"Intelligence Having Fun"
[Sunday, April 19, 2015]
Shiv looked at the flyer in the bus stop.
He had meant to go see a movie today.
Freetown was showing, and he was
curious to see an African movie
rather than African-American.
There was a one-day event
at the Levi Carter Park, though.
The flyer advertised it as
a Sidewalk Art Festival with
food, games, prizes, and more.
Shiv was ... intrigued.
He'd rarely had much of
a chance to do things like this
before, and he fondly remembered
the Westmoreland Arts and Music Festival
that Dr. G had taken him to last summer.
He hesitated, because doing art in public
still made him nervous after all the times
people had ragged on him about graffiti.
Chalk would wash right off, though.
It said so on the flyer. So if they
hated his art, all they would
need was a water hose.
With a sudden spurt of
courage, Shiv hopped
a bus to the park.
It was crowded for
a Sunday morning
so early in spring.
There were people
everywhere, walking or
threading through on bikes.
Rows of vendors had set up
tents and tables along one stretch
of sidewalk and the grass beyond,
selling artwork, art supplies, jewelry,
yard sculptures, and other stuff.
Shiv drifted through the booths,
giving each a casual glance.
Then one caught his attention
with a heavy wood display instead of
flimsy card tables. It was loaded with
whimsical ceramics. There were lamp pulls,
lidded bowls, wall plaques, and knickknacks.
A huge vase made his hands itch to touch it,
the walls crumpled like cloth and textured
with a crosshatch pattern all over.
"Go ahead," the artist said. "You
can touch it, that thing's not fragile.
Just don't try to pick it up -- it's heavy."
"I know," Shiv said. He could feel it
in his head, how the thin walls went down
to a thick base that held it steady. It felt
cool and ripply under his fingertips.
"You like?" the artist asked.
"Yeah, but it's way too big
for my apartment, and it's
the wrong colors," Shiv said.
"Well, look around, I got plenty
more where that came from,"
the artist said. "Most of them
have interesting textures, too.
Hey, I'm Devin, nice to meet you."
"Uh, yeah ... I'm Shiv," he said,
sidling around the booth. He still
wasn't sure how to deal with people.
Shiv was drawn to a bunch of things
that looked like rocks but were made of
ceramic. Each one had a slit in the top
to hold cards, and a dragonfly pressed
on the front of the grayish lump.
"These are kinda cool," he said.
"Yeah, they're popular," Devin said.
"You can use those to hold business cards
or recipes in the kitchen, if you cook."
"I cook," Shiv said. "Yeah, okay."
They were only five bucks. He picked
one, paid for it, and put it in his pocket.
"Thank you for shopping with me,"
Devin said. "Enjoy the event."
"Welcome," Shiv said. It was
turning into more of a habit.
He wandered farther down
the fair and came to a cluster
of food and beverage carts.
His stomach rumbled. He hadn't
eaten anything since breakfast,
expecting to buy snacks to eat
while he watched a movie.
The nearest one advertised
organic salads, which didn't
really pique Shiv's interest.
The next was a sandwich cart
with all kinds of delicious things.
While Shiv was waiting in line for that,
he saw someone come away from
the salad cart with a fruit salad,
so okay, he could double back.
He picked a tuna sandwich with
fennel, which sounded interesting.
Then he pored over the salad menu
finding one with cucumber and watermelon.
When he shoveled some into his mouth,
he discovered sweet mango, spicy basil,
and an unexpected zing of jalapeño.
He would hate to have missed this.
Next Shiv stopped at a smoothie cart,
which had a solar panel overhead
and a sign announcing that it
was staffed by engineers.
He was a little dubious, but
the strawberry-goji berry smoothie
tasted delicious, and he was intrigued
by the methodical nature of the recipe
that he'd glimpsed on the screen.
Idly Shiv wondered if there were
more recipes like that and whether
the Finns knew about them.
Probably. If it was food worth
knowing, then one of them knew it.
He strolled along the booths,
eating as he went, then dropped
the wrappers in a recycling bin.
Shiv came to the booth that sold
entries to the sidewalk art contest.
It turned out that anyone could come
and scribble on the pavement for free,
using their own chalk or the cheap kind
that came from the rental machines.
If you paid an entry fee, though,
you got a box of much better chalk
and you could even win prizes.
Shiv took a look at the list.
They were good prizes.
Crayola had sent out
a whole truckload of stuff --
chalk in various sets, artist kits,
and all kinds of interesting additions.
"Thinking about whether to buy in?"
the clerk said, leaning toward him.
"All proceeds go to support the park."
"Uh, yeah," Shiv said, waffling.
"I'm Cheryl, and I'm happy to help
you decide if you need it," she said.
"Shiv," he said. "I got a budget,
I just can't -- all them numbers."
Cheryl rolled her eyes. "I know,
right?" she said. "I went to college,
got a job, and then discovered that
I hated corporate life. Hated it. Who
wants to spend all day banging on
a keyboard? With a boss watching."
"Deskwork sucks," Shiv said.
"I'd rather be out doing stuff."
"Well, here we are out, and
there's stuff to do," Cheryl said.
"The price list is simpler than it looks.
Skip the kiddie part." She covered it
with her hand. "The rest just depends
on how much space you want to color."
It only cost $5 for a single square,
and Shiv didn't need to sprawl out.
Besides, the money went to the park.
Shiv liked the park enough to chip in
for maintaining it, when he wasn't broke,
which he hadn't been for a while now.
"Okay, I'll take a square," he said. He
paid up, and then listened to Cheryl
explaining the different categories.
"We have one strip for lettering quotes,
one for realistic art, one for stylized art,
one for abstract, and another for the kids,"
she said. "You can even get pictures of
the park if you want more inspiration than
just looking around at today's view."
She showed him a plastic tub that
held snapshots, like a recipe box.
Thinking about it for a minute, Shiv
settled on the stylized option.
Cheryl led him toward his place.
Shiv saw various other artists
hunched over their artwork.
One read, Life is a lot like jazz!
It's best when you improvise.
A little girl was making
a fuzzy reproduction
of The Starry Night.
In the realistic section,
Shiv admired a two-tone rose
that had been painted over
with water to smooth the lines.
When they reached the space
assigned to Shiv, Cheryl showed
him the number. "See, this is
the same as on your receipt.
Keep the receipt with you and
listen in case anyone calls
your number for a prize."
Shiv stuck it carefully into
the ticket pocket of his jeans.
"Got it, thanks," he said.
"Then good luck, and here
is your chalk," Cheryl said,
handing him a nice box.
The colors were brighter
than Shiv had seen before
in sidewalk chalk, and
his fingers itched to get
into them right away.
He still hesitated,
because doing art in
public made him uneasy.
He felt cold, even though
the weather was decent
for this time of year.
He knew things could
change at any moment.
It was a nice day, though,
and nobody was really
paying attention to him.
Shiv crouched down and
began outlining the shape
of a tree that he could see
not far away from him.
The limbs rose up in
black streaks, and he
put down a white layer
underneath the trunk.
A breeze fluttered through
the park, swirling leaves and
bits of paper into the air.
Shiv thought the picture
looked empty with nothing
but a bare tree in it, so he
started coloring in the wind
with spirals of blue and purple.
As he worked, he slowly began
to relax, and that changed
the colors in the picture.
He thought about winter
giving way to spring, snow
melting to reveal flowers.
He added yellow to the blue
as he moved toward the middle
of the tree, then orange and pink.
The redbuds would start blooming
pretty soon, and those were pink.
Before long, Shiv had filled in
the whole space with a riot of colors.
Then he stood up and stretched,
shaking his hands to work out
the kinks from gripping the chalk.
He took a picture of the tree,
then snapped a few more of
the art festival all around him.
On a whim, he sent those
to the various Finns.
Then he took the box
of chalk back to the booth.
"Done," Shiv declared as
he handed it to Cheryl.
"Someone else can use
this set if they need it."
"Thank you, yes, we are
sharing the open boxes,"
Cheryl said, setting it aside.
"Remember your number, Shiv,
in case the announcer calls it --
if they do, come back here."
"Okay," he said, although
he barely paid attention
to the droning voice above.
After that, Shiv wandered
around the festival some more.
Several buskers had set up, and
he dropped a dollar for each one.
The park had put up a booth with
information about the waterbirds
that came to Levi Carter Lake.
It included a display showing
the different ducks and geese
and so on seen in the park.
There was also a table full of
charcoal pencils and paper
along with worksheets that
explained how to draw ducks.
Behind the display was
a kiddie pool with a family
of wood ducks paddling in it.
"A storm blew down their nest box,"
a park worker explained. "They don't
seem to mind people, so we're letting
them do some public relations work."
Shiv picked up a page and a pencil,
but drawing the ducklings was nothing
like sketching Tolli and Simon's horses.
The damn things never stopped moving.
They were cute, though, their bodies
mostly dark and their heads mostly yellow,
with black caps and masks that made them
look like a fleet of tiny supervillains.
Shiv drew crummy pictures of
the ducks until he filled his page.
His vidwatch chimed, then chimed again.
The Finns had found his pictures, and
started sending messages about them.
Heron said they looked soothing.
Mrs. Dr. G called them beautiful.
Dr. G had spotted the shift in
colors and wondered whether
that reflected Shiv's mood.
Shiv replied to Dr. G admitting
that, yeah, it was a mood thing.
Halley wanted to know if thon
could print out a copy to hang up.
Crap. Shiv had used the feature
that sent things to the whole family,
and forgot that it would go to Halley too,
who now wanted attention from him.
Shiv didn't know how to feel
about that, so he didn't reply.
He did, however, take snapshots
of the cute duck family and
his dumb drawings to send
along to the Finns again.
He put back the pencil, and
the park worker gave him
a folder to protect his paper.
Then he wandered down
the vendor aisles, looking at
the framed pictures and cards,
lawn ornaments and paperweights.
One booth held tie-dyed t-shirts,
but the colors were so muddy that
Shiv rolled his eyes and moved on.
Another table offered books.
Normally that wouldn't interest him,
but most of these were art books,
so he slowed to look closer.
Several featured photos of
beautiful sidewalk chalk art.
A couple explained how to make it.
One of them was a nifty guide to
lettering on chalkboard signs.
Shiv just couldn't resist
buying the lettering book.
Boss and Cook had put him
to making the daily special menus,
so he could use the inspiration.
His vidwatch chimed again.
Looking down, Shiv saw that
Aida had sent him a picture
of a mangled papercut that
looked vaguely like a duck.
The caption read, Creativity
is intelligence having fun.
From the date, she had
made it several years ago,
and probably sent it to make him
feel better about the awful sketches.
That was ... kinda nice, actually.
Shiv sent Aida a thank-you note.
He looped past the food carts again,
and the smell of warm chocolate
pulled him up short as surely
as a hand on a horse's reins.
Looking around, Shiv spotted
the dessert cart advertising
cupcakes, ice cream, and sweets.
"Uh, what's that smell?" he said.
"Like chocolate or something?"
"I have molten lava cupcakes,"
said the girl tending the cart.
"Oh hell yes," Shiv said,
whipping out his wallet.
"Be careful," she warned.
"It might still be hot enough
to burn, so eat it with a fork."
Shiv knew how that went.
Sometimes apple dumplings
came out of the kitchen still bubbly
and he had to warn the customers.
"I'll be careful," he promised, and
he meant it. Burning his tongue sucked.
The cupcake was luscious, though,
its soft moist cake falling apart under
his fork and pouring sauce everywhere.
It just about melted in his mouth, too.
Shiv licked the paper plate thoroughly
before dropping it in the recycling bin.
Then a shift in the announcer's voice
plucked at his attention, higher tone
making him listen as the numbers
were read over the loudspeaker.
Holy shit, that one was his.
He'd actually won something!
A weird sensation bubbled up
from his belly, making him
feel all fizzy and giddy.
Shiv scampered back
to the art festival booth.
"I uh, they said this number?"
he panted, shoving his stub
at Cheryl. "So now what?"
"Now you claim your prize,"
she said, checking her list.
"Here you go, Shiv, one set of
48 chalks courtesy of Crayola.
Congratulations on a great picture."
"Uh, thanks," Shiv said, looking
at the box. The chalks were vivid,
and there were a lot more of them
than he had ever had before.
Despite the softness of chalk,
it had a crisp feel in his mind
that made him think he could learn
how to grip it with his superpower
if he practiced diligently enough.
He would never give up graffiti,
but he was falling in love with
sidewalk chalk. It wasn't quite
like the creme pastels, but it was
a lot more precise than spray paint.
Maybe he'd just ... diversify a little,
as Boss White would put it.
Smiling, Shiv snapped a picture
of his new chalk set and sent it
to his family, curious to see
what they would make of it.
The box swung from his hand
as he walked toward the bus stop.
This had turned into a terrific day.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.