I’ve had the same keychain for 11 years. Everyday I pick it up and carry it around many times but most of the time it’s grown so familiar that I don’t see it - probably once a day I'll actually focus on it and see it for what it is. It’s a mirrored blue heart made of scuffed-up plastic with the words ‘Patriotism swells in the heart of the American bear’ engraved on it. It fits just perfectly in the palm of my hand.
Eleven years ago I lived in Melbourne and hadn’t been back to the States to visit friends or family in almost 3 years. Just as I was thinking I really needed to get back for a visit an Australian friend of mine – someone I knew socially but not that well – called me up and asked if I wanted to go traveling with her. She was ready for an adventure and thought I might be interested. Clay (that’s the friend) suggested Europe but I told her I was itching to visit the States and she agreed that that would be fun. So we spent some time arranging an itinerary and that November we spent a month traveling all around the States.
First we visited some of her family and one of my college friends in San Francisco. Then we flew to New York and enjoyed what I later referred to as an international summit of my friends – we stayed with some of my college friends, and my Favorite Tiny British Friend flew over from London for the week to visit too. It was the first time my Australian, British and college friends had met.
We had a grand time – we went to the top of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, we visited the Met and the Statue of Liberty, we ate bagels and soup from diners, and of course we saw ‘Rent’ on Broadway. (Hey, it was 1997.) We spent many hours talking and laughing and walking around the city. It was such a good visit.
One of the highlights of the visit occurred one night when we decided to stay in. We were staying with my college friend Moon-Fig at the time. Don’t ask about the nickname. To be honest, I can’t remember much about how he got it, except that Clay gave it to him. Oh, and Clay and Moon-Fig are married now. One of the fateful results of that ’97 visit! But in November of 1997 they’d just met. Clay and my Tiny British Friend and I were camping out in Moon-Fig’s apartment and one night we decided to stay in and watch movies. We chose ‘The Muppet Movie.’ Now, it was Moon-Fig’s tape, Moon-Fig’s remote control and totally Moon-Fig’s prerogative to keep stopping and replaying all his favorite funny bits but after a while I have to admit the rest of us were like, “Enough already! It’s the Muppets! They’re hilarious! Let’s keep watching!” He wanted to make sure we fully appreciated the comic genius and we did, sure enough, but we also really wanted the movie just to keep going.
So later in the movie there’s a sequence of shots that shows the majesty of the American landscape – gorgeous panoramic views of the glorious mountains and plains and canyons. Over these scenes you hear Fozzie Bear singing ‘America, the Beautiful.’ He’s so sincere. So… Fozzie. The last shot in that sequence the camera pans back to a vast and lonely highway somewhere in an empty but beautiful landscape and stops on an old station wagon, barreling down the road straight at the camera. Fozzie Bear drives the car and every cubic inch of space in the rest of that car is crammed to bursting with very irritated looking Muppets. Every one of them is directing a Glare of Death at Fozzie and it is instantly apparent that a) the angry Muppets have chosen not to sing with Fozzie in protest and b) Fozzie has probably been singing for a LONG time. Fozzie finishes his song, heaves a big sigh of oblivious contentment and then says happily, “Ah, patriotism swells in the heart of the American bear.”
At this point Clay, Tiny British Friend and I completely lost it. All three of us simultaneously burst out laughing so hard that we were doubled over, gasping for breath, tears streaming down our faces. And Moon-Fig sat there watching us, looking utterly puzzled. We made him stop and replay it. Again and again and again. And he could not for the life of him figure out why to us that was the funniest thing we’d seen all night when he’d so patiently showed us all the other bits of the movie that were so much funnier. And of course the fact that he didn't get it made it that much funnier. Poor boy.
So later that week we three girls were out being tourists again and Clay and Tiny British Friend decided they wanted to go see the World Trade Center. I had had quite enough of heights so I agreed to meet them elsewhere later. When we met they gave me a keychain, my own blue heart with Fozzie’s line on it – and they each had one too. They’d gotten to the World Trade Center too late to make it to the top but on their way out had stopped by one of those souvenir carts and asked a guy to engrave them for us.
They’re still in my life - Clay, Moon-Fig, Tiny British Friend, and others we visited that month - though so much time has passed and we now live on three different continents. That trip was wonderful and the start of so many things. So that’s why I carry my little blue Fozzie heart with me everywhere – to keep those important people and places in my hand and mind daily, when they’re too far away to be here themselves.