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The wizard's fix-all

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[Times photo: Jamie Francis]
Sol “Kash” Kashdan, whose latest occupation is wizard, continues marrying people, performing commitment and unity ceremonies in his St. Petersburg home.

By JEFF KLINKENBERG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 14, 2001


A self-proclaimed "fulfiller of dreams'' thinks marriages will last forever. It all comes down to three little words. No, not "I love you.''

ST. PETERSBURG -- Before I tell you about the life of Sol "Kash" Kashdan, and how he hopes to change the world -- make the world a better place for all of us -- I probably should talk about his beard.

If I don't talk about his beard first, you'll look at his photograph and you'll think, "Whoooa! Check out this old man's hippie beard!" The beard will distract you from the rest of the story. So let's just get the beard out of the way so we all can settle down.

All his life, Kash Kashdan was careful about grooming. He had a business to run and feared scaring off nervous customers. True, he had a penchant for cream-colored, baggy suits, though that's a story for another day. Anyway, his dear wife passed away and he retired. Now he could do what he wanted.

What he wanted was to grow a beard. Not an ordinary beard, though. Unlike most beards, his refuses to begin just under the lower lip. His snow-white avalanche starts at the very bottom of his chin and tumbles south about a foot. It's the basic billy goat look.

Or maybe something else.

Talk to Kash awhile and you understand.

Kash wanted to look like a wizard.

* * *

"What do you think? Should I be "Kash the Wizard' or "Kash the Kind Wizard'? A wizard can be good or bad. I think I favor Kash the Kind Wizard a little more. I want people to know right off I'm a kind wizard."

As the sign above his kitchen sink advises: "Think Big." In his lifetime, he has been a police officer, fishing boat captain, driving school instructor, philosopher, notary public, poet, songwriter and performer of colorful weddings. Now Kash is certain he has one more career in him.

Wizardom.

"Jeff!" he brays. Born in Brooklyn, Flatbush still on his tongue, he is one of those guys who begins most sentences with the name of whomever at that moment happens to be his captive audience. "Jeff! What do you think? I hope people don't think old Kash is nuts. But I want to make the world a better place. Why not? Why not Kash?"

Why not Kash indeed? At the age of -- well, none of your business -- he wants to be the Kind Wizard of Love.

* * *

June. Early morning. After midnight but before dawn. In fact, it is 3:30 a.m. Under the covers, Kash stirs. Eyes twitch. Body jerks. Perhaps his ZZ Top beard is abuzz with static electricity. Actually, I wasn't there. I'm only guessing what it must be like when the voice speaks to him.

The voice in his head tells him what to do. "No, God," he says to the voice. "Too early. Let Kash sleep." God persists. Kash sits, grabs a pencil and piece of paper and writes down the words.

PLEASE YOUR PARTNER.

* * *

"Jeff!" he shouts now. "Just think about it. Please Your Partner, they're the most three important words in the universe. Think of all those bad marriages. Think of the tragedy of divorces, Jeff. Jeff! Children abandoned. Families broken apart. All that selfishness. If every married person vowed to just please his or her partner, we would eliminate divorce. It sounds too easy to be true, I know. But Kash is onto something. I must be some kind of wizard."

He was married 52 happy years, which qualifies him as an authority. He knows about pleasing his partner, being kind and so on. He reaches behind his neck and scratches his back.

"I'm not scratching," he says. "I'm actually patting. Kash the kind wizard is patting himself on the back."

I need here to talk about how I came to know Kash. When we first met years ago, he was teaching people how to drive. One day I stopped at his office. I already knew how to drive, but I was curious about the other prominent sign in his window: I perform the best little wedding in the South. I didn't need a preacher, I needed a story, and a guy who can teach driving and perform weddings sounded interesting to me.

Kash and I had a great time together. What I liked was his full-blown eccentricity. Most people are careful about what they say and do. Too careful, if you ask me. But Kash just lived in the weird moment. He told me he had performed hundreds of weddings. And in four decades or so, he had taught about 8,000 people to drive. Stories? He had a million.

That day -- it was 1988 -- Kash told me to sit. "Cup of coffee? Soft drink? God bless you for being interested in Kash. I don't want to take up your time. But let me tell you one thing.

"Jeff! I would like you to say in your article one thing if you don't mind. I think you should call me "Kashdan, the fulfiller of dreams.' Do you know what I mean? Every student of mine has a dream, the dream of learning how to drive! They come to me, very raw, and it's my pleasure to make him or her a safe, legal driver."

Kash stood up that day, got close enough to kiss me. He was, and is, one of those close talkers.

"Forgive me if it sounds like bragging, but I am kind and I am patient. I know many people who are kind, but patience is more difficult. Look what it says on my business card."

It said: Learn to Drive With Kind and Patient Kashdan Driving School.

Kash told me about the teenagers who learned to drive after only three lessons and the widows who took longer. During their bad marriages, their mean husbands would jerk the steering wheel away from them and call them stupid because they couldn't get the hang of driving. Hubby died, and now it was up to Kash to teach them, with kindness and patience, and he did.

Kash retired from teaching after his arthritis got so bad he had to spend hours in a wheelchair. At least he had his wedding business to fall back on. Even now people see his name in the Yellow Pages and give him a holler.

Not long ago, he drove to the Don CeSar resort in his 1978 Ford Galaxy to perform a marriage. He showed up a little before midnight, as per instruction, wearing his bathing suit. He crept into the gulf with the bride and groom and their 25 guests and conducted what he described as a dignified ceremony.

"I love you," the bride and groom said to each other.

As the water lapped his waist, Kash told them, " "I love you' are nice words. But they are not the best words. The best words are PLEASE YOUR PARTNER."

This is probably as good a time as any to put down in the newspaper Kash's philosophy just as he wrote it down for me.

* * *

RX for a long married life,

with love and happiness forever!!!

You should inject into your lifestyle

Compromise. Devotion. Dedication.

Communication.

Your partner should be your Temptation!!

Tell your partner why you love, care and need them.

Feel, touch, hold, massage.

Be a mensch! Not a schmuck!

* * *

"Voila!" Kash says. "It works."

Kash is no marriage counselor, of course. He lacks a college education. He received his only degree from a correspondence school. He blushes that a Jewish boy from Brooklyn is a certified minister.

"They said to me, "Kash, send us the money and we'll make you a minister.' "

It looks good on his resume when people are searching for someone to perform a ceremony. Most take place in his modest home, in his modest living room, a living room full of corny knickknacks, including a 10-foot pole -- the 10-foot pole nobody, ha ha, wants to touch Kash with. Laughter, he says, makes the world a better place. And it gets a marriage off to a fine start.

When he hears the bride and groom arrive, he wheels himself to his tape deck and hits the on button. The Wedding March begins as he throws open the door.

Doorbell rang on the third Saturday in August.

Kash peeked out.

"We want to get married," the man said.

"When?" asked Kash.

"Right now," the bride-to-be said. "We're eloping. We have to catch a plane in 90 minutes for Vegas."

They stood under the paper bell in Kash's living room and he declared them man and wife. But for how long will they remain true? A long time, he likes to think, if each one pleases his partner.

He misses his Marian. She was a beautiful brunette. She was his secretary and friend and lover and wife. They brought two wonderful sons into the world. In 1987, she felt weak and sick. Leukemia. May she rest in peace.

He had her cremated and scattered the ashes at sea. Whenever he visits the beach, he thanks her for being a wonderful wife. Then he cries.

She still inspires him. The other morning he was frying eggs and a piece of fish for breakfast when he started humming. Voila! Kash the kind wizard had written the first song of his life in 35 seconds, Infinity of Love.

He finds it easier to write poetry. Poetry, like his other great thoughts, arrives in the middle of the night. It's like he's a radio, plucking invisible signals from the cosmos.

"Jeff! I don't want to take up your time. But can I read one poem?"

Sure.

"Jeff! I love you for asking. Here goes."

* * *

Please listen to 23 minutes with Kash.

Most everything is great

But some are trash.

* * *

"I'm not going to read the whole thing. I know you're a busy man. Want to hear another one?"

Saved by the telephone.

"Yes. Yes. No, I don't speak Spanish," he barks into the mouthpiece. "Yes, I do talk Spanish. Si, Si. That was a joke. That's all the Spanish I know. No, I won't do a wedding in Tarpon Springs even for 90 dollars. Too far to drive. No, I can't recommend anyone else. I'm the best. I do the best little wedding in the South. Drive to my house."

Kash, who says he's a healthy guy, mentions Ronald Reagan. "Poor SOB can't recognize anyone anymore. That won't happen to Kash. My mind never stops working."

Even kind wizards get tired. St. Petersburg's very own looks sleepy from all the talking. But 40 winks will have to wait.

"Jeff, I've got to go over to the cemetery first. My Pop is there. Samuel Kashdan. He was a dressmaker in the garment district in New York City. Lived to be 93. Died in this house. I make my supper and take it to the cemetery and talk to him at his grave.

"I have to shout at him. He can't hear so good. "Pop! It's Kash. Things quiet down there! What the hell you living in a dead neighborhood for?' My pop liked to laugh.

"And you know, he talks to me. The other day, he said to me, "Kash, reap the harvest.' I said, "What do you mean reap the harvest?' My pop said, "You're a wizard! You have all these wise thoughts about how to save people from divorces and save families. Do a newsletter. Maybe people will donate a few bucks for the newsletter. Reap the harvest! Reap the harvest! Reap the harvest!' That's exactly what Pop said.

"Jeff, what do you think of me doing a newsletter? What the world needs now is love."

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