Thursday November 26, 2009
Escapades of the One Particular Mr. Noodle
Sook-Yin Lee here trying to sell you an acre of awesome public radio! This week's episode is all about the art of the sell, 'cause life is a series of transactions and we want to know why exactly why you want to sell something and what you're really buying into...or not!
When I was living in Vancouver, my band played a gig in a basement nightclub in the west end. When we were loading in our equipment, I noticed in the window of an unpopular pasta bar upstairs, the slumped over empty costume of Mr. Noodle, the restaurant mascot. Mr. Noodle was a 10-foot egg noodle made of foam. He sort of looked like Gumby with a long rectangular body, big googly eyes, a Hitler-style mustache and red beret. Seeing him sitting there all droopy and forlorn, I immediately wanted to know what it would be like to be Mr. Noodle; not just a walking advertisement for the restaurant, but to embody life as a 10-foot egg noodle standing tall in the world. So, the next day, I went into the restaurant and asked for the job. My boss Lyle couldn't believe anyone would do it for less than minimum wage, but since I was the only one willing, he taught me the technique of the sale. He told me my job was to promote the restaurant and hand out menus. Lyle said, "Mr. Noodle is Motown." Then he broke in to the most ridiculously clichéd Fat Albert strut, like he had a ghetto blaster on his shoulder. "Sure sure," I said, pretending to agree. Then he gave me an ominous warning, "Never under any circumstances, go up to Granville street."
So, I did the Motown strut, waved and handed out menus when I was in front of the restaurant, but as soon as I turned the corner, I'd ditch the fliers and adopt the personality of a loitering noodle with nothing better to do than to wander the city streets alone. Mr. Noodle's body was suspended on two ropes that rubbed against my shoulders. It hurt like hell, so I stacked dishtowels in between. I was that determined to BE THE NOODLE. I came up with some rules. Since my eyes peered out of the black mesh that was Mr. Noodle's enormous smile, no one could actually see me. I wanted people to interact with Mr. Noodle, but not as the person inside a costume, so instead of using my speaking voice, I communicated through gestures and onomatopoeic sounds like ZZSHDING! and PWOF! PWOF! CHIRP!
My purpose was to document what life was really like for a noodle in society. Often we hear the hard luck stories of marginalized outsiders, but try being a freaking egg noodle! I learned that to be a noodle is to be a receptacle of rage. Like I'd be walking around, minding my own business, when a stranger would assume I was trying to sell them something. They'd scowl and cross to the other side. Sometimes they'd even launch into a furious anti-consumerist tirade and accuse Mr. Noodle of ruining the world. Kids, however, unanimously adored Mr. Noodle. When I was at the beach, a happy little fella grabbed my red glove and pulled me over to meet his dad. Pops was a lot less enthusiastic. Greased up and lying on a towel in the sand, he grunted, "Get the (bleep) out of my way, you're blocking the sun!"
One afternoon, ignoring my bosses warning, I made a b-line for rough and tumble Granville Street. Mr. Noodle was pressing his giant smiling face against the window of McDonalds from the outside looking in, when suddenly I was spun around and encircled by a gang of skinheads. Through the mouth hole I could see their malevolent laughing faces as they tried beating Mr. Noodle up. Luckily there was so much foam in the costume, I didn't actually get hurt. I stayed in character and stormed back to the pasta bar. I took off the costume and headed home. On my way back, I happened upon one of the skinheads crouching behind a bush. I said to him, "I'm a friend of Mr. Noodle's and I think it's horrible what you did to him!" He denied having anything to do with it and dashed across the street to catch a city bus to one of the more affluent neighbourhoods in Vancouver.
Even though I was hired to promote an unpopular pasta bar, I had no intention of selling anything. And before the restaurant finally went bankrupt and closed down, what I learned through my summer of becoming Mr. Noodle was, it's easy to jump to conclusions and act nasty to Noodles who you think are trying to sell you something. But noodles are just like you and me. They want a simple life surrounded by friends and a few fleeting moments of happiness. So before you go shaking your angry fist at the next Noodle you meet on the street, stop yourself and try to be nice.
Be sure to listen to DNTO's "How to Seal the Deal" episode this Saturday, Nov. 28th from 2-4PM on CBC Radio 1.
Inspired by my experiences, here's a short film I wrote and directed, Escapades of the One Particular Mr. Noodle.