What could be funnier than a crocodile who works at a zoo?

I need a break from posting about pregnancy and paranoia. I promised months ago a posting about my favorite cartoon characters, Cheburashka and Gena. I forget what I wanted to say and why I wanted to say it. A description of them alone wouldn’t be very interesting so I’ll tell you about them in a personal context.

A bit over five years ago, just a couple of months after returning to the country from Israel and a few weeks after starting graduate school, I decided one Saturday evening to attend a party hosted by other grad students. It happened to be the night before Yom Kippur would begin. It had been a long time–a very, very long time–since I’d attended such a party. The loud music, drinking and heterosociability had become foreign to me during my residence in a religious community in Israel, but after a glass of wine or two I relaxed, remembered and started having fun. I spent most of the early part of the evening avoiding a business school student who wanted to babble at me about something. I wasn’t interested enough to admit I could hardly hear a word he said. I kept excusing myself, only to have him find me again. Finally, I escaped to the kitchen and got myself involved enough in a conversation with another student from my department, who I’ll call Chuck even though he’s a friend and I’m sure he would hate that. Chuck and I were talking about I don’t remember what although I know it was interesting. At some point I noticed a cute guy in a glasses and a green sweater standing next to us, looking anxious. I stopped and asked if he wanted to say something. He replied, “Uh, yeah, I think you’re standing in front of the bottle opener.” He wanted a beer. He has since said he wasn’t hitting on me, but I remember feeling like those were the best first words anyone had ever spoken to me. Given that the guy was Josh, though, I turned out to be right.

I don’t actually remember how we got from that first moment to the rest of the night. I know we hung out until past 3am, and that I paid very dearly for that during Yom Kippur. Exhaustion and fasting are a bad combination. At some point, the whole affair was almost ruined. We were on the porch of the house, and he went inside to get drinks (I think) and when he came back, I was buried on the couch we’d been sitting on by the department drunk, a very proud Polish guy who’s actually really from Boston. Josh wasn’t impressed. Fortunately I managed to ask him to help get the other guy off me, as we weren’t making out – he’d passed out while talking and fallen over. After he woke up, he began trying to say vulgar things to me in Russian (why I don’t know – I never claimed to know Russian), but according to Josh was just making an incomprehensible mess of the whole thing.

What on earth does this have to do with a cartoon? Nothing, really. Except that Cheburashka reminds me of the very happy, very early days of our relationship. Not so long after that night, we got talking about language acquisition – still a popular topic for us. We must have been talking about watching television in our second languages, because one of us began talking about a cartoon about a funny little creature unknown to science. I remember saying, “wait a minute, and does he have a friend, Gena, who’s a crocodile who works at a zoo but at night goes home and reads philosophy books?” Josh knew it well. And we laughed hysterically over the brilliance. I’d had no idea it was a Soviet-era Russian cartoon. I’d seen it translated into Hebrew and watched it on late-night television in my early days in the country. We got the DVD, spent a wonderful night watching it, and ever since it has been in my mind, our cartoon. Other people have songs or places. For me, we have a cartoon. Never mind that we share it with millions of Russian and Hebrew speakers around the world. Cheburashka and Gena are ours.

I’m willing to share a little bit of them with you all though.

Crocodile Gena has a song, about a rainy day and his birthday. Here it is in Hebrew: Crocodile Gena’s Song I’ll translate only if someone really wants me to.

When I was in Moscow well over a year ago now, I wanted something Cheburashka. I settled on a matryoshka, pictured below, during the first afternoon I was brave enough to not only venture out on my own, but to venture into stores I hadn’t been in already with Josh. When I became pregnant the first time, Josh bought a Crocodile Gena toy, which is right now hanging over what will hopefully be the baby’s changing area. I’ve been waiting a long time for that and it is to the far right in the photo.


I hope this baby gets the chance to get as much fun out of them as we do.


12 responses to “What could be funnier than a crocodile who works at a zoo?

  1. This was a fascinating little window into your past, your present, and your lovely relationship with Josh. It is so great to have shared interests that border on the obscure, it makes them feel that much more unique and fun. I don’t think I would have known how to spell “matryoshka”. Did you know that, or did you have to look it up? You are just so darn smart you amaze me at times.

  2. You flatter me, Lori. It’s just my transliteration of the Russian word – I think Josh would do it differently, as might others. “Interests that border on the obscure” – that made me smile.

  3. The photo is low res, so I can’t check out the dog. But is it not the one who chooses to be friends with the lion? There is also a girl there, and I am not sure whether the same dog shows up with her at some point or some other smallish creature.
    Oh, and my favorite part about Gena’s employment situation is that he works at the zoo as a crocodile. You know, as opposed to as an elephant, or, say, a keeper.

  4. Point taken Julia. Unfortunately our digital camera croaked so I can’t take a better one and WordPress is completely defying all my attempts to change the image size.

    Yeah, that’s my favorite part too.

  5. The Library of Congress transliteration of матрешка is “matreshka” but “matryoshka” works a lot better in terms of the way it sounds.

  6. I LOVE this, so romantic. It’s so nice to see cute things that couples share. I have a matryshka doll, had it for years. It was one of my favourites as a child.

  7. so cute. huge smile plastered on my face for knowing this bit of history between you two. sooo cuuuuute. does the crocodile have rope legs and arms? i have a wooden cat figurine from prague with rope legs, and it think it’s so cute too!

  8. Funny. Yes it does.

  9. Now I want to see this cartoon too. But I don’t know either Russian or Hebrew and I think it would take too much effort to learn either one just for that limited purpose.

  10. love this glimpse, this little bit of yourselves outside the lens of pregnancy and loss and parenthood.

    and yet my favourite part, the part that i think is wistful and beautiful, is the little crocodile. 🙂

  11. Tbanks, Bon. The Gena doll certainly does represent the best part.

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