John Carlson: Need a Cane? Then Get On The Stick

A cane lends any man a dapper air of sophistication. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonA cane lends any man a dapper air of sophistication. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

For reasons too boring to enumerate here, I recently reached that point in my life where – temporarily, at least – I need a cane.

In doing so, it struck me there were preparations to make.

The first was actually learning to walk with one, so I started practicing, clumping up and down our pathetic little shuffleboard court out back. Granted, early on I was flailing about like a spastic person, occasionally caning myself in the unmentionables. But within an hour or two, I pretty much got the whole “step, clump, step, clump” thing down.

My second, and more important task, was to embrace my new cane-carrier identity, so I Googled “people who use canes” for inspiration.

Soon I was marveling at the fact that colorful folks like Willy Wonka used a cane. Beautiful folks like Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have used canes. Even graceful Fred Astaire used one, though technically, I imagine that smooth mover needed a cane like I need to join the Hershey-Bar-of-the-Month Club.

Most impressive was the reminder that Winston Churchill – early aviator, the man who led Great Britain to victory in World War II and the winner, for crying out loud, of 1953’s Nobel Prize for Literature, of all things – used a cane.

Still, none of the above rang quite true for me until I remembered another cool dude, one from the Wild West, who used a cane.

Bat Masterson.

So yeah, I’m embracing Bat as my guru, cane-wise, because when I Googled him, it turned out we had so much in common. He was a newspaperman. I was a newspaperman. He was a columnist. I was a columnist. He was a buffalo hunter. I dig buffalo wings.

Unfortunately, Bat’s official Google bio didn’t mention canes, but the story about his 1960s cowboy show, appropriately named “Bat Masterson,” sure did, and rightly so. As I recall, Bat was a pretty snazzy dresser in the show, so I immediately vowed that when I walked around with my cane wearing my shorts and rubber Crocs, both my socks would be black.

Also as I recall, in a typical scene from the show, he’d be in the saloon grabbing some lunch when the cowpoke at the next table would ask, “May I borrow your ketchup, mister?” Then Bat, swinging his cane, would put a dent in the cowpoke’s forehead, saying something like, “You wanna borrow my mustard, too?”

As a cane user myself now, I had to admire that kind of chutzpah.

My true test came when, seeking liquid refreshment one day, I made a rare visit to The Fickle Peach. You could tell, as I clumped my way toward the bar with sort of a half-Bat Masterson, half-Pillsbury Doughboy swagger, that the other patrons were intimidated, seeing such a tough-looking customer wielding a cane and all.

“Want some popcorn?” owner Chris Piche asked.

So I bopped him on the forehead.

“Did I look like I wanted some popcorn?” I sneered.

OK, OK, that’s all baloney. I would never hit my dear friend Piche with a cane, I always want some popcorn, and as far as rare visits to The Fickle Peach go, if butt prints were like fingerprints, mine would have a perfect match on every barstool in the place.

But I must say, it felt pretty good walking in with my new cane’s steadying influence. Then there was the fact I could also use it to scratch hard-to-reach itches on my back, or to slide one of John Coers’ salmon-snack-cracker trays towards me, if some glutton down the bar was hogging it.

Walking out with my cane felt pretty good and steady, too.

What the heck. Life clumps on.



A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.