My Great-great Grandfather Murdered a Woodchopper

A E Wheeler_photo

On Christmas Eve in 1910, A.E. Wheeler, my great-great grandfather, murdered a woodchopper.

The woodchopper’s name was James White, and it happened in a little town called Vina, in Northern California. I don’t know all the facts of the case. I only know what I’ve been able to gather in old archives from the Red Bluff News. But it seems to have happened something like this: Wheeler and White, who were apparently friends, went to a saloon and picked up some “wet goods” – beer and whisky. A few hours later, they arrived by buggy at the cabin of a woodchopper named Getchell. According to Getchell, they were intoxicated and quarreling when they got there, and White showed signs of having been injured. Wheeler then “forced” White and Getchell to go with him to find a gun he claimed White had lost. The missing gun seems to be what the quarrel was all about, and White’s injury was on the top of his head where he had been struck with the barrel of Wheeler’s rifle.

So Wheeler and White and Getchell all went looking for the gun and Getchell found it in the grass somewhere. He gave it to Wheeler, which seemed to settle the him down. He apologized to White for hitting him over the head with the barrel of his rifle and three of them then hung out by the buggy, chewing the fat and drinking their “wet goods.” Afterwards, Wheeler went on his way, and White and Getchell went back to the cabin, White going to bed right away after complaining about a headache.

He never woke up.

Wheeler did wake up (unfortunately for him) and was soon convicted for manslaughter, sentenced to three years in prison. The day he entered prison – strangely enough – was May 14, 1911. 100 years to the day from when I got out of prison (Florida was my prison) and moved to Berlin. This makes me wonder if in some spectral way I’ve been emancipated from the sins of my fathers (or at least that father).

Could be.
Or it could be that Berlin is simply another kind of prison.

After serving his time, A.E. Wheeler got arrested for something else, but this time he was committed to an insane asylum, the land of which years before had been donated by – strangely enough – another ancestor of mine, Charles Maria Weber, from Steinwenden, Germany. Weber also founded Stockton, California, and I am related to him through my father. A.E. is on my mother’s paternal side, and below is the hospital report where they speak of his penchant for crawling under automobiles, hiding butcher’s knives under his pillows and muttering incoherently to himself – behavior which, I can attest, still lingers under certain leaves in the family tree.

A E Wheeler - Stockton State Hospital

A E Wheeler_photo

Bob with Sunshine

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He’d always call before coming into the shop. “Hey, It’s Bob with Sunshine, I need to pick up a 5 of your high gloss sealer, do you have one in stock?”

“We do,” we’d tell him, and a little while later a white van with a decal of the yellow sun on the side of it would tool into the parking lot.

Bob called his business Sunshine, I suspect, because Florida is the Sunshine State. It was just that simple. Bob called himself Bob because it’s less syllables than Robert and syllables take time.

Bob was always in a massive rush.

When he’d come into the shop, he had no time for fuss or wasted words. Words were distractions. The objective was very serious: to get the transaction over with, grab the merchandise (upon which the fate of universe depended) and get out of there as quickly as possible.

Bob was a bottom line kind of guy.

If a thing didn’t serve his bottom line, he had absolutely no use for it.

With him, it was all about reaching the cheese at the end of the maze, and if getting there quicker required chewing through the walls, he’d be the first one coughing up drywall.

We’d do the transaction, he’d grab the can and beeline out of the shop, sometimes while rummaging through the fathoms of his shapeless cargo shorts, grabbing his phone and dialing whoever he was soon to be visiting.

“Yeah, Bob with Sunshine…”

Bob was never in the place that he was, his mind was always either two steps ahead of itself or standing at the finish line with his wallet open. So it was no surprise when he came into the shop one morning with two fingers missing.

He’d apparently been working with a table saw and no time was to be wasted.

Bob sold his handyman business shortly after that and the last I’d heard – this coming from a former employee of his – he’d gotten a job selling quick temporary dentures for a wholesale firm in Boca.

Bob was a customer of mine for five years and I never saw him smile. Whether he did or not didn’t affect his bottom line.

My Kraftwerk Story

I had never even heard of Kraftwerk until 2009, when I visited Europe for the first time. It was an 11-day trip. After flying into Düsseldorf, I spent three days in Cologne, three in Paris, four in Amsterdam, and flew back out of Düsseldorf. On my second day in Cologne, I met a crew of street-performers, drank beer with them in the shadow of the Cathedral and afterwards they invited me to a little campfire gathering they were having at a trailerpark on the outskirts of the city.

I drove there with S., a Dutch-Italian escape artist, and Barry G., a juggler-comedian from San Francisco who’d been living in Europe since 1994. The escape artist was driving the VW van which she lived in and I was sitting in the back of it with all her furniture and all her busking outfits and there was a bowler’s hat suspended from the ceiling and on the wall there was a large, framed black & white photo of a bald man in clown’s makeup who seemed to be looking into my soul the whole ride.

It took about 20 minutes to get to the trailerpark. S. parked and let me out of the van. Then the three of us – the escape artist, the juggling comedian and the tool rental guy – walked up to the entrance. The door must’ve been twenty-feet tall, this massive wooden structure with little spikes on top. It looked like something out medieval times or the Legend of Parsifal. Barry rang the buzzer and we were let in by a tall blond busker named Klaus.

The trailerpark was on about an acre of land, surrounded on three sides by a mass of black towering pine trees. There were about ten or twelve small trailers nestled around, and in the middle, under the planets and stars – it was a perfectly clear night – a little golden bonfire burned. We sat down on some railroad ties in the glow of the flames and talked and drank while passing a joint around. Then a few other street-performers came out of their trailers. One of them, a long-haired German named Volker, started doing headstands on the railroad ties, spreading his legs out and twirling around. While that was happening, I was talking to Klaus about my love of the German culture, and how I wanted to move across the pond one day. Back then my moving to Europe was only a dream. I didn’t think it could ever possibly happen, although I’d been saving up for it for a few years already. We talked about German philosophers and poets and musicians, and I remember asking what I’d been asking for years. Where are the modern-day Bachs, Beethovens, Handels, Wagners? They must be around, I said. Are they in some other genre than classical music?

Have you heard of Kraftwerk? Klaus asked.

I hadn’t, so he invited me over to his trailer to watch one of their videos. Volker came with us. The two of them entered the trailer and I stood just outside the door as Klaus turned the video on. The song he played was Autobahn, and in the video, which was from a live concert, you see the four members of Kraftwerk dressed like automatons, standing behind podiums and working their clairvoyant magic. I didn’t think it was magic at the time. I thought it was kind of absurd, I must admit. Comical too, but I wasn’t laughing. I was paranoid. The weed made me so. Not to mention the menacing, red-hot glares Volker kept giving me. He didn’t want me there, that was obvious. Was it because I was an American? Did he just not like my face? Was it because I wasn’t a street-performer, but instead a lowly capitalist tool rental store guy? (I’d mistakenly admitted my job earlier in the night).

He started talking to Klaus in German while the video was playing. I stood there not understanding them and watching the four automatons and suddenly the reality of the situation struck me. I am 3000 miles from home. 2nd night ever in Europe. On the outskirts of a town I know nothing about. In a trailerpark full of jugglers and fire eaters and escape artists. And one of them hates me. And the music and the androids playing it can’t make the scene any stranger. And I’m stoned. Too stoned. Paranoid. Is this the part where I get clubbed over the skull, dragged into some unterwelt cubbyhole and buggered? I stood there shifting my weight from my right foot to my left and back again. Finally, the song ended. Klaus asked me what I thought of it. “Yea, yea,” I said, and some uncomfortable talk followed. We headed back to the bonfire. We sat down on the railroad ties and Volker started doing headstands again. Klaus then started telling me a little more about Kraftwerk. He said they started the band in a garage in Düsseldorf in 1969 and are considered the inventors and pioneers of electronic music. He told me a few vignettes about this and that, and I made a mental note to do further investigating later. Maybe Autobahn is just one bad song, I thought.

That was eleven years ago.

I have since grown to love Kraftwerk, even Autobahn. But what I love most is thinking about their origins in that little garage in far-flung Düsseldorf. The music that was echoing in there was so strange and different from everything else being played in 1969, the impact they’d one day have on the music industry could hardly be imagined. Was it even music they were playing? I’m sure some people had their doubts. But Florian and Ralf followed their intuition nonetheless and twelve years later the eerily prescient Computer World was born. Here the lyrics from Computer Love, the 5th track on the album.

Computer love
Computer love
Another lonely night
Stare at the TV screen
I don’t know what to do
I need a rendezvous
Computer love
Computer love
I call this number
For a data date
I don’t know what to do
I need a rendezvous
Computer love
Computer love

If that doesn’t sum up modern life, I don’t know what does. It’s almost as if Kraftwerk had gotten mystical a little glimpse into the future, which is why I say: as much as I love the scientist’s bar graph & beaker, qualitative analysis, mathematical models & cross-sectional data, the best instrument there is to throw light on the unknown is the artist’s heart.

“There is nothing in the intellect that wasn’t first found in the senses.” ~ Aristotle

Fat Guy with a Weak Heart

davinciheart

Yesterday, I was sitting on a park bench at the boule courts and drinking a beer when heavy-set man of about 60 sat down on the other end of the same bench. I was tempted to tell him to he was too close to me and to sit somewhere else, but since the wind was blowing in his direction, I let it go. Still, I was annoyed with him. There were plenty of other places for him to sit, why’d he have to sit on the bench that I claimed? I took a sip of my beer. He was drinking a beer too. In Germany, it’s legal to drink beer in public. We both sat there drinking our beers and watching the boules game unfold in front of us. Then I felt a tickling sensation in my nose. Must’ve been all the pollen in the air. I cupped my hands over my mouth and let out an explosive sneeze, my legs involuntarily bouncing on the bench. He jumped too, as if in shock, and I saw him gaping at me out of the corner of my eye. He didn’t say anything though. He knew he didn’t have the right. I was sitting there first and it was the risk he took by sitting so close to me. We drank our beers and stared out at the game. A few minutes later, he reached into his backpack and took out what looked like the driest piece of literature I’d ever seen in my life. It was glossy broad-leafed booklet and I could just barely make out the words on the cover. It said Behandlung der Herzschwäche, which means treatment for a weak heart. He must have just gotten it from the doctor’s office. He might’ve even just come from the doctor’s office. He paged through it for a while, then he put it into his backpack and took out another booklet which was more glossy weak heart literature, none of it presumably mentioning the dangers of sitting on the same park bench as an unmasked stranger during a pandemic. He already knew about that I guess and was willing to risk it, willing to infect too. He took another sip of his beer and continued reading, his heart with all its biases providing the commentary.

An Engagement (Ormond Beach to the Ancient City via AIA) Part 1 of 3

We are about 3/4ths of the way there when we take a random turn off the highway into a town called Ormond Beach. The town doesn’t have much going for it judging by the road in, but just north of an institution entitled Hanky Panky’s Lounge there stands a strip mall of shoebox-like dimensions with a salon in it, a realtor who shares my last name and a hot dog joint with good reviews. We go in the hot dog joint and order a couple of Chicago dogs and a Coke to share. I am too cheap to buy my own Coke. I have a bottle of water in the car. We sit at a lacquered wooden table that’s shaped like a surfboard and notice how everything in the place seems to be from another decade. Something has failed to evolve. Where are the paper straws? Where are the cow-free items or vegan dogs in all their barf-colored varieties? A TV playing the local news manifests itself over the counter and we listen to their middle-Florida talk and eat our Chicago dogs and look out the window at the passing cars. The day is wash of fish-gluey gray. We finish eating and get back on the road, heading north on A1A through sea-cloud and low mists and blowing sands, the beach and dim ocean tides visible to our right, wild palms, shaggy shrubs, the scenery growing stranger and more barren the further we travel.

What is this place? What year is it? Are we on the wrong side of Mars during the Clinton Administration? Everything looks alien. The neglected country diners, the low-slung houses of worship, fruit stands withering in cruel consuming light, fleabag motels and biker bars, everything burning in soft melancholy and a feeling of having been abandoned long ago, left behind like shells on the beach with nothing in them but the echo.

One town disappears, another one takes its place. The ocean growing battleship-gray and wild. Dead grass-heads and roads leading nowhere, three-tiered houses with uneven sand dunes for backyards and the occasional chinch bug or Trump 2020 sign poking up in a front lawn. The fading echoes of gulls. Wasted beach shacks with salt-film on the windows and termites chewing the sills, doorways of limescale and painted salamander dreams, the crumbling stretch of sun-faded iguana blacktop and the village idiot perched on the outpost, lobster-red and humpbacked, his mind eaten by honeysuckle and gin-soaked mists. We pass him and headlights spill out of the gloom, a jacked-up pickup truck, diesel exhaust spewing from its big mindless tailpipes, the sad little rice burners and buckets of bolts, motorcycles, a nebulae of pinkish taillights, crusty old men with loose jowls and neat snow-white goatees stubborn against the face of time, their hearts hardened and longing for songs of some distant past, their bodies eroding like the sands. The crematorium hungering for them.

In Flagler Beach, we drive past a pier which seems to be the main attraction of the town and pull to the side of the road. We get out, walk in gray light along the dock, but then it starts to drizzle and there’s nothing to see anyway. We get back in the car and keep going north, looking at all the strange buildings and houses, how they look so pale and sick in the gray light of day.

Abandoned shells abandoned even by the echo.

This is a place that hasn’t been since the Indians were here. This is a nothing place. Locked in some spiritless limbo state, nothing here was meant to remain, yet everything seems to be hunkering in the wasted sand, holding on, waiting for a Second Coming.

I have a vision of a beautiful green parakeet woman banging repeatedly her tender head on the ceiling of some dark local room. She’s trying to escape and she could escape because the window is thrown open, but she would rather bang her head in self-pity and be afraid.

We drive.
Something is north of here.

We part the gauze of mist and sea-clouds, the drizzle lets up, the sun becomes a white floating disk. It pales and wobbles in the sky. A sour beam pours down, alighting on the rooftops, setting fire to the trees, glimmering in a glaze of wet streets.
We follow it all the way to Saint Augustine.

(Part 1 of 3)

An Engagement (Saint Augustine) Part 2 of 3

It is to be a short trip. One night in the Ancient City and then back to South Florida. We are staying at a 2-star hotel that’s a short walk over the bridge to the historic district. We get to the hotel about an hour before check-in time. We are hoping to be let into our room early, but the maids are still cleaning. We get a map from the clerk and traverse zu Fuß downtown.

The sun has now wrestled itself through the clouds, its reflection gleaming in the calm waters of the Mantanzas River, or what the French had dubbed the River of Dolphins.

We stop for a moment on the bridge to look at the sailboats down below and notice a rainbow on the horizon, curving from the blue liquid clouds and into the waters. I take this to be a good omen, relating it to another rainbow I had seen earlier in the week which had come with a thought and disappeared the moment I pointed it out. The bridge we are on is called the Bridge of Lions, and that is also a good omen and fitting too, if you believe in astrology. Erica is a water sign.

Saint Augustine is called the Ancient City because it was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers and is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the continental United States. There’s not much to the old part of the city though. Just a few square blocks, a fort made out of coquina shell, a cathedral, a museum, a jail, a light tower and the Fountain of Youth.

We come down off the bridge and walk along St. George Street looking in the windows of the tourist shops and killing time before check-in.

An hour later we are in our room. It’s an end-of-the-building unit looking out onto a residential side-street, clean and modern with a high-standing bed and mirrors in the wrong place. We tear off all our clothes and we take care of that part of it for rite of passage purposes. Then we lounge in bed until 5 o’ clock Happy Hour which takes place in the dining room of the hotel. Free snacks and white wine until 6. We hurry down there at a quarter after 5 and fill our glasses and sit at the table by the window. It faces the River of Dolphins upon which the sun is setting, the waters crimson and glittering with the outline of the historic district on the other side. At the table behind us there is a middle-aged couple speaking to the elderly hostess about somethingorother, and I hear mention of the Boynton Beach.

“You’re from Boynton?” I ask.
“We are,” says the man. “We live in Sun Valley.”

I tell him about my connection to the town, noticing all the while the way the light of the room gives an almost phosphorescent gleam to the blue-tinted raven-black toupee standing on his head. The toupee is in poor taste to be sure, but there’s no accounting for people’s tastes as they say, and maybe it’s what his wife wants. I don’t ask. We bond over Boynton Beach. Then they start telling us about how they’ve stayed in this same hotel for the past five years, and how they love it, and how they love Saint Augustine. We ask them if they have any restaurant recommendations and they mention a few including Harry’s, a Creole seafood bar and grill in the historic district.

Two large glasses of wine later we head down there, going over the Bridge of Lions again. It’s now dark out, and the sky is clear. The moon is an upside-down smile and above it Venus blazes. The river is full of city lights, red-gold, pink, lemon-yellow and shimmering. At the top of the bridge there are two towers with walking platforms around them, better to see the river from. I direct Erica onto the first one and she goes in front of me and when we’re halfway around it I take her hand and descend to a knee, succumbing to that strange golden fruit force of my Socratic daimonion.

Wait, what?
Yes, she says, her pretty bluebird eyes wet with tears.
But why here? Why like this? Was it the three glasses of wine? Did you know before? I didn’t think you’d ever…
I don’t explain.
I point to the upside-down horn of the moon and Venus sitting above it.
I point to the marble Medici lions guarding the bridge when we come off it.
I escort her to Harry’s.

(Part 2 of 3)

An Engagement (Ghost Story in Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille) Part 3 of 3

“Whoever at the present time doubts the facts of animal magnetism and its clairvoyance should be called not a skeptic but an ignoramous.” Schopenhauer (Essay on Spirit Seeing)

It’s jam-packed when we get there, but we knew it would be. Every decent restaurant in that part of town is slammed in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I put my name in with the hostess and am told the wait will be an hour-and-a-half, but there are two bars inside. She gives me a beeper. We take a look at the bars. One is downstairs, the other is upstairs, both are mobbed. I squeeze into the downstairs bar and order a couple of white wines, pay for them. Five minutes later which was only about ten minutes after I put on my name my beeper goes off. I hand it into the hostess and follow another one upstairs. We are expecting to get some shitty table up there, but she brings us out onto the balcony and sits us at a table for two at the very end. From the table we have a beautiful view of the waterfront and the traffic and trolleys in the street below. The trolleys are mad tonight, full of whistling crackajabloking drunks, celebrating… New Year’s already? It’s only the 29th. Us? We pretend it is.

Erica is still in a state of shock it seems, but quickly plants her feet in the ground with talk about the practical aspects our future. We don’t even know what country it’ll happen in. We have three to choose from. We order our dinners and more drinks and sometime during our drinking and eating and talk what we think is a jet of water hits Erica just below the eye. She wipes it off and we try to figure out where it came from. There is a sidewalk below the balcony that’s crowded with passersby. Someone must’ve lofted it up, but how could a small bit of water have looped over the balcony rail and across the table and hit her square below the eye without going anywhere else? I run my hand along the top of the balcony rail and feel a puddle of water, but the angle from the sidewalk to the rail to Erica on the other side of the table defies physics which means the water on the rail is unrelated. It did rain earlier. It must’ve dripped down from the roof. Either that or a ghost leaned down and threw it at her, spilling a little on the rail. I make a joke about ghosts, only because the city is reputed to be haunted and we had almost signed up for a ghost tour earlier that night. “Nothing else explains it,” I say, and when the waitress comes back to our table I mention it to her, and ask if any supernatural events have ever happened there before. She says many have, the building has long been known to be haunted, the second-floor bathroom especially which she refuses to go in. The ghost haunting is, she says, is Catalina Depores, a Spanish girl who died in the house in 1795. She says Catalina sometimes appears in the mirror in there, and she has been seen by some going through walls and doors. There’s also girl named Bridget who has been seen in fleeting moments wearing a wedding dress, and a man in an old-fashioned black suit.

The next day, I did some research on the history of the building and found several blogs and articles about ghosts there, one from the Orlando Weekly on September 30, 2004.

“Today, the guests, wait staff and owners of Harry’s say Catalina’s temperamental and haughty spirit still wanders the restaurant. According to the staff, there have been numerous reports of both male and female guests running terrified from the bathrooms after seeing a woman in period dress staring at them in the mirror. When they turn around, there’s no one there. She’s also been known to throw things.”

Another article also mentioned her penchant for throwing things, but unfortunately our little mystery becomes a little less mysterious just after the waitress leaves the table. Erica saw it sitting on the floor next to her foot. A small set of purple Mardi Gras beads. It isn’t water after all that hit her, it is the beads which explains why it hurt a little where she got hit. The beads must’ve been wet and flung up by some drunk that was passing under the balcony.

Very disappointing.

I had hoped it was a ghost, preferably the one in the wedding dress, making a little engagement joke. The ghosts in Harry’s are said to be friendly ones.

Part 3 of 3 (written in Ft. Lauderdale Airport)

A Family Bar (Part 1 of 3)

I was never what you’d call a regular there, but I knew all the regulars, and all the regular bartenders knew what I drank. On one visit there, I was sitting in the corner of the bar with Justin who had a crush on the owner of the place. To show it, he took the coaster from under his beer and lay it flat on the bar molding. He then pressed his forehead against the coaster, and another guy and I grabbed his trouser cuffs and lifted him up while he did a headstand on it. We had been drinking Jägerbombs that night, by the way. Lots of them. Free ones. A few weeks later, Justin was dating the owner, and later they got married and had children, two daughters. But I get ahead of myself.

The reason I went to this bar at first was because it was only a five minute drive from my house. The drive was easy. All I had to do was take a few quick turns out of my neighborhood and head straight down Seacrest Blvd, which was never busy and had no traffic lights. This was back when I was a believer in drinking and driving. I can’t tell you how many times I barnstormed that road with my hand over one eye to keep the yellow lines from swerving off road. It’s a miracle I never drove into a ditch or took out someone’s mailbox, let alone kill someone.

I remember one night I had arrived at the bar just before Happy Hour was to end. I pulled out a stool next to Justin, and he bought me a Jägerbomb, but left soon after that, leaving me with three guys I didn’t know. One of them introduced himself to me as Taz. He was about 55, 5’5, with silvery balding hair pulled back into a little rat’s tail, struggling mustachios and parrot shirt. “C’mon over here,” he said to me, pointing to the table in the corner. “C’mon, we’re like family in here.”

I went over, sat down, and for the rest of the night mostly just listened to him jaw. At first it was about his business. “I move dirt for a living,” he was saying. “I’m a heavy equipment operator. Dozers, rollers, backhoes… I was running Cats when they were still green. Do you remember when they were green? Course you don’t. You’re too young. This was back in the 70s. I used to move grass in the 70s too. Marijuana I mean. I used to smuggle the shit in the blackwaters just south of the Bahamas. Yup, that’s right. I went from moving grass to moving dirt. Still self-employed. I don’t got employees. I don’t need help. I know loaders like it’s another limb. I moved enough dirt in my day to fill in Lake Okeechobee. Twice. Hey Bartender, get this guy a Jägerbomb! Bartender! Jägerbomb for him! On me. See Punk Ass? (Don’t worry, I call everyone younger than me Punk Ass). You see? I take care of my people. We’re all family here. It’s a family bar. It’s one big happy family we are.”

Later that night, he showed me his gun. “It’s a .380,” he was saying. “I keep here in my cowboy boot. Right here. Ostrichskin. Here’s where. I never go anywhere without it. You gotta be protected. You ever been in the Mug?”
“No.”
“Got in an argument with a guy in the Mug. He pulls his knife out on me. I pull out my .380. I say, ‘Don’t you EVER… EVER… take a KNIFE to a GUNFIGHT! You understand me, Frogface?’ Stoopid fucker was just shittin himself. Hey Bartender, get this guy another Jägerbomb!”

After that, only bits and pieces of the night remain in my memory. I remember when his wife came in. “That’s my wife there,” he proclaimed. “Come here, Wifey.” He gave her a kiss. “Look how pretty she is. Yeah, that’s right. I got a pretty wife. She’s the first woman I’ve ever had who’s free. All the others I had to buy. Know what I mean? You don’t? Think about it. Think about it.”

The night ended something like this:

“You like stone crab, Punk Ass?”
“I do.”
“I get the best stone crab known to man. I get it from a guy down at the docks. What I do is I go home from here and fuck my wife. After that, I put back on my parrot shirt and go down to the docks and meet my connection. We’re supposed to meet at three a.m. this morning. Stone crab. You like it? Hell, yeah. Everyone likes it. Here, take my card… You want some, you call me. I’ll give you it well below market. See I take care of my people. Ah, what’s your name again? That’s right, that’s right. Now I remember. Now I remember that name. How could I forget? Hey Bartender, two more Jägerbombs. What’s that you say? Huh? It’s noisy in here. I thought you said scared. Hell, I ain’t scared of nutn. LOOK into MY EYES. Yup. That’s right. I AM the truth. What? Aw, hell no, I never thought about suicide. No need. This is the real shit right HERE baby! This. And these are my people. Would you like to
join
the family?

Huh,
Punk Ass?

Would you?

(Coughcoughcough)

I don’t think you got
the guts…”

(Part 1 of 3)

A Family Bar (The Fall) Part 2 of 3

Two years later I moved to Berlin, but my connection to the pub wasn’t totally lost. A few of the regulars occasionally would rent tools from my shop in Boynton Beach. One of them was Mssr. Higgins., who on one of my trips back told me that Taz had been identified as a fraud and banished for life from the pub. No surprise. I have no idea what’s happened to him since. If he’s alive, he’s about 65 now. Probably still scared and a Trump supporter. The other regular was Justin, the owner’s wife, who for years had been renting our trailer for their Saint Patrick’s Day float. We finally sold the trailer and didn’t see him for a while. Then he came in looking for a job. This was about two years ago, and his timing was perfect. It was right after the former Hollywood stuntman who was working for us had quit because I wasn’t dumb enough to believe one of his lies. Here was his quitting text:

Screenshot_2020-01-16 M P Powers ( mppowers1132) • Instagram-Fotos und -Videos

Justin had put on some weight since the last time I saw him, and his complexion was more ruddy than I remembered it, but it was nothing shocking. Still, his personality seemed somehow dampened by something. It was as though a wet towel had been thrown over it. He used to be cheerful and often joking, now he seemed almost ashamed of himself. My impression was that he was simply drinking too much. That being married to the owner of a bar had turned him into a full-blown alcoholic. Then I found out (in a roundabout way) that he had gotten a divorce from her, and that there was some kind of problem with his two daughters and visitation.

I didn’t ask.

We hired him as a driver, and two days later I went back to Berlin for the Spring.

In the meantime, Justin proved to be the honest and dependable employee we thought he’d be, but only lasted about three months before giving us his two weeks, saying he was moving back to Michigan. This was in April of 2018. In August of 2019, he called the shop and said he’d moved back, and was wondering if we would rehire him. We didn’t need him at the time, but a month later, when we were having problems with one of our drivers, we called him to come in. I wasn’t there when it happened. I only heard about it. I heard he came in looking like he’d aged about 20 years, which everyone attributed to too much booze.

Was he drinking so much because he was being kept from seeing his daughters? Was he being kept from seeing his daughters because he was drinking too much? Was it both? No one asked, and the problems we were having with our driver quickly resolved themselves, so we didn’t end up rehiring him. But the question remained. What was going on with Justin?

Never, in all the years I’d known him, did I think of him as anything other than a good man. I was sure he was a loving father too. Had the alcohol simply gotten the better of him?

I thought about the night I held his legs up while he did the headstand on the bar. That’s pretty much what started his relationship with the owner, and it was all really funny at the time. It was his mating call and it worked, for good or for bad.

That we’ll never know.

We only know it couldn’t have been different. Nothing’s as unchangable and impermeable as Fate.

(Part 2 of 3)

A Family Bar (Part 3 of 3)

The pub was fairly empty when we got there, but it was still early for New Year’s. I didn’t recognize a soul. I ordered two gin and tonics at the bar and sat down with Erica at one of the picnic tables out front. At the one next to us, there was a crew of sloppy drunks, probably all regulars. What happened to all the ten-years-ago regulars? I felt like a stranger there. We drank our gin and tonics while eavesdropping on the drunks, but they had nothing in the way of wit. They knew they were dull, but couldn’t do anything about it except be loud and volume wouldn’t save them. They knew that too. And now I knew why I never became a full-on regular at that bar. It was a magnet for dullards, wet-a-beds, bloviating dillweeds.

When we finished our drinks and did a long circuitous peregrination from pillar to post and from post to the beach. On our way back, we stopped at The Blue Anchor (which I have written about here), and it was around 11 p.m. when we returned. The pub was now jammed with people. I squeezed into the bar, ordered two more gin and tonics, and we stood just outside the front door watching the New Year’s Eve passers-by. While we were standing there, a guy with beard and longish ginger combed-back hair greeted me with a friendly hello, and sat down at one of the picnic tables. The greeting came as a surprise because I didn’t recognize him. I studied his face for moment to make sure. Nope. Never seen him in my life. Erica and I sat down at the picnic table near him and waited for the hour to drum itself down. Meanwhile, the bloviating wet-a-beds who were circumscribing the table-end three hours earlier were still circumstribing, but one was added to their party. This one I recognized, though I didn’t know where from and he looked much older than how I remembered him. He looked tragically older, probably because we were both about the same age, and his aging spoke for my aging. It wasn’t good. We were plants someone left out years ago and forgot to water.

One buzzword I keep seeing nowadays on social media and in marketing campaigns and elsewhere is authentic. Everyone seems to be pushing the idea that the best and most noble thing a person can be is authentic, but I remain suspicious. I would much rather a person be sincere than authentic, given that authenticity more often than not is determined by what’s on the outside.

What was on the outside of the unwatered fellow I recognized gave the impression he was the victim or casualty of a bad marketing campaign for a-u-t-h-e-n-t-i-c-i-t-y. He was wearing (donned or clad in would probably be better terms) a banana-yellow button-down shirt with a long Chinese violet scarf hanging over it. The scarf looked long enough to reach to Miami and back, looping several times around his neck and falling limply to the sad copious trousers which were partially tucked into a pair of elephantskin cowboy boots. But saddest of all was his hairdo. It was done up in thin braided pigtails. Erica said in England they are called ‘plaits,’ so for the rest of the evening, we referred to him as ‘Plaitman.’

At midnight, I was expecting to hear fireworks and raucous shouting and laughter, but strangely, it came and went very quietly. Even Plaitman and his crew seemed relatively subdued. Did the silence forebode something about the coming decade? We started talking to the people sitting beside us, a brother and sister in their fifties.

“Do you guys know Justin? I asked, thinking they were regulars.
They didn’t know him.
“Well, I started coming here fifteen years ago,” I said, and began telling them about the time Justin did the headstand on the bar, but the story was a flop and soon I let it trail off and die. I didn’t want to come off like one of those guys who never lets you forget that he was HERE BEFORE YOU. I told them I was now living in Germany, which got us talking about Germans and the German language and the friendly ginger guy who said hello to me earlier joined the conversation, proving to be just as friendly and genuine as I’d expected. He reminded me of Lucian or Menander, those noble old Greeks you imagined had suffered greatly, but nevertheless were always cheerful, open-minded, and friendly and hospitable to any stranger or fellow-sufferer, the spirit of xenia being alive in all their words and actions. It was this very spirit I wanted to bear with me into the new decade, but unfortunately before I could absorb any more from that hospitable ginger-haired demigod, the UBER we had called had arrived.
Guten Rutsch,” I told him.
Guten Rutsch?”
“That means Happy New Year in German,” I said “Literally, good slide… Don’t ask me why.” We laughed and hugged and gave a friendly handshake.
Then Erica and I were off, and I’m not even going to mention the price of the UBER.

Two days ago, when I sat down to begin the first part of this story, I kept getting distracted, first by the news, then by YouTube, the by this that and the other damn thing. Finally, I was ready to get something down, but first (because I was yet completely done with procrastinating) I did a Google search on Justin, thinking maybe I’d find something I could add to my story, or something that would explain his recent deterioration. As I said, the last time he came into our shop was in September, and it was told he looked about 20 years older than how anyone remembered him.

What I found was this: Justin was dead. He died two months ago, on November 16th, age 46.

Here’s a review a friend of his left on the pub’s Facebook page.

In my belief, Owner H— is toxic. Wouldn’t let her ex husband see or speak to his own kids on his deathbed. This is true. He Just died recently of a heart attack I believe due to her ruthlessness and keeping his kids from him. Yet it’s still all about her. Make no mistake. Never was about the kids . Pure evil. She cheated on him with mike and then hated justin lol. Her disgusting texts while he was sick WILL be posted and distributed and you can see for yourself. You want to go to this place? There’s a million better bar owners that could use your support.good people that are kind.

But
it’s
a family
bar,
see?

Don’t want to join
the
f
A
m
I
l
Y
?

Huh,
Punk
Ass?

(Part 3 of 3)