This was not just the generalized whining that happy or exciting events seem to inspire in children, but large, bitter tears of dismay mingled with mournful sobs: "Why do we have to eat lunch next to a Giant Head?! Please, please let's go back to the Rose Garden and picnic there!"
"Sorry, honey, but this is the only place we've seen with a picnic table," I reasoned. "Besides, it's shady." Doling out string cheese and mini muffins, I could see the protruding pink pate from the corner of my eye, interrupting the vista beside us like a visual siren--shrieking, screaming and inescapable.
Marie slumped heavily on the bench, turning a resentful back to the offending structure, her sisters beginning a barrage of predictable jokes:
"It looks like an ad for headache medicine!"
"Maybe it's meant as a warning that you should always wear sunscreen."
"He could use Eileen's floppy hat!"
"Boy, that guy sure has a swelled head."
Then there was Patrick's sage assessment:
"He looks like his hair all burned off in the sun."
Not to mention my personal favorite, a quip aimed at the grafitti liberally scrawled
here and there:
"Who's been bloggin' on my noggin?"
Not being overly appreciative of Modern Art myself, I tittered right along with them, calling the scupture a "Monstrosity," nicknaming it "The Great Pink Pate," and wondering aloud how such a thing--so out of keeping with the towering Redwoods and gentle roses--had made its way into an otherwise elegant city park. It seemed an appalling conversation piece, and nothing more.
A man and his young son came by tossing a ball. The boy's main object was to launch the ball directly into the unblinking eye of the behemoth, drawing appreciative giggles from my crew as they chased down string cheese wrappers stolen by the wind. Inspired by the boy's antics, Margaret, Marie and Patrick leapt up to run around the head, crying out now and then in mock terror.
Moments later, Margaret returned fresh from her frolic and reported, "Mommy, the giant head has a note written on the other side of it. It says, 'Please, please, please do not write grafitti on this statue. Signed, The Artist.'"
Now I don't want to say that I felt like St. Paul being struck from his horse, but, something about the simple pleading note ignited a moment of conversion for me. I realized for the first time that the piece was not some big joke or publicity stunt, but the work of a real human being--a person who cared about it and would not want to see it defamed or defaced. [Whether the note was a true one from the artist or just another joke, I do not know, but it is enough that it set my mind in motion.] Already, the two ears on either side had been yanked off by vandals, leaving gaping holes that seemed to yearn for a giant iPod. Dripping crimson spray paint upon the eyes and forehead showed that "ZC" had been there and had little use for imposing magenta features.
Thinking of how the artist might feel to find his work in such a state, I felt ashamed for having laughed at it--like the child in school whose unflattering drawing of the teacher makes its way to her desk. Who was I to laugh at someone else's work? It is one thing to make an honest assessment, but to laugh and deride? Was this the kind of thing I wanted to model for my children?
With the self-made blinders of mockery removed, I could see the piece in a whole new light. Remembering the human hand behind it, I discovered the humor, the playfulness, and perhaps even a hint of sorrow there, and do you know what? I kind of liked it--or, more accurately, I could no longer completely dislike it.
Still, perhaps I'd better not tell Marie!
[This exhibit is a temporary one, sheduled to be removed from the park in November 2007.]