"Which one, Jernigan?" my customer asked. Like a model on "The Price Is Right," he was holding up two variations on a pewter oil lamp. We were standing in the middle of Danforth Pewter on the Church Street Marketplace. The Danforth family, a plaque on the wall proclaimed, have been pewterers (yes, that's the term) since the late 1700s. "What do you think, man?" he pressed.
Andy had engaged me by the hour as a Burlington tour guide. As we traipsed around the downtown district, it became clear that the man was a shopaholic. Fortunately, he could well afford his habit. Besides, it's not like he was fleecing widows or mainlining crack cocaine. So give the guy a break, right?
"Gee, Andy," I replied, "I dunno what to tell you. They're both gorgeous pieces."
"You're absolutely right," he said and stepped over to the sales clerk at the register. Andy was short and stocky, with a clean-shaven cranium and carefully tended salt-and-pepper beard. "I'll take both. Can ya ship them to me?"
As we exited the store, a pretty girl ambled by in a summery mini-dress. Andy's eyeballs bugged out of his head. "Lord have mercy," he said. "I love 'em with the skinny legs. Never was a big breast guy."
His voracity, so publicly displayed, was startling and actually made me a little uncomfortable. This is one of those men, I thought, with big energy and a big appetite to match, reminiscent of a certain ex-president.
I had learned on the ride into town from The Inn at Essex that Andy was a man of major accomplishments that literally spanned the world. Among other positions, he'd served as Arizona's health commissioner and, before that, been director of the World Bank's Calcutta Health Project. He spoke of how impressed he had been reading about the "barefoot doctor" movement in rural China; when he was in Calcutta, he managed to train 20,000 health workers to serve the desperately poor of India. He went on to do similar public-health work in the slums of Jamaica. For the last couple of years, he'd been working as the dean of a newly established Arizona dental school.
As Andy spoke of his illustrious life, it didn't strike me as braggadocio; he seemed genuinely amazed at the things he'd done and the places he'd been, and his sense of wonder was infectious. It got me thinking, Man, I could do more with my life. His lust for skinny-legged women and pricy tchotchkes had clearly not impeded his career aspirations; it was all part of his oversized personality package.
Strolling Church Street, I suggested hitting the farmers' market, which was in full swing just around the corner. In addition to the fresh food in all its beckoning permutations, for the last few seasons the market has had a section for local artists and artisans. I wanted to introduce Andy to the popular Burlington artist dug Nap (that's how he spells his name). I had a feeling he wouldn't be able to resist dug's whimsical paintings. Spread the wealth, I figured.
The two men met, they schmoozed, and, the next thing I knew, dug was taking down Andy's vital info for shipment of an original piece. "You know," Andy said, a touch of guilt slipping into his voice as he turned to me and confided sotto voce, "I give away 95 percent of what I buy."
After a quick drive around the waterfront, the hill section and university, it was time for my customer to get back to the inn. He needed time to prepare for the keynote speech he was delivering later that night. As we cruised along the Circ Highway, I asked him about presiding over the Arizona Health Department.
"It was a blast," he said. "There were 35,000 employees and a $2 billion budget." Once again that sense of awe appeared, as if he were relating a fabulous dream. "But, you know, we all had fun. We fooled around in the office and laughed every day. I'm with your guys here in Vermont, you know, Ben and Jerry. What is it they say - if it's not fun, why do it?"
"I got to say, Andy, I'm impressed with your approach to life. You're making huge contributions left and right, but you seem to be having a terrific time on the journey. How do you do it? What's the method to your madness?"
"Thanks for that, man," he said. "I don't know. One thing might be my connection with Swami Satchidananda. I met him in 1970 and studied with him for a few years."
"Oh, yeah," I said. "I've heard of him. My sister studied yoga with the Swami in the '60s in New York City. He was one of the first Indian spiritual teachers to come to the West."
"Yes, he taught many things. I still do the meditation and say my prayers every morning. It keeps me, I think, in touch with the important things in life, what really matters. And, as the Swami said, it's all about serving others."
"Amen to that," I called out gospel-style to my seatmate.
Andy broke into a wide smile. "Amen, brother," came back his response.