Art at work

Nothing breaks the tedium like secret sculpting

Years ago, I was the company proofreader at a book publisher in Minneapolis, and my cubicle was in the geography department, where the editors were often bored and desperate for any diversion from the deadly dull geography books they cranked out. That’s where the art comes in.

The geography department had its own bathroom, where extra rolls of toilet tissue were simply stacked on the toilet tank. I love tableaux and in those days was usually willing to create one whenever I could, on a table or the floor or anywhere. One day when the supply of tissue had recently been replenished and the rolls were piled willy-nilly, I decided to stack them more deliberately, in a large pyramid as I recall.

The next day when I went into the bathroom, the toilet tissue was arranged in twin towers of three stacks each, vaguely reminiscent of Marina City in Chicago, if that means anything to you. So I made two pyramids. The next day three smaller pyramids appeared. Then several short stacks, and so on.

Stacking rolls of toilet paper sounds goofy, I suppose, and even now I remember how much fun it was and the challenges of trying to avoid exposure. I loved it. Nobody knew who was rearranging the toilet paper, except the other creators, and they knew only about their own involvement. The office layout was such that monitoring the bathroom was difficult, and the continual rearrangement of the toilet-paper rolls went on anonymously for weeks.

In order not to blow my cover, I didn’t change the arrangement every time I went into the bathroom, and if anyone was nearby when I did, I’d leave the rolls as they were. Unpredictable and crafty was I.

After several weeks of anonymous design and redesign, building and rebuilding, the rolls of toilet paper became a departmental obsession, and the staff began trying earnestly to find out who the artist was. A single artist was suspected, since the only people who knew there were more than one were those who were doing it, and we weren’t talking.

Meanwhile the rolls of paper kept changing—to irregular arrangements, to horizontal patterns, to a layer of rolls placed on their sides, to more towers and cylinders and rectangles, and on and on. It was great. My masterpiece was a single leaning tower that ended in a corner at the ceiling. Try it.

Sometimes I changed the patterns as often as I could, so if you went in the bathroom five times a day, you might see five different arrangements.

Eventually at an impromptu and thoroughly ad hoc staff meeting, the others confronted me. Most of them had done it only once or twice. One junior editor had confessed to being a repeat culprit, but she was obviously not alone, and I was the only one unaccounted for. Busted! And for the most fun I ever had at that joint until I got my own office. Perfect.