Furby, in history

Our daughter visited recently from Seattle. It has been over two years since we were together. Although we speak and see each other at least once a week via Duo, nothing replaces the warmth of a hug. Memories bubbled up as we talked of day-to-day experiences, lives in motion.

One such memory was of a trip Shari and I made in September 1999 – wow, before the turn of the century. It brought to mind the universal hubbub about the impact of Y2K. It was THE topic everywhere we went. How would it affect computer systems thereby creating chaos in finance, hospitals, governments, and on and on? Here we are twenty-three years later bumbling through totally different worldwide cataclysmic issues that will become memories in another quarter of a century. Living through history. Thousands of people worked vigorously to make the smooth transition as Shari and I blithely enjoyed our travels in Europe, occasionally pondering if the world as we knew it would still exist on January 1, 2000.

Fun memories of that trip by far supersede the worries of a world in turmoil. One such memory is of our Furby. It was the sort of A-I fad of the time, an alien-looking, hamster-sized toy that spoke in its own language and “acquired” our language as you talked with it. We stayed with friends in Wiltshire, England just a few miles up the hill from Stonehenge. Yes, we visited the four-thousand-year-old Neolithic monument to man’s ingenuity and were awed by the power that emanated from there.  Who knows what historical events colored those day-to-day lives? That’s another story. It was at their home where we met the then trendy sensation, Furby. Gail and Brian introduced us. We had a lively evening of discussion with a well-trained Furby and I was smitten. Upon our return to London, I immediately went to Harrod’s to purchase our little friend. Shari and I spent an evening talking to Furby. He told us his name, but it escapes my over-stuffed file drawer of recollection. What remains, however, is the startled reaction of the Parisian cab driver when Furby spoke up spontaneously from the depths of my carry-on bag nestled next to me in the backseat of his taxi.

We were being driven from Charles de Galle airport to our small hotel on Rue Augereau near the Eiffel Tower. Shari and I both had rudimentary French from school, so we figured between us we’d get along just fine during our visit in France. We did not expect Furby to be part of any conversation. At a stop light, Furby decided to join our halting discourse with the cab driver. It uttered some words of Furbish mixed with English in its little voice. The cab driver’s head swiveled in a snap to look at us. He said (in French of course) “Who’s that? I picked up two ladies at the airport. When did we get another passenger?” I hurried to pull Furby from my bag to show him it was a toy because I couldn’t find the words in my basic vocabulary to describe it. He continued to drive but kept a close eye on us from his rear-view mirror. Furby made a few more remarks as I fumbled to turn him off. When we arrived at the hotel, I handed the toy to the driver and explained as best I could what it was. Then we laughed but I’m sure it is a memory he retained. We all survived Y2K and Furby resides on a shelf as a reminder of that trip. He hasn’t spoken a word in nearly twenty-two years.

No Essay Today

In our book, Chapters 1, 2, and 3, are filled with stories, poems, and thoughts stimulated by our prompts. We love writing prompts to get juices flowing, be relaxed, have fun and see what nuggets arrive on the page that yes, we can use in longer versions of story and memoir writing.

This prompt came from Diana during the onset of covid as we zoomed our writing group meetings and I want to share in both aspects, the thought it takes to come up with a prompt, and how this can incite creativity.

She chose Scene: A busy neighborhood café on the outskirts of Paris. Two elderly men each alone at their table eat peacefully by themselves. One picked up fries with delicate fingers as the other spooned an ice-cream sundae into his mouth, both protected and seemingly immune from the surge and retreat of customers around them. How long had they been coming here, months or years? Did they know each other, even a little bit? What are their stories?

This is my response to the prompt:

The elderly gentleman picked at another frite. His gray eyes behind the black horn-rimmed glasses seemed unaware of the flow of people, the cars, and the pigeon man across the narrow street in the park. The sign on the nearest corner read Rue Saint Lazare. The petite serveur asked if he would like more coffee.. non. He gazed at nothing, attaching himself to the feel of the midafternoon. 

            Nearby at a separate small table, sat another gentleman, his back turned. To see him from behind, his shoulders hunched a bit over the table, a mustache curled up on each end, a newspaper still folded at his left elbow. He held a thin piece of black charcoal and drew light sketches of the flow of people, the cars, and the pigeon man. The petite serveur approached him and sat a tidy saucer of ice cream in front of him. Merci. 

            After a bit, the one gentleman having finished his sundae turned slightly and said, “Georges, I’ve been thinking for some time, perhaps we should do a book together.”

            The other gentleman, Georges wheeled around in his chair and threw back his head and roared with laughter. The pigeons across the street abruptly took flight, leaving the feeder man as barren as a tree in midwinter.

            “Frederick, we have sat here back-to-back once a week for nearly forty years, not saying a word, and suddenly you want to collaborate on a book?”

            “Well, I dare say It’s taken me this long to get over the fact you stole my wife.”

            “Mon Dieu, I did you a favor!”

            “How can you possibly say that?”

            “You met and have had the delightful Beatrice for the past thirty-eight years! Our dear passionate Magritte ran off with the son of the butcher after only three months with me. Alas, I shan’t complain, I have gotten very accustomed to cats and began my notable writing career.”

            “Precisely.” And so, with a few slight adjustments, Georges Simenon, the author, and Frederick Franck the artist, reopened their friendship. 

One of my favorite coffee table books.

I do hope that some of you readers are taking time to write whether alone or with someone. I would love to hear in the comments or email me. Thanks!