The Ugly Duckling

My chair came in first.

Then a bunch of others arrived and stole all the medals.

Serves me right for getting my hopes up. See, I was brand new in my job at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and kind of looking for ways to impress my colleagues. So right around Christmas, there was this contest for departments at the school. Whichever team created the coolest door decorations got a prize. Fun, right? We brainstormed, and I threw out an idea: Every snowflake is different; so is every QR code. What if you did snowflakes of QR codes that summoned fun things about how Christmas is celebrated around the world. (They’re very “global” here in East Baltimore.) We’ve got five doors and, thus, five displays. We did the teamwork thing, greatly improved the idea on the fly and … won. We got free breakfast sandwiches a couple of mornings. Hooray for the new guy, right?

OK, so even as all that was going on, we’d gotten involved in another contest: Whichever team can take a surplus chair from the cafeteria and turn it into something magical that could be sold to benefit the scholarship fund wins. Any ideas? New guy?

stevechair“Well,” the new guy says, “the chair has a Maltese cross carved into the back (that’s the symbol of Hopkins nursing). It looks kinda like the X on a ‘you are here’ map. What if we put everywhere the School of Nursing is in the world on the chair and say something like, ‘You are here. So is the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.’ “

The concept was for me to sand the chair, offsite, then the team to paint it. But you know how that goes. Many, many breakfasts had passed before I even got a chance to sand it, and now everybody was busy or had lost interest. The new guy had gotten us into this, and the new guy was going to get us out of it.

I won’t lie. What followed was fun. A ton of work, and pressure. Self-inflicted, but pressure nonetheless.

And on the appointed deadline day, I dutifully and carefully set the chair inside the car and drove it to work. My knees were shaking with excitement as I dropped it off at the Student House. I was proud of the chair, thrilled to have made the deadline and relieved to not have dropped, dented or otherwise wrecked it on the way over. OK, I’m a little obsessive about deadlines. But I’d said it would be done and, by gum, there it was.

It looked good, all alone in that room.

The guy leading the contest said a few others were expected to trickle in over the next few days, but my chair looked like a solid entry.

Then a few others trickled in over the next few days.

duckIncluding this one:

What the … duck?

It’s an inside joke that those from the School of Nursing who studied under Diane Aschenbrenner know very well: A “Duck Point” is a really key bit of info — and something students should assume will show up on an exam. Whatever, big yellow duck on a red background vs. a chair with all these nations so painstakingly drawn by hand.

Chile, “the world’s backbone,” along the spine of the chair.

Australia “down under” the chair. Cool, right?

The chairs were lined up in the hallway of the Pinkard Building, voting commenced, and it was apparently a landslide. My artist’s statement didn’t sway anyone:

The idea for the chair came during a brainstorming session at our weekly meeting. It sounded like a cool way to make a point that the sun never sets on the JHUSON. The nations were drawn free-hand, with an iPhone in one hand (Google search: “outline map of Thailand”) and pencil in the other. My sincere apologies for any Atlantis moments, a slip of the pencil lopping off 100 square miles of land here and there. The lettering’s meant to look stenciled/spray-painted as though on the side of a random military crate or CARE package shipped to the ends of the Earth.

Blah, blah, blah.

You are here. So is a duck.

Duck wins.

I’m not bitter.

In fact, word is my chair was one of several that found a buyer during the recent Alumni Weekend. So, the ugly duckling made a few bucks for the school. If that doesn’t exactly put me on the map as an artist, it does somehow make the whole thing feel worthwhile. (I didn’t ask how much the duck went for. Why ruin the good feelings, what with the holidays coming and all these doors to think about.)

-Steve St. Angelo

Know a nurse with a great story to tell? Is it you? Don’t let my voice be the only one on here, because I will keep singing. Won’t you join me? Share in the comments field below, or send me a note at [email protected].

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