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Deal 1021: Staged

The crowd has been well-behaved as dusk settles over the amphitheatre. The early warm up acts were fun for passing time until the main event, but may not be memorable. Except that one guy that… but I digress. Night arrives swiftly at this place, so it almost seems as if someone has simply thrown a switch and turned off the sky. Then, as our eyes adjust, we realize that he also turned on the stars.

Everyone quickly settles back into their seats as the amphitheatre plunges from navigable to one giant tripping hazard. We all quiet with anticipation.

The stage lights come up to reveal a contraption of some sort on an empty stage.

It fires bundles into the front three rows that turn out to be ponchos. Nervous laughter ensues, but the front three rows also don the ponchos.

The device spins around. As it turns, spotlights reflect off it and scan the crowd. It stops, with a pin spot reflected onto a single seat, near an aisle. The other spotlight operators turn their lights around and join in, The seat is empty. Which seems a little strange in an otherwise sold-out house. The lights go off for a moment, then on, as all the spot operators blink their shutters in unison. Now the seat is occupied.

The occupant is dressed a little more formally than the rest of the audience. After a moment, he stands, and the crowd begins to realize that this was his entrance. He makes his way to the stage.

From that beginning, the show got weird.

At one point, he was juggling kids borrowed from the audience.

He set up a series of gramophones, and attempted to identify which was producing live sound and not a recording with the help of a small dog.

He did a knife catching act with dull knives.

It was strange and wondrous. All the professional performers who saw him were green with envy at his management of the crowd’s attention.

He did things that every critic had panned with their typical poisoned pens. But it probably didn’t help that his final bit was designed to annoy critics. He even said so from the stage, pointing out that by and large most critics would have already filed their reviews of his show by that point, so it was perfectly safe to mock them.

When the house lights came up, the audience response was immense.

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Deal 1016: A Surreal Visit

“We begin our tour today in the postmodern surrealist collection with a study of frogs. The pedestal here supports nothing, but is held together by a series of fancy knotted closures up the face. The artist notes that the emptiness atop the pedestal reflect the immediate departure of the frog. If you look closely, you can see its froggy footprints in the dust. Of course, there is no dust because the museum is kept scrupulously clean.”

The class dutifully takes turns to peer at the empty pedestal. I doubt that many of them recognize the significance of the knots. It is probably just as well.

“A favorite pieces is La Grenouille par l’Avion, a frog that has been flattened into a postcard and was delivered to the museum as you see it here today. Note the stamp features a fancy game hen, a breed well known for hunting and eating this particular variety of frog. Both predator and prey, flattened, and glued together. Now hanging as inseparable companions.”

The class looks slightly disturbed, but then curiosity wins out. They have to stare at the very flat frog, addressed in ink on its pale green belly skin.

In the distance, a phone rings. I take a moment to verify that it isn’t my group that has committed this sin. The ringing cuts off abruptly, as if a heavy weight has enforced the purity of the museum experience by removing the offender. Exactly as you would imagine that to sound, as that is exactly what has happened. Visitors are warned at the door, and second chances are given, but only after they survive the first removal.

There is a sudden bout of covert rustling as my group swiftly checks to make sure all of their phones really are turned off.

I keep my face set firmly in the proper museum docent’s mask. It wouldn’t do to start chortling and give the game up. But the sign on the door combined with that clever device which projects sounds right into the visitor’s head has become a most effective tool. Sure, the effect wears off in a while, but a skilled docent can run the tour all the way through before they realize that if we were actually killing our visitors, there might be some repercussions. Even a news story or two.

“As we continue, this alcove provides an opportunity to observe a rare example of a hobo caught napping. You will note first that he is, well, a he. The few examples we know of women riding the rails all assumed male identities. It could be a product of their time. It may also have been that rail cars were not hospitable places at the best of times, and the long skirts and petticoats that were obligatory for women would have been far too dangerous to wear. You will note also that there is a frog perched on the brim of his hat. If asked about it, he would invariably have denied it. If you asked the frog its opinion, you would likely be accepted by the other hobos. A prime tenet among those riding the rails was to never question another man’s sanity.”

About this point in the tour is when visitors usually notice that there are no exit doors. The really observant have also noticed that the door through which they entered is missing. This is a gallery of the surreal, after all. We wouldn’t want them to get too complacent. This group is reasonably observant, so the quiet muttering and peering around has begun. Finally, someone catches sight of the teddy bear on a plinth in another shallow alcove holding a sign that says “Exit”. The muttering continues, with occasional glances my way. But I’m once again frozen behind my mask, waiting for the right words to proceed.

It might be a long wait.

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Deal 1007: Stubborn Swamp

Stubbornness has always run in my family. At every turn, we’ve always turned back and tried again. This has not always ended well, lots of effort has been sunk into goals doomed to fail. And yet, occasionally the persistence pays off.

I’ve wondered at times if there is a system to it, of if the universe is just random.

I know it isn’t rewarding the “pure of thought” or “pure of mind and body” because some of those who succeeded were clearly scoring low on those scales. I mean, “chicken racing”? Really?

And “frog jumping”? Again, really?

Especially when after setting up the contest, you rig it by feeding iron slugs to your opponent’s frog. Just to win a bar bet. And then when caught red handed, you parley that into an annual event?

Some kind of strange clumsy dumb luck is clearly at work, there. Failure leads to failure, as odd stepping stones through the swamp of failure to learn, failure to succeed in industry, and failure to buy property that isn’t nearly all swamp.

And yet, somehow, the stubbornness is admirable.

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Deal 964: Talented

Hindsight is always clear. The trick is to make foresight work. If I only knew then…

Well. “Then” I was starving for my art, and getting nowhere fast other than thinner.

What I needed then was a patron. Of course, I didn’t know that, or how to find one. Or really, even how to get noticed by anyone. All of which are facets of the same problem. Busking for pennies is a hard way to pay rent.

I had talent. That was never the issue.

What I lacked was business. Business sense as well as customers. I lacked marketing. I lacked packaging.

And so I starved.

Finally, I had to neglect my art and talent and find boring work that actually paid. At first, I was sure that it was just temporary. I’d wait a few tables, make a few coffees, earn a few dollars and tide myself over until I broke through.

But talent must be fed, and so must the body. And a roof is handy for anyone.

So here I stand. I’m talented. I’ve accidentally had a career in coffee and waiting table. Along the way I’ve made a little art.

I’m not sure I learned what I should have done, but I sure have learned many things I should not have done.

Maybe the time is ripe.

Time to hang up the apron once again, and make my own way, speak in my own voice, and deliver my talent to the world.