Pop-Up: Here for It, #232

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

They really do be getting me with these pop-up greeting cards. I feel like these greeting cards with a whole 3-D paper Electric Light Parade inside of them are a relatively new invention. If true (a big if) that's odd because pop-up books have been around since I was a kid in the Pleistocene era. I would pay good American cash to be in the product design meeting at Hallmark where someone ran in with a kid's pop-up book called something like Jane Jacobs Presents A Child's Guide to Brutalism and shouted "This! But shorter and for an anniversary!" Not to be all Elon Musk about this, but why did we stop innovating greeting card design once we got to "folded"?

To be fair, there was that halcyon moment in the 90s when the industry pivoted from "folded" to "a printout that comes from a machine the size of a Hummer". Do  you remember those Make-Your-Own-Card machines that looked like arcade games that had been Super Sized? As someone with a deeply unhealthy obsession with greeting cards and the greeting card industry (see: this newsletter) I could not get enough of them even though I had a strong suspicion that they were more gimmick than substance and that perhaps the concept of "printing something out" would not always be so impressive to me. That said, as the world's oldest millennial I have never encountered a home or office printer that I have been able to use without strife and to date my most consistently successful print-on-demand relationship was with this behemoth:

Good golly wow, I'd stride into the shopping center in Baltimore known as The Rotunda (a fancy name that befit the prestige of having a CreateACard kiosk) and while my parents shopped I would spend 20 minutes doing a graphic design task that would probably take 30 seconds on Canva today and that I would do while watching a TV show and also folding laundry. Ah! The future! Take me back to the days of eagerly paying 10 US Dollars (in a time of low inflation and historic economic expansion) for the privilege of adding a person's name to a card and then having a machine print it out for you so that you can fold it yourself.  

Now if these machines could print out pop-up cards?! My wig would have flown to Mars. I would never have recovered. I wouldn't be writing this newsletter I'd be standing in line at the Rotunda on the daily making people cards that say "Jane Jacobs was right" with a pop-up apartment building inside.

Alas, the industry innovated but stopped short of greeting greatness. Yes, the concept of a greeting card as a very brief book is functional and fun but I need our best salutation scientists to be asking "what else is there?" When you open the traditional greeting card, it lays flat with nothing jumping out to the reader (except emotions!) but if I learned anything from Cher in Burlesque it's the value of air rights (and also that Christina Aguilera can act! Put that in a greeting card. I literally want all my birthday cards from now on to say "Christina Aguilera can act!" on the front.)

(They can be blank on the inside. The message will be received.)

I guess what I'm saying is that I bought my father a very elaborate pop-up card for Father's Day and it's Cher's fault.

Card is actually a misnomer here. It was a paper art installation. A free-standing visual thesis. A Rose bowl float. It was one of those new fangled pop-up cards that go hard on the pop-up part but do are not aware that they are also cards. I am obsessed with them and I cannot stop buying them. This one was a nice little pastoral scene of a wooded area with a lake and fish and ducks. When constructed it took up half the table. I thought it would be a nice choice for my dad because he likes nature, he and my mom go to national parks a lot, and he's getting into farming. A great match.

Now, the presence of the fish in the lake did set off alarm bells for me, I will admit. It did give me pause. I had to take a think in the aisle of the Safeway, indeed I did. I polled the audience; I phoned a friend. Why? Because as much as I love greeting cards I absolute despise the greeting card message industrial complex, particularly on Father's Day. You know what I mean--the central premise that every dad loves fishing, beer, and ties. When it comes to greeting card messages this premise really jumps off a cliff. Every card is either blue, brown, or black and bears messages like "you have built this house with your bare hands", "as you are aware this family drives you insane so please enjoy an entire keg of beer as a small token of our appreciation", " you are a great man and you could best any other man in hand-to-hand combat", "you are the warden of the prison of masculinity." I'm not saying every Father's Day card is like this but the greeting card industry is built atop Doing Too Much Mountain and many of these dad-related cards have reached the summit. The sheer number of cartoon bears wearing ties is outrageous; what is this, a toilet paper commercial?

So, I tend to spend a very long time trying to find the right card and wishing I could go over to a gigantic arcade and spend to much money for a dotmatrix customized greeting. I do this on most holidays and occasions, to be honest. I feel like I have to find the most accurate and unique mass-produced 2-to-5 line sentiment. I frequently pick up cards and read the message only to scoff like "I would never say that." Eric, do you really think someone is sitting at Hallmark thinking "How do I really get inside the voice of a deranged gay 40-year-old?" I mean... maybe?

The fact that I can never find satisfactory messaging means that I always then write a book by hand on the blank side of the card. And every occasion I have to write something more heartfelt, more expansive, more tear-jerky than the last occasion. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays--every single one has to produced an impassioned monologue from the end of an episode of This Is Us. It's high farce. Maybe it's because I'm a writer or maybe it's because I was raised in a yurt on Doing Too Much mountain (we have since sold it; you would not believe what those air rights go for) but I feel like every greeting card message has to bear the weight of the whole relationship. This is not a healthy way of being, I am aware, but unfortunately I can think of no other solutions. Sometimes I dream of being the kind of person who just signs their name on a card. What a life that would be! Perhaps after decades of therapy, but I'm not making any promises.

Fortunately for me, the cardstock diorama that I bought my dad said on the outside that it came with a card. So I could present him with a scale model of Yellowstone and then write an essay. Just what every father wants. Now, these pop-up cards come wrapped in plastic because experiencing too much delight in a supermarket is a health hazard. So I bought it and brought it home and then David and I opened it to sign it. Well first we opened it up to test it out. It was so big it knocked out a window. Perfect. But I couldn't find the card. David looked in the plastic sleeve, in the bag. Had we been bamboozled?! How would I write my essay (yes, I have roughly 7,000 blank cards in the house from similar occasions where I spiraled in the card aisle, but is that the point? No! That is not the point!) We looked at the pop-up again, growing larger by the minute, and then we spotted it, the card, nestled in amongst the paper bushes. Beloveds, I am speaking to you with a complete lack of hyperbole when I tell you that the "card" they they included with the gigantic pop-up was 1" by 1". It was the size of a Forever stamp. It was some kind of Alice in Wonderland card. We pried it open with tweezers and found a message inside that said something like "grilling, toolbox, carburetor." The opposite side was blank. I briefly considered typing up an essay and printing it in 1pt font. (Is it still doing too much if you're writing very little? Unclear. Call me Kate Bush because I am running up that hill to find out.) There was only enough room for us to sign our names and write Happy Father's Day. And also I love you. Maybe that was enough. (Just in case it wasn't, I'm going to the store tomorrow to get another card in the "Is This Enough?" section.)

I have three (3) plays coming your way in 2022 and one (1) outdoor all ages show happening in Philly at the end of this summer. I am so excited. They're all comedies and I cannot find the words to express how deeply I need to laugh in a room with other people again. I'm so psyched. Single tickets aren't on sale yet, but I did get the poster for the third of the next year's trio, a play called Crying On Television that's being produced by Everyman Theater in Baltimore. I'm obsessed with this artwork by Jacob Kemp and I couldn't wait to show it to you!

I'll let you know when single tickets go on sale. If you go to the Everyman website, you'll see tickets to a VOD demand performance of Crying but that's a Zoom reading (with some very good actors!) of a version of the play that doesn't exist anymore because I've done two revision workshops since then. It's good but the play that'll be on stage has so many more hijinks. You'll see.

Random Thing On the Internet

the Wikipedia on Jane Jacobs. Why not?

Christina Aguilera can act!,