My roommate David is the kind of guy who becomes Tumblr famous. Not because he tries to do anything awesome, fancy, flashy or even relevant. He’s just cool, and he makes cool art without trying. He has a sense of humor that he inherited from his mom — it’s super dry, slow moving, and full of puns. These are the kinds of jokes that I love the most.
David is a high school art teacher. He is tall and thin, with a coarse red beard that doesn’t match his blonde hair. He’s usually wearing black-framed glasses and a poker face. David is in charge of the ceramics and 3D printing studios at his school in Pasadena. We had not seen each other all week because the end of the semester was coming up, and he’d been getting up extra early for work. I was staying up later and sleeping in later than usual. But on this particular morning, our schedules collided; we talked while sipping coffee that David made. It was weak. I like mine strong. I wondered why he always made weak coffee. Why not just skip the coffee all together? I keep trying to quit coffee anyway, but I guess I still like it too much.
David and I lounged in the kitchen, chatting about nothing. When we hang out in the kitchen like this, we’re mostly just improvising. Sometimes improvising feels like flirting but with the goal of making the other person look good, and they are trying to make you look better, and in these moments of helping each other and vibing off energies, humor naturally springs forth. I’ve taken two classes of improv at ImprovOlympic in Chicago, and the main phrase I remember is the classic: “Yes, and?” You never say no to your improve partner. You always take what’s there and continue to build on it, because you two are in it together.
The other rules of improv that stuck with me are things like: Never leave your partner hanging. Listen to each other. Pay attention. Don’t make the other person look bad. Don’t try to get all the attention focused on yourself.
The other thing that you never do in improv is to check out of the scene and just start doing your own thing, out of nowhere, or start citing something from memory, or just be tangential and selfish. You never want to be selfish on stage. If you do, everyone looks bad.
David is a natural improviser. I had to take classes to learn these things, but for David they just come naturally. He’s a delight to hang out with, except when he’s feeling grumpy because he hasn’t gotten enough sleep.
On this particular day in the kitchen, David told me about the coolness of his high school students. He showed me an end-of-year photo album gift that his students made for him, full of pictures and teen-girl-adoring quotes. It was adorably adoring. Inside the album, we saw photos of him that the teenagers shot, and written memories of moments they shared in the classroom. The teenagers must be natural improvisers too, I thought to myself.
At the end of the photo album, I caught an image of Stonehedge made entirely of butter sticks. On Tumblr, it had received more than 100K reblogs. The photo looked familiar, mostly because of the Chicago skyline in the background.
When I inquired to David about the photo’s author, he casually mentioned that he made it, and somehow it ended up on Tumblr. He didn’t receive any credit, a link back to his website, or his name on the photograph. He didn’t really care — he thought it was funny that this random photo he took as a graduate student at School of the Art Institute suddenly went viral. But he did mention it to his students. Naturally, they became obsessed. Tumblr is dominated by teenagers, and the image is great for its art pun-y capabilities.
In this photograph, we see the butter sticks perfectly arranged, a superb use of everyday consumer food items. It had to be a David Prince, I thought to myself, gazing at it in the low morning light of the kitchen the Los Angeles home where we live. Rather than melting in the dryer, these butter sticks are preserved in an image, multiplied, endlessly reblogged on Tumblr by adoring teens and art nerds alike, its dry wit making the rounds online.
Crystal Paradise is a weekly column published every Tuesday by Los Angeles-based writer Alicia Eler that navigates the naturally occurring weirdnesses that spark at the intersection of art, technology and travel.