It’s an early Saturday morning and I’m sitting in my favorite cafe in the city; a laundromat just across the street from an antique clock repair shop (which looks as if it’s simply begging for a novel to be written about it). But this cafe is always buzzing with small children, charming neighbors, and wise old dogs that scamper about the place. On my way in I always give a respectful nod to Frank, the old terrier that guards the entrance. He looks world-weary and heart broken and I love him more than words can say.
Last week, a retired patron took a step towards the barista on his way out and earnestly cried with all his might: “Thank you for being a part of my day!” and several days later I am still recovering emotionally from the shock of how lovely it was to hear. Just. Woof.
Today though something remarkable is taking place.
In the middle of the laundromat is a counter-top island and on one side that faces a large set of windows is a knee-high blackboard for children. Bored kids will often sit around and draw dogs and monsters, or giant bugs and gingerbread houses whilst their parents chat with the barista.
Of course, Frank will always be guarding the door and miserly judging the children for their sticky hands and all their loud, overbearing optimism. God I love Frank so much.
Right now though, as I’m typing this message to you, a six year old is sat by the chalkboard—but this time he’s not drawing fantastical worlds and mythic beasts. Instead this blonde kid is drawing enormous and wonky S’s. And now he stops to add the essential eyes and wings and teeth that were missing from his capital B’s. There are lowercase W’s and Y’s that occupy all the space on the chalkboard and, if they were made of stone, would eclipse this little chap that drew them.
His letters are growing, transforming, as he draws. Each starts out relatively simple but with enough iterating they become alive and grow hair and form teeth. They have a personality and history. They are monstrous letters; characters with limbs and beards and filled to the brim with courage or anger. These are the sort of letters that can commit forgery and love to venture out into the evening for a brisk walk and a nice bit of arson.
They form a messy alphabet across the laundromat; shapes that bark and squeal, shapes that do damage and don’t care about who they hurt.
And I realize that this must be the place where type designers are forged. I have stumbled upon the moment in this charming kid’s life where its swerving towards a life of letters and gob-smacking graphics. Yet this is not only when, but how type designers are made, I realize, too: a life made up of big chalkboards and filthy hands.
A life made of bright crayons and even brighter smiles.