Of the cousins I grew up with, I was probably the first to move more than 1.5 hours away to attend college. The fact that it was a small liberal arts school located in a private, secluded campus (tree to human ratios were part of its marketing stats) probably only heightened its feeling of distance from home life.
The point being, no one was really sure what I was up to out there in freaky-deaky land.
So once, I brought back some pictures from an off-campus evening out with friends I’d spontaneously decided to snap with my nifty (in those years) digital camera. The pictures were quite stage-y friend photos, partly because they were of a rag-tag bunch of non-clique-affiliated persons (an immature friend of mine had instigated the outing as an ironic gesture mocking what he decided was the annoying cliquish tendency of the small student body), partly because most of the people were, in fact, affiliated in varying degrees with a “non-denominational” performance group on campus, but mostly because it was funny…and we were all having an unusually good time pretending (not) to be a clique.
As my cousins browsed the photos on my laptop, they came across one where we were all huddled together in the dark after a no-doubt raucous bowling session, and one remarked after a notable pause, “What the heck? Your friends look like cardboard cutouts.”
Indignant as I was (this is a common position for me during cousin gatherings) at the chuckles and snorts that started to break out in the rectum, I was loathe to admit that by either contrast of what we all chose to wear, how we were positioned, or just the way digital cameras captured color in the dark, the friends who surrounded me did look unusually flat and framed by a strange halo of…cardboard-y potential.
At this point, my cousins gleefully concluded (more for humorous affect than mock-concern, if there’s any difference…) that I had not only failed at my attempt to prove that liberal arts school had furnished me with any semblance of real sociality, said attempt was all the more highlarious for its effort to depict my supposed social circle as hip and multiethnic.
So much for ironic outings with pretend cliques.
The quick dissipation of said clique (quite the point, I suppose) thereafter would leave no opportunity to retake photos of greater verisimilitude. However, my life would see a second haunting of cardboard cutout gag.
In the recent planning of my uncle’s 60th birthday banquet, his daughter, the same cousin who had pointed out the comic visual effect of my photo of 8 years past, suggested, “Instead of having him greet every guest who comes in at the door, maybe we can just have a life-sized cardboard cutout of him out front.”
As is the way family discussions at home generally go, this seemingly off-hand suggestion was met with great enthusiasm and laughter, as one imagined scenario spun off after another and everything veered so off topic, the session ended with all parties feeling quite satisfied.
Especially my cousin who, when it comes to planting seeds, is a person of swift and unusual action (not unlike APH Prussia).
A few days later, I got a call recounting the proceedings of the above meeting and the revelation that life-sized cardboard cutouts replicated from photos were quite affordable, contrary to popular (read: her) belief, relatively quick to have made (primary worry solved) and that everyone in the family ought to have one (note to family: beware of candid photo shots).
After talking her back to starting with just the one of my uncle, I started to concede that this idea was actually quite genius. Given the usual reluctance my uncle has of standing in the spotlight, a cardboard double with whom to share it would be the perfect remedy for potential stress.
As it turns out, and perhaps not so surprisingly in retrospect, cardboard-uncle was a hit. Guests were crowding and lining up to take pictures with c-u as if he were the most delightful, charming fellow they’d seen in ages. C-u tirelessly greeted guests, guarded the cake, and anchored large group photos with his 2D sheen. In a striking reversal of my college era photo-hi-jinx, many said large-group shots feature his flatness surrounded by a not quite so hip and multiethnic, but certainly jovial (rosily inebriated, one might even say), and very-notably-NOT-cardboard crowd…among which, of course, his counterpart, only too happy to be among the not-equipped-with-light-refracting-surface, blends.