Friday, May 26, 2006

The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Conclusion

One of the excellent benefits of my former job as a "University Library Catalog Maintenance Unit Technical Processor" was the absolute freedom to choose exactly which 40 hours of the week I wanted to work. Thus, if I felt like celebrating a four-day-weekend just for the hell of it, I could rip off three consecutive 13 1/3 hour days of frenzied cataloging and call it a week. Legend had it that one of our co-workers in the dungeon-like bowels of the department only worked from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. due to either crippling social anxiety disorder or vampirism, but I never did meet her.

Thanks to this fantastically flexible scheduling, I found myself all alone in the office in the early evening of my very last day on the job. I was pulling out of town in a Ryder truck early the next morning, but to satisfy the particular demands of that week's timesheet I was waiting to clock out at 7.00 p.m. on this Friday night.

As everyone else was long gone, I had time to roam the office and take one last pre-nostalgic look around. I also needed to come up with a final art project to leave for my longtime co-conspirator, the legendary Keef. We had wallpapered each other's cubicles for the better part of a year with horrific juxtapositions of our faces plastered on classic album covers, legendary photographs, and timeless masterpieces of art, but the inspiration for an ultimate summation, my magnum opus, had so far eluded me. Another of my co-workers had recently honored me at a going-away party with a reproduction of a tryptich featuring her face as the Virgin Mary, mine over the Baby Jesus, and several of our fellow employees's ID badge faces pasted over the surrounding angels and wise men. I had a lot to live up to for my farewell piece.

Perhaps it was the devotional nature of my friend's going-away gift that sparked my creativity. Maybe it was just having stared up at our 18-foot high ceiling searching for inspiration from above. Whatever, my artistic destiny was sealed when I spotted an improbably tall ladder left behind in the next room by the maintenance guys who had been replacing light bulbs all afternoon. A furious internet search ensued for the exact image I knew I had to have.

After much trial and error with the often-abused "Reduce/Enlarge" function of the office copier and some careful cutting and glueing, I finally completed the masterwork. I made a quick surveillance mission around the whole floor before arranging the unwieldy 16-foot ladder directly over Keef's desk. Several times I nearly tumbled to certain impalement on the sharp corner of the cubicle, maniacally laughing to myself for the dangerous minutes it took to affix Michaelangelo's image of God creating Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the ceiling over Keef's desk. In my doctored version, our own humble employee ID photo-ed faces took the place of The Lord and His creation. I admired the whole scene from floor level for a little while, and then I took my last walk out the doors of our office into an uncertain future.

I'd been in my new residence 1,500 miles and a time zone away for at least week when Keef finally contacted me. Apparently he'd been leaning back in his chair after a hard day of catalog "Recon" and noticed the 11" X 17" image underneath which he'd been laboring for a good five days. I'm not sure, but I'd like to think his ribcage-shattering laughter brought admirers from cubicles far and wide to take in this breathtaking masterpiece. I understand that, after six years and one nearly disastrous ceiling tile repair job, there it still resides.


"When you are growing up, there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully--the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equalizer."

--Keith Richards


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