As sure as the sun rises in the East, my colleague Matt Coker is going to hell, for he's the one who first realized the striking way in which, when turned to the side, the logo for children's Christian-video series VeggieTales, which features a cucumber and tomato, looks remarkably like an adult male's—shall we say—cucumber and tomato. Mind you, I wanted not to see it. I wanted—when Coker suggested something so wrong, so profane, so heretical about a Christian company that makes delightful romps featuring singing vegetables acting out messages from the Lord, available on VHS and DVD for quite reasonable prices—I wanted to say, "No, you perverted knave! You have crossed a line!" But instead, I was forced to gasp, for I saw it, too. When faced with a phallus made of vegetables, there's little room for self-delusion. What's more, the tawdry produce is superimposed upon the words "Big Idea."
Coincidence? Come again?
And so, with press release featuring VeggiePhallus folded into a neat square in my purse, I was off early one Saturday morning to the Irvine Spectrum for a screening of Veggie Tales' newest release, Lyle the Kindly Viking.
I was told that the series' stars, Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato, were to be on-hand for photos and interrogation, so truly, there was no way I could not go. Judging from the number of religiously adorned cars in the Spectrum's parking lot, I wasn't the only one. I saw more varieties of car ornamentation featuring Christian fish than I knew existed: big fish, small fish, plain fish, fish with writing, big fish followed by a school of smaller fish and—my personal favorite—the ever-hostile big Christian fish biting into a smaller, footed Darwin fish.
I parked my secular vehicle in the first available spot and began looking for the vegetables. Then I heard it.
"Yes!" I thought to myself, walking faster and convinced that if only I could find the source of the really bad Beatles cover of "Help," my perseverance would be rewarded richly in vegetables.
I was so wrong. There was nary a cucumber nor tomato in sight but instead three men dressed in Hawaiian shirts playing guitars and singing into headset mics. All around them were posters that said, "God City." In front of them were legions of small children, and behind the children were harried-looking adults weighted down with diaper bags and strollers. It wasn't "Help" that the pious Jimmy Buffets were playing but instead some Jesus-infused version with lines like "But then I'd find/I'd change my mind/ Depending on the Lord!" In between verses, they'd point to the crowd and deliver religiously loungy catchphrases like "That's a promise!" and "Gotta pray!" The worst part of it all, though, was the insipid woman in patchwork overalls who stood to the right of the men and mouthed the words to the kids while using her entire body to act out the lyrics. She was like some cross between a high-energy aerobics instructor and an interpreter for the deaf. For reasons I don't really understand, the kids knew to follow her. They knew that when she waved her arms wildly in the air, they, too, were supposed to wave their arms in the air; and when she brought her palms together as if in prayer, they, too, were supposed to bring their palms together as if in prayer; and when she mimicked a surfer because, like Jesus, she was going "soul surfing," they, too, were supposed to mimic a surfer; and when she jumped off a bridge, they, too, were supposed to jump off a bridge.
It was all quite touching and moving, but I wanted to see the vegetables. "Oh, Larry and Bob just went in to take a break," one of the official VeggieTales men told me.
"But the cucumber and tomato are coming back, right" I asked. He suddenly tensed. Apparently one does not refer to them by their vegetable names. "That would be Larry and Bob," he said, speaking to me as if I were a five-year-old with behavioral problems, "and yes, they'll be coming back. Now why don't you go in and see Lyle the Kindly Viking and Larry and Bob will be out after the screening."
One of the women who works for the company that does publicity for VeggieTales walked me to the Edwards Theater nearby. On the way, I produced the VeggiePhallus and, pretending I was all embarrassed about it, asked if anyone else had ever noticed it.
"Oh, that!" she said, throwing her head back and laughing. "Yeah, that came up early on, when we first started working with the company, but they didn't want to do anything about it."
"So then people have noticed it before?" I asked.
"Yeah, but I think since they're into the bible, they don't want to bring it up."
I predict she won't be with the company for long, not only because instead of feeding me the regular press bullshit, she actually answered honestly, but also because she led me to the wrong theater, which I realized when after about 20 minutes of previews, the Sigourney Weaver/Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle Heartbreakers—not cucumber/tomato vehicle Lyle the Kindly Viking—came on the screen.
I found the correct theater myself. The minute I walked in and saw the bank of strollers parked against the wall, I knew I was in the right place. Feeling a little conspicuous because I was the only adult in the place without children, I found a seat near the back. The room was abuzz with the chatter of people with small children who haven't seen one another since the last [fill in the blank with name of event] and who actually don't know one another that well. There was a lot of "Oh, my gosh, Amber's hair has gotten so long!" and "How's the home schooling going?" and "Did you guys take pictures with Larry and Bob outside?"
This last one, of course, rankled me, owing to my own lack of vegetable face time.
"We only have 10 minutes to go!" said an excited man as he clasped his hands together. I think he did this for the benefit of his kids, but I'm not really sure. Then everything started getting surreal. A kid who must have been about five years old walked by me and exclaimed, in a thick British accent, "Oh, it's just like a real movie theater!" VeggieTales words and images started flashing on the screen, including one that said, "Clap if you have a water buffalo" and featured Larry the cucumber and one that said, "With God's help, little guys can do big things, too" featuring a picture of a phallic-looking asparagus with bulging eyes and a flesh-colored baseball cap.
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Maybe I'm going to hell. I'm sure it'll be hot and filled with vegetables.
Before the screening began, one of the guys in Hawaiian shirts stood at the front and began a hard sell for Mission Viejo- and Irvine-based Sonshine Christian store ("serving Christ by serving you for 20 years"), which had hosted the event and was having a 50 percent off sale "today only" on the NIV Kid's Adventure Bible "which is the No. 1-selling children's hardback bible!"
"Maybe your child has lost his bible or can't find his bible," he prattled in that syrupy voice reserved for hawking shit on late-night TV and also convincing children to do things they don't really want to do. The QVC-style pitch went on for so long that I almost tuned out the part where he said Larry and Bob would be at the Irvine store immediately (emphasis added) after the screening.
Dammitdammitdammit! I wasn't going to see the vegetables after all, not unless I was willing to drive to the Christian store, which I wasn't. After the screening—a screening filled with predictably phallic, fleshy-looking, platitude-spouting vegetables—I walked past the largest merchandise display I've ever seen in a movie theater. There were little jackets, big jackets, stuffed vegetables, magnets, bibles, pencils, T-shirts, videos, CDs. You name it, it was there, and in order to leave the theater, you had to walk by it. I considered rummaging around, but the idea of spending any more time ass-high in Christian children and their very-tired-looking parents left me cold. Plus, I'd been stood up by a very large cucumber and tomato, so while I was pretending to be a sport about it, I was crying on the inside.