I idled away many hours at the foot of The Throne while I worked in Washington. I was helping research and write a book about campaign finance reform at the Center for Public Integrity; I enjoyed the job, but after having spent most of my life as a newspaper reporter, I felt deskbound in my windowless cubicle. So, like office convicts everywhere, I seized upon my lunch hour to escape, and took up the habit of noshing while wandering through D.C.'s great public galleries.
James Hampton Jr.'s tinfoil-encrusted Throne of the Third Heaven attracted me instantly. It felt as out of place in the stuffy Smithsonian American Art Museum as I did in Washington. And a nearby bench provided a comfortable place to eat. I returned often.
I marveled at how long it must have taken to collect each bit of tinfoil and mold it into shape. On my third or fourth visit I realized that my own labor was not so different from Hampton's: I spent my days collecting bits and pieces of seemingly unrelated information and hammering them into a book. As I grew to understand how profoundly important The Throne was to Hampton, I grew jealous of his passion.
I also began to lament the declining use of tinfoil. Will some future artist make as interesting use of asceptic juice boxes? So on one pilgrimage to The Throne, I packed my own lunch, carefully wrapping my tuna sandwiches in shiny metal. I savored the cheap meal slowly. And when I was through, I squeezed the foil into a crevasse behind the bench-just in case some janitor on a mission from God might need it.
Monte Paulsen is co-author with Bill Stone and Barbara am Ende of Beyond the Deep: The Deadly Descent into the World's Most Treacherous Cave, to be published by Warner Books in June.