Sidney Kneebone

Sidney, the umbrella man, decided to diversify his business and added mandalas. The mandalas were geometric representations of the universe used as an aid to meditation. Nobody bought umbrellas except when it rained. Mandalas were good any day of the week.

“Umbrella, umbrella,” Sidney sang. The next day, “Mandala, mandala, mandala.”

One day he was approached by a young man wearing a baseball cap reading “59fifty.” “How much is a mandala?” he asked. Sidney, reading the cap, said, “$59.50.” “Wow,” the young man said. “That’s a lot of money. Why do they cost so much?” Sidney turned on his best salesman’s charm. “There are many mansions in my house,” he said. Sidney had a primitive and instinctive feeling for the salesman’s sense of when the sucker is on the hook.“ I have a small one here,” he told the young man. “You can have it for just 59 cents.” He unrolled one of the mandalas, a complex diagram of rectangles, one nested in the other. “With a mandala like this you can walk all day and never get wet. You don’t need an umbrella. With a mandala you are always indoors. It never rains.” The young man was clearly interested. But did he have 59 cents?

Sidney remembered his beloved Senegal, where as a child he ran barefoot in the mud. He never wore shoes. The only clothes he owned were a pair of shorts. These he wore day and night, never changed. When they were worn and torn and dirty, he got another pair of shorts. Now in New York he couldn’t run in the mud. He had to wear shoes, he had shirts and underwear and socks and all kinds of needs. No wonder he stood all day on the street corner selling umbrellas. New York made you need so much stuff.

“You know, one day,” Sidney told Josef, “the Pope came to Senegal. At first he rode around in his pope-mobile in Dakar. But later, he sneaked out, disguised, got lost in one of the oil fields, or a suburb, I’m not sure which, tore off all his robes, threw away his staff, his mitre, and his medals, and went running naked in the mud. After all, a pope deserves to have a little fun now and then.”

Before he went to America, Sidney spent one bitter winter in Saint Quentin in the north of France. They had a merry-go-round in the town square, but Sidney never saw it turning. It was always wrapped in canvas. A few times Sidney crawled under the canvas, slept in the balloon basket, just to get out of the cold. One day, he hoped, he could go back, ride the merry-go-round with the children. Maybe his mother would be there, help him get up on the back of the pony that pulls the cart.

Lonely and depressed in America, Sidney could think of nothing better than to be a child again. To laugh, play, run naked with the pope, ride a merry-go-round.

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