Awhile back on these pages, I was telling you a couple stories involving my old friend Seamus Gumbo. Did I ever tell you how we became friends?
It was back when I was Mayor.
Haven’t I mentioned that before? Hmmm…
For a few years I ran a small town in the latter half of the 20th century. Up north. Nice little town square. A couple dozen shops, a few offices, a bunch of brownstone apartment buildings in two directions, woods to the north, a lake to the west. Fairport. Nice town. The port wasn’t much. Just a small dock. But it had been a local shipping center back in the day as Fairport was located at the confluence of the Deitide River and Fair Lake and there was access to the railroad.
At the corner of Hamilton and Main, across from the Fairport Convention Center, was the local head shop. It was a gathering place for musicians, writers, artists and other creative types. A lot of younger people hung out there, as you might expect.
When I was campaigning for Mayor, I had to give serious thought to whether to stop in and shake hands with the proprietor. I had to think about how it would look if an opponent or a newspaper columnist or some busy body made a big deal out of a candidate going into a head shop. I had to weigh that against the fact that this was a locally-owned business selling completely legal products and the owner was accepted by the business community and belonged to the Chamber of Commerce. And I had to consider its popularity too. I wondered what the balance was between the pro-head shop and anti-head shop vote. I also considered that my two opponents – who, unlike me, had lived in the town their entire lives – probably would never even consider going in there.
Six weeks before the election, the local newspaper’s poll had me running second, just two points ahead of the third place finisher and eight points behind the guy in first. My campaign manager – the owner of the local shoe repair shop – met me at the diner on the morning the poll came out.
“We gotta do something to shake things up,” he said.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “It’s not looking too good, is it?”
“You know how the baseball managers, when they’re six games out with six weeks to go, they tell the reporters, ‘We just gotta pick up a game a week and we’re right there.’ You’ve heard that, right?”
“Well, they never do it,” he said. “And we’re eight points down with six weeks to go. We need better than a point a week.”
“You’re really cheering me up,” I said.
“Good,” he answered. “Put on that happy face and go out and shake every hand in the business district.”
“I already did that.”
“Do it again. Six weeks to Election Day – now they’re finally paying real attention. Get in there and talk to every one of them about something that matters to them. An issue, the town, their business, their family, whatever it is. Just let them know you’re a nice guy and you’re listening to what matters to them. And whatever thing they make their biggest point about, write it down in a notebook. Right there in front of them. People see a candidate writing down their complaint or their idea, they’re gonna vote for that candidate. Plus, you’ll have a new list of things to address in your appearances the rest of the way.”
“Okay,” I said.
“So go see everybody again. And see anybody you missed. Did you miss anybody?”
“Just the head shop owner,” I said.
He thought a moment. “What do you think?” he asked.
“I think he probably knows I visited every shop around him but not him. Though I’m sure Hendricks and Ross did the same.”
“Well,” he said as he assessed the risk, “like I said, we gotta do something to shake things up.”
“If you’re the only one who goes in there, he’s going to tell all his friends. And they’re going to love you for recognizing them as part of the community. And if the others make a stink, the head shop people might rally behind you.”
“The Head Shop People?” I laughed. “Isn’t that a band?”
He laughed. “Might be. Why don’t you go over there and ask them?”
I did. There wasn’t any fallout. Nor did the Head Shop People get out the vote and lead me to a landslide win. There was no impact on the election at all. But other things happened in the campaign and it seemed the race was tightening. And when it was over, I had been elected.
Which leads me to my story…
I’ll never forget the second time I met Seamus Gumbo.
A couple weeks after I was sworn in as Mayor of Fairport, I walked into Gumbo’s Head Shop. I had been making it a point to stop into one local business every day to discuss what we were doing to address various issues. During the campaign, I thought it over first before coming in here and now as Mayor, I did ask myself the question again. But I didn’t have to think about it for more than ten seconds this time. It was the right thing to do. It was a legal business and I was treating it like any other. I expected this visit to be pretty much like at all the other shops.
But you know it wasn’t. If it was, I wouldn’t be telling you about it…
“What’s happenin’ Mr. Mayor?” Seamus greeted me. He put down a box of Zig-Zag and came out from behind the counter to shake my hand. “Welcome back. Thanks for stopping by. What can I do for you today? Maybe a nice pipe? We have some on special, now check this out…”
He pulled out from a display case, a tray of pipes and bowls of various sizes and colors.
“See anything you like?”
“I wasn’t really shopping,” I said, “I came in to chat.”
“Oh, of course, Mr. Mayor.” He put the pipe tray back in the display.
“Please call me Danko,” I smiled.
“Thank you Danko. And call me Seamus.”
We talked about some on-going issues such as traffic flow downtown and the need for more public parking.
Then a delivery man interrupted us.
“Come on back, Mr. May — Danko. I just have to hold the back door for Jake, we can keep talking.”
We walked behind the counter and into the stockroom, past Seamus’ office to the back door. He held the door as Jake the delivery man unloaded boxes from his truck. Seamus and I continued to talk about town business.
When Jake was done, Seamus spoke with him for a moment and signed a receipt and stood in the door as Jake pulled out of the alleyway. I was looking at the posters on the wall outside his office.
“Hey Danko,” Seamus half-whispered.
I turned toward the door but he had stepped outside into the alley. I walked through the doorway and as I did a strong whiff of marijuana entered my nostrils and Seamus’ outstretched hand was offering me a joint.
I stopped short.
Seamus was holding in his first toke and motioning to me to take the joint.
I walked past him and down the alley. About halfway. Looked around. Checked the height of the fence and whether there were any open windows on the building next door.
I walked back to Seamus and took the joint. I puffed. And handed it back.
We said nothing. Just smoked.
After we each had several hits, Seamus said, “I can’t believe I’m getting high with the Mayor!”
“I can’t believe I’m getting high, period,” I said as I took another hit.
“When’s the last time you got high?” Seamus asked.
“Must be twenty years,” I answered as I handed the joint back to him.
“The last time you got high was twenty years ago?” Seamus asked in surprise.
I hesitated for a second. But I took a chance…and answered truthfully.
“Twenty years from now,” I said.
Seamus was about to put the joint to his lips as he heard me. He stopped and looked at me. Then he looked at the joint. “This stuff must be better than I thought,” he said.
I laughed. Seamus took another puff. As he held it in, he spoke…in that gutteral way people do when they’re holding in a mouthful of pot smoke, “So let me get this straight. You’re saying the last time you smoked a jay was twenty years from now?” He paused. “In the future?” He continued to hold that puff while I responded.
“That’s what I’m saying.” I smiled.
“Uh-huh,” Seamus looked me over as he blew out the smoke. “You’re not going to tell me you’re a Time Wizard, are you?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
“Didn’t think so,” he said.
He handed me the joint. I looked him in the eye.
“You?” I asked.
He smiled. “Yup,” he said. I would have had no reason to suspect Seamus was a Time Wizard but after he broached the subject, I could see where this conversation was going.
I took a hit. And in my gutteral voice said, “Time traveller,” as I tapped my chest with the fingers that weren’t holding the joint.
“Son of a gun,” Seamus said smiling. “What are the odds, man?!!”
We shared a laugh. And the rest of that joint.