Mark, the man who ran the wood shop at the design college I attended was some hippie remnant that entered the basement wood shop in the 60’s and never left. Ever since that first day of safety orientation, mandatory for all design newcomers, he had this false impression I was on the university football team. The closest I ever got to the football program was manhandling a sousaphone in the marching band on the football field every Saturday.
Each time I needed to use the shop for an architecture project Mark would ask me questions like: what could I bench press, or how fast was my forty. Every new semester I would have to inform him I was not a football player.
All fourth year architecture students get a rite of passage and actually maintain a studio within the design building, rather than in the armory across the street. At the beginning of the semester of fourth year I found myself in the basement cutting wood for a project. Over the din of saws, sanders, and the dust collection system devised by NASA, Mark asked me what my new forty was. The thing on my mind was having just transferred to the big league studios, so I told him 403. Mark’s eyes enlarged to the size of grapefruit and he got all excited and expressed shocked congratulations. I gave him a mildly awkward thanks and proceeded to the elevator lobby in the basement to make my way to my new studio in room 403 on the fourth floor.
My ears still buzzing in the quiet chamber of the elevator, the waft of fresh cut wood began to clear my head. It soon dawned on me that the man who ran the wood shop in the bowels of that concrete building had asked me my forty, not my location, or my “twenty,” as my mind had processed. At best, Mark had to have thought I was the fastest offensive lineman that ever lived; at worst, the boldest liar that ever graced his table saw. I never had the heart to set him straight, I just let it slide.
I confess, I cannot and never have been able to run a 4.03 forty, but my “twenty” was once room 403 in the College of Design for one year.