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Captain Rainbow and the Great Balloonalaphagus

by Mark Peres

August 4,2005

Hardin Minor is running for City Council. Hardin Minor is a clown. All good clowns are serious about what is most important in life. Hardin Minor is a great clown.

We don’t “do” politics in these pages – at least not politics as we have come to know it – the hub and bub of party affiliations, candidate endorsements and lawn signs – we leave that to others far more qualified. This magazine (when we get it right) is about the highest and best in us that makes for a great city. That means science and architecture, the bump of new ideas and the grounding of old ones, the smell and taste of spices, and sometimes, just sometimes, a comment on the civic realm.

Mr. Minor’s entry into the race will bring joy to Charlotte. I don’t know his stance on the issues, what he will say or not say, or whether he will be a “good addition” to the most solemn work of the council. I do know that the inclinations of mime, the point and flex of dance, and the spontaneity of improvisation are good for a city finding its way in embracing art for its own sake and not simply for how it might lift our social status to others and contribute to the bottom line.

The genius of the harlequin is in the mask. We all wear them. Masks of neighborliness, of citizen do-gooder and business partner. Masks of entrepreneur, friend and contributor. Masks conceal who we are, often putting the bright face of success and popularity over more vulnerable and grayer natures. What the harlequin knows is that a mask also reveals. The mask bares the essence of character. From the half moon mask to the Venetian false face, what we put on uncovers what is underneath. This is the nature of the carnevale, where masks provide an illusion of anonymity so the wearer may act unrepressed. The harlequin announces that our true selves are only revealed in masquerade.

The city will get the most elevated and insightful comments from a clown. There on the dais will be a fool on the hill. He will look to the left and see pretense and sleight of hand. He will look to the right and see deception and pomposity. There he will sit with his elbow resting in air, piercing it all with a smile or a frown.

Mr. Hardin is many people. He is Lola, the dancing dummy. He is Professor Letterhead celebrating the alphabet. He is, of course, Banana Claus, Santa’s lovable but confused son. And he is Captain Rainbow, helping the rest of us construct the Great Balloonalaphagus. Mr. Hardin is a prism through which the singular light of our collective consciousness separates into a colored band of distinct (and yes, wacky) personalities. He is a master of faces and a juggler of props.

Imagine Mr. Hardin on the council in mime, his hands working an imaginary box, explaining the quandary of an issue. That would be fun. Imagine him folding origami as the members debate funding for the arts. Imagine him in top hat and tails as developers seek more land for sprawl. Would civility and the public good be served? I would bet so because if a clown knows anything, he or she knows comedy from tragedy. And Mr. Hardin is a great clown.

These days as Charlotte wrestles with actually getting what it thinks it wants – urbanity, diversity and density – and the promise and problems of each, it would be well served to take itself more seriously by taking itself less seriously. Humor goes a long way in bringing folks together. Humor with a dollop of wisdom goes even further, reminding us that there are things greater than the momentary crisis. Commedia dell arte and kabuki and vaudeville all put a mirror to our idiosyncrasies and are about the same sensibility: what is best and lasting is how we honor each other with a twinkle and a nod.

We have great talent in this town willing to step up and guide public policy. With Hardin Minor entering the race, it is a further sign that Charlotte is able to take seriously what is most important in life.

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