the bug and Dr Jolliff

by tobias crabtree



it’s been 10 years since i decided to build the bug.  i’m sure it started off as something that i knew would lead to me being able to play more; most of my endeavors are linked to me finding a good excuse to play. Marcus Jolliff loves to play, he’s my friend. he’s like a mix of Dr Frankenstein and the mad-hatter.  ol’ marcus had a kind of a bug already built and he trounced around in it causing all kinds of havoc. i thought it would be fun to team up and cause double the trouble. so i built my version of the bug. i built it out of other peoples’ trash; i had a buddy help me with the skeleton structure, made from aluminum, and the welding it involved. the design was pretty good as far as looks, but i wasn’t sure if it would work. you see, it’s a set of stilts with hind legs and front legs. essentially, i’m walking on all fours only i’m 10 feet above the ground. the hind legs have a built-in shock system that allows me to stay in the costume for longer. the entire get-up weighs about 45 pounds and is really kind of a pain in the ass. these stilts are made so you must walk bent legged, so that the leg looks like an animal’s leg, and so they are a different learning process and, unlike most stilts, the balance is under the knee instead of the foot. once i’m up and in the costume, it takes on a look that is really quite strange.

marcus and i talked it over some. mostly we just laughed at our own ideas. since he’s much smarter than me, i just listened to what he thought was good and then applied it. in the early days, we often got together to brainstorm, but that really meant that we got together to laugh at one another. we still do. once we went down to venice beach and stopped traffic on the main drag. cars stopped and people climbed out to take photos of the two weird creatures in the street. some people locked their doors. the bugs are quite famous when they’re tramping around. oh yeah, man, we bugged. and we still go bugging.  and, always, we laugh. good job, marcus.  you crazy fool.

i don’t speak with my mouth while i’m the bug, it’s better that way. talking verbally takes up time and most stuff can be said without speaking anyway. it’s all body language. when people ask a question and then realize i don’t talk, i see their intelligence flare up. it’s wonderful to communicate through the movements and expressions that are in us but have been long unused. they are inside us, dusty and buried. we use our phones these days to express ourselves. (what do they call those stupid things? emoticons? umm, i hope it don’t offend, but i like real life smiles, thanks.)  there are long, clacking tubes attached to the arms and they sound like something an insect might do to give a warning. the face is long with the eyes mounted on a helmet that i wear on my head. my face is in direct view but few people look me in the face, they stare above me. i realized soon after i started running around as the bug that i am perceived as a new entity, i’m still myself in these stilts way above the crowd but i’m the bug to everyone else.

as you might imagine, children love it but are also terrified of it. since most of what i do is for the kids (because, duh, they are the ones most likely to change the world. and because they already love whales and hummingbirds and so they don’t have to be convinced that these wild things are more important than jobs or money. and because they are honest even in their lies and so i love them and relate to their transparency. and a lot of other reasons, but i don’t wanna list them here, but yeah, i love the kids) i needed to find a way to keep them from being too terrified. after all, a 10 foot, black insect is both wonderful and daunting. for the same reason that movie about the kid who trains his own dragon is popular, i am popular. if i win the children over, they become my allies. i see the wonder in their eyes. as i walk with long, sideways strides, and as i move up toward the tiny ones, i use the body language i’ve discovered works the best. the distance is important; too close, they run away; too far, they don’t connect. i find the space and begin to interact. if ever i can get them to reach out and touch the weird, spiky foot, i’ve won them over.

and so i walk around with squealing children at my feet. i, in my world, they, in theirs. two worlds not so far apart. the main difference is the 40 years of separation between when we came into this world. the kids haven’t had to face the conflicting decisions of what we adult humans are supposed to be. the children are so ready to wonder, they are so down! they are tiny collectors of dreams. they are little geniuses searching for discovery. they are intrigued by their own fears and not afraid to let the tears roll. they are the little, untainted versions of ourselves. i can cope as long there are kids to teach and love. i’m learning too, while i dance and crawl across the desert, 10 feet above the stones, just under a wild, blue sky.

i am the bug.

and dancing and playing

and not using words

the children all laughing 

and singing like birds

and dancing and playing 

i can hear the notes play

till i stumble…

               and stumble…

                                 and stumble away.