Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What Wilbo Did With His Summer Vacation: He Handed Out Sidewalk Chalk to Children at a Farmer's Market.

Remember that first day back to school writing assignment, "What I did on my summer vacation"? Writing assignments and summer vacations are now in my past. My assignments come from me and bolting from my office at stroke of Five PM is next best thing to a summer vacation. I passed Wednesday nights of the summer passing out sidewalk chalk to young children at a Farmer's Market. 

Near my home, a farmer's market has opened with brand new construction and fresh concrete. The almost daily arrivals of fresh vegetables has begun to stain under the long merchandise tables, fallen blueberries & raspberries juiced by crushing toes and smushed by brooms. On Wednesday nights, I stand behind one of those waist high tables and check in artists and greet visitors and even collect a dollar or two from people who stop to talk and want to help the arts. Most people blast on by my table and treat me like the high-faulting carnie beggar that I am. It does all go to teach art classes to children and yet I am one more man holding out a begging bowl. One day, I raised an entire 11 dollars for the council. That shows up in my world as an accomplishment, an odd one. I make a good wage at work. Why not work a few extra hours and give out of my extra wages. 

What stops parents with children is sidewalk chalk. I keep a collection of thick chalk sticks in five basic colors in a tin pail. When adults with children walk closer, I lift my pail and boom out with a merry voice, "Anyone want to draw on the sidewalk"? Yes, the concrete is a floor rather than a sidewalk and yet it is where people walk, searching for tomatoes and kale and conversations with neighbors. People will enjoy seeing the various images along the path until rain washes them away. Besides, it's called sidewalk chalk not concrete chalk.

The parents look at the chalk in my tin bucket. The children look at the chalk in my tin bucket. Their eyes meet. Parents nod approval. Kids pick out a piece of chalk and find a piece of clean cement and sit down, kneel and even lay down. Go to work. The five inch by one inch thick chalk doesn't last long. The stubs are hardly worth keeping in the bucket. I haven't thrown them out so I keep them in a plastic bag. Can't feed them to ducks or fish.

That's when I talk to parents about art classes for kids or finding more artists to exhibit. I take an email address. Show off the art council's web page. Dads listen to me and watch the chalk designs develop. Moms listen too and even give me a good look. I might be pushing culture and yet anybody running a sideshow is still a carnie. Treat as a mountebank until determined otherwise. Great term comes from the Italians, who had traveling men who stood up on benches and give speeches or pitch medicines. The carnies of Renaissance Italy mounted the banks. Bank must be a fancy word for bench.

Done well, I get a dollar or a fiver thrown in my clear acrylic pail, which I seed with a twenty as a suggestion. I bet bell ringers for Salvation Army never work that hard.

I love to watch how the children swap red chalk for yellow or green for blue, being taught well at elementary school. Some write their names and embellish with flowers or flames. One girl even drew a diagram that looked like all the routes flown by Delta airlines. I asked what she was trying to do. "It's Geometry", she answered with a bright smile.

One chalk drawing placed in the concrete protected by an I-Beam has lasted three weeks!

So I had to ask the arts council for more chalk and the leader set me up with five boxes, and inside I found five packages of five colors each. Last night, we had more children walk through than usual. I couldn't keep my pail full. So I issued each child a set of five chalk sticks. Then children would sit down with the chalk kid, and begin to share the stash. One hour, I had twenty children working on chalk drawings. It was beginning to attract attention, and my artists made a few extra sales thanks to the increased street traffic. I felt I had made a discovery, and I felt like the sorcerer's apprentice. The one who had learned a magic spell to make bailing buckets walk upstairs full of water?

I had only a box left. I was pretty sure I had blown twenty five dollars in sidewalk chalk. I had collected only ten dollars from the most earnest adults. So my splurge probably had cost me fifteen dollars. Maybe twenty-five because I took pride in dropping off donations in an envelope left in a mailbox belonging to the art council president.

But no, when I stopped by Meijers Thrifty Acres to pick up more chalk, it was dirt cheap. In fact, it was pretty much chalky dirt I was buying. I told the art council president about my extravagance by text and she texted back, "LOL". And promised to pay me back.

I can always tell the adults who work with children. Those adults stop on a dime trying to understand the chalk drawings, as if they were hieroglyphics.

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