Twist and Shout

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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Sneeze of Alabama

BENNINGTON -- This was no ordinary sneeze. It was an earth mover, one of those sneezes that feels great because your body rattles during the violence and then you tingle.

This was no ordinary sneeze and, as it turns out, today has been no ordinary day.

The sneeze wasn't caused by dust or allergies and the nasal eruption happened at 11:33 in the a.m., and yes I took note of the time because again, this was no ordinary sneeze. "Someone is about to come into the gallery," I said as I wrote down 11:33.

Ten seconds later hubby and wife walked into Fiddlehead at Four Corners. Before they reached the interior glass door I said, "They're going to buy something big."

That's what the sneeze meant. Trust me.

First thing I saw was the silver-mustachioed man except his Rollie Fingers impersonation was not as long or wax-defined. But it was a fine Junior Handlestache. He wore a red cap with Moxie written in white letters. He and his wife walked around the gallery.

At one point Jack Handlestache -- that's his name for the purposes of this story -- stopped at the wall with the framed picture of a Bennington landmark. I told him the story of the landmark through the prism of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: "Nobody goes in, and nobody goes out" and I think Jack got a kick out of it.

Jack walked back to the other side of the gallery where his wife stood at a display table in front of the Wall of DeAmicis, holding glazed Alabama mud bowls. She had that look of love at first sight. And why not? The bowls are made of real clay from the earth of Alabammy, and the inside designs are derived of seeds, barks, leaves, shells, sand and broken glass.

You can eat from these Alabama clay bowls, and you can put 'em in the dishwasher. That's what the gallery owner meant by Fiddlehead offering "fun, funky, functional" art of the highest order. Fiddlehead has the coolest art in the world.

Jack's wife placed the biggest of the Alabama mud bowls back on the table and walked across the gallery to a marble ledge that had a few mid-sized mud bowls.

But I knew which bowl she really wanted to buy.

She walked back to the Wall of DeAmicis and picked up the biggest bowl and approached me. Chuck Handlestache pulled out a few bucks to pay for a muddy slice o' Bama.

Turns out the bowl would be a wedding present. Fiddlehead is great for wedding presents.

So yeah, first sale of the day. Big sale. And, a big sale minutes after the big sneeze.

Now, I don't necessarily ascribe to the notion that unprovoked monster sneezes precede monster moments in life. I'm not superstitious. I don't ask "God" to let me win the lottery when I buy Powerball tickets.

But, do things really "happen for a reason" as many people believe?

Who the hell knows how or why shit happens.

To me, life is what it is and it happens as it happens.

But monster sneezes preceding monster moments have occurred often in my life. One time in New Hampshire I monster-sneezed then turned around and told Amy "The phone is going to ring" and 5 seconds later the phone rang. Amy loved that. "How'd you do that Joey!?!!?" Well, I sneezed, I know that.

It happened at that newspaper several times. Same thing happened at the rag in Trenton.

I can't explain it. In the grand scheme of life there is no explanation for my monster sneezes preceding monster moments. It's just a coincidence, right, because Jack Handlestache and his wife were headed to the gallery regardless of that 11:33 sneeze, right? Life was going to happen regardless of the sneeze.

What I do believe about the monster sneeze is that it jarred me awake and got me focused for the stream of action inside the gallery over the next 120 minutes.

Because, it was a morgue in here before that sneeze even though it's a big weekend in Bennington, what with the car show and the start of foliage season.


And so the action inside the gallery continued after Jack Handlestache and Wife bought the Alabammy mud bowl.

This cutie who stopped through a few weeks ago ...

"Beware of Darkness Girl" (Joey Kulkin photo)

... came back today looking for gifts for her mom's birthday.

A good friend and great writer by the name of Tropic of Tophat used the photo of "Beware of Darkness Girl" in his heart of darkness short story HERE.

Beware of Darkness Girl beamed with sunshine today ...

... and she bought her mama an olive oil cruet and a ceramic trivet with a horse design, a nice-sized sale.

Beware of Darkness Girl said she studied pottery and bought the brown-themed cruet even though in pottery circles it's said that if you want something to sell you make it in blue because blue pottery sells better.

Funny, I said, because yesterday I heard a piece of inside baseball about the craft-show circuit. It's a joke about "The Bebacks" as in John and Mary Beback as in "We'll be back ... " knowing full well they won't be back to buy something.

Soon after BDG left a hubby and wife from Virginia walked into Fiddlehead and within moments they were enamored with the new vases that arrived about 10 days ago.

She liked the tall rectangle vase in hues of red and orange and blue and green and yellow.


It's 3:19 in the p.m., or 224 minutes since the big sneeze. The gallery is empty. The Dead is playing but otherwise the gallery is quiet. Nice. Sometimes silence is golden.


Anyway, as much as the Virginians loved the vases, the early sales mojo died soon as the gallery owner walked in. Oh, it doesn't really matter why the mojo died, but it died faster than the sneeze kickstarted it. Perception is reality in America, yes it is, and all of a sudden the Virginians weren't so keen on buying anything in the gallery, let alone a $180 vase they loved from the moment they laid eyes on it.

They walked around the gallery a little longer, peeked at the jewelry counter. Hubby wanted wifey to try on a bracelet. She wasn't interested but acquiesced to his wishes. It fit but she said no.

"She's a hard sell," hubby told the owner.

"It's gotta feel right," the owner told hubby.

The Virginians walked back to the centerpiece to stare at the vases again. They really wanted to buy one of them. But I knew they wouldn't, at least right now. They walked back to the counter and asked for a good sandwich joint.

"There are two places," the gallery owner said. "Your Belly's Deli or Blue Benn Diner."

The Virginians left the gallery and walked to Your Belly's Deli about 250 paces away.

The gallery owner and I talked about why the Virginians didn't buy a vase. Clear as night and day. But, he said, things could change after they eat a big lunch.

I didn't have to tell him, but the owner left. He knew I wanted him out of the gallery.

As sure as night and day, the Virginians returned. I was the only one behind the counter. They walked to the centerpiece ...

... and picked up the vase they wanted so dearly and walked to the counter to pay for it.

Big sale.


The post-sneeze stream of customers continued minutes later when two Bennington College cuties walked into the gallery. One of them lit the place up with her smile, far and wide, and her braces got me.

A college chick in braces is my kryptonite, as is a cutie in Lisa Loeb glasses.

This is Selina from Seattle.

Selina and her friend whose name I didn't even think to ask said they come downtown all the time. They always wondered what was inside the marble building. Today they ventured into the guts of the coolest art space in New England.

Selina and I talked for a few minutes. She said she's majoring in education so I told her to get in touch with the gallery owner because his masters is in early childhood education.

And that was that. Selina and her friend had to catch the bus back to North B.

Minutes later a silver fox walked into the gallery ...

... one thing leads to another, and Marilyn is from Ventura by way of North Dakota.

Wahpeton, North Dakota, population 7,731, which, Marilyn said, "is large for back there."

I told Marilyn I applied for a newspaper job in North Dakota 6 weeks ago in a town with 1,500 people.  She told me she used to write political book reviews for the L.A. Times in the '60s. I asked if she liked Hunter Thompson. She said meh. Too sensationalistic, she said.

I asked Marilyn if she ever read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail?


Marilyn is in Bennington today so that her bucket-listing husband, Ray, can check Vermont off the list of states in which he played a round of golf. Ray plans to play a round in all 50 states. Vermont is part of an 11-state swing. Today's round at Mount Anthony makes Vermont state No. 35.

Marilyn said Ray, 72, took up golf when he was 60. He's a 6-handicap.


It continued when the bearded man who looks a little like Francis Ford Coppola walked into the gallery with his wife. They browsed for 10 or 15 minutes before the bearded man approached me and out of thin air produced a business card that read

Pick A Number
1 2 3 4

I picked 3.

The bearded man turned the card around:

All Sex Maniacs
Pick 3

Then he handed me a yellow card ...

The bearded man who looks a little like Coppola goes by the name of Ed. Ed owns a Piper Arrow and says he takes his wife flying almost every weekend. He wanted to fly his girl to Massachusetts this weekend but too much wind swayed him. Said he didn't feel like "wrestling" the craft today.

So Ed and Carol drove to Bennington because Bennington is a magnet for weekenders with nothing better to do.

Ed taught me something today: Wings on a Cessna are on top of the plane, wings on a Piper at the bottom. He briefly told me about the day he and Carol flew toward Potsdam, New York, to visit their son at Clarkson when the alternator died at 8,000 feet, leaving him with no electronics. Said he wasn't nervous or scared and landed the plane without incident.

He pulled out a $20 bill that was folded into a small square, and I don't know how we segued into Obama and Romney, but Ed went on a small screed about how Obama makes money disappear and that he wants a guy like Romney in the White House because Romney understands business and didn't take a single paycheck while governor of Massachusetts.

It was at that point I wondered if Ed had read this powerful Matt Taibbi piece in Rolling Stone about ol' Mitt and his business practices in private equity.

Also of note, it's funny (in a monster sneeze kind of coincidental way) that Ed shared his Potsdam flying story because this morning I started the 9-page Vanity Fair piece about President Obama that was written by Moneyball's Michael Lewis. The story begins with the turbulent flight story of an Air Force pilot by the name of Tyler Stark.

But anyway ...

Ed held the folded 20 in his hand and began his "Obama Makes Money Disappear" magic trick:


And here I am at 4:40 in the p.m.

The customers haven't disappeared. Dead playing Sunshine Daydream in the background.

I haven't sneezed since 11:33 in the a.m.