Sunday, September 14, 2014

This is just one of my favorite things: a Cisco Kid tin whistle

(left) My Cisco Kid tin whistle; (right) Vintage illustration of the Cisco Kid.

Behind those trees is the Beaver Island Toy Museum.
"It's funny how one can go through life, as I have, disliking bananas and being indifferent to cheese, and then be able to eat, and enjoy, a banana and cheese sandwich like this." So said Michael Palin as "Mr. Pither" on the "Cycling Tour" episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. I kind of know how he feels. I have no particular interest in either tin whistles or the Cisco Kid character, and yet one of my prized possessions is a Cisco Kid tin whistle. I suppose a lot of my affection for this little trinket comes from the manner in which I acquired it. In the mid-1980s, my family started vacationing on a place called Beaver Island, a scenic but isolated tract of land located 32 miles off the coast of Northern Michigan. I'd estimate I was about 10 or 11 when we first started going there. Before then, most of the Blevins family vacations were to more obvious tourist spots like Mackinac Island and Cedar Point. Beaver Island is quite a departure from those. The appeal of the isle is that there's almost nothing there: just a few humble restaurants, residences, and small businesses. The rest? Beaches, forests, and unpaved roads. It's the kind of place you go to when your goal is do nothing in particular for a week or two. If you're so inclined, you can visit the Beaver Island Toy Museum while you're there. The fact that it looks like a private residence from the outside tells you a lot about the culture of the island. Inside, you'll find vintage dolls, model cars, and wind-up robots behind glass cases or suspended from the ceiling. But there are bins of stuff you can actually buy, too. That, as you may have already guessed by now, is where I acquired the Cisco Kid tin whistle. Like I said, I have no particular nostalgia for that character. A Mexican caballero first created by American writer O. Henry, the Kid appeared in multiple formats (film, TV, radio, comics) from the 1910s to the 1950s, returning briefly in a 1994 made-for-TV movie with Jimmy Smits. I have experienced little to none of this. But I still have the whistle, and it still (pretty much) works. I mainly use it as a bookmark these days. Lately, it's been saving my place in The Real Frank Zappa Book. Anyway, I have been't back to Beaver Island or the Toy Museum in well over 20 years. Wonder how (or if) the place has held up? In the meantime, I think I'll rekindle those fond childhood memories by listening to the one other bit of Cisco Kid-iana which has managed to breach my perimeters, namely the 1972 song by War. The lyrics apply manifestly to my life. The Cisco Kid really was and is a friend of mine.

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