JoJo and I have a special relationship. We enjoy our time together, and, if truth be told, would rather it be spent in the cool and comfortable shade of privacy, far away from the blinding white light of the public eye. This tendency has led many of the less responsible members of the media to engage in mindless speculation and unsubstantiated gossip. I realize that fame has its price, but sometimes it seems the price has been unfairly scaled against us. So, I’d like to use this forum to set the record straight and clear up some of the more misunderstood aspects of our relationship. In order, I will answer the following questions: 1) What does JoJo like to eat? 2) How do you communicate with JoJo? 3) Is he lonely?
1) For those of you who are wondering, JoJo’s favorite ethnic variety is Thai, especially of the northern region, where the culinary shading is more subtle. 2) JoJo communicates to me through a modified form of ASL (American Sign Language). To the people who don’t believe that hedgehogs have hands, look a little closer, they do. Surprisingly delicate, JoJo’s, in particular, are quite elegant. 3) No, JoJo is not lonely. If anyone read the papers they would know that JoJo and I spend every waking moment together. He communicates to me often about the meaningful nature of our friendship, a warmth missing in commerce with his fellow hedgehogs.
JoJo and I talk about all manner of things. I ask him, “What do you think about that Chris Rock?” Chris Rock, as with most of the public, is JoJo’s favorite African American comedian. He signs to me, “sock.” This is just one example of the clever kind of word games JoJo likes to spin. “Sock” rhymes with “Rock.” This is JoJo’s way of identifying Mr. Rock with the rap performers we spend much of our time enjoying on the television.
I ask him what he thinks about the weather today and he tells me, “lazy.” “Lazy” is his way of saying that he doesn’t really have an opinion on the matter. “The weather is a ridiculous subject of conversation,” he’s telling me, and I couldn’t agree more.
But I’m not the only one asking questions. JoJo has a curious and probing mind. Hours pass where we both quietly watch television or sit on my parents’ porch and take in the street together. JoJo crawls into my lap, looks up at me and signs with his paws, “Rope little?” This might seem like senseless gibberish. But if you know JoJo, there’s not a whit of nonsense in him. He’s asking about the transitory nature of our existence. “Is the rope that is our life,” he’s signing, “far too short for us to gain any real insight or understanding?” There are no easy answers to a question like that, and so the two of us sit in my rocker, quietly thinking well on into the night.
JoJo and I are very happy together. While I don’t carry on the most cordial relationship with my family — much of my childhood was spent in a futile attempt to escape the difficult, some might say draconian, rule of my mother — JoJo has fond memories of his formative years. He tells me about life in the Black Hills of North Dakota, where he hails from. The soil there, he tells me, is like the soil no place else. It has a coarse richness that cannot be duplicated by any of the inferior eastern varieties. He tells me about his uncle Corky, who is, by all accounts, quite the womanizer and can count at least one hundred and fifty little hedgehogs among his brood. But JoJo’s youth was not entirely filled with sunshine and happiness. His father didn’t spend much time in the burrow, choosing rather to while away the day imbibing in the fermented stems of the rare and toxic raftroot. It was his mother who had the more profound influence on JoJo’s character, instilling him with his characteristic good cheer and can-do attitude.
Of course, the thing that most people comment upon is JoJo’s sharp wit, and I can testify that, yes, it does have a source in his family tree. JoJo’s grandfather was known for various madcap antics, like the time he appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and performed his infamous “Burnt Toast” bit. Twenty seconds of television that almost cost Ed Sullivan twenty years of show-biz blood, sweat, and tears.
Grandfather came from a different era, though, a more “golden,” some might say innocent, period, when hedgehogs engaged in the gentler arts of humor, madcap situations, vaudeville, physical comedy. Our time, JoJo laments, is marked by a more caustic, ironic edge, that JoJo himself, regrettably, has not been able to escape. Readers will not soon forget JoJo’s recent remark in the New York Times Sunday Magazine that “project blow tear, tear blow.” When it comes to language, JoJo clearly believes in economy. Upon examination, however, each of the words he uses becomes pregnant with meaning. It takes only a moment to translate “project blow tear, tear blow”: “The idea of New York City, and, by extension, the world, as a melting pot has been supplanted by the more prescient and perhaps valuable image of a pot melting.” An interesting and humorous shift of emphasis from the contents of the pot to the pot itself, the structures that shape and bind our relations. JoJo, and he has been surprisingly oblique when I query him, seems to be saying that the structures within which we operate are losing their very form. My interpretation has been confirmed by Joel Rhys’ recent study of cultural macro-ecology, The Melted Pot: What Will We Cook In Now?
There are people who do not understand the relationship we have, JoJo and I. My brother and his fat wife are two of them. (Note: my sister-in-law is not actually fat, I describe her as fat for metaphorical reasons only, to give the general impression of her overbearing, forceful nature.) The two of them feel that I am wasting my time. I paraphrase my sister-in-law’s comments to me: “Why don’t you go out there and get a real job like everyone else, instead of milking that stupid little JoJo’s celebrity status? You contribute nothing of material substance to the world.” I could answer them, but in the whole process of answering, I would be denying everything that I hold so dear. When I listen to their conversation together, conversation that seems urgent, sweaty, as if it were performed in some hot and misty gymnasium, they talk about things like, “Are you carpooling on Friday or not?” “Did you pay the Visa?” “When are you going to stop eating those smelly crackers?”
JoJo holds my brother and his wife in the same estimation as I. He remarks often on the similarities between the dimwitted and shortsighted nature of mankind and that of his fellow hedgehogs. I endure the taunts and torments of my brother, his wife and others like them by reassuring myself that I at least have found one true friend. And I ask you, the impartial reader: Are the questions which my brother and his wife debate continuously — credit cards and crackers — are these questions more profound than JoJo’s, “Rope little?”