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.
On my bulletin board, off a clear, shiny pin, hangs a green rubber bean pod. Gracefully portioned into three sections, it even comes with its own leaf-like placard, printed with place of make and maker (China and Bandai, incidentally). When you give any section a gentle squeeze, an impossibly delicious looking plastic soybean will rear its roundness and beam. It’s so inexplicably
stupid delightful, you beam back, thinking, “how stupid delightful!” and then you squeeze upon the one rogue bean marked with a silly face, and the stupidity delight becomes absolute.
This is an example of a the kind of gag toy which graces convenience stores East Asia-wide and which members of my family find irresistible. True story: during a visit a few years ago, my grandmother walked into her nephew’s 7eleven in Taiwan and walked out with 2 tea eggs and 5 of these (I’m pretty sure the store’s entire stock). One hangs off a designer bag she carries from time to time.
This is to say, it should have been no surprise to any of us when she returned from her last trip with a monkey-formed flip flap solar toy she no doubt
swiped politely asked for and obtained from one of our relatives’ cars. They even threw in the no-slip pad they put under it to keep it from sliding off the dashboard. Needless to say, it now sits upon the dashboard of my mom’s car, bringing the passenger seat passenger endless hours of (stupid) daytime car ride delight. Mainly my grandmother.
I actually love that my grandmother has always seemed to find joy in silly, delightful things. She doesn’t realize it, but her favorite Ghibli movie–heck, one of her personal favorites period–is Totoro. The sight of that furry who-knows-what (In the Taiwan version, Totoro is called “dragon cat,” which hardly provides any insight…well, Mokona is Mokona, as the saying goes) soaring through the sky, eyes blown, teeth bared, beings of various sizes ridiculously clinging to the fluffy expanse of its chest always draws her to the TV–like, two feet in front of it. “Ohhh, ho ho ho. Look at it fly!” she’ll point out, clinging to her apron with her other hand. And then, later, when May similarly grips the front of her summer dress, “Oh, ho ho. Look at her crying!” =.=”
During a recent car ride, she was pointing out similar 2-feet-away phenomenon regarding the monkey: “Ohh, ho ho! Look at it go!” A moment’s consideration, followed by: “Doesn’t he get tired?”
“Well,” I venture, “he gets to rest when the sun goes down.”
Indeed. A novel idea, one might even say. Like plastic peas who trick you into trying a bite and then give you silly face.
This monkey is powered by day and rests by night.
Reflecting on the sad, sad life habits I have developed as a life-long student (life is so long, huh, Imagase), I was struck by the revelatory nature of this revelation, more so as my feelings for said monkey suddenly developed into awe. Surely, if I were to take my rest by night, I could also feel empowered by my days! Yeah…live in sunlight, jiggle to the click of my mechanics, bring my grandmother some fresh silly delight. The leap towards gag’s comedy of nonsense from crack’s open despair is but a sound, well-timed sleep away!
Then I, too, could be a solar powered
monkey–I mean, being.
go ‘head, monkey dude.
rock yo’ self to sleep.