Thursday, April 24, 2014
Say hello to my new friend, Little Pete
It was the cap, certainly. A light beige—undyed, natural fiber, so popular among the young. Gathered at top, worn low over his one cyclopic eye.
The hat makes the man, as they say, but it also can anthropomorphize objects. Look at Mr. Peanut. Planters was trying to address the problem that peanuts were considered food for swine, almost unfit for human consumption. Trying to solve this marketing challenge, they put a top hat on a symbolic peanut, and suddenly he was halfway to being a "Mister," with a touch of class from the silk topper thrown in as well. White gloves, a cane, the effect was complete.
Nothing like headgear to suggest personality...
I was trucking on the way to work one day last month when I noticed this little fellow, in his cap and matching sweater, his lone eye peeking out from behind some thin branches.
"Hello there," I said, trying to be friendly, groping for a name. "umm, Little Pete." A laugh—mine. Then I proceeded on my way. Frankly, I didn't give it a second thought.
Every day he was waiting for me, with a faithfulness I found touching in these hectic days of dissolving friendships and fleeting, on-line bonds. Strange? Of course. It is a thin line between whimsy and madness, and I like to think my taking this little aqua critter -- okay, some kind of drainage system exhaust pipe with a filter on it, to keep it from spewing sewage-- under my wing as being closer to the former than the latter, more lark than derangement. The human ability to expend sympathy toward the non-living, well, you could view it as testimony to just how big our hearts are, or more evidence of the perverseness of human nature. I march by a dozen beggars every day—their numbers building with the warm weather—averting my eyes, deaf to their pleas. But his pipe....
More cute than crazy, I hope. I almost paused from writing this, after a few outposts in the conservative press on Wednesday grabbed something I wrote Friday, and twisted it into a pretzel then started waving it over their heads. Not wanting to pile on members of the black community who sell out to Republican politicians, I pointed out that ALL people can sell out, and sought to defuse charges of ignoring my own by mentioning Jewish collaborators during World War II. Suddenly I was saying—talk about imagination—that black Republicans were Nazi sympathizers. You'd have to be an idiot to pull that out of the actual words, but there you go.
Still, if they could come up with that, what would they make of old Little Pete? But one of the few rules I have is to never write for people who hate you—bulletin: they're going to hate you anyway— and if they want to go after me for talking to a drainage pipe, well, I've been called worse, it'll be a change of pace for them, because it'll actually to be true this time. (Sadder than the conservative radio hosts, frankly, were the handful of fellow Jews who complained that by bringing up something negative in our history, I was feeding anti-Semitism, as if it were an area of scholarship where historical data were constantly being gathered and new conclusions formed. Second bulletin: it ain't. Part of being human is the right to be flawed, to look your history straight on with a clear eye; no cringing and cowering and trying to assume a pert profile for those who hate you anyway, as an article of faith).
I do have company. Lots of legitimate--or at least accepted--social movements depend on anthropomorphism (the ascribing of human qualities to animals or objects, for right wing readers checking out the blog for the first time). The anti-abortion movement, for one, which is really just plain old religious control and oppression of women, trying to skate into the 21st century on the stretch of declaring the centimeter long unformed fetus--which, if you saw it, would look like a red grain of rice-in fact resembles the Gerber baby, the rightful recipient of their care and concern and legal protection glibly denied to the women conceiving them. Compared to that transformation, Little Pete makes perfect sense, like seeing sheep in clouds.
Not that I'm opposed to conjuring up personalities for the non-living. I just don't want to compel others to share my view. You might not see the stout watchman I see in Little Pete; that's your right. Maybe he's a symptom of isolation, like Tom Hank's soccer ball pal, Wilson, in the movie "Castaway." Though you really should meet Little Pete in person. I'd tell you exactly where he is, so you could see him yourself. But people can be so cold—read my Twitter feed someday and you'd see that—and I worry about him coming to harm. Someone might snatch his smart little hat, and then I would find myself knitting him a new one and, glancing guiltily in both directions, slipping it over his head. "There you go, Little Pete," I'd say. "So you don't get a chill."
Hopefully that won't happen. Hopefully, we can just continue on now before the inevitable breach occurs. We're friends now. I look forward to him coming into view in the morning, hailing him with a smile and a hearty "Hey Little Pete!" He doesn't say anything in return. Not yet anyway.