I awake to see my roommate’s excited face smiling down at me.
For a moment… I’m not sure where I am.
“Sorry I’m in your bed Aaron.”
“Never mind that, I’ve been seeing 23’s all morning Brian.”
“Yea, so… ?”
I roll out of the bottom bunk where I’d been napping. I usually sleep up top, but I was so tired when getting back from an all nighter in the ceramics studio I’d just flopped into Aaron’s bunk on the bottom.
(Burge Hall, freshman dormitory, University of Iowa, 1980)
“Yea, so 23 is COSMIC man! and I’ve been seeing it all morning.”
“Yea, you said that.”
“Yea, well when I woke up and looked at my clock it turned to 6:23 EXACTLY at that moment! And then there was the New Yorker article I’d been waiting to read that finally came. It was on page 23! And when I was walking through the halls down at the clinic after my appointment, I turned to look at the door and the sign on the door just fell right off! Exactly at THAT moment!”
“Don’t tell me, it was room 23?”
“No, but it was really weird.”
“Yea, I guess so.”
“Want to go play some Frisbee?”
Another cool thing about Aaron, is that he likes to toss the Frisbee around almost as much as I do.
Aaron runs carefully after my errant throw. The Frisbee hovers above the cars next to the retaining wall of the school parking lot near where we’d been playing. It seems like an unlikely catch but without hesitation, Aaron walks right on top of the cars, stepping on hoods and roofs to go for it.
He’s close, but misses and the Frisbee falls between two cars.
Aaron drops to the ground and reaches down to pick up my 165 gram, Wham-O, throwing disc… he hesitates and straightens up with a start.
“BRIAN look at this!”
He runs over and hands me a dirty old, very cheap-looking pen.
“Yea, it’s a pen, so what?”
“It’s not just any old pen, it’s a gas co-op pen from Greene, Iowa! My home town! Do you know the odds of me finding THIS, here? I mean, Greene is a really small town man, maybe a thousand people or a bit more. This is a really, really weird day.
“Yea, I guess so.”
Then I remember something. Something about last night in the ceramics studio. For a moment… I get a devious little idea to have some fun with Aaron’s current obsession with the number 23.
“Hey man, I gotta do something in the studio right now. It’ll just take a few minutes, do you want to come with?”
We were all making big pots. Big coil-thrown vessels and we were building a special kiln just to fire them in.
We were all using a high-fire stoneware and we were going to use wood. We would be taking it to cone 12.
High temperature wood fire. Very cool.
I spent all my extra time in that studio then, and then some. Some of my favorite pots I ever made, came from that work.
There was this one woman however, who had another idea. She had bought a bunch of really fine, really red earthenware and she was going to make just one really big pot from that. Our teacher had a special firing in one of the big gas kilns for it.
It was beautiful.
While she was building her big, beautiful red pot, it was so big, she left it on the wheel instead of taking it off to a side table on the batt with the other big pots under construction. It dominated the throwing room and the other classes had to just work around it.
That night that I’d pulled my all-nighter, she’d just finished and I watched as she added the one decorative element.
She pulled out an old wood case and I saw that it was filled with wood blocks carved with letters and numbers. She said she’d got it at a garage sale or something, and it was from an old printing press. I watched as she made a flat pad and scored the side of her big red pot at the shoulder. She added some slip and then pressed the pad to attach it to the pot. Like a something you might see on an old jug.
And then she took two big numbers from that wood case and stamped a big 23 deep into the pad.
Yep… a big 23.
As Aaron and I enter the ceramics studio, I’m explaining what we are all doing in here. How coil-thrown pots are made, how many I’ve made and how we will be firing them.
I’m about to go over to get my pots and prepare to add the next set of coils when I see Aaron standing, dumbfounded… in front of that big, beautiful red pot. With the big 23.
For a moment… I imagine there might just be something to this 23 enigma thing.
For a moment…
“Oh I see you noticed big red here. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”