The Island of Misfit Toys (Mui Wo) So it was after our show was finished at TakeOut Comedy and many drinks at Fat Angelo’s that Pete, myself, and Ryan stumbled into Isra’s bar in SoHo. The bar was nearly empty. Isra smiled and was acting as bartender when she saw us so we took the stools next to the bar. Pete and Ryan ordered what was on tap and I ordered a Vodka Red Bull. We began to reminisce about Christmases past in the United States. Ryan being from near Chicago, Pete being from New York, and me being from Atlanta we talked about watching a “Charlie Brown Christmas” every year. And then Pete spoke up, “You remember this?” And he straightened his body up to project, “No one wants a Charlie in the box!” Ryan and myself exploded in laughter. He was quoting one of the claymation CBS Christmas specials entitled “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” where Rudolph gets stranded on an Island of Misfit Toys with Hermey the Elf who wants to be a dentist after being chased by Bumble the Abominable Snowman. Pete repeated for effect, “No one wants a Charlie in the box!” Again, Ryan and I couldn’t stop laughing. Then without pause Ryan and I began to sing Christmas carols as loud as we could – while nursing our drinks. The wait staff and those who were still in the bar joined in. And we laughed as Ryan, Pete, and myself tried to do harmony and failed miserably. Isra laughed with us. And she looked me in the eye and smiled. She looked so deep into my eyes – it made me nervous. And I dropped my gaze and looked into my Vodka Red Bull.
And it was 1977. Star Wars had first come out that May. And it was Christmas Eve. I was four years old at my daycare center. All of us kids had been so excited about
Christmas. Some of the kids in the daycare already had new toys when they showed up that morning and those who didn’t – were jealous and tried to break the new toys. A couple of temper tantrums had to be avoided as another kid tried to take the new toy of another. When one child couldn’t take it forever, he snatched a Six Million Dollar Man doll and tore his leg out of its plastic leg socket. The little owner erupted into screaming and tears. Now the big plastic action figure of Lee Majors was no longer new. It was imperfect. Yeah, we could still look through the back of his head and see the bionic magnification but the tiny rubber band that held the leg together to the hip had popped. No longer could it stand in the action poses advertised inbetween Saturday Morning cartoons. I stood and watched it happen. I watched the owner throw the Bionic Man to the floor. And now I felt sorry for the toy. Now nobody wanted it. It was broken. Unwanted. Unloved. A misfit. As the day went on, one by one – I saw the parents arrive at the daycare – a little earlier than usual because it was Christmas Eve and pick up their children. And in early evening, the claymation version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” began to play on the television sitting on the shelves where we kept our coloring books, Crayons, and blocks. It was the first time I watched “Rudolph”. And suddenly the daycare center was very, very quiet and I found myself alone – except for one college aged woman with brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. She was on the phone talking quickly while looking at me concerned. I could tell she was talking about me. She was asking someone who was supposed to picking me up. She went on, “All the other kids have gone home but its nearly 8 o’clock and no one has picked Gary up.” That’s when Bumble the Abominable Snow Man roared on the television – chasing after Rudolph and Hermey. That’s when I started to cry. I looked around and saw no one there. And I suddenly felt scared. The woman quickly hung up the phone and hurried to me. She picked me up and put me in her lap and held me, rocking me – while I cried. Together we watched the end of “Rudolph”. And when it was over – a police man and someone from child services arrived. The woman from the daycare tried to hand me over but I bawled louder and louder and clutched the woman, squeezing, screaming as if I was going to die, begging her not to let me go. And I remember she started crying with me.
But finally, they pulled me away and the woman from child services had a soothing voice and the Fulton County Police man started asking her questions. The child services woman said soothingly, “It’s going to be okay. We are going to take you somewhere warm and safe.” “Ask Santa to forgive me!” I screamed out. She hugged me. "There is nothing to forgive." I cried and felt big tears coming down my cheeks. "Santa forgot me!" This woman, this stranger, pulled me closer. “Santa did not forget you! I promise.” And that night, child services took me away from my biological parents and put me in a foster home. I cried myself to sleep on a strangers couch.
The whole ferry trip to Mui Wo – I couldn’t believe that the woman who had led me to Pier 6 had just disappeared. I also asked myself, “Why did I follow her?” When I went past Discovery Bay and the ferry began to slow down nearing the Mui Wo ferry pier – I tried to reconcile my idea of what I thought the island would look like and what it did. I knew it was ultimately just an encove of Lantau Island but Lantau Island was a lot of things: Disneyland, the airport, Discovery Bay, and the Big Buddha. My Blackberry vibrated. I checked it and it was Isra. “I am at the pier waiting.” Finally the ferry rocked to a stop. The door opened and we all quickly stood and filed out. Isra was waiting just outside where a McDonald’s was on the street behind her. She smiled when she saw me – like she had when we went in to sing Christmas songs in her bar. “Hey.” She said. I leaned forward and hugged her. “Thanks for letting me escape. I just had to get away from that island.” “Get away from the chaos?” she asked. “Yeah.” “You hungry?” And she stood there adjusting her book bag on her back. I then noticed how much taller she was over me. Or maybe it was just her long, long legs. “Not really. I was eating Subway before I left.”
“You want some coffee then?” she asked. “My son is working at the Italian restaurant over there.” And she pointed. “Sure, I would love that.” And I noticed that Mui Wo was quiet. The quiet was deafening. Yes, occasionally there was the ringing of a bicycle bell or horn to warn someone to get out of the way but other than that – I heard birds! We walked together without talking and she saw a woman with her teenage son who was mixed – Westerner and Asian. They spoke in Cantonese and then switched to Thai. After the conversation went quiet, they smiled at each other and waved goodbye. “Who was that?” I asked. “She was a friend of mine for nearly ten years since I moved on this island. That’s her boy. The father was from Britain and left them and she has been raising it alone ever since.” “That seems to be going around.” “I guess the men want the fun but not the responsibility. Like we are toys they can play with –and when they get bored – they move on.” I listened but didn’t comment. “The father of that little boy met another woman and got married and now has two kids.” “He lives on this island?” I asked. “He did. But moved back to Central.” And we waited together to cross the street while a bicycle passed in front of us. We went to the side of the Italian restaurant and there were tables on the outside. “You mind sitting outside?” “Not at all.” And then she saw somebody coming out of the door of the kitchen which was near the back of the restaurant. She called out someone’s name. She yelled loudly twice but the man didn’t turn around. “Who is that?” “That’s my son.” “Your son? He is huge!”
“Ever since he started doing Muy Thai – he has gotten huge!” “Man, is he going to think I am trying to take his mom out for a date and he is going to kick my ass?” “Maybe.” And Isra winked at me. “He is the baby of the family. Eighteen years old.” We went to a table and I allowed her to sit down first and then I followed. Suddenly, the person who I thought was a grown man appeared beside us – and his body was grown up but his face betrayed his age. He smiled sheepishly and was very quiet. She spoke to him in Cantonese and then in English, “This is my friend Jackson.” I reached out my hand and we shook. He had a strong hand shake. “Man, you really can kick my ass.” He laughed. And then quickly went back to being shy. Then he dropped menus on our table. She spoke to him in Thai. And he spoke back. Then he politely looked in my direction and said in English, “I will give you some time to look over the menus.” And with that – he went back inside. “He is very shy with new people.” Isra explained. “Is he very close with his father?” Isra shook her head. “No. He never was part of his life. I raised all three of my kids alone. I am very proud of that.” “I can tell he loves you very much.” “I am like best friends with my kids because we all grew up together. I was a teenager – younger than him - when they were babies. So we all learned at the same time.” “You are pretty amazing.” “No I am not. I had to survive. And I found a way to do that. I am not amazing.” I smiled. “Are you going to order something?” “Yeah, I am hungry.” And she winked at me. That’s when her son returned and stood quietly beside me.
Walking to her flat, her daughters had their own apartment at the bottom of the hill from her place. They both worked for Cathay Pacific as flight attendants. They had a fire going and friends were arriving for a barbeque. Her oldest daughter was in her twenties and her other daughter was just a year younger. They both were surprised when they saw me there. They spoke with an American English accent. I made a joke or two and rubbed their long haired cat. Then their mom said we were going to leave to let the kids have their fun. It was at that moment I felt old. We hiked up the hill to her place and went upstairs to the second floor. She pulled a bottle of red wine from atop the refrigerator and said, “You want to have some?” “Sure.” I said. She then went up another group of stairs that led to the large, oversized roof above her flat. We sat on lawn chairs on top, outside and for the first time in Hong Kong – I saw millions of stars. She put on a new jazz CD. The red wine had her talking more than I had ever heard her talk before. And between the buzz of her words and the buzz of the red wine – I felt my eyes drooping. And suddenly, her hand reached out and shook me. “You sleepy?” I tried to spring awake. “Yeah, I am sorry. I guess the peace and quiet is putting me asleep.” “It does that to everyone. I love having company but then they fall asleep on me!” I tried to answer but I was too tired. “I will pull out the bed from the couch. You can sleep in the living room. Is that okay?” I only nodded. She then took her glass of red wine and went downstairs to get my bed ready. While sitting out on the roof – starring up into the darkness of the night – suddenly there was a streak of light and before I realized what it was – it was gone. I had seen a shooting star.
I tried to think of a wish quickly. I thought about Eve. I wished she would not forget me. I thought about what I had done to Sophia. I wished she would forgive me. “Your bed is ready,” I heard Isra say from below. And with my empty wine glass in my hand I descended the stairs. The bed was pulled out and there was a white blanket waiting for me. Isra held out a pillow as I walked past her. “I only have two pillows. So one for me. One for you.” “You sure you don’t want it?” I said hesitating to take it. “Don’t be silly. Of course take it!” And she threw it at me. I caught it and she laughed. “Thanks for letting me be here.” I said. And I hugged her. “You are always welcome to my island.” She squeezed me back. “This is the island for those who do not belong anywhere else.” She smiled. I then fell into the bed and felt the hard frame. I tucked the pillow underneath my head. “Goodnight.” “Sweet dreams,” she said and closed her bedroom door.
I had a nightmare that Bumble, the Abominable Snow Man was chasing me. I was running as fast as I could but it seemed like I was going no where. Bumble kept gaining on me. Just when the yeti was about to lean down and snap me in two with his powerful jaws, Hermey the Elf who wanted to be a Dentist and Rudolph appeared. They wrestle him down. And miraculously they pulled out all his teeth. And then the dream morphs into being surrounded by all the Misfit Toys and we are singing songs around a Christmas Tree. And suddenly, Bumble appeared from behind the tree – I shake in terror. But then he smiles his gums – teeth gone – and he climbs up and puts the star on top. Then the Misfit Toys and I gleefully applauded below. Then through laughter Santa appears and with a ho-ho-ho he looks to me and says, “There is nothing to forgive. And how could I ever forget you?”
I jerk awake to total darkness and quiet - and found myself crying on a stranger's couch.
Written by GS Jackson, ÂŠ 2009 LOL Entertainment Group, LLC (USA) Limited (HKG)