As we drew closer to the obstruction,I glanced out of the window to see what, exactly, it was that was littering the highway and forcing the traffic to go from the thrilling speed of 15mph, down to about 5mph.
It was teddy bears.
Lots of them. Hundreds, maybe. They were little, tiny, multicoloured teddy bears, they were all over the freeway, being run over by the cars and, actually, their small stature and brightly coloured fur reminded me a lot of my own Pinky:
who you will, of course, all remember from this post, because you have obsessively read through my archives and are totally up to date on the subject of Soft Toys I Have Known. In which case, you are obviously one of my parents: hi, folks!
(Oh, God, see, I know you’re not actually going to click that link, so now I feel like I have to explain why I, a grown-adult, feel the need to own a small pink rabbit. IT’S A STRESS TOY, OK? Because I’m scared of flying, I take it on flights with me, and any time the plane is taking off, or landing, or going through turbulence, or just flying along, minding its own business, I squeeze Pinky tightly in my hand, and it makes me feel calmer. Or at least, it used to: these days I tend to spend the duration of the flight freaking out and going, “OMG WHERE IS PINKY I HAVE LOST PINKY!” and that’s sometimes even more stressful than the flights were without him. In fact, just a few minutes ago, I had to stop writing this and get up to go and check that Pinky was safely stowed in the drawer I left him in when we got back from California. Stress bustin’: UR doin it rong!)
The teddy bears, as I said, were scattered across several lanes of traffic, being run over by cars and trucks and honestly, it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. (I know, sheltered life, huh?) I just can’t stand to see a stuffed animal in distress. In fact, my parents still have a large white bear my mum and I once found in a puddle when we were walking Chico one day, and which I insisted on bringing home and washing. And then we all stood in a circle around it going, “Well, what will we do with it? I dunno, what do YOU think we should do with it?” And no one could think of anything we could do with a large white bear*, so it ended up in my parents’ attic, and it remains there to this day. I like to think it’s happier as an Attic Bear than it would be as a Puddle Bear. It would probably be happier still if I gave it to a charity shop and some kid got it and loved it. I would do that, but how would I know it wouldn’t end up in the wrong hands, like, a bear farm or something? HOW WOULD I KNOW?
(*It was a stuffed bear, obviously. If I’d found a REAL bear in a puddle, I probably wouldn’t have brought it home and put it in the washing machine, but you never know.)
Anwyay. Teddies. On the freeway.
Those teddies on the freeway, they tugged at my heartstrings. So I yelled at my dad to stop the car and, of course, he yelled back that I was an idiot, and that he wasn’t going to pull over so I could run around an eight lane highway, picking up stuffed bears. We drove on. We left those teddies far behind, but I couldn’t get them out of my mind.
But things were to get worse, teddy-wise.
The next day, we visited Santa Monica, and there, on the roof of a building next to the pier, I saw this:
Yes, it’s one of L.A.’s army of homeless bears: those poor, forgotten toys who have been sent out into the world to fend for themselves.
Some just can’t take the pressure:
Others turn to drink:
(Yes, that’s Spongebob. He went to Hollywood to find fame: instead he just found the bottom of a bottle. It’s a sad scene, and one that’s repeated all over the city, if you just know where to look.)
Welcome to the seedy underbelly of L.A., folks: the part the tourists don’t get to see.
When we left L.A., I thought I’d left this teddy underworld far behind me. I was wrong, though, because when I was out running last week, what should I stumble upon, just lying on the footpath?
A lost lion. Now THERE’S something you don’t see every day, huh?
“At last!” I thought. “At last I have the opportunity to do something good for the lost teddies of the world: the teddies on the freeway. For I will take this lost lion home with me, and I will give him to Rubin, and he will be loved. Well, he will be chewed, and thrown around a bit, but it’ll be almost the same as being loved!”
So I picked up the little lion, and I ran on, his little yellow and blue legs dangling from my hand. I must’ve looked like an absolute idiot, out jogging with a stuffed animal in my hand. In fact, I must’ve looked even stupider than I look sitting on an aircraft with a stuffed animal in my hand, now I come to think of it. But I ran on, determined to save at least one of the lost teddies of the world, and every time I passed someone I gave them a look that was supposed to signifiy, “Oh, hai! I see you’re looking at the stuffed lion in my hand! Why, I found it abandoned on the footpath back yonder, and I am taking it home to my dog! Because THAT’S not weird!”
I think people knew what I meant. Either that or they just thought I was one of The Others.
As I ran, though, I started to worry. This lion was clean, and by the way he’d been sitting on the path, I figured he’d been dropped, rather than abandoned. What if he was some child’s cherished toy? What if that child came back looking for him, and he was gone: handed over to Rubin, to be treated with the disrespect Rubin reserves for all members of the stuffed toy fraternity? WHAT IF?
I was worried. And I HAD been worried about the lion, but now I was worried about the nameless child who loved the lion. (The title of my first book: “People Who Love Lions Too Much”.) How would I feel, I asked myself, if it was Ted who had been lost?
Or, er, ET?
I would be heartbroken. Inconsolable.
So I turned around, and I ran all the way back to where I’d found the lion. And now I had a new dilemma. I had to leave him somewhere he would be safe: somewhere his true owner would be able to find him, but random passers-by wouldn’t notice him and take him. Er, like I had, I mean.
In the end, I found him a safe place in the undergrowth. Next to a can of beer, actually. And I turned around, and I ran home, and I left that little lion behind.
That night it rained.
In fact, it poured. There was even thunder.
There was more thunder, and more rain, the next day too. And the next night.
“The little lion will be out in the elements,” I fretted to Terry, as we were on our way home from my parents’ house, where we’d had dinner. “It will be lying there all alone in the rain! IT’S A TRAGEDY OF SUCH EPIC PROPORTIONS I MAY NEVER GET OVER IT!”
Terry said nothing, but a few minutes later he silently pulled into a car park near my running route, and parked the car. “What are we doing here?” I asked. “It’s dark, and it’s raining. Are you mad?”
“We’re going to get the little lion, of course,” said Terry. And that’s why Terry deserves a medal. Because he went back with me, under cover of darkness, and in the pouring rain (We did have an umbrella in the car, thankfully, and it was only a very short walk. But still.) to look for the little lion.
It was gone.
I like to think the child who owned it came back for it. I like to think that child was overjoyed to find his beloved companion safe and sound, although possibly slightly drunk. I like to think I did the right thing.
But sometimes, in the dead of the night, I worry that there’s a little stuffed lion out there somewhere, all alone…