Harland Chesterfield & The Magic Bullet

Shit happens. It almost always does. The year that should have been, never was. We had big plans. Plans that we were certain would change our lives forever. Plans to attend ten Yes concerts in 15 days during the band’s ‘Close To The Edge Tour’, but nobody had heard from Harland Chesterfield since the weather changed that September. The search for him took several days, but he was found in a motel room hours away from home, draped over the side of the tub with an empty six pack of Labbatt’s Blue and a crumpled pack of Players scattered on the floor.

Harland Chesterfield had always been one weird, little guy. He was usually hanging out at Wilmington Park in what seems like a lifetime ago, roaming around, struggling to find somewhere to fit in. He seemed a withdrawn, but  he was usually also pretty wasted.  Harland didn’t have many friends, and kept to himself most of the time. He lived his life through music, and that seemed to be the only bond he would, or could share with others. He knew his stuff though.

One Friday night, at a house party at the home of one of the many teenage tarts who prowled Wilmington Park in search of drugs, love, and sex, Harland had discovered that the best way for someone to take their own life was at a Yes concert during the ‘I get up, I get down’ section of  ‘Close To The Edge’. He thought it was absurdly brilliant. We just thought he was messed up. He had reason to be. When he was nine years old, his mother seemed to have lost her mind and stabbed his father to death in the kitchen, after he informed her that the soup she had served him was not hot enough. She looked at him, smiled, and inserted an eight inch blade directly into his heart. He was dead before he hit the floor. She was institutionalized, and Harland was sent to live with an aunt, a divorced woman who lived on my street and whose bedroom I had the privilege to visit on more than one occasion.

After the police had found him, Harland was taken to the hospital and released a few days later, apparently in good health. It seems that he had simply drank himself unconscious. The trip was back on, and we were set to depart for Waterloo the following afternoon. Harland didn’t want to talk about what happened in that motel room, and the only comment he ever made about it was simply that he had a great sleep. We attended the Waterloo show completely messed up on peyote, and  followed it with concerts in Toronto and Ottawa.  Montreal was to be the last Canadian date, before we were to set out for the second stage in Flint, Columbus, and Erie.

During the Montreal concert, dead smack in the middle of ‘I Get Up, I Get Down’, amid the dry ice and flashing lights, Harland Chesterfield fell face first onto the floor. When we couldn’t get him to move, we called security who removed him from the concert floor and took him somewhere inside the bowels of the arena. We followed the security detail, and waited outside a room they had taken him to. Paramedics arrived quickly, and they seemed to be in there for hours. Finally, the door burst open, and they rushed Harland down the hallway, strapped to a stretcher, and into the back of the waiting ambulance. Harland passed away, in fact he was already gone by the time the paramedics got him into the ambulance. He was pronounced Dead On Arrival at the hospital. An autopsy identified the cause of death as suicide by poison. Traces were found in his blood and on his hands. Harland Chesterfield had administered the magic bullet that took his life at a Yes concert, with twenty thousand fans cheering, amid the spectacle of ‘I Get Up, I Get Down’, just as he had said he would.

We didn’t finish the ten shows in fifteen days. None of us really wanted to continue. Harland’s funeral was small and short, but those who attended gave him a send off we were sure he would have appreciated. The following summer, as I dabbled around the North, neck deep in drugs and damsels in a dress, I listened to Close To The Edge every day. It continues to live on in my playlist, and everytime I hear any track by Yes, my mind drifts off to remember Harland Chesterfield.

 

 

 

 

 

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There Was A Time

 

I grew up in Suburbia, middle child of a middle class family, living in the middle of nowhere. There were eight of us; my parents, myself, and my five siblings. It was an okay childhood, filled with family events, vacations, and I seem to remember feeling okay. We would take these long, family road trips to relatives spread out across Canada and the Northern Unites States, ranging from Winnipeg and Montreal up here, to New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and Washington. We loaded ourselves into the old man’s Ford Country Squire, the one with the cool wood paneling, and headed off, at dawn, down the road to perdition, and all stops in between.

I spent the first two years of my life in the ice covered tundra of Sault Ste. Marie, nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, after it had eaten the Edmund Fitzgerald, with my ass firmly frozen to the metal rails of a crib. I have no idea what the hell we were doing up there, but I was informed that the old man had taken a job in the vast wilderness of Northern Ontario. According to my mother the family next door were drunken hillbillies, albeit Canadian hillbillies, with little hope for neighborly chit chat. Survival among the wild animals, and somewhat wilder neighbors began to take its toll and after two years, she had enough. We loaded up and high tailed off of the ice floe we had called home, settling in the big city. My mother often told the story of how she was sure that those filthy, drunken, ignorant people next door would, sooner or later, bring us to some kind of horrific end.

I was, as a child, somewhat accident prone and spent a great deal of time at doctor’s offices and hospitals, being treated for a myriad of  injuries that included hazel nut shells in an eye, gashes on my arms and face from running through a closed glass door, a spike protruding through my foot, and broken bones caused by falling off of the roof of the house. To be fair, I did not fall off of the roof. I was flying. I was 6 years old and simply miscalculated wind speed. In any event, I suffered scars to my eye, stitches to my arms, received a wagon load of tetanus shots, and wore a cast for a large part of those formative years. And so, as we traveled, I was under strict orders not to move. As a super hero however, I was bound by an oath to not sit idly by. I was sworn to take action whenever I was needed.

The Ford Country Squire had really cool seats in the back that faced backwards. I sat there a lot, usually with one of my brothers who didn’t really travel well. He would throw up regularly, shortly after complaining of being sick. He kept a stack of paper lunch bags with him in order not to infect the Country Squire. In order to ease his distress, we would regularly stop to allow him to get out of the car and walk around until he was feeling better. These designated puke stops slowed down our progress, and really drove the old man crazy, as they almost doubled our travel time. We would often have to spend the night in a motel, usually a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge with a restaurant attached. The old man liked Howard Johnson. We would eat, get 2 rooms, and settle in for the night, getting up early and departing first thing in the morning. With all of the complaining about how long the trip was taking, and the added expense of motel rooms and meals, I was never really sure why they didn’t leave him at home with my grandparents.

My all time favorite family road trips were the ones we took to Washington, well actually Silver Springs, Maryland, to see my great uncle Nathan and his family. Nathan was my grandfather’s youngest brother, and I looked forward to seeing him with wild abandon.  We would always tour around D.C., as I sat in the front between Nathan and his wife in his Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with a really cool glass roof about halfway back. My family followed behind in the Country Squire with a couple of his kids. I suppose Nathan was one of my all time favorite relatives. He encouraged the super hero that lived inside of me, and when I was 8, he got me a real cape to replace the towels I had been using. I really felt like a super hero then, standing tall with hands on my hips, cape blowing in the warm breeze, proudly displaying the t shirt I had made, emblazoned with the letter ‘G’, waiting to spring into action.

When I was 9 we took the Country Squire to Winnipeg. it took us three days to get there, as we overcame inordinate amounts of wrong turns and vomit. Uncle Sid, my other favorite relative, and aunt Francis were always fun to be around.  We attended events at the Pan Am games, and I went to my first CFL game, enjoying the blue and gold of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I have no idea who won as I was quite busy, scouting the stadium for crime. It seemed that there was no crime in Winnipeg. This was no place for a super hero crime fighter.

Uncle Sid took us horseback riding one afternoon. I watched as my eldest brother mounted his horse, and disappeared at full gallop through the brush and the trees, screaming for the horse to stop. Finally, someone in need of help! I sprang into action, and tried to ride after him, too afraid to fly after the mishap from my parents’ roof years before. Several other people were able to corral the horse, whose name by the way was Daisy, and save my brother from impending doom. I fell in love with horseback riding that day, and realized that I could be a horseback riding, crime fighting hero. All I needed was a sword, and a black mask, and I could follow in the footsteps of Zorro. My brother has never been near a horse since then, and breaks out in  cold sweats whenever he gets near a bouquet of flowers.

The family road trips stopped by the time I was 12 or 13. We were all getting older, and my parents had taken to leaving us with my grandparents while they went away on their own. The Ford Country Squire was long gone, replaced by a Buick LeSabre.  I suppose that was the end of my super hero crime fighting, although over the years I have continued to visit various emergency rooms across the city for assorted accidents and injuries, most of which required stitches, tetanus shots and xrays. Uncle Nathan passed away when I was still a kid, as did the relatives in Cleveland and Chicago. The cousins in Montreal moved to Houston, Texas, and Uncle Sid, well he has been living here for 50 years or so, and I try to visit with him whenever possible. Many of the details have faded now, but I still have some clear memories of those family vacations. To this day I can’t look at a station wagon without detecting a subtle scent of vomit.

 

 

Lightening Strikes

I attended a summer camp for several years when I was in my early teens, and while I have told this story many, many times to my friends and family, I feel that it is truly blog worthy.

camp1Murray P. was a co-camper who hailed from Montreal. he was a scrawny, quiet nobody who would have to be on fire to be noticed. Even then, I’m not so certain! Murray was somewhat of a knob, a dweeb, a nerd, a dork. He was the type of kid who never really had to do anything to piss you off to be disliked. Murray was cursed! A black cloud seemed to follow him around that summer!

It all started one stormy night, as we sat on our bunks watching the electrical storm that was so prevalent in Northern Ontario that summer. Jagged forks of lightening slashed into the trees just outside our cabin, bouncing off of the steps and ricocheting off of the door. Murray sat awe struck with his legs hung over the metal frame of his bunk. Suddenly a bolt of lightening slammed into the door, shattering the old wooden frame and slashed through the cabin. Murray lay on the floor, motionless: his bunk was hit by the lightening and the electrical force ran through the metal frame and into his body, throwing him from his bunk onto the floor. He shortly stood up, stated he was fine, and carried on as if nothing had happened.

Several nights, possibly a week later, we were in the shower house, a prefabricated metal structure that stood just beyond our cabin when another storm suddenly struck. As Murray stood on the metal floor, his hand in the metal faucet, the shower house was hit by lightening, sending Murray sailing across the building, slamming him into the floor. Although he seemed well, it was soon discovered that he had broken his arm. Poor Murray.

Some days later, some of us had left camp grounds for an outing to a secluded camp2fresh water pool which sat at the bottom of a 20 foot waterfall. It was truly magnificent there! Anyway, as we were frolicking in the cool, clean water, Murray suddenly appeared atop the falls, his arm in cast and sling, calling out to us. It was a sight to behold, as he slipped on the wet rock, and fell head first down the falls into the pool of water. The result was a fractured collar bone and a broken leg. Murray spent the rest of the summer watching from the sidelines.

I never saw or heard from Murray after that summer. I am not certain if he survived the path that he seemed destined to walk. I do believe that there was something special about him, although I am glad that I didn’t share his gift. There are times, when I get nostalgic, times when I see his face and hear his voice as he plummeted down those falls. Thanks for the laughs Murray, wherever you are.