"The Soul of a City"
[Friday, October 30, 2015]
Faster Blaster strolled along
the sidewalk, surveying his turf.
Lake Bottoms was a dingy place,
not as bad as North Bottoms,
but it was starting to improve.
People sometimes nodded to him
now, instead of quietly melting away
the moment a stranger approached.
The empty lot park was growing
faster than he had expected, too.
He had put in a garbage can,
a recycled bench and a picnic table,
a bunkhouse and a showerhouse.
Then the kids had started collecting
rocks, pine cones, and other stuff
to make a loose parts place.
Edie had built a Little Free Library
near a cluster of pine trees. They had
to check it every day, and more often
than not it was stripped and they
needed to refill the whole thing.
This was good. People reading
were people not running around
trying to stab each other, or worse.
A branch lying across the sidewalk
made Faster Blaster smile to see it.
A week ago, an autumn storm had
blown down a sapling in Edie's yard.
She had sliced the trunk into tree cookies
of sizes from saucer to checkers, then
sanded them smooth on one side.
A pile of twigs had been cut to
similar lengths and bundled for
construction or counting play.
They made a great addition
to the loose parts area, even
if they tended to slip inside
people's pockets and then
wander away from the park.
Faster Blaster crossed the street
into the last block before the park.
Someone else, he wasn't sure
who, had dealt with the challenge
of disappearing parts by leaving
one piece of sidewalk chalk at a time.
You never knew what color it'd be,
but there was usually something lying
on the park bench or picnic table.
When Faster Blaster reached
the park, he stopped and stared.
Three men crouched over a huge hole
in the ground, with torn dirt everywhere.
"What the hell?" said Faster Blaster.
Two of them immediately broke and ran.
The third stood up and beckoned to him,
saying, "Come see our tulip bed, boss!
You wanna help us plant some bulbs?"
As Faster Blaster came closer, he
could see that the digging went along
one edge of the park, with loose dirt
piled along the sides of the trench.
Inside the trench lay clusters of bulbs,
waiting to be covered with the dirt.
On the grass sat two bags whose
text read, All Purpose Fertilizer and
Bulk Mixed Perennial Tulips 500 Bulbs.
"You're planting tulips?" said Faster Blaster.
"Where did you get so many of them?"
"From work," the man said. "We
spent all day yesterday putting tulips
in some rich guy's yard. These were
left over, so Mr. Basswood told me
to get rid of them. I thought they
would look pretty here come spring."
"I'm sure they will," said Faster Blaster.
At least, the picture on the bag was nice.
"I'm Barton Terrace," the man said.
"I've heard of you, so please don't
hesitate to dig in if you want to."
"Maybe just a little," said Faster Blaster.
"I got enough work of my own at home."
"Ain't that the truth!" Barton said.
"I got six kids and another on the way,
so there's always something needs done."
"All right, show me what to do here,"
Faster Blaster said as he crouched down.
Barton showed him how to make
little clusters of the tulip bulbs in the dirt.
"Leave 'em bare for now. When they're
all laid out, I'll shovel on some dirt,
spread the fertilizer, then finish
putting the rest of the dirt on top."
"Can do," said Faster Blaster.
Honestly, he loved working with
his hands and didn't mind getting
dirty. Barton seemed the same.
So the two of them planted tulips,
slowly dragging the bag of bulbs
along the edge of the trench.
They were about halfway done
when a voice said, "Hey boss,
what are you doing in the dirt?"
Faster Blaster popped out of
the flower bed to see Cas
and Hali watching him.
"We're planting tulips,"
Faster Blaster explained.
"Oh, neat," said Cas. Then
he pointed to the bag. "Look,
Hali, these are baby tulips.
If you plant them in fall,
they will bloom in spring."
Hali promptly grabbed
a handful and flung them
into the trench. "Whee!"
"Whoops, I don't think that's
how they go," Cas said.
"Sorry, guys, she's little."
"Leave 'em there," Barton said.
"We're not trying to make rows."
"Do you need more help, then?"
Cas asked. "I think Hali wants
to plant some flowers."
"The more, the merrier,"
Barton said. "It's already dug."
"I'm sorry for scaring away
your previous set of helpers,"
said Faster Blaster. "I didn't
expect them to run like that."
"Ah, they're just skittish,"
said Barton. "They been
picked on plenty, and thought
you might get pissed at us for
digging without permission."
"Not unless you break
something doing it,"
Faster Blaster said.
Then he frowned. "Did
you check the area for
buried pipes and stuff
before you started?"
"Yeah, there's an app
for that," Barton said. "You
log your location and it maps
anything that's under you.
Turn on the alarm feature,
and your phone yells if you
get too close to anything."
"Nice," said Faster Blaster.
"Where did you find that?"
"It's on the city apps page,"
said Barton. "Go out to
the Lincoln home page,
click Citizen Resources,
then Local Apps. There's
a bunch from the utilities,
plus neighborhood networks."
Faster Blaster made a mental note
to look up the apps when he got home.
By the time they finished laying out
all the tulips, Hali was tired and
plopped down on the grass while
the adults spread fertilizer.
Finally they shoveled the dirt
back into the trench and tamped it.
"Ought to put some mulch on this,
but I couldn't afford more than a bag,
and that wouldn't go very far,"
Barton said, shaking his head.
"How much do you need,
and what would it cost?"
Faster Blaster asked.
"Uh ... eight or nine bags,
$2.50 to $3.50 a bag, so
that's, uh ..." Barton said.
Faster Blaster wiped his hands
on his jeans, took out his wallet,
and handed over two twenties.
"Buy the mulch, put it on the bed,
and keep the change," he said.
"Gee, thanks, boss!" said Barton.
"No problem. I appreciate
your contribution to the park."
Faster Blaster was still trying
to get the mud off his hands.
"There's waterless cleanser at
the bulletin board now," Barton said.
"What bulletin board?" Faster Blaster said.
"Over there -- a group of folks from
the dog-walking crew put it up
a few days ago," said Barton.
"Yeah, we could sure use that,"
Cas said, looking at his grubby toddler.
So they followed Barton to where
the new bulletin board stood.
It was impressive, built from
sturdy posts and boards with
a wide, shingled roof overhead.
Nobody was getting that thing
back out of the ground without
a lot more work than hoodlums
usually wanted to do for vandalism.
The front side had two bulletin boards
protected by plexiglass doors, one for
the local dog-walking association and
one for the neighborhood in general.
Under that were a lidded bin for poop bags
and an open bin for lost-and-found items.
Curious, Faster Blaster opened the lid and
found the bin full of used grocery bags.
"Cheaper than buying them," he said.
A dispenser on the left post held sunscreen,
and one on the right held waterless cleanser.
Faster Blaster waved Cas and Hali forward,
then squirted cleanser on his hands.
It took most of the dirt right off.
The back side had a whiteboard
with a tray for wax pencils and
a blackboard with a tray for chalk.
Someone had already scrawled
colorful obscenities across both boards.
Sighing, Faster Blaster wiped them clean.
Under those lay a lidded bin for repair tools
and supplies and an open bin for toys.
Faster Blaster checked the bins.
The tool side held a roll of duct tape,
a can of WD-40, a loop of baling wire,
and another loop of baling twine.
The toy side held a wooden dinosaur,
two wooden yard dice, and a tennis ball
still covered with dog slobber.
On the post above the tool bin
hung a first aid box, and on
the post above the toy bin
was one for beverage packets.
Curious, Faster Blaster riffled
through the packets of powder.
There were several flavors of Hydra,
some multivitamin mixes, and
one of fortified chocolate.
"Not much use without
a water fountain," Cas said.
"People do carry bottled water,
but I wonder why beverage mixes,"
Faster Blaster said as he moved
to the other side of the stand.
"They were gonna put up
a donation box on that side,
you know, on the honor system,
but I 'splained why that was
too much temptation,"
Barton told them.
Faster Blaster chuckled.
"No shit," he said. "Folks can
drop by our place and leave
a few bucks if they want, though."
"That'll work," Cas said. "We can
get a slot box for it or something."
"Sure," Faster Blaster said as he
opened the first aid kit to check it
too. "I'm not even sure how long
this will last in this neighborhood."
It was a great little kit, though,
comprehensive without being
exhaustive, and well tuned for
likely playground complaints.
"Yeah, but I know that kit,"
Cas said. "It's only five bucks
retail, and probably a lot less
if we bought it in bulk wholesale."
"Ah," said Faster Blaster. "We
could easily afford to restock it
once a week if necessary."
"Exactly," said Cas, "and while
it's not ideal, at least people would
be getting some first aid supplies."
"I was worried about this stand
trying too hard to be middle class,"
Faster Blaster said. "Looking closer,
though, I think we can reload it
as long as we stagger the days
for stocking different things."
"Good idea," Cas said.
"That way, people can't just
strip it all at once, and things will
sometimes be here when needed."
"All right, let's see," Faster Blaster said,
opening the calculator feature on his phone
and looking up prices of the various items.
"First aid kit, $5. Waterless cleanser, $15.
Sunscreen, $16. Grease pencils, $10 but
that's a dozen pack. Chalk, $1.50 a dozen.
Duct tape, $1. WD-40, $2.50. That's $61.
Hydra, $10 for a box of 100 packets.
Say $50 a week, less at wholesale."
"Yowch, that's a lot," said Barton.
"I knew it'd add up, but still ..."
"The two highest items
are guaranteed to run out,
even if they're not easy to lift,"
Faster Blaster pointed out.
"Do you really need sunscreen
in winter?" Barton asked.
"YES," said Cas. "People
forget it then, but you can get
a sunburn in the snow." Then
he sighed. "But it'd probably freeze."
Faster Blaster looked up the dates
for first and last frost, then wrote
those on the sunscreen box.
"We'll refill this at the end of April,"
he said. "What about the cleanser?"
"Aw, hell no, it won't freeze," Barton said.
"That shit started out with the military."
"Any toys on the list?" Cas asked.
"Not at this time," said Faster Blaster.
"I'll cover necessities and practicalities,
but other folks will have to chip in for
luxuries, like they've been doing."
"That's fair," Barton said. "I'll
pass the word about supplies."
"I'm glad to see this place
growing," said Cas. "Parks and
playgrounds are the soul of a city."
"They are that," Faster Blaster agreed.
"Hey, what are these?" Cas said,
looking at a tangle of things
hanging from hooks on a post.
"Dog leashes and jump ropes,
I think," said Faster Blaster. It was
a little hard to tell, since some of them
seemed to be cut from cotton clothesline.
Cas grinned. "Hali, do you want
to learn jump rope?" he asked.
"She's too little," Faster Blaster said.
"She'd just get tangled up in it."
"Nah, I got this," Cas said
as he freed a length of rope.
"Hali, can you jump in one spot?"
Hali hopped up and down like
a wild thing, flapping her little wings.
"Yeah, like that!" Cas said. Then he
lay the rope on the ground in a line.
"Now can you step over the rope?"
With exaggerated care, Hali
tiptoed over the rope.
"Okay. Now put those
together," Cas instructed.
"Jump. Step over. Jump."
It took a few tries to get
the aim right, but then Hali
managed to jump over the rope.
"Yay, you did it!" Cas said, and
the other two men applauded.
It didn't take long for Hali
to wear herself out again,
after the gardening earlier.
Cas hung the jump rope
back on its hook. "You know,
this is turning into a nice little park.
It makes me happy to see people
bringing things, like making stone soup."
"Congratulations, Cas, you've just
named the park," said Faster Blaster,
and went to grab himself a grease pencil.
He wrote, Welcome to Stone Soup Park.
* * *
Barton Terrace -- He has pinkish-fair skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair with a mustache and beard. He lives in the North Bottoms neighborhood of Lincoln, Nebraska. He works for Allen Basswood at Basswood Outdoor Sustainability Service. He does much better with his hands than with abstracts. The job pays well, but Barton has six kids and another on the way, so the money doesn't go very far. His wife Ina doesn't work because three of the kids are too young for school.
Qualities: Good (+2) Family Man, Good (+2) Landscaper, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Streetwise, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Book Learning
This is his house.
* * *
"Parks and playgrounds are the soul of a city."
-- Marty Rubin
Tree cookies are wooden disks sliced from a branch or trunk. Learn how to make them and play with them.
Twig blocks are thin lengths of round wood that can be used for counting, building, or other activities. It is simple to make these and other natural blocks from fallen wood.
Sidewalk chalk is cheap and has many advantages. You can buy a bucket of it at a dollar store and leave one piece at a time in local parks.
All Purpose Fertilizer is good for planting fall bulbs.
Bulk Mixed Perennial Tulips for naturalizing are cheap and durable. Learn how to plant bulbs in masses and calculate how many you'll need.
Ideally, cover flowerbeds with mulch. Calculate how much mulch you need and factor it into your planting depth. Mulch typically comes in bags, but you can also buy it in bulk much cheaper.
The bulletin board is a large, sturdy wooden stand with a shingled roof. The front side has two cork bulletin boards protected by plexiglass doors, one for the local dog-walking association and one for the neighborhood in general. Under that is a lidded bin for poop bags (which actually holds used grocery bags) and an open bin for lost-and-found items. The side posts have hooks to hold jump ropes, pet leashes, and other things. A dispenser on the left post has sunscreen; a dispenser on the right post has waterless cleanser. The back side has a whiteboard with a tray for wax pencils and a blackboard with a tray for chalk. Under that is a lidded bin for repair tools and supplies and an open bin for toys. A first aid kit hangs on the post by the tool bin, and a box for beverage packets hangs on the post by the toy bin.
A whiteboard is a writing surface that can be marked with waterproof tools such as crayons, grease pencils, or China markers in addition to the expected dry-erase markers.
Chalk is cheap and easy to clean off the chalkboard.
The repair kit currently consists of duct tape, WD-40, baling wire, and baling twine.
Yard dice are big wooden cubes with dots or numbers for playing outdoor games. They are ridiculously expensive to buy, so consider making your own.
Wooden toys are easy to make.
Tennis balls appeal to dogs and people alike.
You can make or buy a pocket first aid kit.
Hydra is a brand of sport drinks produced by Kraken. They also release it in packets that can be mixed into water or juice. Flavors include Acapulco Gold, Black Sea, Blue River, Greenland Sea, Red Sea, and Whitewater. Bulk price is typically $0.10/packet.
Local drink mixes include EcoDrink Multivitamin Drink Mix (Peach-Mango, Orange, Berry, Blueberry-Pomegranate) and Amazing Grass Chocolate Green Superfood Powder.
Waterless cleanser is convenient to buy, but you can also make your own.
Sunscreen is a necessity at parks.
Most instructions for learning to jump rope are aimed at kindergarten to grade school ages. It is a lot easier to start by breaking down individual skills that even a toddler can do. One is learning how to jump up and down on the same spot without a rope. Another is stepping over a rope laid flat on the ground. Put the two together and jump over the flat rope. That's plenty for most toddlers. By preschool age, they can usually play Helicopter, in which one person spins the rope in a circle on the ground while a ring of people each jump over the rope as it comes to them. Next, learn how to hold a jump rope and flip it up over the head; after it hits the ground, step over it. This allows time to practice the twirling motion before trying to jump quickly over a moving rope. Actually jumping it at speed is the final task.
FROST DATES FOR LINCOLN, NE
Nearest Climate Station Altitude Last Spring Frost First Fall Frost Growing Season
LINCOLN UNIV PWR PLT, NE 1161' Apr 27 Oct 6 161 days
Last and first frost dates are 30% probability. Calculated using 1981-2010 Climate Normals.