, Newburyport, MA


May 15, 2014

For they shall inherit the spin cycle


“What you are doing is banned on this mall and anywhere downtown. Police will stop you.”

As best I can, I say it as if simply passing along information, and the kids — as most often happens — say “Oh,” as if thanking me for letting them know, and carry their skateboards elsewhere.

But these are times that try some souls who think that any intervention into any public act is un-American. This fellow is about 30, walking with his wife or girlfriend, pushing a stroller with a child. His voice is demanding:

“And just what gives you the right to play here while making them stop?”

My voice is matter-of-fact: “First of all, I didn’t make them stop. I told them something they need to know, that a city ordinance bans skateboards downtown. As for the other half of your question, the First Amendment covers street music.”

Indignantly: “But they are just kids!”

I glance down at the stroller, then back at him: “Is that what you’ll be saying in 10 or 12 years?”

As they walk away, I vent the indignation I withheld, and the music, new to me as it is, rides a surprising mix of driving tempo and transcendental feel.

After busking I often replay conversations occasioned by it in my head, in this case while folding clothes. I make short shrift of Mr. Let-It-Slide, Daddy Do-Whatever-You-Want, only wishing I had claimed to be doing those two boys a favor.

With a second glance at the stroller: “Something you might want to consider doing yourself years from now.”

But high school students with a project on — of all things — transcendentalism are not to be taken lightly. Hope those three girls and their teacher — bless that teacher! — might be reading this:

At the center of the best — and best-known — definition of transcendentalism is the noun that follows “unencumbered”:

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