Telluride Daily Planet Sunday, November 4, 2012

I believe I am the one who initially sees potential sparks between the Pocahontas and Batman figurines. My daughter Celine, 6 at the time, giggles at the idea. Batman is so flex-jointed, inaccessible and dark. Pocahontas is so … half-naked.

Even so, she stares at the two plastic figures and then places them side-by-side on the bathtub ledge, testing the idea, then fully engrossed by it, as if I have disappeared completely.

Conscious of the fact that the figurines have much to do at bath time, I excuse myself to fold laundry. Then passing through again with a stack of towels, I note the two have not yet parted. In fact, Pocahontas is lying down with Batman seated very close beside her. Though she does not bend, he seems completely oblivious to this structural handicap.

Three bath sessions later, Batman, fully engaged in male mating rituals, is showing off — out-bouncing Tigger, punching out Aladdin and swimming effortlessly past Gumby and Goo in order to get to the still sparsely clad and now teasing Pocahontas. Yes, they certainly are an unlikely pair. The troubled man-bat and the tree-hugging free spirit.

No set rules govern these figurines, a collection that generates itself spontaneously over the years from thrift stores, hand-me downs and playgrounds leftovers. All of them are simply tossed into the bucket for assimilation. Then, at bath time, when an unfamiliar figure first appears in the mix, the protocol requires that he/she/it stand apart for a while.

It takes Batman three months to get a speaking part.

As for Incredible Hulk, even long sessions of meek loitering at the outskirts aren’t enough: Will he ever be anything other than an object of derision for all of them, from Snow White to Bambi?

Sometimes, I feel compelled to ask questions. “What’s the matter with the Tonka Swan — you don’t like him?” The answer is either part of a complex story (“He’s being punished for making Belle fall down the cliff.”) or scathingly pragmatic (“His wings don’t flap right and he tips in the water.”)

Several weeks later, as Pocahontas and Batman scuba dive together near the currents of the gushing faucet, I wonder about Pocahontas barefoot in Gotham City and Batman’s mood in a buffalo cape. I shouldn’t worry so much. After all, at the moment, Eyeore is deep in a huddle with a one-inch blue barnyard cow and a motocross survivalist in camouflage.

Soon, it is all and only about Pocahontas and Batman. In secret, Celine applies lipstick (red nail polish) to the blossoming girl-woman. Batman is utterly lost to love. One propitious day, all the figurines, even Hulk, have been neatly lined up on the edge of the tub in procession behind the couple.

“What’s going on?” I ask, noting the young squaw’s lips with alarm. The behavior has become all too familiar.

“They’re getting married,” Celine says smiling, unable not to appreciate the whimsy. “Bat and Po.”

“You’ve never had a marriage in the tub before,” I say.

“They’re in love,” she answers wearily, as if the whole episode is preordained — like a star — to burn bright and then die. “Well,” she stalls the real action, fiddling with Piglet and a rider-less metal black stallion she calls Maiden (for the Made in England stamped on the bottom), “You can go read or something. I’m fine in here.”

Deferring, I withdraw until I hear her humming a little tune, sometimes the signal that she has moved on to hair washing. But when I return to help her rinse, a diminutive sheath of black hair — Pocahontas’s butt-length locks — have been shorn off and lie scattered on the bathroom floor

In seconds, the mocha-skinned cover girl has become something from Clan of the Cave Bear. Horrorstruck, I wonder what test this is, what desperate act in what dysfunctional scenario.

“Mommy!” Celine sees the look on my face. “It’s OK!” She starts to laugh as I reexamine the new do, choppy and uneven, with hair-plugs poking through. “Why did you do this?” It is funny as hell, though, and I stifle a snort.

Celine, holding Po like a lollypop, admires her deft handiwork with the kid scissors. “Her hair was bothering her,” she says finally, dipping the doll’s head into the water, trying to smooth the jagged spikes of nylon down.

It’s not long after the wedding that Celine stops playing with her motley bathtub crew. She’s already started collecting Playmobil, and the “doll house people” are strictly segregated, mingle only amongst themselves. Soon after that, she goes to Beanie Babies, whose world is equally hermitic and uniform. Then finally the Lego people come, alarmingly xenophobic, almost military in word and deed.

Though their stories become much more complex, the wildcard of the interloper from the strange land is gone for good. And I, for one, still miss the excitement.

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