Lisa Makes Soap!
The cost of my plane ticket to San Francisco was a weekend helping my friend Lisa of Feto Soap teach hoards of eager human young how to make soap. We set up a booth on the grassy square at the center of Maker Faire and lined it with hand made soap examples and a pile of her fetus soap and razor blade soap (for the emo kids).
Everyone who came through had a chance to make their own soap with a choice of mold, color, fragrance, glitter and embedded horse head, spider, or other random toy. The frogs did really well, as did glitter covered horses. When things got rolling, they didn’t quit. In the end more than 150 bars of soap happened while Lisa and I were furiously chopping at our 25 lb block of soap, melting soap, measuring soap, showing tiny kids how to use a pipette, extracting colorant bottles from hot soap when misjudging a young human’s motor skills…
People’s choices said some interesting things about the changing demographics of the San Francisco area. In Austin, there were dozens of people asking for “natural soap base” and extremely concerned about what was in it. Lisa brought out a huge pile of it just in case and we debated quite a bit about how much to bring. I felt like not only would the event be larger, but San Francisco’s being be the accredited hub of all hippiness would mean even more concern about “naturalness” etc. As it turns out, I gave out two cards with ingredient lists and not a single person muttered the word, “natural”.
Exhausted by the first half day, I welcomed the moment’s peace that came with a trip to the bathroom to wash the soap base off of pipettes and stirring sticks. The beauty of washing them being, of course, that they were already covered in soap. This worked out wonderfully when a tall hip looking guy in shades walked in covered in yellow paint. He had been teaching screen printing in another craft area. The paint on his hands was so thick that even though I was pouring my leftover soap over them every few minutes, the only stuff he was only able to get off were the smudges that covered the sink, mirror and wall around him. “Oh man…” he muttered, looking around helplessly and holding his yellow hands out in front of him like a surgeon. I imagined similar moments of wreckage were happening in parallel all over the faire grounds as various mad science projects came face to face with the reality of big crowds and untethered children.
By the end of the adventure I had completely forgotten how to stand up. I had a few minutes to run through all of Maker Faire and catch my favorite fire breathing robots, amazing screen print design work and kite-based remote photography. In one hall an old trailer housed a series of restored pinball machines and here I found it, my old friend and nemesis: The Cyclone.
Several times in my life I’ve made an active decision to get into something for the very sake of getting into it. I wanted to understand the excitement about sports and so I threw myself into keeping up with the Chicago Blackhawks because hockey was what I already loved to play. Of course once I got into it, I loved it and used to follow the games on radio. I did the same thing with pinball, and between classes I went to the student union to play the game I’d carefully chosen to obsess about. It was a carnival game built before there were digital displays, but had voices built in that would shout, “riiiiide the cyclone!” and, “riiiiiide the ferris wheel!” It had this gloriously satisfying rumble when the ball shot up and around the ramp. From halfway across the room, I heard it call me.
I ran up to the machines on the side, my heart pounding. “Hurry hurry hurry. Step right up!” There it was in all its orange carny glory! I stood behind the little boy working the machine and tried to remember all of my best moves. He lost the game and started the next. He was playing really badly and talking and shouting to himself while wildly batting at the flipper buttons. After the third restart I walked up and said, “hey, mind if I take this next game?” He jerked away and wrapped himself even tighter around the machine shouting, “come on!” as he continued to beat the buttons mercilessly and pretend I didn’t exist. I stood paralyzed, frozen without a set of behavioral options to choose from.
When the kids had been coming through the line waiting to make soap, they may have been impatient but they were eager to learn and were fully aware that we were the gatekeepers of the personal soap making experience they so craved. When I told them not to pour all of the glitter onto the table or use only drop from the pipette, they listened. It was too easy.
The thing about kids is that they often exhibit the same behavior seen in adult human beings… the ones we jail or fine. Yet somehow the same greed, selfishness and violence are tolerated or even seen as adorable in children. Worse still, in trying to interact with them I am bound by a mysterious undefined set of guidelines set by parents I likely don’t even know. Any move I make might be in direct violation of these guidelines and lead to outrage and perhaps even incarceration. Some parents insist on physical discipline. Others on verbal discipline. Still others on elaborate, carefully worded reasoning.
Being California I had to assume latter and, not having the energy for either hand to hand combat or a battle of wits with a six year old, I decided it was better that I just leave. I felt defeated and irritated with myself for not knowing these games better, but the idea of having this kid’s screaming bring down the hammer for my having abused or mistreated a child was too loathsome.
In the end this defeat simply left me determined to learn a few of the socially acceptable tricks. The rest of the event, while physically exhausting, had been quite fun and seeing small humans ratcheted up into a creative frenzy gave me hope for the future. TV is dying. People are learning at a young age to seek out interactive and creative amusements and the growth of Maker Faire exemplifies the trend. I can only hope that in our robot-laden future, most will be built at home!
Kai Makes Soap!