copyright © 2002 Clinton A. Johnston



Clinton A. Johnston


"Get ready. I’m going to tell you something that you’ll find completely unremarkable. Earlier this week, while performing his death-defying, trademark escape, The Three Elements of Death, The Great Yanni died at the age of 62.

"I’ll wait while you get off the floor.

"The reason you don’t care is you don’t know who The Great Yanni is. Unless you’ve been visiting McSweeney’s Traveling Extravaganza, a three-flea carnival that’s been making the rounds of rural Florida for the last fifteen years, you have no clue who The Great Yanni is. Excuse me, "was". Neither do you, in all likelihood, care.

"I certainly didn’t. I didn’t know this guy from Adam. And yet this morning, I come into work, and our asshole editor gives notice of Yanni’s no-longer greatness and tells me to do 500 words. ‘Cause, you see, that’s my job. I don’t know if you ever thought about it, but there’s someone who’s job it is to write these little obituaries that you read every month, and that someone is me. The thing is, I don’t just write a straight obituary like in a newspaper. No, no. I’ve got to make it hip and ironic. That’s the new tone our editor wants. Used to be, we were just a normal old rag about the paranormal. Ghosts. Psychics. Bigfoot-Yeti connections. Loch Ness. Crop Circles. You name it; we covered it in a little loopy but earnest way. We probably would’ve faded out too, but then came The X-Files and a gush of interest in non-logical phenomena. Suddenly more people were picking up our magazine, and in order to keep them, our publisher hired the Asshole. And the Asshole said the whole thing had to change. We had to be smart-ass and sarcastic and edgy.

"Now, I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know, how the obituary section could be sarcastic and edgy. The Asshole said find out, because that’s what the people want. And if the column couldn’t give people what they wanted, it was out, and so was I. So I wrote about sword swallowers who coughed at the wrong moment, ghost hunters who fell to their deaths while wearing their ectoplasmic spectacles, mediums who had heart attacks while contacting the dead. I quipped. I joked. And whaddya’ know … I hated it. I hated it, and you liked it. You liked it, and the Asshole asked for more of it. I like eating and living outside the trailer park so, I kept doing it. Ah, the wages of success.

"The Great Yanni is survived by a wife of 43 years named Elizabeta. They had three sons who all found death in our country’s military. I found Elizabeta inside a trailer park outside of Boca. Yanni, or Yanosch Kovolciewcz, as I found his name was, made next to nothing at the Extravaganza, but they let him do things his way. You see the thing you don’t know is Yanni was old school. His father was Milos the Magnificent, who was big when vaudeville was big and who taught his son escape secrets passed down from god-knows how many fathers before him. Yanosch never called them "illusions", he called them "escapes". And he never used trick locks or fake vests. He claimed all his feats were done with the help of voices from the spirit world telling him what to do. His big finale, The Three Elements of Death involved Yanosh being buried in dirt to his knees, chained, lowered upside down into a clear tank of water with huge chunks of ice floating in it. The tank, covered with an accelerant, was set on fire dramatically hiding the movements of the master inside. He did all this aided by one hooded figure who never left the stage, dressed like Death. May I remind you, he was 62.

"Of course, the one element missing was air. And your well-trained human being can go about four minutes without it before problems start to happen. After eight minutes, the assistant in a seeming panic would take a mallet and shatter the tank. Water spills. The fire goes out, and of course the tank is empty and much to the delight of the two to three people who are watching years of painstaking toil laid out in front of them, the figure dressed like Death removes his cloak to reveal himself as Yanosch. Another reminder, the assistant is in full view of the audience. He never leaves the stage. How did Yanosch do it? "Magic" he would say.

"Except there was no magic when last Thursday at five minutes to go, Yanosch suffered a stroke and drowned in his tank. And there was no magic in the small trailer with the even smaller Polish woman, the oldies station playing, and her marriage now a past thing like her sons and her fortune telling days and the majority of her life.

"I asked my questions, got basic bio, and then threw in one for the Asshole. I asked if Yanosch and his spirit voices had been on speaking terms that morning. Maybe there was a contract dispute that kept them from communicating. Then I asked if she, being a former medium, had planned on holding a séance with Yanosch. Perhaps he even had a posthumous quote for my article.

"She did not dignify me with a response at first. But then she softly said, "Ask him yourself." She put her hands on my face, and I saw … I saw their whole life together. I can’t explain how, but I saw every laugh; every fight; every moment, public and private; 43 years of a shared existence … and when she took her hands away … how do you describe a death? How do you describe that loss …? Well, let’s try this.

"Of the many things I saw, I saw the secret to the Three Elements of Death. There were no spirits, no keys frozen in the ice, no trap door, no cheats. The secret, very simply, is … something Yanosch could tell you himself were he here now. But he’s not. So, he can’t. And you will never know what this wonderful man could have told you.

"Earlier this week, while performing his death-defying, trademark escape, The Three Elements of Death, Yanosch Kolvolciewcz, a.k.a The Great Yanni died. He was 62 years old."

[Throw paper in face of editor in front of you.]

There’s you fucking story, Asshole.


"Yanni" debuted May 24, 2002, performed by Annaliese Moyer.

[Back to Library] Home