JINGLES' LOST CHAPTER
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
This chapter didn't make it into the book, which, based on what he's already been through, put Jingles in a tailspin.
I don't know why I came up with the Jingles idea when I did -- maybe I was getting lonely on the road, and this was before the airlines started charging so much extra for additional baggage -- but in 1995 I started a traveling teddy bear project. I named the teddy bear "Jingles" because I wanted his name to be happy and friendly. I found a very small backpack in a children's clothing store that more or less fit on his tiny back, and I put a small leather-bound book in it and started taking him on the road with me. His job was to collect jokes for children. I had this dream of eventually turning Jingles' jokebook into a project that could raise money for a good cause.
At first I would bring Jingles out onstage before each concert, perch him on the edge of the stage, and tell the audience at some point during the first part of the show that Jingles was collecting jokes for kids, and if they knew any, to write them in his book during intermission. I also encouraged them to take snapshots of Jingles with them and then to send the snapshots to me and maybe if someday Jingles gets a book deal these photos could be included.
Jingles quickly became headstrong and independent and decided that traveling to my concerts was fun, but after awhile he knew all of my songs by heart and was longing to get some new experiences. With much trepidation I handed him off to others.
At first, he went with people I knew (my sister Mary, folksinger John McCutcheon), he'd come back to me with a lot of new jokes, but also something else: part of his book became a diary and whoever it was he was traveling with would write about his travels and how he reacted to life happening around him.
It was so interesting reading about his life in different handwritings that I knew it was time to send him off on his own, with strangers. So that's what I did.
At one of my concerts someone asked if they could have Jingles for a week -- they'd make sure I got him back, so I said OK. He was handed back to me a week later with this in his diary:
June 24, 1995
"My first wedding! What fun! I sat in the balcony and watched. The groom was nervous but the bride was cool. He pulled out the wedding rings and two gumballs came out with them -- oops!
So they're married. My family tried to take me to Christine's concert but it was inside because of rain -- Linda couldn't get in so she gave me to a staffer -- hope I get back to her!"
He did. I don't know who those people were or who the bride and groom were, but how fun that Jingles got to watch the wedding and see the gumballs pop out of the groom's pocket.
Jingles criss-crossed the country many times. He attended tea parties with other stuffed animals, he watched athletic events, hiked in the mountains, canoed on lakes, visited skyscrapers in other cities, went to orchestra rehearsals, took swimming lessons -- all the while collecting jokes, making new friends, and posing for pictures that were glued into the pages of the book he carried in his backpack. Someone even made him a tiny quilt.
This went on for six years. His first book was filled, so I added another small leatherbound book to his backpack. Whenever I would send him off with strangers I'd always worry that he might not come back. The books he carried were originals, as were the photos glued to the pages inside. I had a very secure tag on him explaining who he is and what he's doing and what to do if somehow he gets lost -- to send him back to me.
He did get lost a few times -- he spent three months under a bed in Nashville, Tennessee. When he returned from that nightmare he wrote at length what it felt like to feel so alone and abandoned (no one would have known, but the person in charge of Jingles at the time guiltily wrote about it in his book -- I know her name but I'm not putting it here! She didn't mean to leave him under that bed!). Luckily Jingles is an optimist by nature and came to understand how wonderful it was that he doesn't eat food. Too many things to do to take time out to sit down and eat a meal.
Some jokes were written in ink by adults. Some were scrawled in pencil and crayons. My favorites are the simple ones:
What happens when a steamroller meets Batman and Robin?
Flatman and Ribbon
Why did the cow cross the road?
Because the farmer said they were moooving.
What do you call a llama ordering a corned beef sandwich?
A deli llama.
Why did the skeleton cross the road?
Because there was a body shop on the other side.
Why DIDN'T the skeleton cross the road?
Because he didn't have the guts.
How do bees get to school?
On the buzzzzz.
What's the difference a coyote and a flea?
One howls on the prairie, one prowls on the hairy!
August 2, 1996
I am now in a van with the Four Bitchin' Babes driving from Spokane to C'or Dulane, Idaho. I know I spelt that wrong. Last night I sat with a nice family and watched the Babes perform in Albany, Oregon. It was a beautiful night - there were 4,000 people there! The night before at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle there were 5,000! I love big crowds!
After the concert the nice family gave me back to Christine and then we went to the hotel. And guess what happened? An EARTHQUAKE! Around 4:25 AM it happened -- 3.2 on the Richter scale. All the electricity went off and when we woke up all the hotel clocks were flashing "12:00." Everybody in the hotel dining room was talking about the earthquake, but the truth is, nobody felt it, including me. But it was exciting to know that, even with all my adventures, there's always something new to experience. If anyone asks me "Have you ever been in an earthquake, Jingles?" I can truthfully say "Yes!" and act like it was no big deal.
December 26, 1996
Sugar Loaf, NY
I went to fencing practice. First we all did footwork drills. Then I got to fence a bout. I won. I guess I'm just a natural.
Friday we went to school. It was Hanukah, so we made doughnuts, a traditional Hanukah food (A very simple recipe: equal parts flour and vanilla yogurt and one egg per each yogurt, and a cup of flower. Drop in hot oil and cook til brown all over, then fish them out and cover with powdered sugar).
Some of the kids had jokes for my book:
What has five eyes and runs 2,000 miles?
The Mississippi River.
What do you call a father who tells corny jokes?
The whole first and second grades posed for pictures with me, but the pictures didn't come out.
Many people who took Jingles traveling wrote the names of the cities and states where he traveled. So besides being a joke collector and a budding model (he was learning a lot about posing for pictures), Jingles was getting a geography lesson, too. I started to get new ideas about this project. It was becoming bigger than just a joke book; I envisioned an educational geography book, too, with a colorful map with shiny stars marking all the cities Jingles had visited. I wasn't sure what I would eventually do with his book, but he kept traveling til August of 2000.
It was around this time that I got a call from a literary agent who had been at one of my concerts and was very interested in Jingles. A month or so later he asked me to drop Jingles off at a publisher's office on Madison Avenue. He had talked to them about Jingles and they were very eager to meet him in person.
I got Jingles all spruced up -- I took a damp sponge, gave him a good once-over. I went through his backpack to look at some of the treasures he'd accumulated -- postcards, tiny stuffed animals, a pair of plastic shoes (he carried them in his backpack because he doesn't like to wear shoes), tiny chocolate candy bars ("Why do they bother?" Jingles wrote in his book, "I'm a stuffed animal. I don't eat!") -- there was even a single dollar billed folded up like origami. That dollar traveled with Jingles for six years and nobody ever stole it. There were also more photos, jokes scribbled on napkins (Where do cows keep their artwork? In a mooooseum!). Jingles now also was wearing a shirt someone put on him somewhere out there, and he had various things pinned to it -- including a concert ticket to hear The Roche Sisters sing (he's a big fan).
I made sure both of his books were also safely tucked into his backpack when I dropped him off at that publisher's office. I didn't go in to see the head of the company, I left him with the receptionist who was told in advance he was coming. She was thrilled to meet him. I didn't want to make a big fuss over him, didn't want them to make a fuss over me -- this is his project. I just made sure he was in good hands and left. I was told that if they wanted to take this project farther they would call me in a week or so.
It felt very funny thinking about Jingles during that time. I felt like a mom who had dropped off her son for his first day of school. I was wondering how the publisher was treating him -- was she reading his books, going through his backpack? What would they think of what he's done? Would they add their own jokes to his collection?
A couple weeks later I got a call from the secretary for the head of the company. She told me that her boss wanted to set up a meeting for Jingles and me -- for Jingles and me -- the very next week!
I was ushered into the office of the woman who ran the company. She sat behind a big wooden desk, with five chairs in a semi-circle around it. She introduced me to three of her top editors sitting in three of the chairs. There was an empty chair that I was told to sit in. In the fifth chair sat Jingles, all by himself, with a spotlight on him.
A spotlight! I couldn't believe it. He looked so cute. I sat down next to him and patted him on his head.
The first thing the head of the company did was hand me a copy of their latest children's book -- as she gave it to me she said, "Don't try to make any sense of the story here about this rooster. I've never understood it. But it was one of Eleanor Roosevelt's favorite children's stories -- she was known to read it aloud over the radio -- it's baffling, but it's always been a good seller so we've put it out again."
An odd start to our meeting.
"But now," she said, smiling broadly, "We want you to know we love Jingles. WE LOVE HIM! And we don't see him as a single book -- we see him writing a whole series of books!"
The spotlight on Jingles was so bright his fur glistened. Jingles was being very cool about it all, but I'm sure I wasn't.
"We passed Jingles around for a few weeks -- we each spent a few days with him," she said, motioning to the three other women sitting there, who each nodded.
"We all found him fascinating, didn't we?" and again they all nodded, "his books, his little gifts he's been given over the years, his own tiny handmade quilt -- even his origami dollar. Kids are going to love him!
"However," she said, "there's three things we want to change before we get started."
I was expecting at least one change. Since Jingles started traveling a popular film called The Green Mile that was released in 1999 that has a mouse in it that is named "Mr. Jingles." To this day I haven't seen the film -- I hear it's good and it's on my 'should-see' list -- but I figured they'd want to change Jingles' name to something that doesn't refer to anything else already out there.
"You want to change his name -- right?" I asked.
"Oh no," she said, "his name is adorable. Two things we want to change right away are the joke angle -- we don't want to do a joke book -- and we really aren't wild about the travel angle, either."
"You said three things -- what is the other?" I feebly inquired.
"Well," she said, "his book is way too long. We want something that could easily fit on 32 pages -- with artwork of course -- so a much shorter story would be more appropriate."
I'm sure by now my eyes were bugging out.
"Oh, but we love everything else about him -- everything!" she said with great enthusiasm.
I looked at Jingles. He looked at me. I didn't say a word. I figured she was joking. All Jingles did was travel AND collect jokes. For six years. I was thinking that any second now the big boss lady was going to crack up and say, "Kidding!"
But she didn't.
"Uh . . . if not a joke book or a travel book . . . what kind of book do you envision Jingles writing?" I asked.
"Well," she said, "we want him to start out visiting a school. He spends a few days in the classroom, then one of the children take him home. He writes about how that child lives, what kind of food the family eats . . . "
At this point even if Jingles' eyes weren't glazing over, I knew mine were. Didn't she read about Jingles under that bed for three months? How glad he was he doesn't need food? He has no interest in eating! He loves the life of the itinerant stuffed animal! He loves collecting jokes. He loves traveling! That's his thing! That's his bag, man!
Despite the spotlight, I felt all the energy drain from the room as I sat there politely asking her what other kinds of stories she wanted Jingles to write. I dutifully took notes and I remember that night I took Jingles home (there was no way he was going to stay with these crazy people!). In the taxi I read aloud to Jingles Eleanor Roosevelt's favorite rooster story. He didn't understand it either. What kind of a company publishes a book they don't understand just because a former first lady liked to read it aloud on the radio?
The next few nights I actually DID attempt to write a story in Jingles' voice. I can't find it in my files -- it must have been so bad I destroyed every copy. I remember part of the plot was Jingles being taken home -- against his will -- by a young Indian girl in the second grade, and how he watched in completely puzzlement her mom make Tandoori chicken. Since Jingles can't smell, the whole Indian cooking experience was lost on him, plus he was pretty sure he was friends with the chicken when it was alive, so that added an inappropriate layer of trauma to the story. He longed to be back in the classroom next to his friend the plastic horse who also didn't eat but had physical infirmaties and a sarcastic attitude that Jingles loved. He named his horse friend "Plastic Spastic Sarcastic," which I figured would be new words for kids to learn.
I never heard from that company again.
Jingles appeared shell-shocked by the experience. After traveling all those years he thought he was on the cusp of becoming an author. He was fussed over by not one but four editors on Madison Avenue, then his world came crashing down.
He fell into a funk and I knew he didn't want to travel, not even to my concerts. He sat on the window seat in my living room on Riverside Drive as fall turned to winter, winter to spring, spring to summer. I didn't need a doctor to tell me that Jingles was borderline agoraphobic. The romance of the road was lost on him. He hasn't traveled since, though someday I may start taking him to concerts again.