Ode To The Elementary School Art Ashtray

This post may be a little dated to some readers but to many of us we have fond memories of the lovely clay art projects in elementary school circa 1980. It was a different time and what flew then would sure to crash hard today. I kind of miss that naivate’. Simple.

Around the beginning of December the art teacher’s project for the kids was always geared toward Christmas presents for the folks. I am not sure if they do that now with the whole “Christmas is offensive” campaign that seems to exponentially increase each year. But back in my day, parents always knew their tax dollars would yield intelligent kids and some sort of ornament each Christmas. The real bonus would be a clay thing. I say clay thing because many parents got just that; a thing.

Ball Art Room

I remember these projects would always give me delusions of grandeur and at the end of it I would be the envy of every kid as I brought home the most beautiful clay thing my parents had ever seen. Of course being a no talent ass clown grounded me within the first few minutes of art class. Clay was not the medium for me.

modelingclay-main_FullI really can’t remember how long this project lasted but I believe it was a couple of weeks. Each day we would retrieve our work in progress that was wrapped in cheese cloth from the fridge and start on destroying what we had done the previous day. There were not many guidelines for what the final product would be. If you had an artistic inkling then perhaps the folks would receive a pot for a plant or a nice plate with a hand print in it. If you were like me and struggled to form any sort of shape they got an ashtray.

pottery1It was a cool time when a kid could express his or her love through artistic expression resulting in a carcinogenic ash receptacle. There is no way that shit would fly today. Under that dump-in-a-jar plan for zero tolerance I am sure a kid who made an ashtray would be suspended and child services would be called ensuring a debate on Foxnews’ Kelley’s Court. (That woman sucks) No, kids don’t make them like they used to.

Well, the process would draw to a close soon enough. Once the shape was made it would bake. Then you painted it and glazed it and that usually sealed the deal for me. It wasn’t just shit but colored shit after that. But by that time I was just happy to be done with it. Of course the teacher had to grade it. No matter what I got the elementary equivalent of a B which was VG for “very good”.

img_1773Don’t be fooled, the picture above was not done by me. Actually this one is pretty fucking good. It is far less bumpy and minus the fingerprints. The only way to to tell the difference between my ashtray and petrified orangutan shit was the fact it had a convenient dent in the middle; perfect for putting out a cowboy killer.

On Christmas morning I would give them the ashtray with a little trepidation because even a little kid knows the difference between art and deification. But my parents always looked at it as if I gave them gold. Today I really look back at that and know how much they love me. They didn’t even smoke.

A few years ago I found my ashtray. It was in the table top Nativity set and baby Jesus was sleeping in it. I kid you not. But don’t tell him, he doesn’t need to know it’s an ashtray.

Me, Dad, Calvin and Hobbes

Last Friday I was sitting at the computer working away and I decided to take a break from the dull paces of roster scheduling and fill a few minutes with mindless nonsense the web always offers. For some reason or another I stumbled onto a great site that dissected old Calvin and Hobbes strips and related them to personal meanings. I was so excited that these stories were very much like my own. I could identify with Calvin on so many levels as both an only child and the fact that no matter where I was at present, in my mind I was far, far away.

For those who are unfamiliar with this comic strip, it was created by Bill Watterson about a little boy (Calvin) and his imaginary friend (Hobbes). Calvin is an only child who marches to his own beat and has the innate ability to be in two places at once. One for real and the other in his head. His buddy Hobbes, is his stuffed tiger that is real to Calvin and his only friend. Hobbes has an innocent view point on life and is the catalyst for Calvin’s mischief as well as his sensibilities. Together their adventures are endless.

While going through these strips on the web I realized that this was such a symbol of my childhood growing up. I read the books on long car trips, Christmas vacation at the grandparents house in Philadelphia, school study hall, and even when we moved to Arizona to escape the loneliness of being the new kid. I never read these books from page one to the end but rather skipped around so there might be a chance that there would be a strip that I missed many days later. But I think the most important memory is with my Dad. He and I would read Calvin and Hobbes books for hours, laughing hysterically at every insightful suggestion Hobbs would give and Calvin would learn, albeit the hard way. I cherish these memories. I remember having a worried feeling that the next volume would be the last and Calvin would find friends and he would then see Hobbes the way everyone around him did, a stuffed animal. It’s not that I was entirely concerned for the end of the strip but rather what would Dad and I connect with? It’s not like we would go from comics to reading the Great Gatsby together and discuss the symbolism of dialog between the characters. I just didn’t want to see the end of of our Sundays on the couch.

Fortunately, I grew up faster than Calvin. I found friends, played baseball and girls became tolerable. The time reading the adventures of Calvin as Spaceman Spiff became less frequent and soon not at all. I think deep down Dad was worried that this would happen the way it did. He wasn’t as concerned about Calvin’s maturity as he was about my own. I guess all good things do come to an end and nature must take it’s course.

The next morning I went to Barnes and Nobel and bought the final volume of Calvin and Hobbes to see how it came to an end. I read the entire book from cover to cover unlike how I did in the past. I wanted to see how Bill Watterson would wrap up the decade long comic and he did it in the greatest way possible. My fears of Calvin growing out of his imaginary friend Hobbes didn’t happen but rather left us with a happy, hopeful ending. It is Calvin and Hobbes walking through fresh fallen snow with their sled exclaiming how it’s like a clean slate. We are left with the two sledding off into the distance with Calvin saying “…c’mon old Buddy, let’s go exploring.” Now I’d be lying if I said I had dry eyes after that.

On Sunday I left Ft. Lauderdale and drove to see my Dad at his house an hour north. He was at the kitchen table reading the New York Times drinking his morning coffee just like usual. I sat down with him and opened the Calvin and Hobbes book to show him my latest and favorite stip. He smiled as I slid the book so he could read it. We spent the next hour laughing as we read and without a word we picked up right were we left off 17 years ago. It was a good day.

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