Saturday, November 21, 2009

Clan of the Cave Rat

In 1954, 160 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, California were cleared to make way for the first Disneyland theme park. The park opened its gates to the public a year later.

One night several months after that, a group of displaced fruit rats went looking for their old home. After squeezing under Disneyland’s front gate, they scurried down Main Street past Tomorrowland and soon came to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Old Riley Rat peered all around and scratched his gray whiskers.

“I’m positive our grove of trees was right here.” he said and stamped the ground next to a concrete toadstool.

“No, no! chimed in Ronnie Rat, “I’m sure they’re over there on the other side of that river.”

By now dead tired, the rat clan trudged on, dodging shiny exotic cars in Autopia until finally arriving at the Jungle Cruise attraction. Standing at river’s edge, they gazed down into the dark water.

“What now?” squeaked Ruthie. “I certainly can’t swim across.”

Riley spied a Styrofoam tray floating in the reeds and using his cane pulled it over to them. The tray was big enough for four rats and an argument broke out on who should go. Riley, being the wisest, agreed to pick three companions to make the crossing with him. The old rat selected Rocco, the strongest of the group, Rico, the fastest among them and finally, Romeo, the best talker.

“If we get cornered by a cat,” he said, “we’ll need a politician to divert its attention.”

After a slow and soggy river crossing, the four rats scrambled ashore on mysterious Jungle Island. Before them rose a wall of thick mahogany trees. Strange sounds echoed from within. The rats glanced at each other and trembled. Wise Riley pushed Rocco out in front and off they went into the jungle. After an hour, the trees began to give way and the four came out into a sunny clearing.

At the center stood a bright striped tent with mouse-head balloons bobbing in the breeze. A flowing banner above the entrance proclaimed, “Welcome to Mickey’s Toontown!” All the rats scratched their heads. Who is this Mickey and what is a Toontown?

“I wonder if he’s friendly?” said Rico.

The rats approached the entrance and saw off to the side a trap door with stairs that descended down into darkness. Now more curious than afraid, they looked quickly around, saw no cats, and started down the steep steps. Holding onto each other’s tails, the group came at last to the bottom and found themselves in a narrow passageway. Further along, they made out the faint outline of a large head. Moving in for a closer look, Romeo came face to snout with a grinning clown face. And below the face was an ornately carved door.

Riley tip-toed to the door and pressed his ear against the clown’s wooden nose. He heard nothing except his beating heart.

“Clowns scare me,” he whispered, “but I’ve just got to see a Mickey.”

With that, Riley grabbed the door’s brass handle and pulled. The door groaned and moved a few inches. Then the others took hold and together heaved open the door. They stood on the threshold of another room, staring into inky blackness.

Riley plucked up his courage. “I will be brave! I will be brave!” he mumbled and forced his feet to inch forward. The other rats crept behind. About twenty feet into the room, Rico stepped on a raised bump in the floor. He instantly pulled back, but too late.

Flashing technicolor lights suddenly ricocheted around the room. The interior lit up until the rats saw they were in a great circus hall. Laughing cartoon faces looked down from every wall. Stars twinkled in a cotton candy ceiling. Carnival music filled the thick air.

Somewhere far away a humming sound grew louder and louder and just then, the floor itself began to open. The rats tried to run away, but their paws felt glued to the floor. Wide eyed, speechless, they watched as something huge began moving up through the opening. On and on it came, until the colossal thing shuddered to a stop. Fifty feet high, it towered over the trembling rodents.

Terrified, all four covered their eyes and huddled together. None dared peek, lest they be completely vaporized.

A thought zipped through Riley’s troubled mind; Will we ever get out of Toontown alive?

After several minutes, Riley felt for his snout and found it still attached to his face. He counted his fingers, all eight still there. The rats had not been zapped after all. They were alive. The music and humming faded away. One by one, they opened their eyes and squinted into the bright silent hall. None could believe what they saw before them.

The giant creature stood alone in the center, bathed by the glow of dancing spot lights. All four rats gazed at its fat yellow shoes and oversized red shorts. Two white gloved hands reached out to them. But it was the face that took their breath away and opened their eyes in amazement. Riley, Rocco, Rico and Romeo stared up into their own rat faces.

But here was a face like they had never seen. Radiating compassion, its warm smile and twinkling button eyes melted away their fears and filled their puny bodies with hope. No longer lost in a strange land, the rat clan felt for the first time in the presence of divinity. All fell to the floor, prostrating themselves before the great magnificent being. They had finally come home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not In The Cards

In 1979, in an effort to revive my ailing illustration business, I started a greeting card company called Bullfrog Press. Why hustle trying to sell one drawing for $500.00 when I could sell 250 cards at $2.00 each.

After researching the market, designing six Christmas cards, and convincing a printer friend to let me pay on the cuff, I had several thousand cards printed. My company of one was up and running.

Step Two of my Success Plan transformed me into what I considered a savvy sales rep. Samples in hand and chafing in coat and tie, I cold called gift shops in Atlanta's trendiest neighborhoods - Buckhead, Virginia-Highland, Midtown, and Little Five Points.

Step Three was supposed to be me writing up huge orders but my pen never left my pocket. Most shop owners would not even bother to talk. Others allowed they bought all their cards at the big spring wholesale show. One buyer suggested I add a dozen cards to my line and come back. So much for Step Three and the savvy sales rep.

Realizing my research was faulty, I visited the Atlanta Merchandise Mart and discovered several companies that offered greeting cards. The owners of the second showroom loved the drawings and irreverent humor. They agreed to handle my cards, but warned they would be up against major companies with lines for every occasion.

Their commissioned salesmen fanned out to all major Southeastern markets, but after four months, my cards always ended up on the bottom of their sample cases.

My excellent greeting card business folded after selling a dozen cards to one shop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was, I assured myself, a great idea whose time had not yet come. Not wanting to dwell on "what ifs," and "maybes," I sought gainful employment and found it - designing brochures and trademarks in a corporate art department. Bullfrog Press still simmers on the back burner.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Faithful Fridge

In 1973 my parents bought a small wood frame house built sometime after World War II. The fixer upper had all original appliances some of which my dad swore came over on the Mayflower. The ancient ice box was soon replaced by a new refrigerator from Frigidaire, the same company that invented the self-contained refrigerator in 1916.

Made before “planned obsolescence” trickled down to appliances, the Frigidaire ran and ran and kept on running. Over the years, its housemates, toasters, televisions and telephones came and went; their stamped circuits no match for over use, power surges or Florida humidity.

But for thirty years the “Frige” did its job quietly and efficiently, never once calling in sick or taking a day off. It was only during hurricane driven power outages that we realized the importance of “old faithful.”

About five years ago the Frigidaire began leaking from somewhere deep in its mechanical innards. Its dry rubber seals began peeling off like shedding snake skins. Finally, the compressor started making large clunking sounds, causing visitors to exclaim, “What in the world was that?”

We knew it was time for “Frige” to go. As often happens, a few days after we decided to pull the plug, I was given a practically new refrigerator. Lightweight and energy efficient, the Hotpoint looks sleek compared to the squat coils-in-the-back Frigidaire.

Yesterday we made the switch and with much effort pushed and pulled the old Frigidaire out to the curbside. In a final act of indecency, we removed the doors, and “Frige” stood naked to the world and people using the laundromat across the street.

Taken from its familiar kitchen environment, the dismembered Frigidaire looked unrecognizable; a derelict chunk on the urban roadside. After thirty-five years of loyal service, it deserved better.

Postscript: I wanted to take a photograph of the Frigidaire and drove over early the next morning. It was already gone and I am hoping an industrious family resurrected old faithful for another ten years of chilling service.