On a recent afternoon, I was sitting in my apartment reading a book for class when I realized I hadn’t actually been reading for a few minutes. I’d been distracted by the construction crew outside pouring cement for a new parking lot.
Construction crews outside my window are nothing new: Soon after I moved in, workers began demolishing the small houses across the street to make room for an apartment building, which has been in progress ever since.
As the new building nears completion, I have been thinking about how I have seen it in all stages of its development yet have had nothing to do with it. Like a creepy neighbor, I have been here since before its foundations were laid, and I watched it rise up and grow from a scaffolding skeleton to a full-fledged building.
Anyway, my lack of contribution to the project didn’t stop me from briefly thinking about leaving my mark in the fresh cement. It’s a cliché thing to do, leaving your handprint or monogram in wet concrete, but I’ve never actually done it.
Cement signatures are everywhere (one of my favorites is the word “poopie” etched into a South Congress Street sidewalk). Perhaps that’s because they are one of the most permanent forms of vandalism. People who inscribe fresh cement want to be noticed. Memories will fade and graffiti tags will be painted over, but sidewalk carvings will stick around for a lot longer than the person who made them.
Making your mark on the world is getting easier. With the Internet, there’s just more space to mark. Much of what we will leave behind is going to be as insignificant as a discreet “poopie” on the sidewalk — tweets and Facebook statuses, especially. But an insignificant tweet just doesn’t have the allure of a physical, literal mark on the world.
So there I was, seriously considering vandalism when I had half a book left to read.
I went back to reading because I couldn’t just go write in the wet cement in the middle of the afternoon while the whole construction crew was standing there.
But soon I found myself thinking about what I would write in the cement. It wouldn’t be my name, I decided, because signing your vandalism is probably not the brightest idea.
Plus, if I was going to leave a mark, I wouldn’t want it to be something with no value to future Ohio University students, art critics and archaeologists. This was a chance to say something worthwhile — or at least something amusing.
I quickly ruled out drawing something when my attempt at a fox on paper ended up looking like Leonard Nimoy. And stick figures are so played out (thanks a lot, cavemen). So it would have to be words of some sort.
Maybe a couplet?
“OK,” I thought, “let’s go, poetry brain. Rhymes are easy: ‘Tik Tok on the clock.’ Or is it ‘clok?’ Maybe I shouldn’t rhyme — not rhyming is deep. This is hard.”
I was running out of time before class, and that book wasn’t reading itself (which wouldn’t really help anyway), so I decided that writing a single word was the best option. But what word could possibly say all I wanted to?
“Discretion” and “moderation” came to mind. Those would definitely remind people to be responsible. I considered “canceled” or “combated” to remind people there aren’t double letters in them.
Finally, though, I settled for “poopie.”
Late that evening, I walked over to the parking lot. The fresh cement shone ivory in the moonlight. It was pristine. And too firm and dry to write in.
I’d missed my chance, and I hadn’t even finished my homework.
Joe Fox is a junior studying online journalism and a columnist for The Post. Send him your wet-cement signature suggestions at email@example.com.