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Dirty Wow Wow

Author John Cech
Air Date 7/16/2007

Dirty Wow Wow Transcript

Dirty Wow Wow and Other Love Stories, A Tribute to the Threadbare Companions of Childhood. Don’t you love that title? Here’s the premise for this book by Cheryl and Jeffrey Katz. The Katzes are designers, and once at a dinner party they asked their host, Jim, if he happened to remember his favorite object from childhood. You know, those blankies and bears that capture for a time, sometimes obsessively, all of our emotional attention. They help us to transition our loves from our parents to other people and things outside of our immediate family constellation.

Jim said he thought he remembered what that special thing was and then he disappeared from the table. But within a few moments, he came back with a bedragled, stuffed dog, missing eyes and ears and nose, worn to its stitches like the title character in the 1922 book by Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit. Jim’s most cherished possession from childhood did not have a lofty name. He was called “Dirty Wow Wow.” Who knows why.

The Katzes realized they were onto something and started emailing friends to see if they, too, had kept these loved creatures — either their own or their children’s. And then the Katzes took fifty of the best, had them professionally photographed, and collected the stories that explain, to some extent, each of the objects. But words can’t adequately account for why a thin, green felt mannequin named Gonks, pictured in the book, would steadfastly remain with a family from the days of disco to the present. It can’t simply have been his exceedingly long, pencil-thin, flower-patterned arms and legs and his orange hair made from yarn, or the big heart stitched onto his chest. And why would a clump of red and white rags, all tangled together into a faded gordian knot be a prized object for a little girl, who wears it proudly, sometimes, as a headdress. While it does look like an haute couture fashion statement, one still wonders how we breath life into these things that would otherwise be quickly passed over at any garage sale or flea market.

The inner character of these objects is sometimes caught in the superb portraits that Hornick/Rivlin have taken for the book. You see it, fleetingly, say, in the knowing look that EEE-EEE the monkey, dressed in a sweater and a pink tu-tu from other dolls, gives the viewer. This look reminds me of what the old skin horse explains to his young friend, the velveteen rabbit: the only way you get to be real is to be worn, lovingly, to a frazzle by a child. This love for these objects may be about developmental transitions, but it’s also about profound transformations.

Posted in Literature