Know This Love: Ian and the junk models


Besides the therapeutic benefit of the water, my favorite part of going to the ocean is getting to meet such a wide variety of people. There are rich and poor, young and old, black and white and yellow and orange and green. I guess that makes it a populist sort of place because, aside from the gas to get there, it’s free to all regardless of who they are.

And depending on the beach you visit, people are often different. They may be lighter, more contemplative, more willing to engage in a fleeting, pleasant conversation.

A weeks back, before the “You are so loved” cards arrived from the printer, I met a guy named Ian. He was a 30-something man with hair cut to less than an eighth of an inch, short enough to reveal a scar on his head that was an actual dent. He was wearing socks, but no shoes. Spread in front of him was what appeared to be a random collection of junk he probably exhumed from the trash.

I greeted him with a smile – as I do with most people, even if they don’t know what to make of it – and we introduced ourselves with a firm handshake. At some point he asked me if I had any pot.

I used one of my go-to lines, some variation on:

“Sorry, man. I’m like a Mormon without the actual Mormonism.”

As it turns out, the random junk was actually a collection of sculptures he’d made from random things he’d picked up.

He proceeded to show me what he’d assembled with the pride of an artist who was finally being noticed. There was a little campfire, with a few playing pieces from a board game to represent plants. That one was for this beach, he said.

Since I didn’t take pictures of it (I thought that might obligate me to donate or buy something), I don’t remember many of the others.

I do, however, remember my favorite: three or four toy cars inside of a plastic dome – like an oversized snow globe without the snow – and over the top of it, a pair of headphones sitting as they would on a person’s head.

I told him that one was my favorite. He approved of my choice.

I never really know what abstract art is supposed to mean until I have it explained to me. Ian didn’t offer me an explanation of my favorite sculpture, but I bet he had something really fascinating in mind – fascinating, at least, to himself.

We shook hands and wished each other well, and I figured I’d probably never see him again.

I wrote up this article that evening. The original ending I wrote was neat and pretty, some version of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and how beauty was everywhere if we knew how to look for it.

Then, a few days later, I saw Ian again at the beach. We talked for awhile, and his sculptures came up. Someone had, not surprisingly, insulted them. “Dicks” was the term he used to describe his haters.

“They called them pieces of trash,” he said. “So I gave up.”

Matthew Stensland-Bos explores consciousness, love, healing, and grounded spirituality in Know This Love, a weekly SFBay opinion column.  You can find him on his website, and his blog,

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