Some people get to usher foreign dignitariesor at least a favorite relative from Floridaaround town. I got a tattered but well-traveled 17-inch Pee-wee Herman doll with a broken voice box.
I found Pee-wee at www.geocities.com/coconnor101, where he can be seen kissing the Blarney Stone, hitchhiking to the Grand Canyon, sitting with the Sphinx, and partying in Jamaica. Pee-wee has been to New Zealand; Pee-wee has been to Paris; Pee-wee has been to Turkey. As I perused the site and grew to admire Pee-wee’s passion for globe-trotting, I realized there were no photos of Mr. Herman in D.C. A disgrace, I thought.
Because I’m a Pee-wee fan from way back, I e-mailed the Webmeister: Pee-wee’s owner, Carol O’Connor. I told O’Connorwho for years has been lending out Pee-wee to her friends when they travelthat it would be my honor to give him a tour of Washington. I was no doll-molester, I assured her, no fly-by-night Pee-wee absconder. O’Connor agreed to pack up Mr. Herman as soon as he got back from a sally in Seattle. We made a date: In mid-April, she would FedEx me Pee-wee.
O’Connor, the director of finance and administration for a consulting firm that works with nonprofits and foundations, acquired Pee-wee through friend Mary Ellen Farley. “In 1993, I moved to San Francisco, and Mary Ellen brought Pee-wee to my goodbye party,” says O’Connor, 35, who now lives in New York. “He was wearing a sign around his neck that said ‘San Francisco or Bust!’ and I was given instructions on how he was to travel there (not in my moving boxes but on the plane with me, preferably in his own seat).
“A couple of months later, Mary Ellen came to visit, and we decided to take him around and take his picture in front of some local San Francisco landmarks to prove that he made it. He then went on my next vacation, and the rest is history.”
Pee-wee’s D.C. safari began at the Tidal Basin. As my photographer friend Michael and I posed Pee-wee on a cherry-blossom branch, framing the picture to get the Washington Monument in the background, kids on school trips, a family from Germany, two women eating lunch, and a guy in a pickup truck all offered salutations to our notorious little friend, knowingly imitating his TV-show voice and bellowing “Hey, lookit’s Pee-wee!” or “You da man!”
Next, we hit the F.D.R. Memorial. Tour buses were parked nose-to-tail for blocks. As we settled Pee-wee on President Roosevelt’s lap, a woman with a Midwestern accent disgustedly shouted, “What a disgrace! Shame on you!”
(Unfortunately, when somemost?people imagine P-dub, they immediately have one wincing thought: pervert.)
At the National Zoo, we considered a sitting with Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. Although Pee-wee was fine with the two-hour wait in line, we humans decided that a picture in front of the giant-panda banner would be just as exciting. We ended our tour at the Capitolgetting the hairy eyeball from the Park Police when we ducked the ropes to get to the lawn.
All in all, Pee-wee was patient during his tour of D.C. He sat calmly in pretzellike poses, ignored the rubbernecking out-of-towners, and never whined for food. He was the perfect wayfarer.
The next day, I carefully wrapped up my new friend in an old baby blanket, stuffed him in a box, and FedExed him back to O’Connor in New York, eager to see how Michael’s photos would turn out.
O’Connor tells me that Pee-wee once survived a very close call. “Many years ago, before he started traveling, he was in my apartment,” she says. “My boyfriend at the time, who was French, didn’t really ‘get’ Pee-wee. One day, he evidently couldn’t take Pee-wee anymore and said, ‘I do not like zees little man. He is always smiling at me!’ and put him in the microwave….
“The little guy has been through a lot.” Cathy Grubman