I wish I was better at drawing. I’d probably be better if I actually practiced, but I don’t so here you are, reading a blog post instead of looking at my art on Instagram. As a kid, I used to think I was a phenomenal artist until I got to tenth grade and my art teacher informed me that I didn’t know how to draw circles. Incidentally, my best drawing from that semester was a pen drawing of a tomato. I have no idea what happened to it, but in my mind, it’s a gorgeous, photo realistic drawing. In reality, it probably looked like an artistic tumor.
During the summer between high school and college, I worked at a Boys and Girls Club in Phoenix. I had wanted to work in the library where they showed movies and played board games, but instead I was assigned to the art room along with two other women, Rita and Stephanie. Rita was a recent graduate of the university I was about to attend and was brimming with excitement for me, as well as advice about our school that I promptly forgot because I was 18 and had the attention span of a marshmallow. Rita did, however, introduce me to Crocs, so I’m not sure if that makes us friends or enefmies. Stephanie was around 20 and one of the prettiest women I have ever seen in person. I, like everyone else, had a massive crush on her with her blonde hair and perfect teeth. On top of her physical beauty, she was exceedingly nice and great with the kids. Stephanie was the only reason anyone ever liked going to the art room, myself included.
If you’ve never attended or worked at a Boys and Girls Club, you are likely unaware of the hierarchy of zones in the club according to popularity:
- Game Room: This is by far the best and most popular room in the club. It’s usually right by the front desk so the highest concentration of happy children are in the direct sightline of the parents dropping off/picking up their kids. At the club where I worked, this room had pool tables (both bumper and regular), ping pong, multiple arcade games, and a whole bunch of other cool shit.
- Gym/Field: This one is up for debate. Most kids loved this area because of the high chance of getting to play dodgeball. Some kids, however, would have rather just sat in the bleachers and read a book (i.e. me every summer of my life). While playing endless games of dodgeball as a camper, I had to figure out how to get hit immediately while fighting my flight instinct from projectiles flying at my face. Additionally, growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, the temperatures in the summer can reach 120ºF. We were forced to go outside for “fresh air” until a couple kids got heat stroke and then outside time was restricted to the mornings unless there was a scheduled water fight.
- The Pool Next Door: Although not technically part of the club, it was within walking distance–assuming, of course, that you didn’t go barefoot on the sidewalk during a Phoenix summer and burn the soles of your feet because you were 11 and stupid. It was a public pool full of what I’m sure was gallons of strangers’ urine, but at 120ºF, you’re willing to swim in just about anything as long as it’s cold-ish. Additionally, the pool had a snack bar at which you could buy overpriced candy and snow cones, and you also got to see which of the staff members had tattoos.
- The Library: Although not an everyday occurrence, there was always a chance you’d get to watch a movie. Now that I think of it, I don’t remember a big variety of movies as much as I remember watching Rookie of the Year about 800 times.
- The Girls’ Bathroom: I have no idea if the boys’ bathroom had a similar allure but as a camper, I remember spending a lot of time hanging out in the bathroom. Mostly just gossiping, putting on a lot of glittery cosmetics (it was the 90s), and playing a game in which we’d push on our own throats until we lost consciousness (but not each other’s throats–this feels like an important detail to mention). I didn’t say it was a good game but hey, all the pool tables were full.
- The Office: Unless you were in serious trouble or you had lice and your parents were on their way to pick you up, your stay in here was short-lived. You had, on average, about 4.2 seconds before Blanche, the elderly office administrator, kicked you out. The office was nice because it was gloriously quiet compared to the rest of the club, but that was probably due to Blanche kicking everyone out immediately.
- The Parking Lot: The parking lot was seriously off limits because of obvious reasons, but it was forbidden and mysterious, hence its appeal. It was also hot as fuck because the summer in Phoenix could be mistaken for the portal to hell.
- Anywhere Else: Hallways can be super cool and interesting until someone yells at you to go back to your assigned group.
- The Art Room: Unless you’re one of those girls that likes to sit by herself and draw horses, this room sucks. No one ever wants to do the art projects and everyone just whines for free draw every single day. Kids find every excuse under the sun to go to the bathroom, loiter in the halls, and visit Blanche in the office. Whenever the group leader announces to their group “Alright, guys, let’s go to the art room!” there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth as everyone bitches and moans their way to the art room. As this is the least pleasant room in the club with the highest number of unhappy children, it’s down a hallway in the back corner of the club, as far as possible from the front desk.
I have no idea why I was assigned to work in the art room when I was hired on as a staff member. I have no obvious talent for art, I didn’t request it, and as I was only 18, I didn’t yet look like I’d completely given up on life (I think). They probably figured I would get along with the other staff or they remembered me from when I was a kid and were retroactively punishing me for being a little shit. Either way, I ended up in the art room.
At the beginning of the summer, I was full of optimism. Maybe things had changed in the last four years and the art room was the cool area of the club! Each week at the club had a theme and I enjoyed creating projects to fit with whatever was the week’s theme. Rita, Stephanie, and I also got to decorate the lobby, which was really more to impress the parents than the kids but I enjoyed doing it all the same–for about two weeks. By that point, my ears were ringing from the constant whine of “Can’t we just freeeee draaaaaaaw?” from the kids and I was a little shellshocked by the ingenious ways small children can invent to be destructive.
I don’t know who started it, but some of the kids figured out that it’s possible to remove the ink from the center of the washable markers. If you have never done this yourself, marker innards are basically made of squishy, dyed foam wrapped in a thin layer of plastic. The kids did this so frequently that they destroyed an entire bucket of markers and we had to take them away for a week. Naturally, this led to lots of whining of “But why can’t we use the markers for freeeee draaaaaaaw?” which taught me a lot in controlling my patience. After we felt the kids had been sufficiently punished for disemboweling the markers, the club purchased all new markers and we allowed the kids to use them again after a series of stern lectures that I’m sure sounded more like begging to please stop ruining the markers. Some kids listened, others ignored us.
The final straw before we took away the markers for the rest of the summer came when we had a group of second graders in the art room. After they’d finished their thematic art project for the day, there was enough time left over to freeeee draaaaaaaw so we gave into the whining so they would shut the fuck up for ten minutes. A few of the new markers had already been ruined so we were trying to keep an eye out for the perpetrators so we could string them up or call their parents. At the end of the kids’ time in the art room, I announced that it was time to clean up and started to turn as I surveyed the room to make sure everyone had heard me. My eyes landed on a small boy with glasses who was holding one of the marker innards in his hand, taking a break from coloring the table to chew thoughtfully on the ink as if he were considering what to add to his masterpiece. His mouth, chin, shirt, and the table were all covered in bright green ink.
“What are you doing?!” I asked.
“I didn’t do it!” he immediately said, dropping the ink carcass on the table.
“What? No. Get some paper towels and clean off the table and then you’re going to the office.” He continued to insist that it wasn’t his fault, but he did as he was told. At this point, his group leader looked up from his own freeeee draaaaaaaw paper and noticed what had happened.
“Oh shit, what happened?” he exclaimed. I looked at him, eyebrow raised while I tried not to call him a dumbass as a chorus of kids around him started shouting, “Bad word! You said a bad word!”
“He pulled the middle out of a marker and was chewing on it while drawing on the table,” I explained, pointing to the kid as he mournfully tried to wash his hands at the sink. The kid continued to insist that he didn’t do it as he scrubbed at the table and I continued to do my best to keep from rolling my eyes at a second grader.
As the summer progressed, I did my best to maintain the themed art projects for the kids, but in the last couple week of camp for the summer, I had a hard time resisting the pleas for freeeee draaaaaaaw. I was leaving for college in a matter of days and, frankly, I was over that job. I’m sure there’s some sort of prescient life lesson in all this about persevering through opposition or something, but at 18 it was all lost on me. I was in it for the paycheck, the kids were in it because their parents wanted them out of the house for the summer, and we were all just killing time. I’d like to say that working in the art room pushed me to be a better artist, but it didn’t. I actually spent next to no time drawing all summer, unless the other art room staff and I were decorating the lobby and even then, I usually just cut out whatever they drew and taped it to the walls. And yet there’s still a part of me that expected to be better at drawing, apparently by osmosis. I know I can’t expect to get any better without practicing and yet for some reason I still do.
Maybe one of these days I’ll get my shit together and actually sign up for an art class but more than likely, I won’t. When it comes down to it, I never really want to make the time to do it which I think really speaks to my level of commitment. My desire to draw well is similar to my desire to have the ability to fly–it’d be cool, but it’s not likely to happen. But I swear that if I wake up one morning with wings, I’ll sign up for an art class immediately.