Jess Paquette poses with some of her collection of Legos in her apartment in Lewiston in December. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Inside Jess Paquette’s Lewiston apartment, an inquisitive coon hound named Sweet Pea bounds over to sniff my hand. I squint with mistrust at the animal, poking at its head and face to ascertain whether or not the animal is real. 

Visit Paquette for yourself and you’ll understand my skepticism. Just about everything in the place is constructed of Lego, so why would I just assume that her dog is any different? 

It turned out that Sweat Pea is made of flesh and blood, but really. Inside Paquette’s sprawling Lego wonderland she calls home, the dog proved the exception to the rule. 

A Lego lamp Jess Paquette built is adorned with characters of all types, including Jess, top, from the movie” Toy Story.” Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

We’ll start with the bedroom — or what would serve as a bedroom for most people. There, Paquette has set up an entire Lego city, such a vast plastic metropolis that it would take a full day to examine all of its parts.

Here’s a towering hospital complete with helicopter pad on the roof. 

Here’s a massive police compound with a full fleet of cruisers and helicopters of their own. 

Lego City has an island prison. A tiki bar. A high-speed commuter train, regular old freight trains, a public works department, coffee shops, apartment houses, ships and speed boats sailing in and out of a harbor, and you know, a few dinosaurs sniffing around the city just to keep things interesting. 

The city sprawls across so much space, Paquette had to permanently move her bed into the living room to construct it, piece-by-piece from the Lego blocks she so adores. 

Why does she love Lego so much? Paquette has some theories on that. 

“My dad passed away four years ago,” she says, “and I didn’t know what to do with myself except the unthinkable. So to avoid that, I started building Lego instead. It keeps my hands and head busy. It helps me to forget. It’s a way to cope, I suppose.” 

Lego as a form of grief counseling? It’s not such a crazy notion. 

“There’s a lot of science behind it,” Paquette says. “They describe it as your life being broken down into a bazillion pieces. You don’t know what to do with those pieces. But once you get those instructions and start putting the pieces together, you can kind of start building your life back up the way you want it to be. And then, at the end of the process, you can be proud of it.” 

Her argument that Lego is a sort of sanity safe space is backed up by numbers. And I mean REALLY BIG numbers. Let me lay some on you. 

By the latest estimates, something like 1,300 Lego pieces are produced per second. That’s 78,000 per minute and 4,680,000 per hour. 

A section of the large Lego village in Jess Paquette’s apartment in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

On average there are 86 Lego bricks for every single person on earth. 

The Lego bricks sold in just one year could wrap around Earth five times. 

During the Christmas season, according to several sources, roughly 28 Lego sets are sold each second, which means by the time you’re finished reading this sentence . . . 

TOO OLD FOR LEGO?

Some Lego handiwork by Joseph Felix Graziano of Bowdoin. Photo submitted

You get the idea. If Lego blocks were an invading army, we’d be toast by now. And there are some people — overwrought mothers, in particular — who are inclined to view the beloved toy this way. 

“Legos are an evil conspiracy against parents,” advises Gina Choiniere, of Corinth. “You step on them, suck them up into the vacuum, the dogs eat them, as do the kids — that’s if they don’t go up noses or into ears! Terrible invention that kids undoubtedly love and request to play with often.” 

Choiniere’s kids are all grown up now, but she’s raising three more children, ages 2, 8 and 9 and, yep. The little ones insist on Legos, so Choiniere has to endure the torture a little longer. 

“It’s definitely no better this time around,” she says. “I’m not sure why we do it to ourselves. Most parents and caregivers HATE them, yet we continue to buy them.” 

Choiniere may have enough passion about these things to start a support group, but will other parents join her? 

Not all of them. Have you ever heard of Nathan Sawaya? He’s a fellow who gained worldwide fame when he gave up a prosperous legal career in Hollywood to become a full-time Lego artist. 

One of the Lego builds at Monika Grillo’s Lewiston home. Photo submitted

According to surveys of our readers, this is not altogether unusual. There are plenty of adults who are as into Legos now as they were as kids. There are parents who gave it up when they became adults but now they see all the fun their kids are having and, well . . . Let me in there, son. I want to play, too. 

“My son asked for Legos last Christmas,” says Carol Guyton, of Lewiston. “He is 46.” 

Monika Grillo, of Lewiston, is quick to share photos of the Lego builds scattered from room to room around her house. 

“Plus random builds on every bookshelf,” she says. “It’s bad here. This is all my husband’s doing. A lot of the Legos in the bin are his from when he was a kid. He got our son and youngest daughter hooked.” 

“Spent six hours building the Millennium Falcon for my son 8 years ago,” says Kimberly Money of Rumford. “It’s moved with us three times since then, and is now a decoration in our dining room.” 

“I got my father’s Lego bricks,” says Joseph Felix Graziano of Bowdoin. “Ever since then I’ve bought sets from stores, I got bags at thrift stores, I buy them off people on Facebook marketplace and my collection has grown and GROWN. I believe I have around 10 18-gallon tubs full of my Lego blocks.

This is the “Star Wars” Millennium Falcon that Kimberly Money of Rumford built for her then-8-year-old son. Photo submitted

It’s actually a great investment, it’s a great collectors item and specialty pieces are usually in high demand. I have so much fun with them, just organizing them is a task, yet enjoyable.” 

“I used to pay with my Legos all the time,” says Russ Keith, of Lewiston. “I used to build spaceships, helicopters and planes mostly. Still have them somewhere. No pictures of my builds. My son got the Saturn V rocket last year for Christmas. Took him a few days to complete. It’s a surprisingly large build and even comes with a scale-correct figure of a person.” 

At the Auburn Library, the Lego Club is currently canceled because of COVID. But when things are operating normally over there, Deb Cleveland, who runs the club, can attest that when it comes to hobbies, this one isn’t for just children alone.

“It is open to anyone with an interest in building with Legos,” Cleveland says. “Some of the parents get quite involved at Lego Club.”

Nicole Mannix of Lewiston has a hefty stash of pirate-themed Legos still kicking around from her childhood. Submitted photo

The club strives to make Lego easy for families. Nobody has to register and they can just drop by whenever it’s convenient.

“The library provides the Legos and the kids can work on whatever they like,” Cleveland explains. “We also have Lego books and magazines available for inspiration. During school vacation weeks, we host a Vacation Lego Club to give kids something to do during the break from school. Adults like them almost as much as the kids.”

There are Lego groups all over Facebook, some with tens of millions of followers. These are people for whom Lego is more than an idle pastime. Why, there are some who would argue that Lego isn’t just darn fun, it’s educational to boot.

“My younger son has been building with Legos since he was 4,” says Eric Kaiser, of Auburn. “Now in his later teens he builds occasionally, usually something from one of the architecture series. It’s something I did as a kid as well, but as a teenager I dropped it. Nick has kept up with it. He likes to figure things out and Lego is a perfect ‘toy’ for someone like him who has an engineering mindset.” 

Other than the occasional parent who is just sick and tired of impaling the soles of their feet on Lego blocks every other night, most adults seem to be completely cool with it. Paquette is kind of the extreme version of this phenomenon. 

WE BUILT THIS CITY

Nearly every nook and cranny is filled with Legos in Jess Paquette’s Lewiston apartment. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

When I first stepped inside her apartment on Main Street in Lewiston, I was greeted at once by a Lego build that seemed immediately familiar. Where, oh where, had I seen this building before? After a few seconds of eyeballing the construction, it came to me: Paquette had built out of Legos a replica of the building in which she lives. The building I had just seconds ago walked into.

Duh, right?

Jess Paquette plays with a Lego train set in her living room, where she also moved her bed in order to accommodate her growing Lego collection in her bedroom. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

And when I say it’s a replica, I’m not being loose with the term. Paquette started, stopped and then restarted this particular project 15 times before she got it right. In one instance, she tore the whole thing down because she felt like the brick colors weren’t quite red enough. 

“I had to take a billion pictures,” she says. “I kept messing up and then I’d have to restart. I misplaced a window and it really annoyed me.” 

The Lego build of her apartment complex is accurate down to the finest details. Tiny Lego air conditioners, for instance, are in all the right windows. The tattered flag at the side of the apartment house is represented in the Lego build and in the appropriate spot. Same for the vents, the mailboxes, the shrubs and plants. The bus stop is in the correct location and a satellite dish is placed appropriately. 

Paquette initially overlooked that satellite dish, which clearly would have been disastrous. 

“I have OCD,” she says, “and missing a detail like that really would have driven me crazy.” 

When the coronavirus hit, Jess Paquette made a collection basket out of Legos for use when she panhandles in downtown Lewiston. in order to stay socially distanced from donors. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Also in Paquette’s kitchen is a functioning lamp made of Legos. Flick the switch and the light comes on. That’s bizarre to me.

A short distance away, in the living room, is a Lego winter village with a Lego train cruising around it. 

There’s a Lego version of the Porsche 944, the car her father used to drive. 

There’s a Harry Potter castle made of 6,000 individual Lego blocks that took Paquette three weeks to complete. There are airplanes and helicopters and dinosaurs galore. There are more things made of Legos in Paquette’s living space, I eventually deduced, than things that are not. 

Most commonly known locally as one of Lewiston’s more colorful panhandlers, Paquette even made a collection basket of Legos to use when she’s out collecting on Lisbon and Main streets. A quirky idea, for sure, and not on the practical side. 

“The last windy day,” Paquette says, “my basket went blowing down the street and it broke into a bazillion pieces. I had traffic backed up waiting for me to pick it all up.” 

It’s all good, though. At the end of the day, Paquette returns from the downtown, with its array of city annoyances, frustrations and cruelties, to a city she built on her own and from scratch. 

Paquette is fully immersed in her world made of Legos and she readily admits to the indulgence. Why wouldn’t she? Compared to the real world with its endless supply of temptations, addictions and complications, Lego world seems utterly benign by contrast. 

“It is,” Paquette says, “a healthy habit.”

Jess Paquette created a Lego replica of her Lewiston apartment building. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

 


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