|A Narrow Biography of a Man||Home
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|about whom there's so much to say:|
|E d s e n B. B r e y e r|
Edsen Breyer, in an excerpt from the interview in "Flair" magazine, entitled
" Drop A Nickel, Find A Dime ! " :
"Once, as a young teenager, I dropped a nickel. As I was
looking for that nickel, I found a dime, and I thought, 'What great luck!
If I hadn't dropped the nickel, I would have never found this dime.
So now I've got twice as much as I did just a minute ago!!' And
that thought just stayed with me, and magnified, and became clearer and bigger,
and I became intrigued with the deeper lesson that was more than just nickels
and dimes. I saw clearly that when you have bad luck, you shouldn't
give up or stand around whining about it - you work to fix it. You
continue on from whatever situation the bad luck leaves you, and 9 times
out of 10, not only will you make up lost ground, but you'll likely end up
in a better position than where you were in the first place. And I
resolved, from that point on, to take that idea
to heart, and to always act accordingly. I've never for a
second doubted that that was the turning point of my life."
Edsen Breyer, as we shall see, is eminently qualified to be the curator of Edsen Breyer's Postcard Museum, but if you scrutinized him as he graduated high school, you could never have predicted his unusual, often-successful course along the highways and byways of life.
|From Rags To Riches (...To Rags...)
On the very night of his high school graduation - in fact, immediately after attending a midnight bonfire celebration party in a field near a friend's backroad house - he left for Hollywood CA and what he believed was his destiny as a movie actor. Upon arrival, he was befriended by a local band called 'The Saps - We're Out Of Our Tree!', which was comprised of guys who were so. . .well, out there. The Saps were an odd kettle of fish, being both behind the times and ahead of the times: musically they were a combination of Spike Jones, Frank Zappa, Dean Martin, and the Ramones; visually, they were a precursor of The New York Dolls and Elton John. In between acting auditions, Edsen hung out with the band, and soon became, of all things, their drummer. Even today, Edsen chuckles about this. "I had never studied music, touched a drumstick, or even tapped a pencil on a desk before! It was an exhilarating time."
For four years, he was their drummer, assuming the stage name of Ace Vaguely, as they rose from local prominence to regional fame to national popularity, and back down again. Along the way, they set 3 or 4 trends (the most-remembered of which was the wearing of a spread-open banana peel on one's head, like a hat) and had 2 top-ten hits ("If Your Sister Is Your Brother, Then Say Uncle", and, a year and a half later, the somewhat vulgar "Scabs I Picked And Ate For Lunch").
He probably would've continued in this fashion, but a fire in a night club where their instruments were set up during a four night engagement, stopped them cold. They lost every last piece of equipment they owned, and with no resources for replacement (unbelievably, no one had thought to get insurance!), the band members drifted apart and into different lives.
[webmaster's note: a brief reunion in the late 1980's with 3 of the 5 original Sap members (Edsen not among them) yielded one very completely forgettable, but now highly collectable, album called "Don't. Don't! Don't!! I said 'DON'T!!!", but no further chart entries. One of the reviews of the "Don't" reunion album said "Their bark may be worse than their bite, but not worse than their music..." All of the reviews stated some variation of the idea that the reunited Saps should have taken their album title as advice when they first began thinking about recording again.]
|Memories Are Made Of This
With no place to go, no possessions to speak of, and no money to boot, Edsen found himself looking for a place that would ease the disappointment he felt about his situation. Before he even realized it himself, he was heading to Atlantic City NJ. Throughout most of the 1940's, Edsen had spent many a summer day there with his parents, cruising the boardwalk, riding the rolling chairs, visiting the various piers, strolling the famous beach, with a detour into the waves every now and again. Of all the piers that beckoned for patronage, Edsen's favorite by far was the Steel Pier, where he would watch the many acts show their stuff, never realizing that he, too, would have more than his share of moments in the public eye.
Edsen speaks: "I loved it there [on the Steel Pier]; there was just so much to do that no two visits were ever the same. I recall once I was even asked to make the 'Ladies and Gentlemen' announcement for the Diving Horse! I was flabbergasted! I just happened to be walking past the announcer when he was supposed to make his introductions, but he was having trouble swallowing a bite of a cheesesteak sandwich. He simply hustled me to the microphone and gestured, and away I went - I knew what to do because I'd seen the show a hundred times. It was the thrill of my life. The announcer, who became a lifelong friend, wrangled free admission to the Pier for me for the rest of the summer. He even let me make the announcement three or four more times, just for fun. All kinds of strange and wonderful things would happen to me there, like the time I was the Mr. Peanut character on the boardwalk for an afternoon - but that's a whole 'nother story!! What a place it was.
The rides back home are etched in my mind, too. There would often be a perfectly round, red-ball sun low in the sky, and even today when I see that kind of sun, I can feel all the ambiance of those halcyon days, and it never fails to make me smile. On one return trip, Mom was driving, and Dad was in the front passenger seat, dozing with his head leaning on the window frame of the car door. He was wearing his favorite hat that he always wore when we went there, we even called it his Atlantic City Hat. All was quiet in the car, when suddenly, Dad sits bolt upright, and starts muttering, 'My hat, my hat!!' Here, the wind had blown the hat off his head and right out the window! We had to turn around and go back to get it. Of course, we laughed and made jokes about it the rest of the trip, and when we got home, in order to commemorate the occasion, he threw his hat in the street and took a picture of it!! Just an average day in the Breyer household."
But as Edsen arrived at the seaside resort now, it was a lot different than he remembered. He felt it was losing its charm and sparkle, and it appeared to be only a shadow of its former glorious self. Many of the buildings were run-down, and most, if not all, of the attractions in the area were unfamiliar to him. He searched around for about a week, looking for some sort of employment, but, as the saying goes, it was a pretty dull knife he had with which to slice.
|From Rags To Riches 2
Just as he was about to give up and head elsewhere, Edsen ran into Niles Chiselle (pronounced She-zell, accent on the 2nd syllable), who was the Vice President in Charge of Artists at the record company that still held the Saps' Music and Management Contract. Hearing that Niles was planning a lawsuit against The Saps for breach of contract, Edsen offered to finish the contract himself. Niles was somewhat taken aback at first, but recovered quickly and, true to his name, 'chiseled' out an amended contract which would require Edsen to write and record two complete albums, and the record company, not Edsen, would retain ownership of the songs.
For his part, Edsen was simply happy to be employed again, but he did insist on four provisions in the new contract: 1) that he be allowed to release the albums under his real name of Edsen Breyer, and not have to use his stage name of Ace Vaguely (although he did concede that the first album could say "formerly Ace Vaguely of The Saps", but that the second album must make no mention at all of either Ace Vaguely or The Saps); 2) that he be allowed to name both albums whatever he wanted (humorously, he named the first album "I'm No Sap!"); 3) that he would not have to tour, or make any appearances of any kind, in order to promote either album; and 4) that he would not be required to participate in any Saps reunion tours or albums (this last clause is what saved him from being involved in The Saps Tree Surgeon Reunion Tour travesty, and the universally condemned "Don't" album).
After sealing the deal with a handshake, Edsen and Niles headed back to California, and Edsen immediately plunged into his new project with customary zeal. In spite of not having any particularly refined musical skills, he marshalled all his concentration to the task at hand, and, over the span of the next 6 1\2 months, recorded two remarkable albums. The first one, the aforementioned "I'm No Sap!", was delightfully free of any of the musical cliches that characterized The Saps music during the last two years of their existence. It was loaded with hummable, toe-tapping pop ditties, with a couple of heart-wrenching love songs sprinkled in. The second album, which Edsen called "Clear As A Bell And None Too Shabby" (because he liked the rhythm of the words) had more of the same good stuff as "I'm No Sap!", but encompassed an even wider musical range, including such things as a completely a capella country song called "All My In-Stray-Mints Is Broke (An' Ahm Flat Bustid)", and a swinging, on-the-money Frank Sinatra-style tribute to Frank Sinatra called "Let Me Be Frank With You" (This one can sometimes still be heard on some of the all-Sinatra weekend radio shows).
Sales were pleasantly brisk for "I'm No Sap!", but they were absolutely insane for "Clear As A Bell . . . ". People were drawn to Edsen's eclectic approach, and bought the album in droves, which powered the disc to the top of the pop charts for seven weeks (It was in the Top 100 for 54 weeks, which is just slightly over one year, an achievement that took everyone by surprise, most of all, Edsen). The frenzy for the second album, of course, rekindled interest in the first one: when initially released, "I'm No Sap!" had worked its way to #42 on the charts, then slowly slid down and quietly off; now it came flouncing back at #73, then #51, and finally turned off the juice at #24 - not bad for a second coming.
The recording and sales of the two albums had gone so smoothly, that when Edsen expressed interest in recording a Christmas album, Niles immediately consented, but was a bit disappointed that Edsen planned to release this album under the pseudonym of Sandy Claws And The Kool Kats. Exactly four days after the last i was dotted on Edsen's second album, recording began on the fifteen song Christmas outing, which Edsen called "Yule, Have A Merry Christmas", and this time, Edsen would own the tunes. Nine weeks later, it was finished (Edsen always works quickly, logically, and efficiently on any project he's involved in, as he focuses his considerable faculties on the current interest and allows nothing to distract him for very long).
When released at the beginning of the month of December, the Kool Kats album sold moderately well, and every year, it sold the average amount that any seasonal disc can be expected to sell. But this wasn't just any disc - this was an Edsen Breyer disc, and Niles had expected it to sell better. The problem was that nobody knew it was Edsen because he had used an assumed moniker. But Edsen didn't view this as a problem. In a recent interview in Jingle Bills Magazine [Bills is not misspelled], Edsen said "I did the Sandy Claws platter for my own satisfaction. I always wanted to do at least one Christmas-type something or other, be it a children's book, or a short story, or an album, because that's where the true potential for posterity lies. Nobody ferrets out, say, an old pop album, even a classic old pop album, at the same time every year, year after year. Even the Beatles' albums are not pulled out every year and played for a month. But all Christmas albums, even the not-so-good ones, get yanked out and played and remembered and enjoyed every single year. And the Sandy Claws And The Kool Kats album is a great album, with very singable and easy-to-remember melodies.
"I modestly say there are a couple of songs on there that are potential standards. My personal favorite is 'Christmas Couple', where Santa gets caught up in the craziness of last-minute Christmas shopping, and then finds he won't have enough time to deliver all the toys. Mrs Claus steps in and saves the season by riding with Santa on his rounds to help him with the deliveries. The imagery is sweet at the end, when, after the deliveries are made and they are back at the North Pole, we see Mrs Claus resting her weary bones in the big easy chair with her feet up on the overstuffed ottoman, and Santa is bringing her the cup of hot chocolate, and tending to her comfort by tucking her in under a thick, warm blanket. It's very touching juxtaposition.
"We had a ball recording that album, too. It was actually recorded in the middle of the summer, and we had a fake-snow machine in the studio. Every time we sang a snow word, like snow, or snowfall, or snowball, we had some fake snow released on our heads! Just for the trivia books, "Yule, Have A Merry Christmas" has 81 snow words on it. The studio was quite a mess by the time we finished."
But the Christmas album was more of a private affair for Edsen, done almost under a cloak of secrecy. Out in the public world, under the harsh spotlight of mass marketing, Edsen-mania was alive and well. A mystique began to build as to who this Edsen really was. Even though he had identified himself as "formerly Ace Vaguely", people clamored for a piece of insight into the real Edsen. Some thought that it was actually The Saps themselves pulling some sort of musical prank and assuming a new identity to prove that they were more than just a tired parody of themselves, but time was to show that they were incapable of that.
Any other musician would've sold a year off his life to get the kind of attention Edsen was getting, but Edsen continued to remain aloof from it. He could not be cajoled into any promotional activity, and stood firmly on the terms of the contract that he and Niles had set up on a handshake. Niles, gentleman that he was, honored the handshake agreement to the letter, even though he often lamented the irony that he had not foreseen how "big, big, big this Edsen thing would be."
The truth of the matter was that Edsen's interests had focused on other areas. He was already on to The Next Phase.
|Is That A Stradivarius You're Holding, Or Are You Just Glad
To See Me?
Those who know Edsen understand that when he discovers The Next Phase, he becomes completely focused on this one idea, and all other projects, whether they're finished or not, are unimportant. On the one hand, this sharp focus is laudable, because his interests and abilities are seemingly limitless, and he has the uncanny ability to be successful at anything he tries. However, on the other hand, his broad range of interests can also be a hindrance, as sometimes there are three or four ideas vying for his attention; at these times, he can actually appear willy-nilly and unfocused, when, in reality, he may be over-focused. Either way, it's pointless to try to deter him from anything but his current passion.
Edsen's current passion, i.e. The Next Phase, was about to reveal itself to those around him as - the violin. He had always had an interest in classical music, and as a kid, had even thought about becoming a classical pianist. But while he was scoring the strings for the Christmas album, he became enamoured of the string section, specifically the violin. Realizing that he not only had a knack for writing string parts, but that he enjoyed doing it, he decided that he wanted the ability to play what he scored. Taking advantage of his clout, he arranged for Niles to secure a Stradivarius, and began fanatically practicing, sometimes up to 10 hrs a day. Edsen's improvement was immediate: he began to get quite good quite fast.
Hearing that Edsen wanted to release an album of his classical-style compositions, Niles changed his initial disappointment at Edsen's latest musical direction to hopefulness - after all, Edsen had shown himself to be some kind of a wonder-boy in the past, so why not now? But all Niles' enthusiasm evaporated when he heard what Edsen was planning: Edsen was not simply going to pen some run-of-the-mill violin offal and join the ranks of the classical hoi polloi wanna-be's, he was going to kick the entire genre in the butt with the biggest bit of avant garde ever attempted. It would start as a slow and easy rudimentary exercise piece, and, phrase by phrase, line by line, evolve into a piece de resistance so bold and daring that it could hardly be categorized as classical. In addition, no piece on the album would be longer than 3 minutes in length, and each would connect to the next by some sort of thematic link. The total time of the album would be over 1 hr, which was very unusual in those days. Furthermore, and this was what Niles thought would be the kiss of death for sales of the project, the title Edsen had chosen was sufficiently irreverent as to be almost sniggering: "Is That A Stradivarius You're Holding, Or Are You Just Glad To See Me?" Niles thought the title took away any slim credibility the project might have had, but as usual, Edsen could not be dissuaded. Onward and upward, and forward march!
Edsen now dedicated himself to mastering the violin, and writing his soon-to-be-signature piece. When he wasn't practicing, he was composing; when he wasn't composing, he was practicing. Hardly taking any food or bathroom breaks, Edsen actually started to become rather proficient at the Strad. The composition also started to take on a life of its own: as Edsen wrote, he became less concerned with being avant garde, and began to give the piece a more sincere and evocative personality - even Niles was duly impressed and hopeful. But, as always happens when fate has nothing to do but stick its ugly face into somebodies happy situation, life was stacking the deck in preparation for a crushing deal.
|Things That Go Bump In The
On one of the few times that Edsen did leave the studio, life threw its trump card. As he was tooling along after dark on the interstate in his Volkswagen, heading to a little doughnut shop called The Doughnut Hole to get what he termed "the best bowl of New England clam chowder this side of Uranus", Edsen was broadsided by a woman in a Cadillac, who stated on her accident report that she had swerved to avoid hitting ". . . some sort of small animal, maybe a bunny or cat or something . . ." (Edsen has since remarked that, judging by the way she lost control, it must've been a water buffalo.) There was a suspicious undercurrent to the case, in that the woman was the wife of the police chief in charge of the state troopers who investigated the crash, and at the scene, she admitted to having been drinking. According to an officer who was there and who later spoke to Edsen in an off-the-record aside, she was quite obviously under the influence. But no sobriety test was administered, and her drunken condition was conveniently omitted from every single official and unofficial report, either written or word of mouth, that followed, except by that one lone officer, who saw the injustice of it and felt compelled to tell Edsen.
[webmaster's note: Four years later, this same officer was accused of being the trigger-happy killer of a young boy in a drug bust-gone-bad. All the evidence showed him innocent, with the forensic evidence finally proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he did not do it. But he was so fed up with the way his fellow officers were quick to let him take the rap even though they knew he was innocent, that he quit the force with disgust. In newspaper and magazine interviews he gave at the time, he bitterly hinted at some of the other records-tampering and foul play that went on at the precinct, and Edsen's auto accident case was even mentioned in one magazine article, but not by name, of course.]
Police estimated that Edsen was going approximately 55 mph, while the offending car was traveling approximately 61 mph, which puts the impact speed at about 116 mph. Given the nature of the cars (Edsen's being a small compact, and the other being a large boat of a cadillac), Edsen was lucky to have escaped with his life, although he very nearly did not. As the accident reports later showed, by the time the ambulance arrived at the scene, Edsen had no pulse or blood pressure; and when he got to the hospital, he was already grey from lack of blood flow.
An inventory of the massive injuries he sustained reads like a paragraph from a medical journal: 5 ribs on the left side broken / punctured and collapsed lung (it collapsed again on the 2nd day in intensive care) / punctured spleen (had to be removed) / severely bruised kidneys / shattered right forearm, which entailed one of the two main bones being broken clean through in one place, and the other main bone being broken clean through in two places, with much fragmentation / broken nose / lacerations of the forehead (which left scars) / damaged knee cartilage / gashed knuckle on left hand / etc into minor cuts and numbnesses.
The emergency room doctors knew there was major internal bleeding in the stomach area, so, in a desperate attempt to save a rapidly fading life, they made a long vertical incision from near the belly button up to just below the chest, and went in to investigate. Since they had to concentrate on the life-threatening injuries first, like the collapsed lung, the bleeding spleen, etc., the 'minor' stuff had to wait until Edsen's condition stabilized. The broken nose wasn't even discovered until eight days later, after Edsen got out of intensive care, and his bruised and swollen face had begun to return to normal.
As for the shattered forearm, Edsen later found out that the doctors thought they might have had to amputate it. But when his condition had stabilized enough so that the forearm could be properly checked, it was discovered that the damage was mostly broken bones. Two long plates (actually square metal bars with threaded holes for common hardware screws) were put into the arm to hold the reassembled bones and bone fragments in place so they could knit back together. Of course, the plates had to be removed later, so by the time all this plates-in, plates-out surgery was completed, Edsen was left with two long, thick scars along the forearm.
Edsen soon found he had mobility problems with the fingers on his shattered arm: the thumb and first finger had a slight movement problem, but the middle finger could barely be moved, and his last two fingers could not be moved at all. The three affected fingers lay curled up and dormant, and extensive rehabilitation showed very little improvement, so a further scar was added to the forearm when surgery was done on the ulner nerve (the main nerve that runs along the arm and feeds all the smaller nerves) to try to restore movement to the fingers.
The operation was successful in that it opened the door to recovery, and with a renewed rehab program, Edsen began to recover his motility much quicker than any of the specialists predicted, and before long, way ahead of schedule, he was very nearly back to 100%. The after-effects, which remain to this day, are 1) a small reduction in the rotational (twisting) movement, and 2) some numbness, and tingling of the arm and fingers if the arm is moved in a certain way, or if a certain area is touched. But Edsen pays this no mind, and is simply glad to have a complete, working extremity.
|A Rodent By Any Other Name . . .
As Edsen lay in the hospital after the accident, his mind went over, through, under, in and out of many topics. He thought about doctors, guitars, girls, holistic medicine, snails, the meaning of life, Richard Kimble, dictionaries, food, how to do the mambo, where he'd been in his life, where he wanted to go when he got out of the hospital, muddy shoes, View-Master reels, how to hot-wire a car (which he didn't know how to do), just about anything and everything. But he kept coming back to one subject. And a strange one, at that.
Edsen found himself thinking about hamsters. Not just occasionally thinking, but constantly thinking. And not just constantly thinking, but obsessing, dwelling, focusing, fixating, contemplating, and ruminating.
So, there it was: The Next Phase. Very nearly with a full head of steam, and coming on like gangbusters, this Next Phase should've effectively put the kibosh on the previous phase, but amazingly, it did not. Edsen had enough confidence in the "...Or Are You Just Glad To See Me?" project to want to complete it, so he snapped back into the classical mode and, in between therapy sessions, began to finish the album. However, when he resumed the violin practices, he found that the accident had left him with painful neck trauma, and it was quite difficult to hold the violin in the proper way, which is between the left shoulder and the chin. Try as he might, Edsen could find no way to comfortably hold the Strad, and no therapy seemed to ease the pain on his neck when it was in the 'violin' position, so he did what anyone named Edsen Breyer might do in this situation: he moved on to The Next Phase.
Contemplating hamsters as he lay in the hospital gave Edsen time to thoroughly plot out a revolutionary new method for training hamsters which relied on an invention that he would patent and dub the Hamster Belt. The application of the belt was so sound in theory, and so absolutely simple to use, in addition to being completely and totally fool-proof, that it became famously successful in the pet world. The part that most people liked, though, was that the belt was 100% safe and non-toxic to hamsters..
Almost overnight, Edsen became as well-known to the pet loving segment of the population as he was to the music loving segment. The correct name of the contraption was the Hamster Belt, but it was often called the Breyer Belt. To help promote his invention, he started publication of a bi-monthly magazine called "Belt World". Sales of the belt began modestly in the United States, but very soon, profits were global, and Edsen suddenly found himself to be independently wealthy, to the degree of being the 198th richest person in America!
On the heels of Edsen's success, however, there sprang up an entire cottage industry of illegal copy-cat belt products. It wasn't long before, in any given store, next to Edsen's product, you could find the likes of the Dog Belt, Cat Belt, Camel Belt, Groundhog Belt, Aardvark Belt, Elephant Belt, Zebra Belt, Giraffe Belt, even a Fish Belt, and in some backwoods areas, you could find the Worm Belt. [webmaster's note: there was even rumors of a Sperm Belt, but if that was ever true, there are certainly none known to existence now]. All of this illegal competition threatened to knock the pants off of Edsen's Belt Empire.
With the proliferation of all these copyright-infringing products, Edsen began to zealously defend his patent, and soon found all of his time, and much of his fortune, being used up by this activity. His nerves began to fray, and he was spending his days in various courts across the United States saying "Yes, Your Honor", "No, Your Honor", and "I swear to tell the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth." Even though he eventually won every last law suit, the lengthy ordeal took such a terrible toll on his health, and so shook his faith in the American system of Free Enterprise, that he sold off all his belt assets, ceased publication of his "Belt World" magazine, and moved to Italy to recuperate, and "to be separated from that blood-thirsty, teeth-gnashing, back-stabbing, vomit-inducing American business world."
|Can You Dig It?
Edsen was mortally wounded emotionally. With essentially nowhere to go but up, the stage was set for another of Edsen's famous 'arise-from-the-ashes-of-defeat-and-soar-to-the-clouds-of-success' scenarios. Edsen, as he had in the past, and would in the future, would not disappoint.
Even as his ship was darting across the Bay Of Naples toward Naples, Edsen already felt his resolve and emotional balance returning. He was confident that the three years of Italian he had taken in high school would put him in good stead with the lingo, and by the time the boat had docked in Naples, he had hatched a plan. He would spend about a month regaining his emotional equilibrium by seeing some of the sights of Italy, including Rome, the Canals of Venice, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and then he would begin his search for employment.
Edsen decided to go straight-away to Pompeii and see this place he had heard so much about. Stories abounded about the escapades of his great-great-great-grandfather, Vector Drimley Breyer, who, for a time, had worked as an excavator at Pompeii under director Giuseppe Fiorelli. In charge of the Pompeii digs from 1860 through 1875, Fiorelli is credited with ushering in the modern era of excavation, whereby digging proceeds carefully and methodically, and every item unearthed is cataloged, mapped, identified, and labelled. Edsen's g-g-g-grandfather dug at Pompeii from 1862 through 1869, and was actually a member of Fiorelli's personal crew in February 1863 when Fiorelli made the remarkable discovery that by pouring plaster of Paris into a cavity that once held a Pompeian victim, and then, after the plaster hardens, peeling away all the debris around the plaster, you will be left with a figure that is decidedly life-like, and usually in the throes of twisted agony. This discovery gave Pompeii a soul, albeit, an eerie soul, and focused the world's attention on the dig site.
Visiting the digs for three days, Edsen was deeply intrigued by the legacy of Pompeii, and was somewhat hesitant when, on the third day, he left to continue his tour of other places in Italy. He next went to Venice to experience the canals, but couldn't really pay attention to what he was seeing, because he was still under the spell of Pompeii. After only one day, he abandoned his Italy tourism, left Venice and went back to the ambiance of the digs.
Daily, he explored the ruins, and got to know most of the excavators on a first-name basis. Since he always had his cameras at the ready, one with color film and one with black and white, and was constantly taking pictures, the crews came to rely on Edsen for photographic documentation of the excavation progress. Edsen considered the freeing of Pompeii from the hardened volcanic ash to have great historical significance, and he was happy to be a part of history, but he really wanted to be one of the diggers. He got his opportunity when one of the crew left to take a position as Dean of an archaeological college in Germany, and Edsen secured the available position, as an Artifact Repossession Specialist. With his characteristic zeal, he gained the respect of his colleagues by introducing new ideas and refining old ones, and within the short space of one year and five months, he came to be in charge of an entire facet of the operation.
Time passed smoothly for Edsen. He took an apartment just a stone's throw from the digs, so he could arrive early and leave late. The long hours at the site were not arduous to him at all, and, with one momentous discovery after another, he truly revelled in his pact with History. For just over six years, he maintained this schedule, without really thinking of it as a schedule - to Edsen, it was simply a way of life. He began to view time less in terms of hours, days, and weeks, and more in terms of seasons. He still wore a watch, but not for time-telling purposes (it was, in fact, never wound), but because it was a bequest from his grandmother, and had belonged to his grandfather, George Kelley Breyer. Sadly, his grandmother, Lena, had also passed away shortly afterward, from a broken heart, and when Edsen wore the watch, he felt the comforting presence of "Nanny" and "Pappy". He would often talk to it, keeping it apprised of his latest discovery.
During the infrequent times that Edsen wasn't at the site, he began to collect foreign postcards, which, in Italy, of course, would include United States cards (interesting juxtaposition, that!). He began to build quite a collection, with views of places he'd been, like Atlantic City NJ, and views of places that he thought would be interesting to visit, like Niagara Falls. This one small non-archaeological activity of postcard collecting would ironically undermine his contentment with his position at Pompeii. Sensing a vague melancholia at first, Edsen began to realise that he was homesick for America, and gamely tried to suppress these feelings. Intellectually, he was pleased with his station in life, and relished the thought that he was contributing to Pompeii's posterity; emotionally, however, Edsen began to feel the powerful pull of the familiar.
This tussle of intellect-verses-the-heart continued on a conscious level for about a year and a half. Inevitably, of course, the heart won out. Edsen succumbed to his whispering memories, and ambivalently turned in his resignation. As he winged his way back to the States, Edsen realized, with a laugh out loud, that his future was also up in the air . . . [pun intended!]
|Niagara Falls, But Gets Back Up Again
As soon as Edsen regained American soil, he made a bee-line for a place that had fascinated him since he began collecting postcards of it in Italy: Niagara Falls. He took an apartment on the outskirts of town, and set about finding employment. Since it was the beginning of winter, which is tourism's off-season, he looked for work in other areas of employment, and he being Edsen, of course, he secured a position in short order, as just that - a short order cook in a local eatery called Food For Thought! The pay was rather meager, but the hours were such that he had plenty of time to continue collecting postcards of the Falls and the immediate vicinity. As he dug into the history of the region, he became somewhat knowledgeable on the subject.
His job, too, offered a modicum of enjoyment, as his boss encouraged Edsen to be creative in his cooking, so he started concocting all manner of slightly off-the-wall dishes, such as Baked Bean Pancakes, and Coffee Dumplings. There began to be a group of core patrons of Food For Thought that came specifically for Edsen's menu, and they were rarely disappointed, as each dish was crazier (and tastier) than the last. Edsen came up with some unusual dishes, but the really wacky ones, the ones he thought were just a little too eccentric to actually serve in public, he put aside for a cookbook he was mentally formulating.
In addition to cooking and researching the Niagara area, Edsen was also writing fiction. It might have been a case of too much to do and not enough time to do it in, but Edsen never took the writing seriously, and didn't spend much time pondering a plot. Most nights, for relaxation just before he'd close his eyes for sleep, he would quickly scribble down whatever came into his head, without giving much thought if it made sense or not, or if the characters were being written in the right direction; for 15 or 20 minutes, he would just have fun with his imagination, and make up things he'd like to see happen in a given situation. Before long, he had a sizable pack of papers, which he broke into two stories, calling them, "Throwing Down The Docks", and "Hi, Country!". He decided to publish them as novels, and, along with the cookbook he had finally compiled, which he titled, "Cooking For None (Who'd Eat This Garbage??)", he arranged to have all three released at the same time.
The two novels were highly successful, and can still be readily found at used book stores and some of the larger flea markets. Edsen recalls, "People thought the phrase "Throwing Down The Docks" had some deep existential meaning, but I just made it up and it sounded important, so I used it. Even today, I still get asked about its cosmic essence. Oh, brother! As for "Hi, Country", the main character in that book, Stucco, was basically saying 'Hello, America', having noticed for the first time in his pampered life what a great place [America] was in which to live. It was supposed to be a paean to patriotism, but the majority of the public thought it was an advocation of the drug culture that was happening at that time. Maybe that's why it sold so well. Go figure."
The cookbook, however, was highly UNsuccessful, partly because of its prominent featuring of squirrel recipes, and partly because, as a publicity stunt, he would only accept payment for each book in chicken wire. But Edsen never worried about success just for the sake of success. He had written the novels, and especially the cookbook, because it allowed him to explore new and different interests, which was (and is) the motivation behind all of his activities and accomplishments. The charging of chicken wire instead of money for the cookbook was a humorous bid for posterity, and judging by the way it, and some of his other projects, have become sought after by collectors of eclectic artifacts, he has often achieved his goal.
With the arrival of the tourist season in spring, Edsen switched the focus of his employment. He applied for, and obtained, a full-time position as a tour guide on the Canadian side for the Table Rock Scenic Tunnels (which was renamed Journey Behind The Falls in 1994); he then reduced his hours at Food For Thought to a part-time portion of 10 hours a week. Thus, while basking in the afterglow of his recent book publishings, and continuing his research of the area, Edsen was feeling that all was well with the world, and sailed confidently into the future. How could he know he was sailing straight into a collision with destiny, as just two weeks over the horizon was an event which would change his life forever, and which he would later pinpoint as "one of the luckiest breaks in my entire life." Edsen Breyer was about to meet his best friend.
Her name was Penelope Alicia Lane. Dusty blond hair parted slightly to the right of center and drifting down to just below the shoulders, framing a morning sun face that always held at least a half-smile. Slender, slightly shapely frame held aloft by two willowy legs that, when fully extended, elevated her to 6 feet tall, precisely the same height as Edsen. But Edsen didn't see any of this - he didn't get past the smile. It riveted his gaze like a vacuum cleaner holds a ball of dust, and momentarily emptied his head of any incoming or outgoing thoughts.
The first time he saw her, she was a patron on one of his tours, a mere two weeks after he started as a guide, and, in fact, he wasn't even supposed to be working that day, but was filling in for an ailing co-worker. Penelope walked past Edsen to go out onto the Table Rock Tunnel Observation Platform, below the Horseshoe Falls, and the warmth she radiated when she smiled at him stopped him in mid-sentence as he was giving his tourism spiel. Edsen remembers: "I followed her out, hoping to say something, anything, to her, but I had nothing to say, and no courage to say it with - I was completely devoid of any human characteristics, having become a twitching troglodyte. I could only stand and stare with my mouth agape like some drooling Venus Fly Trap plant at the ready."
For her part, she knew nothing of his little trauma, as she was in a quandary of her own. She had seen him first, of course, because he was the tour guide and she was just one of the crowd looking up at him, and she knew she just had to meet him. So when she walked past him and smiled her sweetest smile, she was hoping that the observation platform would give them a chance to meet. Once out on the platform, though, it became obvious that he wasn't going to approach her, so she decided she would go over near him, and maybe that would encourage him to speak.
All the while, Fate had been watching this situation develop (or not develop), and had decided to intercede. Fate recalls: "I had gotten pretty frustrated watchin' this whole cat-an'-mouse thing, this coy little chess game of 'Gee, I'm too shy to talk to you, you intimidate me too much, I wouldn't know what to say,' and all that; I mean, I knew they was perfect for each other, they was obviously each knocked out by the other, so, come on, already, let's get on with it! Let's get this show on the road! The light don't get no greener! Put the pedal to the metal! Get a wiggle on! I mean, I wasn't gettin' any younger watchin' those two pussy-footin' aroun' each other like they was land mines, ya know? I knew, later on, they would both look back and say either, "That was the best moment of my life" or "I should'a said somet'in' to him or her," so I gave 'em the better moment. I took Fate into my own hands - I love sayin' that! - and kicked up a little magic before that moment got away from 'em. Hey, sometimes my job is a crap shoot, ya know, but this time, I knew I was doin' the right thing!" [webmaster's note: Fate never has been one for patience or good grammar.]
Fate did indeed kick up a little magic in the form of a puff of wind. Just as Penelope got near Edsen and they made eye contact again, her hat was swept from her head and down the embankment about ten yards, escaping the Niagara River by the grace of an outstretched shrubbery branch. Still being too mesmerized by her to say a word, Edsen stared after it for a brief instant, then leapt over the barricade and carefully picked his way down to rescue it. When he returned to the safety of the platform with the hat in tow, they finally said their first words to each other. Edsen spoke first:
"The bank was so stinkin' slippery, I almost couldn't get back up!"
"Yeah, why'd you do that? I don't even like the hat that much!"
They both froze for a heartbeat with their eyes locked together and their faces wearing that familiar look of slowly-dawning realization of an obvious fact; then, suddenly, simultaneously, they burst into a fit of staccato laughter as they saw the absolutely movie-like ludicrousity of the situation: they'd just had their own Spencer Tracey / Katharine Hepburn-style introduction!
For his troubles, Edsen got two things: 1) Penelope's hand in marriage a few years later, and 2) a big-time chew-out from his boss, who got wind of the stunt, and fired Edsen. It was only when Edsen pointed out the irony of being fired for what he did in a place that was known for its daredevils, that the boss relented, because he was amused by Edsen's wry observation.
Edsen began seeing Penelope and started to absorb the details of her life. He learned she was from a small town in northwest New Jersey, and was traveling around the country with a group of friends, but she was so intrigued with Edsen that she dropped out of the group to settle into Niagara Falls to find out more about him. The two of them decided to maintain separate apartments until they knew each other better, and she found one that was six blocks from his, toward the center of town. She then found a job as, unbelievably, a tour guide! But while Edsen guided on the Canadian side, she would guide on the American side, for the Cave Of The Winds tour, which is across the river and just downstream a bit from Edsen's Table Rock tour. On days when they were both guiding, there was always at least once when they would be out on their respective observation areas at the same time, and they would always give each other a broad arm wave.
Her friends and family called her Penny, but ever since the pop group The Beatles had released "Penny Lane" in early 1967, she was becoming weary of the endless, repetitive joking she'd hear whenever someone learned her name. It later became a running gag in her family that Penny had not married Edsen for love, but to escape her maiden name in order to end the teasing. But, as the family gag goes, this sorry little marriage ploy hadn't worked, because now she began to endure a whole new line of endless, repetitive jokes about Breyers Ice Cream! Right from the start, before he even knew about any of this, Edsen called her Penel (pronounced Pen-nell, accent on the 2nd syllable), which she liked very much. This evolved into Nelly for a short time, which metamorphosized into, and has remained, Pal, an acronym of her maiden name. People would think he was being flippant to her when he would say, "Hey, Pal, come here," or, "Hey, Pal, this," or, "Hey Pal, that," but neither one really cared what anybody else thought except each other.
|Rails To Romance
From the moment they met, Edsen & Penny enjoyed the other's companionship immensely, and tried to spend as little time apart as was possible. But, of course, they both had jobs, and Edsen, being a person of curiosity and initiative, always had some sort of project in progress, with 3 or 4 more on the back burner; Penny, herself, was no slacker either, and didn't allow any dust to settle on her, as she had a few projects of her own in the works, and enjoyed aerobic activities such as biking, swimming, and street roller skating. So Edsen concocted a plan whereby one weekend each month, they would do something special, just the two of them. They may stay near, they may go far, but no parents, relatives, or friends would be involved, and furthermore, no one would be contacted during the time away, or be able to contact them; very often, no one would even be told where they were going, only what time they were leaving and what time they would return. Edsen wanted to insure that their time would be exclusive to each other, with no possibility of interruptions. Penny was delighted with the plan, and thought the idea of paring the world down to just the two of them was quite romantic.
For the inaugural trip under the EAP Plan (this is what they called it, meaning the Edsen And Penny Plan), Edsen put together a type of trip that he'd wanted to take for a long time: a extravaganza that they would undertake by rail. Traveling in a private room on a sleeper, they would visit Chicago IL, Philadelphia PA, and Boston MA, where, at each place, they would spend the daylight doing the tourism thing, then they would re-board their train and ride to the next city. This excursion would technically take longer than one weekend, enlisting the Friday before and the Monday after, but neither Edsen nor Penny were quibbling about the extra time. Even though their time in the cities would be fun, it was really just an excuse for the real joy and purpose of the trip, which was to ride the rails. While en route, they could walk freely from the front to the back of the train, partake of the dining car, and enjoy the view of the passing scenery from the last car of the train, which was the observation car with an upper-level viewing deck completely surrounded by a glass bubble.
|We Interrupt 'Rails To Romance' To Bring You 'A Childhood Tale
Of High Iron'
Edsen was very familiar with railroadiana, having grown up directly across the street from a railroad yard; so close, in fact, that he could stand in front of his house and toss a baseball underhand, and easily hit the freight station (he never did, of course). If he gave that same baseball an overhand power toss, he could've hit the passenger station (he never did that, either). He would play in the railroad yard for hours at a time, walking among the freight cars lined up for switching, or inspecting the cement foundations of structures that had long since disappeared, or foraging in the woods around the perimeter of the property to discover leftover bits of railroad items that told a story of what the railroad yard was like in its heyday, before the woods encroached.
He knew the engineers and conductors by name, and they knew him, and often invited him to ride in the engines, cabooses and passenger cars while they were switching and shifting around in the yard. One engineer in particular, Vince Coil, was an especially good friend to Edsen, and once gave Edsen his old railroad rule book, which Edsen has treasured to this day. Vince and his crew trusted Edsen so much that, when they would pause from their duties, and leave the engine to climb down an embankment to a burger joint, they felt secure enough to let Edsen alone in the idling engine, to fantasize about hi-balling the train down the main (he never did that, either . . . except once! . . . Read on!!).
Edsen's railroad yard was the second to last stop on Vince's run, and one day, Vince asked Edsen if he would like to ride in the engine to the last stop, which was about 15 miles away. Would he ever??!?! Edsen was never happier than when his parents agreed to allow him to go, and then drive there to bring him back. Never happier, that is, until Vince let him take the throttle! Edsen recalls that moment: "For years, I'd been fascinated by trains - steam and diesel both, but mostly steam. I even had 8X10 glossies taped to the dividers of my loose-leaf notebooks in school, and I had subscriptions to Trains and Railroad Model Craftsman so I could absorb every bit of rail info I could. For awhile, I thought I would like to become an engineer.
"So there we were, barreling down the mainline, and we were already past the familiar territory I'd seen on foot as I had walked the tracks, and even past the place I'd gotten to on my bike once, which was about a mile beyond the foot distance. I was completely and happily wrapped up in my thoughts, trying to absorb every molecule of life the way it was at that moment, because I just knew that this was going to be a highlight I would want to relive - even back then, I was clear-thinking, and able to see the importance of something beyond the surface of the moment - , when I heard Vince say, ' Eddie,' (I didn't like to be called that, but somehow, when Vince said it, I didn't mind), ' how'd ya like to take the controls?' His voice had startled me out of my concentration, but I got immediately up and went over to the chair and slid behind the controls. Vince told me what some of the levers and knobs did, reminded me, actually, because I already knew, and then said, with a mock-serious salute, ' You're the big cheese, now!', then added, out of the corner of his mouth, '...better have your union card ready when we get to the end of the line...'
"I didn't actually do much except speed up and slow down a couple of times, but i clearly remember being awed and a little nervous at the feeling of power that vibrated into my hand as I held the throttle, and realizing that the movement of the entire train depended on the motions I made with this little piece of metal."
|And Now, The Conclusion Of 'Rails To Romance'
Being completely ready for their three-day train ride, Edsen & Penny had all the plans nailed down, all reservations booked, all tourism routes plotted, and even most of their clothes packed; the only thing left to do was anxiously await the arrival of zero hour.
Zero hour, indeed.
At T minus 21 hours and counting, Edsen awoke to find that back trouble, which would very occasionally flair up since his auto accident eight years ago, had paid an untimely visit, and he could barely lift himself out of bed, due to the pulsations of searing back pain. He called off work, and spent part of the day under an ice pack, and another part of the day under a heating pad, and a third part of the day trying to walk it off, but Penny could barely help him hobble the length of his apartment. Their long-awaited trip seemed destined to be canceled, but they decided to try one last-ditch effort to save the day. Penny helped Edsen struggle into the backseat of her car, and, face down and contorted into a position that resembled one of the Pompeii plaster-of-paris agony figures, she drove him to his chiropractor in the hopes that some bone-bending could provide a little relief, and perhaps salvage the trip.
Upon arrival, she helped him in to the doctor, then went back out to the waiting room. Later, she could not keep from laughing when she recounted to Edsen the mildly frightened looks on the faces of the other three patients in the room with her as Edsen's wails of pain echoed through the high-ceilinged building. One of the people was a first-timer, about to have his initial visit with the chiropractor, and as Edsen's screams reached a fever pitch somewhat akin to a torture victim from a 1950's horror movie, this person bolted from his seat, and, with face white as chalk, literally ran out the door. The treatment did help ease the pain enough so that Edsen could at least walk upright with some semblance of human origin, so the trip was on again as scheduled.
Their first stop was Chicago, where it was raining a monsoon, and true to the laws of Murphy, they had no umbrellas. So, they walked a half block to a store and bought some, by which time they didn't need them anyway because they were already soaked to the skin; they saw some of the sights of the city, including a tour of the taller buildings, during which, as they were looking out over the city, Penny made Edsen laugh so hard that he fell to the floor, by saying, "Gee, I can see Gilligan's Island from here!"; they jointly decided that the Chicago subway system was a confusing mess, after they found themselves lost in a nasty-looking neighborhood where a menacing street thug was approaching them with a baseball bat that he was slapping threateningly into the palm of his hand.
At the end of their touring day, as they approached their train to reboard, they both realized they felt rather unkempt, and since their train had no showers, the only alternative was to use the public showers in Chicago Station. They stood undecided for a moment, looking at each other, then at the train's schedule board, then the clock on the wall, back to each other, then again at the schedule board, another peer at the clock, and finally back to each other for a soul-searching stare. They had 28 minutes and a burning desire to be clean for the next leg of the trip. Still trying to decide if they should do it or not, they suddenly realized that they had begun to slowly inch their way toward the showers with what was first just restless adjustment of their foot position, then tiny babysteps, and then quarter-steps, and now were half-steps. Their faces both turned into wide goofy grins as they silently observed that the decision had been made. Edsen broke the ice with a loudly-barked, "GO!!!", and off they went, sprinting across the station floor toward the showers as though they were in an Olympic event. Edsen later told Penny that the water in the men's shower was SO FREEZING that he turned two showers on and stuck one hand in each to see which one warmed up first, but there was no hot water, and, in fact, the water only got COLDER! So he just took a very deep breath, and . . . plunged in . . .all the while giving out with a low, constant moan. Penny, it turns out, was going through the same thing on the women's side. They both came flying out into the lobby at the very same time, and without a word, F L E W down the station corridor to their train, with untucked shirts, wet hair, and tongues flapping in the wind. Miraculously, and quite exactly like a movie scene from some romantic comedy, they just made it to the train as it began to crawl forward out of the station, and they clamored on board, guffawed their way down the corridor to their room, where they collapsed in a heap of suitcases, souvenirs, and uproarious laughter.
Their next stop was Philadelphia PA, a.k.a. the city of brotherly love, but the experience they were about to have would cast some serious doubt on the wisdom of the city's choice of slogan . After taking in some of the historic offerings of the city, they had dinner at a romantic cafe on a quaint side street, where they sat right next to a floor-to-ceiling window that gave them a great view of the street and the passers-by. About half way through their meal, a street musician picked a spot directly outside their window, put his hat on the sidewalk, upside down to collect tips, and began playing his instrument, which was a clarinet. Edsen immediately formulated a plan which he thought would top off the fine day they'd had so far: on their way out of the cafe, he would drop a couple of bucks into the hat, request "I'm In The Mood For Love", and slow-dance with Penny right there in the street while it was being played. He could barely contain his anticipation as they finished their meal and dessert, after which he went to the restroom to wash up while Penny finished her last few crumbs. He was visibly smiling as he walked back to the table, anxious to put his little romantic scheme into action. But the first thing he noticed was that the clarinetist was gone, and when he turned his gaze to Penny, he knew immediately something was wrong, as she was openly shaken, pale and fidgety. He hurried to their table, and Penny told the unbelievable, and, once again, absolutely movie-like, situation that had unfolded while Edsen was away.
Apparently, the clarinetist was not welcome in front of the cafe, and the owner sent someone out to move him along. The street musician was not happy with this news, and the discussion quickly turned into an ugly confrontation, during which the musician flattened himself against the glass, facing into the restaurant, which put him a mere two feet from Penny, and began flailing his arms about like some crazed windmill, while shouting obscenities and threats through the window at the owner, who was somewhere inside! After exhausting his stockpile of swear words, he huffed off down the street, turning occasionally to toss another epithet or two back at the cafe. Penny, and most of the patrons inside, had been slouched down and prepared for a dive under the table in case there was a hail of bullets, and was just regaining her composure as Edsen returned.
Edsen then divulged to Penny his little romantic plan, and, since the humor of the event was simply inescapable, they laughed until they both had tears in their eyes. They were still chuckling as they left the cafe and began walking down the street (luckily, in the opposite direction as their disgruntled musician friend had gone...), holding hands and lost in their own individual thoughts. Edsen shortly came out of his thoughts to see that their held hands were gently swinging back and forth in a slow rhythm that matched a song he was unconsciously humming, which he now recognized as the song he had intended to request from the clarinetist. He glanced over at Penny and was suddenly acutely aware of how perfectly matched she was to him, and how lucky he was to have her as a girlfriend, and how he wanted this moment to last as long as it possibly could and be as special as any they would be likely to have. Acting on impulse, he led her a few feet off the path of the sidewalk onto the ledge of a fountain that was spraying water about 15 feet into the air onto a Greek god and a large fish, and began to slow-dance with her as he softly sang that elusive song, "I'm In The Mood For Love", into her ear. The look of surprise in her eyes turned to romantic surrender to the moment as she, too, realized the perfectness of their match. A crowd began to form, as couples passing by stopped to "ooh" and "ah" at Edsen & Penny's exhibition of affection, and soon there were about 12 or 14 people watching, and they all applauded Edsen & Penny as they stepped down from the ledge. Well, almost all applauded: as the crowd dispersed, one woman smacked her partner and mumbled, "Why don't you ever do anything like that with me???"
Their third and final stop was Boston MA, and they hit the ground running, intending to cram as much activity into their limited time as they could. By now, they had their sightseeing rhythm down, and they scurried around the city taking in the sights, including Faneuil Hall and the Market Place, the Old State House, the Old North and Old South Churches, etc. Worth mentioning is when Penny again put Edsen on the ground from fits of laughter as they were touring Paul Revere's house. Although right next to the entrance was a huge sign saying to pull the door shut after entering, most of the people were not shutting it, and the door was flopping back and forth in the breeze. Penny began a running commentary to Edsen, as though she were Paul Revere, saying things like, "Hey, I'm not heatin' da outside, ya know!" / "...you born in a barn?" / "Whassa' matter, ain't da sign beeeg enufff??" / "I jus' got back from my Midnight Ride, and what do I see, but my door wi-i-i-i-de open, lettin' all da heat out!!" / "Don't tell me to wait a Minute, Man - I want it closed NOW!!!" That 'minute-man' pun got Edsen laughing so much that he disrupted the house guide's talk about Paul Revere, and he and Penny were asked to leave.
They had pre-planned that they wanted to be clean for the last leg of their journey home, so they allowed themselves plenty of time to use the showers at the YM(+W)CA. The good news was that there was abundant HOT water, so they had a comfortable shower, and made it back to the train in a timely manner. The bad news was that adding showers to their schedule cut into their sightseeing time slightly, but, oh well, cleanliness has its price...
On this last part of the trip, they occupied themselves the way they had during most of their train time - in the observation car; but now, they sat in quiet closeness, with a melancholia in the air from not wanting the trip to end. Watching the landscape sliding noiselessly past the observation bubble was somewhat surreal, like a 360 degree sens-o-round National Geographic special about the vistas of America. It was especially glorious watching the dark of night gently erode into light, as the sun rose triumphantly over the horizon.
|Now You're Cookin'!
The summer came and went at the Falls. During the following winter, Edsen's second in Niagara, he and Penny undertook their second major trip when they flew out to California to visit Disneyland, then took a short, commuter-hop flight to San Francisco for three days. As they got off a shuttle-bus two blocks from their San Francisco hotel, a strangely-dressed older woman, carrying what appeared to be five shopping bags filled with long, thin loaves of French bread, blocked their path, and demanded of them, "Do you have the foreign times?" Edsen wasn't sure if she meant what time it was in other countries, or if she wanted a newspaper from overseas, but either way, the answer was the same, so he said no. The woman pondered this for an instant, then cragged a finger up into his face, and said, somewhat menacingly, "Always know what you're doin'!", then turned and went about her business. Needless to say, Edsen & Penny became wary of their surroundings for the rest of the trip.
Also during this winter, they consolidated their living quarters. Seeing that they liked each other enough to commit to a permanent relationship, they decided Edsen would shed his place and move in with Penny, because, although both places were about the same rent, her apartment was one third larger.
Food For Thought was becoming known favorably in a thirty mile radius for Edsen's odd-ball experimental dishes, and on any shift that he worked, it was always crowded and tough to get a table. During the winter, in fact, the owner had expanded the premises and taken on another cook, whom Edsen had trained, named Eddie Welz. He was a sharp kid, a real go-getter, and much like Edsen, had an interesting culinary imagination, although he had a penchant for overcooking, and early on in his training, he occasionally set some of the food on fire. It was this unfortunate trait that earned him the nickname of Arson, although that didn't last long, because Edsen quickly realized that the combination of his nickname and his last name was Arson Welz - shades of Orson Welles - and began to always call him by both names . . . never just Arson, or Eddie, always "Arsonwelz."
Now, with the approach of the tourist season, Edsen decided to forgo his tour guide position at Table Rock House, and go full-time at Food For Thought. The owner was overjoyed, as he had been asking Edsen to do just that from the moment he discovered Edsen's cookery skills. Knowing that when the news of Edsen's full-timing got out, business would take another sharp upswing, he immediately prepared to put on another cook and two more waitresses. Edsen asked the owner to hold off placing the ad for the cook just yet, then went straight home to see if Penny would want the job. After the two of them talked over the pros and cons, they decided that, yes, she would take the job.
Everything seemed to be in place for the upcoming season, and Edsen & Penny were looking forward to an enjoyable summer, but, alas, it was not to be. Out of nowhere, the owner of the eatery threw a major rock into the gears by deciding to sell Food For Thought! And, he claimed, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, it was their fault!! He had been listening to their stories of travel adventures, and this had stoked his own wanderlust, especially the talk of San Francisco, where he had a trio of close friends that went out to live in "San Fran", as they called it, and they had been after him for the past three years to join them; he was, in fact, just about to pull up stakes, but then Edsen showed up and turned Food For Thought into a happening, so he stayed put. Lately, though, the travel fever was too strong to ignore, so he was selling out.
For the next couple of days, Edsen & Penny mulled over what they would do when Food For Thought was no more. It was Penny, however, who came up with the brainstorm which should've been obvious at the outset: why didn't Edsen buy Food For Thought and continue to tickle the public's tastebuds as though nothing had changed, and indeed, to the public, nothing would change. Edsen at first was not sure he wanted to commit to that, but the more he pictured it, the better it looked. The next day, he talked it over with the owner, and, after about an hour and twenty minutes of hammering out some details, the deal was sealed over a handshake, and, boom, the deed was done - Edsen was now the proud owner of one avant garde eatery, and took over immediately, while the (ex) owner high-tailed it out of town like he was a deer during hunting season.
As new owner, Edsen felt that no major changes were needed, but he did hire two waitresses, like the ex-owner was going to do before he got side-tracked with his travel plans. Arsonwelz stayed on, and it was business as usual, with the public taking no notice of the change in management until about mid-summer, when word circulated that Edsen was now the owner. This only served to increase business even more, and Food For Thought soon became so well-renown that Edsen appeared on a couple of local TV shows as some sort of minor celebrity. One show was a cooking program where Edsen demonstrated a few of his more bizarre creations, and the show was memorable not so much for Edsen's food as for his unbridled sense of humor, which cracked the moderator up so much that he was on the floor laughing, more than he was trying to find out what the next cooking step was. The other appearance was on a talk show, where Edsen was supposed to talk about Food For Thought's ever-growing popularity, but instead, the host steered the conversation to Edsen's past, and Edsen regaled the audience with tales of his 'mis-spent' youth. The host was so enthralled by the crazy tales Edsen told, that he took up the whole hour with Edsen, and the other two guests didn't even get a chance to go on.
This talk show appearance lead to a guest shot on a radio talk show, which in turn lead to a very brief stint as the host of his own radio talk show called Breyer's Alley!?! [webmaster's humorous aside: even today, Edsen likes to say he had a B.A. in radio". . . ] It was brief only because Edsen gave it up when he felt he was spreading himself too thin, and he wanted to concentrate on his original plans with Penny and Food For Thought.
|Home Is Where Your Heart Is. And Your
All through that summer and winter, Edsen & Penny worked extremely hard to keep Food For Thought's creative juices flowing, and the eatery was now more popular and financially successful than ever. But along with the success came demands on their quality time together. Both were keenly aware that the longevity of their relationship depended on their enjoyment of each other, and neither wanted to lose their love spark. Being together 24 hours a day, with much of that time spent at work, and some of the off-work time spent talking about work, they noticed a slight general lethargy setting in. Placing more of the responsibility of Food For Thought on Arsonwelz's shoulders had helped, but the undercurrent of dissatisfaction with their situation was still felt by the both of them.
It was into this clime that a trip to Penny's hometown of Washington NJ to visit her parents was conceived. Penny would get to see her parents, which she'd been contemplating for some time, and she and Edsen would both be able to unclench their muscles, breathe in some fresh air, and relax. It wasn't that the Niagara air wasn't fresh, it was that they needed to not think about running the business of Food For Thought for awhile, and to focus only on each other. They decided to make the trip in early spring, just before the Niagara tourist season began in earnest; this way, when they came back, they would be brimming over with vim, vigor, and vitality.
Edsen thoroughly enjoyed the time in Penny's town, and found the area to be peacefully charming, and just cosmopolitan enough to provide all the up-to-date amenities within a short distance, but yet, relatively untouched by the harshness of the march of time, and the impersonalness of big-city ethics. By the time the vacation was over, he and Penny had decided to move there after the upcoming Niagara tourist season, in late fall. But as they were driving back to Niagara, they decided, why wait, they would make the move right away, as soon as they could take care of the details, which mostly centered around the disposition of Food For Thought. Edsen was sure that he wouldn't have any trouble selling the place, so his main concern was that Arsonwelz wouldn't be left high and dry when the dust settled from the sale. They talked it over with Arsonwelz, who expressed a strong interest in taking over, so arrangements were made to sell to him.
|Do Mine Eyes Deceive Me?
Shortly after Edsen and Arson struck their deal, and unbeknownst to Edsen, Arson was approached by Sumney, Peterson, & Morley, a high-profile investment firm that was based in New York City, with an office in Niagara Falls. Arson made his own covert arrangements to sell the business to them, and they, in turn, were going to make a parking lot out of the property, to serve a big hotel under way across the street. The management of that hotel had already hired Arson as Head Chef, at a MUCH higher salary than Food For Thought could ever earn, because, after seeing Arson in action, and sampling some of his culinary creations, they felt he was exactly the kind of chef they wanted in their new restaurant. All of this was done rather secretly, because Arson thought Edsen wouldn't want to see Food For Thought abandoned in such a cold-blooded manner.
Two weeks later, when the day came for Edsen & Penny to bid adieu to Niagara Falls, they awoke to a beautifully sunny Friday morning. They had said proper goodbyes to the necessary people throughout the week, so all they needed to do now was to get into their car and cruise serenely into their new life. Edsen thought that, on the way out of town, besides glimpsing the falls for one last time, they would swing by Food For Thought and document the momentous occasion by tripodding the camera and taking a couple of parting shots of the two of them in front of the restaurant. But as he eased the car around the last turn, and the eatery came into view, Edsen & Penny got the shock of their lives!
Food For Thought was being attacked by an assortment of demolition equipment!! A fanged, snarling hinged-shovel bucket was hungrily ripping away at the walls of the new addition; a brusque, lumbering bull-elephant of a bulldozer was repeatedly thrusting itself into the west wall of the kitchen; while a huge cavernous tractor-trailer dump truck lurked lecherously at the edge of the parking lot, panting in breathless anticipation of the carnage it was about to receive. Here and there, small groups of humans were climbing around on the walls, picking the sculptured bricks off of the facade, looking like so many ants at a picnic free-for-all.
Edsen & Penny simply could not fathom what they were seeing. What could be the reason for this terrorizing of their helpless building by a pack of mechanical thugs? Edsen had screeched to a halt at the entrance to the parking lot, but now, after staring in mouth-agape disbelief for what seemed like five minutes, but was really only seven seconds, he powered the car forward into the thick of the destruction, straight into the path of the bulldozer, which was charging forward again for its umpteenth run at the wall. At that moment, Edsen felt only anger, but had he known how close he came to being crushed, he might have felt just a tinge of fear . . . the bulldozer could barely marshall its resources to stop, and when it finally did grind to a standstill in a cacophony of squealing metal, it was so close to Edsen's car door that he could count the scratches on the bulldozer blade.
Unable to open his driver-side car door, or even climb out the window because the blade was so close, he & Penny got out on the passenger side, and Edsen immediately clamored onto his car roof, and, at the top of his voice, began to berate the bulldozer operator, who was, of course, busy with his own top-decibel berating of Edsen. By now, all work had stopped and all of the workers were gathering around and focusing in on the clash between bulldozer and automobile. Tempers escalated, voices rose, and no questions were getting answered; gradually, some, then all, of the workers joined in, and even Penny got involved, and soon, it was two people on a car roof, yelling, verses a group of people on the ground surrounding the car, yelling back, and no one was able to hear anyone. Finally, one voice began to cut through the din: "Hold it, hold it, I can explain this, be quiet, ssshhutttuppppp!!!" As the confusion began to die down, Edsen realized that this ersatz Voice Of Reason was ARSONWELZ!!!
In the space of 5 1/2 seconds, the noise went from an ear-splitting din to pin-drop quiet. All the workers watched as Arson emerged from the crowd and climbed slowly onto Edsen's car hood, and stood up in front of Edsen. Both men stood motionless with eyes locked. Everyone waited as Arson took three long, deliberate breaths to gather his thoughts; then, mustering the courage to speak, he began to explain, using four long run-on sentences, fired off at the speed of a gatling gun, to tell Edsen the whole story. He bumbled to the end of his explanation, then returned to motionlessness and waited for Edsen's response, fearing the worst.
Edsen hadn't moved as he absorbed all this; then, after his own dramatic three-breath pause, during which time absolutely no one moved a muscle, he softly began to chuckle, which turned into a bona fide giggle, then evolved into riotous guffaws, and on into teary-eyed, belly-aching, thigh-slapping, fall-down, gut-wrenching laughter. Everyone else, down to a man, and Penny too, did exactly the same. Edsen looked around as he was laughing and, as he saw everyone else laughing, he realized the ludicrousness of the scene, which could've been straight out of a movie, and this made him laugh all the harder. He put his arm around Arson's shoulders, and told him that, although he was disappointed that Arson went behind his back, he was delighted at the deal Arson had struck, because Food For Thought was only a building, but Arson's future was more important. Staring in the face of such an outrageous turn of events, Edsen felt he really had to commemorate the occasion, so he had everyone gather together in front of the remains of the eatery, and took five or six pictures with the camera on a tripod and timer. The ironic twist ending to this caper was that, in all the levity and joking, Edsen had the camera settings wrong and the pictures didn't come out!!
|I'm In The Mood For Love
The trip from Niagara Falls to Washington NJ was undertaken at a leisurely, enjoyable pace, and afforded them much time to chew the fat, and chew they did, talking about everything under the sun. They stopped now and again, as the muse struck, playing tourist and just generally acting as if they hadn't a care in the world. About midway through the journey, as they cozied together in the car, Edsen felt a feeling of certain-ness come over him about a subject he'd been mulling over for six months or so: at that moment, it became crystal clear to him that Penny was the girl he should marry. For about four months now, he secretly had close at hand an engagement ring, a portable cassette player, a cassette tape with a special song on it, and a small packet of papers, just in case the 'Right Moment' should make itself known to him. Well, here they were, pulling into a rest stop, and suddenly, that moment jumped all over him! Edsen was unfazed that they were at a rest stop location, since he knew that it didn't matter where they were, but how they felt. Wanting to make this as memorable an event as he could, he pulled the car up to the most concentrated area of the milling crowd, and shut the engine off. Penny started to open the door to get out, but Edsen stopped her by gently taking both her hands into his, and said that he need to say something very important to her. She waited intently, but he only stared deeply into her eyes, remaining mute for a full forty-one seconds. Finally, he whispered softly, "Let's get out".
Edsen exited, and immediately climbed up onto the hood of the car, and clamored over to where Penny was standing, by the passenger door. It was then that she noticed he was carrying a portable tape player and a pack of papers, and, knowing him as well as she did, she became instantly curious, as a wide, happy, girly-sweet grin came over her face. "What's this little devil up to, now?" she thought, as Edsen stood straight up (still on the hood), clapped his hands four or five times to attract attention, and began to call out loudly to anyone within earshot, "People, may I have your attention, please; everybody, gather 'round, I have something I want to say to this young lady here, and I invite everyone to please come and hear what it is". As Edsen kept calling, the crowd kept swelling, until it included five truckers, three camping families, a traveling salesman, a pack of thirteen bikers, and two policemen (who were at first leery, and were about to break it up, but after Edsen whispered something privately to them, they let him continue, and even watched with enjoyment). Edsen asked a couple of the bikers to lift Penny up onto the hood (seems like the two of them were always standing on a car . . . ), and after she was gently deposited next to him, he once again took both her hands in his, and began to speak.
"Penel, there is something I want to say to you." Three-second pause. "But you won't hear it from me".
The general murmur of "Huh??" which came from the crowd perfectly matched the quizzical look on Penny's face. Edsen's grin was wider than the Grand Canyon as he looked from Penny, to the crowd, then back again, and she couldn't contain herself any longer. "Look, you," she said playfully, as she bounced up and down excitedly, "you better tell me what's going on right now or I'll have these officers arrest you!" A pocket of laughter rolled through the crowd, and even the two policemen chuckled audibly. Edsen laughed, too, because he was enjoying this as much as everyone else. "But when they put the cuffs on me," he said, grinning toward the officers, who grinned back, "they'll say I have the right to remain silent, and that's what I intend to do!" With that, he unfolded the pack of papers, and handed one page to a biker, one to a truck driver, and one to a woman from one of the camping families. He then turned back to the biker and asked him to read what was on his page.
The biker looked down at his page for about eight seconds, then looked up at Edsen and said, "OK, now what?" Edsen laughed to himself as he said, "No, no, I meant read it to Penny". The biker's forehead wrinkled a bit nervously. "You mean, read it out loud?" "Well, yes, that's the idea." "So everyone else can hear it??" "I certainly hope so!" Even though the biker was red with embarrassment, he was obviously enjoying all the attention. The other bikers were razzing and cajoling him, calling him "Beet", making chicken-cluck noises and flapping their arms like they were wings. Finally, Beet put up his hands to quiet them down, and then began to read:
"Penny, I've known Edsen for a long time now, about four minutes. That's long enough for me to know that he doesn't believe in love at first sight. But from the very second he met you, he's had trouble breathing. That's because you have his heart."
Everyone, including Edsen and Penny, had been watching Beet, but now, as all eyes swung over to Penny, they saw tears welling up in her eyes, because she thought she knew what was unfolding. She looked ever-so-slowly all through the crowd, trying to savor every second, and when her gaze finally met Edsen's, she raised her eyebrows imploringly, as if to ask, "Is this what I think it is?" Briefly, Edsen would only smile, but then he gave her a slight nod and a reassuring wink.
Turning to the trucker, he asked, "Sir, would you kindly read your page?" With a grin and a sideways glance at Beet, Edsen added, "Out loud, please . . . so Penny can hear?!" A smattering of laughter came from the crowd, and Beet's biker cronies loudly chuckled at Beet as they good-naturedly poked and jostled him with their elbows. Beet chuckled loudest of all. The trucker read:
" _ _ _ " [ [ fine-tune the ruff draft part i wrote for the trucker, and put it here ] ]
Again, all eyes shifted from the trucker to Penny, and her tears continued to build. This time, though, when her gaze met Edsen's, she winked at him, which delighted him greatly. Now it was he who welled up with emotion. He managed to blink away the oncoming tears from his eyes, then spoke to the woman who held the last page. "Madam, if you please." The woman unfolded the paper and straightened out the wrinkles, making crinkley noises which seemed all the more noisy in the quiet crowd. She quickly glanced through the words, so she wouldn't stumble on them when she read. She then began, proceeding slowly and clearly:
"Penny, this is a man who has a clearness of vision which rivals a microscope. He does not become involved with anything halfheartedly, nor without a lot of thought and preparation, and he most definitely does not give his heart away on a whim. As a woman, I can tell that his emotions run deep and true, and here today, he's had an epiphany that his emotions for run deeper and truer than any he's ever had in his entire life. Here today, he is saying that he wants to spend the rest of his life with you. He is asking you to marry him. Penny, will you marry him?"
The camper woman lowered the page and looked up with tears in her eyes. She and everyone else in the crowd held their breath while waiting for the answer. Penny slowly opened her mouth, took a deep breath in preparation to speak, and everyone who was expecting her to say 'Yes' (which, of course, was everyone) was absolutely flabbergasted when she very, very slowly said, "No." Edsen was the most flabbergasted of all. "NNOOO????" he wailed, momentarily taken aback by this sudden turn of events. Penny looked directly into Edsen's eyes, and said softly, but firmly, "That's right, no." The crowd, as one, drew a breath; then someone called out, "But why not?" Turning her head slightly toward the question, but not taking her eyes off of Edsen, Penny said, "This is all very sweet, maybe the sweetest, most charming thing that's ever, ever, ever happened to me. But I just want to hear him," nodding toward Edsen, "ask me."
Edsen's eyes swept out over the crowd as he shook his head in mock disbelief. He was bemused, delighted, and completely beguiled of this girl - she had unexpectedly turned the tables on him and put him on the spot ... and he loved it!! With a wide grin on his face, he again took ahold of Penny's hands and brought them up to his heart, and held them there as he began to speak. Not having anything planned, because he didn't expect to be in this situation, he just spoke directly from his heart, saying whatever came into his head.
" _ _ _ " [ [ fine-tune the bit about the food poisoning and put it here / add that, just before he actually said, "Will you marry me?", he got down into the classic proposing position, which, of course, is on one knee] ]
Penny was giggling like a school girl, yet weeping at the same time, but when she managed to sob out a "yes", the entire crowd, as one, burst into hoorays and applause. Edsen hugged Penny so tightly that he lifted her up off the hood of the car, and then presented her with the engagement ring by placing it on her finger. After pressing play on the tape player to start the special song he had chosen [webmaster's note: it was Louis Armstrong's 1935 version of "I'm In The Mood For Love"], they shared a long, loving kiss, during which the women in the crowd ooh'ed and ah'ed and did a little crying themselves. The crowd slowly began to drift away one by one, taking the memory of a beautiful love scene with them, but Edsen and Penny didn't notice - they were lost in their own little world.
Finally relocated to Washington NJ, Edsen & Penny began the process of integrating themselves into the fabric of the town. Temporarily staying with Penny's parents, the first order of business was to find a place of their own, so they went to one of the town's real estate offices to get a feel for what was available. Much to Penny's surprise, the office was run by a woman named Cynthia, who was a close friend of Penny's in high school, and within an hour, Penny had secured a position as a real estate agent. Cynthia felt that with Penny's knowledge of the area, and her easy naturalness with people, she would make an excellent agent, and Penny did not prove her wrong. Also during that initial visit, Cynthia enthused about a plot of land that was available on the outskirts of town, near a technical school that was recently built, so the three of them went out to see it.
. . . oops, that's all for now, so -
To learn what new (and exciting) twist
The Edsen Breyer Story !
This tome to be continued as time permits.
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