Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Brawl of America

According to NBC-TV affiliate KARE in Minneapolis, Minn., shortly after 4 p.m. on Monday, more than 20 people started a riot in the Mall of America’s food court when rumors started that rappers Li’l Wayne and Drake were at the Bloomington mall.

Chairs and tables started flying and after-Christmas shopper began fleeing.  Stores closed unexpectedly as the police ushered shoppers out of the mall.  A cellphone video uploaded to YouTube shows dozens of young people watching as others pushed, punched, and threw chirs. The police arrested nine in the incident.

Bloomington’s police commander told KARE, “Anytime you have a large group of people together things can happen.  But this is highly unusual.”  At first, authorities attributed the violence, which occurred in several parts of the mall, to shopper rage.  Later, they learned that rumors had been Twittered about the presence of the two rap stars in the mall.

Some family friends gave their kids something called “The Bug Trail” for Christmas.  The little bugs operate on hearing aid batteries.  Their habitat is three connected circles whose routes can be opened and closed.  The habitat could easily serve as a model of your typical shopping mall, with the connecting passages serving as escalators.

The critters jittered around the circles, mindlessly bumping into walls, turning themselves over and kicking their feet, and climbing over one another in their frenzy to get nowhere.  At least the critters have an excuse for their mindlessness; they have no brains.  This family is affluent enough to have something called a “Black Card” for a certain store, which allows them the privilege of pre-store hour shopping, or did, they say.

These children have the ultimate nursery/playroom on a balcony above the living room, filled with the latest and most fantastic toys any kids could dream of.  A modern, wood dollhouse, a bunkbed for their dollies complete with handmade comforters and pillows.  An arts and crafts table.  Bookshelves crammed with books.  A horse-drawn dolly sleigh with a beautifully crafted horse.  A television set up for DVDs and Wii-Fi only.  Toy soldiers, GI Joes, Star Wars characters, cars and trucks, nerf guns, Barbie doll castles and cars and American Girl dolls.

Amazingly, they’re not spoiled.  They’re all very well-mannered kids.  Their parents take the time to teach them basics like spelling and memorizing multiplication tables.  My particular role when visiting is to teach them the pleasure of making music.  Nagging at kids to practice, practice, practice never works.  They need to see an adult enjoying the art of playing the piano, of making music.  Kids are never taught that the exercises are to help them warm up, just like an athlete or a ballerina.  If an athlete didn’t warm up and exercise, he’d wrench his arm throwing the first pitch of the game; the ballerina would break her leg on the first leap.

Making music is the same.  You warm up to get yourself oriented to the instrument.  You do scales to get your fingers moving and your mind accustomed to different scales.  It just makes playing the music you love easier.  Lessening the number of mistakes makes playing a tune less frustrating in the long-run.  But children naturally have a low-tolerance for tedious practice.  I let the kids see me take the time to do some warm up scales and arpeggios.  The parents say that they do imitate it later on after I’ve left.  They suggested my teaching, but I told them no way, that I’m not “accomplished” enough to teach more than the basics.  My coordination isn’t that good.  My right hand often doesn’t know what my left hand is doing and when you’re playing the piano it’s very important that your two hands work together (which isn’t easy).  You have to literally practice the scales two-handed until you can do them in your sleep.  I can type in my sleep but I still can’t play the piano in my sleep.

I was too distracted by a houseful of brothers, their friends, and the concomitant noise to master the piano properly.  That’s the trouble with America today; we’re too distracted by too much noise, too many toys, too many places we go, too many ways to spend our money.  We don’t know how to concentrate.  Kids today don’t even understand what concentration is.  It’s no wonder America is falling behind in the sciences, particularly mathematics, the branch of knowledge that requires the most concentration.  The Nephew’s girlfriend, I’m told, would get up at 7 in the morning and study until 11 at night.  That’s the culture from which she comes.  The Nephew, not so much.

Instead, we run about blindly in a maze of malls and superhighway cloverleafs, running into and over each other, bumping into walls and looking for the way out by trial and error instead of reason.  We not infrequently turn ourselves over in our haste, kicking our feet in a futile attempt to right ourselves again, helpless and pathetic, unless the Invisible Hand should happen to reach down and help us out.  The wiser, grandfatherly voice is there, though, to caution the well-intentioned to wait and let the critter right itself which, in time, it does.

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