#622: Strange Creatures

April 18th, 2016

With a hiss and a little bit of a puff, the beest lurched backward.

Its handler, a young artist type in a bright yellow T-shirt and a sideways-cropped hairdo with a yellow-dyed tuft on the right side of his head, jumped to attention. He grabbed a tube dangling from the animal’s side and kinked it.

The beest stopped.

A few twists and pulls, a tweak of the creature’s manifold and it started up again, this time in the proper direction. The audience oohed and sighed appreciatively as Animaris Umerus Segundus crab-crawled across the room.

Four floors down, in the south-end lobby of the Chicago Cultural Center, where the Strandbeest exhibit of movable, walking PVC sculptures sits, a woman behind a desk dreamed of the day outside.

She dreamed of joining the crowds in the long-awaited sun, of spending a day relaxing on grass or sand, not sharing a lobby with a homeless man who gave a true, heartfelt thanks for letting him rest a moment. In security blazer and plastic smile, she dreamed of outdoors.

It was OK, she said, chuckling a bit. She would have Monday off, and her daughter would be at school. She would have the whole day to herself.

In the outdoors the guard dreamed of, a silent man in a Buddhist robe a tinge darker than saffron worked the Michigan Avenue crowd.

His bit was set. He would walk up to a mark, the desireless joy-smile of the Gautuma on his lips, offering a dazzling golden card. The person would take the card, then be handed a book of names to sign. By each name was a number a dollar amount figure.

Silently, joyously, with the inner peace and love others project on his monastic carb, he would try to snap a beaded prayer bracelet on the mark’s wrist and charge them for it.

If the person rejected, he would silently, joyously walk away, pulling out a pen when no one noticed to forge a fake dollar amount by the name the person wrote in the book. Guilt by peer pressure for the next person who didn’t want to pay $20 for 30 cents worth of plastic bead.

And the tourists laughed and teens pushed and bumped through revolving doors into a Baskin Robbins. Two old ladies sat on the edge of a planter to recuperate for more walk. Servers served and dreamed of doing anything else. Guards gave directions and children zig-zag-zammed as parents grabbed wrists and gave threats of going home.

And four stories up, in a library reading room long past, with pulls, tweaks, thrusts, pops, twists, lurches and air pumped into pressurized bottles, the Strandbeests skittered on plastic legs, another creature natural and normal in this hissing, puffing, scrambling world.

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