Monday, October 24, 2016

The Power Went Out in Copper Harbor October 24, 2015, and the Lights Went on in Wilbo's Imagination.

The power has gone out in Copper Harbor Michigan, as far north in Michigan one can go without a boat. I have no idea if these words are going to be saved. Ah, I see that all changes are saved off-line. A promise indicated on a line by the title. The power outage had affected the pumps in Copper Harbor. I saw no place for fuel in Eagle Harbor or Eagle River. So I am forced to drive to Phoenix, where a fellow customer at the Pines promised me Phoenix had power and gas. The impact of a rookie move has affected my retreat to Copper Harbor. Instead of driving out to the very point of Keeneewa Peninsula, I'm conserving gas.

I had seen the bright lights of the Holiday Fuel Stop last night outside Calumet and looked at my gas gauge and the gauge had indicated half a tank. I was excited, and making a stop in Calumet would have halted my progress into the wild. I was thinking I had enough gas to drive back to Calumet, only thirty-five miles, a fact I looked up before the power went out and the wireless quit. My cellphone has Sprint service and the indicator just snickers "No Service" at me.

I stopped last night in Phoenix, finding an open bar called the Cliff View Tavern and Motel. I ordered a Budweiser, picking the only seat at the bar. She opened up my Budweiser, and I settled in to eavesdrop on conversations. And everybody grabbed pudding shots, toasted healths and left. The bartender poured herself a tall glass of wine, perched on a stool and asked, "So, where are you from"? She introduced herself as Joan.

Joan had bought the business with her husband Jim, and Jim pulled up to the bar and began nibbling on leftover pizza forgotten by a customer, and a friend. In 1977, Jim had noticed Joan waitressing in a Utah diner on the Wyoming border. A month later, Jim had coaxed Joan to go driving around the two tracks with him. A few months later, Joan's mother, a legal secretary working in a local lawyer's office, typed out Jim's divorce papers. I apologized for running off their customers. She rolled her eyes and said, "The regulars had been drinking here for hours".

I asked why the place carried the name, "Cliff View Tavern". Jim answered, "Don't walk out the front door too far until morning". The danger has nothing to do with falling off the cliff. Loose rocks plummeting two hundred feet onto ones head provides the danger.

The place had a real estate sign near the front porch, listed for sale, price reduced. Much of the Keeneewa Peninsula has gone on the real estate market. A beautiful house in Cassell, built in 1900, had been on the market for 180 days, six months from April to October, the months of leaves and sunshine. Last Thursday, I met a retired school teacher who had planned to move to Florida but the house in Hancock hasn't moved at a price to make it worth selling. If one has ever tried to buy a bar, one learns that a bar has a price and it usually has a price much higher than any realistic business plan can support. Bars, in a way, are always for sale.

A mile before Phoenix and the Cliff View Tavern, a tall post over four hundred inches tall greeted me. The snow gauge had been set there in the seventies to celebrate the record snow fall of 390 or so inches. Muskegon has never achieved over 150 inches, located in the Lake Michigan snowbelt. I had the thought, "Now what if that gauge were the fundraising gauge for the United Way of the Lakeshore, all orange all the way to the top". Double the usual Muskegon snowfall and that's the typical Keeneewa Peninsula snow fall.

The Cliff View had cabins and I considered asking for a key at the bar. I had no inclination to haggle the posted price of sixty-five dollars, since neither warmth nor snow abounded. We had a nice chat and that makes poor grounds for haggling. I had planned to vagabond this weekend anyways, making use of the cozy Subaru and a pair of sleeping bags. I had no idea where I could park my car without fear of a bear or a polite officer's knock on the window. I had to explain "junkholing" last weekend to a friend, the idea that one just napped in the car when one felt tired. Rest stops, scenic turnouts, the parking lots of all night diners, trail heads in the Catskills, even Walmart parking lots worked okay when one was "junkholing".

My friend is one of my friends who have encouraged my writing by reading my daily posts on Facebook where I keep a daily, almost confessional journal. The bare bones confessional stuff never makes the Facebook journal. After months of trying, we finally had an evening where we caught an audacious play together at The Block, a concert hall perched with a glorious view of Lake Muskegon. At intermission of Sheridan's "School for Scandal", I had purchased a Two Hearted Ale from the bar and offered her a fill of her wine glass with Pinot Noir. "How long is the second act"? She asked. "About a glass of wine," I answered. "Twist my arm", she said.

In the second act, the bawdy action of Kate Bode as a married woman hiding behind a screen in a seducer's chambers made my friend laugh beside me, at my left elbow, in the front row. Rita, my concert connection, had landed us in the front row, stage right. She laughed more quickly than I laughed, and I had to work out why she was laughing a few times. I noticed that my friend's boots had a fresh polish and her good hair day suggested an afternoon stop at the salon. I believe one of the actresses stared covetously at her boots.

Now Cinderella has nothing on a single mother when it comes to having to vanish after the show, but we had time to walk to Hennessy's Pub and she had a glass of cola and I should have had one too. We shared a plate of lamb sliders and chatted. She leaned over, looked me in the eye, and asked, "So what's up with you sleeping in the car in the forest near Manistee"? She had read a few of those stories from late September.

I explained that there's nights when I'm alone when actually taking a hotel room means wasting time. In the Manistee National Forest, I was planning to fish for Salmon coming up the river to the fish weir and who wanted a soft bed with fine sheets when the action began when dawn was imminent? Plus, everyone knows there's nothing shabby about sleeping in a Subaru, right? Nothing I have to explain to a member of the Subaru club. We even tend to park together at rest stops and Walmart parking lots.

"There were people out in the forest"?

I thought, "There's a few Wiccan gatherings, feminist festivals where men never tread and out and out grassers in the Manistee National Forest. However, I'm hardly on the invite list".

I answered, "Just some man sleeping in a van, feeding baby skunks with cat food and complaining about his doctors. Another morning, a guy hiking the North Country trail. I like talking to hermits. Now, if I was riding around with someone I was trying to impress, there's a perfectly nice Microtel in Manistee with perfect beds and nice sheets, forty or so a night after the kids go back to school".

She didn't blush. I have to remind myself when I'm in the company of a full-fledged, all-around woman. The topic of conversation changed. We finished our sliders and she let me have the third. She picked up the tab, I let her. She wanted to share the evening's expenses, and she gave me a lift to my car parked at the farmer's market. We embraced and I jumped out of the passenger seat of her Suburban, a vintage Texas Cadillac with room for an air mattress in back.

I had pondered this conversation as I drove north on M-26 along the shores of Lake Superior, looking for the right spot for a snooze. A sign said Jacob's Falls and I turned around to drive down what looked an access road. Didn't press on the gas. The falls cascaded down a twenty foot high slope of stone into a cold pool of water. The road hadn't seen a car but mine for hours and I just marveled at the cascade. My grandfather never mentioned that he was baptized Edward Jacob, but I had made note of the fact on his death certificate. A waterfall had to be the worst parking place for the evening, and eventually I pressed onward.

I passed through Eagle Harbor and a sign by the lighthouse stunned me. A school teacher in town had written the rite of the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization that had abandoned what became the Harris Building on Division Street in Grand Rapids. A round window still had the emblem of these knights in the third floor window. I rejected the lot of the lighthouse. I continued on until I found a roadside park with outhouses and trash bins that had bear locks on them. I failed to open the bear lock and I had rubbish to get out of my car. I kept my keys in my ashtray and my glasses on the dash in case I had to make a quick getaway with a bear claw gouge on my door.

The light came up softly as the rain was drizziling, and I noticed a set of stone steps up a long tall wall of stone that was blocking my view of Lake Superior. Twenty steps up the flat stones, the top of the stone wall had accumulated a layer of soil, mosses and grasses still green, and the maker of steps had chosen flat top boulders to embed along a walkway leading to an gazebo made of cedar poles. I sat on a bench and watched Lake Superior washing against the stone masses of the shore. There's a saying that every eon a bird comes in a myth to peck at a rock and when the rock has dwindled after an endless series of pecks, a day of eternity ends. The Sanskrit word for this day is Kalpa, although I'm sure the spelling is Kapala. I imagined Lake Superior as this bird, making undetectable progress against this stone wall. I was eager to see Copper Harbor, and I took the steps downward slowly, stunned to see the date 1983 carved into the bottom step, two years before the monks had arrived to build the Poor Rock Monastery.

When I arrived in Copper Harbor, a sign pointed to the library. I followed and arrived at the Tenth Street Fishing Pier. Two men were fishing, casting amazingly long casts into the pristine waters. I walked up just close enough and said, "Did you hear about the guy who walked up to the fishermen and screwed up their casting by standing too close and asked 'How's the Fishing'"? The fellow named Jarve answered first, "Well, he met a pair of liars who said the fishing was lousy. We have a boatload in the truck". The rain fell on the water and a few made splashes. A few bounced and then beaded on the surface until the surface absorbed. "I saw a sign pointing the way to the library and I wound up here". The fellow named Ingo replied, "Well, you can read the bay like a book. A joke book. The fishing is a joke today". Jarve changed his lure, reaching into a four level tackle box as neatly organized as a library bookshelf. I was pretty sure I had walked into a re-enactment of Jeff Daniel's "Guys on Ice". I hazarded to say as much and Jarve and Ingo laughed loudly enough to make the waters echo. The two were trying to land a passel of splake for today's fishing tournament. Jarve's truck window had two stickers, one that identified him as a retired army sergeant. The other, a stick figure dry humped the word, "It" in block letters.

In the dark of the Pines Hotel Cafe, the waitresses are buzzing around the dark dining room, promising pancakes and even omelettes from the gas griddle. They are warning that the coffee is about to run out. One customer said to his waitress, "I am glad I got you paid before the credit card machine became useless". The restrooms make use of a system called a grinder pump and without power, the effluent just accumulates. The owner walked through the dining room, declaring to his staff, "The restrooms are closed. The restrooms are closed. Use the community center". Next door, the community center has power, thanks to a generator. Now in a few minutes, I am going to check to see if the center is open. Maybe it has wireless. And a coffee machine?

When the lights worked, I visited the rest rooms thank goodness in time, and noticed the pine log walls covered with photographs, maps and mounted panels of artifacts. One panel had arrowheads of all kinds, spear points and a few pipes carved out of rocks. A second panel had pipes and saws made out of jawbones mounted on felt. Seeing these jarred my memory.

I remembered a day when my older brother, Matthew, and I were walking along a freshly plowed field and he shouted gleefully and picked up a well formed arrow head. He kept the treasure and never let me hold it and he never let me find it either. Later, he became enamored of Native American dancing practiced by mostly white men. Some called them Ben Hunt Indians, after a man who costumed actors for Westerns. Matthew went deeply into what Native American culture he could find, and he couldn't find much because the authentic tribes of the many fires had been badly marginalized in the seventies.

Even so, he collected cassette tapes of authentic Indian chants and drum routines and he only let me use his cassette recorder when he want recordings of articles from his magazines. Then, friends took him to a night screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and his life moved on to other interests.

Climbing up a talus slope in the Sangre de Cristos mountains, trying to reach the cliff called Lover's Leap before sunrise, I spotted an arrowhead between the small boulders. Matt was cooking breakfast over a fire back at camp. We were hiking in the preserve called Philmont, or better, Phil Turn Rocky Mountain Scout Camp. I remembered reading the camp manual, "Leave all artifacts where they are and report location to the staff". I pointed it out to my friends and we admired it and then we continued our climb. We made it to the flat topped cliff and stood right on the edge as the sun rose. Happily, no one got dizzy or felt vertigo as Lovers Leap had nothing resembling a guard rail. We threw a Frisbee over the edge and watched it sink slowly towards a creek. We had to retrieve it because Frisbees doubled as dinner plates.

I know a friend who lives near my place that I'm maintaining in Muskegon, and I'll have to ask her what is proper for these Native American artifacts. One of her ancestors might have carved them from flint or antler.

The power has returned. I am mildly disappointed.

Painting by Barb Carlson of Spring Lake Michigan.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Wilbo Gets a Flat in His Front Tire, Which Leads to His Lesson in Bicycle Mechanics at City Hub Cyclery.

As I pedal past CityHub Cyclery, my friend the mechanic checks my tires. Once, he spotted a low rear tire and he waved me over. He checked for punctures; then, he properly inflated the rear tire. Like a doctor, he ordered me to keep an eye upon it. He checks everybody's tires. You'll see him out front helping local kids with their bikes when he's worked through the day's repairs.

So as I pedaled to Burger King near Muskegon's City Hall, I noted my soft front tire with some pleasure. Maybe I had a slow leak to report? I parked, locked up. I scanned tread for a cause. I found a metal bit and pried it out with my key. A spurt of air drained the tire, confirming my find. And then, clever me had to walk my Schwinn Admiral with the floppy front tire one mile to CityHub. I got impatient. I rolled the mostly downhill route with a flop, flop, flop.

The mechanic was happy to see my flat and I. CityHub fixes flats all the time for around fifteen dollars. He wanted me to fix my own flat, though. He had his hands full assembling a Felt mountain bike, so he coached me at the counter. I had already broken the tire off the rim by riding on it. Removing the tire from the bike took no time thanks to the quick release hub. I thought a patch might work best.

"I could sell you a kit". He looked at my tire and read the label. "Patches don't work so well. A new tube is only seven bucks".

"Sold", I said relieved. Seven dollars seemed a deal.

"Take your tire out into the sun and scan for more metal fragments. These can worm into the tread and pop your new tube".

Good advice because I found three metal shavings and pried them out. When I got back to the counter, he had already inflated the tube.

"All clean? Good. Insert the tube inside the tire".

It took just a second. I fumbled trying to put the tire on the rim. He let me for a minute. He took the tire in his two hands.

"First, run the right bead over the right rim. Then work the left bead over the left rim". His thumbs quickly made it so. "Then eyeball the rim slowly, checking to see that the bead is properly seated inside the rim. Check both sides". He handed me back my completed tire.

"You could have made me struggle more".

"No worries mate. Your tire was no trouble at all. Now put it on the fork. Engage the locking hub. Reconnect the brake cable".

"Easy enough".

"And stop cycling in the gutter, dude. That's where the rain pushes all the sharp stuff".

"Point taken", I said. "I think I owe you another eight bucks".

"Hit the road already". He grinned. He had more Felts to assemble.

And I did, taking a quick spin over to the benches of Heritage Landing, overlooking the blue expanse of Lake Muskegon. I soaked in the beauty of an Autumn afternoon before reporting to work. I had time. I didn't have to walk.

Le Centaure magazine (Paris), Sept. 1868
Young velocipedist on Michaux velocipede

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Even a Tea Kettle Song Can Create Community.

For a few seconds, her kettle's whistle reminds me of the noon whistle that blew at noon in my hometown of Byron Michigan. Blowing daily, we always knew the emergency whistle would probably work if Armageddon was lobbed over by the Soviet Union. The noon whistle promised to give us a few minutes to reach a basement and avoid the flash.

Today, I was thinking about her kettle when the whistle blew. And I contemplated, did a hint clue me of the whistle to come? Was there a pre-whistle whistle only a dog and a man with keen hearing could sense? I give the woman across the hall plenty of space. So I worry that I'm invading her privacy when I guess her mood from how she tends to her musical kettle. Today, her kettle raised a full, long note before she cut its song brutally short by yanking it off the burner. The note gurgled and died. 

For this, I guessed she was distracted and then impatient to return to some Sunday morning task, busy on the day of rest. A week ago, her kettle began early, just before 5 AM, and the kettle song punctuated the morning until she left for the day at Nine. This I put down to the pressure of a one woman cottage industry keeping up with early morning deadlines. I like the Five AM whistles as the town of our home forbids citizens to keep roosters. Funny, she doesn't mind when I ask after for what the tea kettle blows. I get a full brief that usually puts my interpretation to rest as incorrect. Despite the ability of a tea kettle to create community, I have yet to purchase one for my stove. It's only fair that I broadcast tells to my disposition if my neighbor is willing to do so.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Andy O'Reilly Knew We Couldn't Handle the Truth. So He Brought Two Interpreters.

Andy O'Reily's forehead had started to drip with sweat the second he stepped into the Frauenthal's spotlight. It wasn't just the heat of the light. He was about to confess thirty three years of addiction. He started out confessing an addiction to Ritalin. Once he tore apart a steel padlocked tackle box to drop a few extra tablets of this drug that produces brief euphoria. He in time overdosed on the childhood prescription for hyperactivity. His mother found him convulsing with Grand Mal seizures. Three days in the hospital saved his life.
Only five minutes on a single solitary chair  alone on the Frauenthal stage had passed. Then, he started on his meteoric climb on the wings of rock and roll and radio, giving him unfettered access to whiskey and the life. It all crashed on the last birthday he called his birthday, his thirtieth. No one now really knows O'Reily's birthday other than Uncle Sam. He keeps an unused shotgun from his dad as a momento of that day seventeen or so years ago. But who's counting. After a brief stay in an inpatient residential facility in Grand Rapids, he's been sober for fourteen years and happily married for nine.
The man does rash business out of Gratitude. He throws an expo called Big Boy's Toys in February and throws the profits to a non-profit called No More Sidelines. Look for it at the Folkert Family Hub in Norton Shores. Tonight's conversation called The Truth raised thousands, all of which will support Nate Johnson's prisoner ministry. Buy a Positively Muskegon sticker so the guy has gas money.
O'Reily invited Nate Johnson to the stage to prove that the founder of Rebel Road had no monopoly on The Truth. Johnson came up on Mason Street, making him a soldier in the conflict between gangs on Wood and Mason Street. He came up hard. Once a bullet blasted his direction took the life of his best friend, who died in his arms, choking on blood. Muskegon judges gave him mercy until a final robbery at nineteen sent him to the state pen in Saint Louis for decades. The cocaine merchant and manufacturer he had become couldn't save him from hard time.
Doing hard time, he discovered the biblical teachings of that deacon of Dallas, T.D. Jakes. Johnson related to the idea that Noah and Moses had rap sheets just like him. He got out of jail early thanks to a sharp lawyer and a judge who listened to that sharp lawyer. A anonymous Detroiter sent him a better wardrobe than orange. He took a wife. He learned to pastor. He started a non-profit for prisoners re-entering civilian life.
Johnson turned over the microphone to Anne Donewald. Although Donewald grew up in a sound household with a father famous for his coaching of college sports, Donewald began exotic dancing and found herself drawn into the moral vacuum of Las Vegas. She discovered that the brothel had more monetary reward than the Gentleman's Club. She fueled her cocaine addiction by turning tricks. One of her regular clients served as a pastor. She conceived a second child and flubbed five appointments at the abortion clinic. She stopped making appointments and her son arrived months later. She began to have Bible verses repeat in her head, just book and chapter and verse. She started looking verses up. Then she started devouring Bible study courses. Then she started writing Bible study courses.
Recently, under the auspices of Eve's Angels, she raised half a million dollars to set aside a Grand Rapids home to house survivors of sexual trafficking. She wrote a book with a ghost writer, Dancing for the Devil. Major publisher Simon & Schuster put it on the he shelves of Barnes and Noble. In a moment of generosity, she asked Andy O'Reily to redirect her share. Nate Johnson's ministry received all of the night's fund raising efforts.
It was all kind of raw. Both Johnson and Donewald reminded me of World Wrestling Federation personalities rocking the microphone. When the two didn't make me think of Television evangelists.  O'Reily claims he'll bring back the event next year. Let's hope he keeps The Truth raw and relevant in 2017.
Painting by Niagara, who paints the Truth.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Friday Night, the Town Blocked Off Western Avenue Again, Lighting Fire Pits and Placing Musicians, Lugers and even Archers on Muskegon's Main Street.

Ellen Van Geest Berends commandeered Western Boulevard Friday night from Six until Eight in the evening. She arrived early with her fleet of Ford pickup trucks, delivering picnic tables and firewood. Her team leapt off the trucks and went right to work, event producing ninjas, setting up fire stands and positioning picnic tables into pretty patterns. A shalom course for the street luge appeared in the blink of an eye. Then, an archery range appeared like magic on the sands of the downtown volley ball court. When it was all good and Six PM was fifteen minutes away, Ellen herself marched down the boulevard, marching towards the sundown at the south bend of Western, armed with a flame thrower, and set all the fire stations alight. Five pulls on the flame thrower, all it required. "Wow, did you see how she handled that torch, and not a blonde hair out of place on this windy of a night?" uttered my friend in amazement. She and I watched in wonder from the safety of the union hall benches. We thought about offering help and decided to remain seated, where we were out of the way of the efficient, elite team.

I knew Team Berends had planned four fire stations for warming, each with a musical act. I made a plan to visit each station and hear at least one song. I found Marquita B Bernard to the left of the first fire station, a good plan because she had her keyboard on a table with an elegant if flammable black satin drape. She had launched into a torchy ballad before I arrived, and so I decided to stay until she finished an entire tune. It was remarkable because how often does a woman set up a piano on Western Boulevard and sing like a diva on a jazzy stage in San Francisco? Never in one hundred years has this happened. One of her fans ran over and began to photographing Bernard from all possible angles, and I stepped back to avoid photobombing the performer. Later, I found the stream of photos on Instagram, and I learned the name of the chanteuse. Nice bit of fortune brought to me by social media. I dropped a tip in the fishbowl on the piano table, and walked towards the sound of rock and roll near the Snurfer statue.

I swore I was hallucinating. Right by the archives of the Lakeshore Museum, a young man who looked like Ted Nugent as a child was crooning about, "Busting a Move Up North". His partner was working with his father to repair a broken guitar string, and all these middle aged men were throwing fivers into their drum cover. The drummer banged a steady beat on his snare, and I found myself hallucinating again. Maybe it was the wood smoke, but why did he remind me so much of Scotty Pellgrom? If Scotty Pellgrom were in Middle School, that is. I saw a man with a supernatural length beard of gray next to me, and I asked, "What do you make of this?"

"Wish I had put together a band in middle school, man", he answered. The song ended, and he yelled at the lead singer, "What's the name of your band"?

"We're Hazard, and We're from Grand Rapids. Thank you, kind sir, for your question", yelled back the lead singer.

I shook my head a little. "So young, so polite and yet, so rock and roll at such a tender age", I thought as I walked towards the lighted Frauenthal sign, welcoming the guests of Billy Blagg, magician.

The Coffee Factory popped up a small counter at the Third Street Roundabout, serving hot coffee and warm cider. The Coffee Factory is all about quality, and I wonder if the factory took it too far Friday night. The entire management team showed up, all four of them, managing a staff of three baristas. So although it seemed every man, woman and child walked Western with a Coffee Factory cup in their hand, a line never accumulated in front of the counter. Service delivered swiftly, no visitor had to wait two shakes of a ribbon wand. And the children all were shaking ribbon wands, hand crafted on the spot by Laurel and Sara, sisters who know a little bit about putting magic in the hands of young people. Dressed like a French philosopher all in black, Christopher Cordle played from his personal song bag as the coffee, hot chocolate and apple cider flowed. I listened for more than one and a half songs because I was somewhat taken in by his brainy lyrics, "Isn't it surreal, life is such a deal. Yet, you must spin the wheel". I made a mental note to ask him about that writer of brainy lyrics from the seventies, Todd Harry Rundgren. I always find myself thinking of Rundgren when I hear Cordle sing.

His girlfriend joined me in admiration, and I said to her, "Isn't he like a singing French existentialist philosopher. Look, black shoes, black trousers, black sweater and black knit cap. Plus, check the salt and pepper goatee". 

"Ha, Ha. He looks like a French cat burglar. He's going to rob your house, coming down the chimney, if the tip cup doesn't fill". 

That led me to wondering. Would a French existentialist philosopher have any success in petty breaking and entering? I was worried. Cordle had put out the smallest tip cup. I slipped over and popped in a fiver, just to buy some insurance.

I bid my friend adieu when I spotted my neighbor, the Deconstructionist, sitting on the curb below the Frauenthal Marquee. "But wait. Stand still", and she shook her ribbon wand over my head furiously. "There, now you can go. Expect good luck. The fix is in". "Thanks", I said. 

The Deconstructionist was in another world as she listened to the two men sitting on an Arabian carpet spread over the yellow line of Western. One man was singing lyrics in tongues, as best as I could tell. Just like glossolalia, his singing almost made sense, and yet it eluded my understanding. The second man was tripping on his steel guitar, playing a tune between "Wild at Heart" and "Pachebel's Canon". The song ended, breaking my friend's trance.

She beamed at me, "I spotted them yodeling, and I sat down. And then, suddenly, the duet broke into Tibetan Throat Singing. I never expected Tibetan Throat Singing on the main street of Muskegon. And I thought Muskegon was just a town for sailing and cottage businesses".

"Yep, there's more than what meets the eye in Muskegon these days".

"I just remembered. Go to the Red Lotus now".

"Under the Century Club, in the basement below Oceana Vineyard's tasting room".

"What are you doing here still? It's the Day of the Dead show. It's better than the show Richard App throws every year at this gallery in Grand Rapids".

"Better than Richard App's Day of the Dead Show. That's impossible".

"Go, and see for yourself. Hurry up, fool. Shoo." The duet started a new song, this time a chanson in French.

When the Deconstructionist speaks that strongly about an art show, it's time to let go of everything and go. So I ran through the archers shooting bolts into hay bales on the sand lot near the Century Club, and scurried downstairs. I was greeted by Linda Goss, who had lit candles on a shelf of freshly painted sugar skulls. The Red Lotus instructor had just finished a small demonstration on the Mexican tradition of painting skulls of sugar with food coloring. Earlier that night, Goss told me, another instructor had shown how to make a Day of the Dead skull with tiny rolls of paper, a technique called paper quilting. Goss pointed at the exhibit, making sure I noticed the paper quilted portrait of Prince, who passed from this life in April. Goss noticed that the gallery team was cleaning up the banquet table, and she put together a glass of chardonnay for my right hand and a cup of veggie chili for my left hand, and pointed out the ofrenda. She wished me a good night, and joined the clean up team.

I was excited and horrified. Muskegon Community College had commissioned an ofrenda, an altar honoring and remembering the dead, two years before tonight. However, this was the first ofrenda I had noticed in a public space in Muskegon, made by locals. I was horrified because visitors had placed pictures of their loved ones upon the lovely yellow cloth covering the levels. I had nothing that I could put on the cloth, honoring my parents, who I had laid to rest with my siblings in March. 

Jill Farkas and her friends had furnished the main elements of the ofrenda from her antique shop, old knit laces, flickering candles on elegant sconces and tiles she had discovered in a bazaar in Tijuana. One depicted a woman skeleton sitting on a couch, lettering explaining she was, "Waiting for Mr. Right". Another depicted a male skeleton sitting on the porcelain throne, reading the paper. These one of a kind finds were not for sale. Humor has never been discouraged on an ofrenda, an altar that can hold everything human. A friend came to my ear and asked, "Are you writing about this"? 

"I'm always composing in my mind". For example, look above the ofrenda, the oil paintings on window glass. I know the painter, Catherine Swiatekand here she is at the top of her game. Note that image of Hildegard Von Bingen, the Catholic saint and mystic of the Twelfth Century. It's fantastic. It's remarkable. Swiatek claims she painted it rapidly in a matter of hours. Fine. Chess masters keep their skills sharp by playing speed chess, games of no more than five minutes duration. Now, what I truly love about her Hildegard. Hildegard composed and sang mystical music with her sisters in the abbeys on Europe. Heady, heady, stuff. This summer, our painter toured Michigan as the lead singer of a Led Zepplin tribute band, Dancing Daze. What would Hildegard Von Bingen sing if she were born in the Twenty-First century. She might like all the lyrics of Led Zeppelin. No wonder Von Bingen came trippingly off of Swiatek's brush this October."

My friend looked at me with a puzzled look. She looked at Hildegard. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, "Write it down just like that". And she rejoined her husband, who crafts medieval chain mail. 

Will Juntunen

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Wilbo Visits the Muskegon Farmers Market and Discovers a Tribe of Buskers He's Never Heard Before Today.

A man in an argyle sweater and khakis has set up shop, busking on a violin. He has seated himself between the children's face painting and the power of produce stall. He has chosen a location warmed by full sun, as robust a sunbeam as one will find today. He has also chosen a location right before four trash cans, empty trash cans but still trash cans. The staff giving children tokens to buy vegetables have been busy. It's too cold in the barn's shade to hold even a short lesson. The La La Land girls have turned children into pixies and eleves at at steady pace, amazingly face painting children for mere tips in a jar. Last night, children walked Western Avenue adorned in face paint, mimicking tigers and sprites and gesturing with ribbon streamer wands. Today, children walk the farmers market adorned again in face paint, mimicking a different ethereal creature than last night. The entire month has become Halloween in downtown Muskegon. Kids must love it, especially as fresh cider and candy apples await for purchase along the stalls, cherry turnovers too. Better choices than Halloween candy await at every turn.

The violinist didn't strike me as familiar. He must have moved to another location, hoping for better tips in his open, worn case. Maybe it's an unwritten rule, but buskers only work the ends of the market aisles. One of my friends has a doctorate in Philosophy, but he pays his small monthly bills by busking, Mandolin busking, at the north corner of the market's inner most aisle. He pulls a two hour shift by Aldea coffee, Laughing Tree Bakery and the farmer who sells watermelon by the slice and goes home with about a hundred in his frog waste basket, the better to secure those fivers that catch on the wind.

The main stage operates different. A popular local musician named Kwame curates the buskers on the stage. When performing on the main stage, the busker is allowed amplification, and the music carries from the barn to the Morris Street Pavilion. I was loving what I was hearing, and I emerged from my perch in the barn to hear more songs by a woman who had just taken the stage. It was a bit chilly out in the open, but the picnic tables around the stage enjoyed full sun and I was lulled into three songs, cover songs performed well with personal interpretation. Kwame spotted me, and drew me into conversation. I quizzed him, "Kwame, what's up with this talent"? "Well, she found the farmers market. She had just won a Detroit Music Award, so that was a green light for me. Her name is Mary McGuire". "Nice pull, Kwame", and we hugged and went our ways. Mary McGuire sang, "Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone", as I rolled away on my Schwinn Admiral.

When I arrived at Unruly Brewing, where like Cheers everybody knows my name, I looked Mary McGuire up. Her Detroit Music Award couldn't be fresher, awarded in 2016. She even shared the stage for a duet awards night with perennial favorite, the polite, crowd-pleasing Jill Jack. McGuire had plans to put plenty of miles on her boots after busking in Grand Rapids, seeking that ArtPrize gold. Later tonight,  she'll cross Michigan on M-46, shortest route, to make a gig at a barbecue house in Frankenmuth. Tomorrow will find her at the Sunday Farmers Market in East Lansing, one of my favorites. Mary McGuire is proof that the best never rest. Catch McGuire this October as her tour touches a farmers market near you.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

In Fowlerville, Michigan, Wilbo Contemplates the Sermons of Pastor Bill Fleming and Enjoys Lunch at the Bloated Goat Tavern Downtown.

We attended a church in Fowlerville, Michigan. St. John's Lutheran Church still stands and operates as a Lutheran Church, although the church had no open doors today. Wondering if the pastor's wife was cleaning the inside windshield of her truck. She was cleaning the truck in the parking space before the rectory. I didn't want to bother her with a request to open the church. I could walk around the sanctuary by memory. We worshipped there until 1980, when we stopped attending church all together. Pastor Bill led the congregation, a man who came to the ministry late in life, encouraged by the woman who became his wife. She invited our confirmation class over to the rectory for hot fudge sundaes once. Pastor Bill often talked about the Bloated Goat Tavern in his sermons.

Pastor Bill often talked about the Bloated Goat Tavern in his sermons. Maybe he was kidding when he said, "The Devil fights for our souls even while we are sitting in the pews. The people who sit upon the barstools at the Bloated Goat Tavern? He's already won their souls. So the devil pays them no mind at all". So I had to pay a visit to the Bloated Goat Tavern. I had a connection to Fowlerville going back to 1969, and I had never stepped foot into the Bloated Goat. I wandered to the back of the narrow saloon with wooden floors and a long oak bar. I couldn't count all the beer mirrors on the eastern wall. The bartender walked up to me and asked if I wanted a drink. I did. I told her how Pastor Bill joked about the Bloated Goat in his sermons. She laughed. "That's funny. I teach Sunday School".

She laughed. "That's funny. I teach Sunday School at St. John's Lutheran Church. Many of my customers are Godly people". The door of the saloon welcomed me in when the door of the church wouldn't open. I took a stool at the bar between two farmers drinking Bud Light. I remembered the sermon when Pastor Bill announced that St. John's could no longer leave the door to the sanctuary open all hours for prayer. Local churches had locked their sanctuary doors at night also after a string of thefts. St. John's felt it wise to follow their example. Sermons weren't recorded in the seventies at small churches. I would like to hear that one again now that I know the story of Jean Valjean, who stole silverware from the Bishop of Digne. The Bishop of Digne gave Valjean the silver candlesticks from the cathedral altar and dropped charges against Valjean.

One of the farmers ordered another Bud Light and explained about goats and bloating, "Here's what I know about bloated goats. Goats eat all kinds of greenery to keep full. They are known for an ability to eat almost everything. Occasionally, a herb or grass will give a goat gas, massive gas. It almost looks like demonic possession, a goat ballooned up, lying on its side, legs thrashing. This massive gas is deadly because bloating can shut down normal organ function. Thus, a pin must pierce a tiny hole in the goat's bloated stomach. Saw a herd saved this way in a British Film once."

I stood him another Bud Light. 

 — at Bloated Goat Saloon.

Usually, the Panhandler on the Side of the Road is a Man. In the Summer of 2016, the Panhandler Had the Face of a Woman.

Two people are holding signs, accepting alms, at corner of Fuller and Michigan in Grand Rapids tonight. It's become a frequent sight at all our major intersections. Usually, the man holding the sign has a beard and a haggard look. What's different lately is the number of women panhandling, younger women with stoic faces, jaws set tightly, showing little emotion. The woman at the south east corner by the Speedway held a sign that said, "Family is starving". I saw no one take notice and pass her money. I had little time to even think about shifting over one lane and stopping traffic. Shopping mall parking lots near McDonalds and fast food works for the sign beggars who work Norton Shores. When I talked to a few men on the bus, I heard stories of women bringing warm clothing, a meal or going to the ATM for twenties. The woman with the hand-lettered sign must have thought of this in a desperate minute. She is not alone in her desperation. Not long ago, I saw a woman holding a sign on US-31 leading south out of Grand Haven. Hers said, "Mom downsized. Children hungry". She had picked a dark corner where drivers stopped at the light couldn't talk to her. The corner on the north side of Robinson looked better because all the cars waited for the light on that side. I had to hit two US-31 turnarounds to reach her position, one to go north and one to go south and make a right turn. Then I had to turnaround in Southland's parking lot. Plenty of turns just to share a few dollars. 

Then again, who carries cash anymore? Panhandlers are unlikely to carry a credit card reader from Square. I had enough change to buy a pack of Doublemint Spearmint gum for two bits, two dimes and a nickel. When I passed that corner three hours later, she still had her sign up in two hands, still standing in the strenuous stance of the sentinel or the panhandler. I turned into the Speedway lot, called out to her, gave her what little change I had and an unopened can of iced tea. I've been drinking canned iced tea in the car all summer, an inexpensive drink that I hope doesn't give me diabetes. "It's not much, but at least you won't be thirsty". She accepted with a thin smile, then looked down at the ground. "I hope you luck improves soon". She looked up, smiled that grim smile again, popped open the cold can, pulled a drink, and returned to her corner.

Illustration of Cosette in the Thénardiers' inn at Montfermeil depicted by Émile Bayard (1837-1891).
 — in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Summer 2016 was the Summer of the French Girl, with Her French Garden, Her French Holidays and Very French Love of Art

Aug 16, 2016 12:33 PM

I drove over to the Farmer's Market, and near the splash pad and the post office, I saw a man sitting on an advertising bench. Muskegon has scores of these advertising benches. A few promote local lawyers. A few publicize local real estate agents. A few pump up business for restaurants that no longer exist. Funny thing about these benches. I have yet to see one positioned at a bus stop. Many are left in hot sun without hope of daytime shade. The City Council approves the benches and their locations every few years, pocketing a small bit of rent. Maybe a commissioner might ask for the benches to be moved to shady stops where people wait for rides, appointments? So, it caught my eye when I noticed one of our town's developers sitting in full sun on this hot day, working on his iPhone with an absorbed yet bemused expression on his face. Maybe he had been offered another valuable raw space tower in Muskegon for a dollar? I didn't yell the obvious, "Hey, Gary! There's a cool, air-conditioned coffee house near the Century Club. Called Drip Drop Drink. Ever heard of it"? And why would I break his laser sharp attention? Good stuff was being imagined.

I bought a slice of apple pie from the baker from Hart, Michigan, a regular at the Tuesday Market. And I went to Drip Drop Drink to enjoy the pie with a cup of black currant tea. And I thought I was close to making good on a promise to Gary. He asked if I could find him the statue of a horse to place on a traffic island west of his building, the Century Club. He might settle for a mastodon or closer, a woolly mammoth. I might have either one or the other soon. A woman moved into a brick mansion near my home, a mansion that could have been shipped brick by brick from a French village. Stands right on the historical street near downtown Muskegon, overlooked until she bought it and began its restoration. 

Near the Fourth of July, she threw a Bastille Day Party. It was pretty authentic. She played French music. She served French wine. She had French bread and French cheese from the Cheese Lady awaiting attention in the kitchen. Four ingénues in summer dresses set about slicing up the French bread and setting the cheese wheels out on appealing plates. The ingénues made it look effortless. And then I discovered that my Francophile friend had not hired them. Two young ingénues from Oceana County had assisted in the kitchen to please their mother. Two ingénues from Ottawa County had intervened in the kitchen because their mother had merely winked at them. I got off my Adirondack chair to slice a loaf of French bread, just to avoid looking like a slacker. 

I thought of giving the ingénues paint, brushes and canvases after all the cheese trays had been set out on garden tables, but the four had found the croquette sets. Any way, it's been like that all summer in the Francophile's garden. 

After a few weeks, the Francophile ceased speaking English to me. One morning, I strolled over. She opened the door and declared, "J'ai faim". I am hungry. So we drove to Steak and Egger for omelettes. We paused for a few moments to look at antiques at the Front Porch, and the owner and she fell into a long conversation in French. I walked over to the Cheese Lady for an Orangina, knowing that the two had much to cover. The Francophile was quite a successful picker, finding antiques where I would only find trash. The owner had a few great ideas to sound out, and as a Native American woman, she sounded out all her plans.

I took my time drinking my Orangina and sampling bits of cheese. The Cheese Lady assistants never tire of talking cheese, sharing samples. When I returned, the Francophile was kissing the Front Porch lady on both cheeks, the way Simone De Beauvoir might say goodbye to Jean Paul Satre after an all night symposium. 

So I suggested we go next to the nearby Indian Cemetery, a site recognized by the Ottawa Nation. Under a scaffolding made from graying saplings lashed together, we found the remains of a ceremony, bits of cloth, lengths of birch limb and charcoal embers scattered on a square of the turf that didn't match the lawn. All but the turf square looked fresh. And then it hit me. Native American bones that had been retained in the Lakeshore Museum Center had been interred in Indian Cemetery in the summer of 2008. A member of the tribe had returned on the anniversary to perform rituals on the day. We left the cemetery in respectful quiet. Outside the wrought iron gate, built almost a hundred years ago, she exclaimed in English for a change, "I want to sculpt a mastodon for the grave yard"! A mastodon could symbolize a time before man's arrival, but it might be too massive for the postage stamp sized Indian Cemetery. So we drove over to Gary's nearby traffic island. Behind the Century Club is a good place to commemorate millenniums. "Ici", I said. "Oui", she answered. Then, "Je suis fatigue", she added. I drove her home.
 — at Drip Drop Drink.

Restoration of the Adams mammoth by Roman Boltunov