Before he dies, Elliot Kharkats wants to have children.
We know this because the Westchester resident hand-printed that wish himself on a large chalkboard that he placed in the 8700 block of La Tijera Boulevard.
Over the last several months, passersby have responded by the hundreds to express their innermost hopes. They use chalk that Kharkats helpfully provides to fill in 52 stenciled “Before I die I want to...” blanks that cover the board, which is attached to a large gate on his backyard fence.
Kharkats, 33, is a Russian-born Internet marketer who was inspired to build the sign about two months ago after he spotted a similar one on a visit to San Diego. That installation was one of dozens of “Before I die” chalkboards that have sprung up around the world over the last two years since urban planner Candy Chang placed the first one on the side of an abandoned New Orleans house.
Chang encourages others to replicate her original chalkboard, even posting a free stencil template on the Internet that people can download and use to create their own “Before I die I want to...” signs.
That’s how Kharkats got the makings for his own chalkboard, which he created over the course of two weekends using white spray paint on a blackboard.
He said he has been profoundly influenced by Burning Man, the annual desert arts and music festival that he has attended numerous times over the years.
“People spend hours and hours and thousands of dollars at Burning Man for no reason except to have other people appreciate what they’ve done. This board is for other people, not for me. This is an interactive art piece for other people,” he said.
“A woman stopped when I was first putting it up. Nobody had written on it yet, and I said, ‘Why don’t you be the first?’ She wrote that before she dies she wants to get married. That’s when I wrote that before I die I want to have children,” he said.
It’s doable, he quickly added. “I’ve got a steady girlfriend.”
Kharkats said many of the board’s inscriptions are thoughtful: “I want to have my family forgive me.” “I want to change someone’s life.” “I want to travel to another country and save lives.”
One person confessed that “Before I die I want to finish my bucket list.”
Others are more playful. One woman wrote that before she dies she wants “to have an affair.” A male passerby who read that comment inquired if anyone had gotten her name and number.
Passersby say they admire the chalkboard, although some aren’t eager to contribute to it. Pierre Hormann stopped to read the board’s comments.
“I’m almost tempted to write something. But I’ve done pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted to do,” he said.
Kharkats’ neighbors say they at first thought taggers were at work on the La Tijera wall when people started congregating around the chalkboard.
It’s not the first time Kharkats has been an organizer in his neighborhood. “You should ask Elliot about what he did when the Space Shuttle came up the street,” a neighbor said.
That day Kharkats, a relative newcomer to Kittyhawk Avenue, invited people over for a shuttle party. “We opened the gate and had a big dinner party with food and wine as it came by. But we almost timed it wrong. It was moving pretty fast,” he said.
Although he erases the blackboard weekly to give more people a chance to bare their souls, Kharkats plans to keep it up -- and supplied with chalk -- indefinitely.