The Islands Are Calling... July 14, 2014 12:01
I grew up with my Grandfather and Grandmother in Denver, Colorado. The last two weeks of every summer we would go on vacation. We didn't have a lot of money, so all our destinations had to be places we could drive. This meant that the farthest we ever got from Denver was Florida. Which, mind you, was incredible to me. Florida was different in every way from Colorado. The fact that it was warm when it rained just amazed me. Floridians, I thought, must be about the luckiest people in the world. Warm rainstorms, and giant bugs everywhere. Not to mention Cypress Gardens, where you could drink orange juice through a special plastic green spout stuck into the side of a fresh orange while you walked through Technicolor gardens where girls dressed like Southern Belles sat on broad green lawns, waving to 8mm movie cameras with white gloved hands, resplendent in their Florida-ness. Cypress Gardens was surely the jewel in the Florida tourist attraction crown.
It's hard to explain just how far away places like Florida and California seemed to be when I was young. At the very beginning of our fourth grade school year, our teacher asked us to give a report on our summer break. Most of us had ridden our bikes or had picnics in the Rocky Mountains. But Monetta Dardanis had done better. Much better. Monetta Dardanis had gone to Disneyland with her family. And she had the slideshow to prove it.
In the early days of that September, in a freshly cleaned elementary school room with blank bulletin boards yet to be filled with construction paper turkeys and windowsills still waiting for their jars of potatoes and tadpoles, I sat there in the dark, at my desk (the sort with the storage under the seat and the routed-out groove on the upper desktop where you kept your pencil), and watched as Monetta's slides clicked by. There, in all their Kodachrome glory, was a place I was sure I would never see with my own eyes. Disneyland. White horses pulling fire trucks down main street. Translucent red, green, and blue balloons in the shape of Mickey Mouse's head, massed in the hundreds and being sold by a beautiful California girl in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle. The Enchanted Tiki Room. The submarines. The Matterhorn. I had seen them on "The Wonderful World of Disney," but this was different. Someone from Colorado had made it there. It meant it was real. And a Coloradan had been granted access. A girl I knew. I hated her for it. And yet this slideshow represented hope. If her family had somehow located the Magic Kingdom, perhaps someday my family might as well.
A few years later my family would go to California for the first time. We were staying in a Holiday Inn close enough that you could see Disneyland if you stood at the railing outside our motel room door. Not much of Disneyland, just the very tip top of the Matterhorn peeking above the trees in the distance. But when I saw just that little bit with my own eyes I was so overcome with emotion I threw up.
If California seemed that impossibly far away to me, you can only imagine that Hawaii might as well have been on another planet. Hawaii, I knew, was a place you had to fly to. We didn't have flying money. Our family only had driving money. And there were no roads or Texaco gas stations in the Pacific ocean. No, you had to get there in an airplane. Hawaii was a place better people went to. Wealthy people, movie stars, and people that won trips on "The Price Is Right."
But just like Monetta Dardanis made it to California, someone else we knew went to Hawaii. Our next door neighbor of all people. And they brought back the most marvelous souvenirs. Black lava figurines in the shape of Polynesian maidens and ferocious tikis. Like the one that tormented the Brady Bunch on their Hawaiian trip causing African shields to fall off of hotel room walls. These objects had great power and allure; they were treasures in the truest sense. My family never made it to Hawaii, and I would be in my thirties before I made my first trip. Having arrived at last, I was saddened to find that all those wonderful figurines were no longer sold. I began collecting them from Ebay. And the more figures I collected, the more I wondered why in the world no one was making them anymore. I determined that if I should ever have the means, I would try to bring them back.
And so the project began. The first prototype was presented in 2008 - a model for a dashboard hula nodder. Since then it has been sidetracked a few times, but never neglected for long. When we partnered with Gentle Giant in 2012 we finally had the right team together to get the job done. From there the project moved quickly and the first samples of two figures debuted at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con. Maile, the pineapple girl, and bikini-clad Kiele, fresh from a tropical pool.
And now they're finally here for sale: the first two in a series of Polynesian figures that evoke times gone by. Maile and Kiele. Standing over seven and eight inches tall, respectively, their glossy black curves harken back to the lava souvenir figurines from the '60s and '70s. Unlike most of those statues which were made in a one-piece mold and viewable only from the front, ours are fully dimensional. During paint mastering the artists at Gentle Giant noticed that the figures we provided for reference, having been around for 40 or more years, all had a little bit of dust hiding in the crevices where fingers couldn't wipe it away. So they carefully airbrushed a little simulated dust onto our prototypes. We were so taken with the idea we decided to make that slightly dusty version our Comic Con variant. Take one or both home and let their beguiling smiles lead you to enchanted places. Available only in San Diego and later in our online store (while supplies last), Maile and Kiele come in their own individual boxes designed by Jessica Steele and featuring new artwork evoking Polynesian menus from the Disneyland I visited so long ago.