How to Exercise your First Amendment Rights
following story is nearly fiction and any resemblance between the characters
and any person, living or dead, is nearly coincidental.
You never know until you ask. So when I got to Bar Harbor, Maine, I found the
police officer station on Firefly Lane, one of the streets bordering the picturesque
village green. When I walked in I found a matronly looking woman sitting at
a computer terminal. Both were behind a two-inch thick window of bullet proof
glass. At the top of the window was a speaker and on the window sill was a
microphone and an electronic button.
The matronly woman punched the electronic button on her side of the two-inch
bullet proof glass window and said, "What can I do for you, Sir?" and the way
she said "Sir," put me in mind of the fact that she wanted me to know I was
interrupting a fast-paced cut-throat game of Windows Solitaire.
I punched the electronic button on my side and said, "I'm a busker and I wanted
to know what's involved in getting permission to busk on the streets of Bar
She got a quizical look on her face and punched her electronic button. "What's
a buskah?" she asked.
I punched my electronic button and said, "The unabridged dictionary defines
busker as 'a street entertainer' and in parentheses afterwards says, 'origin
unknown,' --- which may make busking the world's second oldest profession!"
She scowled a matronly scowl and punched her electronic button. "Street entertainahs
are not allowed on the streets of Bah Hahbah, Maine."
I punched my electronic button and said, "I'm sorry to hear that. Can I see
the ordinance that prohibits street entertainers on the streets of Bar Harbor,
She reached to a shelf behind her for a four-inch thick binder of municipal
ordinances and I knew right then that I was in trouble. The town of Bar Harbor,
Maine, has two thousand, maybe twenty-five hundred residents, and the better
part of them are lobsters. Any town that size needing a four-inch thick code
of ordinances to control its citizens and a two-inch thick piece of bullet
proof glass between its police officer station and that very citizenry must
have some pretty sleazy characters in it and the way she was looking at me
put me in mind of the fact she figured I was one of those sleazy characters.
She put the four-inch thick code of ordinances down on her table and started
leafing through it page by page by page, scanning down through each trying
to find the ordinance that forbids street entertainers on the streets of Bar
Harbor, Maine. She flipped and flipped and flipped and finally came to the
very end of that book. Looking over her shoulder, her jaw commenced to flapping
and a skinny young fellow came out of the back room. He was wearing blue pants
and a short-sleeved blue shirt that had two stripes on its shoulder. He came
over to the desk and he opened up the four-inch thick book of ordinances and
started flipping through the pages looking for the law that prohibits street
entertainers on the streets of Bar Harbor, Maine. He flipped and flipped and
flipped and finally came to the very end of the book. He looked over his shoulder
and soundlessly called out to the back room. Presently a great big man with
blue pants and three stripes on the short sleeve of his blue shirt squeezed
out through the door and came up to the window. I looked at the name tag on
his shirt and right away I knew I was in deeper trouble than I had thought:
this was Sgt. Grobie.
Officer Grobie punched the electronic button on his side and said, "What can
I do for your, Sir?" and the way he said "Sir," put me in mind of the fact
that he wanted me to know I was not about to interrupt his coffee break for
any too long.
"Officer Grobie," I said, "I'm a busker and...." The jaw of the matronly lady
began to flap and presently Officer Grobie punched the electronic button on
his side and said, "Street entertainahs are not allowed on the streets of Bah
"I understand that, sir," I said, after punching the electronic button on my
side." I just want to see the ordinance that prohibits street entertainers
on the streets of Bar harbor, Maine."
Officer Grobie picked up the four-inch thick book of municipal ordinances,
opened it right to the middle and ran his finger down the page. He clicked
open the binder, took the page out, punched his electronic button and said,
"I'll make you a copy." He turned and squeezed his way back through the door
to the back room. About five minutes later (fter the new cup of coffee got
cool enough to sip) he squeezed back out through the door with two pieces of
paper in hand. One he put back into the four-inch thick book of municipal ordinances
and the other he shoved into the hermetically sealed, bomb-proof drawer under
the two-inch thick bullet-proof glass window and pushed the drawer out towards
I picked up that piece of paper and glanced down through it to the middle of
the page where it said, in essence, "No person shall solicit funds on the streets
or in the parks or on the public properties of the Town of Bar Harbor, Maine."
I punched the electronic button on my side and said, "But, Office Grobie, what
if I'm not soliciting funds?"
He punched his electronic button. "You can't put out a hat eithah, that's soliciting
funds," he said.
I punched my electronic button, "But what if I just want to entertain the good
citizens of Bar Harbor, Maine, without asking for money?"
"Well then," he said, punching his electronic button, "I don't see a problem
-- as long as you're not soliciting funds."
"I thank you, sir," I said, forgetting to punch my electronic button, and left
the police officer station. I pushed my glass harmonica cart down to the Main
Street end of the village green.
As I set up the stand and started pouring water into the goblets to tune them
down a few people stopped to watch and listen. I started to play a song and
more people stopped. By the time I had finished the third tune I had a pretty
large crowd around me. I stopped playing and said, "Now the constabulary of
this town has told me that it is illegal to solicit funds on the streets of
Bar Harbor, Maine, so if you were considering leaving me a tip, please don't
put it right here in this open area on my glass harmonica."
Well those people commenced to throw money at me. There were nickels and dimes,
quarters, dollar bills and even a couple of five dollar bills. "Since its illegal
for me to solicit funds," I said, "its probably illegal for me to say 'Thank
You' too, but you look like a God-fearing group of folks, so I'll let slip
a couple of 'Bless Yous'."
I repeated this procedure a couple of more times and was about to launch into
my fourth speech when I heard a gruff voice behind me say, "Would you step
over here, Sir?" And the way he said "Sir," put me in mind of the fact that
it was Officer Grobie and I had better know that besides those three stripes
on his shoulder he now had a chip the size of Portland. In a voice just large
enough to be heard by the audience behind me he said, "I thought I told you
you couldn't solicit funds!" "But Officer Grobie," I said, "I'm not soliciting
funds. Look, my hat is still on my head and I have nothing out to ask for tips."
"That's right," a member of the audience piped up, "He just finished telling
us it's illegal for him to solicit funds on the streets of Bar Harbor, Maine."
Officer Grobie got a quizzical look on his face, turned on his heel and waddled
off about twenty yards.
The audience, bless them, didn't throw any money at me and after I played another
tune began to wander off, one by one. By the time the last of the folks had
gone Officer Grobie waddled back to the police officer station and, discretion
being the better part of valor, I decided it was time to close up shop for
the evening. One by one, several members of the previous audience came strolling
past, looked around furtively and held out a right hand to shake. Double bless
them, to a person they made like I was a maitre d' in the poshest of restaurants
and they had arrived without reservations.
Well that kept me going for a few more minutes and it occurred to me that there
might be a song in there somewhere. Low, and behold, it turned out there was.
So, with proper apologies to Arlo, I'd like to sing it for you now.
(To the tune of "Alice's Restaurant"):
You can sing about anything on the streets of Bar Harbor,
You can play and entertain on the streets of Bar Harbor,
You can fiddle, you can whistle, you can make bad puns,
As long as you don't solicit any funds,
Well you can sing about any thing on the streets of Bar
(Thanks to the First Amendment),
On the streets of Bar Harbor, Maine.
"The Glassman" Bennett
Bennett has been street performing for 14 years, eight of which have been in
New Orleans. Some nights he can be seen playing a homemade hurdy gurdy instead
of his glasses.
Site : http://www.glassharper.com
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