Trollio – AgainAgain

7 Aug

After a month-long stint with an ill-funded, travelling Mexican circus, where he temporarily fell in love with a Romanian trapeze artist who later emigrated to Oslo, had a child with a Lithuanian civil engineer, and died in a historic mass shooting perpetrated by a white nationalist—a tragedy that claimed nearly 90 other victims—Trollio crossed back into the United States and followed the siren calls of the savage sands of the desert.

Just north of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California, in an area called Hellhole Palms, Trollio met a band of self-professed old and young pistoleros camping. They had hauled a cache of probably illegal military weaponry in their vehicles and had idled for the last few days in Culp Valley Primitive Campground, waiting for the few tourists and families to pack up their fancy RVs and clear out. They had no set plan other than to just simply fire the weapons into the vastness of the desert. Whatever materialized from that activity, present or future, would be what would be. They’d go with the flow of the ammunition. It was a weird but disorganized Manson family, Spahn Ranch kind of thing. Only temporary and quite transient. And they weren’t looking to take out anyone, like Charlie’s disciples had. They were simply chasing the thrill of firing military-grade weapons across the desert sand into the nocturnal emptiness of this great western land.

The ragtag group of gunslingers was an amalgamation of upper and upper-middle class retired white men, a handful of thieves with troubled backgrounds and/or various outstanding warrants in close pursuit, and a couple of teen runaways with nothing to offer other than verve, celebrating the American spirit of freedom, and answering the distant call of the first WASP settlers of the West. (“Come hither, young man!”)

Trollio was a perfect puzzle piece to this weird tableau of thrill seekers. His brief stint in the United States Army supplied him with ample experience in safely operating and maintaining the weaponry the group had hauled out to the desert. As an opportunistic, money-making operation, and without any ulterior motives or semblance of a nefarious plan of any kind, Trollio sold the group two handfulls of Lophophora williamsii. Peyote. The “Divine Messenger.” Trollio had collected the ubiquitous magic cactus in the states of Nuevo Leon and San Luis Potosi, found among scrub, on his way back into the U.S.

He spent three nights camped out with the group of wanna-be warriors cum thrill seekers. During their nocturnal sessions, amplified by the magic of the hallucinogenic plant, Trollio taught them as much as he could about the veritable arsenal in their possession. The younger branch of misfits was content just firing away above the dunes, into the quiet void, at various imaginary enemies. But the retired cabal preferred using the night vision equipment and targeting the diverse population of coyotes, ring-tailed cats, badgers, and other desert mammals milling about. Their appetite for senseless killing was betrayed by their glazed-over eyes, almost oozing out delight. In the short end, Trollio couldn’t be part or privy to that. These people were exactly where they needed to be. Forever in the desert.

At the break of dawn on the fourth day, while everyone was in the slumbering thrall of reverie from the previous night’s action, Trollio pointed the front end of the ’77 Town Car he’d picked up in Mexicali for $300 and headed out west for Redondo Beach. His plan was that of revenge, true, but not the physical kind. The stratagem he’d worked out for punishment of his hastily departed, adulterous wife, now living with a young screenwriter in some duplex off Carnelian Street, involved an olfactory onslaught that he deemed perfect. A little malodorous something to remember him by.

Trollio estimated about three and a half hours up to his destination. If the Town Car held up okay. He lit a cigarette, spat into the sand, and turned on the engine. It started.

Escape Artists-pt. 4

24 Jul

David Goldstein

  • born 24 February, 1947
  • British-American
  • dramatist/author/musician
  • known for his musicals Drood (2 Tony Awards), Curtains, and TV series Remember WENN
  • attended Manhattan School of Music; major: clarinet
  • wrote jingles and pop tunes for Gene Pitney, The Platters, The Drifters, Wayne Newton, Dolly Parton, Barry Manilow, and for The Partridge Family
  • besides plays and musicals, Goldstein wrote various cabarets
  • also starred in cabarets around New York City in the 80s and 90s
  • wrote Tony-nominated Say Goodnight, Gracie – based on the relationship between George Burns and Gracie Allen
  • wrote the book for the musical The First Wives’ Club
  • adapted for the stage John Grisham’s A Time To Kill; show played at Washington DC’s Arena Stage
  • wrote the book and lyrics for The Nutty Professor; Marvin Hamlisch wrote the score; the musical was directed by Jerry Lewis
  • also with Hamlisch wrote Behind the Candelabra, the 2013 Liberace biopic
  • published his first novel, Where the Truth Lies, in 2003 followed by Swing in 2005; the former he also adapted to a film directed by Atom Egoyan (of The Sweet Hereafter and Ararat fame)
  • currently working on novel called The McMasters Guide to Homicide: Murder Your Employer

Better known as Rupert Holmes. Best known for #1, chart-topping song in both the U.S. and Canada, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”, written in 1979. The song was the very last #1 song of the 1970s. It returned to #1 the second week of 1980 after having been displaced by KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Please Don’t Go.”

Rupert Holmes-vocals, keyboards, synthesizers
Dean Bailin-guitar
Frank Gravis-bass
Leo Adamian-drums
Steve Jordan-double drumming with Adamian

Escape (The Pina Colada Song)

“I was tired of my lady, we’d been together too long
Like a worn-out recording, of a favorite song
So while she lay there sleeping, I read the paper in bed
And in the personals column, there was this letter I read

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape

“I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean
But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine
So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad
And though I’m nobody’s poet, I thought it wasn’t half bad

“Yes, I like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne
I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon, and cut through all this red tape
At a bar called O’Malley’s, where we’ll plan our escape

“So I waited with high hopes, then she walked in the place
I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face
It was my own lovely lady, and she said, “Oh, it’s you”
And we laughed for a moment, and I said, “I never knew”

“That you liked Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
And the feel of the ocean, and the taste of champagne
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
You’re the love that I’ve looked for, come with me, and escape”

“If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I’m the love that you’ve looked for, come with me, and escape.”

Escape Artists pt. 3 or Queen of the Mist

17 Jul

Overlooked no more. Immortalized right here. Imagine this: the barrel is nearly five feet tall. A small coffin, and only a tiny bit wider. An antique ice box. The location, a precarious, treacherous spot: bobbing, weaving, and dunking in the Niagara River just yards away from the chaotic, 160-foot drop over the Niagara Falls into the maelstrom below.

Inside, god knows how banged about and injured, maybe, is a sexagenarian widow named Annie Edson Taylor. She dons an unremarkable CV. Underemployed charm school instructor. Freelance waltz teacher. Table manners pedagogue to children of gentry. And now? Now what. Now, about to add “daredevil” to the itinerant resume.

It’s late October afternoon. It’s 1901. The floating barrel is white oak. It’s of her own design. And she’s off. Or, rather, down she goes. One hundred and sixty feet into the raging whirlpool. Why? For money, that’s why. For the hope of a far richer future.

The vessel drops, plunges into the watery chasm, and pops up cheerfully. Amazingly she survives. Annie Edson Taylor goes down in some history book as the first and oldest thinking humanoid to accomplish such a foolhardy feat. She is also the only woman to have done it alone.

The rest of the story is pure America. Which is to say, it won’t end well. It won’t end with the first prize trophy, the riches, the leisure of a sporting life built upon her notoriety. Of course not. This is America.

But there is a poem floating out there. A pome. “Pomes, everyone! The lad fancies himself a poet.” In her honor. In honor of “The Goddess of Water,” as she was nicknamed. The thing was published in a biography, nearly 90 years later, called The Lady Who Conquered Niagara. It has these lines:

This great heroine of our nation
has won both fortune and fame.
Now people all over creation
will praise this illustrious dame.

They did. For a little while. She wrote an autobiography in 1902. It was a slim account. She sold it for ten cents a copy at a stand near the site of her feat. She called it Over the Falls. Of course. What other title would it have.

But this is an American story with a fitting end: while enjoying brief notoriety for her weird, savage stunt, she went bankrupt and died in relative obscurity in 1921. The American Dream achieved. An obit in The Buffalo Express noted that she had been conned by “unscrupulous managers” during post-plunge publicity tours and shows. As a final, humiliating indignity to punctuate Annie Edson Taylor’s life, the miscreants even clipped her famous barrel. “She was persistently followed by ill luck,” the obit concluded. And that was all, folks.

But you should know a few things about Annie Edson Taylor. She checked in on October 24, 1838. As usual back then, she was one of 11 children of Merrick and Lucretia Edson. Mom and pop ran a lucrative milling operation in Finger Lakes, New York. Anna dug outdoor activities over dolls. Anna had a “lively imagination” according to that bio published in 1990. Over the Falls.

Some other bullet points of note: married briefly at age 18 to the brother of a dear friend. Never happy with the union. But not so bad: the man expired shortly after the wedding. Bounced from city to city sometimes “encountering perils.” In Chattanooga, TN she survived a house fire. In South Carolina she made it through an earthquake. And in rural Texas, while riding a stagecoach that was waylaid by robbers, she found herself with one of their guns pressed against her temple. Even under that duress she refused to give them the loot: 800 smackaroos stashed in her dress. “Blow away,” she told them, as she recalled in her 10-cent memoir. “I’d as soon be without my brains as without my money.” Impressive intestinal fortitude, yes?

Another thing: the barrel. She designed the thing herself. Sketched it first, then made a cardboard and string prototype. She appealed to a company that made beer kegs to construct the thing from wood she personally selected. The barrel was uneven and oblong. It measured about three feet at its widest and tapered at its ends. It was held together by ten metal hoops and weighted down with an anvil, (ACME?) to keep it upright during its unsteady course.

On the afternoon of the stunt, techs pumped fresh air into the barrel. There was enough oxygen in there for a good hour, though Annie’s journey would take far less time. She was sealed inside, towed from the Canadian side of the Niagara River toward Horseshoe Falls, and goodbye and good luck Annie. The vessel was released. It floated toward the apocalypse. And Annie waited for the drop, surrounded by pillows inside.

When the six boatmen hooked the barrel and pulled her out, she was seasick and had a cut on her head. But otherwise she was unscathed.

This is how the story ends: reports of the date of the feat differ. Some note the stunt took place October 21. Others, more romantically list her birthday, October 24. The feat has only been replicated a few times. Annie returned to the falls in the 1910s to hock her memoir. When interest and sales dried up, she tried her hand at other grifts and moneymaking schemes, including working as a clairvoyant and offering electric and magnetic medical treatments. There’s also a silent film floating around the archives, which recreates her 1901 feat. With her as the main character, naturally. Regarding that, she told The Globe: “I would rather face a cannon, than go over the falls again.”

And that’s that. Now you know. Overlooked no more: Annie Edson Taylor. Charm school instructor. Medical healer. Movie star. Daredevil.

Oh and . . . nearly forgot. On the barrel in white letters the name she inscribed: QUEEN OF THE MIST.

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