There’s no business like this business l Chuck’s World

People know all about you. Right? They must, after all these years. They know if you’re out together and you happen to spy a bookstore, it’s going to be a couple of hours.

Or a bike shop, or a classic-car fair, popping up in a vacant lot that crosses your path. The people who know you, know what distracts you.

For me, by the way, it’s hardware stores and kitchen supplies. I almost never buy anything, but I get lost in those places. I can look at small appliances for a long time.

I’ve been telling people for the past week or so that there are three things that will always grab my attention. I’ll be minding my own business, and then I spot something, a sign or a bulletin board, something, that will compel me, I swear, to stop this car RIGHT NOW and turn around.

I’m making this up, actually. These days, I’m much less spontaneous in this way, mostly because I can’t read small print on little signs so much anymore. I miss stuff.

But the sentiment is real. I love rummage sales, talent shows and spelling bees. All kinds, anywhere. Love.

I could wax on here a bit, talk about vulnerability and bravado, practice and passion and all kinds of anxiety. I have affection for the humanity on display. But really, I just like ’em. I probably won’t stop the car, you know, but I might.

I can get into the weeds. I can argue that rummage sales are not the same as swap meets or yard sales. I can list my reasons why spelling bees are singularly special, and are not at all like trivia contests or math competitions.

And I want to be clear that “The Voice” and other reality television examples are not talent shows; neither are open-mic nights. I’m speaking of lowercase talent shows, held in middle-school auditoriums and church fellowship halls, advertised on posters with bright colors and the only known appropriate use for the Comic Sans font (in the universe).

I’m talking about clarinet solos and impressions of your high school football coach giving a motivational speech before the big game. I’m talking about middle-aged marketing executives dusting off tap shoes and digging up an old routine.

These talent shows aren’t about dreams and aspirations – they’re about wandering through attics and finding unused ability to entertain.

I’m going to suggest, in fact, that talent shows such as these are a truly unique form of creative expression. They’re the potlucks of art, an attempt to form a whole out of a bunch of spare parts, and some are pretty spare.

I have some street cred here. I auditioned for my first talent show when I was 15. I dug up a picture from that night, a time capsule of 1974, with a baby face, blond hair down to my shoulders, and a powder-blue leisure suit my mom bought for me at J.C. Penney. It’s only missing a disco ball.

And I did talent shows every summer for a while as a teenager, winning my age category. I was a big shot on the Parks & Recreation circuit in Phoenix for a few years. You may have heard about this. My picture was in the paper once.

Over the years, too, I’ve helped out. I’ve served as emcee several times, a role for which I have no discernible talent other than a lack of shame. My talents are less presentational than they used to be. I’m pretty good at sweeping and recycling, but that’s hard to demonstrate onstage.

But I have some experience, so I was glad to be volunteered to run a recent talent show, a fundraiser for a good cause. Maybe “glad” is overstating.

There were 11 acts, and we raised over $2,200. Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Particularly when there’s a Dessert Dash at intermission.

It could be that I’m just fond of simpler things as I grow older. Maybe I’m drawn more toward the idea of community in an age in which we’re all more isolated and independent, slaves to our screens and with easy entertainment a click away.

Maybe that’s where I get my affection for small bookstores and art walks, farmers’ markets and community orchestras.

I emceed again the other night, mostly just introducing the acts and trying to be funny. I thought about making the joke about how, in all talent shows, disaster is part of the recipe. You really need one thing to go really wrong to get the full effect.

I was going to joke about saving my own act for the end, it having the most potential in this regard, but it sounded sort of like humble-bragging to me. I won all those Parks & Recreation shows, you know.

I was on the mark, though. It was a big disaster. It was embarrassing, humiliating and fun, eventually.

Money was raised, and if the universe required a humility payment from me, I’ll go along. My ego will recover, and I learned a few things about what I can’t do anymore. I’m not going to play in a pickup game of basketball, either, and with essentially the same rationale. You age out of some things.

And into others. I’m still an excellent speller, for one thing. There’s bound to be a bee somewhere, and with any luck they’ll use large print.

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