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Thursday, February 01, 2007


The Adventures of Flat Tyler

You may get a call or it may arrive in the mail. There's no telling when it will happen but it probably will. From a niece or a cousin or a grandkid. The Flat Stanley Project is growing and you're due to be guilt-tripped into participating whether you want to or not. Be afraid.

Like, you I had no idea who or what Flat Stanley was until my parents broke out a manilla envelope that had arrived on their doorstep during a recent Sunday dinner. One of my cousins, who has a kindergarden-aged son named Tyler, had a favor to ask of them. His homeroom teacher had assigned the project after reading the class the series of childrens' books about Flat Stanley, a kid that travels the world via the postal service after being squished by a bulletin board. As part of the project, Tyler drew and cut out a Crayola drawing of himself and mailed it off to his aunt and uncle in the faraway land of Portland, Oregon.

As part of the project, my parents were assigned to take Tyler around town and take pictures of him in front of iconic places while jotting down factoids about them in a journal. Eager to pawn off the project on their kids, they suckered my sister and I into putting everything together.

My first inclination was to take my 5-year old cousin's doppleganger out for a night on the town. My instincts told me that his private Christian school classmates would have loved photos of Flat Tyler downing shots at the Space Room, stumbling drunk through the clubs in Old Town and/or enjoying an evening at Mary's Club. I could have even returned him with a still wet pint glass-ring across his torso. The boy would have obviously become an instantaneous hero and the envy of his peers but more sensible heads prevailed. The family laid down the law. This project would *not* be celebrating Portland's bar culture or high per capita strip club rate. Instead, we went through the motions and took photos of Flat Tyler in front of MAX, Mt. Hood, the umbrella guy in Pioneer Square, Powell's Bookstore and outside of the Schnitz. Last weekend, he tagged along with me on a trip to the coast.

I was afraid of what my friends might think when I brought out Flat Tyler for a photo during a hike on Neahkanie Mountain. How was I going to explain this? "Yeah, I'm doing homework for my cousin. He's in kindergarten" But they immediately knew what I was talking about. One's mother had recently spent a week trucking a "flat" nephew around Portland.

On Monday night, my sister and I sat down to put everything together. We could have half-assed this thing but we were determined to outdo the relatives of Tyler's classmates. We had assembled a color Kodak printer, several Portland nicknacks, seashells and dozens of photos. Still, it wasn't enough. We were going to have to fictionalize Tyler's trip. I took over the Photoshop duties while she scribbled down a tale about Tyler getting lost in Powell's and later being blown out of Cannon Beach's namesake before being rescued by a friendly seagull. Around midnight, my parent's photo printer ran out of ink. Exhausted, I was prepared to toss Flat Tyler down the garbage disposal and the printer into the microwave. Fortunately, she intervened. The printer was just out of ink. We gave up for the night.

We finally wrapped things up on Tuesday. Total time investment: around 10 hours, more time than I dumped into entire four-credit courses in college. Flat Tyler and the journal were packed off back to Georgia yesterday. Our efforts were most likely for naught. According to Wikipedia, the Flat Stanley project has sent paper kindergarten clones into the White House and all over the world. You Tube is littered with video journals of adventures. Arnold Schwarzenegger took his kid's out on the campaign trail and to a taping of Late Night With Jay Leno. I'm sure one of Tyler's classmates took their relative's project up Everest or on a flight to the International Space Station.

I knew we should have gone with the Mary's Club plan. A shot of Flat Tyler in front of the chick that can jiggle her boobs while sliding backwards down the pole would have earned him an A+ for sure.

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