, that’s for sure, the juice he needed to get him going again. He had gone dead inside. He knew he had. She was the kind of girl who could crank him up. What’s-her-name in the back seat kept screaming.

“What?” asked Ruth, loud, twisting towards him.

“To hell with them,” he muttered to himself. “What do they know?”

“Slow down a little bit, the car’s a little out of control, take it easy,” she said.

The joke was on them. When he was painting, standing over a canvas, it was when he was most in control. It was when he didn’t have any doubts about himself or what he was doing. He knew exactly what he was doing. He had told anybody interested in listening, I can control the flow of paint. There is no accident.

“He picked up can and paint brush and started to move around the canvas,” said Hans Namuth. “It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished, His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dance like as he flung black, white and rust-colored paint onto the canvas. He completely forgot that Lee and I were there. Finally, he said, ‘This is it.’”

I work from the inside out. That’s when I’m in the painting, in the middle of life, but outside of it at the same time, when I can see the whole picture. Someone said my pictures don’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. It was a fine compliment. Only he didn’t know it.

He was good driving his Olds, too, even when he was as drunk as could be, which was what he was now. “He came in for his eye-opener, a double, about 10:30 before train time,” said Al Cavagnaro. “Start your day the way he did sometimes, you’d be in the same fix he was. If you said he was half bagged up, you’d be about right.”

Doc Klein had said it was OK for him to drink and drive. He said trees never hit cars except in self-defense. “Stay on the road,” said Doc Klein, a big man laughing a big laugh.

“Goddamn right, I always stay on the road,” said Jackson Pollack. “Except when I’m pulling into Al’s or Pete’s, then I get off the road. Besides, there’s no trees in those parking lots.”

“It was continual, almost nightly drunken large parties,” said Patsy Southgate. “Everyone was totally drunk all the time and driving around in cars.”

He wasn’t driving right, though. He was driving wrong. The screaming girl grabbing his right arm was right. He liked to drive. But, tonight, instead of fluid with the steering wheel, like he was with free-flowing paint out of a can, he was clumsy, crazy clumsy, as though he was at cross-purposes. Herky jerky. The quiet precise gestures he used to stream paint from a stick when he was working were usually the same when he drove his car. Tonight they were too big around, whiplash gestures, like they had a life of their own.

“He had to be moving fast, 85 to 90, anyway,” said Harry Cullum. “There was one hell of a crown where the town tar road begins at the beginning of the left curve. Jeez, I almost lost my car a couple of times there when I was a kid, but finally you smarten up and ride that crown, the one they fixed after Pollock got killed.”

“My version of Jackson’s death is he died of drink and the Town of East Hampton Highway Department,” said Wayne Barker.

It was three years ago, the first week of November, when he had come down the crown of the road like a stick of dynamite. He came back from the city on Friday, on the train. It snowed all morning and it was still snowing at the end of the day when he found his car in the lot, brushing a foot of snow off his windows with his hands, rubbing the cold out of them in front of the car’s dashboard heating vent. When he finally got on the road to Springs he was one of a handful of cars. The storm was blowing off the ocean. The car trembled whenever the road flattened out and he was sideways to the coastal wind.

“I crawled up there, could barely see, and stopped when I saw the pile of snow,” he told Lee that night at home, the windows in their sash frames rattling in the 75 MPH gusts. “There was a snowdrift, five feet, six feet high, down the other side blocking the way. I backed up a little, to where my rear tires could get a grip on a stretch of clear road, and hit the gas as hard as I could. I went as fast as I could, hit the snow head on, everything went white, everything disappeared, no color, just white. By the time I came out the other side the Olds was barely moving.”

They laughed about it all night, over dinner, and later in bed again, curling close together under a mound of blankets.

The girl beside him was still screaming. How long could she keep it up? She was driving him nuts. He was driving wrong, all wrong. There was a reason. He knew it, but he also thought, how could there be a reason? What was it? Where was it? He knew it was right there, right at the edge of the front of his brain. It was like the images behind the abstractions in his paintings, right there. But when he tried hard to think of why he was driving wrong his brain hurt like a next morning’s hangover before getting his hands on some hair of the dog.

He had a hangover all the time now, more than five years worth, but it wasn’t from gin, it was from having rocketed to fame, putting everything he had into it, until he didn’t have anymore, and he quit pouring liquid paint cold turkey. It was all over. After that he couldn’t make a painting that anybody wanted.  When he did his black paintings on unprimed canvas, he couldn’t give them away. Even his fame couldn’t prime the pump. Nobody thought it was any good.

“An artist is a person who has invented an artist,” Rosie burst out one night near the tail end of a long night of poker and drinking.

Rosenberg always thought he was right, Jackson thought. He got it wrong on the train, though, the day we were riding into the city together. When I told him the canvas was an arena, I meant it like it was a living thing, not a dead thing, not slugging it out in the ring. He thought I somehow meant it literally, even though both of us were dead sober at the time, and the next thing I knew I was an action painter.

At least he got it right at the card game.

Not like Hans.

When Lee brought her teacher, Hans Hoffman, over to meet him, he saw the sour look on the great man’s face right away. Hans was a neat freak, everything in it’s place, clean and orderly. His own studio was a mess. There wasn’t a sign of a still life or a life model anywhere.

“You do not work from nature,” said Hans. “You work by heart, not from nature This is no good, you will repeat yourself.”

“I am nature,” said Jackson Pollack.

There wasn’t a drop of daylight left in the sky or anywhere on the other side of his windshield. It surprised the hell out of him when he got to the curve at the dip, where the concrete stopped and town’s blacktop started, and he suddenly veered off the road, aiming for the trees. The car skidded in the sand. He let it slide, its big front end dead set on the big oak tree to their left.

Skidding in the dirt off the road didn’t surprise him. Besides, he was going too fast. He was going fast, that’s all. The girl next to him stopped screaming. She slowed down. She was squeezing a small pillow in her hands with all her might. His hands felt dry and relaxed on the steering wheel. He didn’t squeeze the steering wheel even when he smashed into the tree head-on.

The car broke every bone in its chassis when it hit the tree. Jackson Pollack was catapulted over the windshield and into the woods. The mangled car flipped over, tossing Ruth to the side. When the Olds landed upside down, crushing the framework of the windshield, the girl with the pillow in her hands suddenly stopped gripping it. The car horn blared, stuck. Gasoline poured out of the punctured gas tank. The taillights blinked on and off and on and off.

“I’m going to be one of my paintings in a second,” thought Jackson Pollack in mid-air, halfway to the future, rocketing his way to forever. “I’m going to splatter all over. I’m going to be in nature, be nature, finally, once and for all.” He hit a tree. When he landed with a hard thud, however, he landed on soft ground, except for a just barely jutting out of the ground lump of granite rock. It was mottled with luminous moss. His neck hit the rock like a falling star.

He lay there like a broken tree branch, shoeless, his arms and legs haphazard.

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate. 

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825-e1550878549646

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

 

 

 

 

The A-side of Mermaid Avenue

2459517864_319ce22e26

After bacon and eggs and toast and coffee, Ike and Mamie Eisenhower walked out of the big two-story house on the long quiet street and shook hands with Joel Carlson and his wife. “Thanks for having us,” said Dwight Eisenhower. They had spent the night in the guest bedroom. At the end of the driveway a man waited with three ballerina dolls in his arms.

Ike lit a cigarette.

“John Krajicek, from Ames,” said a Secret Service man in a dark suit.

The man holding the three dolls gave them to Mamie Eisenhower.

“Thank you so much,” she said, squeezing his arm.

John Krajiceks’s face lit up.

“It is my pleasure,” he said.

The President and Mrs. Eisenhower were in Boone, Iowa, on Friday, September 21st. Today was the last day of summer. Tomorrow was the first day of fall. It was a clear crisp morning.

Once in their car they were driven to 718 Carroll Street, to the house Mamie had been born in sixty years earlier. Mrs. Beatrice Smiley, Mrs. Myrtle Douglas, and Mrs. Awilda Stranberg, all dressed up, all in a bundle, all waiting breathlessly, greeted them on the front porch. They presented Mamie with a photograph of the stone and memorial plaque that had recently been placed on the lawn of her birthplace.

Mamie was slightly unnerved by the God’s acre look of it.

Looking down at the plaque, after reading the inscription, Ike noticed a shiny penny in the freshly mowed grass.

“See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck,” he thought.

He picked it up.

Adlai Stevenson was coming to nearby Newton tomorrow to give a speech about farm problems. “We’ve got the ‘Truth Squad’ ready,” Joel Carlson had said over breakfast. Ike rolled the penny between his fingers in his pocket.

Vicki, Bettina, and Dottie plunked down their fifteen cents apiece at the NYCTA booth and walked down the stairs. Dottie stopped to look at a yellow sign trimmed in red on the wall at the entrance to the tunnel.

“Please cooperate. When in doubt, ask any employee. Help keep the subways clean. Use receptacles for paper. Do not rush – Let ‘em off first. Move away from doors. Keep to the right on stairways. Try to shop between 10 and 4. Always be courteous.”

“Run!” she suddenly shouted, running up the platform. “It’s one of those air-conditioned cars!”

Two months earlier the transit system had rolled out the first experimental air-conditioned cars on the East Side IRT line. They were fitted with deodorizers and filters and piped-in soft music. The temperature was maintained in the mid-70s. Signs on every third window said “Air Conditioned Car – Please Keep Windows Closed.”

They were taking the IND line across the river to Brooklyn, across Gravesend, to the end of the line. When they got off the train they walked, crossed Mermaid Avenue, and hoofed it to Coney Island Beach and Boardwalk.

Dottie felt light as lemonade.

They stopped at the Sodamat at West 15thStreet as they strolled on the Boardwalk.

“Good Drinks Served Right – Skee Ball 5 cents.”

There were prize games, hammer games, rifle ranges, freak shows, and fortune-tellers on Coney Island.

“Look, they have waffles,” said Dottie, pointing to a sign on the front of a counter behind which a man in a white jacket and soda jerk cap was making waffles.

“I thought you wanted a Nathan’s,” said Vicki.

“I do, but later,” said Dottie.

“Did you know hot dogs were invented right here on Coney Island, almost one hundred years ago?” asked Bettina.

“Not so fast, how could Nathan have done that?” asked Dottie.

“It wasn’t Nathan, it was Charley Feltman, who used to boil sausages on a small charcoal stove inside his wagon and then slip them into a roll. He called them red hots at first, but later changed it to hot dogs.”

“How about some ball hop before we eat?” asked Vicki, pointing into the arcade behind the food counter.

“My game is stickball,” said Dottie. “Skee ball is for sissies. They don’t even play stickball here. They play coop-ball. That’s for jellyfish, too.”

“Do you only play stickball?” asked Vicki.

“Oh, no, we play ringolevio and skelly, too, although some kids call it scummy top, even though I don’t know why. Skelly is fun, but all you’ve got are your chalk and the squares and your caps. Ringolevio is way more fun, we run all over, and there’s a jail, and jailbreaks, and everything. Chain chain, double chain, no break away!”

It was a few minutes before eleven when the Eisenhower’s arrived at the National Field Days and Plowing Matches near Colfax. In the past two days he had traveled hundreds of miles through central Iowa, made speeches, informal talks, shook hands, waved and flashed his smile to more than 300,00 people, half of them on Walnut Street in Des Moines, eight and nine deep, on both sides of the street.

Gangs of schoolchildren ran alongside his limousine and kids on bicycles rode behind his police motorcycle escorts.

“There’s never been anything like this here before,” said Governor Leo Hoegh, whistling through his teeth in awe and admiration.

Four years earlier, when Harry Truman had campaigned in Iowa, he got sick and tired of hearing “We Like Ike!” from hecklers. “Why don’t you shut up and you might learn something,” he retorted at one stop, veering from his prepared speech. Instead, he became the target of eggs and tomatoes.

As they drove up the dirt road off Highway 6 to the entrance of the Field Days, Dwight Eisenhower glanced at the cardboard signs at the side of the road. He wasn’t the challenger anymore. He was the incumbent. He was the man in office with a record to defend.

“10-cent corn  – the same as 1932.”

1932 was the year 24 years ago when Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in that year’s presidential race, more than three years into the Great Depression.

“Ike Promised 100 Per Cent Parity 1952. Didn’t Happen. What Promise – 1956?”

“Ike’s Peace Like Neville Chamberlain’s Peace.”

At the entrance a short round man held up a loosely lettered sign on the end of a broom.

“Adlai and Estes, The Bestest.”

“That was the best waffle I ever had,” said Dottie.

“You had two of them,” said Vicki.

“She’s a growing girl,” said Bettina.

“Those were the best two waffle I ever had,” said Dottie.

“Where to now?” asked Bettina.

“I want to jump off the Eiffel Tower!” exclaimed Dottie.

The Parachute Jump at Steeplechase Park had been built for the 1939 World’s Fair and afterwards moved to Coney Island. It stood 250 feet high, was open-frame, and everyone called it the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn. Twelve cantilevered steel arms sprouted from the top of the tower, eleven of them supporting a two-person canvas seat and a parachute. The riders were belted down, hoisted to the top, then released into a freefall, caught by the parachute, and floated to the ground. Shock absorbers were built into the seats, just in case.

“I’m not going up on that thing,” said Bettina.

“Do you remember the parachute wedding?” Vicki asked Bettina.

“No, I never have heard of it.”

“The couple got married up there. The minister was in the seat next to them and the whole wedding party was on the rest of the seats. When the ceremony was over the married couple parachuted down first, and everyone else followed them, except for the minister. The cables on his seat got tangled and he was up there for more than five hours before firemen could get him down. The tower is right on the ocean, and it got windy, and he was sick as a dog by the time they got him on the ground.”

“That cinches it,” said Bettina.

“You and me both, sister,” said Vicki.

“Mr. President,” said Herb Plambeck. “I’d like to introduce our twenty seven Champion Plowmen and our one and only Champion Plow Woman, Mrs. Pauline Blankenship.”

Ike shook hands with them, taking Pauline Blankenship’s lightly in his. He shook hands with Frank Mendell, chairman of the National Contour Plowing Match, and Dale Hall, chairman of the National Level Land Plowing Match. In the Lunch Tent he met Kay Butler, Queen of the Furrow, and ate sitting between Mamie and Governor Hoegh.

Mrs. Jet Adams supervised the dozen ladies serving lunch. Mamie waved her over.

“You’re doing a wonderful job,” she said.

After lunch Senator B. B. Hickenlooper introduced President Eisenhower to the crowd after introducing himself at length.

“Most of you know me, and I’m sure have voted for me often,” he said.

There was a wave of good-natured laughter.

“For those of you who don’t know me, and aren’t sure how to pronounce my name, my friends just call me Hick.”

There was another wave of laughter, larger and louder.

“When I was child, my mother sent me to the drug store to get a nickel’s worth of asafetida for her asthma. The druggist just gave it me without writing it out, because he didn’t want to have to write out my full name, Bourke Blakemore Hickenlooper. “

“Just take this home to your mother, Hick,” said the druggist.

Bourke B. Hickenlooper had been a senator since 1944. He wore black frame glasses beneath a pinkish bald pate and was one of the most conservative and isolationist members in the United States Senate. He hadn’t lost an election since as lieutenant governor of Iowa almost twenty years ago he had made headlines by saving a Cedar Rapids woman from drowning in the Cedar River.

She later told her friends she hadn’t needed saving, but that her savior had insisted.

President Eisenhower’s speech was broadcast live on local TV and radio. He stayed local, steering away from anything contentious, the bland leading the bland. After the address he presented trophies and scrolls to the champion plowmen and champion plow woman.

Henry Steenhock, the owner of the land where the Field Days were held, didn’t think much of the speech.

“I like Ike, but I don’t think I’ll vote for him, even though I’ve been a Republican all my life,” he said. “Flexible price supports have got to go. We’re not looking for a handout, but we deserve price protection. Other businesses are subsidized. Ezra Benson? He’s got to go. Vice-President Nixon? I don’t like his attitude – period. Estes Kefauver, he’s like I am, straight-forward.”

Henry Steenbock always called corn a cash crop and a spade a spade.

“Why do they call it Coney Island?” asked Dottie.

“It’s because of the Dutch,” said Bettina. “When they were here, maybe 300 years ago, there were lots of rabbits in the dunes, so they called it Konijnen Eiland, which means Rabbit Island, which became Coney Island after the English took over.”

“How did they take over?”

“Somebody always takes over,” said Bettina.

“Why does somebody always take over?”

“It’s the way of the world, child,” said Bettina.

“I want to go on the Wonder Wheel,” said Dottie.

“I think we’re up for that,” said Vicki.

The Wonder Wheel at Luna Park was a Ferris wheel and a Chute-the Chutes and a slow-moving roller coaster all in one. It was once called Dip-the-Dip. Some of the cars were stationary, but more than less of them moved back and forth along tracks between a big outer wheel and a smaller inner wheel as the Wonder Wheel rotated.

They walked past an eight-foot high neon sign spelling out “Wonder Wheel.” Through the middle of the sign was an arrow blinking and pointing to the ride.

“Thrills.”

Dottie sat between Vicki and Bettina in one of the sliding cars.

“You can see Manhattan,” said Vicki when it was their turn at the top of the 150-foot-tall wheel and it stopped for a few seconds.

“Look, you can see the Rockaway,” said Bettina.

“It takes you low and it takes you high,” said Vicki.

“When you reach the top it’s like you can touch the sky,” said Dottie. “You can see the whole world.”

“One minute you’re on top, the next minute you’re on the bottom,” said Bettina. “I say, stay in your seat, it’s going to get bumpy, enjoy the ride.”

“Top of the world, ma, top of the world,” said Vicki like a crazy person, bulging her eyeballs and throwing her arms up.

Bettina laughed.

“Isn’t that crazy? One day he’s Yankee Doodle Dandy and the next day he’s a mama’s boy mad dog killer.”

The Wonder Wheel shuddered and started down again.

Dwight Eisenhower and his wife were at the Des Moines Municipal Airport by mid-afternoon for their flight back to Washington D. C. He greeted and answered questions from more than a hundred Iowa weekly newspaper editors, met with two- dozen Iowa Republican Party officials, and was escorted to the Columbine by sixteen Eagle Scouts formed as an Honor Guard.

Inside the plane an aide sat down opposite him.

“Mr. President we have a report that Anastasio Somoza, the president of Nicaragua, has been shot today.”

“Is it serious?”

“The report wasn’t entirely clear, but it said, yes, serious, shot in the chest, point-blank, it might be life-threatening.”

“Where have they taken him?”

“He’s been taken to the Panama Canal Zone hospital.”

“Good, best place for him. He may be a son of a bitch, but Tacho’s our son of a bitch, so tell them to do everything they can to save him.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who shot him?”

“A poet.”

“Are you serious? Well, goddamn it. A poet?”

“A poet, yes, sir, a local writer and musician, played violin in a band. He was shot dead, riddled, on the spot.”

“I’ll be damned, a poet with a pistol, mightier than the pen.”

The Columbine touched down at 9:35, taxied to the MATS Terminal, and the Eisenhower’s were in bed by 10:45. The next day Ike stayed in the Mansion all day while it steadily rained, only seeing the Secretary of State for a few minutes. Ike and Mamie attended the Sunday morning service at the National Presbyterian Church, and like the day before spent the rest of the day in the Mansion. Sunday night some of ‘The Gang’ came to dinner at the White House, over drinks planning their next stag trip to the Eisenhower Cabin at the Augusta National Golf Club.

When he was there, which was as often as possible, Ike worked mornings in the three-story seven-bedroom cabin, played golf with his friends in the afternoon, and bridge after dinner. His friends weren’t his friends at the card table, except his partner, and then not always even him.

“How was the Iowa trip?” one of them asked.

“The same as all the others, except it didn’t rain, and the food was better,” said Ike. “I shook a lot of hands, made speeches to the faithful, and got out the vote.”

Dottie peeked over the front edge of the front car down at the track of the Cyclone as the train creaked up to the top of the lift hill, where it was going to curve over the rails and hurtle down. Vicki and Bettina were in the car behind her and Dottie was with her new friend, Ronald, a boy her age whose parents had stayed behind on the platform.

The Cyclone roller coaster was in Astroland at the corner of Surf Avenue and West 10thStreet, almost 2700 feet long, with six fan turns and twelve drops. The lift hill was 85 feet high. Six years earlier a man who hadn’t spoken in fourteen years, riding the Cyclone for the first time, screamed while going down the first drop.

“I feel sick,” he muttered when the train returned to the station, and dropped to the ground in a dead faint after realizing he had spoken.

“I have a friend who counts the seconds until the ride is over,” said Ronnie.

“Why does he do that?”

“He can’t stand it.”

“What’s the point of riding it in the first place?”

“I duuno,” said Ronnie. “Every time I ask if he wants to go with me, he says, sure, as soon as I’ve lost my mind, but he always goes anyway.”

“The Cyclone is for when you want to be so scared and so thrilled all at the same time. Maybe he should stick to the merry-go-round.”

“Yeah,” said Ronnie. “You don’t want to ride the roller coaster when you’ve got diarrhea.”

“No way,” said Dottie, making sure their buzz bar was locked in place.

“Did you hear about that girl who got hit in the face by a pigeon and broke her nose going down this hill?” asked Ronnie.

“No!” said Dottie.

“It was alright,” he said. “She had some Kleenex and just stuffed it up her nose nostrils to keep the blood out of her eyes.”

“Yikes!” said Dottie, as the Cyclone shimmied shook roared down the other side of the lift hill. “I don’t have any Kleenex.”

They laughed up and down the trick hill, leaned into the banked turns that twisted and tipped the train, ducked beneath the headchoppers, and inside of two minutes pulled into the station where everyone clambered off.

“My legs feel like fried bacon,” said Ronnie.

“Yeah, that was the mostest fun,” said Dottie.

“Bye.”

“Bye to you, too.”

“That was sketchy,” said Vicki.

“Shoot low, they’re sending Shetlands,” said Bettina. “Did you feel that tower sway when we got to the top?”

“Yes, you bet I did.”

“I’m hungry,” said Dottie.

“You’re always hungry,” said Bettina. “Doesn’t Stan feed you?

“So am I,” said Vicki.

“How about a red hot at Nathan’s?” suggested Bettina.

“Yippee ki yay!” exclaimed Dottie.

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate. 

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825-e1550878549646

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

 

 

 

Kill Me Again

fowler_kimberly_01-e1537543657505.jpg

Most people, unlike cats and their legendary nine lives, only die once when they pass away. There’s no going back for a do-over. The art of living well and the art of dying well are often thought to be the same thing. Kim Fowler is not most people. She lives well, but doesn’t die well, although if she were a cat she would be down to six lives and counting.

She is the founder and owner of YAS Yoga and Spinning Fitness Centers, with multiple locations in Costa Mesa, Venice, and Los Angeles, California. The first center opened in 2001 and featured the first fitness program wedding yoga and certified spinning. “Both together are an amazing combination of yin-yang,” she said.

Ms. Fowler’s Yoga for Athletes melds elements of Iyengar and Ashtanga practice to enhance athletic performance and reduce the risk of injuries. YAS classes are typically 30 minutes of indoor cycling followed by 30 minutes of yoga. “It helps you go deeper into and benefit more from each pose,” she said.

She is a successful innovator, teacher, and businesswoman. She is a resourceful yogi, and one tough cookie, too. She has learned to roll with the punches, literally.

In the early 1980s she was competing in a bicycle road race outside Dallas, Texas, when a car smashed into her. She rolled over the front of her bike.

“I bent the handlebar of my bike with my face.”

As late as 2013 there were close to a half million emergency room visits because of bicycle-related injuries and almost 900 bikers died. Texas is one of the deadliest states in America in which to ride a bicycle, ranking only behind Florida.

After recovering she worked with a physical therapist, a woman who happened to be an Inyengar Yoga instructor on the side. “She gave me yoga poses to help me.” A near death experience turned into a far and wide life experience.

“I guess yoga found me,” she said.

Whether it’s exercise or meditation, yoga is about trying to apprehend the inner being, what in the Yoga Sutras is called drastuh. It’s a burning away of what in the end doesn’t matter. Eternity isn’t something that happens after anybody dies. It’s happening all the time to everybody.

Kim Fowler was raised in an impoverished South Jersey neighborhood, the eldest of five children. “I grew up extremely poor. We didn’t have food or heat. My father had a bad car accident when I was young and ended up with 88 stitches in his face. He never pulled out of it. He became an alcoholic, didn’t work, and left us to fend for ourselves.” She had to make her own way.

Sometimes the freedom to be yourself comes from old-fashioned gumption.

After putting herself through school and earning a degree from Boston University she enrolled in law school. In her final year, in the middle of her final semester, she was diagnosed with a rapidly growing tumor the size of a golf ball in her brain.

“I had a bright career in front of me,” she said. Lawyers get a bad rap. Some people even believe most of the trouble with laws is lawyers. “No one wanted an attorney that had a brain tumor.“

Her doctors told her the problem was inoperable. “We could try to get it out,” one of the team of doctors told her. “But, you will lose your speech and sight. You probably won’t make it past thirty.”

Life can be rocketed into a new orbit by a doctor dispensing bad news from a clipboard in a bland voice. “I’m in my last year of law school!” she exclaimed. “This isn’t an option for me.” Once diagnosed, she had to decide whether or not to listen to their medical advice.

“I’m not going to let this happen to me,” she decided. “There’s got to be something else, something different.” She called a friend who helped her check herself out of the hospital. “Nurses and doctors were screaming. If I would have listened to them I would be dead by now.”

Dead again.

She refused, however, to give up the spirit and buy the farm.

“It’s mind over matter,” said Kim. She began training for and taking part in endurance contests. She ran marathons, rode all-day races on her bicycle, and finally progressed to triathlons. “Someone telling me I was going to die caused me to go the whole other route and become a pro triathlete.”

She also made making it on the mat a habit. “Practicing yoga while battling cancer taught me the importance of balancing strength with flexibility. Focusing on my breath helped me stay centered.”

She gradually recovered. “It was hard, but I was full of piss and vinegar at the time.”

Although doctors are often crucial, recovery is more often brought about not by them, but by the person in danger. In many respects we heal ourselves, by means of our thought and breath, and sheer will.

After graduating from South Texas College of Law she stayed in Houston, going to work for a law firm. In 1990 she moved overseas, practicing international business law in Monaco. Five years later, back in the United States, she joined Winning Combination, a health and wellness business, as their Chief Operating Officer.

Then one day she went hiking.

The Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area in Nevada is gnarly, riven by narrow slot canyons, and laced with steep hillsides. The mountain is called Sky Island because of its elevation and isolation. While free climbing she slipped on a patch of ice, lost her balance, and fell more than twenty feet. She landed on an old tree stump.

The stump stayed rooted. She took the brunt of the encounter.

She cracked several ribs, punctured a lung, and severely lacerated a kidney. “I’ve been through worse,” she thought. She was a half-hour away from the closest medical help. She dragged herself off the stump. ”I knew I had to get to the hospital. It was mind over matter and I just did it.”

The kidney on the side that had taken the blow from the fall was leaking urine and blood into surrounding tissue. At the hospital she was told it had to be removed.

“No,” she said.

Kim Fowler was, again, determined to go her own way. It took her a year to recover. The Winning Combination let her go long before year’s end. “I lost my job as COO.” Getting fired can be like a bomb going off. It can also be a way to get on with your life. You only get to make one mistake with bombs. Firing Ms. Fowler was the Winning Combination’s mistake, although for her it turned out to be liberating.

“When I was rehabbing I would go from a yoga class on one side of town to a spin class on the other,” she said. “I was very frustrated. I thought, why doesn’t someone put this together and open up a yoga and spinning studio?”

That someone turned out to be her.

She opened the first of her yoga and spinning studios in Venice, California. The day she opened the doors her new business began to fail. “We had opposite energies coming together.” Spinners were looking for an intense cardiovascular workout and yogis were looking for a workout to calm them down.

What do you do if your business plan isn’t working? “In my case I regrouped and changed, fast.” She created a new kind of yoga to fit the spinners and sold the yoga crowd on the complementary benefits of spinning. “It was the best thing I could have done.” She was designated a Nike Yoga Athlete by the athletic and fitness company two years later.

Winning acceptance in the yoga world, however, was another matter.

“I got blasted by the yoga community when I first did it because it wasn’t ‘real yoga’, rather my own style,” said Kim.

It was a matter of building a better mousetrap.

The concept of zen on wheels made it into Yoga Journal, the world’s largest mass circulation yoga magazine, “Spin and yoga have merged into a killer one-hour class, created by Los Angeles-based yoga instructor Kimberly Fowler. It’s cropping up across the country.” It named the now better mousetrap one of the hottest fitness trends of 2014.

Since then Ms. Fowler has expanded her brand, moving beyond company-owned locations, and franchising her fitness regimen. “Indoor cycling gives you the best cardio training and yoga provides the best stretching, relaxation, and peace of mind to prepare you for the challenges of life,“ said Hugo Auler, new owner of the franchised YAS Fitness Center in Manhattan Beach, California.

Resurrecting her life led to resurrecting her career, and led to finding her business partner, too. Sherri Rosen is her partner in life, as well. “We were set up on a blind date just a few months after I opened YAS,” said Kim. “We are still together.”

“I’ve stayed in an operator’s mode,” said Ms. Rosen, former vice president of a fashion company. “Kimberly is the visionary. It is amazing what she has accomplished.”

Even though Kim Fowler has gone from cutting edge to business-savvy, even though she has transformed her business model to an investor approach, and even though she has gone corporate, she still lives in her sweats.

“I basically live in workout clothes,” she said. “I only wear green, gray, black, and white. Well, with a smattering of skulls.” She is the designer of an apparel line whose tag line is “Two parts functional, one part bad ass.”

Kim Fowler continues to see her doctor once in a while. “I went and he looked at me like I was a freak when he realized I’d been off medication for 20 years, like I shouldn’t have the life I have. The mind is pretty phenomenal when it comes to its power over the body.”

At the end of exercise sequences on the yoga mat something called corpse pose is traditionally practiced. It’s the easiest and hardest pose. It’s easy because all you have to do is lay on your back with your eyes closed for 5 to 15 minutes. It’s hard because who wants to lie on their back like a dead person, doing nothing, for 5 to 15 minutes.

Corpse pose is about letting go. But, it’s not about zoning out or taking a nap. Even though it’s about letting go, it’s a pose meant to foster connection and clarity, or awareness. Many people struggle with it, however, and some classes look like popcorn popping the minute class ends and corpse pose is announced.

Other people have no problem with it. Kim Fowler is one of them. It keeps her in touch with life. “It’s a different awareness of your body,” she said. “I think for stress it’s amazing. Nothing’s better.”

She knows when to lie down and when to get back up. There are no surprises waiting for her in corpse pose. She’s been there before.

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate. 

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825-e1550878549646

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

 

 

Feet to the Fire

13557805_10154300185528894_3079540249849818272_n.jpg

The first summer Doug McKinney joined the staff at the Landmark Café in Victoria, on the south shore of Canada’s Prince Edward Island, he joined at the bottom. He was a busboy. One of the first times he cleaned a table in the newer back dining room of the restaurant, he miscalculated the ceiling.

“I was clearing a mussel dish off a table, stood straight up, and hit my head,” he said. “It was like somebody hitting you right on the top of your head. I blacked out for a second.”

Doug is slightly taller than six feet eight inches. The ceiling is slightly shorter than six feet six inches. Something had to give.

He didn’t make the same mistake twice, although there were several more close calls. Almost knocking yourself out one time is often the charm, never mind any more times.

“I’ve always been the kind of person, if I don’t know how to do something, I’m going to ask, or I’m just going to go ahead and do it. Maybe I do it right. Maybe I do it wrong. If I do it wrong, I’ll probably only do it wrong once.”

An only child, Doug grew up on the eastern end of the island, near Montague. The small town is known as “Montague the Beautiful” for its river, tree-lined streets, and heritage homes. His father was a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. In 1993 his dad was struck by a fatal heart attack. The boy was 7-years-old.

The 33-year-old man has a tattoo on his chest honoring his father.

The following year his mother and he moved to Charlottetown, the capitol city of the province.

“The RCMP relocated them, bought them a house,” said Rachel Sauve, Doug’s fiancée.

“They are good for that,” said Doug. “I went from living in a rural community to a brand new suburb. My mom spoiled me a lot, for sure. There were lots of kids my own age. I was playing sports, basketball, and we had more than two TV channels.”

By the time he was 15 he was growing more and playing more basketball. He spent early mornings and late evenings at hoops. You can’t do it by loafing around. Practice makes it happen, not just wanting it to happen, and his growth spurt, which can’t be taught, took him up a notch.

As much as basketball was becoming his life, life and death came knocking.

“I was playing in the Canada Games in 2001 when my mother was diagnosed with cancer,” he said. “I came back home, and even though she had only been given until Christmas, she made it until April.”

An inking honoring his mother joined his father’s tattoo on his chest.

“When I lost her, I put more emphasis on basketball.” Not yet grown up, he had to grow up on his own. It was get up stand up for yourself on your own two feet. He treated every day on the hardwood like every day was his last day draining a jump shot.

“Basketball was developed to meet a need,” said James Naismith, the inventor of the game.

Doug played basketball at university and professionally until he was thirty. A graduate of Charlottetown Rural High School, he played five seasons with the UPEI Panthers. Later he played internationally in Lebanon, and after returning to Prince Edward Island, played four seasons with the Island Storm of Canada’s National Basketball League.

He had his ups and downs fast breaking crashing the boards shooting floaters, like every player, since even the superstars barely shoot 50% for the season, but he knew how to recognize his mistakes, learn from them, and then forget them. He never let an opponent try harder than he did.

”It’s basically grown men who do this for a job,” he said when trying out for the Island Storm in 2011. “Everybody is strong, everybody is athletic. I just try to play hard, sweat as much as I can every day, show that I’m willing to work.” Going nose to nose with grown men means proving yourself every day.

He was named to the NBL All-Star Second Team the 2012 – 2113 season.

When his team needed him to score, he scored. During game seven of the NBL Canada Finals in 2014 he went 7 of 8 from the field, 4 of 4 from the 3-point line, threw in an assist, a steal, and three rebounds, and set a playoff record that still stands for most points scored in the fewest minutes.

Basketball is a team game, to the extent that even the best basketball players, like Michael Jordan and LeBron James, could never have won multiple championships without solid teams around them. Doug McKinney’s pro career as a power forward was solid on getting it done.

Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates. Make the extra pass.

After retiring from the pro game he has continued to work with the sport. Last year he was the Minor Basketball Advisor for Basketball Prince Edward Island, helping players and coaches of grassroots programs in PEI communities.

In the meantime, he re-connected with Rachel Sauve.

“We first met in 2002-or-so,” she said. “I was dating one of Doug’s teammates at UPEI.”

Years later they ran into each other at Baba’s Lounge in Charlottetown.

“One of my Storm teammates texted me that he was there, and even though I usually never went there, I went,” said Doug. “I saw her, she gave me a big hug, we hung out for a little bit, and after I left I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”

“I don’t think either of us were looking for a relationship, but we didn’t want to pass it up,” said Rachel. ”We both are islanders and want to be here.”

“I think we both knew there was something other than the fact that I’m really tall and she’s definitely shorter, something special about our energy together,” said Doug.

Rachel was working at the Landmark Café, her family’s homemade soup signature quiche traditional meat pies hot-off-the-press seafood all made fresh daily sit-down in the heart of their small town. The produce is local organic and they make their own salad dressings. Her father, Eugene, and mother, Julia, had staked out the restaurant, several times expanded since, excavating a new basement for storage and coolers, building new dining rooms, and adding an outdoor deck, twenty nine years earlier in what had once been Annie Craig’s Grocery Store and Post Office, kitty corner from the Victoria Playhouse.

“As kids my brother and I were always helping, doing stuff at the restaurant, washing dishes, running to the freezers for ice cream,” said Rachel.

Her father’s entrepreneurship rubbed off on her.

“I sat out front at a picnic table and sold stuff,” she said. “ I was 11, 12-years-old.”

She sold wood figurines, creating faces and outfits for them. She sold bootleg Anne of Green Gables straw hats with red braids. She sold wax jewelry that she and a friend designed and molded out of leftover wax from the café.

“We had a problem with it, though, because the wax would melt in the sun. We put it in boxes so it wouldn’t start melting until the tourists had left the village.”

The family has worked together at the Landmark from the word go.

Shortly after Doug and Rachel had gone from an encounter to a thing together, the restaurant posted a “Help Wanted” for the summer season sign.

Once Doug got the parameters of the back dining room’s ceiling right, he went from busboy to server to integral part of the roster, picking up vittles in the morning, working long into the night cleaning up and closing down.

“It goes back to growing up and playing on teams,” he said. “I’ve played on good ones. I’ve played on bad ones. I’ve always prided myself on being a team player. The Landmark is the kind of place, you’re either going to swim or you’re going to sink.”

“You either do the dance or you don’t do the dance,” said Rachel.

Working for a family business is a dynamic unlike other work. Your mom and dad or grandparents started it from scratch and you’re never going to be one of the founding fathers. Sometimes it’s one big happy family at the dinner table, but sometimes it’s like the Mafia. Whatever the big cheese says is what goes, and you have to come to grips with it.

Doug spent four years at the Landmark Café.

“I was actually the tallest server east of Montreal,” said Doug. “I didn’t want to just serve anywhere, except the Landmark.”

Their lives took a turn toward the end of last winter when they came to a fork in the road and took it. They had just come back to Prince Edward Island from several weeks in Cuba. “That was our last hurrah before the summer,” said Rachel. But once at home, instead of going back to work at the Landmark Café, Doug and Rachel took jobs with Fairholm Inn and Properties.

The collection of archetypal inns in downtown Charlottetown, including the eponymous Fairholm Inn, the Hillhurst Inn, and the Cranford House, share the same grounds, gardens, and outdoor fire-pit. The Fairholm Inn is a National Historic Site, originally a large family home built in 1838 for Thomas Haviland, a many times mayor of the capitol city.

Doug and Rachel are the Jack and Jill of all trades at Fairholm.

“I do the front desk, maintenance work, a little bit of everything,” said Doug.

“They wanted me to learn how to edit websites,” sad Rachel. “Now I know how to edit websites.”

“After Rachel got hired, they needed more help on their team, and thought I could help them out,” said Doug.

“He’s been building cabinets there,” said Rachel.

“It’s awesome working together,” said Doug “We’ve found that even when we’re not working, we go golfing together, go places on the island, have adventures.”

Fairholm Properties schedules most of their days off at the same time.

“It’s evolved into us realizing we work well together. After five years we’re at a spot where we’re trying to figure out our next life,” said Rachel.

“Our next play,” said Doug. “I’m adding stuff to my tool belt, but at the same time, we want to work for ourselves.”

“It might be a tabletop, food truck, catering, something,” said Rachel. “We’re lucky on this island. We have the best local seafood and meat. I can’t see myself being out of that line of work. My dad taught me. All my cooking skills are from him. I’ve got his cooking style in my blood.”

Her father and his Landmark Café have long made the list in the independent guide ‘Where to Eat in Canada’. He is known for his fusion of Asian, Cajun, and native PEI foods, and was once known as a pioneer for his never fried and healthy fare. He is still known for his tasty healthy never fried fare.

Doug’s mother had been a manager at Myron’s in Charlottetown, which was one of eastern Canada’s biggest and most popular sports bar restaurant nightclub concert venues of its time.

“I grew up in the industry without even realizing it,” said Doug.

There isn’t much needed to make your life. It’s all within you, in your way of thinking, in knowing what you want. Being an entrepreneur is a mindset. What it takes is taking the plunge, putting everything you’ve got into being your own boss, exploiting your opportunities when you get them.

It’s jumping off the Confederation Bridge to catch a flying fish. You might go splat in the Northumberland Straight. It will test your risk aversion, but it is, at least, one way to start swimming. You might, on the other hand, land in the fish market, show you’re worth your salt, because you saw something and built your wings on the way down.

No risk no reward.

“We have ideas for our own food venue,” said Rachel, “We’re not chefs, but we’re both great cooks.”

“We eat like kings at home,” said Doug.

“I want the lifestyle, the lifestyle I’ve been living all my life,” said Rachel.

“I’ve gotten to love it, too,” said Doug. “Grind all summer and then find summer somewhere else.”

“I’m not going to sit at a desk,” said Rachel. “That’s not going to happen.”

Whatever does happen, the two of them are undeniably hand to the plow. When they were with the Landmark Café they often worked seven days a week, twelve and fourteen hours a day, most of those hours on their feet. Restaurant work is hard enough, but seasonal restaurant work is getting down to business, not a moment to lose.

“We know many people in the food industry on the island, and some of them want us to work for them, but we want to have our own thing,” said Rachel.

Although raising capital is always a problem for new ventures, especially those related to food enterprises, Rachel Sauve and Doug McKinney are willing to work steadfast persevering to achieve their ends.

“I’m not too good to wash dishes, to do whatever it takes,“ said Doug. “There are a lot of opportunities to capitalize on the food scene on Prince Edward Island in the summertime.”

“When I do a post-up of something we’re cooking at home at night, and I see the reaction, I know it’s something I should be doing,” said Rachel. “We’re trying to mold our future.”

Rachel and Doug may be on a small team at the moment, since it is only the two of them on the roster, far from first place in the standings, but they are on one another’s side, both of them no ifs buts or maybes, their minds made up to make it happen.

“That’s the difference maker,” said Doug. “When you know what you want, you can make a difference.”

Everything’s on the front burner, pots and pans, the kitchen sink, plans goals around the corner, their feet to the bright side of the fire.

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate. 

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825-e1550878549646

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

 

Walking Tall

gettyimages-142837931-e1511640897205

“Waiting for an invitation to arrive, goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive.” Dead Man’s Party, Oingo Boingo  

Barron Cannon laughed and made loop de loops at the side of his head with his index finger.

“Orange Julius has a screw loose,” he said. “But, since he’s at the top, he can take his crazy visions and turn them into reality. He’s like a saint from the Dark Ages who ate a moldy loaf of rye and saw God. It makes you wonder, am I or they round the bend?” He made a fist, raised his thumb, extended two fingers parallel to each other, and blew on the fingers. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

Smoke signals and mirrors. Lipstick sour looks lapel flag pins and soapboxes in the halls of power. Men and women in ten thousand dollar suits slowing down when they see a mirror.

We were sitting in the only place there are any chairs in Barron’s small neighborhood yoga studio, at the front by the windows facing the parking lot. The Quiet Mind is on Clifton Boulevard on the Lakewood side of West 117th Street. Across the street is Cleveland, Ohio. He was drinking homemade Kombucha out of a Starbucks travel mug and I was drinking McCafe drive-thru coffee.

Barron had an Apple laptop in his lap. He was updating a Facebook post he had made offering yoga classes in return for turning in your guns. I chewed on my pencil. He was making like Wyatt Earp.

In 1881, when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were running things in Tombstone, you could bring your gun into town, but you couldn’t keep it while in town. You had to check it into the sheriff’s office. There was stricter gun control in the Wild West than there is today. Nowadays in Tombstone, Arizona, anyone can carry a Ruger semi-automatic pistol in a fancy holster on his rattlesnake belt. There is no Wyatt Earp anymore with a Colt Peacemaker telling you to stash your gun in the sheriff’s office for the duration.

Barron Cannon’s amnesty program was in response to the massacre of 26 churchgoers in a small Texas town on November 5th, on a suddenly not quiet Sunday morning. President Donald Trump, kowtowing to the gun lobby, said after the shooting, “I think that mental health is your problem here.”

“I mean, when I say a loose screw, he signed a bill that Congress, the Republicans, the lunatics running the asylum, earlier in the year voted through that made it easier for crazy people to buy guns legally. I should probably say mentally ill, but if you’re buying six-shooters for protection, you’re crazier than the mentally ill. The horse is out of the barn. It’s blasting time, AR-15’s all around!”

Barron was working both sides of the street, as is his wont, but he had a point. One of Donald Trump’s first reactions in the White House was to roll back an Obama-era law that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to buy firearms. He made it easier, no trouble, a piece of cake.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for President Trump – who called the latest tragic mass shooting ‘a mental health problem at the highest level’ – to have rolled back a rule specifically designed to prevent some gun violence deaths,” said Senator Richard Blumental of Connecticut.

“Blaming mental health is a tactic straight out of the gun lobby’s playbook,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the gun control group started by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in 2011, along with 18 other people, at a constituent meeting in Arizona.

“Maybe it’s more like crazy as a fox,” I said.

“The United States used to be a safe place, but not anymore. This year it ranked 114th on the Global Peace Index. It ranks lower every year. We’re edging towards Iraq and Syria. Maybe the Republicans are right. Maybe what we need are more not less guns.”

“Nope, wrong,” he said.

Barron Cannon can be abrupt high-hat holier-than-thou. He is not a sensitive, bias-free, politically correct man. Even though he has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Philosophy and is in his early 30s, he often behaves and speaks as though he grew up in the 1930s. He is as blunt barefaced austere as anybody from back in the Depression.

Barron Cannon is, however, hardly ever depressed. He says happiness doesn’t depend on the external, but rather on our mental attitude. The free flow yoga he teaches is as much about mental health as it is about physical health.

“The reason the United States is getting more dangerous is because there are more and more guns, not less,” he said. “Canada, Japan, and Australia are some of the safest places to live in the world, while here it’s every man for himself and God against all. Conservative Christians have more guns than anybody else.”

An American is 300 times more likely to be killed by a gun than a Japanese.

“There are hardly any guns in those countries,” he said. “All the guns are here.”

“They can’t all be here,” I said.

“Right you are, Jocko,” he said. My name isn’t Jocko, but Barron often fixes nicknames to people, like Shorty for a tall man and Train Track for someone wearing braces. His nickname for himself is Dazzy.

All of the White House men have had nicknames, from Father of the Country to Give ‘Em Hell Harry to No Drama Obama. Barron’s nickname for Donald Trump is Orange Julius.

“Not all the guns in the world are here, just most of them. There are fewer than 5% of the people on the planet here in the USA, but we have almost 50% of the guns in the world. Nobody messes with us. The Senate and the House, and now Trump World, they have their noses snagged in the NRA money clip. It stinks, but they can’t smell anything beyond the stench of fresh new one hundred dollar bills.”

A gun buyback program is a program to purchase privately owned guns, reducing how many guns there are in general among the general population. In 2003 and again in 2009 Brazil bought and destroyed more than a million guns. Firearm related mortality was reduced.

Gun amnesty programs involve handing in guns you shouldn’t have without being prosecuted for having them. In July 2017 Australia announced a national firearms amnesty. Anyone with an illegal firearm could turn it over to the police. Otherwise, they faced a quarter-million dollar fine. More than 50,000 guns were turned in.

In 1996 a gunman killed 35 tourists in Australia. It was the worst mass murder in the country’s history. By the end of the year, led by a conservative Prime Minister, sweeping gun control laws were put in place. A buyback resulted in more than 600,000 semi-automatic weapons being destroyed. There hasn’t been a mass shooting in Australia since.

In this country, more men, women, and children have been killed by gunfire in the past 50 years than have been killed on all the battlefields in all the wars America has ever fought. Gun control laws in the United States are, in general, laughable.

“I have a very strict gun control policy,” said Clint Eastwood, play acting being a bounty hunter dressed up as a rodeo clown in the caper movie “Pink Cadillac”.

“If there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.”

That is the state of gun control in the United States.

After the Las Vegas bloodbath on the night of October 1st in which 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured by a lone gunman with an army squad kettle of semi-automatic weapons fitted with bump stocks, Malcom Turnbull, the current Australian Prime Minister, said the politics of gun ownership in America was “almost beyond comprehension.”

He pointed out the intractable problem guns pose in the United States.

“There is a ferociously strong political lobby and the National Rifle Association, and millions of Americans who own guns and cherish their constitutional right to bear arms, But, of course, the right to bear arms was an 18th century concept, long before automatic weapons were even thought of, let alone invented.”

Americans are crazy about their guns. They often claim they need them for home security, which begs the question, how many enemies do they have? However, they rarely, if ever, go to home security trade shows and conventions. They go to gun trade shows and conventions, swap meets online purveyors private sellers, no background checks required. They love their guns.

What’s crazy is that after Sandy Hook, where 20 children and 6 teachers were killed in an elementary school, nothing changed, except that more guns have been sold in the past five years. It has become the new normal to massacre concertgoers, churchgoers, and kids going to school.

“Aren’t mass murderers crazy?” I asked.

“Nope, no matter what Orange Julius says,” said Barron Cannon. “It’s about one in five who are delusional or psychotic. Neither the Orlando nightclub shooter nor the Las Vegas killer had any apparent mental illnesses, unless you believe shooting people in and of itself is a mental illness. What they were was angry and disgruntled.”

“That’s not what the White House says,” I said.

“I know, but that’s what the Department of Justice says, which knows better than Orange Julius, who only knows blowhard bluster on Twitter. Most mass murderers are injustice collectors with gun collections. When you have a paranoid streak, that’s a personal problem. When you have a paranoid streak and a boatload of guns, then that becomes everybody’s problem. That’s what Orange Julius doesn’t want to talk about. ”

The NRA and gun enthusiasts are fond of saying guns don’t kill people, people kill people. They oppose regulations protecting American citizens from crazy malevolent gun violence. They never talk about Jayne Mansfield or Tylenol, since it would make everybody dizzy at NRA headquarters.

In 1967, when the Hollywood sexpot Jayne Mansfield rear-ended a tractor-trailer, ramming her car underneath it and dying as a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration immediately made it mandatory for all semi- truck trailers to be fitted with under-ride bars. In 1982, when 7 people in Chicago died from poisoned Tylenol, federal anti-tampering laws were immediately put in place. Bottles of everything medical have been hellishly hard to open ever since.

Between 1968 and 2015 the total deaths caused by firearms in the United States were 1,516,863. Getting shot is an immediate experience, since bullets travel on average 1,7000 MPH. Since 1968 it has gotten easier, not harder, to buy all the bigger badder faster-blasting guns you want. The pace of writing common sense gun laws has stayed at ZERO MPH.

“When it come to guns everyone’s got their reason, the 2nd Amendment, target shooting, recreation, whatever that means, hunting, and personal protection,” said Barron. “The NRA and Orange Julius gush about the 2nd Amendment as an argument against gun control, but almost no one cares about that.”

The Gallup Poll consistently shows that about 5% of people who own guns cite the amendment as their reason.

“Personal safety is the reason most people own a gun,” he said.

The Gallup Poll has always shown that protecting themselves has been, by a wide margin, the number one reason people buy guns.

Whenever there is a mass murder, like the recent mass murders in Las Vegas and Texas, support for stricter gun laws spikes. After a month-or-so, even though more than 80% of Americans consider gun violence a big problem, interest fades until the next mass murder. In the meantime, Congress and the White House do nothing, except mouth platitudes about their thoughts and prayers being with the dead the wounded and their families.

They never actually get off their NRA-bought-and-paid-for bottoms and buy into 21st century gun control. “It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. The chances of that happening are close to ZERO.

“Sometimes the notion that American society is inherently violent is floated as a reason there’s so much gun violence,” said Barron. ”Or it’s video games or racism or poverty. Conservative Christians say Satan is to blame. Orange Julius and Congress spearhead the notion that only crazy people are mass murderers. They propagate it being a nut case problem, not a gun problem.”

He looked down at his laptop and finished editing his Facebook post. When Barron Cannon has a great notion it’s best to wait him out.

“That’s all wrong,” he said. “It’s essentially about the astronomical number of guns in this country. That’s the problem. The other problem is that no wise man ever took a handgun to a gunfight. The times change and technology changes. You always take bigger and better ordinance.”

The more guns the more shooting.

“Yemen and Serbia have the next-highest rate of gun ownership in the world, next to the United States,” said Barron. “The United States has the highest rate of mass shootings in the world. It’s Boot Hill all over again, writ large.”

In the United States the homicide rate is 33 per million people, greater than any other developed country in the world. In Canada it is 0.7 per million. You are 50 times more likely to be shot and killed on the American side of Niagara Falls than you are on the Canadian side.

When the front door opened both Barron Cannon and I looked up. The tall young man stopped in the doorway, the late morning light silhouetting him. He had a Glock “Safe Action” Sig Sauer stuffed into the waistband of his black Levi’s.

Ohio is an open carry state.

“What can we do for you, partner?” asked Barron.

“Are you the outfit that’s doing the gun amnesty?”

“Sure are.”

“Well, this is what I’ve got for you,” said the lanky stranger. He pointed down at the bulge in his pants. “I can’t shoot straight, anyways.” He tugged the gun out of his waistband and handed it butt first to Barron.

“It’s not loaded.”

“That’s neighborly of you.”

“So I get 20 yoga classes for it?”

“That’s right,” said Barron. He flipped open his laptop. “Let’s get you signed up.”

Afterwards, after we had delivered the Glock to the Lakewood Police Department, during lunch at Melt Bar and Grill up the street, over a whiskey on ice in a lowball glass that I insisted Barron buy me to settle my nerves, I asked him if he thought his gun amnesty program would make any difference.

“There’s no energy in death,” he said. “There’s only life energy. If the White House and Congress won’t pull the trigger on gun control, then what we need is more breath control. That’s where yoga comes in. You can learn to be breathless without getting the breath knocked out of you by a bullet.”

Mao Zedong, the Communist Chinese dictator, was notorious for saying, “In order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.”

“He’s long gone,” said Barron. “Good riddance. I say it’s necessary to take up yoga.”

“I’ll drink to that,” I said.

147 Stanley Street (short stories and non-fiction). If you enjoyed this story, consider supporting the site by clicking here to donate. 

aerial-beverage-coffee-990825-e1550878549646

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