4/30/20

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Well, here we are, still in the pandemic, still shut down, still not really sure what’s happening or why. Add to it that, at least in my little part of Wisconsin, we are being blown around by a wind so fierce, it feels like it should be connected to a severe thunderstorm, but it isn’t. From my little office on the third floor of my home, I’ve watched birds get blown off balance, into walls, and straight up into the air like feathered fireballs. My dog has taken to being permanently under my desk, where her weight will suddenly shove me backwards and where she is in constant peril of my running over her with my chair’s wheels. Several times last night, I stared out my darkened windows and shouted, “Will someone please turn off the wind????”

It’s a very weird life right now.

And I’m still thrown by watching the television commercials and other forms of advertising declaring, “We’re all in this together,” and then looking on social media and the news where we are all tearing each other apart. I’m not sure who this “together” is, but it’s certainly not “us”.

But still. While a lot of things have ground to a halt, one thing has moved forward in my little world, and that’s the building of the new City Hall just across the street. It’s going to be a large building, with lots of windows. It’s on a hill overlooking downtown Waukesha, and even now, before it’s finished and  throughout its construction, it’s impressive. I’ve been like a kid sitting on the curb, watching the building go up. There have been huge cranes and beams and men teetering like Legos on upper levels.

As the framework went in and windows appeared, one right after the other, floor after floor, those windows were covered with a transparent, but cloudy plastic. Lights went on inside and they remain on 24 hours a day. One night, as I sat in my recliner in my living room, watching television, I glanced away from yet another “We’re in this together” commercial and looked out my window. The new building glowed quietly, but in one window, I saw something strange. A dot and part of a swirl. From the second floor of my condo, the view was partly blocked by the parking garage, and so I puzzled over this, but then let it go when my program came back on.

Eventually, I went back upstairs and crossed the floor of my office to turn off my computer for the night. And there, through my windows and deck door, I saw the complete picture of that dot and swirl.

Someone put a huge smiley face on one of the windows of the new City Hall. It beamed over Waukesha like a weird smiley Batman signal. The glow of the lights inside the building turned the space a gentle yellow and so the smiley face took on the classic appearance of the original simple smiley face, created by Harvey Ross Ball way way back in 1963. According to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine, Ball, a graphic artist, was commissioned to create a graphic to raise morale among the employees of an insurance company after a series of difficult mergers and acquisitions. Ball finished the design in less than 10 minutes and was paid $45 for his work.

The article said that the image was created to make the employees smile during challenging times and it worked. And on this night, in the middle of a pandemic, I looked out at a smiley face on an under-construction city hall and I couldn’t help but smile back.

The smiley face has become part of my day and night now. During the day, the lights inside the building are ineffective, but the smiley face is still there, white on transparent plastic, and he grins at me and the rest of Waukesha from across the street. I grin back. At night, he glows. I look at it first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Last night, I was hit with night #4 of insomnia. I spent quite a bit of time sitting in my office, my chair turned toward the window, and gazing at the smiley face, which at that time of night/morning, seemed to be smiling only at me. It kept me company. It smiled through the dark. I smiled back.

During a pandemic, I’ve learned, the weirdest things become lifesavers.

I am actually dreading the day real windows go in to the new building. I wish I could find out who put the smiley face up there, and I wish I could find out who I could ask to carefully cut the plastic out of that window panel and give it to me, when it comes time to replace it with glass. When that smiley face disappears, I think I’ll feel like I’ve lost a friend.

But to whoever the construction worker is who put that smiley face on a high floor, backlit with glowing yellow lights, letting it smile down on all of us and giving us the opportunity to smile back during a challenging time…thank you.

And Harvey Ross Ball, thank you too. It’s still working.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The original smiley face.
See the smiley face?
A closer view.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: