Photo by Chad Crawford

Could Be a Spoonful of Life

Jason “Shakes” Hostetler has a firm grip on true success

Spoons. It’s all about the spoons. If you approach Jason “Shakes” Hostetler (heretofore known as Shakes) and ask him what was most important to him, that would be it: spoons. Forget the 10 years tending the back door at The 5 Spot, forget the filmmaking and Not So Steady Cam Productions, forget the nascent standup comedy career, all that matters, in the end, are the spoons, and getting them into the hands of those most in need of them.

Sitting at the bar in the back of said 5 Spot, Shakes has his laptop set up on the counter plugged into its charger. This, as much as any other place, is his office. Since most people enter the club through the front, he’s not exactly confronted with a lot of work to do. Long-haired, genial, and with the kind of beard where if he shaved it, he’d still look the same, he demonstrates one of the spoons. If you haven’t figured out yet, this is no ordinary spoon. The same digital gyroscope that keeps your phone screen reading straight up no matter how you hold it is at work in the handle of this spoon, which looks a bit like a lunar command module. No matter how you shake your hand or jostle the handle back and forth, the spoon stays level and stable, spilling not a drop, were it to have anything in it. If you have cerebral palsy, as Shakes does, and your hands shake, as his do, this spoon is a gift from heaven. At last, a spoon that will transport chicken soup to your mouth without much of it getting on the table or onto your shirt. It’s odd and intriguing to watch. No matter how the handle is shaken, the spoon sits in serenity: flat in relation to the Earth.

“Now check out this one,” says Shakes, laying down that spoon and picking up another. “This one is going to blow your mind.” This one has an even bigger rocket ship handle, a Saturn V comes to mind, and Shakes holds it out horizontally. “Now dig this,” he says. He turns the spoon from holding it horizontally to vertically, and as he moves the handle, the spoon itself counters every bit of the motion, staying level, until the handle is completely vertical, but the spoon is bent at ninety degrees from it, still straight across, holding a bite of virtual cereal.
It looks like a magic trick, or something out of Star Wars, but it’s for real. The handle moves; the spoon doesn’t. And you can try to futz with it and fool it as much as you want, swivel it this way and that, and the spoon will still be smarter than you. So, if you have cerebral palsy, or anything else that might make your arms tend to draw up to your sides, bent at the elbow, this spoon is a godsend, a ticket to more independence, and less food on the floor.

“This is the most important thing in my life,” Shakes enthuses, “getting these spoons into the hands of those who need them. Before filmmaking, before anything, these spoons are my life’s work.” So how many spoons have you given to people? “Eighteen!” he says.

His own first spoon was a gift, when noteworthy figures in the East Nashville community ponied up to purchase it for him. After getting it, he stopped off on the way home to buy some milk and Frosted Flakes, and had the most, shall we say, triumphant bowl of cereal one might could imagine. Suddenly, he could eat green peas, and so many other things that had been pretty much wiped off (or perhaps shaken off) his menu. And the spoon portion is detachable from the handle, so if you need a fork, you can make the switch. (You think with this technology they wouldn’t think of the fork?)

Before giving away 18 spoons doesn’t sound like a lot to you, consider that each of these spoons, complete with charger and carrying case, costs $330 with tax and everything. That’s very American, isn’t it? Make a product that millions without means can use — Huntington’s Chorea sufferers, people with post-stroke deficits, or spinal injuries — and then price it out of their consideration.

Hence, Shakes puts on benefit shows, such as the “Spoons of Diamond” show, a Neil Diamond tribute with all the profits going to buy such utensils for people in need. Coming soon is a Neil Young tribute to be called “Harvest Spoon.” There is a GoFundMe page that has raised $2770 so far. And most recently, a crucial sponsorship from CBD product mainstay LabCanna, which will help many other people get spoons.

“Last year when I did the Spoons of Diamond show, I had to pay the band, production fees, the cost of putting on a show,” Shakes says. “LabCanna has stepped in and they’re going to relieve me of all those costs. That way every dime I raise can go towards the actual spoons. This partnering is my equivalent to getting a record deal here in Nashville.

“That meeting the other day was life-changing. I know of children who fed themselves for the first time with the spoons I gave them.”

This is all revelatory stuff to the author, who’s grandfather could only have a third of a cup of coffee at a time because otherwise he would shake hot liquid all over the table, who’s mother’s hands shook so bad she couldn’t sign Christmas cards, so she’d roll the card into the typewriter roller and type “Love, Mom & Dad”, and whose own tremors have started, making difficult work of threading a guitar string.

Shakes, 44, came from Memphis to East Nashville 17 years ago, his mind and heart set on filmmaking. “What started it all” he says, “was my plan to go into audio recording. But because of my palsy, I did not have the physical ability to play music. But I went to recording school at Memphis State and they required two film classes. I never looked back. I got a degree in film and that became my medium.” He has produced a fair dozen short subjects over the years, one of which, Scenes From a Velvet Rope, can be seen on YouTube under the handle, “Not So SteadyCam.” Shakes has also worked as a production assistant on many major-market films over the years, including The People Vs. Larry Flynt.

The big kahuna project right now is the documentary, Mary Martin: Music Maven. Martin is a bit of a Zelig, being everywhere at once from the swinging ’60s on. “Mary worked for Albert Grossman (Dylan’s manager) back in the ’60s,” Shakes says. “She’s the person who signed Emmylou Harris to her first contract, convinced Leonard Cohen to start recording music and Cohen recorded his demo in her bathtub in New York. She’s credited for being the catalyst for putting Bob Dylan and The Band together and bringing Keith Urban here from Australia. She managed Van Morrison and Rodney Crowell. She’s a Grammy winner, and that just scratches the surface.

“But in 1992 she was the victim of a completely random crime. Someone broke into her home that she still lives in on the West Side, tied her up, and spent hours and hours sexually assaulting her. They got the guy, he went to prison, and she became an activist for survivor’s rights. She’s the reason the State of Tennessee has videoconferencing [with crime victims participation] during parole hearings. She’s just a strong woman.”

Shakes came on board as a co-producer of the documentary after it was already in production by former Channel 17 broadcaster Mikayla Lewis’ company,  Be Reel. The film is on schedule for release this fall.

Shakes speaks in a tremulous voice, like someone who might have just been crying. It’s a bit halting, like a slight stutter, but it only serves to highlight his capable mind and creative bent. Aside from the voice and the constant little movements he makes, there’s little that would give him away as having any sort of ailment. He works at The 5 Spot four or five nights a week. Wednesday is his sacred night off. It’s when he shoots pool. (Yes, a man with dicey cutlery chops can grab onto a pool cue and sink two solids in a row with no problem.) Once a month or so, he does stand-up comedy at the Radio Cafe.

“I’ve done some open mics here and there,” he says, “at least once a month at the Radio Cafe. A friend of mine put something together called the East Vaudevillian, and instead of being at a writers in the round, or a comedy open mic, you get six minutes on stage to do whatever you want. So, there’s been comedy, we’ve shown a film trailer, there’s been a fire twirler, and of course in Nashville there’s the singer-songwriters, but it’s definitely a fun night.”

When pressed for his comedic influences, he offers, “I’m a George Carlin and Richard Pryor guy. But more recently I’ve loved David Cross. Josh Blue is a big inspiration for me. He won Last Comic Standing I think the first year, and he also has cerebral palsy. I’m kind of hesitant to say, but he and I both make fun of how it works as much as we can, but there’s the observation of life through that lens, which is definitely different than the average person would see.”

Asked for some nugget of perception only a person in his position would think of, he says, “Always put a lid on your coffee cup!” After a beat, he goes on. “You know, the best way to put that would be not everything’s easy, and even the simple things may not be that simple, but it’s really not that big of a deal. You got this. There’s always a speed bump and you just can’t let it slow you down.”

And the bumps have never slowed Shakes down. As he self-awarely proclaims in his comedy routine, “I can’t stop moving!”