Shop Boy: “Are we there yet?”
Truth be told, Shop Boy loved his years on campus (all the while complaining about them — that’s just what you do). A young man of letters, I was … like “C,” for instance. At least until journalism came calling, with a chance to write about sports and hang out with athletic types. I’d never imagined myself as a jock or a writer, so this was quite the life turn. And the A’s flowed as I stumbled onto something I loved. My story’s pretty ordinary. There’s just something that screams “possibilities!” on just about every campus out there. An energy or something, I don’t know. Especially campuses as breathtaking as UC-San Diego’s. It’s in La Jolla, to be accurate, land of the $2 million average home. Estancia La Jolla is quite literally right across the street from campus.
Yes, yes, it’s the place I swiped the fruit from. Shhh!
So, the bear. It’s called “Bear, 2005″ by Tim Hawkinson. Strangely appropriate. We were wandering across campus back to the Estancia on our last full day in La Jolla, taking a route we hadn’t tried before. From the Geisel Library, down a path adorned by a fantastical snakeskin brick pattern, past a building topped by the work “Vices and Virtues,” where big neon words alternate to display them. You know, FAITH/LUST, HOPE/ENVY, CHARITY/SLOTH, PRUDENCE/PRIDE, etc. Of course Mary knew it had to be by Bruce Nauman, the dude who did the “Violins Violence Silence” neon piece at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Affecting stuff, especially as dusk began to make the colors pop.
We’d walked a little farther through an open courtyard when Mary squealed.
It’s funny how one little curve of an object out of the corner of an eye can suggest the whole. But whatever, Mary grabbed Shop Boy’s arm and we tore down a side path. It opened onto a grassy knoll where we spotted Hawkinson’s sculpture. “I just knew it was a teddy bear,” she said — suddenly a little girl again — of the mammoth sculpture, which does look amazingly cuddly up close. A photo can’t really conjure the feeling of the piece. Just … peaceful. We stood and looked at the stone beast in the fading sunlight of a final day in paradise and just had a moment, you know?
There, at the end of a magical journey, it seemed the campus was making sure we didn’t miss things we might never be within hundreds of miles of again. The things that students pass every day, late for class, without a second thought. It happens all the time at Typecast Press. People who’ve stopped by for a tour or an appointment to talk stationery will fixate on some object or another in the studio and be, like, “Wow! What is that?”
And we’ll have walked right past the cool thing without a thought for months, or years even. It’s odd. We just sold one of the Vandercooks, a No. 1. We hadn’t used the press for some time. It wasn’t fair to the craft of letterpress to keep it out of circulation any longer. Anyway, when it was time for the press to go, Shop Boy had to disassemble an entire still-life tableau that Mary had created with a gorgeous brass oil can, an ancient brayer, a funky ink tray, that kind of stuff.
So now, there’s just an empty space in the corner.
It made me think back to the bear. Some day, in all likelihood, it’ll be gone from the UCSD campus. Perhaps it’s on loan, and the artist or owner will call it home. The science building will need to expand. Maybe it will simply age and fall down like everything and everyone does eventually. Some students will never have had any use for it anyway. It blocked the straightest path to the candy vending machines or whatever. Heck, we now have a clearer path to our original printing press, the Vandercook No. 3, a sweet piece of equipment itself. Still.
Shop Boy’s always had a love/hate relationship with Christmas. For one thing, my parents worked their butts off to pile up toys for seven kids to spend hours opening up on the big morning. It was overwhelming. Numbing, actually. A half-hour later, I couldn’t name half the awesome presents I’d received. Same with Mary’s incredibly generous parents, holidays or anytime. It’s just so hard sometimes to stop and … truly appreciate the possibilities that we’ve been handed through the years.
They don’t really teach you that in college, after all. Never too late to learn, I suppose. Perhaps Shop Boy should thank the Bear first of all.