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various essays on, well, art and culture
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The Mayor of Main StreetOne afternoon The Mayor of Main Street stood outside one of his favorite bars and handed out $1 bills to anyone who would take them. He had a big roll of bills, and he would peel one off with a snap, holding it out, offering it like some religious tract or advertisement to the flow of people walking by.
He looks homeless, with his dishevelled clothes, long beard, and gap-toothed grin. Which is why many people probably thought that there was some angle, some sort of scam to his generosity. He had his funny striped knit hat pulled down far over his high forehead, and his big eyes, bright blue with neither anger nor pleading, are a little unearthly, a little frightening in their intensity to people who aren't used to seeing the eyes of the ragged men who live in the margins of College Town. But he's not homeless, though he spends a lot of time with the street people. He has a family he seems to get along with, people who care for him. He's just a little confused, turned inward by one too many explosions in the war, too fond of drink in all of its forms.
On this day he was just in a good mood, having had an early start, celebrating the fine weather and the company of a drinking buddy who had since staggered off. He had evidently decided to share his good mood with others by passing out dollar bills.
Usually he doesn't talk much, just mumbles to himself, his long fingers working at some unseen puzzle, or running along the hem of his t-shirt where it hangs out of his jeans. Sometimes he'll stop and tear a poster off one of the kiosks, because something on it appeals to him, and he'll fold it carefully, putting it into an overstuffed pocket, taking it out every few paces to unfold and enjoy anew. Other times he'll play for hours with a feather or fetish he has found on Main Street, conducting symphonies only he can hear, painting the sky and the sides of building with pigments only he can see. But on this fine day he stood there, back against the brick wall, inviting people to step up and have a dollar, just 'cause.
Some of the students, usually hulking suburban lads, stopped by and accepted the offer, figuring a buck is a buck. Others, more street-savvy or just timid, ignored him, eyes cast down, the same way they usually walk by the rattled cups of desperation. A group of Asian students formed on the sidewalk across the street, looking at him, trying to make sense of the scene and his rambling dialog. They stood there, arms folded, puffing madly on cigarettes, comparing notes on this little bit of theatre, completely baffled by the lanky American.
Eventually, the manager of the bar came out and tried to persuade him to put his money away, to save it for food and drink with friends later. The Mayor considered the wisdom of this, but his belly was full, his thirst satiated. The Mayor gave him a dollar, and told him that he didn't know about later, but right now he needed to give away these crisp green bills, since that was the job he had to do. The manager didn't push the issue. The Mayor is a regular there, usually behaves himself well, and even helps to ride herd on some of the street people that he hangs around with. That's why he's called The Mayor.
Someone else called the police, who stopped by and chatted with The Mayor. They all know him, from countless discussions over College Town's open container ordinance. But there is no law against giving away money, and even though they couldn't accept his generosity there was no real reason to stop him from being generous to others. Before they left, they warned him to be careful of the roll of bills, because not all his friends were really his friends. He told them that was why he was giving the money away, so that everybody could be his friend, and then he wouldn't have to worry about it.
Eventually he finished the job to his satisfaction, and wandered down the street to check on his constituents, a warm autumn breeze playing with his beard.
all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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