“An Object in Motion,” an outtake from Backswing, by Aaron Burch

Q:

A:       Just to pass the time, a hobby or whatever. But it kept growing kept getting bigger and finally got a little out of control, really.

 

Q:

A:       I do remember, in school, college, building these bridges out of toothpicks or Popsicle sticks or whatever and seeing how sturdy we could make our structures. How much weight they could withhold. I’d always really loved those projects.

 

Q:

A:       I did, yeah. I didn’t graduate though, just a little over a year’s worth of classes. That was a long time ago though.

 

Q:

A:       I had a box from this great birthday present Ruth had given me, years ago. This kind of “return to childhood” basket – tickets to a baseball game, a few packs of baseball cards, the box of Legos. All these things that I’d told her at one point or another that I’d loved growing up. It was really sweet. I opened the packs of cards, and we went to the game, but I shelved the Legos away in the closet with our board games and forgot about them.

 

Q:

A:       I don’t know. One night, after dinner, I was looking through that closet and saw that box in there, shoved down in the back. I thought it might be fun to get them out, try to put the set together.

 

Q:

A:       Some kind of space station or something.

 

Q:

A:      Yeah, we followed the instructions. The little diagrams, the whole step-by-step – it was kind of like putting together furniture or something. You know, bookshelves from IKEA or whatever. I guess I always thought that was kind of fun.

 

Q:

A:      We built it and didn’t think too much about it after that. Sometimes people would over and notice it.

 

Q:

A:       I’d put it over our fireplace, on the mantel.

 

Q:

A:      They usually thought it was cool.

 

Q:

A:       It sat there a long time. Then, one weekend, out of nowhere really, I remembered I had more sets up in the attic. My mom – she always got me a Star Wars set every year, for Christmas. I don’t know why. Maybe she liked still buying me toys, still thinking of me as her little kid. I’d collected Star Wars stuff when I was little and they kept putting out new toys every year, and every year she got me something.

 

Q:

A:       Oh, totally. I wouldn’t think of work or bills or any of that stuff. It was great.

 

Q:

A:      Bridges, arches, small boats. Little planes. I would build two planes and kind of, you know, “square them off.”

 

Q:

A:      Definitely. I loved it.

 

Q:

A:       I think it was a lot more about the building, yeah, but, I mean, I was playing too.

 

Q:

A:      Right. I wasn’t very good at the drawing though, no matter how much I practiced, and I was horrible with all the history. Then my father passed away, and I took a quarter off to go home. And I just never went back.

 

Q:

A:       I think I probably got my urge to build from him – he wasn’t an architect or anything, but he was always out in the garage, building stuff for the house. I remember these sawhorses that he’d built out of some two-by-fours and would use for building or sawing. They were always in my way when I had to go out to the garage for something. He built a fence around our yard, and a big deck out back. I think I’d always assumed that’s what you did when you grew up – worked out in the yard, on the house. He was, you know, Mr. Fix It around the house, and I think I kind of looked forward to that, this idea of being an adult, building stuff. I’ve never really done much around the house though, little projects here and there. I guessall that energy finally got funneled into this.

 

Q:

A:      I do think he would have liked it, yeah. I think he would have been proud. He was always really proud of my grades, of everything I did. And he always liked fun stuff, stuff like this, so I think he would have really gotten a kick out of it.

 

Q:

A:      Oh, I got a customer service job. Then, you know, years passed.

 

Q:

A:      I don’t know. Things go the way they go, I guess. I don’t really think about it too much.

 

Q:

A:      Well, they got bigger and so I moved from the house to the garage. I made a little Lego work area and everything. Out there, in the garage, a boat seemed like a good project. So I started at the hull, with a point, and just built out and up.

 

Q:

A:      She liked it, I think. She teased me that I was building an ark, like I’d been hearing God talk to me or whatever, but I think she just liked seeing me enjoy myself.

 

Q:

A:      At first, I kind of thought it might be something we could do together, but she wasn’t ever interested. She liked that I had a project, and I think she enjoyed watching me work and me having something that I liked to do, but she was never really inspired to help out.

 

Q:

A:      It would probably be naïve to say it wasn’t a factor, sure, but it never felt like it at the time. I’m not sure what she’d say. We never fought about it. At that point, also, I still wasn’t working on it every day or anything.

 

Q:

A:      Here and there. Weekends, after work. I’d build little sections in the house, while she watched TV or read, then take those out to the garage and piece it all together.

Q:

A:      I ran out of pieces all the time. Usually, I’d buy a set or two whenever we were out–

 

Q:

A:      New and old. If we were at Target or the mall or wherever, I’d try to pick something up, usually whatever was on sale. Sometimes I’d be tempted by a new set – a monster truck, or a new Star Wars, or something – but, of course, it never mattered.

 

Q:

A:      Everything always ended up as part of the boat.

 

Q:

A:      I was tempted by packaging. I don’t know, I thought I might build them separately, as something of a break, but I never did.

 

Q:

A:      I got a lot of sets and pieces at garage sales and thrift stores and places like that too, whenever we could find some in good condition, not all chewed up so the pegs wouldn’t hold on to each other anymore or whatever.

 

Q:

A:       Not yet.

 

Q:

A:      It started getting too big! I hadn’t planned ahead – didn’t stop and realize its size until it was too late. It was too big to fit through the garage door and the pieces were so interlocked and crosshatched, it took me a week just to break the thing down into manageable pieces to be able to move it. For a couple days, I was worried I might lose more of the work I’d done up to that point than I did.

 

Q:

A:      Sure, of course. I could have built it in pieces that were easier to manage. It definitely could have been more builder-friendly.

 

Q:

A:      Right. I moved it all outside and reassembled. Putting it back together… I’d tried to keep track of everything, but it was still like a big jigsaw puzzle. And then, Phase 2: Outside.

 

Q:

A:      You could tell people were curious but no one wanted to be the first to say something, I guess. I’d see cars slowing down as they drove by, guys kind of staring while mowing their lawns. I’m sure people knew something was going on, obviously, but no one said anything. Andy finally came over one day, “What the hell you building there?”

 

Q:

A:      “A boat!”

 

Q:

A:      After that, more and more, people started coming by. We’d grill up some burgers and I’d build a little. We’d all hang out.

 

Q:

A:      Ruth loved it. She’d sit around with the neighbors and tease, quote the Blues Brothers. I was on a mission from God! She liked having people over, I think. They would drink cocktails and gossip and not even really pay much attention to me.

 

Q:

A:      After it moved outside, I got a little more serious about it – I went to the library, did a little research. It was getting so big, I wanted to make sure I made it structurally sound.

 

Q:

A:      Right. I didn’t want the whole thing falling apart after all this!

 

Q:

A:      I built this kind of makeshift platform, something to hold it up, steady. I tried looking at pictures of  boatyards and that type of thing and seeing what they did with the boats out of water.

 

Q:

A:      No, out of wood. Just the boat itself is Lego. That was plenty.

 

Q:

A:      While I was doing the research. Ruth was always talking about it being an ark, but I never really liked the look of that. I remember those illustrations in bibles and stuff from growing up, and I don’t think I ever liked it. Too bulky, it kind of just looked like a big blob. I guess it had to be to hold all those animals but… this didn’t have that look anyway. Starting like I did, with a point and then just making it up as I built out, it already had its own look to it. It was more sleek and narrow. I thought it looked maybe a little like a pirate boat, and I thought that would be cool, so I started adapting it to that a little.

 

Q:

A:      Actually, again, a little because of my dad. And playing with Legos as a kid. Growing up, there were a few years where my younger brother still believed in Santa Claus but I didn’t. One of those years, my parents asked if I wanted to stay up and help put out the presents Santa had gotten my brother. One of the presents, from Santa, was this really cool Lego pirate ship. While they arranged everything else, I put that together so it would be built and on display when we woke up in the morning.

 

Q:

A:      Then I went to bed, and they brought out my stuff.

 

Q:

A:      Yeah, it was great. So then, I actually remembered that, and thought if I kind of turned this into something of a pirate ship, it would have come full circle or something. A tribute or something, maybe.

 

Q:

A:      Well, I started building the masts, but if I’d really done it right, I didn’t think they would be sturdy enough. A tall, skinny tower of Legos… I figured they would probably blow over with any big wind. So all the masts and taller things like that were built at a shrunken size. It was really just so stuff wouldn’t fall over and break after I’d put in the time to build it up.

 

Q:

A:      For a long time, even when I was shaping the outside of the boat, the inside just remained empty, like a big bucket. I had no intentions of making it to scale or anything. But it was starting to feel a little empty, this big shell of a boat, so I started putting in rooms. That was actually a lot of fun because I could tarp up the boat and work on the interior when it rained. On the inside, especially, I just did what I wanted. I was starting to try to make it look like a pirate ship outside, but I had no need to make it realistic or to scale inside. I didn’t bother with engine rooms or anything like that; I just built rooms here and there, then started putting in bunks and shelving and stuff. I built a couple jails – just regular rooms, pretty much, with bars. It was fun.

 

Q:

A:      I didn’t really notice at first, but word was spreading somehow. I don’t know how, really. It seemed like they wanted to find some kind of message or something in it though. It was almost like a pilgrimage, I guess, is what it seemed like. A lot of people came to see it just because it looked cool; the size of it alone was starting to get pretty impressive, I’ll admit. But some people… it seemed like they wanted more. I think they wanted to see a “Guinness World Record” plaque or something. Or they really wanted to see it out on the water. Whenever the weather got bad – a couple times, storms were predicted – even more people started to show.

 

Q:

A:      I think they almost expected to see animals walking around back behind the house, two-by-two. It was a little out of control.

 

Q:

A:      I’m just your average guy, you know. A little bald, a little overweight, I guess. I have a job I don’t really like, but don’t hate. I probably couldn’t be more normal. I like playing with these toys that almost everyone played with when they were kids. I think people wanted something more spectacular or, even those that knew what to expect, I think they thought I was “too normal.”

 

Q:

A:      Right. What does that even mean?

 

Q:

A:      I was up on ladders now and I had to spend more and more time building the support system, which wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. I just wanted to build this boat, you know.

 

Q:

A:      One of the guys, he worked in construction, he got us some old scaffolding that they weren’t using anymore. We built a bunch of scaffolding up around the whole thing and that seemed to take it to a whole new level. It really started looking like a construction site.

 

Q:

A:      I have no idea. People always asked – they seemed to want something concrete to grab onto, some big number that would surprise them, that they could report back to others. It never really mattered though, I didn’t think. I never kept track or tried to count or anything. I couldn’t even guess. I was never really good at guessing numbers, you know, people in a crowd, beans in a jar, that type of stuff. I was always really good at numbers, did well in math, but that was with formulas. I could never look at something and take a very good estimated guess. A hundred thousand? Closer to a million? I really couldn’t even guess the difference between those two.

 

Q:

A:      Neighbors were helping. Some of the people passing through would stop and want to help – you know, just to say they’d added a piece or whatever. Getting up on the scaffolding and everything though – they were usually more in the way than anything, so I tried to discourage it. A lot of people would drop off pieces, and that was pretty cool. They’d bring by new sets or Tupperware boxes full; these big containers full of old Lego pieces that their kids – or grandkids, or nieces and nephews, or whoever – no one was playing with them anymore, I guess. It got to where I didn’t even have to go out and buy anything myself anymore. People would bring them by during the day, or sometimes I’d get up the next day and someone had left a crateful by the house over night.

 

Q:

A:      Oh, I thought about stopping all the time. This whole time, I never really felt like I knew why I was doing it. A lot of people would come by just to see it, and they’d think it was this grand thing, but I felt like I was just playing. They’d say how amazing it was and talk about how they used to play with Legos when they were little but they’d never be able to do anything like this. I’d always think, sure you could. Anyone could, you just don’t. You know? Ruth and I, we never had any kids, and I don’t have a job that takes up all my time or a lot of hobbies or anything, so I’d just work on this. You keep working, it keeps getting bigger.

Q:

A:      I would talk with Ruth about being tired of it, wanting to quit – I was half kidding but probably half hoping she’d say, “Yeah, you should quit,” and I’d have a reason, or excuse, to give it up.

 

Q:

A:      Even as we were spending less and less time together, she never encouraged, or even hinted, that I should quit. She’d even say, “No, no. You can’t. You have to complete it.”

 

Q:

A:      Maybe she didn’t want to be the reason for it not completing?

 

Q:

A:      Maybe. I think the novelty of it was wearing off, and she was tired of the people. I think she liked the attraction of it, and the entertaining and everything, but then, at some point, she swung the other way and just kind of hated it all. She would say she didn’t want to see any more people, ever. She just wanted to hide away in her room and become a hermit.

 

Q:

A:      Lots of things. It added up. We’d try to talk but just couldn’t. She’d lock herself in the bedroom or whatever and I’d go out and work on the boat some.

Q:

A:      Almost. People keep asking and I keep saying, almost, almost. Getting there. Soon!

 

Q:

A:      I think I’ll just know.

 

Q:

A:      No real plans. Before she left, Ruth said I should at least do something with it, make it worthwhile – sell it, tour with it, something like that. I don’t really know though; I never had any of that in mind. And a lot of people are asking what’s next. I don’t want to build something just to build something though, just because I’ve built this one thing already. I don’t know yet. I don’t know.