The 600 Club. 

What do you get by combining a glass vase packed with 600 jelly beans, a folding card table, and three 5th graders posted on a busy street corner? A heavy — and maybe healthy — dose of city living. 

The boys arrived at the appointed hour yesterday morning. Descended upon the preagreed Chestnut Street staging point. Pumped and ready to cajole unwitting passersby into gobbling (collectively) 50 gooey chocolate chip cookies, washed down (collectively) with five gallons of lemonade. In this induced hypoglycemic state, folks were then brow-beaten and propagandized (in a good way) about the merits of micro-finance. Bellies distended and brains overwhelmed, they were then forced to perform mind-bending mathematical calculations in a pressured attempt to surmise how many jelly beans sat encased in glass before them. 

These dynamics produced an interesting array of outcomes. There was the red-faced homeless gent, apparently attracted by all the hubbub, who elected to sit cross-legged a few feet from where I sat. A little too close for comfort, I supposed, given the Norman Rockwellian lemonade stand scene we were working to curate. The boys’ well-rehearsed “would you like to donate” pitches intermingled with some barely coherent mumblings from my new sidewalk buddy.  Upon closer aural inspection, I realized the fellow wasn’t talking to or about the boys, wasn’t referencing the fact that he and I were seated close enough to hold hands, and probably remained more or less unaware of his surroundings. I even came to appreciate his stream-of-consciousness ramblings. 

There were the obligatory gaggles of painstakingly coiffed and costumed Millenials, prepared for a very meaningful “Sunday Funday.” In truth, a depressingly large percentage of these people literally ignored the earnest inquiries from my son and his little buddies. Speed-walked right past, eager to get to their waiting pitchers of mimosas or whatever, I guess. Maybe I did the same at their age, but still. You don’t need to donate, people, but you might want to consider upholding your end of the social compact with an 11 year-old. If he is polite and thoughtful in his question, return his eye contact and appreciate for a moment or two what he is up to. He’s cool with a simple “no, thank you” with a smile. And ultimately, his dad is cool, too: with your giving me an excellent example to share with my son about how not to behave in these sorts of circumstances. Harumph. 

Fortunately, there were also tons of families. Plenty of couples and groups of people who were not in a rush to get somewhere. An older homeless woman whom I have seen asleep in various store entryways over the years but never heard speak. She, as much as these many others, represented the overwhelming majority of smile-inducing, faith-in-humanity-restoring people. Who listened intently to the boys. Read their handmade poster (which, admittedly, was not easy to read). Did not remark on the boys’ unintentionally funny use of exclamation points (Donate!). Asked thoughtful, substantive questions which were (amazingly) met with thoughtful and substantive answers. And for the most part, totally ignored us parents standing or sitting on the periphery — a much-appreciated show of respect for these kids and their serious school project. 

How the boys managed to fit 600 multi-colored and different-looking jelly beans into that corked jar, I’ll never know. But perhaps more impressive was the way they chatted up, mixed with, and maybe even inspired, a couple hundred different-looking people on a busy street corner one Sunday afternoon in 5th grade. 

Thanks for reading. 

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