Scott Funk | Boomer Funk: Magic on the corner

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Something else that disappeared without our noticing: the kid on the corner doing magic. Last one we saw was back in the aughts — a blond-haired boy with a black top hat pressed down upon his ears, a black silk cape with red lining, and white shirt with a black bow tie, standing behind a portable table that appeared to come out of a briefcase.

There he stood on the corner across from the town library and post office, waving the magic wand in his hand. Yes, it was also the corner of his yard, but he set up where a bunch of bushes concealed him from the house's view. He was out there on his own, doing magic for money. Seven years old and in business for himself.

We'd stop each time we crossed by him and pay to see a trick. Twenty-five cents for big tricks and ten cents for little ones. He was oh-so-very serious, introducing each trick as though he were on stage before a thousand people. It only took a few visits to exhaust his repertoire, but we continued to stop and pay. He repeated his performance each time as though we'd never seen him before, all without adult supervision or support. He was out in the world risking his all on each turn of the card or wave of his wand.

By now he may have gone on to perform in Vegas or become an accountant who never thinks of magic at all. Either way, his time on the corner will serve him well. How could he not benefit from the brave steps he took back then to embrace the world of strangers and capricious, unpredictable situations?

Except for the occasional lemonade stand, safely placed in the front yard, we don't see kids out on their own trying to make a buck anymore. We've already bemoaned the passing of bicycle newspaper delivery. When was the last time a teenager knocked on your door offering to mow your lawn or shovel your driveway for a few bucks? Seen any street-corner magicians lately. No. That just doesn't happen much anymore.

Too bad, as everyone loses out. We don't get those delightful interactions with young entrepreneurs. Kids aren't allowed to test themselves through their own initiatives. Facing risk and courting failure are character-builders; they help forge us into the strong people we need to be to prevail in an ever-changing and challenging world. A world that is largely uncaring and can be cruel, harsh, and disappointing.

Kids are missing one of the most valuable things we enjoyed growing up in the middle of the last century: parental indifference. "Going out to perform magic on the corner, Mom." "OK, be back in time for dinner."

Our moms didn't even ask which corner or what magic. It didn't matter. As long as it kept us out of the house for a few hours, it was OK. And so, we went out into the world, at very young ages, and began testing our mettle, each of us learning to ply our own kind of magic.

Scott Funk lives, works, and writes (and gardens) in Vermont. His Boomer Funk columns are available at www.VermontFunk.com, as are his blogs and archived Aging in Place columns.

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