I once had a wooden Mexican turtle that I somehow inherited, though I no longer remember the who, how, or where of it. It was green and gold and happy and the head and legs bobbed around whenever it was jarred, which never failed to make me smile. I had it on my desk at HarperCollins Publishers and it migrated with me to the Bantam Dell Publishing Group and I was rather fond of the silly thing - right up until I accidentally stepped on it with my three-inch heel and shattered it to pieces. Crushed (me, not it) I scooped up the pieces and arranged its carcass back on my desk. It no longer bobbed and now made me smile for sadder reasons.
Months later, my colleague and friend Annette was heading for Mexico on vacation and offered to procure me a new turtle. Or maybe I asked. I probably asked. Sure, I could have found one at a street vendor in lower Manhattan with little effort, but it meant more to have one actually come from Mexico. Well, she brought me back an anteater - at least I think he's an anteater; he may be an aardvark - and as he's all red and purple, I love him even more. His head and tail bob up and down, which makes me smile again, and the little scamp enjoys rearing up on his hind legs when I'm not looking as though swoofing through my hair for stray ants as I type away on my computer.
I think of Annette whenever I look at him and since Annette is an awesome woman, this is a pleasant thing. But it inevitably has a bitter edge to it because my mind often wanders to difficult memories. On 9/11, it was Annette who said, "Come with us" as we streaked out of our Times Square office into the morning sunlight. Together we took the surreal journey across town to the West Side where her apartment was. I was trying and repeatedly failing to get a cell phone signal long enough to call my family as we stopped along the way to listen to the blaring radios on every corner, the open doors of vans and carts vomiting news, the T.V. stores with every screen tuned to Ground Zero until finally crossing Park Avenue and looking down it's long length to see the smoke clouds billowing. The whole city practically shut down; nothing was open even though nobody wanted to be alone. One lone pizzeria was busting at the gills with people and couldn't cook fast enough; it was nearly an hour before the five or six of us who were wandering together got a pizza and ravenous as we were, there was no chance of a second one. We eventually holed up in Annette's apartment, watching the T.V. and trying to get a grasp on what was happening. Around 3pm, I decided to try and get out of the city via the ferry, but after walking from Third Ave. to 10th Ave, I found out the line for the ferry was more than 20 uptown blocks long. I wound up spending the night at Annette's, which involved an grocery run (grocery markets in the city are small and strange) and a liquor store run. Then, a month later, the two of us went and saw U2 at the Meadowlands, me for the first and, so far, only time, and that was beyond amazing and a bit of a balm for some of the ugliness and pain that stayed(s) with us for so long.
Hence, the anteater (aardvark?) who, after more than seven years of anonymous companionship, was just christened Bono.
Hey, it works for me.