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The Crucifix

 

Here I am kneeling by two works of art, a large crucifix and a tribal mask. They're made of papier mâché. Papier mâché is cheap and easy to work with, perfect for a kid like the kid I was. I went to Maryknoll, a Catholic School across the street from the prestigious private school, Punahou, on the island of O'ahu, in Hawai'i. When I started, in first grade, the school was constituted mainly of old, wooden, barracks-like buildings dating back to the very early Twentieth Century, still furnished with lines of connected wrought-iron desks with holes for inkwells, the kind of desks you now see only in antique stores or on Masterpiece Theater period dramas. These thin-walled classrooms sat beneath sprawling acacias, across an asphalt playground from a brownstone church that would not have been out of place in Cincinnati.

During my tenure, the school underwent a massive remodeling, the old bungalows giving way to impressive, white, two-story classrooms with amenities like recessed lights and acoustic ceilings. The crucifix was for one of the new public spaces the school had built. I think my parents were trying to invent projects for me to keep me engaged. My dad and I had already made a papier mache Tyrannosaurus head with a movable jaw, which I had cruelly used to terrify my younger brother. Dad and I worked on the mask and the crucifix at the same time.

I am certain that the crucifix has long, long since succumbed to termites, mildew, and decay. As for the mask, it was one of the things we left behind when we moved from Honolulu to Los Angeles. But the ideas within these objects stayed with me. I remain convinced that realities stir beneath us, deeper, richer, and more significant than the follies with which we occupy our days. And I am convinced that these ideas need nothing more than the simplest tools, like water, old newspaper, and flour to be evoked.

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