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Off Limits
I Am Curious, Yellow

Published: Thursday, August 4, 2005

Want the real story? Find the yellow arrow.

Jackie Tancredo

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All signs these days point to Colfax Avenue, where Brian House has posted nearly 150 palm-sized yellow arrows on signs, doors and alleys. The effort isn't part of the city administration's upscaling of America's Main Street, though; House is just a hometown boy bringing public awareness to a worldwide scavenger hunt, or MAAP -- Massively Authored Artistic Project -- that he helped design.

House grew up just off East Colfax and headed for Columbia University in 1998. There he and Boulderite Jesse Shapins met classmate Chris Allen and, with the help of Michael Count of Counts Media, came up with the idea of placing arrows around the globe. But their effort isn't all about artistic graffiti; there's a message. Lots of messages. Each of the arrows bears an alphanumeric code. Anyone can buy one at http://global.yellowarrow.net for fifty cents apiece, hide the arrow, then send a text message to the code number, recording a thought about the place where the sticker was left. People who subsequently come upon the arrow can text in its code and get the story over the phone.

"The world becomes a gallery," House explains. "That's what's interesting about the arrow. It's physical, it's a sticker, you're putting it in a real environment -- but by adding a message, you're putting it into a context you couldn't have otherwise. There's a lot of collective knowledge about intimate experiences you have with the city, and I think there's a lot of value in combining that together."

Here's a sampling of the intimate experiences he's posted along Colfax:

At Niagara Street, by a doughnut sign draped with white cloth because the shop is now closed: "His name was Dutch Boy. I remember him well, and I know what the secret ingredient was."

At Jasmine, by Hub Cap Annie's: "Annie has the one store on East Colfax that doesn't change. She gave me $5 for a summer's worth of scavenging, but it was a fortune anyway."

At Ivanhoe, by the Isis Metaphysical Center: "Long ago, I walked in and the guy looked up and said, 'Sticky fingers is bad karma.' I rubbed them together, but they seemed fine to me."

At Fairfax, by the black-and-white mural of a man playing a trumpet: "P-Funk once recorded here. So did our own Chuck da Fonk."

At Madison, outside Bastien's: "There is a man inside right now who has eaten a steak from Bastien's every week for 40 years."

And with any luck, he'll be eating one every week for the next forty.

More text messaging: It was under less-than-friendly circumstances that six-year director Chris Citron parted ways with the Colorado Center for the Book last December, just before the official announcement came down that the nonprofit was merging with the Colorado Center for the Humanities. But Citron's love affair with literature continues: She's started the Colorado Center for Literature and Art.

"At this point it's pretty small, a grassroots non-profit organization promoting literary and literacy goals, to encourage love of reading and love of books," she says. "I'm particularly interested in Colorado literary history and literary endeavors. We're organizing literary events and bringing readers and authors together and just encouraging interest in books."

At the same time she's taking on her former employer, right? "We're just a complementary group," she says. "There are a lot of different organizations. I think we'll be trying to do smaller events, really focusing on bringing people together for conversation rather than grand, big-scale events. I expect to continue to do the same kinds of things I've done for years, and I think it's very exciting to bring people together and see the sparks of when people are turned on from an author talking."

Scene and herd: That hated blue Qwest sign -- dimmed from its most garish glow, but still dominating downtown -- has been joined by another bolt from the blue, with the Downtown Aquarium adding its own overdose of azure neon to the skyline. That's one way to let people know there's a new squid in town.

On the Record

We here at Off Limits often scratch our heads and marvel that Jackie Tancredo is married to Colorado's controversy-prone congressman from the Sixth District. She always seemed so normal, so not prone to controversy when she was our junior high French teacher. Since she was also the teacher who made a difference in our lives, we raised our hands and asked the longtime Jefferson County educator what kind of difference Tom Tancredo has made in hers.

Q: How did you and Tom meet?

A: We were both teachers at Drake Junior High. I had teaching and a small, nice comfortable life in Arvada that I enjoyed incredibly.

Q: Has he always been so outrageous, or has this just come on over time?

A: When I met Tom, he was teaching political science, so he's always been interested, but not heavily involved. But by the time I married him in 1977, he was running for the Statehouse, so he always says, "You knew." So part of it has to be my own fault. You fall in love with who you fall in love with. It's been an interesting life since. I am a very private person, and I like a lot of stability, and all of a sudden I'm taken out of my comfort zone constantly, through our whole marriage. In the Statehouse, I always went, "Well, do you have to do this?" When he went to work for the Reagan administration, I said, "Good, you're out of the eye of the storm." Not true. Pat Schroeder called for his resignation umpteen times. When he went to the Independence Institute, I said, "Oh, thank heaven, we're out of public life." But I've figured out that it's not the position that gets Tom in trouble; it's Tom. He is a non-politician politician. He says exactly what he thinks. He does not couch his words, and that gets him in trouble.

Q: Does that affect you much, or do you keep home and politics separate?

A: I try to keep our lives normal, but that's easier said than done. He is a very public figure at this point. People ask what's it like being a congressional wife. I always joke that instead of three toilets to clean, I have six. It's just juggling a lot of balls. I have to admit that he worries me a lot, too. This Mother's Day, he went to Iraq. He felt very compelled to go, and I said, "Can't you just watch it on TV? We have children and grandchildren. Really, Tom, I don't understand this." But he said, "We send our young men over there, so I need to be over there and see what's happening." My greatest Mother's Day present was getting the call that they had cleared Iraqi air space.

Q: It's been said the only person who can keep him under control is you. Do you rule the house with an iron glove?

A: I don't think anyone can keep Tom under control. He listens to me, and I listen to him. We both respect each other. But I don't control him. If that was the case, I don't do a very good job. He would not be in Congress if I were in control, let's put it that way. He didn't even ask me when he decided to run. Well, he did. He called me one night and said, "I want to take you to dinner, wherever your heart desires." I knew that was a bad thing. Black-Eyed Pea, Macaroni Grill, those are fine. But anywhere my heart desires, I know it's a bad thing. Then he told me everyone wants him to run, but not to worry because John Elway is going to run, so he'd just have to say he was running for a couple of days. I don't know John Elway, but I've never liked him since then. He didn't come through for me.

Q: Did other teachers treat you differently when Tom worked for the Department of Education?

A: I've never had anyone say anything directly to me. I'm sure there are people I know who have strong opinions about what Tom does, but everyone understands that he's my husband; it's not me.

Q: Has immigration always been a hot-button issue?

A: When he was in the Statehouse, it was bilingual education. As teachers, both of us believe that the most important thing the government can do is provide the best possibilities for children, and we saw bilingual education as being harmful to them because they were not learning English and getting the fruits of the American society. That was the precursor to immigration. It wasn't a new issue to him; he's always been on the forefront of issues. He started the immigration caucus when he first got to Congress. At that point, there were thirty or forty people. Then 9/11 happened, and it all changed. At that point, everyone started saying we have to re-evaluate immigration.

Q: As a teacher, what would you say to the two illegal immigrants living behind me? They're two young girls about to enter junior high, brought here when they were just babies. They're doing great in school and are really bright. But at a certain point, what do teachers do to encourage them when the reality is they won't be able to go to college or live the American Dream?

A: All children are victims of their parents' choices. These children were given a better life for a certain amount of time. It's incredibly unfortunate that their parents didn't do things the right way. I taught Russian and have lists and lists of Russian people who are here who spent hours, days, months, years trying to get here. They did it the right way. These parents, for whatever reason, did it the wrong way. But certainly if I were a parent in Mexico with two starving children, I would run across the border. That's why the policy of the government is so wrong. We let them in here and then slam the door. Those children are in a quagmire of what do we do and how do we do it. We have to change those things so that in the future the people come with our approval and with the possibility of becoming the citizens we want them to become. It's a terrible problem our country has exacerbated by not allowing the polices to be enforced.

Q: Will Tom run for president, and would you support that?

A: No. Well, I shouldn't say no, but what he wants is for immigration to be talked about by the real presidential candidates. It's a people issue. Neither of us want to see people mistreated and maltreated. The people coming across are brutalized and then exploited. They're paid less than minimum wage and treated badly. They shouldn't have to be treated badly. People say, "Well, then what are going to do? We need them." Well, you might have to pay more for a hamburger. But why should we exploit people so we can have cheap labor at your house or restaurant or Wal-Mart?

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