Every family has an inside joke. Or several.
Sometimes, if they’re the right kind of inside joke, they last forever. There are definitely a few tucked into my family’s narrative. There is a big white valve from the old dishwasher which would come undone and Mom would have to climb into the maw of the machine to screw it back in; the valve makes an appearance every Christmas in someone’s stocking. Then there are two Teletubbies with diabolical features marked onto their faces who stow away in suitcases. There is an old story about my great-grandmother wanting my parents to take leftover bluefish on an airplane. “They’ll put it in the fridge for you,” she insisted.
But no family story will last as long or provoke the most groans as Pig-Alien.
I was in middle school or at the very latest a freshman in high school. My class was assigned to read the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw – My Fair Lady without the music. Pygmalion was, of course, the Greek myth about a sculptor who falls in love with one of his creations, which later comes to life. At the time, I was of course unfamiliar with the myth and because the word “pig” is in the title, I couldn’t help but find it funny. Who wouldn’t? Pyg, pyg, pyg…
As Mom was explaining the myth to me (rehashing it, as I’m sure we’d covered it at in school), my sister, Emily, overheard us talking from the other room. She walked in, puzzled.
“What’s pig-alien?” Emily asked.
“No, not ‘pig-alien’. Pygmalion!” Mom said.
There must have been an explanation or maybe some snide comments about weird names for plays, and the incident was forgotten until…
A cartoon of Pig-Alien materialized in one of Emily’s sixth-grade notebooks. An otherwise innocuous sketch of a pig with antennae coming out of his head. The sketch to the left is, sadly, not the original, but I hope it captures its spirit.
Because this was such a HUGE deal, Emily accused Mom of being the artist. You have to understand our family to appreciate this: funny notes and sketches appear everywhere and we cannot simply let things go – from dishwasher valves to pig sketches. In the winter of 2001-2002, we experienced a squirrel invasion in our backyard, and we set to work drawing up wanted posters of the critters with eyepatches, funny names and their distinctive markings: Top-knotch, Midnight, Flat-head, Half-tail – we were obsessed.
Anyway, Pig-Alien would appear a few more times – on a sticky note, on the refrigerator, on the back of a shopping list. Every time Mom was questioned and every time she denied it. Every year Pig-Alien would creep into our conversations. Who did that? Pig-Alien. Punch-line to a dumb joke? “I dunno. Pig-Alien?” Emily and I are pretty sure that Mom did it. She appears to have had the motive, and Dad was never in the habit of making cartoons. It could have also been Emily herself, as she drew great cartoons in those years and we collaborated on many creative hijinks throughout our childhood. It’s not me, I assure you. I can barely draw! But you know, we still laugh about it. The older we get, the funnier Pig-Alien gets.
No one knows when he’ll appear again, scribbled on a paper napkin or a scrap of paper bag! Maybe someday there will be a confession.