Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Members of the Karass

Kurt Vonnegut wrote in "Cat's Cradle" of the world's two greatest social organizations: the karass, 'a team that do[es] God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing;' and the granfalloon, a 'false karass,' a people who make associations based on states, countries of origins, sporting teams, etc. 'If you wish to study a granfalloon,' Vonnegut wrote, 'just remove the skin of a toy balloon.' "The Celestine Prophecy" says if you see a stranger three separate times, they have something to tell you; maybe a lesson.

I like the sound of all these things.

It was the winter of 2001 in St. Augustine, Fla. I wandered cobblestone streets barefooted with my bohemian boyfriend, taking in the warm air, wild armadillos, and street music. Frank and Mary Schaap, two hobos who could play a mean steel guitar and tenor sax, and whose voices made you feel like you were at some speakeasy in Harlem, enchanted. I spent hours by their music's side. Their $5 CD wormed its way into many mixed tapes I made for years to come. With no Web site or working e-mail, there was no way to follow up. And though it's the strangest thing to say, I thought about them a lot and missed them. When I heard St. Augustine made street performers subject to fines or arrest, I wondered about Frank and Mary.

So it follows, naturally, that I walked through Central Park Saturday afternoon very much as I did in St. Augustine six years ago; albeit with shoes and without a heavy hiking pack or boyfriend. The second I heard his guitar, hair stood up on my arms. I lurched forward. New teeth. More wrinkles. But that voice—I crept close to his open guitar case to inspect the name on his CD: Frank Schaap.

He finished his song and looked up at me. "Nice boots," he said. It would be 15 more minutes before I could relate to him how I'd tripped through a wormhole only to find him there, in the Big Apple. This very obvious member of my karass seemed mostly unimpressed. "Yeah, Mary and I are playing a gig down in DUMBO tonight," he offered matter-of-factly. What an outlaw. I bought Frank's new CD, $15, with shakey hands. We still have one more meeting to go.

Run-ins like this make me believe anything is possible. Is this naivety?

"Not naive," Conch Shell had corrected him, "[S]he simply has not been taught to fear the things you fear." (Tom Robbins, "Skinny Legs and All")

Thanks, Conch. Sometimes I wish it were so simple.

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