Richard Scarry’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ham

Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day?Be careful what you read to your children as it may have long term consequences for the shape of their lives. Consider what happened to me, which I only realized today when my three-year-old brought me a new book to read to him. It was a classic, Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? whichI remembered fondly though I probably hadn’t set eyes on an edition in 35 years.
When I opened the book, I was struck by the contents of the first page – a Bosch-esque illustration of Busy Town overrun with anthropomorphized animal bohemians. Each one embodied a different aspect of my own aspirations and much of my resulting professional life. It was like uncovering the long lost blueprint to the Gen X psyche (the book was first published in 1968), by turns quaint and chaotic. 

Here’s the roster – under one funky roof: an artist and a model crammed in a garret next door to the “story writer” who is toiling a floor below “a poet writing poems.” In a narrow adjacent building, a musician leans out his window with his violin as a newspaper reporter rushes passed the sidewalk cafe, headed toward the “The News,”  conveniently sandwiched between a book printer and “The Remarkable Book Shop” on the ground floor.

I think I’d like to live there, which is likely an echo of my thinking three and a half decades ago. Predictably, (fortunately, mercifully?) my kid was more interested in the fox duct taping some wire cable in a manhole on the next page. At least he’ll be able to honestly answer Scarry’s question, What Do People Do All Day? without seeming evasive.

Richard Scarry Scars Gen X


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