Lately I seem to be obsessed with small stuffed animals.
Everywhere I go, there they are.
It started just before Christmas, wandering the aisles of my local smalltown supermarket here in Talent, Oregon. I turned around – and there they all were, staring at me.
I had the impression that they were good friends. Mark Twain said, “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” If you are stuck in a cage at the Supermarket, one out of three isn’t bad.
A week later, it was nearly Christmas Eve. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house…not a creature was stirring, not even a…
Well of course none of the Frogs were stirring because they were caught in netting – and waiting with Zen-like patience to be adopted into a new home (and presumably one with a bathtub to feature their floating rubber talents).
Mark Twain also wrote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Hmmmm….a different take on the traditional Christmas Dinner, that’s for damn sure. I thought about that for a moment but then got distracted by a faint nearby birdcall….that sounded suspiciously like…
In a Supermarket?
Douglas Adams writes that – “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.”
But had he encountered this trio, I wonder what Douglas would have made of them? Whereas I, being the weird person that I am, immediately wondered: do ducks have…grandmothers? If so, when Litte Red Riding Duck goes to visit her Grandma Duckie in that lonely house in the bullrushes, would she say to her – ‘But Grandma, what big lips you have?’ To which Grandma, if I know her (and if I don’t…who does?) would be sure to answer, ‘They aren’t lips, Duckie…that’s my Bill, damnit!’
Kenneth Grahame, of ‘Wind in the Willows’ fame, once wrote a short poem about ducks and, among other things, their bills -
“All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!
Ducks’ tails, drakes’ tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river! ”
But my trio of Supermarket ducks neither dabbled nor quivered. They just stared fixedly at me, with those borderline frightening smiles that made me wonder: do rubber duckies come to life, Toy-Story-style, when all the humans have left the premises?
And if they do….will they keep on smiling? or will those red grinning duckbills reveal the razor-sharp fangs of….a Vampire Duck?
Needless to say, I got the Hell out of there. A week later, I was down in the Bay Area, visiting a cool museum in Oakland where my older brother had taken me, and I stuck my nose into the Museum store…only to find a row of noses pointed directly back at me…
I was speechless. I just stared back…incapable of words. Perhaps a few short monosyllabic grunts. No loss, my momentary inability to communicate verbally with my silent stuffed interlocutors. Gustave Flaubert said that, “human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to” – and momentarily it flashed through my frozen synapses that perhaps if I started tapping out a rhythm…they would all join in?
Three months later, I found myself entering the small, local Medford airport, en route from Point A to Point B. And who should be there waiting for me but….two incredibly lifelike canines, pointing the way with their muzzles and eyes to the Airport’s special ‘Pet Relief Area’.
Birds do it. Bees do it. Pets do it too. But do plastic dogs do it as well? In the wee wee predawn hours, when the entire world around them sleeps, do they carefully step down from their plastic pedestal and make their way over for a little plastic relief of their own? A generation ago, Philip K. Dick famously asked whether or not Androids dream of Electric Sheep? I couldn’t – and still can’t – help wondering….whether plastic dogs dream of plastic streams of pee…onto plastic fire hydrants?
Weeks later, returning to southern Oregon, I visited the cavernous costume and prop repository for a well-known local Theater company. Other visitors walked around, taking in their surroundings with an eye-level POV, but my view was yanked down, as though by the pull of an enormous unseen magnetic force, to meet another pair of eyes, staring not so much at me…but out into what seemed like an interminable void.
This was no stuffed toy. This was the real thing: an immense seemingly larger-than-life stuffed deer’s head. I couldn’t stop staring. And thinking…what his life had been like, back when he was still….alive? Did he run, did he leap, did he twist agilely in the air? At the moment of his death, did everything come to a quick clean end? Or was it drawn out? One of my all-time favorite storytellers, the late Philip K. Dick, once wrote that, “The distinction between sanity and insanity is narrower than the razor’s edge, sharper than a hound’s tooth, more agile than a mule deer.” Staring at this now-still deer’s head, face and eye, I felt momentarily balanced on a different kind of razor’s edge – the horns of a moral dilemma, so to speak – as this animal’s life and death seemed to come rushing back at me with whirlwind force, impossible to resist.
So I just looked at him. And then took his picture. Many so-called ‘primitive’ peoples believe the act of photographing someone – is akin to robbing them of their soul. But I wasn’t doing that with my newfound deer – it felt, au contraire, that I was trying, in some small arcane way, to restore part of his lost soul, or spirit, or whatever you want to call it, to him.
Time passed. I returned to my local Supermarket, where it all began. Life, or my existence, is apparently circular…what goes around, comes around. Once more I walked down those aisles…the small stuffed large-eyed Friends were gone, and the Frogs and Duckies had departed. It was an unseasonably sunny, warm, Spring day…the perfect weather to take a long nap after lunch, Siesta time for those south of the border. And then….I saw them.
Napping away, comfortably. The palomino horse’s head nestled comfortably against the torso of his friend, the alligator.
Augusten Burroughs, the brilliant and often twisted humorist, writes that, “Bad news should be followed with soup. Then a nap.” I don’t know what the news was or had been. Or in fact if these two stuffed friends had had any soup. But they were definitely napping. I stared. I stifled a yawn. Somehow everything seemed to s-l-o-w down….. When my eyelids, impossibly heavy, began to close, I knew it was time to get the Hell out of Dodge…before succumbing to the same deadly NTS (Need To Sleep) that nearly did in Odysseus’s men when they passed out in the Cyclops’s cave. I muttered quick farewells to the Nappers and made my getaway.
Days later, in the organic food supermarket, in neighboring Ashland, I needed some veggies. I went to the Produce Department. And there, swinging lackadaisically from a wooden frame above the bananas – was this individual -
Belying his seemingly relaxed stance (is it a ‘stance’ when you’re hanging from something? No? didn’t think so…), his eyes seemed sharp and glittering. They never missed a trick. They seemed to find me and ask me – yo, human bipedal dude, what IS your problem? We, the stuffed animals of the world, are in fact the dominant species so if you’re smart, you’ll a) get used to it, b) suck it up, and c) bring me the juiciest banana of the bunch….or else.
Stephen Hawking says that we humans are, “just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.” I think he’s got a point. And while some of you, my fellow monkeys, may be the advanced ones he speaks of, my growing fear is that, with my apparently insatiable obsession with small stuffed or plastic animals, ‘advanced’ is not the right adjective that springs to mind. More like…perturbed.
Which (the state of perturbation) brought me, this last Sunday, to one more supermarket. In search, believe it or not, for donuts. And it being March, the aisles were festooned with chocolate eggs and other sweets in secular, sugar-drenched honor of the forthcoming Easter Holiday. And then I saw them, in the middle of an aisle…all lined up together, tiny heads and tiny ears and tiny eyes…
The Easter Bunnies.
Waiting with something akin to hope on their small furry visages…
But maybe it wasn’t hope. Maybe I need my glasses. Maybe it was just….resignation. But I don’t think so. Coretta Scott King writes that -
“When Good Friday comes, these are the moments in life when we feel there’s no hope. But then, Easter comes.”
Easter is coming. And hope – for a better day, a better life, maybe a better existence for so many who need it so badly – isn’t entirely dead. You can see it, right there, in that small furry face….
You just have to look closely….real closely….right in those eyes.