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The Museum of Small Wonders

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A NOVEL IN FIVE PARTS

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July 18, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The third week of July, 2014
Weather shift from clear and hot to foggy and cool, with promise of showers.

Note: This is the last journal posting for a couple of weeks – my website shaman is going on vacation, and that’s a good plan for me, as well.
Meanwhile, I expect I’ll put some photos and small items on my Facebook page
from time to time to stay in touch.

THE MUSEUM OF SMALL WONDERS

What comes to mind when you read the word museum?
The great treasure-filled bank vault collections of art and history found in cities like Paris or New York or London or Vienna or Athens?
That’s where all the big-deal good-stuff is kept on view.
The long past becomes the immediate present in those museums.

The lesser museums of the world are also worthy attractions.
Especially ones in small towns – collections based on local pride and history.
The Mining and Railroad Museum of Helper, Utah is a favorite of mine.
As is the Rodeo Cowboy Museum in Pendleton, Oregon. 

I’m partial to the little private roadside museums – accumulations of human squirrely-ness and single-minded eccentricity.
One guy with focused imagination or an obsession to share with the world.

“Yep, that’s the biggest hairball ever cut out of a cat . . .”
“This really is the largest collection of two-headed lizards in the world. . .”
“This whole house is made of glass bottles and hockey pucks.”

In that spirit I have created several personal museums in recent years.

For example, there was The Museum of the Pleasures of the Hand.
An assortment of small objects I like to hold and touch and feel.
The criteria for each item:
- it must have a small-scale tactile pleasure – finger friendly
- either be hand-made or a natural item
- must be from my own random selection of stuff
- no more than 10 objects - must fit together into a wooden cigar box.
I gave the box to my wife, said “close your eyes and feel around.”
She was pleased.
The museum was only open for an hour one evening.
You’ve probably got the makings of a museum like that.

Once there was The Museum of Shades of Green.
A spring collection of small samples of green things in as wide a range of colors I could find on an hour’s walk.
Tiny green buds from plants, several chunks of moss, spears of grass, first leaves of trees – so many unique shades of green that I filled my hands and pockets and was home in half an hour, the green spread out on the kitchen table.
This museum closed in a few days.
It had quickly become The Museum of Shades of Brown . . .

There was The Museum of the Sidewalk’s Edge – that was a collection of small objects picked from either side of a sidewalk in Seattle on an hour’s walk.

And the Museum of the End of Fall – containing a collection of the last colored leaves from trees and plants and flowers before they went bare for winter.
That was open only for a day because the leaves quickly became
The Museum Of Dried and Shriveled Remains of Beauty.

There was the Museum of the Dry Wash – small sticks and stones and bones picked from a nearby creek bed in Utah where they had been tumbled down and shaped smooth by flood waters from rainstorms.

One of the best was the Smell Museum – items collected near my house in the high desert Canyon-lands country of Utah.
Placed in a paper bag – things that smell good – juniper bark, sage leaves, a sliver off a broken incense cedar branch, a chunk of pinon pine resin, and two distinctly different samples of fresh, damp dirt scooped up after a rain.
The rule was not to look inside the bag but only to use your sense of smell, which so often gets overcome by what we see.
It was a pot-pouri of nose music.

I’ve another museum, but it’s invisible.
One’s mind is a museum, is it not?
With an ever-changing exhibition.
The Museum of My Mind and Imagination – is a collection of items that cannot be seen or touched or picked up or smelled.
Most of the items never existed in the real world outside my brain.
On a quick walk through one of the rooms just now, I noticed recent acquisitions such as these:

A slice of the bread of life .

The sound of the sigh of relief after knowing that throwing up is over with.

A round trip ticket to ride on a train of thought.

Dame Fortune’s forwarding address..

An echo of the sound of silence.

A sample of the color of grass on the other side of the fence.

The ribbon around a fresh, unopened box of August.

You can imagine.
And consider the museum in your mind.

This summer I’ve been collecting pieces for an exhibition in
The Museum of Small Wonders.
It opens today.
These are small items I’ve noticed in my morning walks, picked up, and wondered: What is that?
How did it get here?
What unknown person or creature does it connect me to?
I wonder . . .

I’ve posted photographs on my Facebook page for you to see the exhibit. 
There’s also a picture of another Museum of the Green in progress.
(http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum)

Admittedly this is small-scale wonder.
Not on the level of Wonder and Awe –( almost one word: wonderandawe)
Not deep and wide or in the realm of amazement, astonishment or the works of Almighty God or The Everlasting What’s-It’s-Name.
Small-scale wonder is a product of simple-minded questioning:
What the hell is that?
If it fits into my pocket, it goes in the exhibition.

The number of possible small-scale museums is infinite.
It’s a matter of how you look at your accumulated stuff.
All you have to do is look – pay attention – and wonder will come to you.

Consider:
Our homes, dresser tops, bathrooms, kitchen pantries, photo albums - and the collections of used wrapping paper and ribbon, old Christmas cards, the drawers of mysterious odds and ends, as well as the vast accumulations in our memory bank.
All small-scale museums.

In a big-deal big-city museum a solemn serious atmosphere prevails – not unlike visiting a mausoleum or a cemetery. Shh…..please. . .
Never have I heard laughter in such a museum – the guards would ask you to calm down or leave.

But in the smaller museums of the daily life, comedy abounds.
Check your own closet, your own shoe collection, your underwear drawer, your purse or wallet, or your kid’s backpacks, the trunk of your car . . .
Or shake out and collect the contents of your children’s pockets for a week.
Maybe you won’t laugh, but the rest of us probably would.

Granted, there’s not a lot of awe here.
But there’s enough to wonder about.
Enough for a Museum of Small Wonders.
And the admission is free.

link to this story




July 14, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The second week of July, 2014
Clear skies, hot afternoons, full moon

Summer reaches its high arc of full fecundity in mid-July.
In the Ballard Sunday market the last cherries have been lapped by blueberries.
Local sweet corn is in, and tomatoes abound.
Delicate sweet peas and iris have been shouldered aside by muscular sunflowers.
The smell of great heaps of newly cut lavender graced the air.
Salmon and crab are in full supply.
The feast is on.

A backward look at the week just past:
My National Association of Elementary School Principals experience in Nashville was electric with upbeat energy.
I like being around kindergarten kids because they have such positive attitudes –
“Yes I can” is their motto.
And I like their teachers and principals because they carry the viral form of “Yes I can” all their lives.

The outgoing president of the organization brought her 94 year old kindergarten teacher to honor onstage, and the lady was eager to get the fuss-and-bother over with because she had a date to play tennis.
Really?
Yes, she can.

SNAPSHOTS IN SUMMER LIGHT

1. It’s been hot in Seattle – inspiring me to make an emergency afternoon run to the corner store for ice cream.
Outside the store stood a huge St. Bernard dog – the kind you could ride or eat or send for help in an emergency.
Big dogs usually make me nervous – having been chewed up by a German Shepherd when I was a kid.
But St. Bernards are comforting to be around.
A dog that specializes in bounding through snow to provide brandy to a weary traveler is a good dog to know – my kind of dog.

This one was anxiously peering in the store door at his owner.
The owner came out with two Dove bars – vanilla ice cream coated with dark chocolate.
He offered one to the dog.
The dog took it in one bite – all but the stick.

“Isn’t chocolate bad for dogs – and ice cream, too?” I asked.
Placing a finger across his lips, the owner said:
“Shhh, don’t tell him. He doesn’t know.”

Dogs don’t actually smile.
But this one did.

* * *

2. A red pickup truck drove by as I was on my way home.
Driven by a grey-haired lady.
The bumper sticker on the back said:
DO NO HARM, TAKE NO CRAP.

* * *

3. Three passengers just off a cruise ship came struggling up the hill from the terminal – dragging their rollaboards behind them.
A chunky middle-aged man.
And his chunky middle-aged wife.
And her chunky middle-aged mother.
The women looked like twins – one much older than the other.
The women were wearing matching T-shirts that said:
CRUISE ALASKA.
The man’s T-shirt said:
VIRGIN ISLANDS HOLIDAY.

Huffing and puffing to catch his breath, the man said:
“Martha, that was the dumbest idea you ever had.”
The mother and daughter looked at each other and then at the husband.
They rolled their eyes in unison.
They didn’t say it.
But an Alaska cruise was clearly not Martha’s dumbest idea..

* * *

4. Life messages from oblique angles:

At the supermarket check-out counter coin return:
PLEASE ACCEPT YOUR CHANGE.
(I do.)

On the top of a mayonnaise jar:
KEEP COOL – DON’T FREEZE.
(I will.)

On a dry cleaner’s window:
WE SPECIALIZE IN ALTERATIONS FOR MEN.
(Sign me up - I have a little list.)

* * *

5. Sign on my tango teacher’s refrigerator:
LIFE IS ALWAYS STORMY – LEARN TO DANCE IN THE RAIN.

* * *

6. Conversation between two women - overheard while sitting on a bench at a nearby park:
“Are you two still together?”
“Hard to say. Ed is like a screw with stripped threads – he’s still in place, but serves no useful purpose in my life.”

* * *

7. Conversation at a donut stand at the farmer’s market.
“Are those donuts?”
“No, they’re baby elephant seeds – how many do you want?”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
The vendor looked hard at the very heavy lady customer.
He kept his mouth shut, but smiled.
You know he’s thinking that, in the lady’s case, the seeds are working.

* * *

8. Story sent to me today by a friend:

A Seattle man departed for his vacation in Miami Beach, where he was to meet his wife the next day.
They were looking forward to pleasant weather and a nice time together.

Unfortunately, there was some sort of mix up at the boarding gate, and the man was told he would have to wait for a later flight.
He tried to appeal to a supervisor but was told the airline was not responsible for the problem and it would do no good to complain.

Upon arrival at the hotel the next day, he discovered that Miami Beach was having a heat wave.
The desk clerk gave him a message that his wife would arrive as planned.
He sent his wife an e-mail, but due to his haste, he made an error in the e-mail address.

His message arrived at the home of an elderly Baptist preacher’s wife whose husband had died only the day before.
When the grieving widow opened her e-mail, she took one look at the monitor, let out an anguished scream, and fainted.
Her family rushed to her room where they saw this message on the screen:

“Dearest wife,

Departed yesterday as you know.
Just now got checked in.
Some confusion at the gate.
Appeal was denied.

Received confirmation of your arrival tomorrow.

Your loving husband.

PS - Things are not as we thought.
You’re going to be surprised at how hot it is down here”

Warm Regards
Fred”

* * *

There.
Enough lightness on a summer’s day.

link to this story




July 06, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The first week of July, 2014
Cool nights, cloudy mornings, sunny afternoons.

This week I will be a keynote speaker at the annual convention of the National Association of Elementary School Principals in Nashville, Tennessee.
Around two thousand attendees.
It’s an honor to have been invited.
Because these are very important people.
And I feel a heavy responsibility to say something meaningful and useful.

The occasion has been much on my mind.
Here’s my plan:
I’ll begin with a story – and end with how it applies to them.
And, perhaps, to you . . .

CROSSING GUARDS

“Would you like to use my feet? My shoes are twelve inches long.”
An offer I made to three girls across the street from me who were absorbed in measuring the distance from a sign to a parked truck.

The girls were fifth graders - safety patrol members in charge of the elementary school crosswalk at the corner nearest my house.
Crossing guards.
“Yes,” they shouted in chorus, and one of them raised her red “STOP” flag and escorted me safely over to the scene of a possible crime.

Here’s the situation:
A sign on a tall post on the corner says: “No Parking Within 30 Feet.”
A pick-up truck with a construction company’s logo on it was parked closer than the girls think it should be.
The girls are empowered to report the license numbers of any vehicles breaking the law while they are on duty – usually those driving too fast or not stopping for children.
It’s been a slow morning, and the only opportunity for the girls to exercise their authority concerns this parked truck.
And it is not an incidental issue.
Because the truck does somewhat block their view of oncoming traffic.

What to do?
Get help from the old guy who offered – see what he can contribute.

If you’d been a witness to this you would have seen me carefully walking the curb, foot-in-front-of-foot, from sign to pick-up.
And sure enough, the truck was twenty-seven feet away from the sign.
“Busted!”
One girl, the sergeant in charge, has her pad and pencil at the ready.
The driver of the truck is going to jail.

Wait – not so fast – the girls are not in agreement.
What will happen to the guy if they turn him in?
Will he really be arrested and taken to jail?
Is three feet over the line really such a crime?
Does “thirty feet” mean exactly thirty feet or somewhere around thirty feet?

And there may be mitigating circumstances.
“My mom parks in places like this all the time.”
“Maybe he’s somebody’s dad.”
“Maybe he’ll be right back and we can talk to him.”
“Yeah, maybe just warn him about not doing it again.”
“But the law is the law and he’s broken the law.”
“Yeah, but only by three feet.”
“Besides, it’s almost time to go to class – maybe he’ll be gone when we come back.”
“Does it really matter?”

They did not ask my advice.
And I didn’t want them to ask.
On their own they were sorting out elementary issues of human community. That’s why they are in elementary school.
Underneath the specific issue lay the fundamental ones:
What is right?
What is wrong?
What is the law?
What is justice?
And what part should mercy play in figuring out the equation?
They were not leaving until they decided what to do.

I quietly eased around the corner and went on my way - out of sight and, I hoped, out of mind.
They were doing just fine by themselves.
They didn’t need me, only my big feet.
And only then because they wanted to establish some objective facts.
Good on them.

What did they decide?
I don’t know.
They and the truck were gone when I came back half an hour later.

But I do know that how they were deciding what to do was admirable - using their minds to figure out the best thing to do, all things considered.
They could have ignored the infraction and gone to class.
But they knew their job and accepted the responsibility.

I went home feeling that their corner of the world was in very good hands.

All too soon they will confront conflicts around serious security issues, drug and alcohol use, sexual experience, women’s health rights, guns, and political leadership.

I trust they will continue to do what they did this morning – get the facts and use their minds in a collaborative way in the name of justice.
Their task will remain the same: make a judgment and act on it - knowing that it’s never simple or easy.

If I could have said anything to them I would have pointed out that they, like the driver of the truck, were in the construction business – responsible for building and maintaining a just world, one small decision at a time.
Taking good care of their corner.
Elementary.

And as to the question: “Does it matter?’
Yes, it matters a great deal.

That’s not the end of my story.
The next morning I was downtown at 10 on a mission.
Go to Nordstrom’s Department Store – get new socks and undershorts.
An annual event for me – resupply.
Get in, buy, get out and go home before downtown gets busy.

At an intersection I looked both ways – no traffic coming.
So I charged off the curb to cross the street.
Despite the red light and a “Don’t Walk” signal . . .

On the corner opposite me was a family - all dressed in green T-shirts.
Mother, father, two little girls.
“Cheese-heads from Wisconsin” said the shirts – tourists.
The older of the two girls – 11 or 12 years old - a fifth grader –
had her arms folded across her chest and her eyes focused on me.
Her look of disapproval hit me like a flaming arrow to my chest.
Busted! - #!&%$#! – sigh . . .
Clearly a crossing guard – a cheese-head from out of town, no less.

Miss Wisconsin had carried her sense of responsibility from her corner by the school to this intersection – to this corner of the world.
Which is exactly what elementary education hopes will happen.

And here I was - a full grown, older man, ignoring the red stop light.
As if it didn’t apply to me because I was in a hurry.
I felt so awkwardly ashamed.

Now I was the cheese-head in the deal.
Sheepishly, I went back to wait on the curb – head hanging down.
I couldn’t even look at her when we passed in the middle of the street.

But as we passed, she said, “Hey!”
And I looked over to see her smiling, giving me a thumbs-up sign.
Leaving me admonished and blessed all at once.
She knew her responsibility – I had forgotten mine.

End of story? Not really.
I’m still telling it.

* * *
So.
After that, I’ll tell the Principals some more tales from an outsider’s observations of their profession.
In conclusion, I will say something like this:

I began with a story familiar to you – about three girls – crossing guards.
That story is about you, as well.
As the principal of an elementary school, you, too are a crossing guard.

You are responsible for that place where kids cross over from being little children to being young people.
From being rookies to being real players in the great game of life.

When they step off the curb they cannot read or write or count.
They know nothing about human history or the Social Contract.
Theirs is an innocent self-absorption.
They come to learn the basics and to be civilized.

By the time they leave your care, they will be able to read, write, and count.
Moreover, they will have learned how to use computers and smart phones.
They will have astonishing access to the World.
They will know a lot more about a lot of things – more than you – because they have more curiosity and time and access to the world wide web than you ever did growing up.

What you will have is the astonishing responsibility to make certain that the
rookies are well grounded in the fundamentals of social responsibility.
Because they will learn that they must go beyond self-concern to concern for the human enterprise or society falls apart.

All those notions I once put into the essay, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten apply.
Share, don’t hit, clean up your own mess, and all the rest of that.
They are not simple ideas.
We just use simple words to introduce them to children.
As they grow up, they will come to understand that these are the elementary building blocks of civil society.

Under your care, these elementary necessities will be taught.
Under your care, little children will become citizens.
Under your care, they will come to understand how very essential it is that they take good care of their corner of their world, however small or large.

You are the guardian of their crossing over from innocence to awareness -from being a passenger to being a responsible driver in the traffic of human affairs.

Nothing shapes the future of humankind as much as what happens to human beings in elementary school.
Nobody has more power or responsibility or authority in making sure this is done well than you and the teachers guarding the crossing with you.

Yours is an awesome task.
Sometimes it must seem overwhelming.
When I consider the requirements of your job I wonder how you do it.
You must wonder sometimes, too.
But you do it, anyhow.

You are busy making plans for the coming school year.
Keep this in mind this summer:
Martin Luther King made a difference – not because he had a plan.
Because he had a dream.
About the world and the way it could and should be.
Elementary school is where that dream begins to be realized.
Under your stewardship.
Yours is not a job – it’s a profession – a sacred calling.

That’s why I say it’s such an honor to be in your company.
That’s why I was pleased to come a long way just to thank you for taking care of your corner of our world.
Please continue.

* * *

That’s the gist of what I’ll say to the Elementary School Principals.
What’s this have to do with you?
Well, you, too, are a crossing guard.
Kids look to grownups for confirmation that what they are being taught in school applies to the world outside school.

Remember the little girl I told you about in the beginning.
The one who said, “My mom parks in places like this all the time?”
Whatever we say, the rookies watch what we do.
And we watch each other.

Every time one of us come to an intersection – a place of crossing –
we affirm or deny the elemental commitment to take care of our corner of the world – not by what we say should be done, but by what we really do.
Do your best.

link to this story




June 27, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The last week of June in 2014
Cool nights, cloudy mornings, showers, sunny afternoons.

How long since I owned and rode a bicycle?
Too many years to count.
But Seattle has become a major bike town – biking is pervasive.

So I’m thinking . . .
A bicycle would extend the range of my daily walks.
(Not that I want to go fast or far or long.
Slow and near and awhile is my style.)
And it might promise something to look forward to . . .

An event of a week ago – Saturday, June 21, prompted a plan.
A long-range plan.
A plan in keeping with part of my personal mission statement:
To not miss out on chances to experience foolish, harmless, and simple-minded joy as long as I live.

BICYCLE SEX

Did that essay title provoke your prurient interest?
Do you know what your prurient interest is?

A sample definition:
“Marked by or arousing an immoderate or unwholesome interest; especially marked by, arousing, or appealing to sexual desire.
Having, inclined to have, or characterized by lascivious or lustful thoughts or desires involving sex and nudity”.

Pretty harsh stuff.
On the other hand . . .
There is no word that I know of that is an antonym to prurient.
“Unsexy” is the closest I could find.
There is no simple, positive word for having a healthy, normal, sane response to the unclothed human body, nudity or nakedness - and a healthy, normal, sane response to sex.
But there should be.

And that’s what I’m writing about.
That, and bicycles.

(Hang with me, this will make sense sooner or later.)

Once upon a time . . . say fifty years ago, if you said “Fremont” to someone in Seattle it would provoke images of a working-class community on the north bank of the ship canal.
Fremont meant Scandinavians, logging, lumber mills, fishing boats, salmon, Lutherans, boat yards and marine services, bars and cafes.

However . . .
The tree supply ran out, the mills closed, and fishing collapsed.
Fremont began to gentrify – the young, artistic, and hip moved in.
In 1989 a small group of residents in the neighborhood organized a solstice celebration to mark the beginning of summer.
The first parade was pretty hokey - only three blocks long - but the spirit was contagious and the celebration soon caught on – featuring a street fair, creative floats, musicians - and above all, wild costumes – for those in the parade and as well as the spectators.

One year in the early nineties the event was streaked by a small group of young men riding bicycles stark naked through the parade.
The crowd loved it.
But the police, City Council, and some religious clerics did not.
There was an uproar.
And an even larger uproar in response.
The supporters of naked bicycle riding in the parade prevailed.
The dogs barked, but the caravan moved on.

Now, the word “Fremont” conjures up The Fremont Solstice Parade, featuring naked bicycle riders.
100,000 spectators turned out this year to see them, applaud them, and cheer them on as they led off the parade.
There were more than a thousand riders.
Actually, only a few were truly naked – the rest were very lightly clad.
With a thin layer of body paint.

You have to see it to believe it.
So, see it – and believe it.
I submit three links for your consideration – one of the bikers, one of the bikers getting painted up before the parade, and one of the parade itself.
These are only a few of the many videos available, as you will see.
Take a look before reading on.
Be sure to look beyond the cyclists at the faces of the spectators.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ku8WZcnH3MU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2010AxxgrY 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdE9mkfsYj4 

Did what you viewed provoke your prurient interest?
Did you feel sexually aroused, lustful, or shameful?
Probably not.
I hope not.
I hope you were delighted and amused and inspired.

It’s my guess that your response was more likely along these lines:
“I’ve got to go to that parade sometime.” or
“Those people are having a hell of a good time.” or even
“I’d like to be in on that.”

And you could be in on it.
All you need is three things: a Bike and a Body and an Attitude.

The body part might concern you, but I can say from first-hand experience that there were all kinds of bodies on the bikes – old, young, lumpy, fat, skinny, beautiful and bizarre – any body was OK – even yours would be fine.
Nobody cares.
All the police did was control traffic – and smile a lot.

Whatever you might have anticipated as a spectator, the parade of cyclists would not appeal to your prurient interest – it’s not sexy.

It is about Attitude – on the part of the cyclists as well as the spectators.
The attitude is one of great good humor, acceptance of the human body as a vehicle for creative fun, and part of the foolish joy of the Fremont Solstice Fair and Parade, and the spirit of high summer.

All the cyclists I talked to after the parade said pretty much the same thing:
It was a freeing experience, and a lot of fun.
They’d all do it again.
And the spectators?
The parade route was lined with a full assortment of Seattle human beings - families with children, old people with walkers and wheelchairs, and thousands of young people who represent a generation that is cool and comfortable about nudity.
Nobody made them come – they wanted to be there and be part of the celebration.

So – let’s assume you have a Body – and you have the right Attitude.
And you think you might just join the parade.
You will also need a bike.

(You see where this is going?)

So I bought my bike.
An easy-folding, light-weight, high-tech model made in England.
A Brompton – bright orange, with a wide leather seat.
The photos on my Facebook http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum demonstrate the easy-folding aspect.
And yes, my helmet looks like half a watermelon.
(It’s called a “Nuthatch.)
And yes, my companion, Louise, loves going along as a passenger.

Whenever I pause for a rest, other bikers stop and talk to me.
They want to know about my Brompton, my helmet, and my friend, the orangutan.
When I say I’m in training for the Fremont Solstice Parade, they all smile and say:
“I’ve been thinking about doing that someday . . .”
And I say,
“Come on – if I’ll do it, you surely could.”

All indications point to a record number of entries for next year’s
bicycle run.
They won’t be having sex.
But they’ll be having a hell of a good time.

And will one of them be me?
My wife rolled her eyes when I told her about my plan.
And then she, who is a talented artist, offered to paint my body.
I’m thinking of a full watermelon theme - to match my helmet.

(She doesn’t have a bike . . .  yet . . .)

So there you have the picture.
I plan to ride at Fremont next June.
Will I really do it?
I’ve done things far more dangerous or stupid or risky.
What harm?
Come see.
Watch for Watermelon Man.

link to this story




June 18, 2014

Seattle, Washington
The middle of June, 2014
Cool nights, cloudy mornings, showers, sunny afternoons.

Part of my summer walk-about agenda is to look for people to invite onboard as passengers on my version of Noah’s Ark.
(see previous posting – Shipping News.)
I think of this as casting for Fulghum’s Floating Folly.
It’s said that the flood waters are rising again, albeit slowly this time.
But I’m planning ahead.
And I’ve discovered some welcome additions for the Big Boat Ride.

BUSKING BRIGADE

Here’s a fantasy exercise for your mind:
Imagine this . . .
You are ten years old.
In junior high school.
It’s summer.
You want to be a teenager so bad, and that seems so far away.
But you are not a little kid, either – not in your mind, at least.
And you have dreams and ideas – and needs – cash, for example.
You want something better for the summer – an upgrade from just hanging out or baby sitting or walking dogs or mowing lawns.

For the past year you were in the school orchestra.
Playing violin.
And taking private lessons on the side.
To your surprise, you discovered that music was a language you could learn to read and comprehend – like numbers and words.
And as much as you suffered through learning and practicing, you had crossed over from beginner to player – in your mind, at least.
Especially when an older friend taught you free-flowing fiddle tunes instead of classical music.
It occurs to you that you are a musician.

An idea came to you from somewhere – just as school was out.
An “ah-hah” inspiration.
You could take your talent to the streets – or at least to sidewalks.
You had seen a kid your age actually do this at a fair.

You could go to a local farmer’s market with your fiddle, set up your music stand, put your instrument case on the ground, and play the tunes you had nailed down so far – maybe ten.
And people might/could/would give you money.

And so this came to pass - you did that and people did that.
And you weren’t a little kid anymore.
You were an independent street musician.
You didn’t know it then, but that summer on the sidewalks would change your life forever.

That’s the scenario I imagine when I see kids busking in public.

To my regret, I was not a kid like that when I was ten.
I wish I had been.
Now I am an attentive witness to kids who are - every weekend at the Ballard Market and the Fremont Fair.
My part now is to be an audience – the least I can do.

When I remember my own tenth year, a shiver runs up my spine with the thought of busking at that age.
Not me. Not ever.

For one thing, my instrument at age ten was a cheap ukulele.
For another thing, my repertoire consisted entirely of sleazy Hawaiian songs taught to me by my wicked uncle Francis, a Navy Captain with a ribald sense of humor.
For example:
“Princess papuuli has plenty papaya – she loves to give it away.
Hey, hey, hey . . .”

The song goes on in double-entendre detail.

It is not about fruit.
But I didn’t know that at the time.
I did know that taking it to the streets was unimaginable.
I shudder to think of the consequences - in a Baptist town where devotional hymn singing was the only acceptable music.
Songs of sexual innuendo would not draw a crowd.

When I see young kids out there making music in public, I’m touched by their innocent bravado and their earnest intent.
They know they are not accomplished musicians – not yet.
They know only what they know, and that’s all they can deliver.
Just simple tunes, played in key and on tempo.
But they’ve mustered the courage to take the risk and play.

On my Facebook page you will see a fine example.
(http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum)

A two-man band, their roadie, and a shy, totally enamored groupie.
It’s a career launch.
And successful, too – their violin case was full of coins.

Not far away there were two young flutists playing duets.
Their breathy music fueled by fear and determination.

My favorite was a skinny little girl playing Irish fiddle tunes.
My camera battery died so I don’t have a picture.
But you can imagine . . .
She was wearing a pink outfit and a black, Lone-Ranger-style mask.
Every time she looked up, she grinned from ear to ear.
She had both chutzpa and style.
Her audience smiled and laughed.
And her violin case was filled with dollar bills.

Nearby, a kid was juggling
(http://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum).
Balls, clubs, rings – and he was very good.
He juggled to the music in his mind.
His tip jar was full.

I praise the presence of these young people.
They add music and delight to the world.
They demonstrate courage.
They embody trust in the kindness of strangers.

I also praise their parents who provide transportation to the gig and then stand way back out of the way to let their children reach for their own identity in their own way.
If you look around you can usually spot parents.
There’s a look of pride on their faces.
“That’s my kid,” is written there.

Meanwhile, the kid is contributing to the quality of our commonwealth.
You can give them something in return.
Not just pocket change.
But attention and appreciation and encouragement.
That’s your part in this footnote to creating a civil society.
You are a witness to their yearning to express themselves.

I stood behind some of the buskers and was appalled to see how many ignored them – as if they weren’t even there.

When you see a kid out busking this summer, please do your part in this theater of musical courage.
I’m asking.
Stop, look, listen - thank them for their gift to you and our world.
And always put money in their tip jar.

What I ask is a small thing to you, perhaps.
But small affirmative actions accumulate and have an effect.
Your gesture will feel large in their lives.

I began this journal essay with the words fantasy and imagine
And I end there as well.
Imagine that you are a young kid with a fiddle, out there busking.
Imagine that you notice that a grownup has been really listening to you.
Imagine that the grownup applauds at the end of a song.
Puts money in your tip jar.
And says to you:
‘Thanks for keeping music going in the world.’
or
‘Keep the music going – you’ll never regret it.’
or
“I wish I had your talent and your courage.”
or
“You make me happy.”

And if you were that kid, imagine how you would feel.

You aren’t that kid – it’s too late for that.
But you could be that adult – and you will have the opportunity.
Don’t blow it.

*

As for me, these young buskers are included in my passenger list for my Ark – a place of honor – and first class accommodations.
I want their music and their spirits onboard.
The Busking Brigade will perform.
There will be dancing.

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