Twist and Shout

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: If You Don't Live You Die

D.J. on October 9, 2012, Bennington (Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- Yesterday morning, while buying my daily allotment of nuts, I got snookered by a woman who's either a schizo or really smart. She took me for 10 bucks.

"Am I a sucker for doing that?" I asked the counter lady after giving the woman a sawbuck, because I'm a bleeding heart who hears a woman with a fistful of lottery tickets say she's homeless and like Pavlov I reach into my pocket to throw her a biscuit or two.

"Yeah," the counter lady said as I walked out of the door, "you're a sucker."

Etch that into my tombstone, bubba.

Yesterday was plum-nutty.

It began with the story of Charles and Graham Scarborough and never stopped beginning.

Shortly after meeting Chuck and Candy and watching them go on their way to the cemetery, then pulling my shit together behind the counter to be Mr. Gallery Dude, the boss's wife said she forgot to buy French fries. I told her I'd walk to the corner spot to buy a bag or two.

Everyone sells fries and tots these days, right?

Apparently not.

What should have been a 100-pace errant turned into a scavenger hunt for frozen starch. Actually, I made it my life's mission to find some goddamn frozen starch.

When you're knee-deep in first-world problems, when you're locked into a serious French fry collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

The spot that sells me nuts has a little freezer with waffles and pizzas and Cool Whip and processed shit of that nature. But no French fries.

OK, no need to get angry. The dollar store is right across the street. I remembered they had a tall refrigerator attached to a tall freezer. I was positive the dollar store would have fries. Until the dollar store proved me wrong. What kind of country are we living in when the goddamn dollar store doesn't stock 25 goddamn bags of fries?

There was a 2 dollar mini-bag of tots. Yeah, that wasn't going to cut it.

Now I'm percolating, dead-fucking-set on finding a bag of fries. I decided to walk to that corner store near my old apartment at Park and Pleasant ...

... that was a nice little apartment with those Greek-revival pillars and the red front door and the wood floors.

But anyway, the corner store is a block north of that tree on the left side of the picture. I didn't go there quite yet. No, out of the dollar store I walked across the street to the town's sorriest shopping center. Rite-Aid is there and not much else.

Longshot, I thought, but I was in Joel Goodson "make your move, What the Fuck" mode and walked into Rite-Aid and asked the counter lady if they sold French fries.


Alrighty then. This party was just getting started.

This is when I decided to walk to the corner store. I patronized this corner store often during my days as a Bennington Banner sportswriter, and why not? It's right fucking there. One night I told the girl I was seeing that I had to go to the corner store and she was, like, Why do you call it the corner store? Honey, WTF else should I call it? It's a store, on the corner.

Getting from Rite-Aid to the corner store takes a minute by car. By foot it takes 15 minutes and requires some navigation skills. Do I walk that way? Or do I stroll through the river walkway and make a right onto School Street then make a left onto Pleasant Street and make a left onto Park and walk up a block?

I chose that good orderly direction, mainly to walk on the path alongside the stream, through the turning leaves, nice little Tuesday stroll through the pretty of New England.

First thing I saw this fella sitting on a bench staring into the yonder ...

... he was at ease with the world as the water trickled toward New York.

Walked further up the path and heard a noise high above to the right ...

... a woman on her knees was scrubbing the deck. Her elderly mom watched.

A few paces later I made a right onto School Street. Soon I hit Pleasant, turned left.

Soon I saw a dude sitting on the porch of the apartment house smoking a cigarette ...

... asked him for a picture, and he said sure, go ahead.

A few steps later I hit the corner at Park and made a left, walked toward the corner store, smirk on my face remembering that old Bennington girlfriend and her indignation over "corner store" .... 17 years later it's much more amusing.

Walked into the corner store -- it was dark and empty and quiet and sad and old and lonely, barely anything on the shelves, and for a second I wondered if I walked into an East Russian corner kiosk circa 1946 -- and then a familiar woman greeted me with a smile.

Billy Joel was singing "Always A Woman to Me" on a 1978 radio behind the counter, and I told the woman how beautiful a song it is and how I really like Billy Joel.

"Is that who it is?" she said. "I don't even pay attention to the radio. It just plays music."

I didn't know how to respond to that one, but I had little time to chat up the old devotchka with her black wig and charming, friendly smile.

"Do you have French fries?"

"French fries?"

"Yeah, I need French fries" and then I noticed the little freezer and was hopeful.



But Fries!

"We only have one bag," the woman said, and I wondered "how long have these been here?"

Billy Joel continued to sing, and I joined him, but not too loud:

" ... she can't be convicted, she's earned her degree. And the most she can do is throw shadows at you, but she's always a woman to me."

And together we hummed the ending. The spirits were having some bolshy fun. She will always be a woman to me. But I still don't get her indignation over "corner store" ...

I was so beyond ankle-deep into those thoughts that I didn't even think to snap a picture of the lonely devotchka behind the counter of her even lonelier corner store. Maybe I'll go back today and shoot a quick video.

Time was ticking away. What time was it? What the hell was I doing on this coos chase for French fries? My god, how long have I been on this little exercise in futility? Did I really stop at four places on this vision quest for processed starch? Fries? Really?

I walked back down Park Street and saw a grungy dude approaching me. Grunge Galore. As he got closer I noticed the pierced septum.

"Hi, I'm a photographer. Mind if I take a picture? I like your nose thing."

He looked at me for a half-sec and agreed.

Said thanks, and he said cool, and we continued in opposite directions.

Minutes later I was on Main Street, headed back to the gallery, fries in hand.


Minutes after that a few packages arrived. Stodgy Sam and more of his cousins!

You can buy them at

They're the coolest coffee mugs I've ever seen. Customers buy them left and right. 

Not only did Stodgy Sam and 11 of his buddies arrive, but the mugsmith sent us these two Stodgy Sam shot cups:

Probably going to think up a contest to give them away. Stay tuned.


The day continued into evening, and I don't know what time it was but Joyce Burgess walked into the gallery, and here we go again.

Joyce is Cheryl Conklin's mother. Cheryl is an artist whose M.C. Escher-inspired pieces hang in the gallery amongst other greats. Read her stories HERE.

Cheryl's mom had yet to see her daughter's work in full bloom. Here is her reaction:

Then I took mom's picture next to daughter' work ...


Charles and Graham ... Joyce and Cheryl ... heavy day for parent-daughter emotions.


The final bit of Gallery Life happened before closing time, about 7:30, when a married couple from Amsterdam walked and one thing leads to another ... and I'm showing the wife our plans for Fiddlehead's Graffiti Vault, which will debut Saturday during the listening party for Trey Anastasio's new album "Traveler" ... read about it HERE.

I led Margaret into the vault and told her to Chalk It Up! She loved it.


This morning I walked to the spot for my allotment of nuts.

At the counter I told the woman "She wasn't homeless, was she?"

"No! She's a schizo. After you left she scratched off her lottery tickets and won 90 bucks."

I dropped 75 cents into the Boobie Can ...

... the pink can is a collection for breast cancer research. I haven't played with boobies in a while, so I'm hoping that my generosity brings me two nipples closer to fun time. The counter woman laughs every morning when I say "More money in the Boobie Can."

I say to the counter woman "So, I shouldn't have given her 10 bucks yesterday?"

"No! The other day she told a guy she needed cigarettes so he bought her a pack. The guy goes outside, and she pulls out a wad of cash."