Aside: Ursus

Egomet reminiscor. Sed eae res fugiunt Pui memoriam, qua de causa fabulas
bis narrates diligit. Tum tamen fibula vera est, non solum opus memoriae.*
– from Winnie Ille Pu

Somehow I’ve made it through life, or at least the last thirty-four odd years, without accumulating much. I’ve picked up a lot of lint. I had a dryer sheet stuck to me once. But most of the time, all I could lay claim to were my clothes, which is weird, because I’ve never had much of a, whattayoucallit?, sartorial flair. One outfit that works is fine with me. A uniform, if you will. Just a shirt and I’m good to go. A shirt and nothing else, because that’s what Winnie the Pooh is supposed to wear.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not THE Winnie the Pooh. I’m not sure if I believe there really is one. I think I did, once. But me, I’m just a doll that looks like him. Or “stuffed animal” as the kid used to call me. He never would have referred to any of us as “dolls.” Because dolls were for girls and sissies, although, frankly, the kid did seem kinda sissy to me. Especially since he stayed interested in dolls – sorry: stuffed animals – long after any other boy in his class, well into fourth or fifth grade. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, yeah, I looked a lot like Pooh. Not so much the original Milne and Shepard conception of him, but the Disney version. Yellow, with the aforementioned shirt in fire-engine red. And, just in case anyone missed the point, the front said “Winnie the Pooh” in yellow thread.

The kid knew the red shirt was an integral part of the Pooh persona. I mean, without it, I was just a yellow bear with a stitched-on smile. And that’s what I became early one morning in bed when he got bored.

A t-shirt sewn snugly onto a torso – a torso smaller than the head that sits on top of it – well, that shirt is obviously not meant to come off, and the kid quickly learned this. With an unanticipated regret and a bitter sorrow that seized him just as he stretched the neck of the shirt over my too-large head, he burst into tears and pinballed through the dimly lit house to his parents’ room, waking them.

“I…Pooh’s shirt…ungh!” the kid got out between sobs. His parents groaned sleepily in response.

“Your kid ripped off my shirt and now he can’t get it to go back on!” I attempted to clarify. “Oh my God, I think it’s off forever!” The parents didn’t seem to hear me, but the kid cried harder.

The lady bought a few more minutes of rest with a promise to fix the problem later, but before long, the kid was already trying to pin her down on a time. “When, Mom? Mom, when?!”

So, that afternoon, the lady made a replacement: a tomato-colored vest in a polyester blend with a wide, zig-zagging hem. It was very 70s. She wisely added a snap on the front for easy and less-traumatic removal.

I didn’t like it at first. I was used to a t-shirt, and a vest was maybe a little Fleetwood Mac for my taste. But, while I was upset at losing my sole, lifelong possession, looking back, the replacement suited me pretty well. I never needed a costume change. Whether the kid made me a pirate’s sidekick, a squire to his knight, or an old-west sheriff’s deputy, the vest worked all around.

And now, I was personalized, giving me another advantage over my factory-decorated peers in the basket where all the other stuffed animals stayed. Myself, I always just stayed with the kid.

For a little while longer, we went everywhere together. The family would pack into the tiny Dodge hatchback, and I’d get buckled in with the kid so his seatbelt would fit better. He loved me. I could have done without the occasional peeing in bed, but overall, I thought he was okay. I have to admit, I did like being safe and warm, which is what I was most of the time.

So, I hated when I got stuck in a box in the back of a truck, but hey: part of the process, right? The kid’s family had already relocated a few times before he was five, so I could deal with it. Or I thought I could. During the first move, the kid was scared he would have to leave behind all his toys for the family moving in. But this time, he acted so certain I’d still be around that I kind of felt taken for granted.

My smile faded.

Not at that moment, I mean; the red strip sewn onto my face had faded to an uneven, scabby-looking pink after all the post-bedwetting washing and drying. I was just remembering something else about that I forgot to throw in earlier. Sorry.

Where was I? Right. Taken for granted. So what, y’know? I guess I was just as much to blame as he was for letting our thing together become a routine. But, pretty soon, we’d be in a new room in a new house, so we’d have a fresh start.

But, my misgivings about getting packed and shipped were nothing compared to how I felt when I saw the kid again.  Sitting there in a box, I could hear his older cousin saying several times he had a surprise for him. I heard the building excitement in the kid’s voice when he begged to know what it was. I was still wondering, myself, when the cousin hid me behind his back.

Then, I realized I was it.

The kid knew he was getting me back anyway, so I can’t blame him for being a little let down after all the build-up. But, when I saw the disappointment on his face, I saw my future.

Before long, action figures would replace me in the kid’s affections. More and more, he’d play with them while I sat on the bed and watched. Soon, I would be watching from the basket with the other dolls.

It’s not like the Pixar movies when a kid leaves the room, man. It’s like high school. Everybody has their cliques, and the GI Joes had no use for me. I didn’t have a ton of accessories or drive a cool Jeep with guns on top. I didn’t really have action-packed exploits to brag about, so apparently, I wasn’t tough enough. Never mind the fact that I was bigger and heavier, and I could easily have mauled any of them, tearing off limbs and snapping o-rings and such. People tend to forget that I’m, y’know, a fucking bear.

But anyway, I don’t know. I never really got that jealous of the action figures. Yeah, I got bored, and I missed the fun times. But, the kid was getting older. I’d had a good run, and I just figured that he was done with stuffed animals.

Then came the dog. Not the real dog, Rick. The kid never really bonded with him. I mean the black and white stuffed beagle. Snoopy.

The kid’s aunt bought him. He was the same size as me, but he didn’t just have a vest. He came from some store that also sold official Snoopy clothes. Not for the kid, I mean. For the dog. And not just like a shirt or pants. Like, everything.

The kid took to buying fashions and accessories for the beagle with an intensity that probably caused some adults and older children to question his nascent sexuality. There were hours spent perusing the catalog, and multiple shopping trips to buy outfits of all sorts:  safari khakis, boy scout uniform, business suit, pink aloha shirt with matching jams, snow suit, footie pajamas, kilted Scottish highlander garb, all of these with a hole for the dog’s cute little tail.

I don’t have a tail.

Were my eyes not glued firmly to my face, I’m sure I would have rolled them to the point of busting some seams. Just like that, the kid was back into dolls. Or, at least, a doll other than me.

I mean, it was pitiful. He didn’t just embark on the standard flights of fancy with the beagle: cowboys and King Arthur and buccaneers and all that. It was one weird ongoing role-playing thing where Snoopy was this billionaire who lived in his own private flying shopping mall and the kid was his bodyguard with all this high tech gear. When he wasn’t acting out these scenarios with the beagle, the kid was digging into his crayon caddy, drawing more weapons and submarines and jet fighters for his role as Snoopy’s protector. These were completely just rip-offs of GI Joe stuff, I might add.

Snoopy Guards!, he called the whole thing, often saying it with a flourish that implied, at the very least, jazz hands and sometimes suggested even pipe-dreams of an action-oriented entertainment franchise not to mention a blissful obliviousness to the concept of trademark infringement. He even submitted a creative writing piece about Snoopy Guards! which began with the line, “Dogfood milkshake: shaken, not stirred.” It came back with the remark, “THIS MAKES NO SENSE,” written in red at the top.

Obviously, the GI Joes seemed irritated, having been booted off their own black-ops missions by a cute, pot-bellied girl’s toy. But, honestly, the GI Joes always looked irritated. It was kind of their thing. Me, I was just embarrassed for the kid, thinking that if I were he, I would never tell anyone about any of this ever again.

But, for anyone willing to go up on stage in khaki shorts, dress shirt, red suspenders and black knee-socks, the potential for embarrassment isn’t always a discouraging factor. The kid got cast in a children’s theatre production of Winnie the Pooh, and guess who got roped into helping out. Here’s a hint: it wasn’t the beagle.

There was already a girl cast in the speaking part of Pooh, but the director thought it would be cute to have the kid hold me on his lap while he narrated as Christopher Robin, I guess implying that there’s the real stuffed Pooh and then there’s the imaginary walking, talking Pooh and so on and so forth. You know: the whole Calvin and Hobbes thing.

Simmering resentment.

Anyway, it was weird, and the kid and I were both a bit disappointed in the whole experience. He had really wanted to star as Pooh, and I was appalled to find that I was portrayed as a dimwitted fat-ass.  Stuck in a hole? Really? But, whatever. It wasn’t goddamn Shakespeare.

Still, as anticlimactic as the whole thing seemed at the time, looking back, it turns out it was the play that ended the kid’s attachment to dolls. And, I recall with no small amount of personal satisfaction that it was being pulled into the world of Winnie the Pooh that put an end to the kid’s creepy thing with Snoopy.

(Okay, well, for the sake of my story, that’s a pretty tidy wrap-up to the kid’s involvement with me and the beagle and stuffed animals in general, but I’m leaving out an obsession with all things Disney following a trip to Orlando wherein the kid filled up a whole book with signatures from all the roaming furry mascot characters: a book which he, for some time, considered to be a legitimate valuable autograph collection. Not that I need to spell this out explicitly, but you may already have surmised that the kid was a bit of a dork.)

But let’s just say it was the play that changed everything. Okay, so after the play, the beagle ended up in the basket with the rest of us, and most of his outfits went to a consignment shop. The kid’s obsession with GI Joe ramped back up for a while. After the action figures came baseball cards and then comic books and then rock and roll. And then, at some point, girls, no doubt to the relief of some family members.  The basket, with me in it, had long since ended up high on a shelf in the back of the closet.

I only saw the kid on and off during college. One summer, while leafing through Rolling Stone, he came across a Fruit of the Loom advertisement with a tiny pair of briefs glued to it. They were maybe just three and a half inches wide. I’m not sure why. To prove this could be done? To offer an undergarment option for the very small niche market of infants born dangerously premature but yet conveniently potty-trained? Who knows? But, the kid quickly moved from “Why?” to “What can I do with these?”

I’m sure he considered the beagle first, but there was no tail-hole. So, he took off the vest and put the underpants on me. One of his idiot mouth-breather friends suggested he add a couple marbles to the front to simulate my junk. Yeah, funny, right? With the exception of a short trial run, I was spared this indignity.

As silly as I felt (although I can’t deny that they were, indeed, pretty supportive), I think the briefs are the reason I’m not buried at the bottom of a box or in the basket back at his parents’ house. The kid found the sight of me shirtless in tighty-whities so continually amusing that he still keeps me around.

But now, he has a little kid of his own. She’s not crazy about me. There was an incident when she was a toddler: an incident where she was playing with me and a stuffed terrier. Yeah. Another dog. He fell off the bed and she followed, face first.  For a while, I felt I was under suspicion of having resentfully jostled them like the prep-school kid in A Separate Peace, but mostly, the girl blamed the terrier. “Careful the bed. Careful the dog,” she would warn. I haven’t seen him since.

But, things are okay, overall. Somebody bought a Piglet doll to go with me at some point. He’s cool, I guess, but really more of a work-friend than a friend-friend. Mostly, I spend my time on the shelf next to Thelonious Monkey and a musical octopus the kid convinced his daughter to name Cthulhu. (The kid’s still a dork, by the way.)

There’s another move in the works. I’ve seen some of the stuffed animals getting crammed into boxes with dishes and other breakables, and I guess my turn as packing material will come soon. Years ago, the kid was concerned that the people moving in would get his toys. The kid’s daughter, however, isn’t worried, but fully expects to get the toys she’s seen in the house they’re buying. And, why not? The refrigerator and the washing machine are staying.

The kid, at some point, put the gray vest from the beagle’s three-piece suit on me. I’m not sure why, but I’m okay with it. It maybe gives me kind of a tweedy air consistent with the original British Pooh stories. So, I don’t protest.

I would suggest that maybe I have completed some sort of life journey: a thirty-something year odyssey from vest to vest. But, I should probably add that I also still wear the underpants. They’re a bit yellowish now, although I swear it’s just from the age. They do tend to distract from my classier upper half. I’m like a centaur of questionable fashion. But, I’m still here.

(The above was read aloud at the June, 2012, installment of the “True Story!” Reading Series at Kavarna in Decatur, GA.)

*A Needlessly Lengthy Explanation of the Latin Epigraph


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