We had a huge time at the Cooke Street Carnival. Just huge.
Our advice booth was an unqualified success. Fortunately for us, financial gain was not one of our goals. We wanted to spend the day making friends, people watching, and hanging out in the downtown sunshine. The Cooke Street Carnival is relatively new, just three years in, but has just about doubled in size each year. I think it’s one of the best days in Raleigh every year. The organizers suggested that all the vendors participate in the “Circus Freaks” theme. Not a problem. This crowd owns something like ten wigs and eight pairs of stripey socks, between us. We are not afraid of a costume. So we participated.
And we gave out some good advice, y’all. Good advice, and homemade cookies. We offered off-the-cuff sidewalk advice, sit-down advice, and an advice jar. For those who didn’t need any advice, we offered a thumbs-up and a cookie. There were people on the couch, or in the rocking chairs, giving and getting advice all day long.
I thought the “getting” advice was just as important as the “giving” advice. We are, actually, fabulous advice givers. Individually, we have our gaps, but this team was carefully selected to cover specific topics. Furthermore, we had a calculated blend of tough-love, right between the eyes advice givers, and “oh, I hear you sweetheart, let’s talk it out, and have another cookie” advice givers. I thought about it as more of a “one big community” tent. An “it takes a village” tent. A “let’s put our heads together, you know things and I know things, and we can figure this out” tent.
I was happy to barter. I gave relationship advice to a guy for $.57 and a Putt-Putt token. I got advice from a guy in drag, and counseled no less than three public school teachers on career changing. (My personal specialty.) I gave unsolicited advice to a woman who needs to be selling these amazing boots that she made by hand:
My personal reward for the day: every time someone strolled by the booth, they’d give it the once-over, look a little confused, and then read our signs and break out laughing. It was always between a snicker and an outright doubled-over belly laugh. Followed by a “Hey guys, come here, you have got to see this.” Lots of people thought about it, but weren’t ready to commit to taking advice from the ladies in wigs. Or, actually, being seen in public with the ladies in wigs. We advised all of those groups to have a beer and come back. In fact, we did the same thing. I got a little sloshy with my advice, which probably made it a little more honest and direct. The advice ladies then advised me to eat something.
At one point, the advice booth turned into a lounge, as our friends just parked it on the couch and ate cookies. We had to start giving advice on the lawn. It worked great. We had to kick a couple of unruly people out of the tent and develop a safe word: hairpin. As in, “Veronica, may I borrow a hairpin?” Which is code for, “This drunk gentleman has his hand on my knee and will not get off the couch, please fetch backup?”
Late in the day, The Small Ponds started up, and I abandoned my post for awhile. I figured I’d pick up all kinds of great advice, just listening. And I did. It was the perfect way to wind down the afternoon.
And so. What qualifies us to give advice, you ask? Absolutely nothing, in terms of a piece of paper. We certainly didn’t look all that credible. We considered ourselves entertainment, in the way of circus sideshow fortune tellers or guess-your-age carnies. But people asked us for real advice. “How do I get renters out of my house if they won’t leave?” “How do I get over a bad break-up, if I really loved him?” “What should my little boy be when he grows up?” “Does anyone know a good electrician?” “Should I keep being a teacher, if I am so burned out I don’t feel effective any more?” “I want to find someone nice to date, but what if online dating isn’t the same thing if you’re a gay guy, and I want a relationship and not a hook-up?”
Here’s the thing about advice, though. Most of it is just listening. The hardest things about solving a problem are a) figuring out exactly what the problem is, and b) saying it out loud. Once you’ve done those two things, the solutions come spilling out, both from the advice giver, and the advice getter. Most people know instinctively what they should do. The just need to talk it out.
Somewhere between sloshing my beer and actually eating something, I gave Julia $1 for advice. “You need to give men more than ten minutes before ruling them out as undateable,” she said. She had that advice dialed in already. She didn’t even hesitate. I made a scrunchy face and took my $1 back. “Please. You know immediately whether you’re attracted to someone. Ten minutes is an absolute eternity. Why would you need to spend ten whole minutes figuring out…..”
And then I heard myself and gave her the dollar back.
Like I said. The advice booth works both ways. We made friends. We talked things out. We patted people on the back, and cheered people on, and got some great ideas, and basked in the fall sunshine, and loved the carnival. We’ll see you there next time.