When John Mraz learned his friend’s pandemic-postponed knee replacement surgery had been rescheduled for June, he pondered what kind of get-well gift to give him.
Of course, no store-bought gift would do. No, it had to crafted in Mraz’s basement workshop and produced under the label “Another Mraz Bent Nail Production.”
“I thought I’d put together a little first aid kit for him,” Mraz said. “It took me a couple of months to design, generate fabrication drawings, source content and build.”
Why so much time and thought spent on the gift? Well, his friend is Ken Spiering, the artist behind an iconic Spokane monument, the Radio Flyer red wagon, in Riverfront Park, as well as several other pieces of public art.
“I’ve known Ken about 40 years,” Mraz said. “For 11 years he and I collaborated on the official Bloomsday poster, and we both taught at Spokane Falls Community College.”
Mraz is no slouch when it comes to design.
In 2014, the graphic artist and founder of several design groups received the Spokane Advertising Federation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. In the video documenting the award, Mraz is describe as “genius, creative, exacting and perfectionist” which explains the thought and detail that went into crafting this gift.
“First, I gathered the components I wanted to include and then I designed the carrier,” he said.
Keeping in mind that shared humor is the heartbeat of their friendship, Mraz included items guaranteed to make Spiering smile.
He labeled the gift a “Fast Aid” kit.
“It has cough syrup (gin), limes to keep the citrus in your system, something to dilute the cough syrup (tonic water), glasses, a pocket knife, a shot glass and a cutting board,” Mraz said. “It kept me out of trouble for a couple months.”
Surprisingly, he said the biggest challenge was finding limes small enough to fit in the glasses.
Speaking of glasses, the shot glass Mraz included is from Wyoming, an homage to Spiering’s childhood spent on a Wyoming ranch. Mraz found it in a box of shot glasses he’d inherited from his stepfather.
The cedar-framed box is covered with fabric affixed with magnets that lift on both front and back. Mraz enlisted his wife’s help for the cover.
“I wanted it to look vintage,” he said. “My wife sewed two layers of fabric with an interface between to give it the look and feel of canvas.”
Mraz fashioned a stencil and brushed a red cross on both flaps.
A small cutting board is cleverly attached to the inside of the box with a Zerk fitting.
Hooks found at his local hardware store were repurposed for the handles.
“I have a technique where I can take any type of metal and make it look like it has 20 years of rust on it,” he said. “The handles were Ken’s favorite thing.”
Of course, no medical kit is complete without dosage instructions, so Mraz affixed a tag with the Bent Nailz logo and directions for use.
“Tired of weaving down the fast lane on the highway to hell?” it reads. “Drift right, put two wheels in the ditch and try this detour. When taken as prescribed this remedy has the potential to cure blindness, pigeon toe, stubbornness, tennis elbow, flared nostrils, incontinence, ingrown hair, inflated egos, hangnails, jacked knives and other preexisting conditions. Mix ingredients to desired ratio. Portion size and dispensing frequency dependent on Body Mass Index (BMI), severity of maladies and current mental state.”
Mraz said the motivation behind the gift was to bring his friend “some surprise and joy.” He accomplished both. Spiering was delighted.
“It knocked me out,” he said. “Everything John does is a revelation, and you get to discover it. The pocket knife looks like one I had as a kid.”
Mraz said Spiering is “spring loaded to laugh,” and the “Fast Aid” kit tickled his funny bone.
“I must have laughed for five solid minutes,” Spiering said. “What a gift! His timing is impeccable. There’s no finer person than John, and his friendship is precious to me.”
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