Day 102: duck-rabbit and the three Priuses

The other morning when we left the house to go to preschool I was not exactly sure where the car was.

He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved had parked it somewhere on my block the night before.

“Is that it?” I murmured to myself, upon spotting the distinctive sloping profile of a car near the end of the block.

That was the younger’s cue:

“Mom, can you please tell the story of the three green Priuses?”

I am not making this up: those are actual words that sprang from the younger’s lips. The tale of the three green Priuses has now become an established fixture in my repertoire of stories. Frankly, it’s not the most dramatic tale. But it struck me as I retold it to her as we drove to preschool that perhaps she likes it because of its distinctively fairytale structure. Judge for yourself. I’ll do my best to add a bit of suspense.

Duck-rabbit and the three Priuses: a bourgeois fairytale

One bright sunny morning, a pensive duck-rabbit walked from its psychiatrist’s office back to its car, which it had parked on a nearby side street. The duck-rabbit could not remember exactly where on the block it had parked the car, but to its relief it soon spotted the distinctive silvery-green hue and gentle slope of its noble Prius.

But when it went to open the driver’s door, the duck-rabbit gasped: the door opened easily to its touch but the electronic key did not make its usual cheery beep-beep upon the door opening.

“Oh shit!” exclaimed the duck-rabbit to itself, “I forgot to lock the door!” It sighed and shook its head at its own absent-mindedness and climbed into the car.

But, as soon as the duck-rabbit sat down, it realized that something was very wrong. Because a duck-rabbit’s eyes are placed conveniently on either side of its elegant head, it could quite easily spy a large straw hat on the back passenger seat.

There had been no large straw hat on the back passenger seat when the duck-rabbit left the car.

The duck-rabbit gasped! Clearly, a thief had broken into car, leaving behind (whether deliberately, as a whimsical, pastoral calling card, or accidentally, in the haste of the crime) a large, straw, wide-brimmed hat!

But wait. Wait a moment. No no no. Hang on.

“That makes no bloody sense,” thought the duck-rabbit to itself.

The cogs in the duck-rabbit’s bird-hare-brain turned slowly as it sat there frowning. [1] All of a sudden the truth dawned on it. This was NOT the duck-rabbit’s car! This was somebody else’s green Prius! Someone who owned a large straw hat and who had forgotten to lock the door! If anyone was a thief, it was the duck-rabbit, who had blithely gotten into a stranger’s car, which said stranger might discover at any moment, upon realizing, perhaps, now that the morning fog had cleared, that she needed her straw hat, after all, on this sunny day.

The duck-rabbit exited the car with all due haste, slammed the door, and walked ahead very quickly as un-suspiciously as possible.

To its immense relief it spotted its actual car, its own dear, sweet green Prius, just a few cars further up the street. “Oh, silly duck-rabbit!” the duck-rabbit thought to itself, consolingly. “It was just the wrong car!

The duck-rabbit opened the door, or tried to, but the door remained stubbornly shut and the keys made no reassuring beep-beep.

“OK, what the fuck?” exclaimed the duck-rabbit, now thoroughly flummoxed. It tried the door again.

“OK. OK, so my keys really aren’t working,” the duck-rabbit inferred, completely wrongly, as it turned out, its powers of reason now utterly fucked. “Or. Or wait. Wait. I have the wrong keys?”

Again, the cogs turned ever so slowly in the duck-rabbit’s brain. In all fairness to the duck-rabbit, it had just come from therapy; all that head-shrinking can sap a duck-rabbit’s analytical powers.

The duck-rabbit tried the door one more time before peering inside and, upon failing to see the parking permit that should have been hanging from the rearview mirror, realized that, indeed, yet again, this was the Wrong. Green. Prius. Moreover, yet again, the only thief was the duck-rabbit, who was repeatedly and aggressively trying to open somebody else’s car.

With a feeling that can only be described as uncanny, which is to say, as that other great Dr. F once put it, with a feeling evocative of “the sense of helplessness experienced in some dream-states,” the duck-rabbit stumbled onwards. There, once again, was another green Prius a few cars ahead. The duck-rabbit almost daren’t try the door. But it did, oh-so-gingerly. Finally the door opened and the keys beep-beeped. There was the parking permit, hanging from the rearview mirror. There was the backseat, completely devoid of all hats, straw or otherwise. With a sigh of relief the duck-rabbit climbed in.

This Prius was just right.

What is the moral of this fable, you may ask?

I think it’s very plain. Stirring the boiling cauldron of the unconscious casts a spell, one that will have you lost and searching one, two, three times, for a way back home. Don’t believe me? Remember dear Sigmund’s confusion in the shady quarter of that unnamed provincial town in Italy populated by “painted women”?

“ … I hastened to leave the narrow street at the next turning. But after having wandered about for a time without enquiring my way, I suddenly found myself back in the same street, where my presence was now beginning to excite attention. I hurried away once more, only to arrive by another detour at the same place yet a third time. Now, however, a feeling overcame me which I can only describe as uncanny, and I was glad enough to find myself back at the piazza I had left a short while before, without any further voyages of discovery.”[2]

The uncanny lurks too in plain sight on the broad boulevards of Santa Monica, where strange, silent Priuses haunt the streets.


[1] This, to me, dear readers, is actually the entertaining aspect of this story: simply the fact that the duck-rabbit’s brain immediately formed the hypothesis of the whimsical thief in trying to make sense of what it saw. This is not the first time the duck-rabbit has formed such a hypothesis. A few weeks ago I got home from work and froze when I saw on the kitchen counter a plastic container of pink liquid. The plastic container had previously contained those addictive bright pink pickled turnips that you sometimes get with falafel (or, in LA, at Zankou Chicken). Anyway. The point is, I had bought this container of pickled turnips the previous day at the farmers’ market, and while I had been tempted to eat them all in one sitting, I had exercised great restraint and refrained from doing so. In fact, I had only eaten just a scant few of the turnip slices filling the sixteen-ounce container. My heart thumping, I examined the rest of the apartment. Everything else was as I had left it. The conclusion was obvious: a whimsical turnip-eating thief had broken into my apartment, flagrantly eaten all my pickled turnips, and left the empty plastic container on the counter in a shameless act of defiance. Or else, and this was my next hypothesis, I had earlier, myself, in some kind of somnambulant trance, eaten all of the turnips. Both possibilities were equally disturbing. (It turned out that the elder had let himself in to the apartment on his way back from school, eaten all the pickled turnips, and then left and gone to his father’s house.)

[2] Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” Trans. Strachey, James. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Ed. Strachey, James. Vol. 17. 24 vols. London:Hogarth Press, 1955. 217–52. 237.