The family I grew up in was very particular about how a slice of a round cake was to lie on a plate. It was supposed to be positioned so that you could eat it from the inside out and from the bottom up. For all of us right-handers, this meant the frosting had to be to the left. A piece of cake with the frosting on the right was said to be “flopped wrong.”
This attention to direction has come to mind recently, as the citizens of Sandpoint have debated about whether the fish on their newly installed Sand Creek arch are flopped correctly.
Followers of this blog will remember the piece I wrote about the arch a year ago. It was to be built using an Enhancement Grant from the Idaho Department of Transportation Artists submitted ideas, and the winning design involved metal fish cut from old highway signs. These signs, of course, have colored paint on one side and a plain metal finish on the other.
The arch was finally put in place a few weeks ago, and its fish are not flopped the way I envisioned them. I thought the shiny metal back sides of the signs would all be on one side of the arch, so we would have shiny metal fish on one side and colorful fish on the other.
Instead, the fish appear to have been more randomly flopped, and color is showing on both sides of the arch. As you approach it from First Avenue, you see among the shiny steel fish a lot of colored fish. And if you turn around and look back after you’ve passed under the arch, again there are mixed fish.
I don’t mind that it’s different than I thought it would be. I like reading the fish: There are fish that read “BRIDGE,” “AIRPORT,” and “SKI AREA,” and there are several “STOP” fish as well as fish with smaller bits of words that I can’t completely make out. I’m happy to read the fish from both sides.
But not everyone is happy. In a letter to the editor of the Bonner County Daily Bee, Dan Mimmack complained that the randomly flopped fish were “a mess.” Inspired by the flap over the way the fish are flopped, online commenters have made unflattering comparisons to the widely unloved piece of art that sits in front of the county courthouse—an amorphous construction of logs called “Tolerance.” More fervent writers go on to suggest that proposals for public art should be put to a vote of the public that will have to view it regularly, and some say it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars anyway.
But not everyone is unhappy, either. Another writer, Daryl Baird, defended the arch as “delightful” and “full of lively color on both sides.” Word on the street appears to be balanced. And it’s not overwhelmingly evident that many citizens care a whole lot which way the fish are flopped.
It’s clear they lack the commitment to correct flopping that my family had. And in this small town, where people with passionate and possibly opposing positions can’t help but run into one another in the grocery store, maybe that’s just as well.