Words can barely describe 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.
totally accommodated her paraplegic son, at first adapting her home to
wheelchair accessibility, and then, over time, into the sprawling
conglomeration it became.
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 naturale in Rick's pool. (One of those tuff-job-but-somebody-has-to-do-it kind of things.)
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, and 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
was the African traider who imported all kinds of native musical
instruments and clothing 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 soon became the center of
late-night drum circles, until the neighbors finally complained.
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 nubile water sprites.
was the team of lumberjack/shipwrights who decided to build a Norse
Great House in his backyard. It was a grand structure hewed from
rough logs the size of telephone poles. It was about 50 feet across, 30 feet high, post
and beam construction, and gave Rick a terrific flat, smooth concrete
surface on which to scoot around in his wheelchair. The whole thing was surrounded by a Coi
pond to die for. The only shortcoming was that they could never quite figure
out a roof. They couldn't afford, or didn't want, a traditional metal or shingle roof so they tried fabrics of all sorts, but none of them seemed to work out.
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 into the yard and around the house. Rick's house backed up to I-95 and the state built a 30 foot high wall along his back yard for noise and dust abatement. The wall was soon painted from dirt to pinnacle with a huge mural depicting jungle Florida. When you walked from the street through the back gate, it was like entering an exotic foreign land where you fully expected to hear Tarzan in the distance.
But it wasn't the furniture that made Bim memorable to me. It was another talent, one that simply left people in slack-jawed amazement.
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.
location was perfect. Rick had a corner store with high ceilings and
lots of glass. It was filled with kites, drums, hippie attire,
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 what he called, New
Vaudeville Night on the River. It attracted hundreds of people who came out to be entertained by the musicians, jugglers and artists, among them, Bim Willow.
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
Then, one of his legs would begin to rise, as if pulled up by a puppeteer's string. 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
It was the most amazing feat of strength and gymnastic ability I have ever seen.
To be continued...