The other day I was sitting all by myself on the bench in front of Fuel wondering why nobody has asked me what I think about the Searles Bryant complex. I know I’m not a developer, and I certainly can’t afford to buy one of the luxury condominiums they keep talking about. But I am a citizen and every once in a blue moon I have a decent idea.

It might have been one of those blue moon days because all of a sudden I got a doozy of an idea for GB. When you were a kid, did you ever take a bus ride to a big-city museum? I used to go the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. They have these amazing dioramas: life-like little scenes behind glass. American Indians offering the Pilgrims a really delicious dinner. A grizzly bear protecting her cubs.

With a decent diorama, the past and distant lands would come alive, and you could experience things you’d just never see growing up in the Bronx.

I had been talking to my friend Anthony about how much things seemed to have changed from when we were growing up. And it dawned on me that a lot of young kids have no idea about what American life used to be like.

Bingo! The Museum of Lost American Values. Right here in downtown Great Barrington in what used to be a neighborhood school. How perfect is that? There are probably kids all over America who have never seen a neighborhood school, a school they could walk to. Maybe even come home for lunch. When you didn’t have to take a bus to get to the first grade.

So it dawned on me that there are lots of lost American Values we can celebrate. How about the “Money Back Guarantee?” A little scene of a woman bringing back a blender to a shopkeeper. We could have signs with the following dialogue: Woman: “I don’t know what the problem is. I bought this just last year and it just won’t blend.” Shopkeeper: “That’s terrible, Mrs. Johnson. I remember when you bought it. Why don’t you give it to me and I’ll send it back to the manufacturer. And let me give you the latest model on the house.”

Then there’s “A Man’s Word Is His Bond.” Two men are shaking hands outside a storefront with a neat sign: “Barney & Barney Investments: 5% Return.” This scene might not make any sense to young people. So what about this explanation: “A long time ago, people made agreements based on trust. They shook hands, and the act of shaking hands was a contract. If you asked someone to do work for you, you actually paid them when they did the work. If you agreed to do something for someone, and quoted them a price, then you billed them the amount you negotiated. If you told them you would invest their money and give them back 5%, you would actually do it. Even if if it was harder than you imagined. Even though it might have been inconvenient; or more profitable and easier to cheat them.

What about “Respect Your Elders.” We could have a little video presentation. An elderly woman gets on a bus and a young teenager gets up and helps her to his seat. Based on how South Berkshire kids deal with the benches on Main Street, we’d probably have to film this as if it was set in the 1950s.

Or “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.” There’s an old married couple holding hands on their double-sized rocker on their front porch. Just to make sure young people don’t assume these are two nursing home strangers with Alzheimers, we’d add the following text: “There was a time in America, before men traded their older wives in for their younger secretaries, or very tan Argentinians, when Marriage meant something. When for better or worse, people generally married once, not six or seven times.”

Maybe you know of some other Lost American Values. I’m thinking we would charge an entrance fee people can actually afford. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Affordability. Another Lost American Value.

I’ll be in front of the James Madison “Public Good” exhibit. With this quotation from Federalist Paper #45: “the public good, the real welfare of the great body of the people, is the supreme object to be pursued; and that no form of government whatever has any other value than as it may be fitted for the attainment of this object.”

I hope to see you there.


Mickey Friedman is a Great Barrington-based writer and filmmaker. He can often be seen walking the streets in search of Lost American Values.

Thursday July 8, 2009 © Mickey Friedman – All Rights Reserved