Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Adventure Continues - Bim Willow

The Adventures of Rick O'Shea, pt. II

Words cannot describe, nor have I any photos of, my friend Rick O'Shea's home.  The house itself was Rick's boyhood home, a nondescript 1950's concrete block tract house, the kind that blankets the landscape of post-WWII America.  The home belonged to his mother and was shared by the two of them.

Mrs. O'Shea totally accommodated her paraplegic son, at first adapting her home to wheelchair accessibility, and then, over time, into the sprawling conglomeration it became.

First there was the swimming pool, installed as a therapeutic pool for him but which became a favorite summer afternoon hang-out for his myriad friends.  Mr. Charleston has been known to spend a pleasant afternoon or two relaxing in the shade with a cool one while playing lifeguard to the bevy of young water sprites who loved to frolic au natural in Rick's pool.  (One of those tuff-job-but-somebody-has-to-do-it kind of things.)

In the previous chapter I described Rick's cottage kite making industry, which took over the garage and every other nook and cranny adjacent to it, but I didn't mention his other business, that of purveyor of fine herbs.  It was the fine herb business that mostly attracted the artists and free-spirited people who were always in attendance.

An unrepentant Deadhead, Rick could be found holding court in the parking lot of most any Grateful Dead concert that came near Baja Georgia, from Miami to Atlanta, and it was largely friendships formed from that community that brought many of the most eccentric souls into his backyard.

There was the African traider who brought back all kinds of musical instruments from the dark continent.  This led to Rick becoming the area's first and only African drum dealer, a business which soon took over the rest of his living room.  His back yard became the center of late-night drum circles, until the neighbors finally complained.

There were the Buddhist monks and the holistic massage therapist, who was willing to give anyone a rub-down anyplace, anytime.  He seemed especially fond of helping the water sprites.

There was the team of lumberjack/shipwrights who decided to build a Norse Great House in his backyard (photo)  It was a grand structure hewed from rough logs the size of telephone poles.  It was about 50 feet across, post and beam construction, and gave Rick a terrific flat, smooth concrete surface to scoot around on.  The whole thing was surrounded by a Coi pond to die for.  The only shortcoming was that they could never figure out a roof.  They tried fabrics of all sorts but they didn't work out.

Rick overlooking the Coi pond and Great House.

And then there was a young man who called himself Bim Willow.  Bim made things out of willow branches.  He would soak them in water and form them into all types of furniture.  Rick's room soon became a fairy garden of willow sculptures... bed, bed canopy, bookshelves, chairs.  It eventially spread out into the yard and around the house.

But it wasn't the furniture that made Bim memorable.  It was another talent, one that left people in slack-jawed amazement.

To digress... As you can tell, Rick's cottage industries soon overcame his house, and his mother, so he rented a space in a trendy but struggling downtown river-front retail area of small gift boutiques, coffee shops, etc.  The store fronted onto a large boardwalk known as the Southbank Riverwalk.  It was a cool space which attracted thousands of folks out for an evening stroll on the river.

The location was perfect.  Rick had a corner store with high ceilings and lots of glass.  It was filled with kites, drums, hippie clothing, incense and the like.  It became a focal point for buskers and performers and artists and drum circles on the river.  To formalize it, and therefore make it acceptable to the powers-that-be, Rick created New Vaudeville Night on the Riverwalk.  It attracted hundreds of people who came out to be entertained by the musicians, jugglers and artists, among them, Bim Willow.

Bim would take a sturdy straight-back chair, set it in the center of the boardwalk, and sit in it as if reading a book.  He would turn imaginary pages in the book with accompanying facial expressions over its contents.  This went on for a period of time until people began to get restless.

Then, one of his legs would begin to rise, as if pulled up by a helium balloon.  Bim looked startled.  The leg would continue to rise such that it began to pull his entire body off of the ground.  Bim clutched the chair to hold himself down as both legs were now rising in the air.  He would hold on as his legs rose over his head, trying to pull him out of the chair altogether.

Soon his entire body was rising into the air as he struggled to hold onto the chair and Terra firma.  As his body went skyward, his hands would climb up the back of the chair until finally culminating in the chair standing cockeyed on one leg with Bim holding on to the utmost top of it with one hand, his feet and body now suspended over him, pointing towards the heavens.

After a while, the whole thing reversed itself and Bim came slowly back to earth, concluding his performance by settling back onto the chair and reading his imaginary book, as if nothing had happened.

It was the most amazing feat of strength and gymnastic ability I have ever seen.

More to come.


  1. Nothin' like the inspiring people you meet in the journey we're all on together. Love your photo of Rick. Looks like he's succeeded in creating a peaceful haven with many friends to share it with. Would love to see Bim doing his thing.

  2. What an interesting story. Thank you for this.

  3. An unbelievable trick and one which I would attempt if I was young, fit and flexible. If only you had it on video.

  4. Somethings going on here. I can't leave a comment on my own GD Blog!! Errrrr.

  5. Holy shit! It works. OK forget all that...

    Gropius... Rick did indeed live a full life full of interesting people. The girls loved him.

    Andrew.. Thanks. Come back for the next installment

    Mo... maybe if you were young a super fit. This guy could lift himself off of that chair like a gymnist on the rings. And a good chap to boot.

  6. hey Mr. C, interesting characters!

  7. Bim Willow here I am now 58 and still can do that trick
    Rick was one of the most amazing men I have ever met. If you want to know what I am up to these days see or or just google me thats how I got here


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