10/5 Writing My Practice: The Beer Bottle Cap Color Wheel
This is something I created from a pile of beer bottle caps that my husband Chris had collected. When we moved in together, the yogurt-container he kept them in kept catching my eye, and eventually became an eye-sore.
Actually, it wasn’t a yogurt- container; it was a nickle container from a nickle-slots casino – it has a huge, bright red and blue Toucan with palm trees on it, (“Treasure Island!”) made all the more obnoxious by the location: Minnesota. It was sitting prominently on our fireplace mantle. He also had a plastic grocery bag full of caps that kind of flowed from one closet nook to the next, occasionally spilling caps into the corners of small places.
We were a new couple, I kept moving these caps around without saying anything. Finally, a gentle question. “These must be special to you if you are collecting them, do you have anything you want to do with them?” Response – shrug. They stayed where they were. But my eye was on them.
We moved apartments. The Toucan moved to a new fireplace mantle. Eventually I got the nerve to say, “Maybe you could get rid of the duplicates, then they won’t take up so much closet space.” We got rid of the duplicates, but Treasure Island Toucan still eyed me from the mantle. “Maybe you’d like to display your treasures?” Response – shrug. I put them in a glass mason jar for an attempt at kitschy charm. It looked like a jar full of garbage.
We got married. Employment. Unemployment. “Why are you keeping these!? What’s the point of collecting them if you can’t even see them!?” No answer really, I guess he just had them.
I don’t know where the idea came from. Once, in college, my Dad and I made a belt with different beer bottle caps riveted into it. That was my “style” at the time. Also, it was my sneaky way of making my Dad complicit in my underage drinking. We used an old belt that belonged to my Dad in his Air Force days, I think. It fit my 18-year-old waist – we’re a small family. I still have it – it has his name stamped in gold letters on the inside. Perhaps it was this particular artifact that came into my hands during a restless “cleaning fit,” and inspired the Beer Bottle Cap Color Wheel.
I have always loved “projects.” My mom recalls my whining, “I’m bored, I want to make a project!” I always had something going, whether it was a barn-sized painting of a scene from Star Wars or a to-scale Egyptian pyramid made of sugar cubes. It was mid-winter when I came up with this idea. On a sunnier day I walked to Michael’s and Office Depot and swallowed my worries about spending about $10 on tag board and sticky-tak. (Unemployment, remember?)
I went home and measured out a circle in the method my math-teacher Dad taught me: use a pencil with one end of string tied to it, and tack the other end of the string to where you want the center of the circle to be. Then, use the string to guide the circle. When I saw how big my envisioned project was I immediately regretted tossing the “duplicates.”
I started my project on the living room wall. In the midst of job transitions, insomnia, other health problems, this was something I could do when I had ZERO energy. I could listen to a podcast, stick on cap after cap, and rearrange to my pleasure. I worked on it when my health allowed nothing more strenuous than stick, squish, stick, squish, when I was lonely, when my mind was racing and I had to work in eight hours.
As it grew, my friends started to notice it. One friend, her husband also just off unemployment and working at the Coors factory forgot about a 100 times to bring me her caps – finally, beaming she showed up with a huge bag of unused, green caps – a coveted color! Most breweries apparently favor red, black, and copper.
Soon, more friends noticed it. It happened a few times, visiting with a friend I might not have seen for a while and they’d shout “Oh yeah!” and go digging around in a purse or a pocket or drawer and pull out a handful of caps for me. “I just remembered your project!” “This is a rare one.”
Once, a friend presented me with a small mountain of blue Blue Moon and Bud Light caps, and green Tecate caps. “These aren’t from me, they’re from my 20-year-old friend,” he said. I don’t know if he was explaining the quantity of caps or the quality of the beer (craft beer is the trend here in Denver) but I was touched. He had thought of me and my project in the company of someone I didn’t even know, and tangentially involved a stranger to me in the building of was interesting enough for him to remember as a work-of-art-in-progress.
I keep receiving bottle caps. My friends present them to me like they are treasures, small colored gems stashed in plastic bags and coat pockets and saved. I love them for it.
So this is story of how some annoying garbage that wasn’t even mine became a touch-stone for friendship – and an object of solace and a symbol of love for me.
There is a part of me that punishes what is not ascetic – says I must throw away all that is not necessary, and disdain sentiment and nostalgia. These bottle caps weren’t mine, so I couldn’t do that. I had to live with them. The transformation of the useless clutter into such a sweet touchstone has perhaps softened this part of me.
I sit with the flotsam and jetsam of life. As often as I try to jettison it, I occasionally glimpse the hidden treasures.
May my project continue to grow.