“See that guy over there? That’s the toothpick guy.”
The intriguing sentences are occasionally offered to newcomers at the few North Side taverns Wayne Kusy counts himself a regular.
He kind of loves the attention, unless he’s eating.
Building large, scale models of cruise ships out of toothpicks from his Lincoln Square apartment has led him to good things — television appearances, print write-ups, a sparks-flying conversation with a woman on a CTA bus that he regrets abandoning because his stop was called.
Toothpicks have been central to his identity since he fell in love with gluing them into boats during a fifth grade art project.
Kusy, 59, has been making toothpick boats ever since. A few are in museums. And though he occasionally sells smaller models for a few hundred bucks, an artist’s passion fuels him, not money — he gets paid through his day job as a web developer.
“Because they’re there,” Kusy said.
Faithfulness to floating objects, however, was put on ice two years ago when a radical idea burst into his brain: create a rock band out of toothpicks.
He crafted five musicians, called the group Wood Zeppelin (yes, a nod to Led Zeppelin) and created a stop motion animation music video with the help of a few friends and a green screen he set up in his living room.
He finished it last month and posted the video online at woodzeppelin.com.
Kusy, who plays guitar, used himself as the model for one of the characters — Birch Reynolds.
Each stands about a foot tall and took around 80 hours to make, often while watching “Star Trek.”
Kusy is single, lives alone and has more time during the pandemic to devote to the project.
His other website — waynekusy.com — features his model ships and includes a frequently asked questions portion.
One inquiry he regularly fields: Are you crazy?
His reply: “Yes, but only in a good way.”
Kusy is thinking his next project will lead him to make a series of toothpick characters to re-create dancing scenes from the popular television show “Soul Train.”