Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Feng Shui'ification Part 3 and Kicking Cancer's Ass

"You may be singly responsibly for saving Fiddlehead."

BENNINGTON -- The owner of Fiddlehead at Four Corners texted that sentiment yesterday as we discussed the past, present and future of our lives.

It made me feel good but I'm not sure if I can claim responsibility for saving Vermont's most unique art gallery in Bennington's coolest building, a converted marble bank spanning back to the 1920s.

It might be cosmoses, an aligning of the stars, kismet, dumb luck ... or smart business.

Or, maybe there is something to feng shui and the transferring of energy.

I would not be here had I not been fired from my newspaper job 8 weeks ago, and had I not been fired 8 weeks ago from the only profession I have known since I was 18 years old, I wouldn't be in Bennington, Vermont, running this art gallery for the owner and his wife. They took a summer-long tour with their 3 daughters -- my goddaughters.

So, if I were still in Trenton, Fiddlehead at Four Corners in Bennington would have stayed closed all summer. No customers. No money. Mo' problems. Most likely, the owner and his wife would have had to call it quits on this 11-year-old endeavor.

Instead, the gallery has enjoyed its strongest summer in years. Because of the upswing, Fiddlehead will stay open, for a long time probably, and with me running things. Maybe I'm the Newhart of Vermont art galleries. The unfunny Newhart.

Which means more of my feng shui'ification of Fiddlehead (and more stories about it).

A strange thing began happening last week when I moved vases here and bowls there and tumblers to this spot and made Jeeves the Absent-Minded Butler hold that tree-branch broom. I can't equate the transference of energy to more customers and more sales, yet that is what continues to transpire. It's not that artworks are flying off shelves and counters and tabletops and from the vaults. No, it's that the many pieces I moved because they were ignored for years found renewed life in their new spots, and all of a sudden people appreciated said artworks and wanted to buy them. Lots of them. These are the kinds of coincidences I love.

Today's events unfolded like this: A sports writer and author by the name of Jeff MacGregor, who writes for ESPN, posed a question somewhere on the vast I-Highway. It had to do with Armstrongs: Lance and Neil and Louis ... as well as Stretch. Soon as I saw the choices I knew which boulevard Jeff's brain and pen were heading down; big news week for heroes named Armstrong so Jeff's probably going to spin a good one.

Passan, Doyel, Olbermann, Forde, Silver, Verducci, Wojnarowski, Brown, Van Valkenburg, Wetzel, DeFord, Posnanski, Wilbon, Jones, Raab, Smith (Michael), Smith (Gary), Wahl, Witz, Taibbi, Brennan, Hubbach, Plaschke, Blackistone, Boswell, Kindred, Adande, Ryan, Pierce, Battista, Culpepper, Pearlman, Montville, Wolff, Stout, Pomrenke, Chase, Cowlishaw, Beach, Paige, Thompson ... these are some of the great sports fans and writers of our time, the ones aspiring scribes should read because, as the saying goes, they get it. Hunter Thompson, one of the best sports writers this country ever had (not to mention he spun political yarn like few ever did, like few ever will), would type out Faulkner's books to emulate his literary hero. I'm not so sure I'd recommend that practice because then you're just imitating and throwing in your own nouns and verbs and adjectives and misplaced participles, dangling no doubt. I'd never try to emulate Jeff MacGregor's style. He parses and dissects the dust and amoeba of the idea then drills straight to its nucleus and performs open-heart surgery on it. He slices up and down, side to side -- and sometimes diagonally -- to compare and contrast and connect all degrees of the idea before he sews it up with stitches and spit. The journey from the start of a MacGregor piece to the end is wonderful.

So yeah, Jeff's multiple choice of Armstrong led me to YouTube for no other reason than to listen to Louie sing What A Wonderful World. I paused the Grateful Dead in the middle of my new favorite Dead song (Me and My Uncle) and turned up the MacBook Pro volume to enjoy the full thrust of Louie's voice that sounds like someone is churning a meat grinder full of nuts and bolts and peanut butter.

My focus locked onto Louis' performance so much that I didn't hear the bells on the door jingle when Fred and Jane walked into the gallery. I looked up after the second playing of Louis' anthem and saw Fred and Jane and it startled me.

"Hi there!" I said and hit the button on the remote to bring the Dead back to life.

"How come you're open so early?" Fred said while he and Jane looked at the awesome new vases from New Orleans with streaks of sexy colors that look like they're making hot love.

"People like to eat breakfast early in Bennington then walk it off," I said, "so why not let them walk it off in the gallery?"

Fred and Jane walked around the gallery. He approached the counter and asked if Fiddlehead stocked any pottery made in Vermont. Not so much anymore. A lot of it has sold, I told him. I hoped that didn't deter him and Jane from buying something.

It didn't.

Five or 10 minutes later Fred returned to the counter and saw something by Kevin Hoyt of Bennington: a deer sliding under the bottom rope of barbed-wire fence in a field of weeds. What makes the piece unique is that Hoyt carved the scene on the inside of a Vermont mushroom about the size of a panel of a football.

This is what the deer-on-mushroom looked like from my vantage point behind the counter:

Fred liked the humongous venison fungus. He said his taxidermist daughter would love it. Sold.

Fred and Jane also bought two turquoise tumblers from Scott Meyer of Millville, New Jersey. They're another example in the story of Feng Shui'ification at Fiddlehead:

For years the deer-on-mushroom was in this case
but I thought it was lost there, so last week
I replaced it with these dogs and a ceramic heart
and moved it to the banking centerpiece below:

But it seemed out of place there, too, so a few days ago
I put it atop the glass case atop some cool handmade jewelry

This spot felt right. Sometimes you just know.

Now, about those turquoise tumblers from Jersey ...

For who knows how many years they were lumped
with wine goblets on a Nina Lentzner-painted table
in front of the Animation Vault. They got zero play.

So I moved them to this tabletop a few days ago. 

All of a sudden yesterday a customer couldn't keep her hands off the tumblers. She walked to the counter with them as if she planned to buy them but turned around after a few steps and put them back on the table. She said she would be back to buy them.

"Too late!" Fred said with a chuckle this morning as he held his newest purchase.

As I rang him up Fred said he and Jane were heading back to Pennsylvania. They spent a week touring Montreal and Northern Vermont on his bike.

"Can I take a picture of your bike?"


Fred, Jane and I walked outside.

What a sweet ride.


'99 Electric Glide, Fred said as I clicked.

The bike was a present to himself after he learned he had cancer.

Last week was his final dose of radiation. The doctor said he had kicked cancer's ass.

Fred and Jane climbed aboard their shiny bike ...

... and rode home to Pennsylvania.

I looked at the trees of green and the skies of blue then walked back into the gallery and listened to Louie one more time.

Thanks, MacGregor.

You're not singly responsible for this latest piece of Feng Shui'ification at Fiddlehead, but your Armstrongs inspired me to write it.