Saturday, February 8, 2014

Escapees and peanut brittle...

Den of the Beastly Bear

Hi Folks!

Back when I was in High school, and right after...I worked at Gell's Sporting Goods behind the Pontiac Mall(Summit Place for those of you under 30).

I worked in the hunting/fishing/firearms/archery areas mainly. It was a great job and I worked with some great people...and a couple of nuts!  :-)

One of the things that kept the job interesting was the fact that Clinton Valley Psychiatric Hospital was within walking distance. Clinton Valley had both maximum and minimum security areas...and sometimes patients would just wander off, and into our store.

Some were easy to spot: pajamas, bathrobe and slippers. Others were a little more difficult.

One late August afternoon a customer came in.
He was a tall, blonde haired and blue eyed attractive man in his late twenties/early thirties. He wore his wavy hair a little long over a cotton plaid shirt and blue jeans. Dark aviator sunglasses, covered those cobalt blue eyes as he walked in. Cowboy boots and a leather bomber jacket topped off his ensemble.

He walked up to the counter, brushed his coat back sticking his hands in his back pockets...striking a pose his weight on one foot, the other leg slightly forward.

"Welcome to Gell's sir, may I help you?" I asked from behind the gun counter.

With a dramatic flair he reached up, ala Horatio Caine and whipped off his aviators...

"Yes, I'm looking for your archery dept."

"If you'll follow me sir I'll be happy to show you..."

I came out from behind the counter and walked him over to archery, where I took up position behind the counter there.

"What exactly are you looking for today?" I asked.

"Well I just got back from a trip to Alaska, and I'm thinking of taking up Bow hunting." He explained.

It was not uncommon around this time to have guys come in that had spent time in Alaska, as the Alaskan Pipeline had just been completed a few years previously and there were still guys coming back with cash in their pockets, looking for ways to spend it!

I showed him whole setups...bows, arrows, broadheads, the works!!! While we didn't work on commission, there was a certain pride in making a big sale, and I had visions of making a killing on this guy.

"You ever been to Alaska?" He asked me.
"No sir, not yet but I sure do want to!"
He got a thoughtful look on his face, looked left and right to see if anyone was close, leaned in and said.
"Do you like peanut brittle?"
Not seeing where he was going I answered.
"Ummm, yeah I guess so..."
"You know how it's made right?"
"I think so..."

"I did too..." He said conspiratorially "then I went to Alaska and found out the truth!"

"And what's that?" I asked seeing my big sale slipping away.

"Well," he started, again checking to see no one else could overhear.
"I was in a camp MILES from any town. Everyone had gone to bed, and about 2-3 in the morning I suddenly woke up. Everyone else was still asleep, but I could swear I could hear music playing."

I nodded to show I was listening.

"So I went to see if someone had left a radio on or something. When I walked out of the tent, I could tell the music was coming from the woods. I didn't want to wake anybody up, and it was a warm night so I went to investigate in just my underwear. I crept through the woods as quiet as I could, and as I went deeper I could see light up ahead. Now I was really confused...there shouldn't have been anyone out there, let alone playing music! Right?"

"Unh huh..." What else do you say?

"So as I get closer, I can tell it's a bonefire. Now I got no idea what I'm walking into so I sneak closer and see a clearing in the woods. And do you know what I saw in that clearing???"
"Elves!" He said matter of factly. "And do you know what they were doing?!?"

I shook my head "no".

"Making peanut brittle!!! There were four elves playing the music I that had drawn me there! There were 3 big cast iron cauldrons and they were dancing and laughing around them stirring as they did! There were some other elves with little brass hammers breaking up the peanut brittle as it cooled. Then they loaded it into a wagon pulled by a moose!"

"Well that's something you don't see everyday!" I said,
no longer seeing ANY hope of this sale materializing! 

"I know," he said "well I got out of there right quick let me tell you!!! I didn't know what they'd do to me if they found out I knew the truth!!! You know, when I told the rest of the guys none of them believed me...
You believe me though, right?!?"

"Well you saw it with your own eyes right?"

"I did!" He said now confident I was on his side.

"You live around here?" I asked.

"Yeah, I live over at the hospital right now...because those guys I was with, they all think I'm nuts! But I know the truth now! I don't know why the elves are keeping it a secret they make peanut brittle...but I know what I saw!"

"Ahhhhhh, maybe the elves were making the peanut brittle for Santa?" I offered.

"Well now you're just being silly, there ain't no Santy Claus!"

The rest of the time he was in, he acted normal as can be...

I didn't see him again until that next spring.

When next he came in, there was no pretense of normalcy.
He had on a red children's cowboy hat, with the string to hold it on his head. A red western style shirt, under a kids black western vest with a plastic silver sheriff's star on the left breast. Jeans with a huge belt buckle on the belt, and white fur chaps! I shit you not!!! WHITE FUR CHAPS!!! And spurs on his cowboy boots!!!
Think Steve Martin in "Parenthood"!

He kept talking to his "Deputy" that evidently only he could see...

He wandered the store, just browsing. When he saw me he gave the brim of his hat a touch, and gave me a nod of recognition but didn't stop to talk.
As he was leaving one of the other salesmen came up to me, as we watched him walk out the door he said "You get a load of Tex there?"
"Yeah," I said "I've waited on him before...escapee from Clinton Valley"
"Who was he talking too?"
"His deputy 'Co-Tex'..." I said "Hey......You like peanut brittle?"

Be Well Folks!

Beastly Bear


  1. LOL!! Great stories!!! Couldn't help but think of Cuckoo's Nest!

    1. Thanks JoJo, he was just one of our repeat patients...we also had some other "colorful" characters that made regular appearances. Plenty of stories to mine from my time there!!!

  2. Joe, we read several of your Beastly Bears this weekend while we were driving around. This is by far our favorite. Anyone living in this area, in that era had a "Clinton Valley Day Passer" experience. When I worked in the food court at Summit Place Mall, there was a gentleman; probably 40ish at the time, that would walk around. He always had a certain dedication to his walk, like he was headed somewhere important! He carried a backpack on his back, and was usually adorned with a sony Walkman. He was always so kind and friendly stopping by to say hello, but the one thing I remember most is the dime store cologne he apparently bathed in; it would linger long after he walked away. To this day if I smell the smell of Old Spice I look around for him. Though he wasn't fortunate enough to have learned how Peanut Brittle was made, or at least he didn't share it if he had. There was seldom evidence that he was a "Day passer". He just walked. After de-institutionalization came along I would still see him walking in that area; and I know he took refuge in the cold at Summit Place for years. I often wonder what happened to those colorful characters that speckled the landscape of this area when the doors were finally shuttered at Clinton Valley. Great read Joe!
    Jenny Benny

    1. Reading and driving?!? Oh no!!! You be safe out there! Lol!
      Thanks Jen, hope you and Stanley had a nice weekend! I have to say I was kinda proud of this one, I was surprised it didn't get as many views as some other posts...each one is like one of my children, and I'm like " why didn't you like this one?" to the world at large.